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!

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Managing wanderlust – an update!

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

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

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“Trapped” in this hell hole?

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

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

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Lincoln castle!

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

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

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Going back to France!

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

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

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

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Exploring Manchester in March!

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

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

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

All the best!

Jason

Barmouth!

Before getting on to Barmouth I wanted to start by saying thank you – to each and every one of you! I spoke a while ago about suffering a mini-blogging slump at the back end of 2017. I’ve got back on track in 2018 but it was helpful taking a little step back from blogging and realising that, more than anything, I wanted to enjoy this opposed to doing it for anyone else.

I want to share my stories, I want people to enjoy what they’re reading and I want to inspire more people to travel. However more than anything I want to enjoy what I’m writing about and I realised I wanted to keep a personal touch to this. I promised to do so going forward.
So the response to my last post, Travel helping my struggle with anxiety!, was overwhelming. I was blown away by the feedback to it and it reaffirmed that keeping this personal was the right thing for me. It was my most personal post to date and yet my most popular post too. Encouraging!

Anyway, moving on! Today I’m reverting back to a “destination post” and that takes me on to a little town in Wales called Barmouth! This was going to be my next post regardless but by coincidence St David’s Day occurred this week, so to any Welsh readers I hope you enjoyed yourselves! A belated happy St David’s Day!

Prior to Barmouth my last trip had been to Lisbon, you can read all about that here (3 wonderful nights in Lisbon) but I mentioned that I’d planned to leave Lisbon on the Saturday to spend the weekend with my, at the time, girlfriend only to find myself single a couple of weeks later. A tad frustrating as a couple of extra days in Lisbon would have been fantastic!

Before that breakup came a romantic getaway to Wales! I finished work on the first Friday in April (2014) and hopped on a train up to Birmingham to spend the evening together. On Saturday morning we left Birmingham’s New Street station and caught an early train to Barmouth!
I had never heard of it before but a couple of her friends had recommended it so we decided it’d be fun to take a trip.

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Barmouth is this cute little coastal town in Wales. I’ve never really spent much time in Wales so it’s not a country I’d seen much of until now – I was impressed! The beauty in catching a train is you can really admire the view as you travel. I said in my post on Edinburgh that England gets a lot of the attention when people talk about the United Kingdom and I’ll repeat it here, there is so much more to the UK than just England. More people should be talking about how beautiful Wales is! I was in disbelief at the stunning scenery. Why does Wales not get more credit for being so pretty?

Perhaps people don’t talk enough about Wales’ beauty but one thing they do talk about is the number of sheep in Wales. I try not to submit to the stereotypes and figured its association was exaggerated. It isn’t! Wales is full of sheep – they’re everywhere! Sheep outweigh the human population roughly on a 3:1 ratio which tells you all you need to know really. The fabled “counting sheep” method to help you sleep makes Wales a perfect destination for you insomniacs out there!

Ignoring the sheep it is such a pretty country. The closer we got to Barmouth the more beautiful the scenery became, it was breathtaking to look at. Barmouth isn’t too far from the Snowdonia national park and it is definitely a part of the country I want to explore more of. Preferably in the summer and with better weather.

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Miserable weather but a pretty Barmouth

Soon enough we were arriving in to Barmouth’s train station. As you’d expect from a small town, the station is quite small but the location is right in the heart of the town and close to the beach making it an ideal day-trip. We arrived around lunchtime and headed straight for the beach. Unsurprisingly it was pretty empty, the problem with going anywhere in the UK in April is that the weather is still pretty miserable. We did have a wander along the beach but with grey skies looming over us we made our way to check in to our hotel.

The one downside to staying in such a small town is that hotel options were rather limited. It was a nice hotel but not the cheapest stay and apparently I’d committed the crime of the century in booking a hotel situated on a hill. A little up-hill walk saw us checking into our stay for the night in what was a cosy room with a decent sized bath too (FYI – I love my baths!). The room views are probably usually decent but ours wasn’t a sea-facing view and to be honest it was so miserable outside that there probably wasn’t much worth looking at anyway. I imagine the views are great on a warmer day though.

Having had a little time to relax and drop off our things, back in to the cold we went. Barmouth is your typical coastal town but perhaps with better scenery. We took a little stroll across this bridge and started picking out the houses and pretty buildings overlooking the water – some of them looked perfect!

