2019 Travel plans

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

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

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

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

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

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Dortmund, Nov 2017

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

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

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Another return to Köln!

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

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

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

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Back to Moses Lake, Washington!

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

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

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

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

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Irish bar, Florence, Italy

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

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

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

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

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Stay tuned!

Jason

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Luxembourg City – March 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Enjoying the train views!

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

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

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

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Luxembourg City!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nice day for exploring!

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

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

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

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The ‘Grund’ area in all of its beauty!

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

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Cool looking museum, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York City! Stay tuned!

Jason

Brühl and Bonn! March 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trip number 2 to Dortmund!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Köln (Cologne) again!

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

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

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Brühl!

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

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

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

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Max Ernst museum

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

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Bye Brühl!

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

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

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

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

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

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Standard post office in Germany?

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

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

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Exploring Bonn!

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned!

Jason

The annual Germany trip!

1988-2012!
For 24 years Germany wasn’t on my radar. Berlin’s history was something that fascinated me but beyond that it wasn’t a country that appealed to me, I had no reason to want to visit Germany. In reality it was just a country that I knew very little about and perhaps society plays its part in that, it’s a country I was more accustomed to hearing the negatives of opposed to the positives.

So when I was in school and had the choice of learning Spanish or German, it was a no brainer. For one I didn’t really plan to visit Germany, secondly I knew Spanish was one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world but perhaps most importantly the playground rumours were that Spanish was the easier language to learn – which was music to my ears as a relatively lazy student.

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Berlin, Germany!

2013!
I’d been infected! I had the travel bug and I needed a fix! I started looking in to flights for the Easter weekend but they were inevitably pricey so plan B was to take a train somewhere in to Europe. It was by no means my first choice but somehow I found myself going to Köln (Cologne – read me).

It was a city I knew nothing about, in a country I had little interest in, and additionally I couldn’t speak a word of the language. It’s a mystery to me how I ended up here.

I did have a nice weekend in Köln but truthfully it had been long enough. It was the first time I’d ever really felt like I was abroad and by the end of the trip I was quite happy to be returning home to the sound of English accents and a common language. It was a good introduction to the country but I hadn’t quite been sold yet.

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Köln

2014!
Me and a friend were talking about a European getaway and Berlin was somewhere that particularly appealed to us. I can’t say Köln had made me fall in love with Germany but nevertheless, having gone my whole life without visiting the country I was now returning for the second year in a row – madness!!

I was pretty optimistic about Germany though, it’d be a little more touristy than Köln and easier to get around without speaking any German. Plus it was a city I’d genuinely wanted to visit. If any city could make me fall in love with Germany, surely Berlin was the one.

I loved it! Berlin had won me over and I was sad to be leaving. It was a city I fully intended to return to, something I haven’t actually done yet but is very much on my list to do!

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Cycling the streets of Berlin!

2015!
“Three years in a row? Surely not Jason?”

Spurs were going to München (Munich) and if there was any reason to visit Germany, football was as good as any. My brief romance with Nicole had also sparked some motivation in me to learn the language.

Obviously things didn’t lead anywhere but whilst Nicole had been the reason to start, it reminded me that I love languages and this time I was learning on my own terms. I wasn’t learning to pass an exam or for a good grade, I was learning German because I wanted to and it’s a language I’ve really enjoyed learning.

For this particular trip I was still at a relatively novice stage but it was nice to be going to Germany for the first time with some understanding of the language, even if it was only minimal.

Better yet it was another of Germany’s big cities. Köln, Berlin and München are three of the biggest cities in the country but miles away from eachother and I was starting to see the similarities and differences between Germany’s different regions. Berlin hadn’t been a one-off, I loved Bavaria – I’d been converted in to a Germany-lover! “Ich liebe Deutschland!”

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Watching Spurs at Munich’s Allianz Arena

2016!
“No way! Not a fourth consecutive year?”

I think learning the language was the game-changer, by this point I was really beginning to appreciate the country. Not only was 2016 my fourth consecutive year visiting Germany but this year even had multiple visits!! I went to Germany in the March, September and October. Twice visiting the Köln / Nordrhein Westfalen sort of area for football and the September trip was a return to Bavaria.

Three visits to Germany! Four years ago I hadn’t been to Germany and now I’d been here six bloody times! That’s insane! My German was much improved, returning to the same places in Köln that I’d been to three years earlier and couldn’t speak a word of German in was mind-blowing to me.

