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!

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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.

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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

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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

Köln – March 2019!

Where do I even start with this one, right? Every travel story in a post-Covid era offers some hindsight and a fresh perspective but let’s be abundantly clear, it’s inconceivable that I sit here writing about Köln again!

Long time readers and followers will know that myself and Köln have a long history, a patterned history if you will although I’ll get to that shortly.

I’ll try and summarise this first section the best I can as its a frequently told story but the next chapter needs some context

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Cologne – March 2013
The travel bug hit. 2013 was the year where travel became less of a dream and more of a priority. I spent two weeks in the February out in Sydney, Australia and I was hooked.

I came home, not with bundles of money, but with another payday on the horizon I was itching for more travel. It was quite a last minute thought but Easter weekend at the end of March stuck out – perfect!

I looked at various options but booking last minute travel for Easter weekend was tricky, flight prices inevitably high before I pondered a train journey. A few places in Western Europe sprung to mind but something drew me to a city I knew nothing about and a country I wasn’t all that fascinated with if I’m being honest – Cologne, Germany.

I’d traveled a bit through my childhood but as a shy and quiet individual my travel experiences were somewhat Westernised if you will. I’d been to Florida four times on family holidays, Australia (obviously), Spain (supervised school trip), France (supervised day trips with the parents), Scotland, Wales, various spots around England and Ibiza (as good as English-speaking in the summertime).

So I don’t want to say I didn’t like Cologne. You step outside of its train station and it’s hard to be anything other than mesmerised by the incredible cathedral towering over the city. I liked a lot about Cologne but as daft as it sounds, I think it was the first time that I’d really been abroad

That’s not me downplaying how fortunate I was to have traveled as often as I did growing up but just an observation of the places I’d been to date or the people that had accompanied / supervised / taken leadership of the trips I’d taken.

I struggled to warm to Cologne and deep down I think it’s just because I was a bit of a shit traveler. Getting from A to B means you’ve traveled but I was really out of my comfort zone for the first time. I couldn’t speak more than a couple of words of German, I was traveling on my own, didn’t know anybody, have an introverted personality and didn’t find the Germans to be particularly hospitable, there was no life to my hostel, all the restaurants had funny food and I could go on and on. I couldn’t even work out how to open the door in to my hostel dorm – over an entire weekend!

All that said, I’d enjoyed Cologne enough of course. It appeased my desire to see the world, see different places but come the end of the weekend I was ready to go home. For all of the things I’d liked about Cologne, I’d felt isolated at times and all the pizza in the world (that’s a German delicacy, right?) couldn’t fix that feeling that Cologne just wasn’t my kind of place. It wasn’t somewhere I saw myself returning to.

KolnJason

Köln – March 2016
So of course, three years later I did just that. This time however I was visiting Köln, not the English-known Cologne I’d once visited.

I still stand by the fact that I’d had a nice time on my previous visit but it’s almost as if I’d just floated through Köln the first time around. Had I really enjoyed it? Where was the joy in that trip? I’d seen some things, the cathedral for one that never fails to blow me away, but I don’t know that it was ever really a happy trip – I probably said it was at the time but I’d gone home content knowing that I was going home. I don’t know that I really left with too many positive memories.

So I think this trip had a touch of redemption about it. Maybe I hadn’t actually given Köln a fair crack, I was three years on and whilst still trying to rid myself of some habits (“Weetabix boy“), I was a much better traveler by this point. Infact I could even speak German to a relatively decent level on what was now my 5th trip to the country.

I was back in Köln for football. My beloved Spurs had been dealt a “once in a lifetime” draw with none other than Borussia Dortmund – Spurs were going to play in front of that famous yellow wall of European football.

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Staying in Dortmund itself had no appeal to me so I decided I’d base myself in Köln for the trip. A chance to return to the city, a city I could explore more of and a city I could see with fresh eyes.

Being able to speak German was transformational. I’d spoken more German within the first hour than I had on the entirety of my first trip. The unhospitable Germans I’d encountered three years earlier seemed friendlier and more engaging with someone actually making an effort to speak the language.

Additionally being a football trip meant I had friends along for the ride and that also helped improve the experience I had on this trip. It was a much more positive experience of Köln and somewhere I was pleased to return to.

That said, Köln isn’t particularly big so two trips to the city felt like plenty.

Köln – October 2016
“and Tottenham will play Bayer Leverkusen..”

Leverkusen11

I had a vague idea of where Leverkusen was but where in Germany is it exactly? Of course, Leverkusen is a tiny city that borders Köln.

It made no logical sense – geographically or financially – to stay anywhere other than Köln. To do so would have been out of spite and nothing else, although I’ll admit I was still tempted. I can’t stress how disappointing it was for the next European away trip to be in sodding West Germany, now to be my third trip to the region and my sixth trip to Germany in the space of three years. I just wanted anywhere else if I’m being honest.

Nevertheless, I went and enjoyed myself. Köln served itself as a good base to explore other towns and places in the area. I even popped over to Belgium for a day out in Liege.

It wasn’t ideal but I made the best of it. Three trips to Köln, two for football. That is me done!

Köln Bremen – November 2017
No! Seriously, are you taking the piss?

“Tottenham have been drawn against Borussia Dortmund!”

That once in a lifetime trip? A third European tie in West Germany in barely 18 months? Come on.. There’s a whole sodding continent here! I won’t get in to the complexities of football because there is some method to the madness with context but I couldn’t believe my luck.

Having by this point spent a day in Dortmund I had even less desire to stay there this time, there was no way in hell I was going to Köln for a third time in such a short turnaround so it was spite this time. I ended up splitting my time between Bremen and Dusseldorf.

“Anywhere but Köln” – I’m sorry, I’d actually grown to love Köln by this point but no, one trip too many!

BremenWindmill

The USA – 2018
“erm.. Jason?”

I know, I know but stick with me because this is an essential part of the story. As I mentioned in my last post on Warsaw, all of my 2018 annual leave was sucked up in to spending a month in the USA and one consequence of that was sacrificing a year without a football European trip. A small price to pay for such an incredible 30 days in the USA but a price nonetheless.

Having been to West Germany, West Germany, Madrid and West Germany on my previous four football adventures I can’t describe how agonising it was to see Tottenham’s European adventures unfold in 2018.

Turin, Milan, Eindhoven, Barcelona.. why do you tempt me so? I’d lie if I said I hadn’t wanted to skip work to go to Barcelona but unfortunately the professionalism kicked in.

“Nice suntan Jason.. I saw you on the TV last night by the way, you’re fired!”

It was a year of pain, one that I more than made up for but pain! I don’t know if I’ll ever get to see Spurs in the Nou Camp again, that’s the 4th time for one reason or another I’ve not been to watch Spurs in the San Siro too. Two iconic footballing stadiums and I’m stuck having to work because I had no time left to take off work – it was gut-wrenching watching Spurs fans deliriously celebrating a 1-1 draw in Barcelona.

The one comfort I told myself was that I’d make up for it. No matter what, I’m going to the first European away trip of 2019.

Koln
Köln – March 2019

Köln – March 2019
and here we are.. I’d say you couldn’t script it but you could. I wrote about it in this very post at the end of 2018 – European uncertainty

Such is the cruel way of the football gods, Tottenham were somehow taking their third “once in a lifetime” trip to Dortmund in three years. Dortmund – again! Fucking hell..

Maybe I’m doing Dortmund a disservice but were it not for its football team, I’m not sure anyone would know of its existence, I’m not sure anyone would visit. The stadium is phenomenal, their fans are phenomenal but one trip was plenty. Two trips.. alright, fine but three in three years? I was dreaming of Porto and was rewarded with another trip to fucking Dortmund!

Such were the frequent visits I’d now been to Köln (three times!), Dortmund (twice!), Leverkusen, Mainz, Bremen, Dusseldorf, Bonn, Bruhl, Koblenz, Luxembourg, Gent, Liege..

Those were just on football-specific visits too. I’d been to Belgium a few times, I’d been to the Netherlands, I’d been to countless other cities in Germany on other visits. I was running out of places in the region to even visit.

but “no matter what..”

I knew my days were numbered. Life priorities were changing, it was only a matter of time before I would pack in the football and I write this today no longer a season-ticket holder of Spurs. I haven’t fully given it up but I’ve severely cut down.

Ironically I knew big change was coming in 2020 and this particular season would quite possibly offer me my last European away day (HA!). I didn’t really want to go back to Dortmund again but I also wasn’t confident enough that Spurs would progress. It was a 50-50 tie as far as I was concerned and it might be Dortmund or nothing. Do I gamble that Tottenham reach the next round (HA!) or do I just go to Germany.. again..

I couldn’t risk it. Spoiler – Spurs did go through but their next European tie was up in Manchester which would have been the only location more anti-climatic than going to Dortmund for the thousandth time. I like Manchester, I like it a lot actually but what a shitty European away trip that would have been in replacement of Dortmund.