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Sadly the sky was even greyer at this point and now there was a little light rain, we popped in to the arcades which gave me my first experience with the famed 2p machines – a great way to pass the time and a favourite of any British coastal town!

Content that our 2p coins had vanished we did a little window-shopping and then went in search of dinner. Shortly after eating we called it a night, relaxing back at the hotel and watching whatever rubbish was on TV (it might have been Match Of The Day actually – such a romantic getaway!). A good night’s sleep followed and we woke up refreshed ready to see a little more of Barmouth before heading back to England.

We kicked off our day with breakfast at some nearby café, I think we stuck out like a sore thumb as the only tourists in town. We were greeted to friendly faces which added to a really nice atmosphere in this little place. Everyone else seemed to be local – greeting each-other in a familiar tone, laughing away and just generally enjoying their company. It was wonderful to witness and definitely led to us having a much more authentic local experience.

After breakfast we had one last stroll along the beach – it may have been another cold day in April but we had to pick up an obligatory ice cream! You have to when you’re at the beach, right?
As we walked along the promenade every passer-by seemed to do so with a smile, many of which were walking their dogs, and it felt like a really welcoming little town. I’d like to think it’s the same in the summer months when there is better weather and more tourists in town.

We bought some souvenirs to take home with us at a nearby shop which left us with just enough time to get some lunch before making the journey back to England. We found a cosy little pub that served a traditional Sunday roast – it was delicious and like the café it just felt like everybody knew each-other and perhaps had the same Sunday routine every week. It was a nice way to round off our time in Wales.

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Time to go home! See you later Barmouth!

If you’re in that part of the UK I’d suggest it is worth a daytrip, however I don’t know if I’d personally go back given how far it is from where I live.
For us, it was a short and sweet visit but nevertheless it’s somewhere that left an impression on me and somewhere that I’m glad I visited.

Barmouth – I might not ever see you again but thanks for the fond memories you left me with!

Have you ever been to Barmouth? What did you think? Are you a fan of visiting places outside of peak season?
Let me know!

All the best!

Jason

My favourite city: London

I remember a friend saying to me that New York City was the best city in the world. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t but for someone less traveled than myself I pondered whether he could proclaim it as the best?
If he’d said the best he’d been to so far or his favourite city, sure, I’ll allow it but stated as fact? No, I can’t accept that. Particularly as he spent his visit staying in New Jersey. If it’s too expensive to stay in the city it doesn’t really give merit to the idea that it’s the best city in the world, does it?

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NYC, best city in the world?

For what it’s worth, I love New York City and I can understand why it’s so highly rated but it just falls short for me when compared to London. My love for London is unrivalled really. It is the best city that I have been to and will probably always be my favourite.
I had high hopes for New York City though, if anywhere was going to surpass my favourite this was as likely as any.

I said above, for me personally, it just fell short compared to London and I asked myself why? What gave London the edge? New York City has everything, ignoring the cost (London is hardly cheap either) my only criticism of NYC was that it “wasn’t London”. Needless to say I’m not entirely impartial when it comes to being a travel critic – my system was already rigged in London’s favour.

So rather than focus on some overseas based destination, I thought I’d dedicate this post to “my city” and giving a few reasons why it’s my favourite.

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Little Venice, London

It’s home!
First and foremost it’s home. I was born in London, living there until I was 9 years old so it’s a city that has been with me since day one. I feel proud to have grown up in London and have that association with the city. I’ve lived in Peterborough for the 20+ years since and whilst I do possess some local pride it just isn’t the same.

I have so many good memories growing up in London and it’s a city that is always there to welcome me back when I visit. It’s a special city with special people and it’s easy to see why so many people around the world fall in love with it.

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Views like this have people falling in love with London

It’s diverse!
One of the things I love most about London is that it’s open to everyone. I’m privileged to be able to travel pretty much anywhere in the world without fear but not everybody has that same luxury. Homosexuality for instance is still punishable by death in some countries, whereas London has one of the largest Pride festivals in the world.

I’m not suggesting London is perfect but it’s a lot more accepting than many parts of the world and celebrations of all backgrounds are widely enjoyed here. For example a vivid memory of my time in school was learning about Diwali and being fascinated by the “festival of lights” in assembly.

