Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Photography #2 Sunrise

When this summer began, I never imagined I'd travel to Croatia by myself with people I'd only met the week before. But this summer I've learned that it's ok to be spontaneous and I booked the trip to Croatia less than 24 hours before we flew out! Since it was such a spur of the moment and short trip, I didn't take my camera so the only photos I have are from my phone, which seems to take fairly decent pictures for a phone. 
Afternoon view of Opatija and Rijeka
5am sunrise over the Adriatic Sea
These pictures show the view from the hotel in Opatija, looking over the Adriatic Sea. Is the 5am picture the best picture of a sunrise that you'll ever see? Probably not, but it's proof that I've actually been awake at 5am in my life :P

Friday, 12 July 2013

Day 3- Riga

Today we were travelling from Liepaja to Riga to stay there for the night. As we were travelling on the team bus which was due to leave the team hotel at 8.15am, me and Dad had a 7am wake up call to give us time to get breakfast and get a taxi over to the other hotel. Again, not sure whether it was the lack of sleep or the alcohol consumption (probably a mixture of both), but let's just say I've felt better. I woke up to find a huge bruise on my arm- my best guess for how this was produced was during the celebrations at the game the night before (photo evidence shows it definitely wasn't there before the game). I managed to eat some toast for breakfast then we headed over the team hotel. I was mildly amused how our female taxi driver was wearing 5 inch wedge heels to drive a taxi at 7.45am!

Upon arrival at the team hotel, we were greeted with a fun sight. People just coming in in last night's clothes, falling down the stairs, and generally talking rubbish. Fair to say they celebrated hard! The bus was late departing and coupled with a slightly dodgy driver, it was quite a nervy trip to get us to the airport on time! Some people played the 'keep drinking to avoid a hangover' game, whereas some others tried to sleep the effects of the celebrations off. I felt sorry for those who had to do media interviews during all the craziness that was the coach trip! I must have been in a delirious state because I found it hilarious how the coach driver didn't understand our requests for a toilet stop, but did understand the phrase 'piss-stop'. Thankfully, the team made it to the airport just in time for their lunchtime flight back to the UK. Life lesson #1 of the trip- it is a much more enjoyable experience to travel when non-hungover :P          

There were only 3 of us on the bus that were staying in Riga that night, so we got a taxi to our various hotels. Again, me and dad were the only 2 not staying in the same hotel as everyone else. Our room wasn't quite ready so we left our luggage at the hotel and went to find somewhere to eat. We found a little cafe, but after standing around for 10 minutes and the waitress not seating/serving us, we walked out and found another little local cafe. We ended up ordering 3 main meals between the 2 of us because we weren't totally sure what the English translation of the menu was, but Dad ended up with a cheese and ham toastie, we shared a plate of chips and I had something which is probably best described as mozzarella dippers. We shared a dessert- a huge plate of ice cream covered in chocolate sauce and various fruits. All of this plus a drink each cost us just a little over £10! 

I think we were both feeling a little delirious at this point so we headed back to the hotel as our room was now ready (Dad would make conversation with me, I'd listen but wouldn't reply because my brain just wasn't processing information). Almost as soon as we got to our room and put the suitcase down, we were both asleep! Dad was woken up by a phone call from the other group of fans who had travelled to Riga a little later in the day. We also had an amusing photo sent from home- the rabbit had eaten all of Dad's paperwork that he had bought home from work!

After a nap, I actually felt human again so we decided to go for a walk and explore Riga. Again, it was a Dad and I special, not following any maps, just our general sense of direction. We stopped off for ice cream and explored a few shops before finding the Old Town. To our surprise, we found the main group of fans just ordering drinks in an outdoor bar so we decided to join them (I was the classy one drinking wine). Because of how large the group was, orders took forever to arrive so we decided to go for tea in separate groups. Me and Dad went with the group that experienced the Latvian delicacy known as TGI Friday's. I've never even had TGI's in the UK or USA so it was a little odd experiencing it in Latvia. The food portions were huge and I don't think one single person actually finished their meal. Everyone was feeling the effects of the previous two days so we said our goodbyes to each other and all headed back off to our respective hotels. Me and Dad decided to walk off the food so went home via the park and then tried to get an early night. Even though I was so tired, a mixture of the light refusing to turn off and having the afternoon nap meant I didn't sleep as well as I had wanted to. Oh well, back to the UK tomorrow!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Day 2- D-Day has Arrived

