Apr 20, 2012 21:19

A few weeks ago, I went off on the adventure of a lifetime. I traveled to a good portion of Europe as part of tour group with Topdeck travel, a tour company based out of London and Sydney. This adventure took me all of Europe and I got to meet tons of new people from all over the world. I took tons of pictures and it was such an awesome experience that I would definitely travel with Topdeck again. It's one of the few tour companies that doesn't charge extra for solo travelers (in fact, most of the people on the tour were traveling solo), geared towards people my age, and gave plenty of time to explore on your own too. I was actually a little concerned about the amount of free time I would have but it was the perfect balance of a guided tour and free time.

Well, onward to the adventure! I also took way more pictures than this, but this a good representation of the trip.

My adventure begins at Newark Airport. Now since there are no direct flights from Newark to Prague (where I was meeting up with the tour group) I had a connection through Geneva, Switzerland. Several years ago, the EU created the Schengen Agreement, where once you enter one natiton you can travel freely among all the others, so I had to go through customs in Switzerland, which was quite a joke.

I landed in Geneva at 8AM, which was perfect timing because then I got to see the Swiss Alps as I flew in to the airport. WHAT A VIEW! It was so gorgeous. Of course, this meant I took a redeye flight (leaving Newark at 6 PM on Saturday night) and got very little sleep. They kept feeding us first a dinner and then a breakfast. It was nice traveling internationally and having on demand screens so I could choose from TONS of films.

I would not recommend flying through Geneva airport though, becuase they don't announce what gate the flights are taking off from until an hour before departure so I sat around the airport trying my best not to fall asleep. FINALLY my gate gets called and then I got to fly Swiss airlines to Prague. This flight was super short and I had been up for hours so I just crashed on the flight and when I woke up, they left a little piece of chocolate for me!

I arrive at the Prague airport and don't have to go through customs, so I just figure out how to take the public bus to the main train station since no trains/trams run to the airport. Take the train to the tram and then to the hostel. Now the tour I was joining up was a 24 day tour and I was just doing the last seven days of the tour. I can't check in until they arrive so I just drop off my bags and wait around in the lobby. There's a few others who stop in that will also be joining our group and I start chatting to some of them. Three of the girls are from Beijing and studying in Dublin. Lijing and I spend a bit talking. Once the tour group gets there, we quickly file away into our rooms before heading to the hostel's bar/restaurant for our included dinner and I get to meet more of the group. There's tons of people and everyone is so friendly. The rest of the group is SUPER tired, but Lijing and I are ready to head out, so we take the tram tickets they gave us and head into Prague to see it lit up at night. Mind you, this is a Sunday night, so it's pretty empty.

Originally we were supposed to do a walking tour of Prague the night before, but the rest of the tour group was too tired (even though half of them were in the bar until really late) but it worked out much better to do the tour in the morning. Prague is a very walkable city and you can walk pretty much the entire city in the span of one day. We started out at the National Museum, walked to Old Town Square, Wenscelas Square, the Jewish Quarter, the Clock Tower, Charles Bridge and Prague Castle. Now Prague Castle is up these insane set of stairs (probably 10-13 story climb) and we're walking up them and turn around going "this view better be worth this climb" and OMG! Prague Castle is across the river from Old Town and when you're at the top you can see all of Prague and it's absolutely breathtaking.

While we were up at Prague Castle, we got to see the changing of the guard which was impressive and then we walked back to see the Clock Tower go off as it does every hour. Prague was also really pretty and set up for Easter season so we got to see all the Easter markets and see the handpainted eggs. It was such an experience and a great way to start off the trip. For lunch that day, we ate at Beer Factory, where every table has taps in the middle and you just pour yourself the beer. Quite a way to eat! Now, while shopping around, I got it in my head to start collecting the Harry Potter books in different languages. I already had it in Spanish and Japanese at home, and since everyone else wanted to go to the mall, I found a bookstore and bought it in Czech.

After an adventurous day in Prague, it was an early morning as we left at 8:30AM, got in the bus and on our way to Dresden for lunch. Now Dresden is most famous now for being firebombed at the end of World War II for no military purpose. There was no strategic advantage to blowing Dresden up. The city was decimated and you can still sees the burn marks all over the city. Dresden was famous prior to this because it was the capitol of Saxony, one of the larger kingdoms in Europe.

After a nice lunch in Dresden, we continued on our merry way to Berlin. Now since Berlin is soooooooo spread out as far as cities go, we took a driving tour, but we did stop at Treptow Park, where the Russians built this INSANELY massive statue dedicated to their victory over the Nazis. Obviously, this was in East Germany. We also stopped at the East Side Gallery, which is where the East Side of the Berlin Wall has been painted over by various artists of Eastern European descent. Mostly Russians, but the art is still intriguing and each piece of the wall is so starkly different from the next. We drove around the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag and Checkpoint Charlie.

