Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Our man in Havana - Part Two

So first day in Havana. 

Opened the curtains and this was the view...


Not bad at all. 

We had to meet Antonio, the rep from the firm we had booked the holiday from. He gave us a few tips of where to go, how to get there etc...

The first thing we had to do was find a bank. As previously mentioned, the only place you can change Euros to CUC is in Cuba, at the hotel reception, or at a bank, by either going in or using the ATM (but only a Visa card is accepted). This went without a hitch, although as I will allude to as the holiday progresses, this would be the ONLY time.

The FOCSA building as seen from the hotel room
 We then needed water so tried the nearby supermarket. This again, was an experience. First off, I was stopped from entering as I had my rucksack with me and bags must be left with a security guard at the door. In any way it was pointless as there was no water to be seen (a problem that would rear its ugly head throughout the holiday). 

So we decided to take a stroll to the Hotel Nacional de Cuba.
 This has played host to a number of stars from stage and screen over the years. But sadly, Fred Dibnah does not count among them.

After wandering around the tunnel system designed to stave off Uncle Sam, we wanted to walk towards Old Havana along the Malecon. This is where we first encountered the phenomona which is Jinetero. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it is basically used to describe a pest, someone that offers to show you the way, where to buy the best this, that and the other, chat to you etc....all in exchange for money. 

Our first guy was affable enough, but I replied with mono-symbollic answers and was just about to tell him to jog on, when he said "You don't want to talk to Cuban people?". Had he had said "me" instead of bringing nationality into it my riposte would have been negative. I think he got bored with my grunting replies and buggered off.

We went about a kilometre and turned back for our hotel. Opposite was a jazz club, which had an outdoor restaurant. So obviously a beer was the order of the day. 
It's from Barbados!
  

After checking out the rooftop pool it was time for me to do a little urbexing/stadium visiting combined and what better way than a derelict stadium?

To get to said stadium we walked along the famous Malecon. I am not sure what I expected but it is like a stroll along the M25. Yes, the Atlantic Ocean is to your side and sometimes the spray hitting the rocks can be spectatular. But the noise and smell is off putting. It is in places 6 lanes wide, no crossing facilities, and the Cubans have a bit of a hooter fetish, which means they beep their horns every 15 seconds. Coupled with the fact that the vintage cars are obviously not run on lead free petrol, and the smell can be overpowering.

Back to the hotel for some cliched drinks (cuba libre and penis colada served in a pineapple) and then off to bed, wondering what tomorrow will bring. 

 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Our man in Havana - Part One





Cuba. A country my wife and I have always wished to visit and now we have had that "pleasure".

Not being fans of the packet holiday we decided to try to do things as much as possible on our own terms. So, now coach trips and changing accomodation every three days, being pushed from pillar to post. Due to the very nature of booking hotels in Cuba, we were resigned to the fact that we must buy a package of hotel, flight, train journey from here to the designated airport of departure and hotel transfer from Varadero to Havana, our base for two weeks.

So it was on the afternoon of Wednesday 14th December we found ourselves on a train from Hannover to Köln/Bonn airport for a Eurowings flight.

Upon taking out seats, we noticed (one could hardly fail not to notice) the toilet was directly in front of us. This meant that leg room was nearly non-existant. Boy was I looking foward to 10 hours in this position. Hello Deep Vein Thrombosis, how are you diddling?

Paranoid (as Ozzy Osbourne may once have said)? Not really, but things were about to get worse.

I guess about 4 hours into the flight a group of flight attendants rushed past us with a steely look on their faces. We obviously thought no more of it until another 30 minutes had passed. The Captain made an announcement to inform everyone that smoking was not allowed on the flight (Thank you Mr Stating-the-bleeding-obvious) and we had had a fire in a rubbish bin due to someone doing just that.  


So that's a bad thing right? Of course it is. But what happened next defies belief. Once again the Captain made an announcement that AFTER the fire, the cabin crew had found cigarette butts (notice the plural) in another toilet. So person or persons unknown, not content with nearly blowing us out of the sky, couldn't resist their nicotine fix. Unsurprisingly, the pilot was a tad aggrieved and said if the person did not own up he was going to divert to Canada until the problem could be resolved. 


Luckily things seemed to calm down and we landed on time at Varadero (Juan Gualberto Gómez Airport) which isn't actually in Varadero. A shame as it is twinned with Driffield, where I spent a few months in the early 90's.
To get through passport control was an experience. There were a number of wooden booths (someone feel free to make a joke about me) and every once in a while a little hand would appear and gesture you foward. You then had to stand on a pair of feet silhouettes on the floor and have your photo taken. Then passports were checked, stamped and the travel visa taken. In theory. 

