A “Travels” is a rare visitor at this time of the year; however as we have reached the Final of Europe’s premier club competition what better way than to mark it with recollections of what was, for many of those who went, a very favourite European trip.
The 2010 – 2011 Champions League campaign began with exceptionally smooth progress through a first stage comprising Marseille, Zilina and Spartak Moscow, ending with Chelsea topping the group on 15 points, having won 5 games and lost 1, the latter in a tough visit to Moscow, and, when the draw for the Round of 16 was made, there could have been few fans unhappy with a pairing against FC Copenhagen, a tie from which the club could be fairly confident of progressing.
Having sourced possible flight and hotel combinations for every other team we could have been drawn against, but improbably omitted Copenhagen, the usual scramble to secure a flight and a hotel ensued. So it was that I found myself on a BA flight from Heathrow Terminal 5 on the morning of Monday 21st February. Over the years, I’ve tended to find myself flying out of Gatwick more than Heathrow (although as I’m now living in the heart of London, I now try and arrange to fly out of there in preference to anywhere else). T5 is light years away from the rest of the Heathrow monolith, being airy and having a feeling of space. The shopping is also rather good, and flying with BA has all the advantages of a reserved seat and free baggage.
This trip was the furthest I’d been north, and as the plane started its approach to Copenhagen, it was possible to see from my window that the country’s coast was not only bleak and sepia-tinted, it was also literally freezing. The weather forecast for the week had promised sub-zero temperatures, so I had invested in a thermal vest and socks, and planned to attend the game in many more layers than is my norm.
Copenhagen Airport is brilliant to get to and from. None of your getting on a airport bus here, but a rapid train ride from the airport to the city centre in about 15 minutes for the equivalent of £7. I’d travelled out to Denmark on my own, but was meeting up with a party later in the evening, having declined an invitation to visit a brewhouse almost as soon as I landed, when all I felt like doing was finding my hotel, having an orientation walk and getting a square meal.
I’d managed to get quite a good deal on a hotel in the centre of town, and speedily located it. Having checked in, dumped the luggage, and been charmed by the fact the room even had a kitchenette, I set off for a walk into the biting cold dusk.
I remain quite sad that due to the fact it was the middle of winter, I didn’t see as much of the city as I’d have liked, and certainly didn’t see the royal palace, which I’d hoped to do, and the famous Tivoli Gardens on Hans Christian Anderson Boulevard are closed in February. However, the walk took me past the Tivoli and on towards the Radhus, as it got darker and colder. After a brief perusal of the main shopping thoroughfare, where I pondered and rejected the possibility of buying another sweater (a decision I later regretted), I decided to find my dinner. Having walked back towards H.C. Boulevard, I found rather a nice looking Italian restaurant and walked in.
As readers of the Travels will recall, I have a very poor grasp of most European modern languages, but my Danish extends no further than “Tack”. So in order to get over the language difficulty in Ristorante Vesuvio, I decided I might as well give the Italian a run out. And surprisingly, it was rather successful, and I had an extremely enjoyable meal of bruschetta, tortelloni melanzane e zucchini, and sorbetto Vesuvio (lemon sorbet with limoncello liquor). Once fortified, I headed off towards the train station, to meet another member of the party, who was arriving on a later flight. Just as I was saying hello to H., it so happened that Dazza A. (whose prophecy regarding the Milanese coleslaw was so accurate – see Travels with the Chels – Milan), who was also joining the trip, was short-cutting through the station with his half-brother, Kim, who was over from Norway for the game. Our final renegade, Mr E.,who’d escaped the carnage of the Milan lurgy, was also in town and, as a real ale buff, had reluctantly agreed to meet the rest of us in the Old English Pub in Vesterbrogade, but had retreated to his lodgings to change his frock.
It’s usually the case that any English/Irish pub you wander into on a European trip will be stuffed full of Chels, but Copenhagen seemed to be the exception. We found this slightly strange, but settled down for an evening with reasonably priced alcohol, a band playing U2-type numbers, and Sky Sports News on the TV. About 9pm, not having had any dinner, H., Dazza and Kim went out to the conveniently-located Burglar King next door. When they returned, it was with the news that the reason that the Old English Pub was so quiet was that everyone was probably in the Cafe Guldhornene on Vestegarde, which had heavily promoted itself as the home of Chelsea in Copenhagen, and who were said to be running promotions on drinks. Mr E. decided he was feeling his age at this point (about midnight) and wanted to be up at the crack of dawn for his day-trip to Malmo, so he left the rest of us wastrels to make our way to the proposed den of iniquity.
