Day 8: Rome
Our only full day in Rome began with almost 50 of us cramming on to the local bus headed for the metro into town. I don’t think the locals enjoyed their commute too much! We began our walking tour at the Spanish Steps, and Kate our tour guide, took us around all the sights of Rome, including the Trevi Fountain, the Roman Forum and the Vittorio Emanuelle monument, ending just outside the Colosseum. As it was a hot day, and the walking tour had taken all morning, most of us decided to head to a local cafe to cool down and grab some Italian pizza for lunch before heading to the Colosseum. The Colosseum was huge, and was similar to how I remember it being shown in the film Jumper. After a good wander round, I decided to head back to the Spanish Steps to do a bit of shopping and to buy some gifts for people back home. Their were tons of designer shops, and presents were easy to find, although I could have gone way over budget very easily. Also, I was glad to be in and out of air conditioned buildings, as although it was beautiful outside, the heat was a bit much compared to the English weather I am used to! After an afternoon of shopping I headed back to the hostel to cool off in the pool and spend the rest of my day relaxing!
Day 9: Rome to Venice
Day 9 began with a trip to the Vatican City and a 4 hour walking tour around the most prominent buildings. I had mixed feelings about the place, which may have been due to sheer exhaustion kicking in after multiple days of walking for hours on end and a lack of sleep! The Sistine Chapel was stunning and I could have spent hours looking at Michaelangelo’s ceiling. However, St Peter’s Basilica and the mummified Popes of the past were a little scary and the whole place had a strange vibe that I was unsure of. On our way back to the coach, almost the whole group headed off in a completely wrong direction, and took a 45 minute detour before finally reaching the bus. By the time we finally found our way back, everyone was hot and exhausted, and I was glad to be spending the rest of the day chilling on the way to Venice, followed by some lovely dinner cooked by the Topdeck chefs and a few cheeky cocktails before bed.
Day 10: Venice
The next day we headed straight into Venice via the monorail. The city was beautiful and we headed straight for our gondola ride, down the Grand Canal and through the waterways of Venice. The gondolas were much more luxuriously decorated than I was expecting and it was good to see the city from a different angle. Following the gondola ride we headed to a lace demonstration and spent the rest of the day shopping, mainly for Venetian masks and Murano glass jewellery, and eating gnocchi and lots of gelato with lots of coffee! The rest of the day was spent back at the hostel, lounging in the hot tub with plenty of cocktails, a perfect end to the day! Venice was beautiful and quite romantic, somewhere I’d definitely like to return to at some point in the future.
Day 11: Venice to Tyrol, Austria
The next day we woke early and headed for the Tyrol in Austria. I opted to go canyoning, which meant donning a rather sexy wetsuit followed by jumping off and abseiling down a series of waterfalls. This definitely got my heart racing and was definitely a highlight of my trip, especially due to the sheer adrenaline I got from it. The evening was spent drinking beer back at the pension whilst beating the bus driver and some other trip mates at poker.
Day 12: Tyrol, Austria to Rhine Valley, Germany
Today was another long drive day to the beautiful Rhine Valley. On the way to our destination we stopped at Dachau, to visit a Nazi concentration camp. This was probably the only part of the trip that I did not enjoy. Having heard harrowing stories of what happened to victims during childhood history lessons, walking around Dachau was very hard to do. The cruel nature of what had happened was still thick in the air at the camp, and seeing the ovens and gas chambers first hand was shocking to say the least. I spent all but half an hour at Dachau, feeling very heavy hearted and sombre. I think this experience will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I’m not sure I’ll ever visit such a place again.
Still absorbing what we had seen we grabbed some lunch and continued on with our journey to the Rhine Valley. We had been told to pack a small carry on, and we realised why when we got to our home for the night! We were lucky enough to be staying in a castle overlooking the Rhine. There was only a natural walkway down to the castle, but the views were well worth the scramble!
