Helsinki: part two (May 2019)

Hello dear readers!

I’m throwing a quick one-two your way! I finished off part one of the Helsinki story but given that took a while for me to publish and I had complaints of ending the prior post on a cliffhanger I thought I’d best not do so again! So here’s an immediate follow up to part one!

This one is a story as old as time. We’ve all heard that fable of Jason having a fair few drinks on his travels and suffering the consequences, right? I guess that’s the general synopsis of part two but let’s expand on that shall we?

By all accounts I’d had quite a relaxed time in Helsinki so far. My Finland-tinted glasses meant that although I’d not really done anything of note, Helsinki was so far faultless in my eyes. How could you not love charming Helsinki?

Nevertheless I’d only really explored it by day so far and I’m rarely content leaving a destination without experiencing its nightlife. I’m not opposed to taking a day-trip somewhere but you certainly see a different side to places after dark and it’s the one criticism I’d have of anyone suggesting a daytrip is sufficient anywhere.

Some places come to life after dark and although I was already smitten with Finland, I was hoping Helsinki could do the same. I hadn’t really done anything Saturday night so I was keen to go out on Sunday and find somewhere to get a beer, have a nice evening and maybe even make friends (have someone take pity on me!).

I was optimistic for the night ahead, less so about the latter. I’m quite an introverted person and going to a country where the population has a stereotype of being quite reserved is not the greatest combination. Go to somewhere like the USA solo and it’s impossible to not make friends, particularly as a Brit – they love us over there. Finland though? The jury was out.

I searched for a few options on Google before settling on a bar with a scattering of food options and encouraging reviews. I made the short walk from my hotel over to this bar but unfortunately it didn’t live up to any expectation and was a bit of a disappointment.

I wasn’t sure if this was a “go to the bar” or “take a seat” kind of joint and with little guidance on arrival I figured I’d just head on up to the bar and get a drink and yet I found nobody actually at the bar. I scanned the room but with the exception of a few young lads playing pool, there was nobody to be seen. A couple of minutes later one of the lads started heading in my direction.

Well, beyond me I suppose. If you were worried about something untowards about to happen, fear not dear readers. Nothing quite that sinister! My inconvenient arrival however had sadly caused the pool game to take a break (ha! No pun intended!) in order for one of the lads to pour me a pint before returning back to his friends immediately after.

Perhaps it was just a bad night but “employee hangout” wasn’t really the vibe I was looking for. Nor anyone in Helsinki for that matter as the bar was otherwise dead. Admittedly it was a Sunday night, reviews do suggest it’s a good place to spend an evening and perhaps there was a Michelin-star chef twiddling their thumbs in the back somewhere but I’d already made up my mind that this would be nothing more than a “one and move on” kind of stop.

“Give us a few minutes to finish our game and the loser will go whip you up something in the kitchen..”

I finished my drink and hoped to have more luck at bar number two – the “Brewster Bar” in the Kallio neighbourhood. I was staying on the outskirts of Kallio, Google suggesting this was actually “Helsinki’s coolest neighbourhood” or “hipster district” so I had hoped it’d be a good base for my stay.

The Brewster Bar was much more in the style of what I was looking for, albeit sadly lacking a food menu. From memory I think there might have been some bar snacks but I figured this might have to be a “one and move on” kind of stop for completely contrasting reasons because I was also pretty keen to get some proper food somewhere.

Helsinki Bar

The vibe and atmosphere was really nice though. Enough of a buzz about the place without being crowded. They had music playing through the speakers but not loudly enough to disturb the rest of the room which appeared to be full of mostly young locals enjoying themselves. There was a good selection of beers too so I ordered some sort of Finnish beer and found myself a prime seat to do some people-watching.

Without suggesting I’m one of the “cool kids” (Mum, I’m cool, right?), it’s probably bars such as this that do give Kallio that hipster vibe to it and yet I felt much more comfortable here. It’s somewhere I knew would probably be a frequent hangout spot for me if I was a local too. I finished my drink and pondered whether I should get another beer or move on. As it was, the decision was taken out of my hands.

I’d picked a seat with a fairly central seat, ideal for people-watching but seemingly also being watched. I stuck out like a sort thumb and had gained the attention of a local, Jussi, who was curious of the unfamiliar face in one of his regular haunts. He introduced himself in Finnish before engaging in conversation in English – I had made a friend! See, I am cool!

I had no intention of abandoning my new friend so I grabbed us a beer each from the bar. We had a nice chat, I was particularly interested in learning more about Helsinki and Finland and we got to know each other a little better until our glasses were empty again.

“One more or shall we move on..?”

I’d found myself a Finnish tour guide! Better yet, the best kind of tour guide! I had myself a beer buddy!

Google isn’t the worst tool to use on your travels but its no substitute for an actual local to show you around and take you to the best local pubs / bars. We headed onwards and Jussi took us to this small little bar, I couldn’t tell you where it is nor what the name of it was but we settled in for a nice cold beer which was delivered in an icy kind of glass to keep it cold. Jussi seemed to know the barman (owner?) pretty well and so we hung around chatting to him for a little while.

From there we moved onwards to another bar – this one called the Pub Heinähattu which I only know because Google are efficient stalkers and tracked the exact location using my photo from the bar. This was another cosy bar that I really liked and was also dog-friendly so every so often this little dog would run over and join us for a quick cuddle before doing the rounds again.

Pub Heinahattu 2

Pub Heinahattu

Things from there are a little blurry. I don’t feel like we had that many beers and yet I think we were both quite drunk, not eating obviously hadn’t helped on my part.

We exchanged contact details, said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. I don’t actually know what the time was when we left. It felt fairly late but it was also really quite light out in relation to how late it actually felt – the daylight at that time of year is quite distorting and yet I was near-ready for bed.

I don’t know what the Finnish equivalent is to grabbing a kebab after a night out but I still hadn’t eaten and I didn’t really know what or where would be open at this time of the night. However I’d passed a nearby 24 hours McDonalds and I figured that’d do the trick for tonight – some chicken nuggets to soak up the beer!

I took the slow walk back to my hotel, munching on my nuggets, and although they were good I still felt a bit peckish. I came to the drunken conclusion that I needed more food and ordered myself a pizza, from England naturally.

A few minutes later my blushes had been somewhat spared and I’d received a phonecall stating they weren’t able to complete my order – “no problem mate, I’m not in England anyway..” before I promptly crashed for the next however many hours.

BAM!

Alright, it probably wasn’t anything that abrupt but something must have woken me from my slumber. My plan was to wake up at a good hour and catch the ferry over to Suomenlinna Fortress. The reality was I had awoken at a time that mimicked something around midday, I was leaving in a few hours and in no way ready to even depart my bed at this point. I wasn’t hungover or even feeling rough really, I’d slept it all off but I needed a little time to wake up. Certainly more than the 10 or 15 minutes I had to get myself checked out and out of the hotel.

With a little shame I phoned down to reception and asked if a late checkout would be possible and to Hilton’s credit they obliged – pushing back checkout to 1pm which gave me time to wash up, throw my things together and not have to rush myself out of the hotel.

Hilton Helsinki

Suomenlinna though, damn! Did I still have enough time to make a ferry trip there and back? Maybe..
However would it be worthwhile? Probably not. I was really keen to visit. It was one of the attractions / landmarks I was particularly excited to explore but I also didn’t want to go for the sake of it. From what I’d read it’s somewhere you could easily make a day-long trip out of and I didn’t want to rush there and back for such little time. Next time Finland, next time..

I accepted that my morning was a write off. Truth be told I accepted that my afternoon was a write off too and so what? In my heart I knew that Helsinki and Finland was never going to be a one-time visit. Without any real logic, I adored this city. I knew I’d be back someday and that was enough for me to know I didn’t need to rush around Helsinki with my final few hours.

I left my hotel, crossed the water, and wandered back towards Helsinki’s cathedral square. I don’t think I could ever tire of looking up at that cathedral and needed at least one last glimpse before saying goodbye to the city.

Helsinki Cathedral 2

Having missed any hope of breakfast I figured my first stop of the day should probably be some lunch and stumbled upon a nearby restaurant that did the trick. In hindsight this was a mistake and an oversight on my part. There was nothing wrong with the restaurant I stumbled in to, nor the food that I enjoyed but I was then a bit too full for my next stop.

After a nice lunch I decided I’d walk on down to market square which is situated just down by the harbour where the ferries whisk you off to islands such as Suomenlinna or even the likes of Tallinn in Estonia which is a must for a future visit to Finland.

Anyway market square is full of, you guessed it, little market stalls selling bits and pieces including a few food stalls selling delicacies such as meatballs. More specifically reindeer meatballs! I was tempted to give them a try but I had only just eaten and was far too full for anything else. It was foolish in hindsight and I should have just grabbed my lunch here rather than go to whatever restaurant.

Market Square

Ferris Wheel

Sauna

Skipping the reindeer meatballs on this occasion, I had a look through some of the other stalls before picking up some postcards to take home with me. Further along the road was Uspenski’s cathedral, a sauna by the water and Helsinki’s ferris wheel which I’d inexplicably missed when in the area yesterday.

I considered going up the ferris wheel but thought better of it. “Maybe next time” seemingly the motto of this entire trip. I was a little conscious of time and figured there wasn’t long enough left in Helsinki for me to do anything particularly exciting.

On the way down to Market Square I’d passed a brewery which ironically I’d considered for food the previous evening. The only reason I didn’t come this way was because I’d considered it too far away to walk (it seemingly wasn’t) and and figured I’d make that my last stop of my trip. Time for one beer before making my slow return to Helsinki’s airport.

It was a nice little place, very quiet but you’d expect that on a Monday afternoon. I was glad that I’d popped in for one. Like many a trip I sat there wondering how I could possibly delay the inevitable. Ridiculously I was returning to England for less than 24 hours as on Tuesday evening I’d be boarding a bus heading for Amsterdam. So it didn’t even really feel like I was going home but nevertheless there was a big part of me not ready to leave Finland just yet.

Just one more night, one more hour, one more beer..

I reluctantly left and started the slow walk back to the train station. Glorious blue skies still hovering above me and “rush-hour” commuters beginning to fill the roads and streets of the city on their way home from work.

I arrived at the main square outside the station from a new direction and stumbled upon a sign reading “My Helsinki” which is undoubtedly one of those “for the gram” type signs but perfectly summed up how I felt about this place – my Helsinki.

MyHelsinki

I’d loved Finland for as long as I could remember but now I really loved Finland. From an outsider’s perspective there wasn’t really anything special about this trip. Removing the Finland-tinted specs (“NEVER! “) I don’t know where Helsinki would truly rank as a destination but I connected with it instantly and it was apparent that this trip was more overdue than I’d ever really appreciated.

I bought my train ticket back to the airport and waved goodbye to the sunshine of Helsinki. There were no nursery rhymes for the return journey and instead a train full of people heading home but somehow that was equally satisfying and magic in its own way – surrounded by citizens of my second home. A home I’d only visited the once but a place I easily felt at home nonetheless.

Back at the airport I made sure to make good on a promise to bring home Finnish goodies. I’d been encouraged to bring home ‘Fazer’ chocolate and salty liquorice which brought back nostalgia of trips past for my dad and those my grandmother had made whilst still here with us. I couldn’t recall having tried either but easily found some within the airport to take home with me.

I also stumbled upon a little Moomin store and was keen to take something home as a personal memento. I’m typically not a souvenir kind of collector but this trip more than most I wanted something to mark my first trip to Finland – a Moomin mug did the trick!

Moomin

From there I was keen to grab some dinner before getting the late night flight back to England. The airport felt deserted, I’m sure it wasn’t but again feelings of “this is such a lovely airport” ran through me. A farcry from the hellish airports of England such as Stansted which I frequent but loathe in equal measure.

Despite being an international airport, Helsinki’s had a calmness to it and unsurprisingly I had a number of tables to choose from at the restaurant I’d decided upon – “sit anywhere you like..”

Feeling a bit more peckish by this point I looked at the reindeer burger on the menu and was tempted to order it but also considered that if ‘Reindeer’ didn’t quite agree with me it could be an uncomfortable flight home. I settled for an ordinary, expensive burger and chalked the reindeer down as a “maybe next time..” experience. Rudolph would at the very least make it to this coming Christmas.

and that was that. The long overdue visit to Finland was done and dusted. I’d longed to visit the home country of my grandma and now I could finally (or Finn-ally, ha ha!) say that I had!

In the days leading up to this trip it really hit me that I was visiting this mythical land and I was SO nervous ahead of this adventure. Nobody really talks about what happens when your dream destination doesn’t live up to expectation. Maybe it’s actually best you don’t visit and leave the dream intact? Fortunately that wasn’t a problem here.

I’d loved Finland my whole life and left the country loving it even more than I thought imaginable. Going back one day is inevitable. “Next time” to see more than just Helsinki too. I’ve barely scratched the surface with the country and I’m itching for more. I haven’t entirely ruled out returning in 2023.

Take me to Turku and Tampere, Oulu and Kuopio, Lappenranta and Lapland. Take me across the water to Tallinn or across the border to St Petersburg (maybe not too soon on that one..).

Jason Fi

I’m guilty of romanticising many places that I’ve visited but I make no apologies for doing so with Finland. It was a special trip, immediately followed by another special trip to Amsterdam and so a week that will take some topping in my lifetime.

Finland was the start of a magical few days, Amsterdam was an unbelievable experience and two weeks later I’d be on my way to Dublin!

Or would I?

More on that next time! Stay tuned!

Jason

Helsinki: part one (May 2019)

Hello dear readers! Last time out on the blog I gave you a little introduction for my very first trip to Finland! I’ll pick up where that post finished so if you missed it, go give it a read!

Anyway, a rather nervous Jason had left Heathrow and was Helsinki-bound! My grandmother was Finnish, I’ve always had a love for all things Finland-related and I was worried that this mythical country that I’d built up in my head might not actually be as perfect as I’d believed it to be. I was desperate for Finland to deliver and be a place I adored.

It was nice flying with a new airline – flying with Finnair for the first time. I’d bagged a window seat too which meant I could enjoy the view as we began our descent in to Helsinki. The thing that really struck me from above was just how green Finland is. I don’t know what I’d really expected but Finland looked so pretty from the sky.

Finland

Finland Sky

With the benefit of hindsight I don’t know what all the pre-departure fuss was about. We arrived in Helsinki and I’d seemingly remembered to pack my Finland-tinted glasses that made everything seem lovelier than is probably actually the case.

I arrived and straight away was raving about rather minuscule and insignificant details – “Helsinki’s airport is so nice..”

I hadn’t even left the airport and I was already swooning over Finland, insistent that this was one of the nicest airports I’d ever been to. So clean and spacious and modern before arriving at the security gates and making my exit.

A quick scan of the passport and I was officially into the country! From there I wandered on over to the airport’s train station. The staff at the station were very helpful and seemingly happy to help with any queries – although the ticket machines were pretty straight forward (English available) and it wasn’t long before I was boarding a train to central Helsinki. First impressions were promising.

