The big 3-0: Day twenty five – the return to Moses Lake!

Welcome back my dear readers! After my much-needed rant on the football last time out on the blog, it’s back to travel and more importantly the final few days of the “big 3-0” trip.

Those following along will know that in the summer of 2018 I’d planned a trip spending 30 days in the USA which coincided with two friends getting married and also my 30th birthday.

Having run around all over the country, this was to be the last big day on the road. We were making our way back to Haleigh’s apartment in Moses Lake, with Haleigh set to go back to work and for me to see out my final few days in relatively relaxed spirits.

Before thinking about Moses Lake however, we had a full day of driving ahead of us. On the previous night we’d made a relatively unplanned stop in Klamath Fall which was our halfway point from San Francisco – a convenient place to break up two days of driving.

One of the attractions to stopping in this particular area was its proximity to Crater Lake in Oregon. We figured it would be a worthwhile stop on the way home.

I can’t really remember why we skipped it. Much of the West coast was up in smoke that summer (as it is every summer really..) so the conditions at the time weren’t the greatest. That might have been one off-putting reason to skip it but I think we were just keen to get going and get on the road early.

In hindsight perhaps we should have just committed to it regardless of how terrible the conditions were. That said, there’s no doubt that much of our future will be spent visiting the West Coast so it’s hard to imagine us not having an opportunity to return in the coming years.

So skipping Crater Lake, we drove onwards and soon enough found ourselves arriving in a city called Bend. Before knowing what the school schedule looked like we had contemplated staying in Bend for a couple of nights and meeting up with Haleigh’s best friend. In the end it didn’t materialise but Bend still seemed like it would be a good place for us to grab some brunch and we found ourselves a little pancake place on the outskirts of the city.

After fuller stomachs we hit the road again and around half an hour later Haleigh spotted a “must stop” roadside attraction – an alpaca farm with baby alpacas!

Alpaca Farm
An alpaca farm in Oregon

Haleigh insisted that we stop so we pulled over and headed in to this little gift shop to pick up a bag of food to feed them.

It’s a funny feeling having alpacas eating out of your hand. It was a first-time experience for me, I’m not sure what I was really expecting. I liked it initially but I think the second or third alpaca I fed was so slobbery that I left Haleigh to it after that. Haleigh laughed at my reaction so it felt like some sweet form of justice when she was getting slobbered on by the same alpaca a minute later.

Alpaca Stare
“Why are you taking photos and not feeding us?”
Alpaca Feeding
Feeding time!

Alpacas

Farm View

We did a full lap of the farm with Haleigh continuing to feed the many alpacas we met whilst I stuck to taking photos. They’re so cute! Although some of them didn’t seem too impressed that I was wasting my time taking photos when I could have been feeding them instead!

Aside from Haleigh getting sneezed on, it was a fun little stop and I’m glad that we’d pulled over. Sadly we couldn’t stay there all day and had to hit the road again.

The rest of the car journey was pretty uneventful. In parts we could really see how devastating of an effect the forest fires had had on the West Coast with burnt out trees becoming quite a regular sight. It wasn’t really until we hit the Colombia river that the scenery started picking up again.

Oregon State

Roadside Oregon

Oregon Views
Back to the Columbia River!

Soon enough we were crossing back over the river and crossing the Oregon / Washington border for the umpteenth time on this trip. Back in to Washington we knew it wasn’t too much further to go but the long drives of the past two days were taking its toll on Haleigh and that final stretch probably felt much longer than it actually was.

Good music kept us going for that final stretch before we’d eventually arrived back in Moses Lake after another long day of driving. We’d been away for the past few weeks so had no food in the apartment. Additionally we didn’t feel like heading back out for dinner so in the end we settled for ordering a pizza and finishing off our night by enjoying some Netflix.

Again, it hadn’t been a hugely eventful day with the alpacas being an unexpected bonus! However it was just nice to be back in familiar surroundings and sleeping in a familiar bed again after three weeks of sleeping in various hostels, hotels and AirBnB’s.

The last few days would be spent trying to make the most of the little time we had left together in Washington before I’d have to head home.

Stay tuned for more on that!

Jason

P.S – if you want to read about other days of this trip, see below!
Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
Day five – New Orleans!
Day six – The real New Orleans!
Day seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington
Day eight – Exploring Poulsbo!
Day nine – Wedding day!
Day ten – To Portland!
Day eleven – the actual 3-0!
Day twelve – Oregon City and Portland
Day thirteen – Walla Walla bound!
Day fourteen – Walla Walla
Day fifteen – The family BBQ!
Day sixteen – the Vegas finale!
Day seventeen – Back to Oregon!
Day eighteen – Exploring Oregon’s coast!
Day nineteen – California pit stop!
Day twenty – San Francisco bound!
Day twenty one – San Francisco begins!
Day twenty two – San Fran continued!
Day twenty three – Alcatraz!
Day twenty four – Where to?

Thanks for the memories Spurs but it’s a goodbye from me..

Count yourself lucky maybe. It’s no secret that I’m a big, big Tottenham Hotspur supporter but it isn’t often I specifically post about football on here. Today’s the exception.

My rants on football elsewhere are “legendary” of course. Myspace, Facebook, Tumblr and other platforms over the years have seen many a tirade at the expense of football or Tottenham Hotspur – let’s be honest, it’s usually both!

Football is so, so important to me. I reject any claim that it is only a game. Football and Spurs in particular are such a big part of who I am, I can’t overstate just how significant an impact that football has had on my life.

I’ve always been quiet and reserved. As a kid I was very much a shy individual who never felt like he really fit in anywhere and some of those insecurities still remain as an adult. I’m much less shy than I was as a child but I’m still introverted and I still question where I fit in. What relevance or importance does my life really have? Do I matter? Do people really care or is it closer to pity?

FYI – no need to panic here, I’ve got quite good at reassuring myself of my presence in the world when I have those doubts but it’s just a small insight in to the person behind the post / blog.

As someone who considered himself an outsider or a misfit, football became an environment where I felt comfortable and found some sort of belonging. I discovered a world and a community in which the most important thing was your love for the game.

That’s not to say football is entirely inclusive and without discrimination but to me it always felt like people cared less about who you were and more for “who” you were. The moment of truth.. “who do you support?”

“Tottenham”

“Ugh.. why? They’re shit!”

As a North Londoner it was a no brainer. Additionally with a Spurs supporting dad it was a no brainer. That was my club, it was in my blood. I couldn’t understand it when I moved to Peterborough why so many people claimed to support teams they had no connection to.

I immersed myself in to all things football growing up. From playing football on the tennis courts to swapping football stickers in the playground, I was obsessed with every aspect of the game.

That passion has evolved countless times over the years and football has undoubtedly been one of the biggest influences on my life. It has strengthened bonds and relationships, it has helped me make and maintain friendships and I’ve watched football in more than ten countries now.

The reality is that if you have any interest in football, we’re much more likely to get along because it’s something I’m comfortable talking about. It’s my easy “small talk” go-to. Travel of course would be another but it doesn’t quite match up to what football has given me.

Some of the highs (and lows) I’ve experienced because of football are unrivaled and I’m not sure I could ever replicate those euphoric moments where it just switches in a second. That night in Amsterdam is one that will live with me forever and there are no words that could ever do it justice.

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Amsterdam, May 8th 2019

So it’s painfully heartbreaking to say, I’m done.

I knew there would come a day where I’d end up packing it in but not like this! Events in the last 24 hours have seriously tested any ties I have left with Tottenham. The club have put me through every emotion over my 32 years on this planet from the most incredible highs to the most gutwrenching lows. I’ve been embarrassed and angry more times than I care to remember but I’ve never been this angry, I’ve never been this embarrassed to be associated with this football club.

Late last night Tottenham announced themselves as founding members of a new “European Super League”. Proudly declaring themselves as footballing royalty! One of the 15 super clubs of Europe who’ll sit perched at the top of the game for eternity.

A competition exclusive to the self-proclaimed best of the best – qualifying on name and reputation alone, opposed to any sporting merit.

It’s disgusting, disgraceful, arrogant, selfish, elitist, self-serving, plus a million other terms I could use and so out of touch with football supporters in this country. So disrespectful to 150 years of football and history in this country.

Self-proclaimed “super-club” – are you taking the fucking piss!?

Twelve football clubs among the tens of thousands playing across the entirety of Europe have decided that they have the divine right to be at the top of the pyramid and have put every measure in place to ensure they remain there. Twelve football clubs!

Let’s completely overlook the existing disparity in the game that already makes it a monopoly in favour of these arrogant football clubs, they want to widen that gap without any consideration to sporting achievements and what happens on the pitch?

The arrogance is astounding and this includes MY football club? Anger doesn’t go far enough. I didn’t sleep last night. I can’t fathom how anyone can lack the empathy for anyone else in football (or society for that matter). It’s so incredibly self-serving and selfish! This is what’s best for Tottenham Hotspur, to hell with the rest!

For what it’s worth, I don’t think these plans will actually materialise. There will be so much opposition from footballing authorities, football fans, individuals within the game and the government that I truly believe it will fall flat on its face but the intent is damning enough. The intent to fuck over the rest of football and the countless communities that rely so heavily on their local football club – wow, hang your head in shame Spurs..

I’ve suffered a lot of the greed in football over the last 15-20 years but this is just one step too far. It defies everything I believe in and I genuinely struggled sleeping last night as I pondered over and over about exactly how despicable and disgraceful this is.

The romance of the game is that anyone, theoretically, has the opportunity to compete and succeed. Realistically that isn’t actually accurate and there is a disparity between the biggest football clubs and those further down the pyramid but theoretically, if you overcome those stumbling blocks you reap the rewards. Ultimately there’s an integrity to the sport that your success is defined by what you do out on the pitch and you earn your place.

Proposals for that to change to monopolise the game in favour of the self-proclaimed royalty of football is something I just can’t accept. It’s immoral, it’s selfish and for the umpteenth time I’m just so angry and incredibly embarrassed to hold any association with Spurs right now.

I can’t picture my life without football but it’s time for me relinquish the season ticket and bow out. I refuse to support a club that has no care for anyone but themselves. Football without its fans and communities is NOTHING.

MinneapolisSpurs

My sincere hope is these football clubs are sufficiently punished and humbled. Additionally I hope these owners are run out of football.

