Day one in DC had been long. I woke up around 4:30 am on Saturday morning before rolling in to bed at around 2am on Sunday morning. You can read more about that here but needless to say I was in no rush to get out of bed early on Sunday and slept in a little bit.
I wasn’t asleep majorly late but likewise there was no need for me to be up at the crack of dawn either. After freshening up a bit I decided to go on the hunt for breakfast which proved to be somewhat of a struggle. Admittedly I hadn’t done any prior research for breakfast spots so I’d left it to fate for a place to jump out at me in passing but nevertheless, my walk seemingly didn’t take me by any appealing breakfast spots.
Getting hungrier by the minute I soon passed a place which had a few outside tables but it looked a little posher than I’d ordinarily eat at. Perhaps it’s just because I’d been walking for so long and didn’t fancy taking another half an hour to find somewhere but I decided I’d give it a try. The weather in DC was particularly warm, even early in the day so I opted to get out of the morning sun and looked for a table inside.
It was quickly apparent that it was every bit as posh as it looked from the outside and I quickly felt out of place, dressed rather casually in shorts and a t-shirt. Nevertheless the staff were friendly and although a little more expensive than I’d intended when I set out, I was on holiday and why not treat yourself occasionally? It was a good breakfast and a good way to kick off the day.
After finishing off my breakfast I realised I wasn’t too far from Chinatown so I ended up strolling through the area very briefly, it’s pretty small in comparison to other Chinatown’s I’ve been to but it’s still nice to walk through.
Quickly moving on I walked in the general direction of DC’s Capitol building. It was the one thing I was particularly keen to see today. There was plenty of cool architecture along the way, DC is a bit of a dream city on that front. I was happily snapping away and then across the street I’d see another cool building, then another around the corner and on and on and on.
Despite continually losing my way and getting distracted by something new catching my eye I eventually wound up in front of the Capitol building. It’s safe to say this is the standout landmark of the city and dare I say would be the standout landmark in most cities. Forget the White House, it’s the Capitol building people should be flying to DC to admire.
It’s a lot bigger than I’d realised and it just blew me away. In front of it is a massive field and it’d make for the perfect picnic spot! I could have visited for longer, I did contemplate looking in to whether they do tours but thought better of it and went back to exploring. It’s certainly something I’d do next time I’m in DC though.
Close to the Capitol building is DC’s botanical gardens. I’ve visited a few in the US (and elsewhere) which usually have some sort of admission price but like many of DC’s attractions, this was free to enter. Perhaps for this reason I didn’t think it was as good as others I’ve been to. It was a nice respite from the DC heat but I didn’t spend much time there at all. Brooklyn’s and Atlanta’s botanical gardens were both better as far as the US is concerned.
Heading back outside, opposite the Capitol building is DC’s famous ‘National Mall’. For those not familiar with it, this isn’t a ‘mall’ of any kind. It’s essentially a long strip that leads from the Lincoln memorial, past the reflection pool and up to the Capitol building. It’s a popular spot for protests and marches descending on DC and was perhaps most famously the setting for that “I have a dream” speech from Martin Luther King Jr.
I walked from the Capitol Building along the National Mall, it’s a pretty area and would make for a good photoshoot setting if that takes your fancy. Whilst a solo photoshoot had no interest for me, I did end up taking a number of photos as I walked along.
Feeling a bit peckish, I decided to go grab a late lunch and conveniently not too far away was DC’s Hard Rock Café. I’m always keen to add a visit to my collection so I popped in, making this my third HRC that I’ve been to in the US. Typically when traveling solo you’re encouraged to eat at the bar, which doesn’t really bother me and usually means you’re eating pretty quickly.
I took a seat at the bar and the staff were typically friendly and encouraged me to look around whilst I waited. One of the standout pieces of memorabilia, if you can call it that, was a national flag on the wall which was made out of guitars which I thought was pretty cool!
Having satisfied my need for food I got back to exploring and wandered back towards the Washington monument and then on to the World War two memorial which I really liked. I think the US in particular is a country which recognises the services of their veterans and those that have served the country so you tend to find a lot of their memorials are impressive.
The World War two memorial was undoubtedly my favourite. It’s eye-catching and along huge pillars lists every state within the US, plus other US territories which presumably went to war alongside them. DC has a number of impressive memorials but if you were to just visit one I think this should be it.
I continued to wander, aimlessly really as I wasn’t too interested in visiting the museums on this trip. Many of them are free and they’d certainly be something I’d look to do next time but I was pretty certain there would be a next time.
DC had surprised me and was a city I really liked. I think it’s certainly underrated and deserves a little more hype about it, particularly when you consider it’s the capital. It’s a city I’ll definitely be going back to and with weather between 20-30c I wanted to enjoy being outdoors, the museums could wait for another trip and a rainy day.
With time ticking away I decided I should slowly make my way back towards my hostel with one final landmark to get a proper glimpse at. I’d seen it in passing but had made a conscious decision to come back to it at some point. If there’s anything you have to see in DC it’s surely the White House and I knew irrespective of whatever else I did in DC that I’d make some time to see the White House – as it was I’d left it for last.
It wasn’t planned like that and you think it might be fitting that’s the last landmark to see in DC but actually, that might have been a poor decision. As I said above, DC was a city that really surprised me. I didn’t expect to like it quite as much as I did. I’d spent close to 48 hours admiring all aspects of the city, the architecture in particular is jaw-dropping. After having had my breath taken away on so many occasions I looked across at the White House and couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed.
That’s it? I knew just around the corner was this stunning building, I’d seen it the day before and it stopped me in my tracks. I couldn’t even tell you what the purpose of the building was but that’s just DC. Even your bog-standard houses were dripping in character and beauty so the White House just felt a little insignificant.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice enough building. I’d say it’s nicer than the house I live in for sure but did it blow me away? Not at all. I’d already seen about 50 nicer buildings in DC alone.
“Who lives there then?”
“Arguably the most powerful person on the planet.”
I just didn’t get that Buckingham Palace wow factor from it. If you weren’t familiar with the White House (“Where have you been?”) you wouldn’t automatically assume there is someone of prominence or importance living there. The only giveaway might be that there’s about a 20 mile (I’m exaggerating..) perimeter from the fence to the White House.
It probably isn’t actually as far away as it feels but I think because it doesn’t have that grand scale you do end up feeling quite far from it. Again using Buckingham Palace as a comparison, I’d estimate you’re closer from fence to front door of that magnificent landmark than you are the White House.
Despite my general disappointment, it’s still something you’ve got to see when in DC isn’t it? Content I’d got a few photos I made a slow walk back towards my hostel. I was staying in the Adams Morgan neighbourhood and it surprised me that even on a Sunday night there was that buzz in the air. I could understand it the night before, it was a Saturday and you also had the Washington Capitals (Ice Hockey) playing which added to the atmosphere in the city but a Sunday? DC may be all politics by day (it’s not) but by night they definitely know how to enjoy themselves.
