Posts Tagged ‘france’

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 1!

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

Did you know that in 2013 Topdeck celebrates its 40th birthday? How time flies! Since our first trip in November 1973 we’ve spent four decades sharing incredible travel experiences all over the globe with our passengers.

In anticipation of our birthday we’re going to be featuring 40 of our favourite experiences over the next 40 weeks – a travel wish list that has proved virtually impossible to narrow down!

How many of them have you done? And how many would you love to do? Check in weekly to read about some of the most unforgettable travel moments on this amazing planet of ours, and perhaps get inspired for your next travel adventure!

Explore. Enjoy. Share the Experience with Topdeck.

1. See the Eiffel Tower sparkle

What’s the most recognisable landmark in the world? If you answered the Eiffel Tower, not many would disagree with you. This elegant behemoth is beloved by Parisians… but it wasn’t always so. Did you know that for a long time after its construction in 1889, the Eiffel Tower was widely despised by many locals?

Designed as an entrance arch to the 1889 World Expo, the tower was originally intended to be a 20-year temporary structure… but the time came and went while the tower remained standing. Over time even the notoriously picky Parisians grew to love it – as do its estimated 7 million visitors per year!

Already iconic, the Eiffel Tower became even more dazzling (literally) in the year 2000, when a flickering light display was installed for the millennium celebrations.

It went down so well that it has remained in place ever since and the tower performs a nightly spectacle on the stroke of each hour.

For around five minutes the Eiffel Tower glitters above the Parisian skyline, as though the world’s paparazzi have swarmed up to every possible vantage point and started photographing the stylish city on the Seine.

The Eiffel Tower has endured Parisian cynicism, thwarted the ambitions of Hitler, and even survived a sneaky bungy jump from a mulleted young Kiwi called AJ Hackett! It has cemented its place in the cast of the world’s great landmarks and firmly deserves a place on any travel wish list.

Topdeck Top Tip: For a great view watch the display from the Champs du Mars parade ground below the tower, where the symmetrical gardens and tree-lined walkways act as the perfect frame for one of the most eye-catching displays in Europe. What’s even better is that it’s completely free!

Check out AJ Hackett’s bungy jump here:

Have you seen the Eiffel Tower sparkle?
Share your best Eiffel Tower pics and Topdeck memories with us!

Guest Blogger: Let Your Joy Rise

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

Take a 150 item list, a 24 day Topdeck trip and an ongoing journey of self discovery and you end up with one inspirational adventure.  Join Shanny, the writer behind the blog Let Your Joy Rise, as she crosses no. 2 off her List - travel around Europe (and a few more along the way). Oh, and she manages to set her face on fire!


London, UK

Greetings from merry old England! I absolutely L-O-V-E-D London; in fact, I can see why so many Aussies choose to venture over there and call it their home (well, at least for a couple of years!) After finally finding my way to my hostel, I embarked on a three-day, non-stop spree of sightseeing, shopping, picture-taking, walking, Tube-catching, drinking and laughing goodness! Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Notting Hill, Big Ben, Leicester Square, Oxford Circus, Westminster Abbey, the Tate Modern, St Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, Camden Markets,  West End, The Thames….ahh, so many wonderful sights!

The three days I spent alone in London were some of the best of my life – from sun up to sun down (which doesn’t happen until 10:30pm at night!), I was wandering the streets and catching the Underground like a pro, trying to absorb as much of the London vibe as I could. It was such a refreshing, inspiring and amazing time for me – I’d never felt so free and independent in my life! I met some wonderful people along the way, including lovely girls in my dorm, and some top lads staying in The Clink (my hostel) who had me drinking, laughing and partying the nights away…thanks for the memories, boys!

+ Special moment/highlight: Unexpectedly tumbling into a free West End musical spectacular held in Trafalgar Square, showcasing all the music of current productions – including Rock of Ages, Matilda, Billy Elliott, and Mamma Mia – and singing my heart out to the Journey anthem ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ from Rock of Ages in the middle of a giant sea of people…

Paris, France

Ah, the City of Lights…take me back! Paris was everything I’d ever imagined and more. I’d been waiting to go to Paris since I was seven years old and it did not disappoint me – it truly is one of the most beautiful and romantic cities of the world. Seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time reduced me to tears and this profound moment unexpectedly helped me to cross off another huge milestone on my list (see No.55 – Forgive him).

From Paris with love x

I also had a ‘date’ with the city, where I spent a whole day wandering the streets of Paris, including the Avenue des Champs-Élysées; marveling at the Arc de Triomphe;  a visit to the Louvre with my new friends Valentina and Paige; eating Ladurée macaroons, baguettes, and crepes; photographing the Lover’s Lock Bridge, adorned with padlocks from lovers around the world; strolling along the River Seine; sending up a prayer inside Notre Dame; catching the Metro; practicing my French with the locals; then all topped off with an afternoon of laying on the grass under the Eiffel Tower, reading Vanity Fair while basking in the summer sun. Paris truly stole my heart that day and I can’t wait to visit this amazing city again soon.

+ Special moment/highlight: I was lucky enough to be standing on the banks of the River Seine at 11pm when all of a sudden the Eiffel Tower burst into a magnificent display of twinkling lights, and in that moment, I felt my heart soar with joy.

