Bremen – November 2017

Well hello there my dear readers! As many of you will know, I am blogging this week from the brand new location of Moses Lake in Washington State! Despite the new location, I still wanted to commit to the weekly blog posts, perhaps even more frequently now I’ve got a bit more time!

Those of you following me on other social media will see that I’ve begun to settle in well in my first few days on this side of the pond. I survived another border control interrogation, discovered a couple of cool bars in Seattle, experienced a little snow in Moses Lake and of course have enjoyed spending more time with Haleigh. So far so good in terms of adjusting so now back to some blogging!

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Life in Washington State

I did debate doing a little post on life in Washington so far but I’m going to stick to the chronological travels. Last time out on the blog I wrapped up my time in the delightful Madrid, a month later I was flying back to the continent for another football trip – this time in Germany!

“Wait, Germany AGAIN?”

Right? I’m honestly bored of these introductions, I think I’m just going to put a voice recording on a loop – “Spurs are playing in West Germany”.

This was the third trip of four in the last four years! The previous two trips I’d based myself in Köln which I think is the best city in the region to base yourself in but having been twice in 2016 (and once in 2013) I couldn’t face a return so soon. I pretty much took the approach that if I was going to watch Tottenham in Dortmund that I would be staying anywhere other than Köln.

With a few days to kill I figured I’d let the German football inspire my destination. What weekend football was on near to Dortmund (where my beloved Spurs were playing). I was left with the option of Dortmund (HA), Wolfsburg or Bremen.

Dortmund was obviously a no go, I knew nothing about Wolfsburg other than it was the home of Volkswagen so in the end I gambled on a four night trip to Bremen (with a daytrip to Dortmund).

My “anywhere but Cologne” method did somewhat backfire. As we’ve established I’ve been to the region a few times so I knew the trains ran late, what I hadn’t anticipated was that wasn’t the case for trains between Dortmund and Bremen. I couldn’t actually get back to Bremen after the game so I had to have a little rethink. I’d already booked the flights but in the end I split my time with two nights in Bremen and two nights in Dusseldorf.

Plans sorted, I readied myself for another trip to Stansted and soon enough I was flying out to Bremen on one Saturday morning in November. I arrived at what must be one of the tiniest airport terminals that Ryanair operate in.

Seriously, you’ve got passsengers arriving who are stood outside barely off of the runway, queuing to get to passport control and just beyond that you can see faces in the arrival hall. On your right you’ve got a little divider to separate the arrivals from the departing passengers and it’s bizarre to see all four parties in one spot.

Having escaped the tiny airport I was soon embarking on a tram in to the centre of Bremen, as far as I could tell they have no trains (S-Bahn) or underground (U-Bahn) services but the tram was pretty easy and cheap to use anyway.

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Bremen Altstadt

On arrival in to the Altstadt (old town) I have to say my first impressions were good. Bremen had a bit of character and charm about it. There was that typical European feel to it with its cobbled streets and old buildings. It was quite dreary and miserable in Bremen, to be expected in November I suppose but despite the poor weather I had a little wander and stumbled upon a small little park area. It was pretty.

The weather probably played some part but Bremen seemed incredibly quiet. I went on the hunt for a late breakfast / early lunch and was surprised to see the city so deserted. I found a nice little lunch spot and relaxed for a bit before my attention turned towards events back home.

I often plan my trips around the football season (obviously, I was here for football after all) and one of the reasons I flew out to Bremen on Saturday was that I’d “only” be missing Tottenham’s away game to Arsenal. It was a game I’d love to be at but I knew I had zero chance of obtaining a ticket. So I might aswell enjoy a long weekend in Germany, right?

As things turned out, Tottenham completely messed up the ticketing system in this particular season and I’d mistakenly jumped the priority order which entitled me to a ticket! It was rather frustrating knowing I’d planned my flights on the assumption I’d never get a ticket and then was able to buy one!

I still got a ticket on my dad’s behalf but the small consolation for me was at least it was televised so I could watch it in Bremen. I went and found myself a little Irish pub just in time to watch the game. It was at this moment that I discovered one of the local beers – Becks! It’s sold everywhere in England so not normally a beer I’d seek out on my travels but discovering it was actually local for Bremen I figured I’d have to get one!

The first half of the football was depressing. Losing to Arsenal isn’t something I’m unfamiliar with having grown up with them being the dominant side in London but the tide was turning and we’d finally reached that point where it was unquestionable who the better football team was.

