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Contiki European Experience


Day 4 - May 2, 2005 - London, UK to Paris, France


Today was the official start of the tour.  I was probably as excited this morning as I was when leaving the USLondon and the UK had been amazing for all of two days and I had nine more countries to make it through.  Each day so far somehow kept getting better and I just couldn't wait for each next day to start.  The thought of having 21 of those days left was just incomprehensible.  It was truly a surreal feeling.


I woke up at 5:00 am today to be down in the lobby at 5:30.  My travel documents stated that a sleeping bag was included in the price of my tour.  I hadn't heard anything about the sleeping bag up until this point, so I asked Rex (our tour manager) about it.  She stated that I had to have gotten it the day before because the Contiki basement wouldn't open until after we left.  She reassured me that I could probably get one from the Contiki staff in Paris though. 


While waiting in the courtyard to board the coach, Kim from Toronto, whom I had been emailing, introduced herself and her friend Yvonne to me.  They went to school together and they were a lot shorter than I expected.  It was good to finally put a face to all these people whom I had been emailing.


Next, I got my bag weighed.  At home, it was just barely under the limit, so I was fairly concerned about the result.  I weighed in at 19.6 KG.  44 pounds, the limit, is equal to 20 KG.  Talk about cutting it close.  Finally, we boarded the coach.


The coach, simply put, was terrific.  I knew we would be spending loads of time on it, so I hoped it was comfortable and homey.  It did not disappoint.  It didn't have any gimmicky electronics or anything like that, but it was simply clean and comfortable.  These are the most important necessities while traveling long distances, at least in my opinion.


James and Myungsoo sat next to each other, so I sat across from them.  Eventually a girl sat next to me.  She introduced herself and she was Joanne from New York; quite a coincidence if you ask me.  I told her how we waited for her in the basement the previous morning and, sure enough, she had similar troubles getting to Central London.


Shortly after the coach pulled away, Rex introduced herself once again over the coach's PA.  She went over the rules of the tour, which only consisted of two things: no violence and no drugs.  She then elaborated a bit on what was ahead of us and assured us all of how close we'd be with each other by the end.  She also continuously stated that we were about to have the time of our lives.  It was quite an effective pep talk if you ask me.


The drive through England was very green and hilly.  There was complete cloud coverage and it eventually rained.  I chatted with Joanne about school and work.  Eventually, we began talking to Michelle and Rebecca, who were sitting in front of us.  They were both from New Zealand.  I think Christchurch to be exact (sorry if I'm wrong), which is located on the south island.  Rebecca would eventually get on my case when I would later be inaccurate with this information throughout the tour.  We chatted about various topics for quite a while, but I can't remember the specifics.


Sometime later, we reached the port at Dover, England.  The white cliffs, which were pretty neat, lined the coast right behind us.  We boarded the huge ferry and explored for a bit.  This ferry had everything; restaurants, bars, video games, and even jungle gyms.  We went up on the deck when we departed to get our last glimpse at the white cliffs and at the UK.  The breeze from the water made it entirely too cold to be up there for very long, so we eventually made our way underneath and found a table.






Next, I went to go get breakfast.  While standing in line, I met Vince and Katherine (aka Kat).  They were both on my tour and both from Canada.  Vince was from Ottawa specifically and I'm 50% sure Kat was from Vancouver, or at least somewhere in the British Columbia area.  Kat went somewhere else and I chatted with Vince in the very slow moving breakfast line.  Excuse me, the "queue."  I invited Vince to come sit with me, James, and Myungsoo at our table in the front of the ferry.  He actually had already met James somewhere in London so he joined us.



Sitting at the table next to us were Matt, Steve, Neil and Sally.  They were all Australian and all on our tour.  I remember talking about the differences in our countries.  This evolved into politics, which eventually evolved into topics such as 9-11 and George W. Bush.  I would come to find that these would be some of the most commonly discussed topics throughout the trip.


The four Aussies had some kind of pamphlet advertising different items the ferry had for sale.  Included on this pamphlet was a case of Stella Artois.  After all the drinking that was done the previous night, I knew they wouldn't actually go for it, seeing as how it was 9:30 am at this point.  I was wrong.  So there they were, drinking warm Stella Artois from cans, on a ship at 9:30 am.  I don't know how they did it.


After what I think was about a two hour ferry trip, we arrived in Calais, France.  After we were on the coach once again, Rex gave a welcome and introduction speech for France.  She would do this for each country we entered throughout the tour.  She gave us the basics of the Euro, which we would use for the remainder of the tour, except in Switzerland and Liechtenstein.  She also went over basic French words that would be necessary for the next five days.  One thing she said that stuck in my mind was that France attracts the most tourists per year at 60 million.  It was a great day and I think everyone was extremely excited to be there.  The only bad news was that our free day in Paris was a Tuesday.  The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays.  Rex did say, however, that she would arrange some time for those of us who were interested to go to the Louvre on Wednesday morning.


