27 Day Europe Bus Tour With COSMOS
Commenced 4th May 2009

Tour Notes

Others may have different opinions but this is the way I saw things. I genuinely liked everyone on the trip and had many long and interesting discussions with everyone. Anything I say about anyone is purely in fun. Some information I got from others on the trip. I may have enhanced some of the information I gathered. Anything that is blatantly incorrect please let me know. Some information relates to optional excursions that not everyone attended. All photos referenced have been converted to a smaller size for faster downloading.

The Participants
Chris & Kristy
Frank & Phillip
Roslyn & Robin
Grayce & Lauren
John & Carole
Colin & Lynne
Lynn & Peter
Joe & Lina
Teresa & Peter
Glen & Sue
Sharon & Russell
Maureen & Alf
Erin & Kevin
Tony & Nella
Rick & Ann
Matt
Graham
Dorota was the tour guide and Carmelo the bus driver.
29 Australians, two Canadians and one New Zealander.
See this group photo which was taken overlooking Florence. Erin is not in the photo.

Ann took 2,500 photographs and I took 7 hours of video which I trimmed to 5 one hour DVD's..

Tour Summary
It was fantastic. Visited 13 countries. I could have hopped on the bus and done it all again.

Distance Travelled
About 8,000km on the bus. Another 2,500km on the ferry to/from Greece and the cruise around the Greek islands.

The Biggest Surprise
San Marino. Everyone on the tour loved it. Located in Italy, it is the smallest sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world. This is a photo of what greets visitors. The main town of San Marino sits high on a rocky mountain crag with fortresses and walls around it. See this photo of me and Ann sitting on the edge and this photo of Ann with a fortress in the background. Other villages surround the mountain. We stayed in the Titano hotel in San Marino. See this photo of the hotel with Ann sitting on a seat out front. We had dinner on the hotel terrace that overlooked the surrounding countryside and watched a magnificent sunset. There were very few tourists around. They were all in Venice as we discovered later.
There were lots of shops selling guns, crossbows, swords etc. Did not see this elsewhere in Europe.
There is even a McDonalds there. See this photo.
This photo of the surrounding countryside at night.
The shops in San Marino also had the largest array of fairies that Ann had found so far. Ann had been looking for fairies for our Granddaughter.
This photo of Grayce waving from her hotel window.

The Price of Water
Some people on the tour purchased bottled water and the prices varied dramatically. The highest price I paid was
€3.50 for 1lt (about $7 AUS). Cheapest was €0.39 for 2lt.

The Best Dinner Evening Out
In Vienna, we drove to a small village called Gumpoldskirhen in the Viennese woods and had dinner there. We ate outside beside a group of stern looking Germans. The music of Leo, the accordionist, soon fired us up assisted by the unlimited wine supply. We sang, danced and Graham even did the haka. I don't think the Germans knew what hit them. Their peaceful evening had been shattered. They were grumpy at first but we eventually wore them down and some joined in the fun. Matt even put a flower in his hair to celebrate the fantastic evening.
These are some photos of the dinner. Photo one, photo two and photo three.
Leo tried to take Lauren down the wedding aisle. See this photo.
Alf & Maureen enjoyed themselves. See this photo.
Even Dorota joined in. See this photo.
Some danced. See this photo and this photo of Tony and Nella.
It was Tony's birthday and he got very excited. See this photo.

The Worst Dinner Evening Out
In Lucerne (Switzerland) we went out for a traditional Swiss meal and a show. The place was very crowded and hot. The food was OK. The floor show was mediocre and not quite what I expected. The yodeller was terrible. The only good part was seeing some members of our group on stage doing silly things.

Tallest/Shortest On Bus
Glen/Carol

Best/Worst Included Dinners
In some cases, dinner was included at the hotel we stayed at. The best provided dinner was in Olympia (Greece) where we had a buffet. The worst was in Signa (near Florence) where we had meagre portions. This night happened to be our 40th wedding anniversary. Lyn and Peter shouted us drinks. Thank you very much.

The Toilets Of Europe
In most public toilets you have to pay. The most expensive we found was in Venice at St Marks square. It was a coin in the slot arrangement costing
€1.50.
On the Isle of Capri our guide pointed out this person managing the toilet and said he was one of the richest men in Europe from raking in €1.00 per visit.
Most of the toilets in the eating places off the motorway expect a voluntary donation of around
€0.30. See this sign in Austria.  In Germany, you pay €0.50 and get a receipt. If you purchase something in the Cafe you can hand in the receipt and this is taken off the total cost. Also in Germany, the toilet seat is automatically sanitised after you press the flush button. The sanitising device pushes down on the seat and the seat rotates.
This toilet was very unusual in that your droppings are first placed on a "shelf" and then flushed away. Why would you want to do this?
This toilet and this toilet had unusually large flush buttons.
Most bathrooms in hotels have both types of toilets as in this photo.
These spiral stairs going to the men's and women's toilets were unusual. This was in a country area of Greece.
Many public toilets have the entrance doors propped open with a nice view to the men's urinals. This men's urinal in the town of Arles in France had bar doors.
Most toilets have automatic water dispensers. You put your hand near the tap and it turns on. One place also had an automatic soap dispenser.
In Athens, at the toilets near the Acropolis, I could not find any way of flushing the urinal. Someone pointed out a pedal on the floor that you push with your foot.
At a McDonalds in Vienna, you had to use a key code on the toilet door which was provided by the sales person.
In Greece, you are not allowed to throw toilet paper in the toilet as this photo taken on the ferry shows. You put it in the supplied bin.

