Category Archives: European Sports Adventure ’07

We’ve got some Wimbledon, Running of the Bulls, the Tour de France and the British Open. Trust me, a lot of action in between as well…

Hey Sergio…how’s the monkey on your back?

Saturday’s British Open round played great for me. A Wisconsin guy had tied the course record and was in the final pairing w/my favorite golfer, Sergio Garcia. I couldn’t believe that I might play witness to either’s first major victory. Garcia’s famed for being in it on the start of Sunday but out of it by the 15th…Stricker’s good for getting his name near the top of the leader board, but hasn’t been a serious threat yet.

I was pretty excited for today’s round.

I spent the first half of the morning camped out at the 5th green in the front row of the gallery. It was still raining, so I covered myself w/my sleeping bag and umbrella and managed to get some sleep while the out-of-contention guys played through. I stayed there through Tiger Woods and then headed to the first tee. Garcia and Stricker teed off, and I still hadn’t picked a guy to root for. Garcia hit a nice shot down the middle of the fairway, while Stricker hooked it into the rough. While heading down the fairway, I ran into a bunch of guys clad in Wisconsin gear. They were the only guys cheering for Stricker, so I ended up w/them. We made a pretty nice (albeit small) cheering section, but we got the job done. Plus, they had a lot of beer, and being the typical Wisconsin guys, this is how our introduction went:

Guys to me in my Wisconsin sweatshirt: “You a Badger?”
Me: “Yep”
Them: “You know Stricker’s a Badger right?”
Me: “Not quite, he went to Illinois, but he’s from Wisconsin.”
Them: “Close enough for us, you want a beer.”

It was a match made in heaven.

It didn’t take Stricker long to play himself out of contention. Garcia fluctuated some, but managed to stay atop the leader board. He had Andres Romero and Padraig Harrington making surprise runs in front of him. Harrington was a couple holes ahead of Garcia. I had planned to only stay in the gallery through the front nine and then make my way to the 18th grandstands, but I was having too much fun with the Wisconsin guys. Plus, from Hole 10-13, I was walking side-by-side with Tom Lehman. The dude’s cool.

After 14, I finally headed toward 18. Garcia wasn’t closing anything out, so everyone knew it was going to come down to his putting on 18. I managed to find a seat in the 1st Tee grandstand with the 18th green in my sight. I was pretty excited for 18 b/c this was where Jean Van de Velde of France put himself in the history books in 1999.

For those of you who don’t remember, or care, all Van de Velde had to do was double-bogey the Par 4 18th to win the Claret Jug. Sounds easy for a guy who had birdied this hole twice already, right? Nope? He hit some bleachers and then hit the water. He almost played the ball out of the water, but smartly took the drop. Then he hit into a trap. He ended up triple-bogeying the hole and lost in a 3-man playoff to Paul Lawrie (who indecently, was the last European to win the Open).

So back to present day, Harrington double-bogeys 18 to move to 2-over on the day and 7-under overall. Now it’s up to Garcia. He needs a par to win it. I’m a firm believer that this Open was Garcia’s to lose. He’s notorious for Sunday bombs when starting in contention. He lays up on the green in 3. From my seat I can see him lining up for his par putt. It looked good, but not good enough. He tapped in for bogey and was now going to play Harrington in a 4-hole playoff.

They played 1, 16, 17 and 18. I had to rely on the play-by-play announcer for most of it, b/c I figured it was better to stay put then chase these guys around a golf course. Garcia did himself no favors by bogeying the first hole to Harrington’s birdie. The guys parred the next two holes. Garcia was 2-shots back on Harrington. He needed Padraig to be the reincarnation of Van de Velde to win. Harrington bogeyed and Garcia hit par. With a one-shot playoff win, Harrington was the new Open Champion.

It was pretty exciting, the crowd was really into it, the rain had stopped and his little boy came rushing out onto the green. I was disappointed that Garcia or Stricker didn’t pull it off, but Harrington seemed like the next best thing.