London is home to people of so many backgrounds so throughout the year you’ll find various celebrations to reflect that. With the Chinese New Year approaching it’d be a great time to take a wander through London’s very own Chinatown and see some of the decorations on display.

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London getting in to the Christmas spirit!

It’s not all city life!
I think one of the biggest misconceptions about London is that it’s just a big city – all traffic and pollution. You might be surprised to know that it’s estimated that 47% of London is green space, almost half of the city! London always has so much going on and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by that but if you need a little time to sit back and escape the London rush then there are so many places to do so!

London is full of beautiful parks and places to relax. Admittedly the weather can be detrimental to actually enjoying some of these spaces but on sunnier days there are few better places to enjoy London. Park visits were always an enjoyable part of my childhood and I used to love collecting “conkers” as the change of season hit and they started falling from the trees near our home.

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Green Park last Autumn.

It is ever-changing!
I think there’s a reluctance among travellers to visit somewhere more than once but with London you’re never going to see everything. Whether you visit once or you visit 500 times it’s never going to be the same experience.
For starters, England has four different seasons so London has a very different feel to it depending what time of year you visit (rain in the summer, rain in the winter..). London is a great place to see the changing seasons and the festivities that come with that, such as great outdoor festivals in the summer or Christmas decorations in the winter, make it a place you’ll want to return to.

Beyond the seasons there’s so many other things constantly happening in London. New restaurants opening, new shopping brands arriving in the city, new shows to see in the city, new bars to check out. You’ll never experience everything in London and it makes it such an enjoyable city to return to time after time.

 

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One of the new shows I went to see in 2017 – it’s good!

It’s home to world-famous sights!
I thought I’d end on this final point but the last thing that makes London special for me is that it’s home to so many iconic landmarks. Everybody is familiar with the likes of Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s cathedral and the London Eye and they look even more impressive in person!
I’ll never tire of wandering through Westminster and taking in some of London’s best known landmarks.

Of course the landmarks stretch beyond the best-known ones. Many popular TV shows and films feature some famous places in London such as Baker Street or the Millennium Bridge, whilst of course you have iconic music, theatre and sporting venues too.

Some of the marketplaces in London are some of the world’s most famous and everyone loves a good red bus / telephone box photo when they visit. London is full of familiar sights and sometimes you’ve got to go and see them for yourself!

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Beautiful St Paul’s Cathedral

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this post and the little glimpse in to the reasons why I love London. There are many more of course but I’d be writing forever if I listed them all.

Now tell me, what do you love about London and if it isn’t your favourite city then tell me where is! Maybe I’ll have to pay it a visit!

All the best

Jason

A 2017 summary

2017 was the year “Jason likes to travel” launched and it was quite a year! First and foremost I wanted to thank all of you for making this such an enjoyable experience. More than anything I started the blog for myself. I wanted a space I could talk about my travels and reflect on some of the experiences along the way but I didn’t think many would read it or anticipate such positive feedback. Thanks to you all for following along and for all of your kind words and supportive feedback. There will be plenty more content coming in 2018 so stick with me!

Beyond the blog, 2017 ended up being quite a memorable year for me. I started the year in Paris which really set the tone for the rest of the year and I ended 2017 celebrating Hogmanay up in Edinburgh.
Including the New Year trips at each end of the year I ended up spending time in France, Scotland (twice), USA (twice), Germany (twice), Greece and Spain. I’m so happy to have traveled so much this year and I’ve stepped foot out of England in every month but June and July (disaster!).

I promise there will be dedicated posts to all of these trips in the future which is why I haven’t gone in to too much detail on any one destination below, however I wanted to summarise what I’ve been up to this year. So here’s a short look at some of the highlights of the year.

The capitals!
2017 saw me spend time in five different capital cities: Paris, London, Edinburgh, Washington DC and Madrid. So inevitably they ended up playing quite a significant role in my 2017.

Paris: Okay, so I only actually spent one day of 2017 in Paris. January 1st! It’s really a trip I associate with 2016 but at midnight I was up on a rooftop seeing in the New Year and celebrating the beginning of 2017. It was the first time I’d ever been out of the country at the start of the year so a memorable moment and it really set the tone for the rest of the year!

