If you missed Contiki Eurotrip 2010 – Part 1, click here to catch up! 🙂 It’s part of a transcription from my travel diary, from 49 days travelling around Europe with Contiki. And so here’s the continuation of the adventure!
In Cairo, waiting for our flight to Athens. I can’t wait to be reunited with my luggage! We only had carry-on luggage for our week in Egypt, which was liberating but also a pain, as space is highly limited. I’ve already chucked some clothing away, and I hope to have more space for all my souvenirs and gifts for the final return trip!
On the plane now – our flight was very delayed due to strike action in Athens. I bought a silly little camel stuffed animal at Duty-Free, and some Egyptian dates. I wish I had brought some Egyptian sand with me too! I’d love a sand collection, from all over the world. Little grains of time. We also get to meet up with the rest of the tour – apparently they have been partying hard in the Greek islands, and I can only imagine the level of debauchery that lot has been up to! There’s just under two weeks left of the tour, and I’m hoping for the strength to make the most of it! After the illness and constant travel, I’m quite drained.
A long day spent on the bus, traversing Greece! We stopped off at Spartan Thermopylae and took pictures of the Battle of Marathon monuments – there’s a statue of Leonidas! I cant’t sleep on the bus, so the rest of the super-long trip was a bit of a blur. I remember staring out of the window for hours, enjoying the countryside, and daydreaming. We arrived at Kavala, a cute Greek seaside town, in the evening. We had to lug our suitcases up the narrow staircase, then settled in to our cramped hotel room before going out to look for dinner.
We got a recommendation from the hotel reception, but got lost, and ended up asking a young Greek guy if he knew where we could eat. He pointed us to a local Greek taverna that he claimed was his favourite, and it turned out to be amazing! We feasted on dolmades, tzatziki, feta cheese, fresh bread, and a whole selection of delicious complimentary desserts. It was definitely one of the best meals of the trip!
So many delightful surprises in Turkey – interesting archaeological sites, beautiful mosques, countless flavours of delicious Turkish delight, beautiful beaches, apple tea, and shisha bars!
Today was possibly the toughest travelling day yet. We got up very early, and watched the sun rise from the bus. The rays of sunshine broke through the clouds in a dramatic, biblical-type scene, and it made the early wakeup worth it. After 3 hours of driving, we reached the Turkish border. And insanity ensued! We started off in the wrong lane at the Greek border crossing (a misunderstanding and confusion from a lack of English signs), which nearly caused a full-on riot when the other drivers started shouting, shaking their fists, and generally showing intense irrational rage. One man even put his young toddler daughter under the wheel of the stationary bus – presumably to stop the bus from continuing in the wrong direction? Who knows.
After all the fuss, we crossed the border, and entered Turkey! Our first stop was the archaeological site of Troy (it hasn’t been conclusively proved to be the actual site of Troy, but it seems likely), which we reached by crossing the Dardanelles on a ferry. The guided tour was fantastic, and we got plenty of pictures of the replica of the Trojan Horse. The next leg of the trip was draining, and I felt ill and exhausted by the time we stopped for the night. I enjoyed our healthy dinner (lots of salad!), as I still felt so unhealthy from eating mainly bread in Egypt. Feeling better already!
Sitting at ANZAC cove… I finally understand the significance of this place. Gallipoli is very beautiful and peaceful – a stark contrast to the horrifying reality of the slaughter of young men that took place here during WWI. I have been doing lots of thinking, about life, the future, everything.
Turkey isn’t what I expected – it’s so green, with huge fields of sunflowers, and beautiful beaches. I keep seeing yellow fields at a distance, and I’m amazed to see that they are actually fields and fields of sunflowers. Sometimes the massive flowers are turned away from the road, facing the sun in worship.
In the hotel now in Istanbul! We went to watch the final game of the Soccer World Cup 2010 – Spain won! We watched it at a shisha bar, and had a lot of fun just hanging out with our tour-buddies and catching up on all the gossip during Egypt-Greek week. A lot of people got very drunk, but I can’t afford to get drunk (sadly) so I got to watch the drunk antics, hah. Early-ish to bed – we have a tour of Istanbul tomorrow!
