Monday, September 21, 2009

Hi all!

I have created a new updated website that has a nice layout than this with all the same helpful information!

Check it out at:

www.lynseystravels.weebly.com

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Next Trip Booked!!

So after a lot of debating, I've gone ahead and decided to book my next Contiki trip for this October! I will be heading on the 7 day Aegean Classic trip to Greece and Turkey! This is a cruise trip, so it is much different than most of the trips that Contiki is famous for, so I'll be sure to do a trip review of the Aegean Classic when I get back!

Update on Contiki Referral

So just a quick update on the Contiki Refer a Friend deal..unfortunately this deal is only offered to people from the US...so if you are from the US and are wanting to book a Contiki trip and would like to do the refer a friend deal, be sure to email me at lstuart722@gmail.com.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Travel Questions from Readers

So I am excited to see that quite a few people have been coming to the blog and checking everything out. What I am even more excited about are all the questions that you all have been emailing me or sending me through the Contiki Forums. To help out some more, I'm going to post all the questions that are sent to me in this post (I'll update it daily) with answers to give you even more information on what to expect. So keep reading and keep sending questions to me at lstuart722@gmail.com!

Questions:

1. How do we get into the cities each day?

Most days, if you are traveling with Contiki, the bus will take you directly into the city and you will have time to explore and then there will be a pick up point at a specific time. This is the easiest way to get in and out of the cities. If you want to stay in the city and explore longer, then you are able to (as long as the bus isn't leaving and going to the next city or else you will be left behind) and you can get a train or a taxi back to the hotel depending on which city you are in. In the small towns you visit (such as St. Goar, Lucerne, or Innsburck) you can even go into town and then walk back to the hotels. Larger cities, such as Rome, where you are staying quite a bit away from the city center, the bus will drive you to the train station, then you will take the train into town and again there will be a time that you need to meet the bus at the train station to get back to the hotel, but if you want to stay out later, you can grab a taxi at the train station back to the hotel later in the evening. In Paris, I choose to take the train everywhere and get the bus back at the end of the day and that was very easy to do, so in larger cities, the train is a great option.

2. Can I get the refer a friend discount if I have already booked my trip?

Unfortunately no, the refer a friend discount has to be given at the time you book. Also, in order to get it you also have to book a trip that is 8 days or longer. If you haven't booked your trip yet and want to get the refer a friend discount email me at lstuart722@gmail.com with your name and email address and I will set it up for you and contact you with more information.

3. Did I feel rushed on the Discovery Tour?

The European Discovery Tour does move very very fast, however, I personally felt as though I had enough time in each of the cities and did not feel too rushed. I also planned out what I wanted to do before I left, so I had a plan when I went into each of the cities. I think I may have felt more rushed if I was trying to figure out what to do in the time period we had in each of the cities. So I recommend looking up things to do in each city you will be visiting and at least figuring out the tope things you want to do in each city.

4. How many hours a day were you on the bus?

This really varied from day to day depending on where we were and where we were headed. I would say on average we were on the bus for about 4 to 6 hours each day, but most of the time we were sleeping or our tour manager kept us entertained. We did have a few long 8 hour days. The ride from Florence to Lucerne will seem like it is taking forever mostly because alomost the entire bus was sick and hungover.

5. Were there a lot of romances on your tour?

Every tour will be different, but our tour had quite a few couples on it to begin with and then there were a few romances that popped up throughout the tour between tourmates and then with tourmates and locals. Don't go expecting that you are going to have a romance...if it happens, it happens, and if not, you are going to be having a ton of fun anyway, so don't worry about it!

6. Did you use your IPOD a lot?

I used my ipod on the bus to help me fall asleep and sometimes at night to fall asleep too. I also have an ipod touch, so at hotels where there was wifi, I was able to use my ipod touch to get on the internet which was nice. I would recommend if you are thinking about bringing it to bring it. It is helpful to have to block out noise if you want to sleep on the bus or read in peace and others are being loud. Its also a good thing to have if you want to block out the world and have some "me time"

7. Would you recommend going solo?

If that is the only thing that is holding you back, then yes go solo. I loved going by myself because then I didn't need to worry about making sure anyone was happy and that I was doing what they wanted to do and what I wanted to do in each city. There are also going to be quite a few people on each tour that are there by themselves, so you won't be the only one. I really liked going by myself and making new friends. And I wandered around Paris by myself the last day and was so happy to have done that. So going by yourself is fine. Just make friends!

8. How much are drinks and can you get more than just beer and wine?

To be honest, I really don't remember how much drinks were. Some I know were as cheap as 2 euro for a shot or a beer and others were as expensive as 12 euro for a mixed drink. You can get more than just beer or wine, but those options will be the cheapest for the most part. I ended up drinking mostly whiskey because that is what I like, but I also had my share of wine, beer, and whatever the local drink was.

9. Do all tours visit Dachau?

This one I'm really not sure about. From all that I have heard from people on other discovery tours, they have all went to Dachau on their tour, so my assumption is yes. If you are interested in this, that might be something to ask when you are booking your tour.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Contiki Referral

So if after reading this you are ready to book a trip with Contiki, please consider using the refer a friend deal. I can refer you and if you mention me when booking, then I will get $100 and you will get $100 in excursion dollars to use on your trip...this is a GREAT deal, so please contact me at lstuart722@gmail.com

I hope that you will leave comments on this blog and I hope that it has been helpful for you. If you have any further questions, please contact me at lstuart722@gmail.com

More Sites to Check Out

Below are few more sites that you should take some time to check out....

www.contiki.com
  • Plan a trip
  • Get advice on the Forums
  • Use the Contikipedia for more information and advice
www.vayama.com
  • Great site to search for cheap flights around the world
www.studentuniverse.com and www.statravel.com
  • Two great student websites
  • Book flights
  • Book hotels/hostels
  • Purchase needed supplies
http://www.wunderground.com/global/EU_ST_Index.html
  • Great site to check on European weather and what the highs and lows for a month are usually
www.tfl.gov.uk
  • GREAT site to plan out your transportation routes around London
http://www.backpackeuropeonthecheap.com
  • Wanting to backpack around Europe, or go on a cheap trip? This is a GREAT site put together by an individual who back packed around Europe in 20005
  • Great resources!

A Few More Tips...

Here are a few more tips, suggestions, and words of advice for your trip to Europe...

