Amsterdam – Day 3-4 (Dec 2015)

Following on from days one and two in Amsterdam, I had one final full day (Thursday) to enjoy the city before waving goodbye to Amsterdam on the Friday. My only concrete plans for Thursday were in the evening so I had the rest of the day to do as I liked.

There weren’t many things I felt like I “had to do” whilst in Amsterdam, I was pretty relaxed and flexible about the trip but two things stood out. The Anne Frank house which I’d visited the previous day and a canal boat tour. I’d explored plenty on foot already but thought it’d be cool to kickstart my day with a tour on the water.

I headed down to the area the tours departed and got a ticket for an hour long tour. I enjoyed it, it was an interesting way to see the city and allowed me to see a few parts I hadn’t seen before. Our captain talked about the history of the city and pointed out some cool points of interests along the way. It’s such a pretty city and the canals play a big role in that so it was good to see them in a little more depth.

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Having now ticked off my two “must do’s” I had no real plans left until the evening. I passed a little café and decided a cup of tea was a good chance to ponder what to do whilst enjoying a little people-watching. It was away from the main tourist crowds so was a good opportunity to mix in and see what the locals get up to.

I decided I’d go and explore the area around the I Amsterdam sign and that I could probably squeeze in a museum or two too. Walking in that direction took me via Amsterdam’s famous Bloemenmarkt (flower market) which was particularly pretty with a range of colourful flowers on display, including the tulips you’d hope to see at any good flower market in the Netherlands.

As pretty as they were I avoided the temptation to take any flowers home with me and got back on track to where I wanted to be. Soon enough I was looking up at this spectacular building which is home to the Rijksmuseum. At the back of the building was a pretty garden area with some sculptures and then a little further on was the I Amsterdam sign and an ice rink overlooking the area.

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I expect this area attracts a lot of tourists anyway, it’s an “Instagram favourite” so no doubt draws crowds whenever you visit but as I walked up there was this large red truck in front of me. It was the Coca Cola lorry! Santa was in town and was all too happy to give me a thumbs up – I guess I wasn’t on the naughty list! Hurrah!

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Santa had a busy day ahead of him so I left him to it and got some photos from around the area and moved on to the Rijksmuseum for a while. I spent a bit of time there before moving onwards and looking for somewhere to grab an early dinner. Pretty closeby was Amsterdam’s Hard Rock Café, as some of you’ll know by now – a favourite of mine. It was in a good location overlooking the water and met the usual HRC expectations.

Following on from food I had a bit of time to kill. I passed the Heineken brewery and was tempted to give the tour a try but there was a bit of a queue and I didn’t have an endless amount of time so instead had a little wander before catching the metro to the evening’s big event I’d been looking forward to!

I was off to the football! The Netherlands most illustrious football club, Ajax, just happened to be playing at home in Amsterdam! It wasn’t a particularly glamorous game by Ajax’s standards so after tackling the ticketing website in Dutch I managed to pick up a ticket for the game – sat right at the very back of the upper tier mind you.

I have a general ‘bucketlist’ of places I want to visit and then an additional ‘football bucketlist’ which occasionally overlap. I’d obviously wanted to visit Amsterdam at some point but similarly I’d always dreamt of going to watch Ajax someday. Growing up they were a club I’ve always held a huge respect for and the good relationship between Ajax and my beloved Tottenham hasn’t harmed that either.

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I was in the stadium pretty early. I’d anticipated there being a little more near the ground to entertain myself beforehand but with little to keep me amused I figured I’d just go in and soak up the atmosphere. I wasn’t too sure what to expect but it was a “must win” game for Ajax if they were hoping to progress in the Europa League so come kick off there was a bit of a buzz in the air with flags waving and most of the noise coming from the corner of the opposite stand.

I’d like to think for a bigger game the atmosphere would have been better but Ajax’s noisiest section of fans did their best in keeping the noise going and trying to get the rest of the stadium involved.
One of the favourites amongst the Ajax vocal support was Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds’ – synonomous with Ajax football club but feeling a little surreal watching a game between a Dutch and Norwegian football team in Amsterdam and hearing the fans singing in English.

