Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Catch-up Part 1: Today is Thursday so this must be Polokwane...?

Firstly, apologies for the scarcity of postings over the past few days.... Nope, sorry, we have not been murdered/car-jacked/sold into the white slave trade, or even drunken ourselves in to a stupor. A combination of very late nights, various coughs, colds and flu, and a flaky internet connection here in the boondocks, has combined to cause a postponement of blog entries for a short while. You will glad to know that normal service will be resumed as soon as possible...

Since the last post we have been to a handful more games in various provinces/cities/stadiums, which by now have all stated to blur at the edges. Firstly we saw Germany beat Ghana 1-nil at Soccer City in a rather uninspiring game where both teams had, and squandered, numerous chances, until the bug-eyed Ozil put one in the back of the net from some distance. My genetic disposition to dislike of the Germans led me to want the Ghanaians to win, and the fact that they did not has helped consign this game to the ‘forgettable’ category of World Cup Games.

Next up was a game I did have some real passion for, New Zealand v Paraguay in Polokwane, (that must have been last Thursday..?) This was to be the longest of our car trips to see a match, so we left very early to cover the 300+ kms North into the Limpopo province. The road was clear and we made good progress, enough so that we even had time to stop off for a KFC..!, (surprisingly better than the soft and insipid version we get in NZ). The Park and Ride was a breeze and we reached the Stadium nice and early, which gave us a chance to look around and for Yates to forlornly ‘fence’ his spare ticket. There was good support from the All Whites fans in several parts of the ground, and it was great to hear some familiar chants. Now if the Kiwis could pull off a win, then we would really have something to cheer about...

The All Whites played with their usual strength and determination, maintaining good defensive positioning and even looking a little dangerous up front. It was always going to be a difficult game and the reality was that Paraguay would be happy playing for a draw while scoring more than one goal would be nigh on impossible for our boys. As the game drifted past half-time, Simon Elliot had the best chance of the game to grab that precious goal with a powerful shot just slightly wide, but it was becoming obvious that a nil-nil draw was likely to be the outcome. Mark Paston did his international reputation no harm with some outstanding saves late in the 2nd half, after a couple of goalmouth scuffles, but the 90 minutes were soon up, and no matter how loud we screamed for the All Whites to get a last minute winner, it was not to be. Even though we were disappointed that New Zealand would not progress beyond the group stage, we were not only immensely proud of how well the team had done, but also how much better they had done than anyone expected them to do. To go home undefeated in 3 games, including against the reigning world Champions, was a stellar achievement which will only help the continued development of the ‘Beautiful Game’ in my adopted home of New Zealand. Go the All Whites....!!

By this point in proceedings, my cold had gone from the tickly throat stage, through the coughing fits, to the full blown snot and all-sort part and I felt lousy. Fiona and Yates also had some variation of the same thing but seemed to coping with it better than I was, so our rest day was exactly that, spent resting, sleeping, and sneezing. I did perk up for another gourmet meal from the lodge, which included a fantastically delicious local stew, which was just what I needed, but I soon back to bed, tucked up nice an warm. My cold broke the next day which was good, but I was still only running at about 60%, so resting and recovery was still high on the menu, even though we had a long trip out to Rustenburg for the USA v Ghana round of 16 game that evening. We left mid-afternoon, with Fiona doing the bulk of the driving, and we arrived with plenty of time to look around and find our seats. Unfortunately, even though we had Cat 2 tickets, we were right at the top of the west stand with a chill breeze blowing right at us, which was not doing my cold any favours, so Fiona & I took a walk and found a sneaky warn spot to wait for the game to start.

On paper this encounter looked like a pretty even match-up between the USA and Ghana, neither team really living up to their expectation in the group stages, but both equally able to start putting a run together towards the sharp end of the tournament. We were fully supporting the USA in this match, along with a suitably large contingent of Americans, but all the neutrals and local South Africans were behind Ghana, so there was a good atmosphere in the stadium at kick-off. Unfortunately, it appeared that the USA team were mentally still in the locker-room for the first 5 minutes, and after some shoddy back marking, Kevin-f**king-Prince-f**king-Boateng, ran from the half way line with the ball, straight through the US defence to blast it into the net.... Bugger.

Once again the USA was playing catch-up and in all honesty it looked like the chances they would do it for the 4th game in succession were slim, especially as they nearly let in an identical goal but for a fine save from Howard. For the first half the USA’s midfield were virtually non-existent, with aimless long balls were being lumped up front for Altidore to chase fruitlessly. The second half started better with more engagement from the midfield, with Dempsey and Donovan both playing further forward. This led to a period of determined pressure from the US, which in turn led to Dempsey latching on to a well placed pass, pushing through the middle and into the box, only to be fouled. Penalty.... Donovan stepped up and confidently dispatched the goal, and it was game on again, but as hard as the USA tried, they could not find the required goal and normal time ebbed away and extra time looked inevitable.

Extra time would be a fresh start, a chance to come out and attack and grab a goal and avoid the lottery of penalties, and our hopes were high that the USA could do just that. But our hopes were almost immediately extinguished when Ghana scored almost an exact replica of their opening goal, with a long ball right through the middle, poor marking by DeMerrit, and bang the ball was past Howard and in back of the net. Bugger..... The only positive was that at least there was another 25 minutes for the USA to once again comeback from the dead, but as much as they tried, this fairytale was not going to happen. We stood at the top of a cold & windy stand and watched our hopes drift away on the chilly breeze, as we applauded the efforts of the US team and watched the wild celebrations of the Ghanaian team and their legion of fans.

