Archive for the ‘Trips Around Europe’ Category

40 things to do before you’re 40

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

No. 33 March to the beat of history through Moscow’s Red Square

On parade in Red Square

On parade in Red Square

For decades during Communist rule, Moscow’s Red Square served as a small window through which the rest of the world would be a able to peer behind the Iron Curtain to see a picture of the Soviet Union carefully choreographed by the regime. During much of the Cold War it was here that the state would hold its many grand parades and ceremonies, during which thousands of troops would march in perfect synchrony and semi-erect missiles would be dragged past the crowds and cameras, as if to demonstrate the Soviet’s potency to the rest of the world.

Today, to stroll across the cobbles, those silent witnesses to a nation’s long history, surrounded by the same iconic buildings that were once fortresses of secrets and intrigue, is to evoke an inescapable sense of events and a time that so significantly influenced the course of human history.

What’s in a name?

Despite its role as the public face of the Soviet Union, the square’s name has nothing to do with the nation’s Communist past; red being the established colour of socialism the world over and used liberally by the Soviet state from its flag to the Red Army. Nor does it even have anything to do with the predominance of the ever-present red colour throughout the square, from the outer walls of the Kremlin to the exposed noses of cold tourists. No, sadly, the truth is a little bit more mundane than both those theories, and it is simply that the Russian word that today means ‘red’, in another time simply meant ‘beauty’.

But in a way this is probably a fortunate thing, as despite how stunning the place may be, hearing the name ‘Beautiful Square’ could never conjure up that equal measure of suspicion and intrigue, or hope to evoke the sheer weight of history with a twinge of romanticism as when you think of Russia’s Red Square.

A virtual tour

The trippy Mr Whippy onion domes of St Basil's Cathedral

The trippy Mr Whippy onion domes of St Basil's Cathedral

As you stand in the middle of this vast pedestrian-only area in the heart of bustling Moscow, the huge complex known as the Kremlin, with its long and striking red fortifications, dominates the whole western side of the square. Now the place President Putin calls home, the majority of the complex that stands today was built in the fifteenth century and has been occupied by Russian monarchs, or tsars, and a string of Soviet dictators as the seat of a nation’s power.

Turning left, your attention is soon yanked to the southern side by the eclectically coloured and multi-styled onion domes that rise up seemingly incoherently from iconic St Basil’s Cathedral. The red-brick cathedral was built on the orders of Ivan the Terrible in the sixteenth century, and whether or not he earned his sobriquet for his questionable taste in colour schemes, he was responsible for the construction of Moscow’s most recognisable landmark.

Directly behind you now, to the north, is the big red gingerbread-house-like facade of the State Historical Museum. Relatively modern to those around it being built at the end of the nineteenth century, inside is a different story where a vast collection of artefacts documents the Russia’s considerable history from prehistoric tribes onwards.

And finally, to your right on the east side of the square is the large ornate shopping centre known by its acronym GUM. Today, as a high temple to capitalism it may seem like a two-fingered salute to the failed dreams of Lenin who lies interned a stone’s throw away, but even during the Soviet Union it was for many years a state-run department store – but presumably without the trendy international brands that have outlets here today.

Sadly though, no flights of imagination can substitute the experience of being there in person to witness the real thing: to march through the epicentre of one of history’s most significant periods.

March here for more information about Topdeck’s fabulous trips to Russia that give you the opportunity to parade through Moscow’s fascinating Red Square for yourself.

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 26!

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

26. Sail the Mediterranean Sea

It sounds beautiful doesn’t it? Sailing the Mediterranean Sea… What are the first things you think of when imagining it? The crystal clear water, the warmth from the bright summer sun shining down or perhaps the incredible island landscapes you’ll see along the way? How about looking down to see schools of fish swimming beneath you or looking across the Sea to see the odd dolphin or two jumping out of the water? Chances are, whatever you’re thinking, unless you do it for yourself the thoughts will only be a fraction of the true experience!

There are many countries with a coastline along the Mediterranean Sea. Touching the African, Asian & European continents some of these countries include Morocco, Egypt, Cyprus, Lebanon, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Spain & France. The number of stunning locations and islands throughout the Mediterranean are endless. For this week’s entry we’ll just focus on a few of the best locations to sail through and around – Croatia, Greece & Turkey.


With over 700 Croatian islands in the Adriatic division of the Mediterranean Sea, some of them have to be good, right? Correct! In fact, there are also some amazing coastal cities that deserve just as much recognition as the islands.

Starting in Split – Croatia’s second highest populated city, you’ll encounter some authentic Croatian lifestyle, red tiled houses, delicious food & a beautiful mountainous landscape. It’s not a bad place to dock yourself for the night! If you have an appreciation for good nightlife then Hvar is where you’ll want to sail to next. It’s not only an attractive town with great nightlife but it also has a long history. Stari Grad or ‘Old Town’ is situated on the island and is one of the oldest towns in Europe with civilization dating back to 3500 BC!

Another city on the coastline of Croatia is Dubrovnik which boasts spectacular views. You can take in these views by walking around the city walls, or hop on a gondola to the top of the mountain. Keep an eye on the old buildings here as you can still see post-war damage!


Sailing throughout the Greek Islands is truly incredible. There are around 3500 islands in Greece although only a very small portion of these are populated. The two islands that get most of the attention in Greece are Mykonos & Santorini however Paros, Corfu, Skyros and Hydra all deserve some credit of their own. If you’re looking for a romantic getaway for you and your partner – you cannot go wrong in the Greek Islands.

