Travelling Europe in 2015 (Pt. 4): Contiki's Chateau de Cruix



 

You could feel the excitement throughout the coach. With costumes ready to go (for the most part), the group was amped to arrive at the legendary Contiki Chateau de Cruix (located just outside Lyon, the second-largest city in France, in the Beaujolais Wine Region) and enjoy what we were promised would be a night we might not remember, but that we would never forget. From chatting with a few of my friends who had done similar tours in the past, one thing was sure: the Chateau was easily one of their favourite stops. Even from the pictures on the Contiki website, it looked as though we were in for something special at the first of our Contiki Special Stopovers (a location owned and operated by the Contiki staff). From what we could see, the 17th-century mansion was precisely how you might dream to spend your time in the French countryside if you had millions of dollars to unload on a vacation - and here we were, getting ready to experience it all on a budget tour with a whole crew of travellers.

We left Paris early in the morning after a standard continental breakfast of toast, cereal and fruit and set out on the road to the small French region of Thieze, which is where the next stop was located. Along the way, as the city fell away behind us, we were treated to epic views along the highway of rolling hills and sprawling vineyards that were almost too extravagant and picture-perfect to be real (that is of course in between naps, which were becoming more frequent as we all got a little more comfortable on the coach). Paris had offered up an incredible experience, with breath-taking historical sights and an exhilarating nightlife that served as a perfect icebreaker for our Contiki crew, but part of me was excited to get a bit of reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the big city. This way, we could get some rest and relaxation - while hard-partying still of course - until it was time to jump back into the fray of things when we travelled to Barcelona in just a few days.


Now that we had been properly acquainted with each other and with Contiki during the past three days (primarily through the first two hard-drinking nights), it was time for James and Kate to reveal to us our official Contiki day song and wake-up song. A staple of every Contiki tour, these songs were selected by our tour manager and coach driver before leaving London - the day song was meant as a pump-up jam exclusive to our crew while the wake-up song was exactly that, a song they would play on the coach to wake everyone up from their uncomfortable naps as we approached a destination. As James explained, while they could’ve chosen a typical day song, like “The Nights” by Avicii (which was so incredibly popular at this point in the summer, and rather perfect for the type of adventure we were on), he wanted us to have something that was far more unique and personal (especially most other Contiki tours that summer would - and did - pick that very song for themselves).


Instead, he chose for us “I’m A Dreamer” by Diafrix, a unique mixture of dance, hip hop and rap with inspirational lyrics that spoke far deeper to the motivations I had for taking this trip in the first place - and a less-polished vibe that, for better or worse, would represent our crew much better than a overproduced pop track. As for the wake-up song, they chose the aptly named “Wake Up” by NF - this haunting track had a slow build and culminated in the singer screaming the song’s title over and over again as a chorus (which would wake you up whether you liked it or not). However, it didn’t take long for these tunes and their catchy lyrics to become firmly implanted on my brain (and no matter how many times I heard them, I couldn’t help but sing along) - to this day in fact, I still use the wake-up song as a nostalgic alarm tone on my cell phone, while the day song is now a permanent fixture on nearly all of my playlists.

Our first stopover on what became a daylong journey was... (I'm still looking up the name of this small town - can't remember for the life of me). Regardless, we decided to use this opportunity to grab some snacks for the rest of the trip while stocking up on last-minute supplies to help usher in the "P" Party (where we'd all be dressing up in costumes that represented things starting with the aforementioned letter - outfits which many people had still yet to finalize). Kate pulled the coach over to the side of a long, winding street beautifully shaded by dozens of overhanging tree branches and flanked by a high stone wall that corralled us directly into the centre of town, where a small cluster of shops were waiting to be raided.



Since most of us had just woken up from various stages of napping, our walk into town was definitely slow-moving, but at least it offered up an appealing scenic view - the quaint little village was a charming portrait of small-scale French life, with delightful little cafes and locals milling about on the rusting patio furniture, enjoying their morning coffees as they conversed about the daily happenings (and likely complaining about the sudden disruption that 50 foreign tourists had just caused by walking into town). Either I was still waking up, or I was too enthralled by the scenery because I got slightly turned around, wandering away from the crew and following a stranger into the main floor of a department store. Once I realized my mistake, I quickly put my navigational skills into high gear and was able to locate the rest of the gang in an upstairs supermarket (much to my relief - I wasn’t going to let myself get lost and left behind this early on). After searching the shelves for a few minutes, I grabbed myself some Jameson whiskey - something I hadn't been able to have much of since arriving in Europe. Besides beer and rum, the Australians seemed to gravitate more towards vodka, which was something I'm not a huge fan of, but that I was more than willing to take part in when it was available. Needless to say though, I was excited to have the Jameson with me now.