I found a seat on the train and just to my left was this little girl sat up by the window and singing what sounded like a nursery rhyme with her dad. A precious, magical, beautiful moment. Use whatever adjective you like but I was smitten already – it sounded angelic despite understanding none of the lyrics.

Our lovely train ride ended at Helsinki’s main train station. We all departed and, to my shock, white stuff was suddenly falling from the sky.

Snow!? There had been no mention of snow in the forecast before the trip, I wasn’t anticipating snow whatsoever. Certainly not in May but this is Finland, this was Disneyland to me! Of course it’s snowing! What a perfect arrival!

I was now convinced that Finland was a land of magic and fairytales! A land of nursery rhymes and snow, home to the likes of Santa and unicorns reindeers.

Santa

I don’t think the Finland-tinted-specs ever came off over the remainder of the weekend. If you’re hoping for some objective opinions on Finland I’m probably not the best person to ask – I couldn’t find fault with it.

“Look at that ominous black hole in the middle of the street. I’ve never seen anything like that on my travels! Isn’t Finland wonderful!?”

I’d arrived to nursery rhymes and snow. After genuine fear I’d not like Finland at all, I’d been won over instantly. I’d arrived in a land that I’d known all my life and yet oddly felt like I’d come home. I can’t explain it. I’d never been here before but somehow I felt at ease in Helsinki, almost like part of me belonged here.

Looking back I don’t know if Finland is actually that amazing. If you’re reading this and thinking “damn, I need to book a trip to Finland ASAP” then prepare to be underwhelmed because I can’t say what it’s like for people without the emotional attachment I had. Perhaps I didn’t ever even see the real Finland but I refuse to believe it was anything other than perfect. The magic and emotions had swept over me and consumed me for the remainder of the weekend.

I left the train station in disbelief that I’d actually arrived to snow. If I could have asked for any weather scenario to have arrived into the country this would have been it and I immediately grabbed a photo as some sort of photographic memory to mark the moment – magical!

Snowy Helsinki

I think it’s fascinating how much my mental state has an impact on a destination. The first impression goes a long way towards that.

I liken it to Nashville, I stepped off the bus in downtown Nashville and immediately heard music from somewhere and knew that “Music City” was somewhere I was going to love. In contrast it took me a long time to warm up to New Orleans because my first impressions of the city weren’t great. Skyscrapers, casinos and huge shopping malls in the heart of New Orleans was not at all what I was expecting before the trip.

In contrast I think my mood as soon as I’d arrived in Helsinki was so pro-Finland that I was never not going to enjoy this trip. I walked away from Helsinki’s train station aimlessly – nowhere to go, nowhere to be but without a care in the world.

Rather than remain wrapped up nice and warm I whipped my hat off, keen to feel the snow falling and I was bliss. You might be pondering if snow in Finland is somehow different to snow anywhere else in the world and no, I suppose it isn’t but common sense went out of the window and feeling it fall rather than retreating to somewhere warm seemed the only logical option. I spent the next half an hour or so just wandering aimlessly in the cold – “let’s go explore in this direction!”

Helsinki

Helsinki Tram

My first real glimpse of Helsinki saw me pass the national museum of Finland before walking through a couple of parks, perfectly content getting lost in the city before trying to find my bearings.

Nevertheless, it was pretty cold so after a bit of time walking with no real purpose I decided I should probably figure out where I now was in relation to where my hotel was. After a quick look at Google Maps I realised I’d wandered off in the opposite direction of where I actually wanted to be so I did a U-Turn and headed back in a vague direction of the Kallio neighbourhood that I was staying in.

It was still a bit too early to check in to my hotel so I figured I’d try and find a spot for lunch on the way. I hadn’t intended for my first meal in Finland to be something foreign, infact I wasn’t really intending to visit this restaurant at all this weekend but by coincidence I happened to stumble upon Helsinki’s Hard Rock Cafe (HRC) and took it as a sign to pop in.

Long time followers will know that I’ve visited a few HRC’s on my travels and it was nice to tick another of their restaurants off of my list. There was still plenty of time for more local delicacies before leaving Finland, right?

I surprisingly found that Finland wasn’t as expensive as I was expecting. Perhaps all the talk of it being expensive had me well prepared for the cost of things but I didn’t find it overly extortionate. More distressing was that I ordered a meal and a drink and my beer arrived with a chunk of it missing! The head of the beer had seemingly disappeared and rather than top it up I was short-changed in to 90% of the glass containing beer. Can I not have a full pint please?

Finland Beer

I figured it was just how things are here but that was the only real disappointment of the visit. I had a seat by the window and a nice view, a nice atmosphere and enjoyed my lunch before heading back out in to the cold.

I still didn’t quite have my bearings with Helsinki. I’m sure there was a more direct route to the hotel from the restaurant so I unintentionally ended up taking the more long-winded route which took me via Helsinki’s gorgeous cathedral – towering over the square.

I don’t know if this is again just Finnish bias flowing through me but I love it. It is a stunning bit of architecture and easily one of my favourite buildings that I’ve seen anywhere on my travels. A cathedral to rival the likes of St Paul’s in London, Florence’s Duomo & the Sacre Couer in Paris which are some of my other favourites that I’ve seen in the flesh. Plus Peterborough’s too of course!

Admittedly there’d been snow and it was cold but being a Saturday I was quite surprised at how quiet the cathedral square was. It’s a pretty large square but I had it near enough to myself and could only admire the cathedral in all its glory. Make a mental note I thought – “I’ll definitely be coming back here!”

Helsinki

I continued onwards to my hotel – I was staying in a Hilton just by the water in the neighbourhood of Kallio. The location was excellent and it was a nice hotel to base myself for the next couple of nights.

I didn’t do an awful lot with the rest of my evening. I mostly used it as an opportunity to find my bearings in the city, get some dinner and have a fairly early night. I was quite keen to get a good sleep and then an early rise the next morning.

I kicked off my Sunday morning with a little wander by the water. Yesterday’s snow was a distant memory and I’d woken up to glorious blue skies, it was still a little cold but much better weather for exploring the city.

I was keen to go and find somewhere to get some breakfast so strayed from the water and back up towards the Kallio area. The first thing that really caught my eye was the the Kallion Kirkko (church of Kallio). It was an interesting looking building so I was intrigued and headed in that direction.

Kallio Kirkko

It’s a beautiful building and the front of it, I thought, was so unique. I decided I’d grab some food before paying a visit and found a small Russian restaurant just across the street which seemed ideal. The woman, who I presumed to be the owner, spoke pretty much no English which was a nice novelty. Although my Finnish was little better (I knew a few words at the time) and even less Russian so I had to hope I’d communicated well enough to order what I’d like!

It was a nice place and I grabbed a seat by the window to admire the view. The service was nice enough. Unfortunately the restaurant in question doesn’t look to be there any more, I was hoping to name-drop it here but Google suggests it’s now a sushi restaurant so I guess it either closed down or moved elsewhere. Shame as I’m sure it was a popular breakfast spot before church.

After finishing breakfast my plans were to do just that – have a look around the church. Unfortunately it appeared to be closed. Reflecting back I’m not sure that actually was the case, it was a Sunday after all and Google suggests that they would have been open. Perhaps my limited Finnish misled me (I vaguely recall reading a sign that turned me away) or perhaps they were already in service and had closed their doors temporarily but something convinced me they were closed and so I wandered off back down towards the water.

To be honest I didn’t really have any sort of plan for my entire time in Helsinki. This was very much a “wing it” kind of trip in the end. One of my fellow bloggers, Marion, is also a Finland enthusiast so I’d read a good 30-odd posts on Finland before my trip that really whet the appetite and gave me so many ideas and so much inspiration that then remarkably saw me have nothing planned in the end.

I think I was so content just to have finally visited Finland that I wasn’t really too concerned about how I spent my time. I wanted to see a few things but mostly I just wanted to be here in Finland, getting a little glimpse of life in Helsinki and retracing the same steps my grandmother had likely stepped growing up.

I left Kallio with no direction or plan, pondering where to go next. I started wandering back towards the heart of Helsinki, over the bridge and across the water before changing my mind and pondering whether a trip to Linnanmäki theme park might actually be a better way of spending my morning.

It’s a little unique for a theme park to be so close to the city and I recall Marion mentioning that there is no admission fee. If you wish to ride anything there is a charge but you can wander around the grounds for free and I pondered how many places you could do such a thing. I wanted to see the sights and such in Helsinki but I was also really interested in seeing Finns in their natural element – how many locals spend their weekend at an amusement park on a nice sunny day? Linnanmäki opened in 1950 and I thought about how many times my grandma or her family had possibly stepped foot in the park.

Finally a plan of action! Following in the footsteps of many a Finn of the last 70 years! There are easier and quicker ways to get to Linnanmäki I’m sure but given it was a nice sunny day I decided to walk. I enjoy walking when I travel – a great way to familiarise yourself with your surroundings and also see more of a city.

I kicked things off with a walk through Kaisaniemen Puisto (or Kaisaniemi park) where I stumbled upon Kaisaniemi’s Botanical Gardens. I don’t think it’s somewhere you’d feel a need to go out of your way for but it was nice to have a little wander through before continuing my journey.

Finland Forest Area

Finland Forest

The rest of the walk took me parallel with the train tracks and through other park and forested areas. Despite not being very far from the city at all it felt very remote and peaceful. Along the way I encountered a few pretty villas and other buildings that I’m sure make a nice retreat from the city – not that Helsinki felt particularly hectic in comparison to other big cities or capital cities.

Again, I’m not sure that my explorations took me via the most direct route to the amusement park because after a bit of walking I came across Helsinki’s Olympic Stadium – an unexpected encounter.

I might have been tempted by a stadium tour but unfortunately the stadium was closed for renovations at the time. It has since re-opened but I had to settle for admiring it from the outside. Perhaps I just approached it from an unnatural direction but it did take me by surprise in comparison to other Olympic stadiums that I’ve come across. The last thing you’re expecting to find after a walk through the woods is a stadium pop out of nowhere.

After an odd detour I followed the last stretch of forested area towards Linnanmäki which took me through an underpass of sorts with interesting artwork before an uphill climb to the amusement park.

Amusement Park

As I drew closer one thing that really struck me was just how quiet it was. It made me unsure that I was heading in the right direction. I don’t think it’s a particularly walk-friendly park to get to and I don’t think I’d taken the most direct of routes but there was so few people around that it still took me by surprise. Perhaps people take public transport or drive to the park but it was unnerving.

A little climb and a few minutes later I realised why – the park was closed! It wasn’t really apparent why but the sign read that they were closed until the afternoon which meant I’d struck out twice already this morning. Two sights or attractions visited and thwarted by both – the “wing it” plan was coming back to bite me.

Had I had a shorter wait I might have hung around but I had a good bit of time and there’s not really anything nearby so I abandoned my morning plans and ventured back in to town.

Fortunately it was a nice day at least. My morning had been a bit of a bust so far but exploring in the Helsinki sunshine made up for it a little bit. I walked back towards the heart of the city with the cathedral in my sights.

Despite the bright blue skies Helsinki still felt pretty quiet, the cathedral square was a little busier than the day before but not much moreso. Where are the tourists at!? Helsinki was peaceful.

Helsinki Cathedral

I had a look around the cathedral before heading on over to the waterfront where another cathedral stood – the Uspenski Cathedral. Incidentally, Wikipedia claims this is the largest orthodox church in Western Europe which I find a fascinating claim.

“Western Europe..” – as far as Europe is concerned you can’t go too much further East than Helsinki, it’s not much more West than Istanbul! Where does Eastern Europe begin if we’re throwing Helsinki in to the Western side? Given how far to the North Finland is I don’t think of Finland in the same sense as many Eastern Europe countries but Western Europe, really?

Anyway, Uspenski Cathedral sits in a picturesque spot right by the water. It’s free to visit so I popped my head in and looked around.

Ironic given its claim but I found its interior to actually be pretty small, I don’t think all of the church is accessible to the public which is why but truthfully I doubt that there’s a religious site that I’ve spent less time in than this one. Its interior is pretty but quite a limited space and I don’t think I’d have missed anything had I just skipped a visit and admired its exterior. It is free so I won’t discourage you from visiting but with nowhere to really go or wander I was in and out of there pretty quickly, retreating back out in to the Helsinki sunshine.

Uspenski Cathedral

I grabbed some lunch somewhere close by and pondered what to do next. I swung back by the main cathedral’s square and decided to jump on a bus for a tour of the city.

Technically it was a hop-on, hop-off bus but I decided to just do a full loop of the bus journey. It’s actually quite rare that I do these kind of tours, I usually just walk everywhere when I travel so it was a nice change of pace and allowed me to just sit back and take in the scenery. I had a vague plan for my final day in the city but hoped the tour might offer a little more inspiration on what to do tomorrow.

Included within the tour was a recorded audio guide which actually ended up being really good – the right dose of information and humour that made me chuckle a few times along the way. I dare say one of the best audio guides I’ve listened to on such a tour but you know, those Finland goggles right? Or I suppose headphones in this case?

From start to finish the tour takes around 90 minutes so you do get to see quite a sizeable amount of Helsinki. Some of the landmarks and architecture were pretty cool to look at and I pinpointed a few sights to try and return to before saying goodbye to Helsinki.

Feeling a little more content that I’d seen some of Helsinki my attention turned towards evening plans. I hadn’t really done much on my first night so I was keen to go and enjoy a night out in Helsinki. Good food, a few beers, what could go wrong?

More on that next time!

Jason

Finland: An introduction

Hey there dear readers! Last time out on the blog I hinted that my next post would be about my trip to Finland but before I delve in to that, I thought it’d be good to give you a little bit of background so I’m giving you a bonus post this week to whet the appetite a bit.

Some of you will already know this but I grew up living with a Finnish grandmother and consequently Finland was always a country which held interest for me. Truthfully, I wish that I’d shown more interest whilst she was still here. I’m sure that she had many great stories of life in Finland and it would have been nice to have been better connected to that heritage but I was a kid when she died and perhaps didn’t fully appreciate that luxury at the time.

Nevertheless Finland was always somewhere close to my heart and any vague connection to Finland pleased me. Be it vague Finland mentions in a movie, Lordi winning the Eurovision Song Contest or Tottenham’s first Finn (Teemu Tainio) representing the football club – I’ve always felt that little bit closer to the country when I see the country venturing in to popular culture.

Teemu’s arrival at Spurs was particularly pleasing. I’d grown up watching legendary Finns such as Jari Litmanen and Sami Hyypia play for clubs such as Liverpool but to see a Finn playing for Spurs, not long after my Grandma’s death, made me instantly connect and root for Teemu.

That Finnish heritage has meant that Finland has always been a country that I’ve wanted to visit. It was a dream destination for me to one day visit Finland. My sister shares that same dream and we’ve lived off of the scraps and stories we’ve heard from family that have visited (Dad, Aunt and one of Grandma’s brothers).

Speaking of the latter, every year as kids myself and Natasha would receive a phonecall directly from Lapland. “Santa was on the phone ready to wish us Merry Christmas”.

