Category Archives: Europe

Toulon Take Two

There are possibly very few that would land from a holiday the other side of the world in polar opposite conditions to the UK on a Monday evening and even contemplate recovering from a sleepless flight, jet lag & post amazing holiday blues to be up at 2am to shower and be in a taxi for a bus to Gatwick at 3am on the following Friday morning. But then I am of course unique!! (Many would say ‘special’ but let’s steer clear of that term shall we?!!)

Last here in mid November for a long weekend without rugby owing to the atrocities that occurred in Paris on the 13th of November, it felt only right to me to be making the return trip to this rather beautiful town of Toulon in the South of France. Temperature 10 degrees higher than the UK and far sunnier (nothing tho compared to what I had left in Cuba last weekend however). Time flies so quickly and one can only live to regret. This time (Fri eve) last week I was in a deserted island – white sand crystal blue waters in the Caribbean. This week I’m in the South of France and next week I’ll be preparing my house in Bath ahead of it being photographed to go on the market on the 18th of this month – all being well.  Pretty sure that the rest of this year will not be quite as jet set but it certainly feels like my feet have hardly touched the ground in 2016 thus far!

We are in the same hotel and so the sights sounds and surroundings are, thankfully, all to familiar. I think that this helped in my decision to book to come out with Bath Supporters Travel without consulting friends if anyone else was coming too. Having booked it was great to hear that I won’t be ‘alone’. I tried a nap on arrival which failed miserably thanks to some maintenance work including a drill taking place in the next room just as I was nodding off. I headed out for a walk and a beer before heading to a familiar pizza place on the harbor for some food. The water appeared calm, yet the masts of the boats in the harbor were all dancing away. Sitting watching them all dancing around in the harbor did make me feel a little bizarre – couldn’t work out after a while (or was it the wine?!!) if it was me or the boats that were bobbing around when time came to get the bill!


Saturday was a lazy day for me. I’d decided against the Supporters’ Travel trip to Marseilles and wine tasting as I wanted some relaxing time on my own and not to be rushing around like a loon. Having already been to this city I didn’t feel the urge to sight see. Instead I wondered around the harbor a little and had coffees and hot chocolates and people watched. By far the best activity. The day was somewhat overcast as well and so the photos would not have beaten those taken on the last trip. There were certainly not the mass of Bath shirts present in every bar and cafe as there were back in November and I had traveled over only with 17 others and not the previous 40 odd. it was rather sad but then also understandable that those that came last time might not have been able to have made the return journey.

Match day finally came around and I sat in the Harbor with a beer before hand soaking up the match day atmosphere. There were many more Bath Supporters around town now in all of the bars and restaurants as well as the Touloun fans – the harbor had returned to the hive of activity that it was the last time that we were here. The sun was out – your couldn’t really ask for a more glorious day for rugby. My friend Virginie had driven all the way over from Montpellier (which I later found out was a 4 hour drive – had I known it was that far I would not have suggested her coming all that way!) and arrived about an hour before the game and so I waited for her in the Reception of the hotel as it was going to be easier for us to find each other there with the amount of people milling around.

Once inside the stadium we found our seats relatively easily and caught up and took in the ground and the surrounding area. While the city is beautiful, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the stadium has lots of beautiful views, its mainly several blocks of flats many of whom would have excellent views over the ground, for free! The seats were as uncomfortable as ever. I still don’t understand why the French stadiums never have the supporting back to the seats – just the scooped out seat. It was interesting to notice as well teat the crowd was once again fenced in. I assume to stop anyone from running onto the pitch either during or after the game? We had ordered our tickets from Toulon direct and so we were not surrounded by Bath fans, but there were a few dotted around us. Before the match was anywhere near started we had sung both of the National anthems of both teams. I found this rather strange but apparently it is what they do at Toulon before each European Match. We had a song that was sung by about 6 gentlemen int he middle of the pitch which Virgine had described as the song of the Provencal region. That seemed to go on and on and not a huge amount of audience participation but there were still quite a number of supporters from both sides to enter the stadium. The final chant before the kick off was the Pillou Pillou  essentially – Toulon’s version of the Hakka. I have no idea what he is saying or if indeed it is meant to be understood but it was sung/chanted by ALL of the Toulon crowd with him. And then kick off happened and we were under way.


As per usual many confused looks from near by supporters over the volume of the shouting out of the mouth of a female, but I was, as always determined that the Bath boys would hear that though we might not be mighty in numbers we were mighty in noise and passion. A fairly even match was played and certainly a performance from the boys that as a supporter you could be proud of. We may not have ended up in winning but we showed that we CAN play as a team and show some passion, something that has been sadly lacking from our game as of late. Spirits weren’t too down heartened post match as we could have been slaughtered. Sadly we are highly unlikely to win or even come runner up in our group to progress any further in Europe this season, but then maybe that what we need a a team at the moment – just to concentrate on one competition?


  
An early start on the Monday morning did not leave me partying all night on the Sunday evening, I spent some time with Virgine and her mother post match, followed by dinner and then bed for me whilst I left others to carry on showing the French how the Brits drink post rugby. The last European weekend of the season for me – I wasn’t heading on to Dublin next weekend. Who knows where we will end up next season supporting the boys, hopefully another new city to explore for me!

 

Reminiscing THE Toulouse weekend of 2008

Last time I was here in the pink city I was with a whole bunch of friends. The memories I hold dearly as it was, in my book, my favourite foreign Bath Rugby away trip to date. Sadly so many of us have not travelled en masse since. Life has moved on, priorities have changed for so many. For some of us tho, they have not!

For those that were with me on the weekend I thought I’d take some time to reminisce for a moment and list the memories that will make many giggle, and bring back what I hope will be for them too, many happy memories.
Ring of fire – da da da dadadada daaaaa
Meeting Peter & Andrea for the first time
Meeting Nick, Dick & Vince in the German blue berets brought especially for the trip (now sit almost next to my season ticket seats & wavers of THAT massive flag!!
Hearing all about how Nick’s wife was throwing empty beer cans at the tv in frustration with the ref during the match
Meeting Ellie’s Greg properly for the first time
Their flicking the bird game from anywhere & everywhere
Jim’s Angels
Running away from freaky Bath supporter in Frog & Rostbif ALL evening
Taking pictures of Lousia chatting to jandarniere!
Glow sticks
Pea flicking & trying to get photos of them coming out mid air
Rich ‘pole dancing’ in Frog & Rostbief
Rich being filmed for French TV prior to the match in full gear
Nick being interviewed & responding in pissed French for French tv
Drinking the bar dry of: Magners, White Wine & Corona
THAT conga line which included the bar staff at the end which we only realised having led it outside, down the street & turning round
Being spotted on TV & getting a mass of texts from back home of people spotting us
That tackle on Butch which did so look like he was dropped on his head
‘Racing’ each other on the merry go round in Place du Wilson
HGs sleeping position & me re enacting it
Ellie faces
Jizz hands
Licking the ice cream plate clean – tut tut
Finding the French version of Diagon Alley down one of the back streets in Toulouse
Seeing people wearing the ‘eye heart Bath Rugby’ t-shirts we created
Being the FIRST person to spot a ‘stranger’ wearing one and scaring the crap out of her with our squeals
Paddy’s one liners – fluffy dirty springs to mind only at the moment! Can’t think of the others at the moment
Those grapefruit glasses I now have on permanent loan from James – stupidly failed to bring them this weekend.
Hearing about Jock’s visit to the Red Light district whilst he was talking to us with his hands down his joggers – eeeewwww
Being given a very smelly drunk old man’s Toulouse shirt – didn’t have heart to say no as he was so adamant I had to have it. Washed as soon as I got home and donated to the next SOS Kit Aid collection!

ROAD TRIP! Transalpina way

A short trip back to Romania to visit the friends and family over there led to a road trip with one of my greatest friends, Ileana, and 6 of her friends up to the mountains for a couple of days. I’m not sure that the idea of sitting in a car for so long in such heat really was an amazing way to spend the weekend, but the views along the way, certainly made it all worth it.

We headed out of Bucharest and up to our first destination for the night – a villa all to ourselves with some pretty impressive views of the mountains it must be said, and although we thought that we had been on the Transalpina, we found out that actually we had not yet officially started it or rather that there was waaaay more to come. We stayed in a small town which I guess in winter would be a small skiing resort called Ranca it is at 1,600m in the mountains and there were loads of new builds clearly getting ready for the winter season ahead.

We went out for our evening meal, as soon as the sun went down the cold came in – it was pretty chilly. The views of the sunset were pretty impressive & it was great to have wi-Fi for a short while 😜. Walking back to the villa there was the most amazing lightening all over the valley I wish I could have stood still & filmed it – it was absolutely stunning, I’ve never seen such a view, a natural beauty. Back at the villa along came a mass of drinks & later in the evening Kareoke – hilarious!! But I think it was definitely a ‘you had to be there’ kind of funny!