If time is not on your side then perhaps catching a ferry between the islands is the best option for you. Sailing from Mykonos to Santorini non-stop can take over 48 hours with the ferry taking just a few!


Although there may be fewer islands to sail around than neighbouring Mediterranean countries, do not discount Turkey for an incredible sailing adventure. Sailing around Turkey on a traditional Gulet boat is an amazingly relaxing experience, offering magnificent beaches with crystal blue water, ancient ruins, waterfalls and many other picturesque sights. Plus, you’ll have access to some of the world’s best Baklava! Is that not reason enough to get on a boat and travel there!?

Some of the places you’ll want to check out when on a Turkish Gulet cruise include the 12 Islands of Fethiye, Kas, The Sunken City of Kekova, Simena Castle and for those who want to let their hair down and boogie the night away - Smugglers’ Island!

Topdeck Top Tip: Pack as light as possible when heading out on a sailing adventure, don’t forget to fill your music player with your favourite tunes and take a good book! If you can think of something more relaxing than listening to your favourite music or reading a good book while sailing the Mediterranean Seas, we want to know about it!

New Year’s Eve 2012 - Our top picks!

Friday, December 21st, 2012

You’ve written your resolution and you’re ready to party! New Year’s Eve is guaranteed to be one of, if not the biggest party of the year and most big cities love to put on a show. Whether you are someone who thinks of NYE as just another night, or someone who loves to celebrate the occasion, there’s no doubting that cities can look their magical best when they put their makeup on for the night. At Topdeck, we love celebrating New Year’s Eve. Here’s a run-down of what New Year activities we are going to be a part of this year (in no particular order).

1. Krakow, Poland

After a change from the usual NYE festivities last year, Krakow will once again fill their Market Square with musical performances that will include some of their best local acts. Aside from the NYE performances however, Krakow night life in general is known as some of the best in Europe.

A trip with Topdeck will allow you to experience the Cracovian night life on your first day, with a walking tour of the historic Jewish Kazimierz included in day two. The rest of day is then yours to do as you please, where you can take a walk through the mysterious streets of the Old Town and visit galleries full of exhibitions, cafes, pubs and restaurants. On day three, get ready to party and welcome in the New Year in Market Square!

More information and trip details for New Year’s Eve in Krakow can be found here.

2. Amsterdam, Netherlands

Being the capital of Netherlands, and one of the most cultural cities in Europe, Amsterdam can be considered as one of the best cities in the world offering amazing museums, delicious food and a world renowned night life. After taking an included orientation tour of the city with Topdeck crew, feel free to explore the town on a Red Light District pub crawl with your new Topdeck buddies! You’ll have time to visit the Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum and even the Heineken Experience during your time in Amsterdam. Alternatively, you may just want to sit back and relax in one of the local cafes!

Your New Year’s Eve party is included on this trip and there will be plenty of opportunity to continue the partying in one of the many Amsterdam bars and clubs.

Read more on the New Year’s Eve Amsterdam trip here.

3. Edinburgh, Scotland

Celebrating Hogmanay (The Scot’s word for New Year’s Eve) in Edinburgh is always a great experience as the city has so much to offer. You not only have the beautiful castle perched atop Castle Rock but friendly locals and world renowned night life to keep you entertained throughout your stay. On day two, your Topdeck trip leader will take you on a sightseeing tour of Edinburgh to get you well acquainted with the city. On day three, you will have tickets to join over 100,000 locals and travellers in New Year celebrations at the world famous Edinburgh street party! With a headache no doubt in store for New Year’s Day, you will then take a trip to Looney Dook where you can follow tradition and take a dip in the cold Scottish waters. Don’t forget your fancy dress!

Find out more on the Edinburgh new Year’s trip here.

4. Berlin, Germany

Celebrating the New Year in Berlin is something that over one million visitors choose to do each year – and there’s good reason why. On this trip, you will have an included group dinner to get to know your new Topdeck buddies before getting to know why Berlin night life has such a good reputation. The following day, you can get to know the city with the included walking tour, visiting some of the historic attractions including what’s left of the Berlin Wall. The afternoon is then yours to explore!

The official New Year’s Eve (Silvester) programme begins at 5:30pm in which international music stars and bands perform over various stages.

See more about the Berlin New Year’s Eve trip here.

5. Sydney, Australia

Watching Sydney try and out-do itself every year with New Year’s celebrations and fireworks means that you will always be in for a treat when visiting at this time of the year. On New Year’s Eve, you will have the option to go for an early morning surf at the world renowned Bondi Beach or visit one of the iconic cafes along the strip overlooking the beach. Afterwards, a trip to Sydney’s Rocks area, Circular Quay and the Opera House will ensure you get to see some of Australia’s most beautiful and historic attractions. To get the partying underway, we will then get onto a two storey catamaran and begin the party cruise on Sydney’s Harbour, with amazing views of famous Sydney landmarks. For those wanting to party throughout the night, there will be plenty of options all night long.

More information about our Sydney New Year’s Eve trip can be found here.

6. Prague, Czech Republic

Always a favourite of the Topdeck crew, Prague is a city full of history and a great place to party! A trip to Prague for the New Year will include a group dinner on the first night where you will then be able to experience the infamous nightlife for yourself. The following day, you will be able to explore the city, utilising the city’s trams, having your caricature done by an artist on the Charles Bridge, taking a ride on a river boat, or just relaxing in one of many restaurants or bars.

