Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Monday, June 8, 2009
I have golf clubs, balls, and tees; everything should seem like another normal round of golf, but it doesn’t. Not even close to normal. The grass on the course is a beautiful bright green as it always is. White sand fills bunkers spread liberally throughout each hole. I am golfing in the gorgeous Highlands of Scotland, the original home of Golf, and no bad shots or three putts can turn my gigantic smile into even the slightest frown.
It is 6:30 p.m. in Fort Augustus, I have been here for an hour and have already located a course, reserved rental clubs, and made a tee time. My heart is racing in anticipation for my first Scottish golfing experience. Every few minutes goose bumps appear on my arm. The hair on my forearms and neck rise to attention, this is without a doubt a special day.
As I enter the clubhouse a tall, blonde haired woman greets me. “You’re the lad who called about the clubs, ay?” I replied with an exuberant “YES” unable to keep my emotions in check. “You picked a great night to play, the weather is beautiful and the wind isn’t too bad,” she said with a smile, her Scottish charm pouring out.
My equipment is, to put it kindly, not what I am accustomed to playing with. My 3 and 5-wood are literally wooden. The irons look like they had been used by the Jacobites as weapons, and my putter’s shine has dulled to a dark coal black. But all that doesn’t matter. Today, the goal for my round is not breaking 80, or making 3 birdies, no way. Today, my goal is to enjoy this great game in its purest form, in the atmosphere that is was meant to be played in.
Dark brown heather, yet to bloom into its beautiful purple color, runs parallel to each fairway, waiting patiently to suck up one of my wayward shots, as it has surely done to thousands of golfers in the past. Huge mountains; some colored a florescent yellow, others packed with tall green trees, enclose the course like bleachers surround a stadium.
The sound of wind howling through leaves on trees outlining the perimeter of the course is constant. Every 30 seconds or so a gust sweeps down piercing through my body as if I wasn’t really there. Could I be dreaming? Am I really playing golf in frickin’ Scotland right now?
Even in my state of nirvana I can’t help from being hypnotized by the beauty of nature that I am all of a sudden smack-dab in the middle of. The picture of mountain after mountain layered perfectly next to each other behind the 1st green is as clear as the light blue sky, no cloud in site.
The air has a different scent to it, but I can’t put my finger on it. It is very sweet, like honey, and fresh, perhaps a family is baking a cake close to the course and the wind is carrying it into my face. Whatever it is, it couldn’t be more pleasant.
Golf carts, America’s proudest invention, are not permitted to trample the course; yet not one fairway allows for a flat shot. Each fairway has its own crevasses throughout the hole, truly signifying just how much history has occurred on this old patch of land. Perhaps, wars and battles between the Scottish and English for territory were decided on this land. Maybe years ago livestock grazed the fields, some of which were undeniably brought to their death by the monster occupying the nearby Loch Ness just outside the gated fence of the golf course. Who really knows? All I am certain of is that it now has a permanent place in my mind and soul forever.
To passerby’s who see me play while they drive down the road, I am sure they think nothing out of the ordinary is going on. I am also quite positive that people who read this will say, “What is so special about playing golf in Scotland?”
In my heart, everything is different. I have played upwards of 50 golf courses in my life, and it will take me 50 more to feel the way I feel right now. In the center of the most beautiful scenery I have ever witnessed. There are so many pleasant distractions, golf almost takes a back seat to all the other variables surrounding me. The sun is still nowhere near setting, still high in the sky waiting for me to make my swings.
When I am playing golf back home, I play a game with myself on the course. On the 18th hole I pretend I have a putt to win the U.S. Open, usually I miss, although the times I make it I am ecstatic. Today, I will add a wee twist to my game. This time, and only this time, my putt on 18 will be to win the British Open, and I will make it.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Roberto Flores has the toughest job in quite possibly the busiest spot in the entire city of Chelsea. Flores wakes up everyday at 6:30 a.m. in his one-bedroom apartment on the outskirts of Chelsea overlooking the River Thames. When he has time he stops at his local café to pick up the fuel necessary for the hectic day he has ahead. Flores gets to work just as the sun is peaking through the morning sky and won't go home until it is just beginning to set in the west.Flores is the manager of The Market Restaurant, by far the most frequented attraction inside the Chelsea Farmers Market. The restaurant opens for breakfast and coffee at 9 a.m. and serves lunch and dinner until it closes at 8 p.m. Flores arrives at the Chelsea Farmers Market before anyone else, around 8 a.m. when he begins his workday, and won’t stop until closing 12 hours later.
