Hello dear readers! How are things? I hope you’re all doing well? This post is going to be more of a thinker I suppose than a story of any sort but stick with me anyway!
As you’ll know I got married this year and for that wedding trip I spent six weeks in the USA – spending time in four different states (Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Utah).
Idaho and Utah were first-time visits for me so I was state-counting and worked out that I’ve now been to a total of 14 US states (plus DC) which I thought was pretty cool. I’ve technically passed through Arkansas, Wisconsin, Virginia and Maryland too but I don’t count those.
Anyway, it also got me thinking about the length of time that I’ve actually spent in the USA in my lifetime. Six weeks is a pretty significant amount of time for that recent trip but this was my third fairly long trip to the USA so accumulating all of those trips is starting to add up a bit. I decided to work out exactly how much time I’ve spent in the country and this was the result:
8 weeks in Florida – four separate 2 week trips with family in May 1997, December 2002, February 2004 & December 2008
Update! Okay.. so I must have drafted this post at some point between trips because I know that I was pleasantly pleased with how nicely rounded that number was. With 52 weeks in a year, 39 rounded out to an even 75% of a year or alternatively roughly nine months!
Nine months of my life has been spent in the USA – isn’t that bonkers? I don’t know how you travelers compare, I’m sure some of you have had gap years or worked abroad and everything else but as someone who’s only ever really lived in England (nine weeks living in the USA with Haleigh in 2020..), it’s a significant amount of time in a single country that’s not my own.
Alas, back to the present! The visa process looked like it’d drag on for a while and I was missing my wife having had six weeks rarely apart! So I decided to “surprise” Haleigh for her birthday and spent another 1.5 weeks in Washington back in June – having a lovely time of course but ultimately ruining the nicely rounded number that I’d initially started blogging about.
Joking aside, another one and a half weeks now takes me up to 40.5 weeks in total and brings me even closer to a full year!
The plan is eventually for Haleigh to move here, should the UK government ever sort its shit out and process her visa application, but even when she’s permanently in England we’re obviously going to return to the US many times in the future.
It’s impossible to say what the future holds, maybe we’ll even find ourselves living in the USA one day but I’m “only” short of an entire year by 11.5 weeks with the likelihood of many future trips to the US to come.
I don’t know when I’ll pass that threshold but it will happen. At some point I will have spent an entire year of my life on American soil. 52 weeks in the USA, a full 12 months, 365 days give or take a few. It’s a pretty significant amount of time in one country, right?
and I suppose the only real point to this post was maybe for you to consider your own travels. It’s rare that we quantify our trips in such a way but I did pose the question to Twitter a while ago to see how my own 39 weeks (at the time) measured up against other travelers.
Some people take the same holiday every year and I find the concept slightly puzzling and yet here I am, 40 weeks of travel in the USA. Admittedly the US is at the very least a huge country and so diverse, it’s not comparable to returning to the same resort year in, year out but still.. I don’t think I thought that I’d ever be approaching a year in the same country.
Looking ahead, I’ve got two further trips to the US planned coming up this year so I’ll be ticking off another two weeks in the country and also adding a new state to my tally!
One week in Virginia / DC in October 2022 – I’m going to a wedding in Roanoke so unlike my last visit to DC I’ll actually properly get to see some of Virginia this time. State number 15!
One week in Washington – Thanksgiving 2022!
I’m slowly closing in on the year. I do hope in the years ahead that there’s much more non-US related travel than there has been in recent times. I usually try and visit at least one new country every year. That said, it’ll be cool hitting that impending one year landmark when the day comes.
Moving on from the USA, I did ponder where else my travels have taken me. My runner up would be Spain at around 4-5 weeks, with Germany not too far behind that. Nowhere comes close to the scale that I’ve visited the US.
So WordPress, play along. Where’s your most frequented destination? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a different country, it could be a neighbouring state or a coastal retreat or whatever but anywhere that might surprise you with how much time you’ve spent there?
Shock aside, I love visiting the US and I’m excited for the two trips in the next couple of months. Getting a chance to see more of Virginia and explore DC a bit more (I was sick on most of my last visit) will be great. I’m also looking forward to reuniting with the American family and eating good Thanksgiving food!
Hello dear readers! I hope all is well with you? I thought that I’d get back to writing about some travel.
I have written about football-related travels many times on the blog but this? This is a post I never in my lifetime thought that I’d be writing about.
I was listening to an episode of The Travel Architect’s podcast recently and the “travel quiz” on this particular episode revolved around the concept that people travel locally, nationally and internationally to watch sports or any event really at “bucketlist” venues – I am one of those people.
My love of football is no secret, I’ve been obsessed with the sport for as long as I can remember. Football is the biggest sport in England – by some distance. Football is the biggest sport in the world even and I’ve heard it nicknamed the “global language” – regardless of your native language, everyone understands football.
I think that’s particularly true for myself. I’m an introverted person, I’m quiet but that was multiplied tenfold as a child. I was so shy and so reserved but football was my comfort zone, I understood football and if we had a mutual love for the game it made it infinitely easier to connect with you. It was an easy bonding subject I suppose.
As a kid I just immersed myself in to all things football. To this day it’s probably the only passion I have that exceeds travel. I love and loathe it in equal measure, it infuriates me like nothing else can but the highs of the game are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
It didn’t matter what it was growing up. I could be playing football in the streets from dawn ’til dusk, collecting football stickers for the latest Premier League sticker album, reading Match magazine every single week or watching football on the telly. Playing computer games such as Championship Manager (“move aside Gerry Francis.. I’m taking Spurs to the lofty heights of the UEFA Cup!”), reading football-books.. whatever it was, I was obsessed!
I heard so many football stories from my dad’s youth – a very different time in football where tickets were more accessible and affordable. My dad would travel up and down the country with his mates and even experience the occasional foray in to Europe for the ultimate “away day” experience – hearing stories of Spurs in Belgium and UEFA Cup glory in 1984 was something I was so envious of for such a long, long time.
My dad’s “heyday” came and went. Marriage and kids and responsibilities followed and my dad had to stop going. Football became too expensive and required too much sacrifice to follow with the same frequency – sadly resigned to a life of “armchair football” but he still had enough love for it to pass on the reigns to his son. We’ll not give too much mention to the rebel Arsenal-supporting daughter! – “Why haven’t you disowned her dad?”
I loved football so much but my dad couldn’t afford to take us regularly if at all, it’s an expensive day out but my love for it was unrivalled. Growing up I’d firstly dream of playing on the biggest stage, playing for Spurs, winning the FA Cup and once the realisation kicked in that I’d never be good enough to achieve that, my hopes turned to my “idols” achieving that success on my behalf.
I wanted to see Spurs win an FA Cup (I still haven’t!), I wanted to see Spurs in Europe. Even as a deluded, hopeful child you’d never dream of Premier League or Champions League glory for little ol’ Spurs – that was beyond our limitations but just give me something to remember. Give me something to match up to those stories my dad has from the late 70’s and 80’s.