It’s hard not to be impressed by it either. I’m sure Bob Marley didn’t write it with the intention of it being sung by thousands of Dutch fans at a football game but in unison it sounds absolutely beautiful. It’s so damn catchy too, it was stuck in my head for days! “Baby don’t worry..”

and now again! Damnit Ajax! The video above is actually from this summer when Bob Marley’s son attended an Ajax game and sung it together! Incredible!

Anyway despite Ajax’s best efforts the result didn’t go the way it needed to. It finished 1-1 but Ajax’s slim hopes of European football in the New Year were dependent on winning this game so a draw left many, including myself, rather frustrated.

Ajax were playing in the 7pm-ish fixture which ended around 8:50pm I suppose. My beloved Tottenham were then playing at 9ish (8 UK time) so I was hoping to make a mad dash in to the centre to find a bar – expecting to miss a chunk of the game.

Post-match traffic / delays seemed minimal. I don’t know why – better efficiency perhaps but I was pretty much straight on to the metro and back in to the heart of Amsterdam. Somewhere along the way it started raining so I walked out on to the street with the rain falling and jumped in to the first bar that caught my eye. I’d only missed around 10 minutes but Spurs were already winning 1-0.

I grabbed myself a drink at the bar and seemingly missed us score a second. I initially thought I’d be lucky to see the first half, I’d amazingly only missed 15 minutes of the game and we were 2-0 up. Typically Tottenham had chosen tonight to start so impressively.

We scored a third before half-time so it made the rest of the game a chore in all honesty. Spurs had wrapped the game up in the first half which meant the second half was played at a rather pedestrian pace. I’d wanted to finish my night with a couple of beers and some good football but Spurs had taken their foot off the gas. I spent most of the second half people-watching, amused at the drenched pedestrians outside whilst looking on at the drunken conversations taking place across the rest of the bar.

The game finished and I took that as my sign to call it an evening. It was just shy of 11pm so I hurdled the puddles of Amsterdam and made my way back to my hostel. I walked in to the bathroom of my dormroom and it was clear I had new roommates.
A huge selection of beauty products were sprawled across the bathroom that hadn’t been there this morning!

Within a few minutes the ‘beauty queen’ had returned – “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN!!?” she asked.

Wait, what? A million questions started running through my head. I’d been exploring Amsterdam obviously. Is that not an expectation in hostels? How long have you been waiting for me? Have you regularly been returning awaiting my arrival? I was a tad confused – “sorry, didn’t realise there was a curfew!!”

In her defence it was a question formed out of friendliness. She was clearly sociable and looking to make new hostel / traveler friends and I’d, rather selfishly, spent my whole day out of the hostel doing my own thing. Having made our introductions it only took a couple of minutes before she followed it up with an invitation to the hostel bar.

At long last!! Wait, no, I’m leaving tomorrow and could do without waking up hungover. What do I do? Where were you when I wanted friends to mingle with on Tuesday and Wednesday night? You’re a day too late!
I was a little hesitant. I was looking forward to a chilled end to the night and getting comfy in bed.

My new hostel friend made her way to the bar without me and after overthinking it a little too much I decided to make my way in the same direction. I’d been disappointed at the lack of social interaction the last two nights so why not make up for it?

It wasn’t long before I was in conversation with new friends and perhaps just coincidental but I seemed to get talking to a few other people this night too. Why it had to happen on the last night I don’t know. This was what I’d wanted earlier in the trip! Sadly I took the sensible approach and after 2-3 beers called it a night. No hangover this time but at least I’d ended the trip on a positive. Thursday had been my favourite day in Amsterdam and I was sad it was almost at its conclusion.

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Friday morning I was up bright and early – and hangover free! My train home from Brussels was mid-afternoon so it left me with a few options. I could explore Amsterdam a little more before catching a later train to Brussels, I could go to Brussels now and spend some of my afternoon in Brussels exploring or I could potentially travel to somewhere in between and squeeze in some time in a new city.

Call me cynical but the UK train network has made me distrusting of trains ever being reliable so I decided I’d get on the first train to Brussels. Better that than risk getting stuck in Europe because of train issues later on. I think it was the right decision, soon enough I was back in Brussels.

