Sunday 23rd July 2017
Firstly, happy birthday mum. Love you x
In my experience Beijing and Shanghai do have some similarities. But overall I have found them very very different. That is matched of course by the match results. Admittedly I hate losing but for me any negative result in a friendly doesn’t fill me with any larger degree of disappointment than a victory does elation.
Walking through Beijing Airport’s passport control this morning there were millions of people. Of course there were. That appears to be the case everywhere I have been in China. And after a week, accompanied by the heat, I am exhausted and glad to be heading home. In fact I could do with a holiday! 😉
The chinese capital city’s metro system works very well and is cheap too and it was this form of transport that got us to our accommodation for 3 nights when we arrived on Thursday.
Food choices have been generally pretty good since leaving the UK 4 weeks ago but it pays to be a little more ‘careful’ in this part of the world. Diving straight in for the full ‘street food’ experience was consequently decided against, choosing to take on another local speciality in the shape of a ‘hotpot’. An extravagant fondue would be the best way to describe it but thoroughly enjoyed nonetheless.
Sun Li Tum’s Bar Street doesn’t really need an explanation and it does do exactly what it says on the tin. An interesting conclusion to a Thursday that ended with an almighty thunderstorm and the deluge of rain that comes with it, a fairly regular occurence in this part of the world.
Friday saw our first visit to the huge Olympic Park constructed for the 2008 games, initially for the Fans Party in the ballroom at the players hotel. An entertaining hour or so including a brief introduction to the weird and wonderful world of Chinese Opera.
Unless you are very squeamish a walk through the crazy Wanfujing market is an absolute must. A mix of everything from exciting to downright horrific the ‘foodstuffs’ are almost beyond belief. From scorpions to beetles, spiders to grubs, lizards to snakes, seahorses to starfish, it appears if it moves the Chinese are happy to cook and eat anything!!
Looking on in amazement I decided against a sample. I am not fussy when it comes to food but insects on sticks are definitely something I don’t require in my life.
It was Friday night drinks next including a trip to a bar called ‘Heaven’. Think of the alcohol aisle in the supermarket, a few checkouts and plenty of tables inside and out and you’ll get the picture!
One last trip to Bar Street followed including a ‘Mojito’ purchased from a street bar. I’m sorry but throat burning rum, sugar, green leaves some distance from mint and 7up do not make a great version of this cocktail classic. Not good.
The night concluded with late night tucker of course but definitely not insects.
And so to the last matchday of the tour but before that we shook off our hangovers by joining the thousands of people who descended on the Forbidden City and thought provoking Tianamen Square, pretty much the last touristy aspect of the whole tour.
Descending on to the Birds Nest Stadium is quite something. Unique and extremely iconic it is difficult to not be impressed.
As for the game however, that is definitely not the case. Chelsea were better than us all over the pitch. Maybe if Rambo had scored just before half time it might have been different. But we looked tired and longing for home so I doubt it.
But pre-season is very much that. End of.
British Airways are taking me home and my flight boards in a few moments.
So its time to sign off, get back to reality and look forward to next weekend’s Emirates Cup.
I have a feeling creepy crawly kebabs
are unlikely to be the inflight meal.
Thursday 20th July 2017
Sitting on my very comfortable train currently hammering it somewhere north of Shanghai I have a dilemma. My ticket price includes some food and drink and it has recently arrived. Having consumed the small packet of curry flavoured dried ‘meat’ I don’t know what to enjoy next. Should I go for the ‘Mixed Peanuts, Broad Beans and Peas’ or the packet that simply states ‘Do Chinese Own Happy Ginkgo’?!
Whilst giving those options consideration I am taking this opportunity to record my latest thoughts as this epic pre-season tour approaches it’s latter stages.
The absolutely vast city of Shanghai is currently experiencing a heatwave. Consequently the humidity has been almost unbearable. The air conditioning inside buildings and/or the city’s metro system has proved to be an absolute necessity at times.
Sunday’s flight proved smooth and unproblematic, something that can’t be said for the club’s staff and officials apparently having been held by Chinese customs for 5 hours demanding a large payment to even let them into the country.
