When you travel for work as much as I do, you get used to a specific type of hotel room. It’s not the Ned, the Grosvenor or even the Fairmont. It’s a Travelodge, Premier / Holiday Inn or Best Western if you get lucky with the booking (although I have stayed in some properly dodge Best Western’s in my time, the one in Tiverton particularly stands out for all the wrong reasons – and the time I suffered through three days there is another, very specific, story). So it’s rare that I come across the odd one that I walk through the door and immediately call Mrs P. to say that I’ve found a cracker. But that’s what happened when I got to the Rocksalt Rooms and it always means we’ve got something special .
What is it about a white Christmas? We seem obsessed about it in this country, ferociously reminiscing about ‘that year when I was a child, when Freddos only cost 10p and there was so much snow that the schools were closed for weeks’. It seems strange that our continental cousins don’t seem to suffer from such an affliction and we as a nation, seem almost too happy to chide them on their lack of gratitude for the daily snowball fights. Well more fool us because as the TwoMenAboutTown EU tour was conceived and implemented not long after I had agreed to spend Christmas away from home and with snow having been in very short supply this year after trips to the thermometer exploding heights of Croatia, it came as a very welcome contrast to the P. family.
Some people don’t like going to Italy. But then some people don’t like washing their hands after going to the toilet and we don’t trust them either do we? What’s wrong with Italy? Yes it’s full of Italian rantiness, yes it is difficult to get something done quickly and yes they do make you pay twice for train tickets (compulsory seat reservations that are not included in the ticket price? That makes no sense guys, just FYI). But it is also full of great wine, Roman architecture, art and fashion that’s so fashionable that if you understand it then you can’t afford it.
But I love Italy. A lot. I love the food, the culture, the language, the wome… the food and pretty much everything else. So making a list of all the places we needed an excuse to see and all the things we wanted to do on the next leg of our #TwoMenEUTour wasn’t hard but fitting them all in to the few days we had was the tricky bit. But as you will see, we did our best! Unlike our previous trips to Brussels or Ireland, we took a bit more time in Italy traveling down on the overnight train from Vienna in Austria to Florence, then on to Pisa, down to Rome, over to Pompeii and then back to Rome to fly home.
So far on Trip 4 of the #2MenEUTour, it’s been a rampage across central Europe as we’ve taken in Amsterdam, Brussels, Luxembourg and Stuttgart in a non-stop juggernaut of continental culture dunking. But we knew we couldn’t keep that up, we needed somewhere to slow things down for a few days and what better destination to do that than Austria? Stunning countryside meets fascinating history in this wonderful land of all things Von Trapp. Home to old skool Music moguls Mozart and Beethoven, the famous Spanish Riding School and of course some of the friendliest locals you could ever hope to meet, all made Austria one of our favourite destinations of the tour so far.
I’m a lucky man. I’ve said it many times in the past and it’s still true now. I have a beautiful daughter, who continues to surprise, infuriate and amaze me on a daily basis and usually in that order. An astonishingly brilliant wife within whose many and varied successes I am proud to live vicariously and some hilariously direct friends who have no shame in reminding me just how lucky I am. But it’s not all self congratulation, candyfloss monkeys and Unicorn smiles you know. Sometimes I get it wrong, really wrong. Sometimes the world gets to slap me right in the face and usually, I deserve it.
Take our latest trip for our 2MenEUTour for example. I go to Germany for work quite regularly so I knew what it was all about. It was without another thought that I made an executive decision that after Luxembourg, the Family P would go to Stuttgart, get off the Interrail, spend the night in an adequate hotel before going on to somewhere more interesting. Germany’s Germany right? None of it is that impressive…
‘Guess what kids? We’re going on holiday to Luxembourg!’ Said no-one, ever.
