I remember a friend saying to me that New York City was the best city in the world. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t but for someone less traveled than myself I pondered whether he could proclaim it as the best?
If he’d said the best he’d been to so far or his favourite city, sure, I’ll allow it but stated as fact? No, I can’t accept that. Particularly as he spent his visit staying in New Jersey. If it’s too expensive to stay in the city it doesn’t really give merit to the idea that it’s the best city in the world, does it?
For what it’s worth, I love New York City and I can understand why it’s so highly rated but it just falls short for me when compared to London. My love for London is unrivalled really. It is the best city that I have been to and will probably always be my favourite.
I had high hopes for New York City though, if anywhere was going to surpass my favourite this was as likely as any.
I said above, for me personally, it just fell short compared to London and I asked myself why? What gave London the edge? New York City has everything, ignoring the cost (London is hardly cheap either) my only criticism of NYC was that it “wasn’t London”. Needless to say I’m not entirely impartial when it comes to being a travel critic – my system was already rigged in London’s favour.
So rather than focus on some overseas based destination, I thought I’d dedicate this post to “my city” and giving a few reasons why it’s my favourite.
First and foremost it’s home. I was born in London, living there until I was 9 years old so it’s a city that has been with me since day one. I feel proud to have grown up in London and have that association with the city. I’ve lived in Peterborough for the 20+ years since and whilst I do possess some local pride it just isn’t the same.
I have so many good memories growing up in London and it’s a city that is always there to welcome me back when I visit. It’s a special city with special people and it’s easy to see why so many people around the world fall in love with it.
One of the things I love most about London is that it’s open to everyone. I’m privileged to be able to travel pretty much anywhere in the world without fear but not everybody has that same luxury. Homosexuality for instance is still punishable by death in some countries, whereas London has one of the largest Pride festivals in the world.
I’m not suggesting London is perfect but it’s a lot more accepting than many parts of the world and celebrations of all backgrounds are widely enjoyed here. For example a vivid memory of my time in school was learning about Diwali and being fascinated by the “festival of lights” in assembly.
London is home to people of so many backgrounds so throughout the year you’ll find various celebrations to reflect that. With the Chinese New Year approaching it’d be a great time to take a wander through London’s very own Chinatown and see some of the decorations on display.
It’s not all city life!
I think one of the biggest misconceptions about London is that it’s just a big city – all traffic and pollution. You might be surprised to know that it’s estimated that 47% of London is green space, almost half of the city! London always has so much going on and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by that but if you need a little time to sit back and escape the London rush then there are so many places to do so!
London is full of beautiful parks and places to relax. Admittedly the weather can be detrimental to actually enjoying some of these spaces but on sunnier days there are few better places to enjoy London. Park visits were always an enjoyable part of my childhood and I used to love collecting “conkers” as the change of season hit and they started falling from the trees near our home.
It is ever-changing!
I think there’s a reluctance among travellers to visit somewhere more than once but with London you’re never going to see everything. Whether you visit once or you visit 500 times it’s never going to be the same experience.
For starters, England has four different seasons so London has a very different feel to it depending what time of year you visit (rain in the summer, rain in the winter..). London is a great place to see the changing seasons and the festivities that come with that, such as great outdoor festivals in the summer or Christmas decorations in the winter, make it a place you’ll want to return to.
Beyond the seasons there’s so many other things constantly happening in London. New restaurants opening, new shopping brands arriving in the city, new shows to see in the city, new bars to check out. You’ll never experience everything in London and it makes it such an enjoyable city to return to time after time.
It’s home to world-famous sights!
I thought I’d end on this final point but the last thing that makes London special for me is that it’s home to so many iconic landmarks. Everybody is familiar with the likes of Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s cathedral and the London Eye and they look even more impressive in person!
I’ll never tire of wandering through Westminster and taking in some of London’s best known landmarks.
Of course the landmarks stretch beyond the best-known ones. Many popular TV shows and films feature some famous places in London such as Baker Street or the Millennium Bridge, whilst of course you have iconic music, theatre and sporting venues too.
Some of the marketplaces in London are some of the world’s most famous and everyone loves a good red bus / telephone box photo when they visit. London is full of familiar sights and sometimes you’ve got to go and see them for yourself!
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this post and the little glimpse in to the reasons why I love London. There are many more of course but I’d be writing forever if I listed them all.
Now tell me, what do you love about London and if it isn’t your favourite city then tell me where is! Maybe I’ll have to pay it a visit!
One of my blogging struggles of late has been trying to focus on what I actually want this blog to be. Whether you’re a full-time blogger or doing this just as a bit of fun, I think it’s easy to question yourself and let the doubts creep in. Are people still reading this? Are they enjoying it? Is the content good enough? What can I do better? What are other bloggers doing?
It took me giving advice to someone else recently to remember why I started this – I enjoy it! I want to read back about MY experiences and whether it’s 1 person or 1,000 that read along it shouldn’t matter.
So the questions switched from the above to am I still enjoying this? Does this blog truly reflect me? What can make it more personal?
There are several styles to approach blogging with and different things work for different bloggers. However the aim of the (blogging) game for me is going to be keeping a personal touch to this.
In spite of that I do still want to do the places I visit justice and offer people some inspiration to visit; with that in mind this has possibly been my toughest blogpost yet.
Spending three days in a city should be plenty of time to talk about everything the city has to offer and yet I’m struggling. I barely scratched the surface in Lisbon. To say I spent three days in Lisbon would be a lie, three nights would probably be more appropriate. I checked in to my hostel on Wednesday morning and was greeted to a “welcome to Lisbon” shot. In more ways than one that should have been a sign of things to come.
I say more ways than one because whilst it was certainly a sign of how much alcohol I would end up consuming on this trip, it was also a reflection of Lisbon’s hospitality. I had never been to Portugal before but I already felt right at home.
Of all the places I’ve visited, I’m not sure there’s anywhere I’ve felt as welcomed as I did in Lisbon throughout my stay. I’ve yet to visit anywhere that can match Portugal’s hospitality and a lot of accommodation awards and reviews back that up!
Lisbon made me fall in love with Portugal very quickly and the people were a big reason for that. Three days (nights) in Lisbon gave me a wonderful impression of the country and it’s definitely somewhere I want to explore more of – Porto in particular is now high on the list of places to visit!
However back to Lisbon, it’s a beautiful city and like many capital cities has a lot to offer. I didn’t get to experience as much as I’d intended before going as the evening antics did result in some necessary recovery time the following day. Nevertheless here’s what I got up to in Lisbon and why my 2014 trip proved to be so memorable.
I’d convinced my friend Daniel that we should go out to Portugal to watch the football. A football-orientated European away trip had been a childhood dream of mine and by 2014 I was itching to do my first overseas trip watching Tottenham.
The schedule sent us to play Lisbon based Benfica and it was too good an opportunity to miss. Lisbon was a “must-do trip” .
Me and Daniel booked our flights and accommodation separately as I was a little less cautious in worrying about getting a ticket for the football – worst case scenario I’d find a pub in Lisbon to watch it if it proved to be problematic.
We both took morning flights from London but I arrived in to Lisbon an hour earlier which gave me a small opportunity to have a little wander before lunch.
I first found my hostel on the off-chance I could check in early – my room wasn’t ready but the guy on reception kindly gave me a shot (as mentioned above) and showed me around the hostel. I left my bag in some storage and got back to having a little wander of the city.
First impressions of Lisbon were good, admittedly the sunshine probably helped but the city had character in abundance. I quickly arrived at one of Lisbon’s most famous squares – the Praca do Comercio. It’s a huge area overlooking the Tagus river with a range of restaurants closeby. A great place for people-watching!
My next impressions weren’t so flattering – I was soon approached by a couple of guys enquiring if I’d like to purchase some drugs from them. This seemed a regular occurrence in Lisbon over the next couple of days in what appeared to be a bizarre combined sunglasses and drugs enterprise. “Sunglasses? Hash?” – seemingly unable to sell one without the other.
They were everywhere Wednesday and Thursday but had seemingly disappeared come Friday with grey skies. I politely declined which was a better response than they received from most of my fellow Brits on Thursday. Admittedly they didn’t have the strongest business model – attempting to sell cheap sunglasses to people wearing sunglasses wasn’t ever likely to be too successful!
I arranged to meet Daniel around lunchtime in Rossio Square – having never been to Lisbon I had no idea how big the square was or how easy it’d be to find each-other so I reverted to Google for a suitable meeting spot.. “Outside the big yellow M?”
A lack of Wi-Fi meant I knew I wouldn’t be able to contact Daniel in Lisbon so I figured meeting outside of something so easily recognisable would be the best option before moving on elsewhere.
It sounds like a good idea in theory but did this famous M jump out at me? No. “Where the fuck is this McDonalds?”
