Tuesday, June 10, 2014

I have visited 18 of the 32 Countries participating in the 2014 World Cup. My thoughts..

The world cup is almost here so it made me think about the countries participating and which ones I have been lucky enough to visit. I was shocked it was over 50%, with having gone to 18.. so here is a list, and some brief thoughts on each country that I have visited. The other 14, watch out I just might be visiting you one day in my life.

Visited (18) Brazil. Croatia, Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Greece, Uruguay, England, Italy, Switzerland, France, Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Germany, Portugal, USA, Belgium, Russia

Not Yet (14) Mexico, Cameroon, Australia, Colombia, Cote D’Ivorie, Japan, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Iran, Nigeria, Ghana, Algeria, Korea Republic

Brazil – I went for New Years Eve in Rio 2011 going into 2012, one of the best parties in the world. Despite the numbers that seems scary, 2 million people on the beach all night long it was beautiful, peaceful, fun, multi-cultural and fill with traditions. I also visited Ilha Grande, a true island paradise that does not have cars, has pristine beaches and great hiking trails. I will be back in the country less than 2 weeks from now to spend time going to a few world cup games and exploring new cities. Overall a must see destination in a country that is varied and diverse in food, music, culture, art, and much more.

Croatia – A country I have visited twice, my 2006 trip was a bit of a disappointment as Pula in August is not setup for the backpacker. Yet I tried again in 2012 and had a total blast of a time in Zrce Beach on the island of Novalja. This was a party paradise running 24hrs a day 7days a week on a big island that had plenty of room for exploring, and even some sand beaches which are a rarity in Croatia. Still much of this nation that I have not explored including the walled city of Dubrovnik, the much talked about Plitvice National park and many of the 1000 islands off the coast. Again a country that is a must visit if you can.

Spain – I was in Spain for much of the run to the 2010 world cup championship and I must say it was an amazing time. Watching the Spain vs Germany semi-final on large screen TVs outside of The Santiago Bernabeu stadium was an amazing time with Pujol heading in the only goal in the game. This country is very popular for students doing study abroad programs and while I was never lucky to do this I have made it a point that if I’m anywhere close to Spain while in Europe to check it out. Barcelona is one of my all time favorite cities in the world and I still have some bucket list things there to get done including watching an FC Barcelona game in person. I have been to the lovely and unheralded Northwestern Asturias region of the country thanks to a good friend knowing that area. Madrid is a good landing spot and always can find a party, but finding a place to cool down in the july heat is a bit tough.. Never been to any of the Spanish party islands such as Ibiza or cities such as Valencia that have their own history and culture, so Spain you will see me again in the future!

Netherlands – this country always will have a dear spot in my heart as it was my first international trip. I don’t remember it as I was a 3 month old baby going with my family. Since that trip I have been back numerous times and not always just to Amsterdam where everyone flocks, but you have to check out other cities such as Leiden a great college town, the hague for the north sea jazz festival or Rotterdam for a change of pace. So much culture in the arts has come from Holland, along with the always favorite Heineken beer that is a solid goto in any country of the world where you are not sure whats in the local beer. I will always consider Netherlands one of my favorite places and any chance to go back I will take it, I suggest you do so also.

Chile – on my 2012 trip to brazil I decided hey why not hit 2 south American countries on the same trip. I enjoyed Santiago and Vina del Mar, but it was near the end of my trip and lets just say my stomach was not operating on all cylinders. I still have the “tourist visa” in my passport till expiration so another trip would not be more expensive than catching a flight. Many places here I would love to see including the Atacama desert, Easter Island, and if feeling very adventurous the Patagonia region at the bottom of the earth. Much to see, eat and drink in this skinny on the map but full of things to do nation. Heck skiing in the Andes during the USA summer, what could be cooler? Oh yeah I don’t ski and have never been on a mountain..

Greece – My visit here was only 4 days in the spring of 2011, and not enough to explore much of this country that historically is one of the richest in the world. I was only in Athens and then the lovely Santorini. But so many more islands and places, yet this trip with my family during Easter was a great time even for non-religious people like myself. Gotta get back to many of the other special places in this country

Uruguay – I went to Punta Del Este after a sort stay in Buenos Aires back in 2005. This was a great trip as my first time staying in a hostel and realizing how traveling solo does not have to be an alone proposition. I met some great people and shared cultural experiences such as a real South American cookout. The town of Punta was sort of “over” by the time I arrived mid Feburary but I was told that from Christmas until then it’s the place to be in south America, so next time I will have to time my trip better. Also I had one of the best steaks ever in my life here in Uruguay! Great undiscovered country check it out

England – A country I have been to many times, and have always enjoyed. While most of my trips involve London and the surrounding areas, when I finally got outside in 2012 to Manchester to see a USA Womens Soccer game, I realized as much as I enjoy London I have to get to see more of the English countryside. I promise next time I will, but will always remember watching 2010 USA vs England at a pub where I as a USA fan was outnumbered by 99.99%.

