Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Stockholm Calling - Part 1

Okay, so I've seriously been a negligent blogger . . . again. But holy whoa was the past week a whirlwind of craziness! This is going to be a super long post, so you might want to get yourself a snack, something to drink, and a blanket (just in case it takes you until mid-winter to finish reading this).

As you may recall, I have briefly mentioned the city of Stockholm, Sweden in various of my posts over the past month or so. Um, apparently I never actually bothered to explain WHY I was going to Stockholm --or for that matter, even to confirm that I was, in fact, going to Stockholm. Well, you see, global law firms (as soul-crushing as they may be) are generally unable to resist throwing mini "World Cup" soccer tournaments, and thus bringing teams from their many international offices together for a weekend of drinking, playing soccer . . . and more drinking. I'm telling you, they spend RIDICULOUS amounts of money on these events (our NY office paid for 20 people to fly direct to/from Stockholm and stay for two nights in a pretty darn nice hotel)

This year--for the first time ever--the NY office allowed us to bring a women's team along. The women's tournament has existed for a while, but I guess the interest just hasn't been there. Luckily, after a strong showing by myself and several other females at our annual NY office indoor soccer tourney, one of our secretaries was able to convince the folks in charge that we should send a women's team as well. When I discovered that this event was taking place, and I was allowed to participate (sometimes law firms will limit participants to just the attorneys), I jumped right on it. While I figured I might be at serious risk of being maimed by large German and/or Eastern European women, I simply couldn't pass up the offer of a gratis trip to a city I otherwise might never have visited. So I signed myself up.

At the first practice I attended, I noticed something a bit disturbing: our team was absolutely abismal! Many of the girls had little to no competitive soccer experience--and didn't even know the most basic rules of soccer. After that first practice, I definitely had a moment of "What on earth have I gotten myself into?!" But a co-worker, Liz, and I decided to dedicate ourselves to making the most of what we had. We started holding more and more practices in the months leading up to the tourney. Liz also managed to convince the office to pay the registration fee for a co-ed Chelsea Piers indoor soccer league, thus giving our men's and women's teams the chance to come together and get some competitive game action in. I have to admit, our women's team had really improved significantly since the first practice; but still, I was a bit concerned about how we would fare when taking on the other offices come May 24.

At any rate, this trip SERIOUSLY crept up on me. I've just been so busy lately that, before I knew it, it was almost time to leave. As (un)luck would have it, last week turned out to be one of the busiest yet for me. I spent Monday thru Wednesday working until after midnight every night, and just barely managed to find a few minutes around 1 a.m. Thursday morning to pack. I got myself into the office really early on Thursday, and seriously worked my ass off at such a frenetic pace, I literally thought my heart might burst. I kept this up until the second we left the office for our flights to Stockholm (around 2:30 that afternoon), and I cannot even begin to describe the feeling of freedom I felt as I left the building. There had been a chance that I'd be forced to stay back if I didn't get enough work done prior to my departure, and it was just such a relief to know that I had done enough to finally be on my way.

Somehow, it turned out that our firm's travel coordinator thought it would make sense to throw me on a flight with two of my rowdiest New York teammates--two British lads (Dan and Dean), who made a point of renaming our flight the "Vodka Express." Yeah. While I generally love those two, somehow it didn't seem like their intentions quite meshed with my plans of sleeping through the entire flight. But it was obviously a little late to make alternate plans. Our car got to the airport about two hours before our flight, and as we checked in, we realized our flight was delayed 3 hours. What else was there to do but hit up one of the airport bars?! I figured, "if you can't beat 'em, join them!" After all, it had been a very rough week, and it just felt kind of rebellious to be drinking pint after pint while everyone else was still working (ha, I'm such a rebel!)

5 rounds later, we realized our flight was about five minutes from boarding . . . and we still had to get through security. We paid off our tab (ouch), rushed through security, and got to the gate with seconds to spare--or so we thought--as the flight didn't actually end up boarding until about 20 minutes after it was supposed to. Dan and Dean used the extra time to stock up on amenities in the duty-free shop. They then proceeded to empty about 6 bottles of sprite, and refill them with vodka. So sneaky, those two!

As we finally boarded the plane, I offered my seat (which was next to Dan) to Dean . . . and took Dean's original seat, which was one row back. Thank goodness I did this, as it saved me from becoming a canvas for Dan's artistic side. What do I mean by this? Dan wrote/drew ALL OVER Dean's face, arms, and even chest while he was sleeping. Now one might wonder why Dean didn't wake up while Dan was recklessly covering his body in ink . . . the answer to that would be a liter of gin plus a heavy duty sleeping pill. Needless to say, he was OUT!

As this was going on, I was trying to sleep myself, but failing miserably. I just can't sleep on planes for whatever reason. I'd doze off for a few minutes, and awake to Dan giggling uncontrollably about his latest and greatest doodle (so mature). Finally, about 6 hours into the flight, Dean woke up, and quickly realized the damage that had been done. He immediately headed for the bathroom and spent a good 20-30 minutes attempting to scrub off Dan's artwork. I'm betting he probably had to scrub off a few layers of skin in order to finally come clean!

We arrived in the airport around 9:45 a.m. Stockholm time (aka 3:45 a.m. NY time) . . . headed to baggage claim, and suddenly realized we had no idea what our hotel was called. We tried to get in touch with one of our other teammates (whose flight had arrived about an hour earlier), but had no luck whatsoever. Luckily, it took us about 3 years to collect our luggage, and by the time we were ready to go, we'd managed to gather the info we needed.

Our cabbie was super cool, and put up with Dean and Dan's antics with saintly patience. He taught us a little bit of Swedish, which was fun . . . and taught us quite a bit about the Stockholm area. I have to say, the 40-minute drive from the airport (Arlanda) to the hotel (Scandic Ariadne) was GORGEOUS. It was so scenic and natural . . . definitely a welcome change from the dirty streets of Brooklyn!

