Firenze: The end!

The final part to my Italy adventure (February 2015).

On the Tuesday I’d flown out to Pisa and spent a day exploring the city. Wednesday and Thursday (matchday) were days 1 and 2 of my time in Firenze and now we were at the end of the week! The football was over with and it was time to go home – or was it?

On Monday evening I figured I should probably check in for my flights, given I was heading to Pisa the next day. My outbound flight was no problem but I was trying to check in for my Friday flight home and was having no luck.

“Sorry, you can’t check in for a flight more than 7 days away”.

What? I’m flying in four days! What is this nonsense? My flight is definitely on the 27th! I was baffled and kept darting my eyes between the error message and the flight details and couldn’t understand what the issue was. What am I missing?

Wait.. why does that say my flight home is in April? That’s a mistake! Let me find my confirmation email.
Looking for reassurance, instead I found despair. All that email had confirmed was that I’d somehow messed up my booking and that I was indeed flying home in two months time! My February 27th flight home was actually April 27th!!

I was light-heartedly acceptant of my fate. I guess I’ve got to stay in Italy for an extra two months then – what a pickle, right? How do I break the news to my family, friends and work. Will a postcard suffice?
Realistically that wasn’t an option but resolving it Monday evening wasn’t an option either – it was too last minute and most of my available money was in Euros by this point. I knew I’d get paid whilst I was in Italy so I figured I’d worry about the flight home once I was over there.

So back to day 3 in Firenze, my intended departure date. Care to guess what my first plan of the day was? You’re spot on! I had to book a flight home! I was supposed to be going to a gig back in England on Friday night (I’d paid for a hotel too!) but Friday flights seemed so much more expensive than the Saturday flights so in the end I decided I’d stay in Italy an extra day.

 

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As far as mistakes go, winding up in Italy for 24 more hours is a pretty good mistake to make! My next concern was that I had no accommodation for the extra night so needed to sort that out. I loved the hostel I had been staying at, it was in a decent location and the host was incredible but sadly it was a small hostel and they didn’t have space for an extra night so I had to find somewhere else.
My host did help me find a hotel though which I appreciated.

Flight sorted, accommodation sorted, time to enjoy a bonus day in the city! I’m so glad at how things worked out because Friday probably ended up being my favourite day in Italy. Perhaps that’s just because it was an unexpected bonus day but I also ended up doing a few things to top off the Italy experience.

Firenze was a different city entirely. Most of the Spurs fans were England bound and the excessive police presence was long gone, this was Italy in all its glory and without the burden of an invasion of Brits.

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My first stop of the day took me to the Piazza della Signaoria which is a large square with stunning architecture, sculptures and a few museums closeby such as the famous Uffizi gallery. I wasn’t supposed to be here so inevitably I hadn’t booked any museums. Some of the lines were far too long so I decided I’d add the Uffizi to my “next time” list and checked out another museum instead that I can’t remember the name of.

I wish I could remember the name of it because I’d recommend a visit. The museum was over a number of different floors and had all sorts of art, although the sculptures were the pieces I enjoyed most and something you’d associate with Italy / Firenze I suppose. Eventually I was content I’d seen enough and my attention switched to a late lunch.

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Inside the museum. Anyone know the name?

I do try to make an effort to eat locally and delve into the culture when I travel but one of my guilty pleasures is the Hard Rock Café (HRC), I usually try and squeeze a visit in where I can to tick off another city from the many locations HRC are based.

My waiter asked where I was from to which I replied Peterborough and most of the time I end up wishing I’d just say London because it’s easier but to my surprise he’d heard of Peterborough, better yet he’d been to Peterborough.
“Oh yes, the place with the shopping centre opposite the train station.. Queens..? “
“Queensgate! Why were you in Peterborough!!!?”

Excuse my overreaction but seriously, Firenze sets a pretty high standard and its inhabitants are visiting Peterborough? Are you crazy? It did amuse me though before enjoying my HRC experience. It isn’t the best food you’re ever going to have and it can be expensive too but I just have a fondness of them and Firenze’s was nice too.

Following a late lunch I was ready to go and explore further. On Wednesday I’d climbed the Duomo as I’d heard it had one of the best views in Firenze – the views are great. However my hostel hostess assured me the best view of the city was at the Piazzale Michelangelo and that it was free! I had to check it out and on route could see the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge!

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Ponte Vecchio bridge!

It’s a beautiful bridge to look at but the bridge itself is a proper tourist trap. Historically butchers and other merchants occupied space on the bridge but you’ll now find a host of shops selling jewellery and gold! It’s cool to look at but it’s busy so I settled for getting a few photos and swiftly moving on to escape the crowds.

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Quick photo and then I was out of there!

I continued following signs to Piazzale Michelangelo and was soon climbing my way up this hill to discover the views awaiting me at the top. The Piazzale Michelangelo is a huge square that offers incredible views over the city – my host had said it was the best view in the city and it’d be hard to disagree. The one thing lacking from the view at the top of the Duomo is the Duomo itself which is the standout piece of Firenze’s skyline.