  • Make sure you choose a trip that includes everything you want to see or do
  • RESEARCH....figure out what is going to be best for you...going on your own or doing an organized trip
  • RESEARCH MORE...figure out what it is you want to do in each of the cities you are visiting this way you make the most of your time
  • Book ahead...anytime you can, go ahead and purchase tickets beforehand either online or at a location where lines may not be as long
  • Actually experience the culture...don't just go to the McDonalds in every city...try the local food, experience the local culture...try to learn some of the language...takes chances and risks...you never know when you will be back again
  • Remember that you are going to have to pay to go to the bathroom, so make sure you have coins at all times
  • Make a budget and stick to it
  • Don't convert when you are on vacation...if you have a budget and you know how much you can spend, make sure you are only thinking in Euros...trust me...you don't want to be converting everything back because most times it will make you sick and make you miss out on experiences, food, or souvenirs that you will regret not doing or getting later...
  • Know that its okay to overspend and overpack...and on the other hand, know its okay to not spend as much or pack as much as the rest of your tour
  • Make sure you have the right converters for your electronics because it won't be good if you don't
  • PACK A TRAVEL ALARM CLOCK....trust me, wake up calls don't always happen in Europe and you don't want to miss the buss or miss out on valuable time in each city, so its best that you have an alarm clock
  • Be aware of the people around you in crowded cities...don't walk around paranoid because that will only make you stand out more, but do be aware...look after your money....don't flaunt the cash that you have and be careful at ATMs
  • Always have some sort of emergency cash set aside for just in case moments
  • Take a copy of all your important documents...passport, license, insurance etc...and have phone numbers of all your credit cards and have a copy of each credit card number for just in case
  • Carry your passport with you at all times
  • Make sure you do the research to find out if you are going to need a visa in any of the countries you will be visiting
  • Be aware of the weather...winter is cold and wet in Europe, so pack for that type of weather
  • If you drink the night before you are going into a new city, make sure you won't be too hungover to miss the sites or not appreciate everything you are seeing
  • BRING MEDICINE!!!
  • Live it up...do and experience as much as you can, because if you don't you will regret it
If you are going on a Contiki,use the forums...they are a great resource that list more suggestions, tips, and advice and its a great way to meet tour mates before the trip. The Contikipedia is also a great resource to use.

People Pictures

To show how much fun we had and also so you can see the type of clothes we wore in the winter in Europe, I thought it would be helpful to show you some people pictures with a few captions so you know where we are and what we are doing...during the day I wore a lot of layers and at night I tended to keep the layers on the bottom but wear tank tops or such on the top (taking my jackets with me as well)..hope these pictures will help!



David and Ryan during our last night out in Paris. You can see Cherry in the background wearing a dress.


David and I (I have had quite a few drinks at this point) our last night in Paris. I'm wearing a dress


Eban and Mark last night in Paris


Me infront of the Eiffel Tower...it was absolutely freezing...I think I have four layers on in this picture


Group shot before going to the Eiffel Tower...everyone is layered up


Ladies layered up before our trip to the Eiffel Tower


Me, Ashely, Mark, Vanessa, and Filipe on the Gondola in the cold, wet Venice weather


Jen, Ashely, Tara, me, and Vanessa all dolled up for new years...Jen has a skirt on..Tara has a halter top on...and my silver shirt is backless


Group shot by a lake in Austria


Myself, Ryan and Vanessa in Austria


Group shot at Hard Rock in Munich


Group shot in Munich


Wine tasting in the cellar in St. Goar



Canal Cruise in Amsterdam

What to Pack

So, like my being an over spender, I am also an over packer. Even after reading tons of lists and suggestions, and hearing to pack what you would and then take, I still over packed, but I'm glad I did because we really didn't have a chance to do laundry (though you could in Rome since we were there for two days or if you are doing Europe on your own, you could probably find more time than we had to do laundry) and I just felt better knowing I had enough to wear in case something happened. Unfortunately, I got rid of my list, but I can tell you the basics of what I packed for a winter tour and then also go ahead and post the recommended lists from Contiki that way you can see what a normal person might pack. If you are a person who tends to over pack or who needs to bring a lot, then I highly recommend buying space saver bags. I bought some from target.com and they were absolutely wonderful and gave me more room in my suitcase. I did end up being overweight on the way home, so if you buy a lot, I would also recommend buying a cheap suticase while you are in Europe. I also left quite a few things in Europe that I didn't want to bring home with me (such as a pair of rainboats and a travel pillow). Again, I took a lot, and some of what I took I never wore,but I am an over packer and I can't help it!

  • Underwear and socks: I took enough underwear for 14 days and I took 6 pairs of socks because I figured I could wear those twice and be okay
  • Pants: I took 4 pairs of jeans (1 I wore on the plane) and 1 pair of black pants for going out. I wish I had more pants because they were pretty dirty by the end of the trip
  • Tops: I took 10 day tops (so sweaters, tshirts, etc) but if you can get by with less thats awesome. You could just do 6 and wear them twice and then I took 6 night tops (tanks topd, tube tops, etc, for the clubs and bars) I didn't wear all of my night shirts, maybe 3 of them at most
  • Dresses: I brought two dresses one for new years and one for Moulin Rouge. I ended up only wearing one of them
  • Jackets: I brought 3. I had a long red peacoat, a northface fleece to go underneath the peacoat and a black northface rain jacket. I wore all three. It is really cold in Europe in winter. If you are from the US, its about the same temperature maybe a tad colder, if you are from anywhere else in the world, you will be freezing...bring plenty of layers and jackets
  • Shoes: I had three pairs (and picked up two more along the way) I had Uggs to keep my feet warm (I recommend these if traveling in the winter); a pair of going out heels; and a pair of rainboots. I used all three
  • Other Clothing: I also took two pairs of leggings to wear under my pants and I REALLY recommend doing this is you are traveling in the winter and I also had one belt with me and of course gloves, scarve and hat...because again, its cold.
  • Toiletries: General hygiene stuff such as shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, shower gel, shower cap, medicines (cough drops, aspirin, kleenex, cold medicine), hair dryer, diffuser, straightner, hair brush, jewelry, hair bands, razors, shaving gel, ear plugs and makeup. You can buy the travel size of stuff and will be pretty much fine. I brought full size and left it in Paris. I also bought a straightner that claimed to be dual voltage and was not so that died in Munich. I'm glad I brought my hair dryer and diffuser since my hair had to be curly all trip. Again, bring what you need.
  • Other stuff: Camera (DUH!) Memory cards(I brought two, a 1gb and a 2gb for just in case), Camera charger, converters, journal, book, travel pillow, ipod, ipod charger, travel alarm clock, international cell phone (good investment to have to call home and in case of emergencies; backpack and a belt money wallet...oh and don't forget copies of your passport, driver license, and insurance.
I strongly recommend bringing cough drops and medicine with you. Almost everyone got sick at somepoint and Contiki is famous for the Contiki cough. Everyone had to borrow stuff from me because I seemed to be one of the only people prepared. Again, pack what you need and be sure to pack for the weather. It's cold in the winter and it does rain and you will see snow. Below are Contiki's recommended packing lists. The first is winter and the second is summer.

