TRAVEL – topdeck’s europe express: bruges

travel - topdeck europe express day 11 brugesAfter a crazy and final night in Amsterdam, it was time to head back to reality and back to London – but not before stopping by Bruges for chocolate, chocolate and did someone say… chocolate?

Leaving behind the debauchery in Amsterdam, Bruges was the perfect place to unwind, relax and recover from last night. Looking just as picturesque as it does in a travel brochure, Bruges is filled with amazing architecture, beautiful scenery and plenty of points of interest.

travel - topdeck europe express day 11 bruges - view

travel - topdeck europe express day 11 bruges - building

As we only had a few hours before heading back onto the ferry to England, Marshall took us on a small walking tour to see the Parliament Building (below), the Church of our Lady (first image) and all around the cute chocolate shops and cafes. We then split off into little groups to explore Bruges, grab some lunch or head into the attractions.travel - topdeck europe express day 11 bruges - town hall

travel - topdeck europe express day 11 bruges - gruuthuse hof

After a couple of hours exploring, we all met back up and headed onto the coach to say a fond farewell to Bruges and depart for our final destination – London.

travel - topdeck europe express - the family

To say that there were nearly 50 of us on this trip and from countries all around the world, it was such a fun and interesting experience! We all stepped outside our comfort zones and embraced each place that we were in. I have to say that I was a tad nervous about this trip, thinking ‘oh why did I book it?’ but I’m glad I did as it reassured me that travel is a huge passion of mine and hey, it even spurred me on to travel to America this summer!

If you’re ever thinking of doing a group tour, I would really recommend Topdeck. You will make memories to last a lifetime and of course new friends! To catch up with my Europe Express adventures click on the cities: Paris, Swiss Alps, Verona, Venice, Dachau, Munich, Rhine Valley and Amsterdam. And if you have any questions about the tour or Topdeck comment below and I will do my best to answer them!

sigyhl

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TRAVEL – topdeck’s europe express: amsterdam

travel - topdeck europe express day 9-10 amsterdamAfter a chilled night of playing drinking games in a Rhine Valley castle, it was onto our penultimate stop; Amsterdam!

One thing I was really looking forward to on this tour was the cheese and clog demonstration (I know, how cheesy of me). So when we arrived at this quaint cheese and clog shop on the way to Amsterdam, I was so excited to try on the clogs and of course, sample the cheese! The guide was so hilarious, and definitely added that extra special touch to the demonstration. After our cheesy and cloggy encounter, we headed back onto the coach and made our way to our final hostel on the tour – Stayokay Zeeburg.

travel - topdeck europe express day 9-10 amsterdam - cheese and clogs factoryAfter checking in and dropping our luggage off, Marshall took us for a short walking tour of the city centre. Luckily whilst we were there, there was a carnival in Dam Square, so we all took the opportunity to have a go on the rides before exploring the streets. We then visited the famous Condom Shop to quickly grab some souvenirs before heading to a sex show (aha when in Amsterdam).

travel - topdeck europe express day 9-10 amsterdam - fair and condom shopThe sex show was such a funny experience! I won’t go into too much detail, but let’s say it was definitely a night to remember! It was also one of the guy’s birthdays on our trip, and let’s just say he got the night of his life! After a tour of the Red Light District, we all headed back to the hostel and called it a night.

travel - topdeck europe express day 9-10 amsterdam - sex showThe next day, we all split off into groups to explore the city. A few people went to the Anne Frank Museum, whilst me and the girls decided to do a bit of shopping! After a relaxing day with the girls, that night we all headed to a Chinese buffet on the river for a farewell dinner before boarding a sightseeing canal cruise. It was then onto the clubs where we all got merry (some more than others) and spent our last family night together.

Amsterdam definitely lived up to everyone’s expectations, and with some of us waking up not feeling to great, it was onto Bruges for chocolate, castles and our final goodbyes!

sigyhl

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TRAVEL – topdeck’s europe express: rhine valley

travel - topdeck europe express day 8 rhine valleyAfter a night of exploring Munich, we packed up our suitcases and headed onto the coach so we could visit our next stop; Rhine Valley.