We arrived at our hotel, only to realize we still had three hours to go before we could check in; thus, we reverted back to Dan and Dean's favorite past-time . . . we hit up the hotel bar. Well, to be fair, our original plan was just to eat lunch, but as players from other offices showed up, we sat and had pints with them . . . as a sign of good sportsmanship, of course! This lasted until check-in time at 3 p.m., when I realized I simply couldn't keep my eyes open anymore. I laid down to nap for a couple hours, got up and showered, and then met the rest of my teammates back in the hotel bar, so that we could all venture out to dinner.

Doing so was easier said than done! It was a Friday evening, pay-day in Stockholm, and we were trying to feed a group of 20! Somehow we ended up at a lovely restaurant by the name of Naglo, after trying at least a dozen other restaurants. When we arrived, we were shocked (and a bit freaked) to discover that we were the only patrons in the entire place! As it turned out, though, the food was AMAZING, the location (downtown, right next to the Opera House) was beautiful, and the service was absolutely brilliant. I enjoyed a lightly pan-fried breast of duck, served over a spinach salad with apple and walnuts . . . and the waiter even brought me a complimentary appetizer of smoked salmon, when I'd originally turned down the offer of an appetizer! For dessert, they brought out this magical display of dark and white chocolate truffles. GOOD GOD. Amazing. Simply amazing.

We finished eating around 11:00 p.m., and it was just finally turning dark outside. It was so crazy . . . I felt like it was WAY earlier than it was just because of the ridiculous amount of daylight! My roomie and I headed to bed as soon as we got back to the hotel, hoping to rest up as much as possible for Saturday's tourney. Unfortunately, that rest was disrupted when I got to know the OTHER side of the crazy daylight around 3:30 a.m. Yep, the sun definitely starts coming up around 3:30, 4:00 a.m. Our alarm(s) started going off around 6:15 a.m. anyway, so I didn't miss out on too much sleep. Roomie and I hit snooze a couple times (oops), and then finally got our asses up, made it downstairs and grabbed some bananas and rolls on our way out the door and onto the bus. We made it with just a couple minutes to spare, and with that, were on our way to the tournament site.

We had this adorable girl from the Stockholm office (Tora) giving a little tour on our way to the fields . . . I kind of wanted to take her home with me, she was so cute and friendly! We got to the fields, had like five minutes to warm up (we arrived a bit late), and then the tourney was underway! We took on the Prague women's team first, and won pretty easily (3-0). Next up was Milan . . . a piece of cake (3-0 win). I began to wonder if our team was better than I'd originally thought! We took on Luxembourg and one of the (5) London teams, with just as much success (3-0 and 4-0, respectively). We were pretty pumped! We started believing we might actually be able to win the whole thing!

Then came the seeding of the playoffs. Eight teams made it thru to the playoffs, and since we had done the best out of all of them, we were the no. 1 seed. Now perhaps things are done differently in Europe, but in every athletic competition I'VE ever participated in, the 1-seed plays against the last-seed first . . . well nope, not in THIS tournament. We tried to argue our case to the tourney organizers, but were fed some line about being "unsportsmanlike," and "missing the entire point of the event." WHATEVER! We had to travel from the farthest away of anyone, and were the only team who had to deal with jeg-lag! Despite our best efforts, we were told the playoff schedule would not be changing.

We won our quarterfinal game against Madrid by a score of 3-0, and while awaiting our next game, actually thought through what would probably happen with the rest of the tournament, based on the playoff schedule. Suddenly, we realized that the Stockholm women's team had been set up to have a straight sweep through to the finals! They were scheduled to play all of the worst-seeded teams! The tourney had been rigged! We were PISSED. We decided to use our frustration to our advantage, and work that much harder, even though we knew we'd be playing the London all-star team in our semi-final game (what should have been the championship game, were things seeded correctly). They were a really tough team, but we knew we stood a chance . . . the funny thing is that the NY team became this dark horse team, and we managed to draw quite a following from many of the other offices! Ha, we had a huge fan club by the time we started the semi-final game!

We played those London girls tough throughout the entire game, but in the end, they got a fluke goal and ended up beating us 1-0. Thus, our title hopes were shattered. This was actually kind of okay with most of my teammates, as it meant we got to join in with the rest of the teams who were done for the day and drink beer. Who doesn't love to drink beer? We grabbed some cold ones, and sat to watch the final game, all the while cheering our asses off for the non-cheating London team ;) They ended up slaughtering Stockholm 4-0, so we were pretty happy. While we didn't get the runners-up medals, we knew we were the real runners up! And hey, considering we had originally just hoped to win a couple games, we were pretty darn proud of what we ended up accomplishing!

When all was said and done, we got back on the buses and headed back to the hotel to shower. We had just about an hour to get ready for a dinner/drinks/banquet shindig the Stockholm office had planned for all of the tourney participants.

To Be Continued . . .

(I'm sleepy!)


Meg said...

I'm so jealous, you're so lucky! Your Dean/Dan story was hilarious, are they attorneys too? How professional of them!
Does your fairly victorious tournament give you a chance of convincing your firm to let you go back next year?

The Laminator said...

Wow...what an exhilarating adventure. Can't wait for part II. I hope it involves a prize/reward of some kind for your brilliant performance on the field.

chris said...

Wow! What an incredible story, Irish. Can't wait to hear the conclusion. I hope it involves you and your team beating up that cheating Stockholm team!

Laura said...

That sounds SO cool - I wish my office had a World Cup for women! (We do men only - how biased). But yeah, like everyone else, I can't wait to hear the rest of the story!