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

Cologne29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KolnJason

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

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

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

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

imag7238

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

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

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

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

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

Leverkusen11

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

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

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

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

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

“Tottenham have been drawn against Borussia Dortmund!”

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

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

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

BremenWindmill

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.

Koln
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.

Karneval
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!

KolnKarneval
Karneval vibes – Köln, March 2019

KolnerKarneval

KarnevalParade
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.

Ehrenfeld
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!

Warsaw 3

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

Time for some travel..

Hello dear readers, how are things?

I’m sure many of you can relate but I haven’t really had the motivation for blogging for much of this year. What good is a travel blog if you’re not traveling? Credit to those of you who’ve consistently put stuff out to your audience but I just haven’t been that interested in writing.

Travel has been very limited this year for a number of reasons so I’ve spent the majority of 2021 at home in Peterborough.

As most of you will know, I’m a Londoner at heart. I was born in North London and it’s the city that will always be home to me. That said, I’ve really grown to love Peterborough and that’s probably never been truer than right now.

Living in the US for a couple of months last year certainly helped, as did a pandemic which has really made me embrace all things local. As the country has began relaxing restrictions and opening up, I’ve made a real effort to find things to do locally. If I could find things to do in a tiny town such as Moses Lake for two months, surely there’s plenty happening in Peterborough that I’ve been missing out on?

So those of you following on Instagram will see I’ve been pretty busy in and around Peterborough. Nevertheless, I’ve been itching for some ‘real’ adventure. I did have a few days booked down at the coast in June and then a handful of days beforehand the hotel cancelled, advising that they wouldn’t be open, which completely scuppered my hopes of visiting the coast – I couldn’t be bothered re-planning things so settled on a day trip to Bury St Edmunds (surprisingly nice) so that my day off wasn’t completely wasted.

Having got my second vaccine dose at the end of July, I’ve been holding off as long as possible making plans for the second half of the year but I’ve finally settled on what I’m going to do with my time off.

September

The original plan was to get married in Washington State this month, so I had four weeks booked off of work. That obviously isn’t happening, we’ve postponed to April (fingers crossed), so I was left with all of this time off and nothing to do with it.

I was hoping that I could hold off nearer the time and perhaps get out to Washington anyway, just without the big celebration. As it is, the border remains what feels like indefinitely closed. 18 months later there’s still no sign of the US opening its border, whilst Americans fly off to anywhere in the world (space included!). It’s quite frustrating haha. On the plus side, it did allow Haleigh to finally come this way and spend ten days in England in August after 16 months apart!

Anyway, back to the travels.. I’ve held off and held off and held off but the US isn’t happening. I cancelled a week of my holiday but with three weeks off this month I was still determined to go somewhere – anywhere!

I’ve looked at a number of options and finally settled on a first trip to Ireland. I’m off to Dublin and Cork this week – flying out tomorrow! I’m excited to finally be getting on a plane and going somewhere outside of the country.

I might yet go elsewhere in September but I haven’t planned that far ahead. I might just enjoy a few day trips in England instead – watch this space I suppose?

However, Ireland for the first time! It’s surprisingly a country I’ve yet to visit. If you have any recommendations for Dublin, Cork or suitable daytrips from either – let me know?

November

I also have some time off in November and it’s keep your fingers crossed time. Will the US open their borders? I’d like to think yes but then half of the country can’t be bothered to go and get vaccinated so who knows? The situation is by no means perfect in the UK of course but there’s at least some assurance that the vast majority have been vaccinated here.

I’m hoping that I’ll get to Washington for Thanksgiving but I was saying the same thing a year ago and settled on a trip to Gibraltar in the October instead.

Plan B this time around is Slovenia. After stepping away from football I’ve already been sucked back in. Admittedly I did actually give up the season ticket, a painful decision but the right one. Nevertheless another season of European football has its hold over me.

With Tottenham’s participation in the Europa Conference League confirmed, I was hoping for an adventure to some of the more obscure parts of the continent. Tottenham were drawn with Rennes (France), Vitesse (Netherlands) and NS Mura (Slovenia) last week.

Slovenia seemed the most attractive of those so I was hoping it’d overlap with my time off in September. As it was, we’re off to Rennes in September, which didn’t have quite the same appeal to it but.. the Slovenia date lines up with Thanksgiving which I already had booked off work anyway.

So Thanksgiving 2021 will be spent in either Washington State or Slovenia dependent on what happens with the US border (and UK restrictions of course).

I really want to say it’ll be Washington but we’re inching ever closer to November and it doesn’t feel like much time before then if the US are going to open up. With Canada opening up this week, my hope is the US will soon follow suit but I guess we’ll wait and see.

Anyway, that’s what I’m up to. If you want to keep tabs on what I’m up to in Ireland, Instagram will probably see it first but I’ll be back with photos and thoughts on the blog in the near future (hopefully).

Hope you’re all doing well!

Until next time!

Jason

The big 3-0: Day twenty five – the return to Moses Lake!

Welcome back my dear readers! After my much-needed rant on the football last time out on the blog, it’s back to travel and more importantly the final few days of the “big 3-0” trip.

Those following along will know that in the summer of 2018 I’d planned a trip spending 30 days in the USA which coincided with two friends getting married and also my 30th birthday.

Having run around all over the country, this was to be the last big day on the road. We were making our way back to Haleigh’s apartment in Moses Lake, with Haleigh set to go back to work and for me to see out my final few days in relatively relaxed spirits.

Before thinking about Moses Lake however, we had a full day of driving ahead of us. On the previous night we’d made a relatively unplanned stop in Klamath Fall which was our halfway point from San Francisco – a convenient place to break up two days of driving.

One of the attractions to stopping in this particular area was its proximity to Crater Lake in Oregon. We figured it would be a worthwhile stop on the way home.

