Madrid – Part three – October 2017

Those who have been following this series will know from part one and part two that I loved Madrid. However let’s be honest, I was here for one reason only: football!

Long-time readers will know football is my biggest love. I’ve loved football and specifically Tottenham Hotspur for as long as I can remember. It is a huge part of who I am and has been since childhood.

As a child you get wrapped up in idolising these stars. There are some names which were genuinely exciting players such as David Ginola that any child would mimic in the playground and there were others that, with the benefit of hindsight, just makes me laugh that I reflect back on with fond memories. They were my idols, like many English kids I dreamt of playing football professionally and would be kicking a ball around daily.

The reality is though Spurs weren’t actually very good growing up. My dreams were big. Running down the left wing, a bit of trickery to come inside and BANG – the ball curls in to the top corner of the underpass that performed as our goal in the square we lived in. I could hear and see the crowd celebrating in my head – last minute winning goal in the FA Cup final for Spurs – just imagine it!

Sadly my playing career didn’t really take off, probably because I wasn’t very good, and my idols were just as hopeless in reality. Tottenham’s last FA Cup success was in 1991, as an 88 baby it is my lifelong wish to see Spurs win the FA Cup. Another childhood dream was to see Tottenham play in Europe.

Whilst I considered the World Cup to be the pinnacle of football, at club level it was all about European football. Whether that was the European Cup (Champions League) or UEFA Cup (Europa League) I didn’t care but Spurs competing in Europe, in my eyes at least, meant we’d made it.

Sadly growing up Tottenham were starved of European football. I’ve rambled enough times about this in various social media and blog posts but my sole memory of European football was experiencing us crash out to German side Kaiserlautern in just the second round of the UEFA Cup in November 1999. For some reason I don’t remember the first round but I’ve held a bitter resentment against Kaiserlautern ever since for crushing an 11 year old Jason’s dreams.

I waited and waited but my only experience of Tottenham competing in Europe was via video games such as Fifa or Championship Manager. Step aside Gerry Francis – I’m taking Spurs in to Europe!

At 18 my dreams finally came true. I became a superstar footballer! Wait, no.. wrong dream! However Spurs did qualify for Europe and would be participating in Europe’s “second-rate” competition – the UEFA Cup. I had tickets to watch us on a “glory glory night” under the lights at White Hart Lane in London – magical!

It was a drab 1-0 win, little excitement but Spurs in Europe! Pinch me! Since that fateful night in 2006 Spurs have actually been what you might call European regulars and over the next few years I frequented White Hart Lane for many a European night against a number of European clubs.

Whilst I’d finally experienced some of those special European nights, I was now desperate to experience a European away game. Between 2006 and 2013 I had plenty of opportunities but no confidence for a solo trip and no realistic companions to join me. In 2013 I went to Sydney on my first ever solo trip and everything changed for me as far as travel was concerned – it was now a priority.

So at the next possible opportunity I was going to watch Tottenham away in Europe and in March 2014 I did just that as Spurs played Benfica out in Lisbon in the UEFA Cup (Europa League). The next couple of years I ticked off a few more away trips and football grounds and then 2017 came along with Tottenham playing in Europe’s elite competition – the Champions League! PINCH ME!

This is where you compete amongst the very best in Europe and Spurs were part of that. Imposter syndrome is a phrase you occasionally hear on platforms or outlets such as blogging and I can only liken it to that, Tottenham playing Champions League football felt out of place. It was only our 4th participation in the competition in our (at the time) 135 year history. I was excited to be there but there’s definitely a part of you that feels like you don’t belong.

So in anticipation I wrote THIS post as I was desperate to do at least one Champions League away tie if not two. I asked you to play along with me but in my head I had my own dream trip. More than anything I wanted one of the Spanish giants, I didn’t really have much preference between Barcelona and Real Madrid but if we got either of those that would be perfect and here we are.. part three!

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Real Madrid v Tottenham Hotspur

Part three because Tottenham Hotspur were playing Real Madrid in the Santiago Bernabeu in the Champions League! Ahhhh! Real Madrid – Europe’s most successful football team – does it get any bigger than this? No, no it does not!

So I rounded off part two having spent my Tuesday morning exploring Madrid and some of the sights. I grabbed some lunch and then the rest of the day was reserved for football. The game was in the evening but with thousands of Spurs fans in town the afternoon was just about soaking up the atmosphere.

One of the best places for large numbers to congregate was Plaza Mayor: a decent sized square with a few restaurants making an absolute fortune in beer sales. The atmosphere was quickly building with local media companies all out giving us the “celebrity” welcome with their cameras filming our fans singing. In fact, my parents actually ended up seeing a clip online back home and just happened to spot their son on camera! Haha.

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Plaza Mayor like you’ve never seen it!

Over the course of the next few hours the beers continued flowing, songs continued to be sung until it was eventually time to hop on the metro to the Santiago Bernabeu. The atmosphere on the metro was equally enjoyable and soon enough we’d arrived at one of Europe’s most famous football stadiums.

The stadium is impressive. The away fans were placed “up in the gods” so you end up feeling miles away from the pitch. Additionally we were outnumbered something like 75,000 to 5,000 so an overwhelming majority of home fans trying to make it intimidating. This was Real Madrid’s home but more importantly this was “their” competition too – the one that mattered most to the Madrid faithful so the atmosphere was that little bit more pumped up.

Nevertheless, this was a special Spurs team here without fear. There was a lot of respect for Real but also a lot of belief within ourselves that we weren’t imposters and actually belonged at this level. For the fans this was a write off, it wasn’t a game we actually needed to win and certainly wasn’t one we expected to so the whole day was just about enjoying it really. However the players hadn’t received the script and weren’t here to just roll over for Europe’s finest.

For me personally it was still a case of pinching myself that I was actually here as an away fan, I always figured I’d visit the Santiago Bernabeu as a neutral but with my own team in a competitive fixture? Unbelievable!

Then Spurs took the lead – bedlam! Tottenham are 1-0 up in the f**king Bernabeu! Our fans celebrations were wild, those of disbelief more than anything. I still think there was an element of imposter syndrome for our fans and although we’d taken the lead, it was relatively early in the game and still a long way to go. You’d be foolish to think this was going to stay at 1-0.

With that said, the players were standing up on a big occasion and I think it built belief in the pocket of away fans. The players were doing their part and so were the fans in silencing Madrid’s 75,000. You could clearly hear our fans pushing the team on to a result. Unfortunately Real Madrid got their customary goal but it was just the one as the game finished 1-1.

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Real Madrid 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur, Oct 2017

We’d come here with a “que sera” type attitude with little concern for the result and walked out with a “what if” question mark over the game. There was definitely a feeling we should have won the game with the chances we had and as the final whistle went our fans let the players know how proud they were of the performance they’d just produced. Our manager, Pochettino, took a good chunk of the praise too for masterminding another incredible result away to a European giant in football. It’s probably my favourite away game I’ve been to despite failing to see out the win.

Heading back in to the centre of Madrid myself and Daniel thought we’d go find somewhere to have a celebratory drink but the city was surprisingly quiet. We thought there’d be a good number of Spurs fans out and about but we didn’t really have much luck finding anywhere. I think we grabbed a drink somewhere but called it a night – what a night though! Tottenham getting a result away at the best team in Europe – Real Madrid went on to win the competition for the third year in a row.

The following day (Wednesday) was my last full day in Madrid so I wanted to make the most of it. I woke up and got myself ready for the day in my windowless hostel dorm. An important thing to note because I don’t think you appreciate the luxury of a window until you’re without one.

For one, it’s dark throughout which means potentially being an inconvenience to your hostel roommates (luckily only sharing with one person). Secondly because you dress for Spain don’t you? T-shirt and shorts at the ready, I step outside and I find grey skies and puddles greeting me. It wasn’t actually raining but it recently had and it didn’t look promising above me.

Not that I’d brought a jacket with me but I’d probably have worn jeans instead of shorts had I been prepared for the weather. It wasn’t particularly cold and didn’t seem worthwhile going back up to my room so I just braved it. I did however figure it might be a good day for indoor activities so I made the walk over to Madrid’s famous Museo Del Prado.

The weather had been alright on route but typically the queue for tickets is outdoors and it absolutely chucked it down whilst in the queue – it was a relatively lengthy queue too so everyone else had had the same idea as me – albeit presumably with windowed accommodation as they were well equipped with coats and umbrellas whilst I got drenched.

The museum is well worth a visit though. I spent a good couple of hours looking around and enjoying the various exhibits. I could have undoubtedly spent a little longer there too but eventually called it a day. Fortunately the rain had disappeared by the time I came out of the museum. Just next to the museum is the impressive looking San Jeronimo el Real but unfortunately it looked like it was closed on this particular day so I had to give it a miss on this occasion.

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The San Jeronimo el Real. Pretty but closed!

If you’re already in this area your next stop should quite possibly be the Parque de El Retiro which is a beautiful park that seems to frequently appear in various Madrid blog posts or Instagram photos. Given its proximity to the museum it’s a mystery to me that I missed this, however my next stop was the equally pretty botanical gardens in Madrid.

It probably helped with the miserable weather and largely being outdoors but I found the botanical gardens to be really peaceful and I largely had it for myself to enjoy. It’s really pretty too. I’d definitely recommend this as something to do and it’s quite a large botanical gardens too. I spent a good amount of time just wandering through and taking a few photos. I expect it’d be busier on a nicer day but for me it was a perfectly relaxed place and a nice escape from the busyness of Madrid.

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Madrid’s botanical gardens

Following on from the botanical gardens I wandered back through the streets of Madrid and found myself a really nice little Tapas bar. I couldn’t tell you the name of it but I think that’s part of the beauty in Madrid, you can just wander and you’ll find countless places like this to just stop in on. I practiced a little Spanish with my waitress, enjoyed some good food and then said my adios’ before heading back towards my hostel.

I freshened up a little and then arranged to meet Daniel and Natalie for some beers on our last night in Madrid. We were all leaving at various times on Thursday so didn’t make it a particularly late night but it was a great way to end our time in this incredible city.

I woke up the next day, wandered a little and reluctantly made my way back to Madrid’s airport. For a city I wasn’t all that bothered about visiting to begin with I can only reiterate my thoughts in part one when I say that it’s arguably Europe’s best city. Obviously the only one I can say betters it is London but I don’t really see what Madrid is lacking.

It is one of those cities that has something to offer for everyone regardless of what your interests are. History, food, architecture, culture, sport, weather, museums, night life and I could go on and on and on. I left knowing it’s a city I’d definitely return to (I have and for the bizarrest of reasons) and equally I know it’s a city I’d quite easily live in too. If Madrid isn’t on your list that needs to change!

Anyway, time to wrap this up. Whilst I was sad to be leaving Madrid behind, it was only a few weeks until I’d next be on my travels and visiting another new city: Bremen in Germany.

Stay tuned!

Jason

Madrid – Part two – October 2017

If you caught part one you’ll know that my first day in Madrid already had me swooning over the city. You can recap on that here but I was keen to see if Madrid could sustain that feeling or whether I’d just got wrapped up in the excitement of visiting somewhere new on my first day. My first impressions were good but now I’d familiarised myself with where a few things were I was ready to see what else Madrid had to offer.

I kicked off my Monday morning by checking out of my hotel which was a struggle. I wasn’t supposed to be in Madrid on Sunday so this was my bonus night in the city, the next three were going to be spent in a hostel and to make matters worse my sole night in the hotel resulted in a free upgrade. Swapping a little bit of luxury for three nights in a four bed dorm didn’t have me rushing to check out but needless to say I had little choice.

I was soon on the move and just went wandering. I find walking the best way to see a city and it wasn’t too long before I’d stumbled upon a nice-looking square during my hotel. It’s a little out of the way so doesn’t really get much foot traffic but I liked the look of it and snapped a few photos.

I didn’t really have anywhere in particular in mind in terms of exploring but wandered up to the heart of Madrid, the bustling area around puerta del sol which is one of Madrid’s most famous and busiest squares. It’s certainly an area that gets a high concentration of foot traffic so is good for a little people watching. Along the main road were numeous beautiful buildings which kept catching my eye as I wandered all the way up to the equally stunning Palacio de Comunicaciones.

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Palacio de Comunicaciones

It’s one of my favourite landmarks in Madrid – it’s beautiful. The only real downside is it sits on the edge of quite a busy road so trying to get a photo without any vehicles whizzing by proved difficult and the best spot for taking photos was also bang in the sunlight so I didn’t get any amazing photos to do it justice. I did like it though and the “refugees welcome” banner had me planning my Brexit escape plan! I was fond enough of Madrid to make this my new home! Haha.

Closeby was a long pedestrianised walkway which had what appeared to be some sort of public outdoor library which was pretty cool, I’m not sure if it was permanent, nor if it was even open but there were rows and rows of books stacked along this stretch.

With lunchtime approaching there was an obvious choice of restaurant nearby. Long term readers will know I like visiting Hard Rock Café’s on my travels and Madrid offered an opportunity to tick another visit off of my list. This wasn’t a ‘favourite’ by any means but still had the usual HRC characteristics and friendly staff so was a good lunch option.

Having filled my stomach I ventured back in the direction of the Plaza Mayor but that was a bit of a walk from where I was which allowed me the luxury of getting lost in Madrid’s narrow and pretty little streets.

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Colourful Madrid

Madrid was much more colourful than I’d anticipated and with such good weather it’s a particularly enjoyable European city to just wander in. I think you could easily spend a day solely just wandering the streets in the same way people romanticise doing so in somewhere like Paris. There seems to be an endless number of tapas bars and little shops or businesses that continually offer somewhere to peer your head in to.

After a bit of exploring I went and found my hostel, I knew it was close to the Plaza Mayor but it ended up being a lot closer than I’d anticipated which was ideal as it’s such a convenient square to meet up with people in. I’d booked a four bed dorm but for whatever reason it ended up being just a two bed dorm with two double beds in. Although I met up with my friend Daniel later in the day and he did joke that perhaps it was a four person room and I’d find a stranger sharing my double bed with me when I returned – fortunately this didn’t happen! Haha.

