Rome and Vatican City

Bonjourno! Here we are in Rome! Yesterday was a busy day, with travel, a quick driving tour, the Vatican, dinner and more sightseeing. We saw the colosseum and all the major sights from the coach, and then got a bit of free time to go to the markets, watch nuns eat lunch, and get touristy shirts for our whiteboard party. Then we had our guide tour of the Vatican, which was definitely neat, but had so much to take in. Entering is like going through airport security, where I may have accidentally used the lords name in vain (whoops). Hahaha. We got a tour of the museum, with the intricate ceilings, maps, tapestries, and sculptures. We saw the sisters chapel and St. Peters basilica, which was definitely the most impressive church I’ve ever seen. The whole experience was awesome, but would definitely mean a lot more if I was religious. After the Vatican, we ate pizza and wine outside on a cute Italian lane, saw the pantheon and threw a couple Canadian coins in the Trevi fountain. We went back to camp, got the bus stuck on a very tight corner where some of us got out and literally picked up a car to give us room to move the coach, and we got to our campground. I swore to an early night after wifi, but once again, a quiet night is a rare thing with contiki, especially with a disco pub on site. Today we went to the Roman forum and the colosseum. The audio guide in the forum wasn’t great, a lot of paths were closed off, and the weather wasn’t fantastic, so we didn’t see a whole lot and I definitely would’ve liked to have spent more time there. We managed to get a guided tour of the colosseum, somehow snagging a third floor and basement tour, which was fantastic! We got to to into the basement where the bases of elevator platforms were, animal cages, etc. and all the way to the third floor stadium seating. The whole thing was truly fascinating, an I’m really glad we got the tour. It was all rainy and windy, so we went off for a pasta lunch, and dessert to wait for the rain to quit. We grabbed pizza on the way to the Spanish steps meetin place after dashing around the train stations, meeting the crew just in time to go home. I would’ve liked to have seen the monks catacombs and a couple other things, but there just wasn’t enough time if I wanted my included dinner. Just an excuse to come back! Now we’re all relaxing with reliable wifi, packing for our overnight ferry adventure. Tomorrow we drive to Pompeii, and then to a 14 hour overnight ferry to Greece. Crazy to think that tomorrow I’ll fall asleep in Italy and wake up in Greece. What a crazy trip….

