Lille – June 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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London to Brussels, via Lille

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

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

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

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

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

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Gorgeous church in sunny Lille

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

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

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Cafe culture looking good in Lille!

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

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

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Hideous cathedral in Lille

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

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

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Beautiful interior!

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

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

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

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The beautiful streets of Lille

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The French love their football!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Exploring Lille whilst it’s quiet!

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

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

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Beautiful place to browse for books in Lille!

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

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

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Peace and quiet in the parks of Lille

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

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

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Lille quickly won me over. Easy to see why!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jason

Walla Walla – February 2018

It’s unusual for me to blog twice in a week but I wanted to offer an update on my time here living in Washington and Tuesday being the four week / one month landmark seemed a suitable time to do it.

My usual weekly Thursday posts have recently been covering my trip to this state two years ago and I’ll be rounding that trip off in this post. I split this particular trip in to three parts. For those following along you’ll know I spent a night in Seattle before visiting Haleigh in Moses Lake which was the main reason I was in Washington State.

I first visited Washington State in September 2017 where myself and Haleigh really hit things off! However we’d had such little time together just one on one – little more than a day together so although it was a trip that really began our relationship, we definitely needed more time together to see how successful our future might be.

Perhaps a little selfishly, I really wanted to see how things went before I started planning my big summer trip to the USA so I decided to head out there in early 2018. The reason I visited in February is because it was a typically quiet month for me at work and additionally Haleigh teaches and she had a “Winter break” fall within February so it seemed a perfect time to visit.

It meant we’d get the best part of two weeks together and a long weekend where she wouldn’t have to work – we decided to spend that winter break in the city of Walla Walla!

Why Walla Walla? Well although Haleigh lives in Moses Lake, her hometown is Walla Walla so this was an opportunity to also meet some of Haleigh’s family for the first time – daunting!

Next question! Where is Walla Walla? Well, you’ll find Walla Walla down in the South (Central/East-ish) of Washington State. It pretty much borders Oregon. Infact we even crossed the border briefly as her grandpa worked in Oregon at the time so we took the five / ten minute drive across the state line and back. I didn’t count this as an Oregon visit mind you, probably helped by the fact I knew I’d tick Oregon off properly later in the year.

Anyway, that’s a little introduction for you. Here’s how that trip went down!

After spending the previous day in Moses Lake & Ephrata we woke early to go and make the couple of hours drive to Walla Walla. We kicked off our day first by grabbing breakfast at Bob’s Cafe – a popular little spot just off the busy i90. It’s always busy at Bobs! I also always make the mistake of ordering the pancakes, they’re very good but far too big a portion for me to ever finish (I think I have once out of countless visits).

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Bob’s Cafe, Moses Lake

With our stomachs filled we were on our way via a little detour. On route Haleigh showed me where her school was so I got a little tour of her classroom and a proper look at the American school set up.

Having had a little glimpse in to Haleigh’s work life we got back on the road and drove onwards to Walla Walla. This side of the state is a little more desert-like than the West side of the mountains with all the (supposed) rain Seattle receives. It’s not a Sahara-like sandy desert but pretty dry and mild.

One of the surprising moments of the drive, for me at least, was seeing tumbleweed in the flesh for the first time. Perhaps I’m in the minority here but my experiences of tumbleweed was limited to cartoons and such up until this trip. I’d not anticipated tumbleweed being quite so big, essentially a huge ball of mess causing a hazard in the road.

I vividly remember jumping out of my skin at one point as I was looking out of the window to my right at the (minimal) scenery and suddenly there was a loud bang as this huge ball slammed in to the front of the vehicle (aided by the wind).

It felt like Haleigh spent various moments of the next few days playing her own version of Mario Kart as she attempted to avoid and drive around the tumbleweed rolling in our direction. It was comical in some respects, until you remember this is happening on largely single-lane roads at relatively high speed. I’d love to see some statistics regarding tumbleweed-related car accidents. Forget the current Coronavirus outbreak in Washington, it’s that damn tumbleweed that will get you!

You think I’m joking? I was curious and this was the first result / headline I saw on Google: 30 foot tumbleweed pileup traps 5 cars and a semi-truck on Washington highway

So after a successful ‘race’ of Washington’s version of Mario Kart we’d reached the outskirts of Walla Walla and BAM!