Whilst the views are spectacular you’ll also find a replica of the David statue here, a few stalls selling food and drinks plus a few buskers which all helps create a really nice atmosphere. You’ll find plenty of people occupying the stairs to sit and just admire the views over the river and the rest of the city.

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The best view in Firenze!

It was getting late in the afternoon and I would have loved nothing more than to have picked up a beer and waited for the sun to set on the city. It was a beautiful spot to watch a sunset! Sadly I’d arranged to meet my friend Daniel elsewhere and had no way to contact him for a change of plans so he could come join me instead. I left a little envious of those I’d left behind that got to enjoy it fully.

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The perfect sunset spot!

I didn’t stay jealous for too long, as a pick-me-up I made a necessary stop for gelato. Firenze is credited as being the city that brought Gelato to the world so what better place to enjoy it? I had to buy some and see what the fuss was about. It was delicious and a good ‘starter’ before finding dinner and having a few drinks.

I’d probably been the drunker of the two of us on Wednesday night so it was nice to see the roles reversed this evening. We shared a few beers on our final night and Daniel was a bit tipsy come the end of the evening which amused me plenty. It was a great way to enjoy our final evening before heading back to England.

The next morning I had a last wander through the streets of Firenze and was sad to be saying goodbye. After the disappointment of Pisa, Firenze had really delivered and made for a memorable first visit to Italy. It’s a cracking city and one you should definitely try to visit!

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My morning flew by and before I knew it the clock read 12pm! I had time to enjoy one final meal in Firenze before I had to leave and inevitably wanted one final pizza before I said arriverderci to Italy. It rounded off the trip perfectly, I hopped on a train to Pisa and was soon boarding a flight back to London.

Italy had lived up to my expectations and the food was every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be. I still haven’t been back to Italy but I’m feeling a return is long overdue!

Who’s coming with me?

Jason

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Managing wanderlust – an update!

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

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

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“Trapped” in this hell hole?

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

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

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Lincoln castle!

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

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

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Going back to France!

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

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

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

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Exploring Manchester in March!

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

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

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

All the best!

Jason

Managing wanderlust

As some of you will know, come the summer I will be spending 4 weeks in the USA to celebrate a wedding (not mine) and also my 30th birthday. You can read about the early planning thoughts here: The big 3-0!

I travel a lot but that isn’t everyday life for me. I applaud those that have built themselves a life to work whilst traveling around the world but personally I’m working a regular 9-5 (5:30) Monday-Friday office job.
A four week holiday, unfortunately, has consequences for the rest of the year.

I managed to squeeze in a trip in February but that’s used up the little remaining annual leave I had for 2018. Sadly now I’m back home, the wanderlust is kicking in and there’s not much I can do about it. I am craving a trip somewhere and I still have FOUR MONTHS until my summer adventure begins (128 days to be precise, not that I’m counting right?).

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February trip to Washington State!

I can’t remember the last time I had to go so long between trips! People around the world live in warzones, poverty, abusive situations, inequality and I’m not really sure where my ‘woes’ sit on the scale of important world problems.

Bizarrely I’m finding little sympathy with my life ‘struggle’. My peers have been of no use and apparently there isn’t a suitable helpline for those struggling from the dreaded disease (wanderlust), so I decided I’d put together my own little list of remedies to ease the pain.

I have to warn you, these are only temporary measures! I’m no miracle worker. There is still no known cure for wanderlust but hopefully these will tie you over until you get your next “fix”.

So here are my top tips for managing wanderlust and what I’ll personally be doing over the next four months:

Make time for family and friends! 
“You’re never here”, “You’re always on holiday”, or “where’s next?” are a selection of commonly used phrases amongst my loved ones. I feel like there’s a subtle point they’re trying to make somewhere in there but in 2017 the catchphrases particularly had some conviction to them.

2017 was my most travelled year to date and I hold no regrets in that, it was a wonderful year. However it did also feel like a year where I saw a lot less of my favourite people.

Whilst technology makes it easier than ever to stay connected from anywhere in the world, it’s certainly nice to actually catch up and spend time together in person. There have already been a few occasions in 2018 where I’ve got to see a number of family and friends which has served as a good reminder to make more effort when I am in the country.

I’m hopeful 2018 has many more opportunities to see the important people and I’m pleased there are a few events coming up in the weeks ahead to maintain this. Starting this weekend with a little ‘adventure’ to Kettering!

Make some penpals!
This is one suggestion I’d recommend for everyone, regardless of how frequently you travel! Not everyone can dedicate their time and money to traveling as other things in life take priority. So whilst you’re unable to travel why not send just a little piece of you around the world instead through the joy of having a penpal.

I’ve been doing this for a few years in my spare time and I think it’s a great way to have a little taste of foreign culture, learn more about the rest of the world and make some good friends along the way.

Whether you go for the traditional “snail mail” route or prefer to stick to chatting online, it’s always a nice feeling to have some new mail (whether physical or electronic) waiting for you.
The age of technology makes it easier than ever to make contact with people from all over the world and from the comfort of your own home too!

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My collection is much bigger since this photo! 