Day 13: Rhine Valley, Germany to Amsterdam
Today was the day that we got to travel to one of our final destinations on our trip, and the one most people on the trip were most looking forward to! Having visited Amsterdam a few years ago, I was looking forward to returning to a city known for its liberal attitude! After checking in at our hotel, the Stayokay Amsterdam Zeeburg (actually pretty good for a hostel!) we headed into the city for some frites and cocktails, followed by a wander around some eye-opening sex shops and a ‘walking tour’ around the Red Light District. This was swiftly followed by shisha and more cocktails! Some of the more experienced shisha smokers on the trip showed me how it was done properly, circle puffs and all!
Day 14: Amsterdam
Our last full day in any European city began today with a bike tour around Amsterdam. The tour was a really fun way to see the city, and it was great to see areas I hadn’t been before! After the tour a group of us headed to a local coffee shop (for some coffee!) and then wandered back towards Dam Square, checking out the shops along the way. We grabbed some lunch at a Mexican cafe and then I wandered off to explore the city on my own, whilst the others headed to Anne Frank’s house, which I had already visited. I was really glad I got to see the more culturally eclectic side of Amsterdam, as I came across Asian new age shops and cafes serving cuisine from all around the world. I decided on a wander around Madame Tussauds to satisfy my curiosity before heading towards a cafe by one of Amsterdam’s many canals.
After a few hours lounging about, drinking cold lemonade and watching the world go by, I headed to the the Sea Palace for our farewell dinner. It was great to see everyone one last time, although the food consisted mainly of beans and onions as the vegetarian option! This may have contributed to the hangover that was to ensue the following day! Dinner was swiftly followed by a canal cruise where plenty of wine was consumed, followed by a trip to a local shisha bar, where delicious cocktails laced with chocolate sauce were served (yum!).
Day 15: Amsterdam to London via Bruges
The last day of the trip didn’t begin well. A pretty nasty hangover kicked in almost the second that the coach set off! Feeling pretty rough I took advantage of the front seat being empty other than a few bags and made myself as horizontal as possible until we reached Bruges. The rain had also returned upon reaching Bruges, but this was actually quite refreshing after spending so many days in hot weather. More frites were consumed in Bruges, in an attempt to cure my hangover and I grabbed some yummy Belgian chocolates which I knew I would enjoy very much once I felt better! After lunch we jumped back on the coach and headed for Calais, where we boarded the ferry to Dover and said goodbye to our lovely bus driver Mike, who had done a brilliant job of getting us around the continent, especially as it was his first trip post-training! Upon reaching England there was a sense of excitement from the rest of the coach, who had all travelled from far corners of the globe to travel through Europe. England for me, however, signified the end of my trip and the months of excitement leading up to it. Upon reaching London and saying goodbye to my fellow Topdeckers, I headed to the station to catch my train home…which turned into 3 trains, a car journey and a grand total of 23 hours of travelling in that day! To say that I was exhausted is a bit of an underestimation, but I was very happy to see my lovely boyfriend again, and to not be constantly moving on some form of transport. The travel/moving about bug took a few days to wear off, and I couldn’t sit still for the next two days, continuing with the touristy photos wherever I went, although they were nowhere near as exciting.
Overall my trip was exactly what I needed. It was great to see more of the continent in which I live and to realise I have the confidence and drive to travel independently and get involved in new experiences. Travelling with a group was fun in that there were always people to hang out with, but I also got time to wander off on my own when I needed my own space and wanted to discover parts of cities for myself.
I definitely want to travel again, but would prefer to mix hostels with a few nights in a hotel and more days in each city. A lack of sleep and continuous movement gets a bit crazy, but it was worth it for seeing a new place everyday.
If I were to give any advice to anyone thinking of travelling, I would recommend taking sunglasses, especially for sleepy mornings and hangovers, and a travel diary, which I didn’t take and which thus made writing this blog rather difficult! Also, take a map so you aren’t afraid to get lost and can have a good explore!
The trip also taught me that not only should I do the things that I really want to do, in this case, travelling through Europe, but also to think carefully about what I do want, and not just to do things for the sake of ticking it off a list, a lesson that I’ll hopefully be applying to my bucket list from now on!