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

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Firenze: Day 2 – Matchday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Pride of North London – Then, Now, Forever

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

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

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

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

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

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We’re here! Far too early!

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

 

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

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Playing the waiting game!

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

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Fiorentina’s noisier supporters at the opposite end

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the best!

Jason

Day one in Firenze!

You may have noticed I have a tendency to ramble on a bit (“no Jason, don’t be silly. Of course you don’t!”) so I’ve decided that going forward I’m going to split some of my longer trips up across multiple blog posts.

Anyway back to Italy and on to part two of the trip! If you’ve been following along you’ll know that my trip (Feb 2015) began with a day in Pisa and that I’d be moving onwards to Firenze (Florence) the next day (Wednesday). What you don’t know is why I was visiting Firenze, nor why I’d been sceptical about going at all! First of all let’s start with why I was visiting?

Well that’s an easy answer, football of course! My love of football is no big secret on the blog and it’s perhaps the only interest of mine that surpasses my love of travel. Opportunities to combine the two loves are always a bonus!

In 2014 I lived a childhood dream when I went to Lisbon and I got to watch Tottenham play in another country – a European away trip for football – an incredible experience! I’d wanted to do a European away day with Spurs for so long and Lisbon had finally given me a taste for it. Come the end of 2014 I was itching to do another and was awaiting news of where Tottenham would be playing in the February. I eyed up all of the potential opposition and hoped for the best – in the end the “football gods” were sending us to Firenze in Italy to play Fiorentina.

 

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Fiorentina v Tottenham Hotspur!

Visiting Italy had been another childhood dream of mine so surely I had to go!? No, I hesitated. The news of Spurs visiting Italy was met with trepidation, was it safe going to Italy?

For those of you not clued up on football I’d forgive you for thinking I’m scaremongering but I couldn’t erase the stories or images from my mind of Spurs visit to Italy three years earlier. One night in Rome saw an ambush on an unsuspecting pub which left some of our fans in critical condition. I’d love to say it was an isolated incident but fans of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Middlesbrough have all faced problems of their own in the last 15 years when visiting Italy.

It doesn’t make great reading for English football fans and sadly Italy’s reputation speaks for itself in both football violence and racism.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting English football fans are angels and I’m not suggesting it’s a reflection on all Italians either. It is very much a minority but enough of a minority that you’d be naïve to not have some concern visiting at the very least!

“but you went to Italy so you are just scaremongering!”

I did go to Italy and the location was a factor. Would I have gone to Rome or Naples so easily? I’m not sure. I definitely want to visit both, particularly Rome, but I’m not sure I’d risk it for the football.
In contrast Firenze I had never heard of English fans running in to trouble so I felt a little more comfortable going over there.

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Firenze’s Duomo!

Five days before I was due to fly to Pisa news broke from Italy. The headline read something like “Dutch football fans clash with riot police in Rome”. – the worst part about it was that it wasn’t a surprising headline.
Rome has its own tainted reputation but the same can be said of Netherlands-based football club Feyenoord – stick them together in one city and it was only ever going to lead one way.. “in other news, water is wet..”

Irrespective of how inevitable it was, it did put an unwanted spotlight on Italian football again. The timing was terrible given there was going to be an imminent arrival of 3,000+ Brits to the country in the next few days.
Lots of reports and rumours came out of Italy following the trouble in Rome: 1,000 additional police in Firenze to be called upon from surrounding cities, tightened security measures, police escorts, curfews on local establishments and even a proposed drinking ban on the day of the game. It was clear that the Italian authorities would not be messing about for our visit!

So now you’ve had a little background, what actually went down in Firenze? Here’s day one!

I made a swift getaway from Pisa on Wednesday morning and was soon arriving in to Firenze. My first job was to find my hostel but luckily I’d been given directions.. “let’s have a read”.. Step one: Find the Burger King opposite the train station!
Here I was in a city famed for its culture, a country famed for its food and what am I doing? Looking for a bloody Burger King! I didn’t come to Italy for this! At least things could only get better from there, right?

My directions did at the very least take me where I wanted to go (my hostel, not Burger King!). I was soon checking in with the most wonderful host imaginable and dropping off my things in anticipation of exploring more of the city!
My host was brilliant and gave me so many recommendations for food, drinks, gelato and things to do. With that in mind I went off in search of lunch to a nearby place that supposedly had good food and good beers – a winning combination!