I can’t really remember why we skipped it. Much of the West coast was up in smoke that summer (as it is every summer really..) so the conditions at the time weren’t the greatest. That might have been one off-putting reason to skip it but I think we were just keen to get going and get on the road early.

In hindsight perhaps we should have just committed to it regardless of how terrible the conditions were. That said, there’s no doubt that much of our future will be spent visiting the West Coast so it’s hard to imagine us not having an opportunity to return in the coming years.

So skipping Crater Lake, we drove onwards and soon enough found ourselves arriving in a city called Bend. Before knowing what the school schedule looked like we had contemplated staying in Bend for a couple of nights and meeting up with Haleigh’s best friend. In the end it didn’t materialise but Bend still seemed like it would be a good place for us to grab some brunch and we found ourselves a little pancake place on the outskirts of the city.

After fuller stomachs we hit the road again and around half an hour later Haleigh spotted a “must stop” roadside attraction – an alpaca farm with baby alpacas!

Alpaca Farm
An alpaca farm in Oregon

Haleigh insisted that we stop so we pulled over and headed in to this little gift shop to pick up a bag of food to feed them.

It’s a funny feeling having alpacas eating out of your hand. It was a first-time experience for me, I’m not sure what I was really expecting. I liked it initially but I think the second or third alpaca I fed was so slobbery that I left Haleigh to it after that. Haleigh laughed at my reaction so it felt like some sweet form of justice when she was getting slobbered on by the same alpaca a minute later.

Alpaca Stare
“Why are you taking photos and not feeding us?”
Alpaca Feeding
Feeding time!

Alpacas

Farm View

We did a full lap of the farm with Haleigh continuing to feed the many alpacas we met whilst I stuck to taking photos. They’re so cute! Although some of them didn’t seem too impressed that I was wasting my time taking photos when I could have been feeding them instead!

Aside from Haleigh getting sneezed on, it was a fun little stop and I’m glad that we’d pulled over. Sadly we couldn’t stay there all day and had to hit the road again.

The rest of the car journey was pretty uneventful. In parts we could really see how devastating of an effect the forest fires had had on the West Coast with burnt out trees becoming quite a regular sight. It wasn’t really until we hit the Colombia river that the scenery started picking up again.

Oregon State

Roadside Oregon

Oregon Views
Back to the Columbia River!

Soon enough we were crossing back over the river and crossing the Oregon / Washington border for the umpteenth time on this trip. Back in to Washington we knew it wasn’t too much further to go but the long drives of the past two days were taking its toll on Haleigh and that final stretch probably felt much longer than it actually was.

Good music kept us going for that final stretch before we’d eventually arrived back in Moses Lake after another long day of driving. We’d been away for the past few weeks so had no food in the apartment. Additionally we didn’t feel like heading back out for dinner so in the end we settled for ordering a pizza and finishing off our night by enjoying some Netflix.

Again, it hadn’t been a hugely eventful day with the alpacas being an unexpected bonus! However it was just nice to be back in familiar surroundings and sleeping in a familiar bed again after three weeks of sleeping in various hostels, hotels and AirBnB’s.

The last few days would be spent trying to make the most of the little time we had left together in Washington before I’d have to head home.

Stay tuned for more on that!

Jason

P.S – if you want to read about other days of this trip, see below!
Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
Day five – New Orleans!
Day six – The real New Orleans!
Day seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington
Day eight – Exploring Poulsbo!
Day nine – Wedding day!
Day ten – To Portland!
Day eleven – the actual 3-0!
Day twelve – Oregon City and Portland
Day thirteen – Walla Walla bound!
Day fourteen – Walla Walla
Day fifteen – The family BBQ!
Day sixteen – the Vegas finale!
Day seventeen – Back to Oregon!
Day eighteen – Exploring Oregon’s coast!
Day nineteen – California pit stop!
Day twenty – San Francisco bound!
Day twenty one – San Francisco begins!
Day twenty two – San Fran continued!
Day twenty three – Alcatraz!
Day twenty four – Where to?

The big 3-0: Day twenty four – Where to?

Welcome back dear readers! Time for yet another day of this 30 day trip! You’ll be pleased to hear (or maybe not?) that we’re near the end now!

Those of you following along will know I was enjoying a 30 day trip in the USA to coincide with my 30th birthday in the summer of 2018! The trip spanned six states, several cities and I cherish so many moments and memories from this trip but the reality is things were starting to wind down from here on out.

Whether that will make for interesting reading, who knows.. I guess I’ll let you be the judges of that but we woke up on Monday morning and it was time to say our goodbyes to San Francisco and head back to familiar surroundings in Washington State.

I wasn’t flying home until Sunday so in an ideal world we would have squeezed in some more adventure but Haleigh teaches and unfortunately, with no consideration for my trip, they set their first day back at school on the Thursday! A sodding Thursday! I’m sure that was a productive first two day week back at school!

So with school in mind we hit the road, not that we really knew where we were going. We’d half hoped the school might be a little flexible and Haleigh might be able to miss the first couple of days and start on Monday instead. Of course it didn’t pan out that way but that slim hope meant we held off making concrete plans or booking any accommodation so as the trip got closer and closer we just decided to wing it.

We’d looked at a few possible options before setting off but were mostly in the mindset of “we’ll see where we end up..” and just find somewhere to stay once we’d decided where to stop.

Interstate Photo
Where to? Somewhere North..

For the most part it was a fairly uneventful drive. Unlike our drive down the coast, we headed back to Washington further inland which wasn’t quite as scenic as our journey down – although the company more than made up for the less aesthetic scenery!

That’s not to say that parts of the drive weren’t pretty because they were. However with forest fires ravaging Northern California and Oregon it seemed that the further North we got, the sky would get hazier and hazier. The blue skies in San Francisco seemed a distant memory.

We made a couple of stops along the way to break up the drive and get some food but nothing noteworthy until we started getting closer to Mount Shasta. Shasta seemed largely unaffected by the fires; things had started brightening up and the blue skies had returned which provided a great opportunity to get some photos as we drove along.