How cool is that? Santa had our home phone number and phoned every year! Apparently he had a really good relationship with Grandma!

Lapland

Anyway, I’ve always wanted to visit. I’ve come close a couple of times in the past but both of those ideas fell through. In August 2014 Tottenham arranged to play a friendly against Scottish team ‘Celtic’ in Helsinki – a weird location for such a fixture but a tempting excuse for a visit to Finland.

In the end I thought better of it. Did I really want my first trip to Finland to be football related? Perhaps had it been Finnish opposition but a battle of Britain game?? Being a friendly in a foreign country I couldn’t envisage much trouble between the two sets of supporters, nor much interest in either set of fans actually traveling to Finland but nevertheless a trip with a bunch of drunken British football fans didn’t quite appeal enough to make my first Finland visit.

A few years later I booked myself flights to Helsinki. I was running low on annual leave in 2018 but the dates fell really nicely for a New Years trip to Finland at the end of the year.

Alas Haleigh decided to make her first visit to England at the end of that year so that plan quickly fell apart. I contemplated whether myself and Haleigh go but then remembered that I’d also actually RSVP’d to a 31st December wedding so abandoned any hopes of celebrating the New Year in Finland.

JasonHaleigh

There was definitely a twinge of disappointment at missing out on my first trip to Finland. Come the first payday of 2019 I was adamant that I’d be going to Finland this year. I worked out my budget for the first six months of the year, mapped out my travel plans (here) and booked myself that flight to Helsinki – a three day bank holiday getaway! Hurrah!

I was so excited to finally be going to Finland but I had such a busy start to 2019 that it was kind of easy to forget about until nearer the time. I’d had a pretty quiet end to 2018 where nothing seemed to be going on and then 2019 went completely the other way.

My social life went in to overdrive, Tottenham’s new stadium opened their doors which brought back an enthusiasm to going to the football. I visited Germany, Belgium and the USA in the first four months of the year. It was a crazy, crazy few months that seemed to absolutely fly by.

I returned from Washington at the end of April and sure enough, the first May bank holiday was just a few days later. I was sad to leave Haleigh behind in Washington yet again but so excited for a  trip to Finland in just SIX days! I’d barely stepped foot in England and was off on my travels again for the first of three, maybe four trips in May!

and then for the first time in my life it really dawned on me that I was going to Finland. It’s hard to explain but as much as I felt connected to Finland, it had always been a bit of an illusion. A place of magic and fantasy.

Finland was my dream destination and although I’d ticked off other dream destinations such as Sydney or New York City, I don’t think I really realised how much visiting Finland meant to me until the week leading up to the trip.

BigApple917

Finland was no longer a mythical country that I’d only ever dreamed about – my European Disneyland. It was flawless. I loved Finland without having ever stepped foot in the country.

Now I was actually going – “Fuck..”

I liken it to Disneyland and I don’t even know that I’m exaggerating there because in 30+ years on Earth it had never crossed my mind that Finland was anything other than perfect. It’d be easy to assume that’s childish delusion but then as you grow older you learn more about the world and Finland ranks high on a number of issues – education, environment, blah, blah, blah. Finland is perfect!

Then a couple of days beforehand the thought crossed my mind – “what if it’s not?”

It was a question that I’d never asked myself until now – days before going to Finland. You don’t want to take your kids to Disneyland only to find out that Mickey’s a bit of a dick. You’d be better never taking them to Disney and believing what you want to believe rather than learn a reality and have their dreams and beliefs shattered.

“Mum, does Mickey hate me? Does Mickey hate children..?” – Ooof, heart-breaking.

IMAG1867
Me and Pinocchio, best buds!

FYI I absolutely believe Disney is a magical place and does a fabulous job of selling that. Mickey is also lovely, obviously, but you get the point.

What if instead of being the 12/10 destination that I’d always known, Finland was only actually an eight? Or dare I say a two or a three? What’s Helsinki going to be like? Am I going to like the food? Are the people going to be friendly? Everyone says Finns are standoffish and reserved. Am I going to HATE Finland?

Any traveler will tell you that you don’t love everywhere that you visit. There are some places on my travels that didn’t wow me or I just didn’t seem to connect with. What if Finland was to become one of those countries for me? All of my beliefs about Finland were now unraveling right in front of me.

I came to the realisation that if Finland wasn’t as perfect as I’d always believed it to be that I was going to be crushed, heartbroken even. I wasn’t prepared for that. Nobody ever tells you that your dream destination might not pan out as you’d hoped.

Where there should have been excitement for this trip, I was now petrified. The nerves had taken over. In my head there was SO much pressure on Finland to deliver and just keep my Disneyland vibes intact.

I couldn’t shake the feeling leading up to departure. I’d stayed in a hotel at Heathrow on Friday night which made traveling very easy the following morning. On Saturday I went to the airport where usually any jitters evaporate but in my head the over-thinking was still eating away at me.

“What if I don’t go..?”
“You’re at the bloody airport Jason..”

The gate number pops up on the screen at Heathrow. Still plenty of time to change my mind but I wander over to my gate nonetheless. There’s a little wait before we can board and I’m just sat in a nearby seat – legs visibly shaking, head all over the place.

“Nervous flyer..?”
“No, nervous Finlander..”

It’s easily the most nervous I’ve ever been before taking off. This trip had the potential to shatter every illusion I had ever held about Finland. My nerves settled enough for me to at least board – window seat!

It was quite nice flying in Europe on anything other than Ryanair or Easyjet – my go-to for European adventures but on this occasion I was “treated” to a first flight with Finnair.

Finland

Would I love Finland, would I loathe Finland? Who knows but either way this was it. I was going! A few hours later I’d be landing in Helsinki and I’d be getting my first taste of a country I’ve dreamed of visiting for a lifetime.

More on that in the next post. Stay tuned!

Jason

Washington – April 2019

Hey there, dear readers! I’m back in the groove, blogging weekly so here’s another 2019 adventure for you to enjoy!

I kicked off 2019 by mapping out my travel plans and of course at the top of the agenda was booking a trip to see Haleigh in good ol’ Washington State! April’s always a good travel month for that – public holidays to take advantage of and it’s usually not too busy at work. I figured an Easter break would work quite nicely.

Using just five days annual leave I managed to wrangle 11 days in Washington, kicking off the trip on the Wednesday before the Easter weekend.

I’ve done this journey a fair few times now but as we inched closer to the Canada / Washington border I was just in awe of the views below me. I say below me but barely, we felt that close to the mountains that I’m not sure I needed a parachute to hop out and have some fun in the snow – “Excuse me pilot, anywhere here will do..”

Washington Mountains

It was a breathtaking entrance in to Seattle. After landing I was keen to breeze through and get to my hotel ASAP – football had occupied much of my thoughts on the flight over and I knew Spurs would be playing shortly after my landing. I was hopeful I’d be able to catch the game.

That plan didn’t materialise. There wasn’t really anywhere near my hotel to watch the game and unfortunately I couldn’t find it on TV anywhere in the hotel – I had to settle for repeated “refresh, refresh, refresh” on my phone and hope that a combination of the BBC, Twitter, friends and family would keep me updated on the decisive Champions League clash with City. I’d watched Tottenham beat Manchester City in London a week earlier so we were just one “good” result away from progressing to our first Champions League semi final for 57 years.

I say “good result”. We actually lost 4-3 but that was enough to see us progress to the next stage. It was a dramatic and unforgettable finish to the game but the important thing was that we had progressed – what a way to kick off the trip!

I’d told myself that I wasn’t going to the semi final in Amsterdam in any hypothetical scenario that saw us qualify but I was ecstatic nonetheless!

Haleigh had her last day of teaching before their spring break so had to work on the Wednesday. She was driving over to Seattle later that day and we planned to spend the night in Seattle before returning East the following day.

Between Spurs victory and Haleigh’s arrival I didn’t really do much. I stayed quite close to the airport out of convenience and couldn’t be bothered making the journey in to downtown Seattle for the sake of a couple of hours. I think that ordinarily I might have squeezed in a nap but I was on too big of a high.

“So Amsterdam..?”
“No, no, no, no, no. I’m not going..”

Haleigh arrived a few hours later and we had a pretty relaxed evening. I don’t think we did much, I don’t even think we went back out for food and possibly had a pizza delivered to our room. I really can’t remember.

At the time Haleigh was living in Moses Lake still but we were planning to spend some of the break with Haleigh’s family in Walla Walla, so the next day we were heading back to Walla Walla with a little detour on the way.

It’s a little out of the way but we decided we’d go and visit a famous picturesque little town called Leavenworth. I say famous loosely as I’m sure there’ll be some of you who’ve never heard of it but Leavenworth is well known for having transformed itself in to a Bavarian town. Here in the heart of Washington was a little slice of Germany.

Leavenworth

Starbucks

Leavenworth 2

Leavenworth is lovely. As soon as you arrive you’re treated to picturesque mountain views surrounding the town and driving through you instantly appreciate the Bavarian style architecture.

We found ourselves a place to park so that we could have a look around and one of the first things that I spotted was that the street signs were in both English and German – a nice touch I thought.

Leavenworth isn’t particularly big. Like many American towns, it’s apparently a city but in my eyes barely more than a tourist town with a couple of streets to have a wander along. We popped our heads in to a few shops selling bits and pieces.

Whilst a very pretty place, there isn’t a huge amount to discover in Leavenworth. I think they go all out around Oktoberfest and Christmas and give you the “authentic” German experience of both but in April there’s not much going on and it was pretty quiet.

After mooching about for a bit we went and found a restaurant to grab some lunch at – the “BärenHaus” which was a nice pub restaurant selling typical German-style food. Haleigh grabbed one of her favourites (a Reuben which comes with Sauerkraut) and I probably ordered myself a Wiener Schnitzel because “when in Germany” it’d be rude not to!

Following on from lunch we had one last glimpse of Leavenworth before deciding to hit the road, it’d had been a worthwhile detour and I’m sure I’ll return one day. Hopefully coinciding with either Oktoberfest or Christmas-time to see how Leavenworth really sells Germany for those unable or unwilling to leave the USA to experience the real thing.

Leavenworth View

From Leavenworth we headed straight to Walla Walla – another drive showing off Washington’s scenic mountain views. I never tire of the drive – perhaps helped by the fact I don’t have to worry about doing the driving but it’s so pretty over there. A few hours later we’d arrived in the familiar setting of Walla Walla and settled in at the grandparent’s house who were kindly accommodating us for the weekend.

We mingled for a bit before calling it a night and relaxing in our room for the weekend. Amsterdam was still weighing on my mind as I went to sleep – ever more tempting as time passed. “Do I go..?”

Having slept on it I decided that I had to. A Champions League semi final featuring Spurs? Come on.. when is that ever going to happen again?

My indecision affected my plans. I should have been straight on it and getting those flights or trains booked up but by the time I’d come to my senses prices had sky-rocketed for both. I couldn’t justify the high prices so in the end found an alternative compromise and settled for an overnight coach trip to and from Amsterdam – bonkers but I had to be there!

All booked. I had to ridiculously start my day by emailing work requesting more time off. “I know I’m in Washington but..”

Amsterdam was sorted, I could finally and fully focus on Washington and the company I had with me. Later in the day myself, Haleigh and her brother (Ben) made the short trip over to the Tri Cities. We usually visit at least once whenever I visit as with the three combined cities (Tri-Cities, duh!) it’s a bit bigger than Walla Walla and a good place to hang out for a few hours.

We kicked off our afternoon with a little time at one of the parks in Richland which sits along the Colombia River. We popped our heads in to a small store with a bunch of art and bits and pieces before strolling along the river. I think Ben and Haleigh did a little Pokemon-hunting whilst I settled for grabbing some photos of the pretty views.

Richland

Richland Pokemon
Haleigh and Ben Pokemon-hunting off in the distance

Richland Boat

Richland Panoramic

From the park we headed in to the Tri Cities to check out the mall. There’s a decent sized mall in the Tri Cities and it’s much better for shopping and picking up a few bits. We visited a few of our usual favourites including the likes of Barnes and Noble, likely grabbed some food at Olive Garden and then made our way back to Walla Walla for the evening.

The rest of the Easter weekend was spent enjoying time with the family and eating good food.

For such a religious country I find it baffling that there’s little love for the Easter holiday. Unlike the UK, it’s business as usual on Easter Monday so we headed home to Moses Lake on the Sunday afternoon.

I entertained myself on Monday whilst Haleigh worked. I wandered in to town and paid a visit to some of my Moses Lake favourites that I have a lot of love for. I grabbed myself some tea at my favourite coffee shop, enjoyed some lunch downtown and then had a wander along the lake before calling it a day.

Moses Lake

Monday evening and Tuesday was pretty relaxed. It’s nice to have a home base to enjoy a trip and not have to think about work, just sit back and relax a little. I had such a busy start to 2019 and there was no sign of that letting up in the weeks ahead so it was good to have some proper downtime on this trip.

On the Wednesday I ventured back in to town. Much like Monday I just mooched about a little, grabbed some lunch and then popped in to Moses Lake’s museum for a little while. It’s free to visit and the perk of visiting every so often is that the exhibit had usually changed in-between trips. On this occasion there was an exhibit based on the history of the local school which was pretty cool to learn about.

Moses Lake HOF

Moses Lake Chief

Moses Lake Museum

In the evening our friends, Maddie and Cassie, popped in to town so we went for dinner together at a favourite local restaurant called Rock Top. I hadn’t personally seen Maddie and Cassie since their wedding so it was nice for the four of us to catch up whilst I was in Washington. We had a nice evening before they made the drive back to Ellensburg and we headed home.

On Thursday evening we had another outing. There was some career fayre kind of thing going on at some school in the Tri-Cities which Haleigh wanted to attend so we decided we’d go and spend the evening in the Tri-Cities. One of Haleigh’s teaching friends ended up joining us for the trip so in the end they attended together and I was left to amuse myself.

I didn’t want to be a million miles away from the school and there wasn’t an awful lot in the vicinity but one thing that caught my eye was a nearby brewery which I thought would be perfect spot to wait.

It wasn’t the easiest to find actually, it’s in quite a bizarre location on the suitably named ‘Railroad Ave’. There was actually some cool street art on route that made it an interesting walk but the brewery felt like it was otherwise in the middle of nowhere just on the other side of the tracks. It was a little too quiet for my liking – very little traffic and I’m not sure it’d feel the safest walking there after dark but fortunately it was light out.

Location aside, the brewery was lovely. It felt very off-the-beaten-path but still busy as I walked up with a few cars parked up and a lively atmosphere with a few people enjoying a beer outside. I walked in and first impressions were good. I took seat at the bar and ordered myself a flight. Along one of the corridors was various bits of train-inspired artwork and memorabilia which I guess correlated with the brewery’s location. All in all, it was a good place to hang out for an hour or so.

Ice Harbor Menu

Ice Harbor Flight

I think originally myself and Haleigh had talked about doing something together in the Tri-Cities but as Haleigh’s friend had tagged along we ended up just grabbing some food on the road and driving back to Moses Lake.

