Seattle – February 2018

Last time out on the blog I rounded up my time in Germany in November 2017. I did have one more trip in 2017 but I don’t have access to my Edinburgh photos here in the US so I’m going to have to skip that and jump straight in to 2018!

My first trip of the year was a return to Washington State. In quite an unusual manner, my third trip to Washington was actually the FIRST trip planned to the state. As I explained here, my intention was to go out to Washington for the first time in August 2018 to watch two friends get married. Additionally I was to turn 30 in August 2018 so it was an opportunity for a big adventure!

If you’ve been following along on my adventures you’ll remember that I decided to go to Washington a year earlier to meet Maddie (bride 1), Cassie (bride 2) and Haleigh (bridesmaid) properly in person. It was a great trip with me and Haleigh hitting things off which consequently blossomed into a relationship.

Whilst we’d definitely hit things off there was also a case of “we’ve not actually spent much time together..” – in my time in Washington we’d probably only spent about a day of it with just the two of us. I’d spent some time in Ellensburg with Maddie and Cassie, some time in Spokane by myself, a short amount of time with Haleigh in Moses Lake and then a weekend in Seattle with all three.

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Watching baseball in Seattle, Sep 2017

So there was perhaps two reasons to rush a return to Washington. First and foremost, this had blossomed in to a relationship and to wait from September 2017 until August 2018 was a long time to go without seeing eachother – it didn’t make sense to go a year without seeing eachother.

However there was also a degree of selfishness to my plans. I already knew I wanted 30 days in America for my 30th and logically it made sense that Haleigh would feature within those plans, at the very least we’d see eachother at the wedding, but how much of that time did I want with someone I’d spent next to no time with?

Would we get bored of each other’s company? Would it be awkward? Would it be a miserable 30th celebration?
“What did you do for your 30th birthday Jason?” – Well..

It is selfish but I wanted a positive story, I wanted a 30th to remember and not one I’d be regretting in five, ten, twenty years time because I’d spent it in the wrong company. So I put my summer plans on hold and booked a flight for February. Two weeks in Washington, a proper amount of time spent with Haleigh, a chance to meet some family but most importantly an opportunity to get to know eachother better and to see if this spark we thought we had was genuine. If we could survive two weeks in eachother’s company then it would be a good sign for our future!

Obviously it comes as no surprise to many reading that things went well, I’m actually currently two and a half weeks in to a 3 month stay here in Washington so needless to say we haven’t yet grown sick of eachother.

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Exploring the Redwoods, August 2018

Anyway, back to this trip. My intention was to spend two weeks with Haleigh but I flew in to Seattle on a Monday and Haleigh had to work. Theoretically Haleigh could have come and picked me up but this was Washington’s Winter and would have meant driving through the mountains in the dark and potentially icy / snowy conditions. I decided I’d just get a bus over to Moses Lake.

The problem with that is unless you drive, don’t expect to get anywhere in a hurry. Greyhound offer something like 3 or 4 buses a day from Seattle to Moses Lake. Two/three of which are before midday, there are no afternoon services and the only evening service leaves Seattle around 11pm which means getting to Moses Lake around 3am.

I didn’t want to get to Moses Lake at 3am, so I decided to book one night in a hotel in Seattle. FYI – Seattle is like many big US cities – bloody expensive! I settled on one of the cheapest hotels I could find in the Queen Anne neighbourhood.

The two big differences between this trip and my only other visit to Seattle was firstly, this time I was alone and secondly that last time we had a car to get around. It might not seem much for less than 24 hours in the city but you quickly realise how much of a difference those two factors make.

For instance I arrived to Seatac and instead of a welcoming committee waiting to pick me up, I had to find my own way out of the airport. How do I get to Seattle from here? I knew the link was the best way to get to the city so I followed the signs and soon enough was buying a ticket in to down town Seattle – I can’t remember where I decided to get off but I quickly became aware that it wasn’t going as far as I needed it to.

I could have jumped on a bus or something from the final stop but I figured it was a sunny day (it always is in Seattle, seriously, the rain is a myth in my experience!) so why not walk to my hotel, right?

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It’s always sunny in Seattle

Wrong! Don’t walk anywhere in Seattle! I spent a good few days exploring Seattle six months earlier with the girls but when you’re driving everywhere you don’t appreciate that Seattle is just hills, hills and more hills. By the time I’d walked the couple of miles to my hotel I was happy to just crash – the time difference doesn’t help, it was probably around 3:30-4pm local time by the time I arrived so as far as my body clock was concerned it was around midnight.

I dropped my things off. The hotel looked nice enough from the exterior but looked tired inside, I’m not convinced the lock on my door actually worked which wasn’t encouraging but for one night it was okay. I wouldn’t have wanted to have been there for much beyond that – you get what you pay for I suppose.

I was keen to make the most of my Monday in Seattle – FYI, nothing appears to be open on a Monday in Seattle. There was a couple of concerts on in Seattle that were somewhat tempting – one the night before and one the following night which was terrible and teasing timing. One of the few remaining things I was interested in doing that was open on a Monday was the Space Needle – which just so happened to be under renovation on this particular date – seriously?

I looked what was vaguely near my hotel and Kerry Park stood out, I’d heard it had some of the best views in the city and it just so happened to be nearing sunset so it seemed a perfect first stop for my evening.

To get to Kerry Park I had to, you guessed it, walk uphill! Up Everest in fact! This hill was so steep and all I could ponder is if Seattle had another myth attached to it – “what goes up, must come down..” – Seattle just goes up and up and up. Admittedly when looking for one of the “best views in the city” I suppose it’s to be expected but all I’d done since arriving in Seattle was climb upwards.

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Kerry Park, Feb 2018

The view at the top is worth it at least. At the top were numerous photographers, Instagrammers, influencers etc waiting for the sun to set over the city so they could get their picture perfect shots. I didn’t have the patience to hang around too long. I took a few photos and swiftly moved on, on the hunt for some dinner!

I finally had the opportunity to wander downhill and aimed for the waterfront. Aside from being a continuous uphill struggle, Seattle is a beautiful city with mountain, water and city views to admire.

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Beautiful Seattle

I found a restaurant along the waterfront and seafood seemed a good idea so ordered myself some (Alaskan) fish and chips alongside a beer. The latter took forever to finish, the time difference was starting to catch up with me.

That said it was still early so after eating I figured I’d wander over to Pike Place, or where I thought Pike Place was anyway. Having been driven there on my first visit meant that I had little knowledge of how we’d got there and I’d convinced myself it was by the waterfront – it’s not!

