My European Experience with Contiki

Orbit Corporate Travel Consultant Renee Veen has just returned home after a five week European Experience with Contiki. She shares her incredible experiences:

 50,400 minutes. 840 hours. 35 days. 5 weeks. My solo trip on the other side of the world was, needless to say, incredible. After a 12 hour flight I spent my first 15 hours in Hong Kong. Spending the day at Oceanpark was a great way to try to escape the heat - the views from the cliff-top rollercoaster were amazing and a great way to kill the day, rather than hanging around at the airport! Very easy to get around and to find out information if you just ask the information desks at the airport.  Another 12 hour flight and I touched down in London, Heathrow. The staff in the ticket office at the Underground Station (The "Tube") were extremely helpful for a newbie traveller! And I was quickly and easily on my way to my pre-booked hotel. The Tube continued to be incredibly easy to use - there is even an App you can download called "Tube Map" that made my life very simple! 

Renee Buckingham

After a day in London seeing Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, London Eye and a FIFA game in an English pub, two days later I met my new home (the Contiki bus number 1206!) and my new Contiki family for the next 14 days. We would be travelling around Europe, seeing eight countries and sharing this experience of a lifetime with each other - one we will never forget.

First up was Paris, France. One of my favourite places of my five week trip in Europe. We travelled to the White Cliffs of Dover and over the English Channel to the Port of Calais in France. Arriving into Paris, our bus driver braved the crazy roundabout that surrounds the Arc de Triomphe and a "Paris by night" tour to see the major sites. We indulged in champagne, escargot and frogs legs - and I will be eating those frogs legs again, délicieux!   Our free day in Paris allowed us to explore the city more in depth, where we walked down the Champs-élysées, ate numerous macarons from La Duree, pretended we weren't budget-backpackers as we waltzed through Tiffany and Co and visited the likes of The Louvre, Notre Dame and Pont des Arts (better known now as "Love Lock Bridge"). Finishing our time in Paris we had a traditional Parisian dinner and saw a Cabaret show - Nouvelle Eve - a must see!  

The next few days we made our way through to Lyon, the gastronomical capital of Europe, the Beaujolais wine region where could taste some traditional French wine, French Riviera and Monaco - all dressed up and ready to brush shoulders with the rich and famous in Monte Carlo Casino. Everywhere you look there are Ferraris, Lambourghinis and the like! 

Next stop, Italy! We explored Florence and the Leaning Tower of Pisa to take our cheesy tourist photos, Rome with the Colosseum and Trevi Fountain; unfortunately the Trevi Fountain was under re-build when we visited so it was empty and covered in scaffolding! But that didn't stop most of us tossing our coin in! The Vatican and Sistine Chapel were incredible, as were the crowds! Being the middle of Summer (peak season) it is important to start the day nice and early to get through one of the most visited places in the world.  

  Venice was everything it's meant to be - a beautiful floating city connected by canals - cruising around on a gondola was a great way to relax but watch out for all the pigeons in St Mark's Square!  Next up was Munich, Germany, and after a casual bike ride around the city, we indulged in bratwurst (traditional German sausage) and beer! A visit to the Hofbrauhaus to drink steins and participate in local German culture, where you can't always get a seat next to someone you know - everyone is a friend!

Through the Rhine Valley and on to The Netherlands, we saw clog and cheesemaking and had a leisurely bike ride through to small town of Edam, past windmills and the locals. Heading into Amsterdam, the final stop on our tour, after visiting the Anne Frank house, quirky boutiques and markets, we ended with a canal cruise towards our Sea Palace floating restaurant, and a night out in the Red Light District. The next morning we're all up early, teary eyed and tired, saying goodbye to all the people we just bonded with over the last 14 days.

But there's not much time for rest, two days later I was flying to Greece to start a second Contiki tour, where I would visit two countries in eight days. Four days around Athens, and four days cruising through the islands with Louis Cruises. After a traditional dinner in the Plaka area in Athens, and the next day checking out the Acropolis and Parthenon Temples we made our way to Olympia - the first site of the Olympic games in 776BC. Next up was Delphi, and Delphi is all about spine-tingling views and incredible ruins as it is perched on a cliff-side of Mt. Parnassus.   Back to Athens the next day and we boarded our cruise, ready for sun, cocktails   and relaxation! With five stops in four days, it was a nice "taster" for each of the destinations. Mykonos, Patmos, Kusadasi  (Turkey), Crete and Santorini - beautiful places we could spend 4-5 hours in to get a feel for the place.

Mykonos is known as the "party island" of Greece, and boasted its beautiful seaside restaurants and quaint, shaded alleyways to escape the sun and indulge in some souvenir shopping and seafood dinner for the few hours we were there. Watching the sunset over Mykonos was something I will never forget. Santorini was my other favourite place on my five week trip - taking an optional tour to Oia Village perched on the Calderra Rim of Santorini, the views of the blue-domed churches and white-caved houses are absolutely breathtaking. The pictures you see on TV and Google are exactly how it looks in front of your own eyes - just incredible.   After heading back to the port in Athens, I was due for another tearful goodbye to my other Contiki family for the past eight days, ready to head back to London for my final four days before coming home. 

Renee Santorini

 My European Experience with Contiki was the most amazing thing I think I will ever do in my life in regards to travel. I would recommend Contiki and this particular trip I did to anyone who is interested. Incredibly well organised and informative - nothing they could have done better!  You definitely learn more about yourself and make lifelong friends!

Written by Renee Veen at 18:00

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