The finale to Euro 2012
17.06.2012 - 20.06.2012 20 °C
GDANSK - POZNAN - 311KM
So the time had come to leave Gdansk and start the relatively short journey to Poznan, the epicentre of the Irish fanbase for Euro 2012. The campsite in Gdansk was mostly cleared with the mass exodus of the Irish by the time we started on our way and having successfully negotiated the sand traps in the site, we were on the road.
A fairly routine 3 to 4 hour drive for the lads was livened up by the 'hooker highway'! A stretch of road where different ladies plied their trade at 500 metre intervals along the road. Apparently that industry made a fortune during the tournament, so much so reinforcements had to be called in from surrounding countries! But for us we just had a good laugh waving as we went by!
We hit the centre of Poznan and learning from our mistakes before put all our trust in the sat nav lady to guide us to our campsite at Lake Malta. This time though she failed us! We 'arrived at our desination' of an abandoned car park lot and quickly figured out we were lost. Thankfully a local could speak English and directed us back the old fashioned way.
We still had time for our first near miss of the trip though (a few more would come a couple of days later) as Kev decided to play chicken with a tram! Thankfully the tram driver had spotted the campervan turning and slowed down in time to let us pass, it was close enough for Ste to raise a drink to the driver in thanks as we passed by though!
A Neighbouring Caravan
Arriving at the campsite at Lake Malta we joined a queue of campervans in the car park and worried briefly if there would be room for us. It was Eoins turn to sort everything out for us this time and we were shepparded down the hill to the lake front where there was plenty of space. The campsite itself was based beside a huge lake used for rowing and boating competitions and which has hosted some big international tournaments. So the facilities were there for showers and toilets and the whole setup was excellent. It was relatively quiet when we arrived and the weather was stunning, the first excellent bit of weather of the trip so far. So we lay out in the sun and chilled on one of the many jettys lining the lake shore.
Chilling by the Lake Campsite
There was even an Indian restaurant in the grounds just a hundred metres or so from our spot, so we all piled in there that night famished and had an enormous meal. Despite Shanes repeated requests for chips being ignored, we were all well fed. Some more than others, I ate a tad too much and had to go back to bed and focus all my bodys' energy on digesting!
I was of no use to anyone that night but Kev, Ste, Eva and Eoin made the trip into Poznan centre for drinks and came home a few hours later amazed at the atmosphere and experience in the square. The rest of us had missed out for now but we would see it for ourselves the next day......match day!
It was match day versus the Italians and the day started off as another scorcher. The kick off wasnt until the evening so we had to be sure to pace ourselves with a leisurely start to the day which we spent strolling around the lakeside and chilling at the waters edge. The time then came to don our best gear, paint the faces (and legs and arms and chests!) and get our singing voices ready and we were off in a couple of taxis to the square in Poznan city centre.
Pre Match Enthusiasm!
The scene that greeted us was amazing. A sea of green flooded the streets sandwiched between the epic buildings that framed the square. Tens of thousands of Irish fans all planted here in the Polish city of Poznan. The atmosphere was amazing, the beer was flowing and the sun burned the scalps off the pasty Irish heads below!
We joined in the madness as best we could and met up with more people from home in the square for a few hours before venturing up to the Poznan fanzone to spend the rest of the credits we had put on our Euro2012 mastercards back in Gdansk. The Poznan fanzone was a much smaller and quieter one than in Gdansk, mostly because the majority of the fans were in the square a couple of hundred yards away. We still had a blast here playing drinking games to the amusement of the locals!
Fun and Games in the Fanzone
It was very strange we were like celebrities for a few hours as Polish fans and entire families literally queued to get their photos taken with us, it was hilarious!