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Back in Köln!

2017!
Another two trips to Germany saw 2017 become five years in a row! FIVE YEARS IN A ROW!

I fancied a long weekend away for the May bank holiday and laughably one of the best deals I could find was for a trip to Hamburg, one of Germany’s remaining big cities I’d yet to visit and was increasingly rising to the top of my bucketlist. I wasn’t really intending to go to Germany but it was too good an opportunity to pass up on.

Six months later Tottenham were playing in Germany again. Spurs 4th visit in three years themselves! I was a little reluctant at first because I’d grown rather sick of trips to Western Germany for football so compromised a little and decided I’d split my time between Bremen and Düsseldorf, before visiting Dortmund on the day of the game.

I didn’t really have enough time in Düsseldorf but was sad to head home to London and leave Bremen behind. I hadn’t gone with high expectations but it really surprised me and I quickly fell for Bremen’s charm. It was an 8th trip in 5 years but I really wanted another day or two to enjoy Germany. Who am I?

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Myself and Hamburg’s Rathaus!

2018!
“Where this year Jason?”

Nowhere! I ended the calendar year without a single visit to Germany! The month long trip to the USA (read me!) consumed a lot of my annual leave for the year and consequently I had fewer overseas trips last year (albeit longer ones).

The realisation that I wouldn’t be visiting Germany hit me towards the end of the year and there was definitely a temptation to just book a short weekend getaway, moreso with everyone on Instagram seemingly visiting the German Christmas markets. Nevertheless I was sensible and saved some pennies, having to settle for a Bratwurst at a Christmas market along the Thames instead. Not quite the same!

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Christmas markets close to opening in Bremen, 2017

2019!
Fear not though because normality is resumed this year and I WILL be returning to Germany at least once this year.

I promised to provide an update following December’s Champions League draw (European uncertainty) and despite my prayers to avoid a trip to Dortmund, those prayers fell on deaf ears and the merciless “football gods” are sending Tottenham back to West Germany!

I’m trying not to be too pessimistic about it, I’m staying in Köln AGAIN and this time the trip overlaps with the Kölner Karneval (Cologne carnival) which at least offers a fresh experience to my time in the city. Rather bizarrely though it will mean that I’ve been to Köln in March 2013, March 2016 and March 2019. Where this three year rule came from I’m not sure but on the plus side, at least I now know where I’ll be in March 2022!

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Köln, my second home?

Will this be the only Germany visit of 2019? Who knows? However I think I needn’t worry about those imminent blue passports, I must be due German citizenship soon, right?

Anyway, I’ll wrap things up here but this nicely leads me in to my next series of posts. Just before Christmas I finished up my series on Georgia (Feb 2016) which was soon followed by a trip to Germany in the March. Stay tuned to hear all about that!

Jason

European uncertainty: A follow up!

In my last post I spoke about fate determining my next trip. On Monday morning I’ll discover where my beloved Tottenham Hotspur are playing in March and by Monday afternoon I’ll have booked my travel in order to make a trip. You can read more about that here (European uncertainty!) but I suggested possibly posting a ‘Europa League’ comparison and here it is.

See, I’d already started drafting a Europa League edition of the same post in anticipation of us joining the competition and then Tottenham produced a sensational performance in Barcelona on Tuesday night to see us progress in the Champions League instead.

I was ecstatic! It’s the competition you want to participate in and see your team proudly competing with Europe’s elite. However from a travel perspective it was a tiny bit anti-climatic. I was eyeing up all of these Europa League opponents and potential away days, spread right across the continent and suddenly that all changed and I was left with just six destinations: Dortmund, Paris, Porto, Munich, Madrid or Turin?

Six destinations! All in countries I’ve been to before, four cities I’ve been to already and I’ve even seen Spurs in three of the stadiums which means it’s a 50-50 split for a new football experience. I’ve been to Dortmund twice!! I really don’t want to be visiting for a third time.

Moaning aside, I am happy we’re in the Champions League and I’ll be going to whichever of the six fate decides we’ll be visiting but I thought I’d have some fun and give you a comparison.

If Spurs had lost on Tuesday night we’d have ‘disappointingly’ entered the Europa League and that would have seen us visit one of the following 15 cities in February: Plzen, Bruges, Donetsk (Kiev), Istanbul, Zurich, Glasgow, Prague, Lisbon, Piraeus, Vienna, Rome, Malmo, Krasnodar, Rennes, Barysaw.

