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Topdeck Travel: Review Overview

17 Aug

I hope y’all have sensed that I’m not really “reviewing” the Topdeck package, just kind of talking about what we did, where we went etc. The real review will be appearing in the Australian Times next month if you’re antsy about that kind of thing.

But here, just for fun, are some things you probably won’t read in other blogs about Topdeck’s European Wonder package. I’m going to list them as optional university modules because uhh I miss my lessons and this is my blog and whatever I do what I wahnt.


Whether it belongs to a driver relieving himself at the side of the road in Switzerland, Michaelangelo’s David in Florence, a drunk ‘gappie’ in a Venice nightclub, or a performer in the Amsterdam sex show, you are probably going to see a penis. It’s alright, you won’t be alone. We saw them all.


Bring cold and flu tablets. Bring a lot. Trust me, it’s easier than trying to describe your symptoms of Topdeck typhoid over the counter in a German Apotheke. The truth is that even if you don’t share drinks or make out with other travellers, you will get sick. But it will be worth it. (Even if you don’t share drinks or make out with other travellers.)

Queer Theory

If you are queer, trans*, or otherwise non cisgendered/cissexual – or if you even know what these terms mean – you will probably be the only one. People will be very openminded when it comes to trying escargot or learning Portugese, but the sad fact is that if people have never been out of their small towns before, they probably still hold small-town mentalities. The upside is that when you do meet someone who ‘gets it’, they will probably be your BFF 5ever (that’s longer than 4ever lol).


Most people on the coach came from English-speaking countries, but there will still be times when you have NFC what these people are saying. As an Aussie-Pom hybrid I actually had to translate; it’s ridiculous that Kiwis and Australians struggle to understand each other at times (they’re all like “Where’s the car?” and we’re like “Where’s the car?”).

Alright, I’ve got it all out of my system now. Next post, broadcasting will resume as normal – promise!

Topdeck Travel: Days Twelve Through Fourteen

14 Aug


Oh hey internet. You know how in my last entry I was preparing for something called ‘Amsterdamage’? I was not wrong. The reason you haven’t heard from me in almost ten days is because I was in recovery. Picture foetal position and weeping, but the good kind of weeping, you know? Anyway, here’s what happened:

Day Twelve

Our first stop in The Netherlands was Rembrandt Hoeve, a clog-factory-slash-cheese-with friendly staff. Maybe a little too friendly. The clogs were actually really reasonably priced compared to what you’ll find in the heart of Amsterdam, and you got to see them being made. The cheese wasn’t really anything special in my humble opinion, but you got to sample it and see that being made, too.

Third time lucky?

As we were driving through Amsterdam I could see that we must have just missed Pride by a few days. There were rainbow flags and balloons everywhere! When I was there last year I think we’d missed it by a week as well. Oh well, there’s always next year…

Once settled, Jamie took us on a tour of the Red Light District (I’ve already shared my opinion on that particular subject), and then took those of us who were willing to brave it to a live sex show at a place called Moulin Rouge. It was pretty entertaining but once you’ve been to The Box everything kinda pales in comparison.

After the show we all went to a bar and a few of us went to a coffee shop and things just got a little hazy after that. I think even if I lived there I’d never get used to just being able to light up whenever I could afford it. Even the concept of smoking tobacco indoors is far too European for me.

Day Thirteen

The penultimate day of our tour began with an optional bike ride, which I happily slept through. It was a free day, and Vicki, Rachael, Florence and I took the tram to Waterlooplein to try and replace the sunglasses I bought there last time. However, we were a bit too early and the markets were still setting up, so we went to see the famous Flower Markets instead.

Then I dragged Florence all the way from the markets to the cafe next to Anne Frank Huis because I wanted to show off my knowledge of local cuisine. You probably won’t believe me but Lunchroom Dialoog has the best paninis in the entire universe. Goats cheese, honey and thyme, I swear. You know how a regular panini is like a piece of awful dry lukewarm bread? Like the second you take a bite of that Costa crap you wonder why you wasted £6 on the same taste you could’ve got from chewing on the napkin? Not here. No sir, not here.

