Today this blog got its very first comment – exciting! And this comment reminded me of an unusual trip from a couple of years ago…

We managed to get (relatively) cheap tickets to the Euros in 2012, which was held in Poland and Ukraine. But there was a catch: we got three tickets to games in Donetsk, which meant we had to spend 10 days there.

We didn’t know anything about Donetsk, but we knew it had a state of the art stadium, the home ground to Shaktar Donetsk. Being the adventurous people that we are, off we went!

Now this was one of those trips where not much goes according to plan:

  • There are no direct flights, so it takes about 8h to get there, with a lengthy stop in Turkey on both ways;
  • Because of the Euros, the very few options for accommodation were already booked. We managed to rent a slightly overpriced flat through Airbnb, in one of those traditional buildings from the Soviet era;
  • On the first night, torrential rain meant the very first match we went to see was postponed for about an hour or so. Not a massive deal, but we got back to our flat only to realise that power cuts are quite common in Ukraine;
  • Ukraine is a massive country, and we didn’t really have time to travel around since every three days we had to be back in Donetsk;
  • So the only thing to do was watch football and walk around the city centre…
…but we had a great time!

I have no plans of going back, but spending 10 days in a place that not many tourists visit was a really fun experience.

  • People were really nice. We were stopped on the streets, photographed and even interviewed! Locals wanted to know what we thought about Ukraine, and loved when we said we lived in England – Donetsk is the industrial heart of Ukraine, and they are fascinated with anything English.
  • Everything was incredibly cheap. We spent our days sampling the local beers and vodka (at only £6 a bottle – in a restaurant).
  • This was the first time we travelled to a big sporting event, and now we do it as often as we can. We’ve travelled for hockey in Belgium and football in Sweden, and this year we’re going to the World Cup in Brazil.
  • We saw some good matches, including England v. Ukraine. The local fans were incredibly nice given that we were the only England supporters on that side of the stadium.
  • We watched one of the semi-finals in the lobby of a 5-star hotel. At home I probably wouldn’t even be allowed into a 5-star hotel, but in Donetsk we were very welcome. Who would have thought that they’d bring us free crisps with every pint?
  • On that very first night, after the power went out we decided to go to the local convenience store where people were watching the England match (being played in Kiev) on a tiny TV. We talked to local football fans, drank cheap beer, then went back to the flat. It turned out to be quite fun!

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