I’ve had three off weekends so far during my time in Germany. I had promised myself that if we had an off weekend, I was going to take advantage and go somewhere new. I have done just that. Each of the three trips holding a completely different experience. The first trip I went by myself, the next I was joined by a teammate, and this past weekend it was a group of 7 of us. Each trip was exceptional but this last one was the most memorable.
My first weekend in Germany also happened to be my first off weekend. No need to even unpack, I booked a plane ticket to Budapest, where I then jumped on a bus and found myself in Slovakia. I went and visited my best friend and former teammate at UWGB, Allie. It was the best trip. I got to watch a game of Allie’s and also got to embrace solo travel. There is something rewarding in traveling alone. Mostly because you’re in complete control of the fluidity and fun of the trip. If you get lost, you pick a terrible restaurant, you miss a train, or let's say for example you miss your flight, all blame is pointing back at you.
MY EXAMPLE: Okay... I didn't miss my flight but I was as close as you can possibly get. I made it to the gate three, yes THREE minutes before gate close. When I made it through boarding process, now with 1 minute to spare, I used that minute to smile and pat myself on the back for a job well done. I mean, I did indeed take the correct trains and made my way to the right terminal. The issue was my time management was extremely poor. I even had to swallow my pride and skip through the security line. This was surprisingly easy because I just started speaking fast in English, explaining my situation and people would just wave me through because it was easier than having me slow down and repeat myself for clarity. Shamefully, I then quickly turned into “that gal/guy” sprinting through the airport. You know that person that’s weaving in and out of people, that you side eye and point out.. like “ahh so irresponsible, they are about to miss their flight. Like haven’t they ever traveled before??” Meanwhile you’ve got your feet kicked up 2.5 hours before your flight sipping on your chai latte.. Well I’ve been in both seats. My advice... get up earlier, leave extra time, and just get to the airport and enjoy your latte.
Either way I made it! All in all, great time in Slovakia with Allie and in Budapest, where I really tackled the solo travel experience.
My next off weekend I headed to Palermo, Italy. This time I went with a current teammate Q. We had a great time and got to experience all the joys of Italy together. Because I have already embellished on my love for Italy, I’ll withhold from that but the trip was great. It’s fun because now there were two opinions and you get to enjoy those little things with someone. It just adds another dimension to the trip. Also, noteworthy that Q being there probably saved my life because I would have never made it out alive driving in Palermo without her navigation skills.
This past weekend we also had off. This time instead of taking a solo trip or bringing along just one teammate, it was a group of 7 of us. We headed to Strasbourg, France. This was only about a 2.5 hour drive from Bad Homburg. I love that the time it takes me to get from Oconto → Milwaukee is the same drive for me to enter a new country here in Europe. It makes travel SO easy. Of course, I researched the city and what we should do and see. Traveling with a big group can be challenging.. what should we do? Where should we go next? Where should we eat? Exc. but this trip was as smooth as any. It was a fun group and when a decision needed to be made, someone made it. You won't fully feel the appreciation for this unless you've traveling in a big group of indecisive individuals. (I very often am that indecisive individual) It can be challenging to see or do anything but we didn't have this issue once.
Strasbourg is a quaint little city that runs along the Rhein River which separates Germany and France. The city bounced back and forth between being a piece of Germany and France. Below is an explanation literally copied and pasted from wiki. Enjoy.
It became a French city in 1681, after the conquest of Alsace by the armies of Louis XIV. In 1871, after the Franco-Prussian War, the city became German again, until 1918 (end of World War I), when it reverted to France. After the defeat of France in 1940 (World War II), Strasbourg came under German control again; since the end of 1944, it is again a French city.
With that being said, I was in France this past weekend. The city is full of history. It has sort of a medieval era vibe to it. The narrow winding streets are so picturesque and are complimented by the waterways that run through the city. I caught myself having to withhold from taking a picture at every turn we made. Strasbourg offered a unique characteristic blend of both the German and French culture (as if you'd think I wouldn't mention the food) The Alsatian cuisine has a few different dishes that they are known for. We went to dinner at one of the best Alsace restaurants in town. Few of the dishes included cordon bleu, pork knuckles, and sauerkraut. Yum right? My dish was a heaping pile of sauerkraut with grilled salmon places on top. I'm sure there is a way to draw a more aesthetically pleasing image of this dish but essentially that's what it was. I have never had sauerkraut or at least in that quantity, but I can say I was pleasantly surprised by the meal. I'd go as far as saying, I enjoyed it and would order it again.
