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Football Culture

Emirates Stadium, Arsenal football game

Football (or soccer for my fellow Americans) is a zealous phenomenon in England that I have yet to truly comprehend.  Red card, yellow card, equaliser, offside; these terms have made a permanent home for themselves in my vocabulary thanks to BBC Sport and Football Focus. I know that (generally speaking) people can be quite fixated with American football…in America at least, but from what I’ve witnessed, I still don’t think it compares with the fervent football lifestyle these 90-minute games can trigger in England.

To date, I’ve had the opportunity to watch three different levels of competitive football in England. To date, I have yet to see any significant difference between the dedication and hot tempers of these loyal fans regardless the tier. It’s a guarantee that no matter if I’m one of 10 women in a crowd of 500 people at a Barnet game or one of 59,652 in the stands at Emirates Stadium; extreme passion, foul words, tears and cries of joy are promised. 

Sometimes I think English football is like a religion; children support the team their parents supported, daily dedication to football fixtures is a common affair and controversy between teams will cause a frenzy of media and fan uproars.  I may not fully understand what drives such a small country to have more professional football teams within a two-mile radius of each other than movie cinemas, but I do appreciate the unity it elicits.  English football, American football, cricket or baseball, whatever the sport, whatever the level of devotion, as long as its bringing people together, I’m a fan.

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Dear Snow…

Snow in St. Albans, England

Crunching through soft snow in a borough of London is a bit like sifting over beach sand that has been roasting in the San Diego sun.  Both situations require more effort on the part of your thigh and calf muscles and as your boot (or bare foot) hit the ground, a sound similar to the munching of potato chips is relayed to your ear.  I would much rather be using my toes as a sand-filtering device than a sock and winter boot stuffer, but I do appreciate the white fluff floating down from the sky…on an occasional basis.  Within the past three weeks I’ve become very acquainted with snow in southeast England and was actually greeted with heaps of it in the capital of the Czech Republic as well.  So, I dedicate this blog to snow and why I kinda like it (sometimes). 

Snow, you dressed the historic city of Prague and all of its Christmas markets into a beautiful seasonal bliss.  Pulling on tights, a pair of leggings, three pairs of socks, a tank top, a turtle neck, a thick sweater, a triple knotted scarf, one thick headband, a pair of winter-sturdy black boots and a new coat with a gigantic hood was a daily ritual which I endured only for you.  The way that you coated the cobblestone streets and hid the tops of the Christmas tents pouring out with eager shopkeepers and holiday ornaments was magical.  The hot spiced wine my mom and I sipped while strolling the festive markets would only have been half as desirable if you hadn’t been drizzling down in light patterns.

Although, snow, you did force me into many heated souvenir shops lining the outside of Prague’s Old Town Square, but looking back I didn’t mind so much.  When the snowflakes stopped you allowed me to take some fantastic pictures of Charles Bridge and marching across the historic feature in a swirl of dusty white is an unforgettable experience.  You did cause a fellow tour companion to take off her boot and socks and press a cup of hot coffee against her bare skin during a quick break, but I think she’ll forgive you.  Thank goodness for the Little Hottie Warmers that sat comfortably in my gloves and socks all day, otherwise I probably would’ve ordered some coffee for my feet too. 

Despite all of the despair you can cause commuters and travelers, you do know how to whisk the city of London into a life-size snow globe.  Although I can complain about how you trapped us in our flat by covering the roads with inches upon inches of white flakes, I can’t complain about the innocent and childish fun you provoked.  My snowball-throwing skills and Paul’s snow angel capabilities would be no where near as advanced as they are now if it weren’t for your blizzard this weekend.  The children and parents sledding down the hill off Barnet High Street and the smiley faces imbedded into the white fluff piled upon our neighbors’ cars wouldn’t have occurred without you.   

So snow, although in most situations I’d prefer to trip over patches of sun-burnt sand than skid over your icy sidewalks, I still appreciate your ability to turn Prague and London into beautiful winter masterpieces.

Why Ello, Autumn

Autumn in London, England

I made it. I’ve said goodbye to my customarily sunny and 70-degree winter days in Arizona and swapped them in for a little rain, some gray clouds and my British love.  Forget driving on the right side of the road.  Now I’m swiping my Oyster card for a left-sided journey on a double-decker bus and watching in awe as my kindling for breakfast tea reignites itself.  I’ve made it to London, England.  I’m back and excited to enjoy new and brilliant adventures!

