Why would anyone want to travel more than 10,000 kilometres, visit 10 different countries and sit on their butt for long periods of time on a coach?
Ahem, we did!
We thought it was a bit of a cop-out really, because normally we’re of the fairly adventurous independent traveling kind.
But we were wrong, it wasn’t a cop-out and it required heaps of energy but most of all having done it we realise that it trumped anything we could have booked ourselves for the time and budget we had available.
Why only 14 days?
For us it was due to time constraints.
But the thing is before we knew it, we had a long list of European countries we wanted to visit in the reasonably short time-frame of leave we had available.
Let the research begin!
So living in WesternAustralia, off I went to the Perth Travel Expo to do some research.
There I came across companies offering tours for young people keen for lots of adrenalin adventures and heaps of partying with some culture thrown in, and tours for older people which by comparison seemed a little too five-star, or too sedate for us.
On the travel company side, nothing I discovered quite fitted our criteria.
Some tours were too long and visited too many places, others didn’t tick the places we wanted to see and some were out of our price range.
Not finding exactly what we were after we then looked at booking everything ourselves. A nightmare weekend of planning and logistics followed and we realised we couldn’t afford what we’d dreamt up, nor were the tight travel timings likely to work like clockwork as would be needed.
At some stage I think Dave may have called me, “Princess” and not in a nice way.
What we wanted
We wanted a trip catering to different age groups that went to most of the places we had on our European bucket list.
We wanted the accent to be on culture, some adventure, fun and a little nightlife – we didn’t want an “all fall down” all-out partying shenanigans (been there done that).
And because our dates once booked would be inflexible we needed to know that the tour company offered guaranteed departures.
In my online search I stumbled upon a tour company called Expat Explore, funnily enough started by an expat South African, and as we’ve lived in South Africa for many years this piqued my interest.
We were pleasantly surprised by the great value for money Expat Explore offered and we were also surprised by the standard of accommodation (2 or 3 star hotels) – none of which ever included dorms, or crazy booze filled parties happening in the adjoining bedrooms.
Flavour of Europe
We booked on the Europe Jewel Tour which gave us a real flavour of Europe visiting 10 of the countries we wanted to visit in 14 days.
Of course, it was a whistle-stop trip, it had to be, but it was fun being on the go all the time and, in many respects, we were offered a veritable smorgasbord of Europe with at least one big WOW a day.
For instance on one day we had breakfast in Prague, lunch in Bratislava and then dinner in Budapest.
Mostly we spent just one night in each place, although at a selected few we were able to relax, do our own thing and enjoy a further day at leisure.
It didn’t take long before I was learning to exhale in Europe and enjoying every minute of it.
The Europe Jewel tour compressed a fabulous itinerary into a short time.
On the outset, this looked impossible but because the itinerary was well thought out and because we generally had orientation tours on arrival at each place, we were able to make the most of each destination.
Even though we arrived in Budapest late in the afternoon and were on the road again early the next morning our tour leader made sure not a minute was wasted.
We dumped our bags in the hotel and went on an organised city tour which included a visit to the castle and a walk around Heroes Square.
Then we had free time and were given detailed instructions on some options, such as where to spend time soaking in Thermal Baths, where to eat a traditional Hungarian dinner and how to travel on the metro, so getting a flavour of being ‘local’.
Best time to go
We went in April, and at that time of year, the coach wasn’t full.
Spring in Europe is really pretty, especially with all the tulips and bulbs being out.
However Spring in Europe can also throw up some dodgy weather – our trip to the top of the Jungfrau for instance, far from giving us far-reaching views, gave us a white-out, and in Paris,it rained.
Another plus side to out of season is the absence of crowds. July and August would be the worst for crowds.
What we loved about an organised tour
We were taken to the best spots to explore, and there was absolutely no stress involved in getting to them.
On the coach, you get to meet new friends of different nationalities and different age groups.
We had time to read, write, chat or catch up on sleep on the coach. We kept on thinking of the stress of driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, and the know-how required for finding our own way across several countries.
All the arrangements – hotels, paperwork, trains, trams, logistics, border crossing formalities – are made for you.
We were also wowed by the number of meals, guided city tours, tram and metro tickets which were included in the overall price of the tour.
14 Days. 10 Countries. 18 Experiences.
In a nutshell: The tour started in London, then we went through France to the Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland and France.
Not only did we visit a range of places and sights but we were also able to take the time to create some really memorable experiences.
Included were a musical concert in Vienna, a gondola ride in Venice, visiting the main sights of Paris, going to the top of Switzerland on a snowy day on a train, walking around the leaning tower of Pisa before the crowds arrived, and a wonderful guided architectural walk around Prague – just to name a few.
Traditional Austrian Lunch in Graz
Another great example of the tour planning was a two-hour stop-over in Austria’s second largest city Graz.
Our driver parked us close to the town centre so that we could take a leisurely stroll (watching out for passing trams of course) and take in the local scene before climbing up the 260 steps to the clock tower.
After walking around the hilltop enclave we took the funicular down the hill and still had time to stop and eat a traditional lunch of spicy stew with dumplings served with vienna sausage, pickles and a fried egg, making our two-hour lunch stop in Graz a truly memorable experience.
As was our whistle-stop lunch break in Nuremberg, which although brief allowed enough time to visit the markets, wander the streets and find out a little about its history.
Brief but interesting experiences
Instead of stopping at a motorway café for breaks and lunches as you might resort to if you were driving on your own, Expat Explore made sure that we took a slight detour to make the most of our stops, and often provided different activities for us too.
For instance, in Amsterdam (an evening canal dinner cruise), The Rhine Valley (a cruise on the Rhine River), Nuremburg (a lunch stop and free time), Bratislava (lunch stop and free time), Ljubljana (a city tour), Florence (a city tour and a taste of Florence), Pisa (early morning walk and a photo stop), and Venice (a city tour in an afternoon).
In Vienna, we were whisked off on a city tour as soon as we arrived at the hotel and among other things we were able to get out to take photos of beautiful Belvedere Palace.
Built in the 18th Century as the summer residence for the General Prince Eugen of Savoy (1663 – 1736) I was blown away by the Baroque architecture and the extensive gardens. I knew in the future I’d like to come back and spend much more time in Vienna.
However not all our stops were so brief.
During the trip we had three full days at leisure – one in Prague (One Day in Prague), one in The Swiss Alps, and one in Paris (although at the end of the tour we elected to stay on in Paris instead of returning to finish in London).
I have to say that the coach trip exceeded my expectations in that we visited a large array of places and sights but we also had the time to create some fantastic memories.
It’s given me the overview of the places in Europe I wanted to visit, and now of course – I want to go back!
Would you go on an organised coach tour? Have you been on one? Which countries did you travel to?
Disclaimer: My train trip to the summit of the Jungfrau in Switzerland was complimentary and I received a 30% discount off the Expat Explore Europe Jewel tour.
Jo Castro is a freelance travel writer from Western Australia. When she’s not blogging or running writing workshops, she’s travelling, walking, biking, and exploring restaurants. She’s lived in 11 countries on 4 continents with her husband, a geologist, and two grown up children. You can find her on her blogs Lifestyle Fifty (inspiration and lifestyle) and The ZigaZag Mag (travel, and life in Western Australia) or on Twitter @johannaAcastro. Facebook at Lifestyle Fifty or The ZigaZag Mag and Instagram at Lifestyle Fifty