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

The Paris Sequel!

Last time out on the blog I talked about my trip to Paris at the end of 2016. It was a story of overcoming heartbreak and the frequent disappointment that Paris served up. You can read that here but this post is dedicated to the sequel! That’s right, I’m going back!

I enjoyed Paris last time round, not for any of the reasons I thought I would do but in spite of them. It didn’t matter that I was there solo, it didn’t matter that it was too cold to sit outside at some café, it didn’t matter that half of the landmarks I’d come to admire were smothered in fog. I had a great time and felt that there was still a romance and charm about Paris.

The good news is that I’m anticipating this upcoming trip will be even better. For starters, some of you will know I’m in a long-distance-relationship. Well guess who’s coming to England in July? That’s right, Haleigh is returning!

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Another summer adventure with Haleigh!

I wrote about her first visit to England (and Europe) on the blog a while back where we’d spent a bit of time in London. Of course London is not a city I’m ever going to tire of but I figured we should go somewhere new together on this trip, so we talked about a few options and steered towards Paris.

So we’re off there in exactly one month and spending the weekend there, better yet we’re going on the Eurostar so don’t even have to worry about flying! I’m expecting to enjoy it a lot more with company alongside me and I’m sure Paris will feel that little bit more romantic this time.

Additionally this visit isn’t going to be during some grey and cold December / January, we’re going in the peak of summer. I’m expecting blue skies, walks by the river and having the opportunity to indulge in that café culture that Paris is so famous for.

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Lille, June 2018

I said in my last post that Paris had been my first proper experience of France but last summer I took a daytrip to Lille and it was glorious. Admittedly it helped that it’s a city with a bit of Belgian/Flemish influence, however it’s a pretty city and with clear blue skies it was a wonderful place to wander. There also happened to be the small matter of a World Cup game on that day with France playing Argentina which added a patriotic atmosphere to the city.  I fell in love with France a little bit more that day.

Then last month I ended up visiting the beautiful Biarritz in the South of France. Me and my dad were on our way down to Madrid so were only looking for a convenient overnight stop (Bayonne) but an afternoon in nearby Biarritz was perfect. Sunshine, sea views and beers in hand. What more could you possibly want?

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Biarritz, May 2019

The two previous visits have certainly whet the appetite for more adventures in France so it’s nice to be returning so soon. It’ll be a while before I blog properly about this upcoming Paris trip but I thought I’d give you a little update on my summer plans.

If you’ve got any recommendations for Paris, particularly places to eat, then please send them my way and leave a comment.

Anyway, until next time!

All the best!

Jason

The much needed, imperfect Paris trip

Last time out on the blog I wrote about my daytrip in October 2016 to Liege. Following my time in Belgium (Liege) and Germany (Köln) I had just enough time to squeeze in one more trip in 2016 before the end of the year – a trip to Paris!

Visiting Paris had long been a must visit city for me, something about the romance of it had always really appealed to me. Call it cliché if you wish but it was always somewhere that in my head I saw as a special place and romantic place to visit.
For that reason it was also, for a long time, a place I put off visiting. I always wanted to wait to visit with the right person and didn’t see myself enjoying it solo. I’ve been to countless other places solo but Paris was different.

However 2016 was a tough year, early-ish in the year my relationship ended and as much as I’d love to say it was easy moving on it’d be a lie. It was heart-breaking for me and took me a long time to get over. After a few months of feeling sorry for myself I decided something had to change, I couldn’t continue moping about so I booked a trip to Paris.

I’m sure there are better ways to get over a relationship and I can’t say it entirely worked, you can’t just switch those feelings on and off but it certainly helped and the timing of the trip made it feel a little symbolic for me.

It was the end of the year! December 30th 2016 to January 1st 2017. It meant leaving thoughts of past relationships behind me and treating myself to some adventure. It also meant not going another year without visiting Paris solely due to a lack of company. I was determined to end 2016 and start 2017 right.

At this point I’d never really spent any significant time in France. By significant I mean in the sense that I could actually tell you where I’d been. My parents took me and my sister on daytrips when we were kids, I’d also gone on a coach trip with school to Spain which meant driving through the entirety of France but I couldn’t tell you where I’d gone or stopped beyond Calais – mostly service stations in truth.
This felt like my first proper French experience and I no longer had to feel dubious about adding France to the list of countries that I’d visited.

As much as I romanticised Paris, I had mixed feelings about visiting. Whilst most people are complimentary about Paris, it certainly isn’t without its critics. Perhaps moreso in England because I think it’s ingrained in to our society to automatically and irrationally dislike the French. Ask any Brit and I’m sure they’d tell you they’ve heard something derogatory about the French at some time, which is rather bizarre and a little sad when you think about it.

I was hoping to be proven wrong and that Paris would live up to expectations. With just two days in the city I was keen to try and see most of the touristy stuff: The Eiffel Tower, River Seine, Sacre Couer, Arc de Triomph, Notre Dame, Louvre and more. Paris is home to so many well-known landmarks and I now had the chance to see them myself. Sort of.

Going anywhere in Europe in December/January you have to be prepared for cold weather and grey skies. As an Englishman it wasn’t going to faze me, it’s always cold right?

Anyway, I left England on the 29th and by the time I’d arrived it was around midnight so all I really had time to do was check in and sleep. The following morning I wrapped up warm; departing my hostel I found grey skies and there was definitely a chill in the air but I was excited to get exploring the city at last.

I hopped on the metro ready to make my first stop of the day – the Sacre Couer! I wanted to see the building itself but I’d also heard it had some of the best views in Paris so it seemed like a great place to start my trip.

I was pleasantly surprised to get off the metro and find it wasn’t too busy. I’d made a bit of an early start (by my standards) but not terribly early, consequently I had expected a few more tourists in the area.

As I approached the Sacre Couer it became abundantly clear why it was so quiet. They say a lot about first impressions and mine wasn’t the greatest, as I stared up at the Sacre Couer my very first thought was “where did this fog come from?!”. All I could see was the faint outline of a building hidden behind a cloud of fog. My first viewing of the Sacre Couer was a blurred one, I could barely see it. The famous views from the Sacre Couer? Non-existent. I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me.