We were Arsenal’s superior, we were favourites for this game which was particularly rare away from home and then we put in a gutless display on the pitch. It’s one thing to be beaten on ability, another to be beaten for effort. I’d barely even had a glimpse of Bremen and Spurs had already ruined my mood.

At half-time a group of German football fans stormed the pub! I don’t know where they’d come from but I’d gone from an empty bar to suddenly 20-30 football fans making an absolute racket and singing German songs. I assume they were also away fans who’d decided to make a weekend of it ahead of the game against Werder Bremen tomorrow. There was no improvement on the pitch but the crazy Germans had at least improved the atmosphere somewhat and offered some entertainment.

I scarpered after the game, Spurs had already robbed me of two hours exploring due to that joke of a performance so I wanted to get back out in to the rain and have a look around. Bremen’s old town isn’t huge by any means but it was still fun wandering down different streets and cutting through alleyways and down small corridors. It’s a nice city to walk through and get lost in.

The architecture certainly stands out but it was perhaps the pieces and statues dedicated to the Grimm brothers that stood out most. The Brothers Grimm popularised the fairy tale the “Town Musicians of Bremen” and there are a few pieces throughout the old-town paying homage to it.

The city is also home to a few religious buildings which I popped my head in to and I discovered a few cool pieces of street art whilst wandering too. I think this Jungle Book inspired piece was one of my favourites.

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Bear-emen Necessities?

I’d now familiarised myself with where things were but with the miserable weather I didn’t do too much else with my day, it was pretty relaxed. I found a nice spot for dinner and had a couple of beers but it was a pretty quiet and chilled evening. I relaxed back at the hotel before grabbing a relatively early night by my standards, looking forward to the main event tomorrow!

If I thought Saturday had been deserted, I was wrong! I wasn’t up and out particularly early on Sunday morning. I was up at a reasonable time but it wasn’t like I’d purposely got up at the crack of dawn to beat the tourists. I was probably up and about at around 9-9:30 and out the door shortly after that.

I’d briefly passed one of Bremen’s most famous areas known as ‘Schnoor’ which if memory serves me correctly translates as ‘string’. It’s a beautiful part of the city. Colourful buildings all lined and connected together (a bit like string..) situated along cobbled streets. Most of which are small little independent shops or restaurants, galleries or cafes. It’s inevitably a popular area to visit and yet I was walking through, at about 10am, and there was nobody around.

I suppose you could say the Germans were still schnooring! Hahahaha!

Wait, am I the only one laughing? Instagram didn’t share my amusement for the pun so hopefully the pun goes down a little better here than it did on Instagram two years ago!

Jokes aside, I couldn’t believe how dead it was. It was mid to late morning and nobody was around in arguably one of the most touristy areas in the city? Where are all the locals, tourists, Instagrammers and photographers?

It was a bit grey and dreary weather-wise but still, it surprised me because the Schnoor area is incredibly picturesque. Not that I was going to complain if I had it all to myself. Some of the shops weren’t open, be it because they open later or because they stay closed on Sundays but it was really nice to walk around and take a huge number of photos too!

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The Schnoor area in Bremen

Around midday I popped in to an inevitably empty restaurant in this “tourist hotspot” to grab some lunch. Whilst sat down it seemed things started picking up. I don’t know why it took until lunchtime for Bremen to wake up but I could see through the window that the walking traffic was growing and every so often someone would pop in to presumably have some lunch of their own.

After an enjoyable bit of lunch I had one last wander through the Schnoor area, popped on over for a stroll through the old town and then turned my attention towards the football. Despite my frustration at repeated trips to Dortmund in particular, I really love German football and I wanted to soak up a bit of the atmosphere ahead of the game.

I decided I’d go out and seek out a bit of the atmosphere ahead of the 4pm kickoff. Germans have a reputation for creating a really good atmosphere at their games. Plus like the English, Germans really love their beer so I figured there must be somewhere with a decent pre-match atmosphere.

I strolled along the river towards the stadium, hoping I’d find a suitable drinking spot, and found a nice and large riverside bar/restaurant which I figured if this was England, would be a really popular pre-match spot to gather.

Sadly there was a massive downpour of rain as I was walking along so I was drenched by the time I’d reached this place at around 1pm. In need of a pick-me-up whilst I dried off I ordered myself a beer. Surprisingly there were only a few Bremen fans about so it wasn’t heaving. I wasn’t too worried though, it was still a bit early in the day. However an hour later things still hadn’t really picked up which I found surprising.

