And so our 10 night tour through Italy, Switzerland, France and London with Globus begins
We joined our Globus Essential Europe
Coach Tour at Rome's airport and transferredalmost immediately to our accommodation, where we met Hanni – our tour director hailing from Germany – and the rest of the group we were travelling with. It was then pretty much straight onto the coach and off to a fabulous welcome dinner at a lively local restaurant for a four course meal with Italian wine and entertainment. Bellissimo!
Our fellow travellers
Our group was made up of a mix of ages and nationalities that included New Zealanders, Filipino, American and Indian, plus two families with children, and ages ranging from 11yrs – 80yrs with the average being around 40. And with only 27 passengers in total, there was tons of room to spread around the coach. :)
An average day
Daily departures ranged from 7.15am – 9.00am depending on the distances that we needed to travel that day and what we needed to fit in. The biggest travelling day on this tour was Lucerne to Paris (650km) but the regular stops at auto grills & restrooms every few hours made the journey quite bearable!
Full buffet breakfasts are included daily at your hotel. The hotels were on the most part of a pretty good standard, and in the cases where the standard was slightly lower, it was balanced out by its prime location. With these tours, you have the option to prepay gratuities for your tour director and driver, which we opted to do as it's a great idea for New Zealanders who aren’t used to tipping. You will however still need to tip restaurant staff and local guides along the way, - a good guideline is about 1-2 euros for a half day, and 4-5 euros for a full day.
What's fabulous about coach touring is that everything is organised for you and all you need to worry about is being in the right place at the right time!
C'mon... let's get on with the sights
The first couple of days in Rome were pretty full-on with loads of walking – there's just so much to see and do in Roma!! The great thing about being part of a Globus First Class Tour is all the inclusions – for example entrance and guided sightseeing to The Vatican, Sistine Chapel and Colosseum, plus many other things along the way that are all included in the tour price. It also meant we had priority entry to places like The Vatican before it opened to the public, which saved a lot of time by avoiding those long queues!
Then it was onto Florence where we had a guided walking tour on arrival, a visit to “The Academy of the Fine Arts” and tour of a local Florentine leather factory. The local guides which joined us in each city were so knowledgeable and passionate about their areas and it’s history, I reckon it's absolutely the best way to experience a place rather than trying to do it yourself.
With just an afternoon and one night in Florence, it really made us appreciate the 2 night stays we had on the tour as it gives you so much more time to get a real feel of the city. At the beginning of the tour we were all given a ‘Whisper’ headset, which allows you to tune in and listen to your guide without being right next them. Also good for regrouping the few that lag behind!
TIP: If your time allows, a great day trip from Florence is Pisa – it's just 1 hour by taxi, or there's also a train option.
Our much anticipated visit to Venice was definitely a unique one as the city was ‘Acqua Alta’, meaning under water! San Marco Square was knee high in water and with the rain still coming, was experiencing one of the worst floods in years. We still enjoyed our time that included a gondola ride - complete with umbrellas and raincoats! - and a visit to the Murano glass factory, where we watched an amazing glassblowing demonstration. Of course, most of the group couldn’t help but come away with a wee purchase after seeing that. We stayed on the mainland in Mestre, although I would recommend staying on the island (even though it's slightly more expensive) as an extra day would have been great to explore and ‘get lost in Venice’!
The next day we headed onto Lucerne, a beautiful scenic drive with views of the famous Lake Como, stopping at the picturesque Lugano for lunch, which reminded me a little of Wanaka and Queenstown. This is also where the Globus Head Office is located that started back in 1928 by taking tourists across the lake.
The highlight of Lucerne for me was going 7000ft up Mount Pilatus on the world’s steepest cogwheel railway. After a massive snow-dump a couple of days before we arrived, the views were amazing! And our timing was impeccable too as the train had only just started operating again after the snow. Then it was off for some free time and shopping for Swiss Watches and Swiss chocolate.
TIP: On top of the included sightseeing tours, Globus also offers optional excursions in each city. This really allows you to personalise your tour by choosing to do the things that interest you, or to opt for some ‘free time’. What you need to remember though is that the optional excursions will only operate subject to minimum numbers, so they're not guaranteed, which can disappoint some people. Another thing to keep in mind is that if you join a tour that's between seasons (like this one), there's also a number of tours that don't operate.
Next stop - ‘The city of love’. I simply adored Paris and so wished that I could've spent more time there. Our introduction to Paris was an illumination coach tour where all the landmarks and buildings were lit up and looked amazing! Paris was also where we had our farewell dinner at a typical French restaurant with French cuisine – escargot and duck l’orange – yum! Other highlights in Paris was a tour up the Eiffel Tower and eating crepes from a sidewalk stand on the Champs Elysees.
The Moulin Rouge dinner and show is an optional excursion and well worth the investment. Probably not so suitable for children as the ladies outfits were rather revealing, but a fantastic show all the same and a real highlight for many.
We did our own afternoon excursion using the Paris underground to Montmartre – a cute little artistic district on top of a hill in north Paris with loads of cafes, artists and the Basilica of the Sacre Couer. The underground was easy enough to use but it was a little difficult asking for directions to the stations with our lack of French!
Then it was onto our final destination – London. We travelled to London by Eurostar - Globus First Class is the only tour company that uses this service - and it's a very comfortable mode of transport that takes only 2 hours 10 mins, plus offers a bar/snack car too.
On arrival in London, we bid farewell to our wonderful tour director, Hanni, who we'd grown to love over the past week and a half. But with the Christmas lights of London shining brightly for us – it was a truely wonderful end to a journey filled with lots of great memories!!