Shasta
Quick stop in the town of Shasta
Highway Photo
Snapping photos on the road

Mount Shasta

Klamath Falls Sign
Central Weed or Klamath Falls?

Eventually we arrived at a city in Oregon called Klamath Falls which seemed like a good halfway point to stop for the night. We did debate driving on to Bend but as that was another two hours away we sensibly decided that was a bit too far to go after already having spent the bulk of the day on the road.

Our first task in Klamath Falls was trying to find somewhere to stay. The first hotel we stumbled across had some pretty off-putting reviews so we decided to give it a miss and configured our SatNav to take us to another hotel nearby.

A short drive away we soon “arrived” at our alternative hotel option only to find nothing more than rubble and an empty carpark. The SatNav hadn’t been updated in a while and it seemed our hotel no longer existed!

Hoping it would be third time lucky our next hotel was unfortunately fully booked before we finally managed to book a room in the hotel next door – who knew finding somewhere to stay in Klamath Falls would be so difficult!?

To our delight our fourth choice hotel was actually quite nice. We checked in to our room for the evening only to find an in-room jacuzzi which was an unexpected surprise and something we definitely intended to make use of before leaving.

However the first priority was to go and find some food. We dropped off our things and visited a nearby Chinese restaurant which had some decent reviews. Much like the Chinese we’d had in San Francisco, the food was excellent but there was just so so much of it. We ended up giving our leftovers to a couple of guys embarking on a roadtrip we got talking to in a neighbouring booth as they had a van and the means to heat something up on the road.

If we’d been in town earlier I think there’s probably a bit to do in Klamath Falls, most notably seeing the nearby falls of the same name, but in the evening there didn’t seem to be much going on. It’s a sleepy little city with a population of little more than 20,000.

In the end we found ourselves a local bowling alley which was near empty and we played a couple of rounds. I maintained my success over Haleigh which felt just revenge for the constant Mario Kart beatings Haleigh served me on my first trip to Washington!

After a couple of games we returned to the hotel and put our jacuzzi to good use for the evening – definitely a nice little bonus to our stay in Klamath Falls. It was by no means the most exciting day on this trip but we’d anticipated as much, knowing it would mostly be a day of driving.

Sadly tomorrow would be more of the same but we did make one fun roadside stop that I think you’ll enjoy seeing photos of! Stay tuned for more on that!

Jason

P.S – if you want to read previous days from the trip, see below!
Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
Day five – New Orleans!
Day six – The real New Orleans!
Day seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington
Day eight – Exploring Poulsbo!
Day nine – Wedding day!
Day ten – To Portland!
Day eleven – the actual 3-0!
Day twelve – Oregon City and Portland
Day thirteen – Walla Walla bound!
Day fourteen – Walla Walla
Day fifteen – The family BBQ!
Day sixteen – the Vegas finale!
Day seventeen – Back to Oregon!
Day eighteen – Exploring Oregon’s coast!
Day nineteen – California pit stop!
Day twenty – San Francisco bound!
Day twenty one – San Francisco begins!
Day twenty two – San Fran continued!
Day twenty three – Alcatraz!

The big 3-0: Day twenty three – Alcatraz!

Welcome back my dear readers! I hope you’re all doing well and feeling some optimism that there’s an end in sight to this crazy past 12 months.

Last time out on the blog I’d talked about more of my time in San Francisco and it’s time to continue with the “big 3-0” story as it nears its conclusion. Those of you that have been following along will know I was in the USA for 30 days, celebrating my 30th birthday, back in the summer of 2018.

We’d now covered a bit of ground in San Francisco and seen a few of the main landmarks in the city but there was one “must see” left for us to experience – Alcatraz!

Alcatraz sign

I’d heard mixed reviews from people about Alcatraz but it was something myself and Haleigh were both keen to visit and see for ourselves. I’d sneakily bought tickets for Haleigh’s birthday which was a little tricky because everytime Haleigh hinted at buying tickets I was coy about doing so – “we’ll get it booked after the next payday..”

Alcatraz unsurprisingly sells out well in advance so it was one of few pre-planned attractions on this trip – along with the Chicago Skydeck which some of you will remember was a disaster and an attraction I ended up missing out on in the windy city at the start of the trip. I was hoping today wouldn’t be similar!

Anyway, we kicked off our day as we had so many times on this trip – fairly relaxed and without too much rushing around. For whatever reason we decided to take a different route in to the heart of San Fran today, deviating from our tried and tested journey on the one day we had concrete plans. Clever, right?

In hindsight it probably wasn’t the brightest idea we’ve had. We’d left our AirBnB in good time before heading over to Alcatraz but our spontaneous route put our plans in jeopardy a little. We stood waiting at this particular tram stop for an age.

Our wait did mean we got chatting to another couple at the stop but after a little small talk the discussion swerved to whether this tram was ever going to arrive! Eventually one came along but then kept going and whizzed by us – too busy on board to make a stop to pick people up – ahhh!

The minutes ticked by and ticked closer towards missing our Alcatraz boat! Eventually we had to accept we’d have to improvise further and get ourselves to the pier asap! We parted from our new friends who were heading elsewhere and managed to grab a taxi over to the pick-up-point.

The next dilemma was the tickets. I’d booked in advance, through the official website I’ll add, but their strange system had me feeling a little uneasy. For whatever reason you book your tickets online and they then need to send you two confirmation emails, the second once payment has been processed which for whatever reason isn’t instantaneous – unlike just about any other booking system on the planet.

They’d emailed me one confirmation and they took my money a little while after the actual booking which was of some relief but I’d envisaged some scenario where they’d deny all knowledge of my booking at the ticket office – which was only exacerbated further by the Chicago Skydeck debacle. I’d winged most of the trip – were the only two plans I’d really made both going to fall through?

