2021 travel roundup

Hello dear followers!

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

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

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

Anyway, on to 2021!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bury St Edmunds
Abbey Gardens, Bury St Edmunds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lancaster
Sunny Lancaster

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

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

Pike Place
Pike Place, Seattle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MadridSpurs

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

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

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

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

Live Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

Temple Bar
Temple Bar, Dublin

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

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

Malahide Castle
Malahide Castle, Ireland

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

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

Cork
Cork, Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

English Market Cork
English Market in Cork

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

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

Walla Walla Sign
Welcome to Walla Walla, Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now I can relax!

Walla Walla
Walla Walla, Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winery 1

Winery 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chihuly Glass and Garden

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

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

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

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

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

Peterborough River Nene
Peterborough, England

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

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

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

“A carpet store..?”

Carpet Store Beer

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

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

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

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

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

Peterborough Cathedral
Peterborough cathedral, Peterborough, England

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

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

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

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

JasonHaleigh

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time!

Jason

2020 travel roundup

Happy New Year everyone! I hope that you’ve had an enjoyable festive period despite the difficulties that 2020 has offered.

It has become somewhat of a tradition for me to do a little round up of the travels throughout the year. Of course 2019’s effort looked much busier than this post will be with trips to seven different countries in 2019, however I still managed to travel enough this year that I can squeeze a post out of it. Here goes..

Durham

January – Durham!
Doesn’t the start of 2020 seem so long ago now? I went in to this year knowing that there would be life-changing circumstances and consequently that I probably wouldn’t be traveling much this year.

Before you start asking – no, I’m not psychic! Haha. Nobody could quite predict this kind of year was coming but I’d quit my job and made plans to live in the US for a few months so I figured with, at least, three months of unemployment and a lot of uncertainty in 2020 that I’d probably have to cut back on travel this year.

“but one more trip?”

That’s the ever-present urge isn’t it? I could feel my adventures slipping away and pondered if I could squeeze in just one more trip before flying to Washington in February? Another New Years Eve getaway? A short weekender somewhere? Anywhere? Please?

Well, the football was enough to tempt me (surprise!). One of the highlights of the footballing calendar is the first weekend of the year – the third round of the “magical” FA Cup. The big names of football enter the competition and if the minnows, amateurs and part-timers are lucky they get a chance to test themselves against the very best.

It’s one of those weekends that football fans look forward to and my beloved Tottenham were playing “up North” in Middlesbrough and having successfully acquired a ticket I figured why not?

The train times weren’t particularly co-operative so I decided to make the most of it and have one final “hurrah” before the big trip of the year. Although I had little desire to visit Middlesbrough itself so settled on booking a stay in the nearby city of Durham – somewhere I’d been wanting to visit for a while and never really got around to.

Durham Castle

It was a wise decision, I’d been to Middlesbrough before anyway but Durham is a lovely and charming little city. I also managed to arrange a catch up with my friend Sarah, which in hindsight was wonderful because I’ve not been able to see much of anyone this year haha.

Other than the football it was a pretty relaxed trip. It’s not the biggest city and I think two nights was sufficient enough to have seen the bulk of it but it was nice to kick off the year with a bit of travel and explore a city well worth visiting.

February – Washington!
Of course this trip needs little introduction. Long time readers will know I’d planned this months in advance. I’d made the decision to leave my job and go and ‘live’ in Washington with my girlfriend for three months.

Three months in small-town Washington, a city called Moses Lake to be precise. January was a bit of a slog, particularly as far as work was concerned because I knew the end was imminent. I was counting down the days and after one final weekend in London of football, beers and pizza I was on my way to Seattle for a very different way of living.

I’m a London boy at heart but now live in the “small” city of Peterborough with its 200,000ish inhabitants. Yet here I was spending three months in Moses Lake with its population of 24,000 people! 24,000! If I find Peterborough small at times, how am I going to cope in Moses Lake for three months!?

Moses Lake History
Moses Lake, Washington

Oddly I adapted and settled pretty quickly. I’ve already written about my time in Washington on the blog but it was lovely. Admittedly I think being unemployed helped, I had absolutely nothing to worry about and was living the easy life!

I grew to appreciate the simplicities of life without a job – taking a book with me to the coffee shop downtown and sitting in with a cup of tea for a couple of hours, wandering by the lake on a nice afternoon, date nights and all the other nicer things in life that you don’t have to worry about when you have a job.

Ignoring the necessity to finance this way of life, I could do this forever – who needs to work!? This is the “new normal” and long may it continue!

and then the “new normal” struck – supermarkets deprived of toilet rolls and that dreaded C word!

“The new normal..” – I’d only just escaped the old normal! What is this nonsense? Stay at home orders and closed businesses and a lockdown in small town America!

I tried to wait it out, hoping Trump’s optimism of re-opening by Easter would prove accurate but it wasn’t to be. On the 30th of March he advised lockdown measures would be extended throughout April and as I was due to fly home on May 1st it was time to find plan B.

Ultimately I had to cut my time in Washington short, not ideal and still no inkling on when I’ll be able to return but I still got the best part of 8-9 weeks in Washington, 6 of those before going in to lockdown so a good chunk of time in a place I’ve grown particularly fond of.

Sadly I don’t know if I’ll actually get back to Moses Lake – I hope I do because I feel like I owe it and myself a proper goodbye but the reality is the next time I’m in Washington Haleigh may no longer be in Moses Lake. It’s a shame my love-affair with Moses Lake ended the way it did but perhaps our paths will cross again someday.

IMAG6541

April – Utah! (Cancelled)
Sadly not every travel story this year had a happy ending. Haleigh’s a teacher and had a few days off in April for her spring break which we were keen to make the most of and have an adventure together.

We’d been toying with a couple of ideas – namely Oregon and Utah but in February one of Haleigh’s cousins (Michelle) who lives in Utah came up to Washington with her boyfriend (David) which was enough to steer us towards planning a trip down to Salt Lake City.

ValentinesDayDateNight
Valentines Day with Haleigh and my Utah favourites

We pencilled in the dates but as Covid emerged and as April neared it was apparent our plans would have to be postponed. It was a shame because we’d considered visiting Salt Lake City on my “big 3-0” trip too and it didn’t pan out then either. Maybe it’ll be third time lucky?

Fortunately the only booking we’d made was one night in a hotel in Boise, Idaho which was fully refundable but Covid robbed us of a trip to what would have been two new states for me.

As it was, my change of plans meant I spent the bulk of April at home in England instead.

Cromer Beach

August – the Norfolk coast!
After getting back to England in early April I made the decision to self-isolate and stay at home for two weeks – not that anyone actually advised me to do this. At this moment in time the UK were still welcoming people with open arms without any fuss – bonkers!

Towards the end of that second week I switched my focus back to the real world – time to find a job! To my surprise I actually got a job interview really quickly! Sadly I didn’t get that particular job but then my former employers approached me about returning in a new job role so by early May I was employed again. Even before going to Washington, completely unaware of the imminent pandemic, I hadn’t anticipated that I’d be employed that quickly.

I’d very much landed on my feet! I’d planned and budgeted for a spell of unemployment so I’ve been luckier than most this year in that I’ve not really felt the financial strain of Covid. Better yet, I’d found a new challenge and was doing something far more enjoyable than the previous year – hurrah!

By August I was ready for a break and thought I’d treat myself to a few days away for my birthday. I wasn’t quite ready to hop on a plane just yet so limited myself to staying within the UK and was intending for something a little more outdoorsy and less of a city break which I often favour.

I looked at a few options but in the end stayed pretty local and only went as far as Norfolk. I really fancied a few days by the coast and although I’ve seen a little of Norfolk, there’s still lots of it I haven’t seen so I booked myself a hotel for 4 nights in Cromer – Monday to Friday as I was keen to avoid the weekend crowds!

My second UK break of the year! It was nice to get away for a few days and it was a nice reminder of how much I love being by the sea.

Cromer
Cromer beach, Norfolk

It was busy in parts, which is a little inevitable in the summer months, but overall it was pretty easy to keep distanced from other people and even with the UK running its “Eat out to help out” scheme throughout August places were taking social distancing seriously with various measures in place.

Overall it was a lovely few days away and the perfect trip to refresh and re-energise before getting back to work.

Gibraltar
First sight of Gibraltar

October – Gibraltar!
All work and no play? I’ve long held the belief that work isn’t that important. This wasn’t some lesson I learnt in 2020 but it was probably a year that helped emphasise it.

In 2019 I was on my last legs with work and 3 months without working, particularly the first 6 weeks without lockdown was bliss. If I was financially secure enough that I didn’t have to work, I don’t think that I would.

You might ponder what relevance that has to Gibraltar but a change in working environment was a factor. There was a mixed feeling in August in not feeling quite ready enough to get on a plane and also a question over whether I was right to get on to a plane?

I was working from home, I wasn’t seeing friends, I was very much in my own little bubble and expanding my horizons seemed irresponsible perhaps. So I ended up visiting Norfolk which required little travel and being by the sea and outdoors made it much easier to minimise my social contact.

