Contiki: What Should I Pack?

IMG_1361

Packing for my Contiki trip was such a huge undertaking for me! I had never been on such an extensive international trip, and I really only had about two weeks to get everything together. Here’s everything I know about packing for Contiki, and a few tips and things I learned along the way!

Luggage Limits

Contiki limits your bags to 73cm x 50cm x 25cm (29″ x 20″ x 10″) & weight of 20kg (44lbs) plus one hand/day bag. Contiki does not have luggage drop service like Trafalgar and other tour groups, so you will be carrying your own bags everywhere. If you can’t lug it, leave it!

Suitcase or backpack?

I was the only female on my trip who brought a backpack – and I was so thankful that I did! The other girls all brought extra-large suitcases, and while they certainly had more outfit choices than me (which I totally envied!), they also had to lug those big suitcases up stairs at some of our hotels that were without elevators.

If you’re up for a little extra work to have more outfit choices, go for it! Just make sure you don’t go over Contiki’s weight limits — they weigh your bags on Day 1. If not, bring a pack instead.

I chose the Osprey Farpoint 70L and was so happy with my choice. The pack is a front-loader, so it zips open like a suitcase, and has a detachable daypack, which I used as my carry-on bag. The backpack straps also zip inside, to protect your bag as it travels through cargo holds and baggage claim.

PackCollage

PackCollage2

Staying Organized

There is nothing I recommend more for staying organized than packing cubes. They’re great for travel of all kinds, but are especially useful for tour travel. You’re unpacking and repacking nearly every day, so these babies will make your life so much easier.

There are a ton of different brands available online at all different prices, but I chose Eagle Creek for their quality. I selected a large packing envelope, two large cubes, two half cubes, one tube cube, and one half tube cube. Then, I used a clear, TSA-approved zippered bag, and my favorite toiletry carrier from Victoria’s Secret, to organize my makeup and shower essentials. Here’s what I put in each:

  • Large Packing Envelope: Blouses, dresses and maxi skirts
  • Large Packing Cube #1: Folded shirts (Tank tops, t-shirts and long-sleeved shirts)
  • Large Packing Cube #2: Jeans, black pants, cargo-style pants, shorts and pajamas
  • Half Cube #1: Socks, swimsuit, swimsuit coverup
  • Half Cube #2 (Blue): Extra change of clothes for my carry-on (Jeans, t-shirt, bra, socks, undies)
  • Tube: Hair Straightener, hair brush, misc. accessories
  • Half-Tube: Underwear and bras
  • Clear Cosmetics Bag: Skincare products, toothbrush, toothpaste, meds, anti-bacterial wipes
  • Victoria’s Secret Bag: Makeup, shower items, Downy Wrinkle Releaser, dry shampoo, hair mousse

IMG_1373

IMG_1387

Packing Toiletries

Ladies, what should you bring in terms of toiletries? Here’s my list of must-haves:

  • Makeup. Keep it simple and bring one of each essential item like mascara, eyeliner, blush, foundation, etc. You can’t go wrong with a classic red lipstick in Europe!
  • Shower essentials. Even though you’ll have access to some bath items at the hotels, there’s nothing like using your own shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion. Don’t forget your razor!
  • Dry shampoo. You’ll be on the go A LOT, and may not have time for a full wash every day. Dry shampoo will keep your “day two” hair looking and smelling fresh.
  • Skincare. After long flights, long days, and long bus rides, you’ll need a good day cream (with SPF) and night cream to keep your skin hydrated. Also, don’t underestimate the power of a good eye cream (for those early mornings after long Contiki nights!) and a good lip balm.
  • Medicine. Contiki cough is real. Bring immunity boosters (like Emergen-C or Airborne) and take them often. I also brought DayQuil, NyQuil and cough drops and used my entire supply. Tums or another stomach-settling product is a good idea too. You’ll be eating a lot, and may be eating foods your stomach isn’t used to. Better safe than sorry!
  • Feminine products. You can buy these all over Europe of course, but they may not be the brands you’re used to, and you might not have access to a store right away. Best to bring supplies from home.
  • Curling iron/straightener. If you’re coming from the USA, only bring dual-voltage appliances– you can’t use single voltage ones overseas. Look for one that says “120/240 voltage” or “dual voltage” on the label.
  • Downy Wrinkle Releaser. Not only is it great for getting wrinkles out of clothes, but a quick spritz of this scented spray will keep your clothes smelling freshly laundered through the whole trip.

So how did I pack everything?

Here’s everything that went into my main pack:

  • Large packing envelope, packing cube #1 and #2, half cube #1, tube cube, half tube cube, folding cosmetics bag, shoes, and jacket

IMG_1495

Here’s everything that went into my carry-on:

  • Roll-up travel pillow, travel umbrella, sleep mask, airplane toiletries, travel journal, half cube #2, camera, passport, money and ID, small pouch for misc. papers

IMG_1407

A few things I WISH I’d brought:

  • One more dressy outfit. I brought a maxi dress that was great for going out at night, but there were quite a few occasions to dress up. I could have used more options!
  • Flip flops. There were many times when I wanted to slip these on to run to a friends hotel room, or run downstairs to grab a beer with tourmates.
  • A pair of boots. Even in May, weather was chilly in certain places (England, Austria, Germany) and I wish I’d had something a bit more toasty (and fashionable!) for my feet.
  • A pair of gloves. I ended up shoveling out £10 with my shivering hands for a pair of gloves in London.

