Hey there dear readers! Last time out on the blog I hinted that my next post would be about my trip to Finland but before I delve in to that, I thought it’d be good to give you a little bit of background so I’m giving you a bonus post this week to whet the appetite a bit.
Some of you will already know this but I grew up living with a Finnish grandmother and consequently Finland was always a country which held interest for me. Truthfully, I wish that I’d shown more interest whilst she was still here. I’m sure that she had many great stories of life in Finland and it would have been nice to have been better connected to that heritage but I was a kid when she died and perhaps didn’t fully appreciate that luxury at the time.
Nevertheless Finland was always somewhere close to my heart and any vague connection to Finland pleased me. Be it vague Finland mentions in a movie, Lordi winning the Eurovision Song Contest or Tottenham’s first Finn (Teemu Tainio) representing the football club – I’ve always felt that little bit closer to the country when I see the country venturing in to popular culture.
Teemu’s arrival at Spurs was particularly pleasing. I’d grown up watching legendary Finns such as Jari Litmanen and Sami Hyypia play for clubs such as Liverpool but to see a Finn playing for Spurs, not long after my Grandma’s death, made me instantly connect and root for Teemu.
That Finnish heritage has meant that Finland has always been a country that I’ve wanted to visit. It was a dream destination for me to one day visit Finland. My sister shares that same dream and we’ve lived off of the scraps and stories we’ve heard from family that have visited (Dad, Aunt and one of Grandma’s brothers).
Speaking of the latter, every year as kids myself and Natasha would receive a phonecall directly from Lapland. “Santa was on the phone ready to wish us Merry Christmas”.
How cool is that? Santa had our home phone number and phoned every year! Apparently he had a really good relationship with Grandma!
Anyway, I’ve always wanted to visit. I’ve come close a couple of times in the past but both of those ideas fell through. In August 2014 Tottenham arranged to play a friendly against Scottish team ‘Celtic’ in Helsinki – a weird location for such a fixture but a tempting excuse for a visit to Finland.
In the end I thought better of it. Did I really want my first trip to Finland to be football related? Perhaps had it been Finnish opposition but a battle of Britain game?? Being a friendly in a foreign country I couldn’t envisage much trouble between the two sets of supporters, nor much interest in either set of fans actually traveling to Finland but nevertheless a trip with a bunch of drunken British football fans didn’t quite appeal enough to make my first Finland visit.
A few years later I booked myself flights to Helsinki. I was running low on annual leave in 2018 but the dates fell really nicely for a New Years trip to Finland at the end of the year.
Alas Haleigh decided to make her first visit to England at the end of that year so that plan quickly fell apart. I contemplated whether myself and Haleigh go but then remembered that I’d also actually RSVP’d to a 31st December wedding so abandoned any hopes of celebrating the New Year in Finland.
There was definitely a twinge of disappointment at missing out on my first trip to Finland. Come the first payday of 2019 I was adamant that I’d be going to Finland this year. I worked out my budget for the first six months of the year, mapped out my travel plans (here) and booked myself that flight to Helsinki – a three day bank holiday getaway! Hurrah!
I was so excited to finally be going to Finland but I had such a busy start to 2019 that it was kind of easy to forget about until nearer the time. I’d had a pretty quiet end to 2018 where nothing seemed to be going on and then 2019 went completely the other way.
My social life went in to overdrive, Tottenham’s new stadium opened their doors which brought back an enthusiasm to going to the football. I visited Germany, Belgium and the USA in the first four months of the year. It was a crazy, crazy few months that seemed to absolutely fly by.
I returned from Washington at the end of April and sure enough, the first May bank holiday was just a few days later. I was sad to leave Haleigh behind in Washington yet again but so excited for a trip to Finland in just SIX days! I’d barely stepped foot in England and was off on my travels again for the first of three, maybe four trips in May!
and then for the first time in my life it really dawned on me that I was going to Finland. It’s hard to explain but as much as I felt connected to Finland, it had always been a bit of an illusion. A place of magic and fantasy.
Finland was my dream destination and although I’d ticked off other dream destinations such as Sydney or New York City, I don’t think I really realised how much visiting Finland meant to me until the week leading up to the trip.
Finland was no longer a mythical country that I’d only ever dreamed about – my European Disneyland. It was flawless. I loved Finland without having ever stepped foot in the country.
Now I was actually going – “Fuck..”
I liken it to Disneyland and I don’t even know that I’m exaggerating there because in 30+ years on Earth it had never crossed my mind that Finland was anything other than perfect. It’d be easy to assume that’s childish delusion but then as you grow older you learn more about the world and Finland ranks high on a number of issues – education, environment, blah, blah, blah. Finland is perfect!
Then a couple of days beforehand the thought crossed my mind – “what if it’s not?”
It was a question that I’d never asked myself until now – days before going to Finland. You don’t want to take your kids to Disneyland only to find out that Mickey’s a bit of a dick. You’d be better never taking them to Disney and believing what you want to believe rather than learn a reality and have their dreams and beliefs shattered.
“Mum, does Mickey hate me? Does Mickey hate children..?” – Ooof, heart-breaking.
FYI I absolutely believe Disney is a magical place and does a fabulous job of selling that. Mickey is also lovely, obviously, but you get the point.
What if instead of being the 12/10 destination that I’d always known, Finland was only actually an eight? Or dare I say a two or a three? What’s Helsinki going to be like? Am I going to like the food? Are the people going to be friendly? Everyone says Finns are standoffish and reserved. Am I going to HATE Finland?
Any traveler will tell you that you don’t love everywhere that you visit. There are some places on my travels that didn’t wow me or I just didn’t seem to connect with. What if Finland was to become one of those countries for me? All of my beliefs about Finland were now unraveling right in front of me.
I came to the realisation that if Finland wasn’t as perfect as I’d always believed it to be that I was going to be crushed, heartbroken even. I wasn’t prepared for that. Nobody ever tells you that your dream destination might not pan out as you’d hoped.
Where there should have been excitement for this trip, I was now petrified. The nerves had taken over. In my head there was SO much pressure on Finland to deliver and just keep my Disneyland vibes intact.
I couldn’t shake the feeling leading up to departure. I’d stayed in a hotel at Heathrow on Friday night which made traveling very easy the following morning. On Saturday I went to the airport where usually any jitters evaporate but in my head the over-thinking was still eating away at me.
