Posts Tagged ‘topdeck tours’

Top to Bottom / Sydney to Melbourne

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

People often say that Australia is lucky to have two of the world’s best cities separated by a one hour flight. Many, however, may not appreciate the quality of the experiences offered by the journey between Sydney and Melbourne. Sure, you would be forgiven for hopping on a plane to reach your destination, but let’s not forget that travelling is just as much about the journey as it is the destination, and if you fancy the fun and frolics of a road trip then jumping on a Topdeck trip definitely won’t disappoint! The major cities of Sydney and Melbourne may hold the cultural delights, but this is ‘Straya!’, and there are some fantastic coastlines and some seriously scenic roads with geological wonders if you just look out the window!

The great thing about taking a Topdeck trip is that you will meet a great variety of people with similar interests but very different backgrounds. To give you an idea, a recent group on a ‘Top to Bottom’ trip comprised of 8 different nationalities. It’s fair to say that the bus ride alone, despite everything you’re seeing and doing on the way, is bound to be an interesting experience!

Day 1: Sydney to Snowy Mountains

If you’ve ever taken a road trip before you will know that there’s always a chance that you will see something completely unconventional, completely amazing, or something that will add to the overall trip experience. To everybody’s surprise, the group on a recent Top to Bottom trip were stopped for petrol where Peter Garrett, one of Australia’s most renowned musicians (lead singer from Midnight Oil), and now a Politician, was also filling his tank. The group were able to have a chat, take a photo, and be welcomed to the country by a Politician on behalf of the Australian Government! Something unconventional to put in the travel diary!

When arriving in Canberra, Australia’s capital city, the group ventures 842 metres above sea level to Mt. Ainslie, experiencing complete 360 degree views over Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales. After taking in the history, visiting the iconic Parliament House, the Australian War Memorial and a number of Foreign Embassies, you’ll be keen to explore Australia’s capital! After having enough time to explore Canberra, you will be back on the road seeing more beautiful landscape and scenery, starting to realise how big Australia really is.

Arriving in the Snowy Mountains you should prepare yourself for a few things. Amazing scenery, great accommodation, delicious food, a whole lot of bonding time and maybe even a 6 pack of abs from laughing the night away! Invariably, it doesn’t take long before you start to feel as though you have known your new Topdeck buddies for years..

Day 2: Snowy Mountains to Gippsland Lakes

A word to the wise for day 2 – EAT, EAT, EAT at breakfast time. You will need the energy!

Australia’s highest mountain peaks at 2,228 metres above sea level, but don’t let that scare you, it’s a fairly non stressful hike and will be well worth the sweat once you have reached your point on the mountain. This experience will truly take your breath away (nothing to do with the air being thinner at 2,000 metres above sea level!) as the scenery is magnificent. Depending on what time of year you visit, you could also be surrounded by snow!

Once you head back down the mountain, have a little think about how you just climbed the highest peak in Australia! Something else worth putting in your travel diary, perhaps?

Hitting the road Topdeck style means more than just taking the direct highway route. On the way to Gippsland Lakes your trip will take a detour on some remote Australian roads. Here, the bus driver’s skills are truly challenged, driving through remote and unspoilt wilderness with outstanding views of Snowy River country and surrounding mountain landscape. If you’re lucky, you might even take a refreshing dip in one of the surrounding rivers!

It might be a little difficult to get your head around the fact that earlier on in the day you were climbing Australia’s highest mountain and now about to have dinner by the sea in the town of Lakes Entrance, but this is what travelling with Topdeck is all about! The Lakes Entrance town is situated on the edge of Ninety Mile Beach where the Gippsland Lakes meets the Southern Ocean. Another truly beautiful place to see…

Day 3: Gippsland Lakes to Melbourne

A word to the wise for day 3 – wake up early and see the sunrise!

From here you will again hit the road, making a stop in Forster, before heading to the relatively untouched and rugged wilderness of Wilsons Promontory National Park. The Park boasts beautiful coastal trees, banksias, and white sandy beaches known for making a squeaky sound when walked on barefoot. At this point it is quite common for Topdeck passengers to make some more new friends as it’s possible to get up close and personal with the Australian wildlife.

