• 23 August 2016


Like many of us, Lisa Holstein has an incurable case of wanderlust! Since 2014 she’s been to 40 countries on 4 continents! For her, travelling is about art, the thrill of new adventures and making friends. Lisa tells us  her travel story and shares more about her experiences as she trotted around Europe on 7 Expat Explore tours in 3 years.

In 2013, I moved from New Zealand to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Since then I’ve been a Grade 7, 8 and 9 science teacher for UAE national students. One of my main reasons for coming to work in the UAE was that living in the Northern hemisphere for the first time in my life meant being closer to the European continent. A variety of different countries are within reach when you live up in the northern reaches of the world! Before moving to the UAE I’d only ever been for a short trip to Australia. Travelling anywhere from New Zealand takes a lot of time and money.

I was hoping I’d be travelling more, but never planned on seeing over 40 countries in 3 years! Being a teacher meant that I could take longer trips during school vacation time, which is luckily summer in Europe. I’ ve been on seven tours with Expat Explore including  Croatian and Eastern Delights (2014), Egypt,  The Irish Explorer (2015), Northern Explorer and more recently the Western Adventure and Highlights of Spain and Portugal (both in 2016). I’ve been privileged to travel wonderful European countries like Switzerland, Russia, Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Germany, Austria, Latvia, Lithuania and the list goes on!

Now, three years later, I am an an avid traveller and keep wanting more! My teaching and scouting skills have all come in handy while travelling – knowing how to plan and pack, having broad general knowledge, meeting a lot of different people, and being able to handle early mornings and long nights stood me in good stead.

Left: Lisa with the Northern Explorer group in Helsinki. Right: Proud New Zealand travellers on tour in St.Petersburg!

Coach travel allows you the freedom of just choosing, paying, and going along for the ride…everything else is sorted for you. What a lot of people don’t necessarily know is that travelling on a coach means you are lifted quite high on the road (those coaches are huge), so you definitely get to see more of the countryside and the sights. There is also the bonus of meeting some really great friends. I have made many friends through all of my Expat tours, many of whom I still stay in contact with. Another bonus of doing a few coach tours is that you learn to pack light because only the essentials are required!

My favourite part? Seeing new and exciting places that I wouldn’t have considered going to if they weren’t part of a package (such as some of the Eastern European countries); not to mention all those places that are seen on TV and in movies that I thought I would ever see in my lifetime! Can’t wait to head out to Europe again!

Here are my favourite moments over 7 trips with Expat Explore…

1. Turkey. As a Kiwi, my first amazing experience would have to be going to ANZAC Cove in Turkey. As a child I was a Girl Scout, as an adult I am a Scouting leader. I have spent most of my life going to ANZAC parades every year and hearing about the places our soldiers fought during WWI. Standing at the NZ monument to our soldiers, I took a moment, stood there and saluted. When I go to Belgium in a couple of weeks I will be going to Ypres, Somme, Flanders Fields, Menin Gate – other locations that feature prominently in our history.

TURKEY: Anzac Cove Cemetery site
TURKEY: Anzac Cove on the Gallipolo peninsula

2. Greece was always one of my bucket list items. Seeing the islands of Greece, visiting the Acropolis and experiencing Troy was wonderful. One of the funniest things ever is to watch the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown warrior…. hilarious!!

GREECE: Changing of the guards.

3.  Croatia. I had been looking forward to going to the Plitvice Lakes National Park for a long time. Having come from the deserts of the UAE I was missing the greenery and nature of NZ. The day we got there it was raining very heavily! I think this added to the excitement of the day (although some would have disagreed). The lakes’ levels were so high that we were literally walking through them, as opposed to just walking on the board walks. Many of the tracks along the way were also under water. It was an amazing day.

CROATIA: Exploring Plitvice Lakes National Park in rainy weather.
CROATIA: Beautiful lakes and dense forest at Plitvice National Park.

4. Budapest. Riding through the city streets on a cycling beer bar!

HUNGARY, BUDAPEST: Beer Bar Cycling through the streets of Budapest.

5. Czech Republic.  Prague – the city of beer and guns! Highlights include soaking in a beer spa with cold beer on tap beside me, and being allowed to shoot 15 big weapons, many of which my collector friends back home could not believe I had seen, let alone shot!

PRAGUE: Tim, Lisa and the group drinking some Prague beer before heading to the spa.

