NYC: Empire State, Top of the Rock and a surprising encounter!

Alright, time to move on to the next part of this NYC series (June 2016). Last time out on the blog I was talking about all things Manhattan but there was one noticeable absentee from that particular post: the Empire State building.

“Whatt!!? How can you blog about Manhattan and not include the Empire State Jason? You’re a terrible travel blogger!!”

You’re right! The Empire State is perhaps the most iconic piece of Manhattan’s famous skyline but there was good reason for excluding it last time round so stick with me!

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One of the debates people have when visiting NYC is whether to visit the Empire State or the Top of the Rock? Don’t get me wrong, if you can visit both then they’re both great and offer fantastic views of the city but if you’re looking to save some money somewhere and can only do one I’d personally recommend skipping the Empire State and visiting the Top of the Rock. Surprised? Let me tell you why!

The view from the top of the Empire State is fantastic but as we clarified above, it is the iconic standout of Manhattan’s skyline. Whilst you can certainly admire the view of Manhattan from the top of the Empire State, you can’t see the Empire State itself!

Much like my post on Florence (here), the Duomo is the standout piece of architecture in Florence which makes the views from Piazzale Michelangelo the best in the city because you can see the Duomo in all its glory. It’s exactly the same here. One of the reasons that the top of the rock is better is because you can see the Empire State!

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The Empire State shining brightly!

 

By contrast the Rockefeller centre is nothing special, a bog standard skyscraper among many in the city. If you’re at the top of it you’re not missing out by not seeing it.

Additionally the Rockefeller centre is closer to Central Park so you get better views from here of it than you do at the Empire State. Lastly it’s actually cheaper! In my opinion you’re getting a better view at a better price. It’s a no brainer which you should visit if you can only do one!

Nevertheless, myself and Kelly decided to get tickets for both.

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View from the Empire State!

The Empire State!
Of the two, we visited the Empire State first. We went quite early in the week too so it was a great first chance to explore the city without Pran (the friend we’d gone to visit). I think we got off at Union Square and decided to walk it from there so we could have a stroll along 5th avenue and do a little window shopping on route.

Soon enough we’d arrived at the impressive empire state building and I was a bit in awe. Say what you like about which view is better, you don’t get the same “pinch me” moment at the Rockefeller centre. Perhaps that is one thing that tips the scale back in favour of the Empire State. Seeing it and experiencing it in the flesh does feel a little more special.

We made our way in, followed the signs as appropriate and a little ahead of us was an escalator. Nothing too unordinary but on the escalator was a familiar looking back of the head – surely not?

My grandparents were spending a month in the USA visiting the likes of Boston, DC, New York City, Dallas, Las Vegas and more. I knew our time in NYC would overlap but as they were only in the city for a couple of days we didn’t make plans to meet up.
They went to the US a few days before we went to New York and they’d gone AWOL and had yet to make contact with anyone back home so I’d been given instructions, jokingly, to “go and find your grandad”.

As we’d walked up 5th avenue I’d been looking out on the unlikely chance that they’d be whizzing by on one of the sightseeing buses, thinking it’d be funny if I actually spotted them but it’s a big city full of millions of people on any given day, what are the odds of actually seeing somebody you know?

So back to the empire state building – “I think I’ve just seen my grandad” I said to Kelly. As we followed up the escalator we then entered the queuing system and as the queue began to zig-zag left and right I confirmed my suspicions! That was my (sunburnt) grandad! Unbelievable! A few moments later we were embracing eachother in disbelief at the situation before sadly going our separate ways.

We’d booked our tickets in advance so skipped to the fast lane, whereas they were booking on the day and had a bit of a longer wait to buy tickets. “Maybe see you up there!”

On our way up I had to make use of the building’s Wi-Fi to message home to my mum. “Guess who I’ve just seen!?” – that’s right, I found your father! All it needed was for me to hop on a plane and I’d found him within 48 hours of being in the “little apple”.

Sadly we didn’t see each-other at the top. We did wait around for a bit, probably longer than we’d originally intended to but either they hadn’t come up yet or we just missed them. It was a little unfortunate as it would have been cool to have got a photo of us there given the opportunity.

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Company aside, the Empire State is cool. You can visit the 86th floor and the 102nd floor, I think my grandparents only did the former and might have been where we missed eachother.