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Mostodolce pub/restaurant in Firenze

This bar was beautifully decorated, the bar staff were friendly and I ended up enjoying my first pizza in Firenze alongside a beer. Following lunch I went off to find the “must see” of the city – Firenze’s famous Duomo (cathedral) and it’s famous with good reason. I’d seen photos of it online but photos don’t really do justice as to how impressive it is. The building is absolutely stunning and you could spend a lifetime admiring it. I was in complete awe of it!
I could only imagine how impressive it looks on the inside!

I should have left it to the imagination! The exterior wows you but inside it’s rather underwhelming – it isn’t anything special, Pisa’s Duomo was better. I felt so disappointed by it – if you have no interest in climbing the 463 steps to the top I wouldn’t recommend going in at all! Just keep admiring it from the outside!
If you do decide to climb the Duomo you are rewarded with great views overlooking the city once you’re at the top so it’s worth it in the end.

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View at the top of the Duomo!

After I’d climbed back down I set off to explore a little more of the city and familiarise myself with where things were. As I walked around I knew I was going to love Firenze. It was full of charm and character plus had a number of stunning pieces of architecture, Firenze won me over very quickly.

Firenze has spectacular squares that are perfect for people-watching but simultaneously is home to narrow little streets that are perfect for getting lost in and exploring all the intricacies that the city has to show off.

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Having seen a little of the city I made plans to meet up with a friend (Daniel) who’d flown in to Italy today and was going to be imminently arriving in to Firenze after a brief exploration of Pisa himself.
We went and found some food somewhere and then our attention turned to grabbing some drinks for the evening and potentially catching that night’s European football. We had a beer at bar number one but there was no sign of them showing any football so we moved on to bar number 2.

We found an Irish bar down one of the narrow side streets and unsurprisingly weren’t the only ones who’d had the same idea – the bar was full of Spurs fans creating a bit of an atmosphere before our big game tomorrow (Thursday). There was definitely a bit of a buzz in the air which was helped by the fact that they were showing the Arsenal game.

Whilst the bar was predominantly taken over by Spurs there were a few exceptions. I vividly remember being stood in the vicinity of a couple of Americans in our limited standing space who were curious who we were supporting, making the assumption we’d be cheering on our fellow Englishmen! The suggestion was quickly ridiculed – “don’t be daft”.

If they’d had any doubts about where our loyalties lied it didn’t take them long for them to realise we were all Monaco supporters for one night only. Former Spurs striker Dimitar Berbatov was playing for Monaco and he’d left Spurs on rather sour terms so wasn’t too popular at the time. However all was forgiven as he smashed home against Arsenal and sent the pub into bedlam – a huge roar followed as we basked in Arsenal’s misery. It left our fans in high spirits and created a great atmosphere following the result.

Things wound down pretty soon after the game though. There had been rumours of a midnight curfew being imposed on all of the bars and restaurants in the city and it looked as if there might just be some substance to it – the bar was closing for the night and we were swiftly being moved on. It was probably for the best, I was a little drunk anyway.

Me and Daniel left and it took me 2-3 minutes to realise I was needlessly going in the same direction, I didn’t want to be following Daniel because I was staying elsewhere! The consequence to that was that I took a rather “scenic route” back to my hotel. A lot of the narrow streets all look the same, particularly after dark, and I obviously took a wrong turn at some point. Soon enough I was stumbling upon Firenze’s river – which happened to be my first sight of it so I was clueless as to where I now was!

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First glimpse of the river!

I tried retracing my steps which wasn’t as successful as I would have liked but then I spotted that HUGE Duomo once again. If you can find the Duomo you can find anything in Firenze and it got me back on track and tucked up in to bed pretty soon after.

Day one in Firenze had been a success in my mind but I wasn’t done just yet! Stay tuned to hear more!

All the best!

Jason

A lesson learned in Dachau or a look in to the future?

My intention was to post about the second part of my Italy (Feb 2015) trip but I’ve felt rather reflective given recent news so you’ll have to wait a little longer. Instead we’re fast forwarding six months to August 2015 and my trip to Munich!

I decided whilst staying in Munich I’d have a daytrip somewhere and was pretty set on visiting the famous Neuschwanstein Schloss. As it was, at the last minute I changed my mind and did a tour to the nearby Dachau concentration camp.

Dachau’s a little outside of Munich so I decided it’d be better to go as part of a tour but in hindsight I think I’d recommend going solo or as part of your own group. Part of that was my own personal preference, I’d prefer to look around at my own pace and dedicate the right amount of time for my own interests.
I don’t think the tour guide was the greatest either though.

