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Air France Takes Us to AC Milan v. Celtic

Air France Takes Us to AC Milan v. Celtic

Old Mar 26, 07, 4:33 pm
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Air France Takes Us to AC Milan v. Celtic

TRIP REPORT—The ultimate sports road trip—traveling from America to see the great representatives of the Irish diaspora, Celtic Football Club, play one of the world’s great teams, A.C. Milan, at one of the world’s great sporting venues, Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, better known as the San Siro, in the second leg of their round of 16 match-up in the UEFA Champions League. Plus, three days in Venice, as well as side trips to Padua and Trieste, and visits to two harness racing tracks.

DAY ONE—Tuesday, March 6, 2007

After finishing a meeting on the 8th floor of the FCC building in southwest Washington, I drove over to my wife’s office building a few blocks away, arriving there on the stroke of noon. My wife having emerged from that “puzzle palace on the Potomac”, we were off for Dulles Airport, some 26 miles west of the Capitol. We arrived in the long-term parking lot at about 2:00 p.m., after stopping for lunch at the P. F. Chang’s in the Tysons Corner Galleria and consuming excellent Kung Pao Shrimp in the dinette of my Roadtrek van. Within 30 minutes we had made our way to the terminal building, were quickly checked-in by an efficient Air France employee, and were through security. There is substantial construction ongoing at IAD, including the construction of an elaborate underground people mover system (a la Atlanta and Cincinnati) for access to the midfield terminals there, but the work is far from finished, and it takes almost 15 minutes to walk through an underground corridor to reach midfield concourse B. Upon arrival, we reach the Air France Club, where my Delta Platinum/Sky Team Elite Plus status gets us in. This club has an excellent choice of beverages, including champagne and crème de cassis. I fix my wife a Kir, while I go with unadulterated champagne. A very nice touch.

The flight, AF39, is scheduled to leave at 4:55 p.m.; it is a Boeing 777-200, with about 275 seats across all cabins, but is less than half full. The flight starts boarding at 4:20 p.m., and boarding is complete 20 minutes later. The AF flight attendant crew take the initiative to move passengers around so that everyone in the back has an empty seat next to him or her if they wish. The AF coach seats are upholstered in comfortable cloth, and have a very nice recline (significantly more than domestic coach seats on US airliners), so our in-flight accommodations on this run are very agreeable. The flight leaves the gate at least 10 minutes early, and was airborne by 5:05 p.m. The estimated flying time for the 3850 miles to Paris Charles de Gaulle was given out as 6 hours 18 minutes (Paris is six time zones east of Washington). Dinner was a sort of salade nicoise with some kind of middle eastern concoction (couscous?) mixed in with salmon (in lieu of tuna) and vegetables, followed by a decent tasting beef stew (“beef with vegetable sauce”, according to the menu). The highlight of this repast at 37,000 feet was a surprisingly good 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Pays d’Oc under the label of La Baume (the FA gave me two bottles, which was nice), taken along side an incredibly delicious portion of camembert. The small unexpected pleasures of something like this is why I always look forward to traveling. My adrenaline was absolutely flowing—much like it does when I am on the 10 hour road trip from Maryland to Notre Dame on home game weekends in the fall—and I was unable to sleep for more than maybe 45 minutes. One of the flight attendants, a 40-ish female, spends about 30 minutes talking with me and my wife—it turns out that she is a harness racing fan, having attended the races at Paris’ famous Vincennes hippodrome on several occasions. She and her colleagues gave us absolutely great service on this route.

The route was “Jersey to Jersey”, as we left the continental United States at about Asbury Park, New Jersey, and the next land we flew over was the Island of Jersey, then reaching the mainland overhead Cotentin department, overflying Bayeux, Caen and Rouen on the way into CDG, where we were forced to circle to the north and east of the field (at 5:20 a.m. local time) before finally being allowed to turn to the west, and then touching down at about 5:35 a.m—not too shabby, considering that scheduled arrival time was 6:20 a.m. We did lose about 15 minutes in taxiing around the immense CDG layout, and dodging the construction at Terminal 2E, which was wrecked when the concrete construction of that building (which resembles a Washington Metro station) failed and the structure buckled and collapsed in the middle. From my inspection of the construction, completion looks like another 18-24 months away. The plane reached its parking stand, we deplaned on mobile air stairs, and walked into the corridor leading to immigrations and customs. It still wasn’t even midnight on the east coast of the United States.

DAY TWO—Wednesday, March 7, 2007—MATCH DAY IN MILAN

There was a crowd in the arrivals hall, and it took about 30 minutes from the time the plane parked until we were able to speak to the immigration police and be cleared into France. It requires maybe 5 minutes to walk from the exit from the customs green line in Terminal 2E through an underground corridor (with a large photo collage of General de Gaulle) to Terminal 2F, where Air France has its “Schengen Treaty” flight operations. It took about 15 minutes to go through security there—the procedures there have been “enhanced” to resemble security at American airports (coats off, shoes off, liquids in little plastic Ziploc bags, laptops out of cases, etc.). For the 1 hour flight to Milan-Malpensa, AF was using the very crowed concourse housing gates 21-36; making things much better was the Air France lounge which is below the boarding concourse and reached by stairs near the end of the concourse—they had an excellent continental breakfast service, with freshly baked French croissants and pastries, fruit, yogurt, and a fully stocked beverage area and full bar (I had the breakfast of champions, pain au chocolate avec Armagnac).

We had sort of an unusual situation in boarding our flight, as instead of reaching the plane via jetway, we were placed on buses and driven out to the plane, which was parked substantially away from the terminal. The reason for this became apparent, as the French equivalent of a paddy wagon drove up, and five police officers emerged along with a manacled prisoner. While we watched, he was escorted up the air stairs and taken to the very back row of the plane where he was belted in, a gendarme on either side. After the other police exited the plane, we were allowed to board. Again, our flight was only half-full (we were perhaps the only tourists on the flight), and by 8:15 a.m. we were airborne. I managed to drift off to sleep, but was awakened by an announcement from the flight deck that we were passing Mont Blanc. I found an empty seat on the left-hand side of the plane and viewed the majesty that is the Alps—there appeared to be a stunning amount of snow in those mountains, as few of them had any rocks or bare terrain visible. Shortly thereafter, the bells rang, and the flight was cleared to land. Our flight made an excellent landing, and we reached the gate five minutes later, at 9:20 a.m., five minutes behind schedule. Because we had cleared immigration at CDG, we did not have to clear it again at Malpensa (MXP); we did have to go through the customs green line with our bags (which we didn’t have to do in Paris), and were not stopped by the polizia di dogana (or whatever they’re called, perhaps “Guardia di Finanza”).

