For the first time in history, the World Cup was in Africa; and for me, it was the second time that I was going to the World Cup. Since the first time was in the USA, that wasn't the same exotic experience as South Africa would be.
It's a long flight to Johannesburg no matter where you're coming from; for me, it was 7 hours to London, and then after a brief layover at Heathrow, 12 hours in the air to South Africa.
It was a daytime flight, so I took advantage of the opportunity to take pictures while flying over the Sahara desert. I had an aisle seat, and I found that in the back of the 747 there is a clear window next to a jump seat, which is where I took the pictures from. These are shots from over the Tunisian and Libyan deserts.
The unfortunate thing, for me, is that while I could see from the inflight map that we were more or less over Libya, I was unable to identify exact location. That's too bad, because I saw some pretty cool things from up there, and it would be interesting to know what I was looking at. The view itself will have to do.
Like this, for example: what is this interesting little formation? It looks almost Martian-like, with the orange sands and the wind-eroded landscape, but I don't know if we were flying over Libya or Chad at the time. More's the pity.
Or these mountains, which I am pretty sure were in Chad since we were so far south at the time, but which mountains? I have no idea.
But enough of that. We landed in Johannesburg at night, and my first impressions were that it is not a particularly photogenic city, which the entire trip remained my opinion. But sometimes that's OK; especially since I was there for the World Cup, not my usual sightseeing.
The first day was the day of the USA v Slovenia game, and as Raj had set things up for me to get in the hotel with the US Soccer people, we were part of a group that had activities planned for every day while we were there. Before the USA game, we went to the Johannesburg Zoo for lunch, and a restaurant called Moyo. Moyo has several locations in the area, including in Melrose Arch, which is where we were staying (and we'll see that later).
This pretty much defines the timbre of the city: modern buildings mixed in with haphazard dirt and incongruous signs. This was on the way to Ellis Park form the Zoo, which are not particularly far from each other in central Johannesburg. It's the older part of town, and nicer than, say, Baltimore.
Please excuse the window reflection, as I was shooting from inside a bus, but this is the famous TV tower that figured prominently in all the TV shots from ESPN during the tournament. It's a tall tower, as one would expect, but there is no really great vantage point to catch it, so I had to go with what I could get while riding the bus.
Ah, yes, the vuvuzelas. Love them or hate them, they were not to be ignored in South Africa. This here is a monument/statue of them.
Ellis Park Stadium is one of South Africa's revered places; if you saw the movie Invictus, this is the stadium where the final is played, with the famous scene of Nelson Mandela walking onto the field. It is one of those stadiums, like Yankee Stadium or Lambeau Field, where you just know you're in a special place.
Following are scenes from before the game from outside the stadium and inside. I think it's best to let the pictures speak for themselves here.
The final shot I took before the game started is of the US team breaking the huddle at the start of the game. Within 10 minutes they were down a goal, and at the half, down two. But in one of the most remarkable comebacks ever, they proceeded to score twice in th esecond half, and actually score a third but that goal was voided by the Malian referee, who has never given a reaosn for why he waved off the goal. It is still a major sore spot for US soccer fans against FIFA.