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European Encounter: Questions, Answers & Tips

7 Jun 2011 KC said

KC

This is a group for people, like me, who are always asking questions but never seem to find quite the answer they're looking for :)
You've looked through stacks of discussions and read every blog, but still want to know more :)

... what are the hotels really like?
... how much money should you take?
... how much free time do you have?
... do you get a detailed itinery?
... should you plan your free days or just go with the flow?
... how long do you travel per day? etc.

If these questions appeal to you, please ask & comment :)
At the moment I'm still an asker ;) but in a month's time I'll be an answerer ... so watch this space!

  • 20 Jul 2011 KC said

    KC

    I’m back from an unforgettable trip & will be doing my blog soon … If you are thinking about Contiki – DO IT! It’s the best thing I ever did! If you have any questions ask away & I’ll help you as best I can

  • 24 Jul 2011 KC said

    KC

    Kate Pearson
    20 Jul 2011
    Hey! Just saw your post up on the discussion board about just returning from this trip. I am headed out to do it on Aug 19th so just shy of a month for me to go. I guess I have a few questions that I listed below plus any advice you can give would help ease my nerves that I’ll probably have in the next few weeks haha.

    1. Silly question but did you take a flat iron? I heard that a bunch of people having their straightners fry in Italy even with an adaptor/convertor…any bad experiences with people in your group having problems?
    2. Did you book things in advance proir to even leaving for your trip ie: the Louve or Ann Frank House. I’m not sure how much time we will have in places so even though I would like to book tickets in advance I’m nervous because I know sometimes you have to reserve specail time slots.
    3. Did you do most of the optional stuff offered? I was looking at all of the excusions and though most of them sound fun — some of the dinners I would rather go and explore the city or town and eat off the beaten track.
    4. If you flew into Hethrow was it pretty easy navigating how to get to Russell Square? It sounds like it is but I live in a city that has absolutely no underground subway system and the only subways I’ve been on is in New York City and that was ridiculously confusing haha. Also you can take the tube back to the airport as well I assume or would I have to find other transportation back there?
    5. Tips on packing? I’ve read through contless articles on the board but any suggestions would be welcome…i tend to over pack … always haha

    I am excited to read your blog — and any other advice you can give me would be ggggreat.

  • 24 Jul 2011 KC said

    KC

    Hi Kate
    No problem at all – no question is a silly question ;) I’m happy to help.
    Firstly, you have chosen the best tour – it really is incredible! I can’t fault it.
    They give you maps / tell you where to find ATMs etc. – they really are jacked up.

    1) No-one had any issues with anything frying as far as I know ;) no I didn’t take an iron- that’s a tough q as I would have liked to iron my smart clothes but never had the time – (you’ll need 2 smart clothes for 3 dinners (tuscan / monaco & caberet if you’re doing those) I just took 1 dress that you can tie in different ways which worked really well.

    W.r.t. straighteners – I have short hair so I didn’t worry with that – what we did take was a hair-dryer although you don’t really need one – all but 2 of the hotels had hair-dryers (not v strong ones but still)

    2) Yes I strongly advise that you do bookings ahead of time – but only in the places where you are stationed for 2 days (you won’t have time in Florence, for instance, to see the real David as you spend very little time there .. you arrive at 2ish but you leave at 4:30 for the Tuscan dinner so you can’t do much.) Travelling time is longer than you think – you usually arrive at a place between 2 and 4 (sometimes even later if there’s traffic)

    I would definitely book the Anne Frank ahead of time as you literally bypass the Q and walk in a separate door. I also wasn’t sure about the time so I booked the 2:15 slot but you can definitely book it earlier as the bike ride ends quite early. You arrive in Amsterdam at 12ish so if you book it for 1pm you’ll be fine. We also booked Van Gogh ahead of time and did that first, before Anne Frank.

    Yes book the Louvre ahead of time too as your day is completely free in Paris. They also give you a secret entrance to go in so you miss the majority of the Q.