All I wanted to do was hop in to one of the many lively bars I passed but I’d been sick the day before so still wasn’t feeling 100% myself. Additionally I had an early morning flight so thought better of it, grabbed some food and bitterly had a relatively early and relaxed night. With three nights in DC I’m gutted I didn’t really get to enjoy the nightlife fully (the late night gig on Saturday was some consolation) but I told myself I’d make up for it next time.
Had it been the last night of my trip perhaps I’d have tempted myself out to some bar and faced the consequences in the morning. However I wasn’t flying home tomorrow morning, I was flying down to Nashville. Stay tuned for more on that!
Having recently written about Paris, I rounded up the last of my 2016 travels. Now we move on to 2017! Nothing like blogging in the present, eh?
Anyway, that Paris trip was really a tale of how sometimes things don’t work out how you’d envisaged they would and this trip is going to be much the same.
I’ve spent the bulk, if not the entirety, of the 21st century online and in that 19 years I’ve formed many friendships with people in many different places – particularly the US. 2016 had reignited my interest in exploring the US, with trips to Georgia and New York, and I was itching for another trip. The US is a big ol’ country though, I had an endless list of possibilities and destinations. Where should I go? Who could I potentially visit?
The latter was the inspiration for this trip. Two of my longest friendships dating back to the early 2000’s were that of Alison (Massachusetts/ New Hampshire) and Amber (Texas), I’d yet to meet either and I figured it was about time I put that right. It was long overdue!
However I didn’t really know how to pick seeing one over the other. The North East of the US and Texas both had their own appeal so that did little to make the decision easier. Additionally this wasn’t Europe and a cheap / easy flight. Whichever I didn’t see this time around, I might not get the opportunity to see again for months or years down the line. So in the end I bottled the decision and contemplated a possibility where I could see both. Boston and Dallas are only 1,800 miles apart – simple!
Alright, so perhaps it wasn’t the most thought-through itinerary but I really wanted to see both so I stuck a little pin in Boston and another in Dallas. Given the distance I thought I’d break up the journey with somewhere inbetween so slipped Nashville in to the itinerary. Boston – Nashville – Dallas = perfect!
With a route mapped out I could now start looking in to flights and things. The flights weren’t too bad but accommodation prices in Boston were absurd. I’m coming to the realisation that the big US cities typically aren’t that cheap to stay in anyway but Boston was still surprisingly high. Why?
With my Oktoberfest mishap still fresh in the memory I did a bit more investigation and discovered that the weekend I was looking to go overlapped with the Boston marathon. Yeah.. I’m not going to Boston then. I don’t want that craziness. What’s plan B?
Ali offered Washington DC as an alternative option so I looked in to it, committed to it and then hoped she’d still be able to join me. Unfortunately things didn’t quite pan out. It was disappointing but life and circumstances often get in the way of long-distance-friendships.
The consequence was I’d gone from getting excited about visiting Boston with a friend to ending up solo in a city I had no real interest in visiting. If I’d ended up solo in Boston I’d still have been excited at the prospect of visiting Boston, it’s a city I’m quite keen on visiting but DC? I couldn’t say the same. It might be the capital city but as far as the US was concerned it was a city way down my list of places to visit. It isn’t a place I’d dreamt of visiting.
All that said, maybe it’d surprise me! I tried getting excited about it but the beginning of 2017 served a strong reminder of what I was walking in to. I’d booked the trip back in October (2016) ahead of the November elections which didn’t really connect with me. It was hard to ignore all the election talk, even on this side of the pond, but I didn’t really connect the dots that the trip I’d booked wasn’t the same as the one I’d experience. At the time I made my booking Obama was sitting president, by the time the trip came around it occurred to me I was flying to Trump land.
A year earlier I faced interrogation in Atlanta’s airport upon arrival, did I really want a repeat of that in DC too?
“So Jason, what do you think of our new president?”
Do I lie if they ask? Do I plead the fifth? Or do I tell them what’s what? “Your president is..”
“Entry denied! Get this asshole on the first plane back to England.”
Fortunately they didn’t ask. There was no interrogation from border control on this occasion, it was a much smoother process than my welcome in Atlanta. I breezed through Baltimore’s airport, flagged down a taxi and made my way to DC.
It’s definitely not the way I’d recommend to get from Baltimore to DC but I’d had little luck finding a better route, perhaps because it was Easter weekend, perhaps because America’s public transport isn’t as good as here but it did the job. Plus I was pretty tired and just wanted to get to my hostel as quickly and conveniently as possible so although a little pricey I was just pleased to be on my way.
My driver didn’t give me much confidence he actually knew where he was going, he’d never heard of where I was staying which was a little more concerning given he claimed to live and come from DC. With that said I knew he’d get me to DC at the very least and we’d eventually find it. If we got a little lost I’d presumably see a little more of the city along the way.
My first impression of DC was probably one of surprise. On appearance it looked to be really nice. It was dark-ish so I couldn’t see that clearly but DC had this instant charm about it. We were driving through neighbourhoods and you’d have picturesque street one after another and another and another. The architecture in DC blew me away and every house just seemed to be the ‘dream house’ full of character.
Eventually we pulled up and parked outside another impressive looking house on the corner – “this is it..” the driver said.
Wait, this is the hostel? Are you kidding? I’ve stayed in some nice hostels around the world, I wouldn’t by any means say this was a favourite I’ve stayed at but it’s without doubt one of the more picturesque ones I’ve stayed in. Wow! I was particularly pleased and thanked my driver.
I stepped out of the car and there was this buzz in the air. My hostel was situated in the lively Adams Morgan neighbourhood and it was a decision I’d instantly come to appreciate. “Well done Jason, good choice!”
I was itching to get out and get a taste of DC’s nightlife. Sadly, no sooner than I’d checked in was I throwing up in the bathroom. I don’t know where the sudden sickness had come from but I thought better of going out. I was tired anyway so decided to just get an early night (8/9ish) and kick off the trip early tomorrow morning.
I set my alarm for somewhere around 5 or 5:30am I think (“are you crazy?”) but as it was I ended up waking up closer to 4:30. I hadn’t yet adjusted to my new timezone and my body was still on UK time (9:30am) which meant I just naturally woke up.
I did contemplate going back to sleep for an hour but I was also conscious of my hostel dorm roommates. I was awake anyway and I was pretty certain they weren’t going to appreciate a wake-up alarm going off at silly-o-clock in the morning. So I dragged myself out of bed, went to shower and got ready for the day.
“At 4:30? Are you crazy Jason?”
There are few things that I’ll willingly get up that early for but one of them is unsurprisingly football. Back home I’m a Tottenham season ticket holder so I’m reluctant to miss home games, I even usually plan my travels around the football schedule haha. So if I am traveling I’ll often try and catch the game.
Even then, this is ironically one of those kickoff times I hate getting myself up for to go down to London. 12:30 on a Saturday? A lunchtime kick off meaning an early start leaving Peterborough? No thank you!
It’s bad enough in England but it was a 7:30 am kickoff time in DC and I was keen to try and watch the game. I have sympathy for the poor Americans who drag themselves out of bed every weekend to watch the games, I’d be recording it and waking up at a normal time of the day but as a one off I don’t mind it.