Now it was time to head back to Dundee. I had already finished reading Harry Potter, now I just needed to get some sleep so I could head back to London the next day.

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God’s got my back

After Saturday’s British Open round (see entry “Steve Stricker!” for details) I had the fun game of trying to find someplace to sleep for the night. I had hoped to be able to find someplace to crash in Carnoustie, rather than heading back to Dundee, but thanks the rain and the fact that the town hasn’t heard of eaves or covered entry ways, I was heading back to the church to sleep outside again. I had made friends w/some policemen in Carnoustie and caught them up to speed on my lack of sleeping situation, but they had nothing to offer. They suggested I head to the campsite out of town and maybe someone would take me in there, but it was a crapshoot. If I didn’t find a place to crash, I’d be outside on the wet grass w/my sleeping bag. Dundee was appearing to be the only sure thing.

I walked all over Carnoustie, which really is a quaint little town. I tried a couple churches, but all were locked. I thought about stowing away in the library, but found no way to get out of the locked building on Sunday. I eventually stopped searching and headed back to the covered entryway of the church in Dundee. It was cold and spider-infested, but at least it was dry. I made camp in a corner and set my alarm to make sure I was up before people came for Sunday mass.

Sleeping definitely wasn’t easy. The wind carried every outside voice into the entryway, as well as a recently laid-off, separated, homeless man. He was a couple sheets to the wind when he joined me in the entryway to sleep for the night. I couldn’t understand a word of his thick accent and I wasn’t about to fall asleep with him there. Don’t get me wrong, he seemed like a nice, genuine guy who I felt very sorry for, but as a single female foreigner, I wasn’t really comfy in the situation. He eventually left, and I managed a couple minutes of sleep, but I was waking up every 10 minutes making sure I was still alone.

Most of my awake time was spent thinking of all the odd places I had crashed on this trip. I might be from the Northwoods, but I was never the girl sleeping in the middle of the woods under the stars. On this trip though, I’d already slept in a couple hostels, on the couch of a hostel in Barcelona (an agreement made b/t me and the owner–I had to watch the place while he partied), on joint-infested, glass-covered, dirty grass, a park bench, under a carousel ride, in the lobby of an apartment building, in a park, in an ant-infested bed, on an acquaintances’ couch, in various public-transportation stations and now in the entry way of a church.

The woods of Wisconsin suddenly seemed like a great place to be.

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Steve Stricker!

So I finally made it to Carnoustie. I got into Dundee last night after a 12 hour bus ride! I immediately went to a pub, if only because that was the only type of business open and I deserved a beer after my long day. I supposedly met Andrew Carnegie’s great-great (-great?) grandson. Haha, the guy’s in his 60’s and he’s still trying to use the family name! After a couple free rounds in the pub I walked around and decided to queue it up for the new Harry Potter book. I got in the queue at 11 and had the book by 12:30. I then headed to a place to camp out and read some and then fell asleep for a bit. I got up in the morning and headed to Carnoustie for the Open. I pretty much walked around for a bit as the early tee times had just started. I made camp in one of the grandstands for a bit before heading to the first tee to watch Jerry Kelly, Steve Stricker, Adam Scott and Tiger tee off. I got a wave from Stricker b/c I was wearing my Wisconsin hoodie (which by the way is helping jack in this winter-like-rainy-freezing-cold I’d rather be in Wisconsin in January-like weather). Since I was one of only 3 people on that side of the gallery, I’m pretty confident the shoutout was going my way.

