(picture courtesy of Wikipedia)
...holidays: after some research and debate, we're heading off to Croatia in September. Trogir (pictured above) is a small, medieval town which I'd never heard of until a couple of months ago, but I immediately fell in love with it the moment I saw it. It looks like a magical little place and after a few difficult months it could provide the perfect location for some much-needed peace of mind.
...the Royal Highland Show: 26 years ago, I first visited Scotland's top agricultural show. At that time it was in a work capacity as part of my job. I vowed back then that I would return to the show for 'play' rather than 'work'. But years turned into decades, and that vow wasn't fulfilled - until this June. With that unseasonably hot spell in full flow, the most essential item was sun protection cream rather than wellies! The Royal Highland Show is not just for farmers and agricultural professionals - it's a top day out for young and old alike. And if you love farm animals you will be in heaven! From beautiful cattle to rare sheep breeds to cheeky goats to big Clydesdale horses, there's something for everyone. And it's not just animals either - there's lots of entertainment going on, street food stalls and a massive food hall showcasing the best produce from Scotland and beyond, and plenty of shopping - which reminds me that it can be quite an expensive day out too!
...another day in Ayr: the end of June brought yet another trip to our favourite Scottish seaside town. Prior to our trip, there had been an excessively hot spell, but the temperatures cooled down to a more comfortable level. Whatever the weather though, Ayr is always worth a visit, with its fine selection of shops, cafes and restaurants.
...Allsång: Summertime in Sweden, and that most traditional of summer TV shows entered a new era with its first ever female host. Since her appearance in the first series of Så Mycket Bättre 4 years ago, the reinvention of Petra Marklund has been remarkable. From dance-pop star to credible Swedish-language artist, Petra has undergone a further evolution into the new queen of Swedish light entertainment television, as the new presenter of Allsång på Skansen, which ends its summer 2014 run tonight.
Week 1 was a dazzling debut, but it wasn't long before the Swedish tabloids slipped into negativity - viewing figures in freefall, poor selection of guests, Petra's nerves. Blah blah blah. Rewind to previous hosts of the show and we've read it all before; however, the press have been kinder to Petra in the past couple of weeks. And my own opinion? I think she's done a smashing job. For someone who isn't even a professional presenter, I've found her to be a warm and engaging host. However, I can't see her sticking around for too long, as there have been times when I've got the feeling that she's wondered if she's done the right thing. That's not a criticism by the way: I would certainly welcome her back for at least another year, and the tabloids report that SVT would like to keep her in the job.
...Le Tour: Who would have thought that Le Tour 2014 would be remembered for the riders who never made it, rather than the ones who did? Yes, this year's Tour was all about the crashes, the injuries,
After the British dominance of the race over the past couple of years, the 2014 race began here in the UK with three stages, commencing in Yorkshire. And from the very beginning, the high-profile casualties began to fall. Firstly Mark Cavendish, hotly-tipped to win that first stage and get that yellow jersey, only for him to crash out near the finish in Harrogate. As the tour headed back on to French soil, we had a spectacular stage which included the infamous Paris-Roubaix cobbles. On the wet roads of northern France, defending champion Chris Froome crashed out of the race. Team Sky immediately made Richie Porte their main contender to challenge Vincenzo Nibali, who had established a comfortable lead and was in yellow for every day since stage 2, except for one day when French cyclist Tony Gallopin rode into Bastille Day in yellow.
The high-profile casualties continued: Fabian Cancellara, Andrew Talansky (memorably pushed back on to his bike and told to get on with it following one crash), and the race's other main contender Alberto Contador. Andy Schleck, Fabian Cancellara and Simon Gerrans also exited the race.
The other remarkable thing about this year's race was the surprisingly poor weather, with torrential rain during many stages. Whilst we spent most of July baking in non-stop sunshine, the cyclists were sliding and skidding across the roads of France!
