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Austria Diary - Day 1

16 July 2012

Austria Diary From Day 1 Of Trip

Welcome to the first of this year's daily diary from the Dale pre-season training camp. For those of you who have followed the saga over the last 5 years you will probably have been tuning in to read this year's Spanish Diary but this year there is a different feel to the diary as we have ventured a little more east than south to Austria and this year's diary will be renamed after today, yes you guessed it 'The Austrian Diary'.

So why Austria I hear you ask? Well different managers have different ideas and aside of the thought that going to Marbella in Spain sounds like a holiday, the main reason behind coming to Austria is the opportunity to train at altitude. Sounds good but I'm not sure I understood it properly so I spoke to Andy Thorpe our physio to get his take on altitude training. Andy explained that the air is thinner and that breathing this air forms new cells in your lungs and makes them bigger and you have a greater capacity to work harder. Andy did use some analogy about a glass and some water and that when the glass is full it then overflows, I understood him up to that point and he went on about capacities and I just tried to look interested.

Our day began at 8.30am as the group assembled at terminal 1 at Manchester airport. We were met by our travel agent Ken Beecher from Strachan Sports and he escorted us round to the Lufthansa check in desks where nearly everything went smoothly. Two slight problems, first of all Reece Gray's passport looked as though it had been in the washing machine on a high temperature and secondly Godwin Abadaki was listed as Badadiki or something like that and the check in clerk couldn't find a match to his passport but it all got sorted out without too much fuss. The lads had been given a baggage allowance of 15kgs so the difference between their allowance and the Lufthansa allowance of 23kgs could be used by the extra kit and medical equipment that we needed for the trip. I had noticed quite a few of them creeping over their weight limit and was set to fine a few of them but the rest of us, who were under ensured that we didn't get any excess baggage charge. I would also say that Ken and the Lufthansa staff were excellent with us. I did drop a bit of a boo boo and sent everyone off to go through security and then realised there was only Ken and I to take the kit bags round to the big baggage area. I won't make that mistake again.

The herding through the security area seemed longer than ever and as a grumpy old man you're left cursing the airport authorities as there were 4 gates at one end not being used, at least it gave me something to moan about. There was more to moan about later as we went to our gate when the number went up on the board but when we got there, there was no plane to be seen. After a short time our plane did taxi in but you were left thinking we're not going to be taking off on time. I was right, our 11am take off was about 40 minutes late but then we were told that the flight time would only be 1 hour 35 minutes and not 2 hours so we would be on time. More to moan about here as we circled Munich a few times just to make sure we were late and when they were confident that we were really late they decided to land.

Munich reminded me of home as it was lashing it down when we landed, and to think when we left Manchester it was a bright pleasant summer's morning. We collected our bags, which were through quite quickly and went to meet our tour rep Tony Ludwig of Club Activo. Tony escorted us to our coach ahead of what was to be a long journey to Austria but more about that in a moment.

There were 30 of us in the party and we had a 33 seater coach so you would have thought that we wouldn't have a problem, no not us. When we tried to pack all the cases and the extra kit underneath we just couldn't get it all in, not only that we had some packed lunches in cool boxes and it really was looking like we would have to leave someone behind. In the end the strategy of trying to pack the cases like tetra bricks didn't work and some had to go under the seats and in the aisle.

So back to our journey. Originally we were under the impression that our transfer from the airport to the hotel was 2 hours and twenty minutes but Bernhard our goalkeeping coach who knows this area a little better than us told us last week that the journey time would be nearer four and a half hours and when I went on Google maps I confirmed that Bernhard's time was more accurate and that didn't do too much for the popularity of our tour agent.

So we are on a coach all tucked in nicely with the best part of a five hour drive in front of us, what can I tell you about this journey. Well the first couple of hours went by so slowly I was losing the will to live and I don't think we'd even got out of Germany, seen one field, seen em all, seen one forest, seen em all. I wanted to read but I couldn't be bothered, I wanted to sleep but I couldn't get comfortable enough on Andrew Kelly's shoulder to nod off, I can even feel the facial hair on my face growing. The management and medical team of John, Jimmy, Joe and Thorpey had commandeered the only table on the coach and were in to some sort of quiz, first football and then music, I was hearing things like Joe Brown and the Brothers, Peters and Lee and "Welcome Home", Limmie and the Family Cookin and when I heard Boris Bobby Pickett and his Crypt Kicker Thighs with their "Monster Mash" and remembered his Transylvanian Twist it really did send me over the edge.

After about two and a half hours on the road we decided to stop at the German equivalent to Welcome Break where fuel and food is as ridiculously priced as it is back in the UK but at least the stop gave the lads the opportunity to not have to pee in a toilet that was half the size of a single wardrobe and also stretch their legs.

