Madrid – Part three – October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Real Madrid v Tottenham Hotspur

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

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

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

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Plaza Mayor like you’ve never seen it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Real Madrid 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur, Oct 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The San Jeronimo el Real. Pretty but closed!

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

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

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Madrid’s botanical gardens

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned!

Jason

Madrid – Part two – October 2017

If you caught part one you’ll know that my first day in Madrid already had me swooning over the city. You can recap on that here but I was keen to see if Madrid could sustain that feeling or whether I’d just got wrapped up in the excitement of visiting somewhere new on my first day. My first impressions were good but now I’d familiarised myself with where a few things were I was ready to see what else Madrid had to offer.

I kicked off my Monday morning by checking out of my hotel which was a struggle. I wasn’t supposed to be in Madrid on Sunday so this was my bonus night in the city, the next three were going to be spent in a hostel and to make matters worse my sole night in the hotel resulted in a free upgrade. Swapping a little bit of luxury for three nights in a four bed dorm didn’t have me rushing to check out but needless to say I had little choice.

I was soon on the move and just went wandering. I find walking the best way to see a city and it wasn’t too long before I’d stumbled upon a nice-looking square during my hotel. It’s a little out of the way so doesn’t really get much foot traffic but I liked the look of it and snapped a few photos.

I didn’t really have anywhere in particular in mind in terms of exploring but wandered up to the heart of Madrid, the bustling area around puerta del sol which is one of Madrid’s most famous and busiest squares. It’s certainly an area that gets a high concentration of foot traffic so is good for a little people watching. Along the main road were numeous beautiful buildings which kept catching my eye as I wandered all the way up to the equally stunning Palacio de Comunicaciones.

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Palacio de Comunicaciones

It’s one of my favourite landmarks in Madrid – it’s beautiful. The only real downside is it sits on the edge of quite a busy road so trying to get a photo without any vehicles whizzing by proved difficult and the best spot for taking photos was also bang in the sunlight so I didn’t get any amazing photos to do it justice. I did like it though and the “refugees welcome” banner had me planning my Brexit escape plan! I was fond enough of Madrid to make this my new home! Haha.

Closeby was a long pedestrianised walkway which had what appeared to be some sort of public outdoor library which was pretty cool, I’m not sure if it was permanent, nor if it was even open but there were rows and rows of books stacked along this stretch.

With lunchtime approaching there was an obvious choice of restaurant nearby. Long term readers will know I like visiting Hard Rock Café’s on my travels and Madrid offered an opportunity to tick another visit off of my list. This wasn’t a ‘favourite’ by any means but still had the usual HRC characteristics and friendly staff so was a good lunch option.

Having filled my stomach I ventured back in the direction of the Plaza Mayor but that was a bit of a walk from where I was which allowed me the luxury of getting lost in Madrid’s narrow and pretty little streets.

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Colourful Madrid

Madrid was much more colourful than I’d anticipated and with such good weather it’s a particularly enjoyable European city to just wander in. I think you could easily spend a day solely just wandering the streets in the same way people romanticise doing so in somewhere like Paris. There seems to be an endless number of tapas bars and little shops or businesses that continually offer somewhere to peer your head in to.

After a bit of exploring I went and found my hostel, I knew it was close to the Plaza Mayor but it ended up being a lot closer than I’d anticipated which was ideal as it’s such a convenient square to meet up with people in. I’d booked a four bed dorm but for whatever reason it ended up being just a two bed dorm with two double beds in. Although I met up with my friend Daniel later in the day and he did joke that perhaps it was a four person room and I’d find a stranger sharing my double bed with me when I returned – fortunately this didn’t happen! Haha.

I had a quick wander up to the advertised hostel rooftop bar. Surprisingly there was nobody else up there so it seems they don’t open during the earlier hours of the day. Taking a siesta maybe? Who knows. I had a little look around and got a couple of photos but with nowhere to actually get a drink I made it a brief visit and made my way back in to the streets of Madrid.

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Rooftop views at my hostel

I found a place to grab some tapas for dinner and then arranged to meet up with Daniel and Natalie again for some evening drinks. Natalie was running a little later so myself and Daniel met up initially and returned to the Mercado de San Miguel that we’d visited the night before. It has a great atmosphere although on this occasion I vividly remember being sat opposite this older Danish man who was rather weird.

He was friendly enough at first but soon came out with a few things that were essentially awkward conversation killers. Myself and Daniel tried to keep the chit-chat light-hearted but felt quite pleased when him and his wife (girlfriend maybe?), that he didn’t seem particularly fond of, called it a day. Natalie turned up soon after and we had a little chuckle at our strange encounter and then enjoyed a few more beers together.

Rather than spend our evening at one place we decided to move on and see if there was anywhere to watch the Monday night football. We flagged down a pub that would likely be showing the game but on route there was a familiar noise echoing off the buildings of Madrid.

“Can you hear that?”

Of course we could! I have to say, the noise really bounces off the buildings in Madrid. It’s probably something you’re not going to notice unless there’s an event or protest or some sort but from a distance we could hear the cries of fellow Spurs fans singing. We followed the noise and soon enough we’d stumbled upon this TINY little street with a collective of Brits drinking outside of this bar.

The location was a tad puzzling. Admittedly the noise and the atmosphere perhaps made up for it but it was such a small bar that it was a struggle to get a drink. In the end I wandered up to a restaurant a little walk away and grabbed three beers to go.

A little while later the flashing blue lights found our gathering of football fans. There’s a fine line between having a good time and being a public disturbance, I don’t think there’d been any trouble as yet but it was a little raucous or noisy for a Monday evening by usual standards in Madrid I expect. The police maintained a good distance and stood at the bottom of the street to let us know they were there more than anything. In fairness they didn’t seem to be here to break up the fun, just to ensure things didn’t spill over into troublesome.

Nevertheless, after a few beers a few get a little too excitable and thought taunting the police would be a good idea. I mentioned in part one that the Catalans had just voted for independence from Spain so the pro Catalunya and Barcelona songs from our fans aimed in their direction seemed a questionable move.

I’m not suggesting it’s a fair stereotype but European police definitely have a bad reputation in England, I’d argue particularly so amongst football fans who feel European police need little excuse to victimise / attack football fans. Be it truthful or mythical is largely irrelevant here but it gives a little context because for those same people to then arguably offer an invitation for conflict was strange.

Football fans, particularly British football fans, can be detestable at the best of times but after a few drinks and in the midst of political turmoil? Let’s just say it was unwise and it did add a little tension to the atmosphere. It could have got nasty quite quickly but the police didn’t really rise to it and the majority of our fans sensibly dispersed, ourselves included as we weren’t wanting to needlessly get caught up in something. We called it a night. I popped back up to the hostel rooftop bar and it was much livelier so I grabbed myself a beer before heading to bed.

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Livelier hostel bar

Tuesday was largely about the football with the afternoon dedicated to the pre-match build up and then the evening the game itself. However it still left me with a morning to go and explore Madrid.