“What if I don’t go..?”
“You’re at the bloody airport Jason..”
The gate number pops up on the screen at Heathrow. Still plenty of time to change my mind but I wander over to my gate nonetheless. There’s a little wait before we can board and I’m just sat in a nearby seat – legs visibly shaking, head all over the place.
“No, nervous Finlander..”
It’s easily the most nervous I’ve ever been before taking off. This trip had the potential to shatter every illusion I had ever held about Finland. My nerves settled enough for me to at least board – window seat!
It was quite nice flying in Europe on anything other than Ryanair or Easyjet – my go-to for European adventures but on this occasion I was “treated” to a first flight with Finnair.
Would I love Finland, would I loathe Finland? Who knows but either way this was it. I was going! A few hours later I’d be landing in Helsinki and I’d be getting my first taste of a country I’ve dreamed of visiting for a lifetime.
Hey there, dear readers! I’m back in the groove, blogging weekly so here’s another 2019 adventure for you to enjoy!
I kicked off 2019 by mapping out my travel plans and of course at the top of the agenda was booking a trip to see Haleigh in good ol’ Washington State! April’s always a good travel month for that – public holidays to take advantage of and it’s usually not too busy at work. I figured an Easter break would work quite nicely.
Using just five days annual leave I managed to wrangle 11 days in Washington, kicking off the trip on the Wednesday before the Easter weekend.
I’ve done this journey a fair few times now but as we inched closer to the Canada / Washington border I was just in awe of the views below me. I say below me but barely, we felt that close to the mountains that I’m not sure I needed a parachute to hop out and have some fun in the snow – “Excuse me pilot, anywhere here will do..”
It was a breathtaking entrance in to Seattle. After landing I was keen to breeze through and get to my hotel ASAP – football had occupied much of my thoughts on the flight over and I knew Spurs would be playing shortly after my landing. I was hopeful I’d be able to catch the game.
That plan didn’t materialise. There wasn’t really anywhere near my hotel to watch the game and unfortunately I couldn’t find it on TV anywhere in the hotel – I had to settle for repeated “refresh, refresh, refresh” on my phone and hope that a combination of the BBC, Twitter, friends and family would keep me updated on the decisive Champions League clash with City. I’d watched Tottenham beat Manchester City in London a week earlier so we were just one “good” result away from progressing to our first Champions League semi final for 57 years.
I say “good result”. We actually lost 4-3 but that was enough to see us progress to the next stage. It was a dramatic and unforgettable finish to the game but the important thing was that we had progressed – what a way to kick off the trip!
I’d told myself that I wasn’t going to the semi final in Amsterdam in any hypothetical scenario that saw us qualify but I was ecstatic nonetheless!
Haleigh had her last day of teaching before their spring break so had to work on the Wednesday. She was driving over to Seattle later that day and we planned to spend the night in Seattle before returning East the following day.
Between Spurs victory and Haleigh’s arrival I didn’t really do much. I stayed quite close to the airport out of convenience and couldn’t be bothered making the journey in to downtown Seattle for the sake of a couple of hours. I think that ordinarily I might have squeezed in a nap but I was on too big of a high.
“No, no, no, no, no. I’m not going..”
Haleigh arrived a few hours later and we had a pretty relaxed evening. I don’t think we did much, I don’t even think we went back out for food and possibly had a pizza delivered to our room. I really can’t remember.
At the time Haleigh was living in Moses Lake still but we were planning to spend some of the break with Haleigh’s family in Walla Walla, so the next day we were heading back to Walla Walla with a little detour on the way.
It’s a little out of the way but we decided we’d go and visit a famous picturesque little town called Leavenworth. I say famous loosely as I’m sure there’ll be some of you who’ve never heard of it but Leavenworth is well known for having transformed itself in to a Bavarian town. Here in the heart of Washington was a little slice of Germany.
Leavenworth is lovely. As soon as you arrive you’re treated to picturesque mountain views surrounding the town and driving through you instantly appreciate the Bavarian style architecture.
We found ourselves a place to park so that we could have a look around and one of the first things that I spotted was that the street signs were in both English and German – a nice touch I thought.
Leavenworth isn’t particularly big. Like many American towns, it’s apparently a city but in my eyes barely more than a tourist town with a couple of streets to have a wander along. We popped our heads in to a few shops selling bits and pieces.
Whilst a very pretty place, there isn’t a huge amount to discover in Leavenworth. I think they go all out around Oktoberfest and Christmas and give you the “authentic” German experience of both but in April there’s not much going on and it was pretty quiet.
After mooching about for a bit we went and found a restaurant to grab some lunch at – the “BärenHaus” which was a nice pub restaurant selling typical German-style food. Haleigh grabbed one of her favourites (a Reuben which comes with Sauerkraut) and I probably ordered myself a Wiener Schnitzel because “when in Germany” it’d be rude not to!
Following on from lunch we had one last glimpse of Leavenworth before deciding to hit the road, it’d had been a worthwhile detour and I’m sure I’ll return one day. Hopefully coinciding with either Oktoberfest or Christmas-time to see how Leavenworth really sells Germany for those unable or unwilling to leave the USA to experience the real thing.
From Leavenworth we headed straight to Walla Walla – another drive showing off Washington’s scenic mountain views. I never tire of the drive – perhaps helped by the fact I don’t have to worry about doing the driving but it’s so pretty over there. A few hours later we’d arrived in the familiar setting of Walla Walla and settled in at the grandparent’s house who were kindly accommodating us for the weekend.
We mingled for a bit before calling it a night and relaxing in our room for the weekend. Amsterdam was still weighing on my mind as I went to sleep – ever more tempting as time passed. “Do I go..?”
Having slept on it I decided that I had to. A Champions League semi final featuring Spurs? Come on.. when is that ever going to happen again?
My indecision affected my plans. I should have been straight on it and getting those flights or trains booked up but by the time I’d come to my senses prices had sky-rocketed for both. I couldn’t justify the high prices so in the end found an alternative compromise and settled for an overnight coach trip to and from Amsterdam – bonkers but I had to be there!
All booked. I had to ridiculously start my day by emailing work requesting more time off. “I know I’m in Washington but..”
Amsterdam was sorted, I could finally and fully focus on Washington and the company I had with me. Later in the day myself, Haleigh and her brother (Ben) made the short trip over to the Tri Cities. We usually visit at least once whenever I visit as with the three combined cities (Tri-Cities, duh!) it’s a bit bigger than Walla Walla and a good place to hang out for a few hours.