Unfortunately it didn’t seem like Haleigh had really had the chance to enjoy any time in the Tri-Cities and the school-career-thingy was a bit of a bust too so a wasted trip for Haleigh – although I very much appreciated the brewery visit haha.

Friday was a pretty chilled day. We enjoyed our final evening together and just hung out before calling it a night. The next day Haleigh drove me back to Seattle in time to catch my flight. The mountain views were as pretty as ever on the drive back – lots of snow on the mountains which was cool!

Washington Snow

I left Seattle with mixed feelings. Being in a long-distance relationship is always difficult and of course I was going to miss Haleigh, not 100% sure when we’d next see eachother. It was bittersweet to be leaving so soon.

That said, I also knew that I had two imminent trips coming. I had two further trips to look forward to in the next ten days! Just one week of work and I’d be off on my travels again!

I was SO excited to be going to Amsterdam but before that? A first trip to Finland!!!
That story will be next up on the blog. Stay tuned!

Jason

Brugge – March 2019

Hello dear readers! I suggested in my last post that I was hoping to get back in to the habit of blogging regularly, ideally weekly, so I’m going to at the very least try and start the year well and I guess we’ll see how it pans out in the long run.

For a multitude of reasons things have gotten a little out of sync in terms of chronological travel blog posts but we’re going to rewind back to the, quite frankly ludicrous, year of 2019.

Some of you may recall that 2019 was a year of footballing adventures that defied any expectations I’ve ever had of Spurs. A strange, strange time that resulted in trips to Dortmund (Köln), Amsterdam and a Champions League final in Madrid (what!!?).

This story begins in Köln (Cologne). Now, I need not tell some of you about my love/hate relationship with Köln. It’s all love now and the end to this story will epitomise that but I’ve visited the city so many times that there has certainly been some anti-climatic feelings about visiting Köln.

This particular trip to the city was my fourth overall but more importantly my third visit in just three years – a tad too much time in one city. I had four nights booked off of work and I knew I couldn’t do the entirety of that in Köln, I decided upon a healthy balance of two nights in Köln and two nights somewhere else that was convenient enough to travel to.

Koln
Köln – March 2019

I’ve been to this region a lot. I weighed up options in Germany, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands and looked for any and every bit of inspiration imaginable and perhaps unsurprisingly football served up that bit of inspiration. I scoured through the football schedule knowing that their had to be some European games on somewhere – that’s why I was here to begin with after all – to watch Tottenham in Dortmund on Tuesday night.

What games were on Wednesday night? What games were on Thursday night? Eintracht Frankfurt v Inter Milan? YES! Frankfurt’ll do! Sign me up for that! Four nights, two in Köln, two in Frankfurt – sorted!

Alas it turns out that Eintracht had planned ahead and sold tickets months in advance to its most loyal supporters. They’d sold tickets earlier in the season on the possibility that Eintracht’s European exploits continued so tickets for a game only confirmed in February had been sold in the prior December. The game was guaranteed to be a home sell out crowd – Inter Milan a fitting occasion for those loyal supporters who’d signed up blindly but an absolute nuisance for a daytripper such as myself.

I was out of luck in terms of obtaining a ticket with the home supporters but how difficult would it be to get tickets as an Inter Milan away fan? I can be Italian for 90 minutes, right?

Sadly I was out of luck there too. This was probably the ‘glamour’ tie of the competition that week and a great match-up but I wouldn’t be attending. I figured I’d just have to settle for soaking up the atmosphere in Frankfurt and then finding a pub to watch the game in later that evening.

I flew out to Köln with the intention of being in Frankfurt two days later but there was this nagging voice eating away at me. “Why are we going to Frankfurt again?”

Perhaps I was judging it too harshly but I had no real desire to go to Frankfurt. Fellow travel blogger Marion actually sells it very well here but as it got closer and closer I couldn’t shake this feeling that I wasn’t actually that bothered about visiting Frankfurt. For football it made absolute sense but without a ticket I lost the only interest I had in visiting the city.

I hadn’t yet booked trains from Köln to Frankfurt and given I was flying home from Köln too I didn’t really have a need to go to Frankfurt. I had free cancellation for the hotel that I’d booked so I had no financial investment weighing me down either.

I repeatedly mulled it over on Monday evening in Köln. If not Frankfurt, where? I’ve been to this region so many times. Other German cities, the Netherlands, Belgium, France.. I explored several different options, calculated the time and costs involved and whether they were worthwhile.

Amsterdam was one place particularly calling for me to return. Ironically I ended up back there a few weeks later anyway so I’m glad I didn’t waste this trip on Amsterdam. I’d resigned myself to the reality that Frankfurt was where I’d be heading on Wednesday morning.

I woke up on Tuesday and gave myself one last glimpse, one last opportunity to find an alternative and another at the top of my wishlist jumped out at me – Brugge or Bruges as you may know it.

Brugge

I’d been to Brugge before but I feel like it’s somewhere that I had unfinished business with. Firstly I only visited on a daytrip, that’s actually a good amount of time in Brugge but the prospect of staying overnight really did appeal to me. Secondly I’d previously visited with friends, I really enjoyed the company and we had a great time in Brugge together but there’s something about discovering a place solo that also really appealed to me – a new way to experience the destination. Then lastly, I had no photos from my time in Brugge. Technology failed me and I arrived in the city without any way of capturing the occasion. Fortunately I was with friends and so there are photos from our time there but when I blogged about it the first time I had to pinch photos from my friends Kelly and Walker to help “tell the story”.

I felt inspired to go back to Brugge and managed to find a hotel that was cheaper than the one I was staying at in Frankfurt. The train tickets were also cheaper so it was a bit of a no-brainer. Take a cheaper trip to somewhere I actually wanted to go to or stick with “the plan” and spend more to visit somewhere I wasn’t that fussed about?

Spontaneity won the day! I’d come to Germany with the intention of spending four days in Germany but a last minute change of plans meant that I was actually whisking off to another country for a couple of days – Belgium, here I come!

On Wednesday morning I woke up excited and checked out of my “usual” hotel in Köln. See you soon Germany, I’m off to Belgium!

There isn’t a direct train from Cologne to Bruges so I would have to change in Brussels. I made sure to catch quite an early train which meant I arrived in to Brussels before lunch. Had I not also been to Brussels so many times I might have been inclined to have taken a little detour over to Grand Place and had a wander but I decided I’d just head onwards to Brugge.

A little while later I’d arrived and tried to recall which way I needed to go. I’d previously visited in December when the city is much busier, it’s a pretty place to visit at Christmas time but crowds are much less sparse in March and although I had a vague idea of where I needed to go, the option of “follow everyone else” wasn’t really much of an option on this occasion.

I have quite the habit of romanticising a lot of the places I visit and before returning I pondered if Brugge would be as pretty as I remembered it. It didn’t take long for me to be reminded of its beauty. Walking along its cobbled roads in to the heart of the city is just breathtakingly beautiful. It’s such a magical place. I kept stopping to take photo after photo.

Brugge 2

By the time I reached the centre it was too soon to check in to my hotel so I went and found myself some lunch – opting for something typically flemish – pizza?

Alright, maybe not but it was beginning to rain and so I just ducked in to this Italian restaurant a few yards in front of me that seemed as good a spot as any to grab some lunch at.

After lunch I just went for a wander. One of the things I particularly love about Brugge is its a good place to get lost in. Head in any direction and you’re likely to find something pretty or discover something you’ve not seen previously. I’d been here before, I had nothing that I particularly wanted to do but I could just walk aimlessly for hours here.

Brugge Views

Eventually I popped over to my hotel to check in and drop my things off. I relaxed for a little but before my attention turned to plans for the evening. I had a quick look online for any potential evening entertainment but struck out so decided I’d just go have some dinner, enjoy a few Belgian beers and perhaps watch the evening’s football somewhere. Being quite a touristy place means it isn’t difficult and in the end I returned to an Irish pub we’d gone to on the previous trip.

Following on from a few beers I wandered back in the direction of my hotel. Although Brugge is quite a touristy place, it’s largely a popular day-trip for a lot of people and certainly at this time of year was pretty quiet after dark. I had much of Brugge to myself and it was peaceful and pretty in equal measure which was a great opportunity to try and capture some night-time photos without hordes of people around before heading off to sleep.

Brugge Night

Brugge NightTime

The next morning I woke up and had a relaxed start before mapping out my plans for the day. Having not done so on my first visit I was really keen to climb Brugge’s famous Belfry on this occasion and made that my first stop of the day.

When we’d come previously there looked to be long queues but fortunately I arrived soon after they opened their doors and also being March it wasn’t so busy anyway. The Belfry operate a one-in, one-out policy so you might have a little wait for other visitors to make their way down again but I didn’t have to wait particularly long.

It’s a 366 step climb to the top of the Belfry, I don’t recall it being particularly strenuous if I’m honest but that might just be because it was a few years ago now. The views at the top are wonderful and I lucked out with the weather as it was a sunny day so had no problems enjoying those views and made sure to get a few photos from high above the city.

Brugge Belfry

Belfry Views

Belfry Views 2

I lucked out with the timing because it wasn’t long before clouds were overcast and rain was on the way. I wanted to go and find myself a spot to grab some lunch but the weather forced me to lazily duck in to one of the first restaurants I came across in the main market square of the city.

I asked for a table for one, knowing it’d likely be expensive but took one look at the prices and my stomach sank. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have stepped in there in the first place, it was only rubbish weather that had sealed my fate.

“Well this is it.. I’ve already sat down, I’m obliged to eat here now.”
“Wait, no Jason. You don’t! You’ve not even ordered anything yet, just get up and walk out!”
“but I’ve sat down. I can’t change my mind now..”
“GO!”

It’s weird how our minds work isn’t it? I was borderline contemplating staying there for the most illogical of reasons.

“I have to commend you on your parenting. Your son Jason is so polite and well-mannered. Even when we handed him the sandwich menu charging 500 euros each he refused to walk away. We were even taking bets in the back as to how far we could push our luck. What a great guy!”

Fortunately I came to my senses. I know that those hot-spots are perfect for lazy tourists such as myself on this occasion and that you can probably get away with charging a bit more for below-par food but these prices were taking the piss a little too much. I could find somewhere else, surely?

Bruges Colourful

I braved the weather and scurried out of there as quickly as I could. Alright, where next?

I took a little wander and perhaps I’d exaggerated just how bad the weather was. A little drizzle wouldn’t hurt right? I’m English for crying out loud! I should be used to the rain!

As it was the Belgian weather is as temperamental as the English so it wasn’t too long before it had brightened up again. I didn’t have much fortune finding a place for lunch but I was content just wandering along Brugge’s canals and discovering new walking routes within the city. After about an hour of not really doing anything I stumbled upon a small shop selling Belgian waffles and figured that’d keep me going until dinner later.

You might be sensing a pattern here but my afternoon featured more wandering, I stumbled upon a small area called Begijnhof which was home to a church, some pretty houses and a gardened area with numerous daffodils adding some colour to place. It’s a pretty World Heritage Site and the reason for that status is its history as a place inhabited by nuns and women who’ve led a celibate life – today it’s still inhabited by nuns and local women who’ve chosen to remain unmarried.

Begijnhof

A little beyond the Begijnhof area was the Minnewaterpark which is home to more beautiful buildings, gardens and landmarks such as the ‘Poertoren’ (gunpowder tower).

Admittedly we’d only visited for the day previously but given its proximity to the train station we’d somehow bypassed this entire area of Brugge on my previous visit. It’s a pretty part of the city and was a nice accidental discovery. In better weather I’m sure the park and gardens are a very popular picnic spot to enjoy on a warm afternoon.

Bruges

The afternoon quickly disappeared and my focus shifted towards evening plans again. I popped back to the hotel for a brief wind-down and this time decided I’d do a little research after the lunch debacle.

“How about we find a restaurant online Jason and then there’ll be no surprises when you sit down!?”
“Hmm, that sounds a little too logical but okay, we’ll give it a try.”

I found somewhere suitable and ventured over to this cosy restaurant not too far from where I was staying. I arrived soon after they’d opened so luckily it wasn’t too busy, not that I imagine too many places are on a Thursday in March. It was a nice way to begin the evening.

From there I checked out a couple of pubs in the city before winding back to the Irish pub in the hope of seeing a little more football. They didn’t appear to be showing the Eintracht v Inter game so I had to settle for watching Arsenal lose instead – a small consolation you could say! Haha.

The next day was my last in Brugge and indeed in Europe. My flight home from Köln wasn’t until 11:30pm so I had plenty of time ahead of me to still enjoy the day. I had quite a lazy start to my day before checking out of my hotel and hitting the streets.

I decided before leaving I should pay at least one Belgian brewery a visit so swung by the De Halve Maan brewery for a beer. I think they offer tours too but I was content to give that a miss on this occasion.

After a beer my attention switched towards lunch and I decided I’d need to force myself in to trying a local delicacy that I’ve often steered clear of in Belgium – the Moules Frites!

Long-time readers will recall stories of Weetabix Boy and know that growing up at times I was often quite fussy when it came to food. I’ve definitely got better over the years, I’m much more adventurous now and on many trips prior to this one but the thought of eating mussels has never appealed to me.

I’d been to Brugge before of course but also Gent, Liege, Brussels a few times and even the French city of Lille which has many Flemish influences but never had I plucked up the courage to give mussels a shot.

However it was weighing on my mind and I told myself I would not be leaving the city without trying them. I’d say I went on a hunt for the famous ‘Moules Frites’ but let’s be clear, they’re on just about every restaurant menu in Belgium. It wasn’t a difficult hunt. I found a restaurant that took my fancy and ordered this much-avoided dish up to this point.

The verdict? Underwhelming.

Moules Frites

Maybe I am just that picky but I think part of the problem is that it’s work to get to the edible parts. I don’t want to have to fight with my food to enjoy it and even getting to the “good stuff” I was largely underwhelmed. That’s nothing against this particular restaurant, I am sure it was a good “Moules Frites” but it just didn’t take my fancy at all.

The good news is that I tried it. I can safely bet I’ll never have it again but at least I know where I stand with Mussels. Belgium nailed it with its waffles, chocolate and beers but its national dish is a bit of a disappointment.

In hindsight it feels like the trip ended on a downer but I didn’t leave Brugge feeling that way. at all. I’d had a good time and was pleased to be leaving with more memories of this beautiful fairytale town. I walked back to the train station and headed onwards to Brussels and then back to Köln.

The perk of so many visits to Köln was that I knew my way around pretty well. I still had time to kill before my flight and I didn’t have to worry about finding my bearings after getting off of the train. I wandered down to one of the restaurants down by the river and grabbed myself some dinner and a beer as my finale to this trip.

I don’t often do a Monday-Friday trip. My motto is to maximise as much travel time as I can with my time off and working Monday to Friday means I’ll almost always arrive home again at some point on the Sunday.

I’d reached the end of my time in Brugge and I pondered whether I extend my stay a little. I thought about ditching my flight home and perhaps getting a train (Eurostar) home from Brussels later in the week. Obviously I didn’t do that because here I was in Köln but that same voice was speaking to me “why am I going home on a Friday?”.

