VENICE, Italy - Greetings from Venice, Italy! The Boilermakers have just arrived in Venice after spending the first four days of the 2017 Purdue Volleyball European Tour in Slovenia. From experiencing the food to sightseeing in three different cities and competing against international teams, we are making memories and experiencing incredible parts of the world. For many of us, this is our first time in Europe, and we are all so thankful to Purdue for this once-in-a-lifetime trip.
An 8.5-hour flight from Newark, New Jersey, brought us to Venice, Italy on Saturday morning, giving us a full day to bus and explore our first destination in Slovenia: the capital of Ljubljana. Our tour guide, Kiki, is from Ljubljana and she challenged us throughout the tour to find five facts about the cities or countries we visit. The amount of history and culture of even the smallest cities in Europe is unfathomable, so this challenge has been a great learning experience. Slovenia is known for its remarkable wine production as the country is in the Guinness World Record book for having the oldest vineyard in the world (over 400 years old). Ski slopes, summer obstacle courses and green hills make Slovenia a country to see. Farmers markets, endless stores, coffee shops and restaurants made up the downtown area of Ljubljana. Culturally, it is common practice in Europe to sit in a coffee shop and simply people watch for hours. In any sit-down restaurant, Europeans are known to take their time and have longer meals. From a food perspective, we have eaten more delicious meat (especially sausage) and bread in the past four days than we have in the past month!
After touring the capital, which sits right on the Ljubljana River, we hopped back on the bus and made our way to Maribor, Slovenia for two days. Maribor is the second largest city in the country and sits at the bottom of the Pohorje mountain. We had a great view of the mountain, green hills and the Alpine slide, a fun attraction we rode the next day. Following an evening practice on Saturday and a short serve/pass session Sunday morning, the team rode the ski lift up to the top of the mountain and rode the Alpine slide twice. We were each strapped into a small cart in which we rode down a narrow, metal slide to the bottom of the mountain that travels up to 44 mph. What a thrilling ride! After a fun-filled afternoon, we rested up at the hotel and walked down to the Dras Center where we played two friendly matches in Maribor.
Slovenia is a volleyball mecca and a popular destination for teams to travel and compete. We saw men's national-level teams from Slovenia and Iran while we played U23 women's national teams from Slovenia and Croatia. Playing internationally is different in a few ways: the volleyball is lighter and has much more movement to it than the balls we use in the U.S. This is a jump-serving advantage and makes passing much more difficult. However, a strength of ours so far has been our back-court passing despite the tough serving from our opponents. With strong passing, we have given ourselves a chance to compete at a high level and we continue to build on everything we have accomplished through spring training. We played the U23 Croatian National Team first and won in four, while we lost to the U23 Slovenian team in five the following day.
To finish off Day #3, we made our way to one of the finest winery's in Slovenia. Located in Kungota, the house of wine Doppler is surrounded by Sentilj hills and the Pesica valley with views of the country that will take your breath away. An unforgettable sunset was the perfect start to an evening filled with great food and bonding with the Croatian women's team and we returned to the hotel with full stomachs and new memories.
For Day #4, we packed up and headed to Lake Bled. Words or even pictures do not do the views of Lake Bled justice. It is a natural lake, full of crisp, blue water resulting from chalk and algae that rests at the bottom. Resting in the middle of the lake, the island of Bled contains a historic church and other buildings. We visited the island by way of a 30 minute, gondola-type boat ride with our own personal paddler. Mansion homes, water-front cafes and a historic castle atop a hill surround the lake. It's hard to fathom that this lake is not man-made as the views look like a painting. This is the most popular destination in all of Slovenia for tourists.
The day finished with a friendly match against a younger U18 Slovenian national team. This was our best performance of the trip so far. Even though we won the first three games, we played a full five-game match. Every game is another opportunity to work on our weaknesses and get more repetitions, so these friendly scrimmages are extremely beneficial to our improvement as individuals and as a team. As we are using this tour to prepare for the B1G conference and 2017 season, the teams we play are training for future World Championship qualification tournaments and other international competitions, making all matches very competitive and fun.
Slovenia is remarkable. With only two million people, this peaceful, serene country is unique in many ways. From its green mountains and hills to picturesque vineyards and historic churches, four days in Slovenia was not enough time to experience everything there is to see. However, we are very excited to spend the remainder of our trip in Italy as we start in Venice and finish in Rome, with a few cities in between! Keep up with us through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as the Boilermakers continue our 2017 European Tour! #BoilerUp #HammerDown #HailPurdue #PurdueVB