I’m so thankful for the memories I’ve had following Spurs but, for the short-term at least, it’s a goodbye from me!

A sincerely heartbroken and lifelong Tottenham supporter,

Jason

P.S – it’ll be back to travel next time on the blog

The big 3-0: Day twenty four – Where to?

Welcome back dear readers! Time for yet another day of this 30 day trip! You’ll be pleased to hear (or maybe not?) that we’re near the end now!

Those of you following along will know I was enjoying a 30 day trip in the USA to coincide with my 30th birthday in the summer of 2018! The trip spanned six states, several cities and I cherish so many moments and memories from this trip but the reality is things were starting to wind down from here on out.

Whether that will make for interesting reading, who knows.. I guess I’ll let you be the judges of that but we woke up on Monday morning and it was time to say our goodbyes to San Francisco and head back to familiar surroundings in Washington State.

I wasn’t flying home until Sunday so in an ideal world we would have squeezed in some more adventure but Haleigh teaches and unfortunately, with no consideration for my trip, they set their first day back at school on the Thursday! A sodding Thursday! I’m sure that was a productive first two day week back at school!

So with school in mind we hit the road, not that we really knew where we were going. We’d half hoped the school might be a little flexible and Haleigh might be able to miss the first couple of days and start on Monday instead. Of course it didn’t pan out that way but that slim hope meant we held off making concrete plans or booking any accommodation so as the trip got closer and closer we just decided to wing it.

We’d looked at a few possible options before setting off but were mostly in the mindset of “we’ll see where we end up..” and just find somewhere to stay once we’d decided where to stop.

Interstate Photo
Where to? Somewhere North..

For the most part it was a fairly uneventful drive. Unlike our drive down the coast, we headed back to Washington further inland which wasn’t quite as scenic as our journey down – although the company more than made up for the less aesthetic scenery!

That’s not to say that parts of the drive weren’t pretty because they were. However with forest fires ravaging Northern California and Oregon it seemed that the further North we got, the sky would get hazier and hazier. The blue skies in San Francisco seemed a distant memory.

We made a couple of stops along the way to break up the drive and get some food but nothing noteworthy until we started getting closer to Mount Shasta. Shasta seemed largely unaffected by the fires; things had started brightening up and the blue skies had returned which provided a great opportunity to get some photos as we drove along.

Shasta
Quick stop in the town of Shasta
Highway Photo
Snapping photos on the road

Mount Shasta

Klamath Falls Sign
Central Weed or Klamath Falls?

Eventually we arrived at a city in Oregon called Klamath Falls which seemed like a good halfway point to stop for the night. We did debate driving on to Bend but as that was another two hours away we sensibly decided that was a bit too far to go after already having spent the bulk of the day on the road.

Our first task in Klamath Falls was trying to find somewhere to stay. The first hotel we stumbled across had some pretty off-putting reviews so we decided to give it a miss and configured our SatNav to take us to another hotel nearby.

A short drive away we soon “arrived” at our alternative hotel option only to find nothing more than rubble and an empty carpark. The SatNav hadn’t been updated in a while and it seemed our hotel no longer existed!

Hoping it would be third time lucky our next hotel was unfortunately fully booked before we finally managed to book a room in the hotel next door – who knew finding somewhere to stay in Klamath Falls would be so difficult!?

To our delight our fourth choice hotel was actually quite nice. We checked in to our room for the evening only to find an in-room jacuzzi which was an unexpected surprise and something we definitely intended to make use of before leaving.

However the first priority was to go and find some food. We dropped off our things and visited a nearby Chinese restaurant which had some decent reviews. Much like the Chinese we’d had in San Francisco, the food was excellent but there was just so so much of it. We ended up giving our leftovers to a couple of guys embarking on a roadtrip we got talking to in a neighbouring booth as they had a van and the means to heat something up on the road.

If we’d been in town earlier I think there’s probably a bit to do in Klamath Falls, most notably seeing the nearby falls of the same name, but in the evening there didn’t seem to be much going on. It’s a sleepy little city with a population of little more than 20,000.

In the end we found ourselves a local bowling alley which was near empty and we played a couple of rounds. I maintained my success over Haleigh which felt just revenge for the constant Mario Kart beatings Haleigh served me on my first trip to Washington!

After a couple of games we returned to the hotel and put our jacuzzi to good use for the evening – definitely a nice little bonus to our stay in Klamath Falls. It was by no means the most exciting day on this trip but we’d anticipated as much, knowing it would mostly be a day of driving.

Sadly tomorrow would be more of the same but we did make one fun roadside stop that I think you’ll enjoy seeing photos of! Stay tuned for more on that!

Jason

P.S – if you want to read previous days from the trip, see below!
Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
Day five – New Orleans!
Day six – The real New Orleans!
Day seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington
Day eight – Exploring Poulsbo!
Day nine – Wedding day!
Day ten – To Portland!
Day eleven – the actual 3-0!
Day twelve – Oregon City and Portland
Day thirteen – Walla Walla bound!
Day fourteen – Walla Walla
Day fifteen – The family BBQ!
Day sixteen – the Vegas finale!
Day seventeen – Back to Oregon!
Day eighteen – Exploring Oregon’s coast!
Day nineteen – California pit stop!
Day twenty – San Francisco bound!
Day twenty one – San Francisco begins!
Day twenty two – San Fran continued!
Day twenty three – Alcatraz!

The big 3-0: Day twenty three – Alcatraz!

Welcome back my dear readers! I hope you’re all doing well and feeling some optimism that there’s an end in sight to this crazy past 12 months.

Last time out on the blog I’d talked about more of my time in San Francisco and it’s time to continue with the “big 3-0” story as it nears its conclusion. Those of you that have been following along will know I was in the USA for 30 days, celebrating my 30th birthday, back in the summer of 2018.

We’d now covered a bit of ground in San Francisco and seen a few of the main landmarks in the city but there was one “must see” left for us to experience – Alcatraz!

Alcatraz sign

I’d heard mixed reviews from people about Alcatraz but it was something myself and Haleigh were both keen to visit and see for ourselves. I’d sneakily bought tickets for Haleigh’s birthday which was a little tricky because everytime Haleigh hinted at buying tickets I was coy about doing so – “we’ll get it booked after the next payday..”

Alcatraz unsurprisingly sells out well in advance so it was one of few pre-planned attractions on this trip – along with the Chicago Skydeck which some of you will remember was a disaster and an attraction I ended up missing out on in the windy city at the start of the trip. I was hoping today wouldn’t be similar!

Anyway, we kicked off our day as we had so many times on this trip – fairly relaxed and without too much rushing around. For whatever reason we decided to take a different route in to the heart of San Fran today, deviating from our tried and tested journey on the one day we had concrete plans. Clever, right?

In hindsight it probably wasn’t the brightest idea we’ve had. We’d left our AirBnB in good time before heading over to Alcatraz but our spontaneous route put our plans in jeopardy a little. We stood waiting at this particular tram stop for an age.

Our wait did mean we got chatting to another couple at the stop but after a little small talk the discussion swerved to whether this tram was ever going to arrive! Eventually one came along but then kept going and whizzed by us – too busy on board to make a stop to pick people up – ahhh!

The minutes ticked by and ticked closer towards missing our Alcatraz boat! Eventually we had to accept we’d have to improvise further and get ourselves to the pier asap! We parted from our new friends who were heading elsewhere and managed to grab a taxi over to the pick-up-point.

The next dilemma was the tickets. I’d booked in advance, through the official website I’ll add, but their strange system had me feeling a little uneasy. For whatever reason you book your tickets online and they then need to send you two confirmation emails, the second once payment has been processed which for whatever reason isn’t instantaneous – unlike just about any other booking system on the planet.

They’d emailed me one confirmation and they took my money a little while after the actual booking which was of some relief but I’d envisaged some scenario where they’d deny all knowledge of my booking at the ticket office – which was only exacerbated further by the Chicago Skydeck debacle. I’d winged most of the trip – were the only two plans I’d really made both going to fall through?

The woman at the desk seemed frustrated that I was unable to provide the second confirmation email – as if it was somehow my fault and that this stupid system wasn’t the bigger cause of the confusion. However fortunately the details we had were seemingly enough for her to print our tickets and she seemed a little friendlier after locating them.

We took our tickets over to check in and were soon being waved on to our ferry. It slowly started filling up and then we were off!

As we inched closer and closer to Alcatraz I began to appreciate just how far off the mainland it actually is. It’s visible from San Francisco but it’s still a little way on the ferry – this island isn’t the quickest to get to and it starts to sink in how difficult it must have been to even think about escaping from. Good luck swimming in the cold and harsh waters of San Francisco Bay!

Each arriving boat to the island gets a little introduction and a welcome before you’re then left to explore at your own leisure. We grabbed a few photos from the outside before heading in.

First look inside

Assuming that, like us, you start from the bottom one of the first rooms you’re likely to encounter are aimed at educating on the history of the island. It might purely be ignorance on my part but I don’t feel like Alcatraz’s past gets much coverage beyond its prison days.

It was fascinating to discover that people lived on the island at various times in its history with Native Americans notably occupying the island for almost two years in protest against the US government. It was really interesting to learn about and in one of the rooms there’s an educational video that plays in this dark room which we both watched.

As you explore more of the island you see homage to those days with graffiti and other landmarks that date back to their occupancy.

Indians welcome..

Today it’s part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is managed by the National Park Service which allows millions of people to visit every year. The luxury of being able to explore in your own time meant we could slowly admire the views from the island and check out a few points of interest before making our way up to the prison and undoubtedly Alcatraz’s biggest attraction.

View from Alcatraz

Once you enter the prison area you’re handed a little device offering an audio tour. These rarely hold much interest for me and I usually abandon them pretty quickly and end up exploring without one.

However I have to say that I found that the audio tour really added to the experience. Throughout the tour you’re exposed to the history and various stories from Alcatraz and it really brought the prison to life for me – it’s remarkably well done I think and I’m glad I stuck this one out. As you walk around I couldn’t help but visualise what life behind bars would be like – see for yourself!

Behind bars inside Alcatraz prison

As my sad-faced-selfie shows, it’s not a life for me!

The tour takes you through a number of different areas within the prison. Towards the end of the tour you get taken outside for breathtaking views of San Francisco’s skyline which felt like a pretty apt way to round things off and really help transform you in to the life of a prisoner and how tempting it must have been having the city in plain view.

