Hi guys! How's February treating you all? So far so good? I hope it's all going well :)
In December, right after my birthday, I had injured my left foot. This was exactly after my Contiki trip. But now I'm happy to say that I've just recovered from my leg injury and have resumed my shoots! I feel so good to be back in action! Work, travel & meeting people! Meeting people is always fun and I believe it's very good for one's soul! Exchange of energy, ideas, life experiences, somewhere it's a process of helping each other evolve! Yes, in the end we all are here to evolve and grow together, right? :)
Speaking of Contiki, in December I did another Contiki trip! Ahaaaaaaan yes, and guess what! It was my birthday trip! I'm sure by now you must be aware about what Contiki is as I have already done two of these trips before and also blogged about them! But yes, if you're someone who recently started following me, here are the links of my other Contiki blog posts for you to know more about them and my experience – Contiki Blog Posts
Now let's talk about this trip which I took recently. I decided to do Europe yet again but this was the first time ever that I had decided to hit Europe during the winter! And because it was my birthday trip, Usaamah decided to join along! :D
So this particular Contiki experience was quite different than the rest, one of the main reasons being having company, it wasn’t a solo trip like the previous ones! The other reason was the fact that we were going to explore Europe in winter. Since European Summers are the perfect time for tourists to enjoy the city, people don’t usually plan something for the winters as it’s extremely cold there and they have shorter days with longer nights. BUT, I was so so so happy to have planned this because it was truly an incredible experience!
Like I said, I really didn’t expect a lot of travelers on the trip thinking that people wouldn’t want to come to this place during this weather, but the holiday season proved me wrong! As this trip had the most number of travelers in comparison to my other contiki trips! We were almost 50 of us who had signed up for the Berlin & Prague Plus Vienna Winter trip. Isn’t that insane! A lot of the people we met on the trip were from South Africa and Australia! We met some super fun people with an amazing sense of humour on the trip! Haha! Really miss all the jest and fun that took place!
To start off, our trip started from Berlin. And the city welcomed us with snowfall! While packing my bag, I did pack all layers, but still couldn’t envisage how cold it was going to get. But trust me, the moment we stepped out, it was legit COLD for people like us coming from a humid climate! Damn! In the midst of this, we couldn’t stop admiring the beauty of the city while it was snowing! We were complaining and admiring at the same time! Irony much? But this was just the beginning and we had come with the mindset that we are gonna get used to the weather here :P at least we hoped that we would! Haha!
We reached the hotel, checked in and were waiting for the rest of our Contiki FAM. This time it wasn’t just me, and since Usaamah had joined as well, I was super excited as I would be having someone else experiencing this journey with me. I had spoken so highly about my previous Contiki trips that it made me nervous. What if I had hyped it up too much and it would somehow not meet up to his expectations :P
Since we had a day’s time to ourselves before meeting the others, we thought of just exploring the Berlin streets and enjoying the beautiful weather. Finally, the anticipation broke when we kick started our evening with our trip manager Kyle. This was our first briefing of Contiki where Kyle was telling us about how the entire trip was going to be, basically, setting the mood of the trip. And Kyle definitely knows how to do that. The best thing about these Contiki trip managers is that they educate you about what you can expect from your trip, how to live in the present moment and enjoy to the fullest. Basically, how to make the most out of the trip. He came across as a very positive person and was always making sure that the energy levels of the group stayed high and upbeat. Overall, these first meetings are pretty exciting as you meet the whole Contiki family and you look at every face wondering who you will get along with most. And as the curiosity spreads through the crowd for wanting to know everyone’s stories, life journey and opinions, it gets more exciting. Kyle also told us that we all may be like minded to have signed in together for this trip but to remember that everyone’s purpose to come on a contiki trip may be different & that we all need to respect that. Respecting yourself and each other is very important while travelling with a group of strangers along with your friends. And it all made perfect sense to us. He also told us how we could turn a negative situation around by just changing the way you look at it, in turn, changing the way you felt at the moment. There's always a bright side to everything! He told us that there might be instances where we felt that the cold was unbearable but in times like these he’d make sure that we looked at it in a different perspective. The extreme cold and all the snow meant we had beautiful Christmas markets, which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. Because if one person starts sending in the wrong energy it would affect the entire energy of the group, and Kyle didn't want that, he wanted us to be positive in every situation and have the best time with No Regrets!
Once the meeting was done we started interacting and throwing questions at each other to get to know everyone before we proceeded for dinner. While we were on our way to dinner I got the first look of the Christmas markets and that was exciting as we were going to experience them throughout the trip. At the dinner table on day 1 we had some lovely mates from South Africa and that’s how it stayed till the end of the trip. Day 1 is so different than the last day in terms of how you look at the person because the first impression is different than the day you leave when you know so much about the same person. We get so comfortable while on the trip.
The itinerary of this trip was spread out in a way that we had a few days to visit all the tourist attractions but also had alternate free days in every city. This allowed us to explore the city apart from the well-known spots according to our own liking. So that made it an amazing schedule.
