It is one of those songs, which I cannot read the words without singing the tune. I still have the record (LP) ‘Come along and sing along’ with Charles Berman and company
which I’ve listened uncountable times as a kid growing up in Yellowwood Park, Durban. In my head this Em’rald Isle they mentioned was some exotic sunny island with coconut palms, white sandy beaches and hours of leisure in the sun. I simply had to one day visit it! It was with a big ‘Ahh, they talk about Ireland’ that I later learned what the Em’rald Island actually was, but it never tempered my curiosity to one-day travel over this island.
Nowadays the musical reference to Ireland is probably more Ed’s Galway Girl, and that too is a great song, rather than Kelly.
If I still had a slight expectation of sunny beaches and leisurely hours enjoying those sunny beaches in my head in anticipation of our 10 day Ireland trip, I was rudely jerked into reality when we received the message from Ryan Air about 36 hours before our flight informing us our flight was cancelled! Not delayed, sommer completely cancelled, gone, finish ‘en klaar’. Europe was caught in a week of serious snow and bad weather and Dublin airport was closed for a few days. After frantically phoning around and surfing around (the web kind, not the anticipated sunny waves kind of surfing), Cara was able to get us a 22:00 flight, for the Sunday evening! We were supposed to fly Thursday but had to wait until Sunday night. Before you think of my Ugly Story post and that infamous Lufthansa flight LH572, this was different and we accepted it as such, while keeping our eyes peeled to weather forecasts and news bulletins of the European weather scene. Oh, by the way, after 22 months, Lufthansa refunded us a few euros per ticket, of which the lawyers took nearly half.
We landed in Dublin at 23:30 Sunday night, picked up our rental car, grabbed a serious coffee or two or six, and headed into the snowy, misty darkness of the M4 and the 215km I had to drive to get to our Galway accommodation.
It was a good call to drive through to Galway that night, because we woke the next morning at our destination, with a view across the bay, and a little grocery store stocking real bacon, eggs and cheddar among a few other necessities just around the corner. English breakfasts instead of continental in itself is sufficient reason for visiting Ireland.
The call by punk rockers The Clash in 1979 was now very relevant. A war was declared, with the Springboks and the Roses (doesn’t sound too intimidating a war to me) agreeing to fight it out on the battlegrounds of the former cabbage patch, Twickenham, plus I was based in a faraway town across The Channel. I was in ideal circumstances to slip over the Channel for a quick London sightseeing invasion. Furthermore, my Marmite stocks were completely depleted and I had to heed to the call to refill this life essential provider of happiness. ‘It’s marvellous what Marmite can do for you’. I was thrilled to see that even the London Christmas lighting honoured this delicacy which was always so part of my life.
It felt a little bit like ‘home’ driving the rental car out of Gatwick as here too, as in South Africa, they drive on the right side of the road; the left side. I must admit, or boast, that the switching of driving sides is no problem anymore and even driving the manual Astra felt very familiar and comfortable. As a matter of fact, the whole familiar feel of England ito language, food, sport and everything else all contributed to make this very short weekend a delight. I grew up in Durban and thus the ‘English’ feel was rather nostalgic. Never nostalgic enough to support the English in sport, though!
In my 8th blog post ‘Rome’ I mentioned our friends from England who committed us to that delightful weekend in Rome. It was them at it again who organised the test tickets for Twickenham and though Jenny could not make it, it was a real pleasure to have a few beers with Dave, meet Rob and enjoy some test rugby on probably the headquarters of world rugby even though the rugby itself was a dull affair.
I suppose the mere fact that the Bokke ended their end of year tour unbeaten makes it a success in the books, but I’m still seriously worried at the way they do their business. Fortunately, the English were so far behind in terms of self believe, creativity and structure that the Bokke could scrape through. I just wish these guys will realise kicking is for karate, while running is for rugby. I suppose I should have posted this criticism before this past weekend, when the ‘poor’ Roses beat the ‘mighty’ All Blacks as I suppose the Roses made me eat my words of earlier in this paragraph. Luckily for me I’ve already written them.
I believe whatever statics quoted on the number of Saffas in London is wrong by 53.27%; there are many more. On the Underground after the game it was coincidentally funny when Oom Jan from Hartswater, Northern Cape chatted up two young guys from, wait for it, Hartswater, Northern Cape and who have been staying in London for the better part of 8 years. Oom Jan was on a weeklong rugby-supporting trip all the way from this little town so many miles (oops sorry, kilometres) away and here in London on the same coach he bumps into two guys from his hometown, and who knows him. They did find it hard to swallow though when Oom Jan showed them his son, a little further down the coach, as it seems this poor guy had much more hair and less kilograms when they last saw him! Tip to all South Africans out there, always watch what you say, there’s always someone nearby who can understand you, maybe even knows you.
