Man Attempting To Dribble Soccer Ball To Brazil Killed In Accident

SoccerIt sounded like one of those crazy ideas that should have led to fun and adventure and ended in triumph. Instead it ended in tragedy.

Richard Swanson, pictured here, of Seattle, decided to raise money for charity by dribbling a soccer ball 10,000 miles to Brazil in time for the 2014 World Cup. Sadly, The Guardian reports that he only made it as far as Oregon. While walking down US Highway 101 near Lincoln City he was hit by a pickup truck on Tuesday and killed. The police have ruled it an accident and the driver has not been charged.

Swanson was only two weeks and about 260 miles into his trip. He had been posting updates about his journey on his Facebook page, including a photo of the last meal he ate, a hearty breakfast in Lincoln City just hours before being killed.

His project, called Breakaway Brazil, was meant to raise money for the One World Futbol Project, which distributes durable soccer balls to needy children in developing areas.

Rooting For Ethiopia In The Africa Cup Of Nations

Africa Cup of Nations, logoOne of the byproducts of travel is that you become more aware of events that don’t get much coverage back home. The sports pages here in Spain, for example, aren’t exactly full of stories about the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations.

This continent-wide football championship, starting today in South Africa, is sure to be watched by millions of Africans. I’m especially curious as to the public reaction in Ethiopia. I’ve traveled a lot in that fascinating East African nation and I know they’re crazy about football – European football.

You see Real Madrid and Manchester United jerseys everywhere, and every village has a beat up old Foosball table painted in the colors of popular European teams. Yet Ethiopians seem singularly blind to their own football teams. I spent hours trying to hunt down an Ethiopian National Team shirt for my son, only to be told that they aren’t made in children’s sizes.

The kids don’t want them.

Hopefully that’s all about to change. Ethiopia has qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations finals for the first time since 1982. They haven’t won since 1962. With that kind of record, you can understand why the fans have been less than enthusiastic. Their first game is against Zambia on January 21. Zambia has a FIFA ranking of 34; Ethiopia’s is 102. It’s going to be a tough match.

My son and I are going to be rooting for Ethiopia. We’ll be sitting at home here in Spain watching it on the computer, urging on the Ethiopian team as crowds in cafes and bars across Ethiopia will be going crazy. It’s going to be a nice way to reconnect with my favorite country to travel in.

Hey, if a guy from Addis Ababa can be an Arsenal fan without ever having been to England, I can be an Ethiopia fan, right?

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Happy 100th: 15 Places To Celebrate Centennials In 2013

A new year isn’t just the time to look ahead, it’s also the time to look back and commemorate. 2013 marks plenty of centennials, from the birth of civil rights activists to metro lines. Here is your chance to not only explore new destinations, but also learn a little bit about the past with a list of places that all have something worth celebrating this year.

If you’re looking to help celebrate a few centennials in 2013, look no further.

Glacier Park Lodge, Montana, USA
Opening to guests on June 15, 2013, the Glacier Park Lodge has become a focal point of the park. Built on the Blackfeet Reservation, the land was purchased from the Piegan, a tribe of the Blackfeet Nation, and at its opening, hundreds of Blackfeet Indians erected teepees around the lodge. Today it features 161 rooms and can accommodate up to 500 people.

National Museum of Fine Arts, Cuba
Located in Old Havane the National Museum of Fine Arts houses both a Cuban specific collection as well as a universal one, including ancient art from Egypt, Greece and Rome. The museum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tour de France, France
One hundred years of mountain stages, yellow jerseys and champagne finishes, Tour de France 2013 should be a momentous occasion. The centennial edition kicks off in Corsica on June 29, and in an attempt to celebrate the beauty of the country that is its namesake, the route is 100% in France, the first time in 10 years.
Washington State Parks, USA
If there ever was a time to take advantage of the outdoors in the Pacific Northwest, it’s this year. For Centennial 2013, explore the state’s extensive network of beautiful spaces, complete with yurts, rustic cabins and the occasional mountain goat.