Our hotel, the Berna, was within 200 yards or so of Milan’s central railway station (Milano Centrale), so it turned out to be most convenient for us to take the twice-hourly non-stop bus service there, where €11.00 buys you a one-way ticket for two, plus one return to the airport (a strange but interesting travel deal). There is a train to Milan from MXP, over the commuter network known as “Le Nord” (Ferrovia Milano Nord), but it terminates at Cadorna station west of central Milan, and necessitates a transfer to either the Milan subway (Metropolitana) or tram network to go on to Milano Centrale. Malpensa is northwest of central Milan, and is somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-35 miles away. We left MXP at about 9:45 a.m. and reached our hotel around 11:00 a.m. MXP has two terminals, which are on opposite sides of the airport, and our bus stopped at the other terminal, where literally thousands of Celtic supporters were arriving on a convoy of charter flights and low cost carrier scheduled flights (Easy Jet), and there were at least 20 coaches filled with Bhoys and Ghirls about to depart for their respective hotels around the area. Looking out the window, I made eye contact with some on the buses and gave them the thumbs up sign, and their buses returned the salutes. We knew at that point we were going to have a good day, regardless of the outcome of the match.

I booked a higher end hotel because my wife was with me, and she would not accept the sparse Travelodge/Etap type rooms that are more than acceptable to me when I go on sports trips to Europe. The Berna’s rate was €259 ($348), but turned out to be an exceptional buy, because the proprietor is apparently Swiss (the hotel carries the Italian name of Switzerland’s capital city), operates hotels in Switzerland, and the service lived up to Swiss hotel standards, and was at once extremely friendly and extremely efficient. We were allowed to check in early, and our room was simply beautiful, had an extremely comfortable bed, flat screen HD television and internet access. On TV, the government network RAI Uno was having a variety show called “Occhio a Spesa” (which I think translates to “Look at Grocery Shopping”), a combination of Rachael Ray and Hee-Haw (with a male host), which turned out to be an hour-long homage to Gorgonzola cheese—unbelievable. By this hour, the legions of Celtic supporters had invaded the large piazza in front of Milano Centrale (it seemed only appropriate, as Celtic tribes had invaded Lombardy some 2600 years prior and established the settlement which is today’s Milan), and their singing serenaded us off to a nap.

We woke up at about 3:00 p.m. The match was still 5 hours 45 minutes away. By this time, strains of “Hail Hail”, “Fields of Athenry”, “A Soldier’s Song” and “Willie Maley” were almost deafening. We decided that we needed to do our sleeping at home, and, still groggy from a long night and morning of flying and traveling, it was show time. And what a show it was.

Leaving the hotel, we walked in the direction of Milano Centrale and entered the Metropolitana station in front of it. We were able to purchase 24 hour passes for all Milan subway, bus, tram and commuter rail services within the Milan urbanized area for the bargain price of €3.00 ($3.90) per person out of a machine that takes both money and credit cards. As this probably encompassed an area similar to the area within the Washington Beltway, and as Milan is a streetcar and train lover’s paradise, this was the best public transit deal I have come across in Europe. We took Line Number 3 (marked in yellow on transit maps) five stops south to the Piazza del Duomo, emerging in front of one of the most historic places in the history of Roman Catholicism, Milan’s Cathedral, the place where St. Ambrose, one of the original four doctors of the Church, baptized Augustine of Hippo, the place where St. Jerome, the preserver of Holy Scripture, was once the Archbishop. In fact, one can see the place where Augustine’s baptism took place, the “Battistero Paleocristiano”, ruins beneath the church (there is a €1.50 admission fee to enter this portion of the Duomo).

It was in this piazza where the maelstrom that is Celtic F.C. on tour was in full force. There was no violence, but lots of singing and drinking—sadly, because there were no public waste containers, beer bottles and cans were strewn and smashed on the ground all over the place. We were mingling with the Celtic supporters, learning that some had come from Belfast, others from Dublin, others from various places in Scotland. There were a group of 20-something young women from Japan with banners of their hero, Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura. Then, an A.C. Milan supporter (the only jerk we came across related to the home team) set off an orange colored smoke bomb, scattering the Celtic fans, and causing the Polizia to make their presence known (up to this point, they were standing back and watching the fun).

At this point, we got out of the piazza, and into the magnificent shopping arcade on one side of it, built in the late 19th century, claimed to be the world’s first shopping mall, with a large glass dome over the center of it. After a quick tour of it, we moved on, and my wife used this opportunity to duck into her favorite store in Italy, La Rinascente—the good news for me was that she didn’t buy anything. While she shopped I went into the men’s section and looked at suits—premium materials and craftsmanship, starting at about €1,000.00 ($1,300.00), making the suits I buy for myself at Rochester in DC ($750.00 buys a more than acceptable lawyer’s suit) a bargain. Dress shirts were €100.00 and up.

By this time it was almost 6:00 p.m. We went to Milan without match tickets, hoping and expecting that we would find a way into the stadium (I had gotten into sold-out events at places like Highbury and Stamford Bridge in London, Ibrox in Glasgow and the Stade de France in Paris). However, after this trip had been planned in December, there were soccer riots at two venues in the south of Italy, and two policemen had been killed in separate incidents, leading the Italian government to forbid the playing of soccer matches for two weeks, and then placing security restrictions on the attending of matches. In fact, there had been a substantial chance that this match would not be allowed to be played in Milan, and preparations had been made to stage it in a 30,000 seat stadium in Geneva, rather than at the spectacular 85,700 seat San Siro. Somehow, A. C. Milan (which is controlled by the ultra-wealthy former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi) was able to reach a deal with police to open the San Siro for the match, but with the number of tickets allowed to be sold to 67,500. A week before the match, the police chief of Milan warned Celtic fans without tickets not to show up in Milan, under threat of being arrested if they tried to enter sections of the San Siro reserved for home fans (Celtic had been given only 4,750 “official” tickets for the lower deck at the north end of the ground) (the San Siro has three decks, with the top most areas of the highest deck reminding the writer of the old 700 sections in the now demolished Vet in Philadelphia). However, feeling that, because we had American passports and were wearing neutral clothes (I had some Celtic badges with me, but that’s all), we’d be OK, we headed for the San Siro.

