Saturday, 19 May 2012

Snooker goes to - LATVIA!

Perhaps as the season drew to a close last year I was content to look back on my participation in 3 European events with fondness and happy memories, not expecting to have the opportunity again. Thankfully I have one final attempt at the Masters event, and will be participating in the 2012 EBSA European Championships, held this year in Latvia. You can follow my Latvia Snooker blog here, which like before will be updated with all the goings on, craic and maybe some snooker also!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Superbly Organised Tournament

Daniel Wells - 2011 European Champion
So, the European Championships are over for another year. What a professional, slick enterprise this was and credit has to go to Oleg and the Bulgarian Snooker Federation. Looking back over the 12 days of the tournament I can remember the excitement, fun, tension and stiff competition that is a European Event. For Bulgaria to take on this event with just 16 weeks notice is a testement to the hard work put in by both EBSA and the BSF, something the players often overlook.

'Blue' Peter, me, Ger, Vic, and Sverrir 'Ashcloud' GarĂ°arsson
The standard of referreing has also improved and this was highlighted by Bernard McGuinness during his speech at the end of the event, well done referees. The closing ceremony was a fitting climax to a wonderful tournament., with estatic winners and gracious loosers. Although I didn't sample the 'Black Ram' whiskey (one of the sponsors) during the closing ceremony I have heard it is quite good, a bottle or two was exported to various parts of the European community no doubt.

I have made some wonderful friends and if I didn't get an opportunity to mention you on my blog (thank your lucky stars) there is always the next time. Sofia is not the easist place to reach in Europe and we had to get connecting flight from Paris both there and back. But thats not detracting from a wonderful venue and event.

Next year I am sure the host country will be a little more accesible with possible host countries ISRAEL, LATVIA, RUSSIA, DENMARK, GERMANY and N.IRELAND hoping to host the event. Watch this space and I will update the moment I hear anything.

For me it's back to the day job (I have some car trouble which means I can't get into work today as I write this) and my other passion which is Politics. The next election campaign will not be for another 3 years, so plenty of work lies ahead. If you are interested in what our party stands for, you can catch up via my website, which again will also be updated with various goings on. Click here.

Oh, and before I forget and get off the snooker theme completely, thanks for the t-shirt Janie. I like surprises and I LOVE SNOOKER!!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Sofia with a bad taste

This is gonna hurt. And gonna hurt bad. I have loved my time in Sofia that is for sure. However it only takes one night to sour our relationship. That night was tonight. 
Make sure each venue is Open
Following a beer at our local restaurant, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to try out the 'Sin City' leisure complex. It was advertised as FOUR clubs in one venue, however having paid the 8 BGN Lev door charge I find out it is only one club. The other THREE are undergoing refurbishment. Nothing on the website or reviews tells you this. The one club that IS open is crowded and uncomfortable. Bouncers on every corner wearing black t-shirts with 'SECURITY' on the back don't aid the ambiance. When I asked about the other THREE clubs I was directed to the manager who offers no explanation other than politely escorting me to the exit. Nice public relations move, he hasn't read my blog, but that's for another day.

The Night Gets even Better
A taxi to Lavov Most (Lions Bridge) was flagged down, and from there I made the short walk towards the Happy Bar & Grill which has been a frequent source of refreshments and nourishment during our stay. I am hungry after a long day sight seeing and our closing ceremony (updated photos will be here) and at some stage between this and the huge Lion edifices adourning the local bank I was 'pick pocketed' by a professional.