Jungfrau, Switzerland

Ok, this place was simply ahhh-mazing!!!! It was like falling into a storybook, complete with snowcapped mountains, rolling green valleys, spectacular waterfalls tumbling down sheer cliffs, and crisp fresh air. I stayed in a cabin in a gorgeous campground located deep in a valley of the Alps and the serenity and beauty of the place took my breath away. The day was filled with a trip to the very top of Jungfrau mountain (the ‘Top of Europe’, as they say) and playing in the snow(lots of laughs were had!), and the nights were spent drinking, singing at the top of my lungs, and dancing on the tabletops in the cozy bar onsite with my new tour buddies. Seriously, this is one place that everyone must visit in their lifetime – simply stunning…

Playing in the snow in the Swiss Alps!!!

+ Special moment/highlight: Meditating in a grassy field of clover and butterflies in the valley between the Alps in the late afternoon, listening to the cracks of mini snow avalanches in the hills, breathing in the purest air I’ve ever breathed, and achieving the highest state of bliss of all time…magical.

Dancing on a bar tabletop with Marti, our tour leader and uber legend, and Conan, tour bro for life x

Nice, French Riviera

The beautiful aqua waters of the Mediterranean Sea, the warm air, the gorgeous people…oh, how I loved Nice! Warm, balmy nights spent dancing on tabletops in Wayne’s Bar with my newest and dearest girlfriends on tour, Lisa and Siobhan; kissing cute French boys (ohh la la!); jumping into the sea to cool down at 3am; people-watching over a croissant and coffee breakfast at a trendy café; strolling the seaside markets filled with fresh produce; sunbathing on pebble beaches;swimming in the Mediterranean Sea; stumbling across France’s best gelato shop for a delicious afternoon treat; a makeshift picnic lunch of fresh baguettes, Brie, figs, raspberries, olives and blueberries purchased from the markets; an evening visit to Monaco; drinking Grey Goose Vodka Martinis in the Grand Casino (a’ la James Bond); eating pizza and laughing with new friends at 1am…tres’ genial!

Partying in Wayne’s Bar (yes, I’m on top of another table…)

+ Special moment/highlight: Becoming close friends with two other female solo travellers, Lisa and Siobhan, a.k.a. my ‘tour sisters’. We were like the 3 Musketeers of trouble! Awesome, amazing, inspiring women who I will always treasure and consider dear friends – lots of love to you both always xxx

Channeling my inner Princess Grace in Monaco…

Florence, Italy

Stopped by the Leaning Tower of Pisa on the way to Florence for a photo (yeah, there’s a tower there that doesn’t stand up straight…that’s about it!) Unfortunately, by the time I arrived in Florence I was quite ill and although I managed to soldier on and go out partying in a karaoke bar in the city that night, I found myself back at the hostel pretty early and in a lot of pain.

Just holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, no biggie…

The next morning my darling girls took me to a local doctor who, upon hearing that I refused to go to hospital because I had to leave for Rome in 4 hours, cheerfully administered two injections (one antibiotics, one painkiller) to my derrière so that I could indeed make it to Rome. The rest of the morning is a bit of a blur (my memories of Florence are a bit hazy due to the painkillers – wow, those Italians sure know how to make you feel better!), although I was told that I was a delight to be around and quite entertaining…ahem!  So, I don’t have much to report about Florence, except to say that the bars are cool, the architecture is beautiful (i.e. the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, or the Duomo, as it is more commonly known) and the doctors are awesome!

Florence by night

+ Special moment/highlight: Watching the sun set over the Florence skyline from the rooftop of our hostel with my girls…the Duomo glowing at sunset is spectacular!

Rooftop sunset…

Rome, Italy

Roma…ahhh, say no more! The history, the architecture, the people, the food, the language, the gestures…the gelato!!! Rome is everything you think it will be, and then some. Every step you take, around every corner you turn, there is an abundance of history and culture just waiting for you. The Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Santa Maria del Popolo, Roman Forum, Fountain of the Four Rivers, Pantheon, Colosseum, Castel Sant’Angelo, Vatican City…all of it is simply spectacular!

The Colosseum at sunset…

Inside the Colosseum!!!

And the food…ahhh, drool-worthy! Pizza, pasta, tiramisu, Caprese salad…and the gelato, oh, the gelato! My record was six gelatos in one day (over-indulge much?), but I can justify this because the temperature peaked at 42 degrees while I was there – warm!

Trevi Fountain = magic

Add cheap drinks, cool swimming pools, and an impromptu, out-of-control Toga Party to this setting and you have yourself an unforgettable time, filled with shenanigans! Once again, there was a cute boy for me to kiss (a big shout-out to the lovely and handsome Tim from Sydney) and my night was complete. As they say, when in Rome…!

My cute ‘Roman’, Tim xxx

+ Special moment/highlight: Ohh, that’s hard…It is a toss up between standing inside the Colosseum / making a wish at the Trevi Fountain / visiting Vatican City / and having a cute young ‘Roman’ come up and sweep me off my feet on the dance floor at the Toga Party!Bellissimo!

Toga Party with my girls xoxox

Venice, Italy

Was very sad to go to Venice because our dear friend and roomie, Lisa, left the tour as we departed from Rome – there were tears, I will admit. But alas, we were off to Venice, with a quick stop in Verona to visit Juliet’s Balcony (sigh, the romance of it all!) Venice was cool; very touristy, very crowded, and very busy though.  Bought a beautiful black lace/wire Venetian mask which I absolutely adore, ate fantastic food, watched a glass-blowing demonstration, visited a traditional Venetian lace-maker, took a ride in a gondola on the Grand Canal, walked across the Rialto Bridge, and had a great time laughing and getting lost in the alleyways and dead-ends of the streets with Siobhan – Venice really is a maze!

Venice, buddy!

