Düsseldorf – November 2017

Welcome back dear readers! Last time out on the blog I kicked off the first part of a four day trip to Germany. My beloved Spurs were playing out in West Germany AGAIN, specifically in Dortmund which I had no desire to stay in.

The obvious alternatives in the region would have been to stay in Köln or Düsseldorf. I’d been to Cologne in 2013 and twice in 2016 so wasn’t interested in a fourth visit quite so soon. By contrast I’d yet to visit Düsseldorf but for some reason I just didn’t really fancy it. I think I just wanted to get away from the region.

So I decided to go to Bremen. It was cheap to visit (one of my flights was £4.99!), a new city and a little bit away from that pocket of West Germany I’d frequented so many times now. Saturday to Wednesday – booked – perfect!

The game in Dortmund was on the Tuesday but it left me with Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Wednesday to explore and enjoy Bremen! However after booking my flights I discovered there were no Tuesday night trains from Dortmund to Bremen, potentially leaving me stranded in Dortmund on Tuesday evening.

It scuppered my plans a little so I compromised and cut my time in Bremen in half. I’d fly in to Bremen, spend two nights in the city, spend two nights in Düsseldorf (with a trip to Dortmund) and then travel back to Bremen to fly home on Wednesday night.

You heard how the first half of the trip went here so here’s how I got on in the second half of the trip!

I’d had a bit of a lazy (Monday) morning in Bremen but soon enough was at the Hauptbahnhof to catch the train to Düsseldorf which if I remember correctly took about 3 hours or so, a bit of a journey so I just admired the views on route.

I got in to Düsseldorf at about 3-3:30pm and my first task was to find my hotel which I’d conveniently made sure was close to the train station. I exited the train station and did my best to locate it. It took a little longer than it probably should have done but with the help of Google Maps I found it and walked back IN to the train station. My hotel was IN the train station!

It’s certainly a first for me but I hurdled the various commuters and waiting passengers and slipped in to this door that took me in to the Ibis Hauptbahnhof hotel. I’d booked it for its location assuming it was close to the train station but hadn’t anticipated it being THIS close. Certainly convenient though!

After checking in and dropping off my things I arranged to meet up with my friend Daniel who was also in town for the football. It was about 4-4:30 by this point so we wandered over to the Altstadt area of the city in the hope of finding somewhere to grab a drink and some food at some point.

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First night in Dusseldorf

Unlike many other ‘old towns’ around Europe, Düsseldorf’s seemed to be little more than restaurants and bars. Admittedly we were looking for nightlife so it was ideal for us but it seemed to lack that old town, cultural feel that many other European cities have within their old part of the city.

Nevertheless it was beginning to pour with rain so we jumped in to one of the first bars we came across and ordered ourselves one of the staples of the region – Altbier! For those unfamiliar with altbier (old beer) I’ll leave Wikipedia to explain it far better than I possibly can but simply put, the biggest difference seems to be in how it is fermented (top-fermented rather than bottom).

It doesn’t seem to be particularly popular outside of West Germany but “when in Rome Düsseldorf..” we had to try it. It was good. I can’t really say the rest of the world is missing out on anything spectacular but it was a nice little novelty. Altbier seemed to be this bar’s speciality so we moved on to elsewhere after one pint and got back to the modern beer I guess?

After a couple more beers Daniel wisely suggested going to get some food and offered “Schweine Jane’s” as an option as he was keen to try their pork knuckle which are supposedly some of the best around. It’s quite a small place but has a few tables inside or a takeaway option which we opted for. Daniel enjoyed the pork knuckles and suggested they lived up to the place’s reputation, I played a little safe and went for some Currywurst with chips which was equally enjoyable.

Stomachs fuller, we decided to seek out another bar to end our evening with a couple of beers. The Old Town is lined with what arguably felt a bit like a “strip” of bars, it’d make a cracking place for a bar crawl but for whatever reason on this particular evening Düsseldorf was dead. The wet weather probably didn’t help but the city felt a little lifeless. I would love to go back to Düsseldorf and see the contrast in the summer. I imagine it is a great place for nightlife on warmer nights.

