Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Turkish Delight: Epilogue - Getting out of Dodge

So that night I went for a bite to eat and a few drinks with Trev in Tacsim. Later on we met up some of his work colleagues and went for a couple beers in a micro-brewery nearby. I had to get up quite early the next morning as I was getting a shuttle across to the airport at 6am.

At about 2am I headed back to my hotel and before I went to sleep set my alarm for 5am as I still needed to pack a bit. At 5am my alarm woke me but I decided to forgo a shower and take an extra 20 minutes in bed, so I reset my alarm and went back to sleep...

I woke up again at 7am, my flight was at 9am. I threw my things together and headed downstairs as fast as I could.

"Did a shuttle bus call for me. Would no one have thought of calling my room", I started at the receptionist, knowing full well what was coming.
"klakbedabiakkliajhiehiuhe ihekiuhaeikujhihl xiluhxauihliu!"
"I'm late for my flight, could you order me a taxi?"
"Tacsi IUiudhfoiih awekeoiuh asoiuhelkuh liusehriuh"
They wouldn't call me a taxi - I had to give them my Irish mobile.
"Do you realise how much that is going to cost me, you dick?", I smiled at the half-wit.

As I've mentioned previously there is a constant traffic jam in Istanbul. 7am is is no excpetion this and I found myself in the middle of the morning high-rush. I sat in the taxi for 2 hours as we crawled through the city.

When we eventually arrived, I threw whatever Lira I still had at the taxi driver and ran into the airport. Slowly through the security check just to get into the airport and finally up to the monitors - my flight was boarding. I frantically searched for the Air France desk.

Luckily enough my flight tickets were transferable, something I didn't know previously, and I was put on the next flight back to Paris.

I found a bench to sleep on for three hours, until it was time to board. My third visit to Turkey in one year was over and there was a strange mixture of sadness but mainly relief that I wouldn't be back for at least another year.

Oh, the memories...

Monday, January 29, 2007

Turkish Delight: Part 5 - The Rotten Turkish Kebab at the End of the Rainbow.

I had half hoped that my performance in the poules, I was seeded 29th, would have got me staight through to the 32 but I had to fence a match against a young Bulgarian Ivanov first.

The match was around 12 noon. I was feeling boyant after the day before and tried to keep thoughts of what was at stake out of my mind before the match. I went into it, and I'm proud of that, very calm and focused settling into the rythmn of the day before well.

The Turkish referee was making some odd calls but I had a decent lead at the half time with score at 8 - 4. The ref wasn't splitting anything in the middle and I was becoming somewhat aggitated. I took things out of the middle and moved him up and down the piste but rushed final attack and a sloppy guard meant he got me on counter attacks several times. I was becoming more and more aggitated with the refs bad decisions and as I did I wanted the match to be over, I just wanted to be done with it and began to rush things. When I reached 14 I just wanted it over... my mind was in competley the wrong place. I was thinking about the next round about getting it over rather than using my head to think how I would finish it.

I attacked at 14-11 into my opponents preparation and didn't get the point. Infuriated I rushed things and lost a point. At 14-12 I once again got the winning point - again I was robbed by the refs decision. Not thinking straight at all and feeling absolutely constricted with fury at the ref and at myself for not finishing this the score came to 14-14. Playing the percentage game I went for a tempo attack in the centre knowing he was slower than me and I could get him on timing. Not Given! And again, the same thing, this time my opponent actually stepping backwards in a counter attack as I attacked - not given. Seeing only read I attacked a final time, a sloppy half parry and one light to the Bulgarian.

I have never been so screwed over by a referee in all my life. It was all I could do to manage a half salute to him - I wanted to kill him. He had robbed me - this bastard. I told him politely and without swearing that I didn't agree with some of his decisions and walked off. Fighting the urge to kick anything in my way, fighting the urge to launch my sabre at him and then pummel him to death with my mask.

Ours was the last match of the round to finish and some of the German team had been watching. Limbach world no.3 was laughing in bemusement and shaking his head at the referees decision. The other German team members agreed that I had been robbed. The US team had been watching - robbed. The other officials and referee had seen it -robbed. Even as a write this my hair stands on end as I think about that the only one who didn't see it was that referee who robbed me of potentially my best result in fencing thus far.