I’ve grown to love Köln and I sat there drinking a beer feeling warm and fuzzy about where I was (what do they put in the beer!?). I didn’t want to go home yet. Three months earlier I was whingeing about coming here but we can forget that part, can’t we?

Köln

My love/hate relationship with Köln was in its love mode and I started considering my options. How much would an extended trip cost me? Train or flight home? Hotel for two nights, or even one night – whatever works.

I added it all up and came to the conclusion it’d only be something like £6,209 to stay in Köln for an extra five minutes – “it’d totally be worth it Jason, honest!”

Common sense got the better of me again, cruelly this time. I couldn’t justify how much it’d cost me to stay in Germany for two more nights, nor one more night. It was bloody tempting but the sensible side won this battle. Probably for the best given I had no clue that I’d be visiting Amsterdam and Madrid in the near future.

If it couldn’t be one more night, it at the very least had to be one more beer. I was prolonging the inevitable. I knew that it was time to go home. Two nights in Köln, two nights in Brugge. It had been a lovely trip, topped off with a Spurs win, but I slowly made my way back to the airport and said Auf Wiedersehen to Deutschland.

Having visited Germany in 2013, 2014, 2015 (x2), 2016 (x3), 2017 (x2) & 2019 it’s sad to say that I haven’t been back since but I’m sure the next German adventure won’t be too far away.

Until then, stay tuned!

Jason

2022 travel roundup

Hello there dear followers! I hope that you all had a lovely Christmas! Happy New Year too! I’m determined to get back on track with regular blogging in 2023 and what better way to start than with the annual “travel roundup” post?

I’ve managed to bash one out every year over the past few years, so if you’re interested in giving those a read I’ll link the posts below:
2017: Travel roundup
2018: A travel round-up
2019 travel roundup
2020 travel roundup
2021 travel roundup

Anyway, onwards to 2022! I actually offered a rare half-year post this year so some of you will already know what I got up to in the first six months of 2022 but for the rest of you, fear not because I’ll do a little recap right now to catch you up!

A wedding in Washington State – March & April
The first trip of the year was the big one! After postponing our September 2021 wedding we moved it to April of 2022 and so come March I was ready to head over and finally get married!

Covid restrictions added a new level of problems for travel planning over the last two years but having Covid restrictions wreak havoc with a wedding trip? Yeah, that’s stressful! I’d avoided Covid entirely for two years so I was waiting for the inevitable, something to go wrong just before I flew out to Washington.

Fortunately my immune system held out for two months and I didn’t catch Covid for another couple of months. I was good to go!

I will write about the trip in more detail at a later date but the wedding went swimmingly. It was a great day and absolutely a highlight of 2022. All the waiting and stress beforehand was worth it and as much as I’ve always loved a wedding, enjoying your own is another level of joy that I can’t really explain.

10/10 – would do again (same bride.. don’t worry, jeez.)

Wedding12

Honeymooning in Oregon – April
The uncertainty of Covid traveling, plus the cost of a wedding meant we only really planned a small break after the wedding. We decided we’d head from Walla Walla out to Portland for a few days and hopefully squeeze in a little time at the coast too.

Alas we made our Westbound drive and the weather took a turn. The rain was hammering down with rain on our drive to Portland and sure enough the next morning we woke up to snow – not quite what we’d planned for!

We made the best of the weather and enjoyed our first few days of married life! We extended our trip hoping to end the week with better weather and luckily it paid off – ensuring we got to enjoy a sunny day on the Oregon coast.

Again, I’ll delve in to this part of the trip in much more detail in a future blog post but it was a lovely break despite the weather and nice to experience some new things in Oregon.

Oregon Coast
Honeymooning in Lincoln City, Oregon

Idaho or no? – April
On the 9th of April myself and Haleigh finally got married in Walla Walla, Washington! On the 30th of April Haleigh’s cousin Michelle got married down in Salt Lake City (ish), Utah!

One month – two weddings – three weeks apart!

The problem for me was my intentions for our wedding was to arrive in Washington two weeks before the wedding and leave two weeks after. A second wedding so soon but not soon enough in some respects made for some tricky travel planning – keeping in mind that I was employed full-time.

Haleigh and family were planning to drive down from Washington but the timing of the Utah wedding gave me a tricky dilemma. Do I try my luck at getting five weeks off work? Do I even want five weeks off work for one trip? What about the rest of the year?

Joining Haleigh’s family for a roadtrip had its pros and cons, flying back to England only to return again so soon also had its pros and cons. Decisions, decisions..

The only certainty was that I was going to this Utah wedding. The logistics of how to do that was the only complication but one way or another I was going to Utah. In the end I decided that I’d fly home on the 23rd of April and then fly back to Utah (via Denver) on the 28th of April in time for the wedding.

Alas, come the 22nd of April I discovered that British Airways had kindly delayed my flight by 18 hours! The consequence of which meant a massive headache and the likelihood that I wouldn’t be getting back to England until the 25th. I considered my options and had a long and frustrating conversation with British Airways which went roughly along the lines of “this is your problem mate. Why are you (the customer) only letting us (the airline) know about our delayed flight at the last minute? Where’s your crystal ball?”

There aren’t enough words to describe my anger for British Airways in that moment. I can accept cancellations, delays, blah blah blah but BA’s willingness to throw the blame back upon me in addition to the lack of desire to find a solution did not sit right with me and left quite a sour taste for a while (I’m over it, honest..).

After much deliberation and back-and-forth I decided to extend my trip and stay in the USA for two further weeks (having to work Stateside) so long story short – roadtrip!

So a change of plans and an opportunity to see a new state! We broke up the drive and spent a night in Twin Falls, Idaho – a nice little town with, you guessed it, waterfalls! We obviously didn’t spend much time looking around but it seemed a nice enough town and we made sure to see Shoshone Falls before leaving too. It’s very pretty!

Twin Falls
Shoshone Falls, Idaho

A wedding in Utah – April
Myself and Haleigh talked about visiting Utah a couple of times in the past. Firstly on my big 3-0 trip as we contemplated driving to San Fran via Salt Lake City. In the end we decided it was too much to do in too little time.

Two years later I met Michelle and David for the first time and we had a lovely Valentine’s Day double-date in Washington. They’re the loveliest couple and we agreed that we’d come down and see them over the 2020 Easter break. Yeah, 2020..  Needless to say, that didn’t happen either!

So third time lucky! I was excited to finally visit Utah and specifically Salt Lake City. It felt long overdue and I was particularly excited to see Michelle and David get married – our April anniversary buddies!

We weren’t in town for long and much of that was spent catching up with Haleigh’s family and then of course the wedding itself. The wedding was lovely. I’m such a fan of weddings so an outdoor wedding in a state as pretty as Utah certainly ticked the right boxes – it was a lovely day!

I have to say Salt Lake City was a nice surprise too. We were so busy with family stuff that we didn’t see much of the city or the downtown area but there was just something about it that was endearing. This was the USA in all its glory but with 360 degree mountain views.  It left an impression on me and I couldn’t shake the feeling that this had the potential to be one of my favourite American cities – despite seeing so little of it. I can’t explain it! We returned to Washington at the end of the weekend but Salt Lake City and Utah had not disappointed.

Utah wedding

Back to Washington – May
So from Utah it was back to Washington for a little longer. It was nice having that little bit more time with Haleigh, although extending my stay did mean I had to work remotely at the end of my trip – not ideal working UK time on a PST timezone!

However we made the best of the extra time. We even squeezed in an overnight trip to see our friends in Pullman which meant I swapped working in Haleigh’s kitchen for this pretty AirBnB view in Pullman – it was nice watching the sun rise in the peaceful early hours!

Pullman

We headed back to Walla Walla for the final couple of days. After six weeks myself and Haleigh were finally parting! The immigration process had begun but I probably wouldn’t be returning to Washington until Thanksgiving..

Washington State, again – June
Oh.. Maybe a little sooner than Thanksgiving then. This wasn’t the plan, I hadn’t intended to come back and certainly not so soon but you can only hear “How’s married life?” so many times before wanting to rip your ears off.

That was undoubtedly the question of 2022 and it probably wasn’t helped by having as long as six weeks together but I think by the end of May I was already sick of being apart.

A lack of annual leave meant it was going to be a short and sweet visit but I decided that I’d go and surprise Haleigh and visit Walla Walla for her mid-June birthday. A wonderful idea in theory, in reality Haleigh was talking about heading out of town for the weekend and spending time with friends.

So I came clean. I didn’t really fancy a surprise trip to see my wife if my wife wasn’t actually going to be in town! The trip flew by far too quickly but it was nice getting to spend a bit more time together. I also squeezed in a few hours in Seattle which was lovely!

Hopefully the next time we’d be seeing eachother would be when that pesky visa comes through (HA!) and we’d  finally be together!

Seattle

Newcastle – May
Alright, let’s go back a step! In-between Washington trips I went up North for a weekend. My friend Sarah was celebrating her 30th birthday and that was a great excuse for a weekend away!

The 30th birthday celebrations were in a small town called Northallerton which I contemplated for all of five seconds before deciding it’d be better to base myself elsewhere. Excluding watching Spurs hungover at St James’ Park I’ve never really spent any time in Newcastle so decided I was going to visit the land of the Geordies for a weekend.

The birthday celebrations were wonderful. Sarah had hired an Abba tribute band to play and keep us entertained with Abba tunes all evening which was a fun way to celebrate.

Getting to explore Newcastle was an added bonus to the trip. On my first morning I met up with a fellow travel blogger – Sam – who along with her husband Adam were great hosts and it was so nice to finally meet up.

Newcastle itself is a cracking city too. I quickly fell in love with it. It’s easy romanticising anywhere on such a short visit but it instantly felt like one of those “I could live here” kind of cities. It was 100% my kind of city and that was without even really enjoying the Newcastle nightlife that its renowned for. I highly recommend a visit and it’s somewhere I’m certain to return to.

Newcastle
Millennium bridge, Newcastle

Sheffield – July
As many of you will know, football happens to be one of my biggest passions and it just so happens that this summer England were hosting the women’s European Championship.

Women’s football is rapidly growing in England and as soon as tickets went on sale I applied, blindly, to go to a couple of the games. There were two considerations for any games I wanted to apply for. Either they had to be weekend fixtures or they had to be accessible midweek games (London).

I looked at the various weekend games being played throughout the course of the tournament and contemplated which location tickled my fancy most. In the end I decided I’d go and spend a weekend up in Sheffield, visit Bramall Lane for the first time and watch teams C1 & C2.

Bramall Lane

I’d blindly booked tickets without knowing which teams were competing at the time so it was pot luck. More than anything I was keen to support the tournament and visit a new stadium in the process. As it was the game ended up being the Netherlands vs Sweden so two of the better teams in the tournament and two of the most colourful fanbases too with their orange and yellow shirts on display across the stadium.

The weekend was pretty much all focused on football and friends. Two of my friends (Hayden and Jenny) moved up from Peterborough to Sheffield a while ago and it was the perfect excuse to meet up with them. Ironically Hayden was actually down in Peterborough for the weekend but Jenny was kind enough to give me the grand tour of Sheffield on my first morning in the city. It was nice catching up and seeing a little of Sheffield in the process.

Later in the day I met up with my friend Natalie who was pretty much touring the country throughout the tournament and pretty much attending all of the games, or as many as physically possible (there were some games played at the same time). We had a few drinks and had a good catch before heading off to the ground where I reunited with Sarah and her dad.

All in all it was a fun weekend seeing a mixture of friends and enjoying a few beers along the way.

Sheffield

The land of dinosaurs – July-September
Well, I don’t know that this really counts as part of a travel roundup but some of you will recall I had a busy summer volunteering over at Peterborough Cathedral.

Peterborough Cathedral were hosting a T-Rex exhibit featuring many life-sized dinosaurs in their beautiful cathedral. An unusual setting to say the least and certainly raised questions about the relationship between god and dinosaurs but it was a bloody cool experience to be a part of.

I didn’t even leave my home town but mentally I was transported to another world that resembled something out of Jurassic Park with roars echoing off the cathedral walls. So many visitors came and enjoyed the exhibit and it’s one of the best things I did this year so couldn’t forego mentioning it. I blogged about it a little halfway through the experience (link above) but I loved it and I believe they have something just as exciting lined up in 2023. Watch this space!

Funpark 1

De-Sa-lou? – October
Oh forgive the terrible pun WordPress but I could not help myself! For the most-part I’m pretty good at remembering where in the world I’ve visited but I’ve never been fully convinced on where in Spain we went to on a school trip back in 2002.

Don’t get me wrong, I remember enough about the trip that I’m 90% certain it was Salou. We visited the “famous” Portaventura theme park, we took a trip to Barcelona and saw the Camp Nou and La Sagrada Familia and a few other things. I remember wandering down to the beach from our accommodation and it being a quick and easy walk.

It was a fun week away in Spain but nevertheless I don’t exactly remember where we stayed and I’ve always been of the belief that it was Salou. All of the evidence stacks up that way anyway.

Fast forward twenty years and I was invited on a friend’s stag do away in Europe – a weekend in Salou! Instantly I had a feeling of de-ja-vu – I’ve been there before, right?

Anyway, as far as the plans were concerned.. the timing that they wanted to book the trip wasn’t the greatest – right before I was due to get married so I bowed out of a group booking and said I’d sort myself out later in the year. True to me word I did that and the result was I ended up going for a day longer than most of the group.

I’ll eventually do a trip about the post but I’m sure you have a general idea of how things went. Simplistically put it was a few days of sunshine and many beers.

Salou

I’m still none-the-wiser if Salou was where I went in 2002. I’m convinced that it was but it was unrecognisable on this trip so who knows?

Salou itself was nice. Very touristy and by touristy I mainly mean catered towards Brits who want a cheap and boozy weekend away in “Spain”. There are an endless number of English-speaking pubs and restaurants to take your pick from and I dare say we visited our fair share.

For a relaxing break / stag do it was perfect but if you’re wanting an authentic Spanish experience it’s perhaps not the top Spanish destination to visit.

Another wedding in Virginia – October
I know! A third international wedding! A third on US soil and another new state to visit! It’s a good job I love a wedding, eh?

My friend Shay invited me (and Haleigh) out to her wedding in Virginia and, again, as if I’d possibly refuse such an opportunity! I was 100% committed to going, the only uncertainty was whether we could find a way for Haleigh to join us.

Unfortunately we couldn’t make it work and Haleigh wasn’t able to attend so in the end I went anyway and rocked up solo for my third US wedding of the year!

This time the venue was a cosy house in Fincastle which coincidentally happened to be run by a fellow Brit! It was a lovely venue, wonderful to see Tony and Shay get married and also great to finally meet in person. Definitely another highlight of the year!

Kyle House

Roanoke – October
The wedding was in a tiny town called Fincastle. The nearest city was a place called Roanoke which I’ll admit I knew little about prior to meeting Shay. I wasn’t entirely sure where I wanted to base myself for the trip and pondered spending a bit more time in DC or elsewhere but in the end I committed to spending a few days in Roanoke and a couple of days in DC.