Next stop was the Homomonument, which is right around the corner. At its most basic level, the Homomonument is a giant pink triangle (actually, it’s made up of three triangles) – but it was designed to inspire and support lesbians and gays in their struggle against denial, oppression and discrimination, which was particularly pertinent in the wake of our visit to Dachau. There were some quotes that people had scattered around on printed pieces of paper that I didn’t really understand, but I saw a woman crying on its steps and all I wanted to do was hug her.

Florence and I went to the RLD to buy fishnet tights for some reason and then went to Spui to check out Cafe Hoppe, a recommendation from Jamie. It’s a pretty cute little bar that’s been standing since 1670.

And then, to our last meal.

Our last night together was always going to be bittersweet. We may only have known each other for a fortnight, but I know these people better than I know most of the kids I graduated with last month. We went to a bar beforehand, a couple of us had a smoke, and then we went for dinner before an optional cruise (which everyone clearly took). The cruise had a free bar so I think we were all pretty content.

Here’s Vicki, myself, Patricia and Rachael on the cruise. Why yes, I am completely out of it, thanks for asking!


After the cruise we went to Pirates Bar, what Jamie affectionately called ‘the worst bar in Europe’. The songs changed every thirty seconds, the floors were sticky, people were smoking, it was dark, and you had to pay to use the restroom. I ordered a vodka and mixer and it was over nine euro — but then again, the barman let me have it for free… and there was fire breathing. So it was actually pretty rad.

The night got pretty messy and in closing I think Australians are the reason why they’re banning tourists from coffee shops.

Day Fourteen

On our last day I woke up feeling a little.. spacey from the night before. I wasn’t the only one! It’s a shame, because I was really looking forward to Bruges. I still enjoyed Belgium though! We had waffles. And my goodness, do Belguins love their dogs. I swear I saw a dog in a pram.

We touched back down in London just in time to hit rush hour on the tubes. It feels incredibly weird to be around so many English accents again. In many ways, I can’t believe it’s over. I think I crammed more into those fourteen days than I had into my whole life!

Stay tuned over the next few days for my overview of the trip, then normal broadcasting will resume.

Read the rest of my European Wonder adventures here.

Topdeck Travel: Days Ten & Eleven

5 Aug

Day Ten

Austria was a nice quiet day for me. I managed to sleep off some of the quasi-Freshers’ Flu that I’ve been the last to contract, while everyone else paraglided and canyon-jumped to their hearts’ content in Tyrol, Austria. The hostel has more of a homey vibe than a lot of places we’ve stayed.

We also managed to be there for the town’s summer festival. As it was also Vicki’s birthday, we pretty much had to try the ‘ski shots’ (six shotglasses fixed to a single ski) and local beers.

Having improved my drunken German loads, I was ready for Deutschland!

Day Eleven

I’m currently writing this in a freaking castle in the Rhine Valley, Germany. A castle. We just had an excellent chill out sesh with Croc on guitar again.

Today was quite a sombre one though, all things considered. This morning we drove to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial. It was probably one of the most emotional experiences of my life. Travelling through the youth hostels of Europe, it’s easy to forget things like this. I’m so glad that Dachau is included on the Topdeck itinerary; it’s so important to remember the past — especially when it’s harrowing — so that it is never repeated.

We were stuck in traffic for a while so Jamie put on Love Actually for us all. I’ve seen it maybe twenty times but amused myself with the recent knowledge that the girl who sung ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ voices Marceline from Adventure Time.

“All I want for Christmas is to bury you in the ground.”

I gotta go now because we’re going to a little place called ‘Amsterdamage’ tomorrow.

Read the rest of my European Wonder adventures here.