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Mountain views in Walla Walla!

Don’t worry, not tumbleweed this time but mountain views! It was such a pretty sight to see, helped by the fact it was February and there was snow up on the mountains. We inched closer and closer and I could only admire and envy what it must be like to live this close to the mountains. We parked up at Haleigh’s grandparents, who we were staying with, with the mountains still in sight. It was perfect.

The first afternoon / evening was spent getting acquainted with various members of Haleigh’s family including her mum, brother and both sets of grandparents. After running around all over town we went out for dinner and then settled in to our place for the evening. I’d hoped to have made a good first impression with the family.

Over the next few days I got to enjoy spending time with all of the family. The grandparents hosting us were kind enough to provide us some home-cooked meals too, which with Italian-heritage meant delights such as home-made meatballs or lasagne in addition to American favourites such as “biscuits and gravy”. All of the food we had at ‘home’ was delicious!

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Thanksgiving, November 2019. An example of the good food on offer with the grandparents!

Whilst getting to know Haleigh’s family was lovely, I was also here to get to know and explore some of Walla Walla. It’s a city I can’t say I’d heard of prior to being introduced to Haleigh.

Walla Walla is ‘famous’ for a couple of things. Firstly “sweet onions” – so much so that it’s the official state vegetable of Washington. Secondly Walla Walla is well known for its wine and that’s certainly shown in its downtown area with winery after winery after winery. Haleigh doesn’t really drink and I tend to drink beer more than anything so I can’t really back up how good any of these wineries are but if you like wine then it’s probably not a bad city to include on any Washington road trip!

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Downtown Walla Walla looking pretty, Feb 2020

With wine-drinking not really on the “to-do” list whilst in Walla Walla we decided to go and check out the history of the area instead. The main place we went to visit was the Whitman Mission national historic site – the Whitmans being missionaries who came to the area in the 1800’s. Following conflict they were later killed and it seems this is a site to commemorate their arrival to the area. It was an interesting place to visit and nice to learn more about the history of the place aswell as Walla Walla, it also offered some great views of the mountains so definitely worth a visit haha.

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A roadside sign offering a brief history of the Whitman Mission

Away from Walla Walla we also spent a day with Haleigh’s brother visiting the “Tri-cities”. The three cities that make up the tri-cities (Kennewick, Richland and Pasco) are all in close vicinity and have a bit more to offer for locals in this area of Washington.

The three of us ventured out to the tri-cities with the intention of doing a little shopping (or window shopping in my case) as its home to a fairly good sized shopping mall with a bunch of brands and stores you can’t get in Walla Walla (or Moses Lake).

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Pretty views along the river. Haleigh and Ben pokemon-hunting in the distance whilst I admire the view

However our first stop in the tri-cities was in a park that runs along the Colombia river. It was a pretty place, and whilst I expect its busier in the summer, it was pretty peaceful too. After having a little wander we popped in to this small store which seemed to specialise in artwork for sale. It was a nice little spot with friendly staff.

We soon moved on to this comic store that Ben and Haleigh were keen to check out. On the side of the building was this little dragon mural that I thought was pretty cool. Inside was a huge range of comics and other memorabilia and things to buy – good fun to look around and tempt yourself if interested in comics and superheroes and other popular movies and tv shows.

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Cool dragon mural in the Tri-Cities, Washington State

Our next stop was the main shopping mall which had huge well known department stores such as Macy’s plus some other stores that I was less familiar with. One that has proven a popular must visit on such trips to the Tri-Cities is the chain bookstore ‘Barnes and Noble’. It’s a good sized store, more Waterstones than W.H.Smiths for my UK friends and family who perhaps aren’t familiar with it.

After popping in to a number of places we grabbed some lunch and pondered what to do before heading back to Walla Walla. We decided to pop in to the East Benton County Historical Society Museum. It was pretty interesting and had lots of displays focused on the history in the local area and collections from local people throughout time. I don’t remember it being particularly expensive, the website suggests it’s $5 for admission, so a worthwhile visit if you’re in the tri-cities.

