See How Far We’ve Come!

Happy New Year Everyone. Since I had my most laid back New Years in quite a while, I had some time to actually reflect on my past year. 2013 was a year full of challenges and trials.

When I say that, I don’t want you to feel bad for me. My challenges and trials are all first world problems. I never struggled to find a meal, get a roof over my head, or maintain good health. In other words, all my basic needs were bountifully met…and more! What I mean is that I spent most of 2013 confused, unsure, and in a near constant state of restless uncertainty.

Life, eh?

But, don’t worry, that’s not what I’m going to focus on in this blog. I think I’ve spent my last three or four blogs trying to make you feel bad for me and I’m sure you’re more sick of it than I am. No, today I’m looking back to see how far we’ve come; to wonder at the progress we make while we stumble along in the dark.


To begin with, I’ll share with you two moments, or rather periods, in the year that offered me clarity and a sense of peace. These were experiences that I knew were right during their occurrence. Hindsight usually gives us this clarity for most events in our life, but it is a rare and wonderful when we get a chance to live in the moment with complete certainty.

The first of these blessings, was my mission trip to St. Lucia all the way back in May. I never really wrote about it here on the blog, but to put it bluntly, it was one of the best experiences of my life.

It’s hard to sum it up, but the biggest factor, I believe,  was that I had to let go of my own selfishness. I had to let go of my own self-serving pursuits and desires, my own insecurities and failings, my own confusion and uncertainty and simply show love. Shedding that burden, so that I could be free and open to aid the needs, desires, insecurities, failings, confusion, and uncertainty of those children we were there to serve.

The best part was that I got to use soccer, the sport I love, as a starting point. It was a very important and timely reminder that soccer is a gift to me, which, like all great gifts is better shared. When you are pursuing a sport professionally it is easy to get lost in the politics; the lies, the cheating, the money, the seedy dealings, and the desire for glory. In St. Lucia, those things were stripped away and it was a gift again, a gift that offers a sense of human connection and healthy, creative interaction.

I’ll admit; however, that I am far from the perfect missionary – very far. There were 16 other people in the mission group who helped carry me along in the process. I knew one of them beforehand, but the experience brought us all together in the most incredible way. I can’t even begin to describe how wonderful these people all are. It was as though each person had a role to play during the week that made them irreplaceable. If you have ever seen the Italian Job, or any of the Ocean’s movies, our group was similar to those groups involved in the big heists. Each one of us was hand-picked by the leader (aka: God) for our strengths, and in spite of our weaknesses, to do his work and share his love.

I really could go on and on here, because the more I write the more I’m reminded of how many precious blessings the trip endowed upon me. For the purpose of this post; however, the important thing is that I knew that it was right. That, alone, made it one of the highlights of my perplexing year.

Secondly, the other event that highlighted my year with a sense of assurance was my return to Virginia in September for a very close friend’s wedding.

When I left home in early July to return to the UK, I wasn’t sure where life would take me in the next few months. The process of finding a new team and eventually moving down South threw me into a bit of turmoil. If I’m honest, it was the lowest point in my time here. I had no idea what I was doing and nothing felt right. I was trying to make a mark with the new team I had just committed to, trying to find a place to live, and all sorts of other nonsense.

Then, there was a moment of clarity, and I knew I had to get back despite all the other things on my mind. I returned for a week and had a wonderful and peaceful time; not only with my friends at the wedding, but also with my family. I probably did more visiting and relaxing with friends and family in that week in September than I did in 6-7 weeks at home in the summer.

I can’t explain it, but the wedding seemed to represent a momentous shift in my life. I’ve had close friends marry before, but it didn’t have the same effect. Maybe it was the nature of my friendship with Dan? I don’t know, but it was powerful and a very memorable part of my year. I look forward to my continued friendship with Dan and Katie long into their married life!

Without a doubt, this past year, I felt the most alive during the week in St. Lucia and the week at home for that wedding. Those times alone would make a life worth living.


The best part about writing your own blog is that you can make things up. So, this next section is a look back at a few things from the past year that were relatively unremarkable at the time of happening, but with hindsight prove quite impressive…or at least offer some reassurance.

