Amsterdam – May 2019

Hello dear readers!

Do you ever get those posts where you just can’t spit the right words out? It wasn’t my intention for this to be my next post but I was trying to write up part two of the Köln trip and it just wouldn’t come together. I enjoyed the trip but I’m just not enjoying writing about it.

So a change of plans, here’s Amsterdam!

Strangely though, you can still consider this to be somewhat of a ‘sequel’ to that Köln post. Between visiting Köln in March and visiting Amsterdam in early May I’d actually been to three different countries but this is still perhaps the “next chapter” of an unbelievable story.

I hinted at this in my last post but I knew back in 2019, maybe even earlier than that, that change was coming my way. I was feeling good about things with Haleigh and knew that at some point I really wanted to go out and live in the USA. There was no specific date in mind but “as soon as possible” was the aim.

The only thing that stopped me doing it any earlier was balance. I’ve always been quite sensible with money but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my enjoyment just to get to my end goal a little bit earlier – balance was a must!

So I meticulously mapped out the first six months of 2019 (read me) knowing that come July I’d be in a healthy enough financial position to really think about what was next, without having to sacrifice any fun in the first six months of the year.

I calculated that I could squeeze in trips to Köln, Washington, Helsinki and Dublin in the first half of 2019 if I was strict enough with my spending but I’d left myself no wiggle room. That was it!

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Enter Spurs..

I often joke that football supporters probably hate the game more than those who claim not to like football. The game is rotten in so many ways that infuriate you as someone who cares about the game and, many of those reasons are ultimately part of the reason why I’ve since walked away from the game and cut down on attending.

Anyway.. Köln was my way of bowing out of European football. I had this inkling that it’d probably be my last European football away trip for quite some time, maybe ever? My priorities were changing and so it was quite bittersweet that my big finale ended up being a third trip to Dortmund.
You can’t moan about traveling to Germany really. The last couple of years in particular make you appreciate the luxuries we have but moan I did – “fucking Dortmund!”

I’d told myself that this decision came down to how willing I was to gamble. I knew this was the last season I’d be likely to do this so it was either Dortmund in the last 16 or I’d have to gamble and hope we reach the quarter finals and get a better away trip in the next round.

However I knew that there were no guarantees. It could be Dortmund now or Barcelona in the next round, in contrast it could be Dortmund or nothing. There was every chance we’d crash out of European football and that’d be my plans shattered. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d made assumptions only for Tottenham to disappoint me.

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This wasn’t one of those occasions. Tottenham comfortably beat Dortmund 3-0 in London and it looked like the tie was over before we’d even got to Germany – “are you kidding me Spurs!?”.

I still had some nerves for the return fixture in Dortmund but in reality, unless Tottenham did something very stupid (see why I was nervous!?) we were very likely to be in the next round. We finished off the job in Dortmund and so it turns out that I could have waited a round. I could have gambled!

They soon did the draw for the next round and I took some solace with the knowledge that our next opponents were none other than Manchester City. If I’d gambled away four nights in Europe and had to settle for a European trip to Manchester I would have been beyond gutted – the only fixture more anti-climatic than a trip to Dortmund – we play in Manchester at least twice a year already.

The other piece of comfort was that this draw meant that this was the end of the line for Spurs. This was going to be our last European games of the season and not a trip I was going to have any regrets about. Manchester City were, and still are, far superior to Tottenham and there’s only one possible outcome to this tie. Dortmund was a 50-50 tossup but City? No chance! 85-15 in City’s favour and that’s if they have a bad day.

I don’t want to overwhelm you with football chatter so if you haven’t worked out where this is going already, catch up!

Tottenham weren’t supposed to win this tie. There are a multitude of script-like factors that played a part but fate was with Spurs and they did in fact beat Manchester City – qualifying for the next round in the most spectacular fashion. Tottenham were off to the Champions League semi finals.

I’d told myself I wasn’t going to a semi final. It was never in consideration. There was no wiggle room in my budget for more than one football trip so it was always either the round of 16 (Dortmund) or gambling for a quarter final (Manchester). The only exception I would make in addition to that would be a trip to Madrid for the final and let’s be clear that is NEVER going to happen.

The semi final happened to overlap with my mum’s birthday and that was further cause to stick by my commitment. I travel a lot but it’s rare that I’d miss a family birthday – I have no responsibilities, I can travel any time of year and I don’t particularly mind missing my own birthday but let’s be at home for the others if we can help it, eh? So I’d have to miss this one.

“I’m not doing the semi final, I’m not doing the semi final. I’m.. fuck!”

This wasn’t supposed to happen! I mean you really couldn’t make it up. I’ll turn 34 this year and for the bulk of that time Tottenham have inflicted misery upon misery over me. I wouldn’t change it for anything but that’s the reality. So in typical Tottenham fashion, even when things are going well they find a way to completely inconvenient me.

I was ready to leave my job, ready to head off to Washington for a while and Spurs threw me a curveball. You couldn’t have done this in any of the previous ten years of European football Spurs?

“I’m not doing the semi final” was a lot easier to commit to when hypothetical but an actual Champions League semi final? The only other time Tottenham have played at that stage of the competition was 1962 – this was literally once in a lifetime stuff. How could I possibly not go to Amsterdam!?

My hesitancy cost me. It’s not a mistake I usually make. Football travel 101 – you book your travel as soon as you know the game is confirmed, worry about the accommodation later but when you’re competing with thousands of other people for the same journey you don’t hang about!

I’d stupidly kid myself that I wasn’t going to Amsterdam and I suffered for it. I slept on the decision for two days and by the time I came to my senses, flight prices and Eurostar journeys from London had gone through the roof. Amsterdam is normally pretty cheap to travel to from the UK but not when every other Spurs fan is planning the same journey on the same dates.

Even for a Champions League semi final, it was hard justifying some of the prices I was seeing. Do I really want to pay this much for this trip when I could go to Amsterdam a week later for a fraction of the cost – it’s so hard to justify but this may never happen again.

I compromised, I really couldn’t justify paying stupid prices for journeys way beyond their usual value so I looked at another alternative – how much and how long would a coach take?

Amsterdam wasn’t in the budget but I couldn’t miss it so took the budget-friendliest option I could. Overnight coach from London to Amsterdam, overnight coach from Amsterdam to London, one night in a hostel in Amsterdam – let’s do this!

I booked everything and then had to send an awkward email to work. I don’t know how many of you have been guilty of this but I was on holiday in Washington and having to send my manager an email to request time off for another holiday. “I know I’m away at the moment but..” – such cheek!

Amsterdam

A couple of weeks passed by and it was time! This was quite possibly the most ludicrous weeks of my life because I came back from Washington and started getting excited about Finland – my bank holiday plans I’d made at the start of the year.

I flew home from Helsinki on bank holiday Monday, went to work on Tuesday and then on Tuesday evening I made my way down to London Victoria. I’d been in the country less than 24 hours before running off again – quite absurd!

I grabbed some dinner on route and then picked up a couple of other snacks for the journey – best get comfy for the next 12 hours!

I wasn’t sure how busy or comfortable the journey was going to be so was quite pleased to get a window seat for the journey – towards the back of the coach with “the cool kids”. It quickly became apparent that I wasn’t the only Spurs fan on board which was an added bonus. At least half a dozen around me were also making the budget trip to Amsterdam and feeling optimistic about our chances. We’d lost the first game 1-0 in London but all was still to play for in Amsterdam.

With a lot of football chatter it made sense to keep tabs on Tuesday night’s other semi final. Barcelona had beaten Liverpool 3-0 in Spain but playing at Anfield on a European night? You never know..

With Liverpool 1-0 up and all to play for in the second half, I managed to get the game up on my phone. Let’s see how this plays out, shall we?

Liverpool turned it around, from 3-0 down to 4-3 winners! Anfield’s magic had struck again and produced one of the greatest comebacks you’re ever going to see in European football. It gave the few of us some real optimism for Amsterdam. It’s only 1-0, this tie really isn’t over yet!

The football had helped pass some of the time. Soon enough we were at the channel crossing and ready to go to mainland Europe! I wasn’t sure how we’d be crossing and had assumed by ferry but as it turned out we went over via the channel tunnel – a railway shuttle service for vehicles.

By the time we’d crossed in to Europe the mood of the bus was vastly different. The early excitement of a football adventure had been swapped for opportunist sleepers, hoping to catch a bit of shuteye before the morning. I dozed a little myself but not too much as we made stop-offs in Antwerp, Eindhoven and Utretcht. Antwerp the city that perhaps most caught my eye from the little I could see at night-time.

We continued on through the Netherlands at a rapid pace. I don’t know if the coach drivers happened to be Tottenham fans themselvess but we arrived at our bus stop in a neighbourhood called Duivendrecht two and a half hours ahead of schedule – fantastic as far as I was concerned!

Fortunately I’d been to Amsterdam before so whilst I wasn’t so familiar with Duivendrecht itself, I knew roughly where I wanted to kick off my trip – Amsterdam Centraal station please!

Amsterdam Centraal

Amsterdam at 6am is quite the sight, a treat even. I hate waking up early when I travel but I also love seeing a city before it has had the chance to properly wake up – a bit of a dilemma but this was an occasion where I had no choice. I didn’t have a comfy hotel bed to curl up in so my only option was to have a wander along Amsterdam’s deserted streets.

Amsterdam is a beautiful city to enjoy regardless but getting to see it with nobody around was that little bit more special. I know I’ll never see Dam Square this quiet again for instance.

I had nothing I particularly wanted to do with my time in Amsterdam, it was a short and sweet trip and most of it would be preoccupied with football. I wandered off and made the most of Amsterdam being so quiet, capturing a bunch of people-free photos as I wandered around.

Dam Square

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Amsterdam Canal

With places actually starting to open I soon went and found myself a little Amsterdam cafe to sit and get some tea from. I had made plans to meet up with a couple of friends later in the day but I had the morning free to myself.

After a second cup of tea I meandered on over to Amsterdam’s ‘MuseumPlein’ – home to a park and some of Amsterdam’s most famous museums. It’s a pretty area so wasn’t an entirely wasted walk but it turns out that the likes of the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum were fully booked – it seems football fans aren’t completely uncultured hooligans and the thousands of Brits in town had had a knock-on effect.

I did some more wandering of Amsterdam’s canals before finding myself a place to grab some lunch. By the time I’d finished I was able to head over towards the hostel I was staying at for the night and check in. I’d stayed at Amsterdam’s Flying Pigs hostel before and although I don’t tend to stay in hostels as frequently anymore, for one night it seemed pretty ideal to be somewhere central and somewhere I also knew.

I checked in to my 6 bed dorm around 1ish and proceeded to find two near-dead Americans who weren’t able to rise from their beds and were still suffering a bit from the night before. They’d got caught up with the influx of Spurs fans in town on Tuesday night and seemingly suffered the hangover that followed. A couple of others sharing our dorm also turned up and we mingled about our various plans before I bid my farewell – extending an invitation or warning perhaps dependent upon your perspective.

