After a wonderful send off at EWR I was on my way. The trip to Mauritius was going to be a much longer one than my previous visit, which was only 4 hours from South Africa. First I would fly 7.5 hours to Paris CDG, then a 12 hour layover until my 11.5 hour flight down to MRU. Here we go!
The first leg was fairly painless despite my lack of sleep. Even after a glass of wine and a bad movie, I was still playing the contortionist passenger game and flipping myself every which way to find a suitable sleeping posture. I arrived bleary-eyed in Paris at 7am and confirmed my flight to Mauritius would depart at 7pm that night. With plenty of time, I decided to leave the airport and explore the city. With the tragedy at Charlie Hebdo a few days prior I was a bit nervous to reenter Paris security with my drone and all of my other equipment, so I stashed everything in a locker and went out to cure my cabin fever & satisfy my craving for authentic Camembert.
The city was just waking up as I popped out of the Metro at Chatelet on the Seine. Having toured Paris previously, I decided to skip the Eiffel Tower and try my hand at the Louvre. It was freezing rain and I hadn't packed for winter, so indoor activities were crucial to this outing! After sourcing a consignment shop for a warm hat and an extra layer, I was ready to brave the Parisian winter. To my dismay, it seemed as if most of Paris' tourists also wanted to visit Ms. Lisa that day... it was a mad house. The bitter cold and wind abusing the square motivated me to make Plan B - the Picasso Museum. It was quite a long walk, so a stop for espresso and croissant were integral to completion of the mission. Revived and thawed, I wandered the quaint streets and eventually found the museum where I spent a nice afternoon with one of my favorite artists. It is a beautiful museum, with delicate architecture, a fluid layout, and of course, plenty of art to keep me entranced for hours. By the time I emerged it was nearing sunset, so my quest for cheese was accelerated. I got very lucky and caught the vendor of a small shop just prior to closing time. I procured quite a few delicacies to share with my Mauritian friends, and was off to CDG via St. Michel and the giant Christmas tree.
Security was light, which in the past has meant (for me at least) a bit more scrutiny. The drone drew no questions, but I was stripped of my Camembert treasure. No soft cheeses allowed?! The disappointment must have been obvious, because the sympathetic agent allowed me to at least try a chunk of that delectable cheese on my still-warm baguette before moving on. Ahh, protocol... As it turned out, I should have hung out much longer at security and finished that wheel, as my flight was delayed until 11pm. Instead, I curled up on my bag for a little nap. Boarding time eventually came, and I was off once again in the direction of summer...
The drive from Utrecht to Paris was scenic, with green fields and plenty of cows. Lunch in Belgium seemed appropriate, and we found a great place in Ghent to enjoy a classic Belgian meal of mussels and fries. Dutch #1 and I were trying to make the 6pm France vs Nigeria match in Paris. Nearly there, we made it 2km from our hotel and hit a wall of rush hour Paris traffic. A wrong turn as we were getting close put us back on the highway going in the opposite direction. Aaargh! We deduced that we'd have to get back in the traffic on the other side. The game was already 35 minutes in, and traffic was not something I wanted to exchange for the 8th and final game on my World Cup tour. On an impulse, we pulled off the highway into a Paris suburb, parked the car, and found a pub screening the match. Within minutes we had a pint and were cheering along with the French. It was a slow start, and at half time it was still nil/nil. The room was tense, which made for good people watching. We were sitting outside looking in, and it was fun to see locals stopping by to pop their heads in and check the score. Pogba put one in for France in the 79th minute, and high fives went around the room. It was a quick celebration though, and the room was seated again very shortly after the goal as you can see in the video. Two minutes into injury time Yobo made it 2-0, and the room visibly relaxed. France was going on to the next round, and we once again on the road to our Paris hotel... sans traffic and mission accomplished! The 8 games: 1. Spain vs Netherlands (Irun, Spain) 2. France vs. Honduras (Bidart, France) 3. Belgium vs. Algeria (Brussels, Belgium) 4. Netherlands vs. Australia (Maastricht, Netherlands) 5. Germany vs. Ghana (Berlin, Germany) 6. Germany vs. USA (Muenster, Germany) 7. Netherlands vs. Mexico (Utrecht, Netherlands) 8. France vs. Nigeria (Paris, France)
We only had one day before I had to fly back to Ireland, and we were lucky that Paris has a great subway system they call the Metropolitan. The hotel was in the 19th arr., but the Porte des Lilas Metro Station was a short walk and within a few stops we were downtown. First stop? Coffees & chocolatines at the nearby bakery, which you could smell before you could see! Ooooh la la :) A great way to start a day out. Second stop? Eiffel tower. Dutch #1 had never been to Paris, so we had a nice walking tour and hit a few of the iconic tourist attractions - Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Champs de Elysse... the Metro allowed for a wider net as well. My last visit was 7 years ago, and it was great to revisit with a new friend. It was a gorgeous day, and the city was bustling. There's just something about Paris, and I vowed to return again in at least 7 years!
