Thursday, November 27, 2014

What does Azerbijan have to do with Spanish Football?

My first blog post as the Senior Nomad Sports Reporter
Last year I attended a dozen soccer matches in Europe. After each match, I put together an email recapping my outing along with some photos and sent it to our sons Alistair and Christopher plus a handful of friends who are international football fans. This year Debbie and I decided that instead of sending emails, I would post my stories in the blog so all of our stories and photos in would be in one place.

If you are interested, feel free to read my sports posts when they appear. You'll see I don't so write so much about what happened during the match, but rather about the "outing". Getting to and from the stadium, buying a ticket, stories about who I met along the way and cultural observations.

So here we go....

Atletico Madrid - Among the best teams in the world
We've been back in Europe for three weeks, but we were never in the right city at the right time to catch a match until yesterday here in Madrid where I was able to watch Atletico Madrid vs Malaga. As you recall, Atletico won La Liga last year and played in the final for the Champion's League but lost 2-1 to Real Madrid. Going into this weekend, Atletico was in 4th place with Malaga 2 points behind in 6th. So on paper it looked like a great match-up with Malaga having a chance to overtake Atletico with a win.

Note - In the short time we've been here, I've gotten the impression that Real Madrid is much more popular but they were playing away yesterday.

Getting to the match yesterday (Saturday) for a 4 pm start was super easy. Just a 10 minute walk from our apartment in the center of Madrid to the Metro, then 4 stops and then blending into the stream of thousands and thousands of supporters for a 10 minute walk to Vicente Calderon Stadium.

Vincente Calderone Stadium. Built 1966. Seats 55,000.
On the Metro I made friends with two young women who were headed to the match. They offered to help me find a place to buy a ticket when we got to the stadium. The lines were the shortest I've ever seen since the match was nearly sold-out. Once I got in line the scalpers sniffed fresh meat and one descended for easy-pickings offering me a ticket for just 350 Euros! He didn't want to take no for an answer so he keep pushing and lowering the price until I got to the front of the line. Sorry Mr. Scalper, but two nice guys helped translate for me and I was able to find a good seat from the official box office. As usual, I bought the cheapest ticket available which was 30 Euros or $38. [Good news - the US$ has strengthened about 10% over the last 5 months and so our dollars go farther.] My seat was on the upper- upper level and in the corner. The stadium is steeply raked so even that high up you feel close to the action.

These lovely ladies helped me find the ticket outlet
As soon as I got to my seat, I was reminded that the team is sponsored not by a corporation but by a country which I had forgotten. Since 2012 Atletico Madrid has been sponsored by the oil-rich eastern European country of Azerbijan. I am sure that you have seen their red and white stripped jerseys lots of times with the phrase "Land of Fire - Azerbijan" and maybe even wondered why. I know I did, so when I got home I did some research which I will share with you in a few minutes.

Up until match starts sign on field for promoting Azerbijan
By the time the match got underway the place was packed. There must have been 50,000 Atletico supporters. Less than 1,000 dedicated Malaga supporters were tucked up in a corner on the 300 level opposite me.

Full house. No Beer. Smoking welcomed.
Atletico got on the board in the 12th minute with a corner kick and then added another score in the 42nd minute so at the half, it was 2-0. Malaga was looking overwhelmed, but in the second half, Malaga got on the board in the 63rd minute. Unfortunately they earned a red card on the 72nd which set up a 3rd goal for Atletico and thus an easy victory. When the match ended Atletico was the winner 3-1 and collected the 3 points needed to move into 3rd place behind Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The atmosphere was good. The supporters keep up a solid effort throughout the match and the two guys in the row right behind me provided Spanish play-by-play and color commentary throughout the match. Fun outing. Stopped for a beer near the stadium on the way out to let the crowds disperse in the Metro station and made it home without incident. Thank God for the Google Map app on our phones which are tied into the public transportation system in every city, so getting from A to B has become easy even for a Senior Nomad.

Okay. Azerbijan....

