This is going to be a bit of a stretch as far as a travel post goes but it does involve me travelling so I figured I can post it! I, like many people are pumped up about the Sochi winter Olympics starting today. I’m a huge sports fan and a huge fan of the Olympics. I’ve made a point to visit different Olympic sites in the cities I’ve visited like Sydney & London.

And while I may not a agree with some ( or all ) of the policies/laws/spending that Russia has done in the lead up to these games, I will stand by my country’s athletes and cheer for them as loud as I can.

I had the wonderful chance to go to the Vancouver Olympics in February 2010. It was an absolutely amazing experience and I’m so glad I had the opportunity. This is a post I wrote for the outlet I was working for at the time.

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Ever since I was a little kid, I dreamed of going to the Olympics.

The fact I don’t play any sports was the only thing standing in my way.

When Vancouver was awarded the 2010 Winter Games, I was very excited to have the event come back to Canada. I’m too young to remember Calgary in 1988, so this was extra special.

I, like many others, applied to buy tickets when they went on sale. I was shut-out. So, I have up hope of experiencing the Olympics and instead, looked forward to cheering on Canada from my couch.

Last Friday, just before the opening ceremonies a friend mentioned something about a trip to Vancouver. I thought about how much fun that would be — just to be in Vancouver and take on the atmosphere. Less than 24 hours later, our plane tickets were booked and we were ready to go.

We arrived on the west coast Monday afternoon. Vancouver’s new Canada Line, the high speed rail link between downtown and the airport which opened last August, was packed with officials, volunteers, and many people from other countries. It was the Olympic fever I’ve dreamt of, without even taking in one event.

Downtown, in Robson Square, the hub of the Olympic experience, a huge Canadian flag was painted on the side of a building. Thousands of people lined the streets. We walked around, soaking it all in — the free entertainment and events. At one point, we walked past a band, complete with tuba, playing ‘O Canada’.

Our adventure took us past Alberta House in the shadows of B.C. Place Stadium, where the opening and closing ceremonies, and many medal presentations take place. Thousands had lined up tingest in to see freestyle moguls’ skier Alexander Bilodeau receive his gold medal, Canada’s first ever at an Olympics at home.

Every step you take, it’s hard not to notice the flags hanging in windows and off patios. Most are Canadian, but it’s a sign of how multi-cultureal Vancouver  is and how international this event is, when you see a number of  flags from otheer countries.

Our next goal was to find the Olympic cauldron. I wanted experience the feeling first-hand after forme Oiler Wayne Gretzky lit the flame on the Vancouver waterfront that ignited a nation….and brought me back to my Olympic dreams as a child.

We walked and walked and walked…for hours all over the place.

Ther Olympic experience was shared even over dinner that first night in Vancouver. As we waited for our food, the Bilodeau medal ceremony was on TV. Everyone in the restaurant was cheering — a very happy moment.

After dinner, I was back on Robson where the party was in full swing. Despite the pouring rain, there were still thousands of people in thestreets. They were treated to a lights and fireworks show, seemingly drowned out by the loud chant of,  ‘Go Canada Go!’

What a start to this memorable trip, and it was only the beginning. Off to North Vancouver my friends and I went to call it a night, thinking about the experience and memories this trip would creat the following day.

Bright and early the next morning, we were decked out in our red and white Canada gear (obviously being noticed given the horns that honked as we walked to catch our bus). But one thing I noticed in North Vancouver, there weren’t as many flags hanging from windows; also, not as many people walking around all dressed up in Olympic attire.seem deemed the further you got away from Vancouver, the less you saw.

Time to get back to where all the action is.

Our first goal of the day was to find the Royal Canadian Mint. At the Mint, you can see the Olympic gold medals, a $1 million coin and a really big, albeit fake, quarter.  We got a little sidetracked and ended up at Alberta House. Just outside I saw former Edmonton Oiler Jochen Hecht. Maybe he misses us here, I thought. Anyway, Alberta House is like a big outdoor restaurant and stage — what a perfect setting for a lunch consisting of what else?… Alberta beef of course. As we chowed down, people started to line up for the first Team Canada men’s hockey game.

We eventually made it to the Mint. As we were standing in line a very loud siren went off. was sounded like something you’d hear when a tornado is coming. It was very scary. We had no idea what was going on. Then, a booming voice came across a speaker somewhere above, announcing Vancouver native Maelle Ricker had just won a gold medal in the women’s snowboard cross. The entire street started to cheer. The national anthem was then played over the same speakers. People stood and sang, then burst into another loud cheer. It nearly brought tears to my eyes. It was a proud and surreal moment.

After the mint we found a pub to watch Canada take on Norway in the first men’s hockey game. It felt very strange to be sitting on a patio in February watching hockey. For some reasonm the TV’s there had a delay. So, when we heard the people next door cheering, we joined in. Funny, we just knew when a goal was coming. Even thoutheir was a ‘nothing’ game, considering Norway’s lack of history in the sport (sorry, Patrick Thorese), it was still exciting to be surrounded by all the Canadian fans cheering on the maple leaf.

Almost immediately after the game, won 8-0 by the good guys, fans spilled into the streets and the high filing and cheering started all over again.

One person not into it like we were was former NHL superstar Peter Forsburg. The Swedish flag-bearerBeas on his way back to the Olympic Village after the game. It was at this point I noticed mo people wearing the colours of other countries — Russia, Czech Republic, Sweden, USA, and Finland just to name a few. The one thing everyone had in common…everyone was  cheering and waving their flags and having a good, friendly time. It made me realize that despite all the terrible things going on in the world, all is not lost. Everyone was happy to be there, sharing the same experience as I. One company slogan for the Olympics is ‘Go World’. I think I now know what that means.

