Brussels!

In addition to Köln and Edinburgh, Brussels seems to be one of those cities I can’t escape from. If you were to ask me how many times I’d been to Brussels then I’d probably say “two and a half..”

Theoretically I’ve only been to Brussels twice. The first trip was a few days to celebrate a friend’s birthday in December 2013, I then went back for a further few days in October 2015. However I’ve also taken the train from London to Köln (March 2013) and Amsterdam (December 2015) via Brussels. The Köln trip left me no time to explore but on the way home from Amsterdam I had 2-3 hours to kill in Brussels before catching the Eurostar home. I can’t really count it as a full visit but it gave me enough time to have a little wander. Hence two and a half!

Two and a half visits later, what makes Brussels a destination worth visiting? Plenty!
Let me start by saying Brussels exceeded my expectations. You might think I’m getting carried away but let me clarify; I went to Brussels with such low expectations it would have been impossible not to. I fully understand why it’s neighbouring capitals Amsterdam and Paris get such high praise but Brussels should get far more credit than it does. It has its rough edges like any city does and it’s quickly associated as a city drowning in European politics but there’s definitely more to Brussels than just politics. Brussels has a fun side to Brussels too and plenty to admire in its architecture, history and most importantly – beer!

If you already have plans to visit Brussels or you’re still in need of a little convincing as to why you should visit, here are my favourite things about Brussels.

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Grand Place, Brussels

The architecture!
Your first stop on any visit to Brussels has to be Grand Place. This is arguably one of the prettiest squares in Europe and will leave you speechless at how impressive it is. A little on the pricier side but take a seat outside at one of the cafes or restaurants at Grand Place and just people-watch this busy square and admire how beautiful it is with gold splattered everywhere. Visit around Christmas time and it’s more impressive, particularly in the evenings with it all lit up! You’ll also find Brussels town hall and Tourist Information area here.
Whilst Grand Place is certainly the highlight, Brussels has other impressive architecture too such as its palace, beautiful churches and cathedrals. The symbol of Brussels is the ‘Atomium’ which whilst an attraction (read more below) is also a cool and unique piece of architecture.

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The artwork!
Brussels/Belgium is home to some really famous artists and characters including the creation of loved characters such as Tin-Tin. You’ll find plenty of street art in Brussels and it’s also well known for it’s comic-book scene. If this is something you’re interested in then you should give Brussels Comic Strip Centre a visit.
Art might not be particularly high on your list of things to see when travelling but you should definitely make a quick stop to visit the “Mannekin Pis”. The UK is well known for “the boy who lived” whereas Brussels is famous for “the boy who pees”. I’m not expecting a JK Rowling masterpiece for the latter but it’s something the locals are proud of and they regularly dress him up in new outfits for the tourists and locals alike to admire.

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Me and Brussels famous ‘Atomium’

The Atomium & Mini-Europe
Alright, this is two attractions but they’re next to eachother so quite convenient to do both at once. As mentioned above – the Atomium is the symbol of the city and a pretty cool piece of architecture from the outside. The inside is one of Brussel’s leading attractions and gives you the opportunity to see Brussels from a much higher vantage point. We were relatively content to just see it from the outside but it’s worth a visit.
Across the street you’ll find another great attraction called Mini-Europe. If you’ve always dreamed of travelling across Europe but not had the time or money for it then this is for you. You’ll find a number of famous landmarks in miniature form that take you right across Europe and fulfill that dream you always had of seeing sights such as the Eiffel Tower – you’ll even find a mini Grand Place here!
I’d certainly recommend it as a great family-friendly attraction but it’s one for the adults to enjoy too!

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Potential day trip – Liege!

The daytrips!
Depending on how much time you have in Brussels and how much mini-Europe has quenched your thirst for more adventure, you might find yourself tempted to see more of Belgium! There are a lot of things I love about Belgium but one of the added perks is how small the country is. It means most major Belgian cities aren’t much more than an hour away from Brussels, making it a wonderful country for day-tripping. I’ve personally been to Bruges, Gent and Liege which I’d be happy to recommend for daytrips (expect future posts on these 3). However other towns and cities such as Antwerp, Dinant and Ypres also remain on my bucketlist and are all within easy reach from Brussels.
If you’re content travelling a little further than Western Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and parts of France are all fairly close by too.

