The big 3-0: Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!

I said in my last post that it would soon become clear why I came to Minneapolis because, let’s be honest, it was the city on this trip that raised most eyebrows.

“You’re going where?”
“What is there to do in Minneapolis?”
“You should go to X instead..”

For those just joining this story, this was day four of a 30 day trip in the USA in the summer of 2018. My friends were getting married in Washington State, had invited me and it just so happened to coincide within days of my 30th birthday.

I was going to this wedding no matter what, which meant in all likelihood I was spending my 30th in the USA and it was my 30th. If I was doing a big birthday abroad, I was going to do it properly, I was going to make it a big one!

The planning for such a big trip is a huge amount of fun. I’m very fortunate to have friends dotted all over the States so pretty much nowhere was off limits when this idea first came to fruition. The only MUST-VISIT states were Washington (obviously) and given it was intended to be my first trip to the West Coast I was also adamant I would be visiting San Francisco. I’ve always loved the idea of visiting Portland too but logistically it just made sense that I’d visit Portland if I was going from Seattle to San Francisco.

So those three cities were on any and every itinerary that popped up. The rest of the trip was completely flexible and I reckon pretty much every state was considered at some point, plus parts of Canada and maybe even Mexico.

Ironically days three and four were the last piece of the jigsaw for this trip. I’d planned everything else but had these last two days spare that left me with a number of options. I’d decided to kick off my trip in Chicago and knew that my next intended destination was New Orleans, how I got from A to B was completely up to me. Flying, taking a Greyhound bus or the Amtrak train system all seemed viable options.

A few days after I’d finally committed to going to Chicago my beloved Tottenham released an announcement. In truth it was one I’d been anticipating but I eventually reached a point where I was of the mindset that Spurs couldn’t dictate this trip. I’d given up waiting on the likelihood that Tottenham would be touring the USA this summer and just decided to go ahead and get things booked and cement my plans properly.

Chicago was booked, likewise New Orleans and the West coast but I left these final two days empty for now. If it was workable maybe I could squeeze Tottenham in to the itinerary and then the announcement came.

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Tottenham playing in the USA, July 2018

I was flying to Chicago on day one on July 28th. Tottenham were playing in San Diego on the 25th of July – no good, Tottenham were playing in Los Angeles on the 28th – no good, however Tottenham were also playing in Minneapolis on the 31st.

Minneapolis? I’d already considered it but not seriously. It was originally just a “near Chicago..” option but now it was a serious option. Do I do it? That’s almost too perfect isn’t it?

The location was convenient, the days were spare and one of my big big frustrations of 2018 was that because of this trip I’d sacrificed a Tottenham away day in Europe.

I say sacrifice loosely of course, I can’t pretend to be hard done by in ‘only’ getting a 30 day trip in America but I’d done a European away trip every year since 2015 and got an itch for them. It definitely hurt seeing my fellow fans flying out to Barcelona this year and it took every bit of professionalism I had to not pull a sickie and fly out to Spain to join them haha.

Whilst not Barcelona, perhaps Tottenham in Minneapolis would substitute that feeling of missing out on a European away day. After contemplating all of the pros and cons I decided I was doing it. That was the itinerary complete, I was off to Minneapolis of all places to appease my need for football 24/7.

So on we go to day four! Those of you following along will know I’d warmed to Minneapolis pretty quickly. There was just something about it that clicked for me, however today was why I was really here.

The evening was obviously about the football itself but the rest of the day I had free to do whatever. Initially my friend Kayla, who I’d encouraged to come to the football with me, was supposed to be in town too but she’d had to leave early the day before. Had Kayla still been in town the day would likely have taken a very different direction but as she wasn’t, I was left to dictate my own plans.

One place we’d both been in agreement to visit was Minneapolis’ sculpture garden and there was good reason to visit today. However first I needed breakfast. I’d enjoyed breakfast at my hotel the morning before so decided to repeat the experience and have pancakes and tea once again.

I passed a couple of fellow Spurs fans on the way to the table with one proceeding to say ‘COYS’ in my direction. It didn’t register at all, I must have heard it to some degree but I didn’t realise it was intended for me, nor really acknowledge what he meant. It was only once I’d sat down that it hit me – COYS..

It was a friendly greeting from “one of my own”, a fellow Spurs fan acknowledging my colours and gearing up for gameday.
Come On You Spurs, COYS! This is one of those acronyms or hashtags that is commonly seen online, I use it myself in fact but I guess this was the first noticeable cultural difference between football fans across borders.

I do understand that many Americans, and indeed overseas supporters, rarely get to see or experience watching their team live and online interaction is perhaps even their only interaction with fellow fans but I’ve NEVER actually heard COYS spoken or chanted out loud.

Let me just add, English football fans are generally pretty snobbish about how you support your team but I have to be honest, I cringed a little bit. I felt a bit bad that I’d completely snubbed the greeting but only because it was so foreign to me in that instance. By the time I’d sat down it felt a little too late to go back and make amends.

I’d love to say ‘COYS’ was a one off moment but it wasn’t, I continued to hear it throughout the day and I just had to try and bite my tongue. It’s harmless really but it just sounds so weird and un-natural and also had me wondering if American Liverpool fans walk around saying YNWA (You’ll Never Walk Alone) to each-other? Can someone please confirm they don’t? Sorry to my friends across the pond but they’re acronyms, please stop!

I was a little tickled by it too of course, it is ultimately a small cultural difference and didn’t detract from the excitement that was building in the city. I finished off my breakfast and swiftly moved on.

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Wandering the streets of Minneapolis

I had a little wander through downtown and was admiring more of the architecture in the city along Minneapolis’ quiet streets. It’s a “big city” unlike many of the other big cities in the USA that I’ve been to and perhaps that was also one of the things that attracted me to it, there’s definitely a charm about Minneapolis.

I continued snapping away photos before eventually arriving at Minneapolis’ sculpture garden. The sculpture garden is something you should make time to visit if you’re in Minneapolis. It’s a nice attraction, it’s free to walk around plus it has some good views of the city in the background.

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Minneapolis’ famous spoon and cherry at the sculpture garden

It was somewhere I would have visited regardless but it just so happened that today, in build up to the main event, that there was a planned photoshoot in the gardens with the King of North London making an appearance.

The photoshoot wasn’t until midday so I’d timed my visit a little badly and perhaps should have done something else before going to the sculpture garden. Whilst it is worth a visit, it’s also quick to look around so I found myself with a bit of time to kill. There’s a nearby museum but for some reason it didn’t seem to be open yet.

I looked for somewhere to sit down with a cup of tea but there didn’t seem to be much in the immediate vicinity, in the end I settled for getting a pot of tea in the museum cafe across the road from the sculpture garden.

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A sign of things to come. Spurs fans congregating with the cockerel

The crowds were slowly beginning to build with Spurs shirts and colours everywhere you looked. In all honesty I always find it a little surreal to see the global appeal in English football, particularly for the likes of Spurs.

I don’t want to get too sidetracked but one of the things I found weirdest when I first moved from London to Peterborough was the lack of pride in supporting a team you had a genuine connection to. My roots were that of a North London boy who supported a team in North London, playing a mile down the road from the hospital I was born in.

I moved to Peterborough and nobody supported, or not visibly at least, the local team. Nobody even supported the less successful bigger football clubs in England. Everybody was an Arsenal, Liverpool or Manchester United fan. I was the outsider supporting a frankly rubbish Tottenham team and continually teased for it during my school years.

Ironically I think Tottenham’s worst football period probably coincides with those school years. I spent 1992-2004 in school and I don’t think you could pick a worse twelve years to have had to endure watching Spurs.

Whilst Spurs fortunes haven’t greatly changed, I don’t half envy the kids who get to go to school and are teased about Spurs losing Champions League finals or finishing 2nd in the Premier League.

Okay, so I did get sidetracked but you need a little context because here I was in Minneapolis, Minnesota on a Tuesday morning surrounded by proud American Tottenham fans – it blows my mind. I was the outcast growing up but my love for Spurs never wavered. Years later Spurs are a fashionable global brand? (ugh, speaking of cringing).. it’s bonkers!

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Spurs fans beginning to take over Minneapolis

Yet this was the reality. I might be a million miles away from home, a million miles away from Tottenham but there were fans EVERYWHERE. The atmosphere was building, the excitement was building and by the time we reached midday there must have been a couple of hundred Spurs fans mingling in Minneapolis’ sculpture garden ready for the big photo.

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The best view of Minneapolis!

The result was pretty cool. I stole the above photo from the Minneapolis supporters club but look! I’m sure my friend over at The Travel Architect (and her husband) will agree that Minneapolis has never looked so beautiful! What better sight than a city full of Tottenham fans with that skyline as the backdrop?

In addition to the photo, one of the big draws was of course the company of the King. Our former player and captain, Ledley King, was also in Minneapolis which gave me a rare opportunity to meet him and I couldn’t resist the chance to grab a photo – just two North London boys on tour in Minneapolis.

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Stood with the king of North London, Ledley King!

Following on from the fun at the sculpture garden the crowds quickly dispersed in various directions which left me pondering what to do for the rest of the day. On the one hand, there was still more of Minneapolis for me to try and enjoy. On the other hand, I knew that the Austin (Texas) supporters club had organised an afternoon-long bar crawl and that had its own temptation.

I knew this was happening before the trip but with Kayla’s company it wasn’t something that was on the agenda. Without it, well, that was another matter. I was torn (lies!) but I opted for the more sociable option – don’t judge me!

The first bar on the itinerary was aptly named the Brits Pub in downtown Minneapolis. By the time I walked in it was already pretty busy with limited seating options. I was a little surprised that it wasn’t just Spurs fans, it was a good mix between ‘us’ and the rest of the locals just enjoying a spot of lunch.

I found myself sat at the bar next to some guy who’d flown in from Ohio. That was the interesting thing about this whole day. It’s perhaps not the easiest, nor cheapest, to fly out to London for a game so many had flown in from all over the US for a rare opportunity to see Tottenham in the flesh. I had a good chat with my new friend before we were accompanied by a woman, closer to my age, who’d flown up from California!

We talked all things football before me and my new friend from Ohio wandered over to bar number two, our Californian seemed content where she was for the timebeing so we said our goodbyes.

I couldn’t tell you what bar number two was, it wasn’t particularly easy getting served quickly, nor was it a bar that was particularly memorable so wasn’t somewhere I’d intended returning to. By the time we’d successfully ordered a beer, some were already moving on to bar number three so we were lagging behind a little.

My new friend however introduced me to some of his friends who’d also flown in from Ohio, seemingly a decent scattering of them having made the effort and all friendly to mingle with.

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A return to Finnegan’s in Minneapolis!

We soon moved on to our third bar of the afternoon – Finnegan’s! I’d visited, and loved, Finnegan’s the previous evening so I was quite happy to see this as one of the stops on the pub crawl. It’s a decent size for a gathering of Spurs fans and had some decent beer on tap. There was probably a better atmosphere here too as it was pretty much only Spurs fans.

After a couple of beers the Ohio’s (? I don’t know what they call themselves!) moved on to the next and final bar. I’d actually heard it was pretty small and given it was closer to the stadium I also anticipated it would be busier so I neglected to join them and decided to stay put.

We said our goodbyes and I pondered whether I should have joined them. It was risky to abandon friends whilst I had them but it was perhaps testament to the feeling and atmosphere of the day that it wasn’t a decision I would come to regret.

I sat down at the end of this wooden bench with my beer and was instantly welcomed by the rest of the group sat on the table – a bunch of youngsters mostly made up from Minnesota. They were drinking beer and playing Uno and were happy to invite me to join them.

We mingled and got to know eachother better and it was clear they were all heading to the game too, all but one anyway. One of the guys piped up and asked if Trevor had managed to obtain a ticket yet – “No..”

Well, what are the odds of that? As I explained earlier, my intention was for Kayla to join me but her early depature left me with a spare ticket. I hadn’t even bothered trying to sell it on because the game had yet to sell out so I figured finding takers was going to be a struggle, I’d accepted it would go to waste.. until now!

I quickly piped up that I had a spare and he was welcome to it if he wanted it. He enquired how much and from my perspective it was already money I’d accepted I wasn’t getting back so I suggested a price that everyone would be happy with – “buy me a beer and it’s yours!”

The reaction was a little overwhelming and unexpected. What had seemed a nothing gesture on my part, was the greatest kindness imaginable in these parts. I’d already accepted that I was out of pocket so from my own point of view I was now a beer better off than anticipated.

However from their point of view I’d helped them achieve their intention of a day out watching Spurs and I was instantly awarded somewhat of a “legendary” status and the praise came flooding in my direction.

Additionally our agreed “price” was seemingly lost in translation. “One beer” in English seemingly translates to “ALL OF THE BEER” in Minnesotan English. I don’t think my glass ever reached empty levels before Trevor was running up to the bar to buy me another despite my attempts and insistence that I buy a round.

“No Jason, you gave me the ticket 25 beers ago.. I’m still in your debt!”
“But..”
“Shh, here’s another. Let me know when you want the next one..”

Eventually we moved our fun outside where we swapped Uno for a couple of rounds of a game called ‘Cornhole’. I don’t know that it’s all that common in the UK but I’ve seen it a few times out in the US. Essentially you throw something similar to a small bean bag through a wooden plank and compete with your opponent.

I don’t know what score we were playing to, nor who was keeping track, but we seemingly ended with my winning throw and congratulations all around. I’m not sure how legitimate the victory actually was but my presence was again worshiped and after a few too many beers I was more than happy to go along with it!

It was soon time to head over to the stadium. The game was being hosted at the home of the Minnesota Vikings, the U.S Bank stadium, which is pretty close to downtown Minneapolis. It’s a quick and easy walk and it wasn’t long between us leaving Finnegans and arriving at the stadium.

Sadly it was here that the group had to split, Trevor was of course sat with me but the rest of the group had tickets elsewhere so we temporarily said our goodbyes and made our way to our seats.

US Bank Stadium
The US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis. Home of the Minnesota Vikings

Before the game, as with any American event, we stood for the national anthem. It’s always something that catches me off guard but perhaps moreso here given we were about to watch English club, Tottenham Hotspur, play the Italians AC Milan. Bizarre.

I remember little after the national anthem to be honest. Not because I was drunk (stop jumping to conclusions!) but just because we were both content in the company. From my perspective I watch Spurs all of the time anyway and a non-competitive fixture in the US had minimal appeal for me but Trevor was also only half-watching and we spent most of the game doing nothing more than chatting about football, travel and politics with yet another beer.

