Saturday, August 20, 2016

Topdeck Part 2 and Journeying Home

Hello again! My Topdeck tour is over, and I'm back in Bahrain, packing before I return back to my home. I am so excited to be reunited with friends and family, and get back to day to day life in lil' ol' Wellington. Firstly I should probably fill in the second half of my "Grand European" tour.
A blurry image of the crazy route, over the 28 day trip

I left off in Rome, I believe. Followed by the bustling and ancient capital city was the breath-taking Venice, which had to be one of my favourite cities. Put this on your bucket list - PLEASE. We had a canal ride, the weather was wonderful, and I bought waaay too much - including a Venetian mask which I'm sure I'll be utilising every weekend with all the Masquerade ball invitations I receive.... (?)
But seriously, it was a nice mask.

Next was Pag Island in Croatia, which if I'm honest, was a little over-hyped. Our tour guide likened it to a tropical paradise much like Fiji, and on arrival I reasoned that he had never actually been to Fiji. It was quite lovely, but it was no tropical island. The beaches were rocky, the land was desolate, but the little village centre and the people were terrific. Also things were quite cheap there and I felt rich with my $500 in Croatian Kuna which is more like $100 NZD. It is also known to be very much party central, and by this point in the trip I hit a wall, I think. Not only had my body finally succumbed to what has been dubbed "Cough-deck", I was also completely over the whole get-drunk-and-be-stupid vibe present throughout the trip. Luckily my wonderful roommate had the same attitude. I didn't go out to the club once in the three nights we were there. I don't regret it either. Also I remember being absolutely relieved not to be served pasta again, and instead getting cabbage (YAY) and other nummy vegetables. No one else seemed as enthusiastic.

Oh, and one of the guys on our trip took some random drugs he bought for the equivalent of $2-5 NZD from a stranger, and, well, he got quite messed up. I only know because someone took a video and posted it to our tour page. People are stupid. He was okay the next day though.

Ljubljana, Slovenia (Loob-lee-yana) was absolutely gorgeous and I can't believe of all places we only had one measly night there. Also, they have vending machines for fresh unpasteurised milk and cheese dotted around the streets. Casual. Another memorable thing was their city's main square; in the centre there is artificially engineered rain pouring 24 hours a day. However it was rendered pointless when we were staying there as it was raining anyway. I really didn't get it at all.

The Austrian Alps were another one of my highlights and my absolute favourite optional* activity, canyoning, was there. If you are like me, and don't know what that is, I can only describe it as a combination of abseiling, cliff jumping, and rock sliding. Oh, and water that was surely of arctic temperatures. First we kitted up in TWO layers of special wetsuits, one of which covered my whole head like a hoodie, and a sexy yellow helmet, plus special socks and boots for grip. I honestly felt like I was wearing one of those super suits from The Incredibles. It was both terrifying, adrenalising, and oh-my-god-I'm-going-to-die-of-hypothermia-cold. I only braved the 5m cliff jump (the higher ones were 6m and 9m), and while I think I could have eventually braved the 6m, I am proud of my effort. (And I would have been far to freaked trying to clear the rocks that jutted out of the 9m jump.) The abseil cliffs were 20m and 13m. The worst part was always hitting the water at the bottom; it was the kind of cold that makes your teeth chatter and your brain feel like it isn't getting enough oxygen so you make all these stupid panicky breaths. As our hands were the only extremities not covered, they were always on the edge of feeling like they would seize up.

I realise I'm making this sound like it was quite horrible, but rest assured I'm just trying to create a little drama. Don't get me wrong, it was fantastic - but I'm not exaggerating about the cold. Need I remind you I was already sick and up half the previous night with a horrible cough.

Also the "rock sliding" was literally sliding down the rapids on the smoother parts of the canyon rocks. I don't really know how to properly describe it but I hope you can get a bit of a mental picture.

I'm sad I couldn't get photos, because I didn't have a water-proof camera, but I'm going to sneakily borrow these ones from Facebook. (Thanks Sam...)

Canyoning (I'm first on the left)

With our banana yellow harnesses for abseiling, uncropped for view (!!)
Austria also has this delicious herbal lemonade that is *supposedly* good for you called Almdudler and I'm so addicted to it. I wanted to take some home but don't think it would have travelled very well. Also this was easily our best accommodation of the trip. It was a large country homestead in a small town, with a cute little bar and felt very homely - a huge contrast to the low-budget hostels and "hotels" we had been growing used to. Plus the staff there were so lovely.

EDIT 21/8: I somehow lost a few paragraphs regarding Mauthausen, Prague and Berlin so I'm going to try and summarise what I remember typing....

Before arriving in Prague, we stopped at Mauthausen, an Austrian concentration camp. It was absolutely mentally shattering. I stood inside a real gas chamber. I walked the death stairs, and I heard stories from survivors and American soldiers at the onsite museum. I have long been interested in the horrors of the Holocaust, but this personalised the tragedy so much for me. This was definitely the most moving part of the trip.