Amazing day! After a good breakfast we had our walking tour of the city, which was amazing, but also quite tiring. Our first stop was the spice markets, which I absolutely loved. Housed indoors, various shops overflow with multi-coloured spices, fragrant teas (mint, apple, cinnamon, pomegranate), Turkish viagra (!) and random souvenirs. I bought some tea, and then enjoyed the vibrant, bustling atmosphere of the markets. We then walked past Hagia Sophia, and went inside the Blue Mosque!
It was my first time inside a mosque, and we had to remove our shoes and cover up before entering. It was breathtakingly beautiful inside – an immense dome roof, hand-painted ceiling, and beautiful blue patterns absolutely everywhere. I especially loved the stained glass windows, hanging lamps, and the flowing, decorative arabic script.
Then, we walked to the Turkish baths, where we bought tokens for a later visit. A couple of friends and I decided to ditch the Persian carpet demonstration and find food, as we were STARVING. We had lunch at a small buffet style restaurant, and then headed off for shopping in the Grand Bazaar. With over 30 000 shops selling all manner of items, it is arguably the most overwhelming (and exciting!) shopping experience, ever.
There are so many shops selling tea, beautiful hand-painted ceramic dishes, flawless knock-off handbags, and all other kinds of souvenirs, trinkets, and jewellery. I bought a silver puzzle ring for €10, which was a serious bargain, and then we headed off to the nearby Turkish Baths. Excited, we redeemed our plastic tokens and entered the female section of the baths. We were directed to the dressing rooms, where we changed into disposable underwear, a light sarong-like shawl, and plastic shoes.
We entered the baths and were met with an enveloping warmth, and a cloud of steam. A middle-aged Turkish woman, naked except for a pair of panties, instructed us to remove our shawls, and to lie down on the large heated marble platform in the middle of the room. After the momentary awkwardness of being half naked with new friends, we relaxed and lay down in the warmth. As I lay down on my back, I saw the roof – a beautiful dome decorated with small holes that let in the sunlight. It was like going back in time – marble against naked skin, steam and sunlight mingling, and muffled female voices mixed with the sound of running water.
You can lie in the middle of the platform for as long as you like – when you’re ready for the bath part of the experience, you simply move to the edge, and a lady appears with soap. Each bather gets their own loofah, and their own “mama” to scrub them down. It was like being a toddler again, being bathed by an attentive mother. The exfoliating scrub was brisk but amazing, and being doused with a bucket of cool water afterwards made the experience perfect.
After some time in the jacuzzi and a swim in the pool, we dried off and got dressed, had some apple tea together, and then decided to have a pedicure. All the pampering was fabulous, especially after the grime of Egypt. Feeling refreshed and pretty, we rushed back to get dressed for our Turkish dinner and belly-dancing evening. It was superb – some amazing, mesmerizing belly-dancing, great food, and a really festive atmosphere. Afterwards we relaxed at a shisha bar, planned on staying an hour and ended up staying until 3 am! Oops…
Another long day in Turkey! We “visited Asia” today – we took the ferry across the Bosphorus, still not entirely sure if we ended up on the “Asian” side, but I like to imagine we crossed the imaginary and mostly meaningless border between continents 😉 After lunch the girls and I went shopping again at the Grand Bazaar, and I bought a KILOGRAM of Turkish Delight! We got loads of free tasters (YUM!), and I chose a whole range of delicious fresh Turkish Delight that was vacuum sealed and packed for the trip home. We ate dinner at the famous Pudding Shop (Lale Restaurant) in Istanbul, a place that became very popular in the 1960s as a meeting place for all kinds of travellers traversing Europe. I had a rice custard pudding, which was delicious 🙂
Then I had a massive unpacking-repacking mission with my room-mate – we have accumulated SO MUCH STUFF, and we still have two weeks left! Bring it on!
EASTERN EUROPE – BULGARIA, SERBIA, HUNGARY
My first taste of Eastern Europe – Eastern Orthodox churches, stark reminders of a chilling political history, another wave of culture shock, and a whole bunch of brand new experiences!
