Ten day photo challenge – behind the scenes!

Hey dear readers! It’s me again! You must be bored of me by now, right? I think this is the first time I’ve ever posted more than two days running! Haha.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed following and playing along over the past ten days. Now it’s time for me to reveal why these were “favourite” photos and the story behind picking these particular ten.

To be honest, I followed the favourite objective a little loosely. These aren’t necessarily Instagram-worthy or being printed to go up on my bedroom wall any time soon but they bring back good memories for one reason or another. In a lot of cases they’re favourites purely for the story behind the photo.

Forewarning – this is likely to be a long post. So if you’re only interested in the answers and not the stories behind them I’ll list the locations above each photo.

I think the initial “no explanation” part to this challenge was only implemented for people such as me who have to ramble on and on and on!

Anyway let’s get on with the stories shall we?

Day one – “I’m really fucking here!!” – Sydney, Australia

Hostel View

Truthfully, this wasn’t the photo I would ideally have used for this particular story. I wanted to share my first photo from this trip but it clearly had the name of the city in the photo so it wasn’t particularly suitable for the challenge haha.

This one seemed to have you all stumped! Interestingly Nick was the first to play along and made the observation that they’re “driving on the wrong side of the road”.¬†The photo might therefore be a little misleading but the Aussies actually drive on the left like ourselves in England!

The Travel Architect suggested this was Big Ben’s little brother but the guess of Walla Walla, Washington was way off the mark!

This building is actually Sydney’s Central train station and the photo was taken from my dorm room at Sydney Central’s YHA hostel. Not a bad view right? The alternative photo had the name of the hostel and ‘Sydney’ was clearly visible so wasn’t much use.

Those of you following me on Instagram will have already had some insight in to the story for this one. On the 9th of February 2013 I was embarking on my first ever solo trip! On the 11th of February 2013 I’d landed in Sydney, Australia.

I was so fucking nervous. See Instagram for my “excited at Heathrow” photo before leaving. Sydney was one of those bucketlist destinations for me. The seed got planted in to my head about going to Sydney in the near future and shortly after I picked up Bill Bryson’s “Down Under” book which only tempted me further.

I started considering it and floated the idea with a few people – “I’m thinking about going to Sydney..” – and the feedback was pretty positive. I spoke to my parents about it, I booked the time off work, I had the money in the bank and nothing..

I just couldn’t find the courage to book the trip. I had everything planned out! I was going to Sydney on the 9th of February and come mid January I still hadn’t booked the flights or the accommodation.

It was really last minute but I’d finally done it. It was booked! There was no turning back now!

The rest was history. I stepped out of the train station, walked down the stairs and right in front of me was the hostel I was staying at. I was really in Sydney! Fucking pinch me! I checked in to my hostel and this was the view greeting me from the dorm window.

That trip changed everything. I’d got the bug! Travel stopped being a luxury and started being the priority. I don’t think the majority of the trips that followed would have happened had it not been for this trip and this experience.

Day two – “Disney of the North!” – Helsinki, Finland

Jason Fi

Some interesting guesses on this one. Finland enthusiast, Marion, I knew would get this one instantly but she refrained from giving the game away and kept schtum on the correct answer.

The Travel Architect¬†came up with Greece as her best guess so was on the right continent at least, meanwhile Salsa World Traveler went for something a little more vague and guessed “somewhere cold” – you weren’t wrong! It was¬†Tanja however that came up with the correct response – Helsinki in Finland – an impressive guess given she’s never been to Helsinki!

Funnily enough, I almost went with a train station photo for this one too but then I started looking at day three and didn’t want to post three train stations in a row haha.

I’ve not actually blogged about the Finland trip yet but this was another bucketlist destination for me, albeit for very different reasons on this occasion. My grandmother was Finnish and she lived with us throughout my childhood up until she died. I’d always felt such a strong connection to Finland and those roots and it has always given me a huge desire to see Finland for myself.

It was only as the trip got closer that the realisation hit me that I might not actually like Finland as much as the place I’d built up in my head. I’d convinced myself that Finland was perfect. What if this trip crushed every fairytale I’d created in my mind?

In the days leading up to this trip the nerves really hit me. There was suddenly pressure towards this trip. I’ve always felt that Finnish connection and I’ve clung to it as best as possible since my grandma died but I couldn’t brush off this doubt. I was DESPERATE for this trip to live up to my ridiculously high standards.

The day of the trip came and this was it! I landed at Helsinki airport a little while later and it was pretty smooth, it’s a really nice airport. I followed directions towards the train platforms and then bought myself a ticket heading for the centre of Helsinki.

My first real memory of Finland was this little girl sitting on the train, with what I assume was her dad, and singing some nursery rhyme which just sounded heavenly. I then got off the train, stepped outside of the station and it was snowing! There was no snow in the forecast for the weekend!

“Are you kidding me? This place is magical! Sod Disneyland, this is Disney of the North!”

I was instantly swooning over Finland. I can’t adequately describe what I felt that weekend. I went with such high hopes and it was infinitely better than I could have ever imagined.

I’m not saying that’s necessarily the reality, Finland probably isn’t for everyone but the trip somehow strengthened my love for this country. I’m itching to go back and probably would have returned in 2020 had it not been for Covid.

This particular photo was on the day I arrived. It was still lightly snowing and I saw Helsinki cathedral for the first time and I was blown away. I’d seen photos of it online but it somehow seemed even more remarkable in the flesh.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to judge Finland objectively, it might purely be the Finland-tinted glasses on but I felt a belonging and at home in a place I’d never been to. Magical!

Day three – “I know your language!” – K√∂ln, Germany

TheEnd

“Hauptbahnhof” was your big clue for this one, or the DB and S train services that run throughout this country! Translating Hauptbahnhof from German in to English would give you the main or central (haupt) train station (Bahnhof) so if you understood Germany or had been to Germany you might have been able to narrow this down a little!

I’m not sure how recognisable this train station is but this proved the easiest photo challenge so far.¬†Tanja and¬†The Travel Architect were able to narrow this down as far as Germany.

Fellow bloggers Little Miss Traveller,¬†Whole lotta Rosie,¬†Living in Karolingston,¬†Our Crossings and¬†Handstands Around The World were all much more accurate in their guess of Cologne – this being Cologne’s main train station!

I first visited Cologne in 2013, a few weeks after coming back from Sydney. I told you I’d got the travel bug! I was itching to go somewhere and Easter weekend was the perfect opportunity for some travel.

Well not perfect! My last minute planning meant my options were relatively limited as far as my budget was concerned and I ended up booking myself a train to Cologne – not a city I’d ever cared about visiting, nor a country I really had much interest in visiting.

That trip was the first time I truly felt like I’d been abroad. I didn’t know the language, I was all on my own, the Germans didn’t seem particularly welcoming. My hostel was lonely – a very different vibe to my first hostel experience in Sydney. I was still an inexperienced traveler and all of the comforts of Sydney were lacking here.

I still enjoyed Cologne but I wasn’t sad to be going home at the end of the Easter weekend. So I was happily sat waiting for the train back to Brussels (and then London) and some bilingual, seemingly homeless, person approached me asking for money.

A bilingual homeless beggar! I brushed off his pleas in German, playing the ignorance card and he trumped me!

“No worries mate, I can ask you for money in English..”

What!? That backfired! For what it’s worth, I hadn’t refused the first request because I’m some heartless soul. I’ll happily help anyone but it’s difficult differentiating between someone who’s genuine and needs help opposed to someone who’s just a chancer and taking advantage of people’s kindness.

Nevertheless, asking me in two languages humbled me a little bit and he ended up walking away with a few spare euros in his pocket. That experience has stuck with me ever since.

Fortunately in 2016 I returned to K√∂ln (not Cologne!) as a German speaker and it felt like a sign of personal growth. I’m not fluent by any means but it was hugely satisfying to be able to speak the language of the locals.

I’ve been to K√∂ln four times now and whilst I hadn’t ever anticipated visiting that many times, the subsequent trips have been much more satisfying than that first trip was. No matter where I travel now I try and learn a few phrases because it can transform your entire experience. I’ve grown a soft spot this city and I’ve been to many other parts of Germany since too.

This particular photo was taken in 2016 on the way back to my hotel – I’m sure that ‘Hauptbahnhof’ sign was always there but it was more noticeable on this occasion and I had to get a photo.

