I have now been to 19 European Championships as competitor, coach, representative and spectator in places as far and near as Ornskoldsvijk and Sofia, Kirkcaldy and Copenhagen and each has had its good and bad points and many have had their problems. I've been to some places I will probably never visit again (the aforementioned 'Ovik') and to others where I have later returned to enjoy a holiday (Grindelwald).
I have stayed in some grand hotels and in some very basic ones, eaten expensive meals and some ropey hot dogs and burgers, spent up to 4 hours in a bus to get from various airports and sat on a variety of coaches' benches either freezing to death (Sofia) or watching in luxury from behind the glass (Karlstad).
But I have never been anywhere that could only offer me black coffee before (there was no milk available - not just once but the next day as well)!!!! Or where a plate of pasta cost over £30. But here we are in Stavanger, oil capital of Norway, and I suppose those who remember the days when Aberdeen was the most expensive place to live in Britain will know what I am talking about.
The stadium here is vast - an indoor speed skating venue so that there is room to have the two ice pads for the A and B Groups in one place, separated just by the scaffolding supporting the A Group coaching, media and TV scaffolding - nicely draped for the A side but exposing the bare scaffolding poles to us here on the B side (see picture below). The curling sheet in the foreground is for the public to have a go.
As usual it is a full programme of games here with 28 nations represented, 26 in the men's competition and 20 in the women's. It is a first appearance in the main Championships by the Romanian men and the Slovenian women who came up through the C Group Championships played recently in Copenhagen.The other quailifiers from that competition were the Welsh men and the Belarusian women who had both been relegated last year.
Although the two ice pads are back to back there is not a great deal of noise filtering through from one to the other unless Andrea Schopp or Thomas Ulsrud is in full bellow setting.
However the standard of the catering in the stadium leaves much to be desired, especially considering it is a purpose built sports venue. There is a small cafe which was the venue of my milk shortage episode mentioned earlier and currently they are unable to produce any hot water for a cup of tea owing to an inoperative water boiler - the idea of boiling a kettle seems alien to them!! (problem has been resolved as just been and got a cuppa).
There is a standard menu of sandwiches, lasagne or chicken kebabs and one dish of the day which has apparently been variable in quality. The lasagne I had was tepid although full of meat. I presume it is getting better as some are still eating there but then people eat in Motorway service area cafes also because they have no choice!
It is funny however, that such a pattern has been repeated many times over the years- it is almost as if the venues have been unprepared for the demand and it is not until halfway through the week that the situation is resolved. The life saver here has been the hot dog caravan which sits next to the Group B ice pad and did a roaring trade in hot dogs last night.
Finally for this short introduction to Stavanger a couple of pictures of the equipment the Norwegian edition of Top Gear is developing for their Christmas special.