Hello Eastern Europe! I was sad to leave Turkey today – it’s one of my favourite countries so far – but Eastern Europe is a new and exciting place to explore. We drove into Bulgaria today, and almost baked on the bus as Flash (bus driver dude) took the keys with him when he left, and we had no air conditioning. I had no clue that Eastern Europe could get SO HOT! I have so much to learn about the many countries of the world. So far, my impressions of Bulgaria are as follows: a flat land of endless fields, bad, bumpy roads, roads that randomly end, and seemingly unoccupied fat shirtless men in every town. This is all a bus-view-perspective, as we pretty much just drove through the country without engaging in any local culture.
We had a few hours in Sofia (the capital city of Bulgaria) when we arrived to stay for the night – we saw a beautiful Bulgarian Orthodox church – St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral – and a few monuments, before heading to our hotel. Unfortunately, that was pretty much all we saw of Bulgaria, as we hit the road early in the morning. Our hotel was like a doppelgänger of the hotel from The Shining – creepy as hell! Our room was red with Japanese wallpaper. No idea why. And it was hot, boiling hot, with no fans or air conditioning. Sigh.
Next in our whirlwind tour of Eastern Europe – Serbia! It has been another challenging day, starting with our Bulgarian hotel not having any running water this morning! A friend and I jumped in the pool to cool down and rinse off, kind of gross but better than nothing. Breakfast was… strange. Black bread and cheese, yoghurt on a plate (because no bowls??), and much confusion. Then it was back in the bus and off to the Serbian border. The roads in the part of the world are awful – a lot like the roads in many African countries – and all the bumping and swaying from side to side has not helped my motion sickness. Might as well be sailing!
Once again we had a super-quick visit in Serbia, a walk around the capital (Belgrade), and then back to the hotel. I wish I had more understanding of the history and culture of these countries we’ve been zooting through. Next time I guess. Our Serbian hotel was almost delightfully grotesque. It was like a time capsule, complete with art-deco furniture, ancient elevators that sounded like they were being hoisted up on chains by slaves, and wallpaper peeling and bubbling from water damage. Quite an experience!
We left Serbia today, after a rather curious breakfast – baskets and baskets of bread rolls, plates of cake, and jugs of yoghurt. The Serbian-Hungarian border was incredibly strict, with drug-sniffing dogs and random travellers being lead away in handcuffs. We passed through without incident, and arrived in time to get ready at our hotel for a dinner cruise on the Danube. It was superb – a beautiful sunset, gorgeous views of both sides of the city from the river, and a delicious dinner.
I got to try a type of Hungarian red wine nicknamed Bull’s Blood, and we sat outside enjoying the view. It was over all too quickly, though, and I crawled into bed instead of going out partying with the others. I’m in love with Budapest already <3
Busy, busy day today! We visited Buda Castle in the morning – the Fisherman’s Bastion is so beautiful, and the entire building is like a magical, blindingly white, gorgeous fairytale castle. It was incredibly hot, so my brain was overheated and irritable, which impaired my concentration during sightseeing. I will most definitely be visiting Budapest again though! I would love to take my time and learn all about the history and architecture of the city.
I am loving living on the road, whilst equally hating it. Adventure is so exciting, but I do miss home comforts at time. Freedom vs. safety and stability… I know I’ll have to readjust to normality soon, but right now all I do in my spare time is plan my next trips in my head. I will definitely keep travelling, as much and as far as I can, whenever I am able. I’m surprised at how much I’ve loved communal living – I’ve never had a room mate or a sister, so my adopted Contiki sisters have become my partners in crime. I’ve overcome my anxiety, shared rooms and bathrooms and a bus, and gained a perspective on life so valuable that I can’t even express how much it has changed me.
In our free time this afternoon, we visited the House of Terror, a war time museum that provides a chilling insight into the fascist and communist dictatorial regimes in 20th-century Hungary. It’s also a heartbreaking memorial to the victims who were detained, interrogated, tortured or killed in the building. It was a very powerful look at a dark period in history.
Back into Western Europe – first time in Austria, and Vienna! Grand royal palaces, the home of Mozart, schnaps, wafers, and apple strudel!
