Stockholm, Russia, Italy and Greece

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June 28th 2012
Published: June 28th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">For the next two days we had the bikes that we hired so we were able to see more of the city hall including the Gold Room (and entire room made of gold mosaics with 10kg of real gold making up the room) we saw where the royal banquet was held for the Nobel awards. We also went to the Royal Palace and the Vasa Museum (home to the Vasa ship). After all the riding around we enjoyed a big dinner of Steak at TGI Fridays.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">Our last two days in Stockholm saw the weather change to rain and it got extremely cold therefore we spent the next few days relaxing and cooking some meals in the great kitchen at the hostel. The following day and the first official day of summer for Europe 1st of June we hopped on a train and headed out of the city to meet our Continki tour to Russia. That night we had a quick meeting to get to know everyone before a big buffet dinner, then an early night.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">After an early start we spent the day in the city with heavy rain and a freezing 5 degrees Celsius. We explored the Nobel museum in the morning and then spent the afternoon wandering around the city coffee shops where we were able to find some warmth. After the long cold day we headed to the harbour to board a ship to Helsinki, we enjoyed a large buffet dinner before we headed to the ship night club and stumbled home at around 3am.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">With very little sleep we hopped out of bed at 6am and hopped on our bus for a two hour drive into Helsinki. Once we arrived we did a tour around the city then hopped off for a quick lunch before heading back to our hotel for a sleep. That evening we had a meeting to discuss Russia and after pizza for dinner we headed to bed.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">Early the next morning we hopped up excited to be heading to Russia and after a short drive we arrived at the border. On our way into the city we met our local guide Anna and headed to a welcome dinner, here we drank plenty of Vodka and Chapanski (champagne spiked with a shot of Vodka) before we headed to a spot overlooking the city for a few more drinks. That night when we reached the hotel we enjoyed a few more drinks before heading to bed quite late.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">The following morning we headed to Peter Hoff garden located 1.5 hours from the main city; this palace was used to accommodate the Romanoff’s in the summer as it sits on the Baltic Sea. We wandered around the gardens and played with the resident squirrel. We had a nice walk around the gardens, watching the first water run through The Grand Cascade and then onto some of the 151 other fountains dotted around the park. That afternoon we boarded our river boat to cruise around the many canals of St Petersburg, sometimes called the Venice of the north, where we enjoyed more champanski and vodka. With a few glasses of alcohol in us we were taken to a famous Faberge egg shop, where you can buy original eggs and many other expensive souvenirs. This was also accompanied by complimentary glasses of champagne and more vodka, meaning there was 51 drunken tourists walking around shelves of delicate souvenirs, some worth over $1000! After checking out all the Faberge eggs we walked up to the Church of the Spilt Blood, richly decorated on the inside with gold and enamel mosaics. This church got its name as it was where Alexander the Great was assassinated. With all the free alcohol in us we went out that night to watch the Russian folklore show, with traditional singing and dancing (also with complimentary champagne).

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">Early the next morning we woke up with a slight headache and jumped on the bus with Anna to have a tour of the city and find out some of the history of St Petersburg. We were dropped off in the centre of town to have a walk around and explore, meeting back at the Hermitage for our guided tour. This is home to one of the biggest art collections in Europe and also many of the original furnishings and personal items of the Russian Tsars. One of the rooms we walked through was where the Tsars of Russia were kidnapped at 0215am in 1917, the beginning of the Russian Revolution. There was a small clock displaying the time 2:15am, representing the time this historical event occurred. We enjoyed some chicken fricassee for lunch then walked across the bridge to one of the weirdest museums in the world. The museum was set up by Peter the Great, and having a keen interest in anatomy and medicine, one floor was full of shelves of two headed baby skeletons, jars with preserved babies and deformed foetuses! Some had 4 arms or no legs, others had large alien looking heads and no eyes, but by far the weirdest was the “twins”, a deformed set of twins with one developed baby and the body of the other coming out of its chest, with no head. This was very gross and we did not hang around for long.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">We prettied ourselves up that night, looking forward to our night at the Russian ballet to watch Swan Lake. The ballet was very well performed, but now we have seen the best of the best we do not see the point of watching anymore!

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">Our last night in Moscow was a late one, sitting at the bar until 1am, and waking up early to go to Peter and Pauls fortress, the burial place of the last of the Romanovs and a prison for the arrested nobles during the revolution in 1917. The cells which the nobles were kept in were purposely set out to look over the palaces and mansions they once lived in, to show them what they used to have, quite a cruel punishment for people that were arrested simply because they were wealthy.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">Saying good bye to our lovely local guide Anna we began our drive to Novgorod, the oldest city in Russia and the home to the first Kremlin (fortress). This was a nice little town, where we were shown around the grounds of the fortress and took some pictures of the oldest church in Russia, built in the 1300s.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">The next day was spent driving all day to Moscow. When we finally arrived we were dropped off in the red square, where we caught our first glimpse of St Basils Cathedral. This was very impressive and many photos were taken! Meeting our local guide Galina and running very late, we did our Metro tour, a tour of the local train stations in Moscow, where all the walls are decorated with communism paintings and stain glass. Galina explained how all the train stations were once like this, with pictures of every one working together and symbolising the greatness of the state. It was a way the communist parties would constantly brainwash the people of the importance of equality and enforce the thought that the USSR was powerful and working towards the goodness of all who lived there. Galina said that many residents of Moscow wanted all the decorations removed, as it was no longer like this, and not something that should stay.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">(That paragraph doesn’t make much sense)

