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

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Welcome to the USA – Georgia style!

I think it’s naive to suggest with 7 billion people on the planet that the person you’ve supposed to end up with is automatically going to be on your doorstep. Nevertheless there’s a practicality to dating local isn’t there?

I remember going on a date a few years ago and this woman lived relatively locally. I spent the day at work, we went out for dinner and I was home again the same night – a traditional date! She was friendly, we had plenty in common, she was relatively attractive and we had a nice meal together but that was it. She ticked all of the right boxes on paper but it was just nice. It wasn’t a bad date as such, it’s just that it wasn’t a date-date, it was a mate date. There was no chemistry, no butterflies, no spark and ultimately no second date.

As practical as finding someone that lives locally is, you need that something extra and for whatever reason I always seem to find it in people that live millions of miles away from where I live.

I’ve given some mention to my romances in this post here (Read me!), when explaining why I visited Salzburg, so you might recall that before dating Haleigh (Washington State) that my love interests were with Mella in Georgia.
Things had fizzled out with Nicole but of course, Germany wasn’t far enough away to find love so I made my first trip across the pond in eight years.

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I’d only ever been to the USA on family trips to Florida (1997, 2002, 2004, & 2008) and my parents had pretty much taken the lead on those trips so it felt like this was my first time visiting the US as an ‘adult’. I was traveling solo and the first piece of business was to get a valid visa. It’s actually pretty simple, you can easily do it online and it wasn’t too expensive. Visa granted – I’m going to the USA!!

The excitement and nerves kicked in. I was going to meet Mella finally, plus some of her friends and family, but on the flipside I was going to meet Mella finally. On one hand it was exciting but on the other hand, it’s a bloody long “first date” if you can call it that. I was going to Georgia for two weeks!

Maybe. That’s the thing about booking a trip, you do so assuming you’ll reach your destination without any issues. US border control had other ideas –  “don’t be nervous about meeting Mella, there’s no guarantee we’ll let you in to Georgia anyway!!”

Booking your ticket and having valid documentation is only step one of entering the USA. On arrival I walked up to the next available desk and the entry process began. Passport checked, visa checked, fingerprints checked, eyes (retinal scanner) checked!

“Congratulations, you’ve passed step two! Now for the questioning!”
“I’m sorry, what?”

You’ve literally matched my fingerprints! What more do you want from me? The man at the desk asked me why I was here and in the back of my head was this little voice – “honesty is the best policy”.
So naturally I explained I was visiting somebody. In most places you visit that’s followed with a “have a nice trip Sir” but not here, not in the USA! It had set the alarm bells ringing.

“YOU’RE DOING WHAT!? NOT ON MY WATCH SON!”

Moments later he’d picked up the phone and I knew that wasn’t a good sign. Shortly after an announcement was belting out of the tannoy system.
“Can someone please come and take this high-risk criminal away from desk number..”

It might have been a little more subtle than that but was effectively the message behind it, I looked up and wasn’t surprised to see it was my desk. Great. I’ve failed already.
“Can you follow this woman please?”

I foolishly thought I might get some sort of greeting but no, she snubbed my entire existence. The back of her head was as close as we were acquainted with eachother. This is the famous Southern hospitality I’ve heard so much about? She dropped me off at this small waiting room where I was left to ponder my fate. Fortunately they didn’t keep me waiting long and I was called up for further interrogation by some guy – another new face to try my luck with.

Round two! Fail this test and I’m going home! A thought that had me a little torn in truth. A one way trip to London is my punishment? Don’t get me wrong, it was far from ideal but this is the charade I have to bow down to?
London is my favourite city in the world, it’s home for me, and you’re wanting me to jump through hoops to get in to Georgia? Georgia!! Are you bloody mad?

“I’m already slumming it coming here mate.”

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Co-operate or you’re going to this awful place!!

