Tag Archives: Travel

A football trip to Spain

Yes, it’s a blog written by me. A rarity I know, sometimes I always feel like writing one, but I have a busy life sometimes and the moment has gone by the time I remember again! So here goes, my first (hopefully of many) football blog in 2017.

Recently I went to three football games in four days in Spain, this time I went with my good friend Emily. A recent suffering supporter of the 1939 & 2008 FA Cup winners Portsmouth FC. She was employed by me, for a yet to be determined fee, as an official photographer and observer/navigator. It helps she likes watching random football games too I guess.

The first game of the three was the Europa League Last 32 game between Villarreal and Italian team Roma. Now anyone who knows me, knows I am pretty organised when I travel. I like things to go without a hitch, so rewind a few weeks ago and I thought I’d purchase tickets for this game online, you’d think it would be easy but it was definitely not. UK Bank cards are not accepted on their website, only Spanish ones (for ‘security reasons’ apparently). I even rang them up, but was told I would have to buy on the day of the game.

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                                                     A view of Valencia from the Cathedral

Luckily, with the help of Twitter, a Swans fans I know, Tim, contacted his Spanish friend Claudio who bought two tickets for the game, so save me stressing on the day. Phew! Thanks again Claudio, bravo!

I also went against my normal principles and booked my flights with Ryanair, it sounds slightly snobbish I know, but for £40 return from Stansted it was very difficult to refuse. In fairness there were no issues at all with Ryanair. We flew into Valencia, which is about a one hour train journey from Vila-real.

Valencia has some great memories for me and lots of other Swans fans I’m sure, back in September 2013 (when the Swans were actually good), we beat Valencia at the Mestalla 3-0 in our first Europa League Group game. It was one of those rare games when everything was perfect. The weather was glorious, the performance was excellent and we topped it off with a win. Okay they had 10 men for most of the game, but I try to forget that bit!

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                            The Mestalla, home of Valencia and scene of the 3-0 away win

After dropping our bags off at the hotel, Emily and I went for a bit of sightseeing and I reminisced when I saw the Mestalla again (it looks different from before though).  A long day of walking around the lovely town of Valencia, before settling down in an Irish bar to watch the Champions League football on that evening. Arsenal lost 5-1 to Bayern (again) and in the other Spain v Italy European clash, Real Madrid beat Napoli 3-1.

The next day saw us catch a train to Castellon, which is an extremely quiet town just outside Vila-real. There were hardly any people out and about, even after siesta time. After a few pre-match coca colas we caught the train to Vila-real. Again, hardly any sign of any other people or any noisy Roma fans on the 20 minute walk from the train station to the ground.

Villarreal’s ground changed the name of their ground just a month ago. Formally Estadio El Madrigal, it is now called Estadio de la Cerámica (Ceramic Stadium). The capacity is almost 25,000 and has been the home of Villarreal since 1923.

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I quite liked the ground, the pitch is pretty close to the stands and there is one massive stand behind the goal where the Roma fans were situated. We seemed to be in the minority of ‘tourist’ football fans at the game. With a fair few Villarreal fans bringing their own picnic and blankets for the game ahead (it wasn’t that cold really). We were definitely keeping the average age of the stand down, the eldery Spanish ladies didn’t look impressed with the Roma fan’s pyro either. It was quite a slow start to the game, with neither side having real good chances until around the 30 minute mark when Emerson of Roma curled in a wonderful goal to put Roma ahead.

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                                 The obligatory ‘Me at a football stadium really early’ photo

In the second half Roma looked much the better team, with El Shaarawy pulling the strings in midfield. Bosnia and Ex Man City striker Edin Dzeko scored a hatrick and Roma won the game 4-0 in an enjoyable, but one sided game for a neutral. And the kid behind finally stopped kicking my seat and ended up playing a handheld computer game.

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An elderly Spanish lady tried to converse with us, but she couldn’t speak any English and we couldn’t speak any Spanish. A guy in front translated ‘Do you support Villarreal or Roma?’ ‘Tourists or Students?’ But it doesn’t seem the concept of groundhopping has caught on in this part of Spain yet. The guy had heard of Swansea City but not Portsmouth! but they were nice enough. After a short train journey back to Castellon it was onto Barcelona the following morning.