6. Ireland. The place everyone likens to NZ, so I finally got to see it for myself. Highlights included the green fields and rolling hills (refreshing after yellow, dusty deserts), as well as Blarney Castle and kissing the Blarney Stone – I already had the gift of the gab to start with, so look out world! The gardens of the castle are also incredible. As I walked through the gardens it started to rain lightly – once again I was immersed in green foliage, water, smells of the earth, which is my version of Heaven! Touring the Ring of Kerry in torrential rain was another noteworthy experience. At the statue of Charlie Chaplin there were only two brave souls who ran off the bus to take photos, and yes, of course, I was one of them! We were only gone a short couple of minutes, but were drenched in that time.

IRELAND: Blarney Castle and its majestic gardens.

 7. Egypt. After seeing the pyramids on the first day, I thought wow! Then, for the rest of the tour, the pyramids paled in comparison – the colours, history and architecture of the tombs and temples throughout Egypt are astounding. It is regrettable but understandable that no photos were allowed inside the tombs. Hot air ballooning at day break over The Valley of the Kings, the Nile and the Colossi was another highlight on this trip.

EGYPT: Exploring Egypt – Valley of the Kings, camel-rides and all!

8. France. Being in Paris with my son whom I hadn’t seen for more than a year! It was his first time away from NZ. It was a privilege to share my travelling knowledge with him, and now he has the urge to see more. My daughters’ turns are still in the works! In Paris there was the Tower of course, the Louvre, the Catacombs, Notre Dame (seeing Emmanuel, the bell and the gargoyles), and generally just wandering the streets to see what we could find. One of the many highlights was the Sacre Coeur.

I had a breathtaking experience – once again with art. There was a mural of a large angel on the ceiling. It appeared to be almost shimmering in 3D shimmering – as if it was actually flying! It was a brilliant piece of art, and sadly we were not allowed to take pictures and I have not been able to find a single photo of it in my Google searches.

FRANCE, PARIS: Sacré-Cœur, Paris

9. Stockholm. An emotional day for me. Although we weren’t actually close, this was where my father had planned to retire with his Swedish wife, a plan that was never to be as he died during the planning process. His ashes were taken there. It also coincidentally was his birthday the day we arrived. Here, we took an overnight ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki, which was an exciting addition to our trip.We travelled in style and comfort, enjoying great views and food. A night spent at the on-board karaoke and nightclub was a wonderful way to spend time and learn more about our fellow travellers.

LEFT: The Northern Explorer group in Helsinki. RIGHT: The ferry ride from Stockholm to Helsinki.

10. Scotland. For my birthday I went to visit Nessie. She must have not received my birthday invitation as she didn’t arrive…or maybe she was just engaged elsewhere.

SCOTLAND: Famous Urquhart Castle at Loch Ness.

11. Russia. Going to see Swan Lake performed at the Mariinsky Theatre was an amazing experience. At the Winter Palace the art (including Van Gogh) and the opulence astounded! Here I also found my new favourite painting – ‘In the restaurant’ by Charles Hoffbauer (oil on canvas 115 x 167cm). It definitely took my breath away – I stood looking at it for ages, and tried to capture as many photos of it as I could.

An amusing moment for me in St Petersburg was the post office! So, I had this brilliant idea (well, it started off being brilliant) that I would post some of my heavier unwanted items home so I wouldn’t have to carry them around with me for the next few weeks (I’d already done some touring by this stage and collected a few ‘extras’). This turned out being quite a mission in a country where the bare minimum is conveyed in English. The poor Russian lady behind the counter was trying her very best to communicate with me as we gestured to each other over forms , neither of us knowing what the other was saying. I tried my very best with the forms; some parts seemed fairly basic and generic even in another language.Thank goodness the Amazing Tim was with me with his Google text translator! It took us more than an hour, and by the time we had finally worked out the form she handed us four more identical ones to complete before I finally got my parcel sent away. Phew! All credit to the Russian postal service, my parcel arrived promptly on my return home again.

RUSSIA: Going to see Swan Lake performed at the Mariinsky Theatre
RUSSIA: Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. Home to the finest opera and ballet.
RUSSIA: Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. Home to the finest opera and ballet.