I do vaguely remember looking up at just the right time to catch the only goal of the game which ironically made this the second country I’ve seen Tottenham beat AC Milan in (the other bizarrely being Germany!) but the game was little more than a setting or circumstance for making new friends. I’d had a great day.

On the way out of the stadium we bumped in to the rest of the group and decided to take the evening to one final bar. I couldn’t tell you where we went as I was just following everyone else but it was this nice little, partially underground, bar somewhere downtown which had ping pong tables and a couple of other games to keep you entertained.

I was flying out of Minneapolis the next morning so didn’t have the intention of staying out too late. Fortunately that seemed to be the overall attitude amongst the rest of the group anyway with work, travel and whatever else the next day so it didn’t prove to be a particularly late night. After a few of the guys moved on I did the same, kindly thanked everyone for a wonderful night and strolled back through downtown Minneapolis.

Minneapolis City Hall
City Hall in Minneapolis

Incidentally it’s just as nice to wander through in the evening. I passed the beautiful City Hall building and grabbed a quick photo but I passed by little else. There’s a peacefulness and comfort to downtown Minneapolis that really makes it a charming city, in my eyes at least.

It might have just been the beer-goggles after a few too many beers, or may have been the continous warmth I felt from the people but I walked along smitten with the place, Minnesota had oddly captured a small piece of my heart.

I woke up the following morning and I have to say I was sad to be leaving so soon, perhaps moreso than I’d been to leave Chicago. My taxi driver didn’t help matters. On the way to the airport he was overly friendly and chatty and just added to my desire to completely overhaul my plans and stay in Minneapolis a little longer.

On reflection I really want to tell you why you have to visit Minneapolis and honestly I’m struggling. I look back to the trip or the destination as a whole, I look at what usually draws me to a city and which boxes Minneapolis ticks and the overwhelming feeling is that it comes up short and yet..

I loved it. I don’t know why. I can’t give you a logical explanation but there’s just something about Minneapolis, maybe it’s something in the water (or the beer haha!) but I just clicked with Minneapolis and I wouldn’t hesitate to return. That might not be enough for me to encourage you to visit but for all of the talk about Southern hospitality, Minnesota felt as friendly as anywhere I’ve been in the US.

Sadly, it was time to go. Up next? New Orleans!

Stay tuned!

Jason

P.S – if you want to catch up on previous posts of the trip, see below!

Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis

Lille – June 2018

As my last couple of blog posts indicated, my wanderlust was hitting me hard in 2018. I’d planned a huge summer trip spanning 30 days, six states, several cities but a big trip like that leaves you little wiggle room for the rest of the year.

After visiting Washington in February I had no other option to go gallivanting across the globe, I was very much restricted to weekend travel which is why I jumped at the opportunity to visit Manchester and Lincoln. I needed a travel ‘fix’ to get me by until the summer.

The most recent of those trips was Lincoln at the start of May. I came back from Lincoln and the big birthday trip at the end of July still felt so far away, call me spoilt, right? I felt like I had to squeeze in one last adventure before flying out to the USA for a month.

Unfortunately my conflicting issue was that as much as I was itching for adventure, that 30 day trip had its own drawbacks. I was trying to save money and the sensible option was to stay put. Yes, it’s a ‘long time’ to wait to go on holiday but saving my pennies had its own merits, I’d reap the benefits in the summer.

It was no good, I figured I had to compromise. I ‘needed’ a mini-getaway but I was determined to restrict myself to a daytrip. I couldn’t book accommodation so wherever I went in the UK would have to be doable in a daytrip.

I planned out various possibilities, weighing up the suitability of each destination as a day trip. How costly would it be? How flexible were the travel times? I don’t drive so was restricted to public transport, which isn’t only expensive in the UK but doesn’t always run as late as you hope it would do.

I wasn’t having too much success in finding somewhere that tempted me enough to visit. The most tempting places seemed to cost a fortune to get to on public transport and the cheaper options weren’t appealing enough for me to visit or were places I frequented often enough to not give me any real sense of adventure.

Something I did ponder was a trip on the Eurostar. They’d been peppering me with continuous adverts by email – “Hey Jason, we have a sale on right NOW..”

Would that work? Could I pop over to the continent for a day? They’re not ideal to visit in a day but I’d been itching to return to Paris or visit somewhere new in Belgium like Antwerp. Of course, one of the struggles with weekend travel on the Eurostar is its appealing to many other people too. Even if you can find one leg of the journey at the sale price, you can’t always tie it in with the other half of the journey..

Travel to Paris for only £0.04, return same day for £609.86..

I’m exaggerating obviously because it’s not that bad but it just wasn’t possible to find a cheap daytrip to places like Paris and alternatively it just felt a bit too far to go to somewhere like Amsterdam in a day. I was just about ready to give up when I thought I’d have a quick look at prices for Lille and voila!

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London to Brussels, via Lille

I managed to find an early Saturday train from London to Lille and a late return train, both priced at £28. Additionally I had a £5 voucher to use which reduced my overall fare price to £53 which I thought was decent going. Some of the places / trains I’d been looking at within the UK were equally expensive, if not more so and I much preferred an excuse to flee the country for a day.

Soon enough it was June 30th and I was on my way, hoping for no delays to the Eurostar as I already had a limited amount of time to explore Lille.

Other than being somewhere in France, I can’t say I knew much about Lille prior to booking tickets but my minimal research indicated that Lille was perhaps a little more of a Flemish/Belgian city than French. My only other real experience of France had been in visiting Paris so I was intrigued to see a very different type of French city.

That Paris trip in 2016 had been in a very different climate. I found a scattering of snow and endless fog which meant I couldn’t even see half of the landmarks I’d been excited to see. I was perhaps the only person in history to have been to Paris and not to have seen the top of the Eiffel Tower, I’ve since been back and seen it in all of its glory but it’s a little underwhelming when you realise the top is hidden somewhere in the fog.

In contrast, I stepped out of Lille’s train station and the weather was beautiful. It was a perfectly sunny day to be exploring a new city. I strolled towards Lille’s city centre and kept my eyes peeled for anything eye-catching, I had nothing planned so was just winging it a little bit.

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Gorgeous church in sunny Lille

It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon this stunning church. It was beautiful and no less impressive on the inside either. The bonus of the weather also meant I had it largely to myself and it was surprisingly empty for a Saturday. The French and locals seemed to be making the most of the sunshine!

Having had a decent look around I moved on, passing an infinite number of shops along pedestrianised streets which were proving popular for Lille’s locals. I darted up, down and across various little streets before eventually reaching one of Lille’s main squares. The square was made up of a number of impressive buildings and pieces of architecture plus a host of outside tables with seating from the many nearby restaurants and cafes in the square.

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Cafe culture looking good in Lille!

Suddenly it felt a little more French. The cold weather meant I hadn’t fully experienced the French café culture in Paris that I’d imaged in my head, however it was in abundance here in Lille. Perfect for people-watching and watching the world go by, I wanted nothing more than to sit and join them. However I knew time here was limited and I wanted to see more of the city.

As I continued exploring I soon stumbled upon one of Lille’s other cathedrals. I’d seen a photo of this on Instagram, in which the Instagrammer in question called it a particularly ugly building and I disagreed. I thought its uniqueness actually looked quite nice.

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Hideous cathedral in Lille

Seeing it in the flesh however completely changed my mind – it was hideous and I couldn’t help but laugh. Maybe all those editing tools such as photoshop do a great job of making it prettier on the eye when you see it online but I was unimpressed.

Although inside was absolutely stunning and I’d certainly recommend visiting. Its beauty was breathtaking and I couldn’t stop myself taking plenty of photos. It was a good reminder that you shouldn’t judge a book (or cathedral) by its cover. I’m glad I hadn’t let its ugly exterior put me off going in.

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Beautiful interior!

Coming back out of the cathedral I strolled down a few nearby streets hoping to find a spot to grab some lunch. As some of you will know from posts such as Weetabix Boy, I was quite a fussy eater as a child. So I’ve tried to be a little more adventurous the last few years and was keen to try a local Lille delicacy – the Potjevleesch – which I’d read about online.

I found a nice little restaurant that had it on the menu and figured I’d put it to the test. It was enjoyable enough without me needing to pretend it’s my favourite dish. I am glad I tried it and I’d have it again if I returned to Lille but I’m not sure it’ll ever be catching on elsewhere. However accompanied with a beer it was a nice lunch.

Whilst enjoying my lunch it hadn’t gone unnoticed that there was now a bit of a buzz and excitement in the air. The streets were suddenly noisier, French flags kept passing me as I looked through the window and cars were honking as they drove by. Something was happening!

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The beautiful streets of Lille

That something was football! I’m very much a “club football over international football” type of fan – that’s a whole other story but consequently it meant that when I was booking my tickets to Lille in May that it hadn’t really crossed my mind that a June trip would overlap with the football World Cup in 2018.

As the beginning of the World Cup approached it dawned on me and I had to take a look at the schedule, it just so happened that dependent on France’s progression in the tournament that there just might be a scenario where they’d be playing on the afternoon I was in Lille. “Could you imagine..?”

By the time the trip came around I knew that France would be playing Argentina (in Russia) whilst I was in the city and that I’d have the unique opportunity of experiencing the French supporting the French.

Now I’ll be honest here, I’ve never really credited French football with that same prestige or glamour as its European counterparts. It just doesn’t have that same history and I’ve often been quick to dismiss it as a serious footballing nation.

My point being that watching football in France has never had a huge appeal for me – I’d sooner go to Germany, Spain, Italy or even the likes of Turkey or Serbia where you might run in to more unwelcoming scenes but you at least appreciate they are football crazy in those countries!

To offer some merit to my beliefs, France’s most successful football team are Paris St Germain, who were only founded in 1970! They’re younger than my parents and yet they’re France’s most successful football club! It severely lacks the history that football has throughout the rest of the continent. English football had been played for more than 100 years at this point so as I said, I’ve always been quick to dismiss France as a “proper” footballing country.

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The French love their football!

This trip went some way to making me stand up and take notice. After leaving the restaurant I’d had lunch at I strolled down the street and found this cosy little bar decked out in flags in preparation of the game. There was a sea of red, white and blue filling the place up and I could feel the atmosphere building.

I’d been in two minds about watching the game, because I wasn’t in the city for long, but the fans were already singing and the atmosphere drew me in. Better yet, Lille’s Flemish influences means that the city is home to some great beer so I ordered a delicious sounding beer at the bar and found myself a spot to stand and watch the game and enjoy the atmosphere.

It was a small bar so was already standing room only but as the minutes passed and we got closer to kickoff the crowd of people soon spilled over in to the streets trying to peek any glimpse of the TV. The songs kept coming and soon enough the players were walking out on to the pitch.

Shortly after La Marseillaise (France’s national anthem) was belting out of the TV and the rest of the room joined in unison. I’m sure I’ve heard the French national anthem countless times before on TV but hearing passionate French locals singing at the top of their lungs was a special moment to witness and one that will stick with me for some time. Have a listen below!

The game kicked off and the noise settled a little bit, although some of the inhabitants regularly attempted to get some songs going. “Messi, Ciao, Messi, Ciao, Messi, Ciao, Ciao, Ciao..” was ringing in my head all afternoon with the locals offering an optimistic outlook that Lionel Messi and his colleagues would soon be heading home following defeat.

There was a huge part of me that wanted nothing more than to stay there all afternoon. A bit like my desire to do the same earlier this morning, there’s something about French culture that is slow. You’ve just got to sit back and enjoy the experience and what was the rush to leave this blissful little bar?

However my view of the game was actually quite minimal, trying to squeeze a glimpse between multiple backs of heads of French people wasn’t easy and I felt a little guilty that there were probably locals behind me having their view blocked by someone (me!) with no real passion for either team.

Similarly I knew my time in Lille was pretty limited and what better time to go and explore, safe in the knowledge that the majority of locals were preoccupied with the football.

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Exploring Lille whilst it’s quiet!

The streets were certainly a bit quieter, up until I passed any bar anyway. Every one seemed to have hordes of people trying to get a glimpse of the action. I continued to stroll through the streets, not looking for anything in particular but happily wandering. Every now and then I’d hear a huge roar and a loud groan and pondered what was happening throughout the game.

As I continued to wander my eyes drifted towards this little passageway that had caught my eye and led me in to this beautiful little plaza-like place that was currently home to a book market. It was such a pretty setting and had a handful of people browsing the collection.

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Beautiful place to browse for books in Lille!

With time going by far too quickly, I walked through another passage which led me back to one of Lille’s main squares and I wanted to take some souvenirs home with me – a handful of postcards and I was also tempted to take a couple of local beers home with me to try (proved to be delicious!).

Having bought a few bits, I made my way over to some little park which was rather peaceful. There wasn’t really anyone around and it was a nice shaded spot to escape the sun bearing down on me. It was far away from the noise of some of the bars and showed me a small glimpse in to a different side of the city.

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Peace and quiet in the parks of Lille

Unfortunately my afternoon was disappearing far quicker than I would have liked and I had to keep one eye on the clock to ensure I made my train home.

In all honesty I wasn’t ready to leave. I’ve never had a huge fascination with France but my winter trip to Paris in 2016 had won me over a little bit. However despite the Flemish/Belgian influence, Lille felt like a France I’d always heard a fuss about but yet to actually experience. In the glorious summer sunshine this felt like the “real France” and one I’ve quickly begun to appreciate.

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Lille quickly won me over. Easy to see why!

Perhaps the bonus of a football-fanatic city and good beer helped sway me but even prior to that Lille was pretty on the eye and had left an impression on me.

I slowly started drifting back towards the train station, keen to find a good dinner spot en route and it quickly became apparent who had won the football. I needn’t have seen the game to know France had won. The French were celebrating deliriously in the street and you could hear cars honking in the streets for miles. France had clearly been successful.

Bitterly it turned out to actually be probably the most exciting game of the entire tournament. France had beaten Argentina 4-3 and I’d, unforgivably, decided to give it a miss – in France of all places!

I grabbed a quick meal before saying my goodbyes with a heavy heart. It was perhaps fitting that I was leaving a happy and celebratory city behind, I’d really enjoyed Lille after all, but I also felt a little bittersweet. I didn’t want to be saying goodbye, I wanted to be staying one night at the very least.

