Monthly Archives: May 2010

The Scholarly Scare

Travelling to such a momentous, global event requires a lot of preplanning.  Trust me, if the purpose of our trip wasn’t for the World Cup, I wouldn’t have been making bookings a year in advance. 

Daydreaming about cuddling with lion cubs?  Yes. 

Putting down cash money for accommodations?  Nope.

But, this is the World Cup.  And the World Cup requires dedication!  Passion!  A 16 month commitment! 

When we bought tickets, Lauren was not a graduate student.

Within a few weeks of winning tickets to seven matches in the first ticketing phase: Lauren was admitted to a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. 

This was (and is) a very, very good thing.  Except for the part where her class schedule conflicted with our two weeks of South African glory. 

We didn’t exactly know that at the time.  But, with the knowledge that Lauren could have school commitments, we proceeded with caution.  And purchased travel insurance with a “cancel for any reason” upgrade. 

Cancelling the trip would be devastating enough.  Cancelling the trip and losing the money associated with tickets, airfare and accommodations would be doubly so. 

Shortly after starting her program last August, Lauren mentioned the trip to a professor.  Who thought that it was great!  A once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience that will help you grow as an individual and make you more sensitive to your diverse patients!

And so we continued on with a little more confidence and the travel insurance as our parachute: full steam ahead!

In April, I sent Lauren an email.  Probably about something very important.  (Likely topics: a recipe that we must make, what we should buy our beloved mom for Mother’s Day, a gem of a quote from our darling father, weekend plans, Gossip Girl.)  I wrapped up the email with this eloquent statement: “p.s. WE LEAVE FOR SOUTH AFRICA TWO MONTHS FROM TODAY.”

Lauren responded with: “Yeah…hopefully I can go. My professor made me feel scared about it on Tuesday. Cross your fingers. Find God and pray to him.”

I immediately:
-Got very nervous
-Invited every person I know to be my backup travel partner

After a few (somewhat anxiety-ridden) days, Lauren received the okay from her professor and from the head of her program.  She might have to do a bit of schoolwork while we’re in South Africa but, face it: doing homework in South Africa is a LOT better than being completely denied the opportunity.

Soccer and scholarship: this is sort of like high school all over again.

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Where we’ll be watching

The matches of the 2010 World Cup will be held at 10 venues scattered throughout South Africa.  We will be seeing games at three of the stadia.

…unless we go a little wild and elect to squeeze in USA v. Algeria at Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld Stadium.  On the same day that we see Ghana v. Germany.  But that’s another post for another day!

What we’ll see at Soccer City
Argentina v. Korea Republic
Brazil v. Côte d’Ivoire
Ghana v. Germany
Round of 16 – 1B v 2A

The site of the first match and the last match that we’ll be attending at this summer’s World Cup, we’re going to spend a lot of quality time at Soccer City.  It is the biggest venue hosting tournament games, with a seating capacity of 94,700; the opening and the final matches of the World Cup will be held at Soccer City.

Soccer City reportedly gets so loud that the ground outside of the venue shakes.  I’m interested to see how the sound in Soccer City will compare to our beloved Michigan Stadium, which holds more people (at the completion of current rennovations, capacity at Michigan Stadium will be 108,000, making it the largest football stadium in the USA) but is notoriously quiet.  And seriously lacking in vuvuzelas.

What we’ll see at
Ellis Park

Slovenia v. USA
Slovakia v. Italy

Our first encounter with Ellis Park was through the magic of Hollywood.  Ellis Park was brought to the silver screen in the recent Invictus, a drama about the events in South Africa before and during the 1995 Rugby World Cup.  South Africa hosted the tournament after the fall of apartheid.

Ellis Park was the site of the famous 1995 Rugby World Cup final, where South Africa famously upset New Zealand.

Will we see a historic upset at Ellis Park?  Not likely.  A pair of close, well-played, memorable matches would suit us just fine.

What we’ll see at Royal Bafokeng Stadium
Mexico v. Uruguay
Round of 16 – 1C v 2D

The two matches we’re seeing at Royal Bafokeng Stadium are the only games that we’re attending beyond the city of Johannesburg. The stadium is located just outside of Rustenburg, a two-hour bus ride away from Johannesburg.

With 42,000 seats, Royal Bafokeng Stadium is the smallest venue we’ll be visiting (Ellis Park has a capacity of 62,567).  There is a track that encircles the pitch that keeps a bit of distance between the match and the spectators, so we’re probably lucky to have Category 1 seats for both matches!

I am curious to see how much FIFA homogenizes the atmosphere.  I expect that many aspects of the experience (concessions, programs, souvenirs, visuals) will be common amongst all of the host venues.  For those of you who have attended a World Cup: do the stadia or the location have much influence on the atmosphere of the game?  Does the stadium make any difference or is it all dependent on the fans and the teams and the overall quality of the match?   Can one stadium be inherently more pleasurable to watch a match at than another stadium?