 A few things I’m GLAD I brought:

  • A camera. It seems obvious, but don’t think you can leave home without this! Your phone may take decent pictures, but likely not the quality of a nice point-and-shoot or DSLR camera. Plus, when my phone was pick-pocketed, I was so happy that I still had a way of recording my memories without it! Speaking of missing phones…
  • A watch. There are many times you’ll need to meet up with the group at a certain time, and if your phone is lost/stolen, or it’s battery is dead, a watch will be necessary.
  • A travel pillow. At first, I didn’t want to pack this because I was worried about space, but this little memory foam pillow was so worth it. Whether on the plane or the bus, I could sleep in comfort anywhere I was.
  • A journal. Opening your mind is an inevitable side-effect of traveling. I was happy I brought a place where I could record my thoughts and jot down notes/inspiration.
  • A zip pouch for spare papers. I’m sentimental, and after 10 countries, I collected a lot of little papers and mementos (museum tickets, maps, menus, etc). It was nice to have one place to keep it all.

One more thing – don’t bother exchanging money before you’ll go, you’ll pay a really high exchange rate. Instead, hit the first ATM you see upon arrival. You’ll pay a lower exchange rate (which will save you money in the long run), and by having to hit an ATM for money, you’ll be less likely to overspend. It also gives you flexibility to get the currency you need based on the amount you’ve been spending daily (you’ll need four different currencies for European Vista – British Pound Sterling, Euros, Swiss Franc and Czech Crown).

And there we have it – everything I know about packing for Contiki! What item do you never leave home without? Let me know in the comments below!


I had an absolutely amazing time on my Contiki European Vista, and it really changed my life by lighting a wanderlust fire that I just can’t put out. That said, I’ll be relaunching Hunterly this summer as a full travel blog — bigger and better than ever! If you want to see more travel stories, tips and inspiration, subscribe to the blog (link in sidebar) for email updates when posts begin again. 

Happy travels!

 xo,
Tami


Check out my other Contiki posts:

Introduction: An American Girl in Europe
Day 1: Oh hey, London
Day 2: Bonjour, Paris!
Day 3: Parisian Adventures
Day 4: Lookin’ Good, Switzerland
Day 5: All Things Swiss
Day 6: Switzerland, Italy, France…oh my!
Day 7: Bond. James Bond.
Day 8: Buongiorno Italia!
Day 9: When in Rome
Day 10: That’s Amore
Day 11: Vatican City to Venice
Day 12: The Last Italian Adventure
Day 13: Hop-fer-gerten
Day 14: Soaring Over Austria
Day 15: München
Day 16: Bittersweet Symphonies
Day 17: Vienna to Prague
Day 18: Ahoj, Prague!
Day 19: St. Goar, Rhine Valley
Day 20: Amsterdamage
Day 21: Even more Amsterdamage
Day 22: Back to the Start
Day 23/24: The End of a Great Adventure
Contiki: Know Before You Go

Advertisements

Contiki European Vista: Know Before You Go

If you’ve read my previous posts, I think it’s overwhelmingly clear that I had an amazing time on my Contiki European Vista. For those considering a trip and looking for more info, here’s my guide to all things Contiki.

10417744_10152602467413531_8378333633069608076_n
Photo credit: Contiki

Q: Is Contiki for me?

A: Maybe! I think certain types of travelers will embrace the Contiki Experience more than others. As a single female who hadn’t done any traveling abroad previously, this was the perfect option. Below is my list of pros and cons to help you decide if it’s right for you.

Pros:

  • You’ll see a TON of cities, sights and cultures within a VERY short amount of time. Ideal if you don’t travel often, or are lacking vacation time.
  • Every step of the trip is planned for you by Contiki and your tour manager. Just enjoy the ride!
  • You’ll always have fellow travelers to explore with. Particularly appealing for those planning to travel alone.
  • The tour manager and tourmates provide a sense of security. If you’re nervous about international travel, traveling with a group can help put your mind at ease.
  • You always have the option to do things with the group, or to head off on your own to explore. Perfect for travelers who want a bit of flexibility.
  • Your tour guide is there every step of the way. Get sick? He’ll help you find a pharmacy. Something wrong with your room? She’ll work out the problem with the hotel. Need recommendations for lunch? They’re on it. They’re a fantastic resource and take so much of the stress off of the traveler.

Cons:

  • Because you’re scheduled to see so many cities and sights, you’re not spending much time at each place. I’ve called my Contiki an “appetizer trip.” You’ll see the highlights, but won’t explore every city in-depth.
  • You won’t head off the beaten path. This can be a pro for safety & efficiency, but a con if you’re looking to really mingle with locals. For this type of travel, I recommend backpacking over tours.
  • You eat what’s served. At included dinners, there often aren’t a ton of options to pick from (i.e. you typically aren’t ordering off a menu). You’ll have more choices at Optional Extra meals.
  • The included & Contiki Optional Extra dinners can be a bit hit-and-miss. Some were fantastic and some were less so. Research your chosen tour to see what others have said about the extras. (Scroll down for a list specific to European Vista).

Q: How much should I pack?

A: Contiki limits your bags to 73cm x 50cm x 25cm (29″ x 20″ x 10″) & weight of 20kg (44lbs) plus one hand/day bag. Contiki does not have luggage drop service like Trafalgar and other tour groups, so you will be carrying your own bags everywhere. If you can’t lug it, leave it!

On the European Vista, you’re in hotels the whole time, so you’ll always have access to towels, some bath amenities, and hair driers. No need to pack those!

