Archive for the ‘40 things to do before 40’ Category

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 19!

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

19. Run with the Bulls

Traditional shouts of “Viva San Fermin!” ring out from the city hall balcony followed by a rocket blast, signalling that the incredible nine-day street party known as the festival of San Fermin has officially begun. For the next nine days, there’s nowhere better in the world to be than the small Spanish city of Pamplona!

The festival of San Fermin is best known for the ‘encierro’ – ‘the running of the bulls’. Historically this began as a way to herd from Pamplona’s livestock enclosure to its bullfighting ring. The animals would run as children and adults directed them with shouts and sticks. The practice may date back as far as the 13th century, and people are thought to have joined the herd sometime in the 1800s.

Nowadays, thousands of participants from around the world make the half-mile dash through Pamplona’s narrow streets chased by charging bulls. Every morning at 8am, hordes of daredevils gather in the city centre, most dressed in the traditional all-white outfits with red neckerchiefs. They sing a traditional homage to St. Fermin asking him to guide them through the run. Two small rockets are fired, six bulls are released and the chase is on! Thousands more watch from safe nooks and balconies along the route, and spectators can also follow the events on national TV.

The running of the bulls is an incredible spectacle which comes with obvious dangers. Since officials began keeping records in 1910, 15 people have died in the run, and countless others have been injured. Ernest Hemingway wrote that the most exhilarating feeling a man could experience was being shot at and missed. That is the joy of running with the bulls, and it’s an acquired taste!

Where’s the best place to watch the bull run?

Anywhere around the start (Cuesta de San Domingo) and end (close to the bullring) of the running. To secure a good spot you have to occupy it two or three hours before the run starts. Alternatively, you can buy a ticket for a city centre balcony through your Topdeck Trip Leader.

I’m going to run! Any tips?

  • Don’t run on your first day in Pamplona - watch the first time to get an idea of what to expect, and walk through the course.
  • If you go down, stay down. Cover your face and lie low. You might get a few bruises but it is safer than trying to get up. Onlookers will tap you on the shoulder with a rolled-up newspaper when it is safe to move.
  • Take the corners tight as the bulls are going to go wide.
  • Don’t drink before the event, and be hangover-free.
  • Your biggest fear should not be of the bulls but of other people falling in front of you and tripping you up!

If being chased by horned beasts through the streets doesn’t sound like your cup of tea then no worries! You’ll find there’s so much more to the festival of San Fermin - music, dance, paella, sangria, fireworks, and processions around every corner. The famous Spanish ‘lust for life’ can be almost breathed in the air.

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 18!

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

18. Hike on a Glacier

It’s a question as old as time: if Oprah Winfrey was a geological formation, what would she be? Let’s list her traits – extremely powerful, influential, and probably very slow moving. “Glacier”, I hear you say? Correct!

Cast your mind back to joys of high school geography. For me, it’s hard to remember anything apart from my teacher Mr Gordon’s questionable fashion sense and offensive breath. However I do remember that glaciers are huge bodies of ice which, with the help of gravity and their own sheer weight, carve out U-shaped valleys through mountains. Thanks Mr Gordon!

Unless you have enough free time on your hands to sit and watch a glacier for a couple of months - you probably won’t see much happen! Most move at a rate between zero and half a kilometre (0.3 miles) per year. The appeal of hiking on a glacier is the sensational surroundings of snowy peaks and epic, eroded cliff faces. The thought that a pile of snow and ice has cut through something so strong like a hot knife through butter is mind-blowing! There is something about being surrounded by the immense power of nature which puts things in perspective.

The Fox Glacier deep in the Southern Alps of New Zealand’s South Island is one of the most astonishing in the world – being one of the only glaciers to begin in a snowy Alpine peak and end in lush rainforest. The diversity of the scenery between the top and bottom shows you first-hand why New Zealand is one of the most spectacular countries in the world.

