ICF-1 Man United-0

At 5 p.m. on Wednesday May 11, Nicholas and I made our way to Green Street in East London where West Ham was playing their last game at the Boleyn Ground. The team had resided in the old, decrepit stadium for 112 years and now was moving to the state-of-the-art Olympic Stadium where London hosted the 2012 Olympics.

I had been warned that the atmosphere would be a sight to see, people would be dancing and singing in the street and the area would be packed with fans. We had planned to enjoy the environment until the game started and then walk to the Boleyn pub. We planned to watch the football game against Manchester United, have a pint of lager and then head home on the Tube.

The reality was vastly different that I could have imagined, I was not prepared for what I would see.

The Tube was packed with West Ham fans, all dressed in claret and blue, there was hardly any room to move and when the train pulled up to the station there was a rush for the escalators. Out on the street, cars were slowly making their way up and down Green Street and the sidewalks were filled with vendors and fans drinking beer. As we got closer to the stadium we looked up to see David Gold and David Sullivan, the West Ham co-owners, on a balcony overlooking the chaos that was ensuing below.

Making our way closer to the square, the noise got louder until finally we saw the group known as the Inter City Firm (ICF). The group is a well-known gang among the football community and is glamorized in the film Green Street Hooligans and is explained as the Green Street Elite.

English football had a problem with hooligan supporters in the 1970’s and this group rose to prominence as the most violent and aggressive of the 92 football clubs in England. The group is known to drink aggressively before games and then seek violence. Although the occurrence of stabbings and rival gang fighting has mostly died out, the gang known as the ICF is still a primary sight at each match outside the stadium and is passed down from generation to generation.

A man stood on the railing in the center of the square leading a group of approximately 50 people chanting and leading the rest of the crowd in a chant mocking their fellow London rivals Tottenham Hotspurs. Tottenham had recently been close to winning the English Premier League and had lost the previous weekend eliminating their chance of winning the league. The ICF was shouting their support at the recent loss by chanting “When Tottenham eff it up we’ll have a party!”

The atmosphere at first was incredible, men climbed to the top of light posts with a can of beer in hand and members of the ICF scaled the statues of several famous players to hang a West Ham flag on the outstretched arm of Bobby Moore.

The West Ham bus finally turned onto Green Street and was greeted by cheering support from fans who wanted to get close enough to touch the vehicle. Police on horses surrounded the team’s bus and were taking the environment very seriously. Not only were the officers in full riot gear, but the horses were as well. From the shin up the horses had shin pads and helmets fitted to the horses head and shielding their eyes from any scattered debris.

The crowds became boisterous as the Manchester United bus finally turned the corner. The team was an hour late to the game even though they initially were only 200 yards behind the West Ham bus. The home team supporters had spread from the sidewalks into the streets causing the visiting team to be unable to form a path to the stadium.

We stood on the corner next to the square as the Manchester United bus passed by us. Men stood on the top of buses and began yelling “Come on you Irons!” Before we could move cans of beer were flying across the square. Soon glass beer bottles, food and glass vodka bottles were sailing through the air toward the bus. It was pandemonium as people who were in the wrong place, at the wrong time ran through the crowd screaming “We aren’t fans! We aren’t fans!” and everyone surrounding us covered their heads in terror.

I felt myself pulled back toward the wall of a building behind me as my boyfriend grabbed me and covered my head as a glass bottle shattered against the wall next to us. An elderly man a few feet in front of us fell to his knees as a bottle hit him in the head and windows on the Manchester United bus was shattered.

Smoke filled the square when police let off flares and then took off in the opposite direction, realizing, I assume, they were doing more harm than good.

We retreated up the street to view the chaos from a distance. A bus stood at a standstill at the intersection while people riding pulled out their cameras to film the ICF dancing and kicking beach balls through the crowds.

People leaned out of their apartment windows to see the event unfold and a man dressed only in pajama pants climbed out of his window onto the roof to film the excitement.

Originally we planned on waiting until the crowds died down and went to watch the game, but after 30 minutes we noticed that many of the individuals causing the commotion didn’t have tickets. The group was not going anywhere as the party continued and members of the ICF danced in the streets.

Eventually we realized there was no chance of us getting back to the Tube the way we had come and quickly left the square and the drunkards to find a back alley toward safety.

Once on the Tube we were able to breathe again knowing the chaos was behind us.