The woman at the desk seemed frustrated that I was unable to provide the second confirmation email – as if it was somehow my fault and that this stupid system wasn’t the bigger cause of the confusion. However fortunately the details we had were seemingly enough for her to print our tickets and she seemed a little friendlier after locating them.

We took our tickets over to check in and were soon being waved on to our ferry. It slowly started filling up and then we were off!

As we inched closer and closer to Alcatraz I began to appreciate just how far off the mainland it actually is. It’s visible from San Francisco but it’s still a little way on the ferry – this island isn’t the quickest to get to and it starts to sink in how difficult it must have been to even think about escaping from. Good luck swimming in the cold and harsh waters of San Francisco Bay!

Each arriving boat to the island gets a little introduction and a welcome before you’re then left to explore at your own leisure. We grabbed a few photos from the outside before heading in.

First look inside

Assuming that, like us, you start from the bottom one of the first rooms you’re likely to encounter are aimed at educating on the history of the island. It might purely be ignorance on my part but I don’t feel like Alcatraz’s past gets much coverage beyond its prison days.

It was fascinating to discover that people lived on the island at various times in its history with Native Americans notably occupying the island for almost two years in protest against the US government. It was really interesting to learn about and in one of the rooms there’s an educational video that plays in this dark room which we both watched.

As you explore more of the island you see homage to those days with graffiti and other landmarks that date back to their occupancy.

Indians welcome..

Today it’s part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is managed by the National Park Service which allows millions of people to visit every year. The luxury of being able to explore in your own time meant we could slowly admire the views from the island and check out a few points of interest before making our way up to the prison and undoubtedly Alcatraz’s biggest attraction.

View from Alcatraz

Once you enter the prison area you’re handed a little device offering an audio tour. These rarely hold much interest for me and I usually abandon them pretty quickly and end up exploring without one.

However I have to say that I found that the audio tour really added to the experience. Throughout the tour you’re exposed to the history and various stories from Alcatraz and it really brought the prison to life for me – it’s remarkably well done I think and I’m glad I stuck this one out. As you walk around I couldn’t help but visualise what life behind bars would be like – see for yourself!

Behind bars inside Alcatraz prison

As my sad-faced-selfie shows, it’s not a life for me!

The tour takes you through a number of different areas within the prison. Towards the end of the tour you get taken outside for breathtaking views of San Francisco’s skyline which felt like a pretty apt way to round things off and really help transform you in to the life of a prisoner and how tempting it must have been having the city in plain view.

I thought the tour was incredible and worth every penny, or cent rather. Everyone has their own preferences of course but I have to say the mixed reviews I’d heard really surprised me. I couldn’t recommend it any higher and it’s a must-do on any trip to San Francisco in my opinion.

Inside Alcatraz

The view of San Francisco from Alcatraz Island

We popped in to the gift shop for a look at what was a wealth of merchandise and reading material from Alcatraz before slowly making our way back down the island and towards the ferry point. Fortunately we’d timed it pretty well and it was pretty much ready to board by the time we’d arrived.

The mood on the ferry back seemed a bit more pensive than the buzz and excitement that there had been when going to Alcatraz. Perhaps that’s just because it was later in the day and people had had enough adventure for one day but I think there was that added appreciation to be heading back to the mainland.

We’d escaped Alcatraz and were heading back to “the land of the free” . It felt nice knowing our time in Alcatraz had only been temporary. I think as a prisoner of Alcatraz I’d have preferred to have been more remote than the island actually is.

It is a bit of a journey on the ferry but to be that close to freedom and see it every day? That would be so agonising for me. I’d spend my days in envy knowing people were living such normal lives just across the water. I’m feeling pandemic envy as it is seeing people in NZ and Australia for example having a blast whilst we’re in day four billion of lockdown, sod that being a permanent feeling!

We made it back to sunny San Francisco and I do feel like I let out an illogical sigh of relief. Even with the stupid selfie, there was never a part of me that felt imprisoned but Alcatraz is its own little island and consequently very much a bubble. Even for a few hours its easy to forget that there’s a busy city in the backdrop.

After our Alcatraz adventure we decided to grab an early dinner. Our proximity to Pier 39 made it a convenient place to grab something as although a little touristy, there’s a good range of places to eat.

Unfortunately it seemed we picked rather poorly. I don’t know if it was just an off evening in the height of summer because the restaurant seemingly rates pretty highly in Google reviews. That certainly wasn’t our experience though with terrible food and the worst service I’ve suffered anywhere in the US – possibly anywhere altogether!

We’d pondered what to do with the rest of our evening but the unexpected extension on our meal time scuppered our plans a little bit and limited our options. It did dampen what had otherwise been a nice day.

San Francisco dungeons attraction
San Fran’s scariest attraction?

In the end we decided to visit the ‘San Francisco Dungeons’. I’ve seen these in a few other cities – notably London, Edinburgh and Amsterdam but as yet had not visited any of them so I wasn’t 100% sure on what to expect.

It was surprisingly a lot more enjoyable than I’d anticipated. You’re led through a series of rooms where actors play out a number of different scenes depicting various locations throughout San Francisco. There’s a fair amount of audience interaction which makes it quite enjoyable and I’d say pretty family friendly too – albeit a little jumpy in parts.

Towards the end of the experience we were taken “back” to Alcatraz – just as myself and Haleigh thought we’d escaped that pesky island!! The penultimate room then saw everyone interrogated by a prison guard.

I’d managed to avoid all audience interaction up until now so as the guard did his final roll call, row by row, I had to reveal my identity and additionally reveal my accent to all which sent shockwaves around the room as they realised there was a Brit amongst them! I’m sure some witty comment from the guard followed at my expense but I can’t recall what it was now.

The final room saw us escape Alcatraz and head back outside. Overall it had been a surprisingly fun attraction and is something I’d consider doing in other cities – even if only in the UK.

