25th March - 1st April: Hong Kong
Accommodation: 3-Bedroom Apartment in Wanchai
Having done a World Cup & British Lions tour the thinking was that we should complete our rugby set with the 2014 Hong Kong Sevens, given that it's regarded among the crown jewels of rugby events. So it was that Ray, Nicky, Paul, Judy & myself set off on another journey into the unknown. We were to be joined the following day by Phil & Gwyn Davies, who were making a delayed regal arrival in recognition of Phils impending 60th birthday, which was to be crowned off with a visit to his genealogical heritage among the Orang-utans of Borneo.
Enduring the Boeing 777 after the delights of the Airbus A380 is not to be recommended but Cathay Pacific were our imposed choice so bear it we must. Emerging bleary-eyed in Hong Kong Airport we sailed through immigration with such ease that we were halfway to the city on the Airport Express when I realised I hadn't picked up the match tickets, oops! No worries it could be done the next morning. After a tiring journey I have to admit I found the claustrophobic size of the buildings somewhat overwhelming when we left the MTR station at Wan Chai, it was to be some days before I came to terms with it.
Unfortunately that was something that was never to happen with regard to the choice of apartment, compact doesn't cover it! It'd been booked using AirBnB and, let's just say, the photos were deceptive! To try temper the negativity we set about exploring the city with, initially, a limited degree of success. Chance thrust us upon a very kind Aussie bird having a smoke who took us up to a panoramic viewing floor high in her office block, whereupon she gave friendly, & necessary, advice to boot. Subsequently, a few beers & a bite to eat restored a bit of humanity. It would've been all too easy to call it a night then but Searlie pushed us out in search of the elusive pub, from which we found . . . . . . The Doghouse! Each of us in turn experienced flagging and resurgence as we somehow lasted out until the early hours of what turned into a cracking night. Unfortunately even the abundant alcohol couldn't entirely overcome the failings of the accommodation, apart from trying to fit 6'3" Paul into a 6'2" bed, Ray & Nicky's bed not only sloped but the mattress was, apparently, created as a prototype for the M25 concrete. I, by the way, was very comfortable in my bottom bunk backing onto the services shaft of the building.
Once dressed, Paul accompanied me back to the airport to collect the tickets only to be informed that all passports were required & no amount of pleading cut any muster with the stern ticketmeisters so we forlornly trudged back to base, virtually empty-handed, with yet another airport trip in the offing. A traditional Cantonese brunch (everything on the menu!) kickstarted the day so a plan was made to help get our bearings further. An open-top bus tour led to the Peak Tram from where we gained the ultimate city views from The Peak, not to mention some lovely cakes :} By now Phil & Gwyn had arrived so arrangements were made to meet at Central Pier so we could visit the, as it turned out, disappointing Temple Street market, though our street food at Spicy Crab made the journey very worthwhile. From there it was back to The Doghouse for another rumbustious end to the night. Nicky & I even won a couple of rugby shirts for our twinkling toes with my Bill Medley to her Jennifer Warnes, although the only ones dancing for those few minutes we were indeed having "the time of our lives".
A further painful, sleepless night had finally done for Nicky so arrangements were made for them to join Phil & Gwyn at The Excelsior. While they relocated I journeyed, once again, to the airport for the tickets. Paul & Judy meanwhile procured some tickets at the ground so we were now all set for the rugby, phew!
The atmosphere in the stadium was buzzing already when I finally rejoined the others via one of the iconic trams on the first afternoon, even with the fumbling efforts of the junior competition. Let's face it, we had warm weather, beer & food, what more could you want! After a late finish the walk back took us to Times Square & its abundance of eateries. Our choice, Manzo, proved to be top notch with something to satisfy every taste. The couple of heavy nights had, by now, taken their toll so a rare moment of sensibility decreed an early night, not to mention failing to find a pub in Causeway Bay!
Saturday morning brought renewed energy & relief at not having to go back to the airport! A quick & cheap taxi to the ground later & we were soon reunited with the others in the East Stand, good choice as it happened as we were hit with the mother of all storms. It was incredible to see as day virtually became night & the rain bucketed down, driven in by a strong wind. Thankfully it was soon over & play underway again, the usual suspects, New Zealand & Fiji, were looking good, England, quite frankly, bloody awful. Somehow, however, we kept scraping wins.
I have to say that while I expected a good atmosphere I never thought it would be quite as great, helped in no small part by most being in fancy dress (not us, down to me I think). For some reason beer wasn't allowed in the stand so a pattern emerged whereby the blokes would nick off for beer breaks & the girls would ensure we had some food as well, someone always had to stay to keep the seats. After an entertaining days play it was back to Times Square where we had another cracking meal, this time at SML, so called as all dishes came in small, medium or large portions, great concept and lovely food.
Sunday was to be the day the Lion finally roared as England first smashed South Africa then Fiji to gain an unlikely place in the final, where a typically ruthless New Zealand would prove a bridge too far, though we showed terrific guts in defeat and they'd, as usual, easily been the best in the competition. Unlike under the Martin Johnson regime, the players had the good grace to acknowledge the raucous support of the fans.
Once the presentations had been made, as if by divine decree, the heavens opened once more delaying our return to The Doghouse, where we were ultimately to enjoy a final big session as the following night was already set to be a more orderly, though no less enjoyable, affair. For Paul & Judy it was to be their last night in the apartment as they to would relocate the next morning to The Excelsior, where we would be celebrating Phils 60th birthday in fine style on our final night in town. That the window in Pauls bedroom had failed to withstand the torrential rain could almost have been a final celestial nudge from above.
We'd decided to spend our last day escaping the skyscrapers for the comparative serenity of Stanley. Once again, while the girls perused the local market the boys sampled the local food & drink. Not enough to spoil the appetite mind you! A bus & MTR delivered us back in good time to pamper & preen for the night ahead.
It seems apt that the restaurant in the hotel should be called ToTT's, obviously with due deference to our visit. With all suitably attired for such surroundings, Gwyn & Phil kindly shouted everyone to a meal fit for such a milestone occasion, a fabulous end to a terrific week, tomorrow we would all be going our separate ways.