Posts Tagged ‘topdeck travel’

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 27!

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

27. Spend a night in the Sahara

Picture this - endless amber vistas, Berber villages that ooze charm from every aged corner and roaring camp fires beneath glittering Saharan stars. Welcome to number 27 on our hotlist; spending a night in the Sahara.

The Sahara Desert is the world’s hottest dessert and is rather phenomenal, fact. Covering a whopping 9,400,000 square kilometres and covering most of North Africa, this African gem rivals the U-S of A and China in size! Its sandy savannahs are home to a heck of a lot of camels (every nomad’s vehicle of choice), addaxes (large white antelopes which alarmingly can survive a whole year in the desert without drinking!), African Wild Dog (not to be messed with) as well a whole host of spikey scrubs and Acacia trees.

This natural wonder is also home to the oh-so-friendly Berber folk who are the ethnic group indigenous to North Africa (west of the Nile Valley). These guys will undoubtedly welcome you proudly to their beloved Morocco and might even invite you round for a tagine and a round of mint tea if you’re lucky! Traditionally, the Berber men take care of livestock and focus their efforts on grazing cattle, creating shelter and producing an abundance of wool, cotton and plants which are used for dyeing and producing goods. The women on the other hand look after their family and handicrafts - first for their personal use, and secondly for sale in the local souks. The Berber life is a refreshingly simple one and will definitely open your eyes to their fascinating culture.

Famously in 1978, a year after a certain French motorcycle racer (Thierry Sabine) got lost in the depths of the desert and decided a year later that the Sahara would be a perfect spot to host a rally raid type of off-road race. Thierry’s crazy idea then morphed into the ‘Paris-Dakar’ rally that originally ran from Paris, France, to Dakar, Senegal. However nowadays, due to politics the mammoth rally (now known as ‘The Dakar’) has varied over the years and the 2013 rally went from Lima, Peru to Santiago, Chile.

Get yourself face to face with the Saharan way of life and make some Berber buddies along the road too on our 8 day Sahara Adventure. On this whirlwind Moroccan trip you’ll ski the sandy slopes of the immense Chegaga sand dunes,  dine under a sparkling symphony of stars at a desert camp where you’ll rest up in traditional Berber tents, visit Ouarzazate (also known as ‘Hollywood in the desert’) and follow in the tracks of the original Paris-Dakar Rally.

Well that’s the Sahara in a nutshell, so all that’s left to say, in the words of The Clash…is…rock the Kasbah!

Topdeck Top Tip: Don’t even think about venturing the Saharan alone, there is an extremely high chance you could vanish permanently.

Want to get up close with the legendary Sahara?

Tick this natural beauty off of your bucket-list and book onto Topdeck’s 8 day Sahara Adventure

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 23!

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

23. Kiss the Blarney stone

Ever dreamed of puckering up and kissing Winston Churchill on the lips? Hopefully not, but hey, whatever floats your boat! Without grave digging (and really, who still does that in 2013?), the closest you could come to your fantasy is kissing the Blarney stone. At the same time you’d be kissing the same spot which millions of people have placed their lips on - all with the goal of obtaining the famous Irish ‘gift-of-the-gab’.

The origins of this magical stone are murky. The best (and therefore most true) story is that Cormac McCarthy, the 12th century King of Munster, saved a witch from drowning so she awarded him the powerful stone, which he kept in his stronghold of Blarney Castle - where it remains today. After the witch empowered the stone, she (obviously) gathered the local leprechauns and requested they tell all the good people of County Cork that anyone who had the courage to kiss her ‘Stone of Eloquence’ would be rewarded with “the eternal gift of gab.”

Eight centuries later, around 300,000 people each year make the trip for a quick smooch with the rock, which is located in the beautiful grounds of Blarney Castle in the south of Ireland. Cormac McCarthy did not make getting to his prized stone an easy task. Firstly, you have to climb up a narrow and spiralling rock staircase to get to the top of his tower. Secondly, the stone is wedged deep underneath a battlement. In days gone by, people were held upside-down by their heels in order to reach the stone. With dozens of them falling to their deaths, the clever people at Blarney Castle have developed a much safer method! You approach the stone, lie on your back, slide backwards and pucker up. And not to worry, a little Irish man will be holding your legs tightly.

No one knows the full amount of articulate and eloquent politicians, actors, literary giants, and business and religious leaders, who owe some, or perhaps all, of their success to the magic of the Blarney stone. Just think, this year you could be kissing the stone, and next year you could be collecting the Nobel Prize for Literature. It’s more or less guaranteed*.

(*not a guarantee).

You can snog the Blarney stone on Topdeck’s Britain & Ireland, Celtic Trail, and Winter Britain & Ireland trips, where we enjoy a ‘Totally Topdeck’ included trip to Blarney Castle.

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 22!

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

22. Watch a show on Broadway

Mamma Mia! If you’re in Chicago you’re in the wrong city and if you’re surrounded by Jersey Boys you’re in the wrong borough. Guys and Dolls, get yourself to New York and come to the Cabaret!