Azerbijan located north of Iran on Caspian Sea
I thought I knew where it was and I was pretty much right but my knowledge of the country was very limited. I turned to Wikipedia and the World Fact Book when I got home and found that Azerbijan is a country that reflects Putin's dream for Russia. Controlled media. Limited freedom of speech. Lots of oil revenues. The President of Azerbijan passed along the presidency to his son upon his death in 2003. Then the  parliament provided a bonus for the new President and eliminated term limits so he can become President for life. Another benefit of being President is that you get to appoint the Prime Minister and Vice-Prime Minister. When the new President ran the last time he got 84% of the vote!

So many are asking why Atletico Madrid could enter into a sponsorship agreement with such a country but apparently for $15M per year, Atletico is happy with the deal.

Powerful image from "Reporters without Borders" website
In addition to the image that I found on the "Reports without Borders" website here are two comments about Azerbijan.
  • Campaigners accuse the former Soviet state of suppressing opposition, restricting freedom of protest and religion and forcibly evicting thousands of families to make way for construction projects.
  • Azerbijan is ranked 160th out of 180 countries in the press freedom index and its president, Ilham Aliyev, is a predator of press freedom who has eliminated almost all pluralism in his country.
So, there you have it. Spanish 1st Division Football wrapped-up in geo-politics and money.

Getting to the match was easy.  I didn't buy the 350 Euro ticket so think about how much money I saved. Great Seat. Good match. Fun first outing of the 2014-15 Season. I am hoping to see Seville play in a Europa League match when we are there in two weeks.

Stay tuned. Until next time...


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Where Oh Where are The Senior Nomads?

After three months at home and more recently, two weeks in France, we are basking in Spain's Basque region in the charming city of Bilbao! 
The view from our balcony in Bilbao, Spain.
I am not sure what kept me from posting after we arrived in Seattle at the end of July. We were home for several special occasions including the wedding of our son Christopher to his lovely bride Jamie, and several other important celebrations, but I thought perhaps our day-to-day life "back home" might not be that interesting. Nor was I sure it was "Nomadic" (boy did I have that wrong).

Chris and Jamie's wedding with big brother Alistair officiating
Our four children Alistair, Chris, Kelly and Mary!
We agreed with our renters to continue the lease of our Queen Anne townhouse through next summer so we continued our quest to find spare guest rooms with friends and family - and of course, some great local airbnb options.

After flying over what truly has to be most spectacular city from the air (that would be Seattle) we settled into our home-away-from-home in the Murray-Robinson's guest house on Mercer Island.

Besides Chris's wedding we also celebrated Ryan Eastham and Teddy Picha's weddings. Three long- time family friends celebrating the same special occasion - the marriages of our sons!

In between we spent two weeks in Victoria, British Columbia. I highly recommend more than a Clipper trip and high tea next time you head up north. It's not all stuffed beavers, maple syrup,  Mounties and Ye Olde everything! Stay for a few days and enjoy great street entertainment, good food, lovely seaside walks and some of the best thrift shopping I've found anywhere. We landed a great airbnb just far away enough from the main harbor to feel like we were in a neighborhood:

We had a Ye Olde Good Time in Victoria
A great day trip to Sooke Harbor on Vancouver Island
Continuing our airbnb lovefest we made a three day stop on Bainbridge Island for the Picha wedding and then settled in for two weeks on Phinney Ridge. It was it fun to 'live' somewhere else in our own city - and give our poor friends a break.  The apartment was well designed, well decorated and filled with every amenity you could need to be comfortable:

One of my best days home. Fishing with George Harris at dawn.
We took a quick trip to San Francisco to make the necessary personal appearance, with checkbook in hand, at the French Consulate to renew our French visas. These documents allow us  unrestricted travel throughout Europe for a year so they are worth the paperwork and expense.

While we were there we met with staff at Airbnb HQ to share our story - after all, we stayed in airbnb apartments for at least 300 nights this past year. Maybe we can help them encourage other "seniors" to give this lifestyle a try.
Posing in front of Airbnb's new logo at HQ
Then it was on to Portland,Oregon to see Alistair and Jenny and grand kids Spencer and Lucy. Theirs is a household full of love and laughter. And all that it takes to manage a 7 and 9 year old, hold down two incredible careers, and still keep everyone fed, focused and on schedule.

We all hit the road to continue family time at the Campbell Junior's shared home in Black Butte Ranch near Bend. It was a relaxing weekend filled with walks in the woods, puzzles and games, art projects and some solid college football.