I feel like I’ve been overly critical of the Empire State but given the choice again I wouldn’t go to the 102nd floor. The 86th is an outdoor viewing platform and gives you great views over the city. The 102nd is in this tiny cramped, poorly lit room which wasn’t great for photos. The view isn’t really any better, just higher and isn’t worth the extra fee to go that high. It’s worth going up but I’d personally recommend sticking to the 86th if you do.

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Central Park views from top of the rock!

The Top of the Rock
A few days later we went to the Rockefeller centre, home to much more than just the viewing platform at the top. You’ll find a host of shops, restaurants and even TV networks broadcasting your chat-show favourites in the Rockefeller Centre. We grabbed dinner at one of the restaurants before making our way up, intentionally timed to coincide with NY’s sunset.

I was interested to see how the view compared to the Empire State and wasn’t disappointed. For the most part you’re outside and have the luxury of 360 degree views of the city.  As I suggested above, the highlights for me are the close vicinity to Central Park and then the luxury of seeing the Empire State in all its glory too.

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Sun down, lights on in Manhattan!

The timing perhaps also made this better. We’d visited the Empire State around lunchtime, whereas we visited the top of the rock just before sunset. There’s no limit as to how long you can stay up there (at either attraction) so we got the bonus of seeing NYC before and after dark which was quite nice and we ended up getting plenty of photos before calling it a night.

I have to say I enjoyed both so if you can do both I’d certainly recommend doing so. They were memorable moments of our time in NYC and surprisingly gave me a unique story to tell of “that time I saw my grandad at the Empire State..”

Anyway that truly wraps up Manhattan. Next up on the blog? Exploring Brooklyn!

Stay tuned!

Jason

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New York City: Exploring Manhattan

In my last post (read me) I gave you a little prequel / introduction to my New York City series. In reality it was just a bit of a filler post, I’ve really been struggling to write about New York because I want to do it justice whilst additionally keeping it personal. The intro was just me buying some time to adequately put New York City in to words.

I’ve approached it in different ways and drafted several efforts but whilst they haven’t necessarily been badly written, they’ve just felt a bit generic. Trying to find the balance between writing about the destination and writing about my trip specifically can sometimes be tricky and this has probably been my toughest effort to date.

I visited NYC (June 2016) for a week which is a long time so subsequently I’ve decided to split this over several posts, beginning with my time in Manhattan.

Manhattan is really the Hollywood of New York City. It’s weird as a first time visitor because it is a huge city with massive skyscrapers which can make you feel very small, it could easily be overwhelming but in many ways it’s also incredibly familiar. Our (me and Kelly) flight to NYC was delayed by a bit and then the queues for border control were quite long so by the time we got out of the airport I suggested we just get a cab, our first yellow taxi experience and already a sense of familiarity having seen them across countless movies and TV shows. It was a sign of things to come – you feel like you’re constantly walking into movie sets wherever you are in the city.

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Exploring Brooklyn

Leaving the airport we headed for our hostel. We were staying in Brooklyn but didn’t really do much after arrival, opting for an early night and raring to go the next morning. We had a little wander of the area before meeting up with our friend Pran, a mutual friend who was inspiration for the trip (not that myself or Kelly need much excuse to travel).. We met Pran at some subway station, popped to a diner for some breakfast (pancakes!!) and made our way in to Manhattan for the first time.

Pran had to work whilst we were in NYC so knowing that we’d do some of the more well-known tourist spots on our own, he took us over to the High Line for our first stop in Manhattan. The High Line is an increasingly popular tourist attraction, built on a former train line it has been transformed in to public gardens and exhibitions and also hosts some small local businesses selling stuff. One of the best things about the High Line is that it was previously an elevated train line too so you get some great views of the city, the weather wasn’t fantastic and there was a bit of fog so some of the skyscrapers such as the Empire State got a little lost but it was a fun first stop in the city. Definitely worth a visit, me and Kelly even returned on another day to look around a little more.

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Returning to the High Line on a sunnier day

From there we made our way over to Times Square, another Hollywood moment in NYC. Instantly recognisable and for that reason its inevitably a tourist hot-spot. It was cool to see Times Square in person, the fog kind of added to the atmosphere of the place too. It was spectacular to look at with so much in your face and for that reason I kind of like Times Square but for the most part I hate it.