Arriving in Melbourne for the final part of the trip you will again be presented with some more Australian Wildlife – Melbournians. Here you can explore the culturally diverse city, commonly referred to as Australia’s little Europe, tackle the shops and travel around on the famous Melbourne trams.

Topdeck isn’t just about arriving to a destination; it’s about enjoying the journey between. Although only a 3 day trip, many people feel that they walk away from Topdeck’s Top to Bottom with greater knowledge and appreciation of just what an amazing country Australia really is.

“Although I have travelled a great deal of Australia, this was my first time travelling in this style, and the first time I had set off on a journey “alone”. It didn’t take long before I realised that alone I was not, and the next three days I was able to not only share these amazing experiences with like minded travellers but also come away with what felt like a little family. This was only a 3 day trip and I only left these guys a few hours ago but I am already missing them!” – Claire Harwood, Topdeck.

Like what you’ve read about our Top to Bottom trip? We have plenty more trips throughout Australia that are just as fun!

Welcome to Middle Earth.

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Yesterday, the New Zealand capital Wellington did not exist as you might expect. Instead, it was known as ‘The Middle of Middle Earth’, transformed into a place where hobbits, dwarves, elves, dragons, trolls, goblins and wizards ruled the streets! Of course, this was all deliberately planned and based entirely on the promotion of the new Hollywood blockbuster ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’, which premiered in front of around 100,000 fans, many who dressed in costume for the occasion. Even the airport ground staff got in on the act wearing bright yellow ‘Elf and Safety’ vests while ushering in The Hobbit crew on an Air New Zealand plane, the ‘Airline for Middle-earth’.

Explore beautiful New Zealand

Having been filmed throughout many locations in New Zealand, in both the North and South Islands, it will do a great job, much like Lord of the Rings trilogy, at showcasing the beautiful scenery New Zealand has to offer, highlighting just why this country needs to be high up on anybody’s travel bucket list! The film will showcase much of New Zealand’s landscape including volcanic mountain ranges, valleys, lakes and national parks.

If you have been dreaming of visiting New Zealand or if you find yourself wanting to see some of the country’s amazing landscape after watching The Hobbit film, luckily, Topdeck offers a great range of trips to the North and South Islands! The exciting new Australian and New Zealand 2013/2014 trips are now available for viewing online. Why not take a look and see what the fuss is all about! You never know, maybe you’ll come across one or two Hobbits on a Grand Kiwi Southbound trip!

Budapest, Hungary: Karaoke, Schnitzels & Nudity!

Friday, September 14th, 2012

By Carl Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deadly dinners at Restaurant Fatal. Photo/C.Smith

Deadly dinners at Restaurant Fatal. Photo/C.Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parliament House, Budapest. Photo/C.Smith

Parliament House, Budapest. Photo/C.Smith

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

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

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

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

House of Terror, Budapest. Photo/C.Smith

House of Terror, Budapest. Photo/C.Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Travel Musings: Goodbye, My Dear Friends

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

A dear travel companion left me at the weekend.

After 5 years of being practically inseparable, a Friday night party in West London proved to be our undoing.

Together we’d seen the wonders of Europe, the great pyramids of Egypt, trekked across America and explored the cities and outback of Australia.

Not only that, but you supported me through my day to day life in New Zealand, at work or play, rain or shine, and continued to do so in London.

Flip-flops, thongs, sandals, Havaianas, whatever others call them to me you were simply ‘my jandals’ and you were the most true and loyal friend.

Our last outing: Italy 2012

Some travellers may prefer sneakers or Birkenstocks, but for me nothing can beat a good pair of rubber jandals. With the cool breeze and warm sun on your feet, no other footwear screams ‘holiday’ quite like them.

You can get them wet or dirty, they have fantastic grip, and there’s no need to worry about that rather uncomfortable sensation of getting sand or stones in your shoes.

I find them the perfect piece for all destinations from beach to the bar and everywhere in-between. The only time they might cause you trouble is when the temperatures drop and things get a little chilly (under no circumstances may socks be worn underneath).

