European Magic Travelogue
29 Oct 2007
Hey guys, I went on the Euro Magic this August. Here's my travelogue!<BR><BR>Day 1. It’s Friday morning and I’m leaving for my Contiki trip today! My flight left Vancouver at 7 am and I flew into Toronto. In the Toronto airport, I met my travel buddy Meagan. After an eight hour layover, we leave Toronto and head over to London.<BR><BR>Day 2. We got into London just before noon on Saturday. Getting to our hotel (The Imperial) proved to be quite the adventure. We took a train to Victoria Station, and then the underground line we needed to take was under construction. So, after 3 tube rides we finally made it to our hotel. Since we were a bit too early for check in, we went over to the Contiki Basement, near the Royal National Hotel. We checked our bags in, and met two guys on our tour, brothers Stefan and Justin (also fellow Canadians!). We all went out for lunch at the Giraffe, an international café just around the corner from our hotel. When we finished lunch, we spent the next hour or so browsing around the many shops that were around us. Fortunately, I’ve been to London before, and as much as I love it, I was ridiculously tired, and I figured that it would be a better idea to start my trip well-rested. When we made it back to our hotel, Meagan and I both hit the sheets and passed out until about 6 o clock when it was time to go meet our fellow travelers in our group. Later that evening, Meagan and I went to Piccadilly Circus for a walk, and then ended up eating dinner in Leicester Square. Although we’d had big plans that night to go out to the local clubs, we ended up heading right back to our hotel and going to bed. <BR><BR>Day 3. At 6:45 am myself and my 47 other group members are eagerly waiting to board our coach. About 15 minutes later we are off and running. To start things off, we are introduced to our tour manager, Peter, and our driver, Howie. We drive from London to the port city Dover, best known for the famous White Cliffs of Dover. From here, we take a P & O ferry over to Cale, France. In order to get to know everyone, we played a game of Speed Dating to make the long drive to Amsterdam. This was quite a cosmopolitan day as we were in 4 countries in one day. We started in England, then went to France, traveled through Belgium, and ended up in Holland. We checked into our hotel in Amsterdam, quickly ate dinner then headed out for our first evening. Most of the people in our group did both of the two optional extras that night. The first one was a canal cruise, or better known to us as the booze cruise, as it was open bar. The cruise had tons of great photo ops, we had a great sunset, and we were alongside the cute gable houses that Amsterdam is known for. Predrinking was a must in order to get us comfortable for the next event, a live sex show. After that, myself and a bunch of people stayed out and went to a local coffee shop. What a way to get to know everyone…but as they say an awkward morning beats a boring night.<BR><BR>Day 4. I learned a very important rule very early this morning, that being make sure you know what time the coach is leaving! Meagan and I were still in bed thinking we had an hour before we had to leave when the coach came to pick us up to take us into the city, and had to run out of the hotel like no other in order to make it in time. Today was a very rough morning for most people, but we were all ready to make the most of our free time and see some of the sights that the city had to offer. Most people went to go see the main attractions there, the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh museum, and Anne Frank’s house. However, I had been to Amsterdam several times as well, and had seen all of these sights. Instead, Meagan and I did some shopping. We sat and enjoyed a leisurely lunch in a café, with the highlight of the meal being poffertjes, a traditional Dutch desert of small pancakes with butter and icing sugar. To escape the rain, we ducked into the sex museum, for some lighthearted fun. <BR>Later that day, we drove into the Rhine Valley; the scenic ride was spectacular, with amazing views of the Rhine River and the many castles on the coast. In the evening we had a wine tasting of Riesling wines which the area is known for making. I love Riesling wines, so this tasting was perfect for me. We tried 1 red wine, 3 whites, and an ice wine. We learned that the longer they wait to harvest the grape, the sweeter the wine. And bonus, we got to keep our tasting glass! The city was small, but so pretty. It was quaint, and a very typical small German town. It is also the home of the world’s largest