Back in August, I was invited to a Premier League match. I was given a list to choose from, but I didn’t have think about the choice for long. November 8. Liverpool v Chelsea. While I claim Spurs as my PL team, Anfield was easily on the top of my PL bucket list. You’ll Never Walk Alone is spine tingling on TV. So in person it has to be epic.
As with every trip I make overseas, as soon as I committed to the match, I started trying to figure out how to maximize my time. Every year, I try to limit my days off in order to have no problem tacking vacation on to business trips like this one. I realize I am very fortunate to have this opportunity, so I might as well take advantage while I still can.
After much brainstorming, I put together a pretty solid plan. The goal is always simple. See cool things. Go cool places.
On a whim, I checked The Gaslight Anthem tour schedule. I had missed their NYC area stop, so I needed my fix. Turns out they had a show in Zagreb Sunday night and Milan Monday night. I opted for Milan on the assumption that I could fit in another soccer match on Sunday somewhere. After using Google Translate to navigate the Italian Ticket website, I was fairly confident that I either bought Gaslight tickets or a new entertainment system for a swarmy Italian con artist. Milhouse.
When we first got the Premier League, NBC implored everyone to pick a side. This was tough because my entire soccer watching career, albeit a relatively short one, I have enjoyed not cheering for a specific team but rather focusing on my favorite players. One such player is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. As it turned out, his club, PSG, was playing Sunday night in Paris. After a day navigating the European versions of Stubhub and Seat Geek, I was able to buy a ticket for the match.
With the three pillars of the trip set, I spent the next month or so filling in the transportation and hotel gaps
After much build up in my head the time has finally come. Times have been removed to protect my sanity
Thursday November 6
– After a day in 30 Rock I head home to pack. My car is at 6:45 just in case traffic is really bad. My flight is at 10:10.
– Usually I can pack for a trip in about 15 minutes without having the “crap, I’m totally forgetting something” feeling. This trip is complicated by the fact my flight from Paris to Milan is on Easy Jet, a budget airline that only allows you one bag in the cabin. If you are a woman and you have a bag and a purse, they are going to charge you for the purse. Ditto for backpacks. Oh, and if you want to pick your seat, they will charge you for that too. But for 45 bucks, they could charge me for making eye contact with a fight attendant for all I care. I’m good at looking at my feet anyway
– I make the mistake of thinking I can do this trip with just a back pack
– I move on to a small duffle bag. Still not right. I feel like Goldilocks right now
– Finally I settle on my trusty Ogio Layover bag. After googling the size of my bag and making sure that Easy Jet doesn’t try to pull a fast one by making their overhead bins smaller than every other airline, I feel confident that I am set. I look at the clock, 6:35, ten minutes to spare
– I fall asleep almost immediately in the car. When I wake up we are pulling into Newark and it is not even 8:00.
– The C-3 security gate is a mob scene so I head over to an empty C-2 and am immediately told to go to C-3.
“But it is packed over there”
“I don’t care. We have to keep this one clear”
– Everyone at C-3 thinks they can run Newark more efficiently after being rejected by C-2. Hell hath no fury like an airline traveler scorned
– I get past security and head to the gate for the 9:19 London flight. I’m able to get a standby seat for the flight boarding in 4 minutes and it is not even a middle seat. Milhouse.
– Sitting in the aisle seat, the Young British guy across the way tells me his girlfriend is pregnant and asks if he can have the window seat. There is no one in it yet, so I tell him I can’t really give away a seat that isn’t mine, but if it stays empty, they can have it
– Five minutes later, the British guy introduces himself to me again like we have never met and asks if his pregnant girlfriend can have the window seat.
– The people next to me show up before I get asked again. Like Mustafa in Austin Powers, I probably would have buckled had I been asked the same question three times
– I once again pass out almost immediately. I wake up as we are making our descent into Heathrow
Friday November 7
– We have arrived at the newly reopened Terminal Two. The Queen’s Terminal. Future proofed named for all Queens that have yet to be crowned. Or born for that matter
– This is literally the longest walk to customs ever. If the Queen landed here there is no way she would stand for this 30 minute hike.