But this is a part of the world where anything is possible. Having checked in to our accommodation for the next 4 nights, I met with fellow Gooner and friend ‘Gonk’ recently arrived from the UK to enjoy a couple of beers in the searing heat. And on the table next to us was a monkey. In full clothing, wearing slippers, a rucksack on its back and eating his fruit based dinner. Of course there was.
Rising quite late on Monday we headed into the financial district with its quite incredible skyline and joined the many fanatical Chinese Gooners for a fans party in the basement of the players’ hotel that saw 6 of our squad in a Q and A session followed by an amusing attempt at some kung fu moves.
This was followed by a trip to the fascinating Tianzifang Market and a kind of cocktail bar tour late on that proved highly entertaining for the slightly crazy yet inspirational variety of fare and watching the talented staff knocking up their creations. Crispy bacon with a cocktail! Whatever next!? But it kinda worked you know….
Tuesday included a trip to the Jade Buddha Temple, slightly disappointing if I’m honest, the city’s huge number of high rise accommodation blocks making it feel like the A13 in Barking instead of the tranquil setting amongst the carnage that I kind of expected.
With the heat becoming more and more stifling we then made the decision to let one of those open top bus sightseeing things take the strain for an hour or so. A quick look at the Yuyuan Market and a good way to see the city but the reduction in body temperature was not forthcoming.
I have been to Shanghai before as part of the previous pre-season tour in this part of the world but with games in Yiwu and Beijing, our Tuesday evening’s visit to the imposing Stadium for open training was a first. Again, one for the passionate and fanatical locals, the heat making it difficult to ‘enjoy’.
It was cocktails once again to finish the day (what has happened to me!?!), ingredients such as blue cheese proving once again it’s amazing what actually works in these drinks! And the gamble with late night ‘street food’ followed, one that appears to have paid off!
Wednesday and it was match day. With our host city being absolutely fascinating we felt we needed to witness something perhaps a little more ‘traditional’. So a taxi was take to Zhujiajiao, an ancient town with 1700 years of history about an hour from the city centre. Well worth a visit it proved a good idea although I would be lying if I didn’t admit we struggled with the heat once again.
But if that was hot, it was nothing compared to the stadium for the match. Guilty of simply walking from the metro and putting my flag on display, I have never been so hot in all my life!
With the local and travelling Gooners pretty much matched in numbers by those supporting Bayern it was to prove a pretty competitive and entertaining game. And ultimately, with our late late show, it was the former who went home happiest.
Without meaning to be detrimental to some of the players who played the team had a makeshift look to it in certain areas and as a result we rode our luck at times and Petr Cech was in fine form. But the penalty was ‘soft’ and Theo, Mesut and in particular Alexandre failed to convert 3 excellent chances.
Given our previous 2 games in China against Man City and Hangzhou Greentown didn’t provide a huge amount for our Chinese fanbase to enjoy I was genuinely chuffed for all of them when they got to see our cracking late equaliser. The joy on their faces was a heartwarming sight. And given the fact I hate losing at anything it was pleasing for us too as we struggled to avoid passing out in the heat!
There was some confusion as to what happened next but the penalty shoot out proved successful and the Arsenal end of the ground enjoyed it to the full, a funny old ending to an interesting night.
Dr Beer and World of Beer don’t really need any explanation as to what they specialise in and they played host for a couple of thirst quenchers post match, their air conditioning proving as welcome as their beer menu.
Early this morning it was off to Shanghai’s enormous Hongqiao, the largest railway station in the whole of Asia as we move on.
And that is the trip up to date.
Another win….of sorts…..just. And the city of Beijing awaits for the very last leg.
Please let it be a little bit cooler!!
Right…..where’s that peanut/bean thing…..
Sunday 16th July 2017
Air China are my latest hosts as the pre-season juggernaut moves on to its next country. And as we say goodbye to that enormous island down under it is safe to say Australia has thrown up emotions from amusing to downright astonishing. 3 weeks of my life I definitely will not forget.
On previous tours the ‘Fans Party’ and open training sessions have been totally separate events. On this occasion one followed the other on Friday back in the ANZ Stadium and although entertaining for our host country’s fans I’m sure, it perhaps lacked the intimacy that others were graced with. The chance to see the squad put through their paces is definitely very different to an actual match and the many thousands of Gooners who attended looked happy with the fare on show.
It feels a long long way however, from those Austrian days where being able to watch training twice a day was just a short stroll from our hotel!
