München – Trip 1, part 1

I announced my return to the blog at the end of August and intended to have posted again before now. Part of my struggle was because I was torn on what to post next. Should I jump straight in to the USA summer trip or do I stick to the blog theme of posting about my trips chronologically? I opted for the latter.

So now that my summer fun in the US is over with, let’s rewind. Last time out on the blog we were focusing on Bilbao (May 2015), three months later I was readying myself for the next trip: München aka Munich!

For the third consecutive year I was going to Germany, having only first visited the country for the first time in 2013 (Köln) before visiting Berlin (2014). My growing fondness of Germany could probably be attributed to two common interests: beer and football! Whilst both are loved all over Germany, nowhere does that seem to be truer than in München (Munich) who happen to be world-famous for their beer (Oktoberfest anyone?) and are also home to Germany’s biggest football club – Bayern München.

It was the latter that was the inspiration for visiting (although I may have had a beer or two whilst in Germany too) as my beloved Tottenham Hotspur announced they’d be going to München for a pre-season tournament. Spurs in the Allianz Arena with no importance on the result? Sign me up! I knew I had to go!

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Outside Allianz Arena on the Wednesday!

On the Tuesday I flew out to München, it was a tad frustrating I couldn’t fly any earlier but such were the circumstances at the time. I landed with the intention to rush over to München’s Allianz Arena via my hotel to drop off my things. Having never been to München before I ended up jumping on the wrong S-train, it still took me to central München but seemed to have more stops than the other direction, not ideal given my flight had been delayed so I was stretched for time to get to the stadium. I dropped off my things at the hotel as quickly as possible and then made a quick dash for München’s U-Bahn (tube / metro / subway).

Nevertheless it was clear I wasn’t going to get there on time, admittedly it was only pre-season so it wasn’t a major issue but given Tottenham were playing first (in the first of 2 games) I’d hoped to catch the start. It wasn’t to be and as I strolled up to the Allianz Arena it was deserted, not helped by being in the middle of nowhere but most spectators were already in their seats.

I walked up to the gate and was prepared for a quick body search before entry which put my German to the test for the first time. On my two previous trips to Germany I knew nothing so it was nice coming back with some basic vocabulary in the locker. As the security guard searched me he threw a question in my direction: “Schlüssel? he asked.

Damn, I know that word! What is it? Bowl..? No, that’s schüssel – no L! Why would he ask that anyway you idiot? Hmm.. key..? KEY! Yes, there’s a key in my pocket! That makes sense!

“Ja.. Schlüssel” I replied perhaps a bit too enthusiastically.

Entry accepted, I made my way in to the stadium feeling pretty smug with myself. “Wow, I’m practically fluent”
Of course I wasn’t, I still struggled a lot throughout this trip but it was a sign that I was going in the right direction at least in terms of learning the language. I could come to Germany and not be solely dependent on English for once!

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Allianz Arena, Munich

The Allianz Arena is a cracking stadium, up there with one of my favourites in the 40+ football stadiums I’ve visited. German football really is the pinnacle for me in terms of fan experience and it was a nice novelty walking in and grabbing a beer before finding my seat – a decent beer too! I’d missed the first half to find Spurs were losing but soon found my friend Daniel in our seats enjoying the experience. Following our game there was another game with the two winners and two losers set to play the following day, of which we were the latter.

On our way back to the U-Bahn after the two games it had become clear Daniel was drunker than I realised, he’d made the most of arriving in München a day earlier and had squeezed in some beers earlier in the day which was highly amusing for me. Whilst I’d seen Daniel drunk before it was possibly the drunkest I’d seen him so the strength of the German beers had seemingly gone to his head. Not that it stopped us making a pub-stop back in the centre of the city. We’d found an Irish bar with a scattering of Spurs fans enjoying the trip and grabbed a quick beer before calling it a night.

Wednesday had much more of the same in store. Whilst tamer than a competitive European away game we were still planning to soak up some of the pre-game atmosphere. We agreed to meet around lunch so beforehand I woke up early and joined a ‘free’ walking tour, always a great way to see the city.

It’s a good way to familiarise yourself with a new city and they’re usually pretty educational too, it was a chance to learn that München wasn’t all beer and lederhosen and had quite an interesting history too! The tour covered the role the city played in the rise of Hitler and also told some more light-hearted stories with the help of the Glockenspiel – found in München’s Marienplatz. Every day you’ll find hordes of tourists looking up at the belltower as a couple of historical stories are played out.

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Marienplatz, Munich – September, 2016

The rest of Wednesday was football-focused and consisted of a bit of singing, plenty of beers and another two enjoyable games of football (Spurs success this time too!).

We made our way back in to the city centre after the football, had a beer or two and then called it a night. My plan for Thursday was to take a daytrip somewhere, I was tempted to visit the famous Neuschwanstein Schloss (castle that was inspiration for Disney) and also the Dachau concentration camp. Those of you following the blog for a while will know I opted for the latter which you can read about here: A lesson learned in Dachau or a look in to the future?

Dachau was moving, it’s hard to visit somewhere like that and not feel something. Germany has the best pick-me-up though and that’s good beer! I got back to München late on Thursday afternoon and arranged to meet up with Daniel, we decided to spend our last night together with some beers at the Viktualienmarkt. They have a number of food options and additionally a cracking beer garden – perfect given the weather. We had a fun evening and were probably one of the last to leave, the staff clearing tables and stacking benches was a good hint that it was time for us to go.

It was a good end to our third European adventure together following Lisboa and Firenze, on Friday Daniel was heading home and I’d be temporarily saying goodbye to München too. I’d be back on Saturday so it wasn’t a long farewell but it does mean you’ll have to wait for part 2.

Next up was a daytrip to Augsburg on the Friday! Stay tuned!