I thought the tour was incredible and worth every penny, or cent rather. Everyone has their own preferences of course but I have to say the mixed reviews I’d heard really surprised me. I couldn’t recommend it any higher and it’s a must-do on any trip to San Francisco in my opinion.

Inside Alcatraz

The view of San Francisco from Alcatraz Island

We popped in to the gift shop for a look at what was a wealth of merchandise and reading material from Alcatraz before slowly making our way back down the island and towards the ferry point. Fortunately we’d timed it pretty well and it was pretty much ready to board by the time we’d arrived.

The mood on the ferry back seemed a bit more pensive than the buzz and excitement that there had been when going to Alcatraz. Perhaps that’s just because it was later in the day and people had had enough adventure for one day but I think there was that added appreciation to be heading back to the mainland.

We’d escaped Alcatraz and were heading back to “the land of the free” . It felt nice knowing our time in Alcatraz had only been temporary. I think as a prisoner of Alcatraz I’d have preferred to have been more remote than the island actually is.

It is a bit of a journey on the ferry but to be that close to freedom and see it every day? That would be so agonising for me. I’d spend my days in envy knowing people were living such normal lives just across the water. I’m feeling pandemic envy as it is seeing people in NZ and Australia for example having a blast whilst we’re in day four billion of lockdown, sod that being a permanent feeling!

We made it back to sunny San Francisco and I do feel like I let out an illogical sigh of relief. Even with the stupid selfie, there was never a part of me that felt imprisoned but Alcatraz is its own little island and consequently very much a bubble. Even for a few hours its easy to forget that there’s a busy city in the backdrop.

After our Alcatraz adventure we decided to grab an early dinner. Our proximity to Pier 39 made it a convenient place to grab something as although a little touristy, there’s a good range of places to eat.

Unfortunately it seemed we picked rather poorly. I don’t know if it was just an off evening in the height of summer because the restaurant seemingly rates pretty highly in Google reviews. That certainly wasn’t our experience though with terrible food and the worst service I’ve suffered anywhere in the US – possibly anywhere altogether!

We’d pondered what to do with the rest of our evening but the unexpected extension on our meal time scuppered our plans a little bit and limited our options. It did dampen what had otherwise been a nice day.

San Francisco dungeons attraction
San Fran’s scariest attraction?

In the end we decided to visit the ‘San Francisco Dungeons’. I’ve seen these in a few other cities – notably London, Edinburgh and Amsterdam but as yet had not visited any of them so I wasn’t 100% sure on what to expect.

It was surprisingly a lot more enjoyable than I’d anticipated. You’re led through a series of rooms where actors play out a number of different scenes depicting various locations throughout San Francisco. There’s a fair amount of audience interaction which makes it quite enjoyable and I’d say pretty family friendly too – albeit a little jumpy in parts.

Towards the end of the experience we were taken “back” to Alcatraz – just as myself and Haleigh thought we’d escaped that pesky island!! The penultimate room then saw everyone interrogated by a prison guard.

I’d managed to avoid all audience interaction up until now so as the guard did his final roll call, row by row, I had to reveal my identity and additionally reveal my accent to all which sent shockwaves around the room as they realised there was a Brit amongst them! I’m sure some witty comment from the guard followed at my expense but I can’t recall what it was now.

The final room saw us escape Alcatraz and head back outside. Overall it had been a surprisingly fun attraction and is something I’d consider doing in other cities – even if only in the UK.

From here we made the slow journey back to our AirBnB. We took a small detour somewhere to grab some food after the disappointment earlier in the day but that was pretty much it for San Fran – our final day in San Francisco was over!

Final night in San Francisco

Tomorrow morning marked the beginning of the goodbyes, the adventure was nearing its end. It was time to say goodbye to San Francisco and California and head back up North.

I’d said plenty of goodbyes on this trip already of course. Goodbye to Chicago, goodbye to Minneapolis, goodbye to friends in New Orleans but every one of those was different as more adventure beckoned.

This time it was different, the faint cries of reality were calling. Haleigh had to be back in Washington for the start of the school year, soon after I’d be heading back to England and time was sadly finally beginning to catch up with me.

Tomorrow we’d be saying goodbye to San Francisco and onwards to..

Well, we didn’t actually know. We knew we wouldn’t get all the way back to Moses Lake but we hadn’t actually booked any accommodation for the next night. Perhaps there was still some adventure left in this trip after all?

I guess you’ll have to stick with this series a little longer if you want to find out! Stay tuned!

Jason

P.S – if you want to read other posts from this trip, see links below!
Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
Day five – New Orleans!
Day six – The real New Orleans!
Day seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington
Day eight – Exploring Poulsbo!
Day nine – Wedding day!
Day ten – To Portland!
Day eleven – the actual 3-0!
Day twelve – Oregon City and Portland
Day thirteen – Walla Walla bound!
Day fourteen – Walla Walla
Day fifteen – The family BBQ!
Day sixteen – the Vegas finale!
Day seventeen – Back to Oregon!
Day eighteen – Exploring Oregon’s coast!
Day nineteen – California pit stop!
Day twenty – San Francisco bound!
Day twenty one – San Francisco begins!
Day twenty two – San Fran continued!

The big 3-0: Day twenty two – San Fran continued!

Welcome back my dear readers! Last time out on the blog I was writing about the start of mine and Haleigh’s time in San Francisco and so on to the next part of the story!

For those of you only just stumbling upon this series, we’re three weeks in to a 30 day trip back in the summer of 2018. I’d flown over to the US for a friend’s wedding, which fell two days before my 30th birthday, so went all out to celebrate with a big trip!

One of the places I was determined to visit on this trip was San Francisco! That said, I didn’t go with a huge list of things I wanted to see or do in San Fran. Me and Haleigh were largely winging it and with the exception of a few obvious points of interest, didn’t actually have much planned for our stay in the city.

Keeping that in mind, we woke up and didn’t really have much of a plan for our day. We’d already seen the Golden Gate bridge, Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghiradelli Square. Meanwhile we had plans to visit Alcatraz tomorrow so had a lot of the first-time-visit stuff ticked off.

After a slow and relaxing start to our morning we left our AirBnB and made our way in to downtown San Francisco once again. We kicked off our day by visiting Chinatown – supposedly the oldest in North America and the largest such enclave outside of Asia which is pretty cool!

Given its popularity, I have to say it didn’t feel anywhere near as touristy as London’s own Chinatown. We wandered up and down the streets, snapping photos along the way whilst admiring all of the decorations hanging above our heads.

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Chinatown, San Francisco, California

Chinatown quickly morphs in to San Francisco’s ‘Little Italy’. On the outskirts of both there was this little bookstore I’d read about that I thought Haleigh would enjoy visiting. It was no Powell’s Books and I wouldn’t say it was worthwhile going particularly out of your way for but it was a nice little detour. Haleigh surprisingly escaped without buying anything which was some achievement!

The slow and relaxed start to our morning had set the tone for the rest of the day. There was no rushing around today, we just embraced being in San Francisco and explored at a much slower pace than you sometimes do when traveling. So it was conveniently lunchtime by the time we’d stumbled upon Little Italy.

Little Italy seemed as good a place as any to think about grabbing some lunch! There’s a few places to eat along the main street but we passed this historic and authentic-feeling Italian restaurant which seemed like the best option – our Italian host definitely added a dash of authenticity which was enough to tempt us inside.

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U.S Restaurant, San Francisco

It was a really enjoyable lunch and the service was really good too, it was a great choice for lunch. Rather than grab dessert here, we figured we’d try out a dessert place that we could see across the street.

We grabbed some gelato and then found ourselves a table outside to enjoy the glorious sunshine. A few moments later this funky looking van drove by and I was really beginning to feel like we were in California.

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After a little more people-watching we hopped on a bus and headed across town to the Golden Gate Park. The Golden Gate Park is essentially San Francisco’s Central Park equivalent – it’s huge!

It’s home to botanical gardens, Japanese gardens, museums, windmills and so much more. You could easily spend an entire day trying to see everything the park has to offer. We had a bit of a wander before finding ourselves a patch of grass to sit down, relax and soak up the atmosphere.

This was Saturday afternoon in California in the height of the summer – it was inevitably busy with people enjoying picnics, kids riding bicycles, dogs running around. There was such a feel-good mood around us and it was impossible to not get swept away by it. Me and Haleigh spent an age chatting and people-watching. Why would you want to be anywhere else on a day like this? It was bliss.

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Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Much like the beach spot from the previous day, and Central Park too for that matter, I could see myself spending many a day at Golden Gate Park if I was a local. Nevertheless we dragged ourselves away and caught the bus back towards the downtown area.

We passed the famous ‘Painted Ladies’ before stopping off around the city hall for a look around. We grabbed a few photos but, aside from a couple of outdoor exhibits from the Asian Art museum on the other side of the square, there wasn’t too much in the area.

City Hall

It had been a pretty relaxed day all around. We headed back to our AirBnB for a bit before making dinner plans. We decided to check out San Fran’s ‘Cheesecake Factory’ which was a first for me.

I don’t know what I really expected but they’re seemingly really popular! We had to wait a little while before getting a table, which wasn’t so bad because they had an outside balcony overlooking Union Square and allowed us to enjoy the view.

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Union Square, San Francisco

Eventually we were taken to a table and I got to see why the Cheesecake Factory was so popular. Despite the misleading name, the menu is a fussy eater’s dream! I think they have just about everything you can think of on their menu – it was overloaded with choices. We had a nice evening, although didn’t have the dessert we wanted so we skipped out on that and called it a night.

We made our way back to our AirBnB and watched a little Netflix. Overall it was a much slower-paced day but still a thoroughly enjoyable one and we’d covered a lot of the San Francisco area in our two days. There was just one last “must see” left on our itinerary – Alcatraz!

More on that next time around! Stay tuned!

Jason

P.S – if you want to read previous days of this trip, see below!
Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
Day five – New Orleans!
Day six – The real New Orleans!
Day seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington
Day eight – Exploring Poulsbo!
Day nine – Wedding day!
Day ten – To Portland!
Day eleven – the actual 3-0!
Day twelve – Oregon City and Portland
Day thirteen – Walla Walla bound!
Day fourteen – Walla Walla
Day fifteen – The family BBQ!
Day sixteen – the Vegas finale!
Day seventeen – Back to Oregon!
Day eighteen – Exploring Oregon’s coast!
Day nineteen – California pit stop!
Day twenty – San Francisco bound!
Day twenty one – San Francisco begins!