We kicked off our afternoon with a little time at one of the parks in Richland which sits along the Colombia River. We popped our heads in to a small store with a bunch of art and bits and pieces before strolling along the river. I think Ben and Haleigh did a little Pokemon-hunting whilst I settled for grabbing some photos of the pretty views.
From the park we headed in to the Tri Cities to check out the mall. There’s a decent sized mall in the Tri Cities and it’s much better for shopping and picking up a few bits. We visited a few of our usual favourites including the likes of Barnes and Noble, likely grabbed some food at Olive Garden and then made our way back to Walla Walla for the evening.
The rest of the Easter weekend was spent enjoying time with the family and eating good food.
For such a religious country I find it baffling that there’s little love for the Easter holiday. Unlike the UK, it’s business as usual on Easter Monday so we headed home to Moses Lake on the Sunday afternoon.
I entertained myself on Monday whilst Haleigh worked. I wandered in to town and paid a visit to some of my Moses Lake favourites that I have a lot of love for. I grabbed myself some tea at my favourite coffee shop, enjoyed some lunch downtown and then had a wander along the lake before calling it a day.
Monday evening and Tuesday was pretty relaxed. It’s nice to have a home base to enjoy a trip and not have to think about work, just sit back and relax a little. I had such a busy start to 2019 and there was no sign of that letting up in the weeks ahead so it was good to have some proper downtime on this trip.
On the Wednesday I ventured back in to town. Much like Monday I just mooched about a little, grabbed some lunch and then popped in to Moses Lake’s museum for a little while. It’s free to visit and the perk of visiting every so often is that the exhibit had usually changed in-between trips. On this occasion there was an exhibit based on the history of the local school which was pretty cool to learn about.
In the evening our friends, Maddie and Cassie, popped in to town so we went for dinner together at a favourite local restaurant called Rock Top. I hadn’t personally seen Maddie and Cassie since their wedding so it was nice for the four of us to catch up whilst I was in Washington. We had a nice evening before they made the drive back to Ellensburg and we headed home.
On Thursday evening we had another outing. There was some career fayre kind of thing going on at some school in the Tri-Cities which Haleigh wanted to attend so we decided we’d go and spend the evening in the Tri-Cities. One of Haleigh’s teaching friends ended up joining us for the trip so in the end they attended together and I was left to amuse myself.
I didn’t want to be a million miles away from the school and there wasn’t an awful lot in the vicinity but one thing that caught my eye was a nearby brewery which I thought would be perfect spot to wait.
It wasn’t the easiest to find actually, it’s in quite a bizarre location on the suitably named ‘Railroad Ave’. There was actually some cool street art on route that made it an interesting walk but the brewery felt like it was otherwise in the middle of nowhere just on the other side of the tracks. It was a little too quiet for my liking – very little traffic and I’m not sure it’d feel the safest walking there after dark but fortunately it was light out.
Location aside, the brewery was lovely. It felt very off-the-beaten-path but still busy as I walked up with a few cars parked up and a lively atmosphere with a few people enjoying a beer outside. I walked in and first impressions were good. I took seat at the bar and ordered myself a flight. Along one of the corridors was various bits of train-inspired artwork and memorabilia which I guess correlated with the brewery’s location. All in all, it was a good place to hang out for an hour or so.
I think originally myself and Haleigh had talked about doing something together in the Tri-Cities but as Haleigh’s friend had tagged along we ended up just grabbing some food on the road and driving back to Moses Lake.
Unfortunately it didn’t seem like Haleigh had really had the chance to enjoy any time in the Tri-Cities and the school-career-thingy was a bit of a bust too so a wasted trip for Haleigh – although I very much appreciated the brewery visit haha.
Friday was a pretty chilled day. We enjoyed our final evening together and just hung out before calling it a night. The next day Haleigh drove me back to Seattle in time to catch my flight. The mountain views were as pretty as ever on the drive back – lots of snow on the mountains which was cool!
I left Seattle with mixed feelings. Being in a long-distance relationship is always difficult and of course I was going to miss Haleigh, not 100% sure when we’d next see eachother. It was bittersweet to be leaving so soon.
That said, I also knew that I had two imminent trips coming. I had two further trips to look forward to in the next ten days! Just one week of work and I’d be off on my travels again!
I was SO excited to be going to Amsterdam but before that? A first trip to Finland!!!
That story will be next up on the blog. Stay tuned!
Hello dear readers! I suggested in my last post that I was hoping to get back in to the habit of blogging regularly, ideally weekly, so I’m going to at the very least try and start the year well and I guess we’ll see how it pans out in the long run.
For a multitude of reasons things have gotten a little out of sync in terms of chronological travel blog posts but we’re going to rewind back to the, quite frankly ludicrous, year of 2019.
Some of you may recall that 2019 was a year of footballing adventures that defied any expectations I’ve ever had of Spurs. A strange, strange time that resulted in trips to Dortmund (Köln), Amsterdam and a Champions League final in Madrid (what!!?).
This story begins in Köln (Cologne). Now, I need not tell some of you about my love/hate relationship with Köln. It’s all love now and the end to this story will epitomise that but I’ve visited the city so many times that there has certainly been some anti-climatic feelings about visiting Köln.
This particular trip to the city was my fourth overall but more importantly my third visit in just three years – a tad too much time in one city. I had four nights booked off of work and I knew I couldn’t do the entirety of that in Köln, I decided upon a healthy balance of two nights in Köln and two nights somewhere else that was convenient enough to travel to.
I’ve been to this region a lot. I weighed up options in Germany, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands and looked for any and every bit of inspiration imaginable and perhaps unsurprisingly football served up that bit of inspiration. I scoured through the football schedule knowing that their had to be some European games on somewhere – that’s why I was here to begin with after all – to watch Tottenham in Dortmund on Tuesday night.
What games were on Wednesday night? What games were on Thursday night? Eintracht Frankfurt v Inter Milan? YES! Frankfurt’ll do! Sign me up for that! Four nights, two in Köln, two in Frankfurt – sorted!
Alas it turns out that Eintracht had planned ahead and sold tickets months in advance to its most loyal supporters. They’d sold tickets earlier in the season on the possibility that Eintracht’s European exploits continued so tickets for a game only confirmed in February had been sold in the prior December. The game was guaranteed to be a home sell out crowd – Inter Milan a fitting occasion for those loyal supporters who’d signed up blindly but an absolute nuisance for a daytripper such as myself.