Topdeck’s new Canadian Rockies trip will take you to the Athabasca Glacier in the Columbia Icefield. This is the most visited glacier in North America for good reason, and we do it in style with an included ‘Totally Topdeck’ guided hike onto the glacier. Because of a warming climate, the Athabasca Glacier has been receding or melting for the last 125 years – leaving a surreal moonscape of rocky debris in its wake.

The Pyramids, Eiffel Tower, Great Wall of China – there are many immense man-made attractions in the world, but there’s something quite special about seeing one of nature’s own attractions. A hike on a glacier is a thrilling and oddly moving experience, and takes its well-deserved place at number 18 on Topdeck’s list of 40 things to do before you’re 40!

Topdeck Top Tip: Glaciers may be icy but don’t let that deceive you – UV rays are intensified when reflecting off the ice so you can become sunburnt very quickly. Make sure to wear high-factor sunscreen, along with decent footwear and warm socks!

Video 1: Helicopter ride over the Fox Glacier, New Zealand

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 17!

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

17. Scuba dive in the Red Sea

Despite being one of the warmest bodies of saltwater in the world (averaging a bath-like temperature of 22°C!), the Red Sea is a cooling and refreshing oasis from the desert heat around it. It divides the north-east coast of Africa from the Middle East across the ocean, and the weight of history around the area is staggering. It was the Red Sea which Moses miraculously opened up and led his Jewish followers through while being chased by an angry Egyptian army. Pirates, invaders, and crusaders have sailed through the warm waters over the centuries, but on arrival in the gorgeous bohemian town of Dahab, Egypt, it’s all too easy to forget anything important.

In recent years Dahab has expanded beyond its humble origins as a fishing village, and now boasts a smooth fusion of hippy mellowness and resort chic. With its golden beaches and stunning mountain backdrop, Dahab has a long history of luring travellers and trapping them for days or weeks on end.

When you’re relaxed enough in Dahab above ground, why not pop under the sea to see what’s going on below?! The Scuba diving is world-class. Within metres of the shoreline there is a magical array of marine life, including beautiful angelfish, colourful coral reefs, slippery eels, and graceful seahorses. Scuba diving is the only time most people can say they’ve visited (quite literally) a different world. From complete novices to advanced divers, diving in the Red Sea is a completely relaxing and mind-blowing experience.

Be warned – after a few days of crystal-clear scuba diving, desert trekking, ocean-side dinners, and complete relaxation around the Red Sea coast, you will find it extremely difficult to leave and go back to reality.

Topdeck Top Tip: If all the relaxation in Dahab gets too much for you, take a day trip out to Mount Sinai - it’s said to be the mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments. It’s much cooler at the summit (2,285 metres above sea level) so take a few layers with you.

Video 1 - Underwater video showing some of the amazing creatures you might encounter while Scuba diving in the Red Sea –

Video 2 - This short video shows some of the highlights of Dahab, including the local tradition of a Bedouin camel race!

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 16!

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

16. Drive the Great Ocean Road.

The Great Ocean Road is one of the world’s most spectacular drives, hugging the wild and windswept south-eastern coast of Australia. At 243 kilometres long, the road not only offers  some amazingly diverse scenery, but also heaps of unexpected delights – whale lookouts, mountain ranges, rainforests, historic port towns, and, perhaps most famous of all, the Twelve Apostles – craggy limestone stacks rising majestically out of the Southern Ocean. Breathtaking!

The Great Ocean Road is made even more special by its history. In 1919, one year after the end of the First World War, it was commissioned as a memorial for the 60,000 Australian servicemen and women who had made the ultimate sacrifice and lost their lives during the war. Around 3,000 servicemen who had returned to Australia after the war began work on the road. Construction was done by hand – the soldiers used picks and shovels to hack through dense rainforest. Many lost their lives around the steep coastal cliffs.

In 1924 an old steam boat became stranded near the shore and had to release its cargo to free itself, which included 500 barrels of beer and 120 cases of spirits. The diggers helped themselves to the abandoned alcohol which resulted in an unscheduled and well-deserved drinks break lasting two weeks! Drinks breaks aside, the road was officially completed in 1932, and became the world’s largest war memorial (by quite a distance!).

