Paris – Contiki 2011 – Day 12 & 13

09/23/11

We took our time to get ready and headed for the metro around 11-1120AM. The metro system here is enormous to say the least but once you actually look at it, it’s actually pretty simple. If only there were escalators. We took the 12 line to Montparnasse then the 4 line to Chatelet. NOTE: If you need to use the restroom and don’t want to pay – goto McDonalds. The Mcdonalds are large here spanning 3 floors with an elevator and they also sell macarons in the McCafe – 6 for 4€50 and 12 for 9€. Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, pistachio, caramel and lemon. They are actually pretty decent.

We walked to Notre Dame church and met up with Luis. Loads of tourists around and all those gypsy ladies with their clipboards around. NOTE: If a gypsy approaches you with a clipboard or a piece of string avoid them at all costs. The church itself was beautiful especially the rose shaped stained glass. Grabbed a omelet jambon baguette. You will see people carrying baguettes under their arms and eating it plain. The baguettes are baked fresh with no preservatives. Rue de Rivoli is another street great for shopping. We walked along and did some shopping then made our way to another Galleries du Layfayette that was closer to the L’Opera house. We stopped by Le Tanneur, Pull & Bear in the first building as many stores were clumped together on different floors in a circular layout. There is no fresh air here at all as everyone smokes including the highschool students. The metros have cell reception everywhere, no air conditioning so windows are usually opened, you either need to pull the lever up or push a button for the door to open. It’s not as spacious as Toronto’s TTC subways but seats can fold up if needed. We ended the night at Nomiya for sushi, sashimi and brochettes (kebabs) one of the better meals of this trip. Paris is a very fast paced city with so many people all the time. Motorbikes, bikes, cars and peopled everywhere. I think its just a little to congested for me but I did enjoy it. I could have done without the smoking everywhere but that’s just life around here. I wish I had gone through the french immersion program as a child because the language is so beautiful; luckily a few phrases and words stick in my mind.

09/24/11

I woke up early and went for a little stroll of the city to shoot a bit especially since in our neighbourhood the Eiffel Tower is so prevalent. We stopped by a bakery called Boulanger for breakfast – quiche and a pain du chocolate to go. Our hotel features a top floor patio over looking the city skyline and we ate our food looking at the Eiffel tower. We checked out and grabbed taxi to Charles de Gaulle airport (CDG). It took about 30-45 minutes and our total came up to €90 (mind you, we were in south paris) but split between 3 isn’t too bad. Our flight wasn’t until 540PM but we wanted to make sure we had ample time to get here and got through security by 2-230PM. Terminal 3 is literally a waiting area with nothing to do and no where to go after you scan and go through. There are shuttle buses that bring you to the plane. Since it is a bus shuttle service, there was another flight ahead of us and the seating area piles up people. We boarded and didn’t get into the air until 6-610PM. An 8 hour flight but excited to get back to Toronto with still decent summer/fall weather.

So what can really be said about these 2 weeks?

Met a lot of great people from all over the world.

Saw, ate and experienced amazing things.

For the limited time we had in certain cities, I absorbed as much as I could and of course its a once in a lifetime trip that I could spent with my best friends celebrating all our birthdays (roughly)

Out of all the places we’ve been; Germany and Austria are on the list to go back to.

Paris – Contiki 2011 – Day 10 & 11

09/21/11

It was our last day with the group and luckily ending it in the magical city of Paris. We started off driving to the Champs de Mars area where people usually go to have picnics by the Eiffel Tower. We stopped off at Mur pour la Paix to see the peace monument and to take our group photo. In the span of 10 minutes, gypsies (they are men!) swarmed us trying to sell us trinkets. Always bargain… Always!

Fragonard was our next spot to learn the history of perfume and smell some of the scents. Christian kindly dropped majority of us off at the Arc de Triomphe. It is surrounded by an insane roundabout so to get there, you need to go through the underpass. Did you know you can climb up to the top of the Arc de Triomphe? There are roughly 360 steps up which isn’t too bad but its dizzying. If your between 18-25 and have ID, you get in for €6. We climbed up top and the view was gorgeous. You can get a nice city view from above including the Eiffel Tower – a great spot high above that included the Eiffel Tower in your photos. We were famished and stopped off at Vesuvio for lunch on the Champs-Élysées. We all had the special menu for €13. I had the pasta trio and the chocolate mousse .