At 9am we made it down to a buffet breakfast, not sure whether the general feeling that morning was due to travel/lack of sleep or the effects of the previous night! Breakfast was nice, there was one other couple in there. There was a good choice- Dad went for the continental style breakfast, I stayed with the safer option of cornflakes and toast! We also managed to sneak some biscuits back to the room :P We got changed and decided to do some sightseeing of the somewhat limited sights in the city.
Dad outside the hotel with our homemade flag

In typical Dad and I fashion, we decided to rely on our natural sense of direction, and just follow where we saw a general crowd of people. We saw the university and some statues, which we took photos with the football flag- nothing that exciting. Dad needed to exchange money so we attempted to find a bank, but without much luck (the one we found didn't have good English and there were long queue's). Since I haven't been on a beach holiday in a couple of years, my main aim for this trip (apart from watching the football of course) was to go to the beach. Since all the road signs are in Latvian and neither of us know a single word of Latvian, we saw a word we thought translated to 'beach' so followed it. Luckily, we were correct!
Liepaja University
We had a stroll down the beach and I braved the cold waters of the Baltic Sea. We caught sight of a beach bar- something we'd heard the other members of the trip talking about, but figured no-one would be there since it was only 11.30am and we'd had reports that they hadn't got back to their hotel since 5am this morning! Anyways, there were a group of about 10 of them sitting at the beach bar, so we decided to join them for a bit and enjoy the sun and sand. It then decided to start throwing it down with rain, it was as if we'd never left home! After a quick relocation to inside the marquee, we were joined by a few more fans- this bar became the central meeting place of the day, especially because the drinks were cheap and it was within staggering distance to the stadium.

Feeling the cold waters of the Baltic Sea before the rain arrived.
With no signs of the rain stopping, me and Dad made the decision we'd just stay in the bar all afternoon. We hadn't planned to do this- I hadn't got my camera lens suitable for sports with me, and Dad was wearing his Man United shirt which he didn't want to wear for the match. After a quick message to Martin to bring an extra t-shirt for Dad and me deciding that it's not the end of the world without the 'good' camera lens, we settled in to the bar and started to warm up the vocal chords ahead of the big game tonight. Luckily, the rain stopped around 4pm- the game was set for a 7pm kick off. We took the party back outside much to the pleasure/displeasure of some rather confused tourists. Tea was from the same place we got lunch from- a rather luxurious (note the sarcasm) food hut next to the beach bar. They serve the spiciest chips I have ever tasted, having a bit of a tikka masala kick to them!

Me and Dad decided to go to the ground quite early, before warm ups, to see if we could catch up with Martin. We saw him (I can now say I've actually walked on that pitch) and joined in the quick Skype session to the family back home. The team seemed to be in a very positive frame of mind, and like the fans, there was such a strong belief that we could win this thing tonight. I showed them the videos of the fans singing back in the bar which seemed to put a smile on their face :P We met up with a couple of fans who had missed the joys of the beach bar all day, and suddenly we hear the dulcet tones of 'We are town, we are town, we are town' from the other side of the stadium. I guess the rest of the fans had arrived.
Us travelling fans showing the Latvians
 how to make some noise

The noise didn't stop there. We sung and sung and sung (my favourite being 'Liepaja, Liepaja, where is your choir?' in response to their lack of vocal supporters). We had come into this fixture 2-1 down from the home leg. We needed to score at least 2 away from home to progress, and if it was going to take us fans losing our voices, then it was a sacrifice we were willing to take :P The opposition took an early lead in the 17th minute during a fairly uneventful first half (my exciting part was taking over the club twitter account for 10 minutes). At half time, one of our fans put a 33-1 bet on us winning 2-1. 2nd half started and we looked confident. One of their players got sent off around the 60th minute, same as during the 1st leg. We pulled a goal back in the 77th minute. We went wild with uncontainable excitement. 1 more goal. That's all we needed to put the tie into extra time. And that one more goal we got, thanks to our player-manager in added time (the time added was due to their player taking forever to get off the pitch after being sent off). Again, we went wild, and counting on adrenaline for us to control our nerves through extra time! (Also having the dilemma of needing the toilet but not wanting to miss any of the action didn't help- family trying to get updates on the game from home instructed me to firmly stay in my seat :P)
Celebrating our second goal.