Going out to the ground, we used Subway Line #1 in the direction of Rho. The trip took a good 20 minutes. The train we took was packed with Celtic supporters, and they sang at the top of their lungs all the way to Lotto station, about ¾ mile from the ground. The man sitting next to me on the train told me he was from Belfast, and he was slightly upset that I, a fellow Celtic supporter, wasn’t singing—I told him there was a simple explanation for this, as I did not know the words to the songs. I did offer to sing the Notre Dame Victory March, and he smiled and left me alone. At Lotto, the crowds alighted from the train in something akin to a cattle stampede, and my wife and I held back and let the crowds go in front of us.

The San Siro district of Milan is home not only to the famous soccer stadium, but also to two separate horse racing courses. The route to the stadium went along side the Hippodrome di San Siro, the most important thoroughbred race course in Italy, where the home stretch must run for at least four furlongs. Immediately next to the stadium is the Hippodromo del Trotter, a 5/8 mile circumference harness racing track. One of the funniest things I’ve seen in attending sporting events was a portable concession stand, located a stone’s throw from both race courses, selling “Carne di Cavalli” (horse meat sandwiches). I was amazed at the number and quality of the portable concession stands, selling delicious looking prosciutto and salami sandwiches on crusty bread; all of them also sold beer and wine; the beer, at €4.00 for an 11 ounce can (supermarkets were selling cans at between €0.65-1.00) was not such a good deal. I was able to buy a souvenir soccer scarf commemorating the match for €5.00.

We weren’t sure what we’d find when we got out to the stadium. We had heard that a promoter was putting on an Irish music concert at the stand at the thoroughbred racetrack and had arranged for big screen TVs, and we decided that if we couldn’t get into the ground we would go there. But, to our surprise, ticket windows were open, and we were able to actually buy seats from A. C. Milan, rather than from a scalper (or “tout” as they are called in Europe). The club’s security measure was to require each person buying a ticket to present their passport or other acceptable ID, and the club actually printed the person’s name on the ticket through their computer system. We were able to buy tickets for €75.00 each (the only cheaper tickets were €35.00 in the third deck), but since my wife spoke to the ticket seller in Italian, we ended up with tickets for seats that were incredible, as they were almost on the half-way line, 15 rows up in the lower deck. We were in an A.C. Milan section, but that was OK as my wife speaks considerable amounts of Italian, and we were able to watch the goings on at the Celtic end.

By this time, it was not even 7:00 p.m., and we were hungry. In walking for almost a mile we had not passed a restaurant, and we decided that we wanted hot food served at a table as opposed to sandwiches from a stand-up place. We walked probably another ¾ mile, past a large parking lot, and then down a long street to get to the other corner of the ground. We then spied a small business district, and decided to try the first decent looking restaurant we came to. As it is a fact that God looks out after drunks, little children and Irishmen (and yours truly qualifies under all three categories), the restaurant we chose, the “Vecchia Locanda”, at #147 Via Novara, was excellent, serving large portions of Tagliatelle ai funghi, a carafe of excellent vino rosso and bottles of acqua frizzante (carbonated mineral water). It was a local’s place (pizzas were baked there in a traditional stone hearth fueled by wood) (il forno), the service was warm and welcoming and wonderful. I know that there are hundreds if not thousands of similar establishments across Italy, so this particular place was not that remarkable, but we were reminded why we like traveling in Italy so much, as there is such a high standard of food and drink, and even simple fare can be very special. One great thing is that, by speaking a few words of Italian and being deferential, one can get a long way with service staff in most establishments in Italy.

We wandered back to the stadium, and found the particular place were we needed to enter. The police were doing two checks, one at police line metal barriers set up 50 yards outside the entrance, and another at the turnstiles, but, other than looking at our tickets and passports, we weren’t patted down (as I had been at Budapest’s Nepstadion in 2003) or made to go through metal detectors. It took about 30 minutes of standing in line to go through this; we did get to our seats just moments before both teams emerged from the tunnel at mid-field on the other side of the stadium (at matches like these, the players from each team walk out onto the field side-by-side, each team in single file) to a mutual gigantic roar from both sets of supporters. No national anthems were played—rather, both teams stood at attention while a recording of the UEFA Champions League theme song (performed by an orchestra and chorale) was blasted over the loud speakers. That short ceremony having concluded, the match commenced, presided over by a team of officials from Austria).

Why was this match taking place? A. C. Milan had won the “scudetto”, emblematic as champions of Italy’s premier national soccer competition, the “Serie A”, in the 2005-06 season. Celtic were champions of the Scottish Premier League, the highest league in that nation (Scotland has a league set-up totally separate from England, Wales or Northern Ireland). Each season, UEFA, the sanctioning body for soccer in 50 countries and territories in Europe and certain lands in Asia Minor (stretching from Iceland and the Faeroe Islands to Israel, Georgia and Azerbaijan), operates a tournament involving the champions of each country and, for the major soccer leagues such as Spain, England, Italy and Germany, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th place teams, and runners-up in a number of other countries. There are close to 100 clubs involved in this competition when it starts in mid-July of each year with three rounds of qualifying, to winnow the field down to 32 teams (the champions of 12 different leagues are not required to qualify, but are given automatic berths among the 32—both A. C. Milan and Celtic were among the 12).

When the 32 teams are known by late August, there is a drawing conducted on live TV to determine the composition of eight four-team groups. There is a seeding that takes place, so that the top eight seeded teams avoid each other in the group stages. In the case of Celtic, they were drawn into a group with Manchester United, Benfica (Portugal’s most famous team) and F. C. Copenhagen. They played a six game home and home mini-league. Celtic won all of their matches played at Celtic Park (including a heart-stopping 1-0 decision over Man U, where Celtic scored on a free kick from their Japanese star Shunsuke Nakamura with 10 minutes left, and then their Polish star goalkeeper Artur Boruc saved a penalty kick in the 89th minute); despite losing all of their road matches, they finished second in the group behind Man U. At this point, the field was reduced to 16 teams, and the first and second placed finishers in the group stages advanced to a single elimination “knock-out” phase, played over two games, total goals (where the score was tied on aggregate, the team scoring more “away goals” would be declared the winner”). The two games are spaced two weeks apart, and are played in the middle of the week, so as not to interfere with the national league schedules of the teams. The competition between Celtic and A. C. Milan had commenced two weeks prior, in front of 60,000 hysterical Celtic supporters, and finished 0-0.

