NYC: Exploring Brooklyn

Continuing with my NYC series (June 2016) takes us on to Brooklyn! Most people visiting New York City for the first time will spend most of their time in Manhattan but our accommodation was over in the Brooklyn / Williamsburg area so we were fortunate to see quite a bit of Brooklyn too.

NYC’s (Manhattan) skyline is probably my favourite skyline that I’ve seen and one of the best places to view it is from across the water in Brooklyn. Consequently one of the first tourist hot-spots that we visited in Brooklyn was a trip down to Brooklyn Bridge park.

I say hot-spots but on the morning we visited it was actually pretty quiet. This little parked area is one of the best photo spots in the city as you can get right by the water and get some great photos of both Brooklyn bridge and the city’s skyline in the background. It also seemed a dog-walking favourite for some of the locals so the four legged ones approve of this location just as much! To be fair, if you’re going to walk your dog you might aswell do it somewhere with a view, right?

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Manhattan views from Brooklyn Bridge Park

After snapping plenty of photos we followed the signs towards Brooklyn Bridge as we wanted to tick off one of the bucketlist items for many visiting NYC, walking the bridge end-to-end. I suppose it doesn’t really matter if you walk from Brooklyn to Manhattan or vice versa but I personally felt like we did it best in walking towards Manhattan (and its stunning skyline) rather than away from it as there isn’t really anything noteworthy to see walking towards Brooklyn.

Much like Brooklyn Bridge Park, the beginning of our walk felt pretty quiet. We weren’t up obscenely early but given the bright blue skies I was a little surprised it wasn’t busier. Walking towards Manhattan provided us with numerous photo opportunities including that of the Statue of Liberty which was as close as we’d come to it at this point of the trip.

As we continued to stroll along it began to get busier, perhaps just because it was later in the day but it also felt like much of the foot traffic had started at the Manhattan side so inch by inch we’d encounter more people – many of which were oblivious to their surroundings and were consistent in their ability to get in to people’s ways, particularly cyclists who must hate having to tackle this bridge to get between the two boroughs.
Overall though it was an experience I enjoyed. It offers some wonderful views and for a city as expensive as NYC, it’s surely one of the best free activities.

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Brooklyn Bridge views on a beautiful summer’s day

I think we spent much of the remainder of this day in Manhattan so our next adventure on the Brooklyn side of the water was later in the week. Myself and Kelly planned to meet our friend Pran over near Brooklyn’s botanical gardens so made our way on the subway towards Prospect Park. Getting off the subway we decided to go and get a refresher. We were pondering the local options and just before we were about to enter one place, a local onlooker steered us away and advised us to check out a place further down the road.

For all the talk of New Yorker’s being unfriendly, she was one of many we encountered who again took time out of their day to help us. We followed her towards this tiny little shop selling juices of various kinds. The woman was fascinated with our accents and was friendly with the shop assistants too, she was definitely a regular so added a homely and local feel to the place.

The verdict on the juice was a little less positive and more of a mixed bag. Personally I was quite fond of mine but Kelly was less convinced, I think we’d both appreciated the effort of a local recommendation though. Soon enough we’d waved goodbye with our juices and found ourselves a little shaded spot in Prospect Park to enjoy it (or not in Kelly’s case haha).

Unfortunately for us Pran was on the other side of the park and waiting over near Brooklyn’s botanical gardens so we had to navigate our way over to meet him before making our way in to the picturesque botanical gardens.

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Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

There was a small entry fee but personally I felt it was value for money. The botanical gardens are quite large, stunning and felt really relaxed. Locals can acquire an annual membership (I think) and I had envy of those sat in the shade with a book which gave off the impression they were locals and frequent visitors of this beautiful part of Brooklyn. It’s a little out of the way for those staying in Manhattan, perhaps even ourselves to some degree but it was worth a visit and somewhere I’d definitely go back to. If I lived locally I think I’d frequent it a lot as an escape from the chaotic city.

Eventually moving on from the botanical gardens we ventured in to Prospect Park which was equally peaceful. Central Park is one of my favourite parts of Manhattan and Prospect Park is Brooklyn’s less touristy equivalent. There perhaps isn’t as much to do here but tell that to the locals who were out basking in the sunshine whilst enjoying a variety of activities: picnics, reading, sunbathing, kite-flying and more. Similarly to Central Park, I could easily see myself spending many an afternoon here as a local. There was the right balance between having a bit of life to it whilst maintaining a level of tranquillity. Along with the botanical gardens, it offers the perfect escape from city life.

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The peaceful Prospect park, Brooklyn

Beyond those two days the main activity throughout our time in Brooklyn was eating and drinking. Our hostel was in Brooklyn anyway so it was somewhat convenient but Pran also lives in the area so we had the benefit of some local insider recommendations which perhaps let us experience the best of Brooklyn / Williamsburg for food and a couple of beers. We checked out a few places, including the ‘famous’ Robertas which delivered on its reputation in offering (one of) the best pizzas in New York City. I know everywhere probably says they have the best pizza in the city but the waiting times here go some way to suggesting the locals agree.

Sadly between Kelly not drinking at the time and Pran having to work throughout the week we didn’t have any crazy nights out, nothing more than a couple of beers at a variety of different places but given some of my hangovers traveling it’s probably no bad thing. At any rate, I knew New York City was somewhere I’d definitely return to so I could forego drunken antics on this trip and instead could embrace the company and enjoy a more relaxed evening.

