Monthly Archives: December 2007

Travel New Years Resoultions

Inspired by Aurthur Frommer’s Blog on his New Year’s Travel resolutions I decided to come up with my own.

  1. I will pack lighter and smarter. Working my way up to only a carry on bag and never checking a bag.
  2. I will keep a small bag pack – ready to take advantage of “book now, go tomorrow” offers.
  3. I will not over pack!
  4. I will tick off at least one more Continent. North America and Europe are done. Asia, Africa, South America, Oceania, Antarctica are next.
  5. I will try my best to travel “green” as much as possible.
  6. I will try to see more of the off the beaten path as well as the touristy things.
  7. Learn a new language and travel to a place who native language is that.
  8. Stop and enjoy each moment and document it.
  9. Live in a different country like a real local.
  10. Do volunteer work overseas.
  11. Avoid places who exchange rate is not beneficial to me.
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Italian Espresso Packing list.

Packing List.

So what if my trip is 2 months away. It’s never too early to start thinking about what to pack. When I first started to pack my own suitcase in the 8th grade on my very first ‘no parents, no friend parents’ trip to Ottawa for a school field trip, I manage to forget a lot of thing. A lot of important things — like a tooth brush, like shampoo, like more then one bra. I also forgot to shave my legs and bring a razor when I planed on wearing a knee length dress to Parliament. Yet my bag weighed more then I did. From then on I’ve learned to refine my packing skills.

Last year when I went to Europe I used a basic packing list – one that reminded me to bring 11 pairs of undies and bras as well as a tooth brush and other hygiene stuff. However still manage to take too many thing I didn’t need and not enough things I did. While traveling from country to country, hotel to hotel I manage to forget things in my room that I’ll never see again.

This time I am making a detail packing list and bring a copy with me in my journal.

So far it’s….

The basics

Suitcase
Credit and telephone cards*

Shoulder bag/day pack
Health insurance card*
Luggage ID tags
Emergency contact information*
student ID and driver’s license*
Address book/pre-printed labels*
Wallet and cash*
Phrase books and guide books*
Prepaid Mosaic Credit Card*
Maps
Passport*
Luggage lock (suitcase and day bag)
Plane Tickets*
Contiki Voucher*

Personal

Soap and container
Hair spray/gel
Toilet paper (1 roll)
Sunglasses
Medicines and prescriptions (Tylenol and anti-diarrhoea meds)*
Feminine hygiene products
Purell hand sanitizer
Make up
Shampoo/Conditioner
Razor
Comb and brush
body spray/perfume
Toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss*
hair elastics/head bands
Lip balm and sun screen*
Small towel and washcloth (for hostel stay afterwards)
Pre-moistened towel
Deodorant*
Hair appliances

Clothing (2 days worth of clothes in carry on in case bag gets lost)*


Casual Jacket
Bras (6 pairs)
Comfortable walking shoes
Pajamas or nightgown
Dress shoes
flip-flop or slippers
Sweater/Hoodies (2)
Long sleeve shirts (3)
Dressy outfit (2 outfits)
T-shirts (2)
Jeans (5 pairs max)

Slacks (1 pair)
Underwear (11 Pairs)
Socks (11 Pairs)
Gloves/mittens (1 pair)
Belt

Additional Travel Gear

Travel Journal*
MP3 player*
Digital Camera*
Memory cards (2X 1GB + 1X 512 MB)*
Cell phone/ Charger*

Other Useful items


Non-perishable snacks*
Sheet bag for hostels
Books and magazines (Disposable if needed)*
Small flashlight
Notebook and Pen
Watch and alarm clock*
Stationery, envelopes, and stamps
Safety pins
Business cards
Sewing kit with safety pins
Inflatable pillow*
Umbrella (travel size)
Nylon Duffel (folded)
Ziploc bags (2 large size, 1 small size)
Laundry soap
Combination lock (for hostel stay after tour)
Voltage adapter and plug adapters
Small First aid Kit (band aids, antibacterial ointment)
Batteries (Lithium AA for Digital camera and AAA for MP3 player*
Small thing of duck tape

* Items to be pack in carry on bag.

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on the way home

European Magic: Contiki:October 9th and 10th 2006 Paris to London then home.

