A Contiki tour is almost considered a right of passage for all young adults in Australasia, with Australians and Kiwis being the biggest cliental and booze hags on any tour bus. If you haven't been on a Contiki tour (yet) then you definitely know at least one person that has, with their stories including that of incredible adventure, alcohol driven nights, sleep deprived mornings and knowledge fuelled motivated day trips.
History of Contiki
The history of Contiki started with 1 kiwi bloke and a mini bus in London in 1962. John Anderson didn't want to travel on his own and had little money to do so anyway, so advertised all the other seats in his mini bus in the local paper for any Australasians that wanted to tour Europe with him. The seats sold out quickly, although Anderson lacked European knowledge he expressed this to his fellow travellers and they all shared duties and decision making.
Anderson decided to advertise for his second tour and increased the price by around $25NZD per person. Long story short; Contiki tours rapidly grew with staff and transport increasing which by 1968 their first tours were run through Africa, The Middle East and India.
And the rest is history.
13 Day Eastern Road
My Contiki was a 13 day 'Eastern Road' tour which took us from Berlin to Warsaw and visited 3 countries in between, It was a whirl wind trip packed full of history, banter and instant friendships.
The reason for choosing this tour was purely due to the inner nerd and mini historian inside me; World War II and everything that comes with it has always fascinated me, primarily because it occurred within various family members life times; my Poppa seeking cover from the blitz in England and my Great Grandfather being a photographer during the war, with my grandmother being born just before the war ended. So because of this I want to learn everything I can and experience as much as possible of what they must have gone through all those years ago.
So when I found a tour which was primarily based around the history of the second world war I jumped at the chance to get onboard, regardless of whether or not I was riding solo.
Easy enough to say that this Eastern Road tour exceeded every expectation I had and I would do it all again if given the chance.
Day 1 Berlin
Shortly after arriving at our first hotel I met my room mates who were two of the sweetest and funniest Canadians ever. It's key to get along and to get to know your room mates quite quickly, after all you are going to be sharing one small bathroom between you for an extended period of time and eating and drinking copious amount of foreign food and alcohol that may or may not agree with your digestive tract.
Shortly after our private introductions, we made our way down to the meeting room to meet our tour manager, Sian, and our bus driver, Frank. Our tour group spent the next 45 minutes in the tiny hotel lobby bar getting to know one another before our first dinner together, which was an informal meal down at a local restaurant where we tried some of the local cuisine; large portions of meat and potato (which was only the start of my weight gain journey) and of course steins of beer.
It's not a Contiki if you don't continue the party somewhere else, most of us headed down to the shisha bar around the corner from our hotel to continue getting to know our tour buddies before embarking on the rest of the journey. First impressions are everything and I had already worked out who I was going to get along with and who was going to cause some -right- havoc.
Day 2 Berlin
It's Contiki policy to not leave anyone behind (where applicable), so our first morning together was spent all sitting on the bus waiting for an extra person who had not yet exhumed from the hotel, only to find out that he had caught a flight back to Australia in the middle of the night? Our tour hashtag from here on in was officially #WheresMatt?
We headed to East Side Gallery where a series of murals, mostly with political undertones, are painted directly onto the remaining Berlin Wall. From here we visited an indoor/outdoor history museum which lines parts of the destroyed Berlin Wall and sits on the site where during the Nazi Regime were the headquarters for the SS and Gestapo. Check Point Charlie was our next stop before freely heading off to the famous Rittersport chocolate shop and for lunch at a local tapas restaurant.
An 'alternative' walking tour awaited us for the evening which told us about the 'non-political' side of Berlin, which included the "Butcher of Berlin" and the story of androgynous Anita Berber before enjoying our first clubbing experience at Matrix.
Day 3 Berlin to Prague
Walking tour around Prague was one of the most beautiful walking tours I have experienced, walking along the Charles bridge which is lined with statues of Saints and Patron Saints and witnessing visitors trying their luck with rubbing certain parts of brass statues for good luck. We continued our walk to the Prague castle which has some rather attractive guards standing at each gate, worth the visit!
Our evening was spent experiencing a traditional Czech Republic dinner, with 2 variations of meat and 3 variations of carbs, Czech Dancing to entertain us during our dinner with plenty of wine and beer to wash down the heavy feed.
Tonight was (I felt) the first proper clubbing experience with Contiki. Sian took us to a bar which looked modest, small and quiet, we were lead downstairs to find another bar within the same establishment, walked through that bar and down another small set of stairs was a strip club with 2-3 strippers dancing across another bar, we turned the corner and went down more stairs to find a dance floor where the walls are mirrored and again another bar which served cocktails in buckets. So here we were bouncing between the dance floor and strip club with our buckets in hand.