I wasn’t sure how many bars would be showing the game at 7:30 in the morning but one place I was absolutely sure of was over in DC’s Chinatown – around 2.5 miles away – which is where the DC supporters club gather for EVERY game. There might have been somewhere closer to where I was staying but I knew that going there I’d be among like-minded idiots.
I hadn’t yet had a chance to get to grips with how the public transport worked, nor where the stops were so I decided I’d just walk it. I mapped out the route on my phone and headed off, leaving a little after 5am which would give me ample time to find this bar on the other side of the city.
You might find this surprising but oddly, the streets are pretty empty at 5am on a Saturday morning. The sun hadn’t quite come up and I have to say, it’s a cool way to explore a city for the first time. Every so often a car would go by but for the most part I had the city to myself. DC continued to impress me. The architecture just stands out and I had to stop several times on route to stop for photos of this building or that building and “ooo look at that one too!”
I was making slow progress on my walk at which point I met my first stranger of the walk. I think one of the fears people have when traveling, with company or solo but particularly the latter, is their safety. There are various tips and guidelines you can follow but I think the best advice I can offer is to trust your own instincts.
This old man was waving at me from across the street, trying to get my attention and it was vaguely in the direction I was going so my curiosity got the better of me. I’d completely misjudged how long it was going to take me to get across town so I had plenty of time to kill with a friendly-looking stranger. At the very worst I fancied my chances of outrunning him if things took a turn for the worse.
My faith was justified. The guy was homeless, we had a friendly little chat and then I passed over some cash for him to get a bite to eat. I said my farewells, got back on my way and soon enough I was in Chinatown.
It took me a little while to find this bar that I was looking for, it’s tucked a street further down than the main part of Chinatown but eventually I’d found it. I tried pushing the door, I attempted pulling the door but to my horror it was locked! There was no sign of life in or outside of the building and I panicked a little. I hadn’t walked miles for this sodding bar to be closed! What’s going on? Where is everyone?
Admittedly I was earlier than anticipated so I waited for a few minutes but nothing. The bar is attached / next door to this hotel so I thought perhaps there was a chance there was another entrance within the hotel. I had a wander in and it appeared that there was – also closed!
I was left with one last hope – ask the hotel receptionists. Now, you’ve had the benefit of a bit of background and a bit of context so, although you might think I’m a bit crazy waking up at such a time for a game of football, the question won’t sound out of the ordinary to you at the very least. However without that context it’s a very different conversation.
I started my conversation with something along the lines of..
“Excuse me, the bar next door is closed. Do you know when it’ll be open?”
There was a look of complete bemusement from the receptionist. I pondered if my accent was really that difficult to understand. I was speaking English, what was the problem? So I asked again, perhaps I reworded it, perhaps I didn’t. I can’t really remember but it was clear I’d got my point across this time.
“It’s closed” she responded with a look of disgust.
Oh no! It suddenly dawned on me what I’d asked and what she’d actually heard. I was reasonably hoping that this bar, advertising that it showed every Spurs game, would be opening soon. From her point of view, what she’d actually witnessed was some guy wandering in from off the street desperately looking for an open bar.
She wasn’t confused by my accent at all, she was confused because typically people aren’t looking for a bar at that time of the morning. I didn’t have to be a mind-reader to envisage what was going through her mind. She thinks I’m an alcoholic! Abort mission!
I embarrassingly scarpered back in to the street pretty quickly. I told myself I would NEVER be setting foot in to that hotel again haha. I wandered back around the corner, trying my luck one last time at the normal entrance, still convinced somebody would show up and fortunately within a couple of minutes the barman was walking up with the keys to get ready ahead of kickoff. Hurrah! It was open after all, I’d just got here far too early, we’re all good!
By kickoff there was probably around 20 Spurs fans in the bar to watch the game – the support overseas always blows my mind. The match itself was a routine win, 4-0 I think so it got the day off to the best possible start. I didn’t stick around afterwards so by 9:30 I was off to find some breakfast, settling for this cute little place not too far from my hostel – which meant I’d walked miles today already.
I ordered some pancakes, alongside a pot of tea and I was then ready to begin exploring the city properly.
After filling my stomach I walked in the general direction of central DC but skimmed past the White House, there was a bit of a crowd and I figured I’d see it properly later on. I kept walking along this road and a couple of police cars whizzed past me. In the distance there was this occasional roar or cheer or whatever so I figured something must be going on. Feeling curious I followed the noise (and the police cars) and went to see what all the fuss was about.
A bit like border control, I was keen to avoid getting in to a heated political debate whilst in DC so I found it somewhat ironic that on day one, the first thing I really saw in the city was a political march. It was a tax march, a protest against Donald Trump to publicly release his tax figures. I was in disbelief at how long the line of protesters was, it seemed to go on forever.
I followed the crowd for so long and soaked up the atmosphere a bit. I’d like to say it was a peaceful protest, some of the chants and signs people were carrying certainly had me chuckling but I didn’t see it kick off nor any sign of trouble occurring.
As tempting as it was to stick around, I was keen to see a bit more of DC so I left them to it and escaped the crowds. After strolling for a while I somehow found myself arriving at the river, not really looking to cross over I turned back and soon stumbled upon the impressive Roosevelt memorial.
DC has a lot of memorials, some really good ones infact but this was a highlight and something I’d personally recommend. Not only are parts of the area picturesque but there’s a few statues and there are numerous Roosevelt quotes carved in to these stone walls. I couldn’t help but feel that the current president would benefit from a visit and perhaps take some inspiration from the memorial too.
There was so much to see, plenty of which I haven’t included here so I really recommend checking it out when you’re in DC. After a good chunk of time I was done and wandered over towards the Jefferson memorial, which took me around the water and past a few cherry blossom trees on the way. Given the hype I found the cherry blossoms a bit lacking and underwhelming, perhaps it was the end of the season so there weren’t as many as throughout the rest of the season but I was expecting a spectacle and in the end it was just the odd tree with a bunch of Instagrammers huddled underneath it trying to get some photos. Based on my experience I’d suggest skipping DC and heading straight for Japan if you want a good look at cherry blossom trees.
I don’t really feel like I’d done too much on day one, a lot of walking really but before I knew it, it was late afternoon. Sadly the sickness I thought I’d slept off returned and threatened to spoil the rest of my day. I struggled on, trying to make the most of my afternoon but in the end I just accepted defeat. I didn’t really fancy continually throwing up through the streets so I headed in the direction of my hostel, hoping to grab dinner along the way.
Walking through DC was rather disappointing, there was a similar buzz in the air that there had been on Friday night. On this occasion it was aided by the fact it was peak Hockey season and the Washington Capitols were playing that night in the NHL playoffs. The streets were full with a sea of red (Capitols wear red jerseys) with every restaurant and bar I passed occupying various fans in pre-match mode.
I eventually found a restaurant I liked the look of, which was a little bit away from the hordes of hockey fans. It had a nice vibe and was somewhere that ordinarily I might have stayed for one or two beers but despite wanting to, I couldn’t bring myself to eat.
