Employee Post: Amsterdam to Barcelona

By Nicole Valles, Contiki Marketing Coordinator

My one year anniversary as a Contiki employee is rapidly approaching and in timely fashion, I was also fortunate enough to experience my first Contiki trip! Working in the marketing department, I’ve spent a lot of time coming up with new ways to let potential clients know how amazing a Contiki trip can be and now, I can finally say it with 100% certainty. With so many choices on the table, I settled on Amsterdam to Barcelona, a 12-day trip visiting the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Monaco and Barcelona. If you count our brief stops in Belgium and Italy, that’s 7 countries that I can add to my tally.

I was beside myself leading up to my departure and also slightly nervous due to the fact that I would be traveling alone for the first time in my life. I’d been to Europe, but never like this! I arrived in Amsterdam early in the morning and made my way to the hotel via the free shuttle provided (score!). The hotel was cute, clean and accommodating. I was able to venture into the city after I settled in and checked out the Heineken Experience prior to my pre-departure meeting. I was nervous about meeting my roommate however,  and upon my return from the brewery, she was in our room, smiling and ready to meet me. Suffice it to say, we got along wonderfully!

 

The pre-departure meeting was beyond useful and we departed for a “cultural experience” at one of the premiere venues in Amsterdam’s Red Light District. It was like nothing I’d ever seen (in-person anyways) and I’m pretty sure that after that experience, nothing can ever shock me again. I’ll leave the details of the show to your imagination. After that overwhelming exhibition, we headed to the infamous Grasshopper to drink and unwind. The next morning, we drove to the town of Edam to see the clog and cheese making demonstrations which were much cooler than I anticipated. After picking up some very cute souvenirs, we enjoyed a group bike ride and afterwards, the coach drove us into the city center. We could immediately tell that our driver, Hans, was an expert on the road. Our tour manager, Emmo, recommended some sites, schooled us on the public transport and led several of us to the Anne Frank house, after which he departed and left us to our own devices. My roommate and I ventured off to do some shopping and see the floating flower markets. In the evening, we met back up with the group for a traditional Dutch meal at the Dubbel restaurant and then enjoyed a canal cruise equipped with unlimited cocktails!

 

The next morning we rose early, which I would soon learn is standard practice on a Contiki and we began our drive to Paris. We had ample time to get to know one another and much chatting, singing and prepping by our esteemed tour manager ensued. Upon our arrival in Paris, Hans drove us around the city to see some immediate sites such as the Eglise Du Dome, where Napoleons’ tomb lays, The Eiffel Tower and the River Seine before we checked into the hotel to get snazzy for the cabaret show at the Nouvelle Eve. The cabaret show turned out to be one of my favorite excursions, complete with dinner, wine and audience participation. We laughed and smiled until our faces hurt! Afterwards, we headed across the street to O’Sullivan’s Irish pub where we danced and drank until the early morning.

The next day, a little wounded yet enthusiastic as can be, all 47 of us posed for our group photo in front of the Eiffel Tower. Afterwards, we made our separate ways and I went to the top of the tower and also visited some of the city’s most renowned sites including the Arcs De Triomphe, Champs de Elysee, the Louvre and Notre Dame. My companions and I even indulged in the typical French café experience. Later in the evening, we were provided with dinner at the hotel and an included cruising excursion along the River Seine.

  

The next morning, we departed Paris and headed to Lucerne, Switzerland. After arriving at the hotel, formerly the Lowengraben Jail and now a themed and hip hotel, we enjoyed a walk around this amazingly safe and gorgeous city. Some of us even took advantage of the Lake Lucerne cruising excursion and drank Swiss beer.  The next day we shopped and many purchased Swiss Army knives and beautifully crafted watches. After our shopping was complete, we jumped back on the coach to head back to France but this time, to the breathtaking Chamonix, nestled in the French Alps. Immediately upon our arrival, some of us chose to ride the cable cars up to Aiguille du Midi. The gasps that ensued were definitely warranted since the top of the mountain is so exquisite and amazing, it cannot not be accurately described. Later, we check into the Alpina Hotel and enjoyed a traditional French dinner before several tour mates met up at a local bar.

 

The next days pointed us towards Nice and the French Riviera. We did a quick city walk before heading to our group dinner and then to some recommended night spots. The next morning, I teamed up with my new girlfriends and we hit a private beach and soaked up some sun. In the evening, our tour manager and driver escorted us to the tiny yet exquisite country of Monaco where we visited the Monte Carlo casino and saw where the Grand Prix takes place. A few tour mates actually won money!

 

The next morning, Emmo did a fabulous job of preparing us for a long drive to our final destination. Barcelona was in our sights and it felt like the previous days were just to get us primed for this vibrant city! Everyone was in high spirits and we stopped at Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, a church that was started nearly 100 years ago and is still under construction.

We drove around the city and could clearly see how deeply art has impacted Spain’s culture and architecture. Later, we all took a trip on the metro and landed on one of Barcelona’s most popular streets, Las Ramblas. Filled with artists, vendors and street performers, Las Ramblas provided us with enough excitement to keep us going until late into the evening as we explored pubs, nightclubs and the local flavors, including tapas! Yum! The next morning, few of us joined our tour manager for a brief history lesson in the Gothic Quarter and Mont Juic. Then we did some more shopping and lunching before we took a “siesta” back at the hotel. In the evening, many of us indulged in the optional flamenco show and dinner. We watched as Spanish beauties dance passionately the beat of clapping hands and strumming guitars. The sangria was pretty good too! Upon departing the flamenco show, we got the unlikely chance to see the Magic Fountains in all their glory. These fountains lay in front of the National Palace and are synchronized to music. Emmo would later tell us that what we experienced was a rare treat! Being that it was our last night in Barcelona as well as the last night of the trip, the entire tour gathered to enjoy the hip nightlife of Port Olimpico, where we danced, cried and indulged, all reveling in the amazing journey that we had just shared. What an experience!

