Well well well! Some time has passed since my first ever Euro trip. I keep catching myself daydreaming, looking at pictures thinking about my next adventure. The trip was a blast from London to Paris, Lauterbrunnen, Pisa, Florence, Rome, Venice, Kirchdorf, Dachau, Rhine Valley, Amsterdam, Brugge and back to London. Phew! I’m exhausted just listing it! Minus my time in London, I was part of the TopDeck’s European Wonder tour. Throughout the trip I kept a little journal to help remember the experience, and now it’s about time that I share it with you!
I landed at Heathrow and made my way to Ali & Victoria’s flat for a quick nap. When I woke up from my jet-lag fueled delusion, we made our way to Oxford Street for a friend dinner! Yay friend dinner! I was so absolutely happy to see so many good friends all together in London!
I woke up bright and early from Ali & Victoria’s and made my way to the tour meeting point which was an adventure in itself. My plan was to grab a bus and walk a bit of the way but when the bus arrived my credit card didn’t work! Thank goodness I looked up alternative directions the night before, I made my way to the overground and after another kerfuffle with my card it finally worked and I was on my way. Life without Wi-Fi/data = #struggles.
I met up with my Topdeck tour group and just like that we were on our way. Our first stop was Port Dover where we grabbed a ferry and crossed the English Channel to France.
Once we docked in France one of our first notable sights was France’s migration issue. As we drove away from the border we saw a tent city filled with people looking to make their way to England.
This was quite a sight to see, especially right off the top of the trip. I expected to see a lot more of this throughout our travels, especially in Italy, however we weren’t around any of the heavily impacted areas.
A couple weeks before my trip, our guide Tim was leading a group crossing back from Calais, France to England and people started to swarm vehicles in hopes of making their way over to England. I tracked down the video someone on the tour took.
Simply put, I couldn’t help but realize just how fortunate I was in so many different ways.
Well…. moving on from that heavy start to the trip. We continued to drive through the French countryside until we arrived in Paris. We grabbed some dinner and made our way on a “Paris at night” tour. It was a great way to see the city I had dreamed about visiting with Tim sharing fun stories about the area from different points in history.
When we got back to the hostel it was about 9pm and after having been on the bus all day, all I wanted to do was walk. Emily, Maria, Olivia and I went for a walk around the hostel and, of course, we got lost. So after trying and trying to find our way back on our own for a while, I walked into a hotel and asked for some help… in French. I hadn’t (and haven’t) been feeling very confident about my French for a while, but after carrying out a 5-ish minute convo tout en français, I felt pretty good. Woo! We made our way back with our new directions and called it a night.
Maria, Olivia and I started the morning with a visit to Notre Dame. We explored the area and found Shakespeare & Company bookshop. We then picked up a pain au chocolat which we enjoyed along the River Seine. (the fact that I can now say that sentence makes me smile) We walked around the city’s wholesale fashion/jewelry district and then found ourselves and Galeries Lafayette for a great view of the city.
We then made our way to a bike tour around the city, grabbing a bottle of wine, sitting in a park learning about the history around us. After grabbing some more wine for dinner, we made our way to the Eiffel Tour for a picnic followed by a night at the Cabaret. It was a bit cheesy and silly but I’ll just say this, those French ladies have fabulous bods. We then made our way back to the hostel and danced up a storm before calling it a night.
We spent a long day on the bus making our way to Switzerland with the beautiful French countryside beside us. While I loved the opulence of Paris, it was unlike anything I had ever seen, the simple French farm homes peaked my interest. I kept seeing tiny villages in the country side picturing myself exploring the beautiful walking trails.