Fast forward two months and the advice and guidance had vastly changed and work wanted me to return to an office-environment with the UK government at the forefront of that advice.

That change of environment changed my mindset a little. The reality was that this change of circumstance meant that the place I was most likely to catch Covid would be at work.

So I’ll leave you to be judge and executioner as to whether it was right for me to travel abroad but it felt right for me. If I could go to work in an office with 100 odd other people, why should I feel guilty about traveling?

Ultimately it was still another solo trip so still pretty easy to keep to myself, after looking at a number of different options I narrowed down my choices to two countries with low Covid cases and countries that seemingly had a better handle of Covid than the UK (who doesn’t, right?): Turkey and Gibraltar!

Gibraltar Coast

I’d been itching to visit Turkey for a while but something swayed me towards Gibraltar. I didn’t want to get stung by a last minute cancellation and I just couldn’t see the UK halting travel to a British overseas territory. It didn’t look like there was any reason for the UK to halt travel to Turkey either but that, the fact Gibraltar had yet to register any Covid deaths (that sadly isn’t the case any more) and a couple of other things pushed me towards visiting Gibraltar.

As it was, Turkey went on to the UK’s naughty list a matter of days after I’d booked my flights so I got pretty lucky.

I was excited to visit a new country and having had no huge desire to visit Gibraltar previously, it was a pleasant surprise. I already wrote about my time in Gibraltar here but it was the perfect mix of British and European culture – the best of both really.

Overall it felt much safer than the UK too, I felt a little vindicated in picking Gibraltar over taking a break within the UK. Gibraltar seemingly had a good handle on things whilst the UK was spiralling. Maybe I could just buy a boat and stay in Gibraltar?

Gibraltar Ocean Village

I think I would have liked Gibraltar regardless but visiting in Covid times, making comparisons to back home, made it so much easier to love. I forgot all about work and was mentally back to sipping tea in Moses Lake, the only difference being this time it was beer in sunny Gibraltar.

I’d go back in a heartbeat and it didn’t take long to see why so many Brits visit and retire here. It’s that South of France or Spanish retirement dream without the language barrier – perfect!

November – “where to?”
I’d optimistically booked off Thanksgiving week months in advance, on the off chance travel might have recovered by then and I’d be able to get back to Washington.

As it got closer to November it was clear that wouldn’t be happening and I was pondering what to do with my week off of work? I figured I’d probably not actually do much and maybe squeeze in a couple of nights down in London before the end of the year.

Then the UK went in to lockdown for pretty much the entirety of November which scuppered any hope of going anywhere. In the end I don’t think I even left the house in that particular week – not the most exciting of breaks and the first time I’ve ‘wasted’ annual leave in probably six or seven years. I had to use it before the end of the year though so it was unavoidable, still better than spending a week working.

London Art
Gorgeous mural of London

December – London!
I had three more days to use up before the end of the year and having coming out of lockdown I was keeping an eye on where I could potentially visit.

Options by this point were even more limited than they had been for my trip in October. I was determined to book a trip as late as possible, hoping that the weekly Thursday travel updates might offer somewhere but it wasn’t to be.

So I reverted back to my November plans, I really wanted to get to London before the end of the year. December / Christmas is such a magical time to visit London and I hadn’t spent any time in the capital since February!

Ordinarily I’d visit London at least twice a month I reckon so ten months without a visit left me feeling like I was long overdue a trip. I was particularly keen to visit some of the museums in the capital, I haven’t really been to any of them since I was a kid living in London. My only real opportunities to visit are at weekends or public holidays too and they’re just hell-ish to visit when the kids are off school – no thanks!

NHM
National History Museum, London

Keeping in mind my plans, I decided I’d book myself a couple of nights in a part of London I rarely stay in – Kensington! The National History Museum was towards the top of my list to visit and it was just an ideal location to base myself in and I was surprised to find London so ‘cheap’ for this time of year and this location – clearly feeling the wrath of the pandemic!

So with Peterborough and London both in ‘tier 2’ I hopped on a train and enjoyed a couple of nights in the capital, again by myself.

It was the best and worst time to be in London. The best because London was so quiet by usual standards, a lot of central London was dead – two weeks before Christmas and no crowds or people anywhere. I had Westminster and the likes all to myself!

Westminster
Westminster with no crowds!

So why was it the worst time to be in London? Call me crazy but.. London was dead. I love London so much. I love the hustle and bustle, I love how much life London has and it broke my heart a little to see London so.. un-London-like.

I shouldn’t be able to walk around Westminster without cursing dawdling tourists. Either move quicker or have the awareness to get out of the way!

There were a few things I really got to appreciate and gave me a small taste of London, I managed to enjoy a couple of people busking in a couple of locations and London still feels so magical at this time of the year but it was a very different London to the one that I’m used to.

Nevertheless it was a nice trip to end the year and given the circumstances still not a terrible travel year. I got to have a taste of living in another country, took four flights and managed to visit one new country. I also managed to visit a couple of new places in the UK so all in all, I probably still did better than most.

However I’m hoping 2021 is a much better year for travel. I’ve got no travel plans at the minute and it doesn’t feel good haha!

Quarantine!
Masked up and waiting for adventure!

I hope you managed to squeeze in some travels this year too! Up next on the blog? I continue with the “big 3-0” trip. Stay tuned!

Jason

An update on life!

Hello my dear readers!

It has been a few months since I last posted but I assure you I’m still alive and well. Some of you will have seen me floating around on other social media but I fell out of the habit of posting here regularly, or reading other bloggers posts for that matter.

I want to try and get back in to the swing of things but before jumping in to the travel, I thought I’d offer a bit of an update. Why haven’t I been posting? Where have I been? What have I been up to?

In all honesty, there’s no real reason for the lack of posting. You miss one week and before you know it it’s three months without a post. I’ve come close to finishing off a few draft posts on a number of occasions but I haven’t got as far as hitting that ‘publish’ button and consequently the blog has felt a little bit neglected.

With Covid and more time at home I can’t even say I haven’t had the time, I’ve just preoccupied myself with other things. Be it watching football, learning Finnish (Thank you Duolingo – long overdue!), watching Netflix, training, work or a number of other bits and pieces. Despite spending the bulk of my time at home I have been keeping myself busy.

I’ve also squeezed in a couple of trips since I last posted. I was a little more cautious / hesistant with the first trip but in August I went and spent a few days by the sea with a four-night trip to the Norfolk coast. I didn’t really feel right to be flying across the globe for my travel fix so decided I’d stay in England and pretty local too. I was also conscious about the weekends during the summer being busier so restricted myself to a Monday-Friday getaway which was nice.

Cromer Pier

It was good to have a little taste of normality, particularly with the UK running the ‘eat out to help out’ scheme in August which coincided with my trip. A few days of sunshine was a good little fix and the perfect escape after three months of home-working in which I rarely left the house.

After August I still had 11 days of annual leave to use before the end of the year. I’d already optimistically booked off Thanksgiving week but as November draws closer it’s safe to say I won’t be visiting Washington. If the border re-opens this year that’d be a miracle!

The other six days I split in to two with the aim of a long weekend in October and a long weekend in December. I figured the first of those I’d travel somewhere and was toying with whether to stay in the UK or go abroad.

Work swayed my decision a little bit, I was more than happy working from home but work asked me to return to the office in September and it changed my mindset I think. I feel like an office environment with 100 odd other people is far riskier than the minimal social interaction I’ve had over the past six months.

So I kept an open mind about getting on a plane in October – still considering the Covid situation of course. With ever-changing circumstances and travel restrictions I narrowed my options down to a long weekend in the UK, Turkey or Gibraltar – leaning in favour of a trip out of the country.

Growing restrictions in the UK, such as curfews, only emphasised that thinking and it was a toss-up between Turkey and Gibraltar in the end. Both countries had low cases and the latter has still had 0 Covid deaths – zero! Incredible really.

I wanted to leave the decision as late as possible so I wasn’t stung by any restrictions or quarantine. I’ve been itching to go to Turkey for a while now so it seemed like the early favourite but something in the back of my mind must have swayed me in another direction as I eventually opted to book a trip to Gibraltar! A few days later Turkey unexpectedly went on to the quarantine list, it was a bit of a shock given the numbers but I felt a huge sigh of relief when the news broke.

Gibraltar

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I flew out to Gibraltar for another four night trip and a long-weekend in a country I’d never been to. With the situation getting increasingly worse in the UK I actually felt better about going abroad than had I actually booked a ‘staycation’.

I enjoyed Gibraltar a lot, I could definitely have stayed there for longer and just not come home haha. I’ll be writing up about that trip next time on the blog, hopefully very soon, and then getting back in to the swing of things and continuing the “big 3-0” series.

Stay tuned!

Jason

Lincoln – May 2018

Welcome back dear readers! I hope you’re all keeping well in a crazy environment but it’s business as usual here. It’s Thursday which means another blog post!

