Why magical Brazil 2014 trumps London Olympics
Memorable action and immersion in an alien culture made World Cup a special experience
Talk about a thundering halt to a beautiful party; it was really quite startling on Monday night to witness just how quickly Rio had returned to a non-World Cup hosting city.
People had mostly scattered home and the sudden, jolting absence of bustle and colour was acutely felt.
This wonderful World Cup has thrown up 64 games across 32 days, 171 goals and deserving German champions. It has consumed attention to the point of interrupting Iranian nuclear negotiations.
On a host of levels, it is a sorry testament to everything about us which is irrational and lacking in perspective, but I will miss it dearly.
My vantage point has been up close and personal: Salvador, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza, São Paulo and Rio were my outposts over a five- week stretch.
It was my first World Cup and my first time in South America.
Those initial few days in Salvador were very difficult. The language barrier felt utterly impenetrable, there was an alien freneticism to the streets and I, no doubt, brought with me a healthy dose of European paranoia. That I would be mugged at knifepoint and stripped of my iPhone and laptop was only a matter of time.
But somewhere along the way – I'm not even sure when – it all started to feel more like home. The crucial breadcrumbs of Portuguese were acquired. Cafe com leite. Obrigado. Agua sem gas. Conversations with taxi drivers were propped up by the inevitable, 'Brasil eh?' 'Oi Brasil. Fred? No, no, no!' And the slightly wild, hustle-bustle buzz of the streets felt normal.
I depart, looking forward to my return. It is a country full of complications, contradictions and extremes. Rules are routinely bent and broken, yet the administration and form-filling culture is beyond parody. There is no defining majority race, yet slavery was only abolished in 1888.
A Sunday morning on Flamengo beach is just about heaven; any morning in a favela is just about hell. That famous Tom Jobim line, 'Brazil is not for beginners', maybe captures things as precisely as one could ever hope to.
There are dozens of personal highlights. My first match provoked numerous involuntary howls, not least when Robin van Persie headed home against Spain. There was Uruguay-England in São Paulo. A stunning Netherlands-Mexico second half in Fortaleza. Messi genius in Belo. An extraordinary day with Conor Hartnett in the Rio favelas. Germany 7-1 Brazil. Saturday night on Copacabana. Those 20 minutes before the final. The final.
Indeed, I'm already anticipating my World Cup hangover. On travel days here, I tended to feel very low. I soon worked out why. One becomes accustomed to a daily helping of adrenalin.
Normality and a more even keel will soon return, but I'll miss it. I'll miss the late evenings in cafes with colleagues, talking nonsense.
These weeks in Brazil have easily trumped my experiences at Euro 2012 and the London Olympics. World Cups are special things. It was a special time.
A fond farewell Brasil 2014. Muito obrigado!