As always with any of our stops, we were given a time to meet back up at the coach - and though it’s usually a pretty reasonable and slightly flexible deadline, our tour manager was unquestionably clear about the consequences of being unforgivably late. With the threat of missing out on any part of the tour firmly planted in our minds, the group was developing a solid track record for being on-time - that is, save for this particular moment. Most of us were able to race back with our bottles and snacks from the supermarket quite quickly, but with several people lagging, we ended up having to wait at least an extra half hour on the side of the road (James may have talked a big game, but he wasn’t strict enough to abandon people on the first infraction). After a pretty solid lecture though, we understood from that point on that any man who fell behind, was left behind.


Since the drive was so long this time around, we also made a quick stop for lunch at a rest station somewhere along the way (it was surprising how hungry you could get sitting still on a coach for hours at-a-time). The place was pretty standard, so you might ask why I’m mentioning it at all, but what made this particular rest stop notable wasn’t the large rotunda-style seating area or the delicious food - it was once again good ol’ TJ (whose antics we first learned about back in Paris). The process to get food was sort of like a glorified cafeteria - you loaded up your tray with whatever you wanted from the available options, then headed over to the cash to pay up. The rest of our Contiki crew didn’t seem to have any issues, but TJ was once again marching to the beat of his own drum (he had had a few “libations” back on the coach that were slowing him down). With the cashier having gone behind the kitchen for a quick second, TJ took his tray right through to a table where he sat down and started eating - it wasn’t until he was done his meal though and we were all outside on the patio that we started paying attention and cluing into what he’d done. Needless to say, we were laughing quite sometime before we realized we should probably hit the road - and quickly.



As we finally exited the busy highway and started winding our massive through the quiet back roads towards the Chateau, which was nestled far away in the countryside, we were treated to views of vibrant green bluffs that stretched far beyond the horizon (punctuated by an immersive low-hanging fog that funnelled through the hills) and sweeping vineyards housing long lines of twisted grapevines (meaning that there were likely barrels and crates full of wine waiting for us). In between these natural wonders were old-fashioned, brickwork cottages and few more charmingly small French villages - a cozy atmosphere that I’m certain was not overly appreciative of our disruption. Once our already noisy coach got stuck several times while steering around the area’s many scattered, small roundabouts, I knew that we were probably an unwelcome presence in these parts, but there was no denying the apologetic appreciation our crew had for this stunning landscape as we approached our destination.




Our tour manager James jumped on the mic to point out our home for the next two nights, which was now visible over the hills in the distance - and it looked just as epic as the pictures I looked up on Google a few days prior. It was exactly what you might imagine of something called a Chateau - the extravagant mansion looked like somewhere a supremely wealthy family from Downton Abbey might summer, with every inch of the pearly white, yet aged stucco facade perfectly embellished in a way that just screamed money. Along the backside of the Chateau was a sizable veranda and seating area, which lead to what looked like a former chapel and mini bell tower at the far end of the property, and which overlooked a large backyard below, complete with a decent size swimming pool. And even though, as your drive up to the heavy wooden gates and see this Contiki haven in all its splendour, you could easily see yourself lazily wasting your days away by the water, something about spending the last few days with this crew made me think we weren't going to be "relaxing" per se.

Before we got arrived, we were told of the traditional "stitch-up" that each Contiki group would perform against the onsite Contiki staff when they arrived at each location - and we got to work deciding what ours would be. We quickly learned that we weren't a very creative bunch and James just had to end up giving us the idea - clap each time the onsite said a certain word, "um." This one was definitely a laugh, but I promise we got better as the trip went on. We didn’t have to wait long for this somewhat disappointing prank to be thrown from our memory - one of the first on sites to great us after unloading the bags from the coach was Baxter, the Chateau's resident Golden Retriever (who has his own Instagram feed if you want to meet him). This ageing but lovable and adorable dog wasn't shy around large groups of new people (I'm assuming he was used to it by this point) and was more than happy to be pet and cuddled, giving everyone a nice taste of home-away-from-home.


