There’s a lot that could be said about 2020 but I’m going to focus purely on the blogging side and say that for the most part, I was a bad blogger in 2020!
Not that this is really anything more than a hobby but still, after coming back from Washington in April I was pretty inconsistent in my blogging and pretty inconsistent in my blog-reading too.
Regardless of that I really do appreciate this community and the many of you that make this a much more enjoyable experience. Thanks for sticking around in 2020 and continuing to make this as fun as it is!
I’m optimistic I’ll be much better on both fronts this year but this post is short and sweet and I just wanted to wish you a Happy New Year! Happy blogging and I hope all your blogging dreams come true this year! Haha!
Hello my dear readers, welcome back to another post! Can you believe it? I’m posting twice within a week – incredible!
After a little hiatus, last time out on the blog I provided a little update and promised that I’d post about my recent trip to Gibraltar! Here’s that post!
I’d never been to Gibraltar before, nor had I really had that much interest in going to Gibraltar. Of course I want to visit everywhere in the world but I definitely feel like it ended up being a Covid-influenced decision. As I explained in my last post, with so many travel restrictions currently I found myself torn between staying in the UK, visiting Turkey or visiting Gibraltar with my few days of annual leave.
I’ve been itching to visit Turkey for a little while now but something swayed me towards Gibraltar instead. A few days after booking my trip Turkey went on the quarantine list so that was a big relief.
As for the UK.. well, the less said about the Covid situation in the UK at the moment the better. Ironically a trip to Gibraltar seemed safer than visiting anywhere within my own country – ridiculous!
Once everything was booked my excitement did start to build. It had been six months since I’d been abroad and indeed six months since I’d been to Heathrow. I opted to stay in an airport hotel on the Wednesday night and then fly out of terminal 5 at around midday on Thursday – not too early so I got a bit of a lay in on Thursday morning.
Heathrow was inevitably a bit busier than my arrival back in April but was still far from normal capacity. I passed through security pretty quickly and went on the hunt for breakfast. My usual pre-flight spot is at Huxley’s with some pancakes and a pot of tea but they were seemingly closed – I’m hoping this is just temporary but in the meantime I had to settle for breakfast at ‘Spoons’. They had a few screens up between tables and table service so adhering to the Covid measures in place. In fairness to Wetherspoons, they’ve actually encouraged ordering via an app for a long time so have been a little “ahead of the game” on that front.
Anyway, a short while later it was time to fly. Boarding was pretty smooth and done from the back of the plane by row order, I lucked out on the way to Gibraltar with an aisle seat and nobody sat in the middle. However it was generally a full-capacity flight and most rows had every seat full, just worth keeping in mind for anybody pondering how busy flights are at the moment – masks were mandatory and there seemed to be no fuss on that part at least.
I landed in Gibraltar a few hours later. Before you’re allowed to enter Gibraltar you have to complete a passenger-locator form. You can do this online once you’ve checked in for your flight, it surprised me how many hadn’t done this before arrival. They check every single passenger so you’re better off doing it beforehand rather than stood huddled together filling out a form in the arrival hall.
Anyway, I’d finally arrived in a very warm and sunny Gibraltar. You can get a taxi to your accommodation or there’s a bus stop not too far from the airport that will take you in to the centre of the country but with glorious weather I decided to walk to my hotel.
The very Northern point of Gibraltar to the very Southern point of Gibraltar is about 6 kilometers in length so it’s a really walkable country. The airport is in the very North of the country so you want to head South, in direction of that big ol’ rock, to get in to Gibraltar. You’ll know which way you need to go because the border crossing in to Spain is right in front of you when you come out of the airport and the rock is behind you and unmissable haha.
Interestingly to get in to the main part of Gibraltar you have to cross the runway which you’ve just flown in on. It’s quite unique and they’ll stop crossings when a plane is due to land or depart.
I walked in direction of the rock and even getting a little lost I’d soon arrived in what I considered to be the heart and soul of the country – Casemates Square. The square had a bit of a buzz and life to it. Additionally it’s in a really picturesque location so my first impressions of Gibraltar were good. I already felt like I was going to enjoy Gibraltar.
I think it was about 4-4:30 when I landed so by the time I’d walked in to Gibraltar I was ready to check in to my hotel and drop my things off. A friend had recommended a couple of places and I opted to stay at the Elliott Hotel which proved to be a good decision as it was a lovely hotel and in a really good location in relation to everywhere else in Gibraltar. I dropped my things off, relaxed for a little bit and then freshened up to head out and find some dinner.
I decided I’d stay pretty local. A friend over on Instagram lives in Gibraltar at the moment and had kindly sent a bunch of recommendations over to me – one of those was ‘The Skull’ which was just around the corner from my hotel so seemed particularly ideal on my first night given I’d yet to get my bearings with where things were.
True to its name, everything at this little bar was Skull themed! Skull designed flooring, skulls lining the bar, skull-shaped lightbulbs, skull-inspired artwork and even skull-themed dishes. My chips turned up in a skull-designed glass, as did my cocktail that followed dinner haha. It was a nice little place and a good spot for my first evening. It was pretty empty though which surprised me a bit given England and Wales were playing eachother in the football and this particular bar were televising the game – admittedly another incentive for me to visit on my first night.
There’s no curfew in Gibraltar, unlike the UK currently, but because there were so few customers they didn’t stay open late. I was assured it’d be a bit more lively on Friday evening but with an early kicking-out time I had a little wander through Gibraltar to see what else was local to where I was staying.
In all honesty I was aiming for the waterfront but after little success finding it I admitted defeat. I didn’t really see anything else of particular interest on my wander so just headed back to my hotel and called it a night, ready to explore and get a proper glimpse of Gibraltar in the morning.
I woke up on Friday morning to darkness which was quite confusing. I thought it must still be early in the morning but even at 7, 7:30 in the morning it’s dark outside. The sun didn’t rise until about 8:30 in the morning which I found a little unsettling and also a little demotivating to get myself up and raring to go. I reckon I’d have been up and raring to go a bit earlier but instead I rolled over and went back to sleep, I wasn’t heading out to explore whilst it was still so dark.
Unfortunately this became a bit of a ‘bad habit’ if there’s such a thing on holiday. As much as I’d want to get my day going I just couldn’t drag myself out of bed before the sun was up. It was probably closer to 10 or 11am by the time I’d left my hotel and it felt like such a waste of my morning. I went and found a place to grab some breakfast but the slow start had set the tone for the rest of the day.