Another Photocall for the Locals
Time crept up on us for kick off and we joined the throngs trying to get trams to the stadium. A line of 4 trams were stopped by the square and we all crammed into the last one as the doors opened....then the heat hit us. Within seconds the tram transformed into a sauna, a coffin of heat we couldnt escape from as the drivers had to lock the doors to stop more people crushing on. The fans on board were all singing away but the heat intensified and the sweat poured from us all. All this time the tram didnt budge an inch. It all became too much, people started banging on doors to get out but they would not open. I think it was Ste then who got the attention of a Polish policeman outside (by nearly putting his hand through the door!) who went to the driver and freed us!
So trams were out of the question and we were no nearer to the stadium! We somehow flagged a few taxis to take the 10 of us to the stadium and we joined the thousands of fans on the roads hanging our flags out the windows in the procession to the stadium.
The stadium itself was immense, and despite walking the wrong way around we found our seats just in time for kick off. The less said about the game the better perhaps!? But we were beaten 2 nil by the other eventual finalists and our tournament had ended. We hadnt even seen an Irish goal whilst in Poland!
Suffice to say the walk back to the square was a tad more sombre than the arrival at the stadium. To match our melancholy the heavens opened as we walked. We arrived drenched, tired, depressed and somehow hungover back in Poznan square. It could have been either the rain or the result but the square was quiet upon our arrival, and we made our way back to the campsite and the 'comfort' of our beds after another long long day.
But thankfully we still had another day left of our adventure before the long overnight drive that awaited us from Poznan to Munich and the flight home. And sure enough we banished the disappointment of the game the night before...with a trip to the waterpark at Lake Malta! We had some laugh being big kids again and breaking all the waterslide rules as we all bailed into the one slide and raced to the bottom!
We then spent the evening sunning ourselves by the lake in the stunning sunshine, and playing football across the boating jetties that lined the lakeside. Needless to say we had to dive in a few times to get the ball back!
But the knowledge of the drive to come was hanging over us all. We had our 'last meal' in the same Indian, the staff said their farewells and told us how much they would miss us and all the Irish fans that they loved. And off we went.
POZNAN - MUNICH 823KM
Its an 823 kilometre drive from Poznan to Munich and we had decided to do it all over one night so we could enjoy our last day in Poland. And quite the eventful night of driving it turned out to be! Everything started grand the roads from Poznan were all fine and the sun set beautifully on the horizon, the weather though changed drastically once darkness had fallen! A severe storm started and pelted the vans with rain and hail, as huge sheets (or 'sheep' according to Shane) and fork lightning illumminated the road for us in place of any cats eyes or street lights (of which there was none). Visibility was so bad that the chicane-like border between Poland and Germany passed in a frenzied nerve wracking swerve before we even knew it was upon us! At one stage of the journey I had to co-pilot Ste along the twisting road works of the autobahn as he genuinely couldnt see the edges of the road of the other side of the van....and this was on the motorway! It was an interesting, if not slightly terrifying last trip! The weather finally eased off after a few hours and we could up the speed from the crawling pedestrian pace we had been forced to go but a break was needed as we were behind schedule and the lads were all wrecked. The first truck stop we pulled into was jam packed with truckers and after a short intense discussion with a fellow driver in Estonian...we decided it best to move on to a different stop where we just might get away with our lives intact!
A couple of hours sleep were nabbed in a much quieter stop 20 minutes later, and we continued on to Munich without much more incident apart from sleep deprived crankiness!
Saying Farewell to the van.
Thankfully there were no issues with the van upon its return and Ste got his full deposit back. The manager of the rental place kindly dropped us to the local picturesque German village where we got a bus, and then a train into the centre of Munich. Bags and cases in hand we settled into an outdoor terrace to finish off the Euro 2012 escapades, as they had been maintained, with some delicious Steins of beer! Oh, and wine for Alannah!
Last Beers in Munich
So our travails following Ireland around Poland at Euro 2012 had been an incredible experience. The results of the football were obviously not what we had all hoped, but the experience was more than any of us could have imagined before leaving. Old friendships strengthened and new friendships forged, through the smells and cramps of the vans to the freedom of the road, and the endless craic had.
Although I dont think my liver would let me do it again!