Travelling to the watch the Rugby World Cup in London will leave an impression on South Africans forever.
Yes, a lot depends on the Springboks winning a few matches to ensure a proudly South African spirit abroad… but it’s more than that.
I realised this when I applied for my visa to the UK a while ago, seeing the people queuing alongside me at the visa application centre...
Two big men came into the visa centre with two awkward, school uniform-clad teenage boys shuffling in behind them – spitting images of their respective fathers. The boys were trying their best to look cool… but excitement was bubbling just below the surface - for both generations.
Whether the Springboks win or lose, generations to come will remember their trip to see the Rugby World Cup in the UK for so much more than only a few games of 'ball'.
READ: A South African's first impressions of London
Especially considering the amazing experiences awaiting South Africans up north…
The first four qualifying games of the RWC are somewhat uneventful for SA, except for one game – when South Africa plays Scotland in Newcastle on 3 October in Newcastle.
This game will be tough from the get-go, but the fact that Scotland is practically playing on home ground (Edinburgh is a mere 2-hour drive from Newcastle) sets this game up to be an even more nail-biting.
This game is the most important South African qualifier, which is why many South Africans will head to Newcastle to support the Boks.
(Even if you don’t have tickets to the St James Stadium in Newcastle, there will also be a massive fan park right next to the stadium where +10 000 supporters will be able to watch the game and get into the RWC spirit...)
Yes, you’re going over for the Rugby, but have you thought about what else you’re going to do while you're there?
Here’s why South Africans will love Newcastle:
1. The People are lekker
South Africans are a special bunch. We have funny habits and apart from in Australia, we don’t always fit in smoothly everywhere.
Que Newcastle in northern England. The people there a loud and friendly, they enjoy screaming at the top of the lungs in support of their favourite sports teams and they enjoy drinking beer whilst doing so - South African's will fit right in!
2. It’s not as overwhelming as London
You can still shop until you drop and the season specials are to die for, but it’s not Harrods prices and you won’t feel overwhelmed by the masses of people and shops.
For easy-going, friendly South Africans, London can be quite harsh, but in Newcastle things are a little less stressful.
On a recent trip to the area, for example, I accidentally got on the wrong train and was heading for Scotland when the friendly passengers and train personnel guided me back to London... with a good laugh and loads of advice.
3. The English countryside is something every South African will appreciate
This one goes out to all the SA farmers going over for the RWC. Although the climate differs vastly from the South African one, South Africans will most definitely appreciate the English countryside.
You know that typical picture of the misty English countryside with its evergreen rolling hills, woolly lambs and serene nostalgic air? It's all real and you need to see it for yourself to believe it!
The people of these parts of the country are so welcoming, too. They'll comfortably strike up a conversation with you in the local pub once they notice you're not from the area... Be warned, however, that you'll have a 'wee bit o' trouble' trying to figure out what they're saying as the accents over there are pretty thick!
4. They have castles
And let’s face it… South Africa is rather lacking in this department. The best part is there are a handful of these medieval castles which are still occupied by the families who built them hundreds of years ago. During the English summer (our winter), Alnwick Castle, for example, is open to the public as the owners are away in their 'winter castle'.
Currently, the popular English series Downton Abbey is exhibiting some of the show's props and costumes at Alnwick Castle, where part of the series is filmed. It's a must see for DowntonAbbey fans, but also anyone interested in English history.
There are many castles open to the public in the northern English countryside. Some of these, like Bamburgh Castle, for example, will give you 20% discount on their £10 (about R200) entry fee if you present your RWC ticket at the office.
5. The food is local and lekker
Although nothing beats South African cuisine, Newcastle's local favourites are certainly worth a try. You cannot return from northern England without at least trying some good ol' black pudding, or pigs' ears, haggis and Scotch eggs.
As these are iconic English dishes, you'll probably pay through your neck for them in London, but in Newcastle, the local dishes are dirt cheap and 'the real thing'.
6. The town is rich with accessible history
Let me explain accessible: Museums and statues, for example, are breathtaking to behold and take selfies with, but that’s it.
In Newcastle, it’s different. The age-old mining town pubs are heritage sites and still highly popular with the locals. These places tell the history of this coal-mining capital in a more relative and interactive way.
What better way to learn about one of the oldest running pubs in the UK than by eating in it?
7. The nightlife
London’s late-night clubs and heavy party scene can be very intimidating… especially for conservative South Africans.
Newcastle is known for its diversity and vibrant student culture, which makes going out in this town safe and fun, but equally exciting.
8. The MUST-see the North Sea coastline
If your partner is heading to the RWC with you, this is a must do. The English coast along the North Sea is scattered with castles and ruins – leading up all the way to Edinburg. The typical English weather - constant mist and rain - makes it an even more melancholic experience.
When you're meander up the North Sea coast, it's essential you stop over in the quaint little English towns scattered along the way. In Craster, Northumberland, for example , you simply MUST stop at the Jolly Fisherman to eat some local seafood whilst overlooking the dreary ocean shore.
9. Two birds with one stone
Always wanted to visit Scotland? Here’s your chance.
Glasgow and Edinburgh are about three hours away by train or car. If you've already got your UK visa to visit, why not make the most of the experience and head up there?
SA 2015 RWC qualifying rounds line-up:
19 September: SA vs Japan – Brighton Community Stadium
26 September: SA vs Samoa – Villa Park, Birmingham
3 October: SA vs Scotland – St James Park, Newcastle
7 October: SA vs USA – Queen Olympic Park, London
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