Our final game before break was on a Wednesday at home against Ruzomberok. No one thought we would win this game, including people apart of the club sadly, so winning by twenty points was even more rewarding than normal. Especially cause we'd been on a disappointing losing streak, which I am choosing to skip over. We didn't have to be back from holiday until January 2nd, giving us 2 full weeks to do with as we pleased. I pleased me some traveling. In hindsight, I maybe tried to squeeze in a tad too much--three countries, eight cities and not nearly enough sleep involved. I think the kids are calling that YOLO. Hash tag I crack myself up.
My first night there I had dinner with a group of some of the Wildcat fans that were so supportive when I played there and was able to catch up with them. That was really special considering I never imagined I would see them again. The following night there was a 3 on 3 tournament being held in Wolfenbuttel that was open for anyone, so Tini and I played in that with one of our former teammates, Anna. It was co-ed so no surprise that our team was just one of about 3 girls teams compared to about 40 guys teams, no joke. I had more fun playing with those two in that tournament than I have had all season in Slovakia. Thanks to the three-point line and some disturbing underestimation, we went 5-0 and won our bracket. All the teams in our bracket were guys. Needless to say, they weren't super pleased. Anna got hurt so we weren't able to continue onto the winners bracket, but it was still extremely fun.
The next phase of my travel was exploring Italy with my old travel partner Kindra. If you recall, we went to Paris together my first year overseas during Christmas holiday. This season she was again playing volleyball professionally and so reconnecting was a priority. She was traveling with another friend this time, Mitzi, and we all met in Venice at the Marco Polo airport on the 23rd. You are quickly exposed to how remarkable the Venice is on your boat ride into the city from the airport. Canals and bridges everywhere, aligned with stunning architecture and glorious colors, Venice is really a sight to behold. But, we were only staying in Venice for one night since it's shockingly overpriced and sorta loses its allure once you get past the novelty of a city on water.
Still, we were able to see a fair amount of the city, certainly some of the highlights AND we rode a gondola, which really loses it's romantic charms and appeal when you are on it with a couple female friends. Then it's just an expensive ride on a large, dressed-up canoe. Mitzi has been to Venice before and assured us she knew the landscape, so she felt confident in being our navigator for the day. Awful decision, just terrible. I love the woman, but she couldn't find water on a map. Unfortunately it took her a little bit longer to realize this than us, so for about a solid hour we were wandering around Venice, occasionally rerouting while kindly allowing Mitz to come to terms with her invalid guiding infallibility in her own time. Eventually she did and apologetically handed over the map. We never got lost again.
We caught a train the next day to Florence where we'd be staying for three days. Florence was lovely and incredibly friendly. We spent our first day wandering around checking out the landmarks and interacting with some of the friendly shop owners and residents. Kindra and I wanted to see Pisa, so the following day, Christmas day in fact, we took the hour train ride to Pisa and participated in the obligatory shameful and ridiculous photo-op in front of the leaning tower. It's quite the spectacle seeing hundreds of people gathering around the tower, posing awkwardly with the air, while someone else angles the camera just right, hoping to capture the unoriginal moment. You probably take thirty pictures just to get that one perfect shot, but when that perfect one looks like mine, it's safe to say it was worth it. Someday, I'll be able to tell my kids about how I went to Italy and saw this unique piece of architectural history...and then I'll show them this picture of me posing with it like an idiot. Good times.
Florence was actually where things really started to get interesting. My collision with Murphy's law was still a few days away, but things were being set in motion now. Most critically, I made the consequential decision to quit my job, which is really what it had become, with my club in Slovakia. A job, a chore--not the game that brought me joy. Quitting might seem like a cavalier decision, but it wasn't. Most people didn't know how unhappy I was mainly because I was determined to try to make it work. But for numerous reasons I won't be discussing on this forum, it didn't. I wasn't absolutely sure I needed to make the change until I was in Germany with enough separation to fully realize how dispirited I was. My passion for the game had dimmed, and while I could accept and deal with a lot of things, I wasn't willing to compromise that. I've got plenty of time to be unhappy with my job when I get a real one, but as long as I am playing a game for a living, there's no room for misery. After speaking with my agent, she began the contract termination process with my club, which naturally, wouldn't be cake. I instantly felt an incredible weight lifted after making my decision. There is an enormously liberating euphoria that accompanies following your gut and your heart. Meanwhile, I am still on holiday in Florence (naturally we will revisit this)...
