Here we go, off on the cliche gap year European trip. 7 weeks in Europe going solo on a Contiki tour. If things get posted to this, we're lucky...
I am currently flying, only an hour from home. I know I need to write this now, or I’ll never actually do it and this story will be left without an ending, so here goes. Amsterdam is a cool city, and rather shockingly similar to how it is in movies and tv. Walking through the red light district, the women are actually in the windows, clad in all the various skimpy lingerie, opening their doors and open for service. It’s one of those things you hear about, but when you see it in reality it’s like “whoa serious?, this is actually how it is?” we strolled the alleyways, awkwardly peeking at the almost-nude girls, in search of the blue lights for he-she’s, and taking it all in. And soon, we were at the famous sex show, where you enter and there are actually naked people just… Doing it on stage. Hahaha. We watched a few different acts, some where they involved various chosen contiki members to help with strip teases or banana eating. It was a show of mostly just jokes and constant laughter, and definitely made for an interesting evening. After the show, we head to one of the bars/coffee shops for drinking and some of the members, other cultural delights. Also, one of the best taxi rides I’ve had while a random guy did a strip tease dance for our taxi from the side of the road, while our driver pumped tunes and told us not to pay him, cause he was a shit dancer. Hahaha Our final day, we got stuck in traffic for a while, and it rained. We did a canal bike cruise (paddle boats!), and had a few free hours. I would’ve liked to have gone into Anne Frank house, but by the time we got there the line seemed to be something that we’d spend a good hour or two in, and with only 3.5 free hours, we made the decision to see more than the line and potentially rushed through later. We wandered the main shopping streets and visited a sex museum, full of animated mannequins and photos and chastity belts and sculptures. We had lunch and explored a little before being picked up to get ready for our final evening out. We had a river cruise of the canals, and dinner at a floating sea palace Indonesian restaurant, before going on a pub crawl to celebrate both the end of tour and a birthday. Super fun night for sure, and a positive end to the party that was contiki. (Harry potter shots!) Today we said goodbye. We left a couple behind in Amsterdam, who were leaving later, and the rest were off on the transfer back to London. Goodbyes are not easy at all, especially when the vast majority of your new family lives in a different hemisphere. I was the only one being dropped at the airport, and then the bus was off to London while I awaited my flight due 6 hours later. And now I’m here, almost back on Canadian soil after the trip of a lifetime. It’s bittersweet, but I have real reasons to hurry up and make my Australian trip a reality. I’ve met amazing people and shared incredible experiences, and had the trip of a lifetime. Its taught me piles about other countries and cultures, yet showing me why I’m proud to call Canada home. However, I enjoy my honorary Aussie title as well. ;)
Well, this is my last bus ride for this tour, and I know if I don’t update this now I might leave this unfinished, so here we go! Switzerland was super beautiful. The countryside was amazing, all green and mountainous. The night we got there we had a pajama party in the bomb shelter bar to party it up with our bus driver Liz for her last night of allowed drinking. The next day… Uh… Monday! We took the 100 year old cog railway up Mount Jungfrau, where many of the Australians got to experience snow for the first time. We wandered the ice palace and exhibits they had up there, and got a good while of snow fun in for everyone, all with incredible views from the roof of Europe. Even the Aussies that did have snow are like a bunch of children on the first snow fall, and I took it upon myself to spend my time wrestling the guys into the snow, give facewashes, and have a proper snowfight to make it a memorable experience. Everyone had a ton of fun, and we all fell asleep on the train down from the exhaustion of the day and the altitude. It was a really fun day, and probably one of the best snow days I’ve ever had. We went back to the hotel, had a collapsed chill in the lobby of our chalet, chilled on our balcony with the beautiful view, went for a walk through the fields, and had another group join us for quite the Red and White party that night. Tuesday we head to the Rhine Valley and the town of St. Goar, with a stop in the cute town of Hidelburg on the way. We had a beer stein crafting talk, I scored a pair of Birkenstocks for €45, and we had wine tasting, where we got to try ice wine. Today we are on the last leg of our journey, to some town called Amsterdam. Sounds like an interesting place! We rode low rider bikes in Edam, and witnessed a cheese making and clog making demonstration, and are off to a live sex show tonight! Only on Contiki!
