After almost 2 weeks traveling through 7 (8 if you count the drive through Belgium) countries in Europe, I have a lot to write about. I’ve decided to do it all in one blog, summed up by the general themes during the trip. I had a wonderfully smooth journey getting there- that’s sarcasm, Air Canada sucks- and then met with my friend in London to begin our tour. We spent two nights at the trendy Novotel West London then met with our Cosmos tour bus on Friday to being our journey, known as the Vampire Tour.
Why Vampire Tour? My friend Peter who lives in Munich told us that we were touring like vampires- some days we would sleep for hours on the bus during the daylight hours (with some scenic stops in quaint villages and towns here and there) and then we’d arrive in a city at night to wander during the dark hours and soak in as much of the place as possible. We definitely didn’t spend too much time sleeping in our hotel beds!
Here’s the bus that met us in northern France (a different bus brought us from London to the ferry that crossed over to France) and took us on our journey. It became our second home for 10 or so days.
The journey included:
After the ferry ride, our Cosmos tour guide (Helena) and driver (wonderful Francesco) greeted us in Calais, France. Then we were taken through Belgium -> Amsterdam, Netherlands -> (via cruise on the Rhine and through Cologne region of Germany) -> Bruhl, Germany -> (thru Rothenburg) -> Munich, Germany -> (thru Innsbruck, Austria)-> Venice, Italy -> (through Tuscany region) -> Florence, Italy -> (past Lake Como and through Lugano, Switzerland)-> Lake Lucerne, Switzerland -> to finish in Paris
I learned a lot about the history of these areas and we saw so many breathtaking places as Francesco and Helena helped us experience the varied languages, culinary delights, and cultural differences of the many countries that we flew through on our Vampire Tour. I have my favorites (Lake Lucerne, Lugano, Paris, Florence) but each place had a slightly different flavor to it and by the time we were flying back from Paris to Canada, my head was spinning with all the details from our trip.
Here are the general themes that I observed during our travels:
Oh, how I adore the constant fashion show when I’m sightseeing in Europe! My first taste of European fashion was actually when I went to Montreal for the first time in 2002. Don’t worry, I’m not that geographically challenged. I DO realize that Montreal is not actually in Europe. But those French Canadians definitely have European fashion sense! If you’ve ever been to “old Montreal”, you’ve witnessed the European flair that Montreal possesses. Walking through the streets of this Canadian city exposed me to a culture where almost everyone takes pride in their appearance. The older women, the men, the youth… it wasn’t just a certain group and this was nice to see.
Then I became close with my dear friend Peter in Toronto who is originally from Germany. Sure, he’s gay. But his fashion sense is attributed to more than that- it has that European feel. He would berate me for my wardrobe filled with grey, black, beige and white and say with disgust “you Canadians and your dull, safe clothes!”. Shopping with him would force me to choose more colors and patterns than the typical safe palettes. It was a fun experience, forcing me to step outside of my little fashion box more than I normally would.
Fast forward to spring of 2008- my first trip to Europe. It was a backpacking trip so our clothes were functional and light, not fashion forward. I wouldn’t change a thing about that trip but I did notice that we really stood out –>
The difference between international tourists and locals is glaring, even when we left our giant backpacks in a locker and just wandered around in our runners, jeans, and track jackets. My main observation was the fit of clothes in Europe- the women there don’t necessarily show off brand names as much but all their clothes fit so well. The jeans were often not an obvious brand but they looked like they had been custom-tailored to each individual. It was nice to see. Not so nice to see? Harem pants! Why did that become such a popular look? Bieber’s strange saggy white pants on the VS stage recently seemed like a revisit of this ugly trend but with a tighter fit in the legs. Please don’t bring it back. Please!
Summer of 2011- my second trip to Europe (Spain and Portugal). I tried to dress a little better on this trip, especially considering I was able to bring a suitcase this time.
Fall of 2012- for this most recent trip, I left my heavy True Religion jeans at home and opted for leggings, one pair of skinny jeans, light dresses and tights with high boots. I also packed some colorful scarves to accessorize and bought more while I was there. I felt like I could’ve passed for a local- minus the giant SLR camera around my neck the entire time!
One strange trend that we observed this time (no harem pants thankfully!!) was shorts with tights. EVERYWHERE! No country was exempt from this look…
It was usually denim shorts with black tights. But we saw a lot of variations of shorts/tights combos… I guess they were holding on to summer a little longer but didn’t want to freeze their thighs.
A trend that we actually succumbed to-
Large toques with the name of the city you’re in, knitted around the head. I’m sure that this isn’t a European fashion thing, instead just a way for the locals to distinguish tourists like us who were cold, hat-less, and wanted a cheap souvenir to bring back. We spent only 5 euros on colorful “Amsterdam” toques that made all the difference in the chilly city. I gave mine to my 14-year-old cousin when I returned, though. Maybe I should’ve bought a cute beret instead.
2. Food palettes to tickle your tastebuds–
Mmmmm how wonderful is it when you’re on a vacation with nothing to do but sightsee and eat all the yummy foods you can find!
I don’t consider myself a “foodie” but my travel buddy, Rajini, definitely is! She bakes the most amazing cakes and buys the most interesting ingredients and has a serious obsession with chocolate. It’s fun traveling with someone who has done their research on food- I tried new things that I might have otherwise passed right by. You can imagine that Italy had a lot of tasty delights to savour (including the best gelato)….
…but there were so many things to enjoy everywhere- I had my fill of amazing cappuccinos, swiss fondue, fantastic tea, chocolates, and desserts.
