Blogelona – Part II

FRIDAY 20th OCTOBER 2017

 

12:45pm – The Big Reveal

Well, that didn’t exactly go according to plan. I picked Ollie up from school an hour ago, as arranged with his headteacher (I explained that we would never normally take him out of school, but Monarch had rather fucked up my travel plans), and when the lady from the office brought him out, he was sobbing. My immediate concern was that he thought something was wrong, or he was in trouble; but, no, he was crying because I was dragging him away from his power point presentation to the class.

Once the teacher had confirmed his group could make their presentation after half-term, he was somewhat placated – if a little jittery at being removed from school for a surprise trip. After all, my surprise trips are not always better than school, so he was understandably apprehensive.

However, I took him home and fed him, and then as soon as we got on the train to Manchester Airport, I revealed that we were off to Barcelona – to see his idol, Messi, play against Malaga the following evening. To say his face lit up would be an understatement. Many of our family and friends apparently shed a little tear of joy, when watching the video of his reaction on Facebook, but being the rugged manly-man that I am, I naturally held it together rather well. *lies*

 

9:00pm – Epic Burgers and Shit

Following an uneventful journey (although, after the week I’ve had, anything other than a full cavity search was a win), we arrived safely at the Airport Hotel shortly before 8pm; and, having checked in, immediately headed to the bar for dinner.

Ollie has been buzzing, partly because our hotel room is apparently the best he has ever seen (clearly forgetting the ‘themed’ rooms at Disneyland Paris and Alton Towers, which we paid a small fortune for), with a bathroom described as ‘epic’ – he celebrated this fact, by immediately taking a large shit – and partly because he has just devoured a huge burger (with bacon) and fries, washed down with a glass of cold milk.

I wasn’t sure anything was going to top the bathroom, but the burger appeared to excite him even more, and he kept pinching himself on the arm throughout the meal, to ensure it wasn’t all a dream. Bless.

To be fair, his burger did look amazing, and I only wish I had ordered the same. Unfortunately, being a manly grown-up, I opted for the ‘Blackened Aberdeen Angus’ burger, topped with foie gras, instead. I’ve never tried foie gras before, and to be honest I’m still not 100% on what it is, but it’s safe to say I won’t ever have it again. That’ll teach me for watching Masterchef, and getting all carried away in the moment.

(I have just Googled what foie gras is, and had I known it translates as ‘fat liver’, I would have definitely avoided it.)

We have a very long day ahead of us tomorrow, so we’re off to bed.

 

SATURDAY 21st OCTOBER 2017

 

1:15pm – Hotel No. 2

No, not another of Ollie’s bowel movements, but our second hotel.

As explained previously (https://middlerageddad.com/2017/10/20/blogelona-part-i), I only booked the extra night in the airport hotel, because Monarch ruined our travel plans by going bust, so we are now checked in to our intended accommodation, for tonight and tomorrow.

This hotel is far more ‘budget’, and far less ‘epic’ (Ollie’s disappointment upon first glimpse of our new bathroom was palpable, and not immediately followed by a celebratory dump this time), but when we get back from the football tonight, it will be very late, and we’ll be ready to crash, so this is merely a base.

Time to explore before the match!

 

00:30am – The Camp Nou

Wow.

The Camp Nou was every bit as spectacular as we had hoped – which was for the best, as we spent about nine hours there.

Ollie insisted we get to the stadium early, to look around the megastore and buy some souvenirs, so we planned our route on the metro system, and off we went. Any travel disruption, resulting from the Catalan Independence clashes in the city centre, didn’t materialise, and we arrived shortly before 2:00pm – nearly seven hours before kick-off.

Ok, the megastore spanned three floors, and contained every single item you could conceivably stamp a Barcelona badge on (Barça eggcup, anyone?), but even Ollie would have struggled to fill seven hours looking at red and blue tat, so we ended up sitting in the sunshine having some lunch – and a much-needed (large) Estrella for Daddy.

After a while, we were asked to leave (well, not just us, but everyone in the bar), so security could get the stadium ready. Fortunately, a separate area was open, where Ollie managed to fleece me further still, and we ended up purchasing three photographs of him alongside his Barça idols, as well as ‘signing’ for the club.

NB: May contain trace elements of photoshopping

He then played football for a bit, with a younger Spanish lad (Ollie didn’t ask his name, but did shake hands with him afterwards), and before we knew it, it was time to head into the stadium.