freestanding cuckoo clock, very picturesque though. <BR><BR>Day 5. Before leaving the Rhine Valley early in the morning, we get about 2 hours to shop for some of the local specialties. We went and saw how beer steins are created. They are so delicate and intricate! One of the most interesting steins was the Berlin Stein which is a collector’s item now, with pieces of the original Berlin Wall on the top. First edition steins are now sold for 1350 Euros…they were originally sold for 60! They had steins for every single occupation and major event, including their latest edition, the Contiki stein, with flags from all of the countries our trip visited! There was also a Birkenstock store there, many people loaded up, as they are much cheaper here than in North America.<BR>Around 10 am, we get back onto the coach and head over to Munchen. As we were driving in, I could already tell that I was going to love Munich; my camera was clicking from inside the coach. We went to the Marienplatz, or the old town square, and saw the amazing Old Rathaus (Town Hall) building, the architecture is amazing! In the tower of the New Rathaus, there is the Glockenspiel, one of Munich’s main attractions. It is a large bell tower that performs a show, however I didn’t get to see “Europe’s most overrated spectacle”, the timing wasn’t quite right. It seems that now that I’m free of my parents dragging me to various churches and cathedrals, I’m drawn to them on my own. Before I went shopping, I went straight to St. Peter’s Church, which is Munich’s oldest church. Kaufingerstrasse is Munich’s main pedestrian street, filled with shops and restaurants. Meagan and I did a little bit of shopping; hey we needed new outfits to wear out for the evening!<BR>In the evening, most of the group headed over to Munich’s most famous Beer hall, the Hofbrauhaus. It was packed in there! We started off the evening with steins, 1.1 liters of Heineken in an unbreakable mug (we sure tested them with many rounds of “prosts” (cheers), but plates broke first!). The food there was great; I chose to go with some of my favourites, schnitzel and spaetzle. Pork knuckle is a local favouite, and actually pretty good. The pouring rain and even the minor flood couldn’t ruin the vibe there. A traditional German oompa loompa band was playing, and everyone was out dancing. Pretzel girls were dressed in their traditional costumes, and everyone was mingling with strangers. I even met a whole other Contiki group who I ended up running into in our next 3 cities; it was like running into old family! Desert was apple strudel, which was amazing. By this point in the night, everyone was having way too good a time to go back to the hotel, so we headed out to Kuntparkost, the huge club district in Munich, with over 30 different clubs. Somehow, the club we ended up at was an all German club, we were the only tourists there, and it was sure noticeable. Everyone was dressed in the traditional costumes, boys with the white shirt, shorts and suspenders. All of the ladies were in the cute dresses with the aprons, and the puffy white sleeves. The music was entirely German too, but we had so much fun! We later found out that if you dress up in the outfits, you get in for free, and drinks are 1 euro, good enough reason for me! This night was one of the most memorable nights of my summer…<BR><BR>Day 6. We leave Munich this morning, and head off to Venice. In the morning, we are treated to something that we haven’t seen since the trip started, sun! We drive out of Munich, and through the German Alps, so beautiful! As we get into Austria, we find out that we will get a surprise visit in the city of Innsbruck! Upon our arrival, our coach has a nice sing-along to the soundtrack from The Sound of Music. Innsbruck was unbelievably stunning. We went to see the Swarovski Crystal museum, which was fun. I love Swarovski jewelry, and I got some great deals there. The theme in the museum was winter wonderland, and the crystal displays were beautiful. I even found a pair of Jimmy Choo heels covered entirely in crystals, pretty much a combination of two of my favourite things, I don’t even want to know how much they cost…After we left the museum, I ran into my new Contiki friends I’d met the night before, and we all went to an outdoor café for lunch, and sat outside in the beautiful sunlight! Before it was time to leave, we went to a Schnapps store, and tried numerous free samples. My two favourite flavours were Sour Green Apple and Raspberry, I couldn’t resist, so I bought bottles of each to take home. Sadly we left Innsbruck, but on to Venice! I love Italy, but my travels hadn’t