The next club was another multi story complex, except each level served a different vibe and different genre of music; the 80's level with it's multi coloured dance floor trapped me in for most of the night while other friends stuck to the RnB level or mainstream music dance floor.
Day 4 Prague
A bike tour around Prague was the exercise I never knew I needed, but the exercise my body deserved. Luckily Prague City centre is flat enough that no heavy breathing or strained muscles occurred.
Visiting an underground bunker and learning about the rise and fall of communism in Czech Republic, with a collection of equipment including gas masks for all ages, chemical analysers and more which were prepared for and used from World War II to 1989. Obviously I couldn't turn up a photo opportunity especially when it involves authentic looking communist uniforms, grenades and guns.
Day 5 Prague to Vienna
En route to Vienna we visited the Bone Church just outside of Prague, where thousands of human skeletons are put on display decorating the indoor walls of the church, this being one of the most memorable visits during this tour.
Luckily our hotel room in Vienna resembled a small apartment, being 3 females in one room we finally managed to be able to throw our clothes and make up out of our bags without getting socks mixed up.
Our evening was spent at Prater theme park paying for rides as we went, I managed to conquer my height fears by taking a ride on the 117m tall high chair swing. Finishing our night at the theme park by enjoying a dinner at a roller coaster restaurant where our food was transported to our table via a high speed, corkscrew rollercoaster.
Our hotel bar was pretty well stocked, most of us ended up staying there and pissing off the bar owners before heading to bed at 4am. A couple of other people headed out and watching their snapchats they got the chance to drink flaming shots with a number of locals.
Day 6 Vienna
We embarked on our walking tour around the city centre of Vienna, witnessing some extremely beautiful and well looked after buildings, Vienna has a plentiful history of amazing classical masterminds which were born and bred here, or came to Vienna to showcase their musical genius. We ended our tour by visiting Swarovski for a much needed 'treat yo'self' moment; jewellery anywhere upward from $10,000 but of course I headed straight for the sale rack for anything under $60NZD.
Next stop was a visit to the Schnapps museum, which also meant our binge drinking began at 3pm with shots lined up for us to taste. I definitely took more than my fair share but that was expected of everyone! Walking out of there with a small bottle of rocket fuel and absinthe I was obviously planning for a night to dance with the green goblin.
For the beginning of the night some of us got our best gettup on and headed out to a classical night at the orchestra, while others decided to catch up on some well needed rest before another big night out. I should have gone with the latter as I was one slow blink away from falling asleep to the sweet sound of Mozart.
Meeting up later at the Prater Dome, a two story club within the theme park we visited earlier, most of us spent the rest of the night here and only leaving once some of us had 1 too many and I had spent $60 on bottle water for some people.
Day 7 Vienna to Budapest (Boo-da-Pesht)
A stop over in Bratislava, Slovakia, for an hour; took an excruciating walk to the Bratislava Castle, which after decades of housing many royal families and standing through many political events which rocked Europe, it is now home to exhibitions and presentation rooms for current council and the President.
All but 2 of our group managed to make their way back to the tour bus, which meant we had to stick around for over an hour trying to contact and locate them. An hour and a bit behind schedule we finally made pace for Budapest.
The hotel in Budapest was probably the funkiest of them all, with curved corridors to suit the cylinder shaped building, it was a very 80's style hotel and probably one that hasn't had any interior design upgrades since the fall of communism in 1989.
Arriving into Budapest close to 4pm we only had 30 minutes to shower and change before we were expected on our on-board bus tour of Budapest before heading off to our dinner.
Budapest was probably my favourite city by far on this tour, we visited Fishermans Bastion which is a neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style terrace, running around trying to take as many instagram worthy pictures as humanly possible before departing for our dinner cruise.
Our night was not over until we visited a club and drank too much alcohol; Sparty was not part of the Contiki itinerary but there was no stopping us from experiencing a pool party to this calibre and scale. My night ended at about 1am when I was carried out of Sparty and back to our hotel, great night 10/10 would experience again.
Day 8 Budapest
Feeling more than sorry for myself after Sparty, and waking up at 11am still in my bikini. I crawled out of bed to meet a friend as we had a free day, extremely guttered that I missed our morning tour, I tried my best to make an appearance at something historical but unfortunately my body was just not having it, so a stop off for a much needed leg massage was granted.
For our evening expedition Sian led us to the Ruin Bars which are based in an old abandoned warehouse, where the floor was either uneven dirt or gravel and the lack of ceiling was covered with fairy lights, not only were there multiple bars serving alcohol, but carrots could be purchased if you were a fiend for a crunchy snack.
