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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Empire State shining brightly!

 

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

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

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

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View from the Empire State!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Central Park views from top of the rock!

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

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

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Sun down, lights on in Manhattan!

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

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

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

Stay tuned!

Jason

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New York City: Exploring Manhattan

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

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

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

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

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Exploring Brooklyn

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

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

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Returning to the High Line on a sunnier day

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

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

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Times Square. Again, a return on a sunnier day

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

I don’t really remember.

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

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Little castle in Central Park

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

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

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

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

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

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The constantly lively Union Square

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned!

Jason

Introducing New York City!

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

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

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

“I’m from London..”

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

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

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

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

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New York City!

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

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

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

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

Jason

2019 Travel plans

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

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

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

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

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

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Dortmund, Nov 2017

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

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

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Another return to Köln!

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

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

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

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Back to Moses Lake, Washington!

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

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

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

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

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Irish bar, Florence, Italy

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

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

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

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

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Stay tuned!

Jason

2018: A travel round-up

The start of the year is always a good time to set some goals for the new year but additionally I always find it a good time to reflect on the year that has just passed. So I figured I’d do a quick round up of my 2018 travels.

I felt like 2017 was going to be a tough year to top and so it proved. You can read more about that here (A 2017 summary) but swiftly moving on, here’s what I got up to in 2018.

January: Edinburgh!
Alright, so this was a 2017 trip really. I was heading home on January 1st but wow! What a place to start the New Year! Hogmanay was nothing short of incredible and is something I’ll definitely be looking to do again. It definitely lived up to its reputation! Kicking off the year in a sunny Edinburgh was a good way to start 2018 too.

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February: Washington State
Originally I planned to make my first Washington visit in August 2018, so rather bizarrely this was already my second visit to the state. It’s funny how quickly things can change but spending some proper time with Haleigh before the summer was important and this was also a chance to meet some of her family.

I had a night to myself in Seattle which was nice and definitely gave me a further appreciation of the city. I definitely feel as far as the US is concerned that it’s a little underrated.
I spent the rest of my time on the Eastern side of the mountains which were breath-taking. Overall it was a pretty relaxed couple of weeks but the company was great and I don’t think I could ever tire of mountain views. Staying at Haleigh’s grandparents in view of the mountains in Walla Walla was definitely a perk I enjoyed!

March: Manchester!
I’ve never really spent much time up in Manchester, however with a big summer trip I knew travel opportunities would be limited this year so took full advantage of a weekend in Manchester in March. Myself and a friend were going to a gig and I figured it’d be best to make a weekend of it.
It’s a cracking city and somewhere I’d like to return to. It reminded me a lot of Hamburg, it’s not the prettiest city on the eye but it makes up for it with its quirks, cafes and bars. I can see why it stakes a claim for the title of England’s “second city”

March: Kettering!
My time in Kettering was family / music orientated. My cousin was playing in a choir, whilst my uncle was playing in a gig immediately after on the same night. Whilst Kettering isn’t high on people’s travel wishlists, I was still craving a bit of adventure and figured I’d make it an over-night occasion.

I don’t see tourists flocking to Kettering any time soon but I had a fun evening and it was nice to treat myself to a little staycation too!

April: London!
Trips to London aren’t too infrequent but it’s rare that I make it an overnight occasion. I was attending a gig on a Friday night with friends in April with Spurs due to play on the Saturday. It didn’t seem worthwhile going home Friday night only to return Saturday so I booked myself a little Premier Inn near Kings Cross.

The gig was a really enjoyable night and then I managed to squeeze in a bit of sightseeing with a couple of other friends before making my way to the football. Overall a thoroughly enjoyable weekend with some good company too.

May: Lincoln!
I was starting to get itchy feet. I hadn’t been out of the country since February and the next trip was July so, despite doing my best to save, I needed a daytrip at the very least. I considered a few options but I’ve never been to Lincoln, it was a cheap train journey and easy to get to too.

I lucked out with the weather, the sun was shining beautifully and Lincoln as a city is really nice. The castle area stood out in particular and had some sort of event going on, I also snapped probably one of my favourite photos I’ve ever taken.

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Lincoln!

June: Lille!
Lincoln was at the beginning of May, the end of July still seemed so far away so I felt I could squeeze in one last cheap daytrip somewhere. I was looking at various options within the UK but either trains were too expensive or the distance was too far for a feasible daytrip (via public transport) so I had a sneak peek at the Eurostar sale. I managed to find return tickets to Lille at just £53 which didn’t seem overly expensive for a day out in France.

I loved Lille. Fellow blogger, Shoot From The Trip recently wrote about their own visit (read here) and it had me reminiscing of my own time there. It’s an easy trip on the Eurostar, it’s a really pretty city and a little closer to Belgian culture than French.

Additionally it coincided with France playing in the World Cup so there was a bit of a buzz in the city all day, moreso after France’s 4-3 victory over Argentina. It’s a pretty city, the sun shining helped and my only regret was that I’d restricted myself to a daytrip. I’d love to go back. I fully recommend reading the blog post above too for a little more in depth look at Lille (it’ll be a while before I post about it myself).

July: Chicago!
At last! Part one of the MONTH long trip in the USA. I wasn’t in Chicago for particularly long but I was greeted to fireworks on my first evening in the States. I would love to have stayed in Chicago longer. It was cool to see the Bean and it was a fun city to explore. The only downside is it was so ridiculously expensive. I’ll probably go back but I cut my time short on this trip and headed on for my second city.

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July: Minneapolis!
Minneapolis wasn’t somewhere I’d really intended to visit but I had a spare few days where I wasn’t sure where to go. I’d booked my flights to Chicago when Spurs announced their pre-season tour in the neighbouring state so decided I had to visit Minnesota.

