10 Questions For (5): Karen Bryan of the Europe A La Carte Blog

Ehm Sorry for this. I just upgraded this blog to WordPress 2.1.6 and because I didn’t know exactly how to handle the interface, accidentally deleted this post and probably the comments as well. I reposted as soon as possible. The lay out may differ a bit now.

Happy to introduce Karen to you.


Karen Bryan practicing Meet the Blogger when I showed her The Hague

1) Who Are you?
I’m the founder and editor of the UK based Europe a la Carte, which focuses on authentic travel in Europe on a modest budget. I started the site in 2002 in response to the growing number of travellers putting together their own trips by booking low cost airlines and their own accommodation online.
In October 2006 I started the Europe a la Carte blog and in June 2008 I took on a team of bloggers to transform Europe a la Carte to a multi author blog.

In July 2008 I created the Euravelers travel social network so members could exchange tips and advice to revel in their travels discovering the real Europe.

I’m also editor of the Wandalust UK travel blog.

But that’s only part of who I am. i work part time as a freelance social research interviewer. I met my beloved husband more than 30 years ago and we have 21 year old twin sons. I’m a Scot living in Berwick upon Tweed in the north east of England.

2) What do you like about what you do?
I love travelling in Europe, especially to places that are not so well know to tourists, so running site on this topic is so interesting for me. Of course there’s never enough time and money to see all of Europe. Running a travel site and blog may sound glamourous but the vast majority of my time is spent sitting at the computer.

I’ve made friends and contacts from all the world that I would have never been able to meet without the internet like the Happy Hotelier whom I’ve met twice, firstly at the Travel Bloggers Summit at the ITB in Berlin in March 2008 and more recently at the citizemM launch in Amsterdam in June 2008.


Two Great Bloggers: Karen (R) and me (L)

3) What don’t you like about what you do?
I’m a non techie person, fortunately one of our sons in a computing student so he’s my IT consultant. It’s very frustrating not being able to do all things techie yourself or taking ages to do a simple thing.
I’m hopeless at proof reading and never notice my own errors, even after reading a piece several times. It’s very hard to get noticed as an independent travel blog. It’s always said that if you have good, unique content you’ll succeed but that’s really isn’t enough. This was highlighted to me when I started writing for Wandalust which is part of the Creative Weblogging network of more than 130 blogs, so it has 130 links before any content is added. It’s similar story for travel blogs which are an extension of a newspaper or print magazine which already has an established readership. I also think part of the problem lies with the blog label, which I believe alienates many potential readers, sometimes I think that I should rename the blog an “interactive online travel magazine.

Europe a la Carte takes up so much of my time, that I don’t have enough time for family and friends.

4) Please tell us all about your blog and your aims with it
I started the Europe a la Carte blog after receiving an email from a Tourism student writing her dissertation about travel business blogs. I was intrigued by the notion of a business blog as until then, I’d thought of blogs as online personal diaries. I did some reading and it was all so positive that I thought I’d start a blog on my site. Well it was the right decision as the blog now accounts for more than 80% of site traffic. Blogs are great from bringing traffic even if you’re not a Search Engine Optimisation expert.

As I want my blog to be the best resource for travelling off the beaten track in Europe I made the decision in June 2008 to transform it to a multi author blog and recruited a team of bloggers. I realized that I couldn’t write a wide enough variety and volume of content myself.  In some ways it was hard to relinquish control of the blog. But it was more than that, I thought that the blog might become impersonal and lacking in coherence having several writers. However so far it’s all gone very well and I’m not feeling put out that some of the content from the blogging team outshines my own efforts.  I’ve never really considered myself as a travel writer. Although it sounds very mundane, in some ways, I think of myself more of a collator of travel information rather than a travel writer.

5) Your top 3 destination experiences you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
We had a three week family holiday to California in 2001. It was pretty hard to find a destination which we’d all enjoy as our sons were 14 at the time. We spent one week in San Francisco and we all loved it. One of our sons was into to skateboarding, so he was in skateboard heaven. I was a big fan of “The Streets of San Francisco” starring Michael Douglas as a youngster and it was great to finally make it to the city, there I was riding a cable car and walking across the Golden Gate Bridge. I thought that the the variety and quality of the food in restaurants in San Francisco was amazing, great Mexican, Chinese and Vegetarian restaurants. The whole Bay area was very beautiful.

We spent our 20th wedding anniversary in Rome.  I call Rome a living museum that because wherever you turn there are amphitheatres, temples, medieval streets, squares and Renaissance palaces. Rome is one of these evocative places I’d pictured in my mind whilst reading about the Roman Empire during history lessons and seen in various films. I was totally overawed by Rome.

