|Obligatory windmill photo in Amsterdam
“We can dance if we want to
We can leave your friends behind
‘Cause your friends don’t dance and if they don’t dance
Well they’re no friends of mineI say,
We can go where we want to
We can go where we want to
A place where they will never find
And we can act like we come from out of this world
Leave the real one far behind
And we can dance”
And we can dance”
And dance we did, just like our Contiki theme song “Safety Dance” stated, 10 years ago today, when my sister and I made our whirlwind way around Western Europe in July 2001. Whether up on stage, like in Lucerne, upon a platform in Florence, down the aisles of the bus, or in any make shift dance floor we could find (in between the plastic table & chairs whilst on an afternoon cruise if you will) our hearts beat in tune with any groove on offer.
I still cannot comprehend a decade has passed since our youth “rite of passage” travel experience, Contiki. To commemorate this I’ve been reflecting back on the brilliant “time of our lives” memories from way back then, as recorded in my emails I forwarded back home to
brag let mum and dad know I was alive honour the occasion. And thank God I did because it has ensured I have an indelible record of my trip; despite the copious amounts on alcohol consumed on tour which have no doubt contributed to the loss of some brain cells since…
So indulge me, if you will, while I reflect back in a series of blogs, dedicated to my decade old Europe Encounter, and sun myself in the afterglow of what was a most magical 16 days in my life.
Leaving our “home” of London, on Day One, with my must have travel accessory (my beloved, ultra organised and all round travel guru big sister Sheree!) we commenced our European escapade very much in sussing out mode. It was quite intimidating being confined to a bus with 50 other total strangers, ten of which were a huge group of rowdy Greek Australians who were already fast friends from home, and seemed to have taken control of the bus in no time. Shez passed me a look with a knowing glint in her eyes. Yep – these were the ones we wanted to get to know if we wanted to have a bloody good time. And surely enough, they would turn out to be some of the most fantastic people we’d meet, some to this day we still call friends!
Most of this first day was spent travelling from London to Amsterdam via the White Cliffs of Dover. The English Channel greeted us menacingly, rocking us backwards and forwards on an interminably long sailing trip, delayed due to the precarious conditions. Not much else was on the agenda for Day One, as we made our way from Calais, through Belgium and finally to our first Contiki destination – Amsterdam……
Cycling through the picturesque streets of Edam was first item on the agenda for Day Two. Feeling somewhat nervous that I may have misplaced the knowledge to be still able to successfully negotiate the handling of a two-wheeled apparatus, I gingerly raised myself up on to its seat. A few mere precursory wobbles later, and the old adage about “just like riding a bike” was thankfully ringing true – piece of cake! And yes, they had bikes of all shapes and sizes, so I was not disadvantaged by having to mastermind some ungodly huge machine!
We began to glide along narrow cobbled roads lined with rich greenery, and soothing streams and the first heady feeling of “Ahhhh holidaying in Europe……” was upon me. I suddenly felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders (ie. the smog of London!) and I began to truly relax into the groove of Contiki.
We also witnessed the requisite cheese and clog making demonstration before being set free to roam the streets of Amsterdam for the afternoon. It’s quite a beautiful city, much more so than I imagined it to be. Of course, it has its Red Light District that is an eye opener within itself, especially when you still considered yourself but a small town country gal, even if you have been living in London for a few months before this! Later, we set off for a “Cultural Evening” – those of you who know anything at all about Amsterdam, will work out for yourselves what went on. Later we hit the bar for the first time in a big way, and by morning I found myself with about 15 new friends whom I felt as if I had known for a lifetime.
|Cruising the Rhine River with fab new friends
Friday, Day Three, dawned as the date we’d embark for the stunning Rhine Valley taking in a spectacular river boat cruise along The Rhine upon our arrival.
|An example of the castles that dotted the
countryside – think I’d be quite comfortable living there!
Magnificent castles towered from cliff faces to our left and right and dotted along the hillsides in each quaint community were gorgeous little towns as if straight from the pages from your favourite childhood fairytale. I suddenly became aware how someone such as Hans Christian Andersen gained inspiration as I gazed at my mesmerizing surroundings in childlike wonder. Each time we passed another castle I was in awe. My previous experience with creations of this nature were linked to that of the failed theme park Magic Mountain – ie. not real! It was hard to actually fathom that people resided in such historic splendour.
Night-time found us amusing ourselves at our hotel bar, of which not much was happening when a group of us arrived. Rosa and I decided to fix that, and once we conned the DJ into playing the exact music we wanted to hear, we set the dance floor on fire baby!
We were greeted on Saturday morning with only slightly aching heads, yet persistently grey skies much to the dismay of the Aussie contingent we were travelling with who had wrongly assumed what summer entailed in this hemisphere, and boarded the bus bound for Lucerne. Again we were treated to majestic rolling green mountains with meandering riverways sluicing delicately through the idyllic landscape. The beauty of this undoubtedly proud nation, Switzerland kept us entranced. We were informed that it is near impossible for just anyone to gained residency here, such is its exclusivity, and their defiance not to tarnish their strong reputation, not to mention exacerbate their huge paranoia! Even marriage to a local could not guarantee one a Swiss passport – which was a shame to we women who definitely found the Swiss men to be possibly the most attractive race to inhabit the earth!
|Lordy, how I was convinced to travel on this
unsafe looking contraption I’ll never know. Lucky
the killer views on Mt Pilatus made it worthwhile
Mt Pilatus was soon upon us that afternoon, and wow…. I cannot even begin to find the right words to depict the breathtaking magnificence of the view we were entertained with. A cog railway ride was needed to take us on our ascent 2100 metres above sea level with the panoramic Swiss Alps to our right, and the striking Lakeland region below. We were even towering above low lying clouds – my amusement of which helped me forget the little fact I am actually afraid of heights…
|Looking out from the medieval, majestic
Chapel Bridge, Lucerne
Lucerne on a Saturday night was on the cards next, and we were not to be disappointed! A large group of my fellow Contikians made our way into the fray downtown, struggling to keep our mouths from hitting the pavement too often as the handsome Swiss men strolled nonchalantly by. We were off clubbing after a short stint in a local bar near the famous Chapel Bridge, and then proceeded to dance the night away until doors closed sometime after 4am. Six of us were left by the end, scoring ourselves a ride back to our rooms in brand new stretch black Mercedes Limousine no less.
Creeping back in to our hotel room, past the staff who were dutifully laying the table for breakfast as we skulked by, we witnessed a massive electrical storm over Lake Lucerne in the early hours of Sunday. Not quite a spectacular sunrise, but such an amazing sight nonetheless…
|One of the many beverages consumed en route
through Western Europe with my sis – and yes,
I had the double chins to prove it!
Lucerne also boasts the finest Swiss Chocolate of all time, so to coax our many weary heads back to health, the day was consumed largely by committing to Hot Chocolate breaks every so often to keep up our sightseeing strength. It was a cold and wet day too, which of course did nothing beneficial to our lack of enthusiasm, yet, once we boarded another sea faring vessel cruise the Lake, and they began pumping out the House Music, and by serving us Hot Chocolates laced with Baileys (mmmm) all throes of misery were dashed. Our makeshift dance floor down the narrow aisle of the boat was quite a unique way (or was that ironic way…?) to soak in the serene beauty of Lake Lucerne.
The day rounded out with a lights out early policy (a rarity!) because we knew we a huge day loomed ahead – wrestling with the angry Austrian waterways, swollen by a recent flood, lay in tantalising wait……