Metro Line 8, Paris, France
Serving some of the City of Light’s most iconic stops like Invalides, Opera and Bastille, Métro Line 8 was the last line of the original 1898 Paris Metro plan. Opened on July 13, 1913 (one day before French independence day), it is the only Paris underground line to cross the Seine and the Marne above ground, via a bridge.

Grand Central Terminal, New York, USA
An iconic hub of travel, Grand Central Terminal in New York City is known for its Beaux-Arts architecture, and the pure romanticism of adventure that it induces. After almost a decade of renovation, on opening day on February 2, 1913, it welcomed over 150,000 people from all over the city. It’s no surprise that Grand Central Terminal has a year of events planned, and maybe it’s time we all took a commemorative train ride.

Soccer fields, USA
The U.S. Soccer Federation is celebrating its 100 years on the field with a variety of events throughout the year, but a special emphasis will be on the U.S. Women’s National Team’s matches, and the U.S. Men’s National Team’s campaign to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which means for soccer fans, there are plenty of places around the country to celebrate.

Konzerthaus, Vienna, Austria
Home to the Vienna Symphony, the Konzerthaus is a hub of classical music. With a goal of emphasizing both traditional and innovative music styles, it hosts several music festivals a year. In a season it hosts over 750 events, resulting in around 2,500 compositions.

Rosa Parks Museum, Montgomery, Alabama, USA
Civil rights activist Rosa Parks would have turned 100 this year, and in her honor the Rosa Parks Museum is coordinating the Rosa Parks 100th Birthday Wishes Project. They have been collecting words and inspiration from visitors and 1,000 will be chosen from the Montgomery area and 1,000 from around the state and country. Take part in the celebration on February 4, Parks’ birthday.

Bangladesh National Museum, Bangladesh
One of the largest museums in Southeast Asia, the Bangladesh National Museum started out as Dhaka Museum in 1913. Besides the standard collections of archaeology, classical art and natural history pieces that national museums are traditionally known for, it also illustrates the freedom struggle that ended in the liberation of Bangladesh.

Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Milan, Italy
Attached to the famous Scala Theater in Milan, the Museo Teatrale alla Scala holds over 100,000 works that relate to history, opera and ballet. In the hallways you’ll find musical instruments and portraits of great singers to have graced the theater. A must for any classical music or opera lover.

Edinburgh Zoo, Edinburgh, Scotland
The 82-acre Edinburgh zoo, is home to the UK’s only Giant Pandas, which are a huge hit with locals. They also have a Squirrel Monkey cam for your viewing pleasure. With over 1,000 animals, the zoo has an extensive list of activities to celebrate its 100th year.

Karachi Race Club, Pakistan
You rarely hear of people traveling to Pakistan for the horses, but the Karachi Race Club has now been attracting racing fans for a full 100 years. The biggest racecourse of Pakistan, seven to ten races are held at Karachi Race Club every Sunday.

Konzerthaus, Vienna, Austria
Home to the Vienna Symphony, the Konzerthaus is a hub of classical music. With a goal of emphasizing both traditional and innovative music styles, it hosts several music festivals a year. In a season it hosts over 750 events, resulting in around 2,500 compositions.

Line A, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Opened to the public on December 1, 1913, Line A was the first line of the the first working subway system in the southern hemisphere. Today it is used by over 200,000 people a day. Until recently, some of the line’s original La Brugeoise trains were still in use, but are now slated to be replaced by more modern day cars, and the line itself is set for reconstruction in mid-January.

[Photo credits: davidwilson1949, ChrisProtopapa, s4nt1, infrogmation, Diego3336]

A Run-In With The Iraqi Police

Iraq, Iraqi police, Iraqi
All I wanted was to buy an Iraq National Football Team uniform for my son, a perfectly normal thing for a father to do on his first day in Baghdad. The problem is, doing something normal in Baghdad can land you in serious trouble.

We were in one of the city’s many souks, those famous Middle Eastern markets where you can buy just about anything. There were shops for metalwork, books, hardware, music, antiques real and fake, and even a stall where you could buy Iraqi police and army uniforms without actually being in the police or army.