The cuisine! 
One of the first things you’ll associate with Belgium is its cuisine – particularly famous for their chocolate, waffles and beer. No trip to Brussels would be complete with delving in to this area a little. You might also be surprised to hear that Belgium is where the “French fry” originates. If you want an authentic Belgian dish order the popular “Moules Frites” (Mussels with fries) accompanied with one of Belgium’s famous beers. ‘Jupiler’ seemed to be the most popular in Brussels but you really can’t go wrong. Personal favourites were the Duvel, Leffe and Hoegaarden.

Of course it isn’t all about local cuisine. Like most capital cities you’ll find that Brussels is a multi-cultural city and you’ll find a range of different cuisine options in the city.

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Parc du Cinquantenaire, Brussels

Have you ever been to Brussels? Leave some recommendations in the comments on other tips you have.
If you haven’t been to Brussels hopefully this went some way in convincing you that it’s worth a visit!

All the best!

Jason

The Scottish capital

I find that whenever people from other countries talk about the UK they generally mean England. It’s easy to forget that the UK is actually made up of more than one country. In the same way that America is more than just the USA and Africa is more than South Africa.
It’s no secret that London is my favourite city in the world, so I’m not trying to sway you from visiting London – please do..

However as much as London should be on any travel bucketlist, so should Edinburgh! It’s a must visit on any trip to the UK!
I have been fortunate enough to visit Edinburgh three times now, falling in love on the first visit and moreso on each return. I already have plans to make trip number 4 to celebrate Hogmanay / New Years Eve at the end of 2017.
So what does Edinburgh have to offer and how can you make the most of it?

History 
Edinburgh is divided in to two, similar to Buda and Pest which form the city Budapest. Princes Street gardens splits the city, with the “old town” on one side and the “new town” on the other.
Edinburgh’s city centre is also a UNESCO world heritage site. With its cobbled streets, old buildings and castle overlooking the city it’s pretty easy to see why the old town in particular is held in such high regard.

The city has a fascinating history which dates back hundreds of years and also has some really unique stories throughout that time. One of my favourites and on the more bizarre spectrum was the story of Maggie Dickson. Maggie was sentenced to death and was due to be publicly executed. The execution was carried out and Maggie’s body was ready to be transported for burial. On route there was a little knock on the coffin and out springs Maggie well and alive.  Maggie’s return to Edinburgh caused uproar but logic would suggest you can’t execute somebody twice. In the eyes of the law Maggie’s execution had been carried out and she went on to live for many many years. You’ll now find a pub in her name to preserve her memory as Edinburgh’s luckiest lady.
It’s a favourite of mine but you’ll find Edinburgh is full of interesting stories.

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Edinburgh’s city centre, between the old and new town. 

Food & nightlife
Scotland has a bit of a reputation for being a nation that quite like their drink, so it should perhaps be unsurprising that Edinburgh has a great nightlife with many many pubs around the city. Whether you’re in the new town or the old town, you won’t struggle to find somewhere to spend the evening. For the beer lovers I’d particularly recommend BrewDog who craft their own beers and now have an Edinburgh branch. You’ll find a few of these dotted around the UK but they originate from Scotland and you’ll also find a BrewDog in Aberdeen or Glasgow if extending your Scottish adventure beyond the capital.

Of course it’s not all about alcohol in Scotland. Scotland is almost famous for its haggis, deep fried Mars Bars and Irn Bru. I’d also particularly recommend picking up some Edinburgh rock to take home with you – it’s delicious!

Culture
Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns, JK Rowling and many more have lived in Edinburgh so it shouldn’t be too surprising that there is plenty of interesting things to do here. Whether you’re visiting museums, enjoying Edinburgh’s performing arts, going to watch Edinburgh’s sports teams, visiting pandas and koala bears at Edinburgh’s zoo or doing a ghost tour in search of Edinburgh’s poltergeists you’ll find this city has so much to keep you entertained throughout your stay.

Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival and Hogmanay celebrations are world famous and also both personal bucketlist items of mine. These are peak times to visit so you’ll find the city is likely to be more expensive and busier too but both are so highly rated that it’d be a great time to experience the city.
However whatever time of year you visit you’ll find there’s plenty going on in the city.

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Princes Street Gardens, looking up at the castle on the right. 