The game finished at midnight and by the time we made it back to the car and out of the car park, it was past 1:00am. After a two and a half hour straight-shot through the night, over motorways, main roads, B-roads, gravel roads and dirt tracks, we finally made it back to the lodge, physically and emotionally tired and looking for refuge.... It had been a long and tiring day, and this was only the first of another 4-day marathon session.

Part 2 coming soon....

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

“The Worst Road in Africa”

Unfortunately the photo’s here don’t really do this 2km track the justice it deserves, as it looks no worse than a farm track in these pictures. But let me assure you that when you need to attempt this piece of road both before and after going anywhere it get a little tiresome, especially at 1:30am in the morning.

I don’t think we have made a successful traverse of this stretch of dirt without either grounding the bottom of the hire car somewhere along the way, having stones & rocks ricochet off the underside, or having the infamous African Thorn Bush gouge long scratches into the paintwork. And even after we get to the top of the track, we still have 5kms of bone shaking gravel road before we get anywhere near what you would consider a real road.

I think we accepted that we would be claiming on the car insurance from the very first trip along the “Worst Road in Africa”, and if we make it through 29 days without getting a puncture or something important rattling off the car, we would have done very well.

Chill-laxing Under African Skies

Not much to report from the past 2 days of chilling out around the lodge, except that we have all enjoyed not having to plan everything around attending a game, or driving to some distant stadium. On pour first day off, and after filling up the car with petrol, (my calculations were of course, correct), we just laid around our suites watching the odd game of football on the TV and making the most the facilities and the warm African sunshine.

Louis, one of the owners of Abloom, has a reputation as an accomplished chef, and the lodge offer meals in your suite that they advertise as being ‘Gourmet’, so we thought we would give it a try as we were actually going to be there for an evening. In all seriousness this was going to be the highlight of our lazy day as we were looking forward to not having to cook or even leave the lodge for a slap-up meal. We were not disappointed.... The first course was a rich tomato and vegetable soup with a dollop of sour cream, which was very warming and tasty. The second course was a fillet of ostrich on a bed of creamy mash potato with a medley of fresh vegetable, and a red wine sauce reduction, which was divine. And to finish off this exquisite meal we had some homemade orange and almond torte, still warm from the oven, with an orangey sweet sauce. Obviously we accompanied this excellent meal with a great bottle of Simonsig Pinotage, (very recommended), and then proceeded to demolish a whole bottle of KWV port between the 3 of us. Suffice to say that we really enjoyed the meal and went to our respective beds, full, happy and some of us, more than slightly drunk.

Next morning we had another slow start to the day before making our way into Pretoria for a spot of lunch at the Cafe Riche on Church Square, and then making a visit to the Voortreckers Monument. This is a huge stone built edifice that commemorates the Great Trek made by the Boers into the African interior from the south at the end of the 19th century, and the subsequent setting up of the various states and South African republics. It is a commanding monument set up on a hill with expansive views overlooking the city and the surrounding area, and like most good monuments you could climb, (actually we used the lift), to the top to enjoy the views. We bumbled around the various exhibits and the museum for a while before making our way back home, via the local shopping centre complex to pick up some supplies for dinner. This relaxing and laid back day was concluded with nice pasta meal and watching yet more football on the TV....

These past 2 days actually felt like we were on holiday for a while, instead of being on an endless route-march around various South African cities in search of the perfect World Cup experience. But the time for lazing around and enjoying ourselves is over for the next couple of days, and this starts tonight with a late game at Soccer City, Ghana v Germany, which is followed by the much anticipated final group match for New Zealand, against Paraguay in Polokwane tomorrow. Wish us luck....

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Time for some Statistics

Here are some statistics from our trip so far:-
  • World Cup Matches Attended: 6
  • World Cup Matches Left to See: 8
  • Live Goals Seen: 17
  • Goals missed by Yates being in the Toilet: 2
  • Games Watched on TV: Too many to count...
  • Beers Consummed: Too many to count...
  • Distance Driven to Matches: 1,350 km
  • Length of Lodges Driveway, ("Worst Road in Africa"): 1.7 km
  • Number of Times we have driven along "Worst Road in Africa": 13
  • Fastest recorded time along "Worst Road in Africa": 6 Minutes
  • Number of Flat Tyres: None, yet.....
  • Number of Scratches & Dents from "Worst Road in Africa": Numerous
  • Number of World Cup Points for New Zealand: 2
  • Number of World Cup Points for Australia: 1
  • Combined Number of Horses & Dogs at Lodge: 10
  • Piles of Horse Crap outside Yates Suite: 1
  • Pairs of Shoes brought to Africa (Steve): 2
  • Pairs of Shoes brought to Africa (Yates): 7

Tension and Celebration, in Equal Measures

Having a late evening game to attend has its benefits and its drawbacks; it’s great because we had most of the day to lounge around; it’s not so good because we have to travel to the game while the All Whites are playing and we won’t be back until the early hours. Anyway we did our best, did some lounging around by the plunge pool, had a nice outdoor shower, ate a little breakfast, before heading into to Cullinan to do some shopping and grab a bit of lunch. Mid afternoon we settled down to watch the first half hour of the New Zealand v Italy, before hitting the road at 4:30pm to head off to our Brazil v Ivory Coast game.

Although NZ had played above themselves in the opening draw against Slovakia, Italy would be a different proposition, and even though we were hoping beyond hope, our expectations were not too high. So imagine our delight when Smeltzy toe-poked in a flick-on from a free-kick in the 7th minute to take the lead against the World Champions. Even though where we are staying is in the middle of nowhere, I am sure someone could have heard us shouting and screaming 20 kms away...