It’s SO busy and just feels a bit tacky. I’d seen it once but that was it for me, I’d happily not go back to Times Square. You spend so much of your time hurdling foot traffic that you just want to get out of there ASAP. We did pass through a couple more times in our trip but on the whole I’d happily avoid it altogether. Unless you’re venturing there in the early hours of the morning with nobody around, I’d suggest steering clear.

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Times Square. Again, a return on a sunnier day

Next on our list to see was New York’s famous Grand Central train station, it was easy to see why it was so popular. It looks incredible inside and you quickly forget that it’s an actively used station, as keen as we were to get some photos it’s also worth remembering that commuters are actively passing through and probably don’t appreciate dawdling tourists slowing them down! After a few photos we moved on to..

I don’t really remember.

I remember everything we did in New York but breaking it down day by day is a bit of a blur. Pran unfortunately had to work Mon-Fri which left me and Kelly to explore by ourselves throughout the rest of the week. Early on in the week we made our first trip to Central Park which is probably one of my favourite parts of Manhattan. I don’t think you appreciate how big it is until you’ve visited but it’s huge! The plus side to that is that although it inevitably attracts tourists, it never felt crowded when we visited. It felt peaceful and there’s plenty of interesting spots within the park itself, I think if I lived in NYC I would spend a LOT of time here and probably still discover new things and spaces to relax.

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Little castle in Central Park

One of the other things we were keen to visit whilst in New York was ground zero, the site of the 9/11 attack and home to a memorial in remembrance of it. It’s crazy to think that you’ve now got adults that are too young to have any recollection of this even happening. Whilst a tragedy, it’s one of those historic moments where you’ll remember where you were as the news unraveled.

I thought the memorial was incredible and really does justice to the memory of those who lost their lives there. The name of every victim is listed along the memorial and I did find it quite moving seeing the vast number of names, including emergency services that risked their lives. Occasionally there’d be a flag or flower attached to certain names, the latter actually left by the memorial employees and indicates the birthday of the name its attached to which I thought was another thoughtful touch.

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There is also a 9/11 museum you can visit, we did take a look around but it’s quite big and we went late in the day to take advantage of their weekly free admission so didn’t actually see much. If you want to visit for free you still have to reserve tickets in advance through their website.

The rest of our time in Manhattan was a little more relaxed. We explored various neighbourhoods including Chinatown, Little Italy and the financial district but we didn’t do anything particularly noteworthy. It was a fun city to explore, on foot we’d get friendly locals coming up and chatting to us (usually because we looked lost).

Additionally when not on foot we made use of the subway and every subway journey was an adventure of its own. Live music and performers were always in either the subway stations or on the subway itself which added a bit of liveliness and atmosphere to our travels. Again, it’s perhaps more frustrating for the daily commuter but as two travelers it was something we personally enjoyed.

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The constantly lively Union Square

Overall we had a great time exploring Manhattan together, we’d ticked off pretty much everything that we’d both agreed upon seeing but there was one last thing I had to try and do whilst here. I couldn’t come all the way to New York City and not meet up with the Cattry sisters if they were free.

I’d met Navdeep, Pardeep and Ravi online through our mutual love of Tottenham Hotspur and it only seemed right that we tried to meet up whilst I was in town. Fortunately they were free so we planned to meet up for lunch one afternoon. The invitation was extended to Kelly but she didn’t really fancy it so we split for the afternoon and arranged to meet up a bit later, Kelly took it as an opportunity to visit some Star Wars exhibition instead which was probably equally enjoyable for her and not something I personally had any regrets at missing (I’m now awaiting the wrath of the Star Wars fanatics).

It was nice to finally meet the three of them in person. We picked up some lunch to go at some nearby place which Ravi was insistent on paying for (thank you again!) and then headed over to the picturesque Bryant Park to enjoy it. With the sun shining it was a beautiful spot to eat, catch up, discuss all things football and get some more tips for things to see whilst in NYC.

Ending the post on one of the trip highlights, that roughly rounds up our time in Manhattan. You might be curious at the fact that the Empire State is a notable absence from this Manhattan post, there is a reason for that but you’ll have to wait to find out why!