We left for Austria in the late afternoon, arriving in Vienna around 5 pm. We had to get ready incredibly quickly before leaving for the Mozart and Strauss concert! A 30-second shower hardly helped to abate the stifling heat, and before we knew it we were seated in a beautiful concert hall, watching a chamber music performance by musicians dressed in period costumes. It was wonderful! We exited the building during a major downpour, which whilst being a relief from the heat, was quite crazy as we ran several blocks back to our backpacker’s hostel. We got completely soaked to the skin – my pointy heels filled with water so I was running with waterlogged toes 😛 hah!
Sightseeing <3 We started the day off with a quick bus tour after breakfast, and then a walking tour. After the thunder and lightning storm last night, it was much cooler and overcast, which was a relief from the oppressive heat of yesterday. We visited the Hofburg Palace, bought wafers and chocolates at the Manner shop, admired the opera house, and walked alongside the parliament buildings. At 3 pm we met the group for a tour of the Schnaps Museum, and got to taste some fantastic alcohol (including absinthe, which just tasted like burning!). Then we did more sightseeing, a blur of impressive palaces (Schönbrunn, part of the Hofburg Complex) and monuments and art!
Sleep is so easy after frantic sightseeing – dinner, fall into bed, and then wake up for another full day of sights and experiences.
We are currently in the land of The Sound of Music – the Austrian Alps! We left Vienna in the morning, and were soon surrounded by mountains, forests, bright blue-green lakes, and rolling emerald hills. Postcard-perfect views! Driving through the Alps was surreal, and then our brief visit to Swarovski Crystal World simply made everything feel unbelievably WEIRD. The place is a bizarre modern-art museum in the middle of Austria, with kaleidoscope rooms and strange mechanised puppets. And then, at the end, a huge, glitzy showroom full of Swarovski jewellery for sale. Weird.
We had a surprise (unplanned) visit to Mauthausen, one of Austria’s most notorious concentration and extermination camps during the second world war. I was both fascinated and horrified as we walked around, seeing the walls topped with barbed wire, the gas chambers, crematorium, and the quarry where prisoners were forced to work until they died from exhaustion. It was a solemn experience, and I don’t think I could ever really imagine what it was like to be there when it was active. The blue skies and lush green grass seemed utterly inappropriate, and it was deeply unsettling wandering around the compound.
For the living and the dead, we must bear witness.
Our visit was brief, but I managed to get a feeling of the immense human tragedy that happened here, and all over Europe, during the Holocaust. It certainly gave me some perspective.
Sitting in the sun in our room in Hopfgarten – it is SO beautiful here. Classic picturesque Tyrol vistas – mountains, thick pine forests, steep grassy green hills, cerulean blue sky. Almost too perfect. We arrived last night, and today is “activity day”. My awful Contiki Cough a.k.a. The Bus Plague is back with a vengeance, so I’m happy to relax while everyone else goes mountain biking and hang gliding and hiking. The Contiki house is awesome, it feels like a real youth hostel 🙂
I ended up going fishing with Wes and the guys around lunch time, there was a small pond filled with trout and it was very easy to snag a fish! We paid to have our caught fish gutted and grilled, and we feasted on the freshest fish we had ever tasted. Walking back to the hostel we met some of the others who were back from their bike ride, and I had a quick spin on a mountain bike 😛 Then we bought some beer for the themed party (Tight & Bright) and went back to get ready.
The party was a lot of fun, even though, as usual, I had no spare cash for booze. We dressed up in garish neon colours, danced, watched the dance-off competitions which included a stripper pole, and acted like typical carefree young people on a debaucherous Eurotrip 😉 Below you can see Streets, the tour clown, in his glorious Aussie beach outfit. Hah. The interesting, goofy, and amazing people on the tour really made it an experience of a lifetime!
On the road again – en route to Munich, Germany! We weaved through the Austrian Alps and stopped in Munich for the night – we only had two hours walking around in the city centre, so we watched the Glockenspiel, I checked my foot size in the “Devil’s Footprint” inside the Frauenkirche, and then we took the Contiki bus back to the hostel. The others went out for dinner at Hofbrauhaus, the famous beer hall, but I was exhausted and got an early night. I hate missing out on things, but lack of money and fluctuating mental/physical health dictate the pace of my adventures. 🙁
I do hope to return in the future, and spend more time in the places that I enjoyed!