In reality, someone was called foward, the system would crash, so the official in the booth (someone feel free to make a joke about me) would go to an empty booth (someone blah blah blah) but fail to notify the people in their particular queue what was going on. 

Repeat this process 3 or 4 times to get some idea of what it was like. Finally, we were in, and the luggage was waiting for us. Outside the airport, found out contact, and with another couple we were whisked off to our hotel in Havana. In theory.

We were told to trip would take about 3 hours and we were to have a little break halfway into the journey. We did just that, and pulled up to some roadside complex, where we could buy "the best Penis Coladas in Cuba". Only we couldn't as you can only change your money from Euros to CUC in Cuba, and we hadn't had the chance. 

Onwards to Havana and not much was seen of the journey as by 18:00 it was pitch black. 

We arrived at our hotel, tired and hungry at 21:00, immediately drunk the two cans of local beer in the mini-bar and ordered a sandwich from room service. 

After trying to figure our how to work the air conditioning system (no intstructions are ever provided for these gosh awful things...why?) we fell into a heavy slumber. 

To be continued...


 
 

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Wasp Whisperer















SC Paderborn 07 II (U23) 4

 VfB Fichte Bielefeld 2

Westfalenliga Staffel 1

A nice little 91.7km drive to the village of Marienloh which is a suburb of Paderborn, to see their reserves take on the mighty Fichte. We went into the game unbeaten and coming off the back of a 9-0 away thrashing of a Kreisliga C team in the Kreispokal. They all count!

The ground is one of these ghastly purpose built efforts where the reserves train and play, one side a 3G pitch, the other a grass one. Still at least they had a nice cage for their robot mower.

 The merry band of Fichte fans (all four of us) started to put out the flags when I noticed that Bagpuss was missing. I had left him at home. We would not win today.

The ground was awful. Just a hard standing on both sides, with no cover and a couple of metal benches set so far back from the pitch that you wouldn't really be able to see anything if you sat on one. No spectator facilities  behind either goal. 



Matti Kuuse started in goal, his only previous two appearances coming in the Kreispokal, where against SV Häger he saved a penalty. The  game started and within 9 minutes we were ahead, a wicked free kick from Soner Dayangan on the left and Chif Sadicki rose highest to glance home his 4th of the season. 
Top scorer Chif Sadicki


But 4 minutes later, Kuuse came out for a one on one and brought his opponent down, penalty to Paderborn and Victor Maier made no mistake from the spot.

In the 21st minute, Sadicki lost the ball on the halfway line from a Fichte attack and the ball popped through to Admir Saric, who left two defenders for dead before putting the home team 2-1 up. 

In between this, a wasp had started to buzz around, annoying one of our party, so Frankie coaxed the wasp away with a beer bottle. It had to be seen to be believed, as Brer Wasp followed the stench of Paderborner Pils away from the massed ranks of Fichte fans. 
 

 Just before halftime and Saric curled a shot in from 30 yards to make it 3-1 to the hosts.

The team were a long time coming out for the second half, and whatever manager Yorck Bergenthal said at halftime seemed to have the desired effect, as we looked a lot more up for the game, and after 51 minutes confusion in the Paderborn area Ivica Ivecevic poked the ball home to give us some hope.

Indeed the equaliser should have been forthcoming as Sansar made his way into the area, only to ignore the 3 on 1 situation and try to score on his own.  

I think we all know where this is going. With Fichte stretched looking for the goal that would keep their unbeaten run intact, Marcel Salokat seemed to hover in the air for ages from a set piece before heading the ball past Kuuse for a 4-2 result for the home side. 
Let them lie
 RATINGS

 Clubhouse:     7/10
 Seats:            None. A few metal benches scattered about but not really for    spectators 
 Behind goals: Pathway
 Cover:            None 
 Barrier:         Metal fence 
 Bratwurst:     €2 - 8/10 (Thanks to Helmut for the rating) 
 Beer:            €1.50 - Warsteiner (coffee was €1.30 for a mug)
 Entrance Fee: €5 
 Friendliness:  6/10 
 Programme:   None 
 Weather:       6/10 
 Ground:        5/10 
 Home fans:   2/10 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

How many sheds?