After visiting the city myself I then read about a fellow blogger, Dylan at Shoot From The Trip, who visited Lille for a little longer and it just added to my regret that I hadn’t stayed for longer.

It was a wonderful place to visit for a daytrip and if you get the opportunity to visit I’d fully recommend it – just visit for longer if you can! It’s somewhere I’ll definitely return to.

Anyway, that wraps this one up! What’s coming up on the blog? Lots of USA content including that incredible 30 day trip! Stay tuned!

Jason

Manchester – March 2018

Despite being an Englishman with 30 odd years living in the country, England is a destination that hasn’t frequented the blog too often. I wrote about the likes of London, YorkCanterbury and even Peterborough in my early blogging days but they’re generally posts I don’t look back on and enjoy reading.

I’m not suggesting they’re badly written or they’re even particularly bad posts but I look back at them and I couldn’t tell you who wrote them. Everyone has their own blogging style and I won’t knock anyone else but I quickly learned that the “5 reasons to visit Canterbury” style just wasn’t for me. It might be what people want to read but it wasn’t what I wanted to write. I had no motivation to write those sort of posts and if I’m not enjoying it, why bother, right?

So I might go back and do those cities justice at another time (I did with London) but this will be my usual ramble-y type nonsense that I don’t really know why you lot keep coming back to read.

For my American readers, not so familiar with Manchester, it holds a reputation somewhat similar to Seattle. It is supposedly the one city in England where you can always expect rain. So why would anyone visit?

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Photoshopped or actual blue skies in Manchester?

Well, like Seattle it’s also quite a fun city. Manchester is nowhere near as pretty on the eye as Seattle. It’s very much an industrial-looking city and has a history that backs that up but it stakes a claim as “England’s second city” and is probably the unofficial capital of the North.

Surprisingly Manchester wasn’t a city I’d actually spent much time in. I’d twice visited the city to watch my beloved Spurs – once at the Etihad and once at Old Trafford – two of the bigger football stadiums in the country.

I’d also briefly visited on another occasion as I was joining some Northern-based friends on holiday and we’d decided to fly from up North. However the reality is I’d not really seen anything of Manchester outside of a couple of pubs or a couple of football stadiums.

With a big summer trip planned I knew opportunities to travel in 2018 were going to be limited. So when my friend (and gig buddy), Lucy, suggested possibly going to see a band on their tour it made sense to look at what the best dates were. A weekend date seemed most suitable and as I scoured the options a Saturday night in Manchester stood out. It was near enough for Lucy in Sheffield to travel to and was a good opportunity for me to squeeze in some UK travel and spend some time in a city I wasn’t too familiar with.

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So one Saturday in March I left a snowy Peterborough behind me and headed up North towards Manchester. Given the rubbish weather I wasn’t too hopeful it would be a smooth journey. It usually doesn’t take much more than a puddle on the tracks for the rail system to catastrophically break down, such is the unpredictability of UK train travel, but to my surprise I arrived in to Manchester in good time around lunchtime.

Lucy wasn’t joining me until later on in the day so I figured I’d try and get my bearings with the city. It’s a city I don’t know well at all so I left Manchester Piccadilly station with no real direction in mind. I had a bit of time to kill and if all else failed I’d revert to Google Maps so I just wandered on foot and figured I’d see where I ended up.

I wanted to head in the vague direction of my hotel but despite following signs in the city towards Deangate that didn’t seem to go particularly well. I ventured through the Northern Quarter of the city which has a number of bars, shops and other independent businesses. I vaguely recognised a Wetherspoons from a previous visit to the city but it was pretty busy (due to some game being on tv) so I decided to keep going in my search for lunch.

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Manchester town hall

 

In an effort to get back on track towards my hotel, I stumbled upon Manchester’s rather impressive town hall. It’s certainly one of the standout pieces of architecture, I grabbed a few photos and then settled on a nearby pub to fill my stomach and get something to eat.

Feeling less hungry I made the relatively short walk towards my hotel (a Premier Inn). Having checked in I didn’t really see much point to doing too much else before Lucy’s arrival in the city. I chilled out for a bit and then wandered back towards Piccadilly station, now having got my bearings a little, and waited for Lucy’s train to arrive from Sheffield.

We had a quick catch up and then caught a taxi out to the venue for our gig. I was a bit surprised how ‘out of town’ the venue actually was, I figure it would have been fairly centrally located but it wasn’t really walkable – certainly if we wanted to catch the first band of the night.

Despite the rubbish location, it was quite a nice venue (Manchester Academy). It was a decent sized venue, I’m not sure if it was a sell out but it didn’t feel overcrowded either. It was pretty quick getting a beer at the bar and we also had a decent view of the bands for the evening (The Dangerous Summer being the main band we’d come to see).

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Manchester Academy, March 2018

After a fun evening of live music we caught a taxi back to central Manchester, Lucy caught her train back to Sheffield and I ventured in the direction of my hotel. I was tempted to go and enjoy some of Manchester’s (famous) nightlife but wasn’t particularly sure where was best to go. There was definitely a bit of a buzz in the city, given it was a Saturday night, but nowhere that drew me in to have a couple of beers. I figured a night out in Manchester could wait until another occasion and instead took the sensible option, hoping to make the most of my Sunday in the city instead.

I woke up pretty early Sunday and after checking out of my hotel decided I’d just wander initially. Oddly, the first experience of the day was partially-witnessing a mugging. I say partially because by the time I’d realised what had happened I was too late to stop it.

Some young woman was half running / half screaming at some cyclist who whizzed by me at speed. I could see she was upset so crossed the street to check if she was okay, it turned out he’d snatched her mobile phone out of her hand and rode off in to the distance. So I kicked off my Sunday morning on the phone with Manchester’s police and reporting a theft. Not the best start to the day!

By the time we’d finished with the police her boyfriend had randomly turned up (I’m assuming he must have attempted chasing after the thief but I hadn’t seen him earlier?) so I felt a little happier leaving the shook up local with a familiar face and we went our seperate ways.

I soon stumbled upon a Sunday market of some sorts. It wasn’t particularly big but locals were browsing through the few stalls on display and I had a little look of my own for anything that might catch my eye. Content I wasn’t going to buy anything I wandered towards the Northern quarter which is home to some beautiful buildings.

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Manchester is home to some gorgeous architecture
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More beautiful architecture in the city

Nearby is also Manchester’s famous shopping ‘mall’, the Arndale, which provided the perfect location for an early lunch! Long time readers will know I’m a frequent visitor of Hard Rock Cafe’s around the world and having been to both the London (only one at the time) and Edinburgh HRC’s I was keen to complete the UK set by visiting Manchester’s too. Although they’ve annoyingly since opened a second HRC in London so I’ll have to give that one a visit at some point too.

Surprisingly, Manchester’s HRC is one of my favourites. At the very least it’s the best of the three I’ve been to in the UK. The service was to its usual good standard and the memorabilia fun to look at as always.

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Manchester’s Hard Rock Cafe

Having ticked off another HRC and appeased my hunger I visited a museum just around the corner. Manchester, surprisingly not London, is home to the National Football Museum and was a must for me.

I was going to say it’s free to visit (if you wish), however don’t quote me on that! Firstly let me tell you why I was convinced admission was free! At the time of my visit that actually was the case, free admission for all visitors! However they encouraged visitors to pay a voluntary fee which would entitle you to a couple of souvenir experiences – see below.

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I’ve got my hands on the Premier League and FA Cup!

Personally I decided these little extras were worthwhile to contribute towards the running of the museum but it also left a somewhat bitter taste for me given this was the national museum of the national sport – a multi billion pound industry in England. I felt it was a travesty that organisations such as the Football Association have turned a blind eye and left this museum to essentially self-fund itself. It’s a wonderful museum if you’re a football fan and something that organisations such as the above should be contributing towards.

However without such funding, it turns out, later in the year the museum introduced admission charges for anyone that wasn’t a Manchester resident. So I apologise, this is no longer a free museum. Despite the billions in English football, if you want any insight in to the history of football in this country you’ll have to dip in to your wallet (unless you’re a Manchester resident).

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“Football was created here” – P.S – but we’re not supporting museums like this!

Back to my story, having made the conscious decision to contribute a fee I did still feel it was good value for my visit. There’s some great memorabilia in the museum and it’s definitely worth taking any football fanatic along to – of any age as plenty of it is interactive too.

Content I’d got my football fix for the day I went and checked out the nearby Manchester cathedral – this actually is free to visit (donations welcome obviously). It’s nowhere near the biggest cathedral I’ve visited but still has a pretty exterior and the inside was impressive too. It was definitely worth visiting.

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Inside Manchester Cathedral

My next stop was a somewhat unusual one. I wouldn’t ordinarily go out of my way to visit a specific pub but with the promise of a free beer I couldn’t help but tempt myself! I don’t know what the reason was but Scottish brewers ‘Brewdog’ had promised to give away 1 million pints of beer over the next few weeks and I knew that there happened to be a Brewdog in Manchester. Knowing I probably wouldn’t get another opportunity before the campaign ended I went and hunted down Manchester’s Brewdog bar for a quick and refreshing pint of their Punk IPA.

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Brewdog, Manchester

I did only have the one though! Having replenished I went back and explored Manchester for a few more hours. It’s a city that reminds me of Hamburg in some ways and for some it’s probably a comparison you’ve heard before. Neither are the prettiest on the eye, Hamburg probably moreso, but both undoubtedly have their charm and share a similar culture too. I could see why this city staked a claim to being England’s “second city”.

Before catching the train home I popped in to a pub and grabbed myself some dinner. They claimed to have award-winning pies so I couldn’t resist grabbing some pie and mash whilst catching a bit of the Manchester City game being televised.

Sadly my time in Manchester quickly came to an end. It’s definitely a city I think I could have seen more of but the 24 hours or so I had in the city definitely endeared itself to me. It’s a city I’ll hopefully return to soon and enjoy a bit of the nightlife next time too.

However with work the next day I couldn’t stick around and called an end to my staycation up North. Next up on the blog? Another quick visit to an English city: this time Lincoln!

Stay tuned!

Jason

 

 

Düsseldorf – November 2017

Welcome back dear readers! Last time out on the blog I kicked off the first part of a four day trip to Germany. My beloved Spurs were playing out in West Germany AGAIN, specifically in Dortmund which I had no desire to stay in.

The obvious alternatives in the region would have been to stay in Köln or Düsseldorf. I’d been to Cologne in 2013 and twice in 2016 so wasn’t interested in a fourth visit quite so soon. By contrast I’d yet to visit Düsseldorf but for some reason I just didn’t really fancy it. I think I just wanted to get away from the region.

So I decided to go to Bremen. It was cheap to visit (one of my flights was £4.99!), a new city and a little bit away from that pocket of West Germany I’d frequented so many times now. Saturday to Wednesday – booked – perfect!

The game in Dortmund was on the Tuesday but it left me with Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Wednesday to explore and enjoy Bremen! However after booking my flights I discovered there were no Tuesday night trains from Dortmund to Bremen, potentially leaving me stranded in Dortmund on Tuesday evening.

It scuppered my plans a little so I compromised and cut my time in Bremen in half. I’d fly in to Bremen, spend two nights in the city, spend two nights in Düsseldorf (with a trip to Dortmund) and then travel back to Bremen to fly home on Wednesday night.

You heard how the first half of the trip went here so here’s how I got on in the second half of the trip!

I’d had a bit of a lazy (Monday) morning in Bremen but soon enough was at the Hauptbahnhof to catch the train to Düsseldorf which if I remember correctly took about 3 hours or so, a bit of a journey so I just admired the views on route.

I got in to Düsseldorf at about 3-3:30pm and my first task was to find my hotel which I’d conveniently made sure was close to the train station. I exited the train station and did my best to locate it. It took a little longer than it probably should have done but with the help of Google Maps I found it and walked back IN to the train station. My hotel was IN the train station!

It’s certainly a first for me but I hurdled the various commuters and waiting passengers and slipped in to this door that took me in to the Ibis Hauptbahnhof hotel. I’d booked it for its location assuming it was close to the train station but hadn’t anticipated it being THIS close. Certainly convenient though!

After checking in and dropping off my things I arranged to meet up with my friend Daniel who was also in town for the football. It was about 4-4:30 by this point so we wandered over to the Altstadt area of the city in the hope of finding somewhere to grab a drink and some food at some point.

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First night in Dusseldorf

Unlike many other ‘old towns’ around Europe, Düsseldorf’s seemed to be little more than restaurants and bars. Admittedly we were looking for nightlife so it was ideal for us but it seemed to lack that old town, cultural feel that many other European cities have within their old part of the city.

Nevertheless it was beginning to pour with rain so we jumped in to one of the first bars we came across and ordered ourselves one of the staples of the region – Altbier! For those unfamiliar with altbier (old beer) I’ll leave Wikipedia to explain it far better than I possibly can but simply put, the biggest difference seems to be in how it is fermented (top-fermented rather than bottom).

It doesn’t seem to be particularly popular outside of West Germany but “when in Rome Düsseldorf..” we had to try it. It was good. I can’t really say the rest of the world is missing out on anything spectacular but it was a nice little novelty. Altbier seemed to be this bar’s speciality so we moved on to elsewhere after one pint and got back to the modern beer I guess?

After a couple more beers Daniel wisely suggested going to get some food and offered “Schweine Jane’s” as an option as he was keen to try their pork knuckle which are supposedly some of the best around. It’s quite a small place but has a few tables inside or a takeaway option which we opted for. Daniel enjoyed the pork knuckles and suggested they lived up to the place’s reputation, I played a little safe and went for some Currywurst with chips which was equally enjoyable.

Stomachs fuller, we decided to seek out another bar to end our evening with a couple of beers. The Old Town is lined with what arguably felt a bit like a “strip” of bars, it’d make a cracking place for a bar crawl but for whatever reason on this particular evening Düsseldorf was dead. The wet weather probably didn’t help but the city felt a little lifeless. I would love to go back to Düsseldorf and see the contrast in the summer. I imagine it is a great place for nightlife on warmer nights.

However without such luxuries we settled on getting a beer at this small bar which had a scattering of Spurs fans creating a little atmosphere. It dwindled and died down quite quickly so we called it a night. I’m convinced Düsseldorf would be a great night out but unfortunately we saw little sign of it. We called it a night and went our seperate ways in search of our hotels – simple for me – follow the signs to the train station!

