Amsterdam – May 2019

Hello dear readers!

Do you ever get those posts where you just can’t spit the right words out? It wasn’t my intention for this to be my next post but I was trying to write up part two of the Köln trip and it just wouldn’t come together. I enjoyed the trip but I’m just not enjoying writing about it.

So a change of plans, here’s Amsterdam!

Strangely though, you can still consider this to be somewhat of a ‘sequel’ to that Köln post. Between visiting Köln in March and visiting Amsterdam in early May I’d actually been to three different countries but this is still perhaps the “next chapter” of an unbelievable story.

I hinted at this in my last post but I knew back in 2019, maybe even earlier than that, that change was coming my way. I was feeling good about things with Haleigh and knew that at some point I really wanted to go out and live in the USA. There was no specific date in mind but “as soon as possible” was the aim.

The only thing that stopped me doing it any earlier was balance. I’ve always been quite sensible with money but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my enjoyment just to get to my end goal a little bit earlier – balance was a must!

So I meticulously mapped out the first six months of 2019 (read me) knowing that come July I’d be in a healthy enough financial position to really think about what was next, without having to sacrifice any fun in the first six months of the year.

I calculated that I could squeeze in trips to Köln, Washington, Helsinki and Dublin in the first half of 2019 if I was strict enough with my spending but I’d left myself no wiggle room. That was it!

MyHelsinki

Enter Spurs..

I often joke that football supporters probably hate the game more than those who claim not to like football. The game is rotten in so many ways that infuriate you as someone who cares about the game and, many of those reasons are ultimately part of the reason why I’ve since walked away from the game and cut down on attending.

Anyway.. Köln was my way of bowing out of European football. I had this inkling that it’d probably be my last European football away trip for quite some time, maybe ever? My priorities were changing and so it was quite bittersweet that my big finale ended up being a third trip to Dortmund.
You can’t moan about traveling to Germany really. The last couple of years in particular make you appreciate the luxuries we have but moan I did – “fucking Dortmund!”

I’d told myself that this decision came down to how willing I was to gamble. I knew this was the last season I’d be likely to do this so it was either Dortmund in the last 16 or I’d have to gamble and hope we reach the quarter finals and get a better away trip in the next round.

However I knew that there were no guarantees. It could be Dortmund now or Barcelona in the next round, in contrast it could be Dortmund or nothing. There was every chance we’d crash out of European football and that’d be my plans shattered. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d made assumptions only for Tottenham to disappoint me.

imag7238

This wasn’t one of those occasions. Tottenham comfortably beat Dortmund 3-0 in London and it looked like the tie was over before we’d even got to Germany – “are you kidding me Spurs!?”.

I still had some nerves for the return fixture in Dortmund but in reality, unless Tottenham did something very stupid (see why I was nervous!?) we were very likely to be in the next round. We finished off the job in Dortmund and so it turns out that I could have waited a round. I could have gambled!

They soon did the draw for the next round and I took some solace with the knowledge that our next opponents were none other than Manchester City. If I’d gambled away four nights in Europe and had to settle for a European trip to Manchester I would have been beyond gutted – the only fixture more anti-climatic than a trip to Dortmund – we play in Manchester at least twice a year already.

The other piece of comfort was that this draw meant that this was the end of the line for Spurs. This was going to be our last European games of the season and not a trip I was going to have any regrets about. Manchester City were, and still are, far superior to Tottenham and there’s only one possible outcome to this tie. Dortmund was a 50-50 tossup but City? No chance! 85-15 in City’s favour and that’s if they have a bad day.

I don’t want to overwhelm you with football chatter so if you haven’t worked out where this is going already, catch up!

Tottenham weren’t supposed to win this tie. There are a multitude of script-like factors that played a part but fate was with Spurs and they did in fact beat Manchester City – qualifying for the next round in the most spectacular fashion. Tottenham were off to the Champions League semi finals.

I’d told myself I wasn’t going to a semi final. It was never in consideration. There was no wiggle room in my budget for more than one football trip so it was always either the round of 16 (Dortmund) or gambling for a quarter final (Manchester). The only exception I would make in addition to that would be a trip to Madrid for the final and let’s be clear that is NEVER going to happen.

The semi final happened to overlap with my mum’s birthday and that was further cause to stick by my commitment. I travel a lot but it’s rare that I’d miss a family birthday – I have no responsibilities, I can travel any time of year and I don’t particularly mind missing my own birthday but let’s be at home for the others if we can help it, eh? So I’d have to miss this one.

“I’m not doing the semi final, I’m not doing the semi final. I’m.. fuck!”

This wasn’t supposed to happen! I mean you really couldn’t make it up. I’ll turn 34 this year and for the bulk of that time Tottenham have inflicted misery upon misery over me. I wouldn’t change it for anything but that’s the reality. So in typical Tottenham fashion, even when things are going well they find a way to completely inconvenient me.

I was ready to leave my job, ready to head off to Washington for a while and Spurs threw me a curveball. You couldn’t have done this in any of the previous ten years of European football Spurs?

“I’m not doing the semi final” was a lot easier to commit to when hypothetical but an actual Champions League semi final? The only other time Tottenham have played at that stage of the competition was 1962 – this was literally once in a lifetime stuff. How could I possibly not go to Amsterdam!?

My hesitancy cost me. It’s not a mistake I usually make. Football travel 101 – you book your travel as soon as you know the game is confirmed, worry about the accommodation later but when you’re competing with thousands of other people for the same journey you don’t hang about!

