First stop: London
This marks our first trip with Contiki to Europe. After 14 hours long of a flight from Singapore, we were more than happy to touch down at London. It was a pleasant flight though as I manage to catch some sleep and watch ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ onboard Singapore Airlines. I also had a good raw vegan meal which doesn’t seem as ‘raw’ as it should be. But at least, they serve raw vegetables with fruits to fill my tummy.
Going on a tour with Contiki is an impromptu decision made by my friend and I while we ( Wynne and I) were shopping for tour packages at NATAS travel fair held in Singapore this year. It all seems enticing enough that we will be spending time with people between 18 to 35 years old and hopefully more like-minded people of the same age group. We didn’t realise that the age gap between 18 to 35 could be pretty big and each of us might very well come from different eras. But maybe the cold in winter can keep all things together – even people. You can read more about Contiki’s 12-Day European Discovery Tour here.
Royal National HotelThe first day of the trip starts in London, at 7 am on 30 November so we flew in the night before so that we can settle ourselves down and also attend a pre-briefing trip which was held the night before at Contiki office.We touched down at 3 p.m. at London Heathrow Airport but by the time we collected our luggage and have our passport checked, it was already four plus, and the sky was turning dark. Time seems to spin fast after that. From the airport, we still had to take the Tube to our hotel and that took us about an hour. It was a terribly long wait because we thought we might have some time to explore London during the daylight hours. By the time we reached the Royal National Hotel, it was about 6 ish and the sky was really dark this time. All we had time for is to have a warm dinner and do some grocery shopping before heading back to sleep.
The rooms were tiny with mini single beds. It was relatively clean and had the necessary hotel amenities like hair dryer and a TV. I guess this would be a two or three-star hotel. Thankfully, we have got to stay at better hotels during the trip.
Bathroom with a tub but it isn’t that clean.
Royal National Hotel was huge though! It was two blocks of rooms. A countless number of rooms indeed!
We had vegetarian pizza with eggplant and sweet potato at a cosy Italian Restaurant, Amalfi near our Hotel. I’ve decided that I would take cheese and other milk products during this trip as I figured that it would be hard to stay vegan during this trip but I’ve informed the tour manager to prepare vegetarian meals for me. So, diet-wise was not much of a problem.
First Day of Our Contiki Tour: London – Amsterdam
Wynne and I were pretty excited to meet the rest of the group! Where were they from? Will we hit off as friends? Or was the Contiki party craze true? (I read that people partied a lot at night when they are with Contiki tours.) There seem to be very few Asians in our Contiki tour group. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t stereotype and distinguish others from myself.Our tour manager lay out some rules for us to follow like being more cooperative by being punctual at all times. It was easy for me to abide by that since I didn’t like being late but it might be a problem for others. In any case, latecomers were a few on this trip as most made an effort to be on time. Thank god for that.
Every day, there will be a day sheet prepared for us where all the essential timings and information were written down. It would be posted on a noticeboard at our hotels each night, and each of us would take a snap shot of it with our phones.
During this trip, we had a day song called Rather Be by Clean Bandit where our tour manager would play every morning so that the song could be part of this beautiful memory of our trip to Europe. It was a fantastic idea to link a song with the places you’ve been too. When I listen to this particular song, I would think of my Europe trip with Contiki.
We also had a ‘wake up’ song where Nihar would play it like an alarm to wake us up before reaching any destination or service stops. It was one irritating song but catchy! This song is sure to wake anyone up.
Sadly, we didn’t get to tour London because we headed off to Amsterdam straight from the hotel in London. It was the meeting point for all Contiki travellers on this trip. We board our Contiki bus which our tour guide labelled it as our ‘second home’ as we will be spending hours and hours on it. Yes, long and tiresome bus rides! The driver drove the whole bus (including us) into this huge ferry that will transport us from London to Amsterdam directly. How cool is that? We were shipped along to another country together with the bus. The ferry itself even had duty-free shopping, Starbucks, canteen and a mini casino – almost like a cruise.