My first impression in Bonn (Germany) exiting its train station was the sight of that big yellow M which was a damning first impression but, on this occasion, when I was actively looking for it I was having no luck whatsoever. I reckon I walked past it at least once, plus figured maybe I’d confused it with a neighbouring square so circled that at least once too. Eventually I found Daniel who found it a little quicker than I had.
Even if we’d wanted to go inside I think I’d have boycotted it on this occasion in my frustration at finding it!
As it was we found a little bakery / pastry shop nearby and picked up some good local cuisine – pastries and fish are particularly popular in Lisbon.
After a quick lunch we went and grabbed a beer, soaked up the sunshine and did a little people-watching. It killed a bit of time before allowing us to head to our hostels and get checked in.
We made the most of a little downtime and arranged to meet up again later in the evening, find some food and go and find a bar to watch the Wednesday night football. We found an Irish pub and apparently weren’t alone in our thinking as we came to find there were a number of other Spurs fans already here creating a bit of an atmosphere.
A few beers and an early start had taken its toll on me, I definitely dozed off at one point during the football which says it all for how exciting the game was. We got talking to a couple of other guys who’d traveled over from England but left soon after the football finished in aim of an early night. Tomorrow was going to be all about the football and soaking up the atmosphere in Rossio Square with thousands of Spurs fans expected to be in Lisbon for Thursday evening’s game. We didn’t want to start drinking too early so agreed to meet up around lunchtime – allowing us the morning to explore independently.
On the walk back to my hostel I’d been craving food and before heading up to sleep I thought that I’d pop my head in to the bar area to see if food was a possibility – success! I ordered some pizza and was told to “take a seat” and someone would bring it over. A party of four to my right invited me over to join them. I was feeling pretty drowsy and planned to get a good night’s sleep after eating but the opportunity to make some friends quickly perked me up.
Minutes later a party of three had sat down to my left and were engaging me in conversation and looking on in pizza-envy! There wasn’t enough pizza to go around, mind you I’m not sure I would have shared it anyway.
The party to my right had dispersed shortly after but I shared conversation and drinks with the other three for the remainder of the night. At 2 euros a beer I was even content buying the odd round because four beers for less than ten euros seemed a bargain.
It got to around 1am and we called it a night – “see you at breakfast” someone said rather optimistically. I don’t know if the other three made it but my attempt was much less successful!
I’m not going to go in to Thursday’s daytime antics too much as I plan to do a separate post on life in Lisbon from a football perspective. Plus there isn’t much to tell.
Daniel spent his morning exploring for miles and I’d spent mine in bed still feeling a little rough from the night before. We met around lunchtime for a few hours of drinking and singing in Rossio Square and then dispersed towards Benfica’s Estadio De Luz (Stadium of Light).
After the football we arrived back in to Rossio Square to find a scattering of Spurs fans still around and occupying the restaurants. We grabbed a late dinner and finished off the evening with a couple of drinks before calling it a night.
I’d already had a taster of night-time fun in my hostel so couldn’t resist the temptation of popping in to the bar for “a quick drink” in the hope maybe I’d cling to some more new friends or bump in to the ones from the night before.
The bar was a bit busier at this point as the hostel run their famous “Mamas Dinners” and I think this had just ended followed by an imminent pub crawl.
Two Spanish guys saw me sat by myself and invited me over. We got chatting and they asked if I’d like to join them to go and watch some local Fado music as there was a particular artist they wanted to see playing. It sounded perfect to me!
Off we went in to the streets of Lisbon to find this bar. In hindsight I should have messaged Daniel, told him to leave his hostel and join us. I got swept up in the excitement of heading out with new friends and the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. Sorry Daniel!
Soon enough we arrived at this cosy little bar with lots of locals dancing away. We grabbed a couple of beers and joined in, enjoying the atmosphere of the place. It didn’t go on too late (I think) but it was such a fun evening and a real highlight. We parted ways once back at the hostel but I was so thankful they’d invited me to tag along. It wasn’t something I would ever have done otherwise.
De ja vu! I’d had a fun night but it led to another morning not wanting to get out of bed. I hadn’t seen much of Lisbon on Wednesday and seen even less on Thursday – with another morning passing me by I had to make the most of my Friday afternoon.
If I saw nothing else on this trip I had to go and see the Sao Jorge castle.
I can’t recommend anything else in Lisbon so fortunately I can at the very list recommend visiting here. The grounds are great to look around and the views are stunning and make the entry fee worthwhile. For better photographers than myself it is a dream location and we even had a peacock for company wandering the castle grounds! Crazy!
After getting plenty of photos we made our way back in to town for an early dinner. The city felt much emptier than previous days with the majority of Brits already homeward bound by this point.
Following dinner we returned to our hostels to freshen up and enjoy one last night in Lisbon. I’d missed out on the hostel pub crawl on the previous two nights so there was part of me tempted to do it this evening. However given I had a Saturday morning flight I took the more sensible approach and avoided it.
After a little time to relax I waited outside my hostel for Daniel to come and meet me – the weather had taken a turn for the worse and it was apparent rain was imminent.
I rushed back upstairs to pick up my coat and found two young women had checked in to my shared room. They were also Brits but studying in Spain and just wanted a little weekend break in Lisbon.
I was conscious I was now late meeting Daniel so I said my goodbyes and left them to relax. Again in hindsight I should have invited them to join us for a few drinks in Lisbon. Another missed opportunity that, looking back on, I wished I’d done differently. Oops!
I met Daniel downstairs and suggested we grab a beer at the hostel bar and hope the rain would pass. With no signs of improvement we braved the rain and went off in search of a bar in one of Lisbon’s famous neighbourhoods (Bairro Alto) known for having a great nightlife.
Being a Friday evening we were hopeful of finding some fun bars to enjoy ourselves but instead were greeted with a zombie-like city.
I don’t know if we’d gone out too early to enjoy the Portuguese nightlife or whether they’re all fair-weather drinkers afraid of a little rain but we passed several bars which were empty. Eventually we gave in and just found a cosy-looking bar to get out of the rain. After a couple of drinks we moved on hoping for more success and found this tiny bar showing some Portuguese football. The only other people here were a group of Portuguese women who seemed more interested in having a dance than the football. Realising they weren’t going to have much luck here they left and soon after we did the same in search of a livelier bar.
Finally we found a bar with some music playing and looked to have more than a handful of people inside – the first bar that didn’t seem completely dead. Along with a number of other people we’d somehow found the group of women from the bar before who seemed equally amused that we’d crossed paths again.
We enjoyed the music but were soon on our way again but resigned to the fact we weren’t having much luck finding somewhere in Lisbon. On the way back to our hostels we did pass one bar which actually seemed busy and we could certainly squeeze another beer in so figured we’d go in.
It seemed like an after-work hangout for the business folk of the city – a little posher than anywhere else we’d been. I ordered a beer which the barman handed to me. A bottle of beer accompanying a glass, as I reached for just the bottle I was met with a look of disgust from the barman – “Use the glass you peasant”.
Whilst I didn’t argue I did wonder why he’d given me a bottle if I wasn’t supposed to use it. If you’re going to force me in to using a glass then pour the damn beer in to the glass for me – i.e do your bloody job as a barman.
Needless to say it isn’t a bar I’d feel a rush to return to and we only stayed for the one beer.
We’d had a few beers but weren’t too drunk, however it felt like a good time to call it a night and so headed back to our hostels. I’d like to say that’s where the night ended for me but you can probably see where this is going.
I’d purposefully avoided the pub crawl in order to not get too drunk but another quick one before bed at the hostel bar wouldn’t hurt, right?
I’d not even got as far as ordering a beer and I could hear my name. The Spanish guys from the night before were waving me over to come and join them to which I was happy to oblige.
They were sat with some new friends around this large round table and I found some space to join them. The guys had a guitar with them tonight and were playing some Spanish tunes and having a bit of a sing-along. I had no idea what they were singing but most of the tunes were easy to follow and clap along to. The songs kept coming, the beers kept flowing and I was in the best of company – pure bliss!
I forgot to add one of the Spanish guys only spoke broken English (still better than my Spanish), the night before his friend had played a happy interpreter to leave nobody feeling left out. With the night winding down my Spanish friend tried, in his best English, to ask what songs I liked that he could play. I was trying to think of artists or bands that he might be familiar with and posed the question – “Oasis?”
Next thing I know he’s blasting out Wonderwall on the guitar and we’re both singing along in one of those rare instances where you realise how incredible music can be in bringing people together. He couldn’t speak good English, I could speak virtually no Spanish and yet here we were sharing this incredible moment belting out a classic with some beers.
It would have been the perfect time to call it a night but some French guy bought a round of vodka shots. I hate being in debt with people, even strangers, so of course I had to return the favour .
