The big 3-0!

1988 – a year of many historic moments. Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway, Liverpool were the champions of English football, Celine Dion won the Eurovision song contest, George Bush won the 88 US presidential election but most importantly was the birth of an English baby boy on the 7th of August. I was always a bit of an early riser as a kid so typically I was two hours early to deny myself the perfect birth date of 8/8/88.

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Even as a baby I was thinking about holidays!

 

Fast forward 29 years and that little baby is quickly approaching his 30th birthday! Thirty!
Those 30 years have taken me to some incredible places. For starters I was born and grew up in London so life began in one of the best cities in the world, certainly my favourite anyway. I’ve since been to the likes of New York City, Sydney, Berlin, Madrid, Amsterdam and many many more destinations. I can’t deny I’ve done a lot of traveling but it would be easy to forget I didn’t really start taking traveling seriously until 2013.

I was lucky growing up that I had been on family trips, the odd school trip and then had annual one week holidays of my own in 2011 and 2012 but going into 2013 I’d barely scratched the surface of all there is to see on this planet.

It wasn’t until 2013 that I really started focusing my efforts in to traveling more. So barely five years! People often suggest traveling is for your 20’s, if that was the case I’d arrived pretty late to the party! I’ll let you in on a little secret though – you can keep traveling at 30 and beyond! I know it’s hard to believe but it’s true! I’ve seen it with my own eyes! Apparently they don’t confiscate your passport on your 30th birthday!

So with that shocking revelation in mind, the planning for my own 30th is underway. On the 3rd of August I’m due to attend a wedding on the West coast of the USA, with a 30th birthday four days later how could I not spend it in the US? The timing was perfect and there’s so much of the US I still want to see – particularly down that West coast! A big adventure was on the cards.

I floated the idea with my boss at work about taking a longer trip and asked how much time I’d be able to take off in one go. I optimistically put forward the idea of four weeks and I’ve had the OK this week!

If it comes to fruition this will be the biggest trip I’ve ever taken and is therefore going to require a lot of planning! I’ve done a couple of multi city breaks before, including in the US, so I’m not a complete novice in this area but it’s a little daunting nonetheless.
Here’s an insight in to the early stages of planning a trip like this.

Itinerary
One of the most important decisions of a trip like this is obviously deciding where you want to go!  You don’t necessarily need a finalised list but a draft list of destinations so you can start planning everything else out is helpful. The more flexible you can be the better but it’s also always good to have some set destinations in mind to help map out a route.
So stick a little pin in Seattle. That’s locked in to the itinerary for the wedding and gives me somewhere to either start my trip or aim to get to later on in the trip. Having other “must visits” will help plan out a route. Portland and San Francisco tick that box on the West coast and from there I’m pretty flexible. If everything goes to plan I’ll have 30 days in the country so the possible destinations can spread right across the country. Seeing more of California is certainly one option I’ll explore but similarly I have a number of friends in the US and I feel like that could dictate some of the destinations I choose to visit.

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USA, I’m coming back for you! 

Getting around! 
Thirty days in the USA very much screams “ROADTRIP!!!” – what a perfect opportunity for that bucketlist item many people dream of. Road-tripping across the USA definitely has its temptations. Travel the famous Route 66? Maybe! I’ll just rent a car and see where the road takes me!

However there is one tiny little flaw to this almost perfect plan – I can’t drive. Unlike in Europe, traveling the US without a car is a little more challenging but I’ll be making good use of what available transport there is. The AMTRAK train line, greyhound buses and potentially even domestic flights dependent on the distance should get me so far and will still help me reach some incredible destinations.

Personally I love this part of the planning process as you have to weigh up the cost and convenience of getting from destination to destination. Do I go from A to B or B to A? B’s actually too expensive so what if I go to D? Well if I’m going to D maybe stop at C on the way? Oh, flying to D is actually cheaper. Or you could get an overnight bus to E which would mean one less night’s accommodation to pay for. Decisions, decisions, decisions!

 

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Flying might be an option to get around the US!

Accommodation
This will likely play some factor in which destinations I visit too. Hotel prices in the US are quite expensive. Some cities are of course worse than others but it could be a factor between visiting one place rather than another. This is the area of the trip I’ll certainly be looking to cut costs. Aside from the occasional ‘treat’ I’ll probably be steering clear of hotels and exploring hostel and AirBnB options instead.

I’m also hopeful that I might have some US based friends I can stay with along the way, if I’ve got somewhere I can stay then the probability is I’m going to make more effort to visit!

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I love New York City but accommodation prices are crazy!

Objective
Something else to think about is what I actually want from this trip. The USA is huge which also makes it incredibly diverse. On previous trips I’ve been to Disneyland, I’ve been to small college towns and I’ve been to crazy cities like New York City. They’re all completely different type of trips. The US is so diverse as a holiday destination and has so much to offer, just deciding what type of holiday you want is a dilemma in itself. Do I want to concentrate on visiting cities? Could I squeeze in some beach time or visit one of the US’ many national parks? Is a Disney / Universal trip a possibility? I’m often attracted to big cities but with a much longer trip in mind perhaps mixing it up a bit is the better way to go!

