Topdeck you were killer. This bus tour was one of the best experiences of my life. And I know you think you’ve heard this gap year tale one too many a times, but the exciting and eternal warm fuzzy feeling you get on one of these trips is definitely something you can only understand if you’ve done one. However, don’t be fooled, I don’t use the word “killer” light-heartedly. Topdeck nearly ended me. The exhaustion you feel after nearly a month straight of partying, all-day sight-seeing and sleeping more on a moving vehicle than in a bed, is again, something you can only fathom through first hand experience.
Going in, I knew one person (my ever-trusty travel buddy: Chloe). But if you’d seen our group from the outside after a week in, you’d have thought we were all separated at birth. By the end of the first night, I felt like I already had 46 new mates who I’d known for years. It truly felt like we’d all grown up just around the corner from one another and knew everything there was to know about each other. This ended up being nothing short of the truth by the end, as it seems that there’s not a lot you can keep hidden from people when you spend virtually every second together.
I will try to keep this post short and sweet, for the sake of my sanity and your interest in the topic. But no promises…
The first two days had us cross the high seas and headed for Paris. These first few moments mainly consisted of checking out the gorgeous sites that Paris had to offer. And of course we ended our short stay in the city of love very appropriately on a boat cruise down the Seine river. Next, we drove to Switzerland, which, little did we know, would be one hell of a drive. However this gave us the best possible chance to play some always-awkward name games, and to begin the trail of clichéd travel movies that would continue across many bus rides to come. Once we reached the Swiss Alps, we discovered that our camp site for two nights was both gob-smackingly beautiful and very secluded. Hence, our days were filled with mindless exploring of waterfalls and mountains, and our nights with low-key boogieing in the local pub.
For days 5 and 6, we were back in France and found ourselves along the French Riveria, just outside Cannes. Our schedule had promised Nice, but a group of 40 Aussie tourists settling there for two nights after the very recent terrorist attack seemed both a little inappropriate and very dangerous. Nevertheless, our group continued to bond as we spent about 90% of the next two days on the beach – Swimming and tanning (well attempting to in my case), and in a circle telling stories and drinking wine at night time. Our stop on the South Coast of France also included a cheeky trip to Monaco A.K.A rich husband hunting. Here the more optimistic gappies tried their luck at Monte Carlo, and the “I’ve already blown my budget” gappies had dinner at definitely the fanciest McDonald’s I’ve ever seen (needless to say I was in the latter group).
On day 7 we drove to Italy. The long drive had us wondering how a week had already gone by, but soon we arrived for a quick stop at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Being the obnoxious Aussies we are, we all ran around high-fiving oblivious tourists who had their hands out posed for a photo that would make it look like they were holding the tower up. In the evening, we arrived in Florence and settled in at an amazing hostel for a mega dinner, a swim a dusk and our introduction to the Plus Hostels’ famous cocktail buckets. Emphasis on bucket. The walking tour the next day was then somewhat a struggle for some, and a not even a not-attempted option for others. During it however, we saw the mains sites and learnt about their history. We then had our first taste of unforgettable, irreplaceable, real Italian pizza. No pizza since has ever been successful at filling the circular void that remains in my stomach. The night that followed was equally as eventful and wonderful as the day, as we ventured to a karaoke bar. On day 9, we drove to Rome. After a quick, but disgustingly sweaty walking tour (it was around 35 degrees) where we visited the visited the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon, we headed for some world-famous gelato (courtesy of TopDeck). The next day we headed out early for a tour of the Vatican City, where I had another geeky art moment admiring the Sistine Chapel. Unfortunately though, the Vatican did disappoint in that it became the only country I could not find a touristy-shot glass in to add to my collection. Given that it’s the only completely Catholic country in the world this was very surprising! Ella, Connor, Katie and I then struggled through the heat for a quick trip the Colosseum before heading back to the camp site to get ready for our Tight & Bright themed party. This night seemed to progress awfully quickly into a haze as we celebrated our trip leader Alyse’s birthday and completely ignored the fact that we had be up at 5am to get to Greece.
On Day 11 we left Rome at 6AM on what I firmly believe should hereon only be referred to as the bus to struggle street. However after powering through the headaches, Max, Katy and I enjoyed Coronas on the deck of the ferry to Greece, before heading into our rooms for some much needed sleep. Next thing you know I’m on my own sail boat. For some reason someone, somewhere in the system decided it was a good idea to give 18 year-olds control of moving sea-vehicle with no experience. I was put onto the G-Boat, called so because every member of our group’s name started with G (we had myself, George, Georgia, Georgia and another Grace).
The following three days sailing in the Greek Islands were fairly easy going; waking up to sunshine and a morning swim, sitting on the deck eating eggs on toast for breakfast, dancing the night away on the beach each night… However these blissful moments weren’t without complications as we managed to not anchor our boat properly at a certain swim stop in the middle of the sea, another group managed to crash their boat that were in Alyse’s own words “uncrashable”, and another boat began spontaneously filled with water. Nevertheless we celebrated our last moments in Greece with a delicious lunch (complete with a mojito) by the beach and a toga party before we ventured back to the ferry and headed for Venice.
