Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Day 3 - Sankt Goar to Munich

We woke up in darkness in a very cold, icy Sankt Goar. There was ice on the balcony, and the view outside was exactly what I imagined waking up in wintery Europe to be. We grabbed some breakfast and then went back to our room to pack our bags, and took a little too long, and almost missed our bus. We just about made it back in time to throw our bags in and find a cramped spot to sit.

We took a ride into town to hear about how beer steins are made, and all bought a stein (myself included, though I've yet to use it). We also bought a little piggy teddy, really cute thing, and looked around at the world's biggest beer stein and world's biggest free-hanging cuckoo clock. After all of that, it began snowing. Our first time seeing falling snow! It was pretty magical, and was really cool to see it in such a little fairy tale town.

The drive to Munich was stunning, the wintery wonderland around was awesome to look at. On the stop along the way we got some sausage and chips - a typical German meal, but delicious. On the bus, each person was asked to stand up and give their name, occupation and a joke to the rest of the tourists. A poor joke was rewarded with a yellow jelly baby from the driver, an average joke with an orange jelly baby, and a good joke with a red jelly baby. I told the joke about 3 testicles (message me if you want to know!) and got a red sweetie! Bonus! We then got to sit and either sleep, watch the scenery fly by, or watch 300 on the bus telly. At this stage I was dying for a pee, and couldn't wait to get into Munich.

When we finally did, I wasn't all that impressed with the city. It's not amazing at first sight, but after we checked into our hotel we were dropped off in the city centre, by the Glockenspiel, for some free time before a walking tour. The walk really changed my mind - Munich rocks! The Glockenspiel is an awesome building. The market there is out of this world - stall after stall after stall after stall, and shop after shop after shop after shop. Stalls filled with nothing but different kinds of cheeses, and ones with breads, and ones with meats, and ones with fruits and veg, the best place in the world!

The girls walking around Munich were also gorgeous looking, and all dressed very well (especially in the wintery weather). We bought a pair of leather gloves for Adi, and after a brief walk around bought a bread roll and a hunk of delicious cheese, which the kind German lady behind the counter cut for us and smushed into our bread roll, so that we could enjoy the best cheese sandwhich I have had to date. Awesome! We also found a shop with petit fours in, and helped ourselves to an absolute delight of one. You might sense the growing theme (and growing circumferences of our bellies) of the tour for us - eat, eat, eat! It was tons of fun.

After all of that fun, we met up with the rest of the tour and the tour manager, Brek, to meet Sam, a local tour guide. Brek called her in a hurry to do us a favour, since we arrived fairly late, and I would think they were perhaps "friendly" in a past life, since she was more than willing to help us out. What a cute, awesome girl she was. She was on a Contiki tour, and when they arrived in Munich she fell in love with it, and never left. How cool! She gave us a great walking tour with tons of history, stuff you would never learn without a tour guide. It was so informative and was such a great thing for us to have done. Super chuffed!

After the walking tour, we got to go into one of my highlights of the tour - the Hofbrau House! A traditional German beer hall. It was tremendous. Great big steins of beer, served by cute waitresses in traditional dresses, with a cute blonde pretzel girl selling giant, salty, amazingly delicious pretzels. An oompa band was playing, and you could see the cages with family steins locked away. The pork knuckles we had were so good, and over all a lot of fun was had (how could it not, with such wonderful beer?). A great evening was had by all. After quite a party, we all headed back to the hotel to prepare for the next day.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Day 3 - Amsterdam to Sankt Goar

We woke to wonderful European breakfast: chocolate spread (Nutella) and nesquick! Awesome. We did a tour of the Anne Frank house - incredibly overwhelming, hectic, but so glad we got to see it. A fascinating place, and I definitely recommend it for anyone in Amsterdam. Outside, we were accosted by the worst smelling sewage in the history of man. Gah! We missed the Van Gogh because the queue was so long, but we walked around the city taking in the sights, eating chocolate waffles, giant pizza slices (best pizza ever, hands down) and did some shopping. The shops are great, there are bicycles everywhere, and it's a very cool vibe. I loved Amsterdam.