After a long day on the bus (left at 9 am, arrived around 6pm), we arrived in Lauterbrunnen Switzerland. The weather wasn’t terribly great. Clouds had started to set in and rain was falling, regardless of that, we had been sitting on the bus for a day so I decided to do a little exploring. The church bells rang their final song for the evening as I walked towards them and I found myself in the cemetery. (Some people find this strange but I enjoy exploring cemeteries, I find them quite beautiful) I then made my way up towards the waterfall but before I got too far it was time for dinner. Topdeck sure did a great job taking care of vegan meals for me. After dinner we made our way to the bar, but after a long day and late night in Paris the night before I stayed for a little bit before turning in for a shower and sleep.
It was an early start to the day and after breakfast I tried to make my way up to the waterfall to climb behind again but alas, I only had 30 minutes and even with running halfway up I wouldn’t have made it in time. We then made our way to the train to head up to Jungfraujoch “the top of Europe.” The ride took about 2 hours in total before reaching the peak. Once I got off the train, I made my way to the cold air. When I stepped outside I saw a path leading higher up and a sign saying 45 minutes. I figured, why the heck not!
I started to walk by myself until I walked by a man from China who asked for my help in taking a picture. He was going to turn around but when I said I was going to keep walking he decided to join. I suspect he didn’t want to have a girl out walk him. Once we reached Mönchsjoch Hut, “the world’s highest-altitude mountain hut to offer meals at 3657m”, we sat down in the cafe and joined a table with a mother and son from Germany, enjoying a great chat about travel over our coffees and treats together. We were sure to grab a photo together before heading back town.
When back in the main area I made sure to check out the views and visit the Lindt Swiss Chocolate Heaven before heading back to the trains. When you visit Jungfraujoch, you have to transfer at Kleine Scheidegg before catching a train in the direction or Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen. When I ended up at Kleine Scheidegg I couldn’t help but be captivated by the views and sounds so I decided to skip the waiting train in favour of the next one so I could hike just a little down in the direction of Grindelwald and visit the cows around the station. I keep thinking back about how great that decision was 🙂
When I got back to the campsite James and I made our way quickly up to the waterfall – third time’s a charm. Then, after dinner we went for a walk and stopped by the river for a beer. It was Olivia’s birthday that day so we all celebrated at the pub.
It was another bright and early morning but before grabbing breakfast and hopping on the bus headed for Florence I enjoyed one last quick walk around part of the town.
The drive from Lauterbrunnen to Florence was breathtaking. I feel like I could say that about everything we saw but travelling from the mountains to valleys to the rolling hills of Tuscany was quite the sight.
We stopped along to way to grab the quintessential photo of the region, you know the one “stop this tower from leaning” with the leaning tower of Pisa. The Pisa tower and the buildings around it were crisp white and more substantial in stature than I realized.
We then made our way to our hostel, Plus Florence, and were treated to a wonderful dinner. I was expecting to pick from the starter platter but then out of nowhere a massive dish made its way towards me. Again, Topdeck, certainly worked to accommodate my diet and I greatly appreciated it.
After dinner, James and I went on a night walk of the city to see the sights. Boy oh boy, was I in awe. The Doma was magic. So large and full of colour. The streets were alive with people taking strolls and enjoying street music. We crossed the river and stopped along to way to enjoy a glass of wine before making our way back to the hostel and calling it a night.
The next morning the group woke up and went on a walking tour of Florence with Nicola, a native resident of Florence. He took us around the city sharing the history of his people and community.
After the tour we stopped in for a little leather demonstration as Florence is known for its leather work. We then had free time and I went adventuring on my own for a little while. I wandered the streets, making my way towards some high peaks in hopes of great views of the city. I ended up at Piazzale Michelangelo and Tom and Hanna found me up top. They told me they had just been saying “I wonder if we’ll run into anyone up here… probably Sacha”
We then explored the hills a little more and found ourselves beside the Boboli Gardens apparently where modern American royalty, Kim Kardashian and Kayne West were married. We then tried to make a stop at a vegan restaurant but it was closed when we arrived. Bummer! We wandered around some more, stopped at a fresh fruit and veg stand and I picked up some tomatoes and plum prunes.