We’d been advised to take our seats as soon as the gates opened, to get those all-important photos, and although that meant queuing for a while (during which I was ‘persuaded’ to buy a Barcelona scarf), it did mean we got a spectacular view of the stadium before it quickly filled.

Having dined on a hotdog and some popcorn (following the Barça crisps Ollie had insisted on outside), our long wait finally came to an end, and the match kicked off.

Messi, in contrast to nearly every match he has played this season, had an uncharacteristically quiet ninety minutes on the pitch, but there were still touches, flicks, and jinking runs, which showed why he is the world’s best footballer. Luis Suarez (former Liverpool striker/cannibal), also had a quiet game, but whereas Messi interspersed his tame performance with brief touches of class, Suarez did the opposite, and his only involvement of note, was to miss an open goal. He then devoured a ball boy (whole) in anger.

The match finished 2-0 to Barcelona, and whilst Ollie didn’t get to see his idol score (well, he did, but it was ruled offside), he witnessed a Barça victory in one of the world’s greatest stadia – even if it was apparently only three-quarters full. We were also directly behind the goal for this:

We had an amazing day, only marred by the fact my camera was stolen on the way back to our hotel. Apparently, Barcelona is the pickpocketing capital of Europe (a fact, it seems, everyone apart from us knew), and I only realised it had gone when unloading my pockets in our room. I thought I had been careful, but obviously not careful enough.

Looking on the bright side (rather uncharacteristically), whilst we have certainly lost some precious photos that I had not yet downloaded, all the ones of this trip were taken on my phone, and it could have been much worse. My wallet or phone could have been taken, and at least we knew nothing about the theft, which is infinitely preferable to being mugged.

After the initial upset and anger had subsided, I consoled myself with the knowledge that, although I will never know what became of my lovely camera, if there is such a thing as karma, then the scumbag who took it will hopefully meet a slow and painful death, in the not-too-distant future.

That may sound vicious, but anyone who steals from a father and son, knowing they are taking not just something of financial value, but irreplaceable memories, deserves everything they get. If that happens to be syphilis, or a flesh-eating tropical disease, then so be it. Fuck ’em.

Anyway, time for bed. Tomorrow, we’re off to the Camp Nou again (no, really).

 

SUNDAY 22nd OCTOBER 2017

 

9:30am – Pickpocket Prevention Pants

Apparently, the nine hours we spent at Camp Nou yesterday were insufficient, so today we are returning to take the official tour. Well, we’re not coming back any time soon, so we might as well make the most of it.

Despite it being very warm outside – as it has been since we arrived two days ago – I have opted to wear jeans, as the pockets are very tight, and far more secure than last night’s shorts (even though my camera was concealed in a buttoned pocket).

If some prick thinks he can rob me today, he’ll have to go past mine to get at anything, and if there’s one thing I will notice, it’s some Spanish reprobate manhandling my chorizo.

 

4:35pm – Camp Nou, Take Two

I’m very glad I paid extra to do the stadium tour, on top of last night’s match.

Not only was it ‘access all areas’ – with the exception of the home changing room – they offer a superb audio guide, with videos, games and quizzes, that kept Ollie entertained for over two hours. We spent ages in the museum, saw the press room, walked down the players’ tunnel onto the pitch, sat in the dugout, then climbed to the very top of the stadium to sit in the media box. It was brilliant.

On the way back, we eventually tracked down the police station, but gave up trying to report last night’s theft, when we were told that not only was there a two hour wait, but we needed our passports to do so (and I didn’t fancy dragging Ollie all the way back to our hotel to retrieve them). Besides, the place was full of Brits and Americans, who had all been victims the night before, and the majority had come off far worse than us.

In the end, I decided it was not worth walking a couple of miles, and waiting a few hours, for the sake of a camera we would never get back, particularly when our time was so limited. Besides, thanks to my security-conscious decision to wear jeans today, it’s like the Amazon rainforest down there.

For our final evening, Ollie has decided we should soak up some local culture and cuisine, by watching Liverpool v Spurs, in an Irish bar, while eating pizza.

 

MONDAY 23rd OCTOBER 2017

 

12:15pm – Bye Bye Barça

We’ve managed to negotiate our way back to the airport in good time for our flight, and we’re now sat playing Gin Rummy (with Ollie’s new Barça cards, obviously), while waiting to board.

