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Travelling is truly a learning experience. I have just come back from visiting several countries in 4 weeks and have decided for this opinion issue to impart some advice for a smoother OE.
Before You Get on the Plane
I never realized how important the right suitcase could be. After this holiday I’ve discovered there is ways to travel better. My advice would be the lightest cloth suitcase you can find with 4 wheels, they just move so much easier. Also, don’t bother with a wheeled carry on, the limit is 7 kg, you can carry that on your shoulder much easier than dragging it behind you and also take bag scales in your suitcase. Going onto the plane, don’t wear belts, metal shoes etc – in Heathrow, even glasses can trigger the sensors. Make sure you have your clear plastic bag; and in it I would put deodorant and chapstick for long flights. If you get ear ache for altitude, I would also buy Ear Planes from your pharmacy or online. Finally, take your neck pillow and learn some basic local phrases and you are sorted.
Our stopover to Europe was LA, so like any sensible person we decided to stop for a few days and go to the likes of Disneyland. I loved LA with its beautiful palm trees and fantastic weather. We did three theme parks; Legoland, Universal Studios and Disneyland. I advise doing them in this order, that way every day is more amazing than the last. We had a quick look through Hollywood and Downtown Los Angeles, but I recommend you book the day tour for a good look. We also went to Santa Monica. Go during summer, both night and day to enjoy the beach and the nightlife.
Within Italy I went to five places; Rome, Pisa, Florence, Venice and Cortina.
Rome was hot, dirty and overrated. I have never seen so many tourists, beggars and street sellers as I saw outside the Vatican. There were some amazing things to see in Rome, but the environment around them made them harder to really appreciate. I probably enjoyed the outside impressiveness of the Colosseum best.
Our next stop was Pisa, where there were still a lot of street sellers, but other than that it was a quaint place, with every tourist taking their photo by the leaning tower.
We then stayed in Florence where there were more ancient buildings, but on nicer and less crowded streets.
After that, we headed to Venice. I really enjoyed just walking around, but you may also enjoy a cruise around the islands. The Gondola’s look nice, but the people steering them do not come across as friendly. Also be warned that like a few other places throughout Europe, here going to the toilet and buying water are expensive.
Our final stop in Italy was Cortina which is a quaint ski village, but quite expensive.
Here we only stopped in Innsbruck. We walked around The Old Town which was quaint and picturesque. There, we stopped at Swarovski and saw the massive chandelier from Ocean’s Thirteen and lots of other gorgeous crystal pieces. We also had a look at the Olympic Ski Jump and saw some ice hockey at the Olympic Ice Hockey Stadium. Innsbruck looked beautiful and I would have loved to have seen more of it.
We spend two days stationed in Lucerne, however we drove to Engelberg and went up the Swiss Alps while we were there. Switzerland uses Swiss Francs instead of the Euro and charges prices as high as its Alps. However it is beautiful, and has the only waterfront I have come across that is better than Wellington’s. There is a store where you can guess the code for the watch and if you get it right you get a genuine Swiss Watch, if you get it wrong, you get genuine Swiss chocolate. Visit the Rolex store to see the biggest clock and for affordable food, go to the train station. Switzerland is gorgeous, but honestly, the view from the Swiss Alps is like any other mountain range.
In France we drove through wine country but stayed in Paris. Paris was the magical. Seeing such famous monuments like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and so many more was an amazing sight. We did not spend nearly long enough in Paris, but based on my experience, what I would advise is doing a hop on hop off bus tour during the day, and take a night bus tour as well. Seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up at night is on my list of most amazing memories. After Paris, we drove to Calais to take a ferry to Dover. Seeing the immigrants trying to jump on to trucks was a little bit of a surprise, but as long as you have your passport you shouldn’t have any problems.
Our first view of England was the White Cliffs of Dover. After that we had a long grey drive to London where I discovered how comparatively Wellington’s traffic jams are minor. In London we did a 48 hour ticket for Big Bus Tours. Such a great way to see as much as possible. Buckingham Palace was not as grand as I expected, otherwise the likes of Madame Tussauds, Big Ben, London Eye, Hamleys and Harrods were fantastic.
The other thing we learnt a lot about on our trip was how different tours can be to what you expect. We were on a Cosmos tour in Europe, however talking to people from various tours has shown me that this is most likely the case for all tours. When you look at a brochure, you see optional extras that are often pitched as dinners and minor extra activities. When you get there, the majority of the tour seems to be an optional extra, with each extra costing around $50NZD or more per person. So if you choose to go on a tour, research the forums on previous experiences. The hop on hop off bus tours are better value for money in cities where they are offered, however if you want to travel to several countries, a tour can be easier.
No matter what you choose, you can have an amazing experience. My advice is to plan well in advance, book as much as possible in advance, watch out for deals and have a budget with lots of spending room. The first places I will be going back to are the States and France.