I was out of luck in terms of obtaining a ticket with the home supporters but how difficult would it be to get tickets as an Inter Milan away fan? I can be Italian for 90 minutes, right?
Sadly I was out of luck there too. This was probably the ‘glamour’ tie of the competition that week and a great match-up but I wouldn’t be attending. I figured I’d just have to settle for soaking up the atmosphere in Frankfurt and then finding a pub to watch the game in later that evening.
I flew out to Köln with the intention of being in Frankfurt two days later but there was this nagging voice eating away at me. “Why are we going to Frankfurt again?”
Perhaps I was judging it too harshly but I had no real desire to go to Frankfurt. Fellow travel blogger Marion actually sells it very well here but as it got closer and closer I couldn’t shake this feeling that I wasn’t actually that bothered about visiting Frankfurt. For football it made absolute sense but without a ticket I lost the only interest I had in visiting the city.
I hadn’t yet booked trains from Köln to Frankfurt and given I was flying home from Köln too I didn’t really have a need to go to Frankfurt. I had free cancellation for the hotel that I’d booked so I had no financial investment weighing me down either.
I repeatedly mulled it over on Monday evening in Köln. If not Frankfurt, where? I’ve been to this region so many times. Other German cities, the Netherlands, Belgium, France.. I explored several different options, calculated the time and costs involved and whether they were worthwhile.
Amsterdam was one place particularly calling for me to return. Ironically I ended up back there a few weeks later anyway so I’m glad I didn’t waste this trip on Amsterdam. I’d resigned myself to the reality that Frankfurt was where I’d be heading on Wednesday morning.
I woke up on Tuesday and gave myself one last glimpse, one last opportunity to find an alternative and another at the top of my wishlist jumped out at me – Brugge or Bruges as you may know it.
I’d been to Brugge before but I feel like it’s somewhere that I had unfinished business with. Firstly I only visited on a daytrip, that’s actually a good amount of time in Brugge but the prospect of staying overnight really did appeal to me. Secondly I’d previously visited with friends, I really enjoyed the company and we had a great time in Brugge together but there’s something about discovering a place solo that also really appealed to me – a new way to experience the destination. Then lastly, I had no photos from my time in Brugge. Technology failed me and I arrived in the city without any way of capturing the occasion. Fortunately I was with friends and so there are photos from our time there but when I blogged about it the first time I had to pinch photos from my friends Kelly and Walker to help “tell the story”.
I felt inspired to go back to Brugge and managed to find a hotel that was cheaper than the one I was staying at in Frankfurt. The train tickets were also cheaper so it was a bit of a no-brainer. Take a cheaper trip to somewhere I actually wanted to go to or stick with “the plan” and spend more to visit somewhere I wasn’t that fussed about?
Spontaneity won the day! I’d come to Germany with the intention of spending four days in Germany but a last minute change of plans meant that I was actually whisking off to another country for a couple of days – Belgium, here I come!
On Wednesday morning I woke up excited and checked out of my “usual” hotel in Köln. See you soon Germany, I’m off to Belgium!
There isn’t a direct train from Cologne to Bruges so I would have to change in Brussels. I made sure to catch quite an early train which meant I arrived in to Brussels before lunch. Had I not also been to Brussels so many times I might have been inclined to have taken a little detour over to Grand Place and had a wander but I decided I’d just head onwards to Brugge.
A little while later I’d arrived and tried to recall which way I needed to go. I’d previously visited in December when the city is much busier, it’s a pretty place to visit at Christmas time but crowds are much less sparse in March and although I had a vague idea of where I needed to go, the option of “follow everyone else” wasn’t really much of an option on this occasion.
I have quite the habit of romanticising a lot of the places I visit and before returning I pondered if Brugge would be as pretty as I remembered it. It didn’t take long for me to be reminded of its beauty. Walking along its cobbled roads in to the heart of the city is just breathtakingly beautiful. It’s such a magical place. I kept stopping to take photo after photo.
By the time I reached the centre it was too soon to check in to my hotel so I went and found myself some lunch – opting for something typically flemish – pizza?
Alright, maybe not but it was beginning to rain and so I just ducked in to this Italian restaurant a few yards in front of me that seemed as good a spot as any to grab some lunch at.
After lunch I just went for a wander. One of the things I particularly love about Brugge is its a good place to get lost in. Head in any direction and you’re likely to find something pretty or discover something you’ve not seen previously. I’d been here before, I had nothing that I particularly wanted to do but I could just walk aimlessly for hours here.
Eventually I popped over to my hotel to check in and drop my things off. I relaxed for a little but before my attention turned to plans for the evening. I had a quick look online for any potential evening entertainment but struck out so decided I’d just go have some dinner, enjoy a few Belgian beers and perhaps watch the evening’s football somewhere. Being quite a touristy place means it isn’t difficult and in the end I returned to an Irish pub we’d gone to on the previous trip.
Following on from a few beers I wandered back in the direction of my hotel. Although Brugge is quite a touristy place, it’s largely a popular day-trip for a lot of people and certainly at this time of year was pretty quiet after dark. I had much of Brugge to myself and it was peaceful and pretty in equal measure which was a great opportunity to try and capture some night-time photos without hordes of people around before heading off to sleep.
The next morning I woke up and had a relaxed start before mapping out my plans for the day. Having not done so on my first visit I was really keen to climb Brugge’s famous Belfry on this occasion and made that my first stop of the day.
When we’d come previously there looked to be long queues but fortunately I arrived soon after they opened their doors and also being March it wasn’t so busy anyway. The Belfry operate a one-in, one-out policy so you might have a little wait for other visitors to make their way down again but I didn’t have to wait particularly long.
It’s a 366 step climb to the top of the Belfry, I don’t recall it being particularly strenuous if I’m honest but that might just be because it was a few years ago now. The views at the top are wonderful and I lucked out with the weather as it was a sunny day so had no problems enjoying those views and made sure to get a few photos from high above the city.
I lucked out with the timing because it wasn’t long before clouds were overcast and rain was on the way. I wanted to go and find myself a spot to grab some lunch but the weather forced me to lazily duck in to one of the first restaurants I came across in the main market square of the city.
