For the last two weeks, I’ve written about my first trip overseas, when I spent a month living with a family in France. Today I’ll be sharing some of the experiences I had the next time I visited Europe, in my twenties.
By that time, I had finished my undergraduate degree and worked a couple of years. I was going back to school that fall to get a masters’ degree, and decided to take a few months off in the interim. Through extremely frugal living, I had managed to save some money both for school and for travels. This time, I planned a one-month trip with Contiki Holidays, followed by six weeks of backpacking.
Contiki’s tours are for young adults up to the age of 35. And if you’re looking to see new countries while having a great time, it’s definitely the way to go. Reading my journal, I was astounded at the late nights I had; going to bed at 11:00 or 12:00 was early. I have no idea how we all had the stamina to get up the next morning to get on the tour bus, but we always did. Apparently, it wasn’t enough to see the Vatican, the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, Via del Corso, the Pantheon and Hadrian’s Castle in a single day; we had to follow it up with a dance in the evening.
One of the joys of this part of the trip was meeting my fellow tour mates. I’ve written earlier about Jennifer (enjoying sacher torte in Vienna’s Demel café) and Ruth (sharing dreams in front of Munich’s Glockenspiel). But there was a busload of us, many from Australia and New Zealand. One of my most unforgettable taste sensations was eating vegemite on French bread.
We definitely encountered our share of hardships. It was a particularly wet and cold season, and my umbrella became a constant companion. The weather, the constant travel and (dare I say) those late nights conspired to give me a terrible cold. In Europe I discovered that most potent of cough drops, Fisherman’s Friend, and learned how to buy them in three languages. And I never did find out how early you had to get up to guarantee a steamy shower. One particularly bleak morning I made it to the washroom by 5:45 am, only to find both a lineup and a dearth of hot water.
But the great moments more than made up for those troubles. I’ll never forget standing in a valley near Interlaken, Switzerland on a Sunday morning, listening to church bells chiming and echoing through the mountains around me. And I was astounded by the culture of Vienna, the history of Rome and the mystery of Venice.
The small moments were special too. Who would have guessed that our bus driver would accept a dare to drive down the winding streets of Monaco, only to arrive at a hairpin turn he couldn’t quite manoeuver, and have to back up the whole way? My friends and I developed a rating system for the gelaterias in Italy that would rival the Zagat system. And the late-night chats, card games and hijinks were a reminder to enjoy the moment, because we’d never travel quite like this again.
Next week, I’ll share some of the great moments I had while backpacking.