The new road opened sparsely-populated and isolated communities from Torquay to Allansford up to the outside world – bringing money and tourism into the whole state of Victoria. The relatively recent construction of the road means that this wonderful stretch of rugged coastline is, in many parts, unspoilt and untouched.

From the Lord Arch Gorge, a scenic bay engulfed by cliffs, to London Bridge, a natural arch created by the immense power of the sea – there is a new wonder around almost every corner. Top of the list of attractions is the astounding Twelve Apostles towering out of the sea - recently voted the best place in Australia to watch a sunset.

The Great Ocean Road is not only astoundingly beautiful, but also poignant and thought-provoking. It gives a small insight into what inspired Australian soldiers in the Great War when fighting to protect the beauty of their homeland. The Great Ocean Road takes its place easily on Topdeck’s list of 40 things to do before you’re 40.

Topdeck Top Tip: Don’t rush through the Great Ocean Road! It may be easily driveable in one day, but you’ll appreciate it much more by taking the time to explore and staying overnight in one of the quaint seaside towns like Port Campbell. While you’re there, try some of the deliciously fresh seafood.

This short clip shows some of the most spectacular highlights of the Great Ocean Road

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 15!

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

15. Ride a Gondola in Venice

Every city in the world has a main street, usually roaring with the noise of gridlocked traffic and honking horns. Imagine a city’s main thoroughfare where the tarmac is replaced by water, and cars are replaced by gondolas gliding quietly past 15th century palaces. This is reality in Venice, where the breath-taking Grand Canal is the main street in an incredible city built completely on water.

One of the most instantly recognisable cities in the world, Venice is an architectural wonder. Originally an uninhabited swampland, it was settled by Romans in the 5th century seeking refuge from constant attacks from nearby tribes. The crafty Romans built huge wooden pylons and drove them into the deep swampland, building their easily-defendable village on top of the pylons.

Instead of becoming a rural backwater in this bizarre environment, Venice expanded rapidly and canals were built to allow transport through the city – snaking their way past gorgeous palaces and churches. In a city with no roads, the only way to travel was by boat and gondolas became huge business. Sitting on a gondola as you glide through the canals of Venice will transport you back to a bygone age of extravagances and romance - an era when Casanova mingled with royalty and aristocrats at Venetian masquerade balls.

The unique way Venice was built may make it aesthetically stunning, but the impracticalities have proved too much for many locals - the population has halved since the 1940s to a mere 58,000 residents.

The most worrying thing for the Italian authorities is the rate in which the city is sinking. 2mm each year may sound like a miniscule amount but that, combined with rising sea levels, makes Venice prone to regular flooding. When “aqua alta” (high tide) hits, the locals don their most stylish pair of waterproof boots and make their way around the city on raised platforms. The fascinating sight of St Mark’s Square and its magnificent Byzantine Cathedral swimming in flood water makes the fragile state of Venice even more apparent.

One of the most wonderful things about Venice is that the only ‘traffic’ noise is the gentle splashing of canal water. Which other city in the world can say that? A gondola ride through this breathtaking and truly unique city should be a must-do on anybody’s list!

Topdeck Top Tip: If the crowds around St Mark’s Square get too much for you, seek respite and hop on a Vaparetto (water taxi) out to one the nearby islands - the price is capped at €7 for a one-way ticket. The island of Lido is home to some great beaches, while in Murano you can check out the famous glass-blowing factories.

Continuing last week’s James Bond theme, here is a video of 007 in Casino Royale sailing towards St Mark’s Square and then along the Grand Canal in Venice -

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 14!

