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.

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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.

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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

Madrid – Part two – October 2017

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

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

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

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

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Palacio de Comunicaciones

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

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

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

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

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Colourful Madrid

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

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

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

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Rooftop views at my hostel

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

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

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

“Can you hear that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Livelier hostel bar

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

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

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Perfect spot for wedding photos in Madrid!

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

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Tempel de Debod, Madrid

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

Stay tuned!

Jason

Madrid – Part one – October 2017

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

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

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London, December 2018

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

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

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

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

“Madrid!?”

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

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

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Plaza Mayor, Madrid

After London..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Street performers in Madrid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A common sight in Madrid. Street art shutters!

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

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

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

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Mercado de San Miguel

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

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

More on that to come soon! Stay tuned!

Jason

2019 travel roundup

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

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

Anyway.. on to today’s post!

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

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

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

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

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

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Back in Köln!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bruges, Belgium

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

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

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

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Mountains, snow, Washington!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A moody looking Helsinki!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Beautiful Amsterdam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rubbish photo, best night of my life!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Biarritz, France

May – Biarritz, France!
“Biarritz?”

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

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

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

Dad: “I’m thinking of driving..”

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

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

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

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Dave, Lloyd, me, Dad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Haleigh and me in Paris!

 

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

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

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

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

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A glimpse of Thanksgiving

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

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

Stay tuned!

Jason

Thessaloniki – August 2017

I kicked off ‘Jason Likes To Travel’ back in April 2017, some of you have been along for the ride and for some of you this might be the very first post of mine you’ve read! If so, welcome! I hope you stick around!

Anyway, I’m not somebody who really dwells on the past, likewise I don’t worry too much about the future. I try and keep myself in the present but sometimes it’s nice to reflect and it was one of the motivations that really kick-started this blog. I think any blogger is hoping their content is read and enjoyed, I was certainly no different in that respect but I also think there was an element of doing this for me. I wanted somewhere I could reminisce and document my travels and so ‘Jason Likes To Travel’ was born.

What relevance does any of this have to Thessaloniki? Apologies to new readers, not aware of my ability to go off on a bit of a tangent, but I am getting to the point – I promise!

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You see, last time out on the blog I wrote about my trip to Hamburg in May 2017. You can catch up on that (here) but the eagle-eyed among you will notice the timing. That’s right! I was a newbie travel blogger! I came back from Hamburg desperate to get the next holiday booked but I was also in somewhat of a reflective mood. I was planning blog posts and content, reminiscing to travels of the past and before I knew it a pattern had emerged.

“Hang on a second.. forget the next holiday. When was the last holiday?”

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Hamburg and afterwards I was thinking about all of the other amazing places I’d been to in the past few years. Sydney, New York City, Berlin.. city, city, city..

Were they holidays? That’s not me being ungrateful. I’m so appreciative of the places I’ve been to, I also love a city break and they’re typically my preferred type of break but are they really holidays? Does rushing around Vienna in 24 hours constitute as a holiday? Was 3 days in Budapest long enough? I’d spent four years rushing around various cities, obviously enjoying myself, but where was the “break” in the city break? Where was the holiday? Maybe they should be called city rushes instead.

Although that might be a little more accurate, perhaps a little less successful on the marketing front. Nevertheless it did get it in to my head that, with 2017’s summer approaching, my next trip should be a proper holiday. I wanted a birthday treat in August. With that said there was specific criteria and restrictions I placed on such a trip.

First and foremost, I wanted a birthday treat but didn’t want it to actually overlap with my birthday. I wanted to ensure I was home in time for the football season. I wanted to visit somewhere warm, a place with a pool and also visit a country I hadn’t been to before!