    3) Yes we did most of the optionals – barring the sex show in amsterdam (yes this one isn’t listed on your optionals as parents read the itineries ;) it costs 30 Euros (we come from SA where the Rand is 10 to the Euro so that didn’t merit paying R300 so we skipped it. We also skipped the WRR and the bob-sledding down the ski jump (this optional also isn’t listed). Ja, we skipped the Venetian pasta dinner and the Monaco and fondue dinners – although I’m told the pasta dinnner was great value for money and you could choose off the menu for the Monaco dinner … so it’s up to you.

    Optionals you can’t miss:

    cruise in Amsterdam / gondola ride / caberet eve / mount pilatus / tuscan dinner

    4) Don’t worry – we have no underground system either! Yes it was relatively easy nativation to the Royal National. We took the Heathrow Express Train straight to Paddington Station (you can book online for that) then took the tube to Russel Square via South Kensington (we bought a day pass for 8 pounds during rush hr & 6 pounds after 10am. The tube works really well & the trains arrive within minutes, the only problem is that you need to change two metro lines from Paddington, which means carrying your bags up and down countless flights of stairs which isn’t great – especially in rush hour traffic).

    Alternatively, the Picadilly line takes you straight from the airport to Russel Square on the same line, but it takes much longer so it’s up to you. We wanted to hit the tarmak running so we didn’t want to spend the morning travelling, but you avoid the countless steps taking the Picadilly line, so maybe that’s the better option.

    They drop you at the Royal National on the last day, so you need to make your way to the airport.

    5) I’m not the world’s best packer, but I rolled everything & packed the items like a sock drawer. The clothes seemed to be a bit less creased – but you can’t avoid creases completely – and everything was easy to find. Our TM has a good method – she folds everything but has compartments for jeans / socks / underwear etc. so she takes out pack by pack, so again, it’s up to you. What I can suggest is take clothes that don’t crease too much.

    Not sure if I’ll get my blog done in time before you go away, so rather ask me questions instead.
    Shout if you need anything else

    Kerry

  • 24 Jul 2011 KC said

    KC

    Other tips!

    - go to the toilet in every restaurant or shop (if there is one) because those are usually free. Otherwise, you pay between 70c and 1 Euro depending on the place.

    - In addition to toilets and waiter tips, don’t forget that you’ll need to tip your TM and driver. The average tip is 2-3 Euros a day which adds up if you count the days (you only pay at the end) so if you do a 16 day tour you end up paying between 30 and 40 Euros per person, so budget that in to your planning.

    - plan your free days (the TM goes through the main attractions, but it’s good to know what you want to see and how to get there (it saves time knowing how the metros work / where to buy tickets etc.)

    - Keep your spending money on a cash card – you find atms all over the place & you don’t have to worry about carrying stacks of cash

    - Europe is expensive so budget quite a bit. I was quite frugel in my spending, and I went through 1000 Euros on the basics (and a few souveniers :)

    - Pack light. You often have to carry the bag up stairs because some of the lifts are too small to get you and the bag inside (or you just get tired of waiting for the lift) – you also want space to pack in new clothes :)

    - Pack a backpack or slingbag as you will be told to pay a “day bag” because the hotel has no lift. We had to do that 3 times.

    - Try and stay awake during drives as the scenery is beautiful. The views on the trip to Nice and Florence are stunning. Sit on the left for Nice (the coastline is on the left) and the right for Florence.

    - Pay attention to the drop off / pick up stops and times. Write it down on your map

    - Take a spare camera battery (and don’t forget an English and Euro plug)

    - Whatever you do DON’T BE LATE. You go through a “booth of truth” where the whole coach can ask you any question they like and you have to answer them. Also they will leave without you if you come late more than once.

    - Keep a record of your expenses. We had some people going through half their spending money on the first few days of tour!

    - Take vitamins. The Contiki cough does exist and when it hits, it hits hard. We never got sick though, thanks to our daily vit supply.

