First, let me apologize in advance for any typos in this post. I'm using a ridiculous German keyboard and none of the key locations make any sense (for example, as far as I can tell there is no way to actually type an @ sign, I had to Google "at sign" and copy and paste it every time I wanted to log in anywhere). Also, I have no clue if the pictures I uploaded will work at all, so if everything shows up as giant lines of HTML then please be patient :)
That said, it's been a pretty awesome past few days. We spent our last night in Amsterdam in the red light district, which sounds cool but is actually like a giant strip club: pretty sad, depressing, and populated by some of the lamest people on the planet. We left after 20 minutes and decided to get an early start on the next day, which turned out to be one of the best decisions of the trip (thus far).
In the morning, we left on the train for Amsterdam and headed to Bruges, a small town in Belgium that is not unlike Northeast Harbor in that most of the tourists who go there are older and richer folks. The town used to be the size of London in the 1800s until it lost its seaport and all of its commerce; since then, it dwindled as a metropolis but reinvented itself as a tourist hotspot. I believe it was also used as a cautionary tale about the effects of global warming in one of Thomas Friedman's books, but I could be wrong. Anyway, going into the day we were worried about a lot of things: how would the Eurorail passes work, would Bruges be too expensive for us broke students to handle, would there be anything to do after we got into town at 4 PM, etc.
The good news is that everything about Bruges was awesome. We got in fine with our Eurorail passes and found that our hostel is one of the cheapest ones we have on the trip--just 17 euros per person per night. We set out to explore the city and find a place to watch the Spain-Switzerland match, aka the Miracle on Grass 2010--more on the match in a second. After checking out the city, which looked like a beautiful medieval Italian city transplanted from the Florentine countryside (and was a welcome contrast to Amsterdam's darker, swamplike atmosphere), we stumbled across yet another public square showing the game. At this one, maybe 200 people of all backgrounds were sitting down outside of cafes, and each cafe had rigged up a glare-proof LCD TV under an awning. You could watch from the sun or the shade, but since everyone on the trip chose to go to school in California, we naturally gravitated toward the sun. We've had the most ridiculous luck in finding venues on this trip, and it continued in Bruges--we just ordered a bunch of different Belgian beer (there are over 1200 varieties, so despite my best efforts I couldn't sample all of them in one day) and watched Spain put up one of the more pathetic performances of the Cup thus far.
Although France has found new and creative ways to not advance out of an easy group, it's hard to envision a more disappointing result for a European powerhouse. The French are used to choking (see Zidane's headbutt), but the Spanish came in ranked #1 in the world and dropped their first match to Switzerland. Sure, Spain looked dominant for most of the game, but they were very soft in the attacking third and their crosses didn't seem directed to anyone in particular. More worryingly, their attackers didn't take enough risks in front of the net--all of the dancing and pullbacks didn't produce any goals. Sometimes, as Coach Swartz says, you need dirty finishing--stuff that's not pretty but puts the ball in the back of the net. Spain didn't have that, and they suffered for it. We also kind of need the Spanish to advance because we'll be visiting Spain during the Round of 16 games, and I don't want to spend that time taking siestas and watching Messi tear it up while David Villa & Co. sit on the sidelines.
Anyway, I'm running out of internet time now so I'll make this next paragraph quick. Basically, we made it to Cologne fine this afternoon and saw the France-Mexico game. Good result--unfortunately, the reason I have time to type this e-mail is because we're stuck in a six-person room with a couple of girls who think it's OK and/or acceptable to go to sleep at 10:30 PM in a youth hostel--not cool, randos. Tomorrow promises to be a marathon since we're invested in all three matches and we're going to a giant stadium to watch them with a bunch of Germans. Stay posted.