“Dam Square..” – come join the party or avoid at all costs but either way it’s going to be busy and it’s going to be loud. I left my hostel dorm and I could hear Dam Square before I could see it – the English have arrived.

Dam Square Spurs

The beers were flowing, the Brits were serenading Amsterdam – Glory glory, Tottenham Hotspur. The rest of the afternoon was spent embracing the atmosphere and catching up with friends – Daniel and Natalie had also made the journey over to Amsterdam and so here we were in yet another country for Spurs.

Sadly this was one of the occasions where getting a ticket for the game was impossible. Nevertheless we wanted to be here, part of the atmosphere that only these European trips can offer – nothing can replicate the feeling of being amongst “your own”.

As kickoff approached Spurs fans scuttered off in various directions, not helped by the rain. We tried one pub on Dam Square which was rammed and had no luck getting in to. We ventured off down a side street and stumbled upon an Irish pub which seemed suitable enough for the evening. No idea where Natalie ended up, we somehow got separated and she ended up watching the game with another friend elsewhere.

By this point the nerves had kicked in, this was undoubtedly one of the biggest games in Tottenham’s history and please Spurs, just once eh?

BAM! Five minutes in and Ajax have scored to put them 1-0 up on the night and 2-0 up overall. That was not the start we wanted!

Time ticked on and Ajax have done it again, 2-0 up on the night and 3-0 ahead in the tie. I’ve had various and numerous Spurs disappointments over the years but is this really how this is going to play out? Our biggest game in my lifetime and we’re just going to crash out with a whimper? I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry at a Spurs team or performance. I’ve undoubtedly seen worse performances but on this stage it was unacceptable and indefensible. If we lose to Ajax then so be it, they’re a good team but at least do it the right way. At least give us a chance. Gutless, spineless, pathetic.

I considered getting up and going at half time. Let’s not pretend I can’t find a million other ways to actually enjoy my evening in Amsterdam. Something possessed me to stay, I dare say hope but in reality I must just enjoy the misery that comes with following Spurs. Why else let them put me through the ringer year after year, season after season, disappointment after disappointment?

“If Ajax score again I’m gone..” I say to Daniel. If we could just get one early goal in the second half, you just never know.

BAM! Lucas Moura! 2-1 on the night, 3-1 overall. The pub roars and for the first time there’s that glimmer of hope, just a small dash. Could we?

BAM! Four minutes later, Lucas Moura again! Beers go flying everywhere, this Tottenham dominated pub goes delirious. Belief for the very first time! Half an hour to go, only one goal needed, game on! The nerves have returned.

The next half an hour was agonising. So close and yet so far, every Ajax attack sent fear through my body, every missed opportunity for Spurs caused despair.

With a couple of minutes to go a cross comes in to the box, Vertonghen gets his head on it and..

BAM crossbar. Argh! That was the chance! That had to go in!

Now this is typical Tottenham isn’t it? I was suddenly backtracking on my earlier hopes. This tie was dead and buried, Spurs had no chance but they couldn’t just leave it alone and allow me to suffer an embarrassing 12-0 defeat. No. It’d be much more fun to play like idiots for three halves of football, offer you that little bit of hope and then crush you in the finale.

Time ticked on and Ajax wasted every wasting second they could. Five minutes of injury time to play and another chance comes and goes. This is always the way with Spurs, it’s fucking cruel. So close and so far – no happy ending here.

Ajax waste more time and it seems like that is probably that. We get the ball back with seconds to go and boot a hopeful ball forward, we need a miracle. Hit and hope.

Llorente knocks it down, Dele flicks it on, MOURA!!!!!! 95:01 on the clock. Are you fucking kidding!? What the fuck just happened!?

Beers go flying again – more this time. Bodies go flying too. I’m thrown one way, Daniel the other direction as everyone piles in for a massive group-hug. Seriously, what the fuck just happened? How did that happen!? I have no words.

Things calm down long enough to watch the game kick off again. Now this would be typical Tottenham wouldn’t it? Surely even we can’t mess this one up? The referee finds another minute from somewhere, god knows where and prayers are being spoken all over Amsterdam. Erik Lamela decides the 97th minute of a Champions League semi final is the perfect time to do some stepovers and tricks on the edge of his box and proceeds to lose the ball – I daren’t repeat the words that came out of my mouth in the seconds that followed.

Time and place Erik, time and place! Get rid of the fucking ball man!

The final whistle goes and the pub roars again, very little beer left to throw by this point.

Myself and Daniel are finally reunited and we share a look that transcends words. Bemusement shared with the biggest grins imaginable, no explanation to what we’ve just witnessed. We embrace in a massive hug and I’ve completely gone by this point – the tears are streaming down my face. Spurs are going to Madrid for the Champions League final. Spurs have actually done it!

Road to Madrid

Myself and Daniel part and seconds later I’m crying in the arms of another Spurs fan and another and another. Swept up in the aftermath of multiple celebrations I head up to bar, just wanting a glass of water to catch my breath and I’m turned away – no service, not even for a quick glass of water – it’s closing time from the party-poopers.

Not that it mattered. The celebrations spilled out in to the streets and everyone is heading in the same direction – Dam Square! It is rammed with Spurs fans.

I still can’t stop crying. Pride just pouring out of me, happiness pouring out of me. Happiness for myself, happiness for every other Spurs supporter, player, manager and everyone associated with this wonderful, wonderful football club that I love and loathe in equal measure.

It’s evident at just how much this means to everyone but it’s just so hard to put in to words. Even now I well up when I think of that night. More hugs follow with stranger after stranger after stranger and I still can’t stop crying – this stuff just doesn’t happen to Spurs.

Dam Square Night

I can’t express just how many strangers I embraced and shared hugs with. It’s quite weird to think a year later we were in lockdown and couldn’t hug anyone! I got my 2020’s worth in one night!

The mood around Dam Square was just incredible and it wasn’t long before songs were ringing around the square! I somewhat felt for the hotel occupants that were probably hoping for a quiet night in an expensive hotel right on Dam Square and found hundreds singing on their doorstep in to the early hours – glory, glory Tottenham Hotspur!

I was reluctant to drag myself away but I was starting to feel quite dehydrated by this point and was desperate to go and find a bottle of water somewhere. I bid my farewells to Daniel and Natalie (who we bumped into again in Dam Square) and called it a night – back to the hostel.

I reeked of beer and debated taking a shower but that’s the one downside to hostel life, I didn’t want to disturb those already in bed and decided I’d just have to make do with a beer-drenched sleep – assuming that I could sleep.

I was still on such a high, laying in bed with yet more tears streaming down my face. I finally had a chance to catch up with some of the online reaction to what can only be described as one of the best nights of my life and seeing that joy shared only set me off further. Am I ever going to stop crying? I tucked my phone away and hoped that eventually my tear-filled eyes would allow me to sleep.

The next morning I woke from the strangest of dreams before remembering that actually, yes that did happen last night. It may well have been the stench of beer that helped remind me so I took the opportunity to shower before then checking out of my hostel.

I had nothing planned for my Thursday. In all honesty I couldn’t focus on anything else but football. My body was in the beautiful city of Amsterdam, my head was in Madrid – it’s all I could think about and working out the logistics of how I was going to get there.

I returned to a much quieter Dam Square and went in search of some breakfast, eventually finding a little place serving some crepes. They just so happened to have a little TV in the corner that were of course showing the highlights from the night before which I couldn’t take my eyes off – still in disbelief.

After breakfast I went wandering, off down one of Amsterdam’s canals but it was no use. I felt guilty but I just had no appreciation for where I was.

Amsterdam Canals

Sure Amsterdam’s pretty but I just want to go back to England and think about Madrid. I even went as far as looking for a Eurostar ticket and came very close to booking the next possible train but couldn’t justify spending a couple of hundred pound or whatever it was on a one way ticket – I’m just going to have to hang around in Amsterdam until my coach later this evening.

The nice thing about Amsterdam is that it’s a great city for doing nothing, it’s so easy to wander and not really care where you end up. I couldn’t tell you where I went in truth. Along this canal, down this street, across that bridge and being a glorious sunny day it was quite nice to get lost.

Amsterdam Boats

Eventually I stumbled upon a bar which I liked the look of and thought I’d stop off for a drink. I took a seat at the bar and by chance the guy to my right just so happened to be another Spurs supporter, a Spurs fan from Helsinki of all places! I mentioned that I’d just been to Helsinki and he offered a few recommendations for next time and then taught me a few Finnish words which was quite fun.

We grabbed another beer and ordered some ‘bitterballen’ which I hadn’t tried before (delicious) before eventually going our separate ways. I wandered a little more but by this point I was just killing time really, not too much longer and I’d be catching my coach home.

I decided to pop over to Amsterdam’s Hard Rock Cafe to get a late lunch and an early dinner. Being Amsterdam, its HRC inevitably overlooks a canal but I took seat at the bar as it was a little busy in the restaurant which ended up working in my favour. I always like the HRC, I’ve ticked off a few on my travels but this occasion was particularly memorable.

I finished off my food and the barman comes back and asks if I fancy another beer – “on the house!”.

How could I possibly say no to that? A wonderful gesture for no reason at all. I had plenty of time to kill so of course, another beer sounds perfect! I was so grateful!

From there it was a gradual winddown to departure. The free beer had certainly perked up my mood for Amsterdam but there wasn’t anything I really wanted to do. The most logical thing would probably to have gone elsewhere to grab a drink but I didn’t really fancy that either ahead of a long journey. I decided to just walk over to the bus stop, a good few miles away.

Weesperpoort Amsterdam

It was a nice way of seeing parts of Amsterdam I hadn’t ventured to previously. I didn’t walk the whole way in the end, maybe half of it before hopping on the metro. I’d gone from loads of time to kill to a mini-panic that I’d dawdled too much and now time wasn’t on my side.

I needn’t have worried as I got to the bus station with far too much time and nothing in the area but at least I was on time. I popped to a nearby supermarket to grab a bottle of water for the journey.

Frustratingly my card proceeded to decline and I had nowhere to get any cash out so was just about to put the water back before a kind stranger stepped in – lucking out with another freebie!

The journey back to Amsterdam was a little busier – no idea why but I guess a few fancied a trip to London. There were again a couple of Spurs fans on board who I got talking to – Madrid inevitably the hot topic.

This time we were taking a ferry journey across the channel which was the first time I’d done so for many, many years. Despite being well versed in travel, sea-travel is seemingly not my comfort zone! Stick me up in the sky and I’m generally fine but ferries? Bleurgh..

I felt woozy pretty early on and hoped to just ride out the journey as smoothly as possible. One of my new bus-friends came and found me and insisted I join him and shared his life story before proceeding to try and get a little sleep on the ferry.

As tired as I was, sleeping wasn’t an option for me. I closed my eyes at one point and that was a terrible decision. It just seemed to heighten my senses and awareness that we were on the water and bobbing along – terrible!

Eventually we were back in England and back on the coach but the rest of the journey was horrible. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was going to be sick. Ferry travel had not agreed with me at all and a claustrophobic-feeling coach wasn’t helping either.