The Showers Of Europe
The type and quality of showers varied enormously. Where the shower is in the bath there is one set of taps for both the shower and bath. You flick a valve to select between the bath or shower. The problem is that the taps are usually low down and when you turn them on and select the shower you are instantly sprayed with water over your head.
The shower in Nice had useless curtains causing copious water on the floor and there was no soap holder.
In Sorrento, there was just a hand held spray and no curtains.
The best shower was in the cabin on the ferry from Patras (Greece) to Ancona (Italy).
Many bathrooms had a cord hanging down above the bath. None seemed to do anything but I was intrigued as to what they were originally for.

Overrated
Paris. It was my first visit. I had gained an expectation from films and writings that Paris was a dynamic metropolis with lots of character. Thus the term "Gay Paris". However, I was a little disappointed and maybe expected too much. The locals were sometimes rude and they don't like you talking in English. Take away the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre and there is not much left. See this photo of me and Ann in front of Eiffel Tower.
Paris was redeveloped in the 1800's so there is not many historical buildings left. It is inland so there is no port or beach there. No mountains around.
The Notre Dame Cathedral was spectacular and we were lucky because scaffolding at the front had only just been removed after 20 years. Our guide pointed out the carving of Quasimodo placed in an outside corner of the Notre Dame. The Eiffel Tower is beautiful at night. See this photo of me and Ann. On the hour for ten minutes the lights on the tower flicker to great effect.
The so called "Bohemian" district was not that exciting except when someone on our bus had to make an emergency toilet stop there.
We had dinner one evening in a restaurant and tried frogs legs and snails. Not very appetising. The atmosphere in the restaurant was very good. There were two guys playing music and we all sang along.
We went to a cabaret evening at the Lido de Paris on the Champs - Elysees. It was a high quality production with some semi nude performers and very entertaining. We arrived at 9.29, We were instantly escorted to our seats right beside the stage and given a complimentary glass of champagne. The show started at 9.30. See this photo of me outside. I noticed a McDonalds nearby there but no golden arch.
Apart from around the Eiffel Tower, there are not enough car free areas and the traffic is terrible. Too their credit, they are introducing more trams like this one. There are also lots of small electric "Smart Cars" buzzing around. They do have a system for hiring pushbikes.
See this photo of Ann waving from the window at the hotel we stayed at in Paris.
A few weeks after we arrived back in Australia we were talking to a friend about Paris in the local Post Office. To my surprise, the postmistress (who we know very well) had overheard my comments about Paris and piped up that she agreed with me that Paris was overrated.
Our niece, who stayed in Paris in Sept 2009, was also not that impressed. She complied this list of weird, interesting and annoying facts about Paris:

  • They have apple juice in cans.

  • They do NOT put onions in their kebabs nor is it available to be put in as an extra. There is no garlic sauce either.

  • You cannot get a GLASS of water ANYWHERE you have to BUY a bottle with every meal when you're eating in.

  • You have to PAY to use the loo in most places.

  • You can buy alcohol at the supermarket; not the liquorland next door (like in Australia) and they don't ID anyone, anywhere in this country.

  • They serve chilled RED wine. It's not bad actually, quite refreshing on these hot evenings.

  • You have to change trains and swap lines about a million times to get anywhere.

  • Your feet end up black every night because it's so dirty and there's dust and sand everywhere and NO beaches!! They have a fake beach thing on the river with banana lounges and umbrellas. Crazy since you can't actually swim in the river.

  • Everyone has picnics on the bridges every night. Cute. It gets really packed. But no one ever cleans up after themselves and they leave bottles everywhere. Sad face. I call it Bridgestock (like Woodstock get it) but no one thinks I'm funny.

  • French people think its the guests job to wash up because they're doing you a favour. Not the host clean up because you are a guest.

  • Everyone drinks water with 'gas' (bubbles). It's disgusting.

  • The Metro stinks like pee and makes me feel sick. I even miss Melbourne Metro.

  • If you go to tourist attractions you always get harassed by bootleggers trying to sell you stuff and when the cops come they all run away and it's hilarious and all their key rings jingle and all you can hear is running and jingling. And when you say no they follow you anyway and don't leave you alone until you be horrible and yell 'I said NO!' I had one guy trying to do a caricature of me and he was yelling after me 'you have sexy body' and was being feral. He made me feel sick. They're so annoying! GO AWAY!

  • The supermarkets! Don't get me started! They stink. The cashiers are slow and rude.

  • The jewellery shops are fantastic though, they always ask if you're buying as a gift and they gift wrap everything beautifully for you!! And they're so friendly and helpful.

  • They put mint in the fruit smoothies (they do in Berlin too) it's AMAZING I am in love! I never want another smoothie without fresh mint for the rest of my life! And it's all fresh fruit just loads of fresh fruit and that's all YUUUUUM!

  • There's over 300 and something kinds of cheese. I LOVE cheese so that's pretty awesome!

  • The apartment's are tiny. They don't have baths. They're so small.

  • It doesn't get dark until 9.30pm.

  • They have these amazing cheese cubes that I'm really going to miss!

  • The exchange rate sucks.

  • It smells a little bit everywhere.

  • Keep in mind I'm staying in the city. Who wants to live in the city? It's only good on holiday because you're near everything you want to see.

  • They still have one and two cents coins. So annoying. Maybe I'll give them all to one of the many buskers I see daily. People get on the trains and sing with backup music and microphones. Or play accordion or violin then walk up and down the carriage asking for money

  • They don't have hot chips anywhere.

Don't get me wrong. I liked Paris, it is a very interesting town but a bit overrated.

A Scenic Moment
On the ferry from Greece in the morning just before arriving back to Italy. It was a beautiful day and we were sitting outside at the rear of the ferry with the Adriatic sea in the background. It was very pleasant. See this photo of me and of me and Ann.

Best Bus Sleepers
Probably Roslyn & Robin as shown in this photo. Matt told me he never slept on the bus. He would have been the only one. I don't like sleeping on the bus because you might miss something but I did nod off a few times.
Caught Lynn and Tony sleeping on the boat in Venice.

Vision Of Our Lady
I saw this vision of Dorota, our tour guide, on the bus.

