Nashville – Day One – April 2017

Those of you following the story from the beginning will know this was a three-city trip and that I’d kicked it off in Washington DC. You can recap on that here but it was time to move on. DC had really set the standard for this trip, it surprised me a lot and had really exceeded my expectations and I was hopeful that Nashville would follow a similar trajectory.

First things first though, I had to get there! I’d bitterly got myself to bed at a reasonable time, sacrificing a night out in DC, which ensured I was up early for a morning flight. Morning flights are typically a no-no for me where possible. I don’t mind as much when it comes to beginning the holiday early and getting to my destination in the morning but there’s always that risk of flying hungover and feeling terrible (I’m looking at you Lisbon / Newcastle).

Fortunately I’d avoided that dilemma here and I was up early to pack the last of my bits, get ready and perhaps have a last look around DC before making my way to the airport. I finished freshening up, squeezed the last of my things in to my bag and as I zipped it up, my zip came flying off! My bag was now uncloseable (is that even a word?)

“Ahhh! Panic!!”

Alright, alright so most of you will know I’m not really the panic type. I’m ridiculously laid back and knew I had some time before I had to leave but regardless, I still had a problem that needed resolving and quick! I suppose there’s a lesson to be learnt here. Something along the lines of “pack the night before Jason” or some other crazy advice but much like my hangover situation I’m going to lay the blame at another pesky morning flight – never book a morning flight!

I was short on time and didn’t even know where to begin looking. I hadn’t spent my time in DC shopping, I didn’t have a clue what was local to find a replacement. The hostel staff weren’t particularly helpful either so I just set off and hoped for the best. About 50 yards later I realised how ridiculous it was to even contemplate walking around with a half-open bag and in the end I just hedged my bets and flagged down a taxi.

To the airport! Why waste my time in DC? I didn’t have a clue where to start looking and I was 90% certain there’d be somewhere at the airport I could buy a replacement. In all honesty I don’t quite understand why because who hasn’t got their luggage sorted by the time they’re arriving at the airport?

“Idiots like you Jason!”

Touche but still, it’s a bit of a risky business model isn’t it? I’d estimate most passengers flying already have sufficient luggage opposed to uncloseable (I’m making it a word!) bags with them. Nevertheless my gamble had paid off and soon enough I was repacking my things in to an extortionately priced brand new suitcase. It ate in to a large chunk of my emergency money but that’s what it’s there for I suppose, problem solved.

Now I could relax, now I could focus on Nashville. I happily waved my bag goodbye at the bag-drop-off area and about 30 seconds later I realised what I’d done. Admittedly there wasn’t a huge selection of suitable bags at the airport but my “any bag will do” approach to shopping had somewhat backfired. I’d bought it, packed it and checked it in but.. what did it actually look like?

Was it blue? Or maybe black, or grey? What was the brand? Any distinguishable features? No?

“Panic again!!”

Yeah, that still didn’t happen. It wasn’t really my problem was it? My only concern was that I was hungry and really wanted some breakfast and a cup of tea. The luggage situation was future Jason’s problem, let him worry about that in Nashville. So feeling care-free I went and found myself some breakfast and was soon boarding my flight.

The plane was probably the smallest I’ve flown on, I reckon only around 100 passengers with pairs of seats on either side of the plane. It was cosy I suppose, perhaps even a little too cosy. My neighbour was some young woman who’d come well prepared with lunch, laptop and notebooks to work on. With that in mind she’d re-position herself dependent on her activity. Time to snack? Stow the laptop away. Time to work? Table tray down, laptop open.

The flight was going swimmingly and then I felt something brush up against my arm. Now, I swear this happened but every time I try and look back at it logically I begin to doubt my memory. Am I remembering this right? I mean, it doesn’t sound like your typical airplane etiquette or dare I saw the type of boundaries you’d expect with a stranger but nevertheless this is still my recollection.

So, I felt something brush my arm and as I looked to my right there was her leg. I can understand you’re in a confined space and perhaps your arms brush or your legs brush or oops, I’m really sorry and I knocked you but arm to leg contact? It felt weird, to me at any rate. She however didn’t flinch which just puzzled me more. She was perfectly content sat as she was rather than having her feet planted firmly on the floor.

photo of woman sitting on brown wooden chair in the middle of a grass field looking away
Photo by mododeolhar on Pexels.com

The above is obviously a stock photo found online but essentially similarly positioned sat down with her feet up on the airplane seat.

Is this normal? Is this how Americans flirt? I mean, of course I’m flattered but I’d be good with a traditional in-the-sky beverage if you want to get to know eachother better or even a hello would do. What’s going on? None of those thoughts exited my mouth of course, I just sat there in a confused state, maintaining stereotypical British politeness and refrained from apologising for having my arm in a completely natural position.

In her defence (“what!?) it was only for a minute or two before her feet were back on the floor of the plane and social etiquette had been restored. Perhaps she’d just been uncomfortable sat in one position for so long but most people tend to go and stretch their legs by having a wander on the plane. Anyway, the rest of the flight I’m pleased to say was unmemorable and we’d soon landed. Me and leg-lady went our separate ways and I was finally in Nashville!

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Nashville happens here!

I passed on through the airport, down to baggage claim and then I remembered what past-Jason had done. I went down to baggage claim and was worried it was going to be a nightmare. Fortunately there was only one flight’s worth of baggage on our allocated carousel, likewise it seemed most passengers hadn’t actually checked in a bag so there was only around a dozen bags at best whirling around but I still couldn’t tell you which mine was.

One by one they disappeared and inevitably one single bag was left on the carousel – I guess I’ll have that one then.

Don’t worry! It was actually mine, I did check the contents before I left the airport. Ordinarily I’d have probably just jumped in a taxi in to Nashville but it had already been an expensive morning. Far more than I’d budgeted for so I took the cheap option and went and found a bus I could catch.

