Old Europe for the young ones
Youth travel brand Contiki's Eastern Trail covers five Eastern European countries in nine days
Do you want to travel with 50 other young adventurers across Eastern Europe?
Contiki, the leading youth travel brand for those aged 18 to 35, combines the fun and convenience of travelling as a group with the freedom of exploring as one pleases.
Earlier this month, I embarked on the nine-day Contiki's Eastern Trail to explore five Eastern European countries. Here are some memorable experiences:
DAY 1: VIENNA
I landed in Vienna ready to begin my Contiki journey.
Vienna's artistic and cultural magnificence cannot go unheeded. Home to many musical geniuses, including Mozart and Beethoven, the Austrian capital exudes sophistication, which resounds with its grand classical architecture, renowned art galleries, and charming cafes.
After a few hours of tasting delectable desserts in the Christmas markets, I made my way to the Contiki kick-start meeting where I met a group of friendly strangers from countries such as Australia, Japan, and South Africa. The group I would be travelling with was indeed international.
DAY 2-3: KRAKOW
We boarded our clean and comfortable coach, which was to be our second home for our travels across Eastern Europe.
Equipped with ample power supply and Wi-Fi, our ride to Krakow, Poland, was enjoyable, also due to the stellar views of the rolling Austrian hills.
After visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mine, we visited the main Christmas market. We tried freshly made pierogi, the Polish version of dumplings - they were stuffed with sweet and savoury fillings, from potatoes and cottage cheese to sweet cream and cherries.
We were free to meander through the delightful town the next day. From the synagogues in the Jewish Quarter to Wawel Castle, Krakow offers plenty to uncover.
DAY 4-5: BUDAPEST
While en route to Budapest, Hungary, we made a quick stop in Slovakia's picturesque town of Banska Bystrica.
By night, Budapest is breathtaking. Contiki's optional dinner on a Danube River Cruise must not be missed.
Cruising past the spectacular lit-up buildings bordering the Danube River, I was left speechless by the views, wine and Hungarian feast.
We filled our bellies with goulash soup, paprika chicken stew and stuffed cabbage rolls, and our eyes with beautiful sights of Budapest.
We were given free time the next day to explore the Buda and Pest sides of the city. We joined an organised walking tour and ended up at the House of Terror.
We then crossed the Danube River to visit the Castle district.
Later, we proceeded to the St Matthias Church, where we took in captivating views from the Fisherman's Bastion.
We ended our day at one of Budapest's famous public baths, giving our sore feet a dose of thermal water healing.
DAY 6: LJUBLJANA
We took in the snow-capped mountains as we journeyed onto Slovenia.
At night, we went hiking to visit Ljubljana Castle, and admired the city's glowing Christmas lights.
DAY 7: VENICE
We had a private boat transfer into Venice, the romantic city of canals and bridges in Italy.
Getting lost in the maze of winding streets and picturesque canal alleyways was the quintessential Venice experience.
We ate copious amounts of gelato, pizza and pasta.
Also, one must not miss out on the gondola rides.
DAY 8-9: ROME
It was fitting to hear the saying "all roads lead to Rome", as the Italian capital was our last stop on this trip.
We saw and learnt about ancient monuments, including the Roman Forum, the Pantheon and Colosseum - one of the most visited places in the world.
Rome was awe-inspiring with its relics of the grandiose empire everywhere we went.
As Rome was our last stop, we had all our favourite Italian dishes. A bittersweet feeling lingered as my Contiki experience drew to an end.
I was grateful to leave with a family of international friends, and to have had the chance to live in the moment.