However without such luxuries we settled on getting a beer at this small bar which had a scattering of Spurs fans creating a little atmosphere. It dwindled and died down quite quickly so we called it a night. I’m convinced Düsseldorf would be a great night out but unfortunately we saw little sign of it. We called it a night and went our seperate ways in search of our hotels – simple for me – follow the signs to the train station!

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Miserable Dusseldorf

I’d so far only really experienced Düsseldorf after dark (being Winter, even 4pm onwards was dark) so I was keen to make the most of my Tuesday morning and explore. The football wasn’t until Tuesday evening so we didn’t have to make a move towards Dortmund particularly early in the day. We gave ourselves the morning to explore a gloomy and miserable city and arranged to meet up early afternoon.

My first stop was a small market in the Altstadt, I’d assume it’s busier at a weekend opposed to a wet Tuesday morning in the winter but it was pretty lifeless. Given I was already in the Altstadt I wandered down towards the Rhein river which has a nice little promenade but wasn’t the best day weather-wise to really enjoy it.

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Back of the Christmas markets

It’s here you’ll find the Christmas markets, unfortunately I was here in mid-November so they were in the process of setting them up but I was a week too early to actually enjoy them. Pretty to look at but not open for business. A bit of a shame.

From the river you can see the Rheinturm (Rhein tower) which is possibly “the landmark” of Düsseldorf. I debated going up it but it was a foggy and grey day so didn’t seem worthwhile – I wouldn’t have seen anything up there.

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Rheinturm hiding in the fog

I strolled through the Altstadt, parts of it are certainly pretty but as I said, it’s largely full of bars, restaurants and a few shops so nothing particularly noteworthy seeing. By the time I’d stumbled upon some of the museums in the city it was nearing lunchtime so didn’t really seem worthwhile going in to as I was a little short on time. I found a couple of religious buildings to walk around before grabbing some lunch.

Following on from lunch I met up with Daniel at the train station and we got on the next train to Dortmund. I’ve spoken of my fondness of German football many times and here’s an example of where they’re getting things right. If you’re a match ticket holder you get free public transport in the region on the day of the game so we didn’t have to worry about paying to get to Dortmund (we would have from either Bremen or Cologne).

March 2016’s trip to Dortmund had seen our fans take over the Altmarkt square in Dortmund with thousands of our fans basking in the sunshine with plenty of beers. This time around the square was home to Dortmund’s Christmas markets (not open yet) so there was much less space for our fans to congregate – additionally it was a miserable Winter’s day so our fans were largely spread across several different bars in the city so the atmosphere wasn’t quite the same compared to our last trip to Dortmund.

However in contrast, we were dreadful on the pitch last time we were here. Borussia Dortmund taught us a footballing lesson as they strolled to a 3-0 win and their fans completely drowned ours out. Our fans stuck with the team but we just couldn’t get any atmosphere going as Dortmund’s 81,000 capacity crowd were too noisy. Result aside, this was the Dortmund bucketlist moment ticked off – experiencing Dortmund’s famous atmosphere in the flesh!

Fast forward to November 2017 and Spurs had improved a lot on the pitch – I spoke about our impressive performance in Madrid here but Spurs maturity in Germany perhaps really came to fruition here. Dortmund took an early lead and you perhaps fear a repeat performance in that moment but the players stood up!

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Borussia Dortmund v Tottenham Hotspur, Nov 2017

The second half was just a joy to watch from us, not just in the result itself but the manner of it. It was such an assured and controlled performance in one of Europe’s most intimidating stadiums. We equalised and soon enough went 2-1 up to send our fans delirious.