Company
My last big thing to think about at this early stage is who is joining me on the adventure. I enjoy solo travel but I’m also thinking about who I’ll be spending time with whilst in the US. Would anyone come with me? Which US based friends do I try to visit? Do I see them in their hometown or might they meet me somewhere? Even if it only ends up being for a portion of the trip opposed to the entirety, it’s an important aspect to think about and plan for.

On a related note – that road trip I joked about? If there are any willing drives / adventurers then step right up, I’m more than happy contributing towards “gas” costs.

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At the baseball with my Washington favourites in September

Budget
I didn’t want to completely omit a mention of this but at the same time it’s a little early to accurately budget at this stage. It’s an important part of the trip but probably comes in the next part of the planning stage. You can budget an estimated amount based on accommodation per night, spending per day plus return flights to the US but really it’s very much guesswork at this stage.

The budget really overlaps with some of the above stages once I’ve started “connecting the dots”.
At the minute my only definitive “dot” is Seattle with much more planning to do!

Anyway that rounds up the early planning stages of the big 3-0 celebrations. Stay tuned for updates on how the planning goes and hopefully I’ll soon have a final itinerary!

I’d love to hear your input. How did you celebrate your 30th? Where should I be looking to visit? If you’ve planned a longer-term trip of your own I’d appreciate any tips you have.

Or maybe you’re just tempted to tag along? Get in touch!

All the best!

Jason

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Brussels!

In addition to Köln and Edinburgh, Brussels seems to be one of those cities I can’t escape from. If you were to ask me how many times I’d been to Brussels then I’d probably say “two and a half..”

Theoretically I’ve only been to Brussels twice. The first trip was a few days to celebrate a friend’s birthday in December 2013, I then went back for a further few days in October 2015. However I’ve also taken the train from London to Köln (March 2013) and Amsterdam (December 2015) via Brussels. The Köln trip left me no time to explore but on the way home from Amsterdam I had 2-3 hours to kill in Brussels before catching the Eurostar home. I can’t really count it as a full visit but it gave me enough time to have a little wander. Hence two and a half!

Two and a half visits later, what makes Brussels a destination worth visiting? Plenty!
Let me start by saying Brussels exceeded my expectations. You might think I’m getting carried away but let me clarify; I went to Brussels with such low expectations it would have been impossible not to. I fully understand why it’s neighbouring capitals Amsterdam and Paris get such high praise but Brussels should get far more credit than it does. It has its rough edges like any city does and it’s quickly associated as a city drowning in European politics but there’s definitely more to Brussels than just politics. Brussels has a fun side to Brussels too and plenty to admire in its architecture, history and most importantly – beer!

If you already have plans to visit Brussels or you’re still in need of a little convincing as to why you should visit, here are my favourite things about Brussels.

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Grand Place, Brussels

The architecture!
Your first stop on any visit to Brussels has to be Grand Place. This is arguably one of the prettiest squares in Europe and will leave you speechless at how impressive it is. A little on the pricier side but take a seat outside at one of the cafes or restaurants at Grand Place and just people-watch this busy square and admire how beautiful it is with gold splattered everywhere. Visit around Christmas time and it’s more impressive, particularly in the evenings with it all lit up! You’ll also find Brussels town hall and Tourist Information area here.
Whilst Grand Place is certainly the highlight, Brussels has other impressive architecture too such as its palace, beautiful churches and cathedrals. The symbol of Brussels is the ‘Atomium’ which whilst an attraction (read more below) is also a cool and unique piece of architecture.

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The artwork!
Brussels/Belgium is home to some really famous artists and characters including the creation of loved characters such as Tin-Tin. You’ll find plenty of street art in Brussels and it’s also well known for it’s comic-book scene. If this is something you’re interested in then you should give Brussels Comic Strip Centre a visit.
Art might not be particularly high on your list of things to see when travelling but you should definitely make a quick stop to visit the “Mannekin Pis”. The UK is well known for “the boy who lived” whereas Brussels is famous for “the boy who pees”. I’m not expecting a JK Rowling masterpiece for the latter but it’s something the locals are proud of and they regularly dress him up in new outfits for the tourists and locals alike to admire.

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Me and Brussels famous ‘Atomium’

The Atomium & Mini-Europe
Alright, this is two attractions but they’re next to eachother so quite convenient to do both at once. As mentioned above – the Atomium is the symbol of the city and a pretty cool piece of architecture from the outside. The inside is one of Brussel’s leading attractions and gives you the opportunity to see Brussels from a much higher vantage point. We were relatively content to just see it from the outside but it’s worth a visit.
Across the street you’ll find another great attraction called Mini-Europe. If you’ve always dreamed of travelling across Europe but not had the time or money for it then this is for you. You’ll find a number of famous landmarks in miniature form that take you right across Europe and fulfill that dream you always had of seeing sights such as the Eiffel Tower – you’ll even find a mini Grand Place here!
I’d certainly recommend it as a great family-friendly attraction but it’s one for the adults to enjoy too!

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Potential day trip – Liege!

