Travelling is a great experience and I'd love to do more of it! Message
  • Day53

    Last day of the trip of a lifetime!

    July 9, 2016 in England ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    A friend from St Paul's High School, Matthew Grace, lives in London and was able to meet me for breakfast on my last day. I don't think I'd seen him since university, so it was great to catch up on life over the last while for a few hours!

    I took the Piccadilly Line Underground all the way to Heathrow, with one slight train adjustment, since the one that I initially boarded would have taken the fork in the tracks that didn't actually go to Heathrow. Once that was sorted out, it was smooth sailing to Terminal 2.

    The longest line that I needed to wait in wasn't security, but rather, the line for the VAT (Value Added Tax) Refund that non-European residents are eligible to receive. Once I made it to the front of the line, I was wrapped in 30 seconds... The store had already deducted the VAT, so all that needed to be done was to have Customs stamp the form and mail it to the powers that be (if the form isn't received with the required Customs stamp, the credit card would be charged the difference). The Customs officer even offered to take care of the mailing, so I didn't need to bother!

    Well folks, it's been 50 days since I left Canada and I'm sitting at London's Heathrow Airport waiting for my flight home to the Great White North. I just watched Serena Williams beat Angelique Kerber at Wimbledon and, if there was time, could catch a short ride on the Underground to arrive at Wimbledon. Pretty neat!

    The time has flown by and I've enjoyed the experience immensely, but I'll be glad to get back home to Canada, to my family, friends, bed, shower, and regular daily life. Thanks for your interest!
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    Great blog, Dave!


    ...that was me again. - PJ

  • Day52

    Belgium in transit

    July 8, 2016 in Belgium ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    Well, this is the last leg of the Contiki tour... Amsterdam to Calais to Dover to London, which technically means that I've been to Belgium, even if it was just for a drive through.

    The British border police at Calais (prior to boarding the ferry to Dover) are on high alert. The fences and barbed wire I'd mentioned before is still in effect, as are the search dogs. People are so desperate to get to the UK that they'll try anything. Case in point, the coach beside us was being searched and they found someone stowed away near the rear axel.

    The remainder of the journey, ferry crossing of the English Channel and drive into central London were uneventful. A few of us were staying the night in the same hotel, so wet went for dinner to a pub around the corner for dinner and then packed it in.
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  • Day52


    July 8, 2016 in the Netherlands ⋅ ☁️ 15 °C

    Our last city on the 46 day tour! Wow, time flies!

    I always thought that Amsterdam was a huge city, but it actually only has about 800,000 residents. Cobey is from Australia, but currently living and working in Amsterdam. He described it as having the feel of a smaller city, but the infrastructure and amenities of a huge metropolis. They have a terrific public transportation system (including subway system, even considering that the city was essentially built on water), which locals use in conjunction with the #1 method of transportation: bicycles! I heard a start that there are 6 bicycles for every Amsterdam resident! They have multi-level parking areas for bicycles and I have a photo of one with 5 levels! But people will also lock them up to almost anything!

    With only one full day in Amsterdam, it was difficult to explore much of the city, so there are definitely some next times: Anne Frank House (a few tried to book tickets early on in the trip, but they were sold out until August), Rijksmuseum (largest museum in the Netherlands with exhibits spanning 800 years), and the Heineken Experience.

    The whole group went for a cheese and clog-making presentation, followed a bike tour in the small town of Edam (famous for the cheese of the same name), which was much safer and relaxed than riding a bike in Amsterdam.

    We then made our way into the city and were left to our own devices. Our semi-local guide" took a few of us to one of his favourite restaurants for lunch, which happened to be vegan. None of us fit into that category, but have it a shot anyway. I'll admit, I was skeptical, but it was quite good. We all shared the dishes, which included things like: salads, chickpeas, gyoza, frites, and tofu (I think). The very small restaurant is run by an elderly couple; she's Chinese and he's Jamaican, so the food tends to fall into one of those styles, or a combination of the two.

    The rest of the day took us to sites like:
    - Sky Bar, which is a lounge at the top of a hotel that doesn't have an issue with people taking the elevator up just to look and take pictures; a secret the locals know.
    - The Beginhof, which is a small courtyard area with ancient roots that only women are permitted to reside in. I took a photo of the sign at the entrance for reference.
    - The narrowest house in Europe, which has a tea house on the main level and living quarters upstairs. The spiral staircase seemed barely wider than a fire pole.
    - The Old Church (1000 years old, or so) and the New Church (500 years old, or so).
    - The Red Light District... Sailors would arrive at the port of Amsterdam; visit the church, confess their sins, and for a little extra could confess the sins they were about to commit.
    - The Nines is a shopping area that essentially surrounds the Red Light District. It's quite enjoyable to walk around that area because you're not allowed to ride bikes, so you don't need to deal with the fact that bicycles always have the right of way.
    - The older buildings all have hooks on the outside of the building at the top and the building itself is built slightly angled out towards the street... This allows for pulleys to be used to host furniture into apartments and offices because elevators aren't usually available and the stairwells are far too narrow!
    - I came across a local artist and found a great painting to add to my other souvenir artwork!
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    Michaela Tennant