UEFA, the organizers of this tournament, stole from the NCAA by calling these knockout rounds “The Road to Athens” (where the final, Europe’s equivalent to the Super Bowl, will be played this May), and actually had a banner with those words, and the jumbotron had a graphic, in English, “The Road to Athens”.

As it turned out, there were an estimated 15,000 Celtic supporters in Milan on March 7. In Milan, the home team was having trouble selling tickets to the match (for them, Celtic is like a “mid-major”, as their major international rivals are teams like Man U, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich), particularly at the prices they were charging, up to €260.00 per person, and reports were that, as of the day of the match, they had only sold 45,000 tickets. Celtic fans bearing passports of any nation were sold tickets, and any Celtic fan in town who wanted to see the match in person and could produce identification was accommodated—A. C. Milan actually opened up a part of the third deck at the north end of the ground, which was not supposed to be opened, and put the additional Celtic support up there. Also, so-called “segregation” rules were not enforced, and there were Celtic supporters in most sections of the ground. The inside of the San Siro is simple but spectacular. The field is completely enclosed by three large decks (the only stadia in the US that are comparable in design are Giants Stadium in New Jersey and FedEx Field here in Maryland); at each corner is a brick cylindrical structure with little windows, which support gigantic steel beams which in turn support the large roofs that cover the seating areas. Those roofs came in handy on the evening of March 7, as a light rain fell on Milan.

As for the match itself, A. C. Milan established itself as the better team, and had the ball in Celtic’s end for most of the match. The final statistics flashed upon the stadium jumbotron (suspended from the roof of the stadium over the half-way line on each side) revealed that A. C. Milan had a stunning 36 attempts on Celtic’s goal, to only 9 by Celtic on A. C. Milan’s goal. Milan attackers shot the ball off Celtic’s crossbar twice, and on at least eight other plays were denied by brilliant acrobatic saves by Artur Boruc. As there was a light sprinkle of rain at various points in the evening, the field became slippery, and footing became a problem for both sides as the match wore on.

Yet, Celtic should have won this match in the 90 minutes. The Austrian referee injected himself into this match through three critical no-calls, two of which should have gone in Celtic’s favor. In the first 10 minutes of the match, an A. C. Milan player clearly touched the ball with his hand in his own penalty area, but appeals for a penalty kick fell on deaf ears. Early in the second half, a Celtic defender brought down an A. C. Milan attacker right on the 18 yard line, and the ref opted to award A. C. Milan a free kick inches from the penalty area rather than a penalty kick—Celtic successfully defended. Then, with five minutes of the 90 to go, Celtic’s Nakamura found himself with the ball in Milan’s area with only one defender and the goalkeeper to beat. He was clearly knocked down from behind by a push from the defender (television replays and observations of British sports reporters who covered the match confirmed this)—no penalty kick was awarded, the ref opting to “play on”. Three minutes of very tense injury time took place, but no goals were scored, and the 90 minutes ended 0-0.

Americans dislike soccer because of its lack of scoring, but this match was incredibly exciting to watch, because of the speed of the players, the incredible skills in receiving and making passes, the absolute brilliance of Artur Boruc in goal, and, just as importance, the stunning passion exhibited by both sets of supporters. The A. C. Milan fans chanted “Milan, Milan, Milan” (accent on the first syllable), and sung their songs, and the Celtic support sung their hearts out, their 15,000 trying to make more noise than the 50,000+ Milan fans, and often succeeding. There were times in the second half when the Celtic support stopped singing through sheer exhaustion, and the game visibly slowed down. Then, all of a sudden, the Celtic players got possession and started a move toward the Milan goal, and the wild cacophony of cheering and singing started anew, and the pace of the game picked up. I had been in the middle of the Celtic support at Ibrox a year ago, on the occasion of Celtic’s 1-0 victory over hated rivals Rangers in the “Old Firm Derby”, and, as great as Celtic’s support was that day, their performance in the San Siro was even better.

Since the two games had ended scoreless, and there had to be a winner, 30 minutes of extra time were to be played (in two halves of 15 minutes, teams changing ends at the interval), and, if the match ended scoreless, a penalty kick shootout would be conducted to determine the winner.

Unfortunately for Celtic, their dreams died within 120 seconds of the restart. Milan’s great Brazilian star, Kaka’ (shirt no. 22), picked up a relatively harmless pass at the mid-field circle, and then went on a solo run evading at least five different Celtic defenders before ending up one-on-one with Boruc and slipping a neat shot through his legs for the game’s only goal. To their credit, Celtic never quit, and, near the end of the extra 30 minutes, earned a corner kick, which incited their support to even higher decibel levels. Unhappily, Milan cleared the danger, and the clock ran out. Two players on Celtic that I have exceptionally high praise for are attacking midfielder Aiden McGeady, who isn’t even old enough to legally buy a drink in the USA, who has an amazing future ahead of him, and fullback Lee Naylor, who last season was plying his trade for Wolverhampton Wanderers in England’s second highest league, but now was brilliantly defending and frustrating guys with world famous names like Seedorf and Kaka’.

Professional athletes are viewed as prima donnas, and many professional sporting events are sleep walks, with players either indifferent to the fans or exhausted from the demands of travel and business ventures away from their teams. The men who played in this match on both sides played their guts out, and showed amazing skill and heart. At the end of the match, Celtic players were laying on the ground, absolutely exhausted, having given everything for their club and their supporters. To their credit, the Milan players were gracious in victory, and made extra efforts to congratulate and console their Celtic counterparts. To his credit, Celtic’s manager, Gordon Strachan, hugged as many Celtic players as he encountered. For those of us who love Notre Dame and attended their epic game vs. Southern California in 2005, the scene was similar—our team had given us everything it had to give. And then, once the players from both teams had left the field, something amazing happened—almost in unison, all the A. C. Milan supporters remaining in the stadium turned toward the Celtic end and applauded and cheered the Celtic supporters—I have never seen anything like that in 45 years of attending sporting events. Announcements had been made over the loud speakers for the Celtic fans not to try to leave the San Siro until the police gave the OK. As a result, the Celtic fans stayed in place, applauding their team and continuing to sing their great songs, including one of the most moving songs in the world of sport, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, and sing it with passion; perhaps it was because there was no ill will between the clubs whatsoever. I know that I liked and admired what I saw at A. C. Milan, and can understand why they have legions of fans throughout the world. Even though Celtic were defeated, it was absolutely worth the trip to see this match. I will never forget it the rest of my life.