I’d stupidly kid myself that I wasn’t going to Amsterdam and I suffered for it. I slept on the decision for two days and by the time I came to my senses, flight prices and Eurostar journeys from London had gone through the roof. Amsterdam is normally pretty cheap to travel to from the UK but not when every other Spurs fan is planning the same journey on the same dates.

Even for a Champions League semi final, it was hard justifying some of the prices I was seeing. Do I really want to pay this much for this trip when I could go to Amsterdam a week later for a fraction of the cost – it’s so hard to justify but this may never happen again.

I compromised, I really couldn’t justify paying stupid prices for journeys way beyond their usual value so I looked at another alternative – how much and how long would a coach take?

Amsterdam wasn’t in the budget but I couldn’t miss it so took the budget-friendliest option I could. Overnight coach from London to Amsterdam, overnight coach from Amsterdam to London, one night in a hostel in Amsterdam – let’s do this!

I booked everything and then had to send an awkward email to work. I don’t know how many of you have been guilty of this but I was on holiday in Washington and having to send my manager an email to request time off for another holiday. “I know I’m away at the moment but..” – such cheek!

Amsterdam

A couple of weeks passed by and it was time! This was quite possibly the most ludicrous weeks of my life because I came back from Washington and started getting excited about Finland – my bank holiday plans I’d made at the start of the year.

I flew home from Helsinki on bank holiday Monday, went to work on Tuesday and then on Tuesday evening I made my way down to London Victoria. I’d been in the country less than 24 hours before running off again – quite absurd!

I grabbed some dinner on route and then picked up a couple of other snacks for the journey – best get comfy for the next 12 hours!

I wasn’t sure how busy or comfortable the journey was going to be so was quite pleased to get a window seat for the journey – towards the back of the coach with “the cool kids”. It quickly became apparent that I wasn’t the only Spurs fan on board which was an added bonus. At least half a dozen around me were also making the budget trip to Amsterdam and feeling optimistic about our chances. We’d lost the first game 1-0 in London but all was still to play for in Amsterdam.

With a lot of football chatter it made sense to keep tabs on Tuesday night’s other semi final. Barcelona had beaten Liverpool 3-0 in Spain but playing at Anfield on a European night? You never know..

With Liverpool 1-0 up and all to play for in the second half, I managed to get the game up on my phone. Let’s see how this plays out, shall we?

Liverpool turned it around, from 3-0 down to 4-3 winners! Anfield’s magic had struck again and produced one of the greatest comebacks you’re ever going to see in European football. It gave the few of us some real optimism for Amsterdam. It’s only 1-0, this tie really isn’t over yet!

The football had helped pass some of the time. Soon enough we were at the channel crossing and ready to go to mainland Europe! I wasn’t sure how we’d be crossing and had assumed by ferry but as it turned out we went over via the channel tunnel – a railway shuttle service for vehicles.

By the time we’d crossed in to Europe the mood of the bus was vastly different. The early excitement of a football adventure had been swapped for opportunist sleepers, hoping to catch a bit of shuteye before the morning. I dozed a little myself but not too much as we made stop-offs in Antwerp, Eindhoven and Utretcht. Antwerp the city that perhaps most caught my eye from the little I could see at night-time.

We continued on through the Netherlands at a rapid pace. I don’t know if the coach drivers happened to be Tottenham fans themselvess but we arrived at our bus stop in a neighbourhood called Duivendrecht two and a half hours ahead of schedule – fantastic as far as I was concerned!

Fortunately I’d been to Amsterdam before so whilst I wasn’t so familiar with Duivendrecht itself, I knew roughly where I wanted to kick off my trip – Amsterdam Centraal station please!

Amsterdam Centraal

Amsterdam at 6am is quite the sight, a treat even. I hate waking up early when I travel but I also love seeing a city before it has had the chance to properly wake up – a bit of a dilemma but this was an occasion where I had no choice. I didn’t have a comfy hotel bed to curl up in so my only option was to have a wander along Amsterdam’s deserted streets.

Amsterdam is a beautiful city to enjoy regardless but getting to see it with nobody around was that little bit more special. I know I’ll never see Dam Square this quiet again for instance.

I had nothing I particularly wanted to do with my time in Amsterdam, it was a short and sweet trip and most of it would be preoccupied with football. I wandered off and made the most of Amsterdam being so quiet, capturing a bunch of people-free photos as I wandered around.

Dam Square

Amsterdam 1

Amsterdam Canal

With places actually starting to open I soon went and found myself a little Amsterdam cafe to sit and get some tea from. I had made plans to meet up with a couple of friends later in the day but I had the morning free to myself.

After a second cup of tea I meandered on over to Amsterdam’s ‘MuseumPlein’ – home to a park and some of Amsterdam’s most famous museums. It’s a pretty area so wasn’t an entirely wasted walk but it turns out that the likes of the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum were fully booked – it seems football fans aren’t completely uncultured hooligans and the thousands of Brits in town had had a knock-on effect.

I did some more wandering of Amsterdam’s canals before finding myself a place to grab some lunch. By the time I’d finished I was able to head over towards the hostel I was staying at for the night and check in. I’d stayed at Amsterdam’s Flying Pigs hostel before and although I don’t tend to stay in hostels as frequently anymore, for one night it seemed pretty ideal to be somewhere central and somewhere I also knew.