Fifteen! It’s ironic but our successful result on Tuesday night made it all a little more boring. Anyway, I’m going to follow on from my last post and treat this in the same manner.
From genuine “no-go” destinations to “dream trips” I’m going to review the 15 destinations and tell you what my thought process would have been had we found ourselves in Monday’s Europa League draw instead.

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Last trip to Italy in the Europa League – Florence, 2015

Rome, Italy
The one plus side to my Champions League fate is that there are no destinations to really worry about. I nearly opted to put my next destination before Rome but, you know what, I think Rome would sincerely worry me more.

Rome is high on my bucketlist. It’s probably top of my list of places to see in Europe that I haven’t already been to. Culture, history, food etc etc but it’s just not worth the risk for football. Fans of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Middlesbrough and Tottenham themselves have all found trouble awaiting them in Rome. The stats don’t lie and I don’t want to be another statistic. I can’t forget stories and images of Spurs fans left in critical condition following our last visit to Rome. Another stabbing headline.

Even overlooking the numerous stories (seriously, google it) I think I’d perhaps risk it as a fan of any other English club but there’s also the Jewish connection to Tottenham Hotspur. Unfortunately there’s also a racism / antisemitism problem in Italian football, particularly with Lazio who are almost famous for their right-wing support. It’s a travesty I’ve yet to visit but I wouldn’t ever go to Rome for football. It’s more hassle than it’s worth and a football trip in Florence (Feb 2015) wasn’t enough for Italian football to win me over.

Istanbul, Turkey
I really want to go to Istanbul, it looks like an incredible city and how many two-continent-cities can you visit? It’d be unique for that alone. It’s definitely on my bucketlist.

For football though? No. The Europa League could have seen us play either of Turkey’s two biggest clubs, Galatasary or Fenerbache, both based in Istanbul and both intimidating places to visit. There’s a little part of me that would be intrigued but I think a football match in Turkey is best left to experiencing as a neutral and better avoided as an English fan. More stories of violence and stabbings is enough to put me off. The city is a must visit but it’s another pass on the football front.

Krasnodar, Russia
I think prior to the World Cup success in the summer I would have been a bit more wary about visiting Russia for football. I still think Tottenham visiting Moscow would likely draw some unwanted attention but the only Russian team we would have been susceptible to playing would be based in a city called Krasnodar.

Honestly? I don’t know anything about the place. It’s a million miles away from Moscow and St Petersburg which are the two big cities I want to visit. I might have gone to this one though so it surprisingly ranks a little higher than Istanbul and Rome. What does go against it is that I don’t think it’d be an incredible atmosphere, very few of our fans would travel and I don’t know how easy it is to get a Russian visa in a rather quick turn-around period. I might have gone or I might have gambled on us progressing and getting something more appealing in the next round.

Kiev, Ukraine
An interesting one. A trip to Ukraine would have meant a game against Shakhtar Donetsk who unsurprisingly are from Donetsk. The problem is Donetsk is on the Russian border and is a bit of a warzone at the minute so they’ve been playing their games (for quite some time) in Kiev.

I want to go to Kiev and a year ago this was higher on my list but it seems tensions between Ukraine and Russia are running higher so it’s dropped a little bit. Unfortunately it seems like a bad time to be visiting the country. It’s a city that appeals more than Krasnodar so for that reason it ranks a little higher but I would have been in two minds about going.

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A return to Greece and pretty sunsets? Tempting!

Piraeus, Greece
There’s a temptation to put this one a little higher. I had to google where in Greece this actually was and it’s on the outskirts of Athens so I’d probably base myself in Athens and make a trip to Piraeus purely for the game.

Athens is definitely a city I plan to visit and Greece in February would have been a perfect winter getaway and a bit of Greek sunshine. Much like the Istanbul fanatics though, the Greeks are known to be a little crazy and love to create an intimidating atmosphere. I don’t think there’d be any trouble over there, purely as most of the time would be spent in Athens but it wouldn’t be one of my first picks to visit for football. The reality is we’d likely win and I’d save my pennies for the following round.

Vienna, Austria
This is where it begins to get a bit trickier and the destinations start getting more appealing. I’m being a little harsh on Vienna here because I would like to go back, my only visit there was barely for 24 hours and I couldn’t speak any German so I feel like it’d be much more enjoyable this time round.