Admittedly it’s not far from it, only a couple of blocks inland but I eventually realised I’d walked too far and had to turn back to find it. During the day the area is bustling with tourists, after dark the whole area is pretty dead.

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Seattle’s gum wall

I made my first stop the disgusting gum wall. On my first visit they’d recently scraped most of the gum off of the wall so it was quite underwhelming. This time around I was pleased to see a much more gum-filled wall in place, albeit slightly disgusted too at how much gum can go up in the space of five months.

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Gum heart – Sep 2017
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Gum heart – Feb 2018

Pike Place looked cool after dark but none of it was open for business so had a very different vibe. With not much happening I contemplated going somewhere to find a drink. As tempting as it seemed, I was also flagging a bit by this point so decided I’d take the (uphill) walk back to my hotel which helped wear me out in time for bed. It was probably about 9-9:30pm (5-5:30am UK) by the time I got back to my room. I inevitably crashed pretty quickly.

The next morning I decided I’d take a slow walk towards the Greyhound bus station. The Queen Anne area seemed like a nice neighbourhood and had a few cool pieces of street art in the area. I wandered over towards the Capitol Hill part of the city. That was the plan anyway, I got a little lost in my detour so couldn’t tell you exactly where I ended up but it was nice to see parts of the city that I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise.

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Getting lost, admiring Seattle’s street art

Eventually I abandoned wandering on foot and jumped on the link in the direction of the bus station. The beauty of this journey is that Seattle is on the West side of the mountains and Moses Lake is on the East side of the mountains which means constant mountain views on route. It’s breathtakingly beautiful for a good hour of the journey, if not more.

I used up half of my phone battery taking photo after photo in awe of the view. The other passengers seemed unfazed by the views, I don’t know at what point the mountain views get “boring” but I hope I never reach that day.

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Views from the bus!

A little like my time in Austria four years earlier, it felt criminal to see passengers with their head stuck in their phone instead of glued to the window.

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Blue skies & snowy mountains = perfection!

Eventually I’d reached my destination on the East side of the mountains. More on what I got up to over the next two weeks to come in my next post! 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

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 two – October 2017

If you caught part one you’ll know that my first day in Madrid already had me swooning over the city. You can recap on that here but I was keen to see if Madrid could sustain that feeling or whether I’d just got wrapped up in the excitement of visiting somewhere new on my first day. My first impressions were good but now I’d familiarised myself with where a few things were I was ready to see what else Madrid had to offer.

I kicked off my Monday morning by checking out of my hotel which was a struggle. I wasn’t supposed to be in Madrid on Sunday so this was my bonus night in the city, the next three were going to be spent in a hostel and to make matters worse my sole night in the hotel resulted in a free upgrade. Swapping a little bit of luxury for three nights in a four bed dorm didn’t have me rushing to check out but needless to say I had little choice.

I was soon on the move and just went wandering. I find walking the best way to see a city and it wasn’t too long before I’d stumbled upon a nice-looking square during my hotel. It’s a little out of the way so doesn’t really get much foot traffic but I liked the look of it and snapped a few photos.

I didn’t really have anywhere in particular in mind in terms of exploring but wandered up to the heart of Madrid, the bustling area around puerta del sol which is one of Madrid’s most famous and busiest squares. It’s certainly an area that gets a high concentration of foot traffic so is good for a little people watching. Along the main road were numeous beautiful buildings which kept catching my eye as I wandered all the way up to the equally stunning Palacio de Comunicaciones.

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Palacio de Comunicaciones

It’s one of my favourite landmarks in Madrid – it’s beautiful. The only real downside is it sits on the edge of quite a busy road so trying to get a photo without any vehicles whizzing by proved difficult and the best spot for taking photos was also bang in the sunlight so I didn’t get any amazing photos to do it justice. I did like it though and the “refugees welcome” banner had me planning my Brexit escape plan! I was fond enough of Madrid to make this my new home! Haha.

Closeby was a long pedestrianised walkway which had what appeared to be some sort of public outdoor library which was pretty cool, I’m not sure if it was permanent, nor if it was even open but there were rows and rows of books stacked along this stretch.

With lunchtime approaching there was an obvious choice of restaurant nearby. Long term readers will know I like visiting Hard Rock Café’s on my travels and Madrid offered an opportunity to tick another visit off of my list. This wasn’t a ‘favourite’ by any means but still had the usual HRC characteristics and friendly staff so was a good lunch option.

Having filled my stomach I ventured back in the direction of the Plaza Mayor but that was a bit of a walk from where I was which allowed me the luxury of getting lost in Madrid’s narrow and pretty little streets.

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Colourful Madrid

Madrid was much more colourful than I’d anticipated and with such good weather it’s a particularly enjoyable European city to just wander in. I think you could easily spend a day solely just wandering the streets in the same way people romanticise doing so in somewhere like Paris. There seems to be an endless number of tapas bars and little shops or businesses that continually offer somewhere to peer your head in to.

After a bit of exploring I went and found my hostel, I knew it was close to the Plaza Mayor but it ended up being a lot closer than I’d anticipated which was ideal as it’s such a convenient square to meet up with people in. I’d booked a four bed dorm but for whatever reason it ended up being just a two bed dorm with two double beds in. Although I met up with my friend Daniel later in the day and he did joke that perhaps it was a four person room and I’d find a stranger sharing my double bed with me when I returned – fortunately this didn’t happen! Haha.

I had a quick wander up to the advertised hostel rooftop bar. Surprisingly there was nobody else up there so it seems they don’t open during the earlier hours of the day. Taking a siesta maybe? Who knows. I had a little look around and got a couple of photos but with nowhere to actually get a drink I made it a brief visit and made my way back in to the streets of Madrid.

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Rooftop views at my hostel

I found a place to grab some tapas for dinner and then arranged to meet up with Daniel and Natalie again for some evening drinks. Natalie was running a little later so myself and Daniel met up initially and returned to the Mercado de San Miguel that we’d visited the night before. It has a great atmosphere although on this occasion I vividly remember being sat opposite this older Danish man who was rather weird.

He was friendly enough at first but soon came out with a few things that were essentially awkward conversation killers. Myself and Daniel tried to keep the chit-chat light-hearted but felt quite pleased when him and his wife (girlfriend maybe?), that he didn’t seem particularly fond of, called it a day. Natalie turned up soon after and we had a little chuckle at our strange encounter and then enjoyed a few more beers together.

Rather than spend our evening at one place we decided to move on and see if there was anywhere to watch the Monday night football. We flagged down a pub that would likely be showing the game but on route there was a familiar noise echoing off the buildings of Madrid.