Once the New Year celebrations begin, the locals usually head towards any location that has a view overlooking the river. These tend to include Charles Bridge, Petrin Hill, Prague Castle or the more lively Old Town Square where the odd firework or two is bound to be lit!

Read more about the Prague New Year’s trip here.

Don’t miss out on celebrating the New Year in style!
See all of Topdeck’s Christmas and New Year trips on our website here.

Winter Travel - Necessary & Unnecessary Items.

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Big crowds, long lines & sunburnt skin; what’s so good about summer travel anyway? Travelling Europe during winter is just as much fun and most of the time without those overcrowded sightseeing locations and long queues. One difficulty many people face is knowing exactly what they need to fold, roll and vacuum pack into their bag to ensure they have the right items to get them through their winter travels.

Here at Topdeck we have years of winter travel experience! Below are a few things that might help you decide on what to pack for your next winter trip.

Suggested clothing list..

1 pair of comfortable walking shoes (good grip for icy walkways)
1 pair of smart casual shoes
2 pairs jeans/trousers
Plenty of underwear and thick socks
4 shirts/t-shirts/long sleeved shirts
2 sweaters/jumpers
Smart casual evening wear
1 rainproof jacket and/or umbrella
1 warm jacket/coat
Hat, beanie, scarf & gloves
Sunglasses (sun + snow can be a blinder!)

Additional, but not so essential items..

Lip balm
Portable clothes line
Cold & Flu meds (just in case)
Hand warmers
Thermal clothing, or a nice animal print ‘onesie’
Portable toilet seat warmers

Items you could probably leave behind..

Coconut tanning oil
One of those hats with a fan on top
The stick usually used to barge through the summer crowds
Your ‘Hot Summer Hits’ compilation playlist
Aloe Vera after sun spray
Budgie smugglers
Borat Mankini

Of course these are only suggestions; we would love to know if you have any items that you can’t travel without in winter, along with any items you think you definitely wouldn’t need!

Still unsure what you’ll need in your bag? Check out your Pre Departure document which contains more detailed information on what you could take. This will be emailed to you upon booking, or can be downloaded from the trip page on our website.

Fancy experiencing a European winter with Topdeck?
We currently have a cool 10% off selected winter trips departing in Dec 2012 & Jan 2013!

Brugge Christmas Markets

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Brugge, Christmas and Markets are all amazing things in their own right, so imagine them all in one place!

Beautiful medieval surroundings, handmade Belgian chocolate, mulled wine, delicious food and a joyous Christmas spirit are just some of the things you can expect if visiting at this time of year. At the Brugge Christmas markets, you will find plenty to see and to do. After realising you have just eaten a few kilograms/pounds of Belgian chocolates, you will probably have the energy to get your ice skates on too. Be careful though, this might not be such a good idea after the mulled wine!

On arrival in Brugge, a walking tour will familiarise you with the streets of this fairytale town, then the rest of the day is yours! You could easily spend a whole afternoon in the main square, winding your way through the markets, peering at the gorgeous handmade ornaments while chowing down on a hot tasty bratwurst. If you’re feeling motivated, climb the 366 stairs to the top of the belfry, and gaze down at the shoppers and ice-skaters below, all bathed in the glow of colourful Christmas lights.

If you desire some quiet time, venture away from the square and explore the meandering lanes and alleys of the town. Each twist of the cobbled streets will reveal a new and picturesque sight, whether it be a peaceful canal, an ancient church, a wall displaying thousands of unique beer bottles (yes, really!) or yet another meticulously decorated chocolate shop. If you start to get chilly in the crisp winter’s air, why not duck into a cosy cafe, and warm up with some traditional moules-frites (fries with mussels – though you can swap the mussels for ketchup, mayonnaise or gravy, if you’re so inclined!). Try not to fill up too much as you’ll have a delicious included dinner ahead of you, and the chance to sample the Brugge nightlife with your fellow Topdeck travellers.

Of course, you can’t leave without sampling a traditional Belgian waffle (or three). They’ll make for a decadent lunch, especially when washed down with some of the best (and richest!) hot chocolate you’ll ever taste. You should grab a kilo or two of handmade praline chocolates for the road – after all, when will you be back in beautiful Brugge?

After your weekend of exploring, and all that heavenly food, you’ll be ready to settle in for a nap on your way back to London on board the Topdeck coach!

Interested in experiencing the Brugge Christmas Markets for yourself this year? Book now and receive 10% off for our 15th December departure. There is limited availability so get in quick!

From Paris with Love: From the eyes of a Topdeck Trip Leader

Monday, November 5th, 2012

By Emily Grindrod

I am in Paris right now. In a large brasserie of which the interior has not been updated since the 80’s, but it still looks perfect. Style that lasts in this joint! This could be any café or brasserie in Paris, I make a point of visiting a new one every time I am in this city, usually comparing the croque madam’s – ham, cheese and fried egg on toast. It is easy to walk in off a Parisian street to any number of establishments and be served. The waitress here (most likely another installment from the 80’s), first yelled at me, thinking I was another tourist off the Gard du Nord station, where the Eurostar comes in, sneaking in to use the toilets. Then after I ordered she kindly brought me the Internet code and helped me enter the password despite me not having asked for Wi-Fi.