Being a Friday it seemed only right that we take in the city’s nightlife. And in the company of my fellow travellers and friends old and new we did just that. From our ‘local’ the Keg & Brew in Surry Hills to the quite vast Star Casino we hit it hard until some time (I think!) between 5 and 6am.
Tony and his colleagues from the Australian Gooners have worked extremely hard organising a variety of events for the huge number of fans in this part of the world. That culminated in a ‘Harbour Cruise’ yesterday afternoon.
The 12 noon start was tough to the say the least but boy were we glad we scraped ourselves out of bed and wearily made our way down to Casino Wharf. Although it is worth mentioning here, a couple of our Friday night Australian hosts didn’t manage to make it……lightweights!! 😉
Picture the scene. Hundreds of Gooners waiting in the sunshine for their boat to arrive. Will it be big enough? Will it be uncomfortable? And most importantly of all…….will it be easy to get a drink?! All questions on the lips of those of us from the other side of the world. With plans being discussed such as ‘setting up camp’ at the bar we hadn’t really considered that they might actually get it right!! Crazy really but probably as a result of knowing how chaotic the Thames boat trip to Fulham has often been!!
The Romford Pele arrived, closely followed by the FA Cup and as we boarded we were met by the crew handing out beers, champagne cocktails and freshly cooked food! Large, airy, fantastic outdoor decks and drinks & food literally being handed to you as you finished your previous one, our ship for 3 hours departed decked out in Arsenal flags for a tour round the spectacular Sydney Harbour. And in glorious sunshine too. It could not possibly have been better.
The scene felt almost surreal. Standing on a boat, a beer in one hand and a king prawn something in the other, Ray Parlour stood over there, Gunnersaurus posing for pictures, the FA Cup sitting proudly on a podium in the corner and the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge as a backdrop. A quite incredible 3 hours and a fine way, other than the second game on the tour, to conclude what has been a mind blowing 3 weeks.
If Thursday’s game felt a real occasion, last night took it to another level.
Throw in the fact there was an Aussie Rules match and ‘Frozen on Ice’ also taking place in the same complex, the 120+ thousand people attending could prove a logistical nightmare.
With trains departing the city centre every few minutes however (and free to every person with a match ticket), it proved an efficient way for the majority of the 83+ thousand football attendees to make their way to the stadium. A kind of mass mini red & white migration of Gooners full of anticipation.
Different to Thursday Aussie Gooner and friend Mark had very kindly and generously invited me to enjoy a bit of half way line hospitality with him and his family.
A first for me in all the years I have been going to football, I was sat next to a beer filled fridge! Which was terrible as you can imagine! So when Olly and Rambo’s excellent goals were joined by Mo’s deflected effort in putting us 3 goals to the good, I was enjoying some fine food and refreshment at the same time.
The second period should have seen further goals, the width of the woodwork preventing just that on more than one occasion. But overall it has given us a 100% positive start from the first 2 of our pre-season campaign.
Every town, city and area we have visited has proved to be beyond expectation. From snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef to wine tasting in the Barossa Valley. From Melbourne’s hidden bar scene to driving the Great Ocean Road. From the Karunda Scenic Railway & rainforest near Cairns to the incredible Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island. From Kangaroos to Koalas. From Wombats to Wallabies. From the Saturday nightlife of Adelaide & Brisbane to the wildness of Tasmania. From parmagiana to oysters. And of course, the excitement and iconic sights of Sydney, it has been one helluva cracking journey.
I mention kindness and generosity above, both positive things to experience. Along with friendliness they all apply to everything we have experienced since stepping off our plane in Melbourne 3 weeks ago. Australia is a country with a huge amount to offer the visitor. But without the above it might not be such a fantastic experience. More than any other country I have been to so far, these 3 things apply. And for that, on behalf of my travelling party of 6, I thank you all.
So, with friends old and new left behind and a painfully early start this morning, that pretty much brings me up to date. I am only a couple of hours into my 11 hour flight to Shanghai and an extremely different package of culture, life and people to those experienced in Oz.
Over land and sea.
Friday 14th July 2017
Although it can be dressed up as a holiday, our great football club have been my own personal excuse for the destination for a number of years now. And that has resulted in me being extremely lucky to have visited some incredible locations around the globe.