The big 3-0: Day twenty one – San Francisco begins!

Welcome back my dear readers! We’re in to the final third of this trip which has seemed a little never-ending haha. I’ll be quite pleased to actually write about somewhere other than the USA but I’m glad you’re still enjoying this series!

Anyway, those of you following along will know this was a 30 day trip in the summer of 2018 which coincided with my 30th birthday. On day 20 myself and Haleigh had driven down from Crescent City and finally arrived in San Francisco!

Much of this trip was flexible but San Francisco was somewhere that I was determined to visit on this trip so I was excited to get our first proper glimpse of it. We’d arrived the previous night but not really seen anything beyond the neighbourhood we were staying in.

We had a pretty relaxed start to our morning which is definitely one of the perks to staying in an AirBnB. Our host had kindly left out some sort of home-made bread for us to enjoy before we set off for the day.

We were staying a little outside of the central area of San Francisco but the public transport in the city is pretty good so that wasn’t a problem. Our nearest BART (San Fran’s subway system) station was Balboa Park so we made the walk over to the stop and got ourselves a couple of tickets to get us in to the heart of the city.

Pretty much all Americans drive so Haleigh hadn’t previously used any underground train network. I think it’s easy to get a little frazzled by some of the subway systems around the world and I’d love to say I helped Haleigh master San Francisco’s in preparation of one day tackling London’s famous tube system.

BartMap

However the reality is San Francisco’s is probably the easiest subway system I’ve come across on my travels so didn’t require the greatest mind or navigational skills to get around. Unless you’re leaving the San Francisco area, it really doesn’t matter which train or line you jump on. All trains go to the same stops making it particularly easy to avoid getting lost.

We traveled as far as ‘Powell Street’ which takes you in to the heart of the city. The reason we’d opted for Powell Street is because it’s home to San Francisco’s visitor centre and we thought we’d pop in for some recommendations, pick up some 72 hour travelcards and maybe a map to help get our bearings with where things were in the city.

After picking up our travelcards we had a wander around Powell and Market St which is a pretty busy area, popped in a few of the shops in the area before heading on over to the street car which would take us to Fisherman’s Wharf.

San Fran Streetcar
Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco

Unfortunately the street car is one of the San Francisco checklist items to do on a first trip and visiting in mid August meant every other tourist in San Francisco had the same idea. The queue was so long that we scrapped that plan for today and instead walked over to the nearest tram stop which would get us over to the pier much quicker.

A short while later we’d arrived at ‘Pier 39’ and were ready to see what all the fuss was about. It was pretty close to lunchtime by the time we’d arrived at the pier and it was inevitably busy. Admittedly this is probably one of San Francisco’s biggest tourist hotspots but in all honesty, this just seemed to be how San Francisco was.

With the exception of the BART which was woefully under-used, it was just busy wherever you went. Hordes of tourists, overcrowded transport leading to long queues, a million cars on the road – it was unavoidable!

That said, we wanted to temporarily avoid it haha. Before tackling pier 39 we decided we’d grab lunch and although the area had a huge range of food options, conveniently right where we’d stopped was San Fran’s very own Hard Rock Cafe!

HRC San Fran
Hard Rock Cafe, San Francisco

Long time readers will know I enjoy visiting the HRC’s around the world and this happened to be in the perfect location to tempt me! All that was left for me to do was persuade Haleigh it was a good idea, who’d yet to visit a HRC herself.

In contrast this would be my 19th HRC and the second of this trip after finding time to visit Chicago’s too! Fortunately it took little persuasion skills and Haleigh was more than happy to have lunch there!

Following on from lunch we wandered down to the pier and admired the views stretching over the bay and over to Alcatraz. It was a beautifully sunny day so we looked to see what boat tours they had on offer and were enticed by a tour for $15 which took us out on the water and a little closer to some of San Fran’s best sights.

It was a fun excursion. Our captain told us a few interesting stories whilst we passed by the famous seals of the pier and then got a closer look at Alcatraz, plus some cool views of the San Francisco skyline behind us.

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The seals of San Francisco

The boat dropped us back at Pier 39 and we strolled among the busy crowds, popping in and out of shops along the way. It’s definitely a bit of a tourist trap but I feel like you could spend a good chunk of time there and still keep yourself amused. Haleigh ended up buying some fudge to take back to Washington, whilst I settled for nothing more than some window shopping.

The shops and promenade seemed a little less crowded and hectic on the upper deck so we headed up the stairs for a look around up there, which also provided an opportunity to get some nicer photos.

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Pier 39, San Francisco

Perhaps going up there was my fateful mistake! We wandered along enjoying the atmosphere below us whilst basking in the gorgeous weather when I suddenly felt a small dropping hit me..

“Please be rain!”

Rain? I looked up and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky – just sunshine and bright blue skies.

Nevertheless whatever had dropped was on top of my head so I needed Haleigh to confirm my fears and sadly she did. Some bloody bird had crapped on me! I’d been dreaming of visiting this city forever and on my first full day in this city I get crapped on!

I don’t know how regularly this happens for the rest of you but I’ve been quite lucky in that I can only remember experiencing this on one other occasion – down in Florida!

Both times in the USA? Really!? Those pesky American birds!

So after a quick detour via the public restrooms, we were back on the move and wandered down towards Fisherman’s Wharf which was equally busy. Rather than spending too much time there among the crowds we marched on towards Ghiradelli Square which Haleigh was keen to visit.

There was a much more relaxed vibe here than there had been at Pier 39 / Fisherman’s Wharf. There was still a bit of a buzz in the air of course with people mingling and chatting away, whilst others played a round of ‘Cornhole’ but it was far less hectic and a much more enjoyable place to wander and look around.

Moving away from Ghiradelli Square we meandered down to the beach and just sat and admired the view for a while. It was a perfect spot and I think if I lived in San Francisco I’d frequent this part of the city on many occasions. I could have stayed there for hours I reckon but time was flying by.

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Prime suspect?

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You could easily spend an entire day in the pier 39 area I reckon if you were to combine it with other attractions and excursions. Having had a good taste of things in San Francisco we tried our luck again with the street car. There was a long queue again but we were feeling much less rushed heading back to our AirBnB and it was something we wanted to experience at least once in San Francisco.

Whether you have the patience for the queue is an individual choice I suppose but I’m really glad we did it. I think it’s worth traveling on at least once and had it not been for such long queues I’m sure we’d have rode it more frequently throughout our trip. It’s a great way to see the city as you travel up and down San Francisco’s hilly streets.

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Soon enough we were back at Powell Street and jumped back on the BART in direction of our AirBnB. We relaxed for a bit and then freshened up before deciding what to do with our evening.

We contemplated going back in to down town San Francisco and finding something fun to do. However in the end we decided to stay local and grabbed dinner at a bar just around the corner from our AirBnB.

The upside to not staying in a touristy area was that it felt like we were probably the only out-of-towners in the place with everyone else seeming local and friendly with eachother and in weekend mode given it was a Friday evening.

We took two seats at the bar and ordered ourselves a burger each, accompanied with some drinks which went down equally well. In addition to the good food and good beer, there was also a live band playing which provided the perfect entertainment for the evening.

It was a really nice way to round off our first full day in San Francisco. Aside from the unfortunate bird incident it had been a pretty positive introduction to this wonderful city.

After a couple of drinks we called it a night and headed back to our AirBnB, excited to explore again tomorrow. Stay tuned for more on that!

Jason

P.S – if you want to catch up on previous posts from this trip you can do so below!
Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
Day five – New Orleans!
Day six – The real New Orleans!
Day seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington
Day eight – Exploring Poulsbo!
Day nine – Wedding day!
Day ten – To Portland!
Day eleven – the actual 3-0!
Day twelve – Oregon City and Portland
Day thirteen – Walla Walla bound!
Day fourteen – Walla Walla
Day fifteen – The family BBQ!
Day sixteen – the Vegas finale!
Day seventeen – Back to Oregon!
Day eighteen – Exploring Oregon’s coast!
Day nineteen – California pit stop!
Day twenty – San Francisco bound!

The big 3-0: Day twenty – San Francisco bound!

Welcome back my dear readers! I suggested last time out on the blog that I’d try and “up my game” a bit and get two posts out a week going forward. It hasn’t happened haha. Nevertheless I’m determined to get back to posting once a week so I’m cracking on and posting another day of the “big 3-0” trip.

Those of you who haven’t been following (have missed 19 posts!!) will not be aware that this was a 30 day trip in the USA coinciding with my 30th birthday in the summer of 2018.

One of the places that was a must visit on this trip was San Francisco and we were close! Myself and Haleigh were slowly making the drive down from Washington and had just spent the night in Crescent City in Northern California. After a good night’s rest it was time to hit the road again!

We said goodbye to our AirBnB and hopped in the car – heading Southbound once again. One of the reasons we’d stopped off at Crescent City was its proximity to the famous Redwoods and it wasn’t long before we were surrounded by trees towering over us on both sides.

Northern California Scenery
Surrounded by huge trees!
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Northern California

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I think I spent the early part of the morning just glued to the window, taking photos and videos to look back at someday. On the other hand, all I could think was “what a place to die..”

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t some suicidal thinking on my part but with the winding roads, the fog, the towering trees it created that perfect horror-like setting. It was beautiful of course but just a few minutes in to the drive I felt so far removed from civilisation and the rest of the world. You couldn’t help but feel that any minute we’d break down on the side of the road and some axe-wielding maniac would pull over asking if we needed any help.

“No.. no, we’re okay thanks!”

Fortunately the car was showing no signs of failing us so we kept plodding along until we came to the “Trees of Mystery”. I’d read about this attraction when looking for things to do in and around Crescent City and discovered it was home to a 30ft “Paul Bunyan”.

Haleigh was familiar with the tales of Paul Bunyan but the name meant nothing to me. His fame doesn’t appear to have made it over to our side of the pond but it seems that he is a famous lumberjacker in American folklore and travels around with his trusty companion – “Babe the Blue Ox”.