I’d hoped to try and sleep it off but this was typically a much livelier bus on this occasion. We’d picked up a few youngsters in a dodgy-looking part of Brussels who were perfectly friendly but meant there was a lot more chatter on the way home. Nobody, myself included, seemed to kick up any fuss about the noise and ordinarily I don’t think I’d have cared at all but I felt so awful that it just added to my misery.

We got back as far as London and it just seemed to take an age to get to Victoria. I’d got this far without feeling sick, don’t be sick now! Fortunately I wasn’t, I held out but it seemed like the second we got to Victoria and got off the bus I then let it all out.

I’d booked an overnight coach for a multitude of reasons but one last reason I’d booked a Thursday evening coach was that I wouldn’t have to take Friday off work. I felt so awful though that I ended up texting my boss and asking for another day of holiday – a waste but I just couldn’t face going in to work after such a torrid journey home.

and that was that. This post went on much longer than I thought it would do but how could it not? If you made it this far, well done! I appreciate it was quite football-heavy but genuinely one of the greatest nights of my life and the fact I’d started the week in Helsinki means it probably ranks as one of the best weeks of my life.

A post on Helsinki and part two of that Köln trip will come soon but next up? A roadtrip to Madrid for a Champions League final – featuring Spurs!!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Köln – March 2019!

Where do I even start with this one, right? Every travel story in a post-Covid era offers some hindsight and a fresh perspective but let’s be abundantly clear, it’s inconceivable that I sit here writing about Köln again!

Long time readers and followers will know that myself and Köln have a long history, a patterned history if you will although I’ll get to that shortly.

I’ll try and summarise this first section the best I can as its a frequently told story but the next chapter needs some context

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Cologne – March 2013
The travel bug hit. 2013 was the year where travel became less of a dream and more of a priority. I spent two weeks in the February out in Sydney, Australia and I was hooked.

I came home, not with bundles of money, but with another payday on the horizon I was itching for more travel. It was quite a last minute thought but Easter weekend at the end of March stuck out – perfect!

I looked at various options but booking last minute travel for Easter weekend was tricky, flight prices inevitably high before I pondered a train journey. A few places in Western Europe sprung to mind but something drew me to a city I knew nothing about and a country I wasn’t all that fascinated with if I’m being honest – Cologne, Germany.

I’d traveled a bit through my childhood but as a shy and quiet individual my travel experiences were somewhat Westernised if you will. I’d been to Florida four times on family holidays, Australia (obviously), Spain (supervised school trip), France (supervised day trips with the parents), Scotland, Wales, various spots around England and Ibiza (as good as English-speaking in the summertime).

So I don’t want to say I didn’t like Cologne. You step outside of its train station and it’s hard to be anything other than mesmerised by the incredible cathedral towering over the city. I liked a lot about Cologne but as daft as it sounds, I think it was the first time that I’d really been abroad

That’s not me downplaying how fortunate I was to have traveled as often as I did growing up but just an observation of the places I’d been to date or the people that had accompanied / supervised / taken leadership of the trips I’d taken.

I struggled to warm to Cologne and deep down I think it’s just because I was a bit of a shit traveler. Getting from A to B means you’ve traveled but I was really out of my comfort zone for the first time. I couldn’t speak more than a couple of words of German, I was traveling on my own, didn’t know anybody, have an introverted personality and didn’t find the Germans to be particularly hospitable, there was no life to my hostel, all the restaurants had funny food and I could go on and on. I couldn’t even work out how to open the door in to my hostel dorm – over an entire weekend!

All that said, I’d enjoyed Cologne enough of course. It appeased my desire to see the world, see different places but come the end of the weekend I was ready to go home. For all of the things I’d liked about Cologne, I’d felt isolated at times and all the pizza in the world (that’s a German delicacy, right?) couldn’t fix that feeling that Cologne just wasn’t my kind of place. It wasn’t somewhere I saw myself returning to.

KolnJason

Köln – March 2016
So of course, three years later I did just that. This time however I was visiting Köln, not the English-known Cologne I’d once visited.

I still stand by the fact that I’d had a nice time on my previous visit but it’s almost as if I’d just floated through Köln the first time around. Had I really enjoyed it? Where was the joy in that trip? I’d seen some things, the cathedral for one that never fails to blow me away, but I don’t know that it was ever really a happy trip – I probably said it was at the time but I’d gone home content knowing that I was going home. I don’t know that I really left with too many positive memories.

So I think this trip had a touch of redemption about it. Maybe I hadn’t actually given Köln a fair crack, I was three years on and whilst still trying to rid myself of some habits (“Weetabix boy“), I was a much better traveler by this point. Infact I could even speak German to a relatively decent level on what was now my 5th trip to the country.

I was back in Köln for football. My beloved Spurs had been dealt a “once in a lifetime” draw with none other than Borussia Dortmund – Spurs were going to play in front of that famous yellow wall of European football.

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Staying in Dortmund itself had no appeal to me so I decided I’d base myself in Köln for the trip. A chance to return to the city, a city I could explore more of and a city I could see with fresh eyes.

Being able to speak German was transformational. I’d spoken more German within the first hour than I had on the entirety of my first trip. The unhospitable Germans I’d encountered three years earlier seemed friendlier and more engaging with someone actually making an effort to speak the language.

Additionally being a football trip meant I had friends along for the ride and that also helped improve the experience I had on this trip. It was a much more positive experience of Köln and somewhere I was pleased to return to.

That said, Köln isn’t particularly big so two trips to the city felt like plenty.

Köln – October 2016
“and Tottenham will play Bayer Leverkusen..”

Leverkusen11

I had a vague idea of where Leverkusen was but where in Germany is it exactly? Of course, Leverkusen is a tiny city that borders Köln.

It made no logical sense – geographically or financially – to stay anywhere other than Köln. To do so would have been out of spite and nothing else, although I’ll admit I was still tempted. I can’t stress how disappointing it was for the next European away trip to be in sodding West Germany, now to be my third trip to the region and my sixth trip to Germany in the space of three years. I just wanted anywhere else if I’m being honest.

Nevertheless, I went and enjoyed myself. Köln served itself as a good base to explore other towns and places in the area. I even popped over to Belgium for a day out in Liege.

It wasn’t ideal but I made the best of it. Three trips to Köln, two for football. That is me done!

Köln Bremen – November 2017
No! Seriously, are you taking the piss?

“Tottenham have been drawn against Borussia Dortmund!”

That once in a lifetime trip? A third European tie in West Germany in barely 18 months? Come on.. There’s a whole sodding continent here! I won’t get in to the complexities of football because there is some method to the madness with context but I couldn’t believe my luck.

Having by this point spent a day in Dortmund I had even less desire to stay there this time, there was no way in hell I was going to Köln for a third time in such a short turnaround so it was spite this time. I ended up splitting my time between Bremen and Dusseldorf.

“Anywhere but Köln” – I’m sorry, I’d actually grown to love Köln by this point but no, one trip too many!

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The USA – 2018
“erm.. Jason?”

I know, I know but stick with me because this is an essential part of the story. As I mentioned in my last post on Warsaw, all of my 2018 annual leave was sucked up in to spending a month in the USA and one consequence of that was sacrificing a year without a football European trip. A small price to pay for such an incredible 30 days in the USA but a price nonetheless.

Having been to West Germany, West Germany, Madrid and West Germany on my previous four football adventures I can’t describe how agonising it was to see Tottenham’s European adventures unfold in 2018.

Turin, Milan, Eindhoven, Barcelona.. why do you tempt me so? I’d lie if I said I hadn’t wanted to skip work to go to Barcelona but unfortunately the professionalism kicked in.

“Nice suntan Jason.. I saw you on the TV last night by the way, you’re fired!”

It was a year of pain, one that I more than made up for but pain! I don’t know if I’ll ever get to see Spurs in the Nou Camp again, that’s the 4th time for one reason or another I’ve not been to watch Spurs in the San Siro too. Two iconic footballing stadiums and I’m stuck having to work because I had no time left to take off work – it was gut-wrenching watching Spurs fans deliriously celebrating a 1-1 draw in Barcelona.

The one comfort I told myself was that I’d make up for it. No matter what, I’m going to the first European away trip of 2019.

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Köln – March 2019

Köln – March 2019
and here we are.. I’d say you couldn’t script it but you could. I wrote about it in this very post at the end of 2018 – European uncertainty

Such is the cruel way of the football gods, Tottenham were somehow taking their third “once in a lifetime” trip to Dortmund in three years. Dortmund – again! Fucking hell..

Maybe I’m doing Dortmund a disservice but were it not for its football team, I’m not sure anyone would know of its existence, I’m not sure anyone would visit. The stadium is phenomenal, their fans are phenomenal but one trip was plenty. Two trips.. alright, fine but three in three years? I was dreaming of Porto and was rewarded with another trip to fucking Dortmund!

Such were the frequent visits I’d now been to Köln (three times!), Dortmund (twice!), Leverkusen, Mainz, Bremen, Dusseldorf, Bonn, Bruhl, Koblenz, Luxembourg, Gent, Liege..

Those were just on football-specific visits too. I’d been to Belgium a few times, I’d been to the Netherlands, I’d been to countless other cities in Germany on other visits. I was running out of places in the region to even visit.

but “no matter what..”

I knew my days were numbered. Life priorities were changing, it was only a matter of time before I would pack in the football and I write this today no longer a season-ticket holder of Spurs. I haven’t fully given it up but I’ve severely cut down.

Ironically I knew big change was coming in 2020 and this particular season would quite possibly offer me my last European away day (HA!). I didn’t really want to go back to Dortmund again but I also wasn’t confident enough that Spurs would progress. It was a 50-50 tie as far as I was concerned and it might be Dortmund or nothing. Do I gamble that Tottenham reach the next round (HA!) or do I just go to Germany.. again..

I couldn’t risk it. Spoiler – Spurs did go through but their next European tie was up in Manchester which would have been the only location more anti-climatic than going to Dortmund for the thousandth time. I like Manchester, I like it a lot actually but what a shitty European away trip that would have been in replacement of Dortmund.

Reluctantly committed, where do I go? I’ve now been to Dortmund twice, I’m even less inclined to stay there this time. What about Köln? It seemed like a genuine possibility this time around.

What eventually swung the decision was the timing. Bizarrely I’d been to Köln in March 2013, March 2016 and now March 2019 but the two previous trips had somehow escaped one of the big events in the calendar year – the Kölner Karneval – Cologne’s famous carnival.

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Karneval scenes in Köln

Tottenham happened to be playing in Dortmund on the Tuesday night, with ‘RosenMontag’ the day prior – arguably the highlight of the karneval. The fact the two events overlapped meant that Köln was a no-brainer and by some bizarre coincidence I’d been to the city every third March! I joked that this was now a tradition and that I could seemingly predict where I’d be again in three years time!

Alas, I regret to report I have no plans to visit Köln next month so this long-standing unintentional pattern has reached a natural conclusion. However I digress.. back to 2019!

