Europe 2007

We went on a Cosmos Tour around Europe in April and May of 2007.


Monday 16th April  London to Paris, France

Our Cosmos Tour around Europe was the longest tour we have ever been on.  We traveled with friends Gary and Charmayne Johnstone (from Auckland).

We were taken to Dover (white cliffs!) by bus and caught the ferry over to Calais, France.

We then joined our Cosmos tour with Director Igor and driver Pasquale (both Italians).  The bus is big and comfortable and the tour group is all Australians and New Zealanders.

We drove through the fields of the Somme into Paris and found our hotel, close to the Seine.  In the evening we wandered down to the Seine and had a crepe, panini and beignet from a street vendor. Very French!

Another glorious day but the dirty air meant it was hard to appreciate the natural beauty around us.

Tuesday 17th April  Paris

Our 'city tour' took us to many of the major tourist sites of Paris, including Notre Dame Cathedral on L'Isle de la Cite; the Louvre (which is a massive museum containing the Mona Lisa); the Arc de Triomphe; the Champs d'Elysees; the Jardin du Tuilleries; the Opera House, the Grand Palais, and, of course, the Eiffel Tower.  Afterwards we wandered around the city, enjoying its space, parks, traffic, close parking, and the general feeling of it being a welcoming and interesting place.  There is so much happening that it would take a week to visit properly (and we would like to come back!).



In the evening we went on our first 'optional'.  We went up Montmartre on a 'train' and saw the magnificent Sacre Coeur Church.  The nuns were singing and leading a service which was lovely.  We then had a look around the stalls and markets where artists paint pictures and sell them to the masses of tourists.  Next we went to a French restaurant and had a lovely dinner (where we ate frogs legs, but we couldn't bring ourselves to eat snails!) and lots of singing.



Wednesday 18th April  Paris to Bordeaux

A very long day in the bus!  We saw some lovely countryside with yellow canola fields, the River Loire, and vineyards in the south.  We had an interesting stop in Tours to see a castle where Joan of Arc mustered her forces, but it was mainly motorways.

There was a traffic jam in Bordeaux so everyone was pretty tired when we arrived. After dinner at the hotel we all went to bed early!

Thursday 19th April Bordeaux to Barcelona, Spain

Another long day, but better than yesterday.  We travelled down to the Mediterranean stopping at the amazing medieval village of Carcasonne.  It is a walled town with original roads, walls, turrets, church, wells etc.



In Barcelona, Spain we settled in to a lovely hotel and were taken on an 'optional' for a dinner on 'la Rambla', followed by flamenco singing and dancing.  They sure can move their feet fast! We were pretty tired so couldn't appreciate the show fully.

Friday 20th April  Barcelona

We went on a city tour and saw the amazing Sagrada Familia - a big church being built according the architect Gaudi's designs.  It is a 'Bible in stone' and when finished will have 18 towers, some nearly 200 metres high.  Truly magnificent!

We also visited Mont Juic for a look over the city; saw the Olympic Stadium and visited downtown where there were people everywhere!

We went for a walk along la Rambla with its stalls and street theatre; went for a look around the port, and then walked up la Rambla to our hotel.  We saw many buildings designed by Gaudi including La Pedrera (the stone quarry) and marveled at the architecture throughout the city; the mass of people, and the Spanish way of minyanah: don't worry - do it tomorrow!



Saturday 21st April Barcelona to Nice, France

We travelled along the Mediterranean coast back into France, and had a stop at Avignon with its famous bridge (which turned out to be only half of a bridge over the Rhone) and the Pope's Palace and Cathedral where many of the early Pope's lived and are buried.


Then it was on to Nice on the French Riviera (Cote d'Azur). Although we were tired we went on an 'optional' to Monaco (Monte Carlo) and were glad we did.  We had a wander around the opulent principality; had a poor quailty but expensive meal; and then watched the celebrities arrive at the Casino.  The richer you are the more flash is your car.  A simple BMW or Mercedes is ordinary.  This is the Porsche, Lamborghini, and Rolls Royce set.  We also saw the beautiful 'yachts'; houses and the palace of the Prince.  By night Monaco is just lovely.