I was with a group of nine other adventure travelers. Accompanying us were two plainclothes officers from the Interior Ministry who were supposed to keep us in their sight at all times. We also had a driver and an interpreter/guide named Mohammad. I’d already drafted Mohammad into the task of finding my kid something none of his buddies had.

As my companions visited a medieval mosque, Mohammed told me of a street of sports shops nearby. In the strange geography of souks, shops selling the same items tend to cluster together, so off we went to the sports street.

We didn’t take our guards. That was a mistake.

%Gallery-170178%You might think that’s a dumb thing to do in a place like Baghdad and you may be right, but not for the reasons you think. You see, the streets were crawling with police. Every block or so there’d be another watchtower, another armored car, another checkpoint. Anyone who wanted to shoot me would get shot himself two seconds later. That wouldn’t matter to suicidal terrorists, but most of them target Shiite pilgrims these days. Besides, if I wanted to live my life in fear I had no business visiting Iraq in the first place.

My concerns turned out to be misdirected. Going off without our guards didn’t put us in any more danger from Iraqi terrorists, it put us in more danger from the Iraqi police.

We passed through crowded streets lined with shops on the ground floors of crumbling concrete buildings. The space overhead was crisscrossed with a cobweb of electric lines inexpertly spliced together by locals tapping into Baghdad’s unreliable electric grid. Some Iraqis stopped to say hello, others simply stared. Nobody looked particularly threatening.

My first spike of fear came when Mohammad stopped at a vendor selling a strange white liquid filled with seeds out of a big red bucket. Each seed was encased in a clear blob the size of a bean. He picked up a glass from the stall, scooped up some of the brew, and handed it to me.

“This is balongo, very good for the health,” Mohammad said.

“What is it?” I asked, eying it suspiciously.

“Kiwi juice and water.”

Mmmmm, Baghdad tap water. Well, it wouldn’t be the riskiest thing I’d do on this trip. I downed my glass and found balongo to be tasty and refreshing with a weird lumpy texture. Hopefully it wouldn’t give me a bad case of Saddam’s Revenge.

Soon we came to the sports shops. The racks were packed with football uniforms – for Real Madrid, Barcelona, Arsenal, Manchester United. Iraqi National Team kits were few and far between, and there were none in children’s sizes. Everyone kept pointing to one shop on the street, the only one, they said, that had uniforms for children. It was also the only one that was closed.

Defeated, we retraced our steps to rejoin the others as I snapped photos, careful to avoid taking shots of policemen or official buildings. A cop standing by an armored personnel carrier waved us through a checkpoint. A moment later his officer came running after us.

“What are you doing here? What was that photo you took? Did you take a photo of the bank?” he demanded.

“No, I was taking photos of the street,” I said.

“Taking pictures of the bank is forbidden,” he told me.

“I didn’t,” I started showing him my photos. “Look.”

Then came a rapid-fire conversation in Arabic between him and Mohammad. The volume rose and Mohammad looked more and more defensive. Frowning, the officer got on the radio.

It’s always a bad sign when a cop starts talking about you on the radio.

“Our general is coming,” he told me.

Great. We went back to the checkpoint and the officer offered me a chair. I remained standing.

The whine of a police siren cut through the babble of the market. An SUV with tinted windows and a big Ford pickup truck with a machine gun mounted on top sped down the road towards us. They screeched to a halt, kicking up a cloud of dust. Half a dozen guys dressed in Kevlar and toting AK-47s leaped out and surrounded us.

That was a bit of overkill. Did they think I could outrun their bullets?

The general stepped out of the SUV, a short, trim man with a military bearing and a Saddam Hussein mustache. At least he didn’t have Saddam Hussein eyes. I’d have really started worrying then. Another rapid-fire conversation in Arabic ensued, with my limited ability in the language utterly failing to keep up. Mohammad showed them his credentials from the Interior Ministry. I showed him my photos. The complaint changed from me taking photos to me being without my guards.

