Off the grid in Paris – July 2019

Hello dear readers! I’m slowly getting back in to the swing of things as far as blogging is concerned so thought I’d continue with the travels of 2019!

Last time out on the blog I wrapped up that Madrid trip. This trip was very different to that one for a multitude of reasons but featured a return to another European capital that I’d previously been to: Paris. 

My first trip to Paris was somewhat of a breakup-hangover in 2016. It took me quite some time to get over this breakup and I was wallowing in a bit of self-pity.

Before that particular trip I’d been to France on daytrips and stuff but never really felt like I’d been to France. I couldn’t name a single place in France that I’d visited, just service stations and such. Still fun but I don’t believe I’d ever really gone to France. I’d be reluctant to count it in a country-counting game and didn’t have that much interest in visiting anywhere beyond Paris if I’m completely honest. 

My problem with Paris however was that it’s the city of love and as much as I enjoy solo travel, I did not want my first trip to Paris to be a solo one. I held out on this romantic ideology of a city I’d never visited and then that breakup, that self-pity, that “I’m going to die alone..” attitude kicked in.

The flipside to that self-pity was that I told myself if I continued to wait for Mrs Right, I was never going to get to Paris – “it’s never going to happen Jason, you’ve already waited this long..”

So I booked a trip. I decided that I wasn’t going another year without visiting Paris because of the lack of a significant other so at the end of December I went and celebrated New Years in Paris on my own. 

I’m sure there are better breakup remedies, cheaper ways too! It wasn’t the perfect trip, however maybe the perfect “imperfect trip” as I called it when I blogged about it. It was a trip I needed at that point in my life and despite the circumstances I still enjoyed Paris, I could still see the romance and why people love this city so much. 

Fast forward three years and Haleigh came over to England for a couple of weeks. Haleigh had never left the country before meeting myself and even then had only been to England so I was really keen to go somewhere for a weekend and I thought it’d be nice to go to Paris together. So I booked us Eurostar tickets, sorted out a hotel and soon enough the weekend came where we were heading off to Paris. 

Work allowed me to sneak off early on Friday which was perfect, it gave us ample time to go and grab some dinner in London before catching the last train of the night onwards to Paris for our weekend away.

Paris

The Eurostar is a great way to travel, I much prefer it to flying if it’s a possibility. Haleigh had a little doze and I kept myself amused by looking at, well, my phone for the most part of the journey. Now I’m sure there are probably charging points on the Eurostar but I wasn’t too worried about it given how much battery life it had. I knew I’d be fine until we got to our hotel – you’ll see why I’ve noted this detail soon!

A little while later we’d arrived in Paris! Paris was noisy! I’m sure regular visitors will perhaps suggest Paris is always noisy but I’d only been the once and I couldn’t remember it being this noisy. The Gard Du Nord train station is a happening part of the city, lots of people around but even so – it seemed odd. 

We’d arrived late so rather than navigate the public transport I figured it’d probably be easier to just get a taxi to our hotel – fairly close to the Eiffel Tower. A good place to base ourselves for a weekend trip, right? I walked over to the first taxi and then balked at the price. 

“90 euros!”
“Sorry.. did you say 90!?” 
“Oui..” 

Ninety Euros? There’s no way that can be right but the driver was adamant – sure enough anyone wanting a taxi in Paris was facing a similarly extortionate fare for drivers seemingly reluctant for passengers. I ended up booking an Uber instead for a much more reasonable 30-ish Euros and soon enough amongst all the noise we’d been picked up by our driver.

It wasn’t long before we’d established why the taxi drivers were keen on a quiet Friday night. The traffic to our hotel was insane! Hordes of people in the streets, cars honking, people hanging out of windows all seemingly heading for central Paris to celebrate something? It all seemed good-natured but nevertheless we had no idea what the hell was going on? I’d checked before we travelled and we’d missed Bastille day / weekend by a week so I knew it couldn’t have been that. 

We were none-the-wiser by the time we’d arrived at our hotel, just happy to have eventually arrived, grateful to our Uber driver for navigating us amongst the manic scenes. I did a little bit of digging online once we’d got to our hotel and finally found cause of the scenes we’d arrived to: here

Algeria had beaten Senegal in that evening’s African Cup of Nations football tournament and there had seemingly been similar scenes following Algeria’s semi final win throughout France.

