From a little town in Melbourne to living in a popular UK city, I have officially begun living probably the biggest dream I have ever had (aside from meeting Taylor Swift).
So far, I have visited 18 countries and made lifelong friendships and memories. Starting with a few days in London, I explored the city that I have dreamt of living in since I was 12. With a visit to Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, a lovely stroll down the River Thames, dinner with a friend I haven’t seen in months (at one of the best pizza places I have ever experienced) and then finishing with a walk over Tower Bridge to meet some people that would form my family for the following month.
Two days later, I was up at 6:00am and off on an adventure that would take me to 17 different countries with over 40 people, some of them becoming like a second family to me. First, we headed off to Paris for two nights. Unfortunately, I became quite sick and only got to do a bike tour and see a traditional cabaret show; however, better to shake the cold before heading to the Swiss Alps, which was the next stop.
The two-night stay in Switzerland was eventful. It was the first night that we learnt to put up our tents, which only lasted one night due to most tents being flooded while we were adventuring on the second day. While our tents were flooding (luckily my tent stayed mostly dry with only a few spots of water seeping through the tent under our blow-up mattresses), most of us made our way up to Jungfrau, one of the highest mountains in the EU. Despite it not being the best weather, it was still breathtaking. And, being the huge child that I am at heart, when I discovered that it was actually snowing — real, non-manmade snow — you can imagine how excited I was. I may have shed a tear of excitement...
Next, we headed back to France, but this time just for a night stop in Avignon. I didn’t get to see a lot of Avignon, as we mainly had it as a stop to sleep at night before continuing our way onto Barcelona.
Arriving into Barcelona, Spain, while playing “Barcelona” by Ed Sheeran (an absolute must), it’s safe to say that the city was stunning, but not what I expected. Despite it not being a place that I would be jumping to go back to, I still made the most of the day while I was there, with a trip around the outside of Sagrada Familia (an unfinished Roman Catholic church which began construction in 1882 and is not expected to be finished until around 2022) and a trip to markets near the town of Cambrils. It was certainly very confronting walking these streets without any knowledge that only a few days later, they would be subject to a terror attack that kills 14 people. It’s safe to say that despite Barcelona not being high on my list to visit again, such beauty was turned into a site of chaos; something that no place deserves.
That afternoon I caught up with an old high school friend, Katherine, for a drink, before having the chance to witness a beautiful water show at the Magic Water Fountain and hitting up the night scene of Barcelona. Strangely, for all my Victorian friends who enjoy the clubbing scene of Melbourne, the club we went to reminded me very much of Rats... a place I have experienced once and do not wish to experience again.
Next on the agenda was the French Riviera, which included a night trip to probably one of my favourite places, Monaco. But first, a day spent with a tour around a French perfumery and lazing around the beaches of Nice. While most people spent the time getting their skin nice and tanned, I spent it with a cocktail in my hand, reading a book and hiding under whoever’s towel I could steal. It is not a trip to Nice, though, if you do not take the typical touristy photo at the #ILoveNice sign!
If you are not an F1 fan, I would skip this paragraph. No trip to the French Riviera is complete without a trip to Monaco. As I was probably the biggest F1 fan on my tour, it’s safe to say that I was the most excited — practically bouncing in my seat — with a drive around the turn that caused one of the worst crashes in the sport’s history, as well as the world’s most famous bend, the Fairmont Hairpin!
From here, we reached day 10... I know, so much has already happened and I’m only up to day 10 of a 34-day trip! Pretty crazy! However, day 10 took us to Venice, Italy, the home of pasta and pizza! What more could a girl want? Venice is full of history: with old buildings, tiny walkways, and gondolas everywhere, it is certainly a picturesque place. It’s incredible to spend a day in a place where there are no cars, buses, trains, or even scooters. It’s either walk or take a gondola ride! Amongst all the tiny streets, a few of us managed to find what has to be one of my favourite bookstores in the world (coming from a girl who loves her bookstores, this certainly is a big statement). All the books are in gondolas, and since Venice is prone to flooding, if the bookstore floods, a significant portion of the books are never damaged due to the floating gondolas. However, a trip to this part of Italy is not complete unless you visit Juliet’s balcony. This balcony is said to be the balcony that Shakespeare based Act 2, Scene 2 of “Romeo and Juliet” off.