Soon enough I’d arrived in downtown Nashville, I was in “music city” and it was instantly apparent. The second I’d stepped off the bus I could hear music, I think the music was coming out of some museum we’d stopped at but still, it was a great first impression of Nashville. The second sign that I was going to like Nashville only took a matter of minutes as some beer-bike-thing went pedalling past me. It looked like fun and Nashville already appeared to be a city that I was really going to like.

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Pedal Tavern – looked like fun!

I made my way across the river and checked in to my hotel. Within a few minutes I’d had a text from my friend Sam who was waiting outside. Sam, her husband (Scott) and their daughter (Ariel) had driven up from Alabama for the day to come and meet me.

I was hoping to get to Nashville earlier but I think it was around 2ish by the time we met up. We’d planned to go to the Parthenon, a replica of the famous sight in Athens. It’s not something you’d typically expect to find in a city such as Nashville but we were keen to check it out. It turns out it’s actually closed on a Monday, which was somewhat unfortunate given it was a Monday. However we still decided to go, ultimately the main attraction was the exterior anyway and just seeing the building. We didn’t really have to explore it too much further.

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Greece or Nashville?

We drove over to Nashville’s Centennial Park. It’s a beautiful setting for such a landmark and was pretty peaceful when we got there – probably because it was a Monday. It was quite cool to see up close though, walk around the park and get a few photos along the way.

It began raining which seemed a good time to call it a day and move on. We contemplated what to do next but there wasn’t too many options really. Given the weather we didn’t really want to be doing anything outdoors, it was late afternoon so didn’t really seem worthwhile checking out one of Nashville’s museums and we had a little’un with us too which meant we couldn’t really go pop in to one of Nashville’s many bars and watch some music either.

In the end we decided we’d grab a late lunch / early dinner which was a lovely chance to chat and catch up over pizza. It was undoubtedly a highlight of my time in Nashville and we even managed to get an obligatory photo from the day which was nice.

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Sam and Scott kindly treated me to lunch, it was unexpected but much appreciated (thank you again!) and met with a promise I’d return the gesture next time we get an opportunity to meet up. Sadly time was ticking away and with a little’un to worry about they had to make the drive back to Alabama. With the rain pouring they dropped me back at my hotel and we said our goodbyes.

I relaxed for a bit in my room and struggled with the idea that at some point I’d have to move again. I’d spent three nights in DC sharing a hostel dorm with three other people. Now I had privacy and a large comfortable bed – it was incredibly tempting to just have stayed there for the evening.

However I knew my time in Nashville was short and this was my only proper chance at a night out in “Music City”. Fortunately it seemed like the rain had stopped so I made my way back over the bridge and in to downtown Nashville with a clear plan – bar-hopping!

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The bright lights of Broadway, Nashville

Nashville is a dream night out. I’d heard a lot of good things prior to my visit and Nashville’s nightlife doesn’t disappoint. Broadway in particular is just an endless number of bars, most if not all of which offering some sort of live music to watch. Don’t like a bar? Move on to the one next door, or two doors down, or you get the point..

If it sounded good I was going in for at least a beer before moving on. The first place I walked in to was called the George Jones, it seems to double up as a museum during the day but upstairs was a nice bar. At the back of the bar was a female country singer which set a nice mood in the room. I think there was a rooftop bar too but given the drizzle I didn’t bother checking it out. It was a nice place, one I could have quite happily stayed at for much longer but after two beers I made a move. On to the next!

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The George Jones, Nashville

As suggested above, I didn’t have to walk too far before finding the next couple of bars I liked the look and sound of. One had a really nice atmosphere with some artist singing a mixture of his own songs whilst taking requests from the room. I can’t remember the name of it but I had a couple of beers there before moving on and picking up a CD on the way out.

I wasn’t typically someone that would listen to country music before this trip (Nashville has changed me!) but it’s nice supporting local artists where you can so I figured I’d pick up a little souvenir of my night. It was actually a bit of a disappointment hearing it when I got home, I enjoyed his live performance a lot more but perhaps that’s just because I had a few beers down me by that point.

A couple of bars, little more music and few more beers later I decided to call it a night. I could have stayed out a bit later but I’d had fun, was the right level of tipsy and was also conscious that I had to cross over a bridge on the way back to my hotel.

Fun fact but I have an irrational fear of bridges. I don’t know if fear is the right word but I certainly don’t like them. Don’t ask me why because I’ve got no idea. I don’t know what I think’s going to happen. I suddenly forget how to walk, lose my balance, stumble and go head first over the bridge? 100% plausible right?

I can’t explain it, certainly not logically and worse yet – it’s not even an every-time type fear which would at least make it somewhat rational. Some bridges I’m perfectly fine on – Brooklyn Bridge for instance I didn’t have a concern in the world about falling on to the oncoming traffic below.

Back to Nashville: irrational fear or not, to put myself most at ease I walked on the opposite side of the path as far from the bridge edge as possible and right by the road. Seemingly happier to be right next to the vehicles whizzing past me. Sure, I might get hit by a truck but at least I won’t fall in the river!

Well you’ll be pleased to hear my bridge walk was a success. I have a 100% success rate in fact, who’d have thought? I made it safely back to my hotel, ordered some room service as reward for surviving my “near-death” experience and then crashed in to the comfortable bed I’d been so looking forward to sleeping in. It was the perfect end to a memorable first day in Nashville.

Stay tuned for day two!

Jason

Washington DC, Part one – April 2017

Having recently written about Paris, I rounded up the last of my 2016 travels. Now we move on to 2017! Nothing like blogging in the present, eh?

Anyway, that Paris trip was really a tale of how sometimes things don’t work out how you’d envisaged they would and this trip is going to be much the same.

I’ve spent the bulk, if not the entirety, of the 21st century online and in that 19 years I’ve formed many friendships with people in many different places – particularly the US. 2016 had reignited my interest in exploring the US, with trips to Georgia and New York, and I was itching for another trip. The US is a big ol’ country though, I had an endless list of possibilities and destinations. Where should I go? Who could I potentially visit?

The latter was the inspiration for this trip. Two of my longest friendships dating back to the early 2000’s were that of Alison (Massachusetts/ New Hampshire) and Amber (Texas), I’d yet to meet either and I figured it was about time I put that right. It was long overdue!