The twists and turns are quite something else. I have to say that I was not entirely enthusiastic about the choice of music for our journey – techno shite, sounded more like a kid plonking around on a hi tech piano but then each to their own! I pined for my shuffle to switch my head off from the mind numbing banging which was doing nothing to ease the headache which had been there since waking this morning.

Sibiu, our stop off on the way home, is also known as Hermannstadt in German was founded in the 1190s almost bang slap in the centre of Romania and also in Transylvania. It had a large amount of German settlers even to this day there are around 2,000 still living there today. The old town is pretty spectacular with its wide cobbled streets. The majority of it has been pedestrianised since 2007 when it was a European City of culture. It’s been ranked by Forbes as being the 8th most idyllic places to live.

The large square in the centre (Piata Mare) is where we stopped off for ice-cream, it was baking! Piata Mare is on of the largest of squares in Transylvania and surrounding the square are a number of important buildings from the 17th and 18th century. It is particularly beautiful.

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The naming of their squares was highly original with Piata Mica (small square) leading off the larger Piata Mare with further fairly impressive buildings surrounding the square. Ocnei Street sort of splits the square up and goes out under Liar’s Bridge, the first bridge in Romania made of cast iron way back in 1859. Legend has it that if you lie whilst on the bridge it will collapse, it becomes quite a place for wedding photographs to be taken and of course lovers to tell each other of their love. Although as Ceausescu once preached to the masses from the bridge, it’s blatantly not that legendary.

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Venice: Balls, budgies & BIKEs

Venice is perhaps not the first place you think of as the destination for a rugby match. However, such is the beauty of the European destinations that we seem to end up in on our Challenge Cup away weekends! A small price to pay for not being in the Heineken Cup!

Hotel prices in the city do not cater for the price range of many and as a result we found ourselves staying in an area called Mestre in a very respectable hotel with an outdoor pool, gym and multiple waiting areas. Perfect also, it seemed, for the team who were also staying in our hotel. With a 10 min coach journey to the ‘stadium’ it was an ideal location all round & Venice was easily accessible by public transport.

Our first evening meant a walk into ‘downtown’ Mestre. A fairly hairy walk along a fairly major road was the only option to make our way in and, in time, along the cycle path. My word they cycle like loons. Trying to walk anymore than two across was nay on impossible and you seriously needed to be hugging the white line at the side of the road. Luckily you could hear bikes as they approached thanks to the frantic ringing of their bells, always followed by the first person who heard the faint tinkle screaming ‘BIKE’ only for us all to follow suit & move in.

The Compeed Queen, for the first time in AGES, forgot her miracle patches and of course it was the inevitable blister hell after walking in the walking boots on Friday. Saturday prematch was spent hot footing into Mestre Centre to the pharmacy we had passed the previous night. Thankfully I didn’t even have to try with severe pigeon Italian as there was a ruddy great stand of them, all shapes & sizes. It was quite alarming as to how much the site of the little green packs excited me!!

We seemed to leave for the match incredibly early and the ground felt more like a sort of Sunday league club that had a bit of money and so built a stand?! Here is what it looked like on arrival!

The Mogliano Pitch/Ground

The Mogliano Pitch/Ground

However, as expected, we were not the first of the travelling fans to arrive at the ground. There were in fact at least 50 bodies wrapped up against the elements all with varying amounts of blue, black & white poking out from somewhere. Some familiar faces, some unknowns but none the less all greeted like long-lost friends, the beauty of the camaraderie of European Bath Rugby Travel! Take the whole situation & put it in the UK, never would the chatter be quite the same. It’s strange! Getting food and drink took a while to comprehend until we realised you don’t actually pay at the bar but a little wooden hut where you buy vouchers to then swap at the bar for the food & drink. Savvy to this, queuing for one ticket at a time became a little daft!

The arrival of the players was wonderful. Having only just wished them well when we saw them in the hotel & rumours were flying all over the place of a change of ko and even that there were issues at Gatwick & the initial ref booked couldn’t actually make the match. (Think this actually turned out to be true!) From the coach to changing room they had no option but to walk past the now swarming bar, the tables at which were now all full. Rapturous applause erupted and those seated rose. Watching from nearer the pitch than the bar it was interesting to observe the players faces as they walked through this fairly unfamiliar scene. Some looked downright awkward walking through, embarrassed I guess, smirking in appreciation but eyes glued to the floor in front of them. Others a quick nod of acknowledgement and appreciation before upping their walking pace. Finally you had those that had clearly seen this reaction before, namely our captain, who not so long ago would have fitted any of the previous descriptions. But here we saw a different person acknowledging more openly the Bath presence, taking stock of faces and thanking supporters with a beaming, welcoming smile. Used to the travelling numbers, it would have been unsurprising to him the numbers overtaking the outside bar area.
Conscious that the seating area, like many rugby grounds of the smaller towns in Europe, was a stone cold slab of concrete, an investment in a small round plastic cushion was going to be the most worthwhile €5 of the weekend. Once carefully positioning your rear end to ensure maximum coverage the cushion was so deflated we might as well have sat on two pieces of plastic! But watching others standing at half time to rub their bottoms warm – we thanked our lucky stars we’d invested.

Tries came in all over the shop and the win came in smoothly. The sun had started to make its journey away & the cold Italian evening air was starting to come in. The hot wine was perfect! The players adorned some spectacular excuse of a coat to keep them warm while on the bench. Rustling past us as they walked down to the dead ball area in their long gilets! Most appealing!!

Final score

Final score

Post match it was getting pretty chilly waiting around for the bus to take us back to the hotel with time for a very quick pit stop before heading out again on the same bus to be dropped off at a vaporetto stop to make out way into Venice for our pre booked evening meal. Enough time thankfully to nip up to the room to dump the two seat cushions & pick up my cable for the mobile to give it some charge in the hope of snapping away at some of the sights at night as we hotfooted around the city either to or from the restaurant.

We alighted the vaporetto at Rialto Bridge & my previous trip came flooding back to me as I saw my current travel companions eyes light up at the sight of the beautiful marbled bridge, her eyes darting everywhere trying to take everything in. I remembered back to the first part of my previous trip, which could possibly be around 15 years ago now, visiting everywhere in thick fog. So thick that you could stand in the middle of San Marco square and not see the colonnades surrounding the square. We went over the bridge a few times window shopping and photo snapping as the buzz of the city centre & mass of tourists appeared – somewhat different to the area surrounding the hotel!

Rialto Bridge by night

Rialto Bridge by night

The Grand Canal by night

The Grand Canal by night

The food, whilst delicious, was somewhat of a let down. Having been unable to eat the set menu (well apart from the Tiramisu!) owing to allergies I was served gnocchi with tomato sauce as a starter & my main was spag Bol. The disappointing bit was that we had around possibly a minute between courses to digest. Absurd. We made reference to this & immediately service stopped. Completely. It was as though they were looking to get the group in and out as fast as possible. People were flagging left right & centre & the very idea of wandering around the beautiful city at night was by far the furthest thing from our minds. Thankfully the feeling was unanimous & having scooped up the eldest member of our group who was feeling a little unsteady on her feet we were a crocodile winding our way through the back streets of Venice to get to Piazzale Roma to find the bus home. It was not as quick a walk as expected. Multiple bridges were passed & beautifully lit buildings & I felt somewhat narked that I wasn’t able to take photos along the way, however, we were needed elsewhere & that most defo took precedence. Thankfully other David Baileys popped up along the way who have already been approached for copies.

The evening plan once back at the hotel was to catch up with the world thanks to the free wi-Fi, partake in a night-cap and disappear to our room – shattered from a long day & conscious that tomorrow would be worse! That never happened. Owing to the team not flying home directly there were several of the back room team floating around & catching up with us supporters & enjoying the forthcoming banter, some more than others! Whilst thankfully I didn’t wake with a hangover (not quite sure how) I drank enough to have the barman wink at me the following evening & ask if I was having a Disarono. Enough said. Many giggles, much piss taking observed & bed at 2am but banked as a hilarious evening not to be shared – well, after all, what goes on tour, stays on tour right?!

Sunday was our free day to see the city sites. Lucky in the fact that I’ve been before, for me it was all about ensuring my room-mate, who hadn’t, saw everything she needed & had the most fantastic day.

Our morning was spent on the island of Murano, the world-famous island of the beautiful glass. After ambling & window shopping for quite some time we found a factory which was showing free demonstrations and we were captivated as we watched a vase being blown & shaped in a matter of moments, but slide – and this impressed us far more – a horse being created in the same short amount if time. The heated glass was made to look like putty thanks to the suppleness of the liquid glass. It was astonishing.