We then met up as a group to make our way to our hostel in Rome. The evening was pretty relaxing with everyone taking it a little easier, just sitting around enjoying our drinks outside until quiet hours.
On the drive to Rome, some members of the group realized that we’d be there on a Wednesday, meaning we’d be able to see the Pope. So, we ended up starting our walking tour at the Vatican and saw Pope Francis himself address the crowd. It was incredible to see him speak to the audience, even if I couldn’t understand a word that was being said.
The tour then continued as we made our way to the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Piazza Venezia, Capitoline Museums, Roman Forum and the Colosseum. Quite a lot! We stopped for lunch along the way and some gelato. I wasn’t thinking I’d be able to have any but it just so happened there was a descent selection of soy gelato available! I grabbed some hazelnut, chocolate, coffee and pistachio flavours. Delicious!
Rome was massive. The intricacies in the sculptures, the grandeur, the wealth. Wild to imagine what the world was like during these different points in time.
After the tour we made our way into the Colosseum and then over to the ruins in Palatino park area. We stayed together as a group for a while but I decided to go solo as there we’re still some areas of the ruins that I was keen to explore.
I then made my way towards the Baths of Caracalla. I was able to get in before it closed and had about 30 minutes to myself with no more than 10 other people. The baths were much larger then I imagined they would be, even housing an Olympic sized pool! Makes sense but still wild to picture. It was fantastic to see some of the tiled floors still in tact.
I then made my down to Circus Maximus ruin site and Boca de la Verita aka the Mouth of Truth. I don’t remember much of A Roman Holiday but I do remember this scene vividly, so I had to see it for myself. Unfortunately it had already closed but, at least I could see it through the gate.
I wandered the streets for about an hour or two stopping on a bridge to take in the sunset overlooking St Peter’s Basillica. Can you say beautiful? By that time is was getting closer to 8 and I was getting mighty hungry. I decided I would find a restaurant with terrace table and enjoy a pizza. I can be pretty nice to eat alone sometimes. I had talked myself up to having a pizza with cheese on account of the whole “when in Rome” but when I looked at the menu there was a pizza that called my name, tomato sauce with oregano. No cheese, no problem. Yes please. I enjoyed it with bruschetta and a glass of wine as I people watched and chatted with the mother and daughter duo beside me. I reckon my waiter was fancying a nice tip either that or was feeling bad for me sitting alone as he brought me a rose at the end of my meal.
When I finished my meal I made my way through the old streets. After making a wrong turn once or twice, I found my way in the right direction towards the Colosseum. It was perfect, I had been dreaming of seeing the Colosseum light up a night and I did. After taking it all in, and of course grabbing a couple snaps, I made my way to the metro in the direction of the hostel.
I was a little worried about grabbing the right line, making my connection and getting on the right bus but it turned out it was easy as could be. The whole time I was walking around I had an eye out for taxis around me just in case I needed to hop in and make my way but the metro worked just fine.
I felt much more like a traveller than a tourist in Rome once I was exploring on my own. But… when I got back to the hostel everyone was freaking out. Turns out I had stayed out too late for their liking and they we’re worried I was lost. It was nice just how much they cared and I felt a bit bad that I didn’t tell them when I’d be back. I had about 5 fb messages waiting from the group checking on me in case I had internet. It’s too bad I didn’t have cell service to check in or stopped in for wifi as I could have let them know I was fine. But, totally worth the solo exploring time. 🙂 I made up for my disappearing act by staying up and dancing for a little bit before calling it a night even though my feet were aching from the 45,000 steps.
The next morning we woke up and went on a tour of the absolutely stunning Vatican. Our tour only showed us a very small portion of the massive art collection before heading into the Sistine Chapel. I wasn’t very familiar with Michelangelo’s work before but after seeing the massive wall and ceiling murals I have such an appreciation for his talent. Woah. The fact that so much was done free hand is phenomenal. Following the tour, we then made our way up St Peter’s for a great 360 view of Rome. We then had time to explore the church. Following the great tour we made our way onto the bus en route to Venice.