Although our arrival into Venice was delayed, this didn’t stop our group from pulling ourselves together for another themed party. This time it was masquerade, probably with the intention of getting everyone to wear traditional Venetian Masks, but when I saw a Barack Obama mask for sale, I couldn’t resist. With the amount of free pour I was getting for my excellent interpretation of the theme, I somehow ended up still being outside at 4am (for some unknown reason). That which made the walking tour of Venice the next morning a little difficult. However I still forked out my 20 euro for a gondola ride, which ended up with myself, Angus, Boyd, Harry and Lara being absolutely drenched in rain that spontaneously arrived and saw us seeking shelter in a fancy pizza restaurant.
The next two days were spent in the Austrian Alps where we found freezing cold water holes to swim in and enjoyed BBQ and burger dinners. The beautiful surrounding mountains of the Tyrol area definitely had me feeling like I could retire there at any moment. Austria also lead us to one of our most heart-warming moments as a group. On the drive there we had drawn names out of a hat and had been instructed to write a funny love letter to that person. However, being the absolute saps that we are, we wrote very truthful and complimentary letters which lead to a chorus of “awww” and “Okay that was adorable, who wrote that?” moments. The love for my group and the fresh alpine air didn’t however stop me from being me, as I ended my stay in Austria in true Grace fashion: by absolutely stacking it on a bike.
Next, we made a stopover at Dachau Concentration Camp for a gut-wrenching reminder of the mistakes of the Holocaust, before continuing on to Munich. Here we spent the night in true German stereotype as Imogen & I enjoyed Schnitzel burgers for dinner, and met up with the rest of the group at HofbrauHaus Beer Hall for a casual litre of beer. This set us up for a good night as we ventured to Das Labor Club for Chemistry-themed drinks and a boogie.
On Day 21 we headed for Prague, where we arrived late afternoon and had a walking tour around the city. That night we headed to the city’s famous five story club where us girls were very kindly introduced to the upfront and somewhat creepy nature of Eastern European men. The following day was a relaxed one, mostly spent aimlessly wondering around this gorgeous place before we headed back to the same club that night. However this time the absolutely wonderful boys on our tour formed a protective circle around us and spent the night intentionally cockblocking us from the creepers. With the boys putting so much effort into looking out for us, us girls had a few “ouch my heart hurts, these boys are so lovely” moments and were in for a far more pleasant night.
Day 23 saw us head of Berlin with a quick stop in Dresden for a walking tour and some currywurst. Upon arriving in Berlin, we did a speedy driving tour before settling into our Hostel just opposite the East Side Gallery. The next day was spent relaxing, wondering and eating world famous kebabs, with our nights spent exploring the famous Berlin nightlife at Trésor and Suicide Circus.
Much to our dismay, on day 25 we drove to Amsterdam for the beginning of the end. However our sadness was much lessened by our amazing chef Alexis who cooked up a storm for lunch in the form of a kid’s birthday party theme. This lunch had everything: pink doughnuts, cute polka dot cups, paper straws, fairy bread and party hats – No better way to cheer up a group of 18 year olds who were getting preemptive separation anxiety. Further on our drive into Amsterdam, we stopped off at a cheese factory (a real winner in my books) before settling into our hostel and braving the red light district for a sex show (just as creepy and uncomfortable a you can imagine). The following day was our last, which we spent on a biking tour of the city, before enjoying a romantic boat cruise down Amsterdam’s famous canals for one last hoorah. During which we enjoyed free booze, heard speeches from our A-Team of leaders (Alyse, André and Alexis) and Brooke and I read out some the hilarious quotes that we had been piling throughout the trip.
Here are some of my favourites (the best way to enjoy them is without context):
“I wasn’t arrested, I escaped” – Dan
“Italian water is just so much better than regular water” – Jack
“Drink your soy sauce you asian” – Max
“Oi how funny would it be if George got syphillis?” – Angus
“Who needs highlighter when you have sweat?” – Romy
“I think my sperm count went down from how cold this water is” – George
“I love the Olympics, I watch it every year” – Amelia
“Oh no I left my bread roll on my bed!” – Alex J
“I want a Big Mac and nuggets, is that selfish?” – Imogen
“The worst part about losing your phone is losing all the dank memes”- Katy
But seemingly random quotes don’t do any kind of justice to what a bunch of stellars these people are. Undoubtedly they’re some of the funniest, warmest, weirdest and amazing people I’ve ever met. And that’s not something you can say about a lot of people after only knowing them for a month. My summer wouldn’t have been as amazing as it was if it weren’t for these goofballs. And without turning into a complete cheese-stick, I really feel like I’ve gained some incredible new mates that will last a lifetime. I really can’t recommend an experience like this more. I mean if the idea of making 45 new friends whilst ticking off some major bucket list points doesn’t convice you that these trips are incredible, I don’t know what will.
So TopDeck, thanks for a fantastic 27 days of “on the lips”, claims, shakkas boomerang and HELLO! This trip was once in a lifetime, and will without a doubt always hold a special place in my corny ol’ heart.
Until next time!