A Travellerspoint blog

The City of Roses?

All those who wander are not lost, but all those that drive cabs in Bloemfontein certainly are

Hi, this is Josh writing. John is taking his first shower of the trip so I snuck onto the ol' Acer to say 'whatup'.

We are nearing the end of our second day in Bloemfontein, and I think it's fair to say we've had a mixed bag of results so far.

Prior to the flight in yesterday, I'd not heard much of this host city so we decided to ask our driver Devan (Deevanne? Sp?) about it. We had the following exchange:

"So, what's Bloemfontein like?"

"Bloemfontein isn't good for much else besides farming corn. I hope you are excited to farm the corn, as you say in America."

Needless to say, I wasn't too pumped, despite the fact that Bloem was the first city in which we had match tickets. We were set to see Paraguay-Slovakia, which on the face of it looked like one of the more forgettable clashes of the group stage, but I was hopeful. Both sides would be fragile emotionally, after dropping points late on in each of their opening matches, and also featured good attacking players (Hamsik, Barrios, Stoch, blah blah blah).

Here's my version of our flight in to Bloem. I had assumed the planes would be small at some point this trip, but not THIS small, even for a flight just under an hour long.

My consternation was augmented by the fact that of what was maybe 30 seats on the plane, 10 were being filled by a merry (read:drunken) band of Slovakian brothers. These guys were like the O'Doyle(Billy Madison reference...had to!) family on crazy Eastern Bloc steroids. Absolutely nuts, pounding two beers at a time, singing, burping, the whole show.

The best part was that just before takeoff, our flight attendant comes on and is like "We ask that you remain in your seats for the entirety of the flight, as any passenger movement could unbalance the plane while it is airborne."

Guess what happened? Yep, we hit cruising altitude and next thing I know it's literally musical Slovakian chairs on the damn aircraft. Every one of these dudes had to try the bathroom, sit in the front row (vacant, unfortunately) and/or look for a flight staff person to ask for more beer. Sit the F$%& down, bro! What are you doing?! Safe to say right then I made the decision to back Paraguay.

There was one other man who couldn't be bothered to stay seated, although he was not from Bratislava. Indeed, it was the impeccably polite (ha!) former Arsenal hardman, Martin Keown. Now, I am an Arsenal supporter, but not because of Mr. Keown. He was a bit taller than I envisioned, but just as cold.

After speaking with the guy, I understand why I wasn't really drawn to him. Not the most pleasant character. To be fair, he was absolutely mauled by the band of Slovak brothers by the time I got to him, so that couldn't have contributed positively to his mood. My thing, though, is "Hey, Marty, if you don't want to get accosted by mad Slovakian dudes, maybe you shouldn't rock your credential exposed that has YOUR NAME all over it." Whatever.

He also seemed pretty bummed when I asked him what he thought of the US performance against Slovenia. We had the following exchange:

"Well, yes, I saw it. I was covering it for the BBC."

OK, dude, whatever you say. Not sure if you caught my accent or not, but it ain't like my eyes are plastered to BBC coverage on the 'tele' back in the UNITED STATES. Seriously, bro. I don't even know what BBC stands for.

Pretty sure JF rehashed the debacle that was our transport from the airport to "Solo Gracia", our guesthouse. It was painful. All I will say is that our driver literally drove past the same set of hotels four times, hoping that ours might pop up if we circle around again.

"Ummmm, guy. I appreciate the effort and all, but we've been past the Protea Hotel three times, it's not gonna be any different on the fourth try."

Anyway, we made it. From there, following a suculent monkey gland rump steak at dinner, we proceeded to cuhhhh-rush beers at Barba's, which apparently is the number 1 coolest spot to watch the matches. When in Rome, I suppose.

The match today? Well, it was the least attended match so far, which always makes you feel special when you thwomp down $120/seat. What makes you feel even more special is when, upon admission into the stadium, you take a look at your ticket and it reads "Level: Top, Row: Z".