I had been dreaming about catching the sunrise over the river in Venice and it was time to make that dream a reality. Our lodging was a fair ways out of Venice so a taxi was the best solution. In the end, 5 other topdeckers joined me on my little adventure. We hopped in a cab at 5:45 and made our way to Venice, wandering the dark alleys and river ways until we found ourselves at Ponte dell’Accademia over looking the grand canal as the sun began to make its way over the horizon. It was everything I wanted it to be. We stood there and marvelled at the sight and of course grabbed a few pictures along the way as well.
We then made our way over to Piazza Saint Marco aka St Mark’s Square. It was empty, practically a square to ourselves. We watched the sun make its way higher and higher into the sky as it welcomed more people onto the streets.
The six of us made our way back to the meeting stop but not before stopping into a little cafe for a coffee and breakfast treat on a terrace. What a breathtaking morning.
Once we were back with the group we started our walking tour of Venice. After learning some of the history, we attended a lace making explanation and shop which I was really looking forward to. I decided to pick up an absolutely gorgeous memento. From there we made our way to a glass blowing shop and saw a quick demo as well. Then it was time for quintessential gondola ride. Because… Venice. Am I right?
We had lunch as a group and then wandered around a little more before heading back to the camp site for a dip in the pool. That night we had a little masquerade party at the hostel bar.
We said goodbye to Venice and made our way through northern Italy into Austria en route to the little village, Kirchdorf. Our stay in Austria was short and action packed.
We had a couple options to choose from including paragliding and mountain biking. I decided to go canyoning. We jumped into crystal clear water, slid down rock-slides and rappelled down the canyons. Such an adrenaline rush, especially with the cold glacier water.
After canyoning we had dinner and then went for a night group walk around the village… the very very small village. I called it an early night so I could try and call Matthew for a much needed catch up.
Knowing that we didn’t have much time in Kirchdorf a couple of us woke up for an early walk to catch the sunrise, taking a moment to watch the sky brighten up and breath in the fresh valley air.
We didn’t have too much time before boarding the bus headed to Germany. We stopped in Dachau to tour the concentration camp. I wasn’t very keen on this part of the trip. I knew it was going to be an emotional day but I wasn’t sure how I was going to react.
When we arrived we started to walk around the museum before catching a quick documentary. After the film, I tried to walk around the museum again but couldn’t manage much more before stepping outside to try and stop the tears from streaming down my face. Before leaving the camp I decided I should try and take a look at the barracks which left me feeling absolutely sick to my stomach. I left the grounds with a couple others from my group. I couldn’t help but feel devastated with humanity and saddened by the fact that there can be so much hatred for other humans. We got back on the bus and had some time to reflect before arriving in Rhine Valley.
When we arrived, we drove up to a castle where we spent the night. After our dinner almost everyone at some point made their way out for a walk down to the village. A small group of us decided to go and grab a couple pints to cap off the night.
It’s not every morning that you wake up in a castle over looking a beautiful German valley and river. A couple of us woke up in hopes of catching the sunrise again, unfortunately a cloudy morning made for a grey skyline. We made our way to a cuckoo clock and stein demonstration and I couldn’t help myself! Cuckoo clocks are so cool! I bought us one for apartment which we still need to find a spot for. I also grabbed him a stein as a little souvenir.
We boarded the bus for our next destination, Amsterdam, stopping along the way to visit a cheese and clog shop to see how both were made. Our host was an eccentric character who seemed to love making people feel a tad bit uncomfortable. For example he kept calling me “naughty girl” before switching to “serious girl” when I wasn’t having it. No siree!
The night, we had a quick little walking tour and the group made their way to a sex show. I opted not to go and instead wandered around the city before heading back to the hostel to sleep off the cold symptoms my healthy body was exhibiting. I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t feeling sick but I was.
