And just when we thought the scenic views and idyllic countrysides of Germany were as good as it gets, we drove into Austria and were proved wrong. The drive through Austria was definitely the most beautiful of the trip. The mountains were carpeted in trees that were shades of green I had never even seen before and scattered within were tiny villages of colourful steeples and cozy homes. The snow capped mountains lined the background of dewy greenery and misty clouds hung over the entire skyline. We were all pushed up with our noses against the glass windows trying to get the best photo opp, so our driver decided to let us stop at a vantage point and take photos. The mountains reflecting like a lake made of mirrored glass is something I’ll never forget.
When we arrived at our destination for white water rafting, Shauna and I decided to sit this exclusion out as well. We explored a tiny village parallel to the river and had the most delicious Austrian lunch of goulash soup, hot dogs and Heinekens. After lunch we took a stroll through the hillside literally feeling like Von Trapp children from The Sound of Music. We walked alongside the river soaking in the dreamy landscape of sky scraping mountains, pebbled shores and sun streaming through foggy clouds.
After an afternoon breathing fresh Austrian air, we met up with the rest of the group and set off on our next Austrian adventure to the town of INNSBRUCK.
Our stop in Innsbruck was short and sweet but just long enough to absorb everything this Olympic famous town had to offer. The colourful town sits within a snowy backdrop of mountains and a long swirling river runs throughout the centre. In town we stopped for strudel which was unfortunately not as delicious as we expected but was definitely a must-try when in Austria. This visit was super laid-back and mostly consisted of sitting in cafes or alongside the river people-watching and taking photos.
After Innsbruck, we headed to our hotel and checked into the tiny town of Hofpgarden at a Contiki-run accommodation. This location reminded me a lot of St. Goar with its small town vibes and peaceful nature. We had an absolutely amazing dinner at the hotel which proceeded into Austrian schnappy night where we had a competition of who could try as many flavours of schnapps possible. Of course, this night ended with an unconventional dance party and a late night Austrian pizza run. Austria definitely treated us well but we were all ready for a change of pace and our next stop in Italy definitely gave us that!
The next morning we were on the road to Italy! This was by far my most anticipated country because of my Italian roots and the stories I heard growing up about my heritage. Our first stop was Venice, also known as the sinking city or the city of water. We took a private motorboat into the city and the first thing that struck me about Venice was how iridescent blue the water was! We cruised into the city with my head out the window, wind whipping through my hair and eyes wide taking in the place I had only ever seen in photos.
Once we landed, we took a walking tour around the city and it was so strange being in a place completely devoid of any roads or cars. Venice is essentially a maze of canals and tiny alleyways which made this city probably one of the most unique places we visited. After the walking tour we set off on the ever-sought after gondola ride. Our gondola driver may not have been the most friendly but floating through the back alleys of Venice under arched bridges and ornate architecture left me speechless. Post-gondala ride, we treated ourselves to our first Italian gelato and this is one local cuisine that was above and beyond my expectations! Our tour group started a gelato challenge for who could have as many flavours of gelato as possible within our time in Italy.
After our afternoon soaking up Venezian culture, we made our way to a local Italian restaurant for a four course pasta meal featuring squid ink risotto which was surprisingly delicious. We all wore classic Venetian masquerade attire and enjoyed our dinner and bellinis even more thanks to the Italian saxophone player serenading us to iconic Italian harmonies. Venice lived up to all my dreams and more, but Rome was just around the corner and the best was yet to come.
ROME & VATICAN CITY.
Our next stop was the eternal city of Rome where we indulged ourselves in all things Lizzie McGuire movie-esque… (or I did at least). The drive from Venice to Rome was quite long so by the time we arrived there it was basically the evening. We did a night driving tour and took in Rome lit up at night from our Contiki coach then eventually we hopped off and did a bit of our own exploring by foot. The Trevi Fountain was by far my favourite landmark that we saw that night! It was so grand and way more intricate than I had imagined. We each took our turns throwing coins into the fountain wishing on coin #1 to return to Rome, #2 to fall in love in Rome and #3 to marry in Rome. After sightseeing we indulged in more gelato (of course!) and made our way back to the coach bellowing That’s Amore! lyrics at the top of our lungs. That night we had drinks on the terrace outside our hotel and had a classic girls night dance party with the entire on-site nightclub to ourselves.
The next morning we headed back into Rome and straight into a Colosseum tour. This ancient landmark was absolutely stunning and a must-see when in Rome. We circled about the Colosseum in 30 degree weather and listened to the tour guide teach us the history of the structure we stood within and had only ever seen in films. Listening to the battles and history that took place within the same structure we were standing in was definitely a transcendent experience.
Later that day we went on a Vatican tour where I somehow managed to get myself entirely lost within the smallest country in the world… (classic Olivia?) Being lost took away quite a bit of the mystique and awe of being in such a beloved place, but I definitely made sure to try to absorb as much of it as I could while trying to locate the group… which eventually happened! Thank God. (Pun intended, I’m lame I know) That night we had another Italian feast with four courses of different kinds of pizza and wine. After dinner we headed back to the hotel where we all congregated back down at the hotel bar and club where we had dance battles, rooftop adventures and prepared ourselves for one last Italian exploration.
Our last stop in Italy was the absolutely stunning Florence! We drove into town and made a pit stop at Pizzale Michaelangelo for our group photo which overlooked the entire city before exploring it close up. Florence was my favourite Italian city- it had such a serene and peaceful vibe that I couldn’t quite put my finger on but differentiated it from the other Italian cities we visited previously. We took a walking tour around the city with a local guide and I loved learning about how literally every corner of the city had some sort of artistic importance and every boulevard crafted with intentional detail. The city sparkled in pastel-coloured marble buildings, masterpiece sculptures and Renaissance art everywhere we looked.
After one last stop for gelato we made our way into the Tuscan hills for another Italian feast. Pasta, opera singing and wine were in no shortage to say the least. After dinner, we danced the night away starting in the open space of the restaurant and finishing in the two-floor Space Disco (UH UH!) nightclub in Florence. This was definitely one of my favourite nights of the trip dancing together and celebrating one last Italian night with beaming smiles and hands thrown in the air to the beat of our day-song.
Our European adventure isn’t over just yet…. stay tuned for one last part of our experience in Switzerland and France! <3