Flores hails from Sicily, where he lived before coming to England 13 years ago. Now, at 41, although his slender and muscular physique makes him look much younger, he has found a home at the restaurant that he has managed for more than 6 years. “In Italy you have the weather, food and drink. England has everything. There is always something to do here, and that’s the way I like it,” he said while standing behind the bar, which is built no more than 10 feet from the kitchen.
Inside the kitchen is where Stuart, the South African chef operates. In a genuine, yet joking manner Flores says, “Stuart is one of the best chefs in all of Chelsea,” loud enough for him to hear and give a slight chuckle. “Thank you, Roberto,” he cheerfully shouts out while preparing a soon-to-be-happy customer’s lunch.
The restaurant is located on Sydney Street where the traffic from buses and cars can easily be heard coming from Kings Road right around the corner. On beautiful days like today, everyone dines outside, where there are tables numbered 1-29. Each wooden table, with benches on both sides, has a little 8-inch square dish that contains ketchup and mustard in red and yellow squirt bottles, salt and pepper, and an ashtray.
The set up brings me back to Rockville Centre, New York, my hometown where on warm summer days there is a bevy of outdoor seating that I feel only enriches the eating experience. The atmosphere just encourages a peaceful mentality to me. Anyway, back to Chelsea.
The people start filing in one after another after another around 1 p.m. until all 29 tables are full of hungry locals and tourists alike, waiting eagerly to be served their food. The sun shines from everyone’s smiling faces as they sip their drinks and relax before heading back to work or continuing to explore the neighborhood. If some prefer to sit in the shade, waiters rush over to the table and in a counter-clockwise movement, open large green awnings that are spread out among the area. One thing is certain, everyone who works for Flores, from Stuart the chef all the way down to the waiters, strive to make every customer happy.
Everywhere I look there is green. Plants varying from light to dark green go around in a big square, surrounding the eating area with beautiful scenery. The big green awnings hang above tables. Even the actual building where people go up to pay and order drinks from the bar is covered in forest green.
The aroma from the food makes me feel like I should be in Paris or Rome, rather than in a small farmer’s market in Chelsea. Dish after dish come from the kitchen, each one looking more and more delicious as I sit at the bar.
“Roberto is a fair man that makes working for him very enjoyable. Everyone that works here has respect for him … and that leads to a good environment,” said the chef from the kitchen, where a big, rectangular window allows him to receive and deliver orders.
I feel very relaxed and safe at the restaurant: something that isn’t always the easiest for someone in a new place. “We want people to think of the Chelsea Farmer’s Market as a must-see attraction as well as a great place to go with friends and family,” said Flores. “You have to be kind to everyone, whether it is people who frequent often or tourists such as yourself.”
Jim Connelly, a resident of Chelsea, says he loves the restaurant. “I come here four or five times a week because the food is delicious, the people who work here are kind, and it’s a great place to bring my dog,” he said. “Thank you very much, sir; we hope to see you again soon,” Flores said, wearing a big, genuine smile.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Of course there are loopholes like there is with anything in this crazy world. I could buy a fake ID or pay a bouncer outside to let me enter. That will certainly make my wallet lighter, which is not at all my objective before I even take a sip of beer. The system is severely flawed and shows no signs of fixing itself.
That is why to me, London is freedom. Real freedom, not the garbage my government back in America constantly shoves down its people throats every day. Here I can do as I please, have a casual drink with friends in a relaxing bar setting with a few waitresses dress in black with some 1990’s music in the background. Or I can get entirely pissed, steamed up, with a couple guys during an Arsenal football match in a pub right outside the teams’ home stadium.