 










 SV Häger 0 VfB Fichte Bielefeld 2

Herforder Pils Cup 1st Round


I had missed the first two Fichte games of the season through various commitments. But a 1-1 draw at home in the first game, with a injury time equaliser from new signing Anthony Eviparker versus Grün-Weiß Nottuln, and followed up by a 1-0 victory away at TuS Dornberg saw us in 4th place in the league after two games.

Todays 71km jaunt was actually the 1st round of the Kreispokal, named now after the sponsors Herforder Pils against Bezirksliga team SV Häger. 

I had been to this ground a number of times when I lived in the area, as a mate played in goal for them. It was said, not without reason, to be the smallest ground in the area. And as I remember it, it most certainly was. It was just a football pitch, with a wire mesh fence seperating it from a cornfield and the spectators, what little there were of them, stood less than 2 feet from the touchline. 

So imagine my glee (ok, not really glee but I so wanted to say that word. "Glee". See? I did it again) when I looked on Google Maps and found a brand new 3G pitch behind the old grass effort. 

The old grass pitch   
 But how to get there? The car park is situated behind a pub, which to my knowledge of the mid 00's has never been open. Then one has to walk along a road beside the old grass pitch to reach the new pitch a few hundred yards down the road. 

The long and winding road, not long and certainly not winding
 
The ground....well, what can I say? It's a 3G pitch, with a few sheds down one side. Yes, sheds. My biggest chagrain is that I didn't photograph them, but there was a home shed, and an away shed, and a I am assuming neutral shed. The fact is...the changing rooms are located down the road, and past the pub which is closed, so the players have a 500m (at least) hike back to get changed after the game. 

Oberwelland-Park, my arse
 The starting line up contained 5 of the starters from the 1-0 win at Dornberg on Saturday, and both teams settled into an early rhythm without threatening the goal. Disaster struck as Häger were awarded a penalty in which the player smashed over the bar. In the 21st minute, Jens Hirsig spanked in a shot to make it 1-0.

Just before half time one of our players saw a second yellow (don't ask me who, I was looking at the cornfield behind the goal) and we were down to 10.

More flags than fans


In the half time break I needed to wee (too much info?) so took advantage of the Portaloo they had there next to the row of sheds.

In the second half another penalty was awarded to Häger but Matti Kuuse in the goal parried it away. Two minutes from time a cross was floated in from the left and Eviparker got his head to it, and floated a textbook header into the net to make in 2-0.

Token match shot

We (all four of us) chanted his name to which he responded with a round of applause. After the game, every player came and thanked us for our support. There was even time for a quick chat with Häger's player coach Hüseyin Geceli who is an ex player of ours. 

Sunset over the fields

 RATINGS

Clubhouse: Nope, unless you count a shed
Seats: Sort of. I took a plastic chair and plonked myself down on it
Behind Goals: Hard standing behind one but only serves as a pathway
Cover: A marquee where the plastic chairs are stored
Floodlights: Yes
Barrier: Metal fence
Bratwurst: €2 - not sampled
Beer: €1,30 - Veltins
Entrance fee: €3
Friendliness: 7/10
Programme: No
Weather: 8/10
Ground: 7/10
Home fans: 1/10



 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

SC Paderborn 3 FC St Pauli 0 - 2 Bundesliga

                                                                   
I haven't done this for a long time. Just found a random fixture to go to and well, went.

So I bought a ticket for this top of the 2 Bundesliga fixture. I had attended the previous fixture a few years ago, when Paderborn played in their dilapidated
Hermann-Löns-Stadion. But if I went into the tale of that particular day, well that would take an extra blog to explain it all. 

So it was off to the Benteler Arena, home of 3rd placed SC Paderborn 07. Opened in 2008 and with a contsruction cost of 25,000,000€, the Benteler Arena has a capacity of 15,300,  more than enough for the average crowd of 9,477.

Benteler Arena from the car park
 Let's not beat around the bush...I am no lover of the modern stadium. Yes, I know it makes the whole "football experience" a thousand times more pleasureable, but give me a crumbling terrace, or a pigeon poo stained seat in an aspestos roofed stand anyday. 

Having said that, Paderborn have got it right...almost!

The only gripe I have, is that there are no refreshments or toilet opportunities outside the ground.

 I popped into the club shop and picked up a programme. They were free. Not a bad start. A glossy 68 page affair with 28 pages of ads. But for the  grand price of zilch, I wasn't complaining.