We didn’t get off to the best of starts before the tour. We arrived at Dachau’s main train station and had to get a bus to the site which was no big deal. However there were already a few people waiting at the bus stop and our tour guide took it upon herself to advise THEM that they could catch the next bus!
The Brits hold a reputation for “loving a queue” and I lived up to that stereotype because it did irk me – “they were here first!” I thought to myself.

I was embarrassed by the whole situation because, through association, we came across as really obnoxious tourists that didn’t care of the inconvenience it might cause to the locals. It was a decent group size so I can see the logic behind wanting to get everyone on the same bus but it was just a blunt statement, you figure she could have at least asked if it would be okay and those already waiting probably wouldn’t have had any issue with it.

To add to the obnoxiousness of it all our tour guide had blurted it out in English, I don’t think she was a native German so maybe she couldn’t explain it in German but it just annoyed me further. I figure if you’re going to have the cheek to do something like that at least do so in the local language.

Anyway, I think / hope everyone that wanted to get on the bus did get on. If by chance you’re reading this and still bitter about being late in August 2015 because you missed your bus I’m sorry! The queue-jumping is still haunting me three years later!

After a short bus ride we arrived at the Dachau site and were ready to start the tour properly. It wasn’t a tour I was expecting to enjoy, I wanted to visit but I was expecting an emotional experience. It really is somewhere you should make an effort to visit – not necessarily Dachau because there are others that might suit your location better, Auschwitz perhaps the most well-known of the concentration camps that you can visit.

A lot of the site is a huge open space, much like the photos I’d seen of Auschwitz. It feels very solemn and the enormity of where you are hits you instantly. One of the first things you’ll stumble upon is the gate reading “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work will set you free) which sets the tone for what you’re walking in to.

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Dachau

Our tour started inside in what I suppose is comparable to a museum. They have various educational pieces and collections that educate you and help you envisage what it must have been like within the camp.
The tour guide was explaining various exhibits but I think a few, including myself, couldn’t really keep focused on what our guide was actually saying. Some parts she completely skipped over and others she droned on for too long and in the end I just found myself drowning it out and reading as much as I could as we went along.

I think it’s perhaps just my way of taking in information so I’m not going to name the tour company and be overly critical, it could be a tour you enjoy yourselves but personally I’d reiterate my recommendation to just go solo and take it all in at your own pace. It’s not a day you want to rush.

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May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933 – 1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defence of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow men. 

Some of the pieces made a bigger impact than others – a lot of the information you read does offer a decent insight in to what it was like and can be emotional. The part that hit me hardest though was seeing the videos of American troops arriving at Dachau for the very first time and making that discovery of the wellbeing of those that were being held captive. The footage was harrowing and seeing the faces of those who’d barely clung on alongside piles of bodies who hadn’t been so fortunate was a difficult watch.

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Get comfy!

Moving out of the exhibition gave us a chance to explore some of the other buildings. This included a long narrow building with cells where people were presumably kept, a building which showcased how squashed in and uncomfortable the living conditions were and lastly the fateful building with its chimney.
The chimney particularly important as it allowed the smoke to rise over the concentration camp and served as a reminder as to what the future had in store for you.

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We reached the end of the tour and my thoughts throughout had been the same – how did this happen? It’s hard to envisage, hard to believe and yet it happened. This is history – relatively recent history at that with Holocaust survivors still living today.

It’s an emotional daytrip but an important one to take and the message you hope to take away with you is “never again”. It’s a simple message but effective and I walked away content that it’d be impossible to replicate, it could never happen again.

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Dachau prisoner numbers by country

Three years have passed since Dachau and I often find myself pondering if it could. Are we too arrogant to assume it could never happen again or that we’d do better?

If we think about the treatment of Jews in this period of history, we know who the “villains” are. We learn that story and Germany more than anyone hold their hands up and don’t shy away from retelling that awful history. I wrote about Budapest a while ago on the blog and it fascinated me learning how complicit Hungary were themselves – it’s not something I remember learning about in school but Hungarians feel their own shame about their role in history but similarly it’s something you learn more when you visit the country. Germany and Hungary both drum it in to you so that you never forget what happened.

So we’ve got our “bad guys” but what of the good guys? At what point did the “heroes” become just that? At what point were Germany, for instance, an ally that we didn’t wish to upset? It makes me wonder. Hitler didn’t wake up one morning and change history overnight – how many warning signs went unnoticed before action was deemed necessary? At what point was it TOO far? Before he came in to power, before the holocaust or millions of deaths later?

