There were forty nine of us booked on the trip, about two thirds of the group starting from London and the rest joining us in Amsterdam our first night stop. Those first few days were pretty quiet. Most couples and family groups sticking together with just perfunctory politeness but as the week progressed people would start to chat with the people sitting near them on the bus and then most made an effort to sit with different people at breakfasts and dinners. By the second week some great friendships were starting to form and we were becoming a family of forty nine. I think we were pretty lucky in having a really great group with easy going personalities most of which were Aussies, a few NZer's, a few South African's, two Philippino families and two sisters from Bahrain. The majority of the group enjoyed a few drinks and we had some brilliant nights out with plenty of alcohol and lots of laughs.
|All of us|
Our Travel Directer Jon was pretty amazing. While we whinged and moaned about how long we'd been on the bus for the day he worked non stop, checking luggage on and off the bus making it seem like magic as bags went from the bus to our rooms and back again with not a glitch. He spoke the language of every country we went to, gave us a thorough education on how to navigate each city and what to expect, gave us directions to every even vaguely interesting spot to check out, took us to fantastic restaurants, made sure we all made it on and off the bus at every stop and knew more about the history of pretty much everything we went past than I could ever hope to remember. He even took in good humour many of us nodding off in the middle of it.
Our bus driver Enzo was nicknamed Enzo Ferrari. This was because he drove the bus like he was Schumaker driving at a Formula One Grand Prix. Each day we had to move two seats forward on the bus and I think most looked forward to hitting those front seats and having the best view. That was of course until you'd sat up the front and got to experience first hand just how close Enzo would sit behind the car in front and how fast he drove. In saying that I felt totally safe and I still marvel at some of the places he maneuvered that bus.
|Home sweet home|
|Our travel route|
At the end of the tour we were all asking each other what our favourite place was or what our own personal highlight was. Most were hard pressed to pick just one place because we just saw and experienced so much. When I look back at the photo's I have multiple great memories of each place we went to and what we did while we were there. For some places it felt like we needed a lot more time but the tour gave us a great snapshot of what was there and whether we'll make an effort to get back there one day.
|Yep it was cold|
|My fav photo of Amsterdam|
From Amsterdam we headed east and into Germany stopping in Cologne on our way to Rhineland. We spent the afternoon on a river cruise down the Rhine River. Hard work but someones gotta do it...
From Rhineland we continued south through Freiburg and the Black Forrest ending the day in Lucerne Switzerland.
Innsbruck was beautiful. We stayed in a winter ski resort nestled in the mountains. We were in the front seat of the bus on our way there and I had to close my eyes on several occasions as Enzo screamed down narrow winding streets in the tour bus. Actually that's how he drove the bus all the time but it's not quite as scary when your on a big motorway. While in Innsbruck we also got to visit the Swarovski Outlet. Apparently it's where it originated. So I had no choice but to buy some crystal jewellery to celebrate.
I wasn't sure what to expect as we headed to Venice. I'd heard different things about it. It was actually pretty amazing. We did all the touristy things, a taxi ride down the Grand Canal, a ride in a gondola and standing in St Mark's Square. It was absolutely packed with tourists which wasn't surprising but it makes it so much harder to get in to see things.
|St Peter's Basilica|
After a couple of nights in Venice we jumped back in the bus and made our way to Rome through the rolling hills of Tuscany. It's hard to say what my favourite part of Rome was in a city with so much history and so much to see. I think it's hard to go past the Sistine Chapel for sheer jaw dropping ability. I'm one of those people who has about a two hour limit on museums before I need to escape but the Sistine Chapel was spectacular. We did all the big stuff, Trevy Fountain, the Forum, Colosseum, Pantheon, St Peter's Basilica, the Vatican and of course the Sistine Chapel.
On the last night we all went to dinner at an Italian Restaurant where the waiters put on quite a show. With more unlimited booze we were all feeling pretty happy by the time we left. The bus was looking a bit like a disco on the way home. Kind of embarrassing when I think back on it now but at the time we all thought it was hilarious.
From Rome we headed south to Naples and Sorrento with a stop at Pompei. Pompei was way cool and a place I've always wanted to go to. It's hard to describe the awe of standing in the middle of the ruins with Mount Vesuvius quietly looming in the distance. Sorrento was beautiful but unfortunately as close to the Amalfi Coast as we could get with a landslide the previous day knocking out the road. This was somewhere I could have spent a lot more time.
After a night in Naples with the best view we'd had yet overlooking the bay and in the distance Mount Vesuvius we hit the road again to head north, this time to the city of Florence.
Florence was magic but we only had a few hours in the main part of the city. I did however manage to find the time to purchase a lovely leather handbag from one of the many leather shops. I was also aiming for some gold from one of the many gold shops but after how much I spent on the bag it was time to put the credit card away.
|Lamborghini in Monaco|
We stopped for an hour or so to check out Monaco. I'm a bit of a petrol head so I spent most of that time drooling at the expensive cars that were showing off as they did a lap of honour down the main city drag. When I wasn't drooling over the cars I was dreaming about the multi million dollar boats moored in the harbour. People who live in Monaco have way too much money.
|Saint Paul de Vence|
On our way out of Nice we popped in at Cannes and checked out the preparations for the Cannes Film Festival which was on the week after. Cannes was a bit plain and not a patch on Nice but it was nice to check it out. Then we continued on our way to the city of Lyon via Avignon another picturesque spot.
We only had one night in Lyon before continuing up to Paris. On our way we stopped at the Palace of Versailles somewhere we hadn't made it to last year when we were in Paris. Our tour guide marched us through the entire place in an hour and a half. I'm lucky if I can remember even half of what she told us. Too many kings and too many wives and children. The place is magnificent though and I'm really glad we checked it out. The gardens alone are sensational.
|Paris at night|
|Last day of the tour with Jon and Enzo|
And so we came to the end of our tour. The bus dropped some of us off at our London hotel that afternoon. After travelling with forty nine other people for two and a half weeks there was a real sense of aloneness once the bus had driven off. Six of us went out for dinner that night which helped a little. It seriously didn't seem right being by ourselves. The following day it was time to head to Scotland to finally meet Laura and Cody and get ready for the World Agility Open our next adventure!