Last time I visited Switzerland (before Contiki) was with my parents and brother in 2003, and we stayed in Zurich 🙂 This time, I got to see a lot more of Switzerland, including Lucerne, Lauterbrunnen, and Jungfrau mountain! Next time, I’d love to go in winter, and try out snowboarding for the first time.
We are in Switzerland! I’m sitting at the desk in our hostel room, looking out of the window at the raging river outside, and the spectacular Swiss Alps <3 We’ve had a long travelling day – our first stop was Lichtenstein, we stopped briefly for lunch in Vaduz and some of us got our passports stamped at the tourist office!
Lucerne is incredibly pretty! One of my favourite sights was the Lion of Lucerne, a recessed sculpture that commemorates the Swiss Guard soldiers who were killed in Paris in 1792 during the French Revolution. The river running through the city is gorgeous, with swans and wooden bridges and flower boxes. We got caught in an unexpected rain/hail storm, and had to hide under cover until the bus arrived!
We continued on to our hostel in Lauterbrunnen, where I’m sitting right now 🙂 There’s another themed party tonight – we are meant to wear something we’ve bought on the tour – and then we have free time tomorrow to explore. It’s rainy and chilly in the valley, which isn’t surprising seeing that Jungfrau mountain is permanently covered in snow! It’s like a fairytale.
Just got back from the party in the “Bomb Shelter” – the basement has been converted into a bar/nightclub, and thankfully sound-proof! We walked outside a bit in the rain, and stood on the bridge that crosses the river. It’s so magical at night – the waterfall is illuminated, so you can watch it cascade at night, and it looks like it’s moving in slow motion down the cliff face. Beautiful <3
It’s a cool morning in the Swiss Alps today… no rain, but plenty of mist. Some of the group is travelling up Jungfrau mountain today, but I decided to skip it as the 2.5 hour train ride is just too expensive for me. So, I have a free day! With 6 days of the tour left, I’m ready to go home. I’m feeling much more tired than usual, I have barely any money left, and I’m keen for a rest! Looking back at everything we’ve done on the tour, I’ve realised how ridiculously busy it’s been. So many experiences and activities packed into a short amount of time!
Just got back from a walk around the camp-site and the Lauterbrunnen valley, and I’m still in awe. We saw some snow on the nearby mountains, and I had a lovely chat with a close friend as we walked alongside the cliffs, forests, and little wooden chalets. We talked about what we’d learned about ourselves, others, and what it will be like to go home. I feel I’ve learned a lot about my limits – how to control my anxiety, adapt to completely new and often uncomfortable situations, and to trust my own strength.
A little later, we walked into town – even here, everything is incredibly expensive! It’s very pretty though, and the walk was relaxing and scenic. Later, we found out that there was a folk music festival happening at the campsite nearby, and so we went to watch the Alpenhorns and yodelling choirs (yes, really!) before getting an early night. It was a lovely, unexpected dose of Swiss culture!
We popped into Germany earlier on in the tour – our brief stopover in Munich – and then we entered the country again as we made our way towards Heidelberg and Sankt Goar. I had no clue that I’d one day be living in Germany! Hah!
We stopped off in Heidelberg today, a charming university town in the Rhine Valley. We bought gummy bears, admired the castle, and then it was back on the bus and onwards towards Sankt Goar! The Rhine Valley is lovely, green slopes dotted with little castles, tiny vineyards, and tiny towns on the river banks. We visited several VERY touristy shops in Sankt Goar – a beer stein store, a cuckoo clock store selling wooden clocks hand-carved in the Schwarzwald, and all kinds of fridge magnets and other Germany-themed souvenirs. We saw the world’s largest free-standing cuckoo clock chime at 6 pm!
Then it was dinner, and off to our hotel nearby. We had a wine tasting in the cellars of the local vineyard, and ended up getting delightfully drunk on Eiswein and Ortega <3 We tasted 5 different wines, chatted until midnight, laughing til we cried, and feasted on gummy bears before crawling into bed. It was one of the best nights of the trip so far!
I love the Netherlands! Cheese, flat and endless green landscapes, canals, dykes, windmills, red and yellow tulips, bicycles! As well as amazing buildings, a vibrant nightlife, and friendly, laid-back people.