Contiki Winter Recommendations:

Clothes

  • 1 rainproof jacket/small umbrella
  • 1 or 2 shorts/skirts
  • 1 thick sweater
  • 1 swimwear (some hotels may have pools)
  • 2 or 3 pairs of jeans
  • 2 or 3 T-shirts
  • Underwear (lots)
  • Socks (lots)
  • 2 or 3 casual shirts
  • Trousers
  • Dresses
  • 1 set of smart clothes (eg tie, blazer, jacket or suit for evenings out while on tour)
  • 1 thick, warm jacket
  • scarf, gloves and warm winter hat

Shoes

  • Comfortable walking shoes – waterproof if possible – snow is cold and wet
  • Thongs/flipflops/sandals
  • ‘Going out’ shoes

Toiletries

  • Toiletry bag
  • Toothpaste, Toothbrush, Deodorant
  • Make up, moisturizers and hair products
  • Suntan lotion – just because it’s cold doesn’t mean there is no sun
  • Handkerchiefs/tissues
  • Insect repellent
  • Lip balm

Miscellaneous

Contiki Summer Recommendations:

Clothes

  • 1 rainproof jacket/small umbrella
  • 2 or 3 shorts/skirts
  • 1 thick sweater
  • 1 or 2 Swimwear and beach towel
  • 1 or 2 pairs of jeans
  • 2 or 3 T-shirts
  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • 2 or 3 casual shirts
  • Trousers
  • Dresses
  • 1 set of nice clothes (eg going out dress, tie, blazer, jacket or suit for evenings out on tour)

Shoes

  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Thongs/flipflops/sandals
  • ‘Going out’ shoes

Toiletries

  • Toiletry bag and contents
  • Aspirins/medications
  • Suntan lotion
  • Handkerchiefs/tissues
  • Insect repellent

Miscellaneous

Souvenirs and Such

This post is full of pictures of things that I actually bought in Europe so that you can actually see what I spent my money on. This is not everything I bought because some things have already gone missing; some things I forgot to grab; and of course other things I passed out as gifts to people. Above is a very blurry picture of a small statue of the Eiffel Tower that I got at the top of the Eiffel Tower.


I bought these postcards in Rome from a guy selling stuff outside the Colosseum. It was a euro for 20 postcards and I couldn't pass up a deal like that!


Swiss Army waiter's knife that I bought in Lucerne


Beautiful rosary that I bought at the Vatican


Really cool bracelet from Paris that I bought at a gift shop right down from Notre Dame. You can't really see it but each of the circles have different French monuments on them.


Two pairs of earrings that I bought in Florence


My most expensive purchase of the trip. White gold, diamonds, and a pearl. From Florence




Second most expensive purchase of the trip. Swarovski bracelet from Innsbruck


A great purchase in Rome from the side of the street. A nice "PRADA" bag


Group souvenir photo from Florence


The next five are all paintings that I got in Paris and I love them so much. They were very cheap too





Beer stein from St. Goar. This is a limited edition made for Contiki, specifically our trip because it has every city we visit on there. I absolutely love it!

Mask from Venice


Windmill from Amsterdam


Snowglobe from the Colosseum


I don't know why this picture is the wrong way, but these are wooden clogs from Amsterdam

Just so you know, I went to Europe with a list of specific things I knew I wanted to get. This is something I recommend that you do. This way you don't pick up too many souvenirs and you don't forget something you really wanted.

Spending

So for this entry I am going to break down what I spent my money on each day. When I got to Switzerland I stopped recording my spending, but I will give my best estimate, or at least tell you what I bought. Again, I am a spender and I went to Europe with a list of specific souvenirs I wanted to get. I also wanted to get something special for my self in each location, so I tried to get different jewelry in each city which also pushed up my spending. Again, just know yourself and your spending habits and you will be able to make a great budget.

London (100 pounds budgeted)
1. Taxi Cab to London Eye- 15 pounds
2. Train ticket- 6 pounds
3. Dinner- 15 pounds
4. Snacks- 6 pounds
Total London: 42 pounds (leftover money I exchanged on the ferry)

Amsterdam (130 euros budgeted)
1. Taxi- 11 euros
2. Windmill souvenir- 3.75 euros
3. Lunch- 11 euros
4. Hat- 6.5 euros
5. Wodden Clogs- 9.5 euros
6. Coke- 2 euros
7. Train ticket- 2 euros
8. Anne Frank Entrance- 7.5 euros
9. Postcard- 1.5 euros
Total Amsterdam: 52.75 euros

St. Goar (110 euros budgeted)
1. Beer Stein- 88 euros
2. Ring- 15 euros
3. Drinks/Internet- 10 euros
Total St. Goar: 113 euros

Munich (130 euros budgeted)
1. Lunch- 6 euros
2.Taxis- 25 euros
3.Drinks- 15 euros
4. Club- 5 euros
5. Dinner- 10 euros
6. Drinks- 23 euros
Total Munich: 84 euros

Innsbruck (210 budgeted)
1. Bracelet- 120 euros
2.Nutcracker and hat- 25 euros
3.Drinks- at least 40 euros
4. Lunch- 10 euros
5. Club- 6 euros
Total Innsbruck: 210 euros

Venice (130 euros budgeted)
1. Lunch-10 euros
2. Presents-55 euros
3. Food/Drinks-15 euros
Total Venice: 80 euros

Rome (280 euros budgeted)
1.Lunch- 20 euros
2. Dinner- 27 euros
3. Gifts- 25 euros
4. Bag- 25 euros
5. Vatican- 14 euros
6. Rosaries- 25 euros
7. Snow globe-10 euros
8.Dress- 15 euros
Total Rome: 171 euros

Florence (140 euros budgeted)
1. Necklace: 150 euros
2. Earrings: 40 euros
3. Boots: 80 euros
4. Food:10 Euros
Total Florence: 280 euros

Lucerne (100 Swiss francs)
1. Chocolate, 3 swiss army knives, shot glasses- 60 francs
Total Lucerne: 60 francs

Paris (255 euros budgeted)
I have no clue what I spent in Paris, but the following is what I spent money on:
1. Cross
2. Train tickets
3. Entrance to Eiffel Tower
4. Entrance to Musee D'Orsay
5. 5 paintings
6. tshirt
7. Mug
8. Eiffel Tower souvenir
9. Lots and lots of alcohol
10. shoes
Probably more things that I can't remember right now.

Also, public restrooms cost money to go to, so you'll be spending money on that as well. I ended up spending 120 euros on tips because I was intoxicated and just throw case at my tour manager and then spent 40 euros on a taxi to the airport.

As you can see, I spent a lot of money. Most of my money was spent on gifts and souvenirs, so if you don't buy a lot of those you will be good. Also, my optionals were not included in my daily spending because I had set money aside for those in the beginning.

Budget

One of the biggest parts of taking any trip is figuring out your budget for the trip. There are a lot of different recommendations out there, but you really have to think think about yourself, your general spending habits, how much you are planning on drinking, and how much you normally eat to figure out what your individual budget is going to be. For Contiki travelers, Contiki recommends that you have at least 10 euro a day which will cover food, drinks, spending, and the optional excursions. There are definitely days that I spent way less and 100 euro and then there were days that I ended up spending a lot more than that, but again, you really need to evaluate yourself in order to figure out the best budget for you. Here are several things that you need to make sure you budget for:

  • Food (if you are a Contiki Traveler figure out how many lunches and dinners you will need to cover on your own and budget for that)
  • Drinks (if you are planning on going out every night, or even just some nights, budgt somemney for alcohol)
  • Optional Excursions you plan on doing (Contiki travelers only)
  • Entrances to Museums and attractions(figure out where you want to go before hand and research the admission prices-very easy to do on the internet)
  • Souvenirs (for yourself and others- I recommend making a list of everyone you want to get stuff for before you leave and bring it with you..this way you don't forget anyone and you don't overbuy)
  • Travel (Contiki travelers, you will need to pay for taxis and trains throughout the trip; other travelers you may need to purchase a eurorail pass to get around Europe and you may also need to use taxis and trains and don't forget to set some money aside for travel to the airport)
  • Lodging (if you are a non Contiki traveler you will need to make sure you have budgeted for your lodging each night)
  • Tips (for anyone local tour guides you use and for your tour manager and bus driver-generally you should budget 2 euros per day for each of these individuals)
  • I also recommend having some money set aside for "emergencies"
Now that you have a basic idea of what you will need to budget for, you can start figuring out how you are going to handle spending when you are in Europe. There are also several different ways to do this.

