Getting to 100

So, I had a realisation a few weeks back at The Kensite Stadium (home of the mighty Atherton Collieries FC) that I had been to a lot of football grounds. 94 in fact.

That’s quite a lot. Not as many as some, but a fair few, probably more than the average fan. Truth be told, the amount of football I’ve watched has dropped considerably, largely because Colwyn Bay FC have been poor the past few seasons (suffering two straight relegations after I waxed lyrical about their great escape a few years back), international football has been amazing (but there’s only a few games per year you can get to), and of course, love for the graps.

But, call me a bandwagon returner, but Colwyn Bay’s season has started…okay. We’ve looked pretty decent in parts, so I’ve turned my eye back to the old mistress that you never quite got over. But looking at the amount of grounds I’ve been to, there’s a fairly big number on the horizon.

100.

I’m currently on 94. After consulting with a friend it was decided that 5 didn’t count as I didn’t see a game there (Everton, Benfica, Bayern Munich, Anderlecht & Barcelona). As such, I’m on 89 as of time of writing.

I reckon I could hit 100 before the end of the season.

I worked out that I’m likely to hit 92 by Christmas (I’ve a wedding to go to and the day before is Chesterfield vs Morecambe, Hertha Berlin are playing in the Europa League when I visit Berlin, and a friend has invited me to New York Stadium to see Rotherham vs Shrewsbury Town). I reckon I could hit the last 8 before the end of the season.

There is one caveat to this though. Since most of England discovered that Ben Woodburn cannot play for them, Wales may qualify for the World Cup. It’d be quite nice if my 100th ground was actually in Russia seeing Wales play in a World Cup final, now, wouldn’t it?

But that’ll be known long before the end of the season. We’ll jump that hurdle when we get to it. But yes. 100 football grounds before the end of the season. Let’s go!

Only Here for the Kraków (Oh, and a Wedding)

The final trip abroad for me this year saw me spend a fair few days in Kraków, in Poland, for my brother and now-sister-in-law’s wedding. Poland struck me as one of those places I’d go eventually, and seeing my brother tie the knot seemed like more than a good excuse to go.

I’m not going to talk about the wedding. I don’t feel it’s the place to talk about it here. Besides, if you really want to, they may share a video on their YouTube channel. But I will say fact it was wonderful and followed the Polish tradition of weddings going until silly-bugger-o’clock in the morning, but here are some highlights for me.

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Things I did in Krakow

On the first morning, I took a walking tour from The Free Walking Tour Foundation. It was there we found out about the history and culture behind Krakow, as well as the weird quirks. One such quirk is the bugle player playing every hour. We also found out lots the castle’s connection to Australia, as well as lots about John Paul II.

The second day I took in a museum, the rather brilliant Krakow Pinball Museum. We’re fortunate in Manchester in that we’re close to the rather brilliant Arcade Club, but this was good fun. I’ve given full thoughts over on Retro Garden on the Krakow Pinball Museum.

Towards the end of the holiday I took another free walking tour, this time of the Jewish quarter. This tour was recommended to me to get a better understanding of Krakow. This was interesting but I feel I should’ve done this on the first day, though we were fortunate as I did this on a Monday, where many of the museums and Synagogues on the tour were open for free, and the company were licenced to take us around, which was great. I ended the day going into the  Oscar Schindler Museum, which is free on Monday. The museum focuses mainly on Krakow during the Second World War. It only has 2 or 3 rooms dedicated to Oscar Schindler. It is well worth going to, especially on a Monday.

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Where I Ate In Krakow

Food wise, I spent a lot of time in the Alchemia Pub & Restaurant, which had a great range of not-exactly-Polish cuisine, with great beer. I also found a delightful coffee shop called Cytat Cafe which was quirky and gave you quotes with every coffee.

I also loved the food at Pimento Argentine Grill – I loved the Sweet Potato and Chorizo.

But the main event, the wedding, was the highlight of the week. I wouldn’t change that for the world.

Dallas Flyers Club

So after New Orleans was the main event of the holiday: a trip to Dallas to tick something off the bucket list: Wrestlemania!

We actually spent a week in Dallas, but the first 3 days was in a pretty sweet AirBNB and we spent 3 days chilling in the city (including the newest entry on my favourite BBQ Pit ever, Lockhart Smoke House), but that was largely having a few drinks, a round of mini golf, and generally getting ourselves into a food coma.

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On the Friday, we arrived in Dallas’ Sheraton hotel for the Wrestlemania weekend. We attended an all you can eat BBQ meal at Texas De Brazil. This came a close second in “Best BBQ food of the trip”, as it was slightly different. However I think the 3 day food coma after Lockhart scared me a bit so I avoided eating too much.

After that was probably the show that most of us were looking forward to that weekend, the NXT Takeover: Dallas. NXT is WWE’s separate brand which it’s developmental brand and the participants are often well liked by the hardcore audience. One such participant is Shinsuke Nakamura, widely regarded as the best wrestler in the world. Imagine if Freddie Mercury was Japanese and really good at kicking people in the head. NXT Takeover Dallas was Nakamura’s debut, facing long time favourite Sami Zayn.