Venice to Rome

Ciao Bella! (and Happy Easter!) Here we are, once again in the Italian countryside, this time just departing The ghetto of Pisa to our campsite in Florence. It’s raining, and hailing, but that’s okay on driving days. Our camp in Venice was pretty nice, with more spacious mobile trailer rooms, in a public campsite. Arriving on Good Friday, the contiki team had left little chocolate surprises on our pillow! :) Yesterday we had a free day in the water city of Venice, cruising the roads of water in our boat to get there. Venice was pretty neat, but not somewhere I’d ever be able to live. The canals are a pretty opaque greeny blue, but don’t smell very pleasant. The narrow walkways are super neat, though crowded with millions of people (and tourists). It was a cool place, and I’m glad to say I’ve been there, especially with the fact that it’s sinking! We arrived and waded through the crowds to St. Marks Square, then the majority took off on an optional walking your while Alicia and I and a couple others got gelato and went down the walkways to explore the little shops. Venice is well known for its masks and it’s glass, being the city that glass was invented in. The stores are crammed full of neat little figurines and beautiful jewelry, and intricate masks. We followed pathways around, bridges over canals, somehow ended up in a glass factory, and eventually in some little bar. In Venice they charge you more to eat in than take away, and can charge you different rates if you sit at a window seat or on an outdoor patio. For example, one of the groups got charged an additional fee to listen to the music that was playing in St Marks while they drank coffee on an outdoor patio. It’s crazy. We saw the bridge of sighs, a covered bridge that connects the court house to the jail (I think that’s what it is… I overheard from a tour group), and to the Rialto Bridge, the oldest bridge crossing the Grand Canal, shops covering the bridge. We wandered the streets back to take the most expensive pee of Europe, at €1,50, and back to St. Marks, where I met up with some other people to go into St. Marks Basilica. The line was horrendous, but sneaky contiki gives hints to avoid lines. In the case of st marks, you can wait in line, and once you get to the front they’ll send you down an alley to a bag drop off, where they give you a fast pass in. If you go right to the bag drop, you can get a fast pass and enter without even stepping in line. It was pretty neat inside, with intricate mosaic domes and floors, but for the few minutes it took to walk around i wouldn’t have waited an hour or two in line. Then we did actually wait in line to go up St. Marks Campanile, the big bell tower in the square. It had fantastic views of Venice, with surrounding suburbs floating amid the water. Interestingly enough, you can’t see a single canal from above! We met up with the group to head off on our optional gondola ride, where we drank Prosecco while cruising the canals. It was definitely a neat experience, moving inches from the walls of buildings with perfect precision. We went back to camp, and then everyone went to the bar. I had a quiet night, hanging out on the docks and avoiding some of the drama that’s been going on. Well that never got finished on time, but it is now Tuesday. The trip from Venice to Florence was one of mostly sleep, as I was in the early stages of Contiki Cough, along with everyone else. We stopped in Pisa, seeing the famous leaning tower and get being surrounded by more of the illegal street vendors trying to make you buy their stolen sunglasses before you even make it off the coach. We had a contest of who could find the most disgusting and corny souvenir, which I won with a horrible pen holder. We were surrounded by the baby toting women who try to steal your things while they distract you, and of course, there’s always one they manage to scare enough to get alone and take her wallet. She did manage to get it back, luckily only losing €10, but it’s a reminder that we’re not at home anymore. We got to our contiki campsite in Florence, beautiful little cabins but no heat, making for rather chilly mornings (something I don’t mind from having plenty of with JFR, but the Aussies didn’t appreciate them the same way). That night we went into town to a karaoke bar, had a lot of drinks, and a lot of fun. Karaoke here was a lot more whole bar invoking, not just a couple people being watched, so way less awkward and way more fun. Yesterday we spent the day in Florence, getting a leather demonstration (being Florence’s thing), and a walking your that was really quite awful. Most of the people were a combination of hungover and Contiki sick, so it was a very slow day for everyone. We lost the walking tour, and when we found it we couldn’t hear anything, and she wasn’t very interesting overall. We ate pizza and strolled around for the day, taking it easy. We had a group photo done later, and our optional Tuscan dinner, with bruschetta, 3 kinds of pasta, potatoes, meatballs, chicken, salad and tirimasu. So tasty, but so much food! After dinner, we went the Electronic Space Discoteque, a neat club with fishtails in the bar, podiums and cages and lots of lights. Rather fun night, but it emptied out pretty quick to only consist of 16 year old girls, and since most of us had a big night the night before (which was meant to be the “I’ll have a quiet night, only 1 or 2 drinks”), most went home early. The thing about Europe is that they do a lot of free pouring of alcohol, so sometimes you get a drink with four times the amount of alcohol you’d get at home, which is beneficial for a wallet, but harder to count drinks accurately. And that leads to today! It’s 8:30am on Tuesday, we’re heading to Rome and have our Vatican tour today, and we’ve all been informed that tonight is a party night at our contiki campsite, with another group staying there tonight as well. As they say about Contiki, every night is a Friday or Saturday, and every morning is a Monday morning. Time for a nap!