It ended up being a really relaxed day. There were a few things I wanted to do whilst in Gibraltar but none set for any particular day, I was largely winging it and just seeing where things took me.
Ultimately Friday just became a familiarisation day that allowed me to get my bearings with where things are in Gibraltar. I’d not had much chance to do so yet but I kind of used it to earmark where I’d spend the next few days. By the afternoon I’d wound up at the popular ‘Ocean Village’.
I wouldn’t call it a village as such but it’s where you’ll find a lot of the nightlife in Gibraltar. There’s a host of restaurants and bars floating above the water, joined by a variety of boats and yachts including the impressive ‘Sunborn’ which you can stay on and is also home to a casino.
I liked Ocean Village but it probably does cater more towards the tourists. That said, I was a tourist so found myself an outside seat at one of the bars and refreshed myself with a beer or two. Keen not to stay in one spot all day I did drag myself away from the temptation to just sit in the sun all afternoon and wandered back through the streets of Gibraltar before making my way back to Casemates Square.
As I said above, it really is the heart and soul of Gibraltar in my mind. You’ve got tourists and the locals intertwined and it makes for a really nice atmosphere and is also perfect for people-watching!
I must have arrived sometime between 3pm – 4pm because there was a huge collection of school children running around enjoying themselves whilst the cafes, pubs and restaurants were slowly filling up for the evening.
Due to a late breakfast I’d skipped lunch and found myself in that peckish dilemma of “is it too late for lunch / too early for dinner?” before eventually deciding I was too hungry to wait. I took a seat at the Italian restaurant ‘Tramonte Ristorante’ and treated myself to a pizza which ended up being pretty good!
The rest of my day was pretty uneventful, I didn’t do anything particularly noteworthy but I felt a lot more comfortable with where things were and the quickest ways to get around. I ended up getting a rather early night, particularly for a Friday, keen to make a better go of exploring on Saturday.
A few people knowing I was in Gibraltar had asked if I’d “seen the monkeys yet” and I’d decided going to the top of the rock was my plan for Saturday. However I sensibly took a look at the forecast and whilst warm, it looked like it was going to be a cloudy day and I thought better of it so instead I decided I’d head on down to ‘Europa Point’ at the Southern tip of Gibraltar.
With a bit of a walk ahead of me I kicked off my morning at this little cafe down the street from my hotel. Having missed out at Heathrow I ended up getting some pancakes which was the perfect way to start the day. I was then off on my journey “down South”.
The walk was a little over 2 miles, nothing too strenuous and most of it is coastal too so I’d definitely recommend walking it rather than hopping on a bus. There isn’t too much traffic so it’s a decent walk and offers some really pretty views of the coast and Spain to the West.
Along the way I stumbled upon public outdoor pool areas, some interesting historic buildings and structures and even a little waterfall which I really wasn’t expecting. It’s not a particularly long walk but it’s definitely easy to get distracted along the way which might slow you down a bit haha.
Eventually I reached this long dark tunnel which you have to pass through (coming this route anyway..) which seemed to go on for a bit longer than I was expecting.
As soon as you come out of the tunnel you’ll see a gorgeous mosque on your left. Unfortunately it seemed to be closed so there wasn’t an opportunity to take a look inside but I made sure to grab a couple of photos from the outside.
By this point you’re pretty much at Europa Point and the lighthouse on the Southern coast of Gibraltar.
Europa Point was probably my favourite part of Gibraltar. I think it just really resonated with the traveler within me. Just across the water was the North African coast and it just left me mesmerised!
On a clearer day it’d be so much more visible, my photos don’t do it any justice but Africa was right there! It’s one thing crossing state lines or country borders but to be stood in Gibraltar with Spain on my right and Africa in front of me – wow!
It was mindblowing in some ways. I came here fully aware of that fact so it’s not like it was a surprise but I couldn’t help but transport myself to historic times and put myself in that mindset. I just pictured being stood in Gibraltar with the curiosity and mystery of “hey.. what’s over there?” – “that’s Africa..”
Even now, with the world so accessible and with so much knowledge of other places Africa has that mystery. It was my hope to get to Morocco this year and it obviously didn’t pan out, much like Turkey, so this is the closest I’ve come to stepping on African soil. You can get a little closer in parts of Spain but realistically I knew this was as close as I’m ever likely to get to Africa without stepping in Africa.
I have a habit of romanticising travel, perhaps too much at times, but I was stood there looking across the water and definitely had that “pinch me” moment. There’s so much I don’t know about Africa and I think those of us from the Western world in general are guilty of that.
I found myself completely swept up in the lure of Africa. There’s not a huge amount in the vicinity of Europa Point but I think I could have just sat there all day day-dreaming. It’s a sight and experience you have to make time for in Gibraltar.
Also at Europa Point you’ll find a lighthouse and then a university. The university seemed very sports focused and it’s probably of little shock that I found myself drawn to the Europa Point stadium. It’s in such a stunning location with the rock and its surroundings providing a gorgeous background. Again, I think if I was ever playing on that pitch I’d just get lost within the scenery.
“Jason.. what are you doing? You’ve just let them score!”
Dragging myself away from Europa Point I embarked on a coastal walk. The sun was beginning to make an appearance and it’s just a beautiful place to go for a wander. I stopped every so often to take photos of the views but my intended destination was Gorham’s Cave Complex – a World Heritage site.
This was a bit of a last minute decision. I’d only considered it once I realised how close it was to Europa Point. My lack of preparation meant I didn’t know that it was closed at the weekend so I arrived to find locked gates and subsequently no opportunity to see the cave complex on this particular trip. I turned back and took a slow walk back in to the heart of Gibraltar, via Europa Point again of course.
With the sun finally shining I did ponder whether I could squeeze in a trip up to the top of the rock and tick off both landmarks in one day. However in the end I took a more relaxed approach and decided I’d leave the Rock until tomorrow.
Thinking that it might be time to find somewhere for some food I made my way over to ‘Queensway Quay’ which is a gorgeous little harbour-like area with a handful of restaurants overlooking the water with numerous yachts and pretty boats parked on the docks.