Scenery
Edinburgh also happens to be a really beautiful city. In its architecture you quickly see why JK Rowling took so much inspiration for Harry Potter here with castle views and beautiful architecture. Princes Street gardens adds a little greenery to the centre of the city and Edinburgh is also right by the coast so if you’re willing to take a short trip away from the city centre you’ll soon find yourself with the luxury of sea views.

Edinburgh’s best views can be found at one of Edinburgh Castle, Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat. However keep in mind you’ll have to pay for entry in to the castle to reap the benefits of the views. Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat provide cheaper alternatives but a bit more of a climb to reach them.
You should definitely make time to check out at least one of those. For less of a city view but equally as pretty, Edinburgh zoo also has some great views from the top of the hill.

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The view from the castle – you’d never guess this was in the summer!

The 5 must sees!

Edinburgh Castle 
I personally enjoyed paying to explore it further but even if you just want to admire from the outside, it’s hard to miss this wherever you are in the city. It’ll be one of your first sights arriving in to Edinburgh’s city centre.

The Royal Mile 
The sound of bagpipes, plenty of street performers and a number of shops and restaurants makes no trip to Edinburgh complete without walking along the Royal Mile.

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Sun setting on the Royal Mile and St Giles’ Cathedral

St Giles’ Cathedral
If, like me, you enjoy visiting religious buildings then this is a must. It’s a lot smaller than many cathedrals you’ll see on your travels but it’s still so pretty. Entry is free (donation optional) and it’s right in the heart of the old town so worth checking out.

Greyfriars Cemetary
Perhaps a little morbid but this graveyard is home to some fascinating stories and is also a highly reported spot for poltergeist activity. Starting with the latter, the Bloody Mackenzie is said to haunt this graveyard with hundreds of reported and unexplained symptoms and incidents occurring here. Come to your own conclusions but it’s a fascinating read and if you’ve got time you can even do ghost tours here that have some rather interesting reviews.

Another popular figure that calls this home is Edinburgh’s famous dog, Greyfriar Bobby. After losing his owner it’s said that Bobby sat at his master’s grave until his own death. Such a famed story tourists from all over the world would come to visit and feed Bobby and you’ll even see a statue of him just across the road from the graveyard. Bobby also has his own shiny headstone, usually accompanied with flowers left by Edinburgh’s many visitors.

For the Harry Potter fanatics you’ll also see some interesting names across various headstones. Looking for inspiration, it’s said JK Rowling was advised to visit the local cemetary which was inspiration for a few characters. See if you can find Voldemort, Mad Eye Moody and Professor McGonagall! The latter has his own rather amusing story remembered as “Scotland’s worst ever poet”.

The Grassmarket
A place full of history, in the past people would shop here to pick up their daily needs but would also gather here for any public events and executions.
You’ll still find a market here throughout the day but the rest of the square is surrounded by restaurants and pubs which tend to be highly popular. A good spot to fill your stomach with food and beer!
A lot of the daily & evening tours begin in this area too so a good spot if you’re looking for one of these.

That wraps up my thoughts on Edinburgh. Feel free to ask for any further tips / suggestions, also feel free to comment with your own if you’ve been to Edinburgh. I’m heading back there at the end of the year so would love to hear your recommendations too!

All the best

Jason

Visited Cologne, fell in love with Köln!

Trip 1: Discovering Cologne (Mar 2013)

In an older post I wrote about Sydney which I visited in February 2013, it really enhanced my love of travel and more importantly it also gave my confidence a much needed boost. After two weeks in Sydney I arrived back in England and my thoughts immediately turned towards the next trip. I now had that travel bug.

Easter was coming up, it felt an ideal time to get away without having to take time off work. I’d also had a little booster as I’d received a decent little sum through a tax rebate to fund a weekend trip somewhere. I explored a number of options before eventually deciding to catch a train to some German city called “Cologne”.  Why Cologne? Honestly, I don’t really know. A combination of it being expensive to fly Easter weekend and Cologne not being too far away on the train somehow led me to one of Germany’s biggest cities.

The reality though is that it was such an illogical choice. I knew nothing about Cologne, it wasn’t a city that I’d ever thought of visiting, I couldn’t speak a word of German so how I ended up there is a bit of a mystery.

