More World Cup colour..And just what the Gulf coast of the U.S. did NOT need...
Star Travel writer Adrian Brijbassi continues his look at what's happening in South Africa for the World Cup. Today it's 70,000 seats and 550 steps.
DURBAN, South Africa – The sight of the U.S. flag making its way to the top of Moses Mabhida Stadium caught everyone’s curiosity on Saturday. Turns out CNN was here filming the new stadium and staking out territory for the U.S. soccer team, which a lot of people (me included) think could make some noise at the World Cup.
Moses Mabhida Stadium is a beauty. It’s visible for dozens of kilometres along the coastline in Durban and its suburban areas. The venue, named after a late labour rights leader, holds 70,000 for soccer and can reach a capacity of 85,000 for athletics (whispers of a future Summer Olympics can actually be heard in town).
The stadium features an arch that spans 350 metres and rises 106 metres. A cable car will take visitors to the top, but it isn’t operational until May 17. In the meantime, the arch has 550 steps and a warning to climb at your own risk. Figuring if CNN can hike it, so should the Star, I fought back my fear of heights and made the trek. Because of the potential for windy conditions, you have to wear a harness. No handrails are on the route, so a tour guide tethers your harness to a cable using a steel chain. You walk up concentrating on not tripping over the chain or the steep incline.
Halfway up there’s a bungee jumping platform. CNN producers suckered someone into taking the plunge – with the Stars and Stripes in hand. Luckily for me, Travel Editor Jim Byers isn’t so ruthless (Hey, Adrian, if I'd known about it you'd have been dangling but good - Jim) I took one look at the big drop and climbed on.
At the top, the view of the Indian Ocean is impressive. You can see beyond the tankers in the harbour out to where the vast ocean meets the horizon. Looking south, the crowds at Ushaka Marine World, a wonderful attraction that wouldn’t seem out of place in Orlando, are visible and so are the city’s beachgoers.
You don’t get much of a view of the stadium, though. To get a decent shot of the field, I had to attach my videocamera to a monopod and extent it as far as I could. The soccer pitch is lush, green and ready for action. Although Cape Town Stadium probably has the edge in terms of the quality of the playing surface, Moses Mabhida Stadium comes out on top for attractiveness.
It also will host the game of the first round. On June 25, Brazil and Portugal meet in Durban in what could be the most watched soccer game ever.
You’ll see video of the stadium and its pitch on thestar.com/travel before the 64-game tournament kicks off on June 11.
Other World Cup news from the weekend in Durban:
- FIFA continues to take a beating in the press and on the streets. People are truly excited to have the World Cup here but everyone is concerned about who’s going to pay for all the billions of dollars spent on infrastructure and the new stadiums in the country. In North America, when a new stadium goes up, whatever team is the primary tenant usually pays for the vast majority of the cost. That’s not the case in South Africa. In fact, in small cities like Polokwane and Nelspruit, there’s not even a team that could draw 5,000 fans to a game. Even in Durban, where rugby is the favoured sport, South African Football Association soccer games aren’t a huge draw.
- Another quarrel with FIFA has to do with its relocation and shutting out of local vendors. In Cape Town, a weekly farmer’s market was forced to move from outside the new stadium so FIFA can set up a party zone where only its sponsors – Budweiser, McDonald’s, Coca Cola and their affiliates – can sell products. In Durban, an excellent sports bar called the Keg and Spear won’t be allowed to open on game days even though it’s at the foot of the main entrance to Moses Mabhida Stadium. It’s being shuttered for the same reason the farmer’s market in Cape Town was moved: so the World Cup’s title sponsors can have a monopoly on food and drinks sold around the venue. Think if the bars on Front Street like Jack Astor’s or the Loose Moose couldn’t cash in on an Olympic hockey game at Air Canada Centre and you’ll understand how devastating the FIFA rule is for local vendors in South Africa.
- How soccer crazy is South Africa? There’s a shortage of Bafana Bafana soccer jerseys. Fans are seriously fired up about the chances of the national team (whose nickname means “boys boys” in Nguni, or “our boys” if you use one “Bafana”). A new set of jerseys is due out in a couple of weeks, in time to feed the frenzied demand prior to the opening game between the home team and Mexico. South Africa is one of the lowest-ranked squads in the World Cup, but the fans seem to be ignoring the long odds and are predicting victory. To help their cause, they’ve got a secret weapon called the vuvuzela. It’s a trumpet-like instrument that plays one dull, monotone note and does it very, very loudly. There’s already worries over the havoc vuvuzelas will cause when 70,000 people start blowing them at once during Bafana games.