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The simply stunning Sacre Couer! 

It really set the tone for the rest of the trip. There were two directions I could have taken – let the fog/weather spoil the trip or just go with the flow. I did the latter and laughed it off. I started taking selfies “with” the Sacre Couer and all you can see behind me is a layer of fog. I thought it was hysterical that my first stop of the day had been such a poor pick.

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Selfies with the Sacre Couer!

On the plus side the inside of the Sacre Couer was beautiful and the lack of tourists meant it wasn’t overly crowded as I expect it is on a clearer day. I continued my exploration by strolling through the beautiful Montmarte area, which really does live up to the hype by the way, and then jumped back on the metro.

Next aim of the day? Walk the Champs Elysee from end to end. From the Arc de Triomph down to the Louvre or vice versa, I decided I’d do the former and possibly pop in the Louvre after if it wasn’t too busy. Typically I got off at the wrong stop and ended up somewhere in the middle, probably for the best because it was freezing and walking all of it might have resulted in my fingers and toes falling off.

So in the end I only walked half of it up towards the Arc de Triomph, rather than down to the Louvre. I felt I picked wisely because I’d soon stumbled upon Paris’ Christmas markets, they were beautiful and to add to the magical feel it suddenly started to snow whilst I was passing by. It was only light snow, not enough to set but certainly made it feel a little more Christmas-y on my walk along the Champs Elysee.

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Christmas markets along the Champs Elysee

The Arc de Triomph itself is cool. I liked it but I don’t think it’s a landmark I’d see myself going back to time and time again. It feels a bit out of the way, not particularly near anything, sat on its own in the centre of a busy road and I’m pretty content having seen it the once. The view from the top is apparently good though which might be the only thing to tempt me back.

Afterwards I grabbed some lunch before making my way to Paris’ “must-see” – the Eiffel Tower! Unfortunately the cursed fog struck again – my first viewing of the Eiffel Tower didn’t include the top of it, left hidden somewhere among the fog. I still haven’t seen it! Who goes to Paris and only sees a percentage of the Eiffel Tower?!

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“I went to Paris and saw (most of) the Eiffel Tower!”

For what it’s worth I still loved the remaining 80-90% of it that I could see. In contrast to the Arc de Triomph I don’t think I’d ever tire of looking at Paris’ best known landmark. It’s stunning and (almost) lived up to all of my expectations – it still would have been nice to see all of it though! Next time!

After that I didn’t do too much, I had a little wander before finding a spot for dinner and then gave some thought to my plans for the evening. The hostel I was staying at had a rooftop bar and had advertised a New Years Eve (NYE) celebration/party in to the night up on the roof! It sounded perfect!

A perk to staying in hostels is it can be easy meeting people and NYE meant everyone was in high spirits. Some Australian guy made conversation with me which meant the rest of my 2016 was spent with good company and a few beers.

Sadly we’d chosen a particularly poor spot to stand and chat. As the clocks struck midnight the hostel staff hopped up on to the bar and started spraying champagne. Sadly we were both in the prime “splash zone” so I was soon drenched in it! A very enjoyable night though and a great way to end 2016 and start the New Year – so much so that I’ve tried to make it a New Years tradition to be out of the country. I went to Edinburgh’s famous Hogmanay the following year!

Anyway.. Sunday morning rolled round, fortunately hangover-free and I decided I had to find a café for breakfast. Crepes and tea in a Paris café seemed the best possible start to the year and it didn’t disappoint. Paris’ café culture is understandably very different in the winter given the contrast in temperatures, however it was still enjoyable to just sit and relax for a while before starting another day of exploring.

The first stop of my final day in Paris was to be the Notre Dame. Fortunately the fog had disappeared today, the disappointing first-impressions remained in place though. I think your first impression of this is going to be a complete contrast depending which angle you’re seeing it at. I came from the entrance-facing direction and genuinely my first impression was “is that it?” – once you get closer to it and see the detail it truly is stunning but from a distance it looked remarkably small and I was left underwhelmed. I want to add a photo for context because it sounds particularly harsh but this is what I first saw. I’m convinced it’s not that impressive but feel free to argue otherwise!

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First glimpse of the Notre Dame

I’ve joked since about the “hunchback of Peterborough” because I’m still adamant now that if you put the two buildings side by side, most would favour Peterborough’s cathedral viewed from the front. I’m expecting a Disney movie about it any day now.

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Peterborough cathedral – Disney worthy?

I frequently question how harsh my first impression was but then started picking up postcards to take home and every postcard had the Notre Dame from a side-view from across the river. Had that been my first sight of the Notre Dame I would have had a very different first impression but sadly you only get one first impression and this was mine.

As I hurdled among the crowd to see it up close and walked around the building I started to see what all the fuss was about. It really is a stunning piece of architecture and I can only imagine how incredible it would have looked inside. I’ve seen a handful of photos but didn’t get the chance to enter myself. The queue was a mile long (exaggeration..) and it probably didn’t help it was also a Sunday. I figured this was something I could see next time, it wasn’t a regret I had at the time but this year’s tragic fire adds a little regret that I didn’t see it in all of its glory. Hopefully restoration works bring some of that glory back and I’ll see it at some point in the future.

Content I’d admired it from all angles I went and picked up some souvenirs before heading off in search of food. I was keen to cross off another Hard Rock Café (HRC) visit and jumped on the Metro in that direction. The nearest stop was a little walk away. As I strolled along I thought to myself that this was a really nice part of Paris.

Literally seconds later a couple of officers came around the corner with massive guns on their shoulders which seemed like comical timing for me to have thought how nice the area was. I then approached the entrance to the Hard Rock Café where the DOORMAN did a quick search before letting me in which suddenly blew that theory out of the water.

To his credit I survived lunch so he did his job well, I left without a scratch on me! Seriously though, I’ve never been to a HRC where they’ve required a doorman for security.