I hadn’t ever been to Germany before so  I went to Cologne with no idea of what to expect but was pleasantly surprised. It’s quite a nice city and one I’d happily recommend to people looking for a European weekend break away. The standout landmark of the city is its cathedral (the Kölner Dom), you can see it from miles away and all over the city. Seeing it for the first time blew me away and it doesn’t get any less impressive several viewings later. It is an incredible piece of architecture, a World Heritage Site and a reason in itself to visit Cologne.

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Kölner Dom!

Once you’re done admiring the cathedral (this could take a while) you’ll find plenty else to keep you entertained. The Rhine river runs through the heart of the city so you can take cruises along the river, get tickets for the theatre or a show, discover the museums (the Lindt chocolate factory particular popular and has some great views on the roof!), walk through the large shopping district in the city or just wine and dine your way through the pubs and restaurants scattered along Cologne’s cobblestones.  Along the waterfront you’ll find some particularly enjoyable spots to enjoy the local delicacies and have a few Kölsch beers.

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Overlooking the Rhein river

It’s a good city break. It’s not the greatest city you’ll ever visit but I do think it’s worth a visit. I’d personally recommend spending 2-3 days in Cologne and not much more. I think any longer and you’d soon run out of things to see and do. My trip was 3 days long and I left with thoughts that I’d seen all that I wanted to. It’s a nice city, I’d had fun and it was a good first impression of Germany. I’d never rule out returning somewhere because you don’t know what might happen but I didn’t envisage I’d be going back to Cologne.

 

Trip 2: The return to Köln (Mar 2016)

Three years earlier I couldn’t see myself returning to Köln – nice city but “been there, done that” would be an apt description of my visit to Köln. I struggled explaining how I’d even decided upon Köln so you’re probably scratching your head as to how I ended up back here.

Luckily it’s a little more straight-forward on this occasion. I am a huge football fan and one of my big bucketlist items was to attend a Borussia Dortmund home game at some point. Famed for its incredible atmosphere and “yellow wall” it’s something that any football fan would want to experience. Unbelieveably the situation arose where my beloved Tottenham Hotspur had been scheduled to play in Dortmund. I had to go! The game was announced Friday lunchtime and by Friday evening I had booked flights to Germany! A “once in a lifetime” opportunity to watch Spurs in Dortmund – I’m going again next month.

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Borussia Dortmund v Tottenham Hotspur

Easy to laugh in hindsight but it genuinely felt like a “once in a lifetime” chance and a “must not miss” game. I wasn’t alone in that thinking though and by Friday afternoon the, normally cheap, flights to Dortmund and Dusseldorf had started shooting up. What was plan B?
Flights to Köln are still really really cheap and it’s not that far away. Book the flights asap, worry about the accommodation later.

Accommodation in Dortmund was fully booking up, neighbouring cities had no real appeal to me and Köln was appearing the most sensible and cheapest option. I could still travel to Dortmund on matchday, right? It does mean returning to a city you’ve already been to though. I was a little reluctant but committed to Köln. I could take the odd day trip, see some of the remaining bits and pieces Köln had to offer and at least I had friends with me this time which would be much more fun than my previous solo adventure here.
Oh, one other thing. I could also speak the language! Admittedly nowhere near fluently but I really can’t understate how much of a difference this made.

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German phrases translated directly to English. 

I arrived Wednesday morning and come lunchtime I had spoken more German than the entirety of my previous trip. Only something as simple as asking for a table, reading a menu and ordering some food / beers in another language but to me it was mind-blowing. I’d been in this same restaurant three years earlier and knew nothing. Here I was complimenting the food ( “sehr lecker” ) and asking where the toilets were because I’d ordered a beer or two too many. It made me feel proud and definitely felt like I was acclimatising a bit better than my previous trip to Köln.

Returning to Köln was an interesting experience. It felt so familiar but different at the same time. I’d walked these streets, been in these bars before but because of the improvement in my German it felt like I was seeing things with new eyes and my ears were definitely picking up on things I’d missed out on last time. The friendly chit-chat of the locals and German mannerisms that were easier to notice.
I didn’t spend all of my days in Köln, I took the odd day trip to nearby places such as Brühl and Bonn but overall I left Köln content.

There had been a twinge of disappointment at returning but by the end of it I was thankful I’d gone back with more of a local experience. Two trips over eight nights though felt plenty. Would I return to Köln? Maybe but certainly not to soon. Two trips in the space of three years was plenty for the near future.