Nevertheless I figured I’d keep my thoughts to myself. The US border probably isn’t really the setting to start pointing out all of the USA’s flaws. You’ve got to understand that across the pond they believe that the USA is the biggest and the best and the land of the free and blah, blah, blah. I played nice and I tried to be as co-operative as possible. Time for a game of 20 questions!!

“Why are you here?” “How long are you here?” “How did you meet?” “Where are you staying?” “Are you visiting anywhere else in the US?” “When are you going home?” “Have you booked your flight?” “What does she do for a living?” “Are you employed?” “When do work expect you back?” “How much money do you have?” and on and on and on.

I’ve visited some places and you half-wonder if they’ve even looked at the photo on your passport before passing it back to you.
“That was a black woman in the photo by the way..”
“Just hurry up and enter the country!!”

This was the complete opposite and it does get exhausting getting interrogated to determine whether you’re worthy of entering the US. One final question – “Do you have Mella’s phone number?”
SHIT! I don’t! I hadn’t anticipated this debacle and assumed I wouldn’t need it. Luckily I managed to find it on Facebook, passed it over and then had my phone confiscated.

He obviously didn’t want me giving Mella a heads up but it was a tad frustrating. I was sent back to my little waiting room whilst he tried to get hold of Mella.

Now personally, I don’t accept phonecalls from numbers I don’t know. If it’s that important they’ll leave a message, right? I’ll decline and generally give the number a quick search on Google afterwards.

“Oops, that was US border control? I probably should have taken that!”

Fortunately Mella was much more sensible and did pick up, albeit unprepared for her own interrogation as this officer was keen to discover if our responses were consistent. A little time passed and my enthusiasm for Georgia was draining out of me. I mean if you’re going to send me home can we just get on with it?
Fortunately he was soon calling for my return and it was clear that, with Mella’s help, I’d passed the test! I’d been granted access in to America.

I can’t really remember what my reaction was. I think I was pretty apathetic by this point so I forgot to show my gratitude by doing cartwheels.
“Thank you so much for letting me in to Georgia..”

With that said it was clear the non-English speaking guy at the desk to my left was being advised by his Spanish translator that he wasn’t getting in to US so I suppose it could have been worse. I went and found my suitcase and soon enough I was free to stay in the US forever!!! Muahaha!

Alright, calm down Big Brother (I know you’re reading), I’m joking! I didn’t plan to stay, I was free for the next two weeks though and quickly found a friendlier face awaiting my arrival – Mella. Unsurprisingly we didn’t stick around at the airport for too long and made our journey to my hotel in downtown Atlanta. I was finally in Georgia!

More on that to follow soon! Stay tuned!

Jason

The big 3-0: a terrible summary

Extra, extra, read all about it: your favourite blogger is back! The 29 year old you once knew is gone and has been replaced by a 30 year old! That makes me older and wiser, right?

If you’ve been living under a rock and somehow missed the news (See you in September!), the reason for my little blogging hiatus is because I was in the US for thirty days! Thirty! How mad is that?

I got back to work on Tuesday and inevitably there was one question on everyone’s lips: how was it?

“Before you start, keep it short, yeah?”

This disclaimer hasn’t at any point actually been stated but as I explained in my Weetabix Boy post (here) this is my problem with social interaction and small talk in particular. I appreciate the effort in taking an interest but it’s another workplace conversation-filler isn’t it? How much is an acceptable amount of information to actually tell you? When does reflection become outright gloating about the trip?

So.. “yeah, it was really good!”.

It’s so vague but how do you adequately summarise a month long trip spanning six states, several cities, climates and cultures? It’s not in my nature to chew your ear off anyway but the trip has left me rather speechless. I don’t know how to answer that question, I don’t even know where to begin in attempting to.

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Bean life

Logically you might suggest Chicago, that’s where I started the trip right? Alright, let’s do that!
The crazy cab driver, fireworks on Navy Pier within hours of arriving, late night Shake Shack, the Bean, the Skydeck disaster, another Hard Rock Café visit, awesome street art, the Chicago pizza, a never-ending tunnel, consequently nearly missing my Greyhound bus and voila! Only 29 days left to summarise!