Every mouthful seemed to give me the urge to be sick once more so I barely touched my meal – it felt like a huge waste both in terms of food and money. There’s little worse than returning a near full plate of food that was perfectly fine, I don’t know why but I felt a little embarrassed for the second time today. I headed back to my hostel feeling a bit sorry for myself, I was supposed to be going to a gig that very evening but it looked in doubt at this point. Another early night looked far more likely.
Fortunately it was actually quite a late gig and after a nap I’d perked up a bit with plenty of time to still go out and enjoy some live music – Biffy Clyro of all bands to be seeing!
I’d booked my trip and about three weeks later Biffy announced a US tour with the last date of their tour just happening to be in DC whilst I was in DC. They were playing some small intimate venue, to a capacity of about 1,000, and I knew I’d have to go!
So I picked up a ticket for myself and Alison, intending to drag her along which ultimately left me with a spare on the night.
I knew there was a good chance Ali might not make it but it was a risk worth taking, I figured I’d easily get rid of a spare. Biffy headline festivals back home so demand for a tiny venue like this is going to be through the roof! I was wrong!
$25 tickets in this intimate little venue to see Biffy Clyro on a Saturday night and they’re still selling tickets on the door, are you kidding me DC? How has this not sold out? It’s Biffy (fucking) Clyro! It was mind-blowing to me how little interest there appeared to be for this gig. Why have Biffy not conquered America already? They should be playing venues far bigger than this!
On the plus side, like a few months earlier in Munich, this was another late gig. The doors were at 10pm, which annoyed me a little given the venue was DC’s famous 9:30 club. The club is literally called 9:30, why are doors at 10? You’ve missed a trick there!
Nevertheless, I’m fully on board with another late gig. Take note England! It’s a great way to finish off a Saturday night!
I made my way in, grabbed myself a beer and found myself a good spot to enjoy it. The supporting band (O’Brother) came on at around 10:30 I think and played for at least 30 minutes, perhaps a little longer. I thought they were decent. However it was the main act that was causing a bit of a buzz before in the room. Oddly this was my second time seeing Biffy, the first of which had been in Brussels so I’ve yet to see them in the UK.
They ended up being every bit as good as I remembered in 2013, they’re a great live band and it was a pleasure to have seen them in such an intimate venue. Biffy’s presence might have gone unappreciated by DC’s locals but those that had come out were in good spirit and it was also clear that there were plenty of other Brits in the room. The Scottish flag hanging from one of the balconies seemed to go down particularly well with the patriotic Scots in the room.
It was a great night and I’m glad sickness hadn’t snatched away the opportunity to experience what was a trip highlight. It was probably around 1am by the time I walked out of the club and probably closer to 1:30 / 2am by the time I’d walked back in to my hostel but despite being a little exhausted it had been well worth it.
I made sure to have a bit of a lay in the next morning but was soon up and ready to go for day 2 in DC.
Last time out on the blog I talked about my trip to Paris at the end of 2016. It was a story of overcoming heartbreak and the frequent disappointment that Paris served up. You can read that here but this post is dedicated to the sequel! That’s right, I’m going back!
I enjoyed Paris last time round, not for any of the reasons I thought I would do but in spite of them. It didn’t matter that I was there solo, it didn’t matter that it was too cold to sit outside at some café, it didn’t matter that half of the landmarks I’d come to admire were smothered in fog. I had a great time and felt that there was still a romance and charm about Paris.
The good news is that I’m anticipating this upcoming trip will be even better. For starters, some of you will know I’m in a long-distance-relationship. Well guess who’s coming to England in July? That’s right, Haleigh is returning!
I wrote about her first visit to England (and Europe) on the blog a while back where we’d spent a bit of time in London. Of course London is not a city I’m ever going to tire of but I figured we should go somewhere new together on this trip, so we talked about a few options and steered towards Paris.
So we’re off there in exactly one month and spending the weekend there, better yet we’re going on the Eurostar so don’t even have to worry about flying! I’m expecting to enjoy it a lot more with company alongside me and I’m sure Paris will feel that little bit more romantic this time.
Additionally this visit isn’t going to be during some grey and cold December / January, we’re going in the peak of summer. I’m expecting blue skies, walks by the river and having the opportunity to indulge in that café culture that Paris is so famous for.
I said in my last post that Paris had been my first proper experience of France but last summer I took a daytrip to Lille and it was glorious. Admittedly it helped that it’s a city with a bit of Belgian/Flemish influence, however it’s a pretty city and with clear blue skies it was a wonderful place to wander. There also happened to be the small matter of a World Cup game on that day with France playing Argentina which added a patriotic atmosphere to the city. I fell in love with France a little bit more that day.
Then last month I ended up visiting the beautiful Biarritz in the South of France. Me and my dad were on our way down to Madrid so were only looking for a convenient overnight stop (Bayonne) but an afternoon in nearby Biarritz was perfect. Sunshine, sea views and beers in hand. What more could you possibly want?
The two previous visits have certainly whet the appetite for more adventures in France so it’s nice to be returning so soon. It’ll be a while before I blog properly about this upcoming Paris trip but I thought I’d give you a little update on my summer plans.
If you’ve got any recommendations for Paris, particularly places to eat, then please send them my way and leave a comment.
Last time out on the blog I wrote about my daytrip in October 2016 to Liege. Following my time in Belgium (Liege) and Germany (Köln) I had just enough time to squeeze in one more trip in 2016 before the end of the year – a trip to Paris!
Visiting Paris had long been a must visit city for me, something about the romance of it had always really appealed to me. Call it cliché if you wish but it was always somewhere that in my head I saw as a special place and romantic place to visit.
For that reason it was also, for a long time, a place I put off visiting. I always wanted to wait to visit with the right person and didn’t see myself enjoying it solo. I’ve been to countless other places solo but Paris was different.
However 2016 was a tough year, early-ish in the year my relationship ended and as much as I’d love to say it was easy moving on it’d be a lie. It was heart-breaking for me and took me a long time to get over. After a few months of feeling sorry for myself I decided something had to change, I couldn’t continue moping about so I booked a trip to Paris.
I’m sure there are better ways to get over a relationship and I can’t say it entirely worked, you can’t just switch those feelings on and off but it certainly helped and the timing of the trip made it feel a little symbolic for me.
It was the end of the year! December 30th 2016 to January 1st 2017. It meant leaving thoughts of past relationships behind me and treating myself to some adventure. It also meant not going another year without visiting Paris solely due to a lack of company. I was determined to end 2016 and start 2017 right.
At this point I’d never really spent any significant time in France. By significant I mean in the sense that I could actually tell you where I’d been. My parents took me and my sister on daytrips when we were kids, I’d also gone on a coach trip with school to Spain which meant driving through the entirety of France but I couldn’t tell you where I’d gone or stopped beyond Calais – mostly service stations in truth.
This felt like my first proper French experience and I no longer had to feel dubious about adding France to the list of countries that I’d visited.
As much as I romanticised Paris, I had mixed feelings about visiting. Whilst most people are complimentary about Paris, it certainly isn’t without its critics. Perhaps moreso in England because I think it’s ingrained in to our society to automatically and irrationally dislike the French. Ask any Brit and I’m sure they’d tell you they’ve heard something derogatory about the French at some time, which is rather bizarre and a little sad when you think about it.