  • Spend spend spend without caring...take money out whenever and charge whenever as well (I really don't recommend this one)
  • Pull money out via the ATM whenever you need it keeping track of how much you spend, but not having a limit (I don't recommend this one, because I think you need a limit)
  • Pull money out via the ATM and know the limit to how much you can take out
  • Use a preloaded debit card so you can only pull out what is on the card
  • Figure out you budget and exchange it prior to your trip
Most people on our tour used their ATM cards throughout the trip to just pull out money whenever they needed it. This is something that works well, however, make sure you get money when you are in larger cities, because it may be hard to find ATMs every place you go. Also, make sure you go to the ATM with another person so someone can block you just in case. I would recommend that you do have some sort of budget so that you aren't just pulling money out like crazy and then get home and realize you are broke. Also be aware that your bank will have foreign transactions fees, so find out how much that will be before you leave. Because of this, you may want to pull out large amounts at one time, rather than doing a lot of small transactions and racking up fees.

An important note, if you are going to be using debit or credit cards when you are overseas, be sure to contact your bank and credit card company a few weeks prior to your trip so that they can put a note in your file that you are going to be out of the country. Make sure you give them the exact time you will be out of the country and the different places you will be. This will help when you use the cards because transactions will go through smoothly.

It is also really important that you write down all the numbers of the cards you have with you as well as the phone numbers to each card in case your wallet or credit cards should get stolen. There may be an international phone number, so make sure you look for that and write it down rather than the number to call from your country.

Now that I have gone over the basics that you need to know for budgeting and spending, I am going to explain in detail how I arranged my budgeting and spending. This may be complicated and I realize I was very very detailed with my budget and spending, but this is what worked for me. I should also explain that I am a spender. So I spent almost everything I took with me. Unless you like to shop like me, you will be fine with less money than I had.

I made the decision to exhange all of my money prior to the trip. I did this because I wanted to know exactly how much money I would have to spend and also because I didn't want to deal with ATMs in Europe. I had a lot of cash with me which I realize may not have been the safest thing, but it worked for me and I had no issues at all, but I also used some safety measures to ensure that which I will discuss at the end of this post.

So, to figure out how much money I was going to have for my budget I based everything around two main things. First, I wanted to ensure that I had the recommended 100 euors a day and second, I looked at how much money I currently had and how much I needed to stay afloat when I got back. After both of those details, I figured out I had $2800 (US) that I could go ahead and exchange. This roughly figured out to be 1705 in euros; 100 British pounds and 100 Swiss Francs. Now that I knew exactly how much I had, I broke my money down by day to I knew how much I could spend each day of the trip.

This is where things may get a little confusing, but hopefully it will be helpful. If after reading this you have any questions, please please email me and I will be more than willing to answer them.

The first thing I did was figure out which optionals I wanted to do and go ahead and set the money aside for those. I wanted to do all of the optionals so I went ahead and set aside 280 Euros (this is not the total cost, but from my webinar I had $100 excursion dollars so I did a rough exchange and accounted for those in my budget). The second thing I did was set aside money for tips. I originally only set aside 40 euros for tips (I increased this later). The with the remaining euros, I divided them by each day of the trip.

I had day one (London) and day ten (Lucerne) already covered because the currency for those days were separate. Next what I did was create stacks for each day so I would know which city each stack went with. Then I determinded the following:

  • Each day I needed to buy lunch, I set aside 10 euros to cover lunch
  • Each day that I needed to buy dinner, I set aside 20 euros to cover dinner
  • For Innsburck (because it was new years) I set an extra 60 euros aside for drinks
  • For every day of the tour I set aside 30 euros for alcohol (just in case I drank every day)
  • For Amsterdam, Venice, Rome, Florence and Paris I set aside an additional 20 euros for entrance fees to museums and sites as I knew I would be visiting different attractions I need to pay for on those days.
  • Then I evenly split the rest of the money with any extra going to Paris

So, in going with that plan, I ended up with the following budget in each city/for each day:

  • Day One London- 100 pounds
  • Day Two London to Amsterdam- 130 euros
  • Day Three Amsterdam to St. Goar- 110 euros
  • Day Four St. Goar to Munich- 130 euros
  • Day Five Munich to Innsbruck- 210 euros
  • Day Six Innsbruck to Venice- 130 euros
  • Day Seven Venice to Rome- 130 eruos
  • Day Eight Rome- 150 euros
  • Day Nine Rome to Florence- 140 euros
  • Day Ten Florence to Lucerne- 1oo francs
  • Day Eleven Lucerne to Paris- 110 euros
  • Day Twelve Paris- 145 euros

As you can see, I had well over the recommended 100 euros a day and like I said, there were some days when I hardly spent anything and other days that I spent well over the 100 euros a day. I know myself and I know my spending habits, so I wanted to make sure I had plenty of money. I had also budgeted an emergency 250 euros that I could put on my credit card if necessary.

So how did I carry all this money around? Well, once I figured out how much I had per city, I got little envelopes and divided my money up by day, so each envelope held the money for a different day. On the plane ride I carried all the envelopes with me as carry on. In Europe, I locked all the envelopes in my suitcase with the exception of the current day which would be in my wallet and then the next day (for in case I spent over my budget) in my day bag (purse). Any left over money from one day would be put in the envelope for the next day.

I tried my best to also keep a record of what I was spending my money on and how much I spent each day. This got messed up near the end of the trip. I came home with a little over 100 euros and 40 Swiss Francs, so I did end up spending most of my money. My next post will break down what I have record of spending my money on and will include pictures of many of my souvenirs.

One other recommendation when it comes to spending money in Europe. I usually just had a wallet and a purse, but it bigger cities like Rome and Paris where pickpocketers are infamous, I did use a belt wallet that tucked into my pants to secure my passport and money.

Contiki Optional Excursion Review

One of the great things that Contiki offers on almost all of their trips are optional excursions. These excursions are meant to help you experience the culture more and really to enhance your trip. There is an additional cost for each of the excursions, but I recommend doing at least some of them if not all of them.

Amsterdam
Canal Cruise
Euro 29.00
A cruise on Amsterdam’s world-famous canals is the perfect way to see this wonderful city. You’ll pass many famous sights including Dutch gabled houses, the Anne Frank house, churches and the Red Light District. The included beer, wine, soft-drinks and snacks will make your evening complete.