– While literally these days is defined as “figuratively” (inflammable means flammable? What a country!). No joke it is an hour and 25 minutes before I finally make it to the Heathrow Express.
– After lunch and an email session at the PL offices, we head to Euston to hop a train to Liverpool
– Who would win a battle of the most iconic cabs in the world? London or NYC? Early tale of the tape: London gets the edge for being able to fit 4 people and luggage in the back comfortably. NYC gets the edge for credit card machines in the cab.
– Redacted Virgin Trains joke. No, it wasn’t a juvenile high school joke. More current events related
– 17 hours after leaving EWR we make it to our hotel in Liverpool.
– Head to Hope Street for dinner. I know this makes me sound like a stupid American, but considering we both speak English, looking at a menu in a restaurant in England feels like reading a different language. There are enough slight differences to throw you off. Example: BALLOTINE OF GOOSNARGH CORN FED CHICKEN BREAST
– On second thought, this restaurant just might be way more fancy than the places I go to in the States. Next time, we’ll go to the British Applebee’s. My treat.
– For a starter, I get the Crispy Pork Belly with Salted Caramel sauce. My goodness. I really wish I just got three of these as my meal
– When discussing wine and booze in general, I reveal that I have never really been hungover. SK says that if I go to town on a bottle of tequila and he gets to watch the effects and subsequent hangover, that he’ll sign us up for a new PL deal. I am reluctant to tell this to JM because he will throw me in front of that train in two shakes of a lambs tail
– For the record, if that was a guaranteed proposal, I would take one for the team for sure. That would be an amazing resume cornerstone
– The dessert menu features a deep fried jam sandwich. The Brits are baffled by this, but as the resident gluttonous American, I tell them we fry much weirder things in the states:
NC: Twinkees, ice cream, Oreos…
SK: Oreo biscuits?
NC: (I am so close to mentioning this hilarious Sesame Street video where Cookie Monster freaks out over the fact that John Oliver doesn’t know what a cookie is because in England Cookies are called biscuits there, but I somehow bite my tongue and muscle out a) Yup
– The Gluttonous American strikes again as I order the DFJS so everyone can see it in all its glory. It basically tastes like a strawberry filled doughnut
– When we get back to the hotel, we see the Chelsea team bus parked outside. Snazzy
– As NM and BFM are both Liverpool fans, they start mapping out how they can spend all night knocking on doors to ensure the Blues get a bad night sleep
– Not sure why I never thought this before. Do professional soccer players have to share a room on road trips? Coaches? I imagine Mourinho definitely has his own room, but beyond that I can see it going either way
Saturday November 8
– I head upstairs feeling like a kid on Christmas Eve. After a Face Time session with Sonya, I finally head to bed around 1am
– Heading down to the lobby, the elevator stops in the mezzanine first and Mourinho and Gary Cahill walk in. I try to play it cool even though I am geeking out. As I get out, I wish them luck today
– I apologize to NM and BFA for not taking out Mourinho and Cahill in the elevator
– If you ever get a cab in Liverpool, don’t spend the ride in silence. Just ask the cabby if he is Red or Blue (I.E Liverpool or Everton. Their stadiums are a mile apart). He will then proceed to talk about his club for the entire ride.
– Something special about PL match days. Feels like the entire city is funneling towards the stadium
– Standing outside the Shankley Gates sure is special
– To the right, a series of row houses are being demolished to make way for the upcoming Anfield expansion
– Something I’ve noticed. In the US, outside of Fenway, I think everyone agrees that a new stadium is always a good thing. People get excited about a new place to call home. The most sacred part of a club is their jersey. When jerseys get changed, or God forbid get corporate logos, people flip out. In Europe it is the other way around. Jerseys change every year, often drastically. For example, Chelsea, the Blues, recently had a yellow away jersey. Stadiums, however, are hallowed ground that shouldn’t be touched (of course there are exceptions to this rule)
– Walking into the hospitality entrance, we have to walk in front of a mob waiting for the Liverpool team bus to arrive. Not recording that walk will be one of my biggest regrets
– Going to a Yankee game in the Legends suite makes me never want to see a baseball game any other way. But that is mostly because I don’t really like baseball. Going to a soccer match in the hospitality section feels unauthentic and make me want to sit among the general population.
