Traveling is actually quite bizarre. It’s an opportunity to escape your world at home and dive into a whirlwind of new sights, people and experiences. You immerse yourself in this dream-like state which when you return home causes you to question if it all really happened. That being said, my trip to Europe will be an experience that I will never forget. I was fortunate enough to be given this opportunity as a 21st birthday present from my parents and my grandparents.
As soon as a European trip looked like it was going to become a reality, my three best friends and I immediately set about some research and planning. We eventually decided on a Topdeck tour (the European Wonder package) because it seemed like great value for money. The tour packed in many activities, included meals and the opportunity to see five amazing countries. These included France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. Our expectations were soon to be met as each country was so unique and beautiful in its own way. The Topdeck team were also excellent and ensured an unforgettable experience. We were even surprised to find out that our tour leader was a complete newbie and we were her very first tour group! Her professionalism, friendliness and knowledge of each country was to be highly commended, indeed a great ambassador for the Top Deck brand.
To give you an overview of the tour I will briefly go through each day and my personal highlights of the trip.
South Africa to London:
After a very long flight from Cape Town, South Africa (Transferring via Dubai) to London Gatwick, my two friends and I were very relieved to finally make it to Wombats Hostel in London where we spent one night before departing for our Top Deck tour the next day. Wombats is the designated meet up point for the tour so we thought it would be a good idea to stay there before our early start the next morning. Wombats was by far the best Hostel that we stayed in. The rooms are of a basic hotel quality but we were happy to discover that our room had its own en suite with little USB phone chargers by each bed. Everything was exceptionally clean and it was a great place to recuperate from the flight. The hostel also had a great little bar downstairs where we met up with out friend from Australia and celebrated the beginning of the trip!
London to Paris:
Oh Paris! What and experience… Departing from Dover Port was an experience on its own as the European Football Championship was taking place at this time. Needless to say there were drunk jolly men everywhere. After we freshened up in our Paris hostel room we headed down to get to know the other people on our tour as well as enjoy our first traditional French meal – Yes, we even tried escargot! The following day we were given a free day to explore this beautiful city. My highlights of the day were going right to the top of the famous Eiffel Tower (Go in the morning to avoid queues), eating my very first French macaroon from Laduree , drooling over the luxurious shops along Avenue des Champs Elysées and a magical river cruise along the Seine River where we saw the Eiffel Tower light up and sparkle (I highly recommend this optional activity!) After a very long day and 30 000 steps later we headed back to our hostel to rest up for our bus trip to Switzerland the next morning.
Paris to Switzerland:
Switzerland was like something out of a book or a film. The cascading, snowy mountains and icy blue rivers captivated us all as we drove along to our next hostel. We stayed in a quaint town called Lauterbrunnen. The town reminded me of a fairy tale as we were surrounded by a valley of mountains with glistening waterfalls that looked like star dust. There was a sense of serenity and fantasy in the town which was quite refreshing after the hustle and bustle of Paris and London. We stayed in little wood cabins equipped with thick fury blankets to keep us warm during the icy nights. My favourite experience of Switzerland and probably one of my favourites of the entire trip was our adventure up to Jungfrau (The top of Europe.) Despite feeling a little light headed due to the high altitude, my friends and I could have stayed up there for hours playing in the snow and exploring the ice palace they had made at the top. We spent the rest of the day exploring Lauterbrunnen and enjoying a very expensive cider which was the only thing us poor South African’s could afford!
Switzerland to Florence, Italy:
Say goodbye to snow and hello to pizza! I absolutely loved Florence and hope to go back there one day as the tour only allowed for one night in this beautiful city. My quest in Florence was to find a leather handbag and my first Italian ice cream. I conquered both after a bit of bargaining and a little pit stop for some pizza! I was absolutely amazed by the architectural masterpieces in Florence. From the Florence Cathedral (The Duomo) to the narrow cobbled streets and rustic houses Florence inspired me to return some day and explore even more.
