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!

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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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TRAVEL – topdeck’s europe express: swiss alps

travel - topdeck europe express day 3 and 4 swiss alpsAfter two days in the City of Love, it was time for the next stop on the Europe Express tour, the Swiss Alps.

Travelling from one of the busiest cities in the world to the quiet mountains of Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland was a definite contrast. We went from the hustle and bustle of Paris to being surrounded by beautiful mountains and rivers.

travel - swiss alps photo diary - view of swiss alps and river

Instead of a hostel, this time we stayed in Schuetzenbach Backpacker & Camping lodges. The four-bed cabins were tiny (I’m pretty sure our hostel room in Paris was bigger), and there were no keys to lock the doors! Another downside was the communal showers – my first experience! They weren’t actually that bad, although we did have to pay 1/2 swiss franc to use them – if you wanted to shower in hot water that is!

Aside from the cabins and the showers, there was a pretty cool but expensive bar! Note to self – Switzerland is very expensive! Thinking that we could find a cheaper place to drink, a few of us went for a walk around the area. However, we soon realised that there wasn’t a lot to do and the bars we found were just as expensive as ours, so we headed back and joined the rest of our group for some drinking games. I wasn’t feeling very well so I headed to bed for an early night.

travel - swiss alps photo diary - jungfrau train

travel - swiss alps photo diary - view of the swiss alps on the way to jungfrau mountain

We had one full day in the Swiss Alps. Some of the group hiked, whilst others wanted to skydive (unfortunately for them it got cancelled due to the weather) and me and a few others went to Jungfrau Mountain, one of Europe’s highest mountains.

travel - swiss alps photo diary - welcome to jungfrau mountain and me on top of jungfrau

travel - swiss alps photo diary - lindt shop and switzerland snow globe

We took the train there which passed many houses and stations on the way to Jungfrau. We also got a ‘passport’ telling us the history of the mountain and what we were to expect. There was an ice palace and Europe’s highest ever Lindt shop. Safe to say that was one place I definitely visited! It was such a nice experience and the Aussies on the trip got to see snow for the first time!

travel - swiss alps photo diary - cute swiss alps cafe

Once our trip to Jungfrau was over, a few of us headed to a quaint little cafe on the way back to our cabins. I had a delicious hot chocolate and we all used this opportunity to connect to the internet! Let’s just say the area that we were in was very remote and this cafe was one of the only places which provided internet access. That evening, we all got merry at the bar and celebrated our final night in the Alps!

Tune in for my next entry – a short stop in Verona, Italy!

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TRAVEL – topdeck’s europe express: paris

travel - topdeck europe express day 1 and 2 parisIt’s finally here! Here is a photo diary of my first stop on the Europe Express tour – Paris!

After a long journey from London (we set off at 7.30am in the morning) we arrived at the first destination on our tour, Paris, and the first of many hostels. We stayed at The St Christopher’s Inn in Gare Du Nord which was a great first hostel for a newbie like me. We had our own ensuite (although there were communal showers on every floor) and we even had our own under-bed locker space, curtain and plug socket! Aside from the room, the hostel, which has chains in Amsterdam and Barcelona, had two bars (great for getting to know other travellers) and was only a stone’s throw away from Gare Du Nord train station.

Travel - paris photo diary - St Christophers Inn and escargot

After checking out the rooms we headed down to dinner and one delicacy which I ticked off my list was escargot! Marinated in a garlic sauce, it surprisingly tasted really nice! We ended the night with a bit of group bonding (i.e drinking games) and partied in the downstairs bar.

travel - paris photo diary - opera national de paris and arc de triomphe

While some people were in bed recovering from the night before, the next day I got up early and joined a few others on the coach for a whistlestop tour of Paris.  I had been to Paris once before and visited most of the attractions such as the Louvre and Notre Dame. This time around I aimed to soak up more of what the ‘City of Love’ had to offer besides the Eiffel Tower! On our coach tour we got to pass the Opera National de Paris and the Arc de Triomphe (two other sites ticked off my list) before finally arriving at the Eiffel Tower.

Travel post - Paris photo diary - Notre Dame and Eiffel Tower

After taking lots of Eiffel Tower selfies (standard), we split off into smaller groups and did our own thing. Me and a couple of others decided to walk down the River Seine to Notre Dame. The two hour walk was so refreshing as we got to take in the beautiful surroundings on both sides of the river, such as the Musee d’Orsay and we came across a cool ‘be your own DJ’ music system under one of the bridges. You could connect your Bluetooth on your phone and play your music through the speakers – there was even a disco ball!

Travel post - Paris photo diary - Bridge on the River Seine

On our tour we had the choice to take part in optional activities. One activity I couldn’t recommend more was the bike tour. We all hired bikes and got to see the city through someone else’s eyes. We went past an old military school and cycled along the River Seine before making our way back to the Eiffel Tower for a delicious group picnic!

travel - paris photo diary - dj system, bike tour, old military school and group picnic at eiffel tower

When the picnic finished, some of us opted for an early night, as the next day we would be waking up early to visit our next stop on the tour – the Swiss Alps!

Look out for the next installment of my Europe Express series. I’d love to know what you think!

sigyhl

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