Roanoke was a pleasant surprise. It’s situated in a beautiful part of the state so I had mountain views from my lovely AirBnb downtown. The whole downtown area was entirely independent too. Independent shops, independent restaurants, coffee shops, bars, breweries..

No Starbucks, no McDonald’s, none of the big-name brands you know are situated anywhere within the downtown area. It was wonderful!

Again I had to work remotely a couple of days whilst I was in Roanoke which wasn’t ideal and meant that I didn’t do too much in the city but it was a great place to relax, check out a few breweries and just find joy in this adorable little city.

Roanoke

Washington DC – October
For this entire trip I weighed up where to base myself. I wasn’t sure if Roanoke would be interesting enough to spend my entire time, plus I couldn’t fly there directly anyway so I had to fly in to somewhere else.

DC was the city that seemed most obvious, however I’d been to DC before so had to consider whether visiting somewhere new might be more tempting. Alas DC was much cheaper to fly to and made a lot more sense logistically so I committed to a couple of nights in DC.

Fortunately I think DC is one of the most underrated cities in the US and I was keen to see a little more this time around. On my first trip I’d been sick through most of my stay and the warm weather meant I was quite keen to just do outdoorsy things on that occasion. I missed out the many museums that DC is famous for.

I already had a real fondness for DC and I think a return only really cemented those feelings further. It is a fantastic city, easily one of my favourites within the US. I visited some new neighbourhoods, ,visited some of those museums I’d missed first time around, checked out some new restaurants, met up with some friends on one of my evenings there and just loved my time in the city.

DC’s one of those places that I always thought that I probably would visit but never had any real desire to and I’m so pleased to say that I was 100% wrong to underestimate it. I fully recommend a trip and I’ve no doubt it’s somewhere I’ll go back to with Haleigh one day.

Washington DC

Another Thanksgiving, another Washington visit – November
and from one Washington (DC) to the other (Washington State), it was back to Washington again in November.

I love having an extra holiday to celebrate each year and escaping England in a cold, dark and dreary November is an added bonus. I don’t think I’d care for Thanksgiving so much if it was in I don’t know, let’s say July. Thanksgiving is a good mood-builder in the run up to Christmas and the festivities.

Due to visa issues, which are finally sorted!!, I hadn’t actually seen Haleigh since June. I was so short on annual leave that I couldn’t make a trip to Washington work and she wasn’t able to travel overseas due to the ongoing visa stuff so it had been a long time apart before reuniting for the holidays.

We didn’t do anything particularly special, Haleigh was sick for the first half of the week I was there and the second half of the week was occupied with family stuff for Thanksgiving but it was nice to spend some time together, eat food, catch up with family and just spend a little time in Washington.

Thanksgiving Food

Thanksgiving Pies

I even managed to meet up with a friend from nearby Union Gap which was long overdue. News of my visit even made it in to local news – I’m now a Yakima / Union Gap celebrity! Maybe..

Overall it was a lovely week away. My only real gripe about the trip was that Alaska Airlines have cut their route from two services a day to one which wreaked havoc with my plans.

Firstly, I couldn’t actually get to Walla Walla on the day I arrived in Seattle which meant flying to a different airport a little further away.

I had no such trouble going the other way but they scrapped the early morning flight from Walla Walla to Seattle. Ordinarily I get half a day’s exploration in Seattle, such as I’d done in June earlier in this year but on this occasion I only had a four hour layover which wasn’t worth leaving the airport for.

I think they do intend to bring the second service back but it was bitterly disappointing to miss out on any time in Seattle on this trip. It’s part of my “heading home” routine usually and I did feel a little glum that I’d missed out on this particular trip.

2023 plans?
I hate to end any blog post on a downer so lets look ahead at what I have planned for 2023.

Honestly, not much..

I’m flying out to Washington at the end of January, Haleigh will finally be moving to England so I’m flying over there to help her move some of her things over. No more long-distance – hurrah!

I think one of Haleigh’s cousins is getting married in the summer so we’ll likely make another trip back to Washington in the summer. I also think we’ll probably make a third trip later in the year around the holidays so Washington will again likely dominate the travel plans for a lot of the year.

However beyond Washington I would honestly just want to go somewhere that isn’t the USA at this point. I love the place but it has dominated my travel a bit too much in recent years. I stretched my luck a bit this year and somehow managed to pack in nearly 10 weeks in the USA from just six weeks of annual leave (am I a magician?) but it left little time to go anywhere else. I was pleased to at least visit three new states this year (Idaho, Utah & Virginia) but I’d really like to spend some time in other parts of the world.

I don’t know that it’ll happen this year but I’m also really keen to step foot on some new continents. Africa, Asia and South America are calling my name. I’ve seen a lot of the US, a lot of Europe but the other continents continue to allude me. I’m very, very tempted to book a short trip to Morocco this year.

MyHelsinki

My final hope is to get back to Finland. I need to look in to it a little more but I’m quite keen on the idea of going there for my birthday in August. I grew up living with a Finnish grandmother who I also shared a birthday with and so it’s a day that I’ll forever think of Finland – I think to be in Finland on that day would be special but that’s just an idea at this moment in time.

Anyway, thanks for indulging me and my ramblings WordPress! I’ll write about each of these trips in more detail at some point and hopefully I’ll be a little more active in 2023.

Happy New Year!

Jason

One year in the USA?

Hello dear readers! How are things? I hope you’re all doing well? This post is going to be more of a thinker I suppose than a story of any sort but stick with me anyway!

As you’ll know I got married this year and for that wedding trip I spent six weeks in the USA – spending time in four different states (Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Utah).

Idaho and Utah were first-time visits for me so I was state-counting and worked out that I’ve now been to a total of 14 US states (plus DC) which I thought was pretty cool. I’ve technically passed through Arkansas, Wisconsin, Virginia and Maryland too but I don’t count those.

Wedding Photo

Anyway, it also got me thinking about the length of time that I’ve actually spent in the USA in my lifetime. Six weeks is a pretty significant amount of time for that recent trip but this was my third fairly long trip to the USA so accumulating all of those trips is starting to add up a bit. I decided to work out exactly how much time I’ve spent in the country and this was the result:

  • 8 weeks in Florida – four separate 2 week trips with family in May 1997, December 2002, February 2004 & December 2008
  • 2 weeks in Georgia – February 2016
  • 1 week in New York City – June 2016
  • 1 and a half weeks in DC, Nashville & Dallas – April 2017
  • 1 and a half weeks in Washington State – September 2017
  • 2 weeks in Washington State – February 2018
  • 4 weeks for “the big 3-0” – July & August 2018
  • 1 and a half weeks in Washington State – April 2019
  • 1 week in Washington State – November 2019
  • 9 weeks in Washington State – February, March & April 2020
  • 1 and a half weeks in Washington State – November & December 2021
  • 6 weeks in Washington, Oregon, Idaho & Utah – March, April & May 2022
  • A total of 39 weeks

Seattle1

Update!
Okay.. so I must have drafted this post at some point between trips because I know that I was pleasantly pleased with how nicely rounded that number was. With 52 weeks in a year, 39 rounded out to an even 75% of a year or alternatively roughly nine months!

Nine months of my life has been spent in the USA – isn’t that bonkers? I don’t know how you travelers compare, I’m sure some of you have had gap years or worked abroad and everything else but as someone who’s only ever really lived in England (nine weeks living in the USA with Haleigh in 2020..), it’s a significant amount of time in a single country that’s not my own.

Alas, back to the present! The visa process looked like it’d drag on for a while and I was missing my wife having had six weeks rarely apart! So I decided to “surprise” Haleigh for her birthday and spent another 1.5 weeks in Washington back in June – having a lovely time of course but ultimately ruining the nicely rounded number that I’d initially started blogging about.

IMAG5398

Joking aside, another one and a half weeks now takes me up to 40.5 weeks in total and brings me even closer to a full year!

The plan is eventually for Haleigh to move here, should the UK government ever sort its shit out and process her visa application, but even when she’s permanently in England we’re obviously going to return to the US many times in the future.

It’s impossible to say what the future holds, maybe we’ll even find ourselves living in the USA one day but I’m “only” short of an entire year by 11.5 weeks with the likelihood of many future trips to the US to come.

I don’t know when I’ll pass that threshold but it will happen. At some point I will have spent an entire year of my life on American soil. 52 weeks in the USA, a full 12 months, 365 days give or take a few. It’s a pretty significant amount of time in one country, right?

and I suppose the only real point to this post was maybe for you to consider your own travels. It’s rare that we quantify our trips in such a way but I did pose the question to Twitter a while ago to see how my own 39 weeks (at the time) measured up against other travelers.

Some people take the same holiday every year and I find the concept slightly puzzling and yet here I am, 40 weeks of travel in the USA. Admittedly the US is at the very least a huge country and so diverse, it’s not comparable to returning to the same resort year in, year out but still.. I don’t think I thought that I’d ever be approaching a year in the same country.

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Looking ahead, I’ve got two further trips to the US planned coming up this year so I’ll be ticking off another two weeks in the country and also adding a new state to my tally!

  • One week in Virginia / DC in October 2022 – I’m going to a wedding in Roanoke so unlike my last visit to DC I’ll actually properly get to see some of Virginia this time. State number 15!
  • One week in Washington – Thanksgiving 2022!

I’m slowly closing in on the year. I do hope in the years ahead that there’s much more non-US related travel than there has been in recent times. I usually try and visit at least one new country every year. That said, it’ll be cool hitting that impending one year landmark when the day comes.

Moving on from the USA, I did ponder where else my travels have taken me. My runner up would be Spain at around 4-5 weeks, with Germany not too far behind that. Nowhere comes close to the scale that I’ve visited the US.

So WordPress, play along. Where’s your most frequented destination? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a different country, it could be a neighbouring state or a coastal retreat or whatever but anywhere that might surprise you with how much time you’ve spent there?

Shock aside, I love visiting the US and I’m excited for the two trips in the next couple of months. Getting a chance to see more of Virginia and explore DC a bit more (I was sick on most of my last visit) will be great. I’m also looking forward to reuniting with the American family and eating good Thanksgiving food!

Anyway, until next time!

Jason

Köln – March 2019!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tottenham have been drawn against Borussia Dortmund!”

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

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

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

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The USA – 2018
“erm.. Jason?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Köln – March 2019

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

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

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

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

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

but “no matter what..”

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

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

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

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

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

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Karneval scenes in Köln

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Karneval vibes – Köln, March 2019

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Kölner Karneval – March 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captain Ehrenfeld
Captain Ehrenfeld!

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

Train Station Art

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

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

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

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Ehrenfeld, Köln, Germany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned!

Jason

Warsaw – November 2018

Hello my dear followers, how are things? Had you expected to see me back so soon? Posts in consecutive weeks – wow! I’m on a roll!

When I started this blog I decided that I was just going to write about my trips chronologically, it seemed the easiest way to do things but it does mean that I’m often writing about trips from quite some time ago.

The last trip I wrote about was my “big 3-0 series” – the 30 day adventure in the USA in the summer of 2018. So it means in travel terms I’m still writing about trips from almost four years ago!

What’s worse is not only was the trip itself a long time ago, it has actually been more than six months since I wrapped up that series on the blog. My blogging disappearance means that it has been ages since I’ve actually written about a trip, so let’s get back to it shall we?

That summer adventure was incredible for so many reasons and I visited some incredible places throughout my month in the USA. Though sadly whilst a month off of work has an endless number of perks, the downside is that sometimes you have to return to reality.

Finance permitting I may well have just said sod it and camped out with Bigfoot somewhere in Washington or Montana for the rest of my life but alas, retirement is still a good few (days?, weeks?, years?) decades away and I had to return to England.

Back to work – after a month! Worse yet, I’d taken a month off which severely hampered any plans for the rest of the year. I’d used up all of my annual leave! It was the 28th of August and I couldn’t think about having ONE day off between now and January – not one measly day!

Now one day off might not seem like a huge deal for some of you but to us work-shy Europeans who like to capitalise on every last drop of annual leave allowance, it felt torturous. A tad hard to complain too much when you’ve just had a full month off work but complain I did!

I’ve never felt the value of a day more than I did in those painful last months of 2018 (is that a violin I hear?). All I wanted was a day that could extend in to a long weekend, or half a day even. Let me finish work on Friday afternoon and whisk off to Europe for the weekend. Let me prolong my stay and fly home on Monday morning. Where was this “working at home” malarkey when I really needed it?

The real kicker was the summer’s Champions League draw. Long time readers will know that football is a huge passion of mine, Tottenham Hotspur particularly so, and that I’ve taken many trips across Europe to watch my beloved Spurs over the years. Yet I knew in 2018 I’d have to sacrifice that luxury, no European away football trips in 2018.

To my dismay, after years of what felt like every European fixture being held in Germany, Tottenham got somewhat of a dream draw. We’d already played in Turin earlier in the year which I begrudgingly passed on but then that Champions League draw – Barcelona, Inter, Tottenham, PSV!

Spurs are going to Barcelona, Milan and Eindhoven. Are you fricking kidding me? I would have done any one of or all three destinations in a heartbeat and didn’t have one remaining day to use – agony! Barcelona in particular, when am I ever going to get the chance to see Spurs in the Nou Camp again?

“Do you think work would notice if I pulled a sickie that day?” – the professionalism kicked in and I worked but urgh. I sacrificed and you’ll be pleased to know Tottenham’s European tour continued in to 2019 and I vowed that I’d go to the next European game no matter what – all shall be revealed in my next post!

Anyway, that only made the wanderlust grow and I HAD to go somewhere this year. It was by no means ideal given I was limited on time but I wasn’t waiting until the new year for some adventure. A weekend up in Birmingham scratched the itch a little bit but I really wanted to explore somewhere new – enter Warsaw!

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In hindsight I don’t know that it really worked. I booked the earliest Saturday morning flights I could and the latest Sunday evening flights coming home that I could but still, less than 36 hours in Warsaw – it wasn’t perfect.

That said, with further hindsight.. Covid, you know? Every trip taken now looks sensible with the C word in mind. I don’t think I could ever recommend having just one night in Warsaw but I made the best of what I had.

So early on Saturday morning I flew out to Warsaw, which for anyone who has flown with Ryanair would know could actually be anywhere in Poland. In this instance the airport was around 40 km away from the city I actually wanted to be in – fantastic!

It took me a little while to figure out how to navigate my way to Warsaw from the middle of nowhere but soon enough I was on a bus and then getting off just outside the huge Palace of Culture and Science in the city – probably one of Warsaw’s most recognisable landmarks and impossible to miss!

Warsaw

By this point it was already mid-afternoon and it felt like a good chunk of my weekend had deserted me. I thought I’d go and check in to my hotel and then grab some food but as it was one of my travel-favourites caught me eye.

Just across the street I happened to see none other than Warsaw’s Hard Rock Cafe – I had no real intention of seeking it out or looking for it on such a short trip but given the convenient location I couldn’t pass up making my first meal and indeed first experience in Poland a tourist-trap.

