A Travellerspoint blog

February 2010

A Wider Field of Vision

How travel has opened my eyes and ears to what happens in the wider world.

rain 5 °C

Like most Saturday mornings, I woke up yesterday and flipped on the BBC News. The top story was the earthquake in Chile, which is now reported to have caused massive damage in Concepcion and the surrounding area and taken 300 lives.

I never visited Concepcion when I was in Chile in 2003. I took an overnight bus from Santiago to Puerto Varas in the lake district, passing through Concepcion in the middle of the night fast asleep. However, the fact that I had been to Chile - spent 6 weeks travelling to various points from the North to the South of the country - meant that I could place myself in the story. I knew what the geography of the country was, what the buildings are like, who the people were.

I've noticed since I started travelling that I do pay more attention to international news. I've always been a bit of a news junkie, in my 20s and early 30s I mostly read news about local and national issues, and skipped over international news unless it was about the USA and how that might impact the economy.

Travel, though, has made me more aware of the world, and interested in what is happening around our little globe. I now am as likely to click on the INTERNATIONAL tab of a news website to see what is happening abroad as I am to click on the LOCAL or NATIONAL news tabs. I'm always doubly interested in stories about places that I have been to - China's spat with Google or the storms battering Spain, Portugal and France - or places I've been near - though I've never been to Haiti, I have visited the Dominican Republic on the other side of the island and so watched the Haiti earthquake news intently. It is, I suppose, basic human nature. A story resonates more forcefully if you can place yourself within the narrative. By having seen places in person that appear in the news, it is easier to visualise the story in my head.

There are many ways to connect to a news story. Often you can empathise with those impacted without having ever seen the place where it occurred. Other items can help you connect to a story - emotions like anger, fear, humour or revulsion. Being able to connect to a story based on sense of place is just another way to connect, and makes reading the news a richer experience.

Posted by GregW 05:32 Archived in England Tagged armchair_travel travel_philosophy Comments (0)

Super Bowl XLIV: Partying Just Above Sea Level in Amsterdam

The continuing saga of watching the American football Super Bowl in places that aren't America.

overcast 3 °C

Ah, February rolls around and a young North American man’s mind turns to one thing. Cheerleaders... Oh, and chicken wings, and beer, and the hail Mary pass and nickle defences. Okay, a young man’s mind turns to more than one thing, but they are all wrapped up in the same event. Super Bowl!


Yes, it is time for that annual celebration of all things American and bombastic! Fireworks! The Who! Queen Latifah singing! Six hours of pre-game coverage!

This year I took myself to Amsterdam to watch the big game, a continuation of my silly “Super Bowls around the World” quest that has seen me watching American football in such non-American places like Costa Rica, Chile and Tanzania (though not so successfully there).

Amsterdam is in the Netherlands, and is known by North Americans mostly as a place to get sex and drugs. The city is famous for it’s raunchy nightlife, mostly centre around the red light district.

A red light above the door means you can look into the window and decide if you want to spend some time with the young lady working there. Sometimes, though, they are old ladies. And sometimes, they aren’t ladies at all, though they look like ladies.


If sex isn’t your vice, then there is always the dope. Coffee shops are quite popular in Amsterdam, where you can go and buy and smoke marijuana.


What Amsterdam is less well known for (at least in the circle of friends I ran with back in Canada) is the pretty town centre with it’s canals, narrow streets, even narrow housing and even windmills!


I, however, was there neither for the sex nor for the drugs nor even for the pretty sight seeing. I was there for the American football. This year featured the Indianapolis Colts against the New Orleans Saints. While the pundits put their money on the Colts winning the game, the Saints were emotional favourites for most people. The city of New Orleans obviously has been through a lot in the past five years, and I think most people felt like they deserved some good news.


I watched the game at the Satellite Sports Cafe on the Leidseplein, a square in the south-west part of the centre of town.


The bar was jam-packed, with folks even sitting on the stairs between the two levels to get views of the game. I made friends with a group of guys sitting at the bar, and when one of their friends left before the game started, they offered me his stool. So I had a nice front row seat for the game.


The group included two Dutch and one American. Myself, the American and one of the Dutchmen were cheering for New Orleans - as was most of the bar. The other Dutch guy, though, was cheering for Indianapolis. I don’t think he had a decent reason to cheer for them other than being contrarian.

“They are the better team,” he said to me. “Peyton Manning is the best quarterback in the game. They have a very potent offence.”

“True,” I said. “The Colts do put points up on the board. However, they are too good. It’s boring - like cheering for a bunch of accountants. They are probably really good at their jobs, but it isn’t always exciting to watch.”

An American girl came around selling “squares.” Squares is a form of gambling, where you pay money to buy a square on a 10 by 10 grid, with each axis being one of the two teams. After all the squares have been purchased, the number from 0 to 9 are revealed along the axis in a random sequence. At the end of the half and the end of the game, the person who has the box that matches the last digits of the score wins some of the money.

I bought two squares for a euro each. When the numbers were revealed, I had Colts: 8, New Orleans: 2 and Colts: 0, New Orleans: 6. The first square wasn’t great, as there aren’t too many scores where it is easy to get a 2 as the last digit. American football scores in 7s and 3s, so you want to look at multiples of 7s and 3s and their combinations.

My other box was pretty decent, though. 0 and 6 are both easy numbers to get in football. Zero is were both teams start (obviously), so a team not scoring gets a 0. A touchdown and a field goal are worth 7 and 3, respectively, so scoring one of each gets 10 (which ends with 0, and thus in the “0” box). 6, similarly, is two field goals.

The half ended with Indianapolis up 10 points to 6 for the Saints. That was 0 and 6, one of my squares, so I got 50 euros paid out! Awesome - especially seeing as pints were going for 5 euros each.

The Super Bowl spectacle included a number of big musical names this year, as usual. Country singer Carrie Underwood sung the national anthem, and Queen Latifah sung America The Beautiful before the game. At half time, The Who came out to play - doing a medley of their hits and even breaking out the green lasers just like the video for Baba O’Riley. Pete Townshend even windmilled on his guitar - no doubt a reference to my watching the game in the spiritual home of the windmill - The Netherlands.

The game continued, and New Orleans took control in the fourth quarter, scoring a touch down on offence, and then picking off and scoring during an Indianapolis offence series. New Orleans ended up winning 31 to 17. No more squares money for me, but I was more than happy to see the team I had picked to root for win.


I wandered out into the Amsterdam night - actually early morning - and back along the canals to my hotel. I smiled, thinking about the party in New Orleans. I realized that I had watched the game and cheered for New Orleans in a city that shares a lot in common with it. Both are known as party capitals and both are places where the waters are only kept at bay by lots of pumps and dykes. They really could be sister cities.


I end, then, with congratulations to the city of New Orleans from her spiritual twin - Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Posted by GregW 04:15 Archived in Netherlands Tagged sports events superbowls_around_the_world Comments (3)

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