The daytrips!
Depending on how much time you have in Brussels and how much mini-Europe has quenched your thirst for more adventure, you might find yourself tempted to see more of Belgium! There are a lot of things I love about Belgium but one of the added perks is how small the country is. It means most major Belgian cities aren’t much more than an hour away from Brussels, making it a wonderful country for day-tripping. I’ve personally been to Bruges, Gent and Liege which I’d be happy to recommend for daytrips (expect future posts on these 3). However other towns and cities such as Antwerp, Dinant and Ypres also remain on my bucketlist and are all within easy reach from Brussels.
If you’re content travelling a little further than Western Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and parts of France are all fairly close by too.

The cuisine! 
One of the first things you’ll associate with Belgium is its cuisine – particularly famous for their chocolate, waffles and beer. No trip to Brussels would be complete with delving in to this area a little. You might also be surprised to hear that Belgium is where the “French fry” originates. If you want an authentic Belgian dish order the popular “Moules Frites” (Mussels with fries) accompanied with one of Belgium’s famous beers. ‘Jupiler’ seemed to be the most popular in Brussels but you really can’t go wrong. Personal favourites were the Duvel, Leffe and Hoegaarden.

Of course it isn’t all about local cuisine. Like most capital cities you’ll find that Brussels is a multi-cultural city and you’ll find a range of different cuisine options in the city.

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Parc du Cinquantenaire, Brussels

Have you ever been to Brussels? Leave some recommendations in the comments on other tips you have.
If you haven’t been to Brussels hopefully this went some way in convincing you that it’s worth a visit!

All the best!

Jason

The Scottish capital

I find that whenever people from other countries talk about the UK they generally mean England. It’s easy to forget that the UK is actually made up of more than one country. In the same way that America is more than just the USA and Africa is more than South Africa.
It’s no secret that London is my favourite city in the world, so I’m not trying to sway you from visiting London – please do..

However as much as London should be on any travel bucketlist, so should Edinburgh! It’s a must visit on any trip to the UK!
I have been fortunate enough to visit Edinburgh three times now, falling in love on the first visit and moreso on each return. I already have plans to make trip number 4 to celebrate Hogmanay / New Years Eve at the end of 2017.
So what does Edinburgh have to offer and how can you make the most of it?

History 
Edinburgh is divided in to two, similar to Buda and Pest which form the city Budapest. Princes Street gardens splits the city, with the “old town” on one side and the “new town” on the other.
Edinburgh’s city centre is also a UNESCO world heritage site. With its cobbled streets, old buildings and castle overlooking the city it’s pretty easy to see why the old town in particular is held in such high regard.

The city has a fascinating history which dates back hundreds of years and also has some really unique stories throughout that time. One of my favourites and on the more bizarre spectrum was the story of Maggie Dickson. Maggie was sentenced to death and was due to be publicly executed. The execution was carried out and Maggie’s body was ready to be transported for burial. On route there was a little knock on the coffin and out springs Maggie well and alive.  Maggie’s return to Edinburgh caused uproar but logic would suggest you can’t execute somebody twice. In the eyes of the law Maggie’s execution had been carried out and she went on to live for many many years. You’ll now find a pub in her name to preserve her memory as Edinburgh’s luckiest lady.
It’s a favourite of mine but you’ll find Edinburgh is full of interesting stories.

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Edinburgh’s city centre, between the old and new town. 

Food & nightlife
Scotland has a bit of a reputation for being a nation that quite like their drink, so it should perhaps be unsurprising that Edinburgh has a great nightlife with many many pubs around the city. Whether you’re in the new town or the old town, you won’t struggle to find somewhere to spend the evening. For the beer lovers I’d particularly recommend BrewDog who craft their own beers and now have an Edinburgh branch. You’ll find a few of these dotted around the UK but they originate from Scotland and you’ll also find a BrewDog in Aberdeen or Glasgow if extending your Scottish adventure beyond the capital.

Of course it’s not all about alcohol in Scotland. Scotland is almost famous for its haggis, deep fried Mars Bars and Irn Bru. I’d also particularly recommend picking up some Edinburgh rock to take home with you – it’s delicious!

Culture
Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns, JK Rowling and many more have lived in Edinburgh so it shouldn’t be too surprising that there is plenty of interesting things to do here. Whether you’re visiting museums, enjoying Edinburgh’s performing arts, going to watch Edinburgh’s sports teams, visiting pandas and koala bears at Edinburgh’s zoo or doing a ghost tour in search of Edinburgh’s poltergeists you’ll find this city has so much to keep you entertained throughout your stay.

Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival and Hogmanay celebrations are world famous and also both personal bucketlist items of mine. These are peak times to visit so you’ll find the city is likely to be more expensive and busier too but both are so highly rated that it’d be a great time to experience the city.
However whatever time of year you visit you’ll find there’s plenty going on in the city.

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Princes Street Gardens, looking up at the castle on the right. 

Scenery
Edinburgh also happens to be a really beautiful city. In its architecture you quickly see why JK Rowling took so much inspiration for Harry Potter here with castle views and beautiful architecture. Princes Street gardens adds a little greenery to the centre of the city and Edinburgh is also right by the coast so if you’re willing to take a short trip away from the city centre you’ll soon find yourself with the luxury of sea views.