The next morning we left for London. 90% of our group flew home from Paris. The rest of us drove back to London.
We stopped and visited Vimy ridge. It was so quite and surrean that it is hard to believe that a horrible war was fought there.
My flight back to Toronto wasn’t until the next afternoon so I stayed over night at a hotel. Instead of staying at one of Contiki London based hotels I booked one myself. Big mistake! The hotel was the dirtiest I’ve seen with horrible staff.
After saying goodbye to everyone I went to check into my hotel. While I was going to my hotel I saw Buckingham palace. After cleaning up I made my way back to Russell Square to see my group one last time at the London Pub by the Royal National Hotel. After 10 days of very long nights I could barely keep my eyes open and decided to make it an early night. I arrived back at the hotel to find the receptionist no older then 18 curled up in a ball in the chair asleep. I woke him and ask for my key. Reminding him that I needed a wake up call at 7 am for I had a early afternoon flight. He shook his head yes, and told me he would wake me up. I went into my room that was connected to the reception. I had set my cell alarm, praying that the batteries lasted the night in case he did not wake me up.
The next morning I awoke to my alarm ringing. I took a shower, got dressed finish packing my bag when I heard banging and yelling outside my door. I open my door to see a man very upset yelling at the receptionist. When I turned to the receptionist he was a sleep on the floor on a make shift bed. He had a pillow, sheets and comforter all spread out on the ground.
I took a cab back to Victoria Station and caught the Gatwick Express back to the airport. Departures is far better organized then arrivals. I surprised Leslie standing in line at McDonald’s and spoke with her before her flight back to the USA. I made use of duty free shopping before my flight home.
The flight home was much more enjoyable then the flight there.
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To Paris

European Magic: Contiki: October 7th and 8th 2006 Switzerland to Paris.

We left for Paris at 7am the next morning. It was our longest drive of the tour. Far longer then out drive from Munich to Venice. I needlessly to say slept most of the way from Lucerne to Paris.
When we got to Paris we had a few hours to ourselves to relax. We ate dinner at the hotel then went on an Illumination tour of Paris. We went up the Eiffel tower. Heartbreaking my batteries died just as we got there. The Eiffel tower is amazing, grand and beautiful during the day, but it leaves you speechless at night. Standing underneath the Eiffel tower all lit up. It was an early night for me, I was still sick from the day before.
The next morning we had a group photo taken in front of the Eiffel tower, and then we had a free day to explore the town. We went the Louver and saw the Mona Lisa and the Venus De Milo among other art work. We made sure to go in the back entrance to save time waiting in the massive line at the Pyramid line. We spent some time visiting Norte Damn. The group I was with spent some time shopping for a few hours before we had to head back to the hotel to get ready for the Moulin Rouge. This has nothing to do with the movie. Krista, Kyle and I decided to take the metro and see Baslilque du Sacre-Coeur instead. Which is this amazing church on top of a huge steep hill. We had two choices, take the cable car up the hill for 5 euros, or walk up the very, very steep over 100 stairs. Since neither one of us could be bothered to pay 5 euros or wait in line we decided to walk up to the second highest point in Paris next to the Eiffel tower. By the time we got up there we were wheezing. I do it all over again. The church was worth it though. If I ever decided to get married and marry out side of Canada; I’m getting married there.
Since it was Thanksgiving for me and the few Canadians on tour, Krista and Kyle decided to help me find a turkey dinner. We found this little quaint restaurant. That had these soft fabric walls. We sat down and we all decided that we were going to try frog legs. Um yeah. They tasted more like turkey then my turkey dinner did. I was turned off when Kyle started to make the frog legs dance. Do you remember the Warner Brother cartoon with the dancing frog that sung “Hello my baby, hello my darling”. That was crossing my mind when he did that.
Afterwards we met the rest of the tour group at Shanagans, a bar next door to the Moulin Rouge for our last night party with the whole group. We didn’t stumbled back into our hotel until about 5am.
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Switzerland

European Magic: Contiki: October 6 th 2006 Venice to Lucerne Switzerland

We left for Switzerland then next morning on time. It was my least favourite place to visit. Nothing could really come close to Venice. I had also woke up that morning very sick and seem to get sicker as the day went on. We visit a few Swiss Army stores, the chapel bridge, and then we walked across town to visit The Swiss Guards Lion Monument.

We had some trouble finding the Lion monument. We had turned down a residential street where a few young boys maybe 8 or so were playing soccer. We must have looked lost when one of the boys called off the game and walked up to us;

“Lion?” He asked. We shook our heads yes. He gave us directions using his hands accompanied by “Zoom, Zoom” every time were were suppose to turn. Once we had followed the boy directions the best we could we stopped and asked for some more directions and was told were were across the street from it. The monument is huge, and had a facinating story about it’s carving. The outline around the lion is in a shape of pig. The Swiss way of calling the French, who the the Swiss guards were guarding when they were slaughtered, pigs.
There was really the only thing I’d like about Lucerne aside from the Lion Monuments and pretty scenery. Our hotel use to be a women correctional facility until 1998. Nothing much has change about the jail since then other then people actually pay to sleep there. The included dinner was a salad that was only lettus and chicken in some type of sauce. We stayed out dancing at several clubs till 3 in the morning before heading to bed to be up by 6am for 6:30 breakfast and to be on the best by 7am.
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Munich Germany to Venice, Italy Via Innsbruck, Austria

European Magic: Contiki: October 4th 2006Munich, Innsbruck Austria, and Venice, Italy

The next morning. Our bus broke down, before we left the hotel. We were suppose to leave at 7:30am but didn’t end up leaving until 9am.