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This match didn’t disappoint, and was easily the second best match I’ve ever seen live. The crowd was lively for this match and it went longer than 20 minutes. It’s well worth checking out! The rest of the card was pretty good too, with the two title changes being standout matches, if the main event was affected by the early cut on Samoa Joe.

The next day I woke relatively early and headed to Wrestlemania Axxess. This was relatively disappointing mainly because the queues were incredibly long. It was expected to be fair and I am glad I went early as the afternoon session was just crazy. I did get to meet Goldust though which was cool, although the picture hasn’t shown up online yet.

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The evening we got all suited and booted for the WWE Hall of Fame. This was actually a pleasant surprise on how good this was. It was good listening to the stories and tales, admittedly one speech dominated all – The Fabulous Freebirds speech was 45 minutes of just “I’ve a live microphone, I don’t care”.

After the event we headed to the House of Blues for probably one of the more crazier moments of the weekend, a Ringside Chat with Jim Ross. It was in the notorious House of Blues in Dallas and although the drinks were probably the most expensive of the weekend (even more than Wrestlemania beers in the AT&T), everybody was suitably sloshed. Jim told a few stories and then brought on his guest – Rob Van Dam – and then things kinda went drunken and rowdy. Not rowdy enough for the gentleman sitting next to me, who slept through most of it, but nevertheless it was rowdy. After a while Hurricane Helms and Jeff Hardy (who were not scheduled to be there) turned up and then it went really downhill with the Q&A section seemingly falling by the wayside. Nobody really complained though as it was a fun evening. I just wish I could remember more of it.

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Onto the big day – Wrestlemania 32 at AT&T stadium. We started early, attending the Wrestlemania Terry Funk Tailgate which saw BBQ food, live wrestling, and an appearance and a meet and greet by legendary Terry Funk. The BBQ was wonderful (though the mash potato was cold? Was this a Texan thing?), and a nice surprise was that fairly well known wrestlers showed up including So Cal Val, Sami Callahan and (I think) Johnny Gargano. All – as well as Terry Funk – were lovely people. But after being fed and chatting with a few people, we headed over to the AT&T.

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It has been documented that getting into the stadium was a nightmare. That it was. It opened late (not too late, about 15 minutes or so late), and it was blistering heat outside. After running to the concessions for a drink, we then went and took our seats a good half hour before the show started. Thankfully we were lucky, as even as the show started people were still filing in, some not getting to their seats until well into the show.

So what of Wrestlemania itself? As a spectacle, it was wonderful (and weirdly despite being 7 hours long, it didn’t drag). However there was some strange decisions made, and the main event was the only match that I felt was really poor. I enjoyed the pre-show, the Intercontinental Title match and the Women’s match. The battle royale was fun, AJ & Jericho was a masterclass, and Shane vs. The Undertaker was a stuntfest. The rest was middling to poor though. Overall it wasn’t a dreadful Wrestlemania, and there was enough “Spectacle” to make it feel special.

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The next day was the final day, and we arranged to meet a few people from the BBQ for drinks and this is when I really began to appreciate the trip, after having  a few drinks, we headed to a memorable Monday Night Raw in the American Airlines centre. This show, which usually drags (as it’s another three hours) seem to fly by, with genuine shocks, returns and a rabid crowd, made this probably the second best show of the weekend.

All in all, 3 very different shows, but why you should attend Wrestlemania weekend if you’re a fan? You meet fans from all over the world. You can actually have conversations about a crazy sport and not bore people to death. Now I can count friends from all over the globe as fans of a crazy “sport”, from Americans who offered me couches, to Aussies who were super nice, and Irish people who came up with the best Roman Reigns chant I’ve ever heard. And that makes me so happy. In short, to borrow a chant, the people who went to Dallas, were awesome.

Other Notes

  • The single most frustrating thing about the weekend was the hotel. The WiFi was paid for which sucked immensely. If you have a large international contingent, WWE, please wrangle free WiFi.

That Shit Cray(fish) – 3 Days in New Orleans

So recently (and actually when I write this, due to the fact I’m wanting to write something as it’s fresh in my head) I went to New Orleans for a visit. I’ve always want to go to The Big Easy after a friend of mine waxed lyrical on how brilliant it was, and hearing great things about the place I’ve always wanted to go. With Wrestlemania in Dallas, I decided to head out a few days earlier to go to New Lorleans for a much-deserved break.

I arrived at the beautiful Hyatt Regency Hotel after arriving on an Uber. The driver, Nicky was wonderful, but unfortunately it seems like Uber is crippled in New Orleans due to minimum fares from the airport that is twice as much as normal fares. So try to avoid using Uber from the airport, and arrive carrying cash so you can get at a taxi. The hotel was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, a huge behemoth of a building spread over 30 floors, with an element of luxury, I was reminded that the main tower seemed almost Citadel-from-Mass-Effect-ish.

