A Travellerspoint blog

I'll Be Back

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I must say that these blog posts and descriptions are coming so very fast. Sometimes I have to stop just to ponder that in less than 24 hours we have been in Germany, Austria and now in Italy. So Buon Giorno!

We are now on the bus for a full day of driving to our next stop, Venice so let's catch up.

Our stop in Innsbruck was short but just as spectacular as the other places. First a few fun facts about Austria:
Austria is know for schnitzel and strudel but more on that in the next post.
PEZ candies originated in Austria.
Red Bull comes from Austria so all you fans of Jaeger Bombs can be happy for that.
schnapps is another local favorite
And, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger hails from Austria.

After a short orientation walk the group headed for the Swarovski Store, the famous crystals are also part of Austria's claim to fame. Visitors are welcomed by two gigantic bug eyes both made of thousands of large Swarovski crystals. There was definitely some retail therapy involved in the visit.

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The group dispersed for some free time and then was off to the Innsbruck bobsleigh track for a bobsleigh race down the Olympic track. Innsbruck has hosted two Winter Olympics, 1964 and 1976. The students suited up and raced to the finish line. There were a few headaches from the head banging that went on in the sled.

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The evening gave everyone a chance to sample some of the fabulous food in the cafés and restaurants. After our dinner we enjoyed a nice evening stroll through the city, a typically European activity.

Posted by jonaway 21:40 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Eins, zwei, drei, PROST!

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After a rousing listen to the national anthem, one we hear frequently during the Olympics, we snuggled in for a long bus ride from the Rhine Valley to Munich in the heart of Bavaria.

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Here are your interesting fun facts about the country:

  • Germany borders 9 countries and, excluding Russia, is the largest country in Europe.
  • Germany contributes 20% of the budget of the EU.
  • The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has her own Barbie doll.
  • Mezzo Mix is a pop that is unique to Germany. In East Germany there was no Western brands allowed so this Mezzo Mix was created as a mix between Fanta and Coca Cola, which were both banned in East Germanyafter the Second World War.
  • Schalafen is German for sleep, which is what you do on the bus during these long trips.
  • And lastly, if you try to wear your sneakers with your leiderhosen the Germans will make fun of you.

So today we began our sightseeing with a somber visit to the concentration camp of Dachau, just outside of Munich. It is truly difficult to describe the horrors that occurred at this and so many other concentration camps in Europe. Each and every traveller had time to reflect in their own way. For those of you with students on e trip I highly recommend asking them of their personal feelings during the visit. I am sure it will be an interesting conversation.

From there we made our way to Munich. First stop, Mike's Bicycle Tours. Our tour leader, Matt, is a fellow Canadian and even though he is Canuck fan we got on famously with him. Everyone was suited up with our bicycles and we headed off. Imagine the busiest day on Stephen Avenue Mall and add 32, not too confident, Canadian bike riders trying to ride the bikes all while trying to sightsee and not take out a local pedestrian. Yes, there are bike lanes but the lane is just a general guideline and the locals are happy to leave the bike lane to ride throug the large number of pedestrians. Yes, chaos ensues. Stops along the way included the English Garden where the nudists like to hang out, literally, and the river where the surfers surf the river. It was like Hawaii without the palm trees.

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From there we walked to see the Marienplatz and the town glockenspiel. We were not there to seen the characters dance due to our late afternoon visit. Our tour guide, Bec, shared that she believes this to be a highly overrated site in Europe.

Dinner tonight was at a huge authentic Munich restaurant, Augustiner. Traditional dishes include schnitzel, pork knuckles, fresh pretzels, knoedel (dumplings made with bread or semonilla ), and tasty roast chicken. All of this was washed down with a delicious, ice cold German beer.

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Our visit to the Hofbrahaus was far too short for some. We didn't quite have not enough time to practice our German drinking songs that we practiced on the long bus ride. Beer at the Hobrahaus is served in one size, one litre served in a heavy glass mug. Servers carry four of these at a time....in each hand. Quite the site to see. The cost for a litre of beer 8.00€ plus tip, about 16.00 CAD.