“Can you hear that?”

Of course we could! I have to say, the noise really bounces off the buildings in Madrid. It’s probably something you’re not going to notice unless there’s an event or protest or some sort but from a distance we could hear the cries of fellow Spurs fans singing. We followed the noise and soon enough we’d stumbled upon this TINY little street with a collective of Brits drinking outside of this bar.

The location was a tad puzzling. Admittedly the noise and the atmosphere perhaps made up for it but it was such a small bar that it was a struggle to get a drink. In the end I wandered up to a restaurant a little walk away and grabbed three beers to go.

A little while later the flashing blue lights found our gathering of football fans. There’s a fine line between having a good time and being a public disturbance, I don’t think there’d been any trouble as yet but it was a little raucous or noisy for a Monday evening by usual standards in Madrid I expect. The police maintained a good distance and stood at the bottom of the street to let us know they were there more than anything. In fairness they didn’t seem to be here to break up the fun, just to ensure things didn’t spill over into troublesome.

Nevertheless, after a few beers a few get a little too excitable and thought taunting the police would be a good idea. I mentioned in part one that the Catalans had just voted for independence from Spain so the pro Catalunya and Barcelona songs from our fans aimed in their direction seemed a questionable move.

I’m not suggesting it’s a fair stereotype but European police definitely have a bad reputation in England, I’d argue particularly so amongst football fans who feel European police need little excuse to victimise / attack football fans. Be it truthful or mythical is largely irrelevant here but it gives a little context because for those same people to then arguably offer an invitation for conflict was strange.

Football fans, particularly British football fans, can be detestable at the best of times but after a few drinks and in the midst of political turmoil? Let’s just say it was unwise and it did add a little tension to the atmosphere. It could have got nasty quite quickly but the police didn’t really rise to it and the majority of our fans sensibly dispersed, ourselves included as we weren’t wanting to needlessly get caught up in something. We called it a night. I popped back up to the hostel rooftop bar and it was much livelier so I grabbed myself a beer before heading to bed.

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Livelier hostel bar

Tuesday was largely about the football with the afternoon dedicated to the pre-match build up and then the evening the game itself. However it still left me with a morning to go and explore Madrid.

I kicked off my morning by going to see the palace and the Catedral de la Almudena which is opposite the palace. Both are pretty spectacular buildings. It also surprisingly wasn’t very busy at either. I’d seemingly timed my visit early enough to beat the crowds, as had some newlyweds who’d come to get a few photos! Not a bad spot for a wedding photoshoot, right?

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Perfect spot for wedding photos in Madrid!

Towards the back of the palace was the gardens which were nice to walk through and offered some more good photo opportunities. From there I then wandered over to the Tempel de Debod which a friend had recommended I go check out. It’s a cool little Egyptian temple and worth checking out when in Madrid.

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Tempel de Debod, Madrid

Content that I’d not wasted my morning I ventured back towards Plaza Mayor, grabbing some lunch along the way and then began to soak up the atmosphere building in the city before the big game. More on that next time!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Seattle – Sep 2017

Alright my dear readers, we’ve reached the last part of this Washington series. Those of you following along will know that so far I’d been to Ellensburg (staying with Maddie and Cassie), Spokane (solo) and Moses Lake (staying with Haleigh). That left just one place to visit: Seattle.

Seattle is undoubtedly Washington State’s best known city and, of the four places I visited, the one I’d expect you to be most familiar with. Consequently when I made plans to visit Maddie, Cassie and Haleigh this was also the city I was most excited to visit. I’d heard a lot of good things about Seattle and the four of us were off to enjoy the weekend there together.

First things first though, we kicked off our Friday morning pretty early waking up in Ellensburg. We’d agreed to make an early start so we could get going as soon as possible. As I explained in my Ellensburg post, Ellensburg sits on the East side of the mountains, Seattle sits on the West which is a couple of hours away.

I spoke about how impressive the view was when we drove to Ellensburg on day one of this trip but with the smoke, the haze and the air quality I couldn’t appreciate just how pretty Washington was. Don’t get me wrong, I was still in complete awe and had my face glued to the window but that’s partly because I don’t see mountains very often and it just blew me away.

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Washington State, April 2019

It was only on the journey back to the West side of the state (and mountains) that I really got to appreciate the views and just how beautiful Washington really is. Blue skies, fresh air, mountain views and greenery everywhere – it’s a perfect drive and as scenic a journey as I’ve been on. After a while we began our approach in to Seattle.

We kicked off our time in Seattle with a visit to the affectionately named ‘MoPop’ museum (Museum of pop culture) which I really enjoyed. It’s spread over a few floors and has exhibits on various different things. At the time there were sections dedicated to the Seattle Seahawks, David Bowie, Star Trek, video games and much more. It was interesting and definitely a place you should visit on any trip to Seattle. You could feasibly spend hours there as some of the exhibits (such as the video games room) were interactive too. I even got treated to a live show from the unlikely trio of Animal, Miss Piggy and Elmo – played by the three girls.

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What a band!

Afterwards we went and grabbed some pizza for lunch in a cool little make-your-own pizza type place. It seemed to be a chain in Washington as I saw a few of them dotted about but I can’t remember the name of the company off the top of my head, it was good though. Maddie had a quick photoshoot planned with some friends so we made a little time for that before heading over to our hotel for the next couple of nights. We checked in, chilled out and then made some evening plans.

We were staying in the Tacoma area, just outside of Seattle, so it made sense to make plans nearer to Tacoma rather than drive in to Seattle. We met up with some of Cassie’s family and a couple of friends at some little fast food / diner type place to grab some dinner. Moving onwards we headed over to Dorky’s which was a fun little arcade / bar. It was somewhat similar to ‘Barcadia’ in Dallas and made me wish we had more of these places in the UK.

Dorky’s was a little more arcade-game focused than the bar vibe of Barcadia but it was a fun place to hang out, play some games and enjoy a couple of beers – no pickleback shots on this occasion haha.

I played a few classics and also discovered a couple of games I’d never played before. Attention then turned towards Mario Kart. I’d been in Washington a few days now but still not actually spent that much time with Haleigh yet and even less so just the two of us so this was a good/terrible bonding activity.

I say terrible because it’s definitely one of those games where friendships/relationships just go completely out of the window. Was this potential romance going to crash and burn at the hands of Mario Kart? Maybe but a risk worth taking! We both took our seats in preparation of our imminent battle. It’s here where some people seem to take pity on their opponent – “if you like her you should let her win..” – those people are weak!