Reluctantly committed, where do I go? I’ve now been to Dortmund twice, I’m even less inclined to stay there this time. What about Köln? It seemed like a genuine possibility this time around.

What eventually swung the decision was the timing. Bizarrely I’d been to Köln in March 2013, March 2016 and now March 2019 but the two previous trips had somehow escaped one of the big events in the calendar year – the Kölner Karneval – Cologne’s famous carnival.

Karneval
Karneval scenes in Köln

Tottenham happened to be playing in Dortmund on the Tuesday night, with ‘RosenMontag’ the day prior – arguably the highlight of the karneval. The fact the two events overlapped meant that Köln was a no-brainer and by some bizarre coincidence I’d been to the city every third March! I joked that this was now a tradition and that I could seemingly predict where I’d be again in three years time!

Alas, I regret to report I have no plans to visit Köln next month so this long-standing unintentional pattern has reached a natural conclusion. However I digress.. back to 2019!

Having been reluctant to visit for a second time, a third time and then initially for a fourth time, I quickly discovered my excitement for this particular trip. I don’t think you ever really plan to visit somewhere so many times but I had grown to love Köln by this point. Infact were the circumstances better, I wouldn’t be opposed to going back to Köln next month just because it’d be quite funny. I do actually quite like the city and there’s a part of me that would love nothing more than to stroll along the Rhein right now.

I flew out to Köln early on Monday morning and was soon landing in what was a very familiar airport and city. Less familiar was the waves of fancy-dressed folks sat on the train when I boarded at the airport – all heading for Köln Hauptbahnhof! I felt vastly underdressed for the occasion with my standard hoodie and jeans. Köln was firmly in karneval mood!

The majority of people got off at the main station and soon streamed out towards the cathedral – a great gathering place and meeting point for the days festivities. Inevitably it’s the busiest I’ve ever seen Köln, so many of the streets around the area were completely cordoned off too which made it a bit of a nightmare to get around.

I ended up finding myself a nice spot to sit and watch the imminent parade with various floats and performers here to entertain. It was nice to see this side of Köln and also see what all the fuss was about. Everyone was in great spirits!

KolnKarneval
Karneval vibes – Köln, March 2019

KolnerKarneval

KarnevalParade
Kölner Karneval – March 2019

I soon dragged myself away, hoping to search for somewhere a little bit quieter to find myself some lunch before popping off to my hotel. Unsurprising a lot of places were busy but I soon found somewhere suitable for some good food.

The one thing about visiting somewhere so many times is that there wasn’t really anything I needed or particularly even wanted to do. I was in Köln for nothing more than the football, I was perfectly content with this being a relatively relaxed break. I checked in to my hotel and proceeded to take a nap!

I popped back out in search of somewhere to enjoy the evening. Germany and beer go hand-in-hand so many of the city’s day-trippers had undoubtedly spent all day drinking but I was happy to just go and have a few beers without indulging in some crazy night. I didn’t want to just write off my Tuesday.

After a nice but far-from-wild night, I called it and strolled back to my hotel. The next morning I was up bright and early. We weren’t playing in Dortmund until later in the evening so I still had a bit of time to make the most of my stay in Köln.

I decided I’d go and visit a part of town I’d not yet been to, a neighbourhood called Ehrenfeld which is known for its street art. Again this was another perk of having visited the city so many times and it allowed me an opportunity to get to parts of the city you likely don’t see on a quick visit.

I made the long walk over to Ehrenfeld and stopped off at this little cafe for some crepes. From there it was time to hunt down this supposed street art I’d seen little of thus far.

Captain Ehrenfeld
Captain Ehrenfeld!

Close to Ehrenfeld’s S-bahn station was a decent scattering of murals and street art lined up along a number of walls. The train at the station and ‘captain Ehrenfeld’ being two of my favourites I spotted.

Train Station Art

The rest of the area seemed to have a bunch of independent shops, cafes and restaurants so it was a nice part of town to have discovered and worth maybe taking half a day to explore if you’re ever in Köln – particularly if like myself you’ve been before.

I ventured back to the centre of the city, thinking I’d grab some lunch before catching the train to Dortmund but Köln seemed well and truly closed for business. I don’t know if this Tuesday is considered a local holiday – intentional or otherwise but it was a struggle finding a restaurant open for lunch. The exploits of ‘RosenMontag’ meant that Köln was effectively a ghost town – a day written off for hangover recovery.

Reluctantly I accepted defeat and ended up popping over to the Hard Rock Cafe – seemingly unaffected by the shenanigans of the day before. In my best German I asked the barman where everyone was, why nowhere seemed to be open and I got a one word response – “Karneval” accompanied with a laugh.

Ehrenfeld
Ehrenfeld, Köln, Germany

Say no more. On Monday I had never seen the city as busy as this, on Tuesday I’d never seen Köln so quiet. It was quite eerie – the type of scene you see in horror and zombie movies but a much simpler explanation on this occasion – “Karneval!”

The rest of the day was reserved for the football. Spurs back in Dortmund again. A comfortable evening – Spurs cruised through to the next round and the daunting Manchester City awaited.

I’d ticked off what would surely be my last European football trip for some time, perhaps ever? (If you know, you know!).

This particular trip wasn’t quite over though. I’d booked four days off of work, too many to spend solely in Köln so I decided I’d split the trip and visit somewhere else for a couple of nights.

I flew out to Köln with the belief I’d be heading onwards to Frankfurt but this voice was nagging away at me and I had a change of heart whilst in Köln. The day before I cancelled my hotel in Frankfurt and booked accommodation somewhere else.

On Wednesday morning I popped to Köln’s Hauptbahnhof and booked myself train tickets for my next stop on this trip. Where?

Well, I’ll leave you to stew on that until next time!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Warsaw – November 2018

Hello my dear followers, how are things? Had you expected to see me back so soon? Posts in consecutive weeks – wow! I’m on a roll!

When I started this blog I decided that I was just going to write about my trips chronologically, it seemed the easiest way to do things but it does mean that I’m often writing about trips from quite some time ago.

The last trip I wrote about was my “big 3-0 series” – the 30 day adventure in the USA in the summer of 2018. So it means in travel terms I’m still writing about trips from almost four years ago!

What’s worse is not only was the trip itself a long time ago, it has actually been more than six months since I wrapped up that series on the blog. My blogging disappearance means that it has been ages since I’ve actually written about a trip, so let’s get back to it shall we?

That summer adventure was incredible for so many reasons and I visited some incredible places throughout my month in the USA. Though sadly whilst a month off of work has an endless number of perks, the downside is that sometimes you have to return to reality.

Finance permitting I may well have just said sod it and camped out with Bigfoot somewhere in Washington or Montana for the rest of my life but alas, retirement is still a good few (days?, weeks?, years?) decades away and I had to return to England.

Back to work – after a month! Worse yet, I’d taken a month off which severely hampered any plans for the rest of the year. I’d used up all of my annual leave! It was the 28th of August and I couldn’t think about having ONE day off between now and January – not one measly day!

Now one day off might not seem like a huge deal for some of you but to us work-shy Europeans who like to capitalise on every last drop of annual leave allowance, it felt torturous. A tad hard to complain too much when you’ve just had a full month off work but complain I did!

I’ve never felt the value of a day more than I did in those painful last months of 2018 (is that a violin I hear?). All I wanted was a day that could extend in to a long weekend, or half a day even. Let me finish work on Friday afternoon and whisk off to Europe for the weekend. Let me prolong my stay and fly home on Monday morning. Where was this “working at home” malarkey when I really needed it?

The real kicker was the summer’s Champions League draw. Long time readers will know that football is a huge passion of mine, Tottenham Hotspur particularly so, and that I’ve taken many trips across Europe to watch my beloved Spurs over the years. Yet I knew in 2018 I’d have to sacrifice that luxury, no European away football trips in 2018.

To my dismay, after years of what felt like every European fixture being held in Germany, Tottenham got somewhat of a dream draw. We’d already played in Turin earlier in the year which I begrudgingly passed on but then that Champions League draw – Barcelona, Inter, Tottenham, PSV!

Spurs are going to Barcelona, Milan and Eindhoven. Are you fricking kidding me? I would have done any one of or all three destinations in a heartbeat and didn’t have one remaining day to use – agony! Barcelona in particular, when am I ever going to get the chance to see Spurs in the Nou Camp again?

“Do you think work would notice if I pulled a sickie that day?” – the professionalism kicked in and I worked but urgh. I sacrificed and you’ll be pleased to know Tottenham’s European tour continued in to 2019 and I vowed that I’d go to the next European game no matter what – all shall be revealed in my next post!

Anyway, that only made the wanderlust grow and I HAD to go somewhere this year. It was by no means ideal given I was limited on time but I wasn’t waiting until the new year for some adventure. A weekend up in Birmingham scratched the itch a little bit but I really wanted to explore somewhere new – enter Warsaw!

