Today is the first day of an epic 49 day tour of the European continent, this tour is the longest trip on offer from youth tour operator Topdeck, the 49 Day Mega European tour. The beginning of this journey will start from London and will then head south with the first two days of the tour taking in the sights of Paris. During the 49 days we will have the privilege of visiting over twenty countries from Spain and Switzerland to the historic sights through Italy where a lot of European history was made through the Roman Empire. We zig zag our way through Greece and go as far east as Turkey and its most populous city of Istanbul.
Throughout the tour we learn about the history of each European city and country we enter and the troubles and conflicts that have plagued the region over the centuries. Croatia, Austria, Poland and Germany are full of history both good and bad and our travels provide a valuable insight into what went on in good and troubled times. We continue our tour of Europe right up to Berlin and finally Amsterdam before making our final journey to where it all began in London.
Starting here I will share my experiences on the Topdeck Mega European tour and I hope you gain some valuable knowledge in planning your very own adventure to Europe.
London to Paris – 01 May, 2012
Today it begins, 49 days on the road exploring Europe and it all starts here outside the Clink 78 Hostel where the coach is waiting for us for our departure to the south of England to the port town of Dover where we will board a ferry to cross the English Channel. The weather today has turned on us as we depart London with a stereotypical day, pouring with rain. The pervious day was spectacular weather wise, but the next couple of days are not looking so great and we are lucky that we are not spending anymore time here for now.
Once we reached Dover the rain had eased, easing enough to present nice viewing conditions of the famous white cliffs. The 90 minute channel crossing was relatively calm, the occasional rocking of the ferry meant trying to get some sea legs established, but nothing major. The way these ferry’s are set up there is no shortage of things to do, full of restaurants, viewing decks, lounges and even poker machines, you won’t be bored. However this is a great time to get to know some of your fellow passengers that will be navigating Europe with you for the next month and a half.
After arriving on the French side of the channel in Calais we met our driver who will have the enormous task of taking us around Europe for the next 49 days, then it was straight onto the bus for our journey toward Paris. Along the many journeys there are plenty of opportunities for rest breaks, so no need to stress about missing out on that toilet or food break.
Our accommodation for the next two nights was located on the outskirts of Paris at the Ibis Budget Hotel, it was the first time Topdeck were using this hotel for accommodation, so we were the guinea pigs. We settled into our hotel for the night and then it was time for our first included dinner on the trip that included the opportunity for everyone to try a bit of a French delicacy… Snails. If your stomach turns at the thought never fear, once cooked it looks nothing like a snail and tastes like butter and garlic.
When we finished dinner we all jumped back on the bus for our night driving tour of Paris, it was spectacular to see Paris all lit up at night and gave us all an opportunity to plan what we wanted to do the next day. Our first stop was to see the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris (Basilique du Sacré-Cœur), from the top of the monument we get to see stunning views of the Paris skyline, on this day masses of people were everywhere as it was a public holiday in Paris. This is also a hot spot for the infamous ‘string men’ who operate around the steps to try and scam unsuspecting tourists into giving up their time for a few minutes in order to pickpocket them. You can read more on how they operate on this website.
Our driving tour of Paris then continued to take in the rest of the sites, driving past the famous Moulin Rouge, the Louvre where the coach squeezed through a very narrow archway, a credit to our awesome driver and continued down the most famous avenue in the world Avenue des Champs-Élysées where the Arc de Triomphe sits at the end.
Our driving tour of Paris would not be complete without stopping at the icon of Paris the Eiffel Tower. Most of the driving tour is just sitting in the bus and listening to our very knowledgeable tour leader tell us the history of each site and hints and tips on seeing them the following day, however as this is really our only opportunity to see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night we braved the chaos of hundreds of other tourist coaches and were able to get out for a quick happy snap of the iconic structure.
This was the final stop of our driving tour which lasted for about three hours, so for many of us it was a relief that it was time to head back to the hotel for some well earned shut eye. It had been an action packed day, starting at 6am to check in, leaving London and arriving in Paris in the late afternoon via the English Channel. Tomorrow will be just as busy with Paris being such a spread out city, it will be a challenge to see everything in one day.
Paris – 02 May, 2012
Today was our free day to explore Paris and the challenge was that Paris is not a city you can see in just one day, strategic planning was needed in order to maximise the days sightseeing activities. We needed to see the main attractions the Louvre Museum, Notre Dame and of course the Eiffel Tower while factoring in that we had a Fat Tire Bike Tour planned as one of Topdeck’s optional extras at 3pm. The bike tour started from the base of the Eiffel Tower so it was a no brainer that we left that until later in the afternoon.
To start the day off we had two options, the first being that the Topdeck coach can drop us off at selected locations around the city, however it didn’t leave until 9:15am and then you have to factor in peak hour traffic on top of that, so the prediction was that we wouldn’t make it into central Paris until 11am. Most people chose that option, however the best option was to catch the Paris Metro into the city, the closest metro station from our accommodation was a 15 minute walk away called Aubervilliers – Pantin – Quatre Chemins, but was well worth the early morning stroll.