We reached Amsterdam in the evening so ate dinner at the hotel and went for a night tour around the red light district area, De Wallen. Contiki had their optional ferry tour but Wynne and I decided to comb the streets of Amsterdam by foot while the rest are sitting on the cruise, drinking merrily to an unlimited flow of alcoholic drinks. Man, those Caucasians can really drink!While they drank, we had a little taste of the red light district when we stumbled into the sex museum and went in to check out. There wasn’t much except for pictures after pictures of people engaging in sexual acts as well as tools associated with sex. They also features how sex is done in different cultures and also touch on the history of sex and its evolution. In my head, I was thinking like, ‘Oh Gawd, this is the city of sex and drugs (or sins)!’
There was another hidden optional tour which was not told to us until we were on the Contiki Bus with our tour manager, Nihar. It was a live sex show where you get to see couples performing sexual acts together. It’s called Casso Rosso and according to our tour manager, it’s a very popular live sex show in Amsterdam. I would give it a miss since I probably think that it was something raunchy but something piqued my curiosity and my friend’s too. And so we went. Period. It was down right dirty, raunchy and somewhat disgusting too. It was emotionless and too choreographed. No passion, no fever. There were more female acts than couple acts. By the way, those couples were real couple in real life. So, thank god, no cheating here! But it was intriguing. Girls receive a penis-shaped lollipop while guys receive a boob-shaped lollipop. I would say, enter only after you turn 21!
Anyway, it was a fascinating insight into this dark, crazy and adult world. It can be a taboo but not in Amsterdam. Prostitution is a profession here, and at the red light district itself, you will see rows of single cubicles with scantily-clad women in it, beckoning men to enter their rooms. And before I forget, don’t go about taking pictures in the red light district because it is not allowed! Someone might just appear and smash your camera/phone if you do.
Sniffing on drugs was not much of an issue here. But it does depend on what type of drugs. They sell mainly soft drugs in coffee shops.
During the day, Amsterdam transformed into this beautiful city of canals and bridges.
Very poetic indeed.We also visited Anne Frank Museum
which is a must if you are at Amsterdam. Witness how this young girl documents her life of two years in hiding during the Nazi occupation in the Netherlands. It just made me realise how powerful diaries were. People write stories in it that will reveal about the past and also things we can all learn from it. I could make sense of it because I am pretty much like Anne Frank, writing about my life, except that I type it out and publish them on this blog. It’s my diary, a book of my personal stories.
It was cold in Amsterdam, but in winter, this place is too pretty, especially during the day.
We spent the whole morning exploring this quaint city on foot, and there were just too many places to visit here, and we can’t seem to cover them all. Kinda rush, too little time. That’s the disadvantage of travelling to another country with a big tour group. There were 53 of us by the way!
Loving those old European monuments which were left untouched. Each streak of dirt or damage represents a story about the past and people.
Everyone’s eating chips on the street, so we had to sink our teeth into it too!
It was nice to enjoy some hot chips (or potato fries) with the various types of creamy sauces.
From Amsterdam, we head off to St. Goar then Munich in Germany. In between, we had to stop at a few service stops in between the trips from another country to another. The service stops were great as they serve hot food and groceries too.
Our stay at St.Goar was a concise one. It was up to the hilly area in a tiny town. There were only a few shops, and we rested at a bed and breakfast place for the night. It was clean and comfy. But it was so darn cold at St.Goar.
As usual, we always reach a new place in the evenings. It was dinner time!
I had a vegetarian meal, and I was glad that they had vegetarian options. Others have chicken while I had my veggie potato patty that tasted just as nice. We had Spätzle for the sides too. It was a three meal course where we had soup as well as a home made black forest cake.
We signed up for an optional wine tasting at a cool wine cellar. I spent some time getting to know the rest of the people on the tour while sipping onto to some good wine and ice wines. I was not quite a fan of alcohol, so I gave my wine glass to the alcoholics.