After loading off the coach and directing Kate as she backed the couch around an awkward turn to park in the courtyard around the backside of the Chateau, we pulled the bags out of the underhold and quickly connected with James to grab our room keys (which, in a place this ancient were actual metal keys instead of cards or something else a little more contemporary). We entered the building’s back door and headed up the Chateau’s grand central staircase to the upper floors to check out our accommodations for the next couple of days. The inside of the Chateau was easily just as impressive as the exterior, with dark wood panels, crooked wall sconces, creaky steps, cloudy stained-glass windows and dusty fireplaces. Overall, this place was slightly reminiscent of a haunted house - the scariest part, however, was the hallway just at beyond the entrances to most of the bedrooms, which snaked around a dark corner and up another short set of stairs into the pitch black unknown (we guessed this led to the Chateau’s bell tower at the other end). Lucy and Trent, one of our Contiki couples, happened to have their bedroom located down this way - and while they said there was nothing there that gave them any reason to be scared, many of us were waiting for something freaky to rear its ugly head around that corner at any moment.


Being that the Chateau was once a private mansion, some groups (like the guys located across our hall) were treated to spacious rooms with their own fireplaces and more than enough room to move around - others were not so lucky, including my group. I’m assuming that the room we ended up in had once been a closet or a bathroom, given how tiny it was - there was barely any room for our bags next to the two sets of bunk beds that took up the majority of the space. This wouldn't have been a serious issue if we hadn't been rooming with Sean, who was easily one of the tallest guys on the tour (and just, in general). Our accommodations also shared a few things with the rooms on either side of us, including a small vestibule that served as an entry point for three different rooms as well as a small opening in the wall located right next to my pillow that led into the adjacent room - we only discovered this trap door when Travis poked his head through to say hello (which was understandably shocking). At the very least, we were located close to the bathrooms, which were just across the hall and, despite being shared between both the guys and girls, there were enough sinks, stalls and showers to service just about everyone.


These issues seemed minor however once we finally saw the view from our room’s window. Not only did our room enjoy a huge balcony that stretched along the entire face of the Chateau, but it also backed onto the massive expanse beyond the property line where we could see for miles and miles. Between where we stood and out towards the horizon, the picturesque hills and patchwork vineyards looked more like a painting than real life, and we could just see a faint glimpse of the city of Lyon in the distance. Not only was the city an economic centre, housing several pharmaceutical and technology industry leaders, but it also was widely regarded for its top-notch cuisine, its historical landmarks and its contributions to the global cinematic industry - despite how close we were, however, and how intriguing the city would no doubt be to visit, a far-away vista would have to suffice this time around. And regardless, the city only helped to make the view that much more incredible. It was the kind of thing that didn't seem to exist back home, so it was nice to soak in the experience for a few quiet minutes (and snap a few photos) while you pinched yourself, unable to believe you were actually standing there looking at something so remarkable.

Once we settled into our rooms, we met up back downstairs and were taken around the back of the property, past low, crumbling, stone brick walls and row-upon-row of grapevines towards a large, barn-like structure where we'd be treated to a wine tasting and expert winemaking demonstration (complete with all kinds of delicious cheeses). From our experience at the Parisian dinner, it was pretty evident that most people on the trip didn't much care for wine - but coming from an Italian family, I was more than used to a few glasses with dinner, and more than excited to see how it all came together from the grapevine to the dinner table. We piled through the giant wooden doors into the barn, and I braced myself for an elegant pre-dinner experience alongside my Contiki mates.