Level Top, row Z? Are you joking me? We had seats in the very last row of the entire stadium. We got our tickets in April of 2009. We paid with US dollars. Needless to say we are red-blooded, cold-hearted Americans so we clearly sat in way better seats than we were assigned. Not lower level, mind you, more like first couple rows balcony style, among our favorite group of supporters thus far, those plucky Paraguayans (DEFINITELY already tired of the South African fans). Good enough seats for John to read the numbers on the backs of the shirts, which seemed to be a concern for him. I got you, John, don't worry!

The play on the field was a bit sleepy, I think mostly due to the sun sitting directly over the pitch. It was one of those weird cold-hot suns, which leaves you achy afterwards. Paraguay bossed the match from the off, and they were always going to earn the three points. They seem to have found a useful combination of grit, skill and finishing, and they always pick the right pass. The Slovakians were not helped by the fact that their captain Hamsik looked more interested in his impending summer vacation than creating anything of value, and early in the second half their manager completely lost the plot, moving his best wide player (his son, as it were) infield, compromising any width they had leading up to then.

It was a good match to see first, as our upcoming games should see quite a bit more excitement, better play, better attendance and less sun in our eyes. Ghana-Germany promises to be electric.

Only problem with that? More vuvuzelas than today. Peace.

Posted by jrwhisen 10:30 Comments (3)

Johannesburg, at last

sunny 0 °C

Our home for the first night is the Airport Game Lodge. Thomas the driver entertained us with his theories about soccer on the 10 minute drive from the airport. A cold snap has Jo-berg in its grip. Ice on the lawn, and ground frost has damaged some of the new train tracks. It’s winter here, with nighttime temps near freezing, then warms quickly to 55 or 60 F.
The Lodge is, well, a little more Spartan than we hoped for—tiny double room, not much heat, no light bulb larger than 25 watts. But—true to its name—it’s got game! A herd of Springbok (small deer-like animals with gracefully curved horns) wander around a few yards from our door. A single ostrich presides over a flock of Guinea hens.

We caught the train to Sandton to try to find a big-screen TV in an outdoor viewing area. We never found it, and so went to a Radisson hotel and settled into the very American-style bar. (Josh will comment later on the game, and the US’s stirring comeback). Comfy setting, but it felt more like Minneapolis than South Africa. Food and drink prices are very reasonable. Jo-burg people are friendly, very helpful. They’re disappointed in their team (named Bafana Bafana—the boys) performance. But expectations were surely too high—their draw with Mexico was probably as good a result as they should have hoped for.

Still haven’t seen Jo-burg, but jet-lagged and exhausted. Following 10 solid hours sleep, we headed back to the airport, to fly to Bloemfontein. The landscape below, on this central plain, is as flat as Kansas, and seems far less populated. Our propeller aircraft was full of celebrating Slovaks, confident of a victory and starting the party early. Again, all decked out in their national colors. A large group of Koreans also flew with us. On deplaning, they snapped scores of photos of each other, the plane, us.

Hard-partying east Europeans and picture-taking Asians—gotta love it when folks confirm ethnic stereotypes.

Posted by jfarq 01:29 Archived in South Africa Tagged air_travel Comments (1)

Travel can be challenging...

sunny

We’re writing this in the Barcelona Airport. In the last eight hours we’ve sat on the concrete steps, staked out the flight status boards, eaten a Spanish pizza, retrieved one piece of luggage, failed to retrieve a second piece—but never mind. What we are NOT doing is visiting downtown Barca because we missed our connecting flight from Madrid and got all squirrelly about missing our return flight—which would spell catastrophe. So we wait.Could be worse, though--Spanish business processes for: security and baggage may be a tad sketchy, but they design grand airports.

Previously, John sat on the runway at Asheville for two hours, thus missing a connection to NYC and arriving 6 hours late. But the following morning John took in the Scott-Amundsen exhibit at the NY Museum of Natural History. That’s the story of Scott’s attempt to beat the Norwegian the South Pole. It ended with several Brits froze solid in a tent; another had already sacrificed himself with his haunting farewell, “I am going to step outside. I may be some time.” Later, Appsley Cherry-Garrard wrote a riveting memoir of the journey, entitled The Worst Journey in the World. A classic: remembering it gives us a sense of proportion about our difficulties.