I said last time out it’s rare for me to have blogged about England and then here there are two English destinations on the bounce. In spite of a little staycation up in Manchester in the March, I was still itching for some adventure and with no annual leave to use and pennies to save towards the summer I had to look to my own country for inspiration.

Fortunately the football season keeps me occupied to a point between August and May but with the football season nearing its conclusion I was desperate to make the most of a free weekend and a city I’d been meaning to visit for a while was Lincoln.

It’s not too far from my home in Peterborough and yet I’d somehow never visited the city. It’s only about an hour away on the train so actually really easy for me to get to. Therefore on the first Sunday in May I decided I was going to go. It turned out to be a gorgeous day for a daytrip too. A surprisingly sunny bank holiday weekend, who would have thought?

LincolnCastleandCathedral
Lincoln castle and Lincoln cathedral

Anyway I hopped on the train mid-morning and a little while later I was arriving in to Lincoln. On a daytrip I figured there were probably two must sees in Lincoln – the castle and the cathedral. If I saw anything else whilst in the city I considered it a bonus.

I left the train station with no real clue which direction to go so I figured I’d just walk until I saw some signs. If you leave the station and walk straight the first thing you’re likely to stumble upon is Lincoln’s shopping district. You’ve got a shopping mall here and then a bunch of exterior shops too. Given it was a sunny Sunday and mid-morning it was inevitably crowded.

I quickly saw and followed signs towards the castle and cathedral. For anyone else that’s visited Lincoln you’ll likely know what this entails but I’d liken it to my struggles in climbing to the view point at Kerry Park in Seattle – it’s an uphill struggle! You know what the prize is at the top, beautiful architecture and history but it looks like a long way up when you’re at the bottom of the hill – aptly named ‘Steep Hill’ – they’re not joking!

SteepHill
Steep Hill, Lincoln

On the plus side it is a beautiful walk up there at least. The streets are cobbled and there’s pretty and old buildings along the way – most of which home to shops or businesses of some sort that provide perfect shelter or respite from the climb.

Having reached the top myself and feeling the need for a reward of some kind I couldn’t help but tempt myself to an early lunch. I’d passed Brown’s Pie Shop, which I’d heard good things about, so figured it would be a perfect place to fill my stomach before any further exploration. The food was great, it’s somewhere I’d recommend visiting if you’re ever in Lincoln and was a worthy reward for my climb of Everest (Steep Hill).

I made the castle my first proper stop of the day. I hadn’t done any prior research so wasn’t sure what it would cost to visit, however as it turned out I’d timed my visit perfectly. There was some event on which meant entry was free to the public today. Ordinarily there’s an admission price of £14 plus a further fee if you want to walk the walls so I’d saved myself a good chunk of money by visiting today.

LincolnCastleEvent
Lincoln castle grounds

On the grounds was a tent set up for some artists performing live music. Further in to the ground were old planes set up on the grass which were pretty cool to look at. It’s a little pricey if you visit ordinarily but I still think I’d have been pretty content had I paid an admission, rather than getting a free visit.

The grounds are absolutely beautiful and that’s before you tackle the medieval wall walk. This is particularly worth doing as you can walk the walls of the castle at your own leisure and get incredible views over the city.

Lincoln Castle
Exploring the beautiful castle grounds!

I took so many photos, some of which I think are the best I’ve ever taken. Admittedly the clear blue skies added to them but I could have spent so much longer exploring the castle. My only surprise was that it wasn’t busier given the free admission. For all of the castles you’ll find in England, I’d say this is one of my favourites I’ve been to so far.

LincolnCastle
Lincoln Castle – one of my favourite photos I’ve ever taken!

Opposite the castle is the cathedral. Inbetween were a host of markets selling little bits and pieces. I’m not sure if this is just a Sunday market or regular market but it was nice to have a quick look at some of the things on sale.

Escaping the market crowds I made my way over to the cathedral which is impressive in its own right. Like the castle it was surprisingly quiet too, the market inbetween the two seemed the busiest part of this area of the city. I enjoyed looking around for a little while, both interior and the exterior of the cathedral grounds. It’s worth a visit but there is an admission charge for the cathedral.

Lincoln Cathedral
Lincoln cathedral

The castle and cathedral had taken up a bit of time between them and I was content I’d seen the main things I wanted to see in Lincoln. However I figured I’d also squeeze in a visit to the Medieval Bishops’ Palace.

I have to say, I actually found this a little underwhelming and wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend it. I had a brief look through the ruins but the highlight for me was probably some of the views of Lincoln’s cathedral from the gardens. That said, as disappointing as it was, it appears to be under renovation currently so perhaps wasn’t at its best on my visit. I’d be tempted to go back and see what has changed and if it’s improved at all.

Having seen all I wanted to I made my descent down the steep hill, feeling some sympathy for those heading upwards. At the bottom I decided to have a little stroll along the river which took me past the shopping mall, also aptly named ‘Waterside’. However I wasn’t really looking to do any shopping so made it a brief walk and headed back to the train station to enjoy my Sunday evening back in Peterborough.

LincolnTrainStation
Lincoln train station, time to go home!

It had been a fun few hours in Lincoln. The cathedral was impressive but the castle is undoubtedly the highlight of the city. The grounds are stunning but the views from the walls blew me away, just the luxury of being able to walk the walls make this a must visit I think.

I’d definitely recommend Lincoln as a daytrip, it’s a great place to spend a few hours. However if you find yourself tempted to visit for longer and want more ideas on what to do, I’d suggest checking out one of my favourite fellow bloggers for more inspiration. Marion recently spent three days in the area and wrote about it here.

Lincoln’s a university city so I’d be tempted to stay for at least a night next time and experience some of that ‘famous’ nightlife. I say famous, I just know a lot of people who’ve been to Lincoln University but still.. I’d like to go for longer next time!

Anyway, hopefully you enjoyed my first visit. I’ll wrap this one up! Next on the blog? Here’s a sneak preview of where I’ll be writing about next!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Manchester – March 2018

Despite being an Englishman with 30 odd years living in the country, England is a destination that hasn’t frequented the blog too often. I wrote about the likes of London, YorkCanterbury and even Peterborough in my early blogging days but they’re generally posts I don’t look back on and enjoy reading.

I’m not suggesting they’re badly written or they’re even particularly bad posts but I look back at them and I couldn’t tell you who wrote them. Everyone has their own blogging style and I won’t knock anyone else but I quickly learned that the “5 reasons to visit Canterbury” style just wasn’t for me. It might be what people want to read but it wasn’t what I wanted to write. I had no motivation to write those sort of posts and if I’m not enjoying it, why bother, right?

So I might go back and do those cities justice at another time (I did with London) but this will be my usual ramble-y type nonsense that I don’t really know why you lot keep coming back to read.

For my American readers, not so familiar with Manchester, it holds a reputation somewhat similar to Seattle. It is supposedly the one city in England where you can always expect rain. So why would anyone visit?

ManchesterArchitecture2
Photoshopped or actual blue skies in Manchester?

Well, like Seattle it’s also quite a fun city. Manchester is nowhere near as pretty on the eye as Seattle. It’s very much an industrial-looking city and has a history that backs that up but it stakes a claim as “England’s second city” and is probably the unofficial capital of the North.

Surprisingly Manchester wasn’t a city I’d actually spent much time in. I’d twice visited the city to watch my beloved Spurs – once at the Etihad and once at Old Trafford – two of the bigger football stadiums in the country.

I’d also briefly visited on another occasion as I was joining some Northern-based friends on holiday and we’d decided to fly from up North. However the reality is I’d not really seen anything of Manchester outside of a couple of pubs or a couple of football stadiums.

With a big summer trip planned I knew opportunities to travel in 2018 were going to be limited. So when my friend (and gig buddy), Lucy, suggested possibly going to see a band on their tour it made sense to look at what the best dates were. A weekend date seemed most suitable and as I scoured the options a Saturday night in Manchester stood out. It was near enough for Lucy in Sheffield to travel to and was a good opportunity for me to squeeze in some UK travel and spend some time in a city I wasn’t too familiar with.

SnowyPeterborough

So one Saturday in March I left a snowy Peterborough behind me and headed up North towards Manchester. Given the rubbish weather I wasn’t too hopeful it would be a smooth journey. It usually doesn’t take much more than a puddle on the tracks for the rail system to catastrophically break down, such is the unpredictability of UK train travel, but to my surprise I arrived in to Manchester in good time around lunchtime.

Lucy wasn’t joining me until later on in the day so I figured I’d try and get my bearings with the city. It’s a city I don’t know well at all so I left Manchester Piccadilly station with no real direction in mind. I had a bit of time to kill and if all else failed I’d revert to Google Maps so I just wandered on foot and figured I’d see where I ended up.

I wanted to head in the vague direction of my hotel but despite following signs in the city towards Deangate that didn’t seem to go particularly well. I ventured through the Northern Quarter of the city which has a number of bars, shops and other independent businesses. I vaguely recognised a Wetherspoons from a previous visit to the city but it was pretty busy (due to some game being on tv) so I decided to keep going in my search for lunch.