From Venice, we made our way to Florence for a quick overnight stop, incorporating a trip to Pisa to capture the
classic photo with the Leaning Tower of Pisa (as well as a few other interesting versions for our tour competition). Despite the intense heat (yes, despite being Australian, I was struggling with the heat) and the insane number of people, it was still absolutely beautiful to see such an iconic monument. Note to everyone who is planning on going to the Leaning Tower of Pisa: if you want the shot on the grass, maybe get someone to distract the security guy with the whistle.
Next on the agenda was Rome, which included a trip to the Vatican City. It’s incredible to see how the Vatican City is quite like Canberra in placement, but still classified as its own country! Of course, after years of studying one iconic sculpture, it was only mandatory that I go and see it for myself — the Pietà by Michelangelo. All I can say is... wow. It’s one thing to see it in a number of photos, but to see it in person is incredible! What also shocked me was how many people walked straight past it! It’s so iconic! It holds so much history, yet people had no idea what they were missing! I was just astonished! But the fact that someone had that much talent is just breathtaking.
After being starstruck in front of the Pietà, it was time to hit up some more iconic places, such as the Colosseum.
To fathom how many people died in the centre of that stadium for people’s entertainment, if you will, is just heartbreaking! The fact that they would also change the arena constantly just stunned me, considering everything was made from stone — I mean, they once flooded the Colosseum for a battle!
After Rome, it was time for the part of the tour that I was most excited about — three nights sailing in Greece — but first, we needed to go on an overnight ferry, which was so nice to sleep in considering I was able to sleep on a normal mattress! I honestly barely remember the ferry ride because I was asleep for most of it!
With only a short drive in Greece, we were put onto our boats and sailed the seas! It was honestly the most beautiful three days in the world! Although we didn’t necessarily get the full sails up (only the jib for one part), it was still so beautiful to be able to swim every hour or so and then be able to get back on the boat and pump some music, and, if I’m honest, I was able to captain the boat for most of it, which has always been my dream! Greece is picturesque from land, but the open sea is, dare I say, even more beautiful than the land! I cannot put into words how relaxing it was to be on the ocean all day and then dock at different islands to experience the true culture of the Greek islands without tourists around. It was beautiful as!
From Greece, we headed to Tirana, Albania. I can’t say I did much in Tirana as I was exhausted after sailing! Honestly, it was the only hotel we had on the whole trip and it was so incredible to have a long, super warm shower and then fall into a bed that felt like you were on a cloud!
After waking up refreshed, we headed to Dubrovnik in Croatia; however, first we had a beautiful day stop in Budva. Since it was only a very short stop, my friend, Zoe, and I decided to have a look around the local market and get some quick food to take away for our lunch. I’m a big believer in making the most of the time you have; therefore, it was super important for me to make the most of each day that I had in these places, because who knows when or if I ever will get back to them.
We finally made it to Dubrovnik later that night. With our tents set up, we mostly had a quiet night; however, the next day I hit the ground running. In the morning, I started with three hours of kayaking. I certainly missed the memo about doing an insane amount of arm strengthening before I left — it was exhausting! However, I didn’t let that stop me there! After a quick stop for food, I attempted to make my way towards the cable cars, which give you an incredible view over the Old Town of Dubrovnik, but I gave up after going around in circles for approximately 45 minutes. I also managed to climb at least 200 stairs during that period, if not more. After completely exhausting myself and forcing myself to resist the urge to pat all the stray cats that I found, I made my way towards the walls of the Old Town of Dubrovnik, and managed to smash them out in approximately two hours with my friend, Brad. It was honestly so beautiful to see that these walls, which were built purely for protection, were still in such incredible condition. Exhausting work, but definitely a “must do” for anyone who is making their way to the Old Town of Dubrovnik. I am also very pleased to say that I did eventually find my way to the cable cars thanks to Brad, so it was a beautiful way to finish the day by heading up there and having some time to reflect and relax alone, as the sun set for the day.
