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You'll Never Walk Alone In Slovenia

You'll Never Walk Alone In Slovenia

Old Mar 11, 18, 11:52 am
  #1  
pjs
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Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: Alpharetta, GA, USA
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You'll Never Walk Alone In Slovenia

Itís been a long time since I wrote a trip report on here, as frankly, I donít take trips that are all that unusual, luxurious or interesting. I think this one will qualify as interesting to some of you. Sorry for the delay in getting this posted.

Background: Iíve been a Liverpool FC supporter since I was 6 years old living in the UK. We moved to Florida in 1982 when I was 11 and it was much harder to follow my Reds in the 80ís and early 90ís. Once the internet arrived and then we had TV coverage of the Premier League and Champions League, it has been much easier to keep up. I went to a couple of matches in November 2016 at our Anfield stadium (including having a great time in Liverpool) and vowed to return each season assuming I could make it work.

In July 2017, I received word that I had secured a ticket through our local supporterís club to the Liverpool v. Manchester United match in October 2017. Then I had to wait for the UEFA Champions League draw to see who and where Liverpool would be playing the following midweek as I like to catch more than one match per trip. Turns out we are playing Maribor, a tiny club in Slovenia, away, in a city without a real airport. I also need to work in a visit to family in Yorkshire while Iím in the UK. Well, this should be interestingÖ

I was able to book flights through SkyPass after getting their business credit card (30k signup) and transferring 40k SPG points over to make the 80k required. The itinerary was as follows: ATL-LHR (4 night stopover); LBA-AMS (21 hour layover)-GRZ (1 night stopover); GRZ-AMS-LHR(23 hour layover); LHR-ATL. For 80k points plus $900(!) in taxes in fees. All in business class. The main reason I went with this option was the ability to get everything on one award and not have to pay extra for any legs. Thereís not too much you can do about the UK fees generally if you want to stop there and I couldnít get anything direct into Manchester to save some of those additional London fees. The transatlantic legs were on Delta and the intra-Europe legs on KLM Cityflyer. For those who donít know, GRZ is Graz, Austria, about an hour by train from Maribor, Slovenia.

For hotels, I went with the Aloft in Liverpool as itís a very nice level 2 SPG property. Used 2k points on Thursday night and 2k points + $35 for the weekend nights on a points and cash rate. Itís in a renovated, historic old building in the city center, perfectly placed for anything you want to do in the city. In Leeds for one night, I just booked the Marriott on a decent cash rate. In Amsterdam, I went with a cash rate at the airport Sheraton as I had a fairly early flight the next morning. In Graz, I booked an Airbnb for under $50 for the night and in London for my last night, I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Hammersmith on a cash rate. Iíll explain why I picked that hotel later in the report (have to give you something to keep you interestedÖ)

I pre-booked trains from London to Liverpool and Liverpool to Leeds. It looked like the local train to/from Graz to Maribor can be ticketed at the airport station (I hoped).

So I was all set. Join me on a footballing adventure.
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Old Mar 11, 18, 2:13 pm
  #2  
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10/11 Delta One...Just Made It

I arrived at the Atlanta international terminal via Uber around 3:45pm for my 6pm flight. For some reason, I wasnít able to check-in online. I just figured it was something weird with Korean and Delta. When I went to check-in with the agent, he couldnít print my boarding pass. What followed was 90 minutes of calling Korean, calling Delta IT, calling Korean IT, having them speak to each other, and getting nowhere. Finally, a red coat got Korean to re-issue the whole ticket and they were able to print my BP. By this time, it was 5:30pm and I had a mad dash through security (where there was no pre-check line Ė thanks ATL International Terminal) and to the gate where I boarded right at 5:55pm. They were waiting for me as the agent had called the gate to let them know. Instead of some pre-flight cocktails at the Sky Club, I was sweating it to the last minute. We never did figure out the IT issue, but full credit to the agent and red coat for working with me for 90 minutes to get it done and get me on the flight.

