Ten years ago, just after I’d met the Lobster, before I met B, and well before Thor was a twinkle in anyone’s eye, in January, Renae and I took a Contiki tour of Europe. If you can drink like an Australian, or if you don’t mind people who do, this is the tour company for you. However, if you are a minister’s daughter/social worker and Marine’s daughter/current employee of a religious organization, whose drinking escapades are so far limited to each other’s company and a small mini-bar in a Shreveport hotel room, you might want to look for something a little less…sodden?
There is very little in my life that I would do over. I believe in looking forward, not back. But, this is one of those things. I would redo this trip in a heartbeat, given the chance. I would know where not to eat!
Renae and I had a fantastic time, no denying, and in celebration of the fun, I am reposting the original review [with edits for detail] I wrote of our trip, then only distributed to my coworkers and my friends at TTP. Now, anyone in the world who googles Contiki can read it. Ah, the internet.
okay, here is the rundown of my trip. Wake up call was at 6:00 every morning, and usually we didn’t get back to our hotels before 11:00 at night.
day one: I lost half my travelers’ cheques in the airport–someone returned them to security, though, and I found them (yay God!). Had a lovely projectile vomiting incident on the plane and had to change clothes before going through customs [terrified small child who was watching me heave and blow the bottoms out of the paper barf bags]. We spent 3 hours getting from the airport to our hotel–all the locals were on their way to work, so the trains were too stuffed for us and our luggage to get on. We also wandered around outside in the freezing rain for a half hour looking for our hotel. Turns out that we were wandering around exactly IN FRONT of our hotel the whole time. It just didn’t have a sign on it. We ate lunch and took a double decker bus tour, on which I promptly fell asleep and snored through all the major attractions of London. I found Trafalgar Square particularly nice for sleeping. We had a nap back at the hotel before meeting up with the tour group for the first time, and then ate Greek food for dinner. Tour group was 51 people. 8 Americans, 4 Mexicans, 3 South Africans, and the rest Australians with serious drinking problems. Left there and took the tube all over London, snapping pictures like idiots, running all over the place. Loved it. Didn’t want to leave. Hair dryer blew up. One hair appliance down. One to go.
day two: We got on the bus and headed for Dover, then crossed the channel into Calais. I spent the entire ferry ride on the floor of the bathroom with my head IN the toilet. Miserable. Back on the bus for some more motion sickness, and then by late evening we were in Amsterdam. Renae and I split up from the group, who had mostly gone on a candlelight cruise of whatever river runs through Amsterdam, and we wandered all over the city for 3 hours. We avoided the drug houses and did our best to stay out of the red light district. Somehow we ended up in the WORST part of the city, but found our way out and went to a cafe where a geriatric group was assembled playing dice. Went back to the hotel and tried to sleep through the drunken Australians screaming in the hallway. Curling iron burned up…literally. Spent the rest of the trip washing hair and letting it air dry. In other words, I had 2 bad hair weeks, but still managed to survive!
day three: Went back into Amsterdam in the daylight. Visited the Anne Frank house, which was very moving for me personally, and bought wooden shoes and postcards. Got back on the bus and started off again. The bus driver got lost in Germany so we were nearly 2 hours late in getting to St. Goar, our next stop. It was a hideously charming little German town nestled between 4 mountains right on the Rhine River. I kept thinking about my old Gnome books and wondered if Trolls lived under the bridge. I didn’t see any. Tried to sleep through the drunken Australians who were banging on my door in the middle of the night because they couldn’t remember which rooms were theirs.
day four: Was forced to watch a demonstration of how beer steins were made. Escaped narrowly with sanity in tact. Was forced to look at many cuckoo clocks and hummel dolls. Managed not to cry. Boarded bus once more and headed for Munich, driving through the German Alps and seeing more castles than should be allowed. I now yawn at castles. Made a stop outside of Munich to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp. Spent an hour walking around there. Life changing experience really and I don’t want to negate it by writing about it here [in a joking manner.] Off to the hotel at Munich–bathroom had heated floor tiles! MMMMMM! Warm feet! Happy feet! There were 5 inches of snow on the ground by the time we got to the hotel. Off to the Haufbrauhaus where the Australians drank upwards 2 liters of beer each (some had 5). Back to hotel where I tried to sleep through drunken Australians screaming out the names of their various roommates, while trying to find their hotel rooms. [And banging on our door, yelling, “Jon/Mary/Pete! I know you’re in there! Lemme in!” as they shook the door knob and kicked at the facings, from about 2am onward, until they started passing out in heaps in the hallways.]
day five: Hated the Australians. Went into downtown Munich, saw the Haufkirche and the Glockenspiel. Big church with lots of freaky art and dead people in the first, and a big clock at the second. Had lovely coffee and Bavarian creme donut in a cafe. Got back on the bus. Hated the [loud, rude, foul smelling] Australians some more. Drove through Austrian Alps and tour manager forced us to listen to the entire soundrack of the Sound of Music as we drove [the entire time we were in Austria]. Hated him. Amused self by thinking of ways to kill him. Arrived at Innsbruck late afternoon and toured the city–well, the tourist part anyway. Bought souvenirs and ate pizza, then got back on the bus. Went to hotel, ate dinner, went directly to bed with a hacking cough and a high fever. Did not even hear the Australians, though Renae tells me they were louder than ever and tried to get into our room again.