Jason

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The big 3-0: a terrible summary

Extra, extra, read all about it: your favourite blogger is back! The 29 year old you once knew is gone and has been replaced by a 30 year old! That makes me older and wiser, right?

If you’ve been living under a rock and somehow missed the news (See you in September!), the reason for my little blogging hiatus is because I was in the US for thirty days! Thirty! How mad is that?

I got back to work on Tuesday and inevitably there was one question on everyone’s lips: how was it?

“Before you start, keep it short, yeah?”

This disclaimer hasn’t at any point actually been stated but as I explained in my Weetabix Boy post (here) this is my problem with social interaction and small talk in particular. I appreciate the effort in taking an interest but it’s another workplace conversation-filler isn’t it? How much is an acceptable amount of information to actually tell you? When does reflection become outright gloating about the trip?

So.. “yeah, it was really good!”.

It’s so vague but how do you adequately summarise a month long trip spanning six states, several cities, climates and cultures? It’s not in my nature to chew your ear off anyway but the trip has left me rather speechless. I don’t know how to answer that question, I don’t even know where to begin in attempting to.

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Bean life

Logically you might suggest Chicago, that’s where I started the trip right? Alright, let’s do that!
The crazy cab driver, fireworks on Navy Pier within hours of arriving, late night Shake Shack, the Bean, the Skydeck disaster, another Hard Rock Café visit, awesome street art, the Chicago pizza, a never-ending tunnel, consequently nearly missing my Greyhound bus and voila! Only 29 days left to summarise!

I could say so much about this trip and consequently trying to summarise it has me struggling to say anything whatsoever. I saw two beautiful friends get married, road-tripped the West Coast with the woman I love, met a footballing idol, danced in the streets of New Orleans, successfully got off of Alcatraz island, fed alpacas, drunk plenty, ate even more plus an endless list of other experiences.

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A trip to Alcatraz!

 

At some point I’ll blog about each place more thoroughly but right now I’m humbled more than anything. This trip has been in the works for roughly two years and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity.

Things went wrong, I had fraudulent activity on my bank account and was crapped on by a bird on my first day in San Francisco just to name a couple of instances but honestly there’s no summary that could do this trip justice. It surpassed any high expectations I had for this trip of a lifetime.

So if “really good” seems a little vague, understand that it’s because it has to be. There’s no genuine summary coming, this was a terrible effort but I can honestly say it’s a summer I’ll never forget.

I’m so thankful to anyone that I crossed paths with this summer and a special shout-out to Maddie and Cassie who were the sole reason this trip happened and lastly to Haleigh who I spent the bulk of my time with. I loved it all so thank you!

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The Redwoods with Haleigh

There will be more to come regarding this trip in the future but for now that’s it. I hope you enjoyed the “summary” and hopefully you’re pleased to see me back on the blog!

All the best!

Jason

See you in September!

Those of you that have been following the blog for a while, or are connected to me on other social media platforms will surely know about my upcoming trip.
However for those of you that aren’t aware let’s recap – on Saturday I’m going to the USA for 30 days!

Thirty bloody days!! I’ll be partly celebrating a wedding, partly celebrating my 30th birthday and partly just appeasing my need to travel. You can read more about it here (Read me!) but just to summarise I’ll be visiting Illinois, Minnesota, Louisiana, Washington State, Oregon and California. The purpose of this post wasn’t to brag (“you’re definitely bragging Jason”) but more a way to say goodbye to y’all. Am I fitting in yet? No?

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Another USA trip!

Anyway.. consequently “Jason Likes To Travel” is officially on hiatus. Credit to all of the bloggers, influencers and Youtubers out there that “work from anywhere” because as glamourous as the lifestyle sometimes sounds, you’ve still got to work. Who knew?

I have days where I wish I was doing it opposed to working in an office, sat on a beach in the Caribbean whilst I work but then I remember that I’d actually have to work whereas in reality the only appeal to me is the sitting on a beach part.

On July 27th my out of office is going on and it’s not coming off until August 28th. As a professional blogger or social media influencer you don’t get that same luxury. You can’t just switch off for a month, even when you want to you’re probably curating some sort of content for a later date.
By contrast, this is a hobby for me. I’ll be out of England until the end of August and consequently don’t expect to see any blog posts until at least September.

“September, whaaaat? How am I going to cope that long?”

I’m flattered folks but I promise, the withdrawal symptoms won’t be too bad, you’ll manage! However I appreciate it’s going to be a struggle so here’s five temporary solutions to keep you going until I’m back from the USA.

Check out other bloggers!
I’m going to let you in on a little secret but there are other bloggers out there!

“Whoa Jason, you’re pushing your readers away and steering them to other blogs?” – crazy right? However much like reading a good book, your love of one doesn’t mean you can’t read others!
However, where do you even start?

Well fear not because I’m going to link you to a few of my favourites below that I’m pretty fond of reading myself.
Got the Postcard
Love Travelling Blog
The 88
Caffeine and Foxes
Life and its adventures
Travels by Lucy
Seeking Sammy
Jamie chance travels
Timo Travels
The Campervan Man

Apologies if you didn’t get a mention, it was hard narrowing it down to ten as it was!

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Time to fly!

Travel! 
Surprise! The travel blogger suggests you go traveling – original, right? However with blogging season at its end, what better time to go on a trip? You can take a well-earned break, safe in the knowledge that you’re not missing anything from your favourite blogger!

Catch up on other things! 
All of those things you’ve put off doing or missed out on? Now you’ve got the time to do them! Catch up on the latest Netflix show, arrange dinner with a friend, maybe even get that bedroom decorated whilst you’ve got the chance!
The possibilities are endless and you can make time for all your loved ones, other hobbies and errands that need doing!

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When was the last time you explored your hometown? Now’s your chance!

Re-read older posts!
Good news! If you don’t think you’ll manage going cold turkey, you don’t have to! All of my old blog posts are still going to be visible and you can re-read them to your hearts content over and over again! You can remind yourself of all your favourite posts and perhaps take the opportunity to read any that you’ve previously missed.

