Travel roundup 2014

As 2014 draws to a close, it’s time to look back on a year of travel and reflect on what made it special. I’ve been to new places and old, familiar; ones and I enjoyed every single trip except one. You’ll understand which one and why.

NOLA - The French Quarter
NOLA – The French Quarter

January

Istanbul [Turkey]

What a way to ring in the New Year! We spent New Year’s Eve in a restaurant that was within walking distance from our hotel. Or should I say within stumbling distance. That night, I saw a male belly dancer for the first time and was mesmerized. We had such a good time in Istanbul. I felt very safe, maybe because I was travelling with my husband. I know women travelling alone can feel uncomfortable there at times. For some strange reason, I felt at home, even though this is not my heritage. I loved the food, it felt and tasted familiar. I would go back in a heartbeat.

February

New York [US]

One of my sisters and her two daughters came to visit us in Dallas. We did a lot of sightseeing here in Dallas and A LOT of shopping. Shopping with teenage girls was a new experience for me; although I enjoyed it, it made me feel old and out of touch with fashion trends. But it was fun! We fit in a short girls’ only trip to New York.

Central Park
Central Park

It was very cold in New York; we didn’t enjoy that at all. We saw the sights: Central Park covered in white, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State at night, Little Italy, Wall Street, Times Square. We crammed quite a bit in less than three days. We cut the visit short because there was a snow storm coming and we didn’t want to get stuck in the city.

March

Caddo Lake and Jefferson [US]

Sean and I went on one of our little road trips around Texas. We hadn’t been that far east and I wanted to see the Spanish moss hanging from the cypresses, so we headed to Caddo Lake first and then to the pretty little Victorian town of Jefferson and it’s Shakespearean theatre festival.

April

Buenos Aires [Argentina]

As usual, I combine visiting with family and friends with a little sightseeing. This time I took a stroll around Barrancas de Belgrano, a park I hadn’t been to in years, and visited Chinatown for the first time.

Barrio Chino
Barrio Chino

May

Córdoba [Argentina]

As I probably commented before, my brother and his family moved to the hills of Córdoba and I went to visit them. I took the bus to the capital city, also called Córdoba, and got my history fix here among colonial buildings. We did a lot of sightseeing. My favourite, though, was crossing the Altas Cumbres (high peaks). The views were awe-inspiring.

Mina Clavero, Cordoba
Mina Clavero, Cordoba

New Orleans [US]

Another road trip, this time to New Orleans, an 8 hour drive from Dallas. We drove to Natchitoches first, where we spent the night. This is a lovely town in Louisiana, one of the first French settlements in the area. We pushed on to New Orleans. I’m still not sure whether I loved the city or hated it, probably somewhere in the middle. But I loved the food! We had some incredible meals here.

July

Buenos Aires [Argentina]

Another visit home. My mother and I took the grand-kids to the guided tour of the Colón Opera House. And I got to meet the lovely Leigh and her wonderful family!

August

Córdoba [Argentina]

Although this was a very short visit, we managed to do a lot, like seeing the hanging bridges on the Altas Cumbres or enjoying the peace and quiet of babbling mountain streams.

One of the old hanging bridges in Cordoba
One of the old hanging bridges in Cordoba

England

The reason for this trip was a very sad one: my father-in-law’s funeral.

September

New York [US]

This has become our annual ritual: get together with friends to watch the tennis US Open. The girls and I had an absolute blast both in Manhattan and at the Billie Jean King tennis center in Flushing. I think we laughed nonstop.

October

England

This was a more relaxed visit. We packed a lot in: dinner with friends in Canterbury (love love love the cathedral), a weekend in Cambridge and Ely, a day out in Portsmouth, trips to London to see the magnificent poppy installation at the Tower of London and to meet my friend Mercedes, family meals and my birthday dinner. Phew!

December is all about family. We’ll go to Toronto, Canada, for a pre-Christmas O’Reilly reunion and then on to Buenos Aires to spend the holidays with my family.

What was your favourite place to visit this year?

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We hosted our first Thanksgiving dinner!

Fried turkey? Why not? A generous friend offered to fry a turkey for us and deliver it to our house. How kind is that!  And it was delicious.

I baked up a storm the previous day: I made an apple and cranberry crumble, a tangerine tart and cookies, as well as the cranberry sauce. On Thursday, we made mashed potatoes, green beans, stuffing and roasted sweet potatoes. We didn’t follow the tradition to the letter because we don’t care for marshmallows with our sweet potatoes. We also had dinner rolls.

Cranberry sauce in the making
Cranberry sauce in the making

This was our first Thanksgiving as hosts and was a total success. The funny thing was that we were all foreigners, 4 Brits and me! But we had a great time. As custom dictates, the guys went upstairs to watch the Dallas Cowboys game, which was rather disappointing, and the girls stayed in the lounge and chatted away with a cup of tea in hand.

My table
My table

Back in the mists of time, a friend invited us to spend our first Thanksgiving ever at his aunt’s house in San Antonio. We weren’t sure what was going on but we had a fairly good time. We spent the next Thanksgiving with our friends from Salt Lake City, who used to live round the corner from the apartment in Buenos Aires. One more Thanksgiving in Boston and then we went abroad every year to visit whichever family we weren’t spending Christmas with. So hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the first time was a fun and pleasant experience.

My plate
My plate

 

What’s your favourite Thanksgiving dish?

If you do not celebrate Thanksgiving in your country, what’s your favourite holiday?

Memories of World Cups past

Officially, my first World Cup was that of ’74 but I don’t remember a thing. I don’t think I was remotely interested in football at that age.

1978. Look at the hairstyles! Aren't they great?
1978. Look at the hairstyles! Aren’t they great? And what about the short shorts??