Italy Equalised with a very iffy penalty decision just as we were leaving the lodge, and we were relegated to listening to the game on the radio in the car. The African commentator was difficult to understand at times, but the tension in the car as we headed into Jo’burg could have been cut with a knife. All 3 of us collectively breathed a big sigh of relief when the All White made it to half time without conceding again, but I was not sure I was going to be able to concentrate on the driving during the next 45 minutes if the score stayed the same. Boy, it was tense in that car, on the radio it sounded like one-way traffic with Italy mounting attack after attack, and the All Whites defending to the last man, those final 45 minutes seemed to take forever.

20 minutes to go, 15 minutes to go, then 10 & 5, and finally 4 minutes of extra time. By this point I was driving in the slow lane and paying far more attention to the radio than the road. Those last 4 minutes were the worst of the lot, I breathlessly counted them down to my fellow passengers until the sound of the final whistle blew, and I nearly went off the road... WOW...!! A one all draw with the reigning World Champions; it was like all our Christmas’s had come at once, we were so excited and relived.

After that, even Brazil v Ivory Coast was going to be a bit of an anticlimax. We proudly waved the NZ flag all around the Soccer City stadium, gathering the praise and congratulations of many other fans that had heard the result. We even had our photo taken by some fellow Kiwi’s and a bunch of crazy Canadians, who I swear were more excited than we were with the result.

Anyway, the Brazil v Ivory Coast game started slowly, with both teams feeling each other out in the opening 20 minutes. I would say that the Ivory Coast looked to have the better of the play, but as ever, it’s dangerous to give the Brazilians even a sniff of a chance, and when that chance arose, Fabiano did not waste it. At one-nil up the game changed and the Brazilians took full control and it was not long before and excellent piece of individual brilliance, (and at least one handball), from Fabiano once again, increased the lead to two. When Elano slotted in Brazil’s third goal early in the 2nd half, it was game over and the Brazilians took their foot of the gas. Towards the end of the game, Drogba scored a consolation header to make the score 3-1, but by this time the game had descended into a bit of a spiteful encounter, with the Brazilian play-maker, Kaka, being sent off for a 2nd yellow card, after some way over the top amateur dramatics from an Ivorian player writhing on the ground as if he had be run through with a broadsword...! Brazil ran out deserved 3-1 winners, but it had been an interesting game and we had enjoyed it.

Getting out of the stadium and back to the car took us an hour, and then another half hour to get out of the car park, so it was almost midnight when we hit the motorway north. At about 1:00am and about 60 kms from home the fuel warning light came on which made for another period of tension in the car, almost as intense as when we were listening to the NZ game, but we made it home safely at about 1:40am.

That was the last of our 4 matches in 4 days and now we have 2 days off to rest up and relax, before we hit the road again. Maybe we’ll watch a bit more football on the TV....?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Marathon is Underway

Yesterday was the first day of a 4 day marathon of a ‘Match-a-Day’, where we would travel to various stadiums for different group stage games. We are based about 30 KMs NE of Pretoria and the stadiums we will be visiting in this 4 day period are Soccer City, (twice including yesterday), Ellis Park and The Royal Bafokeng stadium in Rustenburg. Ellis Park is just a touch closer than Soccer City, both in Johannesburg and both about 1.5 hours by road, whereas Rustenburg is about 2.5 hours away to the east of Pretoria.

The first thing we have learnt is that we need to leave approximately 4 hours before kick-off to arrive in order to arrive in good time to ‘blag’ our way into the Park & Ride, get to the stadium and through various security & ticket checkpoints, and have a leisurely stroll to our seats, via the beer & food vendors.

Day 2 of our marathon was to Ellis Park to see Slovenia V USA. We left with plenty of time & with the aid of Lord Vader, (our friendly GPS unit), we found and sneaked our way into the Park & Ride nice and early. The atmosphere was exciting inside the stadium with a huge turn-out of USA fan, mostly decked out in the Stars & Stripes, but I did see a few ‘Elvis Presleys’ around the place. It was very encouraging to see so many Americans supporting their team, especially when it is considered a minority sport in their country.

The Game itself was a cracker, with the Slovenians taking an early lead with a cannonball of a shot from all of 25m. The USA defence was all over the place and it was not long before the inevitable 2nd Slovenian goal came, putting them 2-nil up at half time. Yates and I chatted at half time about what a dismal showing the USA were putting on and that they needed to use their midfield players a bit more, stop back-passing so often and maybe bring on a more attack minded substitute. The 2nd half started with a solitary piece of brilliance from Landon Donovan who had been poor throughout most of the 1st half. He beat his marker down the right-hand side, took the ball in from the by-line, and just when the keeper thought he was going to pass it across the area, he blasted it straight through the keeper for the goal.

Could USA mount a comeback...? USA had taken a more attacking approach to the 2nd half and even though the Slovenian were still able to mount some good attacks, the game had definitely swung towards the Americans. With less than 10 minutes to play, the USA got the break they needed when a long clearance from the keeper was headed down into the path of Beasley who needed no invitation to blast it past the helpless Slovenian keeper....

At 2-2 the momentum was now fully with the USA, and when 5 minutes later they scrambled the ball into the net from a free-kick, we celebrated as if they had won the game, only to be deflated by the goal being disallowed. FIFA’s policy of not showing replays on the big screens meant we had no idea why the goal had been ruled out, but the buzz in the crowd suggested a foul or hand ball...?? We would have to wait to get back to our accommodation to watch the replay on TV, and we and the rest of the world were none the wiser.... Shame, but it was a great game full of excitement and fervour, and even though the USA deserved the win, a comeback from 2-nil down for a draw was a good result.

