A Travellerspoint blog

A football lover’s dream

My month as a volunteer in Poland during Euro 2012

sunny 20 °C

I love football. It’s something with that sport that unites people and nations while kicking the ball on the pitch. Since my move from Stockholm, Sweden to London, UK my passion for football radically increased. All of a sudden I could go to Emirates Stadium and watch my favourite team Arsenal play every week, or at least how long I could afford the expensive tickets. Almost too late I made a decision to apply to be a volunteer during UEFA Euro 2012 in Poland/Ukraine. The UEFA volunteer applications were closed, but it was still possible to apply as a Host City volunteer. Then where to go? Warsaw, Wroclaw, Poznan, Gdansk, Kharkiv, Donetsk, Kyiv or Lviv? Poland or Ukraine? The only city where I’ve got a friend living is Poznan in Poland so that’s where I applied for. Too late I checked what matches were played there and when I saw it was Italy, Croatia and Ireland, I felt disappointment. Boring football in Poznan I thought. I have never been so wrong. This is my story about my month in Poland during Euro 2012 where I was part and created history.

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Poznan as a host city

Have you heard of Poznan before the Euro tournament? Probably not. Poznan is the fifth largest city in Poland with around 550 000 inhabitants but if I hadn’t been working with 3 people from Poznan in Scotland Highlands last summer I’d never had known that Poznan existed. Its location is not very strategic, but good connections with Berlin and a brand new airport terminal and expanded train station, it’s quite easy to get there. But it all depends where you are going of course. When I write this blog I’m on my second train out of four to reach Halmstad in south west Sweden, 4 hours into my 15 hours journey to get home.

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In Poznan there is a beautiful square called Stary Rynek (Old Market Square) with the stunning Town Hall in the middle and cozy old houses painted in different colours, all with restaurants and bars at the bottom with terraces and umbrellas. Just a few minutes walk from Stary Rynek at Plac Wolności were the Fan Zone located, and that’s where I was volunteering during my weeks in Poznan.
A Fan Zone is an area where anybody can enter to watch the matches on big screens, listen to concerts and loads of entertainment as well as possibilities to eat and drink. The Fan Zone in Poznan could host 30 000 visitors in one day, but when the Polish matches was played the Fan Zone was always full.

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The football fans in Poznan

When I’m thinking back of the Irish football fans in Poznan I get all warm inside! The love they feel for there nation, the beautiful songs the sing from early morning to late night, their positive attitude through losses at the pitch and the extremely sexy Irish accent is incredible. I can by far say that their presence changed me forever. I’ll tell you why.

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During the Euro 2012 I was wholeheartedly supporting my national team, Sweden, for the first time in public. Before the match against Ukraine I had Swedish flags painted on my cheeks and I also managed to buy a small Swedish flag to wave with when I went to the Fan Zone. I managed to forgive France after a 13 yrs boycott when the French hosted the World Cup in 1998 and won against my favourite team, Brazil, and the biggest evidence of this was that I watched the Sweden and French games with two French guys. It’s all forgiven now. Anyway, when Sweden lost against Ukraine I felt devastated, humiliated and almost depressed. I was angry that I have to support a shit team like Sweden and after the match I went straight to the hostel to drown my sorrows. A few days later I watched Spain – Ireland in the Fan Zone while working and my volunteer friend and I had Irish headbands to show our support. When Ireland was 3-0 down to Spain an Irish man was approaching to me and Michał and thanked us for our support. When he got back I told him I was sorry it wasn’t going well for Ireland and what he did almost made me cry. He said: “Do you hear any Spanish chants?” I said: “No.” and he smiled and started to sing: “3-0 and you still don’t sing!” For me, that changed my attitude forever. Ireland lost 4-0 against Spain but the Irish were singing much louder than the Spanish fans and “Stand up for the boys in green” was the only thing you could hear.

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There were about 50 000 Irish supporters visiting Poznan, all of them singing all the time and drinking massive amounts of beer. The atmosphere between rival fans was brilliant were Croatians, Irish and Polish fans were singing, dancing and drinking together and there is not enough words for me to tell how much that affected me. It was magical! True love for football, party and each other!
Poland as a host nation.

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When I talked to my Polish friends in London they were all a bit scared about how the tournament would go. Racist attacks, football hooligans and lack of great infrastructure made my friends to worry. When I arrived in Poznan on May 30, 10 days before the opening of the tournament, nothing was finished! The Fan Zone looked half finished, Rondo Kaponiera , the main hub for trams and buses was closed and trams was on diversions. On June 7, the day before the opening of Euro 2012, Rondo Kaponiera repopened and the tram lines changed completely. Oh the confusion! But it worked! Everything was finished in time for the Euro, but not with much margins.

The Polish people are very proud of their football team and also about them hosting such an important mega event and they really should be! I am so proud of being part of this great event and I am so proud of Poland and Ukraine who did an excellent job to host an unforgettable football tournament. The fans I talked to in Poznan all loved Poland and the Polish people and would love to come back, and that is what it’s all about! To change the attitude that Poland and Ukraine are less developed Easter European communist states (trust me, people are scared of visiting and every time I hear it I get very upset!).