I had no intention of letting Haleigh win! I was here to crush her! As it was, that didn’t materialise at all. Haleigh comfortably won the first race and then the rematch. Hoping to restore a little pride we agreed on one last race, I’d obviously lost any best of three but if I could end on a high, I’d go away feeling somewhat content. With the finish line in sight I was happy to have at least won one race and BAM!

Sabotage! Something caused me to crash and made me stumble over the finish line, split seconds behind Haleigh who’d somehow pipped ahead of me in the final moment and snatched victory away from me. Unbelievable! We called it quits after that, probably for the best on my part!

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Would I fare better at mini-golf?

Shortly after we all made a move and decided to go and play some late night mini-golf elsewhere. It was a fun way to end our night, plus we managed to squeeze in before they closed the bar so a few of us ended up sharing a jug of beer between us.

I don’t think we really tracked our scores whilst playing but me and Haleigh went round together and were pretty much on par with eachother, I think she might have (again) just pipped me on the final hole as my putting skills seemed to desert me but as we weren’t tracking we’ll call this one a tie – unlike the brutal Mario Kart thrashing!

All in all, it had been a first fun day in the Seattle area. We popped through the McDonald’s drive through on the way back to our hotel and quickly crashed in to bed ahead of day two in Seattle.

Day two, Saturday, was pretty much all about the baseball! We were off to see the Seattle Mariners and I was set to experience my first live game of baseball.

I’d actually caught a bit of baseball earlier in the trip as they were showing the Mariners game on a TV in a bar I’d gone to get some food at in Spokane. My limited knowledge of baseball was that it was essentially the American equivalent to the game we call Rounders, a game fundamentally aimed at children and simplistically put is little more than “hit and run”.

I’d hoped watching a little might have enlightened me on more of the complexities of the sport but I was left unconvinced – it was pretty much a game of Rounders that you might see in any park or school field in England (during the summer months obviously). As a professional sport it’s not something I’d say has too much appeal over here, although with that said they have started hosting MLB games in London so maybe I’m harshly judging it.

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Home of the Seattle Mariners!

Despite my overall scepticism I was quite excited to experience it live as its one of those iconic American pieces of culture that you see so often in movies and TV shows. Baseball is undoubtedly one of the great staples of the USA and I was intrigued to see what all the fuss was about. I was also a little curious about how the matchday experience would compare to one of our own staples of the UK – my beloved football.

On our approach to the stadium we drove past some preacher raving about the sins of homosexuality among other things. I instantly wanted to make that comparison to the football back home because even as backwards as football can be, I think he’d have been run out of Tottenham if he’d tried preaching something similar on a matchday down at the Lane – particularly at the old stadium.

Swiftly moving on from the idiot disgracing himself we parked up and were soon making our way in to the stadium where we received a pop figure of ‘King Felix’ – the Mariners legendary player Felix Hernandez. It was a nice little souvenir to take home with me from my first baseball game.

We’d arrived pretty early and it’s a little surprising to see that difference in culture. Football very much has a ‘turn up five minutes before kickoff’ type culture about it whereas baseball was a bit more family friendly and about making it a day out as much as anything. There was plenty of pre-match entertainment, places to eat or drink and likewise photo spots that were a bit of an initiation process for me and confirmed my place as a baseball fan.

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The Mariners gang together!

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Washington

We took some photos to commemorate the occasion and then made our way to our seats and watched the atmosphere slowly build. I cemented my visit by grabbing a hot-dog which for me was just that little piece of the culture you often hear about in the movies or tv shows. You’ve got to have a hotdog (or popcorn or pretzels or..) at the baseball right? I washed it down with a beer which was a welcome improvement over the football. I can drink a beer in my seat? Such a novelty!

It’s a noticeable absence from English football due to outdated and quite frankly ridiculous laws that prohibit English football fans ever enjoying themselves.

Oops, let me get back on track before I go off on a tangent. Kickoff was almost upon us, I was ready to go which ultimately caught me a little blind-sided as suddenly everyone stood up around me. What’s happen.. oh, of course – this is America, time for the national anthem!

Any game, any event, any occasion is a good excuse for a bit of American patriotism and despite being well aware of that I still find myself unprepared for it. I don’t think anywhere quite does patriotism like the USA and whilst I’m sure it doesn’t faze Americans, if you don’t come from somewhere like that it is an obvious cultural difference. It somewhat surprises me they don’t have the national anthem blaring out in the airport upon arrival to the country.

It’s easy to make fun of of course but it’s also a little endearing and heart-warming. It’s a complete contrast to the English philosophy of “England’s shit but it’s our shithole..” – I do think there is still patriotism here but it’s a little less in your face and with a bit more self-depreciating humour I suppose. Unless it’s a major sporting event you don’t really see the country get swept up in English fever.

Out of respect I stood alongside everyone else and as the anthem played I did ponder if I actually knew more words of this than our own (sorry Queenie), you hear it so often in so many settings that it’s hard not to be familiar with the US national anthem.

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Let’s go Mariners!

After our daily dose of American patriotism we were ready to go! Baseball has a unique tradition in which there is a ceremonial first pitch – it has no bearing on the game but is a nice little touch I think and involves a celebrity or randomer of some sort to throw the first ball. From there on it’s left to the professionals.

There’s a lot to admire about baseball as a whole. As a live experience I think it’s a great day out. It’s fun, there’s a community spirit to it, you can enjoy a game with your friends, family, loved ones or whoever but from a competitive viewpoint I’ll be honest and say I found baseball incredibly frustrating at times.

I had it in my head that baseball was a relatively high-scoring game, partly due to the fact that America generally doesn’t like a draw (tie). There are sports which are determined by a winner of course but they’re not fond of the concept and they like a winner. I don’t think American culture really appreciates a good 0-0 or the “good point away from home” mentality which is a bit more common in popular British sports such as football.

Additionally it’s a “hit and run” sport so I was expecting that to be a predominant feature within the game and instead it felt a little more like the equivalent of a really bad penalty shootout with the thrower (kicker) repeatedly missing the target. I found the inconsistency infuriating when ultimately if you’re a pitcher it must be all you train on.

I obviously found myself willing the Mariners to victory but by the start of the sixth inning (of 9) I was just willing them to score anything as the scoreboard still read Mariners: 0

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Five innings, Mariners zero!

The Mariners did offer some hope in the 6th innings as they finally scored! Hurrah! However the 7th, 8th and 9th were then a mismatch and it ended up being a comfortable away victory for the Cleveland Indians. I think the game ended 11-4.