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

14. Gamble in a Famous Casino

Stepping into the Monte-Carlo Casino in Monaco is as close to stepping into a James Bond film as most of us will get. Billionaires and their bejewelled wives sit sipping cocktails while pushing inordinate amounts of money around the tables. The unflappable croupiers roll a dice or deal a card, and within seconds tens of thousands of Euros have changed hands. Nobody bats an eyelid, apart from the fascinated onlookers. An evening mingling with the rich and famous of Monaco is a truly unforgettable experience!

At barely two miles long and half a mile wide, Monaco is the 2nd smallest country in the world, but its generous tax laws (very generous – residents pay no income tax at all!) mean this tiny country is a haven for the rich and famous of European society. Everybody from Formula One star Jenson Button to former Mr. Bond himself Roger Moore reside here, but you won’t spot any of them in the casinos as residents of Monaco are banned from entering. James Bond had a flutter in the Monte-Carlo Casino in no less than three movies - Never Say Never Again, GoldenEye and Casino Royale.

While Monaco is undoubtedly the most famous gambling destination in Europe, it’s rivalled by a very different city in North America – Las Vegas. They say that everything is bigger in America, and the sheer size of the casinos in Sin City itself is something miniscule Monaco could never compete with.

Bellagio, built in 1998, is one of the newest additions to the Las Vegas strip. It features botanical gardens, a fine art gallery, and, of course, one of the most luxurious casinos ever built. The traffic-stopping fountain and neon lights show outside Bellagio is truly breath-taking, and epitomises the extravagant spirit of Vegas. The fountains dance to a soundtrack of appropriate music including Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas” and Frank Sinatra’s “Luck be a Lady”.

Gambling is far from the only attraction in Vegas. Surrounded by desert, the city is an oasis of world-class shopping, fine dining, and 24-hour nightlife.

Even if having a flutter isn’t your thing, the insides of the Monte-Carlo Casino and Bellagio have to be seen to be believed. Go in and transport yourself into a different world, where celebrities, billionaires, and us normal people brush shoulders and sit at the same tables! Good luck!

Topdeck Top Tip: Cameras aren’t allowed in the Monte-Carlo Casino in Monaco, and you’ll need your passport which they’ll scan upon entry. Remember the house always wins, so only bet what you can afford to lose!

The water fountain show outside the Bellagio in Las Vegas:

Catch a glimpse of inside the Monte-Carlo in James Bond’s ‘Golden Eye’ movie:

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 13!

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

13. Watch the sunrise over Uluru

The ultimate icon of Australia, Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock) has an almost mystical presence. There’s something intangibly moving about seeing dawn’s first light settle on this geological marvel at the heart of the ‘Red Centre’.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Uluru is sacred to the Anangu, the Aboriginal people of the area. For them it is inextricably linked with their Dreamtime stories, and even in today’s modern world it retains a sacred place in their culture.

In 1873 Uluru was given a second name, Ayers Rock, after the Chief Secretary of South Australia, Henry Ayers. Since 1993 it has officially had dual-name status, and is now referred to in formal terms as Uluru/Ayers Rock.

Located 335km south-west of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, Uluru sits in terrain which is unmistakeably Outback. In the area there are waterholes, caves, springs and Aboriginal rock paintings.

But it’s the flatness of its surrounds which makes Uluru stand out even more. What earthly business does this striking protrusion have in such a landscape? It all adds to the rock’s enigmatic appeal.

For overnight visitors to this great Aussie wilderness, there’s only one way to stay – in a swag (Aussie bedroll) under the stars! And camping close to this magical monolith gives people the chance to experience one of the most majestic views in the southern hemisphere; sunrise over Uluru.

As dawn’s first rays kiss the sandstone summit, Uluru stirs and awakens as if a living thing. Shades change imperceptibly with the sun’s steady migration, until the entire rock glows fiery red, as though the blood of the nation was coursing through it. Apt, you might say, for a landmark at the very heart of Australia.

A more contemplative and peaceful way to start a day you’d be hard pressed to find. If ever there was a reason to get up before dawn, then watching sunrise over Uluru is surely it.