The matches

I watched almost every match in the Fan Zone in Poznan except for the Polish matches where the Fan Zone was always full and I wanted to watch the matches with my friends who couldn’t get in. But it was incredible atmosphere when Polska played and I’ll never forget the party on the streets in Poznan when Poland drew 1-1 with Russia! The Polish supporters celebrated like they won the Euro final! It was fantastic to be part of that!

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My volunteer friend Ola and I tried to get our hands of cheap tickets to the Ireland – Italy game, and travelled with the Irish on the bus to the stadium and sang with them. Fabulous! We did have the best of times that day even if no one wanted to sell any tickets for less than 100 euro. But we were happy anyways and celebrated with the Irish at Stary Rynek instead.

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I wrote before that I was humiliated when Sweden lost against Ukraine because I felt they didn’t try and played like shit. But while watching the Irish fans pride even if the Irish team sucks, I learned something! There is no need to be depressed! And after that I was a proud Swede, not just because of my change in attitude, but also because I liked the football Sweden played against England and especially France when we beat Les bleus with 2-0! Even if we were out, I was still smiling.

Then my favourite teams exited the Euro one by one. No Sweden. No Ireland. No Poland. No England. No Germany. What we have left is Italy and Spain. I don’t want Spain to win, since they are already world champions and they don’t deserve to win. But Italy, I said during the entire tournament that I hate Italy, but this was a true wake up call for me, because Italy no more plays boring defensive football! They are very offensive and are dangerous all the time they get the ball and I must admit that I’m deeply impressed and I was wrong. For me Italy are worthy winners of the Euro 2012. I write this the day before the final.

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When the Irish supporters went home to Ireland Poznan turned dead and I got sort of depressed of the over night change from most incredible atmosphere in the world to nothing, so I wanted to go home. Then I made up the great idea, why not go to Warszawa on the day of the semi final, the last match in Poland, and watch it with the Germans and Italians in the capital’s Fan Zone? I thought I might have to go alone, but in the end we were 9 people going there, 3 by train (me, Ola, Ronald), 4 by bus (Soner, Koray, Natalia, Magda) and 2 hitchhikers (Paulina and Piotr). We all managed to get to Warszawa in time for the semi final. It was a hot day and I was seriously happy, then it happened! My Costa Rican friend Ronald bought 2 tickets to the semi final and he didn’t manage to sell the second one so he decided to sell it to me cheap. That was one of the most magical evenings in my life! To be inside the beautiful stadium in Warszawa, watching the semi final in Euro 2012 live, me supporting Germany and Ronald supporting Italy was incredible! I can’t describe that feeling with words but it meant the world to me! I will forever cherish that moment and be grateful for my friend for giving me the opportunity.

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Acknowledgements

I would first of all like to thank my great friend Ola P for making my spare time memorable with inviting me to her flat and to her family house in Krotoszyn! It’s been a pure pleasure all this month and I miss you to bits! Lots of love to you and your lovely family.

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Secondly I’d like to thank my volunteer friends who made the stay very enjoyable and fun. Especially thanks to Ronald, Ola B, Soner, Koray, Ela, Matteusz, Piotr, Paulina, Rita, David and Koko. I’d also give a big thanks to Lois for hosting all us international volunteers for dinner one night!

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Thirdly I want to thank all the happy and funny football fans in Poznan and Warszawa that crossed my path. You are all fantastic!
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Posted by aggro 04:35 Archived in Poland Tagged football poland fans irish euro 2012 Comments (1)

Backpacking in the Middle East part 2

The Jordan part of the adventure backpacking trip

sunny 19 °C

Amman, Jordan

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Transportation: Our lovely hostess at St Elias Guesthouse in Bethlehem managed to get us a taxi to drive us all the way to the bridge to Jordan. Perfect! This way we didn't have to go back to Jerusalem, find another bus to Amman and cross the bridge anyway. So to save time and struggle we accepted the offer of 150NIS (£30). Since the taxi had green number plates from Palestine they were not allowed to cross the bridge. So we had to wait for an Israeli taxi to drive us the short distance to the Israeli border on the bridge for 50NIS. Very annoying. Then at the Israeli border we had to pay tax of 344 NIS (£70) for the two of us and then the bus from the Israeli border to Jordan border cost 3JD (£3) per person with one bag. And while over in Jordan we didn't even get a stamp. That's odd! How do they know how we entered the country? Then everyone wanted to fool us and said there was no bus to Amman from the border. That is a lie! It was just located in another terminal. The bus was 3JD (£3) pp and it dropped us off in the business quarters of Amman, but they said it was Downtown. Wankers. Anyhow, since we didn't manage to find a bus to downtown of Amman a taxi drove us for 1,5JD. That's cheap! Finally something good!

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Accommodation: We had no reservation for Amman since we didn't even planned to get there, but while here we walked in the downtown and found a cheap and shabby hotel for 10JD (£10) for a triple room. At Beirut Hotel the beds were probably stuffed with stones, the sheets had nasty sheets and the blankets were so dusty and disgusting we hardly wanted to touch them with our toes. Jürgen had his travel sheets with him, but I slept with all my clothes on. It was freezing and we caught colds both of us. Mine was terrible! Started to sneeze 100 times per day for the rest of the holiday. But it was cheap. We left as soon as possible. We couldn't sleep because of the loud noise from the cars.