With my birthday on the 7th and the football season starting on the 12th I’d restricted myself to just four days (Aug 8th – 11th) which pretty much restricted any adventures to a European trip. Not necessarily a problem but August is the busiest and most expensive month to go anywhere in Europe. Likewise the cheapest places to visit were all countries I’d been to (Spain, France, Portugal). The one exception perhaps being Ireland but who takes a “summer holiday” to Ireland? No.. I had to keep looking.

After looking at various accommodation options and flights that ticked the right boxes I eventually found myself a deal I was happy with in a place called Thessaloiniki. “Where is Thessaloniki” I hear you ask, well it’s a city in Greece!

“A city..?”

Alright, you caught me! I’ll admit the irony wasn’t lost on me in that my quest to find myself a “holiday destination” to avoid “another city break” still resulted with me booking essentially a city break. Oops!

The other criteria held up though. It was a new country, I’d booked a nice hotel with a rooftop pool, it was a place I knew nothing about so I had no long list of stuff to see. It was genuinely going to be a relaxing break! Hopefully..

Anyway, all booked! Tuesday 8th of August to Friday 11th of August. On the Tuesday I made my way over to Stansted for an afternoon flight. I was sticking to the relaxed ethos of the trip, for once I decided I wasn’t going to get an early morning flight. I still had three days to enjoy in Greece.

So onwards to Stansted I went and the holiday could begin! There was a bit of delay to my flight but on the plus side I had been allocated a window seat by Ryanair and even better, the seat next to me was vacant so I got treated to a rare piece of “Ryanair luxury” in being able to stretch out a bit. A few hours later we were landing in Thessaloniki.

By this point of the evening it was already getting dark so I didn’t mess about in navigating my way to my hotel, I just jumped in a taxi to take me there. From the outside it appeared to be a nice hotel, not five star or anything but it was a good first impression.

Check in was quick and easy. Friendly too! The receptionist welcoming me quickly complimented me on my dress sense. It puzzled me somewhat as I wasn’t wearing anything beyond the ordinary. I was just in a t-shirt, pair of jeans and a pair of converse but it put me in a good mood heading up to my room nonetheless.

I didn’t really do anything with the rest of my evening. It wasn’t particularly late but I didn’t want to go wandering too far given it was dark so I just settled for relaxing and getting a bit of an early night. The holiday could start properly tomorrow!

On Wednesday morning I headed down for breakfast at the hotel, there was a buffet of sorts (no Weetabix) which got me going for the day. Afterwards I headed on out to get my first proper look at the city, wandering down towards Thessaloniki’s port and seafront which was a short walk away from the hotel.

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The “strip” – just a long road of bars/restaurants

Along the seafront is essentially a “strip” – a long line of buildings which were I think pretty much all either a bar or restaurant of some sort. I wandered along as far as Thessaloniki’s White Tower which given the heat seemed far enough to walk for the time-being. Closeby was this fairly tall statue which I had a little gander at and suddenly I was being approached by this little Asian man who wanted me to take a photo of him.

Did the respective heights and nationality need clarifying? You’d be forgiven for thinking no but absolutely! This guy wanted me to take his photo, for all I know he was speaking to me in Greek but there was a clear language barrier between us so communication was at a minimal amount.

I sized up a vertical photo and he begins waving at me in protest. I find it fascinating how we don’t let the lack of a common language stop us from communicating, it was clear he was basically saying to me “other way..”

I understood but my problem was their respective sizes. I tried to advise this wasn’t going to work but he was stubborn and refused to accept a landscape shot just wasn’t going to work. This statue was towering over him and I was desperate to try and get my point across but I reluctantly submitted to his wishes. .

“Okay, so I’m either chopping off half of the statue or half of your body – which would you prefer?”

After taking a couple of photos I somehow got the message across that now we were going to do it my way. Oh, look at that. All of you is in the picture with the statue! Why didn’t we think of this earlier?

I handed him his phone back but he gave no real indication if he was happy with the photos or not. I didn’t really stick around to find out in truth, Hopefully when looking back at the photos he realised what I was trying to say, failing that he flagged down some other poor soul to do a better job but either way I was out of there. I had come to relax and wasn’t about to let tourists start stressing me out.