I call these the un-remarkables. It is the college student who looks back and realizes that they have already finished their freshman year. It is the builder who looks back and realizes they’ve built not just buildings, but a neighborhood. It is the doctor who looks back and realizes it’s not just about the major surgeries, which are remarkable, but also the hundreds of broken arms that he mended. It is the mother that feeds her teenage son everyday in an un-remarkable, yet loving manner, but then realizes how remarkably he has grown this past year. The un-remarkables are essentially the building blocks of our remarkable experiences!

From a soccer perspective, I look back at one unremarkable game after another (not to say I didn’t enjoy them, but they weren’t big, exciting games -making them by definition, unremarkable) and realize that I’ve already played nearly 3 times as many games half-way through this season, than I did in all of last season. So, despite no spectacular breakthroughs there has been a steady improvement on that front that I hadn’t realized.

It is unremarkable when one of my teammates gives me a ride to or from practice. My cousins inviting me over for Sunday dinner is unremarkable. It is unremarkable when one of my siblings sends me a funny email, or card. The kind wishes from a friend are unremarkable. These things are incredibly kind, generous and worthy of utmost gratitude, but usually unremarkable in everyday life. But then I look back and realize that without all these unremarkables, 2013 would have been unremarkable, but it wasn’t.

Never underestimate the power of the unremarkables!


Another one of my un-remarkables for the year is that, as a blogger, I’ve realized that I’ve written nearly a books worth of posts in the past year! A book! Really? Me? I ask?


In celebration and just for fun, I am going to briefly list my 5 favorite posts from the past year (I might cheat a little and dip into 2012). I know this post was long enough, but if you have time to breeze over them again, go ahead! From there, I would really love your feedback. If there was a post that you remember particularly enjoying, I would love to know…and maybe why? One of the most rewarding and fascinating things about writing is finding out how different people respond and relate to different ideas.

So, without further ado, here are my fabulous 5…in no particular order.

  • Chapter 1: Wraps up my first year in England: living the dream, one mistake at a time.
  • Grounds and Grounds: Frankly, I’m adding this one because my Dad always mentioned it, when complementing my writing. It’s about wandering around Yorkshire last year trying to find my feet. It is from 2012, but is a good look back at where I was and what I was doing.
  • Give a Man a Cookie…: I just really enjoyed writing this one. It may not be the best piece of writing, but kind of got me excited about writing my blog again, when I had been struggling to write it this year.
  • Politics and Fandom: This is my most controversial piece, which isn’t hard because I basically just write about myself, which is egotistical, but at least not controversial. Anyway, it was right after Obama was elected for his second term and it remarks on the some of the things that politics can learn from sports…or shouldn’t.
  • Begin Again: This was about my trip up to Edinburgh in the Spring. This post is a good reminder to me of the wonder and beauty of the traveling experience. Something I, regretfully, forget to appreciate sometimes in the midst of life.

Long may the story continue!

May 2014 be full of joy and peace for you all.

Go head first!


Dedications: This post is dedicated to my dear friends Dan and Katie Lucas as well as all the wonderful people who made the St. Lucia trip so incredible. You have truly made my year, and my life, remarkable.



Far From Home, Alone

Let me take the time to wish you all a very Merry Christmas. What a wonderful holiday it is! I love Christmas, but every year in the lead up, I have my fair share of scrooge moments. The pressure of expectation is so high and it can be overwhelming. It’s all a flurry beforehand, but then the day comes and I get a sudden rush of peace and joy. It is my belief that this, the spirit of Christmas, is a grace flowing directly from the Infant Jesus.

The Infant Jesus - the source of our Christmas Joy

The Infant Jesus – the source of our Christmas Joy

In recent years, that beauty, peace, joy and simplicity that only a baby can bring to us has captivated my Christmas prayer and meditation. Being away from home again this year, meant that the Christ-child has also been a wonderful source of comfort and support for me over the Holiday.

