Sanchez to City is About More than Money

Arsène Wenger’s fiscally astute principles are being sorely tested by Manchester City’s rumoured interest in the club’s Chilean star. With a well-publicised degree in Economics, Arsène Wenger knows the value of cashing in on a player in the last year of their contract, but the atmosphere amongst the club’s supporters is throwing financial logic out the window.

With Arsenal’s recent history of selling star players to domestic rivals being made palatable solely by the club’s alleged financial restraints, even the most loyal fans would start to question the boss’s transfer policies if Sánchez was to move north. Having splashed the cash on Özil, Sánchez and now Lacazette, Arsenal’s bruised and battered fanbase are starting to believe the club’s financial conservatism to be a thing of the past.

The Sánchez situation is now a true litmus test of Wenger’s connectedness to the fans. The star forward’s understated saga quietly holds all the acrimonious weight of the transfers from recent years which still sting the Arsenal faithful. Was Van Persie allowed to win the Premier League for United because the financial situation tied Wenger’s hands or will the boss still make the same decision and strengthen immediate rivals now the cash is flowing more freely?

The answer to that question may well determine Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal legacy. If Sánchez does leave for a different Premier League club, Arsène’s most loyal supporters may look back on the decisions of previous years in a different light. Where before they were placated with talks of stadium moves and the greater financial good, now they will be less forgiving.

The Sánchez situation is no longer about money or compromise, it doesn’t matter what the player or the management think – this transfer is about the fans. Arsenal fans who have stuck by their respected and undoubtedly brilliant manager for two-decades may have their loyalty tested more strenuously than ever if their beloved Chilean sits in the away dressing room at the Emirates next year.

A domestic move for Sánchez will also give a certain vindication to Wenger’s biggest detractors in their claims that he lacks ambition by settling for fourth, and now fifth, year on year. Choosing to strengthen one of your biggest rivals for a nice pay-cheque is surely the smoking gun of lack of ambition when you’re already sitting pretty on a stack of cash.

This transfer is about passion, not pounds, respect rather than riches. To the football fan, being able to hold their head high on a Monday morning at work is more important than an extra £50m in the club’s piggy bank. When money isn’t life or death to the club, sound financial decisions take a back seat to gaining the respect of your fanbase and giving them something to be proud of.

By the end of this transfer window we’ll know a lot more about Arsène Wenger’s affinity with the fans not just now but also during all of the acrimonious transfers of the past decade.

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Backpacking Mexico – How Much Does it Cost?

This is a more pragmatic post than my previous instalments. Due to the subjective and personalised nature of travel, it’s incredibly hard and headache-inducing to figure out the correct budget for a backpacking trip. Therefore, I’ve created a comprehensive list of everything I spent during my brief two-week spell backpacking in Mexico en route to Guatemala.

I was staying in dorms, filling up on the free breakfast and moving location every 3/4 days. Hopefully you can judge your own travel budget based on how similar or different your travel habits are to mine.

All prices are in Mexican Pesos. At the time of writing £1 is worth M$25.9. US$1 is M$16.8.

Day 1. 27/08/2015.

130 – Bus from Cancun Airport to Playa Del Carmen

38 – Bus from Playa Del Carmen to Tulum

15 – 500ml water

100 – Bed in a dorm.

30 – Padlock

Daily total: 313


Day 2. Tulum. 28/08/2015.

130 – Dorm.

60 – 24hr bicycle rental

60 – 2 x beer from a beach bar

70 – Quesadilla at a beach bar

Daily total: 320

Looking back on these first two days I was definitely still jet-lagged, which explains the lack of any real activity or food as I was mostly sleeping.

Day 3. Tulum. 29/08/2015.

130 – Dorm.

40 – Collectivo return to beach

30 – Beer at beach

35 – Beer at bar

59 – Entrance to Tulum ruins

50 – 5 x tacos

50 – 2 x beers at taco restaurant

100 – 4 x beers at a bar

10 – Coca Cola

Daily total: 504


Day 4. Valladolid. 30/08/2015.

