Already one week into the trip and we already had about 200 photos in our ‘Top Deck’ folder, and considerably less funds. Week two began in a pretty similar fashion. On Easter Sunday we left our accommodation in Ljubljana (hopefully the last time I have to spell that) for another long bus ride to Tyrol, Austria. On the way we stopped for a couple of hours at a tiny place called Lake Bled, which ranked very well in the prettiness factor. Essentially, it is a lake that you can walk around in an hour (we did), a small village with no ATMs all surrounded by scenic mountains. The lake is famous for rowing, and is where they are holding the world cup this year. Also, in the middle of the lake there is a tiny island (don’t know how this works with the rowing side of things) upon which sits a little church, which is rather cute, as far as churches go. We picnicked on the grass under a blossom tree and were hindered in our shopping attempts by the public holiday. That afternoon we were to drive to Tyrol, the adventure capital of Austria. So far we have been watching movies filmed on location in the places we have been visiting (ie Angels and Demons for Rome, Casino Royale for Venice), and guessed the Sound of Music would be next. Hayley awarded Ella 10 points for the correct guess but Ella thought she deserved more. Little miss. We pulled up to our ‘guest house’ as Maria and Mr von Trapp were getting married and enjoyed an amazing BBQ dinner and early bed.
Kirchdorf (Churchtown) is one of the tiny villages in the Tyrol area, neighboured by the larger St Johann, which is where we were to glide over later the next day during our paragliding. Kirchdorf won us over very quickly with working ATMs and a bowl of free lollies at reception. Paragliding was sensational, one of those things where you don’t realise just how safe and unscary and easy it is until you try it. Floating over the Springtime ski field and green green valley, we landed loving the area even more. The ride was just fifteen minutes long, but we got some amazing photos to make you all jealous and left wanting to go again. Afterward Ella opted to walk back to Kirchdorf for the scenery and Hayley took the van for the lazy afternoon and optimal lolly nicking opportunities it offered. Others on the trip also went mountain biking or canyon jumping, some girls even shelled out for the traditional drindel dresses which they found in possibly one of two open shops in the area. Easter’s great till the shops close and the chocolate stops. Ella took up the optional dinner out on a mountain and tried her first stein of beer, while Hayley chose to be lazy once again and hang out at the guest house for second, and last, night in Austria.
The next morning our driver, Marcus, and his sidekick, Gabrielle, got up extra early to clean every little bit of the bus interior. Rumours circled of a girl taken to hospital for a mysterious rash, and we were now provided with hand sanitiser when we boarded the bus. Chicken pox had arrived on Top Deck. As a tour for 18 to 30 somethings, this was unexpected and potentially very hazardous considering there were four more members of the trip who had never had chickenpox when they were young, and the fact that it is possible to catch it more than once, only much much worse as an adult. As we sat driving away from Tyrol wondering how hand sanitiser would combat an airborne bug, one of the guys moved to the front of the bus and declared that he had lost a bet the night before and had to ‘entertain’ us for a full minute. His choice of entertainment, what else, was yodelling. It’s moments like these when you realise that travelling in a group is far more entertaining. Our next stop couldn’t have changed the mood more. As we drove north toward Mauthausen, one of the bigger concentration camps in Austria, Leti explained some of the horrors that happened there. Between both Hayley and Ella we took three photos in total, and found the whole camp sickening. The ‘cold rooms’ for storing bodies, crematoriums and of course the gas chambers were the worst. After a couple of hours here we all boarded the bus again (more hand sanitiser) much more quietly than usual. They played ‘Fool’s Gold’ to cheer us up a bit… apparently some people must enjoy that movie. After many, many more hours on the sub-zero bus, we arrived in Prague. Hayley promptly snapped her key card by storing it in a jeans pocket and had to pay a fee for a new one (Ella would later crack hers by holding it while slipping in jandals but get away with it). After dinner Leti took some of us on a night tour of Prague to see the main sights, which were very pretty and included a Disney-ish castle.
The next day was a marvellous chance to get a sleep in before exploring the city for ourselves. We shopped some more, ate some more and very much loved the city. We even made it to the palace on time at noon for the changing of the guards. It was a very cruisy day that we finished off with a few quiet drinks and a couple of games of pool with some of the other girls on the trip.