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Miserable Dusseldorf

I’d so far only really experienced Düsseldorf after dark (being Winter, even 4pm onwards was dark) so I was keen to make the most of my Tuesday morning and explore. The football wasn’t until Tuesday evening so we didn’t have to make a move towards Dortmund particularly early in the day. We gave ourselves the morning to explore a gloomy and miserable city and arranged to meet up early afternoon.

My first stop was a small market in the Altstadt, I’d assume it’s busier at a weekend opposed to a wet Tuesday morning in the winter but it was pretty lifeless. Given I was already in the Altstadt I wandered down towards the Rhein river which has a nice little promenade but wasn’t the best day weather-wise to really enjoy it.

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Back of the Christmas markets

It’s here you’ll find the Christmas markets, unfortunately I was here in mid-November so they were in the process of setting them up but I was a week too early to actually enjoy them. Pretty to look at but not open for business. A bit of a shame.

From the river you can see the Rheinturm (Rhein tower) which is possibly “the landmark” of Düsseldorf. I debated going up it but it was a foggy and grey day so didn’t seem worthwhile – I wouldn’t have seen anything up there.

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Rheinturm hiding in the fog

I strolled through the Altstadt, parts of it are certainly pretty but as I said, it’s largely full of bars, restaurants and a few shops so nothing particularly noteworthy seeing. By the time I’d stumbled upon some of the museums in the city it was nearing lunchtime so didn’t really seem worthwhile going in to as I was a little short on time. I found a couple of religious buildings to walk around before grabbing some lunch.

Following on from lunch I met up with Daniel at the train station and we got on the next train to Dortmund. I’ve spoken of my fondness of German football many times and here’s an example of where they’re getting things right. If you’re a match ticket holder you get free public transport in the region on the day of the game so we didn’t have to worry about paying to get to Dortmund (we would have from either Bremen or Cologne).

March 2016’s trip to Dortmund had seen our fans take over the Altmarkt square in Dortmund with thousands of our fans basking in the sunshine with plenty of beers. This time around the square was home to Dortmund’s Christmas markets (not open yet) so there was much less space for our fans to congregate – additionally it was a miserable Winter’s day so our fans were largely spread across several different bars in the city so the atmosphere wasn’t quite the same compared to our last trip to Dortmund.

However in contrast, we were dreadful on the pitch last time we were here. Borussia Dortmund taught us a footballing lesson as they strolled to a 3-0 win and their fans completely drowned ours out. Our fans stuck with the team but we just couldn’t get any atmosphere going as Dortmund’s 81,000 capacity crowd were too noisy. Result aside, this was the Dortmund bucketlist moment ticked off – experiencing Dortmund’s famous atmosphere in the flesh!

Fast forward to November 2017 and Spurs had improved a lot on the pitch – I spoke about our impressive performance in Madrid here but Spurs maturity in Germany perhaps really came to fruition here. Dortmund took an early lead and you perhaps fear a repeat performance in that moment but the players stood up!

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Borussia Dortmund v Tottenham Hotspur, Nov 2017

The second half was just a joy to watch from us, not just in the result itself but the manner of it. It was such an assured and controlled performance in one of Europe’s most intimidating stadiums. We equalised and soon enough went 2-1 up to send our fans delirious.

The atmosphere had been a little tame in the city throughout the day but our fans were excellent inside the stadium and silenced the famous “Yellow Wall” of Dortmund. I’ve spoken so many times of my love for European football and feeling those “pinch me” moments in the past few years but this was it, this was the first time I’d seen Spurs win away in Europe in the flesh – on a big night in the Champions League away to Borussia Dortmund having gone 1-0 down – PINCH ME!

I walked out of the stadium feeling so proud, as I had done a month earlier in Madrid. Tottenham weren’t just playing at this level, they looked like they belonged at this level. How has this happened?

The train back to Düsseldorf was full of Spurs fans and there was such a buzz, everyone was on a high after watching that. Sadly the train journey back was a complete mess, delays and problems and whatever else. It was about 3am by the time we eventually got back to Düsseldorf which was well behind schedule. Fortunately the journey back to my accommodation was shorter than most! I didn’t even have to leave the station! Haha.

On Wednesday morning I had two options – explore Düsseldorf for a few hours and then get a train back to Bremen or get a train back to Bremen and then explore Bremen for a few hours.

In all honesty, my decision might have been different had I been staying somewhere else but already being at the train station made it an easier decision to just catch a train straight away.

Overall though I just didn’t really click with Düsseldorf, it’s somewhere I’d like to go back to and experience properly. A day and a half with half of that spent in Dortmund didn’t give me particularly long to maximise my time in the city and the miserable weather didn’t help either. I also think mid November is probably the worst time to be there. Either go in the warmer months or go towards the end of November / December and at least get the benefit of the Christmas markets which I missed out on. I’m willing to give Düsseldorf another shot but I didn’t feel any particular sadness in leaving.

I got back to Bremen a few hours later and the noticeable difference in just a couple of days was that the city was starting to get in to the festive mood with various Christmas markets in the process of being set up – sadly not open for business – starting to see a pattern here?

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Back in charming Bremen

Despite the fact they weren’t actually open for business it made Bremen, an already charming city, feel that little bit more magical. Pretty Christmas markets, festive decorations and a beautiful old town made for a perfect mix. My only disappointment was that I wasn’t going to experience a truly Christmas-y Bremen.

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Weihnachtsparadies – Christmas paradise!

After wandering for a bit I went in search of dinner, my last meal in Germany for a while. I typically found myself a place to get some delicious schnitzel accompanied with a big German beer – a perfect final meal of the trip.

Following on from dinner I strolled along the river and was just swooning over the city, not helped by the beautiful sight of the sun going down over the city. I’d seen so little sunshine in my five days in Germany and this sight just made me all the sadder to be saying goodbye to Bremen. Five years earlier I couldn’t have envisaged visiting Germany and here I was smitten with another German city I could easily have seen myself living in.

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Sun going down over Bremen

I had one last wander through the old town in admiration of the city. I still had a little time to kill so popped in to a bar by my nearest tram stop – a surprising Spanish-inspired place in the heart of the old town. After one beer I called it a night, time was up, time to go back to the airport.

I needn’t have rushed to the airport. I was the first one here, staff included! “Hello?”

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Empty Bremen airport!

Seriously, where the hell is everyone? I am flying tonight right? It was eerie with nobody around. There’s not much to do in or out of the airport so I had little choice but to wait and hope somebody would eventually turn up. One by one equally confused passengers would turn up and join me in twiddling our thumbs.

Eventually the airport and airline staff kindly turned up to allow us to pass through security. As one of the first through security I figured I’d grab myself a beer, albeit had to wait for the staff to actually open up the shop. Without doubt a unique situation for me but perhaps it’s more common than I realise in airports / terminals of this size, I’m assuming we were the only flight of the evening.

Once up and running it was quite smooth and an uneventful journey home so that wraps up another European trip in a busy busy 2017! I did squeeze in one last trip in to the year – a Hogmanay trip to Edinburgh!

However it seems I don’t have access to photos for that trip here in the US to actually put a blog post together so that story will have to wait for another time. Next up on the blog? My second trip to Washington State! Stay tuned!

Jason

Bremen – November 2017

Well hello there my dear readers! As many of you will know, I am blogging this week from the brand new location of Moses Lake in Washington State! Despite the new location, I still wanted to commit to the weekly blog posts, perhaps even more frequently now I’ve got a bit more time!

Those of you following me on other social media will see that I’ve begun to settle in well in my first few days on this side of the pond. I survived another border control interrogation, discovered a couple of cool bars in Seattle, experienced a little snow in Moses Lake and of course have enjoyed spending more time with Haleigh. So far so good in terms of adjusting so now back to some blogging!

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Life in Washington State

I did debate doing a little post on life in Washington so far but I’m going to stick to the chronological travels. Last time out on the blog I wrapped up my time in the delightful Madrid, a month later I was flying back to the continent for another football trip – this time in Germany!

“Wait, Germany AGAIN?”

Right? I’m honestly bored of these introductions, I think I’m just going to put a voice recording on a loop – “Spurs are playing in West Germany”.

This was the third trip of four in the last four years! The previous two trips I’d based myself in Köln which I think is the best city in the region to base yourself in but having been twice in 2016 (and once in 2013) I couldn’t face a return so soon. I pretty much took the approach that if I was going to watch Tottenham in Dortmund that I would be staying anywhere other than Köln.

With a few days to kill I figured I’d let the German football inspire my destination. What weekend football was on near to Dortmund (where my beloved Spurs were playing). I was left with the option of Dortmund (HA), Wolfsburg or Bremen.

Dortmund was obviously a no go, I knew nothing about Wolfsburg other than it was the home of Volkswagen so in the end I gambled on a four night trip to Bremen (with a daytrip to Dortmund).

My “anywhere but Cologne” method did somewhat backfire. As we’ve established I’ve been to the region a few times so I knew the trains ran late, what I hadn’t anticipated was that wasn’t the case for trains between Dortmund and Bremen. I couldn’t actually get back to Bremen after the game so I had to have a little rethink. I’d already booked the flights but in the end I split my time with two nights in Bremen and two nights in Dusseldorf.

Plans sorted, I readied myself for another trip to Stansted and soon enough I was flying out to Bremen on one Saturday morning in November. I arrived at what must be one of the tiniest airport terminals that Ryanair operate in.

Seriously, you’ve got passsengers arriving who are stood outside barely off of the runway, queuing to get to passport control and just beyond that you can see faces in the arrival hall. On your right you’ve got a little divider to separate the arrivals from the departing passengers and it’s bizarre to see all four parties in one spot.

Having escaped the tiny airport I was soon embarking on a tram in to the centre of Bremen, as far as I could tell they have no trains (S-Bahn) or underground (U-Bahn) services but the tram was pretty easy and cheap to use anyway.

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Bremen Altstadt

On arrival in to the Altstadt (old town) I have to say my first impressions were good. Bremen had a bit of character and charm about it. There was that typical European feel to it with its cobbled streets and old buildings. It was quite dreary and miserable in Bremen, to be expected in November I suppose but despite the poor weather I had a little wander and stumbled upon a small little park area. It was pretty.

The weather probably played some part but Bremen seemed incredibly quiet. I went on the hunt for a late breakfast / early lunch and was surprised to see the city so deserted. I found a nice little lunch spot and relaxed for a bit before my attention turned towards events back home.

I often plan my trips around the football season (obviously, I was here for football after all) and one of the reasons I flew out to Bremen on Saturday was that I’d “only” be missing Tottenham’s away game to Arsenal. It was a game I’d love to be at but I knew I had zero chance of obtaining a ticket. So I might aswell enjoy a long weekend in Germany, right?

As things turned out, Tottenham completely messed up the ticketing system in this particular season and I’d mistakenly jumped the priority order which entitled me to a ticket! It was rather frustrating knowing I’d planned my flights on the assumption I’d never get a ticket and then was able to buy one!

I still got a ticket on my dad’s behalf but the small consolation for me was at least it was televised so I could watch it in Bremen. I went and found myself a little Irish pub just in time to watch the game. It was at this moment that I discovered one of the local beers – Becks! It’s sold everywhere in England so not normally a beer I’d seek out on my travels but discovering it was actually local for Bremen I figured I’d have to get one!

The first half of the football was depressing. Losing to Arsenal isn’t something I’m unfamiliar with having grown up with them being the dominant side in London but the tide was turning and we’d finally reached that point where it was unquestionable who the better football team was.

We were Arsenal’s superior, we were favourites for this game which was particularly rare away from home and then we put in a gutless display on the pitch. It’s one thing to be beaten on ability, another to be beaten for effort. I’d barely even had a glimpse of Bremen and Spurs had already ruined my mood.

At half-time a group of German football fans stormed the pub! I don’t know where they’d come from but I’d gone from an empty bar to suddenly 20-30 football fans making an absolute racket and singing German songs. I assume they were also away fans who’d decided to make a weekend of it ahead of the game against Werder Bremen tomorrow. There was no improvement on the pitch but the crazy Germans had at least improved the atmosphere somewhat and offered some entertainment.

I scarpered after the game, Spurs had already robbed me of two hours exploring due to that joke of a performance so I wanted to get back out in to the rain and have a look around. Bremen’s old town isn’t huge by any means but it was still fun wandering down different streets and cutting through alleyways and down small corridors. It’s a nice city to walk through and get lost in.

The architecture certainly stands out but it was perhaps the pieces and statues dedicated to the Grimm brothers that stood out most. The Brothers Grimm popularised the fairy tale the “Town Musicians of Bremen” and there are a few pieces throughout the old-town paying homage to it.

The city is also home to a few religious buildings which I popped my head in to and I discovered a few cool pieces of street art whilst wandering too. I think this Jungle Book inspired piece was one of my favourites.

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Bear-emen Necessities?

I’d now familiarised myself with where things were but with the miserable weather I didn’t do too much else with my day, it was pretty relaxed. I found a nice spot for dinner and had a couple of beers but it was a pretty quiet and chilled evening. I relaxed back at the hotel before grabbing a relatively early night by my standards, looking forward to the main event tomorrow!

If I thought Saturday had been deserted, I was wrong! I wasn’t up and out particularly early on Sunday morning. I was up at a reasonable time but it wasn’t like I’d purposely got up at the crack of dawn to beat the tourists. I was probably up and about at around 9-9:30 and out the door shortly after that.

I’d briefly passed one of Bremen’s most famous areas known as ‘Schnoor’ which if memory serves me correctly translates as ‘string’. It’s a beautiful part of the city. Colourful buildings all lined and connected together (a bit like string..) situated along cobbled streets. Most of which are small little independent shops or restaurants, galleries or cafes. It’s inevitably a popular area to visit and yet I was walking through, at about 10am, and there was nobody around.

I suppose you could say the Germans were still schnooring! Hahahaha!

Wait, am I the only one laughing? Instagram didn’t share my amusement for the pun so hopefully the pun goes down a little better here than it did on Instagram two years ago!

Jokes aside, I couldn’t believe how dead it was. It was mid to late morning and nobody was around in arguably one of the most touristy areas in the city? Where are all the locals, tourists, Instagrammers and photographers?

It was a bit grey and dreary weather-wise but still, it surprised me because the Schnoor area is incredibly picturesque. Not that I was going to complain if I had it all to myself. Some of the shops weren’t open, be it because they open later or because they stay closed on Sundays but it was really nice to walk around and take a huge number of photos too!

