We really started to hit our strides on this next leg of our journey which would take us through parts of Western Europe to see countries like France, Holland, Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland. We would soon be part of what we call ‘the
best tour group’. What we mean by this will become obvious throughout this post but needless to say we have kept in contact with more people from this tour group than any of our other tours. They were all good tours just this one seemed to
have the best combination of people and humour. This was 2005 and we were about to check out Europe’s Highlights with Cosmos Tours.
The first day saw us taking a ferry
from Dover to Calais where we would really begin to meet our other tour group members. However, when we arrived at the Ferry terminal, we would meet old friends, in particular the young lass I had become close to on the UK tour and her mum. Turns
out their tour would crossover ours at several points along the way until we hit Italy. A fact which sounded pretty good to me, though to be honest at that moment I wished we had gone with them on their tour.
This being Europe, our driver was Italian, our tour director a Belgian and we had a young Trainee Tour Guide who was Dutch. Our tour group consisted of quite a few Aussies and Americans with some South Africans,
Canadians, Indians and a few from South America. I must say having that many Aussies on the bus tour was the best, the others didn’t share the same sense of humour to begin with but soon warmed to our ways.
From the ferry to
another bus and on we would drive through France, Belgium and arrive in Amsterdam, Holland that same night. The next day we would tour Amsterdam delights, have a canal
ride, tour the diamond centre and stand outside a ‘coffee bar’. In Amsterdam it is legal to buy and consume marijuana only in ‘coffee bars’ or ‘hash bars’. We stood outside only as the smell was enough to tell
you there was more than coffee being consumed here. I did see a big fat ginger cat staggering near the door to this establishment.
After the day tour of Amsterdam, we were on the bus for AnderNacht. It was the first day and already we were on the Autobahn. Dinner at the hotel was followed by a walk around the block and through the old city walls with a few of our fellow group members.
From Andernacht the next day we would take a Rhine Cruise, have lunch outside Stuttgart and travel through Germany, Bavaria and into Austria to a
town called Innsbruck. There was a traffic hold-up in the alps, apparently there was a motorcycle accident and traffic was backed up for miles up the mountain road.
One of our fellow Aussies took the opportunity to use the little boys room behind some trees in the forest. I was standing with some of the group and the trainee tour guide, the young lass from Holland and I said to another traveller “think its
time for the old Aussie Aussie Oi Oi” To which he replied with a smirk. We began the Aussie warcry with zeal and loud voices, the echo around the mountain gave it extra effect. We were high-spirited, even the older men got in on the
action. The fellow would come back and bow to our efforts. As some of us then walked along to see what the hold up was, it was obvious that everyone had heard us and wondered what all the ruckus was about.
I think it
was about this time that someone found a name of a town on a map of Austria that could not go unheralded, this was to be the start of something which to this day remains a joke among those of us who have kept in contact. You guessed it… the town
was called Bad Aussee and we took that town name to heart. Throughout the rest of the trip we would create a story about how the town was our kingdom or republic if you like and the people on the bus played different roles. I became Prime Minister
and my dad was Speaker of the House. We had a President and First Lady, Treasurer, Presidential Guards and… Well, you get the picture.
The President and 1st Lady were a couple from Victoria, the President
was a bus driver and tour guide himself and the stories he would tell the tour group members from other countries would make your eyes water with laughter. He was not really impressed by some of the driving by our Italian tour bus driver who always seemed
to have only one hand on the wheel, the other was operating his phone or beeping the horn. By the end we made up funny business cards with our roles and the republics motto. From a song by Paul Kelly.. ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’.
This was to relieve a fair bit of boredom of just sitting in the coach crossing borders into different countries. One of our fellow Aussies even
took to photographing his kneecap with a cap on it. He was just messing around with his new digital camera and was pretty bored on the bus. Even I was starting to feel the effects of so much time on tour buses but with so much good company on board
the feeling was pretty short-lived. Talk about the philosophy of travel and it taking you out of your comfort zone.
From Innsbruck we headed to Venice, Italy. The weather was getting warmer as we headed south. We took a boat into the city of Venice and we toured around the amazing city on stilts
in the swamp. It was here that we would experience rudeness and bad customer service at the hands of an Italian waiter. It was a beaming hot day in the sun and we were trying to find a cool spot to have a drink and watch the passing parade.
We found a Marque with no one else in it and a waiter was busy setting up. We tried to get his attention but to no avail so my dad and the other friendly couple we were hanging with decided to get some drinks from the fridge in the shop attached.
They paid for the drinks and we sat at a table feeling good about the shade. As soon as we did so the waiter came round and told us to go in broken English. We asked why and he said that we had to pay more to sit here. We then asked how much
more, turns out the price would be double. We told him we just wanted a shady spot, he kept telling us to go. Finally we left the table and sat on the edge of the canal in the blazing sun and finished our beer. Now, what sort of customer
service is that??!!
It was not the last time we would have run ins with Italian shopkeepers, we could say they were mere misunderstandings
but we didn’t feel so at the time. From these instances I got a really bad impression of my biological ancestral home. The next incident would be in Florence. From Venice we would go to Rome
and visit Vatican City. We would see Assisi and the Trevi Fountain. Yet another chance run in with the young nurse and her mum in Rome, we walked through some square where local men would give the ladies flowers, these men were called ‘gigolos’.