I’d first visited Brussels two years earlier (Dec 2013) but more recent than that, I’d been to Brussels about six weeks ago! One of the bonuses to having visited a place is knowing exactly where everything is! I only had 3 or so hours in Brussels so luckily didn’t have to waste any of that finding my bearings, Brussels was still fresh in the memory from October so I was quickly on to the metro system and in the heart of the city.

Brussels is nice, probably not a city you’re ever going to fall in love with but it is likeable. However I think if there’s ever a time you’ve going to fall in love with the city it’s going to be in December.
It’s incredible how different a city can change in barely six weeks. Brussels appearance had been uplifted and there was a bit of Christmas magic in the air. It’s dreariness in October had been replaced by Christmas decorations and Christmas markets lighting up the city.

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There was only one place to start my limited time in Brussels and that was with the appropriately-named Grand Place. No matter how many times you walk in to this square it doesn’t seem to be any less breath-taking. I strolled down to see what festive attire Brussel’s peeing boy (Mannekin Pis) was wearing on this occasion and then I went to find a spot of lunch.

I settled down with some good food and enjoyed my last taste of some Belgian beer for a while – it hadn’t been particularly long since my last visit but it felt good to be back in Brussels. As content as I’d have been to keep watching the Belgian beer flow, sadly I knew time was passing by all too quickly. I made one last little walking lap of central Brussels before bidding it farewell and making the slow journey back to London.

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Amsterdam had been wonderful, everything I’d hoped it would be and a few hours in Brussels just rounded off my 2015 travels perfectly. I arrived back in London, enjoyed the festive period at home and then switched my focus towards the first of my 2016 travels.

Stories of that will follow soon but next time round on the blog I’ll be sharing which city I’ll be visiting next week!! Stay tuned!

Jason!

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Amsterdam – Day 2! (Dec 2015)

Day one in Amsterdam had been a bit low-key, I spent a chunk of the day traveling and being December it was already dark by the time I’d arrived late-afternoon. It was also pissing it down with rain which meant there was only so much exploring I wanted to do on my first evening.

So I woke up relatively early on the Wednesday morning keen to make the most of my first full day in the city. Amsterdam is just one of those places that wins you over pretty quickly. In December you have a lights festival sprawled over its canals which makes it look spectacular after dark but it turns out it’s no less impressive by day either.

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After Tuesday evening’s miserable downpour I was pleasantly surprised to wake up to blue skies, hopeful they’d last and make exploring the city a little more enjoyable. I wanted to kick my day off with a ‘free’ walking tour of the city. I find these are useful for familiarising yourself with a new city, see a few of the sights and learn a bit about the city in the process.

I’d got out in to the streets a bit earlier than anticipated though and the starting point wasn’t as far from my hostel as I thought either so I arrived far too early, giving me a chance to have a little wander nearby beforehand.

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As I strolled along one of the canals, admiring Amsterdam’s beauty, I was caught by surprise and pretty much jumped out of my skin.
Just to my left was some woman, stood inside with only her underwear, knocking against the window. She was waving me in for a cup of tea I think but I politely declined and moved along, a little surprised that the women of Amsterdam were looking for company so early in the day. It can only have been around 9-9:30 in the morning so I wasn’t expecting it.

Soon enough I wandered back towards the starting point for the tour, you’ll find New Sandemans based in a lot of European cities offering ‘free’ walking tours (you tip what you like after). I quite enjoy their tours and this was another decent effort as we wandered along Amsterdam’s canals and got a bit more insight in to the history and quirks of Amsterdam. This particular spot on the tour was nicely hidden away and not too busy.

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I’d pre-booked the Anne Frank House museum for later in the day so had a bit of time to kill after the walking tour. I didn’t really have anything planned so just wandered aimlessly for the next couple of hours.
It’s recommended that you pre-book for the Anne Frank House and I passed the building a couple of times throughout my trip and the queues were fairly lengthy. It’s also suggested that Wednesday is the quietest day to visit and it showed when I arrived, I had sensibly pre-booked but there wasn’t actually much of a queue at the time I went anyway so I probably could have got away with not booking in advance.

This was really the one thing I’d wanted to do in Amsterdam and I can’t say that it disappointed. I thought the museum as a whole was really well done and is a credit to the memory of Anne Frank and the horrors of that time. I can’t say I enjoyed it as such because it’s not one of those experiences you enjoy but I came out feeling educated, humbled and sombre which is what you hope to take away from a place such as this. It’s somewhere you should make time to visit if you’re in the city.

