Arsenal and Pickpockets, London and Paris


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Last week we met one of our favorite families for our first and only trip outside of Italy.  We stayed together in a stable-turned-apartment near Hyde Park.  During our four days, we boated down the River Thames, spent a morning in Kensington Gardens, spun a loop around the London Eye, took a peek at the Crown Jewels, and ate at several pubs with names like “The Dog and Duck,” “Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese,” and “The Queen’s Arms.”  We also rode a double decker bus over the Tower Bridge and past Big Ben.

Build for the 2012 Olympics, the Eye of London is a half hour Ferris wheel ride high over the city.

The London Eye is a half-hour Ferris wheel ride over the city.

Ray and the Tower of London

Ray and the Tower of London

The kids with Peter Pan.

The kids with Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens

The most memorable excursion was an evening at the Arsenal vs. Everton soccer match.  After an all-day search and a shady rendezvous with a scalper, we finally held what we hoped were eight tickets to the sold-out game.  We rode a packed subway and arrived at the stadium full of fans wearing red and white.  The weather was good, and we were in England watching real football.

Outside the gates

Outside the gates of Emirates Stadium

waiting for a goal

waiting for a goal

Despite the final score of 0-0 and the surprising calm of the crowd, this was a fun night.  We bought Arsenal scarves, we cheered, and we ate dinner in our seats.  At 10 minutes before the end of the game, we decided to get a head start on the return trip.  As we left the stadium we were surprised to join throngs of others running to the entrance to the Tube.  The urgency was contagious.  We each grabbed a kid and took off sprinting.  It was pretty exciting, and at one point, Grace said, “It feels like we’re running for our lives!”  Eventually finding a pocket of space to stand on the subway gave us the feeling of victory we had been looking for all night.

The next day we left London (several hours before Margaret Thatcher’s funeral).  Our apartment in Paris was hilarious.  There were just two rooms, each with a tiny loft.  There was a kitchen too, but it was in one of the bedrooms.  We decided right away that privacy was not much of an option. We put the kids in one room and the adults in another.  The tight quarters were the basis for much of the humor during the rest of our stay.

Lynn find a place to sit on our bed while Deac finds space on the ladder

Lynn find a place to sit on our bed while Deac hangs out on the ladder

Paris was all about short stops at big sights during the day and long dinners in small restaurants at night.

Another great view of the Eiffel Tower

Another great view of the Eiffel Tower

Joining hundreds of others to glimpse the Mona Lisa

Joining hundreds of others for a glimpse of the Mona Lisa

Lynn and I near Notre Dame

Lynn and I near Notre Dame

Starting off another French feast with a kir royale

Starting off another French feast with a kir royale

The most fascinating aspect of Paris, and the one that left the biggest impression (especially among the kids) were the pickpockets.  In fact, the week before, the Louvre unexpectedly closed for a day because the problem was unmanageable.  We were further warned by many:  Always hold your belongings close.  Watch out for people holding a “petition” and asking for signatures because while you peruse the paper and write your name, hands will be busy underneath the clipboard empting your purse.  Sure enough, on day one, in the middle of a busy square, we encountered a hoard of young women looking for unsuspecting victims.  Our tour guide, Jacques, spotted them first and reminded us to be careful.  We watched the attempts from a distance.  Later, Jacques showed us all his protective measures.

Jacques has two cell phones and a wallet chained to the inside of his long jacket which covers his pants' pockets.  He only uses the cheap phone when in a public area in Paris.

Jacques has two cell phones and a wallet chained to the inside of his long jacket which safely covers his pants’ pockets. He uses only the small cheap phone when in a public area in Paris.  The iPhone is kept hidden when inside the city limits.

If things get ugly, he also has this for protection.

If things get ugly, he also has this for protection.

Ray, Tom and Matt carefully maneuver around the alleged pickpocket

Ray, Tom and Matt carefully maneuver around the alleged pickpocket while another passes in front.

During the rest of the day, the kids tried to weasel belongings out of the adults’ bags and pockets.  I was horrified when they later offered me back my wallet, my lipstick and my sunglasses.   The only defense I had for being such easy prey was that I allow my kids closer than I would a stranger.  Still, Matt said he would be more comfortable carrying my valuables.

Ray tries unsuccessfully to rob Deac.

