6/25/14

Lazy mornings were totally our thing in Brazil. Our awesome thing. We didn’t rush out of the hotel for anything but games, which is just as a World Cup vacation should be. (And somewhat different than how we World Cup vacationed in South Africa. Live and learn.)

We were exceptionally lazy that morning, because that long trip to Natal? That was exhausting. So we were content to be extra lazy, catching up on the world via our iPads and reading our depressing young adult literature. (Both Lauren and Katie read The Fault in Our Stars while in Brazil.)

The calendar was catching up to Alyson, who was flying home earlier than Lauren and Katie. As a result, there was a mission-based hike up the hill and into Olinda. Mission: shopping. Lauren came along for reinforcement. (Katie did something practical like shower.) After obtaining the requisite souvenirs (Brazilian flip flops, a painting, jewelry, magnets, trinkets, tsotchkes, etc.) and running into our Irish-Australian bus companions from the previous day (who were obviously taking our suggestion to visit Olinda because we’re awesome saleswomen), we stopped so that Lauren could bond with another fruit ninja.

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Yes, they may look friendly in this photo but Lauren and this fruit ninja did not have the chemistry that she shared with her other fruit ninja friend. It might be generational.

Upon arriving back to the hotel, we wrangled up one Miss Katie and our fellow Midwesterners and headed over to our favorite bar on the corner. It was absolutely packed with World Cup tourists but we managed to grab a table. We watched the Argentina-Nigeria match and drank caipirinhas and felt happy.

Then we turned around and found two more of our Natal bus companions, who were also in Olinda at our suggestion. Seriously. Olinda Tourism Bureau: we would like our cut.

Following the match, Lauren, Katie and I ditched the dudes to get lunch at the creperie. Then, halfway through our meal, they showed up. Apparently the corner bar was closing. Which: absurd. The place was packed. Turning away customers! Crazy.

So, instead of heading back to the corner bar to continue our soccer-watching marathon, we wrapped up our lunch of crepes, and followed the guys up one of Olinda’s infamous hills to a Spanish restaurant. We ate paella. We watched Ecuador/France. We did a healthy number of tequila shots. We formulated a plan to go to the mall, in a state that can be best described as mildly drunk, to pick up a pair of R16 tickets. We drank some more.

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And then we went to the mall. Five of us, crammed (potentially illegally) in a cab, drunk and in search of tickets and also face paint.

Red, white and blue face paint. Obviously.

We got the tickets. We got some paint that may or may not have been safe for faces but was definitely red, white and blue. We got gelato. We mostly sobered up. We got into this big ordeal attempting to get a cab back to Olinda because, well, the squeezing five passengers into a cab was a little less potentially illegal than it was outright illegal.

Details, details.

(Details one cab driver was willing to overlook, as it was.)

We got back to our hotel. We parted ways with our fellow Midwesterners after making face painting, hair styling, gaudy Americana plans for early the next morning.

The morning of USA/Germany.

The wait was nearly over.

6/24/14

Tuesday was the day on our trip that required the most planning. It also ended up being the most annoying day of our trip.

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We made our one and only trip to Natal, about four hours from where we were staying in Olinda, to see Italy and Uruguay play their third game in the group stage.

During the planning process, arranging our trip to Natal turned out to be mildly challenging. The game had a 1:00 pm start and bus routes that run between Recife and Olinda would be agonizingly tight. With all the traffic that the World Cup brings, it was a risky proposition.

For a long time, our options seemed limited to renting a car (which may or may not have been impossible, with the demand for rentals brought on by the World Cup) or taking an overnight bus from Recife to Natal. An overnight bus that we would have to get on a few hours after the conclusion of the Mexico/Croatia match. It sounded fairly awful.

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We cursed it at the time but, it was a blessing in disguise that foreigners can’t buy Brazilian bus tickets online. Unable to secure bus tickets, we kept searching around. Eventually, we found a group of fans travelling to the matches who were planning on chartering a bus. They had three spots left and, wouldn’t you know it: there are three of us! Perfect!