That had killed a bit of time before returning to Walla Walla for the evening where we then spent the next couple of days. It’s a city I’ve grown quite fond of, mostly due to the people based there that I associate it with, but I can’t say we did anything particularly noteworthy or memorable for the rest of our break. It’s somewhere I think I’d be content enough living in but it’s not somewhere that is a must see in Washington State, nor the USA, but a nice stop if you’re driving through or near the area.

The rest of our time was just spent with good people and eating good food before saying our goodbyes and returning to Moses Lake. A few days later it was time for me to say goodbye to Washington completely as my two weeks up Stateside was over with. It was a wonderful trip and one that cemented my plans to spend most of my big summer trip with Haleigh.

More on that to come soon but next up on the blog? A bit of UK travel, starting with a weekend trip to Manchester! Stay tuned!

Jason

Moses Lake – February 2018!

Welcome back to this little Washington series! Those of you following along since last time out will remember I’d spent a night in Seattle, largely due to the irregularity of the Greyhound buses.

I’d enjoyed getting to spend an evening in Seattle but this trip was all about spending a proper amount of time with Haleigh, who lived on the East side of the mountains, in the small town of Moses Lake.

Let me say, from a relationship point of view this was a big step forward and was going to offer a better indication as to how suited we were to eachother. The best part of two weeks in eachother’s company, some of that period Haleigh would be working and some of it we’d be in close confinements 24/7. As an introvert and someone who likes their own space that was a daunting prospect.

Ignoring the relationship viewpoint, from a tourist viewpoint I also had the other problem of what I was going to do in Moses Lake to entertain myself for multiple days whilst Haleigh was working. I consider myself a ‘Londoner’, London born and bred, and I’m very much a person that feels most at home in a big city.

Moses Lake is not a big city, it’s not even a big town – its population is about 20,000! It’s a place I’d largely seen most of in just a day a year prior to this trip. Without being harsh, it’s not a place you’d ordinarily plan long term travel for and it’s not a place (or country) that is particularly focused on public transport. So much so that when you arrive by bus in Moses Lake you need a car to get anywhere – as I joked about in my previous post on Moses Lake here!

Nevertheless I am an optimist so I was positive I’d avoid boredom over the next couple of weeks. I arrived in to Moses Lake on the Tuesday afternoon which was pretty chilled, hanging out with Haleigh after work and getting some good sleep after a long day in Seattle.

The next morning I decided to go out and explore and see what else I could find that I hadn’t seen first time around. Greeting me outside was snow! I talked about the need for a car to get anywhere in the US but the beauty of that is that when it does snow, so much of it is untouched snow. No footprints on the “sidewalk” – just beautiful untouched white stuff – it’s pretty to see!

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Clear roads, untouched snow! America in a picture!
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A snowy Moses Lake, February 2018

I find it particularly pretty because we don’t get huge amounts of snow in England. This was a rare snow day for me so nice to wander through and nice to see the contrast from my previous end-of-summer trip. I wandered the few miles in to downtown and popped in to my favourite little independent coffee shop to grab some tea and watch the world go by.

After warming up with a good cuppa, I ventured over towards the lake. It’s always pretty quiet by the lake, you get the occasional dogwalkers or runners but it’s pretty peaceful and probably moreso on days when you’ve got snow and ice on the ground. It was nice to have a wander before hunting for some lunch.

A good option seemed to be the Midway Pub along Broadway which has become a bit of a favourite on my visits. This was my first visit but has since become a bit of a regular. The atmosphere is nice and they’re always happy to put the football on for me, Tottenham had played the day before so I settled for watching the Liverpool game.

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Midway pub, Moses Lake

I like this bar because it’s usually pretty quiet at lunchtime. Americans seem to live by the “it’s 5 o clock somewhere..” mantra so, unlike the English, seem reluctant to pop in somewhere for a pub lunch as it’s considered unacceptable culturally before 5 I guess.

Additionally to it being quiet, the staff are always friendly – I only popped in once on this trip but they still remembered me six months later when I returned which was nice.

After a convincing Liverpool win, some good food and a couple of beers I moved on and decided to give the museum a visit. I’d been before but long enough had passed that I figured maybe the exhibit had changed and so it proved. It’s only a small museum but killed a bit more time before heading back to the apartment in time for Haleigh getting home and us spending the evening together – Valentine’s Day infact!