    Great job! Your house will have some nice art now 😃😃😃

  • Day49


    July 5, 2016 in Germany ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    Our route north took us out through the Alps and along the Rhine River valley. It's amazing how much European rivers are used for commercial transportation, a stark contrast to what the Canadian Prairies.Read more

  • Day47

    Swiss Alps

    July 3, 2016 in Switzerland ⋅ ☁️ 11 °C

    On our drive to our campsite in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland, we stopped in Lucerne (my favourite milk company in Canada!). A visited The Lion Monument, which is dedicated to the thousands of Swiss mercenaries that were killed during the French Revolution, and a famous wooden bridge, although I don't recall why it was so famous...

    Our campsite was nestled in a valley at the foot of some of the Swiss Alps... Wow, what a sight to wake up to! We took the train to the highest train station in Europe to the peak of Jungfrau Mountain - The Top of Europe Station is 3,454 metres (11,333 feet for the Imperial crowd) high! The actual peak of the mountain is 4,158 metres (13,642 feet) high.

    The views are amazing and we spent the day exploring the various viewpoints and the Ice Palace, as well as a few snow sport activities (tubing and some sort of odd seated skiing). Great times!

    As the afternoon went on, I started to get a headache, seemingly from the altitude and ended up getting quite sick that night. Back to 100% the next morning though!
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  • Day47

    Lunch in Liechtenstein

    July 3, 2016 in Liechtenstein ⋅ ☁️ 11 °C

    We stopped for lunch in the capital city of Liechtenstein, Vaduz, and ticked another country off the list.

    The was a small car show going on, so I snapped a few photos of the entrants. It was a fairly sleepy visit, but there was some excitement when a tourist decided they wanted a photo of themselves inside one of the convertibles... The doors were locked, but she didn't see that as a deterrent, unlocked it and climbed in. One of the organizers saw this happen and proceeded to tell and wave his arms in an attempt to get his point across that that was not allowed, she conveniently got the message after her husband got the photo.

    Liechtenstein is one of the smallest countries in the world, but the drive through was gorgeous!
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  • Day45

    Dachau and Munich

    July 1, 2016 in Germany ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    The Dachau Concentration Camp site was used prior to and during WWII is located just outside Munich, Germany. We were limited to a couple of hours and I could have easily spent an entire day going through the museum, buildings, memorials, and grounds. The audio tour would have been interesting, but it required at least 3 hours. Instead I took photos of much of the signage and descriptions I came across to read after the fact. It's obviously a very somber place and the scale is quite small when the volume of people housed at the camp is considered. Two prisoner bunkhouses have been restored, but there were over 30 in use during the camp's operation.

    The next morning started off with a Mike's Bike Tour of Munich. Hinx was our guide; he's Australian and quite funny. He provided a mix of historical information and funny anecdotes that kept people's attention. One of the first things he covered with us was hour to deal with people that try to join our group without paying (a common issue)... When one of our group identified an offender, we were to pass the "stranger danger" message quietly through the group and, when everyone knew, the unified group would call out "stranger danger", look at the offender, crouch down, and begin hopping in their direction. I'm sure it was quite a hilarious sight to see!

    We went through part of the Englischer Garten, which is the second largest park in Europe (Dublin has the largest). It's a huge and beautiful green space with some unusual extras: river surfing and a nude area.

    After the bike tour, a group of us headed to Marien Platz, a main square, which has the Glockenspiel (clocktower with characters that move at certain times of the day), as well as many outdoor markets that we explored. We walked Ludwig Straus for a few kilometers, explored the university area, and made out way back to the Englischer Garten, which was great, except for the fact that it was pouring rain for a good portion of the walk - I'm glad I still had the poncho that I bought on the street in Italy (I think).

    We warmed up and had a bit of dinner at a small cafe. Then we headed off to Hobrauhaus, a famous Munich beer hall, to meet some of the others. Germany was playing in the Euro Cup later that night and it was packed with people, it's the type of place where your whole group will not be able to sit together; rather, people sit wherever and get to know those around them - great time! They serve beer in one litre steins and quite a few of our group were there all afternoon; we left at 8:30pm, so you can imagine the state people were in. It was Nicola's birthday and I had the challenge of keeping her in her seat for the coach ride home
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    Hofbraühaus!! I love that place! Good to see you're still having a blast!


    That was me :p - PJ

  • Day43

    Czech Republic

    June 29, 2016 in Czech Republic ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    The drive through the Czech was beautiful - filled with rolling hills and lakes. We spent a couple of hours in Cesky Krumlov, which is the second most visited place in the Czech Republic. It's a small town with a huge castle, beautiful river scenes, and great food! I had a savory crepe for lunch and a sweet crepe for dessert!