That debacle added to the heat led to me deciding to find somewhere to grab a drink. Honestly, I looked at the time and thought it might be a tad early for an alcoholic beverage. I looked to the others sat dining for comfort but with little success so I settled for getting a ‘mocktail’ instead which was some sort of peach and mango concoction. It was good though!

After a quick refresher I decided I’d head back to the hotel for a swim. I had actually hoped to get an early morning swim in but it turned out that the pool didn’t actually open until 10am, additionally it seems that it closed around dinner time so I wanted to make the most of the pool hours whilst I could.

The location was perfect. It was situated on a rooftop which overlooked the city. Unfortunately though it wasn’t a particularly big pool, quite small infact, and there were plenty of other people with the same idea so the pool area was pretty busy. The people to pool space ratio was not in my favour and I wasn’t really going to get the relaxing swim I’d planned on.

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I settled for grabbing a drink at the poolside bar and admiring the view instead. Not quite what I’d hoped for but still pretty relaxing so not an entirely wasted journey back. I didn’t foresee my luck changing at any point during my stay though so I didn’t return to the pool. It was a little frustrating because one of the bigger appeals of this hotel was that it had a pool, so it felt a bit of a waste to have had no use of it.

Anyway, after a bit of time poolside I headed back to my room. I chilled out for a little while and then freshened up to go out for dinner. I found a nice square which had a bunch of restaurants that seemed ideal to grab some food. Dinner was good, my only other plan for the evening was to find a bar by the water and watch the sun go down with a few beers.

It didn’t take me long to find somewhere with a prime sunset spot, there are an endless number of bars and restaurants to take your pick from. After sitting down at this table outside I ordered myself a beer but politely declined ordering any food, I’d literally just come from dinner so wasn’t feeling particularly hungry.

Nevertheless the waitress came back with a beer and a small plate of food. There was a small salad and some chicken strip/finger type things to accompany it. I really appreciated the gesture and thought it must just be a one time thing but it turns out beer actually means “beer and free food” in Greek.

I visited countless places over my trip and it kept happening. Admittedly in most places it came in the form of some crisps or nuts or something equivalent but still, it was free! I almost found myself resenting the places where this didn’t happen.

“Excuse me, where are my free beer snacks?”

I said I wasn’t hungry but now with a mini plate of food in front of me I didn’t want to let it go to waste, it’d just be rude, right? I ended up spending the remainder of my evening at this same bar. The service was nice, it was a nice atmosphere and the view was perfect. It was my first Greek sunset and a beautiful one at that, certainly a highlight of my summer.

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Stayed here all night!

With the sun down I called it an evening and made a slow walk back to my hotel. After another good night’s sleep I woke up on Thursday and headed back out in to the city. Wednesday had really been about familiarising myself with the city, today I wanted to at the very least climb the White Tower so I made that my first stop of the day.

The tower isn’t particularly big but even so, sometimes these sort of things can be a little pricey so I was quite pleasantly surprised to find it was only about 4 euros or something to go up it. At the top you get city, sea and mountain views so it’s well worth going up. Within the tower there are also some exhibits which I was a little more torn on.

There were pieces of information in each room, presumably covering stuff like the history of the tower or whatever. The only downside was it was purely in Greek. On the one hand I quite liked that for once a tourist attraction hadn’t completely catered towards the English (Americans, Australians etc) but on the other hand, or rather on a personal note, it made the information a bit of a waste. For 4 euros and a cracking view at the top it’s still great value but just something to note. Although I think there may have been audio guides so with hindsight I might have been better picking one up.

Anyway, after snapping a few photos I made my way back down. Opposite the tower there were a handful of boats sat on the harbour offering tours. One in particular had caught my eye the day before. Sitting on the water was a pirate ship which was cool enough but what really caught my eye was the green sign flashing “free ride” or something to that effect.