Despite the lack of any real competitive edge to the game I was won over. I don’t think it’s a sport that I could ever enjoy watching on TV but as a live experience and a “day out” it does deliver. I haven’t yet been back to the baseball but it’s certainly something I’ll hope to do in 2020.

After a fun day of baseball we headed in to central Seattle and visited the famous Pike Place market. It’s definitely a tourist trap but it’s a part of Seattle I’m quite fond of. We checked out a few stores and then I had my first sushi experience, where better to enjoy it than right by the coast? I couldn’t tell you what I ate, Maddie offered me a piece of something she’d ordered. I don’t know what I was expecting but the initial taste took me by surprise, however after the initial shock I quite liked it (whatever ‘it’ was). It was another ‘first’ on this trip but I haven’t had sushi since so can’t pretend to say it’s something I feel is lacking from my life.

After a little time wandering through pike place we wandered over to Seattle’s famous ‘gum wall’ nearby – a wall covered in chewing gum. It sounds horrific but it was something I was actually quite keen to see on my first visit to Seattle so I was actually rather disappointed they’d seemingly scraped the majority of the gum off ahead of my visit. Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely disgusting but I was of the opinion that if I’m going to see it I wanted to see it at its most disgusting haha.

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Love sticks!

Sadly all that was left was a ‘cute’ little heart shape on the wall so we grabbed a couple of photos to take home with me. Fortunately I’ve been back since (Feb 2018) and was ‘pleased’ to see it covered in gum once again, although I suppose slightly horrified too as to how quickly it had filled up in the space of 4 and a half months.

We grabbed some food and then made our way back to the hotel before planning out the rest of our evening. As it was I think both myself and Haleigh just completely crashed and scuppered any evening plans. In Haleigh’s defence she’d just gone through a week of school as a new first year teacher, I’m not really sure what my excuse was but we ended up getting an early night instead.

The next day was our last together. We’d talked about doing a boat ride which we all thought was a good idea so made our first stop of the day this boating place in Seattle. I’d obviously misunderstood in the planning stages of this idea because I’d wrongly assumed that we were taking a little cruise or ferry along the water. What actually materialised was a little wooden boat with paddle in hand – “oh.. that sort of boat..”

We booked up a time slot and then made our way over to the ‘Space Needle’ – a huge tower overlooking the city and looks a bit like a UFO up in the sky. We didn’t go up but had a little look around and met up with one of the girls friends called Haley, not to be confused with Haleigh. I say not to be confused, it inevitably did cause confusion haha.

“Haleigh?”
“Yes?”
“No sorry, I meant Haley..”
“Oh..”

Anyway, the five of us wandered around the Space Needle and popped in to the Seattle centre which was a good spot to pick up some lunch as it’s home to a number of different fast-food type places, somewhat similar to a food court I guess. After a little time we wandered back to take our boat ride.

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Boat time!

I think the boat sat around 12-15 ish people, I can’t quite remember but consequently meant we were paddling alongside strangers. I was seemingly sandwiched with one young kid in front of me and one kid behind me which didn’t work out too well for me. Their timing wasn’t quite in sync which wasn’t unexpected but I also ended up getting fairly wet in the process. Overall though it was a fun little excursion, nice to be out on the water and inevitably scenic because, well if you hadn’t realised by now that’s just Washington all over. Despite my initial scepticism it had been a fun idea and a good way to round off our time together.

Sadly being a Sunday the girls wanted to drive back to Ellensburg / Moses Lake so they dropped me off at my new hotel, I figured it would be more convenient being close to the airport now that I’d be without a car. We said our goodbyes which was sad, it had been a nice first trip to Washington and was somewhere I knew I’d be back to next year for the big wedding in August 2018. As it was I got back there prior to that but you’ll have to wait for that story.

For now it was time to go our separate ways. I could have probably popped back in to downtown Seattle on Sunday evening but instead I just chilled out at the hotel. On Monday I flew home and reflected on a lovely trip. It had gone every bit as well as I’d hoped, I got to visit four wonderful places and meet a bunch of wonderful people (and four-legged friends) along the way.

I was sad to be going home already but on the other hand I was also quite excited. There’d definitely been a feeling of romance whilst in Washington but I knew that a month later I’d be traveling once again at the expense of Haleigh’s biggest love rival.

For those of you now invested in mine and Haleigh’s relationship and currently feeling a little protective, fear not! My trip to Washington had me feeling confident about our future and I’ve since offered assurances that there is room for Haleigh alongside this other lifelong love of mine: Tottenham Hotspur of course.

I was said to say goodbye to Washington but three weeks later my beloved Spurs would be playing in Madrid! That trip is next up on the blog!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Moses Lake – Sep 2017

Those of you that have been following my Washington series will know that last time out on the blog I rounded off my time in the city of Spokane. After one night solo in Spokane it was time for me to move on and visit another new place: Moses Lake!

“Oh my god, at last!”

Alright readers, calm down! I suppose one of the downsides to not blogging “in the moment” and doing so two years after the trip (oops), particularly in a series such as this, is some of my ‘audience’ tend to know what the story is building towards. Last week I had one binge-reader (hi mum) unhappy with the one-post-a-week schedule as she was keen to read the next chapter because, of course, awaiting me in Moses Lake was none other than Haleigh!

“Who?”

Oh come on! For those unfamiliar with the story (“get with the times!”) you can catch up here but long story short, Haleigh’s my girlfriend and this particular portion of the trip was the first time we’d ever really spent any time together. We’d briefly met on Sunday but the bulk of that was spent on a car journey, alongside our friends Maddie and Cassie. We’d been apart since then so consequently I was excited to be leaving Spokane on Wednesday but also a bit nervous about how things were going to go.

I don’t know if spoiler is the right word given it’s obvious how things panned out, particularly given I even wrote this piece announcing I’d be living in Moses Lake for 3 months in 2020 but still; here’s how that nerve-wrecking first encounter went and similarly what I did on my first visit to Moses Lake.

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Moses Lake, Washington

I say first visit, I had actually passed through it on my journey from Ellensburg to Spokane. Perhaps fortunately so because it left me somewhat prepared for the reality that Moses Lake’s Greyhound “bus station” is in the middle of nowhere.

Seriously, it might not surprise the American readers as much but for my fellow Europeans used to a relatively good standard of public transport I suppose I’d liken it to being dropped off at a service station. “You want a bus to London? Cool, our London bus stop is somewhere on the A1 – enjoy!”

Essentially if you’re getting a Greyhound bus to Moses Lake, you’re going to want a car when you arrive.