Year after year I’d witness disappointment after disappointment. I still haven’t forgiven Shearer for breaking my heart in the FA Cup semi final in `1999. Likewise I have held a bitter resentment against Germans, Kaiserlautern, for ending my sole European memory of Spurs far earlier than I was prepared for. Just the one European excursion in my pitiful Spurs-supporting memory – my dad’s fairytale stories are all a lie!
Jokes aside, I dreamt of football on the biggest stage – imagine going to watch Spurs in Europe or England at a World Cup. My dad went to France in 1998 and I watched on again, envious albeit ultimately with similar feelings of disappointment and heartbreak following another painful England World Cup defeat.
My school years were particularly painful, arguably Spurs worst era and similarly coinciding with the years (92-04) I was most susceptible to teasing from my peers.
I left school and typically Spurs fortunes changed. More importantly though, I left school. I was now of working age – the financial limitations my father had had, I did not. I had no responsibility and despite taking a weekend job in a supermarket I was finally free to spend my hard-earned cash as I pleased – going to the football regularly.
I remember little of the first time my dad took me to White Hart Lane but I remember running up those steps and seeing that pitch for the first time – “wow!” – you dream about it but I don’t think that first time can ever disappoint. It’s Disneyland levels of magical – now that I was working I could finally come as often as I wanted.
Better yet, Spurs were improving on the pitch! In 2006, at 18 years old, I finally got to watch my beloved Spurs participate in a European competition – in the flesh! Tottenham vs Slavia Prague in London. A “glory, glory” European night under the famous lights of White Hart Lane!
The allure of European football, playing on the continent in places you have and haven’t heard of, has always mesmerised me. You read blog posts about the hidden gems of Europe – “secret off-the-beaten-path cities no-one has heard of” and it’s like mate, you underestimate the obscure places across the world that football fans know about because of some random football team that play there.
Going back to that previously mentioned podcast.. My love for European football in particular always came with an “I’d love to play there..” wish before materialising in to the “I’d love to watch a game there” dream instead.
There were and still are so many football experiences I’d love to witness one day – famous football stadiums, famous football matches and rivalries, famous football tournaments that would be incredible to see live.
Primarily I want those football experiences with Spurs of course but some aren’t possible and others aren’t realistic. I can’t watch Spurs in a World Cup but I’d still love to attend a World Cup one year – there’ll always be some regret that I didn’t go to Brazil in 2014.
It’s my dream to go and watch either domestic or international football in South America – Brazil and Argentina in particular as the footballing giants of the continent. It’s my dream to go and watch some of the big European rivalries, I have a list of football stadiums I’d like to visit before I die (or before they knock the stadium down!). I have so many football-bucketlist experiences to tick off!
European football again obviously holds a lot of those experiences and I never thought I’d see them with Spurs if I’m being honest. That Champions League anthem is mesmerising but I never really believed growing up that I’d watch Spurs participate in the competition, let alone multiple times as I’ve been fortunate to do. I never thought visiting the likes of the Camp Nou, San Siro, Bernabeu, WestfalenStadion or others would ever be possible.
After finally being able to go to home games regularly I attended my first Tottenham away game in 2008 – Spurs at Villa Park in Birmingham – what a historic, traditional stadium that is too. It’ll be a sad day should Aston Villa ever replace their stadium.
I went to multiple domestic away games over the years and then finally went to my first European away game in 2014 – Benfica of Lisbon, Portugal – one of Portugal’s biggest teams and a huge name in European football.
It was “only” in Europe’s second-tier competition, the Europa League (UEFA Cup) but still – watching Spurs in Europe? “This is the dream!”
Since that first European outing I’ve watched football in a number of countries and even in that elusive Champions League competition I thought beyond little ol’ Spurs and then ‘here’ we are – June 2019.
I kind of knew, much like my father 30 years ago, that my footballing days were coming to an end. I’ve had this nagging feeling about a different lifestyle, different priorities and different responsibilities that suggested I’d have to “hang up my boots” so to speak.
It wasn’t necessarily imminent but I knew it wasn’t far away and so I went in to 2019 with the mentality that the next European outing, this, could be my last ever European away game with Spurs. I wrote that blog post knowing I was bowing out soon – I just wanted one final away European away game and “anywhere but Dortmund”.
Ironically Dortmund was one of those stadiums I never thought I’d see Tottenham play at – one of Europe’s most famous football venues and undoubtedly fitting of any worthwhile football bucketlist – home to the famous “yellow wall” of Borussia Dortmund.
Tottenham were drawn to play Dortmund in March 2016 and I’d literally only just come home from Georgia at the end of Feb and I was booking flights – I did not give a shit about work, I was not missing a “once in a lifetime” trip to Dortmund.
Seven months later we were back in West Germany in nearby Leverkusen and then in November 2017 we returned to Dortmund again! On that occasion I saw Spurs win but twice was plenty – there’s no other reason to visit Dortmund!
So faced with the possibility of a third “once in a lifetime” trip to Dortmund – I was praying to the football gods for some mercy and to send me anywhere else. My prayers fell on deaf ears: Tottenham Hotspur vs Borussia Dortmund – March 2019.
Unbelievably Spurs succeeded and set up a first Champions League (European Cup) semi final appearance in 57 years – Tottenham vs Ajax – giants of Dutch and European football – “pinch me!”
Next up Amsterdam – with a touch of irony perhaps. Spurs have offered so many disappointments over the years. Typically I’m on the verge of packing it in altogether and Spurs decide this is the year for a cup run in Europe? “Thanks Tottenham..”
Amsterdam was not in the budget for the year but of course I had to go, hoping that Tottenham may well just go one step better than they did in 1962 and incredibly they did – a first Champions League (European Cup) final appearance in their 137 year history!
and so this is where this story begins!
“Begins? Jason, you’ve already written a novel!”
I know, I know but what’s a story without a little context?
I was ready to pack it in, just one final European outing. I’d budgeted the first six months of the year perfectly so that I could think about next steps with Haleigh. This was the supposed to be me winding down as far as the football was concerned but Spurs said “sod that, we were your first love!”
A Champions League final was an “at all costs” trip and boy was it. There was no scenario in which I wasn’t going to Madrid, with or without a ticket for the game, but I genuinely had no idea how I was going to make the logistics of this work.
As if the trip wasn’t expensive enough anyway, Tottenham’s European fate had been sealed on that memorable Wednesday night in Amsterdam. 24 hours earlier our opponents Liverpool had sealed their own fate – we’d face English opposition in Madrid but more importantly that meant fellow English supporters and travelers that had been afforded a 24 hour head start.
Reports suggest 100,000 or so traveled from England to Madrid for this game. I don’t know how accurate that is. I don’t know if it was more – quite possibly but for my fellow experienced travelers, try and book that trip with three weeks notice on very specific dates and when a vast majority have had a head start on your travel planning -it’s bonkers!
The simplest solution (“hey, we’re selling flights to Madrid sat on Ryanair’s wing for only £450,000 one way”) was a no-go.
I was 100% going to Madrid but it was time to get creative. Where do I fly from? What are my options? What’s the alternative to flying to Madrid? Barcelona? Bilbao? Where? Would it be cheaper to not fly from England? Maybe I’ll go out to Dublin or Paris or Marrakech or anywhere else first!