Not only did we get to taste delicious wine, but the on-site staff really knew their stuff, sharing with us a ton of history about the Beaujolais Wine Region and carrying us through every minute detail of the winemaking process (using Nathan’s “family jewels” as a suitably hilarious metaphor for the grapes). All of this took place around a wooden table at the centre of the barn, in the midst of an overwhelmingly authentic atmosphere - large, worn-out barrels covered every square inch of the building’s four walls, the weathered, concrete floor was buried under straw and broken vine and the air was drenched in the thick, pungent smell of wine and alcohol. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to meet the local gentleman who owned the property and who’d been making great wine here for what was apparently decades, but the experience was made epic nonetheless as the staff let us drink our wine inside one of the giant, empty casks lining the back wall (which had been retrofitted with benches and a table). After all was said and done, they even gave us the opportunity to buy some bottles of wine that we could have delivered back home. Some people decided to grab a few bottles for themselves, but I wasn’t looking to spend any cash where I didn’t need to, so instead I headed back towards the Chateau with the majority of the group to finish unpacking and to prep for the wild night ahead.

While we waited for dinner to be served, we wasted no time heading straight to the main floor bar for drinks - and since this was the only room with any real Wi-Fi connection, it was clear that this tiny room would be jammed with people for most of our stay at the Chateau (when the room was closed for the off-hours, you could be sure to find several people setting up camp on the floor outside the door, desperate to get online). “Bar” may also be a lofty term though, since the space looked more like a simple living room than anything else (including a dated PC where people could use pay-per-use Internet) and there wasn’t much up for grabs except beer, coolers, chocolate bars and chips (which were kept behind an old-timey bar top covered in dust, brass and glass, with payment being collected through a money box). I wasn’t about to complain, however, especially because we could enjoy our simple drinks as we chilled in the Chateau's backyard and took in the fantastic view. We dragged a few of the scattered lawn chairs past the pool and over to the back fence and, for a few moments of pure bliss, we laid back, sat quietly and sipped our Coronas as we finally came to terms with how lucky we were to be there in that moment.



Once we heard the call for dinner though, we piled inside the dining room - a rather regal room on the main floor of the Chateau complete with gold-plated wall decorations and massive French doors leading out to the backyard veranda - and what we were treated to was beyond amazing. Not that the food we had been eating so far was terrible, but this buffet-style meal was easily the best yet - full racks of ribs, potatoes, French onion soup, you name it! There was something about these Contiki Special Stopovers (as we'd learn throughout the rest of the trip) that genuinely was "special" - it was clear just how much the onsite staff were committed to making sure we had a great time during our stay and, with delicious home-cooked meals like this one, I can safely say they were doing an amazing job.


This dinner was my first real conversation with Shahleen, one of the other Canadians from our tour (and now a close friend). As a solo traveller this early on in the journey, meals and coach trips are a perfect opportunity to get to know individual people one-on-one, so at least for the first few stops, I tried to switch up who you interact with at each meal or coach trip. Shah was right in the middle of finishing up her studies at university and decided her next steps, so we had no trouble finding things to talk about when it came to school (eventually conversations across the board with this crew would become a lot less cerebral and wholesome as we visited more places and drank more alcohol).

As dinner wrapped up and we helped pile up our plates in the kitchen for the onsites to clean, we all went our separate ways to get our costumes prepped for the "P" Party. We may not have been able to come up with a great stitch up on our own, but the crew definitely brought out the creativity when they knew a party was involved. From Power Rangers to pimps, Parisians to prostitutes, postcards to pajamas, this was easily better than any Halloween party I'd been at in recent years. Once again, the Contiki crew did not disappoint - it was great to see every last person getting involved because, no matter how ridiculous or crazy we may have looked, we got to look like it together (and soon enough, it would be too blurry to even care). Like I mentioned in my Paris blog, I luckily didn't have to think long about my costume since I already had something in my bag that would work - my Spiderman shirt! I put the shirt underneath some regular clothes and called myself Peter Parker. The only thing I was missing was glasses, and even though Bastian was kind enough to offer up his actual glasses for my costume, I didn't want to run the risk of breaking them.



As everyone was getting ready and putting their costumes together (and getting much louder and rowdier than ever before), I took some time just to take a breath and chill out on the Chateau balcony - and even though, like I’d said earlier, the view from this spot was pretty epic during the day, the nighttime view was just as breathtaking. Even though there weren’t any more colours at this time of night, the lights from all the small villages around us were popping up in the distance, culminating in the bright lights of Lyon cresting at the horizon. And as much as I was ready to party, part of me would’ve been just as happy spending all night up there, just enjoying a beer and laughing with my new friends. Realistically though, there was no way that was going to happen, especially on tonight of all nights. Slowly, one-by-one, our costumed Contiki crew started meeting up on the back veranda, eagerly waiting for the night to get started. The main floor bar had closed around dinner time, so we were becoming dangerously lucid and sober (unfortunately I had completely forgotten about the bottle of whiskey I’d picked up earlier in the day).