    We arrived in Prague and kept going to the campsite, which was quite far outside the city centre (90 minutes by public transport using a bus, a tram, and a train; 30 minutes by taxi). We managed to wedge our 24 tents into a space that should only have 12, so that was a bit cosier than what we're used to, but we managed. There was a pool and the shower facilities were the best this far!

    Our first night was spent in the heart of Prague experiencing the city's nightlife - is safe to say that everyone had a great time! Those that opted for a cocktails by the bucket had a really great night, but the next day was definitely a battle. Something to keep in mind: taxi drivers are as dodgy as you can possibly imagine, Uber is the way to go! Taxis cost between 450 and 600 krowns, while those that used Uber paid 250. The taxi driver will tell you that you don't need to negotiate a price because it's on the meter, but you won't have a clue where you're going so they'll drive around just to increase the fare. Lesson learned, and worth keeping in mind for other cities too.

    The next morning started with a drive around the city and a brief walking tour, including some time at Prague Castle (largest castle and grounds in the world according to Guinness). Then we took an afternoon boat cruise along the river. Some info learned from the boat MC (Misa can fact check):
    - Czech Name Day is bigger than birthdays. David is December 30, the day before Sylvester (a.k.a. New Year's Eve).
    - The Czech Republic is quite far behind the rest of Western Europe in many respects, due in large part to being under Communist rule until relatively recent history. Our MC was 22 and his father had to put his name on a two year waiting list to be able to purchase a car. He apparently created a fraudulent list with his name at the top to jump the cue.
    - The river commonly floods; most of the city was under water due to a flood in 2002 (referred to as the 100 year waters) and the city began putting flood prevention measures in place for the future. There was also a major flood in 2014, but not nearly as devastating 2002. Much of the river incorporates locks to maintain consistent water levels in certain areas and allow more efficient boat traffic.
    - Beer is cheaper than water. Czech people consume more beer per capita (150 litres annually) than any country in the world, except Muldova.
    - Easter is an interesting time for the Czech people... Females decorate eggs and give them (and other gifts; e.g. alcohol) to males; while males have reed-type sticks with ribbons to tap females with (a tap means beauty and fertility for the next year).
    - Pork with potato dumplings is the national dish.
    - Swearing in Czech is somewhat of an art form, as there are so many versions, combinations, and new creations that take place.

    We had the rest of the afternoon and evening free after the boat cruise, so a couple of us teamed up to do some exploring...
    - We started with the main square, which includes two cathedrals and the famous astrological clock.
    - Next we headed to the Jewish Quarter, which suffered virtually no damage during WWII because Hitler wanted to preserve the area to act as something of a museum.
    - Then it was off to the Charles Bridge that was built in about 1300. It's a pedestrian bridge that has many vendors and buskers. I found a great etching by a local artist of the Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, etc. that I picked up.
    - We went back to Prague Castle to explore in more depth, but we arrived at about 20 minutes before close, so we didn't bother paying entry fees and just explored the grounds.
    - We came upon a beautiful garden with a large pool, sculptures, and manicured hedges... And as we walked through, we started to hear classical music. There was an orchestra set up on the steps of a building with heaps of chairs for onlookers and it must have just started. We pulled up a seat and enjoyed the rest of the show - it was fantastic!
    - The city skyline looks like a rainbow because there are so many buildings of different colours... It's quite beautiful!
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    Angela Rosin

    Love those pictures. 😊

    Angela Rosin

    Loved the Charles Bridge. Were the figures repaired on the bridge or were they still out for repair?

    Michaela Tennant

    Oh 😡😡😡 I am missing some another great pictures for describing Czech, where is clock and bridge ?

  • Day42


    June 28, 2016 in Austria ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    After seeing up camp in Vienna, we had dinner at the campsite and headed to Prater, which is an amusement park. Entry is free, so you pay per ride/attraction. It was similar in size to the Red River Ex, but it remains in that location.

    We started off the next morning with a driving and walking tour of some of Vienna. Then we had some free time to explore and have lunch. The city has a really cool feel and it would be great to spend more time there. Apparently, it was named the second best city to live in, after Melbourne, Australia (a fact enjoyed by the many Aussies on the tour).

    They took the group on a tour of a schnapps museum... It was interesting, but the main focus was pretty clear - sample and buy. Moving on... We went to a famous castle, but they were setting up for a music concert on the grounds and we were somewhat limited in where we could go and what we could see. That said, a few of us walked to the side gardens and we're able to get some good photos.

    That night, we were taken to a Mozart and Strauss concert being held in the building where Mozart's first composition (he was six) was performed for Maria Theresa (first, and only, female member of the Hapsburg family to rule). There were only about 200 people at the performance and we were able to explore the building during the intermission.
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    Sounds amazing. Getting some good tips from your trips! -PJ


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