84 – Bus from Tulum to Valladolid

150 – Dorm. @ Hostel Candelaria

20 – Coca Cola

60 – Salad (I heartbreakingly asked for an ‘ensalada’ instead of ‘enchilada’)

30 – Cheesy chips from a food stand

30 – Beer

Daily total: 374


Day 5. Valladolid. 31/08/2015.

150 – Dorm.

30 – Collectivo to Chichen Itza

220 – Chichen Itza entrance fee

30 Collectivo return from Chichen Itza

30 – Water at Chichen Itza

30 – Cola at Chichen Itza

44 – 4 x cans of beer

40 – 4 x tacos

Daily total: 574


Day 6. Valladolid. 01/09/2015.

150 – Dorm.

50 – Shared taxi to Ek Balam ruins

180 – Ek Balam entrance fee

100 – Taxi from Ek Balam to a cenote, and the return to Valladolid

140 – Entrance fee to ‘Agua Dulce’ cenote and one other

4 – Ham and cheese pastry from a street vendor

50 – Chicken quesadilla

Daily total: 674


Day 7. Valladolid-Merida. 02/09/2015.

150 – Dorm.

105 – Bus from Valladolid to Merida

40 – 2 x beers at a cantina

50 – 2 x 1l beers from a shop

18 – Torta from a street vendor

10 – Cola

Daily total: 373


Day 8. Merida. 03/09/2015.

170 – Dorm. @ Nomadas Hostel

50 – Anthropology Museum entrance fee

56 – 2 x 1l beers

10 – Water

20 – 2 x tacos

18 – Torta

Daily total: 324


Day 9. Merida. 04/09/2015.

170 – Dorm.

5 – Empanada at the local market

7 – Torta

25 – Cooking lesson

25 – Beer at a bar

30 – Beer at a bar

100 – 2 x 1l beers at a bar

Daily total: 362


Day 10. Merida-San Cristobal. 05/09/2015.

778 – Overnight bus to San Cristobal

20 – Burger

20 – Pack of chocolate biscuits

20 – Taxi to bus station in Merida

10 – Water

Daily total: 848


Day 11. San Cristobal. 06/09/2015.

120 – Dorm @ Hostel Puerta Viajo

50 – 3 x Tamales + 1 hot chocolate

66 – 6 x beers from a shop

60 – 2 x beers at a bar

Daily total: 296


Day 12. San Cristobal. 07/09/2015

120 – Dorm.

55 – Collectivo to Comitan

35 – Collectivo to El Chiflon Cascada (waterfalls)

30 – Entrance fee for El Chiflon

25 – Collectivo return to Comitan

55 – Collectivo return to San Cristobal

50 – 5 x tacos

00 – Free mojitos at the hostel

Daily total: 370


Day 13. San Cristobal. 08/09/2015.

120 – Dorm.

15 – Collectivo to neighbouring village church

20 – Entrance fee to church

15 – Collectivo return from church

16 – 2 x tacos

40 – Torta

16 – Bottle of local whiskey(?)

20 – 2l bottle of Fanta

Daily total: 262


Day 14. San Cristobal. 09/09/2015.

120 – Dorm.

75 – Burger and chips

16 – Tea

Daily total: 211


Day 15. San Cristobal-Guatemala. 10/09/2015.

300 – Shuttle bus from the hostel to Lago De Atitlan, Guatemala

330 – Mexico exit fee

Daily total: 630


Trip total: M$6,435 (£247.70) (US$382.17)

Daily average: M$429 (£16.51) (US$25.47)

Before arriving in the Yucatan, I was told Mexico was more expensive than the Central American countries to backpack through. My experience hasn’t confirmed this as I’ve been surprised by the affordability of the food and accommodation.

I’ve been on several excursions and had lots of good nights with people in hostels. I’ve also seen and done many things that didn’t cost any money so aren’t included in this costing. This budget still has wiggle room on either side, you could travel Mexico for cheaper, but you could also spend a lot more.