– That being said. I’m never one to turn down free food. Gluttonous American strikes again as I combine the bacon sandwich and the poached egg and start a new trend in hospitality
– Former Liverpool super sub David Fairclough comes to our table. My soccer history is rather stunted so I just sit there and smile and nod. I later Google him and find out he played before I was born
– You’ll Never Walk Alone. Epic.
– Liverpool scores first. The place is rocking.
– Steven Gerrard is a Liverpool legend. He’s been with the club since he was a wee lad. They have this chant in Liverpool to the tune of Que Sera Sera
Steven Gerrard, Gerrard
He’ll pass the ball 40 yards
He’s big and he’s f***in hard
Steven Gerrard, Gerrard
Last season, he made a crucial mistake against Chelsea and Liverpool lost that match and ultimately the league title. The Chelsea fans changed the lyrics to this:
Steven Gerrard, Gerrard
He slipped on his f***ing arse
He gave it to Demba Ba
Steven Gerrard, Gerrard
There was a good three minutes where the Chelsea and Liverpool fans were singing dueling versions at the same time. Amazing
– Gary Cahill scores for Chelsea. I apologize again to NM for not taking him out in the elevator
– Halftime. We head back into hospitality and drinks are waiting for us
– Soccer chants are awesome. But near impossible to make out the words to half of them. I am consoled by the fact that the Brits I am with readily admit they can’t really make out half of them either
– The machine that is Diego Costa takes the life out of the building with a go-ahead goal. Bummed for the crowd. Happy for my fantasy team. Liverpool fan NM also has Costa on his team. There is confusion in those eyes
– An uncalled Chelsea handball in the box has the home fans up in arms. Interesting fact. The majority of stadiums in England do not have jumbotrons. Once again, way different than the jumbotron arms race in the states. Even the stadiums that do have screens would never show a replay of something like that. The belief is that showing a controversial play will anger the fans and lead to incidents.
– Another difference. They sell beer at stadiums, but you can’t drink within the bowl. If you get a beer, you have to drink it in the concourse before returning to your seat. Also, no one makes a concession stand run during play. Halftime only
– When it is apparent that Chelsea will hold on for the win, Liverpool fans start leaving. The Chelsea fans start chanting “Where are you going, is there a fire somewhere?” Hope that one makes it over to the states
– Back in hospitality, there is lobster and venison waiting for us.
– Instead of dealing with all the Chelsea fans heading back to London, we take a car to Warrington to catch a train there. While waiting for the delayed train, we stream the first half of the QPR – Man City match
– We get on the train and the stream no longer works. Glad to see spotty cell coverage and shitty wifi on trains is not just an American problem. You would think that someone would solve this by now
– As a result of this topic, BFM reveals that her home internet in Singapore is 250 Mbps. And that is standard. I have 50 Mbps and NM/KS have 30. BFM hates having to use wifi in Europe or the States. Another thing we need to work on
– Back in London we head our separate ways. I meet up with another PL guy ME for a night of Ping Pong. I’ve been told that he is fairly competitive and an above average player. Everyone hopes I win
– I am in sneakers and he is in dress shoes. I may have the upper hand, but he might also be luring me into a false sense of security
– Two and a half hour wait for a table. There is a rather official looking sign that says this is the place where Ping Pong was invented.