The rest of my afternoon was just relaxed, I just wandered through the streets peering my head in to little cafes and shops. By this point I’d accepted I’d be coming back to Paris with clearer views and hopefully warmer climates. I’d built up this little fantasy in my head of what Paris was going to be like and it didn’t really tick any of the boxes. My first impressions of the sights seemed to be met with a twinge of disappointment, the famous café culture was non-existent because it was too cold for outside dining, the love of my life was nowhere to be seen and to top it off the French were worryingly friendly and welcoming.

I’d heard so much about how unfriendly the French are towards English-speaking tourists and not even that lived up to expectation. It had me thinking back to a Bill Bryson quote in his book “Neither here Nor there”.

It took me two or three days to notice it, but the people of Paris have become polite over the last twenty years. They don’t exactly rush up and embrace you and thank you for winning the war for them, but they have certainly become more patient and accommodating. The cab drivers are still complete jerks, but everyone else – shopkeepers, waiters, the police – seemed almost friendly. I even saw a waiter smile once. And somebody held open a door for me instead of letting it bang in my face. It began to unsettle me.

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Paris was imperfect in so many ways. However rather than enjoy it for all the things I thought I would, instead I found small pleasures in other places and I think that made me even fonder of Paris. The fact I’d enjoyed it despite nothing going to plan was a strong reminder as to why I fell in love with travel to begin with. It isn’t just about the gloss and the glamour but just as much about the atmosphere and people of the city. Paris still had this irresistible charm and romance in the air, the people were nice and even in the fog it remains a beautiful city.

I sat at some restaurant eating dinner before catching the train back to England and pondered how highly I rated Paris. I don’t think I’d put Paris up there with the best places I’ve visited. I’d still favour cities such as London, New York City, Madrid, Sydney but on a personal note it was exactly the trip I needed at that moment in my life. It was a good lesson that sometimes things don’t work out how you thought they would but it’s still going to be alright.

Anyway, that wraps up this trip. Have you ever been to Paris? Give me some recommendations on what to see next time! I’ll be returning to the city very soon but more on that to come in my next blog post!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Liege – Oct 2016

So there I was stood in Liege..

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, back up a minute! How did you get to Liege? Why were you in Liege? Where even is Liege? Where’s your usual introduction Jason?”

Nooo, can’t we just go with it!? I’m tired of telling variants of this same story so surely you’re tired of reading it by now? You don’t need an introduction. I was just magically there in Liege, no questions asked!

Alright, fine! My beloved Tottenham were playing in Germany and..

“WHAT? Again!?”

See! Don’t say I didn’t warn you! If you hadn’t already picked up on it in this post, this one but perhaps best put in this one – Tottenham can’t avoid playing in Germany. So for about the hundredth time of course I was going to experience it. It was October 2016 and Tottenham were playing in a tiny town called Leverkusen on the outskirts of none other than Köln (Cologne).

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Bayer Leverkusen v Tottenham Hotspur

Köln again! I’d been here as recently as sodding March and that was my second trip to the city. I sulked a bit after the schedule was released. As if another football trip to Germany wasn’t bad enough, it was the same region and not even a little bit away from Köln. For me to have stayed anywhere else would have been purely out of spite so reluctantly I booked my third trip to Köln and cried about it to anyone who’d listen.

“I can’t believe my luck, Germany again, poor me!”

Shockingly sympathisers seemed to be in short supply. Even the most supportive of people seemed to get swept up in the minor details such as it being my “thousandth trip of the year” and muttering phrases like  “you’re always out of the country” as if that was supposed to be some sort of consolation.

By the time the trip actually rolled around I’d perked up a bit and stopped wallowing in self-pity, Football, German beer, friends and best of all? No work. It almost sounded like it might be a fun trip. Who would have thought?

Nevertheless, even with a bit of a reality check I still had the dilemma that I was going back to Köln. It was a city I’d done to death and I knew I’d have to take a daytrip somewhere to freshen things up. One of the perks to Köln is it’s in a good location and its transport links are pretty fantastic. Day-trips to Western Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Eastern France, Luxembourg and Switzerland are all feasible so I had a good variety of destinations to pick from.

I fancied getting out of the country for the day and was keen to try and visit somewhere new which ruled out Brussels and Amsterdam as perhaps two of the most convenient destinations to get to from Köln. I’d been to Luxembourg last time I was in Köln so on this occasion I opted to go to a Belgian city called Liege. It wasn’t too far from Köln, I could get a direct train and the tickets weren’t too expensive so off I went. I hopped on the next train and soon enough I’d arrived at Liege’s main train station.

So there I was stood in Liege (“ooo, de-ja-vu!”). I’d successfully navigated my way across the border and could tick off another city in Belgium having previously been to BrusselsBruges and Gent.

Assuming you take the train and don’t magically find yourself in Liege, your first impression of the city is going to be in its train station and wow! The station itself is a spectacular piece of architecture. It reminded me of Kings Cross a little with its roof and then the open and welcoming space as you come out of the main entrance. It’d make a great meeting point, unlike Brussels which gives off a bit of a sketchier vibe in parts close to its main station.

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Liege’s train station

Of course I hadn’t come to Liege to drool over the train station, I was here to explore and see what Liege had to offer. I’d come here as a last minute decision so had no real expectation of the city. Unfortunately it meant I was also woefully unprepared and Belgium don’t seem fond of signposting things to help you get around. I mentioned this in my post on Gent too (another Belgian city) where I got hopelessly lost.

Things took a similar pattern here. Given I had no plans I was in no particular rush so getting lost wasn’t necessarily a problem but it’d be helpful if the Belgians gave you a helping hand in finding the centre of a city when the main station is a little further out. In the end I just walked, hoped for the best and inevitably had no idea where I was, the main upside being that at least I was seeing a bit more of the city.

Eventually I got on track but by this point it was close to lunchtime and all that walking had worked up an appetite. One of the very few things I’d read up on Liege before visiting was that one of its local speciality dishes was the boulet-frites (meatballs with fries). An odd combination but when in Liege..

I managed to find a restaurant / bar that looked like it had this particular dish on the menu so walked in and took a seat. A few moments later a waitress walked over offering a “bonjour..”

“Oh no! French? Take me back to Germany!”