ManchesterTownHall
Manchester town hall

 

In an effort to get back on track towards my hotel, I stumbled upon Manchester’s rather impressive town hall. It’s certainly one of the standout pieces of architecture, I grabbed a few photos and then settled on a nearby pub to fill my stomach and get something to eat.

Feeling less hungry I made the relatively short walk towards my hotel (a Premier Inn). Having checked in I didn’t really see much point to doing too much else before Lucy’s arrival in the city. I chilled out for a bit and then wandered back towards Piccadilly station, now having got my bearings a little, and waited for Lucy’s train to arrive from Sheffield.

We had a quick catch up and then caught a taxi out to the venue for our gig. I was a bit surprised how ‘out of town’ the venue actually was, I figure it would have been fairly centrally located but it wasn’t really walkable – certainly if we wanted to catch the first band of the night.

Despite the rubbish location, it was quite a nice venue (Manchester Academy). It was a decent sized venue, I’m not sure if it was a sell out but it didn’t feel overcrowded either. It was pretty quick getting a beer at the bar and we also had a decent view of the bands for the evening (The Dangerous Summer being the main band we’d come to see).

ManchesterAcademy
Manchester Academy, March 2018

After a fun evening of live music we caught a taxi back to central Manchester, Lucy caught her train back to Sheffield and I ventured in the direction of my hotel. I was tempted to go and enjoy some of Manchester’s (famous) nightlife but wasn’t particularly sure where was best to go. There was definitely a bit of a buzz in the city, given it was a Saturday night, but nowhere that drew me in to have a couple of beers. I figured a night out in Manchester could wait until another occasion and instead took the sensible option, hoping to make the most of my Sunday in the city instead.

I woke up pretty early Sunday and after checking out of my hotel decided I’d just wander initially. Oddly, the first experience of the day was partially-witnessing a mugging. I say partially because by the time I’d realised what had happened I was too late to stop it.

Some young woman was half running / half screaming at some cyclist who whizzed by me at speed. I could see she was upset so crossed the street to check if she was okay, it turned out he’d snatched her mobile phone out of her hand and rode off in to the distance. So I kicked off my Sunday morning on the phone with Manchester’s police and reporting a theft. Not the best start to the day!

By the time we’d finished with the police her boyfriend had randomly turned up (I’m assuming he must have attempted chasing after the thief but I hadn’t seen him earlier?) so I felt a little happier leaving the shook up local with a familiar face and we went our seperate ways.

I soon stumbled upon a Sunday market of some sorts. It wasn’t particularly big but locals were browsing through the few stalls on display and I had a little look of my own for anything that might catch my eye. Content I wasn’t going to buy anything I wandered towards the Northern quarter which is home to some beautiful buildings.

ManchesterArchitecture
Manchester is home to some gorgeous architecture
Manchester
More beautiful architecture in the city

Nearby is also Manchester’s famous shopping ‘mall’, the Arndale, which provided the perfect location for an early lunch! Long time readers will know I’m a frequent visitor of Hard Rock Cafe’s around the world and having been to both the London (only one at the time) and Edinburgh HRC’s I was keen to complete the UK set by visiting Manchester’s too. Although they’ve annoyingly since opened a second HRC in London so I’ll have to give that one a visit at some point too.

Surprisingly, Manchester’s HRC is one of my favourites. At the very least it’s the best of the three I’ve been to in the UK. The service was to its usual good standard and the memorabilia fun to look at as always.

ManchesterHardRockCafe
Manchester’s Hard Rock Cafe

Having ticked off another HRC and appeased my hunger I visited a museum just around the corner. Manchester, surprisingly not London, is home to the National Football Museum and was a must for me.

I was going to say it’s free to visit (if you wish), however don’t quote me on that! Firstly let me tell you why I was convinced admission was free! At the time of my visit that actually was the case, free admission for all visitors! However they encouraged visitors to pay a voluntary fee which would entitle you to a couple of souvenir experiences – see below.

NationalFootballMuseum
I’ve got my hands on the Premier League and FA Cup!

Personally I decided these little extras were worthwhile to contribute towards the running of the museum but it also left a somewhat bitter taste for me given this was the national museum of the national sport – a multi billion pound industry in England. I felt it was a travesty that organisations such as the Football Association have turned a blind eye and left this museum to essentially self-fund itself. It’s a wonderful museum if you’re a football fan and something that organisations such as the above should be contributing towards.

However without such funding, it turns out, later in the year the museum introduced admission charges for anyone that wasn’t a Manchester resident. So I apologise, this is no longer a free museum. Despite the billions in English football, if you want any insight in to the history of football in this country you’ll have to dip in to your wallet (unless you’re a Manchester resident).

EnglishFootball
“Football was created here” – P.S – but we’re not supporting museums like this!

Back to my story, having made the conscious decision to contribute a fee I did still feel it was good value for my visit. There’s some great memorabilia in the museum and it’s definitely worth taking any football fanatic along to – of any age as plenty of it is interactive too.

Content I’d got my football fix for the day I went and checked out the nearby Manchester cathedral – this actually is free to visit (donations welcome obviously). It’s nowhere near the biggest cathedral I’ve visited but still has a pretty exterior and the inside was impressive too. It was definitely worth visiting.

ManchesterCathedral
Inside Manchester Cathedral

My next stop was a somewhat unusual one. I wouldn’t ordinarily go out of my way to visit a specific pub but with the promise of a free beer I couldn’t help but tempt myself! I don’t know what the reason was but Scottish brewers ‘Brewdog’ had promised to give away 1 million pints of beer over the next few weeks and I knew that there happened to be a Brewdog in Manchester. Knowing I probably wouldn’t get another opportunity before the campaign ended I went and hunted down Manchester’s Brewdog bar for a quick and refreshing pint of their Punk IPA.

BrewdogManchester
Brewdog, Manchester

I did only have the one though! Having replenished I went back and explored Manchester for a few more hours. It’s a city that reminds me of Hamburg in some ways and for some it’s probably a comparison you’ve heard before. Neither are the prettiest on the eye, Hamburg probably moreso, but both undoubtedly have their charm and share a similar culture too. I could see why this city staked a claim to being England’s “second city”.

Before catching the train home I popped in to a pub and grabbed myself some dinner. They claimed to have award-winning pies so I couldn’t resist grabbing some pie and mash whilst catching a bit of the Manchester City game being televised.

Sadly my time in Manchester quickly came to an end. It’s definitely a city I think I could have seen more of but the 24 hours or so I had in the city definitely endeared itself to me. It’s a city I’ll hopefully return to soon and enjoy a bit of the nightlife next time too.

However with work the next day I couldn’t stick around and called an end to my staycation up North. Next up on the blog? Another quick visit to an English city: this time Lincoln!

Stay tuned!

Jason

 

 

London revisited!

Last time out on the blog I wrapped up my NYC series which I hope you all enjoyed! I could only follow on from that series in one way, writing about my favourite city in the world: London!

I’ve written about London on the blog before (here) but that was quite some time ago and perhaps also a little more generic. That post focused on what you could potentially do in London, this post is going to be focused on what I actually DID do in London on my recent trip at the end of the year.

As some of you will know by now, I’m in a long distance relationship and I had the pleasure of hosting Haleigh here in England for her first ever overseas trip. I’ve made the journey the other way a few times so Haleigh had been keen to make her first visit in this direction. Consequently I went from traveler to host which brought a new type of preparation and a little self-imposed pressure too. I don’t think Haleigh was overly concerned but I was keen to make it a memorable first trip to England (London mostly).

I met Haleigh at Heathrow ahead of her arrival, equipped with a brand new Oyster card and tube map for Haleigh’s benefit. I don’t think I’ve ever used the Heathrow express, admittedly the tube does take a while to get in to London itself but it’s surely the most convenient mode of transport?

So immediately Haleigh was getting her first crack at the tube – her only comparative was San Francisco’s BART system in the summer which is much more simplistic to navigate.

I’d booked us a hotel near Tower Bridge, leaving us just a short walk away from the Thames. Having dropped off Haleigh’s things (I’d checked in earlier) we took a little time to relax in the hotel before having our first proper glimpse of London together.

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First glimpse of London, not bad eh?

Haleigh was instantly mesmerised, admittedly I’m a little biased but it’s hard not to be when you’re overlooking the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and the bright lights of the city. Also closeby was the Shard which I’ve somehow never seen after dark (keeping in mind it gets dark early in Dec) so looking up at it I presumed it was always lit up in different colours. My parents later told me it was a seasonal light show so it was nice to have witnessed that albeit unintentionally, mind you had I known that I might have got some pictures of it!

In the same general area London was hosting some of its Christmas markets with a long line of markets, including a wooden little tavern-like building which had seating for people to eat, drink and be merry. They even host Christmas movies there at various times of the day which adds to the festive mood of the place. We were feeling a bit peckish so grabbed a Bratwurst from one of the stalls, shamefully making Haleigh’s first meal in England a German delicacy. Oops!