This was somewhere that you’d probably be less inclined to just stumble upon unless you were actively looking for it so it felt a little less touristy than somewhere like Ocean Village. I found myself a table sat outside, ordered some beer and grabbed myself a late lunch whilst overlooking the harbour.
By this point I was pretty smitten with Gibraltar and I’d returned to day-dreaming, this time as a boat owner living the dream life in the sun. Sod going back to Corona-land, I was staying here.
Essentially this was the “South of France..” or “retire in Spain..” lifestyle but with the added boost of a common language. I sat people-watching and this cute couple were sat just infront of me seemingly making the best of their honeymoon. The, socially-distanced, table to the right was an older couple and it wasn’t long before the four of them had become acquainted and friendly and spent the next hour or so chatting.
There’s only one way I’d know that so no need to guess how I spent the next couple of hours. People-watching, sunshine, beers, pretty views, no responsibilities.. what more could you want? It felt almost like living in an alternative reality – “this is what life looks like in a country tackling Covid effectively..”. I was equally bliss and resentful. I was in no rush to leave Gibraltar and just wanted to soak up this feeling.
Eventually I opted to have a wander elsewhere and just get lost within the old town. Despite the huge rock that towers over Gibraltar, it’s such a walkable country and it’s nice to just wander aimlessly and see what you stumble upon. After a while I returned to the hotel to freshen up and relax for a bit before pondering where to spend the evening.
I decided I’d go and grab dinner around Casemates Square and find myself a nice spot to soak up the atmosphere. It’s a lovely spot to watch the sun go down and do some more people-watching. For a Saturday evening it wasn’t overly busy which surprised me a little but there was enough of a buzz that it kept me entertained.
I wasn’t in a rush to call it a night but fancied a change of scenery so thought I’d take a better glimpse at Ocean Village’s own nightlife. Again it wasn’t swarming with people but a little busier than it had been when I passed through on Wednesday. There’s a number of restaurants / bars that you can grab a drink at.
I started off at one bar that had been recommended to me and also had cheap cocktails. I was only going to grab the one cocktail but with a 2-for-1 offer it seemed silly not to have two. I was a little disappointed however that you couldn’t mix-and-match which would have allowed me to try two different cocktails. The bar in general wasn’t really my kind of place either, not solo anyway and it just wasn’t the vibe I was after.
I finished off my cocktails and swiftly moved on. Unlike in the UK currently, there’s no curfew in Gibraltar so I wasn’t having to glance at the clock for a 10pm close. I wandered over to another bar in the Ocean Village which I’d heard were really good for craft beers / ales.
That’s the one possible disappointment and, dare I say, gap in the market as far as Gibraltar is concerned. I decided early on in the trip that I was buying a boat and opening a brewery in Gibraltar because it stuns me that there are no breweries in Gibraltar – not one!
You won’t find locally-made beers in Gibraltar, they’re all imported and generally your options are San Miguel or Heineken in most places you visit – I generally opted for San Miguel but with how popular craft beers are right now it really surprises me. With the weather and dining-out style culture it is the perfect country for better beers and Gibraltar is seriously lacking in that department.
So I was looking forward to finishing off my evening by visiting somewhere that prided themselves on their craft beer selection. Sadly it doesn’t matter how good your menu is if none of the beers are in stock! I was bitterly disappointed. In the end I took my chance on a fruity gin. I’ve never really drunk gin but when better to try it than on holiday? It went down alright and I’m probably more pro-gin than I was before the trip. It was a beautifully decorated bar too so was a nice way to end the evening.
Sunday morning started like the two before it – pitch black! I’d continually wake up raring to go and the lack of sunlight ends up being so demotivating – back to sleep! I woke up a little while later and got myself ready to go up the rock.
I repeatedly debated whether I should climb it by foot or cheat and take the cablecar up. I unsurprisingly opted for the latter and I can’t say I have any regrets. It’s just so much more convenient haha.
At the top you’ve got 360 degree views overlooking the entire country and beyond. It’s definitely the ‘must-do’ of any trip to Gibraltar. It’s also where you’ll find the only wild monkeys in Europe!
I’ll be honest, I thought there’d be much more of them based on stuff I’d read. There were a handful fooling around but not that many. I was one of the earliest people to go up though so perhaps they’re more prominent later in the day when there are more tourists to steal goodies from. Not that I minded too much, I was happy they kept a good distance from me haha.
The views are spectacular and there’s a few other attractions dotted around such as the ‘Skywalk’ or the Windsor suspension bridge. Rather than take the cablecar back down I decided I’d walk down and tick off a few of the points of interest.
The area I probably spent the most time exploring was the ‘great siege tunnels’ in the lower part of the Rock area. It went in to a bit more of the history of Gibraltar which was interesting to read about. It was still pretty early so I had it pretty much all to myself so I could take a bit more time and get some fun photos too!
Outside of the tunnels there’s a couple more cool viewpoints but it was pretty much all downhill from there. I’d definitely recommend going early in the day, it was slowly getting busier on my way down than it had been when I’d first gone up.
By the time I’d made my way down the steps in to the old town I was feeling a bit peckish and I was really hoping to find a decent Sunday roast somewhere. I ended up going to ‘The Clipper’ and it was really, really good. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in Gibraltar on a Sunday, it was really good value too for the quality and quantity of food they served up.
After stuffing myself with food I wandered back over to where I’d started the day. Right by where you ride the cablecar is the botanical gardens and I was keen to have a wander through the gardens, I probably should have done so before I’d rode the cablecar up but I hadn’t really anticipated walking back down haha.
The botanical gardens are free to visit and definitely worthwhile visiting for that reason alone. I was expecting it to be a little busier given it was a Sunday afternoon by this point but it was still pretty quiet. Again, I wasn’t going to complain. It just meant I could enjoy a peaceful wander through and admire how pretty it is. I’m sure if I was a local I’d spend many an afternoon here and it wasn’t long before I’d found a bench to sit back, relax and admire the surroundings.
The gardens aren’t particularly huge so eventually I’d covered pretty much all of it and went back to wandering the streets of Gibraltar. By this point I’d pretty much seen all of Gibraltar that I’d wanted to, it’s worth remembering it’s a pretty small country and I’d ticked off the two big things I wanted to see in terms of the Rock and Europa Point. The rest of my Sunday was pretty chilled.