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A foggy Paris

London: Home! So technically I haven’t lived in London since 1997 but this will always be a place I think of as home. I only live an hour or so away which means it is still a city that I visit quite often.
Catching up with friends, going to the football, attending gigs, seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (it’s really good!) or just general sightseeing. London has provided a number of memorable moments in 2017 and 10 days in to the year I’ve already visited our wonderful capital twice in 2018!

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Green Park, London

Washington DC: Some cities like New York City, Sydney and Berlin have been absolute “must visit” destinations for me, meanwhile others are more like “one day” destinations. I want to be clear and say I want to visit absolutely everywhere in the world but that soon becomes a long list. Being realistic I’m not going to visit everywhere and DC was a place that I knew I may / may not get to.

Circumstances led me to DC but on arrival I still wasn’t sure what to expect. Perhaps that was a good thing. You only really hear about the political side to the city which I can’t say particularly excited me – it meant I was heading to DC with relatively low expectations. Whilst within the US the message was “Make America Great Again” – from the outside all that I saw was a divided nation in political turmoil and I was heading right in to the heart of it.

Fortunately it was “business as usual” in DC. I don’t want to make this too politically focused but as far as “MAGA” is concerned I always feel like the every day people you meet are the best indication of how great a place is opposed to those in power. As ever, I felt completely welcomed in DC and quickly discovered this wonderful city had so much depth to it. Of course there are political elements to DC but at the same time there’s a lot of history here, stunning architecture, beautiful nature (helped by peak Cherry Blossom season) and a buzzing nightlife. DC ended up being so much better than anticipated, despite being sick throughout my time there. I didn’t particularly intend to end up in DC but I’m glad I I found my way there. I’d quite like to go back because there’s still a few things I’d like to do there and I could have a proper night out in the city next time.

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Washington DC, USA

Madrid: Another “one day” destination that happened to be in political turmoil (Catalan independence). In all likelihood I knew I’d get to Madrid at some point but if I was going to visit Spain a return to Barcelona was a bigger priority. Then there were countless other European capitals I wanted to visit first – luckily I’ve already ticked off a few of those. Madrid had never had the same appeal for me as the likes of Berlin, Paris, Edinburgh, Amsterdam or Rome (the latter I’ve yet to get to).

So on that basis I owe massive apologies to Madrid – wow! What a city! It was easily my favourite place I visited in 2017.
Unlike DC I was quite prepared for an enjoyable trip by the time it came around – the more I read up on Madrid, the more excited I got. It lived up to every expectation and then some. Admittedly I visited for football and a positive result in the game helped that but taking the football out of the equation it is still a wonderful city.

It’s full of colour, full of character, has so much street art, good food, stunning architecture, beautiful weather and a great nightlife. I could go on and on. After Berlin (and London obviously) it is probably my favourite capital city I’ve visited to date. Ryanair cancelled my flight which means I actually ended up with an extra day in Madrid but I could still have easily stayed longer.
Don’t make the same mistake I did and wait to visit Madrid – go as soon as you can!

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Madrid, Spain

Edinburgh: Last but certainly not least. I started the year in France and ended the year in Scotland. Paris had given me a little taste of New Year fun in another country but I wanted bigger and better – step up Hogmanay!
I’ve been to Edinburgh before and it is such a wonderful city – it really is a must visit whatever time of year you visit but I had to see what all the fuss about Hogmanay is. It has been on the bucketlist for a while and this was the opportunity to do it.

It was incredible! It completely lived up to the hype for me. I can’t imagine a better place to see in the New Year – I hope to get to New York City and Sydney sometime for their celebrations but Edinburgh has really set the standard. Best New Year ever!

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Edinburgh, Scotland

The newbie!
In the last couple of years I feel like I’ve just switched between visiting Germany and the USA. I went to Germany three times in 2016 and twice in 2017, meanwhile I went to the USA twice in 2016 and then twice in 2017. Don’t get me wrong I love both countries and I’ve been lucky to visit some incredible cities in the last couple of years but I wanted to freshen things up. I was determined to get to at least one new country in 2017.

My heart was set on a birthday treat to myself. I wanted a relaxing getaway in August for a few days and all I had to do was decide on where, in Europe, to visit. It would have been cheaper to go away in June or July but I was adamant I deserved my birthday week off which meant trying to find an affordable escape somewhere at peak holiday time in Europe. After some searching I’d found reasonable flights and a hotel, the day after my birthday I was flying off to Thessaloniki in Greece.