It was interesting to witness upon arrival, certainly memorable. As a football fan I’m quite conscious of football events happening in places that I visit but it didn’t occur to me in the slightest that an African tournament would have such implications on our arrival in Paris. I even knew the AFCON was happening at the time but the link didn’t register at the time. Perhaps naivety on my part but a lesson for the future! 

Content that the mystery was solved we chilled out for a bit before moving on to the next mystery of the evening. Just before bed I connected my phone to its charger and nothing happened – how odd!

Maybe I haven’t connected it right? No it looks good. So maybe it’s the charger? I connect my phone to Haleigh’s charger and still nothing. Maybe it’s the plug socket? Nope, Haleigh’s phone is charging perfectly. Haleigh’s phone was also charging fine on my charger.. what the hell!?

I’d had no problems charging my phone in England so had done nothing to reserve my phone battery on the trip over and now seemingly couldn’t charge my phone at all – my only means of technology on this trip. I didn’t bring a camera, I wasn’t that familiar with Paris yet so was somewhat reliant on the luxuries of European phone data – as an American Haleigh didn’t have that same perk so was Wi-Fi dependent on our trip. Unless my phone started charging again I was completely off the grid.

On that note, I feel quite lucky to have traveled off the grid. I dare say I’m probably of that age where I’m maybe the last generation to do so? It was normal not to have a mobile phone growing up and even in some of the later travels, having a mobile phone didn’t necessarily mean it was workable or affordable overseas. 

The first few trips I took as an adult were off the grid. I didn’t take a phone or even a camera on either trip to Ibiza, I was unreachable. Here’s the phone number of where I’m staying but mum, dad.. you’re not going to hear from me for a week or two.

I’ve met friends in places such as Sydney, Lisbon and Florence and had to hunt down a little computer shop to briefly access Facebook or whatever to make plans – I’ll meet you here at this time and you kind of hope you’ve communicated well enough.

I arranged to meet a friend in Rossio Square in Lisbon “outside of the McDonalds” and it’s the one time that cursed yellow M seemed to just blend in with its surroundings rather than stand out for all to see – “where the fuck is this McDonalds!?” – the irony being we believed McDonald’s would make an easier meeting spot rather than some local cafe or restaurant we’d have to locate in an unfamiliar city. 

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Florence, Italy

I remember sitting up at the Piazzale MichelAngelo in Florence knowing that I had to drag myself away from this gorgeous sunset spot I’d stumbled upon because I’d agreed to meet a friend downtown for drinks at a particular time and had no means to schedule a change of plans – “sod the Irish pub, come meet me here!” 

That was the way of the world and I’m grateful for those travels. I miss those travels but I haven’t done it for a good few years now. I’d say Florence may well have been the last time in 2015. 

One of the reasons I haven’t is because technology is so much more convenient now, phone data allowances (for now anyway) make it so easy to use your phone on the continent and elsewhere. The other reason is because much of that time since has been spent in long-distance-relationships. It’s hard enough being apart but myself and Haleigh usually talk at least some point in the day.

So maybe there’s a hint of irony here that this was the trip that saw me return off-the-grid. Of all the trips I’ve taken over the course of my relationship with Haleigh, the only one I’ve had to ‘suffer’ being off the grid is the one Haleigh is accompanying me? Okay, I can deal with that. 

I couldn’t get my phone to charge so it was a ticking timebomb. It survived the night, it lasted a few hours on Saturday morning. Enough to get some photos of the Eiffel Tower but then it was done. 

Weirdly, that is still the phone and phone charger I use to this day. It’s definitely in need of an upgrade at this point but my point being that it charged perfectly the second I returned to England and has been fine on every trip since. It literally went to Paris and decided to have the weekend off – “I’m not working this weekend, sorry!” 

and all I can really say is that I was so appreciative of it. I was in Paris for a weekend with this amazing woman and nothing outside of Paris existed for the next 48 hours. It was a happy coincidence, a happy problem to have. 