We left the stadium quickly as we wanted to get home in time to watch the England v Algeria game on TV, and luckily the organisation of the Park & Ride was excellent, and we were in the car and leaving the Bez Valley car park within an hour of the match finishing. After a sprint back out of Jo’burg, and another trip down the Worst Road in Africa, (photos coming), we were home just in time for kick-off. On reflection, if we had missed the game it would have been no loss, as England played poorly for the first 45 minutes, and only marginally better for the 2nd. To give credit where credit is due, the Algerians put on a master class of efficient defence, and played a fast paced passing game that left England in the dust. Unless England pull something out of the bag against the Slovenians, who have played very well so far this tournament, it could be an early exit for my beloved team.

Day 3 of our marathon was to the Royal Bafokeng Stadium outside Rustenburg to watch Australia v Ghana. This was a longer trip so we left marginally earlier just in case there were problems with traffic. The trip was a good one along well-maintained motorway, (a toll motorway), and was an enjoyable drive through the country. We arrived and parked up with plenty of time and made our way to the stadium, which was packed with the green & gold of the Aussies.

It was another interesting game with the Aussies starting with a bang and the Ghanaians must have thought that the kick-off was half-an-hour later. Australia went 1-nil up after 12 minutes after the Ghanaian keeper fumbling a shot from a free-kick, (in the style of Robert Green), allowing an attacker to net the rebound. The turning point of the game came 15 mins later when Harry Kewell was adjudged to have handled the ball on the line, for which he was sent off and the Ghanaians scored the resultant penalty. Again we did not see the replay at the game and had to wait to watch the TV later to see what had happened. When all is said and done, whether Kewells handball was intentional or not, it did stop a goal from being scored and laws of the game dictate that a red card and a penalty should be given. This changed the complexion of the game as Australia now had to defend with 10 men for the remainder of the match, whilst the Ghanaians had their tails up and went in search of a winning goal.

Australia just about held on for the rest of the 1st half, but did manage to mount a number of creditable attacks during the 2nd half, 2 of which they really should have scored from. Regardless of this, the Ghanaians could not breach a well marshalled 10-man defence and the game ended in a draw, not the result either side wanted, but at least Australia had score both a goal and a single World Cup point, equalling New Zealand’s fine effort (with a game in hand!!!).

We were in no hurry to get home after the match, which was good as it was a bit of a shambles trying to get the bus back to the Park & Ride. This was the first time that I can say the organisation was less than perfect, with a silly queuing system that funnelled 100’s of people into an ever decreasing gap to get on the buses. We stood in this scrum of a queue for 45 minutes before we managed to get a bus, by which time the queues had almost disappeared, except for the one we were in. Anyway, with the queue for the bus, and the queue to get out of the car park and the inevitable back-ups on the roads and motorway, it took a mammoth 5 hours to get home... I won’t complain though, we are at a world class event with many thousands of other people and it’s no worse than the epic journeys we had getting home on the trains at the World Cup in Germany in 2006.

Today’s game is at Soccer City at eight-thirty tonight, where we get a chance to watch the mighty Brazil take on the Ivory Coast. As the game starts late, I envisage another late night trip home, but I am soothed in the knowledge that we then have a 2 day break from watching live games and we can finally relax and recuperate back at the lodge.

It’s a hard life......

Friday, June 18, 2010

The End of the Line and Welcome to Guateng

The rest of our train trip became somewhat epic.... Firstly, the evening meal consisted of 5 courses, including Soup, Fish, Leg of Lamb, Chocolate Parfait, and a round of cheese and biscuits for good measure. Of course we added a bottle of red wine and the essential port with the cheese and at the end of it, all felt totally stuffed...! So then we went to the Bar and tried out a few different local South African spirits like Klipdrift and Amarula, before turning in for bed. The sleeping cars were comfortable, well, as comfortable as a rolling bed can be, but I think we all got a decent amount of sleep.

The next morning dawns and we awoke to very cold temperatures, no water for toilets and showers, and at 7am we came to an unscheduled stop. Apparently the AC had tripped in the night, we had no water because the pipes had frozen and we had stopped due to a problem on the line ahead. Apparently it had been the coldest night in that part of South Africa for 4 years, and looking at all the staff beavering away in their overcoats, I could tell. So we sat huddled together in the dining car, Yates wrapped in a blanket, desperately looking forward to a hot drink. As soon as we could we retreated to our sleeping car and climbed under a blanket and waited for something to happen. The train was delayed four hours, four long chilly hours, with no toilet facilities and only the faint warmth of the sun coming in the window to warm us up. Finally we did get going and the heat did come back on, but now we were behind schedule, and instead of arriving at 11am we arrived at 3pm.

Overall, even with the delay and the cold, I have to say that the train was an excellent way to travel between Cape Town and Johannesburg. It really did feel like a little bit of old fashioned luxury in this jaded modern world, the food was spectacular and plentiful, and you can’t beat the view from a train passing through the Southern Karoo at sunset.