From the comfort of our humble studio flat we turned on the news to see that the game had been delayed an hour due to the bedlam occurring in the square. West Ham went on to win the game 3-2 against Manchester United and it became public knowledge that those involved in wrecking havoc on the Manchester United bus would be banned from all future games.

Needless to say I was not disappointed by my first trip to a football game; even if I never stepped foot in the stadium.

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London Baby!

It seems like ages ago that I made the long flight of 3,300 miles to beautiful Dublin, but it has only been 12 days. This vacation is turning into separate parts, it’s almost like living in a book and each part of this trip is turning into very separate chapters.

We are trekking all over Europe and journeyed to London for a few days and exhausted ourselves fully. The term “downtime” does not seem to be in our vocabulary as we spent so much time sightseeing we crashed every night.

13100871_10154875603523327_2148193144841657846_nPrior to heading to Europe we had booked our accommodation through Airbnb.com which I had never heard of but is incredibly useful. We found what looked like a great studio apartment in a nice area of London. Upon arrival we still had not heard back from the woman we were booking from, we were sitting in the airport, about to get on the plane and had no idea how we were getting the keys. I became increasingly frustrated when she wouldn’t answer back and in true “American fashion” (I say that only because that has been pointed out twice to me now) I sent her a very nice, passive aggressive message. 13221701_10154875603813327_57718596344498659_nHonestly, it could have been worse. I only said that we were in the airport and were concerned about getting the keys and it would be great if by the time we landed in London we had an answer. This tact seemed to work though, because she responded immediately. Americans, it turns out, know how to get results.

We exited the station and took the “Tube” to Kensington, walked the 2 minutes to a very nice area next to Hyde Park and waited…and waited…and waited. It took waiting a half hour and calling twice to finally have someone come outside of the building to let us in our building and give us the key.

The flat was incredibly small stretching probably only 300 sq. ft. To our left was a small couch, a round table and a counter with a stove top that took a full day and several attempts to figure out how to get it to work. The bed was pushed against a dividing wall that, on the other side, housed a stand up shower a sink and a toilet in the smallest bathroom area I had ever seen. I looked at the flat and thought it was fine until…much to my dismay…I realized I would be going to the bathroom without a door. That’s right folks, I now had the added bonus of worrying about how I would live in a tiny space with my boyfriend and use a toilet that had NO DOOR shielding me from him. It turned into a battle of wills as each morning I insisted he take a walk around the block so I could take care of business. You don’t realize how much you take bathroom doors for granted until the option has been taken away from you.

13174150_10154875618703327_6974766195143178112_nWhen we arrived the sun was shining, the sky was blue, the birds were singing…all was well with the world. After dropping our bags off in our teeny tiny flat, we decided to tour the area. Hyde Park was right next door so we began a leisurely stroll through the green grounds until the rain came. It rained nonstop for the next 3 days. By the end of our walk I had successfully acquired the look of a drowned rat before finally giving in and buying an umbrella.

Our first day we saw Buckingham Palace and were going to see if the Queen was in for a cup of tea but unfortunately no such luck. I saw 13178019_10154875619033327_8292427046362960868_nthe guards standing in position and couldn’t help but feel so bad for them, the notice out front said the changing of the guards during the summer was every day at 11 a.m. and during the winter every other day at 11 a.m. That means they are required to stand completely still with no bathroom breaks or food for two whole days. In my opinion it’s just madness, but hey, what do I know.

Unfortunately with the rain coming down in buckets we didn’t see much the first day, it slowed us down and after walking for about 3 hours we had to give in and call it a night. We walked through Leicester Square which looks remarkably like Times Square and is tourist central. We wanted a unique restaurant that was a hidden gem in the area and settled on an Italian place that was as authentic as you get in London. After splitting a bottle of wine and having a delicious meal we caught the Tube back to our stuffy studio apartment and crashed.

13178048_10154875606568327_1152236638291023476_nDay two involved the big tourist stuff that everyone else travels to London to see. We walked through Westminster and saw the parliament building which from the outside was highly impressive. There was also a statue in the courtyard of one building of Oliver Cromwell who Nicholas said was celebrated in England but for the Irish he is known as the “perpetrator of genocide.” In the mid-1600’s he led an army to pacify Ireland who were rebellious to the English rule and massacred thousands of men, women and children. It was interesting to see how from one country to another, a man who was so hated in Ireland for murdering innocent people was memorable enough to have a statue of himself built in England.