Ciao from Switzerland yeah?! We are currently driving through the beautiful countryside of Switzerland! It’s been a beautiful and fun past couple days, so I’ll start where I left off. Swarovski Crystal World is one weird museum. Our tour driver described it as a museum made my someone on acid, and it quite accurately describes it. There are 14 rooms, each completely different and quite I few seemingly unrelated to Swarovski crystals… Like random mannequin legs dancing and shirts flying around rooms, some glass sculptures with random weird clips of naked women dancing inside, and rooms full of mirrors. Totally worth the money, and definitely the most unique museum I’ve been in. After that strange experience, we got to our Contiki house and had an excellent night of drinking games and such. The following morning we took it easy. A bunch of the group had an optional bike ride, but those of us that didn’t go walked into town, ran errands, explored and had a delicious lunch. We wandered back, taking in the gorgeous scenery and soaking up some sun before my group was off to paraglide! We drove up the ultra windy single lane road up to the top of a mountain, strapped in to our instructor, and ran off the mountain and into the air. The whole experience was really smooth and fun, flying freely through the air, seeing the town and forests surrounding it from above. The flight was about 10 minutes, and way fun. I got the chance for roller coaster fun at the end, as we did tight turns and weightlessness and all that fun. It was super fun and totally worth it, and I’ll do it again in a heartbeat. After paragliding we went for a walk down random country roads to see the scenes and take a bit of a break before dinner and our rockstars and superstars party that night. On Saturday we left early in the morning to go white water rafting, which was super fun (despite being cold and overcast), and better than my previous rafting experience. The guide played the Canadian card hitch convinced me to get in the water, and I sort quite a bit getting pushed into the water or being positioned at the front of the boat like a mermaid on a ship to soak up the water. Sooo much funnnn. Afterwards we were back on the road to Munich, where we got a couple hours to explore. We watched the glockenspiel do its thing at 5pm and partook in some pre-wedding German guys soccer challenge of some sorts, and were off to the beer halls. We got a liter stein of beer each and the best porn knuckle of my life, all while singing Ein Prosit and watching entertainment of cow bells and dancing. Super fun night, and has inspired me even more to attend Oktoberfest. Today we left early for another day of driving, broken up with a visit to the country of Lichtenstein for lunch, and a couple hours in Luzern, Switzerland for our Swiss shopping experience. We have just left Lucerne, and are heading on the most windy part of this leg, but should also be the prettiest. We get 2 nights in Switzerland, with a run up Mount Jungfrau tomorrow. Time is running out!
Gutentag! We are driving through the beautiful country of Austria right now, on one of our most jam packed days, as we try as cram as much as we can into the few meager days left on tour. Budapest was a beautiful city. The river cruise was gorgeous at night, and the food that accompanied it was delicious. We had goulash and paprika chicken, as well as a huge variety of other buffet salads an desserts. After the cruise, we went to an outdoor bar on the island, and later tried to go to a legendary 4 floor club, which failed due to the fact that none of us bring ID here. We attempted more, but eventually gave up and hung out at the hotel. The following day was May Day, which brought both positives an negatives to our single day in Budapest. We had our driving tour and walked around the castle and the landmarks of Buda, but the Pest side had many roads closed for the Formula 1 race car driver Jenson ____ to attempt to set a new record on the streets of Budapest that day. It was a blisteringly hot 32 degrees, and the crowds came out for the occasion. We heard racecar noises, but couldn’t really be bothered to fight the crowd and stand in the sun for a glimpse of the actual race. We wandered the streets, had lunch, but most stores were closed due to the occasion, unfortunately. We ended up walking a long way around, sat in the park with all of the racecar and festival activities in it, and took it easy. At this point, even some of the Aussies were hot. Our group decided ice cream was a need, and eventually stumbled into the air conditioned TGIFridays for ice cream sundaes and snacks. The crowds had died down a bit when we came back out, so we could actually make it down the street to the Basilica, where we were let in despite not being dressed church appropriately. It was gorgeous inside, like many of the churches I’ve seen on this trip… Haha. And had the hand of a former priest(?) that is preserved in a box that you can pay to watch light up. We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out in a park, awaiting our dinner plans. We found a nicer park later, and eventually joined the group for our spontaneous medieval dinner! We all sat at our big tables on big heavy chairs, drinking beer out of huge clay cups and eating soup in a bread bowl, as well