  • 24 Jul 2011 OSUNatti said

    OSUNatti

    Kerry-
    Many thanks for answering my questions and then some :) If i think of anymore I’ll be sure to ask.

  • 24 Jul 2011 KC said

    KC

    cool no probs

  • 25 Jul 2011 jade89 said

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    Hi Kerry,

    I’m going on European Discovery in November so not the same, but just wondering about pre-booking things like Anne Franks house & the Louvre… I can’t work out what time’s I’ll be there. In the info they send 3 weeks before you leave do they include a more detailed itinerary so it would be easier to choose?

  • 25 Jul 2011 adparker22 said

    adparker22

    Great information, thanks! I’m doing Euro Encounter in September… looking forward to seeing your blog hopefully! Also happy to see about things like Anne Frank/Louvre… I want to buy tickets to these things online in advance (especially Anne Frank), but had no idea when we would be getting to these places and didn’t want to pick a time too early and miss it!

  • 25 Jul 2011 KC said

    KC

    @ nyssajc .. phew that’s a difficult one as I have no idea how the times for the Euro discovery work .. but go on the contiki facebook page and ask the question, Beks is a contiki TM who controls the Facebook site & answers questions regularly so she should tell you timings. She helped me with a few things.

    @ ad .. pleasure :) you must book ahead – you save soooo much time. Well the bike ride & cheese demo was over by 11ish (we started early) so we got to Amsterdam at 12:30ish. Our driver did 3 drop offs (not sure if they all do that though) – the first was at the main station, the 2nd was at the Anne Frank & the 3rd was at the Van Gogh museum. We had booked Anne Frank & VG online (VG you can get a day pass but AF you must book a slot). I also wasn’t sure, so I booked the 2:15 slot, but we got there long before that so we did VG first. Perhaps book yours for 1pm to be safe (it’s valid for 30mins so you can still get in at 1:30 for example). There is a lovely pancake bakery on the same street as Anne Frank so you could always go there for a quick stop :) .. the day is Paris is completely free so you can definitely do the Louvre anytime, but definitely book it (also there’s an underground entrance via a set of stairs so you avoid the queue). Our driver dropped us off at the Arch de Triomphe at 9ish.

    hope that helps :) will try and get my blog up by August

  • 25 Jul 2011 KC said

    KC

    @ N – sorry forgot to answer the rest of your question … they do send you an itinery, but it’s not a detailed one (it’s the same as the internet site). You only get a detailed itinery w.r.t pick ups / breakfast & dinner times etc. on the day from your TM – but try the facebook page – Beks should reply

  • 25 Jul 2011 KC said

    KC

    oh ja .. thought of some more tips:

    - take comfy clothes (for the bus) & comfy shoes (blisters aren’t worth it)
    - mix and match your clothes so you can rewear them differently
    - you’ll need smart clothes for the Tuscan dinner / Monaco dinner & casino & the Parisian Caberet. I took a multi-functional dress (that you can tie differently so I had 3 different styles – best thing I did).
    - you’ll need to cover your shoulders / knees in Rome in all the churches so take a scarf / sarong
    - hand sanitizer & wet wipes are a must – and take then with you as some toilets are revolting.
    - take a warm top – it’s freezing on top of Mount Pilatus / Eiffel tower at night
    - take enough hot clothes too – I could’ve taken more tank tops as the weather was mostly hot.
    - take mosquito spray & itchy bite cream – you will get eaten :)
    - take a towel & costume for Nice
    - take a travel journal / book / ipod to read in the bus
    - take a soft travel pillow to sleep in the bus
    - take plasters
    - take a laudry or plastic bag for dirty or wet clothes or everything smells miffy

    think that’s all :)

  • 26 Jul 2011 JL said

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    Hi KC. Thanks for the useful info. I’m from JHB and will be doing the European Encounter with my husband in September. Did you perhaps do the optional Vatican Tour? How long does it take and do you skip the queue when going with Contiki?

