Months and months ago we booked a two week tour of Eastern Europe with Topdeck – Aussie’s version of Contiki. The tour started in Rome and is due to finish is London. However, we are getting off one day early in Amsterdam instead.
On our very first day we had until 2pm to get to the campsite. When we say campsite, it means there are also cabins/chalets there. We do not do tents. The site was gooorrrgeoouuss with a restaurant and pool. Total luxury compared to our nights in central Rome. We were to join with 16 others into a group of 30 who were half way through their grand tour of Europe, so we were a little worried about being the newbies. However, we had an amazing meal that night from the on-site chef, followed by a few quiets, then some more, at the bar, and managed to learn a few names and everyone actually made a real effort to meet us too.
The next day consisted solely of a long bus ride to the outskirts of Venice. New Zealand is overflowing with blink-and-you-miss-it type of towns, where it is usually best just to blink. Though through the countryside of Italy, they have a way of making dilapidated look charming and quaint. The bus was surprisingly uncomfortable and we were asked again if we were sisters – bringing the total count for the trip so far to eight times.
In the morning we took a shuttle across the only route into Venice by car, where we left at the main entrance and proceeded on foot. All of Venice is car free, making it the largest place in Europe without vehicles. Leti (our Topdeck guide) explained some of the history as she led us through the alleys first to the Rialto bridge, the most famous in Venice. Apparently the Venetians needed one big enough to fit large boats under, so opened up the design possibilities to anyone. Celebs like Michael Angelo submitted designs, but in the end a random called Antonio won. Yay underdog! Leti then took us to St. Marks square – as seen in Casino Royale. Getting there through the tiny alleys is almost indescribable. They get smaller and smaller and darker one after the other, then all of a sudden spit you out into an open sunny square milling with tourists and souvenir stalls. After a quick explanation of the square, we went to the Murano glass demonstration and store. Venice is famous for its Murano glass, and it was easy to see why. Ella bought some very pretty blue glass earrings, which showed a lot of restraint considering the colossal chandeliers that were selling for about 500 euros and upward. The next stop was an optional extra of the trip – a ride in a gondola, something that everyone in the group took part in. Even though our gondolier did not sing, we had a breathtaking 30 mins (give or take, depending on traffic) cruising around checking out the Rialto Bridge from a different perspective, seeing the ground levels of many houses get flooded/sink into an uninhabitable state, and watching the ‘traffic’. From there we had several hours to spend as we pleased, which we spent carefully on a St. Marks church visit (full of gold), lunch (more pizza), souvenir shopping (masks – should be fun carrying til January) and finally taking a vaporetto (water bus) back to our bus with wheels (that go round and round). That night Leti explained that we would be having a toga party after dinner. Her Spanish accent has a cute way of shorting the ‘ee’s in sheets to ‘i’s, which we were all very mature about when she said we were not allowed to paint, rip or sew our sheets. Apparently it’s also very funny when she starts talking about beaches. That aside, we struggled admirably with our sheets and couldn’t figure out how the Romans used to do it – it’s really not as easy as people make it look. It was a good night all around and the sheets were unharmed.
Again the next day consisted mostly of travel on the uncomfortable and cold bus. Two main highlights saved the day however. Firstly, we woke up and had breakfast in Venice, stopped for lunch in Slovenia, and arrived on Pag Island, Croatia for dinner and bed. The other highlight was another optional extra as part of the tour. While in Slovenia, we stopped to visit the Postojnska Cave, the biggest known system in Europe, where stalagmites and stalactites were growing on almost every surface. When the guide pointed out a three-metre stalactite, he mentioned how they grow by one centimetre every one hundred years… you really don’t need to do the math to know that’s old. One cavern had thousands of tiny white stalactites covering ceiling so they looked like glass, or crystal droplets covering the entire surface. Unfortunately photos were banned, and screaming children discovering their own echo were not. A few hours later we were in Croatia, ferrying across the harbour onto an island that was as bare as the moon and driving into the gorgeous little tourist trap that is Pag Island.
For three nights, and two full days, we had no actual activities planned. Just as much time as we wanted to explore the little village, shop, hang out at the beach or visit the bars. One night we had a beach themed party, where Ella went as a treasure chest – wearing all the jewellery we owned together, and Hayley went as Venus, wearing the Venus apron souvenir she had bought in Rome. The second full day was Good Friday, so chocolate was a must.
On the Saturday we left out island paradise in Croatia to go back to Slovenia. This time border control was not so easy (last time we pretty much just drove straight through), as the woman didn’t like that we had no entry stamps into the UK. We didn’t like that either but it looks suspicious asking for stamps everywhere. Eventually we got through, and drove the rest of the way to the capital Ljubljana (pronounced Lalalalalalaana). After dropping our bags off in our accommodation we all went back into town to check out the city centre. There wasn’t much there bar a cool castle and a bridge with some dragons on it. We all ended up in the same place for dinner – some trying the traditional horse meat, and all went out to club ‘skeleton’ to enjoy two for one cocktail deals. We all had fun trying out the different mixes with interesting names, before a quick stint in a weird club in town and still made it home fairly early, with a 5 Euro fare, instead of the 30 Euros the other group were charged (hahaha).