Germany Becomes the Turning Point

nickround

Lover of words, design, creativity, apps, cake and learning new things. And puns.

In August of 2008 I was sent to Europe to blog about my experience on a Contiki bus tour. The European Discovery tour had us seeing 10 cities in 12 days. I was one of 6 paid student bloggers for the Royal Bank of Canada, and was chosen to take the tour and write about it. Here is my story.

We just left St. Goar (Germany) and the majority of my tourmates are passed out, and with good reason. Last night we arrived in the breath-taking town around 7pm, changed quickly for dinner (which consisted of tasty soup, followed by pork, veggies, and egg noodles) and finished off our desserts quickly to catch the next event.

Right around the corner, we got to sample 4 different German wines – ranging from dry to very sweet – in a cellar full of ambience. This started the ball rolling for a night that would contain many more beverages for some, while others took it more slowly.

Photo credit: me

I say that Germany became the turning point for several reasons:

  1. Cliques have all but been solidified by this point. There is some hovering and meandering in and out of circles of friends, but for the most part we seem to find ourselves going back to the same groups. I think it is a little difficult to break into new groups in some cases, but one of the greatest things about the trip is that there are so many different nationalities and personalities that it’s a waste not to try and meet everyone.

  2. As part of a get-to-know-your-tourmates activity, the tour manager asked us to write down our names, where we’re from, what we most want to see and also to identify our dating status by using traffic signals. Red means taken, green means available and orange means a middle of the road/could go either way. Not everyone included this bit of information but I don’t think it’s coincidental that it came out just before arriving at a location that was sort of a pit stop, with a bar right inside the hotel serving as a private party.

  3. Based on events that are confirmed and those that are assumed, the seating arrangement on the bus appears to have changed slightly. I can’t say for certain whether this will last, or whether it will continue to change based on the evening happenings. The group dynamics are interesting to watch for sure.

  4. Although it was raining when we arrived in St. Goar, this morning was beautiful. The view from the bank of the Rhine river was absolutely amazing. It has rained in London and Amsterdam, so it’s great to have a break from the rain.

  5. The hectic and non-stop nature of the trip is starting to catch up to some. I, for one, am operating pretty well on limited sleep, especially considering that in Halifax it is currently 5:40am. And yet, I’m wide awake (yawned as I typed the words). Last night I got 3 hours of sleep and the night before that was about 4 hours. I think I prefer not having spare time, because it would no doubt lead to sleeping and I didn’t come to Europe to be unconscious.

Overall, I must say that it’s rather nice not knowing what day of the week it is or what the date is. It just doesn’t matter. It’s Day 4, and that’s all that matters. We’re headed to Munich where the optional excursion is a 3-hour bike tour through the city.

If you’re planning a trip like this, be warned that due to the go-go-go aspect of the trip, it’s not always easy to document it as much as you’d like.

If it were possible to combine everyone’s photos and footage that would be brilliant, but the fact of the matter is that there’s so much going on at any given time that it becomes difficult to capture it all. I’m doing my best, and will continue to provide you with life (in Europe) as I know it.

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The Amsterdamage is Done

The Amsterdamage Is Done

By Nick Simard
on August 22, 2008

nickround

Nick Simard
Lover of words, design, creativity, apps, cake and learning new things. And puns.

In August of 2008 I was sent to Europe to blog about my experience on a Contiki bus tour. The European Discovery tour had us seeing 10 cities in 12 days. I was one of 6 paid student bloggers for the Royal Bank of Canada, and was chosen to take the tour and write about it. Here is my story.

Having just left Amsterdam, this rainy bus trip to our next location is the perfect time to reflect and recap on the experience. Actually, one point I want to make for those of you planning to travel to Europe (or anywhere, really) is to not carry a backpack with lots of stuff in it. Because of the blogging I’m doing throughout the trip I have my 17” laptop, a camcorder, a larger camera and a smaller camera, in addition to sweaters, umbrellas, etc. It’s a bit of a nuisance in some places, so I caution you to avoid doing it unless you have to. Now, on to Amsterdam.

We arrived at the Blue Square Hotel (which has absolutely amazing rooms, by the way) around 6:40pm, with dinner being served at 6:45pm. After a rushed meal we left for the first of our optional excursions – a canal cruise with as much as you can drink in the 90 minutes. A few of my tourmates opted out of this one, but I will go on the record in saying that I expect it to be one of the highlights of the tour.

I never realized Amsterdam had such an extensive network of canals. There were drinks (either Heineken or wine, both red and white), music, some commentary from the cruise staff, and best of all was the chance to meet my co-travelers.