Also, there were add on activities like walking tours and other group activities and it was up to you if you would want to hit it or just skip them. You always had an option to either enjoy these activities with the group or explore other things by yourself. You have the freedom to choose how you want to use the free time.
DAY 1 - BERLIN
Day 2 - Berlin
The second day started off with a historical walking tour of the 20th century in Germany’s uber cool capital city. We picked lunch as we were roaming around and also visited the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial. This tour was insightful and we got a low-down about Hitler’s last days at the site of his underground bunker by the local guide who also showed us the Holocaust Memorial. Hearing about the East German communism made me realize how much there is to travel, explore and get to know!
After experiencing the history during the day, we had a slightly different yet a similar night in continuation. ‘Cold War Cold Drinks’, that’s what our night activity was called. We went bar hopping and learnt more about the Berlin Wall and the war. It was fun and you get to know about the city’s background, culture and lifestyle. The activity planned is insanely exciting and the local guide will take you to visit the site of once secret Tunnel 57 and ‘Death Strip’. And this is the best way to kick start an evening before heading out to enjoy the nightlife in Berlin!
It was our first night of exploring the city together and it was great knowing about the place, sharing our thoughts with each other and just spending quality time in such a beautiful continent. Thought it was the coldest night we experienced, now that I look back it was one of the most fun nights we had. And yes, we layered and layered and layered! And that was just the beginning. Thanks to my Tommy Hilfiger jacket to keep me warm throughout the trip!
Day 3 - Berlin
Since we had already covered many parts of the city on Day 2, we already knew what part we wanted to head to on this free day to explore further. Usaam and I headed off to Alexander Platz to visit the biggest Christmas market. Trust me, I felt like I was in a movie. I never anticipated the holiday vibe would be this beautiful and was completely overwhelmed. The cold is definitely extreme but if not for the lovely snow and the holiday season, the vibe of the place would have been totally different. There are a lot of markets and you can keep visiting them one after the other and you will still never get bored. There are also a lot of street markets where you could find lovely art work and paintings.
And of course, you have got to wait till it gets dark to see the markets getting lit up! It’s just like Diwali in India! It felt like a festival of lights! Indeed beautiful! You also have Ice skating and food stalls. And for everyone who loves sausages and beer, Berlin is a feast! Especially, during Christmas!
Throughout the day we had such varied experiences and people who accompanied us. For a while we were alone, but would keep bumping into a lot of people at different spots who had the same interests. And that’s the beauty of Contiki!
Even though you have these free days, there are pick up and drop off services available from Contiki at specific spots. And in case you miss that, you always have an option to travel by local transport which Kyle explained to us in detail. So you are never truly left to your own devices which is good because it can get quite confusing to figure out the commute.
An add-on that we opted for on this free day was Tastes of Berlin which was in the evening. The whole point is to take a tour of the city while taking in hidden sights and shopping along the way. You will also get to explore alternative cafes and underground bars and sample some of the different cuisines that create the diverse culture of this city. We ate 3 different meals at 3 different cafes. Apart from historic places, there’s an urban touch to Berlin, as well. You have street art, underground clubs and areas seeped in their culture that make it a beautiful trip. This is all that we did in Berlin and it sure felt like we explored the place in the best way possible.
Day 4 - Dresden & Prague
On the fourth day we were off to Prague with a few pit stops. Contiki makes sure that you explore all of it and so we stopped at Dresden for lunch. We got a great chance to explore this city and its architecture, culture and even the famous Christmas markets. It was a very relaxed day and so we clicked a few pictures post which Kyle gave us extensive information on the history of this place, our plan for the next few days and maps and day sheets to guide us along.
As we were headed to Prague, I was super excited as this was my first time visiting this famous city. I had seen a lot of pictures be it on Instagram or even during my architecture degree, when we used to look up references for Gothic architecture, Prague was always at the top of the list. These pictures and references had always made me think of how it would feel to see the structures and the streets one day. And since it was happening, I was really looking forward to the days ahead! We reached in the evening and had dinner at a place where it was a sit-down dinner. We got to witness the traditional local dance of Czech Republic followed by a big party! Two other Contiki groups joined us at the Golden Tree Club where we spent the night having a great time with good food and even better company!
Day 5 - Prague
The fifth day was a plan for the city tour and a lunch cruise where we were served local food and there was a guide talking to us about the city; its history and architecture. Post that many people headed for a bunker tour which Usaamah and I skipped and instead went to the Town Square, explored the city walking around, getting some pictures clicks and then grabbed some food along the way.
The following night was a big night for Pete, the guy who drove us around in a coach as that was the only night he wasn’t working. When we are on a Contiki, we become a family. We partied with Pete and it turned out to be a fun night of talking & dancing in Prague. This was the fifth day and we were quite exhilarated and so decided to call it a night. There were 2 more days and loads to come so we needed to be active.