Having been reluctant to visit for a second time, a third time and then initially for a fourth time, I quickly discovered my excitement for this particular trip. I don’t think you ever really plan to visit somewhere so many times but I had grown to love Köln by this point. Infact were the circumstances better, I wouldn’t be opposed to going back to Köln next month just because it’d be quite funny. I do actually quite like the city and there’s a part of me that would love nothing more than to stroll along the Rhein right now.

I flew out to Köln early on Monday morning and was soon landing in what was a very familiar airport and city. Less familiar was the waves of fancy-dressed folks sat on the train when I boarded at the airport – all heading for Köln Hauptbahnhof! I felt vastly underdressed for the occasion with my standard hoodie and jeans. Köln was firmly in karneval mood!

The majority of people got off at the main station and soon streamed out towards the cathedral – a great gathering place and meeting point for the days festivities. Inevitably it’s the busiest I’ve ever seen Köln, so many of the streets around the area were completely cordoned off too which made it a bit of a nightmare to get around.

I ended up finding myself a nice spot to sit and watch the imminent parade with various floats and performers here to entertain. It was nice to see this side of Köln and also see what all the fuss was about. Everyone was in great spirits!

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Karneval vibes – Köln, March 2019

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Kölner Karneval – March 2019

I soon dragged myself away, hoping to search for somewhere a little bit quieter to find myself some lunch before popping off to my hotel. Unsurprising a lot of places were busy but I soon found somewhere suitable for some good food.

The one thing about visiting somewhere so many times is that there wasn’t really anything I needed or particularly even wanted to do. I was in Köln for nothing more than the football, I was perfectly content with this being a relatively relaxed break. I checked in to my hotel and proceeded to take a nap!

I popped back out in search of somewhere to enjoy the evening. Germany and beer go hand-in-hand so many of the city’s day-trippers had undoubtedly spent all day drinking but I was happy to just go and have a few beers without indulging in some crazy night. I didn’t want to just write off my Tuesday.

After a nice but far-from-wild night, I called it and strolled back to my hotel. The next morning I was up bright and early. We weren’t playing in Dortmund until later in the evening so I still had a bit of time to make the most of my stay in Köln.

I decided I’d go and visit a part of town I’d not yet been to, a neighbourhood called Ehrenfeld which is known for its street art. Again this was another perk of having visited the city so many times and it allowed me an opportunity to get to parts of the city you likely don’t see on a quick visit.

I made the long walk over to Ehrenfeld and stopped off at this little cafe for some crepes. From there it was time to hunt down this supposed street art I’d seen little of thus far.

Captain Ehrenfeld
Captain Ehrenfeld!

Close to Ehrenfeld’s S-bahn station was a decent scattering of murals and street art lined up along a number of walls. The train at the station and ‘captain Ehrenfeld’ being two of my favourites I spotted.

Train Station Art

The rest of the area seemed to have a bunch of independent shops, cafes and restaurants so it was a nice part of town to have discovered and worth maybe taking half a day to explore if you’re ever in Köln – particularly if like myself you’ve been before.

I ventured back to the centre of the city, thinking I’d grab some lunch before catching the train to Dortmund but Köln seemed well and truly closed for business. I don’t know if this Tuesday is considered a local holiday – intentional or otherwise but it was a struggle finding a restaurant open for lunch. The exploits of ‘RosenMontag’ meant that Köln was effectively a ghost town – a day written off for hangover recovery.

Reluctantly I accepted defeat and ended up popping over to the Hard Rock Cafe – seemingly unaffected by the shenanigans of the day before. In my best German I asked the barman where everyone was, why nowhere seemed to be open and I got a one word response – “Karneval” accompanied with a laugh.

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Ehrenfeld, Köln, Germany

Say no more. On Monday I had never seen the city as busy as this, on Tuesday I’d never seen Köln so quiet. It was quite eerie – the type of scene you see in horror and zombie movies but a much simpler explanation on this occasion – “Karneval!”

The rest of the day was reserved for the football. Spurs back in Dortmund again. A comfortable evening – Spurs cruised through to the next round and the daunting Manchester City awaited.

I’d ticked off what would surely be my last European football trip for some time, perhaps ever? (If you know, you know!).

This particular trip wasn’t quite over though. I’d booked four days off of work, too many to spend solely in Köln so I decided I’d split the trip and visit somewhere else for a couple of nights.

I flew out to Köln with the belief I’d be heading onwards to Frankfurt but this voice was nagging away at me and I had a change of heart whilst in Köln. The day before I cancelled my hotel in Frankfurt and booked accommodation somewhere else.

On Wednesday morning I popped to Köln’s Hauptbahnhof and booked myself train tickets for my next stop on this trip. Where?

Well, I’ll leave you to stew on that until next time!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Thanks for the memories Spurs but it’s a goodbye from me..

Count yourself lucky maybe. It’s no secret that I’m a big, big Tottenham Hotspur supporter but it isn’t often I specifically post about football on here. Today’s the exception.

My rants on football elsewhere are “legendary” of course. Myspace, Facebook, Tumblr and other platforms over the years have seen many a tirade at the expense of football or Tottenham Hotspur – let’s be honest, it’s usually both!

Football is so, so important to me. I reject any claim that it is only a game. Football and Spurs in particular are such a big part of who I am, I can’t overstate just how significant an impact that football has had on my life.

I’ve always been quiet and reserved. As a kid I was very much a shy individual who never felt like he really fit in anywhere and some of those insecurities still remain as an adult. I’m much less shy than I was as a child but I’m still introverted and I still question where I fit in. What relevance or importance does my life really have? Do I matter? Do people really care or is it closer to pity?

FYI – no need to panic here, I’ve got quite good at reassuring myself of my presence in the world when I have those doubts but it’s just a small insight in to the person behind the post / blog.

As someone who considered himself an outsider or a misfit, football became an environment where I felt comfortable and found some sort of belonging. I discovered a world and a community in which the most important thing was your love for the game.

That’s not to say football is entirely inclusive and without discrimination but to me it always felt like people cared less about who you were and more for “who” you were. The moment of truth.. “who do you support?”

“Tottenham”

“Ugh.. why? They’re shit!”

As a North Londoner it was a no brainer. Additionally with a Spurs supporting dad it was a no brainer. That was my club, it was in my blood. I couldn’t understand it when I moved to Peterborough why so many people claimed to support teams they had no connection to.

I immersed myself in to all things football growing up. From playing football on the tennis courts to swapping football stickers in the playground, I was obsessed with every aspect of the game.

That passion has evolved countless times over the years and football has undoubtedly been one of the biggest influences on my life. It has strengthened bonds and relationships, it has helped me make and maintain friendships and I’ve watched football in more than ten countries now.

The reality is that if you have any interest in football, we’re much more likely to get along because it’s something I’m comfortable talking about. It’s my easy “small talk” go-to. Travel of course would be another but it doesn’t quite match up to what football has given me.

Some of the highs (and lows) I’ve experienced because of football are unrivaled and I’m not sure I could ever replicate those euphoric moments where it just switches in a second. That night in Amsterdam is one that will live with me forever and there are no words that could ever do it justice.

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Amsterdam, May 8th 2019

So it’s painfully heartbreaking to say, I’m done.

I knew there would come a day where I’d end up packing it in but not like this! Events in the last 24 hours have seriously tested any ties I have left with Tottenham. The club have put me through every emotion over my 32 years on this planet from the most incredible highs to the most gutwrenching lows. I’ve been embarrassed and angry more times than I care to remember but I’ve never been this angry, I’ve never been this embarrassed to be associated with this football club.

Late last night Tottenham announced themselves as founding members of a new “European Super League”. Proudly declaring themselves as footballing royalty! One of the 15 super clubs of Europe who’ll sit perched at the top of the game for eternity.

A competition exclusive to the self-proclaimed best of the best – qualifying on name and reputation alone, opposed to any sporting merit.

It’s disgusting, disgraceful, arrogant, selfish, elitist, self-serving, plus a million other terms I could use and so out of touch with football supporters in this country. So disrespectful to 150 years of football and history in this country.

Self-proclaimed “super-club” – are you taking the fucking piss!?

Twelve football clubs among the tens of thousands playing across the entirety of Europe have decided that they have the divine right to be at the top of the pyramid and have put every measure in place to ensure they remain there. Twelve football clubs!

Let’s completely overlook the existing disparity in the game that already makes it a monopoly in favour of these arrogant football clubs, they want to widen that gap without any consideration to sporting achievements and what happens on the pitch?

The arrogance is astounding and this includes MY football club? Anger doesn’t go far enough. I didn’t sleep last night. I can’t fathom how anyone can lack the empathy for anyone else in football (or society for that matter). It’s so incredibly self-serving and selfish! This is what’s best for Tottenham Hotspur, to hell with the rest!

For what it’s worth, I don’t think these plans will actually materialise. There will be so much opposition from footballing authorities, football fans, individuals within the game and the government that I truly believe it will fall flat on its face but the intent is damning enough. The intent to fuck over the rest of football and the countless communities that rely so heavily on their local football club – wow, hang your head in shame Spurs..

I’ve suffered a lot of the greed in football over the last 15-20 years but this is just one step too far. It defies everything I believe in and I genuinely struggled sleeping last night as I pondered over and over about exactly how despicable and disgraceful this is.

The romance of the game is that anyone, theoretically, has the opportunity to compete and succeed. Realistically that isn’t actually accurate and there is a disparity between the biggest football clubs and those further down the pyramid but theoretically, if you overcome those stumbling blocks you reap the rewards. Ultimately there’s an integrity to the sport that your success is defined by what you do out on the pitch and you earn your place.

Proposals for that to change to monopolise the game in favour of the self-proclaimed royalty of football is something I just can’t accept. It’s immoral, it’s selfish and for the umpteenth time I’m just so angry and incredibly embarrassed to hold any association with Spurs right now.

I can’t picture my life without football but it’s time for me relinquish the season ticket and bow out. I refuse to support a club that has no care for anyone but themselves. Football without its fans and communities is NOTHING.

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My sincere hope is these football clubs are sufficiently punished and humbled. Additionally I hope these owners are run out of football.

I’m so thankful for the memories I’ve had following Spurs but, for the short-term at least, it’s a goodbye from me!

A sincerely heartbroken and lifelong Tottenham supporter,

Jason

P.S – it’ll be back to travel next time on the blog

Bremen – November 2017

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

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

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Life in Washington State

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

“Wait, Germany AGAIN?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bremen Altstadt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bear-emen Necessities?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Schnoor area in Bremen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The home of Werder Bremen

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

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

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

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

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

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Windmill in Bremen

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

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

Jason

European uncertainty: A follow up!

In my last post I spoke about fate determining my next trip. On Monday morning I’ll discover where my beloved Tottenham Hotspur are playing in March and by Monday afternoon I’ll have booked my travel in order to make a trip. You can read more about that here (European uncertainty!) but I suggested possibly posting a ‘Europa League’ comparison and here it is.

