Travel

The Love Bus

One of the great, little things, about Trafalgar is one of the bus rules.

I think this simple rule made a huge difference in our trip. The rotating of seats allowed us to sit next to different people throughout the trip, but also remain with our families and friends. We had the opportunity to chat with familiar faces, or get to know new ones. Although we didn’t bond with absolutely everyone on the trip,  Not only did we get to know more people, but we also had the chance to see different city views.

You know in school when the back of the bus was considered “the cool place to be.” This was not necessarily the case when it came to a 10-day Eurotrip. For the longer journeys it was nice to sit at the back with the most legroom. For the shorter trips the front seats were the best for the best sights. The rotating seats rule ensured every person on the bus had equal opportunity to see the sights. No animosity was created with people “claiming” the back of the bus or always getting the front view.

I think this was one of the little things that made our trip so great.

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Rome

October 23 – 25, 2015

October 23

Our first night in Rome was super memorable. Not only did we get to see 1000s of years of history in one view, but our bus driver Rocco broke the rules, and we caught a private glimpse of Vatican City at night. Dinner was at a restaurant next to the Coliseum, and some of our bus caused a ruckus in the hotel lobby.

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My favourite place in Rome.

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Vatican City at night

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October 24

For some reason I’ve always thought that the Sistine Chapel was also the main church in Vatican City. My ideas and thoughts about Italy were a little warped because of the movie Eurotrip. I was happy to know that some of the facts that I learned from the movie were true, but I was also happy we had the most informative tour guide ever. Learning about Michaelangelo’s struggles to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, paired with an explanation of the paintings, made the experience that much better.

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The Sistine Chapel

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is not supposed to be photographed, however, someone on my tour decided to break the rules a little bit. He was probably one of the few who didn’t get caught and yelled at.

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Vatican City

By the time we were finished with our tour, the line for the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel were SUPER long. A couple people on our tour witnessed a live mugging which made me realize that some people in this world just plain suck. Tourists come from all over the world to see such beautiful sites, and a couple of people ruin it by stealing all of their possessions.

This definitely wasn't built in a day. | #Colosseum #RootsIsCanada #wanDEBlust

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The Coliseum was surprisingly not as busy as I thought it would be, but pretty spectacular to finally see in person. Visiting sights you’ve seen in movies and on tv is a really cool experience – like the fountain from Angels & Demons. It’s also interesting to see in person because you realize that movies most definitely skew reality – there were definitely people crowding the fountain, there’s no way nobody would’ve helped Tom Hanks.

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The Pantheon

October 25

The airport in Rome is super strange. Being Terminal 3, we said our goodbyes to our fellow bus-mates, headed to one of the tiniest terminals I’ve seen, took a shuttle bus, only to be reunited with our friends at the main terminal… I had my last caprese salad and it was already time to board the plane.

The end of a trip is always bittersweet. You’re sad because you have to leave, but you’re also happy to sleep in your own bed again. After a hectic and busy busy trip, I was a little excited to get back to my regular schedule again.

Thank you to all of the amazing people I met, stories I learned and even though I’ve already done so a million times, (I know they’re definitely reading this) thank you to my parents for the amazing experience.

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Lucerne

October 20-21, 2015

October 20

The bus ride to Switzerland took all day. The trip was a total of 667.3 km (according to Google Maps). Travelling on The Love Bus, we made a couple stops along the way.

On the ride into the city Brendon described to us more about The Swiss. According to him, every single man is required to train for the Swiss Guard. The country is known as ‘neutral’ and must have the man-power to defend itself. He also described the country as meticulous – especially when it comes to portion control. We were told our meals would be carefully measured to ensure each portion was perfect and equal. The soap was to be measured for “one shower portion” and would disintegrate after we were finished. I wish I could describe it as well and comical as Brendon did. I assure you it was funnier than I’m describing now…

The area where we were dropped off was full of shops, tourists and chocolate. I’m 100% sure we were in tourist central because the shopkeepers spoke more Mandarin than English…and tried to talk to me in Mandarin… The shopkeepers seemed overwhelmed yet prepared for the crowds.

After losing both of my parents I roamed around the streets of Lucerne and found some cute unique vintage stores. As I’ve said in past posts and will continue to say, I wish I had more time to explore.

On our walking tour of the town we saw The Lion Monument. The dying lion commemorates the Swiss Guard who were killed during the French Revolution, however, if you look carefully you can see a pig surrounding the statue – apparently the sculptor was underpaid and sculpted a pig around the lion in revenge. Mark Twain has described the status as “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.”

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Lion of Lucerne

I expected our hotel room to be super tiny and only full of necessities (thanks to Brendon), however, our room was decently large. A double bed and a single for our family was perfect for one night’s sleep.

Back at home in Canada, Justin Trudeau was voted Prime Minister and all that BBC News could play was Justin Trudeau vs. Justin Bieber … so strange.

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Our perfectly portioned and delicious meal.

October 21

Back to the Future Day. I obviously brought my shirt to wear.

Our ride up to the Swiss Alps was on the world’s first open-air cable car, Cabrio. Because the mountains are so high, we had to take a train to get to the cable car. It was really surreal to see all of Lucerne slowly disappear into the clouds as we got closer and closer to the top.