We then did what many tourists do; we went shopping. NOTE: if anyone approaches you and asks you to purchase a LV bag and hands you cash so no because there is a limit of 2 purchases at Louis Vuitton per passport and you must claim it when you depart the country. We made our way to Musee d’Orsay and ventured the neighbourhood until we had to meet at 430PM. For our Contiki groups final dinner, we went to the top of Montmartre at a restaurant called – La Bonne Franquette. There are tons of tourists in this area so watch out for gypsies unless you want €1 beers. When you make it to the top of the hill, it is a breathtaking view as you see the vastness of Paris as a city and the beautiful architecture. We filled the back room of the restaurant and they started us off with a nice rose called kir with currant in it. Our set menu had the following options: apps – french onion soup or escargot, entrees – beef boginiony, cod fish in a cream sauce or duck l’orange. With brie cheese and a chocolate cake for dessert. We had a good mix of red, rose and white wine. Our group was very lively as we all headed down the hill toward the cabaret. On our way, we basically walked through the “danger zone” red light district and made a tiny stop at the moulin rouge. We then went to our final stop as a group; Nouvelle Eve Cabaret. No photos allowed here. Bare breasts and high kicks into splits everywhere. It was a very entertaining show.  A good night was had for sure.

09/22/11

The previous nights festivities ended off the 10 days with our Contiki group and tour. In the morning, I went down to say my goodbyes on the bus. It felt so weird not to bring my bags down and sit on the coach for hours again. It’s sad that majority of us will never see each other ever again but of course there will be facebook and photos. Sophia handed out a sheet during our trip to write down whatever contact information we wanted for others to contact and stay connected after the trip.

We ended up in the lobby around 10AM and met up with Luis and Andrew. Andrew is from Australia and was travelling for a bit before the tour and still had a week left in Barcelona before heading back to work. We stopped by the Manprix – grocery store/bakery for food before heading to the metro. Andrew parted ways to the airport as we went on a search for our hotel – Novotel Vaugirard Montparnasse. Luis was staying an extra few nights and joined us on our search for our hotel. I had looked at the site and also at a map but for some reason, the site said to get off at Duroc but really we should of gotten off at Vaugirard. We finally got to our hotel after help from some friendy locals. It feels good to be in an actual hotel. We walked towards Rue de Sevres to shop as well as Galleries du Lafayette (big shopping complex). Pharmacy’s are on practically every corner. I had this travellers cough since the beginning so I ended up picking up cough sirop and Strepsils – wish I had access to this earlier in the trip.

Swiss Alps – Paris – Contiki 2011 – Day 8 & 9

09/19/11

It is such a bad day. It’s cold. We got woken up at 3AM by our group partying in the hallway. Klarice got a fever and my dry travellers cough is wet. It was a messy morning for all including our group from partying. Probably the worst sleep I’ve had. This is where those sleeping bags come in handy. I really missed my bed. Crystle and myself went into town to find some medicine for Klarice. It’s interesting that medicine can only be purchased at the doctors office but also that we can just ask for it, pay and it’s ours. This place however cold (6-11 degrees) is beautiful as the fog is covering parts of the mountain and at the very top you can see the snow covered mountains. Conversion rate is crazy 50CAD=37.50CHF. What I find really cool is the fact that many of these buildings are so old that they use the old keys including our room. I recommend bringing a jacket of some sort for this leg of the trip and also bringing Ricola/Fisherman’s Friend or halls. A very somber day.

For dinner, we started with cheese fondue, chicken with veggies with rice then finished off with apricot crumble with custard. The fondue was very strong with white wine. We were “dishies” that night and for the following morning meaning we help bring plates that were finished into the kitchen and clean the tables. A bunch of the girls decided they didn’t want to drink or party that night so we had a girls night. We fit about 16 in a room. We stayed there for about 3 hours or so then headed back to our rooms around 10-1030PM for an early night. It was a really good opportunity to hang out with just the girls with maybe a tad bit of alcohol so it wasn’t just a blurry night that everyone thinks Contiki is all about. We have maybe 12-15 guys on a tour of 51 so it felt great to connect and talk to people of all nationalities and laugh.