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To do: To be honest, there is nothing to see in Amman. It's the worst shithole on Earth. I'd even prefer Kolkata to Amman.

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Don't do: Don't visit Amman! If your flight is to Amman, just go away anywhere as soon as you can. The air pollution is so bad I had a constant headache during my time in Amman. And when we fled inside to a restaurant they were smoking so much my headache got even worse. SHITHOLE! I hated it from the first time I put my dirty shoe on the ground. Flee when you can!

Madaba, Jordan

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Transportation: The first thing in the morning we tried to find an Internet café to check where we could flee before our reservation by the Dead Sea the day after. We didn't find an Internet café but a restaurant with WiFi and decided to go to Madaba. A tiny town hopefully without air pollution like Amman. Unfortunately the information online was wrong and the buses didn't go to Madaba from the bus station we walked to and people in Amman in general doesn't speak as good English as the Israeli and Palestinians. So we had no idea where to go when a man reached us and said he could help us. He gave us a good offer with taxi to Madaba for 10 dinar and we accepted. He also gave us a tips of a nice hotel and we agreed to that too. The ride to Madaba from Amman was about 40 minutes by taxi.

Accommodation: Madaba Hotel was really nice, clean and newly restored. A bit cold though, but we kinda get used to that by now. Very close to St George's church, freezing but nice rooftop terrace and breakfast is included in the price of 20 dinar per night.

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To do: There is not much to do in the Mosaic city of Madaba than St George's Church where the church floor is a map made of mosaic of the Holy Land. It's one of the oldest maps of the Holy Land ever found. Beautiful! Other than that there is just to walk around and enjoy the atmosphere of a small town in Jordan. We loved it!

Don't do: Don't go back to Amman whatever you do! Madaba is nice and cosy. :)

Dead Sea, Jordan

Transportation: We shared a taxi with two Londoners to the Dead Sea for 20JD, or was it 10.. Hmm. Anyway, it was a comfortable ride.

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Accommodation: When Jürgen and I planned the trip we decided to stay one night at a nice expensive hotel, and booked Holiday Inn Dead Sea Resort. It was utterly expensive, paid £90 for one night. So not worth it. I don't enjoy 4 star establishments, and definitely not while I'm backpacking. Feeling out of place. But it was the first night we didn't freeze! For £90 we didn't even get a balcony with sea view. And the buffet was £21 JD pp! We totally blew our budget by the Dead Sea. Ah well.

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To do: Who need a pool area when there is the Dead Sea a bit further down? Float and try out how weird feeling it is. Also try out to cover your body with mud. Should be good for the skin, they say. It's a weird feeling. It feels like you have an extra layer of skin over your skin.

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Don't do: Really, don't stay overnight. Only overpriced resorts by the Dead Sea. Rather take a day trip to the public beach. And if you stay at the hotel, don't eat the buffet, it's not worth the fortune they charge. We did another mistake, we didn't fix with transportation from the resort to Petra so we had to pay £100 JD to rent a car with driver from Hertz to drive us there. The drive was 3 hours. 60 dinar would be a more reasonable price.

Petra, Jordan

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Transportation: As mentioned above, get a taxi from Madaba to drive you to Petra for 60JD and don't leave it to Hertz. Our driver was really nice and talkative but he said he was angry with Hertz since they only pay him 200JD per month and he works 12-16h per day. We tipped him a 10 dinar note because we felt awful.

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Accommodation: All the hotels are in Wadi Mousa and so was our, on the hill. We stayed at Petra Gate Hostel for two nights and it was brilliant! Amazingly helpful staff in the reception and in the kitchen. We had a great buffet for 6JD pp at the hostel and it was so worth it! Great food! Loved this place, very homely and there was even heating on for a few hours during the evening and night. Stay there! Only 20JD per night!

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To do: Well you can't visit Jordan and miss out of Petra. It's one of the new seven wonders of the world and it's an amazing experience! It's a huge city and you can get around by foot, by donkey, by horse or by camel. Different routes with different animals. A donkey ride should cost around 5JD per donkey. The entrance fee to Petra is 90JD (£90) if you are a day visitor, 50JD if you are an over night visitor and for each extra day you stay it's 5 extra dinar. We stayed for two days and paid 55JD. Worth every dinar! A horse ride to the Siq is included in the ticket price, but be sure that you're aware that they expect 2 dinar tips afterwards. When we walked through the long Siq we suddenly reached The Treasury! Wow! Incredible! It's actually 2200 years old and looks like it's built yesterday! Fantastic! Don't miss out of the monastery, it's a tough walk up there but so worth it! We also went up all the stairs to the Altar of Sacrifice and had a cup of tea with a bedouin on the way up. Beautiful view from up there. After each day we were so tired we almost collapsed. The second day we actually did collapse back at the hotel. Zzzzz.

Buy: Sand art. Beautiful pieces of art in flasks. Jewellery from the bedouins.

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Don't: MISS OUT OF PETRA! Everone should visit Petra once in their lives.