I could say so much about this trip and consequently trying to summarise it has me struggling to say anything whatsoever. I saw two beautiful friends get married, road-tripped the West Coast with the woman I love, met a footballing idol, danced in the streets of New Orleans, successfully got off of Alcatraz island, fed alpacas, drunk plenty, ate even more plus an endless list of other experiences.

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A trip to Alcatraz!

 

At some point I’ll blog about each place more thoroughly but right now I’m humbled more than anything. This trip has been in the works for roughly two years and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity.

Things went wrong, I had fraudulent activity on my bank account and was crapped on by a bird on my first day in San Francisco just to name a couple of instances but honestly there’s no summary that could do this trip justice. It surpassed any high expectations I had for this trip of a lifetime.

So if “really good” seems a little vague, understand that it’s because it has to be. There’s no genuine summary coming, this was a terrible effort but I can honestly say it’s a summer I’ll never forget.

I’m so thankful to anyone that I crossed paths with this summer and a special shout-out to Maddie and Cassie who were the sole reason this trip happened and lastly to Haleigh who I spent the bulk of my time with. I loved it all so thank you!

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The Redwoods with Haleigh

There will be more to come regarding this trip in the future but for now that’s it. I hope you enjoyed the “summary” and hopefully you’re pleased to see me back on the blog!

All the best!

Jason

The big 3-0: Update

I’ve had an influx of new followers lately so first and foremost – welcome to you all! It has been a little while since my last post as other things have taken priority but I hope you’re all doing well.

If you’ve been following along for a while you’ll recall that I posted about the early planning process for my summer plans. To recap; I’m attending a wedding on the 5th of August in Washington State and then turn 30 on the 7th of August. Two reasons to celebrate gave me two reasons to make this a summer to remember – I wanted to make this a big trip and therefore I’ll be spending 30 days in the USA! Thirty bloody days! Crazy!

My previous post was speaking about what my early thoughts of planning such a big trip would be, so if you’re planning something similar you can give that a read here: The big 3-0!
However I’m now closer to having a finalised itinerary and I wanted to provide you with an update on what the plan is looking like.

My dates have been relatively set for some time. The date of the wedding has changed a couple of times but all have overlapped with my original plan to fly to the US on July 28th and get home on August 27th (flying home overnight on the 26th).
These dates meant I could attend the wedding, celebrate my birthday and also make the most of August 27th being a public holiday in the UK – i.e one less day of annual leave used. It meant I could get 30 days in the US with only 20 days taken off work which was pretty ideal!

So with the dates confirmed all I had to do was decide where I’d be spending them and who, if anyone, would accompany me. Easy right?

This plan has changed several times over for several reasons. I’ve considered visiting pretty much everywhere across the States and looked in to visiting parts of Canada too but nothing has been particularly set in stone. My only definitive plans were to visit Washington for the wedding and make my first visits to Portland and San Francisco. I’ve been pretty flexible beyond that. So here goes!

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USA bound!

Chicago: July 28th – July 30th
I’m starting the trip off solo in Chicago. This was somewhere I’d thought about visiting but then as the plan developed disappeared from my itinerary.
However flight prices were decent and Chicago O’Hare’s airport was a decent base to get around the country for some of the other places I was considering.

I was debating whether to spend two or three days here dependent on where I’d be going next. It now looks like it’ll be two days.

Minneapolis: July 30th – August 1st
For a 30 day trip, perhaps surprisingly stop number 2 was one of the last pieces of my “”jigsaw”. I’ll be honest and say this wasn’t somewhere I’d given too much consideration in visiting. I knew I wanted to go to destination number 3 on August 1st but was having trouble deciding where to go between Chicago and stop number 3.

