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!
After 2 weeks of traveling in Ireland with the soccer team it was time to say goodbye. I had no real direction, 4 weeks, and my budget was running low. Over the past year I was lucky to meet many wonderful Europeans, however, and I had a few people I'd love to see. Having never been to southern France, I chose Bidart, France to visit a friend I had met in Mauritius. The flight from Dublin to Biarritz was only a few hours and 75 Euro on Ryan Air. My friend greeted me at the airport in her cute little convertible and off we went! The sunshine and warmth was a welcome change from the cold, rainy day I left behind in Ireland. Upon arrival I learn I am not in France, nor am I in Spain... "Maggie, you are in BASQUE!" Ooh lalaaaa! Here we go! Merci!
With no concrete itinerary for the month, I decide to travel with the World Cup. My goal is to see games in the country that is playing and enjoy the native excitement. Ole! First up? Spain vs. Netherlands. Three of us traveled down the Basque coast to Irún, Spain to catch the match. What a gorgeous coast - cliffs, blue water, and winding roads. After crossing the French border into Spain, you can see and feel the difference. No more white buildings with red roofs - something a bit spicier is in the air! We find a packed pub in the center of town for the first part of the match. When Alonso scores the first goal for Spain, the entire pub went wild. Infectious excitement! We rode the cheers to a neighboring restaurant for some tapas. The tapas are amazing, but the locals are not looking happy in the 44th minute when Holland's van Persie puts one in! Tapas bar #3 - Score is now 3 to 1 and we find 3 French folks cheering loudly for the Netherlands. Well, I guess it was good for them that we were in Basque because the local Spaniards didn't seem too angry. It was 5 to 1 by the end... a big upset. There were no fireworks in the square that night, but I'm sure the folks in the Netherlands partied all night long! We headed back to Bidart with higher hopes for the French team.
Spain Goals: Xabi Alonso (#14) 27'
Holland Goals: Robin van Persie (#9) 44', 72' / Arjen Robben (#11) 53', 80' / Stefan de Vrij (#3) 65'
Since I've been back, I get asked... What was your favorite spot? Where would you return? A difficult question to answer; each time I consider anew. One place that I can say without a doubt is New Orleans, Louisiana. I have a massive crush on the Crescent City, and it has only grown over the years. My first trip to the Big Easy was in 2008 after the passing of a favorite Uncle. He organized trips every other year to the New Orleans Jazz Fest for the Penrose Ferry Men's Association, a social club he helped found. My cousins suggested we go in his memory, and a great group of women came together to make it happen. We had an amazing trip, and I promised to try my best to return every year to that special place.
Six years later I have been six times, missing only 1 year. Needless to say, when I made the decision to come back to the US my timing was dependent upon 3 main events: my cousin's wedding, my college roommate's wedding, and Jazz Fest. Lucky for me, the timing couldn't have been better. I could fly LAX to Boston for wedding #1, Boston to New Orleans for the 2nd weekend of Jazz Fest, and still get back to Philadelphia in time for wedding #2. My travels were far from over!
For those of you who haven't been to New Orleans, I urge you - GO! Those music lovers who haven't been? Go during Jazz Fest! You can enjoy music nearly 24 hours a day during Jazz Fest and many international acts are in town. I tend to spend a great deal of time hanging out on Frenchman Street as well, home to many of the city's live music venues and where you can usually find a brass band performing on the street.
This was my first year traveling solo to Jazz Fest, but I was excited to have the freedom to wander a bit. I flew in and took the public bus down to the Convention Center, where I switched buses and headed towards my AirBNB. I got off bus #2 around dusk and headed up the street with my pack when a tall, intimidating man stops me and says "What are you doing around here? You shouldn't be here - it's a dangerous neighborhood!" Not the start I was hoping for! I make my way up the street and find the key waiting for me, as promised. I enter the home of my host and no one is there. I was a bit shaken by the man, and did not get the best of vibes in my newest home. It was a messy shotgun house, and the bed was in the middle room with no privacy. My gut said - leave! I called a friend in Baton Rouge to ask his advice, and within a few minutes he hooked me up with 2 of his friends that were willing to host me for the week. I hopped in a taxi and headed to the Chart Room in the French Quarter to meet them. A smiling New Orleanian #1 greeted me and handed me an Abita, and New Orleanian #2 introduced me to everyone at his table. Life had gotten exponentially better! They both lived Uptown in great places. Over that week I was shown the best hospitality and welcomed into their lives with open arms. I will be forever grateful!