It was a headache! I was still in Amsterdam at the time and pondered if I just should start walking to Madrid now! I shared my frustrations with my parents and knew it’d probably have to wait until I got home.
“Your dad’s thinking of driving..”
Wait, what!!? Dad’s contemplating popping out of “retirement” for this one? Wow! I mean it probably shouldn’t have shocked me, this is big after all but still, my dad didn’t even own a passport at the time.
That said, anyone who was anyone was going to this. I think it was about Liverpool’s 408th Champions League final in 20 years and they’ve been to one more since then too but for Spurs? This doesn’t happen to the likes of us – a genuine “once in a lifetime!” experience.
I know it’s a case of being privileged and having the luxury of football as a priority in your life that you can do a trip such as this but it still surprises me that any Spurs fan missed this.
If you have to sell an organ or that Arsenal supporting sibling, do it! A family friend of ours flew over from his home in Australia to be in Madrid because this was the big one! Admittedly his journey may well still have been cheaper than any flight from England going to Madrid but he knew how important it was, I knew that I had to go and my dad likewise – a first Father-Son European away game!
My dad drove! A European road trip from Peterborough, England to Madrid, Spain. Another friend of my dad’s footballing days joined us for the roadtrip, quite surreal how much of the old gang had come out of obscurity for this one – I’d never met Lloyd before and I don’t think my dad had seen him in decades either but a trip worthy of a reunion!
The match was on Saturday, we left England after work on Thursday and intended to drive back on Sunday so this was as quick and as budget-friendly as such a trip would allow – sharing fuel and accommodation costs between us.
We left work on Thursday and headed for Dover where we’d be picking up Lloyd and more importantly, catching the late-night / early-morning ferry over to France. I can’t recall what time it was but let’s just say it was dark in the crossing.
I was a little apprehensive about taking the ferry. It makes me a little cautious about ever booking a cruise too, I get a little seasick I guess and I felt so rough coming back from Amsterdam three weeks earlier which was weighing on my mind a little bit.
Nevertheless we had a beer on board and kicked off the trip of a lifetime in style. The rest of the ferry was packed with football fans, predominantly Liverpool fans but two sets of supporters all in good spirit – all ready for the big game on Saturday!
We arrived in France early Friday morning and was able to catch the sun coming up over the country – being the end of May it was particularly nice and came up quite early.
The trip made me feel quite nostalgic. We’d take the occasional family daytrip to France when we lived in London and I also visited Spain on a coach-trip with school that no doubt took a much similar route that we did for this trip.
I remember nothing of France from those trips other than stopping at service stations and such in random places. For a long time I didn’t really feel like I’d really been to France. It was only after visiting Paris and Lille that I felt like I’d actually been to France and started falling in love with it. Lille was particularly nice visiting France in the summer and getting to see what the fuss was about. Up until then I’d never really got the fuss about France.
We were on the road for a good few hours on France, stopping occasionally for a food break and chance to visit the grand service stations of the country – feeling very nostalgic for the France I remember from my youth!
Mid-afternoon we arrived in our stop for the night. We didn’t want to do the full drive on Friday so agreed to stop somewhere on route – I’d had a little read on options and suggested Bayonne / Biarritz might be a good choice. So we booked a little budget backpackers hotel in Bayonne for one night – it was very basic. Tucked away in the middle of nowhere really and more dorm-like accommodation but perfect for one night – we had no problems with it.
We dropped off our things and decided we’d go and spend the rest of the afternoon at the coast. We got back in the car and headed for nearby Biarritz.
This was meant to be a whistle-stop one-nighter so none of us were that bothered about where we stayed, we hadn’t done any real research about what to do or what to expect from the area. More than anything it was a good base for us to then hit the road again in the morning.
So Biarritz took all of us by surprise – it is stunning! We stepped out of the car and I was blown away by its beauty. This is why people rave about the South of France!
The sun was shining, the water was gorgeous and it felt so relaxed. Biarritz were actually hosting the ‘World Longboard Surfing Championship’ this week but it seemed like we’d missed any of the major activity of the day. There were still a few people out in the water but it was so peaceful.
We found a little outside bar to pick up some beers and just sat by the water mesmerised. It’s so easy to glamourise travel places but this felt like paradise. The only disappointment was the reality that we were only here for one night. Part of me sat there, looking out to the water and thinking can’t we just sack off Madrid?
I’d been to Madrid before (and LOVED it), let’s find a bar for the game tomorrow and stay here forever. Why are we leaving this place so soon?
We enjoyed the views a little longer but didn’t hang around for particularly long. We got back in the car and returned to Bayonne, which also looked nice from the little we saw of it, before finding a place to grab some dinner near our hotel. We were pretty close to Spain by this point but still had a few hours drive ahead of us so were keen to get an early night and an early start in the morning.
On Saturday morning we woke up in eager anticipation of the day ahead. Champions League final day featuring Tottenham fucking Hotspur. This is actually happening!
Of course I was sad to be leaving the South of France, I am itching to return to Biarritz one day and also to explore more of the South of France because it had instantly won us over but nevertheless we had to go.
The drive over the border is gorgeous. As I said above, I’d done the school coachtrip to Spain before so this wasn’t of huge surprise to me but it was even prettier than I remember it being.
Even more Spurs and Liverpool fans were on the road by this point – all Madrid bound. We stopped off at more service stations along the way and picked up food for the morning to keep us going. Eventually we’d arrived in sunny, glorious Madrid.
I think Madrid is undoubtedly one of the best cities in Europe, I think I might go as far as saying it’s my favourite European city outside of London but on this occasion we weren’t here for the culture or anything else that Madrid has to offer. We found somewhere to park and headed straight for the dedicated fan-park hosting Spurs.
We picked up some beers and soaked up the building atmosphere. One of hope, one of optimism, one of disbelief. This fairytale-like story was one night away from reaching Hollywood. We’d been down and out so many times over the course of the season that there was this feeling of “it’s meant to be” and we just needed that movie-script ending to round it off.
Soon enough our family friend, Dave, had joined us. Coming all the way from Australia Barcelona, it was great to see him after a few years. I’ve seen him a few times over the years in England and we even met up a couple of times when I went to Sydney, now we were in our third country together and for a Champions League final! Had I mentioned that?
A little while later two more of the old gang, Dave number 2 and Mo, had come to join us for a little while too. A great opportunity for a reunion photo and a “we were there” moment.
Soon enough the fan-park closed. Dave 2 and Mo went their separate ways whilst the four of us went off in search for elsewhere to drink and hopefully a bar to watch the big game tonight.
We picked up a drunk stray from Aberdeen who’d seemingly lost his friends and tagged along with us for the night. We tried a couple of bars without much fortune – finding that they were either completely rammed with supporters or that they were completely empty because they had no TV to show the game. Eventually we had some fortune in a restaurant-ish kind of bar showing the game and selling beers which was all we really needed.
The day had been lovely. Everyone was in good spirits. I think there was a fear that with tens of thousands of Brits descending on Madrid that there’d be trouble. The Brits, and English in particular, don’t have the greatest reputation on the continent. Some of it is fully justified to be fair but on this occasion there was no need for such concern – everyone got along swimmingly. Now for the football..