Warsaw 3

In hindsight I don’t know that it really worked. I booked the earliest Saturday morning flights I could and the latest Sunday evening flights coming home that I could but still, less than 36 hours in Warsaw – it wasn’t perfect.

That said, with further hindsight.. Covid, you know? Every trip taken now looks sensible with the C word in mind. I don’t think I could ever recommend having just one night in Warsaw but I made the best of what I had.

So early on Saturday morning I flew out to Warsaw, which for anyone who has flown with Ryanair would know could actually be anywhere in Poland. In this instance the airport was around 40 km away from the city I actually wanted to be in – fantastic!

It took me a little while to figure out how to navigate my way to Warsaw from the middle of nowhere but soon enough I was on a bus and then getting off just outside the huge Palace of Culture and Science in the city – probably one of Warsaw’s most recognisable landmarks and impossible to miss!

Warsaw

By this point it was already mid-afternoon and it felt like a good chunk of my weekend had deserted me. I thought I’d go and check in to my hotel and then grab some food but as it was one of my travel-favourites caught me eye.

Just across the street I happened to see none other than Warsaw’s Hard Rock Cafe – I had no real intention of seeking it out or looking for it on such a short trip but given the convenient location I couldn’t pass up making my first meal and indeed first experience in Poland a tourist-trap.

There are two things I remember from my visit. Firstly its appearance – lined along the walls was a huge, huge collection of guitars planted in to the wall. It was a really cool piece of art if you can call it that.

HRC Guitars
Guitar wall – Hard Rock Cafe, Warsaw

Secondly, the service was abysmal. It’s a shame because the service and atmosphere are usually HRC’s strong points but was far from its usual standards in Warsaw. My server seemed oblivious to my presence from the beginning. Once I finally managed to order something it was a long wait hoping that some food might arrive this afternoon. Still waiting, a while later my server made eye contact before scurrying away and sending a colleague over to take a brand new order.

Whilst I appreciate the struggles of the service industry and perhaps feeling a tad embarrassed, it was a little disappointing that my server shirked any responsiblity or apology for my wait and let someone else take the fall. Not that they apologised either. I did eat eventually but not off to the best starts in Poland.

From there I decided I’d finally go and check in to my hotel. It was probably 4, pushing 5pm by this point and the rush had worn me down. Perhaps Poland was just too far to go for a little over 24 hours. By the time I’d dropped my things off I didn’t feel like doing anything, I was partly regretting having even made the effort to come.

Feeling a bit sorry for myself I was torn between wasting the rest of my evening or forcing myself out to go and enjoy Warsaw’s nightlife on my only proper evening in the city.

In the end I decided upon a pitiful compromise, I thought I’d pop down to the hotel bar and get a drink and think about what to do from there. Feeling a dose of de-ja-vu my dear barman was AWOL, no interest in getting anyone a drink. I waited and waited and waited and I finally gave up.

“I’m not ever getting a drink here am I? Let’s go out I suppose..”

I ran back up to my hotel room, ditched the invisibility cloak I’d seemingly been wearing all day and headed back out with a coat. A couple of places caught my eye and one in particular, the Barock pub, took my fancy which wasn’t too far from my hotel.

On route I passed the ‘Hala Koszyki’ indoor market / food court which seemed like a wonderful place to spend the evening. I was quite tempted to stick around as it seemed somewhat of a hidden gem and a nice hangout spot for locals and tourists alike – one to remember for a future visit I said.

I continued on to the Barock pub and found this cosy little pub down one of the side streets. I can’t quite remember why I was set on this pub but I think one of the appeals had been that they had live music on and I was keen to enjoy the evening by this point.

I wandered up to the bar, tried to order a beer but was unfortunately met with a rather unfriendly barmaid who didn’t seem too pleased that I didn’t already know what I wanted from the extensive beer menu, hoping for a little help (in English) for recommendations. She handed me over to what I assume was her husband (they were both fairly old) who also didn’t seem best pleased to be serving me but I managed to sputter out the word ‘piwo’ clearly enough to at the very least get a beer at this point.

Perhaps I had just been unfortunate up to now but the fact this was the best service I’d received thus far in Warsaw was quite comical.

Barock Pub
Barock Pub, Warsaw

From here the evening at least got better. I found a table to sit at with my beer and this band played away among the local chatter at tables around me. They put on a fun show and I was even adamant I somehow knew their final song of the evening.

How, why or where I would have heard it I don’t know but I assumed it must have been a cover of something I’d possibly heard. My best efforts of internet-hunting well-known Polish songs came up short so I’ll never know the answer to that mystery but it was a lovely evening and much better than wasting it away in the hotel – although had I been in Warsaw longer than a night I may well have done that.

Feeling much more myself after a good night’s sleep, I wanted to have at least seen a little of Warsaw before heading home. I knew my time was pretty limited but I was keen to get out and get walking – my favourite way to familiarise myself with a new place.

Warsaw 2

I wandered back past the Palace of Culture and Science and made the slow walk over to the Old Town, surely a must see on my brief visit to Warsaw. The walk took me through the Ogrod Saski (Saxon Garden) which was a lovely park, albeit probably lovelier in nicer climates than mid-November.

The highlight, or part of the park that drew the biggest interest, appeared to be the ‘tomb of the unknown soldier’ – a worthy memorial to the unknown Polish soldiers killed in World War 1.

Saxon Garden Warsaw

Presidential Palace Warsaw

Moving onwards took me past the presidential palace, another impressive landmark on the fringes of the old town. I grabbed a few photos and then turned my attention towards food. After yesterday’s debacle I was keen to turn my attention towards some Polish cuisine and get some early lunch. I found myself a restaurant nearby promising pierogi on the menu and that was enough to tempt me inwards.

It was a wise choice. The food was lovely and would you believe it, I even received some good service! Yesterday’s shortcomings were already starting to feel like a distant memory (he says four years later..).

Having filled my stomach on delicious dumplings I was ready to get back out and see the rest of the old town. I soon found myself at ‘Plac Zakowy’, better known as ‘Castle Square’ – home to the royal castle and I suppose the main square of the old town.

Castle Square Warsaw

To my surprise it was pretty quiet, deserted even. I don’t know if Sunday being a religious day perhaps had a role in that. Visiting Poland in mid-November is hardly prime time to visit the country either, cold and probably a tad too early for any Christmas markets, but there was hardly anybody around. I had this huge square to myself for the mostpart – wonderful really.

The standout landmark of course was the royal castle, probably one of Poland’s most famous landmarks which towers over the square. You can do tours but I saw the queues and decided I’d leave it for a future visit when more time was on my side. On this occasion I settled for walking around it and just marveled at it – a beautiful building.

Royal Castle Warsaw
Royal Castle, Warsaw

The rest of the old town was equally lovely, like many throughout Europe I suppose. You could spend plenty of time wandering its streets and popping in to a number of restaurants, bars and shops as you go. I was pleased to see there was a scattering of Christmas markets, I seem to so frequently time my November trips a week too early and miss the best of them. There weren’t many on this occasion and I suspect I’d have seen much more had I been there a week or so later but it was still nice to see and started getting me in to the festive mood.

Christmas Market Warsaw

One of the unique things about Warsaw’s old town is that it was destroyed during World War 2 and then reconstructed to the best of their ability to resemble what it looked like beforehand. So as far as old town’s go, I suppose this is one of the newer ones but you wouldn’t know it when walking around.

Being mid-November it didn’t take long to get dark and cold so feeling content I’d seen enough of Warsaw for a first-time flying visit I went in search of an establishment to wind down. I knew I hadn’t even scratched the surface with Warsaw but there was no use in trying to pack things in for the sake of it, I knew I’d be coming back at some point in the future.

Maryensztadt

I found myself a brewery in the Mariensztat area and treated myself to a couple of beers – one thing Poland does do particularly well and cheaply too! The only thing missing was a food menu so I pottered on back to the old town for one last look around and to find somewhere to grab some food before heading on over to the airport.

I’d decided I’d just get an Uber back to the airport as it’d be quicker and being Poland, not too expensive either. Whilst Uber has its perks, one of my frustrations I find is that they don’t necessarily pick you up where you actually want them to pick you up – then have the cheek to charge you a late fee if you’re not where they want you quickly enough.

Whilst I don’t actually use Uber particularly often, many a trip has had to start with me wondering where I actually have to go to in order to be picked up – my trip had almost ended as it started. I had a 40km bus detour to get to my destination after Ryanair dropped me off in the middle of nowhere and now I had a somewhat-smaller detour to find my taxi for them to take me back to the middle of nowhere.

I promise this story comes with a point but the upside is that instead of actually getting picked up at the restaurant I’d grabbed food at, I had to go running round Warsaw to find my Uber and bam!

Warsaw Barbican

Don’t worry, it didn’t hit me but I turned the corner and there were these castle walls staring back at me. In the search for my Uber I’d only gone and stumbled upon the incredible Warsaw Barbican.