A few things you shouldn’t leave home without:

  • One or two dress-up outfits. If you plan to attend the Moulin Rouge, Austrian Mozart Concert, or Monaco Dinner/Monte Carlo, you’ll wish you had something nice to wear! Also, there are many other nights where people dress up just for fun. Guys should bring a button-up collared shirt and nice jeans/slacks, and ladies will do just fine in a dress (short or maxi, whatever tickles your fancy).
  • A swimsuit. You can’t go all that way and not go for a swim in the Mediterranean while in Nice! Also, several of the hotels have pools/spas.
  • Flip flops. I forgot these and regretted it. There will be many times when you’ll want to slip these on to run to your friends hotel room, or run downstairs to grab a beer with tourmates.
  • A power adapter. Plugs are different in Europe and England, so a universal travel adapter is really helpful.

Q: Is it awkward traveling with strangers?

A: Honestly, a little bit! But only for the first 24 hours or so. After that, everyone has started to mingle and settle into the groups they’ll be hanging out with for the trip. There’s no shortage of conversation though, because you’re all from different countries and here for different reasons. It’s fascinating to hear their stories. Conversations can get very deep very quickly when you’re on tour, so open yourself up and you’ll be just fine. By the end, we were all sobbing having to say goodbye, so trust me, the awkwardness goes away!

Q: Were there a lot of people traveling alone?

A: YES! By my count, we had 16/36 on our tour traveling completely alone, who didn’t know anyone before the tour started. I completely recommend going on these tours alone – don’t worry if you can’t find a friend from home to join you. You’ll have more fun and freedom to hang out with whomever you please, and you’ll meet others on tour more quickly.

Q: Is Contiki only for single people?

A: NO! We had six couples (both married and dating) or 12/36 on our trip and they had a blast. There was plenty of mingling and we all had a great time when out together.

If you’re in a couple, I recommend taking a couple of nights on your own to go for romantic dinners/adventures throughout the trip. I think this helps strike a healthy balance between group travel & romantic getaway. (P.S. I recommend Rome for this – one of the most romantic cities I’ve ever seen!)

Q: Which Optional Extras are worth the price?

A: It really depends on your travel priorities (are you there for outdoor adventures or cultural activities?), but below is my list of the Optional Extras and how I rated them.

European Vista Optional Extras

Cost (Euro)

Rating

Why?

Paris: Moulin Rouge 149.00 ★★★★ Expensive but lovely. Fantastic cabaret show, and delicious meal.
Lucerne: Mt Pilatus 43.00 ★★★★ Must-do. Fantastic experience from the cog-railway to the views from the top of the mountain.
Lucerne: Lake Lucerne cruise 22.00 ★★★ Beautiful views of Lucerne and surrounding mountains. Two drinks included, pay bar for additional.
Lucerne: Swiss fondue lunch & folklore show 35.00 ★★★ A slightly “cheesy” but quintessential Swiss experience. Fun time to drink and be merry with friends. Includes one glass beer or wine.
Monaco: Monaco restaurant 35.50 ★★★ Delicious dinner, stunning views. Includes trip to Monte Carlo casino after dinner – worth it!
Florence: Tuscan evening 39.00 ★★★★ My favorite meal! So many delicious courses of Italian favorites. Definitely a venue catering to tour groups. Unlimited wine.
Florence: Space Electronic Disco 16.00 ★★ Fun night of dancing with friends, but the friends really made the experience for me.
Florence: Souvenir group photo 11.00 ★★★★ Perfect way to remember your tourmates.
Rome: Imperial tour 26.00 ★★★★ Access to Colosseum & Roman Forum, guided by local expert.
Rome: Vatican Tour 34.00 ★★★★ Knowledgeable local expert. Access to Sistine Chapel & St. Peter’s Basilica.
Rome: Cooking Class & Dinner 48.00 ★★ Fun underground cooking experience. Meal was average – no protein, only pasta & sauce. Cool to eat the pasta you made. Unlimited wine.
Venice: Venetian walking tour 11.00 ★★★ Knowledgeable guide, great info on history of Venice.
Venice: Gondola ride 22.00 ★★★ Lovely experience. I’m told you can do this cheaper if you go off on your own.
Venice: Venetian restaurant 32.50 ★★★★ Delicious dinner! Huge assortment of meats, pastas and bruschetta. Unlimited wine.
Venice: Tour t-shirts 18.50 ★★★ Trust me – you’ll want a memento from the trip!
Austrian Tyrol: White water rafting 41.00 ★★★★ A personal favorite. Adventure, beautiful views, fun with friends. Must be able to handle the cold water.
Austrian Tyrol: Mountain bike tour & BBQ lunch 32.00 −−−−−− Cancelled due to weather; did not participate.
Austrian Tyrol: Tandem paragliding 123.00 ★★★★ An amazing experience! If you can handle heights, don’t miss these views!
Munich: City Bike Tour 20.00 ★★★★ A favorite among my tourmates. Fantastic, animated guide. Explored Munich by bicycle and stopped for beer at an outdoor biergarten.
Vienna: Old Vienna Schnaps Museum 7.00 ★★★ The schnapps tasting experience was delightful (and delicious!)
Vienna: Dinner & Mozart concert 64.00 Least favorite meal of the tour. Concert is nice if you appreciate classical music. Concert hall is beautiful!
Prague: River Cruise with Buffet Meal 29.00 ★★★ Worth it for the beautiful views of Prague! Buffet meal was average.
Prague: Ghost Walk 9.00 ★★★ Delightful to see Prague by moonlight!
St Goar: Wine tasting 9.00 ★★★ Fun experience in a tasting cave. Very sweet wines.
Amsterdam: Volendam restaurant 31.00 ★★★★ Volendam is beautiful. Last group dinner.
Amsterdam: Canal cruise 31.50 ★★★★ Unlimited beer & wine. Don’t miss this op to say goodbye to your tourmates.

