Date: 29 Jul - 17 Aug (2017)
These tips apply to tours during Summer.
The packing list is bang on. I highly recommend sticking to it. For the ladies, I'd say pack a couple of light and comfortable dresses on top.
Be aware that the majority of Cathedrals have a 'covered shoulders and knees' dress code. A large scarf can come in handy because you can throw it over your shoulders or wrap it around your waist.
I would definitely pack some hydrolytes and vitamin supplements.
Italy had an extreme heatwave during our tour, I'm talking 40 degree + sort of weather. Prepare yourself if you're heading off in the peak of summer.
Don't bother bringing a bed liner or your own bottle. It's easiest to buy plastic bottles of water on the go and fill them up when you can. Warm water is guaranteed, it will get that hot.
I used a suitcase to pack and it made things really easy. They're not awfully strict about weight but be conscious. Bring a day bag to cart around with you too. I'd typically pack the following most days: Sunblock, sunhat, glasses, water bottle, first aid kit, toiletries (tissues, sanitiser, deodorant etc.), headphones, phone charger, wallet, scarf, and snacks. I'd also advise you take a portable power pack with you. It'll come in handy for emergency recharging.
Some days you'll be required to have your passport with you on the bus. Your guide may tell you but if you know you're crossing a border that day it's easy enough to just pop it in your day pack.
BEWARE PICKPOCKETS! On public transport carry your bags in front of you. Do not leave your wallet or phone on your table/seat when not in use. Invest in a pack lock if you're carrying expensive items.
The daily budget of €50-€60 is reasonable if you're keeping souvenir purchases to a minimum. I'd also say that budget doesn't take into account the amount of money you'll spend on alcohol; which is a shitload. So go with €60-70 a day if you can but €50 will get you by.
The beginning of the trip unfortunately has a couple of pricey optionals. Don't be too alarmed about spending money too quickly because it'll even out, especially on travelling days.
To cut costs back, making up lunch from the free breakfast buffet can go a long way.
Although the optional prices are supposed to be updated, during the tour you may find they're more costly than what's stated on the website. The Cabaret show and Jungfrau excursion for example were each 10 more than the stated price. If you're budgeting tightly leave some leeway for the optionals.
ALSO, put an extra €30 aside for a surprise optional. You'll see what I mean when it comes round. If you want to be taken out of your comfort zone, Amsterdam's the place to do it.
You'll always find cheaper meal options on off-streets. Your guide will help. Cafés in France aren't often open on a Sunday so sometimes street vendors are a better alternative to pricey restaurants.
Every accomodation has a Laundromat if not a Laundromat within 5 minutes of it. I bought hand wash laundry liquid (I found mine in Poundland) that I could dissolve in water and wash my clothes with. It saved a fair bit of money and a lot of time. The weather is likely to be hot enough for you to hang clothes out to dry. You can pack a string as a makeshift drying line or make do with balcony rails/fences.
If your card is charged for international transactions exchange some money beforehand to cut costs.
To start off with I recommend:
- CHF 50 + optional costs
- CZK 1600 + optional costs
Then exchange/withdraw as you go.
A couple of months in advance, I highly recommend buying an Anne Frank Tour ticket! They often sell out quickly and the no-ticket line will undoubtedly take hours to get through.
Typically, your guide makes allowances for couples wanting to room together. Unfortunately, I've heard of cases where couples never had the chance their entire tour. In my experience, rooming lists circulate the bus and it's a free for-all. Most (decent) people respect the couples and leave 2-bed rooms to them.
The accommodation is great in terms of value. You do get what you pay for in my opinion.
Throughout Italy you're likely to be staying in camping grounds. The rooms are very small. But the better accommodations make up for it in my opinion.
Every accommodation will have a fan of some sort. Pray you're not the unlucky bugger who gets a broken air-con.
The first couple of days are pretty packed. If you sign up for all three optionals I highly recommend choosing either the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower to visit and not both. You'll be racing to fit everything in otherwise.
- I missed the Seine Cruise unfortunately. It's worthwhile for the price from what I heard. They'll do a drop off to the Louvre and Eiffel Tower. If you choose to do the cruise, do it first! You won't have the time if you leave it for later.
- The Bike Tour is very relaxed and a great way to see a few of the smaller Parisian sights.
- In terms of the Cabaret Show, read the group vibe. Most of my tour went along and I really enjoyed it. The show we saw had been heavily modernised so expect a possible mix of traditional Cabaret acts and circus-like aspects.
Grindelwald is a small but gorgeous village. We were lucky enough to catch the Swiss Day Fireworks celebrations. Switzerland is the only place where you'll really need a jacket. Definitely walk up the tracks in your free time, you won't regret it. The hostel also offers free entry to the village's swimming pool and ice rink. No one took advantage of that while we were there but if it's still available have a look into it.
- Going to Jungfrau was phenomenal. It's more than just a hike up a mountain. The facility includes other things, check google, and is really great. Our entire group went and everyone loved it. Dress relatively warm. Long pants and a couple of upper layers. You can take a hat and gloves but they're not necessary.
- Skydiving. There isn't much to explain there. Do it if you want. Although the Austrian Skydive is cheaper, the Swiss Skydive is done from a helicopter and is said to have better sights. There is also the risk that weather problems make the Austrian Skydive impossible.
NICE, FRANCE [Monaco]
Nice is the place you'll need to recharge your batteries. Other than the Venus Fountain, the 'I Love Nice' sign, the markets, and the Lookout, there isn't much to do. Your guide will tell you how to get to those spots. Once you've ticked those off, use the spare time to tan on the beach. Buy nectarines at the morning market, they are to die for.