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I'm in love with the mountains. | #Switzerland #RootsIsCanada #wanDEBlust

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Happy Back to the Future Day

The view was absolutely spectacular and reminded me of my trip up Sulfur Mountain in Banff. Our tour group was the first up the mountain and just like Banff, after arriving at the top, there was an option to climb even higher up the mountain. I was the first one up the mountain and had the view all to myself for a couple of minutes. Top 5 favourite moment of the trip.

Climbing up the mountain was difficult not only because I’m severely out of shape, but also the air pressure and cold weather. It was definitely worth the snot.

At the top of the mountain everything seems like a painting. Nothing seems real and your problems seem insignificant.

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Literally in the clouds.

I bought Swiss Toblerone bar at the gift shop of Mount Stanserhorn and it definitely seemed to taste better.

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The way down was just as breathtaking but sad because I was leaving the mountains. It also seemed a lot faster than the ride up (as every journey is).

It was time for a quick pee and then another long, long journey as we made our way to Venice…

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London

October 14-18, 2015

October 14

Saying goodbye to my family was bittersweet – I was saying goodbye but also saying hello to a new adventure. It was exciting to be in London because we had extra time to ourselves.

I’ve been to London before but I had missed some of the little things I’d wanted to see like Platform 9 and ¾ and Abbey Road.

Heads up for all of the Harry Potter fans – Platform 9 and ¾ is not actually on the platform. Like every other tourist trap there’s a line, with a gift shop. There’s a man who gets paid to stand there and when you get to the front he’ll ask you what house you’re in (just in case you were wondering why every single person who posts a picture magically has a scarf with them). There’s also a camera-man who tells the first man “SCARF” and it magically looks like it’s flying. Tourist attraction #1 complete.

Next stop, Hogwarts. | #Platform934 #RootsIsCanada #wanDEBlust

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Finding our way to our hotel was simple – but my parents didn’t seem to think so. The Tube is super easy to navigate in London, and even more simple when Google Maps tells you exactly which stations to take. It’s not so easy if your mom accidentally grabs a bus map of the system and starts to second guess every move you choose to make. If we were a married couple we’d be in trouble.

The timing of my trip was bittersweet. Sweet – Eurotrip. Bitter – Jays made the playoffs for the first time in 22 years. Luckily my neighbour from Mississauga, Asma, is studying in London and we met up with her at the Canadian bar, “The Maple Leaf.” The bartender almost didn’t let me in because I look like I’m 16… The bar is completely adorned with Canadian sports’ team memorabilia and typically Canadian items. There are twonies and loonies taped to the wall and the bar serves Molson Canadian. On the menu are “traditional Canadian dishes” like poutine (no complaints). To be honest, Europe was amazing, but this night was one of my favourites out of the whole trip. Words can’t describe the feeling you get being in a foreign country surrounded by fellow Canadians all cheering as Bautista hits a home run during Game 5.

Went full out Canadian for this one. Let's go @bluejays, supporting you from across the pond! #ComeTOgether #London

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October 15

Our first mission as tourists in London was obviously to eat at the canteen at the Malaysian Consulate across the street. (My parents are Malaysian and we coincidentally booked a hotel across the street – my dad was super happy).

Second, sign up for the Big Bus to take us all over London. Traffic in London is crazy. Especially with hundreds of Big Buses travelling across the city. The tour took us 3 hours and we hadn’t fully finished the trip. It’s crazy that such a small city can have so many landmarks and history to see and learn about. One of the cool and nerdy things I got to experience was seeing Van Gogh’s Sunflowers at the National Gallery. Most of our day was spent on the bus because we were still jet lagged and exhausted.

Hi Ben! 🙋🏻🇬🇧 | #BigBen #RootsIsCanada #wanDEBlust

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October 16

Day 3 in London was exciting because I got to meet another aunt! My dad’s cousin, Michelle, met up with us and spent the day doing touristy things with us. I feel like people in general don’t really go to tourist attractions unless family comes to town – I can’t remember the last time I went up the CN Tower. We finally made it to Abbey Road – what would we do without Google Maps… It’s so weird to think that to tourists Abbey Road is this amazing place where we all cross and try and take a photo with, but to residents it’s a nuisance because it’s too difficult to drive in the area. It was really surreal to see Abbey Road Studios where some of the best songs were recorded.

All you need is love. | #AbbeyRoad #RootsIsCanada #wanDEBlust

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The day was a little bit of a flashback – we went to the Tower of London like I did in high school, ate at the same restaurant, Wagamama – except I was missing all of my friends. Mom and I also went to Kensington Palace where we had tea just to say we had tea in a palace.

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In London I passed as a 15-year-old at several tourist attractions. In London, 15-year-olds are considered a child and get free admission. Sometimes it benefits me that I look young.