Our next bar was another multi story, multi room complex with an abandoned warehouse feel. Dancing all night to the sound of classic pop ballads chimed in with modern electronic dance music
4am home time, because why not spend all night dancing when you can spend most of the time on the bus sleeping.
Day 9 Budapest to Krakow
3 1/2 hours sleep later we were piling on our bus ready to hit the road for our 7 hour drive to Krakow, if it wasn't for the sound of snoring coming from the very back of the bus I would have thought that a quarter of our group died from alcohol poisoning after finding their seat, the smell emitting and the sight of loose limbs looked anything other than a picture of health.
A stop off in Slovakia for an hour was my first chance at finding a decent, healthy salad since starting this tour, after all the popular dishes amongst most landlocked countries in Europe are based on abundant of carbs and meat. Fresh greenery and salad....GET IN ME.
Arriving in Krakow in enough time to get us ready for our included dinner at Ariel Restaurant dining on local cuisine. Obviously a night is not complete without downing copious amounts of alcohol; we visited a local shot bar who had a range of about 20 different flavoured shots all for about $2NZD, everything from a Chupa Chups shot to a spicy chilly pepper shot, we did one we did all!
Day 10 Krakow
The Salt Mine just outside of Krakow was next on my list of interesting places we visited, licking the walls was somewhat of a normality when 327 metres underground. We spent around 2 hours being surrounded by walls of salt and finishing our day trip by licking a giant Pope statue made from (you guessed it) salt.
Tonight we spent part of the evening failing to make pierogis' and then feasting on pierogis like there was no tomorrow. My loose fitting dress was a godsend after this dinner, was but the devil when having to run back to our hotel in the rain. Due to tomorrows' events and the horrible weather most of us went back to the hotel for a night cap and a couple of puzzles.
Day 11 Krakow to Warsaw
Our trip from Krakow to Warsaw was a highly anticipated one with our first stop being Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau camps, I was extremely thankful that the previous night was a relatively sober and early one as the hour long tour was dehydrating enough with emotion pouring out of my eyes.
Concluding our visits we then proceeded to the Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa where the Black Madonna is housed, by this point I had been to anywhere upwards from 10 religious buildings within my time travelling and Jasna Gora had quickly shot itself to top spot of most incredible buildings within Europe.
We roamed about the grounds for 30 minutes before heading back to our coach for our last leg before arriving in Warsaw.
After our dinner we found ourselves being pulled into a 2 story club where we were served with a drinks bucket full over red bulls and a bottle of vodka and bottle of prosecco. The night continued on with plenty of people watching and dancing among our private booth on the second floor.
Always make sure you type the correct address into Uber, I mistakenly picked the wrong hotel on the complete other side of town and 1 hour later we finally made it back to our correct hotel which should have been a 15 minute drive. Yes, I was extremely pissed off.
Day 12 Warsaw
I'm going to be completely honest and say that I don't remember much about this day, towards the end of Contiki every day kind of just started fusing into a blur. but I can tell you that we went on a tour of the city! Just watch this space for an update when I go through my pictures and track down what exactly we saw...
We had our last included dinner together at a local restaurant with shared dishes of local cuisine, and this time there was salad! I managed to scavenge the boys table for their bowl of coleslaw before continuing on to a cigar bar and chatting the night away at a low key bar in the city centre. Retiring to our hotel at a reasonable hour and continuing any much needed banter at anyones room who was still awake.
Day 13 Depart Warsaw or Berlin
All good things must come to an end, and we had a 13 day countdown.
The morning was yet again another hung over one, I made my way downstairs to say a sheepish goodbye to everyone before all departing our seperate ways. Leaving for the airport for my next adventure on Sail Croatia was bitter sweet but all good things must come to an end...given half the chance I would do it all over again!
The magical thing about Contiki is that you can go into it knowing absolutely no one at all, but two days in you're all acting as if you've known each other your whole lives; napping on each others shoulders, shouting lunch and drinks for one another, celebrating birthdays like a family and lending a shoulder to cry on when everything gets a little bit too much, with even romances blooming after a couple of days.
I'm sure there are plenty of readers who probably think they would get incredibly restless sitting on a bus for such long periods of time, but I can assure you that the bus rides are a huge part of the fun during Contiki; If you or one of your tour buddies aren't passed out in the aisle or sleeping upright with their mouth open catching flies, then you'll probably be sharing war stories from the last nights antics, talking about the next expedition or throwing shade at the Australian or Kiwi nearest to you.
If you're thinking about a European tour but can't decide, read up on my experience with Sail Croatia, perfect if you're a water lover and want to experience everything Croatia has to offer in a short period of time.
#ContikiSian #EasternRoad #WheresMatt