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Touring – an alternative approach

by OxonRob on Tue Jan 17, 2006 6:26 pm

by OxonRob

What occurs on tour stays on tour, goes the saying, and this report is not intended to reveal any home truths about anyone. Well, it wouldn’t be fair would it? It wouldn’t?

There are those whose tours consist of getting lashed, falling down, sleeping and then repeating the process. Fair play if that is what you like. However, there are others who prefer not to fall down, and to earn their drinks by doing things in between. This was one such trip, something for the middle-aged foodie!

We were there!

Travellers from Gatwick on Friday endured the kind of trip which is really no fun at the time, but which gains momentum as the days go by afterwards. A kind of ‘I was there’ syndrome creeps in, and you feel faintly and unreasonably proud for having suffered as you did.

The Gatwick computers shut down at 6am, and weren’t on again when we took off just under two hours late at approaching 2pm. Those with hot dates in Italy were heard to chunter and worry. Everyone had sore feet from shuffling up the queue for hours on end, as surprisingly good-tempered EasyJet staff attempted to book us in manually. No one got breakfast – and many had depended on a decent if overpriced airport breakfast when they left home, in my case at 06h45. Oh well!

On arrival in Milan it was into a taxi for transfer to the railway station and a train to Parma. We got the taxi easily enough but missed the fast train. More angst as an additional half hour was added to our already lengthened journey. Happily there were loads of Irish supporters on the train, including Paul and Marianne, Eek and Elsie just in our carriage. Eek is a one man show – it’s one reason for loving the man – and had soon extracted promises from the 20 or so Italian passengers within earshot that they would turn up at the game.

The night before

We check into our centre of town hotel with about 20 minutes to spare before we have to meet 13 others for pre-arranged drinks, after which we will be trooping off to dinner at an extremely good restaurant (Dei Corriere) spotted in August, before we discovered that it was owned by a member of the Parma management, Corrado Vecchi. Corrado and his charming wife Enda join us for drinks and show us the way.

Friday night in the Bistro

We try the local light slightly sparkling and chilled red Lambrusco and it is delicious, as is the meal, at E32 including the wine bill! I never mentioned Limoncello, did I?

Most of us went to bed at midnight. I somehow get inveigled into Le Bistro in the Piazza Garibaldi, where I bump into more usual suspects than it is decent to remember now by name. Ian Taylor is in the main bar, acting as host to any supporter who’d like to meet him. Quite right too. Bed well after 3!

Friday night in the Bistro

Match Day

A light Italian breakfast accompanied by their extraordinarily strong coffee prepares us for the market, and a walk up to the ground, to make sure it is where the map suggests it might be. We need fresh air anyway. We walk three sides of a square to get there, including a lengthy visit to a lovely park adjacent to the police sports grounds on the other side of the river. Yes, we crossed one bridge early!

Snow and ice lie beneath our feet, and the ground is like concrete. We are all exhaling ‘smoke’ as we breathe! Then we find a plaque outside a formal looking building, which tells us that in 1943 the Nazis burned down the building’s predecessor, after they had placed the town’s schoolchildren inside it. Interest in rugby fades for all of us.

15-20 minutes later we are at the ground, to find three small marquees near the entrance in a small meadow. Three men inside one of them are discussing matters of moment, sitting on encouraging-looking barrels. Another two are to be seen through the fence on the pitch, at our end of which, the southerly one, snow is piled four feet high. There is nothing to suggest when the piling-up was done, but when we test the rigid surface of the pitch we become worried that the game could be off, despite the presence of a hot air blower under a metallic blanket. There are only four hours to go.

In the afternoon I return by the more direct route, and dive into a small bar on the adjacent bridge with two companions. The locals are mystified and curious about our green raiment, but charming nonetheless. A heavily armed off-duty policeman munches on his lunchtime ciabatta.

On entry to the ground we find a BBQ in full session, beside which someone is mixing meat, onions, eggs and herbs, and shaping them into very thick short sausage shapes. These are pulled apart into two long halves immediately before cooking. In the UK they would have been closed down by Health & Safety. Happily, Italians are more intelligent than we are, and the results are wonderful.

I am reminded of a conversation overheard this morning between two tourists.
Small boy: Where’s the nearest Macdonalds?
Father: In the UK, thank God.

Within the first marquee there is a long queue to buy food tickets and drink-specific tickets, which can be redeemed across the room, by four gentlemen who all used to play. Before the day is out the food and drink tickets are being dispensed by LI supporters! The second marquee, really an extension, is roped off and laid out for the players’ teas. There is room for about 50 people, standing up, in either of these two tents, so presumably few of the Italian supporters are expected? Adjacent to these there is a Parma RFC clothing tent. I wonder where they sell their clothing normally?

Ian Taylor and various directors are standing about, but the latter don’t seem totally at home or desirous of meeting people. Maybe they have been alickadoes too long?

Beer and food having been taken, we buy tickets and join the queue at the gate where a harassed-looking man is gravely tearing them in half as we press past him. The stands are solid concrete and I mean solid. Doubtless a physicist will put me right on this but concrete seems to be an effective cold-conductor. Some buy wonderful cushions at the Parma RFC tent. They are solid but squishy and consist of two flasks, into which hot liquids can be inserted. Not sure if drinking from them is worth a frozen bum, but this is one hell of a flexible product!

