Volume 94, Issue 84

Thursday, March 1, 2001


Swapping stories by the Seine

Swapping stories by the Seine

By Monique Beech
Gazette Writer


All the months of careful planning and preparation have culminated to bring me to this triumphant moment. I am standing on European soil. After consulting Lesley Boughen, Information Services Executive for the British Tourist Authority, I decided to begin my adventure in London, England.

Boughen described the city as diverse with so much to offer the budget traveller. She suggested I begin my journey during the warmer spring months, which would allow me to move around the city with relative ease and enable me to view the English capital's luscious gardens.

Choosing a departure month was merely the beginning of the organizational tasks at hand in preparing my European adventure. In terms of advance planning, Travel Cuts consultant Felicia Morris advised me to try and anticipate how much I was going to spend on a daily basis. "Plan on spending at least $60 a day – don't go with less than that," she said.

In order to plan the best possible trip, Morris recommended I do my research through local libraries, tourist offices, and Web sites to avoid potential culture shock upon arrival.

Now that I had finally fulfilled my dream, I was left with the practical task of finding the subway, or "the tube" as it's known to the British, and navigating my way to the hostel I had pre-booked. Emerging from the darkness of the underground, I began to walk with my cherished pack, that was initially worn with confidence and pride and that now felt like a small elephant on my back.

Narrowly averting death from failing to look right instead of left, I found my hostel. Taking Boughen's advice, I had book accommodations in the Kensington area which she described as having a "young atmosphere with lots of pubs, [bed and breakfast establishments] and hostels."

Although the area was great, the hostel I had selected on my own accord was less than desirable. At $45 a night, my money could have been better spent renting a bench in Kensington Park. The mattresses were stained with centuries of travellers' sweat and the bathrooms had seemingly not been scrubbed since Queen Elizabeth I took the throne. Hungry for a sight to ease my first European experience, I headed to an institution wherein all Brits take solace and refuge – the pub.


Boarding a plane in London with the inscription "Call 1-800-EASYJET" smeared across both sides did not put my mind at ease for the journey ahead. After thanking heaven for my safe arrival, I surveyed the landscape around me as I was about to embark on the BusAbout leg of my journey.

I heard about BusAbout, a hop-on/hop-off flat rate bus service, when I was planning my trip. Unable to decide whether I wanted to travel independently or in a group setting during my winter preparations, I had attended an information session hosted by Travel Cuts to gain a better understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of both methods when exploring Europe.

According to Petra Dearden, Travel Cuts consultant, independent travel offers tourists the ability to make their own decisions regarding all the details of their journey, including where to go, stay and eat.

One of the best modes of transport for those who want to experience independent travel is the Eurorail, a train system that stretches all over the continent. It offers an assortment of rail passes which meet the needs of every budget traveler, Petra said.

And if independant travel isn't your thing, group travel offers the tourist personal security and a chance to see a smorgasbord of cities. This is a bonus for those with strict time and budget constraints. Upon investigation, Contiki tours was the company consistently referred to me by many travel agents. Contiki offers affordable camping style tours for individuals age 18-35.

A compromise between independent and group travel is struck by choosing companies such as BusAbout, which enables the tourist the comfort and security of a guided tour, with the flexibility of independent travel.

I decided to travel with BusAbout and agreed with fourth-year administrative and commercial studies student, Jen Wickens, who discovered that the service was very inclusive. "It was more extensive than I had thought – it goes all over Europe."


The ferry, included as part of my package tour through BusAbout, finally docked in Venice, Italy after three days at sea from Patras, Greece.

My travelling partner and I, led by Daniel, our Australian guide at the time, trudged our way from the port to find the bus station. Luckily, Daniel knew precisely where he was taking us – into the middle of nowhere.

We caught the wrong bus and ended up in the middle of the countryside. After another bus change and a half hour wait, we finally caught the correct line to Camping Fusina, where we pitched our tents.

The next morning I awoke early, anxious to wander the alleyways of Venice and discover its mysteries. Before departing, I had been told by Lindsey Cole, a fourth-year honours business administration student, who had spent four months on exchange in Europe, that Venice was the most beautiful and romantic city in Europe.

The scenes of the day are still vivid in my mind; laundry hanging from lines in between red brick buildings with green shutters, watching the gondolas glide down the canal streets, enjoying a homemade Italian pizza for the first time, and being yelled at by the owner in Italian for bringing our own bottled water.


Was Rome built in a day? Even if it wasn't assembled within 24 hours, the city's main sights can be surveyed in one jam-packed day. The endurance required to survive the 12 hours necessary to view all of Rome is draining, but definitely worthwhile.

The first stop on our sight seeing tour fulfilled a long time dream of mine – being inside the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. I was overwhelmed with awe and admiration of its enormously beautiful ceiling.

At the Coliseum, we caught the tail end of a guided tour that explained all the traditions of the building in its prime. The Pantheon, one of the best-preserved buildings in Rome, is not an overly impressive structure from the outside, however, the site is worth the trek just to visit Leonardo Da Vinci's burial plot.


By this point in the journey my tales were growing exponentially. However, all my adventures would come to a romantic end in the city of lights – Paris. I had one of my first reality checks of the trip standing atop the Eiffel Tower where I was told that if I look Northwest, I was looking towards Toronto. Ironically, Canada seems to be the strange and foreign place to me after three months abroad.

Soon it would be time to return to London and then return to Canada on a flight that would mark the end of my adventure. Having looked at the status of my bank account in Paris, I was grateful I had decided on a discounted student flight before departing.

One of the travel agents I had spoken with had informed me that students with International Student Identity Cards, and individuals under age 25 in possession of a Gold 25 Card, can get special discounts and flexible departure/return times that are not the norm on most international flights.

Trying to push the thought of my pending flight aside, I spent my last few days in Europe mainly enjoying the restaurants and cafés of the Latin Quarter. Two days before my departure, I visited the Charles de Gaulle, the major roundabout in the city, where I was told an accident occurs every 8 minutes. As an experiment I sat there watching traffic for 10 minutes but to no avail. Standing beneath the Arc de Triomphe, where the French gather to celebrate their victories, I celebrated a private accomplishment of my own – I made it to Paris!

London and Paris photos by Matt Pearson, Venice photo by Monique Beech

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