We ended the day with dinner and some local entertainment.
The following day was spent visiting the Vatican Museum, Sistine
Chapel and St Pauls Basilica. We went to the Roman Hills to see the Popes Summer Residence. We then took a tour of the Colosseum. We had a funny Indian lady on the tour who almost got run over in the streets of Rome. She didn’t
seem too worried but we were concerned that she was wandering away from the main group and was always the slowest, we asked the tour guide on the day to slow down a bit. Which they did in the short term but they are on tight timeframes too. The
day ended in a tavern where the food was good but I wasn’t so sure about the wine. Mind you, had a couple of drinks just to make sure and we were joined by members of another tour group.
From Rome the following day we would bus to Florence and on to Montecatini. We did the sightseeing tour in Florence and we got a group
photo done, as is usual practice for me, I was in the back but this time I am visible to the left hand side. The departure from Rome would be the last time till we got back to the UK before I would see my young lady friend again. That term ‘young
lady friend’ was the term some of my tour mates were using.
We had a couple of drinks in the main square of
Florence and then walked over the bridge. Dad decided we should try the gelati ice creams and so ordered two small icecreams. This was to be our next runin with misunderstanding. He went to pay for the ice creams, the ones that came out were
quite large. The prices that were listed were 3Euros for Small, 4 for Medium and 5 for Large. We expected to pay 6Euros so dad handed over 10 and wanted change. What then transpired unbeknownst to me, was that the shopkeeper asked for more,
he somehow wanted another 6Euro. Dad told him where to go, he said something about Polizi and dad walked out of the shop with icecreams in hand and me in tow. They were nice icecreams but not worth 16Euros, not worth 10 really.
It was when we got back on the bus and headed to Montecatini that we were reminded what we had been told by the tour director about different
prices in Italy for takeaway versus eating in the shop and eating outside. However, that doesn’t explain the price differences for the gelati ice-creams really? People said to us before we left that the French are rude but we never found that,
in fact quite the opposite as long as you try to speak the language no matter how badly. I can say, on our trip, the rudest were the Italians...
From Montecatini we headed to Lake Lucerne and the little town of Freuelin in Switzerland. Along the way we saw the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Square of Miracles. I was fascinated by the market stalls there selling items such
as replica guns and various knives to tourists. I wondered how these tourists would get them back through Customs. Obviously it wouldn’t be a problem for other European tourists but for us Aussies with our strict Border Security, you couldn’t
take the chance. We went through the biggest traffic jam in the rain and then drove through the 2nd longest road tunnel in Europe i.e the San Gottard at about 17kilometres long. Lugarno was a nice place and I ended up having another
chat and glass of wine with the young trainee tour guide. We talked about music and movies and stuff, about language with her trying to teach me a little Dutch. Seems I have trouble with making these guttural sounds necessary in the Germanic languages.
The next day we would go from Freuelin to Lausanne, this was a highlight as we would take an old railroad and then cable car to the top of Mount Stanserhorn.
I would experience fallen snow for the second time on this trip and even make snow balls and have the obligatory snowball fight with a few of the younger members of the tour group. We had lunch at the rotating restaurant on top of the mountain.
Was a beautiful stop and I really enjoyed it, I’m sure the rest did too. We had become friendly with a family who were originally from South America but were now living in Canada. There were five members of the family on this tour and we
particularly became friends with the son and daughter . Of course, as Aussies we would tell stories and explain our country and culture to anyone that would listen and the son had Aussie friends back in Canada so he was keen to listen.
From Lausanne we headed to Paris, France. We finally put together the tour group contact list with email addresses or postal addresses. There was an official list which was passed around
for people to fill out and then there was the Presidential list which gave names and roles in our little story. During the tour we had, at dinner sat with another pair from Florida. They were uncle and niece and while talking to them my dad asked
them where they were from. When they said Florida, dad mentioned that he’d heard there were a lot of problems with the Cubans/Latinos over in Florida. My father is sometimes not known for diplomacy and what he failed to recognise was
that they were from Cuba originally. I tried to cover as best as I could but they just laughed it off and the conversation still flowed. They are, to this day, people that we do keep in contact with and in fact in my subsequent travels to the US,
I have called in on them and been a very welcome guest.
We had a couple of days in Paris before heading back to the UK. We
did the sightseeing tour covering the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame as well as touring the Palace of Versailles. I couldn’t believe the extravagance of Versailles, no wonder there was a French Revolution. We took a river cruise along the Seine
and went up to the 2nd level of the Eiffel Tower, we walked through the Louvre and checked out the Mona Lisa and the Venus De Milo. We visited MontMartre by cable car. On one of the nights in Paris and we had a farewell dinner where we tried
French Cuisine. This included us ordering Escargot (Snails) and Frogs Legs. I didn’t think much of either of those dishes, the snails were small and awkward to get to and the frogs legs were like toothpicks with a tiny string of meat attached.
Some of our members were departing in Paris, the rest would head back to Calais for the ferry ride back to Dover and a return to London.
Stay tuned to the final in this travel series which covers what happened when we got back to London…