Edinburgh’s best views can be found at one of Edinburgh Castle, Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat. However keep in mind you’ll have to pay for entry in to the castle to reap the benefits of the views. Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat provide cheaper alternatives but a bit more of a climb to reach them.
You should definitely make time to check out at least one of those. For less of a city view but equally as pretty, Edinburgh zoo also has some great views from the top of the hill.

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The view from the castle – you’d never guess this was in the summer!

The 5 must sees!

Edinburgh Castle 
I personally enjoyed paying to explore it further but even if you just want to admire from the outside, it’s hard to miss this wherever you are in the city. It’ll be one of your first sights arriving in to Edinburgh’s city centre.

The Royal Mile 
The sound of bagpipes, plenty of street performers and a number of shops and restaurants makes no trip to Edinburgh complete without walking along the Royal Mile.

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Sun setting on the Royal Mile and St Giles’ Cathedral

St Giles’ Cathedral
If, like me, you enjoy visiting religious buildings then this is a must. It’s a lot smaller than many cathedrals you’ll see on your travels but it’s still so pretty. Entry is free (donation optional) and it’s right in the heart of the old town so worth checking out.

Greyfriars Cemetary
Perhaps a little morbid but this graveyard is home to some fascinating stories and is also a highly reported spot for poltergeist activity. Starting with the latter, the Bloody Mackenzie is said to haunt this graveyard with hundreds of reported and unexplained symptoms and incidents occurring here. Come to your own conclusions but it’s a fascinating read and if you’ve got time you can even do ghost tours here that have some rather interesting reviews.

Another popular figure that calls this home is Edinburgh’s famous dog, Greyfriar Bobby. After losing his owner it’s said that Bobby sat at his master’s grave until his own death. Such a famed story tourists from all over the world would come to visit and feed Bobby and you’ll even see a statue of him just across the road from the graveyard. Bobby also has his own shiny headstone, usually accompanied with flowers left by Edinburgh’s many visitors.

For the Harry Potter fanatics you’ll also see some interesting names across various headstones. Looking for inspiration, it’s said JK Rowling was advised to visit the local cemetary which was inspiration for a few characters. See if you can find Voldemort, Mad Eye Moody and Professor McGonagall! The latter has his own rather amusing story remembered as “Scotland’s worst ever poet”.

The Grassmarket
A place full of history, in the past people would shop here to pick up their daily needs but would also gather here for any public events and executions.
You’ll still find a market here throughout the day but the rest of the square is surrounded by restaurants and pubs which tend to be highly popular. A good spot to fill your stomach with food and beer!
A lot of the daily & evening tours begin in this area too so a good spot if you’re looking for one of these.

That wraps up my thoughts on Edinburgh. Feel free to ask for any further tips / suggestions, also feel free to comment with your own if you’ve been to Edinburgh. I’m heading back there at the end of the year so would love to hear your recommendations too!

All the best

Jason

Visited Cologne, fell in love with Köln!

Trip 1: Discovering Cologne (Mar 2013)

In an older post I wrote about Sydney which I visited in February 2013, it really enhanced my love of travel and more importantly it also gave my confidence a much needed boost. After two weeks in Sydney I arrived back in England and my thoughts immediately turned towards the next trip. I now had that travel bug.

Easter was coming up, it felt an ideal time to get away without having to take time off work. I’d also had a little booster as I’d received a decent little sum through a tax rebate to fund a weekend trip somewhere. I explored a number of options before eventually deciding to catch a train to some German city called “Cologne”.  Why Cologne? Honestly, I don’t really know. A combination of it being expensive to fly Easter weekend and Cologne not being too far away on the train somehow led me to one of Germany’s biggest cities.

The reality though is that it was such an illogical choice. I knew nothing about Cologne, it wasn’t a city that I’d ever thought of visiting, I couldn’t speak a word of German so how I ended up there is a bit of a mystery.

I hadn’t ever been to Germany before so  I went to Cologne with no idea of what to expect but was pleasantly surprised. It’s quite a nice city and one I’d happily recommend to people looking for a European weekend break away. The standout landmark of the city is its cathedral (the Kölner Dom), you can see it from miles away and all over the city. Seeing it for the first time blew me away and it doesn’t get any less impressive several viewings later. It is an incredible piece of architecture, a World Heritage Site and a reason in itself to visit Cologne.

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Kölner Dom!

Once you’re done admiring the cathedral (this could take a while) you’ll find plenty else to keep you entertained. The Rhine river runs through the heart of the city so you can take cruises along the river, get tickets for the theatre or a show, discover the museums (the Lindt chocolate factory particular popular and has some great views on the roof!), walk through the large shopping district in the city or just wine and dine your way through the pubs and restaurants scattered along Cologne’s cobblestones.  Along the waterfront you’ll find some particularly enjoyable spots to enjoy the local delicacies and have a few Kölsch beers.

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Overlooking the Rhein river

It’s a good city break. It’s not the greatest city you’ll ever visit but I do think it’s worth a visit. I’d personally recommend spending 2-3 days in Cologne and not much more. I think any longer and you’d soon run out of things to see and do. My trip was 3 days long and I left with thoughts that I’d seen all that I wanted to. It’s a nice city, I’d had fun and it was a good first impression of Germany. I’d never rule out returning somewhere because you don’t know what might happen but I didn’t envisage I’d be going back to Cologne.