I checked in to my 6 bed dorm around 1ish and proceeded to find two near-dead Americans who weren’t able to rise from their beds and were still suffering a bit from the night before. They’d got caught up with the influx of Spurs fans in town on Tuesday night and seemingly suffered the hangover that followed. A couple of others sharing our dorm also turned up and we mingled about our various plans before I bid my farewell – extending an invitation or warning perhaps dependent upon your perspective.

“Dam Square..” – come join the party or avoid at all costs but either way it’s going to be busy and it’s going to be loud. I left my hostel dorm and I could hear Dam Square before I could see it – the English have arrived.

Dam Square Spurs

The beers were flowing, the Brits were serenading Amsterdam – Glory glory, Tottenham Hotspur. The rest of the afternoon was spent embracing the atmosphere and catching up with friends – Daniel and Natalie had also made the journey over to Amsterdam and so here we were in yet another country for Spurs.

Sadly this was one of the occasions where getting a ticket for the game was impossible. Nevertheless we wanted to be here, part of the atmosphere that only these European trips can offer – nothing can replicate the feeling of being amongst “your own”.

As kickoff approached Spurs fans scuttered off in various directions, not helped by the rain. We tried one pub on Dam Square which was rammed and had no luck getting in to. We ventured off down a side street and stumbled upon an Irish pub which seemed suitable enough for the evening. No idea where Natalie ended up, we somehow got separated and she ended up watching the game with another friend elsewhere.

By this point the nerves had kicked in, this was undoubtedly one of the biggest games in Tottenham’s history and please Spurs, just once eh?

BAM! Five minutes in and Ajax have scored to put them 1-0 up on the night and 2-0 up overall. That was not the start we wanted!

Time ticked on and Ajax have done it again, 2-0 up on the night and 3-0 ahead in the tie. I’ve had various and numerous Spurs disappointments over the years but is this really how this is going to play out? Our biggest game in my lifetime and we’re just going to crash out with a whimper? I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry at a Spurs team or performance. I’ve undoubtedly seen worse performances but on this stage it was unacceptable and indefensible. If we lose to Ajax then so be it, they’re a good team but at least do it the right way. At least give us a chance. Gutless, spineless, pathetic.

I considered getting up and going at half time. Let’s not pretend I can’t find a million other ways to actually enjoy my evening in Amsterdam. Something possessed me to stay, I dare say hope but in reality I must just enjoy the misery that comes with following Spurs. Why else let them put me through the ringer year after year, season after season, disappointment after disappointment?

“If Ajax score again I’m gone..” I say to Daniel. If we could just get one early goal in the second half, you just never know.

BAM! Lucas Moura! 2-1 on the night, 3-1 overall. The pub roars and for the first time there’s that glimmer of hope, just a small dash. Could we?

BAM! Four minutes later, Lucas Moura again! Beers go flying everywhere, this Tottenham dominated pub goes delirious. Belief for the very first time! Half an hour to go, only one goal needed, game on! The nerves have returned.

The next half an hour was agonising. So close and yet so far, every Ajax attack sent fear through my body, every missed opportunity for Spurs caused despair.

With a couple of minutes to go a cross comes in to the box, Vertonghen gets his head on it and..

BAM crossbar. Argh! That was the chance! That had to go in!

Now this is typical Tottenham isn’t it? I was suddenly backtracking on my earlier hopes. This tie was dead and buried, Spurs had no chance but they couldn’t just leave it alone and allow me to suffer an embarrassing 12-0 defeat. No. It’d be much more fun to play like idiots for three halves of football, offer you that little bit of hope and then crush you in the finale.

Time ticked on and Ajax wasted every wasting second they could. Five minutes of injury time to play and another chance comes and goes. This is always the way with Spurs, it’s fucking cruel. So close and so far – no happy ending here.

Ajax waste more time and it seems like that is probably that. We get the ball back with seconds to go and boot a hopeful ball forward, we need a miracle. Hit and hope.

Llorente knocks it down, Dele flicks it on, MOURA!!!!!! 95:01 on the clock. Are you fucking kidding!? What the fuck just happened!?

Beers go flying again – more this time. Bodies go flying too. I’m thrown one way, Daniel the other direction as everyone piles in for a massive group-hug. Seriously, what the fuck just happened? How did that happen!? I have no words.

Things calm down long enough to watch the game kick off again. Now this would be typical Tottenham wouldn’t it? Surely even we can’t mess this one up? The referee finds another minute from somewhere, god knows where and prayers are being spoken all over Amsterdam. Erik Lamela decides the 97th minute of a Champions League semi final is the perfect time to do some stepovers and tricks on the edge of his box and proceeds to lose the ball – I daren’t repeat the words that came out of my mouth in the seconds that followed.

Time and place Erik, time and place! Get rid of the fucking ball man!

The final whistle goes and the pub roars again, very little beer left to throw by this point.

Myself and Daniel are finally reunited and we share a look that transcends words. Bemusement shared with the biggest grins imaginable, no explanation to what we’ve just witnessed. We embrace in a massive hug and I’ve completely gone by this point – the tears are streaming down my face. Spurs are going to Madrid for the Champions League final. Spurs have actually done it!

Road to Madrid

Myself and Daniel part and seconds later I’m crying in the arms of another Spurs fan and another and another. Swept up in the aftermath of multiple celebrations I head up to bar, just wanting a glass of water to catch my breath and I’m turned away – no service, not even for a quick glass of water – it’s closing time from the party-poopers.

Not that it mattered. The celebrations spilled out in to the streets and everyone is heading in the same direction – Dam Square! It is rammed with Spurs fans.

