April 14th - Seaham and around Sunderland.
Monday had always been a play it by ear day for us in our honeymoon travels up north, because nothing really was planned for that day. We had talked about taking the train to Scotland, going up into Sunderland and seeing more of the city, heading to the outlet mall for part of the day, or just chilling about in town. Gary had mentioned that because of the loss on Saturday there would probably be practice on Monday, and it might be fun to go check it out. We thought sure, but he did tell us that we'd get a chance to lie in for a bit.
The lie in lasted until about 9:00 AM when we were awaken by a knock at the door. Gary had called the hotel to tell us that practice was indeed on for the morning, and he'd be here about 10 AM for us to head up there. So we scrambled about to find some clothes and get dressed, and then Gary was indeed here at 10 AM to head up to the practice area.
If you drive through Sunderland and keep heading north until you are about the edge of Sunderland, there's the practice facility. Actually, it's in the town north of there, and it's a fairly nice area of fields with a large building right in the middle. We parked our car to the far north park of the area, and took some trails to meet up with the main field. While driving up there, the weather had gone from sunny with a little wind to clouds and a bit of a drizzle and wind like we have here on the eastside of Portland. I had dressed in my colors, jacket and scarf, and I could have used another layer as well. We walked past the main building on campus, where we saw a small pool and a couple of water jet pools for therapy. Apparently, they have a full clubhouse there, complete with a cafeteria, recreation room, large TV room, and other things for the guys to relax with after training to help the team chemistry.
As we walked closer to the field, we saw the players parking lot, and you could tell we were dealing with EPL players as there were BMWs, Audis, a few SUVs, but everything there was brand new and very sparkly. The players were on the far south field doing drills and playing a game called two touch, where you could touch the ball twice and then you had to pass or shoot. The keepers were off to a field on the left doing agility drills and passing drills. It seemed very efficient as coaches were barking orders and then players would follow the request quickly without any words. It was quiet except for the wind and the occasional comments from about 20 of us there. Gary had said if the weather was nice, there would be hundreds of folks there but not today.
After about an hour, the guys were done and started heading off the pitch. Gary had a autograph book and he borrowed my camera to get some pictures, and next thing I know, Michael Chopra was standing next to me as Gary shot a picture. As guys walked past us, Gary said we were on our honeymoon and could we get pictures. And many of the guys stopped and chatted with us for a bit while we got pictures. I found Kenwyn Jones hysterically funny, especially after we told him how far we'd came to see the match. Nyron was still slightly miffed at the penalty call from Saturday, but I saw determination from him to play well next week. Craig Gordon chatted with us for a bit, and wished us a good rest of our holiday. What was amazing is that as we chatted with them, they were very nice and thanked us for coming, especially after knowing the great distance we'd came. They signed a few shirts for some folks near us, but we were the only ones to get pictures with them. I felt really honored to have them talk with girl and I, and at that point, the sleepiness, wind, rain and cold didn't matter.
We wandered back to the car, and headed further north towards Cleadon and found an Italian restaurant near the practice area that many players visit. Gary had eaten there many times, and of course, knew the owner when we walked in. About 5 minutes after we were seated, one of the Sunderland players, Ross Wallace, came into eat with his family. We ate massive amounts of really good food, drank a little bit, warmed up from the cold, and generally filled up. We had also found our first copy of the Sunderland Echo, and on page 3, we found the article that was published about our trip. Overall, I was pleased at the pictures and most of the text, but the article did make it sound like I had convinced girl to blow off Rome for Sunderland, and really that wasn't the case. We decided to make a few stops on our trip, and Sunderland was our first destination to meet up with my friends that now are girl's friends as well. They showed us an amazing time, and I won't forget it ever.
We headed back to Seaham, where we got a few more copies of the Echo, and then set up plans for the afternoon and evening. Paul had dropped by to get us access to a computer at the Seaham library, and so we were able to check email, post on our board things we'd done, and generally get caught up on things back in Portland. The Chelsea -Wigan match was on later, so girl and I decided to head to the hotel to pack up and get prepared for our flight the next day, then come to Gary's later for the match.
Paul wandered back to town with us and soon we found a store for some treats on the plane flight. We found an amazing candy store in town (Somerfelds), and loaded up on lots of snacks that Paul sprung for. He also asked us about Tootsie Rolls, which have never been available there and he'd heard it was the most disgusting candy ever. We will have to make sure he tests this theory sometime. We packed our stuff, keeping with the one bag per person restriction. While you can have two bags going from the US to the UK, we could only have one bag up to Newcastle and to Rome, so we were doing some rather creative packing to get everything in. The gifts we got were all packed in clothes and scarves, and we got everything in our luggage.
After a final meal in the Harbour View, we headed down to watch the match at Gary's and have a few drinks. The match was actually pretty close, with Chelsea needing points to catch Manchester United in the title race. Chelsea got a goal in the second half, and seemed on their way to winning, but Wigan got a late goal in stoppage time to get a draw, and severely dent their title hopes. This would be something we'd have to keep an eye on. We decided to call it an early night, because Oddie, girl and I all had early flights on Tuesday, so we left Gary's to walk back to the hotel. We had said some goodbyes to the staff, and wandered up the stairs for a good night's rest. I was sad to see this part of our trip end, because it was amazing to see everyone again and be treated so well. But also knowing how much trouble Gary had gone through to do things for us, despite some medical issues he'd been dealing with. He was the very good host, and made our trip most amazing. Honestly, now that girl has experienced the northern hospitality, we will have to come back again to say hi. I mean, hey, we're members of the Scout Club!!
April 15th - Flight to Rome
We woke up on time, but honestly sleep wasn't all that good. I had a telemarketer call my cell phone at 3 AM to pitch some cell plan or something, and I politely told him to fuck off as it was 3 AM in England. The alarm rang at 5 AM, and we picked up our last things and hauled our bags downstairs. Gary and Oddie were waiting for us, and we filled his car and headed to the airport. We reminisced about things that occurred, but mostly, it was time to reflect at the whirlwind that was 5 days north.
We said goodbye to Gary and it was sad to finally say cheers. He had done so much for us, and all I could do was say thanks and see you very soon. I know that at some point he'll be back here or girl and I will head back to England, but the friends we've made up north are some of the most amazing folks about. We immediately headed to British Airways to check in for our flight to Rome, and had to wait for a few minutes before we could officially check in. After completing that and dropping off our bags, we whisked through security and found some snacks. Knowing that the waiting area for all flights was at one place, we waited for Oddie to check in and meet us there, but apparently he had some issues negotiating through the airport labyrinth. We did get to say goodbye to our newest friend, and we have an invite to come to Norway at some point, which might be a fun trip indeed.
As we settled into our seat, it was time to head back to Terminal 5 and then to our second leg of our trip, Rome. And I couldn't wait for what adventures awaited us in Italy.
Next time - The Colisseum at Night, and Adventures in Pickpocketing.