Sightseeing tips for Euro 2012 soccer fans

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Exactly one week before Euro 2012 kicks off, tournament co-host Poland is gearing up to welcome almost one million foreign football fans within its borders.

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Exactly one week before Euro 2012 kicks off, tournament co-host Poland is gearing up to welcome almost one million foreign football fans within its borders.

With its brand-new stadiums built and huge fanzones ready to welcome ticketless supporters, Poland is dotting its i’s and crossing its t’s before the launch of the quadrennial football showcase.

Normally busy with cars, the area around the Palace of Culture in the centre of the capital Warsaw has taken on a new role.

Equipped with two temporary stands and six giant screens, it will be the hub of a fanzone for 100,000 people, the largest in Poland or Ukraine.

“The main area is ready and now we’re installing the largest screen, which measures 142 square metres,” Sebastian Mikolajczak, of fanzone organisers ARS Communication, told AFP.

Poland’s other host cities – the Baltic port of Gdansk, south-west Wroclaw and western Poznan – are also putting finishing touches on their fanzones.

It’s the same story in the southern city of Krakow, where England, Italy and Holland will have their base-camps.

And with hotels largely booked out, the four host cities are offering oddball lodging for any stragglers who have yet to secure a room.

A hostel in Wroclaw has taken a page from Japan’s popular capsule hotels and is renting out small two-by-one-metre tubes for 40 euros a night (about R400), sheets included.

“In the tube, you have light, ventilation, a comfy mattress and a blind that you can draw down to rest in complete privacy,” said Agnieszka Jarzebowska, manager of The One, located on Wroclaw’s market square near the fanzone.

A ship in Gdansk that normally ferries 1,800 passengers a day between the Baltic Sea port and Swedish capital Stockholm will stay docked on match days to serve as a floating hotel. Its 880 cabins are up for grabs for around 150 euros a night.

“We still have plenty of space for the Spain-Ireland and Spain-Croatia matches,” said Marian Chojnacki, manager of the Scandinavia, which is owned by company Polferries.

At odds with the array of lodging options is a lagging transport infrastructure.

Euro 2012 marks the first edition of the football showcase in Eastern Europe. It kicks off June 8 in Warsaw and wraps up July 1 in Ukrainian capital Kiev.

Even two decades after the collapse of communist rule in the region, the infrastructure challenges have been massive as the hosts prepare for the tournament.

Barely half of the highways Poland planned for Euro 2012 will be ready, with a risk that the Berlin-Warsaw motorway will not be fully complete due to delays on a 20-kilometre stretch.

Visitors can expect to clock in between three and eight hours when travelling by car from one Polish stadium to another.

Poland’s railways have set up 440 special connections between host cities, but much of the infrastructure remains outdated despite ongoing work. Only the main stations have been renovated.

“In two years, we’ll be able to reach Poland’s main cities from Warsaw in three hours on trains running incident-free at an average speed of 100 kilometres per hour,” said Remigiusz Paszkiewicz, president of Poland’s state rail company.

With high-speed trains still in the works, flights will remain the fastest way to get around Poland during the football showcase. The airports in Poland’s host cities have all been renovated, with new terminals in Wroclaw and Poznan.

“Currently, all national routes are up and running, so it’s fast and easy to get between the four host cities,” said Tomasz Lenart, customer relations director at Wroclaw airport.

There is also new low-cost service connecting Wroclaw to the western Ukrainian host city of Lviv.

Besides Lviv and Kiev, Ukraine’s other match venues are Donetsk in the east and Kharkiv in the northeast.

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.