But anyway I'm calm now and it's good to vent that... I needed a drink.

Turkish Delight: Part 4 - The Poule

In my poule of six I had drawn, Stehr (GER), Krul (USA), Two Georgians and Two Turks.

In my first match I faced the younger of the two Turks. After a disasterous first match from which I hadn't recovered the weekend before I really wanted to start strong. This unfortunately translated itself into me rushing my attacks against this slightly awkard but nothing special left-hander. I became more agitated as the match progressed and attacked to the line which was obviously his best parry consistantly. I lost the match 5 - 1 and knew I needed to get my head in check before the next match.

My next match was against Alex Krul a much better fencer all together. I checked my breathing before the match remembered the things I had been concentrating on during the week and suddenly everything clicked for me. My attacks were relaxed but fast when they needed to be and in defence I was seeing my opponents rythmn and not rushing into the counter-attack but picking my moment. I won the bout comfortably enough, 5 - 2 or 3, I think.

Pleased with myself I was determined to keep on a roll. I beat the younger Georgian well and had my two victories that would see me through to the next day. The older Georgian was still beatable but the score went to 4-all and he snook the last point.

Stehr was a former German team member and an excellent fencer. Going into the match I was very relaxed but excited and looking forward to fencing. Everything worked perfectly during the match. My attacks were some of the best I've ever made - really patient and relaxed and when I wanted to hit him, I decided when and did. The match finished 5-3 and I was absolutely delighted. Three wins under my belt guaranteed me a decent seeding.

My final match was against a cocky little Turk. His over dramatic appeals on every point and generally attitude on the piste got to me a bit and I got sucked into it - I really wanted to beat this little shit which was not the way to approach it at all. I became to conerned with the result. The score came to 4-4 and I rushed my final attack and he got me. I told him what I though of him as a tapped him on his back rather than shaking his hand - I really shouldn't have got involved in that level of rubbish.

Either which way, I was delighted with my performance in the poule. After last year when I barely snook through with one win in my poule. I was actually performing well at this level and comfortable on the piste.

Trev had come to watch the poule matches and we headed out afterwards for a bite to eat, some discussion of the state of the world and a drink after a long day (well me watching him drink as I was still in this competition). Through the glories of globalisation we went to Wagamama's (A japanes food chain startd in London) in a Western Supermall on the European side, followed by a quiet bar in Tacsim.

I headed back for a early night once again and an important match tomorrow.

Turkish Delight: Part 3 - Morning of the Competion

Weapons check was scheduled for 10am with the poules commencing at 12 noon. I had made sure to take my key with me the night before, when I should have returned it to the reception each time I left. I had no intention of sharing my room with a stranger and thought it would be more difficult for them if I had the only key. As it happens, i slept alone that night, thankfully. I was in bed before 12 and rather than over sleeping set my alarm for 8am, so I would be well up and awake before the competition.

After the initial shock of the shower running brown for a minute, once the water seemed clear enough I braved the waters and got ready to go to breakfast. Breakfast was alright... for 1950's East Berlin and consisted of spam and random cheese with bread. That was it consisted of this culinary delight after another shouting match with the staff of the hotel. A young member of the Turkish team intervened and explained to me to tell them what room I was in. I really don't think they needed to be worried about people sneaking in to get this breakfast for free.

I sat at a table in the corner with a full basket of bread and ate a few slices with ham and cheese that I felt would last me till after the competition.

When it was close to ten I made my way on the venue. Leaving the hotel I ran into an elderly member of the Turkish federation who had helped myself and Marcos, my coach out last year at the competition when my bags had gone awol. We exchanged pleasantries and I agreed to help him walk over to the venue a 2 minute walk the other side of the complex. The Asian side of Turkey apparently has no idea what accessibilty means and had put 5 different series of steps in our path. The problem was this man had had a stroke and his mobility had greatly decreased. This turned the journey into an epic but the sun was shining unusually warmly for a winters morning and we somehow managed not to exhaust conversation all the way to the venue as I help him navigate the steps.