We needed our sleep after all this.  You have to be fit for these tours!

Sunday 22nd April Nice to Florence, Italy

Today we traveled through the French and Italian Rivieras along the Mediterranean coast. It was wonderful seeing the houses overlooking the sea with fantastic views  The day was interesting because we visited a perfume factory; saw how the mountains are all terraced so crops can be grown; and traveled using the amazing motorway with hundreds of tunnels and viaducts going straight through the mountains.  In Italy we saw the old aqueducts that the ancient Romans used to bring water into their communities.

This part of Italy has a quite different feel to France: much more chaotic!  In Tuscany we saw how they  get marble from the mountains and use it in their houses and monuments (eg. da Vinci and Michelangelo).


Next we stopped and saw the leaning tower of Pisa, which is the bell tower for the Cathedral there.


Our hotel was outside of Florence and provided us with a lovely home-cooked meal.  It was a nice end to a pleasant and less-rushed day.

Monday 23rd April  Florence to Rome

We drove into downtown Florence and were taken on a city tour.  We saw the Santa Groce square and the church where many famous Italians are buried (including Galileo and Michelangelo).  Then we saw some magnificent statues including Michelangelo's David.  We went through the 4th largest church in the world, made of marble in various colours.  There were people everywhere!  Tourists come from all over the world to see these treasures.

We then drove down to Rome.  After settling in to our hotel we went on an 'optional' and saw first hand what the traffic is like!  (Much more chaotic than Bangkok).  We saw the Vatican, the River Tiber, the old Roman walls and various fountains (where the ancient Romans came to get their water).


Next we had a wonderful 4 course dinner (including pasta and great music) and went on a walk to see the Spanish Steps (and climbed them), and the Trevi fountain where you can throw coins in: 1 for a wish; 2 for a wife; and 3 for a divorce!  We didn't need to throw any coins in: it was enough just being in Rome.

Tuesday 24th April  Rome

A full day in this amazing city!  First we went to the Vatican -the smallest state in the world.  It was established in the 1400s when the Popes moved here from Avignon and is now the centre of Roman Catholicism. We saw amazing paintings, sculptures and tapestries in the museum and then joined the crowds in the Cistine Chapel.  Its roof was painted by Michelangelo and there are big paintings all round the sides depicting Biblical scenes. Fantastic!  Next we saw St Peter's Basilica and went through this amazing Church (designed by none other than Michelangelo!).  There are statues, paintings, shrines and crypts everywhere, plus the supposed tomb of St Peter.  At the front of the Church we saw St Peter's Square where millions gather to see the Pope and receive the Mass.


Next we went to the archaeological sites and went through the Colosseum and the Roman Forum.  Wow!  This is where the Christians were thrown to the lions; where Julius Caesar reigned; where Nero committed his atrocities; where Paul was imprisoned and died .....  There were ancient ruins everywhere and we were just immersed in history.  It's sad that so much has been lost but great that there are big efforts now to restore and maintain these reminders of life 2000 years ago when Rome was the centre of the world's civilisation.  'All roads lead to Rome'.  You can certainly see why!



Wednesday 25th April  Rome to Sorrento

We left Rome and traveled south to Pompeii.  In AD 79 Mt Vesuvius erupted covering Pompeii with mud and ash killing 25,000 people.  We wandered through the ruins and saw houses, temples, roads, baths and fountains that have been excavated over the years, and some 'mummies'. 



It was marvelous to see another civilisation from more than 2000 years ago.

Then it was on to Sorrento, passing by Naples (dirty!).  We wandered downtown into the chaos of Italian life on the streets and had a pizza for dinner.  Italy sure is different from New Zealand: much more aggressive, noisy , mobile and expensive.  We now think 1 euro ($2NZ) is cheap for a coke  and we have paid up to 5 euro.

We had another early night as this trip is full on and we need our rest!

