Packing List – Europe in Summer

Heading to Europe this summer? Check out this awesome packing list from our Contiki Marketing pro, Heather Metcalf!

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Summer Europe Suitcase

Telling someone what to pack for their trip to Europe is a touchy subject.  It’s just so personal! Everybody has their own clothing and packing style.  This list is meant to be a general guideline.  If you are a fashionista, I’m sure you have already glanced at this list, scoffed, and thought of 20 things you would add. But before we get into it, there are a couple of things worth mentioning:

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Getting Along with your Travel Partner

Guest Post by Kelley Last, Contiki traveler

Contiki is set up in a way that accommodates any kind of traveler: solo, with friends, or as a couple. If you choose to travel by yourself or decide not to have a roommate, you will still have an amazing time, but one of the best parts of Contiki is making friends and sharing rooms, buses and meals with your tourmates.

Here’s a few tips for getting along with your partner and getting the most out of your trip!

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Contiki Cuisine: Fueling for an Adventure of a Lifetime

Guest Post By: Kelley Last, Contiki traveler

I consider myself to be a picky eater and when I first started traveling, I was nervous that I’d starve while on vacation. One of the greatest ways to experience a new culture is through the food, and I’ve learned not to be afraid anymore. If you play it safe and plan ahead, you really have nothing to worry about.

Here are my tips for fueling on vacation: [Read more...]

Contiki Travelogue: Russia and the Baltic

** Note:  This Contiki travel itinerary has changed since Kelley’s trip**

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Guest Post by Kelley Last, Contiki traveler

We were really excited to go on this Contiki Trip. I’m not sure what put the bug about Russia in our ear, but once it was there, there was no going back. We love the ‘off the beaten path’ locations and “Russia & The Baltic” was right up our alley. I heard they changed the itinerary from what it was back in 2009, and based on our experience, I think it’s a really good choice. We loved our tour, but I think they just made a great trip even better with the change.

We flew from LAX to Moscow through Frankfurt and found our way to our hotel. It’s always a little bit of a culture shock landing in a new country, but we were able to navigate just fine to where we needed to go. We met up with our tour group , had a nice dinner and hit the sack (that’s a huge time difference from LA!)

The next day, we hit the ground running after breakfast. First stop: The Moscow Metro Tour. It may sound silly to have a guided tour of a subway system, but these trains are really something special. During the Cold War, these stations were “Palaces for the Poor”. They were hugely ornate rooms, plated in gold and decorated with statues. It was one of the few places in the city that were designed just for the average citizens.

The beautiful paint and the marble walls were meant to be an easy reminder for the Russians to support their government (even if the government didn’t really support its people). The metros are extremely efficient, a new train comes about every 30 seconds, and each one is packed to the brim with people. You don’t even need to hang on since you’re so wedged in there! It was a fun experience.

Then we got a tour of the Missile and Military Museum. It was a rare look into the government’s side of the Cold War.

They had all kinds of military paraphernalia on display. It was both eerie and intriguing at the same time. What a neat way to gain perspective on such a worldly event.

Then we headed to one of the most iconic places in Moscow: Red Square.

Both the buildings and the square itself were really interesting to look at. We spent some free time wandering around. This is adjacent to the Kremlin, so the whole area was really photogenic.

 

Behind Red Square is the famous St. Basil’s Cathedral. I can’t believe I was standing right in front of it! When you think ‘Russia’, you think of this church.

The next day, we got a great tour of the Kremlin. It’s crazy to think of all the history that happened there. So many tsars and emperors walked through these streets.

From there, we headed north to Novgorod, a cute little town halfway between Moscow and St. Petersburg. The ride was long, but the scenery was really pretty and interesting to look at. During the time of Communism, it was illegal to own your own house or property. Everything was owned by the government and handed out to the citizens. Everything was the same. Everything was even. But when the Iron Curtain fell, people started moving out to the countryside and building their own houses for the first time.

Around sunset, we arrived at our destination: Novgorod. It looked like Ireland!

There was a lot of damage done to this town during World War II. It was occupied by Germany at the time, and the city was bombed a lot. But slowly, they have rebuilt it, and it’s almost back to it’s original glory. That gold spire was plated in 1408!

We had a nice night’s sleep in a really nice hotel before we headed off to St. Petersburg (the city I was looking forward to the most!) We arrived on a very rainy day at Peterhof Palace.

St. Petersburg went through multiple rulers. It was even renamed Leningrad during World War I. We had watched a lot of documentaries about this Palace before we left for Russia so we were really looking forward to seeing it.  We tried best we could to explore the grounds, but because of the rain, our tour got cancelled. For good reason I suppose, it was really pouring.

But even in the rain, it was still amazing. [Note: Bring rain clothes when traveling to Europe! You never know when you'll need them!]