There are two things I remember from my visit. Firstly its appearance – lined along the walls was a huge, huge collection of guitars planted in to the wall. It was a really cool piece of art if you can call it that.

HRC Guitars
Guitar wall – Hard Rock Cafe, Warsaw

Secondly, the service was abysmal. It’s a shame because the service and atmosphere are usually HRC’s strong points but was far from its usual standards in Warsaw. My server seemed oblivious to my presence from the beginning. Once I finally managed to order something it was a long wait hoping that some food might arrive this afternoon. Still waiting, a while later my server made eye contact before scurrying away and sending a colleague over to take a brand new order.

Whilst I appreciate the struggles of the service industry and perhaps feeling a tad embarrassed, it was a little disappointing that my server shirked any responsiblity or apology for my wait and let someone else take the fall. Not that they apologised either. I did eat eventually but not off to the best starts in Poland.

From there I decided I’d finally go and check in to my hotel. It was probably 4, pushing 5pm by this point and the rush had worn me down. Perhaps Poland was just too far to go for a little over 24 hours. By the time I’d dropped my things off I didn’t feel like doing anything, I was partly regretting having even made the effort to come.

Feeling a bit sorry for myself I was torn between wasting the rest of my evening or forcing myself out to go and enjoy Warsaw’s nightlife on my only proper evening in the city.

In the end I decided upon a pitiful compromise, I thought I’d pop down to the hotel bar and get a drink and think about what to do from there. Feeling a dose of de-ja-vu my dear barman was AWOL, no interest in getting anyone a drink. I waited and waited and waited and I finally gave up.

“I’m not ever getting a drink here am I? Let’s go out I suppose..”

I ran back up to my hotel room, ditched the invisibility cloak I’d seemingly been wearing all day and headed back out with a coat. A couple of places caught my eye and one in particular, the Barock pub, took my fancy which wasn’t too far from my hotel.

On route I passed the ‘Hala Koszyki’ indoor market / food court which seemed like a wonderful place to spend the evening. I was quite tempted to stick around as it seemed somewhat of a hidden gem and a nice hangout spot for locals and tourists alike – one to remember for a future visit I said.

I continued on to the Barock pub and found this cosy little pub down one of the side streets. I can’t quite remember why I was set on this pub but I think one of the appeals had been that they had live music on and I was keen to enjoy the evening by this point.

I wandered up to the bar, tried to order a beer but was unfortunately met with a rather unfriendly barmaid who didn’t seem too pleased that I didn’t already know what I wanted from the extensive beer menu, hoping for a little help (in English) for recommendations. She handed me over to what I assume was her husband (they were both fairly old) who also didn’t seem best pleased to be serving me but I managed to sputter out the word ‘piwo’ clearly enough to at the very least get a beer at this point.

Perhaps I had just been unfortunate up to now but the fact this was the best service I’d received thus far in Warsaw was quite comical.

Barock Pub
Barock Pub, Warsaw

From here the evening at least got better. I found a table to sit at with my beer and this band played away among the local chatter at tables around me. They put on a fun show and I was even adamant I somehow knew their final song of the evening.

How, why or where I would have heard it I don’t know but I assumed it must have been a cover of something I’d possibly heard. My best efforts of internet-hunting well-known Polish songs came up short so I’ll never know the answer to that mystery but it was a lovely evening and much better than wasting it away in the hotel – although had I been in Warsaw longer than a night I may well have done that.

Feeling much more myself after a good night’s sleep, I wanted to have at least seen a little of Warsaw before heading home. I knew my time was pretty limited but I was keen to get out and get walking – my favourite way to familiarise myself with a new place.

Warsaw 2

I wandered back past the Palace of Culture and Science and made the slow walk over to the Old Town, surely a must see on my brief visit to Warsaw. The walk took me through the Ogrod Saski (Saxon Garden) which was a lovely park, albeit probably lovelier in nicer climates than mid-November.

The highlight, or part of the park that drew the biggest interest, appeared to be the ‘tomb of the unknown soldier’ – a worthy memorial to the unknown Polish soldiers killed in World War 1.

Saxon Garden Warsaw

Presidential Palace Warsaw

Moving onwards took me past the presidential palace, another impressive landmark on the fringes of the old town. I grabbed a few photos and then turned my attention towards food. After yesterday’s debacle I was keen to turn my attention towards some Polish cuisine and get some early lunch. I found myself a restaurant nearby promising pierogi on the menu and that was enough to tempt me inwards.

It was a wise choice. The food was lovely and would you believe it, I even received some good service! Yesterday’s shortcomings were already starting to feel like a distant memory (he says four years later..).

Having filled my stomach on delicious dumplings I was ready to get back out and see the rest of the old town. I soon found myself at ‘Plac Zakowy’, better known as ‘Castle Square’ – home to the royal castle and I suppose the main square of the old town.

Castle Square Warsaw

To my surprise it was pretty quiet, deserted even. I don’t know if Sunday being a religious day perhaps had a role in that. Visiting Poland in mid-November is hardly prime time to visit the country either, cold and probably a tad too early for any Christmas markets, but there was hardly anybody around. I had this huge square to myself for the mostpart – wonderful really.

The standout landmark of course was the royal castle, probably one of Poland’s most famous landmarks which towers over the square. You can do tours but I saw the queues and decided I’d leave it for a future visit when more time was on my side. On this occasion I settled for walking around it and just marveled at it – a beautiful building.

Royal Castle Warsaw
Royal Castle, Warsaw

The rest of the old town was equally lovely, like many throughout Europe I suppose. You could spend plenty of time wandering its streets and popping in to a number of restaurants, bars and shops as you go. I was pleased to see there was a scattering of Christmas markets, I seem to so frequently time my November trips a week too early and miss the best of them. There weren’t many on this occasion and I suspect I’d have seen much more had I been there a week or so later but it was still nice to see and started getting me in to the festive mood.

Christmas Market Warsaw

One of the unique things about Warsaw’s old town is that it was destroyed during World War 2 and then reconstructed to the best of their ability to resemble what it looked like beforehand. So as far as old town’s go, I suppose this is one of the newer ones but you wouldn’t know it when walking around.

Being mid-November it didn’t take long to get dark and cold so feeling content I’d seen enough of Warsaw for a first-time flying visit I went in search of an establishment to wind down. I knew I hadn’t even scratched the surface with Warsaw but there was no use in trying to pack things in for the sake of it, I knew I’d be coming back at some point in the future.

Maryensztadt

I found myself a brewery in the Mariensztat area and treated myself to a couple of beers – one thing Poland does do particularly well and cheaply too! The only thing missing was a food menu so I pottered on back to the old town for one last look around and to find somewhere to grab some food before heading on over to the airport.

I’d decided I’d just get an Uber back to the airport as it’d be quicker and being Poland, not too expensive either. Whilst Uber has its perks, one of my frustrations I find is that they don’t necessarily pick you up where you actually want them to pick you up – then have the cheek to charge you a late fee if you’re not where they want you quickly enough.

Whilst I don’t actually use Uber particularly often, many a trip has had to start with me wondering where I actually have to go to in order to be picked up – my trip had almost ended as it started. I had a 40km bus detour to get to my destination after Ryanair dropped me off in the middle of nowhere and now I had a somewhat-smaller detour to find my taxi for them to take me back to the middle of nowhere.

I promise this story comes with a point but the upside is that instead of actually getting picked up at the restaurant I’d grabbed food at, I had to go running round Warsaw to find my Uber and bam!

Warsaw Barbican

Don’t worry, it didn’t hit me but I turned the corner and there were these castle walls staring back at me. In the search for my Uber I’d only gone and stumbled upon the incredible Warsaw Barbican.

It was stunning and whilst pleased I’d stumbled upon it, I was sad I didn’t really get the chance to explore the area properly. I quickly snapped a few photos but was then on my way. A little further up the road my Uber was waiting for me and we were off, back to the airport and back to work in the morning.

Overall Warsaw wasn’t entirely what I’d wanted but it’d be hard to say through any fault of its own. The Warsaw that I got to see was lovely, I just didn’t see anywhere near enough of it due to a lack of time.

Even with some shoddy service along the way, my only real feelings about my first trip to Poland are positive. Warsaw is a really nice city and one that I have no doubts I’ll return to – particularly as it’s so cheap.

I’d certainly recommend a visit but hope you do so for longer than I did. At the very least I think I needed a two night trip but it wasn’t to be.

Anyway, I’ll wrap this up! Next time on the blog? That long-awaited European away trip with Spurs.

Stay tuned!

Jason

2021 travel roundup

Hello dear followers!

2021 wasn’t the best year on the blogging front. It’s almost like not being able to travel so frequently sucks out some of the motivation for travel-writing, who’d have thought?

Nevertheless, every year for the past few years I’ve done a round-up of the years travels and despite another year of travel uncertainty I still managed to squeeze in some adventures. So here’s your annual roundup of 2021!

Firstly though, if you wanted to see previous efforts you can do so here: A 2017 summary2018: A travel round-up2019 travel roundup2020 travel roundup

Anyway, on to 2021!

June 2021 – Eastbourne
The start of this year was a bit of a write off with lockdowns and more restrictions and so much travel uncertainty. It was quite a while before I felt like I could book a trip of any sort and decided I was going to just stick to somewhere in the UK.

With restrictions, testing and so many other things to think about I couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of going abroad. Six months in to the year and it somehow seemed even more restrictive and uncertain than traveling in 2020 had been.

My first proper trip of 2020 had been a coastal retreat to Norfolk and I was tempted to do similar over a weekend this year. I booked myself a long weekend away on the South coast and decided I’d visit Eastbourne, which I’d likely tie in with visiting somewhere else nearby.

Of course having waited just over five months for my trip, a week or so beforehand the hotel emailed me to say they wouldn’t be open at the time of my visit – disaster!

Fortunately I hadn’t booked any trains yet so wasn’t out of pocket but it spoilt my first travel plans of the year. Alternative accommodation prices didn’t look great (I’d found a great deal on my hotel) and the weather also looked miserable closer to the trip so I decided to pass on heading South and not spend the weekend anywhere.

June 2021 – Bury-St-Edmunds
Eastbourne didn’t happen and the late cancellation (on their part!) meant that it just wasn’t worthwhile trying to sort a break away at the last minute.

That said, I wasn’t about to waste a day of annual leave. It might well have been a quiet weekend but I had the Friday off work and I figured I should make the best of it and take a daytrip somewhere.

From Peterborough there were a few obvious options, fortunately the train links are quite good from the city and I pondered how far I could realistically go in a day (Edinburgh’s probably a tad too far!). London, York, Cambridge and Ely all jumped out at me but I decided to wing it and Bury-St-Edmunds seemed a fairly cheap day out, fairly local journey and also meant visiting somewhere that I’d never been to before.

Bury St Edmunds
Abbey Gardens, Bury St Edmunds

The verdict? It’s surprisingly nice. I don’t quite know what I expected from Bury-St-Edmunds but it was better than I’d anticipated it being. The weather was miserable and therefore not the best day for exploring but I hopped on an early train and made the best of a few hours in a town I knew very little about.

It had lots of independent shops, a nice museum, some lovely pubs and was a really nice place to walk around. ‘Abbey Gardens’ was probably the jewel in the town and somewhere I could see myself spending many an afternoon if I was a local, a bit of a shame about the weather on the day I visited mind you.

All in all I’d recommend it as a nice day trip if you’re ever looking for a daytrip in the region.

July 2021 – Lancaster
There were several motivations for this particular trip. First and foremost a friend moved up to Lancaster and I’d not had a chance to visit since he moved up there. Then of course I’d budgeted for a weekend-long trip to Eastbourne which became a cheap daytrip in Bury-St-Edmunds so I was financially better off as a result.

The one area of doubt was big plans in September. I knew that the closer we got to the big wedding in Washington, the more frugal I would have to be with my earnings.

Sadly Covid wreaked havocs with those plans and we postponed until April of this year so I thought sod it, I’ve got longer to save and I really needed a break. So I committed to visiting my friend up in Lancaster for a weekend – only one night but a train up on the Saturday morning and returning Sunday evening.

Lancaster would probably go in to the same category as Bury-St-Edmunds – not somewhere I’d really ever given much consideration to visiting and wasn’t that fussed about but having a friend to visit was a good excuse to check it out.

Lancaster
Sunny Lancaster

Unlike my June daytrip, the weather in Lancaster was glorious. There were minimal restrictions left in England by this point but the weather made the few restrictions still in place much easier to manage with the luxury of being able to eat and drink outdoors.

Lancaster itself was full of charm and is definitely somewhere I’m glad that I visited. It’s a nice town and probably a good base for a trip to the Lake District too. We didn’t have time for that on this visit but it’s something I’ll definitely try and make time for on the next trip up North.

Pike Place
Pike Place, Seattle

September 2021 – Washington State
This was the big trip of the year! This was what much of 2021 was budgeted around and then it didn’t happen. The US border seemed like it was just going to remain indefinitely closed and as September inched closer and closer we eventually came to the decision that we were unfortunately going to have to postpone our wedding.

Very frustrating because it seemed like if I could get to Washington the venue itself would be fine to host it but it’s not much of a wedding without a groom and my hopes of getting there were dashed so we made the hard choice to postpone.

Somewhat fortunately the border didn’t open up until November. I think I’d have been sick had they opened a couple of months earlier and we needn’t have postponed.

Anyway, wedding or not – I wasn’t able to visit in September so crossed my fingers for Thanksgiving as the next best time to visit!

September 2021 – Ireland
One consequence to postponing a wedding was now what do I do? I’d been stringent on my annual leave all year so that I could enjoy four weeks out in Washington State, only to then have to postpone. I now had four weeks off work with nowhere to go!

It didn’t make sense to stick with four weeks off. I debated spreading it over the last four months of the year but in the end cancelled just the one and enjoyed a three week break from work. However I didn’t want to spend all of that at home sulking about a wedding cancellation.

One consideration was to see if me and Haleigh could go somewhere else together instead? Sadly she started a brand new job in September so it would have been hard for her to sneak away for a few days.

Still determined to not sit and cry in my bedroom for the next three weeks, I decided that I was going somewhere regardless of the circumstances. If seeing Haleigh wasn’t a possibility then I’d just have to adventure solo for a little bit.

With ever-changing travel restrictions, testing and an endless number of hoops to jump through I struggled deciding on where I could go.

Unlike earlier in the year I really wanted to go abroad but where to? I debated a few ideas, I also debated taking more than one trip to separate destinations over the space of the three weeks but a degree of sensibility kicked in and I decided that I’d only travel for a few days and take a trip to Ireland. Not too far to go but surprisingly a first time visit to the country.

Dublin Boat
I didn’t go by boat though..

A tad ironic looking back with the benefit of hindsight but I was actually due to visit Ireland in 2019. At the last-minute I buckled and decided not to go. I was burnt out with a wave of social activity in the early months of 2019 – both internationally and domestically.