All that build-up, all that anticipation and excitement? Minute one: Liverpool penalty – game over.
It still feels unfair, unjust even. I don’t think the decision will ever sit right with me and it just killed the game. Spurs huffed and puffed but without any real quality, it was probably one of the worst Champions League finals in truth but to have this grand occasion go like this so early in the game was and still is hard to accept.
I don’t know how much I ever really believed. I was always hopeful and had optimism, there was definitely fleeting moments of “we’re going to do this..” but Liverpool were of course the favourites for the game, favourites to win the trophy for the Nth time and so it proved.
As ever for Tottenham, no happy ending. No fairytale, no Hollywood movie to come. I can’t and won’t question the effort because we tried but even accepting we weren’t ever expected to be at this stage, it was no less painful. We huffed away and Liverpool hit us on the counter late on – an undeserved 2-0 in a game lacking any quality. We never deserved to win and perhaps it’s the bitterness talking but Liverpool were barely worthy winners themselves.
I walked out at 2-0 completely deflated. I needed to just walk somewhere for a bit. I had no interest in seeing the final whistle, no interest in seeing the trophy presentation. Who fucking cares?
We didn’t have accommodation for Saturday night. I think we’d made the decision to just find some kip in the car later on and then head out Sunday morning.
Nevertheless we hung out in Madrid for a bit after the game, mingling with a few people from the bar that we’d met. I dare say I wasn’t really present at all. Maybe its the years of experience supporting Spurs, maybe its the fact the other three have all tasted real Tottenham success but I think the other three took the defeat much better than myself.
I don’t know how any of them could find the energy to be sociable enough for chit-chat. In truth I just wanted to be as far from Madrid as possible. After maybe an hour we went and found a late-night joint for some cheap and greasy food. I’m not sure you’d necessarily associate Madrid as a good place for a kebab but it ticked the right boxes after a day of beer and football.
From there it was back to the car. Lloyd seemed to find the time to talk to every passing celebratory Scouser. To be fair to the Liverpool bunch, they were very gracious about it and complimentary of Spurs but I didn’t really find any consolation in it.
More to the point was that Lloyd was constantly stopping on our walk back to the car. I lost count of how many Liverpool fans we stopped for in the end – admittedly Lloyd was fairly drunk but I’m sure he was seeking them out – “just keep walking Lloyd, come on!”
My dad seemingly had much more patience than I did. Perhaps I needed to be a bit drunker myself but I wasn’t particularly interested in baby-sitting someone 20-30 years my senior, nor stopping for chirpy Scousers.
We said our goodbyes to Dave, wishing him well for the trip back down-under, and eventually got Lloyd back to the car having stopped for conversations with seemingly every single person in Madrid.
We slept on the outskirts of Madrid for a few hours kip before hitting the road again – determined to try and do it in a day and be back on a late-Sunday / early-Monday ferry back to England.
Sidenote and a word of warning for anyone that fancies doing this road-trip – the tolls aren’t particularly suited to back-seat passengers and dare I say drivers too! Lloyd seemed near-dead in the front seat and was completely passed out which left me on toll-duty as my dad drove and seemingly few seemed to fall on the actual drivers sides for some reason.
Maybe my memory is rusty but thinking back to it, I don’t know what you’re supposed to do if you’re a solo driver. A few tolls on I was an expert on the pay-process but it seems bizarre that that was the case. Perhaps manned toll booths on the right side of the road were closed because it was a Sunday and this was our only option? Who knows?
Anyway, we looked for somewhere to break up the drive once again and as tempting as it may have been to return to Biarritz we wanted to see somewhere different. Bordeaux seemed like an obvious choice but we opted to go to ‘La Rochelle’ instead, I figured I was more likely to visit Bordeaux one day and why not go somewhere else.
We struck out unfortunately. Perhaps we didn’t give it enough of a chance but for a flying visit, we certainly didn’t see the best of La Rochelle and wouldn’t necessarily be inspired to return. I’ve heard good things so I’d be inclined to go back and see if it could change my mind but it was barely a lunch spot for us and left no real impression.
We hit the road again pretty quickly and from there it was the odd service station on an otherwise uneventful drive. Lloyd eventually woke from his slumber, still feeling the effects of a heavy day of drinking. Having perked up a bit we grabbed some food and then made the gradual return to Calais, Dover and Peterborough respectively.
Reflecting on the trip as a three-parter makes it more special: Köln, Amsterdam, Madrid – wow!
It’s hard to detach from the finale, hard to detach from the pain of how it ended but when you take the whole experience in to account then I can only look back on it with fondness. Amsterdam was incredible, to follow that up with a Father-Son road-trip was particularly special and it’s a footballing-adventure I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
I’m gutted that this three-parter doesn’t get the Hollywood ending it deserves but hopefully you’ve enjoyed following along anyway. If this is to be my last football-inspired blog post and how I bow out of European football, what a way to do it!
Maybe there’ll be more European adventures to come, who knows? I’ve certainly cut back on the football this side of Covid and I’d be reluctant to go back to Dortmund for the 592nd time but watch this space I guess. There’ll almost certainly be a World Cup adventure in 2026 given that the USA are one of the host countries!
Anyway, time to wrap this up! Next time on the blog? No idea! Haha.
It’s quite common for me to do a yearly wrap-up post after the year ends but given my lack of blog inactivity I figured why not do one for the half year too? I haven’t been posting much so why not share a bit of what I’ve been up to in the first six months of the year, eh?
A wedding in Washington Needless to say the highlight of 2022 so far was getting married over in Walla Walla, Washington back in April. It’s weird to think that I’ve been married for almost three months, not least because we’re still waiting on Haleigh’s visa to come through so we’re still apart as things stand but nevertheless the wedding was a wonderful time and we’ve managed to spend some time together since tying the knot at least.
I think I’ll do a more detailed post around my time in Washington at some point but it was a wonderful day and one I would happily relive. I joked on social media shortly after that I could now understand why couples get married multiple times – I’ve always loved a wedding but ours was obviously particularly special.
A honeymoon in Oregon Arriving to Portland’s latest ever snow on record wasn’t quite what I had in mind for our honeymoon but it was nice to get away for a few days. Well, the plan was a few days anyway. I think there was a part of us that considered this a mini-moon and we’d take a proper honeymoon at a later date to somewhere more exciting than the neighbouring state.
As it turned out, the snow changed our plans a little and we extended our time in Oregon by a few more days which gave us the best part of a week in snowy Portland. One of the reasons for that decision was we really wanted a day at the coast and it looked like things might brighten up come the end of the week.
Again, I’ll likely write about the trip in more detail at a later date but I’m pleased to say things did brighten up and we had a glorious sunny day over on the Oregon coast to end our time in the state.
Whether we still take a proper honeymoon or not I don’t know, maybe we’ll just have a special anniversary or something or just general travel but it was a nice way to kick off married life and enjoy some time to ourselves.
Idaho? I think I briefly mentioned this on the blog but I had a small little planning dilemma around two US weddings in April. We got married ourselves on the 9th of April and then Haleigh’s cousin got married on the 30th of April down in Salt Lake City.