On our way to Venice we stopped in Innsbruck, Austria. We had an hour and a haft to explore the town and eat. We went to the Sworskis (sp) crystal show room. I manage to resist the urge to buy something there. Only because the Sworski reindeer that was apart of the winter wonder land display wasn’t for sell, and I wasn’t in any finical situation where I could have convinced them that it was for sell. Ha, ha.

We had gotten to Venice around 6pm. We ate dinner. Which wasn’t haft bad. We got our first chance to do laundry at the the laundry mat across the street but choose to do it in our rooms after seeing the near by laundry mat full with locals and the other contiki tour group that has been on tour for 3 weeks without doing any washing. That night we went to a Jazz bar around the corner from our hotel to celebrate our driver’s birthday. Tiff had gotten drunk and had some fun with an Italian cop. At first she thought she was in trouble when he came over and handed her his badge; later showing her his gun. She relied on the Aussie boy, the only person on tour who spoke Italian, to translated for them. All while coning the poor cop to buy 6 bottles of expensive red wine.

The next day we went to the Venetian Islands. We took in a lace making demonstration which was exactly like the Diamond thing in Amsterdam. Only the products cost more in Venice. Because of the flood our Murano glass blowing demonstration was held off until later in the day. It was worth it though. A few of us spent some time exploring San Marco’s. It was well worth the cost to climb to the top. We ate lunch outside on the shore of the Grand Canal by the Rialto Bridge at Al Busco. I highly reccomend this place. It is expensive, however it’s worth paying the sitting charge of 4.50 euro per person, service charge (10% ish) on top of the menu price. The food was delicous, large portions, and the locations — well they were undercharging for the location they had. Then we went shopping across the bridge where I bought a lovely Carnival Mask. Later we went and toured Dodges Palace and bridge of sights. Oddly enough some of the prison cells were bigger then my hotel room in Venice After that around 6pm we went on a gondola ride. Our gondolier told us he did not sing because he did not like his job. He also had a since of humour. He tried to tips us in the canal! The group was to meet Rene back at the port by 9pm. We got back to our hotel and got into some mischief around there. Not to incriminate ourselves. But it involves absinthe, a couch we found and playing Nicky, Nicky 9 doors.

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Day 5

European Magic: Contiki: October 3rd 2006. St. Gora to Munich Oktoberfest

The next morning after a bit of a delay so someone could pay for the damages to their room from the night before. We were off to Munich, Germany for the last day of Oktoberfest. The biggest beer festivals in the entire world.

The hotel (Holiday In Munich Sud) in Munich was the nicest we had the whole tour. My room was so big, clean, and with a real double bed. The rest of the hotels the bed were twin beds that were short in length that my feet hung off the edge a bit. I am barely over 5 feet tall, so the beds were short. We had checked into our hotels then met in the lobby to take the U-bahl (subway) to central Munich for sightseeing or right to Oktoberfest. The U-bahl is utterly evil. You have 10 seconds (literally) to get on or the doors will slam shut on you. Which I had learn very quickly when the doors almost slammed my nose in the door trying to get on. A group of 11 of us went touring around the Glockenspiel. Which is this huge clock that tells a story. It like the one in Shriek when they get to the castle. Some say it’s biggest waist of time only for tourist. However I liked it.
We went to lunch, at this amazing German restaurant to the left of the Glockenspiel. I felt so sorry for the waiter, spoke very little English and 11 of us who spoke no German at all. He did give us English menus. Afterwards we visited some churches. One church even had the devil foot print in it. Once we were done sight seeing we took the U-bahl and headed to Oktoberfest. Because of a hoilday that fell during Oktoberfest that year, it was exetended a a day or two. It was a pleasant surpise to get on tour to be told we would be in Munich for the last day of Oktoberfest!

Oktoberfest was overwhelming. It had rides, games, and amazing foods along with 10 different and HUGE beer halls. We met our entire tour group at the largest one. Sheri and I decided to head off for more sightseeing as neither one of us were into drinking our weight in beer. We went and saw another church.