Despite not being crazy, some of the bars we went to were pretty cool. The Wythe hotel’s rooftop bar offered great views of Manhattan and there were others (I can’t remember the name of) with a much more chilled vibe. One of my favourite evenings was quite early in the trip. I couldn’t tell you the name of the bar but we picked up some beers inside and then found ourselves a table in the street. We watched the sun go down and just talked away for a couple of hours which was really nice, particularly having not seen Pran for a while before this trip.

With the exception of a couple of nights, which were also fun, we didn’t really see much of Manhattan’s nightlife but Brooklyn / Williamsburg felt hip and a fun place to enjoy an evening.

I think on a first visit to NYC it’s easy to overlook Brooklyn and spend all of your time in Manhattan but there are a few gems to be found in Brooklyn too. I’d probably stay in Brooklyn again when I return to NYC. Not only for the above reasons but there were a few things we didn’t get around to visiting. We did pass the interesting-looking library but missed out on going in, similarly Pran raved about Brooklyn’s museum which we ran out of time to enjoy.

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Brooklyn Library

Nevertheless it was a good first introduction to the borough and one I thoroughly recommend making time to explore. That wraps up this portion of NYC. Next up on the blog? Trips to Liberty and Ellis islands.

Stay tuned!

Jason

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NYC: Empire State, Top of the Rock and a surprising encounter!

Alright, time to move on to the next part of this NYC series (June 2016). Last time out on the blog I was talking about all things Manhattan but there was one noticeable absentee from that particular post: the Empire State building.

“Whatt!!? How can you blog about Manhattan and not include the Empire State Jason? You’re a terrible travel blogger!!”

You’re right! The Empire State is perhaps the most iconic piece of Manhattan’s famous skyline but there was good reason for excluding it last time round so stick with me!

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One of the debates people have when visiting NYC is whether to visit the Empire State or the Top of the Rock? Don’t get me wrong, if you can visit both then they’re both great and offer fantastic views of the city but if you’re looking to save some money somewhere and can only do one I’d personally recommend skipping the Empire State and visiting the Top of the Rock. Surprised? Let me tell you why!

The view from the top of the Empire State is fantastic but as we clarified above, it is the iconic standout of Manhattan’s skyline. Whilst you can certainly admire the view of Manhattan from the top of the Empire State, you can’t see the Empire State itself!

Much like my post on Florence (here), the Duomo is the standout piece of architecture in Florence which makes the views from Piazzale Michelangelo the best in the city because you can see the Duomo in all its glory. It’s exactly the same here. One of the reasons that the top of the rock is better is because you can see the Empire State!

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The Empire State shining brightly!

 

By contrast the Rockefeller centre is nothing special, a bog standard skyscraper among many in the city. If you’re at the top of it you’re not missing out by not seeing it.

Additionally the Rockefeller centre is closer to Central Park so you get better views from here of it than you do at the Empire State. Lastly it’s actually cheaper! In my opinion you’re getting a better view at a better price. It’s a no brainer which you should visit if you can only do one!

Nevertheless, myself and Kelly decided to get tickets for both.

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View from the Empire State!

The Empire State!
Of the two, we visited the Empire State first. We went quite early in the week too so it was a great first chance to explore the city without Pran (the friend we’d gone to visit). I think we got off at Union Square and decided to walk it from there so we could have a stroll along 5th avenue and do a little window shopping on route.

Soon enough we’d arrived at the impressive empire state building and I was a bit in awe. Say what you like about which view is better, you don’t get the same “pinch me” moment at the Rockefeller centre. Perhaps that is one thing that tips the scale back in favour of the Empire State. Seeing it and experiencing it in the flesh does feel a little more special.

We made our way in, followed the signs as appropriate and a little ahead of us was an escalator. Nothing too unordinary but on the escalator was a familiar looking back of the head – surely not?

My grandparents were spending a month in the USA visiting the likes of Boston, DC, New York City, Dallas, Las Vegas and more. I knew our time in NYC would overlap but as they were only in the city for a couple of days we didn’t make plans to meet up.
They went to the US a few days before we went to New York and they’d gone AWOL and had yet to make contact with anyone back home so I’d been given instructions, jokingly, to “go and find your grandad”.

As we’d walked up 5th avenue I’d been looking out on the unlikely chance that they’d be whizzing by on one of the sightseeing buses, thinking it’d be funny if I actually spotted them but it’s a big city full of millions of people on any given day, what are the odds of actually seeing somebody you know?

So back to the empire state building – “I think I’ve just seen my grandad” I said to Kelly. As we followed up the escalator we then entered the queuing system and as the queue began to zig-zag left and right I confirmed my suspicions! That was my (sunburnt) grandad! Unbelievable! A few moments later we were embracing eachother in disbelief at the situation before sadly going our separate ways.

We’d booked our tickets in advance so skipped to the fast lane, whereas they were booking on the day and had a bit of a longer wait to buy tickets. “Maybe see you up there!”

On our way up I had to make use of the building’s Wi-Fi to message home to my mum. “Guess who I’ve just seen!?” – that’s right, I found your father! All it needed was for me to hop on a plane and I’d found him within 48 hours of being in the “little apple”.

Sadly we didn’t see each-other at the top. We did wait around for a bit, probably longer than we’d originally intended to but either they hadn’t come up yet or we just missed them. It was a little unfortunate as it would have been cool to have got a photo of us there given the opportunity.