– I lose the first two sets. I was out classed. I vow revenge on the shuffleboard table when he comes to the states for the next leg of our bat game decathlon. I have the edge here because they apparently don’t have shuffle board in England
Sunday November 9
– Something awesome about walking back to the hotel at 1A on empty London streets in the rain. But then again, I’m a weirdo
– I get four hours of sleep before having to wake up, and shower in the last decent hotel room I will have on this trip. I walk to St. Pancras
– Waiting for the Eurostar I fall into a Wikipedia rabbit hole about the history of London Transit Stations. The boarding call is the only thing that snaps me out of it
– I love this statue in the terminal. The Meeting Place. I think I took 30 pictures of it
– Pulling into Paris is always fun. I drop my bag off at the hostel and head out to explore. My general method of exploring cities is pick a place you want to go, walk for 20 minutes in that direction, check Google Maps on phone, reorientate, walk for 20 minutes, repeat
– Rule 2: Take public transport in that city at least twice. I love public transit.
Tube: Clean. Historic. Countdown clocks for all trains.
Paris: Old trains. Door manually open, and can be manually opened while the train is technically still moving. Countdown clocks for all trains.
NYC: 24 hour service. Needs more countdown clocks.
– I’m starving, but I am trying to avoid places filled with tourists. I find a place, but can’t help feeling like an idiot American
– After all these years of quoting Celebrity Jeopardy from SNL, I finally learn that a petite dejeuner is a small breakfast. Unfortunately, they are no longer serving breakfast. Luckily, I googled the French word for chicken and had that in my pocket as a backup order.
– Pull the touristy move and buy a lock and head for the Pont des Artes. If you haven’t read the news, one of of parapets on this bridge in Paris collapsed on account of the thousands of locks attached to it. The city is process of replacing the grates on all the railings with plexiglass to prevent this from happening. There are still a couple spots however to attach the locks
– After a quick stop at Notre Dame, I hop on the metro and head back to the hostel.
– Stop at a French Bodega to get a baguette. Delicious.
– This hostel has the smallest elevator everywhere. Me plus my suitcase leaves room for only flat Stanley, but he would get wrinkled for sure.
– My room at the hostel is tiny. Slightly bigger than the elevator. Bed. Desk. Sink.
There is a shower closet in the hallway, and in another closet is the toilet. Sorry for the image here, but if I wanted to sit, I wouldn’t be able to. Less leg room than coach. I was also handed sheets for the bed at the front desk. That’s a new one for me. But once again, for 50 bucks in the center of Paris, I won’t complain.
– Heading to the stadium in Paris, I still feel like these tickets might be fake
– Stop in a random pizza place to test out the local cuisine. Not bad. Oddly enough, they sell pizza by the pound. Deli style
– Pretty good pizza
– Get to the stadium and they actually let me in.
– I get there at 8:00, an hour early in hopes of wandering through the concourse and being suckered into buying overpriced PSG gear in the team store, but it turns out that I am sitting with the Super Fans and they are not allowed to go anywhere other than their seats and the bathroom
– If I thought English chants were hard to grasp, ones in other languages are even harder. After 20 minutes or so, I kinda get the hang of it and just start shouting noises in the same tone and cadence as the fans
– During player introductions, the PA guy says first names, then everyone screams the last names. I’m fully on board for this one. Tricky though when the player only has one name.
– PSG scores first. Crowd goes wild
– There are two sets of Ultras. One behind each goal. At one point, one side screams a chant, then the other side repeats them. Then they all give a little golf clap. They they do it again and again and again
– Ladies and Gentlemen, French Snoop Dogg is in the house. Or should I say Chien Fouineur
– The Marseille fans are boxed in by floor to ceiling plexiglass on either side of their section
– Zlatan comes into the match with 30 minutes to play! He is awesome. Barely moves until the ball comes his way. Then the defenders pretty much cower in front of him. He doesn’t score, but every time he has the ball, the crowd holds their breath, and expects him to score.