Fortunately, despite the title of this post, I didn’t have to spend Christmas proper completely on my own. I was able to make the trip back up the Yorkshire for a couple of days to stay with my English family; the Inglehearn’s. Once again, they opened their doors to me with fantastic generosity. They’ve really created a home away from home for me since I’ve been in England and I can’t thank them enough!

One of the funnest things about the holiday was my transportation. Seeing as it was my 25th birthday on Christmas Eve, I did the one thing that I couldn’t do prior to becoming a quarter century old; namely, rent a car! (Technically, I could have actually rented a car before, but not without exorbitant additional insurance rates). In any event, it was one of two firsts that I experienced over the holiday. It was also the first time I had driven in England and thus the wrong side of the road. I’m a survivor.

Driving on the left side of the road was a little unnerving at first, but I got used to it pretty quickly. Since I do ride my bike on the roads quite often, I was familiar with the feeling. However, it is different in a car. For one thing, driving from the right side of the car makes you feel like you have a giant tumor on the left side of your body, which you constantly have to keep out of people’s way. This giant tumor also had a way of making me drift well over to the left side of the lane which I inhabited.

I also learned, or rather was reminded, that my left hand is pretty useless. Shifting gears was slightly challenging for the hand that usually only moves to pick my nose or scratch my…yea, anyway. But after 500+ miles, I did eventually get the hang of it and really quite enjoyed driving again.

The best part of it all was that I managed a nice free upgrade – I called it the Birthday upgrade – and was driving around in an Audi. Far cooler that a little Ford Geo, or similar economy car, that I was expecting. Needless to say, I was a little bummed having to return it. Back to the ol’ bicycle for me!

My Birthday Upgrade

My Birthday Upgrade

Didn't want to give it back :(

Didn’t want to give it back 😦

So, on my Birthday, I drove up to Yorkshire, with a few accidental detours (the accents on the English road signs were hard to understand) and arrived late afternoon. I was greeted with love and cheer, and proceeded to go upstairs and get on my laptop – I know so rude – so that I could skype home and get some Birthday affirmation from across the great blue beyond. The family – minus Cecilia, who was flying home from Italy – lined up on the screen and sang me a beautiful rendition of Happy Birthday…I know, I know, a beautiful rendition of that song never ACTUALLY occurs, but the sentiment was beautiful as always.

Had to share this!

Had to share this!

Nothing like a good Bday Card from a close friend!

Nothing like a good Bday Card from a close friend!

After all the Birthday love that evening, including the Inglehearn’s traditional and delicious Chocolate Malteser cake, it was time to get ready for the real celebration! I, thus, went to a lovely midnight mass at the local parish and this is when I was graced with the true peace and joy of Christmas once again. Then, as I love to do, I unabashedly sang along to the recessional hymn, “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing”, and the peace diminished momentarily for everyone else…but I loved it!

The traditional Malteser Cake - full of goodness

The traditional Malteser Cake – There’s was much better…and personalized, but you get the idea

Then I stayed up really late after Midnight Mass because it was still technically my Birthday back home and I didn’t want to miss any of it. Alas, another benefit of being here, my Birthday and Christmas are 29 hours long! New Years might be rough…

Christmas Day, Allison, my English Mum, had to work – God bless her soul – and so the family didn’t do much in the way of wild Christmas celebrations. So, I drove my nice ride over to another nearby cousin’s house and was hosted to a fantastic meal by the lovely Anne Mary, and her ever enjoyable husband Garry. The lamb, the ham, the turkey, the potatoes, the everything was delectable and I can honestly say it was the best meal I’ve had since I arrived this year! I even had room for a big piece of black forest gateau cake…oh the indulgence of me.

I can make room for this

I can make room for this

Once again, I got to skype with home that evening (morning at home) and wish all a very Merry Christmas! It is always fun to witness the impressive fiasco that is gift-giving time in the O’Reilly household.



I found this and could help but share it. So bad, that it would definitely be used at our dinner table.

I found this and could help but share it. It’s so bad that it would definitely be used at our dinner table.

I, unfortunately, had to leave the Inglehearn’s early on the 26th – known as Boxing Day in the UK – to head back down South for a game. Sadly, I made the 5+ hour drive, only to arrive to a cancelled game. Thankfully, the Christmas spirit gave me enough joy to get through that disappointment.

