München – Trip 1, part 1

I announced my return to the blog at the end of August and intended to have posted again before now. Part of my struggle was because I was torn on what to post next. Should I jump straight in to the USA summer trip or do I stick to the blog theme of posting about my trips chronologically? I opted for the latter.

So now that my summer fun in the US is over with, let’s rewind. Last time out on the blog we were focusing on Bilbao (May 2015), three months later I was readying myself for the next trip: München aka Munich!

For the third consecutive year I was going to Germany, having only first visited the country for the first time in 2013 (Köln) before visiting Berlin (2014). My growing fondness of Germany could probably be attributed to two common interests: beer and football! Whilst both are loved all over Germany, nowhere does that seem to be truer than in München (Munich) who happen to be world-famous for their beer (Oktoberfest anyone?) and are also home to Germany’s biggest football club – Bayern München.

It was the latter that was the inspiration for visiting (although I may have had a beer or two whilst in Germany too) as my beloved Tottenham Hotspur announced they’d be going to München for a pre-season tournament. Spurs in the Allianz Arena with no importance on the result? Sign me up! I knew I had to go!

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Outside Allianz Arena on the Wednesday!

On the Tuesday I flew out to München, it was a tad frustrating I couldn’t fly any earlier but such were the circumstances at the time. I landed with the intention to rush over to München’s Allianz Arena via my hotel to drop off my things. Having never been to München before I ended up jumping on the wrong S-train, it still took me to central München but seemed to have more stops than the other direction, not ideal given my flight had been delayed so I was stretched for time to get to the stadium. I dropped off my things at the hotel as quickly as possible and then made a quick dash for München’s U-Bahn (tube / metro / subway).

Nevertheless it was clear I wasn’t going to get there on time, admittedly it was only pre-season so it wasn’t a major issue but given Tottenham were playing first (in the first of 2 games) I’d hoped to catch the start. It wasn’t to be and as I strolled up to the Allianz Arena it was deserted, not helped by being in the middle of nowhere but most spectators were already in their seats.

I walked up to the gate and was prepared for a quick body search before entry which put my German to the test for the first time. On my two previous trips to Germany I knew nothing so it was nice coming back with some basic vocabulary in the locker. As the security guard searched me he threw a question in my direction: “Schlüssel? he asked.

Damn, I know that word! What is it? Bowl..? No, that’s schüssel – no L! Why would he ask that anyway you idiot? Hmm.. key..? KEY! Yes, there’s a key in my pocket! That makes sense!

“Ja.. Schlüssel” I replied perhaps a bit too enthusiastically.

Entry accepted, I made my way in to the stadium feeling pretty smug with myself. “Wow, I’m practically fluent”
Of course I wasn’t, I still struggled a lot throughout this trip but it was a sign that I was going in the right direction at least in terms of learning the language. I could come to Germany and not be solely dependent on English for once!

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Allianz Arena, Munich

The Allianz Arena is a cracking stadium, up there with one of my favourites in the 40+ football stadiums I’ve visited. German football really is the pinnacle for me in terms of fan experience and it was a nice novelty walking in and grabbing a beer before finding my seat – a decent beer too! I’d missed the first half to find Spurs were losing but soon found my friend Daniel in our seats enjoying the experience. Following our game there was another game with the two winners and two losers set to play the following day, of which we were the latter.

On our way back to the U-Bahn after the two games it had become clear Daniel was drunker than I realised, he’d made the most of arriving in München a day earlier and had squeezed in some beers earlier in the day which was highly amusing for me. Whilst I’d seen Daniel drunk before it was possibly the drunkest I’d seen him so the strength of the German beers had seemingly gone to his head. Not that it stopped us making a pub-stop back in the centre of the city. We’d found an Irish bar with a scattering of Spurs fans enjoying the trip and grabbed a quick beer before calling it a night.

Wednesday had much more of the same in store. Whilst tamer than a competitive European away game we were still planning to soak up some of the pre-game atmosphere. We agreed to meet around lunch so beforehand I woke up early and joined a ‘free’ walking tour, always a great way to see the city.

It’s a good way to familiarise yourself with a new city and they’re usually pretty educational too, it was a chance to learn that München wasn’t all beer and lederhosen and had quite an interesting history too! The tour covered the role the city played in the rise of Hitler and also told some more light-hearted stories with the help of the Glockenspiel – found in München’s Marienplatz. Every day you’ll find hordes of tourists looking up at the belltower as a couple of historical stories are played out.