 

Trip 2: The return to Köln (Mar 2016)

Three years earlier I couldn’t see myself returning to Köln – nice city but “been there, done that” would be an apt description of my visit to Köln. I struggled explaining how I’d even decided upon Köln so you’re probably scratching your head as to how I ended up back here.

Luckily it’s a little more straight-forward on this occasion. I am a huge football fan and one of my big bucketlist items was to attend a Borussia Dortmund home game at some point. Famed for its incredible atmosphere and “yellow wall” it’s something that any football fan would want to experience. Unbelieveably the situation arose where my beloved Tottenham Hotspur had been scheduled to play in Dortmund. I had to go! The game was announced Friday lunchtime and by Friday evening I had booked flights to Germany! A “once in a lifetime” opportunity to watch Spurs in Dortmund – I’m going again next month.

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Borussia Dortmund v Tottenham Hotspur

Easy to laugh in hindsight but it genuinely felt like a “once in a lifetime” chance and a “must not miss” game. I wasn’t alone in that thinking though and by Friday afternoon the, normally cheap, flights to Dortmund and Dusseldorf had started shooting up. What was plan B?
Flights to Köln are still really really cheap and it’s not that far away. Book the flights asap, worry about the accommodation later.

Accommodation in Dortmund was fully booking up, neighbouring cities had no real appeal to me and Köln was appearing the most sensible and cheapest option. I could still travel to Dortmund on matchday, right? It does mean returning to a city you’ve already been to though. I was a little reluctant but committed to Köln. I could take the odd day trip, see some of the remaining bits and pieces Köln had to offer and at least I had friends with me this time which would be much more fun than my previous solo adventure here.
Oh, one other thing. I could also speak the language! Admittedly nowhere near fluently but I really can’t understate how much of a difference this made.

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German phrases translated directly to English. 

I arrived Wednesday morning and come lunchtime I had spoken more German than the entirety of my previous trip. Only something as simple as asking for a table, reading a menu and ordering some food / beers in another language but to me it was mind-blowing. I’d been in this same restaurant three years earlier and knew nothing. Here I was complimenting the food ( “sehr lecker” ) and asking where the toilets were because I’d ordered a beer or two too many. It made me feel proud and definitely felt like I was acclimatising a bit better than my previous trip to Köln.

Returning to Köln was an interesting experience. It felt so familiar but different at the same time. I’d walked these streets, been in these bars before but because of the improvement in my German it felt like I was seeing things with new eyes and my ears were definitely picking up on things I’d missed out on last time. The friendly chit-chat of the locals and German mannerisms that were easier to notice.
I didn’t spend all of my days in Köln, I took the odd day trip to nearby places such as Brühl and Bonn but overall I left Köln content.

There had been a twinge of disappointment at returning but by the end of it I was thankful I’d gone back with more of a local experience. Two trips over eight nights though felt plenty. Would I return to Köln? Maybe but certainly not to soon. Two trips in the space of three years was plenty for the near future.

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Trip 3: “Where is Leverkusen?” (Oct 2016)

Köln wasn’t my only option for Dortmund, I could certainly have picked other German cities that were slightly nearer but Köln at the time seemed like a logical choice. With hindsight maybe I would have gone somewhere else in March.
After a few trips in 2016 I’d saved my last few days of annual leave for one more away trip with Spurs. All I had to wait on was the destination. Where would Spurs be playing?

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Bayer Leverkusen v Tottenham Hotspur

Leverkusen, Germany. Germany again! Alright, I quite like Germany. Where exactly is Leverkusen though? Oh, it’s a tiny town outside of Köln. That’s bloody convenient. Nearest airport? Kôln/Bonn. Nearest city? Köln. So.. Köln.. again.. really? Third trip, second of 2016.

I was gutted. Similar to a spoilt little child I was eyeing up all the incredible European destinations Spurs could potentially be going to and I’d “only” got West Germany again. This wasn’t meant as a personal attack on Köln because it is a nice city but I think I would have taken ANYWHERE else. I’d seen enough of the city on the first visit, a second was definitely enough and just over 6 months later I was going back. What was I going to do for five days on my third trip to the city?

I’m an optimistic and positive person so my childishness had evaporated come the day of my flight out there. I love Germany, what was I so miserable about? Most people would love to travel as much as I do and I was having a little tantrum. Good friends, German beers, a day out at the football – what was not to like? It certainly beat being at work or stuck in the rain in England.

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Köln looking pretty. Not so bad, right?

It wasn’t ideal but just make the most of it. I took a couple of day trips again, this time including a day in Belgium. That gave my German so much confidence. I’d spent Sunday in Germany, speaking a good level of the language, before visiting Belgian city Liege on the Monday. Liege is a French-speaking city and it wasn’t until I went to grab lunch that it occurred to me I hadn’t entirely thought this through.

A friendly greeting of “Bonjour” accompanied with a French menu. Panic! My French is rubbish! Take me back to Germany! I can do this no problem whatsoever.
I’ll talk about Liege another time but it dawned on me how good my German is at this point. Sure, amongst fluent German speakers I might struggle but I was better than 90% of foreigners.