We decided to stay in, opposed to going out, and made our own pizzas! A joint effort which was definitely one of the perks in getting to spend a bit more time together and being able to do things such as this. Better yet, the pizzas actually turned out really well! What do you reckon? Not bad for a first joint cooking effort, right? It was a nice first Valentine’s together too!

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Pineapple belongs on pizza!

One of the big reasons for making this trip in February was that it happened to coincide with Haleigh’s spring break (as a teacher), so it meant I could visit whilst she actually had some time off from school! The next morning we had a bit of a lay in before deciding to visit the nearby, and even smaller, town of Ephrata (population 8,000ish).

There was two reasons we thought a trip to Ephrata would be nice. The book addict (Haleigh) wanted to check out a book store in town, secondly there was the Grant County Historical Museum (which Google Maps will advise you opens at 10am) which looked like worth checking out.

We grabbed some breakfast in town before heading on over to Ephrata. The book store in town wasn’t actually open for some reason with a sign in the window / door suggesting to come back in the afternoon. Fortunately further along the street was another cute little bookstore so we settled for visiting here instead and Haleigh still managed to find a book to satisfy her need for more books!

Further along what I’m assuming was Main Street (every American town has a main street, right?) was the museum. We decided to just leave the car and walk up and after half a dozen blocks we’d reached what felt like the end of the town – there was very little activity, nor business around and it felt like there was very little to this tiny town.

Worse yet, the museum was closed for the season! If you look on Google today you’ll still see it’s supposedly open today too but once you go to their website you’ll see they’re only open between May and September! Worth noting if you’re ever in the area (not recommended!). Our two sole reasons to visit were both a bust so after the disappointment of finding a closed museum we decided to head back to the car.

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Cool mural in Ephrata, Haleigh looks tiny in comparison

On route we did at least spot this pretty cool mural on the side of a theatre / cinema! It’s one of the very few highlights of Ephrata but had otherwise been a wasted adventure. We made our way back in to Moses Lake for the rest of the day and chilled out, before packing for the weekend’s adventures in Walla Walla. That was a fun weekend but you’ll have to wait until next week to hear more on that.

After a few days in Walla Walla we came back to Moses Lake, in time for Haleigh’s return to work, which again left me to explore the town solo during the daytime. It’s a town I’ve grown fond of, perhaps because it’s familiar and does have that small town feel to it. You continually see the same faces and even if unfamiliar to you, you know someone else knows that person. You go in to certain establishments and know it’s full of regulars.

I’ve quickly established my favourites in Moses Lake but with each passing visit try and seek out a new place to grab lunch at or have a quick beer. The rest of this trip was pretty relaxed, embracing the company more than anything and it assured me that any length of time spent together on my big summer trip would be fine.

That just about wraps up this part of the trip. Next up on the blog? Well, I’m actually planning to squeeze in a bonus post next week so you’ll have two coming very shortly! I hinted at one of those above (Walla Walla) but you’ll have to wait to see what the bonus post is! Stay tuned!

Jason

Seattle – February 2018

Last time out on the blog I rounded up my time in Germany in November 2017. I did have one more trip in 2017 but I don’t have access to my Edinburgh photos here in the US so I’m going to have to skip that and jump straight in to 2018!

My first trip of the year was a return to Washington State. In quite an unusual manner, my third trip to Washington was actually the FIRST trip planned to the state. As I explained here, my intention was to go out to Washington for the first time in August 2018 to watch two friends get married. Additionally I was to turn 30 in August 2018 so it was an opportunity for a big adventure!

If you’ve been following along on my adventures you’ll remember that I decided to go to Washington a year earlier to meet Maddie (bride 1), Cassie (bride 2) and Haleigh (bridesmaid) properly in person. It was a great trip with me and Haleigh hitting things off which consequently blossomed into a relationship.

Whilst we’d definitely hit things off there was also a case of “we’ve not actually spent much time together..” – in my time in Washington we’d probably only spent about a day of it with just the two of us. I’d spent some time in Ellensburg with Maddie and Cassie, some time in Spokane by myself, a short amount of time with Haleigh in Moses Lake and then a weekend in Seattle with all three.

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Watching baseball in Seattle, Sep 2017

So there was perhaps two reasons to rush a return to Washington. First and foremost, this had blossomed in to a relationship and to wait from September 2017 until August 2018 was a long time to go without seeing eachother – it didn’t make sense to go a year without seeing eachother.