DL 28 ATL-LHR
767-300
Delta One
Seat: 9A

The door closed before I could even get my seatbelt on. The friendly purser came over and told me he would give me some time to look at the menu before taking my order. We took off and as my heart rate came down from the sprint, I took a picture of the sunset through the dirty window:



And browsed the menu:



Desserts & Breakfast



Drinks



Wine List



I tried the special cocktail as it was made with bourbon and it was OK, but a little sweet. As I was familiar with the guest chef from living in Atlanta, I went with the shrimp and grits as my main. Bad choice. The pickles gave it a weird taste.



On the bright side the appetizers, dessert, wine and cheese plate were all pretty good, especially the soup and the crumble/ice cream for dessert. I wasnít a fan of the port so I switched back to the Woodford for an after dinner drink. The full cabin and only 2 FAís in Delta One made the service a little slow, but at least I had the marginally faster one on my side. They were responsive to requests and came around for refills a couple of times.

I was glad to see they had The Big Sick on the IFE as I had been meaning to catch that movie. It was really entertaining and got me through the dinner hour. I also noticed that 9A, while private as there is no one really across the aisle, is a little too close to the front of economy comfort and the thin curtain doesnít really block out the noise and light from that cabin.

I tried to sleep and napped on and off. I know a lot of people hate these forward-facing seats, but I didnít find it uncomfortable. There was plenty of leg room for me and Iím 5í11Ē. Sorry I didnít get any good seat pics but these have been around since the Jurassic period and you can find pics easily out there in Internet land. Everything worked, even the massage function, so props to DL maintenance.

After a few hours, I watched another movie as the cabin woke up. Masterminds was really dumb and perfect airplane viewing.

As Delta offers free in-flight messaging, I found it interesting that for some reason, I would get emails and Facebook updates intermittently on my phone. Iím no techie, but I suppose itís hard to block other internet traffic entirely and only offer messaging.
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Old Mar 11, 18, 2:30 pm
  #3  
 
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Fabulous - looking forward to more. Great 80k ticket but those uk taxes are forever brutal!
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Old Mar 11, 18, 3:40 pm
  #4  
pjs
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10/12 - Getting to Liverpool

10/12/2017

Around 5:30am UK time about an hour before landing, we were served breakfast and I picked the granola. I wasnít that hungry and I was saving room for the Virgin arrivals lounge breakfast so I didnít eat much of it, but what I tried wasnít bad.



We were stacked up for the early morning rush hour a little while when the purser came around with chocolates and thanked me by name. We landed just about on time (around 7am) and taxied in to Terminal 3.

I used my newly minted British passport for the first time (I let my old one expire and re-applied last year for me and the kids, who were eligible Ė sorry Mrs. Native-born American wife). It was nice to just go through the automated passport control and get to the Virgin arrivals lounge quickly. My pre-booked train to Liverpool wasnít until 11am, which left me plenty of time to relax before I had to get across London to Euston.

ďShower or breakfast first, sir?Ē is a question I donít ever get at home, but it was the first thing the nice lounge attendant asked me. I decided on shower. The shower rooms were large and clean with nice toiletries.

Next it was time for the full English:



It would have been a great experience, except for the loudmouth who insisted on FaceTiming at full volume while walking back and forth through the lounge. If youíve been there, you know itís tiny and there was no way to escape his conversation.

I read the English papers and enjoyed a second cup of tea before starting the long walk down to the Tube. I had read on here that the Tube now accepts contactless payment (Apple Pay, etc.) so I tried it with my Citi Prestige and it worked fine. I took the Piccadilly line over to Green Park and switched to the Victoria Line to get to Euston. It was packed of course, as it was 9am and a workday. It was still easier and cheaper than taking the HEX and switching to the Tube or cab, but not pleasant when jetlagged.

At Euston, I found the Virgin first class lounge as I had booked a first class ticket. It was only a few quid more than a second class ticket so I figured I would splurge and get some rest. The lounge is nothing special but itís quieter than the station with free drinks and snacks.