I’d considered Minneapolis but it wasn’t towards the top of my list and wasn’t a “bucketlist” city for me to visit. However this week my beloved Tottenham Hotspur announced they’d be returning to the US and playing in Minneapolis on July 31st.

I’d booked my flights to Chicago well before the announcement because I had no intention of planning my trip around Spurs. With that said I had kept this particular date open and it’s just happened to work out that I’m already in a neighbouring state. It’s not a long journey from Chicago so was a pretty logical second stop.

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Potentially country number 8 watching Tottenham!

New Orleans: August 1st – August 4th
Having friends in the US always gives me something extra to think about when planning a US trip. For this particular trip I was keen to try and visit two of my penpals, Crystal (Florida) and Sam (Alabama). I was fortunate to meet the latter in Nashville last year but we’d yet to successfully meet up with all three of us!

Given their locations the easiest meeting point would be somewhere Southern and somehow we got on to the possibility of New Orleans. I still want to visit both in Alabama and Florida but I was sold on the idea of NOLA pretty instantly. I’m hoping I’ll get a nicer welcome in the South than I did in Georgia or Texas (you’ll have to wait for those stories).

This has been on my list pretty early on and the only thing left to decide was how long I wanted to stay here. I’ve opted for 3-ish days.

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Me, Haleigh, Cassie & Maddie!

Seattle: August 4th – August 6th
As mentioned abovve, the wedding is on the 5th so this was a no brainer. It’ll be my third time in Washington though so I’m happy flying in to Seattle on the 4th and leaving just after. I’ll definitely be back to Washington in the future anyway.

I’ll be watching Cassie and Maddie get married and meeting up with Haleigh too! From this point onwards I’ll have Haleigh joining me for the adventure!

Portland: August 6th – August 9th
As soon as I knew I was traveling to the West coast for a wedding I knew I had to find some time to visit Portland. It looks like a great city and I have a few friends locally that I’m hoping I’ll catch up with. I’m a little gutted because my time here doesn’t overlap with a Timbers game but it’s still somewhere I’m so excited to visit. It’ll be a cool place to celebrate my birthday too!

Moses Lake: August 9th – August 10th
Me and Haleigh are driving down to Portland after the wedding and then we’ll be driving back to Washington together before the weekend hits. I don’t know if we’re specifically going to Moses Lake but I figure we’ll probably have a day at “home” to relax before the adventure continues!

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Moses Lake, you’re so pretty!

Walla Walla: August 10th – August 13th
A return to beautiful Walla Walla. I visited here in February and it was somewhere I grew quite fond of – the mountain views certainly helped! Haleigh’s family are hosting their big annual BBQ on the 11th which means we’ll end up spending the weekend here before getting back to the adventuring.

Oregon Coast: August 13th – August 15th
Back to Oregon! San Francisco bound, we (Haleigh) will be driving down the coast and visiting places such as Lincoln City, Newport and wherever else along the way. It looks pretty and gives us a chance to see more of the state and a chance for Haleigh to revisit some places she hasn’t been to for a while.

Redwood National Park: August 15th – August 16th
It’s still a long drive to San Francisco from Oregon so I was conscious of stopping somewhere and this seemed like a suitable choice on route. Whilst I’d love to see some of the bigger parks in the US I still think this will be pretty cool.

San Francisco: August 16th – August 20th
This has been high up on my list of places to visit for a long time. I’m so excited to finally be making my first visit to San Fran this year. We have four nights here which should give us plenty of time to see a lot of what the city has to offer. After the wedding this was probably the part of the trip I was most excited about. Seeing that Golden Gate bridge in particular will definitely be a “pinch me” moment.

Bend: August 20th to August 22nd
A visit to Bend (Oregon) breaks up the return drive from California to Washington and gives us an opportunity to visit a friend too which we were both keen to try and squeeze in to the trip. I don’t know if we’ll spend one or two days in Bend but it’ll be nice to make a stop here.