taken me to Venice yet. Even in our rest stop, I was already in heaven just smelling all of the food. I wasn’t hungry at all, and we were getting close to dinner, but I still ate a lovely dish of proscuitto and melon. A funny thing happens to me in Italy, I somehow eat about 5 full meals a day just because the food is so amazing…When we made it to the hotel a couple of hours later, there was an amazing pasta dinner waiting for us. That night I rested, I knew that the next day was going to be a long one and was more than ready for a good nights sleep. <BR><BR>Day 7. Ah Venezia! We were staying on the Italian mainland, and Venice is composed of several small islands. So, we took a motoscarfo (a motor boat), which dropped us right off in Piazza San Marco. St. Mark’s Square is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, those lucky pigeons! We were all eager to take as many pictures as we could on arrival, but if we stopped for pictures, we would miss our Murano glass blowing demonstration. Venice is known for amazing blown-glass treasures, jewelry, wine glasses vases, figurines, everything. Basically, the artist has a long, hollow, metal pole, and he heats the glass up in a device that is similar to a fire place. As they take the pole out of the heat, they blow into the top of the pole closest to their face, which shapes the glass as it solidifies. They can add dye to colour it, and create different shapes by pulling at the glass. However, it solidifies fast, so they have to move quickly. After that demo, we went over to see how they make Burano lace, another Venetian art. The rest of the morning, I did my shopping. I knew that I couldn’t leave without a leather bag, a pair of Italian shoes, a Venetian mask, and Murano jewelry, Venice was my big shopping city on the trip. Luckily, I found everything I wanted quickly. I enjoyed a lovely proscuitto and mozzarella pannini near the beautiful Rialto Bridge, looking out onto the Grand Canal. After lunch was my personal tourist time. I left my friends who wanted to keep shopping, and I headed back to piazza San Marco. My first stop was St. Mark’s Basilica. The line was ridiculously long, and it was absolutely pouring rain, but I couldn’t leave Venice without seeing the famous basilica- I made my mother proud. Luckily, the line moved faster than it looked. St. Mark’s Basilica has been standing for almost 1000 years, and it is the main centerpiece of Piazza San Marco. Inside the basilica was amazing, although it was very dark. But the mosaics were amazing, and the altar is encrusted with gold and jewels. The floors inside the basilica were a bit uneven, which is the proof that Venice is sinking. I went upstairs to the museum to see a bit more. After that, I went over to the Campanile, the leaning bell tower in Rome. I went to the top, and got fantastic pictures, the view was amazing! I also got tons of great pictures of the famous Bridge of Sighs! One of the best things about Venice was that even though it was pouring, all of the pictures still looked amazing. I don’t think you can leave Venice and not have about a dozen postcard picture shots, no matter what the weather. The only thing that I didn’t get to see that I wanted to was the Doge’s Palace. I had run out of time, and it was almost time for us to leave for our Gondola rides. However, when we did meet up, Peter (our tour manager) told us that it was going to be cancelled, due to all of the rain. I was super disappointed that we wouldn’t get our gondola ride in Venice, but we all went off to have dinner at a wonderful trattoria. Dinner was amazing; I ordered a tomato and mozzarella salad (absolutely amazing) and my favourite meal in the world, spaghetti a la carbonara. We topped off this meal with a few bottles of Proseco, a fine Italian champagne. Luckily, while we were eating dinner the rain stopped. Gondolas started running again, so I went with some of my friends and we got our gondola ride in at sunset. After the ride, we spent some time getting lost in the streets in Venice, admiring the Murano glass works and all of the intricate Venetian masks. It was a long 12 hour day in the city of Venice, but when we finally made it back to our hotel, eight of my friends and I decided that we weren’t ready for our amazing day in Italy to be over. We find out that at a nearby campsite other Contiki groups are staying there, and there’s also a bar on site. We down a few bottles of wine in the patio of our Hotel lobby, where an old Italian man serenaded us and danced with me. After that, we went over to the camp site, Fusina. When we get there, a huge Pimps and Hoes party is going on. Hands down, the best night we had. What we remember was so random and so much fun. If you ever make it over to Fusina, be sure to have an attitude adjustment. It’s a drink of 4 shots, and then topped off with Bacardi Breezer…the recipe for an amazing night. When the night was over, at 3 am we had to walk back to our hotel, which ended up being almost a 2 hour walk! Since we took the public bus down, we didn’t realize how long a walk it actually was! We made it back to the hotel, passed out, and then woke up about 2 hours later to leave, obviously everyone was still drunk. The stories we had that night…but an awkward morning beats a boring night right!