Italy – A nation that I spent much time of my childhood years, as the son of a jazz musician many of our summers were 2 months spent going around itlay for many concerts and setting up base in the town of Cesenatico and exploring the country. I have always loved the food, art, culture, fashion of Italy. My trip in 2012 allowed me to explore Sicily which had things I loved and hated about it. Still the one thing I will never come around to is the style of Football or the Azzurri. I was in attendance for the 2006 World Cup game Italy vs the USA and it was a disgrace to the game the violence dished out and the diving going on. So while I will travel back to italy to visit places I have yet to see, you wont see me cheering on their team anytime soon. With a country with so much connection to American immigrants and our own identity in the USA, its not uncommon to know why this is one of the most visited countries for Americans when traveling abroad.

Switzerland – I have only been here one to the lovely(but expensive) city of Geneva, I spent a night in Zurich before my flight back to the USA and a dorm bed in a hostel was 50 Euros, holy smokes. Still Geneva is lovely city on the lake, and on train trips thru the swiss alps I realize the summer is not necessarily the best time of year to visit. I am sure I will be back to hike, and explore the rest of the lovely country.

France – another country with multiple visits both as a child with family and then on my own as a tourist. So much to see, so many things to eat and drink, museums to visit and culture to soak up. The south of france has amazing beaches, the atlantic coast has plenty of history directly connected with the USA due to the D-Day invasion of Normandy in World War 2, probably the number one visited country for Americans and its easy to see why. More of this country is yet to be explored by myself, this will change in the future.

Argentina – ahhh a country that holds a fun place, such turmoil both policital and economic but such a culture between the dance, food, wine, music exists here. Due to the poor economic situation at this time, argentina is a bargain probably the best bargain for any American to visit as our currency is strong, and even desired on the black market. A huge country with multiple regions I was only in Buenos Aires so if I ever go back I must see more of the country. If you are a wine lover this is the place for you! Also for steak fans almost all the steak is grass fed so you don’t need to ask, and it is delicious.

Bosnia and Herzegovina – This country totally surprised me, well I can’t even say that as when I visited in 2006 I knew basically nothing about it other than it was where Sarajevo was located. I left loving the country and wanting to visit again. During my backpacking trip I did not have a set itinerary which is such a blessing in many ways, so I jumped on a bus to Sarajevo. My arrival was rocky ending up at the old bus station on the outskirts of town in a tiny station that lacked any services, but once I figured things out and got to the center of the old town I had a blast. I spent 3 nights and never left Sarajevo which if I ever visit next time I will surely venture out to Mostar and other places. Off the beaten track, but worth a visit if you are looking for something with history and less tourists go here.

Germany – Ahhh the host of the 2006 World Cup and probably the best sporting event in my life. My first true backpacking trip to Europe was as a result of getting USA TST-5 tickets for the games. With my trusty Eurail pass I was off on an adventure of a lifetime. The fans, the games, the cities all were amazing. Easy travel, modern facilities made for a great world cup. Still my only trip to Germany I was lucky to travel all over, but I do want to get back to Berlin a city I only partied for 12hrs before catching my next flight. Thank you Germany for being such a great host and showing me how easy it is to travel and forcing me to test boundaries on future trips.

Portugal – Gosh I sound like I am harping that all these countries I have visited are great, and well for the most part they all are. Portugal is a twice repeat visitor for me, in the winter in the Algrave and the summer in Porto, I will take Summer in Porto anyday! From the great desert port wines, the grilled sardines, the colorful houses. If you love shopping this is your place as I know my sister set world records for things bought during her visits there. Go see Portugal if you get a chance!!

USA – well I live here, so yeah I’ve been here.. in fact been to I think 38 states, only a few places left I have never visited that I want to go.. so Portland Oregon, and Memphis Tenn be on the watch out!

Belgium – Ahhh the beer! The chocolate! The mussels!! A great little country that I have great memories, at least the few memories still left in my head after a night of drinking Delirium or another triple... I remember being here in September as a kid and it being as cold as ever, but I was coming from Italian beaches so that is understood.. As many times I’ve been to Belgium, I have really never left Brussels except for a day in Antwerp, so next time watch out Brugges, just don’t let me fall into one of the canals.

Russia – This was a country only visited and this was years ago. I went on a 3 week high school exchange program to goto high school and live with a family, and they did the same sent their high schooler over to NYC to live for 3 weeks.. well naturally it had a bigger effect on those kids coming to America for the first time, and I think many of thing went on to attend college, so my host Slav Volkov and watching his eye open up at his first trip to an American supermarket will always be the memory of this exchange program. St. Petersburg is one of the great cities of the world, I’ve been told and since I’ve never been there I want to go one day.. Russia just has to get his political situation under control a bit.. who knows maybe the 2018 world cup will be the time I can get back to Russia


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