You Can Adjust The Bus Seats Sideways
Robin showed us how to adjust the seat closest to the aisle sideways. Everyone knew that the seats reclined but this was a best kept secret. Even Dorota did not tell us this.

Do They Really Want Tourists ?

  • In Venice. See this sign and this sign in the St Marks square area. The only rule missing was "No walking". These rules are there for the local traders so you can only sit and eat at their seats. I did observe the "Fun Police" walking around telling off people who were sitting. We were told later that if you move away from the main tourist centre, it is more friendly and there are parks and seats.
    What really bugged me was the illegal traders selling their wares brazenly beside this sign and nothing appears to be done about them. We were told that if you buy fake items from these traders YOU can be fined.
    In some places on mainland Venice, graffiti is encouraged.
    Streets in Venice don't have names displayed. In a few places there are signs with arrows pointing to well known places like St Marks Square. I stupidly asked how they get their mail delivered if there are no street names and was told that the post person knows where everyone lives. I believe the truth is that streets do have names, they are just not displayed.
    In contrast, on the island of Burano, a short boat ride from Venice, there was grass that we were allowed to sit on. Many houses on this lace-making island are painted bright colours. It was much more tourist friendly than Venice. Some of our group had a taste of some unusual drink on Burano, but I did not record its name.

  • We had a few Italian speakers on the bus. They overheard many restaurant staff in Italy making disparaging remarks about tourists which upset them considering they are of Italian descent.

  • In some of the small Italian towns we stayed in we walked around the town in the afternoons or evenings looking for a coffee place. Men congregate outside these places standing on the footpaths smoking and giving you the evil eye as you walk past. You don't feel like going into those places because it is intimidating. This happened in Greece also.

Carmelo's Graffiti
Ann found where Carmelo, our bus driver, had written his name on the side of the Colosseum in Rome.
We were very impressed with Carmelo's driving. In Vienna, he went down a one way street that came to a dead end. He could not turn the bus around and had to back up about 1km.
In Greece, near Olympia, we went through a village with a narrow road, overhanging buildings and cars in the way. Still don't know how he got through it.

Beware of Pickpockets
As this sign in Amsterdam reminded us. My first experience with a pickpocket was in the Versailles Palace near Paris. I was walking along in a crowd and noticed a man pressed hard up against a woman with his hand in her handbag. I banged and yelled at him and he ran away very quickly. One local tour guide pointed out a few pickpockets. We were warned of some of the tactics used by pickpockets and people trying to get money out of you.

  • Children hand you a note and ask if you can read English. Whilst you are reading the note they are checking your bag.

  • Children hand you a flower and you are expected to pay.

  • A gold ring is dropped near your feet. It is picked up in front of you and you are asked to look at it to see if you know who owns it. Then you are asked to pay for it. Ann actually saw this happen in Barcelona.

  • An Adult asks you to hold a baby whist someone else is checking your bag.

Phillip's New Vehicle
Phillip told me he was going to buy a new vehicle for his work (he is a concreter). His was intending to purchase a Holden Commodore Ute but I think this vehicle would be better suited. However, it may not be a good chick magnet in Lygon or Chapel Street. In Italy, there are lots of these zooming around.

The Agony and the Ecstasy
In Barcelona, we went out for dinner and to a Spanish Floor Show. It was a good show and the passionate expressions on the dancers was matched by me later on when I was busting to go to the toilet when waiting for our bus at the end of "Las Ramblas". Whilst everyone else sheltered in a bus shelter from the rain I relieved myself in an alley. The only person watching was Christopher Columbus on top of his column.
I had another painful experience after our evening out in the Vienna Woods where we drank too much wine. On the way back in the bus I was absolutely busting but there was nowhere to stop until we got to the hotel parking bay. We did have a toilet on the bus but we were discouraged from using it. I never found out why.

The Light At The End Of The Tunnel
We went through lots of tunnels. Along the French and Italian Riviera, the motorway is relatively flat. When they were planning the motorway, if a mountain was in the way, a tunnel was bored through. If there was a valley, a bridge was built.
To get in and out of Monaco there were lots of tunnels. Northern Italy and Switzerland also had lots of tunnels. The longest we went through was over 15km with a small break somewhere.

Where Are All The Beaches
In the French and Italian Riviera I expected to see lovely beaches like we have in Australia with wide stretches of golden yellow or white sand. But no, most of the ocean frontage is rocks with occasional stretches of pale screenings (small rocks). These screenings are what they call a beach! This was the case in most of the ocean places I saw. In some places they truck in real sand but they have to replace it every year. They love putting their deck chairs on the screenings and in some places you can be charged up to
€3.00 to sit in one.
We don't appreciate what we have in Australia. Any beach that does not have a wide expanse of golden or white sand is considered crap. Like Surfers Paradise for example.
The only place I saw yellow sand was at Callas, where you catch the ferry to/from England.
Along some rivers they cart in sand and stick in some deck chairs. Like this one in Vienna. But you are not allowed to swim in the water. Crazy!

The Best Local Tour Guide
We had local tour guides in most major cities and they were all good. Leonardo, who guided us around the Isle of Capri, was the best. He would greet us with an "aloha" and salute and bow after giving instructions on where to go and what to do next. He was meticulous in giving us details on where to meet next and at what time. He claimed to speak 5 languages and is a guide at many other sites. My only criticism is that he did not give us much time for photos.
I reckon he had a vested interest in one of the local cafes in Capri. When we entered the one he recommended for lunch, there he was out the back chatting with the workers.

Lost
Graham in Pompeii. Dorota found him. He admitted he was getting worried. We also thought that he was lost in Sorrento but he didn't think so when he finally turned up.
Roselyn lost an earring in Lucerne but Dorota found it on the pier. How lucky can you be.
Ann lost her coat but we never found it.