Don’t get me wrong, it was far from a perfect summer day but it was still an ideal spot for a matchday surely? Maybe people congregate elsewhere? I had a little look on Google and decided to move on, somewhere a little closer to the stadium.

I’d soon found another nice riverside pub, still miserable weather but given it was just across the road from the stadium this had to be a busy drinking hole for the Germans! Yet it was near empty, I reckon 20 people at the most. Something wasn’t adding up. Bremen’s stadium holds 42,500 people at capacity and yet there’s nobody around? There hasn’t been all day. Where are all the football fans hiding? At around 3pm I gave up, it was only an hour before the game and whilst it had picked up a little I figured I’d just go and soak up the atmosphere in the ground.

The steward on the gate stopped me, despite my best efforts in German I couldn’t really understand why. It took a bit of a struggle before eventually it became clear I was too early. How could I be too early? The game kicks off at four??

Wrong! The game kicked off at 6! Six! I could have explored Bremen for an extra two hours if I’d realised that! It was suddenly obvious why there had been so few fans about throughout the day. I’d planned for a game that was two hours later than I thought. How I’d managed that I don’t know but I was far too early to be entering the stadium!

So I went back to pub number one and unsurprisingly it was a little busier now. There still wasn’t much of a buzz but at least it was chattier and noisier. I don’t think it was a great pre-match place for any sense of atmosphere so after a couple of beers I moved on.

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The home of Werder Bremen

Eventually I made my way in to the stadium, found where my seat was and then enjoyed the pre-match build up with a pint. I wasn’t too sure what to expect from the game itself. This was Werder Brmen’s 12th game of the season and they’d yet to win a single game, their form was terrible and you sensed it could be a difficult season ahead. There wasn’t really much optimism going in to the game.

Despite all that doom and gloom, it seemed fortunes were about to change! Perhaps I ended up being a lucky charm for Werder but it ended up being a bit of a rout in favour of the home team. A first win of the season with a 4-0 scoreline! 4-0! Bremen fail to win their first 11 games of the season, I turn up and this happens!

I took to Twitter after the game and unsurprisingly I was welcomed with an infinite number of invitations to return to Bremen any time. I’ve watched a few sporting events on my travels and when I have no association to either I always like to see the home team succeed and please the locals. It was a great experience and it seemed to really kickstart Bremen’s season. They dragged themselves out of trouble and ended up finishing in a respectable mid-table position. I’d done my bit for Bremen’s cause.

Unsurprisingly there was a feel-good mood in the city after the game with much happier locals. I popped in to one bar for a celebratory drink but I’d already had a few drinks so didn’t stay out too late. I relaxed back at the hotel, packed up my things and got myself a decent sleep ahead of my trip to Düsseldorf.

In the morning I decided to walk to Bremen’s Hauptbahnhof (main train station) which was a little walk away and allowed me to see a bit more of the city that I hadn’t had chance to explore yet. It also took me past Bremen’s pretty windmill situated rather centrally within the city.

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Windmill in Bremen

After a little detour admiring the windmill I arrived at the train station and booked my train to Düsseldorf. I’d liked the charm of Bremen and was a little sad to be leaving so soon but fortunately my time in Bremen wasn’t completely at its end. I’d have to fly home from here after all but you’ll have to wait to hear more on that!

Up next: Düsseldorf and a farewell to Bremen! Stay tuned!

Jason

Madrid – Part three – October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Real Madrid v Tottenham Hotspur

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

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

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

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Plaza Mayor like you’ve never seen it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Real Madrid 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur, Oct 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The San Jeronimo el Real. Pretty but closed!

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

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

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Madrid’s botanical gardens

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned!

Jason

Madrid – Part one – October 2017

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

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

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London, December 2018

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

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

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

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

“Madrid!?”

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

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

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Plaza Mayor, Madrid

After London..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Street performers in Madrid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A common sight in Madrid. Street art shutters!

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

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

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

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Mercado de San Miguel

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

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

More on that to come soon! Stay tuned!

Jason

Seattle – Sep 2017

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

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

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

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

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Washington State, April 2019

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

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

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What a band!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Would I fare better at mini-golf?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Home of the Seattle Mariners!

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

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

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

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

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The Mariners gang together!

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Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Let’s go Mariners!