Wednesday night there was music on the square, this year featuring Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormans. I ran into some of the Baltimore music crew here, and then headed off to a private party to hear Trombone Shorty. My night continued with Honey Island Swamp Band, Cris Jacobs Band, and DJ Williams Projekt at the Little Gem Saloon - what a night. I met R#2, someone I would be lucky to reconnect with throughout the week, and hung out with a big crew of music friends. I ended the night at One Eyed Jacks, but Checkpoint Charlies is also a good option :) A great start to a music-filled weekend!
The 2nd weekend of Jazz Fest is 4 days of music that can last from 11am until 6am (if you have the stamina!). Perma-grin starts as soon as you walk through the gates - there is nothing that compares to that Jazz Fest vibe! Each day was full of great music. Thursday I rode bikes to the Fairgrounds with my new friends - a gorgeous day. We heard Dirty Dozen Brass Band, The Wailers, String Cheese Incident, and wonderful sounds just walking around the track. I ran into R#2, and met his three other wonderful friends who welcomed me into their JF camp with open arms. Festival day was followed by the 10th Anniversary party for Krewe De Blender - a fun group of fest goers that carry a disco blender flag. Costumes were encouraged, and my new group of friends did not disappoint!
Friday New Oreleanians #1 & #3 and I biked over to Fiya Fest - music festival / crawfish boil / benefit for the Roots of Music. We feasted on crawfish & local beer by the river and heard great music. Marco Benevento, Mike Dillon Band, DJ Logic, a local marching band, and even more. Part 2 was a riverboat cruise with even more music. This City doesn't stop!!
Saturday was a day at the Fairgrounds (did I mention you need stamina for this?!). I headed over with my friend (and recent savior) from Baton Rouge. We began the day in the Gospel tent, and it just got better from there. Fais Do Do, Head and the Heart, and a long set from Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band with a visit from John Fogarty- a definite highlight of my Jazz Fest. I was once again welcomed in by R#1, R#2 and crew, where I was spoiled with plenty of dancing room most of the day. Very important with those guys! R#1 also took me to the First Aid tent to tend to my busted big toe, and held my hand while the doctors "operated". So nice, and it turned out to be a great move before dancing in all of that dust!! I cannot wait to see this group again next year. An early night ensured a little stamina for the rest of my stay!
Baton Rouge and I started our Sunday early, and had time to enjoy a bloody mary at Liuzza's. YUM! Once inside we began with the Gospel Tent, a lemonade, and crawfish ettouffe. The food at the Fairgrounds is amazing, and I suggest trying it all - especially if the word 'crawfish' is involved! We followed that with Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes (featuring John Gros on french horn?!), George Porter, Jr., Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk, Arcade Fire, & John Fogarty - of course with some parades, snacks, and sounds sprinkled in. I filled my soul with music nearly 24/7, and it was magic. That night I ended up at DBA for Stanton Moore, where I ran into more old friends and also met Alabama #1 - another musical soul I have a feeling I'll see next year at the Fest! Be forewarned - 6 days in Nola feels like a month, and you likely trade a year of your life, but it is totally worth it and you will return home with a smile in your heart! I cannot wait to go back, and hope to be able to return all of the love and hospitality I was shown by new friends and old. I love you New Orleans :)
After 28 hours - mostly in the air - I land at LAX, retrieve my mobile home, and make it through customs. I am greeted by my younger sister, and it is one of the best hugs I've had in a long time. It is utter confusion as we pull out into LA traffic - I keep thinking she's on the wrong side of the road, there is a ton of traffic, and I'm in a time warp delirium and barely able to communicate. Culture shock, jet lag, and 8 months out of the US could explain some of it! Add to that a phone call from a parental unit inquiring about where I'm going to live and I'm ready to turn in! The next day we head back to LAX from Burbank to pick up my older sister - we are reunited and it feels so good! It's off to Santa Monica to meet up with an old friend from high school and we head out to cure one of my largest cravings of the trip - margaritas and guacamole! Great day catching up and enjoying delicious things - the weather is perfect & the company can't be beat.
