A quick wrap of the highlights of the past few weeks
Barthelona! What a town. My favourite European city so far. I love it. And I love that I love it. Even before I stepped on the plane at London City, I was expecting to enjoy Barcelona, as everyone I know who has been there before raves about it. And, of course, there is a small matter of Barcelona FC, the beating heart of Catalunian culture and long-time best friends with Dutch football (more about that later). My excuse for visiting this Mediterranean jewel was Huy's 30th birthday, an event that Huy micro-managed to perfection (Joyce - your position as top-dog organiser is under threat!). Arranging for 20+ people to fly in from around the world to celebrate your birthday is no mean feat and the fact he has such pulling power is testament to what a popular guy Huy is (despite my frequent attempts at slandering him in this blog). The weekend was just the best fun ever - gastronomic delights at La Boqueria market, shopping at hidden boutiques in the alleyways of the Born district, being transported to an underwater world in the Casa Botilo, the overwhelming flavour hit of the foams and other emulsions that pass for dinner at Hisop (actually, I think the restaurant was top class - great choice, Huy) and dancing the night away underneath a giant gorilla head at La Fira. What a weekend. I have to go back! Soon!
Holland 3 - Italy 0
Despite not having set foot in Holland for 15 years, having extremely minimal Dutch language skills and knowing very little about Dutch culture or history, my Dutch heritage is extremely important to me. Its fullest expression comes when watching the Oranje play football. Whenever the Oranje play, I go a little crazy - and the sight of the massed thousands of Dutch fans wearing orange shirts, clogs and clown wigs makes me well up with emotion. Usually, the overwhelming feeling I experience is disappointment (like when the Dutch conspired to lose the Euro 2000 semi-final against Italy by missing two penalties in normal time and two more in the shoot-out - I was travelling at the time and returning to my hostel dorm room to find it full of Italian supporters was one of the worst moments of my life) though there is the occasional highlight (Bergkamp's goal against Argentina in the 89th minute of the 1994 World Cup semi-final - incredible- you MUST watch it on youtube). Even outside the low lands, the Dutch are admired for the way they play the game - they're open, attacking, skilful, graceful and all those other complimentary adjectives I can't think of right now. Sure, they're also mentally fragile, prone to in-fighting and unfamiliar with the concept of defence, but for this I forgive them. And in their first game at Euro 2008 they repaid me by thumping the world champions by three goals. Apart from his first name, Wesley Sneijder is perfect.
Bec & Frank
Two of the best people I know, who happen to also be two of my closest friends, are now married. Sure it was inevitable from the moment Bec sacrificed years of sun worship to move to Dublin to be with Frank and was confirmed when they set up a joint "Bec & Frank" email account, but it's nice to make these things official by going through with the ceremony. In customarily diplomatic style, the couple chose neutral territory for the big event, and stepping off the plane onto Italian soil was a sweet moment, coming so soon after the Oranje humiliation of the Azzurri (see above). Not only was the venue non-partisan, it was also stunning. The ceremony was held at the Palazzo Publico in Siena, which is set against the stunning backdrop of Siena's famous town square (actually, it's shell-shaped, not square - but I could hardly describe it as the town shell). I can't think of a more beautiful place for a wedding. It was an intimate ceremony, punctuated by Frank's uncontrollable sobbing and Bec's cool detachment ... We all know now who wears the trousers in that relationship. After a brief interlude during which the couple were mobbed by snap-happy tourists / paparazzi taking pictures in the square, we all hopped on a party bus to Borgo di Fontebussi, a stunning villa / hotel set on a Tuscan hill side, overlooking olive groves, vineyards and rolling valleys. Amazing. Wonderful food, the world's most charismatic wedding singer (able to move from U2's "One", sung in a thick Italian accent, to "Figaro" and then to "Bohemian Rhapsody" with barely a pause, this guy was incredible) and mad cross-cultural dancing ... this wedding had it all. Congratulations again Bec & Frank!
Holland 4 - France 1
Holland's second game of Euro 2008 was inconveniently scheduled for the same time as dinner on the second night as Bec & Frank's wedding. OK, I admit that I thought about it for a bit, but in the end I got my priorities right ... I went to the dinner. But I politely excused myself every 15 minutes to check the score and then, after scoffing dessert, ran upstairs with a couple of the lads to watch the second half. What a game!!! After thrashing the World Cup champions, I didn't think we could back it up by dishing out another humiliation to the World Cup finalists, but somehow we did. In the words of the Dutch commentator, screamed repeatedly at a high pitch , "Ongeloofelijk!!!" It was an amazing game, punctuated for me by Arjen Robben's stunning solo goal from a tight angle that shut down any prospect of a French comeback. I watched with disbelief as we repeatedly shredded the French defence on the counter attack. Amazing, amazing, amazing. A match that will never be forgotten (at least not by me).