The 26th is also my sister Grace’s Birthday! While my Birthday is pleasantly eclipsed by the build up to Christmas, hers is overshadowed by the Christmas hangover. Everyone is perfectly content to wish her a Happy Birthday and wish her the best, just as long as they don’t have to get up off the couch. She never complains though, and takes the well wishes with genuine excitement and cheerfulness, just as long as she doesn’t have to get up off the couch. I love you Grace 😉 Happy 21st!

That, my friends, is the story of my 2013 Christmas spent Far From Home, Alone. Not literally, thanks to the generosity of the Inglehearns, but it makes for a good title. If I had made it home for Christmas, the title wouldn’t have been much different, as I would have been Far From Home Alone.

In the meantime, I did play another game, and no, nothing has changed, I’m still a loser. We lost 2-0 to a team called Mangotsfield. On a positive note, at least we are not called Mangotsfield.

All the best to you all as you end this year and begin another. Here’s to you – hiccup – keep going head first into 2014!

May the Infant Jesus, give you peace and joy all the year long.



If  I had a nickle for every time someone looked at me like I was crazy, implied I was crazy, or actually straight up said I was crazy, I still wouldn’t be a rich man – but I would probably try to get more people to think I was nuts, just so I could make a bit more change.

Is there a right way? That's crazy!

Is there a right way? That’s crazy!

In my travels, people often ask me what I am doing. It’s a fair question.

It’s when I answer that people, more often than not, are a little puzzled. Why would you come here of all places? Why don’t you just play footie back in the states? Well, then, what do you do for a living…like actually?

Most frequently people think I’m here to study. I’ll tell them I am here just to play soccer and a few weeks later they ask me what or where I’m studying again. “Ah yes!” I say, “I am a student of the game.”

I’ve created a few different tailored stories that try to make my exploits sound a bit more feasible and, well, normal. Even then, I know many people still leave with the impression that I’m crazy. Alright let’s face it, people thought that well before I came to England.

Yea, maybe there's something to it!

Yea, maybe there’s something to it!

I was thinking about it the other day and I’ve come to the conclusion that I may have already embraced the notion. The idea of insanity has always been intriguing to me. I have always been drawn toward things that involve a theme of craziness.

Take music, for instance; a few years ago a song came out by Gnarls Barkley called “Crazy”. Loved it! To this day, it’s still one of my favorites.

A few weeks ago, I hopped on Netflix and a movie popped up called “Seven Psychopaths“. Had to watch it. Probably wasn’t a classic and not everyone’s cup of tea, but personally, I couldn’t help but enjoy it.

There was a book as well that I kept coming across called “The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry“. Had to read it. No surprise, I found it fascinating. I would actually recommend this one, it’s a fun read. You’ll be labeling all your friends and family only a few chapters in.

If you experience something crazy, you want to share it with people. Who wakes up in the morning and comes to breakfast with wonder in their eyes and says “I had the most normal dream last night”…and then proceeds to tell you about it (alright, we all have that friend).

What is it that draws me to this stuff? Curiously, it’s probably a quest for a thread of sanity. There is a certain peace in doing something crazy. Knowing that experienced something a little out of the ordinary is strangely relieving and calming.

I’ve been thinking about it and came to the conclusion that I should embrace a little bit of craziness in my life. So, I created a little motto in my head that would fit that lifestyle: “Do something crazy everyday”. The goal of this motto is to challenge myself to do something unknown, challenging, embarrassing, kind, or even bizarre that I wouldn’t normally do.

Examples might include; singing in public, going on a walk in the rain, just to get wet, chatting with a beggar instead of just dropping loose change in his cup, trying an outrageous trick in training, complimenting a stranger out of the blue, volunteering for a day, making someone a meal for no reason, trying to cook something new, wearing some funky clothes, etc and so on. It doesn’t have to be actually insane, but just something that feels a little crazy and out of the ordinary for me.

Some people don't get crazy, they give it.

Some people don’t get crazy, they give it.