The Amsterdamage Is Done
Photo Credit: skitterphoto.com

Immediately following the cruise, we made our way to the second optional. Due to the nature of the event, and where you’re reading this blog entry, I can’t really describe it in detail. Let me just say that it was explicit, contained both singles and couples and the audience members wore more clothes than the performers. I can’t say I have ever experienced anything quite like it. It lasted from about 10:30pm-11:30pm, and afterwards the group split up into three:

  1. Those who wanted to head back to the hotel, perhaps to sleep, relax or contact loved ones.

  2. Those who wanted to have a few more drinks (adding to the however-many-they-were-able-to-drink-on-the-cruise and the two included with the second optional of the night.

  3. Those who wanted to experience some of what Amsterdam is best known for. And I don’t mean the Red Light District, although we did walk through it on the way to the not-to-be-described show.

I’ll spare you the details of the evening and skip to the next day, as we had about 4 hours to explore Amsterdam before heading out to the next location. Amsterdam and I had a mixed relationship. The first night was a great outing, despite the fact that I spilled food on my beige shorts (one of only 4 pairs I brought).

This morning, however, I woke up at 7am and took my time getting ready for the 8am breakfast. At 7:47am I received a call from the tour manager, asking me if I was coming and when I responded with a yes, he told me to hurry up. I checked my watch, and it was actually 8:47am. I had changed IT, but not the cell phone I used as my alarm.

The bus was scheduled to leave at 8:30am, and luckily they waited for me (while some missed it altogether). This was the one morning where they would make an exception. So no breakfast for me, and a busload of people who may or may not know me as “the late guy”. Do NOT be the late one. Just don’t.

The daytime walk through Amsterdam proved to be challenging in some respects. Despite having a map, street names in a foreign language can be difficult to locate and remember. We found our way to the Anne Frank House, where we stood in line for a mere 10 minutes. Upon exiting there were no less than 200 people in the line-up. Showing up early helps a lot.

The weather in Amsterdam isn’t that different than in Halifax, where a clear sky can produce huge and spontaneous bursts of rain. Again, carrying a bag full of electronics can create difficult situations, so bring an umbrella. And don’t be the late one. These two points alone will help you tremendously along your travels.

In the interest of time, here are some additional quick tidbits about Amsterdam and the trip in general:

  • The hotel had a system by which the lights could only turn on when the door’s key card was inserted into a special slot. This prevents leaving the lights on when you leave, and I find that refreshingly green.
  • The toilets thus far have only had a little bit of water in the bowl, rather than filling up with gallons. Again, there is a focus on conservation.
  • It costs money to use public washrooms in Belgium and Amsterdam (and likely elsewhere), which I have a hard time getting used to.
  • Neither hotel I have stayed in has had wash cloths. It may be the norm, for some reason.
  • Asking for water in a restaurant will likely get you bottled rather than tap water.
  • If you don’t look where you’re going, you WILL get run over by a bicycle in Amsterdam.
  • The guy behind me can apparently sleep on his face, on a bumpy bus ride. Meanwhile I don’t think I can sleep at all. It’s like the plane ride all over again.

What’s Next? The Rhine Valley and some wine-tasting, followed by whatever presents itself. Oh, by the way, I hardly know what day it is anymore. This tour will do that.

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Across the English Channel: Looking Back As I Move Forward

Across The English Channel: Looking Back As I Move Forward

By Nick Simard
on August 21, 2008

nickround

Nick Simard
Lover of words, design, creativity, apps, cake and learning new things. And puns.

In August of 2008 I was sent to Europe to blog about my experience on a Contiki bus tour. The European Discovery tour had us seeing 10 cities in 12 days. I was one of 6 paid student bloggers for the Royal Bank of Canada, and was chosen to take the tour and write about it. Here is my story.

There’s something almost magical about crossing the English Channel on a ferry akin to a cruise ship, with the white cliffs of Dover behind me. Seriously, the ferry has a games room and a food court. Although I’m moving forward towards Calais – in France – I’ll take a look back at the experience in London.

Upon first arriving at the airport, I realized that it wasn’t much more hectic than the Pearson in Toronto. Sure, the surroundings were different, but I managed pretty well. The Contiki tour pack included a pass for the London Underground, which took about an hour to get to downtown London. The hotel I stay in is right around the corner. So far, pretty good.

At this point it’s about 11:30am and I don’t have to meet the tour manager and fellow travelers until 6pm. What to do, what to do. I tried to take a nap, due to my incredible tiredness, but felt guilty that I wasn’t outside enjoying the city that I would have to leave the following day.

I embarked on a brief walk through the surrounding area, as I didn’t want to venture much farther and get lost. The map with which the reception staff provided me was just a black and white photocopy and confused me more than anything. So I just walked. I snapped some photos, took in some London-y sights and checked out the British Museum. It would take a solid 2 days to truly appreciate all that it offers.