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Tourism is thriving in Munich. A very large convention forced us to book about an hour outside of Munch due to a very large convention in town. That allowed us to spend a delightful night is a traditional German hotel. The property was outstanding with chocolates on our bed, heated bathroom flooring, and those truly delightful German duvets. The hotel had a beautiful spa, the only problem was our stay was too short to avail ourselves of all it had to offer.

Posted by jonaway 23:25 Archived in Germany Comments (1)

Guten Tag Germany

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The concept of travelling via ground transportation to multiple countries in one day is something quite foreign to most North Americans. Take yesterday for example. In less than 12 hours we had been in Great Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands. This does require some serious time on the coach. Thankfully we have an excellent system with a diverse selection of tunes. Bec, our tour manager also has lots if fun activities and games in which to hep pass the time. And if all else fails,everyone can catch up on some sleep.

So last night was a pretty late night for most everyone out enjoying all Amsterdam had to offer. No trip to Amsterdam would be complete without the obligatory visit to the Red Light District. It is evident that, on that short tour of the area, Amsterdam is one of the mot liberal countries in the world. For some first time visitors to Europe I am sure it was an eye-opening city to visit. We have coined a phrase that pretty much explains a lot of things, including life in Amsterdam. It goes like this, "it's not wrong, just different".

No trip to the Netherlands would be complete without a stop at a cheese and clog making factory. The group saw the process for making and preserving cheese, complete with samples. Then we saw how quickly the shoemaker can carve out a wooden clog. It was amazing to see how wet the wood was while he was carving.
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It was on to Amsterdam for the morning. Several of the students visited The Anne Frank House and were deeply moved by what they saw. Others did a bit of souvenir shoppingor had their picture taken at the iconic "I AMsterdam" sign.
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A few lucky people ventured to the Vincent Van Gogh Museum. Others choose the culinary stops for pommes frites and pannenkooken (Dutch pancakes).
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Our weather had been outstanding however on the trip south to Germany we hit torrential downpours. Our driver, Mickey negotiated the wet roads with ease. However, there was a massive accident between where we were and where we needed to be so we are in for a further delay because of the traffic. Oh well, we will just relax and let Miki work his magic.

We are now in the quaint town of St. Goar in the beautiful Rhine Valley.

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We are staying at a lovely little family run hotel who also happens to own the local winery. After dinner most of the group headed to a wine tasting in the town cellar. Our Wine and Spirits would likely be more eloquent in speaking of the nuances of what we enjoyed. It was a very authentic experience, although we may have to do some further research.

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As you can imagine there is now a gathering in the hotel bar. Not to drink and socialize but to use the Wifi. Go figure! Now to post the blog and turn my computer off. Nite, nite!

Posted by jonaway 13:48 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

We all went down to Amsterdam.....

I think that was an old campfire song......

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So coach travel is a concept that is new to some of our students. This morning we left early to ensure that we caught our ferry to the continent. The group is getting better at understanding that the bus leaves at a specific time and will leave without you if you are late.

The European coaches are very comfortable with 'National Geographic' type windows, charging stations for our electronics and room for everyone to spread out. Our tour manager, Bec has done a great job of giving us fun facts and information and pointing out important places, like the majestic White Cliffs of Dover and our departure point for our ferry crossing to the continent.

One of the activities at the beginning of a tour is to get to know your bus mates. In our case, students from the same program may know each other. Imagine you are a single on a bus tour for the first time. This can be daunting. Contiki has a solution - speed dating for the bus where each person gets a few minutes with each of their bus mates to get to know them better. The students can now claim to have dates in both France and Belgium and it is only 1:30 in the afternoon.

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Speaking of Belgium we just crossed the border from France. Here are your Belgium fun facts. It is a country of 6 million people who claim to have invented the "pommes frites" despite the French protests about their beloved French fry. They are famous for their chocolate and waffles but not the much malinged Brussel sprout (not named for the capital). Brussels is the home of the European Union, effectively making it the capital of the EU. And, lastly, Belgium is the origin of the comic Smurf characters.