I was hoping to be proven wrong and that Paris would live up to expectations. With just two days in the city I was keen to try and see most of the touristy stuff: The Eiffel Tower, River Seine, Sacre Couer, Arc de Triomph, Notre Dame, Louvre and more. Paris is home to so many well-known landmarks and I now had the chance to see them myself. Sort of.
Going anywhere in Europe in December/January you have to be prepared for cold weather and grey skies. As an Englishman it wasn’t going to faze me, it’s always cold right?
Anyway, I left England on the 29th and by the time I’d arrived it was around midnight so all I really had time to do was check in and sleep. The following morning I wrapped up warm; departing my hostel I found grey skies and there was definitely a chill in the air but I was excited to get exploring the city at last.
I hopped on the metro ready to make my first stop of the day – the Sacre Couer! I wanted to see the building itself but I’d also heard it had some of the best views in Paris so it seemed like a great place to start my trip.
I was pleasantly surprised to get off the metro and find it wasn’t too busy. I’d made a bit of an early start (by my standards) but not terribly early, consequently I had expected a few more tourists in the area.
As I approached the Sacre Couer it became abundantly clear why it was so quiet. They say a lot about first impressions and mine wasn’t the greatest, as I stared up at the Sacre Couer my very first thought was “where did this fog come from?!”. All I could see was the faint outline of a building hidden behind a cloud of fog. My first viewing of the Sacre Couer was a blurred one, I could barely see it. The famous views from the Sacre Couer? Non-existent. I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me.
It really set the tone for the rest of the trip. There were two directions I could have taken – let the fog/weather spoil the trip or just go with the flow. I did the latter and laughed it off. I started taking selfies “with” the Sacre Couer and all you can see behind me is a layer of fog. I thought it was hysterical that my first stop of the day had been such a poor pick.
On the plus side the inside of the Sacre Couer was beautiful and the lack of tourists meant it wasn’t overly crowded as I expect it is on a clearer day. I continued my exploration by strolling through the beautiful Montmarte area, which really does live up to the hype by the way, and then jumped back on the metro.
Next aim of the day? Walk the Champs Elysee from end to end. From the Arc de Triomph down to the Louvre or vice versa, I decided I’d do the former and possibly pop in the Louvre after if it wasn’t too busy. Typically I got off at the wrong stop and ended up somewhere in the middle, probably for the best because it was freezing and walking all of it might have resulted in my fingers and toes falling off.
So in the end I only walked half of it up towards the Arc de Triomph, rather than down to the Louvre. I felt I picked wisely because I’d soon stumbled upon Paris’ Christmas markets, they were beautiful and to add to the magical feel it suddenly started to snow whilst I was passing by. It was only light snow, not enough to set but certainly made it feel a little more Christmas-y on my walk along the Champs Elysee.
The Arc de Triomph itself is cool. I liked it but I don’t think it’s a landmark I’d see myself going back to time and time again. It feels a bit out of the way, not particularly near anything, sat on its own in the centre of a busy road and I’m pretty content having seen it the once. The view from the top is apparently good though which might be the only thing to tempt me back.
Afterwards I grabbed some lunch before making my way to Paris’ “must-see” – the Eiffel Tower! Unfortunately the cursed fog struck again – my first viewing of the Eiffel Tower didn’t include the top of it, left hidden somewhere among the fog. I still haven’t seen it! Who goes to Paris and only sees a percentage of the Eiffel Tower?!
For what it’s worth I still loved the remaining 80-90% of it that I could see. In contrast to the Arc de Triomph I don’t think I’d ever tire of looking at Paris’ best known landmark. It’s stunning and (almost) lived up to all of my expectations – it still would have been nice to see all of it though! Next time!
After that I didn’t do too much, I had a little wander before finding a spot for dinner and then gave some thought to my plans for the evening. The hostel I was staying at had a rooftop bar and had advertised a New Years Eve (NYE) celebration/party in to the night up on the roof! It sounded perfect!
A perk to staying in hostels is it can be easy meeting people and NYE meant everyone was in high spirits. Some Australian guy made conversation with me which meant the rest of my 2016 was spent with good company and a few beers.
Sadly we’d chosen a particularly poor spot to stand and chat. As the clocks struck midnight the hostel staff hopped up on to the bar and started spraying champagne. Sadly we were both in the prime “splash zone” so I was soon drenched in it! A very enjoyable night though and a great way to end 2016 and start the New Year – so much so that I’ve tried to make it a New Years tradition to be out of the country. I went to Edinburgh’s famous Hogmanay the following year!
Anyway.. Sunday morning rolled round, fortunately hangover-free and I decided I had to find a café for breakfast. Crepes and tea in a Paris café seemed the best possible start to the year and it didn’t disappoint. Paris’ café culture is understandably very different in the winter given the contrast in temperatures, however it was still enjoyable to just sit and relax for a while before starting another day of exploring.
The first stop of my final day in Paris was to be the Notre Dame. Fortunately the fog had disappeared today, the disappointing first-impressions remained in place though. I think your first impression of this is going to be a complete contrast depending which angle you’re seeing it at. I came from the entrance-facing direction and genuinely my first impression was “is that it?” – once you get closer to it and see the detail it truly is stunning but from a distance it looked remarkably small and I was left underwhelmed. I want to add a photo for context because it sounds particularly harsh but this is what I first saw. I’m convinced it’s not that impressive but feel free to argue otherwise!
I’ve joked since about the “hunchback of Peterborough” because I’m still adamant now that if you put the two buildings side by side, most would favour Peterborough’s cathedral viewed from the front. I’m expecting a Disney movie about it any day now.
I frequently question how harsh my first impression was but then started picking up postcards to take home and every postcard had the Notre Dame from a side-view from across the river. Had that been my first sight of the Notre Dame I would have had a very different first impression but sadly you only get one first impression and this was mine.
As I hurdled among the crowd to see it up close and walked around the building I started to see what all the fuss was about. It really is a stunning piece of architecture and I can only imagine how incredible it would have looked inside. I’ve seen a handful of photos but didn’t get the chance to enter myself. The queue was a mile long (exaggeration..) and it probably didn’t help it was also a Sunday. I figured this was something I could see next time, it wasn’t a regret I had at the time but this year’s tragic fire adds a little regret that I didn’t see it in all of its glory. Hopefully restoration works bring some of that glory back and I’ll see it at some point in the future.
Content I’d admired it from all angles I went and picked up some souvenirs before heading off in search of food. I was keen to cross off another Hard Rock Café (HRC) visit and jumped on the Metro in that direction. The nearest stop was a little walk away. As I strolled along I thought to myself that this was a really nice part of Paris.
Literally seconds later a couple of officers came around the corner with massive guns on their shoulders which seemed like comical timing for me to have thought how nice the area was. I then approached the entrance to the Hard Rock Café where the DOORMAN did a quick search before letting me in which suddenly blew that theory out of the water.
To his credit I survived lunch so he did his job well, I left without a scratch on me! Seriously though, I’ve never been to a HRC where they’ve required a doorman for security.