If I’m honest, I haven’t completely adopted this practice yet, its hard to commit to…and let’s face it, it’s a bit crazy. It’s also a challenge because you have to be very creative in your crazy act for the day. Sometimes you could plan ahead, or other times you could be inspired in a moment. However, you can’t just keep repeating the same things, because then it ceases to be crazy for you.

For the record, there’s no denying that there are levels of crazy that go beyond reason and rationale and lead to destruction. Despite the fact that I find them fascinating, I don’t care to personally experience those echelons of insanity. I simply wonder at them from a safe distance.

Live update: I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop trying to finish up this post and I’m coincidentally observing a pretty curious scene. It’s like the crazy is coming to me as I write! Aside from the Barista and I, there is an old man and a young couple in love. For some reason, in an empty, but spacious cafe, the couple and the old man are sitting on the same wall bench about 8 feet apart. The old man – who could easily play the part of the prophet of doom in some creepy thriller – is alternating between napping, reading the paper, and then snoring; seemingly unfazed by the glaring affection of the young couple nearby. Side by side and in a constant state of awkward embrace, they loudly whisper sweet nothings in one another’s ear. In the midst of this scene, I can’t help but wonder; who’s the crazy one here?

Changing tangents completely from that special moment, I’d like to mention something from my mission trip in St. Lucia. The priest in charge of our mission, the wonderful Fr. Gerry, gave a homily one day that had a curious twist. His preaching style was very exuberant, charismatic, inspiring, and quite entertaining at times.

In this particular homily, Fr. Gerry put his hands out as if on the cross and stated “Jesus is crazy!” We all looked back at him with a look that surely gave the impression that we believed him to be the crazy one. However, as he explained himself – merely by recounting the things Jesus did that were out of the ordinary…you know like charity and sacrifice – it became clear what he meant. It’s that kind of crazy, we can strive toward.

When ordered towards the good, crazy can be inspirational, crazy can be revolutionary, crazy can work wonders!

So, maybe I am crazy, but if crazy can change me, if crazy can make a better, kinder, stronger, smarter, more fascinated, more appreciative, more helpful, and maybe even more revolutionary, then I don’t mind at all.

At the end of the day, the struggle is making sure that I can order my craziness toward the greater good. Crazy is no good when it’s primary purpose is to put the self on a pedestal. That kind of crazy will score you high on the “Psychopath Test”. Crazy is good when it can make the world a brighter, more hopeful and more joyful place to live.

Go ahead then, take the risk and do something crazy today. If you feel like it, tell me about it, I could use some support here!

It's tiring being good at crazy

It’s tiring being good at crazy

For now, I’m still developing my special brand of crazy both on and off the field. On the field, I’ve had a break in games – which is driving me crazy – and so there is not much to report, but I’m crazy enough to keep on going. I’ve actually been really enjoying the work I’ve been putting in on the field recently and I’m confident it will pay off!

Stay crazy my friends!



The Process

I feel like I need to introduce myself again, it’s been that long. So, first I should apologize for staying away so long. I have had plenty to tell you, but never the inspiration.

There have been numerous other attempts to start blogging again; posts with titles such as “Square One” and “The Return”. However, they never really got past the introduction phase. In recent weeks, though, I have been on a quest to resurrect my creative writing urges. Where did they go? I’m not really sure, but I’d like to think they are there somewhere. So, in writing this post, I’m really just playing hide and seek with my inner author.

The first thing I had to do was commit to staying off of other sites while I write this post. I was going to go down to the local coffee shop with no wifi, so I wouldn’t even be tempted, but I’m weak, so I’m at the one that has wifi because I have a loyalty card here and God forbid I have to get 10 coffees before I get my free one as opposed to the usual 9.

Anyway, I really am going to have to push through this first post. I won’t be able to go into much detail because I’ve done quite a bit, but I will try to give you a good update of where I am and hopefully reignite my writing bug for the future.

It’s hard to admit, but if I really look at it, I think I haven’t been writing because of my own perceived failures. I haven’t really been achieving the success or consistency I had hoped to upon my return to the UK, which was back in July. In preseason I was all over; training with 4 different teams and ultimately living in 4 different places.