- Each of the 32 teams in the tournament are staying at designated hotels around the country for the duration of their stays in the World Cup. Greece has one of the choice spots, with its flag hanging outside the beautiful Beverly Hills Hotel in Umhlanga. You’ll be hearing a lot more about Umhlanga (pronounced Ooom-shlang-a) in the coming weeks in Star Travel. It’s one awesome beach town that’s capitalizing on the flight from Durban of businesses and tourists, and the World Cup should turn international eyes onto this place.
- The new King Shaka International Airport opened on Saturday to rave reviews. It’s a well-planned facility with lots of parking, a lengthy drop-off zone and, yes, free baggage carts.
Back to Travel Editor Jim Byers for a look at what's happening with the big oil spill.
They were just getting over the pain and destruction of Hurricane Katrina, and now they get whacked upside the head by the folks at British Petroleum. We all know, of course, about the oil well explosion that has sent clouds of grade--A gunk into the waters that many folks depend on to make their living.
It won't physically damage the city of New Orleans itself, you'd think. But anything that harms the regional economy will almost certainly hurt tourism, as it's hard to spend a weekend in the Big Easy if you can't put your shrimp boat out in the water and make a living.
A Carnival Cruise Lines spokeswoman told Cruise Critic that "captains navigating our ships sailing from Mobile and New Orleans may opt to deviate course slightly to sail around the affected area. However, we do not anticipate any changes to the scheduled itineraries and associated ports of call as a result."
BP officials have said they'll pay for the clean-up. No kidding. They probably didn't mean that they'll pay for it with bad public relations, but I'd hate to own any of their stock let's put it that way. More to the point is, sure, maybe they'll pay for the oil clean-up itself. But are they going to pay that shrimper in Biloxi who's out of work? What about the folks running kayak tours of the bayou? And what about the guy at Cafe Du Monde, home of the legendary beignets, who loses his job because the customers they rely on from the Gulf states can't afford a trip?
Yeah, they're not paying for that.
Like I said, you have to feel for the people of the area. I keep expecting to hear that a plague of locusts is headed for the French Quarter, or perhaps the ash cloud from Iceland will suddenly descend upon Lake Pontchartrain.
Florida Senator Bill Nelson today said the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could be an environmental and economic disaster for Florida because the state's tourism industry depends on having the beautiful beaches.
"We have an ecological and environmental disaster in the making," he said, adding that people in Florida's panhandle are panicked.
They have every reason to be.
Meanwhile, the smart folks at Visit Florida have set up a couple websites for people looking for information:
Here are two links to key websites you may wish to follow directly:
MEANWHILE, OVER IN GREECE
It's good for the Greek economy that the powers that be in Europe are helping the Greeks with their massive debt. The p.r. fallout from the strikes and protests in the street can't be helping things, but I kinda doubt anyone who's headed for Mykonos or Santorini (see photo) will care.
A friend of mine from Athens told me some friends were trying to travel to the Greek islands on May 1 but couldn't find a place as all the rooms were taken. (On all islands, I suspect not, but at least on the ones they wanted). He told me the Ministry of Tourism predicts larger numbers than last year and that he suspects prices will be down because a lot of folks will have less disposable income.
Which could mean it'll be a great summer to take that cruise of the Greek islands, or just find a cozy place to drink Mythos and nibble on olives at the beach. They sell Mythos at the LCBO on occasion, and it's terrific beer. Reminds me of hanging out in Athens for the 2004 Olympics, which were a ton of fun.
I've sadly only been to two Greek islands. I stopped in Paros for a day and a bit in, oh, 1989 or so. And I had a few hours in Hydra the day afer the Olympics ended six years ago.
Paros was great; I had a small but just fine place right by the water and a lovely beach was maybe 20 minutes away. I remember some lovely, 20-something girls stripping down to their birthday suits and rubbing suntan oil all over themselves. It happened 21 years ago and it's an image I still can't shake from my head, not that I've tried. I rented a moped and went all over the island. As I recall, I had problems with my camera and stopped in a small shop in town and the owner kindly fixed it for me on the spot.
Hydra wasn't as colourful as Paros, but it was good and easily reached from Athens by hydrofoil and we had wonderful, fresh yogurt with honey at breakfast at a place overlooking the sea, and then tremendous, fresh octopus for lunch at a small, sidewalk cafe in the main town. If you're ever in Athens and have only a day to get out of town, I strongly recommend Hydra for a quick getaway.