I then tried to make my way to the 11th green b/c I was told last night by the manager of the bookstore I bought Harry Potter in that that was the best green. Well I settled for the 13th, b/c I was tired of walking around. I made camp in the front row of the grandstand, pulled out my sleeping bag and tried to stay as warm as possible. It was a pretty good green to be at b/c you can see the action on the 12th green and the players teeing off on the 13th. However, since there would be 5-minute intervals b/t action, I pulled out my Harry Potter book to do a bit of “light” reading. Turns out that caught the eye of the BBC cameraman in front of me and he asked me to hold my book a certain way so he could get a good shot of me reading it. Rumour on the street is his broadcast was worldwide. Could’ve just been him trying to sound cool, but yeah, so I guess I got some air time.

Throughout the course of the afternoon you would hear all over the gallery, “Steve Stricker just birdied another hole.” So yeah, Stricker had an amazing round. He shot a 7-under 64 to tie the course record. He went into the clubhouse with a 6-under 2nd place standing. He’ll be in the final pairing with Sergio Garcia. That makes things interesting since I’ve been a Garcia fan since ’99 and my ties to Stricker are on a strictly Wisconsin connection, so I haven’t really decided who I’m going to root for. We’ll see!

Until then, I had more Harry Potter to read.

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Who ordered the drunk on the bus?

I was in Paris on a mission to find a bus to get to London.  I discovered Eurolines and was hoping to catch a 6pm bus from Paris to London.  I get to the station to catch the bus and am told that the 6 pm is sold out.  However, if I head to a different station across town, I should be able to make a 9pm departure from there.  Unfortunately, they couldn’t book me on it there, so I had to head across town.  So I get back on the Metro and get to a different station.  There, I’m told that they are sold out, but I can be put on standby.  I’m the 4th person on the list.  The first guy is an Eastern European (I think he said he was Bulgarian?) who has clearly had some to drink.  Then there was a couple, followed by me.  So it gets around departure time and the guy at the window lets us know that there are 2 seats on the bus.  The drunk guy gets the first one and since the couple didn’t want to split up, I got the last seat.  I hopped in a seat right behind the driver and vowed to sleep the entire way so that when I got to London’s Victoria Station, I’d be rearing and ready to go.

Now, if I had still had my iPod, I probably would have slept, but since that had been stolen, I was left to deal with a lot of background noise.  The drunk guy is now drunker than when I first saw him.  He was situated in a seat in the middle of the bus and he would not shut up.  He was going on and on in French and sometimes switch over to his native tongue.  I was trying hard to block him out, but it was getting impossible.  He was getting louder with each word and the people around him were getting vocally upset as well.  Eventually, he got into an argument with one of the passengers.  The only thing I understood was when he literally would rattle on and then he’d toss in a, “Blah, blah, blah…”  I got a laugh out of that, but I’m pretty sure I was the only one.

We finally get to Calais to catch a ferry across the Channel to Dover.  I had been asleep when the custom agents (who were from Belgium, not quite understanding that) ushered us off the bus and into a building.  We stood in line where an agent checked our passports, and then they sent us to another building.  Now mind you, it’s the middle of the night and most of my travel info for London is in my bag, stored under the bus, and I’m half-asleep.  I get my white card and get to the part where it asks the address of the place I’m staying.  I ask the line agent what I do if I don’t know the exact address, he tells me that I should be fine w/o it.  I get to the front of the line and submit my passport and white card.  Apparently, you do need to know exactly where you’re going, so I explain that I don’t have the address, since he had just moved to a new place and that all I have is a phone number, which isn’t accessible at the moment.  He tells me that I have to go call my friend and get the address.  I wasn’t about to call Jim in the middle of the night, so I stepped out of line and wrote down the address for one of the hostels I had stayed at and then got in line for a different agent.  While she was looking at my white card, the agent I had first talked to came over to look my info over and he started questioning why I put a hostel address down. I just told him I planned to stay there as well during my trip and that I knew that address.  He let it go and walked away.  Then the lady with my white card asked me how much money I had on me.  I was like, 10 euro.  Yeah, if you have next to nothing in money and need to get out of whatever country you’re in, just lie.  She said she couldn’t let me in to England with that little money.  I quickly corrected myself and just said that was all I had in cash at the moment, but I had a couple credit cards (I didn’t) and that I was still a bit sleepy and asked for her to forgive me, which she did when she stamped my passport.