Next up on the blog: The Top of the Rock and the Empire State building, including a surprising encounter!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Introducing New York City!

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, be it on the blog or other social media, then you should know by now that London is my favourite city in the world. I was very fortunate to have been born in the city, spending a chunk of my childhood there and I still very much think of it as home.

I had the luxury of hosting Haleigh in England recently and I was particularly keen to show off London. It was nice to be the host rather than the traveler for once.

I moved out of London in 1997 so I’ve spent most of my life in Peterborough but whenever I’m asked where I’m from I always throw in a little disclaimer – “I live in Peterborough but..”

“I’m from London..”

“You haven’t lived there in 21 years Jason – stop saying that!”

It’s true though. It isn’t meant as disrespectful of Peterborough but I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that same pride that I do for London. I’ll always think of London as home and the reality is I’ll probably never even live in the city again (although if you’ve got a few million spare give me a heads up).

The interesting thing is as a traveler, you’re regularly asked where your favourite place is and as tough as that can be to answer genuinely, it does often lead to me throwing in another disclaimer.
“Excluding London my favourite..”

“Excluding London? So your favourite place is home?”. It does somewhat make a mockery of the question. I’ve visited several places now and perhaps that’s one of the motivations and reasons I travel so much. London sets the standard so keep traveling until I find better, right? I’ve never said London would always be my favourite place in the world and I’m happy to be proven wrong: enter New York City!

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New York City!

I love big cities and if there was anywhere that could challenge my love of London, surely this was the one? A city full of culture, history, diversity and a city that supposedly never sleeps – NYC was my dream destination to visit and one I had high hopes for.

Come June 2016 I was finally visiting for the first time with my friend Kelly. Kelly is my fellow travel-obsessed friend and the chance to go and visit a mutual friend (Pran) who lives over there was as good a reason as any to travel, not that either of us need much excuse. So off we went to NYC for a week!

At this point in time I’d been to the likes of Sydney, Berlin and Amsterdam and whilst worthy challengers I’d yet to be convinced on a London successor to earn the title of “best place in the world”. Could NYC finally surpass London’s high standards?

Stay tuned to find out. NYC part one is next on the blog!

Jason

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

Georgia – Part two: Rural Georgia (Feb 2016)

Forgive me, I let the football distract me and my Georgia series had to take a backseat. On to part two of the adventure! For those that missed part one, I was in Atlanta, you can read about that here (Read me!) but come the Sunday it was time to move on and head in to a very different side of the state.

Myself and Mella were saying goodbye to the big city of Atlanta and heading North towards her home ‘city’. I say city loosely because its most recent population estimate was a rather modest 739 people. Google and Wikipedia are both insistent that it’s a city but what constitutes awarding somewhere a city status? If you’ve got to drive 20 miles to collect a pizza because they won’t deliver, sorry America, but you’re not a city.

As we drove in to this little piece of Georgia it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. I say 750ish live here but that figure surprised me if I’m being honest, where are they living? Perhaps I just hadn’t been paying much attention whilst passing through but were there even 100 houses here? Myself and Mella ended on good terms but forgetting the company, returning to complete a city-wide census is a tempting enough reason to go back!

Perhaps there are 700+ people living here but nevertheless it is a city with little to it. There’s supposedly a city hall, which I’ve no doubt Mella probably pointed out to me, but it completely bypassed me. Nevertheless I wasn’t here to be entertained, I was here to enjoy the company and meet some of Mella’s favourite people. Plus get a little insight in to how the locals lived and see a ‘real’ side to Georgia I suppose.

Mella lives with her grandparents and with other family living closeby it wasn’t long before I was introduced to various people and beginning to appreciate some of the quirks of the South, including the accent! Perhaps I’d just got used to hearing her voice but I never felt Mella herself had an overly Southern accent but particularly when meeting her cousin, Haley, there was no disguising it! It kept me mildly amused as it was so distinct.

We didn’t do too much over the course of the week, we spent a lot of time relaxing and blitzing through Parks and Rec on Netflix (my first introduction to that and Criminal Minds). However there were still some highlights, mostly the company in truth.