We’ve had an amazing time, and I refuse to let a theft spoil that. Actually, I’m more pissed off that Ollie is currently destroying me 304 – 5.

Bonjour Barcelona (that’s Spanish for farewell)

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Blogelona – Part I

This afternoon, I am taking Ollie on a surprise trip for the weekend…. to Barcelona.

The main reason for going, is that tomorrow evening we will (hopefully) watch Barcelona play Malaga at the famous (and enormous) Camp Nou stadium:

Like many kids his age, Ollie is obsessed with Barça, and in particular a certain footballer by the name of Lionel Messi (who, by all accounts, is rather good).

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The last time a Lionel was this globally popular, it was either Mr Richie (of pop music fame) or Mr Blair (of tap dancing, and Give Us A Clue ‘fame’), throughout much of the 1980s.

In fact, a cursory glance through the dark abyss of Google, reveals that after Messi, Richie and Blair, the fourth most popular ‘Lionel’ search is for Lionel Logue who, let’s be honest, no one has heard of (apparently, he was an Australian speech therapist, who treated King George VI in the 1920s).

After that, there is only one other Lionel of note (Canadian athlete, Sanders) before Google assumes your chubby little sausage fingers have failed, and what you really wanted was ‘Lion-O’ from Thundercats.

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Appalling tan-lines

Whilst Ollie has no idea about our trip (although he will by the time most of you read this), it was essentially his idea. By that, I mean he asked me to take him to Barcelona a few months ago, to watch his idol in action, but I told him there was no chance, as it was too bloody expensive (plus, I didn’t want him realising how woefully shit Stockport County are). Don’t get me wrong, I love treating my boys, but I draw the line at extravagant jaunts abroad, purely to watch a football match.

To Ollie’s credit, he knows that he will never get what he wants by begging, especially when I have already – very firmly – said no, so he accepted the trip wasn’t going to happen. As far as he was concerned, the dream was over.

Then, one night, I decided to investigate what it would actually cost, more out of curiosity than anything else – and because, deep down, I kept thinking how fucking cool it would be to watch a match at the Camp Nou.

I wouldn’t say that I was pleasantly surprised by what I discovered, as the total cost (once I added together the tickets, flights and accommodation) was roughly what I had expected, but the more I thought about it, the more I badly wanted to go. I began to imagine his little face, as I told him we were going to Barcelona, to watch the one man he would happily swap his own father for. I can’t wait to see his reaction.

The more I weighed up the expense, against how happy it would make him (and, by association, me), the more I adopted a ‘fuck it’ mentality. After all, he won’t always be this excited about something (in just over five years, he will be a teenager, and then he won’t be enthused about anything), and you never know what is around the corner.

Look, I don’t intend to be morbid, and I don’t want you thinking I have recently received bad news regarding my health (which, unless the wife has been intercepting my mail, I most certainly have not), but you need to make the most of life while you can, and if that means splashing out on a city break to make my son’s year, then so be it.

In the end, whilst I was pretty much convinced we were going, it was a conversation with Ollie a few months ago that eventually made up my mind:

“Daddy, have you heard Messi might leave Barcelona next summer?”

“Really?”

“Yeah, he’ll be out of contract and might go to Man City. So, we could watch him play there instead!”

Fuck that. I would rather re-mortgage the house, to cover the cost of going to Barcelona first class, via Dubai, than take my son to that pathetic moneybags excuse for a football club. Right there and then, I decided we were off to Barcelona.

When I looked at the fixtures, I realised Barça tend to play on Sunday evenings, which meant I would need to wait for a school holiday (not that I particularly wanted to try and squeeze the trip into a term-time weekend anyway). Then, the more I investigated, I realised that there was only one workable fixture – against Malaga, on Sunday 22nd October.

Tickets for Barcelona matches vary wildly in price. The cheapest seats – understandably – are right up in the Heavens, so I decided early on that I would rather spend a bit more to get a good view, and avoid the onset of crippling vertigo. After all, we’re only doing this once.

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Having chosen the price band I wanted, I counted down the days until the tickets went on sale, and then quickly purchased two (and I’m glad I did, as I checked back half an hour later, and could no longer find two seats together – we don’t tend to get that problem inside Edgeley Park).