I have never come to Paris via Eurostar before, but I am not here with work. Usually by the time I hit Paris with a fresh group of Topdeck passengers the anticipation for the city of lights is palpable on the coach. I am here for the first time as a tourist myself, my dad is in Geneva on business and he is stopping in Paris for two nights and I have hopped over the channel to visit him. I leave in two days and hit three capital cities within 8 hours – Paris to London, London to Madrid to start a month of vacation before I hit the road again in our big blue, white and yellow Topdeck coaches for the winter season. And I am beyond excited to be spending New Years Eve in Florence, my favourite city in southern Europe. No doubt my passengers, driver and myself will be ringing in 2013 in the Red Garter, a bar which Topdeck coaches have frequented nearly since the company’s inception.

Speaking of vintage Topdeck, I made a friend in Amsterdam who is somewhat of a vintage Topdeck passenger.  On my very first trip as a fully-fledged trip leader I took my passengers to a funky bar in Amsterdam: The Waterhole”. Live music, on Sundays it’s jam night, decorated with crooked pool tables, and completed with a Hells Angel as the doorman. The first time that I took passengers there, there was a guy in the corner painting water colour portraits of people in the bar on the back of placemats (I later learned that it was beer, not water that he mixes with the paint). He recognized my Topdeck crew jacket and he told me that he had done a Topdeck trip in 1980 and it was one of the best summers he could remember.  He also said that he was glad that Topdeck still maintains an ethos of having fun and sharing with friends, with an appreciative nod toward some of my group who were bopping around on the dance floor, singing along to a classic rock hits and arms around one another. Every time I go to “The Waterhole” I look for my friend and we have a catch up. As it turns out he is a Toronto native, where I went to university and lived before working for Topdeck and went to boarding school in my hometown of 50,000, Belleville  (the biggest thing in my home is the boarding school). Talk about a small world. It is these people that add even more amazement as to how much I love my job.

After a jam packed season of quickly falling head over heels with my job I am ready for some rest and relaxation. The last week of my last 28 day Grand European tour was probably my favourite part of the trip and kept me very busy. The week started off with leaving Slovenia and heading to Tyrol in Austria via the beautiful Lake Bled. This lake is so relaxing and a welcome quiet couple of hours as everyone wanders around the water. Some of the guys went down a luge type ride on a fixed track while most other people looked at swans and ducks, morning rowers and the island with a church on it and sipped coffee at cafes. My Irish driver, Leon, and I decided it would be a great idea to row out to the island. We rented a boat for an hour at only 6 Euros each and began rowing out. After about ten minutes of a backwards technique, me in hysterics and nearly going in circles I took over (apparently they don’t have rowboats in Ireland!). My outdoorsy mother would have been so proud, 23 summers spent on a lake in rural Ontario proved to be great training for our great Slovenian boat adventure. Waving to laughing passengers we slowly made our way to the island, Leon navigating and me splashing him as I rowed (totally by accident of course!). After a couple of tries at docking we were on the little dock at the island – along with the other people who had the brains to get on a larger boat that was rowed by someone who gets paid for that type of thing.  After walking around the island (which doesn’t take long) and taking some pictures we headed back, splitting the rowing duty this time now that Leon had seen how its done!

After gathering the troops back to the coach we were off to Tyrol.  The people are friendly, holding on to traditions such as local dress and making their schnapps at home while managing to be a huge destination for the ski season. We stay at a big guest house which is very homey and a real treat to stay at. After a barbeque, board games and a few beers some of the passengers caught a taxi into a local bar to watch a football game, whoever was left at the bar with me and subject to more beers, some sort of local shot that has to be set on fire for three minutes before you drink it, and really bad dancing. Most of us were in our socks at this point. That night we saw the likes of gymnastics, a drinking game where one infuses yoga with picking up a shot glass off the ground with your mouth and no hands, highland dancing (from yours truly and reserved only for 1AM at weddings and nights like this) and the worst attempts at the “worm” since my school graduation party. The next morning some of these people were jumping out of planes and parasailing.

Tyrol is also well known for its extreme sports opportunities. Two of my passengers who signed up for paragliding were very scared of heights. I told them that I am terrified of heights and I have paraglided in Tyrol and as soon as you are lifted off the ground the fear is immediately forgotten in a rush of adrenaline and awe at the landscape that unfolds in front of you. My two passengers came back telling me how grateful they were that they didn’t back out and it was the highlight of their trip so far. It is moments like this that I love my job the most, more than the great food that I can enjoy, the friends that I have made on the road, the blurry nights in an Austrian guest house or an Amsterdam bar. It is the moments when passengers have overcome a fear, achieved something on their bucket list, when a picky eater tries snails in Paris, or when at the end of the tour people have been able to make a life decision, I have had a girl in the US army decide to return for another stint and someone on their gap year be inspired by Europe to study history. It is those moments that make me realize what a fantastic job I have.

From Paris, with love!

Take advantage of our Early Bird Deal with Europe Summer 2013. Book your Topdeck Europe Summer 2013 trip and pay in full anytime before 28 December 2012 and save 10% with our fantastic early bird offer!

Summer Fun and Sailing - Dreams becoming Reality Part. 2

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Following on from last week’s blog -Summer Fun and Sailing – Dreams becoming Reality Part.1. Read the final installment in the series below.