One of the perks to living so rurally is it meant car journeys to do anything, even just picking up dinner. A favourite car-journey game of mine was “count the USA flags” (bonus points for the Confederation flag). The USA’s patriotism is always something that fascinates me. It’s so in your face and so contrasting to England where, sporting events aside, you rarely see the same level of patriotism. Of course it has negatives too, my border control experience (Welcome to the USA – Georgia style!) highlights that thinking America is the greatest place on Earth comes with consequences but nevertheless it was amusing to me to see an American flag every few meters on a ridiculous number of cars, houses, establishments, trees etc etc etc. If you can stick a flag on it be certain that the Americans will do it!

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Flags everywhere you look!

“Fifty flags!! We’ve only driven a couple of miles!”
Seriously, come play the same game in England. “Zero? I’ve been here two weeks!!”

Beyond the few days in Atlanta, my last visit to the US had been in 2008 (and prior) with the bulk of that time spent in Orlando. It was interesting to compare and see little traffic on the roads and pretty scenery throughout the state. I remember us taking an evening trip to pick up some pizza in Jasper which meant driving through winding icy roads, surrounded by trees before arriving in to a snowy city (population: 4,000ish).

Other trips saw us drive in to the likes of Calhoun (16,000ish) and Cartersville (20,000ish) which, whilst miles away from Atlanta’s population (500,000ish), was a little inkling of life in Georgia’s smaller cities. Mella’s home ‘city’ was far too small for my liking but it wasn’t absurd to think I could live locally. Cartersville sticks in the mind and whilst still relatively small, didn’t feel so remote from civilisation haha.

Atlanta had been a fun few days but my best memories of Georgia were a result of that famous ‘Southern hospitality’ I’d heard so much about. Not only did Mella make me feel right at home but the hospitality extended to everyone else too. Time at home saw Mella’s grandmother introduce me to my first real taste of Southern cuisine – the highlight was homemade ‘Biscuits and Gravy. Considered a Southern favourite and it was pretty tasty! Not sure it’ll be taking off in England anytime soon mind you.

Similarly Mella’s friends were also quick to welcome me in to their lives and make time to spend with us. One day saw us visit Christy, Andy and baby Ian which was a day revolving mostly around good food, including some cool little burger place – again in what seemed like the middle of nowhere.

Another day saw us hang out with Brianna and visit one of Georgia’s shopping malls before checking out this cool little bar in Cartersville called Ate Track, a little rock-and-roll themed place with good food and a nice way to finish the day off.

Our final bit of social interaction saw us meet Meghan for dinner before heading back to Meghan’s to play games with Meghan and Brett. A few beers, a bit of Cards and Humanity followed by a session of Fifa between myself and Brett – accompanied with expertise Georgian commentary from the girls made for a fun evening.

The end to the trip was pretty relaxed. The weather forecast didn’t look brilliant so I ended up getting a last-minute hotel by the airport for the night before my departure to avoid any complications getting home. Myself and Mella said our goodbyes, feeling a little deflated I cheered myself up with room service and ordered in some pizza and a couple of beers. The next day I was back at Atlanta airport pondering when I’d next be back here.

Obviously things didn’t go as planned and things didn’t work out long term for me and Mella but it was a nice week and, after a rocky start with border control, I left Georgia with many good memories. I don’t know if I’ll ever return, perhaps someday as I have friends including Mella who live in the state or in neighbouring states but I’m pleased I got to see more than just the big city.

Whilst Georgia is by no means my favourite part of the US, it ticked off state number two and rekindled a desire to see more of the country.

Anyway, I’ll wrap things up there. Next up on the blog: An easy way for YOU to save in 2019, so you’ll be able to have your own adventure!

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

Georgia – Part one: Atlanta (Feb 2016)

How time flies, right? This summer Haleigh drove us across the Oregon border and in to my 12th US state – California! That story will have to wait a little longer because I’m going to rewind two years (Feb 2016) and continue my Georgia story, visiting Mella, which just so happened to be my first visit to the USA in eight years and just the second state I stepped foot in to. The second! Three years ago I’d been to just one state and now it’s 12 – how mad is that!?