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Trip 3: “Where is Leverkusen?” (Oct 2016)

Köln wasn’t my only option for Dortmund, I could certainly have picked other German cities that were slightly nearer but Köln at the time seemed like a logical choice. With hindsight maybe I would have gone somewhere else in March.
After a few trips in 2016 I’d saved my last few days of annual leave for one more away trip with Spurs. All I had to wait on was the destination. Where would Spurs be playing?

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Bayer Leverkusen v Tottenham Hotspur

Leverkusen, Germany. Germany again! Alright, I quite like Germany. Where exactly is Leverkusen though? Oh, it’s a tiny town outside of Köln. That’s bloody convenient. Nearest airport? Kôln/Bonn. Nearest city? Köln. So.. Köln.. again.. really? Third trip, second of 2016.

I was gutted. Similar to a spoilt little child I was eyeing up all the incredible European destinations Spurs could potentially be going to and I’d “only” got West Germany again. This wasn’t meant as a personal attack on Köln because it is a nice city but I think I would have taken ANYWHERE else. I’d seen enough of the city on the first visit, a second was definitely enough and just over 6 months later I was going back. What was I going to do for five days on my third trip to the city?

I’m an optimistic and positive person so my childishness had evaporated come the day of my flight out there. I love Germany, what was I so miserable about? Most people would love to travel as much as I do and I was having a little tantrum. Good friends, German beers, a day out at the football – what was not to like? It certainly beat being at work or stuck in the rain in England.

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Köln looking pretty. Not so bad, right?

It wasn’t ideal but just make the most of it. I took a couple of day trips again, this time including a day in Belgium. That gave my German so much confidence. I’d spent Sunday in Germany, speaking a good level of the language, before visiting Belgian city Liege on the Monday. Liege is a French-speaking city and it wasn’t until I went to grab lunch that it occurred to me I hadn’t entirely thought this through.

A friendly greeting of “Bonjour” accompanied with a French menu. Panic! My French is rubbish! Take me back to Germany! I can do this no problem whatsoever.
I’ll talk about Liege another time but it dawned on me how good my German is at this point. Sure, amongst fluent German speakers I might struggle but I was better than 90% of foreigners.

Back to Köln! Tuesday was simply a day of football and German beer – wonderful. The game was dreadful and another wonder-save from Hugo Lloris in Europe spared us from defeat but what a fun day and fun atmosphere.

Wednesday my mood had switched completely. I was in complete admiration of Köln, I seemed to have Köln rose-tinted glasses on. Everywhere I looked I could only see the things I loved about the city – it’s beautiful cathedral, walking alongside the Rhein river and just wandering up and down it’s cobbled streets. I felt happy here, I felt at home with such familiar surroundings. Maybe a third visit does that to you?
Part of me didn’t want to leave and part of me was questioning if I’d come back to Köln for a 4th time and of the opinion I probably would.

They say “third time’s a charm” and it couldn’t be more apt to describe my love affair with Köln. It’s such a strange city for me. It was never a city on my radar, I couldn’t quite tell you how I ended up there, had no real intention of returning on either of my first two trips and yet ended up falling in love with it on the third visit.

Am I in a rush to return to Köln? Not so soon but oddly I see myself back there at some point. It took a while but you won my heart Köln and all three trips certainly have some wonderful memories.

I don’t know when I’ll see you next but “Bis bald Köln, ich liebe dich”

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So much love spread in Köln.

So tell me, have you ever grown to love a place more after several visits? Have you been to Köln yourself? Leave me a comment and tell me what you thought.

All the best!

Jason

York!

I think one thing many of us are guilty of when it comes to travel is not seeing enough of our own country. One thing I certainly want to start doing more often is taking city breaks within the UK.

Last August I did just that. With a three day weekend and a friend hosting a charity gig, I had a good excuse to make a trip up to Yorkshire. I arrived in Northallerton later than planned. My train in London had come to a standstill and there was no sign of how long we’d be stuck, which meant a change of plan and running to the nearest tube stop in a hopeful attempt to reach Kings Cross before my train up North departed.
Frustratingly I’d missed my train by seconds through no fault of my own, that train departing the platform is the one I’m supposed to be on – which wasn’t the best start to my weekend. Fortunately it did get better from there and a fun night with a live band and a few beers made up for arriving later than scheduled.