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Whilst it wasn’t overly late, it was pretty dark by the time I came out so after a little stroll through the city I went and found myself some dinner to round off a rather enjoyable second day Amsterdam. The route back to my hostel afterwards took me by Amsterdam’s Red Light District and whilst I’d had a brief introduction to it earlier in the trip, I have to say it’s a part of the city that surprised me a little. I had this image of it being this seedy little district full of old men or stag-do’s leering over women in windows but it’s as far from that as possible.

I’m sure there is that element there but surprisingly it’s a real tourist trap, there’s a little buzz to the area at night. I wasn’t looking to do any “window shopping” but the whole area was just crawling with tourists, at times it felt like they were literally crawling.

“Can you please either walk quicker or get out of my way!”

If you actually want to get anywhere it’s an area best avoided, in theory passing through it should have made my route quicker but I spent most of my time hurdling tourists that were just dawdling along.

The red lights reflecting over the canal added a little atmosphere to the area, I didn’t ever at any point feel unsafe or uncomfortable passing through it. Perhaps the legalisation of the prostitution and having it (all) on display makes it somehow seem a little less seedy but beyond the hordes of people it’s a relatively nice part of the city to walk through day or night.

After finally escaping the crowds I made my way back to the hostel and thought I’d give the hostel bar another effort, hoping for a bit more luck at making friends than I’d had the night before. Again it seemed the height of the social activity was in the smoking room which, even in Amsterdam, has never had any appeal to me.
Following a couple of beers I headed up to my dorm, contemplated how I’d spend my final full day in Amsterdam and got myself some sleep ahead of another fun-filled day in the city to come.

Stay tuned for day 3!

Gent!

It was October 2015 and I found myself back in Brussels, a city I’d already visited in December 2013. There’s honestly nothing wrong with returning to a place again, despite what other travelers might tell you but of course there are some downsides to going back somewhere (there are upsides too).

One of those downsides is you’ve often seen a lot of the main points of interests in a city which was very much the case for me with Brussels. So I figured why not use one of my four days in Brussels to take a daytrip somewhere. I considered a number of options in Belgium, France, Germany and even Luxembourg before finally deciding upon a Belgian city called Gent – for some reason the English spell it as Ghent so you might see it written this way too. The only logic I can offer for this is that it rhymes with bent so is perhaps written that way to distinguish the difference from the English pronunciation of gent.

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Gent, Belgium

Anyway Gent, a city I didn’t really know much about to be honest. It was a last minute decision to go there too so I hadn’t had an opportunity to do any research, I was just going to have to wing it and hope for the best.
Needless to say with that approach it didn’t take long for my first problem to arise.

After a short train journey from Brussels I was arriving in to Gent’s main train station which is unfortunately a little outside of the main part of the city. Which way should I be going from here? I had no idea and for some reason Belgians have an aversion to signposting things sufficiently.

Brussels isn’t as bad and fortunately in Bruges we’d got by using the tried and tested method of “follow everybody else” but that wasn’t going to work here – there were no tourists for me to follow! I didn’t foresee following random locals ending very well so I just had to pick a direction and hope I’d see some signs along the way.

I’ve been to Gent and now Liege (another Belgian city) and it’s a common problem in both. There’s a distinct lack of signs everywhere and then if there are some they often conflict. Perhaps they’re intended for different people such as pedestrians / drivers but it’s pretty frustrating following a sign that reads “right to the city centre” and 100 yards later coming across a sign advising you to go left.

This isn’t Alice in Wonderland guys, I need some clear directions please! Sadly Gent had no “Yellow Brick Road” so I got terribly lost. On the plus side I’ve probably seen more of Gent than your average tourist!

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Somewhere in Gent!

Eventually I got myself on track but I’d wasted a good hour of my morning already and had worked up a bit of an appetite.

Before thinking about lunch I stumbled upon Gent’s Sint-Jacobskerk (St Jacobs Church) – I generally like visiting religious buildings anyway but the dark grey skies hovering above were additional motivation to pop in and have a look around.