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">After a delicious tea with crispy skin salmon fresh grilled vegies, we rushed to get ready for our VIP night out. Our tour manager had organised this for us, where we had our own VIP area, our own security and own dance floors at one of the top clubs in Moscow, Pacha. Carly tried her best to make it but pulled a 101 5 minutes before we left because she was sick.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">Because we had been dancing the night away we slept in to the early afternoon and eventually when we woke up headed to town again for our tour of the Military Museum. Escorted from the city to the museum by our guide dog (a stray that adopted us), Galina then showed us around all the artefacts from the many wars Russia had been in over the last 100 years and shared a lot of personal stories with us about what it is like to live in Russia now and in the past. The museum is home to the “original” sputnik (we are pretty sure the original burnt away on its re-entry), the first ever satellite sent into space, which transmitted information and data back to earth about the atmosphere and space, critical to man’s ‘space race’. We also walked around the many aircraft and tanks in the yards of the museum taking photos and trying to imagine what the machines had seen and been through.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">We headed from the museum to a small traditional restaurant for a tea of chicken Kiev and borsch soup, two of the famous Russian dishes. Josh was lucky enough to have two servings as some of the group did not make it to the dinner, yum!

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">The next morning we braved to rain and cold to check out the statue park, where many of the original soviet statues and communist symbols, which used to be dotted around the city. Galina said back in the communist days, the symbol of the hammer and sickle and other communist related painting and sayings were constantly in your face and wherever you looked was this message of the importance of communism. Galina told us the story of the first McDonald’s in Moscow and how she was there at the head office of the KGB when they charged through the doors and rioted through the city, which was the beginning of the end for the USSR. After Statue Park we went to the tourist alley to find a matroshka doll and have some lunch before heading to the Moscow Kremlin and the museum with the original clothes and jewels, as well as some original horse drawn carriages and sleds of the Tsars. That night we went to the Great Moscow Circus, and although it used many animals in the acts it was really well put together and performed. Here we said thankyou and farewell to Galina, who was almost crying when she had to go, explaining how much she loves young people and showing them around her city and country, something she is very proud of. <strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">J<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">We departed early for Minsk and after exchanging 10 euros and getting 100000 Belarusian rubels we were shown around the city and old town, once again braving the wind and the rain. Minsk was pretty but not very exciting and some others spent the night using the bowling alley attached to the hotel.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">That next day we were lucky enough to spend 12 hours driving and 3 hours at the border, arriving late into Warsaw. Along the way we had to spend all the Belarusian rubels we had, as they were not able to be exchanged back once you had them, buying one service station out of chips and David buying a gun that shoots ping-pong balls!