Anyway I was torn about how to approach this trip on the blog. First and foremost it was a trip revolved around romance and you’ve already had the spoiler – there was no fairytale ending to it. As far as “best case” and “worst case” scenarios go I guess we landed somewhere in the middle and I still remain good friends with Mella. Long-distance is always a gamble and on this occasion things just didn’t go to plan. I’m not going to go in to any huge detail but that chapter ended.

The second reason I was torn on how to approach this was because I wasn’t sure if I should try and jampack two weeks in to one post or split it over two? I’ve decided to do the latter and focus on city life in Georgia and rural life in Georgia over two posts, starting with the big city – Atlanta!

That’s the thing about long distance relationships (LDR’s), they come with a lot of complications but one perk is you get to travel somewhere! Whilst I don’t consider this a typical holiday, it was still two weeks in Georgia, a long overdue return to the USA and a new state to explore. I don’t know if I would have visited Georgia for any other reason and subsequently I didn’t go with huge expectations.

That did all change though. In my last blog post (here) I spoke about my ‘fun’ border control experience which, whilst memorable, also begged the question what are they so desperate to contain from the outside world?
“Co-operate or you’ll be on the first plane back to London!!”

Money-permitting I’d move back to London tomorrow so it was a bizarre scenario to find myself in. I was jumping through hoops to get in to Atlanta to avoid being sent back to my favourite place in the world – it didn’t quite add up. I’d gone to Atlanta with low expectations but having had to prove myself to get in to the damn city, Atlanta now had to prove to me it was worthy of such arrogance.

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“Was it worthy Jason?”

No. Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely did enjoy my time in Atlanta / Georgia and I know the officers at border control are just there to do a job but calm down Atlanta, you’re not all that!

Nevertheless I’m not going to stick the boot in any further, let me focus on why I DID enjoy my time in Atlanta. As we discovered in my last post, I was granted access to Atlanta! I had escaped the airport! I was free! We arrived at my hotel in downtown Atlanta on the Tuesday evening and after quickly settling in I was then waving Mella off. “See ya!!”

Mella lives roughly an hour North of Atlanta and had to work on Wednesday and Thursday so having waited all this time to finally meet, we were very quickly separated again. It left me with a couple of days to explore solo before Mella could join me for the weekend.

I didn’t really do much Tuesday evening, I figured I’d adjust to the five hour time difference and get an early-ish night. So following a decent sleep I was raring to go bright and early on Wednesday morning. I hit the streets and found a grey and dreary looking Atlanta. I decided to make my first stop the civil rights museum which was only a short walk away from where I was staying.

I’m not typically the earliest of risers when it comes to my travels so I was quite pleased to stroll up to the museum and see nobody around. My early approach meant I’d beaten the crowds and walked right up to the entrance without a person in sight. Unfortunately nobody was around with good reason, they didn’t open until 10am! I’d got here hoping to beat the lunchtime/afternoon rush and was quickly disappointed.

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Plan A had had a small setback but no worries, what else is nearby? I took a little stroll and it’s relatively close to the aquarium and Coca Cola World, two things I knew I’d be doing with Mella later in the week. I soon stumbled upon a children’s museum and thought that would be perfect! Closed on Wednesday’s!!

Really Atlanta? I wanted you to bring your A game and instead I’ve got your zzz game!
“Sorry, we don’t work before 10am or on a Wednesday! We need that lie in”

Accepting defeat I headed back to the Civil Rights museum and just decided to wait it out, making myself “one of those” people I used to dread in my supermarket days. I’d arrive at work and finding a flock of customers waiting for the doors to open – “it’s a Sunday morning, go back to bed!!”
Roles had been reversed and now I was clock-watching until 10am hoping for a prompt opening.
“Excuse me, it’s 10:01. Open up!!”

I wasn’t waiting long before I was joined by a woman, she was awaiting the rest of her school entourage to arrive and we quickly got chatting. She was friendly and offered some recommendations and, at last, I was experiencing some of this Southern hospitality that the South is famous for. Things were finally looking up!

Soon enough an army of school children arrived and given the setting it was interesting to see the diversity of the group. The museum was focused on civil rights with a large exhibit particularly focused on the persecution of black people in the South. It was nice to see all these little kids running around, playing and laughing with eachother, irrespective of their differences. Yet any moment now the doors would open and we’d be reading about the likes of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.