However I didn’t really know how to pick seeing one over the other. The North East of the US and Texas both had their own appeal so that did little to make the decision easier. Additionally this wasn’t Europe and a cheap / easy flight. Whichever I didn’t see this time around, I might not get the opportunity to see again for months or years down the line. So in the end I bottled the decision and contemplated a possibility where I could see both. Boston and Dallas are only 1,800 miles apart – simple!

Alright, so perhaps it wasn’t the most thought-through itinerary but I really wanted to see both so I stuck a little pin in Boston and another in Dallas. Given the distance I thought I’d break up the journey with somewhere inbetween so slipped Nashville in to the itinerary. Boston – Nashville – Dallas = perfect!

With a route mapped out I could now start looking in to flights and things. The flights weren’t too bad but accommodation prices in Boston were absurd. I’m coming to the realisation that the big US cities typically aren’t that cheap to stay in anyway but Boston was still surprisingly high. Why?

With my Oktoberfest mishap still fresh in the memory I did a bit more investigation and discovered that the weekend I was looking to go overlapped with the Boston marathon. Yeah.. I’m not going to Boston then. I don’t want that craziness. What’s plan B?

Ali offered Washington DC as an alternative option so I looked in to it, committed to it and then hoped she’d still be able to join me. Unfortunately things didn’t quite pan out. It was disappointing but life and circumstances often get in the way of long-distance-friendships.

The consequence was I’d gone from getting excited about visiting Boston with a friend to ending up solo in a city I had no real interest in visiting. If I’d ended up solo in Boston I’d still have been excited at the prospect of visiting Boston, it’s a city I’m quite keen on visiting but DC? I couldn’t say the same. It might be the capital city but as far as the US was concerned it was a city way down my list of places to visit. It isn’t a place I’d dreamt of visiting.

All that said, maybe it’d surprise me! I tried getting excited about it but the beginning of 2017 served a strong reminder of what I was walking in to. I’d booked the trip back in October (2016) ahead of the November elections which didn’t really connect with me. It was hard to ignore all the election talk, even on this side of the pond, but I didn’t really connect the dots that the trip I’d booked wasn’t the same as the one I’d experience. At the time I made my booking Obama was sitting president, by the time the trip came around it occurred to me I was flying to Trump land.

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The White House – home of the president!

A year earlier I faced interrogation in Atlanta’s airport upon arrival, did I really want a repeat of that in DC too?

“So Jason, what do you think of our new president?”
Do I lie if they ask? Do I plead the fifth? Or do I tell them what’s what? “Your president is..”
“Entry denied! Get this asshole on the first plane back to England.”

Fortunately they didn’t ask. There was no interrogation from border control on this occasion, it was a much smoother process than my welcome in Atlanta. I breezed through Baltimore’s airport, flagged down a taxi and made my way to DC.

It’s definitely not the way I’d recommend to get from Baltimore to DC but I’d had little luck finding a better route, perhaps because it was Easter weekend, perhaps because America’s public transport isn’t as good as here but it did the job. Plus I was pretty tired and just wanted to get to my hostel as quickly and conveniently as possible so although a little pricey I was just pleased to be on my way.

My driver didn’t give me much confidence he actually knew where he was going, he’d never heard of where I was staying which was a little more concerning given he claimed to live and come from DC. With that said I knew he’d get me to DC at the very least and we’d eventually find it. If we got a little lost I’d presumably see a little more of the city along the way.

My first impression of DC was probably one of surprise. On appearance it looked to be really nice. It was dark-ish so I couldn’t see that clearly but DC had this instant charm about it. We were driving through neighbourhoods and you’d have picturesque street one after another and another and another. The architecture in DC blew me away and every house just seemed to be the ‘dream house’ full of character.

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Just your average street in DC!

Eventually we pulled up and parked outside another impressive looking house on the corner – “this is it..” the driver said.

Wait, this is the hostel? Are you kidding? I’ve stayed in some nice hostels around the world, I wouldn’t by any means say this was a favourite I’ve stayed at but it’s without doubt one of the more picturesque ones I’ve stayed in. Wow! I was particularly pleased and thanked my driver.

I stepped out of the car and there was this buzz in the air. My hostel was situated in the lively Adams Morgan neighbourhood and it was a decision I’d instantly come to appreciate. “Well done Jason, good choice!”

I was itching to get out and get a taste of DC’s nightlife. Sadly, no sooner than I’d checked in was I throwing up in the bathroom. I don’t know where the sudden sickness had come from but I thought better of going out. I was tired anyway so decided to just get an early night (8/9ish) and kick off the trip early tomorrow morning.

I set my alarm for somewhere around 5 or 5:30am I think (“are you crazy?”) but as it was I ended up waking up closer to 4:30. I hadn’t yet adjusted to my new timezone and my body was still on UK time (9:30am) which meant I just naturally woke up.

I did contemplate going back to sleep for an hour but I was also conscious of my hostel dorm roommates. I was awake anyway and I was pretty certain they weren’t going to appreciate a wake-up alarm going off at silly-o-clock in the morning. So I dragged myself out of bed, went to shower and got ready for the day.

“At 4:30? Are you crazy Jason?”

There are few things that I’ll willingly get up that early for but one of them is unsurprisingly football. Back home I’m a Tottenham season ticket holder so I’m reluctant to miss home games, I even usually plan my travels around the football schedule haha. So if I am traveling I’ll often try and catch the game.

Even then, this is ironically one of those kickoff times I hate getting myself up for to go down to London. 12:30 on a Saturday? A lunchtime kick off meaning an early start leaving Peterborough? No thank you!

It’s bad enough in England but it was a 7:30 am kickoff time in DC and I was keen to try and watch the game. I have sympathy for the poor Americans who drag themselves out of bed every weekend to watch the games, I’d be recording it and waking up at a normal time of the day but as a one off I don’t mind it.