We’ll report back on our experiences at Ellis Park, Soccer City and Royal Bafokeng Stadium.

T-minus 24 days to departure.

Before and After

The situation with our guesthouse is being resolved as best as can be expected.  We were offered, and subsequently took, accommodations at a facility that is just down the road from our original guesthouse. 
 
Our new lodging will not be quite as lavish as what was lost in the fire, but it will suit us just fine.  Our transportation and tours will remain unchanged.  The new accommodation has a restaurant on site (the other did not) and, as Lauren and I love nothing more than we love to eat, this is a welcome addition. 
 
If the fire had happened six months ago, I would have been much more aggressive in seeking out alternate arrangements.  To take on this task now wouldn’t mean just finding a nice, safe, reputable guest house or hotel; I would also need to book us transportation to eight matches, a shuttle service to and from the airport, a Soweto tour and our side trips to the Elephant Sanctuary and the Lion Park.  It is a little much to take on in one month’s time. 

I suspect that the financial difference between the room rates of the two properties is not so great as to warrant the additional time and effort I would spend booking a new hotel and arranging new transport and tours.  And, really, we won’t be losing any money by staying at the new guest house:  to book transportation and tours through third parties will cost more and likely eat up any remaining fiscal gain we would see if we moved to a less expensive guesthouse.  Unless we chose really Spartan accommodations.  Which pretty much wouldn’t happen under any circumstances.  (Shout out to our beloved Uncle Rick, who developed our fine tastes in hotels at very young ages!) 

After a bit of shock, a bit of panic, a bit of research and a bit of time to soak it all in: we are back on track and bound for South Africa.  27 days and counting!

Fires and Flowcharts

Life lesson of the week: you can research obsessively and plan meticulously and, still, aspects of your trip can go wrong.  Crazy, one-in-a-million things!  Lightning can strike your guest house, for example, and burn it to the ground.  And then you can spend your entire day in an absolute tizzy because you DID NOT PLAN FOR THIS.  And you thought you had planned for absolutely everything.  (This is why you buy travel insurance.  Because things that could never happen do happen.)

With that, I present you with a handy flowchart that I call: What To Do When You No Longer Have Accommodations And Your Head Is About To Explode From The Anxiety.

Enjoy.

And may you never need to use it. 

OMG

As far as emails that I did NOT expect to be sitting in my inbox this morning, this was most certainly one of them.

“I have the most devastating news.  Our beautiful guest house burned to the ground, it took a direct hit from the lightning and was gone in 15 minutes.  Apart from the total devastation, I have been beside myself with worry of what to do re all the World Cup bookings as I was totally fully booked.  I did not get in touch with you immediately last week when it happened, in between everything I have done my absolute best to secure accommodation for you.  There is a lodge at the top of our road that had been totally booked out by MATCH (the official FIFA booking agent) anyway due to the ridiculous prices they were quoting, no-one booked there and now MATCH have released the rooms.  I have given them your booking (subject to your approval) as I did not know what else to do. ”

That’s right, boys and girls.  OUR HOTEL BURNED DOWN.

Tying up loose ends

With all of the big tasks (tickets, airfare, accommodations, transportation, passports, etc.) out of the way and the calendar getting closer to June 15, it is definitely time to start tacking the smaller items on our to-do list. 
 
I’ve been keeping a list for a few months now, jotting down tasks that needed to be addressed…eventually.  Eventually is here, boys and girls!
 
The theme of the past week has been checking items off of the to-do list.
 
Transport to/from Rustenburg for June 22 and June 26: complete!  Yes, the intercity bus information was released the day following my passionate whine about how terribly unfair it was that I didn’t have times/prices/details/bookings for our trips to Rustenburg.  Yes, reservations opened up two days later. Yes, all of that needless worry probably subtracted a few weeks from my life.

Purchasing of one (1) miniature University of Michigan flag: complete! Why the UM flag for the World Cup?  Oh, friends, you’re going to have to wait and see what comes of this super secret mission. 

Visit to the travel clinic: complete! While I’m still not entirely convinced that an appointment at the travel health clinic was absolutely necessary, it is better to be cautious than to come home with an outrageous superbug growing in my intestines. 

The nurse running the clinic gave me a lot of information on how to stay healthy in South Africa (which I haven’t yet read).  She turned on a 25 minute video on how to stay healthy during my travels, which might have been helpful, had she not talked through the entire thing.  But I can tell you all about the nurse’s reading habits: information which, I’m sure, will do loads to keep me from drinking contaminated water. 

Besides an earful from the very gregarious nurse, I got a Hepatitis A shot.  My arm hurt for two days.  She also gave me a prescription for Cipro that was accompanied by a handy guide on how to use the medication for “self-treatment of moderate to severe traveler’s diarrhea.”  Yeah.  I’m totally okay with paying $9 for the prescription and never using the pills.  Do you hear that, travel gods?  I am totally, totally okay with it.