Ironically having clock-watched until 10am I then held back to allow the school party to jump ahead of me, it allowed me to experience the museum at my own pace and really take in a lot of what I was reading. It was interesting, fascinating, educational and more than anything humbling.

Some of the stuff I was reading seemed too inexplicable, how was some of this propaganda and vitriol ever deemed acceptable? I’d say the rest of the museum gets easier but it’s equally thought provoking and turns its attention to discrimination and inequality of other people based upon their gender, sexuality, disabilities and so on.

It’s a museum I’d fully recommend visiting if you’re in Atlanta. I left feeling rather privileged, aspects of the museum showed we’re heading in the right direction whilst others also highlighted that we have some way to go. Looking 600 or so miles North and seeing a black president in the White House gave me some hope for the future. Hindsight is a funny thing mind you, the remainder of 2016 saw political victories for Nigel Farage and Donald Trump which made me wonder if that hope had been a bit premature.

Feeling hopeful, I turned my attention to getting some lunch and was quickly ticking off another Hard Rock Café (HRC) visit – my love of which began in the neighbouring state of Florida so it was nice to be enjoying it once again on American soil.

I didn’t really do much following on from lunch, I planned to cover a lot of Atlanta’s main points of interest later over the weekend with Mella so it was a fairly chilled day.
Thursday took a relatively similar pattern. I took some time to go and explore Piedmont Park, a peaceful spot in the city that makes it easy to forget you’re in such a big city. Within the park you’ll also find Atlanta’s Botanical Gardens which I figured I’d take some time to visit.

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I liked it, the location probably added to that but it felt good to escape the busyness of Atlanta for a little while. Beyond that I didn’t do too much, wandered the city a bit before grabbing some dinner at a restaurant. The couple of free days I’d enjoyed in Atlanta had allowed me to familiarise myself with the city on foot and given me a good indication of where things were, particularly the attractions that I had planned for the coming days.

Friday saw everybody arrive in to town. Mella and a friend of hers joined me for the weekend. However a couple of penpals, Samantha (Alabama) and Crystal (Florida), had also made their way to Atlanta for the weekend. Sadly the “penpal curse” struck and things unfortunately didn’t quite work out. I’ve since seen both Crystal (in New Orleans) and Sam (in Nashville) but we’ve yet to successfully meet up with all three of us at the same time.

Mella I had more fortune with and it didn’t take long for our plans to start taking shape. The highlight of Friday was a trip to Shakespeare’s Tavern – a cute little theatre which houses Shakespeare plays. Mella had bought us tickets to see Romeo and Juliet which was good fun. It was an intimate setting and one of the perks to that was the cast meeting us in the lobby area after the show to thank us and similarly allow us to compliment them on the play. It was a nice little touch to have that cast/audience interaction.

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On Saturday we visited Atlanta’s aquarium, supposedly one of the best in the US and of the three I’ve been to (Dallas and Mall of America) it’d be hard to disagree. There was one room with a large tank that we sat at for a while just enjoying the fish swimming on by.

Next up was a trip to the nearby Coca Cola World. I’ve never really entered the Coke/Pepsi debate as I don’t drink either so theoretically it was a bit of a pointless attraction to visit but in the home of Coca Cola (didn’t realise it was Atlanta) it seemed the apt thing to do. It was actually quite enjoyable. It was interesting hearing a bit more about the history of Coca Cola and it had some interesting stuff. The final piece of the attraction is the tasting room where you can taste a variety of drink products from around the world. I can’t particularly remember which were delicious / disgusting but it was a fun way to round off the visit.

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We ventured from there over to the nearby Centennial park which is a small public park with statues and things dedicated to the 1996 Olympics which was hosted in Atlanta. It’s a nice little park in the heart of the city.

Beyond that we didn’t do too much else in Atlanta, just ate food and relaxed mostly but it was a fun introduction in to life in Georgia. It’s a nice place to visit for a few days but it has a long way to go before competing with places such as London and New York City.

It’s somewhere I’d potentially go back to but I feel like if I didn’t I’ve seen enough of the city and ticked off enough of the main things to do that I’d be content with a one time visit. I’d enjoyed my time in the ‘big city’, next up was a week experiencing a more rural side of Georgia.

Stay tuned for that!

Jason