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Sint-Jakobskerk

It was a pretty church and I’d timed my visit pretty well, it was mostly empty with the exception of a small school choir getting some practice in so I watched for a little while before leaving them to it. I was off on the hunt for some lunch!

I found a long stretch of restaurants along each side of what was a pedestrianised street, I just had to find one with something to tempt me from the menu. Like many European cities, Gent weren’t going to be deterred by the miserable weather and most restaurants still had outside seating. With parasols providing cover from any potential rain and outside heaters and blankets providing warmth there were still plenty sat outdoors opposed to the warmth inside.
I followed suit and took up a prime seat for people-watching at one of the restaurants – a favourite pastime when traveling.

It’s easy to see why our European friends prefer this type of dining, I’m not sure even with parasols and heaters whether it’d work quite as successfully in England but I always enjoy it on my travels. It was a good lunch, I think I grabbed a steak accompanied with a delicious Belgian beer before getting back to exploring.

The lack of tourists make Gent a nice city to walk around. I don’t know how long that will stay the case, I don’t think it’ll boom in the same way that Bruges’ tourism has but it’s certainly a city on the up and somewhere that frequents my Instagram feed with a little more regularity now opposed to three years ago. Interestingly Gent is the location of my most popular ever Instagram post which is some indication as to its beauty and charm.

The weather brightened up a little bit after lunch so I spent the next few hours just wandering its streets and admiring its architecture. I didn’t really do anything noteworthy in Gent but it made for an enjoyable daytrip, you could perhaps squeeze a weekend out of it but a day is a good amount of time to see much of the city.

I knew I had to think about heading back to Brussels soon so rounded off the afternoon with a stroll alongside the river which offered perhaps some of Gent’s most stunning views. From the riverside cafes and bars to the boats floating on by, I was a little envious of those that got to stay and enjoy the pretty setting. However I’d had a fun few hours in Gent and called it a day, slowly making my way back to the train station.

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On the way to getting lost again!

Very slowly actually, I got lost again. It was a further chance to see more of the city, albeit unintentional again. I wound up somewhere near Gent’s university and rowing lake – not quite where I’d wanted to be and I was suddenly racing the clock to find my way whilst there was still some natural light. It was one thing being lost by day but I didn’t really want to find myself lost in a foreign city after dark.

It had been an adventure but soon enough I was back on track and pleased to see Gent’s main train station once again. I hopped on a train and quickly made plans for the evening. My friend Natalie had arrived in to Brussels ahead of Thursday night’s football so we were both looking forward to catching up over some Belgian beers.

We quickly found an Irish bar which was a little lively. A few other Spurs fans were also in town and keen to make the most of the karaoke at the far end of the bar. They proceeded to butcher a few songs, including a Britney Spears classic but fortunately the Belgian beer went down well to make it a little more bearable!

All in all it had been a pretty memorable daytrip! It’s a city I’d recommend, particularly if you’re in Brussels or Bruges and want to visit somewhere a little less crowded.

Up next? Amsterdam!

Stay tuned!

München – Trip 1, Part 2 (Aug 2015)

So if you’ve been following my August 2015 adventure around Bayern (Bavaria) then you’ll know so far I’d split my time between MünchenDachau and Augsburg.

I slept in a little on the Saturday morning whilst awaiting news from Nicole on our plans for the morning, sadly circumstances meant we didn’t get a chance to meet up again before leaving Germany so I made my way to the train station to head back to München for one night.

I was attempting to buy a ticket at one of the machines when some woman approached me asking if I was going to München – “how closely have you been watching me!?”

I replied that I was and she asked if I’d join her and her mother so we could all save some money. It sounded great but I had no idea if this was a legitimate thing so either had to decline or show a bit of faith, I opted for the latter and handed my money over to some complete stranger.

There was still no sign of this mythical mother at this point which added to my skepticism a little bit but sure enough we found her on the way to the platform. With that said I’d still seen no sight of the tickets so for all I knew I’d kindly paid for her mother’s ticket and then they’d plead ignorance once we were on the train
“I have no idea who he is conductor”.

I was feeling a little anxious as I saw the ticket conductor approaching our seats, fortunately my faith was repaid and although I couldn’t really understand what they were saying they clearly signalled that I was with them! Hurrah!
If you’re traveling in a group you can get discounted regional trains in Bayern, I didn’t know at the time but made good use of it a year later!