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Marienplatz, Munich – September, 2016

The rest of Wednesday was football-focused and consisted of a bit of singing, plenty of beers and another two enjoyable games of football (Spurs success this time too!).

We made our way back in to the city centre after the football, had a beer or two and then called it a night. My plan for Thursday was to take a daytrip somewhere, I was tempted to visit the famous Neuschwanstein Schloss (castle that was inspiration for Disney) and also the Dachau concentration camp. Those of you following the blog for a while will know I opted for the latter which you can read about here: A lesson learned in Dachau or a look in to the future?

Dachau was moving, it’s hard to visit somewhere like that and not feel something. Germany has the best pick-me-up though and that’s good beer! I got back to München late on Thursday afternoon and arranged to meet up with Daniel, we decided to spend our last night together with some beers at the Viktualienmarkt. They have a number of food options and additionally a cracking beer garden – perfect given the weather. We had a fun evening and were probably one of the last to leave, the staff clearing tables and stacking benches was a good hint that it was time for us to go.

It was a good end to our third European adventure together following Lisboa and Firenze, on Friday Daniel was heading home and I’d be temporarily saying goodbye to München too. I’d be back on Saturday so it wasn’t a long farewell but it does mean you’ll have to wait for part 2.

Next up was a daytrip to Augsburg on the Friday! Stay tuned!

Jason

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Firenze: Day 2 – Matchday!

If you’ve read my two recent posts on Italy you’ll know I was in Firenze to watch Tottenham take on Fiorentina back in February 2015. If not you can catch up here (Pisa and Firenze: day 1) but we left off last time round with the end of day one (Wednesday) in Firenze which had been a great first day in the city.

Thursday was matchday and in all honesty if you’re doing a trip like this you just have to write matchday off. If you can squeeze some culture in to the morning then great but you sacrifice your afternoon to soak up the atmosphere of the city and then save your evening to watch the game itself.

For this reason I always travel for 3 days at least for a European football trip because I know one of those is lost, nevertheless I love the matchday ritual and knowing there would be roughly 3,000 other Brits in the city for the “party” does get you excited.

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The matchday fun was temporarily put on hold a week before our game. On the previous Thursday Dutch football fans had clashed with riot police in Rome which added another unwanted spotlight on Italian football, which already holds a tainted reputation. Unfortunately it left us to face the repercussions of those actions and it was clear the Italian authorities were not going to be treating our visit lightly – in what was already a fairly high profile game.

A lot of news and rumours came out of Italy over the course of the next week. Some of the rumours included calling upon resources from other cities with 1,000 additional police (on top of the presence for a normal game) expected in Firenze, tightened security measures, police escorts, curfews on the bars/restaurants throughout the city and even a proposed drinking ban on the day of the game (today!).

You could certainly feel the police presence in the city, Tottenham had communicated to our supporters that we HAD to take specific buses to the stadium as the police would be closing off all surrounding roads for away supporters, Wednesday night had added substance to the curfew rumours but surely, surely there wasn’t going to be an alcohol ban today?

Breathe a sigh of relief! There wasn’t! I think it would have been near on impossible to enforce so I’m not sure where the rumours surfaced from but luckily the beers were still flowing!

On Wednesday night me and Daniel had found an Irish bar full of Spurs fans so we decided we’d revisit it on Thursday. By the time we arrived Thursday lunchtime it was already a little busy with people hanging up their flags wherever possible and creating a bit of an atmosphere.

 

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Pride of North London – Then, Now, Forever

It was only ever going to get busier as many opt to fly out on matchday, so the majority of Spurs fans would be arriving in to Firenze over the course of the next few hours. So to my surprise this bar had TWO barstaff working. 3,000+ Brits were here to drink the city dry so it was baffling how unprepared they were – surely you knew we were coming? This isn’t a normal Thursday afternoon shift!

From a business point of view I found it ridiculous! You are due to make an absolute fortune! If you can’t serve the people quickly enough they’ll find their beer elsewhere – you’re driving your customers away!
On the plus side there was no sign of this drinking ban at least!
After plenty more beers and much more singing eventually the police advised time was up and were moving us on – time to go to the stadium!