It leaves me curious. If an ally was to, I don’t know.. propose a Muslim ban or keep young children captive in crossing the border would we (the UK) step in? Is it even plausible someone like that could rise to power? Surely we’ve learnt from history and past mistakes?

“Of course we have, what silly questions Jason!!”

“Never again” I told myself three years ago as I left Dachau but a lot can change in three years. Political circumstances and agendas change and it’s led to my viewpoint changing too. I left Dachau emotional, it’s not an easy day but I left assured that history would never repeat itself. Can I say the same today?

World War 2 ended 75 years ago, we were the heroes of that time and yet I can’t help but be curious as to what people will be saying about us in 75 years time – never again?

What do you think?

Jason

Italy part one: Pisa!

Salzburg wrapped up my 2014 adventures so on we go in to the “new year” of 2015, exciting right? Italy had always been a dream destination for me growing up, so when an opportunity to visit in February 2015 presented itself surely I had to go?

Perhaps surprisingly I was actually unsure. You’ll have to wait until my next post to hear why I was visiting Italy and consequently why there was a little question mark over going but after weighing up the pros & cons I quickly decided that Firenze (Florence) was too good an opportunity to miss!

With my heart set on visiting Firenze I started looking at flight prices and I came to the realisation that it was bloody expensive for the dates I was looking at. What was plan B?
I’d given up hope of flying to Firenze directly so I had to consider how else I could get there. Were there any other cities nearby that might work out better?

Pisa was one option that caught my eye and booking flights would save me around £100! The train from Pisa to Firenze was less than ten euros too so it was a much cheaper route and a “no brainer”.  I booked my flights to Italy and then started thinking about accommodation.

 

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Pisa!

Once I knew I was flying to Pisa the next question was how long do I stay in Pisa? I didn’t really know what Pisa had other than the obvious (the leaning tower) so was there any need to stay overnight and have less time in Firenze? I decided that I would give Pisa the benefit of the doubt and I booked a hotel for one night. Maybe I could come home and tell everybody that Pisa was vastly underrated!

“So is it vastly underrated Jason?

No. It’s a city with a famous tower and little else. I posted recently about Bratislava and awarded myself the title of “unofficial ambassador” for Bratislava / Slovakia. I feel bad but I feel like in this instance I’m coming across closer to “Pisa hater” but sadly I did find it a little underwhelming.

I don’t hate Pisa though, I’m not even telling you not to go to Pisa because I genuinely believe everywhere is worth a visit once. It might only be a city with a famous tower but people are still going to want to see that tower so here’s what I got up to with my overnight stay in Pisa! I’ll try not to be too negative!

Having arrived in to Pisa late-morning I quickly made my way in the direction of my hotel for the night in the hope I’d be able to check in a little early. Success! My room was ready and I could drop my things off and get out and explore the city straight away!

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Exploring in the rain!

I didn’t go to Pisa with the highest expectations but there was one clear exception – the food! It was my first time in Italy and I was eager to experience authentic Italian food. Having dropped off my things I went on the search for some lunch and quickly found a nearby restaurant and ordered myself a pizza! Wow! Pisa might have otherwise disappointed but the food did not!

I was in pizza heaven! I don’t know if I’ve let the experience of eating Italian pizza cloud my judgment but it’s the best pizza I’ve ever had. It seems too easy to say that the best pizza you’ve ever had was in Italy but it’s how I remember it. It was so good and Pisa had made a great first impression! At the very least Pisa now had a famous tower and great food!

Having appeased my appetite it was time to explore and inevitably there was only one place to start! I went off in search of the famous leaning tower! I say in search, I knew it was only around the corner so it wasn’t really much of a search but nevertheless off I went!

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The leaning tower of Pisa!

It’s cool to say I’ve seen it in the flesh but I guess I was hoping for more, it didn’t really “wow” me – the pizza was more impressive. I don’t know what my expectations were, something too unrealistic probably because it just felt smaller than I’d envisaged.
It’s 55 meters high so I don’t know what I was expecting – a tower leaning at a 45 degree angle at over 500 or 5,000 meters high? It’d be ridiculous/impossible but nevertheless I did feel a little like “is that it?”.