09/20/11

The mountains in the morning looked absolutely beautiful. We have had long days on the road but the road from Lauterbrunnen to Paris is the longest drive. I can tell you that the public washrooms are free here (unlike the previous countries where you have to pay to use).  It would have been nice to explore more of this beautiful country but there is only so much time on this tour and also weather permitting.

The bus ride was gruesome as the final length of our travel to the last country (9 hours). The only thing you can do on the bus really is sleep even if your not tired.

We finally arrived and Christian gave us a scenic view of Paris driving down the canal where the Louvre and Musee de Orly are. Nearby, we stopped by a restaurant and had a glass of champagne and escargot. Christian then drove the scenic route on the famous Champs-Élysées and going through the huge roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe. We stayed at Etap Hotel Paris Porte de Montmatre by the metro Avenue de Saint Ouen. It is 2 to a room and I am rooming with Anne-Marie. She works for Samsung and is from London. She is one of the nicest people you will meet. Our hotel room isn’t bad either but thank the lord for free wifi. Our shower head changes colours as you shower and toilets look like airplane toilets.

We went to dinner at Le Sultan for turkish food right down the street. Immediately after dinner, a large group of us; I would say 24-25 out of 51 went to the Eiffel tower together. We took the RER – metro with Anne-Marie as our lead navigator. We arrived and it was beautiful. €8,20 to goto the second floor as the top was closed. It was still beautiful up there. We stayed up there for a while then hopped down as for 5 minutes every hour, the tower sparkles. We then decided to head back and it was a big thing of confusion. Trying to buy tickets for 25 people using coins alone was pretty painful as well. We were out past midnight so we ended up celebrating Crystle’s birthday at Invalides station. We eventually got back to the hotel for a nice shower and sleep.

Facts of France:

France – 60 million population.

The French alps create a natural border between italy. Mont blanc is exactly on the border and same with Lake Geneva and Lac Blanc.

France is famous for its agriculture – wine. Largest producers of wine but Italy is largest exporter.

One of the founder of EU

They have free healthcare and a great education system.

They are the 4th largest producer of weapons.

Lots of the biggest fashion originated in France – Louis Vuitton – the first to make a flat bottom suitcase.

King Clovis built the first catholic church – the Notre Dame.

Charlamaine conquered France and Germany. Vikings – would kill someone by slashing them from throat to stomach to make blood angels. Vikings would be bribed with money by the french king but then the king ran out of money so he gave them some land – North Normandy. William the conquerer is the most famous vikings.

Joan of Arc was a peasant girl during the 100 year war. She could hear voices and was given a small army and turned the tide of war in Frances favour however they believed her to be a witch and burned her at the stake. It’s been said that the only thing left after she was burned was her heart still beating. She was then made into a saint.

20,000 people could live in the 14 houses at the Chateau du Versailles during King Louis’ time. He was a small guy and thought he was the best. He wore tights because he liked his legs, he wore heels and also wigs to add to his height. Louis the 16 and Marie Antoinette married and ruled France very poorly as they were young and didn’t know better.

In the 1700’s during the revolution – large amounts of people chopped off many heads. Most of world war I had taken place on french soil. They decided to sign a treaty to prevent a future war however, Germany waged war on Poland, United Kingdom and France immediately declared war but didn’t do much for 9 months. They thought the Germans would come through the same route they had before and posted soldiers there as they didn’t think Germans would bring tanks through the mountains – little did they know, Germans altered their tanks and came through the mountains and defeated them in 6 weeks.

Venice – Swiss Alps – Contiki 2011 – Day 7

09/18/11

730AM start. Woke up and had breakfast before we parted way with Samantha. There are tons of mosquitoes and they for some reason only bit myself and my fellow Canadians. Enroute to Switzerland – Lucerne then Lauterbrunnen. Multiple stops along the way to Switzerland.

Facts about Switzerland:

The swiss had a great army but they decided to retire from the european war.

These men are great as security guards for the pope (they cannot bow but salut).

Michaelangelo designed the swiss soldiers uniform which they still wear.

The tunnels are s shaped so if a missile were to be shot, it would hit the sides. They have tons of tactical reinforcements such as tunnels that can hold over 10000 people and able to set off a detonator to block off the city.

Switzerland is neutral. However, within 72 hours, they can mustard up a large army to defend their country if they want.

Any men from 18-30 must join the army unless they are unfit to but must pay a tax until they are 30.

If they join the EU, there would be no democracy.

There are 4 official languages – German, French, Italian and Rumantsch.