Day four – “The big 3-0!” – Chicago, USA

River Il

This one was seemingly too easy for many of you! Marie, Jess, Marion, Salsa World Traveler, The Travel Architect, Tanja and Diana were all able to correctly identify this as Chicago!

Of course this inclusion shouldn’t be a surprise. How could I not include at least one photo from this trip? I could have probably found a hundred photos from this trip to have used but I really wanted something from the first stop on this trip – Chicago! My only regret is not making it harder for you! Haha.

This is genuinely a favourite photo from that trip though. As you’ll know, I’m still in the process of writing about¬†this trip on the blog but it was truly an unforgettable trip. To spend that length of time on one trip, seeing so many places, creating so many memories – just wow!

It’s another trip that humbled me. Thousands of miles, six states, an entire month traveling the USA – I’m not sure I’ll ever take another trip that’s quite that grand and I’m really appreciative that I had the opportunity. It was the best way to celebrate turning 30.

This particular photo was one of my last in Chicago and I was just in awe of its beauty. I was sad I’d had such little time in the city and needed the memory of this view to take home with me before heading on to Minneapolis.

Day five – “snap me while you can!” – Paris, France

July 2019

I had more success in making this difficult for some of you. Marion had no idea, meanwhile The year without Wimbledon and The Travel Architect were only able to narrow down their guesses to Europe with Budapest and Vienna for answers.

Fortunately some of you were able to come up with the correct response.¬†Aiva,¬†Marie,¬†Salsa World Traveler,¬†Tanja and¬†Sarah knew this was in Paris – the balcony of the Musee D’Orsay to be specific!

This was an interesting choice because I’d say “favourite” photo loosely. Admittedly this was one of the better ones from the 20 or so photos I managed to take on this particular weekend. A chunk of those however included one of the most famous landmarks in the world, The Eiffel Tower, so I couldn’t use those for this challenge either haha.

This trip was somewhat of a throwback to the “good old days..”

“Erm, Jason.. I know you’re 30+ now but you’re not that ancient..”

I know, I know but this trip afforded me the luxury of something I haven’t experienced for a number of years. There’s perhaps even some readers who’ll never have experienced travel like this but what you might call “off the grid” travel.

I’d charged my phone before work on Friday morning. Following work, myself and Haleigh would be catching the Eurostar to Paris! Now I’m 99% certain the Eurostar has charging points but I hadn’t been worried all day – my phone battery would last long enough for us to reach our hotel.

I’ve not written about this trip yet but after a hectic ride we finally arrived at our hotel, I plugged my phone in to charge and nothing!

Tried Haleigh’s phone – success. Tried mine – nothing!
Tried Haleigh’s charger – nothing. Tried Haleigh’s phone with her charger – success!

My phone had decided it was taking the weekend off! “Sorry Jason, you can’t expect me to work in Paris..”

It was mind-boggling. Three days later, I arrived back in England and it charged like there’d never been a problem. I’m using that same phone and charger 18 months later and it works perfectly fine but on this particular weekend? No chance!

So it was a race against the clock really. I was preserving my phone life as long as possible but by Saturday morning my phone was dead! I was in Paris off the grid! I was unreachable. I had no idea where we were, I had no idea what time of day it was anymore, I had no idea what was going on in the world.

Had Trump declared war on North Korea over Twitter? Quite possibly but I had no way of knowing, I was unreachable, I was.. free!

I’d missed this way of traveling. As an American, Haleigh also didn’t have the luxury of roaming data to use so we were solely reliant on those ancient travelers methods such as picking up a paper map to find our way around or god forbid, asking somebody!

Ironically, one of the reasons I hadn’t done this style of traveling for so long is due to being in a long distance relationship! There are very few people I feel a need to be at constant beck and call with but it’s hard to just disappear and have no communication when you’re in a relationship that’s heavily dependent on online access.

So for this to happen on one of those rare occasions we were traveling together was incredibly convenient, fate-like even. Nothing outside of Paris existed for a weekend and I was with the only person that I needed to be with. Admittedly Haleigh could still use the Wi-Fi as and when she could use it but it was in short supply – we were in Paris and effectively off-the-grid.

What a city for such a luxury too! It was so, so nice. I’ve missed this style of travel a lot and I hate that it has been “so long” since I’d previously traveled that way, I’ve not done it since either. Haleigh is a convenient excuse but I’m looking forward to being together someday soon and being able to travel off the grid more frequently.

This was one of the few photos I managed to grab before my phone died. The photo itself is fine but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a favourite – however it aids this story and I’m looking forward to writing about this trip in more detail at a later date!

Day six – “My second home” – Moses Lake, Washington

ML Mar 2020

The American flag was a little hint here because I thought it unlikely anyone would guess this one otherwise. As it was Salsa World Traveler came closest with a guess of Southern California having recognised those clocks from somewhere!

I don’t know that they’re unique enough that they couldn’t potentially be in other states but I’ve seen them throughout a few towns in Washington State so on the right coast at least!

This particular one was in Moses Lake, Washington which perhaps won’t come as the biggest surprise to long time followers of the blog (or other social media) who will know that I have spent a significant amount of time in the last three years visiting Washington State.

Moses Lake, Washington has become somewhat of a second home for me. I’d dare say I’m probably fonder of Moses Lake than Haleigh who lives there currently but it’s just a place that holds a lot of good memories for me and the locals have always made me feel welcome.

I’ve always been a big city person but I’ve spent many an enjoyable day in this little town. It only felt right that it was a “favourite” that I included among the photo challenge. This particular spot is opposite the small independent little coffee shop in the downtown area and has quickly become a favourite spot on my frequent visits to Moses Lake.

Unfortunately Covid robbed me of a proper farewell last April and although I’ll definitely return to Washington in the future, I’m not sure Haleigh will still be living here by the time I next get to visit.

I’m not sure I’ll have any real reason to go back in the future so it may be that I’ve actually visited Moses Lake for the last time – we shall see! Nevertheless, this photo brings me some joy and memories of living here and many other visits prior to that.

Day seven – “the growth of Weetabix Boy” – Bruges, Brussels¬†

Moules Frites

I was a little hesitant to share any indoor photos because it makes the challenge particularly difficult and dare I say impossible? However I also said that each photo had some story behind it and I’m not sure any other photo would have had the same meaning behind it.

As is quite clear, the story here was food related and given this dish is so synonymous with this country it seemed an acceptable exception for the challenge!

Little Miss Traveller,¬†The Travel Architect and¬†The Red Phone Box Travels all correctly predicted this was somewhere in Belgium. Nobody guessed this was in Bruges but given the lack of identity in the photo that’s understandable.¬†Salsa World Traveler anticipated a trick question and opted for an out-of-the-box guess in New Orleans but this was as obvious as it seemed so no cruel trick from me on this occasion!

Anyway, on to the story!

I mentioned in a blog post recently that I don’t really eat cheese and how that’s just a long-time habit more than anything. I know that I’d in all likelihood enjoy cheese now but there’s no huge incentive for me to “find out”. For instance I could order the cheese burger instead of just a regular burger in any restaurant but why? I’m equally content eating a burger without cheese so if I’m going to have a burger then I’ll do that.

Admittedly that’s not the greatest example as far as cheese was concerned but the point is I was a fussy eater as a child and it has been difficult to kick those habits as an adult. I’m just an incredibly predictable person – which was best summarised in my “Weetabix boy” post.

Nearly three years on from writing that post, I can guarantee you I’ve probably had Weetabix 500 times for breakfast – at least! Realistically it’ll be many morning’s more than that number.

FYI – I’ve yet to receive notification of any Weetabix sponsorship or ambassadorial role but maybe this will serve as a timely reminder? Weetabix’s CEO reads my blog, right?

Anyway, the overall point being that in many ways I’m too predictable for travel but this photo served as proof that I’m better than I was twenty, ten or even five years ago.

I first visited Belgium back in 2013. We’d gone to Brussels for a friend’s birthday and ended up taking a day trip to Bruges. We stumbled upon the main square in Bruges and I remember the smell from the food market hitting our 3 person-party – Belgian waffles!

The other two were inevitably drawn towards the smell of food but as someone who is the complete opposite of a “foodie”, I was a little more sceptical. Do I even like Belgian waffles? Am I going to part with my euros to find out? What alternatives are there?