It had started to pour rain, monsoon style. We quickly ran to the nearest U-bahl station and realize we were in the wrong station (Thersienwiese) to get home after spending 2.20Euros on a ticket. We decided instead of playing “guess what train”, we were going to take a taxi back to the hotel. 45 minutes later after standing in the rain trying to hail a cab, one finally pulled over to pick us up. While the man and women who were in the cab before us was paying the driver, Sheri and I were getting in the back seat. I had just closed my umbrella and turned around to to say something to Sheri only to see a very drunk German man get into the cab with us. We exchanged looks; the drunk spews something in German that neither of us understood. The cab driver does not say anything, so we assumed maybe this is a common thing in Munich that complete strangers share a cab and dont say anthing either.

The whole time we are trying to sit as far away from the man in our taxi. The only time I’ve ever ridden in a BMW, and it was cab. The whole time the drunk is yelling god knows what in German. For the most part his words were slurred too much for either of us to even attempt to understand what he was saying. We were haft way back to our hotel, when I started picking up what to the drunk speaking to the driver in German.

Nien Holiday Inn Sud. Nien. Marienplatz.”
After a few second I caught on that he was telling the driver that he was going the wrong way that he was not going to the Holiday Inn Sud (our hotel). The driver does a U-turn and slams on the break.

“He got in the wrong cab. We don’t know him.” I tell the driver. The driver repeats what we had told him. He shakes his head hard.

Sie wissen nicht, über was sie sprechen. Sie kennen mich. Wir gehen zu Marienplatz.” They don’t know what they are talking about. They know me. We’re going to Marienplatz. The driver throws him out of the cab and we head start to drive back to the hotel.

“Why didn’t you say anything? Much better now with no smelly man in the car.” The driver laughs.

Once back at the hotel we got change and dressed up a bit and ate at the hotel restaurant and the hung out in Sheri room watching The Dave Chappel show in German. Later meeting up with some of the other people from the tour in the hotel bar.

Shortly pass midnight when the last group of people arrived back from Oktoberfest. They arrived back worried that they couldn’t find the Aussie gentleman that they were with. Before long the Aussie boy hand crawled through the revolving door drunk and very gleeful that he had found his way back to the hotel screaming at the top of his lungs that “German girls rock!”.

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Day 4

European Magic: Contiki: Oct 2nd 2006 Amsterdam then St. Goar, Germany

Before driving to the tiny town of St. Goar home of the largest freestanding Coo Coo Clock, we had a the morning free to explore Amsterdam after a boring tour of a diamond factory that felt more like a force shopping trip then an educational trip.

I wanted to do some souvenir shopping on Der Mark — a main shopping street in Amsterdam. Rene highlighted how to get there on my map and Jason and I headed off. We got as a far as Ramrant’s house before I got us lost. By lost I mean we wound up in the Red light district across the canal from the cultural experience from the night before. Looking at the map, even today, Ramrants and the districts are no where near each other and is beyond me how we wounded up there.

The district is far different in the early morning then it was the night before. We saw only one person while we tried to find our way out of the district, who told us to come back later it was to early.

We met up with several other people from our tour and lunch and a open front McDonald’s, where pigeons wonder freely in and out of the restaurant. We latter made our way to the bus for our drive through the Rhine Valley to St. Goar.

The Rhine River Valley was beautiful. Full of wine vineyards, castles, beautiful small towns. When we got to St. Goar we were told it be our quietest nights on tour. We were taken to see a beer Stein store (interesting, but still felt like a force shopping trip) and the largest free standing coo coo clock before time to relax and have dinner. The optional wine tasting was held in a cool, damp and dark cellar underneath the city. The wine was gross (I am not a wine drinker) and just kept getting worst as we went along. The shot glass made a great souvenir. The experince was still memorable.

Afterwards about 30 of us hung out in the hotel’s bar drinking Flugals. Flugals are these amazing vodka energy drinks that are about 2 inches tall. You take the lid off, lick it and stick it to your forehead, bang the bottle of the table and scream “Frost!”(German for cheers), picking it up in your mouth with out using your hands and chug it. The hotel bar had a contest where you had to try and spit the lid in the hole of a bird house. If you got it in, you won another Flugals. For the 20 of us that stayed in the bar the whole night we went through 250 of those flugals! Well that’s when we stopped counting at least…

The hotel had no elevators. My room was on the top of the 5th floor, and to get there you had to climb up 5 slights of winding stairways. Something I never want to do again after a night of drinking.

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Day 3 London to Amsterdam via France and Belgium

European Magic: Contiki: Oct 1st 2006 England -> France -> Belgium -> Netherlands.

