Liege – Oct 2016

So there I was stood in Liege..

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, back up a minute! How did you get to Liege? Why were you in Liege? Where even is Liege? Where’s your usual introduction Jason?”

Nooo, can’t we just go with it!? I’m tired of telling variants of this same story so surely you’re tired of reading it by now? You don’t need an introduction. I was just magically there in Liege, no questions asked!

Alright, fine! My beloved Tottenham were playing in Germany and..

“WHAT? Again!?”

See! Don’t say I didn’t warn you! If you hadn’t already picked up on it in this post, this one but perhaps best put in this one – Tottenham can’t avoid playing in Germany. So for about the hundredth time of course I was going to experience it. It was October 2016 and Tottenham were playing in a tiny town called Leverkusen on the outskirts of none other than Köln (Cologne).

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Bayer Leverkusen v Tottenham Hotspur

Köln again! I’d been here as recently as sodding March and that was my second trip to the city. I sulked a bit after the schedule was released. As if another football trip to Germany wasn’t bad enough, it was the same region and not even a little bit away from Köln. For me to have stayed anywhere else would have been purely out of spite so reluctantly I booked my third trip to Köln and cried about it to anyone who’d listen.

“I can’t believe my luck, Germany again, poor me!”

Shockingly sympathisers seemed to be in short supply. Even the most supportive of people seemed to get swept up in the minor details such as it being my “thousandth trip of the year” and muttering phrases like  “you’re always out of the country” as if that was supposed to be some sort of consolation.

By the time the trip actually rolled around I’d perked up a bit and stopped wallowing in self-pity, Football, German beer, friends and best of all? No work. It almost sounded like it might be a fun trip. Who would have thought?

Nevertheless, even with a bit of a reality check I still had the dilemma that I was going back to Köln. It was a city I’d done to death and I knew I’d have to take a daytrip somewhere to freshen things up. One of the perks to Köln is it’s in a good location and its transport links are pretty fantastic. Day-trips to Western Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Eastern France, Luxembourg and Switzerland are all feasible so I had a good variety of destinations to pick from.

I fancied getting out of the country for the day and was keen to try and visit somewhere new which ruled out Brussels and Amsterdam as perhaps two of the most convenient destinations to get to from Köln. I’d been to Luxembourg last time I was in Köln so on this occasion I opted to go to a Belgian city called Liege. It wasn’t too far from Köln, I could get a direct train and the tickets weren’t too expensive so off I went. I hopped on the next train and soon enough I’d arrived at Liege’s main train station.

So there I was stood in Liege (“ooo, de-ja-vu!”). I’d successfully navigated my way across the border and could tick off another city in Belgium having previously been to BrusselsBruges and Gent.

Assuming you take the train and don’t magically find yourself in Liege, your first impression of the city is going to be in its train station and wow! The station itself is a spectacular piece of architecture. It reminded me of Kings Cross a little with its roof and then the open and welcoming space as you come out of the main entrance. It’d make a great meeting point, unlike Brussels which gives off a bit of a sketchier vibe in parts close to its main station.

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Liege’s train station

Of course I hadn’t come to Liege to drool over the train station, I was here to explore and see what Liege had to offer. I’d come here as a last minute decision so had no real expectation of the city. Unfortunately it meant I was also woefully unprepared and Belgium don’t seem fond of signposting things to help you get around. I mentioned this in my post on Gent too (another Belgian city) where I got hopelessly lost.

Things took a similar pattern here. Given I had no plans I was in no particular rush so getting lost wasn’t necessarily a problem but it’d be helpful if the Belgians gave you a helping hand in finding the centre of a city when the main station is a little further out. In the end I just walked, hoped for the best and inevitably had no idea where I was, the main upside being that at least I was seeing a bit more of the city.

Eventually I got on track but by this point it was close to lunchtime and all that walking had worked up an appetite. One of the very few things I’d read up on Liege before visiting was that one of its local speciality dishes was the boulet-frites (meatballs with fries). An odd combination but when in Liege..

I managed to find a restaurant / bar that looked like it had this particular dish on the menu so walked in and took a seat. A few moments later a waitress walked over offering a “bonjour..”

“Oh no! French? Take me back to Germany!”

Although Liege is within Belgium, the city has a heavy French influence and French is the main language spoken in Liege rather than the typical Flemish/Dutch across the rest of Belgium. Not that I’d have found that any easier but having woken up in Germany it took me by surprise a bit and quickly made me realise how unprepared I was for a day in Liege.

I’m often critical of how good my German is but I don’t think twice about picking up a menu or walking in to a restaurant in Germany. It’s nice having that reminder that my German isn’t so bad and I could comfortably go back to Köln that evening and get by, however in the meantime I had to muddle my way through ordering and my brain was scrambling for any French words I could remember from school.

Fortunately “je voudrais” (I would like) seems to be one of the very few French phrases I can remember so I managed to stumble together enough French words to place an order. Feeling pretty smug I handed my menu back to the waitress with a friendly “dankeschon” and immediately cursed my inability to switch the German off.

I didn’t bloody mean to say that, I knew how to say thank you in French, why didn’t I say merci beaucoup? I only seem to have an English mode and non-English mode which instinctively reverts to German regardless of what country I’m in. It obviously goes down a treat in Germany but the other Europeans just look at you weird when you’re muttering German at them.

Anyway, shortly after my moment of embarrassment I was being presented with a Liege speciality I was intrigued to try.

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Liege’s speciality

I have to say it tasted better than it looked. I’m not sure two large brown lumps are ever going to look particularly appetising but they tasted good at least. I’m not sure it’s a combination that’s going to take off in England any time soon but I had little cause for complaint. I like meatballs, I like chips and the Belgian beer accompanied the combination perfectly haha.