Thursday 26th April   Isle of Capri

Today we went on an optional trip to the Isle of Capri, just a 20 minute boat ride from Sorrento.


This was one of the best tourist experiences we have ever had.  Capri is beautiful with narrow roads, and lots of high mountain vistas.  We went on a chairlift right to the top of the island and saw wonderful townships, gardens and rocky crags below.  The scenery was breathtaking!  We then had a wander around the township and took a boat ride around the whole island.  This included a 'hole in the rock', emerald caves and seeing some towering cliffs.  Everyone in our group was fascinated with this wonderful island!



In the evening we had a meal at our hotel.  Next stop is Greece!

 Friday 27th April  Sorrento to Aegean Sea

We had a look at how wooden inlaid furniture is made (and bought a music box).


Then it was on the bus and through the lush countryside right across Italy.  The bus broke down but was soon fixed and we got to the Port of Bari to catch our luxury 'Superfast' ferry for the overnight trip to Greece.  The cabins in the ferry were lovely with plenty of room and their own bathroom.  The crossing of the Aegean Sea was very smooth.  Lovely and relaxing!

Saturday 28th April  Aegean Sea to Olympia

We arrived in Greece early in the afternoon at Patras and drove on to Olympia.  Greece seems very dilapidated with lots of unfinished buildings everywhere.  There are also many olive trees as Greece is famous for its olive oil.

We went for an 'optional' to view the area where there was a temple for Zeus, the chief god of the Greeks dating back to 500BC.  There were ruins everywhere and lots of ancient relics.  The statue of Zeus here was one of the 7 wonders of the world.

The Olympic Games started here with the athletes competing in honour of Zeus.  Now the flame is lit here for each summer and winter Olympic Games.  In the evening we had a lovely meal with authentic Greek dishes.



Sunday 29th April  Olympia to Athens

We left Olympia and traveled to Corinth.  Here there is a 6km canal between the Corinthian and Aegean Seas, constructed in the 1890s.  Even in Biblical times Corinth was important as it was the easiest way to get from the east to the west (even without the canal).  We thought of the Apostle Paul who stayed 18 months in Corinth preaching the gospel.

Then it was on to Athens, the capital of Greece.  Athens has more than 3 million inhabitants and we had some exciting times in the traffic on the way to its major archaeological site: the Acropolis.  We saw the Areopagus (Mars Hill) where Paul explained about Jesus to the Athenians (and Ross preached a short message!). We then climbed up to the Acropolis, a temple area in honour of the goddess Athena.  We saw the Parthenon, dating back to the 5th century BC, and temples for Zeus, Athena and Neptune.  There were also Roman amphitheatres and lots of wonderful marble ruins.  Very impressive, and not so crowded as other sites we have visited.  Acropolis means 'highest point in the city'.



We then had a brief city tour to see the changing of the President's guard, the site of the first modern olympics and other historical sites. 

 Monday 30th April  Greek Islands

We went for an all-day cruise visiting three islands in the Saronic Gulf: Poros, Hydra, and Aegina.  Now we can see why people come here for a week or so and go from island to island!!  We preferred Hydra, but each island is picture-postcard beautiful with a lovely harbour, picturesque houses, interesting shops, fishing boats, yachts and a lovely ambience.  Hydra has banned cars and people get around side-saddle on donkeys.  A truly wonderful day!



Tuesday 1st May Athens to Patras to Adriatic Sea

We traveled back to Corinth and then on to Patras where we boarded another 'Superfast' ferry for the overnight trip to Ancona in Italy.  Ross was a bit sick so it was good to be able to rest up on the ferry.


The sea was smooth making for a pleasant journey.  We learnt Greek dancing from one of the waiters on the boat!

Wednesday 2nd May Adriatic Sea to Ancona to San Marino

We arrived back in Italy at the port of Ancona and traveled to the nearby republic of San Marino.  The contrast between Greece (messy, lots of graffiti and many unfinished buildings) and eastern Italy (tidy, well-organised, lovely farms, prosperous) was very evident.