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Company aside, the Empire State is cool. You can visit the 86th floor and the 102nd floor, I think my grandparents only did the former and might have been where we missed eachother.

I feel like I’ve been overly critical of the Empire State but given the choice again I wouldn’t go to the 102nd floor. The 86th is an outdoor viewing platform and gives you great views over the city. The 102nd is in this tiny cramped, poorly lit room which wasn’t great for photos. The view isn’t really any better, just higher and isn’t worth the extra fee to go that high. It’s worth going up but I’d personally recommend sticking to the 86th if you do.

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Central Park views from top of the rock!

The Top of the Rock
A few days later we went to the Rockefeller centre, home to much more than just the viewing platform at the top. You’ll find a host of shops, restaurants and even TV networks broadcasting your chat-show favourites in the Rockefeller Centre. We grabbed dinner at one of the restaurants before making our way up, intentionally timed to coincide with NY’s sunset.

I was interested to see how the view compared to the Empire State and wasn’t disappointed. For the most part you’re outside and have the luxury of 360 degree views of the city.  As I suggested above, the highlights for me are the close vicinity to Central Park and then the luxury of seeing the Empire State in all its glory too.

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Sun down, lights on in Manhattan!

The timing perhaps also made this better. We’d visited the Empire State around lunchtime, whereas we visited the top of the rock just before sunset. There’s no limit as to how long you can stay up there (at either attraction) so we got the bonus of seeing NYC before and after dark which was quite nice and we ended up getting plenty of photos before calling it a night.

I have to say I enjoyed both so if you can do both I’d certainly recommend doing so. They were memorable moments of our time in NYC and surprisingly gave me a unique story to tell of “that time I saw my grandad at the Empire State..”

Anyway that truly wraps up Manhattan. Next up on the blog? Exploring Brooklyn!

Stay tuned!

Jason

New York City: Exploring Manhattan

In my last post (read me) I gave you a little prequel / introduction to my New York City series. In reality it was just a bit of a filler post, I’ve really been struggling to write about New York because I want to do it justice whilst additionally keeping it personal. The intro was just me buying some time to adequately put New York City in to words.

I’ve approached it in different ways and drafted several efforts but whilst they haven’t necessarily been badly written, they’ve just felt a bit generic. Trying to find the balance between writing about the destination and writing about my trip specifically can sometimes be tricky and this has probably been my toughest effort to date.

I visited NYC (June 2016) for a week which is a long time so subsequently I’ve decided to split this over several posts, beginning with my time in Manhattan.

Manhattan is really the Hollywood of New York City. It’s weird as a first time visitor because it is a huge city with massive skyscrapers which can make you feel very small, it could easily be overwhelming but in many ways it’s also incredibly familiar. Our (me and Kelly) flight to NYC was delayed by a bit and then the queues for border control were quite long so by the time we got out of the airport I suggested we just get a cab, our first yellow taxi experience and already a sense of familiarity having seen them across countless movies and TV shows. It was a sign of things to come – you feel like you’re constantly walking into movie sets wherever you are in the city.

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Exploring Brooklyn

Leaving the airport we headed for our hostel. We were staying in Brooklyn but didn’t really do much after arrival, opting for an early night and raring to go the next morning. We had a little wander of the area before meeting up with our friend Pran, a mutual friend who was inspiration for the trip (not that myself or Kelly need much excuse to travel).. We met Pran at some subway station, popped to a diner for some breakfast (pancakes!!) and made our way in to Manhattan for the first time.

Pran had to work whilst we were in NYC so knowing that we’d do some of the more well-known tourist spots on our own, he took us over to the High Line for our first stop in Manhattan. The High Line is an increasingly popular tourist attraction, built on a former train line it has been transformed in to public gardens and exhibitions and also hosts some small local businesses selling stuff. One of the best things about the High Line is that it was previously an elevated train line too so you get some great views of the city, the weather wasn’t fantastic and there was a bit of fog so some of the skyscrapers such as the Empire State got a little lost but it was a fun first stop in the city. Definitely worth a visit, me and Kelly even returned on another day to look around a little more.

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Returning to the High Line on a sunnier day

From there we made our way over to Times Square, another Hollywood moment in NYC. Instantly recognisable and for that reason its inevitably a tourist hot-spot. It was cool to see Times Square in person, the fog kind of added to the atmosphere of the place too. It was spectacular to look at with so much in your face and for that reason I kind of like Times Square but for the most part I hate it.

It’s SO busy and just feels a bit tacky. I’d seen it once but that was it for me, I’d happily not go back to Times Square. You spend so much of your time hurdling foot traffic that you just want to get out of there ASAP. We did pass through a couple more times in our trip but on the whole I’d happily avoid it altogether. Unless you’re venturing there in the early hours of the morning with nobody around, I’d suggest steering clear.

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Times Square. Again, a return on a sunnier day

Next on our list to see was New York’s famous Grand Central train station, it was easy to see why it was so popular. It looks incredible inside and you quickly forget that it’s an actively used station, as keen as we were to get some photos it’s also worth remembering that commuters are actively passing through and probably don’t appreciate dawdling tourists slowing them down! After a few photos we moved on to..

I don’t really remember.