There had to be a catch, right? I figured it had to be one of those.. “£500 free.. when you spend £4 million in store..” type deals. Nobody’s just handing out free boat rides on the water. A boat ride did sound like fun though so depending on how much it actually was, I figured I’d take a tour.

I approached the boat with a bit of curiosity and yet despite my cynicism it seems this was infact a completely free ride. The man watching over the entrance waved me straight on board, I was pleasantly surprised. There was a bar on board which was an added appeal but you were under no obligation to buy a drink. If all you wanted was a trip on the water then it was a completely free ride.

Personally, I took advantage of the bar on board. There was a temptation to see if they had any rum and have a proper pirate’s drink for my new life at sea, I settled for a beer though and waited as the boat filled up a bit before we waved goodbye to shore. It was a short trip, only around 30 minutes in total but it was a lovely way to spend a bit of time and without doubt the coolest boat I’ve ever rode on. The fact it was free was just an added bonus!

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Enjoying life at sea!

After my fun on the water I went for a bit of a wander, didn’t do anything particularly noteworthy but saw some cool buildings and just generally wandered along the waterfront. My afternoon flew by which meant soon enough my attention had turned towards evening plans – bar-hopping apparently!

I didn’t really have any set location but I started off around the White Tower and with my hotel at the very end of the previously mentioned “strip” it seemed unavoidable stopping along the way. I’d grab a beer or two, enjoy the atmosphere and the views and then move on to the next. At one of the restaurants along the way I grabbed some food but generally it was just an evening of checking out a few of the bars by the water whilst the sun went down. By the time I got back to my hotel I was beyond the tipsy point, I pretty much crashed the second my head hit the pillow. Overall it was another good day in Greece with just one left to go!

I woke up Friday in a very different mood, probably the closest thing I’ve experienced to any feeling of ‘homesick’. I don’t know what brought it on but I didn’t really want to get out of bed whatsoever. It wasn’t a reflection on Thessaloniki in any way but my head space just wasn’t in the right place. I was here on my own and I think more than anything I just wanted a familiar face or voice in Greece with me. I think I could have done another day relaxing with the right company but another day of nothingness whilst traveling solo got to me I guess.

If I hadn’t had to check out I think I’d have just curled up and spent the day in bed, as it was I left it as late as possible before dragging myself out of bed. I’d paid in advance for my room so I was expecting a smooth check out and then the receptionist asked for me to “settle the balance”.

A phantom bottle of water had magically found its way on to my bill. On any ordinary day I don’t think it would have bothered me in the slightest, it was clearly a mistake but today? I let it add to my miserable mood – “just get me home..”

I wasn’t rude about it and the receptionist seemed to just accept me at face value, for the sake of a bottle of water I don’t know how far I’d have argued it but I suppose they took the same approach and it wasn’t of enough significant value to kick up a fuss about. It did take the shine off what had otherwise been a nice stay though.

Moving on, I now had hours to kill in Greece or rather hours to mope about in Greece. I had a long wait until I could go home so I went and found a restaurant to get some lunch at and I thought I’d try the chicken ‘souvlaki’, whatever the hell that was.

I think it was lunch which firstly perked me up and secondly where a bit of common sense kicked in. There are obviously cons to solo travel but there are pros too and the lack of company meant I got in to my own head a bit. I realised how ridiculous, selfish and ungrateful I sounded. I couldn’t change my situation so I might aswell enjoy the final few hours that I was here. I also knew come Monday I’d be stuck in an office probably wishing I was back in Thessaloniki. I’d already let my mood spoil my morning so I wasn’t going to let it ruin my afternoon too.

With a new-found attitude I finished off my lunch and got back to wandering. The sun was shining down on me, the sea was gleaming beautifully and for a minute it almost seemed like Greece wasn’t the worst place to be on a Friday afternoon. Reality, or the lack of it here, had finally hit me. “Why am I in a rush to get back to England?”

