Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Olympic Fever! In Vancouver!

So I know it sucks for people to lose their jobs in these trying times, especially when it happens to a close friend, and for her that meant not only unemployment, but also losing a visa to the USA.  I was more than a little bummed to see her leave Phoenix,  but thankfully Karen fully embraces her Canadian heritage and was ready to go back for a time and settle in the best place - Vancouver!  Just in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics!  Like - just in time - a month before!

I had been wishy-washy about my President's Day weekend plans - to ski in Tahoe or not to ski?  My heart just wasn't in it.  I think Karen and I had talked about me coming to visit Van at some point, but didn't have any definite plans.  Then all of the sudden in late January we had a phone call and despite two other visitors in town for the Olympics, we decided that one more person could definitely fit in that tiny basement space that Karen and Emma shared and before I knew it I was Vancouver-bound!  Flights were even cheap!  

The Olympic fever embraced all the visitors in a flurry of email introductions and instructions for a flash-mob via YouTube.  Karen even got to hold the torch on its way to light the Olympic Flame!  Bryndee flew in from NYC, Karen's former home; Joanna, a BYU friend, drove up from Seattle; I came in from the AZ desert on Saturday, the day after the Opening Ceremonies.

Touchdown Saturday around noon.  Slightly cold, rainy, but who cares?  I'm at the Olympics!  A car full of girls picked me up, and we were off.  First stop, McDonald's.  Ha.  They have better McFlurry flavors in Canada, like crème brulée, by the way.  Except really we were just using the McDonald's parking lot as our Metro Park and Ride stop, hoping that the car would still be there when we returned many hours later; mass transit was a much better way to get into the heart of the madness.  Soon we were gazing at the Rings across the Harbor and checking out the Flame.  Karen shows off her mittens below, which I was determined to get my hands into before the trip was over, even if they were only sold at one store that was insanely crowded at all hours of the day.
After taking in the most important sites, we headed over to Robson street for the event that we'd practiced so hard for.  A flash mob that turned out to be a little heavier on the mob and not so much of a flash.  I don't even want to hear that song again and I really hope that I'm not in that video.
Take notice of my bandaged hand in that photo - it will come into play later.  Oh, and going through airport security with that on gets you lots of extra attention.
There was an awesome zip line up above one of the main downtown plazas; I think the line was about 3-6 hours long almost every day, so I didn't try it out.  But we saw awkward teenagers singing in a show choir and a weird acro-gymnastic group on unicycles!

And super proud Canadians!  Man, I almost wanted to be Canadian and sport that maple leaf everywhere.  I heart Canada!  Really, it's true.  I loved the Canadian pride everywhere.  Way to go, nation to the North.  You are much more than America's hat.

We found a restaurant for dinner down in Gaslamp, I think,that wasn't too crowded or crazy.  Ate a delicious meal, got the check, and suddenly I couldn't find my debit card anywhere....yikes!  After thinking about it (and making a couple expensive phone calls to my mom and my bank via my cell phone), here's what must have happened.  We went straight from the airport to downtown; clearly I didn't want to carry a big purse around, with dancing and crowds and all of that going on.  I took money, cards, ID and stuffed them into my coat pocket.  It's a little cold in Canada in February, especially at night, and those cute red mittens were awesome!  Except 1) I didn't have any yet, and 2) I had a broken hand and a cast that prevented me from warming my hands, so I had to put them in my coat pockets.  Clumsy hand removal resulted in pulling out debit card and depositing it on the streets of downtown Vancouver.  Thankfully I had another Visa card in my wallet in the car  (they really do only take Visa at the Olympics) so I could still pay for stuff.  I just couldn't get  any fun Canadian cash from the ATM.  In the end - all was fine.  I learned my lesson: don't break your hand before going on an international trip.
Not only was it the Olympics, USA's President's Day, and Valentine's weekend, it was also Chinese New Year.  Very fun lanterns and other Asian-inspired decor showed up downtown.  Except I don't know where Batman fits into that.  But after saying "I am Batman" in the Batman voice and taking a nice picture with Karen, he decided that she was hot and he wanted to lick her face.  Ewh.  We saw him a few days later, sans mask, and Ewh.  Definitely Ewh.

After dinner we trekked out to another area of the city with another celebration site, with the aim of getting into Holland House, which supposedly had a big party going on.  I won't post the picture of the faces and gestures we made toward Holland House when we found out it was a closed party and only the Dutch could go.

