Team VA's Wonderings

Saturday, October 27, 2007

And yes I know, I still need to do my last post on South America......

Swing Low

Clearly England makes me slack. Despite the travelling I did in Europe in June, I didn’t write up any of it. I got back from Paris on Monday and only now am I turning to blog. To be fair I have spent hours adding the places I have visited to Facebook on one of those travel map thingys. I think it's well worth a look.

And there’s a good chance I’ll be distracted as I’ve got The Empire Strikes Back on in the background-there were some things I knew I’d need to do when I got back. I meant to write this yesterday when I had Star Wars on in the background-it’s almost terrifying how I was subconsciously saying the lines. I haven’t seen it for well over a year, I guess I’ve seen it enough to know the script.

Anyway, enough of a galaxy far far away, closer to home Paris was a city given over to Rugby,

which I was quite surprised by. After all the Stade holds 80,000 people which ought to be a small splash in a city of several million, but the streets were littered with fans, flags, buildings given over to the world cup, former players (Tana Umaga) and a guy who advertises hair loss products and has a more tenuous connection to top class rugby than Shane Warne (that’d be Austin Healey).

My Dad and I arrived on the Thursday night in the midst of the transport chaos, which meant that we didn’t venture into town from our outlying hotel (one of few that had vacancies after the semi and was now full). It seemed our slightly dodgy suburb wasn’t exactly the kind of place where people ate out, so we struggled to find somewhere that wasn’t a smoky bar with 2 token formica tables. Eventually we chanced upon a fair size restaurant that was empty. 2 couples and a single bloke swelled the numbers to a level where passers by might have thought that the afternoon tea trade was a little slow. One couple were definitely English, so I guess that Thursday is slower than a snail and even on the outskirts the World Cup was boosting the economy.

Friday morning seemed a good time to get the lie of the land-we headed out to the Stade de France and arrived just as the ticket office opened. We weren’t destined to be that lucky-it was just for collections. Later we also checked out Parc des Princes, where similarly all tickets were sold. We were fortunate in that a tram 50m outside our hotel ran to a stop 15 minutes walk from the Stade, as otherwise getting round Paris was turgidly slow. It seems the effects of the strike roll on (it impacted all 5 days we were in Paris). I tried to charm some tickets out of some disillusioned kiwis as we waited for one tram. They wanted £800. I bit my tongue from pointing out that that’s a fuck of a lot of sheep. We headed to the Frog and Rosbif (scene of much media attention) in the hope of findig fans giving tickets away. Not to be, the market price on Friday was too high, but The Sun had a open top double decker red bus arrive (presumably with competition winners). Most of the pub seemed to think this was brilliant.

Emma C arrived at Gare du Nord just before 8 on the Friday night, which gave us enough time to get the trains to the legendary Parc des Princes, scalp some tickets, miss the anthems and be in place for the 3rd/4th play off. This is a game I normally rubbish. One of the hoariest clichés in sport is that losing in the semi is worst than losing the final, so the playoff tends to pit 2 disappointed teams against each other; 2 teams who’d rather have flown home in front of fans who’d hoped they be at the final. I had a feeling this might just be different. Argentina has just lost their first ever semi; I believe their shameful treatment, almost exclusion from the Rugby family has been well documented. This was a team who had really laid down a marker, were saying we can no longer be ignored and had beaten Ireland, France and Scotland (the 2 best teams in Europe for the past 4 years and Scotland). No easy Wales for Argentina. So here was a team for whom the difference between 3rd and 4th would matter.

On the other side were France. They were at home, Argentina had derailed their world cup with victory in the opener and their magical defeat of the kiwis had set them up to maintain their record of losing every competitive world cup match against England (France’s one win being the 1995 3rd/4th playoff). Surely they’d want to finish on a high? This should be a good game.

As an aside, pop quiz-who is the only Northern Hemisphere nation to knock England out of a world cup?

It wasn’t close in the end, as Argentina were class. I felt France were interested, at least until they were too far behind and it included one of the tries of this or any other tournament. After the final whistle there was widespread acclaim for Argentina; I couldn’t help but feel if that Argentina had turned up 5 days previously, England would be playing them rather than the Boks in the final.