“A car? After getting off a bus? If you had access to a car would you not just drive there yourself?”

Thank you friends! The logic was lost on me too. Being completely realistic you need to either have someone picking you up or you’re going to want to order a taxi as soon as you arrive. The downtown area of this, fairly small town, is around 3 miles away from the bus stop, which is ultimately just a petrol station car park.

Haleigh was working when I arrived so I personally had two options. My first was actually to walk rather than take a taxi. It was a nice day, I had time to kill and it was “only” 3 miles. Why pay for a taxi?

Alternatively I could just wait it out, I think I got in to Moses Lake around 2 and Haleigh would be home around 4 and be able to pick me up on the way. The one perk to the ludicrous location / service type feel is that it’s at least located next to plenty of restaurants / fast food places. It’s a pretty popular spot for truckers who want somewhere convenient to stop along the i90 and on this occasion was convenient for me to grab a late lunch. I decided I’d eat at Denny’s.

Unfortunately it was actually pretty mediocre, I think this was my first Denny’s experience since childhood trips to Florida and I’ve clearly romanticised them a bit too much. I’m convinced they were brilliant when I was younger, perhaps this was an off day, but it spoilt this magical opinion I held of Denny’s from my youth.

I think I finished up eating just before three which left me in that limbo position where it felt a bit too long to just hang out in Denny’s but barely long enough to justify walking in to Moses Lake. Whether I waited or walked I was probably still going to get in to town around the same time. In the end I took the less awkward option, not wanting to loiter in Denny’s I decided to walk.

The last hurdle to overcome with this ridiculous location was that a good chunk of the route isn’t actually pedestrianised. Where’s your “sidewalk” America? It’s bad enough your only car-free option from the bus stop is to walk three miles but you then have nowhere to actually walk. I ended up having to walk along gravel on the side of the highway whilst dragging my suitcase along behind me.

“Why’s that guy dragging a suitcase along the A1?” – it was a tad ridiculous.

On the plus side, it is a pretty straight walk at least. Although I suppose the A1 is too for the most part and I’m not proposing walking that any time soon. Anyway, eventually I reached a “sidewalk” and it’s a pretty smooth walk from there – a lot of it downhill infact.

About a mile from town I got a message from Haleigh and realised I’d actually walked too far, obviously after the point the walk had started heading downhill which meant I had to turn back and walk uphill. I’d almost reached Haleigh’s apartment when she pulled over and picked me up which saved me a few hundred yards.

After dropping my things off at her place we headed out so I could get my first proper glimpse of Moses Lake. Haleigh had only recently (Aug) moved here infact so it was a good chance for us both to have a bit of a look around the downtown area, I think Haleigh had driven through plenty of times but never really parked up and looked around.

The downtown area was small but a little cute too, it definitely had that small town feel to it which I haven’t really experienced much of when visiting the US. We popped our head in a few shops before closing, mostly independent little businesses rather than big chains. One of which had a cool little area where you could actually pay to do artwork/pottery and similar stuff which Haleigh’s been back to since a few times. There was also a couple of cool murals and statues throughout the downtown area which I was fond of.

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Having appeased our curiosity we made our way over to dinner and visited Moses Lake favourite ‘Rock Top. It has become a regular place for us to eat out but this was essentially our “first date” I suppose. It was quite a nice day and they had a few outside tables so we decided we’d eat outside rather than inside, seemingly the only people in a busy restaurant to do so which was nice and that little more romantic being just the two of us.

However it was also rather cold! It might have been a nice warm day with the sun bearing down on you but under a bit of shade it felt rather breezy and it quickly became clear why nobody else wanted to eat outside haha.

We made the most of it though. It was a little more intimate which is an added bonus on a first date. I can only speak for myself but I was nervous going in to dinner. We’d spent a little time together by this point but that had still either been with Maddie or Cassie, or even in exploring Moses Lake earlier we had something to distract us or catch our eye. “Hey! Look at that cool mural!”

Dinner was different because it’d just be us, literally given the setting, and that meant a focus on entertaining or engaging the other person. Conversational skills or social situations aren’t my biggest strength and there was definitely that fear that I’d bore Haleigh or that things just wouldn’t go well. It opens up the possibility of an awkward or uncomfortable end to the trip. You can get to know people to an extent online but it’s no substitute for actually spending time together in person and you always hope that step in a friendship or relationship or whatever goes smoothly.

Any fears or nervousness quickly disappeared. It instantly felt like I was having dinner with someone I’d known for years. It was easy and effortless and I think as far as first dates go, it was really enjoyable. I found Haleigh incredibly easy to spend time with and there was a natural chemistry there rather than having to force it. I definitely left dinner thinking there was a future for us and it set the mood for the rest of the evening. After eating we were able to just relax back at the apartment and watch a bit of Netflix before bed.

Sadly Haleigh still had to work on Thursday so the next day I was left to explore Moses Lake solo. I looked online for a little inspiration or ideas on how to spend my day but there seemingly isn’t much in Moses Lake, I’d arguably seen most of it already.

I made the first stop of my day at one of the standout points of interest – the Japanese peace gardens in the city. They were so peaceful infact that I think I startled the man cutting the grass. There was nobody else here which made it nice to wander around, it’s only a small gardened area and isn’t somewhere that’s worth going out of your way to visit but it’s a nice little addition to Moses Lake. Plus it’s free so it was definitely worth having a look and I grabbed a handful of photos before moving on.

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Japanese Peace Garden, Moses Lake

My next stop was at “Mason’s Place” – a small independent owned coffee place downtown. This has also become a bit of a regular haunt for me as it’s cosy and it’s also nice to support a local business in the process. I grabbed myself a tea and a seat at the window to “people watch”.

It turns out people-watching isn’t actually much fun in America. Everyone drives everywhere, they have drive-thru’s for literally everything. I’m not sure I saw a person outside of the coffee shop infact, plenty of parked cars but I don’t know where all the people who own those cars were. Bizarre and also quite boring – stick to people watching in Europe haha.

Having had my fix of tea I wandered down towards the lake which the town inevitably gets its name from. The water looked incredibly enticing and I can recall, at the time, uploading a photo to social media proclaiming its beauty and my temptation to jump in. Here’s said photo! Not bad right?

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Moses Lake, Washington

Ironically I saw an article quite recently advising people to avoid swimming in the lake as it’s toxic! I don’t think this was the case when I took this photo but probably just as well I didn’t jump in! Maybe settle for just walking alongside the lake and admiring the view instead which is what I ended up doing.