– Goal Cavani. 2-0 PSG the place is rocking
– Game over. I hop on the metro, but make a detour to the Eiffel Tower since I haven’t seen it up close yet. After 30 minutes of just sitting there in awe, like usual, I finally head back and get back to the hostel around 12:15a
– Despite my best judgment, I decide to take a shower even though I don’t have flip flops. I try to go as fast as I can and I keep lifting might feet to try to limit the amount of time the fungus has to attach itself to my feet
– By the time I get to bed, it is 1:30a. My alarm is set for 4:00a so I can catch a 4:53a train to the airport. If I miss that train, I’ll miss my flight to Milan
– Walking thru the empty streets of Paris to Gare de Nord at 4AM is awesome. Again, I’m a weirdo
– Waiting on the RER B line track with 15 other people. The 4:53 train isn’t posted on the board, but everyone is hopeful that it shows up. At 4:35 I decide to take a loop and see that the 4:53 is coming in on a different track on a different level. I run downstairs and tell everyone. We all hustle upstairs
– Now there are 40 people waiting on this track. One of the garbage men comes over and tells us if we want to go to the airport, there has been another track change. We all run to the new track.
– The signs haven’t been changed, but reluctantly we all trust the trashman
– We actually made it to the airport.
– White Twix double pack for two Euros. Milhouse
– I manage to make it to Milan without paying any Easy Jet random fees
– It is pouring. For once though, I’ve planned ahead and I have an umbrella with me.
– I’ve spent a lot of time being in and reading about European train stations the last few days. This is hard to say: I love Grand Central, but a lot of these European stations make Grand Central look like Penn Station. Central Station in Milan is unreal
– Hop the M3 a few stops north.
Milan Metro: Again, countdowns everywhere. Efficient, old dingy cars. Trolleys above ground are awesome and retro. Bonus points: I have full cell service underground and in the tunnels. Had a whole 15 minute call with Sonya
Did I mention that I love public transit
– My room isn’t ready, but I take some time to steal free hotel wifi
– The maid laughed when I said my name was Casanova.
– After sitting in the lobby for 30 minutes, I’m told my room is ready. I head upstairs in yet another tiny elevator. When I get to my floor, the hallway is pitch black. Not creepy at all
– Stoked that is room has a bathroom. But I am about a foot taller than the bed
– I spend an hour or so avoiding the rain and catching up on emails.
– The rain is adding a monkey wrench to the day. I never really plan for indoor activities.
– Google “Best Pizza in Milan”
– Find a place near the canals. And head straight to the metro since they close at 3p for their siesta before dinner starts
– As I am walking out the door, the woman at the front desk says I have to leave my room key with her. I reluctantly hand it over. As I walk outside, I immediately Google “Ares Hotel leave front key at desk.” Apparently this is a European custom. Plus, I think to myself, at any hotel, even if you have your key, they can get into your room at will
– The canals aren’t as glorious as the canals of Venice. First off: There are two. Second: Each drop of rain that is currently falling is increasing the amount of water in the canal by 25%
That said, the canals are awesome
– Wow. Top notch
– Gluttonous American strikes again! Despite being full, my stomach cries out “When in Milan, do as the Romans” (wait, that’s not right)
– What happened? Where did the pizza go? I blacked out.
– Spoiler Alert. I ate it all
– 12 Euros total. Such a great deal. And I even unnecessarily tipped
– The rain has subsided a bit, and I obviously need to walk off that pizza. I wander the streets until I happen upon Il Duomo. Whoa
– Walk the stairs to the terrace level outside the Cathedral. Great views. Amazing architecture. You are literally able to walk on the roof of the church. For some reason, I am baffled by this
– Afterwards, I swing by Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Named for the first king of Italy, it is one of the first indoor shopping malls in the world. Completed in 1877, it is a sight to behold. In reality, this mall is just a domed glass ceiling built over the street connection four buildings
– One of the big attractions in the mall is the mosaic of the dancing bull on the floor. The bull represents the former kingdom of Turin. Legend has it if you put your heel on the bull’s balls and spin in a circle, you will get good luck. This has been done so many times, that there is only a hole in the floor where the bull’s balls used to be
– I hop the 16 Trolley in hopes of seeing San Siro in person. However, I see a castle out the window and I am drawn to it
– This castle reminds me of Winterfell. Not overly fancy. Good open courtyard to protect many people. Stout and sturdy. The Starks would be comfortable here until someone burned it to the ground
– By this point I am feeling a little winded so I figure I should just cut my loses and head back to rest up for the Gaslight show later. I stop by a supermarket so I can get all sorts of food stuff for the office.