Whew…I was going to get to London.

We drive onto the ferry and I promptly try to find some place to sleep.  I made space b/t some homeless men and tried to get some rest.  I tried, really I did, but I wasn’t used to sleeping on a moving boat.  Plus, one of the guys snored and to top it off, you could hear the drunk guy from any part of the ferry!  As the ride was coming to an end and you could catch the faint outline of the white cliffs of Dover, they started announcing over the PA that our bus driver needed to report to the captain’s office.  They announced it about 10 times and when we get on the bus, there’s are bus driver fast asleep.  We let her know that they had been calling for her and she just kept saying that she cleared whatever it was up.  Yeah, she failed that lie detector test.  Finally, some cops came and asked her to step off the bus.  Of course, we all looked out the window to see what was going on.  We could see her digging through the luggage under the bus until she pulled a backpack out.  It was the drunk guys.  I guess he had caused some sort of disturbance on the ferry so he was getting detained in Dover.  We cheered when she told us that!

Since it was still really dark out, I kind of saw the White Cliffs, but nothing substantial, they were more gray at that point of the early morning hours.  And, since we no longer had a drunk on the bus, I slept all the way to London where I got off at the Victoria Station.  I cleaned myself up and headed out to find my friend Jim.

One obstacle down, now I just had to figure out how to get to Scotland w/o calling my father for more money.

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Paris in a day

So I catch a train to Paris from Lyon and figure that when I get to Paris, I should be able to find my way to London and ultimately Scotland.  I’m down to very, very little money and figure I might be doing some hitchhiking soon, but praying I don’t have to.  I was banking on there being a relatively cheap bus ticket available between Paris and London, so woo hoo for Euroline busses!

I get into Paris around 11 pm and I was thinking I would just crash in the Gare de Lyon train station, but it closes shop at Midnight.  I tried a couple places that I figured no one would find me, but someone always did.  I wasn’t desperate or stupid enough to crash on a bathroom floor, so I dejectedly gave up and stepped outside.  I thought about wandering the streets and crashing in a park, because afterall, this is the city of lights and it had been almost 10 years to the day since I’d been in Paris (minus the couple hours I spent there earlier in the week when I went from Hendaye to Paris’ Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon and then to Bourg-en-Bresse at 6am).  The Eiffel Tower wasn’t big on having a nightly light show when I was there in high school, so now seemed a good a time as any to explore.  So I’m outside and I walk about a block or so and discover the Blue Planet Hostel and think, you know what, I’d rather sleep on a bed than in a park, so I check in and nix the idea of seeing the Eiffel Tower at night.  I had a room to myself and once I shut the window to the courtyard, went to bed.  From my window though, I could see the sky light from the Tower, but not the tower itself…there’s my lightshow folks.

I wake up in the morning and discover I now had two Russian roommates, they were cool for the bit we talked.  I was getting out early because I needed to find an internet cafe to find a bus schedule and I wanted to take a free walking tour of Paris, so I needed to be to be to Saint Michaels Church by 11 am.  I leave my bag locked up at the hostel and hit the road.  I find an internet cafe and after a bit, find a bus schedule.  It’s not leaving till 6, so I have time to play tourist, but by the time I find the info I need and leave the cafe, I’m not sure I’m going to make it to St. Michaels in time, so I just head to Notre Dame, figuring I could meet up w/the group there.