Fortunately me and Daniel were one of the first on the bus so managed to get a seat (we didn’t use) but one by one more Spurs fans would get on board. Whilst waiting for the bus to fill up we were sat parked at a bus stop so every so often an old lady would get on with her bags and things. Clearly confusing it for a regular bus from the same stop but every time they would quickly be advised to get off! “Wrong bus, trust us, you don’t want to be on this one!”
Having crammed enough of us in like sardines we were off and so began a wave of noise!

Every bus was sandwiched front and back: Police vehicle – bus – police vehicle – bus – police vehicle.. you get the idea. We were being paraded through the streets of Firenze like criminals and in all honesty we made the most of the attention it brought.

The atmosphere on board was incredible and I don’t think anyone was sat down for the entirety of the bus journey. Spurs had arrived and we let the Italians know it – leaving some very puzzled onlookers as we whizzed through the streets at the expense of the other traffic that our entourage had taken priority over.
Song after song after song at the top of our lungs with police sirens blaring too – our presence was making a racket!

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We’re here! Far too early!

Eventually our bus dropped us at the end of an empty road with a bit of a walk to the stadium. The police had cordoned off every surrounding road giving us one way in, one way out. It ensured we didn’t cross paths with a single Italian fan and also gave us no opportunity to take a look around the area / rest of the stadium. It was a little sad in truth.

 

Before you could even get to the stadium you had to pass through a number of security checks – tickets, passports and then a thorough body search. Far too intimate for my liking (“Valentine’s Day was a couple of weeks ago guys”) but given how well stocked the police were I don’t think they were going to get too many complaints. Having been sufficiently groped we’d passed the necessary tests and could make our slow walk to enter the stadium.

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Playing the waiting game!

We were here far too early and the facilities were terrible so there wasn’t anything to do except fly our flags, sing our songs and wait. I’d love to say the game was worth the wait but it wasn’t. We were crap, the less said the better and it was bloody freezing too. Fiorentina’s stadium lacks a roof and we were at the back of the stand so were catching most of the wind.

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Fiorentina’s noisier supporters at the opposite end

The game came to its conclusion and we were kindly told that we wouldn’t be going anywhere just yet – you can freeze a little longer whilst we lock you in to allow enough time for the Italians to disperse. It’s not unusual for away games so it wasn’t a huge deal, it was cold but at least it wasn’t raining!

Oh now it is! I don’t know how long we were kept behind for but it felt forever. Eventually they let us out as far as the buses because, of course, we’d be escorted back in to the centre of the city. The bus journey was much tamer heading back. Nothing to celebrate and most fed up at how long we’d been forced to wait.

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The game probably ended at around 8:45-8:50 – the bus journey was around 15 minutes so inevitably it was about 10:30 by the time we were set free back in the centre of Firenze. We’d been at the stadium since about 5-5:30 (for a 7pm kickoff) so needless to say we were craving some food and a beer.

The police had kept us so late that by the time we’d got back to the centre barely anything was open. We did find one restaurant in this nearby square still open so we took a seat outside, it didn’t take long for the waiter to tell us that we needed to be quick! We’d barely sat down but, of course, there was a looming midnight curfew.

Dinner was.. okay? Who knows? Surprisingly you don’t tend to enjoy it so much when you’re feeling rushed. As if that wasn’t enough you could feel the close watch of the two police vans sat on the opposite side of the square – ready to enforce an early night if necessary.

I think both me and Daniel could have quite happily gone for another beer after dinner but were we likely to have any luck finding somewhere open? The city was dead, the police had done their jobs, killed the mood and put an end to any potential trouble before it could begin. I headed back to my hostel and got tucked in for another relatively early night in Italy as I had important things to sort out on Friday (stay tuned!).

Reflecting on the overall football experience it’s hard to say if I’d go back to Italy for football. On the one hand you’ve got the safety concerns of racism and violence in places such as Rome or Naples that I’d still be nervous to visit for football. On the other hand the only way to counteract it appears to be with over-the-top-policing to ensure your safety.

I’m not criticising the approach, it worked. I had no interest in being another statistic, another number in a long line of English stabbings in Italy but that doesn’t make it any more satisfying.
A year earlier I’d witnessed Portuguese buskers singing Tottenham songs, Benfica fans embracing our visit and barely a police officer in sight. Benfica knocked Tottenham out of Europe but as fans you exchange pleasantries and wish eachother luck for the rest of the season. That’s football, that’s why I love the game.