Back to Köln! Tuesday was simply a day of football and German beer – wonderful. The game was dreadful and another wonder-save from Hugo Lloris in Europe spared us from defeat but what a fun day and fun atmosphere.

Wednesday my mood had switched completely. I was in complete admiration of Köln, I seemed to have Köln rose-tinted glasses on. Everywhere I looked I could only see the things I loved about the city – it’s beautiful cathedral, walking alongside the Rhein river and just wandering up and down it’s cobbled streets. I felt happy here, I felt at home with such familiar surroundings. Maybe a third visit does that to you?
Part of me didn’t want to leave and part of me was questioning if I’d come back to Köln for a 4th time and of the opinion I probably would.

They say “third time’s a charm” and it couldn’t be more apt to describe my love affair with Köln. It’s such a strange city for me. It was never a city on my radar, I couldn’t quite tell you how I ended up there, had no real intention of returning on either of my first two trips and yet ended up falling in love with it on the third visit.

Am I in a rush to return to Köln? Not so soon but oddly I see myself back there at some point. It took a while but you won my heart Köln and all three trips certainly have some wonderful memories.

I don’t know when I’ll see you next but “Bis bald Köln, ich liebe dich”

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So much love spread in Köln.

So tell me, have you ever grown to love a place more after several visits? Have you been to Köln yourself? Leave me a comment and tell me what you thought.

All the best!

Jason

My travel FAQ’s

I thought I’d change the theme a little and do a post on some of the things I regularly get asked by family, friends and across social media platforms. So here goes:

I’ll start with the obvious one. Where have you been?

I was born and grew up in England so naturally I’ve seen a bit of my own country, there’s still plenty more I want to see mind you.

Beyond that I’ve been to Scotland, Wales, Portugal, Spain, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Italy, Greece, Australia and the USA. Some have been one time visits, some of those I’ve been to multiple times. The USA is my most visited country with 8 trips, however I’ll be making my 8th trip to Germany before the end of 2017.

 

Where’s next?

This is probably my most frequently asked question and probably a good indication that I have a reputation for travelling. I’ve actually got three trips lined up at the minute but the next of those is to Madrid in Spain. It’ll be my first time in the Spanish capital – any tips are welcome!


How can you afford to travel so much?

There are a few factors to this and one of those are my lifestyle choices. I haven’t got my own place, a mortgage to pay, kids to worry about and so on. It makes traveling a lot easier when all of your money after bills is for yourself.

With that said whilst my lifestyle choices help, I don’t plan on stopping once I’ve settled down. Plenty of families and couples are able to travel too. Travel is much more affordable than you might think, particularly with the rise of budget airlines and accommodation.

I genuinely believe the only difference for those that travel regularly is that they’re willing to make it a priority and make sacrifices elsewhere within their lives. There really isn’t a right or wrong way to live your life, you should 100% do whatever it is that makes you happy. If you want the latest piece of technology, want to go out for dinner with friends or have to have that Sky subscription that’s absolutely fine but these are sacrifices travelers make to fund their travels. I’d love to replace my 12 year old TV but it’s the equivalent of a holiday. Whilst the TV works I’d sooner go abroad.

You might only make little cutbacks or savings but it all adds up. One less takeaway is that little bit closer to your next trip!


Where is the best place you’ve been to?

A tricky question. I’m always inclined to answer New York City when I’m asked this, however it really depends on what sort of holiday you’re in the mood for. I can’t 100% say NYC is better than a trip to Disney for example, you can’t easily compare the two as they’re completely different holidays and I loved visiting Orlando as a kid (I want to go back!).

Everywhere is different and makes it difficult to pick a favourite destination. You can even visit two cities in the same country and find that neither are anything alike.

NYC lived up to the high expectations though so I’ll go with that as a close second to London (which I still think of as home).

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I love New York!


Where is the friendliest place you’ve been to?

Lisbon. I’d go back to Portugal in a heartbeat just for the people. There are friendly people everywhere you go but the Portuguese came across as extra friendly. Pretty much any accommodation review you see reflects that too – they are the perfect hosts! Go to Portugal!

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Is there anywhere you wouldn’t go?

The short answer is no. I want to go everywhere. I think at a younger age I was a bit more wary about visiting certain places but the more you travel the more you realise how alike we all are.

In a world of “fake news” you also wonder how much Western influence has on telling me where is and isn’t safe to visit. Nobody seems to bat an eyelid when I say I’m off to Spain soon despite the huge conflict surrounding independence for Catalunya.

When you see groups / solo travelers who’ve visited every country in the world it does make me wonder how unsafe these places are but more importantly – “why can’t that be me?”

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Bratislava – “don’t go there” – please do! It’s wonderful!

I can’t believe you travel on your own, how do you do it? Aren’t you nervous?

The first time was nerve-wrecking but it’s something I’ve got used to. My first solo trip was to Australia so having gone that far everything since has seemed a little less daunting.

Travelling alone and travelling with people both have their pros and cons. I think it’s good to be able to do things in your own company though and it can help your confidence too.

Traveling solo doesn’t necessarily mean staying solo anyway. Some of my best memories travelling have been on solo trips and making friends along the way. Where you stay and what you do whilst you’re away can always give you the chance to meet people.