However there was also a degree of selfishness to my plans. I already knew I wanted 30 days in America for my 30th and logically it made sense that Haleigh would feature within those plans, at the very least we’d see eachother at the wedding, but how much of that time did I want with someone I’d spent next to no time with?

Would we get bored of each other’s company? Would it be awkward? Would it be a miserable 30th celebration?
“What did you do for your 30th birthday Jason?” – Well..

It is selfish but I wanted a positive story, I wanted a 30th to remember and not one I’d be regretting in five, ten, twenty years time because I’d spent it in the wrong company. So I put my summer plans on hold and booked a flight for February. Two weeks in Washington, a proper amount of time spent with Haleigh, a chance to meet some family but most importantly an opportunity to get to know eachother better and to see if this spark we thought we had was genuine. If we could survive two weeks in eachother’s company then it would be a good sign for our future!

Obviously it comes as no surprise to many reading that things went well, I’m actually currently two and a half weeks in to a 3 month stay here in Washington so needless to say we haven’t yet grown sick of eachother.

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Exploring the Redwoods, August 2018

Anyway, back to this trip. My intention was to spend two weeks with Haleigh but I flew in to Seattle on a Monday and Haleigh had to work. Theoretically Haleigh could have come and picked me up but this was Washington’s Winter and would have meant driving through the mountains in the dark and potentially icy / snowy conditions. I decided I’d just get a bus over to Moses Lake.

The problem with that is unless you drive, don’t expect to get anywhere in a hurry. Greyhound offer something like 3 or 4 buses a day from Seattle to Moses Lake. Two/three of which are before midday, there are no afternoon services and the only evening service leaves Seattle around 11pm which means getting to Moses Lake around 3am.

I didn’t want to get to Moses Lake at 3am, so I decided to book one night in a hotel in Seattle. FYI – Seattle is like many big US cities – bloody expensive! I settled on one of the cheapest hotels I could find in the Queen Anne neighbourhood.

The two big differences between this trip and my only other visit to Seattle was firstly, this time I was alone and secondly that last time we had a car to get around. It might not seem much for less than 24 hours in the city but you quickly realise how much of a difference those two factors make.

For instance I arrived to Seatac and instead of a welcoming committee waiting to pick me up, I had to find my own way out of the airport. How do I get to Seattle from here? I knew the link was the best way to get to the city so I followed the signs and soon enough was buying a ticket in to down town Seattle – I can’t remember where I decided to get off but I quickly became aware that it wasn’t going as far as I needed it to.

I could have jumped on a bus or something from the final stop but I figured it was a sunny day (it always is in Seattle, seriously, the rain is a myth in my experience!) so why not walk to my hotel, right?

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It’s always sunny in Seattle

Wrong! Don’t walk anywhere in Seattle! I spent a good few days exploring Seattle six months earlier with the girls but when you’re driving everywhere you don’t appreciate that Seattle is just hills, hills and more hills. By the time I’d walked the couple of miles to my hotel I was happy to just crash – the time difference doesn’t help, it was probably around 3:30-4pm local time by the time I arrived so as far as my body clock was concerned it was around midnight.

I dropped my things off. The hotel looked nice enough from the exterior but looked tired inside, I’m not convinced the lock on my door actually worked which wasn’t encouraging but for one night it was okay. I wouldn’t have wanted to have been there for much beyond that – you get what you pay for I suppose.

I was keen to make the most of my Monday in Seattle – FYI, nothing appears to be open on a Monday in Seattle. There was a couple of concerts on in Seattle that were somewhat tempting – one the night before and one the following night which was terrible and teasing timing. One of the few remaining things I was interested in doing that was open on a Monday was the Space Needle – which just so happened to be under renovation on this particular date – seriously?

I looked what was vaguely near my hotel and Kerry Park stood out, I’d heard it had some of the best views in the city and it just so happened to be nearing sunset so it seemed a perfect first stop for my evening.

To get to Kerry Park I had to, you guessed it, walk uphill! Up Everest in fact! This hill was so steep and all I could ponder is if Seattle had another myth attached to it – “what goes up, must come down..” – Seattle just goes up and up and up. Admittedly when looking for one of the “best views in the city” I suppose it’s to be expected but all I’d done since arriving in Seattle was climb upwards.