From here we made the slow journey back to our AirBnB. We took a small detour somewhere to grab some food after the disappointment earlier in the day but that was pretty much it for San Fran – our final day in San Francisco was over!

Final night in San Francisco

Tomorrow morning marked the beginning of the goodbyes, the adventure was nearing its end. It was time to say goodbye to San Francisco and California and head back up North.

I’d said plenty of goodbyes on this trip already of course. Goodbye to Chicago, goodbye to Minneapolis, goodbye to friends in New Orleans but every one of those was different as more adventure beckoned.

This time it was different, the faint cries of reality were calling. Haleigh had to be back in Washington for the start of the school year, soon after I’d be heading back to England and time was sadly finally beginning to catch up with me.

Tomorrow we’d be saying goodbye to San Francisco and onwards to..

Well, we didn’t actually know. We knew we wouldn’t get all the way back to Moses Lake but we hadn’t actually booked any accommodation for the next night. Perhaps there was still some adventure left in this trip after all?

I guess you’ll have to stick with this series a little longer if you want to find out! Stay tuned!

Jason

P.S – if you want to read other posts from this trip, see links below!
Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
Day five – New Orleans!
Day six – The real New Orleans!
Day seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington
Day eight – Exploring Poulsbo!
Day nine – Wedding day!
Day ten – To Portland!
Day eleven – the actual 3-0!
Day twelve – Oregon City and Portland
Day thirteen – Walla Walla bound!
Day fourteen – Walla Walla
Day fifteen – The family BBQ!
Day sixteen – the Vegas finale!
Day seventeen – Back to Oregon!
Day eighteen – Exploring Oregon’s coast!
Day nineteen – California pit stop!
Day twenty – San Francisco bound!
Day twenty one – San Francisco begins!
Day twenty two – San Fran continued!

The big 3-0: Day twenty two – San Fran continued!

Welcome back my dear readers! Last time out on the blog I was writing about the start of mine and Haleigh’s time in San Francisco and so on to the next part of the story!

For those of you only just stumbling upon this series, we’re three weeks in to a 30 day trip back in the summer of 2018. I’d flown over to the US for a friend’s wedding, which fell two days before my 30th birthday, so went all out to celebrate with a big trip!

One of the places I was determined to visit on this trip was San Francisco! That said, I didn’t go with a huge list of things I wanted to see or do in San Fran. Me and Haleigh were largely winging it and with the exception of a few obvious points of interest, didn’t actually have much planned for our stay in the city.

Keeping that in mind, we woke up and didn’t really have much of a plan for our day. We’d already seen the Golden Gate bridge, Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghiradelli Square. Meanwhile we had plans to visit Alcatraz tomorrow so had a lot of the first-time-visit stuff ticked off.

After a slow and relaxing start to our morning we left our AirBnB and made our way in to downtown San Francisco once again. We kicked off our day by visiting Chinatown – supposedly the oldest in North America and the largest such enclave outside of Asia which is pretty cool!

Given its popularity, I have to say it didn’t feel anywhere near as touristy as London’s own Chinatown. We wandered up and down the streets, snapping photos along the way whilst admiring all of the decorations hanging above our heads.

IMAG1945

IMAG1948
Chinatown, San Francisco, California

Chinatown quickly morphs in to San Francisco’s ‘Little Italy’. On the outskirts of both there was this little bookstore I’d read about that I thought Haleigh would enjoy visiting. It was no Powell’s Books and I wouldn’t say it was worthwhile going particularly out of your way for but it was a nice little detour. Haleigh surprisingly escaped without buying anything which was some achievement!

The slow and relaxed start to our morning had set the tone for the rest of the day. There was no rushing around today, we just embraced being in San Francisco and explored at a much slower pace than you sometimes do when traveling. So it was conveniently lunchtime by the time we’d stumbled upon Little Italy.

Little Italy seemed as good a place as any to think about grabbing some lunch! There’s a few places to eat along the main street but we passed this historic and authentic-feeling Italian restaurant which seemed like the best option – our Italian host definitely added a dash of authenticity which was enough to tempt us inside.

IMAG1950
U.S Restaurant, San Francisco

It was a really enjoyable lunch and the service was really good too, it was a great choice for lunch. Rather than grab dessert here, we figured we’d try out a dessert place that we could see across the street.

We grabbed some gelato and then found ourselves a table outside to enjoy the glorious sunshine. A few moments later this funky looking van drove by and I was really beginning to feel like we were in California.

IMAG1952

After a little more people-watching we hopped on a bus and headed across town to the Golden Gate Park. The Golden Gate Park is essentially San Francisco’s Central Park equivalent – it’s huge!

It’s home to botanical gardens, Japanese gardens, museums, windmills and so much more. You could easily spend an entire day trying to see everything the park has to offer. We had a bit of a wander before finding ourselves a patch of grass to sit down, relax and soak up the atmosphere.

This was Saturday afternoon in California in the height of the summer – it was inevitably busy with people enjoying picnics, kids riding bicycles, dogs running around. There was such a feel-good mood around us and it was impossible to not get swept away by it. Me and Haleigh spent an age chatting and people-watching. Why would you want to be anywhere else on a day like this? It was bliss.

IMAG1954
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Much like the beach spot from the previous day, and Central Park too for that matter, I could see myself spending many a day at Golden Gate Park if I was a local. Nevertheless we dragged ourselves away and caught the bus back towards the downtown area.

We passed the famous ‘Painted Ladies’ before stopping off around the city hall for a look around. We grabbed a few photos but, aside from a couple of outdoor exhibits from the Asian Art museum on the other side of the square, there wasn’t too much in the area.

City Hall

It had been a pretty relaxed day all around. We headed back to our AirBnB for a bit before making dinner plans. We decided to check out San Fran’s ‘Cheesecake Factory’ which was a first for me.