On all my previous visits to London I’ve always declined visits to Madame Taussauds, as it seemed to be such a lame artificial place. But it turned out to be one of those experiences where, once you drop your bias, it becomes an exciting outing to pose for photos with the likes of Morgan Freeman, Lionel Messi, Nelson Mandela or Spiderman, even though they have all had feet of wax. The highlight was a delightful 4D show of the Avengers super heroes, even though the lady who sat behind me probably didn’t sleep for the next week, so tensed up and scared was she by the realistic in-your-face effects. I was already out of the theatre but I could still hear her sighs and moans of relief that it was over, and amazement at what she just saw, heard and even felt.
I like things to be understood in perspective. So ‘small’ and thus accessible is Europe that London by car from my Köln house is a mere 580km (512km if the Easyjet flies) while Durban from my Irene house in SA is 607km. It’s just as easy to visit London now than it was to visit Durban, and just think of all the cheeses, waffles, chocolates and types of sausages amongst many more things to see, taste and photograph while traveling through Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium to get to England. It’s just that tunnel under the sea that’s kept me from driving there!
‘….where the lazy Tiber flows, and where yesterday still grows ….’
Allez Racing, allez, an earlier blog post refers as that post in the end cost me a few bucks, but also delivered a hugely memorable weekend in Rome in February.
After it became known that we supported Racing over London Irish in Paris, some of our friends in the UK took offence and committed us for a weekend in Rome. Jenny phoned and announced ‘we bought tickets, will we see you in Rome?’ Who wouldn’t jump to the opportunity to spend a weekend in Rome, see your South African friends (who is living outside London) and attend the Six Nations clash between Italy and England nogal?
And what a terrific weekend it turned out to be!
The weekend started off on Friday with our flight midmorning from Dusseldorf Flughafen, which meant the kids ‘had a day off from school’. Obviously that already was a treat and just the incentive to become ‘tourists’ for the weekend. Also referring back to my first blog post, 20 Oct 2011 it needs to be emphasized that we came to Germany to have access to Europe and its new experiences, which it will present to us. Thus, every now and then, the ‘lammervanger’ will have to be sidestepped when we give the kids some time off from school to enable something such as flying somewhere for an extended weekend or event. Its simply part of what we do.
February was an extremely cold month and it was evident in Rome too, which is supposed to be warmer than Köln, being in the Mediterranean. But the cold was one of the many factors that contributed to the lasting memory of this weekend.
Accommodation is always a challenge as it is always expensive, you’re never sure what you’ll get and in winter, very important that you sleep warm. Heleen found a self catering apartment at 24 Via Genoa, which is ideally situated within walking distance from old town Rome, with mind boggling historic sites such as the Colosseum and the Mamertine Prison to name just two. It was a three bedroomed with en suite bathrooms, ideal for the group of 6 and with a fully fitted kitchen to do your own brekkies.
The Marmetine Prison consists of two gloomy underground cells where Rome’s enemies were imprisoned (and usually died), of either starvation or strangulation. Famous prisoners here include the Goth Jugurtha, the indomitable Gaul Vercingetorix and, according to legend, St. Peter.
Several ancient writers, including Livy, who dated its construction to the 7th century BC under King Ancus, mention the Mamertime Prison:
“It was found that in so great a multitude the distinction between right and wrong had become obscured, and crimes were being secretly committed. Accordingly to overawe men’s growing lawlessness, a prison was built in the midst of the city, above the Forum.” (Livy 1.33.8)
Furthermore, imagine the magnificence of the Colosseum. I realise not all are equally fascinated by history, but standing at the foot of a ‘sports’ arena on which construction started in 72 AD, which seated 50 000 spectators and where many people battled for their lives is one true awe-inspiring experience. This is a stadium the size of Loftus Versfeld and it too housed bloody battles, just centuries before the first Loftus battle!
We strolled through these world famous and truly magnificent sites on Saturday morning, but we were in Rome for a modern day battle and in another stadium, the Stadio Olympico Roma, a battle in the six Nations rugby tournament between Italy and England.
The previous evening it started snowing, which, according to our evenly amazed waiter, was the first time it snowed in Rome in 27 years. By Saturday afternoon when we arrived at the stadium, it was snowing so heavily that rumours of the match being cancelled started amongst spectators. The atmosphere was so festive though, that it was simply amazing to people-watch and definitely worth the effort and cost to be there. The playing surface was covered in a layer of snow, it was still powdering down an hour before kick-off, but nonetheless the stadium was one huge ‘Peroni’ party, complete with beer and
hats! There was a humorous link to the cruelty of the Colosseum though, in that while the party on the stands was festive and loud, there were a couple of ‘slaves’ in the centre arena, slaving away with brooms and shovels in an effort to clear the snow from the playing pitch.
With still some snow on the pitch, the game was not called off and kick-off was not delayed. Fortunately, by kick-off it had stopped snowing although it did on occasions snow during the game again. And since I had the question after my Allez Racing post where I declined to provide the result, again my team lost as England scraped in a victory. This second loss simply means I need to pursue more sporting occasions in Europe, at least until I taste the sweet taste of victory, maybe sooner than later.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do!
It’s the one thing that is so totally different in Europe than in SA. People are not afraid to walk. Its winter and the streets are covered in snow but the entire stadium simply hits the road walking after the match and heads back to town. We did stop ¾ of the way home to dig into some excellent pastas and pizzas (when in Rome ….) and then walked back to the apartment, but in the end it came down to a 6 km walk.