Instagram! 
Lastly, what happens if none of the above remedies have been successful? Well, you can keep up to date with what I’m doing “on the gram!”

Instagram is by far my most used social media app. I don’t want to be using it as much whilst I’m away but I will be uploading some photos whilst I’m in the US so if you’re desperate for fresh and current content this is the place for you!
I don’t know if you can view my profile without signing up, hopefully you can do bur you’ll find me over at: Jason Likes To Travel

So there you have it, I’m gone! I will be back to blogging around September and I’ll have a million more stories once I’m home but until then you’ll have to amuse yourself in other ways. Sorry!

Take care!

Jason

Weetabix boy goes traveling!

I spoke about anxiety on the blog ( here! ) a while back and proclaimed myself to be “Sickboy” – I joked that my superhero name needed a little work. I went back to the drawing board and I’m proud to introduce you to “Weetabix boy”
I’m nailing these superhero names, right?

First and foremost, some of you might be wondering “what the hell is Weetabix?” which is a fair question I suppose. Weetabix is one of the leading cereals in the UK and is exported to over 80 countries worldwide. It’s a healthy and popular breakfast option for both children and adults alike and something I’m personally a big fan of.

I say I’m fond of Weetabix but that might be underselling it a little. I’ve eaten two Weetabix a day for pretty much most of my life, including today of course.
Let’s crunch the numbers. 30 years (give or take) x 365.25 days a year x 2 Weetabix a day = roughly 21,915 Weetabix in my lifetime. Although for clarity, the number eaten definitely won’t be an odd number! You’re not eating odd-numbered Weetabix in the Reid household you savages! Just thinking about it is a cause of nightmares!

For accuracy I want to acknowledge there have had to be exceptions (usually holidays) where I haven’t had Weetabix every day, so I’m going to round down to a nice even 20,000 Weetabix consumed. However I wouldn’t be surprised if it is actually much higher than that (I haven’t been counting).

I promise this post isn’t sponsored by Weetabix but the point is that it’s a fitting Superhero name – I am Weetabix boy and if they were ever looking for a brand ambassador then I am that guy!
Whilst “Weetabix Boy” probably won’t be making an appearance in Hollywood any time soon, it is a little reflective of myself.

You get the Weetabix story because it perfectly highlights how predictable I am. I thrive off of familiarity, I like routine, I find comfort in the safer choice. Throw in an introverted personality plus some autistic traits (I’ve never been diagnosed and this is no self-diagnosis) and it can be a little surprising that I’ve traveled so much.

To take a commonly used phrase in football – “on paper” I’m not well suited to traveling.

“Sorry, I’m not staying here. Your buffet breakfast doesn’t even have Weetabix”
“So try something else Sir”
“Are you crazy?”

In a literal sense, yes you can travel and live life exactly the same way you do at home. Particularly as a Westerner, you’ll find Western food, brands and so on all over the world so if you want to travel that way so be it but is it really traveling?
I can’t erase the image from my head that my first impression of Bonn (Germany) was seeing a big yellow M. Of all the architecture and sights that could have caught my eye – bam! McDonalds, very German! I hate that it’s the first thing I associate with Bonn (rather than some ‘famous’ bloke called Beethoven for instance).

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Beethoven, Bonn, Germany

Realistically that isn’t travel. You’ve got to dip your toes in to the culture, try new foods, meet new people and enjoy new experiences if you really want to get the best from traveling. I’m not saying you can’t indulge in some home comforts whilst you’re away but you don’t want to spend your entire trip doing so.

It’s easier said than done though isn’t it? My parents often had to admit defeat to a fussy child (why Natasha?). I vividly remember being at Universal Studios one year and my parents were contemplating nearby food options to appease the fussy one. Maybe it was the adrenaline still running high from all of the rollercoasters but we ended up at the Hard Rock Café and not wanting to cause too much fuss I “stepped up”. I was “super-adventurous” and had my first ever.. *drumroll” .. burger! Wow! Sadly this was in an era before photographing your food was a trend so you’ll have to believe me – wild child, right? Whatever next?

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Cool vehicle in Hamburg!

I’m a creature of habit and those habits weren’t just limited to what I ate. In order to make the most of seeing the world I’ve had to adapt and challenge my thought process a little. My parents often used to pack Weetabix when we were going on trips, it was a controllable measure and ensured they’d get one fuss-free meal a day out of the way. It’s something I appreciated them doing for me but it’s not how I want to live and travel for the rest of my life.

So here’s a few villains “Weetabix boy” has had to battle in my quest for world-travel-status.

The Arch Nemesis – the small talker!
If you’ve ever met me in person you’ll know I’m not a talker, perhaps hard to believe with the rambling I do online but I’m a quiet-natured person. I was often described as a shy kid, I 100% was but as I’ve gotten older my confidence has started to build and I’ve strayed from describing myself as shy.

I’m still quiet but there’s a difference. If I can add to a conversation I will do but I’m just as happy listening or sat in silence. The problem with adding to a conversation is I’ve never had good conversational skills and small talk is my arch enemy.

We’ve never got along but it’s the starting point to any conversation isn’t it? Admittedly I’ve got better at understanding what constitutes good small talk and what constitutes bad small talk, plus all of the rules that come with it, but I don’t actually understand the logic behind it.

For instance, it’s a social pleasantry to ask how someone is but of course I can’t actually tell you how I am.. “Heartbroken..”
Whoa, whoa, whoa Jason – read the script mate.
“Oh shit, my bad. I’m fine. How are you?”
“Fine” (depressed)

I must have been sick the day they were handing out rulebooks to my peers because I’ve never understood the need for forced conversation opposed to silence.

You: “Beautiful day out there..”
Me: “It is. Did you see that red car drive by?
You “erm..no.. that’s erm.. really interesting Jason..” (what a nutjob!)