This excursion is great for several reasons. First, its a great way to kick off the tour and start you crazy adventure in Amsterdam. Second, its a great way to start getting to know your other tourmates. Third, you get to see the city. Fourth, can we say free alcohol? This is basically a booze cruise and its a big party with all of the tour. With our group, everyone did this excursion and we all had a great time at it, so I highly recommend that you do this one if it is offered for your tour.

Amsterdam
Sex Show
15-20 Euros

I can't remember the exact price of this excursion, but this is one that is not advertised on the Contiki website. After the canal cruise your group takes a tour of the red light district and if you would like, you can go on a second excursion which is to get to a live sex show in the red light district. At the show you get two drinks included with your ticket and you get to watch people do all kinds of crazy things and many people from your tour may also decide to volunteer themselves to go up on stage and do some crazy things. Doing this excursion is really up to you and what you are willing to do and see.

St. Goar
Wine Tasting
Euro 8.00
A chance to sample and learn about some of the most famous wines of the Rhine region of Germany. There’s also the opportunity to purchase some of your favourites! Don’t leave your tasting glass behind – it’s yours to keep.

I really enjoyed this excursion, but I am also a HUGE fan of wine, especially sweet white wines which is all we tasted. If you don't like wine then this may not be for you, but it was really interesting to hear about the production of the wine and it gave us something to do after dinner in St. Goar which was good because if not we would have all ben really bored. It is also relatively inexpensive compared to most of the other excursions. You get to try 6 wines and eat cheese and crackers as well and again, its a good time to bond with the rest of the tour. I highly recommend this one, especially if you are a wine lover like me.

Venice
Venetian Restaurant

Euro 29.00
Our chosen venue guarantees a warm and friendly welcome in true Venetian fashion. You’ll enjoy a superb selection of local specialities and some local wine, making it an unforgettable evening in one of the most romantic cities in the world.

I don't recommend this one for the food, because honestly the food wasn't all that great to me personally. It did help in that I didn't need to find food on my own, but again, I wasn't overly impressed with the food. What I did love however, was the atmosphere and the experience of the excursion. We really got to experience Italian culture and entertainment and it was great to watch a few of the tour group really get into the culture. I think it is a good excursion to go on if you are really looking to enahnce your cultural experience and if you want to have fun with your tourmates, oh and did I mention there is unlimited red, white, and sprakling wine with dinner?

Gondola Ride

Euro 21.00
No trip to Venice is complete without a ride on the canals in a world-famous gondola. Take in the sights, savour every minute and treasure this truly memorable Venetian experience.

This is an ABSOLUTE MUST DO. Please do not go to Venice and not get a Gondola ride. This was one of my favorite experience of the trip even though the weather was bad and the water was bumpy. This is the way to see and experience Venice and it was so much fun, and really relaxing and just nice. I do recommend buying a bottle of sparkling wine for 5 euros though to enjoy on your ride. This really enhance out gonodola's experience. You can also try to get your gondolier to sing (we weren't successful, but with the water they way it was, I'm glad we weren't successful)


Rome
Guided Imperial Tour

Euro 26.00 (10-19 people) / Euro 25.00 (20+ people)
Join a local guide for an excursion back in time. You’ll wander across the cobbled stones of the Roman Forum, marvel at the Colosseum and learn why the glory of Imperial Rome still stands out in the history of western culture. Price includes entry into Forum and Colosseum.

This an excursion that I did, but I think its one that if you want to do the sites on your own, you are better off doing them on your own. If you are a big history buff, then this is somethign you need to do because you learn so much about the city and the sites from the tour guide. It was nice to have tickets to get into the attractions and not have to wait in long lines, but after the Forum, I was ready just to explore the Colosseum on my own and not deal with our crazy, old tour guide anymore. So I recommend this if you want an easy way to get into the sites and if you are a history buff, but if you aren't you many be better off doing the sites on your own. Entrance to Colosseum, Forum, and Palantine Hill are included with this excursion.


Florence
Souvenir Group Photo

Euro 11.50
A photo of you and all of your new friends is the perfect souvenir from your tour. The photo will be taken with a panorama of Florence in the background or in one of the city’s famous piazzas.

So this was the one excursion that I actually wasn't planning on doing. I really didn't think I needed a group picture because by that point I would have so many, but I caved and got it and am so glad I did now. Its a really nice picture and its probably the only one you will have of the entire group. We just happened to take ours infront of a naked statue, but other groups have taken theirs outside beautiful churches. Its a greak keepsake to have from the tour, and it really isn't that expensive (as long as you don't convert). I recommend doing this excursion.


Tuscan Evening

Euro 38.00
A beautiful setting in the Tuscan hills is the venue for our traditional Tuscan evening. Enjoy a selection of antipasta, delicious freshly made pasta, a wonderfully aromatic main course and dessert – all washed down with some local Chianti wine. A truly special evening.

This is an AMAZING excursion that you have to do. The food is incredible, the wine is endless, and the atmosphere and entertainment is great. Most people on the tour also got a little dressed up for this one which was nice to see. Its a huge meal and definently worth the cost, so I highly recommend that you do this excursion.


Space Electronic Disco

Euro 12.00
A chance to dance the night away at Florence’s largest night-spot. Your first drink is included in the price and will get you started for an evening of fun. Enjoy the great music and maybe take the opportunity to show off your karaoke skill.

So this probably seems like the tackiest excursion available, and really it is, but you will have so much fun if you go to Space Electronic Disco. It is really a great way to continue the fun from dinner and everyone just has a great time and this is where a lot of the romances on our tour began to really bloom. There is karaoke, dancing, drinking, and local Italian men, what more could you ask for? Again, the cost for this is relatively cheap and it is a really fun excursion.

Paris
Moulin Rouge

Euro 137.00
Enjoy an evening at the world famous Moulin Rouge cabaret. The spectacular show includes dancing girls, dazzling costumes, live animals and a variety of comedy acts. A sumptuous three course meal (including drinks and champagne during the show) will make this an unforgettable evening.

Obviously this is the most expensive excursion and I chose to do it because again, I wanted to experience everything and anything while I was on this trip. The food was great, the drinks were great, and the entertainment was also wonderful. If you can't budget it there are plenty of other things you can do, or if you just want to go to the show, you can buy a ticket seperately for around 80 euro and just go to the show. I recommend this excursion if it is something tou are interested in and something that you are thinking about wanting to do. If you aren't all that keen, then I would spend your money elsewhere. And if you have the budget for it, then definently do it.