Even though we had no connection plans, we still had to get a taxi to the airport to pick up a rental car, and then make our way about 2 hours north to our next port-of-call, and the delay had put us behind. After an interesting taxi ride in South Africa’s most beat-up Mercedes, 2 stops by the police and 1 for directions, we eventually managed to pick the car up and head north by around 4:15pm. Sunset around these parts is at about 5:30pm at this time of year, and as I didn’t really have a clear idea of exactly where were going, I was disappointed that we would now had to do it in the dusk/dark. Even with Lord Vader directing us via the GPS, this also became a somewhat eventful trip, as we managed to find our way through the middle of the Mamelodi township at dusk, (not recommended), and then proceeded to get lost outside of Cullinan. After a few phone calls to where we were staying and 3 trips down the worst road in Africa, we made it to Abloom, our home for the next 29 days.

We did little more than dump our stuff, make our 4th trip along the worst road in Africa, and head straight out to find something to eat, as we were all completely famished. It had been one of those days, where nothing actually went wrong, but nothing quite went the way it was planned. Even in the restaurant we were cold, and once we got that cold into our bones it was hard to shake off. It is as unseasonably cold here, and the wind was bitter, and even though our suites had underfloor heating and gas fires, I don’t think any of us were really warm.

Next day we were straight on the road to our next World Cup Game, Argentina v South Korea, at Soccer City in Johannesburg. Even though I had made an error with start time, we made up time on the road, eventually found the ‘Park & Walk’ and made it to the stadium in time to see the kick off. This was by far the best game we had seen to date, lots of action and more importantly, lots of goals, with the Argies pulling out a 4-1 win over a disorganised South Korea. While Argentina are showing signs that they are going to be a force to reckon with at this World Cup, I still have reservations about their defence, and when they meet a more organised team in the later rounds, I think they could come unstuck.

The ‘Park & Walk’ facilities were so well organised, that within 10 minutes of getting back to the car we were on the motorway home, and less than an hour and a half later we were stopping at a supermarket near where we are staying to get provisions and stock up for the days ahead. We stopped again in Cullinan for dinner, (we had not had any breakfast or lunch..!!), which went down well, before making another trip down the worst road in Africa and back to the lodge. We watched the Mexicans deservedly put France to the sword on the TV and all crashed out for the evening.

Tomorrow we are off to Ellis Park to see Slovenia V USA....

Back on Track, in More Ways than One

After the previous full-on World Cup & drinking session, the next day was more sedate. Monday was to be our last full day in Cape Town, plus we had another live game to attend, so we dialled it down a few notches and took it easy.

Personally I lounged around the apartment for the morning, making the occasional effort to start packing some of crap up, but in reality I probably spent more time communing with the couch and watching football re-runs on the TV. Around midday we had the notion that we might want to have some lunch out somewhere, which was just a thinly veiled excuse to find a place to eat that was also showing the next match, which happened to be Denmark v Holland.

We did not get too adventurous and maybe went a block or two along Somerset Road to a bar we had seen before and checked its credentials by asking whether they were showing the match, they were and we therefore duly grabbed a table. The beer was not going down as well as it had been the day before and the football was nothing to write home about, but at least the food was good. I’m not sure why the Holland fans were celebrating their 2-0 win over Denmark so delightedly, as the game lacked any real flow, the Dutch were lucky recipients of a deflected own goal and they squeaked what I thought was a lucky second, and this from a team that were supposed to be one of the favourites. I dunno, call me disaffected, but I expected more.
We cruised back to the apartment on the pretext that we would do some more packing, but again, it was an excuse to watch the 2nd game of the afternoon, Japan v Cameroon. All the pre-match hype was around Cameroons credentials as one of the quality African teams, only to find themselves 1-nil down after some sloppy defending and some cumbersome attacking. So far, apart from the Germany game, the football has flattered to deceive, thank goodness we are in South Africa where the local’s infectious spirit has gone a long way to making up for it. Time to do some real packing I think.....

Would our next live game, Italy v Paraguay, be a more exciting affair...? Well, the Cape Town weather was now conspiring to bring us down as well, as it had been raining on & off all day, but we kept our fingers crossed that we would be able to make it to the stadium without getting a drenching. Wrong.... Three quarters of the way down the Fan Walk, the heavens opened and massive stair-rods of rain, and even some hail, opened up on us, and by the time we reached the relative dryness of the Stadium, we were both wet & cold. Oh well, it would not be my first cold and wet football match, but I don’t think it was what Yates or Fiona had signed on for.
The good news is that we got to see our first live goals at this World Cup, scored against the run of play by Paraguay. Actually, let me correct that statement by saying that Fiona & I saw our first World Cup Goal, as Yates had chosen the exact right moment to nip to the bathroom...!! Anyway, this was only a temporary glitch for the Yates’ter as Italy pressed hard and got the goal they needed to salvage a face-saving draw. The game however was not without some merit, it was quite an open encounter, Paraguay looked like they wanted it a bit more than the notoriously slow-starting Italians, and once the opening goal had been scored, the Italians did at least make an effort to claw themselves back into it. Mind you, after having sat through the dour & disinteresting France v Uraguay game 4 days earlier, waterboarding would have been more entertaining.

Today we were up at a very early hour in preparation of our transit up north, where we would be spending the rest of our time in South Africa at a Lodge called Abloom, near Pretoria. Before I say more on our travels north, I wanted to say what a great city Cape Town is, and how well we had been treated and how much we had enjoyed it. I think we spent the time there very well, taking the time to see the city and it attractions and some of the nearby towns, plus adding in a little football. All the scare stories and ‘urban-legends’ about how unsafe South Africa is, were unfounded, and we did not feel uncomfortable or worried at any point. I would go as far as recommending that if you are ever in this neck-of-the-woods, you should take the time to check the place out, it’s wonderful.
Instead of traipsing through another soulless airport to take the plane and flying up north, we booked ourselves onto a luxury train, (www.PremierClasse.com), and we are taking 26 hours to travel through the stunning African scenery. At this very moment in time I am sitting alone in the lounge car writing this blog entry, with sweeping views somewhere north of Worcester about 200 miles north of Cape Town. We have already had a 3 course lunch, (and wine) and I am looking forward to High Tea at 4pm, and our Evening meal at 7pm. Did I pack my Tuxedo...?