I don’t know what I really expected but they’re seemingly really popular! We had to wait a little while before getting a table, which wasn’t so bad because they had an outside balcony overlooking Union Square and allowed us to enjoy the view.

IMAG1974
Union Square, San Francisco

Eventually we were taken to a table and I got to see why the Cheesecake Factory was so popular. Despite the misleading name, the menu is a fussy eater’s dream! I think they have just about everything you can think of on their menu – it was overloaded with choices. We had a nice evening, although didn’t have the dessert we wanted so we skipped out on that and called it a night.

We made our way back to our AirBnB and watched a little Netflix. Overall it was a much slower-paced day but still a thoroughly enjoyable one and we’d covered a lot of the San Francisco area in our two days. There was just one last “must see” left on our itinerary – Alcatraz!

More on that next time around! Stay tuned!

Jason

P.S – if you want to read previous days of this trip, see below!
Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
Day five – New Orleans!
Day six – The real New Orleans!
Day seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington
Day eight – Exploring Poulsbo!
Day nine – Wedding day!
Day ten – To Portland!
Day eleven – the actual 3-0!
Day twelve – Oregon City and Portland
Day thirteen – Walla Walla bound!
Day fourteen – Walla Walla
Day fifteen – The family BBQ!
Day sixteen – the Vegas finale!
Day seventeen – Back to Oregon!
Day eighteen – Exploring Oregon’s coast!
Day nineteen – California pit stop!
Day twenty – San Francisco bound!
Day twenty one – San Francisco begins!

The big 3-0: Day twenty – San Francisco bound!

Welcome back my dear readers! I suggested last time out on the blog that I’d try and “up my game” a bit and get two posts out a week going forward. It hasn’t happened haha. Nevertheless I’m determined to get back to posting once a week so I’m cracking on and posting another day of the “big 3-0” trip.

Those of you who haven’t been following (have missed 19 posts!!) will not be aware that this was a 30 day trip in the USA coinciding with my 30th birthday in the summer of 2018.

One of the places that was a must visit on this trip was San Francisco and we were close! Myself and Haleigh were slowly making the drive down from Washington and had just spent the night in Crescent City in Northern California. After a good night’s rest it was time to hit the road again!

We said goodbye to our AirBnB and hopped in the car – heading Southbound once again. One of the reasons we’d stopped off at Crescent City was its proximity to the famous Redwoods and it wasn’t long before we were surrounded by trees towering over us on both sides.

Northern California Scenery
Surrounded by huge trees!
IMAG1811
Northern California

IMAG1801

I think I spent the early part of the morning just glued to the window, taking photos and videos to look back at someday. On the other hand, all I could think was “what a place to die..”

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t some suicidal thinking on my part but with the winding roads, the fog, the towering trees it created that perfect horror-like setting. It was beautiful of course but just a few minutes in to the drive I felt so far removed from civilisation and the rest of the world. You couldn’t help but feel that any minute we’d break down on the side of the road and some axe-wielding maniac would pull over asking if we needed any help.

“No.. no, we’re okay thanks!”

Fortunately the car was showing no signs of failing us so we kept plodding along until we came to the “Trees of Mystery”. I’d read about this attraction when looking for things to do in and around Crescent City and discovered it was home to a 30ft “Paul Bunyan”.

Haleigh was familiar with the tales of Paul Bunyan but the name meant nothing to me. His fame doesn’t appear to have made it over to our side of the pond but it seems that he is a famous lumberjacker in American folklore and travels around with his trusty companion – “Babe the Blue Ox”.

Paul Bunyan
Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue Ox, Trees of Mystery, California

The giant lumberjacker was difficult to miss on the side of the road so we pulled over and got close up for a few photos of our new friends Paul and Babe. The trees of mystery attraction itself seemed to offer a few trails for hiking but we were content just making it a fun and quick stop.

We got back in the car and as we drove through the forest, the trees just seemed to get bigger and bigger – we were truly in Redwood territory now.

Travel has a way of making your place in the world feel very small but I’d say particularly so here. I was in complete awe of the Redwoods and the surrounding scenery. Even in the midst of forest fires ravaging the West Coast, nature still seemed to be thriving and left me mesmerised.

We passed a sign highlighting the scenic route, which would add a few miles on to our journey, and couldn’t resist the temptation to get off the main highway. We were quite happy to be rid of the traffic and aggressive drivers pushing us to zoom along the winding roads.

True to its word, the scenic route was just that – breathtakingly scenic! We pulled over at one point just so we could properly admire them up close. They’re just incredible! It’s hard to imagine too many other places such as this which really leave you speechless and humbled.

We passed a few other parked cars and consequently a few people who’d seemingly had the same idea we had. Fortunately it meant myself and Haleigh were able to get a photo of the both of us as a nice souvenir and reminder of our time passing through the Redwoods.

TheBig30-Redwood

Some kids we’d walked past were less enthused by the experience with one retorting that “it’s only a tree..” and clearly not happy that their parents had forced them out of the car. It left me and Haleigh amused and made me realise that sometimes you don’t really appreciate these things when you’re younger.

I envisaged a scenario in the future where the kids would want to return and being mockingly told by their parents that “it’s only a tree..”

Admittedly those kids weren’t wrong. They are “just” trees at the end of the day but as spectacular as you’ll see anywhere. In the company of trees that have stood for hundreds of years, it was impossible to feel anything other than small and insignificant. They’re a must see on any trip to Northern California!

Redwoods

IMAG1877

After getting plenty of photos we got back in the car and continued with our journey, leaving the scenic route and returning to what was still a pretty scenic highway. I can’t really remember much else of the drive, I presume we stopped for lunch somewhere but I couldn’t tell you where so it was probably just some fast food of some kind.

The only other memorable stop we made was as we passed by a little roadside shop which had loads of these wooden hand-made bears sat on the side of the road. They were pretty cute and available to buy along with a lot of other hand-made items and art.