+ Special moment/highlight: Running into my mates, Robert and Joel (who I met in the hostel in London) and partying with them masquerade-style all night! Oh, and showing off my goalkeeping skills in an impromptu soccer game with the boys in a giant sandpit at the campsite – the lads on my tour were impressed!

Getting my masquerade on!

Vienna, Austria

Austria – home of schnitzel, classical music, Sachertorte, schnapps, and Europe’s oldest amusement park, Prater Park. My ‘tour bro’, Conan, and I spent the night running around this park like two children, sprinting and screaming from ride to ride, jumping on the biggest, fastest, scariest rollercoasters we could find (and boy, did we find them – have you ever seen the lights of Vienna while hanging upside down, 10 storeys in the air, with fireworks going off? I have…it’s awesome!)

Vienna, Austria

While in Vienna, I also took myself out for another ‘date’ (i.e. time out for myself to be an independent traveller again, which I craved more than Vegemite!), while the rest of my tour group went to a Viennese concert. I took myself out for dinner, wandered the streets of Vienna, ate delicious gelato (again, I know), talked to locals, then came back to my room and gave myself a mini pamper session (which you need once in a while when living out of a backpack and wearing Havaianas all day, every day!)

I then proceeded to take our tour group out to an ‘Aussie’ pub I had found the previous night and had made a deal with the bartenders that if I brought a crew in, the shots would be on the house. It was great fun until I decided to do a flaming shot, which ended in the bartender accidentally setting my whole face on fire (long story – let’s just say it was like the ultimate chemical peel…) Anyways, so after the flames were put out and the smell of burnt hair stopped filling the room, I splashed some water on my face, assured Sevon (the bartender) that I was ok, assured Conan and Siobhan (who witnessed the whole ordeal) that I was fine (which was met with a resounding, “Your face was on FIRE!!!!” and heads shaking in disbelief), and continued to party on for another hour. Obviously, I had a tremendous amount of adrenalin pumping through my system at the time because I stayed remarkably calm through it all. I finally went back to the hostel where Siobhan took excellent care of me and fixed me up (thank goodness she works in a hospital – I think the Universe paired us up as tour buddies for a reason). I was very lucky – I only had a couple of burn patches on my face, some blisters on my nose and throat, singed eyelashes, and some burnt eyebrows and hairline – it could have been a lot worse. But I learnt my lesson: alcohol + fire = BAD IDEA!

+ Special moment/highlight: Ahhh, setting my face on fire is pretty hard to beat….

Got awarded the ‘Tool of the Day’ vest for setting my face on fire…I debated the honour.

Budapest, Hungary

Ok, I have to admit something to you all: I didn’t actually care about going to Budapest, or Hungary for that matter. It was not a city I had ever given much thought about – even the books I had read about the place hadn’t really inspired me very much. I just assumed this would be the stop on the trip where I would finally just do my laundry and nothing else – how wrong I was…

Looking out over the city of Budapest

I will eat some humble pie now (please pass the whipped cream) and tell you all something very important: Budapest is FREAKING AMAZING!!! This city was the golden gem, the dark horse, the surprise you never saw coming and believe me, I can’t wait to go back for more. I can’t quite put my finger on what makes it so cool, but I think that’s what makes it so cool…It. Just. Is. You want architecture and history? You got it. You want markets and trendy shopping? Tick, tick. You want amazing cafes, awesome (massive!) meals, great beer, fantastic nightlife, a spacious double room in the best hostel in Europe…all at rock-bottom prices? Then this is the place for you!


My favourite day in Budapest was spent on a little date with Siobhan and my tour bros, Conan and Andrew. The four of us enjoyed amazing coffee at cafes, awesome shopping, an amazing Hungarian lunch in the market hall, sharing giant Hungarian donuts the size of my head, and lots of laughing together. That night we headed out to an all-you-can-eat-and-drink (!) buffet restaurant which cost only twenty Euro each (told you it was cheap), followed by a night of dancing and drinking in a few random outdoor pubs found in little side streets just down from our amazing hostel. Seriously, take me back there…pronto!

Budapest market place = epic!!!

+ Special moment/highlight: Spending a lazy afternoon with my darling tour bro, Conan, filled with laughter and meaningful conversation while drinking beers at a sidewalk pub together. Oh, and Siobhan knows what the other highlight was, but she’s not talking…(wink)

Dinner and drinks with my tour besties and family: Conan, Andrew and Siobhan xoxo

Krakow, Poland

Hmmm, what can one say about Poland? It is very cheap (one Polish Zloty is worth about 28 Australian cents at the moment) and full of history, but for me, I only went there so that I could go to Auschwitz and pay my respects at the former Nazi concentration camp. I won’t go more into my Auschwitz experience here, as I’ve already done so earlier, but visiting Krakow after such an emotional and distressing experience was a nice way to lift my spirits a bit.


The town itself is pretty standard, and Siobhan, Conan, Andrew and I pretty much just chilled out in restaurants eating Polish cuisine, wandered the streets, and stopped for coffee in an excellent coffee house just off the main area. There was a random little adventure to McDonalds later that evening (note: ordering a cheeseburger meal in Poland when you don’t speak the language is surprisingly difficult), followed by some shady shenanigans in a giant Polish supermarket/warehouse where the language barrier and difficult currency conversion really became an issue…(sorry, I’m sworn to secrecy on that one!)

+ Special moment/highlight: Besides visiting Auschwitz? Movie night in our dorm (we shared with the boys) to cheer ourselves up after a tiring and emotional day– chocolate, chips and Revenge.

Krakow main square

Prague, Czech Republic

Oh. My. God. Prague…amazing. ‘Nuff said.