It’s so hard to travel anymore without everything at your finger tips. From travel directions to restaurant recommendations to that perfect “Instagrammable” photo spot and even to the more simplistic things such as the time of day – I always look to my phone for the time. 

This weekend was back to being present. Just enjoying the company, paper maps, winging our plans, having to ask someone for the time or basing it on how much light there is – “oh look.. it’s dark. I guess it’s night-time!”

Anyway, kicking off our trip we woke up on Saturday morning keen to explore. We went to a nearby cafe for breakfast and Googled the menu and reviews before sitting down had to take a chance on whether it was any good or not. If it’s shit, so be it. We won’t return.

It actually ended up being our breakfast spot on both days as the food was good. The service was typically European and Haleigh’s first encounter of such – maybe you’ll see a waiter, maybe you won’t. How European cafes stay in business is a mystery really but what’s the rush? This is Paris..

From our cafe it was a short-walk over to the Eiffel Tower and our first proper glimpse of it. Myself included, kind of. On my previous visit it had been covered in fog so I hadn’t actually seen the top of the Eiffel Tower before now! I managed to squeeze in a couple of photos as we had a little wander of the area. I’ve added a photo from my previous trip for comparison!

Paris

Eiffel Tower

Paris

From there we decided to go and do a hop-on hop-off boat tour of Paris – a lovely way to see the city. We had no specific plans so decided we’d just stop off at some of the points of interest along the way. 

Our first stop of the day was the impressive ‘Petit Palais’ – a nice little art museum which was free to visit – a nice bonus! I think it could justify a small admission price but it was a nice place for us to stumble upon. We grabbed a light snack and refreshments in the cafe and then had a look at the nearby gardens before heading back towards the Seine. 

Petit Palais

Our next stop was the Musee D’Orsay – one of Paris’ most famous museums and home to some more incredible art. I’d recommend buying tickets ahead of time, particularly in the summer months and at the weekend. There was quite a bit of a queue but Haleigh was able to sneak on to their Wi-Fi and buy tickets online which made the process easier.

It’s a great museum, you could spend a good chunk of time in there without getting bored. I reckon we probably did a good hour and a half before calling time on our visit, I think we’d seen much of what we wanted to but I’m sure we could quite happily return one day in the future too. It was one of our highlights in Paris. 

After our museum visit we found a nearby restaurant / cafe to grab dinner at. Again having to wing it but seemingly a success. We both enjoyed our food and again, it was a pretty casual affair with no particular rush on getting customers out of the door. We took our time and just enjoyed sitting outside in the glorious summer weather that Paris was enjoying. 

Heading back to the Seine we continued on our round-trip of the Seine and I kind of just got lost in the moment. Paris seems hit and miss for a lot of people, Haleigh wasn’t particularly wowed by it but I was swept up in the beauty and atmosphere of the city. 

I’d already liked Paris a lot on my first trip but Paris in the summer? Ooof, it’s even better!

It helped that we had glorious weather, the sun was shining and roaming the Seine was the best way to see Paris. At one point we passed what appeared to be a massive group of people dancing to music alongside the river and I was so envious. Couples in their summery outfits dancing away on the banks of the Seine? Sign me up! It looked like everyone was having so much fun! Just to watch it from the boat gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling and is a lasting memory from that trip. 

We passed the Notre Dame, unfortunately having recently suffered the big fire that caused worldwide shock. It was sad to see it in that state, although I’d at least seen it on my previous visit. We looped up and round before winding back at the Eiffel Tower – the boat tour had been a great idea and although we didn’t make too many stops it really was a perfect way of seeing the city. 

I have no idea what time we got back, the sun hadn’t quite gone down yet so maybe mid-to late evening? I was just completely in my element. Loving this way of travel, loving having Haleigh with me in this wonderful city. I couldn’t shake this feeling that this is how every trip should be.

We headed back to our hotel for a little bit before I suggested heading out to see Eiffel Tower by night. I was really keen to see it lit up after dark and as we were only staying a couple of blocks away we didn’t need to go very far. 

Despite having glorious weather for the rest of our weekend, Paris decided to pour down with rain soon after we’d left the hotel so we both got drenched. Consequently we only briefly saw the Eiffel Tower and made a quick u-turn back to the hotel where we spent the rest of the evening relaxed. 