At this point the places begin to blur...but Prague, Czech Republic truly has some stunning architecture. Lots of castles, cobblestone streets, and a famous ice cream, berries and chocolate stuffed pastry called trdnelik (I still cannot pronounce this). Personally - and this is unpopular opinion - I thought trdnelik was a little overrated. It tasted very similar to funnel cakes which are often at pop up food markets in Wellington.

Berlin is a quirky city with the most adorable green man traffic light. Pink tubes weave around the streets, transporting...faeces? There are lots of pubs, lots of historical museums, and on our walking tour we even see the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled baby Blanket over the balcony.
The things I remember are random and mundane, but I have already written a novel already, so moving on.

We finished in Amsterdam, which unsurprisingly reeked of pot. We went to the Red Light District and I was baffled to discover not only tourist kids wandering around with their parents in the evening, but there is actually a kindergarten there. Also it was an odd moment returning back to our hostel, walking past a small group of Christians worshipping on one of the bridges in the district. I wondered if they were planning on evangelising the sex workers. 

The next day we did a bike tour, which was beautifully scenic, before I gapped it to the airport. And there my travel story ends, I suppose.

It's good to be back in Bahrain a few days, and only now do I realise how much I'll miss Si and Annabelle. I'm so happy to go home of course, but it feels weird that I won't see them for a long time.

Tomorrow I have a full day, and I leave on Monday. Let's do this.

*On tour we had various optional activities we could pay extra to take part in, and these were usually at a group rate, cheaper than if we organised them ourselves.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Grand European Madness

To avoid further hassling from the parentals, I have managed to scrape some time together for a much needed update. Last time I blogged I'm pretty sure was in Kuala Lumpur...

For those who don't know, for the last two weeks I have been on a frantic bus tour of Europe with a bunch of other travellers aged 18-30ish. I have been to four countries, or 8 cities in just 13 days, and I have another fortnight of this ahead of me. (And I'm only including the places we stayed overnight in this count.)

A few words to sum up so far: 

BEAUTIFUL - everything I've seen so far is so gorgeous and ancient with so much history and I can't get over standing in front of a famous monument in the flesh that I have seen countless pictures of.

ALCOHOL - because apparently every night is a party and it's a go hard or go home mentality. 'Tis good fun. I do not frequent the clubs/bars nightly however, because I'm not insane. 

MUGGY - it's the kind of sticky hot where sweat drips everywhere and sunburnt skin is the norm. 

EARLY - mornings are hard. Every second day is a travel day which always means early departure from our accommodation.

As promised I have attached my itinerary (which I hope people can access??)

So far I have grazed Paris, Swiss Alps, Avignon, Barcelona, Nice, Monaco, Pisa, Florence and now Rome. My favourite place has been Swiss Alps, not only for the breathtaking views, but the cooler climate, welcoming locals and absolute serenity of the place. Also a couple in our group got engaged at Jungfraujoch which was absolutely adorable.

It's fitting that I post at this time because our group is actually two separate tours combined - a two week and a 4 week trip. That means that 13 of our 42 will finish up the tour, and we will welcome 14 new, fresh-faced, well-rested Topdeckers for the remainder of the trip. Part of me is hoping for more 18-20 year olds (as the median age is about 24), but I've noticed I have an easier time with the older travellers in our group because there is less drama and they are friendlier. To be honest though, what did I expect - a bunch of strangers from all around the world, there is bound to be a bit of friction..

That said, I have a great group of people and have had a lot of fun so far. I can't be bothered to stagger my photos throughout the text so instead I will just dump them here.





  Notre Dame, Paris ^


Cabaret in Paris ^








Jungfraujoch, Swiss Alps - highest point in Europe




Parc Guëll, Barcelona 


Pretty sure we accidentally didn't pay to get in here...






Monte-Carlo, where even babies are attractive...


Pantheon, Rome - over 2000 years old



Colosseum in Rome

And a lazy bullet point list of notable moments:

  • Pickpocketers disguised as tourist family skirt Trevi Fountain
  • 150 flavours at gelato store in Rome (I got grapefruit, soya hazelnut, and soya coconut)
  • Crêpes under the Eiffel Tower at 12am
  • Realising I didn't pack a towel, assuming free towels would be readily available 
  • Getting served a green salad entree followed by a larger green salad "main" at Paris hostel
  • Apparently cows get high off the chemicals they spray on the mountains in Swiss Alps
  • Sprinklers going off at Avignon picnic by the river
  • Poor beggar in Barcelona with basketball sized stomach tumour
  • Bomb threat at Monte Carlo...? Was just a false alarm though!
  • Bread being the only thing I can eat at the breakfast buffets (ugh)
  • Perfecting the art of sleeping on the coach
  • Living off cheap cans of lentils to save dem euros
  • That first "six hour" travel day that turned into thirteen
  • Getting served cheeseless pizza in Florence- dumbfounded. Did not think that existed.

That's all for now, and I apologise if this is the only update I can give until I get back. I'm seriously getting so lethargic though - the heat is mad, and we already did a 3 hour walking tour of Rome yesterday, so a lazy day at the camp ground seems pretty damn inviting right now.