Although Liege is within Belgium, the city has a heavy French influence and French is the main language spoken in Liege rather than the typical Flemish/Dutch across the rest of Belgium. Not that I’d have found that any easier but having woken up in Germany it took me by surprise a bit and quickly made me realise how unprepared I was for a day in Liege.

I’m often critical of how good my German is but I don’t think twice about picking up a menu or walking in to a restaurant in Germany. It’s nice having that reminder that my German isn’t so bad and I could comfortably go back to Köln that evening and get by, however in the meantime I had to muddle my way through ordering and my brain was scrambling for any French words I could remember from school.

Fortunately “je voudrais” (I would like) seems to be one of the very few French phrases I can remember so I managed to stumble together enough French words to place an order. Feeling pretty smug I handed my menu back to the waitress with a friendly “dankeschon” and immediately cursed my inability to switch the German off.

I didn’t bloody mean to say that, I knew how to say thank you in French, why didn’t I say merci beaucoup? I only seem to have an English mode and non-English mode which instinctively reverts to German regardless of what country I’m in. It obviously goes down a treat in Germany but the other Europeans just look at you weird when you’re muttering German at them.

Anyway, shortly after my moment of embarrassment I was being presented with a Liege speciality I was intrigued to try.

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Liege’s speciality

I have to say it tasted better than it looked. I’m not sure two large brown lumps are ever going to look particularly appetising but they tasted good at least. I’m not sure it’s a combination that’s going to take off in England any time soon but I had little cause for complaint. I like meatballs, I like chips and the Belgian beer accompanied the combination perfectly haha.

With a full stomach I was ready to explore and see what Liege had to offer. First impressions were good, it was a city I liked. It’s not my favourite Belgian city by any means but it still had that typical European charm to it. Old buildings, cobbled streets, pretty churches and the usual things you come to expect of anywhere in Europe.

The standout for me was the palace which was quite simply stunning, it felt a bit out of place situated on such a busy road but I couldn’t help but admire the building itself. It’s beautiful and was probably the thing that sticks with me most from Liege. I ended up taking quite a few pictures whilst admiring it from every angle I could.

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I spent the rest of the afternoon just aimlessly wandering, like most European cities it’s pretty walkable and nice to just dart through various streets and small alleyways hoping to discover a gem or two along the way. After a couple of hours of looking around I decided I’d round off my day with my preferred Belgian delicacy – the beer! I hopped in to this little bar which I thought looked quite nice and enjoyed a beer or two.

Happy I’d spent enough time in the city I made my way back to Liege’s train station, not getting so lost on this occasion and quickly boarded the train I needed to take me back to Köln.

As some of you know, I have a habit of falling asleep on trains which is bad enough at home but even more risky when in another country! I have a habit of feeling sleepy on trains and something else that makes me sleepy is beer. Having had a few Belgian beers earlier on made for a deadly combination, it seemed almost inevitable I’d doze off!

I woke up with somebody asking if the empty seat next to me was free. I indicated it was and couldn’t help but notice we were departing a train station. I was still a little drowsy plus a little panicked (“have I missed my stop?”) and kindly asked my new neighbour where we were.

“München”

“WHAT!!!?”

I can’t remember what I actually said but my panicked face said it all. Munich’s on the other side of bloody Germany! I’m miles away from Köln. What am I going to do now?

I’m not sure what occurred first. The wry smile on my neighbour’s face or myself realising the train wasn’t even going to Munich. The last stop of the journey was Frankfurt – still not ideal but less worrying. It was quickly apparent we hadn’t reached Köln yet which I managed to see the funny side of after the initial shock, although unsurprisingly I made sure to stay awake after that.

Shortly afterwards we’d arrived in Köln and I made my way to meet up with a couple of friends also in Köln for the football. We went and grabbed a few drinks before calling it a night, all taking amusement in my story of the German prankster.

Who says Germans have no humour?

Anyway, that wraps things up on my daytrip to Liege. A couple of months later I was rounding off 2016 with a trip to Paris which will likely be next up on the blog.

Stay tuned!

Jason

A return to Augsburg and München – Sep 2016

So recently I’ve had a little unintentional blogging hiatus and then last week I deviated from the travel stuff to share something a little more personal. As a result of that you’d be forgiven for forgetting all about my last travel specific post – the introduction to my Bavaria trip in September 2016. You can read that here but for those who haven’t read it I’ll catch you up very quickly..

I’d foolishly decided to go to Bavaria, unaware that it was opening weekend of Oktoberfest (who named that?). So in an effort to save some money I ended up flying to Memmingen and booking a hotel in Augsburg rather than pay fortunes for a trip to Munich.

After a surprisingly enjoyable morning in the charming town of Memmingen I was catching the train and heading to Augsburg. Or returning should I say, some of the long term readers might recall that I’d been to Augsburg and Munich in August 2015 so it was my second time visiting both cities. Here’s what I got up to!

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Augsburg’s town hall and belltower

Friday
The reason I was in Germany was to see a gig in Munich on Friday night with a friend. It was a good excuse to catch up with Nicole plus enjoy a weekend away in Munich. However upon discovering how much staying in Munich was going to cost me I knew I couldn’t justify staying in the city, the next best option was staying in Nicole’s hometown and just traveling for the gig.

The last time I’d been to Augsburg it had been close to 40c so although it was familiar returning to the city, it felt very different to be going back with grey skies and rain falling from the sky. Given I’d been here before I didn’t really do anything after arriving mid-afternoon. I went and checked in to my hotel and then just chilled in my room for a bit to pass the time until Nicole was done with work.

I grabbed a quick bite to eat on my way to meet Nicole and then we hopped on the next train to Munich (fortunately they run regularly). Nicole had kindly taken it upon herself to gift me my ticket as a late birthday present which was a nice and unexpected surprise. We had a good catch up as the train whizzed through Bavaria and not much later arrived at Munich’s Hauptbahnhof.

Unsurprisingly Munich was full of tourists, lederhosen and fancy dress as party mode began early in the city, which made for some interesting people-watching on our way to the U-Bahn (metro / subway / tube). After a quick journey we were jumping off the U-Bahn and walking up to Munich’s venue called ‘Strom’.