I remember everything we did in New York but breaking it down day by day is a bit of a blur. Pran unfortunately had to work Mon-Fri which left me and Kelly to explore by ourselves throughout the rest of the week. Early on in the week we made our first trip to Central Park which is probably one of my favourite parts of Manhattan. I don’t think you appreciate how big it is until you’ve visited but it’s huge! The plus side to that is that although it inevitably attracts tourists, it never felt crowded when we visited. It felt peaceful and there’s plenty of interesting spots within the park itself, I think if I lived in NYC I would spend a LOT of time here and probably still discover new things and spaces to relax.

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Little castle in Central Park

One of the other things we were keen to visit whilst in New York was ground zero, the site of the 9/11 attack and home to a memorial in remembrance of it. It’s crazy to think that you’ve now got adults that are too young to have any recollection of this even happening. Whilst a tragedy, it’s one of those historic moments where you’ll remember where you were as the news unraveled.

I thought the memorial was incredible and really does justice to the memory of those who lost their lives there. The name of every victim is listed along the memorial and I did find it quite moving seeing the vast number of names, including emergency services that risked their lives. Occasionally there’d be a flag or flower attached to certain names, the latter actually left by the memorial employees and indicates the birthday of the name its attached to which I thought was another thoughtful touch.

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There is also a 9/11 museum you can visit, we did take a look around but it’s quite big and we went late in the day to take advantage of their weekly free admission so didn’t actually see much. If you want to visit for free you still have to reserve tickets in advance through their website.

The rest of our time in Manhattan was a little more relaxed. We explored various neighbourhoods including Chinatown, Little Italy and the financial district but we didn’t do anything particularly noteworthy. It was a fun city to explore, on foot we’d get friendly locals coming up and chatting to us (usually because we looked lost).

Additionally when not on foot we made use of the subway and every subway journey was an adventure of its own. Live music and performers were always in either the subway stations or on the subway itself which added a bit of liveliness and atmosphere to our travels. Again, it’s perhaps more frustrating for the daily commuter but as two travelers it was something we personally enjoyed.

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The constantly lively Union Square

Overall we had a great time exploring Manhattan together, we’d ticked off pretty much everything that we’d both agreed upon seeing but there was one last thing I had to try and do whilst here. I couldn’t come all the way to New York City and not meet up with the Cattry sisters if they were free.

I’d met Navdeep, Pardeep and Ravi online through our mutual love of Tottenham Hotspur and it only seemed right that we tried to meet up whilst I was in town. Fortunately they were free so we planned to meet up for lunch one afternoon. The invitation was extended to Kelly but she didn’t really fancy it so we split for the afternoon and arranged to meet up a bit later, Kelly took it as an opportunity to visit some Star Wars exhibition instead which was probably equally enjoyable for her and not something I personally had any regrets at missing (I’m now awaiting the wrath of the Star Wars fanatics).

It was nice to finally meet the three of them in person. We picked up some lunch to go at some nearby place which Ravi was insistent on paying for (thank you again!) and then headed over to the picturesque Bryant Park to enjoy it. With the sun shining it was a beautiful spot to eat, catch up, discuss all things football and get some more tips for things to see whilst in NYC.

Ending the post on one of the trip highlights, that roughly rounds up our time in Manhattan. You might be curious at the fact that the Empire State is a notable absence from this Manhattan post, there is a reason for that but you’ll have to wait to find out why!

Next up on the blog: The Top of the Rock and the Empire State building, including a surprising encounter!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Introducing New York City!

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, be it on the blog or other social media, then you should know by now that London is my favourite city in the world. I was very fortunate to have been born in the city, spending a chunk of my childhood there and I still very much think of it as home.

I had the luxury of hosting Haleigh in England recently and I was particularly keen to show off London. It was nice to be the host rather than the traveler for once.

I moved out of London in 1997 so I’ve spent most of my life in Peterborough but whenever I’m asked where I’m from I always throw in a little disclaimer – “I live in Peterborough but..”

“I’m from London..”

“You haven’t lived there in 21 years Jason – stop saying that!”

It’s true though. It isn’t meant as disrespectful of Peterborough but I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that same pride that I do for London. I’ll always think of London as home and the reality is I’ll probably never even live in the city again (although if you’ve got a few million spare give me a heads up).

The interesting thing is as a traveler, you’re regularly asked where your favourite place is and as tough as that can be to answer genuinely, it does often lead to me throwing in another disclaimer.
“Excluding London my favourite..”

“Excluding London? So your favourite place is home?”. It does somewhat make a mockery of the question. I’ve visited several places now and perhaps that’s one of the motivations and reasons I travel so much. London sets the standard so keep traveling until I find better, right? I’ve never said London would always be my favourite place in the world and I’m happy to be proven wrong: enter New York City!

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New York City!

I love big cities and if there was anywhere that could challenge my love of London, surely this was the one? A city full of culture, history, diversity and a city that supposedly never sleeps – NYC was my dream destination to visit and one I had high hopes for.

Come June 2016 I was finally visiting for the first time with my friend Kelly. Kelly is my fellow travel-obsessed friend and the chance to go and visit a mutual friend (Pran) who lives over there was as good a reason as any to travel, not that either of us need much excuse. So off we went to NYC for a week!

At this point in time I’d been to the likes of Sydney, Berlin and Amsterdam and whilst worthy challengers I’d yet to be convinced on a London successor to earn the title of “best place in the world”. Could NYC finally surpass London’s high standards?

Stay tuned to find out. NYC part one is next on the blog!

