A Travellerspoint blog

December 2009

Snow Drifts, not Sand Dunes

I'll be home for Christmas. More than just a Christmas song...

snow 0 °C

Yesterday, I travelled down from my flat to Gatwick airport to catch a flight to Marrakech, Morocco. You might expect, therefore, that I am writing this while sipping mint tea on the roof of a riad overlooking the bustling Moroccan markets. I am not though. I am writing this from my London flat on a grey and cold day.

Due to the completely and totally unforeseeable winter circumstances - snow and cold - travel has been a complete mess here in the UK. On the weekend snow and ice had ferries, the Eurostar, trains and planes all sitting idly instead of moving people to their destinations. Yesterday, on Monday, more snow was projected later in the day, however the day started out clear but cold.

I headed down to Gatwick, and things looked good. There were a few delayed flights, but nothing more than 30 minutes. About half an hour before my flight, we were called to the gate. Walking towards the gate along a high elevated walkway, I could see that the clear, cold morning was turning into a wet, icy afternoon.

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My flight was scheduled to take off at 3:30. Just after 3:00, Gatwick closed its runway. The runway stayed closed for the next 4 plus hours. I watched the departures board. All it would tell me is "Marrakech - Please Wait," just like most of the rest of the flights.

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Between 6:00 and 7:00, BA cancelled all their flights that had been scheduled before 7:00 PM. EasyJet held off cancelling, keeping us all to "please wait." Around 7:00, the first few easyJet flights started to be cancelled. At about 7:30, my flight was cancelled. So was every other easyJet flight on the board. The airline information desk became a mad house.

I, the smart traveller, decided to skip the queue and go online. I went to the easyJet site and looked to switch my flight. There was nothing for the 22nd or 23rd of December. There was an early flight on the 24th of December.

This is where I made a mistake. I should have booked it, but I didn't. It was three days away, which seemed so far away, and would cut my vacation down to 6 days instead of 9 days. I think I was still in disbelief that it was happening, I think.

Instead I left the airport and went back home (on delayed trains). As I stood on the platform at Gatwick's train station, British Airway flights started taking off above me, the runway obviously finally re-opened.

On the train ride home I let the seven hour delay and finally cancellation sink in and situation become real. Once home, I went to rebook, but it was too late. Even the 24th wasn't available now. Nothing until after Christmas. Accepting those flights would turn a 9 day vacation into a 2 or 3 day vacation. Not really worth it, I felt. So instead, I asked for a refund.

Now it looks like I might spend Christmas here in London. Due to all the travel disruption over the past 4 days, there is an awful backlog of travellers trying to get some place. I may try to book something else, but I'm afraid that the airports and train stations will be chaotic places with too many people trying to get onto too few travel options.

Such is travel at winter. Sometimes you just can't get away.

Posted by GregW 00:35 Archived in England Tagged air_travel Comments (4)

Merry Eight Days to Christmas

It's snowing!

snow 4 °C

Working from home, beavered away in my room, I was staring at my computer screen and ignoring the window. Then I heard a voice call out. My flatmate.

"Greg, It's SNOWING!"

My goodness, she was making such a clatter. I sprang from my desk to see what was the matter. Away to the window I flew like a flash, Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

What do you know, it was snowing.

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Just another reminder that the Christmas season is upon us, replete as it often is with grumpy shoppers, snarly unions and stranded travellers.

It is also the season of Christmas parties. My work party was a couple weekends past, for which I had to wear a dinner suit.

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I am wearing a regular tie because I couldn't figure out how to work out the bow tie. Especially sad as it was a pre-tied clip on. When one is defeated by an already tied tie, one feels especially stupid.

My flatmates have been decking out the flat in Christmas cheer. Pictures of Santa, festival candles, poinsettias and a miniture Christmas tree have appeared in the last few weeks.

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"We have no angel for the top of our tree," one of my flatmates said.

I felt like I needed to contribute to the decorating. "Don't worry, I shall take care of that," I said. The next day I bought some pink construction paper and a pink pipe cleaner, and using the candy holders I purchased at the Japanese fair back in September, created a little cherub for the top of the tree.

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Hello Kitty Angel!

Fitting, actually. Many people don't know this, but Hello Kitty is a Londoner. From the Sanrio website description of the Hello Kitty character...

Hello Kitty was born on November 1st, and lives in London, England with her parents and her twin sister, Mimmy.

So therefore fitting that Hello Kitty should be the angel atop our tree for my first Christmas run-up in London. Last year I was in Arizona for the run up to Christmas, so this is the first year that I've been here in England.

It won't be my first Christmas in England, though. Come next Monday, one of Britain's non-striking airlines, easyJet, will be whisking me away some place where there is likely to be no snow.

Morocco.

Christmas in Marrakesh. Sounds like a Bing Crosby-Bob Hope film...

Happy holidays to all, whatever it is that you celebrate this time of year.

Posted by GregW 03:37 Archived in England Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

Flashback: My (quasi) World Cup Moment

sunny 25 °C

Today FIFA is going to do the draw for the upcoming 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Its getting a lot of press here in England, as they have been identified as one of the top seeds. Not only are English fans wondering who the English team will play, but also where they will end up playing. There is a lot of hand wringing here about the transport in the country, as well as accommodation options. Some of the stadium are much smaller than others, and there are concerns about getting tickets. In general, though, most of the English fans seem quite excited about the prospect of seeing the English team in action during the World Cup.

Back in 2007, I had my own World Cup moment when I got to see THE WORLD CUP FINAL!

