White water rafting in freezing glacier water and having a blast. "All forward!" - we dig our paddles in and start rowing. Our instructor making us play silly games in the raft like standing up on the edge in a football huddle, jumping overboard and practicing our rescue techniques. Our raft flipped completely over right at the end and I got stuck underneath; minor panic because I couldn't breathe but other than that it was awesome. Whilst still being on an adrenaline kick, the next day my friends and I went paragliding. Running off a mountain at 1700m (strapped to an instructor, of course), til suddenly there's no more ground beneath your feet and you're flying, flying, flying. Over breathtaking scenery, gliding down, feeling invincible. Doing spins in the air, being allowed to take control of the parachute and being told I was "a good pilot". Spending the rest of that day walking through the little country town we were staying in, buying things to send to my best friend sparkleoflife and generally just taking it easy.
Austria was also going to Salzburg, where The Sound of Music was filmed, and skipping along singing the songs and making up dances and making people smile. We stayed in Vienna and the general mood of the tour bus was negative, with people complaining, being pessimistic, and just generally not much fun to be with. It wasn't helped by the campsite we were staying in (where there was literally shit in the communal showers), and going to this amusement park called Prater Park where it was freezing and we couldn't get dinner anywhere. I wandered off from my friends the next day because I couldn't handle any more negativity and besides, everyone needs time to themselves. Not being in the mood to do any sightseeing, but going to an orchestra concert that night helped and felt more 'traditional'. I had a cup of tea in an outdoor cafe in the city, and was joined by a woman living in Vienna, who spoke to me about her life and what she thought of the country.
It was meant to be our shortest driving day, but a bus breakdown meant we were stuck on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere, for 8 hours. It was a bit of an adventure, and not too tedious, surprisingly; we watched movies on the bus (the sound on the tv's would only work when the bus wasn't running, so at least the breakdown meant we could finally make use of the dvd player), ate lunch, and just talked. We finally set off about 5pm to get to Prague, stopping for border control outside Czech Republic which was stricter than anywhere else we'd been to. There were signs remaining in the city that this was once a communist society, and the different currency confused us all. A walking tour the next day took us past some beautiful old buildings, a real fairytale setting (including the Old Town Square which was inspiration for Walt Dsney's Main Street at Disneyland). The girls and I had a traditional Czech lunch at a little cafe near the Charles Tyne bridge, which took an hour and a half to be served up. We wanted to go to Prague castle but only made it to the castle tower, where we climbed up the 300 spiraling steps to a magnificent view over the city. That night we spent time in our dorm room chatting to some other girls we made friends with, and hearing some of the trip gossip.
A city so full of recent history, and one that left me with much respect for the Germans. We stopped in Dresden on the way in, another city in which there wasn't nearly enough time to explore, and a night tour showed us Berlin's beauty. A Third Reich walking tour the next morning was insightful and moving; being taken past Nazi headquarters (where the buildings used to stand), the streets where people were tortured and killed, even the place where Hitler's bunker was. The Holocaust memorial, set up in a way that made people feel lost and uncertain like the Jews did during WWII was haunting, and the Checkpoint Charlie museum told of ways that people escaped over the Berlin Wall after it went up in the 1960's. We ate a meal in restaurant one night there, and it was a nice relief to not have to wash our own dishes and to have an actual table to lean on and not just our laps. The next night saw many of our group go off on a pub crawl, and those of us who chose not to go, went out for a lesuirely dinner instead, at a Spanish restaurant.
A long drive to Amsterdam, stopping late in the afternoon at a little dutch farm, where a funny man showed us how he made cheese and clogs, and flirted with all the girls. Ww for a group photo underneath a windmill, and realised that this trip was quickly coming to an end in our last city. That night took us into the Red Light District, which made me sad to see the girls in the windows and the seedy guys walking the streets. I appreciated Amsterdam's honesty and not pushing the drugs and sex trade underground like every other city, but it made me sad for the girls and the lives they were living, and what was it that brought them to that point? A bunch of people from our group went to a sex show which they said was more... strange, than anything else. We saw Anne Frank's house where she and her family hid for 2 years during WWII and where she wrote her diary. We could wander inside, through all the rooms, even seeing the movie star pictures she had stuck on her wall in 1943. Seeing as I've been reading the diary for the past week, it definitely struck a chord. The rest of the day was spent shopping, taking it easy, spending whatever money we had left. A farewell dinner and canal cruise that night allowed us to start saying our farewells, to take last pictures before the inevitable last day.
Yesterday was our last day of the tour. We drove back through Belgium, stopping for waffles for lunch in Bruge and stocking up on Belgium chocolate. The bus ride was long, details were exchanged and travel books left with messages, saying goodbye to our cook & driver at Calais before catching the ferry back to Dover, then driving back to London. Though I was looking forward to the end of the tour in many ways, to say goodbye was hard; after all, we had lived with each other every day and night for the last 25 days for better and for worse, and it was a routine we'd grown accoustamed to. We went our separate ways at about 8pm last night - and I, after spending a rough night at the coach station, made it up here, to Alex's, where a hot bath and clean clothes awaited me.
So there it is... 25 days in retrospect. So many cities I want to go back to (Paris, Verona, Venice, Prague, Berlin), so many countries to explore more than just their capitals. I survived the whole 25 days even though I thought that I wouldn't, and I have some fabulous memories, and a desire to keep on exploring more of the world.
I promise photos, at a later date :)