Famous products – milk chocolate – Mr Lindt then Johann Toblerone – nougat and shaped in a triangle to represent mountains.

Swiss army knives -can purchase white only in Switzerland, black for Europe and red for international.

Swiss watches – swatch

Swiss bank accounts – you just need 500 swiss franks to open it from any part of the world – you can remain anonymous as it is only numbers. So the jewish could protect their money during the time of the nazis.

Traditional foods- fondue – cheese, chocolate. If you drop your cheese or bread in the fondue, you kiss the person left of you.

 

We stopped in Luzern (Lucerne) and went on the worlds most photographed bridge -Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge). We arrived on a national holiday so all the stores were closed but luckily we were able to go into Harry’s to look and purchase watches, swiss army knives etc. Another store that was open was Bachmann which was fully stocked with loads of chocolate, food and drinks and even macarons. We stopped by the Lion monument –  it is a lion with lashes and a spear on its side holding up a shield that is carved into the cliffside in the shape of a pig. This carving holds great significance as it represents royalty and loyalty for the soldiers.

It was unbearably hot in Venice while it is the complete opposite after travelling 7-9 hours to get to Switzerland where it is the beginning of spring weather and chilly. We hopped off the bus in shorts and t-shirts and we we’re getting looks like we were crazy. The city is very pretty with mountain views all over the place. The air is crisp. We drove for another 1/2-hour to our final destination in Lauterbrunnen (a small little town with gorgeous scenic views getting into town) We are staying at Camping Jungfrau where it’s 3 to a room and bunk beds. Our window was open when we arrived and it opens 2 different ways so I made sure we closed that properly however the hallways were definitely warmer at this point. Contiki reps made us dinner – burgers and fries.

Austrian Tyrol – Venice – Contiki 2011 – Day 6

09/17/11

The leg of the trip is one of the longer drives. The morning air is great in Austria.

Facts about Italy:

Italy is that boot shape country.

60 million population. 300000 sq km.

2000 years ago, all roads did lead to Rome.

Italian government – 1946 became a republic but have had at least 50 changes of government. Corrupt politicians including the current one who was caught with an underage prostitute at his own sex party.

Mafia was a big problem but there still is some mafia control around italy.

Vatican City is considered to be its own country when Mussolini gave them independence.

Quality over quantity for fashion.

Lots of pizza, pasta, wine.

Venice is made up of 114 islands.

Venice has a pop of 300,000.

There are no local Italians on the island.

Venice is suppose to be the future of what cities should be as there are no cars.

2 Venetian merchants stole the body of St Mark and hid it under pork (authorities were jewish so didn’t check the basket) and built the cathedral – St Marks Basilica.

The biggest problem to today for Venice – its sinking! It drops a foot per century. Floods up to 200 days a year.

 

We went through a tunnel and then crossed the Italian border where we drove through the mountains – the view was so calm an serene. Our first leg of the bus ride was 3 hours long and once we got off, you could definitely tell we were somewhere warm. The weather for the day was high of 29 degrees.

I think the great thing about this kind of tour is that you get to meet people from all walks of life and even some that’s life paths are similar to yours. The other girl who joined us in Amsterdam, Laura is from Australia and also our age. She graduated from uni for Journalism and has also struggled to find work in her field. She’s done multiple internships like myself (but probably more) and it has taken her a while to find her placing but when she returns home will start on her journalism career path. Laura and Alanna had been travelling before joining us from places like Milan, Croatia and London.

We stayed at a camp site – Camping Fusina, literally a camper trail park but at least we had our own bathrooms in them.  Venice was incredibly hot and humid – I was sweating like I had played a full game of volleyball or something but realistically just standing there doing nothing. Our trailer was hotter than it was outside. After a little down time, we hopped on a motoscaffo (ferry/boat) that was about 45 minutes long to get to the island. Thanks to one of our group members Luis, I was able to leave a text message for my friend Samantha whom we would be meeting in the square once we docked. When we arrived, we walked into Marks Basilica square and the amounts of tourist was insane however the beauty of the buildings overpowered that. We left the group and searching through the tables on the boardwalk, we eyed our friend and snuck up behind her. Samantha is one of our friends from high school and we hadn’t seen her since graduation. She lives in Italy playing volleyball. Our first stop was for gelato – a definite must while in Italy. Crystle and Klarice opted for lemon and I got melon.