Although my white Adidas have only been planted on this island for about a week, so far my most commendable adventure has involved readjusting to English time.  Initially, my brain refused to let me roll out of bed any earlier than 1:00pm but thankfully, it has permitted me to see the clock flash 10:30am since Friday. Finally!  My excessive amount of free time has allowed me plenty of opportunity to stroll around my London neighborhood.  It’s a tad chilly but I don’t mind throwing on a coat when it includes a free showing of in-person, vivid and amazing fall colors.  I love Arizona but having only been exposed to two seasons for the past 20 something years, (a hot summer and a cold summer) has deprived me of a little period most people like to call, autumn.  Vibrant yellows, oranges and cranberry reds really do exist.  (Difficult to comprehend for an Arizona girl, although there is no denying I will miss the cacti which adorn South Mountain all year long!)  November colors splash the trees in the countryside and paint the streets with their leaves…and I love it.

Though, not all is chipper in fall country.  This may seem strange and it may seem out of the ordinary for an individual who normally relishes her leisure time but I miss, (big) gulps, working.  I miss my structured routine of cruising up to the office at a cool 5:45am and earning my wages every weekday until 2:45.  Weird, but I miss going to bed knowing that I’d be sifting through resumes and interviewing Mr. or Mrs. PhD for a faculty position the next day.  I liked having my routine.  But then again, I didn’t.  As I sit here on the other side of the world, it seems as if I was in “schedule heaven” knowing that I’d wake up to my daily rituals and a regular paycheck.  Conversely, if I actually force myself to flashback three weeks ago, I couldn’t wait to rid myself of an 8:30pm bedtime and live the life of leisure…in London!  So in the end, I think it’s safe to sum up my seesaw thoughts to human nature and that ingenious quote about the grass always being greener on the other side or something like that. However, I’m keen to bet £ 100 that once I find my niche and break back into schedule heaven (English style, of course) these thoughts will disperse.  Now I just need to fall into a new and brilliant agenda…fingers crossed that I find just that!

Palm Springs

Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs, California is no stranger to heat.  Summertime temperatures in the desert valley soar higher than any others I’ve ever encountered…and I hate to say it, but this includes my hometown of Phoenix.  The overpowering San Jacinto Mountains which sit snugly against the west side of the city intensify the heat with their rocky, barren exterior.  Local sandwich shops that are buzzing with people during the tolerable fall and winter months are bolted closed, plastered with signs advising customers to return in the middle of September.  And let us not forget the raucous murmurs of locus which assault your eardrums whenever you step outside. 

Yet somehow, the quiescence of Palm Springs during its brutal summer months continues to magnetically draw visitors in, including yours truly.  Let it be known that even a thermostat needle pointing to a sweltering 115-degree Fahrenheit is no match for this charming city, and a weekend visit in August would prove just that. 

The massive windmills waved us off of the I-10 toward the North Palm Springs exit and soon we were cruising down a long stretch of road in the Kalahari Desert.  Well, at least that is what it resembled to me. Where else do you see small shrubbery sporting branches that are permanently slung eastward because of the desert wind?   Exactly!  Sights of civilization crept up from beyond the horizon and suddenly we were zipping past A-frame homes which looked as if they had been spruced up from the 1970s. I then realized that Palm Spring was absolutely nothing like I had expected, but this was good.  It was better.  A retro, chic, palm-tree-dotted street with homes I half expected Mike and Carol Brady to walk out of was definitely a good start.

My boyfriend, Paul, was the official trip navigator and after a bit of investigative work utilizing a high-tech, top-notch Google map printout, he spotted our hotel.  Instead of driving up to valet as most guests tend to do, we instead opted to stretch our legs and leisurely walk up to the valet/bellman, you know, just to switch things up a bit.  Okay, I’ll admit this was purely by accident, and somehow we failed to see the obvious valet sign directly in front of the hotel and so parked the car and trudged alongside Indian Canyon Drive until we found the entrance.  If you know me and my sense of direction and observation, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The hotel lobby was tiny but sophisticated.  The hotel room was small but modern.  The hotel pool was petite but very, very cool.  The Colony Palms was a wonderful boutique hotel and definitely lived up to the Hollywood aura they strived to convey.  I couldn’t shake this feeling that the paparazzi were going to jump out from one of the sculptured water fountains and snap away.  And the fact that cool jazz was rocking the speakers out at the pool is enough to throw anyone into a frenzy of hotel happiness.     

