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

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Introducing New York City!

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

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

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

“I’m from London..”

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

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

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

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

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New York City!

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

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

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

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

Jason

Luxembourg City – March 2016

Last time out on the blog I’d just returned to Köln following on from an enjoyable daytrip to Brühl and Bonn, I decided that the next day (Saturday) was going to be much the same and just had to ponder where to go.

Köln is one of Germany’s biggest cities so not only does it benefit from a location close to several countries, it also has really good transport links which makes a daytrip to most of them quite feasible. I’d narrowed down my preferred daytrips to either Koblenz or Luxembourg City. Koblenz is a picturesque German city that sits on the Rhine river, meanwhile Luxembourg City appeared to be equally picturesque and would mean a first visit to the country of Luxembourg.

My decision was pretty last minute, so much so that I was on the train and still didn’t know where I was going to spend the next few hours. There were no direct trains from Köln to Luxembourg, it seemed I’d have to change in Koblenz so I picked up a ticket to Koblenz and figured I’d make my mind up by the time I arrived. In the meantime I’d just sit back and admire the view.

The Rhine river flows through the heart of this part of Germany and the train travels alongside the Rhine for much of the journey to Koblenz (and beyond). I recently discovered that my grandparents plan to take a river cruise along the Rhine later this year so they’re in for a treat.

I passed by countless adorable looking towns and every so often we’d pass a castle sitting aloft a hilltop which made for an enjoyable train journey.

I’d hoped to have made my mind up by the time I reached Koblenz but I got off the train and still wasn’t sure whether to stay put or buy a ticket to go to Luxembourg. I was stood at the ticket machine and torn on whether to complete the transaction or just explore Koblenz, however with an hour between trains to Luxembourg I had to make a quick decision if I wanted to catch the next one.

The allure of visiting a new country was the only thing that really swayed it so I booked my trains and quickly found the platform I needed to catch the train.

One of the attractions, if you can call it that, in Koblenz is the ‘Deutsches Eck’ (Ecke, meaning corner in German). It’s here that you’ll find the Mosel River meet the Rhine river so I was bidding farewell to the latter and heading West along the Mosel towards Luxembourg.

Whilst the journey between Köln and Koblenz had been an enjoyable ride, the Mosel was arguably more scenic as you pass through more German towns on the way in to Luxembourg. I don’t think you see the best of the Rhine until you’ve passed Koblenz (which I did on another trip towards Mainz).

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Enjoying the train views!

Whilst the train journey was pretty, I knew that certain compartments of the train had a different end destination. It can be confusing enough in England when your train splits to know if you’re in the right carriage but more confusing when doing so in another country. Fortunately I managed to figure it out to ensure I was heading towards Luxembourg and not arriving elsewhere. Soon enough I’d arrived and was stepping foot in to the capital: Luxembourg City!

I had no idea I was coming to Luxembourg when I woke up so similarly had no real plans for my time in the city. I was just hoping for the best and a chance to explore. Fortunately, whilst not overly warm, it was a bright sunny day in Luxembourg and perfect weather for exploring.

As you come out of the station you immediately find yourself on a high street with various familiar brands which wasn’t quite what I’d expected, not that I’m entirely sure what I was expecting. However a short walk later you’re arriving in to the outskirts of the old town, built much like a fortress which I expect was designed to keep out potential neighbouring invaders Belgium, France and Germany (Luxembourg is a landlocked country).

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Luxembourg City!

Luxembourg is also a rich country so some of its architecture immediately stood out. I strolled towards a grand building to my right and began exploring, admiring the size and grandeur of each building, many of which were littered with gold. I popped my head in to a small little church to have a quick look around, I’m not religious but religious buildings are usually quite stunning and worth a visit and this was no different.

Shortly later I stumbled upon what appeared to be a Saturday market in this pretty square. The market itself wasn’t particularly huge but along the outskirts of the square were various restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating. There was a nice atmosphere to the square and with seating which offered views overlooking the square most of the restaurants were unsurprisingly pretty full.