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Moose Blood at Strom – 16.09.16

I hate being late so was a bit concerned we’d left Augsburg so ‘late’ but Nicole had assured me we’d not miss any of the gig and so it proved. We were in good time ahead of the 10pm time for the opening of the doors. You read that right, TEN PM! I went to watch this same band in London three weeks later and the doors were at 6 (why so early!!?) so it blew my mind a little bit. I think there were four bands on the lineup too so how late was the main act going to be on?

In the end I think it ended up being around 11:30 which is crazy, curfew is usually around 11pm in England irrespective of the act or occasion. It created a very different type of atmosphere, probably helped by the fact it was a Friday night and many would be done with work for the week. Another factor would have been that there was an age restriction meaning the gig was 18+ so no youngsters in the venue.

I quite liked the venue and something else that pleased me was the lack of queue at the bar. I walked up and took a look at the options. Decent beer on tap – that’s a good start and to my shock priced at only 4 euros. At a gig? Prices on par with the rest of the city? What’s that about?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice in some respects but also just left me a bit resentful in much the same way German football does. Can we stop with the cheap ticket prices, luxury of watching the game with a beer in your hand and better atmospheres? At some point I have to go back to England and reality. Overpriced tickets, morgue-like stadiums and a terrible fan experience.

This was much the same. Sure, I would love decent German beer at a decent price but in three weeks I’ll be back to drinking bottles of piss and paying £5 upwards for the privilege. The cynical side of me couldn’t help feel they’d missed a trick in not charging more – “you could charge an extra euro or two..”

Anyway, it was good beer and the gig was decent too if not a bit weird. The main act were a band from England. You’ve got this little packed out room full of what I would largely presume were German locals, inbetween each song / break you’ve got this muttering of friendly German chit-chat and then the music kicks in and you’ve got a room full of Germans singing back at you in English. It’s bloody cool but weird at the same time. Overall though I left with the feeling that I need to go to more overseas gigs.

With time quickly moving on and the gig coming to a close we made our way back to Munich’s Hauptbahnhof (main station) and caught a late train back to Augsburg.

Saturday
I didn’t really know what I was planning to do on Saturday. Nicole sadly had to work so I was left to entertain myself for the day. My initial hope had been to visit the famous Neuschwanstein Schloss – a castle further South. It’s a popular castle which is often referred to as the “Disney castle” as I think it went some way to inspiring the castle in Disney’s themeparks. It’s also a popular daytrip from Munich.

Sadly it’s a little further from Augsburg and the weather forecast was also pretty poor. I didn’t really fancy spending hours on trains to hike up to a castle in the rain so I decided a visit to the area would have to wait until another visit.

I was contemplating whether I go to Munich, stay in Augsburg or visit somewhere else nearby. In the end I decided I’d go back to Munich and just see a few bits I hadn’t last time. After spending a chunk of the morning in bed I eventually dragged myself out and returned to the train station to go back to Munich for a few hours.

My first stop was Marienplatz, it’s one of the prettier squares in Munich and home to the old and new town halls (Rathaus). I thought I’d anticipated my arrival time well. There’s a little show which attracts huge numbers each day and I thought this was purely at 11am, I didn’t realise there was another an hour later so I walked out of the U-Bahn into a really busy square despite the rain. On the plus side I got to snap a cool little photo before escaping.

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Everyone looking up at the belltower safely under their umbrella

I figured I’d walk over to one of my favourite spots from the previous summer – the bustling Viktualienmarkt. They had loads of food stalls and a little place to grab beer with a massive beer garden which was perfect given the glorious sunshine on my previous visit.

It seems when it’s pissing it down it isn’t quite as thriving, it was a bit of a disappointment this time around so I continued my search for lunch elsewhere. Eventually settling on eating at some pub before deciding what to do next. The disappointing weather didn’t really make wandering outdoors too appealing so I decided I’d go and visit the Deutsch Museum which Nicole had said was worth a visit.

It’s huge! I don’t know how you’d see all of it in a day but it was a great way to pass some time and some of the exhibits were interesting to pass through. After a couple of hours of wandering through various rooms I called it a day. I pondered whether I should do something else but I was also conscious of not getting back to Augsburg too late so I could catch up with Nicole in the evening.

As it was she got stuck working late far later than anticipated so my evening was a bit of a bust. By the time it was clear our plans were out of the window I didn’t really fancy going out so I just spent the evening chilling in the hotel, ready to explore a bit more on Sunday before heading home.

Sunday
No work on Sunday! Hurrah! After a bit of a lay in me and Nicole arranged to meet up for what ended up closer to being brunch I suppose. We met up with her friend Alex, who I’d met the previous summer, and then Alex’s partner.

It was a good opportunity for me to practice my German, even if it was just my listening skills haha. They asked if I wanted them to speak English but I was insistent they stuck to German. So I offered little value to the conversation but it was nice to try and follow along and put my German to the test a bit more – every so often pulling words out of the conversation that I was familiar with haha.

From brunch we went exploring. Kicking things off at Augsburg’s town hall which had a few interesting pieces on Augsburg. The roof of the main room was littered in gold and looked pretty spectacular. After wandering for a bit we headed back out and moved on to Augsburg’s cathedral.

The cathedral was pretty, as many religious buildings tend to be. I always enjoy wandering through them, just outside was this little gardened area with loads of cool little gnomes which I was pretty fond of too. Nobody was around either so it was really peaceful.

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Sadly time was quickly getting away from me and I knew I’d have to say goodbye to Augsburg and make my way back to Munich’s airport. I probably left earlier than I needed to but it meant I avoided any potential delays, particularly with some of the stops on route being loaded with Oktoberfest attendees. Back at the airport I had just enough time for a stein of beer (or two) before catching my flight home and bidding farewell to Germany once again.

All in all it had been a fairly relaxed weekend, not too eventful but nice to go to a gig in Munich and particularly nice catching up with my favourite German. Augsburg had been a good base once again and I maintained my fondness of it, even if I hadn’t spent huge amounts of the weekend there.