Moses Lake: August 22nd to August 25th
I’m anticipating Haleigh might be back to work on the 23rd so we’re aiming to get back “home” the day before. After three and a half weeks of traveling it’ll be nice to relax for a day or two. If Haleigh doesn’t have to work we might end up going elsewhere but we’ll see.

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Spokane, Washington

Spokane: August 25th to August 26th
A necessary stop to start making my way home. I went to Spokane last September and it was a nice overnight stop, I’d be fine with a brief second visit. Spokane’s airport is small but meant I could directly reach my next and final stop.

Chicago: August 26th
Departure day. I looked at various flight options but in the end decided I’d fly to and from the same place, so back to Chicago I go! At the minute I’m suggesting I’ll arrive and fly home on the same day but this might change, we’ll see.

Anyway, there you have it! Six states, several cities, one wedding and one 30th birthday spread across 30 days!

This isn’t the absolute final itinerary and there are probably still going to be some slight amendments but for the most-part this is a good glimpse at where I’ll be heading this summer, which is now exactly 100 days away!

If you have any recommendations for any of the above please give me a heads up. With the exception of Washington State, these are all new states that I’m visiting so any tips are much appreciated!

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 big 3-0!

1988 – a year of many historic moments. Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway, Liverpool were the champions of English football, Celine Dion won the Eurovision song contest, George Bush won the 88 US presidential election but most importantly was the birth of an English baby boy on the 7th of August. I was always a bit of an early riser as a kid so typically I was two hours early to deny myself the perfect birth date of 8/8/88.

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Even as a baby I was thinking about holidays!

 

Fast forward 29 years and that little baby is quickly approaching his 30th birthday! Thirty!
Those 30 years have taken me to some incredible places. For starters I was born and grew up in London so life began in one of the best cities in the world, certainly my favourite anyway. I’ve since been to the likes of New York City, Sydney, Berlin, Madrid, Amsterdam and many many more destinations. I can’t deny I’ve done a lot of traveling but it would be easy to forget I didn’t really start taking traveling seriously until 2013.

I was lucky growing up that I had been on family trips, the odd school trip and then had annual one week holidays of my own in 2011 and 2012 but going into 2013 I’d barely scratched the surface of all there is to see on this planet.

It wasn’t until 2013 that I really started focusing my efforts in to traveling more. So barely five years! People often suggest traveling is for your 20’s, if that was the case I’d arrived pretty late to the party! I’ll let you in on a little secret though – you can keep traveling at 30 and beyond! I know it’s hard to believe but it’s true! I’ve seen it with my own eyes! Apparently they don’t confiscate your passport on your 30th birthday!

So with that shocking revelation in mind, the planning for my own 30th is underway. On the 3rd of August I’m due to attend a wedding on the West coast of the USA, with a 30th birthday four days later how could I not spend it in the US? The timing was perfect and there’s so much of the US I still want to see – particularly down that West coast! A big adventure was on the cards.

I floated the idea with my boss at work about taking a longer trip and asked how much time I’d be able to take off in one go. I optimistically put forward the idea of four weeks and I’ve had the OK this week!

If it comes to fruition this will be the biggest trip I’ve ever taken and is therefore going to require a lot of planning! I’ve done a couple of multi city breaks before, including in the US, so I’m not a complete novice in this area but it’s a little daunting nonetheless.
Here’s an insight in to the early stages of planning a trip like this.

Itinerary
One of the most important decisions of a trip like this is obviously deciding where you want to go!  You don’t necessarily need a finalised list but a draft list of destinations so you can start planning everything else out is helpful. The more flexible you can be the better but it’s also always good to have some set destinations in mind to help map out a route.
So stick a little pin in Seattle. That’s locked in to the itinerary for the wedding and gives me somewhere to either start my trip or aim to get to later on in the trip. Having other “must visits” will help plan out a route. Portland and San Francisco tick that box on the West coast and from there I’m pretty flexible. If everything goes to plan I’ll have 30 days in the country so the possible destinations can spread right across the country. Seeing more of California is certainly one option I’ll explore but similarly I have a number of friends in the US and I feel like that could dictate some of the destinations I choose to visit.