It’s exhausting enough to just think back to that day as we walked from Westminster to see Big Ben who I continuously referred to as “the big guy.” 13174143_10154875607838327_8820090914097593007_nIt was great to hear him chime. Then onwards and upwards to Trafalgar Square which is known as the heart of the city. A large water fountain was in the middle of the square with statues in and around it. Nicholas has a strange obsession 13164482_10154875611268327_6783383622522243567_nwith lions, so it was fairly comical to see him yell “LION!” at the massive lion statues that were scattered around the square.

The London Eye would have been on my list of top things to do but we were running out of time and could only walk past the ferris wheel that stretched towards the sky. There is so much to see and do in London and 4 days, it turns out, just is not enough time. We walked down to Shakespeare’s Globe not realizing the tours were scattered and by the time we stood outside the old thatched building our time was limited, we had somewhere we had to be.

 

Stay tuned…

 

Traveling All Over God’s Creation

The first few days spent in Ireland have been mostly a blur. From the moment I stepped into the airport at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning to seeing the bottom of a glass of Guinness last night, time is flying. I honestly wish it would slow down, just a little.

But I’m in no position to complain, I am in beautiful Ireland! In no way, shape or form do I want to appear anti-supportive of my home country, but if the weather was nicer year-round I might consider relocation.

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The flight here was rough, all-in-all it took me a full day of traveling. For someone who hadn’t slept at all in the days leading up to departure you would think I would sleep like a baby on my journey. But with the exception of sleeping on the shoulder of a complete stranger for the last two hours on the plane from Newark to Dublin, I was running on 36 hours of no sleep. It was there; curled up in a ball in a window seat I looked out and caught my first glimpse of Dublin. The neighborhoods were arranged in neat rows with the countryside stretching on and on.

I connected to WiFi and immediately received several impatient texts from a certain someone waiting for me in arrivals. A usually patient person, my boyfriend would only tell me to hurry up, knowing full well I hate being rushed. The long journey was well worth it as I walked through customs and then through the final doors and saw Nicholas light up like a kid on Christmas morning and duck under the gate separating us, (which I’m fairly certain is illegal) to run to greet me.

We quickly departed the airport and drove through the confusing streets of Dublin. He asked me if it was weird, seeing signs in both English and Irish. It was, but if we’re being honest, I associated it as being English and Spanish. But let me tell you, you do not want to be quizzed on the pronunciation of Irish words. There is literally no rhyme or reason, how an “s” can be pronounced as “sh” is beyond me.

13118850_10154859391713327_2331966211300599476_nThat first day the jet lag was one of the worst things I’ve experienced. It was bad when I went to Kenya, but at least when I arrived it was bed time and I could pass out. Here, my first day running on next to no sleep I got the full tour of Dublin. When I say the full tour I am not exaggerating. We walked close to 6 miles with Nicholas pointing out bars he had been to and telling me the history of areas of the city. He showed me the Ha-Penny Bridge 13138881_10154859392573327_3919397017534775104_nwhich once upon a time cost half a penny to cross, hence the name. He showed me the bar he had snuck into with his friends. As an underage 15-year-old, one friend would volunteer to cause a commotion so the rest could sneak past security. What a trouble maker.

I became instantly jealous of the four years Nicholas got to spend at Trinity College as we walked through the massive archway and onto the grounds. It was gorgeous, with stone buildings that had been built over 500 years ago.

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I got to learn about the time Nicholas and his friend ran, in a drunken stupor, from security and broke a 500-year-old gate on the premises when they tried to jump it. I am learning about a whole other side of my boyfriend causing all sorts of problems. No wonder he moved to America.

We went to a pub that Nicholas used to frequent with his friends and I got to try my very first pint of Guinness. I expected it to be thick and taste awful, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was smooth and creamy and Nicholas took photos of me at first you can see my hesitation, then my eyes light up like “Oh wow! This is actually good!” And then in the final picture I am downing it. It was so good I spent all of last night drinking it.13138776_10154861829568327_7373291898486680776_n

Ireland so far is incredibly beautiful, I got to ride on a double-decker bus, sitting in the front seat on the top floor is really cool with the exception of feeling like the bus is going to crash any minute. The streets have absolutely zero trash lining them, it is refreshing to see that even in the “bad areas” of Dublin, it is still in pristine condition; if Nicholas hadn’t told me it was a bad area, I wouldn’t have had a clue.