It ended up being a really wise decision. It’s not an overly touristy place and I wouldn’t say there’s that much to do in the city but I felt at home here pretty quickly. The people were friendly and it was a genuine highlight of the trip. I feel like I left a little piece of my heart in Minneapolis and, perhaps surprisingly, it’s somewhere I’d like to return to.

August: New Orleans!
New Orleans was much the opposite. It ticked all of the right boxes, there was a lot I liked about it but something was missing. Perhaps my expectations were too high, perhaps I was suffering from the Minneapolis blues but I didn’t click with New Orleans in the same way.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’d highly recommend a visit to NOLA. The French quarter is stunning and the nightlife was FANTASTIC but I didn’t leave feeling like I loved New Orleans, I certainly liked it but it didn’t quite hit the heights I’d hoped.

August: Poulsbo, Washington!
This was why I was in the US. I was here for a wedding just outside of Seattle. This was a big surprise on the trip for me. I had no doubts the wedding would be a highlight of the entire trip, if not the year in general, but Poulsbo wasn’t somewhere I’d particularly thought would leave an impression on me.

It was an adorable little town, close to the water and a town with a bucketload of breweries too. I really enjoyed the weekend we had here.

August: Portland and Oregon City!
Portland was high on my list of places to visit this summer. We didn’t explore huge amounts of Portland but you could see why it has such a good reputation, it’s definitely a little quirky and was a city I enjoyed visiting. We took a little trip to Oregon City too which wasn’t far away, not an awful lot to it really. Portland was certainly the better of the two and holds better memories for me.

August: Walla Walla, Washington!
We reserved this weekend to go ‘home’ and attend Haleigh’s big family annual BBQ. I’d been to Walla Walla in February and loved the mountain views so it was somewhat underwhelming driving in to Walla Walla on this trip.

The wildfires / smoke left no real view of the mountains which was a real shame. The BBQ and family festivities were good fun though and this was another highlight of the trip. It’s a city I’ve grown to love, would have been nicer with the mountain views though.

August: Multnomah Falls and Oregon Coast!
Back to Oregon we went, this time heading for the coast via Multnomah Falls. It was a stunning place to stop. The coast was pretty too and a nice place to spend a couple of days on the way down to San Francisco. I particularly liked Depoe Bay which is apparently home to the world’s smallest harbour.

August: Crescent City and the Redwoods!
Honestly, Crescent City was nothing more than a good halfway stop on the way to San Fran and just happened to be outside of the Redwood National Park. Driving through the Redwoods was surreal and unlike anything I’d ever really experienced. It was stunning to pass through and we made sure to stop to admire the view, whilst snapping a few photos too. A must visit if you’re in Northern California!

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The Redwoods are a little big!

August: San Francisco!
As soon as I was invited to the wedding, this was my dream city for this trip. I had to go to San Francisco. It was non-negotiable.

Driving in to the city over Golden Gate Bridge was a pinch me moment and I really enjoyed our time in the city. Alcatraz was probably the highlight of our time in San Fran though. It’s definitely a city I’ll be going back to but it was nice to finally tick this one off my bucketlist.

August: San Francisco to Moses Lake!
Haleigh had to be back at school so after San Francisco it was a rushed drive home. We spent a night in Klamath Falls (Oregon) but spent most of our time on the road. The highlight was probably stopping at an Alpaca Farm somewhere in Oregon before winding up back at ‘home’ in Moses Lake.

It was nice to chill out for a few days in a familiar place before the trip sadly came to an end.

October: Birmingham!
That’s right, nothing for September! The summer killed my bank balance so September was the only month this year that I spent the entirety of it in Peterborough. Shocking!

I made up for it early in Birmingham though with another weekend away. I’d used all my annual leave by this point but I made the most of a weekend by spending it in Birmingham. Me and a friend were off to a gig but I spent the rest of my time in England’s “second city”. I’ve been to Birmingham many times without actually spending much time in the city, it’s not somewhere that I’ve ever really seen as particularly appealing but I was wrong!

I loved Birmingham. It’s a really nice city and for me, it does just edge Manchester so is worthy of its status as England’s “second city”. It’s somewhere I’m keen to return to at some point.

November: Warsaw!
I had no annual leave left whatsoever but wanted to squeeze in one more overseas trip before the year ended. Sadly it was only a flying visit but I found decent flights to Warsaw which gave me an opportunity to visit a new city.

I liked Warsaw but in all honesty I wasn’t feeling particularly adventurous by the time this trip came around, I had to force myself out on the Saturday night. The old town was stunning though, it’s really cheap and it gave me my first taste of visiting Poland which I’m keen to return to. Hopefully for a bit longer next time!

December: London!
Last but not least, London! I know this made the list already but this time I was hosting which made for a very different experience. Haleigh was making her first visit to England (first overseas trip too!) so we made the most of it by spending a few nights in London.

It’s such a pretty place to be around Christmas time so equally enjoyable for me to be in London. It was nice to show off “my city” to someone who’d never seen it. Fortunately Haleigh loved it.

We finished off the year together at a wedding a little closer to home in a town called Uppingham. The perfect end to the year!

Anyway, that wraps up my 2018. I’ll post about each place in more detail at a later date but if you want to see more photos you’ll find them over on Instagram.
What were your highlights of 2018?

Next up on the blog: Germany!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Georgia – Part two: Rural Georgia (Feb 2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flags everywhere you look!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned!

Jason

Georgia – Part one: Atlanta (Feb 2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Was it worthy Jason?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for that!

Jason