Paris Nighttime
View from our hotel – photo stolen from Haleigh!

I like to think that myself and Haleigh will end up back in Paris at some point but I figured that if for whatever reason this is Haleigh’s only time in Paris that she had to see the other jewel of the city. We’d seen the Eiffel Tower, we’d cruised along a good chunk of the Seine so the plan for Sunday was a trip to see Montmarte and the gorgeous Sacre Couer.

We went and grabbed breakfast on Sunday morning at the same spot we had the previous day – pleased enough with our “local”. Having had a nice breakfast we dug out our little paper map and searched for the best route to the Sacre Couer.

Having mapped out our route we walked to our nearest Metro station only to find it temporarily closed. One downside to relying on paper maps is you don’t get real-time updates as you do with online resources. We returned to our map to find the next best option which saw us cross the Seine towards the Jardins de Trocadero.

The views here are gorgeous, perfect for those of you with a camera or a working phone. Sadly I’ll have to leave you to your imagination as I’ve got no photos to share but if you want some of the best Eiffel Towers views in Paris, this is your spot. I’m sure if you google Jardins de Trocadero you’ll find some pretty efforts.

Our little detour took us a little longer to find a Metro station but eventually we were on the metro in direction of the Sacre Couer. At the other end it was pretty busy, unsurprising given that it was a Sunday and also being a little later in the morning.

The first couple of streets on route are largely aimed at tourists, shops filled with souvenirs to take home. There’s heavy foot traffic and slow-walking before you eventually come out the other side and find yourself staring up at the Sacre Couer. 

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Taking selfies with the Sacre Couer – “where is it!?”

It’s one of my favourite buildings that I’ve seen on my travels, I think it’s gorgeous and well worth a visit. Unfortunately again I have no great photos to share with you, the best I can offer is some fog-filled photos from my first trip to Paris. 

The first time I visited the area was pretty dead, unsurprisingly so given the fog I suppose. One of the other attractions the Sacre Couer offers are wonderful views over Paris, none of which I saw on my first trip. 

This time it was much busier, they were queuing out of the door at the Sacre Couer so we didn’t bother going inside. The views over Paris on a sunny day are much nicer though from what I remember of it. 

Having skipped the Sacre Couer we ventured through the Instagrammable streets of Montmarte. It’s a pretty part of Paris, definitely worth a wander through but again it’s pretty tourist-heavy. 

I’m sure there’s some quality amongst the tat but you do wonder how many of the establishments are actually any good opposed to just having appeared on Instagram so frequently that they draw people in. We ended up stopping somewhere to grab some crepes, they weren’t good but location alone probably means they didn’t really need to be. I’m sure they get enough trade just by being in the right place. 

After our disappointing lunch we wandered a little more and looked in some of the shops in the area. Haleigh picked up a couple of souvenirs, some pretty art and very pretty postcards for the family. From there we wandered back downwards before stopping off at a cafe for a quick drink to escape the heat for a little bit. It was nice to just sit and relax for a little while before moving on again. 

Time in Paris was slipping away, we didn’t have too much longer left and still had to return and get our bags that we’d left at the hotel. We decided we’d grab one final meal at our “local” – three trips in one weekend perhaps a little excessive but we had liked the atmosphere and food and it was conveniently placed near our hotel too. 

After one final meal our time was up. We picked up our bags and flagged down what was a much-cheaper taxi back to the Gard du Nord to then make our way back to England. 

Paris Museum View

All in all, it was a lovely weekend and a memorable one too. We’ve all become so comfortable with the conveniences of technology that it seems inconceivable that we’d ever travel without it. 

I don’t want to advocate traveling irresponsibly and not being safe, I appreciate that as a white man I hold plenty of privilege that others don’t in the ways they can travel but it was so refreshing to travel this way.

I know as well as anyone how amazing the internet can be. I’ve been online in some form for more than twenty years now and it has had a significant impact on my life in that time, something I’m ever-grateful for but it does make me sad that some people will never know a different way of travel.

This trip had me reminiscing so much of previous travels,  knowing it wasn’t even that long ago really where this was an “every trip” experience opposed to an unintended one-off.