We ventured quite some time over canals and the light was beautiful as the sun started to set. We went to the Rialto and saw the Peggy Guggenheim museum (outside only because it closed 45 minutes before we got there). We ate at Trattoria e Pizzeria where we got the tourista special and I got the gnocchi with 4 cheeses. It was so creamy but also heavy because it is all potatoes and cheese. When we finished dinner, the couple beside us overheard our conversation and we ended up talking with them for quite some time. They were an older couple from Boston who work for the Boston Globe and were coming to the end of their 12 day trip of Italy.  To end the night, Samantha and myself topped off with another gelato – I chose peach. We got back to the square and met up with our Contiki group and said what we thought would be our goodbyes to Samantha. We then walked as a group to the boat to head back to the campsite. When we returned, I received a text from Samantha. Apparently in Italy, the trains can go on strike at last minute notice so she ended up taking a bus to our location at the campsite and she ended up staying the night with us until the 1 day strike was over and she can head home.

Venezia, Venice was beautiful with its canals, cobblestone streets, old buildings and narrow streets that lead you to open but bare courtyards. Its a cute place to visit but I still think Munich or Austria are my favourite thus far for cities.

Munich – Austrian Tyrol – Contiki 2011 – Day 5

09/16/11

We left Munich bright and early and made way to Austria. After a late night for most, I’m pretty sure the whole bus had passed out. When I awoke, I saw mountains everywhere. We had made it into Austria and a little village that looked so cozy.

Austria facts:

Austria is one of the best cities – free health care, one of the highest standards of living.

They still speak german.

They mainly manufacture steel and lumber.

The Hapsberg ruled from 1300-1918.

Marietta terretza. She had 12 children. Her most famous daughter was Marie Antoinette. She was the few that were not inbred.

Spain and Austria – separated the Hapsberg dynasty. Because they were so inbred, they had prominent chin/jaws that affected talking and eating. The hapsbergs were kicked out of Austria unless they took away their claim to any authority.

Austria ceased to exist for 7 years and became a republic in 1946.

It is a haven for all outdoor sports fanatics.

Hearty meat and potatoes are the traditional food such as goulosh soup. They are also big on their sweets like apple strudel.

They drink more coffee than anyone in the world. Vienna has over 25 different coffees. 220L a year per person of coffee.

The Sound of Music – the singing VanTramp family is real. Maria was only the governess for the oldest daughter and they were married for 10 years before they left Austria. They took a train to Italy and flew to USA.

 

The bus dropped off those who were going for the rafting option and then dropped the rest of us off at chalet where the rafts would finish. It was a beautiful and hot day. The sun is very intense but it’s absolutely beautiful here. Had some traditional goulosh soup as we waited. Played a little bit of beach volleyball then made our way to the shoreline to soak in some sun and watch our group come to shore. After a hour half bus ride, we arrived at our first Contiki hotel – Haus Schoneck. We arrived about an hour and half late due to an accident on the highway coming over. Losing sunlight and running behind schedule, we threw our stuff into the room and those who decided to go paragliding went on their way and same with those who decided to go on the mountain bike tour. We had chose to do the biking tour and went on our way through the city. I have to tell you that Hopfgarten, Austria is a beautiful little town.  I’ve missed that feeling of going fast through streets and taking in that fresh air and view. We had a few bikers that would go in front then slow down which bugged me a lot as I can barely stand walking behind slow walkers. We biked along a creek and with views of the mountains surrounding. Apparently the mountains connect 9 cities of Austria for skiing, snowboarding and it’s said that Sunday there will be snow on the top of the hill but not permanent as the ground is still warm. A day lift is 40€ and a season pass is 400€ which is an amazing deal for unlimited ski and snow board. We then took a stop in a park and cafe area. Had a glass of Almdyler (a ginger-ale like drink that is only available in Austria) and ice cream.