I wandered up towards a restaurant called “Michael’s on the Lake” which as you might guess is a restaurant offering lakeside views. It’s quite a nice restaurant, it was only after sitting down and looking at the menu that I realised they were part of the same company who own Rock Top. Purely coincidental in terms of me coming here but interesting given I’d visited Rock Top the evening before.

For the purpose of this coming story I’m going to actually name my waiter ‘Michael’, fitting with the restaurant’s name. Maybe Michael Jr would be better actually. ‘Michael’s’ service has stuck with me for the last two years and it’s a difficult one to try and fairly describe but the way I continually think of it is he essentially wasn’t a waiter.

He was this young guy, friendly, helpful but he lacked all of the typical waiting mannerisms. Don’t get me wrong, he was completely professional but I can only think he must have been relatively new at the job because he just didn’t come across as a waiter. Not in the sense that he didn’t know what he was doing, it was a good service, but he didn’t seem to have picked up those waiting traits or habits I suppose. I can recall a few occasions which are hard to describe but tickled me in a way.

As I said though it was actually a really good service, a little more personable I guess and I held out the hope I’d come back and see a different ‘Michael’ somewhere down the line. I’ve been back to the restaurant twice and not seen him, I hope if he has left that he’s gone on to better things!

Following on from a long lunch (I really did enjoy the service and stuck around for an extra beer or two), I made my way back towards Haleigh’s apartment, leaving time for one last detour. There’s a small (and free) museum in Moses Lake so I thought I’d go and check it out. One of the main pieces was some local artist’s work which was quite cool to see, it was a good way to pass some time too.

Back at the apartment I chilled out for a bit until Haleigh made it home. On Friday we were getting the whole “gang” together, joining Maddie and Cassie and spending the weekend in Seattle. So we had the option of either driving to Ellensburg in the morning or heading there Thursday night. We wanted to make an early start towards Seattle so decided to drive over to Maddie and Cassie’s that evening and stay at theirs overnight.

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Driving to Ellensburg!

It was a pretty drive back to Ellensburg with the sun setting. I think every car ride or bus journey has been the same whenever I’ve visited Washington, I just have my face glued to the window and try and resist the temptation to take 1,000 photos. It’s such a pretty state.

Soon enough we’d reached Ellensburg. As I explained in my Ellensburg post here, Ellensburg is a college town and at the time Maddie and Cassie were both working on campus. Consequently we took a little trip over to Central Washington University (CWU).

It was an opportunity for me to have a little glimpse in to ‘college life’ in America. It was interesting to look around and seemed like a good size college. Haleigh gave me a little tour of the grounds before we checked in on a couple of Haleigh’s old friends from college which also helped kill a bit of time.

Having spent a little time looking around we wandered back to Maddie and Cassie’s and chilled out for the evening. We agreed a time to kick off the morning trip to Seattle and got ourselves a good night’s sleep. More on Seattle to come next!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Spokane – September 2017

After a fun couple of days in Ellensburg it was time for me to move on. Those following the trip will know I was in Washington State visiting Maddie, Cassie and Haleigh. I was obviously excited to see all three of them but I thought it might also be wise to break up the trip with a day for myself. It was no reflection on the company, it was more a case of learning lessons from trips in the past with other people. There are pros and cons to solo travel and likewise with group travel. I’m a bit of an introvert and enjoy my own space so I saw it as an opportunity to re-energise ahead of a busy end to the trip.

Consequently I was considering where in Washington I could feasibly go for a day. Washington is such a beautiful state so I wasn’t short of choices but in the end I opted for convenience as much as anything. I was leaving Ellensburg and would soon be visiting Haleigh in Moses Lake, both of which sit on the Greyhound bus route. Another city on that route was Spokane. It essentially meant I could get from Ellensburg to Spokane and then Spokane to Moses Lake pretty effortlessly.

So after Cassie dropped me off at the bus station in Ellensburg, I was on my way to a new city in Washington. It’s a nice journey from Ellensburg to Spokane, not as picturesque as Seattle to Ellensburg but still scenic enough to enjoy. My only concern was I’d left blue skies behind in Ellensburg and as we inched closer to Spokane the sky was beginning to turn very grey!

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Driving towards a miserable Spokane!

By the time I got to Spokane it was probably around 3/4pm. The plan was to quickly go and check in to my hotel and then start exploring the city. Unfortunately I’d done little to preserve my phone life in the morning and then I spent probably too much of the bus journey taking photos of the view, by the time I reached Spokane my phone was dead.

I thought I had a good idea of where my hotel was, in relation to the bus station, but it turns out I didn’t have a bloody clue. I wandered for a bit but I’d arrived to a very wet Spokane experiencing a bit of a thunderstorm, not the best timing and I was drenched pretty quickly. With no way of locating my hotel I asked a couple of locals for some directions but with no success. I’d lucked out in Dallas a few months earlier in a similar situation but in wetter conditions it was time to abandon the “wing it” plan, instead I seeked shelter in a nearby bar!

My hope was they’d help me one way or another. Either I’d be able to charge my phone somewhere (I did) or they’d be able to offer me some directions. Allowing time for the former I grabbed a beer and took seat at one of the stools in this relatively small bar. By the time I’d finished my beer I had a better idea of where I needed to go and luckily the storm seemed to have passed.

Moving on, I went to find my hotel which ended up being pretty straight forward. More frustratingly I’d actually passed it on the bus and not noticed. There were some eye-catching murals on the side of the hotel building that I’d thought “I’d like to find those later..” and not realised that was where I was staying haha.

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Beyond the cool murals, the hotel appearance itself didn’t fill me with much confidence. It had a sketchy vibe about it and the actual reception for checking in felt about as big as a garden shed – it was tiny! The receptionist was pretty friendly though and I figured it was only for one night. Given I went in with little confidence, the room was actually nicer than I’d anticipated. It was a nice room with a decent sized (and comfy) bed.

Having chilled out in the room for a little bit I went on the search for some dinner, I had a little scour of my options on Google Maps and decided to check out this place called ’24 Taps Burgers and Brews’. It had good reviews and, upon approaching it, the side of the building was lined with some more cool pieces of street art. Spokane was setting a good first impression on the street art front. Inside was essentially a sports bar and a bit of a casual hangout, I imagine at the weekend it’d be a lot busier but on a Tuesday it was pretty quiet.

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24 Taps Burgers & Brews, Spokane

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I ordered one of the burgers on the menu and likewise one of the 24 beers available on tap. On the TV directly above me they were showing the (Seattle) Mariners game, I knew we were seeing the Mariners in a few days time so I thought I’d try and pick up a few of the complexities of baseball (it’s just hit and run isn’t it?).