I can’t actually recall if I stumbled up the “courage” to try them or wherever I skipped out on lunch entirely due to my fussyness but it’s funny for me to look back at and think just how safe my food choices were when I first began traveling.

I’ve been to Belgium a few times since that first trip. Whether it has been Brussels, Bruges, Gent or Liege – you don’t have to go too far to find mussels on the menu – it’s the “biggie” as far as Belgian cuisine is concerned.

However despite several trips I’d always excused myself from taking the leap as far as mussels were concerned. I’ve eaten waffles and seeked out other famous Flemish dishes in both Belgium and¬†Lille but I’d always found an excuse to bypass mussels.

Six years after that first trip I found myself back in Bruges and enough was enough. I told myself that I couldn’t leave Belgium without trying the famous “Moules Frites” and consequently you have your photo!

Undoubtedly a minor accomplishment for many of you but it wasn’t a dish I ever thought I’d “give a go”. Accompanied with some wonderful Belgian beer, it was a little tick for “Weetabix Boy”.

Day eight – “this isn’t Leeds?” – Florence, Italy

DSCF5146

I had a feeling this might be one of the easier photos to guess the location for because if you’ve been to Florence, it’s an unmistakable view. If nothing else the Duomo is one of the most easily recognisable buildings amongst this skyline that I think it’d be impossible to confuse with anywhere else. So it proved with the guesses!

Sarah,¬†Marion,¬†Aiva and¬†Ellie all correctly guessed this was Florence – with some very specific guesses naming exactly where in the city this is!¬†It’s safe to say that¬†Salsa World Traveler has yet to visit this wonderful city with a guess of Spain – hope you get there soon!

Again this particular photo probably wouldn’t have been my “favourite” from this trip but I’ve posted many Florence photos on the blog already so I thought I’d go with this ‘happy’ photo instead which I don’t think has ever seen the light of day anywhere other than on Facebook!

Unlike any of the other photo choices, the unique thing about this particular photo is that it theoretically shouldn’t exist! I wasn’t actually supposed to be in Florence at this moment in time, I was supposed to be in Leeds!

I’d booked flights to Italy with the intention of flying home on Friday morning, in anticipation of joining a friend at a gig up in Leeds on Friday evening. As it turns out my flight home wasn’t on the 27th of February (2015), it was on the 27th of April!

“How did that happen!?”

I still have no idea to this day but of course it was a last minute realisation. The night before flying to Italy I wanted to check in for both flights and discovered that I had no flight home on the Friday! With a “fuck it” attitude I figured I’d sort it out once I got to Italy – I’m going regardless, I’ll work out how or when I’m getting home later.

The upside is that my mistake meant I stayed in Italy an extra night and I spent my extra 24 hours in Florence seeing beautiful spots such as this: the Piazzale Michelangelo.

The other reason this trip was a little special is because it was probably my last off the grid trip – ironically to the detriment of this particular moment. The atmosphere here was wonderful with dozens of people sat on the steps waiting to watch the sunset. There was a little stall selling beers and snacks and all I wanted to do was to tell my friend to meet me here so we could enjoy a beer together and watch the sun go down with everyone else.

However sadly where “off the grid” travel had its perks in Paris, this was one of the occasions where you remember it’s not all glamour and has its inconveniences too. The only way of meeting up with my friend whilst in Florence was with a specific pre-arranged “meet here at this time” plan.

We’d already agreed to meet up outside the Duomo that evening and the only way to make a change of plans was to hunt him down in this huge city and try and do it quickly enough to get back here for sunset. Inevitably it didn’t happen and I made my way back down with a heavy heart – jealous of the people I was leaving behind at Florence’s prettiest view!

Nevertheless, every time I see this view it reminds me of the time I got an extra 24 hours in Italy so I can’t say it was all bad!

Day nine – “the quiet before the storm..” – Amsterdam, Netherlands

Moura Day Selfie

I was a little worried that this might have been an easier one so I was pleasantly surprised to see that I’d stumped¬†Aiva,¬†Marion and¬†Anita with this one!¬†Marie and¬†Leighton however were more successful in guessing this was Amsterdam, with Leighton going one step further and narrowing this down to being Dam Square! Great job!

I’ll be honest, one of the first things I thought after picking this photo was “I clearly need a new jacket..”

Somehow this jacket found its way in to three of the photos on display in this challenge! Needless to say, it’s a well travelled coat! Although admittedly this and the Helsinki photo were at least taken in the same week so perhaps it’s a little more acceptable?

and what a week it was! I’d flown to Helsinki on Saturday, I was determined to prolong my weekend in Finland as long as possible so I flew home on Monday evening.

I didn’t have time to dwell on my disappointment at leaving Finland behind because no sooner than I was home, was I off again! On Tuesday morning I woke up to go to work and on Tuesday evening I made my way down to Victoria to hop on an overnight coach to Amsterdam to get me in to the city early Wednesday morning!

Consequently this photo was probably taken close to 6am which is why one of Amsterdam’s busiest squares looks like a ghost town. Unless you’re up at the crack of dawn, you’re not going to see Dam Square look like this when you visit!

Now you might be wondering why there was such a quick turnaround between trips and why I’d take an overnight coach trip to Amsterdam – what a hassle!

Admittedly it wasn’t planned that way! The Finland trip was planned months in advance, along with a number of other plans in 2019. However Amsterdam hadn’t been one of them!

Yet my beloved Tottenham Hotspur decided it was this year that they’d give the football thing a crack and, against the script, somehow found themselves playing in a Champions League semi final in Amsterdam!

As a hypothetical I’d told myself I wasn’t going to travel for a Champions League semi final. Of course I’d go for the final but Dortmund was my European trip for 2019, I wasn’t going to the quarter finals or semi final. More than one European football trip wasn’t in my budget for the year.

The quarter final was easier to commit to, particularly as the “European” adventure would only have taken me as far as Manchester but that hypothetical semi final became a genuine semi final – our first at this level since 1962!

“I’m not going.. I’m not going.. it’s my mum’s birthday.. I’m not going..”

By the time the foolishness had subsided I’d paid the price for my indecision. It was a Champions League semi final, how I could I not go!? This may NEVER happen again!

Unfortunately by the point the penny dropped, the sensible Spurs fans had already taken advantage and booked up the flights and Eurostar journeys to Amsterdam. Now I wanted to go but costs had skyrocketed which made a cheap Amsterdam trip impossible! I compromised and booked a return overnight coach – cheaper and two less nights accommodation!

This particular photo was essentially the calm before the storm. Those already in Amsterdam were happily sleeping, the rest would be following throughout the day to watch the English completely take over Dam Square for the day.

I still can’t put in to words what followed. I’d go as far as saying this was probably the best night of my life. From 3-0 down Lucas Moura put away a hat-trick to send us to the first Champions League final in our history!

From 3-0 down! In a Champions League semi final! In the 95th minute! Away! In Amsterdam! What the fuck just happened!!!?

I spent the evening bawling my eyes out – tears of joy, tears of disbelief. I hugged hundreds and hundreds of fellow Spurs fans who were equally delirious in Dam Square. A complete contrast to the silence and emptiness of that same morning!

The only thing that could have topped this night would have been winning the final three weeks later in Madrid but this night will live long in the memory. For it to have come barely 48 hours after being in Helsinki made this a truly unforgettable week. Two contrasting experiences but WOW!

Day ten – “Africa, it’s right there!” – Gibraltar

Mosque Rock

I wanted to end this challenge with somewhat of a challenge so this is another I wasn’t sure anyone would get, with the exception of Marion who visited even more recently than I had!¬†Hannah however also correctly guessed that this was the wonderful Gibraltar!

Whilst I do like this photo, I actually blogged about Gibraltar quite recently so many of my favourite photos from the trip were only posted recently and I didn’t want it to be too easy for you. Those of you following me on Instagram or Twitter may also have seen a few other photos so I opted for this one.

I have to say that Gibraltar was somewhere that wasn’t too high on my list to visit really. I live in the fantasy that at some point I’m going to visit every country in the world so I’ve always had the intention of visiting Gibraltar someday but the reality is, Covid pushed Gibraltar towards the top of the list to visit.

It was one of the few countries you could visit last year with minimum fuss. Low covid cases, zero covid deaths (at the time of my visit, sadly no longer the case) and because it’s an overseas British territory I was pretty confident Gibraltar wouldn’t be banning UK citizens from visiting any time soon.