Over the days we did manage to see some sites and let’s face it Paris is absolutely stuffed with things that are worth seeing. Arguably only Rome can top it in Europe. We skipped going in the Louvre as it seemed a bit of an intense option, but there’s a lovely walk from the Eiffel Tower to the Arc, down the Champs Elysees and through the Jardin de Tuileres up to the Palais and the pyramid, which I still fond odd. I’d forgotten just how many really famous images are in the Musee D’Orsay, but wandering into a room and seeing the Dejeuner sur L’herbe reminded me. I really like D’Orsay-it is a beautiful museum in a converted railway station. It is also a good satisfying siz for a museum-it is substantial enough to occupy several hours, but not the ludicrous size of something like the Louvre, which can occupy several days or weeks. I did miss my favourite place in Paris-the Orangerie, as it now opens as 12.30, which is a it weird. We also got a quick church fix on L’isle de la cite with Saint Chapelle and Notre Dame.

But let’s face it, we were drawn here by the oval ball.

The Final
They ran out of programmes 2 hours before kick off, but we were in our seats (purchased from kiwis in the Champs Elysees) well before the game started. We were clearly in a kiwi section-there were a number of glum folk in all black gear when we arrived (upon inquiry they weren’t supporting us), but the atmosphere grew as the English and South Africans who’d bought tickets off other kiwis arrived. If you were watching on TV, I doubt Jim Rosenthal showed the massive Tifo just before kick off-one of those thing where you all hold a bit of paper above your head and it creates a pattern. I think it was the biggest ever. I couldn’t see any of it

However, the ground was quite a sight,

there were lots of people there

and the anthems were quite something, even if there was no Marseillaise, surely the greatest national anthem. Even our old dirge resounded quite well, but later renditions of I vow to thee my country and Jerusalem (and of course swing slow) reinforced the desperate need of English sporting teams to plump for an English national anthem rather than persist in their odd habit of singing the British anthem. Maybe when Queenie dies we can get a proper tune.

Those who are bothered will have seen the game. It won’t have drawn new converts, but it was absorbing and tense. England could have won, South Africa could have played better-in a 5 test series I reckon South Africa would have won 4-1 or 3-2. Given England’s problems, not just 5 weeks ago when they lost 36-0, but also throughout the last four years, it was a very respectable effort. Let’s be honest they weren’t good enough, and unlike 4 years ago, I never really believed. Still good enough to get a medal

and make Jonny miserable

I didn’t recognise the aged, unbloodied Jean Pierre Rives, who brought out the cup, which stood proudly on its own

before a fan in an England shirt mosied up and picked it up. French security was not the best, someone had got on during the second half. Just after this final pitch invader, I realised that somebody had to win

Sweet chariot was sung resoundingly for much of the game and it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up; less fun was the post match South African reworking of the England song, where they intimated where the fans in white could shove their chariot. What choked me up was the conduct of the England team after the match. They patiently waited during the very lengthy presentation ceremony and applauded when South Africa were finally given the cup (with their win already engraved on the trophy, like The Open). They then walked round the pitch and said thanks to the fans,

I’ve not even been here but I know the Lazarus nature of England’s campaign, their bouncebackability and the triumph of will and desire that this relatively limited side represent. Rarely has second been so respected, so celebrated. I didn’t think we’d win, but I am glad I was there to pay tribute to a great achievement, even if it wasn’t the ultimate achievement.

England won two finals in three weeks, they just couldn’t win a third.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Journey's End. And Barry Manilow

'I'm sitting in a railway station, got a ticket for my destination.'

Well, almost. I’m in the departure lounge in Rio airport, about to board my final flight. Well final two flights as for some reason BA fly south to Sao Paolo (where a plane recently skidded off the runway) before heading to London, dizzy London. I’m wapping away to see who’ll be in the final of the world matchplay golf at Wentworth tomorrow-this interests me more than usual as I’m being picked up by Scat, Sozz and Mac HYPERLINK THEM to go watch it. I won’t have slept at all in about 30 hours, after many months of skimpy sleep. How better to reacclimatise than hitting some sport with my best mates? Shame only two of them are called John.

At Sao, I manage to follow the rugby on my phone for long enough to see that Lewsey has put us 5-0 up. I get the result but none of the tension when first a stewardess gives us a 8-9 update before the pilot kicks in with 14-9 final score.

But I’ve skipped almost to the end, I had a couple of stops before the mad dash of Rio. A wise man once told me that sand is the enemy, so 5 days of not much more than beach action was likely to be quite a battle for me. The bus from Iguassu to Paraty was a tester-we went to Sao overnight, with 2 ‘meal’ stops and one for the police to shake down those who’d bought a lot of stuff in Paraguay. Then another 4 or 5 hours in another bus and we were nearly 24 hours door to door. There wasn’t much to do in Paraty, so after that bus journey a boat to an island made for a restful day after. An hour each way on the boat diluted the amount of time in contact with sand.