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Munich!

With my faith in humanity intact the rest of the journey was a happy one and I was soon arriving in to München’s Hauptbahnhof (main train station).
I’d stayed in a hotel on my four previous nights in Germany but as I was now solo for the first time on the trip I decided I’d stay in a hostel – I did treat myself to a private room though.

I quickly found my hostel, dropped off my things and thought I’d spend the next couple of hours exploring stuff I hadn’t seen already before turning my focus towards evening entertainment. I wanted to see the Englischer Garten before leaving the city, Daniel had mentioned on Thursday night that it was worth a visit and that there were even surfers in the park which was a tad bizarre! It had me intrigued.

My search for it was pretty unsuccessful though. I like walking everywhere, particularly given it was during the summer so rather than use a map I just wandered in a vague direction I thought it was in and sadly didn’t stumble upon it. As the afternoon drifted away I just decided to skip it and save it for my next visit to München – dinner had become a bigger priority.

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An example of the interesting things you see on foot!

I do try and eat local delicacies when I travel but I’d already had a few days in Germany to do that so I decided I’d indulge in one of my little travel guilty pleasures – the Hard Rock Café! Anyone following the blog for a while should know by now that I’ve been to a few (19 in total!).
In this instance it “killed two birds with one stone” too but I’ll come back to that shortly.

The Hard Rock Café’s are just a bit of a novelty experience really, the food is fine but certainly isn’t the best you’re ever going to have and it can be a bit pricey too but I like the overall atmosphere of them and they are an exception I’m happy to make when traveling.
In all honesty this wasn’t one of the better times I’ve had visiting HRC, I got stuck next to a rather obnoxious collective of people and it just ruined the mood for me. I spent most of my time just wanting to finish asap and move swiftly onwards.

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Munich’s famous Hofbrauhaus!

On the plus side the HRC was in a killer (2 birds, one stone..) location for my next stop of the night. Directly opposite the HRC is München’s famous Hofbrauhaus – a tourist trap but I figure you’ve got to visit at least once on your first trip to München. I don’t think the exterior appearance prepares you for how big this place is, it was huge and yet I was struggling to find the bar to actually order a beer.

Eventually I realised all you need to do is take a seat and the beer will come to you so I plopped myself down at a large table and soon enough flagged down one of the waitresses, wearing traditional Bayern clothing that you’d expect to see in a German beer hall. Soon enough a beer was put down in front of me and to my surprise wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be – it wasn’t that much more expensive than a beer elsewhere in München which made me realise how cynical England has made me.

“They’d have charged an extra pound or two for that in England, a further fiver in London, you’re missing a trick here München”.

Whilst the beer was cheaper than I’d anticipated it met my hopes in terms of taste. I didn’t plan to stay for long. One beer, two at the most but again it was another novelty experience to have had a beer in one of the most famous drinking spots in the world.

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Being a tourist is always fun when beer is involved!

Maybe everybody’s just happier when beer is involved but despite being a tourist trap the atmosphere was great. The typical oompah band was playing to entertain the tourists and everybody seemed to be in cheery mood and you could see new friendships developing throughout the room. I can’t imagine you meet too many locals here but if you want to meet people generally it’s a pretty good place to get chatting over a beer. They do food too if you’re feeling peckish but obviously I’d just eaten.

True to my intention I did only have one beer. I figured I’d go back to the hostel for the evening and perhaps make new acquaintances there, I’d been given a free drinks voucher upon check-in so it seemed rude not to make use of it at the hostel bar.

Soon enough I was at a table with 5 other guys. Four British youngsters enjoying a summer Eurotrip together and then a solo Aussie. Conversation was flowing and the drinks were flowing just as quickly. The Aussie decided to get in a round of shots and I don’t enjoy being “in debt” when it comes to drinking so I had to follow it up with a round of my own.
If you’ve had the pleasure (or mispleasure?) of joining me on a night out you probably won’t be surprised to hear that I switched my round to Jagerbombs which was a decision the Aussie was particularly fond of.

After a few drinks we decided to move on from the hostel and off to find a bar in the city somewhere. The drinks were beginning to have an effect, soon after arriving I found myself dancing with one of the Brits on this tiny stage. I don’t know if we’d embarrassed the rest of the party but they’d disappeared and found themselves an outside table and were soon mixing with new friends and fellow travelers.