But thankfully, before we knew it, the "P" Party began. One of the onsites invited us inside and led us to a door around the back of the kitchen, which opened up into a spiral staircase that looked like something out of a horror movie. Down and down it went until you finally walked out into The Cave, the Chateau’s in-house bar and dance club (which at one point seemed to be the mansion's cellar, though there were rumours that it had actually been a morgue of some kind for a turn-of-the-century hospital, making it all the eerier). The party space was pretty straightforward in its layout, with the bar and standing tables in one direction and a small, laser-lit dancefloor on the opposite side (all encased by bare, stone grey walls that legitimately made it look like we were in a cave). In fact, there weren’t even any bathrooms down here - you either had to head all the way back up to the top floors to use the toilets by the bedrooms or, if you had been lucky enough to locate it earlier in the day, the hidden Harry Potter toilet in a cupboard under the main staircase. But even though the only drinks on the menu were still just beers and coolers, they were good enough to make sure we were all having a great time (plus who doesn’t like trying to earn free glowsticks by tossing your one-Euro tip into a bucket behind the bar).


I wish I could recall every single little thing that happened during the "P" Party, but I'm not even going to pretend like that's possible - with so much happening not only in The Cave, but all over the Chateau, there's no way I can do that on my own, but I'll do my best! Fun fact - this night was actually Sean's birthday and, to celebrate, we attached a pair of handcuffs to his wrists and a GoPro to his forehead. I don't think anyone has actually seen this footage just yet, but it would definitely do the night more justice than I can do in this travel journal. Once we got used to the dark and dingy atmosphere of the bar, all we were concerned with was having a good time (the copious amount of alcohol probably help in this regard). The onsites told us that typically there are two or three Contiki groups in The Cave having their party nights at the same time - but judging by the size of the space and how, with only 44 of us, our crew took up nearly every square inch, it was more than a relief to be the only ones there that night. Any more people down there and we it would've been next to impossible to move around or, you know, breathe.


After what felt like hours and hours of dancing (most of which we were treated to by scantily dressed Aussies Chris, Jayden and Brenno), great music and good times, the crowd started to thin out a bit as people made their way around the Chateau to get a bit of air after being underground for so long. As we stumbled around the outside veranda, Gaby and Alice (the two pimps - complete with full fur jackets) decided to ignore the warning signs around the pool and instead run some laps around the edge. What happened next was enough to sober me up pretty quickly. As they ran into each on the opposite side of the pool, Gaby started her leap into the water, only to have Alice grab her arm in mid-flight. From the perspective of everyone standing back towards the Chateau, it looked as though Gaby crash-landed into the concrete side of the pool and...well, that was the end. Several people rushed over to the water and helped her out, asking her over and over if she was okay. Judging by the confused look on her face, she had no idea what it all looked like from our end. If you talk to Gaby about this night, she still insists the best part was the warm shower she took after it was all done. The cherry on top of all of this was Dan and TJ deciding that they wanted in on the action and jumping into the freezing cold water (which I'm assuming they instantly regretted).

The night wore on and, as some of the crew took over the other floors of the Chateau, more and more of us started to make our way back down to The Cave (whether for more drinks or more music). Slowly but surely, we were warned that the bar would be closing around 2 am and, with less than ten minutes left, the on-sites rudely decided to play "See You Again" - a song that's known for being emotional as all hell. But, even by this first week of the tour, we had become so close that we linked shoulders and sang along altogether at the top of our lungs. It was a great moment with these new friends (one of my favourites from the trip), of which there'd be many more to come.

