Where do you even begin when trying to document the trip of a lifetime? I knew that Europe would be a monumental travelling experience for me but I had no idea how deeply this trip would resonate and affect me. The people I met these past 12 days have such a special place in my heart and I’m both heartbroken and so honoured to have adventured through 9 European countries with the most lively and free-spirited group of humans. I checked off so many bucket list, iconic adventures while still being able to explore off the typical tourist attractions. My heart is so full right now and I can’t wait to share all my crazy adventures and favourite memories with all of you. Say yes to every opportunity that could change your life, Europe definitely changed mine.
The whole adventure began in LONDON, ENGLAND where my best friend and I had flown into from Toronto. We had a bit of culture shock trying to figure out how exactly to get to our hotel and navigate the Tube in our jet-lagged and dazed stupor, but after a much needed nap and checking into the hotel, our adventure began!
The thing that struck me most about London is how familiar it felt despite being an ocean away from Canada. London felt like a place I could see myself living and was super trendy with a hint of classic-ness. Shauna and I spent the day exploring the iconic landmarks- for us Big Ben was breathtaking. I remember walking out of the tube expecting some tiny little building and asking Shauna “WHERE IS IT” to which she pointed up and my jaw literally hit the floor. It’s an unworldly experience to see something you saw in photos for years in person- everything is so much more grand close up! That’s something I definitely learned this trip.
After exploring telephone booths, Big Ben, the London Eye and Tower Bridge, we made our way back to the hotel and strolled through a garden we spotted from our window. People were clustered in groups eating lunch, drinking wine and lazing about in the mid-afternoon London light. The sun was shining and the potential of this trip seemed indescribable since London, a place we both didn’t have at the top of our lists to visit, took our breath away so effortlessly.
That night we met up with our Contiki group and after a few awkward introductions and small talk, we made our way to a London pub and slowly but surely started becoming friends with the people who were complete strangers hours earlier. Little did we know how important these people would become in the weeks to come.
The next morning we were off to AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS. At this point I had gone 42 hours without sleep so the bus ride there was a little rocky and uncomfortable. We drove a few hours through highways then reached a ferry port where we floated over the English Channel and saw the White Cliffs of Dover. Let me tell you… Ferry rides are not fun when sleep-deprived and dehydrated but we definitely made the most of it and took in the views from the rooftop deck.
The details of our time in Amsterdam may not be the most…. appropriate?… but this city is absolutely amazing! The streets are lined with vintage bikes, the gable houses are bright and detailed, and the vibe of this city is super laid back, accepting and casual. That night we went on a cruise through the Amsterdam canals with unlimited wine and beer and this is when our tour group really started bonding. We took Ellen-style group selfies, attempted to start a dance party and watched the sky transition from blue to pink all around us as we slowly floated through the city on liquid courage and racing hearts.
After experiencing Amsterdam by night, we had a free morning to do a bit of our own exploring. The rain held us back a little bit but despite the dreary skies and puddles, the best way to describe Amsterdam is COLOURFUL. The city is so bright and vibrant and radiates an “anything goes” attitude that I found so refreshing and unlike any other. That morning, we stopped by a chic cafe for cappuccinos and pancakes to take a break from the rain… somehow our group didn’t know the meaning of “quaint” as we were shushed by the barista on many occasions and may have slightly disrupted the chill-vibe of the cafe, but all the same our smiles shone brightly and Amsterdam left us with high-spirits and ready for our next adventure… to GERMANY.
Back on the bus we go… and off to a town quite different than the big-city feel of Amsterdam. Rhine Valley was a quiet town nestled in the hills of Germany and hidden away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist cities. Our hotel was family-run and situated on the Rhine River whose coastline was speckled in castles, cabins and lush greenery.
That night we went for a wine tasting in St. Goar in a candle-lit wine cellar complete with long wooden benches and stone walls. We sampled 5 different wines and in Contiki fashion, the person who received the last drop from the bottle had to chug the entire glass. With the wine flowing and our voices growing louder, the wine tasting leader shushed us the best way he knew how…by slamming the wine bottle onto the table HAHA…. (was being shushed becoming a trend for us? :D)
After the wine tasting, we hit up the bar in the lobby of our hotel where we continued the party and explored St. Goar by night. We may have slightly disrupted the quiet and relaxing nature of this little town, but we definitely appreciated the break Rhine Valley gave us with its secluded and peaceful essence.
As our time in Rhine Valley came to an end, we were off to our next big adventure in the iconic city of Munich! The drive to Munich was absolutely stunning and I loved seeing Germany in full Springtime bloom complete with golden meadows and rolling hills.
Munich is where I learned I officially cannot ride a bike… LOL. So instead of taking the laid out path Contiki set for the day with a bike tour, Shauna and I set off on our own adventure. We strolled through German streets admiring the luxury cars and detailed architecture that blended in flawlessly with gardens, tulips and trees. We eventually settled into a town square for a classic beer and pretzel and watched Germany unfold before our eyes on a typical afternoon- men hollering in the streets as a game winning goal was scored, musicians strumming on guitars on the cobblestone and glasses being clung together with a loud, cheering “Prost!”
After our day off the beaten path, we met up with the rest of the group at a traditional German beer hall called Hofbrahaus. We got a head start on the group and decided to explore this completely new territory dissimilar to any bar or club that could be found in Canada. The beer hall had long picnic benches that were all completely jam-packed with locals and tourists mingled together celebrating and many people were adorned in cultural attire and lederhosens. A live German band played in the centre of the beer hall with saxophones and tubas that rang along with the cheering and clapping echoing through the walls of the bar.
In Germany I learned that it is completely possible to drink a beer that is bigger than your head (or multiple…) that checked in at 1L per glass. With over-sized beers in our hands, we eventually met up with the rest of the group that were located on a rooftop terrace outside the beer hall and exchanged stories of the day and laughed together under lantern light and star-dotted skies. After a few hours hanging out on the terrace, we began to explore Munich nightlife outside the beer hall and stumbled upon a McDonalds. Germany, let us North Americans handle the fast food… It definitely was not as satisfying as a post-bar McDouble from home. Despite the disappointing late night snack, we headed back to the hotel with stars in our eyes brighter than the ones in the sky and were completely enchanted by Germany. We were sad to say goodbye, but ready to embrace our next adventure to AUSTRIA.
Stay tuned for Part Two of my European adventure. I hope you enjoyed!