I kicked off my morning by going to see the palace and the Catedral de la Almudena which is opposite the palace. Both are pretty spectacular buildings. It also surprisingly wasn’t very busy at either. I’d seemingly timed my visit early enough to beat the crowds, as had some newlyweds who’d come to get a few photos! Not a bad spot for a wedding photoshoot, right?

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Perfect spot for wedding photos in Madrid!

Towards the back of the palace was the gardens which were nice to walk through and offered some more good photo opportunities. From there I then wandered over to the Tempel de Debod which a friend had recommended I go check out. It’s a cool little Egyptian temple and worth checking out when in Madrid.

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Tempel de Debod, Madrid

Content that I’d not wasted my morning I ventured back towards Plaza Mayor, grabbing some lunch along the way and then began to soak up the atmosphere building in the city before the big game. More on that next time!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Madrid – Part one – October 2017

I’ve spoken in the past about my love of London and my clear bias when it comes to London. I’ve lived in Peterborough for 22 years but in my heart I still consider myself a “Londoner” – born and bred! It’s my favourite city in the world.

Recently I wrote about my trip to Washington and with things going well it was only a matter of time before Haleigh made the return journey. I was so excited to show off London – an unbelievable city with the added attraction of all of the Christmas lights and decorations across the city.

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London, December 2018

In my eyes it’s the best city in the world but the funny thing as a traveler is I’ll refrain from outright calling it the best city in the world. It’s the best I’ve been to but I always welcome the challenge to be proven wrong. Growing up I would dream about so many incredible places and cities that I hoped I’d visit some day and I’ve been lucky to visit some of those over the last few years.

In the last decade I got to visit places such as Sydney, Berlin, San Francisco, Paris, Edinburgh, Budapest, New York City.. I could keep going but it was that latter one that I really set the standard for.

If any city would surpass my love of London surely NYC was a contender. In this post here I took everything in to consideration and came to the conclusion it failed due to the harshest of reasons (NYC isn’t London). Alright, so as judge and executioner perhaps I wasn’t impartial enough but London is home and it’s hard to compete with that. The wait went on..

Rio de Janeiro? Rome? Helsinki? Cape Town? There was still hope for me that I’d find somewhere that might yet surpass my love of London – enter Madrid.

“Madrid!?”

I know! I’m as surprised as you are. The easiest comparison to make would be to Washington DC – a city I visited six months earlier. Both DC and Madrid were cities I figured I’d visit eventually but I was in no real rush to go to either. They were nowhere near the top of my bucketlist. I knew I’d likely visit them, particularly Madrid as it’s so close to home, but nothing particularly drew me towards either city to make them appealing.

As it was, Washington DC surprised me a lot! I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did but I left there knowing it was a city I’d happily return to. Madrid was exactly the same for me, however I’d go one step further than that and say that Madrid is quite possibly the best city in Europe.

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Plaza Mayor, Madrid

After London..

I’m sorry, I can’t help it! Seriously though, Madrid has to be the most underrated city in Europe. I’d argue doubly so because Western Europe is arguably one of the most glamourised destinations in world travel and yet nobody hypes up the Spanish capital in the same way that they do London, Paris, Berlin, Edinburgh, Amsterdam.. need I go on? Within Spain itself I’d even argue Barcelona gets a lot more love than Madrid does and it’s a travesty!

If I was being sincerely objective I would struggle to split Madrid alongside London and New York City. It’s THAT good! If Madrid is not on your list to visit that needs to change right now. Yet the only reason this trip happened for me is because I was visiting for football (are you shocked?).

It’s clear I wasn’t all that bothered about Madrid itself but watching Spurs in the Santiago Bernabeu was a complete dream come true and made this a “must do trip”.

It was only when I started looking for things to do outside of the football that my expectations for this city began to grow a little. It looked like there was plenty to do and even with my growing expectations, Madrid surpassed every single expectation I had of the city. It’s a city that has it all!

Anyway, I sense that some of you are sceptical about Madrid being so fantastic so let’s dive right in and I’ll tell you about my trip!

For starters, when booking this trip I wasn’t really looking to be in Madrid particularly long. I had a week off work but I figured I could spend three nights in Madrid and then spend two or three nights elsewhere dependent on money. With Washington in mind, I booked a one way flight on Monday and decided I’d plan the second half of the week once I was back from the US.

Whilst in Washington I got that dreaded email from Ryanair with the subject something along the lines of – “your flight has been cancelled!”. Some of you, particularly in Europe, may remember Ryanair had made a huge scheduling cock-up in that they had no pilots to fly their planes before the end of the year and consequently ended up cancelling tonnes of flights across the continent.

My hope was they’d cancelled one of my flights later in the year but of course it had to be this one! Three weeks before I was due to travel – it certainly could have been worse but it wasn’t ideal and I wasn’t even on the right continent to sort it out.

I got back from Washington and that was priority! Get a new flight booked! Priority two was decide what I’m doing in the second half of the week. European laws (who needs those?) forced Ryanair’s hands a little as they protect you from such inconveniences. Ryanair had to either offer me a full refund (worthless as flight prices had shot up) or put me on a replacement flight. I took the option to go a day earlier (Sunday).

Better yet, Ryanair also offered compensation of £40 (or euros, I can’t remember) to use on a future flight which was just enough to book a one way flight home on the Thursday. My bank balance decided against going anywhere else but the funny thing was due to Ryanair’s mistake I’d gone from having a one way flight to having a return flight with an extra night in Madrid. Please feel free to do this again some time! Haha.

Anyway on to my first impressions of Madrid. I arrived in to Madrid’s airport and was quickly hopping on the Metro to make my way in to the city. There were already a few Spurs fans in town, I couldn’t help but overhear a group of Brits chit-chatting on the metro to my right and puzzled by a (football-related) question asked. I looked up, interjected and a little further down the carriage bizarrely saw a familiar face.

My friend, Natalie, had flown in on a different flight from a completely different airport but we landed around the same time and by chance just happened to be in the same carriage on the same train. A little odd!

We had a little catch up on route and then went our separate ways at the end of the metro line. We agreed to catch up later in the day but Natalie had to catch another metro, feasibly I could have too but as it was mid morning I was in no rush to reach my hotel, I couldn’t check in for a while yet so I figured I’d just exit wherever we were and wander through Madrid for a while.

Greeting me outside were bright blue skies. I’d finally arrived in glorious sunny Spain – proof of which were the Spanish flags hanging from multiple balconies throughout various streets. I don’t know if this was typical of Madrid, perhaps the city is like this year round but I had a suspicion that there was also an element of politics on display.

You see, Madrid’s similarities to DC hadn’t ended with my low expectations. I’d booked my trip to DC forgetting all about the 2016 election and arrived to a divided nation with a new president in town in April 2017. On day one in DC I accidentally stumbled upon an anti-Trump (tax-related) protest.

Well it was more of the same here. At the time of booking this trip to Madrid it seemed a perfect escape to sunny Spain before the Winter season kicked in. Spain in October? Sign me up for some of that!