Programme
 The ground is enclosed all the way round, with terracing at both ends. I was sat to the left of the home terracing. 
Home terrace (Finke fan terrace)
 On both sides there are seats running the whole length of the pitch
East Stand
 I was sat right at the front of the stand, next to a gangway, my preferred place, but there was ample legroom in front of me so I needn't have worried.
West stand
View of the North terrace
 One thing I also liked about the ground was that Paderborn had introduced this novel system to buying refreshments inside the ground. You went up to the counter, asked for whatever, and then handed over something called cash. If you didn't have the right money, don't worry, they gave you the balance in return, also in cash. None of this fuddy duddy old system increasingly favoured by other clubs, where you have to purchase a stadium card if you want a Mars Bar.
View from my seat
 Going into the game, Paderborn were in 3rd place in the league, whilst their opponents, St Pauli were in 4th. But Paderborn boasted two of the divisions top scorers in their ranks, namely Mahir Saglik (10) and Alban Meha (9). Add into the mix that St Pauli were the 2nd best away team in the division and I was looking foward to a humdinger.
Call the grammar police!

Paderborn play lovely free flowing football, and it really was a pleausre on the eye. A brace from Saglik, including this penalty...
...and another from Meha sealed a 3-0 win for the home side.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

I'm back! Sort of...well, no, I mean...I am.

But thanks to the efforts of my local football team to treat loyal fans like sub-human scum (see previous blog) will no longer be blogging about that malarkey.

Instead, I shall be blogging about my experiences as an Englishman living in Germany for the past xx years. I hope to dispel some myths, sereotypes and possibly uncover some truths. Some people may not agree with what I type. I can only say it will be based on my experiences. And there are a lot of them. So...without further ado, I give you:

PUNCTUALITY

Somewhere in the past, the people at the Stereotype HQ got together in their underground lair (I am assuming they have one but it is now closed due to Health and Safety regulations) and set out a bunch of stereotypes for most countries in the world. 

These were thankfully abolished in the early 90's, although someone forgot to tell the Top Gear presenters, when they rolled out a Mexican stereotype to describe something.

On my countless trips to France over the years, I have still yet to see a moustachioed man with a beret, in a striped t shirt, riding a bike, with a string of onions around his neck, going "He Haw, He Haw" as he rides by.


As if to prove my point, the above image was taken from a Google image search for "french person". It was the third on the list. Oh look, I've gone all Dave Gorman on you.

The Germans did not get of lightly, when the CEO of ACME Stereotypes signed their quota. The Germans are puntual, it said. Erm....No! In fact, the amount of times a German has actually been on time to a meeting or appointment in my 16 years here I could probably count on my two hands (one if you are from Norfolk...whoops, another stereotype right there).

I don't think my love of punctuality is a cultural thing. More likely to do with the fact that the only job I have ever had has been the British Military, first as a soldier then a civilian, where the norm was, turning up 5 minutes before a parade (that's an appointment to the normal folk). 

 When I was a young soldier, I was actually late for a parade. By a matter of about 4 minutes. My reward? 7 days in jail. And guess what? I was never late again.

To that end, I kinda have a "thing" for being on time. I remember an occasion I was driving to a football match, and the meet was scheduled for 12:00. At 12:15 with still no sign of one of our party, I left. There was uproar. Luckily this tale has a happy ending as just as I was driving down the road, the protaganist was walking towards the meeting place.

One of my bugbears is when people state a time, and they are 30 odd minutes late. Don't say a time then. Err on the side of caution. Say "Between 1 and 2". That way you have all your bases covered.

"I'll call you back in 5 minutes". Liar! We all know YOUR five minutes can be over an hour. Don't say it then. Say "I'll call you back as soon as possible". There...isn't that easier?

Deutsche Bahn! Please don't get me started on the myth that German trains are on time, clean etc.....

I could write a whole book over the utter ineptitude of this firm. However the crux of the matter is, no...your trains do not run on time. Even when the trains are on time, they aren't. Does that make sense? 


TV Shows. With a start time of 19:47, you would expect them to start on time. Noooooo! Again, why put it? Why not say 19:47 to 19:53. Oh yeah, I know why. Because if you DID put that, the programme would start at 19:58 wouldn't it?

Appointments. I once had a doctors appointment for 14:15. At 15:15 I was STILL in the waiting room. 

I often have to go to the job centre and not once have one of the little neo-facist, oafish, incompetent cockwombles EVER been on time. I will now experiment the next time my lisping Harry Potter-a-like bimbles out of his room, 3 minutes late for our appointment. I shall sit there in corridor for the requesite amount of time he left me waiting.