I dropped my weapons into weapons check and talked with the US and British Teams while I waited. As the only Irish person there I was named head of the Irish delegation and had to attend a meeting for all the heads. This was quite an annoyance as it was called right in the middle of my warm up. A heated debate was held over the composition of the DT... I say heated, I mean pefectly calm and I say debate I mean waffle. I left as soon as I could and continued my warm.

I warmed up with Evan from the US team and prepared myself mentally as best I could. It was nearly game time - the reason I was here.

Turkish Delight: Part 2 - Travelling To The Palace

My room was exactly as it was last year... grim.

Two plain hard beds with non-existent pillows and a TV with bad reception and no english channels anyway. The bathroom was even worse. A sheet of PVC was attached to the back of the door in the toilet where the paint had either been chipped away or the door kicked in, above the toilet the paneling around the flush was missing and you could see the cinder blocks of the wall. There was the little hose in toilet - the very reason you don't shake a Turks left hand - but what really seemed to be just out of spite was having toilet paper which had shards of fibre glass through it (or at least that is what it felt like). It was as if punishing a Westerner staying there, who might have alternative views on hygiene. The next morning when I went to have a shower pure brown water came out for at least a minute.

But I didn't have time for a shower that evening as I was meeting a friend, Trevor, who was working in Istanbul for dinner. I had been texting him to let him know I'd arrived while on the minibus from the airport and we'd agreed to meet in his hotel, the Ciragan Palace, around 7pm.

I went back downstairs to the reception to see if they could tell me where the hotel was and also the name or address of the hotel I was staying in so I could find my way back. After a lengthy Bi-lingual discussion, I learnt that the hotel would not call me a taxi and that they definitely couldn't speak English. Giving up any hope or wish to deal with these people again during my stay, I asked several people in the lobby how I could get to the Ciragan Palace. Eventually one spoke some English and through a process of showing him the name of the place I wanted to go on my phone and a complex mime-filled dance, I learnt that the best way to get there was by bus and not taxi. While the man tried to explain in broken English where the bustop was I had already given up listening. I managed to get a card with the address of the hotel on it and set out to find a taxi.

It was duck at this stage and the streets were once again packed with cars (peak rush-hour lasts from 7am to 1pm and then from 2pm to 8pm in Istanbul, for the rest of the time it is just rush-hour). I hailed a taxi easily enough...

"djksfliuahsdflh;lkd adufoihaij asdfoichh;aoi asdoi;oiu aldciaewoij aweroi", said the taxi driver.
"Ci-ra-gen Pa-lace", I said, showing him the name and address on my phone and so it began again.
"asdkl;fa; a;oeija;idj awoidjc;poija asoie;oiejrios roi jre;oij fo;i", he shouted repeatedly stopping the taxi and physically reaching across me and opening my door.
"Thanks a lot you %*&<$%@ £$%^! Merry Christmas!", I smiled and waved as I got out. This process was repeated in another taxi but at least this one, was polite about it and made some attempt to explain the situation to me. I gathered that I would have to go by ferry probably because the traffic was so bad. I thanked this taxi driver genuinely and went to consider my next move. I asked in two chemists how I could get to the hotel and in the second one they explained to me that I needed to take a minibus to Uskudar port and the a ferry across the river. They even went so far a to stop a minibus on it's way down the hill towards the port for me. My faith in the Turkish restored once more, the bus trundled downhill to the port. I asked one man on the bus for Uskudar and the ferry and he very kindly told me where to get off and even directed me to the ferry I needed to get as he was getting one from the same jetty. It was as if the closer I got to the European side of Istanbul the nicer the people and places were getting. As we chugged across the bay, with the Bosphorus Bridge illuminated in the darkness and the constant flow of cars lights running across I was beginning to soften on the city somewhat. When I reached the other side a taxi driver informed me that the hotel was within walking distance so I set off. A long flight (including a sweaty near-death experience), a trek in a minibus across the city and I didn't even have time to change my clothes from the old torn jeans and hoodie I'd been wearing all day. Then I arrived at the Ciragan Palace and I'd wished i had been more suitably attired.