Following some food we passed by the famous HMS Belfast and then cut through the impressive Hay’s Galeria. It’s a bit like a shopping arcade. It’s largely full of brands and, no doubt, expensive restaurants but the building itself is absolutely stunning. We took a slow stroll through it in admiration before coming out of the other side of the building, crossing over to London Bridge station and hopping on the tube to Green Park.

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Green Park – not taken on this particularly trip!

 

There are some things that are always going to be in London and other points of interest that are more seasonal. I was hopeful Haleigh would want to come back to London so I had it in mind to see some of the places that are particularly worth seeing around Christmas time in London.

With that thought process I figured I’d take Haleigh to see Hyde Park’s famous Winter Wonderland. I expected it would be less busy going this evening, given it was a Thursday night, rather than our remaining time in London but that proved to be wrong. It was a struggle to even get out of Green Park station, let alone switch lines to go to Hyde Park Corner. It was crazy. In the end we abandoned hopes of jumping on the tube and exited at Green Park. With that in mind I figured we might aswell cut through the park and see another nearby famous landmark.

We walked through Green Park which was actually somewhat of a struggle. Much of the park was pitch black. Here we were, stood in one of London’s richest areas and all I could think was “can’t they afford to put up a few lights so you can actually see where you’re going?”

It’s somewhat embarrassing as you step out of the park on the other side and in front of you is Buckingham Palace. Surely the queen has a few lightbulbs going spare? Seriously, sort it out London. You can afford to stick a few lights up in the neighbouring park!

Anyway, where were we? Ah yes! Buckingham Palace!

Buckingham Palace is no doubt impressive but I think less so at night. It was after dark so whilst Haleigh was still impressed seeing it for the first time, I think we both intended to return and see it again before we left.

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We could have walked up to Hyde Park after our little detour but given the queues we’d seen we thought better of it, plus I had work in the morning and Haleigh had only just arrived so an early night seemed a better idea. Ordinarily I would have just got the tube but Haleigh wanted to see a little of London so suggested catching a black cab.

With the benefit of hindsight we might not have bothered as my parents ended up giving us a guided tour through London on our return to Heathrow but it was a fun idea so we flagged down a taxi and made our way back to the Tower of London.

Unfortunately a mixture of traffic and roadworks meant we only briefly saw the London Eye before our driver ended up taking a lot of back roads which didn’t really take us past anything particularly noteworthy. It was still a fun way to travel through London though and gave Haleigh a London black cab experience, plus myself too as I’d generally avoid them as they’re pricey haha.

Sadly the next day I had to work so I left Haleigh to explore. I’d left her a host of recommendations and directions so with tube map in hand she was well equipped to tackle London by herself. My departure was also a good chance to catch up on some sleep / recover from jetlag so it was a fairly relaxed day for her I think. Our close proximity to the Thames also meant she didn’t have to venture too far for lunch or to have a little wander once waking up.

Coming back to London I suggested that we meet at Kings Cross station, partly as that’s where my train would take me but also because it covers a lot of the tube lines and would mean we could move on to our next destination quite conveniently. Haleigh had no problem navigating the tube by herself for the first time so all that practice in San Francisco had paid off!

Whilst Haleigh waited for me she enjoyed Kings Cross’ street performers and interesting characters that public places, such as train stations, often provide. The area outside Kings Cross station is a good meeting point and additionally it’s a great area to do some people-watching. I highlighted that there was also a Harry Potter store (and the famous platform sign) in the station if she wanted to amuse herself whilst she waited for me, she took that advice so I can take some blame for the inevitable Ravenclaw inspired purchases that followed.

Having arrived we quickly turned our attention to some food, opting for a nearby pizza favourite of mine (Pizza Union). It’s cheap for London, the food is good and the atmosphere is nice too so I regularly end up here before catching a train home during the football season.

Stomachs full, we hopped back on the tube and headed for Oxford Street. Much like the previous nights intentions, one thing you’ve got to see in London at Christmas time is London’s Christmas decorations and Oxford Street & Carnaby Street are home to some of London’s best. This years theme largely revolved around the 25th anniversary of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody which was pretty cool. It was definitely worth a visit and Haleigh managed to pick up a couple of souvenirs in this cool little independent shop that wae passed along the way.

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You have to visit London around Christmas!

We ended our night with a quick pub visit, offering a little insight in to England’s drunken little culture. She’d already witnessed some human traffic cones earlier in the day which was some indication at the state of our drunkenness but this was topped off with some old woman doing laps of the pub whilst talking to herself (mostly mumbling really). It was somewhat amusing for both of us to watch. From there we hopped back on the tube and made our way back to the hotel for the night.

The next day was our first full day in London, together at least. We had a bit of a lay in before heading out to begin exploring. Before the trip I persistently, perhaps annoyingly, kept asking Haleigh what she wanted to do whilst she was here. I had a rough idea on places we should see on a first time visit but also wanted to allow for some input so we didn’t miss anything Haleigh might be interested in. We talked about possibly going to the Sherlock museum so I squeezed that in as something to try and make some time for.

Consequently that was our first stop of the day. We contemplated breakfast options before and decided it’d be better to go to Baker Street first and find somewhere near the museum. We ended up visiting Bill’s which is a chain restaurant, albeit not one I’d personally been to for breakfast before. I’ve been there for dinner but only heard good things about the breakfast. It lived up to its reputation, I was content with my pancakes and they offer a huge teapot which amused Haleigh as I regularly kept topping up my cup (not a pot of tea intended for one person I expect).

We walked up to the museum, which was barely in sight as we stumbled upon a large queue. Surely this wasn’t the queue to get in to the museum? Sadly it was! We decided to wait it out in the cold, you have to go and buy your tickets in the gift store beforehand but by the time Haleigh came back with the tickets the line hadn’t really moved very far. We had a lengthy wait but eventually we reached the doors!

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Sherlock Museum, Baker Street

 

It was a little anticlimatic. The museum itself isn’t very big and in hindsight it probably wasn’t worth the wait. I think we spent more time in the queue for the museum than the actual museum itself which is a bit laughable. If you’re a fan of Sherlock it’s cool, I did like it, but if you’ve got a long wait then come back and visit outside of peak times.

Following on from the underwhelming museum visit, Haleigh suggested she’d like to take a red bus so rather than make our way back to Baker Street, we hopped on one of the first buses on the street opposite the museum. I was ideally hoping to go to Westminster but the first one to come along going in that general direction was to Victoria which I figured was good enough.

The journey took us past Hyde Park and Winter Wonderland so we did briefly see it, albeit only from the upper deck of a bus. Whilst we were feeling quite content admiring the view through the streets of London, the same couldn’t be said for our driver who’s customer service skills were lacking. He bit passengers heads off (not literally) at a couple of points along the journey and was in a pretty foul mood. We were pleased to depart and see the back of him at Victoria.

Somewhere along the way Haleigh had mentioned she was feeling a little peckish, so after catching the tube from Victoria to Westminster I couldn’t help but notice a Greggs within Westminster tube station. I was keen to introduce Haleigh to the famous Greggs sausage roll but to my horror she wasn’t quite as enthused about it as I was.

I also explained that, at the time, the Christmas number one in the charts was a sausage-roll themed anthem but I still had little fortune in convincing her how amazing they were (more for me!!).

Whilst the verdict on the sausage roll was up for debate, as we came out of Westminster station there was no doubting Parliament Square had left a better impression on Haleigh. Poor Big Ben is a bit of an eyesore at the minute but beyond that it’s a spectacular square with some stunning architecture, notably the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. There are also a few statues in the area commemorating some historical figures, including London’s female occupant in the square – Millicent Garrett Fawcett.

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Poor Big Ben

 

Having had a bit of a look around we ventured back towards the Thames. We had booked tickets to go up the sky garden at 4pm, which is free but has to be booked in advance. The perk of being free was that we didn’t have to commit to it and instead we decided to have ourselves a bit of a cruise on one of the boats along the Thames.

We booked tickets to take us from Westminster Pier up to St Katharine’s pier by the Tower of London. It took us past a lot of the sights including the likes of St Paul’s. Our boat didn’t officially offer narrated tours but we were fortunate to have an employee on board taking on a guide-like role, offering a typical witty English sense of humour. Haleigh was particularly amused at some of the names for buildings such as “the Cheesegrater” or “the walkie-talkie” that add to London’s famous skyline.

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St Paul’s looking as stunning as ever!

Exiting at St Katharine’s Pier we had a few options on where to spend the evening. It wasn’t particularly well thought out but we jumped back on the tube and near enough made our way back to Westminster by visiting nearby Trafalgar Square. We had a quick look around before assessing potential food options, I noticed on Google Maps there was a nearby pub called the Sherlock Holmes, hoping the food might be a little more impressive than the museum.

It was a nice pub which included some cool memorabilia. Haleigh had her first English fish and chips experience whilst I was tempted by a steak and ale pie. It was a nice way to round off the day before we wound down and made our way back to the hotel for the evening.

