17 – 19 June 2010
17 June was a Thursday and I was still in Lincolnshire with Jilly, Howy, Annabel and Ella who I had had a fantastic time with. It was with nervous excitement that I bordered the train to London so that I could get to the Contiki registration later that night in preparation for the 6am departure the following day.
Naturally I was excited about spending the next thirty seven days in Europe, but what would the actual tour be like, what if I made no friends?
Registration was tedious and didn’t alleviate any of my concerns, I still hadn’t made a friend and I still didn’t know what the tour would actually be like. I had an early night but found it incredibly difficult to sleep, this was my first experience in a four bed hostel dorm and it didn’t go well. If you have a little more budget, I recommend you look for cheap London hotels, at least you will get a good night’s sleep. When 5am came around I was already awake, had been for most of the night.
I got my bag stored and made it on the coach, I even got a full two seats to myself. Still no friends.
On the way to Dover the group started to gel a little and we all started to try and remember a few names. Our tour manager Ray introduced himself and our tour driver Andre and gave us a little starting tour information on how the tour runs and what we can expect. Ray speaks very well and has proved an excellent tour manager so far, some of his dry jokes are even occasionally starting to make me chuckle. We were embarking on a ‘Concept’ tour, Ray stressed that concept was simply a nicer way of saying ‘budget’. “Christ, what kind of shit boxes are we going to be staying in?” I fretted.
Our Contiki tour group consists of 27 people, no couples, no groups and with only a few people travelling in pairs. There are eighteen females and nine males, much to the delight of the boys. From early on I got a good vibe from the group and now that I’ve been with them a week and spoken to most on an individual basis I can fairly say my initial vibe was correct. Everyone gets along, everyone is included, there are no assholes; its proving a lot of fun.
Official Contiki Itinerary
Day 1: London to Paris
Meet up with your Contiki Crew. Ferry across the English
Channel to Paris. Contiki Village (D)
• See the White Cliffs of Dover
• See the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the
Champs Elysees & Notre Dame Cathedral
White Cliffs of Dover
Sightseeing Paris with Ray’s knowledgeable commentating
Stop for Champagne, Escargot and a selection of cheeses
We were all pretty shattered after our first day, it had been an early morning and a long drive. I went to bed relatively early and got a good night sleep.
Official Contiki Itinerary
Days 2-3: Paris
Indulge in this sophisticated city & find magic, romance &
history. Day trip to beautiful Château Versailles. Contiki
• See Château Versailles (entrance not included)
Official Contiki Day Sheet
Chateau Versailles in the morning
Musee Du Louvre
We checked out the areas that recently featured in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code novel.
After dinner that evening we made a trip into town to see the Eiffel Tower, we had all had a few drinks prior to going out. We were lucky enough to be up the tower while the evening progressed into night and we got to see the city of Paris light up. It was a great experience and we were all buzzing by the time we got back on the coach. With music blaring our coach essentially became a make shift nightclub for the trip back, people were dancing in the isles, Ray got the interior lights flashing, it was crazy. The campsite was quiet when we returned but that didn’t stop us from drinking, talking and listening to music into the early hours.
The next morning I ploughed through a few ham and cheese croissants [Food has exceeded my expectations to date] before we all got back on the coach to head into town for our ‘free day’. Katherine and I went to a morning Masse service at the Cathedral of Notre Dame (committed blaspheme and left early – the incense was overwhelming).
We walked through the Latin Quarter and visited the Musee Rodin where we posed with The Thinker and I knocked on the gates of hell. I saw the original Vincent Van Gogh landscape that I had always liked as a kid in my postcard book of Van Gogh art work.
We visited Napoleon’s tomb in the Eglise Du Dome, his tomb/coffin is huge! It is apparently designed so that you can either look up to him or bow your head down to him. Ray told us that in recent survey results of the citizens of France Napoleon Bonaparte was recognised as the most respected historical figure of France.
Time was pressing but we made a quick rush through the 1st World War section of the Hotel Des Invalides – another amazing building commissioned by Napoleon to house his crippled war veterans.
That night we had an optional dinner and Cabaret show which I had decided to splash out on. Everyone spiffed up and we got on the coach and headed into the city. We had our own private room and a dedicated selection of French waiters; it was a three course menu with three choices for the entre and mains. I went for the Escargot followed by leg of duck with spinach and a potato thing. I wish I could remember the proper name, I can’t but it was delicious and atmosphere superb. The wine kept flowing throughout and an accordion player kept us all entertained if not rather loudly. A slice of brie was followed by a fierce hit of black coffee and then a delicious slice followed by more wine. By the end of the night I must have polished off a full bottle of red by myself (as had everyone else). We loaded back onto the coach and set off for our Cabaret show, we were all in a jovial mood.
The Nouvelle Eve venue that housed our Cabaret show is just down the road from the Moulin Rouge, we were seated right at the front of the stage at a table with 3 bottles of Champagne between roughly six of us. The show was fantastic, absolutely worth the 71 Euros. Unfortunately cameras were not permitted once the show started so you will just have to take my word for how good it was.
Ray described the event as a ‘variety show’, “there will be boobs, but to Parisans boobs are just boobs”. I’m not going to describe it all but I’ll give you some key words: Girls, legs, breasts, outfit changes. Guys, very gay, large smiles. Dancing.
Other than the dancing and singing there were three other acts, all amazing. The juggling/comedy act comprised of a couple of guys with some incredible juggling skills. Juggling batons and hats, individually and in partnership, close together or far away from each other. They then took a volunteer from the audience; they got him to sit still, put a hat and glasses on him and a cigarette in his mouth. With the volunteer sitting in the middle and the jugglers about twelve feet apart they proceeded to juggle batons past his head between each other. Systematically they knocked off his hat, cigarette and finally his glasses off his face – amazing!
The old guy who was certainly a comedian but insisted he was an acrobat followed, he was wacky and blew away all our expectations.
Another memorable act involved what appeared to be an Arabic mime with a difference, he was mind bafflingly amazing. Picture a guy dressed in white robes with not one but two white heads (one protruding initially from his chest). He has two hands, two legs and two heads; I couldn’t pick how he managed it.
It was such a good night that no one wanted it to end. Only six of us were on the coach back ‘home’, the rest had stayed out in the Red Light District. Stories the next day included accounts of an amazing dancing effort, and managing to fit 7 people in a taxi much to Ray’s amazement as apparently Paris taxi drivers will normally insist strictly on no more than three passengers.