Topdeck Top Tip: To climb or not to climb? The Anangu ask visitors not to climb Uluru, as it’s a sacred religious site to their people, but neither is there a law against it. Take time to read the reasons for and against so you can make an informed decision.

Lonely Planet visit Uluru:

A nice time-lapse video showing Uluru’s changing colours at sunrise:

And another:

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 12

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

12. Go clubbing until dawn in Europe

Everybody enjoys a good night out… but once in a while, a night comes along that’s so epic that you just don’t want it to end – you want to hit the clubs and dance until the sun comes up!

When that you get that feeling, Europe’s the place to be. From Parisian wine bars to Hungarian dive bars, from London’s super pubs to Berlin’s superclubs, this continent is full of amazing nightspots.

Whether you’re an occasional clubber or a serious partygoer, you’ll love the variety of local nightlife on offer. Here are five of our favourite all-night party spots in Europe:

Barcelona – the cool Catalan capital is rightly renowned for its clubbing scene. If you’re after free entry and the latest chart heavyweights, head to Port Olimpic – a buzzing stretch of bars and clubs along the harbour front. If you’re a serious clubber and don’t mind a cover charge, superclubs like Opium, Razzmatazz and La Terazza are well worth a visit too.

Mykonos – this gorgeous Greek island boasts some of the finest dance clubs in Europe. On Paradise Beach alone there are TWO of DJ magazine’s Top 100 Clubs for 2013. Elegant Cavo Paradiso (#13) is perched on a rocky outcrop and has hosted the likes of Tiesto and Sebastian Ingrosso, while its lower neighbour Paradise Club (#33) can boast Avicii, Carl Cox and Bob Sinclar on its CV.

Amsterdam – with a reputation as one of Europe’s party capitals, Amsterdam doesn’t disappoint. Leidseplein is a buzzing nightlife hub with something for everyone; catch a live band in the Watering Hole, dance to chart hits in brilliantly OTT bars, or maybe even go to a gig in legendary venues Paradiso or Melkweg.

Prague – any city which can boast a five story nightclub is not shy about its party credentials. Situated near the stunning Charles Bridge, many a Topdeck traveller has wandered into Karlovy lázn? in the dark only to wander out again as the sun’s rays are coming up! But by no means is this the only spot – Prague is a goldmine of cool underground bars and quirky clubs.

Ibiza – the mecca of dance music, this hedonistic Spanish island has been top of the global clubbing tree for many years. Ibiza superclubs Space and Pacha occupy the #2 and #3 spots in DJ mag’s Top 100 Clubs, while Amnesia and Privilege also make the top 20. The clubs may be pricy, but they attract a who’s who of international DJs each summer (Skrillex, Tiesto, Chase & Status, Armin van Buuren), while indie artists (Bloc Party, Kasabian, Tinie Tempah, Azealia Banks) are also getting a look-in with Ibiza Rocks growing bigger by the year.

So next time you’re in Europe, why not hit the clubs and enjoy a night out to remember? After all, you get to sleep every night… surely you can afford to take a night off?!

Topdeck Top Tip: Don’t head out too early! Many clubs in Europe don’t even get going until midnight, so pace yourself if you want to see the sunrise.

Sebastian Ingrosso at Cavo Paradiso, Mykonos in 2012 (skip to 0.50 for the drop):

Closing night 2012 at Space Ibiza:

One for dance lovers – DJ mag’s Top 100 Clubs list:

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 11!

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

11. Lie under a palm tree on a white sand beach

Once in a while you need to slow things down, get away from it all. And when the time comes to unwind, is there any better place to do so than on a beautiful beach?!

Lying on the sand, listening to your beach playlist, reading a book and sipping an ice-cold drink, as the blue ocean caresses the shore and a gentle breeze sways green palm fronds above your head… bliss!

But where’s the best place to go? For the purposes of this blog, we decided to take a straw poll of the Topdeck office to see where our staff thought you could find the best beaches in the world.