Topdeck Travel: Day Nine

3 Aug

Up for breakfast at 9.30 today, which happens to be the longest sleep in we’ve had all trip. Which is new, because usually getting up before noon is a triumph for me. We all headed into the heart of Venice for gondola rides and mask-buying. Apprently the local delicacy is squid ink pasta but I couldn’t find it so we had pizza instead.

Matt, Florence & Little Lion Man on a Venetian gondola.


Me, Patricia, Isabella & Laura on a Venetian gondola.

Another short update for me – it’s a masquerade party at the hostel bar. PICS TO FOLLOW!

Read the rest of my European Wonder adventures here.

Topdeck Travel: Day Eight

2 Aug

Ciao bella! Today was also hangover day. Grande grande hangover day.

There was a toga party at the hostel last night. I did not wear a toga, but I did drink until I felt like sheet.

The hostel here has a real Schoolies vibe. It doesn’t feel very ‘authentically Italian’ but it is a nice atmosphere for sure. Loads of Aussies by the pool, in the bar, talking loudly to each other in the toilets…

But I’m missing the important thing about today. T H E  V A T I C A N.

Today Topdeck went to the smallest state in the world. Our tour guide was pretty much the best I’ve ever seen – a bubbly American who never stopped talking for a second. She showed us the Vatican Museum, St Peter’s Basilica, and the Sistene Chapel, where my grandmother took me once when I was very small. I remember last time it was so packed that we were pushed forward by the crowd so much that I was swept away, like something out of a stampede scene from The Lion King. This time we got to surpass the crowds outside, so there was enough breathing room to truly appreciate Michelangelo’s ceiling frescos and the aesthetics of a room so literally awesome.

I think I’ve watched too much Arrested Development.

I’ve made a decision to not go too overboard for the rest of the trip. After the Vatican we bussed to Venice where we’re staying at Camping Jolly. Everyone’s still at the bar now – some guys from another trip even got naked in the middle of the dancefloor – but I’m not really feeling it. I’m still feeling pretty lovesick. This trip is going really fast – it’s hard to believe we only have six days left. But I’m not used to sleeping alone, I miss my partner, and I’m sleepy so I’ll make this a short one.

Read the rest of my European Wonder adventures here.

Topdeck Travel: Day Seven

1 Aug

Bon giorno! Today was hangover day.

The hostel is part of the Plus Hostels chain. They do their drinks in buckets here.

Vicki and Rachael kicking the bucket by the pool.

We had a six hour walking tour of Rome this morning, which was pretty awesome. We saw the Spanish Steps, where a protest was held last year, the Colosseum, and Trevi Fountain. As the legend goes, if you throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain, you’re guaranteed a trip back to Rome. I threw in a tooth last time I visited so I guess it’s literally in my bones.

Patricia & I at the Trevi Fountain. I’m throwing in one eurocent this time…

We had pizza and gelati for lunch outside the Pantheon and everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.

And it was a free day, but also a sweltering one. So instead of making the most of being in !!!R O M E!!! I kind of just went back to the hostel to have a swim. I’m by the pool now and it’s much more inviting than this shitty internet connection, so I’m gonna go back in.

P.S. If I hear “When in Rome” one more time I’m going to bludgeon someone with a scale model of the Tower of Pisa.

Read the rest of my European Wonder adventures here.

Topdeck Travel: Day Six

31 Jul

The Duomo.

This morning we had a walking tour of Florence with a local guide. It is a pretty amazing city. For the Aussies who have never been out of Australia before, seeing any building that is over two centuries old is impressive – but the Duomo cathedral is absolutely stunning even by European standards.

Next to the Duomo was the Baptistry, with its bronze doors that allegedly begun the Renaissance. We also saw the Ponte Vecchio, one of the last remaining bridges after the Second World War, and the Accademia, which houses loads of sculptures, including Michelangelo’s ‘David’.

Little Lion Man was more impressed with this statue, but you can see David’s feet in the background.