Our last outing was in early August 2012, when we spent a steamy five days in Italy visiting Lucca and Cinque Terre.

You carried me along ancient cobbled streets, up seemingly endless steps and around stunning cliff-side trails through scorching 30-something°C temperatures and never once let me down.

Thanks to the endless sunshine I’ve been left with a special reminder of our time together in the form of a set of tan lines.

I’ll always remember the good times.

Goodbye baby blue friends, we had a great ride. For my next pair I’m thinking navy.

My Jandals & Me: Through the Years

Sydney 2007

Dubrovnik 2008

Athens, Greece 2008

Theatre at Epidaurus, Greece 2008

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico, USA 2010

Galveston, Texas, USA 2010

Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA 2010

MOMA, New York City, USA 2010

Canada 2010

Niagara Falls 2010

Stone Circle, Avebury, UK 2011

Burano, Venice, Italy 2011

Brighton, UK 2011

Kom Ombo, Egypt 2011

Temple of Horus, Egypt 2011

Step Pyramid, Saqqara, Egypt 2011

Old Trafford, Manchester, UK 2012

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.

Wild About Topdeck Africa: Winner’s Photo Blog

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Back in March Amanda Griffin won herself an African Safari in our “Wild About Topdeck Africa” competition. Well, Amanda has just returned home after 19 days on the road and has put together a selection of photos she’d like to share with us.

Dune 45, Namibia. Photo/A.Griffin

Dune 45, Namibia. Photo/A.Griffin

“It was a chilly morning when we got up at 5. We were the first footprints to break the surface of the Dune 45 that day. When we got back after our explorations we were greeted with a feast of pancakes prepared by our guides - such a good day!”

Sunrise over Namib-Naukluft National Park from Dune 45. Photo/A.Griffin

Sunrise over Namib-Naukluft National Park from Dune 45. Photo/A.Griffin

Zebras in Etosha National Park, Namibia. Photo/A.Griffin

Zebras in Etosha National Park, Namibia. Photo/A.Griffin

Animals chillin' at a watering-hole our campsite in Etosha. Photo/A.Griffins

Animals chillin' at a watering-hole near our campsite in Etosha. Photo/A.Griffins

A Kill. Photo/A.Griffin

A Kill. Photo/A.Griffin

“We were so lucky to see this leopard (or leo-parrrd as our guide says) about 10m from us at Chobe National Park. The safari guide got a call on the radio in another language and next thing we had turned around, unaware of what was happening, and were zooming towards something unknown. It turned out to be this amazing sight. We sat there for a long time just mesmerised by the beauty of the leo-parrrrd.”

Spitzkoppe Camp. Photo/A.Griffin

Spitzkoppe Camp. Photo/A.Griffin

“Another absolutely beautiful area to camp, Spitzkoppe is completely untouched land (sans a few bushman artworks on the rocks from thousands of years ago). There are no showers, amenities or toilets - it was hard-core camping! We had the option to sleep outside, but it was freezing cold (and I have a fear of scorpions climbing into my sleeping bag) so none of us braved the weather - which in the morning we realised was wise as there was frost on one of the mats left outside! You can see our safari truck in this picture and it gives an idea of just how HUGE the boulders are!”

Etosha Waterhole. Photo/A.Griffin

Etosha Waterhole. Photo/A.Griffin

“These animals were less than 50m from us as we sat behind a fence just watching them. Crazy.”

A springbok biff at Etosha watering hole. Photo/A.Griffin

A springbok biff at Etosha watering hole. Photo/A.Griffin

Okavango Delta, Botswana. Photo/A.Griffin

Okavango Delta, Botswana. Photo/A.Griffin

“Just chillin’ in the Mokoro as the local guides take us to our bush camp in the Okavango Delta - no fences, no protection, no amenities - just camping in the wild with the animals! We did a bushwalk with the local guides and a huge elephant came within 10m of us while we were strolling. We were instructed to stand still so as not to alarm the elephant and wait for it to walk away - definitely got the heart beating!”