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                                              Villarreal 0-4 AS Roma (Emerson, Dzeko 3)

The train journey to Barcelona takes about 3 hours, but what is good about the trains in Spain (and France when I went to the Euros) is that every person who has bought a ticket is allocated a seat, so no scrambling to get onto an already cramped train (take note Arriva Trains Wales). At least the long journey gave me time to keep up to date with my football podcasts. (The Guardian and the Football Ramble are good podcasts if you’re interested!).

I have been to Barcelona before, when Wales played Andorra away in 2014, I stayed a few days in Barcelona as Andorra has no Airport. It is easy to navigate the Metro system there and with the help of an app and Google Maps we found our Hostel. A lot of people seem to not want to stay in hostels, but personally I don’t see a problem. I have stayed in some nicer hostels for half the price than a bang average hotel in the past.

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                                                 A view from Park Guell, Barcelona

The staff at the ‘Yeah’ Hostel in Barcelona were very friendly and welcoming, the room was a 4 bed dorm which was very clean and spacious, along with secure places to put your personal belongings. For around 15 Euros a night, no-one can complain!

Staying in hostels is a good chance to meet other fellow travellers, I have made some good friends over the years through staying in the same hostel as them. When you’re travelling alone it can help to talk to others for tips and to cure the boredom you sometimes get.

The weather so far had been sunny and around 15-20 degrees, I was happy walking around in shorts and a t-shirt whilst splashing on the sunscreen, yet the locals were wrapped up in their coats and scarves! I get strange looks normally, so nothing unusual there!

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With the rest of the day to spare it was a good chance to do a bit of sightseeing, The Sagrada Familia was a pretty close walk. A Roman Catholic Church designed by the famous Antoni Gaudi, which started being built in 1882 and is due to be finished in 2026 (Which maybe the date the Liberty Stadium will be expanded. Maybe).

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                                                          The Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

The reason I picked to go to Barcelona was I had never seen a game at the Nou Camp before and I had never personally seen Lionel Messi score a goal. I had seen Lionel Messi play on two previous occasions – The 2014 World Cup Final and the 2015 Champions League Final. I was hoping it would be third time lucky. Barcelona’s game against newly promoted Leganés wasn’t to be played until the Sunday though, so me not being a person to settle for no Saturday game I saw that Gimnástic were playing Numancia in the Segunda Division – both teams have been in La Liga recently.

The other people sharing our hostel room were a husband and wife who lived in Austria, Heidi and Jose, they were also going to the Barcelona game on the Sunday. Heidi seemed to be a big Messi and Barcelona fan and seemed fascinated with the fact I had seen so many games, the Barcelona game would be her first ever live game. It was nice to see someone so excited about going to a football game (I remember those days!).

Saturday arrived and it was off to Tarragona, unfortunately with the train times it wasn’t really possible to have a look around Tarragona, as I’ve heard it’s a lovely place. I think it may have been easier to hire a car and drive, but I have never driven outside of Wales before, so this always seems a daunting task for me, even though I have travelled around Brazil on my own!

There are two train stations in Tarragona, one journey that takes 30 minutes but is a bit out of the way, the other is closer to the town centre but takes one hour and a half. I went for the former, but it was definitely more complicated, as a bus was needed to be caught from the station to the centre then a local bus was then need to be caught to get to the ground.

Emily and I were looking confused at a bus stop and a Spanish guy asked us in broken English where we wanted to go. I said ‘football’ and ‘Gimnastic Tarragona’ and he understood, pointing us to a timetable. By total luck, at this moment a car turned up and the helpful Spanish guy got in, he then asked us if we wanted a lift to the ground. The car had a Gimnastic football scarf on the dashboard, so I took a gamble they weren’t murderers and we both got into the car. Gracias to the two Spanish guys, I did not know their names, but it was a very nice gesture.

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Gimanástic Tarragona’s ground is called the Nou Estadi and parts of the ground are currently being developed for the 2018 Mediterranean Games. Tickets were €30 for a view from the side of the pitch or €15 for behind the goal. We chose to go behind the goal, it’s a quaint little ground and it’s possible to get a view of the game for free from the above motorway (but that does not count as a proper groundhop!)