I walked past the doorman in top-hat and small group of security guards through the revolving doors into the lobby. Huge reddish white marble pillars rose in front of me up to the high marble ceiling, my old hiking boots clicked across the white marble floor as I walked across the marble lobby to some chairs towards the back marble (the last marble was just to make sure people realised there was a lot of marble, and I don't think the roof was marble either. I didn't want to be staring at the ceiling afterall, I was trying to play it cool). I sat down in a sofa and waited for Trev who was in a taxi heading down from Tacsim.

Within a couple of minutes a security guard came over wondering if he could help me but I told him I was just waiting for a friend. And wait I did, having not eaten since the miniture plane food and before that breakfast at 7am, I was very much in the mood for some food. After about 45 minutes of starvation, Trevor arrived in his work suit, casual friday so with a tie.

"You jammy bastard!" I exclaimed. Trevor agreed. We were in the MBS programme and Smurfit together and he had landed this job during the summer while I had been looking to move to Paris. His comany writes portfolios for potential investors on different countries. They had interviewed the GM of the hotel and he had agreed to put the up in exchange for advertising in the portfolio.

Trev's room had a giant kingsize bed, an entirely marble bathroom, a balcony overlooking the bridge and a large flat-screen TV (with English channels). A small bottle of wine, a fruit ball and nuts were delivered to the room each day. His room was nicer than mine anyway.

We went to a local restaurant and spent the time thoroughly amused at the thought of us two meeting up in Istanbul and the general bizarre nature of the world.

I got the doorman at the palace to call me a taxi and headed back early to get a good sleep before the next morning.

Turkish Delight: Part 1 - Travelling to Istanbul

Next up for me was Istanbul. The week in between was spent training and particularly trying to work on the mental side of what had happened on the weekend before. I thought back over how I'd felt in the poules at Grenoble and tried through considering my feelings that day to change how I approach poule matches like that in general.

I'd also tried to work on several key actions that I'd hoped a reasonable point would follow from. These were mainly my initial actions after the "Allez" and I focused on make the first step small and building several actions after that which would act as queues for me to act a certain way. Basically, I'd make my mind up to do one of several rehearsed actions after the "allez" and hopefully build the points from there.

I travelled to Istanbul from Paris Charles de Gaulle with Air France. A direct flight this time to avoid the disasters with luggage of last year. While waiting for my flight in the departure lounge I ran into Keeth Smart from the US team who I'd met at the competition last year. Keeth's a fantastic fencer and former world no. 1. We talked about our schedules for the season and the monotony of airports, hotels and venues while travelling to these competitions.

We soon boarded the flights, loaded with newspapers from around the world to eat up time, and took our seats. The flight passed by without incident until about an hour in over Zagreb when we ran into the most severe and prolongued turbulence turbulence I have ever experienced. At first the plane shook quite suddenly but thinking it was just a small pocket of turbulence there was a slight chuckle from the passengers. This shacking continued at a light consistent basis until suddenly the plane shook violently. The lowered seat tray in front of me smacked up and hit the seat in front of me, as it felt like the whole plane dropped suddenly, my stomach being left behind in the air.

And on it went. I smiled nervously at the people in the row across from me but my hands gripped the arm rest tightly and my palms were sweating. All of a sudden, as quickly as it had began it stomped. A few more futile bumps to try and dislodge us from the sky but then nothing. Smooth flying for the rest of the way.

When we landed we joked about the headlines "Freak plane crash wipes out US olympian and Irish Men's Sabre team". Glad that we were alive, I was even more pleased to discover my bags in the airport in one piece. There was a representative of the Turkish Federation there to welcome us, who informed us that the next shuttle would be in about an hour or so.

We sat to have coffee and talk some more. The conversation drifted through a brief account of Irish history (I tried to make it as brief as possible) but much more excitingly than that Keeth told me about a training camp in Budapest the week before the Budapest A-Grade with the US and Hungarian teams. Furthermore, he suggested it might be possible for me to come along and train with them. I was a fantastic oppurtunity for me and I was determined to get on board if I could.

