PRAGUE, Czech Republic -
Dobry den! That means good day in Czech. We started Sunday morning with breakfast in the hotel at 9:30 a.m. There was a variety of food, some that you would expect at a breakfast buffet in the U.S., and some that seemed odd to us, such as Thai noodles. The talk of breakfast was the eggs. There were chefs preparing eggs the ones that they made sunny side up were rather runny. Some of us wanted eggs over hard but couldn't get the message across with the language barrier. There was use of sign language and slow drawn out words in an effort to express our request. In the end, our preference was finally understood and the players that wanted that style were able to get what they wanted.
Another interesting thing at breakfast was the yogurt. Compared to yogurt in the U.S., it is very sour and we've discovered it is an acquired taste.
After breakfast, we took a boat tour on the Vltava River. It was very relaxing and a peaceful way to see the city of Prague. While trying to take pictures of the scenery, KK dropped her camera. Luckily, there was a very wide ledge so the camera didn't drop into the river. However, KK did have to lean pretty far over to reach the ledge; half her body was hanging over the side of the boat. There were several other boats on the river and everyone in our group would wave as the other boats passed by. I'm not sure if waving isn't a universal language or maybe waving to other boats is an American tradition, but it took three boats to pass by before anyone on another boat waved back.
We had some free time after the boat tour, so the team ventured to the Palladium Shopping Center to aid the Czech economy as well as to get some lunch before our game. The Palladium is a four-story mall that is very modern inside and has many of the same stores that we have in the States like Foot Locker, H&M and Claires. In the food court they had a KFC and a Burger King along with some local restaurants like a Bohemian grill and a sandwich shop. There was also a Nordic seafood restaurant and a Japanese restaurant with a sushi train (a two-layer conveyor belt with hot food on top and cold food, including sushi on the bottom and you just take what you want as it goes by your table).
Our first game was at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday against Slovanka Praha. Praha is the Czech word for Prague. We loaded the bus and switched from tourist mode to game mode, getting ourselves mentally prepared for our first game in Europe. During the 30 minute bus ride, coach V picked players to draw selected plays on the white board. My teammates in the role of a coach were quite humorous.
Once we arrived at the gym, Basketball Academy Sparta, we unloaded the bus. Walking into the gym was quite different. We entered through a kitchen that resembled a small café. It was quite a shock to access the gym this way and thought it would be a once in a lifetime experience, until we played on Monday and the gym had a full restaurant in the front.
Our first encounter with European basketball was interesting. It took the first quarter (10 minutes) to adjust to the style of play and the fact that the officials were calling every touch foul. Slovanka Praha's guards were very aggressive on offense, driving to the basket, and we had to adjust to not making contact on defense because we picked up five fouls early, putting them in the bonus before the end of the first quarter. Another memorable moment was when Brittany Rayburn was trying to take a charge and it ended up looking like a flop. In FIBA rules, if you flop it's a technical foul. Because the Slovanka player did make contact and the referees hand signals are different in Europe, it took us all awhile to figure out what was called. After the game we were treated to sandwiches with the other team. The sandwich was quite different from what you'd get at home. It was a piece of bread with potato salad on the bottom, topped with ham, salami, cucumbers, peppers and a tomato. The ingredients were all very fresh but the open face sandwich was a bit messy to eat.
We had the opportunity to converse with the Slovanka players and learned a little bit about them and life in the Czech Republic. Their ages ranged from 17 to 27. A few of them had traveled to the U.S. and enjoyed it. They spoke English very well, which was awesome because none of us know more than a couple Czech phrases. I was even mistaken as being European because of my last name.
Following our hospitality with the other team, we headed back to the hotel. As soon as we hit the lobby, our pizza arrived. We were pretty hungry so the pizza didn't last long. After a quick shower, the team went to the pool for some recovery after the game since we don't have access to whirlpools. The pool is saltwater which was interesting, especially since it's an indoor pool. We then headed to bed because had sightseeing and another game on the agenda for the next day.
For those of you weather buffs, the day was cool and rainy in Prague, in fact it rained very steadily during the middle of the day. The temperatures have been in the high 60s and low 70s since we've arrived and it's been mostly overcast.
Monday morning got off to a great start with the eggs at the buffet prepared more to our liking. We were able to sleep in a little and then boarded the bus for a two-hour drive to Karlove Vary, a spa town with hot springs that translates to Carlsbad. On the agenda was a tour of the world famous Moser glass factory, known as the crystal of kings because it has been used on the table of monarchs.
The scenery along the way, inside and outside the bus kept us amused. A few players fell asleep and teammates who shall remain nameless took the opportunity to take pictures of the ones snoozing. Outside the bus we saw rolling fields with crops, including barley. We also saw some cornfields and were reminded of home.
The Moser glass factory tour started with a video about the history of the factory and the glass making process. After the video we went through the gift shop as we waited for our English speaking tour guide. During the tour, we were able to get up close and personal with the glass blowers. Coach V even got a chance to blow glass - although they sent her piece to the recycle bin when she was finished. It was amazing to see her attempt an art that requires 10 years of training. The employees presented her with a glass rose as a souvenir. There were six sets of glass blowers working, three to each team. The three teams that were on the side when we first entered were all working on smaller projects like a tumbler and a piece for a glass clock. The three teams on the back side of the factory were doing larger pieces.
After the tour, we headed back to the gift shop to see all the beautiful finished pieces for sale and a few of us made purchases.
Next up was a pregame meal at an Italian restaurant across the street from the gym where we will play. We had our fill of pizza and three different kinds of pasta: spaghetti Bolognese, spaghetti pomodoro and spaghetti with cream sauce and broccoli. We finished eating an hour and a half before tipoff, which is about two hours later than normal.
Coach V took us on a short walk to aid our digestion and then we headed to the gym for our game against Karlovy Vary. With our bellies still somewhat full, we got off to another slow start and needed an adjustment period. This team was much more physical defensively and they were in better shape than the team we played the night before. It was a close game at the half and would have been closer but KK Houser hit a deep three at buzzer to give us a four-point lead at halftime.
We again played better in the second half and finished with a 14-point win. We had another social after the game, but since we had a two-hour bus ride ahead of us, we weren't able to stay long.
On the ride back we played a card game called Mafia, which has become one of our favorite things to do as a team. Everyone (except the narrator) is dealt a card which tells you what character you are and the object of the game is to have the "townspeople" beat the "mafia". We played this game the entire ride back to the hotel.
After showers, we had about an hour of free time to experience Prague at night and then it was time for rest because we had breakfast at 8:30 a.m.
I will say ciao and let Brittany Rayburn give you the rundown of our upcoming adventures.