On board the train, I looked at the menu, but it was a little unclear whether we would get brunch, lunch or something else:




I don't exactly remember the options, but I went with the fruit and yogurt as I was still pretty full from the lounge breakfast. It was a pleasant journey and I met a couple on their way up to Liverpool who owned a pub in Hammersmith, where I was headed the following week. They had their dog with them on the train, who was way better behaved than the guy on the phone in the Virgin Arrivals Lounge:



Because of construction at Liverpool Lime Street (the main station), we had to exit at Liverpool South Parkway (near the Liverpool airport) and take a local Merseyrail train into the city. There were a ton of up and down steps at the switchover, but in the end it was relatively painless. I took the Merseyrail all the way to Moorfields station which is Ĺ a block from the Aloft.

I got settled in and took a nap. I used to be one of those ďdonít nap after a redeyeĒ people, but Iíve found that an hour or two on arrival does me good in my old(er) age. I had gone to a great Indian restaurant named Mowgli the year before and went back for a return visit. I took a long walk around town after dinner and stopped in the Liverpool club shop. I was too tired to do anything else so I went to bed early, knowing I had a big week planned.
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Old Mar 11, 18, 3:49 pm
  #5  
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10/13 - Day in Liverpool

I had been in touch with a popular Liverpool podcast in the weeks leading up to my trip as they offer a ďTraveling KopĒ feature on their Friday pre-match show that highlights overseas fans who have made their way to Liverpool. When I didnít hear from them in the few days prior to my trip, I assumed they werenít going to need me to come on the show so I didnít have much too planned for the day before the big match.

I woke up around 9:30 after a fitful nightís sleep and checked my email. To my surprise, I had an email from the podcast asking if I could be there around 11:30 to record the show. I went to a great breakfast place (Shiraz) a few doors down from the Aloft for a full English breakfast. They do a great kebab as well by the way.

In the meantime, I was still looking for a ticket to the match in Maribor. I finally struck some luck with an expensive ticket from a Ukrainian guy I found on a Facebook group. Sounds legit, right? Well, to make it worse, I had to buy 2 tickets as they came only in a pair. So, now I went from buyer to seller. I had 3 days to sell my extra ticket and make back some of the money. And, I had to hope these tickets were legitÖ

After breakfast, I made my way over to the studio which was close by the Aloft. I met all the guys and recorded the show along with a newlywed couple from Buffalo, NY who had stopped off in Liverpool on their way home from an Italian honeymoon. Now thatís dedication!

Once the show was done, I decided to hit up a few sights I had missed on my previous trip to Liverpool. I went up to the top of the Radio Tower and visited St. Georgeís Hall:

Radio Tower



St. George's Hall from the Radio Tower


Courtroom inside St. George's Hall



I had plans to meet a local friend around 5pm as we had tickets to YNWA: The Musical, a stage production about the history of Liverpool FC set to the popular songs and chants heard at the stadium. It was playing a local theater in town. He hadnít seen it, but had heard good things about it. We met at a pub near the Aloft and hit up a few more on the way toward the theater. We were well-lubricated by show time at 8pm.

The show was a lot of fun, assuming that you are a Liverpool supporter.



We had another drink afterward, stopped for some chips, and I made sure my friend was safely on the local train home before I went back to the Aloft for bed around 11. Here's a quick picture of the Aloft room by the way:

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Old Mar 11, 18, 4:00 pm
  #6  
 
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Itís a good read,hope you had a good trip!

And from a utd supporter Iíll enjoy reading about your 2 flights to the UK and 1 to Austria!!!
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Old Mar 11, 18, 7:04 pm
  #7  
pjs
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10/14 - Match Day 1 - The Derby

Match Day! I was up early, working on getting my extra (possibly non-existent) ticket sold for the Maribor match. Had a few leads but no-one ready to commit the amount I needed to make back at least close to half the money.

Had a quick breakfast at Greggís, a popular British bakery chain, then headed off to Anfield stadium in an Uber. They had figured out surge pricing since the last time I visited and it was closer to the price of a taxi now. I got to the stadium early (around 10am) and walked around to soak up the atmosphere and pay my respects at the new memorial to the 96 killed at the Hillsborough disaster.