Read a book!
Of course it doesn’t all have to be about technology. People were going on adventures long before the days of the internet. Forget all that nonsense with border control, books can take you to an infinite number of destinations and you don’t need a passport to do it either!

Once you’re stuck into a good book nothing is stopping you from visiting places such as Narnia, the Middle Earth, Hogwarts or Space which are beyond the reach of your typical traveler. A little imagination can take you anywhere!

If you’re not much of a reader: TV shows, movies and video games can also take you on quite the journey.

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Be right back, I’m off to Hogwarts!

Learn a new skill!
One of the best things about traveling is experiencing something new, so why not do the same at home? Learning a new skill can be a great help in life and potentially on your travels too. I started learning German a while ago and it has made visiting Germany since then much more enjoyable.

Of course it doesn’t have to be a language. You could improve your cooking skills, learn to sew or learn an instrument for example but with a bit of free time between trips there’s so many skills you could learn that come in handy both in life in general and potentially on future adventures too!

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Deutsch? Kein problem!

Go local!
and if all of the above fail, why not go local? Traveling doesn’t always mean you have to go to the other side of the world to have a little adventure. Sometimes it’s easy for us to overlook the places closer to home which still have their own highlights and quirks of their own.

Visit a local town or city and see how it differs to home. Better yet, see what’s happening where you live. Attend that festival this weekend, go see a show, visit your local museum or just treat yourself to dinner at that new restaurant that just opened.

It’s a little dependent on where you live but you don’t necessarily have to jump on a plane to experience something new or make some lasting memories. As much as that urge to travel consumes me, maybe I should embrace some of the better things about England.

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England’s not all bad, right?

With four months until I go to the US I’ll be focusing on some of these options to limit my travel envy. What are some of your own methods for coping with wanderlust? Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

All the best!

Jason

Berlin!

Germany as I’m sure you know by now happens to be one of my favourite places to visit, I first visited the country in 2013 and have been at least once every year since with my most recent trip (November) concluding my 8th visit! Germany has provided me with some wonderful memories and I’ve grown to love the diversity, people and culture of the country – I’ve even made an effort to learn German! Verrückt! (Crazy!).

So seeing a friend on Facebook suggest that she would never visit Germany was a little disheartening. Whilst I’ve generally made my destination posts chronological anyway, I thought I’d use this as an opportunity to follow on from Barmouth with my next trip and set the record straight given some of the misconceptions about Germany last week following an incident at Munich’s airport.

I’m not going to get in to my thoughts on the incident itself but Mo Farah claimed to have been on the end of racial harrassment in Munich, an accusation quickly denied by the accused. Online and media reaction to the headline went in two ways with some aiming criticism at Farah and others being critical of the accused security guard and then the defence of said security guard
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Criticism is one thing but I read MANY comments making a sweeping generalisation of Germany as a whole because of this incident and I can not accept that. You’ll find ignorant and hateful people EVERYWHERE and one incident is not reflective of an entire nation with 80+ million citizens. Just like anywhere, Germany is a friendly and welcoming place and dismissing it as a potential travel destination would be a waste for a country that has so much to offer!

So let’s travel back to August 2014 and my trip to the German capital: Berlin! Myself and a friend had talked about going on a weekend break somewhere and as soon as Berlin was mentioned we were both in agreement that we should go! It had always been a “must visit” destination for me, Berlin was so steeped in history that it had always appealed to me. I couldn’t wait to go!

Yet wait and wait I did. Solo travel and group travel both have their pros and cons, a pro to solo travel is that you’re in complete control of everything. With 4 of us making plans for Berlin I was growing increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress in booking the trip. I couldn’t get properly excited until plans were finalised and it felt like there were a few setbacks, I’m sure there was equal frustration on their part as the planning process went on but eventually we had dates booked into the calendar!

Myself and Karl flew out to Germany on Friday morning, Andy and Rox had already flown into Germany a day or two earlier to get a little longer out of their break. Budget airlines hold a bit of a catch 22 situation – on the one hand it means pretty much everyone can travel, on the other hand it means pretty much everyone can travel.

Particularly when flying out of Stansted, flying on a Friday or Saturday and flying to a popular destination, you can not avoid the stag / hen (bachelor / bachelorette) groups.
Our flight to Berlin consisted of at least two stag do’s and I think one hen do on board too. Karl somehow bagged the window seat which left me sat next to a young lad who, at 6am or whatever it was, was already far too drunk to string a coherent sentence together.

There has been a lot of controversy regarding alcohol limits in airports and on flights recently and I’d apportion 99% of the blame at our drunken little island if I’m being honest. Our friends in the rest of Europe seem a little better at knowing their limitations than the Brits who disgrace themselves in the continent on cheap weekend breaks. This guy was a perfect example and you question firstly if he should have been allowed to fly and secondly why they let him buy a further beer on board. I think he was keen I joined in for a breakfast beer but I politely declined.

In fairness to him he wasn’t any trouble but it made my journey a little less peaceful than I would have liked. Nevertheless the two of us were soon arriving in to Berlin and making an effort to figure out how to get to our hostel, at the time I knew no German so both of us were solely dependent on English getting us by for the weekend.
It wasn’t too tricky and eventually we were arriving into Berlin’s “Cat’s Pajamas” hostel – I liked it and would probably stay there again.