I had a quick wander up to the advertised hostel rooftop bar. Surprisingly there was nobody else up there so it seems they don’t open during the earlier hours of the day. Taking a siesta maybe? Who knows. I had a little look around and got a couple of photos but with nowhere to actually get a drink I made it a brief visit and made my way back in to the streets of Madrid.

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Rooftop views at my hostel

I found a place to grab some tapas for dinner and then arranged to meet up with Daniel and Natalie again for some evening drinks. Natalie was running a little later so myself and Daniel met up initially and returned to the Mercado de San Miguel that we’d visited the night before. It has a great atmosphere although on this occasion I vividly remember being sat opposite this older Danish man who was rather weird.

He was friendly enough at first but soon came out with a few things that were essentially awkward conversation killers. Myself and Daniel tried to keep the chit-chat light-hearted but felt quite pleased when him and his wife (girlfriend maybe?), that he didn’t seem particularly fond of, called it a day. Natalie turned up soon after and we had a little chuckle at our strange encounter and then enjoyed a few more beers together.

Rather than spend our evening at one place we decided to move on and see if there was anywhere to watch the Monday night football. We flagged down a pub that would likely be showing the game but on route there was a familiar noise echoing off the buildings of Madrid.

“Can you hear that?”

Of course we could! I have to say, the noise really bounces off the buildings in Madrid. It’s probably something you’re not going to notice unless there’s an event or protest or some sort but from a distance we could hear the cries of fellow Spurs fans singing. We followed the noise and soon enough we’d stumbled upon this TINY little street with a collective of Brits drinking outside of this bar.

The location was a tad puzzling. Admittedly the noise and the atmosphere perhaps made up for it but it was such a small bar that it was a struggle to get a drink. In the end I wandered up to a restaurant a little walk away and grabbed three beers to go.

A little while later the flashing blue lights found our gathering of football fans. There’s a fine line between having a good time and being a public disturbance, I don’t think there’d been any trouble as yet but it was a little raucous or noisy for a Monday evening by usual standards in Madrid I expect. The police maintained a good distance and stood at the bottom of the street to let us know they were there more than anything. In fairness they didn’t seem to be here to break up the fun, just to ensure things didn’t spill over into troublesome.

Nevertheless, after a few beers a few get a little too excitable and thought taunting the police would be a good idea. I mentioned in part one that the Catalans had just voted for independence from Spain so the pro Catalunya and Barcelona songs from our fans aimed in their direction seemed a questionable move.

I’m not suggesting it’s a fair stereotype but European police definitely have a bad reputation in England, I’d argue particularly so amongst football fans who feel European police need little excuse to victimise / attack football fans. Be it truthful or mythical is largely irrelevant here but it gives a little context because for those same people to then arguably offer an invitation for conflict was strange.

Football fans, particularly British football fans, can be detestable at the best of times but after a few drinks and in the midst of political turmoil? Let’s just say it was unwise and it did add a little tension to the atmosphere. It could have got nasty quite quickly but the police didn’t really rise to it and the majority of our fans sensibly dispersed, ourselves included as we weren’t wanting to needlessly get caught up in something. We called it a night. I popped back up to the hostel rooftop bar and it was much livelier so I grabbed myself a beer before heading to bed.

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Livelier hostel bar

Tuesday was largely about the football with the afternoon dedicated to the pre-match build up and then the evening the game itself. However it still left me with a morning to go and explore Madrid.

I kicked off my morning by going to see the palace and the Catedral de la Almudena which is opposite the palace. Both are pretty spectacular buildings. It also surprisingly wasn’t very busy at either. I’d seemingly timed my visit early enough to beat the crowds, as had some newlyweds who’d come to get a few photos! Not a bad spot for a wedding photoshoot, right?

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Perfect spot for wedding photos in Madrid!

Towards the back of the palace was the gardens which were nice to walk through and offered some more good photo opportunities. From there I then wandered over to the Tempel de Debod which a friend had recommended I go check out. It’s a cool little Egyptian temple and worth checking out when in Madrid.

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Tempel de Debod, Madrid

Content that I’d not wasted my morning I ventured back towards Plaza Mayor, grabbing some lunch along the way and then began to soak up the atmosphere building in the city before the big game. More on that next time!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Madrid – Part one – October 2017

I’ve spoken in the past about my love of London and my clear bias when it comes to London. I’ve lived in Peterborough for 22 years but in my heart I still consider myself a “Londoner” – born and bred! It’s my favourite city in the world.

Recently I wrote about my trip to Washington and with things going well it was only a matter of time before Haleigh made the return journey. I was so excited to show off London – an unbelievable city with the added attraction of all of the Christmas lights and decorations across the city.

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London, December 2018

In my eyes it’s the best city in the world but the funny thing as a traveler is I’ll refrain from outright calling it the best city in the world. It’s the best I’ve been to but I always welcome the challenge to be proven wrong. Growing up I would dream about so many incredible places and cities that I hoped I’d visit some day and I’ve been lucky to visit some of those over the last few years.

In the last decade I got to visit places such as Sydney, Berlin, San Francisco, Paris, Edinburgh, Budapest, New York City.. I could keep going but it was that latter one that I really set the standard for.

If any city would surpass my love of London surely NYC was a contender. In this post here I took everything in to consideration and came to the conclusion it failed due to the harshest of reasons (NYC isn’t London). Alright, so as judge and executioner perhaps I wasn’t impartial enough but London is home and it’s hard to compete with that. The wait went on..

Rio de Janeiro? Rome? Helsinki? Cape Town? There was still hope for me that I’d find somewhere that might yet surpass my love of London – enter Madrid.

“Madrid!?”

I know! I’m as surprised as you are. The easiest comparison to make would be to Washington DC – a city I visited six months earlier. Both DC and Madrid were cities I figured I’d visit eventually but I was in no real rush to go to either. They were nowhere near the top of my bucketlist. I knew I’d likely visit them, particularly Madrid as it’s so close to home, but nothing particularly drew me towards either city to make them appealing.

As it was, Washington DC surprised me a lot! I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did but I left there knowing it was a city I’d happily return to. Madrid was exactly the same for me, however I’d go one step further than that and say that Madrid is quite possibly the best city in Europe.

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Plaza Mayor, Madrid

After London..

I’m sorry, I can’t help it! Seriously though, Madrid has to be the most underrated city in Europe. I’d argue doubly so because Western Europe is arguably one of the most glamourised destinations in world travel and yet nobody hypes up the Spanish capital in the same way that they do London, Paris, Berlin, Edinburgh, Amsterdam.. need I go on? Within Spain itself I’d even argue Barcelona gets a lot more love than Madrid does and it’s a travesty!

If I was being sincerely objective I would struggle to split Madrid alongside London and New York City. It’s THAT good! If Madrid is not on your list to visit that needs to change right now. Yet the only reason this trip happened for me is because I was visiting for football (are you shocked?).

It’s clear I wasn’t all that bothered about Madrid itself but watching Spurs in the Santiago Bernabeu was a complete dream come true and made this a “must do trip”.

It was only when I started looking for things to do outside of the football that my expectations for this city began to grow a little. It looked like there was plenty to do and even with my growing expectations, Madrid surpassed every single expectation I had of the city. It’s a city that has it all!

Anyway, I sense that some of you are sceptical about Madrid being so fantastic so let’s dive right in and I’ll tell you about my trip!

For starters, when booking this trip I wasn’t really looking to be in Madrid particularly long. I had a week off work but I figured I could spend three nights in Madrid and then spend two or three nights elsewhere dependent on money. With Washington in mind, I booked a one way flight on Monday and decided I’d plan the second half of the week once I was back from the US.

Whilst in Washington I got that dreaded email from Ryanair with the subject something along the lines of – “your flight has been cancelled!”. Some of you, particularly in Europe, may remember Ryanair had made a huge scheduling cock-up in that they had no pilots to fly their planes before the end of the year and consequently ended up cancelling tonnes of flights across the continent.

My hope was they’d cancelled one of my flights later in the year but of course it had to be this one! Three weeks before I was due to travel – it certainly could have been worse but it wasn’t ideal and I wasn’t even on the right continent to sort it out.

I got back from Washington and that was priority! Get a new flight booked! Priority two was decide what I’m doing in the second half of the week. European laws (who needs those?) forced Ryanair’s hands a little as they protect you from such inconveniences. Ryanair had to either offer me a full refund (worthless as flight prices had shot up) or put me on a replacement flight. I took the option to go a day earlier (Sunday).

Better yet, Ryanair also offered compensation of £40 (or euros, I can’t remember) to use on a future flight which was just enough to book a one way flight home on the Thursday. My bank balance decided against going anywhere else but the funny thing was due to Ryanair’s mistake I’d gone from having a one way flight to having a return flight with an extra night in Madrid. Please feel free to do this again some time! Haha.

Anyway on to my first impressions of Madrid. I arrived in to Madrid’s airport and was quickly hopping on the Metro to make my way in to the city. There were already a few Spurs fans in town, I couldn’t help but overhear a group of Brits chit-chatting on the metro to my right and puzzled by a (football-related) question asked. I looked up, interjected and a little further down the carriage bizarrely saw a familiar face.

My friend, Natalie, had flown in on a different flight from a completely different airport but we landed around the same time and by chance just happened to be in the same carriage on the same train. A little odd!

We had a little catch up on route and then went our separate ways at the end of the metro line. We agreed to catch up later in the day but Natalie had to catch another metro, feasibly I could have too but as it was mid morning I was in no rush to reach my hotel, I couldn’t check in for a while yet so I figured I’d just exit wherever we were and wander through Madrid for a while.

Greeting me outside were bright blue skies. I’d finally arrived in glorious sunny Spain – proof of which were the Spanish flags hanging from multiple balconies throughout various streets. I don’t know if this was typical of Madrid, perhaps the city is like this year round but I had a suspicion that there was also an element of politics on display.

You see, Madrid’s similarities to DC hadn’t ended with my low expectations. I’d booked my trip to DC forgetting all about the 2016 election and arrived to a divided nation with a new president in town in April 2017. On day one in DC I accidentally stumbled upon an anti-Trump (tax-related) protest.

Well it was more of the same here. At the time of booking this trip to Madrid it seemed a perfect escape to sunny Spain before the Winter season kicked in. Spain in October? Sign me up for some of that!

Then on the 1st of October the Catalans voted and declared independence from Spain and inevitably it felt like for the second time this year I’d be visiting a divided country in political turmoil.

So yeah, the Spanish flags hanging in the street might be normal but I also suspect wasn’t entirely unrelated to the political affairs in Spain at the time. Either way I felt its presence added to some of Madrid’s character, also adding a little colour with red and yellow flying high everywhere you looked.

Moving on I soon found myself in the heart of Madrid and like DC (final comparison, I promise) my eyes were immediately drawn to the stunning architecture. There are some truely beautiful buildings in Madrid and I couldn’t stop snapping away. I instantly liked Madrid, there was just something about it that excited me.

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My first real stop of the trip was some cathedral I can’t recall the name of. Given it was a Sunday I think I walked in towards the end of a service which was unfortunate timing. I like visiting religious buildings but I’m conscious of not interrupting things so it was only a brief visit, I liked the little that I saw though.

After coming out of the cathedral I turned left, went around another corner and BAM! Five street performers were casually playing some music on the side of the street and quickly found themselves an entertained audience. I’d been here an hour at the most and I was already swooning over Madrid. Admittedly it probably helped that the sun was shining and that it was a weekend but there was a buzz to Madrid that made me feel at home.

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Street performers in Madrid

As much as I could have stayed there for much longer I figured I’d try and locate roughly where my hotel was and also grab somewhere for lunch nearby. My hotel was roughly in the vicinity of the Anton Martin neighbourhood which was seemingly home to a lot of street art and murals. Naturally I quickly found myself distracted on my quest for lunch – decent street art – another tick in Madrid’s favour.

After wandering for a little bit I stumbled upon a place to grab myself a sandwich and put my Spanish to the test. I’d probably favour a little better now because my Spanish is improving but at the time it wasn’t great. I didn’t want to be too reliant on English but my Spanish is nowhere near as good as my German. I’d done a little practice before flying out and made sure to remember some of the basics such as “Un cerveza por favor” which I figured would come in handy over the next four days.

Having seen a little of Madrid and having filled my stomach too I went in search of my hotel so I could check in to my room. “Hello Jason, here for one night? We’d like to upgrade you free of charge..”

Of course, yet another reason to fall in love with Madrid! Scrap the flight home. I’m never leaving!

The hotel was annoyingly lovely too, annoying because I hadn’t planned to be here today. I’d only intended for a three night trip and booked myself three nights in a hostel. This was my unexpected bonus night in the city and it made checking out the next morning very difficult. I didn’t want to leave to go stay in some hostel dorm! Haha.

After I checked in I just relaxed in my room for a little bit. The view from my room was nice and I did contemplate going up and making use of the rooftop pool given I probably wouldn’t get another chance. As tempting as it was, instead I got myself back out and wandered through the streets of Madrid for a little while.

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A common sight in Madrid. Street art shutters!

My focus soon switched to evening plans and catching up with my friend Daniel who was also here for the football. We met up in one of Madrid’s prettier and more famous squares – the Plaza Mayor. It’s a nice square but more importantly was also likely to be where our fans would congregate on Tuesday so it was useful knowing where it was and how to find it from where we were staying.

Myself and Daniel met up and whilst admiring the view of Plaza Mayor quickly bumped in to a couple of other Spurs fans, we exchanged pleasantries and discussed thoughts about the game before heading our separate ways.

We were heading over to the nearby Mercado de San Miguel – a popular little market hall with an emphasis on street food and atmosphere. It wasn’t a huge place but was a nice place to hang out, had a fantastic atmosphere and was pretty cheap to pick up some dinner too.