Jason

2019 Travel plans

Firstly let me start by welcoming the influx of recent followers and readers to the blog, January has seen a big increase in traffic and engagement on the blog which has made for an encouraging start to the year. I’m hoping there’s much more to come from “Jason likes to travel” this year so stay tuned!

The other thing I’m hoping that there will be much more of this year is travel itself. I typically post about old trips on the blog, in the hope (lies!) that I eventually catch up to the present day. I’d originally planned to post about NYC next but I thought I’d switch it up and tell you about my more immediate travel plans. 2018 had some incredible travel moments but I’m hoping 2019 is going to be just as enjoyable.

With January payday finally arriving I was keen to get some adventure booked ASAP, so this is what I have coming up in the next few months.

March
Alright, so I’d booked this particular trip before Christmas. If you’ve been following the blog for a while or you follow me on other social media platforms then you’ll know my first trip of the year was dependent on Tottenham’s European fate (read me).

Wherever Tottenham would go, I would go and comically Spurs are going back to bloody Dortmund. Attending a Dortmund game is a rite of passage as a football fan, it’s definitely one for the bucketlist but I’ve already done it twice. Moving away from the football, Dortmund has no appeal to me as a travel destination so the only way I was going to this would be if I stayed elsewhere.

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Dortmund, Nov 2017

I’ve opted for Köln, a fourth visit to the city but this particular trip overlapped with carnival season. I’ve heard it’s a bit crazy but the Kölner Karneval is running from Feb 28th until March the 6th. The game in Dortmund is on March 5th so I’m staying in Germany from March 4th-8th.

Currently I’ve booked a hotel for two nights in Köln. I’ll get to see what all the fuss is about on the Monday, on Tuesday I’ll go to Dortmund for the game and then I’ll be using the other two night to visit somewhere else. I was steering towards Amsterdam but the trains are pricier than I was anticipating so I might just stick to somewhere in Germany for a couple of days. Any suggestions are welcome! Although keep in mind it’ll be my 9th visit to Germany and 5th visit to the region so I’ve seen a fair bit locally.

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Another return to Köln!

April
As some of you will know, I’m in a long distance relationship so the first priority on payday was to book flights to Washington State. It’ll be my fourth time visiting and it’s always exciting to go back, can you ever really get sick of the mountain views?

Speaking of which, I’m hopeful I’ll actually see them a bit clearer this time. Last summer’s forest fires hit the West coast hard and the air quality / visibility wasn’t the best which was a shame. Additionally I’m hopeful that going in April means that it won’t be too cold but won’t be unbearably hot either as it was this summer (40+C? No thank you!).

Working around both our work schedules is a little tricky so I’ve decided to go around Easter time. Haleigh teaches and ridiculously they get no time off over Easter (why?) but it means I get to go for around 10 days and only use 6 days of annual leave at work. Perfect! See you soon Washington!

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Back to Moses Lake, Washington!

May
I didn’t get the benefit of the public holidays last year either. Speaking of that summer trip, I had to save my pennies beforehand and consequently weekend trips were a no go. Well, that’s not the case this year so I’m reclaiming my bank holidays!

In England the first Monday of the month is a public holiday and that means a three day weekend! I was keen to take the opportunity to go away and after having a look at a few different options I can confirm that I am going to..

HELSINKI! Finally! Some of you will know that I grew up with a Finnish grandmother, we even shared a birthday, so Finland is somewhere that I have always had a fascination with and wanted to visit. I was hopeful a visit would happen in 2018 but things didn’t quite pan out, so it was towards the top of my list for this year. I’m going to have to brush up on my Finnish a bit but I’m so excited to finally be making my first visit to the country.

May however doesn’t just have one public holiday, it has two! We also get the last Monday of the month off and have another three day weekend so why settle for just one weekend getaway, right? I expect Finland to be expensive but luckily I’ll get paid again before the next three day weekend so I had to make the most of it and consequently I am off to spend the weekend in Dublin!

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Irish bar, Florence, Italy

Like Finland, Ireland is a country I’ve wanted to visit for a while and I just haven’t got around to it before now. I’d love to be spending longer than a weekend in the country as there’s so much I want to see, both North and South of the border. I’m not sure I’ll get time to see anything more than Dublin this time around but I’m so excited to finally be making my first visit to the country.

Anyway that wraps up my plans between now and the end of May. If you’ve got any recommendations for any of the above, particularly Dublin and Helsinki, it would be much appreciated!

Where are you traveling to this year? Let me know!

Up next on the blog: New York City (I know, I know, I’ve said this before!).

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Stay tuned!

Jason

Luxembourg City – March 2016

Last time out on the blog I’d just returned to Köln following on from an enjoyable daytrip to Brühl and Bonn, I decided that the next day (Saturday) was going to be much the same and just had to ponder where to go.

Köln is one of Germany’s biggest cities so not only does it benefit from a location close to several countries, it also has really good transport links which makes a daytrip to most of them quite feasible. I’d narrowed down my preferred daytrips to either Koblenz or Luxembourg City. Koblenz is a picturesque German city that sits on the Rhine river, meanwhile Luxembourg City appeared to be equally picturesque and would mean a first visit to the country of Luxembourg.

My decision was pretty last minute, so much so that I was on the train and still didn’t know where I was going to spend the next few hours. There were no direct trains from Köln to Luxembourg, it seemed I’d have to change in Koblenz so I picked up a ticket to Koblenz and figured I’d make my mind up by the time I arrived. In the meantime I’d just sit back and admire the view.

