Last summer, Australian-based travel company Contiki offered their first Pride-themed trip to adventurers around the world, a ten-day excursion through Europe: three days in Berlin, one day each in Frankfurt, Germany, one in Reims, France, and one in Bruges, Belgium, then another three days in Amsterdam.
The twenty-or-so attendees convened at the Moxy Berlin hotel in Germany. Most folks came from Australia and New Zealand, but these LGBTs were also from the US, the UK, Canada, and even Singapore. There were girls and gays and theys, even a token straight guy tagging along with his bi-wife. I recognized one guy I’d been eyeing on Grindr earlier in the day, this time fully clothed. The solo travelers like myself slowly started socializing with the pairs, and the whole group quickly bonded.
No matter where you’re from, when you’re queer you have a shared understanding of each other. It’s a privilege, the ability to make a fast friend, and I quickly knew this trip would be a great one.
Contiki enlisted a charming Australian gay named Scott as our guide on the trip. We explored Germany one restaurant at a time, chowing down on various breads and sausages, tasting local wines and beers. A Serbian refugee gave us our first walking tour of the city, explaining the modern-day parallels to the Holocaust and that event’s ripple effects around Europe. I looked up in awe at the Gendarmenmarkt and Mauermuseum as our guide spoke, a new appreciation for their beauty. We had a pint at Hofbräu Wirtshaus Berlin. We walked solemnly through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. We had a few drinks by the Berlin Wall before heading to Rudolfkiez to dance to EDM Celine Dion remixes. Then a few guys grabbed some drinks at the historic Tom’s, where a shirtless hunk who didn’t speak a word of English challenged us to a game of foosball. Each one of us lost.
The next night, we stopped by SchwuZ, a forty-five-year-old safe haven filled with disco balls and massive butt statues, and “Cheers Queers” signage that played pop banger after banger. On Sunday, we walked through Mauerpark for a farmer’s market bursting with delicious food and knick-knacks and great thrift finds.
Unfortunately, Berlin’s Pride that weekend happened to be canceled so instead we went on a tour with award-winning tour guide Finn Ballard, who walked us through Schöneberg, Berlin’s gay district, and shared its colorful history of activists, artists, buildings, and pride. One traveler from Singapore asked a question that put the trip into perspective: “Aren’t you afraid this area will be targeted by homophobes?”
I live in West Hollywood and after six years here, it’s easy to take its safety for granted. I hold my boyfriend’s hand in public. I can kiss him at a bar with no fear. But this was this traveler’s first time stepping foot in a gay neighborhood. Homosexuality is still illegal in their country. While this was a vacation for me, this was a rare opportunity for many of these travelers to freely be themselves. I felt both crestfallen and grateful in that moment.
The author in Europe Courtesy Taylor Henderson
Leaving Berlin, we went on to Frankfurt, a quirky, picturesque town littered with LGBTQ+ inclusive churches and businesses. We stopped through Champagne, France, and got tipsy in the chilled catacombs of the Canard-Duchêne while our guide described the oh-so-complicated bottling process. We took a ferry down the quiet canals of Bruges, Belgium, tried the chocolate, and watched the swans with a glass of rosé in hand.
Then we made it to Amsterdam, where we’d be spending the next few days. About 10 more visitors joined us in the Netherlands for this part of the trip. First, we took a ferry to the A’DAM Lookout to swing over 100 meters (328 feet) in the air. I’m sure they could hear my screams from the ground.
Amsterdam feels a bit like Las Vegas: the Red Light District attracts a very specific heterosexual energy. Despite it being Pride weekend, the girls in our group were catcalled surprisingly often. But the gays had their backs and were quick to be a buffer or a pretend boyfriend. Our group split the first night: half went to a bar with $4 euro drinks while the others waltzed into a sex show. I was in the former group, but feel free to google those sex shows if you’re interested.
The next day, we took a walking tour through the gorgeous streets of Amsterdam. The Red Light District looks much different during the day, and the city is built for on-foot exploration. That evening, we took a boozy canal cruise from the Sea Palace. Thirty queers drinking wine and giggling on a ferry at sunset was exactly as silly and cute as you imagine it’d to be.
The citizens of Amsterdam took to the canals to show their pride the next morning, steering outrageously camp ferries decked out in rainbow everything by streets and streets of cheering LGBTs on the shore. One person with pastel wings and a pitchfork rode a water-powered hoverboard. Shirtless hunks screamed greetings at the visitors as Lizzo played in the background. I’ve never seen a Pride celebration like this one. Then we all gathered in Dam Square for an hours-long celebration featuring various drag queens, bisexual singers, twerking trumpet players, and queers making out everywhere you looked. I made friends with a bi couple from Australia, and we danced with our daytime buzz. My new trip bestie drew out a portrait of a shirtless guy with clouds for a face, and a very loud Argentinian man tattooed it on me. We ate the legal Amsterdam shrooms and twisted our hips in the streets.
The conclusion of the trip was a bit sad. It’s strange to do everything with a group of queers for ten days then all depart back to the corners of the world. The trip was short and chaotic but contained enough laughter and joy for a lifetime. I made lifelong friends in those ten days and if I ever wanted to do solo travel again, I’d book an LGBTQ+ travel group without hesitation.