Our tour guides left us on our own to get back home or explore the city. We biked through a little neighbourhood and all the houses were just lovely. Our guide told us at the beginning that once April hits, people start to plant colourful flowers outside their windows/balconies and it becomes a playful competition between neighbours. I wouldn’t think I would have liked biking that much but it definitely was fun. We took a little detour but found our way to the centre of town again by the church. We realized at 6PM that we needed to be back for 630PM and raced back with time to spare. Got back to our room and relaxed a little and hung out with our roomie for the night Deb from Australia. She’s been travelling for over 3 weeks prior to this tour then going another 2-3 weeks going back to Germany for Oktoberfest and Paris then off to Ireland. The Contiki staff made us dinner in the Contiki village. We had 3 different tours groups staying in this village and had a theme party that night – superheroes. Did you know there is a certain way to hold a shot? If its before midnight, you hold it with your thumb on the top and pinky on the bottom. After midnight, you hold reverse with pinky up and thumb down. This way, you show that you aren’t drunk.

Rhine Valley – Munich – Contiki 2011 – Day 4

09/15/11

Woke up to a chilly morning. Hopped onto the bus and off to Munich.

Contiki tours is all about the youth movement as you need to be between the ages of 18-35 to travel on this tour. Sophia made all us come up to the front and do introductions – name, occupation, where you are from, green, yellow or red light (green being single, yellow being complicated and red being taken) and of course a joke or embarrassing story. It was actually really fun as you get to see the personalities of everyone.

We rode on the coach for about 5-6 hours with a 45minute break in-between. Munich is a beautiful city and by far the prettiest. The people here are also quite beautiful as well and tall. PDA is normal here. Our hotel for the night was Haus International. It is a very popular hotel especially during Oktoberfest. They have these drunk-proof locks for the rooms with a swipe key then a turn knob. Their logic is that it is more difficult to clean inside the rooms if you puke in there so they would rather you puke in the hallways for easier cleaning. We got dropped off and given time to explore for a few hours around the main square – Marienplatz. We stopped by the Peterskirche Church where for 1,50€ we climbed the stairs to the top of the tower to see the wonderful view from up above. I am definitely out of shape. We wandered around for a bit and ended up getting Haagen Daaz – Creme Brûlée was so good. We waited until 5PM to see the glockenspiel ring and move about; it was nothing fancy but something to say we saw in person. We entered into a cafe to grab something light to eat and I had my German-made 1955 Walzflex TLR camera around my neck and an older gentleman noticed it and gave me the nod of approval.

Our group dinner was at a Bavarian beer hall – Münchner Haupt’ Gasthaus Biergarten – where we had a litre of stein which is the minimum you can get here – I finished mine! It is indeed an arm workout. Remember, if you don’t mix alcohols, you can drink as much beer as you want and there will be no hangover! As for dinner, I had the traditional pork knuckle which reminded me a lot of the chinese crispy bbq pork but saltier. Crystle chose the chicken option and the fries tasted like Mcdonalds. We had live entertainment with some people playing instruments then performances by 4 ladies in the traditional dirndl dresses come and perform by twirling and also playing multiple cowbells at once to create a wonderful tune. Everyone had a great time at the beer hall that we continued the party on the bus with everyone standing and dancing. We then got back to the hotel but for some odd reason, after having some alcohol in me, I got the door open on one turn of the knob. There was a bar in the basement where we continued the party. Just a great time by all.

All in all, Munich is beautiful in general. The architecture is amazing and even some of the buildings look like paintings. Very colourful and a very clean city. I just wish we had more time there.

Amsterdam – Rhine Valley – Contiki 2011 – Day 3

09/14/11

Buffet breakfast to start the day. Europeans like their deli meats, cheeses, plain yogurt and hazelnut spread in the mornings. After breakfast, Christian dropped us all off at Centraal Station for free time. Being September, it was windy and chilly. We took the tram (#2 or 5) down to the IAMsterdam sign and surrounding area. The tram was pretty cool I guess – a preview of what the LRT (Light Rapid Transit) is to come in Toronto. A 24H pass is 7€ and basically when you enter the tram, you just tap the box and it will beep; to exit you need to tap again to let you off. The line for the Van Gogh museum was pretty long and the Rjksmuseum was under construction so we decided to walk the same route of the tram and get to see the city and hop back on when it got closer to the time to meet up.