At Notre Dame I’m outside relaxing and taking everything in, when this woman from Somalia comes up and hands me a piece of paper.  On the paper it explains that she is from Somalia and living in Paris with her sister who is very sick and they need money to take care of her.  Now the thing about me, is that I have an amazing memory, I remember the most random things in the world, including 10 years prior when visiting Notre Dame having a woman from Somalia come up to my group and hand us a piece of paper explaining her dire situation.  I also remember we gave her some Francs (we had to, we were on a church trip to see the Pope and we were at a church, it only made sense back then).  Back to the present, I read the letter, stifle a laugh and just told the lady I had already given her money and I walk away.  Inside the cathedral, I sat down and prayed for a bit and decided I should get back outside if I want to catch the tour group.  By now, it’s pouring rain outside, so I go back in and take the free English guided tour.  In the decade sense I’d been there last, they erected a plaque commemorating Pope John Paul II’s visit there in 1997 when he beatified Frederic Ozanam, the founder of St. Vincent de Paul.  I read the plaque and remember thinking, “Why didn’t we go to mass at Notre Dame that day if the Pope was going to be there?” We didn’t even know that something cool like that was going on.  Oh well.

I stayed at Notre Dame until the rain ended and since I had never found the walking group, I just headed out on my own.  I saw the Royal Palace and the Hotel de Ville.  I grabbed a bite to eat and then headed back to the hostel to get my bag.  I needed to head across town to get to the bus, so I said good bye to touring Paris and thought about getting to London.

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Coming to terms in Lyon

The boy raced up the stair case ahead of me, his toy car running parallel on the marble railing. I stifled a laugh as I eyed his mother, too busy taking pictures of the angel statue welcoming you, to notice her son’s play. I smiled at the boy as I sidestepped him to enter the church in Lyon’s Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière.

Here, along the baroque interior, the artwork took center stage. The stained-glass windows brought in a rainbow of light as I took in the mosaic trims and the intricate detail of the life and legend of St. James. In a corner, the red, blue and white votive candles flickered with the prayers of those that had lit them. I did a complete turn to take it all in—the dozens of tourists in various languages, the flash of the cameras, the stunning paintings hailing the Virgin Mary—and then I stopped. There, in front of me, were rows of chairs leading to the altar. A sign indicated that the front few rows were reserved for those wishing to pray. Sadly, I was not surprised to see that they were empty. I wondered how long it had been since anyone thought to sit down and properly reflect on where they were. I had been in and out of churches and cathedrals throughout Europe and I could not recall seeing one person praying. When did church become a tourist attraction that occasionally doubled as a place of worship? I understand, especially in Europe, that the cathedrals provided more than a door to God, but also a window into the art world as well, but I felt that latter had become the priority. Granted, it had been awhile since I had gone to church myself, but I like to think that I had not lost my sense of place.

Contemplation led me down the aisle as I decided then was as good a time as any to have my piece with God. I sat down and immediately rehashed my trip in my head. I had been robbed twice in a span of a week and a half. I had to go without money and food for four days waiting for the Western Union to open up in Pamplona, Spain. I had spent days sleeping outside, in apartment lobbies and under carnival rides because of my lack of funds. To top it off, it had been raining on and off my entire trip. Then it hit me: here I was in France on the trip of a lifetime and all I could do was complain?     Somewhere in that train of thought I slapped myself across the face and told myself to shut up in one of those, “there’s a war going on and children are starving” type moments. Instead of praying for what I didn’t have or for my iPod to magically appear, I started thanking God for the good fortune I had overlooked thus far on my trip. There were the two girls from Utah who left a few Euros and a kind note at the foot of my bed in Barcelona after I had been robbed. Then there was the hostel owner that let me crash on a couch for free in return for watching the hostel for a night and thanks to his good nature and tango lessons, I had been able to take my mind off of the fact that I was penniless just hours after being robbed. I was alive to tell those that would listen that I had run with the bulls and lived. I had also escaped serious injury in San Sebastian, Spain when a carnival ride fell on three of us in a plaza. I still had my health and unknown adventures to look forward to before heading home. Most importantly, I was lucky to have family and friends thousands of miles away that could help me out despite an ocean between us.