*Note: Contiki periodically changes the restaurants they visit for Optional Extras, so you may visit a few different restaurants than I did. If you’re a foodie, ask your tour guide which restaurants you’ll be going to and find them on Yelp or TripAdvisor before committing to attend. 


Overall, Contiki is what you make it. If you want to stick with the group, you can. If you want to go off on your own, you can. If you want a bit of both? Make it happen! It’s your vacation – make it exactly what you want it to be!

Have fun, and safe travels!

Have questions about Contiki or European Vista? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll respond here!


Check out my other Contiki posts:

Introduction: An American Girl in Europe
Day 1: Oh hey, London
Day 2: Bonjour, Paris!
Day 3: Parisian Adventures
Day 4: Lookin’ Good, Switzerland
Day 5: All Things Swiss
Day 6: Switzerland, Italy, France…oh my!
Day 7: Bond. James Bond.
Day 8: Buongiorno Italia!
Day 9: When in Rome
Day 10: That’s Amore
Day 11: Vatican City to Venice
Day 12: The Last Italian Adventure
Day 13: Hop-fer-gerten
Day 14: Soaring Over Austria
Day 15: München
Day 16: Bittersweet Symphonies
Day 17: Vienna to Prague
Day 18: Ahoj, Prague!
Day 19: St. Goar, Rhine Valley
Day 20: Amsterdamage
Day 21: Even more Amsterdamage
Day 22: Back to the Start
Day 23/24: The End of a Great Adventure

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Contiki European Vista Day 23/24: The End of a Great Adventure

neverthesame

May 24, 2014
I woke up in London today and prepared to say some of my last goodbyes. I dressed quickly and met the last remnants of our group downstairs: Pat, Kieran, Shandi & Chantelle. We had a breakfast that was over far too quickly for my liking, and then bid Chantelle goodbye at the Contiki basement. Then, Pat and I walked Kieran and Shandi back to the lobby of the Royal National Hotel, where it all began, to say our goodbyes.

Shandi and I couldn’t keep it together. We cried like babies and went back for at least five different hugs. I don’t always bond with other girls easily, and Shandi and I had had an instant connection. It was devastating to say goodbye to her, but I know that my future travels will take me to Canada to see her someday. Kieran was next and was just as hard to say goodbye to. I cried and gripped my big teddy bear as hard as I could and made him promise that this was only “see you later.”

Then, it was over. I cried some more as Pat and I stood in the lobby, watching the very last of our tour group walk out the lobby doors and out of sight.

Our Contiki trip was officially over, but Pat and I still had 24 hours of adventure left, so we headed out to make the most of it in London. We started at King’s Cross Station (on my request – I’ll never not be a Harry Potter nerd), and then made our way to Westminster Abbey, as well as to the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels. We got caught in a massive, but short-lived, downpour, so we huddled under a waffle cart umbrella and munched on waffles topped with strawberries, ice cream and Nutella. I think this was my favorite part of the day!

Finally, we got to go on our first real date. As much as I adored the group, it was nice to spend time with Pat on my own and wander the city with him. He humored me by agreeing to go to a Mexican Restaurant in Covent Garden, because I just couldn’t take another day without guacamole. I have a problem.

The rest of the night was spent attempting to pack the insane amount of souvenirs I had acquired, and preparing for my long journey home.


May 25, 2014
This morning I woke up with a heavy heart. My adventure was officially coming to an end today.

I grabbed my things and left my very last hotel room. Then, Pat and I made a quiet trip to London Heathrow Airport on the Underground. It felt odd to be returning here in tears, to the very place I had been so excited to set foot in 24 days ago.

I checked in (Pat stayed at the airport with me even though my flight was in the morning and his wasn’t until nearly evening), and then had a rushed breakfast which I couldn’t really stomach. All too soon, I was standing at security, saying a tearful and difficult goodbye to Pat. This was without a doubt the hardest goodbye of all, and at this point, I had no idea that I would be seeing him again only a week later. Finally, we’d had enough tears and I passed through the security line.

There’s nothing much to say about this day, because I boarded a flight and finally returned home. The flight was fine, the food was fine, the movies were fine. But after 24 days of adventure, everything seemed very dull, like I was looking through blurry glasses. I passed the time by reflecting on the amazing things I’d seen, tasted and experienced in the last few weeks. As hard as I tried though, I could barely name or even picture some of the landmarks I’d seen along the way. That was the moment I realized that I would be forever changed by this experience, but it wasn’t Europe that had changed me. It was the amazing and incredible people I’d met, and how they’d contributed to making every moment a memory.