See, I’d already started drafting a Europa League edition of the same post in anticipation of us joining the competition and then Tottenham produced a sensational performance in Barcelona on Tuesday night to see us progress in the Champions League instead.

I was ecstatic! It’s the competition you want to participate in and see your team proudly competing with Europe’s elite. However from a travel perspective it was a tiny bit anti-climatic. I was eyeing up all of these Europa League opponents and potential away days, spread right across the continent and suddenly that all changed and I was left with just six destinations: Dortmund, Paris, Porto, Munich, Madrid or Turin?

Six destinations! All in countries I’ve been to before, four cities I’ve been to already and I’ve even seen Spurs in three of the stadiums which means it’s a 50-50 split for a new football experience. I’ve been to Dortmund twice!! I really don’t want to be visiting for a third time.

Moaning aside, I am happy we’re in the Champions League and I’ll be going to whichever of the six fate decides we’ll be visiting but I thought I’d have some fun and give you a comparison.

If Spurs had lost on Tuesday night we’d have ‘disappointingly’ entered the Europa League and that would have seen us visit one of the following 15 cities in February: Plzen, Bruges, Donetsk (Kiev), Istanbul, Zurich, Glasgow, Prague, Lisbon, Piraeus, Vienna, Rome, Malmo, Krasnodar, Rennes, Barysaw.

Fifteen! It’s ironic but our successful result on Tuesday night made it all a little more boring. Anyway, I’m going to follow on from my last post and treat this in the same manner.
From genuine “no-go” destinations to “dream trips” I’m going to review the 15 destinations and tell you what my thought process would have been had we found ourselves in Monday’s Europa League draw instead.

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Last trip to Italy in the Europa League – Florence, 2015

Rome, Italy
The one plus side to my Champions League fate is that there are no destinations to really worry about. I nearly opted to put my next destination before Rome but, you know what, I think Rome would sincerely worry me more.

Rome is high on my bucketlist. It’s probably top of my list of places to see in Europe that I haven’t already been to. Culture, history, food etc etc but it’s just not worth the risk for football. Fans of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Middlesbrough and Tottenham themselves have all found trouble awaiting them in Rome. The stats don’t lie and I don’t want to be another statistic. I can’t forget stories and images of Spurs fans left in critical condition following our last visit to Rome. Another stabbing headline.

Even overlooking the numerous stories (seriously, google it) I think I’d perhaps risk it as a fan of any other English club but there’s also the Jewish connection to Tottenham Hotspur. Unfortunately there’s also a racism / antisemitism problem in Italian football, particularly with Lazio who are almost famous for their right-wing support. It’s a travesty I’ve yet to visit but I wouldn’t ever go to Rome for football. It’s more hassle than it’s worth and a football trip in Florence (Feb 2015) wasn’t enough for Italian football to win me over.

Istanbul, Turkey
I really want to go to Istanbul, it looks like an incredible city and how many two-continent-cities can you visit? It’d be unique for that alone. It’s definitely on my bucketlist.

For football though? No. The Europa League could have seen us play either of Turkey’s two biggest clubs, Galatasary or Fenerbache, both based in Istanbul and both intimidating places to visit. There’s a little part of me that would be intrigued but I think a football match in Turkey is best left to experiencing as a neutral and better avoided as an English fan. More stories of violence and stabbings is enough to put me off. The city is a must visit but it’s another pass on the football front.

Krasnodar, Russia
I think prior to the World Cup success in the summer I would have been a bit more wary about visiting Russia for football. I still think Tottenham visiting Moscow would likely draw some unwanted attention but the only Russian team we would have been susceptible to playing would be based in a city called Krasnodar.

Honestly? I don’t know anything about the place. It’s a million miles away from Moscow and St Petersburg which are the two big cities I want to visit. I might have gone to this one though so it surprisingly ranks a little higher than Istanbul and Rome. What does go against it is that I don’t think it’d be an incredible atmosphere, very few of our fans would travel and I don’t know how easy it is to get a Russian visa in a rather quick turn-around period. I might have gone or I might have gambled on us progressing and getting something more appealing in the next round.

Kiev, Ukraine
An interesting one. A trip to Ukraine would have meant a game against Shakhtar Donetsk who unsurprisingly are from Donetsk. The problem is Donetsk is on the Russian border and is a bit of a warzone at the minute so they’ve been playing their games (for quite some time) in Kiev.

I want to go to Kiev and a year ago this was higher on my list but it seems tensions between Ukraine and Russia are running higher so it’s dropped a little bit. Unfortunately it seems like a bad time to be visiting the country. It’s a city that appeals more than Krasnodar so for that reason it ranks a little higher but I would have been in two minds about going.

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A return to Greece and pretty sunsets? Tempting!

Piraeus, Greece
There’s a temptation to put this one a little higher. I had to google where in Greece this actually was and it’s on the outskirts of Athens so I’d probably base myself in Athens and make a trip to Piraeus purely for the game.

Athens is definitely a city I plan to visit and Greece in February would have been a perfect winter getaway and a bit of Greek sunshine. Much like the Istanbul fanatics though, the Greeks are known to be a little crazy and love to create an intimidating atmosphere. I don’t think there’d be any trouble over there, purely as most of the time would be spent in Athens but it wouldn’t be one of my first picks to visit for football. The reality is we’d likely win and I’d save my pennies for the following round.

Vienna, Austria
This is where it begins to get a bit trickier and the destinations start getting more appealing. I’m being a little harsh on Vienna here because I would like to go back, my only visit there was barely for 24 hours and I couldn’t speak any German so I feel like it’d be much more enjoyable this time round.

Additionally I’d have no concerns visiting for football. There are a lot of similarities to Germany (hopefully don’t offend the Austrians/Germans in saying that haha) and I think it would be quite an enjoyable experience for football.

The only reason this is so far down is because albeit a flying visit, I have visited and Austria is also pretty expensive. There’s a lot of other places that would be cheaper and I’d rather visit. I would have gone though and possibly squeezed in a return to Bratislava or Budapest at the same time.

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Vienna, Austria – 2014

Barysaw, Belarus
“Where?” I hear you ask. Football definitely aids my geography knowledge so I knew BATE Borisov play in Belarus but I honestly had no idea where in Belarus this was. The fact the team are referred to as Borisov and Google suggests they play in Barysaw also makes me unsure of how you even spell it in English. Does anyone know and want to correct me?

Nevertheless a quick search on Google suggests Barysaw/Borisov is about an hour away from the capital, Minsk, which you’ll hopefully have heard of at least.

It might seem weird to some that this is higher than Vienna but it’d just be cool to go somewhere completely different, somewhere I’ve never been and it’s a trip I could extend in to a few other nearby countries I’ve never been to either.

Rennes, France
I said French football has never had the biggest glamour about it in my eyes and Rennes aren’t one of France’s bigger football clubs either.

Nevertheless it’s such an easy trip to France that this would have been quite a fun away trip. It’s not a region of France I’ve previously been to but it’s a country I’m growing a fondness of and I’m keen to explore more of. Not having to fly is always a bonus and it’s close enough that we’d take a large number of fans too which would make for a fun atmosphere over the course of a few days in France.

It definitely would have been one to get me excited but sits bang in the middle at 8th of the 15 destinations. Seven to go!

Zurich, Switzerland
Switzerland is a country I have still yet to visit! It looks stunning and so does Zurich so it’s a city that has been on my radar for a while. I don’t really know what it’d be like for football, with the exception of FC Basel the Swiss clubs typically haven’t seen much success in European football recently so it isn’t somewhere I’d get overly excited about from a football perspective but it’d be a cracking trip.

Zurich is also close to a number of other cities and countries making it ideal to extend a trip and explore for a little longer. The chance to tick off a new country and see a game at the same time would have been highly appealing. It’d be expensive though so would have fallen short of my top 5 wishlist.

Malmo, Sweden
Another city that is on my radar already as a travel destination and another country that I’ve yet to visit. Malmo’s a bit of an anomaly though as I think this would probably be the only away trip that I’d look to fly to another COUNTRY and stay in another country.

Malmo is just across the bridge from Copenhagen, one side of the bridge is Denmark and the other side is Sweden! So it’s only about 30-40 minutes away I believe.

I’d really like to visit Copenhagen and it has always been on my mind to combine a Copenhagen/Malmo trip when I do, looking to spend a night or two in the latter.

From a footballing perspective it doesn’t overly excite me but I really want to go to Copenhagen so it would have been a game I’d have relished, albeit in a different country. Bizarre.

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Easter Road, Edinburgh, Dec 2017

Glasgow, Scotland
“I really want a European away trip” – puts Scotland in to the top 5. Alright, so for this one I wouldn’t even have to leave this little island and it is a tiny bit anti-climatic to face another British side in Europe but it’d be a fun affair.

I’d like to return to Glasgow anyway, I went as a child but don’t remember much of it and it looks like an interesting city. I’d really really love to go to Celtic Park on a European night too – even if it was just as a neutral. It holds a reputation for one of the best atmospheres in Europe on a European night and the subplot of a Scotland v England affair would add a bit more spice to the occasion.

I think there would be inevitably some trouble in such a game but I think it would largely be a minority and for those that go looking for a scrap opposed to Glasgow being particularly unwelcoming. There’s no real bad blood between the two clubs and I think it’d be an interesting experience to play that at some point. Perhaps next season our paths will cross. A trip to Celtic (or Rangers) on a European night is definitely on my bucketlist though.

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Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal
A return to Lisbon? Yes please! I went to Lisbon for football in March 2014 and I’d love to have had the opportunity to go back. I have unfinished business with Lisbon, some of you may recall I pretty much spent three nights getting drunk in Lisbon (read me!), so I’d love to go back and see more of it.

It was one of the most hospitable places I’ve ever visited, the weather was a dream too and it’d attract a number of our fans making another great atmosphere. Additionally, last time I visited for a match against Lisbon based Benfica. This would have been a match against Sporting Lisbon so it would have been a new stadium visit too!

 

Plzen, Czech Republic
Alright, let me be completely honest. A European away trip is a great chance to see somewhere new and get a bit of culture and have an adventure but fundamentally it’s a trip that revolves around matchday. I’ll typically go for 3-4 days because matchday is a write-off. All you want is a good atmosphere, a sing song and a few beers with your mates.

So where better to enjoy that than perhaps one of the greatest countries to enjoy a beer? The Czech Republic is famous for its beer, so much so that the popular Pilsner beers unsurprisingly originate from a city called Pilsen (Plzen). Not that it’s all beer, it looks like a pretty city too and is somewhere I’d like to visit on my first trip to the Czech Republic.

The additional reason this makes my top three is that I’d extend the trip. I’d have a couple of days in Plzen and a couple of days in my dream destination Prague, a city I have been wanting to visit for so so long and somehow haven’t yet made it happen. It obviously won’t be for football anytime soon but the Czech Republic is definitely somewhere I’m thinking about for 2019.

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Belgian beers in Bruges!

Bruges, Belgium
Snap! If the Czech beers don’t take your fancy maybe you’ll have more luck with the Belgians who have many incredible beers of their own! I can’t say football and Bruges brings back happy memories, on my last visit to Bruges I ended up finding a bar to watch Tottenham lose 5-0 to Liverpool. The Belgian beers were a good way to console myself though.