Whilst my visit was largely due to limited options, I can safely say this is somewhere you should be making an effort to visit! Gibraltar is lovely. I touched on it more in my blog post on Gibraltar and Marion went in to even more depth on her trip here but wow! I did not expect to like Gibraltar quite as much as I did.

I don’t know what I was expecting but Gibraltar had the best bits of European and British culture with the added bonus of Spanish weather – what more could you want!? I absolutely loved it, I could easily see myself living in Gibraltar and walking by my company’s Gibraltar office only aided that temptation.

“Could I keep my job but work from here!? Please?”

This particular spot was undoubtedly one of my favourites in Gibraltar. Had 2020 been a normal year I’d hoped to visit Africa for the first time last year, probably starting off with Morocco which has jumped towards the top of my list to visit.

I’ve been to some wonderful places in the world over the last few years but I’m conscious that I still haven’t been anywhere too far outside of my comfort zone. I’m determined to explore Africa, Asia and South America in the coming years but obviously any hopes of getting there in the immediate future have been disrupted by the worldwide pandemic.

So there was an element of awe about ‘Europa Point’ in Gibraltar! I could see Northern Africa! I felt like I could almost reach out and touch it!

“It’s right there! That is Africa!”

It was spellbinding. I found myself a spot to sit and just really take it in. Even in a digital age, Africa has an element of mystery and wonder about it. This is probably as close as I’ll ever get to Africa without setting foot on African soil and it was really, really cool to think about in that way.

I’ll 100% return to Gibraltar but I’m hopeful it’ll be under better circumstances because I’d love to just catch the ferry over to Morocco next time. Africa was right in front of me, Gibraltar and its famous rock behind me and Spain to my right – what a feeling!

Anyway, I think I’d best wrap this up! Thanks for playing along over the past eleven days! I imagine next time on the blog it’ll be back to the “big 3-0” trip but I guess we’ll see!

Stay tuned!

Jason

2020 travel roundup

Happy New Year everyone! I hope that you’ve had an enjoyable festive period despite the difficulties that 2020 has offered.

It has become somewhat of a tradition for me to do a little round up of the travels throughout the year. Of course¬†2019’s effort looked much busier than this post will be with trips to seven different countries in 2019, however I still managed to travel enough this year that I can squeeze a post out of it. Here goes..

Durham

January – Durham!
Doesn’t the start of 2020 seem so long ago now? I went in to this year knowing that there would be life-changing circumstances and consequently that I probably wouldn’t be traveling much this year.

Before you start asking – no, I’m not psychic! Haha. Nobody could quite predict this kind of year was coming but I’d quit my job and made plans to live in the US for a few months so I figured with, at least, three months of unemployment and a lot of uncertainty in 2020 that I’d probably have to cut back on travel this year.

“but one more trip?”

That’s the ever-present urge isn’t it? I could feel my adventures slipping away and pondered if I could squeeze in just one more trip before flying to Washington in February? Another New Years Eve getaway? A short weekender somewhere? Anywhere? Please?

Well, the football was enough to tempt me (surprise!). One of the highlights of the footballing calendar is the first weekend of the year – the third round of the “magical” FA Cup. The big names of football enter the competition and if the minnows, amateurs and part-timers are lucky they get a chance to test themselves against the very best.

It’s one of those weekends that football fans look forward to and my beloved Tottenham were playing “up North” in Middlesbrough and having successfully acquired a ticket I figured why not?

The train times weren’t particularly co-operative so I decided to make the most of it and have one final “hurrah” before the big trip of the year. Although I had little desire to visit Middlesbrough itself so settled on booking a stay in the nearby city of Durham – somewhere I’d been wanting to visit for a while and never really got around to.

Durham Castle

It was a wise decision, I’d been to Middlesbrough before anyway but Durham is a lovely and charming little city. I also managed to arrange a catch up with my friend Sarah, which in hindsight was wonderful because I’ve not been able to see much of anyone this year haha.

Other than the football it was a pretty relaxed trip. It’s not the biggest city and I think two nights was sufficient enough to have seen the bulk of it but it was nice to kick off the year with a bit of travel and explore a city well worth visiting.

February – Washington!
Of course this trip needs little introduction. Long time readers will know I’d planned this months in advance. I’d made the decision to leave my job and go and ‘live’ in Washington with my girlfriend for three months.

Three months in small-town Washington, a city called Moses Lake to be precise. January was a bit of a slog, particularly as far as work was concerned because I knew the end was imminent. I was counting down the days and after one final weekend in London of football, beers and pizza I was on my way to Seattle for a very different way of living.

I’m a London boy at heart but now live in the “small” city of Peterborough with its 200,000ish inhabitants. Yet here I was spending three months in Moses Lake with its population of 24,000 people! 24,000! If I find Peterborough small at times, how am I going to cope in Moses Lake for three months!?

Moses Lake History
Moses Lake, Washington

Oddly I adapted and settled pretty quickly. I’ve already written about my time in Washington¬†on the blog but it was lovely. Admittedly I think being unemployed helped, I had absolutely nothing to worry about and was living the easy life!

I grew to appreciate the simplicities of life without a job – taking a book with me to the coffee shop downtown and sitting in with a cup of tea for a couple of hours, wandering by the lake on a nice afternoon, date nights and all the other nicer things in life that you don’t have to worry about when you have a job.

Ignoring the necessity to finance this way of life, I could do this forever – who needs to work!? This is the “new normal” and long may it continue!

and then the “new normal” struck – supermarkets deprived of toilet rolls and that dreaded C word!

“The new normal..” – I’d only just escaped the old normal! What is this nonsense? Stay at home orders and closed businesses and a lockdown in small town America!

I tried to wait it out, hoping Trump’s optimism of re-opening by Easter would prove accurate but it wasn’t to be. On the 30th of March he advised lockdown measures would be extended throughout April and as I was due to fly home on May 1st it was time to find plan B.

Ultimately I had to cut my time in Washington short, not ideal and still no inkling on when I’ll be able to return but I still got the best part of 8-9 weeks in Washington, 6 of those before going in to lockdown so a good chunk of time in a place I’ve grown particularly fond of.

Sadly I don’t know if I’ll actually get back to Moses Lake – I hope I do because I feel like I owe it and myself a proper goodbye but the reality is the next time I’m in Washington Haleigh may no longer be in Moses Lake. It’s a shame my love-affair with Moses Lake ended the way it did but perhaps our paths will cross again someday.

IMAG6541

April – Utah! (Cancelled)
Sadly not every travel story this year had a happy ending. Haleigh’s a teacher and had a few days off in April for her spring break which we were keen to make the most of and have an adventure together.

We’d been toying with a couple of ideas – namely Oregon and Utah but in February one of Haleigh’s cousins (Michelle) who lives in Utah came up to Washington with her boyfriend (David) which was enough to steer us towards planning a trip down to Salt Lake City.

ValentinesDayDateNight
Valentines Day with Haleigh and my Utah favourites

We pencilled in the dates but as Covid emerged and as April neared it was apparent our plans would have to be postponed. It was a shame because we’d considered visiting Salt Lake City on my “big 3-0” trip too and it didn’t pan out then either. Maybe it’ll be third time lucky?

Fortunately the only booking we’d made was one night in a hotel in Boise, Idaho which was fully refundable but Covid robbed us of a trip to what would have been two new states for me.

As it was, my change of plans meant I spent the bulk of April at home in England instead.

Cromer Beach

August – the Norfolk coast!
After getting back to England in early April I made the decision to self-isolate and stay at home for two weeks – not that anyone actually advised me to do this. At this moment in time the UK were still welcoming people with open arms without any fuss – bonkers!

Towards the end of that second week I switched my focus back to the real world – time to find a job! To my surprise I actually got a job interview really quickly! Sadly I didn’t get that particular job but then my former employers approached me about returning in a new job role so by early May I was employed again. Even before going to Washington, completely unaware of the imminent pandemic, I hadn’t anticipated that I’d be employed that quickly.

I’d very much landed on my feet! I’d planned and budgeted for a spell of unemployment so I’ve been luckier than most this year in that I’ve not really felt the financial strain of Covid. Better yet, I’d found a new challenge and was doing something far more enjoyable than the previous year – hurrah!