IMAG1864
Cute bears and a cute Haleigh too!

It was an interesting little stop. We took some photos with the bears and I also found Pinocchio who told me I was the coolest kid around – I couldn’t understand why his nose was so big though?

IMAG1867
Me and Pinocchio, best buds!

The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful. The thing that really struck me was how quiet the roads were in this part of California. At times it felt like we were the only people on the highway which surprised me – particularly in the summer months but it seems that all of that famous California traffic is reserved for the big cities such as Los Angeles.

The roads started getting busier as we got closer to San Francisco, particularly around Santa Barbara, but even then a good chunk of the highway has a carpool lane which you only need two people to take advantage of so we were flying past all of the single-drivers on the road. Soon enough we were seeing signs for San Francisco and then the golden gate bridge!

San Francisco Road Sign
San Francisco – here we come!

We hadn’t really hit any traffic all day but as we approached the tunnel which leads to the Golden Gate bridge things started slowing down and we came to what was almost a stand still. It probably wasn’t the ideal time for us to be arriving in to San Francisco, albeit unavoidable. That said, I have a feeling that the traffic in to this part is probably always like this.

Not that the locals seemed to have the patience for it – the car honking was endless! Puzzling too, where exactly do you want us to go? In to the back of the car in front of us?

“Hit the pedal Haleigh!!”

Oddly enough, Haleigh was unwilling to partake in a game of road rage and smashing in to all of those who blocked our path. Instead we crawled along at a snails pace – which was actually fine by me!

IMAG1882
First glimpse of the Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco

At the end of the tunnel I could peek my first glimpse of the golden gate bridge! I was so pleased that we were traveling in over the bridge itself – even better that we were slow-moving and I could really take it in and appreciate it in all of its glory.

This was the Sydney Opera House, Eiffel Tower, Big Ben “pinch me” moment of San Francisco – there was no doubt as to where we were! We’d made it! We’re really in San Francisco!!

Golden Gate Bridge
Driving over the golden gate bridge

I managed to grab a bunch of photos before we eventually escaped the bridge, however there was no sign of the San Francisco traffic easing up. I don’t know why you’d want to drive in a city like San Francisco, much like New York City or London you have to question if it’s even worthwhile being on the road.

Karen, our handy sat-nav, guided us to our AirBnB where we parked up and awaited for our AWOL host to arrive. As it was, she was only in the back garden so not too far away and was quickly letting us in to show us around. We had no intention of driving whilst in San Franciso so swapped the cars around – putting Haleigh’s car in to the garage whilst our host moved hers in front of the garage.

It had been another long day of driving so we didn’t really have any plans for our first evening in the city. Had we been closer to downtown San Fran perhaps we’d have gone and explored but we just settled in to our AirBnB and familiarised ourselves with the local neighbourhood.

In essence we were staying in an unofficial Chinatown. The area was full of restaurants offering Asian cuisine, with a Sushi restaurant on the corner of the street we were staying on. It was far enough away from touristy San Fran that it felt very local and is undoubtedly one of the perks of AirBnB life – this being only my third AirBnB stay – all three of which were on this trip.

We went and checked out a nearby Chinese restaurant which had some good reviews on Google. On appearance it’s probably not somewhere I’d have walked in to, more reminiscent of your typical kebab house you’d stumble in to at the end of a night out.

Nevertheless, appearances can be deceiving and the food was really good. Although I’d originally ordered a duck-dish and they were then out of duck, not that I could complain about my second choice. If there was to be any complaint it would be that there was just too much of it!

Both me and Haleigh struggled to finish our meals and agreed we could easily have shared a meal between us – it felt a bit of a waste to leave so much unfinished. Brilliant value though as it was not only delicious but pretty cheap too.

Following on from dinner we had a wander through the neighbourhood but didn’t go too far. It was beginning to get dark and for the first time this whole summer, it was cold!

Whilst San Francisco was warm by day, it quickly became apparent that you’d need a jacket in the evening as it got quite chilly. Having had a small glimpse we headed back to our AirBnB for a relaxing evening and started making plans for tomorrow – our first full day in San Francisco!

Stay tuned for more on that!

Jason

P.S – if you wanted to catch up on previous posts on this trip, see below!
Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
Day five – New Orleans!
Day six – The real New Orleans!
Day seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington
Day eight – Exploring Poulsbo!
Day nine – Wedding day!
Day ten – To Portland!
Day eleven – the actual 3-0!
Day twelve – Oregon City and Portland
Day thirteen – Walla Walla bound!
Day fourteen – Walla Walla
Day fifteen – The family BBQ!
Day sixteen – the Vegas finale!
Day seventeen – Back to Oregon!
Day eighteen – Exploring Oregon’s coast!
Day nineteen – California pit stop!

The big 3-0: Day nineteen – California pit stop!

Welcome back my dear readers! Thanks to those of you that played along with my recent photo challenge. It was a bit of fun that has helped get me back in to some sort of blogging groove. We’ll see how things go but I’m going to attempt to try and squeeze out two posts a week going forward – certainly whilst we’re in this lockdown era!

Anyway, it’s back to the “big 3-0” trip this time round. Those who have been following this 30 day trip will know that myself and Haleigh were slowly making our way from Washington State down to San Francisco, California!

After a couple of nights based in Lincoln City on Oregon’s coast it was time for us to hit the road again. We still had another 650 miles ahead of us before we’d reach San Francisco so whilst there was still some distance to go, we were inching ever closer!

We effortlessly checked out of our AirBnB in the morning and as a first-time AirBnB experience it had been a positive one. I’d always been a little hesitant to use AirBnB but I’d been somewhat converted – somewhat because I can’t say I’ve used AirBnB since this trip but I’m more open to doing so for future travels.

We said our goodbyes to Lincoln City and started heading South – next stop California!!

