Feb 16

Choosing Scandinavia and Russia

When I tell people that I have traveled to Scandinavia and Russia they often ask, why? Here’s my journey…

After doing a 2 week tour of Europe with Contiki I had picked my next trip – Eastern Road – Berlin, Prague, Budapest, Krakow, Vienna, Warsaw. It was a 2 week trip that I had heard good things about. The problem was that I “fell” into some extra time off of work and wanted to take advantage. I wanted to go away for 3 or 4 weeks and on a whim looked through the Contiki brochure. Did I want to do the Eastern Road tour and another tour, or just do some independent travel before and after? Then I noticed this 33 day tour of Scandinavia and Russia, it piqued my interest. I started looking up some info on Scandinavia and after seeing some pictures realized it was beautiful there, I mean really beautiful – beyond anything I could imagine. Russia was easy since I’ve always had an interest in WWII and the Cold War. My next issue was dealing with the fact that this would be a “budget” tour – we would be staying in cabins instead of hotels. I did some more research and found out that in Russia we would be staying in hotels and that the cabins were pretty decent. I bit the bullet and in January I booked my trip for May. A couple cabins are a small price to pay for seeing a fjord (whatever that was), a glacier and the midnight sun.

I loved Scandinavia, it was a beautiful place. I was actually sick my whole time there and ended up sleeping on the bus a fair amount. I would often wake up and look out the window and see a waterfall, or a lake or a beautiful mountain view. Almost all of our campsites were in great locations, often on a lake or nestled in the mountains. I’m not a terribly outdoorsy person, but being in a place like this made me one.

On our drive to Nordkapp from Hammerfest to see the midnight sun we kept seeing reindeer, I kept trying to take pictures. They wouldn’t stop long enough for me to get a picture, but that was a gift. It was fun to watch them in their natural habitat (there isn’t much of a population this far north). The little ones would follow their mother around and the medium sized ones seemed to be playing with each other. Who needs Animal Planet when you have this? Then there was the one at one of our breaks on the drive. It was a lone reigndeer, a young looking one. He was just standing there and I jumped off to get a picture of him. One of the guys from the tour walked up to him to feed him something and the reigndeer ate it and hung around. The story differs depending on who you ask at this point. My story: The reigndeer turned to me, flared his nostrels and charged me, I ran away barely surviving the incident. Apparently the video shows that the reigndeer started to walk towards me and I panicked and ran away. Hey, where I come from animals aren’t friendly! Everyone then tried to feed or pet the reigndeer, it was funny to watch because I think he started getting freaked out by them. But the sweetest thing was that when the bus pulled away the reigndeer started to follow the bus and was at a full run.

I’ll leave Russia and more tales from Scandinavia for another day.

Feb 11

What is Contiki

I’ve toured several times with a company called Contiki. Since a lot of my travel involves this company I thought i would talk about what a Contiki tour is. Contiki is a large tour company that caters to 18-35 year olds. They do group tours of Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand and a couple other spots. The tours typically have around 40-50 people on them, many of the people are traveling Solo. The company that owns Contiki also owns Trafalgar, Insight, Bus A Bout and a couple other companies.

Contiki operates tours from 3 days to 46 days. They operate camping tours, tours where you stay in cabins at campsites and tours where you stay in hotels. This allows people to take more roughing it styles of tours in exchange for saving some money, or spend a little more money and have more conveniences. I’m a hotel tour kinda girl!

Contiki is good for first time travelers, solo travelers, and people who don’t want to do a lot of planning. Contiki takes care of transportation, accomodations, some meals (typically breakfasts and half the dinners), basic tours of cities, and offers optional activities – meals, tours of cities or museusms, and different activities depending on the place designed to enhance the experience. The typically persons on these tour are looking to spend time touring and getting to know new place, but also looking to drink and socialize too. One tour manager said that every morning is Monday morning and every night is Saturday night. But how much touring you do and how much partying you do is up to you.

Who shouldn’t take a Contiki tour? While most people will enjoy Contiki tours, there are some who will not. Very independent people tend not to enjoy the tours. Also, people who have not researched what a tour entails and the types of accomodations that are offered. While there is a lot of free time on the tour, there are quite a few time restricitons too. If your tour is traveling from one city to another, then their is only so much flexibility in the schedule. Or if you’re not familiar with what a 3 star hotel in europe is and expect what you would get in say the US – you’ll be disapointed. Also, if you’re not happy unless everything is catered to you, don’t take a Contiki tour.

If you’re interested in more info on Contiki, check out their website at www.contiki.com