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Aqaba, Jordan

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Transportation: There is an early morning bus to Aqaba from Petra without a timetable which leave when it's full, but often around 7AM. When we checked out at 7:20AM the receptionist tells us the bus already left. He managed to call the driver and asked him to wait for us, while he drove us in his car to the bus! Absolutely brilliant service! The price for the bus to Aqaba was 5JD pp, tourist price.

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Accommodation: We found Al-Nahr Al-Khaled Hotel on the street and asked for the prices. It was 10JD for a great hotel room with a dirty but splendid balcony where we spent most of our time playing cards in the afternoon sun. The owner was extremely friendly and helpful so we decided to come back to his hotel after our visit to Wadi Rum. We stayed in total 3 nights here and I loved it! We were located next to a mosque and it was a terrible sound and every time there were time for Allah Akbar yelling we heard the praying three times, which means 15 times a day. But still great action with the shops downstairs. On New Years Eve I played football games with the locals and they gave us whisky. Great fun!

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To do: Not much really. It's a tiny town, but quite charming. There is the North beach which is for the 5 star hotel resort, there is the beach which offers Glass boat tours and there is the South beach which is located 15km south of Aqaba which is more of a public beach. It's huge and very nice. Many hostels and hotels are located by the South beach. There are a couple of excavations and a castle which doesn't look like a castle. South of the glass boat beach there is a huge flag and it said in the Aqaba advertisement that you should salute the flag, to honor the great Arab revolution.

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Eat: Ali Baba restaurant is a bit expensive but excellent fish on the menu! Recommend the fish fillet with rice which is grilled with a saffron and lemon sauce. Outstanding. The Dunes Restaurant by the beach offers really cheap meals and great service. They gave as soup and tea for no charge when I tried Mansaf, the national dish of Jordan. Mansaf is really nice, different taste. Rice and lamb in yoghurt and herb sauce.

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Wadi Rum, Jordan

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I'm weak for deserts. Desserts I don't really mind either, but deserts is something special to me. I love the star heaven at night, the calm ride on a camel back in the early morning, talking around the fire in a bedouin camp and I feel free. I think my mind already decided for visiting a desert land since I was thinking between Mali or the Middle East.

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Transportation: There are two buses daily from Aqaba to Wadi Rum, one early in the morning, around 6.30AM and one at 1PM. We caught the 1 o'clock bus and it was really slow, but the price was 3JD per tourist. We had booked a taxi to take us there for 25JD but our hotelier asked us why we didn't went by bus instead and we said we didn't know there was a bus to Wadi Rum. Then in the morning our hotelier told our taxi driver that we wanted to go by bus instead and he said: "Who told them about the bus?" The Hotelier: "Oh I don't know.." Awesome! :D Since Aqaba is a tax free zone the people on the bus were smuggling in cigarettes to Wadi Rum, without getting caught. The bus dropped us off at the village and we had no idea where to go. There we met Mohammed, a bedouin who helped us out. He gave us an offer to go on a Jeep tour to the Spring, the canyon carvings and sand dunes and then he would drive us to our camp in Disa. We accepted.

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Accommodation: There is nothing better than staying in a bedouin camp in the desert, trust me! We had a reservation at Bedouin Gate Camp but due to some misunderstanding with the camp the camp owner who thought we were not coming, Mohammed arranged for us to to stay at his father, Mzied, in his camp. Yeah sure, perfect! We arrived just in time for supper and it was an amazing meal with meat stew with rice and vegetables! Jürgen and myself were extremely hungry after a long day and it was the best. It was only us and an English family staying at the camp at the time and it was the best time just to sit down by the fireplace and talk about everything and nothing. Jürgen and myself slept in a tent in the big tent, and covered with two lovely, warm and big blankets I didn't freeze. Woke up early in the morning and just enjoyed the calm and cold desert morning and had breakfast at my star spotting place.

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To do: There is a lot to do in the desert! What I love the most is the nights, to look at the stars. There are never as many stars as in the desert. Wadi Rum organises Jeep tours, hiking, camel tours and camping in the bedouin camps. Our budget were screwed already in Petra, so we couldn't afford to do everything, but we did a short jeep tour and had a great camel ride in the morning. Never visit a desert without riding a camel! It's definitely the best! I just love it, to go slowly, slowly through the desert on the back of those strange creatures. I want a camel! I want to live in the desert! I want to learn Arabic! If you need a guide for Wadi Rum, contact Mzied or his son Mohammed to guide you. Really nice bedouins! I want to go back. I'm still stuck in a desert mode. It's hard to change the life back to the hectic London life. I guess that's why I feel depressed.

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Conclusion

Jordan was really interesting. Since it's part of the Holy Land there are holy spots everywhere. We missed out of loads of course, Mount Nebo would be great to climb for example. I'd love to explore the northern parts of Jordan and also return for a longer time to the desert of Wadi Rum. Extraordinary beauty in the that desert. Petra is a must as well of course, one of the most fascinating places I've ever visited. Jordan was my 41st country to visit in the world. Many more to go! I'd hope to return! I love the Middle East and I am very interested of there culture.

Posted by aggro 08:20 Archived in Jordan Tagged sea desert city floating dead tour rose jordan camel petra amman jeep wadi aqaba rum masada deadsea wadirum rosecity Comments (0)

Backpacking in the Middle East part 1

The Israel and Palestine adventures

sunny 18 °C

Welcome back!

