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Backpack & Budget

Join the Crowds at Festival Time

March 16, 1997|LUCY IZON | Izon is a Toronto-based freelance writer

One way to get closer to the local community when you are traveling and collect memorable experiences, is to time your visit to festivals and special events.

Camping out with the crowd at the annual weekend Cattleman's Roundup in Tasmania, Australia, or sharing a long wooden table with traditionally dressed Bavarians in one of the mammoth beer tents at the Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, can provide more insight into the local culture than you'll ever get on a tour bus.

Your best bet is to do some research before you leave. Guidebooks are one good source of, but you may have to contact tourist information offices for dates. Many government tourist offices publish free events calendars.

But a scarcity of budget accommodations may be a problem. Before you go, check with local youth hostels to see if you can make a reservation during the events. If not, and you are traveling through Europe on a rail or bus pass, you may be able to stay overnight in a neighboring village without much extra expense.

Another option would be to join a youth budget tour that has scheduled its departures to coincide with festivals.

Top Deck, a 23-year-old British budget tour company that caters to young travelers, offers short tours from London to special events in Europe every summer.

Top Deck has three types of tours. Deckerhome programs are on double-decker buses that have been converted to allow 22 people to sleep and travel. There are bunks and personal lockers upstairs and a little kitchen downstairs for communal meals.

On Coach Camping Plus tours, passengers stay at campsites, and Top Deck will provide tents, air mattresses and camping equipment.

On Coach Hotel programs, passengers stay at tourist-class hotels. Many of the hotels have bars and lounges and most rooms have private bathrooms.

This summer Top Deck will provide an affordable way to get to the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. An eight-day Coach Camping tour will depart London May 7. The cost is $349, including breakfasts but not tickets to the auto race. Top Deck advises its passengers to purchase them in Monaco. This trip also includes a stopover and tour in Paris. On the race days the group will stay in a campsite on the French Riviera.

In early July, three tours depart from London for the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, where local residents run with bulls through the streets. There are all-night dance parties and you can attend a bullfight. The nine-day version is a Coach Camping tour that will depart July 3. A stop is made at Biarritz, France (a resort known for its surfing and bathing beach), for two days. The cost is $366, and includes breakfasts. An eight-day Coach Hotel trip departs London July 4. Accommodations are a hotel with swimming pool in a village just outside of Pamplona. The cost is $432. Seven-day Coach Camping tours depart July 5. The price is $282, including breakfasts.

Five-day Deckerhome tours from London to the Edinburgh Festival for arts in Scotland will depart Aug. 2, 9 and 22. The price is $282, which includes some performance tickets. There also is a $75 charge for a communal food fund.

In mid-September, tours head for one of Europe's biggest parties--the Munich Oktoberfest. The six-day Coach Camping tours leave London Sept. 19 and cost $298. Departures on Sept. 25 and Oct. 10 cost $282. Eight-day Coach Camping tours include sightseeing in Bavaria and the Tirolean region of Austria. This includes a stopover in a 400-year-old Austrian chalet plus a visit to Salzburg and optional excursion to Neuschwanstein Castle. Departures are Sept. 18 and 26. The cost is $332. Only breakfasts are included.

Top Deck also offers tours in Russia, Morocco and Egypt. For information, contact Top Deck in London at Top Deck House, 131-135 Earls Court Road, London SW5 9RH, telephone 011-44-171-370-4555, fax: 011-44-171-373-6201.

Izon is a Toronto-based freelance writer. She can be reached at http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/izon

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