We ate at Allstars Diner for lunch where I got a apple pancake. The syrup isn’t as good as Canadian maple syrup but it wasn’t bad. While you are in Amsterdam, you need to get yourself stroopwaffel whether you prefer to eat it with or without a coffee is up to you. Stroopwaffels are 2 little waffles with caramel inbetween and the perfect treat when you grab a coffee; you place the waffle on top the coffee and wait for the caramel to melt – delicious! We didn’t have enough time but you also need to have some moo frites – french fries with mayo. The weather had changed and there was a light drizzle as we waited for the whole group to gather and load back up onto the bus. Amsterdam has so many bikers and bikes everywhere and just like what I learned in Sociology of the everyday living, it’s organized chaos with lanes dedicated to pedestrian, tram & bikes etc. What I find particularly funny is that the police here drive Volkswagons while the taxi drivers drive Mercedes Benz or Audi cars.

Off to Rhine Valley – St Goar in Germany.

Facts of Germany:

The highways are called Autobahns.

The highways used to not have speed limit as Hitler didn’t want his tanks to be stuck in traffic.

Germans are convinced that driving faster is safer as you need to pay more attention.

Population of 82 million.

in 1990, Germany became unified.

German fashion sense is shorts, socks and sandals.

They are proud to have unleashed David Hasselhoff to the world.

When Oktoberfest comes around, Germans get dressed up in their lederhosen & dirndl.

Germany is 1/3 of the most industrial countries and one of the starters for the EU to get together and unify the use of the euro.

Older cars need to pay taxes so rare to see any older cars.

1200 breweries. Produce over 100 million litres of beer a year. German beer is brewed to the laws of 1516 – no preservatives therefore no hangovers.

Rhine valley is mostly famous for the wine they produce and the castles. German white wines are generally sweet riesling grapes that have to be handpicked as the vineyards are on hillsides. Often one vine will produce only one bottle of wine as the dry freeze process is tempermental. Besides Canada, Germany and one other countries are known for their ice wines.

On this tour, we unfortunately miss Oktoberfest by a day or 2. We finally got to St Goar around 6-630PM where we went to the Beerstein shop and saw some of the limited edition and Oktoberfest beersteins. There was also a Birkenstocks store where it was literally 75% less cost than in Canada as it is made here and is sold at factory manufactoring price – 35-45€. There was also the largest freestanding cookoo clock and you could purchase a smaller version if you wanted. We had our group dinner at Hotel Montag serving up German cuisine including cured meats and spaetzle. Our hotel – Winzerhaus is about 30 minutes away from St Goar. As Sophia had mentioned, that night was to be a quiet night after the wine tasting to recuperate from “amsterdamage” for those who went a little too hard. We went to Urbarer Winzerkeller for wine tasting for 8€. There are 2-3 groups of 3 travelling on this bus so each day, we battle on the bus to see who gets the room of 3 or room of 4 where a single traveller joins the room of 4. We had Elizabeth “Tay” from originally Chicago but lives in Tuscon, Arizona join us. She’s a funny lady and has a little one year old girl at home. Each of us had our own bed however our room was at the very top floor and it was only stairs.

London – Amsterdam – Contiki 2011 – Day 2

09/13/11

Woke up at 5AM and left around 630AM on a very brisk morning. The thing is with Contiki, you have restriction on the weight and size of your luggage (20kg) so that morning we had 3 Contiki tours leaving simultaneously lining up to get our luggages weighed and on the right coach bus. Our tour guide was Sophia, a fellow Canadian (French Canadian) who looks like the blonde version of Selma Blair. She is very friendly and very informative (there will be tons of facts being injected into my journals sporadically that are told by Sophia). Our driver was Christian and he is beyond what words can describe but is one crazy upbeat guy. His parents were originally from Sicily and Morocco but he was born in France. We are a group of 51 so it will be interesting – I have the best seat in the house – the very back middle seat so I had all the leg room. We headed to the Port of Dover (we saw the white cliffs of Port Dover) and took the ferry over to France – Galais enroute to Amsterdam. We also passed through Belgium. Being on a bus with around 50 other people, Sophia had multiple icebreakers. We did a version of speed dating to meet the other people on our tour which was cool.The youngest on the tour is 18 and oldest I met was 30 from places such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Mexico, USA, Japan, London and also a few Canadians. I even got complimented on my accent… thanks…?

Facts of Belgium:

Belgium has Arnold Schwarzenegger-like cows because they are chemically enhanced.

Belgium is also known for Smurfs, Tin Tin, french fries and the world’s tallest man.

It’s the Japan of Europe with a population of 10 and half million.

 

Facts of Amsterdam:

The population is 17 million for Netherland- 750,000 in Amsterdam.

More than half of the country is under sea level.