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">Warsaw was hosting the Euro2012, and some of the group headed to the ‘Fanzone’ to watch Poland and Russia play. We gave this a miss because we were both sick, but the others said there was about 100000 people crammed in the square, complete with riot police with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons. Our last day of the tour began with a city tour and a walk around the city centre, enjoying some local Pegoti (pastry filled with meat and vegies) and watching a pianist play some music of the famous Polish composer Chopin. That night we had our farewell dinner and drinks, going to the fan zone beforehand to watch Germany beat Netherlands 2-1 with some of the group.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">The next morning we opted out of the 10 hour bus ride to Berlin and caught the train, getting there in half the time and leaving later in the morning, definitely worth the 70euro! Once we had arrived in Berlin we changed trains and headed to Dassendorf to visit Poppy, Gabriella and Peter, although it was a long journey we were very excited to see Poppy. We were greeted by a fantastic dinner of smoked ham, Salmon, stuffed peppers and many other delicious snacks.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">At 07.30am the next morning we hopped up as per the timetable and headed to the bakery to get some fresh rolls for breakfast, unfortunately while we were looking for Poppy we missed the deadline for breakfast. After a quick chat to mum on Skype we headed to the markets to get some cherries and salmi lollies, then we stopped in a saw nanna for a short time. That night we went to tea with Gabriella and Peter were we enjoyed a delicious Mediterranean meal of scaloppini and antipasto.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">Antje picked us up the following morning to take us to watch the kids play tennis before we headed to Seehof for a delicious german style lunch. That evening we headed to bed early, Josh was still trying to finish the bottle of Whisky that Poppy gave him on the first night which he was finding quite difficult.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">On our last morning we had a big breakfast including “chinken” before heading to the train station for a 4 hour journey to Berlin. Once we finally arrived we were happy to find that our hotel was only 50m from the central train station and upon checking in we ran into Lee from our Contiki tour around Russia. Lee was catching up with Callum and Drew, also from the Russian tour, and we all headed down to Brandenburg Gate fanzone where there was 6 massive screens, bars and food stalls set up to watch Eurocup 2012 Germany v Denmark. Luckily, with about 40000 crazy German fans, Germany won 2-1. After the match we went for a walk around the city at night, had a couple more drinks and headed home about 1am.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">We had to wake up early the next day at 630am to get ready for our flight to Rome, ready for some yummy pasta and pizzas.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">We arrived to our hotel late in the afternoon and headed straight to a little Italian café called Carrots to enjoy some cold pasta salad and delicious lasagne. At lunch we decided we would do nothing but laze around the next day and prepare for our next Contiki.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">Spending the entire next day at the hotel, we had our kick-start meeting that afternoon, with the included dinner, then Laura, our new tour manager took us for a quick city tour. We went past the Spanish steps, Piazza, Pantheon and Trevi fountain. We filled our water bottles up at one of the 150+ fountains with 2000 year old drinkable roman water that mark the end of the cities aqueducts, and headed home for sleep.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">Well rested and feeling a lot more energetic, we headed out for our tour of Vatican City, including The Sistine chapel, which was beautiful inside, thanks to Michelangelo. It was a nice 33* in Rome that day and we still had our 4 hour tour of the coliseum and the roman forum to go. The Coliseum was amazing, and making sure we “followed the right guide” (Petri), we were told how and why this massive arena (meaning sand in Latin due to the sand covered stage) holding 60000-80000 people was built. The once hidden area under the main floor was visible, where the gladiators and animals once were kept before entering the arena through hidden trapdoors during the show. That night we headed to our delicious dinner with 4 courses, a salad, 2 pastas, a main and dessert, complete with Italian singers.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">The following day was a free day and we headed into the city for lunch, where we had the best bruschetta ever, followed by arabiatta and Greek salad. We decided to check out the big park set on one of the seven small hills of Rome, to have a good look over the city and take a walk around.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">Cornelius loaded us all onto the bus the next day and we began our drive to Naples, with our destination being Sorrento! We stopped over at the ancient city of Pompeii and took a step back into the 1st century BC. We walked up the original streets, drank out of the original water fountain, and even caught a glimpse of the menu at one of the 70 brothels around the city! We finished up near the temple of Jupiter for our photo opportunity and tried to imagine what life would have been like living then and the fear of the original inhabitants of Pompeii, lost under ash and stone until the 1800s.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">After only a short afternoon drive to Sorrento, admiring the awesome view of the Bay of Naples all the way to our hotel, we scrubbed up to get ready for our traditional dinner looking over the bay, something we were looking forward to given the bright blue clear skies. The dinner, like normal, was massive, with a sautéed vegie starter, two pastas, scaloppine for mains, cake for dessert, and limoncelo for a digestive, YUM! After we rolled out of the restaurant we headed to the bar to watch Germany v Greece in Euro2012, and then packed up our towels and sunscreen ready for the next day’s island trip to Capri.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">The ferry got us over to the island in less than thirty minutes, with everyone very excited for our island cruise, with a boat ride to the famous blue grotto, a swim and rock jumping at the green grotto, a delicious caprese salad for lunch, and the afternoon spent eating cherries and swimming down at the beach! After using all our energy on the island we headed to a huge traditional pizza dinner where we got to see the 60 year old pizza maker at work in the kitchen. With our newly acquired “Italian” sun burn and full stomachs, we dozed off quite easily that night, ready to ferry to Greece early the next day.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">The following day we waved goodbye to Italy and began our travel day on the bus, then onto the 11 hour ferry ride across the Ionian Sea to Greece. We were lucky enough to watch the Euro2012 on board to kill time and staying at the “Jolly Ho(tel)” that night before onto Corfu the following morning.

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">Stepping off the ferry and onto Corfu was like having a holiday within the holiday. We spent the first day trying gyros (pronounced hooros) which are chicken, salad and chips rolled into a tortilla type bread. Delicious! After a big lunch we went and relaxed by the pool in the Corfu Village, and had a siesta, very popular in Greece during the summer. Gloupos was on this night and we headed there for a traditional dinner (which wasn’t very traditional and pretty gross!) and some Greek dancing, including Zorba the Greek, a guy lifting a table in his mouth and of course some plate smashing!

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">The next day was time to party, jumping onto ‘Georges boat’ first thing in the morning for a day of singing, swimming in the Mediterranean sea, sun baking and jumping off the boat. George made us the yummiest lunch, with homemade tzatziki and his famous chips. We headed home to the hotel and learnt how to tie our bed sheets up to make them into togas, for our 4 Contiki group toga party. Needless to say, we had a ball, with the new gang of the “bible boys” being formed!

<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">After the massive day and night, we were treated to a 6am wake up to head back over to the mainland and make our way to Athens. We stopped on the road for more gyros and tried a snickers ice cream, watching movies in the coach along the way.


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