I felt like I hadn’t stopped for weeks with busy weeks and busy weekends one after another and another and another and it was too much. I’d got to the point where I just needed one weekend for myself, one weekend of doing very little and with upcoming trips on consecutive weekends – Dublin or a Champions League final in Madrid – one had to go. Needless to say the latter wasn’t an option!

MadridSpurs

The idea of voluntarily skipping a trip now is ludicrous of course but the night before flying to Ireland I just couldn’t face the idea of going. I woke up and decided I wasn’t going to the airport. I know I would have enjoyed it had I got to Dublin but I decided it’d probably only be to the detriment of the roadtrip to Madrid a few days later.

I still stand by the decision to not take that Dublin trip in 2019. It was the right decision at the time but did leave me feeling like I had “business” to settle with Ireland. So getting the opportunity to finally visit (for the first time!!) was pleasing.

The plan was to visit for longer than the original 3 day trip in 2019. I decided to make the best of it with 6 days in Ireland – split between two cities. Dublin of course and then Galway was singing my name – “come and visit Jason, please!”.

Sadly, Galway was stupidly expensive and I just couldn’t justify spending that much to visit. My accommodation to stay in Dublin was cheaper than Galway looked to be and I couldn’t find any rational reason as to why so instead I decided I’d pop down to Cork for a few days.

Live Music

Dublin
If I’m completely honest the one thing that really appealed to me about Dublin, particularly at this moment in time, was the idea of sitting in a pub, listening to Irish music and not having to think about work or anything.

I said I wasn’t going to sit and cry in my bedroom for weeks but I’d reached my point of Covid fatigue – sick of restrictions, sick of sticking my life on hold, sick of no apparent end to this way of living. So if I was going to be glum anywhere, why not with a beer in an Irish pub?

Ironically Ireland actually had more restrictions than England at the time but it felt like there was a degree of freedom for the vaccinated and that’s all I wanted – much like Gibraltar a year earlier – a taste of something normal (apparently Guinness on this occasion!).

I would love to say I planned a trip to Ireland for the castles, the culture, the history and the adventure but more than anything I just wanted a holiday – a break from the same four walls.

On that front, I can happily say Dublin didn’t disappoint. Even having to wear a mask and supply proof of vaccination upon every pub, restaurant and attraction it still felt nice that I could then just enjoy it on the other side.

If anything it was more preferable this way. I’d reached a point of Covid-fatigue but was also quite nervous about the no restriction free-for-all taking place in a pandemic-free England. This felt like more of a happy medium that let me enjoy living without feeling reckless doing so. It’s all I needed.

Temple Bar
Temple Bar, Dublin

Temple Bar was unsurprisingly a highlight. I can only imagine that it’s much busier in non-Covid times but Ireland were slowly reopening their economy with live music for example only recently reintroduced in to pubs (table-service only). You could see how appreciative many of the artists were to be performing their first act on this side of the pandemic – live music back in Ireland – as it should be!

Admittedly a table service experience isn’t quite the same. My best Irish jigs were restricted to my seat but nevertheless just being able to enjoy a Guinness, some live music and a nice atmosphere was glorious.

Malahide Castle
Malahide Castle, Ireland

Dublin wasn’t all (but mostly) drinking Guinness of course, I did check out a few of the big attractions and made a trip up to Malahide Castle which was a great recommendation from a friend (John, aka CarpeDiemEire). Infact we even met up which was lovely, it’s always nice connecting with fellow bloggers and travelers that you’ve crossed paths with online.

I’ll blog more about Dublin at a later date but it was a good first introduction to Ireland.

Cork
Cork, Ireland

Cork
I can’t say what it was but I remember myself stood overlooking the River Liffey and thinking to myself “I don’t know how I feel about Dublin”.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to like about Dublin and I did enjoy my time there but I also posed the question to myself if it was somewhere I could see myself going back to or whether I’d be content having visited Dublin once and swaying towards the latter.

In all likelihood I will go back to Dublin because it’s so close, the nightlife ticks all of the boxes and Haleigh may well want to visit herself one day so I’d be incredibly surprised if I don’t go back at some point. However unlike other one-tiime-destinations that I’ve been to, I think I’d be OK if for whatever reason I didn’t return to Dublin.

So rather ironically I woke up on the Friday morning and pondered staying in Dublin. Was it worth getting on a train to go all the way down to Cork or should I just stay in Dublin over the weekend? I hadn’t booked my trains yet and despite my hotel being just around the corner from the nearest station, I couldn’t drag myself away from Dublin.

I was torn between the convenience of staying where I was and the lure of exploring somewhere new and then wouldn’t-you-know-it, I discovered my new favourite spot in Dublin. I’d decided I’d ponder my plans over a spot of lunch and this place just oozed atmosphere.

I don’t know if it was a case of it being a Friday lunchtime and people were starting to wind down for the weekend but there was a buzz about this place. The friendly chatter and noise that as I write this now I think fondly back to but the memory also becomes somewhat of an epiphany moment.

This lunchtime outing was one of my favourite in Dublin and I think perhaps the biggest thing Dublin had lacked was people. Essentially, we were still living through a pandemic and I hadn’t had too much of a taste of *this* Dublin.

I couldn’t drag myself away, Dublin finally had me swooning so I ordered another beer and another and.. I reluctantly left Dublin after taking a look at the hotel prices over the weekend (not cheap!).

English Market Cork
English Market in Cork

In the end, I’m glad I did. Cork was smaller, much smaller actually but certainly had its charms. Whilst I ticked off a few attractions in Dublin, I did nothing in Cork for two days. The English market is an absolute gem and a must-visit when you go to Cork but beyond that, it was a chilled couple of days with a further Guinness or two.

It was a nice way to end the Ireland trip before heading back to Dublin a couple of days later. My flight home was from Dublin so I got to enjoy one final night in the capital before bidding an end to my first trip to Ireland.

Walla Walla Sign
Welcome to Walla Walla, Washington

November 2021 – Washington State!
I wrote a while back, it might possibly have even been my last post, that I’d either be spending Thanksgiving in Washington or Slovenia dependent on the border situation and the USA finally opened their sodding borders – at fucking last!

After more than 18 bloody months I was returning to Washington. It had been long overdue and I was so excited to be spending Thanksgiving out in the US!

That excitement was mixed in with a “why even bother traveling?” range of emotions that I’d up to this point managed to avoid.

Whilst I’ve traveled overseas during the pandemic, this was the first trip where the stress and hassle of all the things you need to think and worry about become apparent.

I miss the days of booking a trip and then just taking a trip. I’m not a travel-worrier, things go wrong on trips and you learn to deal with them. I’ve made multiple mistakes or had unforeseen circumstances crop up and it is what it is but Covid.. bleurgh!

I think the thing I hated most about this trip was everything was out of my control. Will the UK react to the latest Covid numbers, will the US react to the latest Covid numbers, have I booked the right Covid test, will it come back positive or void, will the results come back quickly enough and on and on and on and on and on.

Eventually after jumping through many hoops I hopped on a plane and was on my way to Seattle where I could relax in the knowledge that I’d soon be seeing Haleigh US border control – shit! Here we go..

Funnily enough, it was pretty pain-free. I don’t know if the whole Covid process meant they weren’t as interrogative as they usually are but I was waved on through pretty quickly after barely more than a couple of questions – hurrah!

Now I can relax!

Walla Walla
Walla Walla, Washington

It was so good to be back in Washington, I’d missed it. I’d missed the people, I’d missed Haleigh but I’d also missed the USA. The last time I’d stepped foot in Seatac it was deserted so it was nice to be back and see some normality.

Beyond the company, the other thing I was particularly looking forward to on this trip was the change of scenery. Up to now, every time I’d come to Washington Haleigh had been living in my “second home” – Moses Lake.

However with the whole can we, can’t we limbo situation around the wedding.. Haleigh had to make a decision on whether she was going to renew her apartment lease and also extend her teaching contract another year and didn’t so is now back in her hometown Walla Walla!

I’d been to Walla Walla a few times before, popping ‘home’ to visit Haleigh’s family, but it had always been trips based around the same few points of interest and also spent close to 24/7 in Haleigh’s company.

I’m not complaining (“jeez Jason, you’re not even married yet!!”), I love spending time with Haleigh of course but I was also excited to discover “my” own Walla Walla. Unlike trips to Moses Lake, I hadn’t had opportunity to explore Walla Walla of my own accord. It was nice, really nice actually.

I’ve always enjoyed my trips to Walla Walla but I think exploring somewhere solo gives you a new appreciation for a place. Additionally the thing Walla Walla is most famous for is its wine and Haleigh doesn’t really drink so up to now we’d both avoided the wineries. In contrast I’m not opposed to a bit of day-drinking on holiday and when in Rome (Walla Walla) do as the Romans (Walla-somethings?) do, right?

Winery 1

Winery 2

Thanksgiving of course was another highlight of the trip, my second Thanksgiving and I’ve already booked the week off work to return in 2022. The only downside was the trip seemed to fly by..

Having previously said that time to myself was a nice perk to this trip, on the flipside I feel like myself and Haleigh barely had two minutes together and I was already heading home. Thanksgiving family-shenanigans over the space of a few days had occupied a lot of our time and that was it.. trip over!

To top things off, whilst I was in Washington Boris announced that anyone entering the UK from overseas would now have to isolate. I hadn’t planned for that!

The news unsurprisingly sent a lot of people in to panic as they rushed to get themselves new flights and get home before this new isolation deadline was imposed.

I went in the opposite direction, sod it.. let’s stay in the US a few more days! I ended up extending my trip by five days, still not long enough in the grand scheme of things but I figured I might aswell make the most of my time here before Boris puts us in to another Christmas lockdown (he didn’t in fairness to him).

The few extra days were perfect, I got to enjoy a little more of life in Walla Walla and more importantly got to spend a few extra evenings hanging out with Haleigh before having to say goodbye again.

Although it was goodbye to Haleigh, it wasn’t quite yet time to say goodbye to Washington. I had a lengthy layover in Seattle which meant I had roughly 12 hours to spare – plenty of time to make a day of it in the city.

The perk of a layover in a city you know relatively well is you don’t have to spend time finding your bearings. I was out of Seatac airport and in to Seattle before 7am, before sunrise even, and knew roughly where I wanted to be and how to get there.

Chihuly Glass and Garden

The undoubted highlight of my layover was a trip to the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibition. People rave about this place and I’d been meaning to visit a few times. I’ve joked that it never rains in Seattle because I always seem to get glorious blue skies when I pop in to Seattle but this was a stereotypically miserable day and a perfect one for a mostly-indoors attraction.

I have to say, the hype is warranted. I was blown away and it certainly didn’t disappoint. It was a great final day in Washington in one of my favourite cities.

Sadly I had to leave eventually and that was my final trip of the year.

Peterborough
I don’t think I’ve ever done this before on any of my annual wrap-up’s but it would be negligent not to give a mention to Peterborough this year.

2021 was perhaps the year where more than any other, I really embraced living here. I’m London born-and-bred and London will always be the city that holds my heart more than any other but Peterborough is somewhere that I’ve grown to proudly call home.

Peterborough River Nene
Peterborough, England

Peterborough has probably been home to many of my highlights of 2021. I’ve been living on a bit of a Peterborough ‘high’ and some of you will know that I’ve even been quite active over on Instagram running a page dedicated to all things Peterborough.

I think one of the biggest causes for this was ironically Moses Lake. In early 2020 I went out to Washington to live with Haleigh for three months and the idea of living in such a small town for such a long amount of time terrified me – particularly being unemployed for the trip. What am I going to do in a town where I know no-one and the one person I do will be working a good chunk of the time I’m there?

As it was I knew very early on that I’d have to go out of my way to find things to do whilst I was in Moses Lake. Find new places to eat, drink, see what events are happening (if any) and it worked. Moses Lake is small and there is only so much a town that small can offer but one of my most vivid memories of 2020 was watching a rock band, with a beer in hand, whilst stood in a carpet store.

“A carpet store..?”

Carpet Store Beer

Yes! Plus an art gallery, real estate office, yoga studio, farmers market kind-of-store and so on. This little town didn’t really have the venues for a beer and music festival (12 breweries, 12 venues..”) and yet the community came together and made it work. So there I was with beer in hand watching a rock band in.. a carpet store. Crazy but such a vivid memory.

It’s one of those days where the message I took home was if such a wonderful event like this can happen in Moses Lake, surely there’s more going on at home? That was one of the biggest lessons from that trip – don’t go back to Peterborough and fall back in to the routine of go-to-work, eat, sleep, repeat.

Work is a necessary evil (I don’t think you’ll ever convince me there’s a dream job out there for me.. ) but I could still make the best of home-life outside of work. It was something that played on my mind constantly in Moses Lake and then unfortunately I came home to a pandemic where I couldn’t even go to work (“work from home please, unless it’s a party that looks like a work event”).

However as travel continued being a shitshow and domestic restrictions slowly lifted I really, really made 2021 a Peterborough-focused year. I could sit here and write about all of the things I did locally in 2021 and I’d no doubt still forget things.

Peterborough isn’t the best for advertising what’s going on but it seems that if you’re willing to look for it, you’ll quickly find there’s quite a lot going for it.

Peterborough Cathedral
Peterborough cathedral, Peterborough, England

I’ve climbed Peterborough cathedral, been to countless exhibits at the musuem, embraced small food festivals, cultural festivals, visited new restaurants and pubs around the city, returned to old favourites, been to comedy shows, theatre, gigs, sports events and on and on and on.

2021 wasn’t the best year for travel. I still found good reason to travel and had some wonderful trips but really Peterborough was probably the big winner of the year.

2022?
Weddings, weddings, weddings! 2022 promises to be a year of the W word and the USA I suppose.

Our 2021 September postponed-wedding will in all likelihood be happening. I’ve even got as far as booking the flights this time. On the 9th of April I will be getting married in Washington State!

JasonHaleigh

Then on the 30th of April one of Haleigh’s cousins is getting married so having barely got home, I’ll be flying back to the US and this time heading for Salt Lake City! I’m really excited to visit Utah – particularly as we’d planned to visit around Easter in 2020 and it obviously didn’t happen – our first travel casualty of the Covid era.

and all good things come in three’s right? Another friend has asked me to ‘save the date’ for a wedding in Virginia in October so it looks like there’ll be 3 international / American weddings to look forward to this year. There are no concrete plans for that trip yet but I’m pretty excited to visit Virginia and Haleigh’s never actually been to the East coast so it’s inconceivable that we don’t try and make a good trip out of that!

Ending the celebrations, I’ve also booked off Thanksgiving week so finance-willing, we’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving in Washington again.

I won’t lie, I kind of wish my annual leave and travel plans weren’t all US-based but on the plus side I’m visiting a couple of new states this year. I’ve also got a couple of annual leave days to spare so perhaps we’ll get another short weekend away somewhere if possible.

Anyway, this was a rather long and ramble-y post. I haven’t posted much at all over the last 12 months so consider this a year’s worth of posting all wrapped up in to one! A tad incoherent in parts but at least I got a blog post out, right? Hopefully I’ll get back in to the blogging groove this year and actually tell some more travel stories of yesteryear.

Until next time!

Jason