Haleigh and her family were planning to drive down from Washington but timing and logistics of getting time off from work meant I decided it was best to fly home for a few days and then fly back to Utah, via Denver (no direct flights to SLC, wtf?).
However British Airways had other ideas. The day before my flight back to London I discovered that it was delayed by 18 hours! An 18 hour flight delay! Long enough to ensure I’d miss work on Monday morning and then what’s even the point? I’d be flying back to the US on Thursday!
The less said about British Airways the better to be honest, I’ve had problems with three of the four flights I’ve taken with them this year and their customer service on this particular occasion was horrendous – I spent a good hour on the phone with them trying to find a satisfactory resolution to the problem they’d created. Suffice to say they won’t be receiving a Christmas card from me this year!
My eventual solution was to stay in the US for another two weeks and drive down for wedding number two – resulting in a first visit to Idaho!
Idaho wasn’t much more than a layover, we stayed in Twin Falls for one night on the way down to Utah and did the drive back in one day so didn’t see much of it. That being said, Idaho offered a place to rest our head, some good food and a couple of pretty views!
A wedding in Utah! Wedding number two! It was never in doubt that I’d attend, my only ever issue was the logistics of essentially two separate US trips three weeks apart.
The sudden change of plan worked out for the best and more importantly it was a great couple of days catching up with Haleigh’s family and celebrating the wedding of two incredible people. This is another summarised story of a future post but definitely another highlight of 2022 thus far.
Also, Salt Lake City took me by surprise. It is everything you expect of the USA but with 360 degree mountain views. We were so busy with family stuff that we didn’t see much of the city or downtown area but it really left an impression on me. In some ways I dare say it’s one of my favourite American cities.
A return to Washington We drove back to Washington after the wedding and after a little more time together it was time for me to return to England solo! I flew home in early May and had no plans to return until Thanksgiving in November.
Alas, when you’ve had six weeks together you quickly grow to miss them when you part. Particularly when you have no idea how long the visa process might take – not helped by a certain Russian president adding to the list of immigrants applying for visas and those Ukrainians understandably largely taking priority.
Anyway, with no set reunion with Haleigh prior to Thanksgiving I pondered if I could go and visit Haleigh sooner. There were a few mitigating factors which swayed my decision but I ended up visiting Haleigh for her birthday in the middle of June. I’d received a chunky voucher from BA which offset the cost of flights entirely and then the US dropping their testing requirement was a welcome sight!
It was a lovely trip, far too short as ever but lovely nonetheless!
A quick sidenote but it seems that the US arrival process has changed entirely in the space of a few months. Firstly Seattle has a swanky new arrivals hall! Secondly you apparently collect your bags before passport checks, you no longer have to complete those pesky paper immigration forms and lastly you no longer get a passport stamp – very sad!
A birthday in Newcastle Yet more celebration, this time in England! A friend of mine was celebrating her 30th birthday in a small Northern town called Northallerton and I figured why not make a weekend of it?
I pondered staying in Northallerton for all of five seconds and then looked at alternative options. Other than a horrid hungover-filled daytrip to St James’ Park I’ve never spent any time in Newcastle and I figured this was a good excuse to stay in Newcastle for a couple of nights.
The birthday celebrations were wonderful. My friend had an Abba tribute band come and entertain with a night of Abba tunes all evening which was a fun way to celebrate.
Getting to explore Newcastle a bit more was an added bonus. I actually got to meet up with a fellow travel blogger – Sam – whilst visiting her Geordie homeland and her and her husband were great hosts and offered some good recommendations whilst in town.
Newcastle itself is a gem. I really, really liked it. It’s easy to romanticise anywhere on such a short visit but it definitely felt to me like one of those “I could live here” cities. It was 100% my kind of city and I didn’t really even delve in to its nightlife which Newcastle is well renowned for. Highly recommend a visit!
Peterborough! Lastly my home! Peterborough has served up some wonderful memories this year too. I’ve really began embracing life in Peterborough in recent years – so much so that I started a little Instagram page trying to promote the best of it.
Peterborough is winning me over. I’ll always be a Londoner at heart but I’m probably as content as I’ve ever been in Peterborough. It doesn’t get the fairest reputation but there’s fun things happening here if you make an effort to look for it.
People often dismiss it as a place where “nothing happens” but I think living in small town America for a while in 2020 has definitely helped shift my own mindset.
Just to name a few highlights this year I’ve watched live sport in a couple of different venues, live music in multiple venues, live theatre in multiple venues, tried new restaurants, enjoyed a few beers and generally just enjoyed the best this “small” city has to offer. I’ve accepted that it can never offer what London can but I think it still has plenty to offer.
I’ve actually missed out on a few fun opportunities for a variety of reasons, including an incredibly exciting debut festival that I missed having caught Covid a few days beforehand.
All in all, the first six months of 2022 have been pretty good to me. There’ve been some minor inconveniences along the way but I’ve generally made the best of each situation that I’ve had to face.
Hopefully 2022 is treating you all pretty well too? My blogging inactivity is in no means a lack of care on my part haha. I hope our paths cross more frequently, perhaps even in person now the world is opening up a bit!
I’ll continue lurking but won’t promise an imminent next post because I doubt I’ll commit to it. We shall see..
Do you ever get those posts where you just can’t spit the right words out? It wasn’t my intention for this to be my next post but I was trying to write up part two of the Köln trip and it just wouldn’t come together. I enjoyed the trip but I’m just not enjoying writing about it.
So a change of plans, here’s Amsterdam!
Strangely though, you can still consider this to be somewhat of a ‘sequel’ to that Köln post. Between visiting Köln in March and visiting Amsterdam in early May I’d actually been to three different countries but this is still perhaps the “next chapter” of an unbelievable story.
I hinted at this in my last post but I knew back in 2019, maybe even earlier than that, that change was coming my way. I was feeling good about things with Haleigh and knew that at some point I really wanted to go out and live in the USA. There was no specific date in mind but “as soon as possible” was the aim.
The only thing that stopped me doing it any earlier was balance. I’ve always been quite sensible with money but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my enjoyment just to get to my end goal a little bit earlier – balance was a must!
So I meticulously mapped out the first six months of 2019 (read me) knowing that come July I’d be in a healthy enough financial position to really think about what was next, without having to sacrifice any fun in the first six months of the year.
I calculated that I could squeeze in trips to Köln, Washington, Helsinki and Dublin in the first half of 2019 if I was strict enough with my spending but I’d left myself no wiggle room. That was it!
I often joke that football supporters probably hate the game more than those who claim not to like football. The game is rotten in so many ways that infuriate you as someone who cares about the game and, many of those reasons are ultimately part of the reason why I’ve since walked away from the game and cut down on attending.
Anyway.. Köln was my way of bowing out of European football. I had this inkling that it’d probably be my last European football away trip for quite some time, maybe ever? My priorities were changing and so it was quite bittersweet that my big finale ended up being a third trip to Dortmund.
You can’t moan about traveling to Germany really. The last couple of years in particular make you appreciate the luxuries we have but moan I did – “fucking Dortmund!”