I won’t bore you with details, but it has landed my in Southern England about an hour west of London in  a little town called Newbury. I moved here to play with an ambitious team called Hungerford Town. I came down during preseason and did well in training and a few practice games (including a great goal in one – if I may say so myself). I was looking forward to the new start after the lack of opportunity and progress I made at Guiseley last year.

The Newbury Train Station - my link to the outside world

The Newbury Train Station – my link to the outside world

Unfortunately, things haven’t quite gone as planned on a personal level. First of all, it took a number of weeks for me to get my international clearance (because I had played in an American League over the summer). Then once it came through and I was eligible to play, Hungerford immediately started a turn around from a dreadful start to the season and have won every league game since losing 4 out of their first 5. This made it hard for the manager to change too many things in regards to personnel and tactics.

Hungerford Town ground - Bulpit Lane

Hungerford Town ground – Bulpit Lane

Since I wasn’t playing as much as I would have liked, I spoke with the Manager about the possibility of going out on loan for a short period with any other local team to maintain fitness and sharpness. He immediately helped set me up with another team in the division below called Thatcham Town FC. I played a game a few days later, which was great…except we lost. We managed to lose the next two games as well, which was painful and not the biggest confidence boost. However, I was getting good and fit and starting to improve, and playing is always better than not playing.

Thatcham's Ground - Waterside Park (located by the side of the Kennet River)

Thatcham’s Ground – Waterside Park (located by the side of the Kennet River)

Timing, however, was not the best, because, due to scheduling changes we only had 3 games in a period where we could have had up to 5 or 6. To add to that, the poor run in form meant that the manager of Thatcham Town, quite a friendly bloke, was shown the door. Meaning, I don’t know where I stand with the changes at hand and I will probably be going back to Hungerford, without any guarantee of time, despite the work I put in.

So many great and wonderful stories in life have a “right place at the right time” element – mine seems to have a persistent “wrong place at the wrong time” theme.

Deep down, I find myself fighting my own self-pity. What gives? I ask myself. Of course, this is really pathetic, and when I really think about it, I’m embarrassed at the very thought of pitying myself. I’m blessed beyond what I deserve. I know that, but I’ll still find excuses and injustices against me like Sherlock finds the crook. It’s a special gift.

All that moaning and complaining has, thankfully, led me to an improved outlook. As so often happens, this change came about originally from the unlikeliest of sources. An English player named Joey Barton, who is quite an entertaining, but also controversial character over here, was in an interview and mentioned the importance of the process. He was talking about developing players and he said something in the vein of “no one appreciates the process anymore”.

Essentially meaning that we all just want the outcome. For footballers that’s making a good living as a professional for a big club team, or for your country and making plenty of money. However, no one wants to think about putting the work in every day behind the scenes; there is a lack of appreciation for the blood, sweat and tears that no one sees.

This made me think about things and a few days later, I was talking with my sister, Clare, and Barton’s comment tied in with our conversation, so I brought it up. Clare and I chatted about it and I suddenly came to this realization that the story is always in the process; never in the outcome.

So, here I was, not blogging because I wanted to blog about the big outcomes! I wanted to blog about the great step I was making here or there. I wanted to blog about achievements. That is probably precisely why I haven’t been inspired to blog. There is no story in the outcome. The story is in the process.

I’d like to think that I’ve always appreciated the process of anything. I’m never afraid to put in the work and I will always continue to do so. Yet, I never realized until recently that there is no story in the achievement itself. The achievements are what we put on a resume and that’s why they are only a few pages of lists. Stories lie in creating that achievement and that’s what we find in the intricacies of a journey well told.

I recently read a book called “A Long Way Gone“, about a young man who had been a boy soldier in the Sierra Leone Civil War. He survived this ordeal and eventually made his way to the USA where he has recovered and now works to fight worldwide injustice. In a nutshell, that last sentence was his achievement so far, but it’s not the story itself. That lies within the pages of the book and in the depths of his heart and soul.

