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Two Unbelievable Weeks in Europe

Author: Kathryn B.
Date of Trip: July 2006

I tried escargot for the first time, and it actually wasn't bad. I had French onion soup and beef. Delicious. Being a little tipsy now, we made the treacherous trip back down the hill, still in heels, and somehow didn't kill ourselves. Walked over to the Moulin Rouge and enjoyed a wonderful cabaret show. Fancy costumes, acrobats, tons of dancing, singing, lots of champagne, flashy colors, just overall awesome. If you ever get the chance to do any part of this trip, this would be one of the best times in my opinion. The whole day in a beautiful city, followed by a wonderful meal in an unique spot of Paris, followed by a world-famous cabaret show. I've definitely been bragging about this part quite a bit since I've been back, hehe. Anyway, it was really late by the time the show ended and got back around 2am.

Day 6 - Paris to Lucerne, Switzerland

Got up around 6am to leave Paris, which after the huge day the day before was a little tough. Thankfully we could sleep a few hours on the coach. It was sad to leave Paris after so little time there. Got my first sights of the Alps, and as we got further into Switzerland, just got more and more gorgeous. It was a long drive to get to Lucerne, but the scenery made it worth it. When we arrived, we went to a store to get some Swiss army knives and watches. Already bought quite a bit of chocolate at a rest stop on the way. Lucerne is extremely picturesque. Flowers everywhere, water, mountains, cute buildings, charming bridge. The Hotel Flora was really nice. We walked to the restaurant for dinner. We were told it would be traditional Swiss food and a show of some sort. The show was all different Swiss cultural acts like yodeling, horn blowing, dancing, saw playing, beer chugging, flag waving, and a cow licking the audience. It was so much fun and the food was great as well. I didn't know much about the Swiss culture, but now I feel like I have an idea about how those neutral people spend some of their time when not making knives and chocolate.

Some people went swimming in the lake, but were done by the time we got there, so Rachael, Diana, and I went walking around the town. Out of nowhere it started pouring, like torrential rains that seemed like it was out of a movie, and we got stuck no where near the hotel. After waiting around by a store for a little bit with a French family, we decided just to run for it.

Halfway there once we were already soaked, we saw a pub, and figured a drink couldn't hurt. A few Contiki people happened to be there so we hung out with them for a few hours and played a drinking game. It was pretty funny. We somehow got lost on the way back after the pub, so ended up wandering around laughing a lot for close to an hour. Jaimee kept trying to get us back and Narelle kept playing tour guide. For a night that didn't seem like we were going to do a whole lot, it ended up being a lot of fun.

Day 7 - Lucerne to Hopfgarten, Austria

Switzerland was the only place we stayed for one night, but before we left, we got to go up Mt. Pilatus, aka the home of dragons. Mt. Pilatus is one of the highest mountain peaks in Western Europe and it was beautiful. The first part of the trek up was a four-person gondola ride halfway up, followed by a large group ride to the top. It was a gorgeous day and the clouds didn't come until later so we got some great pictures. Once at the top, we climbed up the steep steps to the very tip, and got even better views of the Alps and the town of Lucerne. The fresh air is something that is forgotten in busy city life, and it was refreshing. We yodeled, yelled "Ricola!!" across the hills, and did other silly American things, but it was fun. We climbed back down, ate lunch, drank Swiss hot chocolate, and met to go take the steepest train in the world down. The steepest train ride in the world is not as thrilling as it sounds, mainly because it went extremely slow. Saw some Swiss cows grazing in the fields.

We got back in the coach and headed to Austria. As a surprise, once we got near Hopfgarten, we pulled off and stopped at the Sworovsky crystal factory. We got to shop for an hour or so, and I got a really pretty necklace.

We continued on to the adorable town of Hopfgarten and our hotel Haus Lucas and was greeted by Grandma waving in the upstairs window. The Haus was extremely comfortable and homey, and before the meal started, we were taught the correct way to take a shot of Schnapps. The pinky and thumb hold the shot glass and the other fingers rest against the glass. I think the meal prepared by the staff and served by "Hans and Helga" or our driver Aaron and TM Pete, was one of the best of the trip. Hopfgarten is not exactly a party town, so we drank at the Haus bar for awhile, then I went to bed in preparation of our mountain bike ride in the morning.

Day 8 - The day in Hopfgarten

We woke up to rain, lots of rain, which is not the greatest for a 25k bike ride through the mountains. So, we delayed the ride and I ended up having a really relaxing morning wandering around the town with Rachael. Bought some Schnapps, ate lunch, surfed the internet, enjoyed the picturesque simplicity of the mountain-surrounded town. By the time we met for the mountain bike ride again, it was beautiful and sunny. It was too late to go do the original bike ride, but we were able to bike through the entire town and stop at an ice cream place for some delicious ice cream. The rain then started again, and by the time we got back were soaked and muddy. Since we were so muddy and wet, a few of us decided to keep biking and enjoy the rain. Tons of exercise, really muddy clothes, but a lot of fun. Even when things could have been deemed bad, everyone made it fun. And besides, how often do you get to look like crap and be drenched through in Austria?

Another great dinner, some drinks at the bar, then we walked over to the Silver Bullet bar for some drinks and dancing. Couldn't go too crazy, even with cheap chocolate shots, because white water rafting was the next morning, and that hungover would not be too fun.

Day 9 - Hopfgarten to Venice

Second favorite part of the trip - white water rafting! I was a little nervous about it, since I'd never rafted before, but the guide made it easy, and for a raft full of girls, I think we did a good job. The rapids we did were only a level three, but it was exciting still. We didn't end up with a hot rafting instructor, but rafting through Austrian mountains, swimming in frigid waters that we were forced to get into, standing in a circle on top of the raft, made the experience awesome. Probably the thing that made this so special is it was an experience I never planned on doing in my life. Not only was this white water rafting, but it was in Austria. Ahh, so cool. Once we finished going down the river, we were met with orange juice and vodkas, got rid of our equipment, and ate lunch.

After an adventure packed morning, it's off to Italy! It took the rest of the afternoon to get near Venice where we stayed. We ate dinner in the hotel then since we weren't actually in Venice but a small town about 45 minutes away, we wandered around. Didn't find much to do. I was pretty tired and sore from all the exercise the past few days (I almost never do physical activity, so two extreme sports was pushing it for me), so decided to go to bed early.

Day 10 - Ciao Italy!

Another very rainy day. Got to the spot where to board the boats to get to the island and got to buy some lovely Italian ponchos. Our advice for Venice was to get lost - which is extremely easy to do, and really all you can do to really experience Venice. Saw a glass blowing demonstration in the morning, then most of the day was spent wandering the extremely narrow streets and shopping for Murano glass and masquerade masks. Then of course, it's not a trip to Venice without a gondola ride through the canals. Drank wine and relaxed on our ride.

Our gondolier informed us that they do not sing though, which was slightly disappointing. It made it better when we had a really hot gondolier in the gondola in front of us. After the ride, we wandered around a bit more, then met for dinner. Enjoyed a very traditional Italian meal which was very good, except the fish portion of the meal was a bit tough to eat because unlike America, the fish is whole, head and everything. Interesting little culture differences like that is what makes it so cool and you really realize you're nowhere close to America anymore. We sang some songs on the boat ride back to the mainland, and I napped on the way back to the hotel and went straight to sleep. By this time of the trip, sleep was appreciated and the crazy schedule was starting to catch up with me.

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