We met up with Andy and Rox and made plans to go and see some of Berlin, we started off with a quick lunchtime stop and then aimed for central Berlin.
I’m a big fan of kicking off day one with a walking tour, however when Andy suggested we do a biking tour I was a little more sceptical. They say you never forget how to ride a bike, perhaps that is true but it didn’t make me feel any more confident about riding around the city and through the streets of Berlin on a bicycle. When was the last time I’d even rode a bike? I was coming up to my 26th birthday and the last time would certainly have been as a kid, so well over 10 years.

I don’t think Karl and Rox were 100% sold on the idea either so credit to Andy’s persuasion skills. He’d not just convinced one sceptic person it was a good idea but three, 3! Even after agreeing to it I was a little nervous about it. No sooner had I climbed on my bike had I fallen off it, and again, and again. The tour was something like 3 hours long and I couldn’t stay upright for more than 2 minutes – disastrous and we hadn’t even started hitting the streets yet! Can I get some stabilisers please?

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Pros!

My fortunes did change (without the need for stabilisers before you ask!), soon enough I’d remembered how to balance myself and stop properly. I was whizzing through the streets and ready to embark on the Tour de France (alright, maybe not). Nevertheless I had been won over. We ticked off a number of the sights spread out across the city and I started to appreciate how much there was to see in the city. From viewing the stunning architecture to learning about the history from our tour guide, Berlin was living up to my high expectation.

A bike tour was a perfect way to see it and allowed us to cover so much more distance than if we’d been on foot. I think the highlight was riding through the Tiergarten (Berlin’s answer to Central Park) and seeing how peaceful it was. The Tiergarten was also home to a couple of pubs, one of which we stopped at for a scheduled break in the tour! A beer later and we were back on our bikes to see a little more of Berlin before rounding up the tour. It wasn’t something I’d ever have considered doing if I’d traveled alone but I’m really pleased we ended up doing it.

Friday evening we went and grabbed food somewhere and then enjoyed a few drinks to finish off the night. A successful start to our trip in Berlin!

Four years later, Saturday and Sunday are a bit more of a blur. I remember what we did but I can’t particularly associate the things we did with a particular day.

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The Reichstag building

Over the next two days we took a little more time to see some of the sights we’d only briefly visited on Friday such as the famous Brandenburg Tor, Checkpoint Charlie and the Reichstag building. The latter you can enter for free to then see views over Berlin from up on the roof – despite being free you do have to book a time slot in advance so keep that in mind before visiting. We got a little caught up elsewhere and ended up having a crazy rush to get there in time, I think we were a little late but they fortunately weren’t too strict on enforcing an exact time. I’d still recommend getting there before your time slot though! Haha.

We checked out a few museums. The Topography of Terror and DDR museums ended up being the best of the ones we visited. The Topography of Terror my favourite of the two and as most of it is based outside, it’s free to enjoy! You also have to make sure to check out the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe – it’s a must see!

However in contrast the Checkpoint Charlie museum I personally found a bit of a mess and didn’t enjoy. The museum had no structure to it, parts of it were interesting but it wasn’t well laid out and some of the rooms had exhibitions with no real relevance to the museum. It was bizarre and I didn’t really feel like it justified the admission price.

One of the other enjoyable things we did in Berlin was visit the huge Flohmarkt (flea market) on the Sunday which was interesting to look around. I’m not much of a shopper but it was interesting to see the variety of things sold and people watch as tourists and locals both looked to enjoy themselves! It was also a good spot to pick up some cheap lunch.

Beyond the daytime antics, one of the things I loved most about Berlin was that it felt completely different in the evening. It’s a fascinating city by day and has plenty to offer for tourists but come the evening it felt like a much livelier place. It helped that we were there in the summer. The better weather made it easy to enjoy eating out and drink at one of the numerous beer gardens that occupy the city, there was a buzz about Berlin every evening we were there and it made it a fun place to go out and enjoy Berlin’s nightlife.

With great company, great beer and great weather I could have spent many more nights soaking up the atmosphere of Berlin. Köln (2013) had given me a little taste of German culture but I truly felt at home in Berlin. There’s something I love about big cities and I found that Berlin matched some of the best and ranks as one of my favourite European cities.

I feel like I only covered a fraction of what Berlin had to offer so it’s a city I definitely want to return to and I highly recommend you visit too! Whilst it’s unfortunate that racism, discrimination and inequality continue to exist within society please don’t let it put you off visiting Germany.

Berlin in particular is incredibly welcoming and a multi-cultural city home to foreigners from all over the world, you’d be missing out to overlook a country as diverse as Deutschland!

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Me at the Brandenburger Tor

Deutschland; Ich liebe dich! Bis bald!

Have you ever been to Berlin? What did you think? Where else in Germany should I add to my growing list in this wonderful country? Let me know in the comments!

All the best!

Jason

Barmouth!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Miserable weather but a pretty Barmouth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Time to go home! See you later Barmouth!