Our plans for the next day were pretty flexible but we had to check out at some point so rather than drag our luggage around with us exploring London we decided to leave the city around lunchtime. There were plenty of things we didn’t get around to doing but it was a good introduction to London for a first time visit and we ticked off a lot of the main things to see. We temporarily bid farewell to London and headed North for Peterborough.

I didn’t have any big expectation of Peterborough, our time here was mostly revolved around Haleigh meeting family and friends. London was the city I felt more pressure to proudly show off, I’ve never really sung Peterborough’s praises in the same way. Nevertheless if there was any doubt in my mind that sometimes I undersell the city’s attractiveness, Peterborough quickly came to reassure me it’s as “shit” as I make it out to be – literally.

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Checking out Peterborough cathedral!

We strolled through cathedral square towards the spectacular Peterborough cathedral, however on the way back to our pick-up-point some pigeons gave Haleigh a rather unwanted welcoming present from the sky.

It was unbelievable! We’d barely been in the city for an hour and spent a chunk of that time eating lunch at the nearby Wetherspoons. We’d only gone for a short walk up to cathedral square, 5-10 minutes at the most and Haleigh was probably regretting having ever come here! Well done Peterborough, great job!

It wasn’t the best first impression of life in Peterborough, I think things did pick up from there and she had a nice time here. However London had wowed Haleigh, dare I say she’d even fallen in love a little bit.

In contrast, much like San Francisco was for me (and which Haleigh finds highly amusing I’ll add), Peterborough will now always be remembered as “that place I got pooped on”. I haven’t set the bar particularly high for Peterborough, kept expectations to a minimum and comically it has still found a way to come up short.

Anyway, on that lovely note I’ll wrap this up. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed it. Playing host was a lot of fun for me, moreso in London which I love but also know that you’ll be “welcome” in Peterborough any time!

All the best!

Jason

P.S – for clarity, most of these photos weren’t taken on this particular trip!

Managing wanderlust – an update!

I landed back in England on the 25th of February after my last trip and, as all travellers do, the countdown to the next trip began. 153 days, 9,180 hours, 550,800 minutes – shall I go on? No?

There’s definitely a brat-like element to feeling “trapped” in your own country for 5 months. Living comfortably with a roof over my head and a stable job in a first-world country – you wouldn’t believe the “struggle” these past few months have been as I count down to the second holiday of the year. Is that a violin I hear?

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“Trapped” in this hell hole?

Joking aside, going so long between trips isn’t something I’m used to which is why I wrote a little post about managing wanderlust a while back ( Read me! ). Wanderlust is a dreaded disease with only one known cure, a temporary one at that, which is to book another trip!

As tempting as that has been I’ve been trying to save my pennies for the summer trip. One of my tips to help manage my wanderlust was to travel locally and I’ve been trying to make the most of that over the last 3 months. I’ve had weekends in Manchester, London and Kettering plus other daytrips to Lincoln and London (yes, again) which have helped a little.

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Lincoln castle!

I’ve also been trying to appreciate Peterborough (home) a little more given the good recent weather. If you follow me on Instagram you’ll have noticed I’ve been making the most of my lunch hours with visits to the cathedral and museum recently – both are free and well worth a visit!

I feel like I’ve done a good job of managing my wanderlust over the past three months so I rewarded myself with a trip to France! Oops!

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Going back to France!

Alright, let me explain! I figured I could squeeze in one more day trip somewhere before my summer adventure, I was adamant I wouldn’t do an overnight trip and I started contemplating all of the places within the UK that I could visit in a day. There’s a lot to see in the UK but I don’t drive so I’m always a little restricted by the public transport and the extortionate fees that can come with train fares. Of course I didn’t have to go by train, I could have taken a bus journey but bus times are even more restrictive if you’re only looking at a daytrip and that’s when Eurostar’s sale caught my eye!

I’ve used up all of my remaining annual leave for the summer so I couldn’t take any more time off work. As I didn’t want to stay overnight I wasn’t feeling too hopeful about finding suitable weekend tickets at a good price. You usually find that you can only find the cheapest fare one way or that it’ll be at a stupid time that doesn’t work with a daytrip. I’d given up hope of being able to find an affordable weekend Paris daytrip, Amsterdam seemed too inconvenient in a day and I didn’t fancy another trip to Brussels but decided I’d have a quick look at trains to Lille and voila!

I found a £29 morning train to Lille, a £29 evening train back to London and had a £5 Eurostar voucher still to use. Whilst £53 isn’t the cheapest day-trip I suppose I see it as a substitute to a day out at the football. I’d easily spend £50 on a game of football so there’s little difference here.

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Exploring Manchester in March!

Could I have saved a little more on a UK based daytrip? Perhaps, although a £50 return train journey isn’t anything out of the ordinary in this country. I’d sooner have a small taste of some foreign adventure and a return to France!

So come June 30th I’ll be waking up in my own bed, traveling to France for a day and then sleeping in my own bed that same night. It’s an incredible luxury and privilege as a European to be able to travel so freely! How lucky are we to be able to pop to another country for a day?

Perhaps remind me of that on July 1st when I’m moaning about the “long” four week wait until the USA trip?

All the best!

Jason

Barmouth!

Before getting on to Barmouth I wanted to start by saying thank you – to each and every one of you! I spoke a while ago about suffering a mini-blogging slump at the back end of 2017. I’ve got back on track in 2018 but it was helpful taking a little step back from blogging and realising that, more than anything, I wanted to enjoy this opposed to doing it for anyone else.

I want to share my stories, I want people to enjoy what they’re reading and I want to inspire more people to travel. However more than anything I want to enjoy what I’m writing about and I realised I wanted to keep a personal touch to this. I promised to do so going forward.
So the response to my last post, Travel helping my struggle with anxiety!, was overwhelming. I was blown away by the feedback to it and it reaffirmed that keeping this personal was the right thing for me. It was my most personal post to date and yet my most popular post too. Encouraging!

Anyway, moving on! Today I’m reverting back to a “destination post” and that takes me on to a little town in Wales called Barmouth! This was going to be my next post regardless but by coincidence St David’s Day occurred this week, so to any Welsh readers I hope you enjoyed yourselves! A belated happy St David’s Day!

Prior to Barmouth my last trip had been to Lisbon, you can read all about that here (3 wonderful nights in Lisbon) but I mentioned that I’d planned to leave Lisbon on the Saturday to spend the weekend with my, at the time, girlfriend only to find myself single a couple of weeks later. A tad frustrating as a couple of extra days in Lisbon would have been fantastic!

Before that breakup came a romantic getaway to Wales! I finished work on the first Friday in April (2014) and hopped on a train up to Birmingham to spend the evening together. On Saturday morning we left Birmingham’s New Street station and caught an early train to Barmouth!
I had never heard of it before but a couple of her friends had recommended it so we decided it’d be fun to take a trip.

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Barmouth is this cute little coastal town in Wales. I’ve never really spent much time in Wales so it’s not a country I’d seen much of until now – I was impressed! The beauty in catching a train is you can really admire the view as you travel. I said in my post on Edinburgh that England gets a lot of the attention when people talk about the United Kingdom and I’ll repeat it here, there is so much more to the UK than just England. More people should be talking about how beautiful Wales is! I was in disbelief at the stunning scenery. Why does Wales not get more credit for being so pretty?

Perhaps people don’t talk enough about Wales’ beauty but one thing they do talk about is the number of sheep in Wales. I try not to submit to the stereotypes and figured its association was exaggerated. It isn’t! Wales is full of sheep – they’re everywhere! Sheep outweigh the human population roughly on a 3:1 ratio which tells you all you need to know really. The fabled “counting sheep” method to help you sleep makes Wales a perfect destination for you insomniacs out there!

Ignoring the sheep it is such a pretty country. The closer we got to Barmouth the more beautiful the scenery became, it was breathtaking to look at. Barmouth isn’t too far from the Snowdonia national park and it is definitely a part of the country I want to explore more of. Preferably in the summer and with better weather.

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Miserable weather but a pretty Barmouth

Soon enough we were arriving in to Barmouth’s train station. As you’d expect from a small town, the station is quite small but the location is right in the heart of the town and close to the beach making it an ideal day-trip. We arrived around lunchtime and headed straight for the beach. Unsurprisingly it was pretty empty, the problem with going anywhere in the UK in April is that the weather is still pretty miserable. We did have a wander along the beach but with grey skies looming over us we made our way to check in to our hotel.

The one downside to staying in such a small town is that hotel options were rather limited. It was a nice hotel but not the cheapest stay and apparently I’d committed the crime of the century in booking a hotel situated on a hill. A little up-hill walk saw us checking into our stay for the night in what was a cosy room with a decent sized bath too (FYI – I love my baths!). The room views are probably usually decent but ours wasn’t a sea-facing view and to be honest it was so miserable outside that there probably wasn’t much worth looking at anyway. I imagine the views are great on a warmer day though.

Having had a little time to relax and drop off our things, back in to the cold we went. Barmouth is your typical coastal town but perhaps with better scenery. We took a little stroll across this bridge and started picking out the houses and pretty buildings overlooking the water – some of them looked perfect!