Realistically I know it’s not going to be every trip but I think the big takeaway for me was that I hope these kind of trips do become more frequent. I think the only regret was not having a camera. I could forego having a phone, I’d be perfectly fine getting around with just a paper map and having to do more planning for a trip but I think the only thing this trip lacked was more photos of us and more photos of Paris. 

Nevertheless, I think it was one of my favourite trips of the last few years. Fingers crossed there’ll be many more in the years ahead. 
Anyway I’ll wrap this up here. 

Until next time!

Jason

 

Madrid – May / June 2019

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.

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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.

“Pinch me!”

It was “only” in Europe’s second-tier competition, the Europa League (UEFA Cup) but still – watching Spurs in Europe? “This is the dream!”

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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.

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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.

There were no guarantees of progress, no guarantees of more European games. This could be my last and only opportunity so reluctantly, back to West Germany for the fourth football excursion in three years. Spurs typically won comfortably which resulted in a Champions League quarter final against fellow English side, Manchester City.

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!”

Amsterdam

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!”

Madrid

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!

Road to Madrid

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!

Biarritz

Biarritz
Biarritz, France

Surfing

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.

FranceSpain border

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.

MadridSpurs

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.

Dam Square Spurs

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.

Stay tuned!

Jason

2022 so far..

Hello dear readers! How is 2022 treating you all?

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.

Wedding Photo

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.

Oregon Coast
Honeymooning in Lincoln City, Oregon

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!

Twin Falls
Shoshone Falls, Idaho

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.

Utah wedding

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!

SEATAC airport
SEATAC’s swanky new arrival hall for international arrivals

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!

Newcastle
Millennium bridge, Newcastle

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.

Cathedral theatre
Theatre at Peterborough Cathedral

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..

Until next time!

Jason

JasonLikesToTravel 2.0

Hello dear readers! How are things? I’m sure there’s a few of you wondering “who’s this guy?” or perhaps thinking “I remember him..” because well, my posting regularity has been pretty naff over the last couple of years.

The pandemic eh? So much time, so little posting! This is just my 7th post in the last 12 months but perhaps it’ll be lucky number seven? The one to get me back to posting a bit more frequently?

I don’t know what the cause is, perhaps Covid just sucked all of the fun out of travel-writing for me but I either haven’t had made the time to post or have actually had time but just no motivation to do so.

So I’m thinking I’m going to revamp things around here. Less structured and more “whatever”. Typically I’ve been posting about each of my trips chronologically but I think I’m going to take this a little less seriously and just blog about trips as and when I want to and maybe even throw in some other topics and life updates along the way – so consider this blog 2.0 going forward!

Maybe some posts will be the usual ramble-y ones (“like this post Jason?), perhaps they’ll be shorter. Maybe they’ll cover trips I’ve taken, maybe they’ll just be a handful of words to check in but I DO enjoy being part of this community and I do want to get back to blogging in some form so we’ll see how things go. However if you’re only here for the travel, maybe now’s the time to jump ship and click that little “unfollow” button.

“Okay Jason, I’m on board! What have you been up to?”

Well, it’s so nice that you asked! Those following me elsewhere on social media will have seen that after September 2021’s postponement, I finally got married in April!! That’ll undoubtedly be the big highlight of 2022. What a lovely day it was! I really don’t get the whole nervousness around weddings – it was a doddle and really nice for my family to make their first trip over to Washington State too – they loved it!

Wedding Photo

In the end I spent a total of six weeks in the US and visited four different states – Washington (obviously), Oregon, Idaho and Utah. I’ll blog about that trip in more detail soon but six weeks away was wonderful.

I thought going back to England after so long away would be difficult enough but I only went and took a “souvenir” home with me didn’t I? After two years of avoiding it I managed to catch Covid!

I flew home on the Saturday (7th May) and woke up with a scratchy throat on the Tuesday. I wouldn’t have caught it from anyone inbetween so I’m convinced I caught it in this busy pub in Seattle a few hours before my flight home – oops!

Following on from the CDC guidance changes around mask-wearing I then flew home maskless too so suffering a little Covid-related guilt there. Admittedly I had nobody sat next to me on the flight and I know it’s unlikely I’d have passed it on that quickly anyway but still, typical eh?