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

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

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

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

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

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Five innings, Mariners zero!

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

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

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

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

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Love sticks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Boat time!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned!

Jason

Moses Lake – Sep 2017

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

“Oh my god, at last!”

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

“Who?”

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

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

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Moses Lake, Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Japanese Peace Garden, Moses Lake

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

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

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

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Moses Lake, Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Driving to Ellensburg!

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned!

Jason

Spokane – September 2017

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

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

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

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Driving towards a miserable Spokane!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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24 Taps Burgers & Brews, Spokane

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

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

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

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Working my way through the 24!

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t do it Jason! Turn around..”

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

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

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

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

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Baby Bar, Spokane!
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Baby Bar, Spokane

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

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

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

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

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

“Singular?”

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

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

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Spokane, Washington State!

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

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

Up next? Moses Lake.

Stay tuned!

Jason

Ellensburg – Sep 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Welcome to Ellensburg sign!

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

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

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

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Washington – April 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Star Wars Monopoly

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

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

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

More on that next! Stay tuned!

Jason

Thessaloniki – August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A city..?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stayed here all night!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Enjoying life at sea!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bar is hidden in here somewhere

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned!

Jason

Hamburg – May 2017

It’s no big secret that I’m quite the fan of Germany. It’s a country I’ve now been to nine times and don’t be surprised if subsequent trips follow soon. I love the people, I love the culture but first and foremost it has some wonderful places to visit.

In Köln, Berlin and München I had already been to three of Germany’s four biggest cities which left one major German city to visit: Hamburg.
It was a city I was keen to visit but I didn’t really envisage it happening as soon as 2017.

However I started looking for potential destinations for a bank holiday getaway and Hamburg jumped out at me with some reasonable flight prices given the timing. Three days in Hamburg sounded pretty tempting.

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Hamburg, Germany

Before I could enjoy Hamburg I had to escape the madness of Stansted airport. I’m not a huge fan of Stansted because it just always seems to be busy; this is largely down to it being the budget airline favourite airport.

The pros of the budget airlines definitely outweigh the cons but the busyness of this airport is certainly one of the cons.
Any time of year you visit it tends to be busy but throw in a public holiday making it a three day weekend and this particular Saturday morning was just crazy!

There isn’t much to do at Stansted so you’ll always find one of the busiest areas is the Wetherspoons bar – a bit of a reflection of the UK. With a full menu and lenient trading laws it proves to be a popular breakfast/lunchtime/dinner option accompanied with any beverage of your choice.

By this point many are in holiday-mode and a breakfast beer combination always seems to go down well amongst our drunken little nation. As I was traveling solo I found myself a little two-seater table to not take up too much room which is normally fine but on this particular morning you could see the vultures circling for any free space – vacate your seat, lose your seat!

With one free seat spare at my table a fellow solo-adventurer asked if she could join me. Of course I agreed however with an “order at the bar” policy she was soon having to disappear (although you can now order at your seat using an app on your phone).

I agreed to save her seat because I didn’t foresee any problems occurring. There was a bit of a queue at the bar and a few minutes passed with no return – “not a problem”. Five minutes go by and I’m unfazed by it.

Ten minutes pass and there’s still no sign of this woman returning. After fifteen minutes I start wondering if she’s even still in the queue, she is coming back right? I’m hoping she’s hidden in that crowd of people at the bar somewhere.

My attention starts switching to the clock, I don’t just want to abandon her possessions, nor surrender her table but how long do I wait before I have to leave to catch my flight. As each minute ticked by I become more agitated. Perhaps her manners matched my own but even with how busy it was I don’t know how it takes that long to get served – “after you!” and again and again?

Eventually at around the 20 minute mark she returned, hugely apologetic which was nice but I didn’t stick around for pleasantries and made a dash to the nearest departure screen to see what the latest on my flight was.

My eyes scanned across the screen to find Hamburg, only to see in red the words “LAST CALL”

What?! There was still a decent bit of time before my flight so why they were closing boarding so early I don’t know but immediately I headed in direction of the gates to see a sign suggesting mine was 10-15 minutes away! You’ve got to be joking!

I ran a good chunk of the way which was a great reminder as to how unfit I am, I was cursing myself most of the way for having been too polite rather than abandoning the table earlier.

“Well done, you idiot. You’ve probably missed your flight!”