I’d told myself that this decision came down to how willing I was to gamble. I knew this was the last season I’d be likely to do this so it was either Dortmund in the last 16 or I’d have to gamble and hope we reach the quarter finals and get a better away trip in the next round.
However I knew that there were no guarantees. It could be Dortmund now or Barcelona in the next round, in contrast it could be Dortmund or nothing. There was every chance we’d crash out of European football and that’d be my plans shattered. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d made assumptions only for Tottenham to disappoint me.
This wasn’t one of those occasions. Tottenham comfortably beat Dortmund 3-0 in London and it looked like the tie was over before we’d even got to Germany – “are you kidding me Spurs!?”.
I still had some nerves for the return fixture in Dortmund but in reality, unless Tottenham did something very stupid (see why I was nervous!?) we were very likely to be in the next round. We finished off the job in Dortmund and so it turns out that I could have waited a round. I could have gambled!
They soon did the draw for the next round and I took some solace with the knowledge that our next opponents were none other than Manchester City. If I’d gambled away four nights in Europe and had to settle for a European trip to Manchester I would have been beyond gutted – the only fixture more anti-climatic than a trip to Dortmund – we play in Manchester at least twice a year already.
The other piece of comfort was that this draw meant that this was the end of the line for Spurs. This was going to be our last European games of the season and not a trip I was going to have any regrets about. Manchester City were, and still are, far superior to Tottenham and there’s only one possible outcome to this tie. Dortmund was a 50-50 tossup but City? No chance! 85-15 in City’s favour and that’s if they have a bad day.
I don’t want to overwhelm you with football chatter so if you haven’t worked out where this is going already, catch up!
Tottenham weren’t supposed to win this tie. There are a multitude of script-like factors that played a part but fate was with Spurs and they did in fact beat Manchester City – qualifying for the next round in the most spectacular fashion. Tottenham were off to the Champions League semi finals.
I’d told myself I wasn’t going to a semi final. It was never in consideration. There was no wiggle room in my budget for more than one football trip so it was always either the round of 16 (Dortmund) or gambling for a quarter final (Manchester). The only exception I would make in addition to that would be a trip to Madrid for the final and let’s be clear that is NEVER going to happen.
The semi final happened to overlap with my mum’s birthday and that was further cause to stick by my commitment. I travel a lot but it’s rare that I’d miss a family birthday – I have no responsibilities, I can travel any time of year and I don’t particularly mind missing my own birthday but let’s be at home for the others if we can help it, eh? So I’d have to miss this one.
“I’m not doing the semi final, I’m not doing the semi final. I’m.. fuck!”
This wasn’t supposed to happen! I mean you really couldn’t make it up. I’ll turn 34 this year and for the bulk of that time Tottenham have inflicted misery upon misery over me. I wouldn’t change it for anything but that’s the reality. So in typical Tottenham fashion, even when things are going well they find a way to completely inconvenient me.
I was ready to leave my job, ready to head off to Washington for a while and Spurs threw me a curveball. You couldn’t have done this in any of the previous ten years of European football Spurs?
“I’m not doing the semi final” was a lot easier to commit to when hypothetical but an actual Champions League semi final? The only other time Tottenham have played at that stage of the competition was 1962 – this was literally once in a lifetime stuff. How could I possibly not go to Amsterdam!?
My hesitancy cost me. It’s not a mistake I usually make. Football travel 101 – you book your travel as soon as you know the game is confirmed, worry about the accommodation later but when you’re competing with thousands of other people for the same journey you don’t hang about!
I’d stupidly kid myself that I wasn’t going to Amsterdam and I suffered for it. I slept on the decision for two days and by the time I came to my senses, flight prices and Eurostar journeys from London had gone through the roof. Amsterdam is normally pretty cheap to travel to from the UK but not when every other Spurs fan is planning the same journey on the same dates.
Even for a Champions League semi final, it was hard justifying some of the prices I was seeing. Do I really want to pay this much for this trip when I could go to Amsterdam a week later for a fraction of the cost – it’s so hard to justify but this may never happen again.
I compromised, I really couldn’t justify paying stupid prices for journeys way beyond their usual value so I looked at another alternative – how much and how long would a coach take?
Amsterdam wasn’t in the budget but I couldn’t miss it so took the budget-friendliest option I could. Overnight coach from London to Amsterdam, overnight coach from Amsterdam to London, one night in a hostel in Amsterdam – let’s do this!
I booked everything and then had to send an awkward email to work. I don’t know how many of you have been guilty of this but I was on holiday in Washington and having to send my manager an email to request time off for another holiday. “I know I’m away at the moment but..” – such cheek!
A couple of weeks passed by and it was time! This was quite possibly the most ludicrous weeks of my life because I came back from Washington and started getting excited about Finland – my bank holiday plans I’d made at the start of the year.
I flew home from Helsinki on bank holiday Monday, went to work on Tuesday and then on Tuesday evening I made my way down to London Victoria. I’d been in the country less than 24 hours before running off again – quite absurd!
I grabbed some dinner on route and then picked up a couple of other snacks for the journey – best get comfy for the next 12 hours!
I wasn’t sure how busy or comfortable the journey was going to be so was quite pleased to get a window seat for the journey – towards the back of the coach with “the cool kids”. It quickly became apparent that I wasn’t the only Spurs fan on board which was an added bonus. At least half a dozen around me were also making the budget trip to Amsterdam and feeling optimistic about our chances. We’d lost the first game 1-0 in London but all was still to play for in Amsterdam.
With a lot of football chatter it made sense to keep tabs on Tuesday night’s other semi final. Barcelona had beaten Liverpool 3-0 in Spain but playing at Anfield on a European night? You never know..
With Liverpool 1-0 up and all to play for in the second half, I managed to get the game up on my phone. Let’s see how this plays out, shall we?
Liverpool turned it around, from 3-0 down to 4-3 winners! Anfield’s magic had struck again and produced one of the greatest comebacks you’re ever going to see in European football. It gave the few of us some real optimism for Amsterdam. It’s only 1-0, this tie really isn’t over yet!
The football had helped pass some of the time. Soon enough we were at the channel crossing and ready to go to mainland Europe! I wasn’t sure how we’d be crossing and had assumed by ferry but as it turned out we went over via the channel tunnel – a railway shuttle service for vehicles.
By the time we’d crossed in to Europe the mood of the bus was vastly different. The early excitement of a football adventure had been swapped for opportunist sleepers, hoping to catch a bit of shuteye before the morning. I dozed a little myself but not too much as we made stop-offs in Antwerp, Eindhoven and Utretcht. Antwerp the city that perhaps most caught my eye from the little I could see at night-time.
We continued on through the Netherlands at a rapid pace. I don’t know if the coach drivers happened to be Tottenham fans themselvess but we arrived at our bus stop in a neighbourhood called Duivendrecht two and a half hours ahead of schedule – fantastic as far as I was concerned!
Fortunately I’d been to Amsterdam before so whilst I wasn’t so familiar with Duivendrecht itself, I knew roughly where I wanted to kick off my trip – Amsterdam Centraal station please!
