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So, this happened

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And now a word from your local soccer experts…

Spreading the gospel. Celebrating the USWNT’s World Cup victory.* Entertaining Detroit News reporters.

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*Celebrations which pale in comparison to our very own Katie, who made it to Women’s World Cup group stage games in Winnipeg and the final in Vancouver. You make us proud, Katie. You are a true American hero.

And then there were 2: 6/27/14-6/29/14

Alyson flew back to Michigan bright and early on June 27.

Lauren and Katie took to the beach.

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The next day, they watched Brazil beat Chile on penalties from the FIFA Fan Fest in Recife.

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On June 29th, they returned to Arena Pernambuco for some Round of 16 action: Costa Rica/Greece. The match went into extra time and was finally settled in penalties.

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But mostly they just sat around, drinking caipirinhas and missing Alyson terribly.

Then Katie and Lauren, too, had to face the injustice that is the end of their World Cup adventure. The girls landed just in time to get to a bar to watch the USA/Belgium match.

Tim Howard was spectacular.

And we’ll just leave it at that.

6/26/14

What better day to recap the USA/Germany than exactly one year later? It’s better late than never and, truly, still a very vivid memory. 

When our alarm went off on the morning of the USA/Germany game, we could hear the rain outside. Little did we know the rainy day we were in for.

We had made plans with a few other groups of Americans at our hotel. The plans were, basically: get up really early, eat breakfast really early, get to the train station really early, get down to the stadium really early, get to the bar really early. All while wearing stars and stripes over every inch of our bodies.

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The torrential downpour made it hard to get cabs from Olinda to the train station but, eventually, that worked out. And, somehow, the cabs both made it to the train station despite the deep water covering the roads.

Our train ride was uneventful and made in the company of many other American fans. It was fun to see the presence of riders wearing the stars and stripes multiply with every stop.

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If you were watching coverage of the game at home, you probably understood the scope of the weather situation better than we did. All we knew was to pack our raincoats and hope to stay dry.

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After arriving at the stadium, we quickly abandoned that hope.

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The bar where the USA supporters were meeting was at the other side of the stadium as the bus drop off, so we hiked around the stadium and beneath an underpass and there it was: a huge bar overflowing with Americans. And mud. There was so much mud.

Because of the lengthy and expensive cab ride to the stadium for the first match, we didn’t even consider taking cabs straight to the bar. So, it felt pretty awesome when we ran into a few others from our hotel who were dry and reported no problems taking a cab straight to the bar. Haters.

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The bar was awash in red, white and blue. And rain. So much rain.

Our group formulated a multi-pronged attack on the bar. Two of us headed to one bar. Two headed to another bar. Three staked out a place that was almost inside the bar, just under cover, at the edge of the muddy muddy muddy parking lot.

The lines to the bar were crazy long, so it just made sense to buy a round of cachaça shots (which, it turns out, is a liquor that is much tastier in a caipirinha than taken as a shot) and a fifth of Jack Daniels.

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Which may or may not have been passed along as we marched to the stadium.

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We managed to arrive at the stadium in time to watch our team warm up (including a special shout out to the one and only Timmy Howard).

10498613_10104036508626173_3418001723043640433_o You might recall that the United States lost that game to the eventual World Cup champions, Germany, 1-0.

It was a temporary downer.

Not long after the final whistle, we realized (thanks to the screaming, dancing, shouting from our fellow American fans) that USA was moving on to the Round of 16.

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The good news kept us warm on the train, and then the cab, back to Olinda.

Where we did a celebratory jump into the pool.

Why not? It wasn’t like we weren’t already soaked.

We cleaned up for dinner and headed up Olinda’s hills for dinner at Beijupira for what turned out to be one of our favorite meals of the trip.

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To get to the restaurant, which is sort of built into the side of the hill, you take stairs and an elevator down. When you arrive, you’re treated to a stunning view of Olinda.

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And an equally fantastic meal.

It was a grand way to end a very special day and, for Alyson, to end a very special trip. She flew out first thing the next day.

Lauren and Katie stayed for a few more adventures.

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.