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Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue Ox, Trees of Mystery, California

The giant lumberjacker was difficult to miss on the side of the road so we pulled over and got close up for a few photos of our new friends Paul and Babe. The trees of mystery attraction itself seemed to offer a few trails for hiking but we were content just making it a fun and quick stop.

We got back in the car and as we drove through the forest, the trees just seemed to get bigger and bigger – we were truly in Redwood territory now.

Travel has a way of making your place in the world feel very small but I’d say particularly so here. I was in complete awe of the Redwoods and the surrounding scenery. Even in the midst of forest fires ravaging the West Coast, nature still seemed to be thriving and left me mesmerised.

We passed a sign highlighting the scenic route, which would add a few miles on to our journey, and couldn’t resist the temptation to get off the main highway. We were quite happy to be rid of the traffic and aggressive drivers pushing us to zoom along the winding roads.

True to its word, the scenic route was just that – breathtakingly scenic! We pulled over at one point just so we could properly admire them up close. They’re just incredible! It’s hard to imagine too many other places such as this which really leave you speechless and humbled.

We passed a few other parked cars and consequently a few people who’d seemingly had the same idea we had. Fortunately it meant myself and Haleigh were able to get a photo of the both of us as a nice souvenir and reminder of our time passing through the Redwoods.

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Some kids we’d walked past were less enthused by the experience with one retorting that “it’s only a tree..” and clearly not happy that their parents had forced them out of the car. It left me and Haleigh amused and made me realise that sometimes you don’t really appreciate these things when you’re younger.

I envisaged a scenario in the future where the kids would want to return and being mockingly told by their parents that “it’s only a tree..”

Admittedly those kids weren’t wrong. They are “just” trees at the end of the day but as spectacular as you’ll see anywhere. In the company of trees that have stood for hundreds of years, it was impossible to feel anything other than small and insignificant. They’re a must see on any trip to Northern California!

Redwoods

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After getting plenty of photos we got back in the car and continued with our journey, leaving the scenic route and returning to what was still a pretty scenic highway. I can’t really remember much else of the drive, I presume we stopped for lunch somewhere but I couldn’t tell you where so it was probably just some fast food of some kind.

The only other memorable stop we made was as we passed by a little roadside shop which had loads of these wooden hand-made bears sat on the side of the road. They were pretty cute and available to buy along with a lot of other hand-made items and art.

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Cute bears and a cute Haleigh too!

It was an interesting little stop. We took some photos with the bears and I also found Pinocchio who told me I was the coolest kid around – I couldn’t understand why his nose was so big though?

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Me and Pinocchio, best buds!

The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful. The thing that really struck me was how quiet the roads were in this part of California. At times it felt like we were the only people on the highway which surprised me – particularly in the summer months but it seems that all of that famous California traffic is reserved for the big cities such as Los Angeles.

The roads started getting busier as we got closer to San Francisco, particularly around Santa Barbara, but even then a good chunk of the highway has a carpool lane which you only need two people to take advantage of so we were flying past all of the single-drivers on the road. Soon enough we were seeing signs for San Francisco and then the golden gate bridge!

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San Francisco – here we come!

We hadn’t really hit any traffic all day but as we approached the tunnel which leads to the Golden Gate bridge things started slowing down and we came to what was almost a stand still. It probably wasn’t the ideal time for us to be arriving in to San Francisco, albeit unavoidable. That said, I have a feeling that the traffic in to this part is probably always like this.

Not that the locals seemed to have the patience for it – the car honking was endless! Puzzling too, where exactly do you want us to go? In to the back of the car in front of us?

“Hit the pedal Haleigh!!”

Oddly enough, Haleigh was unwilling to partake in a game of road rage and smashing in to all of those who blocked our path. Instead we crawled along at a snails pace – which was actually fine by me!

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First glimpse of the Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco

At the end of the tunnel I could peek my first glimpse of the golden gate bridge! I was so pleased that we were traveling in over the bridge itself – even better that we were slow-moving and I could really take it in and appreciate it in all of its glory.

This was the Sydney Opera House, Eiffel Tower, Big Ben “pinch me” moment of San Francisco – there was no doubt as to where we were! We’d made it! We’re really in San Francisco!!

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Driving over the golden gate bridge

I managed to grab a bunch of photos before we eventually escaped the bridge, however there was no sign of the San Francisco traffic easing up. I don’t know why you’d want to drive in a city like San Francisco, much like New York City or London you have to question if it’s even worthwhile being on the road.

Karen, our handy sat-nav, guided us to our AirBnB where we parked up and awaited for our AWOL host to arrive. As it was, she was only in the back garden so not too far away and was quickly letting us in to show us around. We had no intention of driving whilst in San Franciso so swapped the cars around – putting Haleigh’s car in to the garage whilst our host moved hers in front of the garage.

It had been another long day of driving so we didn’t really have any plans for our first evening in the city. Had we been closer to downtown San Fran perhaps we’d have gone and explored but we just settled in to our AirBnB and familiarised ourselves with the local neighbourhood.

In essence we were staying in an unofficial Chinatown. The area was full of restaurants offering Asian cuisine, with a Sushi restaurant on the corner of the street we were staying on. It was far enough away from touristy San Fran that it felt very local and is undoubtedly one of the perks of AirBnB life – this being only my third AirBnB stay – all three of which were on this trip.

We went and checked out a nearby Chinese restaurant which had some good reviews on Google. On appearance it’s probably not somewhere I’d have walked in to, more reminiscent of your typical kebab house you’d stumble in to at the end of a night out.

Nevertheless, appearances can be deceiving and the food was really good. Although I’d originally ordered a duck-dish and they were then out of duck, not that I could complain about my second choice. If there was to be any complaint it would be that there was just too much of it!

Both me and Haleigh struggled to finish our meals and agreed we could easily have shared a meal between us – it felt a bit of a waste to leave so much unfinished. Brilliant value though as it was not only delicious but pretty cheap too.

Following on from dinner we had a wander through the neighbourhood but didn’t go too far. It was beginning to get dark and for the first time this whole summer, it was cold!

Whilst San Francisco was warm by day, it quickly became apparent that you’d need a jacket in the evening as it got quite chilly. Having had a small glimpse we headed back to our AirBnB for a relaxing evening and started making plans for tomorrow – our first full day in San Francisco!

Stay tuned for more on that!

Jason

P.S – if you wanted to catch up on previous posts on this trip, see below!
Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
Day five – New Orleans!
Day six – The real New Orleans!
Day seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington
Day eight – Exploring Poulsbo!
Day nine – Wedding day!
Day ten – To Portland!
Day eleven – the actual 3-0!
Day twelve – Oregon City and Portland
Day thirteen – Walla Walla bound!
Day fourteen – Walla Walla
Day fifteen – The family BBQ!
Day sixteen – the Vegas finale!
Day seventeen – Back to Oregon!
Day eighteen – Exploring Oregon’s coast!
Day nineteen – California pit stop!

The big 3-0: Day nineteen – California pit stop!

Welcome back my dear readers! Thanks to those of you that played along with my recent photo challenge. It was a bit of fun that has helped get me back in to some sort of blogging groove. We’ll see how things go but I’m going to attempt to try and squeeze out two posts a week going forward – certainly whilst we’re in this lockdown era!

Anyway, it’s back to the “big 3-0” trip this time round. Those who have been following this 30 day trip will know that myself and Haleigh were slowly making our way from Washington State down to San Francisco, California!

After a couple of nights based in Lincoln City on Oregon’s coast it was time for us to hit the road again. We still had another 650 miles ahead of us before we’d reach San Francisco so whilst there was still some distance to go, we were inching ever closer!

We effortlessly checked out of our AirBnB in the morning and as a first-time AirBnB experience it had been a positive one. I’d always been a little hesitant to use AirBnB but I’d been somewhat converted – somewhat because I can’t say I’ve used AirBnB since this trip but I’m more open to doing so for future travels.

We said our goodbyes to Lincoln City and started heading South – next stop California!!

California.. I feel like I perhaps do this too often already but I’ve not yet reached that point where the travel opportunities I’ve had don’t still blow my mind a little. In all honesty, I hope I never get to the point where it’s something I take for granted.

My parents did a lot for us growing up and we got fortunate to visit places like Orlando, Florida as kids which not everyone gets to do but I’m very much from a working-class background. A holiday like that took years of savings and sacrifice to make happen.

I digress a little but my point being that if I have a habit of romanticising places a bit too much it’s because deep down, I don’t know that I thought I’d ever visit these places. California always had this allure about it when I was growing up. It was some faraway land that epitomised what I considered to be cool and the pictures of it just looked sensational. To think I’d ever get there in my lifetime was some pipe-dream.

and yet, here we were. In the car and driving South, inching closer and closer to “the golden state”. Ugh even that sounds incredible, doesn’t it?

The drive down was stunning. Winding lanes along the coast offering sea views and a wealth of scenery that is just a dream as a passenger. There’s a ruggedness to the landscape and the fog just added to the atmosphere as we drove along – I truly felt a million miles away from home. I have so many photos on this drive that I couldn’t even tell you where we were but the scenery just left me in total admiration for the West coast.

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Don’t mind me, just admiring the view

Highway 101

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Somewhere along Highway 101

The perk of driving of course was that we could stop as and when we wanted to. We wouldn’t be in San Francisco until tomorrow so we were in no big rush and could stop for the numerous quirky roadside attractions that the US is famous for.

The first instance of this were some 20-30 foot roadside dinosaurs that immediately caught our eye. We quickly pulled over for a closer look and made sure to grab some photos. The dinosaurs were part of the Prehistoric gardens attraction in Oregon. We didn’t check out the entire area but checked out the gift shop and managed to grab a few cool photos before hitting the road again.

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Making friends at Prehistoric Gardens, Oregon

Dinosaur

We continued our journey South along highway 101 which took us through a host of cute cities and towns. I think my favourite we passed through was Coos Bay.

We stopped for lunch somewhere along the way, however we didn’t want to slow the journey down too much so stopped off at McDonald’s for something pretty quick.

Now, having become quite accustomed to temperatures between 30-45C (85-115 F) all summer, we were quite unprepared for our brief stop at the Antarctic! I don’t think I’ve ever walked in to a colder restaurant / bar! I’d love to visit London’s ice bar for some comparison, although I suspect it’s a few degrees warmer than this McDonald’s was! Even anticipating a quick stop, Haleigh ran back to the car to grab herself a jacket! I decided to brave the arctic conditions but was hoping McDonald’s would live up to its reputation as “fast food”.