Then on the 1st of October the Catalans voted and declared independence from Spain and inevitably it felt like for the second time this year I’d be visiting a divided country in political turmoil.

So yeah, the Spanish flags hanging in the street might be normal but I also suspect wasn’t entirely unrelated to the political affairs in Spain at the time. Either way I felt its presence added to some of Madrid’s character, also adding a little colour with red and yellow flying high everywhere you looked.

Moving on I soon found myself in the heart of Madrid and like DC (final comparison, I promise) my eyes were immediately drawn to the stunning architecture. There are some truely beautiful buildings in Madrid and I couldn’t stop snapping away. I instantly liked Madrid, there was just something about it that excited me.

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My first real stop of the trip was some cathedral I can’t recall the name of. Given it was a Sunday I think I walked in towards the end of a service which was unfortunate timing. I like visiting religious buildings but I’m conscious of not interrupting things so it was only a brief visit, I liked the little that I saw though.

After coming out of the cathedral I turned left, went around another corner and BAM! Five street performers were casually playing some music on the side of the street and quickly found themselves an entertained audience. I’d been here an hour at the most and I was already swooning over Madrid. Admittedly it probably helped that the sun was shining and that it was a weekend but there was a buzz to Madrid that made me feel at home.

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Street performers in Madrid

As much as I could have stayed there for much longer I figured I’d try and locate roughly where my hotel was and also grab somewhere for lunch nearby. My hotel was roughly in the vicinity of the Anton Martin neighbourhood which was seemingly home to a lot of street art and murals. Naturally I quickly found myself distracted on my quest for lunch – decent street art – another tick in Madrid’s favour.

After wandering for a little bit I stumbled upon a place to grab myself a sandwich and put my Spanish to the test. I’d probably favour a little better now because my Spanish is improving but at the time it wasn’t great. I didn’t want to be too reliant on English but my Spanish is nowhere near as good as my German. I’d done a little practice before flying out and made sure to remember some of the basics such as “Un cerveza por favor” which I figured would come in handy over the next four days.

Having seen a little of Madrid and having filled my stomach too I went in search of my hotel so I could check in to my room. “Hello Jason, here for one night? We’d like to upgrade you free of charge..”

Of course, yet another reason to fall in love with Madrid! Scrap the flight home. I’m never leaving!

The hotel was annoyingly lovely too, annoying because I hadn’t planned to be here today. I’d only intended for a three night trip and booked myself three nights in a hostel. This was my unexpected bonus night in the city and it made checking out the next morning very difficult. I didn’t want to leave to go stay in some hostel dorm! Haha.

After I checked in I just relaxed in my room for a little bit. The view from my room was nice and I did contemplate going up and making use of the rooftop pool given I probably wouldn’t get another chance. As tempting as it was, instead I got myself back out and wandered through the streets of Madrid for a little while.

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A common sight in Madrid. Street art shutters!

My focus soon switched to evening plans and catching up with my friend Daniel who was also here for the football. We met up in one of Madrid’s prettier and more famous squares – the Plaza Mayor. It’s a nice square but more importantly was also likely to be where our fans would congregate on Tuesday so it was useful knowing where it was and how to find it from where we were staying.

Myself and Daniel met up and whilst admiring the view of Plaza Mayor quickly bumped in to a couple of other Spurs fans, we exchanged pleasantries and discussed thoughts about the game before heading our separate ways.

We were heading over to the nearby Mercado de San Miguel – a popular little market hall with an emphasis on street food and atmosphere. It wasn’t a huge place but was a nice place to hang out, had a fantastic atmosphere and was pretty cheap to pick up some dinner too.

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Mercado de San Miguel

Natalie joined us later on and we shared a few more beers before eventually calling it a night. Back at my hotel I swung by the hotel rooftop which supposedly had a bar and also gave me a brief opportunity to see the pool. It was kind of cool lit up and the views over the city were cool too. I debated grabbing a drink but thought better of it and instead got myself a decent night’s sleep.

My introduction and first day in Madrid wasn’t too exhausting but I was really encouraged by the early signs. This was a city which, as far as I could tell, ticked all of the boxes and if the next three days were even half as good I’d be well chuffed.

More on that to come soon! Stay tuned!

Jason

2019 travel roundup

Happy New Year my dear readers! After a quiet December I’m looking forward to getting back in to the blogging groove so I’m kicking things off with my first post of the year! I’m not sure what the blogging schedule will look like this year as lots of change is coming but Thursday’s worked well for me last year and I committed to getting a post out every week so we’ll stick with it for now.

I’ve always considered blogging a hobby more than anything but with the new year in mind I did go and treat myself. I am now part of the dot com crew! That’s right, I’ve finally splurged on my own domain. I’ve not made any other changes (yet) to the website but it feels nice to have dropped the WordPress bit from my website link.

Anyway.. on to today’s post!

With the year ending I wanted to do a travel round up of 2019, it was another fun year for me with some great memories. Long time readers might recall I shared my early 2019 plans with you here. Following January payday I was eager to get planning and booked myself four trips for the first half of 2019. I planned to go to Germany in March, USA in April, Finland in May and Ireland in May. With the recap out of the way, here’s where I went and a (hopefully) small summary of each trip!

March – Germany!
My first trip of the year was a bittersweet return to Dortmund. I’ve had the idea to go live in Washington for quite some time and I envisaged getting to the halfway point of 2019 in my best financial position in quite some time. Enjoy the first six months of the year and then seriously consider going to Washington.

That change is happening in a little over three weeks from now, a bit later than I’d anticipated so I was desperate to squeeze in a Tottenham European away day before I went. It was potentially my last for a while and I said in this post (here) that I just really hoped it wasn’t going to be a third trip to Dortmund.

The “football gods” took no pity on me and were cruelly sending Spurs to Dortmund for the third time in three years. I’d done the area to death. Dortmund, perhaps harshly, doesn’t have all that much appeal outside of football so it wasn’t a city I was excited to return to.

The obvious option in that region of Germany is Köln, a city I’d been to three times already. Ordinarily I might have been reluctant to go back but the Dortmund game overlapped with the Kölner Karneval which I was intrigued to experience.

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Back in Köln!

I arrived in to Köln on one of the busiest days of the Karneval, Rosenmontag, which was just crazy! Streets locked down for the parade, fancy dress everywhere you look and of course being Germany plenty of beer too! It’s an interesting time to visit, crazy but interesting. The next day was an absolute ghost town – so bizarre but a fun couple of days topped off with a Spurs win!

March – Belgium!
I’d booked myself four days in Germany. I was excited about going back to Köln but it was my fourth trip, I didn’t need all four days to be in that city so I decided I’d spend the other two nights in Frankfurt.

I started having doubts about going to Frankfurt though, I wasn’t sure how much I really wanted to go. Could I change my mind? I mean, why not? My hotel had free cancellation, I hadn’t yet booked my train from Köln, what if I went somewhere else? Where though? I had a few ideas but Bruges was the one that grabbed my attention.

I went to Brussels in 2013 and took a day trip to Bruges with my friends Kelly and Walker. It was a fun day but I was tempted to go back and experience it by myself and likewise I was also keen to get some photos this time.