It was a tough realization to stomach that I had walked down the aisle for the wrong reasons. I recognized that we all have our own “crosses” to bear in some way or form and it was our choice of how heavy we wanted that cross to be. Who was I to sit here and complain when somewhere, someone is shouldering theirs without complaint? I said one last “Our Father,” made the sign of the cross and headed back up the aisle. I had found my peace with God.

So yes, in the sanctuary of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, I started to look at what I had and not what I had lost. Amongst the babble of tongues and the flashing of cameras, I decided to suck it up, shut up and carry the cross that I had created.
I figured if anything, it had to at least be lighter than my backpack.

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Bastille Day

I’ll be honest. There is no fun in celebrating your country’s Independence Day if you’re not in that country. I think that is why the 4th of July was nothing to write home about for me this year. I was in Barcelona. I had randomly met a girl from Wisconsin and her American cohorts on the 4th and went with them to a 4th of July party at the Hard Rock Cafe. Seriously, without the BBQ, fireworks and knowing I was getting a paid day off from work, not really much of a celebration for me.

Point being–it’s better to celebrate something country-specific in that country; hence, my excitement for being in France for their independence day, aka, Bastille Day.

I arrived in Lyon the night before with some girls I met in Pamplona. They were studying in Lyon and had offered up an empty dorm room (yep, add it to the list of completely random places I crashed) for me to stay in for the night. They would be heading to Paris the next morning for Bastille Day, but 1 free night was music to my ears. I woke up early the next morning to leave when they left. I pulled out a map to the city and found a quiet park overlooking the entire of Lyon and I promptly took a 3 hour nap before starting my day at 11.

Lyon was a nice city. It had the odd combination of having that big city feel w/a small town attitude. Everything was peaceful, the scenery was gorgeous (2 rivers run through it), it was clean and had enough parks to relax in that you began to think you were in a small town.

I played tourist for the morning and afternoon. In the early evening I decided to find a hostel to throw my bag at and find some people to celebrate with. I took refuge in a hostel on a hill (Fourvière, which means, “the hill that prays) overlooking the city and the Rhone River. My hostel had a balcony that overlooked everything, so I grabbed a bite to eat and my journal and headed outside. That’s where I started talking w/a Dutchman and a girl from Canada. We could see a lot of action starting up along the river, so the Canadian and I headed down to see what was going on.

We walked around for a little over an hour. We checked out stands set up and the live entertainment being had. It was funny to see a pseudo rock band comprised of 5 pre-pubescent boys and even funnier to see their mosh pit. Everyone was having a great time—tons of families along the waterway and everyone in a really good mood.

All in all, I gathered Bastille Day celebrations to be a lot like the 4th, only in the evening though. During the day, shops were still open and business went on as usual, like a typical Saturday. I talked to a couple locals, and they said that people do get together for the holiday, but that it’s not so much an all day affair, at least in Lyon. However, as soon as the late afternoon hit, everyone got in firework mode. They made their way to get a spot along the Rhone so they could catch the fireworks from the hill.

The Canadian (God, I wish I could remember her name!) and I went back to the hostel and got a few people to walk up the hill even further to get a view of the fireworks. They were ok. I guess I was spoiled from Pamplona, where every night was a firework display in a weeklong competition, so every display was essentially a half hour grand finale.

Afterward, we headed back to the hostel and I spent the rest of my evening talking w/Frenchmen, Englishmen, the Canadian, the Dutchmen and a couple Aussies. The action below had calmed down and I was content relaxing on top of the hill. Really, it was no different than if I had been at home–a day w/friends, some fireworks, a good beer and conversation to go with it.

I’m sure if I had been in Paris it would have been a whole different story—fireworks over the Eiffel Tower—thousands of people convening on the town for the day, etc. Yet, I would have been taking part in a huge touristy affair and that’s not always the way to experience local flavor. I’m glad I spent it someplace low key where I could really get a French feel–no matter who I was hanging out with.

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