By this point it was clear I needed to get to bed but the damage was probably already done. I’d avoided the pub crawl and probably ended up equally drunk anyway. We said our goodnights and they wished me luck for the morning in my attempt to get home. I was going to need it!
A morning flight? Why!? This is another wonderful case of hindsight and prioritising relationships over convenience. Trying to make long distance work with some girl based in Birmingham was tricky whilst holding a Monday-Friday job. Weekends were the easiest chance for us to catch up so I figured I’d fly home Saturday morning so we could still spend Saturday evening and Sunday together.
2-3 weeks later we’d broken up and I now wish I’d flown home Saturday evening instead or, better yet, Sunday evening and had an extra day in Lisbon.
I woke up feeling SO rough on the Saturday. I also wasn’t helped by waking up late which meant I had a mad rush to get checked out and to the airport in time for my flight. I flagged down a taxi and crossed my fingers that I’d be on that flight home back to England.
Fortunately I was. I felt awful and flying didn’t help that. It’s one of the worst hangovers I’ve had but fortunately I ended up sleeping most of the way which was probably for the best.
Reflecting back on Lisbon could easily be seen as a waste to some people. I would love to have more photos or to have seen more of the city and it’s definitely somewhere I want to return to but there’s not a chance I’d swap those memories for a hangover free morning on any of the days I spent in Lisbon.
Whilst it wasn’t the three days I’d anticipated, the three nights are some of the best I’ve had traveling and the people I met only enforced why I love exploring this beautiful planet.
Thank you for being such wonderful hosts Portugal! I love you!
My last few posts have been a little more generic travel posts rather than destination specific, so I thought I’d get back to talking about solely one destination and maybe offer a little inspiration if you’re looking for somewhere to visit in 2018.
In this instance – Bruges!
If you haven’t heard of Bruges already (where have you been?), it’s a magical little town in Belgium. It has quickly become a popular European tourist destination and one of the Instagram favourites.
With its cobbled streets, colourful buildings and pretty canals it’s not hard to see why.
Unlike most European destinations which peak in the summer, you’ll actually find peak tourist season in Bruges is around December and a big reason for that is because of Bruges’ famous Christmas markets. Whilst December is a particularly popular time to go to Bruges, if you visit any other time of year you’re not going to be left disappointed.
Anyway, on to my experience! Looking back at December 2013 takes us to a short day trip to Bruges. Myself, Walker and Kelly thought it would be a good idea to get out of Brussels for a day and take the short train ride across to Bruges and see what all the fuss was about.
We had a little look at train prices before leaving so it ended up being a pleasant surprise to arrive at the station and discover they were offering a seasonal train ticket – a 5 euro return to Bruges! What a bargain!
Call me cynical but I couldn’t imagine it ever happening in England. With the knowledge more people were traveling to Bruges at the weekend for the Christmas markets it would provide the perfect opportunity to push prices UP, instead Belgium were pushing prices down. What is this madness? On the plus side you do get a much better train service in England than the rest of Europe, right?.. Oh wait, is that another delay?
Arriving in to Bruges in good time we exited the train station and made our way in to the centre. I find Belgium as a whole isn’t particularly great for signposted directions so if you’re a first time visitor (like we were) it might not be particularly clear which way to go.
We adopted the tried and tested method of “follow everyone else” and soon enough we were where we wanted to be. For the most-part it’s a straight walk from the station so you won’t get too lost before finding your way.
Our first stop of the day was this cute little church. It wasn’t particularly big but we thought we’d poke our heads in and have a look around. Unfortunately we’d timed our visit pretty poorly as it was a Sunday and they were mid-service. It was pretty inside but wanting to be respectful we left pretty sharp-ish and made our way back out on to the cobbled streets to explore further.
In the heart of Bruges you’ll find the market square which is where we ended up next. Overlooking the square is the huge belltower which, I hear, offers fantastic views overlooking the town. The downside to visiting on a Sunday in December is that queues were long. If you want to climb it I’d recommend visiting early in the morning to beat the queues! With barely a day in Bruges it didn’t seem a good use of our time so we decided not to bother climbing it on this occasion. However it’s definitely something I’ll look to do when I go back!
Opposite the belltower was a decent sized ice-rink and a selection of Christmas markets. Given the hype I found the latter quite underwhelming; perhaps it’s just me but I had expected more. I’ve only seen a few Christmas markets but Brussels, Paris, Bremen and Edinburgh’s have all been better. The only exception is the pitiful effort in Peterborough but I wasn’t expecting any here so I suppose even that surpassed my expectations at the back end of 2017.
Maybe it was a bad day or we’d overlooked there being more market stalls elsewhere but it was a bit of a surprise. Nevertheless the smell of food tempted us to pick up some lunch.
Moving on in to the afternoon we ended up taking one of the canal tours that run throughout Bruges. It’s one of the best ways to see the town and our ‘captain’ pointed out a few pieces of interest along the way. It was my highlight of our short time in Bruges and I’d certainly recommend trying to do one of these if you plan on visiting Bruges.
After our tour we wandered through the streets and squares of the city to ensure we’d seen as much of Bruges as we’d wanted to before leaving. The squares were particularly busy but some of the backstreets we had mostly to ourselves to admire the architecture and houses found in Bruges.
It’s a really walkable town and you can see quite a lot of it in half a day. We were content we had seen all that we wanted to do in Bruges so picked up some souvenirs and then seeked out a nearby pub to try some of the local delicacy.
Belgium is famous for its beer and it proved to be a good spot to pick up some dinner too. An additional motive of the pub visit was that it allowed me a chance to keep up to date with the football back home. It seemed a good idea beforehand but a couple of hours later I was feeling much more deflated.
Fortunately I had good company with me and some (much needed) Belgian beer to drown my sorrows. A beer or two later we called it a night and made our walk back to the station to catch our train to Brussels.
Bruges had looked pretty by day but perhaps moreso by night, particularly in December with the Christmas decorations adding a little magic to enjoy before leaving this wonderful little town. .
It ended up being a great day and is certainly somewhere that should be on your list to visit. Personally I’d recommend a weekend, you can see a lot in a day but I think I’d go back just to catch some of the things I missed the first time around – in particular catching some photos as unfortunately battery life was not kind to me on this daytrip leaving me with minimal photos to share with you. Credit to Kelly for the colourful picture of Bruges!
Despite the lack of photos it’s not a place I’ll be forgetting any time soon. If you haven’t been already I hope you’ll see it for yourself in the near future!
2017 was the year “Jason likes to travel” launched and it was quite a year! First and foremost I wanted to thank all of you for making this such an enjoyable experience. More than anything I started the blog for myself. I wanted a space I could talk about my travels and reflect on some of the experiences along the way but I didn’t think many would read it or anticipate such positive feedback. Thanks to you all for following along and for all of your kind words and supportive feedback. There will be plenty more content coming in 2018 so stick with me!
Beyond the blog, 2017 ended up being quite a memorable year for me. I started the year in Paris which really set the tone for the rest of the year and I ended 2017 celebrating Hogmanay up in Edinburgh.
Including the New Year trips at each end of the year I ended up spending time in France, Scotland (twice), USA (twice), Germany (twice), Greece and Spain. I’m so happy to have traveled so much this year and I’ve stepped foot out of England in every month but June and July (disaster!).
I promise there will be dedicated posts to all of these trips in the future which is why I haven’t gone in to too much detail on any one destination below, however I wanted to summarise what I’ve been up to this year. So here’s a short look at some of the highlights of the year.
2017 saw me spend time in five different capital cities: Paris, London, Edinburgh, Washington DC and Madrid. So inevitably they ended up playing quite a significant role in my 2017.
Paris: Okay, so I only actually spent one day of 2017 in Paris. January 1st! It’s really a trip I associate with 2016 but at midnight I was up on a rooftop seeing in the New Year and celebrating the beginning of 2017. It was the first time I’d ever been out of the country at the start of the year so a memorable moment and it really set the tone for the rest of the year!
London: Home! So technically I haven’t lived in London since 1997 but this will always be a place I think of as home. I only live an hour or so away which means it is still a city that I visit quite often.
Catching up with friends, going to the football, attending gigs, seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (it’s really good!) or just general sightseeing. London has provided a number of memorable moments in 2017 and 10 days in to the year I’ve already visited our wonderful capital twice in 2018!
Washington DC: Some cities like New York City, Sydney and Berlin have been absolute “must visit” destinations for me, meanwhile others are more like “one day” destinations. I want to be clear and say I want to visit absolutely everywhere in the world but that soon becomes a long list. Being realistic I’m not going to visit everywhere and DC was a place that I knew I may / may not get to.
Circumstances led me to DC but on arrival I still wasn’t sure what to expect. Perhaps that was a good thing. You only really hear about the political side to the city which I can’t say particularly excited me – it meant I was heading to DC with relatively low expectations. Whilst within the US the message was “Make America Great Again” – from the outside all that I saw was a divided nation in political turmoil and I was heading right in to the heart of it.
