About The Trip
My almost eight month tour of Europe began in Paris on May 2, 2003 and
ended on December 13 in Athens, Greece. I visited 15 countries and the
Rock of Gibraltar. This was not primarily a birding trip, but a birder
is always a birder. The best birding was done on the seabird islands off
the coasts of Ireland and Wales and on the Orkney and Shetland Islands
of Scotland. This report covers these locations. I am also grateful to
my old Digital friend Mike Bowman for some fine birding in the Alps
around Geneva. I am a birder who is also interested in history,
archeology, art, architecture, music and just anything different. For
the birder with other interests or a non-birding travelling companion, I
include some sites that anyone may enjoy while visiting the seabirds.
Seabird Breeding Colonies
I actually visited my first seabird breeding colony, the Gannets of
Bonaventure Island, years before I took my first pelagic birding trip.
As fascinating as seabirds are at sea, they are even more interesting on
the breeding grounds.A major goal of my birding in Europe was to visit
the breeding colonies of the Manx Shearwater and the Great Skua.
The Manx Shearwater formerly known as the British Shearwater breeds
primarily off the coast of Wales and Ireland. There is a small known
colony of Manx Shearwaters in North America in Newfoundland. Many Manx
Shearwaters visit our New England waters during the summer. My best Manx
Shearwater experience was on Skommer Island.
The Great Skua visits our New England waters only in winter. Your best
chance of really experiencing these birds is on the breeding grounds in
Europe or Iceland. My best experience was on the Shetland Islands.
I also visited colonies of Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Murres, Atlantic
Puffins, Fulmars, and Northern Gannets.
Hostels and Getting Around
I am not rich. I traveled by train, bus, ferry boat, rental car and
plane. This was not an easy trip. Usually I arrived at the train station
and had to figure out how to take public transportation to the hostel.
In Berlin this required taking a train two stations, transferring to the
subway for a long trip across town, and then taking a bus. Of course I
had to haul my own luggage.
For the most part I stayed in youth hostels affiliated with Hosteling
International (HI) and cooked my own food. The hostels are not just for young
people these days (except in Bavaria, part of Germany that includes
Munich). In Europe they are used by adults, families with children,
school groups, and young adults. They charge per person and range from
the equivalent of $13 to $25 per night. You can make reservations on the
Internet or within a country one hostel will usually make reservations
for you at the next HI hostel. They all take credit cards.
You must adjust to sharing with strangers. Hostels offer common
bathrooms and dormitories or rooms for 1- 4 people with or without
attached bath. Most dorm rooms have 2-8 bunk beds. Some have up to 20
beds in one room. The beds are usually hard and narrow. Some have rooms
At some hostels you get a locker for which you provide the lock. All
require you to have your own towel. Most include clean sheets and a
pillowcase. There may be a small extra charge for sheets. Usually you
are handed the bed linens when you check in and you make up your own
If you don't get a locker you have to be prepared to carry your
valuables with you. I always protected my camera, binoculars and wallet
by carrying them with me all the time in a backpack. I never had any
trouble with anyone getting in my luggage left in a dorm room, but this
remains a risk.
I usually locked my suitcase to the bed while I was gone. This would not
prevent anyone from getting into it, but at least it would be difficult
to take the whole suitcase. I noticed some of my fellow travelers from
less affluent countries had very worn luggage. I used my roll of duct
tape to help some of them.
Most people staying in hostels quickly adjust to shared living. You will
too if you try. Snoring and people coming in late can be a problem so
learn to use ear plugs.
Most hostels are clean and safe. Common areas provide cooking
facilities, dining rooms, television, games, and Internet connections.
Most European hostels have meals (usually very starchy) at extra cost.
The best part of staying in a hostel is that you meet other travelers
from all over the world, exchange information and make some wonderful
Americans and especially birders should consider hosteling as an
inexpensive alternative to expensive hotels and undesireable budget