There was a buzz about Thessaloniki on Friday, everywhere seemed much busier than the last couple of days. There was a bit more life to the city and I think that energy helped lift my spirits. I don’t know why it was so busy, it almost felt like nobody worked on a Friday here. Perhaps there were just a few more tourists in town for the weekend but it felt like a different city.

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My wandering took me past some cool pieces of architecture and I spotted a couple of cool pieces of street art too. I figured I’d maybe go and round up my trip by doing a sightseeing bus tour which would perhaps highlight some of the ‘sights’ that I’d missed. By the time I reached the pick up point though I’d changed my mind. Fortunately just across the street was this park so I thought I’d go have a look around and take advantage of some of the shade – it was particularly warm today.

It was here that I stumbled upon perhaps my favourite bar in Thessaloniki. It was an unexpected find but one I was pleased to stumble upon. I couldn’t resist stopping for a drink, it was so quiet and peaceful in comparison to an otherwise pretty busy city. Every bar and restaurant I’d passed up to now seemed full to the brim and here was this perfect place hidden away in the middle of the park.

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Bar is hidden in here somewhere

 

I loved it so much I stayed for more than one, I’d planned on taking a bus to the airport which would have taken a little longer but I figured the money I’d saved on not doing the sightseeing tour could go towards grabbing a taxi instead. One beer ended up being a few before finally calling it quits, I had to make my move. It was a shame I found this place so late in my trip as it would have been nice to see how the atmosphere compared in the evening but it was a nice end to my time in Thessaloniki. My mood had significantly picked up and I was a bit sad to be heading home.

I was a little early to be heading to the airport but there was nothing else I particularly wanted to do so I flagged down a taxi. I’d barely buckled my seatbelt when my driver told me he needed to make a quick coffee stop. “Wait, what?”

It was certainly a taxi first for me. Admittedly I was early so an unplanned stop helped kill a bit of time. Also, to his credit, he did at least ask if I wanted something to drink too (I didn’t). He pulled over and said he’d be two minutes, I figured he was exaggerating but surprisingly two minutes later we were on the move. Two and a half years later I still don’t quite understand how he managed to get his coffee so quickly. Does he have a coffee guy randomly waiting on the off-chance he pops in? It was impressive.

Speaking of impressive, so was the journey. It’s a scenic drive which I hadn’t really been able to appreciate when I arrived as it had been too dark to see much. Soon enough I’d arrived at the airport, far too early and unfortunately there wasn’t actually much to keep me entertained as it’s quite a small airport. Additionally my flight was then delayed an hour so a little more boredom but all in all it was a good trip, little blip aside.

Did I get the relaxing break I wanted? Yes, for the most part.
Would I recommend Thessaloniki? Yeah, it’s a nice city and I enjoyed my brief visit.
Will I personally be going back? Probably not. Never say never but unless a specific reason presents itself I think it’s unlikely. I’m glad I went but I think one visit is enough. Greece is definitely a country I want to see more of though and this proved to be a good introduction to the country.

Have you ever been to Greece? Where else should I visit? Let me know!

Anyway, that wraps this one up! Next up on the blog? My first trip to Washington State!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Hamburg – May 2017

It’s no big secret that I’m quite the fan of Germany. It’s a country I’ve now been to nine times and don’t be surprised if subsequent trips follow soon. I love the people, I love the culture but first and foremost it has some wonderful places to visit.

In Köln, Berlin and München I had already been to three of Germany’s four biggest cities which left one major German city to visit: Hamburg.
It was a city I was keen to visit but I didn’t really envisage it happening as soon as 2017.

However I started looking for potential destinations for a bank holiday getaway and Hamburg jumped out at me with some reasonable flight prices given the timing. Three days in Hamburg sounded pretty tempting.