Barcelona to Venice

Today we are enroute to Venice from the lovely French Riviera, driving through the hills of Italy. Good thing no one is super hungover today, cause this drive is 7 hours and the highway is ultra twisty. Barcelona was a neat city, but one i’m not sure I’d go back to. It’s got some cool architecture, that’s for sure, and a party scene, there wasn’t a whole lot that really interested me. We started out in Spain with a bunch of us taxiing it into town to go to the Fairy Bar, a pub decorated to give the illusion of sitting in a fairy’s garden, with dim lighting from little hanging lamps, foliage covering the ceiling and walls, a waterfall, and a random feature room of some whacked out old lady bedroom with possesse mannequins. Super weird bar, but a really cool atmosphere. We sat around in the chairs at tables the right size for a kindergarten classroom and drank sangria in the old lady bedroom before heading down the street to a cheap cocktail night, where all the boys ordered fruity, icy drinks and everyone had a good time. I rather enjoyed the Zombie, but have no idea what was in it due to the whole Spanish menu problem. The following morning we got a bus tour of the city, but it was raining rather hard, so our walking tour was cancelled and many photos are through the raindrop covered windows. We saw the Sangrada Familia church, Gaudi’s most famous piece of architecture, started over a hundred years ago and still not complete. I didn’t go inside, but if I was to go back I think I would. We were dropped off at one end of La Rambla, the most popular and touristy street in Barcelona, and the haven for pitpocketers that makes Barcelona famous with the highest pitpocking rate in the world. The previous night this median street was full of artists with their work, vendors and drawers, but on the rainy day all of the neat artists were missing. La Rambla is essentially a median, with one way streets on either side of it, with another sidewalk beside the shops and restaurants on the sides. The median is full of ice cream vendors, souvenir shops, stalls where you can buy pets (so weird, and wrong, selling birds, turtles and rabbits out of a closable vending box), and outdoor seating for many of the restaurants. This can be rathe amusing, as you can watch your waiting come out of the restaurant, across a busy sidewalk, dodge traffic on the road, and then come to your table. It was pissing rain when we got there, so we spent most of our time running from shop to shop, getting ice cream and tapas (Spanish meal where you get a bunch of small dishes and share them), and explored a food market where you can buy a full, skinned rabbit (eyeballs and all) right out of the meat case. We lost some of our group, so Kansas Caitlin and I wandered down the now only misty La Rambla, to a mall in the harbor, around the port, and back as the sun finally started shining. We ate churros with hot chocolate (the Spanish way) on La Rambla and wandered around, buying souvenirs that I would later leave in an H&M change room and lose forever (total bummer, but wasn’t worth that much, and easy to find the same things again). The rest of the group head off on an optional flamenco show while my budget let me hang around Barcelona a little longer with Alicia, rebuy souvenirs and get lost. We met the group at Port Olympic, a port full of restaurants and drank sangria and ate Mexican food. We were going out for a night on the town in the port, but I wasn’t feeling swell and decided the extra sleep would probably be best anyways. Wednesday was another day of travel, another 9 hours from Barcelona to the French Riviera, to our Contiki campsite in Antibes. It was a day of bus naps and truck stops, and a very rainy day. We did stop in the town of Arles, home of Vincent Van Gogh for a few years, and conquered by Julius Caesar. It would’ve been nice to look around, but it was like, super raining. Ultra raining. Rain that soaks you as soon as you get into it. I got thoroughly drenched looking for a bathroom, and did find a Van Gogh garden, and the rain cleared up as soon as we were about to leave. Eventually we arrived at our Contiki campsite, essentially an area beside a farm, full of cabins that look like garden sheds, 4 rooms and 2 bathrooms each. Meals in the tent, and a decent bar, and had a quiet(er) night at the bar playing pool. Yesterday we drove from Antibes to the town of Nice (pronounced like niece), got a tour of a French perfumery, and saw amazing views from atop the hills, before heading down to the main street. The Riviera was settled by rich Parisians who were sick of all the poor people in Paris, and decided to leave and find somewhere nice, so they kept going south until they ran into the Mediterranean Sea, and it’s easy to see why. It’s absolutely beautiful, with white pebbled beaches, gorgeous turquoise water and bright green palm trees. The neat rows of houses and stores are all bright pretty colors, with brightly painted windowsills. So pretty! We stopped at McDonald’s for lunch, exercising the cheaper meal option as well as the experience of being able to order a beer with your burger! (just had to do that hahaha). We wandered down the boardwalk and beach to Le Chateau, the best views of the city and soooo pretty! We explored old town, got ice cream at Fenocchio’s (lored the best ice cream in the world), and wandered around the neat little streets. Then we went shopping at cheap stores, and we’re back to our camp for dress up and dinner before heading to Monaco to see the palace, place of the Formula 1 race car track, and Monte Carlon Grand casino! I went ahead for my first casino experience and went all out, drinking an €8 beer I was bought and using the slots to break even and lose it all on another. We continued to the casino next door where I won €24 on virtual roulette and cashed in before I lost it all, making a €14 profit! :) totally fun night, and then back to the bar where the big winners got us all drinks. I’m jut outside Venice at the moment, paying for wifi on a very warm night. We stopped at a designer outlet store, but all was expensive still. However, Italian pizza is soooo flipping tasty!!! Anyways, should be off! Night night!