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Sadly the sky was even greyer at this point and now there was a little light rain, we popped in to the arcades which gave me my first experience with the famed 2p machines – a great way to pass the time and a favourite of any British coastal town!

Content that our 2p coins had vanished we did a little window-shopping and then went in search of dinner. Shortly after eating we called it a night, relaxing back at the hotel and watching whatever rubbish was on TV (it might have been Match Of The Day actually – such a romantic getaway!). A good night’s sleep followed and we woke up refreshed ready to see a little more of Barmouth before heading back to England.

We kicked off our day with breakfast at some nearby café, I think we stuck out like a sore thumb as the only tourists in town. We were greeted to friendly faces which added to a really nice atmosphere in this little place. Everyone else seemed to be local – greeting each-other in a familiar tone, laughing away and just generally enjoying their company. It was wonderful to witness and definitely led to us having a much more authentic local experience.

After breakfast we had one last stroll along the beach – it may have been another cold day in April but we had to pick up an obligatory ice cream! You have to when you’re at the beach, right?
As we walked along the promenade every passer-by seemed to do so with a smile, many of which were walking their dogs, and it felt like a really welcoming little town. I’d like to think it’s the same in the summer months when there is better weather and more tourists in town.

We bought some souvenirs to take home with us at a nearby shop which left us with just enough time to get some lunch before making the journey back to England. We found a cosy little pub that served a traditional Sunday roast – it was delicious and like the café it just felt like everybody knew each-other and perhaps had the same Sunday routine every week. It was a nice way to round off our time in Wales.

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Time to go home! See you later Barmouth!

If you’re in that part of the UK I’d suggest it is worth a daytrip, however I don’t know if I’d personally go back given how far it is from where I live.
For us, it was a short and sweet visit but nevertheless it’s somewhere that left an impression on me and somewhere that I’m glad I visited.

Barmouth – I might not ever see you again but thanks for the fond memories you left me with!

Have you ever been to Barmouth? What did you think? Are you a fan of visiting places outside of peak season?
Let me know!

All the best!

Jason

My favourite city: London

I remember a friend saying to me that New York City was the best city in the world. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t but for someone less traveled than myself I pondered whether he could proclaim it as the best?
If he’d said the best he’d been to so far or his favourite city, sure, I’ll allow it but stated as fact? No, I can’t accept that. Particularly as he spent his visit staying in New Jersey. If it’s too expensive to stay in the city it doesn’t really give merit to the idea that it’s the best city in the world, does it?

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NYC, best city in the world?

For what it’s worth, I love New York City and I can understand why it’s so highly rated but it just falls short for me when compared to London. My love for London is unrivalled really. It is the best city that I have been to and will probably always be my favourite.
I had high hopes for New York City though, if anywhere was going to surpass my favourite this was as likely as any.

I said above, for me personally, it just fell short compared to London and I asked myself why? What gave London the edge? New York City has everything, ignoring the cost (London is hardly cheap either) my only criticism of NYC was that it “wasn’t London”. Needless to say I’m not entirely impartial when it comes to being a travel critic – my system was already rigged in London’s favour.

So rather than focus on some overseas based destination, I thought I’d dedicate this post to “my city” and giving a few reasons why it’s my favourite.

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Little Venice, London

It’s home!
First and foremost it’s home. I was born in London, living there until I was 9 years old so it’s a city that has been with me since day one. I feel proud to have grown up in London and have that association with the city. I’ve lived in Peterborough for the 20+ years since and whilst I do possess some local pride it just isn’t the same.

I have so many good memories growing up in London and it’s a city that is always there to welcome me back when I visit. It’s a special city with special people and it’s easy to see why so many people around the world fall in love with it.

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Views like this have people falling in love with London

It’s diverse!
One of the things I love most about London is that it’s open to everyone. I’m privileged to be able to travel pretty much anywhere in the world without fear but not everybody has that same luxury. Homosexuality for instance is still punishable by death in some countries, whereas London has one of the largest Pride festivals in the world.

I’m not suggesting London is perfect but it’s a lot more accepting than many parts of the world and celebrations of all backgrounds are widely enjoyed here. For example a vivid memory of my time in school was learning about Diwali and being fascinated by the “festival of lights” in assembly.

London is home to people of so many backgrounds so throughout the year you’ll find various celebrations to reflect that. With the Chinese New Year approaching it’d be a great time to take a wander through London’s very own Chinatown and see some of the decorations on display.

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London getting in to the Christmas spirit!

It’s not all city life!
I think one of the biggest misconceptions about London is that it’s just a big city – all traffic and pollution. You might be surprised to know that it’s estimated that 47% of London is green space, almost half of the city! London always has so much going on and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by that but if you need a little time to sit back and escape the London rush then there are so many places to do so!

London is full of beautiful parks and places to relax. Admittedly the weather can be detrimental to actually enjoying some of these spaces but on sunnier days there are few better places to enjoy London. Park visits were always an enjoyable part of my childhood and I used to love collecting “conkers” as the change of season hit and they started falling from the trees near our home.

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Green Park last Autumn.

It is ever-changing!
I think there’s a reluctance among travellers to visit somewhere more than once but with London you’re never going to see everything. Whether you visit once or you visit 500 times it’s never going to be the same experience.
For starters, England has four different seasons so London has a very different feel to it depending what time of year you visit (rain in the summer, rain in the winter..). London is a great place to see the changing seasons and the festivities that come with that, such as great outdoor festivals in the summer or Christmas decorations in the winter, make it a place you’ll want to return to.

Beyond the seasons there’s so many other things constantly happening in London. New restaurants opening, new shopping brands arriving in the city, new shows to see in the city, new bars to check out. You’ll never experience everything in London and it makes it such an enjoyable city to return to time after time.

 

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One of the new shows I went to see in 2017 – it’s good!

It’s home to world-famous sights!
I thought I’d end on this final point but the last thing that makes London special for me is that it’s home to so many iconic landmarks. Everybody is familiar with the likes of Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s cathedral and the London Eye and they look even more impressive in person!
I’ll never tire of wandering through Westminster and taking in some of London’s best known landmarks.

Of course the landmarks stretch beyond the best-known ones. Many popular TV shows and films feature some famous places in London such as Baker Street or the Millennium Bridge, whilst of course you have iconic music, theatre and sporting venues too.

Some of the marketplaces in London are some of the world’s most famous and everyone loves a good red bus / telephone box photo when they visit. London is full of familiar sights and sometimes you’ve got to go and see them for yourself!

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Beautiful St Paul’s Cathedral

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this post and the little glimpse in to the reasons why I love London. There are many more of course but I’d be writing forever if I listed them all.

Now tell me, what do you love about London and if it isn’t your favourite city then tell me where is! Maybe I’ll have to pay it a visit!

All the best

Jason

A 2017 summary

2017 was the year “Jason likes to travel” launched and it was quite a year! First and foremost I wanted to thank all of you for making this such an enjoyable experience. More than anything I started the blog for myself. I wanted a space I could talk about my travels and reflect on some of the experiences along the way but I didn’t think many would read it or anticipate such positive feedback. Thanks to you all for following along and for all of your kind words and supportive feedback. There will be plenty more content coming in 2018 so stick with me!

Beyond the blog, 2017 ended up being quite a memorable year for me. I started the year in Paris which really set the tone for the rest of the year and I ended 2017 celebrating Hogmanay up in Edinburgh.
Including the New Year trips at each end of the year I ended up spending time in France, Scotland (twice), USA (twice), Germany (twice), Greece and Spain. I’m so happy to have traveled so much this year and I’ve stepped foot out of England in every month but June and July (disaster!).

I promise there will be dedicated posts to all of these trips in the future which is why I haven’t gone in to too much detail on any one destination below, however I wanted to summarise what I’ve been up to this year. So here’s a short look at some of the highlights of the year.

The capitals!
2017 saw me spend time in five different capital cities: Paris, London, Edinburgh, Washington DC and Madrid. So inevitably they ended up playing quite a significant role in my 2017.

Paris: Okay, so I only actually spent one day of 2017 in Paris. January 1st! It’s really a trip I associate with 2016 but at midnight I was up on a rooftop seeing in the New Year and celebrating the beginning of 2017. It was the first time I’d ever been out of the country at the start of the year so a memorable moment and it really set the tone for the rest of the year!

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A foggy Paris

London: Home! So technically I haven’t lived in London since 1997 but this will always be a place I think of as home. I only live an hour or so away which means it is still a city that I visit quite often.
Catching up with friends, going to the football, attending gigs, seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (it’s really good!) or just general sightseeing. London has provided a number of memorable moments in 2017 and 10 days in to the year I’ve already visited our wonderful capital twice in 2018!

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Green Park, London

Washington DC: Some cities like New York City, Sydney and Berlin have been absolute “must visit” destinations for me, meanwhile others are more like “one day” destinations. I want to be clear and say I want to visit absolutely everywhere in the world but that soon becomes a long list. Being realistic I’m not going to visit everywhere and DC was a place that I knew I may / may not get to.