I’m sure trip number three to Bavaria won’t be too far in to the future but for now it’s time to wrap this up.

Next up on the blog? Liege!

Stay tuned!

Jason

The Bayern mistake!

Following on from my NYC trip (June 2016) I was quickly turning my attention towards the next trip: Bayern (Bavaria) in Deutschland!

Long term readers of the blog may remember previous mentions of my favourite German, Nicole, on trips to Salzburg (Oct 2014) and Bavaria the first time around (Aug 2015). The romance was long gone but we’d stayed good friends and I couldn’t help but be tempted by a European gig tour.

A band we both enjoy listening to were touring the UK and Europe in 2016 and as I scoured through the tour dates I was pleased to find they were playing in München (Munich) on a Friday night! “That is perfect!” I thought. I can book the Friday off and have myself a weekend trip to Munich in September!

Consequently I ran the idea past Nicole, who said she’d love to go, and put a little pin in the calendar for that weekend. I knew NYC was going to be expensive, I needed to save my pennies beforehand but as soon as I was home I’d look in to flights and accommodation for Germany. 

So off I went and had a week away in NYC. I had a fantastic time, as you can read about in previous posts, but I couldn’t dwell on that for too long – it was time to start planning again!

Having been a year earlier (Aug 2015) I had a rough idea of what a weekend in Munich should cost me. With August generally being Europe’s peak travel month due to the school holidays and summer weather (it had been close to 40C in Germany in Aug 2015) I was looking forward to a slightly cheaper weekend away.

I was WRONG! Flight prices for Munich were obscene! Accommodation in Munich was either sold out or obscenely priced. What’s going on? How can it possibly be this much in September compared to August?

One explanation was that dreaded word that has been on everybody’s lips for the last three years – Brexit! My NYC trip was perfectly timed, the £ to $ exchange rate was fairly decent but my “wait until after NYC” approach came back to bite me on this trip. I returned home from NYC in June 2016, just before the Brexit vote which saw the pound nosedive following the result.

Even so, it’s still way too expensive in Munich for that to be the sole cause. What am I missing? Is there a big event going on in September that I don’t know about? Bayern Munich are playing at home but that can’t be it, you can see football in Munich every weekend. The only other time I’d expect Munich to be this expensive would be..

”Oh no..”

Oktoberfest! I suddenly remembered, Oktoberfest overlaps in to September doesn’t it? Still, I’m looking to visit in the middle of the month! Surely Oktoberfest isn’t this early?

Wrong again! Septemberfest as it shall henceforth be known was running from September 17th until October 3rd in 2016. Three days? Are you kidding me?
I was looking for flights on September 16th. I’ve only gone and invited myself to Munich for opening weekend of Oktoberfest! Of course it’s bloody expensive you idiot!

I’ve always wanted to visit Oktoberfest at some point but this wasn’t the trip for that, so now what? Referring back to that dreaded B word that every Brit is sick of hearing about, I had a similar problem of my own. I’d made the decision to go to Munich but with further clarity and new information do I follow through? What do I do?

It was clear that if I wanted to still go to Munich it was going to be a BAD deal but on the flipside “gig means gig” right? An agreement was in place and I didn’t want to go back to “Europe” (Nicole) and say I’d changed my mind. I hadn’t changed my mind at all, I definitely wanted to go to the gig but it was under very different circumstances than I’d anticipated.

On the plus side it didn’t take me three years to resolve my little problem, just a couple of weeks, maybe I should be our new Prime Minister (ha, no thanks!).
Anyway I’m getting sidetracked, let me get back to the story. Plan A was out of the window so I had to focus on finding a plan B. I’m committed to going to this gig so where else can I fly to, where else can I stay?

My best, or perhaps preferred option was to stay in Nicole’s hometown Augsburg if not Munich. Unfortunately it seems other Septemberfest attendees had similar ideas and were venturing out of Munich. Trains between the two cities run regularly and aren’t too expensive so it makes sense but meant I was effectively paying Oktoberfest rates in September whilst staying in another city. Still much cheaper than hotels in Munich of course but somewhat frustrating.

As far as flights go I ended up finding flights to ‘Memmingen Munich’ – not actually Munich at all but fortunately I was a little more aware of Ryanair’s practices. Fool me once maybe but I wasn’t going to get caught out by Ryanair too! Their flight prices are unrivaled but part of the reason for that is they fly to tiny airports in the middle of nowhere.

Memmingen is actually worthwhile flying to, particularly if (unlike me) you’re looking to go to Oktoberfest but just be aware the town is actually 70 miles away and you’re going to have to make your way to Munich from there. I do have some sympathy for those poor souls unaware flying to Memmingen on October 4th and finding they’re miles away and have missed the festival.

Fortunately things worked out for me. Yes, I suffered a small blow to my bank balance but it was a nice lesson for me and something I took in to other trips. A year later I completely avoided going to Boston as the weekend I was looking to visit clashed with the Boston marathon and was not a weekend I wanted to be in town haha.

The bigger reason it worked out though was that I still got my weekend to Germany. More on Memmingen, Augsburg and Munich to come soon!

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Moose Blood in Munich. September 16th 2016

Stay tuned!

Jason

London revisited!

Last time out on the blog I wrapped up my NYC series which I hope you all enjoyed! I could only follow on from that series in one way, writing about my favourite city in the world: London!

I’ve written about London on the blog before (here) but that was quite some time ago and perhaps also a little more generic. That post focused on what you could potentially do in London, this post is going to be focused on what I actually DID do in London on my recent trip at the end of the year.

As some of you will know by now, I’m in a long distance relationship and I had the pleasure of hosting Haleigh here in England for her first ever overseas trip. I’ve made the journey the other way a few times so Haleigh had been keen to make her first visit in this direction. Consequently I went from traveler to host which brought a new type of preparation and a little self-imposed pressure too. I don’t think Haleigh was overly concerned but I was keen to make it a memorable first trip to England (London mostly).

I met Haleigh at Heathrow ahead of her arrival, equipped with a brand new Oyster card and tube map for Haleigh’s benefit. I don’t think I’ve ever used the Heathrow express, admittedly the tube does take a while to get in to London itself but it’s surely the most convenient mode of transport?