My bad, I thought we were making pointless observations from outside. I can see it’s sunny. The person responsible for creating windows only did so with the intention of avoiding these daily exchanges, true story (probably not at all true).

I’ve got better at it but the problem is once you start analysing what constitutes good small talk opposed to bad you can then do the same for any conversation. Is this interesting to you or are you just being polite? FYI, if you have a spare copy of the script (small talk 101) it’d be much appreciated.

To an extent “Weetabix Boy” can get by in daily life. You form relationships and familiarities with people but meeting new people? Back to the small talk because you have to do that before you establish the connection with someone and the interesting conversations.
“On a scale of 1-10 how much do you love Weetabix?”.
“Erm.. a 5? Sorry, excuse me. I’ve just got to run to the toilet but I’ll 100% be back for this super-interesting conversation”

Traveling solo has definitely forced me out of my comfort zone. I’ve met people from all over the world of various different backgrounds and subsequently improved my conversational skills further. It might only be sharing a love of travel with the person you’re sharing a hostel with or getting caught talking to a local and discovering their love of the place they live in but travel has helped “Weetabix boy” grow his confidence and become a conversational wizard (alright, stretching it a bit far).

The last minute folk!
“Weetabix boy, pub tonight?”
Let me check my diary, oh no!! I have absolutely nothing planned and I can’t get out of it. Let’s reschedule?

This is very much the introvert within me but last minute plans are the bane of my existence.
“Why didn’t you ask me yesterday?”
“Well, I only decided to go out like 10 minutes ago”
“You monster!”

I still struggle with this. I like social situations, I like going out and doing things but if I’ve mentally prepared myself for an evening of no plans, all of my instincts are to stick to that plan. I’m trying to challenge myself more because in my brain I know once I’m out, more often than not, I’ll have a good time but I have to push myself out.

My instant reaction to last minute plans will almost always be “no!” and trying to re-configure your brain to say “YES” isn’t something that just happens overnight. In some scenarios it is justifiable saying no in which case I don’t feel guilty for it, sometimes you don’t have the finances for plans for instance but it’s trying to rewire your brain in the instances where you have no excuse.

“Coming out tonight?”
“Sorry, Weetabix to eat”
“Yeah Jason, that’s not a valid excuse. I’ll pick you up in 10”

Traveling often puts you in a scenario where last minute things come up. Two Spanish guys invite you out to a bar playing Fado music? GO!
Pub crawl in Bratislava? Bring it on!
Bike tour in Berlin? “JA! (to be honest it was a maybe at best but peer pressure helped).
Roadtrip to Oklahoma? I’m ready!

Travel has forced “Weetabix Boy” to say Yes, Ja, Si and soforth with more regularity.

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Bike tour in Berlin? JA!

The Hostel Snorer!
I’m an introvert and I think one of the misconceptions is that we aren’t sociable people and like to hide away in a dark room away from people for eternity. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done the lonesome teenager lifestyle (and excelled at it) but I like to think I’m always game for a social occasion.

At the end of it all though I need to wind down. Social situations are exhausting, traveling is also exhausting. Often I’ll re-energise by winding down at the end of a day and indulging in a little “me time”. I need that bit of personal space which is fine in your every day life but it’s not so easy when traveling.

Sometimes you’re traveling as part of a group and you’ll find yourself in close confinement 24/7 for the entirety of your trip – no escape! Alternatively I’ll travel solo and often find my “winding down” time period isn’t a solo experience. I want to relax and you’re bloody snoring on the bunk below!

I’ve been forced to adapt, you can’t stick to your usual rituals and you’ve just got to go with the flow. You can’t start your day with Weetabix as you do at home and similarly you can’t walk around a hostel dorm naked in the same way you might in a hotel. I still need that wind-down or personal space but I’ve had to reinvigorate the ways I do so when I travel.

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Breakfast time in a hostel, NYC

The chef
I touched on this already but I was a fussy child. Leaving a 1 star hotel review because Weetabix was not on the breakfast buffet is not okay! Before any of you get the wrong idea, I swear I’ve never done this! I’m not THAT bad!

I’m nowhere near as fussy as I was when I was a child. I eat a lot better and with a lot more variety now and I don’t want to be eating at all of the same places I do at home. Nevertheless I get trapped in this little food bubble of wanting to be adventurous and simultaneously ordering the same thing every single time. “What do you mean you’ve changed your menu? Why would you do that?” – a true disaster!

There are a lot more foods that I eat now compared to when I was a child but the temptation to order something I know I’ll eat opposed to something I may / may not enjoy when traveling is a difficult one to overcome. I went to Lille on a daytrip to Lille recently and committed to trying a local delicacy – the potjevleesch – there’s no way I’d have done something like that five years ago. Can’t I just have pizza instead? That’s exotic foreign food, right?

In the last 12 months I’ve tried a range of different foods for the first time, from churros to sushi to corndogs and it still blows my mind a little bit. Whilst Weetabix should definitely be on any reputable breakfast menu I’ve learned to adapt a little when traveling. Sometimes you’ve just got to get the pancakes and you’ll appreciate that Weetabix a little bit more when you’re home again.

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Breakfast alternative in Washington DC!

The chameleon!
I mentioned “Weetabix Boy” has encountered a few “villains” and whilst these have mostly been travel-related I thought I’d end on a fun little anomaly because there were occasions even at home where I’d have something different for breakfast. These instances were few and far between, I was still a fussy child and why would you really want anything other than Weetabix, right?

“So you’d have something else? Intriguing Jason, do tell!” Rice Krispies? Crunchie Nut? Corn Flakes? Sugar Puffs? Cheerios? No. I’ve never, to my recollection, even tried any of these but one cereal brand that occasionally questioned my loyalty was ”Ready Brek”, a porridge like cereal. It wasn’t something I ate often, I was more than happy eating Weetabix daily but it was an occasional treat and change from the norm.

