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On the slosh in Big Dosh, Poland, April 2001

A bit of an epic trip, this one, lasting for 7 days and taking in 4 hotels in 3 cities. What follows is very much Paul and Helen's condensed account of what happened, as although Rich went on the same flights, his experiences are almost entirely different. And as for the Inverness Boys...

Gdansk? It's just the way I'm standing (Fri 20th - Sun 22nd April)

Myself (Paul), Helen and Rich left Gatwick on the Friday before the game for 3 days in Gdansk before heading to Bydgoszcz on the Monday. I'd struck a bet with Rich the night before that there would be less than 10 Scots on the plane, and I was right - we were the only ones, much to the delight of the air stewardesses.

The highlights of our time in Gdansk included visiting numerous underground pubs and meeting several people, including a mental Algerian guy and a lovely student celebrating her 'name day', Anouska, along with a bunch of art students from Carlisle - hello to Laura and Heather from Ayrshire. Laura taught us that Zubrowka vodka (flavoured with bison grass) did not leave a hangover the next morning when drunk with apple juice - we'd neglected to the follow this on the first night and I didn't surface until 5pm! We also quickly learned that all Polish men have learned to speak English from Borat, as Helen was treated to several chat-up attempts - "I like you, you very nice! Very pretty lady", including one by a real salty sea dog, 60 if he was a day, who followed up with his e-mail address!

We're in the Dog (Monday 23rd April)

Monday morning and a train down to Big Dog - a wee bit of a culture shock from Gdansk's medieval architecture and cobbled streets! The walk down the main street from the station to the town (we were staying in the Pod Orlem) had us convincing ourselves that this was just the town's equivalent area to Kings Cross. The hotel was nice though, and after a quick stop to freshen up we went for a wee wander around.

We'd agreed to meet Rich at 8pm in whatever pub was in the square (which turned out to be the very narrow Bar Amsterdam) - at around 4pm I thought we should just pop in from a research point of view. I was quickly greeted by Artour, John from Sheffield and a bunch from NOSTA, and on returning from the bar we got talking to Buenos (as in Aires), Ally (the main Posh Spice verse contributor) and his wife, Susan. Foolishly, Ally asked why I wasn't in "the much better pub around the corner" (see the Tribute to Talc page), so after a couple we set off to find one, ending up downstairs in a back alley in the excellent Pub Medyk. After chatting to Martin and Chrystof (don't worry lads - the photo will be up soon!) at the computer on the bar about this very website we set off to the boat pub with a crowd of high school students for a table football contest.

Myself and Rich (who had stumbled across us all in the Medyk) were the only victorious Scottish pair, and after several gubbings we set foot back on dry land and continued our drinking in Merlin, where a mad skinhead with a frisky girlfriend set about buying us a variety of mind-blowing shots. After another round in the pub underneath the Amsterdam, we staggered our separate ways (it was barely midnight!), having agreed to meet up at the station for the Under-21s match the next day.

Wloclawek - next year I'm holidaying in Drumchapel (Tuesday 24th April)

We met up in time for the train around mid-day to Wloclawek, and by the time we got there, the train having stopped off in Torun for the Notts Scots and Artour's NOSTA contingent, there were 30-40 Scots in tow, all of which appeared to be on a day-trip... apart from Helen and I who, on the advice of Polorbis in London ("no hotels, very busy"), had booked the Tuesday night in the Hotel Kujawy, so we stepped off the train with our full week's baggage strapped to our backs. This made no difference to the massed ranks of the Polish polis, who marched us all a mile and half to the ground, accompanied by a real show of military strength from all the riot vans. After an hour of standing outside the Scotland turnstile, and seeing the taxi we'd hailed chased away by the police, we were suddenly allowed to wander off, the majority in the direction of the stadium bar, whilst us two were eventually driven to the hotel in a police car (with the siren considerately wailing as we pulled up - ensuring that the hotel staff were eyeing us up constantly).

We got a taxi back to the ground, but by the time we met the others (Ally, Susan, Buenos, NTA's Campbell and Adam - Josie was feeling ill so Scott had gone back to Torun with her), the polis had shut the bar. Having just come up the road, we led a deputation back to the nearest pub, optimistically titled the Strong Club. After a couple of bevvies, and the very friendly barmaid inviting us back with the immortal words "I like you, you come back after game, no worry about the crazy people", we were off to the offy next door to perform the old 'vodka into soft drink bottles' trick.

The game was abysmal, a 1-0 defeat in the pouring rain, and we took the decision to leave after an hour to head back to the pub (partly as the voddy had run dry). This was now around 6pm, with everyone's train at 9pm. What followed is a story all on its own - suffice to say that I was drinking with 2 comedy hooligans (think Right Said Fred), a Robbie Coltrane look-alike was plying us with double voddys, a student and his sultry girlfriend tried to initiate a bit of wife-swapping, and we were presented with a leaving gift of a box of six new pint tankards from the friendly barmaid (along with Buenos' lost hat).