All This Kissing
If you kiss your loved one in the situations described below, legend has it that you will have eternal love, you will be together forever, or some variant of that depending on which situation you are in. Well, Ann and I kissed in all those places.

  • In a boat going through the hole in one of the three rocks that epitomise the Isle of Capri. We did this on a boat trip around the Isle of Capri and the boat passed through the hole.

  • In Venice on top of the Ponte de Rialto (Rialto Bridge). See this photo of me and Ann on top of the Rialto Bridge.

  • In Venice in a Gondola going under the "Ponte de Sospiri" (Bridge of sighs).

  • Going under the "Skinny Bridge" canal bridge in Amsterdam.

The Best Map
I picked up a "pop out" map of Amsterdam that I thought was very clever. As you opened the cover, the map inside folded out automatically. They are also available for other cities. See www.popoutmaps.com.

The Kangaroo Badges
Lynn & Peter brought with them from Australia a number of small kangaroo badges. Whenever they thought someone gave them good service they presented them with one of these badges. Most recipients were very appreciative.

Bluetooth
For interest, I checked using my mobile who on the bus had their bluetooth enabled and open. I detected four devices.

We Nearly Missed It
The "Castle in the Rock" nears Tours in France. It is carved out of the rock. We glimpsed it from the bus.

Police Check
In Austria, we were stopped for a police check of the tachograph on the bus. This device records the driver’s periods of duty. Europe has strict regulations on the periods that drivers are allowed to drive. I noticed that Carmelo had a few days off and we had substitute drivers.

Bus Problems
It was a brand new bus (lucky us). The only problems were:

  • A short hold-up in Carcassone where Carmelo changed something.

  • In Greece the air conditioner was not fully working one day. It was repaired the next day.

  • Near Lucerne in Switzerland, the wind was very strong and it poured rain. The front windscreen of the bus fogged up and I don't know how Carmelo could see. He eventually stopped and fiddled with something under the bus and it was fixed.

Electronic Postcards
We started taking scenic photos of things on our mobile phones and sending these to people. We even used the mobile phone camera to take photos off the digital camera. The good thing about this system is that you can sometimes get an instantaneous response from the person you are sending to.

Oldest/Youngest On Bus
Tony(71)/Phillip(19)

The Unwanted Travellers
In Athens, I was waiting on the bus ready to leave for Patras to catch the ferry to Italy when I heard some yelling outside. I got off and discovered our driver was under the bus yelling "Get out, get out!". He was prodding something with a long stick. It turns out the there were 3 people stowed away under our bus attempting to migrate to Italy. We were told later that this is very common and all buses and trucks that go on a ferry are checked as we discovered later at the ferry terminal. I tried to video one of the stowaways getting out from under the bus but they got out the opposite side. Dorota, our tour guide, got a bit prickly with me about filming in case it showed the COSMOS bus logo and I later sold this footage too the press. As if I would do that!
As we neared the ferry terminal at Patras, there were groups of people milling in a park. Our bus stopped briefly at some traffic lights and someone ran over and attempted to get under our bus but the lights changed before they got underneath.
Apparently, illegal immigrants are a massive problem in Italy. Nearly everywhere you go in Italy there are illegal immigrants trying to sell you their wares. They can be very persuasive and pushy. I noticed that they nearly always have their wares displayed in something that they can quickly pack up in case the law appears. Given the number of sellers and the variety of wares, the whole operation appears to be controlled at a higher level.

The Mafia Man
In Venice, we went for dinner in a typical Venetian restaurant called the "Ristorante Colombo". The dinner was OK and we were given a sample of a local sparkling wine. Ann thought that one of the organisers reminded her of a typical Mafia person with his pin stripped suit, dark complexion and slicked back hair. This is his photo. On the way back from the restaurant, we noticed that water was seeping onto the pavement in St Marks Square. We heard later that water has been up to 0.5 meters above the pavement.

The Tourist Boat
In Venice, we took a boat from the parking area to the island of Venice. The boat was designed to just carry passengers from one place to another, it was not tour boat. We were inside a covered area, the windows were small and you were not allowed outside (something about public liability). There was a local guide outside with a microphone giving us a commentary about the scenic sights we were passing. "If you look to the left you will see this and if you look to the right you will see that" he kept saying. Well, I could not see that much and I felt like going outside and telling HIM to sit inside and I will do the commentary. It would not have made that much difference.
I believe the boat was either owned or rented exclusively to COSMOS so they need to fix this up and get a boat that you can see out of like this one in Amsterdam that we did a tour of the canals in. Oh, and they need to clean up the rubbish in the water near the car park boat terminal.

Rain
We had few rain spots hear and there, We had heavy rain whilst driving towards Lucerne in Switzerland. The wind was very strong and it poured. The front windscreen of the bus fogged up and I don't know how Carmelo could see. He eventually stopped the bus and did something underneath the bus and fixed it.
It also rained in the evening whilst we were on the ferry from Patras to Ancona.

Public Transport
Most cities in Europe had excellent public transport. Here are some of the things I noticed:

  • The London underground is very good but the infrastructure is getting old. In particular, the trains are very old.

  • We used the underground in Barcelona and it was very good and modern. I was particularly intrigued by the strip map above the doors that shows the train position in relation to the stations. The map has light for each station. As you are approaching a station the appropriate light flashes.
    At the ticket machine there was an "info" button with instructions in three languages and a microphone. Above the button it said "Press this button for info". I did that and a person answered in Spanish and he did not speak English. That was useful for visitors I thought.

  • In Athens there are trolley buses, trams and buses. The buses have the route number displayed on the back so you know which bus you missed.

Most Expensive Internet
In Liechtenstein.
€3.50 for 15mins in a cafe.
Most hotels we stayed in offered Wi Fi. A couple were free and others varied in price and some were relatively expensive. Many tour participants had small computers and used the internet including Skype. Some used McDonalds as Wi Fi is free as long as you purchase something.