I asked for a table for one, knowing it’d likely be expensive but took one look at the prices and my stomach sank. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have stepped in there in the first place, it was only rubbish weather that had sealed my fate.
“Well this is it.. I’ve already sat down, I’m obliged to eat here now.”
“Wait, no Jason. You don’t! You’ve not even ordered anything yet, just get up and walk out!”
“but I’ve sat down. I can’t change my mind now..”
It’s weird how our minds work isn’t it? I was borderline contemplating staying there for the most illogical of reasons.
“I have to commend you on your parenting. Your son Jason is so polite and well-mannered. Even when we handed him the sandwich menu charging 500 euros each he refused to walk away. We were even taking bets in the back as to how far we could push our luck. What a great guy!”
Fortunately I came to my senses. I know that those hot-spots are perfect for lazy tourists such as myself on this occasion and that you can probably get away with charging a bit more for below-par food but these prices were taking the piss a little too much. I could find somewhere else, surely?
I braved the weather and scurried out of there as quickly as I could. Alright, where next?
I took a little wander and perhaps I’d exaggerated just how bad the weather was. A little drizzle wouldn’t hurt right? I’m English for crying out loud! I should be used to the rain!
As it was the Belgian weather is as temperamental as the English so it wasn’t too long before it had brightened up again. I didn’t have much fortune finding a place for lunch but I was content just wandering along Brugge’s canals and discovering new walking routes within the city. After about an hour of not really doing anything I stumbled upon a small shop selling Belgian waffles and figured that’d keep me going until dinner later.
You might be sensing a pattern here but my afternoon featured more wandering, I stumbled upon a small area called Begijnhof which was home to a church, some pretty houses and a gardened area with numerous daffodils adding some colour to place. It’s a pretty World Heritage Site and the reason for that status is its history as a place inhabited by nuns and women who’ve led a celibate life – today it’s still inhabited by nuns and local women who’ve chosen to remain unmarried.
A little beyond the Begijnhof area was the Minnewaterpark which is home to more beautiful buildings, gardens and landmarks such as the ‘Poertoren’ (gunpowder tower).
Admittedly we’d only visited for the day previously but given its proximity to the train station we’d somehow bypassed this entire area of Brugge on my previous visit. It’s a pretty part of the city and was a nice accidental discovery. In better weather I’m sure the park and gardens are a very popular picnic spot to enjoy on a warm afternoon.
The afternoon quickly disappeared and my focus shifted towards evening plans again. I popped back to the hotel for a brief wind-down and this time decided I’d do a little research after the lunch debacle.
“How about we find a restaurant online Jason and then there’ll be no surprises when you sit down!?”
“Hmm, that sounds a little too logical but okay, we’ll give it a try.”
I found somewhere suitable and ventured over to this cosy restaurant not too far from where I was staying. I arrived soon after they’d opened so luckily it wasn’t too busy, not that I imagine too many places are on a Thursday in March. It was a nice way to begin the evening.
From there I checked out a couple of pubs in the city before winding back to the Irish pub in the hope of seeing a little more football. They didn’t appear to be showing the Eintracht v Inter game so I had to settle for watching Arsenal lose instead – a small consolation you could say! Haha.
The next day was my last in Brugge and indeed in Europe. My flight home from Köln wasn’t until 11:30pm so I had plenty of time ahead of me to still enjoy the day. I had quite a lazy start to my day before checking out of my hotel and hitting the streets.
I decided before leaving I should pay at least one Belgian brewery a visit so swung by the De Halve Maan brewery for a beer. I think they offer tours too but I was content to give that a miss on this occasion.
After a beer my attention switched towards lunch and I decided I’d need to force myself in to trying a local delicacy that I’ve often steered clear of in Belgium – the Moules Frites!
Long-time readers will recall stories of Weetabix Boy and know that growing up at times I was often quite fussy when it came to food. I’ve definitely got better over the years, I’m much more adventurous now and on many trips prior to this one but the thought of eating mussels has never appealed to me.
I’d been to Brugge before of course but also Gent, Liege, Brussels a few times and even the French city of Lille which has many Flemish influences but never had I plucked up the courage to give mussels a shot.
However it was weighing on my mind and I told myself I would not be leaving the city without trying them. I’d say I went on a hunt for the famous ‘Moules Frites’ but let’s be clear, they’re on just about every restaurant menu in Belgium. It wasn’t a difficult hunt. I found a restaurant that took my fancy and ordered this much-avoided dish up to this point.
The verdict? Underwhelming.
Maybe I am just that picky but I think part of the problem is that it’s work to get to the edible parts. I don’t want to have to fight with my food to enjoy it and even getting to the “good stuff” I was largely underwhelmed. That’s nothing against this particular restaurant, I am sure it was a good “Moules Frites” but it just didn’t take my fancy at all.
The good news is that I tried it. I can safely bet I’ll never have it again but at least I know where I stand with Mussels. Belgium nailed it with its waffles, chocolate and beers but its national dish is a bit of a disappointment.
In hindsight it feels like the trip ended on a downer but I didn’t leave Brugge feeling that way. at all. I’d had a good time and was pleased to be leaving with more memories of this beautiful fairytale town. I walked back to the train station and headed onwards to Brussels and then back to Köln.
The perk of so many visits to Köln was that I knew my way around pretty well. I still had time to kill before my flight and I didn’t have to worry about finding my bearings after getting off of the train. I wandered down to one of the restaurants down by the river and grabbed myself some dinner and a beer as my finale to this trip.
I don’t often do a Monday-Friday trip. My motto is to maximise as much travel time as I can with my time off and working Monday to Friday means I’ll almost always arrive home again at some point on the Sunday.
I’d reached the end of my time in Brugge and I pondered whether I extend my stay a little. I thought about ditching my flight home and perhaps getting a train (Eurostar) home from Brussels later in the week. Obviously I didn’t do that because here I was in Köln but that same voice was speaking to me “why am I going home on a Friday?”.
I’ve grown to love Köln and I sat there drinking a beer feeling warm and fuzzy about where I was (what do they put in the beer!?). I didn’t want to go home yet. Three months earlier I was whingeing about coming here but we can forget that part, can’t we?
My love/hate relationship with Köln was in its love mode and I started considering my options. How much would an extended trip cost me? Train or flight home? Hotel for two nights, or even one night – whatever works.