My plan was to make a trip over the Christmas holidays 2011-2012 because I felt a need of travelling outside Europe. I've decided to spend all my money from when I worked in the Highlands for the summer on a trip somewhere. My first plan was Mali, but decided to postpone that trip due to kidnappings of tourists in the northern parts of Mali. I wouldn't go to Mali without visiting Timbuktu, no matter how dangerous it would be. Better to save it for later. Instead Jordan been marketing their country very well in London and I thought, yeah why not? Then I had a reason to return to Israel and Palestine as well. Perfect! I've asked my best travel companion, who also is my ex-boyfriend if he wanted to join in, and he agreed. It's a gambling, but 99% of the trip went perfectly well!

Here is my report from our trip, town by town. I will recommend or not recommend where to go, where to stay, how to travel and tell you about all the mistakes we made along the way.

Tel Aviv, Israel

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Transportation: easyJet is flying from London Luton to Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport to a reasonable price, of course more expensive during Christmas, but still affordable. From Ben Gurion Airport it's possible to take a train to Tel Aviv, not very cheap though, around 14NIS pp.

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Accomodation: We stayed at Florentine hostel and it was excellent! Friendly atmosphere, lovely rooftop terrace and comfortable beds. We stayed two nights, one in the dormitory and one we stayed in a private room for 325 NIS (around £65). Great location in Elifelet Street 10, but tricky to find, since it doesn't look like a hostel from the outside.

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To eat and drink: Falafel and drink the Israeli Goldstar beer, a dark lager that is one of the best beer in the world! I've longed for it since my last visit in 2006 and it was a great reunion. Falafel is excellent and cheap fast food. Who says vegetarian isn't good?

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To do: Tel Aviv is a small but nice city in Israel by the Mediterranean Sea, with an excellent beach, Old Jaffa town, and a nice mix of old districts with the modern business districts. Buy some beer and sit down by the rocks and overlook the sunset by the sea. Beautiful!

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Don't do: Buy Jordanian visa at the Jordanian embassy in Tel Aviv. They charge 20NIS (£40) per person and the price at the border is £20. If you are going to Jordan, either travel by another bridge than King Hussain Bridge or get the visa at home before the trip. You can get the visa from all other bridges than KH and at the airport.

Jerusalem, Israel

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Transportation: There are buses from Tel Aviv at the New bus station to Jerusalem on the 6th floor for 34NIS (£7) for 2 persons. The bus ride is around an hour. There was a soldier sleeping on the bus next to us with his rifle on his lap. Secure, eyy?

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Accommodation: We stayed at New Palm Hostel, just by the Damascus gate! Excellent location, and fairly cheap so I'd say it's a perfect budget accommodation in Jerusalem. A bed in the dorm costs £10 per night pp.

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To do: Get lost in the Old City, pay the Western Wall a visit, walk the streets, bargain in the shops, by some souvenirs, and just enjoy Jerusalem. It's an amazing city, and very important. Visit all the gates and read about them in a guidebook while their. Personally Jerusalem is one of my favourite cities in the world. It's stunningly beautiful and I'd love to come back a third, fourth and more times!

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Don't do: By tea in the old city without asking for the price first. They charge tourists extremely high prices. Be careful and use your bargaining skills! 30 NIS is for example not a good price for a cup of tea with mint.

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Eat and drink: Food and drink prices are quite high in Jerusalem. Up the hill from Damascus gate, outside the wall we found a decent Russian pub that sold us expensive Goldstar and had "Vote for Putin"-posters on the bathroom walls.

Bethlehem, Palestine

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Transportation: Fortunately there is a bus by the bus station at Damascus Gate to take us to the Palestinian border. There should also be a tourist bus with number 21 taking you directly to Bethlehem without stopping by the border. But we did it the hard way. The bus ride from Damascus gate to the checkpoint is 5 shequel pp. At the Palestinian border we'd pass security and it's badly signed and tricky to know where to go. But the people are friendly and showed us where to go. On the Palestinian side there are a couple of taxis and we got one to drive us to our Guest House in Bethlehem. He was going on an on about that our Guest House was in Beyt Sahur and far away from Bethlehem, but we insisted that we wanted to stay at our place.

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Accommodation: Our Guest house, St Elias Guesthouse was correctly in Beyt Sahur, but it's just next to Bethlehem, 5 minutes by taxi and 30 minutes by foot to Manger Square in Bethlehem. The hospitality was amazing! Very friendly family running the guest house and comfortable room. Very cold on the floor though, but nothing else to complain of. The price for 3 nights at Christmas time for a double room was 400 Shequel (£80). I'd recommend this guest house warmly!

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Eat and drink: Try out some Palestinian delicates while in Bethlehem. And try out the local beer, Taybeh. It's different from other lagers, it's simply much more bitter, but it's very nice.