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

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

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

All the best!

Jason

3 wonderful nights in Lisbon

One of my blogging struggles of late has been trying to focus on what I actually want this blog to be. Whether you’re a full-time blogger or doing this just as a bit of fun, I think it’s easy to question yourself and let the doubts creep in. Are people still reading this? Are they enjoying it? Is the content good enough? What can I do better? What are other bloggers doing?

It took me giving advice to someone else recently to remember why I started this – I enjoy it! I want to read back about MY experiences and whether it’s 1 person or 1,000 that read along it shouldn’t matter.
So the questions switched from the above to am I still enjoying this? Does this blog truly reflect me? What can make it more personal?

There are several styles to approach blogging with and different things work for different bloggers. However the aim of the (blogging) game for me is going to be keeping a personal touch to this.

In spite of that I do still want to do the places I visit justice and offer people some inspiration to visit; with that in mind this has possibly been my toughest blogpost yet.

Spending three days in a city should be plenty of time to talk about everything the city has to offer and yet I’m struggling. I barely scratched the surface in Lisbon. To say I spent three days in Lisbon would be a lie, three nights would probably be more appropriate. I checked in to my hostel on Wednesday morning and was greeted to a “welcome to Lisbon” shot. In more ways than one that should have been a sign of things to come.

I say more ways than one because whilst it was certainly a sign of how much alcohol I would end up consuming on this trip, it was also a reflection of Lisbon’s hospitality. I had never been to Portugal before but I already felt right at home.

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Of all the places I’ve visited, I’m not sure there’s anywhere I’ve felt as welcomed as I did in Lisbon throughout my stay. I’ve yet to visit anywhere that can match Portugal’s hospitality and a lot of accommodation awards and reviews back that up!

Lisbon made me fall in love with Portugal very quickly and the people were a big reason for that. Three days (nights) in Lisbon gave me a wonderful impression of the country and it’s definitely somewhere I want to explore more of – Porto in particular is now high on the list of places to visit!

However back to Lisbon, it’s a beautiful city and like many capital cities has a lot to offer. I didn’t get to experience as much as I’d intended before going as the evening antics did result in some necessary recovery time the following day. Nevertheless here’s what I got up to in Lisbon and why my 2014 trip proved to be so memorable.

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First exploration of Lisbon. Blue skies were a good start!

Wednesday:
I’d convinced my friend Daniel that we should go out to Portugal to watch the football. A football-orientated European away trip had been a childhood dream of mine and by 2014 I was itching to do my first overseas trip watching Tottenham.
The schedule sent us to play Lisbon based Benfica and it was too good an opportunity to miss. Lisbon was a “must-do trip” .

Me and Daniel booked our flights and accommodation separately as I was a little less cautious in worrying about getting a ticket for the football – worst case scenario I’d find a pub in Lisbon to watch it if it proved to be problematic.
We both took morning flights from London but I arrived in to Lisbon an hour earlier which gave me a small opportunity to have a little wander before lunch.

I first found my hostel on the off-chance I could check in early – my room wasn’t ready but the guy on reception kindly gave me a shot (as mentioned above) and showed me around the hostel. I left my bag in some storage and got back to having a little wander of the city.

First impressions of Lisbon were good, admittedly the sunshine probably helped but the city had character in abundance. I quickly arrived at one of Lisbon’s most famous squares – the Praca do Comercio. It’s a huge area overlooking the Tagus river with a range of restaurants closeby. A great place for people-watching!

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Praca do Comercio

My next impressions weren’t so flattering – I was soon approached by a couple of guys enquiring if I’d like to purchase some drugs from them. This seemed a regular occurrence in Lisbon over the next couple of days in what appeared to be a bizarre combined sunglasses and drugs enterprise. “Sunglasses? Hash?” – seemingly unable to sell one without the other.
They were everywhere Wednesday and Thursday but had seemingly disappeared come Friday with grey skies. I politely declined which was a better response than they received from most of my fellow Brits on Thursday. Admittedly they didn’t have the strongest business model – attempting to sell cheap sunglasses to people wearing sunglasses wasn’t ever likely to be too successful!

I arranged to meet Daniel around lunchtime in Rossio Square – having never been to Lisbon I had no idea how big the square was or how easy it’d be to find each-other so I reverted to Google for a suitable meeting spot.. “Outside the big yellow M?”
A lack of Wi-Fi meant I knew I wouldn’t be able to contact Daniel in Lisbon so I figured meeting outside of something so easily recognisable would be the best option before moving on elsewhere.

It sounds like a good idea in theory but did this famous M jump out at me? No. “Where the fuck is this McDonalds?”
My first impression in Bonn (Germany) exiting its train station was the sight of that big yellow M which was a damning first impression but, on this occasion, when I was actively looking for it I was having no luck whatsoever. I reckon I walked past it at least once, plus figured maybe I’d confused it with a neighbouring square so circled that at least once too. Eventually I found Daniel who found it a little quicker than I had.

Even if we’d wanted to go inside I think I’d have boycotted it on this occasion in my frustration at finding it!
As it was we found a little bakery / pastry shop nearby and picked up some good local cuisine – pastries and fish are particularly popular in Lisbon.