Day 2 of Olympic Madness - Karen and Bryndee headed up to ski at Whistler.  The road between Vancouver and the mountain was closed during the day; only Olympic travel was allowed, though the ski resorts were definitely still open and travel agencies ran official shuttles back and forth for the non-Olympian skiers.  I had thought about making the trek, but with a broken hand and a shuttle that left at 6am, it was a pretty easy choice.  I don't think I could've stayed on the mountain all day; the return was at 9pm or something crazy.  Karen was a trooper to do it though, since she had to work the next day!
Jo and I because fast friends and started the daytime tour of more Olympic sites in the city.  Many of the countries took over various buildings in Van and set them up as celebration sites of their nations.  Since Russia is hosting the next winter games, they invaded the Science Center and turned it into Russia Expo, which had a crazy long line.  We didn't wait in it.
All the provinces of Canada had their own houses and displays as well.  Poor Saskatchewan's wasn't that exciting, but it's fun to say!  Coca-Cola sponsored a couple enclosed areas downtown with musical performances and big screens to watch all the action.  The line to get wasn't too bad, so we settled in for a little while.
Even though the Sea to Sky highway to Whistler was closed during the day, it opened again about 5pm.  Jo and I planned to drive up to hang out for a few hours in the village (Estelle concert!) and save Karen and Bryndee from taking a bus back after their long day on the slopes.  Oh, and we were going to take Chad with us.  So before this trip, none of us girls knew each other - Karen was the common link.  Now Chad - Chad had been a DJ on a cruise ship for awhile.  Both Bryndee and Jo had met Chad, but on separate cruises about a year apart.  Wild, right?  I think Bryndee and Chad had stayed in touch, though Jo and Chad had not.  Chad met up with me and Jo (who was understandably a little nervous since she hadn't seen him in ages) and we all techo'd our dance moves in the car on the two-hour journey.  We had a blast and were instant friends.
We wandered around the village and made a pact to go back to Whistler in the summer (man, Canada is awesome any time of year).  We saw one of the day's medalists walking around with his teammates, medal around his neck.  We heard some of the Estelle concert, though we couldn't see much.  And we posed with the fluffy mascots at the official store.
On the way home we made a midnight snack stop at a 7/11.  Another great thing about Canada - trust in your fellow man.  Oh, and Canada has awesome candy.  I love me some gummy candy.  Here in the US, you gotta put your choices in a bag and pay by weight, which is totally fine.  But in Canada at this 7/11, each piece is 5 cents.  You count your pieces, put them in a bag, and then just tell the clerk how many you have and pay.  Amazing.

Day 3: Karen went to work!  I have no idea how she had the energy to do so.  Tyson, the international man of mystery (who lives in NYC and knows Bryndee, yet also sort of lives in Canada and hangs out with Karen, and then shows up in Nepal last week with some of my friends from DC...yeah...) has a buddy who runs the double decker tour bus company in Vancouver - free tour!  Steamclock, pit stop at Granville Island, the awesome Stanley Park, etc.
It was cold and rainy that night, but we just had to go out since it was Bryndee's last night in town.  Notice the  inukshuk in the background?  And I finally got my mittens!  I stood in line at The Bay, the only store with the official stuff.  I think I only had to wait in line to get into the store for about 20 minutes, even though it stretched 'round the block.  The perfect souvenir for 10 bucks.  I can't wait to wear them again this winter, even if I'm not in Canada nor at the Olympics.  I also wanted a Canada hoodie, and the store only had the really small or the really large sizes available.  I snagged a men's medium that was misplaced in a random aisle, intending to bring back as a gift, but I planned to hang onto it for me if I couldn't find anything in my size, which I didn't.  Lucky for the recipient, the airport store had a boy's hoodie that fit me fine, so I could actually give one away.

We made it over to the Quebec house; of course all the artsy stuff from Canada comes out of Quebec.  These two guys did a really interesting performance piece; they started out just reading books and having tea, and soon one was upside down and doing the splits, while ambient music accompanied.  Oh, and there was some dramatic ignoring going on, while one performed his heart out.
Last night in town also calls for dessert, warmth, and the day's highlight reel at Red Robin.  Go Canada!  I think the Canadian women's hockey team was victorious that day, so everyone was celebrating in the streets.  
Day 4 of Olympic madness - the day I had tickets to an event!  So Karen, being Canadian and all, was able to buy tickets to events way before the rest of the world (maybe 2 years in advance?).  Between her purchases and family purchases, she had her hands on tix to a good number of events and was able to take each of her visitors to one event.  Mine was Men's Figure Skating - short program.  And it was awesome!  I mean, the show down between the US and Russia (Lysacek vs Plushenko) was one of the biggest rivalries of the games.  And someone was a sore loser, and later claimed he had won the Platinum Medal at the Olympics.  Sorry, Russia.  USA rules!

