After arriving in Helsinki at 1am, I’m beginning to wonder how much longer this day(s) of travel will drag on. So tired that I’m delirious, Mikko (my coach) informs me that we only have a 2 hour drive ahead of us. Awesome! Flying down the freeway in the early AM, I learn that Jyväskylä (pronounced you-vas-ky-la) lies northwest of Helsinki and is the 2nd most desirable city to live in Finland. At this point I don’t really care, as the only thing occupying my mind is the idea of a pillow and bed.
Mikko drops me off at a teammates apartment for the night, where I immediately collapse on her futon. The next morning I find myself wide-awake at 9am. My body is telling me to go back to sleep but my brain won’t allow it. Ah, Jet-lag at its finest! Mikko picks me up at noon and we are off to the HoNsU offices. After speaking rapid fire Finnish with two women, he looks and me and says “see you later!” Here I am without a word of Finnish in my vocabulary wondering how the heck I’m going to communicate with these two women. As they converse with one another (in Finnish of course) for a good 10 minutes, not bothering to glance in my direction, I’m thanking God I brought a book to occupy myself. Finally, one of the two addresses me in English and says, “lets go!” Hmmm…We’re off to the mall where she purchases a cell phone and gives it to me. Only the best – a Nokia 1000!
After the transaction is complete, it’s back to the offices where Mikko is waiting. Time to move into my apartment! It turns out to be a nice one bedroom with a kitchen, living room and bathroom on the 4th floor, right across the street from our gym. I have a huge bedroom fully furnished…a twin bed and lamp!
Once unpacked, Mikko takes me to meet the two other imports. They are super cool and I learn that they live in a spacious 3-bedroom apartment downtown near the city center…about a 7 min drive from where I am. Since I don’t have a car (only a rickety old bike) I start to think it might be nice to move in with them. Fortunately, I’m given that option a few hours later which I decide to take. It’s nice having my own place, but in my free time I rather be hanging out with them, not by myself. The three of us girls have really hit it off. We already have some great stories, and I’ve only been here 4 days! Charlee Underwood is from San Francisco and played at Cal State Fullerton, while Lizanne Murphy played at Hofstra in NY and is from Montreal. Oddly enough, Lizanne and I actually played on the National team together at the FISU games in Turkey in 2005.
The girls and I start to get hungry, and are dropped off at Hotelli Alba, which sits on the lake Jyväsjärvi 1.5km away from the city center. Written in our contracts is that the 3 of us are provided with one hot meal a day. On weekends, we eat dinner at the fanciest hotel in Jyväskylä, the Hotelli Alba. This is not a place that most people could afford to eat at two days in a row. But as one of our sponsors, Hotelli Alba allows Charlee, Lizanne and I to eat for free 99! On Saturday I devour a mouth-watering tenderloin steak. The cost of my meal? Only €30 Euros!
Outside of my apartment, the gym, and Hotelli Alba, I haven’t had much time to explore the city yet. But, from what I've seen it’s pretty modern. Not a lot of old buildings like you would expect to see in Europe. The city center is definitely the coolest part of town, as it’s where all the action is. Main street is a walking only road with various stores on either side affixed with large lighted signs and elaborate window displays. It’s a fun place to walk around and watch people.
Since it gets dark around 4pm here, my body is still trying to adjust to all the changes. I find myself tired and hungry and random hours, which is becoming very annoying. I’m also 10 hours ahead of home, making calling friends and family tricky. The weather in Finland is very similar to Vancouver and Seattle, but without the rain and much colder! Right now an average day sees temperatures between 3-7 degrees Celsius, and its only going to get worse!
As I walk into our sponsor-laden gym Sunday night for my first game as a professional basketball player, I feel almost camouflaged. My uniform, both top and bottoms, front and back are completely covered with sponsor logos. It’s actually quite humorous and definitely fills the Euro stereotype. After the final whistle sounds, I realize how tough of a season its going to be for our young team. We didn’t get the result I had hoped, but it was great to get back on the court and play competitively. Prior to playing yesterday evening, my team had already competed in 5 regular season games (there are 30+ in a season). Last night’s opposition, Espoo Team is one of the top teams in the league with experienced players. The outcomes of most games are pretty much determined by how good your Finnish players are. The majority of teams in first division have at least 3 imports (i.e. Canadians, Americans, or anyone not of Finnish nationality) and realistically, we cancel one another out on the court. The Finnish players on my team are extremely young (18,19,20 years old) and just don’t seem to have the experience or skill level of many of the Finnish players on the other teams. It will be a season of ups and downs, but I’m getting paid to do what I love which is an experience in itself.