Near 'Happy' Grill in Sofia
The Professional Touch
Out of nowhere, I was approached by a 'lady of the night' offering her services. Anybody who has been to Sofia will testify this is not unusual. However this particular 'lady' at the same time makes a grab for your 'crotch'...the surprise is one thing, taking your hands out of your pockets to protest is another. At this instance you are defenceless while she rifles through your pockets and off with your wallet, I reckon it took 3 seconds, tops. I'm a pretty streetwise kid, and this caught me out, big time, so be aware.
Hotel Difficulties
So, on my return to the Princess Dedeman Hotel in Sofia, I ask to speak with the 'Night Manager' as it is now approximately 2:00am and I have had a long walk back, short on money and temper. I have to go through the same story with the bell-boy and desk manager, before the Night Manager arrives to ask what is happening. More frustration. I explain the situation and advise that the Hotel need to take my pre authorisation as payment or they don't get paid once I cancel the credit card, simple? No. They suggest another form of payment, or perhaps a bank transfer in the morning, none of which is an option. A military interview takes place before they decide to process the card details I provided on arrival. They are ok. I can now cancel my 'stolen' credit card.

I ask for some food given I still haven't eaten, and am hungry. This is too much like hard work right now, I don't have the energy for another debate with the night manager about how I am going to pay, so head off to bed. What has happened to 'Customer Service'  I wonder? Dedeman Princess Hotel and Sofia you can and should do so much better.

Happy Ending
At 5.00am I get a wake up call to the room advising that my cards have been handed in to the Hotel, which is a relief given the night I have had. Although I lost my wallet and a small amount of BGN Lev, I am happy to have my ID cards back. Not a memorable last night in the city, but one I am happy to put to the one side.

Friday, 17 June 2011

McIntyre pays his bets - Confirmed

Well done Daniel Wells (Wales) on winning the 2011 European Snooker Championships. Daniel, who will be turning professional in the forthcoming season played extremely well, but proved to be too strong for his opponent Vincent Muldoon (Ireland) on the day. Unlucky Vinnie, you had a great championship.

I took a fiver of McIntyre - ha ha ha ha ha......
A Winning Bet
Just a little 'aside' to the snooker. During our enjoyable day on Vitosha Boulevard yesterday, John and I both discussed the merits of the Masters event, now that 'hot favourite' Darren Morgan was put out. Who was going to win the prestigious event now we wondered, and given that we had differing opinions,  we decided on a small 5 BGN wager, which wasn't going to break the bank, just for fun. John was off the opinion that 2008 winner Alan Trigg would be too tough an opponent.

For me, I stuck with my original pick Steve Judd (see my earlier postings for confirmation !!) and it was the Englishman who came good in the end, winning 6-4 in a tight match. The 5 BGN Lev was duly handed over this evening, Mr McIntyre pays his bets, let it be said :)

Thursday & Friday - Our time in Sofia is ending

A nice leisurely stroll to the Lions Bridge with my friend Janne from Finland where we stopped for a coffee at the nearby Papaya coffee house. Janne told be a lot about his country, and it sounds like an ideal destination for future Championships. I know his compatriot Jyri is a big fan of the idea, and is bending a few ears to the idea at this event. 

Later that evening we had a very enjoyable hour or two on Vituska Boulevard with the legend that is John McIntyre. He is one of the best 'travel companions' you could wish for and I for one hope this isnt his last trip away. Having said that if we are successful in hosting he 2012 European Championship in Northern Ireland, he will probably have one of the shortest trips imaginable. We spent the evening having a quiet drink and watch the pedestrians stroll up and down the Boulevard. The strangest thing we saw was an elderly man bedecked in flashing strobe lights from head to foot...John thought he had just witnessed a UFO landing!

Back to the hotel and I was summoned by Janie to her 'office' where she presented me with her t-shirt I had been admiring earlier and another as a gift. I won't be looking at it until I get home, I like surprises. A very nice touch from a lovely lady (even if she did give us a hard time for not attending the exhibition!)