With a full stomach I was ready to explore and see what Liege had to offer. First impressions were good, it was a city I liked. It’s not my favourite Belgian city by any means but it still had that typical European charm to it. Old buildings, cobbled streets, pretty churches and the usual things you come to expect of anywhere in Europe.

The standout for me was the palace which was quite simply stunning, it felt a bit out of place situated on such a busy road but I couldn’t help but admire the building itself. It’s beautiful and was probably the thing that sticks with me most from Liege. I ended up taking quite a few pictures whilst admiring it from every angle I could.

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I spent the rest of the afternoon just aimlessly wandering, like most European cities it’s pretty walkable and nice to just dart through various streets and small alleyways hoping to discover a gem or two along the way. After a couple of hours of looking around I decided I’d round off my day with my preferred Belgian delicacy – the beer! I hopped in to this little bar which I thought looked quite nice and enjoyed a beer or two.

Happy I’d spent enough time in the city I made my way back to Liege’s train station, not getting so lost on this occasion and quickly boarded the train I needed to take me back to Köln.

As some of you know, I have a habit of falling asleep on trains which is bad enough at home but even more risky when in another country! I have a habit of feeling sleepy on trains and something else that makes me sleepy is beer. Having had a few Belgian beers earlier on made for a deadly combination, it seemed almost inevitable I’d doze off!

I woke up with somebody asking if the empty seat next to me was free. I indicated it was and couldn’t help but notice we were departing a train station. I was still a little drowsy plus a little panicked (“have I missed my stop?”) and kindly asked my new neighbour where we were.

“München”

“WHAT!!!?”

I can’t remember what I actually said but my panicked face said it all. Munich’s on the other side of bloody Germany! I’m miles away from Köln. What am I going to do now?

I’m not sure what occurred first. The wry smile on my neighbour’s face or myself realising the train wasn’t even going to Munich. The last stop of the journey was Frankfurt – still not ideal but less worrying. It was quickly apparent we hadn’t reached Köln yet which I managed to see the funny side of after the initial shock, although unsurprisingly I made sure to stay awake after that.

Shortly afterwards we’d arrived in Köln and I made my way to meet up with a couple of friends also in Köln for the football. We went and grabbed a few drinks before calling it a night, all taking amusement in my story of the German prankster.

Who says Germans have no humour?

Anyway, that wraps things up on my daytrip to Liege. A couple of months later I was rounding off 2016 with a trip to Paris which will likely be next up on the blog.

Stay tuned!

Jason

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A trip to Memmingen!

Research, research, research! Some of you might be wondering where the hell Memmingen is but let me start with the more important question – why Memmingen?

I’m like you, I hadn’t even heard of Memmingen so why would I have any reason to fly there? For that you’ve got to really read my recent post here but for those that missed it, let me catch you up. I’d decided to go see a band with a friend (Nicole, remember her?) in Munich in mid-September and what could possibly clash with that timing? Opening weekend of Oktoberfest – of course! How could I possibly have overlooked that?

Running from September 17th to October 3rd (2016) was Munich’s biggest event of the year. Come October 4th you’d have found the aptly named Oktoberfest done and dusted (“sorry mate, you should have come in September”)..
So inevitably my poorly timed visit was looking expensive, I had my heart set on this trip and I wasn’t going to let Munich’s obscene flight prices and accommodation prices deter me.

If not Munich, where else in Germany can I fly to? Ooo look, Ryanair fly to an airport called Memmingen Munich. Munich! That’s perfect! I’ll book a hotel in Augsburg (the city Nicole lives in) and flights to Memmingen Munich – that’ll do!

“Great, so now we know why you went to Memmingen and also where it is. It’s part of Munich!”

Whoa, don’t get ahead of yourselves! Did I specifically say that? No, no, no. Ryanair have taken a leaf out of Oktoberfest’s books. Yes, they sell flights to Memmingen Munich but what about that would possibly make you think it’s in Munich? Memmingen is actually 70 miles away from Munich – you idiot!

Seriously though, imagine your horror at flying in to Memmingen on October 4th to find you’re in the wrong city and you’ve missed the festival?

Fortunately, whilst I got caught out by the timing of Oktoberfest, I was a little more familiar with Ryanair’s practices and aware that usually you’re landing in the middle of nowhere on their flights. I knew ahead of going to Memmingen that it wasn’t actually anywhere near Munich, nor Augsburg for that matter which is slightly closer.

I’d sensibly done a bit of research on how to get from Memmingen to Augsburg and as I exited the airport I looked for the bus in to the city centre. It looked like there was going to be a bit of a wait but hang on, what’s that? A tiny little beer garden just outside the airport! What better welcome to Germany than that?

I looked on Google Maps to see how far it was to walk in to the centre and decided it was a bit too far. Unfortunately I was left with no other option but to wait it out. What a pickle right? I suppose I’ll have to take a seat in the sunshine and have a beer whilst I wait then. It was a tiny airport with minimal other amenities so what choice did I really have?

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Even Germany’s airports have beer gardens!

The bus arrived soon after I’d finished my beer so I was on my way in to Memmingen, hoping it would be clear where I needed to get off. Fortunately it was and the bus dropped me off just outside of Memmingen’s train station. Perfect! On to Augsburg I go! Unless..

I stayed for a bit? What was the rush really? I’d been to Augsburg a year earlier which meant I wasn’t seeing anything new, plus Nicole was stuck in work anyway so did I need to go right away? Maybe I should look around Memmingen whilst I’m here, Augsburg can wait.