At last, the Jo-burg airport. Flight from Madrid lited off at 1:30 AM. Long but uneventful, save for Josh getting dizzy midway and falling in the plane’s aisle. He recovered quickly, and we caught a car to the Airport Game Farm, to be described next.
The plane was full of Spanish fans. Many were decked out gold and red; teenage girls had slashed red and gold paint across their cheeks. Several Mexican fans joined us, carrying broad brimmed sombreros. Everyone is tired, but giddy with anticipation.

Posted by jfarq 00:01 Comments (0)

Roll the Credits!

Our Schedule...

Here's our plan. Nephew Josh and John will meet in New York on Wednesday, June 16. Iberia Airlines will fly us to Barcelona. After a 9-hour layover, we fly to Johannesburg, arriving around noon on June 18. We'll head to the Airport Game Lodge to rest and get over jet lag, if we can.

The next day we fly to Bloemfontein, a city in the Orange Free State. Our inch-thick South Africa guidebook doesn't mention Bloemfontein, so we don't know what to expect. But we will see our first match there, Slovakia vs. Paraguay.

Then it's back to Johannesburg, for two more matches:
Spain vs. Honduras, At Ellis Park on June 21
Ghana vs Germany, at Soccer City on June 23 Now that both teams have 3 pts, we expect an exciting--and earsplitting--experience.

On the off-day--June 22, we hope to meet up with our close friends, Trevor and Rebecca Lawton. They've just finished a four-county safari and visit to Victoria Falls. Read their blog and see their photos at http://usroyal.travellerspoint.com/.

Our safari, at the Sabi Sands Arathusa Game Lodge, runs from June 24-27.

We fly back to Johannesburg for our final match. It will pit the winner of group B (probably Argentina, if form holds) against the second-place team from Group A (hope it's Mexico-- so my friend Andres will know we're cheering for them).

Finally, we fly to George, on the south coast, and drive west to Cape Town. Four days there; no tickets, but if any cash remains we'll hunt down a scalper. Otherwise, we'll just sightsee the gorgeous city and environs, tour the wine country, and watch matches on big screens in squares and parks.

Then, home at last.

This is a good time to shout out to:
Pat, Jennifer and Laurie (who meticulously planned how to make the most of a 9-hour layover in Barcelona) all at CSC;
Tom O'Brien, on the occasion of his 50th birthday
Most of all, Lou--who puts up with--no, encourages!--so many hare-brained ideas with humor and infinite grace.

We'll try to update this blog every day or two, subject to jet lag, animal bites, and the vagaries of South Africa Internet access.

Best Wishes, All.

Posted by jfarq 16:03 Archived in USA Comments (3)

Preparing the Ground

After three years...

overcast 22 °C

... of dog-earing guidebooks, searching the web, and fumbling through brochures, the time has come. Travel vests are ordered. Credit card limits are stretched to breaking. Seat assignment are wheedled from cold-hearted call-center ops with names like Brian and Heather but who speak with a pure Indian lilt. The probability of greivous bodily harm in Johannesburg is rated somewhere between 'slam dunk' and 'stop wimpering, you American pussy.'

It's time to pack. Two days in NYC, with temps near 90 degrees. One day in Barcelona, a dip in the Med. Jo-burg, 40 degree nights, 70 degree days. Kruger National Park, wear nothing but neutral colors or the insects will eat you alive. Wear bright colors or the animals will eat you alive. Lou whispers, 'layers.' I pack a Kindle; a camera; binoculars; pills for every ill, real and imagined; iPod; misc. vouchers, schedules, and confirmations; critical toiletries; books on Soccer and South Africa. All this before I even get to a suitcase.

Posted by jfarq 09:13 Archived in USA Comments (2)

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