The next morning I wished farewell to my friend and made the short train ride from Northallerton to York. I’d been to York 2 or 3 times before but only really to visit family, it always seemed to rain whenever I’d visit too so I was hoping for much more opportunity to explore this time and also better weather!
I arrived in a sunny York which was an encouraging start to the two days I’d be spending in York.

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River Ouse, York

York is one of my favourite English cities. It has so much history and character and you feel that almost instantly upon arrival. After exiting York’s main train station I was instantly staring up at the city walls. I was staying in a hotel outside of the city walls but on a relatively lively street with a few pubs, restaurants and shops nearby.

Still too early to drop my bag off at my hotel, I ventured past the city walls and in to the city of York. Merchantgate, one of the openings in the wall, had actually been closed off for the day to vehicles because of an event in the city. I was curious but overheard someone say it would be starting at 1 so figured I’d come back later on.

Ahead of me crowds were building, to my right was a staircase leading up to the city walls. Walking the wall seemed a much more attractive proposition than trying to hurdle the number of people along Merchantgate. It’s not something you can do in too many cities and an enjoyable walk along the wall. It’s also great for photo opportunities from a higher vantage point.

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Having walked across the wall I arrived at the River Ouse and thought it a perfect time to do a river cruise. It was a guided tour and quite interesting. Our captain pointed out a few points of interests and shared some of his knowledge about the city as we drifted along the river, a very peaceful way to spend an hour and thoroughly recommended.

After the cruise I headed back in the direction of Merchantgate to see what all the fuss was about. It turns out they had an event for soapbox racing. Watching bananas, Trojan horses, farmers, batman and more race through the streets of York was certainly an experience to remember. Each ‘car’ raced against the clock with the quickest finishers of the course heading in to the next round. It was very entertaining!

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The Shambles

I checked in to my hotel and then went in search of food! I stumbled upon one of York’s most famous streets known as the Shambles – a row of shops along a cobbled street with dimly lit lights in the windows to give it a real atmospheric feel. It was beautiful and I found somewhere near by.
Having stuffed myself with pizza, I finished my Sunday evening off in one of York’s many many pubs in the city.

Bank holiday Monday’s are famed for rain so it was a nice surprise to wake up Monday morning to further sunshine. A warm bank holiday, surely not?
After grabbing an on-the-go breakfast I headed for York’s famous Minster cathedral, a UNESCO world heritage site. I’d passed it before but had never been inside. Despite following no religion I always find religious buildings fascinating to visit. The detail is incredible and the Minster no different in that respect. Definitely worth a visit when in York.

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York Minster

After a quick stop for lunch I visited York’s castle, quite unusual as far as castles go and situated on top of a small hill. Typically you expect the purpose of a castle to be used in defence of the city but it’s hard to see aside from the vantage point how this would have worked.
Despite the lack of purpose, you get some great views overlooking York which make it worthwhile visiting.

The rest of my day involved wandering the city, I particularly enjoyed the abbey and gardens close to the river – particularly beautiful with the sun setting.
I saw signs of a free walking tour which commenced in the evening. I’m generally a big fan of these and thought it’d be the perfect end to my trip but it was a bit of a disaster. My first clue as to how bad it was going to be should have been the low turnout. Come the start of the tour there was only around a dozen of us and that number dwindled over the hour that followed.

The tour guide was friendly enough and clearly loved York, however sadly I didn’t find the tour that interesting. Ultimately that comes down to personal taste and you can forgive that but the bigger problem was it was a walking tour with very little walking.
I wanted to see York and having only circled the equivalent of a block in 45 minutes I came to the conclusion it wasn’t going to happen.
By this point there were only 5 of us left and as I saw one couple making their escape I had to do the same. If I’d been the last man standing I would have had to see it out through pity so I passed off the grenade to the final couple and saved myself.

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With a wasted hour I went in search of a pub to have a drink before catching my train home. Despite a dreadful tour to end it, it was a great weekend.

I’d highly recommend a visit to York on any trip to the UK, or even if like me you’re already a Brit but just fancy a city break closer to home.

Have you ever been to York? What did you like / dislike about it? Let me know!