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Hamburg, Germany

Before I could enjoy Hamburg I had to escape the madness of Stansted airport. I’m not a huge fan of Stansted because it just always seems to be busy; this is largely down to it being the budget airline favourite airport.

The pros of the budget airlines definitely outweigh the cons but the busyness of this airport is certainly one of the cons.
Any time of year you visit it tends to be busy but throw in a public holiday making it a three day weekend and this particular Saturday morning was just crazy!

There isn’t much to do at Stansted so you’ll always find one of the busiest areas is the Wetherspoons bar – a bit of a reflection of the UK. With a full menu and lenient trading laws it proves to be a popular breakfast/lunchtime/dinner option accompanied with any beverage of your choice.

By this point many are in holiday-mode and a breakfast beer combination always seems to go down well amongst our drunken little nation. As I was traveling solo I found myself a little two-seater table to not take up too much room which is normally fine but on this particular morning you could see the vultures circling for any free space – vacate your seat, lose your seat!

With one free seat spare at my table a fellow solo-adventurer asked if she could join me. Of course I agreed however with an “order at the bar” policy she was soon having to disappear (although you can now order at your seat using an app on your phone).

I agreed to save her seat because I didn’t foresee any problems occurring. There was a bit of a queue at the bar and a few minutes passed with no return – “not a problem”. Five minutes go by and I’m unfazed by it.

Ten minutes pass and there’s still no sign of this woman returning. After fifteen minutes I start wondering if she’s even still in the queue, she is coming back right? I’m hoping she’s hidden in that crowd of people at the bar somewhere.

My attention starts switching to the clock, I don’t just want to abandon her possessions, nor surrender her table but how long do I wait before I have to leave to catch my flight. As each minute ticked by I become more agitated. Perhaps her manners matched my own but even with how busy it was I don’t know how it takes that long to get served – “after you!” and again and again?

Eventually at around the 20 minute mark she returned, hugely apologetic which was nice but I didn’t stick around for pleasantries and made a dash to the nearest departure screen to see what the latest on my flight was.

My eyes scanned across the screen to find Hamburg, only to see in red the words “LAST CALL”

What?! There was still a decent bit of time before my flight so why they were closing boarding so early I don’t know but immediately I headed in direction of the gates to see a sign suggesting mine was 10-15 minutes away! You’ve got to be joking!

I ran a good chunk of the way which was a great reminder as to how unfit I am, I was cursing myself most of the way for having been too polite rather than abandoning the table earlier.

“Well done, you idiot. You’ve probably missed your flight!”

I arrived at my gate out of breath to still fortunately find a small queue with a couple of guys close behind me. I say fortunately but why Ryanair send their passengers into panic mode if they’re still boarding people ten minutes later I don’t know? Thanks for that!

On the plus side it restored a little faith that I was right to wait – I made my flight and the young woman kept her table – win-win!

Anyway, as with so many Ryanair flights I arrived at my allocated seat to find someone sat in it – “can we swap?”

In all honesty I don’t usually mind but I found it baffling to then see him sat with his headphones on for the whole flight. I can understand wanting to sit with people because you want to sit with people but if you’re going to ignore eachother the whole way why insist on swapping? Baffling. Nevertheless we were soon arriving in to Hamburg and my fun could begin!

Arriving in to some places I think you just know you’re going to like it, Hamburg was one of those places. Perhaps the clear blue skies were a factor and maybe my love of Germany meant I wasn’t too objective but stepping out of the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) had me feeling optimistic about three days in Hamburg.

The perk to early morning (European) flights is that you’ll arrive in to your destination pretty early too which meant I was in Hamburg mid-morning on the Saturday. I now had the best part of two nights / three days to enjoy.