Ok, so there’s more to it than that, but seriously, that is how good Prague is – there aren’t enough words to describe its coolness. Even though it is not as cheap as everyone makes it out to be (don’t be fooled, it can be pricey), there are some awesome bonuses – like, the fact that it is cheaper to buy beer (which happens to be the best Pilsner in the world) than it is to buy water…true story. The architecture is breathtaking, the food is delicious, the markets are cool, the shopping is great, the streets are so pretty, the history is interesting, and the people are lovely. But the nightlife….oh, the nightlife!

The Prague Astronomical Clock

What do you get when you mix cheap drinks + dancing on a pole on a bar tabletop + awesome underground pubs with free shots + a five storey nightclub, complete with ice bar? The best night of my life ever, that’s what! Throw in great music, lots of drinks (did I mention the cheap drinks?!?), and a very handsome British stockbroker named George who (literally) swept me off my feet on the dance floor, and there you have it – I was in heaven! I’m not usually the type of person who goes out on benders (I’m too much of a control freak for that), but this trip taught me to let go, embrace every opportunity and just have some irresponsible, guilt-free fun once in awhile – and so I did! Let’s just say that when I climbed into bed at 5am, I was a very happy lady – I haven’t partied that hard in a loooong time! Big love to you, Prague – you’ll be in my heart (and liver!) forever…

Prague’s Old Town

+ Special moment/highlight: Dancing my butt off on a light-up disco dance floor on the third level of the nightclub, singing “I Will Survive” at the top of my lungs with my best tour mates…and being swept off my feet , spun around, and receiving one of the best kisses of my life from a handsome British stockbroker!

Berry goodness from the markets with Siobhan

Berlin, Germany – Part 2.0

Same country. Completely different city/culture/experience.

Started the day with a quick stop in Dresden (beautiful city, by the way – you’d never know it was destroyed in WW2). Berlin is an amazing, eclectic, interesting melting pot of diversity that embraces and celebrates individuality. This seems interesting when considering the fact that this city was not so long ago divided in half by a giant concrete wall, separating – and segregating - people and families. Maybe that’s why Berlin is as cool as it is now – trying to make up for the past? I don’t know. Either way, it is a freaking cool city. So much history, so many touching memorials, and lots of amazing people to talk to.

Playing cute and posing like a boss in Dresden, Germany

This was another city where I chose to go my own way and leave the tour for the day so I could spend some quality independent traveller time with myself – and I’m so glad I did. I met some amazing locals who gave me some amazing perspectives about the city’s history; I indulged in several coffees, stopping at cafes along my journey to people-watch and absorb the energy of the city; I paid my respects at the Holocaust Memorial; I sampled local cuisine at my own pace; walked along the remnants of the Berlin Wall; and finished up at Checkpoint Charlie, where I met up with my mate Andrew and together we tackled the impossible train system of Berlin.

That night we went on a pub-crawl through the city, followed by a drunken train ride back to a nightclub across from our hostel (cleverly planned so that we could literally crawl back to our rooms at the end). I won’t go into the details of that night (they are a bit blurry, I’ll admit), but needless to say it was another epic and rowdy night filled with shenanigans and laughter…I only got 1.5 hours sleep that night, so that is a clear indicator of the fun that was had on my behalf (once again, big props go out to Siobhan for being the world’s best roomie!)

+ Special moment/highlight: Spending the day on my own in Berlin and coming to the realisation that, just like the city, I’m a fierce individual and different to others. I will never be the kind of girl who always says the right thing; wears impeccable makeup like an Estee Lauder model; who can pull off ballet flats, a cardigan, and pearls; and be the darling everyone loves and every boy wants to be with. I’m more of a Havaianas/skinny jeans/black t-shirt/glasses girl who suffers from a severe case of foot-in-mouth disease, is one of the lads, swears too much, and is ridiculously straightforward. I will never be like everyone else and instead of beating myself up about it, I should just own it, be proud of myself, and rock out the way I was made to – YEAH!(cue waving of pom-poms, loud cheering, high-fives in my head)

Part of the Berlin Wall…

Amsterdam, Netherlands

What a city to end my adventure in! Amsterdam has it all: history, culture, shopping, architecture, amazing food, great nightlife, the friendliest people on the continent, a thriving sex industry, and enough legal dope to make any stoner think they’ve died and gone to heaven. Amsterdam is also the gay capital of Europe and was the first place to legalise same-sex marriage (pay attention, Australia – you could learn something here!) The beautiful canals, the endless parade of bicycles, the crooked houses, the fantastic cafes (not to be confused with coffeehouses, which serve somethingcompletely different) – Amsterdam is simply awesome. In fact, I loved it so much that if I had to move to any city in Europe, it would be here (I’m serious – I’ll be looking into teaching positions in Amsterdam schools when I graduate next year). I love how, like Berlin, Amsterdam is so open and welcoming of individuality – I just think that Amsterdam wears its craziness and openness on the outside a bit more…

Amsterdam love!!!

Amsterdam was my big ‘goodbye’ to Europe, so I indulged in everything – pancakes, hot chips with mayonnaise (its delicious, don’t knock it till you try it), coffee, omelets, poffertjes, tea, chocolate, cheese, the works! Siobhan and I spent our last day/night together going from café to café, sampling everything on offer, and laughing and reminiscing about our trip (naaaww, gotta love bonding with travel buddies!). We saw Anne Frank’s house, walked through the Red Light district, saw a sex show (not really impressive, to be honest – I grew up on the Gold Coast, after all), got caught in the rain, shopped, ate, ate some more, stayed up late laughing, took a canal cruise with the rest of our tour group, and then partied and danced the night away in a nightclub…all in all, it was a great send off to a fantastic trip!