I added it all up and came to the conclusion it’d only be something like £6,209 to stay in Köln for an extra five minutes – “it’d totally be worth it Jason, honest!”
Common sense got the better of me again, cruelly this time. I couldn’t justify how much it’d cost me to stay in Germany for two more nights, nor one more night. It was bloody tempting but the sensible side won this battle. Probably for the best given I had no clue that I’d be visiting Amsterdam and Madrid in the near future.
If it couldn’t be one more night, it at the very least had to be one more beer. I was prolonging the inevitable. I knew that it was time to go home. Two nights in Köln, two nights in Brugge. It had been a lovely trip, topped off with a Spurs win, but I slowly made my way back to the airport and said Auf Wiedersehen to Deutschland.
Having visited Germany in 2013, 2014, 2015 (x2), 2016 (x3), 2017 (x2) & 2019 it’s sad to say that I haven’t been back since but I’m sure the next German adventure won’t be too far away.
Hello there dear followers! I hope that you all had a lovely Christmas! Happy New Year too! I’m determined to get back on track with regular blogging in 2023 and what better way to start than with the annual “travel roundup” post?
Anyway, onwards to 2022! I actually offered a rare half-year post this year so some of you will already know what I got up to in the first six months of 2022 but for the rest of you, fear not because I’ll do a little recap right now to catch you up!
A wedding in Washington State – March & April
The first trip of the year was the big one! After postponing our September 2021 wedding we moved it to April of 2022 and so come March I was ready to head over and finally get married!
Covid restrictions added a new level of problems for travel planning over the last two years but having Covid restrictions wreak havoc with a wedding trip? Yeah, that’s stressful! I’d avoided Covid entirely for two years so I was waiting for the inevitable, something to go wrong just before I flew out to Washington.
Fortunately my immune system held out for two months and I didn’t catch Covid for another couple of months. I was good to go!
I will write about the trip in more detail at a later date but the wedding went swimmingly. It was a great day and absolutely a highlight of 2022. All the waiting and stress beforehand was worth it and as much as I’ve always loved a wedding, enjoying your own is another level of joy that I can’t really explain.
10/10 – would do again (same bride.. don’t worry, jeez.)
Honeymooning in Oregon – April
The uncertainty of Covid traveling, plus the cost of a wedding meant we only really planned a small break after the wedding. We decided we’d head from Walla Walla out to Portland for a few days and hopefully squeeze in a little time at the coast too.
Alas we made our Westbound drive and the weather took a turn. The rain was hammering down with rain on our drive to Portland and sure enough the next morning we woke up to snow – not quite what we’d planned for!
We made the best of the weather and enjoyed our first few days of married life! We extended our trip hoping to end the week with better weather and luckily it paid off – ensuring we got to enjoy a sunny day on the Oregon coast.
Again, I’ll delve in to this part of the trip in much more detail in a future blog post but it was a lovely break despite the weather and nice to experience some new things in Oregon.
Idaho or no? – April
On the 9th of April myself and Haleigh finally got married in Walla Walla, Washington! On the 30th of April Haleigh’s cousin Michelle got married down in Salt Lake City (ish), Utah!
One month – two weddings – three weeks apart!
The problem for me was my intentions for our wedding was to arrive in Washington two weeks before the wedding and leave two weeks after. A second wedding so soon but not soon enough in some respects made for some tricky travel planning – keeping in mind that I was employed full-time.
Haleigh and family were planning to drive down from Washington but the timing of the Utah wedding gave me a tricky dilemma. Do I try my luck at getting five weeks off work? Do I even want five weeks off work for one trip? What about the rest of the year?
Joining Haleigh’s family for a roadtrip had its pros and cons, flying back to England only to return again so soon also had its pros and cons. Decisions, decisions..
The only certainty was that I was going to this Utah wedding. The logistics of how to do that was the only complication but one way or another I was going to Utah. In the end I decided that I’d fly home on the 23rd of April and then fly back to Utah (via Denver) on the 28th of April in time for the wedding.
Alas, come the 22nd of April I discovered that British Airways had kindly delayed my flight by 18 hours! The consequence of which meant a massive headache and the likelihood that I wouldn’t be getting back to England until the 25th. I considered my options and had a long and frustrating conversation with British Airways which went roughly along the lines of “this is your problem mate. Why are you (the customer) only letting us (the airline) know about our delayed flight at the last minute? Where’s your crystal ball?”
There aren’t enough words to describe my anger for British Airways in that moment. I can accept cancellations, delays, blah blah blah but BA’s willingness to throw the blame back upon me in addition to the lack of desire to find a solution did not sit right with me and left quite a sour taste for a while (I’m over it, honest..).
After much deliberation and back-and-forth I decided to extend my trip and stay in the USA for two further weeks (having to work Stateside) so long story short – roadtrip!
So a change of plans and an opportunity to see a new state! We broke up the drive and spent a night in Twin Falls, Idaho – a nice little town with, you guessed it, waterfalls! We obviously didn’t spend much time looking around but it seemed a nice enough town and we made sure to see Shoshone Falls before leaving too. It’s very pretty!
A wedding in Utah – April
Myself and Haleigh talked about visiting Utah a couple of times in the past. Firstly on my big 3-0 trip as we contemplated driving to San Fran via Salt Lake City. In the end we decided it was too much to do in too little time.
Two years later I met Michelle and David for the first time and we had a lovely Valentine’s Day double-date in Washington. They’re the loveliest couple and we agreed that we’d come down and see them over the 2020 Easter break. Yeah, 2020.. Needless to say, that didn’t happen either!
So third time lucky! I was excited to finally visit Utah and specifically Salt Lake City. It felt long overdue and I was particularly excited to see Michelle and David get married – our April anniversary buddies!
We weren’t in town for long and much of that was spent catching up with Haleigh’s family and then of course the wedding itself. The wedding was lovely. I’m such a fan of weddings so an outdoor wedding in a state as pretty as Utah certainly ticked the right boxes – it was a lovely day!
I have to say Salt Lake City was a nice surprise too. We were so busy with family stuff that we didn’t see much of the city or the downtown area but there was just something about it that was endearing. This was the USA in all its glory but with 360 degree mountain views. It left an impression on me and I couldn’t shake the feeling that this had the potential to be one of my favourite American cities – despite seeing so little of it. I can’t explain it! We returned to Washington at the end of the weekend but Salt Lake City and Utah had not disappointed.