Bruges is still every bit as pretty as I remembered it. It’s a beautiful city to just get lost in and I was quite happy to do an overnighter on this occasion, it was also nice to enjoy a bit of the nightlife (the Belgian beer, let’s be honest).

I did a few things I didn’t get to do last time, tried mussels for the first (and last) time and was quite sad to be leaving come the end of it. I was flying home from Köln on a Friday and did debate staying in Belgium for the weekend. I then got back to Köln and contemplated staying there too but my head got the better of me – “Save your pennies, not long until the next trip”

BrugesBlog
Bruges, Belgium

April – Washington State!
The “long term” plan was to get to Washington at the earliest convenience but I also had to see Haleigh in the short term so the first thing I did on January payday was book flights to Washington.

Easter seemed like a good time to go, I always try and maximise my annual leave so traveling around public holidays helps. Haleigh had a few days off in April too so it was perfect timing really.

It was a rather chilled trip but I got to see Haleigh obviously, some of Haleigh’s family and we also squeezed in a double date with Maddie and Cassie which was lovely. One of the other highlights was a visit to the unique Bavarian town of Leavenworth – a little piece of Germany on the USA’s West coast – I fully recommend a daytrip at the very least.

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Mountains, snow, Washington!

May – Finland!
What was I saying about maximising annual leave around public holidays? In 2018 I had a HUGE 30th birthday trip to the US which meant sacrificing any football away days in 2018 and it also meant sacrificing any holidays prior to the summer. Consequently no bank holiday fun for me!

In 2019 I was reclaiming BOTH bank holidays. The first Monday of May and the last Monday of May are public holidays in England which means a three day weekend! Perfect for a short European adventure!

I really wanted to get to Finland in 2018 and things didn’t quite pan out so I was adamant I was going no matter what in 2019. For those that don’t know already, I grew up living with a Finnish grandmother so the country has ALWAYS held my heart and been somewhere I wanted to see for myself.

Finally (or Finn-ally? Hahaha.. no?) I got it booked! Finland was happening! I was sad to say goodbye to Haleigh in Washington but I was also so excited to be going to Helsinki in just 6 days after getting back. So excited – dream trip! This perfect little paradise, the adult equivalent of Disneyland in my mind. I was going to LOVE Finland, wasn’t I?

Wasn’t I? I mean hang on a second, I’ve never even been to Finland. I’d somewhat unintentionally built up this fantasy in my head – Finland was obviously a real place but what if it wasn’t the Finland I was expecting or hoping for? What if I didn’t like it?

Suddenly the nerves kicked in, suddenly there was a bit of pressure on this trip. This wasn’t any ordinary destination, this could crush every thought I’d ever had about Finland.

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A moody looking Helsinki!

Fortunately I needn’t have worried. I think I’d fallen in love with Helsinki probably in the first hour of arriving. I quite possibly have Finland-tinted-goggles on but even months later there are still little moments that almost made it too magical. For instance on the train from the airport there’s this little girl with her dad singing a nursery rhyme and it just sounded angelic, it instantly brought a smile to my face. I eventually reach the centre of Helsinki, step off the train and snow is falling!

Snow! In May! There was NOTHING about snow in the forecast when I looked before the trip but of course there’s snow because Finland’s the most magical place on the planet isn’t it? It was the most perfect weekend, the highlight probably having a new Finnish friend drag me along on a bar crawl and I’ve just been swooning over Finland ever since.

My only regrets are that it took me so long to visit, that I wasn’t there for longer and that I haven’t been back 150 times since May. Did I mention I love Finland?

MyHelsinki
My Helsinki, I couldn’t have said it any better!

May – Amsterdam!
“Hang on a second Jason, Amsterdam?”

Germany, Washington, Finland, Ireland! The eagle-eyed among you will note those were my travel plans for the first six months of the year. I’d budgeted the first half of the year perfectly but there was no wiggle room.

“Nor should there be really, is four trips not enough you spoilt little man!”

In my defence.. I’d said I wouldn’t be going to a hypothetical Champions League semi final in the unlikely chance that Spurs would compete in such a historic occasion. So I definitely had the right intentions to be financially sensible. Go me!

Anyway, backtracking a bit – I had to go to Dortmund because it might be my last European away game for some time. If I’d been confident we’d win I might have gambled but the Dortmund tie was a 50-50 tie that could go either way. It wasn’t a gamble I could take.

Our reward for victory in Germany was a quarter final trip to Manchester. Don’t get me wrong, I like Manchester but the only European away trip more underwhelming than a trip to Dortmund would have been a “European” away trip I didn’t require a passport for. Plus it wasn’t really 50-50 this time was it? It was more 80-20 in Manchester City’s favour and those were just the odds on a good day. So I felt quite vindicated in my decision to go to Dortmund as our European adventures were ending up in Manchester.

and then they didn’t. Our quarter final ended in the most bizarre and cruelest of victories but it was our night! We’d reached the semi finals of the Champions League (European Cup) for the first time since 1962. 57 years! Spurs were going to be playing in a Champions League SEMI FINAL!

“The Semi Final you said you weren’t going to?”

Exactly! I wasn’t going and that’s that, okay? I was committed to my original decision. I’d literally just got to Washington, hadn’t even been to Helsinki yet and May was looking like a crazy crazy month with too much on. I haven’t got the money, I haven’t got the time and the game in Amsterdam is on my mum’s birthday, I’ve got to be home for that!

I slept on the (non) idea – first night in Washington State. Then on the first morning in Washington I found myself scouring the internet for travel routes, costs and everything else.

Did you not hear me earlier? 1962 – fifty seven years! I couldn’t wait another fifty seven years for the next one! This was a once in a lifetime opportunity!

Amsterdam
Beautiful Amsterdam

My real mistake was my hesitation! I’d given every other Spurs fan a head start and flights and Eurostar prices quickly shot up. In the end I decided to take an overnight coach from London. I got back from Helsinki on Monday night, went to work on Tuesday and caught the coach on Tuesday night to get me in to Amsterdam on the Wednesday morning (Happy birthday mum!).

Amsterdam’s beautiful, it was nice to go back but let’s be honest. I was here for less than 48 hours and for one reason only – football! Finland was probably my favourite place I visited in 2019 but I’d be hard pushed to say this wasn’t the best trip of the year, dare I say this Wednesday in May was quite possibly the best night of my life.

I couldn’t get a ticket for the game but I had to be in Amsterdam for the atmosphere, this was the biggest game in my lifetime! It started horrifically, we were dead and buried at half-time.

I think it’s probably the angriest I’ve ever been at Tottenham in my life. I’m not unfamiliar in watching Spurs lose but at least do it the right way, tonight of all nights. Come on Spurs, you can’t possibly turn up like this on this occasion!

At half-time we needed a miracle and in all honesty I didn’t really want to stick around. I knew I could be enjoying Amsterdam instead of enduring this rubbish but that faint bit of hope always seems to linger – “you never know..”