Adorable elephants having a drink at the campsite in Elephant Sands, Botswana. Photo/A.Griffin

Adorable elephants having a drink at the campsite in Elephant Sands, Botswana. Photo/A.Griffin

Typical house in the township we visited just outside Cape Town, South Africa. In the background is the famous Table Mountain. Photo/A.Griffin

Typical house in the township we visited just outside Cape Town, South Africa. In the background is the famous Table Mountain. Photo/A.Griffin

Sossusvlei, Namibia. Photo/A.Griffin

Sossusvlei, Namibia. Photo/A.Griffin

Playing with perspectives at Sossusvlei, Namibia. Photo/A.Griffin

Playing with perspectives at Sossusvlei, Namibia. Photo/A.Griffin

“The beautiful Sossusvlei used to be a lake, but is now a clay/salt pan surrounded by contrasting dunes. Also a part of Namib-Naukluft National Park - very pretty!”

Oryx at Etosha National Park, Namibia (I just love how it’s bending its knees haha). Photo/A.Griffin

Oryx at Etosha National Park, Namibia (I just love how it’s bending its knees haha). Photo/A.Griffin

Run ostrich run! (Just by the side of the road as we drove). Photo/A.Griffin

Run ostrich run! (Just by the side of the road as we drove). Photo/A.Griffin

Amanda & a young lion in Livingstone, Zambia. Photo/A.Griffin

Amanda & a young lion in Livingstone, Zambia. Photo/A.Griffin

“My absolute highlight of the trip! In Livingstone we had an optional activity to go on a lion walk where we could pat 17 month old lions and walk with them as they familiarised themselves with the landscape (Note: they are not drugged or anything). They gave us a stick just in case the lion ‘gave us a funny look’ so that we could tap the ground to distract it (I think it was really just so we felt safer) Very cool!”

The Tropic of Capricorn, Namibia. Photo/A.Griffin

The Tropic of Capricorn, Namibia. Photo/A.Griffin

The Happy Travellers. Photo/A.Griffin

The Happy Travellers. Photo/A.Griffin

“Africa was absolutely amazing! The tour guides were fantastic, people were fantastic, we got to see the Big Five (including a leopard eating a baby elephant - pretty insane!), walked with and patted some lions (crazy cool!), went on a microlight flight over Vic Falls and I went skydiving in Namibia! Overall it was an absolute success of a trip that I wholeheartedly recommend.”


Amanda travelled on Topdeck’s 19 day Desert Tracker. If you want to experience all that Africa has to offer join us on one of our safari adventures.

Recipes from the Road: Switzerland

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

It’s safe to say every member of the Topdeck family is crazy passionate about food and none more so than Topdeck’s Gourmet Guru Daniela!

Daniela: Topdeck's Gourmet Guru

Daniela: Topdeck's Gourmet Guru

Dani’s job is to make sure our travellers enjoy the best food Europe has to offer which means she is responsible for overseeing Topdeck’s On Road Chefs, plus she has the difficult task of tracking down the best restaurants across the continent (hard life).

Some of you were so impressed by the hearty meals our Chefs whipped up for you on the road you wanted the recipes to try at home.

Well, we asked Dani very nicely and she’s happy to spill the beans on two passenger favourites from Lauterbrunnen: Fondue & Rosti.


A traditional Swiss and French dish of melted cheese dating from the 17th century, Fondue is served in a pot over a lamp that keeps the cheese warm and smooth. It is eaten communally using long-stemmed forks to dip pieces of bread into the cheesy goodness.


  • Emmental Cheese 300g
  • Gruyere Cheese 300g
  • White Wine 350 ml
  • Kirsch 2-3 tablespoons
  • Lemon Juice squeeze
  • Corn Flour 3 teaspoons

To make the Fondue you need a bain-marie cooking set up i.e. a pot of boiling water with a empty bowl on top.

