Posts Tagged ‘venice’

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 -

Summer Fun and Sailing - Dreams becoming Reality Part. 2

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

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

Tirana, Albania

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

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

Dubrovnik, Croatia

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

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

Zadar, Croatia

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

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

Venice, Italy

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

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

Munich, Germany

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

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

Prague, Czech Republic

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

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

Rhine Valley, Germany

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

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

Amsterdam, Netherlands

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

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

Final Note:

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Why would you go to Venice?

Friday, July 29th, 2011

by Kara Segedin

“Four days in Venice, isn’t that a little long?”

“Well, it’s more like three days, four nights…”

“You know it’s full of tourists, locals who will scam you and it smells, right?!”

And that is how one conversation went when I told an acquaintance we were off on a summer holiday to the famous Floating City. Had we overestimated the time we’d need? Was it going to be one big stinking hot mess? What had we gotten ourselves into?!

Luckily for us, said acquaintance couldn’t have been more wrong.

From the moment I first stepped foot in Cannaregio, the northernmost of Venice’s six historic districts, I was in love.

Ahhh, Venice

Ahhh, Venice

It was well after 11pm when we dropped out luggage at the hotel and despite the fun of budget airline travel we were ready to hit Venice’s cobbled streets!

But before we could go anywhere I was in desperate need of a gelato and thankfully (dangerously) there was an amazing gelato shop right at the door of our hotel *bliss*.

We had arrived in town on the eve of Festa del Redentore (more about that later) so the streets were fairly deserted as we strolled over the famous canals for the first time.

However, come the morning the city was buzzing.

Traffic Jam: Venice Style

Traffic Jam: Venice Style

Travellers of all ages and all nationalities wandered up at down the streets while men opened their stalls selling souvenirs and replicas of traditional Venetian masks and Murano glass.

It’s fairly easy to spot the authentic stuff – they are usually found in dedicated stores and have price tags that reflect the quality.

With nowhere in particular in mind we made our way slowly into the middle of the island.

I would recommend spending at least one day getting totally lost, wandering up and down the thousands of small alley ways that sprawl across the city.

They are also a great escape from the crowds and the hot summer sun.

Making our way into the heart of Venice, we followed the official (and handmade) signs showing the way to Piazza San Marco and Rialto Bridge and were joined by an ever increasing number of fellow travellers.

The square is massive and in the blazing midday sun we were grateful for the shade from the shop front canopies.

Chilling in Piazza San Marco

Chilling in Piazza San Marco

If you’re tired of walking, or fancy doing some sightseeing from the water, the best way to get around is by waterbuses (vaporetti).

That night after take a rather long detour on a vaporetti we found ourselves on the island of Dorsoduro right in the middle of Festa del Redentore celebrations.

Hundreds of tables filled with big Italian families ran the length of the canal looking out across to the city centre. They feasted on giant plates of local food (it smelt so good!) and glasses of wine. Grandparents, parents, aunties, uncles and cousins singing, dancing and gossiping the evening away, waiting for the main event – the fireworks!

And what a display!

For at least 45 minutes pyrotechnics took over the city. Colours lit up the night sky and booming explosions echoed around the ancient street – if you didn’t know better you’d swear it was a war zone!

Festa del Redentore = Fireworks!

Festa del Redentore = Fireworks!

The following day we tried a bit of island hopping, Venice style. First stop, Murano.

Famous for its glasswork, the island was largely empty on the Sunday we stopped by.

Still, there were plenty of opportunities to pick up pieces of jewellery and take in the sights.

It was a recommendation from a colleague that proved to be one of my trip highlights - the island of Burano

Every Venetian lagoon seems to be famous for something, and in Burano’s case it is lacework and rainbow coloured buildings – my kind of place!

The first thing you see when getting off the boat is a rather frightful looking wailing woman – no idea what she represents, but it can’t be nice.

Why is she so upset?

Why is she so upset?

Thankfully your eye is quickly caught by the brilliant red building to your left and from there you can’t help but smile at the array of pinks, blues, yellows and oranges of the town.

The Rainbow Island or Burano

The Rainbow Island or Burano

Oh, and I also ate the best pizza I have had in my whole life! Cheese, mushroom, artichoke and prosciutto – delish!

Simply the Best Pizza Ever!

Simply the Best Pizza Ever!

Venetians are a lovely people – very friendly and helpful.

Despite the extraordinary lack of Italian language skills in our group we managed to get by.

As long as you can point and say hello, please and thank you you’ll be fine in this largely English speaking (or at least understanding) place.

Our final day was spent catching up on all the little things we had missed – a last stop here, a last stop there.

St Mark’s Basilica was one such destination and there in the July sun we joined a surprisingly fast moving queue to enter the 11th century church.

St Mark's Basilica

St Mark's Basilica

Many European churches still enforce a traditional dress code meaning men and women must cover their shoulders & knees.

I specially brought a church-suitable dress with me, but if you forget to wear appropriate attire it isn’t such a big deal as the staff will provide you with lovely papery shawls to wrap around you.

Be careful of the men on the door though – they are more like nightclub bouncers than church ushers grabbing visitors showing too much skin as they walk passed.

While it lacks the grandeur and quiet spiritual aura of St Peter’s in Rome, the interior and exterior are stunning nonetheless.

So how do you put the perfect finishing touch on a perfect holiday in Venice? With a gondola ride of course!

That's Amore - Gondola Time

That's Amore - Gondola Time

Lying back in our luxury boat it was hard not to feel like royalty gliding through the narrow canals the vaporetti can’t reach, our gondolier filling us in with bits and pieces of local history.

And that was it - what more can I say? We ate, drank and sweated our way through this magnificent island, cameras always at the ready.

Bellini, gelato, pizza and spaghetti. Fireworks, bridges, canals and history. The list goes on!

Venice, you surprised me. I didn’t expect to love you this much!

Arrivederci Venezia!

Arrivederci Venezia!

Want to see Venice for yourself? Here are a few of the Topdeck trips that take in this amazing city!

Venice Carnival

Pronto Italia 2011

Gondolas Go North 2011

Eastern Express 2011

Get under the Tuscan sun and save 10% this SUMMER!

Friday, June 4th, 2010

Take in all that Italy has to offer! Venture through the quaint hillside villages along the coastline, absorb the art, culture and history of Italy’s favourite cities and head into the hills for some wine-tasting and breathtaking views. With such beautiful scenery, incomparable sights and PIZZA galore - this is the place to be this SUMMER! Go on - indulge Italian style and SAVE 10% on these TRIPS:

13 Day Bravo Italia

Wander the sights of Rome, relax in beautiful Capri, journey through the Tuscan hills to Florence before discovering the unspolit coastline of Cinque Terre!

8 Day Pronto Italia

Take in the splendour of Rome & Florence, be enchanted by Cinque Terre, cruise the pristine waters of Lake Garda before heading to the canals of Venice!

8 Day Espresso Italia

Soak up the history and culture of Rome and Florence, explore the ancient city of Pompeii and journey through the mountain scenery to Assisi!

SAVE 10% on selected departures! Check out ITALY for full details about these and other explorer trips!


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)