Posts Tagged ‘youth tours to europe’

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 26!

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

26. Sail the Mediterranean Sea

It sounds beautiful doesn’t it? Sailing the Mediterranean Sea… What are the first things you think of when imagining it? The crystal clear water, the warmth from the bright summer sun shining down or perhaps the incredible island landscapes you’ll see along the way? How about looking down to see schools of fish swimming beneath you or looking across the Sea to see the odd dolphin or two jumping out of the water? Chances are, whatever you’re thinking, unless you do it for yourself the thoughts will only be a fraction of the true experience!

There are many countries with a coastline along the Mediterranean Sea. Touching the African, Asian & European continents some of these countries include Morocco, Egypt, Cyprus, Lebanon, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Spain & France. The number of stunning locations and islands throughout the Mediterranean are endless. For this week’s entry we’ll just focus on a few of the best locations to sail through and around – Croatia, Greece & Turkey.


With over 700 Croatian islands in the Adriatic division of the Mediterranean Sea, some of them have to be good, right? Correct! In fact, there are also some amazing coastal cities that deserve just as much recognition as the islands.

Starting in Split – Croatia’s second highest populated city, you’ll encounter some authentic Croatian lifestyle, red tiled houses, delicious food & a beautiful mountainous landscape. It’s not a bad place to dock yourself for the night! If you have an appreciation for good nightlife then Hvar is where you’ll want to sail to next. It’s not only an attractive town with great nightlife but it also has a long history. Stari Grad or ‘Old Town’ is situated on the island and is one of the oldest towns in Europe with civilization dating back to 3500 BC!

Another city on the coastline of Croatia is Dubrovnik which boasts spectacular views. You can take in these views by walking around the city walls, or hop on a gondola to the top of the mountain. Keep an eye on the old buildings here as you can still see post-war damage!


Sailing throughout the Greek Islands is truly incredible. There are around 3500 islands in Greece although only a very small portion of these are populated. The two islands that get most of the attention in Greece are Mykonos & Santorini however Paros, Corfu, Skyros and Hydra all deserve some credit of their own. If you’re looking for a romantic getaway for you and your partner – you cannot go wrong in the Greek Islands.

If time is not on your side then perhaps catching a ferry between the islands is the best option for you. Sailing from Mykonos to Santorini non-stop can take over 48 hours with the ferry taking just a few!


Although there may be fewer islands to sail around than neighbouring Mediterranean countries, do not discount Turkey for an incredible sailing adventure. Sailing around Turkey on a traditional Gulet boat is an amazingly relaxing experience, offering magnificent beaches with crystal blue water, ancient ruins, waterfalls and many other picturesque sights. Plus, you’ll have access to some of the world’s best Baklava! Is that not reason enough to get on a boat and travel there!?

Some of the places you’ll want to check out when on a Turkish Gulet cruise include the 12 Islands of Fethiye, Kas, The Sunken City of Kekova, Simena Castle and for those who want to let their hair down and boogie the night away - Smugglers’ Island!

Topdeck Top Tip: Pack as light as possible when heading out on a sailing adventure, don’t forget to fill your music player with your favourite tunes and take a good book! If you can think of something more relaxing than listening to your favourite music or reading a good book while sailing the Mediterranean Seas, we want to know about it!

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.

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.

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.

Winter Wonder: Paris & the Swiss Alps

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

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

Waking up to the Swiss Alps - bliss

Waking up to the Swiss Alps - bliss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cycling around the Eiffel Tower on California Beach Cruisers.

Cycling around the Eiffel Tower on California Beach Cruisers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring the beautiful town of Lucerne.

Exploring the beautiful town of Lucerne.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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