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After a quick change, I headed out to the famous street in New Orleans, Bourbon Street. I wasn’t sure what to expect as generally speaking the United States isn’t known for it’s drinking culture, this was a lot different, and absolutely crazy because of it. Bourbon Street is a hive of jazz music, debauchery and cocktails in rude shaped glasses.

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There is so much here it’s an assault on the senses, so after some food (a fairly substandard Chicken Jambalaya), and checking out a few bars I found a great little bar for a bit – Ticklers Piano Bar. This bar featured some dueling pianos which was a great form of entertainment.

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Bourbon Street was fascinating to see, but I think I was just a little too old for it. So heading home I found Hobnobber’s Variety Bar and Restaurant that became a home from home in New Orleans. It had a range of craft beers that were brilliant, my personal favourite was the 7th Street Wheat Lemon & Basil Beer. I’m not a fan of wheat beers nor flavoured beers, but this was absolutely delicious and eventually became my craft beer of choice. Plus it was $3 cheaper than the artificial shite on Bourbon Street. Thanks to the staff there, I was pointed in the correct places to go during my stay in New Orleans, and invited to their Easter celebrations.

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After a fairly good sleep, I woke with the sad news that today was going to rain. Nevertheless, I headed out and had a pretty decent breakfast in Daisy Dukes (a Veggie Omelette, if you must know), before – joy of wonderous joys – the heavens opened. This kinda put me back an hour or two, as I missed one of the three Easter Parades that were happening that day on Bourbon Street. So after a while of standing under some shelter in borderline monsoon conditions, I dived into a shop for some souvenir shopping.

After a while, the rain stopped, so I set off to explore the French quarter a little bit more. It was Easter Sunday, so at the cathedral there was mass. After a leisurely stroll along the Mississippi, I checked out the Chris Owens parade, the second parade of that day.

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The parade was superb! Lots of colourful floats and the participants were throwing beads and other keepsakes from all the floats, all with live music. Thankfully the rain had stopped so a lot of the expensive dresses and suits weren’t ruined.

I rested for a bit and then returned to Hobnobber for an evening of (free) food and (paid for) drinks. As everybody was bringing something I did bring some crisps, and it was here where I had a mish mash of Southern Easter Cuisine of BBQ Shrimp, Ham & Sweet Potato Casserole (which was delicious and I’m definitely cooking that at home!) and Apple Pie. After an enjoyable evening putting the world to rights, I said goodbye to my new found friends at Hobnobbers, and left.

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The final day was spent walking through the Garden District. I had a gorgeous lunch at Joey K’sIt was a simple Shrimp Poboy, with a side of french fries. Simple, delicious, and very filling.

The evening was spent at the Smoothie King Centre which was beside the hotel to watch New Orleans Pelicans vs. New York Knicks. Now I had seen NBA Basketball before (though I was introduced to the sport – like most Brits who grew up in the 1990s – in the game NBA Jam), and I cannot say I enjoyed it that much. It was a preseason game and I ended up paying £50 for a ticket that they were giving away for free the day before the event. Although it was seen as something important for Manchester, I couldn’t help feel most people didn’t want to be there, including the players (Oklahoma City vs. Philadelphia).

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Thankfully, this game was much better. I am not sure why, maybe it was there seemed to be a lot more to do before and during the game, maybe it was because I was surrounded by people who were invested in the game, maybe it was simply that the tickets were cheaper. In short, it was a good fun evening, and as I wanted to avoid drinking, it was a good way to do something fun and stay sober.

All in all, I think the one thing I’d take away from my time in New Orleans is the hospitality. Everybody was really friendly and to be invited to an Easter feast with a bunch of strangers was an absolute treat that made my visit there. That wasn’t unique, as from the taxi ride there to the taxi ride back everybody was so incredibly friendly, and I’d love to go back again.

Other Thoughts

  • Rather disappointingly, outside of the Hotel, Hobnobbers and the Smoothie King Centre, I couldn’t find WiFi anywhere. I’m assuming chains generally do as well.

WordCamp Europe 2014 Unofficial Walking Tour – Tickets Now Available

With WordCamp Europe 2014 just under 2 weeks away I’m delighted to announce that the tickets for the walking tour are now available for general release!

The tour is a private tour full of all the major sights and buildings in Sofia, Bulgaria, you will be guided on a 2 hour tour of the city, with interesting facts & the history of the city all discussed. I sat writing this on holiday in Barcelona, and yesterday did a similar tour, they are very good and was introduced to various things I would’ve missed otherwise. This is also a private tour for attendees to WordCamp, so you will be with individuals you can talk to and network with about WordPress, should you wish.

It takes place the day before WordCamp – on the 26th September at 9:30am. There is a small charge of €5.88 to cover the cost of the tour.

Anyway, hope to see you there!

Any questions, please let me know!