Waiting an extra 27 hours for the announcement and loyally maintaining a membership to U.S. Soccer has paid off.
Kudos to the soccer gods for not scheduling this game the same weekend as an Ohio State home football game.
At the conclusion of the first round of ticketing, a random draw, we were allotted tickets to three of the five matches we were hoping to attend during the World Cup.
At the conclusion of the second round of ticketing, where tickets were sold on a first-come, first-serve basis, we snagged tickets to our fourth match.
Heading into the third round of ticketing, another random draw, we had one match we still needed tickets for: the Round of 16 match in Recife.
Being that tickets in the knockout rounds are presumably harder to come by, being that we really wanted to secure tickets now instead of sweating it out in the subsequent ticket rounds (where all tickets are sold on a first-come, first-served basis), we decided to play the system a little.
Don’t tell FIFA.
We submitted two different ticket applications for the same match with the hope that one of us, but not both, would be awarded tickets.
Anyone need a few Round of 16 tickets?
In April, FIFA will open up a ticket reselling portal and we’ll list one set of tickets there. For a fee, FIFA will reallocate those tickets to some other soccer-crazed soul and we’ll be refunded the difference. Whatever that fee is, it’s safe to assume that:
a. it will be too high (as everything with FIFA is)
b. it will be worth it.
Once we determined our World Cup home base, it was time to tackle the next task in our road to Brazil: submitting our request for tickets.
First, we honed in on the matches we wanted to attend.
We approached our ticket requests much the same way we did in 2010. Basically, we were looking for a two-week period where we could see the maximum number of matches in Recife and Natal, preferably including a Round of 16 game.
As was the case for the 2010 World Cup, FIFA is running multiple ticket sales periods.
The first round of ticketing ran August 20-October 10, 2013.
There was this big, ridiculous, needless rush for tickets on August 20. Fools. Everyone, regardless of if they submitted their ticket requests on August 20 or October 10 or somewhere in between, has an equal chance of winning (the right to purchase) tickets in the lottery.
We took our time and finally got around to submitting our request for tickets on October 5.
And then you wait.
FIFA doesn’t set an exact date for when they’ll run the lottery, just that it will be completed by the start of the next ticketing round, which makes the whole process more excruciating for the anxious traveling fan of international soccer.
On November 1, my credit card was charged. (Following a few annoying phone calls to the credit card company to pre-approve foreign charges.) We could tell by the amount that we didn’t get tickets to all of the matches that we had requested, but we would have to wait for FIFA to post our lottery results until we knew exactly where we were successful.
Which didn’t happen until November 7.
It was a long week of waiting.
We ended up with tickets to three of the five matches that we requested (regarding our 60% success rate, Katie said “that’s a passing grade!”), being downgraded to cheaper seats in two of those matches.
For Match 24, we’ll be sitting in Category 2 seats instead of the Category 1 tickets we requested.
For Match 45, we’ll be sitting in Category 3 seats instead of the Category 2 tickets we requested.
We were denied tickets to the match in Natal. We were also denied tickets to the Round of 16 match in Recife. But that’s what subsequent ticketing rounds are for: continuing to beef up your match offerings.
As of the conclusion of the Random Selection Draw period: we have secured tickets to only to group-round matches, only in Recife.
We’ll see what the subsequent ticketing rounds bring us.
Our 16 hours on the flight home was spent very similarly to the 16 hours we spent on the flight to Johannesburg: in an endless attempt to either sleep or properly amuse ourselves so that we wouldn’t go absolutely insane.
Oh, and also eating.
The seat-back televisions are really a godsend. Being able to watch the movie that you want, when you want is quite handy. At little drowsy during my personal screening, I must’ve put Up on pause three or four times. Great movie, though.
The seat-back televisions have a surprisingly decent variety of entertainment to choose from: everything from documentaries to new releases to television shows and DVDs. I went for the sappy (Dear John), the sweet (Up) and the shocking (Intervention). Lauren watched The Blind Side and Up, among others. We both dabbled in the games, too. A little Sudoku here, a little solitaire there.
Lauren popped an Ambien and was out for a good stretch. I’d wake her up for food and she would stay alert enough to eat her meal and put her garbage on my tray table before passing back out.
I didn’t sleep so well. Or much at all, if I recall correctly. That was not fun.
My many hours of wakefulness allowed me to spend quality time filling out our Customs Declaration Form. How many t-shirts did we buy in the last two weeks? And at what average price? How much was that slingshot? How do you spell biltong?
When we arrived in Atlanta, we were welcomed back to the country with our Favorite Thing Ever: a line! A lengthy one, too. However, after standing in line for 40 minutes or so, we were cleared through customs. Hurray!
(Side note: the number of people in that line who had a vuvuzela or four hanging out of their carry-on luggage was hilarious. Definitely the souvenir of the tournament.)
After passing through customs, we had to collect our luggage and stand in another line to have that inspected. The man checking our luggage took one look at our Customs Declaration Form and – bingo! – we were shuffled to another line. The line for people stupid enough to bring meat into the country. I’m not sure why, but I’d been naïve enough to believe everyone who told me that bringing biltong into the country was perfectly acceptable, as long as it had been vacuum packed. And when I say everyone, I mean a few South Africans and other foreigners and definitely no Americans. Not smart! For someone who researched as obsessively as I did, not to mention the fact that we’d decided to buy Dad biltong fairly early into our trip, it was a pretty amateur move. I was kicking myself all the while we stood in yet another line, watching the time to our next flight tick down. It was not my finest moment.
We made it through. I dug the biltong out of my (overweight) luggage and handed it over. We rushed to recheck our luggage, grab some McDonald’s breakfast and board on our plane to Detroit.