San Marino is a tiny republic with a population of 30,000 built on top of a mountain in northern Italy.  It is Europe's smallest state.  The 'capital' is at the top of the mountain and has 3 castles, narrow streets, a high wall and lots of tourists. What a gorgeous place (and one that pretty well no-one on the tour had ever heard of!).  We had a good explore and it rained for the first time in our whole trip.


Kathy bought some brooches which are made in San Marino and very pretty.

Thursday 3rd May San Marino to Venice

We travelled to Venice in northern Italy.  On the way it was interesting to note the change to a water-logged, flat landscape with lots of evidence of their fishing industry.

Our hotel was well out of Venice and we walked to the nearest town in the evening and found a McDonalds and a decent internet cafe. (It was hard to find internet access points on the trip, and very expensive).

Friday 4th May  Venice

Our bus took us to the Venice lagoon and we went by boat to St Mark's Square. 




Along with thousands of others we saw the square and the amazing St Mark's Basilica (with its mosaics, gold everywhere, and the tomb of St Mark).  We went to a glass-blowing demonstration (as Venice is famous for its glass), and wandered around the narrow streets and bridges over the canals that make up the 'roads' in this unusual city.  Unfortunately it was raining quite heavily all the time so we got soaked (and cold) and it meant we weren't able to go on a gondola ride and be serenaded by a gondolier.


Later in the afternoon we took a boat to Borana Island and saw a silk making demonstration.  Kathy bumped into Gay Dawson, and old friend.  What a small world!

The rain and cold meant we weren't able to appreciate Venice as much as we could have. Our bus was delayed so we were pretty miserable when we arrived back at the hotel.  Straight into the shower to warm up!

Saturday 5th May Venice to Vienna, Austria

We traveled north through the lovely countryside of Italy, into the Austrian Alps.  It was wonderful to see the tiny villages, majestic mountains, clean farms and lovely green pastures.  Not too much snow on the mountains, though. 

When we arrived in Vien (Vienna), the home of Mozart and Strauss, we had one of life's wonderful experiences when we took an 'optional' and went to a performance of the Wiener Hofburg Orchestra at the magnificant Hofburg Palace.  We heard all of the familiar favourites, including the Blue Danube, and all in a room where Mozart himself had played!  The orchestra and opera singers were just amazing!  What a privilege to hear such wonderful music in its genuine, original setting.

Sunday 6th May Vienna

We went on a city tour seeing the main sights of Vienna: Hundertwasser Village (no straight lines and lots of mosaics), Schonbrunn Palace, Hofburg Palace (where we went last night), the Danube River (not blue, unless you are in love!), and St Stephen's Church and plaza.  The buildings here are lovely: ornate and huge (and the big ones are called palaces).


We went to a Mass at St Stephens (in German, we think!) and then wandered around the city centre. It was quiet as all the main shops are shut on Sundays.

Vienna is lovely - another city with so much history.  Unfortunately many of the buildings were bombed in WW2 so have had to be repaired or replaced.

Monday 7th May  Vienna to Salzburg, to Innsbruck

We traveled west from Vienna along the impressive autobahn.  Our major stop was in Saltzburg, famous for being Mozart's birthplace and, of course, for the Sound of Music.  We went on a walking tour around the gorgeous old city (which hasn't changed since Mozart lived here in the 1700s).  We found many of the Sound of Music sites and Kathy and Michelle sang and acted out some of the scenes!  We even found the priory which was the Abbey where Maria lived.




Saltzburg is a lovely city and we felt privileged to be there and see so many historical buildings and places that are so familiar, and meaningful for us.

We then traveled through part of Germany, and back into Austria before settling into a lovely old hotel in Innsbruck.  In the evening we went for a look around the town.  More picture-postcard stuff set in the Austrian mountains!  On to Switzerland tomorrow!