We left Amsterdam in the afternoon for Sankt Goar - a little German town in the Rhine Valley. The countryside along the way was absolutely stunning, and we got to see some cool graffiti on buildings as we drove, and also my first experience of sound barriers around the highway. Were we in Europe or something? We stopped at a service station in Germany, and had some schnitzel (Gutentag, eine schnitzel bitte?). We also came into contact with snow! Thick snow on the road and paving at the service station. Awesome! When we arrived in Sankt Goar it was dark, but we could still see some castles and the river. We did a wine tasting in a cellar, the place was hundreds of years old. IT was very atmospheric, and beautiful to see. All 4 wines were very good, some people bought a few bottles, we bought a bottle of eiswein (for our wedding, but Adi didn't know at the time!). 

After that we headed for the hotel where we sampled some local beer, chatted with our manager and driver, and had some meatballs for dinner. It was icy cold, and there was frost on the balcony and snow on the roofs of the buildings around the little hotel. It was such a nice place! We didn't have a late night, and headed to bed to catch some sleep.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Day 2 - London to Amsterdam

On day two we got to meet up with our group in the outside lobby of the hotel, along with our tour manager (Brek, Australian) and bus driver (Gerry, Irish) who both seemed really cool guys. Adi and I sat one row from the back, where most of the South Africans were seated. From the hotel we drove to Dover to get on the ferry at Calais, going through London and some English countryside. It is quite a beautiful country. Along the way, Brek explained the rules and gave us some general info on Contiki, and we did what he called "speed dating". This involves half of the bus sitting where they are, and the other half rotating seats every 2 minutes, and doing a quick "Hi my name is Brett, I am a boring computer programmer from South Africa what do you do?". That kind of broke the ice a little.

At Dover we got on the ferry and had a most awful cup of coffee, and a plain steak pasty. The ferry is mahoosive, with shops and restaurants and a whole lot. Since it's really a big ship on the sea, some people were feeling a little woozy with the rolling motion. Adi felt a little sick, but I myself being big and strong and awesome was fine.

We landed at Calais and drove through to Belgium. France has a wonderful countryside, great to watch out the moving bus window. Belgium, or at least the bit we drove through, has a wonderfully dull countryside, and in fact looks a bit like Hillbrough. Not amazing. After a quick stop in the Dutch speaking part of Belgium (where I sampled some Belgian cheese and paid to use the toilet) we headed on to Amsterdam.

I can't stress how absolutely awesome a city Amsterdam - it was built in the 1500s and yet also has modern elements; it's a stunningly beautiful place. One of my favourite cities! When we reached the hotel Adi and I had a nap, so we missed dinner, but afterwards we joined the group for a short walking tour of the red light district. You can't take photos of the prostitutes (without getting beaten by them, as discovered by an unfortunate Asian on our trip) so I left my camera at the hotel.

The red light district is really cool, it's almost indistinguishable from the rest of the city, it's so "normal" it's subtle. Most of the girls are pretty gorgeous, and the red light does wonders for their skin (as confirmed by the girls on our tour in Florence). Even the girls in the blue lights were pretty good looking. In case you haven't worked it out, a blue light means that they are not 100% girl, and pack a little extra heat. The red light district is filled with weed coffee shops, and sex shops with giant dildos everywhere. At the same time, the buildings are all old and beautiful and there are the canals and cobbled streets, so it's a really pretty place.

After the walk, we went on a cruise boat in the canals. It had free drinks - Heineken on tap - and so after a few minutes of it being a quiet touristy affair looking out the windows at the passing boats and buildings, the trip became a bit of a raucous party with the Aussies and South Africans dancing and singing and drinking much beer. The boat of other Contiki people we passed looked pretty boring, so I think we got a good group. Prost!

After this we went to the "cultural show" at the Cassa Rossa, which is a live sex show. Since we were one of the first to arrive at the venue, we were ushered in to the front row where we got a most excellent view of Jonny D and his rather large talents. It was quite an experience, and you can't really prepare yourself for it, but I must say it was great fun and everyone that went enjoyed it. A few people got called onstage during the stripping acts, and so the whole Contiki group was having fun.