I recently discovered who actually own the Ready Brek brand and couldn’t help but chuckle, remarkably Ready Brek are owned by none other than Weetabix Limited. So rather ironically, even when surrendering to other temptations, Weetabix Boy’s loyalty was never in doubt!

I hope you enjoyed an insight in to my crazy little world. What are your breakfast favourites? Can you match my Weetabix consumption levels? Let me know!

All the best!

Jason aka Weetabix Boy

P.S – no need to actually start calling me this!

Bilbao – May 2015

Last time out on the blog we were in Italy, following my adventures to Pisa and Firenze in February 2015. Three months later, rather tragically, I still had no travel plans! I was beginning to get itchy feet and knew I needed a trip ASAP!

I asked at work if I could take next week off and after agreeing time off I was quickly planning a last minute trip away! For how close it was there was no need for a countdown but there was a need for a destination! Where should I go?

After compiling a list of various destinations across Europe naturally I ended up somewhere that wasn’t even on the list – Bilbao! Why? I don’t really know. Cheap flights and a reasonably priced hotel (with an outdoor pool) was enough to tempt me so I figured why not?

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I finally had my destination and before I knew it I was preparing to head to a city I knew very little about in the North of Spain. I was excited, I had a minuscule amount of knowledge of Bilbao but it was a relatively unknown place for me. I was a little worried at how rusty my Spanish was but I was excited to visit a new region of Spain – the Basque country!

Oh no! The Basque country! I was worried my Spanish was bad and it suddenly dawned on me that they might not even speak Spanish. Whilst internationally this might be considered Spain, locally they considered themselves proud Basque citizens first and foremost. I don’t know any Basque!

I struggled by. I wanted to speak Spanish as much as possible throughout the trip but I was more dependent on my English than I would have liked. That’s not to say I spoke solely English, I was focused on learning German at the time and “Dankeschon” and “Bitte” were phrases I regularly used throughout my trip.

“Shit, wrong language, I meant Gracias” I would think to myself but it was always too late, it had slipped out and I was left cursing my stupid brain every single time. My brain appeared to only have two configurations – English and non-English with the latter determined to default to German irrespective of it being of absolutely no use to me here!

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Anyway back to my trip. I’d arrived and was ready for three nights in the Basque country! I say I’d arrived but I have no idea how, I’m usually good at remembering the little details but my first memory of this trip was stood in the centre of Bilbao. How I’d got there? A mystery!

Nevertheless I’d got here somehow and the first task of my afternoon was to find my hotel. I had a vague idea of the direction my hotel was in so I figured I’d try my luck finding it on foot. I suppose how you measure the success of that hunt is purely based on your perspective – did I find my hotel? No. However I found myself exploring parts of the city I probably wouldn’t have otherwise seen so in that respect I have no regrets. It was a sunny afternoon so it wasn’t a bad thing that I had no idea where I was going.

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Imagine playing football to that background!

Although eventually I had to admit defeat and hopped in a taxi to my hotel, which was a little further away than I’d anticipated. After checking in and dropping off my things I went to get dinner. I ordered a beer and was quickly disappointed to find the waitress sit a minuscule beer in front of me. It was a common theme throughout my stay as it appeared a pint-sized beer just isn’t a thing in Bilbao.

As if that wasn’t disappointing enough, I then had the longest wait for my dinner. If you have to wait for a table or you can see it’s particularly busy you accept you might have a bit of a wait. However I’d ordered pretty quickly and similarly the place was dead so how it took the best part of an hour for my food to arrive was beyond me – has the chef gone for a siesta mid-preparation? Feed me, damnit!

After dinner I decided I’d have a little wander close to my hotel and then the rain hit! Excuse me Spain, I didn’t come here for this! I ducked in to a bar full of locals which was decorated in red and white (the colours of the local football team, Athletic Bilbao) and enjoyed the atmosphere with another mini-beer. I soon called it an early-ish night and chilled back at my hotel for a little while, keen to get exploring properly in the morning.

I didn’t really have any plans for my time in Bilbao, with the exception of the Guggenheim museum it isn’t really a touristy city. If you want a trip full of sights and attractions then this probably isn’t the place for you but if you want an insight in to Basque / Spanish culture then it’s probably a place you’ll enjoy.

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As I walked through the streets the following morning I quickly realised I was surrounded by locals. Kids were playing games together, there were bars and coffee shops occupied by people chatting away, the streets were littered with people doing their shopping and it felt a very homely place. I looked up and the streets were decorated with more red and white banners, I wasn’t sure if this was a regular occurrence in Bilbao or whether it was just a timely display of colour ahead of the upcoming Copa del Rey (Spanish cup final) that Athletic Bilbao were participating in, whatever the reason I was fond of it.

Despite another downpour I was enjoying the architecture, street art and scenery the city had to offer. Eventually I arrived at the Guggenheim museum and figured I’d pay a visit given it was so highly rated – it’s one of Spain’s (sorry!) most visited museums so I was keen to see what all the fuss was about.

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Honestly, I was left a little underwhelmed. It’s quite similar to London’s Tate museum, another I wasn’t particularly fond of and I’d be hard-pushed to genuinely recommend it. Parts of it were enjoyable but overall it just wasn’t for me. The irony also wasn’t lost on me that my two favourite pieces of art had been OUTSIDE of the museum which further questioned whether I’d actually had value for money. However if you’re a fan of the Tate you’ll quite possibly enjoy Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum too.

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Following on from the Guggenheim I took a funicular ride up to one of Bilbao’s best vantage points for the views over the city. It wasn’t particularly crowded (no tourists remember) but one pale white guy caught my eye as, like myself, he stuck out like a sore thumb. “You’re English” I thought to myself and pondered if it was right to make such a snap judgment of some stranger.