A Special Request for Peter O'Brien
The evening wouldn't have been complete without a bit of 'ribbing' towards the experienced Irish referee Peter O'Brien. During the Mens Semi Final in which he was officiating he had a momentary lack of concentration, respoting the blue when McDonnell was clearing up the colours...his reaction once he realised was classic.....'oh fxxx' he says putting his hand up to his head before removing the blue again. He took it in good grace, an unusual lapse from a great guy. Don't think he appreciated my rendition of Phil Collins number which goes like this... 'When Im felling blue, all I have to do, is stop and think of you'....classic end to the night.

Friday Afternoon
I am writing this from the city centre, having had a quiet stroll this morning. Each day I decide to walk to Lavov Most (Lions Bridge) and get a bottle of water and maybe a slice of pizza. Once there I will decide if I can walk a little further, I continued on to the picturesqe Banski Square, sat down with my Ipod listening to Edel - 21 and watched the city go about its day to day business. As some stage in my excursion I finished up at the imposing NDK or National Palace of Culture (below).

National Palace of Culture, Sofia
Then I went up to Vituska boulevard again (I do love this pedestrianised Area of Sofia with its shops and outside eateries) before taking a detour and sitting down to write this update. Where I am I don't know and I'm not overly concerned. I have just enjoyed a nice chicken meal, washed down with a Latte, sitting in the shade of the Catcus Restuarant and Bar, there are affordable taxis applenty, so long as I remember the name of the hotel we are staying. Speaking of which, our closing ceremony is tonight, our last night in beautiful Sofia.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Sinatra and all that Jazz

Have just watched a good semi-final in the mens event, Vincent Muldoon (Ireland) against Martin McDonnell (England) and saw Vinney get over the winning line 6-4, I am delighted for him. He is here with his mum and I think she is playing every ball for him she looked so nervous. One thing for sure, his opponent Daniel Wells (Wales) will give him another tough game.

Telling JH about my blog and he will be in it ;)
Our World Snooker Champion John Higgins arrived last night. There was a reception for him in the hotel which was well attended by all of the players and referees, together with the assembled press. I spoke with John briefly in the lobby, just to let him know we are pleased he is back and that perhaps another few world championships will come his way. He's a good guy.

Although I had a trip planned to Sinatra's Piano Bar in the city centre, the reception was a good opportunity to mingle and chat with some friends, and get a few photographs.  After a couple of drinks a taxi was ordered and I headed off, with Ger and Nico for company.

 It didn't take long to arrive at our destination, The Sinatra Piano Bar is on the top floor of what can be described as an office block, there is no way you would ever stumble upon this place. It's a nice relaxing spot, a little smaller than I had anticipated but nice all the same. From here we headed into Studentski Grad or 'Student City' for a beer or two. I like quiet evenings ;)

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The Masters - Its a knockout

For me my tournament ended with a 3-0 defeat to Allan Norvack from Denmark in the final 32. He played a very strong game and I was 2-0 down before I knew what was happening and despite trying hard in the third just couldn't get over the line. 
It would have been nice to have made a match of it, however when its not your day no amount of sweat and tears is going to get points on the board.

Other matches to note today:
Darren Morgan beat Stephen Merrigan 4-0 for a place in the quarter final. Stephen from Ireland was a semi-finalist in 2008 and I had him tipped to go one step further this year. Alas coming up against a player who made a 142 clearance earlier in the week was always going to be tough. I am continually surprised that the Welsh player continues to compete at this level when his game is undoubtably strong enough to compete in the main event. That is a question only he can answer. Jyri Virtenan from Finland was another one of my tips to progress but he lost out to Kurt Desplenter 4 frames to 3.

Given there was no snooker for me today, I spent the day doing some unplanned sightseeing (as suggested by Janie earlier in the week).
My intention was to walk to Lavov Most (Lions Bridge) for a slice of pizza and a bottle of water, then maybe chill at the pool. This didn't really go to plan and before I knew it I was having a meal and a glass of wine at Victoria Restaurant (Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd) having spent an hour or two viewing the sights nearby like the impressive Alexander Nevsky Memorial Church (right) and the nearby Russian Church of St Nicolas (below).