This blog will be about my last couple weeks spent touring Europe! I went on Euro Tour with other exchange students living in Austria, Bosnia, and Croatia. It was an 18-day long trip around Belgium, France and Italy and it had been anticipated by every one of us since the beginning of the year. Although we were all told countless times that Euro Tour is not the point of exchange, these past three weeks now hold many of my favorite memories from this year.
It was the last Rotary trip we were all together as a group, therefore drawing a close to many of our exchanges. The last few days of Euro Tour were full of goodbyes and tears. After it was all over, I felt a little off for a few days but now I feel back to normal. It helped me to make plans for my last few weeks in Austria. This weekend I will go to Salzburg to visit some exchange students. Knowing that I would be doing this really pulled me out of my slump this week. Of course, all of this is only the side effects of Euro Tour. The only reason why I miss it all so much is because it was so blissfully perfect travelling with my best friends across Europe.
Day 1: Our tour started out in Linz, Austria. Linz was so far away from Graz and the bus was due to leave at 8 am, so many of us had to stay in a youth hostel the night before the tour started. On the morning of May 1, the ‘Krautgartner’ bus departed from Linz on its way to Köln, Germany. We drove the whole day until we arrived in the evening. When we first arrived, we had dinner and then a short walk to visit the cathedral.
Day 2: The next morning we drove to Bruges, Belgium. It was such a cute little town but it ended up raining for the majority of our time there. We had a lot of free time so we explored the old city centre by foot and of course ate some Belgium waffles along the way. That night we stayed in a hotel on a lake. Some people went swimming but for me, no way. It was so cold! It would have been such a perfect night if it was warmer!
Day 3: We were on our way to Paris, France! When we arrived, we had a short bus tour of all the major tourist spots. We only got out of the bus twice to take photos in front of the Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides. After the tour, the bus first stopped in front of an Ibis hotel and we all thought, “hey nice, an actual hotel!” But then we climbed some stinky steps (they aren’t kidding when they say Paris is smelly) and found ourselves at an Ibis Budget. We had a good laugh because of course in Paris we cannot afford a real hotel. Throughout the trip, we chose our roommates and at each stop the rooms changed somewhat; sometimes 2 people sometimes 5. In Paris it was three to a room and there was barely enough room for our suitcases, let alone enough to fully open the bathroom door. Paris is expensive! After checking into the hotel, we had dinner and then walked across the most beautiful bridge in Paris.
Day 4: We started the day with a trip to the Eiffel Tower… in the pouring rain and freezing cold! None of us dressed or packed properly for this kind of weather. It was surprisingly very cold for the majority of the trip. Only when we arrived in southern Italy did it start to feel like May. Anyways, Rotary got us tickets to climb the Eiffel tower! It was a bit freaky because the steps were so slippery from the rain and it was very windy climbing up. A bunch of us made the mistake of holding onto the rusty metal railing for support. Many hands and sleeves came away stained red and brown with rust. When we arrived at the top, it had started to snow! Thank god I was loaned a hoodie!
After coming down from the tower, we were told we had free time for the rest of the day. I planned a lot of things I wanted to see in Paris. However, one day is not enough to even begin to visit everything. Me and some close friends decided to start by visiting the Louvre. When we arrived, our first impression was that the line was too long. It winded all the way down the hall and around the corner. But we decided to wait, and thank god we did. The boys played some Brazilian music and the wait time was passed easily with laughs and a little dancing. When we arrived inside the museum, we headed straight to the Denon Wing to see the Mona Lisa and the Winged Victory of Samothrace. The Louvre is so huge it was impossible to even complete this one wing in one day. Even so, I loved every minute of it. I even saw some Canadian Art in the North American section! After exiting the museum, Pedro, Manuela and I somehow separated from our other friends. We ended up taking a nice stroll down from the Louvre to the Arch de Triomphe. Along the way, we stopped for some crepes and took pictures with the Eiffel Tower in the distance. We had quite the leisurely walk down Champs Elysee Avenue. By the time we reached the Arch, we had about 5 minutes to take photos and then it was time to meet Rotary for dinner! Luckily the restaurant was a few minutes from the Arch! I honestly don’t know how we always made it to the meeting places during this trip. Most of us never had data and just had to rely on maps and sense of direction. Dinner that evening depended on what you took from the buffet but mine consisted of fish and veggies. Very nice considering the only thing we had eaten that day was a croissant with fruit and crepes. We had no time to stop exploring and eat something! Often while on tour, it was a choice between eating in a restaurant or spending more time exploring. After dinner, we had a boat tour planned for us. We walked down the hillside during golden hour towards the River Seine. Watching as the tower was bathed in soft golden light, our boat took us past all the main landmarks. Even though it was unbearably cold, we stuck it out to sit on the top of the boat. We sat there watching the sun set over each bridge we passed. We passed the Notre Dame being restored. The cathedral had burned a few weeks before and had black smoke stains spreading outwards from some of the window frames, the stained glass already gone. As the boat ride came to an end, it was almost dark out. As we stepped off the boat, the tower was lit up a beautiful soft orange. To our surprise, it started to famously twinkle with white lights. We all stopped and gazed at it until it returned to its normal orange again. I feel like this boat trip really kicked things off during Euro Tour and it was my favorite things we did in Paris.