Back to Washington – May
So from Utah it was back to Washington for a little longer. It was nice having that little bit more time with Haleigh, although extending my stay did mean I had to work remotely at the end of my trip – not ideal working UK time on a PST timezone!
However we made the best of the extra time. We even squeezed in an overnight trip to see our friends in Pullman which meant I swapped working in Haleigh’s kitchen for this pretty AirBnB view in Pullman – it was nice watching the sun rise in the peaceful early hours!
We headed back to Walla Walla for the final couple of days. After six weeks myself and Haleigh were finally parting! The immigration process had begun but I probably wouldn’t be returning to Washington until Thanksgiving..
Washington State, again – June
Oh.. Maybe a little sooner than Thanksgiving then. This wasn’t the plan, I hadn’t intended to come back and certainly not so soon but you can only hear “How’s married life?” so many times before wanting to rip your ears off.
That was undoubtedly the question of 2022 and it probably wasn’t helped by having as long as six weeks together but I think by the end of May I was already sick of being apart.
A lack of annual leave meant it was going to be a short and sweet visit but I decided that I’d go and surprise Haleigh and visit Walla Walla for her mid-June birthday. A wonderful idea in theory, in reality Haleigh was talking about heading out of town for the weekend and spending time with friends.
So I came clean. I didn’t really fancy a surprise trip to see my wife if my wife wasn’t actually going to be in town! The trip flew by far too quickly but it was nice getting to spend a bit more time together. I also squeezed in a few hours in Seattle which was lovely!
Hopefully the next time we’d be seeing eachother would be when that pesky visa comes through (HA!) and we’d finally be together!
Newcastle – May
Alright, let’s go back a step! In-between Washington trips I went up North for a weekend. My friend Sarah was celebrating her 30th birthday and that was a great excuse for a weekend away!
The 30th birthday celebrations were in a small town called Northallerton which I contemplated for all of five seconds before deciding it’d be better to base myself elsewhere. Excluding watching Spurs hungover at St James’ Park I’ve never really spent any time in Newcastle so decided I was going to visit the land of the Geordies for a weekend.
The birthday celebrations were wonderful. Sarah had hired an Abba tribute band to play and keep us entertained with Abba tunes all evening which was a fun way to celebrate.
Getting to explore Newcastle was an added bonus to the trip. On my first morning I met up with a fellow travel blogger – Sam – who along with her husband Adam were great hosts and it was so nice to finally meet up.
Newcastle itself is a cracking city too. I quickly fell in love with it. It’s easy romanticising anywhere on such a short visit but it instantly felt like one of those “I could live here” kind of cities. It was 100% my kind of city and that was without even really enjoying the Newcastle nightlife that its renowned for. I highly recommend a visit and it’s somewhere I’m certain to return to.
Sheffield – July
As many of you will know, football happens to be one of my biggest passions and it just so happens that this summer England were hosting the women’s European Championship.
Women’s football is rapidly growing in England and as soon as tickets went on sale I applied, blindly, to go to a couple of the games. There were two considerations for any games I wanted to apply for. Either they had to be weekend fixtures or they had to be accessible midweek games (London).
I looked at the various weekend games being played throughout the course of the tournament and contemplated which location tickled my fancy most. In the end I decided I’d go and spend a weekend up in Sheffield, visit Bramall Lane for the first time and watch teams C1 & C2.
I’d blindly booked tickets without knowing which teams were competing at the time so it was pot luck. More than anything I was keen to support the tournament and visit a new stadium in the process. As it was the game ended up being the Netherlands vs Sweden so two of the better teams in the tournament and two of the most colourful fanbases too with their orange and yellow shirts on display across the stadium.
The weekend was pretty much all focused on football and friends. Two of my friends (Hayden and Jenny) moved up from Peterborough to Sheffield a while ago and it was the perfect excuse to meet up with them. Ironically Hayden was actually down in Peterborough for the weekend but Jenny was kind enough to give me the grand tour of Sheffield on my first morning in the city. It was nice catching up and seeing a little of Sheffield in the process.
Later in the day I met up with my friend Natalie who was pretty much touring the country throughout the tournament and pretty much attending all of the games, or as many as physically possible (there were some games played at the same time). We had a few drinks and had a good catch before heading off to the ground where I reunited with Sarah and her dad.
All in all it was a fun weekend seeing a mixture of friends and enjoying a few beers along the way.
Peterborough Cathedral were hosting a T-Rex exhibit featuring many life-sized dinosaurs in their beautiful cathedral. An unusual setting to say the least and certainly raised questions about the relationship between god and dinosaurs but it was a bloody cool experience to be a part of.
I didn’t even leave my home town but mentally I was transported to another world that resembled something out of Jurassic Park with roars echoing off the cathedral walls. So many visitors came and enjoyed the exhibit and it’s one of the best things I did this year so couldn’t forego mentioning it. I blogged about it a little halfway through the experience (link above) but I loved it and I believe they have something just as exciting lined up in 2023. Watch this space!
De-Sa-lou? – October
Oh forgive the terrible pun WordPress but I could not help myself! For the most-part I’m pretty good at remembering where in the world I’ve visited but I’ve never been fully convinced on where in Spain we went to on a school trip back in 2002.
Don’t get me wrong, I remember enough about the trip that I’m 90% certain it was Salou. We visited the “famous” Portaventura theme park, we took a trip to Barcelona and saw the Camp Nou and La Sagrada Familia and a few other things. I remember wandering down to the beach from our accommodation and it being a quick and easy walk.
It was a fun week away in Spain but nevertheless I don’t exactly remember where we stayed and I’ve always been of the belief that it was Salou. All of the evidence stacks up that way anyway.
Fast forward twenty years and I was invited on a friend’s stag do away in Europe – a weekend in Salou! Instantly I had a feeling of de-ja-vu – I’ve been there before, right?
Anyway, as far as the plans were concerned.. the timing that they wanted to book the trip wasn’t the greatest – right before I was due to get married so I bowed out of a group booking and said I’d sort myself out later in the year. True to me word I did that and the result was I ended up going for a day longer than most of the group.
I’ll eventually do a trip about the post but I’m sure you have a general idea of how things went. Simplistically put it was a few days of sunshine and many beers.
I’m still none-the-wiser if Salou was where I went in 2002. I’m convinced that it was but it was unrecognisable on this trip so who knows?
