I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

World Cup trip report 2: Gelsenkirchen

A calmer night than England -vs- Sweden preceded my second trip to Germany; a few of us went out for Italian food in a place by Covent Garden, on company money 'cos Fergus and Stone were over. So I managed to get to bed at a sensible time without too much beer in me, and I'd already packed a lot of what was necessary.
Good job too since the flight was even bloody earlier than the first one -- 0725 from Heathrow, ouch. I still decided not to get a cab, especially with a 24x7 bus service from just up the road to a series of useful places. So I left the house at some fucking daft time, drew some English out and waited for a bus.

And waited. And waited. And got a bit panicky. And phoned up a local cab firm who only had one driver working and had just 2 minutes previous had a cancellation. Fuck me that was lucky. Irish fella driving a 7 person people carrier who gave me a paper but kept me chatting the whole way anyway.

Natasha Kaplinsky was on the same flight as me, and in the same class (cattle) 'n all. Pikey cow. She's a lot fatter in real life; I know this because I saw a bird who I thought looked like a fat version of her in the queue at the gate, and only found out once I arrived in Dusseldorf that it was actually her.

The way I found out is that as it happens there were a bunch of other Yahoo! staff on the same flight as me, and the only one I even knew the name of, let alone recognised or had ever spoken to, ran into me on platform 10 and 11 (IIRC) of the station at the airport. Weird, that was. Platforms 10 and 11 were the only platforms I could find, and she (Sarah) had had similar grief. I'd had a fight with a ticket machine but managed to, as far as I could work out, buy the ticket I was after, some 4 day travelcard thing for this whole chunk of Germany.

So Sarah and I got on the only train there was any sight of and ended up 20 minutes later at Dusseldorf Hauptbahnhof. Changed trains to get one to Oberhausen (where all the Yahoo! staff were holed up in the same hotel) and got totally confused by passing through Dusseldorf Flughafen station en route. It was above ground. had platforms numbered 1-6, and didn't appear to be very close to the actual airport. At least it made us both feel better about not having found it before.

Found the hotel fairly simply but it was about 4 hours before we could check in. Stupid early flights. Also, my room was a double, despite the lass at work explicitly asking for twins for everyone and being assured that's what they'd get. My brother was most pleased to be sleeping on the floor.

Ah yes, my brother. I'd only offered him the match ticket -- for free! -- on the Monday if he could find his way over. And so he did, with some crazy ass flights involving changing at Stuttgart on the way in, Munich on the way home. Go look up London, Dusseldorf, Stuttgart and Munich on a map... lunatic. He should have just ponied up the cash to fly direct business class rather than have all that hassle.

Left me bag at the hotel, as did Sarah, and we had a drink at the place directly opposite Oberhausen station while waiting for her mate Anelie to pitch up. Which she did, a couple of drinks in. Hotel, bags, beer and a fucking giant pizza, then off to explore. We got a tram to the CentrO, Oberhausen's premier reason for people to visit, a huge complex to give the place a huge Milton Keynes feel. Here's yer shopping centre, here's the drinking district, here's the eating zone, ... we went into the large bit with a tent and huge screen and shitloads of Germans getting lagered up. Germany were playing and by 'eck do that lot make a lot of bloody noise.

The weather was so unpleasant. Just really really bastard hot, offensively so. I coped just about but Sarah didn't so her and Anelie went back to the hotel. After spending a while failing to see the game very well I left and went for a wander, ending up in an Irish pub with a good view of the game and sat with the rest of the Yahoo! contingent after I recognised one and introduced meself. Game over and the streets went mental (Germany had won, duh) and I headed to the airport to pick up bro. That was a bit traumatic 'cos I tried to direct him to the useful bit of the station rather than the shit bit I'd started at, but after a few phone calls it worked.

Back to Oberhausen, the hotel, and we watched the evening game in the hotel bar over a burger and a beer or two. Nothing too heavy; we're watching England tomorrow!
Up and at 'em bright and early, me and Kev went to CentrO for a wander, some munch, some liquids, some dehydration, and a new England shirt each. Sat in some shade for a bit but it didn't do much good. Back to the hotel, changed, sun creamed up and went to the train station. When we'd been out before we saw a Gelsenkirchen-bound train and it looked like your stereotypical Indian train with fucking hundreds of people packed into it and hanging out the windows etc. So we were a bit hesitant to get one ourselves, but looked at the timetable and had a beer while considering our options. Two other English lads asked if they could perch their BK's on our table. Got chatting and ended up deciding to share a cab with 'em.

Cab took not very long, and as we turned into the entrance to the stadium we had to stop while some pissed up English fans crossed in front of us without looking. The fella nearest the bonnet turned to us and tapped it, then held his hand up to say sorry... and his hand turned into a point through the windscreen, pointing directly at me in fact. It was only bloody Xavier, AFC Wimbledon fan extraordinaire, accompanied by Titters, Mikey T, General Lee, and I think one other guy whose name I don't know. Got out and bid farewell to our cab sharers, said hello to the AFCers who were in a hurry to get in and put their flag up.
the English end

Walked around the side of the ground, getting hotter and hotter until we thought, screw it, let's go in. Had some beer, some more beer, and then Sarah and Anelie arrived, at which point we had some beer. We'd stood in the shade for a bit outside a bit where a bunch of ex-pros were schmoozing inside, and then got shunted out of the way by some Englishmen in dark glasses who were clearing a space for someone from the UK government's imminent arrival. FFHS. So bollocks, we went inside to find our seats.