<BR><BR>Day 8. Venice to Lucerne. This morning was sure a rough one for many. Our morning song is “Wish You Well” by Bernard Fanning, the lyrics “didn’t get much sleep last night” sure rang true for a lot of us. Luckily we had a nice long drive to sleep it off. The drive into Lucerne was stunning. We passed Lake Como, the beautiful city in northern Italy, home to some of the world’s richest people, including George Clooney. As soon as we got into Switzerland, we went to Mount. Stanserhorn. All but two people in our group made it to the top of the mountain. We took the original cable car part way up the mountain, and then the modern funicular to the top. At an altitude of 1900 meters, you can guess that the view from the top was amazing. You can see 10 lakes from the top, as well as 100 kilometers of alpine vistas. On a clear day, you can see all the way to France and also the Black Forest in Germany. After leaving Mount Stanserhorn, we went straight into the city of Lucerne. The first thing I did was go pick up a pound of Swiss chocolate…that bag was devoured in about half an hour…my justification was that if I didn’t eat it fast it would melt! After that, I walked around Lucerne on my own, what a stunning city! The actual lake is filled with swans! One of the main things to see is the all wooden Chapel Bridge. There is also the Lion monument, a lion carved into stone above a pond, which was created as a tribute to fallen Swiss Guards. I wandered around the picturesque city, and enjoyed its beauty. On the way back, I went to the watch store; hey you can’t leave Switzerland without a unique Swiss watch! We made it back to the hotel, ate dinner and got ready quickly. We all made it out later that evening for a lake cruise on Lake Lucerne itself. We couldn’t have had a better night, the sunset was amazing. After the cruise, a local named Dom took us out on a bit of a pub crawl throughout Lucerne. I lasted surprisingly late, one of the last ones standing from the night before. We went to 4 local lounges and night clubs, all were fun! <BR><BR>Day 9. Lucerne to Paris. Today was a day of mainly driving. Peter let us sleep for the morning, but after noon he decided to make our drive a bit more eventful. We played name that tune with TV shows and movie theme songs, then a game of battle of the sexes. Peter also showed us a video that he made for us; it was a compilation of pictures and videos that he had taken on our trip! Before we knew it, we were in Paris. We went to our hotel as we arrived, and enjoyed a lovely French dinner at the hotel. Right after, we left to go into Paris to get a city tour at sunset. In the middle of the tour, Peter starts telling us a story about some ghost in the window of a building to our left. He keeps trying to point out the window and keep our attention focused on looking left, only because a phenomenal view of the Eiffel Tower is on our right! When everyone realizes what’s going on, I swear the coach almost leaned to the right! When the city tour ended, everyone went to the top of the Eiffel Tower and drank champagne. However, this was my third trip to Paris, and now my cousin lives here! So, I decided to go visit her and her boyfriend instead. We made it over to her apartment, but not before I got a great view of the tower sparkling! <BR><BR>Day 10. Paris. In the morning the group heads off into Paris. Our first stop is a photo stop, time for our group photo, with the backdrop being the Eiffel Tower! Once the picture was taken, we had the day free to explore the city on our own. We were advised to pick just our top three sights for the day. My top three was to go to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, go to the Opera Garnier, and also the Sacre Coeur church. I also had to make time to meet up with my cousin for lunch. For most people, their top three on their first time to Paris is the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Cathedral Notre Dame. However, there is so much to see