Today, we went on a Third Reich walking tour. Originally we were supposed to do it in the morning, but our bus couldn't get us there so it got postponed until lunch time. A small group of us headed off to the mall and yay I picked up Harry Potter in German. Also, Berlin is known for their ampelmann, or the pedestrian crosswalk signal. The Russians put it in East Germany and ampelmann was used in those instructional learning videos you're forced to watch in elementary school in East Germany back in the 1980s and so it's pretty well known all over Berlin. So well known, that there are souvenir shops dedicated to it. I bought cookie cutters and once I got home, I made ampelmann cookies! So yes, the Third Reich walking tour took us all over, from the Brandeburg Gate, to the Reichstag, to Hitler's bunker (the area above is now just a carpark), the Holocaust Memorial, the Topography of Terror Museum and we ended at Checkpoint Charlie.

After a long day of walking around, it was time for night pub crawl around Berlin! Super cool! We all started out with a beer on teh streets (I gave mine to someone else, because obviously, I don't drink beer). The first bar was super crowded, had a live rock band that sounded like the German version of the Cure and had Communist memorabilia everywhere. The next bar was a cocktail lounge which was definitely my favorite. The third bar was a rock bar, playing all this music I listened to in high school like Metallica, Blink 182, Papa Roach to name some. The last tbar was a dance bar and we just got up and danced. We took the train back to a club right near the hostel and rather than go to the club, I went back because we were leaving for Amsterdam at 7:30AM.

This day was a pretty calm day and basically spent on the bus since it's a very long bus ride from Berlin to Amsterdam. Amsterdam is not ta very bus or car friendly city, so we had to constantly walk with our suitcases, which was not fun. For our first night in Amsterdam, we walked to Dam Square and then over to the red light district where prostitution is legal and they stand in glass windows for everyone to see. The group split up here, because half of them were going to watch a sex show, but I chose not to and walked back to the hostel with Victoria but we got a bit lost. I did manage to spot a bookstore to hunt out the next morning and since Victoria and I weren't doing the bike tour, we agreed to meet up for pancakes in the morning.

Now I suppose I should have known, what with it being Easter and all, but Amsterdam was insanely packed full of people. Nicole, Victoria and I had delicious pancakes in the morning and then I headed off to explore Amsterdam on my own. I have never been more fearful walking around on my own. Mostly of getting hit due to bikes or the tram coming down the street. I picked up Harry Potter in Dutch, bought wooden tulips for my mom, browsed the flower market, and headed off to the Van Gogh museum which was really impressive. I enjoyed just wandering around for the day and then we all met up for dinner in the evening as we ate at this Chinese restaurant and then took a canal cruise around the canals of Amsterdam.

TEARS! This was our last day together and certainly one of the busiest. We left Amsterdam fairly early and then headed off for lunch in Brugge, Belgium. Once again, I'm on a quest for Harry Potter, this time in French and SUCCESS! Also picked up a tshirt for my brother that says "Save Water, Drink Beer Made in Belgium". Tried Belgian chocolate and waffles and ate at this super cute little cafe. It was a nice afternoon, but Brugge is quite expensive. After that we headed off to Calais, France to take the ferry back to England. This is the last we see of our beloved bus. We took several pictures. I got to see the White Cliffs of Dover as we took the Ferry in, which was pretty exciting. Then took a bus into London and that's the last I see of everyone. I stayed at the Clink Hostel, which was eh. The worst of the hostels I had stayed at through my adventure, but it was conveniently located near King's Cross station.

Now, when I watched the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 on DVD (I got it for Christmas), they mentioned that they were opening the Studio up for tours. This is about when I started planning my trip and I was so excited and knew I absolutely had to do it! I grew up on the books and movies. Of course, the tour actually just opened the week before i got there, so it was super shiny and new and I was just all excited and you can take pictures absolutely everywhere. Honestly, if you're a Harry Potter fan and in London, I HIGHLY recommend the studio tour. I also bought tons of gifts here, a book about the studio, all three different British covers (omg why three covers?), a Ravenclaw tshirt tfor my sister, and a GIANT Marauder's Map mug. I swear, this mug holds two cups of tea and if perfect in the morning at work. Also the Hogwarts castle you see in the movies? It's just this big model. It's pretty impressive how insanely detailed this model is too.

Those wand boxes? There is one for every single person who worked on the movies and they all have someone's name on it. TIt'd take forever to find someone's name on them, but it's impressive to see how many people had a hand in making these fantastic films.

The tour took me back to London by 2ish, so then I was able to meet up with William and explore London. OMG we hit pretty much every major sight in London and walked an awful lot along the Thames River. But seriously, EVERY SIGHT! I saw Big Ben, the London Eye, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, 10 Downing Street, Tralfalgar Square, Tate Modern, the London Bridge, Millenium Bridge, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, Chinatown, the West End, and I'm sure I'm leaving a sight or two out. We did soooooooo much. It was great being able to see him and I hope I'll be able to make it back to London next year. I also picked up a funny British flag hat for my Dad and he seemed really appreciative of it, so I'm glad he enjoyed that.

Monday was pretty much just me getting up and getting to Heathrow for my flight home. I was so exhausted at this point, I think I went to bed every night at 8 that week. I swear, I think my parents are going to start drugging me when I get off the plane, because I talk nonstop from the time I see them until I get in the house and can go up to my room.

I had also bought a backpack specifically for this trip and I'm so glad I wasn't lugging around too much stuff, though by the end, I certainly had enough books in my suitcase.

If you want to hear any more details about any part of my adventure, feel free to ask, I'm sure I left out TONS!


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