They seem to be more aware of energy conservation here, instead of having massive billboards lit up with electronic signs that change every minute, their billboards are about half the size and have posters beneath the glass that move up and down to change the advertisement. They don’t leave devices plugged in as we do, which might be more to assure it doesn’t start a fire or anything, but even the toaster gets unplugged after use.

It’s nice to be able to walk everywhere here. The lower half of my body has been in pain every morning from the amount of walking we have been doing. No wonder everyone here is in shape. My first comments as I drag myself out of bed these last 3 days have been, “my hiney hurts, and my feet hurt, and my ankles hurt, and my calves hurt, and my abs hurt…” I think it’s becoming a running joke.

Our second day we hiked to the southeast suburbs of Dublin, Killiney, Dalkey and Dun Laoighre. We took the train to Killiney and it was the best metro ride I’ve ever been on. The train rides along the coast of the town right on the water. Looking out the window it felt like I was traveling across the calm blue water as I looked out at the other side of the bay. Once we arrived we hiked 2 miles to the top of a hill overlooking the city. From the top the view was incredible. We sat and enjoyed the view before realizing how hungry we were and had to hike back down.13173693_10154861829313327_2298697274630834043_n

On our journey back to the house we passed one of the best ice cream shops in Dublin and stopped to split a 99. It is soft serve vanilla ice cream in a cake cone with a chocolate bar sticking out of the side, its name… the 99. We got ours with sprinkles and I have been informed that I have to reveal to the world that I shamelessly ate all of the sprinkles. But in my defense, for the sprinkle fans out there, they are the best part! You would have eaten them all too!

I’m getting my fair share of European sports while I’m here as later that night Nicholas drove like a madman to the bar around the corner from the house to watch the Liverpool soccer game. I drank my Guinness and we split some food as I listened to his small outbursts of “No!” or “Yes! Score!” 13179355_10154861827683327_6524928207615193132_nWe were facing the window and I found it so strange to look at my watch and see that it was 9 p.m. but the sun was still up, it looked like it was 5 in the evening. The sun also comes up earlier here, around 4 a.m. and I have to remind myself when I wake up to the sun streaming through a sliver in the curtains that just because the sun is up does not mean it is time to wake up.

Yesterday was probably the best day I’ve had in Ireland thus far. We woke up at the crack of dawn, well, what would be the crack of dawn in a normal country, and sleepily pulled on our clothes. I was still so tired I don’t even remember getting dressed. We hopped in the car and hit the road. The drive to the Cliffs of Moher was great for me given that I got to sleep most of the way. We stopped for breakfast at a rest area where I had beans on toast. Sounds strange, but it is so yummy. 13177323_10154866990428327_2832404245402784605_nThe next time we stopped was at Bunratty Castle where I could not stop with my sudden outbursts of “Castle!” Seeing a real life castle certainly does bring back a sense of childlike innocence.

We spent about an hour touring the grounds and seeing the old village which has been kept the same as it used to be, and then climbing through the winding staircases of the castle. I have also been told to mention that I was a “scaredy cat” going down the stairs. They were so steep I honestly felt like I was going to fall on my face. I made Nicholas walk down ahead of me so if anything happened he would break my fall.

I slept the distance of the castle to the cliffs, and when I woke up it was the most beautiful sight. The ocean stretched out as far as I could see and the water was a deep blue as the sun glistened off the waves and the cliffs rose up to meet us. It’s amazing to see something so grandiose that I never thought I really would see. I tested my bravery and walked to the edge of the cliffs and looked down as I felt my stomach drop. Waves crashed against the rocks at the bottom and I wasn’t allowed too close without Nicholas pulling me back. I believe his exact words were “I told your father I would keep an eye on you and keep you safe, you going over the side of the cliffs does not allow me to keep my promise.” I got to dangle my feet over the edge of the cliff and trust me when I say, there is nothing quite like it.

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That evening I got to test my drinking skills with a group of Irish men, and I was surprised at my ability to keep up. We called it a night at 3 a.m. and it was the biggest relief to wake up without a hangover, it was an even better feeling to realize my Irish boyfriend has been nursing a hangover all day long.

So far, it has been the best holiday I’ve had, can’t wait to see what else is in store for me.