Impressive glass sculpture on the island of Murano

Impressive glass sculpture on the island of Murano

Once back on the mainland we had around 4 1/2 hours until a possible route home en masse. You could tell we were all exhausted as the majority of us seemed to be looking at that option rather than staying on longer in the city. Dropped near San Marco Square, head buried in the guidebook to remind myself & explain to Kat the roles of the buildings as we passed them. Admiring the beautiful Italian architecture in glorious winter sunshine, thanking our lucky stars that we had been so lucky with the weather for the duration of our weekend.

The Doges Palace looked incredible in the sunshine, disappointingly the Basilica had a fair amount of scaffolding on top of it for restoration I assume as it could not really be appreciated in its full glory. I had totally forgotten how amazing the ceiling was with all of the marbled scenes in every alcove & adorning every wall backed in gold to really emphasise the majesty of the stories depicted. We paid to head up to the museum near the loggia where the bronze horses were and I’m glad that we did as we were closer to the mosaics & could see just how small each tiny little patch of colour was. Despite the huge signs saying no photography, there were several people doing so. Not I however. I felt far too guilty even trying to do so, no image of them would ever be able to do the views justice anyway!

Doges Palace

Doges Palace

San Marco Square

San Marco Square

View fromt he loggia of San Marco Basilica

View fromt he loggia of San Marco Basilica

A close up of the mosaics on the exterior of the basilica

A close up of the mosaics on the exterior of the basilica

Walking through San Marco Square was quite a feat in itself. What with the mass of pigeons in great swarms waiting to be fed by tourists, some of whom were actually choosing to have their photo taken surrounded by masses of them, some even encouraging them to climb on them. Mental. Certainly not my idea of a must take shot of Venice I have to say! Then there were the flower men. Blokes that would randomly walk up to you without saying anything and shove a single red rose in your face. Dude, I’m walking around with Kat (no offence Budge!) & have my head buried in a guidebook & you think I actually want a red rose?! After about the 4th time of politely declining the oh so tempting purchase I did start to mutter ‘jog on mate’ when presented with one.

I’d forgotten the somewhat pungent aroma in the city thanks to the sewers and whilst meandering down little back streets was often hit by a massive waft of unpleasant stench infiltrating my delicate nostrils. I hate to think what the smell would be like in the summer months here. The water all round the city was a rather bizarre sort if chalky green colour – certainly not a tempting colour to take a dip in. I guess it’s that colour by the nature of it being a lagoon? I’ll have to review that.

From soaking in the splendour of San Marco we dived down a side street off the square and started winding our way towards the Guggenheim Museum. I’d forgotten quite how insane the signage is in Venice. In theory you could get around without a map here as all of the major bridges are ‘signposted’ but it’s like going on a treasure hunt at times if you rely on them! You walk in the direction of the sign and are constantly searching for the next one to move you on in the right direction, often these never actually materialise and many a wrong route is taken as you end up at a dead-end with just the canal in front of you – ah!! Some of the routes came flooding back, but as I was taken round by Paul last time who was familiar with the city I was more following him than the signs!

The Peggy Guggenheim Museum is all modern art which feels almost out-of-place in what to me feels more like a renaissance infused city. Set on the banks of the Grand Canal sort of between Academia bridge & San Marco, it was the residence of Peggy before she passed away. It had been done up quite considerably from what I remembered and now holds a rather larger collection than I remembered. There was also a temporary exhibition of Impressionist works too and Monet’s Waterlillie was quite something to stumble across in there! From here we chose a different route from the one that we had taken previously to see a different area of Venice on foot and I’m glad that we did. We walked past some very majestic looking churches and some beautiful little bridges crossing the canals. Constantly counting our lucky stars that we had totally amazing weather for all of this exploring. Soaking in the majesty of this beautiful city befre the darkness appeared once more before we flew home.

Outside the Guggenheim Museum

Outside the Guggenheim Museum

View from a bridge on way to the Guggenheim

View from a bridge on way to the Guggenheim

San Marco square as the sun was starting to set

San Marco square as the sun was starting to set

Just managed to squeeze in a glimpse of Rialto bridge in daylight

Just managed to squeeze in a glimpse of Rialto bridge in daylight

Tenerife Sept 2012

• Elderly Europeans seem to like nothing better than strolling up and down the beach in their swimwear.
• At an all inclusive resort it amazes me how much people eat! Who wants hot soup for lunch in 32 degree heat?
• It’s not a hippo on the neighbouring balcony but an oversized Russian clearly banished from his room just snoring like one every night.
• When trying to speak a foreign language, think before you speak. It’s hardly surprising the Spanish looked bemused when you spoke to them in Romanian!
• Shop keepers will always think you’re married with kids back at home if you travel on your own, no matter what country you are in.
• Apparently it’s ok to let toddlers run around near a swimming pool unwatched without armbands on?
• Boobs out when sunbathing is really not a good look, particularly over the age of 50 and you were very wise not to have followed the trend!
• All white clothing looks good on VERY few people.
• Those white leggings you found for £3 are def better in the bin after spotting an oversized lady in a pair – cellulite hell.
• If you keep ordering beer at the bar it won’t be surprising that by the end of the week they see you coming & start pouring your pint before you get to the bar!
• The best idea when looking for a sunbed spot is to look for the largest sunbather – a total confidence booster!
• Lone travelling will ALWAYS end in a burnt back – tho following Steve’s suggestion of squeezing suncream on cling-film & lying on it is ingenious! But no, I didn’t take a roll with me!!
• You were making life easier for your return by checking work emails, no you didn’t have to but it did little harm.
• Canoodling couples in the pool is one thing, but hairy OAP canoodling couples in the pool & on the sunbed next to you, seriously NO NEED!!
• It’s only natural the things you miss the most are your cats, you spend most of your time with them now (well, when they decide to come home, hey!)
• It is quite unreal the clientele in an English themed pub in a place such as Tenerife – EXACTLY as expected! (no I didn’t go in, they were all outside!)
• A break is what YOU make of it.
• You chose not to make a massive effort which meant you were left alone, good on you – it’s what you needed.
• It was definitely the best idea to read lots of the Trip Advisor reviews of the hotel to know what to ask for in advance & watch out for when you are there in the hotel.
• Might be an idea to have taken a towel for the pool & beach – then you wouldn’t have needed to buy one that was crap and basically an oversized flannel (why did you bother bringing it home?!)
• If you want to people watch by the pool you might want to invest in a darker pair of sunnies as think people can see in your current pair.
• Renting the fan for the room was worth every single cent you paid as it was not cool enough really to sleep at night without it!
• The only people that will always look forward to you being home will be your parents (oh and the cats!)

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Rugby World Cup Final Weekend Paris 2007

It’s Wednesday before the match and it feels like everyone I know is getting tickets and so on for the final. With each person that admits their guilt (that they are going without me) my jealousy pangs get worse.

Thursday evening and a text comes through from Louisa. It went along the lines of Paddy has decided that he can’t face the idea of heading over to the final and so if you want the train ticket, it’s yours. Cue a mass of hysterical screaming, tears, jumping up and down and “I’m going to Paris! I’m going to Paris!” The only thing that I lacked was a match ticket, of which I was hopeful I would be able to get near the stadium, but was reassured that the atmosphere in the rugby village would be just as good – I just didn’t care, I was going to Paris!!

I am not sure how I survived work on Friday or more like, how they coped with me! I had an inane smile on my face all day apparently, totally unable to construct any sentences that made any sense apart from – I’m going to Paris for the World Cup Final!

My heart was in my mouth queuing up to check in for Eurostar on the Saturday morning, the excitement was almost uncontrollable I kept pinching myself it was all real and actually happening to me! ‘What on earth are you going to be like later?’ my travelling companions kept asking. I hated to think!!

Once in Paris I was like a child in a sweetshop, so much to take in – so little time! My fellow travellers were veterans of the World Cup 2007 and were amused by my reaction to the decorations and such the like that were on display in the Gara De Nord. We headed straight to the stadium on a well over packed RER train to collect the tickets for the other two and buy programmes in advance so that we did not have to carry them later.

My best friend and her husband I knew were around the stadium and so after a phone call we realised that they were actually only 20 metres in front of us and walking towards us; photos taken and squeals of excitement shared we parted and we moved on round to collect the tickets for the other two. When watching the others collect theirs and the excitement that followed for them, a very very large knot formed in my stomach on top of the others that were already there. I knew I just had to get into the stadium and get a seat with almost sensible prices. I could feel the devastation creep over me and the realisation that, for me, just being in Paris wouldn’t ever actually just  do. Holding it together and celebrating with my friends was one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do.

