Fans face long and rocky road to follow England
Kiev and Donetsk lack hotels and entertainment
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Saturday 03 December 2011
Welcome to Donetsk, the bitter end of Ukraine – next stop: Stalingrad.
The England team will be perfectly happy with the draw that sees two of their group games played in this grim mining city in eastern Ukraine: they always expected to fly to their matches from their home base of Krakow, and distance matters little.
But while the bookmakers are shortening the odds on an England victory, their long-suffering fans will be studying the atlas – and the internet – with growing alarm. From a travel perspective, the "d" in Group D stands for death.
Donetsk, where England play France on 11 June and Ukraine on 19 June, is twinned with Sheffield. A group of fans driving non-stop from South Yorkshire direct to Donetsk would take two days, with roads – and driving standards – steadily worsening as they head east. Were they then to drive up to Kiev for the Sweden game on 15 June, then back to Donetsk for the last match and home from there, they will have racked up more than 5,000 miles.
Once the England fans get to Donetsk, their problems are only just beginning. As soon as England's position in the draw was decided last night, no rooms were available anywhere in the city for the first match on the website hotels.com.
French fans had a head start of a few minutes of England, because they came out of the hat sooner. In the internet era, that is enough time to snap up all the available beds in a city as far off the tourist map as Donetsk.
Kiev, where the match with Sweden takes place, has much more accommodation – but only at a price. Last night the top property in the Ukrainian capital, the InterContinental, had only the Ambassador Suite available – at £3,475 a night, without breakfast.
And even at the bottom end of the market there is evidence of profiteering. The one-star Down Town Hostel is charging £534 for a double room. Fans who decide to base themselves in Donetsk will find it difficult to fill the days between matches. "There's almost nothing to lure the casual visitor," concludes the Lonely Planet guide. The touristic highlight is a visit to the Soledar salt mine outside the town.
In contrast, Republic of Ireland fans can enjoy a travel feast during their group matches. Gdansk is the only genuine tourist town among all eight Euro 2012 venues. They can enjoy everything from superb beaches just to the north of the city to the fascinating history of Solidarity and its part in the downfall of Communism.
The other venue for Group C, Poznan, is the gateway to two intriguing attractions: Europe's last main-line steam railway, winding south to the town of Wolsztyn; and Zagan, location for Stalag Luft III.
This was the Second World War camp that was the venue for the tunnelling prisoners-of-war featured in The Great Escape – which could be exactly what Ireland need, given their opponents in Group C.
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