California.. I feel like I perhaps do this too often already but I’ve not yet reached that point where the travel opportunities I’ve had don’t still blow my mind a little. In all honesty, I hope I never get to the point where it’s something I take for granted.

My parents did a lot for us growing up and we got fortunate to visit places like Orlando, Florida as kids which not everyone gets to do but I’m very much from a working-class background. A holiday like that took years of savings and sacrifice to make happen.

I digress a little but my point being that if I have a habit of romanticising places a bit too much it’s because deep down, I don’t know that I thought I’d ever visit these places. California always had this allure about it when I was growing up. It was some faraway land that epitomised what I considered to be cool and the pictures of it just looked sensational. To think I’d ever get there in my lifetime was some pipe-dream.

and yet, here we were. In the car and driving South, inching closer and closer to “the golden state”. Ugh even that sounds incredible, doesn’t it?

The drive down was stunning. Winding lanes along the coast offering sea views and a wealth of scenery that is just a dream as a passenger. There’s a ruggedness to the landscape and the fog just added to the atmosphere as we drove along – I truly felt a million miles away from home. I have so many photos on this drive that I couldn’t even tell you where we were but the scenery just left me in total admiration for the West coast.

West Coast
Don’t mind me, just admiring the view

Highway 101

Highway101
Somewhere along Highway 101

The perk of driving of course was that we could stop as and when we wanted to. We wouldn’t be in San Francisco until tomorrow so we were in no big rush and could stop for the numerous quirky roadside attractions that the US is famous for.

The first instance of this were some 20-30 foot roadside dinosaurs that immediately caught our eye. We quickly pulled over for a closer look and made sure to grab some photos. The dinosaurs were part of the Prehistoric gardens attraction in Oregon. We didn’t check out the entire area but checked out the gift shop and managed to grab a few cool photos before hitting the road again.

Dinosaurs
Making friends at Prehistoric Gardens, Oregon

Dinosaur

We continued our journey South along highway 101 which took us through a host of cute cities and towns. I think my favourite we passed through was Coos Bay.

We stopped for lunch somewhere along the way, however we didn’t want to slow the journey down too much so stopped off at McDonald’s for something pretty quick.

Now, having become quite accustomed to temperatures between 30-45C (85-115 F) all summer, we were quite unprepared for our brief stop at the Antarctic! I don’t think I’ve ever walked in to a colder restaurant / bar! I’d love to visit London’s ice bar for some comparison, although I suspect it’s a few degrees warmer than this McDonald’s was! Even anticipating a quick stop, Haleigh ran back to the car to grab herself a jacket! I decided to brave the arctic conditions but was hoping McDonald’s would live up to its reputation as “fast food”.

With fuller stomachs it was back on the road but more importantly, back out in to warmer climates! The scenery continued to impress and soon enough we were approaching the state line – I had to get a photo!

Welcome to California
Oregon – California state line

Admittedly it’s not the greatest effort but in a moving car I thought it came out well enough. It was a landmark moment! State number 3 with Haleigh, state number 6 of this trip and my 12th visited state in total! 12!!

The latter sounds so weird to me, three years prior the only state I’d been to was Florida and now I’d been to twelve!? That doesn’t include the likes of Wisconsin, Arkansas or Maryland either which I’ve only really traveled through rather than stopping anywhere. How have I been to twelve states!?

Anyway, we were here! We were actually in California! We wouldn’t be in San Francisco itself until tomorrow but only had another 25 or so miles until we were in our stop for the night – Crescent City.

It wasn’t a city I knew anything about but it was a good resting place between Lincoln City and San Francisco. Soon enough we’d arrived at our home for the night – again opting to stay in an AirBnB.

After checking in and dropping our things off we took a little drive to see what was in the city itself. We parked up down by the pier and admired the views but there wasn’t too much in the area – other than a fun-looking children’s park which had a few kids playing.

Crescent City
Crescent City, California

We popped in to the nearby visitor’s centre but it was fairly late in the afternoon by the time that we’d arrived so whilst there’s probably a lot more to do in Crescent City if you have a full day in the city, there wasn’t a huge deal open at that time of the day to make it worthwhile visiting.

The big attraction of Crescent City was its proximity to the Redwoods which we knew we’d be passing through on our drive tomorrow so in the end our only takeaway from the visitors centre was having overheard discussions about some food options for the evening.

We decided to grab dinner at some brewery called Seaquake. The food wasn’t anything special but I was pretty pleased with the beer selection and particularly intrigued by the ‘Citra’ as I often drink a beer of the same name at my favourite pub back home.

After dinner and a couple of drinks we contemplated what else to do with our evening in this sleepy city. We remembered that we’d passed a bowling alley earlier which was close to our AirBnB and felt like that could be a fun way to spend our evening. Sadly it wasn’t actually open for whatever reason so slightly scuppered our plans.

In the end we decided we’d just head back to our AirBnB for a relaxing evening. It’s not like we’d come to Crescent City for something in particular, it had just been a convenient stopping point for the night so an evening relaxing seemed pretty appealing.

Our AirBnB was nice too. We had a decent sized space to ourselves and found some rubbish TV to watch in-between all of the commercials. It was a nice evening and set us up perfectly for another South-bound journey tomorrow – San Francisco via the Redwoods!

Stay tuned for more on that!

Jason

P.S – if you want to catch up on previous days of this trip, you can do so below!
Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
Day five – New Orleans!
Day six – The real New Orleans!
Day seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington
Day eight – Exploring Poulsbo!
Day nine – Wedding day!
Day ten – To Portland!
Day eleven – the actual 3-0!
Day twelve – Oregon City and Portland
Day thirteen – Walla Walla bound!
Day fourteen – Walla Walla
Day fifteen – The family BBQ!
Day sixteen – the Vegas finale!
Day seventeen – Back to Oregon!
Day eighteen – Exploring Oregon’s coast!