Sunday was my last night in Gibraltar so I wanted to end it by enjoying what felt like my “last taste of freedom”. I think Gibraltar is the kind of destination that I’d enjoy in normal circumstances. I think it had the perfect balance and feel of being a European destination but with a nice dusting of British influence on it that made it really appealing to me. Boat jokes aside, it’s somewhere I could easily see myself living.
That’s in normal circumstances of course. The irony wasn’t lost on me that I was lucky enough to have been able to escape for a few days but perhaps unfortunate enough that it had given me a taste of normality. Gibraltar had been perfect but left me feeling more resentful of what I was going home to.
I really liked Gibraltar but there was definitely a part of me that pondered how could you not in a pandemic? This was as normal as life had felt in a long time and I was desperate to cling on to that feeling of normality.
I treated myself to a steak on the last night in a restaurant over in Ocean Village. It proved to be a perfect spot to watch the sun go down accompanied with a beer. It was a world away from life back in England. I moved on to another bar, had another couple of cocktails and was trying to enjoy this final night for as long as possible. I even stayed out beyond 10pm – wild!
Sadly, it eventually it had to come to an end and was time to call it a night. Monday morning was really a struggle. The only part of Gibraltar I hadn’t really explored was its East coast and I had contemplated going over to Catalan Bay beach which the barman on my first night had said I’d have to visit.
However I just couldn’t drag myself out of bed. Luckily I didn’t have to check out until midday but I just wasn’t ready to go, to leave this false life and return to the normality of a pandemic. My slump wasn’t helped by the fact I knew the UK government were implementing new lockdown measures today and I was fearing the worst.
That’s not to say I didn’t think those measures were needed but to be in a relatively Covid-secure country and returning to a country that was spiraling out of control was difficult to accept on this particular occasion.
Regardless of how gloomy I felt about returning to the UK, what was the alternative? I checked out as close to noon as possible and figured I’d just go grab some lunch somewhere. Catalan Bay would have to wait until a future visit to Gibraltar, I only had a couple of hours left and didn’t want to go too far out my way.
Ocean Village’s proximity to the airport made it an ideal lunch spot and location to soak in the last few rays of sunshine before I had to say goodbye. Ordinarily I’m a “get-to-the-airport-early” kind of traveler but I did hold back a bit on this occasion.
Admittedly I knew Gibraltar’s airport was pretty small and that only one flight was departing Gibraltar so there wasn’t going to be a huge rush at the airport but the reality is I was still clinging on – just one more beer..
I slowly made my way back to the airport, again opting to walk. It’s only about 10-15 minutes from Ocean Village on foot. My later departure meant I got stopped at the runway crossing as we had to wait for a flight to land before they opened up the road to traffic and pedestrians – a nice little novelty experience to round off the trip.
The flight home was full on this occasion and soon enough I’d landed back in a wet London, Gibraltar’s sunshine was a distant memory.
As for those UK measures I’d been concerned about? The good news is they were much more lenient than I’d anticipated. I’d really feared the worst and I was surprised to discover that as far as my area of the UK was concerned it was “business as usual” and the measures in place were unchanged. It perked me up a little bit from my mood that morning.
The bad news? Well.. the measures were much more lenient than I’d anticipated. It was in equal part good and bad news. There was an air of inevitability about what had to happen to get this virus under control again in the UK and unbelievably it seemed that memo didn’t quite get as far as Downing Street.
As much as I loved Gibraltar I’m left pondering when we’re ever going to reach that point in the UK where life can resemble some form of reality again. Gibraltar was a wonderful trip but also a difficult one as it took me back to happier times and I wasn’t quite ready to give that up.
Anyway, I’ve rambled plenty so time to wrap up this post! I’m sure Gibraltar is a place I’ll return to but next time on the blog I’ll be continuing on with the “big 3-0” trip.
I kicked off ‘Jason Likes To Travel’ back in April 2017, some of you have been along for the ride and for some of you this might be the very first post of mine you’ve read! If so, welcome! I hope you stick around!
Anyway, I’m not somebody who really dwells on the past, likewise I don’t worry too much about the future. I try and keep myself in the present but sometimes it’s nice to reflect and it was one of the motivations that really kick-started this blog. I think any blogger is hoping their content is read and enjoyed, I was certainly no different in that respect but I also think there was an element of doing this for me. I wanted somewhere I could reminisce and document my travels and so ‘Jason Likes To Travel’ was born.
What relevance does any of this have to Thessaloniki? Apologies to new readers, not aware of my ability to go off on a bit of a tangent, but I am getting to the point – I promise!
You see, last time out on the blog I wrote about my trip to Hamburg in May 2017. You can catch up on that (here) but the eagle-eyed among you will notice the timing. That’s right! I was a newbie travel blogger! I came back from Hamburg desperate to get the next holiday booked but I was also in somewhat of a reflective mood. I was planning blog posts and content, reminiscing to travels of the past and before I knew it a pattern had emerged.
“Hang on a second.. forget the next holiday. When was the last holiday?”
Don’t get me wrong, I loved Hamburg and afterwards I was thinking about all of the other amazing places I’d been to in the past few years. Sydney, New York City, Berlin.. city, city, city..
Were they holidays? That’s not me being ungrateful. I’m so appreciative of the places I’ve been to, I also love a city break and they’re typically my preferred type of break but are they really holidays? Does rushing around Vienna in 24 hours constitute as a holiday? Was 3 days in Budapest long enough? I’d spent four years rushing around various cities, obviously enjoying myself, but where was the “break” in the city break? Where was the holiday? Maybe they should be called city rushes instead.
Although that might be a little more accurate, perhaps a little less successful on the marketing front. Nevertheless it did get it in to my head that, with 2017’s summer approaching, my next trip should be a proper holiday. I wanted a birthday treat in August. With that said there was specific criteria and restrictions I placed on such a trip.
First and foremost, I wanted a birthday treat but didn’t want it to actually overlap with my birthday. I wanted to ensure I was home in time for the football season. I wanted to visit somewhere warm, a place with a pool and also visit a country I hadn’t been to before!
With my birthday on the 7th and the football season starting on the 12th I’d restricted myself to just four days (Aug 8th – 11th) which pretty much restricted any adventures to a European trip. Not necessarily a problem but August is the busiest and most expensive month to go anywhere in Europe. Likewise the cheapest places to visit were all countries I’d been to (Spain, France, Portugal). The one exception perhaps being Ireland but who takes a “summer holiday” to Ireland? No.. I had to keep looking.