The fact was, I hadn’t just seen the Eiffel Tower, been to the top of Mt. Pilatus, and tossed a coin into the Trevi Fountain. I had lost my breath catching sight of the Eiffel Tower for the first time while giggling with Emily, and I had gazed out over Lucerne from the top of Mt. Pilatus while laughing and joking with the Canada boys, and I had made a wish for a bright future sitting side-by-side with Pat on the edge of the Trevi. I shared coffee and stories with a gorgeous stranger in London, whisked across the dance floor with Jon Snow at the Moulin Rouge in Paris, and ran off the side of a mountain in Austria to the tune of Shandi’s shrieks as she soared through the air while paragliding. I shed tears over the horrors of our past at Dachau and Anne Frank House while walking hand-in-hand with Pat, and laughed so hard I could barely breathe because of a joke Dicky cracked after a tipsy night in Amsterdam. I sipped a 16€ whiskey while gambling at the Monte Carlo with Tommy, and clinked glasses a million times over in ten different countries with once-strangers who became my brothers and sisters over the course of 24 days.

For all of those memories, my life is infinitely more rich. I spent a fair amount of money on this trip, but as I look back, there wasn’t a single second that wasn’t worth every penny. The friendships and memories made will undoubtedly be with me for a lifetime, and there hasn’t been a day that’s passed since I got home that I don’t smile thinking about the most amazing 24 days of my life, and the greatest people I’ll never forget. #NoRegrets

10376756_10152454520541280_7319719985005286317_n

1521236_10152454563661280_3632069905559055297_n

10154551_10202153326048736_7207447518231222242_n

???????????????????????????????

IMG_0416

IMG_0450

IMG_0395

IMG_0523

10440782_10152454568991280_5637555348751502974_n

10487591_10203459885156619_511980626868111397_n

IMG_0589

IMG_0594

IMG_0605

10419989_10152454577601280_1728154952517496379_n

10427326_10152454546726280_8340857640187390401_n

10386823_10152454578636280_2851152404061971927_n

10509532_10203554577898769_3133079670926390462_n

10565229_10203554578098774_6235327388354190134_n

DCIM100MEDIA

IMG_0758 (1)

1907674_10152454586746280_3728131365492881189_n

IMG_0867

10253878_10152454562646280_7033714821663163725_n

IMG_0947

IMG_0952

photo 2 (2)

Next Up: Contiki in a Nutshell: Know Before You Go


Check out my other Contiki posts:

Introduction: An American Girl in Europe
Day 1: Oh hey, London
Day 2: Bonjour, Paris!
Day 3: Parisian Adventures
Day 4: Lookin’ Good, Switzerland
Day 5: All Things Swiss
Day 6: Switzerland, Italy, France…oh my!
Day 7: Bond. James Bond.
Day 8: Buongiorno Italia!
Day 9: When in Rome
Day 10: That’s Amore
Day 11: Vatican City to Venice
Day 12: The Last Italian Adventure
Day 13: Hop-fer-gerten
Day 14: Soaring Over Austria
Day 15: München
Day 16: Bittersweet Symphonies
Day 17: Vienna to Prague
Day 18: Ahoj, Prague!
Day 19: St. Goar, Rhine Valley
Day 20: Amsterdamage
Day 21: Even more Amsterdamage
Day 22: Back to the Start
Day 23/24: The End of a Great Adventure
Contiki in a Nutshell: Know Before You Go

Contiki European Vista Day 22: Back to the Start

May 23, 2014
I woke up this morning on tour for the last time. My arms, legs and heart felt heavy as I packed up my trusty Osprey pack, and headed downstairs to breakfast. Here, I had one more meal with the greatest people I’ve ever met, sans Canada.

Here’s how today would go: We would be leaving some of our number here at the Blue Square Hotel. These guys would be off to new adventures (many were staying to continue traveling around Europe), and some had later flights out, or flights out the next day. The rest of us would be loading on to the coach, and we would make one stop at the airport in Amsterdam to unload a few more people who were flying out this morning. After that, the rest of us (about 12 people), would make the journey back to the start, to London.

We dragged our bags to the coach and turned to face some hard goodbyes. I hugged Emily first and we reminisced for a few minutes and promised to keep in touch. I had gotten really close with Emily, the first friend I’d made on tour, and she’s not too far away (Vancouver). Next up was Dicky, a really tough goodbye. Dicky brought life, color and comedy to our tour, and he was our fearless leader, second-in-command to Jon Snow. I couldn’t help but cry as I hugged him goodbye, knowing that there would be far less laughs on our journey today without him cracking jokes.

We piled onto the bus and waved a sad goodbye to Dicky and Emily, and the others who stayed behind here. Then, we made the drive to Schiphol airport. We were feeling really blue by this point, and Jon Snow didn’t really help. He played a series of sad songs as we approached the airport, including Leaving On A Jet Plane and I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.

Here at the airport, we said goodbye to most of the couples, and a few others. Hugs all around, but we had to make it quick since we were in the loading zone.

After this drop-off, we boarded the coach for the last time to start our journey back to London. I was so exhausted from the goodbyes, but I was happy to have Pat, Kieran, Shandi, Alex & Sam next to me as we traveled back to the start.

We passed through Belgium (Jon Snow had us stop at a rest stop there so that we could officially say we’d set foot in Belgium), and sooner than I expected, we were boarding the ferry in Calais, France, to cross back to England. It’s funny how different this ferry ride was from the first. The first had been so awkward since none of us knew each other yet, but it had been filled with the promise and excitement of an incredible adventure. This time, we hugged, teased and laughed like brothers and sisters, but the mood was sad and somber, knowing that we were sailing right into the end of this fantastic adventure. I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmingly sad as I caught my first glimpse of the White Cliffs of Dover. Funny, since this had been the symbol that British soldiers had once rejoiced at upon their return home from war. For me, it was a symbol of the end of something wonderful.