I love all kinds of beer. Pale ales, bitter Lagers, dark beer served at room temperature, blonde beer served “Extra Cold” for us cranky Americans. Everyone has a distinct quality that makes it unique and special.
The feeling I get as I walk up to a bartender and order a beer is indescribable to me, mostly because I had never really had the opportunity back home. I finally can have the customer and bartender rapport that has thus far eluded me my entire life. I can ask him what he recommends, without him looking back at me with a stare that tells me I am about to get shut down. Rather just the opposite, he smiles, takes a second to consider his favourite beer, then reconsider because there has to be so many running through his mind, before finally sharing his deepest thoughts. “That sounds great, I’ll have one of those,” I would say as obviously I wouldn’t be dumb enough to go against a professional’s opinion.
Still, I know that the freedom I feel now in London is ticking to an end each day. Soon I will be back in America, where I am not of legal age, and consequently go back to being an equal to an infant at the bars. When I leave London in 11 days I will be relinquishing my freedom to consume alcohol legally, and I am not happy about it.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Sunday, May 24, 2009
My experience of Arsenal was long, tiring, and a lot fun. Finding a pub with an entertaining atmosphere, as well as one televising the Arsenal match, was shockingly difficult. However, at the end of the day, with the kindness of the local folks, along with the entertaining passion the home fans displayed all day, my trip could not have been a bigger success.
Today, the Arsenal Football Club defeated Stoke City 4-1 at Emirates Stadium. However, that is not the story for today. Instead, I would prefer to talk about the incredible culture that surrounds Arsenal, and more specifically the connection between the football club and local community.
In America, one of the most loyal and enthusiastic cities to their hometown sports team is Green Bay, Wisconsin. On Packers’ Sunday, the town closes down and all eyes are centered on the green and yellow men at Lambeau Field. In Arsenal, just like in numerous cities throughout London, football takes priority over everything else. On game day, nothing is more important than showing your support and cheering on your respective team.
As I exited the tube station, the only one in London directly named after the football club, I entered a street surrounded by red and yellow uniforms, Arsenal’s team colors. Directly outside the station there were booths, or little shops, selling Arsenal t-shirts, scarves, baseball caps and other paraphernalia.
If today was any indication of the normal game day routine in Arsenal, there are zero cars on the road. Instead, the entire street is jam packed with Arsenal jerseys. The home jerseys, which most fans were sporting, were bright red, with maroon and white trim down the sides. In the middle of the chest wrote, “Fly Emirates”, which was flanked by the Nike logo on the right side and Arsenal crest of the left. Drakes’ Street, the road leading to the arena was a sea of red.
I could smell the scent of locals drinking beers outside the stadium as clear as the sky on this beautiful spring day. In almost a treasure hunt kind of feeling, empty beer cans were tossed on the sidewalks leading up to the pitch. Outside the entrance to the pitch, pubs were overflowing with fans from both sides that were frantically singing cheers for their team.
Purposefully, I had arrived early, to get a sense of the pregame festivities and as well to accustom myself with my surroundings. I had hoped to find a nice pub with fellow Arsenal fans to watch the contest with, meanwhile taking in some of the culture. Unfortunately, things went a rye for me in several regards.
Prior to my trip, I had done some research to find a pub in Arsenal to watch the game, and, believe me, there are a ton to choose from. The problem on this day was after I had sidetracked off my original trail from the tube station into the stadium, nobody seemed to know where the one pub I had set my sights on going to was located — and I mean nobody. I must’ve asked fifteen separate police officers and traffic officials, and close to a dozen more fans drenched in Arsenal apparel, all with the same, unsuccessful result. I approached one policewoman on the streets and asked her if she knew where the infamous, Arsenal Tavern was. Her response, “I don’t have the damndest clue”. It seemed neither did anyone else.
I went on, walking up and down Drake’s Street for well over an hour, until I finally found my destination. I walked in prepared to see a bar covered with Arsenal uniforms and televisions broadcasting the game all over the walls. Instead what did I find?
