Thursday, 30 June 2011 12:00 AM
It's seen very much as the 'booby prize' of European football but the Europa League (formerly UEFA Cup) does have its moments, and I've been lucky enough to be at some cracking finals of this trophy in years past. Sadly, the 2011 Europa League Final that took place in Dublin in mid-May could not be placed in the 'cracking' category.
Nonetheless, Dublin itself remains a beautiful and gracious host, with charming people and, in the Aviva Stadium, the venue for the final, an impressive arena that is incongruous in its modernity when contrasted with its sedate, green surroundings on the south side of the Liffey. Aviva has a touch of a flying saucer about it but its intentionally lopsided form has seen it pick up a coarser nickname: the bedpan.
The competition had delivered two Portuguese teams to the final match: SC Braga from the town of the same name, and their opponents Porto, from the second city of Oporto, and one of European Football's heavy hitters. Porto had been over the course many times before and prior to the match at Aviva had already racked up a quartet of European honours. They were heavy favourites to go nap and they duly delivered with a 1-0 win.
The game (photo: John Hunt)
As already mentioned, it wasn't a great game but I'm certain that the majority of the 45,000 spectators in attendance would agree that it's a great stadium and, for local traders and the city itself, a great money-spinner. Local hostelries were doing a roaring trade with every pub within a two-mile radius of the stadium full to bursting. A piece I read in one of the Irish papers on the day of the game estimated that hosting the Europa League Final was worth in the region of £25million to the local economy.
Dublin needs projects like Aviva to generate revenue for an economy that's currently ailing, but economic woes aside, I think Ireland in general and Dublin in particular have every reason to be cautiously optimistic about the future of tourism in the country. There are a lot of reasons for this - the glittering Aviva Stadium is but one - and foremost among them is that Dublin stubbornly remains a fantastic place to visit.
History, architecture, great scenery and an agreeable climate are all factors, as is the improving transport infrastructure, but Ireland's biggest selling point? Its people, who are as genuine and welcoming as the clichés claim. It's quite a boon to ask someone in the street for directions or information and get a well-intentioned response. Doesn't happen everywhere, I can tell you (yes, London, I'm looking in your direction).
The hotel looks to be only a few years old and, as a consequence, everything works as it should. Huge room on the fifth floor with, happily, a balcony, so I didn't have to stand outside the hotel like a reprobate to have a cigarette. Smoking rooms are available, however.
The room (photo: John Hunt)
Huge room also meant huge bathroom with twin basins, bath, and a shower so powerful it nearly knocked me out of the cubicle. Additionally, and one wonders when the penny is going to drop with all hoteliers, free WiFi was included. I think that this should be a prerequisite for any hotel of three stars or above - some of the charges I see on my travels for WiFi are simply extortionate.
The 'Kudos' bar on the ground floor had two things going for it - a decent pint of Heineken and helpful staff who assisted me in finding my way to a meeting with an old acquaintance courtesy of a marked-up map. Adjacent to the bar is the Kudos restaurant, serving a fast and flavoursome menu of Asian street food from an open kitchen; hot and cold buffet breakfast is served in the same place.
In the basement, a spa/fitness centre with swimming pool is to be found and all this for £105/night for a double room with breakfast. Good value, no doubt about it.
By John Hunt
Follow us @travelbite