As we entered London, Jon Snow got onto the mic for one final goodbye speech, and played our tour songs one last time. Tears filled my eyes listening to Pursuit of Happiness and Wonderwall one more time, knowing that I wouldn’t be getting back on the coach the next day.

Too soon, we were back at the Royal National Hotel, the very place where we had boarded our coach 22 days ago and driven off to explore Europe together. We all said goodbye to Jon & Kev, and thanked them for their patience, generosity, and all of the fun and laughs they’d brought us on tour.

Next, we said goodbye to a few more of our number who would be going off and doing their own thing that night. The rest of us, Pat, Kieran, Shandi, Rosie, Chantelle, Alex, Sam and Gabe, checked into our hotel and then met up for one last excursion. We were going to take a ride on the London Eye before ending with one last group dinner. The next day, everyone would be leaving except Pat & I, who still had one more day in London.

IMG_0978

IMG_0982

IMG_0988

IMG_0991

IMG_0993

IMG_0990

IMG_0995

 

IMG_0999

IMG_0994

After the London Eye, we walked along the River Thames until we stumbled upon the Giraffe restaurant. Giraffes had special meaning for us (long story), so we chose this place for our goodbye dinner.

After dinner, we wandered back to the hotel and said a few more goodbyes. This time, Alex & Sam left us. There were plenty of tears and hugs to accompany this one too as we said goodbye to our favorite New Zealanders. We also said goodbye to Rosie and Gabe here, and Pat and I made plans to meet Kieran, Shandi and Chantelle for breakfast the next morning before they left for the airport.

Next up: Our hardest goodbyes, Harry Potter, and me finally getting some Mexican food


Check out my other Contiki posts:

Introduction: An American Girl in Europe
Day 1: Oh hey, London
Day 2: Bonjour, Paris!
Day 3: Parisian Adventures
Day 4: Lookin’ Good, Switzerland
Day 5: All Things Swiss
Day 6: Switzerland, Italy, France…oh my!
Day 7: Bond. James Bond.
Day 8: Buongiorno Italia!
Day 9: When in Rome
Day 10: That’s Amore
Day 11: Vatican City to Venice
Day 12: The Last Italian Adventure
Day 13: Hop-fer-gerten
Day 14: Soaring Over Austria
Day 15: München
Day 16: Bittersweet Symphonies
Day 17: Vienna to Prague
Day 18: Ahoj, Prague!
Day 19: St. Goar, Rhine Valley
Day 20: Amsterdamage
Day 21: Even more Amsterdamage
Day 22: Back to the Start
Day 23/24: The End of a Great Adventure
Contiki in a Nutshell: Know Before You Go

Contiki European Vista Day 21: Even more Amsterdamage

May 22, 2014
I maintain that I can’t really share stories about Amsterdam nights with you, but I can tell you this: Quite a few of our number never made it down to breakfast on Day 21. Too bad too, because the Blue Square Hotel provided another delicious buffet meal this morning.

Those of us that could function this morning hopped onto the coach for a ride into the city. We wouldn’t be seeing Jon Snow again until our last dinner out tonight, but he would be dropping people off at various spots to explore Amsterdam.

Most of us got off the coach near Anne Frank House. For those of you not familiar, Anne Frank was a Jewish girl who lived with her family in hiding for several years during the holocaust, before they were betrayed, captured, and sent to Auschwitz Concentration Camp where all but one of their number died. Anne herself is famous for the diary she kept while in hiding, which was later published. I read The Diary of Anne Frank in school, and was always quite taken by her story, so this was a stop that I didn’t plan to miss.

Even though we got there before they opened, we waited in line for nearly an hour. The annex where the family hid is so small, that only a few people can get through each room at a time, so we were told that long waits were common here.

Once inside, this experience touched me on a similar level to Dachau, although somehow it felt even more personal. Once you’ve read someones’ diary, you can’t help but feel that you know them. That made it even more difficult to walk through the rooms where Anne was essentially held captive for some of the most important years of her life. It was a very moving experience, and I would recommend it to anyone. I do recommend reading the diary before you go, though. It really brings a completely new meaning to the experience.

Next, we walked as a group to the “I Am Amsterdam” sign for a nice photo opp. This place was crawling with tourists, but we managed to get a few nice photos.

IMG_0920

IMG_0924

IMG_0926

IMG_0928

After this stop, we ran over to the Heineken Museum for “The Heineken Experience.” Essentially, this is a tour of the factory and a bunch of fluff, with beer tastings along the way. The beer was, of course, the best part, but I don’t think I would pay the 18€ again. It would probably be interesting if you’ve never seen a beer brewing and bottling demonstration before, but if you have, I’d recommend skipping this.

IMG_0918

IMG_0930
Enjoying Heineken at the end of the tour [Left to right: Sam, Dicky, Tom, Me, Pat, Shandi, Alex]

From here, we walked down the road to a delicious burger joint for lunch, before doing a bit of shopping and tramming back to the center of the city to meet up with the group.

Then, we went back to the Blue Square Hotel to change and get ready for dinner before jumping on the coach with the crew and heading out to Volendam for our farewell dinner. This was our last optional extra dinner, and it cost 31€, or $42 USD. I wish I had taken photos here, because the views from this restaurant right on the canal were absolutely gorgeous. I was distracted though because I was on the phone with my new boss, receiving my job offer at ipsy. Such fantastic news! Dinner here was another delicious one, but because I was so distracted thinking about my new (DREAM!) job, I can’t even tell you what we ate!