Eventually I managed to find a place down the street that was a little more upbeat. A sign hung over the entrance in black that wrote, “Home Fans Only.” I entered feeling right at home with my jersey on! Inside, I stood next to cousins, Steve and Dave, from Arsenal, wearing matching uniforms. We exchanged pleasantries and began talking. We mainly discussed football, American and European. Talking to these guys, who looked not a day over 30, I could feel the accepting nature they had towards a foreigner such as myself. I figured this was probably because of the bond we shared due to the Arsenal uniform.
That’s the beauty of sports. It’s the same throughout the world. Fans come together and accept each other for having common characteristics. In Arsenal, sharing interest in the football club is one of the greatest things you can have in common with the locals, as I experienced firsthand.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Every country has something unique about it, something that makes it different from others. Many nations show their customs and history through the food they eat.
We left the London Center early and caught a tube ride to the Temple station stop. There, Ryan began one of his wonderfully unique and information-filled tours.
The morning tour ended when we arrived at the house of Dr. Samuel Johnson, the author of the first dictionary. From there we walked a short distance, through small alleys just wide enough for a horse and chariot, to a local pub where Johnson, and other famous writers such as Mark Twain and Charles Dickens visited frequently: the famous Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.
After eating chicken dishes the first three days in London, I decided to try the local favorite, Fish and Chips! I wasn’t sure what to expect, especially from the side of mushy peas, but decided to be brave and go for it nevertheless.
All the food on my plate was cooked very similarly. The fish, chips, and peas all were cooked with a somewhat hard outer shell. But once the outer crust was cracked either with my fork or teeth, the warm, moist inside awaited.
The plate of food was constructed very carefully, a large helping of peas on one side, a foot of freshly fried fish cooked perfectly, and then a huge portion of fries on the other side. A sprinkle of lemon juice complimented the white Codfish perfectly.
For the first time since I arrived in London, I finally felt like one of the locals. Here I was in the same pub, perhaps even the same SEAT that Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Samuel Johnson had their meals and brainstormed for future works. Certainly, they had to have enjoyed an order of Fish and Chips during their years at the Cheshire Cheese. And now, I was there doing the same thing for this piece.
Ryan had told me during my first meal a few days ago that the custom in England was to each the chips (french fries) with mayonnaise. So I did as the locals do and spread the condiment on what I thought was my once delicious fried potato. Nervously I drew it closer to my mouth, until in one sudden movement I put away my fear and ate the fry.
Even now writing this, a smile still creeps on to my face. Wouldn’t you believe it; it was actually pretty damn delicious!
In England, there is barely any salt put on the French fries after they are cooked, in deep contrast to the way they are made in America. The mayonnaise gave the fries a much sweeter, richer taste.
At that moment, looking at my plate, I could see what London was all about. The taste of their food reflects the culture in many ways. Just like Fish and Chips, the city of London is rich, with history. There is no better example of this than the very place I was sitting when I was creating this masterpiece. What was most astonishing is the fact that this incredibly historical place was a pub! Not a museum or library like back in the States, a pub! By the end of the meal, the plate a shine from the candle a few inches away on the table, I had ate the whole thing.
Take my advice, next time your craving some Fish and Chips, forget Long John Silvers. Blow off a week or two and come to London, you won’t regret it.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
There are many traditional objects that are shaped like rectangles in London just as there is back in the States. The credit card shaped Oyster Card, the beautifully decorated currency. Perhaps the most recognizable figures of London are the rectangular shaped double-decker buses that are everywhere throughout the city. However, there is one rectangle that is cherished by the locals that folks back across the pond do not care for very much. That is of course the beloved
soccer field, sorry, football pitch!
London has so many fun and exciting attractions it is almost impossible to condense everything into one trip. However, already, after just two days of tours I feel more knowledgeable and aware of my surroundings, which is to be somewhat expected as time goes on. Thus far, we have toured some of the London’s most historic and famous landmarks. Today we continued to cover the basic places that pretty much every tourist goes to see when he or she are in London. We visited Big Ben, Buckingham and St. James’ Palace, and Westminster Abbey. Oh yeah, and if you haven’t been reading my blog (shame on you), we also ran into some old maid that goes by the Queen of England during the changing of the guard ceremony.