The rest of my afternoon was just relaxed, I just wandered through the streets peering my head in to little cafes and shops. By this point I’d accepted I’d be coming back to Paris with clearer views and hopefully warmer climates. I’d built up this little fantasy in my head of what Paris was going to be like and it didn’t really tick any of the boxes. My first impressions of the sights seemed to be met with a twinge of disappointment, the famous café culture was non-existent because it was too cold for outside dining, the love of my life was nowhere to be seen and to top it off the French were worryingly friendly and welcoming.
I’d heard so much about how unfriendly the French are towards English-speaking tourists and not even that lived up to expectation. It had me thinking back to a Bill Bryson quote in his book “Neither here Nor there”.
It took me two or three days to notice it, but the people of Paris have become polite over the last twenty years. They don’t exactly rush up and embrace you and thank you for winning the war for them, but they have certainly become more patient and accommodating. The cab drivers are still complete jerks, but everyone else – shopkeepers, waiters, the police – seemed almost friendly. I even saw a waiter smile once. And somebody held open a door for me instead of letting it bang in my face. It began to unsettle me.
Paris was imperfect in so many ways. However rather than enjoy it for all the things I thought I would, instead I found small pleasures in other places and I think that made me even fonder of Paris. The fact I’d enjoyed it despite nothing going to plan was a strong reminder as to why I fell in love with travel to begin with. It isn’t just about the gloss and the glamour but just as much about the atmosphere and people of the city. Paris still had this irresistible charm and romance in the air, the people were nice and even in the fog it remains a beautiful city.
I sat at some restaurant eating dinner before catching the train back to England and pondered how highly I rated Paris. I don’t think I’d put Paris up there with the best places I’ve visited. I’d still favour cities such as London, New York City, Madrid, Sydney but on a personal note it was exactly the trip I needed at that moment in my life. It was a good lesson that sometimes things don’t work out how you thought they would but it’s still going to be alright.
Anyway, that wraps up this trip. Have you ever been to Paris? Give me some recommendations on what to see next time! I’ll be returning to the city very soon but more on that to come in my next blog post!
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, back up a minute! How did you get to Liege? Why were you in Liege? Where even is Liege? Where’s your usual introduction Jason?”
Nooo, can’t we just go with it!? I’m tired of telling variants of this same story so surely you’re tired of reading it by now? You don’t need an introduction. I was just magically there in Liege, no questions asked!
Alright, fine! My beloved Tottenham were playing in Germany and..
See! Don’t say I didn’t warn you! If you hadn’t already picked up on it in this post, this one but perhaps best put in this one – Tottenham can’t avoid playing in Germany. So for about the hundredth time of course I was going to experience it. It was October 2016 and Tottenham were playing in a tiny town called Leverkusen on the outskirts of none other than Köln (Cologne).
Köln again! I’d been here as recently as sodding March and that was my second trip to the city. I sulked a bit after the schedule was released. As if another football trip to Germany wasn’t bad enough, it was the same region and not even a little bit away from Köln. For me to have stayed anywhere else would have been purely out of spite so reluctantly I booked my third trip to Köln and cried about it to anyone who’d listen.
“I can’t believe my luck, Germany again, poor me!”
Shockingly sympathisers seemed to be in short supply. Even the most supportive of people seemed to get swept up in the minor details such as it being my “thousandth trip of the year” and muttering phrases like “you’re always out of the country” as if that was supposed to be some sort of consolation.
By the time the trip actually rolled around I’d perked up a bit and stopped wallowing in self-pity, Football, German beer, friends and best of all? No work. It almost sounded like it might be a fun trip. Who would have thought?
Nevertheless, even with a bit of a reality check I still had the dilemma that I was going back to Köln. It was a city I’d done to death and I knew I’d have to take a daytrip somewhere to freshen things up. One of the perks to Köln is it’s in a good location and its transport links are pretty fantastic. Day-trips to Western Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Eastern France, Luxembourg and Switzerland are all feasible so I had a good variety of destinations to pick from.
I fancied getting out of the country for the day and was keen to try and visit somewhere new which ruled out Brussels and Amsterdam as perhaps two of the most convenient destinations to get to from Köln. I’d been to Luxembourg last time I was in Köln so on this occasion I opted to go to a Belgian city called Liege. It wasn’t too far from Köln, I could get a direct train and the tickets weren’t too expensive so off I went. I hopped on the next train and soon enough I’d arrived at Liege’s main train station.
So there I was stood in Liege (“ooo, de-ja-vu!”). I’d successfully navigated my way across the border and could tick off another city in Belgium having previously been to Brussels, Bruges and Gent.
Assuming you take the train and don’t magically find yourself in Liege, your first impression of the city is going to be in its train station and wow! The station itself is a spectacular piece of architecture. It reminded me of Kings Cross a little with its roof and then the open and welcoming space as you come out of the main entrance. It’d make a great meeting point, unlike Brussels which gives off a bit of a sketchier vibe in parts close to its main station.
Of course I hadn’t come to Liege to drool over the train station, I was here to explore and see what Liege had to offer. I’d come here as a last minute decision so had no real expectation of the city. Unfortunately it meant I was also woefully unprepared and Belgium don’t seem fond of signposting things to help you get around. I mentioned this in my post on Gent too (another Belgian city) where I got hopelessly lost.
Things took a similar pattern here. Given I had no plans I was in no particular rush so getting lost wasn’t necessarily a problem but it’d be helpful if the Belgians gave you a helping hand in finding the centre of a city when the main station is a little further out. In the end I just walked, hoped for the best and inevitably had no idea where I was, the main upside being that at least I was seeing a bit more of the city.
Eventually I got on track but by this point it was close to lunchtime and all that walking had worked up an appetite. One of the very few things I’d read up on Liege before visiting was that one of its local speciality dishes was the boulet-frites (meatballs with fries). An odd combination but when in Liege..
I managed to find a restaurant / bar that looked like it had this particular dish on the menu so walked in and took a seat. A few moments later a waitress walked over offering a “bonjour..”
“Oh no! French? Take me back to Germany!”
Although Liege is within Belgium, the city has a heavy French influence and French is the main language spoken in Liege rather than the typical Flemish/Dutch across the rest of Belgium. Not that I’d have found that any easier but having woken up in Germany it took me by surprise a bit and quickly made me realise how unprepared I was for a day in Liege.
I’m often critical of how good my German is but I don’t think twice about picking up a menu or walking in to a restaurant in Germany. It’s nice having that reminder that my German isn’t so bad and I could comfortably go back to Köln that evening and get by, however in the meantime I had to muddle my way through ordering and my brain was scrambling for any French words I could remember from school.
Fortunately “je voudrais” (I would like) seems to be one of the very few French phrases I can remember so I managed to stumble together enough French words to place an order. Feeling pretty smug I handed my menu back to the waitress with a friendly “dankeschon” and immediately cursed my inability to switch the German off.
I didn’t bloody mean to say that, I knew how to say thank you in French, why didn’t I say merci beaucoup? I only seem to have an English mode and non-English mode which instinctively reverts to German regardless of what country I’m in. It obviously goes down a treat in Germany but the other Europeans just look at you weird when you’re muttering German at them.