After looking at various accommodation options and flights that ticked the right boxes I eventually found myself a deal I was happy with in a place called Thessaloiniki. “Where is Thessaloniki” I hear you ask, well it’s a city in Greece!
Alright, you caught me! I’ll admit the irony wasn’t lost on me in that my quest to find myself a “holiday destination” to avoid “another city break” still resulted with me booking essentially a city break. Oops!
The other criteria held up though. It was a new country, I’d booked a nice hotel with a rooftop pool, it was a place I knew nothing about so I had no long list of stuff to see. It was genuinely going to be a relaxing break! Hopefully..
Anyway, all booked! Tuesday 8th of August to Friday 11th of August. On the Tuesday I made my way over to Stansted for an afternoon flight. I was sticking to the relaxed ethos of the trip, for once I decided I wasn’t going to get an early morning flight. I still had three days to enjoy in Greece.
So onwards to Stansted I went and the holiday could begin! There was a bit of delay to my flight but on the plus side I had been allocated a window seat by Ryanair and even better, the seat next to me was vacant so I got treated to a rare piece of “Ryanair luxury” in being able to stretch out a bit. A few hours later we were landing in Thessaloniki.
By this point of the evening it was already getting dark so I didn’t mess about in navigating my way to my hotel, I just jumped in a taxi to take me there. From the outside it appeared to be a nice hotel, not five star or anything but it was a good first impression.
Check in was quick and easy. Friendly too! The receptionist welcoming me quickly complimented me on my dress sense. It puzzled me somewhat as I wasn’t wearing anything beyond the ordinary. I was just in a t-shirt, pair of jeans and a pair of converse but it put me in a good mood heading up to my room nonetheless.
I didn’t really do anything with the rest of my evening. It wasn’t particularly late but I didn’t want to go wandering too far given it was dark so I just settled for relaxing and getting a bit of an early night. The holiday could start properly tomorrow!
On Wednesday morning I headed down for breakfast at the hotel, there was a buffet of sorts (no Weetabix) which got me going for the day. Afterwards I headed on out to get my first proper look at the city, wandering down towards Thessaloniki’s port and seafront which was a short walk away from the hotel.
Along the seafront is essentially a “strip” – a long line of buildings which were I think pretty much all either a bar or restaurant of some sort. I wandered along as far as Thessaloniki’s White Tower which given the heat seemed far enough to walk for the time-being. Closeby was this fairly tall statue which I had a little gander at and suddenly I was being approached by this little Asian man who wanted me to take a photo of him.
Did the respective heights and nationality need clarifying? You’d be forgiven for thinking no but absolutely! This guy wanted me to take his photo, for all I know he was speaking to me in Greek but there was a clear language barrier between us so communication was at a minimal amount.
I sized up a vertical photo and he begins waving at me in protest. I find it fascinating how we don’t let the lack of a common language stop us from communicating, it was clear he was basically saying to me “other way..”
I understood but my problem was their respective sizes. I tried to advise this wasn’t going to work but he was stubborn and refused to accept a landscape shot just wasn’t going to work. This statue was towering over him and I was desperate to try and get my point across but I reluctantly submitted to his wishes. .
“Okay, so I’m either chopping off half of the statue or half of your body – which would you prefer?”
After taking a couple of photos I somehow got the message across that now we were going to do it my way. Oh, look at that. All of you is in the picture with the statue! Why didn’t we think of this earlier?
I handed him his phone back but he gave no real indication if he was happy with the photos or not. I didn’t really stick around to find out in truth, Hopefully when looking back at the photos he realised what I was trying to say, failing that he flagged down some other poor soul to do a better job but either way I was out of there. I had come to relax and wasn’t about to let tourists start stressing me out.
That debacle added to the heat led to me deciding to find somewhere to grab a drink. Honestly, I looked at the time and thought it might be a tad early for an alcoholic beverage. I looked to the others sat dining for comfort but with little success so I settled for getting a ‘mocktail’ instead which was some sort of peach and mango concoction. It was good though!
After a quick refresher I decided I’d head back to the hotel for a swim. I had actually hoped to get an early morning swim in but it turned out that the pool didn’t actually open until 10am, additionally it seems that it closed around dinner time so I wanted to make the most of the pool hours whilst I could.
The location was perfect. It was situated on a rooftop which overlooked the city. Unfortunately though it wasn’t a particularly big pool, quite small infact, and there were plenty of other people with the same idea so the pool area was pretty busy. The people to pool space ratio was not in my favour and I wasn’t really going to get the relaxing swim I’d planned on.
I settled for grabbing a drink at the poolside bar and admiring the view instead. Not quite what I’d hoped for but still pretty relaxing so not an entirely wasted journey back. I didn’t foresee my luck changing at any point during my stay though so I didn’t return to the pool. It was a little frustrating because one of the bigger appeals of this hotel was that it had a pool, so it felt a bit of a waste to have had no use of it.
Anyway, after a bit of time poolside I headed back to my room. I chilled out for a little while and then freshened up to go out for dinner. I found a nice square which had a bunch of restaurants that seemed ideal to grab some food. Dinner was good, my only other plan for the evening was to find a bar by the water and watch the sun go down with a few beers.
It didn’t take me long to find somewhere with a prime sunset spot, there are an endless number of bars and restaurants to take your pick from. After sitting down at this table outside I ordered myself a beer but politely declined ordering any food, I’d literally just come from dinner so wasn’t feeling particularly hungry.
Nevertheless the waitress came back with a beer and a small plate of food. There was a small salad and some chicken strip/finger type things to accompany it. I really appreciated the gesture and thought it must just be a one time thing but it turns out beer actually means “beer and free food” in Greek.
I visited countless places over my trip and it kept happening. Admittedly in most places it came in the form of some crisps or nuts or something equivalent but still, it was free! I almost found myself resenting the places where this didn’t happen.
“Excuse me, where are my free beer snacks?”
I said I wasn’t hungry but now with a mini plate of food in front of me I didn’t want to let it go to waste, it’d just be rude, right? I ended up spending the remainder of my evening at this same bar. The service was nice, it was a nice atmosphere and the view was perfect. It was my first Greek sunset and a beautiful one at that, certainly a highlight of my summer.