I still need to go back to get my Tdap (Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis) vaccine.  Which I’m sure my coworkers are really looking forward to.  As though listening to me whine about my sore arm for two days post-Hepatitis A wasn’t enough torture for those poor people.   

Purchasing really cute covers for our passports: complete!  We are taking this opportunity to buy random, darling accessories and we are SEIZING IT.  (The weakness for accessories is genetic.)

Purchasing patriotic hair accessories and beads: complete!  Thank you, retailers of America, for putting out your Independence Day merchandise so ridiculously early. 

Purchasing of various electrical converters/adaptors/gadget thingamajigs: complete!  After reading countless reviews/forum postings/articles/websites/packages, I made my purchases.  I’m 70% sure that what I bought will:
a. work in South Africa
b. prevent the implosion of our various electronics.

I can’t stand to think about the mechanics of electronics for a second longer, so 70% odds will have to do it.  If it isn’t right, we’ll fix the problem when we’re there.  Or have no internet access and no pictures or video of our trip.  Because that wouldn’t shatter my heart into a thousand pieces.  Nope.  Not at all.

Stab vests and our northern neighbors

One of the more amusing moments of the planning process came when stories about the infamous World Cup stab vests hit the news.  (If you missed it: a London-based company, capitalizing on fears of safety in South Africa, marketed a “stab-proof vest” to World Cup attendees.)

I received more than a few links about the stab vests forwarded to me by friends – some concerned, some amused – in the days that followed. The situation created an opportunity to explain the reality behind the fear mongering.  If nothing else, the stab vest uproar gave me the platform to convince a few acquaintances that the perception of South Africa as dangerously unfit for tourists is largely overblown.

As well as a chance to laugh at my (Canadian) boss and my (Canadian) coworker.

Boss: Well, you certainly can’t get the American flag on the front of your stab vest!  You don’t want ‘em to know that you’re American!

Me: We won’t actually be buying a stab vest.

Boss: You could get the Irish flag.  You look Irish.

Me: Ireland didn’t actually qualify?  So I’m not sure I could get the Irish flag on my stab vest?  The stab vest that I’m not buying.

Boss: No, Switzerland!  Switzerland, of course.  Switzerland is neutral.  You should get a neutral Switzerland stab vest.

Coworker: Canada.  Can you get a Canadian stab vest?  Everyone loves Canada. Everyone loves Canada because we are essentially powerless.

Boss: True!  We could teach you how to be Canadian.  We can tutor you!

Me: We won’t be getting a Canadian stab vest.

Coworker: You won’t need a stab vest!  We’ll get you a Molson t-shirt.

Boss: And a Tim Horton’s t-shirt.

Coworker: And some things from Roots.

Boss: We can work on your vocabulary.

Coworker: Tell people you’re from Trahna.

Boss: Get that?  Not To-ron-to.  Trah-na.

Me: Trah-na?

Coworker: When you’re going to the bar, say “let’s get some beers.”

Boss: Not beer.  Not singular.  That’s the key.

And that, friends, is how to stay safe in South Africa.  Not beer.  Beers.  And throw on some red and white while you’re at it.

You’re welcome for saving your life.

ne of the more amusing moments of the planning process came when stories about the infamous World Cup stab vests hit the news.  (If you missed it: a London-based company, capitalizing on fears of safety in South Africa, marketed a “stab-proof vest” to World Cup attendees.)

I received more than a few links forwarded to me by friends – some concerned, some amused – in the hours that followed. What could have been an annoyance was an opportunity to explain the reality behind the fear mongering.  If nothing else, it gave me an opportunity to convince a few acquaintances that the perception of South Africa as dangerously unfit for tourists is largely overblown.

And it gave me the chance to laugh at my Canadian boss and my Canadian coworker.

Boss: Well, you certainly can’t get the American flag on the front of your stab vest!  You don’t want ‘em to know that you’re American!

Me: We won’t actually be buying a stab vest.

Boss: You could get the Irish flag.  You look Irish.

Me: Ireland didn’t actually qualify?  So I’m not sure I could get the Irish flag?

Boss: No, Switzerland!  Switzerland, of course.  Switzerland is neutral.  You should get a neutral Switzerland stab vest.

Coworker: Canada.  Can you get a Canadian stab vest?  Everyone loves Canadians.  Everyone loves Canadians because we are powerless.

Boss: True!  We could teach you how to be Canadian.

Me: We won’t be getting a stab vest.

Coworker: You won’t need a stab vest!  We’ll get you a Molson t-shirt.

Boss: And a Tim Horton’s t-shirt.

Coworker: And some things from Roots.

Boss: We can work on your vocabulary.

Coworker: Tell people your from Trahna.

Boss: Get that?  Not To-ron-to.  Trah-na.

Me: Trah-na?

Coworker: When you’re going to the bar, say “let’s get some beers.”

Boss: Not beer.  Not singular.  That’s the key.

Coworker: It’s foolproof.