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Mercado de San Miguel

Natalie joined us later on and we shared a few more beers before eventually calling it a night. Back at my hotel I swung by the hotel rooftop which supposedly had a bar and also gave me a brief opportunity to see the pool. It was kind of cool lit up and the views over the city were cool too. I debated grabbing a drink but thought better of it and instead got myself a decent night’s sleep.

My introduction and first day in Madrid wasn’t too exhausting but I was really encouraged by the early signs. This was a city which, as far as I could tell, ticked all of the boxes and if the next three days were even half as good I’d be well chuffed.

More on that to come soon! Stay tuned!

Jason

2019 travel roundup

Happy New Year my dear readers! After a quiet December I’m looking forward to getting back in to the blogging groove so I’m kicking things off with my first post of the year! I’m not sure what the blogging schedule will look like this year as lots of change is coming but Thursday’s worked well for me last year and I committed to getting a post out every week so we’ll stick with it for now.

I’ve always considered blogging a hobby more than anything but with the new year in mind I did go and treat myself. I am now part of the dot com crew! That’s right, I’ve finally splurged on my own domain. I’ve not made any other changes (yet) to the website but it feels nice to have dropped the WordPress bit from my website link.

Anyway.. on to today’s post!

With the year ending I wanted to do a travel round up of 2019, it was another fun year for me with some great memories. Long time readers might recall I shared my early 2019 plans with you here. Following January payday I was eager to get planning and booked myself four trips for the first half of 2019. I planned to go to Germany in March, USA in April, Finland in May and Ireland in May. With the recap out of the way, here’s where I went and a (hopefully) small summary of each trip!

March – Germany!
My first trip of the year was a bittersweet return to Dortmund. I’ve had the idea to go live in Washington for quite some time and I envisaged getting to the halfway point of 2019 in my best financial position in quite some time. Enjoy the first six months of the year and then seriously consider going to Washington.

That change is happening in a little over three weeks from now, a bit later than I’d anticipated so I was desperate to squeeze in a Tottenham European away day before I went. It was potentially my last for a while and I said in this post (here) that I just really hoped it wasn’t going to be a third trip to Dortmund.

The “football gods” took no pity on me and were cruelly sending Spurs to Dortmund for the third time in three years. I’d done the area to death. Dortmund, perhaps harshly, doesn’t have all that much appeal outside of football so it wasn’t a city I was excited to return to.

The obvious option in that region of Germany is Köln, a city I’d been to three times already. Ordinarily I might have been reluctant to go back but the Dortmund game overlapped with the Kölner Karneval which I was intrigued to experience.

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Back in Köln!

I arrived in to Köln on one of the busiest days of the Karneval, Rosenmontag, which was just crazy! Streets locked down for the parade, fancy dress everywhere you look and of course being Germany plenty of beer too! It’s an interesting time to visit, crazy but interesting. The next day was an absolute ghost town – so bizarre but a fun couple of days topped off with a Spurs win!

March – Belgium!
I’d booked myself four days in Germany. I was excited about going back to Köln but it was my fourth trip, I didn’t need all four days to be in that city so I decided I’d spend the other two nights in Frankfurt.

I started having doubts about going to Frankfurt though, I wasn’t sure how much I really wanted to go. Could I change my mind? I mean, why not? My hotel had free cancellation, I hadn’t yet booked my train from Köln, what if I went somewhere else? Where though? I had a few ideas but Bruges was the one that grabbed my attention.

I went to Brussels in 2013 and took a day trip to Bruges with my friends Kelly and Walker. It was a fun day but I was tempted to go back and experience it by myself and likewise I was also keen to get some photos this time.

Bruges is still every bit as pretty as I remembered it. It’s a beautiful city to just get lost in and I was quite happy to do an overnighter on this occasion, it was also nice to enjoy a bit of the nightlife (the Belgian beer, let’s be honest).

I did a few things I didn’t get to do last time, tried mussels for the first (and last) time and was quite sad to be leaving come the end of it. I was flying home from Köln on a Friday and did debate staying in Belgium for the weekend. I then got back to Köln and contemplated staying there too but my head got the better of me – “Save your pennies, not long until the next trip”

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Bruges, Belgium

April – Washington State!
The “long term” plan was to get to Washington at the earliest convenience but I also had to see Haleigh in the short term so the first thing I did on January payday was book flights to Washington.

Easter seemed like a good time to go, I always try and maximise my annual leave so traveling around public holidays helps. Haleigh had a few days off in April too so it was perfect timing really.

It was a rather chilled trip but I got to see Haleigh obviously, some of Haleigh’s family and we also squeezed in a double date with Maddie and Cassie which was lovely. One of the other highlights was a visit to the unique Bavarian town of Leavenworth – a little piece of Germany on the USA’s West coast – I fully recommend a daytrip at the very least.

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Mountains, snow, Washington!

May – Finland!
What was I saying about maximising annual leave around public holidays? In 2018 I had a HUGE 30th birthday trip to the US which meant sacrificing any football away days in 2018 and it also meant sacrificing any holidays prior to the summer. Consequently no bank holiday fun for me!

In 2019 I was reclaiming BOTH bank holidays. The first Monday of May and the last Monday of May are public holidays in England which means a three day weekend! Perfect for a short European adventure!

I really wanted to get to Finland in 2018 and things didn’t quite pan out so I was adamant I was going no matter what in 2019. For those that don’t know already, I grew up living with a Finnish grandmother so the country has ALWAYS held my heart and been somewhere I wanted to see for myself.

Finally (or Finn-ally? Hahaha.. no?) I got it booked! Finland was happening! I was sad to say goodbye to Haleigh in Washington but I was also so excited to be going to Helsinki in just 6 days after getting back. So excited – dream trip! This perfect little paradise, the adult equivalent of Disneyland in my mind. I was going to LOVE Finland, wasn’t I?

Wasn’t I? I mean hang on a second, I’ve never even been to Finland. I’d somewhat unintentionally built up this fantasy in my head – Finland was obviously a real place but what if it wasn’t the Finland I was expecting or hoping for? What if I didn’t like it?

Suddenly the nerves kicked in, suddenly there was a bit of pressure on this trip. This wasn’t any ordinary destination, this could crush every thought I’d ever had about Finland.

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A moody looking Helsinki!

Fortunately I needn’t have worried. I think I’d fallen in love with Helsinki probably in the first hour of arriving. I quite possibly have Finland-tinted-goggles on but even months later there are still little moments that almost made it too magical. For instance on the train from the airport there’s this little girl with her dad singing a nursery rhyme and it just sounded angelic, it instantly brought a smile to my face. I eventually reach the centre of Helsinki, step off the train and snow is falling!

Snow! In May! There was NOTHING about snow in the forecast when I looked before the trip but of course there’s snow because Finland’s the most magical place on the planet isn’t it? It was the most perfect weekend, the highlight probably having a new Finnish friend drag me along on a bar crawl and I’ve just been swooning over Finland ever since.

My only regrets are that it took me so long to visit, that I wasn’t there for longer and that I haven’t been back 150 times since May. Did I mention I love Finland?

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My Helsinki, I couldn’t have said it any better!

May – Amsterdam!
“Hang on a second Jason, Amsterdam?”

Germany, Washington, Finland, Ireland! The eagle-eyed among you will note those were my travel plans for the first six months of the year. I’d budgeted the first half of the year perfectly but there was no wiggle room.

“Nor should there be really, is four trips not enough you spoilt little man!”

In my defence.. I’d said I wouldn’t be going to a hypothetical Champions League semi final in the unlikely chance that Spurs would compete in such a historic occasion. So I definitely had the right intentions to be financially sensible. Go me!

Anyway, backtracking a bit – I had to go to Dortmund because it might be my last European away game for some time. If I’d been confident we’d win I might have gambled but the Dortmund tie was a 50-50 tie that could go either way. It wasn’t a gamble I could take.

Our reward for victory in Germany was a quarter final trip to Manchester. Don’t get me wrong, I like Manchester but the only European away trip more underwhelming than a trip to Dortmund would have been a “European” away trip I didn’t require a passport for. Plus it wasn’t really 50-50 this time was it? It was more 80-20 in Manchester City’s favour and those were just the odds on a good day. So I felt quite vindicated in my decision to go to Dortmund as our European adventures were ending up in Manchester.

and then they didn’t. Our quarter final ended in the most bizarre and cruelest of victories but it was our night! We’d reached the semi finals of the Champions League (European Cup) for the first time since 1962. 57 years! Spurs were going to be playing in a Champions League SEMI FINAL!

“The Semi Final you said you weren’t going to?”

Exactly! I wasn’t going and that’s that, okay? I was committed to my original decision. I’d literally just got to Washington, hadn’t even been to Helsinki yet and May was looking like a crazy crazy month with too much on. I haven’t got the money, I haven’t got the time and the game in Amsterdam is on my mum’s birthday, I’ve got to be home for that!

I slept on the (non) idea – first night in Washington State. Then on the first morning in Washington I found myself scouring the internet for travel routes, costs and everything else.

Did you not hear me earlier? 1962 – fifty seven years! I couldn’t wait another fifty seven years for the next one! This was a once in a lifetime opportunity!

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Beautiful Amsterdam

My real mistake was my hesitation! I’d given every other Spurs fan a head start and flights and Eurostar prices quickly shot up. In the end I decided to take an overnight coach from London. I got back from Helsinki on Monday night, went to work on Tuesday and caught the coach on Tuesday night to get me in to Amsterdam on the Wednesday morning (Happy birthday mum!).

Amsterdam’s beautiful, it was nice to go back but let’s be honest. I was here for less than 48 hours and for one reason only – football! Finland was probably my favourite place I visited in 2019 but I’d be hard pushed to say this wasn’t the best trip of the year, dare I say this Wednesday in May was quite possibly the best night of my life.

I couldn’t get a ticket for the game but I had to be in Amsterdam for the atmosphere, this was the biggest game in my lifetime! It started horrifically, we were dead and buried at half-time.

I think it’s probably the angriest I’ve ever been at Tottenham in my life. I’m not unfamiliar in watching Spurs lose but at least do it the right way, tonight of all nights. Come on Spurs, you can’t possibly turn up like this on this occasion!

At half-time we needed a miracle and in all honesty I didn’t really want to stick around. I knew I could be enjoying Amsterdam instead of enduring this rubbish but that faint bit of hope always seems to linger – “you never know..”

We scored an early goal in the second half for a lifeline, followed by a quick second which sent the beers flying in the pub I was in – bedlam! 30 minutes to go, just one goal needed now.

The next 35 minutes of the clock ticking down were agonising! Be careful what you wish for I suppose. I wanted some fight in the performance and it was going to be too late, wasn’t it? I’d seen it a thousand times over the years. Spurs play useless, Spurs then give you false hope before falling short. At least when Spurs were consistently useless I was spared that cruel hopeful feeling.

Tottenham deserved NOTHING from this tie and here we were on the verge of a miracle and again we were going to fall short. Five minutes injury time was added on and we go for what the Americans like to call a “hail Mary” – just hit and hope really. 99 times out of 100 it doesn’t come off for you, just an aimless long punt and yet on this occasion Llorente knocks it down to Dele, Dele flicks it on in the direction of “MOURAA!!!”

Miracles (or Moura-cles) are real! As a neutral I’ve seen some incredible footballing moments but as a Spurs fan in the 95th minute of a Champions League semi final in Amsterdam? What the hell just happened?

I think I spent the majority of the remainder of the night in tears. Tears of joy? Tears of disbelief? Who knows? All I do know is the scenes spilled out on to the streets of Amsterdam in an atmosphere I can’t describe. Hundreds of fellow Spurs fans singing, hugging, crying with celebrations likely to run on for hours in to Thursday morning.

I got back to my hostel drenched in beer and still in no control of my emotions – hoping to sleep but unable to stop crying.

It was the best night ever! One stage further than 1962! Spurs had qualified for their first ever Champions League (European Cup) final in Madrid on the 1st of June.

Don’t worry! There’s no long debate here! I was never in any doubt I would go to the final in Madrid in the incredibly unlikely chance we reached it but first..

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Rubbish photo, best night of my life!

May – Dublin!
Washington, Helsinki, Amsterdam, Dublin, Madrid in the space of four weeks? Really?

Well, sadly not! Firstly it’s clear I hadn’t budgeted for two extra football trips on short notice. However honestly, the real reason I bailed on Dublin is because I was burnt out.

After my big summer trip in 2018 I sort of went through a little rut at the end of the year where nothing really happened – a seasonal rut to some extent I suppose. Spurs weren’t playing at home so going to the football had no real appeal, I seemed to have no social plans, friends were moving away, blah, blah, blah.

I’d definitely hit a social rut and there were lonely spells through that time but I’m also an introvert so there was a degree of comfort to having such few plans. Then life went to the opposite extreme come March 2019 and everything hit me at once.

Travel plans, family plans, catch up with friends, big birthdays. I’d find a rare free weekend and be so grateful for it and then suddenly – BAM!
“Jason, are you up for our first work night out in years?” – Sure, perfect timing, thanks!

Of course I’d wanted to do all of these things but life was busy and quite energy-sapping. I went to Washington in April which was a great chance to actually rejuvenate before Finland and Dublin and then of course Spurs decide to make history this year and I had to find time for two more unplanned trips.

I got to the end of May, knowing a quiet June was coming up but I was just desperate for a weekend of nothing. I felt like I could only do one more hectic weekend – Dublin or Madrid?

I could have struggled through Dublin, I know I’d have enjoyed it once I was there but I just bailed. Had it been further from home perhaps I’d have still gone but Dublin’s so close and cheap to fly to that I figure it won’t be long before I can make up for it with a trip there but I think I’d have enjoyed Madrid less had I gone to Dublin so it was the right decision. Dublin could happen any year, any time. A Champions League final will possibly never come around again for Spurs.