Fortunately symptoms didn’t stick around long. I tested negative twice before testing positive and by the time the positive tests started coming I was pretty much over the worst of it anyway. Nevertheless I’ve been laying low for the last couple of weeks, it has been nice to get back among civilisation this week!

I’m heading up North this coming weekend. A friend is celebrating her 30th birthday in a town called Northallerton and I figured I’d make the best of it and booked myself a hotel for two nights in Newcastle. I’ve never spent any proper time in the city so any recommendations are more than welcome! I’m excited to explore it a little bit and I’ll keep you posted on what I discover haha.

Anyway, I’ll wrap this up so this is relatively short by my usual standards. You can see a few more wedding photos over at Instagram for anyone interested. I’ll blog about that trip pretty soon but I just wanted to give some form of update before then.

Until next time!

Jason

Amsterdam – May 2019

Hello dear readers!

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!

MyHelsinki

Enter Spurs..

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.

imag7238

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!

Amsterdam

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 Centraal

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.

Dam Square

Amsterdam 1

Amsterdam Canal

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.

Dam Square Spurs

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!

Road to Madrid

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.

Dam Square Night

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.

Amsterdam Canals

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.

Amsterdam Boats

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.

Weesperpoort Amsterdam

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!!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Köln – March 2019!

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

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

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

Cologne29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KolnJason

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

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

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

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

imag7238

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

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

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

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

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

Leverkusen11

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

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

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

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

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

“Tottenham have been drawn against Borussia Dortmund!”

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

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

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

BremenWindmill

The USA – 2018
“erm.. Jason?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Koln
Köln – March 2019

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

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

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

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

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

but “no matter what..”

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

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

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

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

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

Karneval
Karneval scenes in Köln

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

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

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

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

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

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

KolnKarneval
Karneval vibes – Köln, March 2019

KolnerKarneval

KarnevalParade
Kölner Karneval – March 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captain Ehrenfeld
Captain Ehrenfeld!

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

Train Station Art

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

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

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

Ehrenfeld
Ehrenfeld, Köln, Germany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned!

Jason

Warsaw – November 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warsaw 3

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

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

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

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

Warsaw

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

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

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

HRC Guitars
Guitar wall – Hard Rock Cafe, Warsaw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barock Pub
Barock Pub, Warsaw

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

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

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

Warsaw 2

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

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

Saxon Garden Warsaw

Presidential Palace Warsaw

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

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

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

Castle Square Warsaw

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

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

Royal Castle Warsaw
Royal Castle, Warsaw

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

Christmas Market Warsaw

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

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

Maryensztadt

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

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

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

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

Warsaw Barbican

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned!

Jason

2021 travel roundup

Hello dear followers!

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

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

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

Anyway, on to 2021!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bury St Edmunds
Abbey Gardens, Bury St Edmunds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lancaster
Sunny Lancaster

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

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

Pike Place
Pike Place, Seattle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MadridSpurs

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

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

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

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

Live Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

Temple Bar
Temple Bar, Dublin

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

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

Malahide Castle
Malahide Castle, Ireland

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

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

Cork
Cork, Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

English Market Cork
English Market in Cork

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

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

Walla Walla Sign
Welcome to Walla Walla, Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now I can relax!

Walla Walla
Walla Walla, Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winery 1

Winery 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chihuly Glass and Garden

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

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

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

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

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

Peterborough River Nene
Peterborough, England

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

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

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

“A carpet store..?”

Carpet Store Beer

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

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

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

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

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

Peterborough Cathedral
Peterborough cathedral, Peterborough, England

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

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

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

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

JasonHaleigh

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time!

Jason

Time for some travel..

Hello dear readers, how are things?

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

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

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

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

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

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

September

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

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

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

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

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

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

November

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope you’re all doing well!

Until next time!

Jason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alpaca Farm
An alpaca farm in Oregon

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

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

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

Alpaca Feeding
Feeding time!

Alpacas

Farm View

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

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

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

Oregon State

Roadside Oregon

Oregon Views
Back to the Columbia River!

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for more on that!

Jason

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