– The cashier asks if I would like a bag for my groceries. When I say yes, she hands me one after she rings up everything. I am charged for it and have to bag it all my damn self. I always help in the states, but this process was just rude
– I will need a second carryon bag to handle all my groceries. Do I have to declare this at customs?
– Get back to the room at 6:30. Have two hours to kill until the show. I was smart enough to book a hotel within a 5 minute walk of the venue
– The venue is named Alcatraz. I wonder if anyone knows there is a prison named after this place.
– Gaslight is set to go on at 10
– Being a concert for an American band in Italy, I am excited to see how the crowd is at this show.
– When I was younger, I always found it strange that people would go see the same band multiple times in concert. After seeing Gaslight each of the last 6 years, I finally get it
– Even if this show is subpar, the fact that it is in Milan will probably boost it into the top three Gaslight shows ever.
– Gaslight takes the stage. Fallon starts with “Hey we realize there are curfews and everything, so if it is ok with you guys we are going to skip that whole ‘get off stage. Come back. Play encore’ thing. I was thinking we’d just play a ton of songs until we run out of time. That ok?”
(Crowd goes wild)
“Good. Because encores are lame”
– There are a few people singing along with me, and some super fans in the front, but for the most part, I would say the majority of the people here don’t understand the words he is saying. Even the people singing are probably using my French soccer just sing noises approach
– Gaslight plays War Pigs by Ozzy. That’s a new one. Great cover
– Classic Fallon monologue: (Ed. Note: Holy Shit yes it is on YouTube)
PS I just got one of those Vespa things that you invented. Very cool man. On the weekend, Harley Davidson and it’s beat up with oil and dirty in my face. I feel like James Deen. American. But on a weekday when I’m getting orange and bananas, I just hop on the Vespa, ciao. And I like it a lot. And people ask me where did you get that? And I say. Italy. And they say where can I get one. And I say no no no no. You are American. Well I am American too, but I come here enough, maybe like 20 more times you make us honorary Italians. Pearl Jam is Honorary Italians right? Eddie Vedder is very proud of this. He goes, you know I drink my wine. I go ‘How do I get to be Italian,’ he goes ‘I don’t know talk to your boy Bruce Springsteen’
– Italians love 45 and Great Expectations. Everyone is singing along
– I haven’t eaten for 10 hours because of that pizza. And I am so amped up after that show. Walking around the neighborhood it looks like my food options are McDonalds or Chicken Chicken. I reluctantly walk into McDonalds
– The rumors are true. They serve beer at the McDonalds in Italy
– I get back to the hotel at 12:15 but spend an hour and a half looking at and posting pictures from the concert. I literally took 300 pictures. This one might be one of my favorite of all time
– My train to the airport is at 7:25a.
– I get a creme filled croissant at the train station that is out of this world. Hail Gluttonous American!
– I just realized that train ads in Milan are pieces of cardboard zip tied to the handrails
– They are serving pizza at the airport at 8a. Of course I get a slice
– Italian version of Sbarro > Sbarro
– We are delayed by 90 minutes but who cares at this point
– In Flight Movies: Frozen (real good), Amazing Spider-Man 2 (I’m never going to say a Spider-Man movie is bad)
– Upon landing, I get a call from the car service. I make game time decision and tell them I don’t need the car anymore.
– Make it through customs in a record 5 minutes. They now have automated kiosks which move the process along way faster. All kinds of awesome
– Hop on NJ Transit and head towards Philly.
– Book an Amtrak ticket for the morning from Philly to Stamford
– Just found out that the Fallon reposted my Instagram picture from the show last night. I have a whole bunch of Italians following me now. This is a lot of pressure
– Make it to Philly by 5:30 to spend the night with Sonya
Wednesday November 12
– Wake up at 3:50a so I can catch the 5:15 Amtrak train
– Spend the entire 2.5 hour ride typing this blog post
– Work stuff
– Leave work and head straight to Brother Jimmy’s to meet George
– Home at 8:30 filled with BBQ like a proper Gluttonous American
– Pass out on the couch at 8:31