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Biarritz, France

May – Biarritz, France!
“Biarritz?”

Don’t panic! This is the Madrid trip! On the 1st of June Tottenham would be playing in their first EVER Champions League final in Madrid. However unfortunately our opponents had qualified an evening earlier and worse yet, our opponents were also from England – Liverpool to be exact!

With what promised to already be an expensive trip, having our compatriots get a 24 hour head start on the flight and accommodation hunt was not particularly helpful. Getting to Madrid within any reasonable budget was looking problematic. It was a “whatever the cost” type trip but I was in Amsterdam pondering what possible route I’d have to take to make it feasible.

Fortunately my dad decided to join me on this one! He’d done his fair share of European away days in his youth and I’d done my fair share of European away days in the 10’s but this was set to be our first Tottenham European away trip together – a Champions League final a good enough reason for a Father-Son adventure to Madrid

Dad: “I’m thinking of driving..”

Make that a father-son ROAD-TRIP to Madrid! It’s a long old drive from Peterborough so we agreed to have a night somewhere in Southern France and we stumbled upon the delights of Biarritz! I’d always wandered what the fuss over the South of France was about and it’s because of places like Biarritz. It was a heavenly place to rest our heads, I would happily have stayed longer and it’s somewhere I’ll possibly return to but Madrid beckoned!

June – Madrid!
I actually plan to talk more about Madrid in my next post as I first visited in 2017 so you’ll have to wait to hear about the delights of this city. Sadly we were only in Madrid for about 12 hours on this occasion. It was very much a flying visit due to the costs associated with being in Madrid for such an occasion.

Consequently I don’t have too much to say about this trip to Madrid. Glorious sunshine, a cracking atmosphere between both sets of fans but no fairytale ending. Liverpool won their 6th Champions League final but for us it was a journey that will be talked about for years to come.

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Dave, Lloyd, me, Dad

July – Paris!
The Champions League trips offered a setback to my plans this year, in particular the hopes of spending a few months in Washington with Haleigh in 2019. It was looking increasingly unlikely it’d happen before the year ended but fortunately Haleigh came to visit me for two weeks instead so there were still plenty of memories to be made together in 2019.

This was Haleigh’s second overseas trip, her second time visiting Europe with us spending a bit of time in London on the first occasion. I’d never tire of showing off London but I thought it’d be nice for us to go somewhere different for a weekend this time with Edinburgh and Paris being the two leading candidates – Paris obviously came out on top.

My first trip to Paris wasn’t without it’s disappointments, remember? So I was excited to be going back in the summer and with someone to enjoy it with on this occasion. It already promised to be a special trip but then we got to Paris late on the Friday night and my phone decided it was having the weekend off.

I plugged it in to charge and nothing, I plugged in Haleigh’s phone and it charged perfectly fine, tried a different charger nothing, tried Haleigh’s phone and it charged perfectly fine. Why?

My phone lasted until about Saturday lunchtime with the little battery it had remaining and then I was “off the grid” – unintentionally but it was actually such a novelty. My last proper “off the grid” trip was in 2014 when I went to Berlin, which is probably more recent than most, and it’s genuinely so nice to be completely unattainable.

I feel fortunate to have traveled abroad before the days of being accessible 24/7. If it’s an emergency here’s the number of my hotel, I’ll try and send you a postcard and you’ll see the photos once I’m home and they’ve been developed. I find it impossible now, arguably doubly so given I’m in a long distance relationship. The 8 hour time difference is a killer, every small window of opportunity me and Haleigh get to chat we take.

So in some respects, what a lucky trip to be off the grid. I had the only company I really needed, there was nobody else that couldn’t wait a weekend until I was back in England.

Where are we going? Let’s dig out our paper map!
What time is it? Daytime or nighttime dependent on the colour of the sky.
What’s happening in the world? No idea! Nothing outside of Paris mattered for that sole weekend.

It was completely unplanned but honestly, it was pure bliss! I feel a need for more trips like that – more “Latergram” than Instagram. I can’t speak for Haleigh but it was a perfect weekend.

Lastly I talked about loving Paris on my first visit but France in the summertime is SO much nicer. After Lille (2018), Biarritz and Paris I’ve definitely grown to love France.

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Haleigh and me in Paris!

 

November – Washington State!
The long term Washington trip got a setback but at the end of August I finally booked my flights. February 3rd 2020 until May 1st 2020. Not long now!

So as crazy as the first few months of 2019 were, the second half of the year has been mostly about cutting back and saving some money.

I’ve done some cool stuff in England but my travels haven’t been as frequent. I found myself with one last week to use before the end of 2019. I knew I’d use it to see Haleigh, it was just a case of deciding when was best.

Haleigh had a few days off for Thanksgiving which seemed an ideal time for me to visit and experience my first American Thanksgiving. It was a short and sweet trip, most of which was spent in the city of Walla Walla but it was great to catch up with Haleigh’s family, share some good food and of course spend some time with Haleigh before the countdown to February could begin.

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A glimpse of Thanksgiving

Anyway, that rounds up 2020. This was probably a bit longer than I’d anticipated it being but I got a tad carried away with the football. In the end it was three trips for Spurs including a Champions League final, three trips spent with Haleigh and one new country in Finland. I’ll talk about all of these trips in more detail in the future but hopefully a good summary of what was a decent year and a good way to end the decade.

Thanks for indulging me in another summary of my year.Next up on the blog? 2017’s trip to Madrid!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Seattle – Sep 2017

Alright my dear readers, we’ve reached the last part of this Washington series. Those of you following along will know that so far I’d been to Ellensburg (staying with Maddie and Cassie), Spokane (solo) and Moses Lake (staying with Haleigh). That left just one place to visit: Seattle.

Seattle is undoubtedly Washington State’s best known city and, of the four places I visited, the one I’d expect you to be most familiar with. Consequently when I made plans to visit Maddie, Cassie and Haleigh this was also the city I was most excited to visit. I’d heard a lot of good things about Seattle and the four of us were off to enjoy the weekend there together.

First things first though, we kicked off our Friday morning pretty early waking up in Ellensburg. We’d agreed to make an early start so we could get going as soon as possible. As I explained in my Ellensburg post, Ellensburg sits on the East side of the mountains, Seattle sits on the West which is a couple of hours away.

I spoke about how impressive the view was when we drove to Ellensburg on day one of this trip but with the smoke, the haze and the air quality I couldn’t appreciate just how pretty Washington was. Don’t get me wrong, I was still in complete awe and had my face glued to the window but that’s partly because I don’t see mountains very often and it just blew me away.

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Washington State, April 2019

It was only on the journey back to the West side of the state (and mountains) that I really got to appreciate the views and just how beautiful Washington really is. Blue skies, fresh air, mountain views and greenery everywhere – it’s a perfect drive and as scenic a journey as I’ve been on. After a while we began our approach in to Seattle.

We kicked off our time in Seattle with a visit to the affectionately named ‘MoPop’ museum (Museum of pop culture) which I really enjoyed. It’s spread over a few floors and has exhibits on various different things. At the time there were sections dedicated to the Seattle Seahawks, David Bowie, Star Trek, video games and much more. It was interesting and definitely a place you should visit on any trip to Seattle. You could feasibly spend hours there as some of the exhibits (such as the video games room) were interactive too. I even got treated to a live show from the unlikely trio of Animal, Miss Piggy and Elmo – played by the three girls.

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What a band!

Afterwards we went and grabbed some pizza for lunch in a cool little make-your-own pizza type place. It seemed to be a chain in Washington as I saw a few of them dotted about but I can’t remember the name of the company off the top of my head, it was good though. Maddie had a quick photoshoot planned with some friends so we made a little time for that before heading over to our hotel for the next couple of nights. We checked in, chilled out and then made some evening plans.

We were staying in the Tacoma area, just outside of Seattle, so it made sense to make plans nearer to Tacoma rather than drive in to Seattle. We met up with some of Cassie’s family and a couple of friends at some little fast food / diner type place to grab some dinner. Moving onwards we headed over to Dorky’s which was a fun little arcade / bar. It was somewhat similar to ‘Barcadia’ in Dallas and made me wish we had more of these places in the UK.

Dorky’s was a little more arcade-game focused than the bar vibe of Barcadia but it was a fun place to hang out, play some games and enjoy a couple of beers – no pickleback shots on this occasion haha.

I played a few classics and also discovered a couple of games I’d never played before. Attention then turned towards Mario Kart. I’d been in Washington a few days now but still not actually spent that much time with Haleigh yet and even less so just the two of us so this was a good/terrible bonding activity.

I say terrible because it’s definitely one of those games where friendships/relationships just go completely out of the window. Was this potential romance going to crash and burn at the hands of Mario Kart? Maybe but a risk worth taking! We both took our seats in preparation of our imminent battle. It’s here where some people seem to take pity on their opponent – “if you like her you should let her win..” – those people are weak!

I had no intention of letting Haleigh win! I was here to crush her! As it was, that didn’t materialise at all. Haleigh comfortably won the first race and then the rematch. Hoping to restore a little pride we agreed on one last race, I’d obviously lost any best of three but if I could end on a high, I’d go away feeling somewhat content. With the finish line in sight I was happy to have at least won one race and BAM!

Sabotage! Something caused me to crash and made me stumble over the finish line, split seconds behind Haleigh who’d somehow pipped ahead of me in the final moment and snatched victory away from me. Unbelievable! We called it quits after that, probably for the best on my part!

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Would I fare better at mini-golf?

Shortly after we all made a move and decided to go and play some late night mini-golf elsewhere. It was a fun way to end our night, plus we managed to squeeze in before they closed the bar so a few of us ended up sharing a jug of beer between us.

I don’t think we really tracked our scores whilst playing but me and Haleigh went round together and were pretty much on par with eachother, I think she might have (again) just pipped me on the final hole as my putting skills seemed to desert me but as we weren’t tracking we’ll call this one a tie – unlike the brutal Mario Kart thrashing!

All in all, it had been a first fun day in the Seattle area. We popped through the McDonald’s drive through on the way back to our hotel and quickly crashed in to bed ahead of day two in Seattle.

Day two, Saturday, was pretty much all about the baseball! We were off to see the Seattle Mariners and I was set to experience my first live game of baseball.

I’d actually caught a bit of baseball earlier in the trip as they were showing the Mariners game on a TV in a bar I’d gone to get some food at in Spokane. My limited knowledge of baseball was that it was essentially the American equivalent to the game we call Rounders, a game fundamentally aimed at children and simplistically put is little more than “hit and run”.

I’d hoped watching a little might have enlightened me on more of the complexities of the sport but I was left unconvinced – it was pretty much a game of Rounders that you might see in any park or school field in England (during the summer months obviously). As a professional sport it’s not something I’d say has too much appeal over here, although with that said they have started hosting MLB games in London so maybe I’m harshly judging it.

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Home of the Seattle Mariners!

Despite my overall scepticism I was quite excited to experience it live as its one of those iconic American pieces of culture that you see so often in movies and TV shows. Baseball is undoubtedly one of the great staples of the USA and I was intrigued to see what all the fuss was about. I was also a little curious about how the matchday experience would compare to one of our own staples of the UK – my beloved football.

On our approach to the stadium we drove past some preacher raving about the sins of homosexuality among other things. I instantly wanted to make that comparison to the football back home because even as backwards as football can be, I think he’d have been run out of Tottenham if he’d tried preaching something similar on a matchday down at the Lane – particularly at the old stadium.

Swiftly moving on from the idiot disgracing himself we parked up and were soon making our way in to the stadium where we received a pop figure of ‘King Felix’ – the Mariners legendary player Felix Hernandez. It was a nice little souvenir to take home with me from my first baseball game.

We’d arrived pretty early and it’s a little surprising to see that difference in culture. Football very much has a ‘turn up five minutes before kickoff’ type culture about it whereas baseball was a bit more family friendly and about making it a day out as much as anything. There was plenty of pre-match entertainment, places to eat or drink and likewise photo spots that were a bit of an initiation process for me and confirmed my place as a baseball fan.

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The Mariners gang together!

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Washington

We took some photos to commemorate the occasion and then made our way to our seats and watched the atmosphere slowly build. I cemented my visit by grabbing a hot-dog which for me was just that little piece of the culture you often hear about in the movies or tv shows. You’ve got to have a hotdog (or popcorn or pretzels or..) at the baseball right? I washed it down with a beer which was a welcome improvement over the football. I can drink a beer in my seat? Such a novelty!

It’s a noticeable absence from English football due to outdated and quite frankly ridiculous laws that prohibit English football fans ever enjoying themselves.

Oops, let me get back on track before I go off on a tangent. Kickoff was almost upon us, I was ready to go which ultimately caught me a little blind-sided as suddenly everyone stood up around me. What’s happen.. oh, of course – this is America, time for the national anthem!

Any game, any event, any occasion is a good excuse for a bit of American patriotism and despite being well aware of that I still find myself unprepared for it. I don’t think anywhere quite does patriotism like the USA and whilst I’m sure it doesn’t faze Americans, if you don’t come from somewhere like that it is an obvious cultural difference. It somewhat surprises me they don’t have the national anthem blaring out in the airport upon arrival to the country.

It’s easy to make fun of of course but it’s also a little endearing and heart-warming. It’s a complete contrast to the English philosophy of “England’s shit but it’s our shithole..” – I do think there is still patriotism here but it’s a little less in your face and with a bit more self-depreciating humour I suppose. Unless it’s a major sporting event you don’t really see the country get swept up in English fever.

Out of respect I stood alongside everyone else and as the anthem played I did ponder if I actually knew more words of this than our own (sorry Queenie), you hear it so often in so many settings that it’s hard not to be familiar with the US national anthem.

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Let’s go Mariners!

After our daily dose of American patriotism we were ready to go! Baseball has a unique tradition in which there is a ceremonial first pitch – it has no bearing on the game but is a nice little touch I think and involves a celebrity or randomer of some sort to throw the first ball. From there on it’s left to the professionals.