The atmosphere had been a little tame in the city throughout the day but our fans were excellent inside the stadium and silenced the famous “Yellow Wall” of Dortmund. I’ve spoken so many times of my love for European football and feeling those “pinch me” moments in the past few years but this was it, this was the first time I’d seen Spurs win away in Europe in the flesh – on a big night in the Champions League away to Borussia Dortmund having gone 1-0 down – PINCH ME!

I walked out of the stadium feeling so proud, as I had done a month earlier in Madrid. Tottenham weren’t just playing at this level, they looked like they belonged at this level. How has this happened?

The train back to Düsseldorf was full of Spurs fans and there was such a buzz, everyone was on a high after watching that. Sadly the train journey back was a complete mess, delays and problems and whatever else. It was about 3am by the time we eventually got back to Düsseldorf which was well behind schedule. Fortunately the journey back to my accommodation was shorter than most! I didn’t even have to leave the station! Haha.

On Wednesday morning I had two options – explore Düsseldorf for a few hours and then get a train back to Bremen or get a train back to Bremen and then explore Bremen for a few hours.

In all honesty, my decision might have been different had I been staying somewhere else but already being at the train station made it an easier decision to just catch a train straight away.

Overall though I just didn’t really click with Düsseldorf, it’s somewhere I’d like to go back to and experience properly. A day and a half with half of that spent in Dortmund didn’t give me particularly long to maximise my time in the city and the miserable weather didn’t help either. I also think mid November is probably the worst time to be there. Either go in the warmer months or go towards the end of November / December and at least get the benefit of the Christmas markets which I missed out on. I’m willing to give Düsseldorf another shot but I didn’t feel any particular sadness in leaving.

I got back to Bremen a few hours later and the noticeable difference in just a couple of days was that the city was starting to get in to the festive mood with various Christmas markets in the process of being set up – sadly not open for business – starting to see a pattern here?

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Back in charming Bremen

Despite the fact they weren’t actually open for business it made Bremen, an already charming city, feel that little bit more magical. Pretty Christmas markets, festive decorations and a beautiful old town made for a perfect mix. My only disappointment was that I wasn’t going to experience a truly Christmas-y Bremen.

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Weihnachtsparadies – Christmas paradise!

After wandering for a bit I went in search of dinner, my last meal in Germany for a while. I typically found myself a place to get some delicious schnitzel accompanied with a big German beer – a perfect final meal of the trip.

Following on from dinner I strolled along the river and was just swooning over the city, not helped by the beautiful sight of the sun going down over the city. I’d seen so little sunshine in my five days in Germany and this sight just made me all the sadder to be saying goodbye to Bremen. Five years earlier I couldn’t have envisaged visiting Germany and here I was smitten with another German city I could easily have seen myself living in.

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Sun going down over Bremen

I had one last wander through the old town in admiration of the city. I still had a little time to kill so popped in to a bar by my nearest tram stop – a surprising Spanish-inspired place in the heart of the old town. After one beer I called it a night, time was up, time to go back to the airport.

I needn’t have rushed to the airport. I was the first one here, staff included! “Hello?”

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Empty Bremen airport!

Seriously, where the hell is everyone? I am flying tonight right? It was eerie with nobody around. There’s not much to do in or out of the airport so I had little choice but to wait and hope somebody would eventually turn up. One by one equally confused passengers would turn up and join me in twiddling our thumbs.

Eventually the airport and airline staff kindly turned up to allow us to pass through security. As one of the first through security I figured I’d grab myself a beer, albeit had to wait for the staff to actually open up the shop. Without doubt a unique situation for me but perhaps it’s more common than I realise in airports / terminals of this size, I’m assuming we were the only flight of the evening.

Once up and running it was quite smooth and an uneventful journey home so that wraps up another European trip in a busy busy 2017! I did squeeze in one last trip in to the year – a Hogmanay trip to Edinburgh!

However it seems I don’t have access to photos for that trip here in the US to actually put a blog post together so that story will have to wait for another time. Next up on the blog? My second trip to Washington State! Stay tuned!

Jason

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