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                                   The Nou Estadi. Home of Gimnástic Tarragona

Gimnástic are struggling this season in the Segunda Division, after being relegated from La Liga last season. So it was poised to be a good game ahead. Numancia were the better team but for some lacklustre finishing it remained goal-less until a few minutes after the break and Gimnástic scored a great headed goal after great move. The final score was 2-0 and the fans were great in fairness, they even taunted the players after mis-placed passes, which – maybe I’m wrong – but that doesn’t seem to happen outside of Britain too much. Or at least not known in Spanish football culture.

After the game we had to navigate our way back to the centre without hitch-hiking and then onto the train station in the middle of nowhere. We managed to do this, but more by luck really than any actual know-how. If you’re going to go to Tarragona, then hire a car. It’s much easier and definitely less stressful.

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Gimastix 2-0 Numancia – Segunda Division

Sunday arrived and it was the day I may finally get to see Lionel Messi score a goal. The game wasn’t until 20:45, so another day of sightseeing was on the cards. Again it was a lovely, sunny day in Barcelona and I do sometimes think I’d like to live somewhere like this, but I can’t speak Spanish so I’ll have to think of another location. We went to Parc de Montjuic, which I would highly recommend going to. You get wonderful views of Barcelona and some nice walks in the park, if you like that type of thing. Emily was doing well with her photography work, as I do sometimes hate asking random people to take my photo and I don’t really do ‘selfies’.

So onto the final game of our trip to Spain. The Nou Camp would be ground 207 for me, I had been on the tour of it before, but had never watched a game there. I bought tickets very easily through their website, our seats weren’t too high or too low, the cost was – what I thought – was a reasonable €60. The free wifi at the ground was also very good and I really think more stadia should make this available to fans.

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                                             The Nou Camp, home of FC Barcelona

The thing that was very prominent at the Nou Camp was the amount of football tourists there, I get that I am probably in this bracket too. But it is very similar to what you see at Anfield, Old Trafford, The Emirates and Stamford Bridge. I always feel it has a big impact on the atmosphere in the ground, the Barca fans behind the ground that were waving the flags were very good. Singing throughout and I wanted to be standing where they were! I wouldn’t personally be happy if Swansea started becoming a club where most of the ground were not really interested in the game.

Lionel Messi scored after 3 minutes, so I can now finally add him to my list of top players I have seen score a goal live. Bale, Ronaldo, Neymar, Ibrahimovic and Itay Shechter are included. Now if only I could see a goalkeeper score a goal, my football ambitions are nearly complete!

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                                                   Happy with the photography here

At this point I was wanting Barcelona to put a hatful on Leganés, especially after their terrible performance in the 4-0 defeat to PSG the previous Tuesday. It didn’t materialise and Leganés were much the better team, creating the better chances. Messi was the only player looking sharp.

On 71 minutes Leganés scored a deserved equaliser and their fans about 2 miles up in the away end started to make some noise. Barcelona invariably scored again after a definite foul on Neymar in the box. Messi duly dispatched the penalty and Barcelona luckily won 2-1 in the end. It was a very uninspiring performance from the home side against a relegation threatened team, Neymar and Suarez were very quiet.

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                             Barcelona 2-1 Leganés – La Liga. Attendance: 63,378

It was easy to get away after the game via the metro, I almost had my phone stolen by a not so discreet pickpocket. Luckily I tend to have my wits about me and automatically, subconsciously had my hand in my pocket when he invaded my personal space and then eventually ran away.

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                        A view from Parc de Montjuic on a glorious day in Barcelona

All in all a great trip, great weather, three new grounds ticked off, no nil-nils and no hitches. Thanks to Emily for being my official photographer on a voluntary basis and putting up with my inane conversations all week. I will be at more random grounds this coming weekend when I travel to Scotland – not for the rugby – to watch the Scottish Messi play for Queen of the South. No cap or sunscreen needed there! Maybe I’ll even write another blog about it.

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                   Me and and a photograph of my photographer Emily Smith (@emilysmithpfc)

Ukraine, Chernobyl and some football

Ukraine, Chernobyl and some football

When I said I was going to Ukraine, most people questioned my sanity. When I then said I was going to visit Chernobyl too, some were contemplating calling the men/women in white coats to lock me up (Some would want this to happen anyway!). As I’ve said in previous blogs, a lot of people have preconceived ideas about certain places, mostly due to the media and more often than not, it is not the case.