After today’s tour there was only one shape that resonated in my brain when I thought of London: SQUARE. The people in Westminster were incredibly plain, almost as much as the motionless guards who stood perfectly straight in their red uniforms with their famous black fur-like helmets. These stiffs wouldn’t move an inch if there were an army of Swedish bikini models posing right in front of them.
At 6:30 p.m., after a long day of walking, Michelle and I walked a few blocks over to Sydney Street to a destination that is not frequently visited by foreigners. This place won’t show up on any maps or tourist itineraries. It is the local pitch, where men of all ages come to play their beloved sport. One thing is for sure; the English are far from square on the pitch, they are absolutely OBSESSED with football.
When we arrived we were both stunned by the masses of people sporting their favorite uniforms in the park surrounding the pitch. There were people on wooden benches outside of the playing area, undressing from their suits and jumping into their red English National Team jerseys, shorts, and cleats. Once the game started the magic really started. Teams were separated into red and white colored shirts against blue colored shirts. The conversation between the players displayed their love for the game as they sprinted back and forth in their rectangular shaped pitch gated off by a dark green fence. On special occasions, players from opposing teams would compliment each other for an exceptional play yelling, “Great ball mate”, which was followed by a, “Cheers”, from the other player.
As I stood outside the gated playing area I thought about how for the last year at college I had made fun of my roommate for wanting to watch European football games on T.V. Now standing there, I wanted to do nothing else but run on to the pitch and strike the ball in the top corner past the keeper.
Everywhere you look in the city of London there is an unmistakable shine that can only come from the color gold. Whether it is the bright, clear gold color of your favorite beer shining through a glass in a local pub, the goldish-auburn tint from Ryan Parkhurst’s facial hair, or the hundreds of sparkling statues and ornaments that surround this incredible city. Gold loves London, and London LOVES Gold.
I will be the first person to admit I do not have the bar scene down. Before yesterday I had never sat down in a bar or pub and had a casual beer. Part of the reason is because I had never been in England before, the other reason is that I am a nineteen-year old
baby face that gets IDed the second I ask for alcohol. Imagine my surprise when I sat down for my first meal in London, Wagamama’s, and receive a big smile, tall glass, and 24-ounces of liquid gold in a heartbeat.
Although this is incredibly painful for me, I am going to refrain from focusing on my experiences with beer the first few days here, and instead put the spotlight on the rich history of London’s culture. Don’t you fret though; there will certainly be plenty of pub stories in the very near future.
Any who, back to London, outside of the pubs. One thing that has become very apparent to me is that the weather in London SUCKS. Even when the weather is temporarily gorgeous, no one can be happy. This is because everyone knows in a matter of minutes the sky will turn from bright blue to dark gray, the clouds will part, and rain will begin to saturate the old-fashioned cobblestone streets. One constant in London, rain or shine, are the gold monuments sprinkled throughout the city. The decorative golden pieces on top of the Tower Bridge (aka the “London Bridge” by tourists) glisten on the Thames River. In the middle of town the shiny gold clock located on church outside Tower Hill looks down on all the patrons passing by. A statue of Thomas More, a famous Catholic Church supporter who was murdered defending the rights against the expansion of the Protestant religion in England, was erected in gold and silver in the suburbs of Chelsea.
Today, the group and I visited the Tower of London, where we were given a guided tour by a
Beefeater, a retired English soldier who served 22 years that now entertains the foreigners site-seeing. Although he claims that the Gin Company created the name after they were already established as guides, I’m not buying it. As we adventured through the towers, we came across the Jewel tower, where there were hundreds upon hundreds of gold kitchenware. Still, one thousand years later, gold still is a valued part of English culture.
Throughout the history of English culture gold has been used to show royalty. Whether it was royalty in business, family, or country gold demonstrated ones strength. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that in hundreds of years to come the London standard will be the same as it was in the days of King George VIII, likewise as it is today.