I arrived at my gate out of breath to still fortunately find a small queue with a couple of guys close behind me. I say fortunately but why Ryanair send their passengers into panic mode if they’re still boarding people ten minutes later I don’t know? Thanks for that!

On the plus side it restored a little faith that I was right to wait – I made my flight and the young woman kept her table – win-win!

Anyway, as with so many Ryanair flights I arrived at my allocated seat to find someone sat in it – “can we swap?”

In all honesty I don’t usually mind but I found it baffling to then see him sat with his headphones on for the whole flight. I can understand wanting to sit with people because you want to sit with people but if you’re going to ignore eachother the whole way why insist on swapping? Baffling. Nevertheless we were soon arriving in to Hamburg and my fun could begin!

Arriving in to some places I think you just know you’re going to like it, Hamburg was one of those places. Perhaps the clear blue skies were a factor and maybe my love of Germany meant I wasn’t too objective but stepping out of the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) had me feeling optimistic about three days in Hamburg.

The perk to early morning (European) flights is that you’ll arrive in to your destination pretty early too which meant I was in Hamburg mid-morning on the Saturday. I now had the best part of two nights / three days to enjoy.

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Hamburg’s Kunsthalle

Given its proximity to the Hauptbahnhof I kicked off my trip by visiting the Kunsthalle (Hamburg’s art museum). I’d heard good things about it and even from the outside it’s quite a stunning building. I enjoyed the museum but I anticipated being there slightly longer than I was. I was trying to ignore it and enjoy the art but my stomach had other ideas and was rumbling its way around the museum screaming “feed me!”. I obliged and cut my museum time short to find somewhere for lunch.

I found a restaurant nearby and was soon appeasing my hunger with some good pizza – that’s German, right? Okay, not the best of starts but I did accompany it with one of Germany’s better known delicacies – the beer! The warm weather made it a much needed refreshment!

Following on from lunch I had a wander through Hamburg’s famous Speicherstadt district. It’s not the prettiest on the eye, although the canals help, but this is Hamburg’s warehouse district and it attracts a lot of tourists as its a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was interesting to walk through and I could see why it’s often likened to Manchester.

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After killing a little time I went in search of my hotel to finally check in and drop my things off, however I got a little lost on route so ended up taking a rather scenic route through some park and via what felt like a motorway. In terms of actual traffic it felt abandoned but there was so much construction going on road-side. Eventually I got back on track and checked in to my hotel.

My evening was pretty uneventful, I explored the city a little bit but I was keen to get an early night. I’d looked for things to do before the trip and fellow bloggers and Instagrammers were all suggesting to attend Hamburg’s Fischmarkt (fish market) on Sunday morning. It opens early and is the must do if you’re ever in Hamburg on a Sunday!
I wanted to see what all of the fuss was about so set an early alarm and got to sleep soon after, missing out on any wild Saturday night in Hamburg.

Backtracking quickly, on the way to Stansted on Saturday morning I’d seen this stunning sunrise and it left me pondering why this was such a rarity for me? Why don’t I see more sunrises?

On Sunday morning I remembered why – I love my sleep. As my alarm started going off I questioned how desperate I was to get out of bed for the smell of fish. This Hamburg “must visit” just didn’t happen. I hit snooze thinking maybe I could set off a little later and still catch some of the market atmosphere but there’s only so many times I could hit snooze before accepting my fate and enjoying more sleep.

Hamburg is a city I’ll definitely return to and I’m telling myself I’ll catch the Fischmarkt next time but I think when I’m faced with the actual reality of getting out of bed I’ll probably take the same approach. Oops!

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Hamburg’s Rathaus

Anyway, after sabotaging my own plans and getting off to a late start I decided I’d make Hamburg’s Rathaus (town hall) the first stop of my Sunday instead. I don’t know why but town halls in Germany are always absolutely stunning.

Hamburg’s Rathaus was no exception and perhaps even my favourite I’ve seen so far. It was HUGE and definitely another of the “must visits” in Hamburg. Trying to get a photo of myself with the whole building in was a bit of a challenge but here was my best effort!

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Following on from the Rathaus I started looking for brunch options in the nearby restaurants overlooking the water and contemplated what else I should do with my day. My friend Nicole had recommended the “Minitaur Wunderland” museum and other things I’d read endorsed that recommendation further.

It’s a fascinating museum with models creating miniature sized cities, venues and locations from around the world. I think the miniature sized Hamburg sets were my favourite. From the famous Speicherstadt to Hamburg’s very own football stadium, the level of detail that goes in to such a museum is quite incredible. Some of the displays are interactive too and you see the models come to life which was really cool.