Tirana, Albania

After a big three days sailing the Greek Islands my group were more or less shattered, so there was no better place to be than in the comfortable hotel accommodation in Tirana. With a double bed, air conditioned room and spectacular views spanning over the city, I was in my element! After a deep untroubled night’s sleep we departed the next morning for a bus tour around Tirana. Albania has only recently (May, 1991) opened its borders to visitors so very few people have seen the country and it has remained isolated and untouched by developing western society. It was really amazing to see how the Albanian people live especially the vintage cars, old ladies smoking huge Havana cigars, fashion stuck in the seventies and the beat of the music.

Our departure from Albania was a little time consuming at the Tirana border and there was a short wait for processing. Luckily for us though there was a very affordable pub nearby where we all enjoyed a large pint in the Albania sun.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

What can I say about Dubrovnik? I loved EVERYTHING about it; the beaches, the weather, the shopping, the food, the people and the nightlife. I completely fell head over heels in love with this cool little city and luckily for me we had two days here which allowed plenty of time to experience everything that it had on offer! Our first day started with a walking tour of the Old Town by a local guide and I couldn’t get over what was behind these ancient walls. Crystal clear water at the fisherman’s port (Lokanda Peskarija), shops in little streets filled with amazing knick-knacks (that Dee and I spent most of the day in) churches, restaurants which served the most amazing seafood and don’t let me forget the nightclubs! That night the whole group hit Skybar Club and Revelin Culture Club (which is now officially my favourite club) and partied hard to the sounds of live DJs, bright lights and men on stilts - some of us partied a bit too hard when a pair of very loved (and very expensive) shoes got lost on the dance floor, right Michelle!

We finished the night with the boys each trying their luck on the ‘Lion Head’, found on the walls of the Franciscan Monastery in the Old Town. Legend has it, that if you manage to hop onto the head, keep your balance and take your shirt off while standing facing the wall, luck in love will follow you – Jared, has Katy Perry confessed her love to you yet?

Zadar, Croatia

After experiencing the beauty that Croatia had to offer first hand in Dubrovnik, I was really excited to move onto Zadar - and I was not disappointed. This beautiful walled city on the Dalmatian Coast was on another level. Our whole Topdeck crew, tired but happy, all came together in Zadar to celebrate our lovely Topdeck Trip Leader, Leentje’s, birthday that night down on the main boardwalk. The boardwalk was alive with the hustle and bustle of people and laughter of young children playing, with a street entertainer found on every corner. The major attraction of Zadar is of course the ‘Zadar Sea Organ’ which plays music by way of sea waves and tubes under the boardwalk.

Experiencing the sunset in Zadar with the Sea Organ gurgling in the background and enjoying a glass of wine was just magical. It was a perfect end to a perfect day.

Venice, Italy

Next stop was Venice, Italy! But not before visiting the Postojna Caves in Slovenia, nicknamed the ‘Jewels of Nature‘. These caves were fascinating and dripping with thousands of year’s worth of history. After a short train ride into the middle of the caves we were taken for a walking tour and taught about the creation of the caves thousands of years ago - a definite highlight. We arrived at our Venice accommodation ‘Camping Jolly‘ that afternoon, complete with yet another pool, an onsite bar, air conditioned rooms and everyone’s favourite - the Topdeck food tent, yum! The first night in Venice was insane, not only was it the night of the infamous Topdeck Mask Party, but it was also the trip’s ‘best friend’ , Doug’s, birthday, which only meant lots of laughs, lots of dancing and lots of memories made. I even managed to sneak a little kiss with a dreamy Italian (who spoke very little English but who needs to chat)! Happy birthday Dougie! I truly hope that this was a birthday you will never forget.

The following day with a few sore heads still lurking, we embarked on a walking tour of the ‘The City of Water‘, viewing landmarks like St Marks Square (I have never seen so many pigeons in my life!) the Basilica of St Mark and the Doge’s Palace before heading to a demonstration of lace creation that were shown just for us! That afternoon we all took part in a traditional gondola cruise on the water surrounding the buildings of Venice and took in all the incredible sights and sounds before heading back to Camping Jolly for a night pool party - it really was all go in this city! It was in Venice that we had to say goodbye to my ‘travel sister’ Ellie, who finished her Topdeck trip here.

Munich, Germany

We arrived in Munich a week before Oktoberfest kicked off so it was really cool to see the city preparing for the massive festival. The streets were aglow with decorations, dirndl outfits displayed proudly in shop windows and excitement was in the air. We went on a sightseeing tour by twilight where we were able to see the amazing designs of the Munich architecture such as Marienplatz Square and the New Town Hall. The German culture took full swing that night as we visited the local beer halls and tried the German delicacies like large pretzels and steins of beer. We ended up befriending our waiter who even posed for a photo with us!

A morning trip to Dachau Concentration camp was a hugely reflective moment where I felt a huge emotional attachment. After studying the history of this camp throughout my school years nothing could prepare me for how I would feel when I stood in the middle of the camp courtyard and took in all the surroundings.

Prague, Czech Republic

I was so excited to visit Prague; it was a city that has forever been on my bucket list. So I was really happy when the Topdeck coach bustled into the famous cobble streets of this magnificent city. We were again staying in the Plus Hostel chain - Plus Prague. Prague was everything I thought it would be and more, and don’t even get me started on the mind blowing shops (oh just thinking about them now has set me off on a daydreaming tangent). As we had a free day I spent most of it checking out the recommended must sees in my itinerary like Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, Old Town Square and the Golem of Prague Statue. The first night in Prague was spent celebrating Topdecker Cath’s birthday in the nightclub Duplex, the photo’s from that night are still too embarrassing to look at! Happy birthday beautiful Cath I hope your special night was everything you dreamed it would be!