So needless to say, our accommodation in Palm Springs was certainly suitable.  The same goes for our three-course dinner at the Falls Steakhouse that evening.  Then again, when isn’t a meal of ice cold salad with bleu cheese, salmon served on a block and scrumptious ice cream for dessert suitable?  After our $120 dinner bill came and went, we took some time to become acquainted with downtown Palm Springs and strolled along the star-studded sidewalks.  The evening was warm and I was tired from driving but keeping with the theme, it was definitely the most suitable way to meet the city.     

After a lazy morning at the very, very cool pool, we decided to brave the heat and check out Paul’s old stomping grounds; Smoke Tree Ranch Resort.  I was impressed by the fact that we had to make an appointment to even enter the place so I’m sure you can imagine what I thought of the guest homes and cottages.  Private roadways led up to homes which effortlessly blended into the cactus scenery.  Apparently, the Ford family (as in I want to buy a Ford Explorer) has a place in this secluded resort as well…that says enough.  We finished off the afternoon with a daytime visit to downtown and inhaled a California Club pizza at CPK before swallowing up a movie in nearby Rancho Mirage.

The following morning we again jammed out to some tunes by the pool (my favorite pastime in the desert) and then headed to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.  The road to the tramway is built on such an incline that my automatic Integra decided to it’d be fun to switch between 3rd and 4th gear more times than I could count.  Once we were parked (pratically vertical) on the edge of the San Jacinto Mountains, we put our calves to work and slogged up the pavement to the entrance.  This is the largest rotating aerial tramway in the world and during the 10-minute ride up the mountainside, you and a possible 79 other passengers will travel up 8,516 feet.  Just hearing the phrase, “in the world” always sends a little tremble through my body, especially with regards to a moving object (i.e. I’ve experienced the 3rd largest steel roller coaster “in the world” and I now have no desire to test out the 1st!).  Witnessing the dangling tramcars hoist up a mob of people was not easing my anxiety.  I was tempted to run back to the safety of my car when I saw a 4-year-old boy dragging his elderly grandmother to get in line for the next one.  You better believe I wasn’t going to let them show me up!

“Sorry folks, we’re experiencing a power outage and at this time, I’m not sure when we’ll get moving again.”  Not the words a claustrophobic, anxiety-prone, acrophobic wants to hear 7,000 feet up the mountain. At that moment I was definitely wishing I had let the kid and his nana show me up.  Even Paul, as calm and collected as he always is, turned toward me with an “I don’t like this one bit” gaze.  And I, as worried and uptight as I always am, frantically dug around my purse for a .25 MG tablet of Alprazolam to ease the pain.  Thankfully, the moans and unsettled looks on our fellow travelers’ faces melted away as the car shakily began to make its way up the ropes again.  Once on level ground I was overjoyed to not only see beautiful pine trees and woodlands but to be out of the rotating ride. 

The views of Palm Springs were spectacular and I realized our death-defying adventure up to the top was worth it.  A crisp breeze slithered through the pines and it amazed me that just 10 minutes earlier we were fanning ourselves with the tramway brochures.  Promenading in 115-degree heat through a stylish downtown district or a kicking up pine needles in a brisk 72 degrees, either way I certainly enjoyed my visit to this California desert valley.

The T Word

Byodu In Temple, Hawaii

Do you know what makes me happy? Travel. I hear mention of the world travel, glimpse a photograph of a complete stranger grinning in front of the Great Wall of China or even think about visiting cheaptickets.com and my heart will literally jump. I open up my e-mail inbox and I’m greeted by daily specials from tour operators, travel agencies and city tourism bureaus. Yes, I want to keep my Eye on Prague and yes, I want to sign up for next summer’s Books to Bricks project in Costa Rica….I want to do it all! I’ll say (or write, if you will) it again: Travel. Yes, my heart just skipped another beat! Is this type of fanatical reaction to the slightest sight, smell, taste, touch or hear of travel…eccentric? At first thought I’d argue yes, but to be honest, I don’t think I’m alone here.