I didn’t know much about the city but I knew the good weather was guaranteed and it ticked off the criteria of visiting a new country too. It was my first adventure in Greece and what better time of year to visit than in the summer? It was perfect!
Unlike Greek hotspots such as Athens, Santorini and many of the other islands – Thessaloniki isn’t a particularly well known place which meant it wasn’t full of tourists. I spent a few days relaxing, drinking beers and enjoying the warm weather. I’m not sure it’s a city I feel a need to return to but experiencing those Greek sunsets was definitely a highlight of the year and particularly the summer!

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Thessaloniki, Greece

The German trips!
Visits to Germany in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 (x3) mean this country has been a regular feature of my annual highlights and as I mentioned above there were another two visits in 2017.

Hamburg: This is a city that has been on my list for a little while but I didn’t really anticipate getting there as soon as this year. I started looking for cheap flights for the last weekend of May (the Monday was a public holiday) and Hamburg was surprisingly cheap. A chance to practice my German, a city I’ve wanted to visit for ages and affordable – how could I possibly resist?
It’s a cracking city, I can see why it’s so highly rated and featured as one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 cities to visit in 2018. It ended up being a great weekend away and I was fortunate with the weather too! It was well worth missing a festival back home for and another city I’d like to return to.

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Me with Hamburg’s Rathaus (Town Hall).

Bremen & Düsseldorf: A while ago I posted about my love affair with Köln and my frustration at the footballing schedule continually sending me back to West Germany. Fast forward a year and I was put in the same scenario. I was NOT going to Köln again so soon. I really didn’t fancy staying in Dortmund so I started looking at what other German football coincided with my trip. Werder Bremen – “that’ll do!”.

Bremen’s charm had me swooning instantly. There was something irresistible about it. Typical Germany but without the crowds of the bigger cities. I loved it and just wanted a little longer in the city. For a lesser known European city-break I’d certainly recommend a couple of days in Bremen.

Düsseldorf was a bit of a plan B. I was going to watch football in Dortmund on the Tuesday night but I soon came to the realisation that there were no trains from Dortmund back to Bremen on Tuesday evening. So I had to half my time in Bremen and booked a couple of nights in a hotel in Düsseldorf. The weather was miserable but I did like the city. It had plenty of places to go out to eat/drink and enjoy the city’s nightlife however I don’t think I really made the most of my days in the city to recommend it fully. If you pushed me to recommend one or the other I’d tell you to go to Bremen but it was still a memorable trip.

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Bremen, Germany

The loved ones!
Having covered the capital cities, Greece and Germany all that is really left of 2017 are the US trips! My trips to the USA were heavily focused around visiting some special people across the country. One of the drawbacks to having people you care about in other countries is you don’t get to see them! This year I managed to change that and met up with a few people for the very first time – very satisfying and the real highlight of my year.

Nashville: I took so many good memories home with me from Nashville. It started with meeting a friend (and her family) who’d driven up from Alabama who I’d missed out on seeing a year earlier in Atlanta. It was great to finally meet, check out the Parthenon and grab some food together. With Sam bidding farewell to Nashville and making the drive back to Alabama I was left to explore the city (nightlife) for myself.

Nashville didn’t disappoint, infact I loved it! It was everything I’d hoped it would be and “music city” certainly lived up to its name. I regularly crave a return to Nashville because it’s a city like no other I’ve been to. Pure bliss and I feel like I left a little piece of me behind (probably my liver). I hope it’s a place I’ll return to. Everyone needs to experience a night in Nashville at some point!

 

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Nashville aka “Music City”

Dallas: I got to Texas! Finally! It is somewhere I have been wanting to visit for such a long time so to finally make it there made this such a special highlight of my year.
I did like Dallas as a city but it’s not a place that blew me away. I enjoyed myself but it’s probably a place I’d ordinarily be content in visiting just the once.

However I had wonderful company and with that came wonderful memories to take home with me. It’s a trip that I look back on so fondly of and I don’t think I could have enjoyed it any more. Full of first time experiences, long car rides, awful shots (sorry Amber – it’s true!) and the best people to share it with. Everything made it a trip I’ll cherish for a long time.
I’ll definitely be back Dallas!