It did leave me feeling a bit peckish so I decided I needed to find somewhere for lunch, none of the cafes in my square took my fancy and looked a little pricy so I wandered through some of the side streets before finding somewhere that was tempting enough.

Luxembourg’s a small country and with France and Germany as neighbours it’s perhaps of little surprise that French and German are both official languages of Luxembourg (in addition to Luxembourgish). The problem is you require a bit of good fortune as to which places lean towards French culture and which lean towards German.

I knew I could get by on my German so typically I only seemed to find French speaking places whilst in Luxembourg. On the plus side, it did make me appreciate how good my German had become.

I was comfortable in Germany, here I was floundering and reverting back to English. Beyond bonjour (Good day), Je voudrais (I would like), S’il vous plait (please) and Merci (thanks) my French was atrocious. Ironically a fellow blogger wrote of her own Luxembourg language woes (here) in which she struggled with the regularity of businesses leaning more towards the German language.

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Nice day for exploring!

Having navigated my way through a delicious lunch I was back out on to the streets to explore. Much of Luxembourg’s city centre is built on higher ground, overlooking a valley. I was keen to discover what was hidden in the lower reach of the city referred to as ‘Grund’ (meaning floor / ground in German).

It turns out you don’t have to climb up and down the city steps, there is actually a lift somewhere but that wasn’t knowledge I was privy to at the time so I gave my legs a bit of a workout. Going down wasn’t so bad but I suppose as the Luxembourg locals might say – “what goes down, must go up?” in some sort of anti-gravity type logic.

The Grund area is really pretty. I quickly stumbled upon a small palace-like building which is now used as the national museum of natural history. Just beyond that you’ll find a tiny little village with adorable and colourful little buildings made up of houses and small businesses.

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The ‘Grund’ area in all of its beauty!

Crossing over the valley was a large hill above with what I understood to be a variety of caves and things so I was intrigued to take a look, it did mean another uphill climb though which I was less enthused about. Once at the top you do get some cool views looking across the valley back towards the old town, however the sun was shining directly on me with no cover so I couldn’t get any decent photos to do the view justice. A little hidden treasure was a castle-looking building, I didn’t go in but it’s home to the Grand Duke Jean Museum Of Art. The building itself was impressive enough for me.

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Cool looking museum, right?

Content I’d explored enough it was another downward journey to make the subsequent uphill journey back up into the old town. Whilst Luxembourg City is relatively small and theoretically an easy ‘daytrip;, it’s not a daytrip that is quite so forgiving on your feet. After one last look around the old town I made a stroll back towards the train station, I had to catch a specific train but I’d slightly overestimated how long it would take me to get back and had a bit of time to kill.

There was a restaurant opposite the station so I decided it was an opportunity to get myself a drink, I’m always keen to try a local beer so made sure I picked up a Luxembourgish beer on tap. It was a nice way to round off my time in Luxembourg.

Personally I’d recommend a weekend trip if you want to visit. It is a small place but I would have preferred to have taken my time exploring, similarly I hear its nightlife is really good so it would have been nice to have experienced an evening in the city. Nevertheless I left with fond memories and began my journey back to Köln via Koblenz.

I had to stop in Koblenz and I didn’t have to catch any specific train back to Köln so I figured I’d make the most of the opportunity and grab dinner here and take a quick look around. Unfortunately it gets dark pretty early in March so by the time I’d arrived it was already dark, not the greatest time to be exploring a new city but I figured I’d see a little in an hour or so.

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Koblenz, home to the world’s best White House?

Some of the architecture looked great, the most interesting thing for me was the White-House esque looking building that was shining brightly. Arguably more impressive than the White House too which I actually thought was quite underwhelming alongside DC’s other stunning architecture. Koblenz’ own “White House” would be more fitting and deserving of the name. It was all closed off though so I couldn’t actually get close enough to see what the purpose of it was.