We snailed our way through the perpetual traffic jam that is Istanbul and the enourmous bottle-neck that is the Bosphourous until eventually reaching my hotel on the Asian side. Thanking Keeth and acknowledging the Germans who had joined us, who barely grunted in return I got out at the gates of the sports complex which housed the venue and my hotel.

It was the same hotel I stayed in last year and just as crap as I remembered. None of the staff in the hotel spoke English.

"AIUSHIUFSJI aLISAUGD edklfsaaliuh sdfaiugafwiu", they said to me in that excited angry sounding Turkish way of theirs.
"I'm with the Irish team", I explained in the ignorant and slow voice of a ignorant and slow foreigner. "...uhm... Esgrim... Irlande"
"AKJdflkasdoiuHlkjdsaf asoiudfh;l ado;ifklajei&%$&^ dsafhjalkjhdflkjh?" he repeated pointing at a piece of paper.
"I don't speak Turkish", I explained in the voice of someone having flashbacks of hideously rude taxi drivers in Izhmir after several minutes of them shouting at me in a language I blantantly couldn't understand. So the receptionist scuttled into the back to bring out the manager of this fine establishment.
"JDKHKLHFskjhakdhf... full... FDIuhsldhlsjfhiurwe... Esgrim... adlkjfldksjfhdf ljsdklfjalkdxcbulk... full", explained the manager who I presumeed had risen to this position because of his ability to grow a thicker mustache.

At this stage I had well figured out that they were trying to tell me that the hotel was in fact full and that I may well have to share my room with a complete stranger. Not partucularly fussed on the idea, I continued to play dumb took my keys and headed for my room, whispering something under my breath about the likelihood of Turkish asscesion to the EU.

A Busy Couple of Weeks... And More to Come

I'm sorry, as I'm sure you are, that my posts have been so scant of late. The last three weekends has seen me travelled approximately 4,000 miles or 6,200Km for fencing. Return journeys from Paris to Grenoble, to Istanbul and to Strasbourg, in between which time I've been training. So while it may seem that I don't have that much to update you about, I'm going to let you know every boring detail anyway...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Turkish Delight Or Rotten Kebab?

Tomorrow, at a time to early to mention, I leave for Instanbul to enter the World Cup competition there. A city of exetremes - a crazy infrastructure, a beautiful setting, some of the worlds most hideous architecture as well as in parts some of its most beautiful.

I was terminally unimpressed with Istanbul last time out since all I saw was the airport, crappy hotel, venue, crappy Hotel, airport. Hopefully this time I'll get to see a bit more of the city as a friend of mine, Trevor, has been living there for the last two months and should know his way around a bit.

In terms of my fencing, I'm feeling very happy and content in my fencing at the minute. The extra week of training cleared out the cobwebs of last week and I'm thinking, relaxed and performing well on the piste. I finished the weeks training tonight with a solid performance in the in-house competition which we have each week, finishing top of my poule. Now I just have to stay relaxed and focused and I hope if things go my way on the day I can pull a decent result out of the bag.

Anyway, I have to finish packing...


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

How Slow Am I?

I'm going to be in France for the Rugby World Cup... which until today I didn't realise was taking place in France!

I'll be charging €1000 per square foot of floorspace in my apartment. I don't even need to get a job now!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Alpine Disaster

...the competition in Grenoble goes somewhat awry.

We were to travel to Grenoble on Saturday afternoon, the competition took place on Sunday, and so met at the club at around 2pm. Our chariot for the 6 hour journey to Grenoble was to be the US Metro minibus which is really more a converted van with a tractor engine and the most uncomfortable seats in the world.

We whiled away the hours playing incomprehensible (to me anyway) French card games like Bullet. As far as I can tell it's the equivalent if not the exact same as Bridge. A ridiculous scoring system, team play and completely arbitrary rules all explained in french made for a stressful journey for me. I sat there wondering what the ValeƩ that they were talking about was for a good while (it's the Jack). Eventually I played a hand so stupid that it spelt the end for my team. I was excluded to the relief of both parties I'm sure from the next round and dosed or played my DS for the remainder of the journey.