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The Schnoor area in Bremen

Around midday I popped in to an inevitably empty restaurant in this “tourist hotspot” to grab some lunch. Whilst sat down it seemed things started picking up. I don’t know why it took until lunchtime for Bremen to wake up but I could see through the window that the walking traffic was growing and every so often someone would pop in to presumably have some lunch of their own.

After an enjoyable bit of lunch I had one last wander through the Schnoor area, popped on over for a stroll through the old town and then turned my attention towards the football. Despite my frustration at repeated trips to Dortmund in particular, I really love German football and I wanted to soak up a bit of the atmosphere ahead of the game.

I decided I’d go out and seek out a bit of the atmosphere ahead of the 4pm kickoff. Germans have a reputation for creating a really good atmosphere at their games. Plus like the English, Germans really love their beer so I figured there must be somewhere with a decent pre-match atmosphere.

I strolled along the river towards the stadium, hoping I’d find a suitable drinking spot, and found a nice and large riverside bar/restaurant which I figured if this was England, would be a really popular pre-match spot to gather.

Sadly there was a massive downpour of rain as I was walking along so I was drenched by the time I’d reached this place at around 1pm. In need of a pick-me-up whilst I dried off I ordered myself a beer. Surprisingly there were only a few Bremen fans about so it wasn’t heaving. I wasn’t too worried though, it was still a bit early in the day. However an hour later things still hadn’t really picked up which I found surprising.

Don’t get me wrong, it was far from a perfect summer day but it was still an ideal spot for a matchday surely? Maybe people congregate elsewhere? I had a little look on Google and decided to move on, somewhere a little closer to the stadium.

I’d soon found another nice riverside pub, still miserable weather but given it was just across the road from the stadium this had to be a busy drinking hole for the Germans! Yet it was near empty, I reckon 20 people at the most. Something wasn’t adding up. Bremen’s stadium holds 42,500 people at capacity and yet there’s nobody around? There hasn’t been all day. Where are all the football fans hiding? At around 3pm I gave up, it was only an hour before the game and whilst it had picked up a little I figured I’d just go and soak up the atmosphere in the ground.

The steward on the gate stopped me, despite my best efforts in German I couldn’t really understand why. It took a bit of a struggle before eventually it became clear I was too early. How could I be too early? The game kicks off at four??

Wrong! The game kicked off at 6! Six! I could have explored Bremen for an extra two hours if I’d realised that! It was suddenly obvious why there had been so few fans about throughout the day. I’d planned for a game that was two hours later than I thought. How I’d managed that I don’t know but I was far too early to be entering the stadium!

So I went back to pub number one and unsurprisingly it was a little busier now. There still wasn’t much of a buzz but at least it was chattier and noisier. I don’t think it was a great pre-match place for any sense of atmosphere so after a couple of beers I moved on.

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The home of Werder Bremen

Eventually I made my way in to the stadium, found where my seat was and then enjoyed the pre-match build up with a pint. I wasn’t too sure what to expect from the game itself. This was Werder Brmen’s 12th game of the season and they’d yet to win a single game, their form was terrible and you sensed it could be a difficult season ahead. There wasn’t really much optimism going in to the game.

Despite all that doom and gloom, it seemed fortunes were about to change! Perhaps I ended up being a lucky charm for Werder but it ended up being a bit of a rout in favour of the home team. A first win of the season with a 4-0 scoreline! 4-0! Bremen fail to win their first 11 games of the season, I turn up and this happens!

I took to Twitter after the game and unsurprisingly I was welcomed with an infinite number of invitations to return to Bremen any time. I’ve watched a few sporting events on my travels and when I have no association to either I always like to see the home team succeed and please the locals. It was a great experience and it seemed to really kickstart Bremen’s season. They dragged themselves out of trouble and ended up finishing in a respectable mid-table position. I’d done my bit for Bremen’s cause.

Unsurprisingly there was a feel-good mood in the city after the game with much happier locals. I popped in to one bar for a celebratory drink but I’d already had a few drinks so didn’t stay out too late. I relaxed back at the hotel, packed up my things and got myself a decent sleep ahead of my trip to Düsseldorf.

In the morning I decided to walk to Bremen’s Hauptbahnhof (main train station) which was a little walk away and allowed me to see a bit more of the city that I hadn’t had chance to explore yet. It also took me past Bremen’s pretty windmill situated rather centrally within the city.

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Windmill in Bremen

After a little detour admiring the windmill I arrived at the train station and booked my train to Düsseldorf. I’d liked the charm of Bremen and was a little sad to be leaving so soon but fortunately my time in Bremen wasn’t completely at its end. I’d have to fly home from here after all but you’ll have to wait to hear more on that!

Up next: Düsseldorf and a farewell to Bremen! Stay tuned!

Jason

Madrid – Part three – October 2017

Those who have been following this series will know from part one and part two that I loved Madrid. However let’s be honest, I was here for one reason only: football!

Long-time readers will know football is my biggest love. I’ve loved football and specifically Tottenham Hotspur for as long as I can remember. It is a huge part of who I am and has been since childhood.

As a child you get wrapped up in idolising these stars. There are some names which were genuinely exciting players such as David Ginola that any child would mimic in the playground and there were others that, with the benefit of hindsight, just makes me laugh that I reflect back on with fond memories. They were my idols, like many English kids I dreamt of playing football professionally and would be kicking a ball around daily.

The reality is though Spurs weren’t actually very good growing up. My dreams were big. Running down the left wing, a bit of trickery to come inside and BANG – the ball curls in to the top corner of the underpass that performed as our goal in the square we lived in. I could hear and see the crowd celebrating in my head – last minute winning goal in the FA Cup final for Spurs – just imagine it!

Sadly my playing career didn’t really take off, probably because I wasn’t very good, and my idols were just as hopeless in reality. Tottenham’s last FA Cup success was in 1991, as an 88 baby it is my lifelong wish to see Spurs win the FA Cup. Another childhood dream was to see Tottenham play in Europe.

Whilst I considered the World Cup to be the pinnacle of football, at club level it was all about European football. Whether that was the European Cup (Champions League) or UEFA Cup (Europa League) I didn’t care but Spurs competing in Europe, in my eyes at least, meant we’d made it.

Sadly growing up Tottenham were starved of European football. I’ve rambled enough times about this in various social media and blog posts but my sole memory of European football was experiencing us crash out to German side Kaiserlautern in just the second round of the UEFA Cup in November 1999. For some reason I don’t remember the first round but I’ve held a bitter resentment against Kaiserlautern ever since for crushing an 11 year old Jason’s dreams.

I waited and waited but my only experience of Tottenham competing in Europe was via video games such as Fifa or Championship Manager. Step aside Gerry Francis – I’m taking Spurs in to Europe!

At 18 my dreams finally came true. I became a superstar footballer! Wait, no.. wrong dream! However Spurs did qualify for Europe and would be participating in Europe’s “second-rate” competition – the UEFA Cup. I had tickets to watch us on a “glory glory night” under the lights at White Hart Lane in London – magical!

It was a drab 1-0 win, little excitement but Spurs in Europe! Pinch me! Since that fateful night in 2006 Spurs have actually been what you might call European regulars and over the next few years I frequented White Hart Lane for many a European night against a number of European clubs.

Whilst I’d finally experienced some of those special European nights, I was now desperate to experience a European away game. Between 2006 and 2013 I had plenty of opportunities but no confidence for a solo trip and no realistic companions to join me. In 2013 I went to Sydney on my first ever solo trip and everything changed for me as far as travel was concerned – it was now a priority.

So at the next possible opportunity I was going to watch Tottenham away in Europe and in March 2014 I did just that as Spurs played Benfica out in Lisbon in the UEFA Cup (Europa League). The next couple of years I ticked off a few more away trips and football grounds and then 2017 came along with Tottenham playing in Europe’s elite competition – the Champions League! PINCH ME!

This is where you compete amongst the very best in Europe and Spurs were part of that. Imposter syndrome is a phrase you occasionally hear on platforms or outlets such as blogging and I can only liken it to that, Tottenham playing Champions League football felt out of place. It was only our 4th participation in the competition in our (at the time) 135 year history. I was excited to be there but there’s definitely a part of you that feels like you don’t belong.

So in anticipation I wrote THIS post as I was desperate to do at least one Champions League away tie if not two. I asked you to play along with me but in my head I had my own dream trip. More than anything I wanted one of the Spanish giants, I didn’t really have much preference between Barcelona and Real Madrid but if we got either of those that would be perfect and here we are.. part three!

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Real Madrid v Tottenham Hotspur

Part three because Tottenham Hotspur were playing Real Madrid in the Santiago Bernabeu in the Champions League! Ahhhh! Real Madrid – Europe’s most successful football team – does it get any bigger than this? No, no it does not!

So I rounded off part two having spent my Tuesday morning exploring Madrid and some of the sights. I grabbed some lunch and then the rest of the day was reserved for football. The game was in the evening but with thousands of Spurs fans in town the afternoon was just about soaking up the atmosphere.

One of the best places for large numbers to congregate was Plaza Mayor: a decent sized square with a few restaurants making an absolute fortune in beer sales. The atmosphere was quickly building with local media companies all out giving us the “celebrity” welcome with their cameras filming our fans singing. In fact, my parents actually ended up seeing a clip online back home and just happened to spot their son on camera! Haha.

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Plaza Mayor like you’ve never seen it!

Over the course of the next few hours the beers continued flowing, songs continued to be sung until it was eventually time to hop on the metro to the Santiago Bernabeu. The atmosphere on the metro was equally enjoyable and soon enough we’d arrived at one of Europe’s most famous football stadiums.

The stadium is impressive. The away fans were placed “up in the gods” so you end up feeling miles away from the pitch. Additionally we were outnumbered something like 75,000 to 5,000 so an overwhelming majority of home fans trying to make it intimidating. This was Real Madrid’s home but more importantly this was “their” competition too – the one that mattered most to the Madrid faithful so the atmosphere was that little bit more pumped up.

Nevertheless, this was a special Spurs team here without fear. There was a lot of respect for Real but also a lot of belief within ourselves that we weren’t imposters and actually belonged at this level. For the fans this was a write off, it wasn’t a game we actually needed to win and certainly wasn’t one we expected to so the whole day was just about enjoying it really. However the players hadn’t received the script and weren’t here to just roll over for Europe’s finest.

For me personally it was still a case of pinching myself that I was actually here as an away fan, I always figured I’d visit the Santiago Bernabeu as a neutral but with my own team in a competitive fixture? Unbelievable!

Then Spurs took the lead – bedlam! Tottenham are 1-0 up in the f**king Bernabeu! Our fans celebrations were wild, those of disbelief more than anything. I still think there was an element of imposter syndrome for our fans and although we’d taken the lead, it was relatively early in the game and still a long way to go. You’d be foolish to think this was going to stay at 1-0.

With that said, the players were standing up on a big occasion and I think it built belief in the pocket of away fans. The players were doing their part and so were the fans in silencing Madrid’s 75,000. You could clearly hear our fans pushing the team on to a result. Unfortunately Real Madrid got their customary goal but it was just the one as the game finished 1-1.

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Real Madrid 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur, Oct 2017

We’d come here with a “que sera” type attitude with little concern for the result and walked out with a “what if” question mark over the game. There was definitely a feeling we should have won the game with the chances we had and as the final whistle went our fans let the players know how proud they were of the performance they’d just produced. Our manager, Pochettino, took a good chunk of the praise too for masterminding another incredible result away to a European giant in football. It’s probably my favourite away game I’ve been to despite failing to see out the win.

Heading back in to the centre of Madrid myself and Daniel thought we’d go find somewhere to have a celebratory drink but the city was surprisingly quiet. We thought there’d be a good number of Spurs fans out and about but we didn’t really have much luck finding anywhere. I think we grabbed a drink somewhere but called it a night – what a night though! Tottenham getting a result away at the best team in Europe – Real Madrid went on to win the competition for the third year in a row.

The following day (Wednesday) was my last full day in Madrid so I wanted to make the most of it. I woke up and got myself ready for the day in my windowless hostel dorm. An important thing to note because I don’t think you appreciate the luxury of a window until you’re without one.

For one, it’s dark throughout which means potentially being an inconvenience to your hostel roommates (luckily only sharing with one person). Secondly because you dress for Spain don’t you? T-shirt and shorts at the ready, I step outside and I find grey skies and puddles greeting me. It wasn’t actually raining but it recently had and it didn’t look promising above me.

Not that I’d brought a jacket with me but I’d probably have worn jeans instead of shorts had I been prepared for the weather. It wasn’t particularly cold and didn’t seem worthwhile going back up to my room so I just braved it. I did however figure it might be a good day for indoor activities so I made the walk over to Madrid’s famous Museo Del Prado.

The weather had been alright on route but typically the queue for tickets is outdoors and it absolutely chucked it down whilst in the queue – it was a relatively lengthy queue too so everyone else had had the same idea as me – albeit presumably with windowed accommodation as they were well equipped with coats and umbrellas whilst I got drenched.

The museum is well worth a visit though. I spent a good couple of hours looking around and enjoying the various exhibits. I could have undoubtedly spent a little longer there too but eventually called it a day. Fortunately the rain had disappeared by the time I came out of the museum. Just next to the museum is the impressive looking San Jeronimo el Real but unfortunately it looked like it was closed on this particular day so I had to give it a miss on this occasion.

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The San Jeronimo el Real. Pretty but closed!

If you’re already in this area your next stop should quite possibly be the Parque de El Retiro which is a beautiful park that seems to frequently appear in various Madrid blog posts or Instagram photos. Given its proximity to the museum it’s a mystery to me that I missed this, however my next stop was the equally pretty botanical gardens in Madrid.

It probably helped with the miserable weather and largely being outdoors but I found the botanical gardens to be really peaceful and I largely had it for myself to enjoy. It’s really pretty too. I’d definitely recommend this as something to do and it’s quite a large botanical gardens too. I spent a good amount of time just wandering through and taking a few photos. I expect it’d be busier on a nicer day but for me it was a perfectly relaxed place and a nice escape from the busyness of Madrid.

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Madrid’s botanical gardens

Following on from the botanical gardens I wandered back through the streets of Madrid and found myself a really nice little Tapas bar. I couldn’t tell you the name of it but I think that’s part of the beauty in Madrid, you can just wander and you’ll find countless places like this to just stop in on. I practiced a little Spanish with my waitress, enjoyed some good food and then said my adios’ before heading back towards my hostel.