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To do: Is there any better place to celebrate Christmas than in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus? I'm not very religious but I loved it! We visited the Church of Nativity by Manger Square, which is one of the oldest churches in the world built in 325AD. Beautiful inside. Close to Church of Nativity is Milk Grotto, an amazing underground church. Very beautiful and the cemetery had a great view over Bethlehem with surroundings. If you cross the Manger Square and walk up the hill there is a vegetable market and a bunch of souvenir shops. Very cosy streets. A good place to buy a keffiyeh, the scarf some of the men are wearing. A good price should be around 15-20 shequel per scarf. On Christmas eve we went to a multi language mass at the Lutheran Christmas Church. For me that was a massive experience! To be listening to a mass on Christmas Eve in Bethlehem! We went back later in the evening to listen to some Christmas carols in the same church. A choir were singing "Jul jul strålande jul", a Swedish Christmas carol and that was really nice for us Swedes. :) Unless that there is not much to do. Bethlehem is a small town.

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Don't do: Stay too long. Since it's a small town, one day is enough. I'd definitely recommend Christmas Eve for that only day. And if you stay too long in Bethlehem, do a trip to Hebron or Ramallah to see other parts of Palestine. I'm sad we didn't do it, but the weather was crap and I didn't feel like spending more shequels before going to Jordan.

See part 2 for the Jordan part of the trip

Posted by aggro 01:32 Archived in Israel Tagged sea christmas dead israel jordan petra amman tel aviv jerusalem bethlehem palestine wadi aqaba rum madaba Comments (2)

Istanbul marathon

My love and hate relationship to marathons

rain 13 °C

Two days ago I ran my 4th marathon and visited my 40th country. The pain in my legs is still unbearable. I look really funny while walking and I'm utterly slow, and if I can skip walking in stairs I'll do it. I'm trying to convince myself that "Pain is temporary, Pride is forever" on repeat.

MARATHON - 42,195km - 26,2 miles

My brief marathon history

My first marathon experience was Stockholm Marathon in 2003. I was 18 and had no idea if I could complete it or not. It is quite far to run 42km after all. I was very tired (duh?) but managed to sprint in the end when I saw Stockholm Stadion. Back in the days Stockholm Marathon wasn't a big race and there wasn't loads of people supporting us. And at the Västerbron, a long bridge, there was a umpa-umpa orchestra in lederhosen which was the worst experience during the race. It was quite tough to see that the winners had run 2 times 21km when me and my dad only had completed one in the same time. They are quick those Africans! My first marathon experience got me into loving to run races. The picture below is from my first race ever, Göteborgsvarvet in 2003 with my dad.

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In 2004 my dad and I went to Berlin to run a very flat and nice Marathon. It was very nice and I got my best time so far, and only time less than 5 hours. I was also running during the entire race, and when I thought I was about to fail my all-run race at 36km a German man told me that I looked very fresh. I was staring at him and wondered if something was wrong with his eyes. But it helped, and I got the last push I needed to complete the marathon in 4:56h.

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The year after, in November 2005 my dad and I went to run the amazing New York City Marathon! This was a really tough one for me, I didn't have the right training for it, but the running experience was amazing! And my mum and brother was located at the right spot at 30km when I needed them the most! The supporters in New York are absolutely fantastic! I felt I was flying even though I was exhausted. Loved it, but the time was really, really bad, but you're always a winner when you complete a marathon. After New York marathon I said: NEVER AGAIN! And I kept that promise until now.

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2011. The summer I was working in the Scottish Highlands. The nature was all around me and I needed a goal to train for when I went running around Loch Oich, been stopped by a throng of sheep and having waterpauses from a waterfall at the Great Glen Way. It was an amazing summer in Invergarry but when I finished my work I went on a holiday tour and was drinking lots of alcohol for two weeks, and then I got really sick for the last two weeks before the race. To not run at all for a month before a marathon is not a good idea. I also managed to get accompanied by a man I didn't know very well to Istanbul Marathon. It was Martin's 1st Marathon, and my 4th.

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Istanbul Marathon 20111
We are all different when it comes to prepare for a race. This windy, rainy and cold Sunday morning on the bridge on the Asian side of Istanbul I was freezing with Martin. He was in his mind preparing for the race while I was jumping up and down cheering and pushing ourselves to do well. He later said that he wanted to punch me for being so happy while he was trying to make up a plan for his race. For me the echo of my colleague Sarah's voice saying: "PMA, Clara! That's how we do it! Positive Mental Attitude!" and that's how I prepared myself, being happy and thinking that it wouldn't be so bad after all. But it was. I hate the start, even if I'm cheering my memory is telling me: "Not again you crazy bitch! You will get punished for this!"

At 9AM on the Sunday morning the 16th of October 2011 we ran, Martin, I and a few thousand more runners. Some ran 4km, some 8km, the most ran 15km and then us morons ran the full marathon of 42195 meters through Istanbul. I ran the marathon for Arsenal FC dressed in my beautiful Arsenal away shirt and Arsenal helped me already at the third bridge when I started to be tired and this amazing English guy who had been running more than 100 marathons pushed me on my back screaming: "Come on Arsenal! Come on Arsenal" and we ran together and talked about Premier league for a couple of minutes. He helped me later on as well. I don't know your name, but I will never forget you.

Here are my times during the race. I was obviously very fast the first 5km, 29 minutes is faster than I usually run! That was a bad sign, because I was running too fast in the beginning so I got tired very quickly. I know this! I have been running before! But still, such a n00b!