One of the unexpected highlights of St. Petersburg for me was seeing this memorial dedicated to the victims of the ‘Siege of Leningrad’. The museum was very nice and had tons of artifacts from the era. It was compelling stuff. This country has been through so much.

 

The next day, we visited St. Isaac’s Cathedral and walked to the top to see the city from up high. I’m a tad bit afraid of narrow staircases, but the views were worth it. Hi Contiki Bus!

Later, we took a river boat cruise down the Neva to see some of the palaces from the water. Seeing the amazing Hermitage Museum was breathtaking. That place is huge! It used to be the summer residence for the Royal Family! Can you imagine living there?!

From there, we headed to the Peter and Paul Fortress. We had a great guided tour of all the historical locations in there. Among the highlights were the tombs of the Romanov family. I’m a total history nerd, and I love hearing about what happened in each place we visit. History comes alive when it’s right in front of you!

That night, we checked “Attend a Russian Ballet in Russia” off our bucket list! We saw a great performance of Swan Lake. I didn’t really know what was going on, but the dancing was beautiful, and we had great seats. Plus the theater itself was incredible. A little history and a little culture. Just the way we like it!

The next day, we crossed the border into Finland. Being in Helsinki was a much different experience than being in Russia. The mentalities of the countries are stark contrasts.

We’re pretty big soccer fans (and so were all our Aussie tourmates), so when we found out that the Women’s Euro Finals were being held at the Olympic Stadium, we jumped at the chance! Plus, I’m a sucker for Olympic Stadiums. I’d love to visit all of them in my lifetime!

On our second day in Finland, we decided to board a ferry to visit the country of Estonia. It’s just a hop, skip and a jump away! This was an optional excursion, but it was TOTALLY worth it.

Not only did it check another country off my list, but Tallinn was such a great city. Estonia has also gone through so much in it’s history. Russia and Europe fought over it for years. It’s finally independent, and they’re definitely making up for lost time. It had one of the most modern infrastructures we’ve ever seen. If I remember correctly, they even had free city-wide wifi. Whilst wandering around, we found a tour company called Tallin Free Tour. It’s a free walking tour led by students, but they graciously accept tips. The tour was fantastic and our guide was very enthusiastic.

At the end of the day, we headed to St. Olaf’s church to climb to the top. Just about everyone in our Contiki Group chose to go up. You could see the entire city from up there!

I highly recommend Tallin, there is so much history to see there. It’s a walled city, and much of it is still intact. It’s a great example of old meets new. Watch out world, Estonia is on the map! You heard it here first!

After Estonia, we had another free day in Helsinki that we spent shopping and sightseeing. Then we boarded our overnight ferry to Stockholm, Sweden. We stood outside on the deck as our boat drifted away from Finland.

All of Contiki was at the bottom of the boat, but that was ok with us. The party goes wherever Contiki is anyways. We spent the time having dinner, exploring and playing lots of Uno. (Traveler Tip: Bring Uno! Everyone knows how to play and it makes it easy to start conversations and meet new people. We’ve taken it on every trip!)

We arrived in Stokholm in the morning and were surprised to learn that the Contiki bus was on the boat with us the whole time! YAY! We love our bus!

Even though Sweden is in the EU, they are still using their own currency, the Kronor. It is a little confusing when you go to multiple countries, but the tour manager always tells you in advance what you need and when. We use an international ATM card, and withdraw local money when we arrive. In our experience, that is the cheapest way to do it.

Our first stop was the Stockholm City Hall, which is located right on a beautiful river. It might seem a little boring to visit a city hall, but this place has international significance. It is the host venue for the Nobel Banquet (for all of the Nobel Prize winners).

After a tour of all the great rooms, we had some free time to explore Stockholm. That afternoon, we visited the Vasa Museum. Inside is an old Swedish Warship built in 1628! It sank less than a mile into it’s maiden voyage.  Surprisingly, it renamed largely intact and they were able to put it together again in the 1960s.

We ended the day by going to a Stokholm favorite: The Absolut Icebar! Who doesn’t want to go to a bar made out of ice?! Everything from the shotglasses to the bar itself is made out of ice. They give you space suits to put on because it’s really really cold in there!

The next morning, our tour was over and it was time to head back to the States. It was an amazing trip, once of the best we’ve ever taken. We came home with a couple of bottles of Russian Champagne (which they call Shampanskoye!) It was so good! Thanks, Contiki!

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Kelley is a self-proclaimed world traveler and has taken three Contiki tours (and counting)! She is originally from Boston, but now calls Los Angeles her home. When she’s not traveling, she’s running marathons, watching soccer games, eating cupcakes or planning her next trip. You can follow her adventures (both big and small) on her blog: www.kelocity.com or on twitter: @kelocity.