People were put off going to Naples for the Napoli away game, people said I’d be stabbed. They couldn’t have been more wrong, people were put off going to Brazil because of more scaremongering. No doubt the same people will tell me the same things when I visit Israel next month and North Korea in July.

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View over Kiev

Kiev was like any other major city, there was a high police presence, but that’s only expected with all the trouble that is going on on the Eastern side of Ukraine. This time last year there were violent riots in Kiev, so obviously the authorities do not want a repeat of this.

I arrived around 7pm on the Monday into Kiev after being slightly delayed, so there wasn’t much time to do anything, by the time I checked into my hotel. At least I remembered to get money out of the bank machine, as it is impossible to get Ukrainian currency (The Hryvnia) in the U.K. I just had a wander into the main square and had a McDonald’s that cost about 75p.

As I arrived late at night, Tuesday was my first chance to see what Kiev had to offer. First of all though I went to Dynamo Kiev’s stadium to buy a ticket for their Europa League match against Guingamp from France. The walk was about 40 minutes from my hotel and more or less in a straight line. As it is a little difficult to cross the road, there are a lot of underground walkways to get to the other/opposite side and in fact there are better food places under there than on the main streets.

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Me on Independence Square

I managed to find the ticket booth and chose the price range I wanted, maths has never been my strong point and I can never work out how much things cost in pounds. I paid 200 Hryvnia (Which I checked afterwards, worked out to just under £5). I was discover that things being cheap was going to become a common theme here.

I saw on the Internet that there was a free walking tour of the city, I have been on a few of these in the various cities I have visited in the past and find them a good way of getting your bearings. My guides name was Konstantin, who spoke very good English, only one other person joined us on the tour. Tourism has definitely taken a hit since the fighting started I’m guessing, probably why my hotel was so cheap.

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One of the many churches in Kiev

The tour took about 3 hours and we went to the old part of town, where all the very neatly designed churches and cathedrals are. It was interesting to see all the old style buildings (though some parts were renovated more recently). I’d love to give you a history lesson, but I do have a short attention span in most things in life (unless a football or useless fact is inovled), so I tend to forget what is being said (sorry!).

I was going to find somewhere to watch Man City play Barcelona and see Wilfried Bony make his Champions League debut, but as I had to be up quite early the following day and the fact Ukraine is 2 hours ahead of the U.K. I didn’t! But I was looking forward, in a strange sort of way, to visiting Chernobyl the following day.

Chernobyl

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Don’t ask me why, but I have wanted to visit Chernobyl for a while. I do like to go off the beaten track and if you have any other ideas of obscure trips, let me know (Not Syria). For those of you who don’t know about Chernobyl, on 26th April 1986 there was a nuclear disaster, in the then Soviet Union, many radioactive particles spread over Europe.

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No-one really knows how many people died due to the Chernobyl disaster, a Google search suggests that it is around 4000 – including people who have died from cancer in later years.

As I was born in August 1986, I obviously have no memory of this tragedy happening, so it was interesting to watch a video on the bus to Chernobyl of news reports from the time. For the Soviet Union to admit they were at fault, at the time, never happened. So it must have been a bit of a shock to all concerned. What I didn’t realise was that there was almost a second explosion, which would’ve been more devastating than the first.

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The dormitory in one of the nurseries in Chernobyl

The journey took around a hour and a half from Kiev to the main town on Chernobyl and the roads leading there were just long roads with lots and lots of trees, I was expecting Zombies to appear at any time as it reminded me of the locations used in ‘The Walking Dead.’ Looked literally in the middle of nowhere, getting the Ukrainian equivalent of the AA to come and rescue you must be very difficult.

We were met by the exclusion zone to Chernboyl, by our guide for the day, Misha, who works in Chernobyl all year round. When I told people I was visiting Chernobyl, I would get told that I’m going to grow extra features (could be an improvement I agree) or be killed by radiation, I know most were just joking but it’s another misconception thought by people. You receive more radiation on a Transatlantic flight to New York than you do visiting Chernobyl.

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A view of Pripyat from the top of another derelict building

There were people on our tour with Geiger counters and the readings were similar to what they were in Kiev. Even our guide Misha said his Ukrainian friends think the same, the only way you would get a harmful dose of radiation is if you were to jump into the reactor that still has Uranium in it. People live in Chernobyl currently and there were people working on the reactor, by most of it is a ghost town.