Once the show was done, we headed off to one of sex shops to take a look around. There is some scary stuff in there. I did note that a giant rubber fist will set you back 80 EUR. We also had a puff of a joint in one of the coffee shops where some of the other group were spending their evening / early morning. After that, we made our way back to the hotel for a much better night's sleep than the one previously.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Day 1 - London

As promised, here is the first post on my recent (okay, 8 months ago isn’t all that recent) Contiki Tour. For a bit of background, we chose to do the European Discovery (Winter), partly because that was when the money was available, and because Adi would have holidays then, and also because we’re completely used to summer holidays, and wanted to experience something completely different to what we’re used to – hence Europe in the middle of freezing winter. We chose to leave on Christmas day – this meant we would have Boxing Day in Amsterdam, Venice on New Year’s (a significant factor, though unbeknownst to Adi at this point), and would also have time to catch Liverpool game on the 9th of January.

So, after all the planning was done and Christmas had, it was time to make our way to the airport. Adi and I were on different flights – she gets a freebie business class ticket thanks to her dad flying with SAA (incidentally, he was flying her plane there), and I got the cheapest ticket I could find: Virgin. Since Adi and I would be going through customs together, I didn’t want the scanner to pick up the engagement ring, so I gave it to her dad to take with. We would then arrange to exchange it in London somewhere. Cool spy stuff!

So, the flight was actually not bad, the Virgin airhostesses were pretty hot, and I watched some cool movies on board. Landed in London round about the same time as Adi, even though she left an hour earlier, that was quite cool. Apart from leaving my snuggy snoozer on the plane, everything about the flight was fine. After a bit of searching, Adi and I met up, and then got on the underground to get to Russel Square. A most uncomfortable 45 minutes later (that train was packed) we arrived in Russel Square, and fought through the masses to get out and into the lift to get to street level.

The first thing I noticed when I got to ground level ready to go find our hotel – London is COLD at 8:30am on the 26th of December. After finding the hotel, we then found the Contiki Basement to go check in. Unfortunately, the CB doesn’t open until 11, so we left our bags in storage and went exploring Russel Square. The Russel Hotel is an awesome building, and otherwise Russel Square / Camden is quite a cool little area. After walking around we met up with Adi’s dad for some breakfast (and to exchange the package while Adi went to the bathroom), and then went back to the CB to check in. This time, we were told check-in was only at 2pm, so we opted for another walk, this time to Oxford Street for the Boxing Day sales.

We missed Oxford Street, however, and carried on walking till we hit the Thames. We saw the sights, took tons of photos, and then finally made our way back for check-in. We stayed in the Royal National Hotel, which is the standard Contiki option in London. Point of information – do NOT stay in this hotel, it is absolutely horrible, and is the worst hotel I have ever had the misfortune of staying in. The beds are terrible (we got 2 singles, instead of a double), they have big wheels on them which means even when rolling over the bed rolls around, they squeak when you breathe, and they are thin and uncomfortable and horrible. The hotel itself is not much better than the quality of the beds. Given the option – rather sleep on a bench in some park.

After our nap we went to a pub nearby and met some people going on our Contiki Tour, had a beer and some chips, and then went to our pre-tour meeting where we met our tour manager, driver and some other tour mates. There were lots of South Africans and Australians, and then a fair sprinkling of other kinds too. The pre-tour meeting was helpful, so I would suggest not missing this when going on your Contiki Tour.

After the meeting, we decided London wasn’t that cold and went off to Fulham to meet Adi’s dad and a friend at a pub, leaving our jacket outers, gloves, scarves and beanies behind. We missed our stop, and discovered that our bus didn’t go back, so we walked for 30 mins in the rain to get to the pub, freezing our arses off. Note: even when you think you’re warm enough, bring a jacket in London. After that ordeal, we had a beer and made our way back to the hotel for the worst night’s sleep in living memory.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Wow, it's been a while!