Day 5: Most of the day was spent on the bus driving. When we arrived in Strasbourg, we walked to the old city. The old city is actually only on an island that is separated from the rest of the city by the river. When we first arrived in the inner city, we turned a corner to find the cathedral looming over us. The cathedral is mostly made of red sandstone and so it seemed to glow a soft sienna when the sun was setting. This was for sure my favorite cathedral throughout the whole of Euro Tour. We had dinner at a restaurant just beside the cathedral and ate quiches and chicken in a mushroom sauce. Most of the food on this trip was not so good unless we bought it ourselves, but this meal was surprisingly tasty. After dinner we had a tiny bit of free time and visited the river.
Day 6: In the morning we had a tour of Strasbourg. There was always one English tour and one German tour. This was the only day I went in the English group during the euro tour. I ended up learning a lot! During our free time after the tour, a bunch of us bought baguettes and sat in the sun by the river to eat. A swan kept coming to try to steal our food. They are really big and brave up close!
Day 7: We drove to Colmar for a quick stop and a small street train tour. This was one of my favorite little towns, along with Bruges and Vernazza. All the houses were painted different colourful pastels and not one is the same colour as the next. We didn’t have a lot of time to explore but we managed to take a 30 minute boat ride down the main canal and back. After Colmar, we drove to Lyon to stay the night. We spent the evening sitting by the river listening to music, talking, watching the caste on the hill and all the lights reflecting off the water.
Day 8: We drove to Avignon during the day and had a few hours of free time in the city before dinner. We didn’t manage to go to the castle (I am sure not sure how we missed it) but we explored the city walls and inner streets, as well as the gardens atop the hill. It was also chilly and cloudy this day, but the surrounding Italian countryside was still gorgeous. There was a castle or fortress atop every rolling hillside after another. On the way back from dinner that night it absolutely poured and we all got soaked. Everyone ended up staying in the hotel that night.
Day 9: We were meant to travel straight to Eze Village this day but once we arrived we couldn’t find a place for the bus to park. We headed to Monaco first for some free time. Monaco was full of so many wealthy people and luxurious lifestyles. After some wandering, we finally made it to the beach. We climbed the fence and walked along the shoreline only to find the other exchange students had used another path and were already sitting on the sand. Many of us thought that we wouldn’t be swimming this day so we did not have our bathing suits with us. But the water was irresistible and warm. So, a bunch of us ended up going swimming in whatever we had. The water was so blue and the mountain ridge rose up behind the beach. By the time we got back to the bus, we were mostly dry. After Monaco, we backtracked a little bit to Eze Village to learn about perfume. Next stop after that was Lavagna for the night. This was my favorite place that we slept in. The neighbors of the hotel greeted each of us as we pasted. In Italy we all got a lot more questions and had many more conversations with the locals than any of the other countries we visited. The hotel in Lavagna had a great view of the ocean and the shoreline.
Day 10: The next morning the cliffs and beach we bathed in a soft morning light as we ate our meager breakfast (It seems Italians have mainly coffee for breakfast). This day was reserved for hiking in Cinque Terre. It was so stunning! We planned to take a boat to Vernazza but the tide was too high. We ended up taking the train. We spent our free time in Vernazza (the most beautiful and colorful costal Italian town I have ever seen) eating some cheap but tasty pesto pizza bread by the water. The water and cliffs in the distance were again so breathtaking. We then began our hike across the hills towards the neighboring town, Monterosso. Once we finished the hike, we all ran down to the water and swam in the ocean for a good 2 hours. Then sat in what sun we managed to find before it began to set. This was such a beautiful and memorable day. I went home with sand between my toes, salt in my hair, and skin kissed from the sun. We arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon, in Viareggio. All the exchange students were very surprised when the bus pulled up to a fancy beach-side resort. Rotary really spoiled us this time. After checking into our rooms, almost everyone headed to the ocean for a swim. I got thrown in with all my clothes in so I had no choice but to swim after that. It was such a nice beach to swim on because there were many sand bars. So, even when we were a ways away from the shore, I could still touch the bottom. The sun was setting as we left the beach for dinner and the water had a pastel yellow glow.
Day 11: Unfortunately, we only spent one night in this nice hotel and the next morning we were on our way to Pisa and Lucca! Pisa was only a short visit, very touristy and we spend most of the time taking photos around the tower. I am really glad I got the chance to see Pisa beforehand with my school. I got to see more of the city and the river then. There is a lot more to Pisa than only the famous tower and buildings. After Pisa, Lucca was our next stop. We had some free time so I went with some friends to climb the tower in the centre of the city. It was for sure worth the climb and four euros. The view of the city and the hills in the distance was so beautiful. They even had trees growing at the top of the tower (which made things a little crowded). After coming down from the tower, we were all starving. We headed to one of the main squares, a yellow circular centre surrounded by restaurants and apartments with their green shutters flung open. After sitting down for some pasta, we headed back to the bus. Pisa and Lucca were only short stops because after Lucca, we were on our way to Rome! Upon arrival, we settled into our hotel rooms and had dinner at a restaurant down the street. Almost all the meals we had in this restaurant and in Italy in general, consisted of a serving of pasta followed by a main meat dish of some sort. I think I ate more pizza and pasta during our days in Italy than I have this whole year. Which is how it should be when visiting Italy, naturally.