We are now in the safe embrace of our driver Mickey who is described as our Hungarian Prince. He will be driving us around Europe for the next 11 days. Coach driving rules are strictly enforced to ensure everyone's safety. All coaches are equipped with a form of a black box that records driving hours, number of driver rest stops, etc. Fines are heavy for anyone not following the laws.

Another interesting fact is that France enforces that all automobiles must have breathalyzer in the vehicles. A package of two of these breathalyzer so costs $10.00. Drivers are expected to use them if they have been drinking and must produce them of stopped by the police. An interesting concept.

And just like that, in spite of major highway roadwork we are in the Netherlands. It was time for our history lesson and fun facts. The good news is that the Netherlands has a very healthy economy. Also they have a population of 16 million but even Amsterdam only has 850,000 inhabitants. They welcome over 10,000,000 visitors to the country each year. Their challenge is to keep their locals travelling locally, a Dutch staycation.

Stroopwaffles are the most addictive confections in Holland, so we are told. We will have to do some further research!

It was a very long drive but in true school fashion we weren't done. Our hotel is in a cute little town about 20 minutes from Amsterdam, a placed called Monnickendam where they cater only one market, bus tours. After a traditional but hastily eaten dinner we were off again for a night in Amsterdam. A quick walking tour through the sites (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, if you know what I mean) and we were off for a sunset canal cruise. Most were staying in the city longer than yours truly. This is why you are getting a post tonight.

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Off to the more Amsterdam, Rhine Valley and Munich tomorrow. Somewhat exhausted thinking about it but so very excited. Night, night!

P.S. Everyone is home safe and sound from their night in the city. We, who came back early, were there to greet them due to a small fire alarm emergency. Oh, the stories we can tell!

Posted by jonaway 16:00 Archived in Netherlands Comments (2)

When a man is tired of London he is tired of life....

So sayeth Samuel Johnson

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Samuel Johnson coined this phrase several hundred years ago and the saying still holds true to this very day. Having last been here 35 years ago I can attest to the fact that the subway still has the same stops, Big Ben still chimes like clockwork and the pubs still serve great food and cold beer.

After a restful night for most of us we awoke to sunny skies, a bank holiday and a wealth of things to do on our free day. Bec, our tour leader led the Group for their first trip on the "Tube". Armed with a one day Tube pass some were off to see the Queen and the changing of the Guards. Yes, the queen was home but not out and about. Another group heeded for the 30 minute trip around the London Eye. And for some it was a chance to explore on foot, above ground so as to not miss a shopping opportunity.

London on a Bank Holiday with a sunny day is a rarity according to locals so it seems like EVERYONE was out to enjoy the day. The students got a first hand look at a VERY busy city. In addition, the Circle and District lines of the subway were closed prompting many of us to use our critical thinking skills to remap a route to the next attraction.

Some of us were working, researching different window displays for Marketing class, taking those all important iconic photos for Geography class, comparing customer service differences between Selfridges and Harrods and sampling a variety of different gins (yes, including Bathtub Gin) for a Wines and Spirits class.

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Tonight we dined in the Covent Garden area prior to our theatre date at the Drury Lane Theatre.

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Tonight's show was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a favorite childhood book and two versions of the movie. There is nothing like a live play in the London Theater District and the show did not disappoint, a fabulously colourful play with outstanding special effects, including a flying booth near the end of the play that hovered at eye level for those of us in the balcony. There were a few people who may have nodded off temporarily due to the jet lag.

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The Wifi has been a bit of a challenge here so if you haven't heard from your traveller that may be the reason or it may be be that they are all out exploring London to see if they can make a liar out of Samuel Johnson.

We are leaving early tomorrow for a long travel day, heading to continental Europe, the White Clifffs of Dover and Amsterdam!

Posted by jonaway 22:28 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (1)

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