Additionally I’d have no concerns visiting for football. There are a lot of similarities to Germany (hopefully don’t offend the Austrians/Germans in saying that haha) and I think it would be quite an enjoyable experience for football.

The only reason this is so far down is because albeit a flying visit, I have visited and Austria is also pretty expensive. There’s a lot of other places that would be cheaper and I’d rather visit. I would have gone though and possibly squeezed in a return to Bratislava or Budapest at the same time.

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Vienna, Austria – 2014

Barysaw, Belarus
“Where?” I hear you ask. Football definitely aids my geography knowledge so I knew BATE Borisov play in Belarus but I honestly had no idea where in Belarus this was. The fact the team are referred to as Borisov and Google suggests they play in Barysaw also makes me unsure of how you even spell it in English. Does anyone know and want to correct me?

Nevertheless a quick search on Google suggests Barysaw/Borisov is about an hour away from the capital, Minsk, which you’ll hopefully have heard of at least.

It might seem weird to some that this is higher than Vienna but it’d just be cool to go somewhere completely different, somewhere I’ve never been and it’s a trip I could extend in to a few other nearby countries I’ve never been to either.

Rennes, France
I said French football has never had the biggest glamour about it in my eyes and Rennes aren’t one of France’s bigger football clubs either.

Nevertheless it’s such an easy trip to France that this would have been quite a fun away trip. It’s not a region of France I’ve previously been to but it’s a country I’m growing a fondness of and I’m keen to explore more of. Not having to fly is always a bonus and it’s close enough that we’d take a large number of fans too which would make for a fun atmosphere over the course of a few days in France.

It definitely would have been one to get me excited but sits bang in the middle at 8th of the 15 destinations. Seven to go!

Zurich, Switzerland
Switzerland is a country I have still yet to visit! It looks stunning and so does Zurich so it’s a city that has been on my radar for a while. I don’t really know what it’d be like for football, with the exception of FC Basel the Swiss clubs typically haven’t seen much success in European football recently so it isn’t somewhere I’d get overly excited about from a football perspective but it’d be a cracking trip.

Zurich is also close to a number of other cities and countries making it ideal to extend a trip and explore for a little longer. The chance to tick off a new country and see a game at the same time would have been highly appealing. It’d be expensive though so would have fallen short of my top 5 wishlist.

Malmo, Sweden
Another city that is on my radar already as a travel destination and another country that I’ve yet to visit. Malmo’s a bit of an anomaly though as I think this would probably be the only away trip that I’d look to fly to another COUNTRY and stay in another country.

Malmo is just across the bridge from Copenhagen, one side of the bridge is Denmark and the other side is Sweden! So it’s only about 30-40 minutes away I believe.

I’d really like to visit Copenhagen and it has always been on my mind to combine a Copenhagen/Malmo trip when I do, looking to spend a night or two in the latter.

From a footballing perspective it doesn’t overly excite me but I really want to go to Copenhagen so it would have been a game I’d have relished, albeit in a different country. Bizarre.

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Easter Road, Edinburgh, Dec 2017

Glasgow, Scotland
“I really want a European away trip” – puts Scotland in to the top 5. Alright, so for this one I wouldn’t even have to leave this little island and it is a tiny bit anti-climatic to face another British side in Europe but it’d be a fun affair.

I’d like to return to Glasgow anyway, I went as a child but don’t remember much of it and it looks like an interesting city. I’d really really love to go to Celtic Park on a European night too – even if it was just as a neutral. It holds a reputation for one of the best atmospheres in Europe on a European night and the subplot of a Scotland v England affair would add a bit more spice to the occasion.

I think there would be inevitably some trouble in such a game but I think it would largely be a minority and for those that go looking for a scrap opposed to Glasgow being particularly unwelcoming. There’s no real bad blood between the two clubs and I think it’d be an interesting experience to play that at some point. Perhaps next season our paths will cross. A trip to Celtic (or Rangers) on a European night is definitely on my bucketlist though.

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Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal
A return to Lisbon? Yes please! I went to Lisbon for football in March 2014 and I’d love to have had the opportunity to go back. I have unfinished business with Lisbon, some of you may recall I pretty much spent three nights getting drunk in Lisbon (read me!), so I’d love to go back and see more of it.

