My Euro 2012 experience as a broadcaster ends today with a flight back to Dublin this evening. Since June 6th I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been given the opportunity once again to cover a major football championship.
Poland has been an excellent host, though there have been logistical problems. Some of them were of our own (RTE's) making. Others have been due to a lack of experience on the part of the local organisers.
It is clear that there is an excellent travel infrastructure in place in all of the host cities; trams, trains, buses and taxis. However, the authorities - and I'm not sure if this is UEFA or the hosts - have been over zealous in their road closure procedures. The fans and the media seem to matter less than the VIPs and players when it comes to the trickiest part of a match day, that is getting home.
In Gdansk, for example, the one train line in operation is totally inadequate for the 40,000 fans. The vast majority are forced to walk home as the roads are closed up to 3km around the stadium and for four hours after the games.
One wonders for whom and why - but life goes on and a festival this side will not pass this way for many years.
The Polish people have been brilliant hosts. They are such a friendly nation. In 18 days I have had nothing but help all along the way. Sure there are those trying to make a few extra Zlotys here and there - but that is to be expected and is the same the world over.
My brother Lawrence is married to a Polish lady from Gdansk. I was lucky enough to have a tour of this tri-city area with Przemek Pikus last Tuesday. He's married to Anna, my sister-in-law Anita's best friend. He works on ground operations at the Lech Walensa airport in Gdansk. I assume he is a typical 27-year-old from here: hard working, trying to improve himself, extremely religious and as solid an individual as you're likely to meet, the kind of young man that you wouldn't mind your daughter marrying. I can pay him no higher compliment.
On this trip I have seen nothing of the Irish team as I was doing the other games in Group C. To meet Przemek I took the train to Gdynia to meet him. That was an experience in itself. For the first time I didn't have Liam Nolan with me, my producer and guide for the previous 12 days. The train was ancient, straight-backed red wooden seats, full of end-of-work commuters, mostly women.
He brought me to the bluffs above Gydinia to show the view. What a proud man he is of his place and his life. It shone through in every moment, the way he spoke about Poland, about his life and career. We walked on the pier in Gdyinia, a very touristy place but quiet on a Tuesday evening, the setting sun casting long shadows from the tall ships berthed in the harbour.
Przemek told me of his relatives having attended the naval academy, a large building dominating one side of this relatively modern pier, built sometime in the 60s. Everywhere on this Baltic coast you sense the age-old connection to the sea.
We went to visit the 13th century St Olowa Church between Gdyinia and Sopot. It is famous for its beauty and the magnificent organ that is built above the main entrance. It was six o'clock and there was a service going on, two nuns kneeling at the entrance, a large attendance participating - hardly surprising in a country which still boasts 90% active Roman Catholics. Przemek looked lovingly at the bust of John Paul II and explained that his influence still lives on today in his native country.
Next stop was the sea front in Gdansk made famous by Lech Walensa and the solidarity movement. The Soviets ruled with an iron fist until the shipyard workers' strikes began in 1980. It wasn't the first uprising against Moscow rule in the eastern bloc states. It was, however, the start of a nine-year struggle that would bring Poland its independence. The site of the lock-in and those days when ordinary workers made demands of their oppressors has been maintained as it was.
Przemek is most of all a proud Pole. For him this spot is like the GPO in Dublin for an Irish nationalist. The difference is that Poland's freedom is in living memory, just 23 years ago the modern, independent Polish Republic was born.
Unfortunately, the museum dedicated to solidarity was closed but I hope to go there today with Colm Magee. It's always good to see something more than the football in these opportunities abroad. Travel broadens the mind like nothing else. One always has to challenge one's perspective by seeing how other people live.