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Kerry Park, Feb 2018

The view at the top is worth it at least. At the top were numerous photographers, Instagrammers, influencers etc waiting for the sun to set over the city so they could get their picture perfect shots. I didn’t have the patience to hang around too long. I took a few photos and swiftly moved on, on the hunt for some dinner!

I finally had the opportunity to wander downhill and aimed for the waterfront. Aside from being a continuous uphill struggle, Seattle is a beautiful city with mountain, water and city views to admire.

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Beautiful Seattle

I found a restaurant along the waterfront and seafood seemed a good idea so ordered myself some (Alaskan) fish and chips alongside a beer. The latter took forever to finish, the time difference was starting to catch up with me.

That said it was still early so after eating I figured I’d wander over to Pike Place, or where I thought Pike Place was anyway. Having been driven there on my first visit meant that I had little knowledge of how we’d got there and I’d convinced myself it was by the waterfront – it’s not!

Admittedly it’s not far from it, only a couple of blocks inland but I eventually realised I’d walked too far and had to turn back to find it. During the day the area is bustling with tourists, after dark the whole area is pretty dead.

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Seattle’s gum wall

I made my first stop the disgusting gum wall. On my first visit they’d recently scraped most of the gum off of the wall so it was quite underwhelming. This time around I was pleased to see a much more gum-filled wall in place, albeit slightly disgusted too at how much gum can go up in the space of five months.

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Gum heart – Sep 2017
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Gum heart – Feb 2018

Pike Place looked cool after dark but none of it was open for business so had a very different vibe. With not much happening I contemplated going somewhere to find a drink. As tempting as it seemed, I was also flagging a bit by this point so decided I’d take the (uphill) walk back to my hotel which helped wear me out in time for bed. It was probably about 9-9:30pm (5-5:30am UK) by the time I got back to my room. I inevitably crashed pretty quickly.

The next morning I decided I’d take a slow walk towards the Greyhound bus station. The Queen Anne area seemed like a nice neighbourhood and had a few cool pieces of street art in the area. I wandered over towards the Capitol Hill part of the city. That was the plan anyway, I got a little lost in my detour so couldn’t tell you exactly where I ended up but it was nice to see parts of the city that I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise.

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Getting lost, admiring Seattle’s street art

Eventually I abandoned wandering on foot and jumped on the link in the direction of the bus station. The beauty of this journey is that Seattle is on the West side of the mountains and Moses Lake is on the East side of the mountains which means constant mountain views on route. It’s breathtakingly beautiful for a good hour of the journey, if not more.

I used up half of my phone battery taking photo after photo in awe of the view. The other passengers seemed unfazed by the views, I don’t know at what point the mountain views get “boring” but I hope I never reach that day.

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Views from the bus!

A little like my time in Austria four years earlier, it felt criminal to see passengers with their head stuck in their phone instead of glued to the window.

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Blue skies & snowy mountains = perfection!

Eventually I’d reached my destination on the East side of the mountains. More on what I got up to over the next two weeks to come in my next post! Stay tuned!

Jason

Düsseldorf – November 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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First night in Dusseldorf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Miserable Dusseldorf

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

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

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Back of the Christmas markets

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

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

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Rheinturm hiding in the fog

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

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

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

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

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

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Borussia Dortmund v Tottenham Hotspur, Nov 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Back in charming Bremen

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

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Weihnachtsparadies – Christmas paradise!

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

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

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Sun going down over Bremen

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

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

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Empty Bremen airport!

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

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

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

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

Jason

Bremen – November 2017

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

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

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Life in Washington State

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

“Wait, Germany AGAIN?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bremen Altstadt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bear-emen Necessities?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Schnoor area in Bremen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The home of Werder Bremen

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

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

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

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

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

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Windmill in Bremen

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

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

Jason

Madrid – Part three – October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Real Madrid v Tottenham Hotspur

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

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

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

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Plaza Mayor like you’ve never seen it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Real Madrid 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur, Oct 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The San Jeronimo el Real. Pretty but closed!

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

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

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Madrid’s botanical gardens

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned!

Jason