By August I was ready for a break and thought I’d treat myself to a few days away for my birthday. I wasn’t quite ready to hop on a plane just yet so limited myself to staying within the UK and was intending for something a little more outdoorsy and less of a city break which I often favour.

I looked at a few options but in the end stayed pretty local and only went as far as Norfolk. I really fancied a few days by the coast and although I’ve seen a little of Norfolk, there’s still lots of it I haven’t seen so I booked myself a hotel for 4 nights in Cromer – Monday to Friday as I was keen to avoid the weekend crowds!

My second UK break of the year! It was nice to get away for a few days and it was a nice reminder of how much I love being by the sea.

Cromer
Cromer beach, Norfolk

It was busy in parts, which is a little inevitable in the summer months, but overall it was pretty easy to keep distanced from other people and even with the UK running its “Eat out to help out” scheme throughout August places were taking social distancing seriously with various measures in place.

Overall it was a lovely few days away and the perfect trip to refresh and re-energise before getting back to work.

Gibraltar
First sight of Gibraltar

October – Gibraltar!
All work and no play? I’ve long held the belief that work isn’t that important. This wasn’t some lesson I learnt in 2020 but it was probably a year that helped emphasise it.

In 2019 I was on my last legs with work and 3 months without working, particularly the first 6 weeks without lockdown was bliss. If I was financially secure enough that I didn’t have to work, I don’t think that I would.

You might ponder what relevance that has to Gibraltar but a change in working environment was a factor. There was a mixed feeling in August in not feeling quite ready enough to get on a plane and also a question over whether I was right to get on to a plane?

I was working from home, I wasn’t seeing friends, I was very much in my own little bubble and expanding my horizons seemed irresponsible perhaps. So I ended up visiting Norfolk which required little travel and being by the sea and outdoors made it much easier to minimise my social contact.

Fast forward two months and the advice and guidance had vastly changed and work wanted me to return to an office-environment with the UK government at the forefront of that advice.

That change of environment changed my mindset a little. The reality was that this change of circumstance meant that the place I was most likely to catch Covid would be at work.

So I’ll leave you to be judge and executioner as to whether it was right for me to travel abroad but it felt right for me. If I could go to work in an office with 100 odd other people, why should I feel guilty about traveling?

Ultimately it was still another solo trip so still pretty easy to keep to myself, after looking at a number of different options I narrowed down my choices to two countries with low Covid cases and countries that seemingly had a better handle of Covid than the UK (who doesn’t, right?): Turkey and Gibraltar!

Gibraltar Coast

I’d been itching to visit Turkey for a while but something swayed me towards Gibraltar. I didn’t want to get stung by a last minute cancellation and I just couldn’t see the UK halting travel to a British overseas territory. It didn’t look like there was any reason for the UK to halt travel to Turkey either but that, the fact Gibraltar had yet to register any Covid deaths (that sadly isn’t the case any more) and a couple of other things pushed me towards visiting Gibraltar.

As it was, Turkey went on to the UK’s naughty list a matter of days after I’d booked my flights so I got pretty lucky.

I was excited to visit a new country and having had no huge desire to visit Gibraltar previously, it was a pleasant surprise. I already wrote about my time in Gibraltar here but it was the perfect mix of British and European culture Рthe best of both really.

Overall it felt much safer than the UK too, I felt a little vindicated in picking Gibraltar over taking a break within the UK. Gibraltar seemingly had a good handle on things whilst the UK was spiralling. Maybe I could just buy a boat and stay in Gibraltar?

Gibraltar Ocean Village

I think I would have liked Gibraltar regardless but visiting in Covid times, making comparisons to back home, made it so much easier to love. I forgot all about work and was mentally back to sipping tea in Moses Lake, the only difference being this time it was beer in sunny Gibraltar.

I’d go back in a heartbeat and it didn’t take long to see why so many Brits visit and retire here. It’s that South of France or Spanish retirement dream without the language barrier – perfect!

November – “where to?”
I’d optimistically booked off Thanksgiving week months in advance, on the off chance travel might have recovered by then and I’d be able to get back to Washington.

As it got closer to November it was clear that wouldn’t be happening and I was pondering what to do with my week off of work? I figured I’d probably not actually do much and maybe squeeze in a couple of nights down in London before the end of the year.

Then the UK went in to lockdown for pretty much the entirety of November which scuppered any hope of going anywhere. In the end I don’t think I even left the house in that particular week – not the most exciting of breaks and the first time I’ve ‘wasted’ annual leave in probably six or seven years. I had to use it before the end of the year though so it was unavoidable, still better than spending a week working.

London Art
Gorgeous mural of London

December – London!
I had three more days to use up before the end of the year and having coming out of lockdown I was keeping an eye on where I could potentially visit.

Options by this point were even more limited than they had been for my trip in October. I was determined to book a trip as late as possible, hoping that the weekly Thursday travel updates might offer somewhere but it wasn’t to be.

So I reverted back to my November plans, I really wanted to get to London before the end of the year. December / Christmas is such a magical time to visit London and I hadn’t spent any time in the capital since February!

Ordinarily I’d visit London at least twice a month I reckon so ten months without a visit left me feeling like I was long overdue a trip. I was particularly keen to visit some of the museums in the capital, I haven’t really been to any of them since I was a kid living in London. My only real opportunities to visit are at weekends or public holidays too and they’re just hell-ish to visit when the kids are off school – no thanks!

NHM
National History Museum, London

Keeping in mind my plans, I decided I’d book myself a couple of nights in a part of London I rarely stay in – Kensington! The National History Museum was towards the top of my list to visit and it was just an ideal location to base myself in and I was surprised to find London so ‘cheap’ for this time of year and this location – clearly feeling the wrath of the pandemic!

So with Peterborough and London both in ‘tier 2’ I hopped on a train and enjoyed a couple of nights in the capital, again by myself.

It was the best and worst time to be in London. The best because London was so quiet by usual standards, a lot of central London was dead – two weeks before Christmas and no crowds or people anywhere. I had Westminster and the likes all to myself!

Westminster
Westminster with no crowds!

So why was it the worst time to be in London? Call me crazy but.. London was dead. I love London so much. I love the hustle and bustle, I love how much life London has and it broke my heart a little to see London so.. un-London-like.

I shouldn’t be able to walk around Westminster without cursing dawdling tourists. Either move quicker or have the awareness to get out of the way!

There were a few things I really got to appreciate and gave me a small taste of London, I managed to enjoy a couple of people busking in a couple of locations and London still feels so magical at this time of the year but it was a very different London to the one that I’m used to.

Nevertheless it was a nice trip to end the year and given the circumstances still not a terrible travel year. I got to have a taste of living in another country, took four flights and managed to visit one new country. I also managed to visit a couple of new places in the UK so all in all, I probably still did better than most.

However I’m hoping 2021 is a much better year for travel. I’ve got no travel plans at the minute and it doesn’t feel good haha!

Quarantine!
Masked up and waiting for adventure!

I hope you managed to squeeze in some travels this year too! Up next on the blog? I continue with the “big 3-0” trip. Stay tuned!

Jason

Gibraltar – Oct 2020

Hello my dear readers, welcome back to another post! Can you believe it? I’m posting twice within a week – incredible!

After a little hiatus, last time out on the blog I provided a little update and promised that I’d post about my recent trip to Gibraltar! Here’s that post!

I’d never been to Gibraltar before, nor had I really had that much interest in going to Gibraltar. Of course I want to visit everywhere in the world but I definitely feel like it ended up being a Covid-influenced decision. As I explained in my last post, with so many travel restrictions currently I found myself torn between staying in the UK, visiting Turkey or visiting Gibraltar with my few days of annual leave.

I’ve been itching to visit Turkey for a little while now but something swayed me towards Gibraltar instead. A few days after booking my trip Turkey went on the quarantine list so that was a big relief.

As for the UK.. well, the less said about the Covid situation in the UK at the moment the better. Ironically a trip to Gibraltar seemed safer than visiting anywhere within my own country – ridiculous!

Once everything was booked my excitement did start to build. It had been six months since I’d been abroad and indeed six months since I’d been to Heathrow. I opted to stay in an airport hotel on the Wednesday night and then fly out of terminal 5 at around midday on Thursday – not too early so I got a bit of a lay in on Thursday morning.