I have to say, I’m glad I stuck around. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying Memmingen is somewhere you have to visit, nor is it a particularly big city but it took me by surprise. I ventured away from the station and was soon heading up this street with a number of colourful buildings and I couldn’t help but admire Memmingen already. It looked to be full of character and charm.

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I stumbled upon what I’m guessing is Memmingen’s old town and its architecture and character really became apparent. I passed some cute looking shops and couldn’t resist picking up some postcards whilst in the city.

As I came out of this store I turned the corner and discovered this picturesque square, home to Memmingen’s Rathaus (town hall) and a number of other stunning buildings. Memmingen’s locals were embracing the sunshine and taking seat at some of the cafes and restaurants within the vicinity. It was the perfect setting.

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Charming Memmingen with the town hall on the right!

Everywhere you looked was something to catch your eye and that’s when I spotted just to my left a small street with a tiny canal running through it. Sure, it wasn’t Bruges or Amsterdam but it was still pretty. Either side of the canal were small shops, businesses and restaurants. I was swooning over this unknown little place.

After walking up and down various little side streets I decided I needed to grab some lunch and had to find my German/Austrian favourite. No trip to Germany is complete without some schnitzel and given I was only here for a weekend I figured I’d make sure I got that opportunity locked down early on in the trip.

Following on from lunch I wandered a little longer through the city and whilst it isn’t particularly big, it felt like a bit of a gem. I highly doubt I’ll ever go back to Memmingen but it had been a pleasant surprise to wander for a couple of hours. Memmingen’s changing weather was a sign to call it a day. I’d arrived to clear blue skies in the morning but that was the last I saw of any blue skies in Germany. It had become overcast so I strolled back towards the train station in a race against the imminent rain that remained for the rest of my weekend in Germany.

I was excited to head to Augsburg but a little sad leaving Memmingen behind too. Is it somewhere I’ll go back to? Probably not. Is it somewhere that should be on your bucketlist? Again, probably not but in a short few hours it had left a memorable impression. No, you probably shouldn’t be going out of your way to visit Memmingen but if you’re in the area or perhaps you want a cheaper alternative to flying to Munich, Memmingen certainly isn’t a bad shout. It’s not a bad little day-trip or in my case an extended lunchtime visit.

Despite my poor timing I decided it’d actually be easier getting home from Munich on the Sunday evening so flew back from Munich, consequently I didn’t see Memmingen again. Nevertheless it was a good start to a fun weekend in Bavaria.

Up next? A return to Augsburg and Munich!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Jason Goes Global!

Alright, perhaps not quite but I thought it was a somewhat fitting title given Elle over at Elle Goes Global gave me the honour of writing my first ever guest blog post! Elle kindly provided me with the platform to write about my struggles with anxiety and how traveling went some good way to helping that so I’d love if you went and gave it a read here!

I think it’s important to speak up about mental health and it’s a piece I’m proud of. However the long-term readers of my blog might be sensing a feeling of “Sickboy” de-ja-vu because, yes, it’s a story I’ve told on my blog before and a slightly lengthier effort on that occasion too which you can read for comparison here: Travel helping my struggle with anxiety!

So in addition to the above I thought I’d dedicate the end of this particular post to Elle and a few of her own written posts that I’ve enjoyed and think you should also give a read! Check them out below!

25 countries in 25 years – One of Elle’s recent posts revolved around her visit to 25 countries before the age of 25. It’s really interesting to see where she’s been to already. From nearby countries in Europe to faraway lands such as South Africa or Mauritius.
Go let her know where to visit before 30 in her quest to reach 30 countries!

How to travel solo and still have the best holiday ever! – Exactly what it says in the title. Solo travel can be quite daunting if you’ve never done it before and I personally know a few are still having doubts about whether to travel solo or not. Elle offers a few tips on how you can have the best time traveling solo which might just be enough to give solo travel a chance!

72 hours in Valencia – One city I’m keen to visit at some point is Valencia in Spain. It’s somewhere that has always appealed to me and a good excuse to return to Spain at some point. Fortunately Elle has written a 72 hour guide on the city which is well worth giving a read. It’s given me a few ideas for when I get around to visiting!

Visitors guide to Cardiff – Somewhere else I’m hopeful I’ll visit properly soon is Cardiff. It is a city I’ve briefly visited but I don’t really count it as somewhere I’ve been to. This month Wales has been a frequent visitor to my news feeds on social media with celebrations for St David’s Day and Wales Six Nations success.
It’s definitely somewhere I’ll try spend a weekend in at some point this year and Elle has written up a useful guide for visitors to the city!

Fantastic treasures in Italy – Another country I’m keen to return to and see more of is Italy. I’ve only been to Italy the once, visiting Pisa and Florence back in 2015 which was a fantastic trip. It’s a country I’m overdue returning to and in this particular post Elle has advised of a few ‘treasures’ to visit in the country.

Anyway, I’ll leave it at that but if you want to see more from Elle you’ll find her at:
Facebook
Instagram
Twitter
or over on the blog of course.

I’d love to hear what you think of the guest post and it’s certainly something I’m open to doing more often so get in touch if you’d like me to write up something for your own blog.

Thanks for reading!

Jason

The Bayern mistake!

Following on from my NYC trip (June 2016) I was quickly turning my attention towards the next trip: Bayern (Bavaria) in Deutschland!

Long term readers of the blog may remember previous mentions of my favourite German, Nicole, on trips to Salzburg (Oct 2014) and Bavaria the first time around (Aug 2015). The romance was long gone but we’d stayed good friends and I couldn’t help but be tempted by a European gig tour.