as about 7 different kinds of meat with our hands, clad in bibs. There was some entertainment, of belt dancing, a sword fight of sorts, and a creepy fire eating guy, but not the jousting I was hoping for. Still a super fun night, eating giant turkey legs and acting like barbarians. We had an actual quiet night that night, however that didn’t mean an early bedtime… Yesterday we left early and drove to Austria! Austria is one of the countries I was most excited about, and so far it hasn’t let me down. We got to Vienna, had a city tour (it is absolutely gorgeous!), and walked to the main street to get delicious giant hot dogs. We spent the rest of the day shopping for our upcoming theme party, and I kind of wish I had spent the day doing something more. I need more than a couple days in this city, but that’s just another reason to come back, which I definitely plan on. We had a tour of a Schnapps factory that afternoon, where the hilarious owner gave us a brief rundown of how schnapps are made, how they classify, etc before setting us free on our free tastes to entice us to buy (which we all did, of course). We got the opportunity to try straight absinth (which tastes like what a building infested with pack rats smells like, to me), as well as various flavors of schnapps and liqueurs. After the tasting, we visited Schönbrunn summer palace, and head off to our optional dinner in the middle of the woods. The dinner was delicious, and they provided us with plenty of entertainment. Our bus ride home was similar to a party bus, we checked into our hostel, and everyone spent the night at the bar, weirding out other guests in true contiki fashion. Today we are driving to the Austrian village of Hoftgarten. We stopped at the Mautherhausen concentration camp, which was a very powerful and emotional experience. Walking through the same gates that prisoners did, down the sidewalks where they gave up their belongings, the showers, the gas showers, incinerators… It was awful to think of what happened in that camp, and of how one person can cause such a thing. The bus was silent as we left, and has only just started breaking. The bus has only been that somber twice now, once before ANZAC, and today. I’m glad Emma managed to squeeze the experience in for us, because it’s something that I know will stick with each of us for the rest of our lives. We’re almost at the town of the Sound of Music, and we have the Swarovski crystal world experience after that, before we arrive at the contiki gastof. The days are quickly disappearing, with only a week tomorrow left. None of us want it to end, and it seems like we still have do much left to do, it’s hard to believe that I’ll be leaving this amazing group of people in a week.
Kalispera! Today we are back on the road as a complete group, driving from Athens to Kavala. It’s been an incredible and quick week, and we’re over the halfway hump and onto the last couple weeks of the tour. It’s hard to think we’re only just over halfway done, but have 10 more countries to visit. Haha. Ios was absolutely beautiful. The weather wasn’t quite as nice and we would’ve liked, with powerful winds and overcast conditions most of the time, but still made for a fantastic time. After the last post, I went quadding around the countryside with AJ, Kelli, Lauren and Jay, up the Greek hillish mountains, past donkeys and sheep, before the wind got a little unsafe and we head back for gyros and crepes. That night we head in for dinner at a neat restaurant that gave us many mystery shots over the course of dinner, before heading back to the Fun pub for more pool and jenga adventures, hanging out with the group and other tourists, finally getting to drink with our bus driver Liz. We ended up at another bar later, before heading back home. It was a rather messy night, but definitely one of the best nights out. And, surprisingly, we all felt fantastic in the morning, which was a pleasant surprise. The next day we spent quadding around again, but the wind was even stronger. The waves of the bay were super impressive, looking like a mountain range from above, and watching them roll into the beach, occasionally over the wall and flooding the street. Some of the quads didn’t enjoy the salt water under spray, which caused a couple stall and not starting incidents. We had a BBQ dinner that night, some ouzo, and back to Fun Pub. The next day we returned our beloved quads and waited for our late ferry before taking the craziest and roughest ferry ride yet, takin twice as long and making half the boat sick. We arrived in Santorini, had a late lunch at a restaurant across te road, and spent the afternoon chilling near the hotel, before walking into town to catch the sunset and grab some dinner (gyros for those of us cheap wads, gotta love paying €4 for a gyros and a drink). The town was mostly closed by 9 that night, so we wandered back and a few of us locked out of our rooms hung out watching some english movie on Greek tv over casual beers, ringing in my birthday at midnight. Friday was my birthday, and definitely one of the best yet! We slept in as per usual, and walked into town to catch cable cars down to the old port of Fira. We wandered the shops before catching our wooden ship to our volcano tour. We hiked the volcano of Santorini, seeing the craters and the