I wasn’t sure how many bars would be showing the game at 7:30 in the morning but one place I was absolutely sure of was over in DC’s Chinatown – around 2.5 miles away – which is where the DC supporters club gather for EVERY game. There might have been somewhere closer to where I was staying but I knew that going there I’d be among like-minded idiots.

I hadn’t yet had a chance to get to grips with how the public transport worked, nor where the stops were so I decided I’d just walk it. I mapped out the route on my phone and headed off, leaving a little after 5am which would give me ample time to find this bar on the other side of the city.

You might find this surprising but oddly, the streets are pretty empty at 5am on a Saturday morning. The sun hadn’t quite come up and I have to say, it’s a cool way to explore a city for the first time. Every so often a car would go by but for the most part I had the city to myself. DC continued to impress me. The architecture just stands out and I had to stop several times on route to stop for photos of this building or that building and “ooo look at that one too!”

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DC looking as pretty as ever!

I was making slow progress on my walk at which point I met my first stranger of the walk. I think one of the fears people have when traveling, with company or solo but particularly the latter, is their safety. There are various tips and guidelines you can follow but I think the best advice I can offer is to trust your own instincts.

This old man was waving at me from across the street, trying to get my attention and it was vaguely in the direction I was going so my curiosity got the better of me. I’d completely misjudged how long it was going to take me to get across town so I had plenty of time to kill with a friendly-looking stranger. At the very worst I fancied my chances of outrunning him if things took a turn for the worse.

My faith was justified. The guy was homeless, we had a friendly little chat and then I passed over some cash for him to get a bite to eat. I said my farewells, got back on my way and soon enough I was in Chinatown.

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An early morning Chinatown!

It took me a little while to find this bar that I was looking for, it’s tucked a street further down than the main part of Chinatown but eventually I’d found it. I tried pushing the door, I attempted pulling the door but to my horror it was locked! There was no sign of life in or outside of the building and I panicked a little. I hadn’t walked miles for this sodding bar to be closed! What’s going on? Where is everyone?

Admittedly I was earlier than anticipated so I waited for a few minutes but nothing. The bar is attached / next door to this hotel so I thought perhaps there was a chance there was another entrance within the hotel. I had a wander in and it appeared that there was – also closed!

I was left with one last hope – ask the hotel receptionists. Now, you’ve had the benefit of a bit of background and a bit of context so, although you might think I’m a bit crazy waking up at such a time for a game of football, the question won’t sound out of the ordinary to you at the very least. However without that context it’s a very different conversation.

I started my conversation with something along the lines of..

“Excuse me, the bar next door is closed. Do you know when it’ll be open?”

There was a look of complete bemusement from the receptionist. I pondered if my accent was really that difficult to understand. I was speaking English, what was the problem? So I asked again, perhaps I reworded it, perhaps I didn’t. I can’t really remember but it was clear I’d got my point across this time.

“It’s closed” she responded with a look of disgust.

Oh no! It suddenly dawned on me what I’d asked and what she’d actually heard. I was reasonably hoping that this bar, advertising that it showed every Spurs game, would be opening soon. From her point of view, what she’d actually witnessed was some guy wandering in from off the street desperately looking for an open bar.

She wasn’t confused by my accent at all, she was confused because typically people aren’t looking for a bar at that time of the morning. I didn’t have to be a mind-reader to envisage what was going through her mind. She thinks I’m an alcoholic! Abort mission!

I embarrassingly scarpered back in to the street pretty quickly. I told myself I would NEVER be setting foot in to that hotel again haha. I wandered back around the corner, trying my luck one last time at the normal entrance, still convinced somebody would show up and fortunately within a couple of minutes the barman was walking up with the keys to get ready ahead of kickoff. Hurrah! It was open after all, I’d just got here far too early, we’re all good!

By kickoff there was probably around 20 Spurs fans in the bar to watch the game – the support overseas always blows my mind. The match itself was a routine win, 4-0 I think so it got the day off to the best possible start. I didn’t stick around afterwards so by 9:30 I was off to find some breakfast, settling for this cute little place not too far from my hostel – which meant I’d walked miles today already.
I ordered some pancakes, alongside a pot of tea and I was then ready to begin exploring the city properly.

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No Weetabix today!

After filling my stomach I walked in the general direction of central DC but skimmed past the White House, there was a bit of a crowd and I figured I’d see it properly later on. I kept walking along this road and a couple of police cars whizzed past me. In the distance there was this occasional roar or cheer or whatever so I figured something must be going on. Feeling curious I followed the noise (and the police cars) and went to see what all the fuss was about.

A bit like border control, I was keen to avoid getting in to a heated political debate whilst in DC so I found it somewhat ironic that on day one, the first thing I really saw in the city was a political march. It was a tax march, a protest against Donald Trump to publicly release his tax figures. I was in disbelief at how long the line of protesters was, it seemed to go on forever.

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A seemingly never-ending line of people!

I followed the crowd for so long and soaked up the atmosphere a bit. I’d like to say it was a peaceful protest, some of the chants and signs people were carrying certainly had me chuckling but I didn’t see it kick off nor any sign of trouble occurring.

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Putin making an appearance too!

As tempting as it was to stick around, I was keen to see a bit more of DC so I left them to it and escaped the crowds. After strolling for a while I somehow found myself arriving at the river, not really looking to cross over I turned back and soon stumbled upon the impressive Roosevelt memorial.

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They (who) seek to establish systems of government based on the regimentation of all human beings by a handful of individual rulers… call this a new order. It is not new and it is not order.

DC has a lot of memorials, some really good ones infact but this was a highlight and something I’d personally recommend. Not only are parts of the area picturesque but there’s a few statues and there are numerous Roosevelt quotes carved in to these stone walls. I couldn’t help but feel that the current president would benefit from a visit and perhaps take some inspiration from the memorial too.

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This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.
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In these days of difficulty, we Americans everywhere must and shall choose the path of social justice.. The path of faith, the path of hope, and the path of love toward our fellow man.
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Among American citizens there should be no forgotten men and no forgotten races.
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I never forget that I live in a house owned by all the American people and that I have been given their trust.
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(Top) I see one third of the nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished. – (Middle) The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.
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We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all citizens, whatever their background. We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred is a wedge designed to attack our civilization. 
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I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded.. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed.. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.