It’s not really a sport that is taken seriously in England if I’m being honest, partly as it’s likened to ‘Rounders’ which is primarily associated as being a game for kids here. The upgrade to Rounders is typically Cricket which shares some fundamental rules (hit and run) but is a different sport from baseball/rounders. I tried enjoying the game on TV but wasn’t yet sold on the baseball experience (stay tuned for my live experience in Seattle!).

Partway through my meal I realised that the place actually sold ‘beer flights’ or tasting menu. I picked up a beer menu and feeling a little intrigued thought I’d try a few more West Coast beers, choosing four from the 24 (well, 23 as I’d had one already) beers on tap. I think I ended up trying two from Washington breweries and two from Oregon breweries, with the latter being equally enjoyable!

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Working my way through the 24!

I could quite happily have stayed there for the evening but during my Google search another bar had caught my eye – “Baby Bar”. It had really good reviews, was just around the corner from where I was staying and I’ll be honest and say the name caught my eye too. Baby bar? Okay, Spokane..

Anyway, off I went in search of it! It wasn’t actually that easy to find. I was wandering in its general proximity and yet there was no clear sign of it. Google Maps suggested I was in the right spot but there was nothing here. I easily found the restaurant next door which suggested I was in the right place but this Baby Bar seemingly didn’t exist.

I joked in my post on Salzburg at the absurdity of Flo suggesting we go “next door” to get in to this bar. Well would you believe it, I took the crazy Austrian’s advice here in Spokane. With no sign of this bar anywhere I thought I’d peer my head in the restaurant next door didn’t I?

You’d have been forgiven for thinking this restaurant was closed too. The sign on the door read ‘open’ but it was incredibly dark if it was open for business. Maybe that’s the mood or whatever they were going for but it wouldn’t have been a place I would have walked in for food. After peering my head in something drew me towards the dark corridor at the back of the room – almost in a possessed manner.

I didn’t even ask the staff in the restaurant for guidance. “Oh hey, is this bar here?” – No, I just floated towards the darkness. Looking back, I don’t know what I was thinking. Was I just following intuition? I don’t know but the image was essentially your classic horror story moment.

“Don’t do it Jason! Turn around..”

Watching at home you wonder how the characters find themselves in these horror-laden scenarios and yet here I was wandering down this long and dark corridor. At the very end was this mysterious door which I’m convinced just seemed to get further and further away as I walked towards it. This was it. This is how and where I was going to die, typically miles from home in a place no-one would think to look for me. I eventually reached this door in baited breath and pushed.

On the other side of this door was a cosy little bar – Baby Bar! I’d actually found it! Now you might think I’m exaggerating the story and often when it sounds absurd writing it down I end up doubting my memory. So I thought I’d google Spokane’s infamous Baby Bar and found this amusing little excerpt from The Spokesman Review

With room for five taps and 25 people, Baby Bar is incoherently cosy. Hidden away in plain sight, it also sort of feels like a secret. There are no windows. The ceiling is painted black. And there’s only one way in and out; through a single door that leads down a darkened hallway.

It was the perfect hideaway bar, it had that speakeasy kind of feel to it that if you didn’t know of its existence you’d never see it. As the review above suggests, there are no windows, only one way in and yet it had an incredible warmth to it the second you arrived. The lighting and the atmosphere just made it seem homely and instantly you could see why Baby Bar was so highly rated. I loved it!

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Baby Bar, Spokane!
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Baby Bar, Spokane

I took seat at the bar and ordered myself a beer. It had been worth the effort finding it. The barman was friendly and I knew it would be a frequent hangout for me if I was a Spokane local. After my third beer I called it a night. I was a tad drunk having already had the earlier beers and so sensibly, for once perhaps, knew it was time to head back to my hotel and sleep. I asked the barman if I could settle my tab – “$9 please..”

Wait, nine? Did I hear that right? I’ve had three beers? Am I only paying $3 a beer here? It was cheaper than I’d expected it to be. I settled my tab for the first three, tip included, but ended up ordering a fourth at the same time. “Last one..”

Halfway in to my pint I realised that was a mistake. This was just one beer too many and any more I’d be throwing up either tonight or tomorrow morning. I sensibly walked away and let it go to waste and wandered back to my hotel which luckily was only on the next street over. I think within 5 minutes of leaving Baby Bar I was asleep, crashing the second my head hit the pillow.

On the plus side, my sensibly timed departure meant I wasn’t suffering the next morning. I’d got settled in to Spokane a little later than anticipated so all I’d really done thus far was eat and drink. I was keen to see a bit of Spokane at least before catching my lunchtime bus.

I kicked off my day with a visit to the ‘Satellite Diner’. It was surprisingly busy given I visited in ‘working hours’, it must have been about 9-9:30ish on a Wednesday morning and Spokane didn’t come across as a tourist hotspot so I thought it might have been emptier. The busy-ness gave me some comfort that it’d be a good place to eat though. I pondered the menu and really fancied pancakes – plural, obviously. One of the items on the menu was a pancake.

“Singular?”

You could say that’s a bit weird, right? You could also possibly call it a sign. I ordered the ‘two pancakes’ option and as my plate was placed in front of me I realised why they sell singular pancakes. They were bloody huge! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a bigger pancake infact. I probably should have taken a photo (FYI, I’d make a terrible food blogger). The guy at a nearby table was equally amazed at its size. I gave it a good go but (I think) it bested me. I couldn’t finish it. On the plus side it was a filling start to my day and explorations.

I hadn’t really researched things to do in Spokane which inevitably meant I didn’t really find much to do with my last couple of hours, I’m sure there is more to do in Spokane but I just ended up winging it a bit. I thought I’d kick things off by wandering over to Spokane’s Riverfront park. It’s a peaceful spot, nice to walk through and is also home to a few interesting things.

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Spokane, Washington State!

Feeling a little conscious of venturing too far from the bus station I wandered back in to the downtown area, there didn’t seem to be too much of note but I popped my head in to a few shops to help kill a bit of time. Soon enough it was time to check in and catch my bus. All in all it had been a nice trip to Spokane, albeit most of the fun was spread over the evening.

It’s somewhere I’ll possibly go back to and explore a little further, I’ve since read of other people who’ve visited including fellow travel blogger Sarah who went recently and shares a few other ideas and actually makes me want to go back but it had been a good introduction to this small and charming city.

Up next? Moses Lake.

Stay tuned!

Jason