The next day we drove up to Santa Barbara for Easter dinner with my LA sister's friends. It is a beautiful house overlooking Santa Barbara Bay and we are given a very warm welcome and a reallllly comfortable bed. We decide to explore SB on bikes, and it is excruciating with all of the hills and my travel-atrophied muscles! It is a great little town, and we came across some natural areas, a craft market, and nice people. We make it back in time for a delicious Easter dinner, however! It's tough to leave, but we head back to LA on our way to San Diego - a sister cottage in Ocean Beach is waiting! I love OB, and we were able to relax on the beach for a few days. The water was freezing, but in I went :) Had to wake up those cells! Great sister time with dinner at our cottage, tapas at The Joint, taco Tuesday at a local... I even went to my first movie of the year - Captain America at one of those fancy theatres where you can sit in a comfy recliner! I had a feeling it would take a while to readjust to being home, but it was a great five days spent with sisters, and a perfect welcome back to the US. We ended with sunset drinks back in LA at the harbor - pelicans included! Next it was off to Plymouth, Massachusetts for a wedding... East coast here I come!
The Great Ocean Road has been a must-see for me for a while, and that is where we headed when the skies cleared. What a gorgeous, wild coast down to the 12 Apostles! We spent the night at Surfside Backpackers in Apollo Bay. It was so homey I felt like I was visiting my grandmother. Clean, cozy, dated... Perfect. They even had a resident (wild) koala. We got down to the Apostles in plenty of time to enjoy their magnificence, along with a few other awesome coastal overlooks.
After a tour of the coast it was back to Melbourne for an Australian Rules Footy match at MCG. Richmond Tigers vs. Collingswood Magpies - It was 96 to 67 (or something), but really I was interested in the uniforms, watching Aussie fans, and tasting the Carlton draught. Successful night at MCG :) We were staying with an Ambo friend in Geelong so we decided to head down to Torquay for some surfing & live music - the 2014 Rip Curl Pro was in town! Great crew of people and the singer had a beautiful voice. On our way back we stopped in downtown Geelong with some new friends and went to play a few games of pool. After just 2 games, we decided to call it a night and returned to the car to find the surfboard and all of our fishing rods gone. Talk about a bummer... Bugger that!
Our last day on the road was spent flying kites in Bells Beach, watching the pros, and checking out the surf outlets - our losses of the previous night forgotten. Our plans to camp on the way back to Sydney were rained out, so we drove the entire 850km straight through over about 11 hours. I don't recommend this - there are kangaroos out there and they will jump in your path! Plus, the temptation of Magnum ice cream bars and grapefruit soda is very high after the first 8 hours, and the resulting sugar high could make you crazy! We did make it back physically unscathed, but our mental states were questionable!
I spent my final day in Australia checking out downtown Sydney - and it just so happened Will & Kate were also in town. Yes, it was very crowded by the Opera House. I got to reunite with an old friend from my time at University of Queensland, and after saying goodbye to Aussie #1 he took me out to show me his Sydney. Fun town, but the 28 hour trip home was weighing on my mind a bit, so it was a short tour! I was headed back to the US after all this time, and I was going to have plenty of time on airplanes for some reflection. It was a grueling 11 hours to Seoul, Korea followed by a 4 hour layover, and another 11 hours to LAX... And I got back in the same day!? At the end of the rainbow my sisters were waiting, so US here I come!