We scored an early goal in the second half for a lifeline, followed by a quick second which sent the beers flying in the pub I was in – bedlam! 30 minutes to go, just one goal needed now.

The next 35 minutes of the clock ticking down were agonising! Be careful what you wish for I suppose. I wanted some fight in the performance and it was going to be too late, wasn’t it? I’d seen it a thousand times over the years. Spurs play useless, Spurs then give you false hope before falling short. At least when Spurs were consistently useless I was spared that cruel hopeful feeling.

Tottenham deserved NOTHING from this tie and here we were on the verge of a miracle and again we were going to fall short. Five minutes injury time was added on and we go for what the Americans like to call a “hail Mary” – just hit and hope really. 99 times out of 100 it doesn’t come off for you, just an aimless long punt and yet on this occasion Llorente knocks it down to Dele, Dele flicks it on in the direction of “MOURAA!!!”

Miracles (or Moura-cles) are real! As a neutral I’ve seen some incredible footballing moments but as a Spurs fan in the 95th minute of a Champions League semi final in Amsterdam? What the hell just happened?

I think I spent the majority of the remainder of the night in tears. Tears of joy? Tears of disbelief? Who knows? All I do know is the scenes spilled out on to the streets of Amsterdam in an atmosphere I can’t describe. Hundreds of fellow Spurs fans singing, hugging, crying with celebrations likely to run on for hours in to Thursday morning.

I got back to my hostel drenched in beer and still in no control of my emotions – hoping to sleep but unable to stop crying.

It was the best night ever! One stage further than 1962! Spurs had qualified for their first ever Champions League (European Cup) final in Madrid on the 1st of June.

Don’t worry! There’s no long debate here! I was never in any doubt I would go to the final in Madrid in the incredibly unlikely chance we reached it but first..

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Rubbish photo, best night of my life!

May – Dublin!
Washington, Helsinki, Amsterdam, Dublin, Madrid in the space of four weeks? Really?

Well, sadly not! Firstly it’s clear I hadn’t budgeted for two extra football trips on short notice. However honestly, the real reason I bailed on Dublin is because I was burnt out.

After my big summer trip in 2018 I sort of went through a little rut at the end of the year where nothing really happened – a seasonal rut to some extent I suppose. Spurs weren’t playing at home so going to the football had no real appeal, I seemed to have no social plans, friends were moving away, blah, blah, blah.

I’d definitely hit a social rut and there were lonely spells through that time but I’m also an introvert so there was a degree of comfort to having such few plans. Then life went to the opposite extreme come March 2019 and everything hit me at once.

Travel plans, family plans, catch up with friends, big birthdays. I’d find a rare free weekend and be so grateful for it and then suddenly – BAM!
“Jason, are you up for our first work night out in years?” – Sure, perfect timing, thanks!

Of course I’d wanted to do all of these things but life was busy and quite energy-sapping. I went to Washington in April which was a great chance to actually rejuvenate before Finland and Dublin and then of course Spurs decide to make history this year and I had to find time for two more unplanned trips.

I got to the end of May, knowing a quiet June was coming up but I was just desperate for a weekend of nothing. I felt like I could only do one more hectic weekend – Dublin or Madrid?

I could have struggled through Dublin, I know I’d have enjoyed it once I was there but I just bailed. Had it been further from home perhaps I’d have still gone but Dublin’s so close and cheap to fly to that I figure it won’t be long before I can make up for it with a trip there but I think I’d have enjoyed Madrid less had I gone to Dublin so it was the right decision. Dublin could happen any year, any time. A Champions League final will possibly never come around again for Spurs.

Biarritz
Biarritz, France

May – Biarritz, France!
“Biarritz?”

Don’t panic! This is the Madrid trip! On the 1st of June Tottenham would be playing in their first EVER Champions League final in Madrid. However unfortunately our opponents had qualified an evening earlier and worse yet, our opponents were also from England – Liverpool to be exact!

With what promised to already be an expensive trip, having our compatriots get a 24 hour head start on the flight and accommodation hunt was not particularly helpful. Getting to Madrid within any reasonable budget was looking problematic. It was a “whatever the cost” type trip but I was in Amsterdam pondering what possible route I’d have to take to make it feasible.

Fortunately my dad decided to join me on this one! He’d done his fair share of European away days in his youth and I’d done my fair share of European away days in the 10’s but this was set to be our first Tottenham European away trip together – a Champions League final a good enough reason for a Father-Son adventure to Madrid

Dad: “I’m thinking of driving..”

Make that a father-son ROAD-TRIP to Madrid! It’s a long old drive from Peterborough so we agreed to have a night somewhere in Southern France and we stumbled upon the delights of Biarritz! I’d always wandered what the fuss over the South of France was about and it’s because of places like Biarritz. It was a heavenly place to rest our heads, I would happily have stayed longer and it’s somewhere I’ll possibly return to but Madrid beckoned!

June – Madrid!
I actually plan to talk more about Madrid in my next post as I first visited in 2017 so you’ll have to wait to hear about the delights of this city. Sadly we were only in Madrid for about 12 hours on this occasion. It was very much a flying visit due to the costs associated with being in Madrid for such an occasion.

Consequently I don’t have too much to say about this trip to Madrid. Glorious sunshine, a cracking atmosphere between both sets of fans but no fairytale ending. Liverpool won their 6th Champions League final but for us it was a journey that will be talked about for years to come.

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Dave, Lloyd, me, Dad

July – Paris!
The Champions League trips offered a setback to my plans this year, in particular the hopes of spending a few months in Washington with Haleigh in 2019. It was looking increasingly unlikely it’d happen before the year ended but fortunately Haleigh came to visit me for two weeks instead so there were still plenty of memories to be made together in 2019.

This was Haleigh’s second overseas trip, her second time visiting Europe with us spending a bit of time in London on the first occasion. I’d never tire of showing off London but I thought it’d be nice for us to go somewhere different for a weekend this time with Edinburgh and Paris being the two leading candidates – Paris obviously came out on top.

My first trip to Paris wasn’t without it’s disappointments, remember? So I was excited to be going back in the summer and with someone to enjoy it with on this occasion. It already promised to be a special trip but then we got to Paris late on the Friday night and my phone decided it was having the weekend off.

I plugged it in to charge and nothing, I plugged in Haleigh’s phone and it charged perfectly fine, tried a different charger nothing, tried Haleigh’s phone and it charged perfectly fine. Why?

My phone lasted until about Saturday lunchtime with the little battery it had remaining and then I was “off the grid” – unintentionally but it was actually such a novelty. My last proper “off the grid” trip was in 2014 when I went to Berlin, which is probably more recent than most, and it’s genuinely so nice to be completely unattainable.

I feel fortunate to have traveled abroad before the days of being accessible 24/7. If it’s an emergency here’s the number of my hotel, I’ll try and send you a postcard and you’ll see the photos once I’m home and they’ve been developed. I find it impossible now, arguably doubly so given I’m in a long distance relationship. The 8 hour time difference is a killer, every small window of opportunity me and Haleigh get to chat we take.