Heathrow was inevitably a bit busier than my arrival back in April but was still far from normal capacity. I passed through security pretty quickly and went on the hunt for breakfast. My usual pre-flight spot is at Huxley’s with some pancakes and a pot of tea but they were seemingly closed – I’m hoping this is just temporary but in the meantime I had to settle for breakfast at ‘Spoons’. They had a few screens up between tables and table service so adhering to the Covid measures in place. In fairness to Wetherspoons, they’ve actually encouraged ordering via an app for a long time so have been a little “ahead of the game” on that front.

Anyway, a short while later it was time to fly. Boarding was pretty smooth and done from the back of the plane by row order, I lucked out on the way to Gibraltar with an aisle seat and nobody sat in the middle. However it was generally a full-capacity flight and most rows had every seat full, just worth keeping in mind for anybody pondering how busy flights are at the moment – masks were mandatory and there seemed to be no fuss on that part at least.

I landed in Gibraltar a few hours later. Before you’re allowed to enter Gibraltar you have to complete a passenger-locator form. You can do this online once you’ve checked in for your flight, it surprised me how many hadn’t done this before arrival. They check every single passenger so you’re better off doing it beforehand rather than stood huddled together filling out a form in the arrival hall.

Anyway, I’d finally arrived in a very warm and sunny Gibraltar. You can get a taxi to your accommodation or there’s a bus stop not too far from the airport that will take you in to the centre of the country but with glorious weather I decided to walk to my hotel.

First sight of Gibraltar

The very Northern point of Gibraltar to the very Southern point of Gibraltar is about 6 kilometers in length so it’s a really walkable country. The airport is in the very North of the country so you want to head South, in direction of that big ol’ rock, to get in to Gibraltar. You’ll know which way you need to go because the border crossing in to Spain is right in front of you when you come out of the airport and the rock is behind you and unmissable haha.

Interestingly to get in to the main part of Gibraltar you have to cross the runway which you’ve just flown in on. It’s quite unique and they’ll stop crossings when a plane is due to land or depart.

I walked in direction of the rock and even getting a little lost I’d soon arrived in what I considered to be the heart and soul of the country – Casemates Square. The square had a bit of a buzz and life to it. Additionally it’s in a really picturesque location so my first impressions of Gibraltar were good. I already felt like I was going to enjoy Gibraltar.

Gibraltar Casemates Daytime
Casemates Square

I think it was about 4-4:30 when I landed so by the time I’d walked in to Gibraltar I was ready to check in to my hotel and drop my things off. A friend had recommended a couple of places and I opted to stay at the Elliott Hotel which proved to be a good decision as it was a lovely hotel and in a really good location in relation to everywhere else in Gibraltar. I dropped my things off, relaxed for a little bit and then freshened up to head out and find some dinner.

I decided I’d stay pretty local. A friend over on Instagram lives in Gibraltar at the moment and had kindly sent a bunch of recommendations over to me – one of those was ‘The Skull’ which was just around the corner from my hotel so seemed particularly ideal on my first night given I’d yet to get my bearings with where things were.

Gibraltar The Skull
The Skull, Gibraltar

True to its name, everything at this little bar was Skull themed! Skull designed flooring, skulls lining the bar, skull-shaped lightbulbs, skull-inspired artwork and even skull-themed dishes. My chips turned up in a skull-designed glass, as did my cocktail that followed dinner haha. It was a nice little place and a good spot for my first evening. It was pretty empty though which surprised me a bit given England and Wales were playing eachother in the football and this particular bar were televising the game – admittedly another incentive for me to visit on my first night.

There’s no curfew in Gibraltar, unlike the UK currently, but because there were so few customers they didn’t stay open late. I was assured it’d be a bit more lively on Friday evening but with an early kicking-out time I had a little wander through Gibraltar to see what else was local to where I was staying.

In all honesty I was aiming for the waterfront but after little success finding it I admitted defeat. I didn’t really see anything else of particular interest on my wander so just headed back to my hotel and called it a night, ready to explore and get a proper glimpse of Gibraltar in the morning.

Gibraltar Sunset

I woke up on Friday morning to darkness which was quite confusing. I thought it must still be early in the morning but even at 7, 7:30 in the morning it’s dark outside. The sun didn’t rise until about 8:30 in the morning which I found a little unsettling and also a little demotivating to get myself up and raring to go. I reckon I’d have been up and raring to go a bit earlier but instead I rolled over and went back to sleep, I wasn’t heading out to explore whilst it was still so dark.

Unfortunately this became a bit of a ‘bad habit’ if there’s such a thing on holiday. As much as I’d want to get my day going I just couldn’t drag myself out of bed before the sun was up. It was probably closer to 10 or 11am by the time I’d left my hotel and it felt like such a waste of my morning. I went and found a place to grab some breakfast but the slow start had set the tone for the rest of the day.

It ended up being a really relaxed day. There were a few things I wanted to do whilst in Gibraltar but none set for any particular day, I was largely winging it and just seeing where things took me.

Gibraltar1

Ultimately Friday just became a familiarisation day that allowed me to get my bearings with where things are in Gibraltar. I’d not had much chance to do so yet but I kind of used it to earmark where I’d spend the next few days. By the afternoon I’d wound up at the popular ‘Ocean Village’.

I wouldn’t call it a village as such but it’s where you’ll find a lot of the nightlife in Gibraltar. There’s a host of restaurants and bars floating above the water, joined by a variety of boats and yachts including the impressive ‘Sunborn’ which you can stay on and is also home to a casino.

I liked Ocean Village but it probably does cater more towards the tourists. That said, I was a tourist so found myself an outside seat at one of the bars and refreshed myself with a beer or two. Keen not to stay in one spot all day I did drag myself away from the temptation to just sit in the sun all afternoon and wandered back through the streets of Gibraltar before making my way back to Casemates Square.

As I said above, it really is the heart and soul of Gibraltar in my mind. You’ve got tourists and the locals intertwined and it makes for a really nice atmosphere and is also perfect for people-watching!

I must have arrived sometime between 3pm – 4pm because there was a huge collection of school children running around enjoying themselves whilst the cafes, pubs and restaurants were slowly filling up for the evening.

Due to a late breakfast I’d skipped lunch and found myself in that peckish dilemma of “is it too late for lunch / too early for dinner?” before eventually deciding I was too hungry to wait. I took a seat at the Italian restaurant ‘Tramonte Ristorante’ and treated myself to a pizza which ended up being pretty good!

The rest of my day was pretty uneventful, I didn’t do anything particularly noteworthy but I felt a lot more comfortable with where things were and the quickest ways to get around. I ended up getting a rather early night, particularly for a Friday, keen to make a better go of exploring on Saturday.

A few people knowing I was in Gibraltar had asked if I’d “seen the monkeys yet” and I’d decided going to the top of the rock was my plan for Saturday. However I sensibly took a look at the forecast and whilst warm, it looked like it was going to be a cloudy day and I thought better of it so instead I decided I’d head on down to ‘Europa Point’ at the Southern tip of Gibraltar.

With a bit of a walk ahead of me I kicked off my morning at this little cafe down the street from my hotel. Having missed out at Heathrow I ended up getting some pancakes which was the perfect way to start the day. I was then off on my journey “down South”.

The walk was a little over 2 miles, nothing too strenuous and most of it is coastal too so I’d definitely recommend walking it rather than hopping on a bus. There isn’t too much traffic so it’s a decent walk and offers some really pretty views of the coast and Spain to the West.

Cool little beach area with a pool

Along the way I stumbled upon public outdoor pool areas, some interesting historic buildings and structures and even a little waterfall which I really wasn’t expecting. It’s not a particularly long walk but it’s definitely easy to get distracted along the way which might slow you down a bit haha.

Eventually I reached this long dark tunnel which you have to pass through (coming this route anyway..) which seemed to go on for a bit longer than I was expecting.

As soon as you come out of the tunnel you’ll see a gorgeous mosque on your left. Unfortunately it seemed to be closed so there wasn’t an opportunity to take a look inside but I made sure to grab a couple of photos from the outside.

Gibraltar Mosque

By this point you’re pretty much at Europa Point and the lighthouse on the Southern coast of Gibraltar.

Europa Point was probably my favourite part of Gibraltar. I think it just really resonated with the traveler within me. Just across the water was the North African coast and it just left me mesmerised!

