(Photos by M. Harris, J. Degnan and Gordy)
Georgia has been playing with the same club soccer team for a few years. While she has enjoyed the friendships she's built, we've enjoyed getting to know many of the other parents and watching this group of girls develop as soccer players under the guidance of some great coaches.
At the end of the 2013 season, talk started of the potential for a trip to Spain. Over his years of coaching, Tom, the head coach, had taken several teams to a large tournament, The Donosti Cup, held every summer in San Sebastian, Spain. Although our girls would be a year young for the youngest age division, he felt they could be competitive.
In spite of the expense, many families jumped at the opportunity and by the end of last summer, there was a group of 12 players and 20 parents and siblings committed to making the trip. Since Josie and Henry would have things to do at home, Martha and I agreed that only one of us could go. As someone who took 7 years of Spanish without ever having traveled to a place where it is spoken, I was more than eager to go. Below is a summary of our time in Spain, written as a guest post from me.
Day 1: We Leave Town
Like most patriotic Americans, we celebrated July 4th this year by taking an overnight flight to Madrid. All but one family, who was doing some traveling beforehand and was meeting us there, flew together. I had big plans to make sure Georgia and I would sleep on the plane, but they failed miserably and neither of us got more than 45 minutes of sleep during the flight.
Day 2: More Travel and Some Practice
We needed a 2nd flight to get to San Sebastian, but not before a 6 hour layover in the Madrid airport. Evidently very few in our party had much luck sleeping because the waiting area was full of bleary-eyed 11-year-old girls and their parents.
Georgia finally succumbed to her exhaustion and crashed.
She was not alone. The whole place looked like a boneless chicken ranch.
Eventually, we took the 90 minute flight from Madrid to San Sebastian and were taken by bus to our hotel. It was a nice looking room, but there wasn't much time to sit. The girls had to go to Tournament Headquarters to check-in and have their ages verified.
The check-in took place at Anoeta Stadium, home of the local professional team, Real Sociedad. More about this place later, but here's a picture of the full team, with the field in the background.
Time for rest??? Nope. Coach Tom's view is that the best way to beat jet-lag is to stay awake and get some exercise, so he scheduled a practice at a nearby field. Meanwhile, many of the parents, myself included, went for a run.
Day 3: Scrimmage and True Spanish Dining
The girls had a scrimmage scheduled for Sunday morning in a nearby town. The opponent wasn't very strong, but it was good to knock off some rust and we were all impressed by their facilities and their hospitality. The field was far superior to what we're used to seeing in the US. Along with an immaculate surface, it had locker rooms for the players and a snack bar serving real food, beer, mixed drinks and fancy coffees. The stadium also doubled as sort of a community center, with a clubhouse where the home team hosted our girls for a snack of nuts, olives and a traditional dish called "Tortilla," which looks a bit like an omelet. None of our girls speak any Spanish and our hosts spoke little English, but they managed some limited interaction. Fortunately, there was far more of this later on in the trip.
In any case, it was a beautiful little town and I think everyone started to appreciate that they were somewhere other than home.
Day 4: Group Play Begins, Biarritz and Opening Ceremonies
The girls were finally ready to start the tournament, so after a hearty breakfast at the hotel, we headed out by bus for the first "real" match against San Patricio, an English school in Madrid.
This was not the most challenging game and our girls prevailed 9-0. Their opponents were not great soccer players, but we would soon learn that they were very nice people.
After the game, we scampered home and got ready for our first excursion, a day trip to Biarritz, France. San Sebastian is in the North of Spain, very near the French border, so it took us only an hour to travel to this tourist mecca. Like Biarritz, San Sebastian, is also beautiful town on the Bay of Biscay, but we had experienced a lot of rain to that point, so we were ready to try something different.
Biarritz was everything we hoped. It was sunny, had some beautiful beaches and narrow streets with interesting shops and restaurants. The girls all swam and tried Crepes. Georgia also had her first European gelato experience, getting a cone of Caramel gelato, which she still ranks as one of the highlights of her trip.
This would be a busy day, as we still had the Opening Ceremonies in front of us. Fortunately (I guess), they didn't begin until around 10pm, so we had some time to get back to the hotel, rest and prepare.
I wasn't prepared for the magnitude of the opening ceremonies. I knew that this was a big tournament, with more than 400 teams, but I hadn't considered that this would mean about 6,000 players and their families, most of whom would be at the opening ceremonies.
The event was held at Anoeta Stadium and after some dance performances and speeches, the teams paraded around the field and onto the podium, similar to the Olympic opening ceremonies. Given the number of teams, this took quite a bit of time. As you'll see below, I tried to capture our team's turn on video, but we were sitting pretty far away, so any shaking of my hand was really magnified. The event concluded with a fabulous fireworks show and then it was finally time for bed.
Day 5: Beach Time and Wake-Up Call
Tuesday morning started out sunny, so with their next game not until the afternoon many of the girls finally went to the beach for the first time in San Sebastian. The water was cold, but they had a good time and got out just before the rain returned.
In the afternoon, they played a team from Aragon, Spain and got a bit of a wake-up call. To that point, our girls had faced some pretty weak competition and we were all starting to wonder when they would face someone tough. The Aragon team wasn't particularly talented, but they were bigger and stronger and used that to their advantage, ultimately defeating our girls, 4-1. Afterward, the team was frustrated because they knew they could play better, but they managed to forget the defeat pretty quickly.
Martha says that's enough for this one, so watch for the 2nd half of the trip soon.....