Exhibit one: my dear friend and former colleague (for the sake of privacy, we’ll refer to her as “World Traveler 1”) who not only embellished her resume with two university degrees in the realm of tourism but also managed to visit over 30 countries while reaping a comfortable remuneration. That’s right, World Traveler 1, escorted eager groups of people on Mediterranean cruises, tours of Russia and treks throughout Cambodia…as, and I’m not making this up…a job! After years of “working” around the globe, she then “settled” in Arizona and made it a point to visit a new city, country or continent every other weekend while spending her weekdays organizing group travel for a Phoenix tour operator. Did I also mention that she taught younger tourism hopefuls at a local community college every Tuesday and Thursday evening? I think it’s safe to say my friend, World Traveler 1, is no stranger to the fanatical heart-beating rush often induced by this prestigious blog theme.

Exhibit two: my dear friend and German native (“World Traveler 2”) who by the age of 25 squeezed in month-long visits to more countries than I care to count, studied in Europe and worked in America. She is now planning to work abroad in Canada and she turns 26 years old next April. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s conducting safari tours in Kenya at the ripe old age of 28. The number of photo albums and carefully constructed scrapbooks sitting on her shelf can be compared to that of a Barbara Cartland novel collection, plentiful to say the least. Again, I’m obliged to think that World Traveler 1 and 2 have shared in my eccentric excitement at the very idea of such voyages.

Now on to the thought-provoking conclusion of this blog: Explore, dance, cook, write, relax, scuba dive, ski, hike, study, work, people watch…whatever it is that entices us travel fanatics, we need to keep it up! With so many beautiful countries and cultures to discover and so many beautiful and intriguing people to encounter, it’s no wonder I’m not alone in my quest. I know my bank account (like many others) may not always support my intermittent and costly Houdini escapes to exotic islands of paradise but I will certainly try and in the meantime, a day trip here and there will suffice. Do you know why? Because travel makes me happy!

Harmony in the Desert

June 15 marks the official start day of Arizona’s beloved monsoon.   I have yet to meet an Arizonan who doesn’t relish these overpowering thunderstorms, even if it means they will spend the next morning clearing dried fronds off of their car.  Monsoon storms add undeniable character to Arizona’s withering 110-degree summer months and whether we realize it or not, they never fail to light up the state with an intrinsic display of unity.    

One night while I was out walking my overzealous Chihuahua, hoping to catch a glimpse of some ‘monsoonesque’ weather, I stumbled upon an intriguingly random conversation.   

“C’mon man, it’s like the Coliseum in Rome or even better, that Christ statue in that Brazilian country…” I heard a young boy screech as he wheeled his bike around the street in figure eights. 

“Yeah, I know what you’re talking about, you’re exactly right, it’s like those ancient pyramids,” replied the husky shadow of a teenage boy as he leaned back comfortably atop the hood of a car.

“OH DUDE! Did you see that?!”  I glimpsed the young boy point heartily at the night sky as my eye caught whim of a puff of yellow radiance illuminating the clouds staunched above the Superstition Mountains.   

My head reactively shot left in an attempt to witness more of this extraordinary occurrence, the eye-popping, majestic and awe-inspiring occurrence of…heat lightening?  This young boy interrupted my eavesdropping on a profound conversation of primitive Roman ruins, iconic statues and world wonders to point out a lick of…heat lightening?

Yes he did, and I didn’t blame him.  Although I was curious to hear where their dialogue was going, the excitement shared by these boys, excitement over a mere fleck of light in the distant sky which may seem peculiar to most is all too common here.  This is in fact what unites us desert dwellers!  To be honest, I secretly wanted to join in on the boys’ enlivening conversation with a “DUDE, I totally just saw that too, it was awesome!”  However, in order to avoid personal embarrassment, I instead opted to restrain my capricious enthusiasm and continued to walk my dog across the street.     

It may seem like a measly glimmer of lightening to the untrained eye but any true Arizonan knows it is the start of many more impressive nature shows to come.  If my theory is correct, then the neighboring residents of 5923 are also true, first-rate Arizonans as they toppled out of their front door, heads to the sky, at the first crack of thunder! 

Giddy, I ran inside, dragging along my stubborn Chihuahua and immediately did what everyone does in a moment of supreme ecstasy; updated my Facebook status.  “I’m loving this thunderstorm!  Arizona monsoon, oh how I have missed thee!”   Dramatic, maybe a tad, but again, this is what makes or breaks summers in the Grand Canyon State.  A summer without a monsoon is like a pizza without the pepperoni…sure, you’re going to enjoy that pizza regardless but the pep is what adds that extra spice. 