Gibraltar Europa Point
You can vaguely see the outline of Africa, much more visible on a clear day!

On a clearer day it’d be so much more visible, my photos don’t do it any justice but Africa was right there! It’s one thing crossing state lines or country borders but to be stood in Gibraltar with Spain on my right and Africa in front of me – wow!

It was mindblowing in some ways. I came here fully aware of that fact so it’s not like it was a surprise but I couldn’t help but transport myself to historic times and put myself in that mindset. I just pictured being stood in Gibraltar with the curiosity and mystery of “hey.. what’s over there?” – “that’s Africa..”

Even now, with the world so accessible and with so much knowledge of other places Africa has that mystery. It was my hope to get to Morocco this year and it obviously didn’t pan out, much like Turkey, so this is the closest I’ve come to stepping on African soil. You can get a little closer in parts of Spain but realistically I knew this was as close as I’m ever likely to get to Africa without stepping in Africa.

I have a habit of romanticising travel, perhaps too much at times, but I was stood there looking across the water and definitely had that “pinch me” moment. There’s so much I don’t know about Africa and I think those of us from the Western world in general are guilty of that.

I found myself completely swept up in the lure of Africa. There’s not a huge amount in the vicinity of Europa Point but I think I could have just sat there all day day-dreaming. It’s a sight and experience you have to make time for in Gibraltar.

Also at Europa Point you’ll find a lighthouse and then a university. The university seemed very sports focused and it’s probably of little shock that I found myself drawn to the Europa Point stadium. It’s in such a stunning location with the rock and its surroundings providing a gorgeous background. Again, I think if I was ever playing on that pitch I’d just get lost within the scenery.

“Jason.. what are you doing? You’ve just let them score!”

Gibraltar Europa Point Stadium
Europa Point Stadium, Gibraltar

Gibraltar Coast

Dragging myself away from Europa Point I embarked on a coastal walk. The sun was beginning to make an appearance and it’s just a beautiful place to go for a wander. I stopped every so often to take photos of the views but my intended destination was Gorham’s Cave Complex – a World Heritage site.

This was a bit of a last minute decision. I’d only considered it once I realised how close it was to Europa Point. My lack of preparation meant I didn’t know that it was closed at the weekend so I arrived to find locked gates and subsequently no opportunity to see the cave complex on this particular trip. I turned back and took a slow walk back in to the heart of Gibraltar, via Europa Point again of course.

With the sun finally shining I did ponder whether I could squeeze in a trip up to the top of the rock and tick off both landmarks in one day. However in the end I took a more relaxed approach and decided I’d leave the Rock until tomorrow.

Thinking that it might be time to find somewhere for some food I made my way over to ‘Queensway Quay’ which is a gorgeous little harbour-like area with a handful of restaurants overlooking the water with numerous yachts and pretty boats parked on the docks.

Gibraltar Harbour

This was somewhere that you’d probably be less inclined to just stumble upon unless you were actively looking for it so it felt a little less touristy than somewhere like Ocean Village. I found myself a table sat outside, ordered some beer and grabbed myself a late lunch whilst overlooking the harbour.

By this point I was pretty smitten with Gibraltar and I’d returned to day-dreaming, this time as a boat owner living the dream life in the sun. Sod going back to Corona-land, I was staying here.

Essentially this was the “South of France..” or “retire in Spain..” lifestyle but with the added boost of a common language. I sat people-watching and this cute couple were sat just infront of me seemingly making the best of their honeymoon. The, socially-distanced, table to the right was an older couple and it wasn’t long before the four of them had become acquainted and friendly and spent the next hour or so chatting.

There’s only one way I’d know that so no need to guess how I spent the next couple of hours. People-watching, sunshine, beers, pretty views, no responsibilities.. what more could you want? It felt almost like living in an alternative reality – “this is what life looks like in a country tackling Covid effectively..”. I was equally bliss and resentful. I was in no rush to leave Gibraltar and just wanted to soak up this feeling.

Eventually I opted to have a wander elsewhere and just get lost within the old town. Despite the huge rock that towers over Gibraltar, it’s such a walkable country and it’s nice to just wander aimlessly and see what you stumble upon. After a while I returned to the hotel to freshen up and relax for a bit before pondering where to spend the evening.

Gibraltar Casemates Square Evening

I decided I’d go and grab dinner around Casemates Square and find myself a nice spot to soak up the atmosphere. It’s a lovely spot to watch the sun go down and do some more people-watching. For a Saturday evening it wasn’t overly busy which surprised me a little but there was enough of a buzz that it kept me entertained.

I wasn’t in a rush to call it a night but fancied a change of scenery so thought I’d take a better glimpse at Ocean Village’s own nightlife. Again it wasn’t swarming with people but a little busier than it had been when I passed through on Wednesday. There’s a number of restaurants / bars that you can grab a drink at.

I started off at one bar that had been recommended to me and also had cheap cocktails. I was only going to grab the one cocktail but with a 2-for-1 offer it seemed silly not to have two. I was a little disappointed however that you couldn’t mix-and-match which would have allowed me to try two different cocktails. The bar in general wasn’t really my kind of place either, not solo anyway and it just wasn’t the vibe I was after.

I finished off my cocktails and swiftly moved on. Unlike in the UK currently, there’s no curfew in Gibraltar so I wasn’t having to glance at the clock for a 10pm close. I wandered over to another bar in the Ocean Village which I’d heard were really good for craft beers / ales.

That’s the one possible disappointment and, dare I say, gap in the market as far as Gibraltar is concerned. I decided early on in the trip that I was buying a boat and opening a brewery in Gibraltar because it stuns me that there are no breweries in Gibraltar – not one!

You won’t find locally-made beers in Gibraltar, they’re all imported and generally your options are San Miguel or Heineken in most places you visit – I generally opted for San Miguel but with how popular craft beers are right now it really surprises me. With the weather and dining-out style culture it is the perfect country for better beers and Gibraltar is seriously lacking in that department.

So I was looking forward to finishing off my evening by visiting somewhere that prided themselves on their craft beer selection. Sadly it doesn’t matter how good your menu is if none of the beers are in stock! I was bitterly disappointed. In the end I took my chance on a fruity gin. I’ve never really drunk gin but when better to try it than on holiday? It went down alright and I’m probably more pro-gin than I was before the trip. It was a beautifully decorated bar too so was a nice way to end the evening.

Gibraltar Gin

Sunday morning started like the two before it – pitch black! I’d continually wake up raring to go and the lack of sunlight ends up being so demotivating – back to sleep! I woke up a little while later and got myself ready to go up the rock.

I repeatedly debated whether I should climb it by foot or cheat and take the cablecar up. I unsurprisingly opted for the latter and I can’t say I have any regrets. It’s just so much more convenient haha.

At the top you’ve got 360 degree views overlooking the entire country and beyond. It’s definitely the ‘must-do’ of any trip to Gibraltar. It’s also where you’ll find the only wild monkeys in Europe!

I’ll be honest, I thought there’d be much more of them based on stuff I’d read. There were a handful fooling around but not that many. I was one of the earliest people to go up though so perhaps they’re more prominent later in the day when there are more tourists to steal goodies from. Not that I minded too much, I was happy they kept a good distance from me haha.

Gibraltar Rock
The rock of Gibraltar

Gibraltar Rock View

The views are spectacular and there’s a few other attractions dotted around such as the ‘Skywalk’ or the Windsor suspension bridge. Rather than take the cablecar back down I decided I’d walk down and tick off a few of the points of interest.

The area I probably spent the most time exploring was the ‘great siege tunnels’ in the lower part of the Rock area. It went in to a bit more of the history of Gibraltar which was interesting to read about. It was still pretty early so I had it pretty much all to myself so I could take a bit more time and get some fun photos too!

Gibraltar Friend

Outside of the tunnels there’s a couple more cool viewpoints but it was pretty much all downhill from there. I’d definitely recommend going early in the day, it was slowly getting busier on my way down than it had been when I’d first gone up.

By the time I’d made my way down the steps in to the old town I was feeling a bit peckish and I was really hoping to find a decent Sunday roast somewhere. I ended up going to ‘The Clipper’ and it was really, really good. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in Gibraltar on a Sunday, it was really good value too for the quality and quantity of food they served up.