The game persuades us not that we played badly but that Parma played well, and after the whistle all LI supporters are at pains to impress this view on anyone Italian.

Afterwards some of the LI support evaporates. It must have done for they didn’t show up at the marquees, but neither did that high a percentage of the home supporters. However, those that did enjoyed making new friends and greeting old ones, until they lost contact with their feet and walked back into town to thaw out.

A small group returned later, in order to pick up some of the players for an evening out. An even smaller group had never left the marquee, apparently being welcome to share the tea. Both groups returned to town player-less. What actually happened to most of the London Irish or Parma teams I cannot say, but they certainly disappeared from view. Quite what our CEO made of it all I cannot say either. I assume he may not have been chuffed, since he had laid on taxis to bring them into town, at least to meet and greet their supporters before possibly moving on to more private pleasures. He personally awaited them until silly o’clock and bedtime. Ho Hum.

The victors await the Olympic flame

On our return at 6pm we found the Piazza Garibaldi festooned with flags and lights, to await the arrival of the Olympic torch, and an address by the mayor. The Bistro bar’s tented annexe was bedecked in London Irish regalia, and almost full of London Irish supporters, summoned thither by a call from Coca Cola to take a photograph of the LI supporters en masse. I have no idea whether such a photograph ever took place, or how or why Coca Cola threatened to come into our lives.

The mayor and celebrities strut their stuff

Joy Cooper with a torch-bearer

Being of a certain age, resistant to organisation in huge groups, and hating the thud thud of the Olympian sound system, I fled with a chum in search of a fine dinner. We found it at the Corsair. Dinner had, we returned, picked up some friends and did what I have oft promised Billy Hamilton I would never do. We went to an Irish pub, where we could hear each other speak.

The Olympic flame

The Dubliner, visually, is a central Dublin pub. But that is where it ends. Full of young Italians, it had energy without musak, charm without cloying ersatz Irishness. It was a joy, and it was very Italian. Of all the unlikely people, it was Kieron McCarthy who told me about it!

We were joined later by another LI friend, a man of considerable charm and character. I am ashamed to say that we set him up. Our Italian speaker armed our anonymous friend with suitable words, to enable him to chat with the locals, and in particular with the local young ladies. Sentences were delivered singly, with a return to source for the next one, to the increasing amusement of his Italian listeners. Of course, as liquor was taken, the words supplied started to become less and less appropriate!

The locals seemed to like us!

The Apres-ski is so often better than ski-ing!

Sunday was the day of rest we all hope for and never get. Early on, some went to church, others lay abed. Then we somehow ventured back to a far quieter Bistro, where we were welcomed within the comfortable little main bar, and fed with drinks and eats various right the way through until 4 and siesta time. Sundry LI people came and joined us and departed, leaving us the hard-core, engrossed in conversation with owner and staff, and having the kind of relaxed good time which caused holidays to be invented.

Then at 7.30 we returned, this time to enable Alec Whewell, on behalf of the LISC, to present Corrado Vecchi, on behalf of Parma Rugby, with a commemorative plaque. The press had been summoned, and a photograph duly appeared in Monday’s Gazzetta di Parma. Afterwards the ceremony was repeated in the annexe, in front of such of the green-clad horde as remained.

Alec Whewell presents Corrado Vecchi with the LISC plaque

Then it was back to Dei Corriere for a farewell dinner, accompanied this time by Corrado and Enda. Magnificent again! And I still like Limoncello!

Impressions of Parma. It is quiet. Even the police sirens are quiet. There are more lingerie shops than inhabitants! The women are all small and perfectly formed. (I hope that Parma never get drawn against Newcastle! They might never get over the shock!)

Is it any accident that two of our favourite tours of all time – Valladolid and Parma - have had to do with cheese? (Valladolid are known as Los Quesos, the cheeses.)

All photos supplied by Paul Cooper, a professional photographer, for long a London Irish supporter, and now resident in Parma - .
Last edited by OxonRob on Wed Jan 18, 2006 12:32 am, edited 1 time in total.
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by Shawshank on Tue Jan 17, 2006 7:30 pm

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by Mackem on Tue Jan 17, 2006 8:16 pm

Rob, beware of women entering the Madstad Hotel who, in loud, high-pitched, northern accents declare - "How man, wuh luckin ferra blowk carld Hoxen Rob, coz ees garna gerra reet gud hidin! :lol:
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by OxonRob on Tue Jan 17, 2006 8:18 pm

No problem, Bill. I'll just point them in the direction of our forwards coach, in case he is short that week.
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by Mackem on Tue Jan 17, 2006 8:27 pm

Ouch!! :oops:
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by Brendan on Wed Jan 18, 2006 12:54 am

Must say OxonRob, I do enjoy reading your well crafted reports. How about a job on the sport pages with the Torygraff.

All the best, and keep the reports comeing.

There are no strangers, only friends you haven't met.
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by donaghadee on Wed Jan 18, 2006 10:39 am

Very good Rob - I will let you orff this time re the Irish pub. BTW I hyope the colours were ouyt and that was actually an Italian flag behind StveS and Ian's table.
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