I will also long remember how I physically felt at the end of the match—I was dehydrated, and, even though I stayed relatively quiet (for me, a real feat) because of where I was sitting, I was emotionally drained. I had trouble getting my legs to move to walk down the stairs and into the ramp to start heading for the hotel. We returned to our hotel by a different route—in our explorations prior to the match, we had found that there was a large streetcar marshalling yard and station at the south end of the San Siro, and the #16 car headed for the Duomo. So we (and at least 100 others) hopped on the tram after a wait of no more than 2 minutes, and it headed east through a very dark Milan, reaching the Duomo perhaps 30 minutes later, and right on the stroke of midnight. The ride was much more subdued than the one out to the ground. We caught the second to last train on subway line #3, and reached our hotel just before 12:30 a.m.

DAY THREE—Thursday, March 8, 2007—en route to Venice

We woke up at 9:30 a.m.—good thing that the hotel served breakfast until 10:30. The Berna had an excellent breakfast set-up, with delicious cold ham (“crudo”) and also hot American-style bacon (presumably from Denmark) and scrambled eggs, together with lovingly baked breads and pastries and an impressive array of fresh fruit, including blood oranges and wonderfully firm cantaloupe. Having enjoyed this repast, we rested some before checking out at about noon and walking back to Milano Centrale. We were going to buy unlimited ride train passes, but an ticket selling clerk of the state railway (FS or Trenitalia) convinced us that it would be better value for us simply to buy point-to-point tickets out of selling machines. The FS has done an excellent job of placing ticket selling machines in their major stations, which are programmed to work in six different languages (including Japanese), sell tickets to all stations in the country and take all credit cards. We were able to buy 2nd class tickets on the new pendolino (tilting train) service of a joint venture between the FS and the Swiss Federal Railway known as Cisalpino, to Venice’s Santa Lucia station, for €22.00 per person one way, a trip of about 265 kilometers (165 miles), which took 2 hours 40 minutes to complete. Having 45 minutes before the train departure at about 1:00 p.m., we discovered a supermarket on the ground floor of Milano Centrale (the train departures are on the third level of the station) operated by a national chain called Sigma. We picked up some snacks and drinks for the train trip, and made our way to binario (track) 6, where our train was just arriving from Geneva.

Milano Centrale might be best known to Americans as the railway station in Von Ryan’s Express where Frank Sinatra, Trevor Howard and company went into the control tower and smashed the control panel (if I’m not mistaken, the train scenes in Dr. Zhivago were filmed there, because of the huge and distinctive curved roof over the train shed). It was constructed by Mussolini, and it is one of the most impressive-looking buildings of its type in Europe.

There was very little second class about our accommodations on the pendolino train, an ETR470 class train set (somewhat akin to the Acela that runs in the US northeast corridor, but with a less aerodynamic nose at either end). The seating was two by two, with facing seats having a table between them, and electrical outlets, perfect for working or having a picnic.

Although not as dramatic a run as, say, Bologna-Florence-Rome, Milan to Venice offers a variety of scenery, and major mountains (the Alps and Dolomites) are visible off to the left of the train all the way to Venice. The route passes through the charming small city of Brescia, then along the south shore of a beautiful large lake known as Garda and through the town of Peschiera del Garda, then leaves Lombardy and enters the Veneto just west of Verona, then skirts Verona to the south, stopping at Verona Porta Nuova station (the halfway point of this journey), just to the east of which the Roman gate to the city can be seen. Porta Nuova is the jumping off point for Trento, the Brenner Pass, Innsbruck and ultimately Munich. Verona, famous for Romeo and Juliet, appeared to be a ancient city with much to offer, and I intend to spend some time there on my next trip to Italy.

Beyond Verona, the train stopped at two other historic cities, Vicenza and Padova (Padua), before stopping at Venice’s mainland station, Mestre, and then crossing a seven-kilometer causeway across the Lagoon of Venice before reaching the terminus of this route, Venezia Santa Lucia, so named because the remains of the famous Christian martyr St. Lucy are entombed in a basilica 200 meters away from the station (interestingly, there is a church immediately next to the station, Saint Mary of Nazareth—Santa Lucia is about a 4-5 minute walk beyond that church). I’m not sure whether there is another train station like Santa Lucia in the world—its structure is ordinary, but its location is not, as only about 20 steps separate it from the Grand Canal, and the Scalzi bridge over the canal.

We arrived into Santa Lucia on time at 3:40 p.m. local time. This was the third time I had been to Venice, and, on each of the prior occasions, I had success in obtaining a great hotel room on good terms from the hotel booking office in the station operated by the local tourist information office (there is another hotel booking service in the station, but privately operated). Venice must have literally thousands of hotels, albergos, pensions, hostels, etc., etc., as it is one of the major tourist destinations in the world. This particular office makes sense of it all. Although my inclination is to stay very close to railway stations while traveling in Europe (and there is an excellent hotel within 50 yards of Santa Lucia called L’Abbazia), my wife wanted to stay close to Piazza San Marco (30 minutes by foot or 35 minutes by public transit “vaporetto” watercraft from Santa Lucia), and the lady at the hotel booking office got us a five-star hotel just behind the Piazza for almost 50% off the published rates, the Luna Baglioni, a wonderful hotel with impeccable service.

Unlike Milan’s tourist friendly public transit system, Venice charges extremely high prices for its system. A one-way trip on a vaporetto, regardless of distance, is €6.00, with a 24 hour unlimited ride pass €13.50 and a 72 hour unlimited ride pass €30.00 (this pass is also good on buses which run between Piazzale Roma and the Mestre/Marghera districts on the mainland and also on the island known as Lido). Tourists basically would need to know just two vaporetto routes—Route #82, the express which links Santa Lucia with the Rialto, Piazza San Marco, and the Lido, and Route #1, the local which stops every 400 yards or so up and down the Grand Canal.

We were advised that, as we had come into rush hour in Venice, the best way to get to our hotel was to take the #82 boat in the opposite direction, meaning to circle Venice by the waterway passing between the main portion of town and the island of Giudecca. We did that, and arrived in the Piazza San Marco shortly before 5:00 p.m.