I didn’t realise how high up we’d actually be going, even some of Bilbao’s tallest buildings looked tiny from here as I admired the view. Moments later I was being approached by a familiar voice – it was English – something I hadn’t heard for a while.
As I turned to see where it had come from I was greeted by my pasty friend from the funicular ride. “I WAS RIGHT!”

He was traveling around Spain solo and asked if I could take a photo, which gave me the opportunity to ask him of the same afterwards. A couple of photos later we went our separate ways, I took in more of the views before eventually making my way back in to the heart of Bilbao and finding a place for some food.

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With the two touristy things to do in Bilbao out of the way I didn’t really do much else over the next couple of days. My last trip had been to Florence, which is still Italy of course but from the thousands of Spurs fans to the massive presence of American students that occupy the city you could be forgiven for forgetting you were in Italy at times.
In Bilbao there was no mistake and with nothing that I was desperate to do I just indulged in Bilbao’s authenticity. I was content people watching in pretty squares and little tapas bars, it was a great way to pass the time for the rest of my stay.

My only other intention had been to take a day-trip to nearby San Sebastian but, combined with the poor weather, I ended up on the wrong train and took it as a sign that it wasn’t meant to be. Abandoning my journey at a random station I retreated back to Bilbao and decided San Sebastian would have to be a city I returned to in the future.

My final morning in Bilbao came around and I made the most of a little lay in before leaving the hotel, checking out a little bitter that I’d had no opportunity to use the pool because of the weather. Sidenote, I swear I’m cursed as every time my hotel has a pool it goes wasted!

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Anyway, I wandered back in to the centre of the city to have one last look around and enjoy my final few hours in Bilbao. I stumbled upon some square with a bit of life to it with locals all doing their own thing and soaking up a rare morning of sunshine with many sat at tables in the sun. I popped in to this little bar which was largely full of old men, it looked like this was a regular meet-up for them over some tapas and a couple of drinks. My thinking was much the same as I grabbed some lunch, a couple of beers and spent my final couple of hours in Bilbao just people-watching.

Eventually it was time to go, I hopped in a taxi to the airport and was soon sitting admiring the scenic airport views whilst reflecting on my trip. I don’t know if I could ever call Bilbao a must visit or even a place I’ll return to but there was something homely about Bilbao that left me leaving with fond impressions of the city.

It might not attract the same numbers that Barcelona or Madrid do but this region of Spain has its own charm and keeps me inspired to make a return to the Basque country.
Thanks again for the memories Bilbao and who knows, maybe like Köln, I’ll find myself returning to you some day!

All the best!

Jason

Firenze: The end!

The final part to my Italy adventure (February 2015).

On the Tuesday I’d flown out to Pisa and spent a day exploring the city. Wednesday and Thursday (matchday) were days 1 and 2 of my time in Firenze and now we were at the end of the week! The football was over with and it was time to go home – or was it?

On Monday evening I figured I should probably check in for my flights, given I was heading to Pisa the next day. My outbound flight was no problem but I was trying to check in for my Friday flight home and was having no luck.

“Sorry, you can’t check in for a flight more than 7 days away”.

What? I’m flying in four days! What is this nonsense? My flight is definitely on the 27th! I was baffled and kept darting my eyes between the error message and the flight details and couldn’t understand what the issue was. What am I missing?

Wait.. why does that say my flight home is in April? That’s a mistake! Let me find my confirmation email.
Looking for reassurance, instead I found despair. All that email had confirmed was that I’d somehow messed up my booking and that I was indeed flying home in two months time! My February 27th flight home was actually April 27th!!

I was light-heartedly acceptant of my fate. I guess I’ve got to stay in Italy for an extra two months then – what a pickle, right? How do I break the news to my family, friends and work. Will a postcard suffice?
Realistically that wasn’t an option but resolving it Monday evening wasn’t an option either – it was too last minute and most of my available money was in Euros by this point. I knew I’d get paid whilst I was in Italy so I figured I’d worry about the flight home once I was over there.

So back to day 3 in Firenze, my intended departure date. Care to guess what my first plan of the day was? You’re spot on! I had to book a flight home! I was supposed to be going to a gig back in England on Friday night (I’d paid for a hotel too!) but Friday flights seemed so much more expensive than the Saturday flights so in the end I decided I’d stay in Italy an extra day.

 

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As far as mistakes go, winding up in Italy for 24 more hours is a pretty good mistake to make! My next concern was that I had no accommodation for the extra night so needed to sort that out. I loved the hostel I had been staying at, it was in a decent location and the host was incredible but sadly it was a small hostel and they didn’t have space for an extra night so I had to find somewhere else.
My host did help me find a hotel though which I appreciated.

Flight sorted, accommodation sorted, time to enjoy a bonus day in the city! I’m so glad at how things worked out because Friday probably ended up being my favourite day in Italy. Perhaps that’s just because it was an unexpected bonus day but I also ended up doing a few things to top off the Italy experience.

Firenze was a different city entirely. Most of the Spurs fans were England bound and the excessive police presence was long gone, this was Italy in all its glory and without the burden of an invasion of Brits.

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My first stop of the day took me to the Piazza della Signaoria which is a large square with stunning architecture, sculptures and a few museums closeby such as the famous Uffizi gallery. I wasn’t supposed to be here so inevitably I hadn’t booked any museums. Some of the lines were far too long so I decided I’d add the Uffizi to my “next time” list and checked out another museum instead that I can’t remember the name of.

I wish I could remember the name of it because I’d recommend a visit. The museum was over a number of different floors and had all sorts of art, although the sculptures were the pieces I enjoyed most and something you’d associate with Italy / Firenze I suppose. Eventually I was content I’d seen enough and my attention switched to a late lunch.

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Inside the museum. Anyone know the name?