Later, one of the kids tries unsuccessfully to rob Deac.

The last morning in Paris started at 3am when we all woke up and caught rides to the airport for an early morning flight.  The Halls returned to Seattle and we came back to Perugia.  The first thing we did when we got home was stop for a gelato where some of the other customers were speaking French.  Later that afternoon, we noticed a new crepe stand on the street outside our apartment.  And for dessert, we ate meringues. It felt good knowing that some of Paris followed us home.

Perugia’s Soccer

The red and white fans at Sunday’s soccer match

Late Saturday night, we got a call from our friends Sergio and Milena asking if we’d like to go to the stadium with their family on Sunday to watch Perugia vs. Gubbio.  Hell yes.

Perugia’s team use to be great.  In fact, they even went to the championship once after an undefeated season (a long, long time ago.)  They’ve since been demoted from series A to series C but hope to someday make a comeback and play the big boys from Milan, Turin, Rome and Naples.  Still, this is soccer and we’re in Italy, and the support for the home team was wild.  We didn’t care if it was a lil’ kickers league.  It felt good to participate.

The red and white crowd was screaming victory chants as we arrived, and flags were flying.  This was an especially important game for Perugia because they hadn’t played Gubbio in over 20 years.  And since they are neighboring cities, it was time to demonstrate some dominance.  We listened to our friend describe how certain rivalries evolved between cities around Perugia:  over the millennium, Umbrian city-states have been defeating and conquering each other, often with terribly grave consequences.  Even though the battles are over, the stories are retold and taught in the classrooms.  Apparently, the scars are especially vulnerable on Sunday afternoons.  He said that the citizens are still fighting the old wars.  While the cities of Gubbio and Perugia weren’t particularly combative, they still have some might to assert.  “Just wait till Perugia plays Arezzo!”  he said.  (Apparently, they had some big disagreements during the Middle Ages.)

We arrived early, and after passing through the ticket gate we found our seat.  I think we had the worst view in the whole stadium.

This was taken from my seat.  Pretty bad.  At least the boys’ tickets were only 1 euro.

When the game started, our friends encouraged us to move to the aisle and sit on the steps. There were no ushers telling us to move, no concern of fire safety.  There weren’t a lot of rules.

Milena, Sergio and Massimo

It is quite a bit different from the fancy sports arenas back home.  The concessions consist of bottled water, bags of Ritz crackers, coffee and focaccia.  Apparently, you can get your coffee spiked if you want, but nobody seems to be drinking or eating.  It’s all about the game.  There is no score board and no Jumbotron showing close-ups of the plays.  We couldn’t even find a timer to know how many minutes were left.  So we watched and cheered and counted down on our cell phones.

Within seconds of half-time, Perugia stole the ball dribbling it downfield before swiftly kicking it past the diving goalkeeper and into the net.  The celebration that ensued was incredible.  Tiny pieces of everyone’s program went flying through the air as confetti.  Needless to say, the half-time break was festive.

The moment Perugia scored

Perugia scored a second goal towards the end of the game.  And victory was theirs.  We celebrated afterwards with gelato and beers at a nearby park.

Wooing the boys

New Fans

Tom and Ray don’t want to go to Italy.  They’d rather stay here with their friends.  We try to romance them with promises of gelato every day.  But they keep a running list of all the bad things about moving 5500 miles away.  (I tell them it’s not 5500 miles but 9000 kilometeres . . . ha ha, but they don’t laugh.)  The list goes like this:  “I don’t want to leave my friends.”   “I don’t want to go to a school where no one speaks English.”  “I don’t want to have a dress code.”  “Celsius is confusing.”  “I don’t like foreign food.”  “It’s going to be too hot.”  “I don’t want to miss UW Husky football season.”   I get it.  I moved to a different state in seventh grade, and it sucked.

But this week, fate has tossed these sports fans a bone;  Italy is in the Eurocup ’12 finals.  And the playoffs were sweet.  Last Thursday, we watched the semifinals on ESPN and caught some soccer fever.  Thank you, Mario Balotelli, Italy’s hero of the moment, for the two beautiful goals.  You scored new fans.  And now Tom and Ray feel some connection with the national pride and a little solidarity with a winning team.  That’s all I can ask for right now.

(Please win against Spain on Sunday.)