So immediately Haleigh was getting her first crack at the tube – her only comparative was San Francisco’s BART system in the summer which is much more simplistic to navigate.

I’d booked us a hotel near Tower Bridge, leaving us just a short walk away from the Thames. Having dropped off Haleigh’s things (I’d checked in earlier) we took a little time to relax in the hotel before having our first proper glimpse of London together.

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First glimpse of London, not bad eh?

Haleigh was instantly mesmerised, admittedly I’m a little biased but it’s hard not to be when you’re overlooking the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and the bright lights of the city. Also closeby was the Shard which I’ve somehow never seen after dark (keeping in mind it gets dark early in Dec) so looking up at it I presumed it was always lit up in different colours. My parents later told me it was a seasonal light show so it was nice to have witnessed that albeit unintentionally, mind you had I known that I might have got some pictures of it!

In the same general area London was hosting some of its Christmas markets with a long line of markets, including a wooden little tavern-like building which had seating for people to eat, drink and be merry. They even host Christmas movies there at various times of the day which adds to the festive mood of the place. We were feeling a bit peckish so grabbed a Bratwurst from one of the stalls, shamefully making Haleigh’s first meal in England a German delicacy. Oops!

Following some food we passed by the famous HMS Belfast and then cut through the impressive Hay’s Galeria. It’s a bit like a shopping arcade. It’s largely full of brands and, no doubt, expensive restaurants but the building itself is absolutely stunning. We took a slow stroll through it in admiration before coming out of the other side of the building, crossing over to London Bridge station and hopping on the tube to Green Park.

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Green Park – not taken on this particularly trip!

 

There are some things that are always going to be in London and other points of interest that are more seasonal. I was hopeful Haleigh would want to come back to London so I had it in mind to see some of the places that are particularly worth seeing around Christmas time in London.

With that thought process I figured I’d take Haleigh to see Hyde Park’s famous Winter Wonderland. I expected it would be less busy going this evening, given it was a Thursday night, rather than our remaining time in London but that proved to be wrong. It was a struggle to even get out of Green Park station, let alone switch lines to go to Hyde Park Corner. It was crazy. In the end we abandoned hopes of jumping on the tube and exited at Green Park. With that in mind I figured we might aswell cut through the park and see another nearby famous landmark.

We walked through Green Park which was actually somewhat of a struggle. Much of the park was pitch black. Here we were, stood in one of London’s richest areas and all I could think was “can’t they afford to put up a few lights so you can actually see where you’re going?”

It’s somewhat embarrassing as you step out of the park on the other side and in front of you is Buckingham Palace. Surely the queen has a few lightbulbs going spare? Seriously, sort it out London. You can afford to stick a few lights up in the neighbouring park!

Anyway, where were we? Ah yes! Buckingham Palace!

Buckingham Palace is no doubt impressive but I think less so at night. It was after dark so whilst Haleigh was still impressed seeing it for the first time, I think we both intended to return and see it again before we left.

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We could have walked up to Hyde Park after our little detour but given the queues we’d seen we thought better of it, plus I had work in the morning and Haleigh had only just arrived so an early night seemed a better idea. Ordinarily I would have just got the tube but Haleigh wanted to see a little of London so suggested catching a black cab.

With the benefit of hindsight we might not have bothered as my parents ended up giving us a guided tour through London on our return to Heathrow but it was a fun idea so we flagged down a taxi and made our way back to the Tower of London.

Unfortunately a mixture of traffic and roadworks meant we only briefly saw the London Eye before our driver ended up taking a lot of back roads which didn’t really take us past anything particularly noteworthy. It was still a fun way to travel through London though and gave Haleigh a London black cab experience, plus myself too as I’d generally avoid them as they’re pricey haha.

Sadly the next day I had to work so I left Haleigh to explore. I’d left her a host of recommendations and directions so with tube map in hand she was well equipped to tackle London by herself. My departure was also a good chance to catch up on some sleep / recover from jetlag so it was a fairly relaxed day for her I think. Our close proximity to the Thames also meant she didn’t have to venture too far for lunch or to have a little wander once waking up.

Coming back to London I suggested that we meet at Kings Cross station, partly as that’s where my train would take me but also because it covers a lot of the tube lines and would mean we could move on to our next destination quite conveniently. Haleigh had no problem navigating the tube by herself for the first time so all that practice in San Francisco had paid off!

Whilst Haleigh waited for me she enjoyed Kings Cross’ street performers and interesting characters that public places, such as train stations, often provide. The area outside Kings Cross station is a good meeting point and additionally it’s a great area to do some people-watching. I highlighted that there was also a Harry Potter store (and the famous platform sign) in the station if she wanted to amuse herself whilst she waited for me, she took that advice so I can take some blame for the inevitable Ravenclaw inspired purchases that followed.

Having arrived we quickly turned our attention to some food, opting for a nearby pizza favourite of mine (Pizza Union). It’s cheap for London, the food is good and the atmosphere is nice too so I regularly end up here before catching a train home during the football season.

Stomachs full, we hopped back on the tube and headed for Oxford Street. Much like the previous nights intentions, one thing you’ve got to see in London at Christmas time is London’s Christmas decorations and Oxford Street & Carnaby Street are home to some of London’s best. This years theme largely revolved around the 25th anniversary of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody which was pretty cool. It was definitely worth a visit and Haleigh managed to pick up a couple of souvenirs in this cool little independent shop that wae passed along the way.

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You have to visit London around Christmas!

We ended our night with a quick pub visit, offering a little insight in to England’s drunken little culture. She’d already witnessed some human traffic cones earlier in the day which was some indication at the state of our drunkenness but this was topped off with some old woman doing laps of the pub whilst talking to herself (mostly mumbling really). It was somewhat amusing for both of us to watch. From there we hopped back on the tube and made our way back to the hotel for the night.

The next day was our first full day in London, together at least. We had a bit of a lay in before heading out to begin exploring. Before the trip I persistently, perhaps annoyingly, kept asking Haleigh what she wanted to do whilst she was here. I had a rough idea on places we should see on a first time visit but also wanted to allow for some input so we didn’t miss anything Haleigh might be interested in. We talked about possibly going to the Sherlock museum so I squeezed that in as something to try and make some time for.