Anyway, shortly after my moment of embarrassment I was being presented with a Liege speciality I was intrigued to try.
I have to say it tasted better than it looked. I’m not sure two large brown lumps are ever going to look particularly appetising but they tasted good at least. I’m not sure it’s a combination that’s going to take off in England any time soon but I had little cause for complaint. I like meatballs, I like chips and the Belgian beer accompanied the combination perfectly haha.
With a full stomach I was ready to explore and see what Liege had to offer. First impressions were good, it was a city I liked. It’s not my favourite Belgian city by any means but it still had that typical European charm to it. Old buildings, cobbled streets, pretty churches and the usual things you come to expect of anywhere in Europe.
The standout for me was the palace which was quite simply stunning, it felt a bit out of place situated on such a busy road but I couldn’t help but admire the building itself. It’s beautiful and was probably the thing that sticks with me most from Liege. I ended up taking quite a few pictures whilst admiring it from every angle I could.
I spent the rest of the afternoon just aimlessly wandering, like most European cities it’s pretty walkable and nice to just dart through various streets and small alleyways hoping to discover a gem or two along the way. After a couple of hours of looking around I decided I’d round off my day with my preferred Belgian delicacy – the beer! I hopped in to this little bar which I thought looked quite nice and enjoyed a beer or two.
Happy I’d spent enough time in the city I made my way back to Liege’s train station, not getting so lost on this occasion and quickly boarded the train I needed to take me back to Köln.
As some of you know, I have a habit of falling asleep on trains which is bad enough at home but even more risky when in another country! I have a habit of feeling sleepy on trains and something else that makes me sleepy is beer. Having had a few Belgian beers earlier on made for a deadly combination, it seemed almost inevitable I’d doze off!
I woke up with somebody asking if the empty seat next to me was free. I indicated it was and couldn’t help but notice we were departing a train station. I was still a little drowsy plus a little panicked (“have I missed my stop?”) and kindly asked my new neighbour where we were.
I can’t remember what I actually said but my panicked face said it all. Munich’s on the other side of bloody Germany! I’m miles away from Köln. What am I going to do now?
I’m not sure what occurred first. The wry smile on my neighbour’s face or myself realising the train wasn’t even going to Munich. The last stop of the journey was Frankfurt – still not ideal but less worrying. It was quickly apparent we hadn’t reached Köln yet which I managed to see the funny side of after the initial shock, although unsurprisingly I made sure to stay awake after that.
Shortly afterwards we’d arrived in Köln and I made my way to meet up with a couple of friends also in Köln for the football. We went and grabbed a few drinks before calling it a night, all taking amusement in my story of the German prankster.
Who says Germans have no humour?
Anyway, that wraps things up on my daytrip to Liege. A couple of months later I was rounding off 2016 with a trip to Paris which will likely be next up on the blog.
Welcome back to my NYC series! For those of you who haven’t been following along (why not!!?) then let me catch you up! I was in New York City for a week back in June 2016 and so far on the blog we’ve had a little intro plus looked at my time in Manhattan and Brooklyn. You can catch up by clicking those links but today’s post is covering trips to two of the city’s famous islands.
I was somewhat tempted to include this in my Manhattan post which covered a lot of the touristy things the city has to offer, because I’m not entirely sure this justifies a post of its own, but my problem was that this isn’t Manhattan. It didn’t feel right to include it.
Anyway by this point in the week I think we’d seen a lot of the touristy stuff already which left one last “must-visit” thing to do: a trip to the Statue of Liberty! We’d seen it from a distance but hadn’t really got up close and personal with ‘Libby’ yet.
You can take the Staten Island ferry which is free and will take you past the statue, however we wanted to visit the island itself and go up the statue which you have to buy tickets for. We pre-booked our tickets and opted for one of the earlier departures in hopes of beating the crowds a little bit.
Consequently we were up relatively early. We were staying in a 4 bed dorm in a hostel over in Brooklyn and it seemed one of our roommates had similar intentions, making an early start to her day so we got chatting about our plans. She was off to do a walking tour of the city but as it was we were going in the same general direction so decided we’d all go off together. Meeting other travellers is definitely one of the perks of hostel life!
Sadly delays on the subway meant that she missed her tour and had to abandon her plans. We ended up strolling past Wall Street which is in the heart of NYC’s financial district and we had a bit of a look around the area before making our way over to Battery Park, which was where our ferry picked up from.
Our new friend was tempted to pick up an on-the-day ticket to Liberty Island but decided not to, so we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. I figured we’d cross paths again but despite staying in the same room we bizarrely didn’t see her again before leaving. Admittedly I think we only had one night left at this point of the trip so must have just missed eachother. Sometimes that’s how it goes I guess.
Anyway, having arrived at Battery Park we were soon joining the queue to board the ferry. You have to go through airport-like security before being allowed on board but as we’d arrived early in the day it was a pretty smooth and quick process.
Once on board we went and found ourselves a prime spot to get some photos in the trip over to Liberty Island. We’d seen the statue before now but from the Empire State, Brooklyn Bridge or even at Battery Park I don’t think you truly appreciate how big the statue is. Movies and TV shows do little better in portraying the scale of this iconic statue.
As we passed by I was in awe at the sheer scale and magnitude of what was in front of us. Seeing ‘Libby’ in the flesh was impressive and you can’t help but admire Manhattan’s skyline off in the distance too. Soon enough we were departing the boat and walking on to the island itself. We quickly made our way to the entrance to climb the statue.
We were quite lucky that we were one of the first going up. I don’t know if they limit how many people can be up there at a time but I’d hope so. It’s a pretty cramped space and you’d barely be able to move if it was a complete free-for-all. It offers some good views but honestly? It’s not worth going up!
It’s a bit like the Empire State but by going up you can’t really see ‘Libby’ in all her glory. You’re too close to get a decent view or photo. Additionally whilst the views of Manhattan are impressive, I’m not sure they’re any better than they are at ground level.
You’ve got a few options as far as Libby is concerned. You can go up the statue like we did, just visit the island or settle for passing by on a ferry. Personally I’m glad we visited the island, it’s not a big island but it was nice to walk around and take a countless number of photos in our own time. It didn’t feel like a rushed experience. Whilst you could go for the free ferry to save some money, I’d recommend visiting the island and benefit from that extra time to enjoy it. Going up the statue however just isn’t value for money. I wouldn’t do it again so if you’re looking to save some money, settle for just visiting the island.
Content that we’d spent enough time on Liberty Island we made our way back to the ferries for the second part of our trip. All ferries departing from Liberty island go to Ellis island which is included within your ticket. You then have the choice of exploring or catching a ferry on to your final destination (New York or New Jersey).
We chose to stick around. Ellis Island was the landing point for all of the USA’s immigrants (illegal aliens, right?) and would be the first place you’d see coming in to the USA. Ellis Island is now home to a museum which delves in to the history of that and shows the process and various other bits and pieces in relation to immigration.
