Well, another tour of
the world is underway, and I’m currently in a youth hostel in Oporto,
in Portugal having a wee break before heading out for some local food
for dinner. It´s been another busy week of planes, trains and
automobiles, a bit of culture, plenty of good food and of course, the
reason de etra, some high quality *cough cough* football thrown in for
So last week I caught the plane from Bombay to London Heathrow, before
clearing out my email… and I really mean clearing out my email.
Before I left work on the Friday afternoon I had 3 emails in my inbox,
and as they were all fresh, they got left… they’ll wait a week. I
managed to catch up with Alex, this brothers Ralph & Jamie and also
Neil for some lunch and caught my second flight to Belfast. The weather
in London, and indeed the UK the previous week had been sketchy to say
the least. Lots of snow, and several flights had been cancelled… I
was nervous to be honest about my flight, however, with just an hour
delay, I got in the air, bound for the home place.
When I landed in Belfast, a mate called John, picked me up from the
George Best Airport, and as he works as a PR officer for one of the
local political parties, we headed to Stormont, the parliament
buildings in Belfast. There, the local minister for sport was holding a
reception for the Gaelic Football All Ireland winners Tyrone. Now, I
didn’t grow up in a GAA friendly environment, and invariably everything
in NI is politicised. At the event, we got talking to a few interesting
souls. Firstly, there was probably Northern Ireland’s lead
photographer, and secondly the Northern Ireland reporter from RTE (the
national broadcaster in the Republic of Ireland). I also took the
opportunity to get my photograph taken with the Sam Maguire trophy (the
trophy which the Tyrone team won for winning the All Ireland Title).
Sam Maguire, was a member of the IRA back in the early days of
organised armed struggle in Ireland against British rule… but
interestingly, and unusually, he was a Protestant… who said Irish
history was simple?!
Following on from my jaunt to parliament, I headed to my brother’s
place in preparation for getting measured up for a suit for his wedding
in May 2009. Perhaps the highlight of the trip to Dungannon was the
snow… as a few snowballs later, we were in the car again. I got
myself down to the homeplace to spend the evening with the family and
to get some good cooking. The evening was spent trying to get good
stories about my brother (and his fiancee) for my speech at said
wedding in May.
And on the Sunday, my jaunt around Europe began with a flight from Dublin to Eindhoven…
In 2002 I joined Procter & Gamble, and worked in Newcastle Upon
Tyne. Previous to that, the only travel I had completed, was a family
holiday to Spain, and a jaunt to the USA. In 2002, however, armed with
a salary and a love for football I started watching international
football abroad. Since then, I’ve been in plenty of European Countries,
and this trip, actually would bring me across the tipping point of half
way in being in every European Country for at least one night. It was
when I realised that fact that I decided that I would complete the set,
within a decade of starting… so I’ve got until October 2012 to finish
… I wasn’t staying in Eindhoven, as for some bizarre reason, there
are no hostels in Eindhoven. So, I probably did what 99% of all
tourists do, and headed to Amsterdam. I’d never been, and it has a
fierce reputation as a stag weekend location, given it´s liberal stand
on prostitution and drugs. To be honest, I was very taken by the
architecture, and indeed the scenery of the city… the canals are
beautiful… however, the in your face prostitution and drugs gives the
city a seedy side, and actually predominates other, more pleasant
aspects of the city. I did the Anne Frank House tour, which was
interesting. It links in well with the tour of Auschwitz, which I did a
few years ago. I thought that a book shop, selling almost exclusively
Anne Frank diaries was a tad untasteful as you had to pass through it
to get to the exit.
I then took a tour on the canals, and found the Heineken Brewery, and
did the tour. I’ve no particular interest in the product, however, the
tour was very interesting from a cultural perspective as the impact of
the company on the Netherlands, and indeed Amsterdam is marked. I also
bumped into a Chinese girl and a Korean guy, who I hung about with for
the evening. We then went to a cafe / bar called "extra cold", which
has a freezer, where all the furniture is made from Ice, and you have
to get a thermal coat & gloves to go in… and you can only stay in
for up to 30 minutes.
My accommodation in Amsterdam was a hostel above an Irish Pub… one of
many Irish Pubs in the city… anyways, the accommodation was fine from
a sleep point of view, but with no common area, it was no good for
meeting people. As was my accommodation in Pisa… which I arrived in
on Tuesday afternoon. It was a pension, with beds, but again, no common
area. It was however, close to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which is one
of Europe’s, if not the world’s quaint artifacts. It really does lean
quite a bit, and it would have been spectacular structure if it had
been straight, but with the tilt, it’s acquired a new level of appeal.
Climbing up it however, as I discovered to my considerable cost, was
not value for money. €15 to climb slippery, smooth marbled stairs, with
not even a hand rail… I felt happy that I’d decided to climb the
tower in my 20’s, and felt considerably sorry for the couple in front
of me in their 60’s!! The view from the top, is not bad to be fair, you
can see all of Pisa (a fairly flat city) and the mountains in the
distance which encompass the plain, but frankly, no where near the cost.
The other sites in the locale of the worlds most famous, crooked, bell
tower, are a Cathedral, with what looked like a gold ceiling, and
frescoes all over the place; a Baptistery, which was quite plain, but
interestingly also slightly out of kilter (and amazing acoustics as the
lady looking after the desk sings in each hour); and a graveyard which
has been surrounded by perhaps the most expensive graveyard wall ever.
All in all, these weren’t too bad for the money. Pisa itself, was
quaint, with narrow streets, cafe’s and stylish shops. All in all
though, it was a little dull.
On the Wednesday, I caught three trains to Rimini, where I met up with
the guys from London who I watch football with. And for only the second
time in my footballing tour diary, I slept in a hotel, but for a
Holiday Inn, it was superb!! We caught buses to San Marino to watch the
World Cup 2010 qualifying match between San Marino & Northern
Ireland. San Marino is a small principality in the mountains in middle
Italy… has an army of a thousand men, and a population of somewhere
in the region of 40,000.
Northern Ireland won 3-0, which is something you don’t see everyday!!
So from a football perspective, I was very happy… but there really
was no reason to go to San Marino as I didn’t even get the chance to
get my passport stamped (apparently you can do that). And so back to
Rimini, and the following day, back to Pisa… so more trains.
And this morning, I flew to Oporto… second city of Portugal, famous
for football and Port Wine. I’ve finally found a hostel with a common
room, only to discover there’s no one in it!! Murphy’s law I guess…
Next week, I’m in the UK again, working. I guess I’ll update when I’m back in India in just over a week.
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