We took a slight leap of faith and reserved our seats by sending money to a stranger in England via PayPal.

Far in advance of the trip, we knew that we were in the minority. We were the lone women on our journey, which also featured three Irish men who lived in Australia, four American men from Iowa, three English men who lived in Portland and another two English men who actually lived in England.

There might have been one or two occasions when our bus companions were referred to as a “buffet of men.”

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On Tuesday morning, we were set to meet our bus at 6:45 am in Recife. We got up extra, extra early — leaving enough time for breakfast, even — and set off to find a taxi with the address in our hands. We hadn’t had any problems with the taxis to that point so, leaving 45 minutes for a 15 minute taxi ride seemed generous.

Wrong.

Comically wrong.

Getting to the bus involved showing the taxi driver the address, then showing every taxi driver at the taxi stand the address. It was early. There were three or four other taxi drivers who also had no idea where we were going.

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They discussed it. We attempted to pull up the address on the phone. There was a mad dash to the hotel. We finally got in the cab. Our driver was doing that thing where you hit the break at every intersection because you’re not sure where you were supposed to be turning.

And it kept getting later. And later. And later.

And then it was 6:45. And 6:50 and we’re wondering if our bus is going to leave us and, if it does, how we’re going to get to Natal.

And, somewhere in there, our British bus organizer placed a call to Michigan, which we had listed as our last-resort contact information and freaked out Jayne and Danny.

(We talked to them shortly thereafter and assured them that we were just having a hard time getting to our bus. Apparently this wasn’t enough, as we received panicked text messages and voicemails a few hours later.)

It was just before 7:00 am when we pulled up to our meeting place and sheepishly met all of our traveling companions. Nothing like being the only women and filling every late/directionally-challenged woman stereotype out there.

There was a lot of profuse apologizing and then we were on our way.

Lauren and Katie slept for 95% of the drive to Natal.

Alyson was trapped beside a dentist who did not stop talking. Ever. Not for a minute. He talked and talked and talked and did I mention that she was also trapped in the tiny seat at the front of the bus, wedged between the driver and the talking dentist?

Four hours have never gone so slowly.

But we made it to Natal. On time. Thank goodness. What if we missed kickoff by 15 minutes? Oh, that would have been just awful.

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The match was a do-or-die situation for both Italy and Uruguay. Whoever won would move on in their group. We dressed in Uruguay gear because we had been such bad luck for Italy but, alas, even that couldn’t turn the tide for Italy. Uruguay won the match, 1-0, on a goal in the 81st minute.

But the most memorable part of the match was one that we weren’t quite sure that we had seen: when Luis Suarez bit an Italian defender. There was a big ruckus on the field and we could see the Italian pulling down his shirt to show the referee something on his skin but: no. It couldn’t be!

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Those of you watching at home probably knew pretty quickly that Suarez was back to his old tricks. (Biting is a longstanding problem with Suarez.) We had no idea. In fact, it wasn’t until our ride home until one of the guys caught up the news and confirmed The Biting.

Suarez was suspended for the duration of the tournament shortly thereafter. (It’s a shame he can’t control his jaw, as he’s a very talented player.) And now when we tell people about the matches we attended — that’s what people always ask “what games did you see?” — we can explain that Italy/Uruguay featured The Biting. It always brings quite the reaction.

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After the match, we went straight back to the bus. Straight back. Katie stopped for a millisecond to take a picture of a pedestrian bridge but, other than that, we went from our seats to the bus. And, for real: we were the last ones. AGAIN.

We should probably mention that our traveling companions were all exceedingly nice about our lateness that morning. They didn’t even bring up that we were the last ones to arrive, again, in the afternoon.

Then we all piled in the damn bus for another four hours. That turned into five hours. Traffic was bad and long bus trips are sort of our thing.

Not by choice.

It rained a little on our way back and do you suppose that a double rainbow is extra good luck if you’re on a bus with three Irishmen?