  1. Add your white wine and lemon juice to the bain and simmer.
  2. Gradually add cheese and continue stirring until all the cheese and wine is combined and smooth.
  3. Mix corn flour and Kirsch together and stir until you get a smooth consistency and then add to the fondue.
  4. Cook for 2–3 minutes until it  is thick and creamy.
  5. Take off the heat and add salt and cracked pepper to taste.
FUN FACT: Tradition says if a man drops his bread in the pot he buys everyone around the fondue a drink, but if a woman does, she must kiss her neighbours.


Rosti (Röschti) is a Swiss dish made from potatoes. It was originally a breakfast food eaten by farmers in the Bern region, but today it is enjoyed all over the country and considered a national dish.


  • Potatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

  1. Peel potatoes then parboil for 15 minutes.
  2. Grate the potatoes and put on a tray
  3. Season with olive oil and salt and pepper.
  4. Put in oven (around 180C) and continue checking and stirring
  5. Serve when crispy on top.
Is your stomach rumbling? Visit Switzerland with Topdeck Travel and experience these and many more delicious treats for yourself on one of our Europe trips.

Washington DC: A Capitol Time in the District

Friday, July 13th, 2012

by Kara Segedin

Of all the cities I’ve visited in the United States, Washington DC stands out as one the most steeped in a sense of history.

Home to the White House and Congress, DC is full of world famous sights and enough museums and galleries to keep history and culture buffs busy for years!

United States Capitol Building

United States Capitol Building

The main area you’ll want to visit is called the National Mall, an open-air national park in the city’s downtown area running from Capitol Hill to the Lincoln Memorial. This is where crowds rallied for Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech and anti-war protests in the 1960s (and where Forrest reunites with Jenny in Forrest Gump).

The Mall is lined with various museums, monuments and memorials; all are free to visit and within a fairly easy walk of each other making DC a budget traveller’s dream.

It’s also the perfect place to try out your photography skills. Leafy green trees line the inner city streets and there are parks everywhere, plus the grand buildings and monuments are ridiculously photogenic.

We started out sightseeing at the United States Capitol. A beautiful and grand building, entrance to the visitors’ centre is free, but there is a cost if you want to take a tour and you must book in advance.

Washington Monument

Washington Monument

From Capitol Hill we wandered through the gardens all the way to the Washington Monument past the reflecting pool and onto the Lincoln Memorial.

Along the way we stopped by several of the Smithsonian Institute museums that line the Mall. There are 13 museums in the area covering subjects from Air and Space, National History, Natural History and American Indian Culture - there’s easily a week’s worth of viewing on offer.

Out of the museums I’d recommend the Natural History and National History as the main ones to visit. Both are mazes of exhibits and information and you’d need several hours to make sure you’d seen it all.

The Natural Museum has a huge collection of animals, dinosaurs, early human artefacts and precious stones, including the priceless Hope Diamond.

The National Museum’s prize piece (well, in my opinion anyway) is the original Star Spangled Banner - ridiculously huge - and Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers. It offers a fascinating and detailed overview of American history from pre-European to recent event.

Another must-see and moving experience is a trip to Arlington Cemetery, a military cemetery established in 1864 during the Civil War on the grounds of Arlington House.

Soldier at the Tomb of the Unknowns

Soldier at the Tomb of the Unknowns

A short subway ride from the Mall, Arlington is the final resting place of JFK and hundreds and thousands of US soldier.

Over 30 funerals are held there every single day and one of the most solemn sights is the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

The tomb is dedicated to the military men and women who have died without their remains being identified and has been under constant guard by the US Army since July 2, 1937. You can witness the ceremony for yourself every half hour in summer and every hour in winter.

Back on the Mall we had time for a few sunset shots before our stomachs sent us in search of food. So that’s two big thumbs up for DC. You’ll be pledging allegiance to the flag in no time.


Visit Washington DC and many other US cities on Topdeck Travel’s Coast to Coast, East Coast Adventure and Southeast States trips.

The Secret is Out: Introducing Topdeck North America

Friday, July 6th, 2012

This has been one of the hardest secrets we’ve ever had to keep in the Topdeck office.