There was so much to see, plenty of which I haven’t included here so I really recommend checking it out when you’re in DC. After a good chunk of time I was done and wandered over towards the Jefferson memorial, which took me around the water and past a few cherry blossom trees on the way. Given the hype I found the cherry blossoms a bit lacking and underwhelming, perhaps it was the end of the season so there weren’t as many as throughout the rest of the season but I was expecting a spectacle and in the end it was just the odd tree with a bunch of Instagrammers huddled underneath it trying to get some photos. Based on my experience I’d suggest skipping DC and heading straight for Japan if you want a good look at cherry blossom trees.

I don’t really feel like I’d done too much on day one, a lot of walking really but before I knew it, it was late afternoon. Sadly the sickness I thought I’d slept off returned and threatened to spoil the rest of my day. I struggled on, trying to make the most of my afternoon but in the end I just accepted defeat. I didn’t really fancy continually throwing up through the streets so I headed in the direction of my hostel, hoping to grab dinner along the way.

Walking through DC was rather disappointing, there was a similar buzz in the air that there had been on Friday night. On this occasion it was aided by the fact it was peak Hockey season and the Washington Capitols were playing that night in the NHL playoffs. The streets were full with a sea of red (Capitols wear red jerseys) with every restaurant and bar I passed occupying various fans in pre-match mode.

I eventually found a restaurant I liked the look of, which was a little bit away from the hordes of hockey fans. It had a nice vibe and was somewhere that ordinarily I might have stayed for one or two beers but despite wanting to, I couldn’t bring myself to eat.

Every mouthful seemed to give me the urge to be sick once more so I barely touched my meal – it felt like a huge waste both in terms of food and money. There’s little worse than returning a near full plate of food that was perfectly fine, I don’t know why but I felt a little embarrassed for the second time today. I headed back to my hostel feeling a bit sorry for myself, I was supposed to be going to a gig that very evening but it looked in doubt at this point. Another early night looked far more likely.

Fortunately it was actually quite a late gig and after a nap I’d perked up a bit with plenty of time to still go out and enjoy some live music – Biffy Clyro of all bands to be seeing!

I’d booked my trip and about three weeks later Biffy announced a US tour with the last date of their tour just happening to be in DC whilst I was in DC. They were playing some small intimate venue, to a capacity of about 1,000, and I knew I’d have to go!

So I picked up a ticket for myself and Alison, intending to drag her along which ultimately left me with a spare on the night.

I knew there was a good chance Ali might not make it but it was a risk worth taking, I figured I’d easily get rid of a spare. Biffy headline festivals back home so demand for a tiny venue like this is going to be through the roof! I was wrong!

$25 tickets in this intimate little venue to see Biffy Clyro on a Saturday night and they’re still selling tickets on the door, are you kidding me DC? How has this not sold out? It’s Biffy (fucking) Clyro! It was mind-blowing to me how little interest there appeared to be for this gig. Why have Biffy not conquered America already? They should be playing venues far bigger than this!

On the plus side, like a few months earlier in Munich, this was another late gig. The doors were at 10pm, which annoyed me a little given the venue was DC’s famous 9:30 club. The club is literally called 9:30, why are doors at 10? You’ve missed a trick there!

Nevertheless, I’m fully on board with another late gig. Take note England! It’s a great way to finish off a Saturday night!

I made my way in, grabbed myself a beer and found myself a good spot to enjoy it. The supporting band (O’Brother) came on at around 10:30 I think and played for at least 30 minutes, perhaps a little longer. I thought they were decent. However it was the main act that was causing a bit of a buzz before in the room. Oddly this was my second time seeing Biffy, the first of which had been in Brussels so I’ve yet to see them in the UK.

They ended up being every bit as good as I remembered in 2013, they’re a great live band and it was a pleasure to have seen them in such an intimate venue. Biffy’s presence might have gone unappreciated by DC’s locals but those that had come out were in good spirit and it was also clear that there were plenty of other Brits in the room. The Scottish flag hanging from one of the balconies seemed to go down particularly well with the patriotic Scots in the room.

It was a great night and I’m glad sickness hadn’t snatched away the opportunity to experience what was a trip highlight. It was probably around 1am by the time I walked out of the club and probably closer to 1:30 / 2am by the time I’d walked back in to my hostel but despite being a little exhausted it had been well worth it.

I made sure to have a bit of a lay in the next morning but was soon up and ready to go for day 2 in DC.

Stay tuned for that next up on the blog!

Jason

The Paris Sequel!

Last time out on the blog I talked about my trip to Paris at the end of 2016. It was a story of overcoming heartbreak and the frequent disappointment that Paris served up. You can read that here but this post is dedicated to the sequel! That’s right, I’m going back!

I enjoyed Paris last time round, not for any of the reasons I thought I would do but in spite of them. It didn’t matter that I was there solo, it didn’t matter that it was too cold to sit outside at some café, it didn’t matter that half of the landmarks I’d come to admire were smothered in fog. I had a great time and felt that there was still a romance and charm about Paris.

The good news is that I’m anticipating this upcoming trip will be even better. For starters, some of you will know I’m in a long-distance-relationship. Well guess who’s coming to England in July? That’s right, Haleigh is returning!

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Another summer adventure with Haleigh!

I wrote about her first visit to England (and Europe) on the blog a while back where we’d spent a bit of time in London. Of course London is not a city I’m ever going to tire of but I figured we should go somewhere new together on this trip, so we talked about a few options and steered towards Paris.

So we’re off there in exactly one month and spending the weekend there, better yet we’re going on the Eurostar so don’t even have to worry about flying! I’m expecting to enjoy it a lot more with company alongside me and I’m sure Paris will feel that little bit more romantic this time.

Additionally this visit isn’t going to be during some grey and cold December / January, we’re going in the peak of summer. I’m expecting blue skies, walks by the river and having the opportunity to indulge in that café culture that Paris is so famous for.