Even though The Cave had now closed its doors, no one was ready to call it a night (something I very much appreciated). Most of us hung out in the backyard for nearly an hour or so longer, still in our costumes, no longer drinking but just enjoying each other's company as we chilled out on the lounge chairs we’d had dragged there from the pool earlier in the day (one trip member even treated me to a thirty-minute long retelling of Australia's entire history). It was great to just chill out under the stars after what was seriously an action-packed night. With rumours of ghosts running rampant around the centuries-old Chateau, a group of us thought it would be a great idea to sleep outside (I'm still not sure why...). A dozen or so people grabbed their sleeping gear and went down onto the lawn chairs to sleep, while Reece, Mel (covered in a cape), Gaby (hiding underneath her fur coat), Dan and myself decided to set up camp on the patio furniture (which was now extra uncomfortable given the fact that the onsite staff had removed the cushions that had been there during the day, meaning we would sleeping on stiff wicker). It appeared that the night that seemed to go on and on was finally coming to a confusing but comfortable end.



When I woke up around 6 am the next morning, needless to say, I was a little surprised to be outside and freezing cold - but, as the night's events flooded back to me, it started to make more sense. I slowly got myself together, headed back upstairs to my room to drop off my sleeping bag (along the way passing an incapacitated TJ on the couch in the lobby) and, while everyone was still asleep, I snuck out the front gates for an early morning run slash walk slash jog. I have never experienced such an epic stretch of cardio in my life - the scenery was so incredible that I could hardly believe my eyes and my purposefully inspirational music only added to the epicness of the moment (if you haven’t tried working out to movie score, then you are missing out big time - try Two Steps From Hell, and you’ll know what I mean). I didn’t go very far, but just by clearing the two or three houses that surrounded the Chateau, there were no more stone fences blocking my view - instead, I was now treated miles of natural beauty, with the very early morning fog hovering over the green, rolling hills of the French countryside, a gentle breeze swaying the tall grasses and a fine layer of dew perfectly reflecting the sunrise, making it appear like the entire landscape was glittering brightly.


After about an hour of sweating it out, I returned to the Chateau to find that people were only just starting to drag themselves out of bed and downstairs for breakfast (luckily, I was just early enough to beat the majority of them to the showers). It took a while with everyone still exhausted from the night before, but eventually everyone was able to make their way downstairs to the veranda, where we all exchanged war stories from the previous night’s debauchery as we waited to enter the dining room (this included TJ, who I now realized had demolished his ankle during the previous night’s excitement around the pool, making that his second injury of the tour already after his shoulder incident in Paris). Following one of the most delicious meals of the entire tour (which included a schmorgus board menu of bacon, eggs and hash browns), we got together in the lobby as the on-sites gave us some materials for an afternoon picnic in the French countryside. Our groups, each of which had been predetermined along with our rooming assignments back on the coach during our drive to the Chateau, waited as the staff distributed baskets filled with blankets, fresh bread, cured meats, scrumptious cheeses and colourful fruits, as well as a map that, if followed correctly, would take us up into the hills towards the area’s highest point of altitude (which promised unmatched and incredible 360-degree views).



However, with most people suffering through minor and major hangovers and the prospect of having to hike up a mountain for nearly two hours just to get a decent picnic spot, our group decided to jump on the free lawn chairs and enjoy our delicious picnic lunch right in the Chateau's backyard. As the weather got better and better throughout the day, and the temperature continued to rise, the party moved to over to the nearby pool, where I laid with my feet in the water for nearly two hours and used the downtime to chat with some members of our Contiki crew that I had yet to make a connection with. Slowly and one-by-one, the other groups started to return from their hike, but we could tell by the looks on their faces that we had made the right choice in staying behind. From how they described it, their journeys up into the hills to find the Contiki picnic spot had offered up quite the show for lunch, but it really hadn’t been that different from the view right in the Chateau’s backyard, and given how sweaty and gross they all now were due to the drastic heat and the exhausting inclines, it was clear that the experience hadn’t been overly worth it considering the alternative.


People were quick to grab their swim gear and grab a spot poolside, eager to make the most of exceptionally beautiful and warm weather - so I figured I should probably do the same (sitting around and chatting by the edge of the pool didn’t retain its entertainment value for very long). I quickly got changed into my swim trunks, grabbed my beach towel and parked myself on concrete next to Gaby, where we shared in a tin of Pringles as we soaked up the rays. Eventually, it got hot enough that we decided it was time to head into the pool. The water felt fairly cool to the touch, but I just figured it was something we could get used to once we jumped in. After executing a nearly perfect, Olympic-level dive (not to talk myself up or anything), I quickly realized that the water wasn’t refreshing at all though - instead, it was colder than ice. Not wanting to be a popsicle any time soon, I decided my time was better spent out on dry land for the rest of our day at the Chateau.