I can honestly say that, everyone should experience a Contiki, at least once. I came back with everlasting memories, a new perspective and some wonderful new friends. Thank you Contiki!

Employee Post: Egypt & The Nile

By Allyson C., Executive Assistant

Our Egypt and the Nile itinerary boasts all the Ancient Egyptian must-sees like the Pyramids, the Great Sphinx, the Temple of Karnak, the Valley of the Kings, and of course, the Egyptian Museum. Yet beyond the impressively designed and decorated temples and tombs, legendary pharaohs, and fascinating monuments, today’s Egypt is full of new experiences for the traveler.

Tempt your tastes buds and dazzle them with local cuisine. The Khan el Khalili bazaar is home to the best street vendors of falafel you’ll find. The fried balls of ground fava beans and chickpeas mixed with spices, stuffed inside a pita and topped with tahini sauce will not disappoint. Koshary stands are packed into the late evening in Cairo, serving up the national dish made of rice, brown lentils, chickpeas, and macaroni. In Luxor, take the tip of the tour manager and try a camel burger, sold under the name of kofta at McDonald’s. Craving something more exotic? Try the local delicacy of rice-stuffed pigeon. I know what you are thinking…the birds are raised like chickens.

Part of the appreciation and understanding of the culture comes from spending time with the locals. Egyptians are friendly people and have a wonderful custom of hospitality. At the traditional Bedouin home we stop at near Giza, try the mint tea which is super hot and seeped to perfection. The shisha, or hooka, is passed around and the experience with the Bedouins becomes the most relaxing time of the day. The optional excursion to the village near Luxor provides another opportunity for Egyptian hospitality of hot mint tea and homemade sun bread, as well as an insider’s look at the daily life of villagers. The visits to the mosques in Cairo provide insight to the Muslim faith and foster understanding, which is crucial in today’s global community. Not everyone you meet will be trying to sell you something, so be open to those who approach you in search of a conversation. My group was approached by a group of female students at the Aswan Botanical Gardens who just wanted to practice their English, and our interaction with the students became the highlight of our visit to the gardens. Other cultural exchanges can be had a street corner cafes while drinking tea or coffee, smoking the shisha, and playing a round of backgammon or two.

My experience in Egypt would have been less memorable without all my new habibi, or dear friends, especially the tour managers Sherif and Khalid. Both have a prefect blend of education and local expertise that make their knowledge priceless.  Their pride and hospitality shine through and they truly care that each of their passengers has the best time possible while traveling through Egypt. Try to stump them on a piece of artwork at a temple or the pricing of a souvenir from the bazaar and you’ll quickly learn that it’s impossible. Thanks to Sherif, I did find that special souvenir that seemed like searching for a needle in a haystack. Thank you for going the extra mile.

Although interested in ancient history, I never considered myself to be an Egyptophile. In fact, my mom was a bit in disbelief that my first Contiki would be to Egypt since my first Egyptian museum experience as a kid was a bust. After traveling through Egypt over the holidays, I have a new found appreciation and understanding of the intriguing Egyptians, both ancient and modern. Now, I read about every new archeological discovery in the country and try to use it as an excuse of why I have to go back. Lastly, my suggestion to anyone considering traveling to Egypt, do it sooner than later. The Supreme Council of Antiquities can close any of the famous sites in order to preserve it. As tourist numbers increase, the likelihood that one or more of these renowned sites will close becomes inevitable.

Employee Post – Mexican Fiesta Tour

By Jennifer Cousins, Contiki Call Center Representative

In early January 2010, I was given the opportunity to take my first Contiki tour, the Mexican Fiesta.  It was so exciting to finally experience the product I’ve sold for the last two years.  Everything about the tour exceeded my expectations. 

The tour began in Mexico City, then off to Morelia, Ixtapa, Acapulco, Taxco and back to Mexico City. My greatest memories are horseback riding on the beach in Ixtapa, climbing the Aztec pyramids at Teotihuacan and the amazing Mexican food! The Mexican Fiesta is the perfect combination for those that really want to party or for those that want to experience the culture of Mexico.

Employee Post – North By North East Tour

By Brooke Scheer, Contiki Call Center Representative

As a peak season incentive I won the North by North East, North American tour. This 13 day tour started off in New York City, then continued into Boston, Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto, Niagara Falls, Cleveland, and ended in Chicago. This tour was without a doubt one of the best experiences I have had traveling in the States! Working for Contiki I am enriched with knowledge about our product and have certain expectations of what our tours are like, and with this particular tour I was overly impressed by the overall experience of the trip. From the hotel accommodations, meals, and optional excursions offered, I felt completely proud of our product from an employee standpoint, but most importantly beyond satisfied as a passenger. I would have to say my favorite parts of the trip included the old town of Quebec City, Niagara Falls and Chicago. I also enjoyed watching the Aussie’s experience America’s free pour system for the first time, those next mornings were priceless! Hehe.