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Dallas, Texas

Washington State: Apparently one Washington visit in a year wasn’t enough so after visiting DC in April, five months later I was heading to the West Coast. Getting to Washington had been on the agenda for a while and a wedding in 2018 finally gave me an excuse to visit!
Wait, 2018? Yeah, it turns out I couldn’t wait that long so started making plans to get there much sooner.

Like Dallas this trip was all about the company (including the two-legged kind!) which made for such a memorable trip. Mountain views, baseball, awesome bars, good food, cool museums, road trips and boat trips –  I loved it all. The company just topped it off

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Moses Lake, Washington

That rounds up a summarised look at my 2017 adventures.
A huge thanks to Sam, Scott & Ariel (Nashville), Amber, Lanie & Macie (Dallas), Maddie, Cassie & Haleigh (Washington State) and Daniel & Natalie (football) for joining me on the adventure.

The aim now is to have 2018 top 2017 which will take some doing, however with a month-long trip to the US in the planning stages for this summer I wouldn’t rule it out as a possibility.

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Getting 2018 off to the best start!

If you read this far, thanks again! I hope you enjoyed it.

What were your highlights of 2017? What have you got planned for 2018? Let me know in the comments!

All the best!

Jason

The Scottish capital

I find that whenever people from other countries talk about the UK they generally mean England. It’s easy to forget that the UK is actually made up of more than one country. In the same way that America is more than just the USA and Africa is more than South Africa.
It’s no secret that London is my favourite city in the world, so I’m not trying to sway you from visiting London – please do..

However as much as London should be on any travel bucketlist, so should Edinburgh! It’s a must visit on any trip to the UK!
I have been fortunate enough to visit Edinburgh three times now, falling in love on the first visit and moreso on each return. I already have plans to make trip number 4 to celebrate Hogmanay / New Years Eve at the end of 2017.
So what does Edinburgh have to offer and how can you make the most of it?

History 
Edinburgh is divided in to two, similar to Buda and Pest which form the city Budapest. Princes Street gardens splits the city, with the “old town” on one side and the “new town” on the other.
Edinburgh’s city centre is also a UNESCO world heritage site. With its cobbled streets, old buildings and castle overlooking the city it’s pretty easy to see why the old town in particular is held in such high regard.

The city has a fascinating history which dates back hundreds of years and also has some really unique stories throughout that time. One of my favourites and on the more bizarre spectrum was the story of Maggie Dickson. Maggie was sentenced to death and was due to be publicly executed. The execution was carried out and Maggie’s body was ready to be transported for burial. On route there was a little knock on the coffin and out springs Maggie well and alive.  Maggie’s return to Edinburgh caused uproar but logic would suggest you can’t execute somebody twice. In the eyes of the law Maggie’s execution had been carried out and she went on to live for many many years. You’ll now find a pub in her name to preserve her memory as Edinburgh’s luckiest lady.
It’s a favourite of mine but you’ll find Edinburgh is full of interesting stories.

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Edinburgh’s city centre, between the old and new town. 

Food & nightlife
Scotland has a bit of a reputation for being a nation that quite like their drink, so it should perhaps be unsurprising that Edinburgh has a great nightlife with many many pubs around the city. Whether you’re in the new town or the old town, you won’t struggle to find somewhere to spend the evening. For the beer lovers I’d particularly recommend BrewDog who craft their own beers and now have an Edinburgh branch. You’ll find a few of these dotted around the UK but they originate from Scotland and you’ll also find a BrewDog in Aberdeen or Glasgow if extending your Scottish adventure beyond the capital.

Of course it’s not all about alcohol in Scotland. Scotland is almost famous for its haggis, deep fried Mars Bars and Irn Bru. I’d also particularly recommend picking up some Edinburgh rock to take home with you – it’s delicious!

Culture
Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns, JK Rowling and many more have lived in Edinburgh so it shouldn’t be too surprising that there is plenty of interesting things to do here. Whether you’re visiting museums, enjoying Edinburgh’s performing arts, going to watch Edinburgh’s sports teams, visiting pandas and koala bears at Edinburgh’s zoo or doing a ghost tour in search of Edinburgh’s poltergeists you’ll find this city has so much to keep you entertained throughout your stay.

Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival and Hogmanay celebrations are world famous and also both personal bucketlist items of mine. These are peak times to visit so you’ll find the city is likely to be more expensive and busier too but both are so highly rated that it’d be a great time to experience the city.
However whatever time of year you visit you’ll find there’s plenty going on in the city.

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Princes Street Gardens, looking up at the castle on the right. 

Scenery
Edinburgh also happens to be a really beautiful city. In its architecture you quickly see why JK Rowling took so much inspiration for Harry Potter here with castle views and beautiful architecture. Princes Street gardens adds a little greenery to the centre of the city and Edinburgh is also right by the coast so if you’re willing to take a short trip away from the city centre you’ll soon find yourself with the luxury of sea views.

Edinburgh’s best views can be found at one of Edinburgh Castle, Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat. However keep in mind you’ll have to pay for entry in to the castle to reap the benefits of the views. Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat provide cheaper alternatives but a bit more of a climb to reach them.
You should definitely make time to check out at least one of those. For less of a city view but equally as pretty, Edinburgh zoo also has some great views from the top of the hill.

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The view from the castle – you’d never guess this was in the summer!

The 5 must sees!

Edinburgh Castle 
I personally enjoyed paying to explore it further but even if you just want to admire from the outside, it’s hard to miss this wherever you are in the city. It’ll be one of your first sights arriving in to Edinburgh’s city centre.

The Royal Mile 
The sound of bagpipes, plenty of street performers and a number of shops and restaurants makes no trip to Edinburgh complete without walking along the Royal Mile.

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Sun setting on the Royal Mile and St Giles’ Cathedral

St Giles’ Cathedral
If, like me, you enjoy visiting religious buildings then this is a must. It’s a lot smaller than many cathedrals you’ll see on your travels but it’s still so pretty. Entry is free (donation optional) and it’s right in the heart of the old town so worth checking out.

Greyfriars Cemetary
Perhaps a little morbid but this graveyard is home to some fascinating stories and is also a highly reported spot for poltergeist activity. Starting with the latter, the Bloody Mackenzie is said to haunt this graveyard with hundreds of reported and unexplained symptoms and incidents occurring here. Come to your own conclusions but it’s a fascinating read and if you’ve got time you can even do ghost tours here that have some rather interesting reviews.

Another popular figure that calls this home is Edinburgh’s famous dog, Greyfriar Bobby. After losing his owner it’s said that Bobby sat at his master’s grave until his own death. Such a famed story tourists from all over the world would come to visit and feed Bobby and you’ll even see a statue of him just across the road from the graveyard. Bobby also has his own shiny headstone, usually accompanied with flowers left by Edinburgh’s many visitors.

For the Harry Potter fanatics you’ll also see some interesting names across various headstones. Looking for inspiration, it’s said JK Rowling was advised to visit the local cemetary which was inspiration for a few characters. See if you can find Voldemort, Mad Eye Moody and Professor McGonagall! The latter has his own rather amusing story remembered as “Scotland’s worst ever poet”.

The Grassmarket
A place full of history, in the past people would shop here to pick up their daily needs but would also gather here for any public events and executions.
You’ll still find a market here throughout the day but the rest of the square is surrounded by restaurants and pubs which tend to be highly popular. A good spot to fill your stomach with food and beer!
A lot of the daily & evening tours begin in this area too so a good spot if you’re looking for one of these.

That wraps up my thoughts on Edinburgh. Feel free to ask for any further tips / suggestions, also feel free to comment with your own if you’ve been to Edinburgh. I’m heading back there at the end of the year so would love to hear your recommendations too!

All the best

Jason

York!

I think one thing many of us are guilty of when it comes to travel is not seeing enough of our own country. One thing I certainly want to start doing more often is taking city breaks within the UK.

Last August I did just that. With a three day weekend and a friend hosting a charity gig, I had a good excuse to make a trip up to Yorkshire. I arrived in Northallerton later than planned. My train in London had come to a standstill and there was no sign of how long we’d be stuck, which meant a change of plan and running to the nearest tube stop in a hopeful attempt to reach Kings Cross before my train up North departed.
Frustratingly I’d missed my train by seconds through no fault of my own, that train departing the platform is the one I’m supposed to be on – which wasn’t the best start to my weekend. Fortunately it did get better from there and a fun night with a live band and a few beers made up for arriving later than scheduled.