Anyway, we went through two checkpoints and having a Russian stamp in my passport didn’t hamper things and I arrived in the main town of Chernobyl. There wasn’t much there in all honesty, but I thought the Russians were coming when this Air Raid style siren started wailing, no-one knew what it meant, which amused me, but not to worry, we just got back on the bus.

You may have seen images of a Ferris Wheel and Dodgems when Chernobyl is mentioned and that was one of our first stops. The fairground in Pripyat was never officially opened, when the disaster struck, but the rides had been used. It was all quite eerie really to see it just left there.

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We went to visit an old school in the town on Pripyat, which obviously hadn’t been maintained for the whole of my lifetime. Misha joked that it hasn’t fallen down in 28 years, so it must be safe….. Reassuring! Again it was quite sad just to see this derelict building and a lot of the gasmasks you see on the floor were put there on purpose years ago, to try and cause dramatic effect. So a lot of the things inside buildings are staged.

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The abandoned roads that just seemed to go on and on

The last place we went was called ‘The Woodpecker’ it was a mass of antennae on a big metal structure used by the Soviet Union to detect attacks from the outside. It was kept a secret until the fall of the Soviet Union, but this couldn’t be destroyed as it is so close to the 10KM exclusion zone.

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The Woodpecker

I have recently become quite interested in the Soviet Union years and all the propaganda used, so it gave me a little insight into what things would have been like back in that era. I noticed a few typical Soviet Union/Communist posters on show in the school too. After a late lunch and a long day, it was back to Kiev. I’d recommend visiting Chernobyl to anyone, as I said earlier it is perfectly safe and is definitely something different. Definitely very eerie and cannot see anyone ever living there again, sadly.

More sightseeing

I had been recommended visiting Lavra, so I organised a trip there with my Walking Tour guide Konstantin, from Tuesday. Lavra is full of Orthodox Churches and lots of caves with corpses of hermits (yes really). With it possible to get good views of the city too.

To get there we went by the Metro and it must be one of the deepest subways in the World – though apparently the one in Pyongyang is deeper. So if another nuclear attack does occur, this must be one of the safest places to go.

I did laugh when Konstantin told me there are Ukrainians moaning at the cost of public transport in Kiev, when my ticket cost about 8p! I shouldn’t laugh, I guess it shows how little they get paid there.

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The NSC Olimpiyskiy – the venue for the Euro 2012 Final

As I said earlier I have a short attention span and don’t have much time for religion but there was a very fascinating museum I saw, called ‘Nikolai Syadristy’s Museum of Microminiature. It really is worth a look, it has the World’s smallest book in there, it measures 0.6mm and there are things engraved on a single human hair.  It is very unqiue and I was impressed. My question would be why would you want to make things so small in the first place? But I do think of things too logically sometimes.

The football

When I booked my trip I purposely planned to go to a football game as well, I saw that Dynamo Kiev would be playing in a Europa League game 2nd Leg. Dynamo Kiev have two football stadia, one called ‘Valeriy Lobanovskyi Dynamo Stadium’ with a capacity of 16,000 And the other NSC Olimpiyskiy, with a capacity of 70,000.

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It was a wet and snowy night

The venue for their game against Guingamp would be NSC Olimpiyskiy Which hosted 5 Games at the Euro 2012 Championships, including the final.  It is not the official home of Dynamo Kiev, but depending on the type of game they use this stadium. It is quite an impressive ground and very colourful with the mis-match of blue and yellow seats.

I was on the dugout side close to the corner flag, but this was the place where all the business people tended to be as through the glass, I saw a lot of people eating meals (no prawn sandwiches though). What was annoying in the first half was having streams of people getting to their seats, blocking other’s view and being a distraction right up until the 35th minute.

Aside from that though, the atmosphere was good inside the ground, mainly due to the Dynamo Kiev Ultras. I do like a good European atmosphere – it would take a lot to beat Petrolul Ploiesti fans in the build up to our (Swansea) Europa League game last season, best I’ve ever heard.

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The Dynamo Kiev Ultras

Dynamo Kiev, managed by former Tottenham striker Sergei Rebrov, were 2-1 down from the first half, but had the all important away goal (they had 9 men for a lot of that game too). They did go in front through a header from a corner from Teodorczyk (yes I Googled), but the first half was a quiet affair with a lot of stray passing from both games and neither really got going. Thankfully the swirling snow and rain had now stopped, so I think the temperature went up! (Was now 2 degrees).