One dessert that sounded intriguing was a Schneeballen– described as a snowball cake, we were recommended to try one in Rothenburg, Germany while we were there since the small medieval town was known for these. I bought a few and took the frosted one (it looked like a giant snowball) out to eat while walking. Big mistake. I was expecting a soft cake but it was actually a very hard pastry that kept falling apart and left me covered in crumbs and icing sugar a few bites into it.
On the other hand, I’m so happy that I was introduced to macarons on this trip. The Parisians are obsessed with these soft, colorful little cake sandwiches but Paris was our last stop so we bought some earlier in the tour. I didn’t enjoy them until we tried them in Paris and then my tastebuds were plesantly surprised. There were so many flavors to choose from, too! I can see why the Parisians are so infatuated with these delightful little edible pillows.
3. A visual feast for us touring vamps–
Even though I needed the daytime sleep on this Vampire Tour, it was hard not to watch the beautiful landscapes go by. After a while, some started to look similar. Upon returning home, I forced two of my good friends to look at ALL of my unedited trip pictures and their comment was “it looks a lot like Alberta”. Sort of true in some places… but add castles and quaint old homes scattered in the scenery. I also had a fascination with the strange trees that we saw on the trip. Especially in Switzerland. A little note- the absolute best place that we visited for people-watching was Amsterdam. I’d love to return there in a warmer season and just spend a day on Damrak observing the characters that stroll by.
4. Something in the air–
I knew that on this trip my senses of taste, sound, and sight would be entertained. But my sense of smell was also shown a good time. Besides the wonderful food aromas and the fragrance-filled hotel lobbies, the perfume selection in Europe is exciting. Especially in France- those Parisians know their parfums! We visited a parfumerie (next to a parfum museum) and took our time testing all the scents, comparing the ingredient compositions, and choosing the ones that suited our personal tastes the best. On the way back home, I was reading a Parisian magazine about a parfumeur who composes the scents for Hermes from his beautiful home in southern France. What a job- smelling wonderful fragrances all day and coming up with new and interesting chemistry-based combinations.
What else is in the air? Love, of course! I was surprised by the amount of public displays of affection I witnessed by couples young and old, especially in Florence and Paris.
Of course you can expect a wealth of history in every nook that you find your way into within Europe. Even the modern cities have a story to tell. The most unassuming buildings can end up having a fascinating background and you often wouldn’t know it unless someone informed you.
That was the advantage of being with a tour. During the bus rides, Helena would tell us facts and history about the places we were about to visit. And in the major cities we sometimes had a local tour guide to show us around. This way, you learn even more about the places you might otherwise pass by while touring a city.
6. Shifting climates during the European fall season–
A few times we passed through several countries in a day of travelling which also meant several separate climate zones in one day. When we left Munich, Germany (Continental climate region), we passed through Innsbruck, Austria (Alpine climate region) and finished the day in Venice, Italy (Mediterranean climate region). Believe me, the difference is noticeable in the fall. The best part about this was ending up in a 20 degree celcius environment when we stopped for 2 nights in Florence. By that point, we really appreciated the warmth and it made our time in the Tuscany region (the “essence of Italy”) so much better. I may be Canadian but I deteste the cold! The key to making a trip to Europe more pleasant is to pack a lot of layers. On that note…
Have I convinced you to visit Europe? Sooner or later, I hope you can go if you haven’t yet! If you do, I also hope that you have the good fortune to meet wonderful people like the ones we shared our tour adventures with. Both times that I’ve travelled with Cosmos, I’ve been lucky to share the bus with fun and interesting people. Another thing that I hope works out for you is packing efficiently. It’s so important! If you overpack, you won’t have room for all the fantastic souvenirs that will tempt you. But you also don’t want to miss out on key items that will make your trip infinitely more comfortable.
Here’s a packing list of some essential items for a fall Europe trip:
- List of people that you want to bring souvenirs for- I have a lot of young cousins and if I had forgot one but bought for the rest, it would’ve been chaos!
- Umbrella. I didn’t pack one and didn’t need one but that is rare in Europe
- Warm, long jacket with thin sweaters to layer underneath. I also packed a shorter, stylish leather jacket for warmer days
- Scarves to keep you warm and accessorize so your outfits don’t look all the same in pictures. They can also dress up simple outfits for a night out
- Leather gloves and a warm hat (unless you want to buy a souvenir toque!)
- Comfy slippers for the hotel and long plane ride
- Outlet adaptor/convertor. Warning- read the instructions carefully. We killed the power in one room several times and eventually one adaptor sizzled and melted. Scary!
- Socks and undies. Lots. You may not have time for laundry
- Crossbody purse that zips on top for ladies, wallet in the front pocket for men, and a hidden money belt for everyone. Hide your passport and larger cash sums in the belt then keep smaller amounts in your outside purse/wallet. There are a lot of pickpockets in some parts of Europe so be smart!
- Water bottle with filter. I’ve seen these in Chapters and I wish I had brought one. It’s not fun to be so desperately thirsty late at night in the hotel room that you cave and drink suspicious tap water. It went down slimy– don’t do it!
- Good skin products. All that touring is hard on your skin, especially when you’re in a bus or plane for long periods
- Mini perfumes. The samples that you get from department or drug stores are great for traveling
- “Heys” luggage weight scale. It’s a small hook that you use to weigh your suitcase and make sure you’re not overshopping. I was so relieved that my travel mate had one
- Cheap sunglasses. Obviously don’t pack your expensive ones in case you leave them in a cafe somewhere and realize in the next country when it’s too late
- Mini first aid kit
- Kleenex pack. The fast-changing weather can leave you stuffy
- Neck pillow and small, thin blanket
- Camera strap if you plan to bring your camera
- Lots of room in the suitcase!
What I packed and never used- books, too much jewellery, uncomfortable high heels. I hope my list helps if you plan to go. Ahhhh, I already can’t wait for the next trip…