So in some respects, what a lucky trip to be off the grid. I had the only company I really needed, there was nobody else that couldn’t wait a weekend until I was back in England.

Where are we going? Let’s dig out our paper map!
What time is it? Daytime or nighttime dependent on the colour of the sky.
What’s happening in the world? No idea! Nothing outside of Paris mattered for that sole weekend.

It was completely unplanned but honestly, it was pure bliss! I feel a need for more trips like that – more “Latergram” than Instagram. I can’t speak for Haleigh but it was a perfect weekend.

Lastly I talked about loving Paris on my first visit but France in the summertime is SO much nicer. After Lille (2018), Biarritz and Paris I’ve definitely grown to love France.

Paris
Haleigh and me in Paris!

 

November – Washington State!
The long term Washington trip got a setback but at the end of August I finally booked my flights. February 3rd 2020 until May 1st 2020. Not long now!

So as crazy as the first few months of 2019 were, the second half of the year has been mostly about cutting back and saving some money.

I’ve done some cool stuff in England but my travels haven’t been as frequent. I found myself with one last week to use before the end of 2019. I knew I’d use it to see Haleigh, it was just a case of deciding when was best.

Haleigh had a few days off for Thanksgiving which seemed an ideal time for me to visit and experience my first American Thanksgiving. It was a short and sweet trip, most of which was spent in the city of Walla Walla but it was great to catch up with Haleigh’s family, share some good food and of course spend some time with Haleigh before the countdown to February could begin.

Thanksgiving
A glimpse of Thanksgiving

Anyway, that rounds up 2020. This was probably a bit longer than I’d anticipated it being but I got a tad carried away with the football. In the end it was three trips for Spurs including a Champions League final, three trips spent with Haleigh and one new country in Finland. I’ll talk about all of these trips in more detail in the future but hopefully a good summary of what was a decent year and a good way to end the decade.

Thanks for indulging me in another summary of my year.Next up on the blog? 2017’s trip to Madrid!

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.

Munich15
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

Bilbao – May 2015

Last time out on the blog we were in Italy, following my adventures to Pisa and Firenze in February 2015. Three months later, rather tragically, I still had no travel plans! I was beginning to get itchy feet and knew I needed a trip ASAP!

I asked at work if I could take next week off and after agreeing time off I was quickly planning a last minute trip away! For how close it was there was no need for a countdown but there was a need for a destination! Where should I go?

After compiling a list of various destinations across Europe naturally I ended up somewhere that wasn’t even on the list – Bilbao! Why? I don’t really know. Cheap flights and a reasonably priced hotel (with an outdoor pool) was enough to tempt me so I figured why not?

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I finally had my destination and before I knew it I was preparing to head to a city I knew very little about in the North of Spain. I was excited, I had a minuscule amount of knowledge of Bilbao but it was a relatively unknown place for me. I was a little worried at how rusty my Spanish was but I was excited to visit a new region of Spain – the Basque country!

Oh no! The Basque country! I was worried my Spanish was bad and it suddenly dawned on me that they might not even speak Spanish. Whilst internationally this might be considered Spain, locally they considered themselves proud Basque citizens first and foremost. I don’t know any Basque!

I struggled by. I wanted to speak Spanish as much as possible throughout the trip but I was more dependent on my English than I would have liked. That’s not to say I spoke solely English, I was focused on learning German at the time and “Dankeschon” and “Bitte” were phrases I regularly used throughout my trip.

“Shit, wrong language, I meant Gracias” I would think to myself but it was always too late, it had slipped out and I was left cursing my stupid brain every single time. My brain appeared to only have two configurations – English and non-English with the latter determined to default to German irrespective of it being of absolutely no use to me here!

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Anyway back to my trip. I’d arrived and was ready for three nights in the Basque country! I say I’d arrived but I have no idea how, I’m usually good at remembering the little details but my first memory of this trip was stood in the centre of Bilbao. How I’d got there? A mystery!

Nevertheless I’d got here somehow and the first task of my afternoon was to find my hotel. I had a vague idea of the direction my hotel was in so I figured I’d try my luck finding it on foot. I suppose how you measure the success of that hunt is purely based on your perspective – did I find my hotel? No. However I found myself exploring parts of the city I probably wouldn’t have otherwise seen so in that respect I have no regrets. It was a sunny afternoon so it wasn’t a bad thing that I had no idea where I was going.

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Imagine playing football to that background!

Although eventually I had to admit defeat and hopped in a taxi to my hotel, which was a little further away than I’d anticipated. After checking in and dropping off my things I went to get dinner. I ordered a beer and was quickly disappointed to find the waitress sit a minuscule beer in front of me. It was a common theme throughout my stay as it appeared a pint-sized beer just isn’t a thing in Bilbao.

As if that wasn’t disappointing enough, I then had the longest wait for my dinner. If you have to wait for a table or you can see it’s particularly busy you accept you might have a bit of a wait. However I’d ordered pretty quickly and similarly the place was dead so how it took the best part of an hour for my food to arrive was beyond me – has the chef gone for a siesta mid-preparation? Feed me, damnit!

After dinner I decided I’d have a little wander close to my hotel and then the rain hit! Excuse me Spain, I didn’t come here for this! I ducked in to a bar full of locals which was decorated in red and white (the colours of the local football team, Athletic Bilbao) and enjoyed the atmosphere with another mini-beer. I soon called it an early-ish night and chilled back at my hotel for a little while, keen to get exploring properly in the morning.

I didn’t really have any plans for my time in Bilbao, with the exception of the Guggenheim museum it isn’t really a touristy city. If you want a trip full of sights and attractions then this probably isn’t the place for you but if you want an insight in to Basque / Spanish culture then it’s probably a place you’ll enjoy.

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As I walked through the streets the following morning I quickly realised I was surrounded by locals. Kids were playing games together, there were bars and coffee shops occupied by people chatting away, the streets were littered with people doing their shopping and it felt a very homely place. I looked up and the streets were decorated with more red and white banners, I wasn’t sure if this was a regular occurrence in Bilbao or whether it was just a timely display of colour ahead of the upcoming Copa del Rey (Spanish cup final) that Athletic Bilbao were participating in, whatever the reason I was fond of it.

Despite another downpour I was enjoying the architecture, street art and scenery the city had to offer. Eventually I arrived at the Guggenheim museum and figured I’d pay a visit given it was so highly rated – it’s one of Spain’s (sorry!) most visited museums so I was keen to see what all the fuss was about.

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Honestly, I was left a little underwhelmed. It’s quite similar to London’s Tate museum, another I wasn’t particularly fond of and I’d be hard-pushed to genuinely recommend it. Parts of it were enjoyable but overall it just wasn’t for me. The irony also wasn’t lost on me that my two favourite pieces of art had been OUTSIDE of the museum which further questioned whether I’d actually had value for money. However if you’re a fan of the Tate you’ll quite possibly enjoy Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum too.