All the best

Jason

Left to fate

So if you know me well you’ll realise that in addition to travelling, one of my biggest passions is football. I regularly go to games and it can be both a help and burden to my travels. A burden because one of the first things I look at before planning a trip is what games is a trip away going to clash with?

However, for now, let’s focus on how it helps.

I grew up on stories from my dad and his friends about travelling across England and Europe watching Spurs in their youth, I was so envious of it and it meant I had a fondness of European football from an early age. I’d heard so many stories of the “European nights at the Lane” and trips to various cities.

My jealousy wasn’t helped by the fact that Tottenham were rubbish throughout my childhood – European football was a rarity and I used to dream of seeing us play in Europe some day.
Fortunately it’s now an annual opportunity and Tottenham regularly compete in European fixtures.

I witnessed my first European fixture (in England) back in 2006 and it only helped that love of European football grow. I’d finally seen a European game at our famous home in London under the lights. The European nights were great but I’d still restricted myself to home games, a European away trip was still a dream of mine and item to check off the bucketlist.

Every year I talked about finally doing it but there was always an excuse – for the most part it was just a lack of confidence. Sydney (2013) changed all of that, it was then just a matter of the right opportunity coming along to make my first European away game.

Fast forward a year to a European night in London against Ukrainian opposition. The (probable) prize for the winners was a match against Benfica – an excuse to go to Lisbon and Portugal for the first time!
As Spurs went behind my heart sank, I was so adamant I’d go to Lisbon if we won and things started badly. My dream was slipping away from me. We turned it around and the scenes when we scored our 3rd goal will live with me for a long time. The block I was stood in went crazy. Lisbon was a real possibility and given the celebrations it seemed many aligned with my way of thinking that it was a “must-do” trip.

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Trip to Lisbon for Benfica v Tottenham (Mar 14)

I got home from London at around 3am and booked my flights before going to bed. I was that excited at finally making a bucketlist item of mine actually happen. 30 years on (1984 – 2014) from one of Tottenham’s most famous nights in European football I was about to have a European adventure of my own.

My dad and his friends to this day still speak of the two 1984 games (in Brussels & London) and of all the great things my dad has seen in football it’s probably the one that makes me most envious.

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Trip to Brussels for Anderlecht v Tottenham (Oct 15)

Lisbon was amazing and I knew it would be the first European away trip of many. I’ve since been to a few further European away games which has meant my love of football has been a source of more European adventure. Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Germany – I’ve been fortunate to visit some wonderful places and cities because of football.

Florence
Trip to Florence for Fiorentina v Tottenham

In the traditional sense, most travellers choose their destination. The unique thing about travelling for football is the decision is completely out of your hands. I’m at the mercy of the luck of the draw to decide where I’m off to.
I’ve been counting down all summer to today because it dictates where I travel to for the rest of the year. Tottenham’s European fixtures for the rest of 2017 get confirmed today and it means I can finally plan another trip away. Hopefully two!

There’s 18 potential cities on the list: Madrid, Barcelona, Porto, Lisbon, Seville, Munich, Leipzig, Monaco, Kiev, Paris, Maribor, Nicosia, Turin, Baku, Dortmund, Rotterdam, Glasgow, Moscow.
Of those 18, Tottenham will be visiting 3 of them before the end of the year. It’s such a wide range of cities and I’m incredibly excited to see where we end up.

There’s some specific criteria, one of the key restrictions is you can’t visit the same country twice. So I won’t be going to Madrid and Barcelona for example. I have my dream trio lined up already but play along with me.
Three cities left down to fate to decide your next adventure. Which three would you be hoping for?

I’ll be booking my next trip before the day is over, I’ll keep you posted on the outcome!

All the best!

Jason

Going on holiday

So one of the things you should know about me is that I’m a city person. I’m an introvert with a quiet personality so it often comes as a surprise to say that I love big cities. That’s often reflected in the places I travel to.

I was born in London and lived there for the first nine years of my life so city life was with me from birth. I still hold a lot of pride in being London born and bred, it’ll always be my favourite city and a place I think of as home.

In the last five years I’ve travelled to numerous cities spanned across 16 different countries including England. The emotional attachment I have to London means it’s never likely to be displaced as my number one destination but some cities have pushed it close.