As there is no internet available on the train, I will not get to upload this blog post until tomorrow at the earliest, maybe later, so if you don’t see anything from me in the next couple of days, you’ll know why...

Waiter...., I think I’ll have my Gin & Tonic now please....!!

And Now a Message from Fiona

Hey everyone, well we’re nearly half way through our adventures in Africa and I thought I’d add a bit to Steve’s blog.

I thought I’d start with what it meant to me in 2004 when South Africa was announced as the World Cup host for 2010. To begin with I thought ‘awesome, another great adventure to a country I haven’t been to’ but more importantly I realised that my dream (of 12 years at that stage) to go to Namibia would come true. Of course six years ago we had a holiday to Germany to plan so the planning stage for 2010 had to go on hold for awhile.

Anyway, back to Namibia, as Steve has mentioned earlier, it was up to me to plan this part of the journey. (I had persuaded him to spend a disproportionate amount of our budget on this portion of the trip so I had to make sure it was a winner!) My fascination with Namibia began in 1992 after I did an overland truck safari from Zimbabwe to Kenya though 5 or 6 countries on the way. At the time South Africa wasn’t really on the agenda as it was considered far too soft to go to on an ‘overlander’ – you just went there to visit your Saffa flatmates from London. As for Namibia, it had recently emerged into the world in its own right in 1990 and I have to admit I knew very little about it. It was only once I was on my trip in ’92 that I heard stories from other travellers and it became my personal Shangri-La. Back in 1999 when I was going through an early mid-life crisis I flipped a coin for a ‘get away from it all’ holiday and Alaska came up trumps but even then I knew I would get to Namibia one day.

The planning was easy, very early on I found Wild Dog and I knew that was the one for us. They had the right itinerary, the right price, the right kind of safari, they were a local company that employed Namibians (not just another Kiwi, Aussie or Brit working for a mega tour company). Everything said about them on Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet was what I wanted to hear and it just felt right. Enough of the touchy feely stuff – in reality it all worked out better than we could have hoped for and I cannot recommend it enough as a holiday destination.

After 10 or so days in Namibia we ventured down to the fairest Cape of All – Cape Town! So begins another love story...

I really didn’t think Namibia (yes, all of it) could be topped, and I’m not saying that it has been, but Cape Town is right up there but in a different, big city kind of way. To start with CT is just beautiful – geographically, geologically, architecturally and then just add in the people. Every day impressed and improved on the previous one. I got to do everything on my personal agenda: -
  • Cape Point – amazing to literally see two seas merging – and an ostrich on the beach! 
  • Simons Town – I saw a doco years ago on the penguins that live there and knew I wanted to see them, so cute! 
  • Table Mountain – you cannot over estimate the awesomeness of this mountain and the views, OMG the views!
  • The Wine Lands – Stellenbosch was a wonder, I could wandered around for hours.
  • The Shopping – not really on my agenda but a real surprise, if you have the money, you can buy it in Cape Town.
  • Robben Island – I know Steve has covered this but it was amazing to hear the stories from an ex prisoner about life in prison, although trip was a little rushed – I would have liked a little more time to take it all in.
I was also really pleased that we would be able to come and visit the homeland of Madiba, Mr Mandela (calling him Nelson seems a bit informal when you’re here). Being here, talking to people and visiting Robben Island has reminded me what a great man Mandela is. I don’t think I need to say much more than that.

I now find myself sitting in the lounge car of the overnight train from Cape Town to Jo’burg. It is a real indulgence and I realise how lucky we are to be doing this. It’s another part of the journey that is flying by far too fast..

Monday, June 14, 2010

Beers, Bars & Football

Yesterday was spent basically in a bar, drinking beer and watching 2 full games of World Cup Football, which as far as I am concerned, is what this whole trip is all about...

Therefore I believe it is my duty to recommend the upstairs bar at the Mitchells Brewery, complete with a bar, tables, waiter service and multiple big screen TV’s as one of the best places in the V&A waterfront to watch a game of any sort. The food is also more than acceptable here, but this is further enhanced by the fact that this bar appears to the only non-smoking pub in Cape Town, which made our viewing and eating pleasure that much more enjoyable.

I can also thoroughly recommend the local 90 Shillings beer which after 6 pints or more, renders coherent speech and logical thought irrelevant, and improves the appreciation of just about everything, even the football. I think Yates could also wax lyrical about the quality of the local Castle Larger as he managed to put quite a few away during the 5 hours we were holed up in the pub. I could have stayed for the final game, but the general opinion was that we should head back to the apartment before we got messy...

Overall the first 2 games of football could have been better, but at least there were some results, and after watching the England v USA game, I needed to be reassured that there were some other mediocre teams out there, and that it was not quite the end of the world just yet.

The Germany v Australia game was a bit of a disaster especially if you are an Australian fan or you were looking forward to watching Tim Cahill at this tournament. More worryingly, the Germans have now announced their presence at this World Cup by rolling straight through the opposition like a re-run of their invasion of Poland and Czechoslovakia in 1939. An ominous sign....