12. Berlin. Van Gogh is my favourite artist and while in Berlin there was an exhibition showing of Van Gogh Live.  Here I have to thank the Amazing Tim again – I had spent the entire morning looking for the exhibition venue, to no avail. When I returned to our group lunch meeting point, Tim offered to come with me to look for the elusive venue and we finally found Van Gogh after walking the streets with his GPS. His artwork and life story was projected everywhere on the walls inside the warehouse so that you were totally immersed in his work; some recreated in 3D. There were chairs and beanbags where you could sit and watch the show as you moved from room to room.

BERLIN:an Gogh on the left and one of the 3D art pieces on show in Berlin.
BERLIN: Self portrait of Van Gogh on the left and one of the 3D art pieces that was on show in Berlin on the right.

13 &14. Spain & Portugal. These two are now included in my favourite countries. The architecture is different to other parts of Europe, with the Moorish influence clearly defined, especially in the colours of yellow, orange & blue. The landscapes are mostly flat or low hills, with the occasional fortified city built on a higher ground. Castles, olive trees, grape vines, cork trees, bull rings and beaches.

Obidos in Portugal is a stunning early centuries little town. The little houses here are beautiful and everywhere there are bougainvilleas growing which just adds to the charm, character and colour. In its history, it was gifted by a king to his queen….how’s that for romantic?

PORTUGAL: Obidos is a stunning early centuries little town. You can see beautiful little houses and bougainvilleas everywhere.

In Barcelona, I discovered my favourite building to date. The incredible Sagrada Familia! Designed by Gaudi (who is now right up there next to Van Gogh in my books), it does not meet with conventional standards for a basilica, which is why I love it so much. The vivid colours in the stained glass windows, the internal columns and main weight bearers of the entire building, all make for a visual feast. It is still being built to this day!

BARCELONA: The incredible Sagrada Familia!

15. Switzerland.  What a fantastic piece of earth! The little town of Wilderswil is simply magical. The beautiful houses are straight from a postcard. The most incredible views were had as we made our way by trains up to Jungfraujoch, the highest point in Europe (& in almost whiteout conditions at the top when we got there).

Since I am the adventurous type, I just had to jump off a mountain! After returning from Jungfraujoch, a few of us ventured into Interlaken to experience hang gliding and paragliding. The best hang gliding conditions depend on the breeze and temperature. Luckily, there was a breath of air left so we went for it. After a few laughs and screams, we were airborne! The guys from Hang Gliding Interlaken are an amazing bunch to fly with. The view from the top, looking out over Interlaken and the lakes is something I will never forget.

SWITZERLAND: Come at me world! Lisa getting ready for some hang gliding.
SWITZERLAND: Lisa hang gliding in Interlaken.

My Top Travel Tips?

  • Try not to be a stick in the mud! Don’t claim one seat for the entire trip (yes, I am also guilty of doing this!) – move around, get to know people. Sit with the old ones and the young ones, the singles and the couples. You will learn so much!
  • Get to know your coach driver and tour leaders. They are full of information and tips and without him/her you won’t get far! These are amazing, incredible people, many of whom may only have had 1-2 hours of sleep that night because they spend their nights writing reports of the day, planning for the next day, attending to any issues that may have arisen…and yet they bounce up in the morning ready to spur you on with enthusiasm and encouragement.
  • Be on time! ALWAYS be on time at checkpoint/meeting points!
  • Make sure you take international power adapters. I also carry a multi-board with me as power outlets can be scarce in many hotels!
  • Plan your mementos/souvenirs. Remember that what you buy needs to fit into your suitcase to go home again, as well as adding extra weight. In Turkey I bought a hand knotted rug, then proceeded to carry it around with me for the next few weeks on tour! If you buy something larger in size, try to get it sent straight home.

Lastly, I’d like to introduce you to Fantail. On all seven Expat Explore tours, Fantail has travelled with me! A fantail is a small New Zealand native bush bird.  It is also my nickname and scout leader name. I need to keep a constant watch on him as he can be a cheeky little fellow. He very kindly takes my selfies for me (as he is much cuter and more photogenic than myself). He is also known for drinking all of the local beers wherever we go! He meets many of his own friends along the way, other mascots and various characters!

LEFT: Fantail with driver James and tour leader Laura | RIGHT: Fantain, tour leader Mark and Finnegan (from Ireland).
Fantail sure is the most travelled Fantail in all the world!

If you’d like to experience Europe for yourself, check out our fantastic coach tours to Europe!

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