Hopefully seeing an actual travel budget in full will give some perspective of how far your own money will go.

The Origins of Kumbaya | USA

In my youth I was a Cub Scout. The life of a Cub was one of camping, climbing, and adventure. We would play games in the day and then huddle round a camp fire at night and be encouraged to sing songs. I wasn’t one for singing so ordinarily I would just mime the words and sit, content in my deception as everyone around me continued seemingly unaware of my ruse. However, there was always one song that I would bellow out loudly and gleefully: Kumbaya. I liked the way this strange word sounded, the way it tumbled off my tongue and dolloped into the fire.

It wasn’t until recently that I heard this song again and was reminded of all those weekends I spent trampling ferns and talking about girls that I suddenly thought, I have no idea what ‘kumbaya’ means.

‘Kumbaya’, it turns out, translates directly from a tiny and fascinating creole language called Gullah, as ‘come by here’. The song pleads with God to visit the singer and their community as it literally urges God to ‘come by here’. When I sang it as a kid, surrounded by woodland and friends and fire, I never once realised the song had a religious connotation despite the fact that the following two words are ‘my lord’. I was not a smart child.

Gullah, as a language, was originally developed by slaves that were brought to South Carolina and Georgia in the USA in the 18th and 19th centuries. The language has it’s roots in pidgin english and is heavily influenced by a range of West and Central African languages such as Igbo, Wolof and Yoruba.

Today, Gullah is estimated to be spoken by around 250,000 people and is said to be surviving as a language partly because of a negative stigma attached to speakers of the language which has caused an insular culture and developed a prestige and surreptitious pride amongst those that do speak it.

I still don’t like singing, but if I do make an exception I think it’ll be for Kumbaya. The knowledge that it has roots in history and originates from the hopes of those that were treated so poorly, gives the word, and the song, a whole new weight.

7 Christmassy things to do in London that aren’t Winter Wonderland | England

It is a well known fact that four fifths of the entire world’s population visits Winter Wonderland in London’s Hyde Park every yuletide. It is over-crowded, over-priced, and over-rated. Here is a list of seven things to do this Christmas that aren’t as well known.

1.  Dennis Severs’ House.  http://www.dennissevershouse.co.uk/ A Huguenot time-capsule encapsulating life in a London home between 1724 and 1914. Dressed as it would’ve been for Christmas, you can take the ‘Silent Night’ tour through the ten-room town house.  The sights, sounds and smells help bring the home to life as you amble through like the Ghost of Christmas Past. Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 17.14.49 2. ‘The Snowman’  http://www.sadlerswells.com/whats-on/ If you’re looking for some family fun then why not watch the classic tale of The Snowman live on stage. Based on the book by Raymond Briggs, this heartwarming tale of friendship between a boy and a snowman has become a tradition for many families in London.

3. Après-Ski Themed Bars. If you’re after some more boozy fun then there are many pubs that get dolled up in their finest après-ski gear for the Christmas period. My personal favourite would have to be The Gun in the Docklands. A charming Grade-2 listed building, The Gun boasts a warm, inviting atmosphere, festive food and drink, and some of the comfiest armchairs in London. There’s no better way to while away a merry December evening. DDTheGun-c71_medium 4. Chocolate Shops. Nothing says ‘Christmas’ like stuffing your face full of delicious chocolate. Chocolate with nuts, chocolate with fruit. Chocolate with liquor. Chocolate with Chocolate. One of the best of these shops is ‘Choccywoccydoodah’ near Oxford Circus. Whether you like your choccy in a paste, block, shaped like an animal, or anything inbetween, they’ve got it covered.

5. Christmas at Kew  http://www.kew.org/visit-kew-gardens One of my favourite places in London any time of the year, Kew Gardens transforms itself during the festive period. Visitors follow snowflakes on a magical tour of the world famous botanical gardens by night. 2-445705 6. Christmas Shopping at Chelsea Physic Garden.  http://chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk Get your shopping done in a more relaxed setting. This award winning garden was founded in 1673 and acts the perfect alternative to the usual bustling Christmas crowds.