How do you plan your trips and where you’re going? 

There are so many different ways that my planning process begins. From a destination point of view, I think when you’re enthusiastic about travel you’ll find any excuse for a trip. I’ve traveled for such a variety of reasons. From the simple “Hey, let’s go to New York” to finding a gig to go to in another country, I’m even off to my first overseas wedding next year!

There’s a lot of fun to be had in the planning process but how it happens really depends why and who you’re travelling with.

If it’s a one stop visit then it’s easier to plan, for multi-city breaks it requires a lot more organisation and thought. If you’re travelling by yourself you can make a few more snap decisions, whilst travelling with others you require a bit more patience and compromise.

Even on a repeat trip somewhere it doesn’t necessarily mean the planning process is the same.


What websites do you use? 

Skyscanner is usually my starting point for any journey. It’s a great website for flights, particularly if you can be flexible on dates and destinations. Kayak is another decent website for finding cheaper flights.

Accommodation I usually play pretty safe and Booking.com is one of my most used as it has such a wide range of properties on it. For hostels, Hostelworld is my favourite and AirBnB is also popular although I’ve yet to personally use the latter.

It’s also worth considering hotels and airlines that offer reward programmes. They can work out a little pricier but if you’re building loyalty points towards other perks or future trips it can be worthwhile.


I’m so jealous! Take me with you?

I thought I’d end on this. It often isn’t posed as a question, more of a joke-y comment but please always feel free to come! That’s an offer open to anyone reading this!

If you can’t make a trip, join me for my next or let’s plan our own! I’m never going to pass up the opportunity of more adventure or company to enjoy it with. Stop being jealous and come with me!!

Alternatively for those already travelling – take me with you! Haha.

Anything else you’d like to know? Just leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you!

All the best!

Jason

York!

I think one thing many of us are guilty of when it comes to travel is not seeing enough of our own country. One thing I certainly want to start doing more often is taking city breaks within the UK.

Last August I did just that. With a three day weekend and a friend hosting a charity gig, I had a good excuse to make a trip up to Yorkshire. I arrived in Northallerton later than planned. My train in London had come to a standstill and there was no sign of how long we’d be stuck, which meant a change of plan and running to the nearest tube stop in a hopeful attempt to reach Kings Cross before my train up North departed.
Frustratingly I’d missed my train by seconds through no fault of my own, that train departing the platform is the one I’m supposed to be on – which wasn’t the best start to my weekend. Fortunately it did get better from there and a fun night with a live band and a few beers made up for arriving later than scheduled.

The next morning I wished farewell to my friend and made the short train ride from Northallerton to York. I’d been to York 2 or 3 times before but only really to visit family, it always seemed to rain whenever I’d visit too so I was hoping for much more opportunity to explore this time and also better weather!
I arrived in a sunny York which was an encouraging start to the two days I’d be spending in York.

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River Ouse, York

York is one of my favourite English cities. It has so much history and character and you feel that almost instantly upon arrival. After exiting York’s main train station I was instantly staring up at the city walls. I was staying in a hotel outside of the city walls but on a relatively lively street with a few pubs, restaurants and shops nearby.

Still too early to drop my bag off at my hotel, I ventured past the city walls and in to the city of York. Merchantgate, one of the openings in the wall, had actually been closed off for the day to vehicles because of an event in the city. I was curious but overheard someone say it would be starting at 1 so figured I’d come back later on.

Ahead of me crowds were building, to my right was a staircase leading up to the city walls. Walking the wall seemed a much more attractive proposition than trying to hurdle the number of people along Merchantgate. It’s not something you can do in too many cities and an enjoyable walk along the wall. It’s also great for photo opportunities from a higher vantage point.

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Having walked across the wall I arrived at the River Ouse and thought it a perfect time to do a river cruise. It was a guided tour and quite interesting. Our captain pointed out a few points of interests and shared some of his knowledge about the city as we drifted along the river, a very peaceful way to spend an hour and thoroughly recommended.

After the cruise I headed back in the direction of Merchantgate to see what all the fuss was about. It turns out they had an event for soapbox racing. Watching bananas, Trojan horses, farmers, batman and more race through the streets of York was certainly an experience to remember. Each ‘car’ raced against the clock with the quickest finishers of the course heading in to the next round. It was very entertaining!

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The Shambles

I checked in to my hotel and then went in search of food! I stumbled upon one of York’s most famous streets known as the Shambles – a row of shops along a cobbled street with dimly lit lights in the windows to give it a real atmospheric feel. It was beautiful and I found somewhere near by.
Having stuffed myself with pizza, I finished my Sunday evening off in one of York’s many many pubs in the city.

Bank holiday Monday’s are famed for rain so it was a nice surprise to wake up Monday morning to further sunshine. A warm bank holiday, surely not?
After grabbing an on-the-go breakfast I headed for York’s famous Minster cathedral, a UNESCO world heritage site. I’d passed it before but had never been inside. Despite following no religion I always find religious buildings fascinating to visit. The detail is incredible and the Minster no different in that respect. Definitely worth a visit when in York.