Amsterdam at 6am is quite the sight, a treat even. I hate waking up early when I travel but I also love seeing a city before it has had the chance to properly wake up – a bit of a dilemma but this was an occasion where I had no choice. I didn’t have a comfy hotel bed to curl up in so my only option was to have a wander along Amsterdam’s deserted streets.
Amsterdam is a beautiful city to enjoy regardless but getting to see it with nobody around was that little bit more special. I know I’ll never see Dam Square this quiet again for instance.
I had nothing I particularly wanted to do with my time in Amsterdam, it was a short and sweet trip and most of it would be preoccupied with football. I wandered off and made the most of Amsterdam being so quiet, capturing a bunch of people-free photos as I wandered around.
With places actually starting to open I soon went and found myself a little Amsterdam cafe to sit and get some tea from. I had made plans to meet up with a couple of friends later in the day but I had the morning free to myself.
After a second cup of tea I meandered on over to Amsterdam’s ‘MuseumPlein’ – home to a park and some of Amsterdam’s most famous museums. It’s a pretty area so wasn’t an entirely wasted walk but it turns out that the likes of the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum were fully booked – it seems football fans aren’t completely uncultured hooligans and the thousands of Brits in town had had a knock-on effect.
I did some more wandering of Amsterdam’s canals before finding myself a place to grab some lunch. By the time I’d finished I was able to head over towards the hostel I was staying at for the night and check in. I’d stayed at Amsterdam’s Flying Pigs hostel before and although I don’t tend to stay in hostels as frequently anymore, for one night it seemed pretty ideal to be somewhere central and somewhere I also knew.
I checked in to my 6 bed dorm around 1ish and proceeded to find two near-dead Americans who weren’t able to rise from their beds and were still suffering a bit from the night before. They’d got caught up with the influx of Spurs fans in town on Tuesday night and seemingly suffered the hangover that followed. A couple of others sharing our dorm also turned up and we mingled about our various plans before I bid my farewell – extending an invitation or warning perhaps dependent upon your perspective.
“Dam Square..” – come join the party or avoid at all costs but either way it’s going to be busy and it’s going to be loud. I left my hostel dorm and I could hear Dam Square before I could see it – the English have arrived.
The beers were flowing, the Brits were serenading Amsterdam – Glory glory, Tottenham Hotspur. The rest of the afternoon was spent embracing the atmosphere and catching up with friends – Daniel and Natalie had also made the journey over to Amsterdam and so here we were in yet another country for Spurs.
Sadly this was one of the occasions where getting a ticket for the game was impossible. Nevertheless we wanted to be here, part of the atmosphere that only these European trips can offer – nothing can replicate the feeling of being amongst “your own”.
As kickoff approached Spurs fans scuttered off in various directions, not helped by the rain. We tried one pub on Dam Square which was rammed and had no luck getting in to. We ventured off down a side street and stumbled upon an Irish pub which seemed suitable enough for the evening. No idea where Natalie ended up, we somehow got separated and she ended up watching the game with another friend elsewhere.
By this point the nerves had kicked in, this was undoubtedly one of the biggest games in Tottenham’s history and please Spurs, just once eh?
BAM! Five minutes in and Ajax have scored to put them 1-0 up on the night and 2-0 up overall. That was not the start we wanted!
Time ticked on and Ajax have done it again, 2-0 up on the night and 3-0 ahead in the tie. I’ve had various and numerous Spurs disappointments over the years but is this really how this is going to play out? Our biggest game in my lifetime and we’re just going to crash out with a whimper? I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry at a Spurs team or performance. I’ve undoubtedly seen worse performances but on this stage it was unacceptable and indefensible. If we lose to Ajax then so be it, they’re a good team but at least do it the right way. At least give us a chance. Gutless, spineless, pathetic.
I considered getting up and going at half time. Let’s not pretend I can’t find a million other ways to actually enjoy my evening in Amsterdam. Something possessed me to stay, I dare say hope but in reality I must just enjoy the misery that comes with following Spurs. Why else let them put me through the ringer year after year, season after season, disappointment after disappointment?
“If Ajax score again I’m gone..” I say to Daniel. If we could just get one early goal in the second half, you just never know.
BAM! Lucas Moura! 2-1 on the night, 3-1 overall. The pub roars and for the first time there’s that glimmer of hope, just a small dash. Could we?
BAM! Four minutes later, Lucas Moura again! Beers go flying everywhere, this Tottenham dominated pub goes delirious. Belief for the very first time! Half an hour to go, only one goal needed, game on! The nerves have returned.
The next half an hour was agonising. So close and yet so far, every Ajax attack sent fear through my body, every missed opportunity for Spurs caused despair.
With a couple of minutes to go a cross comes in to the box, Vertonghen gets his head on it and..
BAM crossbar. Argh! That was the chance! That had to go in!
Now this is typical Tottenham isn’t it? I was suddenly backtracking on my earlier hopes. This tie was dead and buried, Spurs had no chance but they couldn’t just leave it alone and allow me to suffer an embarrassing 12-0 defeat. No. It’d be much more fun to play like idiots for three halves of football, offer you that little bit of hope and then crush you in the finale.
Time ticked on and Ajax wasted every wasting second they could. Five minutes of injury time to play and another chance comes and goes. This is always the way with Spurs, it’s fucking cruel. So close and so far – no happy ending here.
Ajax waste more time and it seems like that is probably that. We get the ball back with seconds to go and boot a hopeful ball forward, we need a miracle. Hit and hope.
Llorente knocks it down, Dele flicks it on, MOURA!!!!!! 95:01 on the clock. Are you fucking kidding!? What the fuck just happened!?
Beers go flying again – more this time. Bodies go flying too. I’m thrown one way, Daniel the other direction as everyone piles in for a massive group-hug. Seriously, what the fuck just happened? How did that happen!? I have no words.
Things calm down long enough to watch the game kick off again. Now this would be typical Tottenham wouldn’t it? Surely even we can’t mess this one up? The referee finds another minute from somewhere, god knows where and prayers are being spoken all over Amsterdam. Erik Lamela decides the 97th minute of a Champions League semi final is the perfect time to do some stepovers and tricks on the edge of his box and proceeds to lose the ball – I daren’t repeat the words that came out of my mouth in the seconds that followed.
Time and place Erik, time and place! Get rid of the fucking ball man!
The final whistle goes and the pub roars again, very little beer left to throw by this point.
Myself and Daniel are finally reunited and we share a look that transcends words. Bemusement shared with the biggest grins imaginable, no explanation to what we’ve just witnessed. We embrace in a massive hug and I’ve completely gone by this point – the tears are streaming down my face. Spurs are going to Madrid for the Champions League final. Spurs have actually done it!
Myself and Daniel part and seconds later I’m crying in the arms of another Spurs fan and another and another. Swept up in the aftermath of multiple celebrations I head up to bar, just wanting a glass of water to catch my breath and I’m turned away – no service, not even for a quick glass of water – it’s closing time from the party-poopers.
Not that it mattered. The celebrations spilled out in to the streets and everyone is heading in the same direction – Dam Square! It is rammed with Spurs fans.
I still can’t stop crying. Pride just pouring out of me, happiness pouring out of me. Happiness for myself, happiness for every other Spurs supporter, player, manager and everyone associated with this wonderful, wonderful football club that I love and loathe in equal measure.