The next morning at 5:45am we meet our tour bus out front of our hotel and was transfer to the Royal National down the street to pick up the rest of the group and do some last minute administration things.We left for Dover and the ferry that we were taking to get to France by 6:30am. It was our earliest morning of the tour.

The white cliffs of Dover are amazing! The ferry across the Canal took about an hour and haft to get to France. Every new country we went to our tour guide Rene had a little flag ceremony. She put up the countries’ flag, play some theme music for the country and gave us a brief history. Our first pit stop was at some service station in Belgium. Nothing to write home about Belgium. Saw a lot of cows though. We got to Amsterdam a few hours after our stop in Belgium. During this time we all went up to the front of the bus and introduced ourselves. I found out because there were not a lot of solo girls who chose to partner up in a double room, I was getting my own room for the whole tour. At first I wasn’t crazy about that. I wanted to experience the friendship bonding that contiki was famous for. I was also nervous about travelling solo and wanted the company. However by the time I got to Paris I was glad I had my own room. We stayed at Hotel Lake Land. The hotel was cute; it was right on the lake, about 25 mins out side of town. My room there was so tiny. My bathroom I was able to shower, use the toilet and brush my teeth at the same time. That night we went on a canal cruise of Amsterdam. Which took us pass Anne Frank’s house (which was close for a Jewish hoilday), and a lot of house boats. Afterwards, we took a walk to the red-light district. I had no idea where too look. Was not a place I wanted to get loss in. There were so many people that filled the streets. Once in the district, who’s entrance are marked by these cement barriers with red lights in them, we dropped most of the group off at the “cultural experience” aka the sex show, and the rest of us about 5 out of 50 people went back to the hotel. Jess and Michael and I decide we were not ready for bed, and since the other contiki group that was staying at our hotel were having a last night blast in the hotel bar we decided to join them. We closed down the bar and headed to bed around 2 am and got ready for the early morning the next day.

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September 29 and 30th Leaving Toronto Arriving London, UK

European Magic: Contiki: Day 1 and 2 : September 29 + 30th 2006

Departure airport: Toronto Pearson Airport

Arrival airport: London Gatwick.
After some last minute changes to my ride to the airport I made my way to Lester B. Pearson airport Terminal 3 via Airlink around 3:30pm for my 9:45pm flight. I checked in and met up with my Aunt Debbie who treated me to dinner and kept me company before I had to go through security check. After the debunk terrorist plot in London earlier in the month, security was tight but not as tight as I would expected.
I flew to London on Air Transit. It was my first time on a plane since 1999. I was little nervous. The seats were 3-3-3 and a very tight fit. I had originally had a window seat but traded for a middle seat so it was easier to get up and walk around.
We had about 2 hours of turbulence over the Atlantic that started while I was in the washroom. I wasn’t able to sleep at all on the flight. They played two movies one being The Break up.
When I landed in London, after sitting on the tarmac waiting for a gate to open, I got loss trying to get down the customs. Gatwick has to be the worst laid out airport ever. To get to customs you have to walk through a sky tunnel to another building then walk down this circular wheel chair ramp, down another long hall way, down another rap into customs. When I had stop to ask one of the employees where customs was. He asked where I was from, and I told him Canada.
“Are you sure?” He replied? Thinking ending every sentence with “eh?” I thought it was obvious.
“Yes I’m sure.”
“You’ll have a hard time convincing them you are Canadian. Customs is over there.” He smirked pointing to down the hall to the doors leading to customs. Reassuring people that I was in fact Canadian was a recurring theme through out this trip. I made my way through customs with out any problems. I then made my way to catch the Gatwick express train to Victoria station.
The row houses we passed were so cute. They looked exactly like those houses you see on that British soap opera that I can’t remember the name of. When I got to Victoria station I hopped into a traditional black cab, and to get to my hotel I had to drive pass, Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abby, The London eye, the Theme River. I got 90% of my London sight seeing done in one shot. It was a shame I didn’t have the brains to ask the driver to stop so I could take pictures. Not that the driver would have heard me. The backs of London cabs are sound proof and you have to press a button for the driver to hear you. I only figured it out on my last day, after spending days thinking London cabbies were either rude or not much of talkers.
When I had gotten to the hotel (Imperial Hotel) my room mate for the night Leslie was already there. After settling in for a while I went sightseeing around Russell Square, and spent a few hours at The British Museum. I met up with my tour group for a brief meeting at the Royal National, picking up some can drinks and snacks for the next morning at a grocery story down the street, then went and had dinner at Pizza Hut with Leslie. We called it an early night. I was asleep seconds after my head hit the pillow. It did a good deal of raining in London and most of Europe while we were there.
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