With fuller stomachs it was back on the road but more importantly, back out in to warmer climates! The scenery continued to impress and soon enough we were approaching the state line – I had to get a photo!

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Oregon – California state line

Admittedly it’s not the greatest effort but in a moving car I thought it came out well enough. It was a landmark moment! State number 3 with Haleigh, state number 6 of this trip and my 12th visited state in total! 12!!

The latter sounds so weird to me, three years prior the only state I’d been to was Florida and now I’d been to twelve!? That doesn’t include the likes of Wisconsin, Arkansas or Maryland either which I’ve only really traveled through rather than stopping anywhere. How have I been to twelve states!?

Anyway, we were here! We were actually in California! We wouldn’t be in San Francisco itself until tomorrow but only had another 25 or so miles until we were in our stop for the night – Crescent City.

It wasn’t a city I knew anything about but it was a good resting place between Lincoln City and San Francisco. Soon enough we’d arrived at our home for the night – again opting to stay in an AirBnB.

After checking in and dropping our things off we took a little drive to see what was in the city itself. We parked up down by the pier and admired the views but there wasn’t too much in the area – other than a fun-looking children’s park which had a few kids playing.

Crescent City
Crescent City, California

We popped in to the nearby visitor’s centre but it was fairly late in the afternoon by the time that we’d arrived so whilst there’s probably a lot more to do in Crescent City if you have a full day in the city, there wasn’t a huge deal open at that time of the day to make it worthwhile visiting.

The big attraction of Crescent City was its proximity to the Redwoods which we knew we’d be passing through on our drive tomorrow so in the end our only takeaway from the visitors centre was having overheard discussions about some food options for the evening.

We decided to grab dinner at some brewery called Seaquake. The food wasn’t anything special but I was pretty pleased with the beer selection and particularly intrigued by the ‘Citra’ as I often drink a beer of the same name at my favourite pub back home.

After dinner and a couple of drinks we contemplated what else to do with our evening in this sleepy city. We remembered that we’d passed a bowling alley earlier which was close to our AirBnB and felt like that could be a fun way to spend our evening. Sadly it wasn’t actually open for whatever reason so slightly scuppered our plans.

In the end we decided we’d just head back to our AirBnB for a relaxing evening. It’s not like we’d come to Crescent City for something in particular, it had just been a convenient stopping point for the night so an evening relaxing seemed pretty appealing.

Our AirBnB was nice too. We had a decent sized space to ourselves and found some rubbish TV to watch in-between all of the commercials. It was a nice evening and set us up perfectly for another South-bound journey tomorrow – San Francisco via the Redwoods!

Stay tuned for more on that!

Jason

P.S – if you want to catch up on previous days of this trip, you can do so below!
Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
Day five – New Orleans!
Day six – The real New Orleans!
Day seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington
Day eight – Exploring Poulsbo!
Day nine – Wedding day!
Day ten – To Portland!
Day eleven – the actual 3-0!
Day twelve – Oregon City and Portland
Day thirteen – Walla Walla bound!
Day fourteen – Walla Walla
Day fifteen – The family BBQ!
Day sixteen – the Vegas finale!
Day seventeen – Back to Oregon!
Day eighteen – Exploring Oregon’s coast!

Ten day photo challenge – behind the scenes!

Hey dear readers! It’s me again! You must be bored of me by now, right? I think this is the first time I’ve ever posted more than two days running! Haha.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed following and playing along over the past ten days. Now it’s time for me to reveal why these were “favourite” photos and the story behind picking these particular ten.

To be honest, I followed the favourite objective a little loosely. These aren’t necessarily Instagram-worthy or being printed to go up on my bedroom wall any time soon but they bring back good memories for one reason or another. In a lot of cases they’re favourites purely for the story behind the photo.

Forewarning – this is likely to be a long post. So if you’re only interested in the answers and not the stories behind them I’ll list the locations above each photo.

I think the initial “no explanation” part to this challenge was only implemented for people such as me who have to ramble on and on and on!

Anyway let’s get on with the stories shall we?

Day one – “I’m really fucking here!!” – Sydney, Australia

Hostel View

Truthfully, this wasn’t the photo I would ideally have used for this particular story. I wanted to share my first photo from this trip but it clearly had the name of the city in the photo so it wasn’t particularly suitable for the challenge haha.

This one seemed to have you all stumped! Interestingly Nick was the first to play along and made the observation that they’re “driving on the wrong side of the road”. The photo might therefore be a little misleading but the Aussies actually drive on the left like ourselves in England!

The Travel Architect suggested this was Big Ben’s little brother but the guess of Walla Walla, Washington was way off the mark!

This building is actually Sydney’s Central train station and the photo was taken from my dorm room at Sydney Central’s YHA hostel. Not a bad view right? The alternative photo had the name of the hostel and ‘Sydney’ was clearly visible so wasn’t much use.

Those of you following me on Instagram will have already had some insight in to the story for this one. On the 9th of February 2013 I was embarking on my first ever solo trip! On the 11th of February 2013 I’d landed in Sydney, Australia.

I was so fucking nervous. See Instagram for my “excited at Heathrow” photo before leaving. Sydney was one of those bucketlist destinations for me. The seed got planted in to my head about going to Sydney in the near future and shortly after I picked up Bill Bryson’s “Down Under” book which only tempted me further.

I started considering it and floated the idea with a few people – “I’m thinking about going to Sydney..” – and the feedback was pretty positive. I spoke to my parents about it, I booked the time off work, I had the money in the bank and nothing..

I just couldn’t find the courage to book the trip. I had everything planned out! I was going to Sydney on the 9th of February and come mid January I still hadn’t booked the flights or the accommodation.

It was really last minute but I’d finally done it. It was booked! There was no turning back now!

The rest was history. I stepped out of the train station, walked down the stairs and right in front of me was the hostel I was staying at. I was really in Sydney! Fucking pinch me! I checked in to my hostel and this was the view greeting me from the dorm window.

That trip changed everything. I’d got the bug! Travel stopped being a luxury and started being the priority. I don’t think the majority of the trips that followed would have happened had it not been for this trip and this experience.

Day two – “Disney of the North!” – Helsinki, Finland

Jason Fi

Some interesting guesses on this one. Finland enthusiast, Marion, I knew would get this one instantly but she refrained from giving the game away and kept schtum on the correct answer.

The Travel Architect came up with Greece as her best guess so was on the right continent at least, meanwhile Salsa World Traveler went for something a little more vague and guessed “somewhere cold” – you weren’t wrong! It was Tanja however that came up with the correct response – Helsinki in Finland – an impressive guess given she’s never been to Helsinki!

Funnily enough, I almost went with a train station photo for this one too but then I started looking at day three and didn’t want to post three train stations in a row haha.

I’ve not actually blogged about the Finland trip yet but this was another bucketlist destination for me, albeit for very different reasons on this occasion. My grandmother was Finnish and she lived with us throughout my childhood up until she died. I’d always felt such a strong connection to Finland and those roots and it has always given me a huge desire to see Finland for myself.

It was only as the trip got closer that the realisation hit me that I might not actually like Finland as much as the place I’d built up in my head. I’d convinced myself that Finland was perfect. What if this trip crushed every fairytale I’d created in my mind?

In the days leading up to this trip the nerves really hit me. There was suddenly pressure towards this trip. I’ve always felt that Finnish connection and I’ve clung to it as best as possible since my grandma died but I couldn’t brush off this doubt. I was DESPERATE for this trip to live up to my ridiculously high standards.

The day of the trip came and this was it! I landed at Helsinki airport a little while later and it was pretty smooth, it’s a really nice airport. I followed directions towards the train platforms and then bought myself a ticket heading for the centre of Helsinki.

My first real memory of Finland was this little girl sitting on the train, with what I assume was her dad, and singing some nursery rhyme which just sounded heavenly. I then got off the train, stepped outside of the station and it was snowing! There was no snow in the forecast for the weekend!

“Are you kidding me? This place is magical! Sod Disneyland, this is Disney of the North!”

I was instantly swooning over Finland. I can’t adequately describe what I felt that weekend. I went with such high hopes and it was infinitely better than I could have ever imagined.

I’m not saying that’s necessarily the reality, Finland probably isn’t for everyone but the trip somehow strengthened my love for this country. I’m itching to go back and probably would have returned in 2020 had it not been for Covid.

This particular photo was on the day I arrived. It was still lightly snowing and I saw Helsinki cathedral for the first time and I was blown away. I’d seen photos of it online but it somehow seemed even more remarkable in the flesh.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to judge Finland objectively, it might purely be the Finland-tinted glasses on but I felt a belonging and at home in a place I’d never been to. Magical!

Day three – “I know your language!” – Köln, Germany

TheEnd

“Hauptbahnhof” was your big clue for this one, or the DB and S train services that run throughout this country! Translating Hauptbahnhof from German in to English would give you the main or central (haupt) train station (Bahnhof) so if you understood Germany or had been to Germany you might have been able to narrow this down a little!

I’m not sure how recognisable this train station is but this proved the easiest photo challenge so far. Tanja and The Travel Architect were able to narrow this down as far as Germany.

Fellow bloggers Little Miss TravellerWhole lotta RosieLiving in KarolingstonOur Crossings and Handstands Around The World were all much more accurate in their guess of Cologne – this being Cologne’s main train station!

I first visited Cologne in 2013, a few weeks after coming back from Sydney. I told you I’d got the travel bug! I was itching to go somewhere and Easter weekend was the perfect opportunity for some travel.

Well not perfect! My last minute planning meant my options were relatively limited as far as my budget was concerned and I ended up booking myself a train to Cologne – not a city I’d ever cared about visiting, nor a country I really had much interest in visiting.

That trip was the first time I truly felt like I’d been abroad. I didn’t know the language, I was all on my own, the Germans didn’t seem particularly welcoming. My hostel was lonely – a very different vibe to my first hostel experience in Sydney. I was still an inexperienced traveler and all of the comforts of Sydney were lacking here.

I still enjoyed Cologne but I wasn’t sad to be going home at the end of the Easter weekend. So I was happily sat waiting for the train back to Brussels (and then London) and some bilingual, seemingly homeless, person approached me asking for money.