I would recommend visiting and it’s definitely one for the kids too but a consequence of that was that it was also quite busy. Maybe avoid it at the weekend if you can visit during the week instead.

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Hamburg’s SpeicherStadt, Miniatur Wunderland

Moving on, one of the other things Hamburg is also well known for is its role in the theatre industry. Hamburg hosts a number of big plays and shows and I was a little tempted to go and see one on Sunday evening. I passed a little box office to see what was on. From memory there were a couple of Disney shows on such as The Lion King and Aladdin.

I noted how much tickets were but decided I’d make a decision later in the day and come back if needs be so went off to explore a little further on foot. I didn’t really do much other than walk, passing by the odd church and eye-catching pieces of architecture. The day was quickly getting away from me so I went looking for somewhere to grab food ahead of any potential show in the evening. I was particularly on the hunt for a favourite of mine in Germany (and Austria) – schnitzel! It’s always a must! Haha.

Typically when you’re actively looking for something it seems to be impossible to find. A few months after this trip I was trying to find a pub in Edinburgh and seemed to be in the only neighbourhood in Scotland lacking a pub!  A similar fate occurred here where all I was looking for was somewhere with schnitzel on the menu and I seemed to get lost in the Portuguese district of the city with every passing restaurant bizarrely only offering Portuguese or Brazilian cuisine. Eventually I stumbled upon a place with what I was after and I washed it down with a couple of beers.

Still a little undecided on my evening plans, I was torn between trying to see a show or checking out the famous St Pauli area and Hamburg nightlife. My indecision meant, in the end, I didn’t really do either. I didn’t go see a show and by the time I’d made that decision I was on the other side of the city and didn’t fancy a journey back across town to St Pauli.

St Pauli is littered with bars and restaurants whilst also being home to Hamburg’s Reeperbahn (red light district) so is a popular evening spot whilst in Hamburg, whatever your intentions. The latter is perhaps one of the most famous red light district’s after Amsterdam’s very own. I believe it’s the second biggest in Europe but don’t quote me on that!

Nevertheless St Pauli’s nightlife will have to wait for a return visit. On the plus side I had heard from a couple of friends on Instagram about this bar that had some really great beers on tap that also had beer flights on offer which meant I could try a few different beers. I figured it’d be a good alternative spot to enjoy my evening – particularly as it was much closer to my hotel than St Pauli.

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Whilst I quite liked this particular bar itself, it was surprisingly dead. It wasn’t on a main street and perhaps missed a lot of the tourist trade and being a Sunday night perhaps wasn’t going to attract too many locals either. It did mean though that I could sit at a table outside, admire the view and finish my night with a few beers.

Monday offered me half a day more to explore Hamburg before making the trip back to London. I wanted to take a good walk along Hamburg’s port / waterfront area as this is another thing Hamburg is best known for with so many boats (of all varieties) traveling through it daily. I spent a good amount of time people-watching and boat-watching before deciding to pick up some souvenirs to take home with me.

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Hamburg’s port area

Knowing this would be my last opportunity on this trip I decided I’d have my lunch at one of my guilty pleasures when traveling – the Hard Rock Café (HRC). If I know they’re based in a city I’ll often try to visit and tick another off my list.

Of the three I’ve been to in Germany (Köln, München and Hamburg) this was probably my favourite of the three. The experience, as ever, lived up to what you expect from a HRC and it was nice to squeeze in the visit before heading home.

 

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First one of these I’ve seen!

An added bonus to lunch at the HRC was that it was within walking distance of St Pauli so I thought I’d take a little detour through the neighbourhood. I didn’t venture over to the Reeperbahn because, much like Amsterdam, I expect it has a very different vibe to it during the day. However St Pauli as a whole seemed a nice area and it’s a shame I didn’t get to spend any proper time in the area. I admired the street art and took a quick glimpse at St Pauli’s football stadium before catching the train towards the airport.

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Outside St Pauli football stadium!

Hamburg’s definitely a city I’ll go back to but I’d probably stay a little closer to St Pauli next time as although I liked my hotel, there wasn’t too much in the area and personally I’d rather something a little more lively. Both the nightlife and the fish market would have been a bit less of a trek and maybe I’d have been able to experience both, rather than missing them. Nevertheless it was a wonderful trip and another part of Germany I can say I’ve visited!