You can go up the tower but it’s situated in this fairly enclosed square so I didn’t actually expect to see much. I’ve since seen photos of the view and it does look quite good in fairness. Whether it justifies the admission price I don’t know because it isn’t the cheapest. Harsh? Maybe.
I settled for getting a few photos instead and then swiftly moved on.

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Pisa’s Duomo!

In the same square you’ll find Pisa’s Duomo (cathedral) which, shock horror, I actually liked. Crazy to be so positive, right? It’s a nice building from the outside but you have to make sure you go inside as it’s beautiful, I actually preferred the interior of this to Firenze’s own Duomo, the exterior in Firenze makes up for it though!

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Inside the Duomo!

I’d checked out the Duomo and seen the famous tower so what next? I’d picked up a map at my hotel and I couldn’t help but notice that Pisa’s football stadium was within walking distance of this square. It wasn’t something I would have considered looking for otherwise but as it was so nearby I figured I’d check it out, have a walk around the outside of it and maybe see if they offered any stadium tours.

To my surprise as I walked up to the main entrance the players were walking out. It looked like they’d just finished a training session and I found there was nothing stopping you walking right in pitch-side. Whether I should have been there I don’t know, logic would dictate I probably shouldn’t have been but I figured someone would come and tell me if it was an issue.

I didn’t overstay my welcome, I only took a quick look around and grabbed a few photos from inside an empty stadium. The capacity is supposedly 25,000 although it was hard to picture this as the only one inside. Pisa’s football team play in the 3rd tier of Italian football so it’s unlikely I’ll ever be here for a game so I was pleased I’d taken a little detour and that my timing had been so spot on to take advantage.

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Home of Pisa’s football club!
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Stadio Romeo Anconetani

I spent the rest of my afternoon just wandering the city but I just didn’t really warm to Pisa. There are certainly pretty areas in the city, walk along the river and even the “Pisa-haters” of the world would struggle to not admire some of the views because they are stunning. Nevertheless I just couldn’t connect with it right, it wasn’t for me.

Eventually I admitted defeat, gave up exploring and made my way back to my hotel. I figured I’d relax a little and freshen up before heading out for some evening entertainment. Day-time Pisa hadn’t really won me over but Pisa’s a university city so I was hopeful its nightlife could save the day!

I’m not going to be too critical here because I don’t think it’s fair to judge a city’s nightlife based upon a Tuesday night but the lack of life in the city just summed up my time in Pisa.
I spent ages wandering through the city and it was dead. Where was everyone? Perhaps Pisa’s students actually spend their time studying? Whatever the reasons I had little luck finding anywhere with a bit of life to it. Perhaps I was just looking in the wrong parts of the city but no luck! As I said though, a Tuesday night in February probably isn’t a great time to be judging a city’s nightlife. I’d be intrigued to experience a weekend or summer night in Pisa and see how it differs.

In the end I just settled for a quiet dinner (more amazing food!) and an early night relaxing back at the hotel.

I wouldn’t discourage anyone from visiting Pisa, you might find you actually like it more than I did and I’m still glad I visited myself.
In hindsight though I would have gone for just 3-4 hours and caught a later train to Firenze rather than staying overnight in Pisa.

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I woke up early the next morning and didn’t see any benefit to sticking around for much longer. I walked to the train station which gave me a chance to see a little more of Pisa on route but I was soon buying my train ticket to Firenze.
Pisa had given me a little taster of Italy and I’d certainly fallen in love with the food but I was heading on to city number 2 with more hope and higher expectations.

Did Firenze live up to those expectations? Stay tuned for that!

Jason

Managing wanderlust – an update!

I landed back in England on the 25th of February after my last trip and, as all travellers do, the countdown to the next trip began. 153 days, 9,180 hours, 550,800 minutes – shall I go on? No?

There’s definitely a brat-like element to feeling “trapped” in your own country for 5 months. Living comfortably with a roof over my head and a stable job in a first-world country – you wouldn’t believe the “struggle” these past few months have been as I count down to the second holiday of the year. Is that a violin I hear?

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“Trapped” in this hell hole?

Joking aside, going so long between trips isn’t something I’m used to which is why I wrote a little post about managing wanderlust a while back ( Read me! ). Wanderlust is a dreaded disease with only one known cure, a temporary one at that, which is to book another trip!

As tempting as that has been I’ve been trying to save my pennies for the summer trip. One of my tips to help manage my wanderlust was to travel locally and I’ve been trying to make the most of that over the last 3 months. I’ve had weekends in Manchester, London and Kettering plus other daytrips to Lincoln and London (yes, again) which have helped a little.