I would have liked to see Santa Croce, the church which holds the tombs of Michelangelo, Dante and Galileo, but it was way too hot to buy some kind of garment to cover my shoulders (something you must do in Italy to visit many of the religious sites). The tour finished with a demonstration of leather-making, including Florentine jewellery boxes. To be honest, I only went to the demonstration to get out of the heat (Italy is HOT) and soon us veggies were heading to the nearest pizzaria.

Next it was back onto the bus to head to the town of Orvieto, something that wasn’t on the planned itinerary but which was well worthwhile. If you’re ever nearby I was totally recommend visiting. It’s a beautiful place.

And now I am in Rome, sitting in the bar by the pool and melting like gelati. It’s pretty weird to think that a couple of days ago we were standing knee-deep in snow in the Swiss Alps. I can’t believe it’s almost been a week, this trip is going so quickly!

Going to call it an early one tonight as we have a six hour walking tour in the morning. Yikes.

Ciao! x

Read the rest of my European Wonder adventures here.

Topdeck Travel: Day Five

30 Jul

Last night was definitely the best night of the trip.

A lot of us decided to chill by the ‘lake’ (a tiny stream next to reception where people put their beers to keep them cool), and had a sing-a-long with Croc and his guitar. I had a few beers and might have actually sung a few solos, much my chagrin upon waking…

We were up this morning bright and early to drive to Italy; it was a big bus day today as well. It’s true that there is a lot of time on the road on this tour. Sometimes it’s close to ten hours, but it’s not not every day, and it does let us see a lot of the countryside and catch up on our sleep (or blogging…). Today it also gave us an opportunity to play ‘Bogan Bingo’ and watch some YouTube videos. Having someone sit you down and show you all their favourite YouTube clips is usually boring as hell, but it wasn’t too bad – aside from the rick-rolling.

Also, I don’t think I’ve mentioned it but Jamie plays ‘Moves Like Jagger‘ every time he wants us to wake up before a stop. We’re going to be like Pavlov’s dogs before the end of the trip, instantly snapping wide awake in clubs for years to come.

Pisa was our first stop after Switzerland, for the standard photographs and bargaining with the vendors (pics to follow: stay tuned). Florence from Boston missed the bus on the way back so she had to make her own way to Florence, which was kind of ironic — but she made it back in one piece.

It’s really interesting to see the relationships forming between everyone on the coach. I think the situation is definitely a crucible to accelerate friendships, but I can also picture us being quite a volatile lot towards the end, after the girls’ periods have synchronised and none of us have had an orgasm in two weeks (saying that though, there are a few couples that have sprung into creation, even this early in the trip).

I’m writing this on the really infuriating internet connection in Florence. The rest of the guys have gone into town for karaoke. There’s also a wet t-shirt competition in the bar downstairs… I can hear it from here, so I don’t feel like I’m missing much (besides, after all the drinks in Switzerland my brain still kinda feels like Swiss cheese).

I wanted to go to Borgo Santa Croce tonight to check out one of the bars but us ladies have been warned against travelling alone at night.It kind of irks me when the burden of responsibility for that sort of thing is put on women instead of men – but I suppose this isn’t my country and I should do as I’m told. It is just a shame that no matter where you go in the world, after a certain time of day the streets are male spaces. I’d hardly touched down on Italian soil for more than a few minutes this morning when a seedy guy tried to chat me up at a truck stop. Shame I didn’t know how to say “I’ve got a lion in my backpack” in Italian.

Read the rest of my European Wonder adventures here.

Topdeck Travel: Day Four

29 Jul

That’s right. Snow in summer.

This morning we had the option of taking Jungfrau Railway to the Jungfraujoch, the train station in the Swiss Alps which marks the top of Europe. Setting off after breakfast with a packed lunch, we boarded the train for the two hour journey to the top.