I met Martin two times during the race and he was doing very well! It cheered me up every time I saw him and knew that we would make it! At 10km I got a pain in my legs. Way too early but I just put up short goals. OK, at the second lamp post I start running again, it's allright my body, you're doing well, you can walk in this hill, but when it's going down you'd better move your feet faster again. It helped, as always! My brain always win!

I made three mistakes:

1. I drank alcohol for two weeks and got very, very sick
2. I had no proper breakfast on the race day
3. I ran too fast in the beginning

But I also learned from this:
1. I can still complete a marathon without training for a month prior the race.
2. I can still complete a marathon without food and energy in my stomach
3. I can still complete a marathon even if I run too fast in the beginning

3 things I hate about running a marathon

  • That I feel guilty if I go out drinking beers with my friends instead of training for the race
  • To stand at the start area and think: "Holy cow, this will be painful, and I have to freeze my ass off and think about how stupid idea this is for two hours before I can even start and get over with it"
  • When I get bored after running half of it and know that I have to run another 21 km, being even more bored and also be in huge pain. I hate being bored. And in pain, but mostly bored. And little bit to be in pain. But yeah bored sucks.. Ehh, you know what I mean.

3 things I love about running a marathon

  • The people you meet in the end of the races, that you never will meet again but you are all in the same huge pain and you are pushing each other through the last part. And in some races also the supporters that are cheering on you.
  • To see the finish line, get the medal and when the pride is getting over you. Makes me cry almost every time.
  • Marathons make me travel! I love travelling! And it's actually a good way to see a new city!

This race I want to thank the English guy I wrote about above, Christer (70 years old from Sweden who had run 176 marathons), , a Japanese girl who gave me hope when she told me that there was 1 hour left before the race closed and I felt that hell yeah, we can do this, an American man from Washington who was very helpful and inspired me, a Turkish guy who ran with a shoulderbag and gave me an apple when I needed it, a South African man who I ran the last two kilometres with, Martin my buddy who made it in a brilliant time for his first marathon and Marek, a polish guy who inspired me a lot during our last 5km. Because I met those amazing people, who I most likely will never meet again, I actually had a great time during the last part of the race. The first five km and the last five was the best. In between was just a big pain! But that's what a marathon is, you struggle together with a bunch of random people and you personalize the race to make it yours. I love the competition! I know the fact that it is not sure that you will complete it and I love the pride when you reach the finish line!

I was one of the last to reach the finish line before they closed but I felt like the biggest winner of the race!

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Istanbul marathon was cold, windy, rainy and the roads were quite boring partly, but the beautiful sights and the amazing people made it to one of the best experiences in my life.

I never say never again.

Posted by aggro 03:58 Archived in Turkey Tagged mosque blue istanbul sofia marathon sultanahmet hagia 2011 Comments (0)

Scotland got it all!

Probably the closest to heaven you can find on Earth.

semi-overcast 15 °C

The past
Scotland - the entire word means beauty and whisky for me. I have only been to Scotland once before, a very funny surprise trip to Glasgow when my best friend Nina turned 25. That time we went to Auchentoshan distillery and learned to drink whisky. Since then we upgraded our taste and found new favourites, smoky ones mostly. I do remember that when I saw the views outside Glasgow I was stunned and told myself that I need to come back. I am posting a pic from when we went to Auchentoshan distillery back in 2006!

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The purpose of the trip
In January I applied for a summerjob at Invergarry Hotel in the Scottish Highlands, and I got it. The time totally flied and I managed to finish off my studies and had one week off before my summerjob start. My lovely boyfriend never turned down my idea when I told him that we could go for one week in Scotland and off we went! May 9th I moved out from Writtle House in London, took my luggage (with some great help from my boyfriend of course) and we caught the train to Edinburgh on the afternoon.

Transportation
We went by train from London to Edinburgh (£65 for us both) and it took 4 hours. Very comfortable and nice trains. Then we took another train from Edinburgh to Inverness that stopped everywhere and was very slow. Very slow but very beautiful (£20 two persons). To rent a car for two days cost us around £70 so not too bad at all. The buses are quite cheap and the roads they are incredibly beautiful, so the trip will be joyful wether you decide to go by train, bus or car. Fly as little as you can, since you miss so much.

Edinburgh

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The accommodation
We arrived late to our guesthouse in the east end of Edinburgh. Although the room was clean and the bathroom was really nice and the price was OK, the location is degrading it a bit. Edinburgh House Hotel There was a bus nr 11 nearby that went to the city centre of Edinburgh for only £3.40 for a day travel card. Very handy.

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Edinburgh Castle
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This is a must see when you visit Edinburgh. The view is amazing and the different exhibitions is very nice. A great few hours. At the castle there is a "One o'clock gun" that fires everyday at 1PM.
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The one o'clock gun
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Me and an ordinary gun

The fee to get into the castle is £14 of well spent money. It's nice to support beautiful buildings like Edinburgh Castle! Do it!

Drink and food in Edinburgh
My best friend Nina told me that the haggis at World's End Pub in Edinburgh was really good, so I decided to check it out. It was every bit as good as she told me. Totally recommend it! The World's End is located at the High Street, very easy to find.

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We also paid Whiski Bar a visit, that had one of the largest whisky list I've seen and also live music, Scottish folk music! Very fun evening! And the pub is very cosy! Recommend a visit to that pub aswell.