Fortunately it was “business as usual” in DC. I don’t want to make this too politically focused but as far as “MAGA” is concerned I always feel like the every day people you meet are the best indication of how great a place is opposed to those in power. As ever, I felt completely welcomed in DC and quickly discovered this wonderful city had so much depth to it. Of course there are political elements to DC but at the same time there’s a lot of history here, stunning architecture, beautiful nature (helped by peak Cherry Blossom season) and a buzzing nightlife. DC ended up being so much better than anticipated, despite being sick throughout my time there. I didn’t particularly intend to end up in DC but I’m glad I I found my way there. I’d quite like to go back because there’s still a few things I’d like to do there and I could have a proper night out in the city next time.
Madrid: Another “one day” destination that happened to be in political turmoil (Catalan independence). In all likelihood I knew I’d get to Madrid at some point but if I was going to visit Spain a return to Barcelona was a bigger priority. Then there were countless other European capitals I wanted to visit first – luckily I’ve already ticked off a few of those. Madrid had never had the same appeal for me as the likes of Berlin, Paris, Edinburgh, Amsterdam or Rome (the latter I’ve yet to get to).
So on that basis I owe massive apologies to Madrid – wow! What a city! It was easily my favourite place I visited in 2017.
Unlike DC I was quite prepared for an enjoyable trip by the time it came around – the more I read up on Madrid, the more excited I got. It lived up to every expectation and then some. Admittedly I visited for football and a positive result in the game helped that but taking the football out of the equation it is still a wonderful city.
It’s full of colour, full of character, has so much street art, good food, stunning architecture, beautiful weather and a great nightlife. I could go on and on. After Berlin (and London obviously) it is probably my favourite capital city I’ve visited to date. Ryanair cancelled my flight which means I actually ended up with an extra day in Madrid but I could still have easily stayed longer.
Don’t make the same mistake I did and wait to visit Madrid – go as soon as you can!
Edinburgh: Last but certainly not least. I started the year in France and ended the year in Scotland. Paris had given me a little taste of New Year fun in another country but I wanted bigger and better – step up Hogmanay!
I’ve been to Edinburgh before and it is such a wonderful city – it really is a must visit whatever time of year you visit but I had to see what all the fuss about Hogmanay is. It has been on the bucketlist for a while and this was the opportunity to do it.
It was incredible! It completely lived up to the hype for me. I can’t imagine a better place to see in the New Year – I hope to get to New York City and Sydney sometime for their celebrations but Edinburgh has really set the standard. Best New Year ever!
In the last couple of years I feel like I’ve just switched between visiting Germany and the USA. I went to Germany three times in 2016 and twice in 2017, meanwhile I went to the USA twice in 2016 and then twice in 2017. Don’t get me wrong I love both countries and I’ve been lucky to visit some incredible cities in the last couple of years but I wanted to freshen things up. I was determined to get to at least one new country in 2017.
My heart was set on a birthday treat to myself. I wanted a relaxing getaway in August for a few days and all I had to do was decide on where, in Europe, to visit. It would have been cheaper to go away in June or July but I was adamant I deserved my birthday week off which meant trying to find an affordable escape somewhere at peak holiday time in Europe. After some searching I’d found reasonable flights and a hotel, the day after my birthday I was flying off to Thessaloniki in Greece.
I didn’t know much about the city but I knew the good weather was guaranteed and it ticked off the criteria of visiting a new country too. It was my first adventure in Greece and what better time of year to visit than in the summer? It was perfect!
Unlike Greek hotspots such as Athens, Santorini and many of the other islands – Thessaloniki isn’t a particularly well known place which meant it wasn’t full of tourists. I spent a few days relaxing, drinking beers and enjoying the warm weather. I’m not sure it’s a city I feel a need to return to but experiencing those Greek sunsets was definitely a highlight of the year and particularly the summer!
The German trips!
Visits to Germany in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 (x3) mean this country has been a regular feature of my annual highlights and as I mentioned above there were another two visits in 2017.
Hamburg: This is a city that has been on my list for a little while but I didn’t really anticipate getting there as soon as this year. I started looking for cheap flights for the last weekend of May (the Monday was a public holiday) and Hamburg was surprisingly cheap. A chance to practice my German, a city I’ve wanted to visit for ages and affordable – how could I possibly resist?
It’s a cracking city, I can see why it’s so highly rated and featured as one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 cities to visit in 2018. It ended up being a great weekend away and I was fortunate with the weather too! It was well worth missing a festival back home for and another city I’d like to return to.
Bremen & Düsseldorf: A while ago I posted about my love affair with Köln and my frustration at the footballing schedule continually sending me back to West Germany. Fast forward a year and I was put in the same scenario. I was NOT going to Köln again so soon. I really didn’t fancy staying in Dortmund so I started looking at what other German football coincided with my trip. Werder Bremen – “that’ll do!”.
Bremen’s charm had me swooning instantly. There was something irresistible about it. Typical Germany but without the crowds of the bigger cities. I loved it and just wanted a little longer in the city. For a lesser known European city-break I’d certainly recommend a couple of days in Bremen.
Düsseldorf was a bit of a plan B. I was going to watch football in Dortmund on the Tuesday night but I soon came to the realisation that there were no trains from Dortmund back to Bremen on Tuesday evening. So I had to half my time in Bremen and booked a couple of nights in a hotel in Düsseldorf. The weather was miserable but I did like the city. It had plenty of places to go out to eat/drink and enjoy the city’s nightlife however I don’t think I really made the most of my days in the city to recommend it fully. If you pushed me to recommend one or the other I’d tell you to go to Bremen but it was still a memorable trip.
The loved ones!
Having covered the capital cities, Greece and Germany all that is really left of 2017 are the US trips! My trips to the USA were heavily focused around visiting some special people across the country. One of the drawbacks to having people you care about in other countries is you don’t get to see them! This year I managed to change that and met up with a few people for the very first time – very satisfying and the real highlight of my year.
Nashville: I took so many good memories home with me from Nashville. It started with meeting a friend (and her family) who’d driven up from Alabama who I’d missed out on seeing a year earlier in Atlanta. It was great to finally meet, check out the Parthenon and grab some food together. With Sam bidding farewell to Nashville and making the drive back to Alabama I was left to explore the city (nightlife) for myself.
Nashville didn’t disappoint, infact I loved it! It was everything I’d hoped it would be and “music city” certainly lived up to its name. I regularly crave a return to Nashville because it’s a city like no other I’ve been to. Pure bliss and I feel like I left a little piece of me behind (probably my liver). I hope it’s a place I’ll return to. Everyone needs to experience a night in Nashville at some point!
Dallas: I got to Texas! Finally! It is somewhere I have been wanting to visit for such a long time so to finally make it there made this such a special highlight of my year.
I did like Dallas as a city but it’s not a place that blew me away. I enjoyed myself but it’s probably a place I’d ordinarily be content in visiting just the once.
However I had wonderful company and with that came wonderful memories to take home with me. It’s a trip that I look back on so fondly of and I don’t think I could have enjoyed it any more. Full of first time experiences, long car rides, awful shots (sorry Amber – it’s true!) and the best people to share it with. Everything made it a trip I’ll cherish for a long time.
I’ll definitely be back Dallas!
Washington State: Apparently one Washington visit in a year wasn’t enough so after visiting DC in April, five months later I was heading to the West Coast. Getting to Washington had been on the agenda for a while and a wedding in 2018 finally gave me an excuse to visit!
Wait, 2018? Yeah, it turns out I couldn’t wait that long so started making plans to get there much sooner.
Like Dallas this trip was all about the company (including the two-legged kind!) which made for such a memorable trip. Mountain views, baseball, awesome bars, good food, cool museums, road trips and boat trips – I loved it all. The company just topped it off
That rounds up a summarised look at my 2017 adventures.
A huge thanks to Sam, Scott & Ariel (Nashville), Amber, Lanie & Macie (Dallas), Maddie, Cassie & Haleigh (Washington State) and Daniel & Natalie (football) for joining me on the adventure.
The aim now is to have 2018 top 2017 which will take some doing, however with a month-long trip to the US in the planning stages for this summer I wouldn’t rule it out as a possibility.
If you read this far, thanks again! I hope you enjoyed it.
What were your highlights of 2017? What have you got planned for 2018? Let me know in the comments!
1988 – a year of many historic moments. Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway, Liverpool were the champions of English football, Celine Dion won the Eurovision song contest, George Bush won the 88 US presidential election but most importantly was the birth of an English baby boy on the 7th of August. I was always a bit of an early riser as a kid so typically I was two hours early to deny myself the perfect birth date of 8/8/88.
Fast forward 29 years and that little baby is quickly approaching his 30th birthday! Thirty!