in Paris! So, after the picture some of my friends and I walked to the Arc de Triomphe, and we got some amazing pictures from the top (not to mention a fabulous workout after climbing up seemingly endless stairs). The Arc de Triomphe was commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon to showcase his triumphant battles. After leaving the Arc, we walked down the Champs Elysée, and I left my friends as they headed off to the Louvre and I went to the Palais Royale. The courtyard at the Royal Palace is where I was supposed to meet my cousin for lunch. However, after miscommunication, we ended up not being able to find each other. However, I had a lovely time relaxing in the courtyard. I finally had the chance to soak up some sun, and I enjoyed a café au lait while sitting around a grand fountain in the middle of a beautiful garden. I was near the Opera House, so I ventured up there on my own. I took the metro, which is super easy to use! The Opera Garnier is a stunning music hall, and it was stunning! The main theatre has a huge chandelier, and amazing ceiling painting by Marc Chagall. As if the main chandelier isn’t enough, there is an entire room filled with them! The Opera house was stunning, grandiose, and timelessly elegant. It was also the inspiration for the Phantom of the Opera. I ended up spending a bit more time there than I had originally intended, and by the time I tore myself away, I realized that getting to the Sacre Coeur church on my own would be quite difficult, as it was pretty complicated to get there, and I didn’t think I’d had enough time when I wasn’t even sure how to get there…So, instead I went back near the Louvre and crossed the Seine and went near to the Musée D’Orsay. I walked down a side street, went grabbed a baguette and a raspberry crepe. I took my lunch down to the Seine and found some live music. I sat down, slipped my sandals off and dipped my feet into the water as I listened to the music and ate my French lunch. It was a leisurely lunch, and I truly got to do something that I’d never been able to do in Paris before, just sit and soak up the atmosphere. I soaked up the sun, leisurely strolled down the streets, and even picked up a few great pieces of Art! We all met up at the Musée D’Orsay (a museum dedicated to Impressionist works). As we made it back onto the coach, everyone was still buzzing about their magical day in one of the most amazing cities in the world. We went back to the hotel, and tonight was a free night on the town. Most people were going to the Moulin Rouge for dinner and a show, so I was even able to fit in a quick nap to recuperate! The Moulin Rouge is one of the most famous cabarets in all of France, and it was quite a formal affair. Everyone got dressed up for the event. We started off with an amazing dinner, and lots of French wine! When the show started, we were even treated to champagne! The show was spectacular! The singing, dancing and costumes were all impressive. But the show was also filled with astonishing balancing and circus acts, there were even live animals! There was even a ventriloquist! I had high expectations for the show, and it exceeded anything I could ever have imagined. Seeing as how this was our last real night of the tour, and our last night all together, no one went home early. We all went to a bar called O’Sullivans right next to the Moulin Rouge. Everyone from our group was out enjoying our last real night together. Early the next morning, several people would be flying out before we left Paris, so it was also a night of good-byes. <BR><BR>Day 11. Paris to London. We get on our tour bus today with about 10 less people. We play our day song for the last time, and the entire bus was silent. The energy level on the bus was like a balloon had just been popped…no one was ready to go home as we made our way to Paris’ Charles De Gaulle Airport. More than half of us left at the airport, as they were flying out today. The rest of us stayed on the coach and made our way back to London. Our rest stop on the way was a unique one today; we stopped over in Vimy Ridge. Vimy Ridge is the largest Canadian War Memorial, and it is a tribute to Canadian troops in World War 2. In the park there, you could see actual trenches from the War; it was a different experience and amazing to see that part of my nation’s history. We finally made it back to the Royal National Hotel in London, where we left from 11 days before. A few hours later, those who were still around all went to the pub right next to the hotel for our final goodbyes and drinks. It was a lovely evening, and a great way to end an unforgettable trip.