It was stunning and whilst pleased I’d stumbled upon it, I was sad I didn’t really get the chance to explore the area properly. I quickly snapped a few photos but was then on my way. A little further up the road my Uber was waiting for me and we were off, back to the airport and back to work in the morning.

Overall Warsaw wasn’t entirely what I’d wanted but it’d be hard to say through any fault of its own. The Warsaw that I got to see was lovely, I just didn’t see anywhere near enough of it due to a lack of time.

Even with some shoddy service along the way, my only real feelings about my first trip to Poland are positive. Warsaw is a really nice city and one that I have no doubts I’ll return to – particularly as it’s so cheap.

I’d certainly recommend a visit but hope you do so for longer than I did. At the very least I think I needed a two night trip but it wasn’t to be.

Anyway, I’ll wrap this up! Next time on the blog? That long-awaited European away trip with Spurs.

Stay tuned!

Jason

2020 travel roundup

Happy New Year everyone! I hope that you’ve had an enjoyable festive period despite the difficulties that 2020 has offered.

It has become somewhat of a tradition for me to do a little round up of the travels throughout the year. Of course 2019’s effort looked much busier than this post will be with trips to seven different countries in 2019, however I still managed to travel enough this year that I can squeeze a post out of it. Here goes..

Durham

January – Durham!
Doesn’t the start of 2020 seem so long ago now? I went in to this year knowing that there would be life-changing circumstances and consequently that I probably wouldn’t be traveling much this year.

Before you start asking – no, I’m not psychic! Haha. Nobody could quite predict this kind of year was coming but I’d quit my job and made plans to live in the US for a few months so I figured with, at least, three months of unemployment and a lot of uncertainty in 2020 that I’d probably have to cut back on travel this year.

“but one more trip?”

That’s the ever-present urge isn’t it? I could feel my adventures slipping away and pondered if I could squeeze in just one more trip before flying to Washington in February? Another New Years Eve getaway? A short weekender somewhere? Anywhere? Please?

Well, the football was enough to tempt me (surprise!). One of the highlights of the footballing calendar is the first weekend of the year – the third round of the “magical” FA Cup. The big names of football enter the competition and if the minnows, amateurs and part-timers are lucky they get a chance to test themselves against the very best.

It’s one of those weekends that football fans look forward to and my beloved Tottenham were playing “up North” in Middlesbrough and having successfully acquired a ticket I figured why not?

The train times weren’t particularly co-operative so I decided to make the most of it and have one final “hurrah” before the big trip of the year. Although I had little desire to visit Middlesbrough itself so settled on booking a stay in the nearby city of Durham – somewhere I’d been wanting to visit for a while and never really got around to.

Durham Castle

It was a wise decision, I’d been to Middlesbrough before anyway but Durham is a lovely and charming little city. I also managed to arrange a catch up with my friend Sarah, which in hindsight was wonderful because I’ve not been able to see much of anyone this year haha.

Other than the football it was a pretty relaxed trip. It’s not the biggest city and I think two nights was sufficient enough to have seen the bulk of it but it was nice to kick off the year with a bit of travel and explore a city well worth visiting.

February – Washington!
Of course this trip needs little introduction. Long time readers will know I’d planned this months in advance. I’d made the decision to leave my job and go and ‘live’ in Washington with my girlfriend for three months.

Three months in small-town Washington, a city called Moses Lake to be precise. January was a bit of a slog, particularly as far as work was concerned because I knew the end was imminent. I was counting down the days and after one final weekend in London of football, beers and pizza I was on my way to Seattle for a very different way of living.

I’m a London boy at heart but now live in the “small” city of Peterborough with its 200,000ish inhabitants. Yet here I was spending three months in Moses Lake with its population of 24,000 people! 24,000! If I find Peterborough small at times, how am I going to cope in Moses Lake for three months!?

Moses Lake History
Moses Lake, Washington

Oddly I adapted and settled pretty quickly. I’ve already written about my time in Washington on the blog but it was lovely. Admittedly I think being unemployed helped, I had absolutely nothing to worry about and was living the easy life!

I grew to appreciate the simplicities of life without a job – taking a book with me to the coffee shop downtown and sitting in with a cup of tea for a couple of hours, wandering by the lake on a nice afternoon, date nights and all the other nicer things in life that you don’t have to worry about when you have a job.

Ignoring the necessity to finance this way of life, I could do this forever – who needs to work!? This is the “new normal” and long may it continue!

and then the “new normal” struck – supermarkets deprived of toilet rolls and that dreaded C word!

“The new normal..” – I’d only just escaped the old normal! What is this nonsense? Stay at home orders and closed businesses and a lockdown in small town America!

I tried to wait it out, hoping Trump’s optimism of re-opening by Easter would prove accurate but it wasn’t to be. On the 30th of March he advised lockdown measures would be extended throughout April and as I was due to fly home on May 1st it was time to find plan B.

Ultimately I had to cut my time in Washington short, not ideal and still no inkling on when I’ll be able to return but I still got the best part of 8-9 weeks in Washington, 6 of those before going in to lockdown so a good chunk of time in a place I’ve grown particularly fond of.

Sadly I don’t know if I’ll actually get back to Moses Lake – I hope I do because I feel like I owe it and myself a proper goodbye but the reality is the next time I’m in Washington Haleigh may no longer be in Moses Lake. It’s a shame my love-affair with Moses Lake ended the way it did but perhaps our paths will cross again someday.

IMAG6541

April – Utah! (Cancelled)
Sadly not every travel story this year had a happy ending. Haleigh’s a teacher and had a few days off in April for her spring break which we were keen to make the most of and have an adventure together.

We’d been toying with a couple of ideas – namely Oregon and Utah but in February one of Haleigh’s cousins (Michelle) who lives in Utah came up to Washington with her boyfriend (David) which was enough to steer us towards planning a trip down to Salt Lake City.

ValentinesDayDateNight
Valentines Day with Haleigh and my Utah favourites

We pencilled in the dates but as Covid emerged and as April neared it was apparent our plans would have to be postponed. It was a shame because we’d considered visiting Salt Lake City on my “big 3-0” trip too and it didn’t pan out then either. Maybe it’ll be third time lucky?

Fortunately the only booking we’d made was one night in a hotel in Boise, Idaho which was fully refundable but Covid robbed us of a trip to what would have been two new states for me.

As it was, my change of plans meant I spent the bulk of April at home in England instead.

Cromer Beach

August – the Norfolk coast!
After getting back to England in early April I made the decision to self-isolate and stay at home for two weeks – not that anyone actually advised me to do this. At this moment in time the UK were still welcoming people with open arms without any fuss – bonkers!

Towards the end of that second week I switched my focus back to the real world – time to find a job! To my surprise I actually got a job interview really quickly! Sadly I didn’t get that particular job but then my former employers approached me about returning in a new job role so by early May I was employed again. Even before going to Washington, completely unaware of the imminent pandemic, I hadn’t anticipated that I’d be employed that quickly.

I’d very much landed on my feet! I’d planned and budgeted for a spell of unemployment so I’ve been luckier than most this year in that I’ve not really felt the financial strain of Covid. Better yet, I’d found a new challenge and was doing something far more enjoyable than the previous year – hurrah!

By August I was ready for a break and thought I’d treat myself to a few days away for my birthday. I wasn’t quite ready to hop on a plane just yet so limited myself to staying within the UK and was intending for something a little more outdoorsy and less of a city break which I often favour.

I looked at a few options but in the end stayed pretty local and only went as far as Norfolk. I really fancied a few days by the coast and although I’ve seen a little of Norfolk, there’s still lots of it I haven’t seen so I booked myself a hotel for 4 nights in Cromer – Monday to Friday as I was keen to avoid the weekend crowds!

My second UK break of the year! It was nice to get away for a few days and it was a nice reminder of how much I love being by the sea.

Cromer
Cromer beach, Norfolk

It was busy in parts, which is a little inevitable in the summer months, but overall it was pretty easy to keep distanced from other people and even with the UK running its “Eat out to help out” scheme throughout August places were taking social distancing seriously with various measures in place.

Overall it was a lovely few days away and the perfect trip to refresh and re-energise before getting back to work.

Gibraltar
First sight of Gibraltar

October – Gibraltar!
All work and no play? I’ve long held the belief that work isn’t that important. This wasn’t some lesson I learnt in 2020 but it was probably a year that helped emphasise it.

In 2019 I was on my last legs with work and 3 months without working, particularly the first 6 weeks without lockdown was bliss. If I was financially secure enough that I didn’t have to work, I don’t think that I would.

You might ponder what relevance that has to Gibraltar but a change in working environment was a factor. There was a mixed feeling in August in not feeling quite ready enough to get on a plane and also a question over whether I was right to get on to a plane?

I was working from home, I wasn’t seeing friends, I was very much in my own little bubble and expanding my horizons seemed irresponsible perhaps. So I ended up visiting Norfolk which required little travel and being by the sea and outdoors made it much easier to minimise my social contact.