After a quick lunch we went and grabbed a beer, soaked up the sunshine and did a little people-watching. It killed a bit of time before allowing us to head to our hostels and get checked in.

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Exploring Lisbon, meeting the locals.

We made the most of a little downtime and arranged to meet up again later in the evening, find some food and go and find a bar to watch the Wednesday night football. We found an Irish pub and apparently weren’t alone in our thinking as we came to find there were a number of other Spurs fans already here creating a bit of an atmosphere.

A few beers and an early start had taken its toll on me, I definitely dozed off at one point during the football which says it all for how exciting the game was. We got talking to a couple of other guys who’d traveled over from England but left soon after the football finished in aim of an early night. Tomorrow was going to be all about the football and soaking up the atmosphere in Rossio Square with thousands of Spurs fans expected to be in Lisbon for Thursday evening’s game. We didn’t want to start drinking too early so agreed to meet up around lunchtime – allowing us the morning to explore independently.

On the walk back to my hostel I’d been craving food and before heading up to sleep I thought that I’d pop my head in to the bar area to see if food was a possibility – success! I ordered some pizza and was told to “take a seat” and someone would bring it over. A party of four to my right invited me over to join them. I was feeling pretty drowsy and planned to get a good night’s sleep after eating but the opportunity to make some friends quickly perked me up.
Minutes later a party of three had sat down to my left and were engaging me in conversation and looking on in pizza-envy! There wasn’t enough pizza to go around, mind you I’m not sure I would have shared it anyway.

The party to my right had dispersed shortly after but I shared conversation and drinks with the other three for the remainder of the night. At 2 euros a beer I was even content buying the odd round because four beers for less than ten euros seemed a bargain.
It got to around 1am and we called it a night – “see you at breakfast” someone said rather optimistically. I don’t know if the other three made it but my attempt was much less successful!

Thursday:
I’m not going to go in to Thursday’s daytime antics too much as I plan to do a separate post on life in Lisbon from a football perspective. Plus there isn’t much to tell.

Daniel spent his morning exploring for miles and I’d spent mine in bed still feeling a little rough from the night before. We met around lunchtime for a few hours of drinking and singing in Rossio Square and then dispersed towards Benfica’s Estadio De Luz (Stadium of Light).

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Home of Benfica FC. The game finished 2-2. 

After the football we arrived back in to Rossio Square to find a scattering of Spurs fans still around and occupying the restaurants. We grabbed a late dinner and finished off the evening with a couple of drinks before calling it a night.
I’d already had a taster of night-time fun in my hostel so couldn’t resist the temptation of popping in to the bar for “a quick drink” in the hope maybe I’d cling to some more new friends or bump in to the ones from the night before.

The bar was a bit busier at this point as the hostel run their famous “Mamas Dinners” and I think this had just ended followed by an imminent pub crawl.
Two Spanish guys saw me sat by myself and invited me over. We got chatting and they asked if I’d like to join them to go and watch some local Fado music as there was a particular artist they wanted to see playing. It sounded perfect to me!

Off we went in to the streets of Lisbon to find this bar. In hindsight I should have messaged Daniel, told him to leave his hostel and join us. I got swept up in the excitement of heading out with new friends and the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. Sorry Daniel!

Soon enough we arrived at this cosy little bar with lots of locals dancing away. We grabbed a couple of beers and joined in, enjoying the atmosphere of the place. It didn’t go on too late (I think) but it was such a fun evening and a real highlight. We parted ways once back at the hostel but I was so thankful they’d invited me to tag along. It wasn’t something I would ever have done otherwise.

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Friday:
De ja vu! I’d had a fun night but it led to another morning not wanting to get out of bed. I hadn’t seen much of Lisbon on Wednesday and seen even less on Thursday – with another morning passing me by I had to make the most of my Friday afternoon.
If I saw nothing else on this trip I had to go and see the Sao Jorge castle.

I can’t recommend anything else in Lisbon so fortunately I can at the very list recommend visiting here. The grounds are great to look around and the views are stunning and make the entry fee worthwhile. For better photographers than myself it is a dream location and we even had a peacock for company wandering the castle grounds! Crazy!

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After getting plenty of photos we made our way back in to town for an early dinner. The city felt much emptier than previous days with the majority of Brits already homeward bound by this point.

Following dinner we returned to our hostels to freshen up and enjoy one last night in Lisbon. I’d missed out on the hostel pub crawl on the previous two nights so there was part of me tempted to do it this evening. However given I had a Saturday morning flight I took the more sensible approach and avoided it.
After a little time to relax I waited outside my hostel for Daniel to come and meet me – the weather had taken a turn for the worse and it was apparent rain was imminent.

I rushed back upstairs to pick up my coat and found two young women had checked in to my shared room. They were also Brits but studying in Spain and just wanted a little weekend break in Lisbon.
I was conscious I was now late meeting Daniel so I said my goodbyes and left them to relax. Again in hindsight I should have invited them to join us for a few drinks in Lisbon. Another missed opportunity that, looking back on, I wished I’d done differently. Oops!