Breakfast in the coolest cafe ever! Best antidote to the damage caused by the Amsterdamage…

+ Special moment/highlight: Spending quality time with Siobhan and my friends on our last day together and dancing (and giggling!) the night away…

Giggles and shenanigans on our last night together as tour sisters…love you, Shibby!

My final musings…

Although I wasn’t fazed to leave some people at the end of the tour (in fact, I was kinda glad to see the back of some of them – that’s what 24 days of being crammed on a bus with so many different personalities will do to you!), I found I was genuinely sad to say goodbye to people who had, quite accidently, become my closest friends. I embarked on this trip with the mantra of “It’s me against the world” and an I-don’t-need-to-make-friends-this-is-all-about-me attitude. So it came as a shock when I realised that I had indeed made friends and would miss them very much. As my dear (and shockingly observant) friend Conan remarked to me in Budapest, “When I look at you, I see someone who has had some walls pulled down lately”. How right he was!

Saying goodbye to the people who had played an active part in making my dreams come true, who had witnessed or participated in helping me cross milestones off my list, who had supported me and cheered me on at every juncture of my adventure – those were the ones I struggled to farewell and I even found myself holding back a tear or two. I know I have made some amazing friends along this journey and I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank them for being a part of my adventure and for all their kindness and support. An especially huge thank you and shout-out goes to Siobhan, Lisa, Conan, Andrew, Valentina, Paige, Katie, Chris, Tim, Charli, Nays, Marti, and Colin – I give you all the deepest gratitude from the bottom of my heart for being a huge part of my journey and for all your continued support and encouragement along the way. Without you, my journey would not have been as epic or meaningful – you truly put the sunshine into my tour life! Big hugs and kisses to you all x

To the other random buddies I made along the way (outside of my tour) – Denille, Mel, Robert, Joel, Dana, Manzil – thank you all for being such cool people and for adding lots of laughter and good times to my travels. You are all legends, and it was a true pleasure to meet you all and spend time with you in different cities. Travel safe, and never stop being the amazing individuals you all are.

To every person in every country that I kissed (and that would be all of them!), thank you for playing a part in helping me achieve another of my goals – No.12 – Kiss a different person in every country I visit. I have not yet finished this milestone (I still have the USA and Canada to cross off), but all of your efforts and willingness to participate in my little experiment is greatly appreciated and will be forever cherished. You were all superb!

Finally, I’d like to thank myself for having the guts to make this journey alone and not succumbing to the ever-present fear that used to occupy my life. I can safely and confidently say that this experience has changed me for the better forever, and that fear is no longer a companion in my life. I am a strong, confident, proud, brave and capable woman who knows that she can handle absolutely anything that may come, no matter what. It is true what people say – “Travel is the only thing you will ever buy that makes you richer”. My world has now opened up exponentially, and I know with a certainty that goes down deep into my bones that I will continue to travel, explore and have adventures for the rest of my life. This is only the beginning…

All my love and joy, forever xoxox


Shanny travelled on Topdeck’s 24 day Spirit of Europe. Join us on one of our epic European adventures.

Winter Wonder: Paris & the Swiss Alps

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

From the lights of Paris to the heights of the Swiss Alps, Topdeck’s operations supervisor Xanthe discovers the wonders of a European winter.

Waking up to the Swiss Alps - bliss

Waking up to the Swiss Alps - bliss

I woke up on the third morning of my trip in utter panic: there was complete silence around me and I had one of those moments where you are convinced you’ve overslept by hours and hours so you leap straight out of bed and scramble around for some kind of time-keeping device.

Part of you actually wondering if this is in fact a nightmare and your hand will never clasp that portable alarm clock that you know must be lurking at the bottom of your rucksack somewhere.

As I was frantically searching, I reached out to pull the curtains aside a little in the hope that some light would be shed on my situation. As I did something caught my eye and I was drawn to the irresistible gleaming of an early morning sunshine persistently filtering through.

Filtering through what? I looked closer and realised that I hadn’t overslept at all - I’d woken at dawn, just in time to witness a glorious sunrise filtering through thousands of pine trees, steadily floating higher behind the breathtaking Swiss Alps and reflecting a thousand times off the thick layer of powdery snow flakes that covered everything.

As I sunk back into bed and snuggled into the cosy down duvet (or, doona), mesmerised by the view for a few more minutes, I thought about how surreal this all seemed.

Less than 48 hours before I had found myself whizzing through the “City of Lights” on a night driving tour of Paris.

We jaunted through bohemian Montmartre, the eclectic Latin Quarter, the buzzing nightlife of St Germain and past the unapologetically gothic Notre Dame, stopping or slowing for photo opportunities at all the main sights, before scooting back to our hotel for a few hours rest.

Cycling around the Eiffel Tower on California Beach Cruisers.

Cycling around the Eiffel Tower on California Beach Cruisers.

The next morning we glided along the Champs-Élysées on “California Beach Cruiser” bikes; i.e. the biggest, comfiest saddle I have ever come across that wasn’t on a horse.

I have to admit I nearly bashed into other cyclists, or lamp posts, several times because I was so distracted by staring in all the shop windows!

After we cruised around the Eiffel Tower, through the Champs De Mars, past the Arc de Triomphe, through the Louvre and back underneath the Eiffel Tower I decided to take myself on an afternoon of window shopping.

I picked up a Nutella drenched crepe from one of the infamous street vendors to fuel me on my way and headed straight for Dior (their largest flagship store in the world) followed by Louis Vuitton - also the largest of its kind (I might not be Blair Waldorf, but I can do my very best impression!).