This would be a hugely popular away trip for our fans, it’d be relatively cheap and it’s another of those trips that wouldn’t require flying to. I make it sound like I’m a nervous flyer, I’m not but there’s something more enjoyable about taking a train to travel somewhere.

I only spent a day in Bruges on my only visit, it’s a good amount of time to enjoy the city but I’d happily go back and see a little more of it. It’s a magical place and there’d be enough to do for a few days and other potential daytrips nearby such as Antwerp or wherever if I wanted a little escape. Had we been in the Europa League I think this is the one most of our fans would have been hoping for, however there’s one that just edges it for me which is..

Prague, Czech Republic
This is somewhere I keep meaning to visit and it just hasn’t quite happened for me yet. It’s cheap (ish, I imagine it’s getting pricier as its popularity grows), it’s beautiful, it has incredible beer, a highly-rated nightlife, plenty to do, plenty of history. Need I go on?

I’ve never been to the Czech Republic which gives it an edge over Bruges, it’d be another new country to watch football in and it’d surely prove to be a cracking atmosphere as I’ve no doubt it’d be a popular trip for our fans.

Additionally as much as I would dream of a European away trip as a child, for a long time a European home game was a novelty of its own. A home game against Slavia Prague in 2006 gave me my first real taste of any European football. It’d be nice to say I’ve seen us play them home and away.

Sadly Czech football isn’t of a high standard so a meeting is only ever likely to be in Europe’s secondary competition.

Anyway, that wraps things up. I’ll never understand fans that diminish the luxury of Europa League football, for some reason there’s a snobbish attitude that would see fans rather us have no European football than Europa League football. Of course the Champions League is where you want to be but if we’d lost on Tuesday night I wouldn’t have been too disappointed to find ourselves in tomorrow’s Europa League draw.

The irony is that, in many ways, this presented some better away trips than the ‘glamorous’ Champions League. I wanted to offer a comparison because it seemed daft that I was saying in my last post that I found the alternative a little underwhelming and anti-climatic.

So feel free to play along again. Fifteen destinations, which would you want to be visiting? Similarly you’ve now had the Champions League options and the Europa League options, which list is the more attractive in your eyes? The Western favourites of the Champions League or the variety of the Europa League? Let me know!

Next up on the blog: Georgia part two!

Stay tuned!

Jason

European uncertainty!

I’ve been slacking a little lately and haven’t got around to posting part two of my Georgia series, I promise that will follow shortly but I thought I’d break things up to talk about my next trip!

Long-time readers of the blog should know by now that I’m a huge football fan and some of you may recall a blog post from last year titled ‘Left to fate’.
You can give that a read here (Read me!) but the point behind that post was that the choice of my next destination was out of my hands and left up to a higher power.

The football gods, fate, luck of the draw, whatever you want to call it. My beloved Tottenham were going to three unknown European cities and I had to wait upon the outcome to decide if I wanted to go or not.
I used that post as an opportunity for you all to play along and pick 3 destinations that you’d personally be hoping for.

On Monday I’ll discover who Tottenham’s next European opposition are and therefore I find myself in a similar position where there’s uncertainty as to where my next trip will be. On Monday afternoon I’ll be booking flights to somewhere in Europe but right now I couldn’t tell you where. I could get you to play along again but I thought I’d actually switch it up a little and go in to a little more depth about what my thought process is behind why some trips are more appealing than others. For instance in my Florence posts I talked about being nervous about visiting Italy for football and that may have surprised some of you.

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Football in Florence

I’d drafted this blog post under the assumption that Spurs would be participating in the Europa League and rather ironically, as delighted as I was to be proven wrong, it was probably a more interesting blog post on that basis. The Europa League offered a few “no-go destinations” such as Rome or Istanbul and also offered a bit more variety in terms of countries I could visit such as Croatia or Switzerland or Ukraine or.. you get the point.

Tottenham produced an incredible performance in Barcelona on Tuesday night to confirm our status in Europe’s elite competition, the Champions League, but ironically it’s all a bit dull. Opposed to the 16 potential destinations spread across the continent that the Europa League offered, I’m left with just 6 destinations (Dortmund, Paris, Porto, Munich, Madrid and Turin). All of which are countries I’ve been to, four of which are cities I’ve been to and three of which at stadiums I’ve already seen Tottenham play at. How bloody boring!

So in explaining my reasoning from least desirable to “dream trip”, here goes:

Dortmund, Germany
Do I need to say anything else? Germany is the pinnacle of European football for me, Dortmund is a football fan’s wet dream and should be on anyone’s “football bucketlist”. I dreamt of visiting Dortmund for a game, irrespective of who the opposition were. Experiencing that famous atmosphere and yellow wall is rightly considered a rite of passage in football.

In March 2016 the unthinkable happened! Not only was that dream trip about to become a reality but even better, Tottenham were the team visiting. Rather than attend a random game as a neutral I could visit with my own team as an away fan – wow! It was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity and I’d only just come back from Georgia and I was booking flights for three weeks later. I couldn’t miss this game!

In November 2017 Tottenham returned to Dortmund. I was hesitant to return. “Once in a lifetime” scenarios aren’t supposed to come around again so soon. The reality is Dortmund had little appeal to me as a destination other than football so I’d stayed in Köln on my previous visit, which was a sickener when later in 2016 we played Leverkusen (just outside of Köln) and I found myself back in West Germany. A third trip to West Germany seemed excessive but nevertheless I went back – splitting my time between Bremen and Düsseldorf around the match itself.

Dortmund is a fun away trip but I’m not looking for a third return in three years. Please, please, please avoid Dortmund in Monday’s draw!

Turin, Italy
Of six destinations, Dortmund was bottom by a long long way. I will go to Dortmund if that’s what fate determines but I know a part of me will be disappointed. I have my preferred destination too but the other four are split so marginally, I’ve opted to put Turin 5th on my list which might be a little harsh.

There are pros and cons to a Turin trip. It’s a city I’ve never visited which adds some excitement, Juventus are a massive name in European football which adds some prestige to the football, there’s an element of revenge too after Juventus knocked us out of Europe last season and of course it’s Italy which means all of the pizza, pasta and gelato!

On the flipside it’s football in Italy. I loved Florence but from a footballing perspective it wasn’t a dream trip. Turin would be closer to the scale of Florence in terms of safety, opposed to getting stabbed in Rome or Naples but I can’t say Florence was ‘fun’. Aspects of it were but curfews, police escorts, separation from opposition fans, over-the-top security and more just spoil it for football fans. It’s not what the game is about.

I want to go back and see all of Italy, Rome and Naples included, but I didn’t find it enjoyable for football. Florence was incredible for many reasons but the football wasn’t really one of them. My favourite day in Italy was on the Friday once the football was over and the police had relaxed with the knowledge most Brits were heading home. I’ll go to Turin but it’s not top of my list.

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A return to Paris?

Paris, France
From here on in I’m not sure if there’s really a bad draw. I loved Paris when I visited in December (2016) and I feel like I’ve got a lot of “unfinished business” with the city. There’s so many reasons to return and irrespective of the football it’s somewhere I’ll return to.
Additionally I’ve never watched football here and it’s a country I’ve yet to watch a live game of football in so would take my tally up to twelve countries that I’ve seen a game in. It’d also be a simple trip and I probably wouldn’t even bother flying which is a bonus.

However it ‘only’ reaches fourth on my list because, as a bit of a football snob, I don’t feel like French football has that same glamour about it. Paris St Germain are France’s biggest football club for instance and I was amazed to discover quite recently that they were only founded in 1970. I’ve held this opinion of French football for a long time and that revelation kind of cemented that belief, France’s biggest club are younger than my parents! PSG are a global name now but they’re still short of Europe’s elite.

With that said, I visited Lille this year on the day of the France v Argentina game and it surprised me a little in experiencing the atmosphere in the city. Similarly it made me fall in love with France a little more so perhaps a Paris football trip might win me over fully.

Madrid, Spain
I feel like I’m doing this a disservice by placing it third on my list. Madrid is flawless. Nowhere is ever likely to displace my love of London so, excluding London, Madrid is my favourite European city. It’s a city I’d overlooked visiting before last year, I figured I’d visit someday but I was in no real rush to visit the Spanish capital. However in 2017 Tottenham were scheduled to face Real Madrid and I couldn’t miss it.

Tottenham taking on the biggest name in football? Sign me up! It was such a prestigious occasion and huge opportunity and it was enough to rush a trip to Madrid. I’ve spoken about this on the blog before but a Spurs European away game was a childhood dream of mine and these are the places you’d dream of coming to.

The biggest surprise for me was that away from the football I LOVED Madrid. As much as a capital city can be, it’s an underrated city. It blew me away. I couldn’t rate it any higher and I’d love to go back.

The only thing that stops this being top of the pile is the fact I’ve been to see Tottenham there once already. It’d be hard to top the last trip to the Santiago Bernabeu too. I won’t be disappointed if I go back though.

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Watching Tottenham in Munich

Munich, Germany
Not only have I been to this city but I’ve watched Tottenham here too so there was a temptation to put this further down the list. With that said, despite Tottenham playing in their stadium I haven’t actually seen us play Bayern Munich there (or anywhere) so it’d be a novelty factor in seeing us play one of the biggest names in European football.

Additionally I speak decent German and I love Bavaria. I’ve already mentioned German football is the pinnacle of European football in my eyes, the Germans are great hosts when it comes to football and it’d be a popular trip amongst our fans making for a good atmosphere.

It’s a city I feel I could see a little more of and there’s the additional opportunity to visit my favourite German and Austrian in nearby cities. It’d make for a great trip!

Munich, Madrid, Paris or Turin could have been placed in any order really but I’m just giving this the edge for a multitude of reasons.

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Tottenham in Lisbon, Portugal

Porto, Portugal
Lastly we have the dream trip – Porto!

Portugal was where my first European away trip with Spurs occurred and I fell in love with the country. Where Italy tries their best to suck all of the fun out of the experience, Portugal were incredible hosts. The locals of Lisbon accommodated us in to their city, made us feel welcome, had buskers playing Tottenham songs and were happily sharing beers with us.

It’s a travesty that if this is to be the trip in March (2019) that it’ll be five years since my only visit to Portugal. Five years since I’ve visited this beautiful and incredible country.

Porto ticks all of the boxes. It’s a city I’ve never been to, it’s a country I want to see more of, they’re a big enough name in European football to make it interesting, it’s the most winnable game (on paper) of our potential opposition and I already know how hospitable the Portuguese are. It’s easy to get to, thousands of Spurs fans would likely travel creating a great atmosphere in the city. I could go on and on.

It’s a city I’ve been tempted to visit for a while and it’s our best chance of progressing in the competition. A no brainer really!