Tuesday 8th May Innsbruck to Lucerne

First we had a city tour of Innsbruck and saw the golden dome (roof made of gold on a house); saw beautiful crystal in the Swarovski shop, and checked out another lovely cathedral, this time with lots of gold and silver.



Then it was on the road heading for Switzerland.  Just inside the border we stopped at the tiny principality of Liechtenstein, and then moved on to Lucerne.  The Swiss scenery was great with lovely lakes, mountains, farmlets and chalets.

In the evening we went on an optional dinner to experience aspects of Swiss culture including yodeling, dancing and alp-horn blowing.  The evening was notable for the way everybody got upset as it was poor value for money, especially the meal.

Wednesday 9th May 

In the morning we went on an 'optional' to Mt Titlis, Lucerne's most visited mountain.  We went up 10,000 feet through some fabulous Swiss scenery using 3 cable cars.  At the top we were in deep snow, standing on top of the glacier.  We visited an ice grotto inside the glacier, threw a few snow-balls and reveled in the fantastic scenery when the clouds blew away.



Back in Lucerne we took a 1 hour cruise on the scenic lake and then had dinner at our hotel.

Switzerland is beautiful with its Alps, lakes, green farms, chalets, cow-bells and prosperous people.  We had a look around the shops and resisted the temptation to buy a Swiss Army knife or a Swiss watch.


Switzerland is expensive (and it's the only country in Europe that we visited that isn't in the EEC and using Euros).

Thursday 10th May  Lucerne to Rhine, Germany

A long day in the bus.  We headed north out of Switzerland and came back into Germany.  We followed the Rhine River and were amazed at how much it is is used for transportation: lots of long, thin boats and many trains on both sides of the river.  We had a lovely cruise along the the Rhine for 11/2 hours and saw castles, villages and lots of vineyards perched on the steep hills.


We settled into a 'character' hotel and had a lovely 'home-cooked' dinner.  This region of Germany is so picturesque!

Friday 11th May  Rhine to Amsterdam, Holland

We traveled along the autobahn to Holland.  This country is very flat and, being below sea level is very wet. There are canals everywhere and the occasional windmill pumping out the water.  It was also raining (typical!).

We arrived in Amsterdam and visited a diamond factory/shop, then had a lovely canal cruise to see the main sights: houseboats, buildings that are slowly sinking so are not straight up and down, hoists on the narrow buildings so they can get their furniture in the windows, bridges, and ...... bikes everywhere!  They have special red bike lanes and bike parks (and watch out if you walk in a bike lane as they will just mow you down!).




We wandered around and saw the harbour and the red light district with prostitutes waiting in the windows, like animals in a zoo.

In the evening we had a meal at an old dutch restaurant and stayed at a lovely airport hotel.

 Saturday 12th May  Amsterdam to London

We traveled south from Holland, through Belgium and back to Calais, France where our tour started.  We had a long wait to get through customs and to get on the boat so everyone was bursting!

We crossed the English Channel and got back to Dover where we were picked up by a different bus and taken back to Euston.  We then took the tube to Bayswater and our hotel, the Berjaya.

The Cosmos tour of Europe was simply wonderful and we would recommend it to anyone.

Special highlights were:

  • Igor, our knowledgeable tour director, and Pasquale, our safe bus driver

  • a great group of Aussies and NZers who got on really well
  • traveling with Charmayne and Gary, so we could share experiences 

  • not paying to use a toilet for the whole trip (a challenge!).
  • visiting France, Spain, Monaco, Italy, Greece, San Marino, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Belgium and England.  13 countries in 27 days.
  • seeing wonderful sights and having exciting experiences pretty well every day.  The main ones were Paris; the amazing church in Barcelona; Rome, with its Roman Catholic influence and history; Capri; Greece with its even more ancient history; the Greek Islands; San Marino; the Austrian and Swiss alps; the concert in Vienna; going up Mt Titlis; the cruise on the Rhine ........ etc.  Just fantastic!

It was a real privilege to have experienced Europe in 2007.  We hope you have enjoyed reading about our travels!


Home    Recent travels


Make a free website with Yola