I treated myself to a bottle of ‘Coco Mademoiselle’ in Chanel (well, Paris is the fashion capital of the world. It would be rude not to really…) and then walked a bit further down to the more affordable high street shops.

I stopped in Ladurée on the way to sample one of quite simply the most delectable macaroons ever made and then jumped on the metro to save my tired feet from walking me to the meeting point for our group dinner that evening.

At dinner, listening to everyone else’s escapades of the day (climbing the Eiffel Tower, visiting the Musée d’Orsay, getting lost in the vast Louvre museum, drinking in an Irish pub…) I realised just how varied a city Paris really is - everyone has different fantasies of it and it somehow fulfils them all and creates new ones at the same time. I was amazed at how much some people had managed to squeeze into just one day of sight-seeing, but then I guess that’s another advantage of travelling in winter – no queues!

That evening a small group of us went out to catch the raunchily glamorous show that is Moulin Rouge. We walked under the famous red windmill and immersed ourselves in an evening of light-hearted, exaggerated debauchery!

And that is how I found myself wondering at how surreal it was to have gone from all that vibrancy; the lights, feathers, glitter and designer high heels, to this tranquil yet equally impressive stillness.

Perhaps I had been too sleepy to notice that our luggage had been picked up in a sleigh or that my feet had carried me through the snow to the hotel entrance the night before.

Exploring the beautiful town of Lucerne.

Exploring the beautiful town of Lucerne.

That morning we all huddled together in the deceptive gondola (a kind of cable car) to sail down the mountain and through the clouds for a chance to explore the majestic town of Lucerne.

We sifted through the countless souvenir and specialist shops searching for the perfect watch or Swiss army knife or cuckoo clock.

To get back to the hotel we took the scenic cruise across the stunning, but slightly sinister, Lake Lucerne and then a train ride up to the top of the Mount Rigi (Queen of the Mountains) where we spent the afternoon sledging, building snowmen, making snow-angels and creating teams for spontaneous snowball fights with some local schoolchildren.

The perfect evening to end the day with was spent in the cosy hotel bar with delicious traditional cheese fondue, a few games of pool and endless amounts of gluwein (mulled wine).

As I climbed back into bed I remember thinking how thankful I was that this was only day three of my trip and there were still another 11 to go.

Tomorrow I was off to Italy, another fascinating country that I had never visited!

Xanthe travelled on Topdeck Travel’s 14 day Winter Wonder. For more winter trips check out Topdeck Travel’s first ever winter pre-release brochure. Book now to save up to 10% off your winter experience.

France: All quiet on the Western Front

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Topdeck’s Billy Stewart reflects on his experience

Cobbers, Western Front

Given the opportunity to travel to southern Belgium and Northern France to visit the battlefields, cemeteries and memorials from WWI was always going to be a special adventure. As we boarded our coach, which would be our mode of transport for the next few days, a wave of anticipation was flowing through me.

Not only were we going to visit some very special places, it gave us a chance to reflect on the events which occurred almost 100 years ago.

For most of us we learn about the ‘Great War”, as it is often referred to, in high school. As we get older, some of us may gain a better understanding of what went on over here and why or what for. Not many of us, however, get the chance to visit the battlefields to pay our respects and to gain an intimate understanding of the sacrifices made by so many.

Tyne Cot Cemetary

Tyne Cot Cemetery

The first stop really set the tone for the rest of the trip: Tyne Cot, the largest Commonwealth Cemetery on the western front. Walking through the thousands of headstones, some marked ‘known unto god’, really hammers home the vast number of young men who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Most of them volunteers.

When reaching the end of the cemetery, the memorial to the missing with over 30,000 names whose bodies were never recovered, ensures a sombre end to our visit. Not much conversation is heard on the coach. The mood of reflection and sadness is tangible.

Next we make out way to one of the few German cemeteries in the area. Langemark was an area where 40,000 Germans lost their lives in a single battle, 3,000 of them being students not yet 18. It really hammers home the fact that there are always two sides to a war, and it was not just ‘us’ who suffered. The sheer number of casualties meant the British army had no choice but to bury the German soldiers here, one mass grave contained 25,000 bodies.



After dinner we make our way to the Menin Gate in Ypres, a town which saw 5 million Commonwealth soldiers walk through in the years of war, some of them never to return home.

It is hard to imagine that this beautiful place was reduced to ruin throughout the war. However, it is here that every night at 8pm since 1928, the Last Post Ceremony has taken place.

We were lucky enough to witness a regiment from Canada perform a military parade and place poppy wreaths at the foot of the memorial. Some 55,000 Commonwealth soldier’s names are inscribed into the gate, all with no known grave.

The following morning we travel back to the battlefields of Ypres, where we head to Hill 60, famous for being a place where Australian troops literally fought underground. Tunnelling their way into German territory to strike a decisive blow by literally blowing the top of the hill, with half a million kgs of explosives.

Walking through the preserved battlefields, past fragments of old explosives, bunkers and mine craters, is an experience Ill never forget. The sheer size of the crater left form the explosion takes your breath away.

Bomb crater! (Battle of the Somme)

As we head to our next memorial I am to meet a local called Johan. Expecting to be greeted in French or Flemish, I get a ‘G’day mate’.

Taken aback a little at first, over the next three hours it is evident that the war, in particular the Anzacs part in the war, have changed Johan’s live considerably.Johan lives on the edge of a wood where the front line once stood. There is a beautiful memorial and cemetery with thousands of Commonwealth graves, and one of the largest New Zealand memorials on the western front.