As we left Vesterbrogade and crossed over to HCA Boulevard, it seemed to have got even colder. And as we reached the Rathaus, we felt the first flakes of snow drifting gently to the ground. Although old enough to know better, this was the signal to caper around the square shouting “It’s snowing! It’s snowing” (like we hadn’t had enough snow in London during that winter). After a slight disagreement about the location of the Guldhornene, as is usually the case, a colossal drunken roar signalled that we were in fact near the venue, so we followed the noise down a side street. The bar appeared to be subterranean, and we could see a fairly crowded looking room through the basement windows. However, we weren’t ready for the heat and the noise which hit us. It was obvious that a fair proportion of those who had travelled to Denmark were in there. The Tuborg, at the equivalent of just £2.20 a pint, was fairly flowing, and so were the bawdy songs, in particular one coined especially for this trip to one of those Euro-type tunes:-
“We’re in Denmark
We’re in Denmark
We’re on the p..s
We’re in Denmark”
(*in general terms presumably, I certainly didn’t see him in there).
In spite of the heaving crowd, the bar staff were very efficient, but after we’d had a couple of drinks we decided to call it a night and returned to our respective hotels, having arranged to meet again at the Old English pub the next day for a drink before a pre-match lunch.
I shall never forget the next morning. Having turned on the TV for some local news, in particular hoping to see pics of Chelsea fans out and about in Copenhagen, most of the coverage was, justifiably, about the awful earthquake in New Zealand. However, further down the news was indeed unintelligible reporting which appeared to have taken place outside and around the Guldhornene, and much to my amusement, I saw various face I recognised cavorting around in the background – however, happily not mine nor my friends, the camera crew must have bailed out before we arrived.
Having breakfasted on an excellent buffet spread, in spite of having said I’d meet the others at the pub, I whistled up H. and asked if a walk was in order. Meeting outside the Rathaus, we wondered if we could make it as far as the Carlsberg factory for the free tour, but decided it was probably too far away so we did the photo ops by the lovely statue of Hans Christian Anderson and the town hall, and then headed down towards the river. It was a brilliantly sunlit day but bitingly cold, even more so than the previous day and, pausing by the river before we turned back towards the Rathaus, we were astonished to see it was freezing over. Heading back towards the pub, we passed the Tivoli Gardens and I peeped through the railings for a proper look. It looked extremely attractive clad in its winter mantle, and again I felt disappointment that I wasn’t able to visit.
The team congregated at the pub, and although it was midday by this time, all I wanted was coffee. I was feeling sleepy due to the extreme cold and managed to nod off whilst the others watched England getting mauled by Holland in cricket’s World Cup. Mr E. joined us about 12.30, having spent the morning on a train between Copenhagen and Malmo where he’d managed to avoid getting detained by border control in spite of not having taken his passport with him.
I had sourced what seemed a suitable venue locally for a cheap lunch, but Mr E. thought it sounded ghastly, so he decided to go and visit another brewhouse, where we would meet him later whilst the rest of us headed to a restaurant call Ad Libtorv. This sounded rather a fun place where you buy a space for roughly 15 pounds, but then you could eat and drink whatever you liked from a buffet which included hot and cold dishes, breads, salads and soups. The drinks even included wine and beer as well as soft drinks. En route, H. decided he fancied a bag of crisps or similar for the match, and we spotted a likely looking shop called Tiger. This turned out to be a magical cross between Poundland and Primark and we wandered around the aisles examining local delicacies. H. found a massive bag of the equivalent of Kettle Chips for about a pound. Then we headed towards the restaurant, grabbed a table and were soon stuffing away. H. thought the beer rather watery, but managed to drink a half a pint of white wine, a tremendous achievement. I merely sipped a glass of red. Dazza A. and Kim tried the wine and the beer, as well as the coke. Whilst we were enjoying our meal, the skies had grown ever more cloudy, and again the snow began to fall. Whilst the boys were sitting in the restaurant, I went back to my hotel to put on a number of layers as the weather forecast had threatened that the temperature could be down to -6 by the time the game started. I returned to the restaurant to rejoin the boys, and as we were heading out the door, the bus we needed to take us to the brewhouse pulled up over the road. We travelled through the streets of Copenhagen which were growing increasingly snowy, and upon alighting walked to the brewhouse which was probably a mile and a half away from the ground and which Mr E. proposed walking to. In the snow. And sub-zero temperatures.