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Now, sports fans will probably be wondering how I could watch a World Cup final in 2007, when the last World Cup was held in 2006 in Germany. I would have been a year late to watch the World Cup had I showed up in Berlin to watch it.

I need to qualify the above statement. It was actually the Under-20 World Cup, played by the national under-20 squads. It is still a FIFA World Cup event, though, so it must count for something, right?

The 2007 Under-20 World Cup was held in Canada. Canada isn't exactly known as a hotbed of football (aka soccer), at least at the adult level. A lot of the kids I grew up with all played soccer (including me), so the game was definitely popular for children. It just didn't really translate into an adult audience for the professional game, though. Toronto, and other Canadian cities, have had various incarnations of professional and semi-professional teams for years, but none really stuck with the public.

That's not to say that folks weren't watching top flight football. The multicultural population of Toronto are big supporters of football. They just tend to watch the game from back in their mother countries, whether that be England, Scotland, Italy, Spain or France.

As part of the deal of hosting the 1994 World Cup, the Americans set up a top-tier, national professional league. This helped grow the popularity of watching the game played in North America. As part of a bid to get both the 2007 U-20 World Cup and a bring a professional Major League Soccer (MLS) team to Toronto, Canada built the football-only National Soccer Stadium in Toronto, known on non-FIFA days as BMO Field.

Canada won the hosting of the FIFA U-20 in 2007. Set up exactly like the big boys play their World Cup, the games are broken into group stages, with the top two teams from every group going into the elimination round. The games were held across Canada, with the final being held at the National Soccer Stadium in Toronto.

At the start of the tourney, coverage was pretty quiet, but the hype surrounding the tourney grew as it progressed. The media started covering it more and more, and all the games ended up on Canadian TV across 4 different stations. Even though 2 of the stations were digital TV stations only and thus not available to most people, even without digital cable there were lots of games on regular TV. One Saturday night I was out at my local sports bar, and despite Toronto Blue Jays baseball and CFL (Canadian Football) being on, the U-20 was featured on the big-screen.

The final two games were played on Sunday, July 22nd in Toronto. The games were Chile vs. Austria for third place and Argentina vs. Czech Republic for the first place trophy. Figuring that this is probably as close as Canada is ever going to get to hosting a World Cup, I wandered down to the stadium and picked up a ticket.

Unfortunately, there had been a bit of an incident after the Chile-Argentina semi final. After the game, all 21 players on the Chilean team were detained by police after the game. The players claim to have been kept from seeing the fans by the police, while the police claim that the players started brawling with the Police.

The media coverage got a lot more intense after that. "There was an incident between the Chilean players and the police in front of the stadium, which is currently being investigated by all the parties involved. The 21 players were detained and later released," said John Schumacher, FIFA's spokesperson at the tournament. The Toronto Police called their actions "firm but fair" however the Chilean's called it police brutality. Many Chilean politicians were demanding apologies, and Canadian politicians are requesting investigations. There was some talk about perhaps the Chilean team not coming to play on Sunday in the third place game, but they announced they would come out to play.

Upon arrival at the stadium, there was a large protest outside against the Toronto police by Chilean fans. Probably a good 75 to 100 people surrounding a large Chilean flags, many of them holding signs. The protest was peaceful, and the police kept their distance.

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The stadium was mostly filled with South American fans - Chileans for the first game, most of whom left and apparently gave their tickets to Argentinian fans for the second game. There were very few Austrian or Czech fans in the crowd, and they mostly got drowned out by the larger Latin American contingent. The Chileans had the best cheers - lots of variation. The Argentinians had most drummers, though.

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I missed the first 50 minutes of the third place game, so I missed the only goal. Chile scored, and ended up winning the game 1 to 0 to beat the Austrians and win the third place trophy. The Chilean fans had a scare near the end, but some fine goal keeping saw their goalie Cristopher Toselli (who set a tournament record by recording 492 minutes of scoreless action before letting in three goals in the Argentina-Chile match) knocking a ball out of the net just before it crossed the goal line as he was falling backwards. It was a spectacular save.

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In the second game, the Czechs scored first, but Argentina answered quickly and got another goal and went on to win 2 - 1. Argentina had the top scorer of the tournament, Sergio Aguero with six goals, won the golden boot for the top scorer, the golden ball as the MVP, was captain of the team so first to put his hands on the trophy and gets to wear the number 10!

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The Czechs score!  Czech U20 team celebrates.

The Czechs score! Czech U20 team celebrates.


Just a few minutes left

Just a few minutes left


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Argentina being presented the trophy of the U20 World Cup

Argentina being presented the trophy of the U20 World Cup

Other than the Chile - Police dust up, the tournament was a great success. It established a new record for the highest total attendance in FIFA Under-20 World Cup history, finishing at 1,195,239. The previous record of 1,155,160 was set in Mexico 24 years previous. Including the final Sunday's two games, 31 of the tournament's 52 matches were sold out.

As for the growth of soccer as a spectator sport in Canada, things are looking up. Toronto FC, the MLS team, is one of the most profitable and well-attended teams in the league, though that hasn't exactly translated into on-field success... yet. The MLS is looking north again. 2011 sees Vancouver join the league with a professional team, and Montreal is highly favoured to join soon after. Canada is likely to get two MLS teams before Beckham even gets his first.

Siempre fĂștbol, Canada.

Posted by GregW 00:34 Archived in Canada Tagged sports events Comments (0)

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