I switched on the television and nodded in agreement as meteorologist Royal Norman excitedly informed me and the rest of his 3TV News viewers that tonight’s big story was a thunderstorm in the East Valley.   They planned to provide coverage all night on this breaking development.  It doesn’t take a genius to guess how the front page of tomorrow’s Arizona Republic would read.

The next morning as I opened my front door and headed to work I was hit smack in the face with an overwhelming envelope of humidity.  Although rare in these parts, humidity is unfortunately, the annoying kid brother that always accompanies an Arizona monsoon.  In order to make it to the comfortable, air-conditioned ventilation awaiting me behind the closed doors of my Acura, I had to hold my breath and push my way through a bubble of invisible moisture, much like a frantic child who is trying to push their way through one of those play land ball pits.  Safely inside my cool, crisp car and headed to work, I mapped out the quickest route from the parking garage to the inside of my air conditioned office.  Done.  Once I was successfully seated inside my air conditioned office, I immediately joined in on the conversation stirring around my desk.

“Did it rain at your place?  I heard there was rain and thunder over by my friend in Mesa…” a brown-haired girl began to explain.

“Well, it didn’t rain at my house but I did see lightening and the thunder was rattling my window!” I replied.

“Oh yeah, me too,” chirped in my bubbly friend Gina, “I love this time of year!”

To my delight, this harmonious conversation continued for another 20 minutes before anyone made a productive attempt to focus on their work.  Finally, after wading through eight hours of portentous clouds teasing us on and off with small droplets of water and a little of bit of ‘work’ thrown in the mix, I made it back home.

I was greeted by a mad Chihuahua who forcefully demanded his daily “W” (correlation: “walk”) with a rhythmic series of annoying barks.  Reluctantly, I strapped on his red leash and braced myself for that wave of infamous stickiness.  (Despite my obvious disdain for humidity, I should mention that it’s only a small price to pay for the gloriousness of a monsoon.)   We stepped outside and immediately my hostility toward the clammy heat was ripped away as I caught sight of an orange sky lingering with storm clouds.  And so it begins again…and all I have to say is, “DUDE! This weather is AWESOME!”

Berlin…in 400 words

Reichstag

I was told that the best way to experience Berlin, Germany is to jump in feet first with a walking tour of the city.  When I was told about a free walking tour by Sandemans New Berlin, the budget-conscious traveler in me immediately set aside the next 3.5 hours of my four-day visit.  I prepared my brain (and feet) for an amazing introduction into the hidden gems of this urbane city.  

Fortunately, I quickly learned to master the color-coded jungle which brands Berlin’s public transportation system of U-Bahns and S-Bahns.  After successfully navigating my way to Zoologischer Garten, I was greeted by a Dutch family of three, a retired couple from California, a backpacker from Brazil and one very energetic and happy tour guide in a bright red shirt.  His name was George and he really liked to talk.  

First history lesson of the day took place at the base of what was once a city entryway and now one of the most distinguished symbols of Germany; Brandenburg Gate.  George impressively squeezed a detailed, pre-Napoleon to present day account of the city’s time line into a span of about 10 minutes.  Despite the misty drizzle that had begun to gather into puddles on our jackets, we began our trek, admired the massive glass dome which sits atop the Reichstag (Germany’s parliament building) and listened intently as George described the building’s brush with arson in 1933. 

We continued our march, this time alongside a small lining of bricks left sandwiched between the busy streets, bricks that are remains of what once divided family and loves ones; the Berlin Wall. Following this path we couldn’t help but stare astonished as we approached the striking concrete slabs (steles) which compose the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  The memorial resembles a histogram of uneven, grey blocks, many of which tower ominously over your head.  

George continued to fuel our excursion with bouts of knowledge and personal stories as he pointed out parking lots (one the site of Hitler’s former bunker), buildings (one the former SS Headquarters) and camouflaged glass monuments (Book Burning Memorial in Bebelplatz) which I would have completely disregarded otherwise.  In fact, when I returned that afternoon to share my new found knowledge and appreciation of Berlin with my local, German friend, she prepared to set aside the next 3.5 hours of the following day for this wonderful sauntering experience.