Wednesday, April 1, 2009

eurotrip 2009

Settling back in wasn't easy! I caught the bug that lingered in the coach (bus) and it didn't want to leave me! I'm back, in better health, and I know I'm overdue for a post. I mentioned I would give some insight to potential honeymoon spots, for you newlyweds who want to spend time in one country and enjoy the scenery, just a note, I will write a separate post so I can share photos!

To give you an overview of our trip, my husband, sister-in-law, bro-in-law and good friend, Anthony embarked on the most chaotic adventure in Europe. We traveled on our own in the beginning and in the end, but in the middle, we joined the Top Deck tour. We visited a total of 8 countries in 17 days: England, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Vatican City, Austria, Switzerland, and France. It's a pretty intense, on-the-go sort of adventure, so if you're looking to sit on the beach, enjoy massages, or sleep in, this is the complete opposite.

The Top Deck Tour is based in the UK and caters to a select age demographic -- about 25–30 yrs old. It says it's for 18–30 somethings, but from what I've heard and experienced, a majority of the travelers are slightly older. In any case, the coach is full of easy-going, adventurous, party-loving adults. The tour we joined was the Winter Essentials Tour (Europe) and is probably best suited for couples who are in travel mode and aren't immersed in wedding plans, a wedded couple who is celebrating their first anniversary, or a group of friends who simply wants to explore the world. The great thing about a fast-paced tour is that each traveler gets a taste for countries they'd like to visit a second time around. Check out Top Deck's site to see the packages they offer. (*They offer discounts to groups of 4 or more along with advance-booking discounts). Note: On this tour, it feels like you live out of your luggage and getting ready seems to take anywhere from 5 minutes to 20 minutes -- that's it. We got up every morning around 6AM -- seriously! It is very fast-paced, and it's important to stay healthy so you can keep with the rest of the tour.

The five of us ventured in London for a few days and then took an overnight ferry to Amsterdam, where we had two days to roam the canal-lined streets. On the third day in Amsterdam, we met our tour host, Sam Yates, a vibrant, 28 yr old Aussie who has been hosting TD tours for a little over a year. She was a definite factor in setting the overall mood of the coach and provided us with history on the sites we passed. I give her lots of love, since she took on several roles: tour guide, historian, event planner, hotel liaison, and friend. Everyday seemed chaotic, but Sam was so organized, I noticed she pulled out an envelope with all the paperwork and details for each country we entered. Checking 47 people into hotel rooms (nearly every or every other day) isn't a piece of cake, and from my experience coordinating one big day, doing this for 11 to sometimes 40 days straight is insane! Nonetheless, Top Deck only hires people who are capable, willing, and talented enough to take on such a crazy job, and Sam is awesome at what she does.

For me, the highlights of our tour were:

  • the site seeing (esp in Amsterdam! and throughout Italy)

  • gnawing on pork knuckles (in the Philippines, they're called "crispy pata") and chuggin' on a liter and a half of lemonade beer in Munich at the Hofbrauhaus
  • Fritattensuppe (pancake soup) in Austria

  • experiencing a gondola ride with the hubby in Venice
  • making lots of new friends on the tour
  • seeing some of the most popular art pieces and landmarks in the world
  • shopping in London, Italy and France

  • dining at La Fate in Rome, Italy at our friend, Andrea's, family restaurant

  • eating authentic Spaghetti Carbonara (where can I find this in LA!)
  • St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City (a must see!)

  • the Fat Tire Bike Tour throughout Paris

  • and witnessing pickpocketing in the Paris Metro
  • oh, and did I say shopping? ;)
Of the various countries, my favorite places turned out to be:
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands

  • Munich, Germany
  • parts of Italy

  • Salzburg, Austria
Things I learned:
  • The bridge that London is famous for isn't the London Bridge, but the Tower Bridge. People mistake the name often.
  • The Red Light District is now being regulated by the NE government, in which galleries and clothing shops are rumored to take over.
  • The Hofbrauhas in Munich (Munchen), Germany is famous for historic gatherings made by Adolf Hitler and his army. The ceilings used to be covered in swastika symbols but have been painted over. It is now a hot spot for great food and liter beers -- yes, we had an amazing time at this very social restaurant that seats 3,000, indulging in sausages, pork knuckles, sauerkraut and German beer!
  • Modern day Rome is a city built above another city (which is Old Rome). You can actually see how low Old Rome used to sit. If they were to uncover everything beneath the current roads, the entire city of Rome would be a museum. There are so many undiscovered treasures in Rome!

  • Vatican City is debated to be its own country! It has its own zip code and currency. It's truly one of the true wonders of the world and should be visited, regardless of a person's religion. Just the amount and quality of art within the Basilica and Sistine Chapel will blow any traveler away.
  • Past popes are buried in a lower floor within St. Peter's Basilica.

  • Switzerland still uses the Franc, while most of Europe is using the Euro. The abbreviation for Switzerland is CH, which stands for Confederation of Helvetica.
  • In Paris, they fly the flag of the nation that each Tour De France winner declares. Why didn't they ever hang the USA flag when Lance Armstrong won? (Hmm).
  • I didn't realize that pick pocketing is common in Paris. So folks, hang on to your stuff, esp in the metro or public transportation (in Paris, Rome, and when traveling, period). These thieves are sly and quick..and professional. And they jump out right in time for the doors to close and nothing can be done. I saw it happen a couple times (to tourists, too!) and it freaked me out! Imagine not only your wallet being taken, but your passport. :(

  • OH, and we definitely felt how weak the dollar is compared to the euro. A can of Coke averaged about $7-8 US dollars. Two ham and cheese crepes and two coffees cost us $55. Make sure you check the exchange rate before you travel.
  • You get a better exchange rate using your ATM/Credit card for purchases versus withdrawing money from a European bank.
  • Travelers are not subject to pay the European tax. You have to spend a minimum of $150 on a purchase to qualify for the 12.5% VAT returned to you when you leave. But remember to have your receipt stamped and get the appropriate paperwork to present to the VAT officers.


  1. omg Char! I went on this EXACT SAME TRIP last year when I graduated! lol :D

  2. That is too ironic, Bev! Did you go with anyone? It was good getting a taste for the countries. Def want to go back to Italy and Germany...!