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Following on from the Guggenheim I took a funicular ride up to one of Bilbao’s best vantage points for the views over the city. It wasn’t particularly crowded (no tourists remember) but one pale white guy caught my eye as, like myself, he stuck out like a sore thumb. “You’re English” I thought to myself and pondered if it was right to make such a snap judgment of some stranger.

I didn’t realise how high up we’d actually be going, even some of Bilbao’s tallest buildings looked tiny from here as I admired the view. Moments later I was being approached by a familiar voice – it was English – something I hadn’t heard for a while.
As I turned to see where it had come from I was greeted by my pasty friend from the funicular ride. “I WAS RIGHT!”

He was traveling around Spain solo and asked if I could take a photo, which gave me the opportunity to ask him of the same afterwards. A couple of photos later we went our separate ways, I took in more of the views before eventually making my way back in to the heart of Bilbao and finding a place for some food.

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With the two touristy things to do in Bilbao out of the way I didn’t really do much else over the next couple of days. My last trip had been to Florence, which is still Italy of course but from the thousands of Spurs fans to the massive presence of American students that occupy the city you could be forgiven for forgetting you were in Italy at times.
In Bilbao there was no mistake and with nothing that I was desperate to do I just indulged in Bilbao’s authenticity. I was content people watching in pretty squares and little tapas bars, it was a great way to pass the time for the rest of my stay.

My only other intention had been to take a day-trip to nearby San Sebastian but, combined with the poor weather, I ended up on the wrong train and took it as a sign that it wasn’t meant to be. Abandoning my journey at a random station I retreated back to Bilbao and decided San Sebastian would have to be a city I returned to in the future.

My final morning in Bilbao came around and I made the most of a little lay in before leaving the hotel, checking out a little bitter that I’d had no opportunity to use the pool because of the weather. Sidenote, I swear I’m cursed as every time my hotel has a pool it goes wasted!

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Anyway, I wandered back in to the centre of the city to have one last look around and enjoy my final few hours in Bilbao. I stumbled upon some square with a bit of life to it with locals all doing their own thing and soaking up a rare morning of sunshine with many sat at tables in the sun. I popped in to this little bar which was largely full of old men, it looked like this was a regular meet-up for them over some tapas and a couple of drinks. My thinking was much the same as I grabbed some lunch, a couple of beers and spent my final couple of hours in Bilbao just people-watching.

Eventually it was time to go, I hopped in a taxi to the airport and was soon sitting admiring the scenic airport views whilst reflecting on my trip. I don’t know if I could ever call Bilbao a must visit or even a place I’ll return to but there was something homely about Bilbao that left me leaving with fond impressions of the city.

It might not attract the same numbers that Barcelona or Madrid do but this region of Spain has its own charm and keeps me inspired to make a return to the Basque country.
Thanks again for the memories Bilbao and who knows, maybe like Köln, I’ll find myself returning to you some day!

All the best!

Jason

A 2017 summary

2017 was the year “Jason likes to travel” launched and it was quite a year! First and foremost I wanted to thank all of you for making this such an enjoyable experience. More than anything I started the blog for myself. I wanted a space I could talk about my travels and reflect on some of the experiences along the way but I didn’t think many would read it or anticipate such positive feedback. Thanks to you all for following along and for all of your kind words and supportive feedback. There will be plenty more content coming in 2018 so stick with me!

Beyond the blog, 2017 ended up being quite a memorable year for me. I started the year in Paris which really set the tone for the rest of the year and I ended 2017 celebrating Hogmanay up in Edinburgh.
Including the New Year trips at each end of the year I ended up spending time in France, Scotland (twice), USA (twice), Germany (twice), Greece and Spain. I’m so happy to have traveled so much this year and I’ve stepped foot out of England in every month but June and July (disaster!).

I promise there will be dedicated posts to all of these trips in the future which is why I haven’t gone in to too much detail on any one destination below, however I wanted to summarise what I’ve been up to this year. So here’s a short look at some of the highlights of the year.

The capitals!
2017 saw me spend time in five different capital cities: Paris, London, Edinburgh, Washington DC and Madrid. So inevitably they ended up playing quite a significant role in my 2017.

Paris: Okay, so I only actually spent one day of 2017 in Paris. January 1st! It’s really a trip I associate with 2016 but at midnight I was up on a rooftop seeing in the New Year and celebrating the beginning of 2017. It was the first time I’d ever been out of the country at the start of the year so a memorable moment and it really set the tone for the rest of the year!

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A foggy Paris

London: Home! So technically I haven’t lived in London since 1997 but this will always be a place I think of as home. I only live an hour or so away which means it is still a city that I visit quite often.
Catching up with friends, going to the football, attending gigs, seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (it’s really good!) or just general sightseeing. London has provided a number of memorable moments in 2017 and 10 days in to the year I’ve already visited our wonderful capital twice in 2018!

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Green Park, London

Washington DC: Some cities like New York City, Sydney and Berlin have been absolute “must visit” destinations for me, meanwhile others are more like “one day” destinations. I want to be clear and say I want to visit absolutely everywhere in the world but that soon becomes a long list. Being realistic I’m not going to visit everywhere and DC was a place that I knew I may / may not get to.

Circumstances led me to DC but on arrival I still wasn’t sure what to expect. Perhaps that was a good thing. You only really hear about the political side to the city which I can’t say particularly excited me – it meant I was heading to DC with relatively low expectations. Whilst within the US the message was “Make America Great Again” – from the outside all that I saw was a divided nation in political turmoil and I was heading right in to the heart of it.

Fortunately it was “business as usual” in DC. I don’t want to make this too politically focused but as far as “MAGA” is concerned I always feel like the every day people you meet are the best indication of how great a place is opposed to those in power. As ever, I felt completely welcomed in DC and quickly discovered this wonderful city had so much depth to it. Of course there are political elements to DC but at the same time there’s a lot of history here, stunning architecture, beautiful nature (helped by peak Cherry Blossom season) and a buzzing nightlife. DC ended up being so much better than anticipated, despite being sick throughout my time there. I didn’t particularly intend to end up in DC but I’m glad I I found my way there. I’d quite like to go back because there’s still a few things I’d like to do there and I could have a proper night out in the city next time.

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Washington DC, USA

Madrid: Another “one day” destination that happened to be in political turmoil (Catalan independence). In all likelihood I knew I’d get to Madrid at some point but if I was going to visit Spain a return to Barcelona was a bigger priority. Then there were countless other European capitals I wanted to visit first – luckily I’ve already ticked off a few of those. Madrid had never had the same appeal for me as the likes of Berlin, Paris, Edinburgh, Amsterdam or Rome (the latter I’ve yet to get to).

So on that basis I owe massive apologies to Madrid – wow! What a city! It was easily my favourite place I visited in 2017.
Unlike DC I was quite prepared for an enjoyable trip by the time it came around – the more I read up on Madrid, the more excited I got. It lived up to every expectation and then some. Admittedly I visited for football and a positive result in the game helped that but taking the football out of the equation it is still a wonderful city.