A band we both enjoy listening to were touring the UK and Europe in 2016 and as I scoured through the tour dates I was pleased to find they were playing in München (Munich) on a Friday night! “That is perfect!” I thought. I can book the Friday off and have myself a weekend trip to Munich in September!

Consequently I ran the idea past Nicole, who said she’d love to go, and put a little pin in the calendar for that weekend. I knew NYC was going to be expensive, I needed to save my pennies beforehand but as soon as I was home I’d look in to flights and accommodation for Germany. 

So off I went and had a week away in NYC. I had a fantastic time, as you can read about in previous posts, but I couldn’t dwell on that for too long – it was time to start planning again!

Having been a year earlier (Aug 2015) I had a rough idea of what a weekend in Munich should cost me. With August generally being Europe’s peak travel month due to the school holidays and summer weather (it had been close to 40C in Germany in Aug 2015) I was looking forward to a slightly cheaper weekend away.

I was WRONG! Flight prices for Munich were obscene! Accommodation in Munich was either sold out or obscenely priced. What’s going on? How can it possibly be this much in September compared to August?

One explanation was that dreaded word that has been on everybody’s lips for the last three years – Brexit! My NYC trip was perfectly timed, the £ to $ exchange rate was fairly decent but my “wait until after NYC” approach came back to bite me on this trip. I returned home from NYC in June 2016, just before the Brexit vote which saw the pound nosedive following the result.

Even so, it’s still way too expensive in Munich for that to be the sole cause. What am I missing? Is there a big event going on in September that I don’t know about? Bayern Munich are playing at home but that can’t be it, you can see football in Munich every weekend. The only other time I’d expect Munich to be this expensive would be..

”Oh no..”

Oktoberfest! I suddenly remembered, Oktoberfest overlaps in to September doesn’t it? Still, I’m looking to visit in the middle of the month! Surely Oktoberfest isn’t this early?

Wrong again! Septemberfest as it shall henceforth be known was running from September 17th until October 3rd in 2016. Three days? Are you kidding me?
I was looking for flights on September 16th. I’ve only gone and invited myself to Munich for opening weekend of Oktoberfest! Of course it’s bloody expensive you idiot!

I’ve always wanted to visit Oktoberfest at some point but this wasn’t the trip for that, so now what? Referring back to that dreaded B word that every Brit is sick of hearing about, I had a similar problem of my own. I’d made the decision to go to Munich but with further clarity and new information do I follow through? What do I do?

It was clear that if I wanted to still go to Munich it was going to be a BAD deal but on the flipside “gig means gig” right? An agreement was in place and I didn’t want to go back to “Europe” (Nicole) and say I’d changed my mind. I hadn’t changed my mind at all, I definitely wanted to go to the gig but it was under very different circumstances than I’d anticipated.

On the plus side it didn’t take me three years to resolve my little problem, just a couple of weeks, maybe I should be our new Prime Minister (ha, no thanks!).
Anyway I’m getting sidetracked, let me get back to the story. Plan A was out of the window so I had to focus on finding a plan B. I’m committed to going to this gig so where else can I fly to, where else can I stay?

My best, or perhaps preferred option was to stay in Nicole’s hometown Augsburg if not Munich. Unfortunately it seems other Septemberfest attendees had similar ideas and were venturing out of Munich. Trains between the two cities run regularly and aren’t too expensive so it makes sense but meant I was effectively paying Oktoberfest rates in September whilst staying in another city. Still much cheaper than hotels in Munich of course but somewhat frustrating.

As far as flights go I ended up finding flights to ‘Memmingen Munich’ – not actually Munich at all but fortunately I was a little more aware of Ryanair’s practices. Fool me once maybe but I wasn’t going to get caught out by Ryanair too! Their flight prices are unrivaled but part of the reason for that is they fly to tiny airports in the middle of nowhere.

Memmingen is actually worthwhile flying to, particularly if (unlike me) you’re looking to go to Oktoberfest but just be aware the town is actually 70 miles away and you’re going to have to make your way to Munich from there. I do have some sympathy for those poor souls unaware flying to Memmingen on October 4th and finding they’re miles away and have missed the festival.

Fortunately things worked out for me. Yes, I suffered a small blow to my bank balance but it was a nice lesson for me and something I took in to other trips. A year later I completely avoided going to Boston as the weekend I was looking to visit clashed with the Boston marathon and was not a weekend I wanted to be in town haha.

The bigger reason it worked out though was that I still got my weekend to Germany. More on Memmingen, Augsburg and Munich to come soon!

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Moose Blood in Munich. September 16th 2016

Stay tuned!

Jason

London revisited!

Last time out on the blog I wrapped up my NYC series which I hope you all enjoyed! I could only follow on from that series in one way, writing about my favourite city in the world: London!

I’ve written about London on the blog before (here) but that was quite some time ago and perhaps also a little more generic. That post focused on what you could potentially do in London, this post is going to be focused on what I actually DID do in London on my recent trip at the end of the year.

As some of you will know by now, I’m in a long distance relationship and I had the pleasure of hosting Haleigh here in England for her first ever overseas trip. I’ve made the journey the other way a few times so Haleigh had been keen to make her first visit in this direction. Consequently I went from traveler to host which brought a new type of preparation and a little self-imposed pressure too. I don’t think Haleigh was overly concerned but I was keen to make it a memorable first trip to England (London mostly).

I met Haleigh at Heathrow ahead of her arrival, equipped with a brand new Oyster card and tube map for Haleigh’s benefit. I don’t think I’ve ever used the Heathrow express, admittedly the tube does take a while to get in to London itself but it’s surely the most convenient mode of transport?

So immediately Haleigh was getting her first crack at the tube – her only comparative was San Francisco’s BART system in the summer which is much more simplistic to navigate.