Next up: Argentina ’78. I have a couple of clear memories. One is of me chanting a popular stadium song at the time about Holland. It went “Holanda, la copa se mira y no se toca” Something along the lines of Holland, the trophy beyond your reach. I don’t think my younger sisters joined in my frantic revelries. They were 4 and 2.

The night Argentina won the final, my dad piled all three of us in his car and we went round honking the horn and singing along with other hundreds of people partying in the streets. Mum stayed at home because she was heavily pregnant with my brother.

I have vague recollections of watching Argentina lose during the 1982 World Cup. It was not a good time for the country as we were at war and the defeat reflected that. It might have been an early exit but I’m not sure.

wc_861
Here’s Pique, the mascot.

Photo credit

I have two distinct memories of Mexico ’86 etched in my mind. One is that of Maradona’s masterful goal against England. I mean the truly incredible Goal of the Century, not the hand of god nonsense. We were gathered round the TV at my grandparents’. With every player Maradona passed, with every yard he gained, my grandfather gradually opened his arms, his mouth and stood up. I didn’t know where to look: TV or grandfather. And then we all cried GOOOOOOAAAAALLL at the top of our voices.

I watched the final against Germany at the club. It was amazing to be surrounded by so many people rooting for our team, chanting, jumping up and down, hugging each other, crying. The atmosphere was electric. It was unforgettable.

Italy ’90: my friends and I got together at somebody’s home to watch a match after school. It must have an important one because I remember us in tears. I hope they were tears of joy!

The only memory I have of the 1994 World Cup is that of Diego Maradona being escorted from the pitch and then failing his drug test. Oh dear.

I was giving in-company language training at the time of the 1998 World Cup. I remember that one of my students invited me to watch a match, probably against Croatia, with the managers. Watching a football match in a boardroom with the bigwigs was surreal.

No memories whatsoever of the 2002 World Cup. Did it even happen?

Edoardo Bennato & Gianna Nannini – Un’estate italiana (The Official 1990 FIFA World Cup (TM) Song)

2006 was my first World Cup as an expat in Dallas. I watched the matched by myself, wearing a blue and white hat and holding an Argentinean flag. We lost to Germany. A German acquaintance was less than gracious with me in victory. Tut tut.

We were staying in a hotel in Canada when the 2010 World Cup started, as Sean was working for Bell Canada. I watched some matches at the hotel’s lobby. At first timidly, the staff started to comment on the matches. Then we had animated conversations. The support of receptionists and bellhops helped me overcome the crushing defeat against Germany.

And now, Brazil 2014. I’ve watched every match at home. I was a bundle of nerves every time. I had to find something to do with my hands or I would go crazy, so I did the ironing or some knitting. I kept in touch with everybody back in Argentina via Twitter, a girl’s best friend, Facebook and Whatsapp, especially with my family. We commented on the matches, shared photos and laughs. I wish I were there with them right now.

I am still a bundle of nerves. I want the final to be over with but at the same time I want to watch it. Let the best team win. Hopefully, it will be my team ♥

Vamos Argentina!
Vamos Argentina!

El afilador [The Sharpener]

I’m hanging the laundry out to dry at my parents’ home in Buenos Aires and I hear the familiar harmonica tune tee-dee- deee tee-dee-deeeee. I rush out the door but it’s too late, the sharpener has cycled past. A young couple sees me gesturing and yells “The lady in green is calling you!”

afilador 2

The afilador cycles back to my house. I give him a couple of blunt knives and scissors. We start chatting, or rather, I ask him questions while he works. He tells me that he learned the trade from his grandfather. There’s more to sharpening blunt blades than meets the eye; there’s a different technique for each cutting instrument.

A whetting stone is fixed between the handlebars of his bicycle. When the bike is stationary it rests on a kickstand and the afilador sits on the bike and cycles. The movement of the wheels makes the whetting stone rotate so that he can sharpen blades.

The afilador -let’s call him Daniel-works as a school janitor from Monday to Friday and plies his trade at weekends. He’s also a war veteran. A warrior and keeper of a dying trade.

afilador 1

Donating is easy in Dallas

Every so often I like to cull my wardrobe. The advantages are manifold: the closet looks tidy, there’s more space for new purchases and somebody else can benefit from it.

When I lived in Buenos Aires, I would put my old clothes and shoes in bags and take them to our local church, where there is a special receptacle for donations. Alternatively, I would simply put them outside the front door and they would be gone in no time. Or even give them to the cleaning lady.

20140403_081403

But when I moved to Dallas, I had no clue what to do, where to go, who to give things to. I did a little digging and found a charitable organization called Goodwill. In a nutshell, they receive donations and sell them in their own stores, benefitting people in dire straits by selling products at affordable prices and by providing jobs.

Goodwill has collection points all over the city but they sometimes change their location and it’s not always easy to find them.

The other day I got a flyer in the mail from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. They asked for donations (clothes, shoes, books, toys and the like). I had a few things to give away so I called the number on the flyer.

makeawish0001

An automated phone menu guided me through the process. A voice asked me to punch the ID assigned on the flyer and to confirm my address. Once I did this, the voice asked me to leave everything outside my front door by 9.30 on the date printed on the piece of paper and to identify the bags clearly.

I left home Thursday morning and by the time I returned, everything was gone. They left a form for me to fill with the monetary value of my donations so I can deduct that from our taxes. The value is so low that in our case it’s not worth the trouble.

Donations ready

This may not come as a surprise to someone who lives in the US but to me, as a foreigner, it is a totally novel way of doing things. Very organized as well, which I like. Before, I would have never dreamed of deducting donation from taxes. It doesn’t feel very charitable. But it’s part of the local culture, so I embrace it.