The Highways Of Europe
France have the best tolled motorways. They are very well organised except they don't have electronic tolling. Its expensive though. For example, approx 200km on the bus was
€69.00. Fuel prices are displayed on the motorway a few hundred km before the turnoff like in this photo. Fuel prices everywhere in Europe are displayed in Euros to 3 decimal points like in this photo whereas in Australia they are shown in dollars and cents to one decimal point. The speed limit is 130 for cars and 100 for trucks and buses. Trucks and buses are very disciplined. They did stick to the speed limit and stayed on the RH side of the 3 lanes.
Austria had electronic tolling.
Motorways in all countries have lots of eating places off the Motorway. We stopped at many for morning and afternoon breaks and lunch.
In Italy, to buy a snack or coffee you first go to the counter displaying the goods and decide what you want. You then go to a cashier, pay for it and get a docket. Then go back to the counter, hand the docket to someone and they give you the item. It is a very silly system when the place is busy because the cashier is usually not close to the counter where you get your purchase and you are pushing through people to get from one place to another. All places have separate entry and exit doors. You are forced to go through the whole shop to get to the exit door. If you buy anything, you must hold onto your receipt until you are well clear of the place. You can be challenged outside about what you purchased so you need the receipt.
In Austrian motorway eating places, after you order and are given your item, you are given a slip of paper describing the item or later on someone comes around and gives you an electronic card. Neither have prices on them. You pay as you exit. Austria has a GST of 19%.
Germany's autobahns
had no tolling and did not have as good surface as France. Despite this, there is no speed limits for cars and I reckon some past us doing over 200km/hr. With cost of fuel in Germany around €1.50/litre, at 200km/hr you would be using lots of fuel.
Greece had the worst roads. However, near Athens, there are some good tolled roads complete with tunnels.
I don't think they have supervised children's crossings in Europe.
The best donuts we have ever tasted were purchased in a restaurant off the motorway in France. They were delicious.

Most Represented Professions On The Bus
Three teachers and two accountants.

Most Heard Words On Bus
"Has it got a gym" and "Has it got a pool". There was a pool on the roof at the hotel in Barcelona but it was being cleaned. Phillip got his wish on the last evening in Amsterdam where there was both a pool and a gym. Even I had a swim in the pool.

The Most Fascinating Historical Sites

  • Pompeii. We walked around with a local guide who explained things very well. The details and sophistication of the site were fascinating. Even 19 year old Phillip told me he enjoyed it when most other places he thought were boring. Sue, a secondary school teacher, is always on the lookout for interesting things to show the children that will capture their interest (in history). She thought this object may interest them. The area around Pompeii and Naples is still very dangerous because Mt. Vesuvius is an active volcano. However, we did not see any smoke coming out of the mountain as we passed.
    Here are photos of Ann and me in Pompeii.

  • Rome had many interesting historical sites and we went to most of them. Here is me and Ann at the Colosseum and at the Trevi Fountain. Ann at the Spanish Steps. That evening we had a 5 course meal in a typical Roman restaurant which was very good. At the end of the evening, all the ladies were presented with a rose. Alf was also presented with one but the stem would not stay erect and it kept falling over. Obviously a message there.

  • Athens has the Acropolis which is a flat-topped rock which rises 150m above sea level in the middle of Athens. On top of the Acropolis are a number of major archaeological remains some in the process of restoration. We had a guided tour of the Acropolis and it was fascinating. Here is me and Ann in front of the Parthenon, one of the buildings being restored. We also visited a few other places in the city. The museum in Athens looks good although we did not visit it.
    That evening we went for a Greek feast at a local restaurant. To get there we boarded this train which went places that cars don't go. Like narrow streets full of tables and chairs with people eating and past the markets. The train trip was interesting except for the terrible PA system used by the guide. She sounded like a squawking parrot.

  • Florence. Lots of interesting historical areas. We visited most of them. Took the obligatory photo of David. Discovered that David has something out of proportion on his body. His hands of course.
    Visited the Peruzzi Leather Shop for a demonstration of leather fabrication and a wander around the shop. Very expensive but high quality. See this photo of me and Ann overlooking Florence.

The Best Concert Evening
In Vienna, we went to an orchestral performance of Mozart and Strauss music at the Vienna Kursalon. It was fantastic and much, much better than I expected.
Here is a photo of some who attended taken during the interval on the outside terrace and nice photo of Nella and Tony.
The next day we visited the house where Strauss lived. Here is Ann dressed up in old time clothes. We caught Sue listening to some Strauss music on headphones and dreaming about the previous night's orchestral performance.
After visiting the house where Strauss lived we visited St. Peter's Church and I climbed up circular stones stairs to the top. Very narrow stairway and difficult to pass people. Good view from the top though.

How Australians Recognise Each Other
In Venice, we went up the Bell Tower (via a lift) in St. Marks Square. See this photo of Ann at the top. At the top I noticed a guy wearing a T-Shirt with "Round the Bay ..." on it. I instantly recognised it as referring to the round the bay bike ride in Melbourne. He was in the lift coming down and we spoke. He had recognised my KT26 sneakers suspecting that I was also from Australia.
We were told that the bells in the tower ring on the hour. However, we were there at 1.00 and they did not ring but I did hear them ringing later.

Naughty
In Vienna, John forgot to hand in his hotel key. It cost him
€27.00. That seemed a bit excessive. Hotels that still use keys should have a tag attached with a return address on it. The key can then be posted back. This is done in England.

The Maximum And The Minimum
In Paris, there is the high class restaurant called Maxim's. When we drove past it in the bus it was pointed out that near Maxim's is another restaurant called Minim's.