The only other Scots who were staying were the Kirrie Boys - 2 lads from Kirriemuir who we had met hours earlier in the bar. We went for one drink in the dubious London Pub, where we encountered the hoolies again ("I like you, my beautiful Scottish friend"), and staggered back to the fleapit of the hotel, promising to get the first train out of this hellhole the next day. We found out the next day that Ally and Susan had managed to miss their train and had to pay for a taxi (and petrol) back from Torun to Big Dog! I still say that they were the lucky ones.

Another day in Paradise - back to the dog (Wed 25th April)

Up at the crack of dawn (hardly able to sleep given the surroundings), we headed for the first train, having been unable to rouse the Kirrie Boys and leaving 5 of our new pint glasses in the hotel room. Thankfully we met a couple of Scottish guys on their way through from Warsaw on the train, and such was our relief at getting back to relative civilisation that we almost kissed the platform at Bydgoszcz station, whilst everyone else was remarking on what a dump the place was.

We met Ally and Susan outside the station, and stumbled across the Inverness Boys (with Billy Dunn) in Hamburgery Pizza (we'd popped in for breakfast). They had flown to Amsterdam and caught the train, but David couldn't work his phone on the continent, so it was a spot of luck we found them so early. Helen and I checked back into the Pod Orlem, and we all met up back at the Medyk, along with the Notts Scots. A good session later (to a soundtrack of James Brown and the Stones, along with a bit of DIY) we headed up to the square, and with a sizeable carryout we marched off to the ground. We missed kick-off by a couple of minutes due to the congestion, but soon found a good spot, although after the game (1-1 draw, if anyone doesn't know!) we were quite late out, and found ourselves around the corner in the Hotel Zawisa bar (more like a kiosk selling cans). A pizza stop and one more drink in the Medyk was enough for most of us to call it a night, as the previous day in Wloclawek had exhausted the lot of us who went. There was still time for Inverness David to lose his wallet and passport though!

One night in heaven - back in Gdansk (Thurs 26th April)

As a reward to ourselves for the Under-21 ordeal we checked into the luxurious Holiday Inn (I know - we sold out!), and after a meal in the hotel's TGI Fridays restaurant (even worse), we headed out for one last night on the town. We bumped into Ewan and Jon who were over with the Albannaich trip, and after a drink in the Blue Café, where we met the gay Algerian and Anouska again, some mental cocktails in the Tropikana bar (with yet more comedy Polish hooligan types, one chatting up a Polish girl in English, trying to convince her he was Welsh!), and witnessing another fight in the Irish pub (we saw one the previous weekend), we staggered back to the hotel.

After meeting up with Rich at the airport (we'd barely seen him as he'd spent 4 nights in the dog) and stocking up on a variety of duty-free voddy (potato vodka, bison grass vodka, vodka with gold flakes), we found ourselves sitting behind Singing Phil and Scott Kelly on the flight home, leaving me open to ridicule for my vegetarian eating habits. After a farewell drink in Gatwick's bar, much to the dislike of assorted shell-suited Ingerlish boneheads off on their package trips, it was back to reality - only 4 months to go until Brussels!

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Poland '01 Gallery 1

Poland '01 Gallery 2

On The Lash in the Grande Place, Belgium, September 2001

After the excesses of the Croatia home game, NATA split up and headed our separate ways to Belgium. The Inverness Boys (David, Allan and Brian, along with occasional member Scott) spent a week via Eurostar in a dodgy area of Brussels (where David was able to prove himself as a "team player"). Ally and Sue flew out on the Sunday, as did Chris (separate flight, but staying with the Inverness Boys). Helen and I (Paul) caught the Eurostar from Ashford on the Monday morning, and what follows is our story. All the rest of NATA simply stayed at home!

Patently the only Scots at Ashford on the Monday lunchtime train, Helen and I were the subject of a few bemused glances, particularly as we took our seats on the train (next to a tutting English gent). No sooner had we sat down than Colin from the Prestwick Tartan Army passed us on the way back from the buffet car, and he invited us to join them down in the next carriage. The next 5 hours passed swiftly in the company of Colin, Steff, Tom, McGregor and Danny, as we visited a couple of dodgy-ish bars in the Anderlecht area right outside the station. A walk through the pouring rain, a drunken row and a brief doze followed, before stirring ourselves to go and meet the others, several hours later than planned.

Now semi-sober, we met up with the others, including several LA members and the Milngavie Tartan Army for a few beers, before ordering one Hoegaarden too many and staggering home to the hotel, past the ludicrously small Mannekin Pis.
We had planned to do the U21's on the Tuesday, despite the TA wedding taking place in the town (we all had a semi invite, in a friend of a friend kind of way, but we all agreed that we didn't really know the couple enough) and we were to meet up in the Mort Subite bar at lunchtime to discuss our options. We then decided that as we couldn't be sure of a train back to Brussels we would stay put - we then got a text from Brian explaining that they were on a train to the game. The red-shirted and porn-star sunglass toting Milngavie boys went their own way to continue their open-top bus tour, as we spent the rest of the day on a drinking tour of the Bourse area, where we found the superb art deco L'Archiduc jazz bar, complete with pianist at 5 in the evening, along with meeting the Cardiff Tartan Army (CARTA?) over a couple of 11% beers, not to mention the nearly-violent gay bar and the strangely sedate fishmarket bar. After meeting up with the St Truiden-shirted Inverness Boys back in L'Archiduc (by which time you had to ring a bell for entry), and buying a veggie-kebab (which I had sworn not to do), we staggered back for the night.