For a free museum it’s pretty interesting, they also offer an audio tour if that takes your fancy but I seemed to get mine out of loop and then couldn’t figure out how to reset it to go back to where I was. So I gave up on it as it was no longer relevant to where I was in the museum. It was still enjoyable though and seeing some of the processes for admitting / rejecting immigration status was particularly interesting.
You can go out the back of the museum which had an exhibit listing all of the names to have come through Ellis Island. It’s an incredibly long list, fortunately in an alphabetical order so if you wanted to you’d easily find your own family name.
Out back also provided some great views of Manhattan so myself and Kelly got a few photos before calling it a day.
Given you have no choice but to visit Ellis Island, it’s a worthwhile inclusion. I think it’d be a shame to skip it and head straight back to the mainland. Overall we’d had a pretty fun day, by the time we were leaving it was a lot busier and as you can see the weather was also taking a turn for the worse so we’d timed it well by going early. The trip to Liberty Island in particular had been a trip highlight and something I’d certainly recommend.
Sadly as we near the end of the week we also near the end of the trip and consequently the end of the NYC posts. This was the last big thing to do on our list, we’d covered a lot of the must sees within the main part of the city. For that reason we were able to escape the city for a day at the end of the week and experience a very different side to NYC.
Before getting on to Barmouth I wanted to start by saying thank you – to each and every one of you! I spoke a while ago about suffering a mini-blogging slump at the back end of 2017. I’ve got back on track in 2018 but it was helpful taking a little step back from blogging and realising that, more than anything, I wanted to enjoy this opposed to doing it for anyone else.
I want to share my stories, I want people to enjoy what they’re reading and I want to inspire more people to travel. However more than anything I want to enjoy what I’m writing about and I realised I wanted to keep a personal touch to this. I promised to do so going forward.
So the response to my last post, Travel helping my struggle with anxiety!, was overwhelming. I was blown away by the feedback to it and it reaffirmed that keeping this personal was the right thing for me. It was my most personal post to date and yet my most popular post too. Encouraging!
Anyway, moving on! Today I’m reverting back to a “destination post” and that takes me on to a little town in Wales called Barmouth! This was going to be my next post regardless but by coincidence St David’s Day occurred this week, so to any Welsh readers I hope you enjoyed yourselves! A belated happy St David’s Day!
Prior to Barmouth my last trip had been to Lisbon, you can read all about that here (3 wonderful nights in Lisbon) but I mentioned that I’d planned to leave Lisbon on the Saturday to spend the weekend with my, at the time, girlfriend only to find myself single a couple of weeks later. A tad frustrating as a couple of extra days in Lisbon would have been fantastic!
Before that breakup came a romantic getaway to Wales! I finished work on the first Friday in April (2014) and hopped on a train up to Birmingham to spend the evening together. On Saturday morning we left Birmingham’s New Street station and caught an early train to Barmouth!
I had never heard of it before but a couple of her friends had recommended it so we decided it’d be fun to take a trip.
Barmouth is this cute little coastal town in Wales. I’ve never really spent much time in Wales so it’s not a country I’d seen much of until now – I was impressed! The beauty in catching a train is you can really admire the view as you travel. I said in my post on Edinburgh that England gets a lot of the attention when people talk about the United Kingdom and I’ll repeat it here, there is so much more to the UK than just England. More people should be talking about how beautiful Wales is! I was in disbelief at the stunning scenery. Why does Wales not get more credit for being so pretty?
Perhaps people don’t talk enough about Wales’ beauty but one thing they do talk about is the number of sheep in Wales. I try not to submit to the stereotypes and figured its association was exaggerated. It isn’t! Wales is full of sheep – they’re everywhere! Sheep outweigh the human population roughly on a 3:1 ratio which tells you all you need to know really. The fabled “counting sheep” method to help you sleep makes Wales a perfect destination for you insomniacs out there!
Ignoring the sheep it is such a pretty country. The closer we got to Barmouth the more beautiful the scenery became, it was breathtaking to look at. Barmouth isn’t too far from the Snowdonia national park and it is definitely a part of the country I want to explore more of. Preferably in the summer and with better weather.
Soon enough we were arriving in to Barmouth’s train station. As you’d expect from a small town, the station is quite small but the location is right in the heart of the town and close to the beach making it an ideal day-trip. We arrived around lunchtime and headed straight for the beach. Unsurprisingly it was pretty empty, the problem with going anywhere in the UK in April is that the weather is still pretty miserable. We did have a wander along the beach but with grey skies looming over us we made our way to check in to our hotel.
The one downside to staying in such a small town is that hotel options were rather limited. It was a nice hotel but not the cheapest stay and apparently I’d committed the crime of the century in booking a hotel situated on a hill. A little up-hill walk saw us checking into our stay for the night in what was a cosy room with a decent sized bath too (FYI – I love my baths!). The room views are probably usually decent but ours wasn’t a sea-facing view and to be honest it was so miserable outside that there probably wasn’t much worth looking at anyway. I imagine the views are great on a warmer day though.
Having had a little time to relax and drop off our things, back in to the cold we went. Barmouth is your typical coastal town but perhaps with better scenery. We took a little stroll across this bridge and started picking out the houses and pretty buildings overlooking the water – some of them looked perfect!
Sadly the sky was even greyer at this point and now there was a little light rain, we popped in to the arcades which gave me my first experience with the famed 2p machines – a great way to pass the time and a favourite of any British coastal town!
Content that our 2p coins had vanished we did a little window-shopping and then went in search of dinner. Shortly after eating we called it a night, relaxing back at the hotel and watching whatever rubbish was on TV (it might have been Match Of The Day actually – such a romantic getaway!). A good night’s sleep followed and we woke up refreshed ready to see a little more of Barmouth before heading back to England.
We kicked off our day with breakfast at some nearby café, I think we stuck out like a sore thumb as the only tourists in town. We were greeted to friendly faces which added to a really nice atmosphere in this little place. Everyone else seemed to be local – greeting each-other in a familiar tone, laughing away and just generally enjoying their company. It was wonderful to witness and definitely led to us having a much more authentic local experience.
After breakfast we had one last stroll along the beach – it may have been another cold day in April but we had to pick up an obligatory ice cream! You have to when you’re at the beach, right?
As we walked along the promenade every passer-by seemed to do so with a smile, many of which were walking their dogs, and it felt like a really welcoming little town. I’d like to think it’s the same in the summer months when there is better weather and more tourists in town.
We bought some souvenirs to take home with us at a nearby shop which left us with just enough time to get some lunch before making the journey back to England. We found a cosy little pub that served a traditional Sunday roast – it was delicious and like the café it just felt like everybody knew each-other and perhaps had the same Sunday routine every week. It was a nice way to round off our time in Wales.
If you’re in that part of the UK I’d suggest it is worth a daytrip, however I don’t know if I’d personally go back given how far it is from where I live.
For us, it was a short and sweet visit but nevertheless it’s somewhere that left an impression on me and somewhere that I’m glad I visited.
Barmouth – I might not ever see you again but thanks for the fond memories you left me with!
Have you ever been to Barmouth? What did you think? Are you a fan of visiting places outside of peak season?
Let me know!