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Lincoln castle!

I’ve also been trying to appreciate Peterborough (home) a little more given the good recent weather. If you follow me on Instagram you’ll have noticed I’ve been making the most of my lunch hours with visits to the cathedral and museum recently – both are free and well worth a visit!

I feel like I’ve done a good job of managing my wanderlust over the past three months so I rewarded myself with a trip to France! Oops!

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Going back to France!

Alright, let me explain! I figured I could squeeze in one more day trip somewhere before my summer adventure, I was adamant I wouldn’t do an overnight trip and I started contemplating all of the places within the UK that I could visit in a day. There’s a lot to see in the UK but I don’t drive so I’m always a little restricted by the public transport and the extortionate fees that can come with train fares. Of course I didn’t have to go by train, I could have taken a bus journey but bus times are even more restrictive if you’re only looking at a daytrip and that’s when Eurostar’s sale caught my eye!

I’ve used up all of my remaining annual leave for the summer so I couldn’t take any more time off work. As I didn’t want to stay overnight I wasn’t feeling too hopeful about finding suitable weekend tickets at a good price. You usually find that you can only find the cheapest fare one way or that it’ll be at a stupid time that doesn’t work with a daytrip. I’d given up hope of being able to find an affordable weekend Paris daytrip, Amsterdam seemed too inconvenient in a day and I didn’t fancy another trip to Brussels but decided I’d have a quick look at trains to Lille and voila!

I found a £29 morning train to Lille, a £29 evening train back to London and had a £5 Eurostar voucher still to use. Whilst £53 isn’t the cheapest day-trip I suppose I see it as a substitute to a day out at the football. I’d easily spend £50 on a game of football so there’s little difference here.

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Exploring Manchester in March!

Could I have saved a little more on a UK based daytrip? Perhaps, although a £50 return train journey isn’t anything out of the ordinary in this country. I’d sooner have a small taste of some foreign adventure and a return to France!

So come June 30th I’ll be waking up in my own bed, traveling to France for a day and then sleeping in my own bed that same night. It’s an incredible luxury and privilege as a European to be able to travel so freely! How lucky are we to be able to pop to another country for a day?

Perhaps remind me of that on July 1st when I’m moaning about the “long” four week wait until the USA trip?

All the best!

Jason

Part 4: Romance in Salzburg?

Salzburg: the final part of my 2014 Eurotrip! If you’ve been following the rest of my journey you’ll know that I visited BudapestBratislava and Vienna but more importantly you’ll know why. If not you can read that here: Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Salzburg – why?

Salzburg was the foundation of this trip and ultimately it was an opportunity for romance. Could Salzburg possibly be the start of my “happy ever after” fairytale?
Well, I had it pointed out to me by Carlie over at Listfiveblog that I’d already offered a spoiler to this story. The eagle-eyed among you will have noted that I spoke of subsequent long-distance relationships which was a good indication as to how things panned out for me and Nicole.

So you’d be forgiven for thinking that this might be a sad end to the journey but it isn’t. I think it’s easy to be bitter when things don’t quite go to plan but that’s not really my style. I could be resentful of my time in Salzburg but in fact my feelings are quite the opposite, it remains a special place for me and somewhere I left with a lot of fond memories.

So on to the story! Firstly I had to navigate myself from Vienna to Salzburg, I was pretty excited about the train journey because Austria is famed for its scenery and I hadn’t really seen much thus far. Bratislava and Vienna are Europe’s two closest capital cities so when traveling from Slovakia to Austria you don’t really see much of the country.
I bought my train ticket on the day so I was pleasantly surprised to find that traveling right across the country (175ish miles / 280ish kilometres) only cost me 25 euros and that included free Wi-Fi. Are you taking note England?

Seriously! For comparison it’d be like paying a one way fare from Peterborough to Newcastle for £20 on the day you travel:
“Sorry sir, we missed off a zero. That’ll actually be £200 for you to travel today”
“Wait, how much!? Do I at least get free Wi-Fi?”
“No but you can purchase that on board!”
“Alright, I’ll do that when I find my seat”
“Very optimistic sir, you’ll probably be standing for the next 3 hours. Have a nice trip!”

At least they’re on time, right? Spacious, no? A cynic might suggest I’m not too fond of the rail system in the UK. Austria’s however was wonderful. My only criticism is that the free Wi-Fi should be criminal in a country so pretty, I did check up on the football scores before we departed but once we left Vienna I spent my journey with my face glued to the window. The view seemed to improve the closer we got to Salzburg and eventually I was arriving in to Salzburg’s main station. I stepped outside, looked left and BAM!