With the sun down I called it an evening and made a slow walk back to my hotel. After another good night’s sleep I woke up on Thursday and headed back out in to the city. Wednesday had really been about familiarising myself with the city, today I wanted to at the very least climb the White Tower so I made that my first stop of the day.
The tower isn’t particularly big but even so, sometimes these sort of things can be a little pricey so I was quite pleasantly surprised to find it was only about 4 euros or something to go up it. At the top you get city, sea and mountain views so it’s well worth going up. Within the tower there are also some exhibits which I was a little more torn on.
There were pieces of information in each room, presumably covering stuff like the history of the tower or whatever. The only downside was it was purely in Greek. On the one hand I quite liked that for once a tourist attraction hadn’t completely catered towards the English (Americans, Australians etc) but on the other hand, or rather on a personal note, it made the information a bit of a waste. For 4 euros and a cracking view at the top it’s still great value but just something to note. Although I think there may have been audio guides so with hindsight I might have been better picking one up.
Anyway, after snapping a few photos I made my way back down. Opposite the tower there were a handful of boats sat on the harbour offering tours. One in particular had caught my eye the day before. Sitting on the water was a pirate ship which was cool enough but what really caught my eye was the green sign flashing “free ride” or something to that effect.
There had to be a catch, right? I figured it had to be one of those.. “£500 free.. when you spend £4 million in store..” type deals. Nobody’s just handing out free boat rides on the water. A boat ride did sound like fun though so depending on how much it actually was, I figured I’d take a tour.
I approached the boat with a bit of curiosity and yet despite my cynicism it seems this was infact a completely free ride. The man watching over the entrance waved me straight on board, I was pleasantly surprised. There was a bar on board which was an added appeal but you were under no obligation to buy a drink. If all you wanted was a trip on the water then it was a completely free ride.
Personally, I took advantage of the bar on board. There was a temptation to see if they had any rum and have a proper pirate’s drink for my new life at sea, I settled for a beer though and waited as the boat filled up a bit before we waved goodbye to shore. It was a short trip, only around 30 minutes in total but it was a lovely way to spend a bit of time and without doubt the coolest boat I’ve ever rode on. The fact it was free was just an added bonus!
After my fun on the water I went for a bit of a wander, didn’t do anything particularly noteworthy but saw some cool buildings and just generally wandered along the waterfront. My afternoon flew by which meant soon enough my attention had turned towards evening plans – bar-hopping apparently!
I didn’t really have any set location but I started off around the White Tower and with my hotel at the very end of the previously mentioned “strip” it seemed unavoidable stopping along the way. I’d grab a beer or two, enjoy the atmosphere and the views and then move on to the next. At one of the restaurants along the way I grabbed some food but generally it was just an evening of checking out a few of the bars by the water whilst the sun went down. By the time I got back to my hotel I was beyond the tipsy point, I pretty much crashed the second my head hit the pillow. Overall it was another good day in Greece with just one left to go!
I woke up Friday in a very different mood, probably the closest thing I’ve experienced to any feeling of ‘homesick’. I don’t know what brought it on but I didn’t really want to get out of bed whatsoever. It wasn’t a reflection on Thessaloniki in any way but my head space just wasn’t in the right place. I was here on my own and I think more than anything I just wanted a familiar face or voice in Greece with me. I think I could have done another day relaxing with the right company but another day of nothingness whilst traveling solo got to me I guess.
If I hadn’t had to check out I think I’d have just curled up and spent the day in bed, as it was I left it as late as possible before dragging myself out of bed. I’d paid in advance for my room so I was expecting a smooth check out and then the receptionist asked for me to “settle the balance”.
A phantom bottle of water had magically found its way on to my bill. On any ordinary day I don’t think it would have bothered me in the slightest, it was clearly a mistake but today? I let it add to my miserable mood – “just get me home..”
I wasn’t rude about it and the receptionist seemed to just accept me at face value, for the sake of a bottle of water I don’t know how far I’d have argued it but I suppose they took the same approach and it wasn’t of enough significant value to kick up a fuss about. It did take the shine off what had otherwise been a nice stay though.
Moving on, I now had hours to kill in Greece or rather hours to mope about in Greece. I had a long wait until I could go home so I went and found a restaurant to get some lunch at and I thought I’d try the chicken ‘souvlaki’, whatever the hell that was.
I think it was lunch which firstly perked me up and secondly where a bit of common sense kicked in. There are obviously cons to solo travel but there are pros too and the lack of company meant I got in to my own head a bit. I realised how ridiculous, selfish and ungrateful I sounded. I couldn’t change my situation so I might aswell enjoy the final few hours that I was here. I also knew come Monday I’d be stuck in an office probably wishing I was back in Thessaloniki. I’d already let my mood spoil my morning so I wasn’t going to let it ruin my afternoon too.
With a new-found attitude I finished off my lunch and got back to wandering. The sun was shining down on me, the sea was gleaming beautifully and for a minute it almost seemed like Greece wasn’t the worst place to be on a Friday afternoon. Reality, or the lack of it here, had finally hit me. “Why am I in a rush to get back to England?”
There was a buzz about Thessaloniki on Friday, everywhere seemed much busier than the last couple of days. There was a bit more life to the city and I think that energy helped lift my spirits. I don’t know why it was so busy, it almost felt like nobody worked on a Friday here. Perhaps there were just a few more tourists in town for the weekend but it felt like a different city.
My wandering took me past some cool pieces of architecture and I spotted a couple of cool pieces of street art too. I figured I’d maybe go and round up my trip by doing a sightseeing bus tour which would perhaps highlight some of the ‘sights’ that I’d missed. By the time I reached the pick up point though I’d changed my mind. Fortunately just across the street was this park so I thought I’d go have a look around and take advantage of some of the shade – it was particularly warm today.
It was here that I stumbled upon perhaps my favourite bar in Thessaloniki. It was an unexpected find but one I was pleased to stumble upon. I couldn’t resist stopping for a drink, it was so quiet and peaceful in comparison to an otherwise pretty busy city. Every bar and restaurant I’d passed up to now seemed full to the brim and here was this perfect place hidden away in the middle of the park.