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USA, I’m coming back for you! 

Getting around! 
Thirty days in the USA very much screams “ROADTRIP!!!” – what a perfect opportunity for that bucketlist item many people dream of. Road-tripping across the USA definitely has its temptations. Travel the famous Route 66? Maybe! I’ll just rent a car and see where the road takes me!

However there is one tiny little flaw to this almost perfect plan – I can’t drive. Unlike in Europe, traveling the US without a car is a little more challenging but I’ll be making good use of what available transport there is. The AMTRAK train line, greyhound buses and potentially even domestic flights dependent on the distance should get me so far and will still help me reach some incredible destinations.

Personally I love this part of the planning process as you have to weigh up the cost and convenience of getting from destination to destination. Do I go from A to B or B to A? B’s actually too expensive so what if I go to D? Well if I’m going to D maybe stop at C on the way? Oh, flying to D is actually cheaper. Or you could get an overnight bus to E which would mean one less night’s accommodation to pay for. Decisions, decisions, decisions!

 

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Flying might be an option to get around the US!

Accommodation
This will likely play some factor in which destinations I visit too. Hotel prices in the US are quite expensive. Some cities are of course worse than others but it could be a factor between visiting one place rather than another. This is the area of the trip I’ll certainly be looking to cut costs. Aside from the occasional ‘treat’ I’ll probably be steering clear of hotels and exploring hostel and AirBnB options instead.

I’m also hopeful that I might have some US based friends I can stay with along the way, if I’ve got somewhere I can stay then the probability is I’m going to make more effort to visit!

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I love New York City but accommodation prices are crazy!

Objective
Something else to think about is what I actually want from this trip. The USA is huge which also makes it incredibly diverse. On previous trips I’ve been to Disneyland, I’ve been to small college towns and I’ve been to crazy cities like New York City. They’re all completely different type of trips. The US is so diverse as a holiday destination and has so much to offer, just deciding what type of holiday you want is a dilemma in itself. Do I want to concentrate on visiting cities? Could I squeeze in some beach time or visit one of the US’ many national parks? Is a Disney / Universal trip a possibility? I’m often attracted to big cities but with a much longer trip in mind perhaps mixing it up a bit is the better way to go!

Company
My last big thing to think about at this early stage is who is joining me on the adventure. I enjoy solo travel but I’m also thinking about who I’ll be spending time with whilst in the US. Would anyone come with me? Which US based friends do I try to visit? Do I see them in their hometown or might they meet me somewhere? Even if it only ends up being for a portion of the trip opposed to the entirety, it’s an important aspect to think about and plan for.

On a related note – that road trip I joked about? If there are any willing drives / adventurers then step right up, I’m more than happy contributing towards “gas” costs.

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At the baseball with my Washington favourites in September

Budget
I didn’t want to completely omit a mention of this but at the same time it’s a little early to accurately budget at this stage. It’s an important part of the trip but probably comes in the next part of the planning stage. You can budget an estimated amount based on accommodation per night, spending per day plus return flights to the US but really it’s very much guesswork at this stage.

The budget really overlaps with some of the above stages once I’ve started “connecting the dots”.
At the minute my only definitive “dot” is Seattle with much more planning to do!

Anyway that rounds up the early planning stages of the big 3-0 celebrations. Stay tuned for updates on how the planning goes and hopefully I’ll soon have a final itinerary!

I’d love to hear your input. How did you celebrate your 30th? Where should I be looking to visit? If you’ve planned a longer-term trip of your own I’d appreciate any tips you have.

Or maybe you’re just tempted to tag along? Get in touch!

All the best!

Jason