After checking into the hotel, and wandering about the Piazza for a time, we decided that we wanted to have a cold supper rather than a restaurant meal. On the boat trip, we had noticed a line of small shops and salumeria on Giudecca, and we took a vaporetto to get back over there. We got some sensational cold cuts, cheese, olives, bread and a large bottle of my favorite cheap Italian vino, Lambrusco (and had fun shopping for it too), went back to the hotel and had a feast. I think our total tab for all of this was less than €20.00. Thus ended day one in Venice.

DAY FOUR—Friday March 9, 2007—Venice and Padua

The highlight of our hotel has to be the sumptuous breakfast buffet, served in a classic dining room with a high, vaulted ceiling on which a mural was painted. The buffet came complete with unlimited prosecco. After having dined on delicious fruit and croissants (abstaining from the breakfast of champions on this occasion), it was time to set out for adventure. My wife was interested in a shopping debauch, and I was interested in seeing new things and touring Padua, we split up. I decided to walk back to Santa Lucia station, and took a route that cut across the section of Venice north and east of the Grand Canal which led to the Rialto bridge (similar in a few respects to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence), crossed the bridge and through the marketplace on the opposite side, then navigated by following signs through the residential neighborhoods and church piazzas over to the Scalzi bridge, almost directly in front of Santa Lucia station, arriving there just after noon, and, after buying a rail ticket out of a machine (€2.70 each way for the 37 km trip), made the 12:09 local train for Padua, arriving there (after 5 intermediate stops) at about 12:45. I had two goals in Padua—one, to find the basilica dedicated to St. Anthony; and two, to make first post at the trotting races at Le Padovanelle raceway, which was at 3:15. Padua is a charming city of slightly over 200,000 population—despite this number of people, the distance from the railway station at the north end of town to the wall at the south end of town can’t be more than 2 miles (by contrast, the town is probably 6-7 miles from west to east). There are four separate bus lines and a tramway that connect the railway station with “Piazza Santo”, where, upon alighting from bus or tram, one walks about 150 yards east and finds the lovely Basilica of San Antonio.

St. Anthony of Padua, the patron of those who are searching for lost things, and “The Hammer of Heresy”, among other titles, is entombed here. St. Anthony was Portuguese, became an Augustinian friar, preached the gospel to the Moslems of North Africa, got shipwrecked and somehow ended up on Sicily, came in contact with Franciscans, made his way to Assisi, then came under the Archbishop of Bologna, taught and preached at universities in Bologna, Toulouse, Montpellier as well as the university in Padua (which still exists to this day), and was known as perhaps the most eloquent and dynamic Christian preacher of his day, sadly dying at age 35 on June 13, 1231. It took about a century to complete the basilica which houses his tomb. It is an absolutely sensational place. I had a meaningful pilgrimage there.

Padua just dripped with charm—it still has a wall around much of it, there are several beautiful churches (the local cathedral is at least a mile from San Antonio), like most cities of its size in Europe, it has a decent sized pedestrian-only downtown shopping district, and Roman ruins (there was an amphitheater there, and a Catholic church stands on the grounds, probably meaning that there were martyrdoms that took place there). From the train the place doesn’t look like much, but the town starts in earnest about ½ mile south of the station.

Upon returning to the station, I was able to catch bus #18 in the direction of Ponte di Brenta, and, about 4 miles east, I alighted and walked about 500 yards to the trotting track, where some kind of horse racing has been taking place since 1808, reputed to be the oldest racecourse in Italy (the track is visible from both the adjacent railway line and the adjacent autostrada). I paid €4.00 admission, which included a nice program (although there are no past performance lines like in American and Canadian “trot books”). The plant itself is modern and clean, and the racecourse is a classic-half miler (804.5 meters)—there was a nine race card, with the distances raced 1640 meters (1 mile and 101 feet) and 2040 meters (1-1/4 miles and 93 feet). Six horses lined up behind the starting gate (although they staged races with 14 and 18 horses in them), which was a modified Mercedes four door sedan. Races went off every 25 minutes or so. There was “simulcast” wagering into nationwide pools operated by the Italian government monopoly, not just on Le Padovanelle, but also on trotting tracks at Foggia in southern Italy and Caen in France, and on thoroughbreds at Cappanelle south of Rome and at Fontainebleu in France. In Italy, the betting resembles tote betting in the United States, with win and show betting, a quiniela (the “accoppiata” or “due”) and the “trio” (trifecta). There was a big one that got away—in the 14 horse seventh race, a 30-1 shot won, followed by a 5-1 shot and a 122-1 shot, and the trio paid €31,800 and change for a €1 bet. I managed to cash two bets at Le Padovanella, one at Foggia and one at Cappanelle, and ended up just down €20 for the afternoon. Attendance on course was maybe 400-500 people; Italy has a nationwide off-track betting network (Azienda Ippico), so presumably most of the action was originating from those betting shops, as pool sizes were decent. For an American with a halting familiarity with Italian, the track featured Autotote self-service betting machines, and the word in Italian for voucher is “voucher”, so I only needed to visit the mutual clerk twice on the day, once to buy a voucher, and again to cash out.

Rather than take the bus back into Padua, I walked a mile to the Ponte di Brenta platform and caught a local train in the direction of Venice. I got off the train at the Mestre station, out of curiosity as to what was there. There are a couple of hotels across the street from the station, but no grocery store—the commercial district of Mestre was about 10 blocks north—so I got back on the next train (maybe 15 minutes later) and crossed the causeway back to Santa Lucia station. At that hour, the #82 boat was running express to the Rialto (where it terminated), so I hopped aboard, and walked the last 10 minutes or so to the hotel.

I lost my note on the name of the restaurant we ate in on Friday night—it was on the piazza where the Venice opera house is located, within 5 minutes of the hotel. The food was good, but the restaurant was overpriced.

DAY FIVE—Saturday, March 10, 2007

Once again, my wife and I amicably agreed to spend the day apart—she touring the island of Murano, home of the world-famous glass artisans; and I, off for a day of train riding, touring with a small amount of trot racing mixed in, to the historic city of Trieste.