To go from that experience in Lisbon to Firenze was a sad reflection on Italian football and made it easy to see why attendances in Italian football have been on the decline over the last decade  Football is about the fans and I didn’t meet a single Fiorentina fan whilst in Firenze, they’d been cut off from our reach.

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In fairness to Italy, Tottenham returned to Firenze a year later and by all accounts I heard from those that visited that it was a better experience. Perhaps a realisation that Tottenham and Fiorentina had no bad blood and could coexist in the same city without any fuss. Nevertheless, whilst there were still aspects I enjoyed it didn’t quite live up to watching Tottenham in Portugal, Belgium, Germany or Spain.

I’ll definitely go back to Italy, there’s so much of the country that I want to see but maybe I’ll give the football a miss.

Anyway, hopefully you enjoyed the little insight in to travel as a football fan. Stay tuned for the final day in Firenze, I promise it’s a good’un!

All the best!

Jason

Day one in Firenze!

You may have noticed I have a tendency to ramble on a bit (“no Jason, don’t be silly. Of course you don’t!”) so I’ve decided that going forward I’m going to split some of my longer trips up across multiple blog posts.

Anyway back to Italy and on to part two of the trip! If you’ve been following along you’ll know that my trip (Feb 2015) began with a day in Pisa and that I’d be moving onwards to Firenze (Florence) the next day (Wednesday). What you don’t know is why I was visiting Firenze, nor why I’d been sceptical about going at all! First of all let’s start with why I was visiting?

Well that’s an easy answer, football of course! My love of football is no big secret on the blog and it’s perhaps the only interest of mine that surpasses my love of travel. Opportunities to combine the two loves are always a bonus!

In 2014 I lived a childhood dream when I went to Lisbon and I got to watch Tottenham play in another country – a European away trip for football – an incredible experience! I’d wanted to do a European away day with Spurs for so long and Lisbon had finally given me a taste for it. Come the end of 2014 I was itching to do another and was awaiting news of where Tottenham would be playing in the February. I eyed up all of the potential opposition and hoped for the best – in the end the “football gods” were sending us to Firenze in Italy to play Fiorentina.

 

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Fiorentina v Tottenham Hotspur!

Visiting Italy had been another childhood dream of mine so surely I had to go!? No, I hesitated. The news of Spurs visiting Italy was met with trepidation, was it safe going to Italy?

For those of you not clued up on football I’d forgive you for thinking I’m scaremongering but I couldn’t erase the stories or images from my mind of Spurs visit to Italy three years earlier. One night in Rome saw an ambush on an unsuspecting pub which left some of our fans in critical condition. I’d love to say it was an isolated incident but fans of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Middlesbrough have all faced problems of their own in the last 15 years when visiting Italy.

It doesn’t make great reading for English football fans and sadly Italy’s reputation speaks for itself in both football violence and racism.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting English football fans are angels and I’m not suggesting it’s a reflection on all Italians either. It is very much a minority but enough of a minority that you’d be naïve to not have some concern visiting at the very least!

“but you went to Italy so you are just scaremongering!”

I did go to Italy and the location was a factor. Would I have gone to Rome or Naples so easily? I’m not sure. I definitely want to visit both, particularly Rome, but I’m not sure I’d risk it for the football.
In contrast Firenze I had never heard of English fans running in to trouble so I felt a little more comfortable going over there.

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Firenze’s Duomo!

Five days before I was due to fly to Pisa news broke from Italy. The headline read something like “Dutch football fans clash with riot police in Rome”. – the worst part about it was that it wasn’t a surprising headline.
Rome has its own tainted reputation but the same can be said of Netherlands-based football club Feyenoord – stick them together in one city and it was only ever going to lead one way.. “in other news, water is wet..”

Irrespective of how inevitable it was, it did put an unwanted spotlight on Italian football again. The timing was terrible given there was going to be an imminent arrival of 3,000+ Brits to the country in the next few days.
Lots of reports and rumours came out of Italy following the trouble in Rome: 1,000 additional police in Firenze to be called upon from surrounding cities, tightened security measures, police escorts, curfews on local establishments and even a proposed drinking ban on the day of the game. It was clear that the Italian authorities would not be messing about for our visit!

So now you’ve had a little background, what actually went down in Firenze? Here’s day one!