I still can’t stop crying. Pride just pouring out of me, happiness pouring out of me. Happiness for myself, happiness for every other Spurs supporter, player, manager and everyone associated with this wonderful, wonderful football club that I love and loathe in equal measure.

It’s evident at just how much this means to everyone but it’s just so hard to put in to words. Even now I well up when I think of that night. More hugs follow with stranger after stranger after stranger and I still can’t stop crying – this stuff just doesn’t happen to Spurs.

Dam Square Night

I can’t express just how many strangers I embraced and shared hugs with. It’s quite weird to think a year later we were in lockdown and couldn’t hug anyone! I got my 2020’s worth in one night!

The mood around Dam Square was just incredible and it wasn’t long before songs were ringing around the square! I somewhat felt for the hotel occupants that were probably hoping for a quiet night in an expensive hotel right on Dam Square and found hundreds singing on their doorstep in to the early hours – glory, glory Tottenham Hotspur!

I was reluctant to drag myself away but I was starting to feel quite dehydrated by this point and was desperate to go and find a bottle of water somewhere. I bid my farewells to Daniel and Natalie (who we bumped into again in Dam Square) and called it a night – back to the hostel.

I reeked of beer and debated taking a shower but that’s the one downside to hostel life, I didn’t want to disturb those already in bed and decided I’d just have to make do with a beer-drenched sleep – assuming that I could sleep.

I was still on such a high, laying in bed with yet more tears streaming down my face. I finally had a chance to catch up with some of the online reaction to what can only be described as one of the best nights of my life and seeing that joy shared only set me off further. Am I ever going to stop crying? I tucked my phone away and hoped that eventually my tear-filled eyes would allow me to sleep.

The next morning I woke from the strangest of dreams before remembering that actually, yes that did happen last night. It may well have been the stench of beer that helped remind me so I took the opportunity to shower before then checking out of my hostel.

I had nothing planned for my Thursday. In all honesty I couldn’t focus on anything else but football. My body was in the beautiful city of Amsterdam, my head was in Madrid – it’s all I could think about and working out the logistics of how I was going to get there.

I returned to a much quieter Dam Square and went in search of some breakfast, eventually finding a little place serving some crepes. They just so happened to have a little TV in the corner that were of course showing the highlights from the night before which I couldn’t take my eyes off – still in disbelief.

After breakfast I went wandering, off down one of Amsterdam’s canals but it was no use. I felt guilty but I just had no appreciation for where I was.

Amsterdam Canals

Sure Amsterdam’s pretty but I just want to go back to England and think about Madrid. I even went as far as looking for a Eurostar ticket and came very close to booking the next possible train but couldn’t justify spending a couple of hundred pound or whatever it was on a one way ticket – I’m just going to have to hang around in Amsterdam until my coach later this evening.

The nice thing about Amsterdam is that it’s a great city for doing nothing, it’s so easy to wander and not really care where you end up. I couldn’t tell you where I went in truth. Along this canal, down this street, across that bridge and being a glorious sunny day it was quite nice to get lost.

Amsterdam Boats

Eventually I stumbled upon a bar which I liked the look of and thought I’d stop off for a drink. I took a seat at the bar and by chance the guy to my right just so happened to be another Spurs supporter, a Spurs fan from Helsinki of all places! I mentioned that I’d just been to Helsinki and he offered a few recommendations for next time and then taught me a few Finnish words which was quite fun.

We grabbed another beer and ordered some ‘bitterballen’ which I hadn’t tried before (delicious) before eventually going our separate ways. I wandered a little more but by this point I was just killing time really, not too much longer and I’d be catching my coach home.

I decided to pop over to Amsterdam’s Hard Rock Cafe to get a late lunch and an early dinner. Being Amsterdam, its HRC inevitably overlooks a canal but I took seat at the bar as it was a little busy in the restaurant which ended up working in my favour. I always like the HRC, I’ve ticked off a few on my travels but this occasion was particularly memorable.

I finished off my food and the barman comes back and asks if I fancy another beer – “on the house!”.

How could I possibly say no to that? A wonderful gesture for no reason at all. I had plenty of time to kill so of course, another beer sounds perfect! I was so grateful!

From there it was a gradual winddown to departure. The free beer had certainly perked up my mood for Amsterdam but there wasn’t anything I really wanted to do. The most logical thing would probably to have gone elsewhere to grab a drink but I didn’t really fancy that either ahead of a long journey. I decided to just walk over to the bus stop, a good few miles away.

Weesperpoort Amsterdam

It was a nice way of seeing parts of Amsterdam I hadn’t ventured to previously. I didn’t walk the whole way in the end, maybe half of it before hopping on the metro. I’d gone from loads of time to kill to a mini-panic that I’d dawdled too much and now time wasn’t on my side.

I needn’t have worried as I got to the bus station with far too much time and nothing in the area but at least I was on time. I popped to a nearby supermarket to grab a bottle of water for the journey.

Frustratingly my card proceeded to decline and I had nowhere to get any cash out so was just about to put the water back before a kind stranger stepped in – lucking out with another freebie!

The journey back to Amsterdam was a little busier – no idea why but I guess a few fancied a trip to London. There were again a couple of Spurs fans on board who I got talking to – Madrid inevitably the hot topic.

This time we were taking a ferry journey across the channel which was the first time I’d done so for many, many years. Despite being well versed in travel, sea-travel is seemingly not my comfort zone! Stick me up in the sky and I’m generally fine but ferries? Bleurgh..