Over the past few months we’ve busy putting the finishing touches on our new programme and while you were all asking “why doesn’t Topdeck go to North America?” we’ve had to keep our lips sealed.

Well, the wait is over and we can finally shout about it from the rooftops – Topdeck is now taking you to the USA and Canada!

To get you inspired, here’s our list of the Top 10 North American experiences

1. Camp out in a US National Park

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

The United States has 58 protected national parks that are home to some of the most beautiful natural wonders in the world. One of the parks we take you to is Yosemite National Park in California.

Best known for its waterfalls, in Yosemite you’ll also find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoia forests and a variety of wildlife.

In the summer months we stay in a permanent tented site, once a prospectors’ camp, within the Yosemite Valley.

2. Lunch in one of the hottest places on Earth

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley is the hottest, lowest, and driest place in the US and daytime temperatures have been known to top 54°C (though the average summer temperature is a much more bearable 45°C). There are canyons, sand dunes, mountains, and over 1000 species of plants to explore.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the restaurant we visit is air-conditioned so you can cool down after your adventure.

3. Listen to live music in Nashville & Memphis

Home to two distinctly American styles of music, Nashville and Memphis are the Mecca for country and the blues respectively.

In Nashville a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry (the world’s longest running live radio show) is a must, while over in Memphis hit Beale Street for some amazing live music and pop by Graceland to pay your respects to ‘the King’.

Elvis's Gold Piano

4. Play roulette in a Las Vegas casino

No city on earth knows how to show you a good time quite like Las Vegas. With over 100 casinos the hardest part will be deciding where to put your money down.

Sin City is also home to dozens of live shows, world-class shopping and nightlife like no other.

5. Enjoy a sunset over the Grand Canyon

If there is one sight guaranteed to take your breath away, sunset over the Grand Canyon is it.

Carved out by the Colorado River over millions of years, the Grand Canyon is 446km long, up to 1.6km deep, and up to 24 km wide. Take a rim walk or journey down to the Canyon floor.

6. Eat Cajun food in Louisiana

While you’re down in the Deep South tuck into a plate of mouth-watering Cajun Gumbo in Lafayette. Gumbo is a stew made with meat or shellfish and seasoning vegetables that originated in southern Louisiana during the 18th century combining the tastes of French, Spanish, German, West African, and Native American cooking.

7. Learn about Native American culture

When we visit Monument Valley in Utah, not only will you experience the amazing scenery of more than 1000 sandstone buttes and you’ll get a glimpse of the ancient Navajo culture with a guided jeep tour of the area.

Those of you on our Greatest Parks trip will also get to stay overnight with the Navajo listening to their stories and dancing the night away under the stars.

8. Hike a Glacier in Canada

Athabasca Glacier is part of the Columbia Icefield, located in the Canadian Rockies and is the most visited glacier in North America. Our guided hike is perfect for travellers of all abilities.

9. Shop ‘til you drop in NYC

Shop 'til you drop in NYC

Shop 'til you drop in NYC

Luxury shopping can be found along the famous Fifth and Madison Avenues including Versace, Tiffany & Co and Saks. Two of the most expensive streets in the world, for most of us window shopping will have to suffice!

But don’t worry, great and affordable shopping can be found all over the city especially in stylish SoHo and the East Village

10. Have a Shower at Niagara Falls

Right on the US/Canadian border, the thunderous Niagara Falls is among the continent’s greatest natural wonders.

Maid of the Mist, Niagara Falls

Maid of the Mist, Niagara Falls

Over 500,000 litres of water a second cascades over the Falls to the cavernous gorge below and you can get right up close to this power with a Maid of the Mist boat tour - includes rain poncho!

But don’t take our word for it – experience the wonders of North America for yourself and let us know your must-dos.

Topdeck Travel runs 21 North American trips ranging from 6 to 20 days covering California, the Mid-West, East Coast, Cross Country and Canada.

Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland: Tips from a Topdeck Trip Leader

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Carl Smith, one of Topdeck’s expert Trip Leaders, has been around the European block a few times, but he never gets tired of a certain mountain range.


Ah Lauterbrunnen, it never fails to make my heart leap!