Having said that, the process of the last 5 or 6 months has plenty to say for itself. I’ve been all over the place, I’ve got to explore a new part of England, including the ever intriguing city of London. I’ve even managed to get home once for a wedding, which was an incredible blessing for me. I haven’t even had the chance to blog about my incredible mission trip to St. Lucia, all the way back in May.

I’ll save all that and more for another day in the process of pursing my dream one mistake at a time.

Until them enjoy the process of life!



Begin Again

This may seem a strange title considering the fact that my first year (football season) in England is coming to an end. Luckily, the ever changing cycles of life always provide us with new opportunities to begin again.

It has been an eventful few weeks for me over here in the UK. To begin with, I was finally able to get out and see more of what this historic island has to offer. In other words, I shed the cloak of an inhabitant and once again donned my tourist cap.

The funny thing is, I really don’t like being “a tourist”. To me it is an awkward stereotype characterized by silly pictures, a limiting itinerary, and more often than not the asking of blatantly obvious questions. Despite my ridiculous insecurities, I decided to suck it up and take a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland.

Aside from touring a new country/city, I was able to play some football as well – surprise, surprise! One of my old managers had recently been named the Manager of a 1st division team in Scotland (the 2nd highest league in the country) called Livingston FC, which is just outside Edinburgh. Upon my request, he was kind enough to let me join in on a few training sessions while I was there.

Livingston's Stadium: Almondvale in West Lothian

Livingston’s Stadium: Almondvale in West Lothian

Livingston FC is a full-time club and is thus a more professional setup than where I am right now at Guiseley AFC. More is expected of players and staff in day-to-day proceedings and the facilities were better. This is not to say that Guiseley is not a well run semi-professional club, with good staff and good players, it is merely a matter of Livingston being a more comprehensive organization.

Overall, on the footballing side of things, it was a good experience to see how another club works on a daily basis. The training sessions were good and enjoyable and I am glad I was able to take part. Every opportunity and experience can help me learn and grow as a player and as a person in the future. It was also good to maintain my contacts inside the footballing world!

From a visitors point of view, I thought Edinburgh was a great city! It is very scenic and reeks of history. It provided literature, philosophy, politics, treachery, ghosts, crime, arrogance and bravery; as only the Scots know how. I literally walked around the city for hours on end and didn’t get to see everything I had hoped.

Getting to know a city is such a cool experience. It is kind of like reading a novel, or rather, a book of interconnected short stories. If it is a good book, you will enjoy the time spent walking through its pages, and if it is a great book then once through is not enough. It will call you back for another visit.

In keeping with the title, a new place can, in a sense, provide you with the opportunity to begin again. When you arrive, you are a blank  canvas, or a lump of clay, and the city, acting as the artist, will impress itself upon you in a way that no other place can. This process can be transforming in its own right and that is one of the joys of traveling.

Back to more details! The first day, I went of a free walking tour around the city. The most ironic thing about the tour was that it was led by an Aussie. Luckily, he was a very animated and enjoyable Aussie (not that I know of any other kind) and did know his stuff when it came to the city…or at least he had me fooled.

I always have a hard time picking a favorite anything, so I can’t say there was a favorite part of Edinburgh. The setting was fantastic for one, with the castle on the hill being the focal point of the city (see pics throughout). I was also fascinated by the “Athens of the North” theme that Edinburgh has in its history. It got the nickname during a period of enlightenment when big name thinkers, historians, and writers such as Adam Smith, David Hume, and Sir Walter Scott all made their names in their respective spheres of influence.

Sir Walter Scott - they love this guy here!

Sir Walter Scott – they love this guy here!

While I was wandering through what was said to be one of the oldest structures in the city (a wealthy merchants home just off of the main street) there was a nice lady who worked there who was answering some of my questions. During our conversation she said “oh to be a fly on these walls during the 18th century”. Yes, indeed! Could Adam Smith have visited his new business  acquaintance, the merchant, for tea and discussed with him the fundamental theories of “The Wealth of Nations”? Did Walter Scott lay out the plot of his new book “Rob Roy”, while puffing on his pipe and drinking a scotch after a game of cards with his good friend? Who knows…but that’s the wonder of it all, isn’t it.

