I was having a little moment of panic when I saw that there had been no blog post for this week before I checked and realised it was my turn again. I blame this on my still-on-holiday-mode brain.
So yes, I did just come back from my almost month long holiday this week. I am still jet lagged, as evidenced by my current 3AM wake-ups. The first two days I got back I actually slept and woke up quite normally and I thought “Sweeeeeet! No jet lag!”. Clearly spoke too soon. Then the 3AM wide-awake-ness started. First time it happened, I tried to go back to sleep until my alarm, of course to no avail. This morning, I did the smart thing and just gave up after an hour of scrolling through my phone in the dark. Or maybe it’s not a smart thing? If any of you have tips on how to get over jet lag, please feel free to share.
Now the holiday itself. Geez, I don’t want to bog you down on all the details of the 4 weeks, but I’d like to share my big takeaways.
1. Women’s football (this is orange for a reason!)
If you didn’t know already, the primary purpose of my holiday was to go watch the UEFA Women’s Euros 2017. It is a competition held every 4 years between 16 (largest contingent to date) Europeans teams, where the winning team would be crowned champions of Europe. In terms of competitiveness, I had expected the usual suspects to dominate the groups (Germany – champions for the past 22 years; Sweden; France; England), with some blow out games here and there. In terms of fan support, I guess I wasn’t really sure. Whilst I hoped that lots of people would come out to support these female athletes, I also knew that there is still deep prejudice that run within society about female sports. (Interesting documentary on the history of women’s football in England for anyone who is interested. In a gist, bunch of males decided to ban women’s football almost 100 years ago because it got too popular.)
Reality versus expectations? Well, what can I say. Nobody, and I mean nobody, would have predicted some of the results that eventuated. 3 of the 4 giants (listed above) were knocked out (rather convincingly) in the quarterfinals. I think the only reason all 4 didn’t get knocked out was because England played France in the quarters because France did worse than expected in the group stage and ended up in second place (I even booked my tickets based on the assumption that Eng v Fra would be a semi, not a quarter). It was absolutely fantastic to see the quality in all the games and the improved performance of the smaller (investment in women’s football-wise) nations. It made the whole tournament super interesting to watch. I didn’t know about many of the European players before the tournament, but I am now even more actively trying to learn more about them and follow their careers, because many deserve much more recognition.
And with regards to the fans, my goodness. That was probably one of the funnest parts! Fans made the effort to travel across to Netherlands from all over Europe to watch these games (even though it’s Europe, it’s still a fair bit of effort to arrange flights/ferries, accommodation, etc). Not only did the fans turn up, they turned up in numbers, and they turned up vocal. Special shoutout to the Icelandic fans, who arguably had to travel the furthest. And even though by the end of the second game, they knew their team would not make it out of the group stage, they still came and gave massive support for all group games. In fact, the media reported that 1% of their total population made the trek across the sea to watch. I still remember one afternoon as I was coming back to the apartment, I stumbled across where the Icelandic fans were hanging out before the game and they had taken over the whole square! Their Icelandic thunder clap will also leave you a little breathless. The other special shoutout has to go out to the Dutch supporters. I have never personally experienced so much support for a female sporting team before this tournament. Every single one of the Dutch games were sold out. When I talked to the locals about the tournament, many of them actually knew how the team was performing (it helped that the Dutch team were performing superbly). My most memorable day of the trip was the final’s day. I decided that I wanted to take part on the pre-game celebrations and fan walk to the stadium. That was probably the best decision of my life (not even exaggerating). There were an endless number of fans (though completely outnumbered, there were still a vocal group of Danish fans); a band; copious amounts of singing and dancing and chanting. I’m seriously not exaggerating when I say that I could not see the beginning nor the end of the fans during that walk to the stadium. Can’t upload my own video but here is another on Youtube (lol in fact, I see myself at around 6:17). Seriously, please watch, even if just for one minute. Re-watching some of these now is bringing me to tears of happiness. After the Dutch team won the final, I was driving back to Amsterdam and on my way, I saw fans out in the highway overhead bridges waving their flags and scarves in celebration – another thing I was not expecting. Thank you Oranje fans for these wonderful memories.
Not just in Netherlands, but for some of the other teams also received massive welcomes back home for their champion efforts (Denmark; Austria). Hopefully this translates to more financial investment in those programs too.
This trip further cemented my love for the women’s game and my admiration for these athletes.
2. The world is a big, big place
It doesn’t matter how much research you do, nor whether you know someone from that country, when you actually travel and stay long enough in one new culture/country, you will learn many new things about it. This is why I like to travel deeply (when I say this, I mean that I am not a massive fan of the whirlwind travel itinerary, which often happens for European destinations). Things I learnt about the Dutch? From my short time, I would say most (all that I met) Dutch people were very welcoming (everyone I asked for help was willing and all I saw on the streets that I made eye contact with said hello); quite pragmatic (developed from my interaction with people I met on the work trips); and super efficient (automated systems for check-in, including for check-in luggage that cuts down the time to about 15 minutes?!!). From my friend who has lived there, their view is that the Dutch is maybe too tough (examples raised by them were GPs telling people to just rest and symptoms will go away for everything; and also children riding through the rain and having no change of clothes being viewed as normal and expected). Which is understandable given that more than half the country is below sea level so they’ve not exactly had easy living conditions. Speaking with one taxi driver who was an immigrant, he noted that the Dutch is nice to you to your face, but talk behind your back (I guess all cultures do that?). Also, from a German perspective, the Dutch really dislike the Germans on a national level (this was from just one account). And that’s just the people. There is so much history to be learnt from each place too. Too much to detail but for me, as someone who knew very little about European history, it was a great learning experience. And the best way I did that was going on a number of walking tours in the various cities I went to, each with an English guide, all had extensive knowledge of the topic. This trip was a reminder to me that traveling is not only a great way to relax, but also an first hand experience to learn about another part of the world.
3. Journey of self discovery
I know, sounds a little cliché, especially because I did not travel alone. However, I might as well have. I won’t go into any details here, but I think what needs to be said are that:
- gut instincts need to be trusted more often than not (and I have a little regret not trusting mine);
- people are freaking weird as fuck – usually not necessarily a bad thing, except when their weirdness really does not align with your weirdness;
- even I am amazed by my own tolerance sometimes, but that I’m getting older (and have lesser time on this planet) so my tolerance for bullshit is quickly diminishing;
- learning how to deal with difficult people is a never ending journey for me because I do not like confrontations;
- traveling alone is actually not all that scary if you keep an open mind, plus it’s a great way to meet new people; and
- I am really sucky at riding a bike.
All in all though, I would not have traded this experience for anything. As with all things in life, you can’t have everything exactly how you want it. It’s really what you make of the opportunities you do have and how you view setbacks and deviations that define the big picture.