When we got back from Pisa it was nearly Christmas dinner time, which we had decided we were going to go all out for. We'd dress up, find a nice expensive restaurant and treat ourselves. We hadn't really factored in that a lot of restaurants might be closed Christmas night, and we found ourselves lacking in options. And then, a Christmas miracle happened and we found a restaurant that was serving: Hard Rock Cafe. So it was less of a miracle and a better example of dumb luck, but at least we were going to be able to order a meal. We ate and we ate and we ate and then we ordered some dessert and then we just sat there, motionless, barely able to breathe. Content. We waddled to our hotel and poured ourselves into bed as we had an early and long day ahead of us.
The next morning we met up with a group that was touring Sienna and San Gimignano via bus as well as participating in a wine tasting excursion all day. I really enjoyed this part of the trip. We met some really nice people, I finally experienced drinkable wine, and driving through the countryside was breathtaking. We got back at seven and went to dinner with one of our friends we had made in Florence. He took us to his friends restaurant and I had the single tastiest steak of my life. We went out dancing our last night in Florence and got home around three. Our train to Rome was at 5:30 and our room was a train-wreck still. We packed ferociously, desperate for sleep, only to get about an hour. Guess we were probably moving something less than ferociously, but I definitely moved my fastest.
I've dreamed of going to Rome for years. Still can't believe I've been and gone. Unfortunately, we only had 2 days there so time was of the essence. We got there before 9am, dropped our bags off and headed out to see the city. For some reason Mitzi opted out of the 5am train and stayed behind in Florence for a little longer. So it was just the two of us and we absolutely dominated Rome that morning and afternoon. We saw the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palantine Hill. It was all amazing, just amazing. The structures, the history, it's a bit overwhelming if you don't take a minute to really take it all in. At Trevi we of course tossed a coin over our shoulders to ensure our return, as legend promises. At the Colosseum I pretended I was Russel Crowe, as one does, and shouted, "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!" to the amusement (or irritation) of other tourists.
It was 3:30 when we staggered back to the hotel to meet Mitzi, exhausted and in desperate need of a shower. After napping for a couple hours, we were up and ready to get after it again and see the city at night. The next day, our last day, was dedicated solely to Vatican City. We joined a group again for this to expedite the lines and for the enjoyable history lesson from the guide. This time we really scored. At the Colosseum our guide was so painfully horrific we actually ditched the group and just guided ourselves, remembering our favorite scenes from Gladiator for our historical facts. But this time, our lady was fantastic. She knew her history backwards and forwards, was an unmistakably captivating story-teller and had an engaging personality as well. We spent about three hours there, maybe more, and just had the greatest time. We went inside St. Peter's Basilica, saw the Sistine Chapel, saw the tombs of the former Popes, and spent time in the gardens. It's all very grandiose but not in an ostentatious manner. It's impressively majestic, but with appropriate purpose. That night we decided to check out Trastevere, a less touristy neighborhood across from Tiber Island. It was a really neat area and so we decided to have our last dinner there. I was pretty sure I couldn't have another bite of pasta or bread, so when I saw the sign for sushi, I knew God was intervening. When in Rome, right? I could be wrong, but I am pretty sure raw fish is one of the main dishes Rome is known for. After reliving our favorite moments from the trip, we cheersed to another unforgettable adventure.
