I’m nearly at the end of my October vacation… I’m sat in my hotel in Bristol following another whirlwind tour which developed from a restful European vacation into another work journey!!
This was my first full week’s vacation of the year. That’s right, I actually still have a majority of my vacation to take this year, even after this jaunt to the UK, Germany & the Czech Republic. I’ve actually been very frugal with my time off this year, despite this being my sixth trip back to Europe. And as the final of the 10 competitive games in Northern Ireland’s World Cup Qualification Group, it also represented the end of a journey for the Team, and of course us the Supporters. It continues my record of every competitive game in Europe in five years, and probably every competitive game at home in about 13 years. I reckon I’ve missed four friendlies at home, and two away in the same time window. According to my records (i.e. since I started collecting my own records, keeping my ticket stubs & match programmes in 1996), this was my 73rd Northern Ireland match. Lord willing, I’ll see 100 in the next five years or so.
Anyways, so the vacation started over a week ago, now, with a flight from Mumbai back to London and catching up with Neil Montgomery (and wife Su-Fang) at his house warming party in Camberwell (although he denies it’s Peckham, I’ve got my doubts). The party even had Mr & Mrs Barry Falls in attendance, so another old school friend. It was great to catch up with Barry, and I believe we’re still the only two Barry’s to pass through Fivemiletown High School (or College as they call it today)… and we were both in the same class.
The Sunday didn’t really have a purpose, other than to get to Stansted for my flight to Munich on the Monday morning. Which, when I landed was a little rainy, and little blustery, and a whole lot colder than London (and by extension, Mumbai)!! Munich as a lot of history to it, particularly in relation to the Nazi’s and Hitler, but it was nice to be able to walk about the city & not have that thrust in your face at every corner. Indeed, on my return to Munich from Prague, I was at a table with an American girl who seemed intent on telling the whole carriage that she was really looking forward to visiting the local concentration camp. I wasn’t sure whether to be embarrassed or not… at the very least, keep your voice down ‘love’!!
Anyways, I found Munich to be a good walking city, with an old town, a river and lots of parks. It’s ‘English Garten’ is apparently twice the size of New York’s Central Park. In Autumn, it certainly was as pretty as any public park I’d been in in ages. The buildings, and monuments were also pretty cool, with lots of Gothic and Baroque styles on view. Also, the Beerkellers were something amazing… huge caverns on the ground floor of buildings that looked very old (but apparently like most of the city were rebuilt in the ‘50’s following the war. Seriously, two I was in could well have held over 2,000 people. Inside, the people were boisterous, and the food was good & simple… I ordered a local dish, of Pork and Potato dumplings, which is exactly what I go… well, with some Gravy & Crackling. Superb.
As Tuesday came along, it was time to get the 6 hour train journey, direct to Prague. It went by pretty well, as I dozed lots, and I’m currently reading a book called ‘Young Stalin’ by Simon Sebag Montefiore. It’s a pretty easy read & full of interesting stuff about the Young Man who became perhaps the biggest murderer of the 20th Century.
On arrival in the city, I made a bee line for the hotel, got checked in & headed for a dander around the streets… Prague is beautiful, with great Baroque architecture. It’s easy to see why so many people go in both Summer, with good weather & in Winter with the streets bedecked in snow. Of course as a tourist ‘Mecca’ it also has huge issues with pickpockets and scamming taxi drivers, but on the whole, I had no issues myself.
Having had a wee dander, I found the London NISC boys, and we found a local cafe / bar near our hotel, where the Goulash was plentiful and cheap!! I must have had four bowls of Goulash in the five days I was in Central Europe & I have to say the Czech version beat the German version by a considerable distance!! I can vaguely remember the Hungarian version being quite good, but it’s all a little fuzzy to say for sure which is best.
On the Wednesday, I met up with Dad & Mark to do some sight seeing. Da & I headed up to the Castle for the views & an exhibition of photographs by a Czech soldier in the First World War. And so it was off to the game… a 30 minute tram journey from the city centre. The game was played in a lovely little stadium, with a capacity of about 22,000, however on Wednesday night, there was probably no more than 8,000 there (with 2,000 paddies in the NI corner + a few blow ins). The atmosphere was actually pretty good amongst the away support, and with a decent performance & a good draw under our belts, I think it’s safe to say pretty much all the NI support went home happy.
Thursday of course was the back to Munich day, so I got the 1300 train, and four hours in met an American girl called Kathy, who seemed to be keen to visit the Concentration camp outside Munich (see above). She was pretty chatty actually, and it’s always nice to talk to people on the trains. Of course, it’s always nice to get away from them at the other end too… and it was a bit of a relief when I got to Munich & met up with Andrew.
Andrew, or Kiwi to his mates in Munich, is a guy I met whilst in Australia in 2006/7 to watch the Ashes. We actually met in Adelaide, and have met at cricket since in London once or twice. He’s been living in Munich for nearly 15 years, working in the European Patent Office. It’s always handy to keep in touch with people you meet as you wander around the earth, you never know when you might need a bed to crash in!!
So on the Thursday & Friday nights, Andrew showed me around his city & met up with some of his other friends, including an American guy called Tim. During the day, I did some more touristy stuff… I went to the Allianz Arena, where unfortunately, the English Spoken Tour was ‘sold out’ – now, how you sell out a tour where people walk about & listen to someone tell you about a stadium, I’ve seriously no idea… the Indian in me thought about bribing the tour guide, but then I thought that mightn’t go down well in that most of efficient of places like Germany. In order to right this injustice, I ended up scrambling under a fence and having my own wee tour… that’ll teach them nasty Germans… ha. I then went to the Olympic Stadium and did the tour of it legally… much nicer folks at the Olympic Stadium… and had a good look around.
And so it was back to the UK on Saturday.
Unfortunately, on the Thursday morning, the Emergency Contact number I’d left in work was used… I got a call from Sonya in Mumbai. Now, when you give work an Emergency Contact number, you only expect it to be used in Emergencies… so when you see the number on the Caller ID on your phone, you really do expect the worst… an accident, or something.
Not this time though… apparently something needed fixing in work, or more precisely in Bristol on Monday… would you mind ending your holiday there & doing a work shop?? “Of course I’d love to spend another two days in the UK, mucking up my work calendar, and spending loads of cash on a last minute detour to my holiday” I said… at least it means I get to fly back business, even if it is British Airways!!
So on Saturday, I checked in to my hotel in West London, and went to meet up with Martha Irwin & Pamela Kenwell (Tyrone’s finest) before heading over to West London to meet up with Dan Broude (former house mate in Chelmsford) and pals. It’s always good to catch up with the London gang & see what they’re up to. Kate & her brother are coming out to India later this week actually & staying at mine for a few days, so it’ll be nice to have some company again in the flat.
Of course, as I wasn’t prepared to go to work at the end of my vacation, today was the first & only day that I can remember, where I actually went into work wearing my Northern Ireland shirt!! I guess silver linings & all that… So, anyways, I’ve helped resolve the issue, tomorrow is a travel day back to India and I’m really ready to get back to the heat & what I’m starting to regards as home from home.
So there you go. That’s been the past week or so. It doesn’t seem to get any slower this life carry on…