The hotel turned out to be the literal 50m walk from the stadium that I was told and once inside the room we layered up for the night ahead. I was in two minds whether to stay in the room and in the warmth and watch it on tv or not. I don’t think I was coping with the ‘I still don’t have a ticket’ thing and was beginning to lose any shred of hope of getting a ticket by the second. I texted my best mate in case anyone in her corporate area did not turn up, highly unlikely however – but it was worth a try.

We headed down to the Rugby Village (San Denis) where the atmosphere was electric. The final may be SA v England but all nations were being represented in here in some of the most fabulous ways. This is what I LOVE about rugby though – the ability to throw all nations into a large open space surrounded by temporary bars, a lot of alcohol, some rugby balls, a beach ball several HUGE flags and thousands of people here for the ride, not a care in the world just wanting to be a good game of rugby and have a memorable weekend.

Whilst eating our supper of lasagna and white wine, I went very quiet and spent a lot of time just soaking up the atmosphere, taking in all of the sights – and there were a fair few of them!! Chebals, Knights, kilts, bowler hats, the Queen a mass of face paint and a continuous chorus of Swing Low. I was here, I had made it, I was IN Paris, it was the World Cup Final and I WAS HERE!! But I still had no ticket. Having met up with friends of friends (Falcons supporters driving back after the match and a drink to catch the home match against us – mad!) a decision was made to start walking towards the stadium along with the masses with all five of us keeping our ears to the ground for any reasonably priced tickets on sale.

My stomach turned and the shakes arrived from nerves. The place was heaving and I invested in a Ref link in the vain hope that I would get a ticket and also as a memento. We carried on through the masses. I’d lost them in the crowd 1 in front of me the rest vanished – aaaahhhh. Suddenly a hand appeared, my name being shouted in desperation with ‘We’ve got one! We’ve got one!’ That knot in my stomach flew up to my throat. I could be moments away from having a ticket I could feel the tears welling and the total inability to speak any sense come back. I felt as sick as a dog. Oh god oh god oh god was it real? Where was it? How much? Having already got official ones my ‘real’ ticket was closely inspected by the others and passed with a seal of approval. Where was it? North Stand 16 rows from the front behind the posts – superb!! The price, ahhhh! How much was I expecting to pay and more to the point how much was I prepared to pay?! Decisions had to be made instantaneously and the phrase ‘stuff it!’ came to mind. I paid E35 less than he was asking thanks to a translation error on price and I was off after hugging and kissing Nicolae – the seller.

I walked through the crowds staring at my ticket soaking in exactly what I had in my hand. I was like Charlie with the Golden friggin ticket. The emotion to follow, the exhaustion tomorrow from all the energy burned. The next worry was as to whether it was real or not. I was TOTALLY unprepared for the fact that I might not be able to get in still – it could be a very good fake. Or, stolen? I handed my ticket to the guard with one eye open and my shoulders hunched, I was ushered forward after the green light appeared. OH MY GOD! This was it, I was in, I as actually going to be there in the stadium. I waved at the others at the gate to let them know then . . . . . broke down. Now we are not talking a few tears here, we are talking Niagara fucking Falls from the eyes with short intakes of breath too – nearly hyperventilating. A lovely sight to see I am sure! But was I happy? You have no idea, trust me! No-one could have been more ecstatic more like. I was far too nervous to even walk to my seat straight away in fear of just totally losing it. I decided that there were 3 phone calls I had to make. I was in the perfect state to call the parents and admit that I was never planning on just watching on some big screen and that I had just paid what I had for a ticket that I had every intention of finding. (They though that the Rugby Village would do on the big screen – how little they really know me!!!) I phoned my friends under the Eiffel tower who were without hotel and had driven over to watch it there. I was sworn at badly and then hung up on – jealous?!! I then called a rugby playing friend who had been reassuring me since Thurs evening that I would find a ticket –how right he was. He seemed as emotional as I was that I had actually managed to get one – bless! I then texted several people (am dreading the phone bill) namely my season ticket neighbour, Rach who was up in Newcastle with the rest of the Supporters’ on a trip that I was meant to be on and had fully paid for. I calmed down – well, a little – and went to my seat. My superb last min Rugby World Cup Final seat. I was off again, this was turning into far too an emotional day to say the least and the match hadn’t even started!

Texts flew everywhere before and during the match. I was sat next to Nicolae and several other French who clearly thought that I was the funniest thing ever!! Female, on her own, at the Rugby World Cup Final screaming so loudly that she shouted herself horse well before the end of the first half. The match itself was tense to put it mildly but waiting for that Cueto ‘try’ result well, time stood still I was uncontrollable I wanted a drink, a fag, my Mum, Bunny to cover my eyes, another drink and someone I knew to grab hold of during the anxious moments. Instead I chewed a hole in the Bath bangers that I was creating a lot of noise with previously. So close, but not that disheartening as I initially thought. I think that I sat down saying oh well. It’s fair to say that several decisions did not go our way – but at the end of the day it’s a game and not a war. I cheered SO loudly when our SoS came on, at least one of ‘my boys’ would be playing. I still firmly believe that Borthers would have been a better choice for the line outs – I didn’t realise until later quite how many we had actually lost.

Coming back to our hotel after our venture into town on another seriously over packed train, I could still feel the smile on my face, still not quite believing that I was actually here. We had lost but put up a bloody good fight, a fantastic turnaround from 36 days previously. The boys did us proud to say the least. ‘Little Taitey’ this time last time round was watching it from his 6th form Common Room and there he was putting on a stunning performance and taking it all in his stride – you’ve just played a World Cup Final! I would have been a nervous wreck! We had a drink in a bar near the Gara de Nord and had chips and sang songs with the clientele in there at the top of our voices and then made a move for bed and some beauty sleep. We noticed on the way back how few SA’s there seemed to be around the place celebrating.

We arrived back in the hotel at about 2 in the morning and there were loads of people in the foyer. One of the friends that I was travelling with spotted someone who she had met previously and she was standing next to a man who I recognised and was racking my brains to try to work out where I knew him from. He was clearly looking at me and thinking the same thing. SUCH a small world, it turned out to be my mother’s first cousin. When I last saw him I had way shorter hair and he was sober and so I was fairly impressed that I did not have to remind him who I was. We blurted out each other’s name at the same time. It was quite funny really. Couldn’t wait to phone the parents the next morning to tell them!

Sunday morning 7am alarm – really?? Do I have to get up? Oh yes, yes you do – the taxi was coming to pick us up at 7:40am to take us to the team hotel where we were going to be on live TV – BBC1 Breakfast at the equivalent of 7:30am UK time – what a way to round it all off! Keeping coats on for as long as possible the presenter – Chris Hollins- told us very briefly what he would ask us and the next thing that we knew we were on air! LIVE TV for god’s sake LIVE TV!! It was over in a flash and I really can’t remember anything that I said or was asked but hoped that the en mass text had been received by all to watch it. I did have a phone call from mother who, amusingly, I was talking to whilst leaping over flower beds in front of the team hotel as Sky had hijacked us and we would be on air with them in about 2 mins. I shouted down the phone to Mum to turn over to Sky. The interview was MUCH longer but we were all far more relaxed, dab hands at this live TV interviewing now! We came inside for a coffee after it was all over and we had many giggles – again totally unable to recall what we had said or even had been asked. We warmed up and then tried to work out where we were going from here and BBC were clearly not going to pay for the taxi back but bless one of the Sky blokes, he sorted out our taxi back to the hotel. We did find it highly amusing that we had groupies when we came back into the hotel to get a coffee – evidently Sky had been playing in the hotel bar and we were kindly complimented on our interviewing skills!! So players spotted – 2, Simon Shaw, with no shoes, writing his column on the pc in the lobby for the Evening Standard and Andy Gomersall sounding VERY horse looking very much like he was just coming in from a very long night or after a very early breakfast! My vote is with the latter!! Live TV appearances -2 and personal groupies – 3!

We spent the afternoon sitting and eating and consuming Kir Royals before alighting the Eurostar back home to some sleep. We moved to our special compartment aptly known as the sin bin with complementary wine drunk out of Eurostar glasses while we played England Rugby Heroes Top Trumps and ate Malteasers surrounded by England flags hung up and used as a table-cloth, much to the amusement of the staff.

