London Calling

Click to read from the beginning of the travelogue

London

Day 16/Friday

The Caledonian Sleeper pulled into Euston Station slightly past 6 in the morning. I rarely enjoy an uninterrupted sleep on trains/planes or any moving vehicle for that matter but this journey was an exception. It must have been the Scotch. Who says alcohol isn’t the solution to your problems!

I purchased the cheapest option on the Caledonian Sleeper which is a day seat.The sleeper cabins cost 10X more and was not option for a close-to-broke traveller like me. Although you save a considerable amount of money on train fare, you pay with your body. A small price to pay if you’re young.With a sore back and aching joints, I stepped out of the cabin into the chilly London morning air.

It was still dark at the time of arrival and the station was near empty.The passengers from the Caledonian dispersed off in all directions and I was alone. Euston Station is a rather huge complex. An integrated complex of overland rail, London underground and bus station.Similar to everything in London, it’s easy to navigate with clear signage and maps throughout the complex.

Previously, I had the privilege of witnessing Venice rise from her slumber.While that was gradual and peaceful, London was the complete opposite. As soon as first light hit, the station was flooded with commuters. A buzz of commotion and noise. Now that the city was awake, I made my way out of the station.

Clink 261 Hostel is a few minutes walk from King’s Cross Station. Check-in was 2 pm onward and it was barely 7am. I had a lot of time to kill. I had a leisurely breakfast at Costa’s. Leeched off their free WiFi for a few hours. I split my coffee and croissant orders to avoid getting chased out but I doubt they would do that anyway. Londoners are more cultured I suppose. After a few hours at Costa’s, I took a leisurely walk around the neighbourhood.

Real Life Monopoly Board

The walk was nostalgic, reminiscent of a monopoly game from childhood. No dispute over which token I was. It was ideally the shoe. I shuffled past King’s Cross & Euston Road. kingscross

EustonRoadSpaceEustonRd_web

Strolled past Pentoville Road along the way.

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A Monopoly tour is indeed possible in London. All the places on the board exist in reality and you’re bound to come across a few of them when you visit London. Maybe I’ll consciously plan to visit each tile on my next visit. Anyone who has played monopoly before knows very well that it’s no fun when you’re broke so I declared bankruptcy and checked into my hostel.

It was still way before my check-in time and my allocated bed was still occupied.The counter staff allowed me dump my luggage in the store and I set off to explore the city. First stop – Emirates Stadium. It was time for the much anticipated stadium & museum tour.

Home of The Arsenal

Tickets were pre-booked online through the Arsenal website. You get a 1-day pass to explore the stadium & museum at your own pace. I paid 32.50 pounds for the tour & accompanying souvenirs(commemorative book & photo).Tours by Arsenal legends are available at a slightly higher price. Unfortunately there were none on the day I visited.

You get access to the entire stadium. Here are the highlights:

You’ll first be greeted by the busts of two of Arsenal’s most illustrious managers

Herbert Chapman
Herbert Chapman

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Le Professor
Le Professor

There’s also a time capsule from the Highbury Days

Time Capsule
Time Capsule

You climb a flight of stairs and you arrive at the the Diamond Club- Arsenal’s Exclusive Premium Section of the Stadium. The Director’s Box is also located here.

VIP
VIP

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Probably the best seat in the stadium
The best seat in the stadium

2 years on from my first experience watching Arsenal up close, I’ve made it home.

Arsenal vs Malaysia Selection @ National Stadium, Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Arsenal vs Malaysia Selection 2011 @ National Stadium, Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
And now I'm in the Director's Box
And now I’m in the Director’s Box

The Inner Sanctum

Next up you get the chance to explore the inner sanctum of the Stadium – The player’s quarters and the famed pitch itself.

It was -1 day to match day and the stadium was buzzing with preparations.The groundsman was laying some final touches on the pitch. It added a dimension of realism to the experience. In a matter of hours, my football idols would be walking the very steps I took. That was pretty awesome!

After alighting from the team bus, the players gather in the changing room. The kit-man had already laid out some of the apparels for the game ahead.

Arsenal Changing Room
Arsenal Changing Room
OHHHHH SANTI CAZORLAAA!
OHHHHH SANTI CAZORLAAA!

The Walk of Fame

A pre-match ritual of every Arsenal  player. At the entrance of the tunnel, the achievements of  the club are emblazoned above. A reminder of the club’s glorious history.

The Walk of Fame
The Walk of Fame

The walls of the tunnel are adorned by a montage of key moments in Arsenal’s history: Arsenal Legends, Managers and past Arsenal teams.