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Just outside the train station. My first sight of Salzburg!

Mountains! I often call London my favourite city in the world but where are the mountains at? I was stood just outside of the train station, in a city and I had mountains in my face. Perhaps the novelty wears off when you live so close to them but I was in awe – Salzburg had already won me over and I hadn’t been in the city for more than 60 seconds.

As keen as I was to get exploring I had to wait for my company for the weekend to arrive. I didn’t want to stray too far from the station so I grabbed some lunch and a beer at a restaurant across the street, it helped with some of the nerves.

People find first dates nerve-wrecking because you want to make a good first impression and this was in essence a 48 hour first date. We arrived Friday afternoon and Nicole would be heading back to Germany on Sunday, I was flying home Monday morning so had an extra night in Salzburg.

I think the waiting made me more nervous, however once Nicole arrived the nerves had pretty much gone and I was ready to enjoy the weekend together. One of the perks, other than the company itself, to having Nicole with me was she could obviously speak the language! It was something I’d struggled with every time I’d been in a German speaking part of the world.

Nicole made sure we found the right bus to our hotel and then I followed our directions which said something ridiculous like “get off at the stop after the Chinese restaurant” – bizarre directions but ultimately ones that helped us find the hotel pretty easily.

We were keen not to waste any time exploring, we dropped off our things and went to have a little wander for my first real view of the city (Nicole had been before but was excited to come back after so long).

I was left mesmerised by Salzburg’s beauty – my first glimpse of the mountains had blown me away earlier but as you get in to the heart of the city it only gets prettier!
I’d anticipated Salzburg’s beauty in the photos I’d seen beforehand but seeing it in person was something else – it’s one of the most stunning cities I’ve been to. We explored the Mirabell gardens, famously used in the classic “The Sound of Music” and soon our attention turned to getting some dinner.

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We were in the mood for something a little more local so we found a restaurant with a traditional Austrian menu. The only problem was there were no free tables inside the restaurant. Before you enter the restaurant there was this darkly lit room with a large round-ish table, I’d call it a lobby but it felt more like a dark hallway as a go-between from outside the restaurant to inside the restaurant.
We were asked if we wanted to sit there and decided that we would do.

It was quite romantic actually, particularly for our first meal together. We were sat at a table all to ourselves away from the rest of the dining guests and with a few candles to set the mood. It was nice to have that little bit of privacy and then our first dinner-party guests arrived!

The restaurant was still packed inside the main restaurant so as more hungry people showed up we were asked if we’d mind having them join us. Our first guests were an old German* couple on holiday (*potentially Austrian, I can’t remember) who sat beside us. They came across as really friendly and it gave Nicole someone else to talk to.

Next up were a party of Brits who took up the other end of the table – there was around 8-10 seats cramped in together. The Brits had the same language barrier that I did but it created a really nice atmosphere and everyone was in good spirits, probably helped by the fact all 3 parties were in Salzburg visiting and in holiday mode.
It ended up probably being a better night than had we found a table for two within the main part of the restaurant.

We didn’t do much with the rest of our night, we chilled out back at the hotel and watched some tv and then a movie dubbed in German which I was trying to keep track of what was going on but failing miserably at. A successful start to our time in the city and one I was keen to see more of the next day.

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Salzburg looking impressive with the fortress in the background!

Saturday’s first stop was going to be the Festung Hohensalzburg – the fortress/castle sat up on the hill overlooking the city. We made our walk from the hotel and Nicole had soon stopped us, excusing herself to approach some stranger in the street.
Coincidentally a friend (Flo) from Innsbruck just so happened to be in Salzburg with his parents and Nicole had spotted him and they were soon exchanging pleasantries. I was briefly introduced and we suggested meeting up later on for some drinks.

After we said our goodbyes Nicole dropped a bombshell on me and mentioned that Flo was “the Arsenal fan that I’d told you about”. An Arsenal fan!? My heart sank, Flo had seemed so nice until that revelation – cancel the drinks!

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Jokes aside I was looking forward to meeting up later but until then me and Nicole had some exploring to do! Salzburg is a really walkable city and a nice place to have a bit of a wander. We passed the stunning cathedral and a few busy squares and streets with a selection of shops, cafes and restaurants. We took the funicular ride up to the fortress and the views of the city and the mountains from up there are breathtaking no matter which direction you choose to look in.