It was one of the most hospitable places I’ve ever visited, the weather was a dream too and it’d attract a number of our fans making another great atmosphere. Additionally, last time I visited for a match against Lisbon based Benfica. This would have been a match against Sporting Lisbon so it would have been a new stadium visit too!

 

Plzen, Czech Republic
Alright, let me be completely honest. A European away trip is a great chance to see somewhere new and get a bit of culture and have an adventure but fundamentally it’s a trip that revolves around matchday. I’ll typically go for 3-4 days because matchday is a write-off. All you want is a good atmosphere, a sing song and a few beers with your mates.

So where better to enjoy that than perhaps one of the greatest countries to enjoy a beer? The Czech Republic is famous for its beer, so much so that the popular Pilsner beers unsurprisingly originate from a city called Pilsen (Plzen). Not that it’s all beer, it looks like a pretty city too and is somewhere I’d like to visit on my first trip to the Czech Republic.

The additional reason this makes my top three is that I’d extend the trip. I’d have a couple of days in Plzen and a couple of days in my dream destination Prague, a city I have been wanting to visit for so so long and somehow haven’t yet made it happen. It obviously won’t be for football anytime soon but the Czech Republic is definitely somewhere I’m thinking about for 2019.

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Belgian beers in Bruges!

Bruges, Belgium
Snap! If the Czech beers don’t take your fancy maybe you’ll have more luck with the Belgians who have many incredible beers of their own! I can’t say football and Bruges brings back happy memories, on my last visit to Bruges I ended up finding a bar to watch Tottenham lose 5-0 to Liverpool. The Belgian beers were a good way to console myself though.

This would be a hugely popular away trip for our fans, it’d be relatively cheap and it’s another of those trips that wouldn’t require flying to. I make it sound like I’m a nervous flyer, I’m not but there’s something more enjoyable about taking a train to travel somewhere.

I only spent a day in Bruges on my only visit, it’s a good amount of time to enjoy the city but I’d happily go back and see a little more of it. It’s a magical place and there’d be enough to do for a few days and other potential daytrips nearby such as Antwerp or wherever if I wanted a little escape. Had we been in the Europa League I think this is the one most of our fans would have been hoping for, however there’s one that just edges it for me which is..

Prague, Czech Republic
This is somewhere I keep meaning to visit and it just hasn’t quite happened for me yet. It’s cheap (ish, I imagine it’s getting pricier as its popularity grows), it’s beautiful, it has incredible beer, a highly-rated nightlife, plenty to do, plenty of history. Need I go on?

I’ve never been to the Czech Republic which gives it an edge over Bruges, it’d be another new country to watch football in and it’d surely prove to be a cracking atmosphere as I’ve no doubt it’d be a popular trip for our fans.

Additionally as much as I would dream of a European away trip as a child, for a long time a European home game was a novelty of its own. A home game against Slavia Prague in 2006 gave me my first real taste of any European football. It’d be nice to say I’ve seen us play them home and away.

Sadly Czech football isn’t of a high standard so a meeting is only ever likely to be in Europe’s secondary competition.

Anyway, that wraps things up. I’ll never understand fans that diminish the luxury of Europa League football, for some reason there’s a snobbish attitude that would see fans rather us have no European football than Europa League football. Of course the Champions League is where you want to be but if we’d lost on Tuesday night I wouldn’t have been too disappointed to find ourselves in tomorrow’s Europa League draw.

The irony is that, in many ways, this presented some better away trips than the ‘glamorous’ Champions League. I wanted to offer a comparison because it seemed daft that I was saying in my last post that I found the alternative a little underwhelming and anti-climatic.

So feel free to play along again. Fifteen destinations, which would you want to be visiting? Similarly you’ve now had the Champions League options and the Europa League options, which list is the more attractive in your eyes? The Western favourites of the Champions League or the variety of the Europa League? Let me know!

Next up on the blog: Georgia part two!

Stay tuned!

Jason

European uncertainty!

I’ve been slacking a little lately and haven’t got around to posting part two of my Georgia series, I promise that will follow shortly but I thought I’d break things up to talk about my next trip!

Long-time readers of the blog should know by now that I’m a huge football fan and some of you may recall a blog post from last year titled ‘Left to fate’.
You can give that a read here (Read me!) but the point behind that post was that the choice of my next destination was out of my hands and left up to a higher power.

The football gods, fate, luck of the draw, whatever you want to call it. My beloved Tottenham were going to three unknown European cities and I had to wait upon the outcome to decide if I wanted to go or not.
I used that post as an opportunity for you all to play along and pick 3 destinations that you’d personally be hoping for.