I’d booked us a hotel near Tower Bridge, leaving us just a short walk away from the Thames. Having dropped off Haleigh’s things (I’d checked in earlier) we took a little time to relax in the hotel before having our first proper glimpse of London together.

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First glimpse of London, not bad eh?

Haleigh was instantly mesmerised, admittedly I’m a little biased but it’s hard not to be when you’re overlooking the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and the bright lights of the city. Also closeby was the Shard which I’ve somehow never seen after dark (keeping in mind it gets dark early in Dec) so looking up at it I presumed it was always lit up in different colours. My parents later told me it was a seasonal light show so it was nice to have witnessed that albeit unintentionally, mind you had I known that I might have got some pictures of it!

In the same general area London was hosting some of its Christmas markets with a long line of markets, including a wooden little tavern-like building which had seating for people to eat, drink and be merry. They even host Christmas movies there at various times of the day which adds to the festive mood of the place. We were feeling a bit peckish so grabbed a Bratwurst from one of the stalls, shamefully making Haleigh’s first meal in England a German delicacy. Oops!

Following some food we passed by the famous HMS Belfast and then cut through the impressive Hay’s Galeria. It’s a bit like a shopping arcade. It’s largely full of brands and, no doubt, expensive restaurants but the building itself is absolutely stunning. We took a slow stroll through it in admiration before coming out of the other side of the building, crossing over to London Bridge station and hopping on the tube to Green Park.

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Green Park – not taken on this particularly trip!

 

There are some things that are always going to be in London and other points of interest that are more seasonal. I was hopeful Haleigh would want to come back to London so I had it in mind to see some of the places that are particularly worth seeing around Christmas time in London.

With that thought process I figured I’d take Haleigh to see Hyde Park’s famous Winter Wonderland. I expected it would be less busy going this evening, given it was a Thursday night, rather than our remaining time in London but that proved to be wrong. It was a struggle to even get out of Green Park station, let alone switch lines to go to Hyde Park Corner. It was crazy. In the end we abandoned hopes of jumping on the tube and exited at Green Park. With that in mind I figured we might aswell cut through the park and see another nearby famous landmark.

We walked through Green Park which was actually somewhat of a struggle. Much of the park was pitch black. Here we were, stood in one of London’s richest areas and all I could think was “can’t they afford to put up a few lights so you can actually see where you’re going?”

It’s somewhat embarrassing as you step out of the park on the other side and in front of you is Buckingham Palace. Surely the queen has a few lightbulbs going spare? Seriously, sort it out London. You can afford to stick a few lights up in the neighbouring park!

Anyway, where were we? Ah yes! Buckingham Palace!

Buckingham Palace is no doubt impressive but I think less so at night. It was after dark so whilst Haleigh was still impressed seeing it for the first time, I think we both intended to return and see it again before we left.

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We could have walked up to Hyde Park after our little detour but given the queues we’d seen we thought better of it, plus I had work in the morning and Haleigh had only just arrived so an early night seemed a better idea. Ordinarily I would have just got the tube but Haleigh wanted to see a little of London so suggested catching a black cab.

With the benefit of hindsight we might not have bothered as my parents ended up giving us a guided tour through London on our return to Heathrow but it was a fun idea so we flagged down a taxi and made our way back to the Tower of London.

Unfortunately a mixture of traffic and roadworks meant we only briefly saw the London Eye before our driver ended up taking a lot of back roads which didn’t really take us past anything particularly noteworthy. It was still a fun way to travel through London though and gave Haleigh a London black cab experience, plus myself too as I’d generally avoid them as they’re pricey haha.

Sadly the next day I had to work so I left Haleigh to explore. I’d left her a host of recommendations and directions so with tube map in hand she was well equipped to tackle London by herself. My departure was also a good chance to catch up on some sleep / recover from jetlag so it was a fairly relaxed day for her I think. Our close proximity to the Thames also meant she didn’t have to venture too far for lunch or to have a little wander once waking up.

Coming back to London I suggested that we meet at Kings Cross station, partly as that’s where my train would take me but also because it covers a lot of the tube lines and would mean we could move on to our next destination quite conveniently. Haleigh had no problem navigating the tube by herself for the first time so all that practice in San Francisco had paid off!

Whilst Haleigh waited for me she enjoyed Kings Cross’ street performers and interesting characters that public places, such as train stations, often provide. The area outside Kings Cross station is a good meeting point and additionally it’s a great area to do some people-watching. I highlighted that there was also a Harry Potter store (and the famous platform sign) in the station if she wanted to amuse herself whilst she waited for me, she took that advice so I can take some blame for the inevitable Ravenclaw inspired purchases that followed.

Having arrived we quickly turned our attention to some food, opting for a nearby pizza favourite of mine (Pizza Union). It’s cheap for London, the food is good and the atmosphere is nice too so I regularly end up here before catching a train home during the football season.

Stomachs full, we hopped back on the tube and headed for Oxford Street. Much like the previous nights intentions, one thing you’ve got to see in London at Christmas time is London’s Christmas decorations and Oxford Street & Carnaby Street are home to some of London’s best. This years theme largely revolved around the 25th anniversary of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody which was pretty cool. It was definitely worth a visit and Haleigh managed to pick up a couple of souvenirs in this cool little independent shop that wae passed along the way.

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You have to visit London around Christmas!

We ended our night with a quick pub visit, offering a little insight in to England’s drunken little culture. She’d already witnessed some human traffic cones earlier in the day which was some indication at the state of our drunkenness but this was topped off with some old woman doing laps of the pub whilst talking to herself (mostly mumbling really). It was somewhat amusing for both of us to watch. From there we hopped back on the tube and made our way back to the hotel for the night.