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York Minster

After a quick stop for lunch I visited York’s castle, quite unusual as far as castles go and situated on top of a small hill. Typically you expect the purpose of a castle to be used in defence of the city but it’s hard to see aside from the vantage point how this would have worked.
Despite the lack of purpose, you get some great views overlooking York which make it worthwhile visiting.

The rest of my day involved wandering the city, I particularly enjoyed the abbey and gardens close to the river – particularly beautiful with the sun setting.
I saw signs of a free walking tour which commenced in the evening. I’m generally a big fan of these and thought it’d be the perfect end to my trip but it was a bit of a disaster. My first clue as to how bad it was going to be should have been the low turnout. Come the start of the tour there was only around a dozen of us and that number dwindled over the hour that followed.

The tour guide was friendly enough and clearly loved York, however sadly I didn’t find the tour that interesting. Ultimately that comes down to personal taste and you can forgive that but the bigger problem was it was a walking tour with very little walking.
I wanted to see York and having only circled the equivalent of a block in 45 minutes I came to the conclusion it wasn’t going to happen.
By this point there were only 5 of us left and as I saw one couple making their escape I had to do the same. If I’d been the last man standing I would have had to see it out through pity so I passed off the grenade to the final couple and saved myself.

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With a wasted hour I went in search of a pub to have a drink before catching my train home. Despite a dreadful tour to end it, it was a great weekend.

I’d highly recommend a visit to York on any trip to the UK, or even if like me you’re already a Brit but just fancy a city break closer to home.

Have you ever been to York? What did you like / dislike about it? Let me know!

All the best

Jason

Sydney!

A family friend that moved out to Australia 25+ years ago was visiting England recently, it was a great chance to meet up – particularly for my parents and “the old gang” to reminisce of their youth and share stories from the past.

It got me reminiscing about my trip in the opposite direction. In February 2013 I made the trip down under to visit Sydney for a couple of weeks.
It quickly became a city I fell in love with so let me tell you why and what to expect if you make your own trip!

The sights!

I kick-started my trip with a ‘free’ walking tour. As a relatively new traveler at the time, this was the first of these I’d done. They’re common in most major cities and really help you familiarise with where things are in the city. They tend to cover most of the main sights and give you more information about the city and its history.

This particular tour was hosted by I’m Free Sydney Tour which included a city map and a bunch of recommendations/tips for your stay – both very useful and I’d thoroughly recommend using them in Sydney (I believe they run one in Melbourne too).

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First sight of Sydney Harbour!

The highlight of the tour was my first viewing of Sydney harbour. A real wow moment to see it for the first time and a part of the city I frequented often over the two weeks.

The best view of the city I found was surprisingly at Taronga Zoo across the harbour. It offers great views of Sydney’s skyline, opera house and harbour bridge – worth the admission price alone.


The people!

This was my first solo trip abroad – terrifying but I quickly felt right at home in Sydney. The fact it’s an English speaking country was a big help but the reality is that the people are incredibly friendly and make you feel welcome in Sydney.

True to its stereotype, Sydney felt very laid back and the atmosphere in the city and amongst the locals reflected that – particularly in the evenings!

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Some of the people were more unique than others

The nightlife!

Unsurprisingly this didn’t disappoint. A personal highlight was meeting up with the family friend for an evening and enjoying Sydney’s nightlife. Sydney’s opera house has a fantastic outdoor bar overlooking the harbour which is perfect for watching the sun set.

I particularly enjoyed the atmosphere in an area known as “The Rocks” with its many bars but Australians love their beer as much as the English so wherever you end up for the evening, you’re likely to have an enjoyable time.

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Beers, sunset, opera house – perfect!

The culture! 

As you’d expect from any big city – Sydney caters to everyone whatever your interests are. Australians love their sports and have several options including Cricket, Rugby, Tennis, Football (Soccer), Football (Aussie Rules) and much more.

If live music is more your scene you’ve got either the high-end with a world famous opera house or something more casual with plenty of bars playing music throughout the week and over the weekends. If you can’t watch a show you’ve got the option to do a tour of the opera house instead. Sydney also has a number of museums and other attractions to entertain you plus plenty of places to dine and shop!


The wildlife! 

Home to the kangaroo, the koala bear and more species that can kill you than any other country in the world means that Sydney has a lot of locations where you can see them. The Featherdale Wildlife Park was a favourite, a little outside of Sydney itself but if you’ve got a car then certainly worth a trip to have kangaroos hopping around at your feet and a chance to get up close with Koala bears.
Closer to central Sydney you’ve also got zoos and aquariums.

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The Chinese Friendship Garden near Darling Harbour

The nature! 

Whether it’s enjoying one of the local beaches or just wanting to admire the view over the harbours, Sydney is a great place to just admire the planet we live on. Also home to a number of parks and gardens in often sunny climates means there are few better cities enjoyed from outdoors.

A little outside of Sydney are the blue mountains which make for a great daytrip. Within Sydney, close to Darling harbour, I’d also personally recommend visiting the Chinese garden of friendship – a little gem I thought that perhaps wouldn’t be on your list.

Have you been to Sydney? What were your highlights?
Feel free to share them or alternatively if you’re planning a trip then feel free to ask for recommendations / tips.

All the best!

Jason