Fast forward two months and the advice and guidance had vastly changed and work wanted me to return to an office-environment with the UK government at the forefront of that advice.

That change of environment changed my mindset a little. The reality was that this change of circumstance meant that the place I was most likely to catch Covid would be at work.

So I’ll leave you to be judge and executioner as to whether it was right for me to travel abroad but it felt right for me. If I could go to work in an office with 100 odd other people, why should I feel guilty about traveling?

Ultimately it was still another solo trip so still pretty easy to keep to myself, after looking at a number of different options I narrowed down my choices to two countries with low Covid cases and countries that seemingly had a better handle of Covid than the UK (who doesn’t, right?): Turkey and Gibraltar!

Gibraltar Coast

I’d been itching to visit Turkey for a while but something swayed me towards Gibraltar. I didn’t want to get stung by a last minute cancellation and I just couldn’t see the UK halting travel to a British overseas territory. It didn’t look like there was any reason for the UK to halt travel to Turkey either but that, the fact Gibraltar had yet to register any Covid deaths (that sadly isn’t the case any more) and a couple of other things pushed me towards visiting Gibraltar.

As it was, Turkey went on to the UK’s naughty list a matter of days after I’d booked my flights so I got pretty lucky.

I was excited to visit a new country and having had no huge desire to visit Gibraltar previously, it was a pleasant surprise. I already wrote about my time in Gibraltar here but it was the perfect mix of British and European culture – the best of both really.

Overall it felt much safer than the UK too, I felt a little vindicated in picking Gibraltar over taking a break within the UK. Gibraltar seemingly had a good handle on things whilst the UK was spiralling. Maybe I could just buy a boat and stay in Gibraltar?

Gibraltar Ocean Village

I think I would have liked Gibraltar regardless but visiting in Covid times, making comparisons to back home, made it so much easier to love. I forgot all about work and was mentally back to sipping tea in Moses Lake, the only difference being this time it was beer in sunny Gibraltar.

I’d go back in a heartbeat and it didn’t take long to see why so many Brits visit and retire here. It’s that South of France or Spanish retirement dream without the language barrier – perfect!

November – “where to?”
I’d optimistically booked off Thanksgiving week months in advance, on the off chance travel might have recovered by then and I’d be able to get back to Washington.

As it got closer to November it was clear that wouldn’t be happening and I was pondering what to do with my week off of work? I figured I’d probably not actually do much and maybe squeeze in a couple of nights down in London before the end of the year.

Then the UK went in to lockdown for pretty much the entirety of November which scuppered any hope of going anywhere. In the end I don’t think I even left the house in that particular week – not the most exciting of breaks and the first time I’ve ‘wasted’ annual leave in probably six or seven years. I had to use it before the end of the year though so it was unavoidable, still better than spending a week working.

London Art
Gorgeous mural of London

December – London!
I had three more days to use up before the end of the year and having coming out of lockdown I was keeping an eye on where I could potentially visit.

Options by this point were even more limited than they had been for my trip in October. I was determined to book a trip as late as possible, hoping that the weekly Thursday travel updates might offer somewhere but it wasn’t to be.

So I reverted back to my November plans, I really wanted to get to London before the end of the year. December / Christmas is such a magical time to visit London and I hadn’t spent any time in the capital since February!

Ordinarily I’d visit London at least twice a month I reckon so ten months without a visit left me feeling like I was long overdue a trip. I was particularly keen to visit some of the museums in the capital, I haven’t really been to any of them since I was a kid living in London. My only real opportunities to visit are at weekends or public holidays too and they’re just hell-ish to visit when the kids are off school – no thanks!

NHM
National History Museum, London

Keeping in mind my plans, I decided I’d book myself a couple of nights in a part of London I rarely stay in – Kensington! The National History Museum was towards the top of my list to visit and it was just an ideal location to base myself in and I was surprised to find London so ‘cheap’ for this time of year and this location – clearly feeling the wrath of the pandemic!

So with Peterborough and London both in ‘tier 2’ I hopped on a train and enjoyed a couple of nights in the capital, again by myself.

It was the best and worst time to be in London. The best because London was so quiet by usual standards, a lot of central London was dead – two weeks before Christmas and no crowds or people anywhere. I had Westminster and the likes all to myself!

Westminster
Westminster with no crowds!

So why was it the worst time to be in London? Call me crazy but.. London was dead. I love London so much. I love the hustle and bustle, I love how much life London has and it broke my heart a little to see London so.. un-London-like.

I shouldn’t be able to walk around Westminster without cursing dawdling tourists. Either move quicker or have the awareness to get out of the way!

There were a few things I really got to appreciate and gave me a small taste of London, I managed to enjoy a couple of people busking in a couple of locations and London still feels so magical at this time of the year but it was a very different London to the one that I’m used to.

Nevertheless it was a nice trip to end the year and given the circumstances still not a terrible travel year. I got to have a taste of living in another country, took four flights and managed to visit one new country. I also managed to visit a couple of new places in the UK so all in all, I probably still did better than most.

However I’m hoping 2021 is a much better year for travel. I’ve got no travel plans at the minute and it doesn’t feel good haha!

Quarantine!
Masked up and waiting for adventure!

I hope you managed to squeeze in some travels this year too! Up next on the blog? I continue with the “big 3-0” trip. Stay tuned!

Jason

Gibraltar – Oct 2020

Hello my dear readers, welcome back to another post! Can you believe it? I’m posting twice within a week – incredible!

After a little hiatus, last time out on the blog I provided a little update and promised that I’d post about my recent trip to Gibraltar! Here’s that post!

I’d never been to Gibraltar before, nor had I really had that much interest in going to Gibraltar. Of course I want to visit everywhere in the world but I definitely feel like it ended up being a Covid-influenced decision. As I explained in my last post, with so many travel restrictions currently I found myself torn between staying in the UK, visiting Turkey or visiting Gibraltar with my few days of annual leave.

I’ve been itching to visit Turkey for a little while now but something swayed me towards Gibraltar instead. A few days after booking my trip Turkey went on the quarantine list so that was a big relief.

As for the UK.. well, the less said about the Covid situation in the UK at the moment the better. Ironically a trip to Gibraltar seemed safer than visiting anywhere within my own country – ridiculous!

Once everything was booked my excitement did start to build. It had been six months since I’d been abroad and indeed six months since I’d been to Heathrow. I opted to stay in an airport hotel on the Wednesday night and then fly out of terminal 5 at around midday on Thursday – not too early so I got a bit of a lay in on Thursday morning.

Heathrow was inevitably a bit busier than my arrival back in April but was still far from normal capacity. I passed through security pretty quickly and went on the hunt for breakfast. My usual pre-flight spot is at Huxley’s with some pancakes and a pot of tea but they were seemingly closed – I’m hoping this is just temporary but in the meantime I had to settle for breakfast at ‘Spoons’. They had a few screens up between tables and table service so adhering to the Covid measures in place. In fairness to Wetherspoons, they’ve actually encouraged ordering via an app for a long time so have been a little “ahead of the game” on that front.

Anyway, a short while later it was time to fly. Boarding was pretty smooth and done from the back of the plane by row order, I lucked out on the way to Gibraltar with an aisle seat and nobody sat in the middle. However it was generally a full-capacity flight and most rows had every seat full, just worth keeping in mind for anybody pondering how busy flights are at the moment – masks were mandatory and there seemed to be no fuss on that part at least.

I landed in Gibraltar a few hours later. Before you’re allowed to enter Gibraltar you have to complete a passenger-locator form. You can do this online once you’ve checked in for your flight, it surprised me how many hadn’t done this before arrival. They check every single passenger so you’re better off doing it beforehand rather than stood huddled together filling out a form in the arrival hall.

Anyway, I’d finally arrived in a very warm and sunny Gibraltar. You can get a taxi to your accommodation or there’s a bus stop not too far from the airport that will take you in to the centre of the country but with glorious weather I decided to walk to my hotel.

First sight of Gibraltar

The very Northern point of Gibraltar to the very Southern point of Gibraltar is about 6 kilometers in length so it’s a really walkable country. The airport is in the very North of the country so you want to head South, in direction of that big ol’ rock, to get in to Gibraltar. You’ll know which way you need to go because the border crossing in to Spain is right in front of you when you come out of the airport and the rock is behind you and unmissable haha.

Interestingly to get in to the main part of Gibraltar you have to cross the runway which you’ve just flown in on. It’s quite unique and they’ll stop crossings when a plane is due to land or depart.

I walked in direction of the rock and even getting a little lost I’d soon arrived in what I considered to be the heart and soul of the country – Casemates Square. The square had a bit of a buzz and life to it. Additionally it’s in a really picturesque location so my first impressions of Gibraltar were good. I already felt like I was going to enjoy Gibraltar.