Day 12: In the morning, there was a guided tour of Ancient Rome. We spent the morning walking past the Colosseum and other ruins. After the tour, we ate lunch with Rotary and then some free time. This was spent exploring the streets and taking a second look at ruins we hadn’t had enough time at with the tour guide. We also climbed to a lookout point on the balcony of the Vittoriano. By the time we backtracked all the way to the Colosseum, it was time to take the Metro to the hotel for dinner.
Day 13: The day started with a trip to the Vatican. We climbed to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica and after the 551 stairs, received a fantastic view of Rome. After climbing back down, we spent the remainder of our free time in the Vatican museum. Although most of our time was spent waiting in line and shuffling slowly through the crowds, we did get to see the Sistine Chapel! We also ate some 10 Euro pasta and had gelato nearby:)
Day 14: This day was mostly a travel day and ended up being nice. I think we were all so tired at this point in the tour. Having to pack up all our things almost every night and move to the next city was becoming a hassle. We left Rome fairly early in the morning and began our trip to Florence. On the way, we made one stop in Montepulciano. This is a small medieval town in Tuscany. Even though we only spent a couple hours here, it had one of the best views of the Italian countryside. We ate pizza in a small restaurant and ended up having not enough time to make it up the hill to the city centre. But, we did meet a nice man who owns a soap shop and makes all the soaps himself at home. On the way back to the bus, we got one last look at the hilltop town and the surrounding vineyards. After driving some more, we finally arrived in Florence. Upon arrival, we made a quick stop at a lookout point viewing the whole city. It was gorgeous and the weather was perfect for some perfect pictures. After getting back on the bus, we drove to our hotel, and later walked into the city again for dinner at a restaurant near the famous dome. Our free time after dinner was really nice. Since we were so close to the dome, we took a walk through all the main spots that I remembered from my last time in Florence. We started with the dome, then walked to the carousel and then to Palazzo Vecchio. After visiting the statues on display in the square and listening to some street music, we moved on to sit by the river. We sat on a wall overlooking the water, not far from the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge. We spent the next hour or so listening to a street artist, talking and watching the water. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped again for some street music near the carousel.
Day 15: Our first full day in Florence started with a guided tour in the morning. After, we had some free time that was spent getting smoothie bowls and walking around the city again. Many of us bought matching leather bracelets or bags from the vendors. Soon, our free time was used up and it was time to leave Florence. We met Rotary at the bus and began the drive to our final hotel in Jesolo. Our last few days in Jesolo were probably the most memorable and we spent every night on the beach. Our hotel was only two minutes’ walk to the water!
Day 16: We made a day trip to Verona. We visited all the main tourist spots with our tour guide, starting with the Arena and ending with Juliet’s balcony. After the tour ended, Pedro, Quin, Sarah and I spent our free time sharing pizza and pasta at a restaurant nearby Juliet’s Balcony. After we were finished, we started back towards the bus, stopping along the way to buy souvenirs from the markets or to take photos. We met up with some other students along the way and got a little lost together. Somehow, we made it back to the bus just in time. That night was “Oldie Awards.” Every year, when a group of exchange students go home, they come up with funny and personalised awards for everyone in their group. This year, I was in charge of presenting and coming up with the awards, along with my friends Emir and Quin. Our awards were perfect. Everyone sat on the beach and we presented just before the sun began to set. My award from Quin was “smallest person, loudest mouth, biggest heart.” After awards were done, we partied on the beach for the remainder of the night.
Day 17: Our last full day of Euro Tour was spent in Venice. It was bittersweet. We had the whole day free to ourselves to do or see what we wanted. I ended up spending the day with Ciro, Quin and Sarah. It was great because Sarah lived in Venice for three weeks at the beginning of her exchange year so she could show us around. After a 30 minute drive on the bus, we travelled the rest of the way to Venice by boat. When we arrived, the boat dropped us off near the Bridge of Sighs. We made our way to San Marco Basilica and then on through the narrow streets and bridges, finally arriving at Sarah’s old apartment. She showed us her favorite pizza place and we ate our pizza on the way to the main canal. We didn’t manage to take a gondola ride, but we took a water bus along the main canal, to another island. There, we climbed a tower for a view of the whole city. After making it back down again, we spent some time sitting on the docks nearby before taking the water bus back. The boat and bus ride home were quiet. Everyone realized that Euro Tour would now be soon over. Back in Jesolo, we spent that night on the beach again. While watching the sun set from the dock, we began to say our goodbyes.
Day 18: Euro Tour was now over. The whole morning was spent driving from Jesolo back to Linz, Austria. I left early in Villach so I could get to Graz faster. It was rushed goodbyes to some people I might never see again. This was a very tearful day but I know when I look back on Euro Tour I won’t remember this, I will remember all the good times we had together traveling Europe.