My flight was out of the Paris/Beauvois airport on Ryan Air, which meant an hour drive out of the city. Again, a word of caution when booking that budget flight on Ryan Air - most airports are not in the city center and you will have to arrange additional transport. A simple search will help, and there are always others in the same situation! I flew into a quiet Shannon, Ireland airport around midnight and settled in to await my 9am flight back to the US. Time to return to Baltimore, at least for July!
It was time to leave Berlin, and I found a ride through Mitfahrgelegenheit the 480km to Munster to see some extended family and watch match #6. I arrive to very gracious hosts who welcomed me with both US and Germany flags at the ready for the pending match. We rode bikes through the beautiful city to a beer garden near the university - a great setting for a game. It was the first time I had to cheer against my host country, and I was the only American standing during the National Anthem. The daggers in my back from the army of German fans behind me were many, but I stood and waved my flag as bravely as possible! I have to admit, it was a bit frustrating to have my German friends 100% confident that they would trump the US, but I still had high hopes for a win (or tie!). It was an international group, with Dutch #1 who came over from Holland, two Germans, and me, the lonely American. The pilsner was plenty, and the brezeln weren't too bad either. Tension was apparent at the end of halftime however, when the score was still 0-0. It was only 1-0 at the end of the game, but the Germans weren't surprised at the victory and seemed to easily forget that intense first half. I was patted on the back, and consoled at the fact that the US team was still advancing to the next round. I felt like a child being told - "it's ok honey, we'll get you an ice cream cone on the way home to make it all better." Ah well - if you can't beat em, join em! We witnessed the celebrations in the square, as one brave sole climbed to the top of a light post to hang the German flag and others led games and chants. Amusing and fun to be there despite the loss!
The next day it was off to Utrecht, Netherlands with Dutch #1 in his grandmother's very old Opel Astra. I met Dutch #1 in Dingle, Ireland 3 weeks before while traveling with my father and his soccer team. He invited me to a tour of the Netherlands, and after some consideration I decided to reunite with Dutch #1 and check out more of his wonderful country. We had a great dinner on a pedestrian street downtown, followed by a funk show at Muziekcafé 't Oude Pothuys - a very cool basement venue with great beer on tap and a fun crowd. Egg shaking was very popular with the Dutch, and I quickly made some dance partners. I tried practicing my Dutch language skills, but for some reason it still makes me giggle to hear it spoken. The next day it was Netherlands vs. Mexico, but we also fit in a great bike tour. Utrecht is a lovely city of about 300,000 people. We hit two markets, explored the canals, and ended up at a lake outside the city within a short bike ride. Gorgeous.The number of bikes still blew my mind, but I had learned a thing or 2 in Maastricht and only a few people rang their bells at me!
That evening was Mexico vs. Netherlands, and it seemed like the entire town was out. Standing room only, and all of the bike parking was full. Tension was high during the 0-0 first half, and even worse after Mexico made it 1-0 in the 48th minute. There were many long faces, and the bars profits likely soared until Netherlands finally put one in at the 88th minute. Big celebrations ensued, and it almost felt like they had won! But, a tie would not do for the Dutch team and in the final moments of injury time they made it 2-1 to knock Mexico out of the tournament. Orange festivities were fun, and I had a great 2nd game with the Dutch! But it was off to Paris early the next day to catch the final match of my World Cup tour - #8 - France vs. Nigeria!