We heard many impassioned speeches and sparked intense debates, but eventually the survey turned out 3 main contenders. To try and make an informed decision, we summarised their pros and cons:

Zanzibar, Tanzania, Africa

Pros: White sand beaches, coconut palms, sapphire blue ocean, traditional fishing vessels, friendly locals, cheap cold drinks, great kitesurfing, proximity to some of the world’s best safari destinations, name that makes you think of a Persian restaurant.

Cons: errrrm…

Oahu, Hawaii, USA

Pros: White sand beaches, coconut palms, sapphire blue ocean, crazy waves, hot surfer dudes and chicks, location in the middle of the Pacific, lifeguards who (may) look like they’re in Baywatch, possible hula music in the background.

Cons: uhhhhh…

Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia

Pros: White sand beaches, coconut palms, sapphire blue ocean, tropical rainforest, incredible flora and fauna, great sailing destination, chance to play beach cricket, strong likelihood of a BBQ occurring, certified free of Drop Bears by the Queensland Government.

Cons: ahhhhh…

As you can see, we didn’t do too well on the Con front. In fact, we didn’t do too well separating them at all. So we’re going to sit on the hammock on this one – choosing a favourite beach is entirely subjective. But one thing all of us agreed on – we’d all like to be on one right now!

As for a good beach playlist? Well there’s something we can help you with! Here’s our pick of beach tunes for 2013, (not) available in all good music outlets:

Topdeck Beach Playlist 2013

1. Psy – Sandnam Style

2. Kylie Minogue – Loco-ocean

3. Nelly – Tide Wit’ Me

4. The Beatles – Here Comes the Sun(burn)

5. Men at Rest – Sand Down Under

Topdeck Top Tip: What to say about a beach? If you turn up on one and everyone’s naked, it’s probably a nudist beach. There you go!

A gorgeous video of Zanzibar from a kitesurfering couple:

Photos of Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays:

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 10!

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

10. Discover the ancient city of Petra.

It seems entirely fitting that Petra in Jordan is the subject of one of the most evocative poems ever written. When John Burgon penned the immortal line “A rose-red city half as old as time”, he summarised this astonishing place perfectly.

This wondrous ancient city lies in a hidden valley in south Jordan, and is estimated to be over 3200 years old. Capital of the ancient Nabataean civilisation, it remained unknown to the Western world until it was introduced to Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt in 1812.

How his jaw must have dropped when he first set eyes on it.

Hewn in to the red rock canyon walls are dozens of buildings, the most important of which display remarkable architecture and immaculate beauty. Columns, pediments, sculptures and decorations adorn the fronts of the the Monastery (Al Dier) and particularly the famous Treasury (Al Khazneh).

While such classical structures are impressive when seen in stone, or even the white marble of Ancient Greece, to see them carved from sheer red sandstone walls is something else entirely.

Anyone who has seen the classic film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade will have a sense of what to expect. In the movie, Petra (specifically the Treasury) serves as the resting place of the Holy Grail.

Director Steven Spielberg picked an ideal location – an ancient site steeped in history, both beautiful and mysterious.

There’s a reason why Petra has made just about every travel list ever compiled – including this one! And if you needed any more motivation to visit, then just think; the sooner you journey to Petra, the longer you get to remember it for!

But while we at Topdeck dearly love Petra, no words of ours could compete with John Burgon’s prize-winning 1845 verse, so we’ll just let him do the talking from here:

It seems no work of Man’s creative hand,
by labour wrought as wavering fancy planned;
But from the rock as if by magic grown,
eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!
Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,
where erst Athena held her rites divine;
Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,
that crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;
But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,
that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;
The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,
which Man deemed old two thousand years ago,
match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
a rose-red city half as old as time.

Topdeck Top Tip: Petra is much bigger than most people think! It’ll involve a fair bit of walking, so wear comfy shoes and take plenty of water due to the heat and sun.

See a gallery of Petra photos here:

25 mins of awesome HD Petra footage (skip to 3.40 for the Treasury):