It’s evident at just how much this means to everyone but it’s just so hard to put in to words. Even now I well up when I think of that night. More hugs follow with stranger after stranger after stranger and I still can’t stop crying – this stuff just doesn’t happen to Spurs.
I can’t express just how many strangers I embraced and shared hugs with. It’s quite weird to think a year later we were in lockdown and couldn’t hug anyone! I got my 2020’s worth in one night!
The mood around Dam Square was just incredible and it wasn’t long before songs were ringing around the square! I somewhat felt for the hotel occupants that were probably hoping for a quiet night in an expensive hotel right on Dam Square and found hundreds singing on their doorstep in to the early hours – glory, glory Tottenham Hotspur!
I was reluctant to drag myself away but I was starting to feel quite dehydrated by this point and was desperate to go and find a bottle of water somewhere. I bid my farewells to Daniel and Natalie (who we bumped into again in Dam Square) and called it a night – back to the hostel.
I reeked of beer and debated taking a shower but that’s the one downside to hostel life, I didn’t want to disturb those already in bed and decided I’d just have to make do with a beer-drenched sleep – assuming that I could sleep.
I was still on such a high, laying in bed with yet more tears streaming down my face. I finally had a chance to catch up with some of the online reaction to what can only be described as one of the best nights of my life and seeing that joy shared only set me off further. Am I ever going to stop crying? I tucked my phone away and hoped that eventually my tear-filled eyes would allow me to sleep.
The next morning I woke from the strangest of dreams before remembering that actually, yes that did happen last night. It may well have been the stench of beer that helped remind me so I took the opportunity to shower before then checking out of my hostel.
I had nothing planned for my Thursday. In all honesty I couldn’t focus on anything else but football. My body was in the beautiful city of Amsterdam, my head was in Madrid – it’s all I could think about and working out the logistics of how I was going to get there.
I returned to a much quieter Dam Square and went in search of some breakfast, eventually finding a little place serving some crepes. They just so happened to have a little TV in the corner that were of course showing the highlights from the night before which I couldn’t take my eyes off – still in disbelief.
After breakfast I went wandering, off down one of Amsterdam’s canals but it was no use. I felt guilty but I just had no appreciation for where I was.
Sure Amsterdam’s pretty but I just want to go back to England and think about Madrid. I even went as far as looking for a Eurostar ticket and came very close to booking the next possible train but couldn’t justify spending a couple of hundred pound or whatever it was on a one way ticket – I’m just going to have to hang around in Amsterdam until my coach later this evening.
The nice thing about Amsterdam is that it’s a great city for doing nothing, it’s so easy to wander and not really care where you end up. I couldn’t tell you where I went in truth. Along this canal, down this street, across that bridge and being a glorious sunny day it was quite nice to get lost.
Eventually I stumbled upon a bar which I liked the look of and thought I’d stop off for a drink. I took a seat at the bar and by chance the guy to my right just so happened to be another Spurs supporter, a Spurs fan from Helsinki of all places! I mentioned that I’d just been to Helsinki and he offered a few recommendations for next time and then taught me a few Finnish words which was quite fun.
We grabbed another beer and ordered some ‘bitterballen’ which I hadn’t tried before (delicious) before eventually going our separate ways. I wandered a little more but by this point I was just killing time really, not too much longer and I’d be catching my coach home.
I decided to pop over to Amsterdam’s Hard Rock Cafe to get a late lunch and an early dinner. Being Amsterdam, its HRC inevitably overlooks a canal but I took seat at the bar as it was a little busy in the restaurant which ended up working in my favour. I always like the HRC, I’ve ticked off a few on my travels but this occasion was particularly memorable.
I finished off my food and the barman comes back and asks if I fancy another beer – “on the house!”.
How could I possibly say no to that? A wonderful gesture for no reason at all. I had plenty of time to kill so of course, another beer sounds perfect! I was so grateful!
From there it was a gradual winddown to departure. The free beer had certainly perked up my mood for Amsterdam but there wasn’t anything I really wanted to do. The most logical thing would probably to have gone elsewhere to grab a drink but I didn’t really fancy that either ahead of a long journey. I decided to just walk over to the bus stop, a good few miles away.
It was a nice way of seeing parts of Amsterdam I hadn’t ventured to previously. I didn’t walk the whole way in the end, maybe half of it before hopping on the metro. I’d gone from loads of time to kill to a mini-panic that I’d dawdled too much and now time wasn’t on my side.
I needn’t have worried as I got to the bus station with far too much time and nothing in the area but at least I was on time. I popped to a nearby supermarket to grab a bottle of water for the journey.
Frustratingly my card proceeded to decline and I had nowhere to get any cash out so was just about to put the water back before a kind stranger stepped in – lucking out with another freebie!
The journey back to Amsterdam was a little busier – no idea why but I guess a few fancied a trip to London. There were again a couple of Spurs fans on board who I got talking to – Madrid inevitably the hot topic.
This time we were taking a ferry journey across the channel which was the first time I’d done so for many, many years. Despite being well versed in travel, sea-travel is seemingly not my comfort zone! Stick me up in the sky and I’m generally fine but ferries? Bleurgh..
I felt woozy pretty early on and hoped to just ride out the journey as smoothly as possible. One of my new bus-friends came and found me and insisted I join him and shared his life story before proceeding to try and get a little sleep on the ferry.
As tired as I was, sleeping wasn’t an option for me. I closed my eyes at one point and that was a terrible decision. It just seemed to heighten my senses and awareness that we were on the water and bobbing along – terrible!
Eventually we were back in England and back on the coach but the rest of the journey was horrible. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was going to be sick. Ferry travel had not agreed with me at all and a claustrophobic-feeling coach wasn’t helping either.
I’d hoped to try and sleep it off but this was typically a much livelier bus on this occasion. We’d picked up a few youngsters in a dodgy-looking part of Brussels who were perfectly friendly but meant there was a lot more chatter on the way home. Nobody, myself included, seemed to kick up any fuss about the noise and ordinarily I don’t think I’d have cared at all but I felt so awful that it just added to my misery.
We got back as far as London and it just seemed to take an age to get to Victoria. I’d got this far without feeling sick, don’t be sick now! Fortunately I wasn’t, I held out but it seemed like the second we got to Victoria and got off the bus I then let it all out.
I’d booked an overnight coach for a multitude of reasons but one last reason I’d booked a Thursday evening coach was that I wouldn’t have to take Friday off work. I felt so awful though that I ended up texting my boss and asking for another day of holiday – a waste but I just couldn’t face going in to work after such a torrid journey home.
and that was that. This post went on much longer than I thought it would do but how could it not? If you made it this far, well done! I appreciate it was quite football-heavy but genuinely one of the greatest nights of my life and the fact I’d started the week in Helsinki means it probably ranks as one of the best weeks of my life.
A post on Helsinki and part two of that Köln trip will come soon but next up? A roadtrip to Madrid for a Champions League final – featuring Spurs!!
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
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.
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.
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..”
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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 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!).
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.
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!
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?
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.
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 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..?”
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!