I found myself a place to grab some food, a welcome opportunity to speak German again after a day in Luxembourg. I was and perhaps I still am quite critical of my German but it’s somewhat comforting knowing you can sit down in a restaurant and get through your meal without speaking a word of English.

I waved “Tschüss” to my waiter and made the walk back to the train station to return to the ever-familiar Köln which is where I spent my final day of this particular trip.

I didn’t envisage I’d be back in Köln before the end of 2016, you can get a little preview on that story here but the full thing will have to wait a little longer. Next up on the blog?

New York City! Stay tuned!

Jason

Brühl and Bonn! March 2016

Last time out on the blog I mentioned my frequency of visiting what has quickly become one of my favourite countries – Germany! This particular post will be dedicated to the first of my three trips in 2016.

I’d not long come back from Georgia in February 2016, which you can read more about here (Georgia introduction, Georgia – Part oneGeorgia – Part two), and was quite relaxed about planning the next trip. I wasn’t in any particular rush and figured I could just save some pennies before rushing in to my next adventure. Georgia had been my first non-European trip for a while so, whilst not as expensive as I’d budgeted for, it was a good chance to get my finances back in order and think about where I wanted to go next.

Nevertheless there was an outside chance that Tottenham’s European fate might just be enough to tempt me away sooner. I got home from Georgia mid Feb and I knew at the end of Feb it would be confirmed where my beloved Tottenham would be visiting in March. My intentions were that I’d “skip a round”, gambling on Spurs progression in the competition, but that I’d make an exception for one opposition – Borussia Dortmund.

“If we get Dortmund I HAVE to go!” I told myself.

It was a dream tie. Attending a Borussia Dortmund game is one of those bucketlist items for any football fan. It’s a club held in high esteem anyway but their atmosphere is also one of the most famous in European football. I’d always intended to visit a Dortmund home game as a ‘neutral’ so to experience it as an away fan with my own club would be incredible.

The inevitable happened. Tottenham were going to Dortmund! This was the dream tie, it was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. When would little ol’ Spurs ever get the chance to go to Dortmund again?

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Trip number 2 to Dortmund!

Ironically we would. Hindsight is a funny thing. Whilst the trip in March 2016 blew my mind, I genuinely thought it’d be the only time I’d get there. However Tottenham returned in November 2017 and as some of you will know, we’re going back in March 2019.

I’m experiencing my “once in a lifetime” opportunity for the third time in three years in a couple of months time. It’s nothing short of comical but let me reiterate, at the time, it was an absolute dream opportunity.

I turned to my boss and had to have that awkward conversation. “I know I’ve only just got back but..”

I need to go to Germany. To their credit, my employers have always been pretty relaxed and flexible at me booking time off at short-notice and about whatever time I request. More often than not I’ll book the flights and ask permission later. I know when our “no-go” periods are so it’s quite handy when it comes to the football trips to be able to book as soon as the schedule is confirmed.

With the green light to take yet another trip, I quickly delved in to the fun and games. A once in a lifetime opportunity for me was the same for 5,000 other fans, the majority of which were also looking to fly from London on the same dates and also looking for accommodation in Dortmund.

With flights rising and accommodation options proving to be quite limiting I had to ask how much I actually wanted to go to Dortmund. I was going to the game no matter what but was Dortmund really somewhere I wanted to visit from a travelers perspective? It had no appeal to me and surely there were other options in the region? It seemed that the trip split our fanbase with the majority deliberating between Dortmund, Düsseldorf and Köln.

The latter had the best flight prices, had more accommodation options, was the bigger city and had more to do. It was also close enough to Dortmund to be a feasible daytrip, so whilst I’d been to Köln before it quickly became the best option for me personally. The only downside was I’d seen most of what I wanted to in Köln on my trip three years earlier, with five days in Germany I needed to fill some of my time which resulted in me visiting Brühl and Bonn.

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Köln (Cologne) again!