I freshened up a little and then arranged to meet Daniel and Natalie for some beers on our last night in Madrid. We were all leaving at various times on Thursday so didn’t make it a particularly late night but it was a great way to end our time in this incredible city.

I woke up the next day, wandered a little and reluctantly made my way back to Madrid’s airport. For a city I wasn’t all that bothered about visiting to begin with I can only reiterate my thoughts in part one when I say that it’s arguably Europe’s best city. Obviously the only one I can say betters it is London but I don’t really see what Madrid is lacking.

It is one of those cities that has something to offer for everyone regardless of what your interests are. History, food, architecture, culture, sport, weather, museums, night life and I could go on and on and on. I left knowing it’s a city I’d definitely return to (I have and for the bizarrest of reasons) and equally I know it’s a city I’d quite easily live in too. If Madrid isn’t on your list that needs to change!

Anyway, time to wrap this up. Whilst I was sad to be leaving Madrid behind, it was only a few weeks until I’d next be on my travels and visiting another new city: Bremen in Germany.

Stay tuned!

Jason

Madrid – Part one – October 2017

I’ve spoken in the past about my love of London and my clear bias when it comes to London. I’ve lived in Peterborough for 22 years but in my heart I still consider myself a “Londoner” – born and bred! It’s my favourite city in the world.

Recently I wrote about my trip to Washington and with things going well it was only a matter of time before Haleigh made the return journey. I was so excited to show off London – an unbelievable city with the added attraction of all of the Christmas lights and decorations across the city.

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London, December 2018

In my eyes it’s the best city in the world but the funny thing as a traveler is I’ll refrain from outright calling it the best city in the world. It’s the best I’ve been to but I always welcome the challenge to be proven wrong. Growing up I would dream about so many incredible places and cities that I hoped I’d visit some day and I’ve been lucky to visit some of those over the last few years.

In the last decade I got to visit places such as Sydney, Berlin, San Francisco, Paris, Edinburgh, Budapest, New York City.. I could keep going but it was that latter one that I really set the standard for.

If any city would surpass my love of London surely NYC was a contender. In this post here I took everything in to consideration and came to the conclusion it failed due to the harshest of reasons (NYC isn’t London). Alright, so as judge and executioner perhaps I wasn’t impartial enough but London is home and it’s hard to compete with that. The wait went on..

Rio de Janeiro? Rome? Helsinki? Cape Town? There was still hope for me that I’d find somewhere that might yet surpass my love of London – enter Madrid.

“Madrid!?”

I know! I’m as surprised as you are. The easiest comparison to make would be to Washington DC – a city I visited six months earlier. Both DC and Madrid were cities I figured I’d visit eventually but I was in no real rush to go to either. They were nowhere near the top of my bucketlist. I knew I’d likely visit them, particularly Madrid as it’s so close to home, but nothing particularly drew me towards either city to make them appealing.

As it was, Washington DC surprised me a lot! I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did but I left there knowing it was a city I’d happily return to. Madrid was exactly the same for me, however I’d go one step further than that and say that Madrid is quite possibly the best city in Europe.

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Plaza Mayor, Madrid

After London..

I’m sorry, I can’t help it! Seriously though, Madrid has to be the most underrated city in Europe. I’d argue doubly so because Western Europe is arguably one of the most glamourised destinations in world travel and yet nobody hypes up the Spanish capital in the same way that they do London, Paris, Berlin, Edinburgh, Amsterdam.. need I go on? Within Spain itself I’d even argue Barcelona gets a lot more love than Madrid does and it’s a travesty!

If I was being sincerely objective I would struggle to split Madrid alongside London and New York City. It’s THAT good! If Madrid is not on your list to visit that needs to change right now. Yet the only reason this trip happened for me is because I was visiting for football (are you shocked?).

It’s clear I wasn’t all that bothered about Madrid itself but watching Spurs in the Santiago Bernabeu was a complete dream come true and made this a “must do trip”.

It was only when I started looking for things to do outside of the football that my expectations for this city began to grow a little. It looked like there was plenty to do and even with my growing expectations, Madrid surpassed every single expectation I had of the city. It’s a city that has it all!

Anyway, I sense that some of you are sceptical about Madrid being so fantastic so let’s dive right in and I’ll tell you about my trip!

For starters, when booking this trip I wasn’t really looking to be in Madrid particularly long. I had a week off work but I figured I could spend three nights in Madrid and then spend two or three nights elsewhere dependent on money. With Washington in mind, I booked a one way flight on Monday and decided I’d plan the second half of the week once I was back from the US.

Whilst in Washington I got that dreaded email from Ryanair with the subject something along the lines of – “your flight has been cancelled!”. Some of you, particularly in Europe, may remember Ryanair had made a huge scheduling cock-up in that they had no pilots to fly their planes before the end of the year and consequently ended up cancelling tonnes of flights across the continent.

My hope was they’d cancelled one of my flights later in the year but of course it had to be this one! Three weeks before I was due to travel – it certainly could have been worse but it wasn’t ideal and I wasn’t even on the right continent to sort it out.

I got back from Washington and that was priority! Get a new flight booked! Priority two was decide what I’m doing in the second half of the week. European laws (who needs those?) forced Ryanair’s hands a little as they protect you from such inconveniences. Ryanair had to either offer me a full refund (worthless as flight prices had shot up) or put me on a replacement flight. I took the option to go a day earlier (Sunday).

Better yet, Ryanair also offered compensation of £40 (or euros, I can’t remember) to use on a future flight which was just enough to book a one way flight home on the Thursday. My bank balance decided against going anywhere else but the funny thing was due to Ryanair’s mistake I’d gone from having a one way flight to having a return flight with an extra night in Madrid. Please feel free to do this again some time! Haha.

Anyway on to my first impressions of Madrid. I arrived in to Madrid’s airport and was quickly hopping on the Metro to make my way in to the city. There were already a few Spurs fans in town, I couldn’t help but overhear a group of Brits chit-chatting on the metro to my right and puzzled by a (football-related) question asked. I looked up, interjected and a little further down the carriage bizarrely saw a familiar face.

My friend, Natalie, had flown in on a different flight from a completely different airport but we landed around the same time and by chance just happened to be in the same carriage on the same train. A little odd!

We had a little catch up on route and then went our separate ways at the end of the metro line. We agreed to catch up later in the day but Natalie had to catch another metro, feasibly I could have too but as it was mid morning I was in no rush to reach my hotel, I couldn’t check in for a while yet so I figured I’d just exit wherever we were and wander through Madrid for a while.

Greeting me outside were bright blue skies. I’d finally arrived in glorious sunny Spain – proof of which were the Spanish flags hanging from multiple balconies throughout various streets. I don’t know if this was typical of Madrid, perhaps the city is like this year round but I had a suspicion that there was also an element of politics on display.

You see, Madrid’s similarities to DC hadn’t ended with my low expectations. I’d booked my trip to DC forgetting all about the 2016 election and arrived to a divided nation with a new president in town in April 2017. On day one in DC I accidentally stumbled upon an anti-Trump (tax-related) protest.

Well it was more of the same here. At the time of booking this trip to Madrid it seemed a perfect escape to sunny Spain before the Winter season kicked in. Spain in October? Sign me up for some of that!

Then on the 1st of October the Catalans voted and declared independence from Spain and inevitably it felt like for the second time this year I’d be visiting a divided country in political turmoil.

So yeah, the Spanish flags hanging in the street might be normal but I also suspect wasn’t entirely unrelated to the political affairs in Spain at the time. Either way I felt its presence added to some of Madrid’s character, also adding a little colour with red and yellow flying high everywhere you looked.

Moving on I soon found myself in the heart of Madrid and like DC (final comparison, I promise) my eyes were immediately drawn to the stunning architecture. There are some truely beautiful buildings in Madrid and I couldn’t stop snapping away. I instantly liked Madrid, there was just something about it that excited me.

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My first real stop of the trip was some cathedral I can’t recall the name of. Given it was a Sunday I think I walked in towards the end of a service which was unfortunate timing. I like visiting religious buildings but I’m conscious of not interrupting things so it was only a brief visit, I liked the little that I saw though.

After coming out of the cathedral I turned left, went around another corner and BAM! Five street performers were casually playing some music on the side of the street and quickly found themselves an entertained audience. I’d been here an hour at the most and I was already swooning over Madrid. Admittedly it probably helped that the sun was shining and that it was a weekend but there was a buzz to Madrid that made me feel at home.

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Street performers in Madrid

As much as I could have stayed there for much longer I figured I’d try and locate roughly where my hotel was and also grab somewhere for lunch nearby. My hotel was roughly in the vicinity of the Anton Martin neighbourhood which was seemingly home to a lot of street art and murals. Naturally I quickly found myself distracted on my quest for lunch – decent street art – another tick in Madrid’s favour.

After wandering for a little bit I stumbled upon a place to grab myself a sandwich and put my Spanish to the test. I’d probably favour a little better now because my Spanish is improving but at the time it wasn’t great. I didn’t want to be too reliant on English but my Spanish is nowhere near as good as my German. I’d done a little practice before flying out and made sure to remember some of the basics such as “Un cerveza por favor” which I figured would come in handy over the next four days.

Having seen a little of Madrid and having filled my stomach too I went in search of my hotel so I could check in to my room. “Hello Jason, here for one night? We’d like to upgrade you free of charge..”

Of course, yet another reason to fall in love with Madrid! Scrap the flight home. I’m never leaving!

The hotel was annoyingly lovely too, annoying because I hadn’t planned to be here today. I’d only intended for a three night trip and booked myself three nights in a hostel. This was my unexpected bonus night in the city and it made checking out the next morning very difficult. I didn’t want to leave to go stay in some hostel dorm! Haha.

After I checked in I just relaxed in my room for a little bit. The view from my room was nice and I did contemplate going up and making use of the rooftop pool given I probably wouldn’t get another chance. As tempting as it was, instead I got myself back out and wandered through the streets of Madrid for a little while.

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A common sight in Madrid. Street art shutters!

My focus soon switched to evening plans and catching up with my friend Daniel who was also here for the football. We met up in one of Madrid’s prettier and more famous squares – the Plaza Mayor. It’s a nice square but more importantly was also likely to be where our fans would congregate on Tuesday so it was useful knowing where it was and how to find it from where we were staying.

Myself and Daniel met up and whilst admiring the view of Plaza Mayor quickly bumped in to a couple of other Spurs fans, we exchanged pleasantries and discussed thoughts about the game before heading our separate ways.

We were heading over to the nearby Mercado de San Miguel – a popular little market hall with an emphasis on street food and atmosphere. It wasn’t a huge place but was a nice place to hang out, had a fantastic atmosphere and was pretty cheap to pick up some dinner too.

MercadoDeSanMiguel
Mercado de San Miguel

Natalie joined us later on and we shared a few more beers before eventually calling it a night. Back at my hotel I swung by the hotel rooftop which supposedly had a bar and also gave me a brief opportunity to see the pool. It was kind of cool lit up and the views over the city were cool too. I debated grabbing a drink but thought better of it and instead got myself a decent night’s sleep.

My introduction and first day in Madrid wasn’t too exhausting but I was really encouraged by the early signs. This was a city which, as far as I could tell, ticked all of the boxes and if the next three days were even half as good I’d be well chuffed.

More on that to come soon! Stay tuned!

Jason

2019 travel roundup

Happy New Year my dear readers! After a quiet December I’m looking forward to getting back in to the blogging groove so I’m kicking things off with my first post of the year! I’m not sure what the blogging schedule will look like this year as lots of change is coming but Thursday’s worked well for me last year and I committed to getting a post out every week so we’ll stick with it for now.

I’ve always considered blogging a hobby more than anything but with the new year in mind I did go and treat myself. I am now part of the dot com crew! That’s right, I’ve finally splurged on my own domain. I’ve not made any other changes (yet) to the website but it feels nice to have dropped the WordPress bit from my website link.

Anyway.. on to today’s post!

With the year ending I wanted to do a travel round up of 2019, it was another fun year for me with some great memories. Long time readers might recall I shared my early 2019 plans with you here. Following January payday I was eager to get planning and booked myself four trips for the first half of 2019. I planned to go to Germany in March, USA in April, Finland in May and Ireland in May. With the recap out of the way, here’s where I went and a (hopefully) small summary of each trip!

March – Germany!
My first trip of the year was a bittersweet return to Dortmund. I’ve had the idea to go live in Washington for quite some time and I envisaged getting to the halfway point of 2019 in my best financial position in quite some time. Enjoy the first six months of the year and then seriously consider going to Washington.

That change is happening in a little over three weeks from now, a bit later than I’d anticipated so I was desperate to squeeze in a Tottenham European away day before I went. It was potentially my last for a while and I said in this post (here) that I just really hoped it wasn’t going to be a third trip to Dortmund.

The “football gods” took no pity on me and were cruelly sending Spurs to Dortmund for the third time in three years. I’d done the area to death. Dortmund, perhaps harshly, doesn’t have all that much appeal outside of football so it wasn’t a city I was excited to return to.

The obvious option in that region of Germany is Köln, a city I’d been to three times already. Ordinarily I might have been reluctant to go back but the Dortmund game overlapped with the Kölner Karneval which I was intrigued to experience.

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Back in Köln!

I arrived in to Köln on one of the busiest days of the Karneval, Rosenmontag, which was just crazy! Streets locked down for the parade, fancy dress everywhere you look and of course being Germany plenty of beer too! It’s an interesting time to visit, crazy but interesting. The next day was an absolute ghost town – so bizarre but a fun couple of days topped off with a Spurs win!

March – Belgium!
I’d booked myself four days in Germany. I was excited about going back to Köln but it was my fourth trip, I didn’t need all four days to be in that city so I decided I’d spend the other two nights in Frankfurt.

I started having doubts about going to Frankfurt though, I wasn’t sure how much I really wanted to go. Could I change my mind? I mean, why not? My hotel had free cancellation, I hadn’t yet booked my train from Köln, what if I went somewhere else? Where though? I had a few ideas but Bruges was the one that grabbed my attention.

I went to Brussels in 2013 and took a day trip to Bruges with my friends Kelly and Walker. It was a fun day but I was tempted to go back and experience it by myself and likewise I was also keen to get some photos this time.