Someone should do some research into the relationship between beach idleness tends and the increased desire to go out. I’m not going to write about the last week’s nights out. For those who understand such things, it was essentially an extended Withnail remix. I won’t want to drink for a bit.

After Paraty, we took a bus for an hour and a half before getting on the boat to Ilha Grande

Now I’m not into beaches, but Ilha Grande is stunning. It made a great place for a bit of chilling, chucking a ball about, Laura’s birthday and a boat trip.

It was also a significant stop for Lionel (anyone remember the llama). The plan had been for Laura to celebrate her birthday by setting fire to Lionel on the beach at night. Lor rather fell out of love with Lionel. Ian had asked me to video it. I’d got alcohol and matches. I can confirm that Lionel and his two broken legs didn’t leave Ilha Grande, but he didn’t fry. Christian told us the military police wouldn’t take the same view to llama arson as we would. So Lionel has retired by the sea.

Our boat back to the mainland was early and very small. We had to slow and change direction when any other boat went past so that we wouldn’t get swamped by their bow wave. Even then the water flowed across the deck. We made good time into Rio, but I still had less than 24 hours. So it was mad dash round, night out, get up, go to airport.

It’s a wonder. It’s one of 7. Common opinion seems to be it was lucky. Very lucky, but Christ the Redeemer must be one of the most recognisable symbols of any city anywhere. Oddly it’s best when you’re not up by it

The best views are from other points in the city and looking at the postcards probably from a helicopter. Actually at the statue itself, the views over the city are the winner (once you get a clear shot with the public holiday crowds out the way)

It’s all seater now, but the Maracana holds the record for the largest attendance at a soccer match (200,000 for the Brazil Uruguay World Cup final). We stopped off, looked at the feet hall of fame (bizarrely including Franz Beckenbauer) and went through the dressing rooms and tunnel to the edge of the pitch where a massive Brazilian was doing tricks.

The cathedral is one of the more surprising things I’ve seen. From the outside, it is a striking building, but the exterior looks like offices or apartments as it gives the impression on being over multiple stories.

In turn this made me think that it couldn’t work so well as a cathedral (a single space) on the inside. I was most wrong

The last big stop was sugar loaf, which takes 2 cable cars to reach. It would have been nice to have caught sunset, but the night views were marvellous.

I had a night out at the Lapa. I’ve said my goodbyes. The taxi's coming at 10.30. My trip is all but over. I may not be on a beach, or by the sea again for a while. So I'll wrap up with a trip to the Copacabana. Where I shan't sing.

Right now I'm too tired for reflection, insight or even statistics. WAP tells me I'll be watching Cabrera take on Els at Wentworth tomorrow. Seems appropriate to have 2 Southern hemisphere boys-one from the country I started, the other from where I was just 10 days ago.

When my brain is back, I'll do a last post on the past year. There'll be stats.......

(I land at Heathrow. It takes 40 mins to get on the stand, 40 more to get my bags. I get a lot of texts. One of them tells me that I have flights booked to Paris on Thursday to try and find tickets for the RWC final. Peut etre un petit blog de Paris la semaine prochaine.)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Backstreet's (nearly) back

I fly in under 6 days.


Given that it's beach places before my frantic less than 24 hours in Rio, it seems likely the entry below will be my last from the Southern hemisphere.

I'm looking forward to seeing you all. Some of you perhaps at Wentworth just after I land on Sunday.

I have very little planned, but it's worth bearing 3 things in mind
· I do have transport, so can travel to see those of you with busier lives than mine.
· I have very little money. So will probably go on tour with a box of wine looking for chats and a glass, rather than fashionable nightspots and haute cuisine.
· I don't expect to be working till next year. Sorry.

It will doubtless take me an unforgivable amount of time to get back in touch with everyone, so if you're keen, got limited space for me in your diary or can offer a once in a lifetime opportunity, then shout at me.

Naturally I am available for weddings and barmitzphas (feel free to correct my spelling).

It's been emotional.

Samba time

Journey's end approaches, and it's time to go country and border crazy.

Wednesday wake up in Salto, Uruguay (find out there's really nothing to do here). Late afternoon, cross into Argentina (get stamp) for night bus to Foz de Iguassu.

Thursday morning cross from Argentina into Brazil (get stamp), see Iguassu on the Brazilian side.