beautiful sea surrounding us. We hopped back on the boat and went to another volcano, for a jump in the decently cold sea for a swim to the thermal pools of the bay, which get warmer in the summer, but weren’t as warm as our hot springs in Canada like I was expecting. We did the cold swim back to the boat, and back to the docks where we shopped and rode donkeys up the 500-ish stairs to the top. We spent the day wandering the streets and shops, eating gyros and ice cream, and having an awesome day. We chilled out for a bit, before going out for dinner at Mama’s restaurant, where she hugged and kissed us each as we entered, and gave me an extra god blessing hug and told us to all have safe sex. We ate a delicious dinner, Hannah gave me flowers, there was a birthday shot of good old ouzo, and we were off on the bar hopping adventure of free birthday drinks. It was a fantastic day and an awesome night, and a very awesome birthday. The next day was definitely a slow one, with a large group of hungover people eating Pringles and ordered in gyros in the morning in the hotel lobby. I walked the long walk to the beach with Trish, and met up with those that had quadded down, where we lay on the black sand beach and watched other quadders mess around. It was a relaxing day, exactly what we needed after that night. I had a siesta and some down time before we head out to catch the bus to Oia for the sunset, where we explored the town, ate gyros again, and watched the beautiful sunset. Most of us had an actual quiet night and head back to the hotel, watching movies on the tv in the lobby and having an actual night in. Yesterday we didn’t have to catch out ferry until late, so we got the day to explore again. Kyra and I spent the day shopping, picking up souvenirs and gifts, wandering the stores, eating gyros and ice cream, and seeing the streets as sights on the gorgeous summer day. It was the clearest and calmest day yet, and absolutely beautiful looking out over the caldera. We decided to take advantage of our last day in Santorini, and got another donkey ride, this time down and back up again, which was super fun and definitely worth doing again. However, going up is way less scary than going down… We wandered back to the hotel, had drinks on the roof, and we’re off on the bus back to the port to await our ferry, drinking cheap €1 beer in the sunshine. The ferry ride was a long 5 hours, but we eventually arrived back in Athens, where the Egypt people greeted us in costume, with hugs and stories as we were all reunited. Today we are on the coach. We saw the monument of the battle of Sparta, had a reenactment of the battle with mops and brooms, and have spent the rest of the time sharing stories and catching up. Tonight we get a short while to organize ourselves for tomorrow’s overnight campout in Gallipoli for the dawn service for ANZAC day. Both Alicia and I are planning on joining the Aussies and Kiwis for the dawn service, because hey, how often will we be in Gallipoli for Anzac day, even if it’s not something we observe at home? It should be really good, and hopefully I’ll learn a lot more about the day and the tragic events that occurred.
Oh my goodness Greece is gorgeous! I’m currently laying by the pool, sunning myself in the slight overcast sun, taking a siesta from a day of quadding. Athens was pretty neat, but almost a ghost town when we were there due to the holiday. If things were open and the streets were busy, it might be different, but it wasn’t the nicest city I’ve been to. We took our tour of the city, walked up a hill to get a view of the city and the acropolis, and learned some history from the guide. We got a quick stop at the marble stadium, and at the Parliament building just in time for the changing of the guards, and had a walkabout dinner downtown. I’d like to have gone in the Acropolis, but that was out of our control. Hopefully there’ll be time to do it when we go back after the islands. We said our goodbyes to the Egypt people and had an early night to prepare for our early morning. Yesterday we caught our early ferry to the island of Ios, arriving to a gorgeous pool at our hotel. We were given welcome shots of blueberry vodka (it may have been noon), and spent the rest of the day lounging poolside with a beer or cocktail in hand. It was a lovely, relaxing day, and we spends the whole time posting photos to the contiki Facebook group to make the Egyptian counterparts jealous as they waited at the airport for their flight. We went for a late dinner at a traditional place, eating fried cheese, stuffed grape leaves, calamari and souvlaki before heading out drinks at one of Ios’s several pubs, Fun, where we played pool and giant jenga. We got a casual day today, of sleeping in and doing what we want. A bunch of us rents quads, and I’ve spent the day quadding around the island, exploring the town, the old town, an attempt at finding Homer’s tomb, and racing around the countryside. It’s absolutely fantastic, and an awesome way to see the sites and smells of this place. I’m gonna head off and do some more, I have the quad for the day and plan on seeing all I can. :)