The next day was our first full day in London, together at least. We had a bit of a lay in before heading out to begin exploring. Before the trip I persistently, perhaps annoyingly, kept asking Haleigh what she wanted to do whilst she was here. I had a rough idea on places we should see on a first time visit but also wanted to allow for some input so we didn’t miss anything Haleigh might be interested in. We talked about possibly going to the Sherlock museum so I squeezed that in as something to try and make some time for.

Consequently that was our first stop of the day. We contemplated breakfast options before and decided it’d be better to go to Baker Street first and find somewhere near the museum. We ended up visiting Bill’s which is a chain restaurant, albeit not one I’d personally been to for breakfast before. I’ve been there for dinner but only heard good things about the breakfast. It lived up to its reputation, I was content with my pancakes and they offer a huge teapot which amused Haleigh as I regularly kept topping up my cup (not a pot of tea intended for one person I expect).

We walked up to the museum, which was barely in sight as we stumbled upon a large queue. Surely this wasn’t the queue to get in to the museum? Sadly it was! We decided to wait it out in the cold, you have to go and buy your tickets in the gift store beforehand but by the time Haleigh came back with the tickets the line hadn’t really moved very far. We had a lengthy wait but eventually we reached the doors!

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Sherlock Museum, Baker Street

 

It was a little anticlimatic. The museum itself isn’t very big and in hindsight it probably wasn’t worth the wait. I think we spent more time in the queue for the museum than the actual museum itself which is a bit laughable. If you’re a fan of Sherlock it’s cool, I did like it, but if you’ve got a long wait then come back and visit outside of peak times.

Following on from the underwhelming museum visit, Haleigh suggested she’d like to take a red bus so rather than make our way back to Baker Street, we hopped on one of the first buses on the street opposite the museum. I was ideally hoping to go to Westminster but the first one to come along going in that general direction was to Victoria which I figured was good enough.

The journey took us past Hyde Park and Winter Wonderland so we did briefly see it, albeit only from the upper deck of a bus. Whilst we were feeling quite content admiring the view through the streets of London, the same couldn’t be said for our driver who’s customer service skills were lacking. He bit passengers heads off (not literally) at a couple of points along the journey and was in a pretty foul mood. We were pleased to depart and see the back of him at Victoria.

Somewhere along the way Haleigh had mentioned she was feeling a little peckish, so after catching the tube from Victoria to Westminster I couldn’t help but notice a Greggs within Westminster tube station. I was keen to introduce Haleigh to the famous Greggs sausage roll but to my horror she wasn’t quite as enthused about it as I was.

I also explained that, at the time, the Christmas number one in the charts was a sausage-roll themed anthem but I still had little fortune in convincing her how amazing they were (more for me!!).

Whilst the verdict on the sausage roll was up for debate, as we came out of Westminster station there was no doubting Parliament Square had left a better impression on Haleigh. Poor Big Ben is a bit of an eyesore at the minute but beyond that it’s a spectacular square with some stunning architecture, notably the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. There are also a few statues in the area commemorating some historical figures, including London’s female occupant in the square – Millicent Garrett Fawcett.

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Poor Big Ben

 

Having had a bit of a look around we ventured back towards the Thames. We had booked tickets to go up the sky garden at 4pm, which is free but has to be booked in advance. The perk of being free was that we didn’t have to commit to it and instead we decided to have ourselves a bit of a cruise on one of the boats along the Thames.

We booked tickets to take us from Westminster Pier up to St Katharine’s pier by the Tower of London. It took us past a lot of the sights including the likes of St Paul’s. Our boat didn’t officially offer narrated tours but we were fortunate to have an employee on board taking on a guide-like role, offering a typical witty English sense of humour. Haleigh was particularly amused at some of the names for buildings such as “the Cheesegrater” or “the walkie-talkie” that add to London’s famous skyline.

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St Paul’s looking as stunning as ever!

Exiting at St Katharine’s Pier we had a few options on where to spend the evening. It wasn’t particularly well thought out but we jumped back on the tube and near enough made our way back to Westminster by visiting nearby Trafalgar Square. We had a quick look around before assessing potential food options, I noticed on Google Maps there was a nearby pub called the Sherlock Holmes, hoping the food might be a little more impressive than the museum.

It was a nice pub which included some cool memorabilia. Haleigh had her first English fish and chips experience whilst I was tempted by a steak and ale pie. It was a nice way to round off the day before we wound down and made our way back to the hotel for the evening.

Our plans for the next day were pretty flexible but we had to check out at some point so rather than drag our luggage around with us exploring London we decided to leave the city around lunchtime. There were plenty of things we didn’t get around to doing but it was a good introduction to London for a first time visit and we ticked off a lot of the main things to see. We temporarily bid farewell to London and headed North for Peterborough.

I didn’t have any big expectation of Peterborough, our time here was mostly revolved around Haleigh meeting family and friends. London was the city I felt more pressure to proudly show off, I’ve never really sung Peterborough’s praises in the same way. Nevertheless if there was any doubt in my mind that sometimes I undersell the city’s attractiveness, Peterborough quickly came to reassure me it’s as “shit” as I make it out to be – literally.

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Checking out Peterborough cathedral!

We strolled through cathedral square towards the spectacular Peterborough cathedral, however on the way back to our pick-up-point some pigeons gave Haleigh a rather unwanted welcoming present from the sky.

It was unbelievable! We’d barely been in the city for an hour and spent a chunk of that time eating lunch at the nearby Wetherspoons. We’d only gone for a short walk up to cathedral square, 5-10 minutes at the most and Haleigh was probably regretting having ever come here! Well done Peterborough, great job!