Thus, thanx to Jenny’s ‘challenge’ I could tick another great weekend and experience with the added novelty of test rugby played in snow to our growing bucket list of things to do while in Europe.
I told Heleen Racing Metro is playing London Irish this weekend in Paris in the Heineken cup, and it’s the nearest rugby to our home in Köln. In true blue fashion she never hesitates to traveling proposals; weekends or longer, or an outing of any sorts and our weekend to Paris was on.
Its not the first time we travelled to Paris for rugby in the spur of the moment. In January 1994 we were on our first overseas trip together after selling our car to finance the trip. It was a six week back packing style trip including two weeks’ Kontiki skiing in Hopfgarten, Austria and four weeks’ Eurail train travel across Europe to wonderful places such as Vienna, Nice, London, Budapest, Venice, Florence, Geneve and Paris. It was Thursday 13 January ’94 (I know it sounds like a Neil Diamond song’s opening line) at about 16:00, having a beer in Budapest when I also mentioned to her that the French are playing Ireland (pure coincidence to the two teams in paragraph 1!) in the 5 Nations the coming Saturday. ‘Well, we have train tickets, why don’t we go and watch?’ was her immediate response. That evening at 21:something hours we boarded the train for Paris and arrived 16:something the next afternoon. It was before the euro and I remember that we had no deutsche marks for coffee going through Germany. You actually had to use the correct currency on the train for the country you were crossing at that point. In those days we travelled with Frommer’s as our GPS and found Hotel de la Paix in Paris as accommodation. It’s necessary to mention this as many years later I noticed Jason Bourne and Marie using the same hotel in The Bourne Identity.
This time we stayed in Hotel de la Paix’s sister hotel Hòtel Convention Montparnasse just off Rue de la Convention and its cosy cafes and bars.
For my South African frame of reference the mind-shift thing towards Europe is still slow. I found a parking garage at euro 38 for the weekend, but must admit that I did hesitate when the garage keeper simply ordered me to leave the car keys with him. Spread over his table was probably 50 car keys, each simply placed on a little invoice with your name on it!
The 5 Nations Test of ’94 was played at Parc des Prince as Stade de France was not yet built and the French won rather easily, very much to our liking! Those were the days of Philip Sella, Phillipe Saint Andre, Marc Cecilon and Olivier Roumat to name a few and they ran with exquisite flair. If there is such a thing as your second team in rugby, the Cockerels are definitely mine. That day I bought myself a Springbok beret outside Parc des Prince which I still wear with pride and I have not yet seen a similar beret anywhere.
But back to December 2011 and our short weekend to Paris. Racing Metro is one of the two Paris based sides and has some of my favourite players such as Francois Steyn (unfortunately still injured after been bullied in New Zealand), Juan Martin Hernandez, Mirco Bergamasto and Sebastian Chabal in their ranks. Since it’s a leisurely 493km drive from Köln to Paris it makes for a very sensible weekend breakaway, and ‘El Classico’ played between Barcelona and Real Madrid in ‘La Liga’ on the Saturday evening complemented this one.
My varsity friend Henk often used the phrase that there is two things that make the world turn, sport and music. It crosses boundaries and cultures and makes people equal. The interesting thing about attending sports events in foreign places is that so much of the same little habits pop up such as the ‘braai and beer’ stalls outside the stadium, whether its at Loftus for rugby, Ellispark for Soccer 2010 or Stade Olympique Yves du Manoir for the Heineken Cup. This outing was no different and we enjoyed the ‘wors braai’, pommes frites and beer with mostly Irish supports outside the Stade Olimpique Yves du Manoir in Colombes to the north of Paris. This stadium hosted the Olympic Games in 1924 and was used as the stadium in the movie Escape to Victory starring Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone and Pele in the early eighties.
We searched for a pub somewhere in Paris to watch the soccer after the rugby. Well, Paris doesn’t have many of the pubs we associate with sport, but they do use their cafes for big games such as ‘el classico’ and with great supporting spirit and gusto to accompany the good food and wine.
Obviously Paris is not only a rugby city, even if you practically only have a day and a half there. We have been in Paris a few times before, which negates that ‘have to tick all the sites’ rush when visiting a city for the first time and allowing you to leisurely pace around the town and the hordes of people also roaming the streets. La Tour Eiffel, Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe built by Napoleon Bonaparte to celebrate his successes on the battlefields, surely are always the sites to wonder around and enjoy the Christmas markets and ‘vin chaud’, a French version of glühwein and then to finish it of with a freshly baked Crepe.
I’m not sure why nor where it came from but I have a real liking for France, its mannerisms, even if they are often deemed to be rude, and the language. In the three months we’ve been living in Europe we’ve been to France three times (keep an eye on this blog for trip report on the third visit, skiing in the Rhone Alps) and I know that there will be a few more. And hopefully I’ll one day be able to ‘prononcer une phrase correcte’ and order those delicious ‘cafè au lait avec croissants’ without the bemused gaze from the waiter.