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And then you step onto the glorious pitch

The deafening roar of the Emirates awaits
The deafening roar of the Emirates awaits

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Pitch Side
Pitch Side

Post Match Facilities

A thermostat controlled pool for recovery
A thermostat controlled pool for recovery
Conference Room
Conference Room
Post Match Interviews
Post Match Interviews

Arsenal Museum

The Museum revolves around a central theme: The Arsenal Story. Memorabilia, trophies, pictures and videos combine effectively to recreate Arsenal’s glorious past.

" I'm going to make this the greatest club in the world "
” I’m going to make this the greatest club in the world “
The Invincibles
The Invincibles

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Past Trophies & Kits
Past Trophies & Kits
Away Emblems
Away Emblems

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Alan Smith's Golden Boot
Alan Smith’s Golden Boot
Bergkamp's Boots
Bergkamp’s Boots
One of the first Arsenal Kits
One of the first Arsenal Kits
Part of the Highbury pitch from the last game
Part of the Highbury pitch from the last game
The first game at Highbury
The first game at Highbury
The last game at Highbury
The last game at Highbury
Revolutionary Tactics
Revolutionary Tactics

No visit to the Emirates Stadium would be complete without a visit to the Armoury- the club’s fan store. You can get everything to do with Arsenal over here. Shopping paradise for an Arsenal fan. Bummer that I was on a budget.

Right in front of the Armoury lies a montage of tiles.The tiles are purchased by fans and bear their names as well as inscriptions. Concrete memorials celebrating Arsenal legends also dot the tiled square.

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Day 17/Saturday

Match-day

I was both relieved and ecstatic when my tickets arrived the day before. It was a miracle.The website which I booked them on turned out to be sketchy. My friend had previously booked El Clasico tickets for a sum of 2000 euros and they never showed up. Upon hearing news of this, I did a simple Google search and similar stories popped up. It was too late anyway since I had already paid well over double the original price. I was unaware of the company’s reputation at the point of booking and went ahead after the customer service staff repeatedly assured me. My backup plan was to buy one from scalpers outside the stadium (One of them tried to sell me tickets the day before).Thankfully it did not come to that.

Dream Ticket
Dream Ticket

Decked in my Santi Cazorla jersey and an Arsenal scarf I picked up from the Armoury the day before, I set off from the hostel two hours before kickoff. It actually only took half and hour to get to the stadium but I could barely contain my excitement.

It was a good thing I left early. Kings Cross was temporarily shut due to a bomb threat. Apparently this is quite normal on the underground. Passengers were diverted to nearby Euston Station. I spotted a few Arsenal fans on the train.The number grew as the train drew closer to Arsenal Station. I joined the throngs of Arsenal fans and exited the station into a sea of red and white.The entire street was closed. There was a carnival atmosphere to the place. Chatter, chants and singing filled the air. Pop-up stalls selling memorabilia and food lined the streets.This was Gooner Heaven!

I picked up a few framed Arsenal photos for myself and the Gooners back home. Arsenal vs Aston Villa awaited.

Local Constables
Local Constables

The atmosphere inside the stadium was a hubbub of anticipation. I was seated quite high up right underneath the scoreboard. A Japanese family soon joined me not long after. They seemed more interested in their onigri than the football though.

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The atmosphere went up a notch as the referee blew the whistle. The game was an entertaining spectacle. Both teams threw caution to defence and attacked. End to end action. Santi Cazorla opened the scoring and the stadium erupted. I jumped out of my seat and my phone landed three rows down! We entered the break 1-0 to the Arsenal. Agbonlahor pulled one back in the second half before Cazorla knocked in the winner late in the game. My jersey choice was justified. Final Score: 2-1

It couldn’t have gone any better. A win. My favourite player single-handedly winning the match. To commemorate the occasion, I shelled out 30 pounds and purchased a framed autograph photo of Santi. Thanks for making my first match at the Emirates a wonderful experience!

On the way back to the hostel, an elderly lady approached me as I exited the tube at King’s Cross.

” Did we win? ”

I broke into smile.

” Of course! ”

Solo Traveller

Click to read from the beginning of the travelogue


Photo Credits:

King’s Cross Monopoly taken from http://landobreaks.blogspot.sg/2012/03/kings-cross-station.html

Pentonville Road taken from http://pegsontheline.com/monopoly/

Euston Road taken from http://www.aglimpseoflondon.com/2011_04_01_archive.html

Monopoly tile pictures taken from http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com/london-monopoly-light-blues/

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