It wasn’t the best first impression of life in Peterborough, I think things did pick up from there and she had a nice time here. However London had wowed Haleigh, dare I say she’d even fallen in love a little bit.

In contrast, much like San Francisco was for me (and which Haleigh finds highly amusing I’ll add), Peterborough will now always be remembered as “that place I got pooped on”. I haven’t set the bar particularly high for Peterborough, kept expectations to a minimum and comically it has still found a way to come up short.

Anyway, on that lovely note I’ll wrap this up. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed it. Playing host was a lot of fun for me, moreso in London which I love but also know that you’ll be “welcome” in Peterborough any time!

All the best!

Jason

P.S – for clarity, most of these photos weren’t taken on this particular trip!

New York City: The verdict!

Here we are – the finale to my (June 2016) New York City series. For those of you who haven’t been following from start to finish I’ll leave links to previous posts at the bottom, however the rest of you will remember I started this series with an introduction of my high hopes for NYC.

I’m London born and bred and consequently still consider the city my home. I’d always said it was my favourite city in the world but I’ve welcomed the challenge to find somewhere that surpasses that. I love big cities and at this point of my life (June 2016) I’d been to some incredible places. Some of my favourite destinations I’d visited included the likes of Sydney, Berlin, Edinburgh, Budapest and more but in my eyes all fell short of the high standard that London sets.

My dream city / destination growing up was New York City and in my mind, if anywhere could surpass my love of London surely this city was as worthy a challenger as any. I’ve always held high hopes for NYC so after finally getting the luxury of visiting, how did it measure up? I reflected on a wonderful trip, New York City is an incredible city and somewhere I knew I could easily call home. Did that necessarily mean it was better than London though? I sat and pondered it, weighed up the pros and cons of both cities and eventually reached the below decision.

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New York City!

The Challenger: New York City!
Let’s begin with our challenger. I spent a week in the city and wow, what an incredible week. I went to NYC with high expectations and it didn’t disappoint. It lived up to the high standards I hoped it would do and as I said in my last post, I’d struggle to name just the one singular highlight.

It was a faultless week. There are a lot of similarities between New York City and London, both are cities I know I could visit time and time again and never get sick of. As a travel destination New York City has everything you could want from a city break and its diversity really does have something for everyone. I struggle to fathom that people would not enjoy New York City. Too loud? Visit Central Park or better yet, get out of Manhattan altogether. Brooklyn botanical gardens is still one of my favourite retreats in the city.

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Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

Maybe you didn’t mind the loudness but couldn’t find something that aligned with your interests. “What!!?” Impossible. I’m not saying you have to like everything that NYC has to offer but if you found nothing on offer that you enjoyed then you weren’t looking very hard. Museum person? World class museums. Theatre – NYC’s perhaps the most famous Broadway on Earth. Sports? Pretty much every major (American) sport on display at the very least. Nightlife? City that never sleeps. Shopaholic? High end department stores, markets and antique places everywhere. Foodie? Multicultural city with every type of food on offer. I could honestly go on and on and on. NYC has EVERYTHING! I’ll give you a pass on saying you wouldn’t want to live there but visit? I can’t comprehend the logic in not wanting to.

“So it’s a faultless city?”

Ah, well no. I was desperate to look for some cons to NYC and the easiest came to me from a friend that once claimed New York City to be the best city in the world. Hang on though mate, didn’t you stay in New Jersey?

“Yeah to save..” – too late. Ha! How can NYC be the best city in the world if you can’t afford to say there? London wins!!

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London!

The existing champion – London!
Wait a second, London’s extortionate too! Damnit! I’m back to square one!

The one con I could genuinely find for NYC is the one con I have of London too. I love everything about London. It’s home and finances aside, it is faultless in my eyes. NYC can offer everything but similarly what does London lack? Museums, theatre, sports, nightlife, great food, multicultural etc etc etc.

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Green Park, London

NYC is without doubt an incredible city and worthy challenger to London but as far as I was concerned London could match anything thrown at it. Equal in pros, equal in cons.

“So it’s a tie? You pesky little fence-sitter!!”

Hang on, hang on. I didn’t say it was a tie now did I? Yes, it was an incredibly difficult call and I scratched my head long and hard over which city I considered my favourite and there was one surprising, and perhaps harsh, deciding factor that I’d yet to consider.

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London!

The decider

*drumroll*

“New York City isn’t London though..”

That’s right. I’d overlooked this city-defining criteria in my impartial adjudicator role. NYC wasn’t London, that definitely has to go down as a con against the former.

“Great system Jason, well done!”

Being objective, the two cities are incredibly difficult to split but my somewhat flawed system means that sadly NYC does fall just short of my favourite city in the world. Was it ever really in doubt?

New York City rose to the challenge and threw everything it had at me to sway my thinking but ultimately that emotional attachment means London is perhaps never likely to be surpassed as my favourite place in the world.

Nevertheless I couldn’t have loved NYC any further and it’s definitely somewhere I’ll be returning to.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the series, for those of you that haven’t caught my previous NYC posts you can read those below but it’s time for me to wrap this up.

Stay tuned for what’s next!

Jason

P.S – All other New York City posts
NYC Introduction
Manhattan
Empire State, Top of the Rock and a surprising encounter!
Brooklyn
Liberty and Ellis islands
Coney Island

NYC: Exploring Coney Island

I’ve generally been trying to post once a week and I have been consistent for much of the year so far but ironically, as a “travel blogger”, blogging whilst I travel is something I’ve yet to master. I spent a couple of days this week in Germany and a couple of days in Belgium and whilst I could have put up a post from my phone, do you really want to be doing that when on holiday?