I felt woozy pretty early on and hoped to just ride out the journey as smoothly as possible. One of my new bus-friends came and found me and insisted I join him and shared his life story before proceeding to try and get a little sleep on the ferry.

As tired as I was, sleeping wasn’t an option for me. I closed my eyes at one point and that was a terrible decision. It just seemed to heighten my senses and awareness that we were on the water and bobbing along – terrible!

Eventually we were back in England and back on the coach but the rest of the journey was horrible. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was going to be sick. Ferry travel had not agreed with me at all and a claustrophobic-feeling coach wasn’t helping either.

I’d hoped to try and sleep it off but this was typically a much livelier bus on this occasion. We’d picked up a few youngsters in a dodgy-looking part of Brussels who were perfectly friendly but meant there was a lot more chatter on the way home. Nobody, myself included, seemed to kick up any fuss about the noise and ordinarily I don’t think I’d have cared at all but I felt so awful that it just added to my misery.

We got back as far as London and it just seemed to take an age to get to Victoria. I’d got this far without feeling sick, don’t be sick now! Fortunately I wasn’t, I held out but it seemed like the second we got to Victoria and got off the bus I then let it all out.

I’d booked an overnight coach for a multitude of reasons but one last reason I’d booked a Thursday evening coach was that I wouldn’t have to take Friday off work. I felt so awful though that I ended up texting my boss and asking for another day of holiday – a waste but I just couldn’t face going in to work after such a torrid journey home.

and that was that. This post went on much longer than I thought it would do but how could it not? If you made it this far, well done! I appreciate it was quite football-heavy but genuinely one of the greatest nights of my life and the fact I’d started the week in Helsinki means it probably ranks as one of the best weeks of my life.

A post on Helsinki and part two of that Köln trip will come soon but next up? A roadtrip to Madrid for a Champions League final – featuring Spurs!!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Ten day photo challenge – behind the scenes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hostel View

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jason Fi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TheEnd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

River Il

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ML Mar 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moules Frites

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

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

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

Anyway, on to the story!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How did that happen!?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moura Day Selfie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mosque Rock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s right there! That is Africa!”

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

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

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

Stay tuned!

Jason

Amsterdam – Day 3-4 (Dec 2015)

Following on from days one and two in Amsterdam, I had one final full day (Thursday) to enjoy the city before waving goodbye to Amsterdam on the Friday. My only concrete plans for Thursday were in the evening so I had the rest of the day to do as I liked.

There weren’t many things I felt like I “had to do” whilst in Amsterdam, I was pretty relaxed and flexible about the trip but two things stood out. The Anne Frank house which I’d visited the previous day and a canal boat tour. I’d explored plenty on foot already but thought it’d be cool to kickstart my day with a tour on the water.

I headed down to the area the tours departed and got a ticket for an hour long tour. I enjoyed it, it was an interesting way to see the city and allowed me to see a few parts I hadn’t seen before. Our captain talked about the history of the city and pointed out some cool points of interests along the way. It’s such a pretty city and the canals play a big role in that so it was good to see them in a little more depth.

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Having now ticked off my two “must do’s” I had no real plans left until the evening. I passed a little café and decided a cup of tea was a good chance to ponder what to do whilst enjoying a little people-watching. It was away from the main tourist crowds so was a good opportunity to mix in and see what the locals get up to.

I decided I’d go and explore the area around the I Amsterdam sign and that I could probably squeeze in a museum or two too. Walking in that direction took me via Amsterdam’s famous Bloemenmarkt (flower market) which was particularly pretty with a range of colourful flowers on display, including the tulips you’d hope to see at any good flower market in the Netherlands.

As pretty as they were I avoided the temptation to take any flowers home with me and got back on track to where I wanted to be. Soon enough I was looking up at this spectacular building which is home to the Rijksmuseum. At the back of the building was a pretty garden area with some sculptures and then a little further on was the I Amsterdam sign and an ice rink overlooking the area.

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I expect this area attracts a lot of tourists anyway, it’s an “Instagram favourite” so no doubt draws crowds whenever you visit but as I walked up there was this large red truck in front of me. It was the Coca Cola lorry! Santa was in town and was all too happy to give me a thumbs up – I guess I wasn’t on the naughty list! Hurrah!

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Santa had a busy day ahead of him so I left him to it and got some photos from around the area and moved on to the Rijksmuseum for a while. I spent a bit of time there before moving onwards and looking for somewhere to grab an early dinner. Pretty closeby was Amsterdam’s Hard Rock Café, as some of you’ll know by now – a favourite of mine. It was in a good location overlooking the water and met the usual HRC expectations.

Following on from food I had a bit of time to kill. I passed the Heineken brewery and was tempted to give the tour a try but there was a bit of a queue and I didn’t have an endless amount of time so instead had a little wander before catching the metro to the evening’s big event I’d been looking forward to!

I was off to the football! The Netherlands most illustrious football club, Ajax, just happened to be playing at home in Amsterdam! It wasn’t a particularly glamorous game by Ajax’s standards so after tackling the ticketing website in Dutch I managed to pick up a ticket for the game – sat right at the very back of the upper tier mind you.

I have a general ‘bucketlist’ of places I want to visit and then an additional ‘football bucketlist’ which occasionally overlap. I’d obviously wanted to visit Amsterdam at some point but similarly I’d always dreamt of going to watch Ajax someday. Growing up they were a club I’ve always held a huge respect for and the good relationship between Ajax and my beloved Tottenham hasn’t harmed that either.