Famous for its beautiful landscapes and ‘romantic setting’, Germany’s Rhine Valley region was a quaint and picturesque place. We had the option of taking a cruise along the Rhine, where we all got a free drink (I tried the Riesling, naturally), and despite the overcast weather we still had majestic views!

travel - topdeck europe express day 8 rhine valley - view
travel - topdeck europe express day 8 rhine valley - tourist trainAfter the cruise, we headed into town and stopped off at a cuckoo clock shop to hear how they were made and to have a look around. As touristy as it was, it was so cool to see so many cuckoo clocks in once place! They also had plenty of other souvenirs – I got some Schnapps for Ali and an authentic Stieff bear for his nan. We then walked across to the stein shop for a stein demonstration – Topdeck even have their own stein for people to buy there!
travel - topdeck europe express day 8 rhine valley - cuckoo shopAfter exploring the Rhine, we were all pretty tired and wanted to head to the hostel – but this wasn’t just any old hostel we would be staying in tonight – nope, it was a 12th century castle! It looked like it was just taken out of a fairytale! As nice as the castle was, it was in a very remote place so there was nothing really to do but play drinking games in the boys room to pass the time. Also the shower cubicles were see-through. (Luckily we had all gotten to know each other pretty well up until this point, so it was a case of having a buddy to hold a towel over the door to keep your modesty in tact!) Despite the shower situation, our stay in the Rhine was an amazing experience, and something to tick off the ol’ bucket list!

After a great couple of days in Germany, it was time for the place everyone had been looking forward to going this whole trip – Amsterdam!

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TRAVEL – topdeck’s europe express: munich

travel - topdeck europe express day 7 munichAfter a sombre experience at Dachau, we arrived into Munich – just in time to check into the hostel and explore the city!

Our hostel, the A & O Hackerbruecke, was just a short walk away from the city centre – which was perfect considering we only had the night to explore Munich! After we dropped our bags off, Marshall took us on a little walking tour to Marienplatz to see the famous Glockenspiel. The photo below doesn’t do it justice – it was such a beautiful clock tower! We then headed to Am Platz to visit popular beer hall; Hofbrauhaus!

travel - topdeck europe express day 7 munich - glockenspiel

travel - topdeck europe express day 7 munich - beer hausUnfortunately when we got there, the Hofbrauhaus was so busy and packed (it also happened to be one of Munich’s most famous beer halls), that a few of us decided to wander around and find somewhere else to eat instead. After scanning various restaurants we came across quaint cafe Am Marienplutz. With quirky decor and a variety of food on offer, we were all really happy with our choice. I went for a ‘traditional Bavarian meal’ – Hanover beef with potato rossi and sauerkraut in a rich beef sauce. The portion sizes were massive, and it was so filling! But it was absolutely delicious!

travel - topdeck europe express day 7 munich - traditional bavarian food

As nice as our short time was in Munich, it would of been amazing to have spent more time there! However, saying that, I would definitely come back!

After our meal, we then headed back to the hostel to have an early night – as tomorrow we would be on our way to the Rhine Valley!

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TRAVEL – topdeck’s europe express: dachau

travel - topdeck europe express day 7 dachauOn our way to Munich we made a short visit to Dachau, a former concentration camp in Bavaria.

Opened in 1933 by Heinrich Himmler, Dachau was one of the first Nazi concentration camps opened in Germany to hold political prisoners. Over 32,000 people died there, and those were just the documented deaths. The camp was finally liberated in 1945, but the evacuation was ordered by Himmler as he did not want the prisoners to ‘fall into the hands of the enemy alive.’

travel - dachau travel diary - nazi symbo skeleton

travel - dachau travel diary - former maintenance building

travel - dachau travel diary - prisoners door

travel - dachau travel diary - bowl, plate and spoon

travel - dachau travel diary - information stands

travel - dachau travel diary - prisoners sculpture

travel - dachau travel diary - camp grounds

I decided to walk around the memorial site alone so I could take everything in. It was a sombre experience. I saw some of the cells that the prisoners were held – they were tiny with just a small barred window for them to see out of, and the few possessions, if any, that they had were very basic (they even carved their names into their plates and cups) which made me think of just how appreciative I am of the things I have and the experiences I have had. Most of the main exhibitions were in the former maintenance building, where you could read about the history of the camp, as well as watch films and view artifacts. I spent most of my time there reading all of the information stands. There were also the gas chambers – I didn’t visit those, the barracks and the chapel.