Anyway, that wraps things up. Unfortunately the Champions League, for all of its glory, is actually relatively boring and favours the Western European nations. UEFA continue to balance the scales in favour of England, Spain, Germany and Italy which whilst exciting places to visit, actually add a dose of repetitiveness to the trips you enjoy.

You want to see your team compete at the highest level but rather ironically a post on potential Europa League opposition would have made for a far more interesting blog-post. I hope you enjoyed it anyway!

I’ll keep you posted on where I book flights to on Monday! Where would you personally be hoping for? Dortmund, Paris, Porto, Munich, Madrid or Turin?

I might follow this up with a Europa League edition, just as a comparison, but next up on the blog will probably be Georgia part two!

Stay tuned!

Jason

München – Trip 1, part 1

I announced my return to the blog at the end of August and intended to have posted again before now. Part of my struggle was because I was torn on what to post next. Should I jump straight in to the USA summer trip or do I stick to the blog theme of posting about my trips chronologically? I opted for the latter.

So now that my summer fun in the US is over with, let’s rewind. Last time out on the blog we were focusing on Bilbao (May 2015), three months later I was readying myself for the next trip: München aka Munich!

For the third consecutive year I was going to Germany, having only first visited the country for the first time in 2013 (Köln) before visiting Berlin (2014). My growing fondness of Germany could probably be attributed to two common interests: beer and football! Whilst both are loved all over Germany, nowhere does that seem to be truer than in München (Munich) who happen to be world-famous for their beer (Oktoberfest anyone?) and are also home to Germany’s biggest football club – Bayern München.

It was the latter that was the inspiration for visiting (although I may have had a beer or two whilst in Germany too) as my beloved Tottenham Hotspur announced they’d be going to München for a pre-season tournament. Spurs in the Allianz Arena with no importance on the result? Sign me up! I knew I had to go!

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Outside Allianz Arena on the Wednesday!

On the Tuesday I flew out to München, it was a tad frustrating I couldn’t fly any earlier but such were the circumstances at the time. I landed with the intention to rush over to München’s Allianz Arena via my hotel to drop off my things. Having never been to München before I ended up jumping on the wrong S-train, it still took me to central München but seemed to have more stops than the other direction, not ideal given my flight had been delayed so I was stretched for time to get to the stadium. I dropped off my things at the hotel as quickly as possible and then made a quick dash for München’s U-Bahn (tube / metro / subway).

Nevertheless it was clear I wasn’t going to get there on time, admittedly it was only pre-season so it wasn’t a major issue but given Tottenham were playing first (in the first of 2 games) I’d hoped to catch the start. It wasn’t to be and as I strolled up to the Allianz Arena it was deserted, not helped by being in the middle of nowhere but most spectators were already in their seats.

I walked up to the gate and was prepared for a quick body search before entry which put my German to the test for the first time. On my two previous trips to Germany I knew nothing so it was nice coming back with some basic vocabulary in the locker. As the security guard searched me he threw a question in my direction: “Schlüssel? he asked.

Damn, I know that word! What is it? Bowl..? No, that’s schüssel – no L! Why would he ask that anyway you idiot? Hmm.. key..? KEY! Yes, there’s a key in my pocket! That makes sense!

“Ja.. Schlüssel” I replied perhaps a bit too enthusiastically.

Entry accepted, I made my way in to the stadium feeling pretty smug with myself. “Wow, I’m practically fluent”
Of course I wasn’t, I still struggled a lot throughout this trip but it was a sign that I was going in the right direction at least in terms of learning the language. I could come to Germany and not be solely dependent on English for once!

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Allianz Arena, Munich

The Allianz Arena is a cracking stadium, up there with one of my favourites in the 40+ football stadiums I’ve visited. German football really is the pinnacle for me in terms of fan experience and it was a nice novelty walking in and grabbing a beer before finding my seat – a decent beer too! I’d missed the first half to find Spurs were losing but soon found my friend Daniel in our seats enjoying the experience. Following our game there was another game with the two winners and two losers set to play the following day, of which we were the latter.

On our way back to the U-Bahn after the two games it had become clear Daniel was drunker than I realised, he’d made the most of arriving in München a day earlier and had squeezed in some beers earlier in the day which was highly amusing for me. Whilst I’d seen Daniel drunk before it was possibly the drunkest I’d seen him so the strength of the German beers had seemingly gone to his head. Not that it stopped us making a pub-stop back in the centre of the city. We’d found an Irish bar with a scattering of Spurs fans enjoying the trip and grabbed a quick beer before calling it a night.

Wednesday had much more of the same in store. Whilst tamer than a competitive European away game we were still planning to soak up some of the pre-game atmosphere. We agreed to meet around lunch so beforehand I woke up early and joined a ‘free’ walking tour, always a great way to see the city.

It’s a good way to familiarise yourself with a new city and they’re usually pretty educational too, it was a chance to learn that München wasn’t all beer and lederhosen and had quite an interesting history too! The tour covered the role the city played in the rise of Hitler and also told some more light-hearted stories with the help of the Glockenspiel – found in München’s Marienplatz. Every day you’ll find hordes of tourists looking up at the belltower as a couple of historical stories are played out.

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Marienplatz, Munich – September, 2016

The rest of Wednesday was football-focused and consisted of a bit of singing, plenty of beers and another two enjoyable games of football (Spurs success this time too!).

We made our way back in to the city centre after the football, had a beer or two and then called it a night. My plan for Thursday was to take a daytrip somewhere, I was tempted to visit the famous Neuschwanstein Schloss (castle that was inspiration for Disney) and also the Dachau concentration camp. Those of you following the blog for a while will know I opted for the latter which you can read about here: A lesson learned in Dachau or a look in to the future?

Dachau was moving, it’s hard to visit somewhere like that and not feel something. Germany has the best pick-me-up though and that’s good beer! I got back to München late on Thursday afternoon and arranged to meet up with Daniel, we decided to spend our last night together with some beers at the Viktualienmarkt. They have a number of food options and additionally a cracking beer garden – perfect given the weather. We had a fun evening and were probably one of the last to leave, the staff clearing tables and stacking benches was a good hint that it was time for us to go.

It was a good end to our third European adventure together following Lisboa and Firenze, on Friday Daniel was heading home and I’d be temporarily saying goodbye to München too. I’d be back on Saturday so it wasn’t a long farewell but it does mean you’ll have to wait for part 2.

Next up was a daytrip to Augsburg on the Friday! Stay tuned!

Jason

Firenze: Day 2 – Matchday!

If you’ve read my two recent posts on Italy you’ll know I was in Firenze to watch Tottenham take on Fiorentina back in February 2015. If not you can catch up here (Pisa and Firenze: day 1) but we left off last time round with the end of day one (Wednesday) in Firenze which had been a great first day in the city.

Thursday was matchday and in all honesty if you’re doing a trip like this you just have to write matchday off. If you can squeeze some culture in to the morning then great but you sacrifice your afternoon to soak up the atmosphere of the city and then save your evening to watch the game itself.

For this reason I always travel for 3 days at least for a European football trip because I know one of those is lost, nevertheless I love the matchday ritual and knowing there would be roughly 3,000 other Brits in the city for the “party” does get you excited.

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The matchday fun was temporarily put on hold a week before our game. On the previous Thursday Dutch football fans had clashed with riot police in Rome which added another unwanted spotlight on Italian football, which already holds a tainted reputation. Unfortunately it left us to face the repercussions of those actions and it was clear the Italian authorities were not going to be treating our visit lightly – in what was already a fairly high profile game.

A lot of news and rumours came out of Italy over the course of the next week. Some of the rumours included calling upon resources from other cities with 1,000 additional police (on top of the presence for a normal game) expected in Firenze, tightened security measures, police escorts, curfews on the bars/restaurants throughout the city and even a proposed drinking ban on the day of the game (today!).

You could certainly feel the police presence in the city, Tottenham had communicated to our supporters that we HAD to take specific buses to the stadium as the police would be closing off all surrounding roads for away supporters, Wednesday night had added substance to the curfew rumours but surely, surely there wasn’t going to be an alcohol ban today?

Breathe a sigh of relief! There wasn’t! I think it would have been near on impossible to enforce so I’m not sure where the rumours surfaced from but luckily the beers were still flowing!

On Wednesday night me and Daniel had found an Irish bar full of Spurs fans so we decided we’d revisit it on Thursday. By the time we arrived Thursday lunchtime it was already a little busy with people hanging up their flags wherever possible and creating a bit of an atmosphere.

 

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Pride of North London – Then, Now, Forever

It was only ever going to get busier as many opt to fly out on matchday, so the majority of Spurs fans would be arriving in to Firenze over the course of the next few hours. So to my surprise this bar had TWO barstaff working. 3,000+ Brits were here to drink the city dry so it was baffling how unprepared they were – surely you knew we were coming? This isn’t a normal Thursday afternoon shift!

From a business point of view I found it ridiculous! You are due to make an absolute fortune! If you can’t serve the people quickly enough they’ll find their beer elsewhere – you’re driving your customers away!
On the plus side there was no sign of this drinking ban at least!
After plenty more beers and much more singing eventually the police advised time was up and were moving us on – time to go to the stadium!

Fortunately me and Daniel were one of the first on the bus so managed to get a seat (we didn’t use) but one by one more Spurs fans would get on board. Whilst waiting for the bus to fill up we were sat parked at a bus stop so every so often an old lady would get on with her bags and things. Clearly confusing it for a regular bus from the same stop but every time they would quickly be advised to get off! “Wrong bus, trust us, you don’t want to be on this one!”
Having crammed enough of us in like sardines we were off and so began a wave of noise!

Every bus was sandwiched front and back: Police vehicle – bus – police vehicle – bus – police vehicle.. you get the idea. We were being paraded through the streets of Firenze like criminals and in all honesty we made the most of the attention it brought.

The atmosphere on board was incredible and I don’t think anyone was sat down for the entirety of the bus journey. Spurs had arrived and we let the Italians know it – leaving some very puzzled onlookers as we whizzed through the streets at the expense of the other traffic that our entourage had taken priority over.
Song after song after song at the top of our lungs with police sirens blaring too – our presence was making a racket!

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We’re here! Far too early!

Eventually our bus dropped us at the end of an empty road with a bit of a walk to the stadium. The police had cordoned off every surrounding road giving us one way in, one way out. It ensured we didn’t cross paths with a single Italian fan and also gave us no opportunity to take a look around the area / rest of the stadium. It was a little sad in truth.

 

Before you could even get to the stadium you had to pass through a number of security checks – tickets, passports and then a thorough body search. Far too intimate for my liking (“Valentine’s Day was a couple of weeks ago guys”) but given how well stocked the police were I don’t think they were going to get too many complaints. Having been sufficiently groped we’d passed the necessary tests and could make our slow walk to enter the stadium.

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Playing the waiting game!

We were here far too early and the facilities were terrible so there wasn’t anything to do except fly our flags, sing our songs and wait. I’d love to say the game was worth the wait but it wasn’t. We were crap, the less said the better and it was bloody freezing too. Fiorentina’s stadium lacks a roof and we were at the back of the stand so were catching most of the wind.