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Lille, June 2018

I said in my last post that Paris had been my first proper experience of France but last summer I took a daytrip to Lille and it was glorious. Admittedly it helped that it’s a city with a bit of Belgian/Flemish influence, however it’s a pretty city and with clear blue skies it was a wonderful place to wander. There also happened to be the small matter of a World Cup game on that day with France playing Argentina which added a patriotic atmosphere to the city.  I fell in love with France a little bit more that day.

Then last month I ended up visiting the beautiful Biarritz in the South of France. Me and my dad were on our way down to Madrid so were only looking for a convenient overnight stop (Bayonne) but an afternoon in nearby Biarritz was perfect. Sunshine, sea views and beers in hand. What more could you possibly want?

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Biarritz, May 2019

The two previous visits have certainly whet the appetite for more adventures in France so it’s nice to be returning so soon. It’ll be a while before I blog properly about this upcoming Paris trip but I thought I’d give you a little update on my summer plans.

If you’ve got any recommendations for Paris, particularly places to eat, then please send them my way and leave a comment.

Anyway, until next time!

All the best!

Jason

The much needed, imperfect Paris trip

Last time out on the blog I wrote about my daytrip in October 2016 to Liege. Following my time in Belgium (Liege) and Germany (Köln) I had just enough time to squeeze in one more trip in 2016 before the end of the year – a trip to Paris!

Visiting Paris had long been a must visit city for me, something about the romance of it had always really appealed to me. Call it cliché if you wish but it was always somewhere that in my head I saw as a special place and romantic place to visit.
For that reason it was also, for a long time, a place I put off visiting. I always wanted to wait to visit with the right person and didn’t see myself enjoying it solo. I’ve been to countless other places solo but Paris was different.

However 2016 was a tough year, early-ish in the year my relationship ended and as much as I’d love to say it was easy moving on it’d be a lie. It was heart-breaking for me and took me a long time to get over. After a few months of feeling sorry for myself I decided something had to change, I couldn’t continue moping about so I booked a trip to Paris.

I’m sure there are better ways to get over a relationship and I can’t say it entirely worked, you can’t just switch those feelings on and off but it certainly helped and the timing of the trip made it feel a little symbolic for me.

It was the end of the year! December 30th 2016 to January 1st 2017. It meant leaving thoughts of past relationships behind me and treating myself to some adventure. It also meant not going another year without visiting Paris solely due to a lack of company. I was determined to end 2016 and start 2017 right.

At this point I’d never really spent any significant time in France. By significant I mean in the sense that I could actually tell you where I’d been. My parents took me and my sister on daytrips when we were kids, I’d also gone on a coach trip with school to Spain which meant driving through the entirety of France but I couldn’t tell you where I’d gone or stopped beyond Calais – mostly service stations in truth.
This felt like my first proper French experience and I no longer had to feel dubious about adding France to the list of countries that I’d visited.

As much as I romanticised Paris, I had mixed feelings about visiting. Whilst most people are complimentary about Paris, it certainly isn’t without its critics. Perhaps moreso in England because I think it’s ingrained in to our society to automatically and irrationally dislike the French. Ask any Brit and I’m sure they’d tell you they’ve heard something derogatory about the French at some time, which is rather bizarre and a little sad when you think about it.

I was hoping to be proven wrong and that Paris would live up to expectations. With just two days in the city I was keen to try and see most of the touristy stuff: The Eiffel Tower, River Seine, Sacre Couer, Arc de Triomph, Notre Dame, Louvre and more. Paris is home to so many well-known landmarks and I now had the chance to see them myself. Sort of.

Going anywhere in Europe in December/January you have to be prepared for cold weather and grey skies. As an Englishman it wasn’t going to faze me, it’s always cold right?

Anyway, I left England on the 29th and by the time I’d arrived it was around midnight so all I really had time to do was check in and sleep. The following morning I wrapped up warm; departing my hostel I found grey skies and there was definitely a chill in the air but I was excited to get exploring the city at last.

I hopped on the metro ready to make my first stop of the day – the Sacre Couer! I wanted to see the building itself but I’d also heard it had some of the best views in Paris so it seemed like a great place to start my trip.

I was pleasantly surprised to get off the metro and find it wasn’t too busy. I’d made a bit of an early start (by my standards) but not terribly early, consequently I had expected a few more tourists in the area.

As I approached the Sacre Couer it became abundantly clear why it was so quiet. They say a lot about first impressions and mine wasn’t the greatest, as I stared up at the Sacre Couer my very first thought was “where did this fog come from?!”. All I could see was the faint outline of a building hidden behind a cloud of fog. My first viewing of the Sacre Couer was a blurred one, I could barely see it. The famous views from the Sacre Couer? Non-existent. I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me.

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The simply stunning Sacre Couer! 

It really set the tone for the rest of the trip. There were two directions I could have taken – let the fog/weather spoil the trip or just go with the flow. I did the latter and laughed it off. I started taking selfies “with” the Sacre Couer and all you can see behind me is a layer of fog. I thought it was hysterical that my first stop of the day had been such a poor pick.

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Selfies with the Sacre Couer!

On the plus side the inside of the Sacre Couer was beautiful and the lack of tourists meant it wasn’t overly crowded as I expect it is on a clearer day. I continued my exploration by strolling through the beautiful Montmarte area, which really does live up to the hype by the way, and then jumped back on the metro.

Next aim of the day? Walk the Champs Elysee from end to end. From the Arc de Triomph down to the Louvre or vice versa, I decided I’d do the former and possibly pop in the Louvre after if it wasn’t too busy. Typically I got off at the wrong stop and ended up somewhere in the middle, probably for the best because it was freezing and walking all of it might have resulted in my fingers and toes falling off.

So in the end I only walked half of it up towards the Arc de Triomph, rather than down to the Louvre. I felt I picked wisely because I’d soon stumbled upon Paris’ Christmas markets, they were beautiful and to add to the magical feel it suddenly started to snow whilst I was passing by. It was only light snow, not enough to set but certainly made it feel a little more Christmas-y on my walk along the Champs Elysee.