On Monday I’ll discover who Tottenham’s next European opposition are and therefore I find myself in a similar position where there’s uncertainty as to where my next trip will be. On Monday afternoon I’ll be booking flights to somewhere in Europe but right now I couldn’t tell you where. I could get you to play along again but I thought I’d actually switch it up a little and go in to a little more depth about what my thought process is behind why some trips are more appealing than others. For instance in my Florence posts I talked about being nervous about visiting Italy for football and that may have surprised some of you.

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Football in Florence

I’d drafted this blog post under the assumption that Spurs would be participating in the Europa League and rather ironically, as delighted as I was to be proven wrong, it was probably a more interesting blog post on that basis. The Europa League offered a few “no-go destinations” such as Rome or Istanbul and also offered a bit more variety in terms of countries I could visit such as Croatia or Switzerland or Ukraine or.. you get the point.

Tottenham produced an incredible performance in Barcelona on Tuesday night to confirm our status in Europe’s elite competition, the Champions League, but ironically it’s all a bit dull. Opposed to the 16 potential destinations spread across the continent that the Europa League offered, I’m left with just 6 destinations (Dortmund, Paris, Porto, Munich, Madrid and Turin). All of which are countries I’ve been to, four of which are cities I’ve been to and three of which at stadiums I’ve already seen Tottenham play at. How bloody boring!

So in explaining my reasoning from least desirable to “dream trip”, here goes:

Dortmund, Germany
Do I need to say anything else? Germany is the pinnacle of European football for me, Dortmund is a football fan’s wet dream and should be on anyone’s “football bucketlist”. I dreamt of visiting Dortmund for a game, irrespective of who the opposition were. Experiencing that famous atmosphere and yellow wall is rightly considered a rite of passage in football.

In March 2016 the unthinkable happened! Not only was that dream trip about to become a reality but even better, Tottenham were the team visiting. Rather than attend a random game as a neutral I could visit with my own team as an away fan – wow! It was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity and I’d only just come back from Georgia and I was booking flights for three weeks later. I couldn’t miss this game!

In November 2017 Tottenham returned to Dortmund. I was hesitant to return. “Once in a lifetime” scenarios aren’t supposed to come around again so soon. The reality is Dortmund had little appeal to me as a destination other than football so I’d stayed in Köln on my previous visit, which was a sickener when later in 2016 we played Leverkusen (just outside of Köln) and I found myself back in West Germany. A third trip to West Germany seemed excessive but nevertheless I went back – splitting my time between Bremen and Düsseldorf around the match itself.

Dortmund is a fun away trip but I’m not looking for a third return in three years. Please, please, please avoid Dortmund in Monday’s draw!

Turin, Italy
Of six destinations, Dortmund was bottom by a long long way. I will go to Dortmund if that’s what fate determines but I know a part of me will be disappointed. I have my preferred destination too but the other four are split so marginally, I’ve opted to put Turin 5th on my list which might be a little harsh.

There are pros and cons to a Turin trip. It’s a city I’ve never visited which adds some excitement, Juventus are a massive name in European football which adds some prestige to the football, there’s an element of revenge too after Juventus knocked us out of Europe last season and of course it’s Italy which means all of the pizza, pasta and gelato!

On the flipside it’s football in Italy. I loved Florence but from a footballing perspective it wasn’t a dream trip. Turin would be closer to the scale of Florence in terms of safety, opposed to getting stabbed in Rome or Naples but I can’t say Florence was ‘fun’. Aspects of it were but curfews, police escorts, separation from opposition fans, over-the-top security and more just spoil it for football fans. It’s not what the game is about.

I want to go back and see all of Italy, Rome and Naples included, but I didn’t find it enjoyable for football. Florence was incredible for many reasons but the football wasn’t really one of them. My favourite day in Italy was on the Friday once the football was over and the police had relaxed with the knowledge most Brits were heading home. I’ll go to Turin but it’s not top of my list.

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A return to Paris?

Paris, France
From here on in I’m not sure if there’s really a bad draw. I loved Paris when I visited in December (2016) and I feel like I’ve got a lot of “unfinished business” with the city. There’s so many reasons to return and irrespective of the football it’s somewhere I’ll return to.
Additionally I’ve never watched football here and it’s a country I’ve yet to watch a live game of football in so would take my tally up to twelve countries that I’ve seen a game in. It’d also be a simple trip and I probably wouldn’t even bother flying which is a bonus.