But that is not what makes Johan so special. Johan has dedicated his live to finding as many soldiers remains as possible. Mass graves exist everywhere here, and Johan tells of one story in particular that has the group on the edge of their seats.

Johan recently found the remains of an Australian soldier, thought to have died 90 years ago. News of this hit Australian media, and within 12 months, Johan was united with the family members of the soldier whom he discovered. An incredible story and an incredible man, Johan’s life long ambition is to open a visitors’ centre across form his restaurant. Still while searching for more soldiers.

On our third day, the whether sets in: dark, windy and rainy. I remind our group that we have the comfort of our coach, and to give some thought to how the soldiers must have felt. It is freezing outside.

After visiting more memorials in the morning, this afternoon we are to head to Thiepval memorial park. Thiepval is a special place for the British as it is where they lost 20,000 men in one day. The exhibition is one of the best on the western front, and outlines events of the war, in particular, the Battle of the Somme.

Walking under the vast expanse of the memorial to the missing, I make my way to the rear, where lies a small cemetery of British and French graves. Some 600 graves are located here, many of them found decades after the war. A fact that demonstrates how many men were still to be found decades after fighting ended, or indeed are still to be found today.

We move on to an area of 100 acres of preserved battlefield, where we are able to walk through trenches left behind. The wind and rain picks up as we meander through at a leisurely pace, stopping along the way to visit memorials to the Canadian and Scots who lost their lives on this very field. Once again, the mood on the coach is sombre.

Our fourth and final day of this incredible journey takes us to a small village called Villers-Bretonneux. A place etched in the memory of the Anzacs, as it was here on the night of April 24-25, three years after landing in Gallipoli, Australian troops moved up over fields to capture the village from the Germans, and strike a decisive blow for the Allied cause.

On the hill above Villers-Bretonneux, now stands the Australian memorial. Where each year on April 25, a dawn service is held to remember our fallen.

For me, it was a journey of remembrance, of reflection and understanding. For others it may be a pilgrimage, a right of passage. Whatever the reason, making the effort to visit this area will be a life changing experience.

Lest We Forget


Visit the Western Front on Topdeck’ s commemorative Western Front Easter trip leaving 29 March 2013 and the Anzac Day Western Front trip leaving 23 April 2013.

Topdeck Old School Style

Friday, October 7th, 2011

by Kara Segedin

In 1984, Germany was divided between East and West.

Girls Just Want To Have Fun and I Just Called to Say I Love You were two of the best selling singles.

The first Apple computer went on sale.

And my aunty spent five weeks travelling around Europe on a Topdeck trip.

Things were a little different in those days. Men had impressive moustaches, passengers slept, cooked and cleaned on the bus and trips operated on a flexible itinerary.

Let the adventures begin!

Let the adventures begin!

Despite the changes in today’s trips the spirit of the Topdeck adventure remains the same.

As all good kiwis did (and still do) my aunt Maria was busy working at a pub in Paddington, London.

Once she had settled in and saved up a bit of money she decided to take time out and do a tour of Europe.

“After some research I decided that the Topdeck tour called ‘Central Europe 5 Weeks’ was the one for me. “

Maria thought the idea of travelling around on a bus was fun and knew she would meet like minded people on the trip as well.

Back in 1984 the trip cost £497 which included £85 pounds.

“It was a great itinerary and good value for money,” she says.

Early one September morning the group met at the Enterprise in Earls Court to climb aboard the bus that would be their home for the next 5 weeks - called Platt.

Back then Topdeck travelled on double-decker buses. The lower deck was fitted out with tables, seats, a cooker and sink while the ‘top deck’ had bunks and space for luggage.

“Whisper was our driver (named for his soft voice and quiet nature). He was a safe and reliable driver. The tour leader was an experienced and confident guide.”

While on today’s trips expert Topdeck Chefs rustle up tasty local cuisine, in 1984 everyone had to take a turn at cooking and housekeeping.

Maria buy supplies for her turn as trip cook.

Maria buy supplies for her turn as trip cook.

“This meant we had to go shopping in foreign cities and turn out a meal from the bus’s cooker. That was a fun challenge all by itself!”

As with today’s trips the majority of travellers were Aussies and Kiwis, with a couple of South Africans on board as well.

“I enjoyed the team spirit of the trip - it is still one of the best times of my life.”

The trip went through France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands before returning to London.

“The highlight for me was Florence. I adored it, still do.”

Like today’s trips that pass through Germany in September, Maria’s trip visited Beerfest in Munich.

“It was awesome – the biggest event I have ever been to – cannot believe how many people can get drunk in one place at the same time.”

The hyjinx haven't changed, but the facial hair certainly has!

The hyjinx haven't changed, but the facial hair has! Oh, and you could smoke on the bus!

Maria says the bus was a refuge for anyone who was sick or tired or simply too lazy to go anywhere

“We felt safe leaving our belongings on the bus too which was a bonus. No dragging suitcases around Europe, our hotel came with us!”

“I always tell people to go on a Topdeck trip as they are guaranteed to have a good time.”


Follow the next generation of Topdeck travellers as the Tadpoles crew make their way from London to Sydney in true old school style!

An old school brochure from 1984

An old school brochure from 1984

Seven Ways to Spend Your Summer

Friday, July 15th, 2011

By Kara Segedin

Moping around the office on dismal grey London day (isn’t it supposed to be summer already?) I was wishing for some ruby slippers so I could click my heels together and say ‘I wish I was on the Med, I wish I was on the Med!”

A girl can dream, can’t she?