As mentioned before, my Barcelona trip was now cut short and what was once going to be three nights there was now only one. I'd take it. By the time I got to my hostel I was sweaty, deliriously tired and genuinely considering spending my precious time in Barcelona passed out in my bed. But a quick cold shower had me thinking straight and so I merged with my fellow tourists on the buzzing street of La Rambla. The city seemed to be flooding with people, people that seemed to know where the hell they were. I was not one of those people. While clumsily scanning my map, a very nice gentleman approached me offering a bit of guidance. He gave me wonderful directions to get to the Basilica La Sagrada Familia and Guell Park. After successfully locating both, I decided to just wonder around and get lost in Barcelona for a bit. Turns out Barcelona is like the most fantastically labelled place. I think you will discover, if you keep reading this sentence, that Barcelona actually means "city of signs". Learn something new everyday. So, after "accidentally" finding a couple parks and a couple gorgeous lookouts, I went to the Marina Port Vell and then the beach to put my feet in the sand. When I got up to leave the beach, I turned around and noticed the kind man who had helped me earlier standing on the boardwalk behind me. It seemed awfulllllly coincidental that of allllll the beaches in allllll the world he was also at mine, but I refused to let movies like Taken poison a fortuitous moment. So I chose serendipity and accepted his generous offer to show me parts of the city I had yet to find. His name was Ramone and, if you'll allow me to ballpark this, I'd guess he was flirting with 50 years of living. He had this odd coke head sniffing twitch thing going on, which was mildly unsettling, but he was so harmless and amiable that I ignored it. And good thing I did as Ramone spent the next two hours leading me around Barcelona, showing me gorgeous cathedrals, the Gothic Quarter and other neat places, all the while providing a fascinating running historical narrative about the city. It was wonderful and I was so grateful when we finally said good bye. I did make sure he wasn't following me before walking back to my hostel. My mama didn't raise no fool.
By the grace of god I made it to Budapest that night at eight. Miro couldn't get to me until ten, but I was so relieved to be back that I was happy to wait. When he was an hour and a half late, I knew something was wrong and just prayed he hadn't been in a car accident. At 11:45 I finally saw him walking up to the front of the airport, and I gotta tell ya, I don't know that I've ever been more relieved to see someone in my life. Then he told me his car had broken down some fifty-five kilometers away and we were now stranded. Murphy strikes again. I don't know if I've ever been more disheartened in my life, and I certainly don't think I have ever shifted so quickly between those emotions as I did then. At midnight, we tried to laugh at how ridiculous it was that we were stuck in Budapest at the airport, but the laughter didn't last long. By one, no one was around except the woman sweeping and mopping the floors. And then we discovered the four angels that would save the day for us! After hearing our story, they worked tirelessly to find a tow company that would pick us up now, take us back to Slovakia and wouldn't charge an arm and a leg. They were able to find one, fortunately, and they could pick us up at 3:30am. The next couple hours we drank champagne, shared our stories, I inexplicably cried again and then it was time to go. I will never forget those women though and will always be grateful for their efforts and alcohol.
We hopped in the tow truck and drove thirty minutes, maybe, before the tow truck died. I was beside myself. Now our tow truck needed a tow truck? This can't be real life. Our driver tried three times and nothing. On the fourth turn of the keys, both the car and my spirit were resuscitated and we were off again. Eat that Murphy. The rest is boring history: we made it back to Slovakia, took one train to Spisska and we were done. My flight to Australia was the next morning at seven from Krakow, so I packed, I cleaned, I showered, I signed the termination contract that we FINALLY agreed on and that was that. In a matter of hours I would be in Poland and this would all just be a crazy story I'd laugh at one day, years from now I expect.
Despite everything, I made it back to Australia. My trip to Perth was way less burdensome then my journey back to Slovakia, save my puzzling ankle inflation. In college my ankles occasionally swelled on road trips, but this was ridiculous. Look at it! It's astonishingly hideous, isn't it? But it's so gloriously grotesque you can't look away--I know, I get it. Vicious circle. I kept staring at it and poking it between flights, watching in awe and a fair amount of anguish as it developed. I think my body was finally protesting my supposed holiday. I'd walked miles across Italy, barely slept and sat on a train or plane for a gross amount of time and it seemed like my body was making a bit of a statement: keep walking and flying and I'll keep swelling. That wasn't a game I wanted to play out. I am pleased to report my ankle has returned to normal size after 24 hours of doing absolutely nothing.
So I am here, I am happy and I am hoping that post didn't bore you to sleep. I won't write again for a while so we can all recover from these nerve wrenching events. Meanwhile, I will be enjoying my first summer in years and doing my best to work off all the carbs I ate in Italy. Take care, friends! Cheers.