Liege – Oct 2016

So there I was stood in Liege..

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

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

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

“WHAT? Again!?”

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

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Bayer Leverkusen v Tottenham Hotspur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Liege’s train station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Liege’s speciality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“München”

“WHAT!!!?”

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

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

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

Who says Germans have no humour?

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

Stay tuned!

Jason

New York City: Exploring Liberty and Ellis islands

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.

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Statue of Liberty with Manhattan in the background

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.

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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.

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View from up at the statue!

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).

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Ellis Island immigrant building

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.

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A moody looking Manhattan from Ellis Island

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.

Up next on the blog? A trip to Coney Island!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Barmouth!

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.

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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.

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Miserable weather but a pretty Barmouth

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!

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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.

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Time to go home! See you later Barmouth!

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!

All the best!

Jason