After a twenty minute stop we resumed our journey knowing that we were only half way to our destination and there were a whole load more fields and forests to view on the way. I can't remember anything help pass the time by a little more quickly, quite the opposite really and particularly as hit Austria and ventured up min to the hills although I think they call them mountains out here, these hills made my hill in La Carla from last year look like a sandcastle. The time dragged even more as our little coach regularly had to drop down to second gear to cope with the mountain roads and at one point I thought we would all have to get out to not only lighten the load but to push it up the hill but thankfully that didn't happen.

Other observations from our trip include the Gaffer being as competitive in the quiz and on the card table as he is in the dugout. I understand the Gaffer and Jimmy are undefeated at crib for 15 years and are prepared to take on all comers. I showed great restraint at wanting to remove Jack's head from his neck when after 4 hours on the road he said "I spy with my little eye". Godwin sleeps with his head up whereas Joey T is more normal and sleeps with it down. Neill Byrne brought a light hearted moment on a long journey when he was trying to sleep on the tray on the back of the seat in front of him, he had his head on the tray when the tray gave way and Neill woke up with a stark look in his eye as we tried hard and unsuccessfully not to laugh.

I think the DJ on the radio had some empathy with our situation or just had a sick sense of humour as at one point he played Chris Rea's "Road to Hell". I heard a song on the radio that I haven't heard for about 30 years and that also had a road theme and was "Davy's on the Road Again", which Jack and I sadly found ourselves singing along to. I was deeply ashamed that I knew most of the words to this from more than 30 years ago but was struggling to remember who sang it until the Chairman, reminded me it was Manfred Mann's Earth Band. (Google says 1978 from the legendary album "watch") {This is not just a diary blog, it's an education}.

The last third of our journey was mainly through the Austrian Mountains and we went through the ski resort town of Obertauern (situated in the south east of the Austrian Bundesland of Salzburg between 1,630 and 2,526 meters above sea level){This is not just a diary blog, it's an education}.Obertauern,I have to tell you in the middle of July is like Dodge City at High Noon. You see all these shops and hotels at this time of year and they are all closed and there just isn't a sole to be seen. The ski slopes are greener than green and all the ski lifts are just sat there idling their time away until November.

I'm now thinking surely we must be close to the hotel, I've lost the will to live a long timeago, passed over to the other side and resurrected myself. Those near the front of the coach and who can see the sat nav are stringing everyone along and giving out false hope and then joking and saying still an hour to go and then low and behold after 5 hours on the road and about 12 hours in total we finally hit St Lambrecht, famous for its Abbey (St. Lambrecht's Abbey is a benedictine monastry in the village of Sankt Lambrecht in the Styrian nature reserve in Austria. The monastery is located 1,072 meters above sea level){This is not just a diary blog, it's an education}.Our home for the week is the Austria Trend Hotel Lambrechterhof on the main street, it's the main street because it's the only street.

As you can imagine there was a rush to get off the coach, collect the bags and get checked in. The Gaffer had moved to his plan B with the room pairings and en route had mixed it all up to get everyone mixing with everyone else. The bad news was that the 6pm training session had to be cancelled as it was now 8pm and dinner was half an hour ago and we still had to get everyone checked in and unpacked.

I got my room and to be fair it was pretty good, which you would expect given I booked the whole thing, the only problem was it didn't have a balcony like the others so I asked Jack if he wanted to swap my presidential suite for his hole in the ground but one that did have a balcony. Jack as eager as ever to please agreed and we moved cases, Jack the little creep then went and swapped his PS with the Gaffer and Jimmy.

We are an hour in front of UK time and I thought after the walk to the training pitch it's 10.30 I need to make a start on the blog, which I have obviously have done. It's now 12.45am over here, I haven't unpacked yet, I smell, and I have to be in reception at 6.45am today as training for the boys starts at 7am. So good night from day 1.
Dinner was very nice and was nicely set out in a little private room just off the main restaurant; the food was hot, fresh and plentiful with a good variety of food to suit all diets. After dinner a few of us went to have a look at the hotel facilities and the special arrangements that they have made to suit our training camp purposes. Tony then took me and the rest of the staff to the training ground, which is a short 10 minute walk through the village, it was very dark but we got to have a walk on the pitch with some light shining from the stand, it reminded me of Fields of Dreams, never seen the film but it did remind me of that, weird really. The pitch looks and feels in excellent condition and there is a full size 3G pitch next to it. There was some discussion about using the river that runs alongside as an ice bath but kayaking or white water rafting might be more appropriate.

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