The flight to Sydney was what you'd expect - looong. Even coming from Kuala Lumpur it feels like you are truly going 'down under'. But it was all worth it when I walked out to the lobby and a smiling Aussie #1 was waiting! Nothing like getting picked up at the airport by a friend! It's great to reunite, and I was immediately ushered off to an "Ambo" bar in Penrith to get my first dose Aussie culture. Wow - what a place! It was a theme for my time in Oz - Aussie #1 is a paramedic (Ambo), and knows them all over the country. That weekend I was also invited to an Ambo engagement party in Magras Hill. I got to dress up for the first time in a while, and it was great to feel like a lady!
Aussie #1 has time off, so we decided to the coast and camp all the way to the Great Ocean Road. The weather wasn't looking promising, but we packed the car with tents, toys, and plenty of food and hoped for the best. Our first night was spent camping at Brou Lake and fishing in the Tasman Sea. The rains came, and we stuck it out but caught nothing. I woke up freezing to a soggy campsite - I would have to invest in some pants and a few more layers! Aussie #1 had friends in Moruya, so we headed that direction for lunch and my first western food in a while! We even bought cheese from Bodalla (mmmm), a local dairy. That night we camped in Cape Conrad, where there was more fishing (and the “big one” seaweed scare) and sightings of possum, potoroo, wallaby, kookubura, magpie, seal, and PELICAN! More rain, however, and the forecast was not favorable for the coming week.
Day 3 we made it to Melbourne, and it was still raining. So much for this camping road trip! We sucked it up and stayed in the largest backpackers I've ever seen. I felt like a sock in a drawer, but it was at least a warm drawer! Aussie #1 and I toured the city in the rain, had awesome burritos (yay!), and went on a live music hunt. Melbourne is a great city - lots of people, multicultural, tons going on. There was a slice of sun in the forecast, however, so we cut our time in the city a bit short. It was time to head to the Great Ocean Road for the 12 Apostles!
It's a late arrival back to KL, but I manage to catch a bus to Chinatown, picking up 2 wayward Russians in my path. At 3am we arrive to a sleeping Chinatown and are forced to wake up the proprietor of the Birdnest Guesthouse. Lucky for the Russians he has some beds. I was up early to find the Gleneagle Hospital. It's on the bus line, so I head east. The place was humming and I waited a while despite having an appointment. I saw the doctor and they sent me away with a prescription for the Rabies shot. I walked next door, waited to buy the shot, and headed back to the other waiting room. I'm back with the nurse, and the injection is quick (but not painless!). Finally my rabies adventure is finished. Malaysia health care is a bit pricier, and this time the visit costs $235. One expensive monkey! It was a rainy day, so I hit the Central Market, and my favorite food stalls in Chinatown for curry laksa and coffee. There were a bunch of Aussies at the Bird's Nest that helped me prepare for my next 2 weeks... an adventure in Oz!
Friend: "I love the term rucksack. Sounds very primitive and pioneering."
Me: "That's pretty much how I feel at 11pm walking down a street full of tourists, neon, ladyboys, pole dancers, ping pong show pushers, and drunk Australians. Primitive and pioneering."
We moved onto Patong from Phrang Nga via two buses and some wandering with our rucksacks through Patong's hot, crowded streets. The city is built up and full of tourists. I am already missing the peaceful beach of yesterday and that delicious papaya salad. We settle into our guest house, which is a bit off of the a main drag, and head out into the madness. Had dinner with some friends of Czech #1 and finally had a little Pad Thai. Just okay, but the watermelon shake was delicious. We attempted some shopping and I had some major negotiation fails so I went away empty handed - probably for the best! The walk down Bangla Road (main party drag) left me ready to hit the Family Mart and run back to the room. The next day we rented a motorbike and escaped to the end of the peninsula. We found Na Harn beach and enjoyed our last meal watching some boats come and go in the harbor. Unless you are into the total party scene, I would recommend moving a bit south of Patong - much better vibes.
Back in Phuket for my bus to the airport - a warm goodbye with Czech #1 and I was headed back to KL for injection number 4 - oh the excitement!
Combining a passion for travel, the desire to make a difference and a love of maps, MaggieMaps was born. A place to share stories, resources, and a way to inspire and support others in realizing their individual travel dreams.
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Unless otherwise noted, all prose, poetry, maps and photography posted on this blog are Copyright 2013 Maggie Maps
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