A bilingual homeless beggar! I brushed off his pleas in German, playing the ignorance card and he trumped me!

“No worries mate, I can ask you for money in English..”

What!? That backfired! For what it’s worth, I hadn’t refused the first request because I’m some heartless soul. I’ll happily help anyone but it’s difficult differentiating between someone who’s genuine and needs help opposed to someone who’s just a chancer and taking advantage of people’s kindness.

Nevertheless, asking me in two languages humbled me a little bit and he ended up walking away with a few spare euros in his pocket. That experience has stuck with me ever since.

Fortunately in 2016 I returned to Köln (not Cologne!) as a German speaker and it felt like a sign of personal growth. I’m not fluent by any means but it was hugely satisfying to be able to speak the language of the locals.

I’ve been to Köln four times now and whilst I hadn’t ever anticipated visiting that many times, the subsequent trips have been much more satisfying than that first trip was. No matter where I travel now I try and learn a few phrases because it can transform your entire experience. I’ve grown a soft spot this city and I’ve been to many other parts of Germany since too.

This particular photo was taken in 2016 on the way back to my hotel – I’m sure that ‘Hauptbahnhof’ sign was always there but it was more noticeable on this occasion and I had to get a photo.

Day four – “The big 3-0!” – Chicago, USA

River Il

This one was seemingly too easy for many of you! MarieJessMarionSalsa World TravelerThe Travel ArchitectTanja and Diana were all able to correctly identify this as Chicago!

Of course this inclusion shouldn’t be a surprise. How could I not include at least one photo from this trip? I could have probably found a hundred photos from this trip to have used but I really wanted something from the first stop on this trip – Chicago! My only regret is not making it harder for you! Haha.

This is genuinely a favourite photo from that trip though. As you’ll know, I’m still in the process of writing about this trip on the blog but it was truly an unforgettable trip. To spend that length of time on one trip, seeing so many places, creating so many memories – just wow!

It’s another trip that humbled me. Thousands of miles, six states, an entire month traveling the USA – I’m not sure I’ll ever take another trip that’s quite that grand and I’m really appreciative that I had the opportunity. It was the best way to celebrate turning 30.

This particular photo was one of my last in Chicago and I was just in awe of its beauty. I was sad I’d had such little time in the city and needed the memory of this view to take home with me before heading on to Minneapolis.

Day five – “snap me while you can!” – Paris, France

July 2019

I had more success in making this difficult for some of you. Marion had no idea, meanwhile The year without Wimbledon and The Travel Architect were only able to narrow down their guesses to Europe with Budapest and Vienna for answers.

Fortunately some of you were able to come up with the correct response. AivaMarieSalsa World TravelerTanja and Sarah knew this was in Paris – the balcony of the Musee D’Orsay to be specific!

This was an interesting choice because I’d say “favourite” photo loosely. Admittedly this was one of the better ones from the 20 or so photos I managed to take on this particular weekend. A chunk of those however included one of the most famous landmarks in the world, The Eiffel Tower, so I couldn’t use those for this challenge either haha.

This trip was somewhat of a throwback to the “good old days..”

“Erm, Jason.. I know you’re 30+ now but you’re not that ancient..”

I know, I know but this trip afforded me the luxury of something I haven’t experienced for a number of years. There’s perhaps even some readers who’ll never have experienced travel like this but what you might call “off the grid” travel.

I’d charged my phone before work on Friday morning. Following work, myself and Haleigh would be catching the Eurostar to Paris! Now I’m 99% certain the Eurostar has charging points but I hadn’t been worried all day – my phone battery would last long enough for us to reach our hotel.

I’ve not written about this trip yet but after a hectic ride we finally arrived at our hotel, I plugged my phone in to charge and nothing!

Tried Haleigh’s phone – success. Tried mine – nothing!
Tried Haleigh’s charger – nothing. Tried Haleigh’s phone with her charger – success!

My phone had decided it was taking the weekend off! “Sorry Jason, you can’t expect me to work in Paris..”

It was mind-boggling. Three days later, I arrived back in England and it charged like there’d never been a problem. I’m using that same phone and charger 18 months later and it works perfectly fine but on this particular weekend? No chance!

So it was a race against the clock really. I was preserving my phone life as long as possible but by Saturday morning my phone was dead! I was in Paris off the grid! I was unreachable. I had no idea where we were, I had no idea what time of day it was anymore, I had no idea what was going on in the world.

Had Trump declared war on North Korea over Twitter? Quite possibly but I had no way of knowing, I was unreachable, I was.. free!

I’d missed this way of traveling. As an American, Haleigh also didn’t have the luxury of roaming data to use so we were solely reliant on those ancient travelers methods such as picking up a paper map to find our way around or god forbid, asking somebody!

Ironically, one of the reasons I hadn’t done this style of traveling for so long is due to being in a long distance relationship! There are very few people I feel a need to be at constant beck and call with but it’s hard to just disappear and have no communication when you’re in a relationship that’s heavily dependent on online access.

So for this to happen on one of those rare occasions we were traveling together was incredibly convenient, fate-like even. Nothing outside of Paris existed for a weekend and I was with the only person that I needed to be with. Admittedly Haleigh could still use the Wi-Fi as and when she could use it but it was in short supply – we were in Paris and effectively off-the-grid.

What a city for such a luxury too! It was so, so nice. I’ve missed this style of travel a lot and I hate that it has been “so long” since I’d previously traveled that way, I’ve not done it since either. Haleigh is a convenient excuse but I’m looking forward to being together someday soon and being able to travel off the grid more frequently.

This was one of the few photos I managed to grab before my phone died. The photo itself is fine but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a favourite – however it aids this story and I’m looking forward to writing about this trip in more detail at a later date!

Day six – “My second home” – Moses Lake, Washington

ML Mar 2020

The American flag was a little hint here because I thought it unlikely anyone would guess this one otherwise. As it was Salsa World Traveler came closest with a guess of Southern California having recognised those clocks from somewhere!

I don’t know that they’re unique enough that they couldn’t potentially be in other states but I’ve seen them throughout a few towns in Washington State so on the right coast at least!

This particular one was in Moses Lake, Washington which perhaps won’t come as the biggest surprise to long time followers of the blog (or other social media) who will know that I have spent a significant amount of time in the last three years visiting Washington State.

Moses Lake, Washington has become somewhat of a second home for me. I’d dare say I’m probably fonder of Moses Lake than Haleigh who lives there currently but it’s just a place that holds a lot of good memories for me and the locals have always made me feel welcome.

I’ve always been a big city person but I’ve spent many an enjoyable day in this little town. It only felt right that it was a “favourite” that I included among the photo challenge. This particular spot is opposite the small independent little coffee shop in the downtown area and has quickly become a favourite spot on my frequent visits to Moses Lake.

Unfortunately Covid robbed me of a proper farewell last April and although I’ll definitely return to Washington in the future, I’m not sure Haleigh will still be living here by the time I next get to visit.

I’m not sure I’ll have any real reason to go back in the future so it may be that I’ve actually visited Moses Lake for the last time – we shall see! Nevertheless, this photo brings me some joy and memories of living here and many other visits prior to that.

Day seven – “the growth of Weetabix Boy” – Bruges, Brussels 

Moules Frites

I was a little hesitant to share any indoor photos because it makes the challenge particularly difficult and dare I say impossible? However I also said that each photo had some story behind it and I’m not sure any other photo would have had the same meaning behind it.

As is quite clear, the story here was food related and given this dish is so synonymous with this country it seemed an acceptable exception for the challenge!

Little Miss TravellerThe Travel Architect and The Red Phone Box Travels all correctly predicted this was somewhere in Belgium. Nobody guessed this was in Bruges but given the lack of identity in the photo that’s understandable. Salsa World Traveler anticipated a trick question and opted for an out-of-the-box guess in New Orleans but this was as obvious as it seemed so no cruel trick from me on this occasion!

Anyway, on to the story!

I mentioned in a blog post recently that I don’t really eat cheese and how that’s just a long-time habit more than anything. I know that I’d in all likelihood enjoy cheese now but there’s no huge incentive for me to “find out”. For instance I could order the cheese burger instead of just a regular burger in any restaurant but why? I’m equally content eating a burger without cheese so if I’m going to have a burger then I’ll do that.

Admittedly that’s not the greatest example as far as cheese was concerned but the point is I was a fussy eater as a child and it has been difficult to kick those habits as an adult. I’m just an incredibly predictable person – which was best summarised in my “Weetabix boy” post.

Nearly three years on from writing that post, I can guarantee you I’ve probably had Weetabix 500 times for breakfast – at least! Realistically it’ll be many morning’s more than that number.

FYI – I’ve yet to receive notification of any Weetabix sponsorship or ambassadorial role but maybe this will serve as a timely reminder? Weetabix’s CEO reads my blog, right?

Anyway, the overall point being that in many ways I’m too predictable for travel but this photo served as proof that I’m better than I was twenty, ten or even five years ago.

I first visited Belgium back in 2013. We’d gone to Brussels for a friend’s birthday and ended up taking a day trip to Bruges. We stumbled upon the main square in Bruges and I remember the smell from the food market hitting our 3 person-party – Belgian waffles!

The other two were inevitably drawn towards the smell of food but as someone who is the complete opposite of a “foodie”, I was a little more sceptical. Do I even like Belgian waffles? Am I going to part with my euros to find out? What alternatives are there?

I can’t actually recall if I stumbled up the “courage” to try them or wherever I skipped out on lunch entirely due to my fussyness but it’s funny for me to look back at and think just how safe my food choices were when I first began traveling.

I’ve been to Belgium a few times since that first trip. Whether it has been Brussels, Bruges, Gent or Liege – you don’t have to go too far to find mussels on the menu – it’s the “biggie” as far as Belgian cuisine is concerned.

However despite several trips I’d always excused myself from taking the leap as far as mussels were concerned. I’ve eaten waffles and seeked out other famous Flemish dishes in both Belgium and Lille but I’d always found an excuse to bypass mussels.

Six years after that first trip I found myself back in Bruges and enough was enough. I told myself that I couldn’t leave Belgium without trying the famous “Moules Frites” and consequently you have your photo!