Sick
A few got sick. Sue, Chris and Lina were probably the worst. Both Sue and Chris had a doctor call to the hotel we were staying at and issue a prescription. Sue even had a mobile blood/urine test vehicle call and they took a sample away for testing. Don't think we have that in Australia. Pharmacies in France (and a few other European countries) have a distinctive flashing blue cross outside.
Phillip went to a dentist in Sorrento.
Graham had a haircut in Sorrento. A very expensive haircut (travelling all the way to Italy) so that is sick.
With all the sick people around Graham resorted to wearing this mask in the bus.

The Two Houses Of The Pope
In Rome, we visited the Vatican museums, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica and the Grottos. Unfortunately, the Pope was not in residence that day, so we did not get a wave from the balcony. I was intrigued as to why you are permitted to photograph inside St. Peter's Basilica but not in any other areas. Turns out that the paintings inside St. Peter's Basilica are actually mosaics, so camera flashes don't affect the them. In any case, its generally a waste of time photographing. You are better off buying the Vatican book which has superb photos.
That evening we drove through the Alban Hills to the town of Castel Gandolfo and observed the summer residence of the Pope. He was not there either but we soaked up the atmosphere of this lovely town that overlooks Lake Albano. Here is a photo of us overlooking the lake beside the town.
We then went for a 4 course Italian dinner in the "IL Pergolata" tavern in a town called Cantina complete with musical entertainment. Robin was excited about the entertainment but me myself didn't appear that excited. On the bus back to the hotel, Dorota handed each man a ticket to win something. I won and the prize was a "Pupazze Castellane", a pastry in the form of a woman with 3 breasts. Legend has it that the 2 outside breasts produce milk and the middle one wine. I did eat some of it but it was very hard and not particularly tasty.

The Coffees Of Europe
In Austria in some cafes, coffee is served with a small glass of water like in this photo.
In Greece, the coffee cups have very small handles so you cannot get your finger through the hole and we even found some with the holes filled in.
We were told that coffee in Venice would be very expensive but at the cafe Dorota showed us it only cost
€1.50 as long as you stood at the bar and drank it. It cost more if you sit at a table.

When It Rains
The ancients seem to like rain falling on a roof to fall to the ground via a mouth. In Paris, at the Notre Dame Cathedral, the water comes out the gargoyles mouths. In Athens, at the Parthenon, the water comes out of the lions mouth.

Chapels
In Sorrento, Italy, we stayed two nights in a lovely hotel with balconies. See this photo of Ann on the balcony of our room. In view of the balcony was this small chapel. Late one evening Ann observed a lady approach the chapel and light a candle inside. We saw many of these small chapels in Greece also.
At this hotel, Matt, Graham and Erin & Kevin had the biggest balconies with the best views which I didn't think was fair.
Sorrento is a beautiful Italian village with lots of interesting places to shop. We had four course dinner one evening in Sorrento and had our first taste of an Italian drink called "Lemoncello". It has an unusual taste. Later, we purchased a 1 litre bottle in San Marino for
€6.50 where there are no taxes and brought it home.
The hotel we stayed in was about 10km from Sorrento and the road to the town was interesting. It is very hilly there and the road is narrow and windy. One side of the road is often a rock wall or a cliff. There is a walking area denoted by a white line along the edge of the road but you would be taking you life in hand walking on the road. The drivers are maniacs. Particularly the motor bikes which are numerous. Bus stops are denoted by a sign affixed to a rock wall but there is no special safe area for passengers to wait. Carmelo, our bus driver, had fun negotiating the bus along this road. When we went for dinner in Sorrento and to the ferry for our trip to Capri, a smaller local bus was used. Even this bus had trouble getting down the narrow road to the ferry terminal in Sorrento.

The Swiss Are Doing Us A Favour
All the countries around Switzerland use the Euro and they still use the Swiss Franc. They will accept Euro notes (not coins) but only give change in Swiss Francs and they reckon they do this as a favour. Some excuse about the Swiss banks not accepting coins.
In Switzerland, we stayed in Lucerne, a nice town. See this photo of Ann in Lucerne with the famous wooden bridge in the background. We did a boat cruise around the lake. It was cold with occasional drizzle. Mildly interesting.
An interesting feature in Lucerne is the Lion Monument carved into the rock.
We also made a trip to Mt. Titlis, a ski resort. We first drove to Engelberg and then on three different cable cars to get to the top of Mt. Titlis at about 3,000 Meters. The last car was a rotating cable car. The floor rotates as it moves along.
At the top is a 5 story building. On the ground floor you can walk into an  ice cave carved out underneath a glacier and on the top floor you can walk outside.
Here are photos taken at the top of Ann & Nella, me and me and Ann. In an igloo me and Ann. On the way down we were the only ones in the last lift and we took this photo. Saw silly girls walking in the snow in high heels and thongs. It was an interesting day.

The Tiny Republics and Independent States

  • Monaco. Monto Carlo is the town within Monaco and we visited it one evening. We were staying in Nice that evening and had to drive about 1 hour through many tunnels to get there. We first had dinner in the "Saint-Nicholas" restaurant which was OK. We then walked up to the Casino area and had a drink in the bar near the entrance to the Monto Carlo Casino and then wandered around. Lots of "wanna- bes" there. It was quite interesting to watch the comings and goings of people. See this photo of me and Ann outside the Casino.

  • Vatican City. See earlier.

  • San Marino. See earlier.

  • Liechtenstein. We passed through Liechtenstein and stopped in Vaduz, the capital, for about 1 hour. Wandered around the central area. There is not much to see except the castle on the hill. Had our passports stamped for €3.00 each. See this photo of me and Ann.

Hottest Places
Venice, which I did not particularly like. It was not tourist friendly (see earlier) but for some reason there were lots of people there.
The Murano glass blowing demonstration in Venice was very hot. We were stuck in tiny room with a red hot furnace for about 20 mins. It was worth it though because it was fascinating to watch a piece of glass sculptured by a master glass blower.
After the demonstration we went into the showrooms and a few (including us) purchased authentic Murano glass pieces. We also purchased a non authentic Murano piece in San Marino.