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The 2nd half came to life and a very good volleyed goal from Buyalsky just after half time put the tie well in Kiev’s favour. Guingamp’s 20+ fans had something to cheer when Mandanne cored on 66 Minutes (though he looked offside to me) meaning the game would be heading to Extra Time. Ten minutes later and Kiev won a penalty and it was duly despatched by Gusev. Kiev were going through unless Guingamp could muster something they never really deserved.

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On 82 minutes Dynamo Kiev won a goal kick and for some reason it all started kicking off behind the goal (opposite to where the Ultras were), seemingly among Dynamo Kiev fans themselves. Chairs were being thrown, people were being kicked and chased. The referee halted the game while the Dynamo players claimed for calm. My Ukrainian isn’t the best so I do not know what the announcements were saying, someone told me afterwards that someone had unfurled an anti-Ukraine flag. Not sure if this is true or not, seems feasible as Dynamo Kiev were 3-1 up and going though to the next round.

(*UEFA are now investigating this incident and may be forced to play their home game with Everton at a different venue, or behind closed doors).

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When it all ‘kicked off’

In truth there was only about a 7 minute stoppage, so probably mild in comparison to other similar disturbances. Dynamo Kiev hung on in the end but went through as deserved winners.

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The crucial penalty

This concludes my blog to Kiev and Chernobyl and another country and ground to tick off my list. I always get a sense of accomplishment when I travel anywhere, especially on my own. It’s one of the only things I have am quite confident of doing in life. Anyway, too deep, moving on!

I wrote this on the plane back to Gatwick so my question for you to ponder is why does it take so long for people to get on a plane and sit down? No wonder they are always delayed! Everyone should be given a maximum of 15 seconds to take their coat off and put their bag in the overhead compartments, if not they should pay a fine or get chucked off. Anyway, rant over. But it’s one of my biggest bug bears, I’ll leave this for another day.

Just an update

The first week back

I said I wanted to update my blog regularly, even with inane, pointless drivel (What do you mean that’s normail for me!?). My first week back home was okay, I’d still like to be back in Brazil, but all good things come to an end and I need to earn money so that I can go away again. The more I go away, the more I want to go away, if that makes sense.

Being back wasn’t too bad in work, didn’t have to answer the same questions over and over. Just been catching up on all the TV I missed, most of them about Brazil funnily enough. What an exciting life I now lead eh? My followers on Instagram must now think I’m boring and I have no exciting/different pictures to post.

In other news I will be going to watch the big game between Morecambe and Wycombe Wanderers at the Globe Arena in October, so my aim of completing the 92 is slowly making progress…..

How much did you spend!?

One other common question I have been asked is ‘How much did your trip cost you?’ I’m never really sure why people want to know this or why it’s relevant at all (unless you plan to go to a World Cup yourself). But for those of you who are interested, I worked it out and it cost me around £6500 for my flights, hostels, excursions, spending money and match tickets (£1000 for the 9 games).

I don’t regret it at all, yes maybe I should save up for a house of my own but I don’t like the thought of that (yet). I’m not interested in the slightest in getting married or having children at all, people say ‘you’ll change’ but I’m different to a lot of people.

A bad ‘Korea’ move?

I have now decided where I am going on holiday in 2015, yesterday I booked to go to the Democratic People’s Rebublic of Korea, otherwise known as North Korea. As I said in one if my previous blogs, I am fascinated by the country – All week I have been watching documentaries on Youtube about the place and the ones who have ‘defected’ to South Korea.

So without wanting to waste any time I booked a 5 day group tour during the ‘Victory Day’ parade, which is on 27th July. On that date in 1953 the two Koreas signed a truce, but never a peace treaty. As well as going to the DMZ on the border of South Korea and a city tour of Pyongyang, the capital. There will be guides with the group at all times and obviously certain things are restricted, but I like to go to obscure places.

Before that I will go to Beijing for around 5 days and do all the touristy stuff there, as you can only get to North Korea from China. Oddly Facebook and Twitter is blocked in China, but is accessible in North Korea (to toursts), if anyone wants to join me they are more than welcome – but I’m not paying!