I met Daniel downstairs and suggested we grab a beer at the hostel bar and hope the rain would pass. With no signs of improvement we braved the rain and went off in search of a bar in one of Lisbon’s famous neighbourhoods (Bairro Alto) known for having a great nightlife.
Being a Friday evening we were hopeful of finding some fun bars to enjoy ourselves but instead were greeted with a zombie-like city.

I don’t know if we’d gone out too early to enjoy the Portuguese nightlife or whether they’re all fair-weather drinkers afraid of a little rain but we passed several bars which were empty. Eventually we gave in and just found a cosy-looking bar to get out of the rain. After a couple of drinks we moved on hoping for more success and found this tiny bar showing some Portuguese football. The only other people here were a group of Portuguese women who seemed more interested in having a dance than the football. Realising they weren’t going to have much luck here they left and soon after we did the same in search of a livelier bar.

Finally we found a bar with some music playing and looked to have more than a handful of people inside – the first bar that didn’t seem completely dead. Along with a number of other people we’d somehow found the group of women from the bar before who seemed equally amused that we’d crossed paths again.
We enjoyed the music but were soon on our way again but resigned to the fact we weren’t having much luck finding somewhere in Lisbon. On the way back to our hostels we did pass one bar which actually seemed busy and we could certainly squeeze another beer in so figured we’d go in.

It seemed like an after-work hangout for the business folk of the city – a little posher than anywhere else we’d been. I ordered a beer which the barman handed to me. A bottle of beer accompanying a glass, as I reached for just the bottle I was met with a look of disgust from the barman – “Use the glass you peasant”.

Whilst I didn’t argue I did wonder why he’d given me a bottle if I wasn’t supposed to use it. If you’re going to force me in to using a glass then pour the damn beer in to the glass for me – i.e do your bloody job as a barman.
Needless to say it isn’t a bar I’d feel a rush to return to and we only stayed for the one beer.

We’d had a few beers but weren’t too drunk, however it felt like a good time to call it a night and so headed back to our hostels. I’d like to say that’s where the night ended for me but you can probably see where this is going.
I’d purposefully avoided the pub crawl in order to not get too drunk but another quick one before bed at the hostel bar wouldn’t hurt, right?

I’d not even got as far as ordering a beer and I could hear my name. The Spanish guys from the night before were waving me over to come and join them to which I was happy to oblige.
They were sat with some new friends around this large round table and I found some space to join them. The guys had a guitar with them tonight and were playing some Spanish tunes and having a bit of a sing-along. I had no idea what they were singing but most of the tunes were easy to follow and clap along to. The songs kept coming, the beers kept flowing and I was in the best of company – pure bliss!

I forgot to add one of the Spanish guys only spoke broken English (still better than my Spanish), the night before his friend had played a happy interpreter to leave nobody feeling left out. With the night winding down my Spanish friend tried, in his best English, to ask what songs I liked that he could play. I was trying to think of artists or bands that he might be familiar with and posed the question – “Oasis?”

Next thing I know he’s blasting out Wonderwall on the guitar and we’re both singing along in one of those rare instances where you realise how incredible music can be in bringing people together. He couldn’t speak good English, I could speak virtually no Spanish and yet here we were sharing this incredible moment belting out a classic with some beers.

It would have been the perfect time to call it a night but some French guy bought a round of vodka shots. I hate being in debt with people, even strangers, so of course I had to return the favour .
By this point it was clear I needed to get to bed but the damage was probably already done. I’d avoided the pub crawl and probably ended up equally drunk anyway. We said our goodnights and they wished me luck for the morning in my attempt to get home. I was going to need it!

Saturday:
A morning flight? Why!? This is another wonderful case of hindsight and prioritising relationships over convenience. Trying to make long distance work with some girl based in Birmingham was tricky whilst holding a Monday-Friday job. Weekends were the easiest chance for us to catch up so I figured I’d fly home Saturday morning so we could still spend Saturday evening and Sunday together.

2-3 weeks later we’d broken up and I now wish I’d flown home Saturday evening instead or, better yet, Sunday evening and had an extra day in Lisbon.
I woke up feeling SO rough on the Saturday. I also wasn’t helped by waking up late which meant I had a mad rush to get checked out and to the airport in time for my flight. I flagged down a taxi and crossed my fingers that I’d be on that flight home back to England.

Fortunately I was. I felt awful and flying didn’t help that. It’s one of the worst hangovers I’ve had but fortunately I ended up sleeping most of the way which was probably for the best.

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My photos don’t do this city justice but it’s so perfect! 

Reflecting back on Lisbon could easily be seen as a waste to some people. I would love to have more photos or to have seen more of the city and it’s definitely somewhere I want to return to but there’s not a chance I’d swap those memories for a hangover free morning on any of the days I spent in Lisbon.

Whilst it wasn’t the three days I’d anticipated, the three nights are some of the best I’ve had traveling and the people I met only enforced why I love exploring this beautiful planet.

Thank you for being such wonderful hosts Portugal! I love you!