Gibraltar Casemates Daytime
Casemates Square

I think it was about 4-4:30 when I landed so by the time I’d walked in to Gibraltar I was ready to check in to my hotel and drop my things off. A friend had recommended a couple of places and I opted to stay at the Elliott Hotel which proved to be a good decision as it was a lovely hotel and in a really good location in relation to everywhere else in Gibraltar. I dropped my things off, relaxed for a little bit and then freshened up to head out and find some dinner.

I decided I’d stay pretty local. A friend over on Instagram lives in Gibraltar at the moment and had kindly sent a bunch of recommendations over to me – one of those was ‘The Skull’ which was just around the corner from my hotel so seemed particularly ideal on my first night given I’d yet to get my bearings with where things were.

Gibraltar The Skull
The Skull, Gibraltar

True to its name, everything at this little bar was Skull themed! Skull designed flooring, skulls lining the bar, skull-shaped lightbulbs, skull-inspired artwork and even skull-themed dishes. My chips turned up in a skull-designed glass, as did my cocktail that followed dinner haha. It was a nice little place and a good spot for my first evening. It was pretty empty though which surprised me a bit given England and Wales were playing eachother in the football and this particular bar were televising the game – admittedly another incentive for me to visit on my first night.

There’s no curfew in Gibraltar, unlike the UK currently, but because there were so few customers they didn’t stay open late. I was assured it’d be a bit more lively on Friday evening but with an early kicking-out time I had a little wander through Gibraltar to see what else was local to where I was staying.

In all honesty I was aiming for the waterfront but after little success finding it I admitted defeat. I didn’t really see anything else of particular interest on my wander so just headed back to my hotel and called it a night, ready to explore and get a proper glimpse of Gibraltar in the morning.

Gibraltar Sunset

I woke up on Friday morning to darkness which was quite confusing. I thought it must still be early in the morning but even at 7, 7:30 in the morning it’s dark outside. The sun didn’t rise until about 8:30 in the morning which I found a little unsettling and also a little demotivating to get myself up and raring to go. I reckon I’d have been up and raring to go a bit earlier but instead I rolled over and went back to sleep, I wasn’t heading out to explore whilst it was still so dark.

Unfortunately this became a bit of a ‘bad habit’ if there’s such a thing on holiday. As much as I’d want to get my day going I just couldn’t drag myself out of bed before the sun was up. It was probably closer to 10 or 11am by the time I’d left my hotel and it felt like such a waste of my morning. I went and found a place to grab some breakfast but the slow start had set the tone for the rest of the day.

It ended up being a really relaxed day. There were a few things I wanted to do whilst in Gibraltar but none set for any particular day, I was largely winging it and just seeing where things took me.

Gibraltar1

Ultimately Friday just became a familiarisation day that allowed me to get my bearings with where things are in Gibraltar. I’d not had much chance to do so yet but I kind of used it to earmark where I’d spend the next few days. By the afternoon I’d wound up at the popular ‘Ocean Village’.

I wouldn’t call it a village as such but it’s where you’ll find a lot of the nightlife in Gibraltar. There’s a host of restaurants and bars floating above the water, joined by a variety of boats and yachts including the impressive ‘Sunborn’ which you can stay on and is also home to a casino.

I liked Ocean Village but it probably does cater more towards the tourists. That said, I was a tourist so found myself an outside seat at one of the bars and refreshed myself with a beer or two. Keen not to stay in one spot all day I did drag myself away from the temptation to just sit in the sun all afternoon and wandered back through the streets of Gibraltar before making my way back to Casemates Square.

As I said above, it really is the heart and soul of Gibraltar in my mind. You’ve got tourists and the locals intertwined and it makes for a really nice atmosphere and is also perfect for people-watching!

I must have arrived sometime between 3pm – 4pm because there was a huge collection of school children running around enjoying themselves whilst the cafes, pubs and restaurants were slowly filling up for the evening.

Due to a late breakfast I’d skipped lunch and found myself in that peckish dilemma of “is it too late for lunch / too early for dinner?” before eventually deciding I was too hungry to wait. I took a seat at the Italian restaurant ‘Tramonte Ristorante’ and treated myself to a pizza which ended up being pretty good!

The rest of my day was pretty uneventful, I didn’t do anything particularly noteworthy but I felt a lot more comfortable with where things were and the quickest ways to get around. I ended up getting a rather early night, particularly for a Friday, keen to make a better go of exploring on Saturday.

A few people knowing I was in Gibraltar had asked if I’d “seen the monkeys yet” and I’d decided going to the top of the rock was my plan for Saturday. However I sensibly took a look at the forecast and whilst warm, it looked like it was going to be a cloudy day and I thought better of it so instead I decided I’d head on down to ‘Europa Point’ at the Southern tip of Gibraltar.

With a bit of a walk ahead of me I kicked off my morning at this little cafe down the street from my hotel. Having missed out at Heathrow I ended up getting some pancakes which was the perfect way to start the day. I was then off on my journey “down South”.

The walk was a little over 2 miles, nothing too strenuous and most of it is coastal too so I’d definitely recommend walking it rather than hopping on a bus. There isn’t too much traffic so it’s a decent walk and offers some really pretty views of the coast and Spain to the West.

Cool little beach area with a pool

Along the way I stumbled upon public outdoor pool areas, some interesting historic buildings and structures and even a little waterfall which I really wasn’t expecting. It’s not a particularly long walk but it’s definitely easy to get distracted along the way which might slow you down a bit haha.

Eventually I reached this long dark tunnel which you have to pass through (coming this route anyway..) which seemed to go on for a bit longer than I was expecting.

As soon as you come out of the tunnel you’ll see a gorgeous mosque on your left. Unfortunately it seemed to be closed so there wasn’t an opportunity to take a look inside but I made sure to grab a couple of photos from the outside.

Gibraltar Mosque

By this point you’re pretty much at Europa Point and the lighthouse on the Southern coast of Gibraltar.

Europa Point was probably my favourite part of Gibraltar. I think it just really resonated with the traveler within me. Just across the water was the North African coast and it just left me mesmerised!

Gibraltar Europa Point
You can vaguely see the outline of Africa, much more visible on a clear day!

On a clearer day it’d be so much more visible, my photos don’t do it any justice but Africa was right there! It’s one thing crossing state lines or country borders but to be stood in Gibraltar with Spain on my right and Africa in front of me – wow!

It was mindblowing in some ways. I came here fully aware of that fact so it’s not like it was a surprise but I couldn’t help but transport myself to historic times and put myself in that mindset. I just pictured being stood in Gibraltar with the curiosity and mystery of “hey.. what’s over there?” – “that’s Africa..”

Even now, with the world so accessible and with so much knowledge of other places Africa has that mystery. It was my hope to get to Morocco this year and it obviously didn’t pan out, much like Turkey, so this is the closest I’ve come to stepping on African soil. You can get a little closer in parts of Spain but realistically I knew this was as close as I’m ever likely to get to Africa without stepping in Africa.

I have a habit of romanticising travel, perhaps too much at times, but I was stood there looking across the water and definitely had that “pinch me” moment. There’s so much I don’t know about Africa and I think those of us from the Western world in general are guilty of that.

I found myself completely swept up in the lure of Africa. There’s not a huge amount in the vicinity of Europa Point but I think I could have just sat there all day day-dreaming. It’s a sight and experience you have to make time for in Gibraltar.

Also at Europa Point you’ll find a lighthouse and then a university. The university seemed very sports focused and it’s probably of little shock that I found myself drawn to the Europa Point stadium. It’s in such a stunning location with the rock and its surroundings providing a gorgeous background. Again, I think if I was ever playing on that pitch I’d just get lost within the scenery.

“Jason.. what are you doing? You’ve just let them score!”

Gibraltar Europa Point Stadium
Europa Point Stadium, Gibraltar

Gibraltar Coast

Dragging myself away from Europa Point I embarked on a coastal walk. The sun was beginning to make an appearance and it’s just a beautiful place to go for a wander. I stopped every so often to take photos of the views but my intended destination was Gorham’s Cave Complex – a World Heritage site.

This was a bit of a last minute decision. I’d only considered it once I realised how close it was to Europa Point. My lack of preparation meant I didn’t know that it was closed at the weekend so I arrived to find locked gates and subsequently no opportunity to see the cave complex on this particular trip. I turned back and took a slow walk back in to the heart of Gibraltar, via Europa Point again of course.

With the sun finally shining I did ponder whether I could squeeze in a trip up to the top of the rock and tick off both landmarks in one day. However in the end I took a more relaxed approach and decided I’d leave the Rock until tomorrow.

Thinking that it might be time to find somewhere for some food I made my way over to ‘Queensway Quay’ which is a gorgeous little harbour-like area with a handful of restaurants overlooking the water with numerous yachts and pretty boats parked on the docks.