Brühl
I’d never heard of this town but I was looking for somewhere to visit and somehow stumbled upon Brühl. It was only 10-15 minutes away by train and was apparently home to a UNESCO world heritage site. I was intrigued and made my way to Köln’s Hauptbahnhof (main train station) to catch a pleasingly cheap train to Brühl.

I had made, by my standards, quite an early start to the day so perhaps for that reason I was one of few to get off at Brühl which was a sign of things to come. The ‘famous’ Augustusburg palace is an UNESCO world heritage site and pretty much straight in front of you as you come out of the station. It was stunning and had beautiful surroundings too, the garden areas were immaculate and really well presented. Better yet, there was barely anyone here.

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Brühl!

No herds of people, no selfie sticks in sight, little noise. It was calm and relaxed, the occasional local passed me by whilst walking their dogs but for the most part I had the palace to myself. Perhaps later in the day or in peak seasons it gets busier but I’d perfectly timed my visit and couldn’t help but admire this breathtaking palace in front of me. You can take tours of the palace and see more of the grounds I expect but I was content viewing it from the exterior.

Having spent sufficient time wandering through the gardens I thought I’d see what else the town had to offer. It was a pretty place, colourful buildings along typical European cobbled streets but there wasn’t too much to it really.

The only other thing of note in the city is the Max Ernst museum, a German artist born in Brühl. I can’t say I was familiar with the name but I figured I’d go and check it out. Unfortunately they didn’t open until 11am and it was 10:30-something. I had a little wait but figured I’d hang about until opening. It’s a relatively small museum with a nice collection of artwork. It was small though so I wasn’t there for particularly long. It’s worth a visit if you’re already in Brühl but not worth going out of your way for.

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Max Ernst museum

I slowly made my way back to the train station, admired one last glimpse of the palace and pondered what to do next. Brühl’s train station only had two platforms. One heading North and one heading South, heading Northbound towards Köln seemed the most logical option but it was barely even midday so naturally I headed South.

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Bye Brühl!

Bonn
I bought a train ticket to Bonn. Bonn was the former capital city of West Germany and is naturally an important city in the country’s history. I’d contemplated coming here instead of Brühl so it was quite nice to squeeze in a few hours here on the same day.

As you come out of Köln’s main train station you’re quickly blown away by the cathedral – “WOW!”. Similarly within moments of coming out of Brühl’s train station you’re left stunned by the palace and Bonn quickly delivered its own first impression that has been stuck in my brain ever since.

This was a city full of history, there’s some stunning architecture in the city and what was the very first thing to catch my eye as I walk out of Bonn’s train station? A big yellow M! That’s right, McDonald’s – how very German! You can’t rewrite a first impression and this was it. This is one of the first things I associate with Bonn now, rather than some famous bloke called Beethoven for instance who was born in this city.

It was a disappointing first sight, this wasn’t what I’d come to Bonn to see! On the plus side, I figured Bonn could only improve from here and fortunately it didn’t take long to leave a better impression on me. I soon stumbled upon one of Bonn’s bigger squares (Munsterplatz I think). Like many squares across Europe, there were some pretty buildings with the highlight being a church (the Bonner Munster) plus little cafes with outside seating which were perfect for people watching.

I wandered through the square and quickly stumbled upon a statue dedicated to Beethoven. Just beyond that was a bright yellow building which caught my eye, I looked up and read the words ‘Postamt’ – it was a post office! I couldn’t help but think why don’t our post offices look that pretty back home? Having had a bit of a wander I took seat at one of the tables in the square and grabbed myself some lunch and a beer. It was a nice spot to relax for a little while, people watch and put my German to the test in an effort to eavesdrop on the conversations happening around me.

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Standard post office in Germany?

With a “schönen Tag noch” and a “Tschüss” from my waitress I was on my way and back to exploring a little of Bonn. I hadn’t planned on being in Bonn so hadn’t done any prior research, I just wandered aimlessly through the streets seeing what might catch my eye. I walked down one street and spotted a few fellow tourists taking photos of something, I looked up to find Bonn’s famous Beethoven Haus, the house he was born in. I think it’s possibly a museum now but I wasn’t really interested in investigating any further than the exterior.