Friday cross from Brazil into Argentina (get stamp), see Iguassu on the Argie side, cross back.

Saturday cross from Brazil into Paraguay (get stamp), buy some DVDs for the bus. Back into Brazil.

So 3 countries in less than 24 hours, 4 in under 70, 6 border crossings, a load more stamps in my now very full looking 1 year old passport and Paraguay marking my 49th country, by Stanford reckoning.

All these stats and a visit to one of the (unofficial) wonders of the world. Iguassu rocks.

There's really nothing of interest to note between Montevideo and the falls, so let's get there.

Brazilian Iguassu
I was sufficiently buzzing about Iguassu to throw caution to the wind, laugh in the face of death and take a scenic helicopter flight. As anyone who knows me will know, I do not consider helicopters to be safe-in layman's terms, if the rotors stop, you're fucked.

At 70 units of septic currency, it wasn't cheap for 10 mins, but it was a great way to start, getting a thorough overview of the falls. We flew over a lot of jungle to reach the falls, which are immense. Unlike Vic falls, this is more like a network of falls spread over a few miles (not sure on the numbers, as I couldn't get any stats). There's maybe a dozen falls, which are worth travelling for. Put them all together and it's beyond words. You need to come here.

Got some video and photos too.

In all I took something like 200 pics at Iguassu. I'll try to pick a select subset to post.

The rest of the day was spent walking round, being frequently stunned turning a corner before being more stunned turning the next corner. All the time we were bumping into coati.

Without wanting to put too fine a point on it, here are some photos of water falling off a shelf of rock.

Argentinian Iguassu
If the Brazilian side gives the overview and the panoramas, then Argentina provides the detail. It's time to get up close and personal.

We started off walking through the forest and over the river to get proper close to the Devil's throat. This is definitely the big daddy of the various falls

I got told off for my precarious perch above the raging torrent. Seeing as it by a professional photographer I ignored him.

We'd taken a little train to get to the devil, but we moved on by 4x4. The jungle drive and boat ride were OK, but I've done some slightly better wildlife watching the past year. The boat trip to the falls was a wholly different matter.

This was probably the highlight of the 2 days-I believe Laura described it as 'the shit'. The trip was in 2 parts. You start at the level of the lower river and navigate upstream. The change in perspective that you get with the falls now above is awe inspiring. Quite literally awesome in fact. It's not safe to go up to the Devil's Throat, but even 700m away, the power of the falls you can see is beyond imagination.

Secondly they drive the boat into a massive waterfall (still one of the smaller ones).

You get drenched.

Then they hit a second waterfall.

By now you're as wet as if you'd been in the river.

Just for good measure, they do it baby one more time.

Now there's a river running down the boat. Taking photos wasn't entirely practical.

Having walked up to the level of the falls, we've actually dried off quite a lot by this point.

I'm thinking Iguassu is probably the highlight of mainland South America. I must find the stats on it to compare to Niagara (puny I reckon), Vic and Angel.

Paraguay was a bit of a cheat-I was there for less than 3 hours and Ciudad del Este is nothing more than a big shopping centre for tourists and Brazilians to get cheap stuff. The timing was good tho-as we had a night bus and given that the Brazilians are so obsessed with soccer that they showed Man U Wigan live rather than England Australia, I had an afternoon watching Rugby. England Australia was shown 'as live', 4 hours late. I'm not a fan of 'as live'-there are those who would claim you see the same thing, so there's no difference. I call these people non-sport fans. Psychologically I know the game's over and millions of people know the result, so 'as live' doesn't cut it. Given the closeness of the contest, we still managed to get quite stuck in.

Then I got to laugh at the Kiwis going out to France. After the attitude, the arrogance, about their team that I experienced while I was there, I've no sympathy at all. I found it funnier that back in NZ they'd have been up in the middle of the night crying into their Steinlagers. I assume the Great Redeemer is now on the dole.

All this while munching a tasty pizza for my (slight) hangover. Pretty good day and a proud day for my hemisphere. Have you noticed how only golf makes people cheer for Europe, while it takes Rugby to get people behind a hemisphere?

It all put a spring in my stride for the near 24 journey to the beaches of Paraty.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Tango in the Night

We rocked up to Hotel Splendid, Buenos Aires a bit before lunch in the end. I got totally busted buying a (tremendously girly) hairbrush as I'd lost mine. Naturally I found it again when packing to leave Buenos. So now I'm a tart with 2 hairbrushes.