Gibraltar Harbour

This was somewhere that you’d probably be less inclined to just stumble upon unless you were actively looking for it so it felt a little less touristy than somewhere like Ocean Village. I found myself a table sat outside, ordered some beer and grabbed myself a late lunch whilst overlooking the harbour.

By this point I was pretty smitten with Gibraltar and I’d returned to day-dreaming, this time as a boat owner living the dream life in the sun. Sod going back to Corona-land, I was staying here.

Essentially this was the “South of France..” or “retire in Spain..” lifestyle but with the added boost of a common language. I sat people-watching and this cute couple were sat just infront of me seemingly making the best of their honeymoon. The, socially-distanced, table to the right was an older couple and it wasn’t long before the four of them had become acquainted and friendly and spent the next hour or so chatting.

There’s only one way I’d know that so no need to guess how I spent the next couple of hours. People-watching, sunshine, beers, pretty views, no responsibilities.. what more could you want? It felt almost like living in an alternative reality – “this is what life looks like in a country tackling Covid effectively..”. I was equally bliss and resentful. I was in no rush to leave Gibraltar and just wanted to soak up this feeling.

Eventually I opted to have a wander elsewhere and just get lost within the old town. Despite the huge rock that towers over Gibraltar, it’s such a walkable country and it’s nice to just wander aimlessly and see what you stumble upon. After a while I returned to the hotel to freshen up and relax for a bit before pondering where to spend the evening.

Gibraltar Casemates Square Evening

I decided I’d go and grab dinner around Casemates Square and find myself a nice spot to soak up the atmosphere. It’s a lovely spot to watch the sun go down and do some more people-watching. For a Saturday evening it wasn’t overly busy which surprised me a little but there was enough of a buzz that it kept me entertained.

I wasn’t in a rush to call it a night but fancied a change of scenery so thought I’d take a better glimpse at Ocean Village’s own nightlife. Again it wasn’t swarming with people but a little busier than it had been when I passed through on Wednesday. There’s a number of restaurants / bars that you can grab a drink at.

I started off at one bar that had been recommended to me and also had cheap cocktails. I was only going to grab the one cocktail but with a 2-for-1 offer it seemed silly not to have two. I was a little disappointed however that you couldn’t mix-and-match which would have allowed me to try two different cocktails. The bar in general wasn’t really my kind of place either, not solo anyway and it just wasn’t the vibe I was after.

I finished off my cocktails and swiftly moved on. Unlike in the UK currently, there’s no curfew in Gibraltar so I wasn’t having to glance at the clock for a 10pm close. I wandered over to another bar in the Ocean Village which I’d heard were really good for craft beers / ales.

That’s the one possible disappointment and, dare I say, gap in the market as far as Gibraltar is concerned. I decided early on in the trip that I was buying a boat and opening a brewery in Gibraltar because it stuns me that there are no breweries in Gibraltar – not one!

You won’t find locally-made beers in Gibraltar, they’re all imported and generally your options are San Miguel or Heineken in most places you visit – I generally opted for San Miguel but with how popular craft beers are right now it really surprises me. With the weather and dining-out style culture it is the perfect country for better beers and Gibraltar is seriously lacking in that department.

So I was looking forward to finishing off my evening by visiting somewhere that prided themselves on their craft beer selection. Sadly it doesn’t matter how good your menu is if none of the beers are in stock! I was bitterly disappointed. In the end I took my chance on a fruity gin. I’ve never really drunk gin but when better to try it than on holiday? It went down alright and I’m probably more pro-gin than I was before the trip. It was a beautifully decorated bar too so was a nice way to end the evening.

Gibraltar Gin

Sunday morning started like the two before it – pitch black! I’d continually wake up raring to go and the lack of sunlight ends up being so demotivating – back to sleep! I woke up a little while later and got myself ready to go up the rock.

I repeatedly debated whether I should climb it by foot or cheat and take the cablecar up. I unsurprisingly opted for the latter and I can’t say I have any regrets. It’s just so much more convenient haha.

At the top you’ve got 360 degree views overlooking the entire country and beyond. It’s definitely the ‘must-do’ of any trip to Gibraltar. It’s also where you’ll find the only wild monkeys in Europe!

I’ll be honest, I thought there’d be much more of them based on stuff I’d read. There were a handful fooling around but not that many. I was one of the earliest people to go up though so perhaps they’re more prominent later in the day when there are more tourists to steal goodies from. Not that I minded too much, I was happy they kept a good distance from me haha.

Gibraltar Rock
The rock of Gibraltar

Gibraltar Rock View

The views are spectacular and there’s a few other attractions dotted around such as the ‘Skywalk’ or the Windsor suspension bridge. Rather than take the cablecar back down I decided I’d walk down and tick off a few of the points of interest.

The area I probably spent the most time exploring was the ‘great siege tunnels’ in the lower part of the Rock area. It went in to a bit more of the history of Gibraltar which was interesting to read about. It was still pretty early so I had it pretty much all to myself so I could take a bit more time and get some fun photos too!

Gibraltar Friend

Outside of the tunnels there’s a couple more cool viewpoints but it was pretty much all downhill from there. I’d definitely recommend going early in the day, it was slowly getting busier on my way down than it had been when I’d first gone up.

By the time I’d made my way down the steps in to the old town I was feeling a bit peckish and I was really hoping to find a decent Sunday roast somewhere. I ended up going to ‘The Clipper’ and it was really, really good. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in Gibraltar on a Sunday, it was really good value too for the quality and quantity of food they served up.

After stuffing myself with food I wandered back over to where I’d started the day. Right by where you ride the cablecar is the botanical gardens and I was keen to have a wander through the gardens, I probably should have done so before I’d rode the cablecar up but I hadn’t really anticipated walking back down haha.

The botanical gardens are free to visit and definitely worthwhile visiting for that reason alone. I was expecting it to be a little busier given it was a Sunday afternoon by this point but it was still pretty quiet. Again, I wasn’t going to complain. It just meant I could enjoy a peaceful wander through and admire how pretty it is. I’m sure if I was a local I’d spend many an afternoon here and it wasn’t long before I’d found a bench to sit back, relax and admire the surroundings.

Gibraltar Botanical Gardens
Gibraltar Botanical Gardens

The gardens aren’t particularly huge so eventually I’d covered pretty much all of it and went back to wandering the streets of Gibraltar. By this point I’d pretty much seen all of Gibraltar that I’d wanted to, it’s worth remembering it’s a pretty small country and I’d ticked off the two big things I wanted to see in terms of the Rock and Europa Point. The rest of my Sunday was pretty chilled.

Sunday was my last night in Gibraltar so I wanted to end it by enjoying what felt like my “last taste of freedom”. I think Gibraltar is the kind of destination that I’d enjoy in normal circumstances. I think it had the perfect balance and feel of being a European destination but with a nice dusting of British influence on it that made it really appealing to me. Boat jokes aside, it’s somewhere I could easily see myself living.

Gibraltar Ocean Village

That’s in normal circumstances of course. The irony wasn’t lost on me that I was lucky enough to have been able to escape for a few days but perhaps unfortunate enough that it had given me a taste of normality. Gibraltar had been perfect but left me feeling more resentful of what I was going home to.

I really liked Gibraltar but there was definitely a part of me that pondered how could you not in a pandemic? This was as normal as life had felt in a long time and I was desperate to cling on to that feeling of normality.

I treated myself to a steak on the last night in a restaurant over in Ocean Village. It proved to be a perfect spot to watch the sun go down accompanied with a beer. It was a world away from life back in England. I moved on to another bar, had another couple of cocktails and was trying to enjoy this final night for as long as possible. I even stayed out beyond 10pm – wild!

Sadly, it eventually it had to come to an end and was time to call it a night. Monday morning was really a struggle. The only part of Gibraltar I hadn’t really explored was its East coast and I had contemplated going over to Catalan Bay beach which the barman on my first night had said I’d have to visit.

However I just couldn’t drag myself out of bed. Luckily I didn’t have to check out until midday but I just wasn’t ready to go, to leave this false life and return to the normality of a pandemic. My slump wasn’t helped by the fact I knew the UK government were implementing new lockdown measures today and I was fearing the worst.

That’s not to say I didn’t think those measures were needed but to be in a relatively Covid-secure country and returning to a country that was spiraling out of control was difficult to accept on this particular occasion.

Regardless of how gloomy I felt about returning to the UK, what was the alternative? I checked out as close to noon as possible and figured I’d just go grab some lunch somewhere. Catalan Bay would have to wait until a future visit to Gibraltar, I only had a couple of hours left and didn’t want to go too far out my way.

Gibraltar OceanVillage

Ocean Village’s proximity to the airport made it an ideal lunch spot and location to soak in the last few rays of sunshine before I had to say goodbye. Ordinarily I’m a “get-to-the-airport-early” kind of traveler but I did hold back a bit on this occasion.

Admittedly I knew Gibraltar’s airport was pretty small and that only one flight was departing Gibraltar so there wasn’t going to be a huge rush at the airport but the reality is I was still clinging on – just one more beer..