Day 6 - Prague
My South African friends and I had a few things in common that we wanted to visit and hence got together to explore the city. So we visited the John Lennon wall, Prague castle, Charles Bridge, the renowned markets where we had Nutella Trdelník (the famous dough rolled out on a stick), Old town Centre and last but not the least, the famous Dancing House! We tried to do as much as we could, we even got some shopping done in the evening on our free day! With this city there will always be something to see, somewhere to go, is what I felt after these 2 days. Usaamah and I personally loved Prague so much. Everything from the energy, the architecture and the lanes had a different vibe from the other European cities. In Prague, we finally got over the European cold and started enjoying this trip even more. We had dinner with the Contiki fam where we were chilling, talking about our journey and enjoying! And then called it a night. Took it easy that night as we had a long travel day the next day!
Day 7 & 8 - VIENNA
Almost half way through the trip, we felt quite emotional and yet had something to look forward to, yes my birthday was going to be happening in Vienna!!!
The day we reached Vienna it was almost when the day was about to end and it was close to dinner time. We reached the hotel and I was really excited to be in Austria so I could get my hands on Manner Wafers. I started right from the vending machine at the hotel itself!!!
The trip was going to end at Budapest but Vienna was our last stop. Likewise there were a few people joining us in Vienna who were then headed to Budapest. So yes, we made a few new friends on this night, walked around the city and explored it with just as much enthusiasm that we had on our first day of the trip. Europe, though exhausting, is extremely exciting and never gets boring or plain. There is always something new to see! There were a few people who went ahead and explored the city but we called it a night after dinner as the next night was gonna be a big night for us (for obvious reasons!! 🎂)
The next day was the 16th of December and I was going to be bringing in my birthday and it was also the last day of our trip. Mixed feelings because it was had been so good that I was looking forward to the last day! As this was the first time I was going to be out of the country for my birthday, not to forget being with Usaamah on a contiki trip made it more special and exciting for me.
We started off with a city tour where Kyle dropped us at Swarovski, in case we wanted to treat ourselves. It was a shopping junction and we had free time to ourselves. I had a few things in mind that I wanted to indulge in like the apple strudel and this dessert called Kaiserschmarrn. Austria is also famous for its coffee! Apart from this, other things that Kyle had suggested was this drink called the Almdudler, the goulash soup and of course the chicken schnitzel.
Then we went to one of the biggest Christmas markets in Vienna and since it was our last night to enjoy them, we made the most out of it. Then we headed back to the hotel, while some went out to experience the Schnapps and the concert at the Opera house! We were all supposed meet at this club called Prater, later on.
Kyle had already spoken about how this night was gonna be our last night and was also planned as a big night. And this club was definitely something to look forward to! I was quite excited to experience the night life in Vienna along with it being my birthday, which was just the cherry on the cake!
It was different and without a doubt one of the most insane nights I had. The club was something I had never seen before, a 5-storey club with different music playing on different floors. We, as a group, always stuck together and kept switching floor together. With everyone being excited for my birthday, even people who were just strangers to me a few days ago, definitely made me feel great. And they made sure I had the most fun!
It was a long night for us and we bid farewell as some of us had our flight back home while the others were headed to Budapest. It was such an emotional and unique birthday experience and genuinely want to thank Usaam & my contiki family who made it such a memorable experience right from the start to the very end!
Some names I’d love to mention are Yusra, Laeequa, Nandini, Mira, Chris, Pieter, Brinda, Dane, Josua, Esme, Wihan, Michal! We miss you guys!
The best part is Usaamah and I still talk about the trip and cherish these beautiful memories. When I asked him about his experience of the trip, he just said ‘It was the best trip I ever had’ and I guess that says it all.
I would like to say that though I have done these trips solo before, this was the first time I was doing this with someone. It’s great to travel with someone, with your best friend or maybe with your partner. You always have someone to share moments and make memories with. Moreover there is always a balance between making new friends and having your own time and exploring it with your partner/ friend!
It's how both of you see the same things differently, interact with people and learn and grow together! So if any of you are planning to travel with someone on a contiki trip or in a group, I would definitely recommend it. But make sure, you don't stick around your comfort zone, get out of it and interact with the rest.
You never know when you'll be meeting the same people on the trip.
Last but not the least a big shout out to Kyle (trip manager) and Pete (coach driver) for keeping it so spontaneous, fun and positive all the time and for giving us one of the best experiences. I genuinely feel that a tour manager definitely plays a major role because they give you the smallest details and spoon feed information! Even the coach in-transit was an insightful journey and Pete was wonderful! Things like map orientation, commuting to the place, how the week looks like for the city, cool spots to visit, pricing, city life, the coolest clubs in town, coffee stops that you will need, traffic rules, the biggest markets and a general guidance on the infrastructure; there are truly numerous things that one needs to look into when one takes a trip. And especially, with Europe, nothing can be left to chance!
If you are planning to do a winter trip I would suggest you go ahead but apart from that a few trips that you could take now are the European Magic and the Eastern Rocker which are priced at 990USD and 660USD respectively till the 31st of March. And in case you guys have any doubts you can shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you wish to ask anything else, do mention it in the comments below. Hope you had a fun time reading this xx