I had an early but absolutely sumptuous breakfast, and got away from the hotel before 8:00 a.m. I walked a different route to Santa Lucia station, this time not crossing the Grand Canal, but following a chain of streets including the Strada Nova, finally reaching the Basilica of St. Lucy, and then the railway station. Tickets for the 157 km (97.5 mile) run to Trieste Centrale cost €8.10 in second class each way, €13.10 in first class each way—I splurged and got the first class ticket, which got me a wider seat (3 across seating, as opposed to 4 in second class) and almost total privacy, as only two other people were sitting in a carriage designed for 60+ riders. The train pulled out on schedule at 9:10 a.m. I think the train made 10 stops (the maximum train speed on this route was marked at 150 kmph) and arrived at Trieste 3 minutes early at 11:10 a.m. The ride was enjoyable—the train passed through some of the most fertile farmland in all of Europe, with the backdrop of the Julian Alps (very reminiscent of the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys in California), with a similar agriculture (grains, fruit trees, even some orange groves and one nursery which raised palm trees), and little towns such as Santa Dona del Piave, Latisana, Portogruaro, and Monfalcone. The train left the Veneto and entered into the region of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia just east of Portogruaro. At Monfalcone, 15 miles west of Trieste (the airport serving Trieste and Udine is just west of that town), the topography dramatically changed, the flat lands were behind us, and the right of way was suddenly in rugged hills, with beautiful views of the northern end of the Adriatic Sea off to the right. The train passed through tunnels, and through a suburb where a lighthouse is situated atop a hill. Finally, the train pulled into Trieste Centrale, the end of the line. One cannot take a direct train from there into Slovenia or Croatia (the line from Venice to Ljubljana, Slovenia splits from the Trieste line about six miles west of town, and crosses into Slovenia at a place called Villa Opicina).

Trieste, which the Romans named “Tergeste” two millennia ago, is a city of just 206,000 population, but is a major seaport, and was the home port for the Austrian Navy prior to World War I. It is in a dramatic setting, as every valley and hollow extending inward from the sea is filled with buildings, but is walled off from eastern Europe by mountains and bluffs—the valley beyond the bluff to the north having given the term Karst to geographers and topographers worldwide. The city is different from others in present-day Italy in that religions other than Roman Catholicism are conspicuous—a greek orthodox church, synagogue and mosque which date back to the time of the Austrian empress Maria Theresa (who declared that Trieste would be a city of religious tolerance) are civic landmarks. One comes to an understanding that he has reached the end of western Europe by roadsigns which are variously in the Slovene and Serbo-croat languages. On one corner, there is a sign for “Fiume/Rijeka”, once an Italian town now part of Croatia, 68 km away; on another intersection, there is a sign “Lubiana 99”, showing how close Eastern Europe is.

One of the famous things to do in Trieste is to take the Trieste-Opicina blue tram, line #2 (line #1 no longer exists). This is a combination electric traction street car and funicular—the tram runs for maybe 10 blocks from its station on the Piazza Oberdan in the center of town, until it reaches the start of the funicular, where the motorman gets the car in position to be attached to the cable running along the ground between the tracks, and waits until the inbound car atop the bluff is in position, when the two cars start to move toward each other, evading each other on separate tracks at the midpoint—at the top of the bluff, the car returns to electric traction power, and motors on, past the obelisk where the Hapsburg emperor built a monument to himself for having completed the road between Vienna and Trieste (via Ljubljana), and continuing down to the Slovenian-speaking town of Opicina (Ôpcine), about a mile inside Italy from the Slovenian border (one of these places one reads about in the history book that were excised from their countries by treaty negotiators and map makers). Virtually every establishment in Opicina had signage in both languages, although I found a merchant who spoke perfect English who sold me a large bottle of delicious mineral water bottled in Slovenia. I went back to the park by the obelisk, at the ridgeline, which offered incredible views of central Trieste and its harbor, some 1,400 feet in elevation below.

On the Saturday I visited, €1.00 bought a transit ticket good for four hours, which included the tramway.

Trieste is not a tourist town like Venice or Florence—a tour bus only runs once a week on Saturday afternoons in the summer, there were few souvenir stands or places selling guide books (I did find a good guide book at the tram station in central Trieste)—which in my view makes it a terrific place to experience Europe. Over the course of the afternoon I probably walked 4-5 miles.

During my day I paid a visit to Trieste’s trotting track, Ippodromo Montebello, built into the side of a hill on the east side of town and well above central Trieste—I took a cab as I was unfamiliar with the local transit system and there was no signage at the train station to help out (as opposed to Padua, where there was excellent signage and assistance to visitors). The ride was €8.00 and was well worth it, as I got an overview of the city—the bus route back to the center of town was apparent from the stop across the street from the entrance to the raceway.

Like Padua, the track was one-half mile in circumference—six horses lined up behind the gate, with others lined up behind them in a second tier. The infield message board had an easy to read “teletimer”. The trotting races resembled those in the United States, although the winning times (the fastest time I saw for the1660 meters, the standard distance at Montebello (about 1-1/32 mile), went in something like 2:13, which meant that these horses were no better than 2:10 trotters at exactly one mile) indicated that none of these horses would be competitive on raceways in the United States or Canada (even at the smallest tracks like the Maine circuit, it takes a 2:08 trotter to be competitive). I watched four races and bet unsuccessfully on three races—I called out my bets in Italian, and the female mutual clerks responded in flawless English. I took a number of interesting photographs, including a blanket finish involving three horses, which came out great. On this day, there couldn’t have been more than 100 people in attendance on course for the six race card (although €20-30k were being bet in the win pool per race nationwide), despite free admission. Too bad, because there aren’t too many lovelier settings in world trotting than Montebello.

My one regret in Trieste is that I missed out on attending a soccer match—the local side, U. S. Triestina, plays in Italy’s second highest league, Serie B and was at home on the day I visited. The match was on television in cafes throughout central Trieste. The home side emerged victorious 3-1.

I found a great delicatessen, operated by the COOP food store chain, on Via Carducci, a major street in central Trieste, and put together a snack of 100 grams of prosciutto di Parma, 100 grams of porchetta, 100 grams of Leerdaamer cheese, 100 grams of black olives, some olive flavored crackers and two cans of cold Tuborg. The whole thing cost about €9. Then I headed back to the railway station and made the train, which arrived back at Santa Lucia 2 hours later. I enjoyed my snack—it was fantastic. I met up with my wife for a late dinner, which we took at the Rosa Rossa, a cute restaurant on the Calle della Mandola between our hotel and the Rialto, which seemed to charge locals prices. My wife had pasta and I had the “Milanese” (veal cutlet)—it was delicious.