The relaxing didn’t last for long, as the next morning we were on the bus again and headed to Plitvice Lakes,
Croatia. If you have a bucket list going and Plitvice Lakes is not on there, you are insane! I would go back there in a heartbeat! Staying in a beautiful campground and being surrounded by old pine trees feels like a must here. It was the type of place where you just want to sleep under the stars all night, which I may have done for a few hours on the second night. However, the main attraction here was without a doubt the national lakes. These lakes are treated like royalty. There are huge fines for simply sticking even your finger in the water, because they are seen as protected. So, of course, I was the person that lost her shoe in the first five minutes of the adventure down a very rocky hill that had one of the first lakes at the bottom of it. After standing there for a few moments contemplating whether or not I should risk getting a fine to retrieve my shoe, I decided to take the plunge and make my way down the hill. To give you some idea of this hill, it took me at least five minutes to get down the hill and back up. The hill would also have random sudden drops, which were quite hidden underneath all the shrub. Some of the drops were almost the size of me, which proved to be a difficult task to conquer when trying to get back up the hill. The very last part of the hill was so steep that I had to get one of the guys from the tour to lift me up and over the railings. Now, before you ask, my shoe was knocked off as I was trying to adjust my sock before I got a blister, as we walked for at least five hours that day around the beautiful lakes. It certainly proved for a story to those back home and also when we got back to the campsite before celebrating Brad’s birthday with a tour “punch party.”
With most people having very sore heads, in particular a certain person whose birthday it was (Brad), we all piled onto the coach in order to make our way to Budapest, Hungary. Fun fact for you all: Budapest isn’t actually one place. The twin cities, Buda and Pest, are separated by Danube River. Another fun fact is that Budapest is actually pronounced “Budapesh.”
In the morning of Budapest, we headed out for a guided tour around the city. Then, after being on tour for 25
days, I took my time to explore Budapest alone in order to seek some space. My first stop was to see the House of Terror, which is a museum about the soviet/communist rule. From here, I made my way towards the opera house. I arrived much too early for any of the guided tours and wasn’t willing to wait around when I could be exploring the rest of Budapest; therefore, I simply took in the sight of the foyer and continued on my way. I headed to the markets, where I did, in fact, buy a Rubik’s Cube! It’s only mandatory to buy one in the town in which they were invented by Mr. Rubik. I can confirm that I am still working on completing the Rubik’s Cube and am determined to have it finished before I come home! After the markets, I made my way across the Danube to the city of Pest. We all know that I love my castles; therefore, it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t spend at least two hours at the castle. I actually spent most of this time sitting on one of the walls looking out over the Danube and across to the city of Buda. To finish our time in Budapest, the tour group all gathered near the Shoes on the Danube, which is an absolutely breathtaking memorial for the victims of the Holocaust. The reason why they chose to have a memorial consisting simply of shoes is because back in those days, shoes were considered a delicacy, if you will; therefore, before the lives of those victims were taken, they were asked to remove their shoes before falling into the Danube River. This is a memorial that everyone needs to see, hence why we made the stop before making our way towards our night river cruise along the Danube — which, I must mention, had the most beautiful food!