I still remember the first time I saw the valley on my training trip a few years ago. Sleep deprived and mentally overloaded I may have been, but as soon as I stepped off that coach all was forgotten when I laid eyes on the most breathtaking place I had ever seen.

Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

The quaint Swiss village of Lauternbrunnen was nestled in a green valley flanked by towering cliffs. There were waterfalls tumbling all around and the snow-capped mountains in the distance completed the picture.

It was (for want of sounding soppy) magical and no matter how many times I come back it never grows old!

I am a sucker for mountain scenery and, personally, the only places I have seen that can compare with the Swiss Alps are in neighbouring Austria and on the South Island of New Zealand.

I have a little routine in Lauterbrunnen. After arriving and getting the group checked in I head straight to the site cook tent to catch up with my colleagues, help with dinner and try to sample some food.

Fondue night is my personal favourite; I can’t get enough of Switzerland’s national dish!

There’s a Topdeck tradition we have - if you drop your piece of bread from your fork as you’re dipping it into the pot of melted cheese you have to kiss the person to your left. This is where I make my experience count by strategically positioning myself away from any hairy Topdeck drivers and wedging myself between some more agreeable neighbours.

The other bonus of this is that I can avoid any ‘driver talk’. Our Drivers are amazing and they love their job, which is all very commendable, but if they start talking about the best angle to reverse into a coach park in the French Riviera I’m liable to nod off and fall face first in to a pot of molten emmental and gruyère.

Anyway, after we’ve cleared dinner away and washed up I’ll generally pop into a nearby cosy, wood-lined bar. It’s a cool place for the group to get to know each other a bit better and most people usually head in for a while (some longer than others!).

Sometimes we’ll sit and play cards and relax, other times the night goes late and we bust out our best dance moves – I like to see where the evening takes us!

Carl in his happy place: Jungfrau

Carl in his happy place: Jungfrau

Next morning I’m up early and on my way to the cook tent for breakfast, stopping to appreciate the view on the way (minimum 5 minutes).

After fuelling up for the day, I’ll meet up with the passengers who are heading up Jungfrau Mountain and walk them down to the train station.

The Jungfraubahn (railway) celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2012, which is incredible considering the engineering challenges of carving through the side of a couple of Alps a century ago.

At least once a year I’ll make sure I go up myself - it’s an amazing journey to the top of the mountain and back, and I’ll be honest, I’m no mountaineer, so it’s generally the only time I’m likely to make it to nearly 4000m above sea level.

On a clear day the views are spectacular, but there’s also guaranteed snow year-round and I do love a good snowball fight (the secret is to throw one and then blame someone else). What’s more, the Swiss swear that chocolate is a cure for altitude sickness so I see it as an excuse to eat lots of Toblerone. I’ve never actually got altitude sickness, but you know, better safe than sorry!

If I stay in the valley I’ll sometimes go for a short hike down to Trummelbach Falls, a series of waterfalls set inside a cliff towards the valley end. The Falls themselves are pretty spectacular, but for me the walk is just as nice.

Topdeck Crew at the top of Jungfrau

Topdeck Crew at the top of Jungfrau

Along the way I often see my passengers who are skydiving circling down under canopy to land in the valley. It’s always amusing to see people after they’ve just jumped from a helicopter at 12,000ft over the Swiss Alps – I swear that some look like they’ve just inhaled a sack of coffee beans. But the smiles take longer to wear off and showing their DVDs on the coach the next day always guarantees a laugh!

It is great catching up with everyone at dinner on the second evening, seeing their photos and hearing their stories from the day. It makes me happy to see people enjoying Lauterbrunnen as much as I do - it blew me away when I came here and continues to blow away everyone who I come back with.

I know exactly why Tolkein (author of Lord of the Rings) was so inspired when he visited Lauterbrunnen – It’s definitely somewhere that I’ll still be talking about when I’m old and grey, one of those special destinations that reminds me why travel is so amazing.

Want to see the breathtaking sights of the Swiss Alps? Check out one of Topdeck’s many trips that visit Switzerland.