A few more hours of lazily napping around the pool in the beating hot sun and, before we knew it, dinnertime was almost upon us, so I made my way upstairs to shower off - it only took a couple of minutes however to realize that something was terribly wrong. Looking down at my legs, I saw bright red radiating from my skin - not only were my knees incredibly burnt, but the inside half of my legs were also singed, creating a definitive line down the middle front of my legs (for some reason, despite my paleness, I didn’t think it necessary to put on any sunscreen). Let's just say that when I debuted these masterpieces to the crew downstairs, it was something I wouldn't be living down for a very long while (I still hear about it to this day). With at least another hour until dinner was served, a group of us decided just to relax and throw stories around on the Chateau’s backyard veranda - but with my energy drained from the likely second-degree burns, I hopped over to an empty couch underneath an umbrella on the other side where I tried to nap as I still half-listened to the conversation. I must’ve hit a REM cycle at some point though because, seemingly within a blink of an eye, we were again being called in for dinner and very somewhat competitively funnelled into the ornamental dining room (I don’t remember what we were served specifically this time around, but I have no doubt that it was above par).


After this final Chateau meal, most everyone was settled in for a relatively quiet night (to help recuperate from the “P” Party). While we enjoyed a few beers and laughs around the backyard, someone took it upon themselves to open the activity shed so we might finally use the Chateau’s huge, grassy backyard to its full advantage. A couple of Aussies grabbed a soccer ball to get a bit of a game going, but Alice and I went for Nerf football instead so we could demonstrate our killer arms (which we tried and failed at quite quickly). Unimpressed with our performance though, we gave up the dream quite quickly - I decided not to jump into the soccer game this time around, worried about the ball hitting my burn and bringing me to tears. Instead, I joined the other non-athletes on the grass in the circle of lawn chairs by the far edge of the backyard to just chill out, chat and watch our last colourful sunset over Lyon.



As more-and-more people joined the game of keep-up though, their circle started ever so gradually inching closer to ours, and soon, intended or not, we were ducking for cover as the soccer ball repeatedly came rocketing towards our heads. Not feeling a bloody nose on top of my already horrible sunburn, I made my way up to the veranda with the rest of the crew to watch the action from a safer distance. I may not have wanted to play, but that doesn't mean it wasn't entertaining to watch. Alice took the opportunity to break out her professional-level camera and take some football action shots - and thank goodness she did because there were a few key moments that were too hilarious not to be captured on film. Not only was she able to grab a once-in-a-lifetime shot of Dan's drink getting tossed by the ball, we were treated to a few awkwardly side-splitting moments involving a certain someone (not to be named here - we all know who it was) attempting and missing a backwards bicycle kick and that same person getting tossed in the pool after more than a few obnoxious, drunken comments (a fitting punishment).


Despite all the good times, my burn was slowly becoming more painful. Thanks to fellow Canadian Abby, I lathered on the aloe vera lotion and headed to bed far earlier than the rest of the crew (before even the sun had fully set) - there was no way I was going to be able to be much fun in this state. With the unbearable pain in my legs making it nearly impossible to move or get comfortable, there wasn’t going to be very much sleep for me this night. And, being that my bed was right next to an open window that overlooked the Chateau's backyard, I could hear pretty much everything that was going on below as the crew continued their festivities late into the night - and this included a lot of quacking for some reason. It wasn't until the next morning that I saw a video of what exactly was going on - let's just say, Dan solidified his position as Contiki legend that night (check out this video of the event - the song he's singing is "Freaks" by fellow Australian Timmy Trumpet).



While it may seem like all we were doing so far on this tour was partying, that's what a lot of us were there for - but through those good times, like the "P" Party, we were able to make some lasting friendships and incredible memories. The next morning we packed up our stuff once again, loaded the coach and said goodbye to the Contiki Chateau for good - an epic spot that most of us will never forget (thanks in large part to the hard work of the Contiki on-sites). Though we were sad to see it go, I was confident that there were more than enough good times waiting for us in our next stop, one of the central spots at the heart of the world-famous Spanish nightlife - Barcelona.


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