We even met yet another groupie – this was starting to become a habit! He and his wife had previously spotted us walking up the train and then actually came to find us to congratulate us on our media appearances, both of which they had seen this morning, live! He appeared in the door way of the little compartment a little out of breath exclaiming ‘found you at last!’ we all looked at each other as if to say do you know him before he explained why he had semi stalked us! Oh how we giggled!! Finally walking through arrivals of Eurostar at what ever time it was still adorned with flags England strip and the face tattoos (well just me!) we were papped like celebrities by a photographer from The Times. We were laughing so much as we walked out we were asked if we minded going back and looking a bit sort of somber. Well this had us going even more. I looked away from the camera & chewed my cheeks, Louisa was the most convincing & Adam – nope Adam couldn’t help laughing! But we made page 7 of The Times on the Monday morning!!

How can I sum up this weekend, concisely? Emotional I think is definitely the main word but I am so proud of the boys and the gut wrenching performance they put in. I was particularly sad to see Robinson limping off. I have now seen his final club and country appearance. Mainly though I am still wearing my shirt with pride. I am English. . .. . . . and proud.

Lapland and the Ice Hotel Feb 2007

So after a night in the Thistle Hotel just near Heathrow we headed to the airport at 5.15 am to a rather large queue at check in and an even longer queue at security with only 7 mins to go before the flight left we managed to queue barge but yet more waiting when I had to have my bag checked, all and sundry was taken out (yes including Bunny!) for the world to see and the lady sensed that we were a little stressed and asked us if we were waiting for a plane – YES IT LEAVES IN 3 MINS.  She didn’t really speed up and just as we were ready to run we had to do the whole shoe saga thing too.  So there are the 4 of us sweating like pigs running through the airport with my shoe laces all undone having to run with my legs out wide so as not to trip up.  Just as we sat in our seats on the plane, after knocking several heads off on the way down the plane, it taxied out.

Upon arrival in Kiruna (200km north of the Arctic Circle in Sweden) we were greeted by our guide, Jordana, and headed to the hotel and had a meeting in the breakfast room to go though the dos and don’ts of surviving the freezing temps and to sign up to the activities that we wanted during the long weekend.  Bang went all of the cash I had taken with me as I signed up for everything – well you only live once!  As for the advice that we were given, it was more of a suggestion really, but if you are suggested things to do and not to do by a local, then I am not stupid enough to ignore it.  So: no showers in the morning, no make up, any moisturiser, no lip balm, any cotton socks or clothes.  Little of that bothered me bar the no cotton socks, it was all I had taken and was planning on 2 or 3 layers of them and thought I would be ok.  We headed off for an orientation walk in the town of Kiruna, in the dark, and felt the temperatures of the Arctic Circle.  We headed off on our own to buy wool socks, ended up buying an incredibly fetching pair of charcoal wool leggings which actually turned out to be the best buy but I have to say I am not too sure that I will actually be wearing them out a) in public or b) that I will need them in the UK.

Anyway, headed to first group meal and was left at the end of the table with a wall for company and a spare chair opposite as we were 13. Nice start! Shitake mushroom and reindeer heart soup and reindeer meat for main, only a tiny bit of which I could eat as was on a bed of veg which turned out to be blessed peppers.  Blooming tasty actually and we all ended up in eating reindeer for every meal where possible, some of us ate more than we bargained in terms of parts of reindeer which you will hear about later!!  After which we went back to the hotel to flake out after our early start.  Unpacked a little and climbed into the VERY slim single and no space next to Jan who I was sharing a room with.  Chatted for a bit and so on then drifted off only to be woken up by a hippo in the next door bed!  The beds are close enough anyway but with the snoring so bloody close didn’t end up in sleeping a wink!

What a view in the morning though from the window – wow!  The sun shining on the thick snow of the Iron Ore mine that we could see from our window.  After breakfast we headed off to go Husky Sledging.  We went in a bus about 10 km outside of Kiruna to where the dogs were kept, as one of the first group to put on the ‘oh so attractive and very slimming’ all in ones. I then helped to take some of the dogs out of the cages and up to where the sledges were all ready to go.  It was great as we got to learn a lot about each of the dogs that we were taking up.  Some had also been bought in from elsewhere and they were much louder i.e. barking loads once they had been attached to the rope but the ones that we were helping take up from the kennels were really quiet as they had been chosen out of the mass of dogs that were in the kennels to run today.  It turns out that they were the youngest ones and they were in the process of training them.  It was great to be able to ask all the questions that we wanted and be so up close to the Huskies. It was pretty nippy out and I was on the first sledge, we had some noisy ones behind us as we could hear them screaming and so on and I am sure that they were calling out my name at one point too!  It turns out that they, heaven only knows how, managed to fall off their sledge! We had a break part of the way in and were given coffee and tea from a little Tipi in the middle of the country side.  The sight around of us of the snow was quite amazing. Snow that far north is more like cane sugar i.e. you can’t compress it into snow balls and the way it glitters, well you just have to see it to believe it as my photos did not really pick up clearly enough just how beautiful it was.  The snow off the tracks that the dogs were running on was really deep – like waist-high and no one seemed to be playing.  Our guide spotted this and told us how much time we had left before we moved off again and it was quite a while so I threw myself into the snow literally.  It was great!  So soft (thank heavens!) and I had several others following suit.  The worst thing about it was that I found it very difficult to get back up again as there was nothing to lean on.  I made snow angels and basically had fits of giggles all the time.  The air was quite bracing once we had taken off the fashionable all in ones and after an interesting trip home in the bus we had a few hours of rest before the next activity which was cross-country skiing in the evening from the Ice Hotel.

We headed to the Church to have a little look and had some chips for lunch in the American Irish Bar (which is a chain) which was all that we needed really.  It was a rather bizarre building which the Swedes had called the most beautiful building in Sweden.  I have to say it was rather striking being that it was made simply of wood and looked like a gingerbread house almost with long sloping roofs to the ground. 

We arrived a the Ice Hotel and my stomach started churning BIG time, some of you may know why I am a tad scared of throwing my self down a hill of snow for those of you that don’t well Mummy has told me the story of how she broke her leg when skiing from a very young age and with sound effects which has totally put me off the idea.  I was more scared of the skiing idea than I was when I did my bungy jump!  How ridiculous is that?!  We spent what felt like an age working out which skis were right for who and then the guide just put them all in the back of the truck which to me seemed like a total waste of time but who was I to argue.  The journey up was rather amusing and certainly highly uncomfortable and I was having fits of very nervous giggles.  We had a coffee and so on around a camp fire while we were told about all of the animals that like to come out at night in this part of the forests.  After walking down hill a bit to get to a marginally flatter bit to get kitted up.  The light was non-existent at this stage we had the light of the moon and the reflection of the snow to guide us down which initially we thought was rather cool but then when you couldn’t actually see the blooming bits of red and yellow tape to show you where to go we became less amused we had not been shown what to do or how to stop and were not given headlamps so that we could see where we were going.  The whole thing was a joke.  Some of the others gave up and sat in the van which eventually caught up with us and guided us the last 100m or so.  I may have been last in the van at the bottom but I was absolutely determined to finish it. I did spend a majority of the trip down hugging random trees that I couldn’t swerve around, falling into HUGE piles of snow and generally going arse over tit and forgetting that I had huge great skis on my feet when trying to get up and so having fits of yet more giggles. Boy oh boy did I deserve the pints I had that evening, stuff the food intolerance/no drinking thing I thought and enjoyed two of the best tasting pints in a very long time. I definitely had earned them from my earlier efforts in the day though.  Everyone was really proud of me when I got to the bottom and so on – evidently I was a little snappy and as white as a sheet before I went down.  Oops! Thank god one and all understood! 

We headed back to the hotel where they had made Carbonara for us (oh well bang goes no wheat!) and then some of us mad idiots that had been doing everything all day joined some of them that hadn’t and headed down the iron ore mine.  It was huge and a focal point of the town – we could see it from our rooms and it provided most of the jobs for the town of Kiruna before the delights of technology took over and now pretty much all the mining is done from the 7th floor of a near by building via computer – amazing.  Anyway we went to visit the Mushroom Man as suggested by Jordana down in the mine that used to work down there but now runs his mushroom farm down there in a disused room.  He grows Shitake mushrooms and it was fascinating to see and hear all about how he has done it.  I wont bore you with all of the details apart from it was very dark when he turned the car lights off on the way back you couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face – we tried! And it was + 15 degrees down there and that was a constant temperature – oh wow!  We climbed into bed totally shattered after showering (for the first time!) though and me climbing up onto the top of a HUGE mound of snow outside the entrance of the hotel which was not actually as comfortable to slide down as it looked!  I did have rather a bruised behind after that silly idea, oh well!

The following morning when we had breakfast you could tell that we were all REALLY excited about the events of that day – we were going to be driving Skidoos around till after lunch and none of us could wait.  I was a little nervous that I would not be able to control it properly after driving one out in Finnish Lapland and not really being given much instruction and driving it really joltily if that is a word!