Consequently that was our first stop of the day. We contemplated breakfast options before and decided it’d be better to go to Baker Street first and find somewhere near the museum. We ended up visiting Bill’s which is a chain restaurant, albeit not one I’d personally been to for breakfast before. I’ve been there for dinner but only heard good things about the breakfast. It lived up to its reputation, I was content with my pancakes and they offer a huge teapot which amused Haleigh as I regularly kept topping up my cup (not a pot of tea intended for one person I expect).

We walked up to the museum, which was barely in sight as we stumbled upon a large queue. Surely this wasn’t the queue to get in to the museum? Sadly it was! We decided to wait it out in the cold, you have to go and buy your tickets in the gift store beforehand but by the time Haleigh came back with the tickets the line hadn’t really moved very far. We had a lengthy wait but eventually we reached the doors!

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Sherlock Museum, Baker Street

 

It was a little anticlimatic. The museum itself isn’t very big and in hindsight it probably wasn’t worth the wait. I think we spent more time in the queue for the museum than the actual museum itself which is a bit laughable. If you’re a fan of Sherlock it’s cool, I did like it, but if you’ve got a long wait then come back and visit outside of peak times.

Following on from the underwhelming museum visit, Haleigh suggested she’d like to take a red bus so rather than make our way back to Baker Street, we hopped on one of the first buses on the street opposite the museum. I was ideally hoping to go to Westminster but the first one to come along going in that general direction was to Victoria which I figured was good enough.

The journey took us past Hyde Park and Winter Wonderland so we did briefly see it, albeit only from the upper deck of a bus. Whilst we were feeling quite content admiring the view through the streets of London, the same couldn’t be said for our driver who’s customer service skills were lacking. He bit passengers heads off (not literally) at a couple of points along the journey and was in a pretty foul mood. We were pleased to depart and see the back of him at Victoria.

Somewhere along the way Haleigh had mentioned she was feeling a little peckish, so after catching the tube from Victoria to Westminster I couldn’t help but notice a Greggs within Westminster tube station. I was keen to introduce Haleigh to the famous Greggs sausage roll but to my horror she wasn’t quite as enthused about it as I was.

I also explained that, at the time, the Christmas number one in the charts was a sausage-roll themed anthem but I still had little fortune in convincing her how amazing they were (more for me!!).

Whilst the verdict on the sausage roll was up for debate, as we came out of Westminster station there was no doubting Parliament Square had left a better impression on Haleigh. Poor Big Ben is a bit of an eyesore at the minute but beyond that it’s a spectacular square with some stunning architecture, notably the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. There are also a few statues in the area commemorating some historical figures, including London’s female occupant in the square – Millicent Garrett Fawcett.

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Poor Big Ben

 

Having had a bit of a look around we ventured back towards the Thames. We had booked tickets to go up the sky garden at 4pm, which is free but has to be booked in advance. The perk of being free was that we didn’t have to commit to it and instead we decided to have ourselves a bit of a cruise on one of the boats along the Thames.

We booked tickets to take us from Westminster Pier up to St Katharine’s pier by the Tower of London. It took us past a lot of the sights including the likes of St Paul’s. Our boat didn’t officially offer narrated tours but we were fortunate to have an employee on board taking on a guide-like role, offering a typical witty English sense of humour. Haleigh was particularly amused at some of the names for buildings such as “the Cheesegrater” or “the walkie-talkie” that add to London’s famous skyline.

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St Paul’s looking as stunning as ever!

Exiting at St Katharine’s Pier we had a few options on where to spend the evening. It wasn’t particularly well thought out but we jumped back on the tube and near enough made our way back to Westminster by visiting nearby Trafalgar Square. We had a quick look around before assessing potential food options, I noticed on Google Maps there was a nearby pub called the Sherlock Holmes, hoping the food might be a little more impressive than the museum.

It was a nice pub which included some cool memorabilia. Haleigh had her first English fish and chips experience whilst I was tempted by a steak and ale pie. It was a nice way to round off the day before we wound down and made our way back to the hotel for the evening.

Our plans for the next day were pretty flexible but we had to check out at some point so rather than drag our luggage around with us exploring London we decided to leave the city around lunchtime. There were plenty of things we didn’t get around to doing but it was a good introduction to London for a first time visit and we ticked off a lot of the main things to see. We temporarily bid farewell to London and headed North for Peterborough.

I didn’t have any big expectation of Peterborough, our time here was mostly revolved around Haleigh meeting family and friends. London was the city I felt more pressure to proudly show off, I’ve never really sung Peterborough’s praises in the same way. Nevertheless if there was any doubt in my mind that sometimes I undersell the city’s attractiveness, Peterborough quickly came to reassure me it’s as “shit” as I make it out to be – literally.

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Checking out Peterborough cathedral!

We strolled through cathedral square towards the spectacular Peterborough cathedral, however on the way back to our pick-up-point some pigeons gave Haleigh a rather unwanted welcoming present from the sky.

It was unbelievable! We’d barely been in the city for an hour and spent a chunk of that time eating lunch at the nearby Wetherspoons. We’d only gone for a short walk up to cathedral square, 5-10 minutes at the most and Haleigh was probably regretting having ever come here! Well done Peterborough, great job!

It wasn’t the best first impression of life in Peterborough, I think things did pick up from there and she had a nice time here. However London had wowed Haleigh, dare I say she’d even fallen in love a little bit.

In contrast, much like San Francisco was for me (and which Haleigh finds highly amusing I’ll add), Peterborough will now always be remembered as “that place I got pooped on”. I haven’t set the bar particularly high for Peterborough, kept expectations to a minimum and comically it has still found a way to come up short.

Anyway, on that lovely note I’ll wrap this up. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed it. Playing host was a lot of fun for me, moreso in London which I love but also know that you’ll be “welcome” in Peterborough any time!

All the best!

Jason

P.S – for clarity, most of these photos weren’t taken on this particular trip!