Those 30 years have taken me to some incredible places. For starters I was born and grew up in London so life began in one of the best cities in the world, certainly my favourite anyway. I’ve since been to the likes of New York City, Sydney, Berlin, Madrid, Amsterdam and many many more destinations. I can’t deny I’ve done a lot of traveling but it would be easy to forget I didn’t really start taking traveling seriously until 2013.
I was lucky growing up that I had been on family trips, the odd school trip and then had annual one week holidays of my own in 2011 and 2012 but going into 2013 I’d barely scratched the surface of all there is to see on this planet.
It wasn’t until 2013 that I really started focusing my efforts in to traveling more. So barely five years! People often suggest traveling is for your 20’s, if that was the case I’d arrived pretty late to the party! I’ll let you in on a little secret though – you can keep traveling at 30 and beyond! I know it’s hard to believe but it’s true! I’ve seen it with my own eyes! Apparently they don’t confiscate your passport on your 30th birthday!
So with that shocking revelation in mind, the planning for my own 30th is underway. On the 3rd of August I’m due to attend a wedding on the West coast of the USA, with a 30th birthday four days later how could I not spend it in the US? The timing was perfect and there’s so much of the US I still want to see – particularly down that West coast! A big adventure was on the cards.
I floated the idea with my boss at work about taking a longer trip and asked how much time I’d be able to take off in one go. I optimistically put forward the idea of four weeks and I’ve had the OK this week!
If it comes to fruition this will be the biggest trip I’ve ever taken and is therefore going to require a lot of planning! I’ve done a couple of multi city breaks before, including in the US, so I’m not a complete novice in this area but it’s a little daunting nonetheless.
Here’s an insight in to the early stages of planning a trip like this.
Itinerary One of the most important decisions of a trip like this is obviously deciding where you want to go! You don’t necessarily need a finalised list but a draft list of destinations so you can start planning everything else out is helpful. The more flexible you can be the better but it’s also always good to have some set destinations in mind to help map out a route.
So stick a little pin in Seattle. That’s locked in to the itinerary for the wedding and gives me somewhere to either start my trip or aim to get to later on in the trip. Having other “must visits” will help plan out a route. Portland and San Francisco tick that box on the West coast and from there I’m pretty flexible. If everything goes to plan I’ll have 30 days in the country so the possible destinations can spread right across the country. Seeing more of California is certainly one option I’ll explore but similarly I have a number of friends in the US and I feel like that could dictate some of the destinations I choose to visit.
Thirty days in the USA very much screams “ROADTRIP!!!” – what a perfect opportunity for that bucketlist item many people dream of. Road-tripping across the USA definitely has its temptations. Travel the famous Route 66? Maybe! I’ll just rent a car and see where the road takes me!
However there is one tiny little flaw to this almost perfect plan – I can’t drive. Unlike in Europe, traveling the US without a car is a little more challenging but I’ll be making good use of what available transport there is. The AMTRAK train line, greyhound buses and potentially even domestic flights dependent on the distance should get me so far and will still help me reach some incredible destinations.
Personally I love this part of the planning process as you have to weigh up the cost and convenience of getting from destination to destination. Do I go from A to B or B to A? B’s actually too expensive so what if I go to D? Well if I’m going to D maybe stop at C on the way? Oh, flying to D is actually cheaper. Or you could get an overnight bus to E which would mean one less night’s accommodation to pay for. Decisions, decisions, decisions!
Accommodation This will likely play some factor in which destinations I visit too. Hotel prices in the US are quite expensive. Some cities are of course worse than others but it could be a factor between visiting one place rather than another. This is the area of the trip I’ll certainly be looking to cut costs. Aside from the occasional ‘treat’ I’ll probably be steering clear of hotels and exploring hostel and AirBnB options instead.
I’m also hopeful that I might have some US based friends I can stay with along the way, if I’ve got somewhere I can stay then the probability is I’m going to make more effort to visit!
Something else to think about is what I actually want from this trip. The USA is huge which also makes it incredibly diverse. On previous trips I’ve been to Disneyland, I’ve been to small college towns and I’ve been to crazy cities like New York City. They’re all completely different type of trips. The US is so diverse as a holiday destination and has so much to offer, just deciding what type of holiday you want is a dilemma in itself. Do I want to concentrate on visiting cities? Could I squeeze in some beach time or visit one of the US’ many national parks? Is a Disney / Universal trip a possibility? I’m often attracted to big cities but with a much longer trip in mind perhaps mixing it up a bit is the better way to go!
My last big thing to think about at this early stage is who is joining me on the adventure. I enjoy solo travel but I’m also thinking about who I’ll be spending time with whilst in the US. Would anyone come with me? Which US based friends do I try to visit? Do I see them in their hometown or might they meet me somewhere? Even if it only ends up being for a portion of the trip opposed to the entirety, it’s an important aspect to think about and plan for.
On a related note – that road trip I joked about? If there are any willing drives / adventurers then step right up, I’m more than happy contributing towards “gas” costs.
Budget I didn’t want to completely omit a mention of this but at the same time it’s a little early to accurately budget at this stage. It’s an important part of the trip but probably comes in the next part of the planning stage. You can budget an estimated amount based on accommodation per night, spending per day plus return flights to the US but really it’s very much guesswork at this stage.
The budget really overlaps with some of the above stages once I’ve started “connecting the dots”.
At the minute my only definitive “dot” is Seattle with much more planning to do!
Anyway that rounds up the early planning stages of the big 3-0 celebrations. Stay tuned for updates on how the planning goes and hopefully I’ll soon have a final itinerary!
I’d love to hear your input. How did you celebrate your 30th? Where should I be looking to visit? If you’ve planned a longer-term trip of your own I’d appreciate any tips you have.
Or maybe you’re just tempted to tag along? Get in touch!
In addition to Köln and Edinburgh, Brussels seems to be one of those cities I can’t escape from. If you were to ask me how many times I’d been to Brussels then I’d probably say “two and a half..”
Theoretically I’ve only been to Brussels twice. The first trip was a few days to celebrate a friend’s birthday in December 2013, I then went back for a further few days in October 2015. However I’ve also taken the train from London to Köln (March 2013) and Amsterdam (December 2015) via Brussels. The Köln trip left me no time to explore but on the way home from Amsterdam I had 2-3 hours to kill in Brussels before catching the Eurostar home. I can’t really count it as a full visit but it gave me enough time to have a little wander. Hence two and a half!
Two and a half visits later, what makes Brussels a destination worth visiting? Plenty!
Let me start by saying Brussels exceeded my expectations. You might think I’m getting carried away but let me clarify; I went to Brussels with such low expectations it would have been impossible not to. I fully understand why it’s neighbouring capitals Amsterdam and Paris get such high praise but Brussels should get far more credit than it does. It has its rough edges like any city does and it’s quickly associated as a city drowning in European politics but there’s definitely more to Brussels than just politics. Brussels has a fun side to Brussels too and plenty to admire in its architecture, history and most importantly – beer!
If you already have plans to visit Brussels or you’re still in need of a little convincing as to why you should visit, here are my favourite things about Brussels.
Your first stop on any visit to Brussels has to be Grand Place. This is arguably one of the prettiest squares in Europe and will leave you speechless at how impressive it is. A little on the pricier side but take a seat outside at one of the cafes or restaurants at Grand Place and just people-watch this busy square and admire how beautiful it is with gold splattered everywhere. Visit around Christmas time and it’s more impressive, particularly in the evenings with it all lit up! You’ll also find Brussels town hall and Tourist Information area here.
Whilst Grand Place is certainly the highlight, Brussels has other impressive architecture too such as its palace, beautiful churches and cathedrals. The symbol of Brussels is the ‘Atomium’ which whilst an attraction (read more below) is also a cool and unique piece of architecture.
Brussels/Belgium is home to some really famous artists and characters including the creation of loved characters such as Tin-Tin. You’ll find plenty of street art in Brussels and it’s also well known for it’s comic-book scene. If this is something you’re interested in then you should give Brussels Comic Strip Centre a visit.
Art might not be particularly high on your list of things to see when travelling but you should definitely make a quick stop to visit the “Mannekin Pis”. The UK is well known for “the boy who lived” whereas Brussels is famous for “the boy who pees”. I’m not expecting a JK Rowling masterpiece for the latter but it’s something the locals are proud of and they regularly dress him up in new outfits for the tourists and locals alike to admire.
The Atomium & Mini-Europe
Alright, this is two attractions but they’re next to eachother so quite convenient to do both at once. As mentioned above – the Atomium is the symbol of the city and a pretty cool piece of architecture from the outside. The inside is one of Brussel’s leading attractions and gives you the opportunity to see Brussels from a much higher vantage point. We were relatively content to just see it from the outside but it’s worth a visit.