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Fiorentina’s noisier supporters at the opposite end

The game came to its conclusion and we were kindly told that we wouldn’t be going anywhere just yet – you can freeze a little longer whilst we lock you in to allow enough time for the Italians to disperse. It’s not unusual for away games so it wasn’t a huge deal, it was cold but at least it wasn’t raining!

Oh now it is! I don’t know how long we were kept behind for but it felt forever. Eventually they let us out as far as the buses because, of course, we’d be escorted back in to the centre of the city. The bus journey was much tamer heading back. Nothing to celebrate and most fed up at how long we’d been forced to wait.

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The game probably ended at around 8:45-8:50 – the bus journey was around 15 minutes so inevitably it was about 10:30 by the time we were set free back in the centre of Firenze. We’d been at the stadium since about 5-5:30 (for a 7pm kickoff) so needless to say we were craving some food and a beer.

The police had kept us so late that by the time we’d got back to the centre barely anything was open. We did find one restaurant in this nearby square still open so we took a seat outside, it didn’t take long for the waiter to tell us that we needed to be quick! We’d barely sat down but, of course, there was a looming midnight curfew.

Dinner was.. okay? Who knows? Surprisingly you don’t tend to enjoy it so much when you’re feeling rushed. As if that wasn’t enough you could feel the close watch of the two police vans sat on the opposite side of the square – ready to enforce an early night if necessary.

I think both me and Daniel could have quite happily gone for another beer after dinner but were we likely to have any luck finding somewhere open? The city was dead, the police had done their jobs, killed the mood and put an end to any potential trouble before it could begin. I headed back to my hostel and got tucked in for another relatively early night in Italy as I had important things to sort out on Friday (stay tuned!).

Reflecting on the overall football experience it’s hard to say if I’d go back to Italy for football. On the one hand you’ve got the safety concerns of racism and violence in places such as Rome or Naples that I’d still be nervous to visit for football. On the other hand the only way to counteract it appears to be with over-the-top-policing to ensure your safety.

I’m not criticising the approach, it worked. I had no interest in being another statistic, another number in a long line of English stabbings in Italy but that doesn’t make it any more satisfying.
A year earlier I’d witnessed Portuguese buskers singing Tottenham songs, Benfica fans embracing our visit and barely a police officer in sight. Benfica knocked Tottenham out of Europe but as fans you exchange pleasantries and wish eachother luck for the rest of the season. That’s football, that’s why I love the game.

To go from that experience in Lisbon to Firenze was a sad reflection on Italian football and made it easy to see why attendances in Italian football have been on the decline over the last decade  Football is about the fans and I didn’t meet a single Fiorentina fan whilst in Firenze, they’d been cut off from our reach.

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In fairness to Italy, Tottenham returned to Firenze a year later and by all accounts I heard from those that visited that it was a better experience. Perhaps a realisation that Tottenham and Fiorentina had no bad blood and could coexist in the same city without any fuss. Nevertheless, whilst there were still aspects I enjoyed it didn’t quite live up to watching Tottenham in Portugal, Belgium, Germany or Spain.

I’ll definitely go back to Italy, there’s so much of the country that I want to see but maybe I’ll give the football a miss.

Anyway, hopefully you enjoyed the little insight in to travel as a football fan. Stay tuned for the final day in Firenze, I promise it’s a good’un!

All the best!

Jason

Day one in Firenze!

You may have noticed I have a tendency to ramble on a bit (“no Jason, don’t be silly. Of course you don’t!”) so I’ve decided that going forward I’m going to split some of my longer trips up across multiple blog posts.

Anyway back to Italy and on to part two of the trip! If you’ve been following along you’ll know that my trip (Feb 2015) began with a day in Pisa and that I’d be moving onwards to Firenze (Florence) the next day (Wednesday). What you don’t know is why I was visiting Firenze, nor why I’d been sceptical about going at all! First of all let’s start with why I was visiting?

Well that’s an easy answer, football of course! My love of football is no big secret on the blog and it’s perhaps the only interest of mine that surpasses my love of travel. Opportunities to combine the two loves are always a bonus!

In 2014 I lived a childhood dream when I went to Lisbon and I got to watch Tottenham play in another country – a European away trip for football – an incredible experience! I’d wanted to do a European away day with Spurs for so long and Lisbon had finally given me a taste for it. Come the end of 2014 I was itching to do another and was awaiting news of where Tottenham would be playing in the February. I eyed up all of the potential opposition and hoped for the best – in the end the “football gods” were sending us to Firenze in Italy to play Fiorentina.

 

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Fiorentina v Tottenham Hotspur!

Visiting Italy had been another childhood dream of mine so surely I had to go!? No, I hesitated. The news of Spurs visiting Italy was met with trepidation, was it safe going to Italy?

For those of you not clued up on football I’d forgive you for thinking I’m scaremongering but I couldn’t erase the stories or images from my mind of Spurs visit to Italy three years earlier. One night in Rome saw an ambush on an unsuspecting pub which left some of our fans in critical condition. I’d love to say it was an isolated incident but fans of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Middlesbrough have all faced problems of their own in the last 15 years when visiting Italy.

It doesn’t make great reading for English football fans and sadly Italy’s reputation speaks for itself in both football violence and racism.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting English football fans are angels and I’m not suggesting it’s a reflection on all Italians either. It is very much a minority but enough of a minority that you’d be naïve to not have some concern visiting at the very least!

“but you went to Italy so you are just scaremongering!”

I did go to Italy and the location was a factor. Would I have gone to Rome or Naples so easily? I’m not sure. I definitely want to visit both, particularly Rome, but I’m not sure I’d risk it for the football.
In contrast Firenze I had never heard of English fans running in to trouble so I felt a little more comfortable going over there.

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Firenze’s Duomo!

Five days before I was due to fly to Pisa news broke from Italy. The headline read something like “Dutch football fans clash with riot police in Rome”. – the worst part about it was that it wasn’t a surprising headline.
Rome has its own tainted reputation but the same can be said of Netherlands-based football club Feyenoord – stick them together in one city and it was only ever going to lead one way.. “in other news, water is wet..”

Irrespective of how inevitable it was, it did put an unwanted spotlight on Italian football again. The timing was terrible given there was going to be an imminent arrival of 3,000+ Brits to the country in the next few days.
Lots of reports and rumours came out of Italy following the trouble in Rome: 1,000 additional police in Firenze to be called upon from surrounding cities, tightened security measures, police escorts, curfews on local establishments and even a proposed drinking ban on the day of the game. It was clear that the Italian authorities would not be messing about for our visit!

So now you’ve had a little background, what actually went down in Firenze? Here’s day one!

I made a swift getaway from Pisa on Wednesday morning and was soon arriving in to Firenze. My first job was to find my hostel but luckily I’d been given directions.. “let’s have a read”.. Step one: Find the Burger King opposite the train station!
Here I was in a city famed for its culture, a country famed for its food and what am I doing? Looking for a bloody Burger King! I didn’t come to Italy for this! At least things could only get better from there, right?

My directions did at the very least take me where I wanted to go (my hostel, not Burger King!). I was soon checking in with the most wonderful host imaginable and dropping off my things in anticipation of exploring more of the city!
My host was brilliant and gave me so many recommendations for food, drinks, gelato and things to do. With that in mind I went off in search of lunch to a nearby place that supposedly had good food and good beers – a winning combination!

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Mostodolce pub/restaurant in Firenze

This bar was beautifully decorated, the bar staff were friendly and I ended up enjoying my first pizza in Firenze alongside a beer. Following lunch I went off to find the “must see” of the city – Firenze’s famous Duomo (cathedral) and it’s famous with good reason. I’d seen photos of it online but photos don’t really do justice as to how impressive it is. The building is absolutely stunning and you could spend a lifetime admiring it. I was in complete awe of it!
I could only imagine how impressive it looks on the inside!

I should have left it to the imagination! The exterior wows you but inside it’s rather underwhelming – it isn’t anything special, Pisa’s Duomo was better. I felt so disappointed by it – if you have no interest in climbing the 463 steps to the top I wouldn’t recommend going in at all! Just keep admiring it from the outside!
If you do decide to climb the Duomo you are rewarded with great views overlooking the city once you’re at the top so it’s worth it in the end.

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View at the top of the Duomo!

After I’d climbed back down I set off to explore a little more of the city and familiarise myself with where things were. As I walked around I knew I was going to love Firenze. It was full of charm and character plus had a number of stunning pieces of architecture, Firenze won me over very quickly.

Firenze has spectacular squares that are perfect for people-watching but simultaneously is home to narrow little streets that are perfect for getting lost in and exploring all the intricacies that the city has to show off.

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Having seen a little of the city I made plans to meet up with a friend (Daniel) who’d flown in to Italy today and was going to be imminently arriving in to Firenze after a brief exploration of Pisa himself.
We went and found some food somewhere and then our attention turned to grabbing some drinks for the evening and potentially catching that night’s European football. We had a beer at bar number one but there was no sign of them showing any football so we moved on to bar number 2.

We found an Irish bar down one of the narrow side streets and unsurprisingly weren’t the only ones who’d had the same idea – the bar was full of Spurs fans creating a bit of an atmosphere before our big game tomorrow (Thursday). There was definitely a bit of a buzz in the air which was helped by the fact that they were showing the Arsenal game.

Whilst the bar was predominantly taken over by Spurs there were a few exceptions. I vividly remember being stood in the vicinity of a couple of Americans in our limited standing space who were curious who we were supporting, making the assumption we’d be cheering on our fellow Englishmen! The suggestion was quickly ridiculed – “don’t be daft”.

If they’d had any doubts about where our loyalties lied it didn’t take them long for them to realise we were all Monaco supporters for one night only. Former Spurs striker Dimitar Berbatov was playing for Monaco and he’d left Spurs on rather sour terms so wasn’t too popular at the time. However all was forgiven as he smashed home against Arsenal and sent the pub into bedlam – a huge roar followed as we basked in Arsenal’s misery. It left our fans in high spirits and created a great atmosphere following the result.

Things wound down pretty soon after the game though. There had been rumours of a midnight curfew being imposed on all of the bars and restaurants in the city and it looked as if there might just be some substance to it – the bar was closing for the night and we were swiftly being moved on. It was probably for the best, I was a little drunk anyway.

Me and Daniel left and it took me 2-3 minutes to realise I was needlessly going in the same direction, I didn’t want to be following Daniel because I was staying elsewhere! The consequence to that was that I took a rather “scenic route” back to my hotel. A lot of the narrow streets all look the same, particularly after dark, and I obviously took a wrong turn at some point. Soon enough I was stumbling upon Firenze’s river – which happened to be my first sight of it so I was clueless as to where I now was!

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First glimpse of the river!

I tried retracing my steps which wasn’t as successful as I would have liked but then I spotted that HUGE Duomo once again. If you can find the Duomo you can find anything in Firenze and it got me back on track and tucked up in to bed pretty soon after.

Day one in Firenze had been a success in my mind but I wasn’t done just yet! Stay tuned to hear more!

All the best!

Jason