There’s a lot to admire about baseball as a whole. As a live experience I think it’s a great day out. It’s fun, there’s a community spirit to it, you can enjoy a game with your friends, family, loved ones or whoever but from a competitive viewpoint I’ll be honest and say I found baseball incredibly frustrating at times.

I had it in my head that baseball was a relatively high-scoring game, partly due to the fact that America generally doesn’t like a draw (tie). There are sports which are determined by a winner of course but they’re not fond of the concept and they like a winner. I don’t think American culture really appreciates a good 0-0 or the “good point away from home” mentality which is a bit more common in popular British sports such as football.

Additionally it’s a “hit and run” sport so I was expecting that to be a predominant feature within the game and instead it felt a little more like the equivalent of a really bad penalty shootout with the thrower (kicker) repeatedly missing the target. I found the inconsistency infuriating when ultimately if you’re a pitcher it must be all you train on.

I obviously found myself willing the Mariners to victory but by the start of the sixth inning (of 9) I was just willing them to score anything as the scoreboard still read Mariners: 0

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Five innings, Mariners zero!

The Mariners did offer some hope in the 6th innings as they finally scored! Hurrah! However the 7th, 8th and 9th were then a mismatch and it ended up being a comfortable away victory for the Cleveland Indians. I think the game ended 11-4.

Despite the lack of any real competitive edge to the game I was won over. I don’t think it’s a sport that I could ever enjoy watching on TV but as a live experience and a “day out” it does deliver. I haven’t yet been back to the baseball but it’s certainly something I’ll hope to do in 2020.

After a fun day of baseball we headed in to central Seattle and visited the famous Pike Place market. It’s definitely a tourist trap but it’s a part of Seattle I’m quite fond of. We checked out a few stores and then I had my first sushi experience, where better to enjoy it than right by the coast? I couldn’t tell you what I ate, Maddie offered me a piece of something she’d ordered. I don’t know what I was expecting but the initial taste took me by surprise, however after the initial shock I quite liked it (whatever ‘it’ was). It was another ‘first’ on this trip but I haven’t had sushi since so can’t pretend to say it’s something I feel is lacking from my life.

After a little time wandering through pike place we wandered over to Seattle’s famous ‘gum wall’ nearby – a wall covered in chewing gum. It sounds horrific but it was something I was actually quite keen to see on my first visit to Seattle so I was actually rather disappointed they’d seemingly scraped the majority of the gum off ahead of my visit. Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely disgusting but I was of the opinion that if I’m going to see it I wanted to see it at its most disgusting haha.

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Love sticks!

Sadly all that was left was a ‘cute’ little heart shape on the wall so we grabbed a couple of photos to take home with me. Fortunately I’ve been back since (Feb 2018) and was ‘pleased’ to see it covered in gum once again, although I suppose slightly horrified too as to how quickly it had filled up in the space of 4 and a half months.

We grabbed some food and then made our way back to the hotel before planning out the rest of our evening. As it was I think both myself and Haleigh just completely crashed and scuppered any evening plans. In Haleigh’s defence she’d just gone through a week of school as a new first year teacher, I’m not really sure what my excuse was but we ended up getting an early night instead.

The next day was our last together. We’d talked about doing a boat ride which we all thought was a good idea so made our first stop of the day this boating place in Seattle. I’d obviously misunderstood in the planning stages of this idea because I’d wrongly assumed that we were taking a little cruise or ferry along the water. What actually materialised was a little wooden boat with paddle in hand – “oh.. that sort of boat..”

We booked up a time slot and then made our way over to the ‘Space Needle’ – a huge tower overlooking the city and looks a bit like a UFO up in the sky. We didn’t go up but had a little look around and met up with one of the girls friends called Haley, not to be confused with Haleigh. I say not to be confused, it inevitably did cause confusion haha.

“Haleigh?”
“Yes?”
“No sorry, I meant Haley..”
“Oh..”

Anyway, the five of us wandered around the Space Needle and popped in to the Seattle centre which was a good spot to pick up some lunch as it’s home to a number of different fast-food type places, somewhat similar to a food court I guess. After a little time we wandered back to take our boat ride.

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Boat time!

I think the boat sat around 12-15 ish people, I can’t quite remember but consequently meant we were paddling alongside strangers. I was seemingly sandwiched with one young kid in front of me and one kid behind me which didn’t work out too well for me. Their timing wasn’t quite in sync which wasn’t unexpected but I also ended up getting fairly wet in the process. Overall though it was a fun little excursion, nice to be out on the water and inevitably scenic because, well if you hadn’t realised by now that’s just Washington all over. Despite my initial scepticism it had been a fun idea and a good way to round off our time together.

Sadly being a Sunday the girls wanted to drive back to Ellensburg / Moses Lake so they dropped me off at my new hotel, I figured it would be more convenient being close to the airport now that I’d be without a car. We said our goodbyes which was sad, it had been a nice first trip to Washington and was somewhere I knew I’d be back to next year for the big wedding in August 2018. As it was I got back there prior to that but you’ll have to wait for that story.

For now it was time to go our separate ways. I could have probably popped back in to downtown Seattle on Sunday evening but instead I just chilled out at the hotel. On Monday I flew home and reflected on a lovely trip. It had gone every bit as well as I’d hoped, I got to visit four wonderful places and meet a bunch of wonderful people (and four-legged friends) along the way.

I was sad to be going home already but on the other hand I was also quite excited. There’d definitely been a feeling of romance whilst in Washington but I knew that a month later I’d be traveling once again at the expense of Haleigh’s biggest love rival.

For those of you now invested in mine and Haleigh’s relationship and currently feeling a little protective, fear not! My trip to Washington had me feeling confident about our future and I’ve since offered assurances that there is room for Haleigh alongside this other lifelong love of mine: Tottenham Hotspur of course.

I was said to say goodbye to Washington but three weeks later my beloved Spurs would be playing in Madrid! That trip is next up on the blog!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Moses Lake – Sep 2017

Those of you that have been following my Washington series will know that last time out on the blog I rounded off my time in the city of Spokane. After one night solo in Spokane it was time for me to move on and visit another new place: Moses Lake!

“Oh my god, at last!”

Alright readers, calm down! I suppose one of the downsides to not blogging “in the moment” and doing so two years after the trip (oops), particularly in a series such as this, is some of my ‘audience’ tend to know what the story is building towards. Last week I had one binge-reader (hi mum) unhappy with the one-post-a-week schedule as she was keen to read the next chapter because, of course, awaiting me in Moses Lake was none other than Haleigh!

“Who?”

Oh come on! For those unfamiliar with the story (“get with the times!”) you can catch up here but long story short, Haleigh’s my girlfriend and this particular portion of the trip was the first time we’d ever really spent any time together. We’d briefly met on Sunday but the bulk of that was spent on a car journey, alongside our friends Maddie and Cassie. We’d been apart since then so consequently I was excited to be leaving Spokane on Wednesday but also a bit nervous about how things were going to go.

I don’t know if spoiler is the right word given it’s obvious how things panned out, particularly given I even wrote this piece announcing I’d be living in Moses Lake for 3 months in 2020 but still; here’s how that nerve-wrecking first encounter went and similarly what I did on my first visit to Moses Lake.

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Moses Lake, Washington

I say first visit, I had actually passed through it on my journey from Ellensburg to Spokane. Perhaps fortunately so because it left me somewhat prepared for the reality that Moses Lake’s Greyhound “bus station” is in the middle of nowhere.

Seriously, it might not surprise the American readers as much but for my fellow Europeans used to a relatively good standard of public transport I suppose I’d liken it to being dropped off at a service station. “You want a bus to London? Cool, our London bus stop is somewhere on the A1 – enjoy!”

Essentially if you’re getting a Greyhound bus to Moses Lake, you’re going to want a car when you arrive.

“A car? After getting off a bus? If you had access to a car would you not just drive there yourself?”

Thank you friends! The logic was lost on me too. Being completely realistic you need to either have someone picking you up or you’re going to want to order a taxi as soon as you arrive. The downtown area of this, fairly small town, is around 3 miles away from the bus stop, which is ultimately just a petrol station car park.

Haleigh was working when I arrived so I personally had two options. My first was actually to walk rather than take a taxi. It was a nice day, I had time to kill and it was “only” 3 miles. Why pay for a taxi?

Alternatively I could just wait it out, I think I got in to Moses Lake around 2 and Haleigh would be home around 4 and be able to pick me up on the way. The one perk to the ludicrous location / service type feel is that it’s at least located next to plenty of restaurants / fast food places. It’s a pretty popular spot for truckers who want somewhere convenient to stop along the i90 and on this occasion was convenient for me to grab a late lunch. I decided I’d eat at Denny’s.

Unfortunately it was actually pretty mediocre, I think this was my first Denny’s experience since childhood trips to Florida and I’ve clearly romanticised them a bit too much. I’m convinced they were brilliant when I was younger, perhaps this was an off day, but it spoilt this magical opinion I held of Denny’s from my youth.

I think I finished up eating just before three which left me in that limbo position where it felt a bit too long to just hang out in Denny’s but barely long enough to justify walking in to Moses Lake. Whether I waited or walked I was probably still going to get in to town around the same time. In the end I took the less awkward option, not wanting to loiter in Denny’s I decided to walk.

The last hurdle to overcome with this ridiculous location was that a good chunk of the route isn’t actually pedestrianised. Where’s your “sidewalk” America? It’s bad enough your only car-free option from the bus stop is to walk three miles but you then have nowhere to actually walk. I ended up having to walk along gravel on the side of the highway whilst dragging my suitcase along behind me.

“Why’s that guy dragging a suitcase along the A1?” – it was a tad ridiculous.

On the plus side, it is a pretty straight walk at least. Although I suppose the A1 is too for the most part and I’m not proposing walking that any time soon. Anyway, eventually I reached a “sidewalk” and it’s a pretty smooth walk from there – a lot of it downhill infact.

About a mile from town I got a message from Haleigh and realised I’d actually walked too far, obviously after the point the walk had started heading downhill which meant I had to turn back and walk uphill. I’d almost reached Haleigh’s apartment when she pulled over and picked me up which saved me a few hundred yards.

After dropping my things off at her place we headed out so I could get my first proper glimpse of Moses Lake. Haleigh had only recently (Aug) moved here infact so it was a good chance for us both to have a bit of a look around the downtown area, I think Haleigh had driven through plenty of times but never really parked up and looked around.

The downtown area was small but a little cute too, it definitely had that small town feel to it which I haven’t really experienced much of when visiting the US. We popped our head in a few shops before closing, mostly independent little businesses rather than big chains. One of which had a cool little area where you could actually pay to do artwork/pottery and similar stuff which Haleigh’s been back to since a few times. There was also a couple of cool murals and statues throughout the downtown area which I was fond of.

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Having appeased our curiosity we made our way over to dinner and visited Moses Lake favourite ‘Rock Top. It has become a regular place for us to eat out but this was essentially our “first date” I suppose. It was quite a nice day and they had a few outside tables so we decided we’d eat outside rather than inside, seemingly the only people in a busy restaurant to do so which was nice and that little more romantic being just the two of us.

However it was also rather cold! It might have been a nice warm day with the sun bearing down on you but under a bit of shade it felt rather breezy and it quickly became clear why nobody else wanted to eat outside haha.

We made the most of it though. It was a little more intimate which is an added bonus on a first date. I can only speak for myself but I was nervous going in to dinner. We’d spent a little time together by this point but that had still either been with Maddie or Cassie, or even in exploring Moses Lake earlier we had something to distract us or catch our eye. “Hey! Look at that cool mural!”

Dinner was different because it’d just be us, literally given the setting, and that meant a focus on entertaining or engaging the other person. Conversational skills or social situations aren’t my biggest strength and there was definitely that fear that I’d bore Haleigh or that things just wouldn’t go well. It opens up the possibility of an awkward or uncomfortable end to the trip. You can get to know people to an extent online but it’s no substitute for actually spending time together in person and you always hope that step in a friendship or relationship or whatever goes smoothly.

Any fears or nervousness quickly disappeared. It instantly felt like I was having dinner with someone I’d known for years. It was easy and effortless and I think as far as first dates go, it was really enjoyable. I found Haleigh incredibly easy to spend time with and there was a natural chemistry there rather than having to force it. I definitely left dinner thinking there was a future for us and it set the mood for the rest of the evening. After eating we were able to just relax back at the apartment and watch a bit of Netflix before bed.

Sadly Haleigh still had to work on Thursday so the next day I was left to explore Moses Lake solo. I looked online for a little inspiration or ideas on how to spend my day but there seemingly isn’t much in Moses Lake, I’d arguably seen most of it already.

I made the first stop of my day at one of the standout points of interest – the Japanese peace gardens in the city. They were so peaceful infact that I think I startled the man cutting the grass. There was nobody else here which made it nice to wander around, it’s only a small gardened area and isn’t somewhere that’s worth going out of your way to visit but it’s a nice little addition to Moses Lake. Plus it’s free so it was definitely worth having a look and I grabbed a handful of photos before moving on.

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Japanese Peace Garden, Moses Lake

My next stop was at “Mason’s Place” – a small independent owned coffee place downtown. This has also become a bit of a regular haunt for me as it’s cosy and it’s also nice to support a local business in the process. I grabbed myself a tea and a seat at the window to “people watch”.

It turns out people-watching isn’t actually much fun in America. Everyone drives everywhere, they have drive-thru’s for literally everything. I’m not sure I saw a person outside of the coffee shop infact, plenty of parked cars but I don’t know where all the people who own those cars were. Bizarre and also quite boring – stick to people watching in Europe haha.

Having had my fix of tea I wandered down towards the lake which the town inevitably gets its name from. The water looked incredibly enticing and I can recall, at the time, uploading a photo to social media proclaiming its beauty and my temptation to jump in. Here’s said photo! Not bad right?