The trip from Atlanta to Detroit was largely uneventful, minus a little tiff Lauren got into with a flight attendant who labeled her “incapacitated” because she was wearing her arm sling. (Note to all flight attendants: calling a physical therapy student something so politically incorrect after she’s been travelling for 18 hours probably isn’t a great idea.)
And then – finally, miraculously, tremendously and not a moment too soon, our long day of endless travel was over. We were in Detroit. In Detroit with a lot of souvenirs, desperately needing showers and with our Mom was waiting for us at the luggage carousel.
It was good to be home.
At the airport, we stopped at the Value Added Tax (VAT) counter to have our luggage inspected. Luggage inspection is the first of many steps required in order to be reimbursed for the 14% tax we paid on all of the souvenirs that we were bringing home. We opened up our bags, showed the inspector a few items, and waited for him to stamp all of our receipts.
Next was check-in, which would have gone quite seamlessly had my suitcase not been overweight. Significantly. We shuffled items around. Lauren rolled her eyes at my lack of packing prowess. I got annoyed. And, finally, we sent our luggage off into the belly of the plane.
Four pieces of luggage lighter, Lauren and I made our way through security and into the international terminal. The international terminal houses the VAT Refund Administrator’s Office, where we were to take our stamped receipts and jump through the next hoop in the tax refund process. The line was long. And full of restless, frustrated, time-crunched travelers such as ourselves. It really wasn’t a pleasant process. And we didn’t have a ton of time to waste.
The VAT Refund Administrator’s Office issues refunds in check form. So, in order for travelers to get cash for their VAT refunds, they stand in our third line of the whole refund process: at the currency exchange office! Lovely. We skipped this step and brought the check home with us. (Which reminds me that I should probably bring that to the bank.)
We found our gate and I headed off in search of some real food to get us through the flight. I find a café, pick up a couple of premade sandwiches, get in line and…oh. The credit card system is down and I’m all out of Rand. Fail.
I return to the gate and Lauren and I settle for the coffee shop that’s just outside of our gate. The flight has started boarding; we order a couple of smoothies and a muffin and get in line for our second security check. They search our bags. We both get patted down. Lauren has her White-Out confiscated. We both have our smoothies confiscated. Supposedly, Delta is the only airline that doesn’t allow passengers to take liquids purchased in the airport onto the plane. So annoying.
Settling into our seats was almost a relief. At least we wouldn’t have to stand in any more lines. …or queues, as they call them in South Africa. …or torture, as I’d like to call them after weathering line after line after line as we (slowly) made our way through O.R. Tambo.
The feeling of relief was temporary. How excited can you be about your seat when you’re stuck in it for 16 hours?
Not very. Not very excited at all.
After a Wednesday morning that started like all of our others: breakfast, showers, outfit coordination and email checks, we arranged for the hotel’s shuttle driver, Thierry, to take us to the Apartheid Museum.
Let me pause for a second to tell you about how awesome Thierry is: very awesome. He takes us to games and picked us up at the airport. Always cheerful. Always laughing at Lauren’s jokes. He’s definitely made our lives here much easier. And we’ve certainly paid him for that privilege.
So, anyway, Thierry dropped us off at the Apartheid Museum for a few hours.
Even after visiting the museum, I still find it inconceivable that apartheid fell only 16 years ago. 16 years!
The museum itself was well done. It was a little crowded, I thought, but we still took a great deal away from it. There is so much information – I’m sure that I only soaked up a tiny percentage of what was presented – on both the rise and the fall of the apartheid museum. I definitely left with a greater understanding of South Africa and its history. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back if I’m ever in Johannesburg again.
Thierry picked us up outside of the museum (on African time, of course). He told us that he was looking for our blonde hair. That’s all we are here. Blonde bombshells freak shows. Now I know how Jessica Simpson feels.
We got back to the hotel with less than an hour until we were supposed to leave for the Ghana/Germany match. It was a quick turnaround. We changed into our Germany jerseys. Packed up our tickets and our cameras. Ran to the restaurant for a quick snack (chicken strips for Lauren and a quesadilla for me), caught just a bit of the two Group C final games (USA/Algeria and England/Slovakia) and got on the shuttle.
Wednesday was day of the final group stage games for Group C and Group D. When we left for the game, USA was tied with Algeria, 0-0, and it looked like the American team would be going home. Thierry had the game on the radio in shuttle and we listened nervously as time ticked down. What a shame.
We were on the highway when the game entered injury time. We were stuck in traffic, inching along. The shuttle was just driving past a fan park – where the games were projected onto big screens – when the Americans scored.
For us and for Landon Donovan.
Lauren and I were both a little shocked. All this time, we had assumed that we would be watching England in the Round of 16. And now we had a reason to use the temporary tattoos we hadn’t used at the USA/Slovakia game. Hurray!
With plenty to be excited about, we entered Soccer City to watch Germany/Ghana.
As has become pattern, the African fans were loud and proud. There were a lot of German fans in attendance, too. Unlike the Mexico fans, no Germans tried to tell us that we didn’t look German. Go figure. A few tried to speak to us in German, as a matter of fact. We smiled and nodded and definitely could’ve used Betsy or Meredith’s translation services.
The Germany/Ghana game was a fun one to watch. Germany’s goalie, Manuel Neuer, plays like a complete madman. While the score was only 1-0, both teams had a good number of quality scoring chances. We had category 3 tickets for the game, our lowest price/category tickets, and I swear that they were equal or better to some of the category 2 tickets we had. Go figure.
There is no explaining FIFA.