I made a swift getaway from Pisa on Wednesday morning and was soon arriving in to Firenze. My first job was to find my hostel but luckily I’d been given directions.. “let’s have a read”.. Step one: Find the Burger King opposite the train station!
Here I was in a city famed for its culture, a country famed for its food and what am I doing? Looking for a bloody Burger King! I didn’t come to Italy for this! At least things could only get better from there, right?

My directions did at the very least take me where I wanted to go (my hostel, not Burger King!). I was soon checking in with the most wonderful host imaginable and dropping off my things in anticipation of exploring more of the city!
My host was brilliant and gave me so many recommendations for food, drinks, gelato and things to do. With that in mind I went off in search of lunch to a nearby place that supposedly had good food and good beers – a winning combination!

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Mostodolce pub/restaurant in Firenze

This bar was beautifully decorated, the bar staff were friendly and I ended up enjoying my first pizza in Firenze alongside a beer. Following lunch I went off to find the “must see” of the city – Firenze’s famous Duomo (cathedral) and it’s famous with good reason. I’d seen photos of it online but photos don’t really do justice as to how impressive it is. The building is absolutely stunning and you could spend a lifetime admiring it. I was in complete awe of it!
I could only imagine how impressive it looks on the inside!

I should have left it to the imagination! The exterior wows you but inside it’s rather underwhelming – it isn’t anything special, Pisa’s Duomo was better. I felt so disappointed by it – if you have no interest in climbing the 463 steps to the top I wouldn’t recommend going in at all! Just keep admiring it from the outside!
If you do decide to climb the Duomo you are rewarded with great views overlooking the city once you’re at the top so it’s worth it in the end.

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View at the top of the Duomo!

After I’d climbed back down I set off to explore a little more of the city and familiarise myself with where things were. As I walked around I knew I was going to love Firenze. It was full of charm and character plus had a number of stunning pieces of architecture, Firenze won me over very quickly.

Firenze has spectacular squares that are perfect for people-watching but simultaneously is home to narrow little streets that are perfect for getting lost in and exploring all the intricacies that the city has to show off.

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Having seen a little of the city I made plans to meet up with a friend (Daniel) who’d flown in to Italy today and was going to be imminently arriving in to Firenze after a brief exploration of Pisa himself.
We went and found some food somewhere and then our attention turned to grabbing some drinks for the evening and potentially catching that night’s European football. We had a beer at bar number one but there was no sign of them showing any football so we moved on to bar number 2.

We found an Irish bar down one of the narrow side streets and unsurprisingly weren’t the only ones who’d had the same idea – the bar was full of Spurs fans creating a bit of an atmosphere before our big game tomorrow (Thursday). There was definitely a bit of a buzz in the air which was helped by the fact that they were showing the Arsenal game.

Whilst the bar was predominantly taken over by Spurs there were a few exceptions. I vividly remember being stood in the vicinity of a couple of Americans in our limited standing space who were curious who we were supporting, making the assumption we’d be cheering on our fellow Englishmen! The suggestion was quickly ridiculed – “don’t be daft”.

If they’d had any doubts about where our loyalties lied it didn’t take them long for them to realise we were all Monaco supporters for one night only. Former Spurs striker Dimitar Berbatov was playing for Monaco and he’d left Spurs on rather sour terms so wasn’t too popular at the time. However all was forgiven as he smashed home against Arsenal and sent the pub into bedlam – a huge roar followed as we basked in Arsenal’s misery. It left our fans in high spirits and created a great atmosphere following the result.

Things wound down pretty soon after the game though. There had been rumours of a midnight curfew being imposed on all of the bars and restaurants in the city and it looked as if there might just be some substance to it – the bar was closing for the night and we were swiftly being moved on. It was probably for the best, I was a little drunk anyway.

Me and Daniel left and it took me 2-3 minutes to realise I was needlessly going in the same direction, I didn’t want to be following Daniel because I was staying elsewhere! The consequence to that was that I took a rather “scenic route” back to my hotel. A lot of the narrow streets all look the same, particularly after dark, and I obviously took a wrong turn at some point. Soon enough I was stumbling upon Firenze’s river – which happened to be my first sight of it so I was clueless as to where I now was!

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First glimpse of the river!

I tried retracing my steps which wasn’t as successful as I would have liked but then I spotted that HUGE Duomo once again. If you can find the Duomo you can find anything in Firenze and it got me back on track and tucked up in to bed pretty soon after.

Day one in Firenze had been a success in my mind but I wasn’t done just yet! Stay tuned to hear more!

All the best!

Jason