Travelling is such an enigmatic adventure to spoil yourself with. I have been bitten by the bug, and recently my cousin was bitten too. He took a European tour and he spoke with such passion of his adventure that I asked him to write a piece so that I could help him share his passion with like-minded people on my blog. This is his adventure in his words.
Written by Jordan Demirtzoglou
Topdeck tours September 2011
Making the turn to Europe for the first time can be challenging, so a trip there needs to be well run and organised by the right hands. Based on friends past experience in their travels, the choice for someone young and ready for fun was a youth trip organised for like-minded people!
So the choices focussed on popular travel companies like Contiki, Topdeck, Busabout and Travalgar travels. Most cover Europe in the same way, with the same options and pretty similar prices. Contiki is more known in SA, with Topdeck offering similar packages at slightly cheaper prices. But it wasn’t the saving of a couple hundred bucks that made my decision; it’s the flexibility in their tours that helped me make my decision. With Topdeck you can for instance start in London and finish in Rome (thereby doing Western Europe) or you can start there and do just Eastern Europe.
I think it’s great to check out London before and after your trip (maybe taking a round-about trip) because there’s so much to see and when you come back, you come back as more of a ‘seasoned’ traveller – knowledgeable enough to do the stuff you miss out on the first time. London’s definitely a world city, always alive and moving – you’ll probably find some of the best underground and ’local’ parties here (especially because of the high number of ex-pats living here). On your first day, maybe do what I did; take a hop-on hop-off bus tour to get a feel for the city and what it has to offer. Mark things down and go check them out later that day or the next, what’s great about these tours is they usually expire a day or two later, so you can still use the busses and info they have to provide.
After touring London for 4 days, I met up with my tour at the Clink Hostel to start our journey through Europe. By bus we headed off to the white cliffs of Dover, traveling by ferry to mainland France. The trip between London and Paris took a full day, so by the time we hit the hotel, it was pretty much late afternoon. We went to catch a quick drink before for traveling on a night tour of Paris. Practising our fréenche! It didn’t go down the way we hoped!
On the side – one thing I’ve got to mention about the bigger cities you go to is are the amount of pick-pocketers and the street sellers – they’re pretty much set-up shop everywhere and can leave in a couple of seconds flat with all their stuff. Reason is, they have a cloth/rug sack lying underneath whatever they’re selling and when they see the cops, they simply take all four ends and run! You get in shit if you’re caught with whatever they’ve sold you and they’re long gone. Don’t let that happen. Or getting tied-up by a string thieves out of the blue! Not cool and embarrassing.
Besides all that first on the list for our night tour was Montmartre. This highlights the whole of Paris and man what a view, if you have enough time check out the church above and Place du Tertre along the market and restaurants below. The overall feel of Paris is chic and elegant. The French definitely have a definitive sense of style and wear it well.
Next day we given a free day – to travel around the city ourselves and explore what it had to offer. The Louvre, Notre Dame and Eiffel Tower are musts when checking out the city. Although the crowds and queues seem long, they move quickly, so it wasn’t too much hassle trying to get into places.
We happened to catch a cabaret show in Paris, as one should (think Moulin Rouge, Pussy’s and all things cabaret). Wine and fine ladies on display (tastefully laid – both wine and lady). It was an amazing to see and experience Paris this way, and definitely a good start to the Eurotrip.
All though 2 days isn’t enough in a place like Paris, we moved on to the serene and picturesque Swiss Alps in stark contrast to what we just experienced.
The Swiss Alps
Switzerland turned out to be the biggest surprise. I didn’t think much about going to Alps, especially before winter, but we were provided with great experiences in the small town of Lauterbrunnen.
Lauterbrunnen is close to the Jungfrau mountain range and is home to the highest mountain range in Europe. It’s great for buying watches and Swiss army knives at competitive prices, drinking great hot chocolate and buying Swiss chocolate (just don’t carry it around it summer!)
Going up the Jungfrau mountain range was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life! Boasting the highest peak in Europe, amazing views and even an Ice palace, Jungfrau is definitely a must-see!
Without a doubt the trendiest and most sophisticated portion of our trip was hitting Nice in the French Riviera.
Definitely the highlight of my tour, not only for the glitz it provides, but because of the rich history of motorsport. Monaco’s foundation as a resort to those in Upper France has long since made it a hunting ground for the rich and famous.
On the tour we were given the option of touring the famous Monte Carlo casino (notably used in the Bond pic Casino Royale), along with the restaurants and bars surrounding it. There you’ll find the popular Buddha bar (the original). Prices are pretty high for normal meal (think round €40-50) and the service you get is like a lucky packet. If you’re on budget there’s always a McDonalds down the road (facing the famous F1 hairpin actually).
All in all a definite must see, unfortunate that we only got one day to cram it all in!
Included in our tour was a trip to the leaning tower of Pisa, located in Pisa, Italy. The construction for the tower originally started in 1173 and started to lean after the second level, when its foundation sank.
Around 20 years ago a restoration project was undertaken to stop the tower from collapsing and will allow it to stand for the next 100 years. By the way, it takes about an hour to climb up the stairs to the top – not for the unfit or hung-over. There are number of nice restaurants and bars lined up towards the northern section of the town, some with a great view of the tower.
After our day stop to Pisa, it was back on the bus and on to Florence. Many of Leonardo and Michelangelo’s work can be seen in Florence, the city steeped rich in history and culture. In Florence we also received a demonstration at a leather shop on how to spot fake from real leather. I think both in Florence and Rome, there’s a happy hunting ground for anything you want in leather (jackets, bags, accessories and jewellery boxes) at reasonable prices.
Although only there for a day, this was the first time in Europe I could feel the enormity of its history, and what ancient Europe still has to offer!
Last stop on my Topdeck trip was the Italian capital Rome or Roma. Famous for love, famous for food, famous for shopping, not surprising that Rome’s the third most visited city in Europe. The first truly ancient and historical of the cities visited in Europe; Rome has much to offer any visitor. On my travels through the capital; I managed to see the Vatican and all its art and architecture, the Coliseum, Pantheon and Chariot grounds – and we’re only talking History here!
Perhaps not as synonymous with Milan for shopping, Rome still offers all the major fashion labels. Through Via del Corso (street) any shopper’s paradise awaits! There are also many smaller boutiques and the Chinese version of Italian style.
For nightlife you could go to Piazza di Campo dei Fiori, a square with many bars and trendy restaurants to start the night off. From there you can venture to Piazza di Spagna for a more chilled end to the evening. Rome definitely provides a great mix for tourists and alongside Athens, probably has the greatest historical value of any of the cities in Europe today!
Battle of the Bloggers