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Moses Lake, Washington

Ironically I saw an article quite recently advising people to avoid swimming in the lake as it’s toxic! I don’t think this was the case when I took this photo but probably just as well I didn’t jump in! Maybe settle for just walking alongside the lake and admiring the view instead which is what I ended up doing.

I wandered up towards a restaurant called “Michael’s on the Lake” which as you might guess is a restaurant offering lakeside views. It’s quite a nice restaurant, it was only after sitting down and looking at the menu that I realised they were part of the same company who own Rock Top. Purely coincidental in terms of me coming here but interesting given I’d visited Rock Top the evening before.

For the purpose of this coming story I’m going to actually name my waiter ‘Michael’, fitting with the restaurant’s name. Maybe Michael Jr would be better actually. ‘Michael’s’ service has stuck with me for the last two years and it’s a difficult one to try and fairly describe but the way I continually think of it is he essentially wasn’t a waiter.

He was this young guy, friendly, helpful but he lacked all of the typical waiting mannerisms. Don’t get me wrong, he was completely professional but I can only think he must have been relatively new at the job because he just didn’t come across as a waiter. Not in the sense that he didn’t know what he was doing, it was a good service, but he didn’t seem to have picked up those waiting traits or habits I suppose. I can recall a few occasions which are hard to describe but tickled me in a way.

As I said though it was actually a really good service, a little more personable I guess and I held out the hope I’d come back and see a different ‘Michael’ somewhere down the line. I’ve been back to the restaurant twice and not seen him, I hope if he has left that he’s gone on to better things!

Following on from a long lunch (I really did enjoy the service and stuck around for an extra beer or two), I made my way back towards Haleigh’s apartment, leaving time for one last detour. There’s a small (and free) museum in Moses Lake so I thought I’d go and check it out. One of the main pieces was some local artist’s work which was quite cool to see, it was a good way to pass some time too.

Back at the apartment I chilled out for a bit until Haleigh made it home. On Friday we were getting the whole “gang” together, joining Maddie and Cassie and spending the weekend in Seattle. So we had the option of either driving to Ellensburg in the morning or heading there Thursday night. We wanted to make an early start towards Seattle so decided to drive over to Maddie and Cassie’s that evening and stay at theirs overnight.

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Driving to Ellensburg!

It was a pretty drive back to Ellensburg with the sun setting. I think every car ride or bus journey has been the same whenever I’ve visited Washington, I just have my face glued to the window and try and resist the temptation to take 1,000 photos. It’s such a pretty state.

Soon enough we’d reached Ellensburg. As I explained in my Ellensburg post here, Ellensburg is a college town and at the time Maddie and Cassie were both working on campus. Consequently we took a little trip over to Central Washington University (CWU).

It was an opportunity for me to have a little glimpse in to ‘college life’ in America. It was interesting to look around and seemed like a good size college. Haleigh gave me a little tour of the grounds before we checked in on a couple of Haleigh’s old friends from college which also helped kill a bit of time.

Having spent a little time looking around we wandered back to Maddie and Cassie’s and chilled out for the evening. We agreed a time to kick off the morning trip to Seattle and got ourselves a good night’s sleep. More on Seattle to come next!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Spokane – September 2017

After a fun couple of days in Ellensburg it was time for me to move on. Those following the trip will know I was in Washington State visiting Maddie, Cassie and Haleigh. I was obviously excited to see all three of them but I thought it might also be wise to break up the trip with a day for myself. It was no reflection on the company, it was more a case of learning lessons from trips in the past with other people. There are pros and cons to solo travel and likewise with group travel. I’m a bit of an introvert and enjoy my own space so I saw it as an opportunity to re-energise ahead of a busy end to the trip.

Consequently I was considering where in Washington I could feasibly go for a day. Washington is such a beautiful state so I wasn’t short of choices but in the end I opted for convenience as much as anything. I was leaving Ellensburg and would soon be visiting Haleigh in Moses Lake, both of which sit on the Greyhound bus route. Another city on that route was Spokane. It essentially meant I could get from Ellensburg to Spokane and then Spokane to Moses Lake pretty effortlessly.

So after Cassie dropped me off at the bus station in Ellensburg, I was on my way to a new city in Washington. It’s a nice journey from Ellensburg to Spokane, not as picturesque as Seattle to Ellensburg but still scenic enough to enjoy. My only concern was I’d left blue skies behind in Ellensburg and as we inched closer to Spokane the sky was beginning to turn very grey!

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Driving towards a miserable Spokane!

By the time I got to Spokane it was probably around 3/4pm. The plan was to quickly go and check in to my hotel and then start exploring the city. Unfortunately I’d done little to preserve my phone life in the morning and then I spent probably too much of the bus journey taking photos of the view, by the time I reached Spokane my phone was dead.

I thought I had a good idea of where my hotel was, in relation to the bus station, but it turns out I didn’t have a bloody clue. I wandered for a bit but I’d arrived to a very wet Spokane experiencing a bit of a thunderstorm, not the best timing and I was drenched pretty quickly. With no way of locating my hotel I asked a couple of locals for some directions but with no success. I’d lucked out in Dallas a few months earlier in a similar situation but in wetter conditions it was time to abandon the “wing it” plan, instead I seeked shelter in a nearby bar!

My hope was they’d help me one way or another. Either I’d be able to charge my phone somewhere (I did) or they’d be able to offer me some directions. Allowing time for the former I grabbed a beer and took seat at one of the stools in this relatively small bar. By the time I’d finished my beer I had a better idea of where I needed to go and luckily the storm seemed to have passed.

Moving on, I went to find my hotel which ended up being pretty straight forward. More frustratingly I’d actually passed it on the bus and not noticed. There were some eye-catching murals on the side of the hotel building that I’d thought “I’d like to find those later..” and not realised that was where I was staying haha.

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Beyond the cool murals, the hotel appearance itself didn’t fill me with much confidence. It had a sketchy vibe about it and the actual reception for checking in felt about as big as a garden shed – it was tiny! The receptionist was pretty friendly though and I figured it was only for one night. Given I went in with little confidence, the room was actually nicer than I’d anticipated. It was a nice room with a decent sized (and comfy) bed.

Having chilled out in the room for a little bit I went on the search for some dinner, I had a little scour of my options on Google Maps and decided to check out this place called ’24 Taps Burgers and Brews’. It had good reviews and, upon approaching it, the side of the building was lined with some more cool pieces of street art. Spokane was setting a good first impression on the street art front. Inside was essentially a sports bar and a bit of a casual hangout, I imagine at the weekend it’d be a lot busier but on a Tuesday it was pretty quiet.

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24 Taps Burgers & Brews, Spokane

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I ordered one of the burgers on the menu and likewise one of the 24 beers available on tap. On the TV directly above me they were showing the (Seattle) Mariners game, I knew we were seeing the Mariners in a few days time so I thought I’d try and pick up a few of the complexities of baseball (it’s just hit and run isn’t it?).

It’s not really a sport that is taken seriously in England if I’m being honest, partly as it’s likened to ‘Rounders’ which is primarily associated as being a game for kids here. The upgrade to Rounders is typically Cricket which shares some fundamental rules (hit and run) but is a different sport from baseball/rounders. I tried enjoying the game on TV but wasn’t yet sold on the baseball experience (stay tuned for my live experience in Seattle!).

Partway through my meal I realised that the place actually sold ‘beer flights’ or tasting menu. I picked up a beer menu and feeling a little intrigued thought I’d try a few more West Coast beers, choosing four from the 24 (well, 23 as I’d had one already) beers on tap. I think I ended up trying two from Washington breweries and two from Oregon breweries, with the latter being equally enjoyable!

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Working my way through the 24!

I could quite happily have stayed there for the evening but during my Google search another bar had caught my eye – “Baby Bar”. It had really good reviews, was just around the corner from where I was staying and I’ll be honest and say the name caught my eye too. Baby bar? Okay, Spokane..

Anyway, off I went in search of it! It wasn’t actually that easy to find. I was wandering in its general proximity and yet there was no clear sign of it. Google Maps suggested I was in the right spot but there was nothing here. I easily found the restaurant next door which suggested I was in the right place but this Baby Bar seemingly didn’t exist.

I joked in my post on Salzburg at the absurdity of Flo suggesting we go “next door” to get in to this bar. Well would you believe it, I took the crazy Austrian’s advice here in Spokane. With no sign of this bar anywhere I thought I’d peer my head in the restaurant next door didn’t I?

You’d have been forgiven for thinking this restaurant was closed too. The sign on the door read ‘open’ but it was incredibly dark if it was open for business. Maybe that’s the mood or whatever they were going for but it wouldn’t have been a place I would have walked in for food. After peering my head in something drew me towards the dark corridor at the back of the room – almost in a possessed manner.

I didn’t even ask the staff in the restaurant for guidance. “Oh hey, is this bar here?” – No, I just floated towards the darkness. Looking back, I don’t know what I was thinking. Was I just following intuition? I don’t know but the image was essentially your classic horror story moment.

“Don’t do it Jason! Turn around..”

Watching at home you wonder how the characters find themselves in these horror-laden scenarios and yet here I was wandering down this long and dark corridor. At the very end was this mysterious door which I’m convinced just seemed to get further and further away as I walked towards it. This was it. This is how and where I was going to die, typically miles from home in a place no-one would think to look for me. I eventually reached this door in baited breath and pushed.

On the other side of this door was a cosy little bar – Baby Bar! I’d actually found it! Now you might think I’m exaggerating the story and often when it sounds absurd writing it down I end up doubting my memory. So I thought I’d google Spokane’s infamous Baby Bar and found this amusing little excerpt from The Spokesman Review

With room for five taps and 25 people, Baby Bar is incoherently cosy. Hidden away in plain sight, it also sort of feels like a secret. There are no windows. The ceiling is painted black. And there’s only one way in and out; through a single door that leads down a darkened hallway.

It was the perfect hideaway bar, it had that speakeasy kind of feel to it that if you didn’t know of its existence you’d never see it. As the review above suggests, there are no windows, only one way in and yet it had an incredible warmth to it the second you arrived. The lighting and the atmosphere just made it seem homely and instantly you could see why Baby Bar was so highly rated. I loved it!

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Baby Bar, Spokane!
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Baby Bar, Spokane

I took seat at the bar and ordered myself a beer. It had been worth the effort finding it. The barman was friendly and I knew it would be a frequent hangout for me if I was a Spokane local. After my third beer I called it a night. I was a tad drunk having already had the earlier beers and so sensibly, for once perhaps, knew it was time to head back to my hotel and sleep. I asked the barman if I could settle my tab – “$9 please..”

Wait, nine? Did I hear that right? I’ve had three beers? Am I only paying $3 a beer here? It was cheaper than I’d expected it to be. I settled my tab for the first three, tip included, but ended up ordering a fourth at the same time. “Last one..”

Halfway in to my pint I realised that was a mistake. This was just one beer too many and any more I’d be throwing up either tonight or tomorrow morning. I sensibly walked away and let it go to waste and wandered back to my hotel which luckily was only on the next street over. I think within 5 minutes of leaving Baby Bar I was asleep, crashing the second my head hit the pillow.

On the plus side, my sensibly timed departure meant I wasn’t suffering the next morning. I’d got settled in to Spokane a little later than anticipated so all I’d really done thus far was eat and drink. I was keen to see a bit of Spokane at least before catching my lunchtime bus.

I kicked off my day with a visit to the ‘Satellite Diner’. It was surprisingly busy given I visited in ‘working hours’, it must have been about 9-9:30ish on a Wednesday morning and Spokane didn’t come across as a tourist hotspot so I thought it might have been emptier. The busy-ness gave me some comfort that it’d be a good place to eat though. I pondered the menu and really fancied pancakes – plural, obviously. One of the items on the menu was a pancake.

“Singular?”

You could say that’s a bit weird, right? You could also possibly call it a sign. I ordered the ‘two pancakes’ option and as my plate was placed in front of me I realised why they sell singular pancakes. They were bloody huge! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a bigger pancake infact. I probably should have taken a photo (FYI, I’d make a terrible food blogger). The guy at a nearby table was equally amazed at its size. I gave it a good go but (I think) it bested me. I couldn’t finish it. On the plus side it was a filling start to my day and explorations.

I hadn’t really researched things to do in Spokane which inevitably meant I didn’t really find much to do with my last couple of hours, I’m sure there is more to do in Spokane but I just ended up winging it a bit. I thought I’d kick things off by wandering over to Spokane’s Riverfront park. It’s a peaceful spot, nice to walk through and is also home to a few interesting things.

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Spokane, Washington State!

Feeling a little conscious of venturing too far from the bus station I wandered back in to the downtown area, there didn’t seem to be too much of note but I popped my head in to a few shops to help kill a bit of time. Soon enough it was time to check in and catch my bus. All in all it had been a nice trip to Spokane, albeit most of the fun was spread over the evening.

It’s somewhere I’ll possibly go back to and explore a little further, I’ve since read of other people who’ve visited including fellow travel blogger Sarah who went recently and shares a few other ideas and actually makes me want to go back but it had been a good introduction to this small and charming city.

Up next? Moses Lake.

Stay tuned!

Jason

Ellensburg – Sep 2017

Following on from my last post (read me), I was finally making my way over to Washington State for the first time! It’s an incredibly beautiful state but the motivation for my trip was the company and the opportunity to finally meet Maddie, Cassie and Haleigh. I was both excited and nervous!

I kicked off my Sunday morning waking up in London. Tottenham had been playing over at Wembley on Saturday evening and it didn’t seem worthwhile going all the way back to Peterborough just to fly out of London on Sunday morning. With that said, with Tottenham playing at Wembley I decided I’d just book a hotel for the night near Wembley Stadium and I found that it’s such an inconvenient part of London to try to get to Heathrow from.