day six: Hated the world. Hacking cough, fever, runny nose, and German food wreaking havoc on my system. Boarded the bus and drove through more alps to deboard at the ferry in Venice. Ferried into Venice without puking. Yay me! Strolled through the city of Venice for 5 hours, including a gondola ride which was fabby. Found many great costume, wig, and mask shops. Drooled. Window shopped Versace, Gucci, Prada, et al. Drooled more. Ate authentic Venetian food. Tried not to vomit. Strolled more. Had severe chills interspersed with cold sweats and dizzy spells. Chatted up by an Italian man who gave me roses. Nice. They like that hacking cough there. Just means the girl is too tired to fight. Toured St. Mark’s Basilica. Watched the lunar eclipse. Fell madly in love with Venice, wanted to stay there. Sent postcards and got yelled at by the post lady for being too slow. Went back to the hotel and tried to sleep through the Australians, who had discovered Chianti.
day seven: Spent the day on the bus driving to Rome. Saw the most beautiful countryside I’ve ever seen. Enjoyed it through a still fevered haze. Arrived in Rome late evening and took a brisk walking tour of the city that I thought might finally end my life. Wheezed, coughed, shivered, and sweated, but saw the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, and several monuments. Ate some really gross ravioli and went to bed. Hated the Australians. Got up in the middle of the night, walked down the hall [in my tatty pajamas, glasses, crazy snow cap hair, and big old breathe-right-strip…sexy!] and begged the Australians to be quiet so I could sleep. Got laughed at by Australians, went back to bed defeated and cried a little. Finally fell asleep.
day eight: Got up and growled, snarled, and was generally nasty to Australians. Left hotel on foot at 9AM, walked all day long with a stop for lunch until 9PM. Only 2 of my toes bled, though. Saw ALL of Rome. Outstanding city and I want to go back. Toured the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. Got ripped off at lunch and paid WAY more than we should have. Finally made it back to the hotel. Managed to ignore the Australians and get 3 hours of sleep. Cursed Russell Crowe, Heath Ledger, and all their countrymen. Repented and remembered to pray for them instead of being mad at them…forgot again by the time I woke up.
day nine: Got up and boarded the bus, driving all day until we arrived at Florence around 3PM. Made fun of the Australian that was so drunk he fell down in the bus toilet. Really enjoyed his pain. Toured Florence, including seeing the Academia and the David (hoo! everyone should see that). Had art overload, but loved it. Went to a leather working demonstration, had lunch in a fabby cafe, and otherwise loved Florence. Want to go back there and stay a week. Hacking cough settled into a rumbling cough, and fever broke. Went out to dinner with the group and ate very well, then went to a disco where I was chatted up by a man [there’s a whole story here about me being a “beautiful dangerous angel”, and Renae having dazzled our dinner waiter so much that he followed her to the club. I’m too old to retell it without sheepishly acknowledging that this was a tourist disco, and I’m sure these local boys used the same lines every night because it was like fishing in a barrel. Renae and I disappointed them sorely.] Renae and I rounded up as many of the falling down drunk Australians as we could, put them in cabs and helped them back to their hotel rooms. [Unwittingly, we set our drunk-girl-loving tour guide onto a very sodden 18 year old, stating our worry for her. He promised he would take care of her. Oh, he took care of her all right. I’m sure her mother would not thank us.]
day ten: Drove to Lucerne, Switzerland. Tied an Australian’s shoelaces together while he slept on the bus. Laughed wickedly when he got up and tried to walk. Waited for him to go back to sleep and talked someone else into doing the same thing. Laughed even harder when he got up and tried to walk again. Repented for that just now. Bought swiss army knives for friends. Wanted to go back to Italy. Purposefully tripped an Australian, who had been particularly nasty the night before just to watch him fall. Repented. Went back to hotel, ate dinner, had a bubble bath and made fun of the Swiss…that’s a long story in and of itself.
day eleven: Drove to Paris. Arrived in time to go up the Eiffel Tower. Had a picture made with one of the telescopes, refused to tell anyone why [will still deny, deny, deny.] Tripped the same Australian on purpose again. Didn’t repent that time. Drove through the city at night. Fell in love with Paris. Wanted to live there. Felt bad about tripping the Australian, repented. Went back to the hotel and fell asleep before I even got under the covers.
day twelve: Spent the entire day in Paris. Saw all the sights. Ate lunch with the locals in a very posh restaurant. Found out that I really *CAN* speak French
fluently well enough to get around. Chatted with a local. Did the Louvre. Had massive artattack and had to be dragged from the museum under duress. Went to see Charlie’s Angels at a cinema on the Champs d’Elysees. Loved Paris. Loved it. Loved it. Had learned to ignore the Australians and got another good night’s sleep.
day thirteen: Drove back to London. Immediately ditched the tour group without so much as a goodbye to more than 5 of them. Went to hotel in a giddy stupor shouting (well, croaking with glee), “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!” Had Indian food for dinner, listened to BBC radio, fell asleep.
day fourteen: Got up at 4AM and went to airport to go home. Seriously considered kissing ground on landing. Decided against it. Kissed mother instead.