I’d fully recommend a trip yourself and given I fully intend to return, please feel free to offer recommendations! Anyway, that’s it from me.

Next up on the blog? Thessaloniki!

All the best!

Jason

Dallas – Days 3 & 4 – April 2017

After a late night the day before (catch up here) I was in no rush to get out of bed on Friday morning, despite being my last full day in the city. It looked like I probably wouldn’t be seeing Amber again on the trip, which was disappointing, but it gave me a day to do whatever I pleased.

Not that there was much I particularly wanted to do, with the exception of going up Reunion Tower I’d seen much of what I wanted to in Dallas. I figured I’d go and check out a museum or two in the city. I made my first stop of the day the Dallas Museum of Art which was about half a mile away from my hotel. It meant I got a nice little walk in the Texas sunshine on route.

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Dallas Museum of Art

Soon enough I’d arrived at the museum and made my way in. It was quickly apparent that I’d be sharing the museum with a school group so I let them determine which way I’d be going. You’re all heading off to the right? Great, it looks like I’m going left then!

FYI: kids are loud! This wasn’t exactly brand new information I’d only just come to realise but dare I say it – kids from Texas are particularly loud. I don’t know if they were extra hyped because it was a Friday and the weekend was close but it didn’t take long for the screaming and running teenagers to find me despite my best efforts to repeatedly escape them. I’m pretty sure they were duplicating along the way as they just kept popping out from nowhere.

Company aside, I quite liked the museum itself. Some of the art and exhibits were cool and it was a fun way to enjoy my morning. It’s not too big as some museums are either, you can definitely spend a decent amount of time looking around but still feel like you’ve seen most of the museum’s contents in one trip. Content that I’d seen all I wanted to, I moved on and attempted to escape the hordes of school children.

Close to the museum was Klyde Warren Park which I’d heard was a pretty nice spot within Dallas. I imagine it probably could be, however on this particular Friday morning it was ridiculously busy. It’s not the biggest park, it’s pretty small actually, and it just seemed like every patch of grass was occupied by somebody doing something. Kids running around, people doing yoga, people throwing a ball around or something. It wasn’t a spot to take a breather and relax so I didn’t really stick around for long.

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I promise it was busier than it looks!

By this point Amber had messaged me, suggesting she would be free after all and perhaps we could go to Reunion Tower in the evening along with her family. I wanted to see Amber and I wanted to visit Reunion Tower too so it was a no brainer – of course! It did somewhat change my plans though. Originally I’d figured I’d go see Reunion Tower earlier in the day and then spend my evening visiting some bars I’d had recommended to me.

With a change of plans I figured I’d wander over to those bars now and pick up some lunch at the same time. The two places I’d had recommended to me were both in the Lower Greenville area, about 3 miles away from where I currently was. I’m sure there are better means of transportation to get yourself there but I’m of the belief the best way to travel a new destination is on foot. It might seem crazy to some people perhaps but I decided to walk it.

It might have been a three mile walk but there was actually very little to catch my eye. This was as mundane as most walks come. It was nice to see more of a real side to Dallas, opposed to the touristy downtown views but I can’t say the walk had really been worthwhile. Nevertheless I managed to find the odd landmark or building that peaked my interest, took a quick photo and before I knew it I’d arrived at the bar I was particularly intrigued by – “Truck Yard”.

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Dallas’ Truck Yard! Brews, Grub, Tunes!

It was instantly apparent why this place is so highly rated. The place was quirky and full of character and somewhere I quickly adored. Outside was just a jumble of mess really. You had a little lighthouse and long benches, a stage with a guitar hanging from the roof, an old Chevrelot which doubled up as a table to sit at. It reminded me a little of Szimpla Kert in Budapest but with a bit more American feeling to it.

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I picked up a beer menu, ordered one of the (many) beers that sounded particularly tempting and I found myself a bench to sit at outside. Also outside were my lunch options! At the back of the ‘yard’ were a bunch of food trucks, adding a bit of substance to the name of ‘Truck Yard’. There were a few different options and I think I ended up grabbing food from at least two of them in my afternoon there.

After finishing off my lunch and my beer I contemplated what else to do with my day and came to the conclusion there probably wasn’t anything I really wanted to do. As I said in my day one post, Dallas isn’t really a touristy city. Reunion Tower was the last ‘must see’ for me and that was already scheduled in for later so I decided to stay put. There wasn’t much left of my trip before I had to go home so why not soak it up and enjoy it? It was a beautifully sunny day, I had a nice spot to sit and relax and that beer menu also looked particularly tempting for an afternoon of drinking.