After stuffing our faces with incredible food in Budapest, we made our way to Kraków in Poland. After a day of travelling, we all felt the need to get out and explore Kraków from the get-go. First, we started with a walking tour of Wawel Castle — the largest medieval square in Europe — as well as the rest of beautiful Kraków. Then, after having some local food, we headed out on an optional pub crawl. I did, in fact, get a new pyjama top from this pub crawl, after running off with one of the shirts that our pub crawl leader was giving away. I needed a new pyjama top and he just left one on the bench... it was fair game, I swear!
Despite having a late night, I certainly jam-packed the next day in Kraków, starting off early with a trip to the salt mines, where I actually licked the salt walls and took in the history of how they mined salt. I also picked up a beautiful ring to add to my collection. Next, we made our way through Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter. I have to admit, this wasn’t much and I wouldn’t do it again. I would rather have spent this time exploring the Wawel Castle, as when I did eventually reach the castle, most of the tours had finished for the day. However, the gardens were still beautiful as always!
On day 28, I bid goodbye to Kraków and headed to Prague. The travel day to Prague was certainly made interesting because of the borders that we had to pass... due to this, we didn’t get to our campsite until very late in the night, which meant that our walking tour was pushed back until the next morning. After the walking tour, I headed, of course, straight to the castle district... would you expect anything else from me? My friend, Zoe, and I listened to some beautiful buskers (which included a very talented flute player), before watching a changing of the guards and heading in to explore the castle, which quite literally was a district in itself! You felt as though you were in a major town! It was huge! We also made our way towards the John Lennon Wall, where I took way too
many photos. It was so bright and colourful! I loved it!
After Prague came our second last city: Berlin in Germany! But first, it wouldn’t be a Topdeck tour without an impromptu day stop — this time in Dresden, where we had a quick walking tour around the city, which included visiting the organ steps. Now, you’re probably thinking that these steps have something to do with body parts; however, it is quite the opposite. These steps sound very much like an organ piano through holes that have been made in the steps, which react with the water and the wind to create beautiful music. It was one of those places that I could have sat at for hours; however, it was much too hot, and I didn’t feel like getting burnt.
When we reached Berlin, we headed out to dinner as a tour group to the Hofbrau Beer Hall for dinner. After dinner, we headed on an alternative walking tour and then a pub crawl. For those who know me, you know that I love hearing about history; therefore, when I heard that this was a short tour around the streets of Berlin to see and hear about the sculptures and street art, I was so excited. Well, I personally would not recommend the tour guide I had, as it was super disappointing. It ended up being a group of us at the back listening to our Topdeck tour leader, Tia, tell us about the art. However, not everything is perfect.
The next day, we set off early for a walking tour around Berlin, which included seeing the Berlin Wall. Berlin is a unique city. It’s so upsetting to see that the city is still so broken after all these years. It made me want to stop what I was doing and try to help the locals in any way that I could; however, there wasn’t much that little me could do. Walking around the Topographie des Terrors made the history of Berlin become even more real, with photos of Germans being ruled by Hitler and of the Berlin Wall being built. One incredible photo which has stuck with me was a photo of a crowd with everyone saluting to Hitler, except one. One person refused to salute, despite knowing that this might cost him his life — he knew that what was happening was wrong.
After the chilling scenes of Berlin, we headed to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Now, it is safe to say that I did not have the “typical” Amsterdam experience — while my friends were trying out different “coffee shops,” I was shredding up the pavement. Beginning with a bike ride in the morning around the main sights of Amsterdam (which was only fitting since Amsterdam was built for bicycles), a few of us then walked to the Anne Frank House, which was breathtaking. There are no words to describe how truly chilling it was to see how eight people lived while constantly being petrified that their little hiding place would be discovered.
I could not head to Amsterdam without visiting the most iconic bench in possibly the whole of Europe — the beautiful bench from the movie “The Fault in Our Stars.” And it is only mandatory to act out a scene from the movie while you’re there... right?
The following day, we all piled onto the bus for our 12-hour drive day back to London. It was difficult to say goodbye to the people who had become my second family; however, it was also the beginning of the second chapter of my travels — Vienna.