I do try to make an effort to eat locally and delve into the culture when I travel but one of my guilty pleasures is the Hard Rock Café (HRC), I usually try and squeeze a visit in where I can to tick off another city from the many locations HRC are based.

My waiter asked where I was from to which I replied Peterborough and most of the time I end up wishing I’d just say London because it’s easier but to my surprise he’d heard of Peterborough, better yet he’d been to Peterborough.
“Oh yes, the place with the shopping centre opposite the train station.. Queens..? “
“Queensgate! Why were you in Peterborough!!!?”

Excuse my overreaction but seriously, Firenze sets a pretty high standard and its inhabitants are visiting Peterborough? Are you crazy? It did amuse me though before enjoying my HRC experience. It isn’t the best food you’re ever going to have and it can be expensive too but I just have a fondness of them and Firenze’s was nice too.

Following a late lunch I was ready to go and explore further. On Wednesday I’d climbed the Duomo as I’d heard it had one of the best views in Firenze – the views are great. However my hostel hostess assured me the best view of the city was at the Piazzale Michelangelo and that it was free! I had to check it out and on route could see the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge!

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Ponte Vecchio bridge!

It’s a beautiful bridge to look at but the bridge itself is a proper tourist trap. Historically butchers and other merchants occupied space on the bridge but you’ll now find a host of shops selling jewellery and gold! It’s cool to look at but it’s busy so I settled for getting a few photos and swiftly moving on to escape the crowds.

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Quick photo and then I was out of there!

I continued following signs to Piazzale Michelangelo and was soon climbing my way up this hill to discover the views awaiting me at the top. The Piazzale Michelangelo is a huge square that offers incredible views over the city – my host had said it was the best view in the city and it’d be hard to disagree. The one thing lacking from the view at the top of the Duomo is the Duomo itself which is the standout piece of Firenze’s skyline.

Whilst the views are spectacular you’ll also find a replica of the David statue here, a few stalls selling food and drinks plus a few buskers which all helps create a really nice atmosphere. You’ll find plenty of people occupying the stairs to sit and just admire the views over the river and the rest of the city.

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The best view in Firenze!

It was getting late in the afternoon and I would have loved nothing more than to have picked up a beer and waited for the sun to set on the city. It was a beautiful spot to watch a sunset! Sadly I’d arranged to meet my friend Daniel elsewhere and had no way to contact him for a change of plans so he could come join me instead. I left a little envious of those I’d left behind that got to enjoy it fully.

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The perfect sunset spot!

I didn’t stay jealous for too long, as a pick-me-up I made a necessary stop for gelato. Firenze is credited as being the city that brought Gelato to the world so what better place to enjoy it? I had to buy some and see what the fuss was about. It was delicious and a good ‘starter’ before finding dinner and having a few drinks.

I’d probably been the drunker of the two of us on Wednesday night so it was nice to see the roles reversed this evening. We shared a few beers on our final night and Daniel was a bit tipsy come the end of the evening which amused me plenty. It was a great way to enjoy our final evening before heading back to England.

The next morning I had a last wander through the streets of Firenze and was sad to be saying goodbye. After the disappointment of Pisa, Firenze had really delivered and made for a memorable first visit to Italy. It’s a cracking city and one you should definitely try to visit!

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My morning flew by and before I knew it the clock read 12pm! I had time to enjoy one final meal in Firenze before I had to leave and inevitably wanted one final pizza before I said arriverderci to Italy. It rounded off the trip perfectly, I hopped on a train to Pisa and was soon boarding a flight back to London.

Italy had lived up to my expectations and the food was every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be. I still haven’t been back to Italy but I’m feeling a return is long overdue!

Who’s coming with me?

Jason

Firenze: Day 2 – Matchday!

If you’ve read my two recent posts on Italy you’ll know I was in Firenze to watch Tottenham take on Fiorentina back in February 2015. If not you can catch up here (Pisa and Firenze: day 1) but we left off last time round with the end of day one (Wednesday) in Firenze which had been a great first day in the city.

Thursday was matchday and in all honesty if you’re doing a trip like this you just have to write matchday off. If you can squeeze some culture in to the morning then great but you sacrifice your afternoon to soak up the atmosphere of the city and then save your evening to watch the game itself.

For this reason I always travel for 3 days at least for a European football trip because I know one of those is lost, nevertheless I love the matchday ritual and knowing there would be roughly 3,000 other Brits in the city for the “party” does get you excited.

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The matchday fun was temporarily put on hold a week before our game. On the previous Thursday Dutch football fans had clashed with riot police in Rome which added another unwanted spotlight on Italian football, which already holds a tainted reputation. Unfortunately it left us to face the repercussions of those actions and it was clear the Italian authorities were not going to be treating our visit lightly – in what was already a fairly high profile game.

A lot of news and rumours came out of Italy over the course of the next week. Some of the rumours included calling upon resources from other cities with 1,000 additional police (on top of the presence for a normal game) expected in Firenze, tightened security measures, police escorts, curfews on the bars/restaurants throughout the city and even a proposed drinking ban on the day of the game (today!).

You could certainly feel the police presence in the city, Tottenham had communicated to our supporters that we HAD to take specific buses to the stadium as the police would be closing off all surrounding roads for away supporters, Wednesday night had added substance to the curfew rumours but surely, surely there wasn’t going to be an alcohol ban today?

Breathe a sigh of relief! There wasn’t! I think it would have been near on impossible to enforce so I’m not sure where the rumours surfaced from but luckily the beers were still flowing!

On Wednesday night me and Daniel had found an Irish bar full of Spurs fans so we decided we’d revisit it on Thursday. By the time we arrived Thursday lunchtime it was already a little busy with people hanging up their flags wherever possible and creating a bit of an atmosphere.