Jason

A day in Bruges

My last few posts have been a little more generic travel posts rather than destination specific, so I thought I’d get back to talking about solely one destination and maybe offer a little inspiration if you’re looking for somewhere to visit in 2018.
In this instance – Bruges!

If you haven’t heard of Bruges already (where have you been?), it’s a magical little town in Belgium. It has quickly become a popular European tourist destination and one of the Instagram favourites.
With its cobbled streets, colourful buildings and pretty canals it’s not hard to see why.

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Bruges, Belgium

Unlike most European destinations which peak in the summer, you’ll actually find peak tourist season in Bruges is around December and a big reason for that is because of Bruges’ famous Christmas markets. Whilst December is a particularly popular time to go to Bruges, if you visit any other time of year you’re not going to be left disappointed.

Anyway, on to my experience! Looking back at December 2013 takes us to a short day trip to Bruges. Myself, Walker and Kelly thought it would be a good idea to get out of Brussels for a day and take the short train ride across to Bruges and see what all the fuss was about.
We had a little look at train prices before leaving so it ended up being a pleasant surprise to arrive at the station and discover they were offering a seasonal train ticket – a 5 euro return to Bruges! What a bargain!

Call me cynical but I couldn’t imagine it ever happening in England. With the knowledge more people were traveling to Bruges at the weekend for the Christmas markets it would provide the perfect opportunity to push prices UP, instead Belgium were pushing prices down. What is this madness? On the plus side you do get a much better train service in England than the rest of Europe, right?.. Oh wait, is that another delay?

Arriving in to Bruges in good time we exited the train station and made our way in to the centre. I find Belgium as a whole isn’t particularly great for signposted directions so if you’re a first time visitor (like we were) it might not be particularly clear which way to go.
We adopted the tried and tested method of “follow everyone else” and soon enough we were where we wanted to be. For the most-part it’s a straight walk from the station so you won’t get too lost before finding your way.

Our first stop of the day was this cute little church. It wasn’t particularly big but we thought we’d poke our heads in and have a look around. Unfortunately we’d timed our visit pretty poorly as it was a Sunday and they were mid-service. It was pretty inside but wanting to be respectful we left pretty sharp-ish and made our way back out on to the cobbled streets to explore further.

In the heart of Bruges you’ll find the market square which is where we ended up next. Overlooking the square is the huge belltower which, I hear, offers fantastic views overlooking the town. The downside to visiting on a Sunday in December is that queues were long. If you want to climb it I’d recommend visiting early in the morning to beat the queues! With barely a day in Bruges it didn’t seem a good use of our time so we decided not to bother climbing it on this occasion. However it’s definitely something I’ll look to do when I go back!

Opposite the belltower was a decent sized ice-rink and a selection of Christmas markets. Given the hype I found the latter quite underwhelming; perhaps it’s just me but I had expected more. I’ve only seen a few Christmas markets but Brussels, Paris, Bremen and Edinburgh’s have all been better. The only exception is the pitiful effort in Peterborough but I wasn’t expecting any here so I suppose even that surpassed my expectations at the back end of 2017.
Maybe it was a bad day or we’d overlooked there being more market stalls elsewhere but it was a bit of a surprise. Nevertheless the smell of food tempted us to pick up some lunch.

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Christmas market in Bremen, Germany

Moving on in to the afternoon we ended up taking one of the canal tours that run throughout Bruges. It’s one of the best ways to see the town and our ‘captain’ pointed out a few pieces of interest along the way. It was my highlight of our short time in Bruges and I’d certainly recommend trying to do one of these if you plan on visiting Bruges.

After our tour we wandered through the streets and squares of the city to ensure we’d seen as much of Bruges as we’d wanted to before leaving. The squares were particularly busy but some of the backstreets we had mostly to ourselves to admire the architecture and houses found in Bruges.
It’s a really walkable town and you can see quite a lot of it in half a day. We were content we had seen all that we wanted to do in Bruges so picked up some souvenirs and then seeked out a nearby pub to try some of the local delicacy.

Belgium is famous for its beer and it proved to be a good spot to pick up some dinner too. An additional motive of the pub visit was that it allowed me a chance to keep up to date with the football back home. It seemed a good idea beforehand but a couple of hours later I was feeling much more deflated.
Fortunately I had good company with me and some (much needed) Belgian beer to drown my sorrows. A beer or two later we called it a night and made our walk back to the station to catch our train to Brussels.

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Enjoying all the beers in Bruges!

Bruges had looked pretty by day but perhaps moreso by night, particularly in December with the Christmas decorations adding a little magic to enjoy before leaving this wonderful little town. .

It ended up being a great day and is certainly somewhere that should be on your list to visit. Personally I’d recommend a weekend, you can see a lot in a day but I think I’d go back just to catch some of the things I missed the first time around – in particular catching some photos as unfortunately battery life was not kind to me on this daytrip leaving me with minimal photos to share with you. Credit to Kelly for the colourful picture of Bruges!

Despite the lack of photos it’s not a place I’ll be forgetting any time soon. If you haven’t been already I hope you’ll see it for yourself in the near future!

All the best!

Jason