The following day was all about another long bus ride to get from Prague to Berlin. We had just one stop in Dresden to improve the unbearable hours on the bus but it didn’t take long for us to decide that the bus may have been preferable. The city is full of architecture that was essentially destroyed in WWII and has only recently been rebuilt. Apart from that, it smelt like the horses that were touring the streets, the food was hard to find, expensive and less than average, and the entire centre is full of old tourists – which means they walk even more slowly than the normal ones. At least there were free toilets. The one piece of travel advice for Dresden is to stay on the bus, unless you need a bathroom. Hours later we had a quick driving tour to Berlin to check out some of the main sites before arriving in ‘wombat’s hostel’ – one of the coolest we’ve been to so far, and watched another movie before heading to bed.
Exactly four weeks to the day since we had left home, we had the day to explore Berlin as we pleased. Even though neither of us really knew what to expect from the city, we both loved it by the time we were done. Most of the group went on an optional third reich walking tour as we made our way down that main street in Berlin Unter den Linden. We picked our way through many of the souvenir shops, and ended back at a Jewish war memorial we had driven past the night before. Placed in a large square in the centre of the city and consisting of over 2700 concrete blocks over sizes varying from about one foot high to ten feet high, it was like a giant concrete maze, intended to give the feeling of confusion and helplessness that many would have suffered. Underground the open air memorial part, there was a modern museum of sorts telling the stories of certain pictures, families, individuals and hand written letters in a series of rooms. While sobering, it was definitely a very well done piece of living history. We made our way back to the hostel and caught the end of the royal wedding, had a rest then went back out for some more shopping. That night we went on a ‘night life tour’ - something we know more accurately as a pub crawl. Free shots were included as we visited five different pubs and clubs and had another good night out.
Our last drive the next day was the longest on the trip and didn’t stop until we got to Amsterdam. It was a national day of celebration for the Queen’s birthday so as we drove in we could see the entire city out in the streets, all wearing orange, and partying like it was 1999. We could only drive so far because the central area was blocked off to cars so the entire group jumped off almost in the middle of a road and had to walk the few remaining blocks. The trickle of orange clad revellers became thicker and thicker until we were lugging our bags through what was essentially a city-wide mosh pit. It was chaos. Somehow, we made it to the hostel and were given some time to get some food and something orange to dress up in. As we wandered around looking for stalls selling overpriced orange t-shirts, hats and boas we came across one of the canals. For a small canal, there were an incredible number of boats cruising down it, all packed with people dancing to the music that seemed to come from everywhere. We picked up some orange and met back at the hostel to walk to the red light district where we would get to see some of Amsterdam’s ‘finest’ (sorry mum). The sexxx show we went to was incredibly funny, we were expecting at least some awkwardness but found only hilarity. The girls had a knack for picking the geekiest guys from our group and making them involuntary volunteers. Afterward most of our group went to a ‘coffee shop’ to experience more of Amsterdam’s produce, while Hayley and Ella decided to walk back through the streets to our hostel to witness the aftermath of the carnage and only get a little bit lost.
Our very last day with Top Deck had come around so quickly, and luckily without any new cases of chicken pox. In the morning we started with a refreshing bike tour of the main city in Amsterdam (don’t be fooled by the pictures, it was actually really cold). The tour guide said it was what was known as ‘flat tyre day’ because of all the glass on the roads. Between our group of about thirty people, we had eight flat tyres – Hayley and Ella used our amazing ninja skills to avoid the glass instead. We spent the next few hours wandering, shopping, laughing at the souvenir stalls and generally being stunned at how quickly the city had been cleaned up after the mess left the night before. For the last dinner the whole group made our way to the Sea Palace floating restaurant for a delicious meal. Afterwards we all boarded a boat where we would spend the next hour and a half cruising the canals and making the most of the free drinks. A lot of alcohol was consumed by all and the Macarena was completed in a traditional boys vs girls dance off. We left the boat and headed into a club (more free shots) for a big night with lots of dancing, drinking and photo posing.
Suffering from a couple of severe cases of ‘Amsterdamage’, now with almost five hundred photos in our TopDeck folder, and once again alone after the tour, we made our way to our new hostel out of the main city. As our room wasn’t yet ready, we got an upgrade to a four bed room with a new ensuite bathroom, and ending up having it all to ourselves. We spent most of our two nights there sleeping and catching up on some much needed rest and relaxation. This would be our last night in Amsterdam before setting off for Paris the next day.