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I was in the stadium pretty early. I’d anticipated there being a little more near the ground to entertain myself beforehand but with little to keep me amused I figured I’d just go in and soak up the atmosphere. I wasn’t too sure what to expect but it was a “must win” game for Ajax if they were hoping to progress in the Europa League so come kick off there was a bit of a buzz in the air with flags waving and most of the noise coming from the corner of the opposite stand.

I’d like to think for a bigger game the atmosphere would have been better but Ajax’s noisiest section of fans did their best in keeping the noise going and trying to get the rest of the stadium involved.
One of the favourites amongst the Ajax vocal support was Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds’ – synonomous with Ajax football club but feeling a little surreal watching a game between a Dutch and Norwegian football team in Amsterdam and hearing the fans singing in English.

It’s hard not to be impressed by it either. I’m sure Bob Marley didn’t write it with the intention of it being sung by thousands of Dutch fans at a football game but in unison it sounds absolutely beautiful. It’s so damn catchy too, it was stuck in my head for days! “Baby don’t worry..”

and now again! Damnit Ajax! The video above is actually from this summer when Bob Marley’s son attended an Ajax game and sung it together! Incredible!

Anyway despite Ajax’s best efforts the result didn’t go the way it needed to. It finished 1-1 but Ajax’s slim hopes of European football in the New Year were dependent on winning this game so a draw left many, including myself, rather frustrated.

Ajax were playing in the 7pm-ish fixture which ended around 8:50pm I suppose. My beloved Tottenham were then playing at 9ish (8 UK time) so I was hoping to make a mad dash in to the centre to find a bar – expecting to miss a chunk of the game.

Post-match traffic / delays seemed minimal. I don’t know why – better efficiency perhaps but I was pretty much straight on to the metro and back in to the heart of Amsterdam. Somewhere along the way it started raining so I walked out on to the street with the rain falling and jumped in to the first bar that caught my eye. I’d only missed around 10 minutes but Spurs were already winning 1-0.

I grabbed myself a drink at the bar and seemingly missed us score a second. I initially thought I’d be lucky to see the first half, I’d amazingly only missed 15 minutes of the game and we were 2-0 up. Typically Tottenham had chosen tonight to start so impressively.

We scored a third before half-time so it made the rest of the game a chore in all honesty. Spurs had wrapped the game up in the first half which meant the second half was played at a rather pedestrian pace. I’d wanted to finish my night with a couple of beers and some good football but Spurs had taken their foot off the gas. I spent most of the second half people-watching, amused at the drenched pedestrians outside whilst looking on at the drunken conversations taking place across the rest of the bar.

The game finished and I took that as my sign to call it an evening. It was just shy of 11pm so I hurdled the puddles of Amsterdam and made my way back to my hostel. I walked in to the bathroom of my dormroom and it was clear I had new roommates.
A huge selection of beauty products were sprawled across the bathroom that hadn’t been there this morning!

Within a few minutes the ‘beauty queen’ had returned – “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN!!?” she asked.

Wait, what? A million questions started running through my head. I’d been exploring Amsterdam obviously. Is that not an expectation in hostels? How long have you been waiting for me? Have you regularly been returning awaiting my arrival? I was a tad confused – “sorry, didn’t realise there was a curfew!!”

In her defence it was a question formed out of friendliness. She was clearly sociable and looking to make new hostel / traveler friends and I’d, rather selfishly, spent my whole day out of the hostel doing my own thing. Having made our introductions it only took a couple of minutes before she followed it up with an invitation to the hostel bar.

At long last!! Wait, no, I’m leaving tomorrow and could do without waking up hungover. What do I do? Where were you when I wanted friends to mingle with on Tuesday and Wednesday night? You’re a day too late!
I was a little hesitant. I was looking forward to a chilled end to the night and getting comfy in bed.

My new hostel friend made her way to the bar without me and after overthinking it a little too much I decided to make my way in the same direction. I’d been disappointed at the lack of social interaction the last two nights so why not make up for it?

It wasn’t long before I was in conversation with new friends and perhaps just coincidental but I seemed to get talking to a few other people this night too. Why it had to happen on the last night I don’t know. This was what I’d wanted earlier in the trip! Sadly I took the sensible approach and after 2-3 beers called it a night. No hangover this time but at least I’d ended the trip on a positive. Thursday had been my favourite day in Amsterdam and I was sad it was almost at its conclusion.

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Friday morning I was up bright and early – and hangover free! My train home from Brussels was mid-afternoon so it left me with a few options. I could explore Amsterdam a little more before catching a later train to Brussels, I could go to Brussels now and spend some of my afternoon in Brussels exploring or I could potentially travel to somewhere in between and squeeze in some time in a new city.

Call me cynical but the UK train network has made me distrusting of trains ever being reliable so I decided I’d get on the first train to Brussels. Better that than risk getting stuck in Europe because of train issues later on. I think it was the right decision, soon enough I was back in Brussels.

I’d first visited Brussels two years earlier (Dec 2013) but more recent than that, I’d been to Brussels about six weeks ago! One of the bonuses to having visited a place is knowing exactly where everything is! I only had 3 or so hours in Brussels so luckily didn’t have to waste any of that finding my bearings, Brussels was still fresh in the memory from October so I was quickly on to the metro system and in the heart of the city.

