Though many American sports fans are currently preoccupied with the NBA and Stanley Cup Playoffs, there’s a different sort of post-season sports fever going on right now in Europe: the UEFA Champions League. The annual event, which pits the top soccer clubs from across Europe against one another, is among the most-watched sporting events in the world. This past week, two of Spain’s top teams, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona squared off to decide who would play in the event’s Championship. The video above celebrates the heated rivalry between these two top-notch teams. Instead of video replays though, we get a beautiful animated recreation of the match. It’s sports elevated to high art. Like or loathe soccer, it’s a stunning clip to watch.
Merry Christmas from Madrid! Last year I covered some of the big Spanish Christmas traditions. This year I’d like to talk on a more personal level about how I and my in-laws celebrate. I’m married to a Spaniard. A Castilian to be precise, as regional identity is important here. Living in Madrid we have a very Castilian Christmas. My five-year-old son is pretty much Castilian too, although he’s got a Canadian dad and speaks English as fluently as his public school English teacher.
Being a good little Spanish kid, he’s written out his letter to the Three Kings about what he wants: The Lego Tech crane, a parking garage for his cars, “everything about Real Madrid” (the city football team), and “La Casa de los Gormitis”. The Gormitis don’t seem to have made it across the Atlantic but they’re the big thing for European boys right now. It’s a cartoon where children have a secret base under their parents’ house and turn into monsters to fight the bad monsters in the fantasy world of the Gormitis. Yeah, it hits all the buttons.
Of course the Three Kings came to visit his school, but my son wasn’t fooled. He immediately recognized that the African king Baltasar was played by his English teacher, a black guy from London. Reminds me of that Jesse James story I wrote about earlier today. Since the Kings don’t show up at our home to put gifts in our shoes until January 6, we still haven’t done our shopping. It always feels like the Spanish Christmas gives you more time to shop, even though it’s still exactly a year between gift-giving.
The season is in full swing, however. Everyone has been buying tickets for El Gordo, the national lottery. Personally I think gambling is a stupid waste of money, but I’ll be checking out the numbers this year because my optometrist gave me two tickets! This is a common way for businesses to reward regular customers.
This week my family set up two Bethlehem scenes. My mother-in-law has an old one of lead figures that goes on a side table in the dining room. It has the Kings, buildings, stream, bridge, the manger, and lots of villagers. Over it all Herod looks down from his castle with a rather grumpy expression. This diorama is far bigger and more elaborate than the diminutive Christmas tree we put in the hall. We also have a Playmobil Bethlehem scene (called Los Clicks in Spanish) that my son sets up in his room.
Last night we chowed down on lombarda (red cabbage with pine nuts), langostinos (king prawns), and heaps of nuts, candies, polvorones, and turrón. Polvorón is my favorite. These are crumbly little shortbreads made with flour, nuts, sugar, and milk. Like with Oreos, there’s more than one way to eat them. Some people just bite down and let the whole thing crumble in a tasty, dusty mess. Others squeeze them into a compact bit of tidy sweetness. I’m more of a crumbler than a squeezer. Turrón is an Arabic confection made of almonds, sugar, honey, and egg white. Other ingredients such as chocolate are added to create an endless variety of flavors.
Just before dinner we heard King Juan Carlos I’s annual Christmas Eve speech. Keeping with tradition, my family completely ignored him, even though they made sure the TV was on. I watched it more for the sake of this article than to actually hear what he had to say. Sitting in his palace with a Nativity scene to one side and a photo of Spain’s victorious football team to the other, El Rey talked about the economic crisis, the threat of terrorism, and the drug problem. Pretty much the same issues as last year. There was also a Christmas message from Spanish soldiers serving in overseas operations such as the Indian Ocean, Antarctica, Lebanon, and Afghanistan.
Got to run. Soon my 99 year-old neighbor will show up. She’s become my son’s de facto great-grandmother. It’s nice to see someone born in 1911 interacting with someone born in 2005. Meanwhile, my mother-in-law is cooking up a giant Christmas lunch. Yeah, I lucked out in the mother-in-law department.
Welcome back. Here we are again for Gadling’s weekly roundup of links from the independent travel experts at BootsnAll. This week’s links are custom-made to get your wanderlust racing and put you in the right travel mindset. So pull that suitcase out of the closet and start clicking below:
- Biggest Soccer Rivalries – soccer is a sport that tends to elicit groans of boredom from many Americans. But around the world it’s serious business. Rivalries like Spain’s Real Madrid vs. FC Barcelona or Boca Juniors vs. River Plate in Argentina spark intense fan participation, raucous crowds and huge TV coverage. Jessica Spiegal has a list of some of the best rivalries, including teams in Egypt, Iran and England among others.
- Weird World Heritage – the World Heritage Site program was established to conserve sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance to all of humanity. That said, Cherrye Moore points out that the program’s selections include quite a few picks off the beaten track, including the “Head-Smashed-in-Buffalo-Jump” in Alberta Canada (the Native Americans used to run buffaloes off the cliffs) or the Quseir Amra Castle in Jordan.
- Bone Churches – European church builders seem to have an odd proclivity for building and decorating their structures with human bones. Often called ossuaries, these unique bone structures can be found in churches from Spain, to Italy and all the way to the Czech Republic. Whether you’re a Goth into the black arts or just interested in some unique cultural landmarks, Jessica Spiegal’s bone churches roundup is worth a look.
- South American Subways – as Eileen Smith points out, Europe is not the only continent with a wealth of public transportation options. If you happen to be traveling around cities like Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Caracas, or Medellin, Colombia make sure to give them a try.
- Amsterdam Amenities – let’s drop the stereotypes: Amsterdam has a lot more to offer than marijuana, Van Gogh museums and canals. The WhyGo Amsterdam blog has a roundup tips to know before you visit. Ever considered some Indonesian food for dinner? Or a visit to the world’s largest flower market? Have a look.
That’s it for this week’s BootsnAll Picks of the Week. Check back again next Friday for another roundup of great links from around the world.