Trip Start Apr 27, 2007
Trip End Jul 04, 2007

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Hello from Prague!

Since the start of my Topdeck tour I've been so busy and seen so much I've hardly had a chance to log-on to the net... Sorry for the suspense!

Tonight we arrived in the Czech Republic and Prague! Staying in an awesome brand new hostel here with free internet access too! Just a bit of a queue... I am supposed to be at a "bin bag party" in 10 minutes, so won't stop for long now though...

The tour has been awesome so far - I'll give you a quick run down, but promise to update further once in the Netherlands... We are in a really full bus (46 passengers) which is busy but awesome fun! A really great mix of people from all over the globe, but especially Aussies, Kiwis and Americans. Made so many wonderful friends already. Plenty of single travellers and a good mix of ages (I don't feel old for the group, which is good). Travel usually alternates a day of sightseeing and a day of travel (we love our bus:) There's a good balance of organised activities, optional activities and plenty of free time, which is awesome.

Yesterday we spent the day in the region of Tyrol, Austria. Winter olympics have been held here - it's an area where they're really into extreme sports. So guess what...

Yesterday I went PARAGLIDING! Awesome fun! A bit scary, since I'm terrified of heights, but the view over Austria was so amazing it made it absolutely worthwhile and diminished the fear-factor. We took off at 1700m, rising to 2000m, before a gentle, graceful flight down into a paddock.

Austria is beautiful and green. There was a small patch of snow up the mountain but most had melted by 2 weeks ago. Gorgeous town.

Before Austria, we spent 6 days in Italy. Pisa's tower was still leaning, the nearby cathedral impressive also. Florence was gorgeous, fun to wander and shop about, admire leather products and the statue of David before thunder and lightning hit during the afternoon. Orvieto a small town on a hill with a really impressive church/cathedral. It is such a gorgeous little town, it is well worth the visit.

Rome was wonderful - there is so much history and so much to see! George Bush was in town the same day, so created some annoying commotion. Resulted in threats of
Vatican city being closed (we were able to visit some of it in the end) and train line closures - a bit of a hassle. Zoe, our tour leader, took us on a walking tour all over Rome on the first evening, so we virtually had seen everything from the outside on foot before an entire free day the next day. Walked up the famous steps of something (name has slipped me), went inside the church of the cappuchin monks (a cathedral somewhat morbidly decorated entirely with human skeletons of thousands of monks), loved the Trevi fountain and the Parthenon (or is it Pantheon?) was impressive also.

We walked down towards the Palatine hill and Colosseum by sunset (which is late here) before heading to our campsite. The following day we did make it to the Vatican museum and sistine chapel (impressive, but St Peter's Basilica was by far more impressive. I was shocked how small the Vatican City actually is). In the afternoon, we eventually made it to the Colosseum, despite train station closures and police everywhere due to Bush. Took a tour around Colosseum (wow!), which included a tour/explanation up the Palatine Hill also - more Roman architectural remains and history.

Following Rome, we stopped in Verona to see the legendary balcony of Juliet (a balcony of a home of the Capulet family). Then on to Venice. Loved Venice - gondola ride, St Mark's Basilica, beautiful venetian masks, amazing glasswork. No cars! Fun to wander and lose yourself in.

All through Italy we have been staying in cabins in campsites. But these are amazing camp villages with restaurants, bars, discos, swimming pools, gyms, shops, everything you could want to relax. And the cabins often better than hotel rooms! Only had to use Nikki's mini sleeping bag for 3 nights this whole trip - thanks Nik for letting me borrow it!

What else - so much fun. Toga party in Italy :) Quick note on Italy's safety - it really is fine. As long as you keep your wits about you. Nobody in our group lost anything, though one guy caught a pickpocket in the act of stealing his wallet from his pocket... You are aware of the shifty eyes on the train - we saw another lady about to have her handbag opened and let her know. But as long as you keep your hand on your bag and know where your belongings are at all times you are fine. Just watch the trains! It's been great being in a group as we all watch out for eachother's stuff.

Spent an evening in Monaco, saw the Casino Royale that featured in the latest Bond film. Nice was fun to shop about in.

Lauterbrunnen in the Swiss alps was absolutely gorgeous. It's a tiny village at the base of Europe's highest Jungfrau mountain. We caught a train all the way to the peak (took 2 hours, climbing 4000m) and visited an icepalace and had snowball fights on top. Then the same afternoon we were sunbaking in the warmth of a hot afternoon back at the mountain base.

Paris was a jam-packed day - we really needed longer than a day. Favourite part - fat tyre bike tour about the city (approaching rush-hour) It's amazing the persuasive power of 30 odd bikes riding together through the streets of paris, dodging cars and lights... Great way to see Paris!

There are so many more stories to share and tell and I will update this further soon. But here's a taste of my adventure and you get the picture - I'm having a wonderful time and sharing it with some great new friends.

So tomorrow I'm exploring Prague, before heading to Berlin and finally Amsterdam. It will be so sad leaving the group, but I can't wait to see family in Enkhuizen.

Hope this finds everyone well, thankyou for all your emails with news from home. It has been so good to hear from you all, even if I haven't had a chance to reply to you personally.

Lots of love, Vanessa xxx

- there's a crazy party going on behind me, I think I'd better get my plastic bags on...
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