Brussels is nice, probably not a city you’re ever going to fall in love with but it is likeable. However I think if there’s ever a time you’ve going to fall in love with the city it’s going to be in December.
It’s incredible how different a city can change in barely six weeks. Brussels appearance had been uplifted and there was a bit of Christmas magic in the air. It’s dreariness in October had been replaced by Christmas decorations and Christmas markets lighting up the city.

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There was only one place to start my limited time in Brussels and that was with the appropriately-named Grand Place. No matter how many times you walk in to this square it doesn’t seem to be any less breath-taking. I strolled down to see what festive attire Brussel’s peeing boy (Mannekin Pis) was wearing on this occasion and then I went to find a spot of lunch.

I settled down with some good food and enjoyed my last taste of some Belgian beer for a while – it hadn’t been particularly long since my last visit but it felt good to be back in Brussels. As content as I’d have been to keep watching the Belgian beer flow, sadly I knew time was passing by all too quickly. I made one last little walking lap of central Brussels before bidding it farewell and making the slow journey back to London.

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Amsterdam had been wonderful, everything I’d hoped it would be and a few hours in Brussels just rounded off my 2015 travels perfectly. I arrived back in London, enjoyed the festive period at home and then switched my focus towards the first of my 2016 travels.

Stories of that will follow soon but next time round on the blog I’ll be sharing which city I’ll be visiting next week!! Stay tuned!

Jason!

Amsterdam – Day 2! (Dec 2015)

Day one in Amsterdam had been a bit low-key, I spent a chunk of the day traveling and being December it was already dark by the time I’d arrived late-afternoon. It was also pissing it down with rain which meant there was only so much exploring I wanted to do on my first evening.

So I woke up relatively early on the Wednesday morning keen to make the most of my first full day in the city. Amsterdam is just one of those places that wins you over pretty quickly. In December you have a lights festival sprawled over its canals which makes it look spectacular after dark but it turns out it’s no less impressive by day either.

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After Tuesday evening’s miserable downpour I was pleasantly surprised to wake up to blue skies, hopeful they’d last and make exploring the city a little more enjoyable. I wanted to kick my day off with a ‘free’ walking tour of the city. I find these are useful for familiarising yourself with a new city, see a few of the sights and learn a bit about the city in the process.

I’d got out in to the streets a bit earlier than anticipated though and the starting point wasn’t as far from my hostel as I thought either so I arrived far too early, giving me a chance to have a little wander nearby beforehand.

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As I strolled along one of the canals, admiring Amsterdam’s beauty, I was caught by surprise and pretty much jumped out of my skin.
Just to my left was some woman, stood inside with only her underwear, knocking against the window. She was waving me in for a cup of tea I think but I politely declined and moved along, a little surprised that the women of Amsterdam were looking for company so early in the day. It can only have been around 9-9:30 in the morning so I wasn’t expecting it.

Soon enough I wandered back towards the starting point for the tour, you’ll find New Sandemans based in a lot of European cities offering ‘free’ walking tours (you tip what you like after). I quite enjoy their tours and this was another decent effort as we wandered along Amsterdam’s canals and got a bit more insight in to the history and quirks of Amsterdam. This particular spot on the tour was nicely hidden away and not too busy.

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I’d pre-booked the Anne Frank House museum for later in the day so had a bit of time to kill after the walking tour. I didn’t really have anything planned so just wandered aimlessly for the next couple of hours.
It’s recommended that you pre-book for the Anne Frank House and I passed the building a couple of times throughout my trip and the queues were fairly lengthy. It’s also suggested that Wednesday is the quietest day to visit and it showed when I arrived, I had sensibly pre-booked but there wasn’t actually much of a queue at the time I went anyway so I probably could have got away with not booking in advance.

This was really the one thing I’d wanted to do in Amsterdam and I can’t say that it disappointed. I thought the museum as a whole was really well done and is a credit to the memory of Anne Frank and the horrors of that time. I can’t say I enjoyed it as such because it’s not one of those experiences you enjoy but I came out feeling educated, humbled and sombre which is what you hope to take away from a place such as this. It’s somewhere you should make time to visit if you’re in the city.

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Whilst it wasn’t overly late, it was pretty dark by the time I came out so after a little stroll through the city I went and found myself some dinner to round off a rather enjoyable second day Amsterdam. The route back to my hostel afterwards took me by Amsterdam’s Red Light District and whilst I’d had a brief introduction to it earlier in the trip, I have to say it’s a part of the city that surprised me a little. I had this image of it being this seedy little district full of old men or stag-do’s leering over women in windows but it’s as far from that as possible.

I’m sure there is that element there but surprisingly it’s a real tourist trap, there’s a little buzz to the area at night. I wasn’t looking to do any “window shopping” but the whole area was just crawling with tourists, at times it felt like they were literally crawling.

“Can you please either walk quicker or get out of my way!”

If you actually want to get anywhere it’s an area best avoided, in theory passing through it should have made my route quicker but I spent most of my time hurdling tourists that were just dawdling along.

The red lights reflecting over the canal added a little atmosphere to the area, I didn’t ever at any point feel unsafe or uncomfortable passing through it. Perhaps the legalisation of the prostitution and having it (all) on display makes it somehow seem a little less seedy but beyond the hordes of people it’s a relatively nice part of the city to walk through day or night.

After finally escaping the crowds I made my way back to the hostel and thought I’d give the hostel bar another effort, hoping for a bit more luck at making friends than I’d had the night before. Again it seemed the height of the social activity was in the smoking room which, even in Amsterdam, has never had any appeal to me.
Following a couple of beers I headed up to my dorm, contemplated how I’d spend my final full day in Amsterdam and got myself some sleep ahead of another fun-filled day in the city to come.