I slowly made my way back to the airport, again opting to walk. It’s only about 10-15 minutes from Ocean Village on foot. My later departure meant I got stopped at the runway crossing as we had to wait for a flight to land before they opened up the road to traffic and pedestrians – a nice little novelty experience to round off the trip.

The flight home was full on this occasion and soon enough I’d landed back in a wet London, Gibraltar’s sunshine was a distant memory.

As for those UK measures I’d been concerned about? The good news is they were much more lenient than I’d anticipated. I’d really feared the worst and I was surprised to discover that as far as my area of the UK was concerned it was “business as usual” and the measures in place were unchanged. It perked me up a little bit from my mood that morning.

The bad news? Well.. the measures were much more lenient than I’d anticipated. It was in equal part good and bad news. There was an air of inevitability about what had to happen to get this virus under control again in the UK and unbelievably it seemed that memo didn’t quite get as far as Downing Street.

As much as I loved Gibraltar I’m left pondering when we’re ever going to reach that point in the UK where life can resemble some form of reality again. Gibraltar was a wonderful trip but also a difficult one as it took me back to happier times and I wasn’t quite ready to give that up.

Anyway, I’ve rambled plenty so time to wrap up this post! I’m sure Gibraltar is a place I’ll return to but next time on the blog I’ll be continuing on with the “big 3-0” trip.

Stay tuned!

Jason

Lille – June 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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London to Brussels, via Lille

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

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

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

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

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

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Gorgeous church in sunny Lille

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

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

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Cafe culture looking good in Lille!

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

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

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Hideous cathedral in Lille

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

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

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Beautiful interior!

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

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

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

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The beautiful streets of Lille

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The French love their football!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Exploring Lille whilst it’s quiet!

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

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

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Beautiful place to browse for books in Lille!

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

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

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Peace and quiet in the parks of Lille

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

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

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Lille quickly won me over. Easy to see why!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jason

Lincoln – May 2018

Welcome back dear readers! I hope you’re all keeping well in a crazy environment but it’s business as usual here. It’s Thursday which means another blog post!

I said last time out it’s rare for me to have blogged about England and then here there are two English destinations on the bounce. In spite of a little staycation up in Manchester in the March, I was still itching for some adventure and with no annual leave to use and pennies to save towards the summer I had to look to my own country for inspiration.

Fortunately the football season keeps me occupied to a point between August and May but with the football season nearing its conclusion I was desperate to make the most of a free weekend and a city I’d been meaning to visit for a while was Lincoln.

It’s not too far from my home in Peterborough and yet I’d somehow never visited the city. It’s only about an hour away on the train so actually really easy for me to get to. Therefore on the first Sunday in May I decided I was going to go. It turned out to be a gorgeous day for a daytrip too. A surprisingly sunny bank holiday weekend, who would have thought?

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Lincoln castle and Lincoln cathedral

Anyway I hopped on the train mid-morning and a little while later I was arriving in to Lincoln. On a daytrip I figured there were probably two must sees in Lincoln – the castle and the cathedral. If I saw anything else whilst in the city I considered it a bonus.

I left the train station with no real clue which direction to go so I figured I’d just walk until I saw some signs. If you leave the station and walk straight the first thing you’re likely to stumble upon is Lincoln’s shopping district. You’ve got a shopping mall here and then a bunch of exterior shops too. Given it was a sunny Sunday and mid-morning it was inevitably crowded.

I quickly saw and followed signs towards the castle and cathedral. For anyone else that’s visited Lincoln you’ll likely know what this entails but I’d liken it to my struggles in climbing to the view point at Kerry Park in Seattle – it’s an uphill struggle! You know what the prize is at the top, beautiful architecture and history but it looks like a long way up when you’re at the bottom of the hill – aptly named ‘Steep Hill’ – they’re not joking!

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Steep Hill, Lincoln

On the plus side it is a beautiful walk up there at least. The streets are cobbled and there’s pretty and old buildings along the way – most of which home to shops or businesses of some sort that provide perfect shelter or respite from the climb.

Having reached the top myself and feeling the need for a reward of some kind I couldn’t help but tempt myself to an early lunch. I’d passed Brown’s Pie Shop, which I’d heard good things about, so figured it would be a perfect place to fill my stomach before any further exploration. The food was great, it’s somewhere I’d recommend visiting if you’re ever in Lincoln and was a worthy reward for my climb of Everest (Steep Hill).

I made the castle my first proper stop of the day. I hadn’t done any prior research so wasn’t sure what it would cost to visit, however as it turned out I’d timed my visit perfectly. There was some event on which meant entry was free to the public today. Ordinarily there’s an admission price of £14 plus a further fee if you want to walk the walls so I’d saved myself a good chunk of money by visiting today.

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Lincoln castle grounds

On the grounds was a tent set up for some artists performing live music. Further in to the ground were old planes set up on the grass which were pretty cool to look at. It’s a little pricey if you visit ordinarily but I still think I’d have been pretty content had I paid an admission, rather than getting a free visit.

The grounds are absolutely beautiful and that’s before you tackle the medieval wall walk. This is particularly worth doing as you can walk the walls of the castle at your own leisure and get incredible views over the city.

Lincoln Castle
Exploring the beautiful castle grounds!

I took so many photos, some of which I think are the best I’ve ever taken. Admittedly the clear blue skies added to them but I could have spent so much longer exploring the castle. My only surprise was that it wasn’t busier given the free admission. For all of the castles you’ll find in England, I’d say this is one of my favourites I’ve been to so far.

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Lincoln Castle – one of my favourite photos I’ve ever taken!

Opposite the castle is the cathedral. Inbetween were a host of markets selling little bits and pieces. I’m not sure if this is just a Sunday market or regular market but it was nice to have a quick look at some of the things on sale.

Escaping the market crowds I made my way over to the cathedral which is impressive in its own right. Like the castle it was surprisingly quiet too, the market inbetween the two seemed the busiest part of this area of the city. I enjoyed looking around for a little while, both interior and the exterior of the cathedral grounds. It’s worth a visit but there is an admission charge for the cathedral.

Lincoln Cathedral
Lincoln cathedral

The castle and cathedral had taken up a bit of time between them and I was content I’d seen the main things I wanted to see in Lincoln. However I figured I’d also squeeze in a visit to the Medieval Bishops’ Palace.

I have to say, I actually found this a little underwhelming and wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend it. I had a brief look through the ruins but the highlight for me was probably some of the views of Lincoln’s cathedral from the gardens. That said, as disappointing as it was, it appears to be under renovation currently so perhaps wasn’t at its best on my visit. I’d be tempted to go back and see what has changed and if it’s improved at all.

Having seen all I wanted to I made my descent down the steep hill, feeling some sympathy for those heading upwards. At the bottom I decided to have a little stroll along the river which took me past the shopping mall, also aptly named ‘Waterside’. However I wasn’t really looking to do any shopping so made it a brief walk and headed back to the train station to enjoy my Sunday evening back in Peterborough.

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Lincoln train station, time to go home!

It had been a fun few hours in Lincoln. The cathedral was impressive but the castle is undoubtedly the highlight of the city. The grounds are stunning but the views from the walls blew me away, just the luxury of being able to walk the walls make this a must visit I think.

I’d definitely recommend Lincoln as a daytrip, it’s a great place to spend a few hours. However if you find yourself tempted to visit for longer and want more ideas on what to do, I’d suggest checking out one of my favourite fellow bloggers for more inspiration. Marion recently spent three days in the area and wrote about it here.

Lincoln’s a university city so I’d be tempted to stay for at least a night next time and experience some of that ‘famous’ nightlife. I say famous, I just know a lot of people who’ve been to Lincoln University but still.. I’d like to go for longer next time!

Anyway, hopefully you enjoyed my first visit. I’ll wrap this one up! Next on the blog? Here’s a sneak preview of where I’ll be writing about next!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Düsseldorf – November 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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First night in Dusseldorf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Miserable Dusseldorf

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

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

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Back of the Christmas markets

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

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

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Rheinturm hiding in the fog

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

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

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

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

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

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Borussia Dortmund v Tottenham Hotspur, Nov 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Back in charming Bremen

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

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Weihnachtsparadies – Christmas paradise!

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

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

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Sun going down over Bremen

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

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

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Empty Bremen airport!

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

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

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

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

Jason

Bremen – November 2017

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

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

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Life in Washington State

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

“Wait, Germany AGAIN?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bremen Altstadt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bear-emen Necessities?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Schnoor area in Bremen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The home of Werder Bremen

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

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

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

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

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

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Windmill in Bremen

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

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

Jason

Madrid – Part three – October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Real Madrid v Tottenham Hotspur

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

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

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

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Plaza Mayor like you’ve never seen it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Real Madrid 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur, Oct 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The San Jeronimo el Real. Pretty but closed!

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

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

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Madrid’s botanical gardens

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned!

Jason