Family puzzle time at Black Butte with Jenny and the kids
Time for the Nomads to break camp and head to Sun Valley, Idaho. Thanks again to the Murray-Robinson's for sharing their second home - this one in Elkhorn Village. We had three weeks of sunny days and crisp nights. We arrived just in time for the trees to change color and every day brought new waves of orange, yellow and deep reds against dark green spruce trees and mocha mountains.

The iconic red barn heading into Sun Valley
We also witnessed The Running of the Sheep - the highlight of the valley-wide Sheep Festival. This involved standing along Ketchum's Main Street for quite some time in anticipation of 1,500 sheep who would arrive when they were darn well good and ready. There were other minor distractions disguised as a parade, but really, it was all about sheep blasting and bleating past a brave pastor standing firmly in the intersection holding a crooked staff while attempting to bless these beasts er' they go to winter pastures. 

The big event! 1,500 sheep make their way down main street.
We headed back to Seattle through Baker City, Oregon where we had THE best breakfast in America at the small town classic Inland Cafe. I am going to stand by that without any facts whatever to back it up. Onward for the picturesque drive along the Columbia River Gorge for a quick stop in Portland before  two final weeks on Mercer Island before leaving for Senior Nomads Round II. 

One last top up at the genius bar!
This time we had a lot to accomplish - errands, banking, visits to the storage unit, finding a place to store the car, doctors appointments (including getting prescriptions filled for the next year), shopping for Christmas, hugs, tears, and most importantly looking after Tyler Robinson, our 13 year old Godson for ten days while his parents took a well deserved trip to Florence.

Michael and Kelly at Beethoven Lives Upstairs at Benaroya Hall
Finally, it was time to squeeze our lives back into two suitcases and two backpacks. Our motto has been "If we're still having fun, haven't run out of money, fallen out of love, or fallen over and can't get up" we'll keep traveling and enjoying being Senior Nomads one day at a time.

Here we go again!
As I mentioned at the top we are in Bilbao, Spain as I write this. More on our current whereabouts and future plans in the next post. 

Thanks for reading,

Debbie and Michael Campbell
The Senior Nomads

Senior Nomads - 500 Days on the Road!

On July 7th, 2013 Michael and I left Seattle behind to begin an incredible adventure we call Senior Nomads in Europe.

Departure Round I July 2013
Departure Round II November 2014.
We both stopped working, rented our townhouse for a year, downsized our personal belongings and household goods to a tight fit in a 10' x 15' storage unit, sold the sailboat, sold my car, stashed the other car and stuffed what was left into two large suitcases and a couple of backpacks! Sounds easier than it was at the time - but it feels great now!

Note: Other than good electronics (including Kindles) the only other real indulgence allowed was packing our own pillows. At first it seemed a little silly, but every time we faced sleeping in a different bed (see below) in a new city, after a long day of travel we both agreed those two fluffy friends made all the difference.

Since that auspicious day, we have visited 25 European countries, 48 cities and slept in 45 different  beds (most of them in airbnb apartments) along with the occasional family guest room or hotel.

If you want details, most of our adventures are posted in past blogs, however to summarize this experience so far would be to say we have been completely transformed. We have a better understanding of the world and just what it takes to get by in life and still be comfortable. We have slowed down and enjoyed each day as it comes. And even after 36 years of marriage we really enjoy each others company.

Our credo: "We will keep doing this as long as we haven't run out of money, stopped having fun, fallen out of love, or fallen over and can't get up". So far so good!

Our golden rule: "If you can't eat it, drink it, or experience it, don't buy it." Unless you are willing to exchange something out of your suitcase, of course. Weight restrictions and a firm budget do wonders to curb impulse shopping. It also helps if no one but your travel partner sees you in the same five changes of clothes on a daily basis - bonus points for saying "you look nice today."

After a 3 month layover in the Northwest (details in Where Oh Where are the Senior Nomads? blog) we stuffed our bags to the brim and left for Senior Nomads Round II on November 4th.

500 days later we can say the credo still stands, and we are loving this blessed life as we start Senior Nomads Round II.