Those trips will always involve pre-season matches of course and after a highly entertaining couple of weeks or so I am writing these notes after the first on this particular adventure.
I left you last time during my highly relaxing train trip out of Cairns and down the North East coast to Airlie Beach, a town recovering from a hugely powerful and damaging cyclone that hit them just a couple of months back. Definitely a party town for backpackers, the young and the young at heart we made the very most of that aspect in addition to taking a boat out to the Whitsunday Islands and the quite stunningly beautiful Whitehaven Beach. Definitely a highlight in a trip of many.
Saturday morning’s short flight to Brisbane gave as the chance to enjoy another city at the weekend and like those before it, they certainly know how to party! The Fortitude Valley area was as entertaining as it was crazy before Sunday we scraped ourselves out of bed to take a look at some of this country’s resident animals at the Lone Pine Sanctuary. The chance to cuddle a Koala and spoon a kangaroo proved too much of an opportunity to turn down!!
The island of Tasmania played host next, the city of Hobart and nearby town of Richmond providing another totally different glimpse into life in this vast country.
And that brings us to Sydney, a city that couldn’t be any more different both to our lasr or any city we have visited.
Our attendance coincided with a showery first afternoon and a stroll around Darling Harbour, the CBD, the historical Rocks area and Circular Quay, our first chance to see the iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House being as the sun set.
Two of those in our party have better heads for heights so spent yesterday morning walking over the very summit of the bridge whilst the rest of us took to the water for the quite spectacular views the gorgeously sunny day presented.
The number of Arsenal shirts around the city has been incredible. Genuinely. Every single street of every single area, all smiling and full of anticipation for the days ahead.
And they were all part of the 80 thousand strong mass that headed to Sydney’s ANZ Stadium famous for Olympic feats and England’s World Cup win in the egg chasing.
Although there are never any nerves for these games, when you get there the sense of occasion is both massive and something to behold.
And as always, like everywhere else in the world we play, the stadium was a mass of red, white and eager anticipation.
The game was interesting and mildly entertaining with the BFG and Alex grabbing the 2 goals to claim victory but as always the levels of genuine excitement are secondary to the importance of preparation.
So a good introduction to the busy city that is Sydney.
Today we have walked from Bondi Beach to Coogee, incredible views along one of the world’s most iconic coastlines.
And now we are on our way to the fans party and open training.
More to follow….
Thursday 6th July 2017
Just like with my last thoughts you join onboard another aspect of travel, this time on the ‘Spirit of Queensland’ train having departed Cairns this morning.
I’ll try not to bore you with too many details and I’m certainly not going to reveal photographs of me or our group on the beach, at stunning locations or in late night bars. Other people’s holiday snaps are never welcome!
But the one thing I will say is I have never been to a country where the people have been more welcoming or friendly in my entire life. It has been a total pleasure to be here.
We loved Melbourne, walking tours, a trip to the MCG and the city’s awesome ‘hidden’ bar scene proving to be a fantastic introduction to our adventure.
4 days driving the Great Ocean Road up to Adelaide followed with beautiful beaches, wildlife and scenery followed by a Saturday night out at our destination and a very entertaining trip into the Barossa Valley for wine and port drinking. I would like to use the word ‘tasting’ here but I don’t remember anyone spitting any out!!
Then it was onto Cairns and beautiful warm weather has accompanied both our trip into the rainforest and the incredible experience that is swimming, snorkelling and diving at the Great Barrier Reef.
So overall it has been packed, tiring but all in all a wonderful experience so far.
Football wise we are still going through the ‘silly’ season of course but yesterday’s new signing is certainly welcome and the player comes with the type of pedigree that will hopefully see him go on to be a fine addition to the squad. Welcome Alexandre, we hope you join the numerous French players who have gone on to be Gooner legends.
Although imminent the wait goes on for the TV companies to determine our accurate early season fixture list and as a result very few specific plans can be made as yet. The Community Shield ticket application window being open however, is a good sign the new season is fast approaching.
And Sydney awaits as our pre-season gets very much underway.
Before that however, we arrive in the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands, Airlie Beach later today, head to Brisbane next and then off to Hobart in Tasmania for a couple of days early next week.
Right….where’s the bar on this train?