The fortress was cool to have a look around and then we grabbed some lunch at one of the restaurants up there which has to be one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever eaten at. Great company, great food and great views – it was a perfect moment and I could have stayed sat there for much longer than we were.

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We made our way back in to the city, explored a little but mostly just strolled along the river and people-watched. It was a nice afternoon with our final stop being the St Sebastienkirche (church) and St Sebastien Friedhof (cemetery) on the way back to our hotel. The cemetery is home of the Mozart family, Salzburg’s other “claim to fame” is its ties to Mozart. You’ll see Mozart souvenirs sold everywhere throughout the city, most of it is the usual tacky stuff you see sold to tourists but you should make an exception and try the Mozartkugeln – it’s delicious!

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The church and cemetery were nice to look around, particularly as they’re free to do so and neither were busy when we visited. From there we made our way back to the hotel to relax and freshen up a bit before meeting Flo later on.

Flo fortunately had a good idea of where to go in the evening and soon took us to this bar – the doors seemingly locked but Flo took us next door and through a little hidden side door. I thought it was bizarre but Flo assured us it wasn’t all that unusual. So if you’re ever encountering something that appears closed in Austria, try next door?

Anyway we found ourselves in this cosy little bar, well hidden away from the tourists which meant it was mostly a young crowd full of students and young professionals. Much like our restaurant experience, it seems Austria is more focused on community rather than practicality.
The seating was rather limited so we were sat next to a few Austrians on our left meaning any time someone wanted to go up to the bar you’d have to move and let each other pass you. It made for a really sociable and friendly atmosphere though.

Myself, Nicole and Flo shared a few beers and good conversation over the course of the night. Despite Flo’s obvious oversight we clicked pretty quickly, the start of a little bromance, as we bonded over football and a love of beer in particular. The night also offered Nicole and the opportunity Flo to catch up and share stories which provided plenty of amusement. Both were interchanging effortlessly between English and German whilst reminding me that their “English isn’t very good” which seems to be a common trait of our European friends.

Given how intimate the seating situation was it didn’t take long for the party to our left to notice there was a foreigner among the ranks (me!). I quickly became the target of some light-hearted teasing – mostly silly idioms such as “Ich glaube ich spinne” or “Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof” but it kept them amused. Although one guy seemed to obsess over repeating “awesome.. totally awesome dude” and failing to understand it wasn’t really an English thing.
It was a fun night though and nice to get chatting to a few locals. We chatted away over a few beers and then eventually came time for the three of us to call it a night and we bid farewell to Flo, hoping our paths would cross again someday.

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On Sunday morning me and Nicole went and explored one of the less exhausting trails in Salzburg which offered some cool views looking over the city. We then grabbed some tea at a cafe in one of the squares and I suppose started winding down until Nicole’s trip home to Germany. We said our goodbyes at the train station which left me with one final night in Europe on my own. In all honesty I was feeling pretty deflated. Nicole leaving obviously played a part but it also signaled the beginning of the end. I knew my 10 day trip was almost at its conclusion and I’d be flying home the next morning.

I wanted to enjoy my last evening but it didn’t really materialise. I had a little wander before grabbing some dinner and a couple of drinks but I think the trip finally caught up with me and I was kind of relieved to just have a night doing absolutely nothing. I’d been to 3 countries, 4 cities and had various pieces of company along the way and I think Sunday night was the moment that I started accepting it was time to go home. I’d had a wonderful time and was taking some wonderful memories back to England with me but it was exhausting too.

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Salzburg was simply stunning!

As for Salzburg – it was genuinely a city worthy of romance, it’s such a picturesque city and we had a few romantic moments in our time but long-term it just wasn’t to be.

Fear not though! Whilst we left the romance behind in Salzburg that isn’t the last you’ll hear of Nicole! We’ve remained good friends, I started learning German soon after Salzburg which has made such a difference when traveling and I’ve even visited my favourite German a couple of times since in her hometown so stay tuned for future posts about the delights of Bayern (Bavaria)!
What about the bromance I hear you ask? That stayed intact too and Flo even made a brief visit to Peterborough a couple of years ago! Now I just need to make the return visit to Innsbruck!

Hopefully you enjoyed my mini Eurotrip series. If you missed parts 1-3 you’ll find them on the blog but my highlight was definitely the time spent with my favourite German and my favourite Austrian! The perfect way to end my four part trip!

Vielen Dank und bis bald!

Jason