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We arrived back in Recife and joined all of the guys from the bus at Chica Pitanga, another one of Brazil’s many pay-by-weight restaurants (you may remember that we we ate at one at the mall on our first day in Brazil). It was delicious. And gloriously fast. Sitting on your butt for an entire day — in the taxi, on the bus, at the stadium, on the bus again — is exhausting. We didn’t hang about too long before venturing out onto the streets of Recife to head back to our hotel.

We had a hard time finding a taxi.

Figures.

6/23/14

Finally! The day that our favorite Brazilian donuts returned to the breakfast menu!

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These fried delights were at breakfast our first morning and we assumed we would be joined by them every morning but we were not. So, when they reappeared at breakfast, we were excited. There may have even been a euphoric text message notification sent from our early riser to her travel companions who were still in the room.

We were attending the 5:00 pm Mexico/Croatia game, so it wasn’t the get up/get dressed/get fed/get to the stadium rush that we’d had for the 1:00 pm start Italy/Costa Rica game.

After eating our weight in Brazilian donuts, we headed into Recife Antigo — Old Recife — to find FIFA’s Fan Fest.

There was a big to do about the Fan Fest in Recife. FIFA wanted the government to pay for it. The government didn’t want to pay for it. The location was changed. It was downsized. And, actually, when we took a cab to the Fan Fest we weren’t really all that clear on where it was. Our cab driver was approximately 93 years old (and drove like it) so eventually, we just had him drop us off and followed some people who looked like maybe they knew where they were going.

We were sidetracked when a couple jumped out of their car to get their pictures taken with the girls in the Croatia t-shirts. Maybe they thought we were Croatian?

We aren’t Croatian.

We made our way to Fan Fest just in time for it to start raining. After making a quick loop around the offerings (big screen that shows matches, a few sponsor-run activities, beer stands) we took refuge at Deltaexpresso, a coffee shop that was nearby. Bonus: free wireless. We had lunch and coffee and waited out the rain.

When the rain died down and our coffee ran out, we headed back to Fan Fest. Then it started raining again and the mall that Fan Fest was sitting beside became very, very desirable. We took a few laps, browsed in a few stores, made another attempt at watching Netherlands/Chile on the big screen (we would go outside and it would start raining, basically) before finally giving up and staking out a table next to…the ice rink.

Yes, the ice rink. Appropriate, no?

We were tempted to join the Brazilians who were stumbling around the rink but too cheap to do it, so instead we watched with equal parts horror and amusement.

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Then we met up with our fellow Midwestern misfits — the guys staying in our hotel — and we all traversed to the train station. The guys had walked from Fan Fest to the train station before, and Katie has stellar map reading skills, so we made our way to the train station without incident.

Unless you count Lauren stopping to purchase a pair of spandex shorts for $1 an incident.

But, really, it was more like a Major Life Victory.

We also dragged the guys inside the prison market (Casa da Cultura, that is) in our attempt to culture them. Also because we had a few minutes to spare.
Anyway. When we were done with all of our important shopping, we bought our tickets to the stadium and jumped on the Metro for an easy and affordable trip to Arena Pernambuco. (If any trip that consists of Metro to bus to lengthy walk can be labeled as such.) Let’s give it up for mass transit, boys and girls!

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After the typical milling about outside prior to the match, we hopped into the security line, found our section and bid the boys adieu.

To say that by choosing to support Croatia we were outnumbered is the biggest understatement of, like, ever. A Mexican we ran into at the beach the day before told us that half of Mexico was in Recife and, you guys, he was not kidding. Mexican fans were everywhere. And they were rowdy.

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Which we expected. Having attended Mexico games at the 2010 World Cup, we knew what to expect. Filthy cheers, beer showers, the works. There was a reason that we weren’t supporting Mexico and it wasn’t because we don’t appreciate a good margarita: it’s because Mexico fans are unbearable.

As a group, anyway. Individually, everyone we encountered was your run run of the mill passionate but respectful soccer fan.