Next, we coached back into the city for our farewell cruise. We would cruise the canals of Amsterdam and would be all together for the last time. This optional extra cost 31€ also, and everyone on our tour participated. Drinks were unlimited and the views were incredible. We all spent time taking photos together, and allowed time for speeches from Jon Snow & our driver Kev, as well as our unofficial leader, Dicky. We took time for one last, “Canada…f*ck yeah!” and toasted all of the many adventures we’d had together in the last 21 days. This was a happy farewell; there were no tears. Those would come later!

IMG_0936

IMG_0938

IMG_0941

IMG_0942

IMG_0947

IMG_0951    IMG_0954

IMG_0958    IMG_0965

IMG_0961    IMG_0959

IMG_0968

IMG_0970

IMG_0972

IMG_0974

After our cruise docked, we followed Jon Snow for another (slightly more tame) night out in Amsterdam. The Canada boys told us they’d have to leave the hotel before 6:00 a.m. the next morning to catch their flight out of Amsterdam, so we’d need to say goodbye now since they were going home early. This really blindsided me…I wasn’t ready to start the goodbyes yet! I figured those would come the next day.

IMG_0976
Canada. [Left to right: Mark, Geoff, Me, Brett, Craig]

I hugged Craig and Mark, and said a quick goodbye, but I lost it when it was time to hug Brett and Geoff. I had bonded pretty tightly with them, and they reminded me so much of my friends back home. I had trouble letting go of both of them when it was time, and I think I ended up hugging Brett at least three times. These were really tough goodbyes for me, even though somehow I know I’ll see the Canada boys again someday.

As we waved goodbye to the boys, I heard Dicky shout next to me, “CANADA…” and through tears, I joined in for one last “…f*ck yeah!”

When we couldn’t see Canada anymore, I linked arms with Shandi, who was also having a hard time. We walked around the city that way for a while, and enjoyed our last night together as a group, even though a critical part of us was now missing.

Next up: Goodbyes, déjà vu, and our return to London


Check out my other Contiki posts:

Introduction: An American Girl in Europe
Day 1: Oh hey, London
Day 2: Bonjour, Paris!
Day 3: Parisian Adventures
Day 4: Lookin’ Good, Switzerland
Day 5: All Things Swiss
Day 6: Switzerland, Italy, France…oh my!
Day 7: Bond. James Bond.
Day 8: Buongiorno Italia!
Day 9: When in Rome
Day 10: That’s Amore
Day 11: Vatican City to Venice
Day 12: The Last Italian Adventure
Day 13: Hop-fer-gerten
Day 14: Soaring Over Austria
Day 15: München
Day 16: Bittersweet Symphonies
Day 17: Vienna to Prague
Day 18: Ahoj, Prague!
Day 19: St. Goar, Rhine Valley
Day 20: Amsterdamage
Day 21: Even more Amsterdamage
Day 22: Back to the Start
Day 23/24: The End of a Great Adventure
Contiki in a Nutshell: Know Before You Go

Contiki European Vista Day 20: Amsterdamage.

May 21, 2014
This day kicked off with a decent breakfast at the Hotel Montage in St. Goar. More scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon and fruit. Couldn’t have asked for better!

I was almost late to the bus on this day (let’s call it tour fatigue), so I was running to catch it before we left that morning. Once on, it was one of our shorter “long coach rides” to Amsterdam.

As we approached our destination, I felt a swift kick in the gut when Jon Snow got on the mic and announced that this would be our last coach ride as a full group. We would be splitting up for different activities the next day, and on our final day, many people wouldn’t be getting back on the coach to head back to London with us. Then, he launched a series of sad, “hope you enjoyed this” songs, like “I’ve Had The Time Of My Life” and “Good Riddance.”

Our first stop was just outside Amsterdam, in Edam. Home of fantastic cheese and clog makers! We stopped on a farm to get a quick tour of their dairy/cheese-making facility, and clog making…place.

IMG_0894

Now this is coming from a girl who really really loves shoes…these were the single most uncomfortable pair I’ve ever tried on. We saw plenty of people walking around Edam and working in these, and I can’t understand why! Awful.

After the cheese and clog place, we took a tour of Edam by bicycle. Our tour guide was a bit boring and we couldn’t understand a word he said, but the scenery was absolutely gorgeous. I’m a sucker for a nice small town, and this place was ultra charming.

IMG_0896

IMG_0898

IMG_0902

IMG_0907

IMG_0916

After our cycling tour, we drove into Amsterdam to check into the Blue Square Hotel, our last tour hotel. This place was nice and clean, although the decor could have used some sprucing up.

Jon Snow told us the game plan for the night: We would be having an included dinner here at the hotel, and then we’d leave for the downtown area of the city. Once there, we would walk through the infamous Red Light District, and attend a sex show. Yep, you read that right…a sex show. We would be attending with another Contiki group, and then heading out to a bar with them afterwards. The included dinner was really great. The hotel featured a salad bar, and full buffet. Yum!

Next, we left for the city. Now, I’m a pretty conservative girl, so Amsterdam was definitely a bit of a shock to me. Walking through the town and seeing sex toys displayed in windows is definitely not something I’m used to! Even weirder was our walk through the Red Light District, where the girls were literally standing in doorways wearing lingerie and trying to coax over customers. The whole thing felt very seedy and comic book-like to me…like I was walking through a real life Sin City.