Bruges is still every bit as pretty as I remembered it. It’s a beautiful city to just get lost in and I was quite happy to do an overnighter on this occasion, it was also nice to enjoy a bit of the nightlife (the Belgian beer, let’s be honest).

I did a few things I didn’t get to do last time, tried mussels for the first (and last) time and was quite sad to be leaving come the end of it. I was flying home from Köln on a Friday and did debate staying in Belgium for the weekend. I then got back to Köln and contemplated staying there too but my head got the better of me – “Save your pennies, not long until the next trip”

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Bruges, Belgium

April – Washington State!
The “long term” plan was to get to Washington at the earliest convenience but I also had to see Haleigh in the short term so the first thing I did on January payday was book flights to Washington.

Easter seemed like a good time to go, I always try and maximise my annual leave so traveling around public holidays helps. Haleigh had a few days off in April too so it was perfect timing really.

It was a rather chilled trip but I got to see Haleigh obviously, some of Haleigh’s family and we also squeezed in a double date with Maddie and Cassie which was lovely. One of the other highlights was a visit to the unique Bavarian town of Leavenworth – a little piece of Germany on the USA’s West coast – I fully recommend a daytrip at the very least.

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Mountains, snow, Washington!

May – Finland!
What was I saying about maximising annual leave around public holidays? In 2018 I had a HUGE 30th birthday trip to the US which meant sacrificing any football away days in 2018 and it also meant sacrificing any holidays prior to the summer. Consequently no bank holiday fun for me!

In 2019 I was reclaiming BOTH bank holidays. The first Monday of May and the last Monday of May are public holidays in England which means a three day weekend! Perfect for a short European adventure!

I really wanted to get to Finland in 2018 and things didn’t quite pan out so I was adamant I was going no matter what in 2019. For those that don’t know already, I grew up living with a Finnish grandmother so the country has ALWAYS held my heart and been somewhere I wanted to see for myself.

Finally (or Finn-ally? Hahaha.. no?) I got it booked! Finland was happening! I was sad to say goodbye to Haleigh in Washington but I was also so excited to be going to Helsinki in just 6 days after getting back. So excited – dream trip! This perfect little paradise, the adult equivalent of Disneyland in my mind. I was going to LOVE Finland, wasn’t I?

Wasn’t I? I mean hang on a second, I’ve never even been to Finland. I’d somewhat unintentionally built up this fantasy in my head – Finland was obviously a real place but what if it wasn’t the Finland I was expecting or hoping for? What if I didn’t like it?

Suddenly the nerves kicked in, suddenly there was a bit of pressure on this trip. This wasn’t any ordinary destination, this could crush every thought I’d ever had about Finland.

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A moody looking Helsinki!

Fortunately I needn’t have worried. I think I’d fallen in love with Helsinki probably in the first hour of arriving. I quite possibly have Finland-tinted-goggles on but even months later there are still little moments that almost made it too magical. For instance on the train from the airport there’s this little girl with her dad singing a nursery rhyme and it just sounded angelic, it instantly brought a smile to my face. I eventually reach the centre of Helsinki, step off the train and snow is falling!

Snow! In May! There was NOTHING about snow in the forecast when I looked before the trip but of course there’s snow because Finland’s the most magical place on the planet isn’t it? It was the most perfect weekend, the highlight probably having a new Finnish friend drag me along on a bar crawl and I’ve just been swooning over Finland ever since.

My only regrets are that it took me so long to visit, that I wasn’t there for longer and that I haven’t been back 150 times since May. Did I mention I love Finland?

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My Helsinki, I couldn’t have said it any better!

May – Amsterdam!
“Hang on a second Jason, Amsterdam?”

Germany, Washington, Finland, Ireland! The eagle-eyed among you will note those were my travel plans for the first six months of the year. I’d budgeted the first half of the year perfectly but there was no wiggle room.

“Nor should there be really, is four trips not enough you spoilt little man!”

In my defence.. I’d said I wouldn’t be going to a hypothetical Champions League semi final in the unlikely chance that Spurs would compete in such a historic occasion. So I definitely had the right intentions to be financially sensible. Go me!

Anyway, backtracking a bit – I had to go to Dortmund because it might be my last European away game for some time. If I’d been confident we’d win I might have gambled but the Dortmund tie was a 50-50 tie that could go either way. It wasn’t a gamble I could take.

Our reward for victory in Germany was a quarter final trip to Manchester. Don’t get me wrong, I like Manchester but the only European away trip more underwhelming than a trip to Dortmund would have been a “European” away trip I didn’t require a passport for. Plus it wasn’t really 50-50 this time was it? It was more 80-20 in Manchester City’s favour and those were just the odds on a good day. So I felt quite vindicated in my decision to go to Dortmund as our European adventures were ending up in Manchester.

and then they didn’t. Our quarter final ended in the most bizarre and cruelest of victories but it was our night! We’d reached the semi finals of the Champions League (European Cup) for the first time since 1962. 57 years! Spurs were going to be playing in a Champions League SEMI FINAL!

“The Semi Final you said you weren’t going to?”

Exactly! I wasn’t going and that’s that, okay? I was committed to my original decision. I’d literally just got to Washington, hadn’t even been to Helsinki yet and May was looking like a crazy crazy month with too much on. I haven’t got the money, I haven’t got the time and the game in Amsterdam is on my mum’s birthday, I’ve got to be home for that!

I slept on the (non) idea – first night in Washington State. Then on the first morning in Washington I found myself scouring the internet for travel routes, costs and everything else.

Did you not hear me earlier? 1962 – fifty seven years! I couldn’t wait another fifty seven years for the next one! This was a once in a lifetime opportunity!

Amsterdam
Beautiful Amsterdam

My real mistake was my hesitation! I’d given every other Spurs fan a head start and flights and Eurostar prices quickly shot up. In the end I decided to take an overnight coach from London. I got back from Helsinki on Monday night, went to work on Tuesday and caught the coach on Tuesday night to get me in to Amsterdam on the Wednesday morning (Happy birthday mum!).

Amsterdam’s beautiful, it was nice to go back but let’s be honest. I was here for less than 48 hours and for one reason only – football! Finland was probably my favourite place I visited in 2019 but I’d be hard pushed to say this wasn’t the best trip of the year, dare I say this Wednesday in May was quite possibly the best night of my life.

I couldn’t get a ticket for the game but I had to be in Amsterdam for the atmosphere, this was the biggest game in my lifetime! It started horrifically, we were dead and buried at half-time.

I think it’s probably the angriest I’ve ever been at Tottenham in my life. I’m not unfamiliar in watching Spurs lose but at least do it the right way, tonight of all nights. Come on Spurs, you can’t possibly turn up like this on this occasion!

At half-time we needed a miracle and in all honesty I didn’t really want to stick around. I knew I could be enjoying Amsterdam instead of enduring this rubbish but that faint bit of hope always seems to linger – “you never know..”

We scored an early goal in the second half for a lifeline, followed by a quick second which sent the beers flying in the pub I was in – bedlam! 30 minutes to go, just one goal needed now.

The next 35 minutes of the clock ticking down were agonising! Be careful what you wish for I suppose. I wanted some fight in the performance and it was going to be too late, wasn’t it? I’d seen it a thousand times over the years. Spurs play useless, Spurs then give you false hope before falling short. At least when Spurs were consistently useless I was spared that cruel hopeful feeling.

Tottenham deserved NOTHING from this tie and here we were on the verge of a miracle and again we were going to fall short. Five minutes injury time was added on and we go for what the Americans like to call a “hail Mary” – just hit and hope really. 99 times out of 100 it doesn’t come off for you, just an aimless long punt and yet on this occasion Llorente knocks it down to Dele, Dele flicks it on in the direction of “MOURAA!!!”

Miracles (or Moura-cles) are real! As a neutral I’ve seen some incredible footballing moments but as a Spurs fan in the 95th minute of a Champions League semi final in Amsterdam? What the hell just happened?

I think I spent the majority of the remainder of the night in tears. Tears of joy? Tears of disbelief? Who knows? All I do know is the scenes spilled out on to the streets of Amsterdam in an atmosphere I can’t describe. Hundreds of fellow Spurs fans singing, hugging, crying with celebrations likely to run on for hours in to Thursday morning.

I got back to my hostel drenched in beer and still in no control of my emotions – hoping to sleep but unable to stop crying.

It was the best night ever! One stage further than 1962! Spurs had qualified for their first ever Champions League (European Cup) final in Madrid on the 1st of June.

Don’t worry! There’s no long debate here! I was never in any doubt I would go to the final in Madrid in the incredibly unlikely chance we reached it but first..

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Rubbish photo, best night of my life!

May – Dublin!
Washington, Helsinki, Amsterdam, Dublin, Madrid in the space of four weeks? Really?

Well, sadly not! Firstly it’s clear I hadn’t budgeted for two extra football trips on short notice. However honestly, the real reason I bailed on Dublin is because I was burnt out.

After my big summer trip in 2018 I sort of went through a little rut at the end of the year where nothing really happened – a seasonal rut to some extent I suppose. Spurs weren’t playing at home so going to the football had no real appeal, I seemed to have no social plans, friends were moving away, blah, blah, blah.

I’d definitely hit a social rut and there were lonely spells through that time but I’m also an introvert so there was a degree of comfort to having such few plans. Then life went to the opposite extreme come March 2019 and everything hit me at once.

Travel plans, family plans, catch up with friends, big birthdays. I’d find a rare free weekend and be so grateful for it and then suddenly – BAM!
“Jason, are you up for our first work night out in years?” – Sure, perfect timing, thanks!

Of course I’d wanted to do all of these things but life was busy and quite energy-sapping. I went to Washington in April which was a great chance to actually rejuvenate before Finland and Dublin and then of course Spurs decide to make history this year and I had to find time for two more unplanned trips.

I got to the end of May, knowing a quiet June was coming up but I was just desperate for a weekend of nothing. I felt like I could only do one more hectic weekend – Dublin or Madrid?

I could have struggled through Dublin, I know I’d have enjoyed it once I was there but I just bailed. Had it been further from home perhaps I’d have still gone but Dublin’s so close and cheap to fly to that I figure it won’t be long before I can make up for it with a trip there but I think I’d have enjoyed Madrid less had I gone to Dublin so it was the right decision. Dublin could happen any year, any time. A Champions League final will possibly never come around again for Spurs.

Biarritz
Biarritz, France

May – Biarritz, France!
“Biarritz?”

Don’t panic! This is the Madrid trip! On the 1st of June Tottenham would be playing in their first EVER Champions League final in Madrid. However unfortunately our opponents had qualified an evening earlier and worse yet, our opponents were also from England – Liverpool to be exact!

With what promised to already be an expensive trip, having our compatriots get a 24 hour head start on the flight and accommodation hunt was not particularly helpful. Getting to Madrid within any reasonable budget was looking problematic. It was a “whatever the cost” type trip but I was in Amsterdam pondering what possible route I’d have to take to make it feasible.

Fortunately my dad decided to join me on this one! He’d done his fair share of European away days in his youth and I’d done my fair share of European away days in the 10’s but this was set to be our first Tottenham European away trip together – a Champions League final a good enough reason for a Father-Son adventure to Madrid

Dad: “I’m thinking of driving..”

Make that a father-son ROAD-TRIP to Madrid! It’s a long old drive from Peterborough so we agreed to have a night somewhere in Southern France and we stumbled upon the delights of Biarritz! I’d always wandered what the fuss over the South of France was about and it’s because of places like Biarritz. It was a heavenly place to rest our heads, I would happily have stayed longer and it’s somewhere I’ll possibly return to but Madrid beckoned!

June – Madrid!
I actually plan to talk more about Madrid in my next post as I first visited in 2017 so you’ll have to wait to hear about the delights of this city. Sadly we were only in Madrid for about 12 hours on this occasion. It was very much a flying visit due to the costs associated with being in Madrid for such an occasion.

Consequently I don’t have too much to say about this trip to Madrid. Glorious sunshine, a cracking atmosphere between both sets of fans but no fairytale ending. Liverpool won their 6th Champions League final but for us it was a journey that will be talked about for years to come.

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Dave, Lloyd, me, Dad

July – Paris!
The Champions League trips offered a setback to my plans this year, in particular the hopes of spending a few months in Washington with Haleigh in 2019. It was looking increasingly unlikely it’d happen before the year ended but fortunately Haleigh came to visit me for two weeks instead so there were still plenty of memories to be made together in 2019.

This was Haleigh’s second overseas trip, her second time visiting Europe with us spending a bit of time in London on the first occasion. I’d never tire of showing off London but I thought it’d be nice for us to go somewhere different for a weekend this time with Edinburgh and Paris being the two leading candidates – Paris obviously came out on top.

My first trip to Paris wasn’t without it’s disappointments, remember? So I was excited to be going back in the summer and with someone to enjoy it with on this occasion. It already promised to be a special trip but then we got to Paris late on the Friday night and my phone decided it was having the weekend off.

I plugged it in to charge and nothing, I plugged in Haleigh’s phone and it charged perfectly fine, tried a different charger nothing, tried Haleigh’s phone and it charged perfectly fine. Why?

My phone lasted until about Saturday lunchtime with the little battery it had remaining and then I was “off the grid” – unintentionally but it was actually such a novelty. My last proper “off the grid” trip was in 2014 when I went to Berlin, which is probably more recent than most, and it’s genuinely so nice to be completely unattainable.

I feel fortunate to have traveled abroad before the days of being accessible 24/7. If it’s an emergency here’s the number of my hotel, I’ll try and send you a postcard and you’ll see the photos once I’m home and they’ve been developed. I find it impossible now, arguably doubly so given I’m in a long distance relationship. The 8 hour time difference is a killer, every small window of opportunity me and Haleigh get to chat we take.

So in some respects, what a lucky trip to be off the grid. I had the only company I really needed, there was nobody else that couldn’t wait a weekend until I was back in England.

Where are we going? Let’s dig out our paper map!
What time is it? Daytime or nighttime dependent on the colour of the sky.
What’s happening in the world? No idea! Nothing outside of Paris mattered for that sole weekend.

It was completely unplanned but honestly, it was pure bliss! I feel a need for more trips like that – more “Latergram” than Instagram. I can’t speak for Haleigh but it was a perfect weekend.

Lastly I talked about loving Paris on my first visit but France in the summertime is SO much nicer. After Lille (2018), Biarritz and Paris I’ve definitely grown to love France.

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Haleigh and me in Paris!