The Rhine river flows through the heart of this part of Germany and the train travels alongside the Rhine for much of the journey to Koblenz (and beyond). I recently discovered that my grandparents plan to take a river cruise along the Rhine later this year so they’re in for a treat.

I passed by countless adorable looking towns and every so often we’d pass a castle sitting aloft a hilltop which made for an enjoyable train journey.

I’d hoped to have made my mind up by the time I reached Koblenz but I got off the train and still wasn’t sure whether to stay put or buy a ticket to go to Luxembourg. I was stood at the ticket machine and torn on whether to complete the transaction or just explore Koblenz, however with an hour between trains to Luxembourg I had to make a quick decision if I wanted to catch the next one.

The allure of visiting a new country was the only thing that really swayed it so I booked my trains and quickly found the platform I needed to catch the train.

One of the attractions, if you can call it that, in Koblenz is the ‘Deutsches Eck’ (Ecke, meaning corner in German). It’s here that you’ll find the Mosel River meet the Rhine river so I was bidding farewell to the latter and heading West along the Mosel towards Luxembourg.

Whilst the journey between Köln and Koblenz had been an enjoyable ride, the Mosel was arguably more scenic as you pass through more German towns on the way in to Luxembourg. I don’t think you see the best of the Rhine until you’ve passed Koblenz (which I did on another trip towards Mainz).

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Enjoying the train views!

Whilst the train journey was pretty, I knew that certain compartments of the train had a different end destination. It can be confusing enough in England when your train splits to know if you’re in the right carriage but more confusing when doing so in another country. Fortunately I managed to figure it out to ensure I was heading towards Luxembourg and not arriving elsewhere. Soon enough I’d arrived and was stepping foot in to the capital: Luxembourg City!

I had no idea I was coming to Luxembourg when I woke up so similarly had no real plans for my time in the city. I was just hoping for the best and a chance to explore. Fortunately, whilst not overly warm, it was a bright sunny day in Luxembourg and perfect weather for exploring.

As you come out of the station you immediately find yourself on a high street with various familiar brands which wasn’t quite what I’d expected, not that I’m entirely sure what I was expecting. However a short walk later you’re arriving in to the outskirts of the old town, built much like a fortress which I expect was designed to keep out potential neighbouring invaders Belgium, France and Germany (Luxembourg is a landlocked country).

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Luxembourg City!

Luxembourg is also a rich country so some of its architecture immediately stood out. I strolled towards a grand building to my right and began exploring, admiring the size and grandeur of each building, many of which were littered with gold. I popped my head in to a small little church to have a quick look around, I’m not religious but religious buildings are usually quite stunning and worth a visit and this was no different.

Shortly later I stumbled upon what appeared to be a Saturday market in this pretty square. The market itself wasn’t particularly huge but along the outskirts of the square were various restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating. There was a nice atmosphere to the square and with seating which offered views overlooking the square most of the restaurants were unsurprisingly pretty full.

It did leave me feeling a bit peckish so I decided I needed to find somewhere for lunch, none of the cafes in my square took my fancy and looked a little pricy so I wandered through some of the side streets before finding somewhere that was tempting enough.

Luxembourg’s a small country and with France and Germany as neighbours it’s perhaps of little surprise that French and German are both official languages of Luxembourg (in addition to Luxembourgish). The problem is you require a bit of good fortune as to which places lean towards French culture and which lean towards German.

I knew I could get by on my German so typically I only seemed to find French speaking places whilst in Luxembourg. On the plus side, it did make me appreciate how good my German had become.

I was comfortable in Germany, here I was floundering and reverting back to English. Beyond bonjour (Good day), Je voudrais (I would like), S’il vous plait (please) and Merci (thanks) my French was atrocious. Ironically a fellow blogger wrote of her own Luxembourg language woes (here) in which she struggled with the regularity of businesses leaning more towards the German language.

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Nice day for exploring!

Having navigated my way through a delicious lunch I was back out on to the streets to explore. Much of Luxembourg’s city centre is built on higher ground, overlooking a valley. I was keen to discover what was hidden in the lower reach of the city referred to as ‘Grund’ (meaning floor / ground in German).

It turns out you don’t have to climb up and down the city steps, there is actually a lift somewhere but that wasn’t knowledge I was privy to at the time so I gave my legs a bit of a workout. Going down wasn’t so bad but I suppose as the Luxembourg locals might say – “what goes down, must go up?” in some sort of anti-gravity type logic.

The Grund area is really pretty. I quickly stumbled upon a small palace-like building which is now used as the national museum of natural history. Just beyond that you’ll find a tiny little village with adorable and colourful little buildings made up of houses and small businesses.

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The ‘Grund’ area in all of its beauty!

Crossing over the valley was a large hill above with what I understood to be a variety of caves and things so I was intrigued to take a look, it did mean another uphill climb though which I was less enthused about. Once at the top you do get some cool views looking across the valley back towards the old town, however the sun was shining directly on me with no cover so I couldn’t get any decent photos to do the view justice. A little hidden treasure was a castle-looking building, I didn’t go in but it’s home to the Grand Duke Jean Museum Of Art. The building itself was impressive enough for me.

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Cool looking museum, right?

Content I’d explored enough it was another downward journey to make the subsequent uphill journey back up into the old town. Whilst Luxembourg City is relatively small and theoretically an easy ‘daytrip;, it’s not a daytrip that is quite so forgiving on your feet. After one last look around the old town I made a stroll back towards the train station, I had to catch a specific train but I’d slightly overestimated how long it would take me to get back and had a bit of time to kill.

