Forget the Swine Flu, I’ve caught a bad case of Olympic fever and can’t find a cure - as I’m thousands of miles from my home and native land. Prior to returning to Europe this season, I didn’t think twice about the winter games. Even though I spent my summer working full-time at the Olympic Oval, talked to speed skaters on a daily basis and helped the facility get ready for the big event, I knew I was going to be abroad and didn’t spend time thinking about where I would be when the Olympic torch was lit. Friends constantly asked how I was going to feel being away from my hometown when it was hosting one of the biggest events in the world. I usually responded: “if it was the summer Olympics, I’d for sure stay home. But since it’s winter, I don’t know that I’ll really miss anything other than the hockey…”
Wow…I could not of been more wrong. Though I’m enjoying myself this season in Europe, I really wish I were in Vancouver. Looking back on the decision I made in August – I still think I would have made the same one. However, I really can’t believe I’m not home experiencing/witnessing/feeling the atmosphere of the games. My parents call me daily with updates on the city and events around town (my house is literally 5 minutes from the Richmond ‘O’ Zone, Heineken House and Olympic Oval), friends email me photos, rave about partying with the Dutch, share details on how they rubbed shoulders with athletes, brag about how much Canada gear they wear each day and explain whenever screaming “Go Canada Go!” they always receive a positive response in return.
Meanwhile, I’m in Luxembourg surfing the Internet for updates, clicking through online photo galleries, watching streaming videos and staying up late/waking up early to watch live Olympic events on a German telecast. Thus, I don’t really get to see Canadian athletes or the events they compete in. Often I find myself commenting aloud in the wee hours of the morning: “that’s right by my house! I love False Creek! I’m so happy the world is experiencing/seeing where I live!” And, “my city is so beautiful!” among other things. I don’t have patriotic Canadians to share what I’m feeling with. To be honest and for lack of a better word, it really sucks! I’m jealous of the pictures my friends post on facebook, the details they share about events they’ve attended and I hate to admit it, but I miss following Brian Williams' every word on CTV (all you Canadians reading this know exactly what I’m talking about!!!) Friends and family talk excitably about how they can actually feel the spirit of the games. Canadian pride is everywhere, people are happy, my city is hosting the world…and I’m in Europe.
As difficult as it is to be away right now, I’m dealing with it. As much as I’d like to be there, I’m not and instead of dwelling on it, I’ve kept myself busy traveling while wearing my red and white Olympic gear everywhere I go. ☺ Last weekend after our the Luxembourg Cup semi-final (which we won! More on this later…) I hopped on a plane to Dublin for a 3-day mini-tour of Ireland. Last season in Madeira, my American teammate Casey and I became quite close with 2 bartenders who worked at a local Irish bar. They were close to our age with one hailing from New Zealand and the other from South Africa. When our season came to a close and Casey and I were leaving the island, we exchanged contact info with both barkeeps and promised to keep in touch and meet again. Through my travels I’ve met tons of cool people and as much as you promise to keep in touch, it rarely happens. This time however, I proved that thought wrong. I’d never been to Ireland and as luck would have it (pun intended) Tineke (New Zealand) had relocated from Madeira to Dublin months earlier to continue her Euro travels while still working. Connecting through emails and text messages, we discussed travel dates and I finally booked my flight. The two of us would be reconnecting almost one year since we’d last seen each other!
With Tineke meeting me at the airport, I was off to explore Dublin. I won’t recount much of the trip in this entry, but will say one thing - Dublin is not a city you visit for the ‘sights.’ It’s a place to visit to experience the Irish way of life…most of which involves drinking Guinness and Jameson. Dublin is unlike any other European city I’ve traveled to. It’s so different from places like Athens, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Brussels, etc. Honestly, it wasn’t at all what I had expected. I quickly learned that you visit Dublin to experience the pubs, listen to Irish music, drink Guinness and eavesdrop on the lovely accent.
After a day in Dublin, I was ready to see another part of the country. With not enough time to travel to Cork or Galway, a local suggested I go to Howth, a fishing village 40 minutes outside of Dublin. It turned out to be a fabulous recommendation. Howth is an adorable village situated on the Irish Sea. It reminded me a little bit of home. I was fortunate to have wonderful weather and hiked the nearby cliffs to take pictures of Dublin Bay and houses below. After spending the afternoon in this tiny town, I enjoyed a fresh seafood lunch and headed back to Dublin to meet up with Tineke for the evening.
Not really wanting to spend my last day in Dublin, Tineke and I planned a day trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland. Known for its conflict between Catholics and Protestants, I was interested to see what the city was really like. Belfast surprised me. With everything I had seen on the news and read about in the papers years before, I was expecting it to be somewhat ‘dangerous.’ Belfast is nothing like that. I never felt uncomfortable. It’s a metropolitan, modern city and interestingly enough, is not a part of Ireland. It’s a part of the UK, flying the Union Jack from buildings and using the British Pound as currency. Belfast is so completely different than Dublin – and I loved it! City Hall is gorgeous and “peace walls” standing in certain parts of the city really make you think. To this day they still stand, separating Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods…literally. At 6pm gates are closed along Shankill Road to discourage ‘neighborly’ conflicts. Violence is not as common anymore, but disagreements still breakout. If ever in Belfast, one MUST take a black taxi tour. Its money well spent for an hour plus education on the history of the city. Returning late that evening to Dublin, I headed back to Lux the following morning thinking about the differences between these two unique cities…
Basketball Update: With somewhat of a ‘vacation break’ going on here in Luxembourg, the last game we played was on Feburary 6th, which was the Luxembourg Cup semi-finals. With over 2,000 fans packing the gym, it was one of the first times I had butterflies in my stomach before the game in Europe. Winning this game would be huge for our team and would put us in position to play for the Cup championship. Playing a team we had split with this season, I knew it was going to be a battle from the tip. With their fans out numbering us 2 to 1, we had to focus on what we could control. I started off hot in the first 2 minutes, then unfortunately landed wrong on an opponents foot. Sprained ankle = bad news…there was nothing I could do but lace my shoes up tight. My team needed me. I managed to make it through the first half as we headed into the locker room down 3. Determined to get the ‘W,’ I was on my teammates, trying to pump them up and get them ready for 20 more minutes of basketball. Ignoring the pain, I tried to warm up. No go. Once I had stopped running and moving at half, my ankle had swollen up to the size of a tennis ball. It was so stiff that I didn’t know if I could play the second half. Sucking it up, I massaged the swollen-ness high enough that I could lace up my basketball shoe suffocating tight. I’m not going to lie, the second half was probably the toughest 20 minutes of basketball I have every played. Every step was an effort and jumping made me want to scream. It was mind over matter at that point. Finally, in the 4th quarter we were able to pull away and build somewhat of a comfortable lead. With 7 minutes left in the game I almost threw up. I couldn’t run any more and was literally dragging my right leg up and down the court, trying to bother as many shots as I could. When the final buzzer sounded, my first thought was not of celebration, but of sticking my ankle in an enormous bucket of ice. Ignoring the pain for a few extra minutes I saluted our fans, hugged teammates, posed for pictures and finally made my way off the court. Just another day at the office…