The drive from Calais to Paris was something like four hours, so a few notable things occurred on the way.  Somewhere on the highway we drove past a Canadian war memorial, which represented the lost Canadian lives in World War 2.  There were also high speed trains that ran parallel to us.  Rex told us exactly how fast they went, but I don't recall exactly because she used Kilometers.  The US really needs to switch to the metric system.  I do know, however, that it was over 200 mph. 


We then stopped at a rest stop for some lunch.  There were several options and I chose the a la carte restaurant.  I had ham with gravy and I think corn.  For rest stop food, it was delicious.  I ate with Michelle and Rebecca and we discussed certain differences with our countries.  I remember also discussing how weird the weather was in the UK; a repeating cycle of sun and rain.  I also took note of several customers dining with their dogs inside the building.  I would come to find out that dogs and smoking are allowed everywhere in Europe


We soon went outside because it felt like a furnace in the dining area.  We chatted with Vince, Joanne, Matt, Steve, Neil, and Sally about our countries.  I think we continued our discussion on politics at that point.  Luckily for us, I think most people in the group had similar general opinions regarding this topic.


We then left our final stop before Paris.  Back on the highway, there was some stop and go traffic.  It was humorous hearing all the Aussies and Kiwis comment how horrible of a traffic jam it was.  Being from the second largest metropolitan area in the world (I don't know why I know that statistic), it looked like a typical rush hour for me.  Australia and New Zealand can't have much traffic. 


We also were privileged enough to witness some first hand French road rage.  A motorcyclist was riding in between two lanes of stopped traffic.  The driver of one car in particular didn't like this, and so he swerved into the middle of the lanes to block the motorcyclist.  The motorcyclist was able to squeeze by however and, in the process, punched the side mirror right off the car.  A couple minutes later, a police car slowly made its way up the middle of the two lanes.  We never did see the motorcyclist pulled over though.


Soon after the traffic jam, we arrived at our campsite in Paris.  What was a little unexpected was that the campsite was not really in Paris.  You couldn't even see the city from where we were.  I checked out my cabin.  It was very nice, but very small.  Something I will never forget was the bathroom.  The entire room was just a huge shower with a drain in the floor.  In the middle of this shower were a toilet and a sink.  This made it impossible to keep your clothes and toiletries dry while showering.  Also, pressing the lone button on the shower activated it for only about thirty seconds.  Imagine having to press a button dozens of times throughout the shower as the water keeps shutting off.  Anyway, I roomed with James, while Vince and Myungsoo took the other room in the cabin. 


Next, I went to the "snack bar" to buy some beer.  Kronenburg would be the Budweiser of Europe, meaning it was everywhere.  All the Australians would make the same reference, only to VB instead of Budweiser.  VB, short for Victoria Bitter, is apparently everywhere in Australia, and it's also apparently really terrible.  Kronenburg, unlike Budweiser and VB (from what I've been told), was pretty tasty.


I bought a phone card to finally call home but then I realized I lost my list with all the phone numbers on it.  Speed dial isn't entirely convenient in situations where you actually are required to remember numbers.


The whole group then met at the dinner tent for some welcome drinks and a sample of escargot.  The welcome drink consisted of shot of some kind of champagne.  I hated it, but I did enjoy the escargot.  It was funny watching everyone try it for their first time.  Personally, I just think it just takes like mussels or something of that nature.  I chatted with Kim and Yvonne and they introduced me to Kent, Freddy and Olivia.


We then realized that there was a supermarket right next to the snack bar.  You could buy six packs of beer there for a percentage of the price of buying them individually at the snack bar.  The funny thing was, the same guy ran both stores.  So, in order to buy something at the supermarket, you had to go to the snack bar and have him walk next door.  I think he wasn't happy as each of us figured out the better financial choice of buying beer.  I bought a six pack and chatted with Andrew, who was one of my roommates in London.  His tour arrived there right before we did.  He introduced me to someone else from his tour.  I can't remember his name but he was from South Africa.  I would end up seeing these two several times throughout the tour.


Finally, those of us who chose to, which was probably everyone, boarded the coach for our "illuminations tour" of Paris.  I still had what was left of my six pack with me and Chris didn't want to let me on the coach with it.  I didn't have enough time to run it back to the cabin so I promised I wouldn't drink it and he let me slide.  Thanks Chris! 