There was a restaurant opposite the station so I decided it was an opportunity to get myself a drink, I’m always keen to try a local beer so made sure I picked up a Luxembourgish beer on tap. It was a nice way to round off my time in Luxembourg.

Personally I’d recommend a weekend trip if you want to visit. It is a small place but I would have preferred to have taken my time exploring, similarly I hear its nightlife is really good so it would have been nice to have experienced an evening in the city. Nevertheless I left with fond memories and began my journey back to Köln via Koblenz.

I had to stop in Koblenz and I didn’t have to catch any specific train back to Köln so I figured I’d make the most of the opportunity and grab dinner here and take a quick look around. Unfortunately it gets dark pretty early in March so by the time I’d arrived it was already dark, not the greatest time to be exploring a new city but I figured I’d see a little in an hour or so.

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Koblenz, home to the world’s best White House?

Some of the architecture looked great, the most interesting thing for me was the White-House esque looking building that was shining brightly. Arguably more impressive than the White House too which I actually thought was quite underwhelming alongside DC’s other stunning architecture. Koblenz’ own “White House” would be more fitting and deserving of the name. It was all closed off though so I couldn’t actually get close enough to see what the purpose of it was.

I found myself a place to grab some food, a welcome opportunity to speak German again after a day in Luxembourg. I was and perhaps I still am quite critical of my German but it’s somewhat comforting knowing you can sit down in a restaurant and get through your meal without speaking a word of English.

I waved “Tschüss” to my waiter and made the walk back to the train station to return to the ever-familiar Köln which is where I spent my final day of this particular trip.

I didn’t envisage I’d be back in Köln before the end of 2016, you can get a little preview on that story here but the full thing will have to wait a little longer. Next up on the blog?

New York City! Stay tuned!

Jason

Brühl and Bonn! March 2016

Last time out on the blog I mentioned my frequency of visiting what has quickly become one of my favourite countries – Germany! This particular post will be dedicated to the first of my three trips in 2016.

I’d not long come back from Georgia in February 2016, which you can read more about here (Georgia introduction, Georgia – Part oneGeorgia – Part two), and was quite relaxed about planning the next trip. I wasn’t in any particular rush and figured I could just save some pennies before rushing in to my next adventure. Georgia had been my first non-European trip for a while so, whilst not as expensive as I’d budgeted for, it was a good chance to get my finances back in order and think about where I wanted to go next.

Nevertheless there was an outside chance that Tottenham’s European fate might just be enough to tempt me away sooner. I got home from Georgia mid Feb and I knew at the end of Feb it would be confirmed where my beloved Tottenham would be visiting in March. My intentions were that I’d “skip a round”, gambling on Spurs progression in the competition, but that I’d make an exception for one opposition – Borussia Dortmund.

“If we get Dortmund I HAVE to go!” I told myself.

It was a dream tie. Attending a Borussia Dortmund game is one of those bucketlist items for any football fan. It’s a club held in high esteem anyway but their atmosphere is also one of the most famous in European football. I’d always intended to visit a Dortmund home game as a ‘neutral’ so to experience it as an away fan with my own club would be incredible.

The inevitable happened. Tottenham were going to Dortmund! This was the dream tie, it was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. When would little ol’ Spurs ever get the chance to go to Dortmund again?

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Trip number 2 to Dortmund!

Ironically we would. Hindsight is a funny thing. Whilst the trip in March 2016 blew my mind, I genuinely thought it’d be the only time I’d get there. However Tottenham returned in November 2017 and as some of you will know, we’re going back in March 2019.

I’m experiencing my “once in a lifetime” opportunity for the third time in three years in a couple of months time. It’s nothing short of comical but let me reiterate, at the time, it was an absolute dream opportunity.

I turned to my boss and had to have that awkward conversation. “I know I’ve only just got back but..”

I need to go to Germany. To their credit, my employers have always been pretty relaxed and flexible at me booking time off at short-notice and about whatever time I request. More often than not I’ll book the flights and ask permission later. I know when our “no-go” periods are so it’s quite handy when it comes to the football trips to be able to book as soon as the schedule is confirmed.

With the green light to take yet another trip, I quickly delved in to the fun and games. A once in a lifetime opportunity for me was the same for 5,000 other fans, the majority of which were also looking to fly from London on the same dates and also looking for accommodation in Dortmund.

With flights rising and accommodation options proving to be quite limiting I had to ask how much I actually wanted to go to Dortmund. I was going to the game no matter what but was Dortmund really somewhere I wanted to visit from a travelers perspective? It had no appeal to me and surely there were other options in the region? It seemed that the trip split our fanbase with the majority deliberating between Dortmund, Düsseldorf and Köln.

The latter had the best flight prices, had more accommodation options, was the bigger city and had more to do. It was also close enough to Dortmund to be a feasible daytrip, so whilst I’d been to Köln before it quickly became the best option for me personally. The only downside was I’d seen most of what I wanted to in Köln on my trip three years earlier, with five days in Germany I needed to fill some of my time which resulted in me visiting Brühl and Bonn.

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Köln (Cologne) again!

Brühl
I’d never heard of this town but I was looking for somewhere to visit and somehow stumbled upon Brühl. It was only 10-15 minutes away by train and was apparently home to a UNESCO world heritage site. I was intrigued and made my way to Köln’s Hauptbahnhof (main train station) to catch a pleasingly cheap train to Brühl.

