Greg and I love to travel, and have always shared the same excitement about experiencing new cultures, tantalising our tastebuds in the local cuisine and merely getting lost in the splendour of the landscape. Greg’s family is originally from Europe and my grandfather is from Spain. So it was only natural that Europe be the destination for our honeymoon as after all we had just combined two very multicultural families and it offered such history and romance!
I wanted to get the best bang for our buck and make the most of the long flight, so I wanted to see as much of Europe as we could in the 6 weeks we had. So I started asking friends and family what their advice was on the easiest way through Europe. Once I decided that the best way for us was a guided tour I researched for many months and finally decided on Contiki’s Winter Wanderer. Contiki?? For a honeymoon?? Yes Contiki…
Now I know what you’re thinking, Contiki is for partying and things that, well, generally singles enjoy. I have to admit I was worried especially about the hotels… anyway, we closed our eyes, crossed our fingers and booked anyway. The Monday after we were married we hopped on a plane and had a stop over overnight in Seoul and actually got an upgrade to business class from Seoul to London! It was amazing! When we arrived in London we bought an Oyster card and travelled around to see all the sites on our own and on the third day we booked a day trip to Stonehenge, Windsor and Bath.
On the fourth day we started our Tour departing from Contiki HQ in London. We travelled to Dover and saw the famous White Cliffs and quickly jumped aboard a massive ferry to Calais. There we learned that we had 2 other honeymooners on tour who were married on the exact same day! That had to be fate!
We then travelled on coach to Paris and had a twilight tour of the most romantic city in the world, and when they say Parisian drivers are crazy – they are – cutting off our coach as we circled the Arc de Triumph! That was just a little bit scary. We then had our own free day to explore Paris and it is as beautiful and romantic as we had hoped for. We even spent exactly one week after we married right on top of the Eiffel Tower and celebrated at the Moulin Rouge.
From Paris we travelled to Lucerne in Switerland, our first stop was Mt Pilatus in the Alps. The cable car ride was so scenic, there were little cottages sprawled along the countryside and cows with cow bells just like the ads. When we got to the top it was freezing! Luckily there was somewhere to buy a hot chocolate and local entertainment distracted us from the cold! Greg was even game enough to take the steep winding stairs up to the very top where the mountain goats greeted him. We then had lunch at the quaintest little restaurant where we enjoyed fondue and I got roped into yodelling for the guests! It was the funniest and most embarrassing experience! We then were able to explore on our own. The highlights were the Chapel Bridge, Lion Monument and this little pastry shop we found! Delicious chocolate pastries and the prettiest, most intricate marzipan! Now remember when I said I was worried about the hotels? I was very wrong, the hotel we stayed in was right on the lake and our balcony opened up to a view of the lake framed with little toblerone looking mountains capped with snow. So romantic!
From Switzerland we travelled to Barcelona– the place I had most been looking forward to, and I was not disappointed. Such a beautiful city – Gaudi is an amazing artist and the Sagrada Familia is like nothing you will ever see. The food was incredible, best paella and sangria we have ever had. While we were there we also enjoyed a flamenco show – it was exhilarating and breath taking! A must see in Barcelona.
Next came Nice and Monaco and they both lived up to their glittery names! The biggest highlight here was the Monte Carlo casino and our wonderful driver John taking the coach for a spin on the Grand Prix track! We couldn’t help feeling a little like James Bond and his Bond Girl.
Now the place that stole our hearts, Italy! We kicked off in Pisa and took our gratuitous poses next to the famous Leaning Tower, had a gelato and were quickly off to Florence. I was so lucky to have spent my birthday here and luckier that dinner that night was at a beautiful villa in the country. What a beautiful experience to end a day of sightseeing. Endless food, endless dancing and Greg had the band sing happy birthday to me in Italian! All the Italian guests kept toasting me and dancing – it was amazingly unforgettable, the Italians are among the most fun and welcoming people in the world.
We were then off to Rome and the Vatican City. This was my favourite of all the places and could have easily spent the whole 6 weeks here! To step foot in the Roman Forum, to see the Colosseum, Parthenon, Trevi Fountain, then the Vatican City! The history was so immense and we had so much to take in, but we had amazing pizza and gelato to keep us going. From Rome we found ourselves in the beautiful city of Venice where we enjoyed a romantic gondola ride, and explored the maze that is Venice… and yes it started to flood… just a little.
Leaving Italy would have been a little sadder if we hadn’t been off to Vienna, the place Greg had been looking forward to as his mum is Austrian. Being a Sunday when we arrived the streets were a little quiet but allowed us to roam around quite freely. We started at the Sacher Hotel and enjoyed an original Sacher Torte and ended the day with a very posh dinner and Mozart concert. From here were travelled to Munich, again a highlight for Greg being a WWII buff. Before we arrived at Munich we stopped at the old concentration camp of Mauthausen. It was both a humbling and moving experience.
We arrived in Munich after that very sobering experience, and among the highlights were the Glockenspiel and Hitler’s preferred beer hall along with litre beer stines, pork knuckle and accordions! After Munich the countries were a blur as we neared the end of our tour. Following Munich we arrived in the old world majestic city of Prague where we enjoyed a beautiful cruise on the river and under the famous St Charles Bridge. From Prague we travelled to Berlin and had a very cold but eye opening guided tour through the heart of WWII passing Hitler’s bunker, the War Memorial, the Berlin Wall and Check Point Charlie.
We then weaved down the Autobahn past Hanover to Amsterdam. What a city of contrasts! We arrived at night and of course went with our group to the “night entertainment”. We were running late and in my haste I tripped and sprained my ankle. Luckily Greg is so strong he lifted me on his shoulders and off we went to our interesting show. Now that’s sweeping a girl off her feet! The following day we began with a cheese and clog making demonstration and were off to Anne Frank’s house, the Heineken Brewery and the Museum that can only be found in Amsterdam. We ended the tour with a cruise through the canals and definitely made some special friends on tour!
We then ended back in London via Belgium, relaxing, exploring and doing more shopping at Harrods Knightsbridge, which is now my favourite place on earth, other than Italy of course.
Contiki was definitely a wonderful surprise and provided many romantic and unforgettable experiences. It allows you the freedom to explore on your own but also the structure to learn about the wonderful places you are exploring. My advice would be to do your research and find what works with you and your travel preferences. It definitely served its purpose in providing a budget friendly, good quality taster of what is an amazing continent. Greg and I are already talking about returning to Italy, hiring a car and exploring Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast along with a quick stint to Greece and Malta and reliving the Mediterranean lifestyle. Isn’t there just something so romantic about driving with the top down, hair blowing in the Mediterranean salt air, sun kissing your skin and stopping as you please for a good Italian coffee or a gelato or two with the man you love?
All images from Meg and Greg’s collection
Ms Gingham says: I think a tour sounds like such a great way to make new friends and meet people. Especially if you’re on your honeymoon in an unfamiliar place! We wish you all the best Meg and Greg and thankyou so much for being part of Polka Dot Bride!
Meg says: “Greg is in the army and can be away for work for extended periods so we have always said that no matter what distance or bad posting we get each day is beautiful because we share this love for one another that will transcend any distance.”
Revisit Gregory and Meg’s Classic Black and White Wedding here.
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