  • 26 Jul 2011 KC said

    KC

    Hi JL – Hello my fellow SA :) I didn’t do that tour, we just went to St Peter’s cathedral (not Sistine Chapel), but quite a few of the others did. It took most of the morning (till about 12ish). You skip the main queue, but you still have a queue for the security check (you bypass the queue to St Peters though)

  • 2 Aug 2011 ShazB said

    ShazB

    Hello KC your tips have been great. I am going on the European Encounter 20 Dec. I’m from Durban and am terrified I’m going to freeze there lol.
    - Can you tell me a bit more about the food supplied on tour?
    - you did mention you spent 1000 Euro’s but I’m sure this excluded the optional tours. I’m thinking of taking about R 16 000 in total for spending do you think this is enough?
    - can you please tell me if there are heaters in the room (I know you may have not noticed as you went in summer)
    - are there kettles in the room?
    - are there any laundromats?

    I’m sure I’ll have a million more questions before I go so I hope your blog is up soon.

    Thanks KC

  • 2 Aug 2011 KC said

    KC

    Hey ShazB! Howz Durbs? :)
    Gosh you’re brave! The food was very nice but pretty standard. 3 course meals – usually a buffet or a pasta or schnitzel / chicken etc. We didn’t do too many of the optional food extras – but the Tuscan meal was excellent, as was the caberet meal (I know it’s R1000!!!) but it really is worth it.
    Yes that amount should be fine .. I took a cash card with 1200 Euros and brought some money back (that included spending money and money for the optionals). Phew that’s a tough one .. I didn’t notice any so take a hot water bottle in case. There are extra blankets. No the only place we found kettles was in the Nice hotel and the Royal National in England so we took a heating element. There isn’t much time for laundry on the single days but the innsbruck hotel has a laundromat inside and there is a laundry nearby the Nice hotel and the Royal National. Hope that helps

  • 2 Aug 2011 KC said

    KC

    Kate Pearson
    2 Aug 2011

    Alright, two more quick questions.
    1. Someone that will be on my tour said that on the last Contiki he went to he didn’t pre book anything before he went and they suggested things at the pre-tour meeting on what people should book in advanced and they were allowed to do that at that time. Did they do that at all during the meeting you attended before the trip? That would be easier but I dunno if i want to wait last minute. I already ordered my Louvre tickets just got to do the ann frank, eiffel tower, etc.
    2. Did you book tickets for the Colosseum? I went on their website and they have you state a specific time to go ( like ann frank but they dont state the 30 minute window as in the ann frank house.) So if you did what time do you recommend?

  • 2 Aug 2011 KC said

    KC

    Hey Kate
    Oh really? Well I guess you could book it there when you know about timings, but no, our pre-meeting was like a registration so no info was given. Def book Anne Frank ahead of time as the slots fill up. Dont’ worry about Eiffel tower – they take you up there free.

    No we bought tickets on the day, but dont’ make the mistake and go too late. We were told to do it in the afternoon when it was cooler, but we left it too late and only got the forum at 5:30, but you need a good 1hr and half to cover everything & they didn’t tell us that it closed at 7 so we missed the collosseum .. was so bummed about it. The tickets cover the forum / colloseum & palatine hill .. the timing is completely up to you – you have the whole day free – but either do it first or after 3 cos it’s too hot midday

  • 3 Aug 2011 Mikayla said

    Mikayla

    Hey, I’m going on this trip in September, and don’t remember seeing Nice on the itinerary, is it a stop on the tour? Thanks for all the tips, very helpful :)

  • 3 Aug 2011 JL said

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    According to the hotel list we got, we will spend two nights in Nice between Florence and Paris. I think this will be round about the time we visit Monaco

  • 3 Aug 2011 adparker22 said

    adparker22

    Hi JL and Mikayla,

    What date are you both going in September? I am booked on the September 14 tour!

    Allison

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