Across the street you’ll find another great attraction called Mini-Europe. If you’ve always dreamed of travelling across Europe but not had the time or money for it then this is for you. You’ll find a number of famous landmarks in miniature form that take you right across Europe and fulfill that dream you always had of seeing sights such as the Eiffel Tower – you’ll even find a mini Grand Place here!
I’d certainly recommend it as a great family-friendly attraction but it’s one for the adults to enjoy too!
Depending on how much time you have in Brussels and how much mini-Europe has quenched your thirst for more adventure, you might find yourself tempted to see more of Belgium! There are a lot of things I love about Belgium but one of the added perks is how small the country is. It means most major Belgian cities aren’t much more than an hour away from Brussels, making it a wonderful country for day-tripping. I’ve personally been to Bruges, Gent and Liege which I’d be happy to recommend for daytrips (expect future posts on these 3). However other towns and cities such as Antwerp, Dinant and Ypres also remain on my bucketlist and are all within easy reach from Brussels.
If you’re content travelling a little further than Western Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and parts of France are all fairly close by too.
One of the first things you’ll associate with Belgium is its cuisine – particularly famous for their chocolate, waffles and beer. No trip to Brussels would be complete with delving in to this area a little. You might also be surprised to hear that Belgium is where the “French fry” originates. If you want an authentic Belgian dish order the popular “Moules Frites” (Mussels with fries) accompanied with one of Belgium’s famous beers. ‘Jupiler’ seemed to be the most popular in Brussels but you really can’t go wrong. Personal favourites were the Duvel, Leffe and Hoegaarden.
Of course it isn’t all about local cuisine. Like most capital cities you’ll find that Brussels is a multi-cultural city and you’ll find a range of different cuisine options in the city.
Have you ever been to Brussels? Leave some recommendations in the comments on other tips you have.
If you haven’t been to Brussels hopefully this went some way in convincing you that it’s worth a visit!
I find that whenever people from other countries talk about the UK they generally mean England. It’s easy to forget that the UK is actually made up of more than one country. In the same way that America is more than just the USA and Africa is more than South Africa.
It’s no secret that London is my favourite city in the world, so I’m not trying to sway you from visiting London – please do..
However as much as London should be on any travel bucketlist, so should Edinburgh! It’s a must visit on any trip to the UK!
I have been fortunate enough to visit Edinburgh three times now, falling in love on the first visit and moreso on each return. I already have plans to make trip number 4 to celebrate Hogmanay / New Years Eve at the end of 2017.
So what does Edinburgh have to offer and how can you make the most of it?
Edinburgh is divided in to two, similar to Buda and Pest which form the city Budapest. Princes Street gardens splits the city, with the “old town” on one side and the “new town” on the other.
Edinburgh’s city centre is also a UNESCO world heritage site. With its cobbled streets, old buildings and castle overlooking the city it’s pretty easy to see why the old town in particular is held in such high regard.
The city has a fascinating history which dates back hundreds of years and also has some really unique stories throughout that time. One of my favourites and on the more bizarre spectrum was the story of Maggie Dickson. Maggie was sentenced to death and was due to be publicly executed. The execution was carried out and Maggie’s body was ready to be transported for burial. On route there was a little knock on the coffin and out springs Maggie well and alive. Maggie’s return to Edinburgh caused uproar but logic would suggest you can’t execute somebody twice. In the eyes of the law Maggie’s execution had been carried out and she went on to live for many many years. You’ll now find a pub in her name to preserve her memory as Edinburgh’s luckiest lady.
It’s a favourite of mine but you’ll find Edinburgh is full of interesting stories.
Food & nightlife
Scotland has a bit of a reputation for being a nation that quite like their drink, so it should perhaps be unsurprising that Edinburgh has a great nightlife with many many pubs around the city. Whether you’re in the new town or the old town, you won’t struggle to find somewhere to spend the evening. For the beer lovers I’d particularly recommend BrewDog who craft their own beers and now have an Edinburgh branch. You’ll find a few of these dotted around the UK but they originate from Scotland and you’ll also find a BrewDog in Aberdeen or Glasgow if extending your Scottish adventure beyond the capital.
Of course it’s not all about alcohol in Scotland. Scotland is almost famous for its haggis, deep fried Mars Bars and Irn Bru. I’d also particularly recommend picking up some Edinburgh rock to take home with you – it’s delicious!
Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns, JK Rowling and many more have lived in Edinburgh so it shouldn’t be too surprising that there is plenty of interesting things to do here. Whether you’re visiting museums, enjoying Edinburgh’s performing arts, going to watch Edinburgh’s sports teams, visiting pandas and koala bears at Edinburgh’s zoo or doing a ghost tour in search of Edinburgh’s poltergeists you’ll find this city has so much to keep you entertained throughout your stay.
Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival and Hogmanay celebrations are world famous and also both personal bucketlist items of mine. These are peak times to visit so you’ll find the city is likely to be more expensive and busier too but both are so highly rated that it’d be a great time to experience the city.
However whatever time of year you visit you’ll find there’s plenty going on in the city.
Edinburgh also happens to be a really beautiful city. In its architecture you quickly see why JK Rowling took so much inspiration for Harry Potter here with castle views and beautiful architecture. Princes Street gardens adds a little greenery to the centre of the city and Edinburgh is also right by the coast so if you’re willing to take a short trip away from the city centre you’ll soon find yourself with the luxury of sea views.
Edinburgh’s best views can be found at one of Edinburgh Castle, Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat. However keep in mind you’ll have to pay for entry in to the castle to reap the benefits of the views. Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat provide cheaper alternatives but a bit more of a climb to reach them.
You should definitely make time to check out at least one of those. For less of a city view but equally as pretty, Edinburgh zoo also has some great views from the top of the hill.
The 5 must sees!
I personally enjoyed paying to explore it further but even if you just want to admire from the outside, it’s hard to miss this wherever you are in the city. It’ll be one of your first sights arriving in to Edinburgh’s city centre.
The Royal Mile
The sound of bagpipes, plenty of street performers and a number of shops and restaurants makes no trip to Edinburgh complete without walking along the Royal Mile.
St Giles’ Cathedral
If, like me, you enjoy visiting religious buildings then this is a must. It’s a lot smaller than many cathedrals you’ll see on your travels but it’s still so pretty. Entry is free (donation optional) and it’s right in the heart of the old town so worth checking out.
Perhaps a little morbid but this graveyard is home to some fascinating stories and is also a highly reported spot for poltergeist activity. Starting with the latter, the Bloody Mackenzie is said to haunt this graveyard with hundreds of reported and unexplained symptoms and incidents occurring here. Come to your own conclusions but it’s a fascinating read and if you’ve got time you can even do ghost tours here that have some rather interesting reviews.
Another popular figure that calls this home is Edinburgh’s famous dog, Greyfriar Bobby. After losing his owner it’s said that Bobby sat at his master’s grave until his own death. Such a famed story tourists from all over the world would come to visit and feed Bobby and you’ll even see a statue of him just across the road from the graveyard. Bobby also has his own shiny headstone, usually accompanied with flowers left by Edinburgh’s many visitors.
For the Harry Potter fanatics you’ll also see some interesting names across various headstones. Looking for inspiration, it’s said JK Rowling was advised to visit the local cemetary which was inspiration for a few characters. See if you can find Voldemort, Mad Eye Moody and Professor McGonagall! The latter has his own rather amusing story remembered as “Scotland’s worst ever poet”.
A place full of history, in the past people would shop here to pick up their daily needs but would also gather here for any public events and executions.
You’ll still find a market here throughout the day but the rest of the square is surrounded by restaurants and pubs which tend to be highly popular. A good spot to fill your stomach with food and beer!
A lot of the daily & evening tours begin in this area too so a good spot if you’re looking for one of these.
That wraps up my thoughts on Edinburgh. Feel free to ask for any further tips / suggestions, also feel free to comment with your own if you’ve been to Edinburgh. I’m heading back there at the end of the year so would love to hear your recommendations too!
In an older post I wrote about Sydney which I visited in February 2013, it really enhanced my love of travel and more importantly it also gave my confidence a much needed boost. After two weeks in Sydney I arrived back in England and my thoughts immediately turned towards the next trip. I now had that travel bug.
Easter was coming up, it felt an ideal time to get away without having to take time off work. I’d also had a little booster as I’d received a decent little sum through a tax rebate to fund a weekend trip somewhere. I explored a number of options before eventually deciding to catch a train to some German city called “Cologne”. Why Cologne? Honestly, I don’t really know. A combination of it being expensive to fly Easter weekend and Cologne not being too far away on the train somehow led me to one of Germany’s biggest cities.
The reality though is that it was such an illogical choice. I knew nothing about Cologne, it wasn’t a city that I’d ever thought of visiting, I couldn’t speak a word of German so how I ended up there is a bit of a mystery.