And there he is......Evgeni.
The whole event was 5 hours long; I had feared a little boredom, but no way did that happen.  A group of 5 would warm up, then each would skate, then another group of 5 with some Zamboni action in between.  The Canadian love for Patrick Chan was pretty crazy.  I wished I had a Maple Leaf flag (to be fair, I'd get a USA one, too.  Don't worry).
Cause when you're from the USA, you have to cheer for crazy Johnny Weir.  He skated very well and it's obvious that the judges have something against him.  I booed the score.  
But then, the future Olympic champion showed up and threw down!  Evgeni barely was in 1st place after the short program, but Evan was the eventually Gold Medal winner.  Take that, Russia.
There really just is something about the spirit of the Olympic Games - it kinda hit when I walked into the venue and you can just feel the nerves and excitement and all of that.  Then the TV broadcast started, the intro video (which plays the hook from my favorite Doves track, not unlike like this one, though not exactly this) began to play as the lights dimmed, and suddenly I was quite emotional with watery eyes.

I love when the world comes together in an event like this.  I wish I could attend every Olympic Games (maybe I will make that my goal - I was in a Chinese territory when the Beijing Games began, and maybe I'll be living in London for 2012?).  And even when skaters fell, or your country's rivals took the ice, there was such an environment of support and well-wishing.  I think there were a few Austrians sitting next to us (or insert other small country name, I don't remember exactly) and after their 1 skater finished, even though he wasn't amazing or had a shot at a medal, they cheered like he had just won gold.  And the rest of the crowd took notice and joined in, applauding this guy's journey to the pinnacle of all competitions - the Olympic Games - a once in a lifetime for very few.  These are the best of the best, and should be recognized.  They trained their whole life for these three minutes, not even knowing if they'd get a shot to go to the long program to skate for a medal.  Needless to say, it was quite the experience in a live setting.  It won't be the last time.
My last night in Canada required a one more stop at the Flame and one stop for poutine, since I hadn't eaten any yet.  The streets were wild with revelers; Canada men's hockey had a victory that day.  Daring Jo stole a hockey stick from a group of Canadian guys and started chanting "U-S-A" over and over.  I swear we maybe would've been attacked anywhere else, but Canada is so dang friendly.  I remember taking a public bus from downtown Van back to Karen's house one evening - the bus was packed beyond belief.  If I'd been in DC, the driver would've either driven through even stop without stopping, closed the door on people, or made some nasty faces, and you'd best hold on for dear life.  Don't even think about boarding if you're old or have a stroller.  Not in Canada.  Everyone was ridiculously nice.  There weren't enough priority seats for those who need a little extra assistance, so other passengers were holding groceries for people and holding onto their arms to make sure they didn't fall over.  Women with kids and strollers were helped on and off the bus.  People asked each other for loonies and toonies and people were willing to help out.  The bus driver was the nicest man ever, thanked everyone for their patience and did his best to get people to where they needed to go.  That, my friends, is how we should all operate.  Score another one, Canada!

The next morning Karen was off to work again (once again - don't know how she did it!) and Jo drove me to the airport.  Such an amazing few days that I hope to repeat in another 2 or 4 years!  It's hard to sum up how great is was.  Vancouver, I will definitely see you again, and Olympic Flame, here's to London 2012!

(If you want to read a first-hand report of what it's like to work at the Olympics and have some other awesome Olympic experiences, you can read my friend Matt's blog here).


nerak said...

ahhhhhhhhhhhh this post was SO fun to read. i miss the olympics. great recap. and glad to know canada had such a favorable impression.

and honestly, i don't know how i survived either. we didn't get back from whistler at 9, silly. we got back at like 3 am. and to think i did that TWICE! well, it was so worth it.

so glad you came. london 2012? i think YES!

Anonymous said...

I have a friend in Canada, does that qualify me to comment on this post?


LaurenHoya said...

Why yes, HMC, I believe it does....

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