Don't feel like you have to do all the excursions. I thoroughly planned out my trip and budget beforehand so I knew I had enough to do all the excursions. I am really glad I did everything because a lot of them included meals, so that was less dinners that I had to worry about on my own, and again they are meant to enahnce your experience. At the beginning of your tour, your tour manager will give you a list of all the optionals and you will pick and pay for the ones you want to do. No one will pressure you to do them all aand there were plenty of people on our tour that didn't do them all. I do recommend doing at least some of them so you get a more enahnced cultural experience.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hotel Review

**Disclaimer: this is not an indepth review of the hotels, this is just merely a small overview to help you get a better understanding of what you should expect out of the hotels on a Contiki tour**

When you are on a Contiki tour most of the hotels you stay at are not going to be 4 or 5 star hotels. You have to understand that you get the kind of hotel that you have paid for. None of the hotels we stayed at were horrible, but there are some that I would not recommend to anyone and some that I would rather not stay at again. For the most part, all of the hotels are located outside the city. At some of the hotels it was easy to get right into the city, and at others it was more of a challenge. I also had a different set up than most people because I chose to be in a triple share room because that helped bring the cost of the trip down for me. Also, for couples, its important to know that a lot of times you may get a room with two single beds, or a room that has two single beds pushed together, so don't go expecting to always have a full or queen sized bed waiting for you. In most of the triple rooms we have two single beds pushed together with seperate bedding on each and then another single bed. It wasn't the case for us, but according to our tour manager, sometimes in hotels when you do a tripple share, the third bed may be hiding somewhere.

Now on to each hotel..

Royal National Hotel, London: This hotel was nothing spectacular. I would say the location is good because you are located right near to a tube station (Russell Square) and taxis pull up to the courtyard all the time, so you hardly ever need to wait very long to get a taxi. It is also a good location because the Contiki basement is practically in it and there is a nice pub located right on the corner. There are also great restaurants located within a quick walk of the hotel and a little convience store that you can get some snacks and any last minute items for your trip. One of the strange and slightly annoying things about the hotel was the fact that for many rooms there was only one key. So if one of your roommates went off with the key, you are stuck outside the room waiting and practically begging for someone to come up and let you in. This happened to me and I had to wait almost 15 minutes before someone let me in. The rooms were small, but nice with three single beds, a tv, and a decent sized bathroom with a good shower. Noise was also minimal which was good, so I managed to get a lot of good sleep on the first night.

Ibis, Amsterdam: This hotel may have been the nicest, cleanist, and most modern of all the hotels we stayed at. The rooms were so nice with great bathrooms and a really nice lay out. In this room we had two singles pushed together and then another double. There are two restaurants and a bar in the hotel. Again, we only had one key to the room, but when I managed to lose the key, the hotel staff were very nice and considerate and quickly made me a new key. Dinner at this hotel was a buffet with no labels as to what we were eating and I was not very impressed with the food. The rooms also had an extra mirror, so if the bathroom was taken, you could still get ready and put on makeup elsewhere. The one major drawback to the hotel was the location. The hotel was located about a 30 minute drive from the main part of the city (the hotel was located next to the airport) and we found it difficult to get to. The hotel does offer a shuttle from the train station at the airport to the hotel, but we learned quickly that they don't enjoy waiting for people and they only come every once in a while so we ended up having to take a taxi back to the hotel.

Hotel Montag, St. Goar: This was an absolutely picturesque little hotel that actually only has 28 rooms. The rooms were nice and we had two single beds pushed together and another single bed to the side. The drawback to the rooms were that the lighting in the room was terrible. The bathroom was a little dingy, but nice with tile floor and a walk in shower. This hotel also had an additional mirror to help with getting ready in the morning. The dinner served at the hotel was absolutely amazing but took a while as there was only one person prepping in the kitchen and one man serving our entire group. The hotel also offered an internet cafe for a reasonable price so many people on the tour took advantage of that. There was also a small bar in the hotel with great drinks and great specials. The one strange thing about the hotel was the wake up call which was literally someone coming to our room opening the door and then closing it again. This hotel also only had one key per room. This is a hotel that you have to pack an overnight bag for.

Leonardo Hotel and Residenz, Munich: This hotel was another great one that we stayed in. The beds were comfortable and the room was incredibly nice, clean, and modern. Again we had a double bed and then a single bed in the room. Some people in our group had some issues with the hotel mainly because their rooms were not ready and they had to wait close to an hour to get into their rooms. The bathrooms were really nice with a great walk in shower, but the door to the bathroom is see through, so just be aware of that. The one drawback to the hotel was the fact that it was located away from the city, so we had to get a taxi that was about 20 euro back from the clubs to the hotel. Overall, it was one of the better hotels.

Innsbruck: I'm not quite sure what the name of the hotel we stayed at in Innsburck was, but it was a really nice hotel with a lot of space in the rooms, a great bathroom, and lots of outlets which was great. The hotel served an amazing dinner and the bar was a really great place that was a lot of fun and pretty cheap to drink at. They also had a vending machine in the lobby with cheap beer if you would rather drink that. There was also a computer set up in the lobby that had internet for a small fee. The hotel was about a 20-30 minute walk to the main part of town, but was a very easy walk right along the river.

Park Hotel Venezia, Venice: This was a hotel that I was really not impressed with. First, there are two seperate buildings to the hotel and if you were staying in the building away from the main hotel, it was hard to figure out which door you had to go in to get to the room and the hotel staff was not helpful or friendly at all. Our room also did not have any towels in the bathroom and it took close to ten minutes to get the attention of the staff at the front desk to try and get some towels. There is a tiny bar at the hotel and good luck getting service. They will, however, sell you a bottle of whiskey for a very very cheap price. I really enjoyed the breakfast that we had at this hotel. Rooms were basic and very very small. Also, location of the hotel is not really in Venice and was quite a distance from the ferry stop.


Prime Roma Cassia Hotel, Rome:
I really didn't have a problem with this hotel. We had three single beds in our room and the bathroom was nice. The only strange thing was that we had to put our key in a hole in order to keep the lights on. The bathroom was very nice, but the tub had an issue draining anytime someone took a shower. There was great closet space, which was nice since we were there for two nights and there really wasn't a lot of walking about space in the room. The hotel was off by itself located quite far from the city and there is really nothing around the hotel. There is a little shop/bar about a mile or so up a hill from the hotel that sells alcohol and the amazing giant doughnuts. There is also a great hotel restaurant and a nice hotel bar. You can also get a code at the hotel for 5 euros to get on wifi.

Florence: So I have no idea what the hotel we stayed in Florence was and I can't find my list. This hotel was neither bad nor good, but it did have an elevator that broke and people were stuck in it for quite a long time. There are computers in everyroom, so for a small fee you can use it and get on the internet. The rooms were very small and the bathrooms were very long and the shower was actually cold which I did not enjoy at all. Breakfast, however, made up for my cold shower. The hotel was also located in a very sketchy area and we had to walk down an alley to get to it. It was also located away from the city and we had to get a taxi from the club back to the hotel.

Lowengraben Jail Hotel, Lucerne: To be honest, I absolutely hated this hotel. Yes, it was cool because it had a theme, but I really did not enjoy it. the rooms were very small and dingy and the bathrooms were like little cubicles that were just absolutely nasty. we had three single beds with two of them being bunk beds and the beds were hard, uncomfortable, and the sheets were also tough. You also didn't get a key to the room, you got a code, and I struggled with that several times. There are also no elevators in the hotel and there were quite a lot of stairs to go up. The food however was good and the hotel was located about 5 minutes from the major part of town. This is a hotel that you have to pack an overnight bag for.