I also found our Atlanta LFC tile near the new Main Stand:




I bought a scouse pie at Homebaked, a famous shop across from the stadium and then headed over to meet my friend and his crew around 11:30 at The Twelfth Man, one of the many pubs around the stadium. We had a few beers and then all headed to the match. I had a seat high up in the famous Kop:




The match ended 0-0, not surprising given the defensive style Man United play these days. It wasnít the greatest match but we didnít stop singing or standing the entire match. I ended up sitting next to some folks from the Orlando Supporters Club who had come in for their first match.

I met up with my friend again at The Twelfth Man and we walked to another pub about a mile away where some of his friends were hanging out. We figured we would stay there for a couple of hours before heading into town and visiting some of the historic pubs in the city center. Well, 8 hours later, they were bundling me into a cab back to the Aloft! We got talking about soccer, politics, Brexit, Trump, etc. and the conversation never stopped. Itís a good thing I had that scouse pie at 11am as I didnít have much more than a bag of crisps (chips) the rest of the day.
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Old Mar 11, 18, 7:06 pm
  #8  
pjs
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Originally Posted by aidy View Post
Itís a good read,hope you had a good trip!

And from a utd supporter Iíll enjoy reading about your 2 flights to the UK and 1 to Austria!!!
Good win for you lot yesterday. Felt like you were hanging on a bit at the end. Good luck vs. Sevilla (not really).
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Old Mar 11, 18, 9:16 pm
  #9  
 
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It took me a minute but I've finally twigged your trip report title ������.
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Old Mar 12, 18, 11:48 am
  #10  
pjs
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10/15 & 10/16 - Getting to Slovenia

As I had gone to bed pretty early (around 11), I was up at 7 for an early workout. Luckily, there were no lingering effects of all the beer. I had a 10am train to Leeds to visit my family so I checked out of the Aloft and caught the Merseyrail train at Moorfields station, switching to the Transpennine Express train at Liverpool South Parkway (Lime Street was still closed). I reached Leeds around noon and spent a pleasant afternoon with my uncle and cousins. My cousins took me to a great Indian restaurant, Akbarís, for dinner where we shared the largest Naan I have ever seen. Beer provided for scale:




After dinner, my cousin dropped me at the Leeds Marriott for the night where I watched some NFL football on Sky Sports. By this time, I had found a taker for my extra Maribor ticket. He was going to pay me just about half of what I paid so that was good. He was driving to the match from Vienna. Letís hope he makes it.

In the morning, the concierge lounge was closed (Iím Gold btw) so breakfast was in the restaurant. Not surprisingly, it was pretty dead for a business hotel on a Monday morning. I grabbed an Uber to the Leeds Bradford Airport and checked in for my KLM flight to Amsterdam (then Graz the next morning). This is a small grubby airport, but it does have a PP lounge, the Yorkshire Premium Lounge, which was very crowded this Monday morning.

I had noticed some fog as we approached the airport, but nothing too thick. It apparently got much thicker, because about Ĺ hour before boarding, we got word that our inbound aircraft was delayed. Then about an hour later, we were told that it had been diverted to Teesside Airport (about 90 minutes drive away). We were told to report to a gate, where an airport contract worker led us back out through passport control (back into the UK) and outside where a bus was supposed to take us to Teesside. That worker left and we were all wandering around when someone spotted a couple of buses. We all trudged over there and eventually (after some confusion), boarded these buses to take us to Teesside Airport. My front row seat:



We reached Teesside airport (which appeared to be fairly recently built) in about 90 minutes and surprised the heck out of the 2 security staff there when 75 passengers showed up. We did find an open PP lounge there too, which was kind of funny as there werenít even any incoming/outgoing flights that I could see besides our unscheduled one. After all the scotch was gone we boarded our KLM Cityflyer E190 and finally headed to AMS.



A snack was served on this short flight, and we arrived around 6:30 PM, about six hours behind schedule.

