Posts Tagged ‘paris’

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!

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 + 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

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.

Paris – nothing can compare…

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Topdeck’s latest Aussie arrival, Liana Szwajlyk, shares her Christmas experience in the City of Lights

Paris. Je t’aime. One of the most famous and romantic cities in the world, it’s easy to fall in love with Paris. With an overwhelming number of beautiful landmarks, sights and attractions, Paris has its own very particular charm and a history beyond compare! The allure of the city’s grand avenues and twinkling lights have bought millions of travellers to Paris, all looking to share in the city’s “joie de vivre”.

During the Christmas Season the French capital becomes even more alluring - no words can describe this Parisian experience! In December the metropolis sparkles - figuratively and literally, making this month an ideal time to visit. Trees up and down the boulevards are strung with garlands of shimmering lights and many other places around town are decorated in the same festive spirit. Christmas markets spring up all around the city, selling enchanting decorations and gifts and who can forget the gourmet treats? It’s something a traveller, especially anyone who appreciates true art and beauty, should definitely experience.

I began my French escapade on Christmas Eve. It was cool and cloudy and the sun never showed which for an Aussie girl like me, the idea of having winter at Christmas (instead of one with scorching heat) was quite odd! The city was cheerful and bright though, everywhere people seemed to be having fun and enjoying themselves. Parisians are so exuberant, romantic, and full of life that you can’t help but feel the same way!

Paris features attractions for all, so in an attempt to tick off a number of touristy things, I started my adventure with a grand walk along the Seine River. Passing a myriad of amazing bridges, I followed my way down the city’s most famous promenade -the Champs Elysees - exploring the multitude Christmas stalls along the way! I quickly learned the operative word here was vin chaud, vin chaud, vin chaud! Red or white, hot French wine, sold everywhere in large two-euro plastic cups, or as I saw it: the perfect excuse to keep warm! Continuing on my journey, I came to the Place Charles de Gaulle where lays the beautiful Arc de Triomphe, a classic symbol of the French nation. Paris is an old city filled with culture, and there are so many museums to visit. Among the most notable of these museums is the Louvre - home of the famous Mona Lisa, my next stop, followed by a visit to the breathtaking grandeur of Notre Dame (highly recommended). And of course my visit to Paris would not be complete without taking a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower!

In just a few short days I found it difficult to soak in all that Paris can offer - but no matter what you choose to do there, you can’t go wrong! Paris simply has a certain “je ne sais quoi” - that special something that you can’t quite put your finger on, but whatever it is, it makes you want to linger in Paris for as long as possible. And so, I spent the festive break strolling along the glittering boulevards, feasting on local delicacies (Be warned: Foie Gras is only for the adventurous!) and gazing out at the City of Lights. This is definitely not the sunny Christmas I was accustomed to, but it certainly made for an exciting and memorable way to spend the holidays.

Experience Paris on Topdeck’s 4 Day Christmas in Paris, currently £279


Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Maybe you need a break, maybe you’d prefer more than 10 minutes of blue skies and sunshine a day? (I know I do… ) Here’s an idea: how about heading out on our cool European Getaway trip on the 12 September 2009 for 20 glorious days around Europe? Paris, the Swiss Alps, French Riviera, Florence, Rome, Venice, Amsterdam – shall I go on? What’s even better, you can save a massive 20% off the trip price just by using promo code TD EUR09 31D

Not sure about 20 days? How about 12 days on our Eastern Escape? ticking off Berlin, Prague, Krakow, Budapest, Vienna and Munich from your ‘must do’ list. If you can pack up and go on our 23 August departure, 20% savings are on the table when you use promo code TD EUR09 41B

For more info on all our current special offers, don’t forget to check our Travel Deals & Competitions page which we update regularly.

I’m off. Adios Amigos! 8)

Cheap Christmas holidays!

Monday, December 15th, 2008

Want to get away this Christmas? Keen to escape the winter blues or maybe just fancy a different festive break? Well Topdeck Travel have the perfect answer.

Topdeck are offering fantastic Christmas and New Year packages with breaks in London, Paris and Morocco to name just a few. With these great value deals, at the click of a button you can be spending Christmas exploring the Baltic, celebrating Hogmanay at an Edinburgh street party or enjoying the winter sun in Egypt.

And with prices starting from £60 even the credit crunch won’t stop your holiday plans. Plus half of our 18 to 30 somethings travel alone, so it’s the perfect way to make new friends for the New Year.