We headed over to the Ice Hotel and got kitted up again in the attractive all in ones of a green and black variety and took everything that they gave us as suggested by Jordana who was coming with us on this trip.  Balaclavas the lot then we got our helmets with the visors and after a quick how to session off we went!  It was such a stunning day with the sun out and a clear blue sky – idyllic bliss.  All worries disappeared as I revelled in the sheer natural beauty of my surroundings.  I was fine with the controls of the skidoo frankly the best bits of the whole trip was when we could go really fast, I made it up to 82 kmph!  I learnt to keep back and then slam on the accelerator to see how quickly I could go! Brilliant! You were not allowed to over take hence that was the only real way that I could get any speed up!  Several people, well in fact that is a blatant lie, two people on the same skidoo went off track several times including into a large bank of snow, the back of the people in front and a tree.  It turns out that their skidoo was a tad faulty and when they first touched the accelerator it did nothing and then lurched forward as they were sent to the front on the way back and Jan went on theirs. We didn’t all half enjoy winding them up about it all and we all giggled over that for quite a while – notice the common theme – a lot of giggling?!  How good did that feel for me after months of doom and gloom, to feel comfortable enough in these, frankly, strangers company and feel accepted and wanted and, cared for.  My no drinking and screwed up dietary needs were accepted without question and were 100% supported once I had explained my reasons, such a nice feeling for a change.  I tell you there are times like this when you know people are 100% genuine and who your true friends are. Anyway back to the skidoo trip.

Part way through the trip we stopped to do a bit of Ice Fishing which was hilarious just trying to find the ice and making the hole, of course there are no fish around at this time of year and but we all had a go at holding the line and so on and thought up loads of stories to tell folks back home about the ones that got away!  We had lunch in a little cabin and then got back on the Skidoos to head back to the Ice Hotel.  We handed in helmets and nipped to the ladies, one thing that I have been most relieved about was that I was never caught short in the middle of nowhere, the idea of having to disrobe in the middle of the freezing cold or even in a tiny wooden loo really did not appeal!  Really didn’t want to get frost bite on my bum – how would I explain that?!! We had a few moments and so on to wonder around before the next activity, I just stayed in the warm and tried to thaw out a little before we headed out again.

The next activity was still at the Ice Hotel and we were snow shoeing up a mountain which was frankly more like a hill and then, if we wanted to abseil down the other side.  So we all got kitted out with our snow shoes and followed one of the guides up the hill.  Well at least we had headlamps for this journey as it was again pitch black but it was incredibly steep and at times we had to really walk on our toes in fear of falling over and knocking over all of those that were behind.  In fact that was not me as I was bringing up the rear as they say with the second guide, walking uphill is the worst thing for my asthma.  We finally made it to the top after sweating buckets in our all in ones and we were given some hot chocolate whilst one of the guides set up the abseiling equipment and it started to get really cold.  We sent those that had not done it before down first and as I had I ended up in being 3rd from last. It was going to be a breeze I thought but suddenly as I got to the top and the fact that because of the dark you could see nothing below you my stomach flipped and my legs turned to jelly, I made it down though no problems, I was just a little shaky at the top!

We had supper out in the evening followed by looking at some of the ice sculptures that were on show around the town including the table and chairs in the square.  We had borrowed empty and cleaned beer bottles from the place that we had had supper in and accosted some strangers to take our photo at the table, mine was the only one that came out – it pays to have an expensive camera! Once we were back at the hotel we had a sauna before we had to start to sort out bits and pieces ready to pack in the morning as the night after was in the Ice Hotel and we didn’t have a room as such to lay everything out to pack it. We had our second and last shower of the trip and then headed to bed.

A fairly early start in the morning as we packed before we had breakfast and we were checking out at 9 I think it was.  Panic stations as Jan and I had to pack ready to go as we had an early start the following morning as we had chosen to do yet another option the day we left that left at 8 in the morning.  It was all sorted though and we were ready to go no problem!  We put all of our stuff in the coach and we headed to the place where we would be looking at reindeer’s and having a go at reindeer sledging.  Jordana had given us some guidance on the coach and it sounded a little scary.  We were greeted by 2 gents in the Sami clothing (the indigenous people of Lapland) and shown some of the reindeer on their farm.  We walked through the farm and a field of what looked like relatively young reindeer with a very sweet looking plain white one.  I am not sure if they were there because they were young or because they we deemed not necessary and so would be slaughtered.  I didn’t really want to know.  Anyway we headed to the Reindeer race track when the gentleman showed us how to do it again.  By the time that the first few had been whizzed around my poor little toes were sheer blocks of ice and I could hardly feel them.  Some of the Reindeer it was safe to say were far quicker than others and one in particular sticks out in my mind, thankfully not mine but it nearly flung its rider into the fence it went around one of the corners so quickly.  Amusingly the wife of that poor sod’s reindeer was the slowest.  We had to bark like little puppies to encourage the reindeers to go faster, didn’t half feel like an idiot doing that and I seriously thought for a moment that they might be having us on just to make us look like silly tourists!

After thinking that I seriously had frost bite in my toes as I had absolutely no feeling in them we went into a little tipi type place with a lovely roaring fire, it was still pretty darned cold though as we kept our coats etc on and you can see our breath in the photos that I took.  I told Jordana that my feet were literally frozen, well I think that she might have actually guessed as I pretty much had my feet in the fire!  She told me to take my shoes and all of my socks off and to put them near the fire. Thankfully the feeling began to be restored to my feet and after some time I was able to put my socks back on and then my shoes and revelled in the fact that I could just about wiggle my toes in my tiny sized shoes!  We had some reindeer soup for lunch and of course some coffee, I swear that they drink more coffee in this country than we do. From here we headed back to the bus and a little trip to the Ice Hotel – the highlight of the trip!

We arrived at the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi (ucas-year-vi) at about 1pm and Jordana checked us all in while we all started donning the oh so fetching clothing provided which I have to say was a godsend.  I headed straight to the shop to get the gifts for myself of course and some other lucky few!  Not that I am a shop-aholic, I just wanted to get that all done and dusted and most importantly packed as we had booked an early start morning wake up call on our final morning as Jan and I had opted to do one final activity.  We then made it to the guided tour of the Ice Hotel and were basically explained where everything was.  There is really not much to it as you would expect, in the actual ice rooms are the all important Absolute Ice Bar and the rooms and suites.  When we were shown where they all were at the end of the tour and suggested that we look at them all on my own I did my best to loose my self from the others that I was with.  I wanted to take a photo of each of the suites and soak in the freezing air and contemplate my achievement for getting here, making it a success and enjoying every moment by forgetting all about the past few months.

The difference between the 22 suites was amazing the imagination of the artists that come from all over the world not just from Sweden which I found fascinating.  There were of course rooms that I preferred over others.  Each room had a plaque on the exterior of it to tell you who the sculptors were and where they came from and a little bit about the room.  I read them all before I went in each individual room and some I had to come out and read again as I simply did not understand where the artist was coming from. Some of the rooms had very obscure ideas behind them.  Of course not all of my photos have come out brilliantly, I could have been taking photos of all of the rooms for ages but I really had to stop somewhere and I had also actually found a very handy book in the shop which went through each room and gave more info than was on the plaque about each of the suites and the deluxe suites.  The fact that it is all built in suck a short space of time is just unreal too.  There is really not much to look at of the Ice Hotel from the exterior as it is kind of surrounded by outbuilding that are all heated and also the two huge building that could easily be mistaken for airplane hangers which house the spare ice that is taken from the Torne River that is sent abroad for whatever needs i.e. the Ice Bars in London, Tokyo etc and are basically mega huge fridges. 

It is really difficult to sum it up anymore than that really.  It is a once in a lifetime experience and I would recommend it to ANYONE.  The fact that it actually feels warm when going into the building from the outside of -21 as it was when we were there was just so bizarre but yet we still had the all in ones on in the bar and holding our ice glasses (yes they are glasses made from ice!) with our gloves but with rosey red cheeks, could that be from the vodka cocktails that we were drinking?!  There were three weddings happening while we were there and boy oh boy did the brides look cold after!  Some of them were in the restaurant that we all had our last meal in.  I joked with one of the ladies from the group that we would do it in the all in ones, no need to worry about the hair and make up – ideal!!! 

Our last meal was delicious and I have managed to find the menu on line and have copied what I had to eat:

*Deep fried sweetbread of reindeer with almond potatoes and wild mushroom mayonnaise.

*Grouse stuffed reindeer round steak, with savoy cabbage cooked in cream, smoked reindeer sausage and oxtail glace. Served with Västerbotten purée and cranberries cooked in port wine, served in a glass made from the crystal clear ice of the Torne River.