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Another side to the Western Cape

Today we are up early’ish and in the car and off to the Cape Winelands for a drive around. We had originally planned to take a wine tasting tour where we pay for someone else to do the driving and we could do the drinking, but a combination of not being able to find a tour we liked and the lack of time, conspired to put the kybosh on that idea. Instead, with a handful of hours to spare between football matches I suggested we do a self-drive, non-drinking trip out to Stellenbosh & Franschhoek and at least take a look.

Driving out of town was straight-forward and easy, especially with the GPS, and we stopped at a great cafe for a cake & coffee in Stellenbosh, before taking a walk around the quaint town centre. The historic architecture was a refreshing change from the downtown metropolis of Cape Town, and the proximity of the spectacular mountains really made us feel we were somewhere in the French Alps...!

Next we continued our drive out to Franschhoek along a picturesque route through mile after mile of neatly manicured vineyards, squeezed in between steep sided valleys. Franschhoek itself, while still quaint in a French sort of way, was a little more aimed at the tourist market with shop after shop aimed fairly and squarely at the well-heeled tourist market. We found a suitable restaurant that was showing the South Korea v Greece game and sat down to a nice meal and a few goals. I had a local favourite, Bobotie, a sort of eggy shepherds pie (!), which was very tasty. Fiona had a walk around town while Yates and I watched the 2nd half, before we made our way back to Cape Town in time to get ready for the England v USA game. With me supporting England and Yates firmly behind the USA, this was going to be one of the more interesting games in the group stages.

Once again we went to the Fireman’s Arms an hour and a half before kick-off and it was only slightly less crowded than it was for the opening game, but we did manage to get to sit next to each other as the build up continued. There was plenty of England support in the bar and a rousing rendition of the National Anthem echoed around the bar, and Yates did his best to represent the USA somewhat unaided. The game got underway with the best possible start for England, with Stevie G sloting in a sweet shot in the 4th minute. To be honest for most of the 1st half England had very little shape, looked very unsettled, with poor touches from everyone, but they did not look like conceding. Imagine our horror after 40 minutes when a speculative shot from Fulham’s Clint Dempsey seemed to magically slip through the fingers of England’s Keeper, West Hams Robert Green. Oh the humanity...!

The 2nd half looked better for England with the lion’s share of the chances, but the USA stayed strong and kept the score to a disappointing one-all draw. The American defender Onyewu was outstanding at the back, but over-all a draw was not the worst result in the world, and at least Yates and I are still talking to each other...!

Let the Games Commence.....

Finally after almost 4 years, the World Cup in South Africa is here. Woo Hoo....

We had a casual morning lounging around the apartment, watching and listening to the excitement build on the streets below. Our plan was to watch the first game, South Africa v Mexico in a bar round the corner (The Fireman’s Arms) and then meet up with Richard, a family friend of Yates, and head down to Green Point Stadium.

We had planned to get to the bar early and stake a place, but we massively underestimated the amount of locals that would be taking the day off to watch the game, and when we arrive the place was packed out. After a bit of dealing, Yates sorted out 3 seats almost together and I got the beers in. The vibe in the bar was electric and we soon made friends with those around us as we prepared for the Opening Celebration and then the game.

After a very emotional rendition of the South African national anthem, the game kicked off with wild cheering and hooting vuvuzelas, and we got stuck into an absorbing game. Even though Mexico started the stronger, the Bafana Bafana started to find their rhythm and got more and more into the game as it progressed. Towards the end of the first half, South Africa had a great opportunity to take the lead with a close heading chance, which certainly signalled their intent.

It was not long into the second half when the Bafana Bafana delivered on their first half promise, with a great defence splitting pass from midfield to Tshablala who, with it all still to do, let fly with a missile of a shot that left the Mexican keeper stranded. In the bar in Cape Town it went off.... It was a sensational goal, only matched by the sensational celebration by every South African on the continent. Could they hold on for another 35 minutes...?

Unfortunately a bit of slack defending 15 minutes later let the Mexicans back in it, and now it was a case of whether South Africa could hold on for draw, or could the squeak by and get the winner. They gave it everything they had and if it wasn’t for the width of the goal post, they would of taken a well-deserved win. As it was, dreams don’t always come true, but South Africa should be proud of a creditable draw against higher ranked opponents, and the locals in our bar seemed happy enough.

But the night was just starting for us as we had tickets for our first live game in Cape Town, to watch France v Uruguay. We met up with Richard and strolled down the Fan Walk, accompanied by thousands of happy and friendly fellow fans. The organisation and set up along the Fan Walk and for getting into the stadium was very good and straight-forward with a minimum of queuing to get through the checkpoints. We had no problems with tickets and with an hour or so until kick-off we were in the stadium and having a good look around.

The Cape Town Green Point Stadium is an architectural masterpiece of construction and design and it was a thrill to be able to walk around it after having watched it being built over the past 2 years. The whole layout was awesome and when we went to our seats we had a magnificent unobstructed view of the pitch. Unfortunately the France v Uruguay game did not live up to the quality of the Cape Town venue, the two mediocre teams playing out a dour nil-nil draw, which was not really unexpected. But that didn’t matter, just the chance to bet a part of the World Cup in such a beautiful stadium was enough for us. Within an hour of the final whistle we were back in our apartment watching the game review on TV. We can only hope that our next live game in Cape Town , Italy vs Paraguay lives up to the venue.

Oh and you could say that the fuss about the loudness of the vuvuzela’s is ‘blown’ way out of proportion, in fact I think that they add a lot of colour and excitement during a live game. I guess that the ‘drone’ you hear on TV is not really representative of how they actually sound in real life, and when you watch a game like France v Uruguay, you need something to get excited about.....!!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Paying our Respects, and Taking in the View....