One city I was particularly excited to tick off my bucketlist last year was New York City. If anywhere could rival my love of London surely it was the Big Apple? I had high hopes for NYC and it didn’t disappoint, I’ll dedicate a post to that at some point but, almost inevitably, it’s currently my favourite destination I’ve visited outside of England (London stays number 1).

Whilst NYC tops my travel list, one drawback to big cities is when do you find the time to relax? It was my first time visiting NYC with just a week to try and see as much as possible, including NYC based friends. Perhaps it’s just me but I often come home more exhausted than I was before I left. It does make you question why it’s often referred to as a city “break”. Where was the break? I’d have relaxed more at home!

So it got me thinking about the difference between travelling and having a holiday. I’ve travelled a lot in the last five years but how many would I consider an actual holiday? It’s certainly in the minority as far as my adventures go.

That’s not to say I have any regrets in where I’ve visited. I’ve completely fallen in love with many of the cities that I’ve visited. New York City, Sydney, Berlin, Amsterdam, Edinburgh and many more. The list is endless and there’s many more cities still on the bucketlist.

However I’m pleased to say my next trip was motivated by a desire to relax! I wanted to go away the week of my birthday and I’ve booked a trip to Greece in August! Sunshine, sunsets and a hotel with an outdoor pool! It’ll be my first visit to Greece too! Now the countdown begins!

Tell me, what’s your ideal trip? How do you find time to relax when visiting a city?

I look forward to your thoughts! Also, any tips for Thessaloniki would be much appreciated.

All the best!

Jason

Ibiza

I’m going to try up my blogging game so this is the first in a series of what I’m hoping will be a weekly post. A “Friday feature” as I’m going to call it.

I always look back fondly on my trips to Ibiza. I visited twice, a week in the summer of 2011 and a further week in the summer of 2012. The first trip was my first ever “grown-up” holiday, no parents and no supervision! Whilst exciting it was also nerve-wrecking. I spent the night before my first trip throwing up due to anxiety. Fast forward a week and I debated not even coming home!

I won’t lie, both trips had their ups and downs but it was an unforgettable two weeks and made me realise I had to get out and see more of the world. I’d fallen in love with Ibiza instantly so here’s five reasons why it should be on your destination list for the summer!

It’s beautiful! 
I don’t know why this was a surprise to me. It’s an island in the Mediterranean, part of me should have expected an island to be a pretty place to visit but you don’t tend to hear too much about that side of Ibiza.
Whether you’re driving across the island or watching the sunset at Café Mambo, you can’t miss Ibiza’s beauty! My biggest regret is taking too few photos and not seeing more of the island! It’s stunning!

It’s incredibly friendly! 
I guess what makes Ibiza a little unique is that it’s very much catered towards tourists. You’ll be welcomed with open arms, you don’t have the awkward language barrier and everyone just wants to have a good time. Ibiza is so chilled and it’s a perfect place to relax.

The weather is great! 
Visit In Ibiza’s peak season (May – Sep) and you’re going to be guaranteed sunshine and warm weather for most of your break. In typical European (and Spanish) fashion there is a big eating out culture. Many restaurants offer outside seating and allow you to watch the world pass by.
Watching Ibiza’s sunset is also a must! Ibiza’s nightlife continues well in to the early hours of the morning so you’ll possibly see the sunrise too!

The party capital of the world! 
Many consider Ibiza to be the party capital of the world. Most of Ibiza’s summer visitors are there to enjoy the island’s nightlife. Ibiza is home to some of the world’s most famous clubs and biggest artists from the clubbing, dance and DJ world of music. If clubbing isn’t your thing, the island also has numerous bars with a great atmosphere and people enticing you through the door with cheap drinks! You can have a fun night and a cheap night without stepping in to the bigger clubs.

It’s not all about the party! 
Perhaps one of the biggest myths about Ibiza is that it’s solely a party island. Whilst that is certainly an attraction for many visitors it should go without saying that there are quieter parts of the island too which are much more relaxing and even family friendly!
With beaches, water-sports, shopping, markets, many dining options and a historic old town it’s hard not to find something for everyone. If you’ve got car access then it really opens up what you can do in Ibiza but there are buses and alternatives should you need to use them.
Ibiza might not be everyone’s cup of tea but don’t judge it before you’ve been for yourself! I fell in love instantly and hope to return in the future!
Have you been to Ibiza? What did you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Jason