Ibis Paris Berthier, Paris: This Ibis was not as nice as the one in Amsterdam, but it was a good hotel. We had three seperate beds again and plenty of room for all of our things. There was also a TV in the room and the bathroom was seperate from the shower and sink which was nice. There are nice restaurants in the hotel and also a nice, but slightly pricey bar in the hotel. Again, this hotel is located outside the main part of the city, and is about a 10 or so minute walk from the closest train station. The staff at this hotel were absolutely AMAZING as they provided a subway map for me the day we got there and were willing to give me advice and then when I was the idiot that overslept and had an hour to get to the airport before my flight they were very very very helpful in arrnaging transportation, calming me down, and then coming out to speak to the driver about the need to get me to the airport quickly, so I was very impressed with their customer service skills.

Overall, there were no hotels that were so terrible that I needed to leave and find another one. Yes, there were a few with problems that I wouldn't recommend, but when I think about what I paid and what I got, I am satisfied. Also, for the most part, the hotels are just somewhere you sleep and get ready, so please don't let them define your trip.

Paris


Much like Rome, Paris is a city that is able to blend both new and old. It is a city full of history and a city full of vibrant culture. When visiting Paris, make sure you have at least two full days devoted to the city and if you can, add a third day to be able to visit the beautiful Palace of Versailles located about an hour from the city and very accessible by train. There are so many different things that people think about right away when you mention Paris and because of this, there are so many things that you can do, see, and experience when in Paris.

We arrived in Paris in the late afternoon and began our time in the city with a driving tour much like what we had done in Rome. We drove past many of the main sites are were able to have some stops for photos. We also drove around the L'Arc de Triomphe in the Contiki bus which was a rather scary experience. After our drive around the city we headed to the hotel to check in and eat some dinner. After dinner we all headed out to the Eiffel Tour to see the city at night. Just so you are aware, right before we got to Paris there hd been a major ice storm so there was ice everywhere in the city and it was absolutely freezing. Unfortunately, because of the weather conditions many of the major sites were either closed or you could only go up so far. Thus was the case with the Eiffel Tower. What is magnificant about the Eiffel Tower at night is the light show. Recently the light show has been shut off early due to conserving energy, but if you get the chance to see it at night, it is absolutely spectacutlar.
Again, because of the weather, we were only able to go to the first level of the Eiffel Tower. This was incredibly disappointing. Also, a lot of the walkway was roped off as well because of ice on the Eiffel Tower so you couldn't get to the edge to take great pictures of the city. It is something that I am still glad I did, but I wish the weather had been better so that we could have gone higher and been able to take pictures of the city. After the Eiffel Tower we headed back to the hotel and most people stayed up a little while longer hanging out and having a few drinks at the hotel bar.
The next morning the tour group left the hotel around 8am to head into the city and visit a French Perfumery. I made the decision not to go with the group because there was so much that I wanted to do and see in Paris that I wanted to take the city on by myself. The train system in Paris is very easy to understand and I had planned my routes out the night before so I had no problem getting around. So, I slept in an extra hour and then headed out to explore the city. My first stop was to Sacre Couer and Montmatre. Yet again, the weather prevented me from seeing Sacre Couer inside as the gates were closed and you could not climb up to it. You could, however, climb to the top of Montmatre to get absolutely stunning views of the city and be harrased by gypsies and men trying to sell things to you. Often times, Sacre Couer is something that is overlooked on a visit to Paris, but I highly recommend going and seeing the beautiful church and experiencing the views of the city from the other side.

The next stop on my adventure in Paris was to head to L'Arc de Triomphe. To get to L'Arc de Triomphe you need to head underneath the road through tunnels that have been built. Do not attempt to cross the road, because more than likely, you will not make it across the twelve lanes of traffic. The L'Arc de Triomphe is the symbol of French victory and it was commissioned by Napolean in 1836. At the base of the monument is the tomb of the unknown soilder. When visiting, you have the option to climb winding, narrow stairs to the stop for rooftop viewing-PLEASE DO THIS. I am incredibly out of shape and do not like winding stairs, but what I experienced at the top of the L'Arc de Triomphe was amazing and unforgettable. There is a small museum explaining some of France's history and the history of the monument itself and then you walk up to the roof and are overwhelmed by the incredible views of the city. The cost is very minimal (just over 6 euro) and again, is worth it. You may have to stop a few times as you climb all the stairs (which I had to) but it was an incredible experience.

My next stop was to head over to the Louvre. The Louvre was once a royal palace and today is the home of the world's richest collection of art. The Louvre is most famous for being the home to the Mona Lisa and thousands of visitors flood the museum each day to catch a glimpse of the painting. If you are wanting to fully visit the museum, you could spend an entire day there. Also, lines can become long to purchase tickets, so try to do so in advance. There are also other entrances beside the glass pyramid and these entrances are much faster than waiting to go through the glass pyramid. The cost to enter the museum is just under 10 euros and just like the Sistine Chapel, you are not permitted to take pictures of the Mona Lisa, but somehow, many people from our group ended up coming back with pictures. I decided not to go inside the Louvre. Mainly I just wanted to see the palace and see the pyramid. I wasn't interested in spending the money to go in just to see the Mona Lisa. I realize this may make me seem crazy, but I wanted to explore and do other things in the city.

When I was at the Louvre, I ran into my two roommates for the tour and headed with them to Notre Dame. This was the one thing I was looking forward to in Paris. Generally, you are able to pay a fee and climb the bell tower, but because of the weather this was closed. The building is absolutely spectacular and is everything that you can imagine. Walking inside you can feel the holiness of the place and will be amazed by the beauty of the church and its famous stained glass windows. Visiting Notre Dame is a must do for anyone going to Paris. After visiting Notre Dame we had lunch at a cafe down the street where I got to experience real French Crepes. This is another must do when in France.

After Notre Dame we spent a couple hours shopping as Paris is known for its amazing shopping. After that, we decided to head over the Musee D'Orsay which I was very excited about seeing. Musee D'Orsay was originally a train station and has been transformed into an art museum that holds mostly modern art from the impressionist and post impressionst period. Admission is 8 euro and if you like you can purchase an audio guide to help you get through the museum or you can tag along on a daily tour. This is quite an impressive museum and if you are an art lover, this is a great muesum to spend a few hours wandering around. Musee D'Orsay was our last stop of the day and we met the bus across the street to head back to the hotel to get ready and all dolled up for our last night in Paris and our final night of the tour.

On our last evening, we had the option of attending the world's most famous cabaret for dinner and a show- the Moulin Rouge. This is an incredibly expensive dinner and show, but for me, it was part of the French culture that I wanted to experience and I knew I would regret it if I didn't go see the show. Dinner was incredible as was the lovely bottles of wine and champagne that we got during dinner and during the show. The Moulin Rouge is a very intricate show with beautiful costumes and showcases quite a lot of French culture. If this is something you may be interested in, I recommend that you attend. Also, there are a lot of half naked women, so if that is going to offend you, don't go. It is also important to note that you can't take pictures in the Moulin Rouge and that you actually have to check your cameras in. This may scare you, but our cameras were fine. Several of us did go ahead and remove the memory cards from our cameras just in case something happened, that way we wouldn't lose our pictures from the trip. After the Moulin Rouge we headed to the Irish bar next door to celebrate our trip, have one last big night out, and start saying goodbye. Paris was incredible and the last night was the most fun that I had on the entire trip.