In fairness I think if you take the ‘Heathrow Express’ train you can get there quickly and quite conveniently from Wembley but I’d rather save money by taking the tube which meant going back towards Central London to then come back out again towards Heathrow. Beforehand I’d envisaged getting a bit of a lay in or a more relaxing morning but between the long tube journey and a Sunday service I’m not sure my day would have started much differently had I just gone home for the night instead. Oh well, lesson learned I suppose (Wembley’s a pain!).

Anyway, eventually I was arriving at Heathrow and breezing through security. I decided I’d find somewhere to get some breakfast in the airport and found a place with pancakes on the menu which seemed the perfect way to kick off the American adventure!

Soon enough I was on the way to Seattle – that city all the way over on the West Coast of the USA – I think it’s something like 4,500 miles away. It was my longest journey since flying to Sydney four years earlier and when you look on a map they couldn’t seem further apart. You’ve got Sydney sitting down in the South East corner of the World and Seattle sitting up in the North West. With England somewhere in the middle both cities feel so far away!

Fortunately unlike Sydney, you can at least fly directly from London to Seattle so the journey didn’t seem too bad. I kept myself amused with the in-flight entertainment and landed in Washington at around 3:30pm local time I think (11:30pm UK time).

Maddie, Cassie and Haleigh were all waiting for me at Seatac airport with a surprise welcome sign to greet me. Unfortunately for them they weren’t waiting at the same section I came out of. I came out of security with no idea where they were and the airport Wi-Fi wasn’t being too co-operative so I couldn’t drop one of them a message.

Instead I figured I’d just walk for a bit and hoped I’d either see them or find a better Wi-Fi spot in the airport. It ended up being the former, I hadn’t walked too far when I spotted the three of them and started approaching them. Amusingly though they had their backs to me so they ended up getting the surprise rather than the other way around. Oops! Haha.

Having said our hello’s we quickly made our way over to the car park to get out of Seatac asap! Although I’d flown in to Seattle, we wouldn’t actually be spending any time in the city until Friday. I was spending my first couple of nights in Ellensburg with Maddie and Cassie where the pair of them lived.

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Welcome to Ellensburg sign!

Ellensburg’s a college town, a town which both Maddie and Cassie went to college in (and Haleigh did previously). It’s a couple of hours away from Seattle which sits on the West side of the mountains, with Ellensburg sitting on the East side of the mountains. Consequently that meant driving through / over the mountains to get back to Ellensburg.

Before leaving the Seattle area we made a quick stop and dropped in on Cassie’s family, Cassie had something she needed to pick up and take home so it was a nice opportunity to be introduced to some of her family before we headed back. We then picked up some pizza for the drive home and were on our way.

I think I pretty much spent the entire journey with my face glued to the window. It probably doesn’t help that I live in such a flat part of England but the mountain views just had me in complete awe. The funny thing being that due to the current climate the view was nowhere near as good as it usually is.

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Washington – April 2019

The above picture was from a spring visit this year but for this particular trip Washington was still suffering the aftermath of forest fires in the region. The day that I arrived was actually the first bit of rain they’d had in a while and it was much needed. Despite a little rain the sky was still a bit hazy, the air quality was awful and the smoke, oh my god the smoke..

Theoretically it wasn’t even that bad, this was essentially post-fire-smoke lingering in the air and yet I still found the smoke unbearable. I dread to think how bad the air quality was whilst the fires were going on.  Even with the windows of the car closed all I could taste was smoke in my mouth, my throat felt awful for a good 2-3 days after arriving in Washington.

Soon enough I’d unstuck my face from the window because we’d arrived on the other side of the mountains and we were finally in Ellensburg. Sadly Haleigh was teaching on Monday morning so couldn’t stick around to spend the evening with us.

Myself, Maddie and Cassie relaxed for a little bit but soon went out to get a couple of beers at one of Ellensburg’s bars, forgive me but I can’t remember the name of it. It was cool though and also nice to have my first Washington beer. I always enjoy trying the local beers and seeing how they compare across the globe.

We weren’t out too late which I was quite appreciative of, the eight hour time difference is a bit of a killer. I think it was about 4-5am UK time by the time I’d got myself to bed. It had been a nice start to the trip but I needed a good night’s rest to set me up for the rest of the trip.

The next morning I was up at a fairly reasonable time. I don’t know if I was the first one awake but first one downstairs at least which seemed to please the four-legged housemates, particularly the dogs. Hamilton and Olivia were both friendly and didn’t seem fazed at having me around. Olivia in particular was constantly seeking attention so I’d quickly made a new friend in her. The cats were a little less curious although did come and sit with me at various points of my stay which was nice and I managed to sneak in a few photos before they ran off.

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As suggested further up, Ellensburg is a college town and consequently not really somewhere that tourists tend to visit. Nevertheless I was personally looking forward to seeing what Ellensburg had to offer, it can be nice getting away from the big cities and seeing a different side to the US. With the sheer size of the country you quickly see how diverse it is from place to place.

Maddie wasn’t feeling particularly great so we didn’t do too much with our morning other than relax. For lunch we went out to some teriyaki chicken place. It’s not something I’ve ever really seen here so I guess isn’t as popular in the UK, by all means feel free to correct me but it was the first time I’d tried it anyway.

It was enjoyable but the portion was way too big, I think the sauce grows sickly after a while too so it’s something I could eat again but not something I could eat a lot of if that makes sense?

Following on from lunch we ventured over to the Kittitas County historical museum. It was small but worth a visit, free admission too which was a bonus! I can’t expect they get many English visitors so I made sure to sign the guestbook after having had a look around the museum. It was interesting.

We popped in to some shop afterwards and then made our way back to the house. Cassie had to work and it was a good opportunity for Maddie to get a little rest before making evening plans. I took it as a chance to catch up on the happenings back home and keep the four-legged ones company.

In the evening we went out to “the Tav” – an Ellensburg favourite which is a nice little sports bar in town. I’ve been there a couple of times now and it has had a nice atmosphere on both occasions. I’m sure it’d be a good place to go and watch a big sports game too although my visits have only ever been on a casual basis so I’m just speculating haha. We met one of Maddie’s friends again, grabbed some food and had a couple of beers before moving on to a bar called ‘Shooters’.

Shooters is essentially a gaming bar – a mixture of video and board games which cover all of the classics plus modern day favourites. It’s quite a small place but that makes it cosy too.

Again it had a friendly atmosphere, a good range of different beers to try and then you can play a variety of games depending on what you’re in the mood for. The three of us ended up playing a bit of Star Wars Monopoly before calling it a night, such is the length of Monopoly I don’t think we got near finishing it so ended without a winner haha.

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Star Wars Monopoly

We grabbed some food on the drive home which gave me another ‘first’ – my first ever churro! I’d say if you’re going to try your first churro perhaps save it for Spain rather than Washington but they were still good and it was welcome timing to try them too given I was going to be in Madrid a month later.

Cassie finished up work around the same time so we rounded off the evening eating food and chatting before heading to sleep. The next morning I chilled out a bit before Cassie kindly dropped me over at the bus station as I made my way on to my second destination of this trip.

Ellensburg had offered a fun start to my time in Washington. After so many years of friendship I’d finally got to spend some time with Maddie, Cassie had made me feel equally welcome in their home and of course I’d made a few new four-legged friends too. It was a good start to the trip but I was excited to see what was yet to come. I’d be seeing Maddie and Cassie again before heading home but for now it was time to bid farewell to Ellensburg. I boarded my bus and was heading for Spokane!

More on that next! Stay tuned!

Jason

Washington State – An introduction – Sep 2017

As promised last time out on the blog, my next few posts are going to be dedicated to various cities and towns throughout the state of Washington but first I want to give you a little background.

Without doubt one of the greatest things about the internet are the connections it allows us to make to people all over the world. A simple conversation online can lead to friendships or relationships that last a lifetime. At 31 years old I’ve spent over half of my life online and in that time I’ve crossed paths with an incredible number of people online, some of which I’ve known a good 10-15+ years!

As someone with a real interest in traveling it’s quite a luxury to have friends all over the world but one country in particular stands out on that front: the USA! I reckon I could probably go to any state in the country and know someone in some capacity.

In 2017 I made an effort to go and visit some of those lovely people across the pond. The first trip took me to Washington DCNashville and Dallas which gave me a great chance to finally see some of my favourite people! It was long overdue!

However not content with just one Washington visit, I was soon booking flights to visit Washington State on the opposite coast to see a few more of my favourites: Maddie, Cassie and Haleigh!

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Left to right: Me, Haleigh, Cassie, Maddie

Myself and Maddie had met online a number of years earlier and it was always in my mind to go and visit Seattle/Washington at some point. Eventually that opportunity presented itself, Maddie sent a proposition my way in early 2016 which went something along the lines of “Hey.. would two years be enough notice for you to come to my wedding?”

I was honoured! Of course I’d be there! I’d like to think I’d have gone irrespective of how much notice I’d been given but two years was plenty! I stuck a little pin in the calendar for August 2018 and was excited at making what would presumably be my first trip (ha!) to the USA’s West coast!

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With wedding plans progressing, later in the year (2016) Maddie introduced me to Cassie (the bride) and also their friend Haleigh. It was great! I now had three lovely people to visit in Washington!

“So that’s how you met!”

Alright, you got me! This story might have been a bit more suspenseful had some of you not read about Haleigh previously or in some cases even met Haleigh here in England. However it’s safe to say it’s a “friendship” that clicked pretty instantly.

I wasn’t really thinking about anything long-distance but I was excited to have another friend at the wedding outside of the happy couple. However as time went on and we continued talking regularly it seemed there was clearly a spark between myself and Haleigh.

Whether that spark was enough to lead to anything more was another matter. I wasn’t dead set against long distance but inevitably I had my doubts, not helped by the fact this was yet again further from home as if Germany or Georgia hadn’t been far enough away.

“Seriously Jason, could you not just fall for a nice local girl?”
“Obviously not..”

There were a number of factors to consider so we just kept things at a “see how it goes” basis but it got to a point where I figured I’d just be better off knowing where we stood. Whilst we were both single and not looking elsewhere, the spark online doesn’t always necessarily translate when spending time in person. The wedding was still over a year away and did either of us really want to wait that long to see how compatible we were? It’s a long time to put your life on hold for a maybe. It could also have been a really awkward wedding day and I didn’t want to spoil it in anyway.

Rather than wait until August 2018, instead I booked flights and decided to visit a year earlier – heading for Washington State come September 2017. Therefore I was visiting the US for the second time in 2017 and this time getting to experience “the other Washington” – not to be confused with Washington DC on the East coast.

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Seattle by night

Obviously it’ll be no surprise to hear things went well! There have been multiple trips to Washington since then, including for the wedding of the year (2018) but you’ll have to wait to hear about those adventures until another day. This particular series will be focusing on that very first trip to the West coast, seeing three wonderful people and exploring Ellensburg, Spokane, Moses Lake and Seattle.

Next up on the blog? The start of that trip in Ellensburg! Stay tuned!

Jason

Thessaloniki – August 2017

I kicked off ‘Jason Likes To Travel’ back in April 2017, some of you have been along for the ride and for some of you this might be the very first post of mine you’ve read! If so, welcome! I hope you stick around!

Anyway, I’m not somebody who really dwells on the past, likewise I don’t worry too much about the future. I try and keep myself in the present but sometimes it’s nice to reflect and it was one of the motivations that really kick-started this blog. I think any blogger is hoping their content is read and enjoyed, I was certainly no different in that respect but I also think there was an element of doing this for me. I wanted somewhere I could reminisce and document my travels and so ‘Jason Likes To Travel’ was born.

What relevance does any of this have to Thessaloniki? Apologies to new readers, not aware of my ability to go off on a bit of a tangent, but I am getting to the point – I promise!

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You see, last time out on the blog I wrote about my trip to Hamburg in May 2017. You can catch up on that (here) but the eagle-eyed among you will notice the timing. That’s right! I was a newbie travel blogger! I came back from Hamburg desperate to get the next holiday booked but I was also in somewhat of a reflective mood. I was planning blog posts and content, reminiscing to travels of the past and before I knew it a pattern had emerged.

“Hang on a second.. forget the next holiday. When was the last holiday?”

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Hamburg and afterwards I was thinking about all of the other amazing places I’d been to in the past few years. Sydney, New York City, Berlin.. city, city, city..

Were they holidays? That’s not me being ungrateful. I’m so appreciative of the places I’ve been to, I also love a city break and they’re typically my preferred type of break but are they really holidays? Does rushing around Vienna in 24 hours constitute as a holiday? Was 3 days in Budapest long enough? I’d spent four years rushing around various cities, obviously enjoying myself, but where was the “break” in the city break? Where was the holiday? Maybe they should be called city rushes instead.

Although that might be a little more accurate, perhaps a little less successful on the marketing front. Nevertheless it did get it in to my head that, with 2017’s summer approaching, my next trip should be a proper holiday. I wanted a birthday treat in August. With that said there was specific criteria and restrictions I placed on such a trip.

First and foremost, I wanted a birthday treat but didn’t want it to actually overlap with my birthday. I wanted to ensure I was home in time for the football season. I wanted to visit somewhere warm, a place with a pool and also visit a country I hadn’t been to before!

With my birthday on the 7th and the football season starting on the 12th I’d restricted myself to just four days (Aug 8th – 11th) which pretty much restricted any adventures to a European trip. Not necessarily a problem but August is the busiest and most expensive month to go anywhere in Europe. Likewise the cheapest places to visit were all countries I’d been to (Spain, France, Portugal). The one exception perhaps being Ireland but who takes a “summer holiday” to Ireland? No.. I had to keep looking.

After looking at various accommodation options and flights that ticked the right boxes I eventually found myself a deal I was happy with in a place called Thessaloiniki. “Where is Thessaloniki” I hear you ask, well it’s a city in Greece!

“A city..?”

Alright, you caught me! I’ll admit the irony wasn’t lost on me in that my quest to find myself a “holiday destination” to avoid “another city break” still resulted with me booking essentially a city break. Oops!