The Mexico/Croatia game was each team’s third game of the group stage.
Unlike in the first two games of the group stage of World Cup matches, the third games in the stage aren’t staggered — both games in each group take place at the same time so that one game’s result doesn’t determine how the other game is played.

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Unfortunately, the Mexico/Croatia game meant that we missed the Brazil/Cameroon game that was taking place at the same time. Fortunately, the score was always very apparent. The cheering Brazilian fans who were taking in Mexico/Croatia were also tuned in to their countrymen’s match.
Mexico bested Croatia, 3-1. Which means that we were showered with beer three times over. It was very pleasant. Really added to the experience. Mexico fans, don’t change.

And while we’re not changing our offensive behavior: keep on keeping on, Croatia fans. Don’t think we didn’t see the fights in the stands.

After the match, we took the Metro back into Recife and a taxi from Recife to our hotel in Olinda. We were mostly exhausted and smelled as though we had showered with beer, so we settled for dinner at our hotel with a couple of Canadians and a brother-sister duo from Virginia. We enjoyed our meals and sat chatting for quite some time. Eventually, we made it back to our room and it was time for non-beer showers for everyone followed by an early bedtime.

6/22/14, in video

Poolside at the hotel

 

Oh, the weather outside is frightful

6/22/14

We started out Sunday as we liked to start a lot of our mornings, leisurely lounging around our hotel. We would take turns getting showered and ready while the other girls sat at the pool, checked email/Facebook/Twitter*/checking account balances, read, napped or nibbled away at the hotel’s breakfast buffet.

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*I should add that, on this particular Sunday, Lauren won posters in a Twitter contest that MLS was running.

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Eventually, we packed up our purses and our camera and we went back to explore more of Olinda. Including, of course, more old churches.

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And more steep hills.

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And some of Olinda’s Carnival puppets.

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Apparently Olinda is a great place to celebrate Carnival and they have the (creepy) Carnival puppets to prove it. We ran into a few puppets around town, but somehow managed to find ourselves in a creepy Carnival puppet depot. Not a place you want to venture alone. Or at night.

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While we were walking back to the hotel, we noticed that the library seemed to be open. Well, it wasn’t. But there was a security guard on hand and Katie used Spanish and hand gestures and blue eyes to get us inside.

It wasn’t fancy but it was fun to see. (For the library nerd of the group, anyway.)

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It was a warm morning, so we didn’t adventure around Olinda for too terribly long. The hotel pool and the caipirinhas — always the caipirinhas — were calling our name. It was the perfect afternoon to spend poolside.

It was also the perfect afternoon to spend at the beach, which was our plan for later in the afternoon: to tear ourselves away from the pool long enough to get to the beach. Because that, boys and girls, is what vacation is all about.
We packed up beach bags and a change of clothes and headed off to Boa Viagem beach, which is right in Recife.

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There would be no swimming on our trip to the beach because Boa Viagem has a shark problem. There are signs everywhere warning you of the aggressive tiger and bull sharks; the beach is considered one of the most dangerous places to swim in the world.

But the sharks can’t keep you from getting a few chairs and an umbrella from a vendor (they loan you supplies, you buy a few drinks from them) and staking out a place in the sand.

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Our first half-hour at the beach was magnificent. And then Mother Nature reminded us that it was the rainy season in Recife. We huddled underneath our umbrella as the rain rolled in. Our umbrella vendor was the Patron Saint of the Beachgoer and he ran around in his Speedo, bringing us extra umbrella after extra umbrella until we were encased in clever little umbrella cocoon and out of the rain.

The weather hindered our plans; we packed up our beach bags and crossed the avenue in search of a restaurant. Instead of bathing in the nonexistent sunshine, we nibbles on appetizers and watched Belgium/Russia.

After that, we amped up our Americana and headed down the street to Underground. Underground was the bar where many of the Americans staying in Recife had decided to gather to watch the USA game.

As it was expected that the bar would be packed with Americans (the proprietor hired an English translator for the afternoon), we arrived early enough to watch the Korea/Algeria game, too.