After our walk, we went to the theater for the sex show. This was optional and quite a few people chose not to attend, but I figured….when in Amsterdam, right? The sex show was definitely out of my comfort zone. I won’t go into detail here for some obvious reasons, but when I originally heard “sex show” I was thinking it would be like ultra-dirty stand up comedy and some funny bits with sex toys or something. Nope. It was just sex. Like live porn or something. There were a few dance numbers as well by strippers…and a few moments for audience participation (they pulled a few people from our group up on stage to show off their dance moves, etc.)

After this particularly odd experience, we headed out to explore the nightlife in Amsterdam with another Contiki group. I can’t tell you an specific stories here, because what happens in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam, but our group had quite a bit of fun that night, and many experienced all that is “Amsterdamage.”

The next day would be a bit more tame (no sex shows!) and filled with plenty of tears as we said some of our first goodbyes.

Next up: Anne Frank, Heineken and Tears


Check out my other Contiki posts:

Introduction: An American Girl in Europe
Day 1: Oh hey, London
Day 2: Bonjour, Paris!
Day 3: Parisian Adventures
Day 4: Lookin’ Good, Switzerland
Day 5: All Things Swiss
Day 6: Switzerland, Italy, France…oh my!
Day 7: Bond. James Bond.
Day 8: Buongiorno Italia!
Day 9: When in Rome
Day 10: That’s Amore
Day 11: Vatican City to Venice
Day 12: The Last Italian Adventure
Day 13: Hop-fer-gerten
Day 14: Soaring Over Austria
Day 15: München
Day 16: Bittersweet Symphonies
Day 17: Vienna to Prague
Day 18: Ahoj, Prague!
Day 19: St. Goar, Rhine Valley
Day 20: Amsterdamage
Day 21: Even more Amsterdamage
Day 22: Back to the Start
Day 23/24: The End of a Great Adventure
Contiki in a Nutshell: Know Before You Go

Contiki European Vista Day 19: St. Goar, Rhine Valley

May 20, 2014
We woke up early to another delicious included breakfast at our hotel in Prague, Ibis Praha Mala Strana, before jumping back onto the bus for another half-day on the coach.

After lunch at yet another rest stop, we rolled into St. Goar, located in the Rhine Valley in Germany. My first thought was that I absolutely loved this place already. St. Goar was a tiny town nestled in the hills along the Rhine River, and had all of the quintessential Germanic charm that I had been expecting when I pictured this place.

Our first stop was The Beerstein-Shop, a family-owned store in St. Goar fearing beer steins of all shapes and sizes. They even had decorative steins specific to Contiki, which featured all of our tour stops and colorful depictions of each. I took home one of these babies…although I’m not completely sure why. I’m a sucker for a good souvenir.

Next up was a cruise of the Rhine River. The cost of this cruise was included in the tour, so we jumped on a boat, grabbed a few drinks, and sat back on the top deck of the boat, taking in the amazing views all around us.

IMG_0870

IMG_0875

10357700_10154131673010034_2696445258601151628_o

10285604_10154131671015034_3146192098263846187_o

10007259_10154131670330034_6510254617676630233_o

After the cruise, we were off to check in to the Hotel Montag St. Goar and grab dinner. I loved this little hotel. The rooms were pretty tiny, but it was so charming and there was a homey bar and dining room downstairs. We had an included dinner here at the hotel tonight, and dinner at these tiny hotels were some of my favorites. Just like in Hopfgarten, the food here tasted like a family dinner. Delicious!

From here, we walked through the town to a tasting cellar for a bit of wine tasting! This was an optional extra, and cost 9€, or $12 USD. I thought that this was a pretty good deal, considering that tastings in Napa/Sonoma seem to be a $15 USD standard these days.

IMG_0886

IMG_0879

IMG_0882

I absolutely loved the ambiance in here, but the wine was another story! First up was a Riesling that I found quite delicious, but I’m not a fan of sweet wines, and the next three selections were bordering on Moscatos. Not my cup of tea! Turns out the Rhine Valley is known for their sweet wines though, so I sat back and enjoyed the tasting. The last selection was a specialty of the Rhine Valley: Ice Wine. This is a white dessert wine made from grapes that are frozen while still on the vine. This tasted like syrup to me, but the others quite enjoyed it! Many even bought bottles to take home with them.

After dinner, we had the night to relax. We all convened in the bar of the hotel and laughed and shared stories until we finally got tired. We went to bed and mentally prepared for Amsterdam…although I don’t think I could have ever truly been prepared for Amsterdam.

Next up: Cheese, clogs and sex shows


Check out my other Contiki posts:

Introduction: An American Girl in Europe
Day 1: Oh hey, London
Day 2: Bonjour, Paris!
Day 3: Parisian Adventures
Day 4: Lookin’ Good, Switzerland
Day 5: All Things Swiss
Day 6: Switzerland, Italy, France…oh my!
Day 7: Bond. James Bond.
Day 8: Buongiorno Italia!
Day 9: When in Rome
Day 10: That’s Amore
Day 11: Vatican City to Venice
Day 12: The Last Italian Adventure
Day 13: Hop-fer-gerten
Day 14: Soaring Over Austria
Day 15: München
Day 16: Bittersweet Symphonies
Day 17: Vienna to Prague
Day 18: Ahoj, Prague!
Day 19: St. Goar, Rhine Valley
Day 20: Amsterdamage
Day 21: Even more Amsterdamage
Day 22: Back to the Start
Day 23/24: The End of a Great Adventure
Contiki in a Nutshell: Know Before You Go