Once we had finished looking around, it was time to head back to reality and travel to our next stop on the tour; Munich.

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TRAVEL – topdeck’s europe express: venice

travel - topdeck europe express day 5 and 6 veniceWe left Verona and arrived at our accommodation for the next two nights; the Camping Village Jolly just outside Venice.

Like the Swiss Alps, we stayed in cabins but this time we got our own keys and had our own en-suites! Our first night was spent doing our laundry – living the dream I know! The next day we had breakfast and headed into Venice to see those famous gondolas and do some exploring!

travel - venice photo diary - st marks basilica 1

travel - venice photo diary - st marks basilica 2

Our tour leader Marshall took us on a little walking tour where we came across the Daniele Manin statue (below) in Campo Manin. Created by Luigi Borro in 1875, the statue is in honour of Daniele Manin – a great patriot and politician. After taking photos we were then led to the famous St Mark’s Basilica (above). Despite being under renovation, it was one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen, and was a definite highlight of the trip.

travel - venice photo diary - mask shopping and Camp Manin statue

We couldn’t come to Venice without going on a gondola ride! Marshall got us a cheap deal for around €20 each (some of us asked for another go around and they were gonna charge us €80!) As nice as it was exploring the canals and the little islands, the gondola ride highlighted just how not very clean the city is. There were dead rats in the water and there was a pungent aroma in the air. 

travel - venice photo diary - gondolas

After the gondola ride we all split off into little groups. We were told that we were gonna have a masquerade party at the Camping Village that night so me and a few others went in search for our masks. On our search we came across Rialto Bridge – one of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal. It’s famous for its many shops as well as being a landmark, and it was nice to see a more modern side of Venice.

travel - venice photo diary - venetian mask

Once we were done exploring Rialto Bridge, we came across La Maschera Del Galeone, a quaint little mask shop. I chose this pretty lace detailed mask above for 12. It was 100% made in Italy so that added an extra authentic touch. We also attended a glass making demonstration, which was pretty amazing, before heading back to the Camping Village. That night we all dressed up and played drinking games. It felt so nice to let our hair down, although some of us were feeling a little worse for wear the next morning!

But there was no time to dwell as we were back on the coach and heading to our next destination: Dachau in Germany!

sigyhl

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TRAVEL – topdeck’s europe express: verona

travel - topdeck europe express day 5 veronaDay five and we were on our way to the wonderful delights of Venice when our Topdeck leader Marshall surprised us with a visit to Verona.

Famous for being the location of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, I was very excited to see that balcony and enjoy my first experience of Italy.

travel - verona photo diary - verona arenatravel - verona photo diary - building

Marshall led the way and took us to the Arena di Verona, a Roman amphitheatre that is over 2000 years old. We then came across Juliet’s balcony. 

We entered a small courtyard where we saw a bronze statue of Juliet and the balcony where she said those famous words. After many photo opportunities, we learnt that apparently if you stroke the right breast of Juliet’s statue you will gain good fortune and luck in love.

travel - verona photo diary - juliets balconytravel - verona photo diary - juliets wall

On our way out of the courtyard we saw Juliet’s Wall, where visitors write their names and the people they love. From love letters to post-it notes, it was lovely to see that people were leaving their mark at what is considered to be of the most romantic places in the world.

travel - verona photo diary - road signtravel - verona photo diary- verona

With only a limited amount of time in Verona, Marshall  took us to get some gelato and we explored the markets.

After some free time at the markets, it was time to get back on the coach for our next Italian adventure; Venice.

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