I hadn’t ever been to Germany before so I went to Cologne with no idea of what to expect but was pleasantly surprised. It’s quite a nice city and one I’d happily recommend to people looking for a European weekend break away. The standout landmark of the city is its cathedral (the Kölner Dom), you can see it from miles away and all over the city. Seeing it for the first time blew me away and it doesn’t get any less impressive several viewings later. It is an incredible piece of architecture, a World Heritage Site and a reason in itself to visit Cologne.
Once you’re done admiring the cathedral (this could take a while) you’ll find plenty else to keep you entertained. The Rhine river runs through the heart of the city so you can take cruises along the river, get tickets for the theatre or a show, discover the museums (the Lindt chocolate factory particular popular and has some great views on the roof!), walk through the large shopping district in the city or just wine and dine your way through the pubs and restaurants scattered along Cologne’s cobblestones. Along the waterfront you’ll find some particularly enjoyable spots to enjoy the local delicacies and have a few Kölsch beers.
It’s a good city break. It’s not the greatest city you’ll ever visit but I do think it’s worth a visit. I’d personally recommend spending 2-3 days in Cologne and not much more. I think any longer and you’d soon run out of things to see and do. My trip was 3 days long and I left with thoughts that I’d seen all that I wanted to. It’s a nice city, I’d had fun and it was a good first impression of Germany. I’d never rule out returning somewhere because you don’t know what might happen but I didn’t envisage I’d be going back to Cologne.
Trip 2: The return to Köln (Mar 2016)
Three years earlier I couldn’t see myself returning to Köln – nice city but “been there, done that” would be an apt description of my visit to Köln. I struggled explaining how I’d even decided upon Köln so you’re probably scratching your head as to how I ended up back here.
Luckily it’s a little more straight-forward on this occasion. I am a huge football fan and one of my big bucketlist items was to attend a Borussia Dortmund home game at some point. Famed for its incredible atmosphere and “yellow wall” it’s something that any football fan would want to experience. Unbelieveably the situation arose where my beloved Tottenham Hotspur had been scheduled to play in Dortmund. I had to go! The game was announced Friday lunchtime and by Friday evening I had booked flights to Germany! A “once in a lifetime” opportunity to watch Spurs in Dortmund – I’m going again next month.
Easy to laugh in hindsight but it genuinely felt like a “once in a lifetime” chance and a “must not miss” game. I wasn’t alone in that thinking though and by Friday afternoon the, normally cheap, flights to Dortmund and Dusseldorf had started shooting up. What was plan B?
Flights to Köln are still really really cheap and it’s not that far away. Book the flights asap, worry about the accommodation later.
Accommodation in Dortmund was fully booking up, neighbouring cities had no real appeal to me and Köln was appearing the most sensible and cheapest option. I could still travel to Dortmund on matchday, right? It does mean returning to a city you’ve already been to though. I was a little reluctant but committed to Köln. I could take the odd day trip, see some of the remaining bits and pieces Köln had to offer and at least I had friends with me this time which would be much more fun than my previous solo adventure here.
Oh, one other thing. I could also speak the language! Admittedly nowhere near fluently but I really can’t understate how much of a difference this made.
I arrived Wednesday morning and come lunchtime I had spoken more German than the entirety of my previous trip. Only something as simple as asking for a table, reading a menu and ordering some food / beers in another language but to me it was mind-blowing. I’d been in this same restaurant three years earlier and knew nothing. Here I was complimenting the food ( “sehr lecker” ) and asking where the toilets were because I’d ordered a beer or two too many. It made me feel proud and definitely felt like I was acclimatising a bit better than my previous trip to Köln.
Returning to Köln was an interesting experience. It felt so familiar but different at the same time. I’d walked these streets, been in these bars before but because of the improvement in my German it felt like I was seeing things with new eyes and my ears were definitely picking up on things I’d missed out on last time. The friendly chit-chat of the locals and German mannerisms that were easier to notice.
I didn’t spend all of my days in Köln, I took the odd day trip to nearby places such as Brühl and Bonn but overall I left Köln content.
There had been a twinge of disappointment at returning but by the end of it I was thankful I’d gone back with more of a local experience. Two trips over eight nights though felt plenty. Would I return to Köln? Maybe but certainly not to soon. Two trips in the space of three years was plenty for the near future.
Trip 3: “Where is Leverkusen?” (Oct 2016)
Köln wasn’t my only option for Dortmund, I could certainly have picked other German cities that were slightly nearer but Köln at the time seemed like a logical choice. With hindsight maybe I would have gone somewhere else in March.
After a few trips in 2016 I’d saved my last few days of annual leave for one more away trip with Spurs. All I had to wait on was the destination. Where would Spurs be playing?
Leverkusen, Germany. Germany again! Alright, I quite like Germany. Where exactly is Leverkusen though? Oh, it’s a tiny town outside of Köln. That’s bloody convenient. Nearest airport? Kôln/Bonn. Nearest city? Köln. So.. Köln.. again.. really? Third trip, second of 2016.
I was gutted. Similar to a spoilt little child I was eyeing up all the incredible European destinations Spurs could potentially be going to and I’d “only” got West Germany again. This wasn’t meant as a personal attack on Köln because it is a nice city but I think I would have taken ANYWHERE else. I’d seen enough of the city on the first visit, a second was definitely enough and just over 6 months later I was going back. What was I going to do for five days on my third trip to the city?
I’m an optimistic and positive person so my childishness had evaporated come the day of my flight out there. I love Germany, what was I so miserable about? Most people would love to travel as much as I do and I was having a little tantrum. Good friends, German beers, a day out at the football – what was not to like? It certainly beat being at work or stuck in the rain in England.
It wasn’t ideal but just make the most of it. I took a couple of day trips again, this time including a day in Belgium. That gave my German so much confidence. I’d spent Sunday in Germany, speaking a good level of the language, before visiting Belgian city Liege on the Monday. Liege is a French-speaking city and it wasn’t until I went to grab lunch that it occurred to me I hadn’t entirely thought this through.
A friendly greeting of “Bonjour” accompanied with a French menu. Panic! My French is rubbish! Take me back to Germany! I can do this no problem whatsoever.
I’ll talk about Liege another time but it dawned on me how good my German is at this point. Sure, amongst fluent German speakers I might struggle but I was better than 90% of foreigners.
Back to Köln! Tuesday was simply a day of football and German beer – wonderful. The game was dreadful and another wonder-save from Hugo Lloris in Europe spared us from defeat but what a fun day and fun atmosphere.
Wednesday my mood had switched completely. I was in complete admiration of Köln, I seemed to have Köln rose-tinted glasses on. Everywhere I looked I could only see the things I loved about the city – it’s beautiful cathedral, walking alongside the Rhein river and just wandering up and down it’s cobbled streets. I felt happy here, I felt at home with such familiar surroundings. Maybe a third visit does that to you?
Part of me didn’t want to leave and part of me was questioning if I’d come back to Köln for a 4th time and of the opinion I probably would.
They say “third time’s a charm” and it couldn’t be more apt to describe my love affair with Köln. It’s such a strange city for me. It was never a city on my radar, I couldn’t quite tell you how I ended up there, had no real intention of returning on either of my first two trips and yet ended up falling in love with it on the third visit.
Am I in a rush to return to Köln? Not so soon but oddly I see myself back there at some point. It took a while but you won my heart Köln and all three trips certainly have some wonderful memories.
I don’t know when I’ll see you next but “Bis bald Köln, ich liebe dich”
So tell me, have you ever grown to love a place more after several visits? Have you been to Köln yourself? Leave me a comment and tell me what you thought.
I thought I’d change the theme a little and do a post on some of the things I regularly get asked by family, friends and across social media platforms. So here goes:
I’ll start with the obvious one. Where have you been?
I was born and grew up in England so naturally I’ve seen a bit of my own country, there’s still plenty more I want to see mind you.
Beyond that I’ve been to Scotland, Wales, Portugal, Spain, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Italy, Greece, Australia and the USA. Some have been one time visits, some of those I’ve been to multiple times. The USA is my most visited country with 8 trips, however I’ll be making my 8th trip to Germany before the end of 2017.
This is probably my most frequently asked question and probably a good indication that I have a reputation for travelling. I’ve actually got three trips lined up at the minute but the next of those is to Madrid in Spain. It’ll be my first time in the Spanish capital – any tips are welcome!
How can you afford to travel so much?
There are a few factors to this and one of those are my lifestyle choices. I haven’t got my own place, a mortgage to pay, kids to worry about and so on. It makes traveling a lot easier when all of your money after bills is for yourself.
With that said whilst my lifestyle choices help, I don’t plan on stopping once I’ve settled down. Plenty of families and couples are able to travel too. Travel is much more affordable than you might think, particularly with the rise of budget airlines and accommodation.