Extra time was uneventful, both teams pushing for that one vital goal that would send them through to the 2nd round of the Europa League. Neither team got the goal needed, so the game progressed to penalties. At this point, I had no voice left, needed the toilet badly and had a few grey hairs growing. The opposition miss their first penalty. We score. We score our first 4 penalties. The opposition step up to take their 5th penalty knowing that they have to score this to stay in. They miss. Our little club has made history. We've made it into the 2nd round. Pure joy and elation sets in as the players pile on top of each other and then come over to us fans. I was in the middle of the celebrations but got too scared that my camera would get smashed so I jumped up onto the bank to celebrate instead.
The team celebrating with the fans.

Most of the fans go back to the beach bar. Me and Dad walk back to our hotel for a change of clothes and to charge our phones as we'd been out all day unexpectedly. We get word that the after party was going to be in the same bar as the night before, so we headed back over that way to join in the celebrations. The locals definitely found out about our victory, nothing to do with us singing in the bar and the band joining in, honest! Free drinks were all around for the team, and the fans made the most of another night of £1 a pint beer! Martin kept passing me half of his drinks, so God knows what I actually drank that night! Me and Dad got a taxi back to our hotel around 1.30am and in attempts to avoid/lessen the hangover the next morning we raided the breakfast stocks in the hotel kitchen. After some toast and biscuits, we called it a night ahead of a 7am wake up call for the journey to Riga the following day.

What a day! 11th July 2013- Victory in Europe Day.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Day 1- Travel

This was the day we'd been waiting for, starting with a disgustingly early wake up call to travel to Luton for our 8am flight. Check in and though security easily and with plenty of time to spare. I hit the Krispy Kreme Donut shop to help ease the pain of the early morning, whilst Dad made the most of the 4 bottles of Stella for£10 offer- at 7.30am! We met my uncle and the rest of the team on the way to the gate where there is a hold up for emergency medical treatment on the inbound flight. The flight was uneventful and I made the most of being able to grab a couple of hours nap- I've finally learnt to sleep on planes!
Our room in Liepaja

View from our room in Liepaja
Riga airport was easy to navigate and went smoothly apart from the idiot JP forgetting to pick his physio bag up from the luggage carousel! We met up with Andy, a 442 Journalist who joined us on the comfy Metalurgs team bus, after bumping in to the Airbus team who had flown in on a private jet! After a 3 hour journey through the middle of nowhere (the countryside reminded me of the more isolated areas of Canada) consisting of non-stop banter between the management team and attempting to get some more sleep, we arrived at the team hotel in Latvia's 3rd biggest city- Liepaja. Me and Dad were the only ones not staying at the team hotel, so we got a taxi to our hotel. The drive was a little worrying but the accommodation and hospitality was nice even if the view what somewhat lacking!
What I thought would be garlic bread
After a quick rest and change, we went for a walk towards the city centre to find somewhere to eat after Dad had researched some places. Thanks to a rainstorm, the majority of outdoor seating was too damp to sit on, and indoors in the restaurants were too warm for Dad. Plan B was put into place- ie, walk around until we found a local pub. This didn't take too long and we found a nice little Latvian pub with dry outdoor seating and English speaking waiters. The food was... interesting? I ordered what I thought would be garlic bread, but was presented with some fried bread mixed with cheese concoction. For main, I'm not really sure what I had. A mix of chicken, some sauce, a rice cake, carrots and some salad. We were entertained during dinner by a cute cat and her kittens. 
The cats entertaining us
At this point it was getting late and we knew the team had finished training, so we went back to a bar we had found earlier and joined the other fans and some of the management team there for some drinks. Let's just say you don't have to pay much for a good night out! For me and dad, a beer and double vodka/coke was just under £3. British pubs take note! There was lots of drinking, singing and sharing stories for the 442 article until the majority of the fans arrived just after midnight, a bit worse for wear. It was hard to keep track of time because I'm pretty sure there was still light in the sky at 11.15pm! Me and Dad decided to call it a night at around 2am so got a taxi back to our hotel ahead of the big game tomorrow.

Apple, Dad and Martin at Fontaines.