The general appeared more resentful than threatening. His whole attitude seemed to say, “You know what it’s like being a police officer in Baghdad? Why are you making my day more complicated than it already is?”

Eventually he let us go with a stern warning not to stray from my guards again, a warning I strictly obeyed as long as I was in his section of Baghdad.

“Goodbye,” he said, shaking my hand. “Enjoy Iraq.”

With that he and his men got back in their vehicles and sped away, leaving me in another cloud dust. It was my first example of the strange combination of hospitality and paranoia that typifies travel in Iraq.

I did eventually find that uniform, but that’s another story …

Don’t miss the rest of my series, “Destination: Iraq,” chronicling my 17-day journey across this strife-ridden country in search of adventure, archaeology, and AK-47s.

Coming up next: “Iraq Roadtrip!”

[Top photo courtesy Captain Hussein of the Iraqi police. These were not the cops who nearly arrested me. There are times when you pose for pictures, and times when you don't. Bottom photo by Sean McLachlan. This is the one that got me busted]

Iraqi police, Iraq

Party Time In Greece As The National Side Stuns Russia In EURO 2012

greece beats russia in euro 2012 celebration in grecceThere’s nothing like being in a soccer-mad country when the national side scores a big win in an important tournament like the World Cup, The European Championships or the African Cup of Nations. On Saturday night, Greece shocked Russia, 1-0, to send the Russians home and advance to the quarterfinal round of this year’s Euro 2012 soccer tournament, and I was in Naxos, a Greek island in the Cyclades group to take part in the celebration.

A win like this one would be significant under any circumstances, but given the economic hell that Greece has been through in recent years, the triumph was especially meaningful. One didn’t have to search far and wide to watch the match – you could walk the streets of Naxos town and hardly miss a play, as nearly every business had a TV set up for people to watch the winner moves on match.Bars had big projection screens, but small shops, bakeries, travel agencies and other business also had a variety of much less impressive looking TVs tuned in, some were just ancient little boxes set up on top of plastic chairs, but still attracted small crowds of onlookers.

The mood was festive, but tense in the first half, until Giorgos Karagounis came charging down the right flank and buried a low missile right past the Russian keeper just before the half to give Greece a 1-0 lead. The crowd in the outdoor café I was in exploded, men dropped their worry beads to applaud, people hugged each other, and some jumped on top of tables and danced.

But in the second half, everyone had to sweat it out as the minutes seemed to tick by in an agonizingly slow march, as men all over Greece, nervously fingered their worry beads and chain smoked, praying Greece could hold on.
Greece had seemingly legitimate goals wiped out by the officials in the first two games of this tournament, and when Karagounis was given a yellow card for supposedly diving in the penalty area in the 61st minute, all the men in my vicinity were convinced that the world was once again conspiring against their country, perhaps in payback for the damage Greece has done to world financial markets.

But the plucky, mostly monastically bearded Greek players hung on for dear life and as the final whistle blew, pandemonium ensued, as men sang, chanted and danced on tables. Bar owners gave out free shots of ouzo and the celebratory roars could be heard all over Naxos.

Soon, cars were making laps in the little town, honking their horns as people hung out the windows waving Greek flags and pumping their fists at revelers on the streets. Greece had won and the country finally had something to feel proud of, on the eve of an election the whole world will be watching.

Before this recent trip, I was last in Greece in the summer of 2004, and watched Greece win EURO 2004 from the small town of Nea Marmaris, just south of Thessaloniki in Halkidiki. That party lasted all night and was doubly satisfying for me, because I also won 150in an office pool at the U.S. Embassy in Skopje, where I worked at the time.

My Macedonian colleagues, who love visiting Greece but have decidedly unpleasant feelings towards the Greeks due to the political standoff between the two countries over its name, had laughed when I picked Greece out of a hat. They were convinced that I’d picked the worst team in the field, but I was the one laughing when they won it all.

Once again, no one believes that Greece can advance in this tournament except for the Greeks themselves. I have no idea if they’ll advance further, but for now, Greeks everywhere are feeling very good about themselves for a change.