Wednesday, August 02, 2006

I got your Dussel right here!

So we embark on our 2nd long train ride of the trip, from Brussels to Koln, or as you might call it Cologne, which would eventually lead us to Dusseldorf. We were heading to Dusseldorf for an actual game. Yes, 5 days into our “World Cup Trip” we were finally going to see a game. Before that though, there’s something related to our train ride of which I must inform you.

You see, a day earlier, before we left for Brugge we stopped at the ticket desk to make a reservation for the train to Koln to ensure we got on the right train to arrive at the right time. We request the reservations and the gentleman at the desk checks to see that they are available and finds that they are. He then asks for some sort of payment, at which point I pulled out my credit card. It had been previously decided I would pay for any such expenses and we would settle accounts when we returned home. I handed him my Capital One Mastercard, because you know, they don’t charge those ridiculous international transaction fees that some of the other companies do. He took a quick look at it and said,”I cannot accept this.” We were all somewhat dumbfounded because he had already assured us they took Mastercard. I knew I wasn’t over my limit, so what was the problem? “This card has not been signed,” he said, and he handed it back. I took it, mulling over my fate and my options. It was at this point that a member of our travelling party made his first grievious error of the trip. He decided this would be the best time to debate a Euro on procedures for rendering payment and fraud protections. “We cannot accept any card that has not been signed by the holder.” I think at some point he also mentioned that they must pick their cards up at the bank and must sign them before they leave. But what you care about is what Bryan said next. What he said was…as I stood there slightly confused and wondering if any of my credit or debit cards were signed…he said, “In America they tell us not to sign the back so people ask for I.D.” At that point, my chin hit my chest and air was expelled from my mouth (I don’t know whether it was audible or not). I knew it was coming, you know it was coming, but Bryan didn’t appear to see what was coming. What came was this, “Well thankfully sir, we are not in America.” I looked at Bryan as it made impact, he was brieftly staggered but fought through. Oddly, the man behind the counter had no problem taking the card after I signed it right in front of him. I'm guessing he was in some pool to see who got to deliver that line first that day, and I’m guessing he won. Even if there wasn’t a pool, he still won.

So we arrive in Cologne after a very enjoyable ride with some lovely scenery along the way. We finally encounter World Cup crowds and World Cup atmosphere. We saw a group of American fans dressed as the Harlem Globetrotters and toting something that played the accompanying music. They were at every game… we could not get away from them. Anyway, the train to Dusseldorf was full of people, mainly U.S. fans to the point were you were happy to find a place to stand where you were only touching 3 people. Of course, I found a seat, but that’s a different story.

We got to Dusseldorf. Found Bryan’s friend who used to be a exchange student of his parents. She helped us find our hotel. We found lunch (Hello Turkish food!). We walked along the Rhine. Then we went back to the hotel and headed for the game. It was about then that we realized we shouldn’t have tarried so long at the Rhine. Our 35 minute train ride, even with the crazy—though nice—German ensuring us every 5 minutes we would make it on time could not arrive fast enough. Once there (the game was actually in Gelsenkerchen, a suburb of Dusseldorf), we had to get to the stadium. No easy task when thousands of other people are going the same way. We got to the stadium and through security and found our seat apporximately 90 second before the game started.

About our seats. For this game we had four. At one point we thought we might be met by a friend of Lisa’s but that didn’t happen. That was lucky for me because even though I had four consecutively numbered seats in the same section, one was across the aisle that featured a barrier down the middle of it, no less. With the extra seat I was able to sit with my friends and watch a rather lackluster defeat…

Even so, it was an amazing experience. I’ve said it before on this blog but just in case you missed it I’ll say it again. There is nothing like a big time (or even moderately sized) sporting event where one of the teams is representing your country. People in costumes, girls in very patriotic bikinis, continuous chanting and cheering , it's almost sensory overload. Especially when you mix in the world class athletes.

So they lost. It sucked. And then we had to get back to the train station. No easy task. The trams and buses were completely overloaded and who knew how long the wait would be for one we could actually fit in. So we started walking. In hindsight, this might have been a mistake as the stadium was actually about 2 and half to 3 miles from the train station. We walked and I realized my foot really hurt. We kept walking. About 30 minutes in we arrived at the entry and exit to fan fest. (Don’t get me started) They had a bus stop there but usually by the time the bus got there it had already been filled way up the road. There was some discussion about whether we should wait or not but I just stopped walking. Luckily, some guy running the stop decided that a bus headed to the stadium should stop and pick up the handful of us waiting there. So we got on a completely empty bus, thank God. Oh, as we were about to enter the bus, Mia Hamm, star of the women’s US team and spokesman for all women’s sports walked by. She seemed really intent on not being noticed and I let her be. Not that I could have thought of anything to say anyway.

As I mentioned in one of my posts from Germany, the ride back was actually quite fun as I sat with some English and Scottish guys and we talked about all American sports. One of them was convinced that John Stockton of Utah Jazz fame had a nickname equal to that of his Mailman Karl Malone counterpart. I had to sadly report that I knew of no such nickname. Also seated with us was a girl from Tyler…Texas…what are the chances?

We finally got back to the hotel and me to my crap bed, which was actually one of those that fold out chairs that you see in hospitals. I slept, though. For tomorrow we would finally start enjoying Germany on a whole new level.

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