After meeting the Contiki staff and my tourmates, I contemplated (once again) trying to catch up on sleep. It was either that or go adventuring again. I began to walk away but then decided to go back into the café and get to know some people. I can honestly say that it was the best decision I could have made.

 

Across The English Channel: Looking Back As I Move Forward
Photo credit: me

 

As a group we decided to grab some food, and then most of the group went to a pub while a handful of us went to see Big Ben. I expected a fairly large building but I was blown away by its majesty and beauty. It was nighttime so it was all lit up. Good thing for making friends and seeing something so monumental. Make friends, and lots of them, and you’ll have a much better tour.

My impression of London is a bit mixed. I know that the slight annoyances have more to do with what I’m used to, rather than there actually being problems. The biggest shocker was the currency, and the dismal exchange rate with the Canadian dollar. But it’s my first (and potentially my last) time in London, so it’s just something that I have to expect.

Overall, London is a great experience and I’m glad the tour started there. Being the “appetizer” tour, it’s expected that I won’t be able to see as much of any given country as I’d like to. But as I edge closer to France, I am looking forward to all the fun that is ahead rather than focusing on the missed fun from my previous location. For now it’s time to look up from the laptop screen and take in some of the amazing view.

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Time Flies When You’re Chasing the Sun

nickround

Lover of words, design, creativity, apps, cake and learning new things. And puns.

In August of 2008 I was sent to Europe to blog about my experience on a Contiki bus tour. The European Discovery tour had us seeing 10 cities in 12 days. I was one of 6 paid student bloggers for the Royal Bank of Canada, and was chosen to take the tour and write about it. Here is my story.

Time: 3:35am, if I were still in Halifax
Location: Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean

I can’t sleep. Looking around, it appears as though I’m somehow one of the few, unless they’re pretending to sleep like I did for what seems like hours on end. I left Halifax around 12:30am local time, and magically 3 hours later sunrise happened. That’s the beauty of flying to London, I suppose. Literally, the captain just said “good morning, hope you all had a good sleep”, and in addition to the sunlight beaming through the windows, there are now lights on in the cabin as breakfast is about to be served.

Time flies when you’re chasing the sun.
Photo credit: stockunlimited. 

I can’t say that I’m terribly hungry. I ate a little over two hours ago – a ham sandwich, macaroni salad, ginger ale and a glass of white wine (which I thought might help to put me to sleep). I was wrong. Despite the fact that I haven’t really dozed off, I CAN offer some pointers from observing the lucky sleepers around me, and also by imagining how I could have done things differently:

  • Bring a sleeping mask (even though mine didn’t do me much good) because the little light that is in the cabin is sometimes enough to prevent you from sleeping. Not to mention, when the sun decides it will no longer remain hidden, you’ve got salvation from its glow.
  • Invest in a travel pillow, and ideally one that wraps around your neck and inflates (deflates). Those who’ve brought these (I was SO close to buying one) appear to be having the most restful sleep of their lives. Oh, how I envy their unconsciousness.
  • Take some sleeping pills, to give your body that little extra “go to sleep” kick in the butt that it needs. I’m usually fairly nocturnal, so trying to sleep around 1am seemed to be late enough, but I guess between the excitement of traveling to a far away land and the lack of sleep-comfort, I just won’t be sleeping on this flight.

Since it has become apparent that sleep is simply out of the question, it looks like I’m having breakfast. Oddly enough, the fact that the sun is up kind of makes me feel like I DID get sleep, and that it’s time to start a new day. The fact remains, however, that if I were still in Halifax I would be, well, probably tossing and turning. And if I were still in Halifax, then I wouldn’t be on a plane on my way to Europe for 12 days. So I guess I’ll take what I can get at the moment – pancakes or omelets. I have to admit, the food on the flight has been very good. And the price is right — included.

Right on cue, as though she was reading my mind (or over my shoulder), the flight attendant has offered me breakfast. In addition to the omelet, I get hash browns & mushrooms, yogurt, a fruit salad, a croissant, a little bottle of water, orange juice, and bread I’m unfamiliar with. I sure can’t complain about the food, and for now it’s going to have to take the place of sleep.

One last tip that I can offer after having ventured to the washroom is that if you truly wish to get sleep on a flight (especially one where you are chasing the sun), then first class is the way to go. They get seats that lay pretty much all the way back. Little sleep-inducing pods, they are. I caught a glimpse as I awaited my turn in the lavatory, as they call it. Ah well, maybe someday I can join the rested and relaxed. For now, I think I’ll try to pass out for a few minutes, as doubtful as I am that the conditions will allow it.

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