I loved it so much I stayed for more than one, I’d planned on taking a bus to the airport which would have taken a little longer but I figured the money I’d saved on not doing the sightseeing tour could go towards grabbing a taxi instead. One beer ended up being a few before finally calling it quits, I had to make my move. It was a shame I found this place so late in my trip as it would have been nice to see how the atmosphere compared in the evening but it was a nice end to my time in Thessaloniki. My mood had significantly picked up and I was a bit sad to be heading home.
I was a little early to be heading to the airport but there was nothing else I particularly wanted to do so I flagged down a taxi. I’d barely buckled my seatbelt when my driver told me he needed to make a quick coffee stop. “Wait, what?”
It was certainly a taxi first for me. Admittedly I was early so an unplanned stop helped kill a bit of time. Also, to his credit, he did at least ask if I wanted something to drink too (I didn’t). He pulled over and said he’d be two minutes, I figured he was exaggerating but surprisingly two minutes later we were on the move. Two and a half years later I still don’t quite understand how he managed to get his coffee so quickly. Does he have a coffee guy randomly waiting on the off-chance he pops in? It was impressive.
Speaking of impressive, so was the journey. It’s a scenic drive which I hadn’t really been able to appreciate when I arrived as it had been too dark to see much. Soon enough I’d arrived at the airport, far too early and unfortunately there wasn’t actually much to keep me entertained as it’s quite a small airport. Additionally my flight was then delayed an hour so a little more boredom but all in all it was a good trip, little blip aside.
Did I get the relaxing break I wanted? Yes, for the most part.
Would I recommend Thessaloniki? Yeah, it’s a nice city and I enjoyed my brief visit.
Will I personally be going back? Probably not. Never say never but unless a specific reason presents itself I think it’s unlikely. I’m glad I went but I think one visit is enough. Greece is definitely a country I want to see more of though and this proved to be a good introduction to the country.
Have you ever been to Greece? Where else should I visit? Let me know!
Anyway, that wraps this one up! Next up on the blog? My first trip to Washington State!
Hello my loyal readers! Some of you might be wondering where I’ve been, alternatively some of you following other social media platforms might be wondering where I haven’t been given my recent travels.
Whichever bracket you fall under, the biggest reason for my disappearance is that I’ve been exhausted.
I’ve been pretty busy of late – particularly as far as traveling goes and I have been a bit overwhelmed at how busy I’ve been. It has been enjoyable but as someone who’s an introvert I crave that space to refresh and re-energise and my little free time hasn’t afforded me that luxury of late. Consequently I’ve embraced those small windows where I’ve had a bit of free time and I’ve sacrificed blogging. I just haven’t had the energy for it once travel, football, social plans, work and everything else has been over with.
The good news is I’m hopeful that I’ll be a bit more regular on the blog again, however before jumping back in to it with a travel inspired post I thought I’d focus on something a little more mental-health focused given that it is apparently mental health awareness week.
The personal posts talking of “superheroes” such as Sickboy or Weetabix boy have gone down pretty well on the blog in the past so I thought I’d speak of Social-media-boy today.
One of the big causes of the growth in mental health issues is in the “importance” of social media and how much of a detriment it is having towards people’s health. I’m quite fortunate in that the pros of an online environment or experience outweigh the cons for me. However it appears to be a growing trend that the cons are doing more damage than the pros for many other people.
People, particularly young people, suffer from comparing themselves to other people’s “perfect lives” or suffer from those “FOMO” (Fear Of Missing Out) moments that look incredibly more attractive than our own circumstances. Happy families, loved up couples, business-folk driving around in Ferrari’s, non-stop travelers such as myself. Everyone has it better than you, right?
I try to make this point every so often because I’m quite conscious that I’m living the perfect lifestyle online. I enjoy sharing my travel photos, I enjoy sharing my ‘highlights’ but this idea that my life is enviable is one I struggle with. We all have our insecurities and shortcomings in life and I certainly have my own.
So in the spirit of being a bit more transparent and vulnerable, here’s a dose of reality from social media boy.
I’ve somewhat covered mental health topics on the blog before but the biggest and most over-whelming response I had to any blog post was Sickboy’s tale of anxiety. Sharing that was nerve-wrecking but the response overwhelmingly supportive. I couldn’t believe how many people read it or had mentioned it over the family-weekend-get-together which fell on the weekend I posted it.
One of the big points made in that post was how daunting solo travel was and how getting past those fears helped rid me of the worst of my anxiety. I’ve traveled solo many times since and I’m commended for my ‘bravery’ which I can understand, I stand by the reality that your first solo trip is incredibly nerve-wrecking but the reality is once the first solo trip was out of the way I’ve found it incredibly easy.
The bigger fear or insecurity for me is probably the opposite – putting yourself out there to find company to travel with. I’m not opposed to sociable activity but I’m actually a bit of a recluse and somewhat of an outcast.
Do I travel solo through choice or do I ask someone to join me and end up going solo anyway because they can’t make it. Rejection! (HA!)
“Did you not know they hate you? Idiot!”
“but there’s hundreds of entirely plausible reasons they said no..”
“The most likely being they hate you!”
Don’t get me wrong, I know that I have friends and loved ones and everything else but there’s always been that nagging insecurity that I don’t fit in. Be it school, college, work, social groups, family get-togethers or whatever – I’m the oddity of the group. The quiet one, the boring one, the.. you get the point.
I’m not suggesting it’s logical. Insecurities, paranoia or self-doubt rarely is. I do have this internal argument with myself in which I reassure myself and pick myself up but that insecurity has always been there. Infact it was probably a huge cause of how my anxiety started.
I spent the best part of my teenage years locked away (not literally!) in my bedroom and had become the ultimate recluse. From the age of 14 to 20 I had no real friends and subsequently no social life. You’d be forgiven for thinking I was depressed but I was happy – genuinely for the skeptics among you.
I had friends in Texas, Massachusetts, Lancashire, Essex or countless other places around the globe. The internet deprived me of that loneliness and I immersed myself in countless online platforms. Habbo Hotel, Yahoo Pool, Xbox Live etc etc – I made friendships for life in those years but I was about as much a recluse as could be.
Then I started work at Sainsbury’s and it was the same old. I don’t fit in here, do I? It was all a little bit clique-y and consequently for what was probably the first year of my job I only had colleagues, not people I considered friends. I generally had a better relationship with the customers opposed to anyone I worked with.
Then the next batch of recruits came in and things changed! There wasn’t that same clique and I started making friends – people outside of the internet that I could actually see face to face.