They built canals and dykes to create housing and farming.

There are more canals in Amsterdam than Venice.

12 million bikes in Holland alone with 200,000 bikes that end up in the canals.

Some of the best museums are located here such as Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh and Anne Franks’s house.

Pickled herring is a dutch delicacy.

They drive on the right side of the road as opposed to London or Australia where they drive on the left.

They are also known for pancake based foods such as mayo and frites and salted licorice.

Edam and gouda are dutch cheeses.

Yes marijuana is legal. The limit is 5 grams per person if you purchase weed. Mushrooms have been recently banned since 2008. However, you cannot smoke a joint in the street or cafes.

Prostitution is legal and about 25,000 prostitutes work here however they are part of a union called the Red Thread.

We finally arrived in Amsterdam at our hotel for the night – Hotel Nieuw Slotania. The final 2 girls that were to join our trip had arrived. Being a group of 3, one of the latecomers stayed with us. Her name is Alanna and she is from Australia and is our age. She graduated from uni for Exercise Science. Dinner with the group – buffet style and then a “booze” cruise – unlimited drinks for a 90 minute boat ride along the canal. The tour bus drove us to Centraal Station where we boarded the boat. Inside had seating and a bar in the back. It was beautiful to see the different parts of Central Amsterdam. We then docked and majority of my group went to a Sex show where people have sex on stage in front of you. We (Crystle and Klarice) opted out and explored on our own to find some cake to celebrate Klarice’s birthday before heading back to the hotel.

London – Contiki 2011 – Day 1

I jetsetted to Europe with my best friends – Crystle & Klarice. We wanted a taste of everything but couldn’t commit to a longer trip so we settled to doing the European Horizon tour with Contiki Tours. At the time, my friend Klarice was working for a company that is in affiliations with Contiki tours thus giving us 50% off the tour which made it more enticing and so we extended a few days in Paris with the money saved. 7 cities/countries in 10 days (London, Amsterdam, Munich, Austria, Venice, Switzerland, Paris)  We flew with Airtransit.

09/11-12/11

We got on the plane around 10PM and arrived around 955AM. The time difference is only 5 hours so sleeping wasn’t too bad.

Arriving in Gatwick, London, we transferred to the trains heading to Victoria. The platforms gets really crowded and once a train gets cancelled it’s like herding cattle onto an escalator to get to the next platform. Our first attempt to get on the train failed as people acted like highschool kids who don’t know how to move onto the bus to fit more people. If the door closes, unlike the TTC subways in Toronto, there is a button you can press to open the doors. We eventually got on the express bus that goes directly to Victoria (30 mins). One thing I noticed which is poor on their part is the lack of garbage bins but then again if there is no garbage cans, it’s less likely people should be littering there. I asked one of the ticket takers where I could find a garbage can and she told me to stick it in her co-workers pocket jokingly. What’s cool is that once you get on the train, they come onto the speakers and say their welcome message in multiple languages such as Italian, Spanish, French etc. The train ride was a nice time to snooze for a bit. The layout of the train is simple but works as there are racks for luggage.

Arriving at Victoria Station, we had to stand in line for the taxi queue. The taxis are so cute here. No one sits in the front of the taxi as there is no trunk so luggage can go up front. The seating area can sit 3 on the regular seats with 2 seats that fold out. We zipped through the streets and passed by the London Eye, Buckingham Palace and other beautiful buildings. Luckily our taxi drove past these areas as we had very limited time here. We stayed at the Royal National London Hotel on 38-51 Bedford Way courtesy of Contiki in a triple bed room. Contiki has their office in the basement where we signed in and got our free sleeping bags and free wifi. After signing in, our mission was to shop since we only had 1 day in london. As we walked, you can see the leaves changing colour and even already on the ground. Would’ve loved to be in London for summer. We journeyed all the way to Oxford St and stopped at staple stores such as Topshop, Pull & Bear and Primark. Primark was just overwhelmly packed and clothes everywhere but I bought my first pair of skinny jeans for 9 euros! The sun setting was so intense as we wore our sunglasses and we still couldn’t see much of what was in front of us. We rushed back to the hotel for our group meeting for 7PM. After the meeting, we went to eat at a local restaurant called the Diner at Bloomsbury for some good ol fish and chips. Tesco is a big convenience store over here. We stopped by to pick-up some last minute items and off to bed we went.