I checked in at the Airport Sheraton (snooty check-in staff) and dropped my things. I bought a R/T train ticket to Centraal and headed in to town for a few hours. I had planned on a museum or two for the afternoon, but that plan was lost in the Leeds fog. Instead I made do with a visit to Gollum, a great beer bar with an excellent cheese platter.




After a few hours there, I was exhausted (and tipsy) and headed back to the Sheraton. My flight to Graz was showing on time for the next morning.

Couple of Amsterdam night pics:

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Old Mar 12, 18, 12:01 pm
  #11  
 
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I'm following this. Travelling to a Liverpool game is something I can understand...
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Old Mar 12, 18, 12:57 pm
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Nice report. Up the reds! Just got back from a LFC trip last week for Newcastle and Porto. I love the Aloft and always stay there. Make sure you become friends with the night manager James - great guy and massive red. And the best post-match pie is at Homebaked - all proceeds go to local charities!
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Old Mar 12, 18, 3:47 pm
  #13  
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Originally Posted by r_tsunami View Post
Nice report. Up the reds! Just got back from a LFC trip last week for Newcastle and Porto. I love the Aloft and always stay there. Make sure you become friends with the night manager James - great guy and massive red. And the best post-match pie is at Homebaked - all proceeds go to local charities!
Thanks mate. As stated, I had a Homebaked Scouse Pie before the match. Will definitely be back to the Aloft and make it a point to meet James. Last year when I stayed there, I met a couple of the LFC marketing guys up from the London office who always stay there as LFC office is around the corner.
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Old Mar 12, 18, 3:48 pm
  #14  
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Originally Posted by Fredrik74 View Post
I'm following this. Travelling to a Liverpool game is something I can understand...
Well, you're Scandinavian so that's a given...
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Old Mar 12, 18, 4:01 pm
  #15  
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10/17 - Slovenia!

I had the option of the lounge or the restaurant for breakfast (SPG Gold but SPG Biz Amex card gets me lounge access at Sheratons) and since the snooty front desk guy had put me on a low floor, I opted for the restaurant. It was an excellent choice as the options were endless.

I stored my rollaboard at the luggage storage on the lower level at AMS as I was coming back through there the next day and I wanted to travel light for my 24 hours in Slovenia. It was easy to find and easy to use.

I went to the KLM Crown Lounge 25 and man, was that thing huge. I wasnít hungry, but I nibbled and had another cup of coffee. My flight to Graz was on another E190 and this time, it was on time. Another nice snack was served and we had great views of the Alps on the way into Graz.



Graz has a small but nice airport and the local S-Bahn has a station within easy walking distance. The weather was beautiful, in the 60s and sunny. I bought a R/T ticket to Maribor from the ticket machine (glad I had my Arrival+ for the Chip/PIN capability as there was no ticket window). I met up with a few fellow supporters who had come in on my flight. When we got to the last station in Austria, we had about an hour to kill before the Maribor train. We did as all good football fans do and found a pub for a quick pint.

We got to Maribor around 1pm and I headed off in search of my Airbnb. I put my phone on airplane mode for the 20 or so hours in Maribor as there is no Verizon Travel Pass service in Slovenia and I didnít feel like dealing with roaming. Using offline maps, I found the place and boy was it nice and had good Wi-Fi too:

Lofted bed area:



Interesting decorations:



Plenty of room:



I was starting to feel like crap at this point (probably due to all the traveling over the past 24 hours) and took a nap. I went over to the main square around 4pm and met up with two other guys who were buying their tickets from the same shady Ukrainian source.

Some sights on the way:




We had a few beers and then along came the Austrian guy who was buying my second ticket. We all walked over to the stadium around 6pm to see if we could get the tickets.

As an aside, these were scoutís tickets. In other words, other clubs requested tickets for their ďscoutsĒ and then someone at the club sold them on to the Ukrainian guy who sold them on to us, giving our names back to the scoutís club, who gave them to Maribor. When I picked up the tickets, they were in an envelope with my name and Swansea City (another Premier League club) on the envelope. What a racket!
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