In terms of our flights, I was initially tempted to book with Ryanair, but three things changed my mind:

  1. The flight home was early on the Monday morning, and since Barcelona matches sometimes kick-off at 8.45pm, there was every chance it would be a late night for Ollie on the Sunday, with only a few hours of sleep before leaving for the airport;
  2. The outbound flight (on the Saturday), wasn’t scheduled to land until 7.10pm, and whilst this wouldn’t necessarily pose a problem, I had read somewhere that La Liga clubs often move their fixtures to the Saturday night to accommodate TV scheduling. If that happened to our match, the Ryanair flight wouldn’t get us into Barcelona in sufficient time to make kick-off – which was a risk I didn’t fancy taking;
  3. Ryanair always appear to be the cheaper option, but by the time you add on the various additional charges (some of which are compulsory), the cost escalates. For example, you have to pre-book seats, and if you want hold luggage, that’s extra too. In the end, by the time I had indicated that, yes, I would very much like to have a fully-qualified pilot please (little did I know, they would soon be in short supply), and once I had answered the question ‘Sure, will you be wanting fuel in the plane as well, will you?’ in the affirmative, the total cost rapidly exceeded the GDP of a small African nation.

In the end, it worked out considerably cheaper to book our flights with different airlines, and because I was already struggling to stay within budget (plus, the flight times were much better), I decided the extra admin was worth it.

I then found a nice – albeit basic – hotel, just off Las Ramblas, and booked the Saturday and Sunday nights to complete our trip.

I’d done it. I had successfully arranged a three day trip to Barcelona, for my son and I to see the (current) greatest footballer in the world in action. All I had to do now, was hope Messi didn’t suffer an injury in the intervening six weeks, because surely that was the only thing which could possibly ruin our visit?…

Just a couple of weeks later, I realised how close I had come to making a serious error with our flights, when Ryanair revealed to the world they had committed what, in business terms, is known as a ‘monumental fuck-up’, by arranging for all their pilots to go off on holiday at the same time. Genius.

The news got better, too (well, for me, anyway), because soon afterwards, Barça revealed they were switching the match to the Saturday night after all. I had come so close to booking with Ryanair, and now not only was there a good chance that flight was cancelled, even if it did go ahead, it wouldn’t have got us to the match in time.

I breathed a sigh of relief.  Thank goodness I had trusted my instincts, and made the smart move. Thank goodness I had paid that little bit extra, and booked our outbound flight with Monarch instead…

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Just in case you haven’t heard, and missed the sarcasm in that last sentence, a few weeks ago Monarch airlines ceased trading (with very little warning). Yes, I had booked our flights with an airline that seemingly had plenty of pilots, and would certainly get us to Barcelona in plenty of time for the match, if only they weren’t about to go out of fucking business.

To cut a long story short, in the last two weeks I have had to not only re-book our outbound flights with yet another airline (at considerable extra expense), but because there were no alternative options on the Saturday, I have had to switch our travel plans to fly today, Friday, a day earlier than I intended. This meant, in turn, that I also had to book an extra night in a different hotel for tonight (our original hotel, where we are staying tomorrow and Sunday, is unfortunately fully-booked).

To make matters worse, I had booked the Monarch flights on my debit card, which offers me no financial (or ATOL) protection whatsoever, and it remains to be seen whether I will ever get the money back.

The upshot is, I have now spent more than twice my original budget, but I keep telling myself that it will be worth it when we get there, and surely nothing else can possibly go wrong?

Oh, hang on. I forgot to mention (and you may have noticed), that Barcelona is currently experiencing considerable civil unrest, following the recent Independence Referendum, which has not only divided Catalonia, but the whole of Spain. Generally speaking, when taking your timid seven-year-old son away for the weekend, it’s best to try and avoid violent protests, riots, water cannons and rubber bullets. If I’d wanted that kind of excitement, I could have taken him to Stoke.

In fact, such is the current turmoil in Barcelona, the last league match at the Camp Nou ended up being played behind closed doors. Imagine travelling all that way, and not being allowed into the stadium for the match.

As I type this week’s entry, I am still worried that our trip could ultimately turn out to be of the most expensive mistakes I have ever made (even accounting for my questionable car history). Or, it could end up being one of the best things I have ever done, and the most amazing collection of memories for my son and I.

You’ll have to wait until next time to find out (or, just watch the news over the weekend).

Wish me luck…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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