Salou itself was nice. Very touristy and by touristy I mainly mean catered towards Brits who want a cheap and boozy weekend away in “Spain”. There are an endless number of English-speaking pubs and restaurants to take your pick from and I dare say we visited our fair share.
For a relaxing break / stag do it was perfect but if you’re wanting an authentic Spanish experience it’s perhaps not the top Spanish destination to visit.
Another wedding in Virginia – October
I know! A third international wedding! A third on US soil and another new state to visit! It’s a good job I love a wedding, eh?
My friend Shay invited me (and Haleigh) out to her wedding in Virginia and, again, as if I’d possibly refuse such an opportunity! I was 100% committed to going, the only uncertainty was whether we could find a way for Haleigh to join us.
Unfortunately we couldn’t make it work and Haleigh wasn’t able to attend so in the end I went anyway and rocked up solo for my third US wedding of the year!
This time the venue was a cosy house in Fincastle which coincidentally happened to be run by a fellow Brit! It was a lovely venue, wonderful to see Tony and Shay get married and also great to finally meet in person. Definitely another highlight of the year!
Roanoke – October
The wedding was in a tiny town called Fincastle. The nearest city was a place called Roanoke which I’ll admit I knew little about prior to meeting Shay. I wasn’t entirely sure where I wanted to base myself for the trip and pondered spending a bit more time in DC or elsewhere but in the end I committed to spending a few days in Roanoke and a couple of days in DC.
Roanoke was a pleasant surprise. It’s situated in a beautiful part of the state so I had mountain views from my lovely AirBnb downtown. The whole downtown area was entirely independent too. Independent shops, independent restaurants, coffee shops, bars, breweries..
No Starbucks, no McDonald’s, none of the big-name brands you know are situated anywhere within the downtown area. It was wonderful!
Again I had to work remotely a couple of days whilst I was in Roanoke which wasn’t ideal and meant that I didn’t do too much in the city but it was a great place to relax, check out a few breweries and just find joy in this adorable little city.
Washington DC – October
For this entire trip I weighed up where to base myself. I wasn’t sure if Roanoke would be interesting enough to spend my entire time, plus I couldn’t fly there directly anyway so I had to fly in to somewhere else.
DC was the city that seemed most obvious, however I’d been to DC before so had to consider whether visiting somewhere new might be more tempting. Alas DC was much cheaper to fly to and made a lot more sense logistically so I committed to a couple of nights in DC.
Fortunately I think DC is one of the most underrated cities in the US and I was keen to see a little more this time around. On my first trip I’d been sick through most of my stay and the warm weather meant I was quite keen to just do outdoorsy things on that occasion. I missed out the many museums that DC is famous for.
I already had a real fondness for DC and I think a return only really cemented those feelings further. It is a fantastic city, easily one of my favourites within the US. I visited some new neighbourhoods, ,visited some of those museums I’d missed first time around, checked out some new restaurants, met up with some friends on one of my evenings there and just loved my time in the city.
DC’s one of those places that I always thought that I probably would visit but never had any real desire to and I’m so pleased to say that I was 100% wrong to underestimate it. I fully recommend a trip and I’ve no doubt it’s somewhere I’ll go back to with Haleigh one day.
Another Thanksgiving, another Washington visit – November
and from one Washington (DC) to the other (Washington State), it was back to Washington again in November.
I love having an extra holiday to celebrate each year and escaping England in a cold, dark and dreary November is an added bonus. I don’t think I’d care for Thanksgiving so much if it was in I don’t know, let’s say July. Thanksgiving is a good mood-builder in the run up to Christmas and the festivities.
Due to visa issues, which are finally sorted!!, I hadn’t actually seen Haleigh since June. I was so short on annual leave that I couldn’t make a trip to Washington work and she wasn’t able to travel overseas due to the ongoing visa stuff so it had been a long time apart before reuniting for the holidays.
We didn’t do anything particularly special, Haleigh was sick for the first half of the week I was there and the second half of the week was occupied with family stuff for Thanksgiving but it was nice to spend some time together, eat food, catch up with family and just spend a little time in Washington.
Overall it was a lovely week away. My only real gripe about the trip was that Alaska Airlines have cut their route from two services a day to one which wreaked havoc with my plans.
Firstly, I couldn’t actually get to Walla Walla on the day I arrived in Seattle which meant flying to a different airport a little further away.
I had no such trouble going the other way but they scrapped the early morning flight from Walla Walla to Seattle. Ordinarily I get half a day’s exploration in Seattle, such as I’d done in June earlier in this year but on this occasion I only had a four hour layover which wasn’t worth leaving the airport for.
I think they do intend to bring the second service back but it was bitterly disappointing to miss out on any time in Seattle on this trip. It’s part of my “heading home” routine usually and I did feel a little glum that I’d missed out on this particular trip.
I hate to end any blog post on a downer so lets look ahead at what I have planned for 2023.
Honestly, not much..
I’m flying out to Washington at the end of January, Haleigh will finally be moving to England so I’m flying over there to help her move some of her things over. No more long-distance – hurrah!
I think one of Haleigh’s cousins is getting married in the summer so we’ll likely make another trip back to Washington in the summer. I also think we’ll probably make a third trip later in the year around the holidays so Washington will again likely dominate the travel plans for a lot of the year.
However beyond Washington I would honestly just want to go somewhere that isn’t the USA at this point. I love the place but it has dominated my travel a bit too much in recent years. I stretched my luck a bit this year and somehow managed to pack in nearly 10 weeks in the USA from just six weeks of annual leave (am I a magician?) but it left little time to go anywhere else. I was pleased to at least visit three new states this year (Idaho, Utah & Virginia) but I’d really like to spend some time in other parts of the world.
I don’t know that it’ll happen this year but I’m also really keen to step foot on some new continents. Africa, Asia and South America are calling my name. I’ve seen a lot of the US, a lot of Europe but the other continents continue to allude me. I’m very, very tempted to book a short trip to Morocco this year.
My final hope is to get back to Finland. I need to look in to it a little more but I’m quite keen on the idea of going there for my birthday in August. I grew up living with a Finnish grandmother who I also shared a birthday with and so it’s a day that I’ll forever think of Finland – I think to be in Finland on that day would be special but that’s just an idea at this moment in time.
Anyway, thanks for indulging me and my ramblings WordPress! I’ll write about each of these trips in more detail at some point and hopefully I’ll be a little more active in 2023.
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.