This was a whirlwind trio to say the least, so there was no way I was leaving Vancouver without experiencing some of the nightlife I’ve heard about. Different ‘houses’ are set up by  various countries are scattered about downtown. Athletes hang out there, there is live entertainment and fun stuff. My friends and I decided to give German ‘haus’ a shot.

Boy, or should I say ‘junge’, do the Germans know how to throw a party. They were fantastic — everything from the live entertainment to the food to the hospitality was outstanding. My friends and I were some of the very first on the dance floor.

I was saddened that erely Wednesday morning , we had to catch the ferry back to North Vancouver. It didn’t take long to fall asleep, knowing there wouldn’t be a lot of that considering duty called, and I had to catch a plan later that morning  to take me back home to a job that would pay the bill for this once-in-a-lifetime, or I hope — first, in a life- time experience. Next time I’m going to an event or two.

In Vancouver Interntaional Airport, I helped a little boy down the escalator because his parents hands were full. He was wearing a toque covered in Olympic pins. No doubt, he was very excited about all of them. I thought about how special it must be for him to experience all he did at such a young age. One day he’ll look back at all those pins, and remember the time he had in Vancouver….just the same as I.

As I started this reflection of my trip, I spoke of how ever since I was a little kid I’ve dreamed of going to the Olympics. Technically, without seeing any events that’s still true. But I’ve got the Olympic experience first hand…and it’s two days I will never forget.

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So that was my experience in Vancouver. I need to make a few points though as this post was heavily edited by my boss at the time because it was representing the station. So I’ll add some of the fun stuff now!  I was sitting on my mom’s bed talking to my friend on Facebook when we got the crazy idea to fly to Vancouver. Him, his brother and I flew out two days later, after driving two hours to get a cheaper flight out of a different city. My old friend Karen check with her parents and we stayed in their basement, that’s how we ended up in North Vancouver for the two nights we stayed there.

When we finally got to Vancouver, we really did walk and walk and walk until our feet were going to fall off. This was the first time I had been there so we were just kinda going with the flow, not really knowing what to expect. Karen was meeting us for dinner after work. She called us to see where we were and I told her ‘something’ & East Hastings. I think everyone on the corner heard her shout at us and to tell us to not go any further. For those of you who don’t know, East Hastings is… well not a very nice neighbourhood.

That night we partied in Robson Square and met new friends. We wanted to try one of the ‘houses’ but there were some pretty big lines. And it cost a fortune to get in to Canada House if you hadn’t already bought tickets. It was raining so hard but no one seemed to care. We were all high fiving and bursting into spontaneous rounds of  ‘O Canada’. We were soaked by the time we drove to North Vancouver I spend the night sleeping in a freezing cold basement and by the time we got up the next day, I was so sick! It really sucked but I couldn’t let it put a damper on our fun time.

When that alarm went off outside the Mint, I did briefly think there had been an atack of some sort at first. But as we were standing in the street, signing the national anthem, my heart really did grow 10 sizes. I’ve never felt so much pride and happiness to be Canadian and to be at such a wonderful place with so many really awesome people. I really can’t describe the feelings I had as we walked around and met people from so many countries that had nothing but good things to say about the games and about Vancouver.

The night we ran into Peter Forsburg was actually a little funny. After watching the game we just started walking and following the hoards of people… randomly. I was giving people high fives as we walked down the street, all while doing a radio station report live from ‘the scene’ for a station back home. So I guess you could add that to my career accolades — reporting from the Vancouver Olympics. Anyway, we ended up at a liquor store but they said they were closing and only allowed two people in at a time. I was standing by myself outside when Forsburg walked by.. I was just like ‘Hey!!!’ and waved at him with my big, red Team Canada mittens (you know the ones!). I think I scared him pretty good. He’s probably telling stories about the crazy woman with red mittens that accosted him outside a Vancouver liquor store during the Olympics.

Partying with the Germans was a GOOD time. They had just music at first and then a live band and they were awesome. The beer was good, the people were fun, I danced on tables and spoke to people in some language that was half German, half English and a whole lot of hand gestures. I think we left because they closed… or maybe it was because we had to catch the last ferry… either way we stopped at McDonalds and posed with the mascots that were in the restaurant and then just made it on to the boat.

The next morning was rough getting up so early. We almost didn’t make our flight because there was something going on on the main bridge from North Van to Vancouver. I have to admit, the kid with the pins is one of my favourite memories. I wish I had taken his photo. After several hours of travelling, we finally made it back home. I had just enough time for a nap and then off to work. But my Olympic experience was so exhausting that I slept through my alarm, 6 phone calls and 10 texts. I got there… eventually.

A few days later I sat alone at home watching the men’s gold medal final between Canada and the USA. It was the most intense, stressful & fun hockey game I’ve ever watched. I screamed my head off and rang my souvenir cowbell as loud as I could when Sid the kid put that puck in the next. A few months later I went to Toronto and got to go to the Hockey Hall of Game and see that puck.

Those games changed Canada. It wasn’t just the fact we won a record gold medals or beat the US in hockey. It was so many things, so many moments.  Those 16 days in February ignited something in our souls, brought us together as a country. While some of that has worn off I like to think that little nugget of patriotism reigns.

I don’t foresee myself travelling to any games in the near future, the destinations aren’t appealing at this time and frankly I’m a little worried about some security issues. But who knows what may happen!

Anyways.. 

                          Go Canada Go!

 

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