Paris and the Beaujolais Wine Region

Today we are enroute from the beautiful Beaujolais wine region of France to Barcelona, Spain. This drive will be one of our longest, lasting an awesome 10 hours, so there’s plenty of time to write all about the adventures of the past couple days. Friday was our free an final day in Paris. We started at the Louve for a couple hours, the art gallery with 18 kilometers of hallways that would take years to look at ever piece (I can’t remember the exact statistics, but it’s ridiculous). We definitely didn’t have time to see every piece, and had other plans as well, so we did the fast paced tourist version, seeing one gallery at a glance and we went in search of Monna Lisa, Virgin de mio, and the sphinx. If there was more time, I definitely would’ve liked to have explored more, but that jut isn’t possible on a time budget. After the Louve, we headed down the champ de élysées and street for celebrities to see the big Paris stores. One such stop was the Abercrombie and Fitch mansion, which features male models at the golden gates, ivy covered walls, and a male model greeter at the doors (shirt unbuttoned and 6 pack exposed, of course). The whole inside looks like a club, and people seem to be employed just to dance and look good. Also, you can smell the place from across the street. Of the rich people stores, that was the only one we actually entered, but some of the other features of the streets are Louis Vutton, Gucci, and a Haggen Daaz restaurant. Alicia and I ended up losing our fellow comrade and went shopping at H&M for general cheaper clothing as well as for our upcoming tight n bright party the following night. We ate gigantic cheese covered hot dogs down a back street, walked to the arc de triumph, and back to the Eiffel tower, where our plan of drinking wine failed when we realized we didn’t bring a corkscrew. We headed back to the hotel on the Metro, where Alicia got stuck in the doors on the way off and a French guy got mad at us because he missed his train and woukd have tk wait 4 minutes longer as we struggled to get through the crowd to get off. Fun experience! We hung out and napped to prepare for the evening out. The entire group had signed up for our optional Parisian dinner, which included very, very generous amounts of wine and plenty of delicious food. I had escargot, duck leg in orange sauce, which was followed by cheese, a pastry, and coffee. Our table of 4 each had a glass of rose wine to start, a bottle of white and of red, which were promptly replaced when finished. After dinner we were dropped off by Moulin Rouge, and walked through the red light district to a church overlooking Paris. The amount of people selling souvenirs out of their pockets is ridiculous, and here we experienced them selling Heineken bottles, who got quite a bit of service from our group. We walked back, stopping in some of the strange stores and avoiding the numerous strip clubs and their johns trying to sell you lapdances. We got back to Moulin Rouge to the Irish “pub” beside it, famous for hosting Contiki crews for an awesome night out: the Irish pub didn’t play a single iron song, and was really just a big club with expensive drinks, but definitely a good time. The first big night out was definitely interesting, where hormones fly and barriers are down. Also, European men are very upfront, sometimes old and usually creepy. But being on a crew of 45 is handy in this case, with so many to steal dances and make sure you’re always safe. The night was super fun, and our group of 5 convinced a taxi to take us if one sat on the floor. Super fun night. The next morning there were definitely quite a few haggard looking faces on the bus, ready for a long snooze on the 6 hour bus ride to our Contiki Chateau. We stopped for a while in the town of Fountain bleu, where a few of us chilled in the gardens of Napoleon’s palace and got checked out by ducks and swans. This was the first day it wasn’t completely beautiful out, being overcast and rather chilly. We spent the bus time going over optional excursions and proper introductions of our members, and eventually arrived in the stunning Beaujolais wine region and our Contiki special stopover chateau. The whole area is green, even with the lack of grapes from being so early in the season, with cute little lanes and houses scattered throughout. The Chateau is an amazing piece of architecture, and way too cool to think its essentially a frat house for contiki parties. It was built in the medieval ages, added onto and fixed after the French Revolution to be a mansion for a rich family, bought by a tour group as a vacation house for employees, used as a hospital by a doctor, and then bought by Contiki to be a party house. It’s on eautifuk grounds, complete with a pool, which was sadly still closed for winter, and the Cave, the underground party central. There’s an upstairs bar as well as the one in the cave, and alcohol is very reasonable. We ate dinner and then it was time for our tight n bright party with the Escapade tour that was there with us. With everyone dressed in neon, a few guys in skirts and every guy in tank tops, it was a rather interesting night, and totally fun. All of the staff joins in on the party, and everyone is having a good time, and it’s an easy stumble up to bed when you choose to leave (for some, this was 6am), and definitely the safest environment to party in. Yesterday was a nice chill day, with a later breakfast (as well as te ability to go in your pj’s), and no solid plans. Alicia and I wandered around before meeting a group for our semi-scheduled picnic in the hills of France. We walked for over an hour up winding streets and through fields, following a few who walked too fast and didn’t know how to read a map, and ended up far past where they were trying to send us. In the end, 15 of us shared 1.5 picnic baskets while the rest of the food was with the lost ones, and we head back to the actual picnic area Contiki meant for us, with a casual wander back to the chateau. Such a neat little town to wander through, and such a nice day. We got back to the chateau and just chilled for the rest of the day, sunning ourselves (or burning, in my case) on the lawn overlooking miles of vineyards, telling stories and general banter. We had a meeting for the Greek islands/Egypt groups to find out the details of that, and spent the next few hours drinking and snacking in paradise, before heading in for supper and a casual evening of pajamas and Contiki pictionary (total riot). Then it was in for an early sleep. And that pretty much leads to today, where we are currently 3 hours into our 10 hour drive to Barcelona! Ayeeee.

From the second floor, we had to take the lift to the top, which was totally worth it. The view was incredible, and from the top you can see all of the crazy streets that run through this city, with the 7 road intersecting roundabouts, all lit up in the night. At the top, you can buy a glass of champagne for a mere €10, which I can say I did not do, but would if I was wealthy. Haha.

Eiffel by night is completely different than during the day. In the day it’s iron looms magnificence and strength, while at night it expresses beauty and elegance. We climbed to the second floor, just as the light show started for its first show of the night and the entire area around cheered.