With the loss of so many GC contenders, the race took on a whole new look as it headed into its final week. Nibali had built up such an unbeatable lead and had very quickly killed the race, so our attention focused on the very close battle for 2nd and 3rd place on the podium, and the ever-changing lead in the King of the Mountains competition. 2014 was a big year of transition in Le Tour. It's been a long, long time since any French cyclists made a major impact on the race (Thomas Voeckler excepted) but this year was the breakthrough we've been waiting for, for so long. Jean-Christophe Peraud - 2nd place. Thibaut Pinot - 3rd place and best young rider. Romain Bardet - 6th place. This bodes well for the future. In the other competitions, Polish cyclist Rafal Majka was impressive in winning the King of the Mountains jersey and has shown so much promise that he could potentially be a future GC contender. And the green jersey? Well, despite starting and ending the race with a stage win, Marcel Kittel could only make 4th place in a sprint competition inevitably won by the unstoppable Peter Sagan.
So Vincenzo Nibali is this year's Tour de France champion. Well done to him, but next time can we have a closer race and less of a foregone conclusion please?
...the World Cup: maybe it was just the mood I was in at the time (knee deep in a depression which is slowly but surely lifting) but for some strange reason, I just wasn't feeling my usual love for the World Cup this year. It was a bit like the Tour de France in a way, as top-rated teams fell by the wayside, one after the other. It was strange not to see the likes of Spain, Italy, England and Portugal progress beyond the first round.
There were some new innovations: goal-line technology, free-kick vanishing foam, and cooling breaks to help the players cope with the excessive heat.
Although the standard of the football fell well short of the quality expected of the world's greatest players, I was impressed by the high scores within the group stages, with dreary 0-0 draws kept to a minimum. What we could have done without was the level of dirty play and fouling which often went unpunished by referees. We could also have done without unsolicited biting: one more thing for the notorious Luis Suarez to add to his CV of football crimes.
The round of 16 then happened. Chile unfairly went out on penalties to an underwhelming Brazil side, and Mexico were very unlucky to be defeated by the Netherlands. Algeria were equally unlucky against Germany. Argentina and Brazil continued to be underwhelming as they progressed through the tournament. One team which did impress me was Colombia, who played a nice style of attacking football. Forget Messi and Neymar: for me, the real star and top scorer of the tournament was James Rodriguez, and he also won the EuropeCrazy Top Toy Boy award. (That Golden Boot's all good and well, but the TTB award is the one to win :D)
When I drew Costa Rica in the office sweepstake, I was very dismissive and thought they'd be on the first plane home after the group stage. But they were much more impressive than expected and I cheered them on all the way to the quarter finals where they were very unlucky to lose to an increasingly annoying Dutch side. In the semi-final, the Netherlands and Argentina were in a contest to see who could be the most underwhelming side, and it had to go to penalties. Argentina has always been my South American team, but they frustrate me in every World Cup as they never play to their full potential. Yet again, Messi-mania fell flat. Argentina underwhelmed their way to the final where they faced a German side which I'd tipped as possible world-beaters in a post I'd written on here 4 years ago: http://europecrazy.blogspot.co.uk/2010/07/summer-rewind-world-cup.html
Germany beating Brazil 7-1 in the semi-final? Who'd have predicted that one? But despite being the host nation, I'd never been impressed by Brazil. Like Argentina, they relied on one particular player - in this case Neymar who had been injured in a shocking tackle during the match against Colombia. With Neymar gone, the team's flaws were exposed and Germany took advantage again and again. It felt like the goals were coming every minute. Well, they actually were at one point! Germany proved that a solid, strong team performance was better than any team with one ''star' and a substandard supporting cast, so it was no surprise that they lifted the World Cup, beating Argentina 1-0 (after extra time) in the final. Germany became the first European team to win the trophy in South America. They are so strong that I could see them making it a double in 4 years time, but watch out for Colombia. After their impressive performance in Brazil, they look as if they could just get better and better.
As with most big events these days, the World Cup had the world talking on Twitter. Social media is now giving large-scale sporting events a new dimension. Who needs to listen to those boring TV pundits when you can find much more entertaining analysis on Twitter? As I said around the time of Eurovision, Twitter may have its dark side but it is also a great way to bring people together to talk about their common interests.
Not long after the World Cup ended, another sporting event arrived closer to home. Which I'll write about in a separate post, coming soon!