Whilst in Prague we were lucky enough to party on board a boat on the Vltava River and we were joined by two other Topdeck trips. It was a great night to let our hair down and to mingle with so many different people! Three boys from our group dressed up as ‘Topdeck Sailors’ which was a great laugh.

Rhine Valley, Germany

Onto the vineyards of central Germany and the beautiful castles and villages along the Rhine River! In the Rhine Valley we stayed in the 12th century Stahleck Castle Hostel which overlooked the little city and expansive river below, it was magical! I stayed in a room right at the top of the tower of the castle accommodation (cue my Prince Charming!). That night when we rolled into town we found that the annual wine festival was on; hmm I wonder if they knew we were visiting? Not only did we sample some of the most delicious wine I have ever tasted (and I am a New Zealander!) but we were subject again to another magnificent display of fireworks, a beautiful but sad reminder that my trip was nearing an end.

The next morning we drove through St Goar, a pretty little village on the Rhine River where Leentje taught us about the myths surrounding the Loreley Rock and its mysterious siren before visiting the Beer Stein shop and to see the world’s largest Cuckoo clock, which happened to have a massive teddy bear standing underneath it – of course I had to give it the biggest cuddle.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

What a city to end my adventure in! Amsterdam had it all: history, culture, shopping, architecture, amazing food, great nightlife and do I even need to mention the Coffee Shops (not to be confused with Cafe’s!). I spent most of my time here being a typical tourist; I took a bike riding tour with Mike’s Bikes around the beautiful canals, the crooked little houses, Vondel Park and took in the sights of the ‘I Amsterdam’ sign – a definite recommendation. We visited Anne Frank’s house, studied the art at the Van Gogh Museum, stirred hops at the Heineken Experience (and drank a bit too much free beer), walked through the Red Light District and saw some eye popping things to say the least!

We spent the last night together having our last meal at a Chinese Restaurant on the water, before boarding a canal cruise with the rest of my Topdeck group. The cameras were definitely clicking on this cruise and we finished with a beautiful goodbye toast by KB and Jared which not going to lie made me shed a few tears! We then partied and danced the night away in a nightclub…all in all, it was a great send off to a fantastic trip, and I was very surprised no one ended up with a drunken tattoo! Our final stop was a few hours in Brugge, Belgium where we indulged in the most amazing waffles and chocolate, (although it didn’t meet others expectations –right Bernie?)  and admired the amazing Belfry and Cloth Hall in the City Square.

Final Note:

And that is it, 26 days of the most amazing, magical, life changing experience rolled into 2 parts! I can truly say I have never felt as happy as I did on this trip and I have made memories (and friends) that will last a life time. Just a few people I want to thank who joined me on this journey.

Saatchi, I couldn’t have done this without you and your endless positivity and willingness to give everything a go. I could not have asked for a more perfect travel buddy and friend. Topdeck, Leentje and Alessandro, without you this trip would not even exist just know I will be forever thankful for everything you have done! Doug and Alessio my little brothers, you became my family and made me smile and laugh every day, love you both! Kristy and Ellie, my travel sister’s the adventures we 3 got up to will never be forgotten. Nicky and Clux, I know we will be friends for a long, long time even though you managed to pour your drink on me a number of times throughout the trip Nicky!

Vicki, Elise, Georgia, Georgie, Cath, Em, Dee, Lea, Jess, Keri, Michelle (brownie promise), TJ, Hayley, Maddy (burning up the dance floor) – you girls are ALL amazing, I had so many great nights with you all and I give you all the deepest gratitude from the bottom of my heart for being a huge part of my journeyJared, Bernie, Jayden, Justin, KB, Kieran, Father John, Giggles and Suave Marv the Marvellous Marvel (you beautiful creature) ‘The Boys’, thank you for the laughs, the memories and the good times – hugs and kisses to all.

To the dreamy Italian in Venice – you are a babe.

And to the rest of my Topdeck crew – you became my second family and I will see you somewhere on my adventures in the near future!

Summer Fun + Sailing - Dreams becoming Reality Pt. 1

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

After arriving in London with a hiss and a roar and trying to find our way around on the Underground my travel buddy and good friend, Saatchi and I eventually pushed open the doors of The Clink (our hostel) and the departure point for our 26 Summer Fun + Sailing Topdeck trip around Europe. Little did we know we were about to embark on the journey of a lifetime.

Paris, France

What an amazing city! Paris really is exactly like it is described in the books and movies. On the day we arrived we all tried out the traditional French cuisine of escargot (which being snails and garlic were surprisingly, not as bad as expected!) followed by an amazing ‘city lights tour’ by night where we got to see all the magnificent sights of Paris in all their glory. I finished the evening off with a nightcap at the local pub with some new found Topdeck pals which ended with a heartfelt marriage proposal from the bartender - Paris, the city of love right?!

As our second day in Paris was a free day we had all the time in the world to go and see the sights starting with walking up all 669 stairs of the Eiffel Tower (impressed? - especially after the big night previously), before making my way down to the Louvre with Saatchi and new friends Lea and Dee. Of course we posed for the token tourist photo and saw a little famous painting by the name of ‘Mona Lisa‘; visited the Notre Dame which by standing in its presence alone you could feel the spirituality that surrounded it; and marvelled at the Arc de Triomphe. That night we enjoyed a picnic dinner under the Eiffel Tower and there was an optional activity to watch a traditional French Cabaret show or to cruise the River Seine by boat -which was fantastic apart from the downpour which drenched us all!