The other criteria held up though. It was a new country, I’d booked a nice hotel with a rooftop pool, it was a place I knew nothing about so I had no long list of stuff to see. It was genuinely going to be a relaxing break! Hopefully..

Anyway, all booked! Tuesday 8th of August to Friday 11th of August. On the Tuesday I made my way over to Stansted for an afternoon flight. I was sticking to the relaxed ethos of the trip, for once I decided I wasn’t going to get an early morning flight. I still had three days to enjoy in Greece.

So onwards to Stansted I went and the holiday could begin! There was a bit of delay to my flight but on the plus side I had been allocated a window seat by Ryanair and even better, the seat next to me was vacant so I got treated to a rare piece of “Ryanair luxury” in being able to stretch out a bit. A few hours later we were landing in Thessaloniki.

By this point of the evening it was already getting dark so I didn’t mess about in navigating my way to my hotel, I just jumped in a taxi to take me there. From the outside it appeared to be a nice hotel, not five star or anything but it was a good first impression.

Check in was quick and easy. Friendly too! The receptionist welcoming me quickly complimented me on my dress sense. It puzzled me somewhat as I wasn’t wearing anything beyond the ordinary. I was just in a t-shirt, pair of jeans and a pair of converse but it put me in a good mood heading up to my room nonetheless.

I didn’t really do anything with the rest of my evening. It wasn’t particularly late but I didn’t want to go wandering too far given it was dark so I just settled for relaxing and getting a bit of an early night. The holiday could start properly tomorrow!

On Wednesday morning I headed down for breakfast at the hotel, there was a buffet of sorts (no Weetabix) which got me going for the day. Afterwards I headed on out to get my first proper look at the city, wandering down towards Thessaloniki’s port and seafront which was a short walk away from the hotel.

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The “strip” – just a long road of bars/restaurants

Along the seafront is essentially a “strip” – a long line of buildings which were I think pretty much all either a bar or restaurant of some sort. I wandered along as far as Thessaloniki’s White Tower which given the heat seemed far enough to walk for the time-being. Closeby was this fairly tall statue which I had a little gander at and suddenly I was being approached by this little Asian man who wanted me to take a photo of him.

Did the respective heights and nationality need clarifying? You’d be forgiven for thinking no but absolutely! This guy wanted me to take his photo, for all I know he was speaking to me in Greek but there was a clear language barrier between us so communication was at a minimal amount.

I sized up a vertical photo and he begins waving at me in protest. I find it fascinating how we don’t let the lack of a common language stop us from communicating, it was clear he was basically saying to me “other way..”

I understood but my problem was their respective sizes. I tried to advise this wasn’t going to work but he was stubborn and refused to accept a landscape shot just wasn’t going to work. This statue was towering over him and I was desperate to try and get my point across but I reluctantly submitted to his wishes. .

“Okay, so I’m either chopping off half of the statue or half of your body – which would you prefer?”

After taking a couple of photos I somehow got the message across that now we were going to do it my way. Oh, look at that. All of you is in the picture with the statue! Why didn’t we think of this earlier?

I handed him his phone back but he gave no real indication if he was happy with the photos or not. I didn’t really stick around to find out in truth, Hopefully when looking back at the photos he realised what I was trying to say, failing that he flagged down some other poor soul to do a better job but either way I was out of there. I had come to relax and wasn’t about to let tourists start stressing me out.

That debacle added to the heat led to me deciding to find somewhere to grab a drink. Honestly, I looked at the time and thought it might be a tad early for an alcoholic beverage. I looked to the others sat dining for comfort but with little success so I settled for getting a ‘mocktail’ instead which was some sort of peach and mango concoction. It was good though!

After a quick refresher I decided I’d head back to the hotel for a swim. I had actually hoped to get an early morning swim in but it turned out that the pool didn’t actually open until 10am, additionally it seems that it closed around dinner time so I wanted to make the most of the pool hours whilst I could.

The location was perfect. It was situated on a rooftop which overlooked the city. Unfortunately though it wasn’t a particularly big pool, quite small infact, and there were plenty of other people with the same idea so the pool area was pretty busy. The people to pool space ratio was not in my favour and I wasn’t really going to get the relaxing swim I’d planned on.

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I settled for grabbing a drink at the poolside bar and admiring the view instead. Not quite what I’d hoped for but still pretty relaxing so not an entirely wasted journey back. I didn’t foresee my luck changing at any point during my stay though so I didn’t return to the pool. It was a little frustrating because one of the bigger appeals of this hotel was that it had a pool, so it felt a bit of a waste to have had no use of it.

Anyway, after a bit of time poolside I headed back to my room. I chilled out for a little while and then freshened up to go out for dinner. I found a nice square which had a bunch of restaurants that seemed ideal to grab some food. Dinner was good, my only other plan for the evening was to find a bar by the water and watch the sun go down with a few beers.

It didn’t take me long to find somewhere with a prime sunset spot, there are an endless number of bars and restaurants to take your pick from. After sitting down at this table outside I ordered myself a beer but politely declined ordering any food, I’d literally just come from dinner so wasn’t feeling particularly hungry.

Nevertheless the waitress came back with a beer and a small plate of food. There was a small salad and some chicken strip/finger type things to accompany it. I really appreciated the gesture and thought it must just be a one time thing but it turns out beer actually means “beer and free food” in Greek.

I visited countless places over my trip and it kept happening. Admittedly in most places it came in the form of some crisps or nuts or something equivalent but still, it was free! I almost found myself resenting the places where this didn’t happen.

“Excuse me, where are my free beer snacks?”

I said I wasn’t hungry but now with a mini plate of food in front of me I didn’t want to let it go to waste, it’d just be rude, right? I ended up spending the remainder of my evening at this same bar. The service was nice, it was a nice atmosphere and the view was perfect. It was my first Greek sunset and a beautiful one at that, certainly a highlight of my summer.

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Stayed here all night!

With the sun down I called it an evening and made a slow walk back to my hotel. After another good night’s sleep I woke up on Thursday and headed back out in to the city. Wednesday had really been about familiarising myself with the city, today I wanted to at the very least climb the White Tower so I made that my first stop of the day.

The tower isn’t particularly big but even so, sometimes these sort of things can be a little pricey so I was quite pleasantly surprised to find it was only about 4 euros or something to go up it. At the top you get city, sea and mountain views so it’s well worth going up. Within the tower there are also some exhibits which I was a little more torn on.

There were pieces of information in each room, presumably covering stuff like the history of the tower or whatever. The only downside was it was purely in Greek. On the one hand I quite liked that for once a tourist attraction hadn’t completely catered towards the English (Americans, Australians etc) but on the other hand, or rather on a personal note, it made the information a bit of a waste. For 4 euros and a cracking view at the top it’s still great value but just something to note. Although I think there may have been audio guides so with hindsight I might have been better picking one up.

Anyway, after snapping a few photos I made my way back down. Opposite the tower there were a handful of boats sat on the harbour offering tours. One in particular had caught my eye the day before. Sitting on the water was a pirate ship which was cool enough but what really caught my eye was the green sign flashing “free ride” or something to that effect.

There had to be a catch, right? I figured it had to be one of those.. “£500 free.. when you spend £4 million in store..” type deals. Nobody’s just handing out free boat rides on the water. A boat ride did sound like fun though so depending on how much it actually was, I figured I’d take a tour.

I approached the boat with a bit of curiosity and yet despite my cynicism it seems this was infact a completely free ride. The man watching over the entrance waved me straight on board, I was pleasantly surprised. There was a bar on board which was an added appeal but you were under no obligation to buy a drink. If all you wanted was a trip on the water then it was a completely free ride.

Personally, I took advantage of the bar on board. There was a temptation to see if they had any rum and have a proper pirate’s drink for my new life at sea, I settled for a beer though and waited as the boat filled up a bit before we waved goodbye to shore. It was a short trip, only around 30 minutes in total but it was a lovely way to spend a bit of time and without doubt the coolest boat I’ve ever rode on. The fact it was free was just an added bonus!

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Enjoying life at sea!

After my fun on the water I went for a bit of a wander, didn’t do anything particularly noteworthy but saw some cool buildings and just generally wandered along the waterfront. My afternoon flew by which meant soon enough my attention had turned towards evening plans – bar-hopping apparently!

I didn’t really have any set location but I started off around the White Tower and with my hotel at the very end of the previously mentioned “strip” it seemed unavoidable stopping along the way. I’d grab a beer or two, enjoy the atmosphere and the views and then move on to the next. At one of the restaurants along the way I grabbed some food but generally it was just an evening of checking out a few of the bars by the water whilst the sun went down. By the time I got back to my hotel I was beyond the tipsy point, I pretty much crashed the second my head hit the pillow. Overall it was another good day in Greece with just one left to go!

I woke up Friday in a very different mood, probably the closest thing I’ve experienced to any feeling of ‘homesick’. I don’t know what brought it on but I didn’t really want to get out of bed whatsoever. It wasn’t a reflection on Thessaloniki in any way but my head space just wasn’t in the right place. I was here on my own and I think more than anything I just wanted a familiar face or voice in Greece with me. I think I could have done another day relaxing with the right company but another day of nothingness whilst traveling solo got to me I guess.

If I hadn’t had to check out I think I’d have just curled up and spent the day in bed, as it was I left it as late as possible before dragging myself out of bed. I’d paid in advance for my room so I was expecting a smooth check out and then the receptionist asked for me to “settle the balance”.

A phantom bottle of water had magically found its way on to my bill. On any ordinary day I don’t think it would have bothered me in the slightest, it was clearly a mistake but today? I let it add to my miserable mood – “just get me home..”

I wasn’t rude about it and the receptionist seemed to just accept me at face value, for the sake of a bottle of water I don’t know how far I’d have argued it but I suppose they took the same approach and it wasn’t of enough significant value to kick up a fuss about. It did take the shine off what had otherwise been a nice stay though.

Moving on, I now had hours to kill in Greece or rather hours to mope about in Greece. I had a long wait until I could go home so I went and found a restaurant to get some lunch at and I thought I’d try the chicken ‘souvlaki’, whatever the hell that was.

I think it was lunch which firstly perked me up and secondly where a bit of common sense kicked in. There are obviously cons to solo travel but there are pros too and the lack of company meant I got in to my own head a bit. I realised how ridiculous, selfish and ungrateful I sounded. I couldn’t change my situation so I might aswell enjoy the final few hours that I was here. I also knew come Monday I’d be stuck in an office probably wishing I was back in Thessaloniki. I’d already let my mood spoil my morning so I wasn’t going to let it ruin my afternoon too.

With a new-found attitude I finished off my lunch and got back to wandering. The sun was shining down on me, the sea was gleaming beautifully and for a minute it almost seemed like Greece wasn’t the worst place to be on a Friday afternoon. Reality, or the lack of it here, had finally hit me. “Why am I in a rush to get back to England?”

There was a buzz about Thessaloniki on Friday, everywhere seemed much busier than the last couple of days. There was a bit more life to the city and I think that energy helped lift my spirits. I don’t know why it was so busy, it almost felt like nobody worked on a Friday here. Perhaps there were just a few more tourists in town for the weekend but it felt like a different city.

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My wandering took me past some cool pieces of architecture and I spotted a couple of cool pieces of street art too. I figured I’d maybe go and round up my trip by doing a sightseeing bus tour which would perhaps highlight some of the ‘sights’ that I’d missed. By the time I reached the pick up point though I’d changed my mind. Fortunately just across the street was this park so I thought I’d go have a look around and take advantage of some of the shade – it was particularly warm today.

It was here that I stumbled upon perhaps my favourite bar in Thessaloniki. It was an unexpected find but one I was pleased to stumble upon. I couldn’t resist stopping for a drink, it was so quiet and peaceful in comparison to an otherwise pretty busy city. Every bar and restaurant I’d passed up to now seemed full to the brim and here was this perfect place hidden away in the middle of the park.

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Bar is hidden in here somewhere

 

I loved it so much I stayed for more than one, I’d planned on taking a bus to the airport which would have taken a little longer but I figured the money I’d saved on not doing the sightseeing tour could go towards grabbing a taxi instead. One beer ended up being a few before finally calling it quits, I had to make my move. It was a shame I found this place so late in my trip as it would have been nice to see how the atmosphere compared in the evening but it was a nice end to my time in Thessaloniki. My mood had significantly picked up and I was a bit sad to be heading home.

I was a little early to be heading to the airport but there was nothing else I particularly wanted to do so I flagged down a taxi. I’d barely buckled my seatbelt when my driver told me he needed to make a quick coffee stop. “Wait, what?”

It was certainly a taxi first for me. Admittedly I was early so an unplanned stop helped kill a bit of time. Also, to his credit, he did at least ask if I wanted something to drink too (I didn’t). He pulled over and said he’d be two minutes, I figured he was exaggerating but surprisingly two minutes later we were on the move. Two and a half years later I still don’t quite understand how he managed to get his coffee so quickly. Does he have a coffee guy randomly waiting on the off-chance he pops in? It was impressive.

Speaking of impressive, so was the journey. It’s a scenic drive which I hadn’t really been able to appreciate when I arrived as it had been too dark to see much. Soon enough I’d arrived at the airport, far too early and unfortunately there wasn’t actually much to keep me entertained as it’s quite a small airport. Additionally my flight was then delayed an hour so a little more boredom but all in all it was a good trip, little blip aside.

Did I get the relaxing break I wanted? Yes, for the most part.
Would I recommend Thessaloniki? Yeah, it’s a nice city and I enjoyed my brief visit.
Will I personally be going back? Probably not. Never say never but unless a specific reason presents itself I think it’s unlikely. I’m glad I went but I think one visit is enough. Greece is definitely a country I want to see more of though and this proved to be a good introduction to the country.

Have you ever been to Greece? Where else should I visit? Let me know!

Anyway, that wraps this one up! Next up on the blog? My first trip to Washington State!

Stay tuned!

Jason