My arrival to Berlin was timed perfectly for both the Christopher Street Day Parade and the Germany/Ghana match. I took the Meinfernbus for 20 Euro; it took 7 hours but was pretty comfortable - and much cheaper than the train. The bus has only recently become an option in Germany, and many people also choose to use the rideshare website Mitfahrgelegenheit. I was staying with some friends I had met while in Mauritius in Weissensee (NE part of the city). They were super excited for Saturday, and we headed out early for a sehr lange Tag! We arrived first to the parade, where all of the wonderful Berliners were out celebrating and demonstrating to support the rights of LGBT people and promote acceptance and inclusion. It was colorful and raucous, and great people watching. We had our flag, and marched part of the way as part of the parade as well. The word of the day was Erdbeer bowle, and boy were they delicious!
We heard rumors that the Fan Mile wouldn't let people in if it got to packed, so we set out early to claim a spot. Germany is crazed for soccer, and Berlin is no acception. Their fanmeil is one of the largest public viewings in the world and runs between Brandenburg Gate and the Siegessäule. There are tv screens, pilsner stands, snacks, and German fans everywhere you look. I got the feeling that the Germans were not expecting much from the Ghana team – particularly after the US defeated them last week. But, Ghana brought their game and the Germans were taken offguard. Germany had the first goal and the crowd was charged up. But when Ghana answered with a goal, the only people cheering were the 5 Ghanaian fans in front of me. Ghana's 2nd goal brought even more silence and confusion – and longer beer lines. I was almost relieved when Germany scored that tying goal – it would've been tough to get through all of those very depressed, and inebriated Germany fans! I was decked out this time but on Thursday the chameleon will change her colors to red, white and blue! Go USA!!
The rest of the week in Berlin was spent exploring Prenzlauer Berg, improving my German, and checking out some local startup events. I hit up Betahaus for an event for location independent entrepreneurs - digital nomads - and it was great to meet like-minded people from all over the world. Inspiring and motivating! Berlin is a great city, and very livable. I would've stayed longer, but I had a date in Munster for the US/Germany match!
After an exciting Belgian win and great night in Brussels, I was fired up to head to match #4 in Maastricht, Netherlands. Maastricht was my destination based on geography & demographics - it is very close to both Belgium and Germany and 20% of the population is made up of students. Lively, close, and high chances of celebration if the Dutch win! The trip was fairly short and consisted of a tram to the center of Brussels, a train switch at the border, and a final train to Maastricht station. The connectivity of Europe is wonderful, although the train ticket prices have increased since my last visit here!
I arrived in Maastricht and was completely blown away by the constant stream of bike traffic. The quaint, tree-lined streets are ruled by bikes, and you better stay on the correct side of the sidewalk! I was being hosted by a Couchsurfer and found his house easily from the station. My host, Dutch #2, greeted me with a smile and a question.... can I ride a bike? Ha. Yes sir, I can. Within that first hour I was handed an orange Holland jersey and a bike, and was headed into town with my new Dutch friend. The bike was made for a Dutchman (the tallest people in the world at an average of 1.85 meters / 6'1") but after such a warm welcome I made it work! It wasn't a long ride thank goodness, and we crossed the river into the historic center. Quaint, narrow streets and historic buildings - all covered in orange. The town was ready for the match!
We found some seats in a bar near the center, ordered some Brands, and settled down to watch Holland vs. Australia. I noticed more female soccer fans here in the Netherlands than I saw in the last 3 countries, perhaps due to the popularity of women's soccer in the country. A big celebration followed the Dutch goal in the 20th minute, but the crowd was quickly silenced when Australia answered right back, making it 1-1 in minute 21. It was a tense half-time, but the bar passed around free snacks and kept the beer flowing to pacify the crowd. Things got even more tense at minute 54 when Jedinak made it 2-1 for Australia, who was definitely playing the better game. Orange were nervous! Four minutes later van Persie equalized and the entire room exhaled. Now relaxed, the cheers were deafening in the 68th minute when Depay put Netherlands ahead 3-2 and they managed to keep it that way. Celebrations continued after the match, but nothing quite as wild as the Spain game where I was told the party lasted through the night. Maybe I need to come back for the next round!