While the nickname may have been appropriate to some extent, you could say the Scots got a bit carried away with it at times. For one, the statues of their heroes, such as David Hume, in a toga, seem a bit silly in hindsight. I also found it a bit humorous, for instance, when they had the bright idea of building their very own Parthenon to memorialize their relationship with the great city of Athens in the South. Then…..they ran out of money after building only 12 pillars, which remain today as a reminder that, well…this isn’t really Athens after all.

The almost Parthenon!

The almost Parthenon!

While there are many of them, my favorite literature connection with the city is that the character in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was based on an esteemed member of the Edinburgh community. He was a well respected lock-smith, named Deacon Brodie, who kept a copy of every key he made. Then he would steal from his clients and they would call him in for help again…a very self-fulfilling business plan. Don’t worry, they got him in the end.

The story of Deacon Brodie!

The story of Deacon Brodie!

Although I did see and learn much much more, the last thing I will mention is that I enjoyed visiting the castle quite a bit – let’s face it I’m a guy who grew up building forts in the woods with my friends. There was plenty to do there, including a few military museums and a chance to see the Royal Honors, which are the crown, the sword and the scepter used by the ruler of Scotland. They are such a visible and beautifully crafted piece of history. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of them, so you will have to go yourself.

One if the most memorable parts of the trip to Edinburgh was actually that I had someone to share it with – at least for a short time. During the walking tour on my first day there, I met a lovely Canadian girl from Montreal. I’d like to say we started talking because we had a mutual interest in the political musings of David Hume, but the fact of the matter is that the cutest girl on the tour looked, by chance, to have as many friends as me. Zero.

I thought what the hell, say hello and if it gets awkward, just slip down the next alley and come back and finish the tour tomorrow.

I’ve done a little bit of traveling by myself in the last few years and while it has it’s benefits and gives you an overwhelming sense of freedom, at the end of the day, it is a lonely experience.

After about 5 minutes of conversation, scattered between the ramblings of the Aussie tour guide, I got the impression that she agreed with my sentiment. She had been touring parts of the UK for the past few weeks and was as desperate for a companion as I was…actually probably more-so if she settled for me in the end.

After the tour, we spent the rest of the day together getting to know they city and one another. For lack of a better word, it was fascinating to get to know someone in this way. Usually, when you meet someone, at least one, or both of you, is in a relatively familiar environment with people that you know. In this case, we were both friendless foreigners and so in a strange way, the process of getting to know the city was intertwined with the process of getting to know each other.

I can’t really think of a good way to explain it, but it does bring us back to the beginning again. When you meet someone new, it is again like a lump of clay, and the corresponding relationship is molded from that lump. It is a chance to being again the fantastic gift of friendship.

In the end, we both agreed that the very worst part of travelling alone, is eating alone. If you haven’t had this experience before (and I’m not talking about at McDonalds), I would recommend you try it sometime just so you know. It is dreadful; there is only so much that you can pretend to do on your cellphone in a restaurant with no cell service; and there is only so many dessert and beer menus to read on a given table.

So, after treading numerous miles up and down Edinburgh, including a hike up Arthur’s Seat, we decided to enjoy a meal together. The most remarkable part about it all, was that we had spent all day getting to know one another, and getting to know the city, and didn’t actually formally introduce ourselves until we sat down for dinner. Her name was Blanche. Her first language was french and although she spoke English well, she had a strong accent. I am telling you this because it is a perfectly nice name with a French accent, but can be butchered by my far from sexy American accent.

After dinner, we went our separate ways and went on to what life had in store for us next. The moral of the story is that, if you have the chance to say hello to a cute girl/guy all alone on a free tour in a European city, don’t pass it up.

Here are the pics!

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Wow, this post has gotten quite long and I didn’t even get to tell you about the rest of the exciting things that I did the last few weeks. So, be sure to stay posted, I’m in a writing mood.

In case you were wondering, I would definitely recommend a trip to Edinburgh and like a good novel, it may even call you back again.

If you do go, go head first.