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Hamburg’s Kunsthalle

Given its proximity to the Hauptbahnhof I kicked off my trip by visiting the Kunsthalle (Hamburg’s art museum). I’d heard good things about it and even from the outside it’s quite a stunning building. I enjoyed the museum but I anticipated being there slightly longer than I was. I was trying to ignore it and enjoy the art but my stomach had other ideas and was rumbling its way around the museum screaming “feed me!”. I obliged and cut my museum time short to find somewhere for lunch.

I found a restaurant nearby and was soon appeasing my hunger with some good pizza – that’s German, right? Okay, not the best of starts but I did accompany it with one of Germany’s better known delicacies – the beer! The warm weather made it a much needed refreshment!

Following on from lunch I had a wander through Hamburg’s famous Speicherstadt district. It’s not the prettiest on the eye, although the canals help, but this is Hamburg’s warehouse district and it attracts a lot of tourists as its a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was interesting to walk through and I could see why it’s often likened to Manchester.

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After killing a little time I went in search of my hotel to finally check in and drop my things off, however I got a little lost on route so ended up taking a rather scenic route through some park and via what felt like a motorway. In terms of actual traffic it felt abandoned but there was so much construction going on road-side. Eventually I got back on track and checked in to my hotel.

My evening was pretty uneventful, I explored the city a little bit but I was keen to get an early night. I’d looked for things to do before the trip and fellow bloggers and Instagrammers were all suggesting to attend Hamburg’s Fischmarkt (fish market) on Sunday morning. It opens early and is the must do if you’re ever in Hamburg on a Sunday!
I wanted to see what all of the fuss was about so set an early alarm and got to sleep soon after, missing out on any wild Saturday night in Hamburg.

Backtracking quickly, on the way to Stansted on Saturday morning I’d seen this stunning sunrise and it left me pondering why this was such a rarity for me? Why don’t I see more sunrises?

On Sunday morning I remembered why – I love my sleep. As my alarm started going off I questioned how desperate I was to get out of bed for the smell of fish. This Hamburg “must visit” just didn’t happen. I hit snooze thinking maybe I could set off a little later and still catch some of the market atmosphere but there’s only so many times I could hit snooze before accepting my fate and enjoying more sleep.

Hamburg is a city I’ll definitely return to and I’m telling myself I’ll catch the Fischmarkt next time but I think when I’m faced with the actual reality of getting out of bed I’ll probably take the same approach. Oops!

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Hamburg’s Rathaus

Anyway, after sabotaging my own plans and getting off to a late start I decided I’d make Hamburg’s Rathaus (town hall) the first stop of my Sunday instead. I don’t know why but town halls in Germany are always absolutely stunning.

Hamburg’s Rathaus was no exception and perhaps even my favourite I’ve seen so far. It was HUGE and definitely another of the “must visits” in Hamburg. Trying to get a photo of myself with the whole building in was a bit of a challenge but here was my best effort!

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Following on from the Rathaus I started looking for brunch options in the nearby restaurants overlooking the water and contemplated what else I should do with my day. My friend Nicole had recommended the “Minitaur Wunderland” museum and other things I’d read endorsed that recommendation further.

It’s a fascinating museum with models creating miniature sized cities, venues and locations from around the world. I think the miniature sized Hamburg sets were my favourite. From the famous Speicherstadt to Hamburg’s very own football stadium, the level of detail that goes in to such a museum is quite incredible. Some of the displays are interactive too and you see the models come to life which was really cool.

I would recommend visiting and it’s definitely one for the kids too but a consequence of that was that it was also quite busy. Maybe avoid it at the weekend if you can visit during the week instead.

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Hamburg’s SpeicherStadt, Miniatur Wunderland

Moving on, one of the other things Hamburg is also well known for is its role in the theatre industry. Hamburg hosts a number of big plays and shows and I was a little tempted to go and see one on Sunday evening. I passed a little box office to see what was on. From memory there were a couple of Disney shows on such as The Lion King and Aladdin.