- A nice outfit for the gals and a tidy top for the blokes is what you'll need for the day trip to Monaco. Nip in to Monte Carlo, even if it's just for a nosy, or check out the cars. The best lookouts are from Starbucks and Nikki Beach Bar if you want to take photos.
FLORENCE, ITALY [Pisa]
Throughout Italy there are a lot of illegal sellers. It's illegal for them to sell and illegal for you to purchase from them. If they look like they can pack up easily to make a quick getaway, stay clear away from them. The walking tour is great. There are public fountains throughout Italy so don't throw away any plastic bottles you can refill.
- It may not be listed but if you have the opportunity to do a wine tasting. DO IT. It was definitely a highlight of the tour for me. Appreciate the passion the family has for their craft and just enjoy a fantastic dinner.
- Take that photo with the leaning tower.
ROME, ITALY [Orvieto/Vatican City]
Rome has a lot to offer. If you're looking for real Italian food the rule of thumb is the less amount of ingredients the more authentic. You'll find great options on off-streets. Cafes and gelato shops are essentially on every corner. Pistachio gelato is delicious.
- Orvieto is very gorgeous. Check out the cathedral and give it a taste maybe? The lookout just outside the vernacular station is the best for photos.
- Even if you're not religious, walking through the Vatican City is an experience worth having. The artwork is stunning and you'll see an array of famous pieces. Don't forget to cover up those shoulders and knees.
- After the Vatican tour you'll have free time to roam around Rome. Buy a ticket to the Colosseum and have a look around. The ticket will give you entry to the Roman Forum as well. There's a lot of interesting history behind them so visit them if you can.
Venice is stunning! There're a bunch of galleries your guide will point out. Try make it into the gorgeous St.Mark's Basilica or one of the galleries. Buy your last lot of gelato and wander around. You can come across some really cute glass and lace works so check those out. There are plenty of high end stores too if that's your thing.
- The Gondola ride was surprisingly quick but it's definitely a must-do experience. Hopefully, your Gondolier will sing and chat away but don't be surprised if they do neither of those things.
- The Basilica is breath-taking. The line can be quite long so cross your fingers if you plan to go in.
The accomodation in Austria was my favourite. It's the cosiest and cutest. Most of the optionals take up the majority of the day.
- Skydiving in Austria was unfortunately not an option due to weather. But it is sky diving and that's self-explanatory.
- Paragliding is very different to Tandem gliding. You aren't gliding with a triangular kite. A lot of people didn't realise that. Like sky diving, this optional is weather dependant too so no one was able to do it.
- Canyoning was fantastic. You jump off waterfalls and abseil down rocks, for something that lasts 3-4 hours it was by far the best 'bang for your buck' optional on the entire tour.
- If you don't fancy doing the others, you can hire a bike and explore the forest lands for gorgeous views.
Prague was a hidden gem for me. It had so much more than I'd expected. Things to do: Astrological Clock, Disney Cathedral, John Lennon's Wall, St Nicholas' Plaque, and Prague Castle. Do yourself a favour and buy a chimney cake, they're heaven.
- I hugely recommend visiting Prague Castle. The church there is beyond stunning. The stained art is phenomenal and the style altogether is so different to everything you'll come across beforehand.
- From what I'd heard, the Beer Tasting optional was great for those who enjoy beer. If you're not a fan of beer, you're not missing out if you give it a pass.
- We had an extra optional of a 5 Course meal with entertainment. It was fucking great. I can't describe it otherwise it won't have the same impact. The food isn't 5 star material but the alcohol is free and the entertainment will make your night.
- Five Floors. There's something like a CZK 200 door charge to get into the club. You'll also have to buy a drink for entry to the ice bar. I didn't make it but everyone else that did thought it was amazing.
BERLIN, GERMANY [Dresden]
Berlin is beautifully marred. It's a place bursting at the seams with expression and the East Side Gallery is living proof. Alongside visiting the gallery you should consider going to the Topography of Terror and the Memorial to the Murdered Jewish. I appreciated all three of them. There's also Checkpoint Charlie. Berlin is wonderful in the way that it's history is so relevant. If you enjoy thrift shopping, Berlin has it all. Try a Main Street and you're sure to find one.
- The walking tour was a few hours long. The tour guide was very knowledgeable and passionate. You gain an in-depth understanding of the Third Reich. If that history interests you, the tour is perfect. Keep in mind you visit the Memorial to the Murdered Jewish and end at Checkpoint Charlie.
Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Amsterdam. Where do I begin? There's a lot to do. Like Peep Shows, Sex Shows, Drugs, and Sex. Do whatever you think will be a good way to end the tour. Buy some Gouda at the Cheese and Clog activity maybe. Definitely try some Vlaamse Frites.
- I passed on the bike tour simply because it's so easy to walk around Amsterdam. Those who went enjoyed it although it may be fast paced. I didn't feel like I missed anything though.
- There's an option to see a sex show with the tour. Personally, it took the majority of the show for me to become relatively comfortable and see the entertainment side of things. It's full on is all I can say. I'm happy I did it especially because it's one of those 'When in Amsterdam' sort of experiences.
- You can buy pot in a 'Coffee Shop'. Edibles and joints. Smoke inside.
- Do not, I repeat, DO NOT go to the dinner cruise high. All of us that did regretted it. Spend the dinner talking and eating and drinking. You've got plenty of time to get high afterwards if that's what you want.