The next morning I wished farewell to my friend and made the short train ride from Northallerton to York. I’d been to York 2 or 3 times before but only really to visit family, it always seemed to rain whenever I’d visit too so I was hoping for much more opportunity to explore this time and also better weather!
I arrived in a sunny York which was an encouraging start to the two days I’d be spending in York.

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River Ouse, York

York is one of my favourite English cities. It has so much history and character and you feel that almost instantly upon arrival. After exiting York’s main train station I was instantly staring up at the city walls. I was staying in a hotel outside of the city walls but on a relatively lively street with a few pubs, restaurants and shops nearby.

Still too early to drop my bag off at my hotel, I ventured past the city walls and in to the city of York. Merchantgate, one of the openings in the wall, had actually been closed off for the day to vehicles because of an event in the city. I was curious but overheard someone say it would be starting at 1 so figured I’d come back later on.

Ahead of me crowds were building, to my right was a staircase leading up to the city walls. Walking the wall seemed a much more attractive proposition than trying to hurdle the number of people along Merchantgate. It’s not something you can do in too many cities and an enjoyable walk along the wall. It’s also great for photo opportunities from a higher vantage point.

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Having walked across the wall I arrived at the River Ouse and thought it a perfect time to do a river cruise. It was a guided tour and quite interesting. Our captain pointed out a few points of interests and shared some of his knowledge about the city as we drifted along the river, a very peaceful way to spend an hour and thoroughly recommended.

After the cruise I headed back in the direction of Merchantgate to see what all the fuss was about. It turns out they had an event for soapbox racing. Watching bananas, Trojan horses, farmers, batman and more race through the streets of York was certainly an experience to remember. Each ‘car’ raced against the clock with the quickest finishers of the course heading in to the next round. It was very entertaining!

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The Shambles

I checked in to my hotel and then went in search of food! I stumbled upon one of York’s most famous streets known as the Shambles – a row of shops along a cobbled street with dimly lit lights in the windows to give it a real atmospheric feel. It was beautiful and I found somewhere near by.
Having stuffed myself with pizza, I finished my Sunday evening off in one of York’s many many pubs in the city.

Bank holiday Monday’s are famed for rain so it was a nice surprise to wake up Monday morning to further sunshine. A warm bank holiday, surely not?
After grabbing an on-the-go breakfast I headed for York’s famous Minster cathedral, a UNESCO world heritage site. I’d passed it before but had never been inside. Despite following no religion I always find religious buildings fascinating to visit. The detail is incredible and the Minster no different in that respect. Definitely worth a visit when in York.

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York Minster

After a quick stop for lunch I visited York’s castle, quite unusual as far as castles go and situated on top of a small hill. Typically you expect the purpose of a castle to be used in defence of the city but it’s hard to see aside from the vantage point how this would have worked.
Despite the lack of purpose, you get some great views overlooking York which make it worthwhile visiting.

The rest of my day involved wandering the city, I particularly enjoyed the abbey and gardens close to the river – particularly beautiful with the sun setting.
I saw signs of a free walking tour which commenced in the evening. I’m generally a big fan of these and thought it’d be the perfect end to my trip but it was a bit of a disaster. My first clue as to how bad it was going to be should have been the low turnout. Come the start of the tour there was only around a dozen of us and that number dwindled over the hour that followed.

The tour guide was friendly enough and clearly loved York, however sadly I didn’t find the tour that interesting. Ultimately that comes down to personal taste and you can forgive that but the bigger problem was it was a walking tour with very little walking.
I wanted to see York and having only circled the equivalent of a block in 45 minutes I came to the conclusion it wasn’t going to happen.
By this point there were only 5 of us left and as I saw one couple making their escape I had to do the same. If I’d been the last man standing I would have had to see it out through pity so I passed off the grenade to the final couple and saved myself.

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With a wasted hour I went in search of a pub to have a drink before catching my train home. Despite a dreadful tour to end it, it was a great weekend.

I’d highly recommend a visit to York on any trip to the UK, or even if like me you’re already a Brit but just fancy a city break closer to home.

Have you ever been to York? What did you like / dislike about it? Let me know!

All the best

Jason