The first 2k of the train journey from Kleine Scheidegg (which translates as ‘Little Vagina Corner’ according to our tour guide…) runs through open terrain. It is impossible to describe how picturesque Switzerland is. After the first 2k there is a 10k journey through a tunnel actually hewn out of the alpine rock. The train stops twice on the way up to let its passengers adjust to the altitude.

At the top, the beauty takes your breath away (literally). Standing at the top of Europe was definitely a life-altering experience for me. I mean, have you ever been inside of a cloud? Or been sunburnt in freezing temperatures?! For a lot of people, today was their first snow; I can’t even imagine the impact that must have had. There was a perfect moment up the top when we were sitting in the white, making snowcones with our juiceboxes, and the Canadian girls were playing music on their phone. It was just one of those ‘woah I’m going to remember this forever’ moments. I think this trip is going to have a lot of them…

This is pretty much what it felt like huh.

I’m writing this in in Lauterbrunnen where we’re staying, and where they make a surprisingly good flat white. I have to head pretty soon – we’re having fondue.

Read the rest of my European Wonder adventures here.

Topdeck Travel: Days Two & Three

28 Jul

I’m currently typing this in our cabin at the Schutzenbach-retreat in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. Everything here looks like a postcard, it’s slightly surreal to think we were in Paris this morning.

Speaking of which…

Day Two

The second day of our tour began by waking up in Paris. Not bad. Our breakfast was provided by the hotel – it was just a generic pastry and yogurt sort of deal but the coffee machine was impressive. Day two was a free day, which meant we could do as we liked until 3pm – when those who wanted to do a bicycle tour of the city had the option – or 7pm, when we’d all meet for a gourmet picnic at the park in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. As you do.

Me & Little Lion Man at The Louvre.

Rachael, Vicky and I had bonded a little the night before over our shared vegetarianism and proximity to Moet. We decided to go to the Opera House. We then headed to the Artclub Gallery, which was around the corner from The Louvre. It looked like a really interesting alternative to checking out the Mona Lisa, but it was also very much closed, though the glass walls meant that most of the gallery was on display anyway.

After a slightly cynically-charged walk down Love Lock Bridge – where couples write their names on a padlock, attach it to the bridge, and throw the key into the river – we went our separate ways. I’ve done Paris before so I thought I’d do something a little different. After a vegan lunch from a cafe next to a taxidermy shop I headed to Rue Saint Croix de la Bretonneire to check out the Marais District (see also: the gay district).

My favourite places in the Marais Distrcit were Les Paris Gourmands, which sold miniature candy- and biscuit-shaped jewellery, and Open Cafe, which was pretty much like every other gay bar in Europe but in Paris. (So, more expensive.) I was saving my pennies for the optional cabaret that night but it turned out I didn’t need them after all, as wine was included.

The cabaret was incredible; the staff wouldn’t let us take pictures, sadly, but if you don’t believe me just ask Helga. There was a trapeze artist, unicycle act that defied all logic, and lots of singing and dancing and flesh. I have to admit I missed some of the show because Rachael and I got into a very drunken heated and excited conversation about sex-positive feminism (yay!) and I wasn’t watching the stage. I seem to remember lots of lycra, dry ice and… motorbikes?

Paris was beautiful. But I am still sad. There is a quote floating around Tumblr, it goes like this:

Paris was a city for lovers, and my lover is missing from me.

Day Three
Even on the third day, putting a coachful of sleepy and slightly-sheepish people onto a bus still feels a lot like going to school camp. School camp with hangovers.

It was a lo-oo-oo-ong bus day today – the longest of the trip hopefully. However, we were saved from boredom by a few games and some singing from Croc (one of the Aussie guys). We also did a round of introductions over the coach microphone – which was when our first slice of intercultural drama popped up (thanks Michelle from America for the link!).

But now we’re in Switzerland.

Guy Secretan, a Swiss human.

Internet access here costs three Swiss-franc for half an hour, but wifi codes are free if you buy a drink at the bar.

Two guesses where I’m heading next?

Read the rest of my European Wonder adventures here.