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Christmas markets along the Champs Elysee

The Arc de Triomph itself is cool. I liked it but I don’t think it’s a landmark I’d see myself going back to time and time again. It feels a bit out of the way, not particularly near anything, sat on its own in the centre of a busy road and I’m pretty content having seen it the once. The view from the top is apparently good though which might be the only thing to tempt me back.

Afterwards I grabbed some lunch before making my way to Paris’ “must-see” – the Eiffel Tower! Unfortunately the cursed fog struck again – my first viewing of the Eiffel Tower didn’t include the top of it, left hidden somewhere among the fog. I still haven’t seen it! Who goes to Paris and only sees a percentage of the Eiffel Tower?!

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“I went to Paris and saw (most of) the Eiffel Tower!”

For what it’s worth I still loved the remaining 80-90% of it that I could see. In contrast to the Arc de Triomph I don’t think I’d ever tire of looking at Paris’ best known landmark. It’s stunning and (almost) lived up to all of my expectations – it still would have been nice to see all of it though! Next time!

After that I didn’t do too much, I had a little wander before finding a spot for dinner and then gave some thought to my plans for the evening. The hostel I was staying at had a rooftop bar and had advertised a New Years Eve (NYE) celebration/party in to the night up on the roof! It sounded perfect!

A perk to staying in hostels is it can be easy meeting people and NYE meant everyone was in high spirits. Some Australian guy made conversation with me which meant the rest of my 2016 was spent with good company and a few beers.

Sadly we’d chosen a particularly poor spot to stand and chat. As the clocks struck midnight the hostel staff hopped up on to the bar and started spraying champagne. Sadly we were both in the prime “splash zone” so I was soon drenched in it! A very enjoyable night though and a great way to end 2016 and start the New Year – so much so that I’ve tried to make it a New Years tradition to be out of the country. I went to Edinburgh’s famous Hogmanay the following year!

Anyway.. Sunday morning rolled round, fortunately hangover-free and I decided I had to find a café for breakfast. Crepes and tea in a Paris café seemed the best possible start to the year and it didn’t disappoint. Paris’ café culture is understandably very different in the winter given the contrast in temperatures, however it was still enjoyable to just sit and relax for a while before starting another day of exploring.

The first stop of my final day in Paris was to be the Notre Dame. Fortunately the fog had disappeared today, the disappointing first-impressions remained in place though. I think your first impression of this is going to be a complete contrast depending which angle you’re seeing it at. I came from the entrance-facing direction and genuinely my first impression was “is that it?” – once you get closer to it and see the detail it truly is stunning but from a distance it looked remarkably small and I was left underwhelmed. I want to add a photo for context because it sounds particularly harsh but this is what I first saw. I’m convinced it’s not that impressive but feel free to argue otherwise!

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First glimpse of the Notre Dame

I’ve joked since about the “hunchback of Peterborough” because I’m still adamant now that if you put the two buildings side by side, most would favour Peterborough’s cathedral viewed from the front. I’m expecting a Disney movie about it any day now.

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Peterborough cathedral – Disney worthy?

I frequently question how harsh my first impression was but then started picking up postcards to take home and every postcard had the Notre Dame from a side-view from across the river. Had that been my first sight of the Notre Dame I would have had a very different first impression but sadly you only get one first impression and this was mine.

As I hurdled among the crowd to see it up close and walked around the building I started to see what all the fuss was about. It really is a stunning piece of architecture and I can only imagine how incredible it would have looked inside. I’ve seen a handful of photos but didn’t get the chance to enter myself. The queue was a mile long (exaggeration..) and it probably didn’t help it was also a Sunday. I figured this was something I could see next time, it wasn’t a regret I had at the time but this year’s tragic fire adds a little regret that I didn’t see it in all of its glory. Hopefully restoration works bring some of that glory back and I’ll see it at some point in the future.

Content I’d admired it from all angles I went and picked up some souvenirs before heading off in search of food. I was keen to cross off another Hard Rock Café (HRC) visit and jumped on the Metro in that direction. The nearest stop was a little walk away. As I strolled along I thought to myself that this was a really nice part of Paris.

Literally seconds later a couple of officers came around the corner with massive guns on their shoulders which seemed like comical timing for me to have thought how nice the area was. I then approached the entrance to the Hard Rock Café where the DOORMAN did a quick search before letting me in which suddenly blew that theory out of the water.

To his credit I survived lunch so he did his job well, I left without a scratch on me! Seriously though, I’ve never been to a HRC where they’ve required a doorman for security.

The rest of my afternoon was just relaxed, I just wandered through the streets peering my head in to little cafes and shops. By this point I’d accepted I’d be coming back to Paris with clearer views and hopefully warmer climates. I’d built up this little fantasy in my head of what Paris was going to be like and it didn’t really tick any of the boxes. My first impressions of the sights seemed to be met with a twinge of disappointment, the famous café culture was non-existent because it was too cold for outside dining, the love of my life was nowhere to be seen and to top it off the French were worryingly friendly and welcoming.

I’d heard so much about how unfriendly the French are towards English-speaking tourists and not even that lived up to expectation. It had me thinking back to a Bill Bryson quote in his book “Neither here Nor there”.

It took me two or three days to notice it, but the people of Paris have become polite over the last twenty years. They don’t exactly rush up and embrace you and thank you for winning the war for them, but they have certainly become more patient and accommodating. The cab drivers are still complete jerks, but everyone else – shopkeepers, waiters, the police – seemed almost friendly. I even saw a waiter smile once. And somebody held open a door for me instead of letting it bang in my face. It began to unsettle me.

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Paris was imperfect in so many ways. However rather than enjoy it for all the things I thought I would, instead I found small pleasures in other places and I think that made me even fonder of Paris. The fact I’d enjoyed it despite nothing going to plan was a strong reminder as to why I fell in love with travel to begin with. It isn’t just about the gloss and the glamour but just as much about the atmosphere and people of the city. Paris still had this irresistible charm and romance in the air, the people were nice and even in the fog it remains a beautiful city.