We drove from Sankt Goar to the Netherlands today, stopping off in Edam for a clog-making demonstration and cheese tasting. The cheese was delicious – smoked cheese, herbed cheese, Edam, Gouda! The man who did the clog demonstration explained to us how in times past, young Dutch men would make a pair of wedding clogs for a lover and present them to her when he proposed – this was a symbol of his dedication and his skill with his hands.
Then we went for a bike ride around Edam and the surrounding countryside, on charming old Oumafietsen (Granny bikes!). It was lots of fun, and the town is ridiculously cute. The houses hug the canals, and it seems that everyone has a flat-bottomed river boat and a bicycle! Who needs cars? The Oumafietsen are quite tricky to ride, as you need to backpedal to slow down. Apparently, many a tourist has tumbled into a canal whilst desperately trying to stop their bike!
Our very last stop of the tour is Amsterdam – or, “The Damage”, as our tour leader nicknamed it 😉 We had to unpack the entire bus in Amsterdam, as the buses are serviced there and we might not have the same bus on the way back to London. We settled in to our hotel and had dinner before our “mystery excursion” in town – a live sex show! I decided that I may as well go, to end off the tour with a bang, and to blow my mind wide open. Heh. I had no idea what to expect, so I was nervous and excited, and feeling very naughty. We were ushered into the theatre-like room with our tour mates, and immediately saw a couple having sex on stage.
This performance was followed by several other acts, including a male striptease, a performance involving a banana, and some impressive positions. Some of the couples were married or in relationships, they simply love exhibitionism, and getting paid for it! It was certainly a bizarre experience, and not really sexy at all. More surreal and highly entertaining! Drinks were included in the ticket price, and so I got happily drunk on red wine. My friends had eaten some “space cakes” before the show, and the weed started kicking in mid-show. Everything got a bit crazy from then on!
We missed the Red Light District tour as our tour leader disappeared, so we wandered about by ourselves. We visited the Grasshopper, a famous Amsterdam coffeeshop, and caught glimpses of the patrons rolling joints and smoking weed. We browsed sex shops, walked through the Red Light District and stared at the beautiful women in the windows (sad, I know), and strolled through the streets. The atmosphere was warm and friendly, and we felt perfectly safe the whole time. My friends started freaking out about their weed experience, and so we ended up taking a taxi home and cutting the night short. Mischief managed!
A full day in Amsterdam! We decided to do our own canal boat tour of the city, in a cute paddle-boat armed with a map and cameras. It took two hours, and lots of leg power, to complete the route, and we ended up outside the Anne Frank house. The queue was VERY long, and so we made the split-second decision to leave it, and see other sights in our short time in the city. We ended up in the sex museum, which was both fascinating and hilarious. There was a collection of erotic art through history, from ancient sculptures of fertility goddesses to metal chastity belts and 1920s pornography. Wes and a friend visited the science museum, but I was exhausted, and so I hung out in the cafe of the museum. The “last supper” is tonight 🙁 The end is too close.
Dinner was great, although sad – we ate at an Asian restaurant called Sea Palace, and took last photos, chatted about the highlights and most scandalous moments, and said our goodbyes. The North American people are going home tomorrow – flying directly from Amsterdam – while the rest of us take the bus back to London.
TEARS AND GOODBYES
After living with 51 people for 6 weeks, it was time for everything to change once again. Tearful goodbyes, promises for reunions, packing and repacking for the journey home, and preparing for reverse culture-shock.
And so the adventure comes to a close. Today has been bitter-sweet – a whole lot of the tour members either stayed in Amsterdam or were dropped off at the airport to fly home, and we drove on through Belgium and onwards to London with a half-empty bus. We had song dedications, shared anecdotes, and soon we were back at the hotel in Russell Square. We met at the pub downstairs in the evening to say goodbye. It’s truly amazing how you can change so much in 2 months.
Sitting at Heathrow, packing my bag one last time before our flight back to Cape Town. It has been an AMAZING 7 weeks – travelling around Europe by bus, packing a lifetime of sightseeing into mere days, and making lifelong friends. Memories that will stay dear to me forever 🙂