We soon caught up with them but we’d missed the introductions. I found myself sat next to some pretty Italian woman that I was instantly smitten with. I’m not a “pick up a girl at a bar” type and I’m not 100% sure how accurate my memory of the evening is but I felt like she was flirting with me. The alcohol seemed to have given me a little more confidence so I went with it. It wasn’t going to lead anywhere and was only a bit of harmless fun.

I’d missed the initial introductions so about 10-15 minutes in I finally realised that the guy sat opposite me was the Italian’s boyfriend. On the plus side it now made sense why he’d been giving me the death stare – “my bad!!”

We seemed to leave shortly after that as we’d all had a few too many drinks. I can’t really recall much of the walk back – I don’t know if that’s just because it was a short walk or whether it was just an uneventful walk back to our hostel but soon enough we’d all gone our separate ways.

My next memory was being awakened by housekeeping the next day. I’d completely slept through check-out, it’s the only time I can ever recall doing this which isn’t really that impressive keeping in mind a lot of places let you check out around midday.
That alone should have been embarrassing enough but oh no. The weather in München had been 30-35c all week so I must have seemingly made the decision that on this night I’d sleep naked.

So as if it wasn’t enough of a surprise for this poor woman finding someone in what was supposed to be an empty room, this idiotic Brit was also fully exposed. I don’t know how much she saw before the panic kicked in and I’d covered myself up, it all happened pretty quickly so I’d like to think not much and I was rather grateful that I’d slept with my back facing the door. I figure a rear view is slightly better than catching the frontal view although I’m sure she wasn’t appreciative of either.

I quickly dragged my disgraced self out of the room and faced the walk of shame to the reception desk to complete my late check out, accompanied with the hangover from hell which was perhaps some form of karma. I began the night drunken dancing with some British guy in an Irish bar. I swiftly moved on to flirt with some Italian woman in front of her boyfriend before ending my trip with a naked surprise for the hostel staff. It was a night with an interesting story but perhaps not my finest evening or proudest moment.

After checking out, the rest of my afternoon was left to recover and reflect in my self-disappointment. I made my way to the airport, ordinarily an airport beer-garden would have been a blessing but I couldn’t face another beer before catching my flight home from München. I’d had a cracking trip with lots of memories but it was time for me to go home.

A year later I was heading back to Bayern and you’ll be pleased (or maybe you won’t?) to hear that it was a much tamer affair. You’ll have to wait for that story though.

Next up: a trip to Belgium!

Augsburg – trip #1 (Aug 2015)

When Tottenham first announced that they’d be going to Munich in August 2015 two thoughts immediately passed through my brain.
First and foremost, Tottenham are playing in Munich – I have to go!! Secondly, I’m going to Bavaria which means I have to squeeze in a day to visit Augsburg.

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Augsburg! (Sep 2016)

Augs-what-where-why?? Good question! I’ll be honest, for a long time I hadn’t heard of Augsburg either but then I met my favourite German, Nicole. Remember her? The potential romance? Salzburg? I promised she’d make a return to the blog and here we are! For those of you with short memories you can recap here (Part 4: Romance in Salzburg?) but whilst our first encounter had taken us to Austria, she actually lives in a city in Bavaria called Augsburg!

Whilst any hopes of a romantic future were long gone, I couldn’t come all the way to Munich and not visit Augsburg which was between 30-60 minutes away on the train! When you’ve got friends living overseas you’ve got to make the most of the opportunities when they come along. So I checked out of my hotel in Munich, hopped on a train and was soon making my way to Augsburg.

It’s funny how people can influence your opinions of a place purely through association. I loved Augsburg! I hadn’t actually stepped foot in the city yet but I was already fond of it just through the association. I can’t really explain why because Nicole had never sung the city’s praises but nevertheless I loved it. I find it very difficult to write about Augsburg and remain objective. I could give you a bunch of reasons to visit – its history (it’s Germany’s 3rd oldest city), its beautiful architecture, the friendliness of the people, its cool little beer gardens but none of those things are the reason for my fondness of the city. Had it been burning to the ground on arrival I would probably still have liked it.