As if there isn’t enough to do in New York already, it’s also home to one of the most electrifying entertainment centres in the world – the theatres of Broadway. Broadway is actually a 24km long street running through the entirety of Manhattan and The Bronx, but the name is almost universally associated with the theatre district - encompassing 40 theatres, only four of which are actually located on the street of Broadway.

The 1940s ushered in the golden era of the Broadway musical when Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein combined their skills to create dozens of smash shows. With Rodgers composing the music and Hammerstein writing the lyrics, they created shows such as Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I and The Sound of Music. West Side Story followed not long after, and musicals quickly became big business in the Big Apple.

As the famous line from Cabaret goes: “Money makes the world go round”, but that’s not to say that any musical showing on Broadway is guaranteed to rake in the big bucks. It’s a cutthroat industry, and during the past 50 years, 75% of Broadway musicals have failed to make a return.

Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, another famous musical writing team, combined to create Jesus Christ Superstar in 1970, one of the first examples of a rock opera. Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway in 1988 and you can still see it today, over ten and a half thousand performances later!

Current hot tickets on Broadway include Kinky Boots, Wicked, the Book of Mormon, and Avenue Q, but with 40 theatres and fierce competition between shows, it’s a safe bet that you’ll have a memorable evening whatever you see. That’s showbiz, kids!

Topdeck Top Tip: You can bag a discount between 25 to 50% on Broadway tickets by lining up for same-day tickets at the two TKTS kiosks in Manhattan. One is in Times Square at 47th Street and Broadway, and the other is in the Financial District at the corner of Front and John Streets. The most popular shows are unlikely to be available, but tickets may be released several times a day, so it’s still possible to grab great seats by stopping by at 6 or 7pm when queues are shortest.

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 20!

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

20. See Africa’s ‘Big Five’

“The only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa - for he has so much to look forward to.” - Rich Mullins

So much has already been said of the powerful effect Africa has on a traveller’s psyche that it’s difficult to write anything without repeating the same clichés. Perhaps it’s the thought that the entire human race can trace their origins to this continent, or the vastness of the landscape which puts the significance (or more to the point, insignificance) of yourself into perspective. Whatever the reason, for almost everybody, a trip to Africa is an introspective and life-changing experience.

I come from Scotland where, if we had a ‘big five’, it would probably be squirrels, deer, badgers, otters, and voles. Sorry guys – you’re all lovely but you wouldn’t last long in Africa! The wildlife in Africa has evolved over millions of years to reflect the challenges of life in a continent with intense heat, a lack of water and vegetation, and most crucially - other extremely dangerous animals to protect themselves from. This has created, over millions of years, the most amazing animals on earth.

There’s no better way to immerse yourself in the astoundingly diverse wildlife of this continent than taking a safari through its national parks. Safari comes from the Swahili word for ‘journey’, and will take you deep into the natural habitat of the ‘big five’. This refers to the rhino, elephant, leopard, lion and Cape buffalo. The phrase was originally coined by big game hunters decades ago to refer to the difficulty in hunting these massive creatures on foot, but now, with huge efforts to conserve and protect these animals, it is more commonly used by safari tour operators to refer to five of the most incredible animals to spot in the wild. Africa overflows with a diversity of life and many other animals, such as the baboon, cheetah or giraffe, could easily be named on your own ‘big five’ list.

Some amazing facts about the ‘big five’ –


  • A lion’s roar can be heard up to 5 miles away.
  • The lion is the only member of the cat family with a tasselled tail, which is often used to signal to other members of the pride. Messages range from directional “this way” commands to flirtatious “come hither” invitations!
  • A lion’s claws are not only very sharp, but also retractable, which helps maintain the big cat’s slice-and-dice capabilities by preventing injury during play.


  • Leopards can drag prey weighing up to three times their own body weight up into trees over 20 feet (6 metres) tall!
  • They have amazing hearing. Leopards can pick up five times more sounds than humans can.
  • Leopards don’t need to drink much water - they can live off the moisture in their prey.


  • Baby elephants are born blind and some individuals suck their trunks for comfort, similar to the way young humans suck their thumbs.
  • African elephants are the largest land mammals on the planet, and the females of this species undergo the longest pregnancy - 22 months.


  • Black rhinos can pick up small objects and even open gates and vehicle doors with their upper lips.
  • The rhino’s horn is made of keratin - like human fingernails and hair.
  • The world’s rhino population has decreased 90% since 1970 due to hunting.

Buffalos -

  • Buffalo are said to have killed more hunters in Africa than any other wild animal.
  • Buffalos have fantastic memories and are known to ambush hunters that have harmed them in the past.
  • Cape buffalo are known to kill lions, and can seek out and kill lion cubs as preventative punishment.

Check this out - quite simply one of the most amazing videos of all time! This shows an epic battle between cape buffalos, lions, and crocodiles at Kruger National Park in South Africa:

To visit Kruger and other incredible African national parks with Topdeck, check out our superb range of African safari trips -

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

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

19. Run with the Bulls

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m going to run! Any tips?

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

18. Hike on a Glacier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

17. Scuba dive in the Red Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

16. Drive the Great Ocean Road.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

15. Ride a Gondola in Venice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

14. Gamble in a Famous Casino

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The water fountain show outside the Bellagio in Las Vegas:

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