So, the last post I wrote was back in December all about VISAs. Well, a lot has happened since then. I've got engaged, I'm buying a house, planning a wedding, and - well, it's been six months so you can guess!

I shall start posting soon - starting with my Contiki holiday and how that went, and hopefully any prospective Contiki clients can check it out and see that it is absolutely 100% worth it. Look out for the posts soon.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Schengen Visa

Today I collected my Schengen visa from the Italian consulate in Cape Town. That too was pretty simple, and I'll post how I got mine. Though we'll be staying in many Schengen states on our trip, we're in Italy the longest (4 days, 2 in Rome, 1 in Venice and 1 in Florence) so that's the consulate we had to go to.

The documents required are the same as the UK visa and the fee is slightly cheaper, at R709 per person. The process is pretty much exactly the same, except that you have to fill out a form by hand rather than online. You can download the form here, and book your appointment here. You'll need your passport for the last few digits as your reference. You get to choose your appointment time and date as well. When selecting your date, a separate window pops up with the times available. You need to click on the save button on this window, and once done, click the "Make Appointment" button on the first window. I forgot to do this first time round, and my appointment wasn't made, so when I showed up at the consulate for my appointment they looked at me like I was stupid.

Once you click the "Make Appointment" button, an email is sent to you confirming the time. You then go for your interview on the day. The consulate building is here:

And it's a fairly painless process. Make sure you have all your documents, and make sure you have copies of everything. The consulate doesn't make copies, so you need to provide. Also, they don't return any documents, so if you give originals in, you won't get them back. Another thing to note: they only accept cash, so make sure you draw enough cash before hand.

As a timeline - after I discovered I hadn't clicked the "Make Appointment" button first time round, I went straight to work and went online and booked another appointment for the next day, Wednesday, at 11:10. I made the appointment for 2 people, so we both went in and gave our docs in and paid. I collected our passports with visas in this morning, Friday, at 10:00. So it took 2 days, nice and easy.

Next step: buying train tickets to get to Liverpool and back.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

UK Visa

So, as a South Africa, you now need a visa to get into the UK. It's a fairly simple and painless task, if you have all the documents and a valid passport. Here's how to get a UK visa in Cape Town:

  1. Go to the VFS website: and click the "Apply for a UK visa now" button
  2. Click the "I have read the above information and the relevant guidance notes" checkbox and then click "Continue"
  3. A new window will pop up, which is the application form. Enter all your info in here.
  4. If at any point you don't have any info, you can just click the "pause" button, that looks like so:
  5. Once you've entered in all the information, choose your appointment date and save.
You can also pay online with a credit card, which is what I did. Make sure you have all the necessary documents with you when you go for your visa appointment, as you don't want to be in a situation where you are missing something. Also, make copies of everything, just in case - that's what I did. They should send back the originals with your passport, but be safe.

I had the following documents:
  • flight ticket
  • travel itinerary, with names, contact details and addresses of hotels
  • travel insurance
  • latest payslip
  • proof of address (I had a copy of my lease)
  • letter from my company stating that I work there and will be required to return to work at some date after my trip
  • latest bank statement (I simply printed a statement for my credit card from my internet banking)
  • passport
  • passport photo
The visa costs R938 (or did, at the time, it's dependent on the exchange rate I believe) and I paid an extra R120 at the consulate for sms notifications and courier services. The consulate / VFS place is in Cape Town on Riebeeck street, at the Absa building. Map here:

I think it's on the 23rd floor. I arrived about 10 minutes early, and once the place opened the security at the building gave me an access card and I went up to the place. They searched my bag, told me turn off my cellphone, and in I went. There is a ticket machine at the entrance where you press a button and it issues you a ticket with a number on. I was number 004, and my number was called pretty quickly by the electronic woman.

At the counter, I just handed in all my documents and paid for the courier and sms service (card only, no cash). I was then directed to the biometrics queue, where I waited for about 3 minutes before being called. They took my photo, and fingerprints (electronically) and then I was done.

That was all on Thursday morning. On Friday I got an sms telling me my application had been processed, and was being couriered to me, and on Monday morning my passport, documents and visa arrive. Nice and easy!