I have to say that I’ve only truly appreciated parts of my own country, Scotland, whilst doing research for Scottish destination guides for my site. There were areas that I thought I knew but realised that I didn’t when I spent more time there. A couple of years ago I decided that I was neglecting Scotland, partly blinded by my love of Italy. I also believed that more UK residents would take holidays on home shores due to concerns about the environment and the hassle and expense of flying abroad so it would be a good thing for the site to have more content about the UK.


The view from The Knock, Crieff, Perthshire. Scotland

6) Your top 3 accommodations you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
The Masseria San Domenico in Puglia, Italy has to be the most beautiful hotel in which I’ve ever stayed. The Masseria has been restored and extended. The outdoor pool is filled with filtered sea water is large and alluring, our room was low key but beautifully furnished and there was a terrace outside. I love Lake Iseo in Lombardy in northern Italy. I’ve stayed in a few different hotels and apartments there but overall for location by the lakeside with wonderful views and value for money I’d nominate the four star Ulivi
Hotel
in Paratico on the south western shore of Lake Iseo. There is a good selection of restaurants and cafes within easy walking distance.  Double rooms cost as little as 60 euro including an excellent buffet breakfast.


Hotel Ulivi pool with views of Lake Iseo

I often stay in Travelodges in the UK and if you book at least 21 days in advance you can find family rooms for as little as £19. Not all Travelodges are at service stations in the middle of nowhere, there are some in city centres.

7) Your top 3 most memorable food experiences to date and why?
We spent three nights on half board at the Wide Mouthed Frog, a seafood restaurant with rooms near Oban in the north west of Scotland. The fresh seafood was so good.

The Grange Restaurant in North Berwick, east of Edinburgh has freshly prepared dishes using local produce.  The three course lunch menu costs £9.95. Then you can have a walk along the beach and enjoy views over to the Bass Rock.


North Berwick beach with a view to the Bass Rock

When I’m in France and Spain I”ll generally have the “Menu of the Day” which costs around 15 euros for three courses and I don’t think I’ve ever had an awful meal.

8) Your 3 worst destination/ accommodation /food experiences to date and why?
The Hotel Villa Maya near Pisa in Italy which I christened the Boot Camp because of all the rules, regulations and extra charges.  What upset me is that it was the most expensive overnight stay on our one week tour of Tuscany and Umbria in May 2008 and I choose it because of it’s alleged charm and atmosphere

The Lodge Hotel in Hunstanton in Norfolk, the reviews were good and the hotel looks very attractive on the exterior. It is a listed building, a former Dower House which has retained some period features. However when we entered our room it was as though we were in a different building. Our room was small, totally lacking in charm or character, with bland white furniture, a ripped sheet and patches of mould growing on the shower tiles. The breakfast was not great, no fresh fruit, warm fruit juice and rubbery fried eggs. It cost £65 a night and the £15 Travelodge room in which we stayed on our way home was far superior.

My worst experience was on the overnight ferry returning from Netherlands to Newcastle during very rough weather.  I was so sea sick and it was awful to know that I was stuck on the boat for the whole night.

9) Can you offer the readers 3 travel/ food / accommodation / things to do tips about the city you are currently living in?
I’ve lived in the town of Berwick upon Tweed in the far north eastern corner of England for two years. It is rather confusing as there’s a North Berwick on the east coast of Scotland, around 45 miles north of Berwick upon Tweed.   Berwick upon Tweed lies three miles from the border with Scotland, on the estuary of the River Tweed. It’s a beautiful town with intact Elizabethan town walls and a beach at Spittal.

The best things to do in Berwick are the walks:

a – You can walk around the town walls and along the pier encountering very little traffic.


Berwick upon Tweed pier

b – Walk along the riverside and spot many birds such as herons, cormorants and the large colony of mute swans. Sometimes the seals come quite far up the river.

c- Walk along Spittal Beach with views of Bamburgh Castle and Holy Island to the south.

10) Any Question(s) you’d expected me to ask that you would like to answer?

Happy Hotelier I think I’ve been interrogated sufficiently.

Thanks a lot, Karen. This must be the longest post I’ve ever seen you writing. I do believe the multi author policy is rocketing your Blog!

Last edited by Happy Hotelier on Thursday, October 15, 2009

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2 Responses to 10 Questions For (5): Karen Bryan of the Europe A La Carte Blog

  1. Let’s hope that the multi author policy rocket theory is correct, Happy Hotelier.

    I hope you didn’t have too much hassle recopying and pasting the interview from Google Doc to WordPress.

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