Buenos was the end of Argentina-I wish we'd had more time. I never got to mention the war.

I'm writing this sat on the helipad of the ferry that's about to take us to Uruguay.

We ended up with about 2 and a half days in Buenos, which was just right. After a large buffet lunch I did tour guide Barbie round the microcentre of Buenos. The 'Paris of the South' has clearly had plenty of European influence-the cathedral was one of the nicest I've seen in ages

and the feel was very different to the other cities we've been to. Basically Buenos wins.

The parliament is based on the US capitol

While the presidential palace is pink.

There are 2 theories on this: pink is the combination of the colours of the 2 main political parties; they painted the building with pig's blood and it faded in the sun. Which do you prefer?

Nighttime was Tango time. Having painted myself orange, we headed off. The evening went tango lesson, dinner and tango show to finish. Laura and I dancing? Not the best thing. We were shit, crashed into a lot of people and feet were stamped. Not sure either of us will be tangoing again, tho I'm glad to have given it a go. It was very wise to give us a lesson before the show, as we'd have been totally depressed by how good the pros are-we probably wouldn't have even done enough to earn our certificates. I shall not become a regular watcher of dance and while the show's 'plot' was risible, the dancing was impressive. Well amazing really.

Next day I headed off to Recoleta, a wealthy district with some of the major attractions. The cemetery of the rich and famous is regarded as a must see. It's quite odd. People have spent a fortune (that could have been put to better use) on tombs, statues and mausolea. One family built a small church

While others appeared desperate not to be forgotten

The effect and impression that so much effort has tried to create was quite undone for me by how busy the place was

It was massive and really crowded-there's been some serious money in this city and there are so many ornate tombs, it's hard to consider them individually-the place comes across as a whole.

Apart from this one

I need to find out who the boxer is. The most famous resident is Evita.

I liked that her's was a 'regular' tomb, down a 'street' of 40 or so others. It's an odd place.

I wanted to go to the main art gallery and on the way was a massive flower

It closes up at night and everything. The art gallery didn't bother opening so I managed a very quick spin yesterday when I went to Palermo with the girls. It was excellent in my opinion, an opinion that I suspect was mainly shaped by the presence of major European artists.

Holly and I somehow ended up having a tree climbing contest in the Botanic gardens. I won, but at what cost?

Getting down was a struggle. From there we walked past the zoo, down a street of dogshit. Cross the park and we're in the Japanese garden, where you have to have this photo

I'd heard that there were 'I love BA' t-shirts were to be had in BA and was massively excited by the retail opportunity (if you're not an A-team fan, you're not going to understand). I calculated I needed 7. So, disappointment can't begin to describe how I felt when I saw they'd subtitled the key phrase with 'y amo Buenos Aires'. I bought nothing and pouted. So no presents then-I was only going to get something ace.

Wes and I finished the day watching England beat Tonga. I think the proximity of my return to the UK is upping my sporting interest. I thought England improved considerably as the contest progressed. I've not seen the Aussies play, but Laura's a lot more confident about next weekend's quarter final. On the last 2 occasions England have met Australia in the RWC, the defending champions have lost.

I fly in 14 days.

We took the ferry to Colonia-crossing the Rio de la Plata for 3 hours to reach Uruguay from Argentina.

Colonia was another lovely stop, without having anything massive to do. We climbed up a lighthouse,

went to Uruguay's oldest church and saw the sun set

(you need the rear view here-it would show the 15 foot drop on my side of the wall, my feet resting on a couple of small bricks that jut out and give a great view of my arse.)

In Uruguay the 29th of each month is gnocchi day. This is a tradition which comes from people having to eat cheaply when they were skint at month end. It was Wes' birthday and when I found gnocchi, my choice was made-both Lor and I found it rather disappointing tho.

Monty Video
Just the one night in Colonia, then onto Montevideo. I'm so easily amused-I'm loving we're staying in the hotel Iguassu, 5 days before arriving at the falls, which are in a whole other country. We guess the first world cup final was held here, there's not too much to see, and there was a game on, so we went to the football.

For about £2.50 we got super keen fans and an alright watch.

Just for the record-final score white (home) 1-1 reds.

Today we've done the walk round town. Without a late start, an hour drink stop and a 2 hour lunch I'd have needed a Monty Panesar video to fill up the day. Much of the city is quite run down

The odd square, statue, historical museum, church

and art gallery made for an enjoyable, untaxing day. I chose not to have lunch with the boys in the Mercardo del Puerto.

To round the day off I bumped into an old friend.