Upon arriving in Paris, it wasn't really dusk yet so nothing was lit up.  Rex had quite a clever scheme that she pulled on us while in the city.  I couldn't help but smile at how I'd been duped.  I'll refrain from elaborating, to avoid giving it away to future Contiki travelers.  I actually read about this in another travelogue but I managed to forget about it, so it wasn't ruined for me.


We drove past several attractions and even stopped at the Eiffel Tower for a few minutes for some pictures.  It was, once again, a perfect day.  On the way back to the campsite, because of the beer, I had to go to the bathroom more so than I ever have in my life.  There was a toilet on the bus, but Chris requested that it only be used for emergencies, because he was responsible to clean it.  Looking back, I don't really know why I didn't use it.  This really was an emergency.  I guess I felt like I owed him one for letting me on the coach with the beer.  I made it back to the campsite and sprinted to the bathroom.  James and Vince found it amusing and just kept telling me the whole time to use the toilet on the coach.  I should've listened to them.



I then finished my six pack and called home for the first time.  I think I was drunk every time I called home throughout the tour.  I promise that I only drank at night though.   I remember the sky was purple at this point.  It was unlike anything I had seen before.  I also didn't get dark until about 10:00 pm.  After calling home, I played pool and air hockey with Vince.  I remember thinking that if Vince went to high school with me, he would definitely be friends with my group of friends from home.  We chatted a lot about movies and TV shows.  It certainly didn't feel like I only knew him for twelve hours.


Most people then started going to bed but I wasn't tired at all.  The purple sky, in addition to the distant lightning alone was enough to make me stay up.  It was quite a surreal sight.  It looked like a painting.  I then met and talked to Rachel, from Seattle (the only American on our tour other than me and Joanne), Kate from Australia, and Erin from Canada, in some order.  I remember talking to Erin the longest, and I remember that I really enjoyed our conversation, but I have no recollection of what the conversation was about.


Then, at 11:30 pm, I went back to my cabin.  I took a shower in the strange, annoying bathroom and went to bed.  Soon after, one of the other tours came back from their Cabaret option.  We were scheduled to do this the following evening.  I can't remember if I actually fell asleep or not before the tour came back.  They were very loud though.  Part of me wanted to go to sleep, knowing that I had a long day ahead of me, not to mention I didn't know anybody from the other tour.  However, part of me really wanted to go back out.  I laid there and thought about it for a few minutes and I ultimately chose to go back out.  I built myself up for months into the mentality that I would do everything I possibly could while in Europe.  This was one of many times I chose something over sleep.


I went back to the picnic area at the snack bar.  The only two people from my tour that were left there were Scotty and Dane.  They were both Australian but had been living and working in New York for a while.  Everyone else who was there, which numbered probably about 35 to 40, was from the other tour.  I remember at one point, a heavy set guy from the other tour sat down on one of those white, plastic picnic chairs and the legs snapped, sending him to the ground.  He received a standing ovation from all of this tour mates.  I was glad I wasn't still in bed.


I went into the snack bar to get a beer (the supermarket was closed at this point) and I ran into Chrissie, the girl from Minneapolis whom I had met in London.  I didn't expect to keep running into people from different tours, but I would soon find out that it would happen pretty regularly.  She introduced me to her friend and I cannot remember the name today.  I know she was from Vancouver though.  It's strange that I managed to remember where everyone was from but I didn't necessarily remember their names.  I asked if they minded if I sat with them, because Scotty and Dale had just gone to bed and I was the only one from my tour left.  She said she didn't mind and made me feel like I wasn't intruding. 


I chatted with Chrissie and her friend about their night at the Cabaret.  I was a bit apprehensive about going the next night since it's not really my thing.  I primarily signed up for it to get to know my tour mates better, since it was the first optional excursion we had together.  I think it was at this point that I realized after France, their tour was headed to Barcelona, the only place on their tour that was not included in mine.


Next, Chrissie introduced me to Alex from Australia and Steve from Vancouver, both of whom were from her tour.  Overall, her tour seemed great and it made me wish some of them were on my tour.  Chrissie and her friend went to bed and I stayed to chat with Alex and Steve.  I remember we talked about Greece to some extent.  Alex and his wife were heading there after their tour concluded in Rome.  They seemed to think Greece was the perfect ending to a European vacation.  Even though my tour was ending in Amsterdam, I couldn't help but agree.  Eventually, Alex introduced me to his wife, and I cannot remember her name.  I was definitely getting tired and I said good night to everyone.  I wasn't sure if I would ever see them again so I wished them luck on the remainder of their tour.  I remember finally going to bed, for good this time, at 2:00 am.