We found our way to the Metro station and took the train to the station directly next to the Louvre, we were warned about the massively long lines that we would have to navigate particularly at the main entrance. We were told about a hidden side entry to the Louvre which usually doesn’t have any long queues, however to our surprise (and punctuality arriving just before the 9am opening time) the line to the main entrance was relatively short and moving quite fast so we entered through the distinctive glass pyramid.
Going to the Louvre you need to have a game plan, it’s impossible to see everything within the museum and we only really had half a day so we didn’t want to spend too much time here. It’s said that there are so many items in the museum that it would take one person 9 months to look at each item for 30 seconds, that’s 8 months 30 days and 12 hours that we did not have. Our plan was simple, get in and find the main attraction the Mona Lisa and then get out to see the next attraction on our to do list.
One of the most common stories you hear about the Mona Lisa is how small the actual painting is, so naturally walking in around the corner and being confronted with the famous painting I was expecting a tiny painting. Personally I didn’t think it was THAT small and by all means I’m no expert on art, nor will I pretend to be, but it looked like a regular sized painting, but then again what do I know.
Continuing on to try and see Paris in a logical order, we now headed away from most attractions to go and see the Notre Dame, located on one of the two islands on the Seine River this is truly an impressive building. As a working church you are welcome to go inside and look around, and what I found even more surprising is that you are allowed to take photos if you wish, the only condition is that your flash is turned off. We had a quick look around inside and took the obligatory photos in front of the cathedral, there is also the option to climb to the top of the building for views of the city skyline, however the line was a little long and we were pressed for time so this was one of the many sacrifices for the day.
Next we walked along the river and made our way down back past the Louvre Museum and to the Place de la Concorde before taking a stroll down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Walking down the avenue we head towards to end where the Arc de Triomphe awaits, the Arc is accessible via underground tunnels which is an advisable route to take as not too many people are silly enough to try and cross the twelve lanes of traffic circling the roundabout. It is said that an accident is caused on average every 8 minutes, and it is one of the only places where if an accident is caused, no one is covered by insurance.
At this point of the day we were really pushing for time and we had not yet seen the Eiffel Tower, we needed to be there at 3pm for our bike tour but we still wanted to go up the steal structure as it is a must for any visit to Paris. There is no doubt that if you are able bodied you need to take the stairs to the second level of the tower, first of all it is a more fun experience, you will defiantly get a work out and the line is really short compared to the main entrance for the lift. The stairs will take you as far as level two but if you’re like us and don’t see the point in just going half way, you can pay a little extra and catch the lift from level two up to level three.
The view from the top of the Eiffel Tower is impressive and there is no other way of putting it, but keeping in mind that we were pressed for time we now started to realise that we might miss our bike tour of Paris. We were at the very top of the tower and there was a massive line waiting to take the lift down to the second level, it was now ten minutes to three when we finally made it through the line and made our way down the lift. Arriving on level two it was now time to run down the stairs, thankfully a lot easier than climbing up them, but with any stairs you are always going to encounter slower people along the way. It is fair to say that many other tourists were casualties of our massive rush down the tower, pushing them out the way we made it to the tour at 3:05pm with them still waiting for us. Talk about timing!
We joined our scheduled Fat Tire Bike Tour at the base of the Eiffel Tower, the bike tour took in most of the sights of Paris we had already explored both today and the previous night on our driving tour, but this time we got a lot of the history behind each landmark and a loverly bike ride through the city. We also got to experience the strange road rules (from an Australian perspective) by riding our bikes on the road and going through a few infamous intersections. One such intersection was the roundabout at the Place de la Concorde, roundabouts in Paris involve having to give way to entering vehicles into a roundabout rather than giving way to vehicles already in the roundabout, that was a strange rule to take in, on top of that I’m riding a bike on the opposite side of the road than I’m used to back at home.
Once our bike tour had finished we made our way back to the Eiffel Tower to be reunited with the rest of our tour group, tonight is a picnic dinner at the base of the tower, however by this time the rain had set in and in an apparent Topdeck tour first we had a picnic buffet dinner on the bus, it worked quite well.
This evening we had the optional extra of seeing a Cabaret Show, unfortunately not the famous Moulin Rouge which is apparently booked out weeks in advance. The show featured all the usual singing and dancing associated with Cabaret, but one of the most entertaining aspects was the barman getting up on stage with a unicycle and throwing cups and sauces up with his foot, catching them in a neat stack on his head and then doing the same with a tea pot and pouring some tea with his mouth. A must see experience for Paris, but it won’t be everyones cup of tea (mind the pun).
With everyone now exhausted from the long day in Paris, it was back on the bus, back to our hotel and ready for the long bus trip to Switzerland tomorrow to see the Swiss Alps and spend two nights in the small village of Lauterbrunnen.
DOWNLOAD: Topdeck Paris City Guide
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