It’d no doubt be different if I was a full-time / professional blogger but this was a week away from work for me. Sometimes it’s just nice to have that break, blogging included.

Anyway one of the things I did experience in Germany was the Kölner Karneval (Cologne’s carnival). The city was beyond crazy so keeping on that theme, next up in the New York series is none other than NYC’s own home of crazy: Coney Island!

If you’re not already familiar with Coney Island, made a little more famous by the film The Warriors, then you should know that it’s NYC’s little beach resort. I don’t think it was something that had been on mine or Kelly’s list to see but Pran suggested we go, so on our last day in the city (June 2016) we hopped on the subway and went to the beach!

Whilst it is on the subway line, it is a bit of a journey so expect to be sat on the subway for a while. It’s a bit similar to getting yourself to Heathrow on the tube I suppose – it can take a while!

Nevertheless we’d arrived and were quickly strolling towards the beach. Before we’d got that far we stumbled upon a massive billboard which had caught my eye and perhaps indicated what kind of place Coney Island is – crazy! On this massive billboard was a countdown to July 4th (a little under a month away) and Coney Island’s annual hot-dog eating competition! “What?!”

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The countdown is on (June 2016)

Only in America right? With that said, as we strolled along Coney Island’s promenade the eye-catching Nathan’s establishment drew us (me and Pran) in to sample their famous hotdogs! Although we did settle for just the one rather than attempt in taking on Coney Island’s champions and record-breakers of the past.
In fairness, I thought the hot-dog was amazing. If you’re going to eat them in bulk, Nathan’s hotdogs are probably as good as you’ll get.

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No trip is complete without a hotdog from Nathan’s

Having appeased our appetite we continued to look around and personally it was really nice to be by the sea. I reckon it had been around 2 years since my last beach visit so whilst this certainly isn’t one of the world’s best beaches, it still felt pretty nice to actually enjoy a little beach time.

Coney Island’s boardwalk is full of a number of attractions to actually make it somewhere you could easily spend a day. You’ll find amusement park rides, street art, shops, restaurants, bars, an aquarium and no doubt much more. We strolled up as far as the aquarium, passing a pretty cool mural, but didn’t really intend to go in so turned back and made our way back in the other direction.

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Eventually we arrived at one of the entrances to an amusement park area and I was a bit surprised to find it was closed for private hire! Firstly, I didn’t realise that was something you could do. However secondly, from a boring accountancy viewpoint I found it absolutely mind-boggling. Closed on a Saturday, in the summer with glorious weather? I know you can’t necessarily anticipate the weather but a Saturday in June!

Let that sink in because what incentive is there to close off an area to the public on a day you’re likely to get a lot of foot traffic. Ultimately it has to be a financial decision so then you wonder how much you’d have to charge to justify the decision, how extortionate is the fee to hire it out and who has that much money to do so just in order to have it for themselves? Madness!

Fortunately there were still some rides accessible to the public, including Coney Island’s iconic ferris wheel. I hadn’t really anticipated spending money on any rides but Pran suggested going up which didn’t actually take much persuasion, Kelly decided against it so just myself and Pran went up for a short ride.

Fascinating for me was getting to the top and being able to see the city off in the distance. On ground level you feel a million miles away, relaxed by the beach but the reality is that the fast-paced life of the city is right there! Crazy! We weren’t on the ferris wheel for too long but it was fun and I’m glad we did it.

Having seen quite a bit of Coney Island we were contemplating leaving at this point but on route back to the subway we encountered a large crowd gathering and had to see what was going on first, only to discover that today was the annual…

Dog pageant!

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Admittedly I think the rules were pretty relaxed and open to other animals / pets but for the most part New York’s dogs had come out in full costume to win Coney Island’s annual dog pageant! Hipster skateboarding dogs, fortune tellers, lobsters and more. The creativity of the locals was quite a sight and we couldn’t take our eyes off the various contestants and their costumes.

As the judges got to work we had the luxury of getting up close to many of the stars of the show and getting a few photos in. We decided to stick around to see who the eventual winners and runners up were, I can’t quite remember now but my personal favourite was the skateboarder who happily rode along the stage (with a little help admittedly).

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The standard of contestants were fantastic!

Coney Island had been a good little daytrip for our last day in the city, showing off a different type of crazy to New York City. It’s weird and quirky and bizarre but there’s something about the place that draws you in, I don’t think I’d hesitate in going back to Coney Island and it’s a great escape from the city for the locals (and tourists).

Again, it’s not the greatest beach in the world by any means but to be that accessible for New Yorkers is surely a plus. The city is busy and loud and can be overwhelming but there’s retreats such as Coney Island, the botanical gardens in Brooklyn or Central Park in Manhattan that show how diverse your options are when visiting NYC

Sadly it was time for us to start saying goodbye. We hopped back on the subway and made our way in to Brooklyn, leaving us just enough time to grab something to eat and watch the England game in some bar which was packed out with locals and Brits.

Following on from a typically underwhelming England performance (England 1-1 Russia) we made our way back to Pran’s, picked up our suitcases and ordered an Uber to take us to the airport. Our time in NYC was over with.

I had a brilliant time out in NYC, it really is a city that has so much to offer. Ask for a highlight and I’d struggle but the company was a factor in it being so enjoyable. However for those of you reading this series from the beginning, I suppose the real question is how did it measure up to London?  Had I finally found somewhere worthy of being called my favourite place in the world at London’s expense?

Sadly you’ll have to wait to find out! Next up on the blog: the NYC verdict!

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I love NYC but more than London? Verdict coming soon!

Stay tuned!

Jason