After the match Dutch #2 took me to see Danish electronic musician Trentemøller at the Timmerfabriek Muziekgieterij - a great venue in an old warehouse. The crowd was fired up, and there were many orange fans present. The next day I was given a great tour of the city by Dutch #2. I highly recommend a visit to Maastricht for its beauty, and of course don't forget to enjoy some Vlaai! Can't stay long though - I have to get to Germany for match #5!!
After a week in Bidart it was time to see what was going on in the rest of Europe, so I flew Ryan Air from Biarritz to Brussels Charleroi to check out match number 3 – Belgium vs Algeria. (Note - if you fly into Charleroi, you have to then take a bus into the city which takes about an hour and costs 14 Euro if you don't book in advance.) Once downtown, the public transport is great and will take you all over the city. I took a train to Flagely Square to find my Airbnb. I was greeted by 2 Italians and shown a lovely room overlooking the street – after a week on a couch it was time for a room with a door and a real bed!
I arrived just moments before the match, so I walked quickly down to Place Flagely to find the bars and tables already packed to the brim. After a few tries I managed to squeeze myself into some standing room at a local pub where Jupiler was the drink of the day and the bartender never had a free moment. I couldn't have been happier with my choice – the Belgians stayed positive through the Algerian goal, but boy did they go wild for the 2 Belgian goals in the second half! It was a great crowd, with no one pushing or shoving, and people even helped each other get to a new beer. Loved it. I met 2 Belgian philosophers attending to watch the crowd, and sat with them as they talked about freedom of body and mind. A little girl even painted a huge Belgium flag on my cheek. After the win there was a huge street party in Place Flagely ~ apparently a pretty rare thing, and so much fun. Buses were held up by flag wavers, cars were honking, mobs descended on party buses and music was blaring. By the time this all died down a bit, pizza was the only option and I ended up sharing the last 2 pieces with a Canadian/Slovenian couple who also treated me to my first Westfalle - a great Belgian brew. Quite a night in Brussels! Infectious camaraderie, and exactly why I set this travel goal! This is the first time the Red Devils have reached the World Cup since 2002, and I hope to see them go far! Now off to game #4 in country #4.... can I make 8 games before I head back to the US? We shall see!
And Belgium scores!!
Some photos from the bar...
The southern coast of France is a great place to be in June. The sun is out, the water is warm enough, and the summer crowds have yet to arrive. I am lucky to be staying with a friend, and her flat overlooks the village of Bidart, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Pyrenees – absolute heaven. Plus it's warm – great to be back in summer! If that's not enough, my arrival coincided with a festival in neighboring St Jean de Luz - Festival de Andalucia. As we head down into town, I see flamenco dancing, sangria, moulle, tapas, and a gorgeous coast. Fantastic! I couldn't believe how well everyone danced – the men, the women, the children – everyone had moves. When a traditional song came on, the dance floor cleared for those that knew (or thought they knew) what they were doing – it was beautiful choreography and I was even pulled into the mix a few times to dance with the local Basque men. It was my first introduction into something my friend calls “force de Basque!” as I was tossed all over the dance floor :) Check out the video below. Over the week we enjoyed appero all over town, time in Guethary, fresh sole, watching the surfers, and enjoying the Chistera games from her balcony. One day we drove to Spain for groceries because it seems they are a bit cheaper, and I've never had a better view while running errands. My friend shops in a small village in the Pyrenees – not bad!
France played Honduras for their first World Cup match during my stay in Bidart. It was my 2nd game in a home country, and I chose a small restaurant in the center of Bidart (not many choices!) and arrived to a large crowd. A local rugby team - a crew of about thirty 20-something guys - was celebrating their season and the beer flowed. Their presence added a great deal to the otherwise subdued crowd, and definitely made the night more fun. Enthusiasm was lacking a bit, but for being in ... not Spain, not France, but Basque!, they did their best in celebrating the 3-0 victory. I would return to the Basque coast for its beauty and way of life - although I did find it hard to meet people with my limited French language skills. I'm hoping to catch a game in the north of France to see if there is a difference!
Combining a passion for travel, the desire to make a difference & a love of maps, MaggieMaps was born.
Unless otherwise noted, all prose, poetry, maps and photography posted on this blog are Copyright 2013 Maggie Maps
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