Apart from that, yes, very punctual!



 


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

VfL Bückeburg....The Final Chapter

Well they finally managed it. The team I really took to my heart ended up shafting me. Not for the first time.

In this final blog I shall point out the incidents, most of them minor, but in the end there was just one too many for me to continue to go there and support the team.

I shall not name individuals, anyone with Google could find this out within 5 minutes anyway.

INCIDENT 1: THE IGNORING

I like to keep myself to myself. I have never stood with other Bückeburg fans, just to ingratiate myself with them, I like to stand where I always do at a football match. To that end, when I am the only away fan, and people recognise you each week, surely a little nod, or "alright?", is ok?
On the same token, I do not expect to be exchanging spit in the shower with someone just because they were wearing a green scarf.
When I go to Romford games, there is none of this animosity. This is possibly a cultural thing, more of which later.

INCIDENT 2: THE MONEY

There was a time I tavelled on the team/supporters coach to away games. At no time was money asked for, even though I thought it a tad strange. At no time in the press, the programme etc was ANY mention of a fare remarked upon.
On the return journey of a game, the captain of the team confronted a man sitting in front of me on the coach, asking where the money was for the team kitty. This was news to me, and having learnt that it was expected that €5 was the norm, I apologised to this man, explaining it was the first of such arrangement I had heard, I offered my fare for the trip. He didn't want any money, which I thought odd.
Because I felt guilty of all the times I had travelled I offered to even the score at the next post-match piss up. He actually said it wasn't necessary, but in the end I bought the team a bottle of booze. A man of my word!

INCIDENT 3: THE MEMBERSHIP

I decided to become a member of the club, paying a fee and hopefully looking foward to taking part in the General Meetings. 
I never attended any of the three meetings during my membership (before I resigned it). The reason? I was never once invited. I learnt of their existence after the even. It's ok though, it was incredibly difficult for the club to contact me, I mean they only had FIVE different mediums to do so.

INCIDENT 4: THE INTERRUPTION

I am a stickler for manners (stop laughing). The one and only time I was chatting to one of the few fans that actually gave me the time of day, a rude oik on the balcony above butted in, and started shouting over the top of me, mid conversation. To the young man in question, who I often see in the town with his family: if you ever see my wife, be sure to thank her. For if it was not for that wonderful lady, the old Graham would have returned and I would have thrown you off the balcony. Even now, when you walk past with your shit eating grin, I would like to teach you manners Romford stylee!

INCIDENT 5: THE RUDE STEWARD

I like to stick to rules and regulations as much as possible. If I know something is taboo, not alloweed etc, I shall do my best to stick to that rule.
At one home game, I was standing behind the goal. Behind the goal is a metal fence, a gate in the middle and a path. There are no spectator facilities, but there are also no signs to say I couldn't stand there. I have stood there before, and no one had been bothered.
On this particular occasion one of the stewards approached me. I realise I may have been in the wrong, but there is a way to speak to people to point this out. The way I was spoken to was an utter disgrace.

INCIDENT 6: THE JOB OFFER

This was the straw that broke the camels back. After a home  game,  we were all having a drink in the club house, when the manager, Assistant manager and two of the staff call me over. They offered me a job (non payment, but I would never have asked for money anyway) of helping out with the team on matchdays. I said yes, we shook hands on it, the manager took my number and said he would be in touch.
A couple of weeks had passed when at an away game, we spoke and he said, "I thought you were coming to (insert away team) on the coach". "No", said I, I never said that. "Did you wish to speak about the job?". "Yes, I'll be touch".
Another fortnight passed and we had our last home game postponed due to the weather. I sent the manager a text saying "When can we talk", Again, a text came back "I'll be in touch". 

Well that was in May. It is now October. He has seen me since then, even shook my hand to say hello, but no other mention has been made. 

Again, maybe a cultural thing, but when two people shake hands on a deal, although not legally binding obviously, I expect a little more. Even if they had decided against offering me the job, let me know. Have the bollocks to contact me, and let me know. Otherwise you just make yourself look like a cunt.

After that incident I became very disillusioned with the club. There were a couple of other things which I found out about people at the club, which did not involve me, but people which have given up their free time and effort, being treated like shit. I think, if the club is willing to do that to hard working supporters then quite frankly I do not wish to be a part of it.

I won't even go into the "marketing" of the club, for that is an absolute clusterfuck, not my problem anymore. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

Good luck VfL!