I was lucky enough to be standing underneath the Eiffel Tower at 10PM when the twinkling lights display took place. It really was such a magical moment and a memory that will stay with me always.

Lauterbrunnen, Swiss Alps, Switzerland

After the beautiful sights of Paris I was expecting it to be tough for any other country to live up to it but I was proved wrong when our coach rolled into Lauterbrunnen; this little town was breathtakingly beautiful. The scenery was amazing, waterfalls, snow-peaked mountains, little streams running between dainty cottages and lots of green, a perfect setting for a ‘Sound of Music‘ yodelling opportunity. It was also the place where I got the chance to travel to the summit of Jungfrau mountain; otherwise known as the ‘Top of Europe’, where we were able to admire the displays in the ice museum and have the chance to play in buckets of snow; For some of my group this was their first time seeing it. Something I learnt, show a group of 18-30 year olds snow and they will be entertained for hours!

That night our Topdeck group got a bit wild and well acquainted by having a good dance and chin wag in the onsite bar of our cosy cabin accommodation. I can pinpoint this night of the trip where strong friendships were set in stone.

Nice, French Rivera,

This place was BEAUTIFUL! To come from chilly Lautenburren, to blazing hot Nice was crazy; the sun was always shining and the crystal blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea lapped happily on the pebble stone beaches. As soon as we arrived we hit the beach for a sunbathe and cruised the main streets browsing shops and eating some of the world’s most amazing pizza - seriously! That evening we walked the streets in the warm night air and took in the sights and sounds of this busy city; enjoying what a local Irish bar near our hostel had on offer, which in one of my fellow Topdecker Ellie’s case was Irishman Dennis (her heart was left behind in Nice). We finished the night off by enjoying a quick 3AM dip which saw a few of the group lose their clothes- oops!

An evening trip to Monaco found us visiting the famous Grand Casino and rubbing shoulders with some of the country’s wealthiest people followed by an incredible fireworks display that went on for around 30 minutes - put on just for us I am sure!

Florence, Italy

Before arriving in Florence we visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I was lucky enough to have visited this tower previously in 2006 and I could not get over how much the building has continued to lean in that time! With the rate that it seems to be moving, I feel privileged to have seen it twice in my lifetime. Our accommodation in Florence, Plus Hostel, was by far my favourite accommodation on the trip. It had a pool and introduced us to the infamous cocktail buckets. It was also the location where our trip song ‘Take Your Shirt Off‘ was determined (and taken quite literally!) on the dance floor.

We did a fantastic walking tour around Florence with a local guide which allowed us to see some of the beautiful architecture (and Italian men!) of this city and admire the famous statue replicas, like David, in Piazza della Signoria square.

Rome, Italy

Ah…Rome. The food; the buildings; the people; the weather; the history - it was just so overwhelming and perfect in every single way! The first night we arrived we were taken on a walk around the city to view the magnificent sights (and we still didn’t see everything Rome could offer in this time!). We were lucky enough to see most of the famous landmarks however, such as Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Santa Maria de Popolo, Monument of Emmanuel, Roman Forum, Pantheon and of course the Colosseum. The next morning was spent exploring the ancient walls of Vatican City and looking up at the precise Michelangelo painting on the Sistine Chapel roof, which can only be described as incredible. We stayed at a great campsite called ‘Camping Roma‘ which was host to the infamous ‘Topdeck Toga Party‘ and this party did not disappoint. Everyone dressed up to the nine’s in their bed sheets, and made head pieces out of flowers picked from the garden (thanks KB!) and for a night we were all Roman gods and goddesses. We danced into the wee hours of the morning, lots of laughs shared and another cheeky appearance from those cocktail buckets!

Rome had so many highlights for me - seeing the Monument of Emmanuel was a highlight, it really is my favourite building! Making a wish at the Trevi Fountain (fingers crossed it comes true!) and the traditional Topdeck toga party - which was one of life’s best parties, no lie!

Flotilla Sailing - Greek Islands,

Where do I start with Flotilla Sailing through the Greek Islands? I can confidently say that this was a huge highlight for not only me but for a number of group members and a major reason why we chose this particular Topdeck trip. This was 3 full days of absolute bliss - floating upon lilos on crystal blue waters, donning Captain hats, docking at small, intimate islands each night that showcased different cultures; learning to sail our little flotilla yachts; sunbathing and water sports fun. We were even taught a traditional Greek dance one night, which taught me one of life’s necessary activities, carrying a table with my teeth! Unfortunately, no plate smashing was involved. A group meal on the first night of sailing erupted with loud, shrill girly screams (and a few teary eyes from the boys - which they are yet to admit) when Tim proposed to girlfriend Jess, and she said YES! It was such an awesome moment to experience and to be a part of, and I wish the happy couple all the love in life!

It was when we were sailing that I can determine the happiest I felt on the whole trip; We had just left the dock, the sun was shining and my favourite song was playing on the radio, when a pod of dolphins came out from nowhere and started swimming next to our boat, I don’t think I have smiled so much in my life!

Please check back next week for Part 2 of Summer Fun + Sailing - Dreams becoming Reality

Budapest, Hungary: Karaoke, Schnitzels & Nudity!