I noted how much tickets were but decided I’d make a decision later in the day and come back if needs be so went off to explore a little further on foot. I didn’t really do much other than walk, passing by the odd church and eye-catching pieces of architecture. The day was quickly getting away from me so I went looking for somewhere to grab food ahead of any potential show in the evening. I was particularly on the hunt for a favourite of mine in Germany (and Austria) – schnitzel! It’s always a must! Haha.

Typically when you’re actively looking for something it seems to be impossible to find. A few months after this trip I was trying to find a pub in Edinburgh and seemed to be in the only neighbourhood in Scotland lacking a pub!  A similar fate occurred here where all I was looking for was somewhere with schnitzel on the menu and I seemed to get lost in the Portuguese district of the city with every passing restaurant bizarrely only offering Portuguese or Brazilian cuisine. Eventually I stumbled upon a place with what I was after and I washed it down with a couple of beers.

Still a little undecided on my evening plans, I was torn between trying to see a show or checking out the famous St Pauli area and Hamburg nightlife. My indecision meant, in the end, I didn’t really do either. I didn’t go see a show and by the time I’d made that decision I was on the other side of the city and didn’t fancy a journey back across town to St Pauli.

St Pauli is littered with bars and restaurants whilst also being home to Hamburg’s Reeperbahn (red light district) so is a popular evening spot whilst in Hamburg, whatever your intentions. The latter is perhaps one of the most famous red light district’s after Amsterdam’s very own. I believe it’s the second biggest in Europe but don’t quote me on that!

Nevertheless St Pauli’s nightlife will have to wait for a return visit. On the plus side I had heard from a couple of friends on Instagram about this bar that had some really great beers on tap that also had beer flights on offer which meant I could try a few different beers. I figured it’d be a good alternative spot to enjoy my evening – particularly as it was much closer to my hotel than St Pauli.

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Whilst I quite liked this particular bar itself, it was surprisingly dead. It wasn’t on a main street and perhaps missed a lot of the tourist trade and being a Sunday night perhaps wasn’t going to attract too many locals either. It did mean though that I could sit at a table outside, admire the view and finish my night with a few beers.

Monday offered me half a day more to explore Hamburg before making the trip back to London. I wanted to take a good walk along Hamburg’s port / waterfront area as this is another thing Hamburg is best known for with so many boats (of all varieties) traveling through it daily. I spent a good amount of time people-watching and boat-watching before deciding to pick up some souvenirs to take home with me.

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Hamburg’s port area

Knowing this would be my last opportunity on this trip I decided I’d have my lunch at one of my guilty pleasures when traveling – the Hard Rock Café (HRC). If I know they’re based in a city I’ll often try to visit and tick another off my list.

Of the three I’ve been to in Germany (Köln, München and Hamburg) this was probably my favourite of the three. The experience, as ever, lived up to what you expect from a HRC and it was nice to squeeze in the visit before heading home.

 

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First one of these I’ve seen!

An added bonus to lunch at the HRC was that it was within walking distance of St Pauli so I thought I’d take a little detour through the neighbourhood. I didn’t venture over to the Reeperbahn because, much like Amsterdam, I expect it has a very different vibe to it during the day. However St Pauli as a whole seemed a nice area and it’s a shame I didn’t get to spend any proper time in the area. I admired the street art and took a quick glimpse at St Pauli’s football stadium before catching the train towards the airport.

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Outside St Pauli football stadium!

Hamburg’s definitely a city I’ll go back to but I’d probably stay a little closer to St Pauli next time as although I liked my hotel, there wasn’t too much in the area and personally I’d rather something a little more lively. Both the nightlife and the fish market would have been a bit less of a trek and maybe I’d have been able to experience both, rather than missing them. Nevertheless it was a wonderful trip and another part of Germany I can say I’ve visited!

I’d fully recommend a trip yourself and given I fully intend to return, please feel free to offer recommendations! Anyway, that’s it from me.

Next up on the blog? Thessaloniki!

All the best!

Jason