*Chocolate terrine with banana ice cream and lukewarm lavender sabayon.

With of course the 2 pints that were another treat as the end of the holiday drew to a close and it was back to alcohol shortage and screwed up diet for the next few months. 

After supper we re-robed and hit the Ice Bar.  I had the plain and simple intention to be the last one out of the bar!  We had much hilarity with several classic comments and happy moments which I wont bore you with as they will mean nothing to you all but the fun carried on all evening and I did end up the last of 3 to head to bed and felt very proud of myself.  It was so nice to be able to drink again and enjoy myself and feel comfortable, confident and accepted with the company that I was in.  Perhaps I might venture out of doors back at home now and start going to the pub again with the neighbours? (Ok so I have already since I started writing this, it is quite long!)

Yes you do really sleep in your thermals and in an arctic sleeping bag and yes you do walk through the ice hotel with just them on and your snow boots to your room.  I don’t remember it actually being that cold.  The hilarity and excitement I think must have kept us all warm.  Last thing I remember was trying to arrange my coat which I had taken with me to sleep on in case I needed a loo stop in the night and the next thing I was being woken up with Lingonberry juice.  I certainly didn’t hear Jan’s hippo impressions!

We upped and dressed and had some breakfast, Jan’s head was pounding thankfully mine was ok. We took our bags with us and met the others from the Ice Hotel that we were going to be travelling with and looking a moose with.  Off we headed towards the mountains and closer to the border with Norway and the largest mountain in Sweden.  The scenery was beautiful and it was lovely to see a different section of Sweden.  We did get to see some moose, sadly none with horns though as only the males have horns and at this time of year it is only the females and the young that can be seen from the road.  We were driving around in a big red van so I am pretty sure that they all saw us coming. How tempted was I to burst out into song of Postman Pat, it was going around in my head!!

So we had a hellish time coming home as the flight was delayed and yet the plain was held for us apparently and so we basically got split and the plane I was originally meant to be on were ALL worried about me as there were only 3 of us that did not make it on and at least the others were a couple but I was all on my own!  What a nightmare to put it mildly!  Anyway I managed to make it back to Bath 3 hours after the original arrival time.  Poor Lucy had me ranting and raving and on a high for only a short while before I flaked out.  Of course didn’t sleep as my dreams were all about running from airport to airport and my poor little brain was totally exhausted come the morning! Wed was a bit like that too but now it is a week since I got back and I have sent my photos to the others and am waiting for Jan’s to arrive.  It has taken me ages to write this.  Basically it is amazing.  I hope to go back there in the summer and catch up with Jordana and help her out with the dogs that she has (50 huskies) I will be creating a scrap book with the photos and bits as soon as I get them from Jan so I am sure, if you are ever unlucky enough, I may bore you with those one day!

Easter in Romania – Joint email 2005

Anca Tanasescu wrote:

Please forward to anyone else whose email address is not above

Dear All,
It’s a verrrry long time since I haven’t heard from you. Faithful Emma who has really become part of our family, is with us and I’ve tried to catch up with news about you but she doesn’ know very much either.
Hey, people, you’ve had pancakes at my place, and spaghetti too, and did the washing up and slept on my floors and Josh and Peter had a survey of doughnut places in Bucharest,(Peter, I still have the broken tape recorder you left behind, I had it repaired and my granddaughter Mara listens to her music & stories on it, thank you) and Milla and Ruth went to the painted monasteries with us, and Richard was on TV teaching English and doing the frog song, and Matt’s pupils were eating out of his hands as Chris Baines told us, and Nobby recited all the counties in Ireland , and Chris recited all the army ranks, and we did not see Helena too often just because she was’busy’ elsewhere and Holly came and cooked some banana thing for Emma who was almost starving because my poor cooking, and Oonagh who got chicken pox exactly after you had all been together spending the night on my floors and then nobody knowing if he/she had had it or not and worrying (just a bit!) and Andrew who would go and get ‘MERDENELE’ , those cheese pies if you remember, at very late hours, like midnight , for example, and the wonderfully sarcastic letter you wrote to Emma’s ( the one from Jersey) parents in response to a nasty letter they had written to Milla after their daughter ran away.
You surely have many more things to add to my list. I do not think it had been a bad time for you.And you adapted amazingly well and quickly to all the cultural differences. As for myself, I think it definitely was my best GAP experience and I would love to know how you are getting on in life.
I stopped my GAP work last year (it was high time for me to do so ; I was absolutely fed up). Very few Brits are coming out nowadays; we have mostly Aussies and New Zelanders. The generation gap between the new ones and myself had got more and more difficult to bridge up and I kept comparing every group with your group which to me had been very special, something that was much to their disadvantage.
I do not want to get very emotional about it all so I will stop here wishing you all the best in the world.
Love,
Anca

I would like to add a few sentences seeing as this was meant to be a “joint email”! Time goes by so quickly it is frankly scary. I am not sure how many times I have returned to Anca and Bucharest and each time it is the same. Some things do change though, there are an amazingly large number of BMW’s around the place, the price of beer and cigarettes has gone up (well the price of everything has gone up not surprisingly!) Of course Lili’s daughter Mara who will be 4 on the 19th of May gets more endeering the more time I spend with her. She does not understand a word I say nor I her but still she is absoloutly adorable. If any of you were lucky enough to see pictures of Lili when she was younger you would be amazed at how alike they look!

Anca however is not in the best of health. Having retired (being of the age!) last July she is enjoying an easy life. Whilst I was here though she has been diagnosed with skin condition on her face and has undergone an operation today to have it removed. whilst is not too serious it could have disfigured her face if not removed. She is undergoing radio therapy for the next 8 days and is also on pills. I think it has helped me being here as it has rather taken thier mind off it but still Anca will not sit still, I think I need to invest in some string and tie her to a chair! As I was saying, some things never change! I have yet to find her watching MTV on her own though, its usually cartoons as Mara is around! I brought out my playstation for Mara and I can see that Anca and Lili are going to get quite annoyed with it as it is quite addictive!

Anyway enough from me, Lili tells me that they might all be coming over soon, I would simply love to get some of us all together again if they do.

Take care and hope to hear from you soon,
Emma
xxx

From: Chris Connolly
Sent: Tuesday, April 05, 2005 12:48 AM
To: Anca Tanasescu
Subject: Re: Greetings 1998 January Gappers!

 
My dearest, darling Anca and Emma,
 
At last you have managed to prick my conscience sufficiently to make me get up off my arse (or to be more precise, sit down on it) and write the two of you a long overdue email.  I must also apologise to Emma for a lack of response and reciprocation to her Christmas cards, which wasn’t anything personal, just a reflection of the fact that I haven’t got around to sending any postcards for about 4 years now; although I did always tell myself that I really should sit down and write her an email, but, as you will have observed, I never really quite got around to it.
 
Oh – so many memories you have brought back Anca that I had completely forgotten about!  In fact, I was thinking about you on Saturday night as I was talking to a Romanian girl (from Galati) at a party and I was telling her how I couldn’t quite believe how the time has flown by and that I haven’t been back.  It is still a plan though… we’ll see when it comes to fruition!  She was also amused at my proficiency in swearing in Romanian – about the only bit of the language that I haven’t forgotten!
 
So, as for me, I am currently in the third year of my PhD at the London School of Economics (LSE) researching “Richard Nixon’s opening to China and its effects on Sino-Vietnamese relations, 1968-1973” (in case you are interested), and I live in Chiswick with a certain Mr. Perry.  I was away for most of last year doing research in Washington D.C. and Beijing which was very nice, and while in America I met my boyfriend, whom I am currently visiting in D.C…  Long story: I’ll explain at some point!  We were in India for a couple of weeks at the start of the year – as you can see I have been getting around quite a lot of late!  I have also been teaching 3rd year undergraduates a course on the Vietnam War at LSE, and have a part-time job in a library, all of which serves to keep me pretty busy, though unfortunately not very wealthy.  I obviously see far too much of Josh, while Pete and Richard are both now living in London so I see them occasionally: Pete has been in London a couple of
 years now, though he and Josh always kept in touch; Rich, on the other hand, after coming to visit me in Ireland not long after we came back from Romania, to all intents and purposes seemed to disappear off the face of the planet at some point in the first year of his university career and stopped replying to emails.  After a hiatus of about 4 years I came across an old email address for him last summer and speculatively tried it – lo and behold, hadn’t he only moved to London about 4 weeks previous, and yes he would like to come to our barbecue.  I have seen him a few times since, but sadly not as often as I would like.
 
Emma – my apologies once again, and I promise to act on improving communications when I get back to the UK!
 