On matchday, we had another rendezvous in the Mort Subite (where I managed to upset the waitress for no apparent reason), and we opted to go out to the Schumann district (where the EU HQ is) for some beers, with the Inverness Boys and Chris choosing to stay in the Grande Place. Now, the GP was a real focal point for a large number of TA throughout, but as my first experience of it was treading broken glass on the Monday night, whilst picking up a cigarette burn from a fellow reveller, I was a wee bit put off. By all accounts, the atmosphere was excellent (even if the carry-outs were at premium prices) and the TA so well-behaved that the polis took the unprecedented move of allowing the square to stay open throughout - however we had taken the view that we would rather soak up the local atmosphere in backstreet drinking dens, and so, for the most part, that's exactly what we did. Anyway, after moving through the GP, meeting Polish Danny and Scott of the Notts Scots, we caught the metro out to the James Joyce pub (scene of the wedding reception on the Tuesday). We were shocked at how dead the streets were in this part of town, and headed back to the metro via the Old Oak for a baked tattie.  

Confident that we were in plenty of time, we walked to the turnstiles from the metro (getting separated on the way) to be confronted with a massive scrum of people and no obvious method to the madness. Helen and I were some of the lucky ones who saw kick-off. We were even in our seats in time for the anthems but the terrible sound system meant only the main stand could hear anything - the rest of us pretty much gave up and had to endure yet another chorus of "Hey Baby". The game was a big disappointment, as Scotland played possession football in our own half before conceding the first, then going through the motions until the last minutes. As we prepared to take a last gasp free kick, with the score still poised at 1-0, Helen turned and said "if we don't score this, we'll lose 2-0". We didn't score, and we duly conceded straight away on the break. Absolutely distraught at the manner of the defeat, I was quickly planning the fastest route back to the hotel as the final whistle went.

As around 9,000 of the 12,000 Scots at the game headed for the gates, we stayed to applaud the Belgian team, then the Belgian fans, then the stewards, all to a chorus of "Doh a deer", and then to the two young girl stewards now sporting Scotland 2008 tshirts, "Hey Baby". After over half-an-hour of solid singing and dancing, and choking back tears of pride, we said goodbye to the crowd of bemused stewards and headed out into the night.

After being herded to the metro the long way round, we were told that it was too busy and no-one else would get on that night. We found ourselves in a crowd of hundreds, relying on Chris's French language skills to negotiate a passage back to town, when a bus pulled up. We had a loose arrangement to meet back in the fishmarket, which was also a useful haven away from celebrating Belgian fans, or so we thought until Nicholas and friends popped in. Understandably happy with the result, and sat drinking and laughing with their friends, they took the time to come over to say how happy they were with the way the Scottish fans had behaved, and how the Scotland fans had won on the night, even if the team hadn't. An exchange of tshirts later and we were sat drinking at their table. Still feeling a wee bit subdued, we had the last drink of the night in a suitably dodgy old-mans bar and headed back through the still-partying square.

On the Thursday, despite a late start due to a hangover, Helen and I went back out to Heysel for the tourist trawl around mini-Europe and up the Atomium, before heading round for a quick drink in the stadium's own bar. From there we took a lightning detour to Anderlecht's ground on the south-side, before heading back in to the Mort Subite to meet up with Ally & Sue and Scott & Josie. After the obligatory Mort Subite cheese omelette (just about the only sustenance I had all week), we set off on a "TA couples evening" trawling the backstreet bars. A couple of jars of "John Lambie" from a ming vase, and a few Kwaks later and we were all dancing with the drunkest bar owner in town (click here for a photo). After a wee bite to eat everyone drifted off to bed (around 1-ish) and Helen and I found time for a quick nightcap in some weird acid-jazz place round the corner from the hotel.

The next day was checking-out day, and in a misguided attempt to sample at least some of the beer festival we'd booked an evening Eurostar. Of course, by Friday morning my liver could take no more, so after stashing the bags at the hotel we did a wee tour of the Moleenbeek area to check out RWD Moleenbeek's ground (it's like a big Firhill). A spot of beer-shopping later (9% Delirium Tremens and a spot of Hoegaarden Grand Cru that I'm saving for the right moment) and a quick coffee in the Halloween Bar followed before the Eurostar journey from hell. This being 6.30pm on a Friday, all the Hooray Henry's who work for daddy's friend in Brussels besieged the buffet car (right behind our seats) and proceeded to guffaw all the way back home to jolly-old-Blighty, leaving me feeling lucky to be a Scot!

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Belgium '01 Gallery 1

Belgium '01 Gallery 2



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