Hearty warm breakfast
Birth place of Birkenstock.
Oldest Beer steins shop in Germany!
We were allocated to Hotel NH München Am Ring, and it was the best hotel we have stayed in for this whole trip! Not only the rooms are bigger and has excellent quality bedding, but their breakfast spread also rocks my socks off!
Comfy beds with great pillows and thick duvets – feeling so bless and warm on their beds.
A kitchenette area equipped with a microwave oven, mini stove, mini fridge and a sink. Too bad, we are only staying here for one night.
There is a bakery right across the street from the hotel, so we popped by for some hot chocolate.
Night tour with Mike’s Bike Tours
It was supposed to be a bike tour, but it was too cold to ride a bike, so we set of on foot instead. It was great news because I couldn’t ride a bike anyway.
It was cold in Munich, and I couldn’t quite concentrate on what the guide was saying as I was fidgeting and hopping about to generate heat to warm myself.
The buildings in Munich were so majestic, and everything seems to beso huge.
We also walked into a church which is under some construction, but the interior was beautiful. I found that European churches are well-maintained and preserved. It just felt like I’ve walked into an 18th-century church.
Next up we had a German dinner. Others went into the beer hall to get some real German beer and pork knuckles, but it was too full and crowded, so we went into Paulaner, a German microbrewery and restaurant. The beer was delicious and less gassy as compared to Heineken.
More cheesy Spätzle with roasted onions! It tasted more like mac and cheese or some cheesy pasta.
There was only a few vegetarian option on the menu, so I opted the one that comes with a salad on the side.
Sweet Yeast Dumpling with custard For desserts, we ordered this bread-pudding like dish which consists of warm bread soaked in creamy custard sauce.
Paulaner Brauhaus @ Munich
Before we leave Munich for Austria, we visited Dachau concentration camp. It wasn’t part of the itinerary, but the tour manager and bus driver felt that we should make a trip there.
So I had no prior knowledge of Nazi concentration camps until I was back in Singapore doing my journaling for this trip. Dachau concentration camp is the first Nazi concentration camp in Germany. It is located in this town called Dachau which is not very far from Munich. Its purpose was to hold the prisoners who were Jews, ordinary Germans and Austrian criminals.
It was free to enter the museum and Dachau concentration camp site where is the actual location where history unfolds itself back in the days.
It was rather comprehensive, and it also has a movie theatre and shows a short film on the events that happened in the concentration camp.
On our way to Innsbruck, Austria!
Swarovski is an Austrian brand of luxury jewellery made from crystal glass. Since we are in Austria, our tour manager thought that we should visit Swarovski and probably buy a souvenir from there. I bought a pair of shiny ear studs for 49 euros, and it shines like a diamond.
Streets of Innsbruck’s really a lovely Austrian town here, almost like Salzburg and the Christmas and festive atmosphere here was beautiful.
A Whimsical and fairy-tale like town.
While shopping for souvenirs, we saw these furry hats that come with a pair of attached gloves. It was cute, so we decided to buy one each for 22 euros. Not too sure if it was a good buy because we hardly wear it during the trip plus I might grow out of it as I age. But who cares? It’s better than to act cute now than it’s too late or never.
Three furry animals are strolling down the streets.
Austria is famous for their Sacher Torte cake which is similar to chocolate cake except that it has bits of apricot in it. I tried it before but it was nothing fantastic but I thought I might give it a second try we went into Cafe Sacher or Hotel Sacher where the original Sacher Torte was born and tried a bite.
I still prefer the regular chocolate cake.
The cake was somewhat dry than moist. It has probably sat in the fridge for too long.
Swarovski Christmas tree!
We didn’t know there was something magical under the Christmas tree till a kind lady approached us and got us to take a peek!
Back to the hotel in Innsbruck for check-in and dinner!
The rooms were lovely too!
Have been enjoying my vegetarian meals so far!
Read my next post on the second half of my Europe Trip here.
Check out other Contiki Tours on their website.