The Highlands

From Edinburgh we caught a train to Inverness where we went to pick up our rental car for the coming days. A red Nissan Micra. It was the first time for Jürgen to drive on the wrong side of the road but after some hours I could relax a bit more and enjoy the beautiful ride.

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First of all we headed for Invergarry Hotel, which is my new home for the coming four months to leave some luggage. To get there from Inverness it's a 1 hour drive via entire Loch Ness. Incredibly beautiful, but we didn't find Nessie! Not even a glimpse!

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We met some of my new colleagues and they were totally friendly. My room was really big and nice aswell, very pleased. We had lunch at the hotel and it was delicious! I really recommend Invergarry Hotel.

On our way back north we stopped by Urquhart Castle which is so beautiful looking by Loch Ness, but unfortunately we were too late and the castle was closed. I really think I need to head back there to take some photos.

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On our way up to Brora in north eastern Highlands we passed this bridge over the river. Very beautiful.

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I called the hotel we had booked in Brora, Sutherland Inn and they told us that they had overbooked and that we should pay £65 for the room and then we would get a room at the 4 star hotel Royal Marine instead. Sutherland Inn looked very nice and cosy, but a hotel should never overbook. Now they sorted it out for us very nice, but I am still dissapointed of Sutherland Inn.

The view from our room at Royal Marine Hotel in Brora:

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and a picture from the lobby by the fire place:

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I do recommend Royal Marine to anyone with money. Royal Marine Hotel website

Brora is a very beautiful place and there are a local whisky distillery called Clynelish in the village.

On the road up north from Brora there is a really beautiful village called Helmsdale, with a stunning view by the mountains and the sea. Incredibly beautiful as you can see from the pictures below.

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On the way south from Brora we were passing Dunrobin castle. We didn't have time to enter, but we did took some nice pictures during our visits:

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Another town we visited after Brora was Muir of Ord that is close to Inverness, with it's own distillery Glen of Ord. At this place we found a really friendly hotel by the road called Ord Arms Hotel. The staff, a husband and wife, was very friendly to talk to. £70 for a double room for one night. Not so cosy, but very friendly and close to Glen Ord distillery.

Inverness

After our roundtrip in the highlands we went back to Inverness. The town is much smaller than I expected but very cosy with the River Ness running through it. There also is a castle in Inverness that looked nice but we didn't have a closer look at it.

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We stayed at Cedar House Villa in Inverness, the location was excellent and the owners very friendly. Cheap price aswell and comfortable room.
The owner of the Bed & Breakfast told us to pay Hootananny Pub a visit. That was a very nice advice! Upstairs there were a rock band playing and downstairs a Scottish folk music band. Really great and all Inverness was on there feet. Really fun pub!

The whisky distilleries

I love Scotland, partly because it's wonderful nature, it's amazing culture with kilts and bagpipes but also because of their whisky culture that is very fascinating. To visit Whisky distilleries is a must when you visit Scotland. They are located everywhere and the different part of the country produces different types of whisky.

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Clynelish distillery
We visited Clynelish Distillery in Brora, North Eastern Highlands. The tour was very nice, not too many tourists at the time we went there and just a tour and one try of the 14 yo whisky cost only £5 including a voucher for £3 when buying their whisky. They also offered a tour with tasting of two more whiskies from their distilleries for only £10. I totally enjoyed the tour and the whisky was fantastic! The old Brora distillery closed down in 1983 and left place to Clynelish. During the tour our guide Kate showed us how the old Brora whisky were tapped into the casks. Very interesting!

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At Clynelish Jürgen and myself became "Friends of the Malt" and as a member you get a journal which you should bring to the distillery in the collection and the distillery will stamp it for you and you get a free tour at every distillery and also a nice pin. This is a very clever way of marketing in my opinion because now both of us feel like we have to travel around Scotland to visit all those distilleries and get our stamps. :)

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Glenmorangie distillery
Glenmorangie distillery is located between Brora and Inverness, in a town called Tain. It's a famous and well known distillery which produces a large range of different whiskies. At Glenmorangie we didn't go for a tour, only whisky tasting for me. I tried the Signet and Sonnalta. The Sonnalta was really, really good, but the Signet, which looks very fancy in its bottle was not impressing so much on me.

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Glen ord distillery
5 whiskies before lunch was enough for me and we headed to Muir of Ord to be close to another friend of the Malt, Glen Ord distillery the day after.

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The free tour we got was very fun and interesting but unfortunately I did not enjoy the whisky. I even tried with water (I usually never drink with water) but no. Singleton is not my cup of tea! But at least we got the stamp in our Friend of the malt passports. :)

The beauty and the kilt

No I am not talking about myself, I am talking about the beautiful landscapes of Scotland and the fabulous kilt culture. Both Jürgen and myself bought kilts in Edinburgh and was wearing them for one day in the highlands for taking pictures. Here is a collection.

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And let's end with a funny one of Jürgen in a kilt! :)
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To be continued

Posted by aggro 09:59 Archived in Scotland Tagged whisky scotland loch edinburgh glen highlands ness distillery malt clynelish glenmorangie ord invergarry inverness Comments (0)

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