After practice Monday morning, Mikko informed us we would be going to the horse track later that night to meet the team horse. What? Team horse? Of course Charlee, Lizanne and I assume that we’ll visit a stable, check out the horse and go back to the warmth of our apartment. Wrong! Instead, that evening our team piles into a couple of cars and meets at the track 10 minutes outside of town. It’s about -3 outside, there is snow on the ground and mixed with mud, it can be a bad combination for your white Nike Shox (aka my winter boots). After walking about a mile through the muddy snow while dodging horses and their jockeys, we finally arrive at the stable where we meet our horse – King Arthur. Apparently HoNsU owns half the rights to the horse, so whenever he wins a race or finishes in the top 3, our club gets money. Interesting, I’ve never heard of a basketball club owning a racehorse…but nothing shocks me anymore. After posing for pictures with King Arthur, meeting other horses in the stable and petting our meal ticket for good luck, we head out to the track to watch the horses warm up.
At this point the 3 of us are freezing. We were definitely not prepared to hang outside in the freezing Finland winter air. Dressed in sweatshirts and winter jackets, we’re kicking ourselves for not bringing scarves, gloves and perhaps full-face masks to fight off the cold air. We dance around outside (trying to keep warm) for about 30 minutes, then head towards the stadium which is indoors and apparently has heat. However, since we are on the other side of the racetrack, the walk takes about 15 minutes. Not happy campers, our teammates don’t help the situation by continually proclaiming it’s not cold and throwing snowballs at the 3 of us. Not funny! We finally make it to the stadium, where Charlee, Lizanne and I rush inside to get our body temperatures back to normal. At this point we are over the whole idea of horse races, but decide to embrace it and gamble money on King Arthur. With not one of us knowing a thing about horse racing, we place our bets. Who cares, since this is probably where most of our paychecks are coming from! King Arthur looks like a strong confident horse, and not being much of a risk taker, Charlee and I throw down 5 Euros each on #12. Lizanne is so confident in King Arthur that she puts down 10 Euros. After watching two races, finally it’s time for King Arthur to prove his worth. After one lap he is in 2nd last. Even though indoors, and about 500 meters from the track, we scream at the horse to go faster and bring home that gawp! Apparently it helped, because on the final lap King Arthur came from behind and placed second. Whoo hoo! HoNsU earns 500 Euro and Charlee and I make 3 Euros off our 5 Euro bets. Lizanne fairs better collecting 6 Euros. Thinking the evening is over and it’s time to head home, we are proved wrong yet again and have to watch the final 7 races. This would have been torture had we not been treated to dinner at the stadium’s restaurant. An interesting evening to say the least.
Gambling seems to be a huge part of the Finnish culture. Aside from horse racing, slot machines are everywhere you go – no joke. I almost feel like I’m back in Las Vegas (Kelly, Brian I miss you!) My first encounter with one was as soon as I got off the plane at the Helsinki airport. There were slot machines lined up parallel to the baggage claim. Don’t want to stand around for 10 minutes waiting for your bag? Why not gamble your money away! But seriously, there are slot machines outside our gym, in the cafeteria, at the corner store, in the bank (!), in the lobby of Hotelli Alba and even outside the grocery store checkout stand. It’s bizarre. The funny thing is that the slots are rarely empty. People of all ages play these machines all hours of the day. And you know what’s so amusing? I’ve never seen anyone win. One day the 3 of us were feeling lucky (or we were just impatient while waiting for our ride to pick us up after dinner) Lizanne tried her luck with 2 Euros. With all the buttons and instructions in Finnish, we decided to randomly press different colored buttons. To no avail – Lizanne lost her 2 Euros. It’s funny how different cultures have their own past times, and it seems hockey and gambling are the two of choice in Suomi (Finland).
After 3 weeks here, I’m still enjoying myself. Even though it is cold and has started snowing (4 inches in 2 hours – wow!), I’ve met some really cool people and have been able to keep myself busy. Though it would be nice to be playing in a place like Greece where it is sunny and I could look out on the Mediterranean after practice, I’m learning more about Scandinavia and am getting excited to visit a nearby countries like Sweden and Estonia (which would have never been on the list of places to visit). I’m continually hearing great things about the city of Tallinn, and after researching online, it seems like it’s going to be an interesting place. I’ll be sure blog all about it when I visit at the end of the month.
I miss my friends and family, but being able to talk to them on Skype makes home not as far away. I’m so thankful for programs like Facebook and MySpace, allowing me to stay connected day to day with friends. I feel as though I’m not that far away, rather, out of town for a couple weeks. What would we do without the Internet? Though in a different country, I’ve been able to meet some people from ‘home’. It’s funny how you are able to pick out a Canadian or American on the street or at a nightclub. (Normally it’s the people who cheer when English music comes on!) Obviously I’ve become close with the 2 girls I live with and am thankful that we all get along so well. But I’ve also become friends with Gavin (a Canadian on the men’s volleyball team – very entertaining), Monty (an American on the men’s basketball team), and some American girls from a rival club 20 minutes outside of Jyväskylä. One of the girls played at Notre Dame and we guarded one another our freshmen year! Small world. It’s weird to befriend a rival, because on the court there is no mercy. However, when in an unfamiliar environment you tend to gravitate towards those similar to you. Whenever meeting someone from North America it’s as if we are old friends. Chatting like we have known each other for years and planning to meet up sometime during the week. After games I find myself talking to the American players and questioning them about their situations and what not. It’s kind of funny when you think about it. Game tomorrow versus BC Nokia – I feel like it’s going to be a good one!