When planning this trip, we had several conversations with people about where we were going and they usually went along the lines of: ‘the architecture in Brussels is beautiful’ or ‘You’ll love Croatia, the sea there is incredible’, perhaps even ‘can you bring me something back for me when you go to Amsterdam?’ But when it came to Luxembourg, most people were saying things like; ‘Where?’ ‘Is that even in the EU?’ or ‘I’ve been there, but only driving through on the way to Germany. I didn’t stop, obviously.’
So what happens if you actually take some time to get to know Luxembourg? Well I’m glad you asked because I'm going to tell you all about the time that the Family P spent some time in perhaps one of the most surprising EU countries of all.
Belgium is obviously an important stop on our EU Tour because as we all know there are actually only three things to do there; eat waffles, eat chocolate and drink beer. Well, maybe it’s a bit important for the EU as well. As we got off the train from Amsterdam, Mrs P. let me know in no uncertain terms that she had the first two things on the list covered without my assistance and so that evening I was at liberty to go and explore the third = Best. Wife. Ever.
The Ned, London’s new £200m hotel, opened its doors earlier this year within the former grade 1-listed 11-storey Midland Bank headquarters, designed in 1924 by Sir Edwin ‘Ned’ Lutyens, located adjacent to the Bank of England. I’ve been walking past The Ned on my commute for the past few months and have wanted to pop in, but a recent opportunity to stay was something I leapt at the chance to experience having heard many marvellous things about the place.
“Daddy? Why hasn’t the woman standing in that window got any clothes on?”
In accordance to the universal inevitability of Sods Law, of all the things for which Amsterdam is famous, we hit the one I didn’t want to see within 15 minutes of arrival. The Child is often found ignoring her homework, pouring talcum powder down the sink or banging all the drawers and cupboards at 6am with complete and utter disregard to the rest of the household, so why does she choose now of all times to develop an insatiable appetite for those questions a Dad doesn’t want to answer? I attempted evasive manoeuvres into a nearby cafe but were caught in a cross fire:
“Daddy? This place smells funny and those people all have brownies, can I have one please?”
No. No you can’t and actually I’m not really that thirsty anymore. Who wants to go on a boat trip? It was with these childhood innocence ending verbal grenades that The Child kicked off trip 4 of our Big Brexit Tour.
When I was first looking at the 28 countries of the EU, I knew there were some that I would enjoy visiting and some which, quite frankly, I wanted to limit my time in. I’ve always loved Scotland, Ireland is as beautiful and friendly as you could wish for and who doesn’t want to spend some extra time in Italy given half the chance? In all of these discussions though, I am afraid to say that Slovenia didn’t even feature. Even as we drove up the length of Croatia we were in two minds as to whether or not we should even cross the border. Is it worth it? Could we really be bothered? Well, we’ll go because we have to but we probably won’t like it. Yeah, probably.
Shame. Shame on us.
The more observant of you may have noticed that I’ve been a bit quiet on here recently. This is because on top of some additional work pressures, its actually bloody hard planning to get round 28 countries in 2 years! It’s taken some serious scheduling and after Trip 1 (Scotland) and Trip 2 (Ireland) Trip 3 sees the Family P getting ourselves over to Croatia and Slovenia. The truth is that neither of these were places originally anywhere near the top of our ‘ooh, that looks interesting’ list. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we actively tried to reduce our time here but found ourselves committed to a week due to school holidays and the ever increasing cost of leaving things too late.
You know that time when Donald Trump said that he was going to build a real, actual non-imaginary wall across the entire US Southern border, and get Mexico to pay for it, and this was an amazing idea, and everyone would say that he is the best and kindest and most humble President/Humanitarian Saviour the world has ever seen*? Yeah, we were as wrong as that.
After swinging past Scotland in our last post, for the next stop in the TwoMenAboutTown EU tour Mrs P and I roared into Dublin for the weekend and although it wasn’t as long as we had originally planned for, we still managed a good 36 hours in the beating heart of Irish city culture. Just because there was so much that we didn’t manage to get to in Ireland, once the credit card has recovered from the beating that is currently underway, Mrs P and I both agree that our collective sights are now set on returning and seeing the rest of the country at a more leisurely pace.