Stay tuned for day 3!

Amsterdam (Dec 2015) – Day one!

Visiting Amsterdam was a mistake, not in the sense it was regretful but I hadn’t actually booked the travel intending to go to Amsterdam. I gambled upon a rumour that Tottenham would be playing in Brussels in December 2015 and snapped up cheap Eurostar tickets. Sadly those rumours were wrong and we actually played in Brussels in the October (also 2015).

Consequently I had to buy new travel tickets for the October and it left me with additional Eurostar tickets to Brussels two months later. You might be thinking it was silly booking a trip based purely upon rumours but it was a risk worth taking, I’d taken into consideration it could backfire and just figured I could take an additional trip later in the year.

So I fully intended to use the Eurostar tickets but I didn’t particularly want to go back to Brussels so soon so I started considering alternative options. Belgium in December certainly had an appeal but something was drawing me towards Amsterdam and in the end I just had to go! I knew a train from Brussels to Amsterdam was a pretty simple journey so that was the plan! Three nights in the beautiful Dutch capital – my first time visiting the Netherlands!

I decided to stay in London on the Monday night as it was a little more convenient. It allowed me the opportunity to catch up with a friend over dinner and some beers, however more importantly it meant I was already in London the next morning. So I benefited from having a lay in before making the easy trip to St Pancras to catch the Eurostar on Tuesday morning. I much prefer traveling by train opposed to flying, not that I’m a particularly nervous flyer but trains are just more enjoyable. Soon I was waving goodbye to the blue skies of London.

Further blue skies greeted me on arrival to Belgium. Despite having the Eurostar tickets for ages, Amsterdam was a relatively late decision so I hadn’t actually booked my travel from Brussels to Amsterdam yet. It left me with a bit of flexibility on what to do. However rather than spend any time in Brussels instead I pretty much got on to the first train heading to Amsterdam. I didn’t want to waste any time in getting to Amsterdam!

As we whizzed along I suddenly felt a little buzz in my pocket, my phone was vibrating because I had a text message. I looked to see what it was and found that my phone network were messaging me to welcome me to the Netherlands. We’ve crossed the border!!

I looked up and almost instantly the first raindrop spattered across the window.

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Welcome to the Netherlands!

“What!!? All we’ve done is cross the border! It wasn’t raining ten feet away in Belgium!!”

It was crazy. Following the Paris attacks in November 2015 I know that Belgium had stepped up border security but they’re keeping the rain out too? That’s bloody impressive! Sadly the Dutch borders weren’t so tight and it was soon pouring down with rain.

Nevertheless we drifted along, passing through a few different Dutch cities. Den Haag was somewhere that caught my eye as we passed through the city and it finally clicked that Den Haag is the same place as “The Hague” – for some reason I’d never made the connection haha. I think it’s somewhere I’ll visit another time. It was a pretty train ride but the rain kept on pouring. I was hoping by the time we reached Amsterdam it might have died down but if anything it was worse.

That’s what they don’t tell you about Amsterdam! It rains all of the time! Apparently it rains on average 217 days a year in Amsterdam, in comparison it’s only 156 in England which is famed for its bad weather. That’s roughly two more months of rain per year than “rainy” England!

I exited Amsterdam’s main train station and my first impressions were good. I just had that instant feeling that the city was going to live up to my expectations. I had a quick look around but with the rain coming down I moved on and hoped I’d find my hostel pretty quickly. I have a habit of taking ages to find them, fortunately this wasn’t one of those occasions but I was still drenched by the time I walked in to the reception area. The hostel (Flying Pigs) was pretty nice though. It looked like a sociable place and the rooms were decent too, my four-bed dorm had its own bathroom which is always a bonus when staying in hostels as you’re only sharing with 3 strangers opposed to the whole place.

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I didn’t really want to stick around in the hostel though. I was keen to see a little of Amsterdam before it got too late plus find some dinner. There had been no slowdown with the rain so I just had to make the best of it as I hurdled the puddles along Amsterdam’s cobblestones. Given it was December the city was beautifully decorated with decorations that were lighting up the streets and making the city feel a little more magical. I soon stumbled upon Dam square which had a number of Christmas trees adding to the festive atmosphere in the air.

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A Christmas-y Amsterdam!

As much as I wanted to keep exploring I soon admitted defeat, I ducked in to a bar and ordered myself some food from the menu. I’m usually keen to try the local beers when traveling, trying to avoid stuff I can drink at home, which is a little tougher when everywhere in Amsterdam seemed to favour Dutch beers Amstel and Heineken.
However one of the beers on the menu sounded good and I was soon presented a bottle with a naked lady printed on the bottle!

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Following on from dinner and a beer I drifted back in to the slightly-less wet streets of Amsterdam. It’s a stunning city after dark, Amsterdam’s annual light festival takes place across the canals in December which certainly adds to its beauty as a host of decorations and displays line its canals. You can do a canal tour in the evening but I settled for just admiring all of the lights by foot. It’s worth checking out!

After a little wander I figured I’d just spend the rest of my evening in the hostel bar. It was a sociable place but it felt like most of the social activity was geared away from the bar and towards the smoking room. That didn’t have any personal appeal so after one beer at the hostel bar I decided I’d just call it an early night and headed up to my dorm – there was still plenty of time for fun in Amsterdam and I was keen to get an early start to explore the city more thoroughly tomorrow!

Stay tuned for day 2!