However it ‘only’ reaches fourth on my list because, as a bit of a football snob, I don’t feel like French football has that same glamour about it. Paris St Germain are France’s biggest football club for instance and I was amazed to discover quite recently that they were only founded in 1970. I’ve held this opinion of French football for a long time and that revelation kind of cemented that belief, France’s biggest club are younger than my parents! PSG are a global name now but they’re still short of Europe’s elite.

With that said, I visited Lille this year on the day of the France v Argentina game and it surprised me a little in experiencing the atmosphere in the city. Similarly it made me fall in love with France a little more so perhaps a Paris football trip might win me over fully.

Madrid, Spain
I feel like I’m doing this a disservice by placing it third on my list. Madrid is flawless. Nowhere is ever likely to displace my love of London so, excluding London, Madrid is my favourite European city. It’s a city I’d overlooked visiting before last year, I figured I’d visit someday but I was in no real rush to visit the Spanish capital. However in 2017 Tottenham were scheduled to face Real Madrid and I couldn’t miss it.

Tottenham taking on the biggest name in football? Sign me up! It was such a prestigious occasion and huge opportunity and it was enough to rush a trip to Madrid. I’ve spoken about this on the blog before but a Spurs European away game was a childhood dream of mine and these are the places you’d dream of coming to.

The biggest surprise for me was that away from the football I LOVED Madrid. As much as a capital city can be, it’s an underrated city. It blew me away. I couldn’t rate it any higher and I’d love to go back.

The only thing that stops this being top of the pile is the fact I’ve been to see Tottenham there once already. It’d be hard to top the last trip to the Santiago Bernabeu too. I won’t be disappointed if I go back though.

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Watching Tottenham in Munich

Munich, Germany
Not only have I been to this city but I’ve watched Tottenham here too so there was a temptation to put this further down the list. With that said, despite Tottenham playing in their stadium I haven’t actually seen us play Bayern Munich there (or anywhere) so it’d be a novelty factor in seeing us play one of the biggest names in European football.

Additionally I speak decent German and I love Bavaria. I’ve already mentioned German football is the pinnacle of European football in my eyes, the Germans are great hosts when it comes to football and it’d be a popular trip amongst our fans making for a good atmosphere.

It’s a city I feel I could see a little more of and there’s the additional opportunity to visit my favourite German and Austrian in nearby cities. It’d make for a great trip!

Munich, Madrid, Paris or Turin could have been placed in any order really but I’m just giving this the edge for a multitude of reasons.

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Tottenham in Lisbon, Portugal

Porto, Portugal
Lastly we have the dream trip – Porto!

Portugal was where my first European away trip with Spurs occurred and I fell in love with the country. Where Italy tries their best to suck all of the fun out of the experience, Portugal were incredible hosts. The locals of Lisbon accommodated us in to their city, made us feel welcome, had buskers playing Tottenham songs and were happily sharing beers with us.

It’s a travesty that if this is to be the trip in March (2019) that it’ll be five years since my only visit to Portugal. Five years since I’ve visited this beautiful and incredible country.

Porto ticks all of the boxes. It’s a city I’ve never been to, it’s a country I want to see more of, they’re a big enough name in European football to make it interesting, it’s the most winnable game (on paper) of our potential opposition and I already know how hospitable the Portuguese are. It’s easy to get to, thousands of Spurs fans would likely travel creating a great atmosphere in the city. I could go on and on.

It’s a city I’ve been tempted to visit for a while and it’s our best chance of progressing in the competition. A no brainer really!

Anyway, that wraps things up. Unfortunately the Champions League, for all of its glory, is actually relatively boring and favours the Western European nations. UEFA continue to balance the scales in favour of England, Spain, Germany and Italy which whilst exciting places to visit, actually add a dose of repetitiveness to the trips you enjoy.

You want to see your team compete at the highest level but rather ironically a post on potential Europa League opposition would have made for a far more interesting blog-post. I hope you enjoyed it anyway!

I’ll keep you posted on where I book flights to on Monday! Where would you personally be hoping for? Dortmund, Paris, Porto, Munich, Madrid or Turin?

I might follow this up with a Europa League edition, just as a comparison, but next up on the blog will probably be Georgia part two!

Stay tuned!

Jason

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!