 

November – Washington State!
The long term Washington trip got a setback but at the end of August I finally booked my flights. February 3rd 2020 until May 1st 2020. Not long now!

So as crazy as the first few months of 2019 were, the second half of the year has been mostly about cutting back and saving some money.

I’ve done some cool stuff in England but my travels haven’t been as frequent. I found myself with one last week to use before the end of 2019. I knew I’d use it to see Haleigh, it was just a case of deciding when was best.

Haleigh had a few days off for Thanksgiving which seemed an ideal time for me to visit and experience my first American Thanksgiving. It was a short and sweet trip, most of which was spent in the city of Walla Walla but it was great to catch up with Haleigh’s family, share some good food and of course spend some time with Haleigh before the countdown to February could begin.

Thanksgiving
A glimpse of Thanksgiving

Anyway, that rounds up 2020. This was probably a bit longer than I’d anticipated it being but I got a tad carried away with the football. In the end it was three trips for Spurs including a Champions League final, three trips spent with Haleigh and one new country in Finland. I’ll talk about all of these trips in more detail in the future but hopefully a good summary of what was a decent year and a good way to end the decade.

Thanks for indulging me in another summary of my year.Next up on the blog? 2017’s trip to Madrid!

Stay tuned!

Jason

2019 Travel plans

Firstly let me start by welcoming the influx of recent followers and readers to the blog, January has seen a big increase in traffic and engagement on the blog which has made for an encouraging start to the year. I’m hoping there’s much more to come from “Jason likes to travel” this year so stay tuned!

The other thing I’m hoping that there will be much more of this year is travel itself. I typically post about old trips on the blog, in the hope (lies!) that I eventually catch up to the present day. I’d originally planned to post about NYC next but I thought I’d switch it up and tell you about my more immediate travel plans. 2018 had some incredible travel moments but I’m hoping 2019 is going to be just as enjoyable.

With January payday finally arriving I was keen to get some adventure booked ASAP, so this is what I have coming up in the next few months.

March
Alright, so I’d booked this particular trip before Christmas. If you’ve been following the blog for a while or you follow me on other social media platforms then you’ll know my first trip of the year was dependent on Tottenham’s European fate (read me).

Wherever Tottenham would go, I would go and comically Spurs are going back to bloody Dortmund. Attending a Dortmund game is a rite of passage as a football fan, it’s definitely one for the bucketlist but I’ve already done it twice. Moving away from the football, Dortmund has no appeal to me as a travel destination so the only way I was going to this would be if I stayed elsewhere.

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Dortmund, Nov 2017

I’ve opted for Köln, a fourth visit to the city but this particular trip overlapped with carnival season. I’ve heard it’s a bit crazy but the Kölner Karneval is running from Feb 28th until March the 6th. The game in Dortmund is on March 5th so I’m staying in Germany from March 4th-8th.

Currently I’ve booked a hotel for two nights in Köln. I’ll get to see what all the fuss is about on the Monday, on Tuesday I’ll go to Dortmund for the game and then I’ll be using the other two night to visit somewhere else. I was steering towards Amsterdam but the trains are pricier than I was anticipating so I might just stick to somewhere in Germany for a couple of days. Any suggestions are welcome! Although keep in mind it’ll be my 9th visit to Germany and 5th visit to the region so I’ve seen a fair bit locally.

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Another return to Köln!

April
As some of you will know, I’m in a long distance relationship so the first priority on payday was to book flights to Washington State. It’ll be my fourth time visiting and it’s always exciting to go back, can you ever really get sick of the mountain views?

Speaking of which, I’m hopeful I’ll actually see them a bit clearer this time. Last summer’s forest fires hit the West coast hard and the air quality / visibility wasn’t the best which was a shame. Additionally I’m hopeful that going in April means that it won’t be too cold but won’t be unbearably hot either as it was this summer (40+C? No thank you!).

Working around both our work schedules is a little tricky so I’ve decided to go around Easter time. Haleigh teaches and ridiculously they get no time off over Easter (why?) but it means I get to go for around 10 days and only use 6 days of annual leave at work. Perfect! See you soon Washington!

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Back to Moses Lake, Washington!

May
I didn’t get the benefit of the public holidays last year either. Speaking of that summer trip, I had to save my pennies beforehand and consequently weekend trips were a no go. Well, that’s not the case this year so I’m reclaiming my bank holidays!

In England the first Monday of the month is a public holiday and that means a three day weekend! I was keen to take the opportunity to go away and after having a look at a few different options I can confirm that I am going to..

HELSINKI! Finally! Some of you will know that I grew up with a Finnish grandmother, we even shared a birthday, so Finland is somewhere that I have always had a fascination with and wanted to visit. I was hopeful a visit would happen in 2018 but things didn’t quite pan out, so it was towards the top of my list for this year. I’m going to have to brush up on my Finnish a bit but I’m so excited to finally be making my first visit to the country.

May however doesn’t just have one public holiday, it has two! We also get the last Monday of the month off and have another three day weekend so why settle for just one weekend getaway, right? I expect Finland to be expensive but luckily I’ll get paid again before the next three day weekend so I had to make the most of it and consequently I am off to spend the weekend in Dublin!

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Irish bar, Florence, Italy

Like Finland, Ireland is a country I’ve wanted to visit for a while and I just haven’t got around to it before now. I’d love to be spending longer than a weekend in the country as there’s so much I want to see, both North and South of the border. I’m not sure I’ll get time to see anything more than Dublin this time around but I’m so excited to finally be making my first visit to the country.

Anyway that wraps up my plans between now and the end of May. If you’ve got any recommendations for any of the above, particularly Dublin and Helsinki, it would be much appreciated!

Where are you traveling to this year? Let me know!

Up next on the blog: New York City (I know, I know, I’ve said this before!).

BigApple917

Stay tuned!

Jason

Brühl and Bonn! March 2016

Last time out on the blog I mentioned my frequency of visiting what has quickly become one of my favourite countries – Germany! This particular post will be dedicated to the first of my three trips in 2016.

I’d not long come back from Georgia in February 2016, which you can read more about here (Georgia introduction, Georgia – Part oneGeorgia – Part two), and was quite relaxed about planning the next trip. I wasn’t in any particular rush and figured I could just save some pennies before rushing in to my next adventure. Georgia had been my first non-European trip for a while so, whilst not as expensive as I’d budgeted for, it was a good chance to get my finances back in order and think about where I wanted to go next.

Nevertheless there was an outside chance that Tottenham’s European fate might just be enough to tempt me away sooner. I got home from Georgia mid Feb and I knew at the end of Feb it would be confirmed where my beloved Tottenham would be visiting in March. My intentions were that I’d “skip a round”, gambling on Spurs progression in the competition, but that I’d make an exception for one opposition – Borussia Dortmund.

“If we get Dortmund I HAVE to go!” I told myself.

It was a dream tie. Attending a Borussia Dortmund game is one of those bucketlist items for any football fan. It’s a club held in high esteem anyway but their atmosphere is also one of the most famous in European football. I’d always intended to visit a Dortmund home game as a ‘neutral’ so to experience it as an away fan with my own club would be incredible.

The inevitable happened. Tottenham were going to Dortmund! This was the dream tie, it was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. When would little ol’ Spurs ever get the chance to go to Dortmund again?

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Trip number 2 to Dortmund!

Ironically we would. Hindsight is a funny thing. Whilst the trip in March 2016 blew my mind, I genuinely thought it’d be the only time I’d get there. However Tottenham returned in November 2017 and as some of you will know, we’re going back in March 2019.

I’m experiencing my “once in a lifetime” opportunity for the third time in three years in a couple of months time. It’s nothing short of comical but let me reiterate, at the time, it was an absolute dream opportunity.

I turned to my boss and had to have that awkward conversation. “I know I’ve only just got back but..”

I need to go to Germany. To their credit, my employers have always been pretty relaxed and flexible at me booking time off at short-notice and about whatever time I request. More often than not I’ll book the flights and ask permission later. I know when our “no-go” periods are so it’s quite handy when it comes to the football trips to be able to book as soon as the schedule is confirmed.

With the green light to take yet another trip, I quickly delved in to the fun and games. A once in a lifetime opportunity for me was the same for 5,000 other fans, the majority of which were also looking to fly from London on the same dates and also looking for accommodation in Dortmund.

With flights rising and accommodation options proving to be quite limiting I had to ask how much I actually wanted to go to Dortmund. I was going to the game no matter what but was Dortmund really somewhere I wanted to visit from a travelers perspective? It had no appeal to me and surely there were other options in the region? It seemed that the trip split our fanbase with the majority deliberating between Dortmund, Düsseldorf and Köln.

The latter had the best flight prices, had more accommodation options, was the bigger city and had more to do. It was also close enough to Dortmund to be a feasible daytrip, so whilst I’d been to Köln before it quickly became the best option for me personally. The only downside was I’d seen most of what I wanted to in Köln on my trip three years earlier, with five days in Germany I needed to fill some of my time which resulted in me visiting Brühl and Bonn.

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Köln (Cologne) again!

Brühl
I’d never heard of this town but I was looking for somewhere to visit and somehow stumbled upon Brühl. It was only 10-15 minutes away by train and was apparently home to a UNESCO world heritage site. I was intrigued and made my way to Köln’s Hauptbahnhof (main train station) to catch a pleasingly cheap train to Brühl.

I had made, by my standards, quite an early start to the day so perhaps for that reason I was one of few to get off at Brühl which was a sign of things to come. The ‘famous’ Augustusburg palace is an UNESCO world heritage site and pretty much straight in front of you as you come out of the station. It was stunning and had beautiful surroundings too, the garden areas were immaculate and really well presented. Better yet, there was barely anyone here.

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Brühl!

No herds of people, no selfie sticks in sight, little noise. It was calm and relaxed, the occasional local passed me by whilst walking their dogs but for the most part I had the palace to myself. Perhaps later in the day or in peak seasons it gets busier but I’d perfectly timed my visit and couldn’t help but admire this breathtaking palace in front of me. You can take tours of the palace and see more of the grounds I expect but I was content viewing it from the exterior.

Having spent sufficient time wandering through the gardens I thought I’d see what else the town had to offer. It was a pretty place, colourful buildings along typical European cobbled streets but there wasn’t too much to it really.

The only other thing of note in the city is the Max Ernst museum, a German artist born in Brühl. I can’t say I was familiar with the name but I figured I’d go and check it out. Unfortunately they didn’t open until 11am and it was 10:30-something. I had a little wait but figured I’d hang about until opening. It’s a relatively small museum with a nice collection of artwork. It was small though so I wasn’t there for particularly long. It’s worth a visit if you’re already in Brühl but not worth going out of your way for.

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Max Ernst museum

I slowly made my way back to the train station, admired one last glimpse of the palace and pondered what to do next. Brühl’s train station only had two platforms. One heading North and one heading South, heading Northbound towards Köln seemed the most logical option but it was barely even midday so naturally I headed South.

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Bye Brühl!

Bonn
I bought a train ticket to Bonn. Bonn was the former capital city of West Germany and is naturally an important city in the country’s history. I’d contemplated coming here instead of Brühl so it was quite nice to squeeze in a few hours here on the same day.

As you come out of Köln’s main train station you’re quickly blown away by the cathedral – “WOW!”. Similarly within moments of coming out of Brühl’s train station you’re left stunned by the palace and Bonn quickly delivered its own first impression that has been stuck in my brain ever since.

This was a city full of history, there’s some stunning architecture in the city and what was the very first thing to catch my eye as I walk out of Bonn’s train station? A big yellow M! That’s right, McDonald’s – how very German! You can’t rewrite a first impression and this was it. This is one of the first things I associate with Bonn now, rather than some famous bloke called Beethoven for instance who was born in this city.

It was a disappointing first sight, this wasn’t what I’d come to Bonn to see! On the plus side, I figured Bonn could only improve from here and fortunately it didn’t take long to leave a better impression on me. I soon stumbled upon one of Bonn’s bigger squares (Munsterplatz I think). Like many squares across Europe, there were some pretty buildings with the highlight being a church (the Bonner Munster) plus little cafes with outside seating which were perfect for people watching.

I wandered through the square and quickly stumbled upon a statue dedicated to Beethoven. Just beyond that was a bright yellow building which caught my eye, I looked up and read the words ‘Postamt’ – it was a post office! I couldn’t help but think why don’t our post offices look that pretty back home? Having had a bit of a wander I took seat at one of the tables in the square and grabbed myself some lunch and a beer. It was a nice spot to relax for a little while, people watch and put my German to the test in an effort to eavesdrop on the conversations happening around me.

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Standard post office in Germany?

With a “schönen Tag noch” and a “Tschüss” from my waitress I was on my way and back to exploring a little of Bonn. I hadn’t planned on being in Bonn so hadn’t done any prior research, I just wandered aimlessly through the streets seeing what might catch my eye. I walked down one street and spotted a few fellow tourists taking photos of something, I looked up to find Bonn’s famous Beethoven Haus, the house he was born in. I think it’s possibly a museum now but I wasn’t really interested in investigating any further than the exterior.

I continued my walk down which led me to the Rhein river. It was peaceful with a handful of boats passing by, It was a relatively miserable and grey day though so probably not the best day for a cruise on the river, I had contemplated the idea of going back to Köln by boat but thought better of it. Instead I went back to wandering up and down Bonn’s streets.

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Exploring Bonn!

Beyond Beethoven, Bonn is also home to another household name: Haribo! This was relatively new news to me and something I only discovered after some friends had visited recently. There’s a fairly large Haribo store in Bonn with a huge collection of sweets (candy) that I wasn’t particularly familiar with, plus the usual Haribo favourites sold in the UK. I picked up a couple of bags to take home with me as a little souvenir of my trip.

My afternoon flew by pretty quickly which meant all there was left for me to do was find a nice dinner spot to round off my day. Following on from dinner I made the slow walk back to the station and got on the first available train back to Köln. I arranged to meet up with my friend who’d spent the day exploring Köln (his first visit) and we finished off the day with a few drinks at one of the bars in the city.

Overall a thoroughly enjoyable day and two places I’d recommend seeing if you’re in the area. I figure half a day probably is about right for a trip to Brühl, I could have probably spent a little longer (maybe a full day) in Bonn but overall I left with more memories than just the McDonald’s and was content I’d seen enough of it to leave a positive impression.

Anyway that wraps up this particular daytrip. The following day I was embarking on another so next up on the blog: Luxembourg City!

Stay tuned!

Jason