After stuffing myself with food I wandered back over to where I’d started the day. Right by where you ride the cablecar is the botanical gardens and I was keen to have a wander through the gardens, I probably should have done so before I’d rode the cablecar up but I hadn’t really anticipated walking back down haha.

The botanical gardens are free to visit and definitely worthwhile visiting for that reason alone. I was expecting it to be a little busier given it was a Sunday afternoon by this point but it was still pretty quiet. Again, I wasn’t going to complain. It just meant I could enjoy a peaceful wander through and admire how pretty it is. I’m sure if I was a local I’d spend many an afternoon here and it wasn’t long before I’d found a bench to sit back, relax and admire the surroundings.

Gibraltar Botanical Gardens
Gibraltar Botanical Gardens

The gardens aren’t particularly huge so eventually I’d covered pretty much all of it and went back to wandering the streets of Gibraltar. By this point I’d pretty much seen all of Gibraltar that I’d wanted to, it’s worth remembering it’s a pretty small country and I’d ticked off the two big things I wanted to see in terms of the Rock and Europa Point. The rest of my Sunday was pretty chilled.

Sunday was my last night in Gibraltar so I wanted to end it by enjoying what felt like my “last taste of freedom”. I think Gibraltar is the kind of destination that I’d enjoy in normal circumstances. I think it had the perfect balance and feel of being a European destination but with a nice dusting of British influence on it that made it really appealing to me. Boat jokes aside, it’s somewhere I could easily see myself living.

Gibraltar Ocean Village

That’s in normal circumstances of course. The irony wasn’t lost on me that I was lucky enough to have been able to escape for a few days but perhaps unfortunate enough that it had given me a taste of normality. Gibraltar had been perfect but left me feeling more resentful of what I was going home to.

I really liked Gibraltar but there was definitely a part of me that pondered how could you not in a pandemic? This was as normal as life had felt in a long time and I was desperate to cling on to that feeling of normality.

I treated myself to a steak on the last night in a restaurant over in Ocean Village. It proved to be a perfect spot to watch the sun go down accompanied with a beer. It was a world away from life back in England. I moved on to another bar, had another couple of cocktails and was trying to enjoy this final night for as long as possible. I even stayed out beyond 10pm – wild!

Sadly, it eventually it had to come to an end and was time to call it a night. Monday morning was really a struggle. The only part of Gibraltar I hadn’t really explored was its East coast and I had contemplated going over to Catalan Bay beach which the barman on my first night had said I’d have to visit.

However I just couldn’t drag myself out of bed. Luckily I didn’t have to check out until midday but I just wasn’t ready to go, to leave this false life and return to the normality of a pandemic. My slump wasn’t helped by the fact I knew the UK government were implementing new lockdown measures today and I was fearing the worst.

That’s not to say I didn’t think those measures were needed but to be in a relatively Covid-secure country and returning to a country that was spiraling out of control was difficult to accept on this particular occasion.

Regardless of how gloomy I felt about returning to the UK, what was the alternative? I checked out as close to noon as possible and figured I’d just go grab some lunch somewhere. Catalan Bay would have to wait until a future visit to Gibraltar, I only had a couple of hours left and didn’t want to go too far out my way.

Gibraltar OceanVillage

Ocean Village’s proximity to the airport made it an ideal lunch spot and location to soak in the last few rays of sunshine before I had to say goodbye. Ordinarily I’m a “get-to-the-airport-early” kind of traveler but I did hold back a bit on this occasion.

Admittedly I knew Gibraltar’s airport was pretty small and that only one flight was departing Gibraltar so there wasn’t going to be a huge rush at the airport but the reality is I was still clinging on – just one more beer..

I slowly made my way back to the airport, again opting to walk. It’s only about 10-15 minutes from Ocean Village on foot. My later departure meant I got stopped at the runway crossing as we had to wait for a flight to land before they opened up the road to traffic and pedestrians – a nice little novelty experience to round off the trip.

The flight home was full on this occasion and soon enough I’d landed back in a wet London, Gibraltar’s sunshine was a distant memory.

As for those UK measures I’d been concerned about? The good news is they were much more lenient than I’d anticipated. I’d really feared the worst and I was surprised to discover that as far as my area of the UK was concerned it was “business as usual” and the measures in place were unchanged. It perked me up a little bit from my mood that morning.

The bad news? Well.. the measures were much more lenient than I’d anticipated. It was in equal part good and bad news. There was an air of inevitability about what had to happen to get this virus under control again in the UK and unbelievably it seemed that memo didn’t quite get as far as Downing Street.

As much as I loved Gibraltar I’m left pondering when we’re ever going to reach that point in the UK where life can resemble some form of reality again. Gibraltar was a wonderful trip but also a difficult one as it took me back to happier times and I wasn’t quite ready to give that up.

Anyway, I’ve rambled plenty so time to wrap up this post! I’m sure Gibraltar is a place I’ll return to but next time on the blog I’ll be continuing on with the “big 3-0” trip.

Stay tuned!

Jason

An update on life!

Hello my dear readers!

It has been a few months since I last posted but I assure you I’m still alive and well. Some of you will have seen me floating around on other social media but I fell out of the habit of posting here regularly, or reading other bloggers posts for that matter.

I want to try and get back in to the swing of things but before jumping in to the travel, I thought I’d offer a bit of an update. Why haven’t I been posting? Where have I been? What have I been up to?

In all honesty, there’s no real reason for the lack of posting. You miss one week and before you know it it’s three months without a post. I’ve come close to finishing off a few draft posts on a number of occasions but I haven’t got as far as hitting that ‘publish’ button and consequently the blog has felt a little bit neglected.

With Covid and more time at home I can’t even say I haven’t had the time, I’ve just preoccupied myself with other things. Be it watching football, learning Finnish (Thank you Duolingo – long overdue!), watching Netflix, training, work or a number of other bits and pieces. Despite spending the bulk of my time at home I have been keeping myself busy.

I’ve also squeezed in a couple of trips since I last posted. I was a little more cautious / hesistant with the first trip but in August I went and spent a few days by the sea with a four-night trip to the Norfolk coast. I didn’t really feel right to be flying across the globe for my travel fix so decided I’d stay in England and pretty local too. I was also conscious about the weekends during the summer being busier so restricted myself to a Monday-Friday getaway which was nice.

Cromer Pier

It was good to have a little taste of normality, particularly with the UK running the ‘eat out to help out’ scheme in August which coincided with my trip. A few days of sunshine was a good little fix and the perfect escape after three months of home-working in which I rarely left the house.

After August I still had 11 days of annual leave to use before the end of the year. I’d already optimistically booked off Thanksgiving week but as November draws closer it’s safe to say I won’t be visiting Washington. If the border re-opens this year that’d be a miracle!

The other six days I split in to two with the aim of a long weekend in October and a long weekend in December. I figured the first of those I’d travel somewhere and was toying with whether to stay in the UK or go abroad.

Work swayed my decision a little bit, I was more than happy working from home but work asked me to return to the office in September and it changed my mindset I think. I feel like an office environment with 100 odd other people is far riskier than the minimal social interaction I’ve had over the past six months.

So I kept an open mind about getting on a plane in October – still considering the Covid situation of course. With ever-changing circumstances and travel restrictions I narrowed my options down to a long weekend in the UK, Turkey or Gibraltar – leaning in favour of a trip out of the country.

Growing restrictions in the UK, such as curfews, only emphasised that thinking and it was a toss-up between Turkey and Gibraltar in the end. Both countries had low cases and the latter has still had 0 Covid deaths – zero! Incredible really.

I wanted to leave the decision as late as possible so I wasn’t stung by any restrictions or quarantine. I’ve been itching to go to Turkey for a while now so it seemed like the early favourite but something in the back of my mind must have swayed me in another direction as I eventually opted to book a trip to Gibraltar! A few days later Turkey unexpectedly went on to the quarantine list, it was a bit of a shock given the numbers but I felt a huge sigh of relief when the news broke.

Gibraltar

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I flew out to Gibraltar for another four night trip and a long-weekend in a country I’d never been to. With the situation getting increasingly worse in the UK I actually felt better about going abroad than had I actually booked a ‘staycation’.

I enjoyed Gibraltar a lot, I could definitely have stayed there for longer and just not come home haha. I’ll be writing up about that trip next time on the blog, hopefully very soon, and then getting back in to the swing of things and continuing the “big 3-0” series.

Stay tuned!

Jason