Anca – I have attached a picture of me, taken in India, just to prove that I haven’t changed very much!  A little less hair and maybe a bit thinner, but aside from that I am the same old me!  I am sorry to hear that you have been unwell, and I wish you a speedy recovery.  And, finally, let me assure you that just because you haven’t heard much from me, it doesn’t mean I have forgotten you: there will always be a very special place in my heart (with an ashtray close by) for Anca.
 
Much love,
 
Chris
xxx
 
P.S. I started smoking about 4 years ago.  Stupid me…

From: Richard Kay

Sent: Saturday, April 09, 2005 5:25 PM
To: Anca Tanasescu
Subject: Re: Greetings 1998 January Gappers!

 
Anca may I offer heartfelt apologies for a truely appalling effort at staying in contact – I have absolutely no excuse other than the fact that I am crap. Again a thousand apologies as I have still to taste either spaghetti or pancakes to rival the feasts that we enjoyed at yours.
 
Wonderfully my TV career both started and ended in Romania as I have yet to hit either the big or small screen in Western Europe, which can only be a good thing… In between then and now life has been pretty good. Three years at University pretending to work and coming out with a wholly average degree in English Language with Psychology was only surpassed by a Masters degree in Applied Research and Consultancy. This again was far less impressive than it sounds However, throughout these four years of laboured academia, I did develop a rather ridiculous passion for sport, something neither myself, nor seemingly my family who were engulfed in laughter foresaw.
 
From small acorns do mighty oaks grow, and the liking for sport has now led me (via a year or so running a bar in Lancaster) down to London. The streets are sadly not paved with gold, but do allow me to work in an environment where I can increase opportunities and facilities to play sport and be physically active. I’m really enjoying the work, feel like I’m doing something worthwhile and am liking being near the cultural magnet of London.
 
It may be some small comfort to know that you have been often spoken of since I’ve been down here (which has only for about 11 months) as I’ve made contact with a few more familiar names that I’d lost touch with for more years than I care to remember. Peter is living in south London, looks no different and is looking to persue a career in law. Josh and Chris are living together in west London and seem equally happy in work and life. I’ve met up with them all three or four times since being down here and the ‘making of us’ in Romania has been a regular topic of conversation – another reason why this email should have been written a long time ago.
 
It is truely good to hear from you and my experiences in Romania are still the foundations of the ‘adult’ (sort of) that i’ve grown into – a sentiment that I’m sure would be echoed by the rest of the class of ’98. And if thinking about us as grown-ups doesn’t help, I could still sing the frog song complete with actions for you if you want..
 
Much love,
Richard

Prague: 20th February 2005

I woke up and had a shower5 and jumped on my bag to try and get it to shut.  The taxi turned up on time and I went to the airport in plenty of time and I checked in and got fags and booze and a guide book picture thingy of Prague.  I sat and wrote my diary  and finished it when I got on the plane.  I had some vial youths sitting next to me on the flight home discussing thier conquests of the night before – lovely! – serious case of lads on tour.  My bag took an age to come off baggage reclaim – one of the last again.  I went from the airport into Bristol to see Hugo and give him his birthday present.  From there I went to Asda to fill up the cupboards and finally made it home and sorted things out.  What a nice break – so not long enough though.

Prague: 19th of February 2005

I had a lovely long sleep this morning which I guess I wont get again until next weekend now as I have quite an early start for the airport tomorrow morning.  Weird to think that I am going already when it feels like I have only just arrived! I did my Literacy Planning and finished off my D&T.  Helena checked on the internet for trips to the Jewish Quarter which is what we had scheduled for today.  We headed to the clock as that seems to be aminly where all of the guided tours congregate as thier starting point.  Threre were a few other couples that were on the tour. It was incredibly cold and it was trying to snow again which wa plesant!  The Jewish Quarter is called Josefov which apparently in Czech name equiv of Joseph.  It was called a ghetto until it was called Josefov which makes it sound horrendous.  Many horrible things happened to the Jews in Prague over the years.  They were ‘property of the King’ at one stage.  The flodding in the summer of 2002 hit the area quite badly as it is right on the river.  I did start to wonder part of the way round why none of the Synagogues were open to the public today and then it dawned on me – its a Saturday which of course is the Sabbath and they dont work on Saturdays and there would be services on.  A stupid day to choose really to go and do a walking tour of the area – we really should ahve thought about that and swapped today and yesterday around.  There was only one really that I wanted to go into and that was called Pinkasova Synagogue (or Pinkas).  It was built in 1535 and was used for servuces right up until 1941.  After WWII howeer it was converted into a memorial with the names and birthdates and dates of the diappearance of the 77,297 Bohemian and Moravian (areas of the Czech Republic) Jews that were victims of the Nazis.  Thier dates and info ect are inscribed on every possible wall of the synagogue.  There is also a collection of drawings in there by children that were held in the Terezin Concentration Camp.  It would have been a very moving memorial to have visited.  Apparently a Jewish Man in Prague went to visitthe synagogue who was alive during the time of WWII and he found his name on the wall as one of the dead – how strange must that have been??!! Next to the synagogue is the cemetary which of course we could not get into but we were able to look at it through a little window in one of the gates.  It was founded in the 15th century and is Europe’s oldest suriving Jewish Cemetry.  There are about 12,000 grave stones in there but as the King did not want any more of the urban area taken up for burial of more bodies the graves are layered and there are thought to be 100,000 or so bodies in there  – up to about 16 layers.  You can actually see around one side where the ground level has risen so much.  There are some markings on the graves that are believed to be from about the 17th and 18th centuries which show the occupation of the deceased.  The  oldest headstone (a replica now stands in is place) dates from 1439 and is believed to be that of Avigdor Karo who was a chief rabbi and the court poet to Wenceslas.  Many of the houses are in the French Art Neauvau style as the area was given a face lift so to speak to try and improve the area – I cant quite remember at what time that was though.  I learnt about a Jewish tradition of placing stones on graves – it is something that they do at the end of Schindler’s List and it has always baffled me.  You put a small stone on a grave that you have brought from somewhere other than the graveyard and you say a wish for someone else and the Jewish Tradition is that these wishes come true. Also you can write the on a thin strip of paper and place it underneath one of the stones on the grave.  They put these stones down rather than anything else so that they dont rot or are eaten by animals or parasites.  We ended our tour at a statue of Franz Kafka which was rather obscure to put it mildly. It is rather new apparently as I couldn’t find it in my guide book.  It has Kafka sitting ontop of a statue with no head and it is HUGE.  It is apparently linked to a story that he wrote of a man who worked all of the time and did not do anything enjoyable and so he had no brain.  Underneath – but we could not see as there was too much snow on the ground – there were the legs of a cockroach from another of his stories of a man who turned into a giant coackroach and returned home and was then sqished by his family. His stories were weird quite frankly if you ask me!  He didnt have any works published until after his death as he thought that they were no good. He asked his best friedn after his death to burn all of his work but his friend didnt and published them all instead. They are all quite sad stories and from the sounds of things quite odd too!

From there we went to do a bit of tourist sopping as I wanted to get a few magnets for people.  After wandering into several shops we went into a chain called Blue which had some lovely things.  We then went and had a look again in the wooden huts near to the St. Nicholas Church.  I got a pair of earrings similar tot he ones that I got back in 1998 when we were last here.  We headed over to where we were going to have our supper.  It took ages to find and Helena did get quite lost! She wouldn’t do too well as a tour guide on the directions front! We met her friend Veronica on the corner jsut down from Cafe Louvre and she was most bemused that we had got so lost!  We had a yummie pizza in there and a drink.  I had one called a corny which was blue cheese and sweetcorn – odd to put it mildly but it actually tasted quite nice.  The beer was good too!!  Veronica is coming back with Helena for a week at Easter for some Christian conference thingcalled SPring Harvest.  From there we went to the cinema and met Vicky who is loke the supply teacher there at Riverside, she is incredibly quiet and I did have some problems in hearing what she was saying at times.  We went to see The Aviator which is called Letec in Czech.  It was quite an interesting film to put it mildly.  I am not quite sure what Howard Huges had wrong with him but  I think that is must have been something similar to Asbergers as he certainl showed many of the symptoms.  I can see why it is up for so many oscars. It is an incredibly long film though – 3 hours we wer in there for.  The most shocking thing about the trailers was that they had dubbed Star Wars Episode III!

From here we went to try and find somewhere to have a cocktail but after being looked up and down by the girl on the door in one place we kind of gave up. We found a pizza restaurant on the corner of Wenceslas Square where we had a drink.  They were really slow at bringing them though and I was parched! I had an Ameretto.  We then headed home onf the metro. Helena said on the way back thats the last of my nights drinking for a while – err hello??!!! Anyway got things ready to pack when got home and quickly wrote the last 3 postcards that I had left before heading to bed.

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