Other great things that you should consider doing while visiting Paris include going to the Hotel National des Invalides which is where Napolean's impressive tomb is; visiting Musee Rodin which is the home to some of the world's most incredible sculptours; and taking a day trip to Versailles which is one of the most lavish and incredible palaces in the world. There are also many other art museums that you can visit in Paris and quite a lot of shopping if you are interested in doing that.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lucerne

The morning after Florence was a little rough for most of the people on the trip because of the amount of fun that they had. Luckily, we had quite a long journey to our next stop which was Lucerne Switzerland. Lucerne is located in Switzerland with the Alps surrounding it and tends to be a tourist stop. There are two very famous sites in Lucerne. The first is the Chapel Bridge which was originally built in 1333 but was burnt in 1993. The bridge has been recreated to look as it once did so that tourists can have the experience and also have a chance to see the paintings int he bridge that depict th history of the town. The other major site in Lucerne is The Lion Monument which is sculpture of a Lion that commenorates the Swiss Guards that were killed during the French Revolution in 1792. The sulpture is both a depiction of loyalty and also of betrayal and is a place where the Swiss remember the fallen, but also remember what their joining with another country did to their people who were killed when they did not need to be. It is a touching and moving monument that should be visited when you are in Lucerne.

There are several things tht Switzerland is most notably known for. First of course are Swiss watches, followed by Swiss Amry Knives, and Swiss Chocolate. After we visited the Lion Monument we headed into a store where these famous goods were explained to us and we had the opporunity to purchase items. Swiss watches are rather expensive, but again, if you are looking for something to treat yourself to or are looking for a gift for someone, a Swiss watch may be a good present. Also, be sure to have some Swiss chocolate whe you are visitng as it is absolutely divine.

After visiting the stores full of watches, knives, and chocolate, we had a little bit of free time in the town. A group of us walked around for a bit and then settled in a small cafe to sample some yummy Swiss hot chocolate. One thing we all noticed right away was that the hot chocolate was very very bitter, so we had to add quite a bit of sugar before it was to our liking. Again, this was a nice way to relax, experience the culture, and just watch the local people in their interactions.

Our hotel for the evening was a themed one as it was once a jailhouse and had now been converted into a hotel. We had an included dinner at the hotel and the dinner was rather good with a chicken curry like entree and then a really delicious and cute ice cream desert that was made in the design of the Swiss flag. After dinner, some people in the group went out for drinks and others went to bed early in order to be fully rested and ready for our last stop of the trip.

Florence





After Rome, our next stop (and our final stop in Italy) was the beautiful Renaissance city of Florence. Florence is the capital of the Tuscany region of Italy and is known as being the birthplace of the Renaissance. Florence is also famous for several other things including certain goods most notably leather and gold. It is also the home to one of the most infamous royal families in all of European history, the Medici Family and several well known pieces of art.

There is a much different feel in Florence than the other Italian cities that we visited. Whereas Florence does have some absolutely spectacular sites and many old palaces and churches, a lot of Florence seems new and walking around it feels more like a massive marketplace and shopping center than a city full of ancient treasures. When we first arrived in Florence we went to a beautiful church, Santa Maria. Just looking at the intricate designs on this church begins to give you a glimpse into what the rest of the city will be like. After visiting Santa Maria, we were taken a leather demonstration to see the process of making leather and also to receive tips on how to know if what we are buying genuine leather or not. This was a neat demonstration, but I would have rather spend more time in the city than listening to how leather is made and then of course being cattle horsed into the shop to be convinced to purchase leather goods.
After the demonstration we had a little bit of free time before meeting up for our included guided tour of the city. Several of us decided to take advantage of the great shopping in the city and headed on a hunt for leather boots . After quite a search, we luckily managed to find some. We also had even more gelato that was absolutely amazing. I highly recommend trying the gelato in Florence if you can. Following out free time, we met back up with the group to take our group photo and also to meet our tour guide who was going to take us around the city explaining the major sites and the history of the city.

The included tour was very worthwhile. Our tour guide did a great job of explaining the different sites we were seeing and really unfolding the story of Florence to us. It was a nice and relaxing way to see the city in a short period of time. Our tour ended at one of the iconic areas of Florence, Santa Croce which is the largest Franciscan church in Italy and is the resting place for several notable Italians. The church is created with intricate designs and beautiful colors and the fresco paintings on the Basilica ceiling are breathtaking. On a good weather day, you also have the option of climbing to the top of the Dome of Santa Croce to get stunning views of the city itself. Unfortunately when the weather i bad or wind is strong, the Dome will be closed. There is not cost to enter Santa Croce, but there is a small fee to climb the Dome and like most churches in Europe, you can feel free to leave a donation after visiting.
Right next to Santa Croce are two other great sites that if you have the time you should visit when in Florence. The first site is the Baptistry which was built in the 11th century and is one of the oldest buildings in the city. Inside you will find mosaic artwork and a marble pavement of the zodiac. Again, this is another great example of the type of architecture and art that Florence is famous for. The other site right by Santa Croce is the Campinile bell tower. If you are up to it, you can purchase a ticket and climb the 414 stairs to the top to see an incredible view of the city. It is quite a workout but definently worth it when you get to the top.

Other famous sites in Florence that you should be sure to visit when you are there include the Galleria delgi Uffizi which holds the largest collection of Renaissance art, tapestries, and sculputers by many of the art masters. Another site to visit is the Galleria dell'Academia which holds art and sculptures from the 13th-16th centuries. Most famously in this museum, is Michelangelo's David. If you do not have time or cannot get in to see David at the Academia, then you can head over to the Piazza della Signoria where you can catch a glimpse of a reproduction of David as well as see magnificant statues that are located throughout the Piazza.

One last area to visit during your time in Florence is the Ponte Vecchio which is a bridge built in 1345 that is the only remaining medival bridge in the city as the rest were destroyed during World War II. Today, the Ponte Vecchio is the home to many of the fine jewelers selling one of Florences pirzed goods through gold and silver, so if you are looking to pick something nice up for yourself or for a loved one, this is the place to visit.

After spending the day in the city, we headed back to our hotel to get ready for a fun evening out. Our evening started with a tradition Tuscan meal that included another buffet style meal with several courses, unlimited wine, and famous Italian entertainment with a piano player and an Opera singer. Again, there was amazing food, drinks, and dancing/singing. By this point in the tour, I had completely lost my voice, so it was a rather interesting evening for me. This is an optional excursion with the Contiki trip, that I highly recommend. After dinner we headed our for more dancing at the Space Electric Disco where we had more drinks, sang karoke, everyone got rather friendly, and of course we danced. For the most part, we had taken over the club, but it was a Sunday night. Several locals did show up so if you wanted to, you had the opportunity to mix with some of the locals. Again, this was just a great overall night where we got to let loose, have fun, and experience the nightlife of the city.