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Enjoying a beer or few.

The bar was surprisingly busy for a Friday afternoon, aided by about a dozen people in their 20’s walking in who’d just finished some charity event and presumably wanted to celebrate with a beer.

So far today I’d experienced a museum full of school kids, an overly crowded park and now a collective of fellow day-drinkers. It did beg the question if anyone in Dallas is actually productive on a Friday? Is anyone in school or work or whatever?

It seemed not! After a few beers I decided I’d better head back downtown, again choosing to walk the few miles to my hotel. The walk was a good way to sober up, in addition to stopping for a snack somewhere on the way.

Back at my hotel I dropped Amber a message to see what time she wanted to meet up, I had a bit of a wait so decided I’d just chill out at my hotel and temporarily “rest my eyes”.

I was quite conscious that with a few beers in me I might fall asleep, so I sensibly set an alarm just incase I dozed off. However it did little to avoid the inevitable happening and I woke up to darkness and a combination of a number of messages and miscalls from Amber – oops!

Fortunately I was staying close to Reunion tower, within walking distance infact, so a short while later I was apologetically arriving and meeting up with Amber and the family who’d made their way in to Dallas for the evening.

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Dallas by night, mid thunderstorm!

Reunion tower offered 360 degree views overlooking Dallas. I’m quite glad it ended up being one of the last things I did in the city, even better seeing it at night and in the midst of a thunderstorm. The lights of the city and the lightning flashing over it made for great viewing.

Unfortunately my afternoon nap had somewhat scuppered / delayed our dinner plans so following on from our fun at the tower we made our way out to dinner at some place with ridiculously sized meals. The added perk to eating here was that it was family friendly and there was a little play area, a little arcade like, so it kept Amber’s little girl (Blakely) amused and we found a few things to enjoy too!

Sadly with a little one our evening had to come to an end and as did my adventure seeing Amber. Amber drove me back to my hotel where we said our goodbyes and she headed home. It had been long overdue finally meeting and I was sad it had gone by so quickly.

I’d hoped to end my evening with a few drinks with our other friend Lanie, however it didn’t really materialise and we ended up taking a rain-check. Luckily only postponing things until the morning where we squeezed in a quick breakfast date before I left Dallas. We ended up going to some place that specialised in donuts so maybe not the healthiest breakfast but an enjoyable one! Haha.

It was nice to hang out again before I left Texas and we ended up having a good chat over a donut or two. Lanie kindly offered to drop me off at the airport which was also a good opportunity to listen to the end of Hamilton and also see how the other half lived! Our little detour on the way to the airport took us through what was a rich neighbourhood of fancy houses and mansions – vastly out of our price range but fun to look at all the different houses nonetheless. I didn’t get any photos but trust me when I say, some of them were beautiful!

Sadly I had to leave eventually. It had been a lovely end to my time in Dallas but like the night before, over far too quickly.

Overall I’m not too sure how Dallas rates as a city in its own right. I don’t feel like I did that much and additionally I don’t really feel like I missed out on anything else I’d wanted to do. It was fine as a city break but not somewhere I’d ordinarily feel I needed to visit again.

All that said, I have a fondness of Dallas and certainly think back fondly on this portion of the trip. It was a fun place to go out, there was cool street art throughout the city and given it’s a big city it doesn’t really have that touristy feel to it. I’ve no doubt most of the people I encountered were locals which makes it a worthwhile place visiting in my book.

On a personal note it was undoubtedly a highlight of my 2017 and I know it’s a city / state I’ll be returning to in the future. The company made it a wonderful few days and I’m craving a return to see some of my favourite people! Thanks again to Amber, Lanie and Macie for making it such a memorable first visit to Texas.

Sadly Dallas was the last of my three stops on this particular trip. I was asked a few times on my return what my favourite place had been and you really can’t compare the three. DC, Nashville and Dallas all offered amazing memories but they’re all incredibly different cities and nothing alike – once again showcasing how diverse the USA is. I’d recommend all of them for vastly different reasons and I’m likely to go back to all three at some point.

However as far as this trip is concerned it’s done and dusted so I’ll wrap this up here. Next up on the blog? Exciting news regarding my 2020 plans!

Stay tuned!

Jason