Friday, September 14th, 2012

By Carl Smith

“Egészségedre!” is the cry and the karaoke strikes up again.

A group of students are bellowing out what obviously must be a Hungarian classic. My passengers and I are joining in even though we don’t have a clue what we’re singing.

It’s the end of another fantastic day in Budapest, the ‘Pearl of the Danube’, and we’re in Morrison’s Music Pub 2 which seems to be packed with young locals every night of the week.

Carl belting out a tune at Morrison’s Music Pub 2. Photo/C.Smith

Carl belting out a tune at Morrison’s Music Pub 2. Photo/C.Smith

We headed here after a fantastic dinner at Restaurant Fatal which is less deadly than the name suggests (although their portion sizes should come with a health warning). Today, not for the first time, I opted for the schnitzel which is literally the size of a pillow. It’s like someone flattened Babe and coated him in breadcrumbs. Delicious!

Deadly dinners at Restaurant Fatal. Photo/C.Smith

Deadly dinners at Restaurant Fatal. Photo/C.Smith

Earlier in the day I sought out the therapeutic benefits of Budapest’s thermal baths to ‘cleanse’ my body of its not inconsiderable toxins

No trip to Budapest is complete without a visit to one of the baths. Two of the most popular are the Szechenyi and the Gellert Baths.

The three outdoor heated pools and 12 indoor pools and saunas of the tongue-twisting Szechenyi Baths are in City Park.

Some pools are communal while others are segregated between men and women – which may be a blessing for anyone who is prone to blushing cheeks!

During one visit to the men’s sauna I quickly felt overdressed, sitting there in a ‘modesty cover’.

Let’s just say that the two old guys playing chess to my right had definitely left their Bishops exposed!

The Baths are just the tip of the iceberg. Budapest has some breath-taking landmarks not least the neo-Gothic Parliament House, grand St Stephen’s Cathedral, and the imposing Castle District.

Parliament House, Budapest. Photo/C.Smith

Parliament House, Budapest. Photo/C.Smith

In the same area as the latter is Fisherman’s Bastion, a cracking piece of architecture which evokes the tents of the Magyar tribes who founded the nation.

Then there are brilliant attractions such as the House of Terror, without doubt one of my favourite museums in Europe. It tells the sad story of Hungary’s ‘Double Occupation’ during and after World War II by hard-line Fascist and Communist regimes.

The striking building used to house the Nazi-affiliated Arrow Cross organisation and later the ÁVH (the “secret police” of the Communist regime).

After making your way through the thought-provoking exhibits, a lift takes you to the basement cells where both organisations used to interrogate, torture, and kill helpless prisoners. It’s a moving, memorable tribute to the victims.

House of Terror, Budapest. Photo/C.Smith

House of Terror, Budapest. Photo/C.Smith

Hungary has a fascinating history which is reflected in statues throughout Budapest.

There’s the poignant ‘Shoes on the Danube’ memorial along the river bank representing the spot where Jewish victims were shot during World War II by the Arrow Cross. Their bodies would fall in to the Danube leaving only their footwear behind.

And there’s also the statue of former politician Imre Nagy near Parliament House which harks to the dark days of 1956 when his attempted revolution was violently crushed by Soviet forces leading to his arrest and execution.

I’m always keen to learn more about each and every country and I’m lucky enough to have some fantastic Hungarian colleagues among our multinational Road Crew whose brains I can pick.

There are drivers like Akos, (who used to play drums in a metal band), Zoltan (who is known to cook his groups the most amazing Hungarian goulash on camping trips) and Trip Leader Kriszti (a Budapest native) to name but a few.

In my experience they are all representative of their countrymen and women – warm, friendly, and they definitely know how to party!

So back in the pub, as the music strikes up again and we order another pálinka. I’m already looking forward to when I can next return to Budapest!


Visit Budapest on one of Topdeck’s many trips that take you to Hungary.

Behind the Scenes: 2013 Topdeck Europe Pre-Release

Monday, September 10th, 2012

The Topdeck London office breathed a collective sigh of relief on Friday, August 31. After months of hard work, late nights and tired eyes we launched the 2013 Europe Pre-Release.

So what goes in to putting together all the information you find in these delightful digital pages? A lot more than you’d think I’d suspect.

First up, our operations team work with our Europe-based suppliers (hotel, hostels, campsites, restaurants etc) to find where and when we can fit you all in. The really tricky part is that they have to do all this right in the middle of Europe’s peak travel season. This means they have to juggle organising next year’s trips while dealing with the ones that are currently on the road.

While all this is happening, the creative brains in the Topdeck Design team are laying out the pages, finding photos, creating maps and editing itineraries to fit snugly into our brochure format.

Once the Operations guys have put all the dates together and calculated the pricing for the seven currencies we sell in everything is sent to the Design team and this is where the fun really begins.

It’s up to a few unlucky souls to check and re-check each and every date, price, itinerary and map in the brochure. At this stage the brochure goes to the big bosses in management for the final seal of approval.

Next, the brochures are sent off to print and all the dates and prices are loaded onto the Topdeck website.

But there’s no rest for the wicked. While the Pre-Release brochure might be done and dusted we still have the Europe 2013, Australia and New Zealand, Africa and Festivals brochures to look forward to.

So next time you’re flicking your way through the Topdeck brochure in your hand (or on the screen), take a little time to admire our hard work.


Book your 2013 Europe summer trip now & save up to 15% when you book and pay in full before 30 September 2012.