Not bad seats; in line with the penalty spot (yes, that penalty spot), on the side. An entirely different kind of heat struck us once under the roof (they'd covered it the previous day so the pitchside temperature dropped by 10 degrees, to only 30). Really bastard sticky and humid, presumably an atmosphere comprised of the combined sweat of 50-odd thousand Englishmen. There were some Portugal fans around too, but really, so so few compared to us lot.

In the English media this is obviously the most talked-about game of the entire tournament, so I won't bother with any in-depth rubbish match report. Everyone saw it on TV and if they didn't then they don't care. But I will say that in the stadium is totally different to on TV, and none of us realised just how shit it was. Except for the penalties and the result and stuff, but we certainly didn't know anything about a stamp or a headbutt or a wink or owt. It was a fantastic experience and I can now say (a) I've been to an England game (b) I've been to the World Cup (c) I was present the first time Owen Hargreaves proved worthy of wearing an England shirt. But bloody hell, I hated Cronaldo enough beforehand..
The back of Bobby Robson, honest

Had another drink after the game while the majority of fans filed out and then took a leisurely walk toward the tram stop. Briefly detained by talking to a pissed-up and angry Bobby Robson outside, whose hand I shook and who turned away just as I took a photo of him. Nearer the stop we peered over to the road beneath us as Ian Wright, Ray Stubbs, Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker got in the BBC bus. Tram back to Gelsenkirchen centre was crowded but uneventful, and the station was pretty chaotic. Walked from one entrance all the way through to the other, getting directions to the cab rank from a uniformed English copper on the way. But the idea of getting a cab left us when a fight looked imminent amongst two groups of people who both claimed to have been there first. So we got a train instead, lovely and crowded and full of English and sweaty as hell.

It stopped. For ages. Not at a station, just in the middle of nowhere. And there was no aircon. And it was just fucking horrible and nasty and shit. And the Southampton fans further up the carriage launched into No Surrender while trying to kick the windows out. Sigh. When we finally got to Oberhausen we spotted some of the other Yahoo!s perched on a bench munching on kebabs, so we also bought kebabs and sat with them. Turns out they were on the train in front of us, on which a Scouse lad had taken exception to being pointed at and reacted by biting the finger off. WTF!

Finished the kebab (which was bloody good; to be expected considering the enormous Turkish expat population of Oberhausen and the surrounding area) and went back to the hotel. The hotel bar, to be precise. Kevin flaked out before I did and when I gave up my table for a single seat at the bar the TV started showing our match in its entirety, and I got chatting to 2 lads from the midlands. This was a mistake. They were sound, they thought I was sound, and I ended up having triple Blue Bols after triple Blue Bols after triple Blue Bols with them. Gah. My head felt wretched the next day.

As it goes, the next day was the day I started this blog. I'd taken me (work) laptop to Oberhausen with me for a reason I can't quite remember. But it came in handy with the lack of choice over English language TV and me brother buggering off early Sunday afternoon. That morning we'd got a train to Dusseldorf to see what the city had to offer and first impressions weren't good. Typical to a lot of train stations this one was a focal point for the local characters (to put it politely) and in a not-so-salubrious bit of town. Everywhere was shut and we just walked for ages and ages until, fucking hell, there's a proper town centre here, and a big river, and shitloads of bars, and it's all really really nice. Wow. The best bit (although not one we took advantage of) was the road which must have had 25 pubs on it -- and nothing else. Every building was a pub. I kid you not.
bridge over German water

But we didn't have time to sit around drinking (although we'd already had a pint and a giant ice-cream before finding the really nice bit of town anyway) as the plane was calling. Back to the station, back on a train, off at the airport, see ya soon bro'. Back to the platform for me and a swanky inter-city train was next in, 2nd stop Oberhausen, result.

2 minutes in I get my ticket checked. 2 minutes and 15 seconds in I get booted off, being told that not only have I not validated the ticket -- you have to shove it in these little machines that stamp a date on it -- but even if I had, the ticket itself isn't valid on swanky inter-city trains. Gulp. On me own in the middle of nowhere with a raging hangover, and England shirt, the day after we got knocked out of the World Cup and I get booted off a foreign train for fare-dodging -- go me!

Thankfully I didn't get fined or anything, just told what to do, and I did it. Departed at Duisburg, validated the ticket, got a shitty local train back to Oberhausen and locked meself in me hotel room and started this 'ere blog. And in fact the rest of my trip is detailed in the first couple of posts I ever made here, so I'm not going to say any more. Especially because I did pretty much fuck all anyway.

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