If yesterday was a great day, then today was simply stunning, from just before dawn when we awoke this morning, (see the photo to the left), through to the very last rays of the day this evening. If this is winter here in South Africa, who needs summer..? There has not been a breath of wind all day or even a cloud in the sky to interfere with the warm sun, which was just what we wanted as we had plans to take in 2 of Cape Town’s biggest attractions.

First thing this morning we hot-footed it down to the V&AWaterfront to catch the ferry for a tour of Robben Island. I figured you can’t come all the way down to Cape Town and not pay your respects to the prisoners of Robben Island and Nelson Mandela. The sea was flat and glassy as we left the harbour, which afforded us a commanding view of Cape Town with the impressive backdrop of Table Mountain.

When we arrived at Robben island, the tour started with an interesting coach ride around the island to see some of the less well known sights, including the Leper colony graveyard, the prison guard quarters and the various quarries in which the prisoners were forced to work. Next we went to the Maximum Security Prison where we started a walking tour, which was led by an ex-inmate who had spent 7 years in various parts of the prison. Listening to the guide speak about how the prison worked and his experiences within it was extremely powerful and moving. It really brought it home to us just what it was like to be a black political prisoner in Robben Island, and how the prisoners educated and improved themselves while resisting the inequity of the Apartheid system.

Next we went to the exercise yard and then on to the cell where Nelson Mandela, (Prisoner No: 466/64) was held for 18 years of his 27 year incarceration. Before 1980, prisoners were made to sleep on a thin mattress on the floor, which must have been misery. Even on a warm winter day like today, the cell block was bone chillingly cold, and I was glad to get out of there after 20 minutes. We took our ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ to the harbour and caught the ferry back to Cape Town.
After a nice lunch, we stopped by the apartment to pick up the car and drove up to the Table Mountain Cableway. Even from the bottom of the cable car the view over the city was impressive, but when we arrived at the top, we were transported into another world, which on this fabulously clear and cloudless day, we felt we could see forever.... There was a trail that led around the top and it was such a great day to be on top of Table Mountain, we sat around just soaking in the view before moving to the next great vantage point. This had to be the highlights of our time here in Cape Town so far, and it’s gonna take something really special to beat it.

After nearly 2 hours we reluctantly took the cable car back down to the bottom station and headed back to the apartment where Fiona and I spent the last hour of the day out on the balcony. We watched the sun set over the Waterfront and World Cup Stadium, sipped a Castle beer or two, and listened to the distant stains of the ever present Vuvuzalas.

I might be getting a bit repetitive, but today was another great day to be in Africa....

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Sun has got its Hat on so it’s Time to Hit the Road....

Today we awoke to beautiful sunlight streaming into the apartment so we decided it was time for a Road Trip. We all jumped in the car, we have hired a little Honda Jazz to get around in, programmed the GPS, and pointed ourselves in a sourtherly direction.

Our first destination was the Cape of Good Hope, and after a reasonably quick trip on the motorway around the back of Table Mountain we arrived at the national park. There was a good bit of exercise climbing up to the Cape Point Lighthouse, but once we had made it to the top it was well worth the effort. We had spectacular view over the Cape and across False Bay to the other capes to the South.

We are starting to feel the effects of the World Cup now, as there were coach loads of Italians, Mexicans & Uruguayans at the Cape, mostly decked out in their national colours and even singing their own football chants. We are also begining to hear the distinctive sound of the Vuvuzalas everywhere we go...

We drove around the park looking at a few of the other landmarks, before we decided to make our way to Simons Town for lunch. We found a nice little restaurant overlooking the harbour, with distant view across the bay, that would suit us just fine.

After a good meal we drove a little further along the coast to Boulders to check out the Penguin colony. We walked down the boardwalk and saw only a handful, but as we got closer to the sea, we saw more and more penguins, waddling to and fro between the beach and their nests. I never get tired of seeing Penguins, especially in the wild, they are jnust so fascinating....

Finally we took the long way home following the coastline back towards Cape Town, through quaint little seaside towns, along roads clinging to the edge of rugged & steep cliffs, and through picturesque bays. We stopped to take some photos near Chapman’s Peak and under the Twelve Apostles, and saw the top of Table Mountain peeping out between the fast moving clouds.

As we closed in on Cape Town we drove through the upmarket beach towns of Camps Bay and Clifton, before the edge of the Greenpoint Stadium came into view like a beacon announcing that we were back in our adopted home again.

It had been a great day in this great part oif the world....

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lazy Days

Today we took it easy.... No need to bust a gut before the tournement begins... So we took a casual wander into the city to check out where we would catch the train from next week and also poked our noses around the Grand Parade, where the Fan Fest would take place. Like a lot of things here in Cape Town, it looks like the Fan Fest will only be ready just in time for the first game on Friday. It's the same with all the paving, signage and pedestrian bridges, all of which seem to have groups of upto 6 men in hard hats standing around watching 1 man actually doing some work... It's the same story all over the world.

As the weather has improved, out to Sea Point, Fiona and I took a long walk out to Sea Point and then back to the V&A following the coastline. As it was a breezy day and the sea was crashing against rocks, the air was fresh and salty as we took in the wonderful views down the coast and back towards the City. The clouds had finally decided to move away from the top of Table Mountain and we got a view of the spectacular mountain in all its glory for the first time in 2 days. Cape Town seems to be a lovely & chilled out place, and we can really feel the World Cup buzz starting.