In Stephen Fry’s film of Vile Bodies, “Bright Young Things”, near the beginning the heroine, Nina, says to her cousin Miles “I’ve never been so frantically bored in all my life”. Which pretty well sums up those three hours. I love to travel and I like to meet the locals, but my idea of pre-match hell is being stuck in a pub with real ale enthusiasts and no Chelsea fans. Eventually the time to depart arrived and we headed off towards the ground, with the thermometer now in the region of -8. In order to get to the ground, we ended up having to cross a park. In civic, civilised, environmentally friendly Copenhagen, cyclists have priority, even over pedestrians and we found ourselves having to dodge them as they speeded around us as I dragged myself with frozen feet towards the welcoming lights of the Parken, cursing that I hadn’t insisted on a cab.
However, we finally got there, and were searched by friendly stewards who happily didn’t manage to find H’s hip flask (tucked inside my bra) or the packet of B U M (delicious fruit and vodka drink from Germany, provided by my nephew) hidden under my hat.
Once waved through, we made our way into the bright, modern stadium and I decided a loo visit was definitely needed due to the cold. Carlsberg don’t do ladies’ toilets, but if they did, they’d probably be like the ones at Parken. Having rejoined the rest of the class (who’d obtained some Carlsberg that was suspiciously light on alcohol), we found seats together and warmed up vocally. I have to say most of what was a solid, albeit fairly pedestrian game, warmed only by a brace from Anelka, taking him to six goals in seven Champions League games and the presence of dear old Jesper Gronkjaer in the home side, passed me by. I have never been so cold in my life, and I shall always be grateful to the Police and stewards for not implementing the usual CL lock-in after the game. Chances are, if that had happened, many of the travelling fans would have ended up with frost-bite. My toes were absolutely numb by this time, and, having managed to lose Dazza A. and Kim along the way, Mr E. and H. ended up dragging me back across the park towards the brewhouse. Proof, if it were needed, of the bitter frost was provided on the way back when we passed occasional pint of lager, abandoned and frozen.
By the time we arrived back at the brewhouse, they were winding down for the evening, but we were welcomed in for a drink and the chance to warm up, and it was interesting to see that Danish CL television coverage was being hosted by none other than Peter Schmeichel. It was literally one drink, however, and we bade farewell to the owner and trekked back to the bus stop. Luckily we only had to wait a couple of minutes and within another 15, I was back at my hotel, having said goodbye to the chaps, who were flying back to London on the first plane. I crawled into bed, where I slept soundly due to the cold and the evening’s perambulations.
As I wasn’t flying back until mid-afternoon, the next morning afforded a brief opportunity to pick up some souvenirs, so, having left my holdall with reception, I ventured out into another snow shower and not only visited a tat shop for local gifts, but also popped into Tiger and bought a purse and a note book. On my way there, I’d bumped into a Mantle twin. In spite of the cold and snow he was sweating profusely and drinking water, having been in the Cafe Guldhornene until 5am!
After picking up my luggage, I caught the train back to the airport, and found the time for an authentic, delicious smorgasbord of smoked salmon on rye bread. Probably the gastronomic highlight of what was a hugely enjoyable trip.
And I’m sure we all hope and pray that this week’s trip is just as enjoyable. I’m off with my party (including Dazza A., Mr E. and H.) to Stuttgart on Friday for an overnight stay, prior to arriving in Munich by train about 10am on Saturday morning. I’ll be wearing my now-lucky oldish shirt with Blue Baby on the back, so feel free to say hello. I’ll also be wearing my lucky hoody, my lucky jewellery, my favourite lucky jeans and my lucky underwear. My hair will be in its lucky bun (I’ll be glad to get it cut), and I’ll be listening to the lucky songs (Three Little Birds and The Liquidator) on the i-pod. And know this; in my 10 European away trips, I have travelled from Heathrow to four of them. And my record? 100% – see, lucky airport. And if we win, there’ll be a special edition of Travels next week.
Wherever you are watching the game, whether it’s in the Allianz Arena, in SW6, in a hostelry local to you, or in the comfort of your own home; whether it be on your own, or with an army of friends, I sincerely hope that we all enjoy the most wonderful night in our club’s rich history on Saturday.
I’ll be here sporadically throughout the summer, but in the meantime you can follow me on Twitter @BlueBaby67