I sat at some restaurant eating dinner before catching the train back to England and pondered how highly I rated Paris. I don’t think I’d put Paris up there with the best places I’ve visited. I’d still favour cities such as London, New York City, Madrid, Sydney but on a personal note it was exactly the trip I needed at that moment in my life. It was a good lesson that sometimes things don’t work out how you thought they would but it’s still going to be alright.

Anyway, that wraps up this trip. Have you ever been to Paris? Give me some recommendations on what to see next time! I’ll be returning to the city very soon but more on that to come in my next blog post!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Amsterdam (Dec 2015) – Day one!

Visiting Amsterdam was a mistake, not in the sense it was regretful but I hadn’t actually booked the travel intending to go to Amsterdam. I gambled upon a rumour that Tottenham would be playing in Brussels in December 2015 and snapped up cheap Eurostar tickets. Sadly those rumours were wrong and we actually played in Brussels in the October (also 2015).

Consequently I had to buy new travel tickets for the October and it left me with additional Eurostar tickets to Brussels two months later. You might be thinking it was silly booking a trip based purely upon rumours but it was a risk worth taking, I’d taken into consideration it could backfire and just figured I could take an additional trip later in the year.

So I fully intended to use the Eurostar tickets but I didn’t particularly want to go back to Brussels so soon so I started considering alternative options. Belgium in December certainly had an appeal but something was drawing me towards Amsterdam and in the end I just had to go! I knew a train from Brussels to Amsterdam was a pretty simple journey so that was the plan! Three nights in the beautiful Dutch capital – my first time visiting the Netherlands!

I decided to stay in London on the Monday night as it was a little more convenient. It allowed me the opportunity to catch up with a friend over dinner and some beers, however more importantly it meant I was already in London the next morning. So I benefited from having a lay in before making the easy trip to St Pancras to catch the Eurostar on Tuesday morning. I much prefer traveling by train opposed to flying, not that I’m a particularly nervous flyer but trains are just more enjoyable. Soon I was waving goodbye to the blue skies of London.

Further blue skies greeted me on arrival to Belgium. Despite having the Eurostar tickets for ages, Amsterdam was a relatively late decision so I hadn’t actually booked my travel from Brussels to Amsterdam yet. It left me with a bit of flexibility on what to do. However rather than spend any time in Brussels instead I pretty much got on to the first train heading to Amsterdam. I didn’t want to waste any time in getting to Amsterdam!

As we whizzed along I suddenly felt a little buzz in my pocket, my phone was vibrating because I had a text message. I looked to see what it was and found that my phone network were messaging me to welcome me to the Netherlands. We’ve crossed the border!!

I looked up and almost instantly the first raindrop spattered across the window.

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Welcome to the Netherlands!

“What!!? All we’ve done is cross the border! It wasn’t raining ten feet away in Belgium!!”

It was crazy. Following the Paris attacks in November 2015 I know that Belgium had stepped up border security but they’re keeping the rain out too? That’s bloody impressive! Sadly the Dutch borders weren’t so tight and it was soon pouring down with rain.

Nevertheless we drifted along, passing through a few different Dutch cities. Den Haag was somewhere that caught my eye as we passed through the city and it finally clicked that Den Haag is the same place as “The Hague” – for some reason I’d never made the connection haha. I think it’s somewhere I’ll visit another time. It was a pretty train ride but the rain kept on pouring. I was hoping by the time we reached Amsterdam it might have died down but if anything it was worse.

That’s what they don’t tell you about Amsterdam! It rains all of the time! Apparently it rains on average 217 days a year in Amsterdam, in comparison it’s only 156 in England which is famed for its bad weather. That’s roughly two more months of rain per year than “rainy” England!

I exited Amsterdam’s main train station and my first impressions were good. I just had that instant feeling that the city was going to live up to my expectations. I had a quick look around but with the rain coming down I moved on and hoped I’d find my hostel pretty quickly. I have a habit of taking ages to find them, fortunately this wasn’t one of those occasions but I was still drenched by the time I walked in to the reception area. The hostel (Flying Pigs) was pretty nice though. It looked like a sociable place and the rooms were decent too, my four-bed dorm had its own bathroom which is always a bonus when staying in hostels as you’re only sharing with 3 strangers opposed to the whole place.

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I didn’t really want to stick around in the hostel though. I was keen to see a little of Amsterdam before it got too late plus find some dinner. There had been no slowdown with the rain so I just had to make the best of it as I hurdled the puddles along Amsterdam’s cobblestones. Given it was December the city was beautifully decorated with decorations that were lighting up the streets and making the city feel a little more magical. I soon stumbled upon Dam square which had a number of Christmas trees adding to the festive atmosphere in the air.

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A Christmas-y Amsterdam!

As much as I wanted to keep exploring I soon admitted defeat, I ducked in to a bar and ordered myself some food from the menu. I’m usually keen to try the local beers when traveling, trying to avoid stuff I can drink at home, which is a little tougher when everywhere in Amsterdam seemed to favour Dutch beers Amstel and Heineken.
However one of the beers on the menu sounded good and I was soon presented a bottle with a naked lady printed on the bottle!

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Following on from dinner and a beer I drifted back in to the slightly-less wet streets of Amsterdam. It’s a stunning city after dark, Amsterdam’s annual light festival takes place across the canals in December which certainly adds to its beauty as a host of decorations and displays line its canals. You can do a canal tour in the evening but I settled for just admiring all of the lights by foot. It’s worth checking out!

After a little wander I figured I’d just spend the rest of my evening in the hostel bar. It was a sociable place but it felt like most of the social activity was geared away from the bar and towards the smoking room. That didn’t have any personal appeal so after one beer at the hostel bar I decided I’d just call it an early night and headed up to my dorm – there was still plenty of time for fun in Amsterdam and I was keen to get an early start to explore the city more thoroughly tomorrow!

Stay tuned for day 2!