Undoubtedly a minor accomplishment for many of you but it wasn’t a dish I ever thought I’d “give a go”. Accompanied with some wonderful Belgian beer, it was a little tick for “Weetabix Boy”.

Day eight – “this isn’t Leeds?” – Florence, Italy

DSCF5146

I had a feeling this might be one of the easier photos to guess the location for because if you’ve been to Florence, it’s an unmistakable view. If nothing else the Duomo is one of the most easily recognisable buildings amongst this skyline that I think it’d be impossible to confuse with anywhere else. So it proved with the guesses!

SarahMarionAiva and Ellie all correctly guessed this was Florence – with some very specific guesses naming exactly where in the city this is! It’s safe to say that Salsa World Traveler has yet to visit this wonderful city with a guess of Spain – hope you get there soon!

Again this particular photo probably wouldn’t have been my “favourite” from this trip but I’ve posted many Florence photos on the blog already so I thought I’d go with this ‘happy’ photo instead which I don’t think has ever seen the light of day anywhere other than on Facebook!

Unlike any of the other photo choices, the unique thing about this particular photo is that it theoretically shouldn’t exist! I wasn’t actually supposed to be in Florence at this moment in time, I was supposed to be in Leeds!

I’d booked flights to Italy with the intention of flying home on Friday morning, in anticipation of joining a friend at a gig up in Leeds on Friday evening. As it turns out my flight home wasn’t on the 27th of February (2015), it was on the 27th of April!

“How did that happen!?”

I still have no idea to this day but of course it was a last minute realisation. The night before flying to Italy I wanted to check in for both flights and discovered that I had no flight home on the Friday! With a “fuck it” attitude I figured I’d sort it out once I got to Italy – I’m going regardless, I’ll work out how or when I’m getting home later.

The upside is that my mistake meant I stayed in Italy an extra night and I spent my extra 24 hours in Florence seeing beautiful spots such as this: the Piazzale Michelangelo.

The other reason this trip was a little special is because it was probably my last off the grid trip – ironically to the detriment of this particular moment. The atmosphere here was wonderful with dozens of people sat on the steps waiting to watch the sunset. There was a little stall selling beers and snacks and all I wanted to do was to tell my friend to meet me here so we could enjoy a beer together and watch the sun go down with everyone else.

However sadly where “off the grid” travel had its perks in Paris, this was one of the occasions where you remember it’s not all glamour and has its inconveniences too. The only way of meeting up with my friend whilst in Florence was with a specific pre-arranged “meet here at this time” plan.

We’d already agreed to meet up outside the Duomo that evening and the only way to make a change of plans was to hunt him down in this huge city and try and do it quickly enough to get back here for sunset. Inevitably it didn’t happen and I made my way back down with a heavy heart – jealous of the people I was leaving behind at Florence’s prettiest view!

Nevertheless, every time I see this view it reminds me of the time I got an extra 24 hours in Italy so I can’t say it was all bad!

Day nine – “the quiet before the storm..” – Amsterdam, Netherlands

Moura Day Selfie

I was a little worried that this might have been an easier one so I was pleasantly surprised to see that I’d stumped AivaMarion and Anita with this one! Marie and Leighton however were more successful in guessing this was Amsterdam, with Leighton going one step further and narrowing this down to being Dam Square! Great job!

I’ll be honest, one of the first things I thought after picking this photo was “I clearly need a new jacket..”

Somehow this jacket found its way in to three of the photos on display in this challenge! Needless to say, it’s a well travelled coat! Although admittedly this and the Helsinki photo were at least taken in the same week so perhaps it’s a little more acceptable?

and what a week it was! I’d flown to Helsinki on Saturday, I was determined to prolong my weekend in Finland as long as possible so I flew home on Monday evening.

I didn’t have time to dwell on my disappointment at leaving Finland behind because no sooner than I was home, was I off again! On Tuesday morning I woke up to go to work and on Tuesday evening I made my way down to Victoria to hop on an overnight coach to Amsterdam to get me in to the city early Wednesday morning!

Consequently this photo was probably taken close to 6am which is why one of Amsterdam’s busiest squares looks like a ghost town. Unless you’re up at the crack of dawn, you’re not going to see Dam Square look like this when you visit!

Now you might be wondering why there was such a quick turnaround between trips and why I’d take an overnight coach trip to Amsterdam – what a hassle!

Admittedly it wasn’t planned that way! The Finland trip was planned months in advance, along with a number of other plans in 2019. However Amsterdam hadn’t been one of them!

Yet my beloved Tottenham Hotspur decided it was this year that they’d give the football thing a crack and, against the script, somehow found themselves playing in a Champions League semi final in Amsterdam!

As a hypothetical I’d told myself I wasn’t going to travel for a Champions League semi final. Of course I’d go for the final but Dortmund was my European trip for 2019, I wasn’t going to the quarter finals or semi final. More than one European football trip wasn’t in my budget for the year.

The quarter final was easier to commit to, particularly as the “European” adventure would only have taken me as far as Manchester but that hypothetical semi final became a genuine semi final – our first at this level since 1962!

“I’m not going.. I’m not going.. it’s my mum’s birthday.. I’m not going..”

By the time the foolishness had subsided I’d paid the price for my indecision. It was a Champions League semi final, how I could I not go!? This may NEVER happen again!

Unfortunately by the point the penny dropped, the sensible Spurs fans had already taken advantage and booked up the flights and Eurostar journeys to Amsterdam. Now I wanted to go but costs had skyrocketed which made a cheap Amsterdam trip impossible! I compromised and booked a return overnight coach – cheaper and two less nights accommodation!

This particular photo was essentially the calm before the storm. Those already in Amsterdam were happily sleeping, the rest would be following throughout the day to watch the English completely take over Dam Square for the day.

I still can’t put in to words what followed. I’d go as far as saying this was probably the best night of my life. From 3-0 down Lucas Moura put away a hat-trick to send us to the first Champions League final in our history!

From 3-0 down! In a Champions League semi final! In the 95th minute! Away! In Amsterdam! What the fuck just happened!!!?

I spent the evening bawling my eyes out – tears of joy, tears of disbelief. I hugged hundreds and hundreds of fellow Spurs fans who were equally delirious in Dam Square. A complete contrast to the silence and emptiness of that same morning!

The only thing that could have topped this night would have been winning the final three weeks later in Madrid but this night will live long in the memory. For it to have come barely 48 hours after being in Helsinki made this a truly unforgettable week. Two contrasting experiences but WOW!

Day ten – “Africa, it’s right there!” – Gibraltar

Mosque Rock

I wanted to end this challenge with somewhat of a challenge so this is another I wasn’t sure anyone would get, with the exception of Marion who visited even more recently than I had! Hannah however also correctly guessed that this was the wonderful Gibraltar!

Whilst I do like this photo, I actually blogged about Gibraltar quite recently so many of my favourite photos from the trip were only posted recently and I didn’t want it to be too easy for you. Those of you following me on Instagram or Twitter may also have seen a few other photos so I opted for this one.

I have to say that Gibraltar was somewhere that wasn’t too high on my list to visit really. I live in the fantasy that at some point I’m going to visit every country in the world so I’ve always had the intention of visiting Gibraltar someday but the reality is, Covid pushed Gibraltar towards the top of the list to visit.

It was one of the few countries you could visit last year with minimum fuss. Low covid cases, zero covid deaths (at the time of my visit, sadly no longer the case) and because it’s an overseas British territory I was pretty confident Gibraltar wouldn’t be banning UK citizens from visiting any time soon.

Whilst my visit was largely due to limited options, I can safely say this is somewhere you should be making an effort to visit! Gibraltar is lovely. I touched on it more in my blog post on Gibraltar and Marion went in to even more depth on her trip here but wow! I did not expect to like Gibraltar quite as much as I did.

I don’t know what I was expecting but Gibraltar had the best bits of European and British culture with the added bonus of Spanish weather – what more could you want!? I absolutely loved it, I could easily see myself living in Gibraltar and walking by my company’s Gibraltar office only aided that temptation.

“Could I keep my job but work from here!? Please?”

This particular spot was undoubtedly one of my favourites in Gibraltar. Had 2020 been a normal year I’d hoped to visit Africa for the first time last year, probably starting off with Morocco which has jumped towards the top of my list to visit.

I’ve been to some wonderful places in the world over the last few years but I’m conscious that I still haven’t been anywhere too far outside of my comfort zone. I’m determined to explore Africa, Asia and South America in the coming years but obviously any hopes of getting there in the immediate future have been disrupted by the worldwide pandemic.

So there was an element of awe about ‘Europa Point’ in Gibraltar! I could see Northern Africa! I felt like I could almost reach out and touch it!

“It’s right there! That is Africa!”

It was spellbinding. I found myself a spot to sit and just really take it in. Even in a digital age, Africa has an element of mystery and wonder about it. This is probably as close as I’ll ever get to Africa without setting foot on African soil and it was really, really cool to think about in that way.

I’ll 100% return to Gibraltar but I’m hopeful it’ll be under better circumstances because I’d love to just catch the ferry over to Morocco next time. Africa was right in front of me, Gibraltar and its famous rock behind me and Spain to my right – what a feeling!

Anyway, I think I’d best wrap this up! Thanks for playing along over the past eleven days! I imagine next time on the blog it’ll be back to the “big 3-0” trip but I guess we’ll see!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Ten day photo challenge – Day ten!


Welcome back folks. Some of you will know I started a ten day photo challenge on the 1st of February.

I’m not going to write too much of an introduction but the rules are simple! Over the space of ten days, post ten favourite photos offering no explanation!

As this challenge has been floating around for a little while, I won’t be nominating anybody. However if you want to play along, consider this a nomination from me!

On the 11th I’ll offer the story behind why this is a “favourite photo” for me. Until the big reveal, feel free to guess where in the world we are today. Here’s day ten!

P.S – I’ll be attempting not to use photos I’ve previously posted on the blog to make it a little harder! Haha.

Mosque Rock

Any ideas where this may be?

Also a sincere thank you from me, I mentioned this to some of you already but this little challenge has helped get me back in to some form of blogging groove. It has been great to see some of you so receptive to the challenge and nice to see you’ve played along.

I know at least one of my followers will know this particular one but I’m glad I’ve managed to stump some of you on occasions!

I’ll reveal where this is tomorrow, along with the other 9 photos in the challenge. Stay tuned!

Jason