October 17

Our last full day in London was the start of our trip with Trafalgar. The first thing we did in the morning was get on a bus at the crack of dawn to have a walking tour around London. Our guide, Michael, was well versed in his history and tidbits he’d learned throughout the years as a tour guide. He knew exactly where to stand to watch the Changing of the Guards and where they were going to trample us. I also couldn’t help but notice the huge amount of people fencing near Buckingham Palace placed there for the Prime Minster of China (I don’t like people fencing…) Michael sent us to a quaint little pub to get our London-fix of fish and chips.

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Having some ale at an English pub.

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The bane of my existence…

Mom and I headed to the London Eye. Sorry, the COCA-COLA London Eye. Normally I’m a fan of Coca-Cola’s marketing but it was overkill at the Eye.

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“How many Coca-Cola cans does it take to get to the top of the London Eye?” “This moment brought to you by Coke.” “Happiness starts here…COKE COKE COKE.” The London Eye has a pretty view from the top, but to be honest it’s just another tourist attraction. (I sound super ungrateful but I swear I’m not.)

London Eye see you! | #LondonEye #RootsIsCanada #wanDEBlust

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After the tourist trap I got to meet my cousin, Oscar. It’s amazing the things kid are curious about. I think the very first question Oscar asked me was “so what do you guys eat around here?” I wish I could’ve spent more time with him and my aunt. My aunt is one of the nicest ladies and Oscar is just plain adorable. Living halfway across the world from your family really sucks sometimes. But it’s also a great excuse to travel.

My aunt’s partner, Nigel, gave us a real tour of the wharf. We walked along the River, had hot chocolate and rum at a cute little rooftop patio and headed towards the Tate Modern where I got to see some of Andy Warhol’s works and some of Lichtenstein. The World of Pop exhibit was going on as well – an exhibit primarily focused on feminism, consumerism and racism so you can imagine how interesting that is through modern art (lots of boobs).

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Being my dad and craving Chinese food, we went to Chinatown to find some grub. But first, we had to cross the Millenium Bridge (aka, the bridge in Harry Potter).

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Again, in preparation for the Chinese Prime Minister, Chinatown was decked out to the nines. The last time I was there I don’t ever remember it being that fancy.

October 18

4:30am wake up. At least I get to sleep on the way to Paris…

We made it to the White Cliffs of Dover only to get on a ferry to travel to Paris. I never get sea-sick but for some reason I could not stay horizontal until I found some meds. The duty free shop on board also provided me with my brand new FauxPro (it’s actually called a KitVision but I like my term better). I was excited to use it for the remainder of my Eurotrip…

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Nottingham

October 13-14, 2015

October 13

The day started off on the plane. A 7-hour flight on October 12 meant we would arrive in London the next day, October 13. I’ve never visited family anywhere other than Canada or Malaysia so having family in the UK is mind-blowing to me.

My dad arranged for a taxi to pick us up from the airport and take us straight to King’s Cross Station. The taxi driver was a sweet man from Poland who had the funniest GPS ever. “Turn left and make fun of all of the pedestrians walking while you’re in the car!” Driving in London is crazy – it’s almost equivalent to driving in Bangkok. Once at King’s Cross Station we grabbed some delicious sandwiches for around £1.50, approximately $3.00 CDN – still cheaper than sandwiches in Canada.

Train stations in the UK are very different from what I’m used to at the GO Station.

Our train took us to Loughborough, pronounced “Loughborough” and we arrived at Platform 1. The station attendant told us the train to Nottingham was at Platform 2, all the way on the other side of the tracks. This meant we had to take an elevator up 1 flight, across the bridge above the tracks, and down 1 flight (because we had our suitcases). Turns out after all of that moving we missed the train and had to head back to Platform 1.  Arriving in Nottingham soon we tried to contact my Uncle Richard, however, we didn’t know how to dial out to the United Kingdom from my phone so we figured we would find the only half Chinese man looking for family… it worked.

It’s really interesting to have family in the UK. All my life I’ve only known family in Canada or Malaysia. Having family with a British accent is pretty damn cool. As soon as I showed up at my Great Aunt’s house she brought out an old family photo from 1999 (that I very much ruined with my new Kiwi Green Game Boy Color…)

After a super tiring journey I napped on the couch while my parents caught up. For dinner we ate a Chinese restaurant, London-style, and I got to meet my cousins, Charlotte and Sam.

Dinner-time and then time for bed. My mom booked us at the P&J Hotel, the most quaint hotel you could ever imagine. Clean but freezing at night – I felt like I was camping.

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October 14

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Today was our first real adventure day. The public transit in Nottingham is £3.50 for a day-pass and super-easy to take (take notes Mississauga Transit and TTC…). After eating breakfast at the mall we headed back to the hotel to check out and then back to town to explore. We found a Poundland, aka Dollarama! We also visited Nottingham Castle and saw the statue of Robin Hood.

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Nottingham is the cutest little university town. It reminds me a lot of Waterloo – not too busy, not too quiet, juuuuuuuust right. I’ll definitely have to go back and visit and now that I know I have family there, I’ll have more excuses to. I wish we had more time in Nottingham. Although it’s a small city there was so much to do and explore. It also would’ve been nice to spend more time with my family.

Uncle Richard drove us to his house for some tea (because England) and then the Nottingham Station so we could head back to London where our adventure continued…

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