I continued my walk down which led me to the Rhein river. It was peaceful with a handful of boats passing by, It was a relatively miserable and grey day though so probably not the best day for a cruise on the river, I had contemplated the idea of going back to Köln by boat but thought better of it. Instead I went back to wandering up and down Bonn’s streets.

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Exploring Bonn!

Beyond Beethoven, Bonn is also home to another household name: Haribo! This was relatively new news to me and something I only discovered after some friends had visited recently. There’s a fairly large Haribo store in Bonn with a huge collection of sweets (candy) that I wasn’t particularly familiar with, plus the usual Haribo favourites sold in the UK. I picked up a couple of bags to take home with me as a little souvenir of my trip.

My afternoon flew by pretty quickly which meant all there was left for me to do was find a nice dinner spot to round off my day. Following on from dinner I made the slow walk back to the station and got on the first available train back to Köln. I arranged to meet up with my friend who’d spent the day exploring Köln (his first visit) and we finished off the day with a few drinks at one of the bars in the city.

Overall a thoroughly enjoyable day and two places I’d recommend seeing if you’re in the area. I figure half a day probably is about right for a trip to Brühl, I could have probably spent a little longer (maybe a full day) in Bonn but overall I left with more memories than just the McDonald’s and was content I’d seen enough of it to leave a positive impression.

Anyway that wraps up this particular daytrip. The following day I was embarking on another so next up on the blog: Luxembourg City!

Stay tuned!

Jason

The annual Germany trip!

1988-2012!
For 24 years Germany wasn’t on my radar. Berlin’s history was something that fascinated me but beyond that it wasn’t a country that appealed to me, I had no reason to want to visit Germany. In reality it was just a country that I knew very little about and perhaps society plays its part in that, it’s a country I was more accustomed to hearing the negatives of opposed to the positives.

So when I was in school and had the choice of learning Spanish or German, it was a no brainer. For one I didn’t really plan to visit Germany, secondly I knew Spanish was one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world but perhaps most importantly the playground rumours were that Spanish was the easier language to learn – which was music to my ears as a relatively lazy student.

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Berlin, Germany!

2013!
I’d been infected! I had the travel bug and I needed a fix! I started looking in to flights for the Easter weekend but they were inevitably pricey so plan B was to take a train somewhere in to Europe. It was by no means my first choice but somehow I found myself going to Köln (Cologne – read me).

It was a city I knew nothing about, in a country I had little interest in, and additionally I couldn’t speak a word of the language. It’s a mystery to me how I ended up here.

I did have a nice weekend in Köln but truthfully it had been long enough. It was the first time I’d ever really felt like I was abroad and by the end of the trip I was quite happy to be returning home to the sound of English accents and a common language. It was a good introduction to the country but I hadn’t quite been sold yet.

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Köln

2014!
Me and a friend were talking about a European getaway and Berlin was somewhere that particularly appealed to us. I can’t say Köln had made me fall in love with Germany but nevertheless, having gone my whole life without visiting the country I was now returning for the second year in a row – madness!!

I was pretty optimistic about Germany though, it’d be a little more touristy than Köln and easier to get around without speaking any German. Plus it was a city I’d genuinely wanted to visit. If any city could make me fall in love with Germany, surely Berlin was the one.

I loved it! Berlin had won me over and I was sad to be leaving. It was a city I fully intended to return to, something I haven’t actually done yet but is very much on my list to do!

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Cycling the streets of Berlin!

2015!
“Three years in a row? Surely not Jason?”

Spurs were going to München (Munich) and if there was any reason to visit Germany, football was as good as any. My brief romance with Nicole had also sparked some motivation in me to learn the language.

Obviously things didn’t lead anywhere but whilst Nicole had been the reason to start, it reminded me that I love languages and this time I was learning on my own terms. I wasn’t learning to pass an exam or for a good grade, I was learning German because I wanted to and it’s a language I’ve really enjoyed learning.

