May 24, 2014
I woke up in London today and prepared to say some of my last goodbyes. I dressed quickly and met the last remnants of our group downstairs: Pat, Kieran, Shandi & Chantelle. We had a breakfast that was over far too quickly for my liking, and then bid Chantelle goodbye at the Contiki basement. Then, Pat and I walked Kieran and Shandi back to the lobby of the Royal National Hotel, where it all began, to say our goodbyes.
Shandi and I couldn’t keep it together. We cried like babies and went back for at least five different hugs. I don’t always bond with other girls easily, and Shandi and I had had an instant connection. It was devastating to say goodbye to her, but I know that my future travels will take me to Canada to see her someday. Kieran was next and was just as hard to say goodbye to. I cried and gripped my big teddy bear as hard as I could and made him promise that this was only “see you later.”
Then, it was over. I cried some more as Pat and I stood in the lobby, watching the very last of our tour group walk out the lobby doors and out of sight.
Our Contiki trip was officially over, but Pat and I still had 24 hours of adventure left, so we headed out to make the most of it in London. We started at King’s Cross Station (on my request – I’ll never not be a Harry Potter nerd), and then made our way to Westminster Abbey, as well as to the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels. We got caught in a massive, but short-lived, downpour, so we huddled under a waffle cart umbrella and munched on waffles topped with strawberries, ice cream and Nutella. I think this was my favorite part of the day!
Finally, we got to go on our first real date. As much as I adored the group, it was nice to spend time with Pat on my own and wander the city with him. He humored me by agreeing to go to a Mexican Restaurant in Covent Garden, because I just couldn’t take another day without guacamole. I have a problem.
The rest of the night was spent attempting to pack the insane amount of souvenirs I had acquired, and preparing for my long journey home.
May 25, 2014
This morning I woke up with a heavy heart. My adventure was officially coming to an end today.
I grabbed my things and left my very last hotel room. Then, Pat and I made a quiet trip to London Heathrow Airport on the Underground. It felt odd to be returning here in tears, to the very place I had been so excited to set foot in 24 days ago.
I checked in (Pat stayed at the airport with me even though my flight was in the morning and his wasn’t until nearly evening), and then had a rushed breakfast which I couldn’t really stomach. All too soon, I was standing at security, saying a tearful and difficult goodbye to Pat. This was without a doubt the hardest goodbye of all, and at this point, I had no idea that I would be seeing him again only a week later. Finally, we’d had enough tears and I passed through the security line.
There’s nothing much to say about this day, because I boarded a flight and finally returned home. The flight was fine, the food was fine, the movies were fine. But after 24 days of adventure, everything seemed very dull, like I was looking through blurry glasses. I passed the time by reflecting on the amazing things I’d seen, tasted and experienced in the last few weeks. As hard as I tried though, I could barely name or even picture some of the landmarks I’d seen along the way. That was the moment I realized that I would be forever changed by this experience, but it wasn’t Europe that had changed me. It was the amazing and incredible people I’d met, and how they’d contributed to making every moment a memory.
The fact was, I hadn’t just seen the Eiffel Tower, been to the top of Mt. Pilatus, and tossed a coin into the Trevi Fountain. I had lost my breath catching sight of the Eiffel Tower for the first time while giggling with Emily, and I had gazed out over Lucerne from the top of Mt. Pilatus while laughing and joking with the Canada boys, and I had made a wish for a bright future sitting side-by-side with Pat on the edge of the Trevi. I shared coffee and stories with a gorgeous stranger in London, whisked across the dance floor with Jon Snow at the Moulin Rouge in Paris, and ran off the side of a mountain in Austria to the tune of Shandi’s shrieks as she soared through the air while paragliding. I shed tears over the horrors of our past at Dachau and Anne Frank House while walking hand-in-hand with Pat, and laughed so hard I could barely breathe because of a joke Dicky cracked after a tipsy night in Amsterdam. I sipped a 16€ whiskey while gambling at the Monte Carlo with Tommy, and clinked glasses a million times over in ten different countries with once-strangers who became my brothers and sisters over the course of 24 days.
For all of those memories, my life is infinitely more rich. I spent a fair amount of money on this trip, but as I look back, there wasn’t a single second that wasn’t worth every penny. The friendships and memories made will undoubtedly be with me for a lifetime, and there hasn’t been a day that’s passed since I got home that I don’t smile thinking about the most amazing 24 days of my life, and the greatest people I’ll never forget. #NoRegrets
Next Up: Contiki in a Nutshell: Know Before You Go
Check out my other Contiki posts:
Introduction: An American Girl in Europe
Day 1: Oh hey, London
Day 2: Bonjour, Paris!
Day 3: Parisian Adventures
Day 4: Lookin’ Good, Switzerland
Day 5: All Things Swiss
Day 6: Switzerland, Italy, France…oh my!
Day 7: Bond. James Bond.
Day 8: Buongiorno Italia!
Day 9: When in Rome
Day 10: That’s Amore
Day 11: Vatican City to Venice
Day 12: The Last Italian Adventure
Day 13: Hop-fer-gerten
Day 14: Soaring Over Austria
Day 15: München
Day 16: Bittersweet Symphonies
Day 17: Vienna to Prague
Day 18: Ahoj, Prague!
Day 19: St. Goar, Rhine Valley
Day 20: Amsterdamage
Day 21: Even more Amsterdamage
Day 22: Back to the Start
Day 23/24: The End of a Great Adventure
Contiki in a Nutshell: Know Before You Go
Contiki: What Should I Pack?