Where The Rich And Famous Live
The Isle Of Capri. We spent a day there. Local bus took us to Sorrento and we caught ferry to Capri. We caught a bus up to the higher town of Ana Capri via a narrow road that zig zags and winds its way up the mountain partly along the edge of a cliff. Then took a chairlift to highest point. See this photo of me and Ann at highest point and this photo of me and Ann at a viewpoint in Ana Capri.
Later in the afternoon, we took a boat trip around the Island which went through the hole in one of the three rocks that epitomise Capri. The boat trip was extremely interesting. Particularly around the side of the island where the rich and famous have their resorts.
Capri is a fascinating place. Claimed to be one of the most expensive places in Europe. We were told a taxi from the lower town of Capri to the upper town of Ana Capri costs
€30.00. The most exclusive hotel costs €800/night. Land is  €20,000/sq meter. Ann looked at some shorts in a shop  that cost €190.

Best Scenery
Northern Italy, Austria and Switzerland. In particular, the town of Innsbruck is nestled in a valley with snowy mountains on both sides and a fast flowing river running through the town. We stayed there one night. See this photo of me at the window of the hotel. Caught Nella ironing at the hotel.
The next day we visited the famous Swarovski crystal ware glass shop in the centre of Innsbruck. See this photo of Ann.

A Pile Of Rocks
Olympia in Greece, which was the site of the Olympic Games in classical times. Lucky we had a guide who explained things very well so each pile meant something. The museum attached to the site was very interesting.

What Ann Could Not Find
A Cherry Ripe. In every country, we looked in all the motorway shops and restaurants that we stopped at.

Another Surprise
Barcelona. Much better than expected. A clean open city. Lots of pedestrian only areas and historical places to view. There is a lovely harbour. Modern public transport. The 1km street known as "Las Ramblas" is very tourist friendly. I particularly liked the people doing character impersonations.
Barcelona has Montjuοc, which is a broad shallow hill with a relatively flat top that overlooks the harbour and the city. An array of interesting buildings and parks on the hill compliment the rest of the city. See this photo of me and Ann on the hill.
And we did see Manuel (of Fawlty Towers fame). A guy who looked similar to Manuel was on the reception desk at the hotel we stayed at. The only downside of Barcelona was the water. It tasted yuk.

They Speak A Different Language
The gondola rowers in Venice. We had a number of Italian speaking people on our tour and they could not understand the rowers. They had their own dialect. However, most rowers could speak normal Italian and English.
We did the traditional gondola cruise complete with accompanying music and singing. Because there were 5 gondolas in our group, we got separated in the canal gondola traffic which there was a lot of. In some of the canals, the environment is depressing. Rotten timbers, smelly, rubbish, slimy walls, collapsing buildings etc.
See this photo of Robin and this photo of Lauren, Grayce, Sue and Glen.

The Beds
We stayed in dozens of hotels each with its unique beds, covers and pillows. Some pillows were very hard.
In Olympia, the bed was two 3/4 mattresses pushed together with giant sheets covering both mattresses.
In Athens, the bed was two 3/4 mattresses pushed together with separate sheets covering each mattress.
In Innsbruck, the hotel had a unique bed arrangement.

The Quaintest Place
Hydra, one of the Greek Islands we visited on a day cruise out of Athens. The day cruise was on a large boat carrying 500 passengers. It sailed directly to Hydra which took about 3 hours. On the way back we had lunch on board with some entertainment and then the boat called into Poros and Aegina. On Poros, we climbed up a mountain to the Bell Tower. On Aegina, we went on a bus tour around the island and then had a sample of the local fish and Ouzo. People at other tables did not drink all of their Ouzo sample bottle so we commandeered them. Some did not do the bus tour and checked out the local beach (of pebbles). I noticed that there is a small island called "Kira" near Aegina which is the name of our dog.
When we first boarded the boat, we were told that by the time the boat got to Aegina the shopkeepers would be having a siesta and there would be few shops open so they advised to do one of the bus tours around the island. However, this was not the case and lots of shops and stalls were open. This annoyed me a little because they gave us misleading information in order to encourage people to go on the bus tours. The lie they told reminded me of this photo taken in San Marino.
Hydra is a very quaint island. The sea around is so blue and clear. We walked up around the houses with their narrow walkways and steep steps. There is no mechanised transport on the island (except garbage trucks) and donkeys are used to transport goods. See this photo of me and Ann in Hydra.

The Shortest Visit
Belgium. We only drove through Belgium on the way to Calais in France to catch the ferry to England. Stopped for about 20 mins at a motorway servo for a coffee.

The Boat Cruises
We went on boats many times.

  • England to Calais on a ferry. Lunch on board.

  • Around the Isle of Capri.

  • From Bari (Italy) to Patras (Greece). We stayed overnight in a cabin with an outside port window. The ferry vibrated a lot so sleeping was intermittent. These ferries are Greek owned and smoking is allowed in certain areas inside. However, you can smell smoke everywhere inside and it is most annoying. We spent as much time outside as we could. Dorota advised us to purchase some party items before boarding the ferry and we had a get-together at the rear of the boat in the evening. Click here for some photos of the evening. It was warm and pleasant on deck. Dinner and breakfast on board.

  • A day cruise around three Greek islands.

  • From Patras (Greece) to Ancona (Italy). We stayed overnight in a cabin with an outside port window. A larger ferry than the trip over and it was very smooth. Had a get-together at the rear of the boat in the evening. Dinner, breakfast and lunch on board.

  • In Venice to/from the bus parking area to the island (twice), to/from the island of Burano and around the canals in the Gondolas.

  • Cruise around Lake Lucerne in Switzerland.