So I settled for the next best thing - picking the brains of Topdeck’s travel experts for some daydream inspiration!

So here goes - the London Topdeck Team’s ‘7 Suggestions for Summer’….

Sailing in Croatia

Eat, swim, tan, sleep, party and repeat.

Sign up for the ‘Pomalo’ way of life - the Dalmatian philosophy of relax, take your time and have fun. Why hurry, there’s no rush!

Where else in the world can you sit around drinking cup after cup of coffee for hours on end, simply watching the day stroll by.

Fantastic fresh food can be found all along the coast – pizza and seafood to Germanic meals and ice cream!

The best way to take in all the Adriatic has to offer is aboard a sail boat! Visit all the top island destinations including Korcula, Hvar and Mljet as well as the coastal cities of Split and Dubrovnik.

Eat, drink and sunbath until the heat gets the better of you. Finish by rolling into the clear blue waters then dry off and start all over again!

Eat Your Way Through Italy

From gelato in Venice, pizza in Rome, steak in Florence and al fresco dining and wine tasting in Tuscany, Italy is a foodie’s paradise. You’ll be pressed to find a better setting for your meals!

Originally from Naples, the world famous pizza is served throughout the country. Your mission is to find the best!

Pizza in Venice

Adrenalin in Austria

Try sky-diving, mountain biking or white-water rafting in one of the Europe’s most beautiful settings.

Austria’s famous Tyrol region has adventure activities abound.

For the slightly less adventurous hire a mountain bike and explore at your own pace.

Shot Vodka in Russia

Toast the Tsars and Commissars from St. Petersburg to Moscow. It’s your chance to get behind the Iron Curtain - checkout Red Square, St Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin. Oh, and make sure you sample the local vodka & caviar!

Star-spotting in the French Riviera

The Côte d’Azur is dripping with glitz and glamour. Yachts, casinos and super cars - live like the rich and famous on the Mediterranean.

The Jolie-Pitts, Johnny Depp, Bono & Elton John are just some of the A-List stars who have holiday homes in this coastal resort.

Get lazy on the beach and stroll the promenades by day then try your luck at the casinos of Monaco at night!

Don Your Lederhosen for Oktoberfest

Steins, pretzels and pork knuckles. Some 6 million litres of beer will be served during the celebrations in 16 beer tents over a 103 acre site. Get your fill at Europe’s biggest festival!

Dating back to 1810, Oktoberfest was first held to celebrate the wedding of Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese. All of Munich was invited to festivities held on fields in front of the city gates called the Theresienwiese – known locally as ‘Wies’n’.

Besides the beer and Bavarian treats, there is a fairground and state-of-the-art rides and roller coasters.

Party Day and Night in Mykonos

The most cosmopolitan of the Greek Islands, Mykonos is a 24 hour party-people paradise! Groove to beach beats with the beautiful people on this amazing island.

Also, there’s plenty of relaxing, eating and shopping to be done when you need to recharge your batteries.

Get in the mood with a romantic sunset of the windmills of ‘little Venice’ or head out to the nearby island of Delos – the birthplace of the sun god Apollo.

Winter in Europe

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

by Jennifer Palframan

As the days start to shorten, winter coats begin to flock into the shops and umbrellas begin to make their unwelcome comeback, the dream of a summer holiday frolicking in the sunshine of Europe’s favourite cities may be slowly starting to disappear…

But instead of embracing the seasonal sadness that overwhelms so many or kicking yourself for not booking your summer getaway sooner - look at winter as a frosted window of opportunity to see Europe as you have never seen it before!


Here are some city highlights to help inspire you on an ever-so-cool expedition abroad this winter!


Why not get swept up in the charm of Paris, enjoy a café au lait in a typical French café or mosey through Montmartre up to the snowy Sacré Cœur. The cool winter setting is ideal for checking out the world’s most famous museums. Wander around Le Louvre, Musée dOrsay or le Pompidou Centre and get your ultimate culture fix without the massive queues!


The festive season in Paris is not to be missed. Check out the window displays at the famed Les Galeries Lafayette, explore the Christmas markets on the Champs-Élysées or be amazed by the glow of the glistening Eiffel Tower. 


Prague in winter is a pure fairytale and even more magical than usual. Take a stroll across famous Charles Bridge and wander through the snow-covered Hradcany (castle district) toward the imposing St Vitus Cathedral. Stop in at local bar and indulge in the some traditional Absinthe or nestle into a wool covered chair (under a heater!) and relax in a restaurant along the Vltava River. Of course a trip to Prague is not complete without a visit to the Astronomical Clock located in the Old Town Square.

Salzburg is your ultimate winter destination as well as being home to Mozart and the setting of the Sound of Music.  Check out the interesting Baroque architecture of the Old Town or the magical Mirabell Gardens that are most beautiful when sprinkled in snow. And for all the adrenaline junkies, there is the opportunity to hit the slopes on an Alpine adventure!


Berlin is the capital of cool and even more so during winter. Visit the city’s most amazing monuments and sights before warming yourself up with a classic pub crawl through this ultra-alternative city.


Or if you feel like getting in the festive spirit, head to Berlin’s Alexanderplatz and soak up the atmosphere of the Christmas markets. Enjoy a warm glass of spicy mulled wine, tuck into a traditional weisswurst or head to the centre of the decorated square for a spin around the ice skating rink.

Snow fights, mulled wine, cosy cafés, villages carpeted in snow, festive markets, minimal crowds, picturesque cityscapes. What is not to love! Be inspired to see Europe this winter!

For full details about Topdeck winter trips click HERE.