As soon as we walked in, we were waved over to the table of our fellow Midwesterners who were staying in our hotel. Perfect!

It was the start of a beautiful vacation friendship.

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It was a great time, being obnoxious American fans and cheering like maniacs for the entire match. We were so incredibly patriotic that a (presumably Portuguese) even came over to our table to specifically yell at us! (To return the favor, we went to his table to do our celebratory dance near him when USA scored.)

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You might remember this game. Portugal scored to tie the game in extra time and it was awful and I don’t want to talk about it any longer. It was a draw that felt like a loss.

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As proper Americans, we rallied in the face of adversity and squeezed in a cab and headed back to Olinda. Our band of merry Americans finished off the night with a trip to the Creperia. Because chocolate crepes are therapeutic. Then we headed back to the hotel, took a quick swim and crawled into bed. We fell to sleep with visions of stars and stripes (and not that awful last-second equalizer!) dancing in our heads.

We Love Landon Donovan

Congratulations to Landycakes on his retirement at the end of the season.

We’re sorry to see you go, but we will always have Rustenburg.

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And Johannesburg.

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And Columbus.

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And Chicago and Detroit. And that amazing EA Sports commercial. And memories. Lots of memories. 

6/21/14

While a soccer game can wrap up in about two hours, the process of commuting/standing in line/dealing with crowds/going through security/taking plenty of pictures means that, days when we were attending a game were almost entirely monopolized by the game.

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On our first Saturday in Brazil, however, we didn’t have a game to attend nor a single plan. With that glorious freedom to do anything we wanted or nothing at all, we spent the day exploring Olinda.

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Olinda, which is just north of Recife, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It dates back to the 18th century. It’s full of old churches (there’s something like 20 baroque churches in Olinda alone) and gorgeous scenery. We mixed that up with a little bit of shopping and a little bit of snacking. Just how we like it.

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After checking out a handful of gorgeous churches, we took an elevator to the top of Olinda’s watertower and we could see all the way to Recife.

DSC_0093We took a few pictures and enjoyed the breeze off of the ocean.

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Let’s pause for a moment and talk about the hills of Olinda. Steep doesn’t even begin to describe the mountainous inclines that we tackled. We weren’t doing much working out in Brazil but every time we ventured out into Olinda it was like we did an entire Buns of Steel workout tape…and then rewinded that sucker and did it again.

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We stopped for tapioca. Tapioca in Brazil is closer to a crepe than our familiar Tapioca pudding. It is the famous dish in the state of Pernambuco, where we were staying, so we couldn’t possibly miss out on trying it. We placed an order for three (ham & cheese, Nutella, cheese & chocolate) and chatted with a few Americans and an absolutely hilarious pair of Italian brothers. (Please ask any of us to imitate them imitating the air conditioning unit in their palatial apartment in Recife.)

The tapioca was interesting. Nothing that involves melted, gooey Nutella can be inedible. And we loved watching the old lady who made our tapioca. …minus the smoke that got in our eyes. Yes, the tapioca is made on a skillet over a honest to goodness fire. Very authentic.

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After filling our bellies with tapioca and giving our glutes a heavy workout, we headed back to the hotel. We took the long way, through a neighborhood and along the ocean.

We relaxed back at the pool for a few hours before settling in to watch Ghana/Germany in the hotel’s conference room. We met a pair of fellow midwesterners, painted our nails in patriotic colors and enjoyed what was one of the better games of the group round.

It was still early when that game wrapped up but we headed out to find dinner, anyway.

We headed over to Maison do Bomfim, which was a short walk from our hotel. Having seen it mentioned in one of our guidebooks, we expected it to be busy even though it was still a little early for (American) dinner.

Wrong.

We were one of the first groups of the night.

As was the case at nearly every restaurant we ate at in Brazil, that evening’s match (Nigeria/Bosnia & Herzegovina) was playing on a television. We enjoyed an incredible meal and — please don’t be shocked — a few caipirinhas.