  • One hour cruise on the Rhine in Germany. Mildly interesting. Unfortunately, it drizzled and got cold so sitting outside was not that pleasant. We observed many small castles along the way. Lots of barges going up and down the river. Trains on both sides very busy. Nice scenery and old buildings. See this photo of me and Ann on the boat.

  • Canal cruise around Amsterdam. This was very interesting. We had a very good local guide.

  • Calais to England on a ferry. Lunch on board.

The Two Leaning Towers

  • Pisa. Mildly interesting but too many trinket sellers. We investigated climbing the tower in the ticket office and could have got on a tour but did not think we had enough time. We ran into Dorota outside the ticket office and she said we would have time. Back to the ticket office to get tickets but they only allow certain numbers at fixed times and we were too late. Lynn & Peter did the climb. See this photo of me and Ann.

  • The Bell Tower on the Venetian lagoon island of Burano.

The Value Of Local Guides
We were lucky to have the use of local guides in nearly every main city. In most cases when we wandered around a city or walked through or inside a scenic attraction, we were fitted with a receiver/headset and the guide had a speaker/transmitter. We were expected to tip them at the end and in most cases we did. Dorota told us that she is not allowed to act as a guide and can be fined if caught. In places like Olympia or Pompeii I did notice people wandering around aimlessly with no audio guide or even a map. In places like those you must have some guide or you are wasting your time.

The Sound Of Music
We visited Salzburg, where many scenes for the Sound of Music were filmed. We visited most places including the place where one of the final scenes were filmed and we had to sneak in and quickly take photos because something was going on in there. This is a lovely town and I like that in the older area cars are banned during certain hours of the day. See this photo of Ann with the older area in the background. We found this guy playing a didgeridoo. Something we had not seen for a while.

The Traffic In Italy
These are the 3 rules we were given when crossing the road in Italy. The traffic in places like Rome is chaotic.

  • Don't run.

  • Don't stop.

  • Maintain speed.

The Palaces
We visited two palaces.

  • Versailles, a short distance from Paris. This is the biggest palace in Europe with 1,000 rooms. The opulence of the palace is unbelievable. No wonder the peasants revolted against the monarchy. The gardens are huge and outstanding.

  • Schonbrunn in Vienna. Not as opulent as Versailles, but quite lavish. See this photo of me and Ann in front of the fountain in the gardens.

Poor Cousin Of The EU
Greece. The country areas were dilapidated. Many homes are built using reinforced concrete pillars and slabs for the floor and the roof. This must be a cheap way to build the shell of a structure. However, the reinforcing for the uprights sticks through onto the roof as if to make allowance for future expansion. It looks ugly. See this photo.
Country roads are in poor condition. Lots of people still smoke and even though they are bringing in some anti smoking regulations there is very little adherence. Prices are cheaper than other parts of Europe. Nobody bothers wearing motorcycle helmets.

The Car Unfriendly City
Amsterdam. See this photo of me. Because they don't like cars I rate it as one of the better cities. Maybe I am biased because my mother was Dutch and I am anti car. One problem is that bikes have become more important than people. There are designated bike riding areas on the roads and footpaths and you must give way to bikes and there is no requirement to wear helmets. It was strange to see large structures full of bikes like this one. Most bikes are very dilapidated and you see lots laying around like this nearly in the canal. The bikes are dilapidated so there is less chance of them being stolen which apparently is a big problem.
We visited the "Red Light" district and were told that the Government have clamped down and the area is not as notorious as it used to be. You are still allowed to smoke marijuana in some cafes but not allowed to smoke cigarettes. See this cafe and this cafe.
We did a tour of the city by bus and by canal boat. We also visited the Coster Diamond Centre and had a short tour and demonstration. The ladies were drooling but I don't believe anyone purchased anything.
Had our final tour dinner in Amsterdam at the "Hasje Claes" restaurant which happened to be Ann's 60th birthday. Here are some pictures of everyone taken on that evening. Erin & Kevin did not attend but sent their best wishes for Ann's Birthday.

About COSMOS
We were very happy with COSMOS. It is one of the cheapest bus tours so you don't always stay in the best accommodation but it was always adequate for us. Sometimes the accommodation is not within the town but again this did not matter because the bus ferried us around. The tight schedule meant that sometimes you only had 10 or 15 minutes to change to go out on an optional excursion and you had to cart your own suitcases from the bus to your room.

Other Places We Visited

  • The town of Tours in France. We stopped there for a long lunch and took the opportunity to wander around the town and visit a cathedral about 10 mins walk out of town.

  • Carcassone, near Bordeaux in France. One of the best preserved medieval fortified towns in Europe. Wandered around the village, had lunch then paid to go inside the castle and did a fast tour including the battlements around the perimeter.

  • Arles, a small village in southern France. Wandered around the town and visited a small Roman Colosseum.

  • Perfume factory called "Parfumerie Fragonard" in Eze near Nice in France. We had guided tour of the factory, a smell tasting of perfumes and purchased some items. It was interesting.

  • An inlaid wood works factory called "Notturno Intarsio" in Sorrento near Naples, Italy. It was interesting. Very expensive but high quality.

Miscellaneous Photos
Click here to see a collection of interesting and unusual photos.

Biggest Coffee
After the bus trip we found these huge cups of coffee in a cafe at Euston Station in London.

Camera Advice
After seeing that many people unable to use their cameras after the internal battery went flat sometime during the day, I suggest that for holiday purposes, people use a camera that has replaceable batteries (usually AA). Use rechargeable batteries, keep some spare with your during the day and have a small recharger to charge them in the evening.

Don't Fly Business Class With Etihad
We flew cattle class and observed that the front cattle class seats are reserved for passengers with young children. Unfortunately, Business Class is directly beside these front seats. On the flight back from England there were lots of young children making a lot of noise. If I had been in Business Class I would have asked for a refund.

Thank You
To everyone on the trip. You all contributed to making it a memorable event.