Circumstances led me to DC but on arrival I still wasn’t sure what to expect. Perhaps that was a good thing. You only really hear about the political side to the city which I can’t say particularly excited me – it meant I was heading to DC with relatively low expectations. Whilst within the US the message was “Make America Great Again” – from the outside all that I saw was a divided nation in political turmoil and I was heading right in to the heart of it.

Fortunately it was “business as usual” in DC. I don’t want to make this too politically focused but as far as “MAGA” is concerned I always feel like the every day people you meet are the best indication of how great a place is opposed to those in power. As ever, I felt completely welcomed in DC and quickly discovered this wonderful city had so much depth to it. Of course there are political elements to DC but at the same time there’s a lot of history here, stunning architecture, beautiful nature (helped by peak Cherry Blossom season) and a buzzing nightlife. DC ended up being so much better than anticipated, despite being sick throughout my time there. I didn’t particularly intend to end up in DC but I’m glad I I found my way there. I’d quite like to go back because there’s still a few things I’d like to do there and I could have a proper night out in the city next time.

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Washington DC, USA

Madrid: Another “one day” destination that happened to be in political turmoil (Catalan independence). In all likelihood I knew I’d get to Madrid at some point but if I was going to visit Spain a return to Barcelona was a bigger priority. Then there were countless other European capitals I wanted to visit first – luckily I’ve already ticked off a few of those. Madrid had never had the same appeal for me as the likes of Berlin, Paris, Edinburgh, Amsterdam or Rome (the latter I’ve yet to get to).

So on that basis I owe massive apologies to Madrid – wow! What a city! It was easily my favourite place I visited in 2017.
Unlike DC I was quite prepared for an enjoyable trip by the time it came around – the more I read up on Madrid, the more excited I got. It lived up to every expectation and then some. Admittedly I visited for football and a positive result in the game helped that but taking the football out of the equation it is still a wonderful city.

It’s full of colour, full of character, has so much street art, good food, stunning architecture, beautiful weather and a great nightlife. I could go on and on. After Berlin (and London obviously) it is probably my favourite capital city I’ve visited to date. Ryanair cancelled my flight which means I actually ended up with an extra day in Madrid but I could still have easily stayed longer.
Don’t make the same mistake I did and wait to visit Madrid – go as soon as you can!

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Madrid, Spain

Edinburgh: Last but certainly not least. I started the year in France and ended the year in Scotland. Paris had given me a little taste of New Year fun in another country but I wanted bigger and better – step up Hogmanay!
I’ve been to Edinburgh before and it is such a wonderful city – it really is a must visit whatever time of year you visit but I had to see what all the fuss about Hogmanay is. It has been on the bucketlist for a while and this was the opportunity to do it.

It was incredible! It completely lived up to the hype for me. I can’t imagine a better place to see in the New Year – I hope to get to New York City and Sydney sometime for their celebrations but Edinburgh has really set the standard. Best New Year ever!

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Edinburgh, Scotland

The newbie!
In the last couple of years I feel like I’ve just switched between visiting Germany and the USA. I went to Germany three times in 2016 and twice in 2017, meanwhile I went to the USA twice in 2016 and then twice in 2017. Don’t get me wrong I love both countries and I’ve been lucky to visit some incredible cities in the last couple of years but I wanted to freshen things up. I was determined to get to at least one new country in 2017.

My heart was set on a birthday treat to myself. I wanted a relaxing getaway in August for a few days and all I had to do was decide on where, in Europe, to visit. It would have been cheaper to go away in June or July but I was adamant I deserved my birthday week off which meant trying to find an affordable escape somewhere at peak holiday time in Europe. After some searching I’d found reasonable flights and a hotel, the day after my birthday I was flying off to Thessaloniki in Greece.

I didn’t know much about the city but I knew the good weather was guaranteed and it ticked off the criteria of visiting a new country too. It was my first adventure in Greece and what better time of year to visit than in the summer? It was perfect!
Unlike Greek hotspots such as Athens, Santorini and many of the other islands – Thessaloniki isn’t a particularly well known place which meant it wasn’t full of tourists. I spent a few days relaxing, drinking beers and enjoying the warm weather. I’m not sure it’s a city I feel a need to return to but experiencing those Greek sunsets was definitely a highlight of the year and particularly the summer!

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Thessaloniki, Greece

The German trips!
Visits to Germany in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 (x3) mean this country has been a regular feature of my annual highlights and as I mentioned above there were another two visits in 2017.

Hamburg: This is a city that has been on my list for a little while but I didn’t really anticipate getting there as soon as this year. I started looking for cheap flights for the last weekend of May (the Monday was a public holiday) and Hamburg was surprisingly cheap. A chance to practice my German, a city I’ve wanted to visit for ages and affordable – how could I possibly resist?
It’s a cracking city, I can see why it’s so highly rated and featured as one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 cities to visit in 2018. It ended up being a great weekend away and I was fortunate with the weather too! It was well worth missing a festival back home for and another city I’d like to return to.

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Me with Hamburg’s Rathaus (Town Hall).

Bremen & Düsseldorf: A while ago I posted about my love affair with Köln and my frustration at the footballing schedule continually sending me back to West Germany. Fast forward a year and I was put in the same scenario. I was NOT going to Köln again so soon. I really didn’t fancy staying in Dortmund so I started looking at what other German football coincided with my trip. Werder Bremen – “that’ll do!”.

Bremen’s charm had me swooning instantly. There was something irresistible about it. Typical Germany but without the crowds of the bigger cities. I loved it and just wanted a little longer in the city. For a lesser known European city-break I’d certainly recommend a couple of days in Bremen.

Düsseldorf was a bit of a plan B. I was going to watch football in Dortmund on the Tuesday night but I soon came to the realisation that there were no trains from Dortmund back to Bremen on Tuesday evening. So I had to half my time in Bremen and booked a couple of nights in a hotel in Düsseldorf. The weather was miserable but I did like the city. It had plenty of places to go out to eat/drink and enjoy the city’s nightlife however I don’t think I really made the most of my days in the city to recommend it fully. If you pushed me to recommend one or the other I’d tell you to go to Bremen but it was still a memorable trip.

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Bremen, Germany

The loved ones!
Having covered the capital cities, Greece and Germany all that is really left of 2017 are the US trips! My trips to the USA were heavily focused around visiting some special people across the country. One of the drawbacks to having people you care about in other countries is you don’t get to see them! This year I managed to change that and met up with a few people for the very first time – very satisfying and the real highlight of my year.

Nashville: I took so many good memories home with me from Nashville. It started with meeting a friend (and her family) who’d driven up from Alabama who I’d missed out on seeing a year earlier in Atlanta. It was great to finally meet, check out the Parthenon and grab some food together. With Sam bidding farewell to Nashville and making the drive back to Alabama I was left to explore the city (nightlife) for myself.

Nashville didn’t disappoint, infact I loved it! It was everything I’d hoped it would be and “music city” certainly lived up to its name. I regularly crave a return to Nashville because it’s a city like no other I’ve been to. Pure bliss and I feel like I left a little piece of me behind (probably my liver). I hope it’s a place I’ll return to. Everyone needs to experience a night in Nashville at some point!

 

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Nashville aka “Music City”

Dallas: I got to Texas! Finally! It is somewhere I have been wanting to visit for such a long time so to finally make it there made this such a special highlight of my year.
I did like Dallas as a city but it’s not a place that blew me away. I enjoyed myself but it’s probably a place I’d ordinarily be content in visiting just the once.

However I had wonderful company and with that came wonderful memories to take home with me. It’s a trip that I look back on so fondly of and I don’t think I could have enjoyed it any more. Full of first time experiences, long car rides, awful shots (sorry Amber – it’s true!) and the best people to share it with. Everything made it a trip I’ll cherish for a long time.
I’ll definitely be back Dallas!

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Dallas, Texas

Washington State: Apparently one Washington visit in a year wasn’t enough so after visiting DC in April, five months later I was heading to the West Coast. Getting to Washington had been on the agenda for a while and a wedding in 2018 finally gave me an excuse to visit!
Wait, 2018? Yeah, it turns out I couldn’t wait that long so started making plans to get there much sooner.

Like Dallas this trip was all about the company (including the two-legged kind!) which made for such a memorable trip. Mountain views, baseball, awesome bars, good food, cool museums, road trips and boat trips –  I loved it all. The company just topped it off

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Moses Lake, Washington

That rounds up a summarised look at my 2017 adventures.
A huge thanks to Sam, Scott & Ariel (Nashville), Amber, Lanie & Macie (Dallas), Maddie, Cassie & Haleigh (Washington State) and Daniel & Natalie (football) for joining me on the adventure.

The aim now is to have 2018 top 2017 which will take some doing, however with a month-long trip to the US in the planning stages for this summer I wouldn’t rule it out as a possibility.

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Getting 2018 off to the best start!

If you read this far, thanks again! I hope you enjoyed it.

What were your highlights of 2017? What have you got planned for 2018? Let me know in the comments!

All the best!

Jason