Whilst it wasn’t burning to the ground when I arrived, it sure felt like it. What was this near 40C (100F-ish) weather about? Admittedly it was August and during Germany’s summer but I still hadn’t expected it to be this hot!

 

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Es ist zu heiß!

I discovered where my hotel was to come back to later and then went off towards Königsplatz which was a busy road with lots of shops, restaurants and things nearby. I sat down at a little café and ordered myself a dessert – a birthday treat!

Oh, that’s right. It was my 27th birthday! I hadn’t specifically planned to be in Augsburg on my birthday, nor Germany at all to be honest but it’s just how it panned out. The earliest I could fly to Munich was on the Tuesday and if I wanted to be at home on the Friday (my birthday) it would have meant flying home on Thursday.
Theoretically I could have gone Tue-Thu but with two of those days occupied for football it would have meant not seeing Augsburg at all and seeing very little of Munich either which felt like a complete waste of a trip for pre-season football. So I extended my trip to overlap with my birthday and I figured if I’m not going to be home on my birthday I might aswell extend it all the way to the end of the weekend.

Anyway, following my birthday treat I wanted to see a little of the city. Nicole had work so we weren’t meeting up until later on so it gave me a good chance to melt in Augsburg’s excessive heat for the next few hours. I walked through the streets when I stumbled upon a little marketplace, there wasn’t a huge amount to it but it was cute and I saw an opportunity to pick up some postcards. I must have given off the impression I was a German speaker, which is great because I was learning German, but it gave this woman the chance to speak at me for a good minute without reply and I realised a few sentences in that I’d left it too late to tell her I couldn’t understand a word she was saying. My German was better than any previous visit to the country but I still had a long way to go!
However I’d successfully bluffed my way in to making her think I’d understood everything she said before she returned my change to me. She waved me off with a “Tschüss” and I responded in kind.

Sidenote – the Germans have a reputation for saying everything angrily but I swear “Tschüss” never sounds anything other than adorable. It’s just a friendlier way of saying goodbye than “Auf Wiedersehen”.

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Market life in Augsburg!

Having picked up some postcards I took a stroll towards one of the main squares in the city, home to Augsburg’s Rathaus (town hall). I don’t know what it is about Germany’s town halls but they are always absolutely stunning and Augsburg’s was no exception to the rule (see first photo – taken on my 2nd trip). They were setting up for an event of some sort in the square so I happily got a few photos and then made an exit in direction of my hotel – hoping I’d be able to check in.

Fortunately I could which allowed me to drop my stuff off and more importantly freshen up. I needed to cool down, shower and just escape from the sun for a little while. Feeling a little more refreshed I headed back in to the city and returned to where I’d left off. From the Rathaus I followed the road down to the St Ulrich’s church, passing a row of colourful buildings on the way made up of little shops and restaurants.

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Pretty Augsburg!

The church was a little misleading, it looks huge on the outside but there wasn’t much to it on the inside or certainly not that the public had access to anyway. It was cute though and another escape from the sun. I took a little wander outside and soon stumbled upon this little hut hidden amongst the trees – it was an Irish bar! Well, actually the bar itself was across the street but here laid a pretty beer garden with the trees providing perfect shade to enjoy a beer. I had a bit of time to kill before meeting Nicole and couldn’t resist stopping here given how pretty the setting was.

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Murdock’s! There were more benches and stuff to the left of this photo in the shade!

After a couple of beers I went back to the square with the Rathaus and waited for Nicole to meet me. She gave me a little tour whilst we waited for a friend of hers (Alex) and then the three of us went off for dinner at some restaurant hidden away behind the town hall. It was a nice setting and a nice evening all round. The food was good, the company even better plus gave us a chance to catch up and also put my German to the test a little (it needed a lot of work but was an improvement on my time in Salzburg!).

Nicole had elsewhere to be so it wasn’t a particularly late night but it had been fun and I was pleased to have spent some time together in her hometown. We arranged to meet up for breakfast/brunch before I headed back to Munich but as family stuff came up we had to cancel. It was unfortunate but I figured I’d be back sometime.

I was! Just over a year later I would be heading back to Bavaria but that story will have to wait a while.

Next up: Munich, trip 1, part 2!

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

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