 

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Pride of North London – Then, Now, Forever

It was only ever going to get busier as many opt to fly out on matchday, so the majority of Spurs fans would be arriving in to Firenze over the course of the next few hours. So to my surprise this bar had TWO barstaff working. 3,000+ Brits were here to drink the city dry so it was baffling how unprepared they were – surely you knew we were coming? This isn’t a normal Thursday afternoon shift!

From a business point of view I found it ridiculous! You are due to make an absolute fortune! If you can’t serve the people quickly enough they’ll find their beer elsewhere – you’re driving your customers away!
On the plus side there was no sign of this drinking ban at least!
After plenty more beers and much more singing eventually the police advised time was up and were moving us on – time to go to the stadium!

Fortunately me and Daniel were one of the first on the bus so managed to get a seat (we didn’t use) but one by one more Spurs fans would get on board. Whilst waiting for the bus to fill up we were sat parked at a bus stop so every so often an old lady would get on with her bags and things. Clearly confusing it for a regular bus from the same stop but every time they would quickly be advised to get off! “Wrong bus, trust us, you don’t want to be on this one!”
Having crammed enough of us in like sardines we were off and so began a wave of noise!

Every bus was sandwiched front and back: Police vehicle – bus – police vehicle – bus – police vehicle.. you get the idea. We were being paraded through the streets of Firenze like criminals and in all honesty we made the most of the attention it brought.

The atmosphere on board was incredible and I don’t think anyone was sat down for the entirety of the bus journey. Spurs had arrived and we let the Italians know it – leaving some very puzzled onlookers as we whizzed through the streets at the expense of the other traffic that our entourage had taken priority over.
Song after song after song at the top of our lungs with police sirens blaring too – our presence was making a racket!

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We’re here! Far too early!

Eventually our bus dropped us at the end of an empty road with a bit of a walk to the stadium. The police had cordoned off every surrounding road giving us one way in, one way out. It ensured we didn’t cross paths with a single Italian fan and also gave us no opportunity to take a look around the area / rest of the stadium. It was a little sad in truth.

 

Before you could even get to the stadium you had to pass through a number of security checks – tickets, passports and then a thorough body search. Far too intimate for my liking (“Valentine’s Day was a couple of weeks ago guys”) but given how well stocked the police were I don’t think they were going to get too many complaints. Having been sufficiently groped we’d passed the necessary tests and could make our slow walk to enter the stadium.

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Playing the waiting game!

We were here far too early and the facilities were terrible so there wasn’t anything to do except fly our flags, sing our songs and wait. I’d love to say the game was worth the wait but it wasn’t. We were crap, the less said the better and it was bloody freezing too. Fiorentina’s stadium lacks a roof and we were at the back of the stand so were catching most of the wind.

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Fiorentina’s noisier supporters at the opposite end

The game came to its conclusion and we were kindly told that we wouldn’t be going anywhere just yet – you can freeze a little longer whilst we lock you in to allow enough time for the Italians to disperse. It’s not unusual for away games so it wasn’t a huge deal, it was cold but at least it wasn’t raining!

Oh now it is! I don’t know how long we were kept behind for but it felt forever. Eventually they let us out as far as the buses because, of course, we’d be escorted back in to the centre of the city. The bus journey was much tamer heading back. Nothing to celebrate and most fed up at how long we’d been forced to wait.

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The game probably ended at around 8:45-8:50 – the bus journey was around 15 minutes so inevitably it was about 10:30 by the time we were set free back in the centre of Firenze. We’d been at the stadium since about 5-5:30 (for a 7pm kickoff) so needless to say we were craving some food and a beer.

The police had kept us so late that by the time we’d got back to the centre barely anything was open. We did find one restaurant in this nearby square still open so we took a seat outside, it didn’t take long for the waiter to tell us that we needed to be quick! We’d barely sat down but, of course, there was a looming midnight curfew.

Dinner was.. okay? Who knows? Surprisingly you don’t tend to enjoy it so much when you’re feeling rushed. As if that wasn’t enough you could feel the close watch of the two police vans sat on the opposite side of the square – ready to enforce an early night if necessary.

I think both me and Daniel could have quite happily gone for another beer after dinner but were we likely to have any luck finding somewhere open? The city was dead, the police had done their jobs, killed the mood and put an end to any potential trouble before it could begin. I headed back to my hostel and got tucked in for another relatively early night in Italy as I had important things to sort out on Friday (stay tuned!).

Reflecting on the overall football experience it’s hard to say if I’d go back to Italy for football. On the one hand you’ve got the safety concerns of racism and violence in places such as Rome or Naples that I’d still be nervous to visit for football. On the other hand the only way to counteract it appears to be with over-the-top-policing to ensure your safety.

I’m not criticising the approach, it worked. I had no interest in being another statistic, another number in a long line of English stabbings in Italy but that doesn’t make it any more satisfying.
A year earlier I’d witnessed Portuguese buskers singing Tottenham songs, Benfica fans embracing our visit and barely a police officer in sight. Benfica knocked Tottenham out of Europe but as fans you exchange pleasantries and wish eachother luck for the rest of the season. That’s football, that’s why I love the game.

To go from that experience in Lisbon to Firenze was a sad reflection on Italian football and made it easy to see why attendances in Italian football have been on the decline over the last decade  Football is about the fans and I didn’t meet a single Fiorentina fan whilst in Firenze, they’d been cut off from our reach.

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In fairness to Italy, Tottenham returned to Firenze a year later and by all accounts I heard from those that visited that it was a better experience. Perhaps a realisation that Tottenham and Fiorentina had no bad blood and could coexist in the same city without any fuss. Nevertheless, whilst there were still aspects I enjoyed it didn’t quite live up to watching Tottenham in Portugal, Belgium, Germany or Spain.

I’ll definitely go back to Italy, there’s so much of the country that I want to see but maybe I’ll give the football a miss.

Anyway, hopefully you enjoyed the little insight in to travel as a football fan. Stay tuned for the final day in Firenze, I promise it’s a good’un!

All the best!

Jason