It’s full of colour, full of character, has so much street art, good food, stunning architecture, beautiful weather and a great nightlife. I could go on and on. After Berlin (and London obviously) it is probably my favourite capital city I’ve visited to date. Ryanair cancelled my flight which means I actually ended up with an extra day in Madrid but I could still have easily stayed longer.
Don’t make the same mistake I did and wait to visit Madrid – go as soon as you can!

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Madrid, Spain

Edinburgh: Last but certainly not least. I started the year in France and ended the year in Scotland. Paris had given me a little taste of New Year fun in another country but I wanted bigger and better – step up Hogmanay!
I’ve been to Edinburgh before and it is such a wonderful city – it really is a must visit whatever time of year you visit but I had to see what all the fuss about Hogmanay is. It has been on the bucketlist for a while and this was the opportunity to do it.

It was incredible! It completely lived up to the hype for me. I can’t imagine a better place to see in the New Year – I hope to get to New York City and Sydney sometime for their celebrations but Edinburgh has really set the standard. Best New Year ever!

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Edinburgh, Scotland

The newbie!
In the last couple of years I feel like I’ve just switched between visiting Germany and the USA. I went to Germany three times in 2016 and twice in 2017, meanwhile I went to the USA twice in 2016 and then twice in 2017. Don’t get me wrong I love both countries and I’ve been lucky to visit some incredible cities in the last couple of years but I wanted to freshen things up. I was determined to get to at least one new country in 2017.

My heart was set on a birthday treat to myself. I wanted a relaxing getaway in August for a few days and all I had to do was decide on where, in Europe, to visit. It would have been cheaper to go away in June or July but I was adamant I deserved my birthday week off which meant trying to find an affordable escape somewhere at peak holiday time in Europe. After some searching I’d found reasonable flights and a hotel, the day after my birthday I was flying off to Thessaloniki in Greece.

I didn’t know much about the city but I knew the good weather was guaranteed and it ticked off the criteria of visiting a new country too. It was my first adventure in Greece and what better time of year to visit than in the summer? It was perfect!
Unlike Greek hotspots such as Athens, Santorini and many of the other islands – Thessaloniki isn’t a particularly well known place which meant it wasn’t full of tourists. I spent a few days relaxing, drinking beers and enjoying the warm weather. I’m not sure it’s a city I feel a need to return to but experiencing those Greek sunsets was definitely a highlight of the year and particularly the summer!

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Thessaloniki, Greece

The German trips!
Visits to Germany in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 (x3) mean this country has been a regular feature of my annual highlights and as I mentioned above there were another two visits in 2017.

Hamburg: This is a city that has been on my list for a little while but I didn’t really anticipate getting there as soon as this year. I started looking for cheap flights for the last weekend of May (the Monday was a public holiday) and Hamburg was surprisingly cheap. A chance to practice my German, a city I’ve wanted to visit for ages and affordable – how could I possibly resist?
It’s a cracking city, I can see why it’s so highly rated and featured as one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 cities to visit in 2018. It ended up being a great weekend away and I was fortunate with the weather too! It was well worth missing a festival back home for and another city I’d like to return to.

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Me with Hamburg’s Rathaus (Town Hall).

Bremen & Düsseldorf: A while ago I posted about my love affair with Köln and my frustration at the footballing schedule continually sending me back to West Germany. Fast forward a year and I was put in the same scenario. I was NOT going to Köln again so soon. I really didn’t fancy staying in Dortmund so I started looking at what other German football coincided with my trip. Werder Bremen – “that’ll do!”.

Bremen’s charm had me swooning instantly. There was something irresistible about it. Typical Germany but without the crowds of the bigger cities. I loved it and just wanted a little longer in the city. For a lesser known European city-break I’d certainly recommend a couple of days in Bremen.

Düsseldorf was a bit of a plan B. I was going to watch football in Dortmund on the Tuesday night but I soon came to the realisation that there were no trains from Dortmund back to Bremen on Tuesday evening. So I had to half my time in Bremen and booked a couple of nights in a hotel in Düsseldorf. The weather was miserable but I did like the city. It had plenty of places to go out to eat/drink and enjoy the city’s nightlife however I don’t think I really made the most of my days in the city to recommend it fully. If you pushed me to recommend one or the other I’d tell you to go to Bremen but it was still a memorable trip.

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Bremen, Germany

The loved ones!
Having covered the capital cities, Greece and Germany all that is really left of 2017 are the US trips! My trips to the USA were heavily focused around visiting some special people across the country. One of the drawbacks to having people you care about in other countries is you don’t get to see them! This year I managed to change that and met up with a few people for the very first time – very satisfying and the real highlight of my year.

Nashville: I took so many good memories home with me from Nashville. It started with meeting a friend (and her family) who’d driven up from Alabama who I’d missed out on seeing a year earlier in Atlanta. It was great to finally meet, check out the Parthenon and grab some food together. With Sam bidding farewell to Nashville and making the drive back to Alabama I was left to explore the city (nightlife) for myself.

Nashville didn’t disappoint, infact I loved it! It was everything I’d hoped it would be and “music city” certainly lived up to its name. I regularly crave a return to Nashville because it’s a city like no other I’ve been to. Pure bliss and I feel like I left a little piece of me behind (probably my liver). I hope it’s a place I’ll return to. Everyone needs to experience a night in Nashville at some point!

 

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Nashville aka “Music City”

Dallas: I got to Texas! Finally! It is somewhere I have been wanting to visit for such a long time so to finally make it there made this such a special highlight of my year.
I did like Dallas as a city but it’s not a place that blew me away. I enjoyed myself but it’s probably a place I’d ordinarily be content in visiting just the once.

However I had wonderful company and with that came wonderful memories to take home with me. It’s a trip that I look back on so fondly of and I don’t think I could have enjoyed it any more. Full of first time experiences, long car rides, awful shots (sorry Amber – it’s true!) and the best people to share it with. Everything made it a trip I’ll cherish for a long time.
I’ll definitely be back Dallas!

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Dallas, Texas

Washington State: Apparently one Washington visit in a year wasn’t enough so after visiting DC in April, five months later I was heading to the West Coast. Getting to Washington had been on the agenda for a while and a wedding in 2018 finally gave me an excuse to visit!
Wait, 2018? Yeah, it turns out I couldn’t wait that long so started making plans to get there much sooner.

Like Dallas this trip was all about the company (including the two-legged kind!) which made for such a memorable trip. Mountain views, baseball, awesome bars, good food, cool museums, road trips and boat trips –  I loved it all. The company just topped it off

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Moses Lake, Washington

That rounds up a summarised look at my 2017 adventures.
A huge thanks to Sam, Scott & Ariel (Nashville), Amber, Lanie & Macie (Dallas), Maddie, Cassie & Haleigh (Washington State) and Daniel & Natalie (football) for joining me on the adventure.

The aim now is to have 2018 top 2017 which will take some doing, however with a month-long trip to the US in the planning stages for this summer I wouldn’t rule it out as a possibility.

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Getting 2018 off to the best start!

If you read this far, thanks again! I hope you enjoyed it.

What were your highlights of 2017? What have you got planned for 2018? Let me know in the comments!

All the best!

Jason