Even though I was feeling under the weather and fighting a bit of a fever, it wasn’t going keep me from exploring Amsterdam. We made our way around the city on a bike tour, seeing a lot along the way. Afterwards, along with a couple others, I made my way to the Albert Cuyp Market for some exploring and window shopping. We grabbed some lunch and I picked up some fresh Dutch stroopwafels before taking off on my own to wander. I spent the rest of the day walking down streets and over bridges taking in the sights.
To celebrate our last night as a group we enjoyed a delicious meal on a canal cruise as the rain fell down around us. The night capped off with some bar hopping. I stayed out as long as I could but after a day of walking and fighting a cold, my body was aching for bed. I hopped in a cab and called it a night.
We said goodbye to Amsterdam making our way back to London with a lunch time stop in beautiful Bruges, Belgium. We certainly did not have enough time to explore the medieval town, but I’m happy I was able to see it even if only briefly.
We spent the rest of the time driving and saying our goodbyes when made it back to London. And just like that the TopDeck tour was over. It was hard to believe after spending so much time with everyone, exploring every day, go go go, that the trip was done, just like that. When I made it back to Ali and Victoria’s flat, I sat down and thought… woah… did that really happen? The trip flew! Over the span of two weeks I saw a great deal of Europe and just like that I was back in Ali and Victoria’s flat, exhausted and ready to sleep.
I spent the day with Ali exploring bits and pieces of London. We made our way by tube to Kensington visiting the National History Museum and the V & A (I love Victoria and Albert btw). We then made our way over to Green Park, checked out Canada Gate, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and stopped in at The National Gallery to set our eyes on some Van Gogh and Monet. #fancy
We grabbed a late lunch at Mildreds, a vegetarian restaurant, where I enjoyed the portobello, wild mushroom and ale pie with minted mushy peas and fries. Delicious.
We then walked over to Covent Garden, grabbed a pint at the Maple Leaf Pub (because of course), then over to Shoreditch Boxpark for dinner then pints with the London gang. What a blast.
The day kicked off with meeting Jeff and John at Oxford Circle. We walked around Soho before meeting up with Jackie for a good old fashioned market lunch. The food markets are fab, I wish we had them in Toronto.
After lunch John and I continued our tourist ways with a visit to Big Ben and grabbed some tea. I met up with Ali and her Dad who flew in for a school reunion and we had an excellent tour of Westminister courtesy of Ms. Ali herself. She took us to the medieval royal chapel, through the opulent House of Lords and the House of Commons. Ali also took us out to the staff terrace overlooking the River Thames. Beauty and such a special experience!
After our tour I made my way to meet up with Jenna, hopping on a double-decker bus to her cozy apartment. We grabbed some tasty curry and spent the evening chatting away.
My last full day in London. I made my way back to Ali and Victoria’s flat, packing up my bags before heading to meet up with the crew at Old Spitalfields Market. We wandered, ate, drank, wandered some more and drank some more. Great way to spend the day! Jenna and I also made sure we grabbed a photo to prove that we were in London together.
I woke up sad to say goodbye but also somewhat… slightly ready to head back to reality? Not really but the time had come. I grabbed my backpack and Victoria walked me to the tube. After that, I boarded the plane and was flying over the Atlantic. And just like that I was back home with Matthew waiting for me, helping get my delirious-self home. Badaboom Badabing what a great trip!
If you’re looking for a tour company to check out, I’d recommend TopDeck as I had a great time. It was a fun group of people, an amazing tour guide, great food and a perfect amount of free time. 🙂
Thank-you Sacha for sharing such an amazing trip! Your pictures were fabulous I especially loved you with the leaning tower of Pisa. Just wondering if the waiter that gave you a rose got a tip?:) lol My way of saying … yes I read every word and enjoyed it so very much!! Hugs cous!! xo
Amazing trip, should last you a lifetime. You probably are thinking about the far east now??