Opa! Today we are traveling from Corfu to Athens, and preparing for our vacation within a vacation when the group splits for a week. On Thursday we drove from Rome to Pompeii, eating from a restaurant that’s most likely run by the mafia and getting out guided tour of the ancient, volcano ridden town. The tour was really neat, seeing ruins of temples, houses, shops and brothels, and I could’ve spent hours looking around and walking the streets. Unfortunately, with a tight schedule involving the ferry, we had a quick tour and no time to just explore, so that’s definitely on the list of places to come back to. After a quick last Italian gelati, we were back on the bus to catch our ferry to Greece. We spent 12 hours on that ferry, which moved quick with the sleep I managed to get, and then switched to another 1.5 hour ferry, which I slept through fully. Because of Greek Easter and weather, our schedule got all switched around, so instead of getting a relaxed day like intended, we got 10 minutes at the hotel to drop off bags before we were out on the legendary George’s Boat Cruise. George has been running these party fun boat days for Contiki for 37 years or something like that, and it’s easy to see why it’s such a popular option. George is a gigantic, dirty, jolly old Greek man, who plays fun music, shouts over the loudspeaker, and acts like a 23 year old as he drives us around the sea around Corfu. It was overcast an slightly windy, but still warm (at least by Canadian standards) and definitely preferable to the next days forecast of thunderstorms. We cruised to a watersport place and watched some members parasail and waterski, and I went banana boating! It was super fun, the water was warm for Canadian standards (but ultra salty!), and overall a good time (despite losing my 2 nice charm bracelets). We ate a huge delicious Greek lunch and went cruising more, this time to George’s proclaimed Hanky Panky Hubba Hubba Sexy Skinny Dipping Island, where quite a few went for a naked swim (by that point I had just warmed up and wasn’t keen to jump back in the water). We cruised to another island, took photos on rocks, and came back to a second delicious lunch. It really was a fun day, and we spent the night eating supper and just hanging out, the majority of us hanging out at the hotel bar drinking decorated cocktails, ouzo, and having a casual night in. Yesterday was Greek Easter, the biggest celebration and holiday in Greece, and lucky for us, Corfu is the number one place for it! We got a bit of a sleep in before heading out into the town center to join the crowds awaiting the 11:00 dropping of the pots. At 11:00am, hundreds of clay pots, dishes, etc are dropped out of windows onto the streets below, meant to scare away evil spirits. The people take great appreciation and art in this event, some houses dropping a dozen small ones before pulling out giant painted pots with different Greek phrases painted on them (I assume saying happy Easter and from the crowds around, some saying things like “Greece will remain” kind of things. The pot droppers were definitely crowd workers, waiting until the crowd screamed the appropriate amount before sending their pot hurtling to the ground. One pot that dropped from the roof had to be 5 feet tall, and just watching this giant thing fall and hear the crash as it smashes on the street as the crowd cheers, it was a really neat experience. Once the pots had dropped, the city flocks to the road to collect souvenir pieces, and matching bands paraded over the sea of broken shards. We walked some of the crowded streets, got gyros from a local joint (chicken, tomato, onion, tzatziki, and French fries in a pita), and hung out enjoying the vibes of Greek Easter. We went back for a chill out time in the hotel, packing our bags for our upcoming split, siesta, and some casual room parties before we head out for an evening of Greek food and dancing. It was a super fun dinner, delicious food and a fun atmosphere as we learned traditional dances between spots of YMCA type dancing. We were at a local place that also hosted an Albanian tour group, but contiki definitely owned the show, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. Back to Greek Easter, many of us then head back into town to partake in mass, standing in a field listening to mass in Greek. It was really cool, despite not being able to understand a word, you could feel the atmosphere moving as the mass progressed and we lit our candles, sharing flames, getting hugged by randoms saying “Christos annecy” as an awesome fireworks show ended the mass and crowds cheered. We headed to a bar after, as many of the locals do, but most of us didn’t stay particularly long in the cramped bar, and we had an early morning coming. And that morning was today, where we had breakfast at 6, and traveled all day to Athens, where we are now. We drove over the Rio something bridge, and saw the Corinth Canal, and now just awaiting meeting up with a local guide for a city tour, seeing the outside of the Acropolis (it’s closed 2 days a year, and today is one), dinner and an early night for another early departure. Going to Ios tomorrow, and Santorini after that, and should be a rather relaxing vacation within a vacation. While the other half goes to Egypt and runs around in 40 degree heat avoiding malaria, I’ll be by the beach or riding scooters while eating delicious pita bread and wine. Life is fantastic. :)
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….