You’d think having no friends would be worse but there was a comfort and safety in being a recluse, I was largely dependent on my own company and became comfortable within that. Making friends was harder. I had something valuable I now didn’t want to lose and as I started seeing these friends outside of work the anxiety kicked in.
“Don’t fuck it up you loser!”
I spoke in my sickboy post about the physical aspect of the anxiety but that’s how it was. To some extent you manage the mental side of mental illness but when it becomes physical illness too there’s nowhere to hide.
The last thing you want to be doing when meeting friends is throwing up at the sight of them. I can remember getting a bus over to a friend’s house on one occasion and having her meet me at the bus stop only to be throwing up within seconds of getting off the bus.
“Lovely to see you, bleurgh..”
For someone that struggles making friends it’s not ideal throwing up in the company of the few that take pity on you. From there the anxiety just spiraled. Every social occasion, job interview, first day, whatever resulted in the same ritual of planning around the inevitable sickness.
“Try not to throw up in the company car park before going in for this interview, okay Jason? They’re probably not looking for that..”
That sickness chapter ended with Sydney (2013), the solo trip that helped build my confidence and rid me of the worst (physical side) of my anxiety. I started traveling more and have sustained friendships and relationships and whatever else since then but there’s always been that lingering self-doubt or insecurity in terms of fitting in.
With the exception of the football community I’ve always felt like an outsider and it’s why I’ve always said football is my biggest passion, even ahead of travel. Additionally it’s why I take exception to those calling it “just a game” who’ve never experienced the community aspect to it or the belonging that comes with it.
There’s nothing quite like it and I recently said that THAT night in Amsterdam was probably the best of my life because the outpouring of emotion and jubilant celebrations that followed the game is a moment I’ll never forget. I probably hugged 100 random people out in Amsterdam and they don’t care what your background is – just that you’re Spurs.
Getting back on track, I know that self-doubt and lack of belonging is in my head and ridiculous but it’s not something that is easily turned on and off.
With that introduction comes perhaps my low-point of 2018. It was the year I turned the big 3-0, as some of you’ll know I celebrated my 30th birthday by spending 30 days in the USA.
That’s all well and good, amazing memories and all that, but I live in England. I still wanted to celebrate my birthday here, despite not enjoying being the centre of attention. Ordinarily I’d happily forego birthday plans but it was a biggie, a little more special and I had to do something with people on this little island too to mark the occasion.
Perhaps surprisingly I enjoy social outings but I’m not really a plan-maker. I’m happy to hang out and do things most of the time but it’s usually as a result of someone else organising something – a trait I’m trying to work on improving and actually being a bit more proactive in making plans.
Anyway, I wanted to keep it simple and sent out open invitations for an afternoon / evening down at a local pub/restaurant on the river (literally). A huge beer garden, warm summer day and an “all welcome” approach. Perfect!
“Nobody’s going to come. They all hate you, you loser!”
That little voice in my head was shot down. The only way I was going to get past this illogical insecurity / self doubt was to head it face on. That’s the sound advice everyone gives you right? “Face your fears”.
Of course the fairytale ending is you face that fear and you’ve overcome it afterwards. All I had to do was put myself out there and there’d be an outpour of love and happy memories to look back on.
Sadly life doesn’t always go to plan and the turnout was actually quite disheartening. I’m grateful to the few who came out but there were far fewer people than I’d anticipated. It stung.
I’d been carrying the disappointment all day and I don’t think it was until I’d put Ross in to a cab later in the night that the weight of it hit me. I was up for a boogie, up for extending the evening a bit longer but I was just sat in this club alone and felt empty. There were other people in the club of course but I was sat celebrating my birthday on my own. I was craving for a familiar face to walk through the door of the club to make me feel less alone and change the end to my night but it wasn’t to be. I felt emotional and it killed my night.
“Don’t cry here man, just get home.”
Which I did. I grabbed a taxi home, curled up in bed and shed a few tears. That pesky insecurity had got the better of me, feeling like I’d taken a slap in the face and almost validating every self-doubt I have. Admittedly I’d had a few beers but it’s very easy to overthink in the early hours of the morning and enhance that doubt in yourself.
I analysed it, I questioned everything, I even took to Facebook and bitterly culled a few people which was somewhat therapeutic if I’m honest. I then had another cry and eventually I slept.
In the immediate aftermath it perhaps left a little emotional scarring but I picked myself up, dusted myself down and reassured myself as I often do.
In the many months since I’ve contemplated posting this story multiple times in a multiple of different ways and been reluctant to hit that ‘post’ button. I don’t think there’s any way to have written this without it seeming a little guilt-trippy which is definitely not my intention!
The reality is there are numerous reasons and circumstances which didn’t go in my favour on that particular day. From commitments to finances to emergencies to whatever, there are plenty of factors that played a part and deep down I know is no reflection of how loved I am. A lot of friends were out of town and had other arrangements and that’s life. I completely understand that.
So please don’t feel:
1) Guilty. If you’re reading this there’s no resentment on my part.
2) Pity. I don’t need your pity either.
As I said the purpose of this post was more to offer a dose of reality and transparency on my part – this month in particular which has been busy. I am conscious that my life often LOOKS perfect but this was a way of showing I’m as messed up as everyone else. Everything looks perfect on the internet but we’re all dealing with our own problems.
Potentially not everyone is comfortable being as vulnerable and open with their issues but just because you’re not reading it, like you are here, that doesn’t mean people aren’t going through a rough period.
Personally I’m in a good place right now, I probably wouldn’t be posting this if I wasn’t, but I thought it important to share a brutally honest and vulnerable side to my life and low-point to my 2018. Fortunately things change quite quickly and I had a good few reminders through the rest of the year of my place and importance in the world following that. They could be seen as seemingly insignificant moments to others but moments or celebrations I was included in that reminded I’m not forgotten about or insignificant.
Anyway I think I’m done rambling, apologies if you endured all of it! Given it is mental health awareness week I’d like to end by reminding you that you can message me any time you’re struggling and need a chat.
Alternatively the following organisations all do a good job of helping those struggling with mental health and you can get in touch with if you want to talk to someone a little more anonymously.
That’s a wrap! Next time on the blog will be back to the travel stuff and specifically part 2 of my Bavaria trip (Sep 2017). If you want to remind yourself of part one you can here: A trip to Memmingen!