Florence to Rome:
Although we didn’t quite get to experience our Lizzie McGuire fantasy and ride around Rome on a red Vespa with a guy named Paolo, Rome was nothing less than Amazing. Our first stop was an ice cream parlour that stocked over 100 different flavours of ice cream. Needless to say I had a lot of difficulty in deciding but was very happy with my three mouth-watering scoops. After a short walking tour and a quick lowdown on how to find our way back to the hostel, we headed over to the Colosseum to delve into the rich history of Rome. A little tip – if you want to avoid the sweaty queues, purchase your ticket at the Forum (right next to the colosseum) which allows you to explore both incredible monuments and walk right through. After a long day of exploring Rome in 30 degrees of heat we headed back to the hostel to lounge around the pool and recover from the heat.
Rome to Venice:
Venice is a place full of culture and colour. We were lucky enough to go for a gondola ride with a gondolier who was not very amused when we asked him to sing for us as we had seen in films. We managed to get some good photos capturing the essence of venice as well as buy some gorgeous shoes and pick up a few souvenirs for friends back home. We were so captivated by the city that we nearly missed the last bus back to our hostel! As we packed up to leave the next morning we were very sad to realise that we were spending our last fews hours in beautiful Italy.
Venice to Austria:
I’m very sad to say that we did not get to experience much of Austria. The drive was absolutely spectacular and reminded me a little bit of Switzerland. However, after a few very hot, intense days of exploring we were all absolutely exhausted and feeling a little under the weather. So we put on some comfy clothes, ordered some hot chocolate and sat in our room playing Uno with a few friends as it drizzled with rain outside in beautiful Austria. The hostel was so cosy and welcoming – exactly what we needed to recuperate and enjoy our last few days of the tour.
Austria to Rhine Valley, Germany:
In a country that is famous for it’s castles, to experience Germany’s true culture one should certainly try to stay in a castle and that’s exactly what we did! Our tour group was advised to pack a little overnight bag and we soon realised why after trudging our way up hundreds of stairs. But when we finally got to our room we were greeted with the most spectacular views! Soon we decided to go off and explore the rest of the little Town. As we walked our way down from our castle we were absolutely amazed by the beautifully decorated streets, colourful houses and quirky little restaurants. We got to take some great photos with a magnificent view of Rhine Valley as well as try our first glass of the delicious Riesling – a wine originating in the Rhine region which is made from a very aromatic white grape. The rest of the evening was spent relaxing and enjoying good company, good wine and amazing views.
Rhine Valley to Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam is another city which I am determined to go back to. Although I didn’t quite catch on to the whole biking thing too quickly and nearly got run over a couple times, Amsterdam has a special atmosphere which has me craving for more! I was absolutely amazed by the culture of Amsterdam and the beauty in the city itself. Everywhere you go there is something interesting to see, eat or learn about. One of my favourite experiences was visiting the Stedelijk Museum which is full of remarkable pieces of modern art by artists such as Picasso, Van Gogh, Andy Warhol and Matisse. I was in awe as I slowly explored the many floors of the museum. My friends and I also enjoyed the shopping in Amsterdam and managed to pick up a few great pieces from a clothing store called Pull and Bear. To end off our time in Amsterdam and celebrate our entire trip, Topdeck arranged a Dinner cruise along the canals of Amsterdam. It was so special to enjoy our last meal with everyone in a gorgeous setting on the water, something I will remember for many years to come.
I am so grateful for such a wonderful experience. Although Topdeck tours do not allow you to spend more than about two days in each city, it was a good way to get a snap shot picture of Europe and gain ideas for future travels. It is also a great opportunity to make new friends and learn about different people and places. The tour has opened my eyes to the world around me and I’m so fortunate to have been able to do this trip. Even when things don’t always go to plan I’ve learnt that this is all part of the travel experience and will treasure all memories – the good and the not so good! I would certainly never hesitate to go on another Topdeck tour. My friends and I were all amazed by their service and organisation. It is a great way to experience different places in a safe, economical and fun manner. I highly recommend it!