7. Christmas Party on The Thames. http://www.citycruises.com/ Round off your Christmas with a good old fashioned knees up. Sight-seeing boats host parties all throughout December. Enjoy a three-course festive meal followed by an evening of drinks and dancing, all while watching some of London’s most iconic scenery float serenely by. 8.-Christmas-at-Westminster-Abbey As you can see, there are plenty of alternatives to Winter Wonderland this year, so avoid the crowds, have a cracking time and a very Merry Christmas.

Thankful and Breathless | Laos

Mudslides had covered the road from Luang Prabang so our journey had taken twelve hours instead of six and we arrived in Vang Vieng in the early hours. Birds sang and water flowed in the distance. Early morning Vang Vieng was a different town to the one we would find later and the silence was beautiful. Lush green mountains huddled over the sleepy guesthouses and the soft brown water sped peaceably by.

I found a room to share with Yoav, the amiable Israeli guy with whom I had endured the arduous trip from northern Laos. I fell asleep as the bright morning sun peaked over the protective mountains.

I awoke to the sounds of laughter as Yoav chatted to some Canadian girls in the hallway. It was around noon and Vang Vieng had woken with a start. We left our room and strolled through the alley ways. Mopeds buzzed around tourists that were either hungover or getting drunk again and the smell of weed hung low in the air. 

We wasted no time in heading to where the locals were renting out the inflatable rings. The price they quoted us seemed exorbitant after traveling round South East Asia for two months so, even though it was probably just a few pounds, we decided to leave it and risk the river without any buoyancy aids.

A short tuk-tuk ride later and we arrived at the first bar up-river. The music was blasting, the sun shining, and the alcohol and river flowing alike. Girls were on hand as we arrived to paint our bodies and faces so that we were fully ready to party. The quiet countryside that we had driven through the night before was a distant memory as young people from all over the world drank and danced and chatted in the midday sun. A constant queue of bodies lined up to fly down a zip-line and crash into the river.

tubing-in-VangVieng

Photo credit: onestep4ward.com

We watched the festivities whilst knocking back free whiskey shots and chasing them with some refreshing Beer Lao. As other party-goers started climbing into inflatable rings and setting off down the river we became restless and eager to join them. Being ringless, we waded into the river and edged our way along the bank and down stream. The water was cool and welcoming. The centre flowed fast and the current tugged on our legs as we made our way to the next bar.

We arrived and were immediately given another free shot. We sipped more beer, danced, and played volleyball in a field of mud. More whiskey, more beer. We jumped into pools of muddy water and laughed with other travellers. Vang Vieng was a pit-stop in the centre of Laos, an oasis that young people used as a place to blow off steam during their travels.

Eventually, we decided to move on to the next bar and made our way down to the river bank. Down stream we could see another bamboo bar overhanging the river, only this time it was on the opposite bank. We would have to cross the river to get to it. With no tube to help us, we decided to swim.

We waded out as far as possible and then dived into the current. The river was more powerful than I realised and immediately started to pull me down stream. I adjusted the angle of my body and tried to swim straight across in the hope that I would end up at the bar down river.

I now began to realise that alcohol doesn’t mix well with swimming. My technique was off and I was struggling to make progress. The river battered me constantly and I started to worry that I wouldn’t make it. Panic set in. I furiously battled against the current. Water splashed over my face and I struggled for breath. Mercifully, I heard an unnatural splash to my right and reached over to grab a rope that had been thrown from the shore.

They pulled me in and I sat, thankful and breathless, on the steps to the bar.

After that, I was more considered in my approach to drinking and had some water in between beers. We partied on for another few hours and visited several more bars. Other travellers kindly let me hang on to their rings like a drunken stowaway and I made it back to terra firma without drowning.

I’ve since heard that Vang Vieng has been forced to change after so many people died, mostly because they drank too much and passed out in the river. I can absolutely sympathise. Everybody is entitled to have fun on their travels and it is incredibly easy to have one too many and get out of control. I had an amazing time in Vang Vieng but I don’t think anything is worth risking your life over. At the risk of sounding like a saccharine christmas movie: have fun, be safe, keep travelling.