I genuinely believe the only difference for those that travel regularly is that they’re willing to make it a priority and make sacrifices elsewhere within their lives. There really isn’t a right or wrong way to live your life, you should 100% do whatever it is that makes you happy. If you want the latest piece of technology, want to go out for dinner with friends or have to have that Sky subscription that’s absolutely fine but these are sacrifices travelers make to fund their travels. I’d love to replace my 12 year old TV but it’s the equivalent of a holiday. Whilst the TV works I’d sooner go abroad.
You might only make little cutbacks or savings but it all adds up. One less takeaway is that little bit closer to your next trip!
Where is the best place you’ve been to?
A tricky question. I’m always inclined to answer New York City when I’m asked this, however it really depends on what sort of holiday you’re in the mood for. I can’t 100% say NYC is better than a trip to Disney for example, you can’t easily compare the two as they’re completely different holidays and I loved visiting Orlando as a kid (I want to go back!).
Everywhere is different and makes it difficult to pick a favourite destination. You can even visit two cities in the same country and find that neither are anything alike.
NYC lived up to the high expectations though so I’ll go with that as a close second to London (which I still think of as home).
Where is the friendliest place you’ve been to?
Lisbon. I’d go back to Portugal in a heartbeat just for the people. There are friendly people everywhere you go but the Portuguese came across as extra friendly. Pretty much any accommodation review you see reflects that too – they are the perfect hosts! Go to Portugal!
Is there anywhere you wouldn’t go?
The short answer is no. I want to go everywhere. I think at a younger age I was a bit more wary about visiting certain places but the more you travel the more you realise how alike we all are.
In a world of “fake news” you also wonder how much Western influence has on telling me where is and isn’t safe to visit. Nobody seems to bat an eyelid when I say I’m off to Spain soon despite the huge conflict surrounding independence for Catalunya.
When you see groups / solo travelers who’ve visited every country in the world it does make me wonder how unsafe these places are but more importantly – “why can’t that be me?”
I can’t believe you travel on your own, how do you do it? Aren’t you nervous?
The first time was nerve-wrecking but it’s something I’ve got used to. My first solo trip was to Australia so having gone that far everything since has seemed a little less daunting.
Travelling alone and travelling with people both have their pros and cons. I think it’s good to be able to do things in your own company though and it can help your confidence too.
Traveling solo doesn’t necessarily mean staying solo anyway. Some of my best memories travelling have been on solo trips and making friends along the way. Where you stay and what you do whilst you’re away can always give you the chance to meet people.
How do you plan your trips and where you’re going?
There are so many different ways that my planning process begins. From a destination point of view, I think when you’re enthusiastic about travel you’ll find any excuse for a trip. I’ve traveled for such a variety of reasons. From the simple “Hey, let’s go to New York” to finding a gig to go to in another country, I’m even off to my first overseas wedding next year!
There’s a lot of fun to be had in the planning process but how it happens really depends why and who you’re travelling with.
If it’s a one stop visit then it’s easier to plan, for multi-city breaks it requires a lot more organisation and thought. If you’re travelling by yourself you can make a few more snap decisions, whilst travelling with others you require a bit more patience and compromise.
Even on a repeat trip somewhere it doesn’t necessarily mean the planning process is the same.
What websites do you use?
Skyscanner is usually my starting point for any journey. It’s a great website for flights, particularly if you can be flexible on dates and destinations. Kayak is another decent website for finding cheaper flights.
Accommodation I usually play pretty safe and Booking.com is one of my most used as it has such a wide range of properties on it. For hostels, Hostelworld is my favourite and AirBnB is also popular although I’ve yet to personally use the latter.
It’s also worth considering hotels and airlines that offer reward programmes. They can work out a little pricier but if you’re building loyalty points towards other perks or future trips it can be worthwhile.
I’m so jealous! Take me with you?
I thought I’d end on this. It often isn’t posed as a question, more of a joke-y comment but please always feel free to come! That’s an offer open to anyone reading this!
If you can’t make a trip, join me for my next or let’s plan our own! I’m never going to pass up the opportunity of more adventure or company to enjoy it with. Stop being jealous and come with me!!
Alternatively for those already travelling – take me with you! Haha.
Anything else you’d like to know? Just leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you!
I think one thing many of us are guilty of when it comes to travel is not seeing enough of our own country. One thing I certainly want to start doing more often is taking city breaks within the UK.
Last August I did just that. With a three day weekend and a friend hosting a charity gig, I had a good excuse to make a trip up to Yorkshire. I arrived in Northallerton later than planned. My train in London had come to a standstill and there was no sign of how long we’d be stuck, which meant a change of plan and running to the nearest tube stop in a hopeful attempt to reach Kings Cross before my train up North departed.
Frustratingly I’d missed my train by seconds through no fault of my own, that train departing the platform is the one I’m supposed to be on – which wasn’t the best start to my weekend. Fortunately it did get better from there and a fun night with a live band and a few beers made up for arriving later than scheduled.
The next morning I wished farewell to my friend and made the short train ride from Northallerton to York. I’d been to York 2 or 3 times before but only really to visit family, it always seemed to rain whenever I’d visit too so I was hoping for much more opportunity to explore this time and also better weather!
I arrived in a sunny York which was an encouraging start to the two days I’d be spending in York.
York is one of my favourite English cities. It has so much history and character and you feel that almost instantly upon arrival. After exiting York’s main train station I was instantly staring up at the city walls. I was staying in a hotel outside of the city walls but on a relatively lively street with a few pubs, restaurants and shops nearby.
Still too early to drop my bag off at my hotel, I ventured past the city walls and in to the city of York. Merchantgate, one of the openings in the wall, had actually been closed off for the day to vehicles because of an event in the city. I was curious but overheard someone say it would be starting at 1 so figured I’d come back later on.
Ahead of me crowds were building, to my right was a staircase leading up to the city walls. Walking the wall seemed a much more attractive proposition than trying to hurdle the number of people along Merchantgate. It’s not something you can do in too many cities and an enjoyable walk along the wall. It’s also great for photo opportunities from a higher vantage point.
Having walked across the wall I arrived at the River Ouse and thought it a perfect time to do a river cruise. It was a guided tour and quite interesting. Our captain pointed out a few points of interests and shared some of his knowledge about the city as we drifted along the river, a very peaceful way to spend an hour and thoroughly recommended.
After the cruise I headed back in the direction of Merchantgate to see what all the fuss was about. It turns out they had an event for soapbox racing. Watching bananas, Trojan horses, farmers, batman and more race through the streets of York was certainly an experience to remember. Each ‘car’ raced against the clock with the quickest finishers of the course heading in to the next round. It was very entertaining!
I checked in to my hotel and then went in search of food! I stumbled upon one of York’s most famous streets known as the Shambles – a row of shops along a cobbled street with dimly lit lights in the windows to give it a real atmospheric feel. It was beautiful and I found somewhere near by.
Having stuffed myself with pizza, I finished my Sunday evening off in one of York’s many many pubs in the city.
Bank holiday Monday’s are famed for rain so it was a nice surprise to wake up Monday morning to further sunshine. A warm bank holiday, surely not?
After grabbing an on-the-go breakfast I headed for York’s famous Minster cathedral, a UNESCO world heritage site. I’d passed it before but had never been inside. Despite following no religion I always find religious buildings fascinating to visit. The detail is incredible and the Minster no different in that respect. Definitely worth a visit when in York.
After a quick stop for lunch I visited York’s castle, quite unusual as far as castles go and situated on top of a small hill. Typically you expect the purpose of a castle to be used in defence of the city but it’s hard to see aside from the vantage point how this would have worked.
Despite the lack of purpose, you get some great views overlooking York which make it worthwhile visiting.
The rest of my day involved wandering the city, I particularly enjoyed the abbey and gardens close to the river – particularly beautiful with the sun setting.
I saw signs of a free walking tour which commenced in the evening. I’m generally a big fan of these and thought it’d be the perfect end to my trip but it was a bit of a disaster. My first clue as to how bad it was going to be should have been the low turnout. Come the start of the tour there was only around a dozen of us and that number dwindled over the hour that followed.
The tour guide was friendly enough and clearly loved York, however sadly I didn’t find the tour that interesting. Ultimately that comes down to personal taste and you can forgive that but the bigger problem was it was a walking tour with very little walking.
I wanted to see York and having only circled the equivalent of a block in 45 minutes I came to the conclusion it wasn’t going to happen.
By this point there were only 5 of us left and as I saw one couple making their escape I had to do the same. If I’d been the last man standing I would have had to see it out through pity so I passed off the grenade to the final couple and saved myself.
With a wasted hour I went in search of a pub to have a drink before catching my train home. Despite a dreadful tour to end it, it was a great weekend.
I’d highly recommend a visit to York on any trip to the UK, or even if like me you’re already a Brit but just fancy a city break closer to home.
Have you ever been to York? What did you like / dislike about it? Let me know!