For this particular trip I was still at a relatively novice stage but it was nice to be going to Germany for the first time with some understanding of the language, even if it was only minimal.

Better yet it was another of Germany’s big cities. Köln, Berlin and München are three of the biggest cities in the country but miles away from eachother and I was starting to see the similarities and differences between Germany’s different regions. Berlin hadn’t been a one-off, I loved Bavaria – I’d been converted in to a Germany-lover! “Ich liebe Deutschland!”

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Watching Spurs at Munich’s Allianz Arena

2016!
“No way! Not a fourth consecutive year?”

I think learning the language was the game-changer, by this point I was really beginning to appreciate the country. Not only was 2016 my fourth consecutive year visiting Germany but this year even had multiple visits!! I went to Germany in the March, September and October. Twice visiting the Köln / Nordrhein Westfalen sort of area for football and the September trip was a return to Bavaria.

Three visits to Germany! Four years ago I hadn’t been to Germany and now I’d been here six bloody times! That’s insane! My German was much improved, returning to the same places in Köln that I’d been to three years earlier and couldn’t speak a word of German in was mind-blowing to me.

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Back in Köln!

2017!
Another two trips to Germany saw 2017 become five years in a row! FIVE YEARS IN A ROW!

I fancied a long weekend away for the May bank holiday and laughably one of the best deals I could find was for a trip to Hamburg, one of Germany’s remaining big cities I’d yet to visit and was increasingly rising to the top of my bucketlist. I wasn’t really intending to go to Germany but it was too good an opportunity to pass up on.

Six months later Tottenham were playing in Germany again. Spurs 4th visit in three years themselves! I was a little reluctant at first because I’d grown rather sick of trips to Western Germany for football so compromised a little and decided I’d split my time between Bremen and Düsseldorf, before visiting Dortmund on the day of the game.

I didn’t really have enough time in Düsseldorf but was sad to head home to London and leave Bremen behind. I hadn’t gone with high expectations but it really surprised me and I quickly fell for Bremen’s charm. It was an 8th trip in 5 years but I really wanted another day or two to enjoy Germany. Who am I?

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Myself and Hamburg’s Rathaus!

2018!
“Where this year Jason?”

Nowhere! I ended the calendar year without a single visit to Germany! The month long trip to the USA (read me!) consumed a lot of my annual leave for the year and consequently I had fewer overseas trips last year (albeit longer ones).

The realisation that I wouldn’t be visiting Germany hit me towards the end of the year and there was definitely a temptation to just book a short weekend getaway, moreso with everyone on Instagram seemingly visiting the German Christmas markets. Nevertheless I was sensible and saved some pennies, having to settle for a Bratwurst at a Christmas market along the Thames instead. Not quite the same!

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Christmas markets close to opening in Bremen, 2017

2019!
Fear not though because normality is resumed this year and I WILL be returning to Germany at least once this year.

I promised to provide an update following December’s Champions League draw (European uncertainty) and despite my prayers to avoid a trip to Dortmund, those prayers fell on deaf ears and the merciless “football gods” are sending Tottenham back to West Germany!

I’m trying not to be too pessimistic about it, I’m staying in Köln AGAIN and this time the trip overlaps with the Kölner Karneval (Cologne carnival) which at least offers a fresh experience to my time in the city. Rather bizarrely though it will mean that I’ve been to Köln in March 2013, March 2016 and March 2019. Where this three year rule came from I’m not sure but on the plus side, at least I now know where I’ll be in March 2022!

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Köln, my second home?

Will this be the only Germany visit of 2019? Who knows? However I think I needn’t worry about those imminent blue passports, I must be due German citizenship soon, right?

Anyway, I’ll wrap things up here but this nicely leads me in to my next series of posts. Just before Christmas I finished up my series on Georgia (Feb 2016) which was soon followed by a trip to Germany in the March. Stay tuned to hear all about that!

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