We stayed at the customary Hotel Ibis that evening; dined on a luxurious meal of spaghetti and ketchup in their restaurant; and spent a few restless hours sleeping before we were to leave the hotel for the venue for check-in at 8am!

The venue was a converted Ice-rink in the centre of the city. It was well laid out and well run as I've come to expect from a French competition.

The competition itself went terrible for me. Anxious to impress on the piste... I froze. My movements were non-existent and I ended up with a very poor single victory from the poules when I should have had at least 3. (No need to make observations about this in the comments, I've already looked at my attitude in great detail after the fact and have worked on improving it since).

So my seeding was terrible for the DE and I duly ran into the talented young Belgian fencers Laurent de Trog. The score at the break was reasonably close but he pulled away in the second half as I became more disillusioned with the tournament and felt my involvement in it slipping away.

So I spent the rest of the day taking photo of my team-mates who were still in the competition. I was finished with the competition by noon and it lasted till 5ish - the repercharge system they use for the last 16 dragging it out by at least an extra hour.

Another 5/6 hour journey back on the bus arriving in Paris at around 12 and a lie in on Monday morning dreaming about what could have been if I had just had my head sorted better on the day...

Monday, January 15, 2007

Disappointment in the Alps

When I feel like talking about it I'll give a more complete account of the tournament. In the mean time, let's just say I had plenty of time to be taking photos. They can be found on my Picass Gallery

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

First night back to training...

I'm in considerable pain as I write this and my muscles try to tear themselves away from my skeleton after the exhertion of tonight's training.

Good to see everyone again down at the club. Tonight was my first bout of serious exercise in weeks and I'm probably going to pay for it tomorrow. This weekend I'll be making the considerable mini-bus journey to Grenoble for my second circuit national tournament. I'm fairly relaxed heading into this competition, since it doesn't necessarily mean anything for my rankings and is an excellent oppurtunity to get some fencing against excellent opposition more akin to that I'll be fencing at A-grades over the rest of the season. I'm looking for an improvement on my last result but achieving some level of satisfaction with how I fence is the main goal.

I joined a gym today and tomorrow morning I'm going to head down there for the first time... or lie in bed in agony till 3. Maybe I'll finally get round to buying a duvet for the apartment and finally shed my sleeping bag. I might even have time for some ice-skating to.

It's tough... but someone's got to do it!

Monday, January 08, 2007

A Final Fairwell To Excess...

... From 5-Star to hostel to fold-out couch-bed.

After a quiet Christmas spent in the glow of a crackling fire watching my annual Sopranos box-set and a New Year's that passed as uneventful as so many before them, it was time for one final hoorah before settling back to scrounging around Paris fueled on Pasta and cheap steak. Rachel was heading to Brussels for physiotherapy placement on Erasmus and I travelled with her to Brussels for a couple of days to see her settled in and for a bit of a holiday before the international season begins in earnest.

While I've heard repeatedly that Brussels is a great party town and that it's a great city to live in, it's entire tourist industry seems to be built around a tiny statue of a little boy pissing. If that doesn't entertain you for hours and hopefully it won't, you will very quickly run out of things to do. At this point you'll look around and you'll likely see 6 chocolatiers, 8 restaurants and 9 pubs. It seems to me that the Belgians have long since given up trying to make their country interesting, it just isn't, and have instead dedicated themselves to the finer things in life - chocolate, food, and beer.

So we whiled away our days between the three trying to find the right balance. That is until it was time to spend the last night in a dinghy hostel and then until it was time for me to return to my sofa-bed in Paris and hard work and training to make this great experiment worthwhile.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Once More Into The Breach...

I'm heading back over to France very early tomorrow morning, with a slight detour via Brussels for the weekend. If anyone is Paris-wards bound over the next year, be sure to let me know.

Who knows what crazy adventures serious training, focus and sobriety will bring.

Stay tuned, bat-fans!

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