The Call to Adventure | England

When looking for inspiration, what better muse than the great outdoors? I had recently finished reading A Walk in the Woods when I decided it would be as good a time as any to go on an adventure of my own. If it’s good enough for Bill Bryson, it’s good enough for me. However, I am not what one would call a woodsman. I once had a panic attack in Essex because I had no phone signal. Ray Mears I am not.

It was with this in mind that I decided I would start off with a conservative goal of walking 50 miles. After all, Bryson walked 2,200 miles on the Appalachian Trail. Compared to that, 50 miles seemed a doddle.

Bright eyed and full of a heady mixture of enthusiasm and porridge, I gathered my things and had a friend drop me roughly 50 miles away from home in the direction that looked the most green on Google Maps.

SONY DSC

I left the car and passed beneath an underpass that served as both a literal and figurative barrier between town and nature and entered my first wood. The leaves hung low and the ground was soft beneath my feet. It was at this point that I realised my mistake in wearing bright white trainers. Within two minutes of setting off I had given up trying to tip-toe around the muddy puddles and resigned myself to buying new footwear when I got home.

Five minutes in to my epic journey, I considered myself somewhat of an expert. It was easy. One foot after the other, take in some scenery. Repeat. However, ten minutes in, when my legs started to ache and I started to feel the cold in my hands and face my mind was preoccupied with the following three revelations:

  1. It is impossible to regulate your body temperature when walking. Conventional winter clothing becomes hot and sticky whilst your extremities freeze.
  2. 50 miles suddenly seemed a lot longer than I originally thought.
  3. I should’ve charged my iPod.

I trudged on. Eventually the woodland cleared and I entered a vast area of sweeping hillside. Beautiful to look at from the tree-line but ultimately a nightmare to traverse. The wind ferociously and relentlessly battered me from all angles. If I had hair it would’ve been a nightmare to control.

I reached the top of one the wind-swept peaks and took in the view. It was stunning. I was surrounded by the most verdant landscape that I had no idea was right on my door-step. Everywhere I looked were lazy hillsides, brooding woods and epic crests. Still, wouldn’t have hurt to drive there.

vista4

The land levelled out and I was soon faced with the option of skirting around some farmer’s fields or carving my own way through another woodland. I chose the latter. Partly because I wanted to get out of the wind but mainly because I like to pretend I’m Robin Hood.

The wood was beautiful. Autumnal colours highlighted by the sun peaking through the cloud; the horizon masked by a lingering fog. The silence was only punctured by a slight buzzing in the distance. I put it to the back of my mind and carried on with my journey. Several minutes later the sound had steadily grown in volume and I saw a sign pinned to an young oak. ‘DANGER, Tree Felling In Progress’. The sound I’d heard was chainsaws. Men were cutting trees down around me.

SONY DSC

It had been almost four hours since I started my journey and my enthusiasm had worn thin. I was hungry, cold and achey, and now in danger of being comically squashed by an errant elm.

However, I ploughed on like the plucky hero I am and soon the noise of the chainsaws subsided. Despite the temperature, the wind, my ruined trainers, and the perils of deforestation, I actually started to enjoy myself. The space occupied by the noise of workmen and gale-force wind had been filled with utter serenity. Leaves crumpled under my feet and branches whispered in the trees as I strolled on past.

SONY DSC

As I neared home, my initial skepticism had been replaced and I could now understand why people do it. The journey makes the ends all that more sweet. The fact that you’ve earned that view, or that pint, or pie, whatever it is you’re working towards. You’ve earned it, and it never tasted so good.

Ultimately, I am a convert. I still love cities and towns but I have a new appreciation and understanding for those that walk, or run, those that embrace nature. I will definitely be venturing out again, maybe even farther away from home this time, and I recommend you do too.

Or you could just drive a convertible to the top of a mountain in GTA V. Same thing, really.