I had made, by my standards, quite an early start to the day so perhaps for that reason I was one of few to get off at Brühl which was a sign of things to come. The ‘famous’ Augustusburg palace is an UNESCO world heritage site and pretty much straight in front of you as you come out of the station. It was stunning and had beautiful surroundings too, the garden areas were immaculate and really well presented. Better yet, there was barely anyone here.

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Brühl!

No herds of people, no selfie sticks in sight, little noise. It was calm and relaxed, the occasional local passed me by whilst walking their dogs but for the most part I had the palace to myself. Perhaps later in the day or in peak seasons it gets busier but I’d perfectly timed my visit and couldn’t help but admire this breathtaking palace in front of me. You can take tours of the palace and see more of the grounds I expect but I was content viewing it from the exterior.

Having spent sufficient time wandering through the gardens I thought I’d see what else the town had to offer. It was a pretty place, colourful buildings along typical European cobbled streets but there wasn’t too much to it really.

The only other thing of note in the city is the Max Ernst museum, a German artist born in Brühl. I can’t say I was familiar with the name but I figured I’d go and check it out. Unfortunately they didn’t open until 11am and it was 10:30-something. I had a little wait but figured I’d hang about until opening. It’s a relatively small museum with a nice collection of artwork. It was small though so I wasn’t there for particularly long. It’s worth a visit if you’re already in Brühl but not worth going out of your way for.

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Max Ernst museum

I slowly made my way back to the train station, admired one last glimpse of the palace and pondered what to do next. Brühl’s train station only had two platforms. One heading North and one heading South, heading Northbound towards Köln seemed the most logical option but it was barely even midday so naturally I headed South.

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Bye Brühl!

Bonn
I bought a train ticket to Bonn. Bonn was the former capital city of West Germany and is naturally an important city in the country’s history. I’d contemplated coming here instead of Brühl so it was quite nice to squeeze in a few hours here on the same day.

As you come out of Köln’s main train station you’re quickly blown away by the cathedral – “WOW!”. Similarly within moments of coming out of Brühl’s train station you’re left stunned by the palace and Bonn quickly delivered its own first impression that has been stuck in my brain ever since.

This was a city full of history, there’s some stunning architecture in the city and what was the very first thing to catch my eye as I walk out of Bonn’s train station? A big yellow M! That’s right, McDonald’s – how very German! You can’t rewrite a first impression and this was it. This is one of the first things I associate with Bonn now, rather than some famous bloke called Beethoven for instance who was born in this city.

It was a disappointing first sight, this wasn’t what I’d come to Bonn to see! On the plus side, I figured Bonn could only improve from here and fortunately it didn’t take long to leave a better impression on me. I soon stumbled upon one of Bonn’s bigger squares (Munsterplatz I think). Like many squares across Europe, there were some pretty buildings with the highlight being a church (the Bonner Munster) plus little cafes with outside seating which were perfect for people watching.

I wandered through the square and quickly stumbled upon a statue dedicated to Beethoven. Just beyond that was a bright yellow building which caught my eye, I looked up and read the words ‘Postamt’ – it was a post office! I couldn’t help but think why don’t our post offices look that pretty back home? Having had a bit of a wander I took seat at one of the tables in the square and grabbed myself some lunch and a beer. It was a nice spot to relax for a little while, people watch and put my German to the test in an effort to eavesdrop on the conversations happening around me.

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Standard post office in Germany?

With a “schönen Tag noch” and a “Tschüss” from my waitress I was on my way and back to exploring a little of Bonn. I hadn’t planned on being in Bonn so hadn’t done any prior research, I just wandered aimlessly through the streets seeing what might catch my eye. I walked down one street and spotted a few fellow tourists taking photos of something, I looked up to find Bonn’s famous Beethoven Haus, the house he was born in. I think it’s possibly a museum now but I wasn’t really interested in investigating any further than the exterior.

I continued my walk down which led me to the Rhein river. It was peaceful with a handful of boats passing by, It was a relatively miserable and grey day though so probably not the best day for a cruise on the river, I had contemplated the idea of going back to Köln by boat but thought better of it. Instead I went back to wandering up and down Bonn’s streets.

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Exploring Bonn!

Beyond Beethoven, Bonn is also home to another household name: Haribo! This was relatively new news to me and something I only discovered after some friends had visited recently. There’s a fairly large Haribo store in Bonn with a huge collection of sweets (candy) that I wasn’t particularly familiar with, plus the usual Haribo favourites sold in the UK. I picked up a couple of bags to take home with me as a little souvenir of my trip.

My afternoon flew by pretty quickly which meant all there was left for me to do was find a nice dinner spot to round off my day. Following on from dinner I made the slow walk back to the station and got on the first available train back to Köln. I arranged to meet up with my friend who’d spent the day exploring Köln (his first visit) and we finished off the day with a few drinks at one of the bars in the city.

Overall a thoroughly enjoyable day and two places I’d recommend seeing if you’re in the area. I figure half a day probably is about right for a trip to Brühl, I could have probably spent a little longer (maybe a full day) in Bonn but overall I left with more memories than just the McDonald’s and was content I’d seen enough of it to leave a positive impression.

Anyway that wraps up this particular daytrip. The following day I was embarking on another so next up on the blog: Luxembourg City!

Stay tuned!

Jason