As I write this we are in Bilbao, Spain sitting at the kitchen table drinking home squeezed orange juice ('cause we are in Spain and oranges are practically free) in a delightful airbnb apartment:

It will be hard to go back to anything but fresh OJ after this.
We arrived here after spending ten days in France catching up with Mary's family and meeting with our friends Boyd and Francoise Browning, who have graciously offered us the use of their home in Compiegne, a lovely city about an hour north of Paris, and their Paris apartment while they travel this winter! We checked out the house and will return with Mary for a long Christmas holiday in mid-December. I might have to break the "no shopping rule" for that.

Mary's family - Coco, Marcel, Mary, Jacques and Gregoire
We spent a week in the Paris apartment as well and I was able to repat a little of their generousity by taking some updated photos. If you ever need a large comfortable apartment in Paris that sleeps 4 with American sensibilities (whatever you think those might be) this is a good choice in an interesting neighborhood: (new pictures coming soon)

The living room in the Browning's Paris apartment.
 You can see the Eiffel Tower in the distance from the kitchen
Our relationship with the Brownings goes back over 35 years. Michael first met Boyd when he brought The Virginia Slims women's tennis tournaments to Seattle. Michael worked with him as his "man on the ground"and this event became one of the first events produced by Campbell Sports. Francoise Durr, Boyd's wife was a top ten tennis player at the time and is in the French Tennis Hall of Fame. She is still good friends with Billie Jean King, Tracey Austin, Martina Navratilova and other tennis greats. It was wonderful to see them again and spend a few days together.

This event was a great start for Campbell Sports
Meanwhile ... back to Spain. Last year we spend two weeks in Barcelona and we both felt we wanted to return to explore this fascinating country further.

Michael getting geared up to take on the Guggenheim
The afternoon spent at the museum makes our top ten
The ancient city of Bilbao has been a great place to start. It sits on the northern coast near the Bay of Biscay. CascoViejo, the area where we are staying, is a maze of narrow streets and alleys leading to the main Plaza de Santiago where the Catholic cathedral dominates the old town. Just like in other European cities there seems to be at least one coffee bar, bakery, greengrocer, fish monger and in this case a jamon (delicious cured ham) shop on every street. Not to mention, the largest indoor market in Europe is three blocks away. Most shops close between 1:30 and 4:00 so hardworking Spaniards can spend time in any one of multiple small bars serving distinctive Basque tapas called Pintxos along with local wine or beer for just a few euros. Life is good here.

The view from our balcony of the cathedral and old town.
Just one of over 50 pintxos bars in our neighborhood
As always, Michael makes a new friend discussing football and politics!
I also noted multiple lingerie shops, children's clothing boutiques and toy shops. Did I mention the wine bars? Catholic churches? Add to that a weird concentration of more twins under the age of four than I have ever seen (ten and counting) and you start to see a strange synergy here in old town. 

As ancient as this city is, it also exudes modernity. The metro is pristine and efficient. The city is filled with stunning architecture that compliments the well preserved traditional buildings.   buildings by Philip Stark, and of course Bilbao is home to the Frank Gehry masterpiece, the Guggenheim Museum

We spent several hours at the museum today and it was one of the highlights of our journey. The building itself is beyond a work of art - and the collection of contemporary art inside was, to use a term from the times "mind-blowing". And of course, Koon's giant, pansy covered Puppy was a whimsical counterpoint to the museum's exterior.

Puppy was just one highlight of our Guggenheim visit
Today we are taking a day trip along the coast to San Sebastian. Friday we head to Madrid on a bus for a two week stay. Then on to Seville followed by Granada. That should take us to mid-December and back to Paris for Christmas. Last year we had Chinese food in Lisbon for Thanksgiving. Maybe we can find an American style restaurant in Madrid - or at least some Turkey Tapas. 

We are not sure where we will head in January. Somewhere even warmer would be nice so perhaps Morocco and Tunisia, the Canary Islands and Cyprus, and a revisit of Turkey before heading to central and eastern Europe for the Spring.We bought one way tickets this time so we are free to wander. As long as our pillows hold out!

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful Thanksgiving with friends and family. We all have so much to be thankful for. 

Debbie and Michael Campbell
Senior Nomads