DAY SIX (Sunday, March 10, 2007)—After one more sumptuous breakfast, my wife and I walked it off by meandering through the Piazza San Marco and adjacent streets, and then hopping on a vaporetto for the 20 minute ride over to the Lido, a barrier island between the Venice lagoon and the open Adriatic. This area was clearly settled in the past 100 years or so, as the streets are in a grid (more or less) and the buildings are no older than 50-75 years (and many more modern than that). The streets accommodate cars and buses (there is a car ferry that appears to sail every 15 minutes from the Lido over to the ferry port near the road and rail causeway to Mestre and the mainland. Other than a place to go because “it is there”, the Lido wasn’t terribly interesting—although we did go into a grocery store (called “Billa”), apparently the only one open on the island that morning, and bought some snacks and drinks for the train trip ahead amidst a frantic crowding of surly customers and even more surly staff (like the cashier who wouldn’t change a €50 bill for an elderly customer making a €5 purchase immediately in front of us). The moral—shop at COOP stores, their staff has always been friendly and helpful.

We got back to the Piazza San Marco, made one more walk through, checked out of our hotel at 1 p.m. (the desk staff graciously gave us an extension on check-out), took the #82 boat from the stop immediately to the rear of the hotel and down 50 yards, and reached Santa Lucia 35 minutes later. This time, we had plenty of time to buy tickets and get situated on the Eurostar Italia service back to Milano Centrale—again, I splurged for first class, which cost €64.00 for two persons The train pulled out on time, and we had a lovely run on this sleek ETR500 series train set, arriving at Milano on time at the stroke of 5:00 p.m. I had to buy onward tickets on the commuter service to Gallarate, on the line to Domodossola (and Geneva), where we had booked the closest hotel to Malpensa Airport. That train left on the number at 5:25 p.m., and 50 km later, on the stroke of 6:00 p.m., we were in Gallarate. The Astoria Hotel was about 500 yards away from the station, reached by turning right, walking up that street until reaching a grassy piazza, turning right, and the hotel overlooked the piazza. I had booked a reservation at the rate of €130.00, but the manager of the hotel gave us the room for €104.00—quite a nice gesture. Although there wasn’t much open on this Sunday night in a small Lombardy town, we did find one restaurant open, Osteria L’Opera, maybe 300 yards from the hotel in a piazza near the town’s opera house. This was a restaurant where the menu was redone every day, and the waitress read it to us. We dined princely on a generous plate of paper-thin sliced Bresaola (air cured beef) topped with shredded red cabbage and flaked parmesan cheese and perfectly grilled “costata” (like the French entrecote). We got out of there for less than €40—another excellent repast.
My only regret on that Sunday was the inability to get to Mass. There was no traditional Mass in the vicinity of Venice. I had found the location of a traditional Mass in the city of Trento at 6:00 p.m. (what a fantastic place to have gone to Mass), but we would not have reached our hotel until after midnight (Gallarate being a four hour trip from Trento via Verona and Milano), and both of us were simply out of gas by this point.

DAY SEVEN—Monday, March 12, 2007

The hotel arranged a sedan to take us to Malpensa, which arrived at the same time we reach the hotel lobby, at 5:00 a.m. He charged us €30, which, by this time, was OK, for a trip of no more than 5 miles. There was only one person in front of us in the check-in line, and a friendly agent checked us in very quickly, putting “priority tags”on our checked luggage. We then walked over to security, passed through it very quickly, and then followed the signs to the Air France lounge (AF’s lounge is in addition to the Alitalila lounge, where we also had privileges), which turns out to be behind a very large duty-free store which opens at 6 a.m. The AF lounge was open at 5:40 a.m. when we reached it—we were welcomed in, and were able to have a nice continental breakfast, along with a full bar which included champagne and Nastro Azzurro “birra alla spina”.

After an excellent hour of relaxation and reading, we headed out to the departure gates. Boarding for our A-320 to Paris was delayed, because the airport employees who manned the jetway hadn’t bothered to show up on time. Our flight ended up leaving the gate around 7:45, 30 minutes late, and was in the air on the stroke of 8:00 a.m., reaching CDG at 9:00 a.m., giving us just 75 minutes to connect to the Washington-Dulles bound 777-200, AF28. The process was reversed, and we had to go through both security and outbound passport control at terminal 2E, which was excruciatingly slow even though there were only 15-20 people in front of us. We got through at 9:40 a.m., and after a quick stop at the AF lounge in 2E, went out to board our flight, which was slightly delayed because the airport bus drivers had staged a work slowdown (one woman who had been on another bus told us that the drivers were driving at 2 mph with the heat on at full blast). We needed a bus because our plane was parked at a remote stand. Our driver was part of the work slowdown, because he made five different attempts to park his bus at the plane, clearly to annoy us (why they weren’t annoying management was anyone’s guess). Anyhow, on the bus some members of the Virginia Tech men’s soccer team, which had been touring Spain, saw my Notre Dame shirt and started speaking to me. They seemed like good kids—they and I were swapping stories about their visit to the Nou Camp in Barcelona to see the Real Madrid-Barcelona “superclasico”—they had seen the AC Milan-Celtic match on television and were impressed that my wife and I had been there.

The flight, originally scheduled to depart at 10:15, finally got wheels up shortly after 11:00 a.m. The pilot reported that the flight was to last for 8 hours 30 minutes, which he was actually able to better by 12 minutes, as we reached Dulles at 2:18 Eastern Daylight Time. As my wife and I and the VPI&SU soccer team were some of the only Americans on this flight (business class was full and coach was 80% full), we were able to pass through immigration at Dulles quickly. Amazingly, our bags were the first ones off the carousel, and we were quickly waved through customs.

When I got to my van, the battery was dead. Amazingly, a Dulles parking employee saw this, came over to me, got on his radio, and within 5 minutes another Dulles parking employee with a pick-up truck jumper cables came to our rescue, I was able to get the van started, and drive home.

Another fantastic, successful trip to Europe.
ND76 is offline  
Old Mar 27, 07, 11:04 am
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ND76 is offline  
Old Mar 27, 07, 11:30 am
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I really enjoyed reading that, your review of the football match was fascinating to read, being English i enjoyed your American perspective.
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Old Mar 27, 07, 2:43 pm
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Great Report!

Thanks very much for sharing your trip! It´s great to read a football-report - and nice to know that supporters from all over the world come to watch the Champions League. I will think about it next time I go for CL.
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Old Mar 27, 07, 3:12 pm
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Hail Hail
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Old Mar 28, 07, 4:44 am
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Great report.
Away the bhoys!
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