As much as I enjoyed the views and culture that Strasbourg had to offer, the best part of the weekend was getting back to the AirBnb and playing cards as a team. I taught them the Green Bay Classic, "Michigan Rummy". I love teaching people this game because it brings me back to the many memories and endless games I played in college with my teammates. You'd think after the hundreds of games I've played in the past, I would have an advantage... well, I couldn't even secure one win in a room full of people that just learned the rules. Regardless, (I'm over it... clearly) we opened a few bottles of wine, turned on some music, and got to know one another over a game of cards. We spent the night just hanging out and play game after game. Sure, we quickly switched from Michigan Rummy to a everyone's favorite childhood slumber party game, Never Have I Ever. Either way, I think nights like these can really bring a team together.
Sports are at their best when you are having fun and competing with friends. When you think about all middle school/high school sports, the majority of those kids are playing sports to be around their friends. It's a fun, more relaxed setting where you get to be around your friends while playing your sport. Nevertheless, sports can develop a different environment as you get older and start competing at a higher level. Now your everyday is consumed by the sport. You could be playing under a scholarship so essentially it is now seen as a job or you're a professional so it literally is your job. You end up dedicating countless hours towards the game and it becomes a little more intense. The really lucky ones however, are the ones that are still having fun and are still competing with their best friends. There was no doubt that I had that at the college level but entering the Professional Circuit, I had no idea what to expect. I've heard both positive and negative experiences from players and their teams. Remember, majority of Americans can be immediately isolated as there is often a language barrier and it can be a struggle to connect with teammates. (I haven't had this experience as all of my teammates know English well)
But that's why I was excited when one of my teammates asked me to plan a trip during our off weekend (knowing I love planning) for all of us. Everyone says it and this time wiki didn't have the exact statistics but I swear by team bonding. I think that it's vital for a program's success to be more than just teammates and to actually get to know one another as people. Connecting off the court can essentially help your on court connection. You become more comfortable with each other and learn how to push and support one another.
At least for me, I know that I compete at my best when I'm competing for others. What do I mean by this? --- I have found that I don't feel this inner motivation like I need to do well for "me". I want to do well for a Coach I respect. I want to go to battle with/for my teammates. And I want to do well for my community and my family. My motivation has always been sparked this way and because of that I think it's especially important to get to know the people I'm playing with. Now, no, you aren't always going to be best friends with everyone on your team but you should take the time to get to know them and appreciate them as people. Teams that have this approach and have created this environment often are also very successful. It's because you learn to work hard for one another.
To be quite frank, when I look back at all the basketball games I have played, there are few and far between that I actually hold memories from. The majority of my basketball memories are from the team dinners, the long weekend tournaments with my AAU team, or the college road trips. Those are the memories I remember and the ones that I hold close. That's what makes sports so special. Yes, winning and losing shouldn't be overlooked because let's face it, winning adds a lot more fun to the equation. Maybe it's coincidence (I think not) but I have been fortunate enough to be apart of a lot of winning teams through out my career and they all have one thing in common. We always played cards. Okay, I'm kidding well half kidding because it's true, but we were always hanging out and doing things together off the court. I have always felt like I was competing with my friends. I think this energy gives teams an edge. Maybe even allowing you to win games you shouldn't on paper (statistically) but you find a way to pull through and get a victory.
Throughout each step of my career, I have never lost that middle school fun for the sport and the appreciation for team bonding. Basketball has always been a strong passion for me but I think a lot has to do with the people that I have had an opportunity to play with. I didn't find a professional team until the middle of October (which is about two months late) but I think it's because I was suppose to be on this team here in Bad Homburg. The cliche saying, "everything happens for a reason" might hold some merit in this situation. Your first year overseas can be tough; away from home, different language, different culture, just different everything. But I have been welcomed in every sense of the word. It makes me excited for a whole season of Michigan Rummy with this team and not just because I need to redeem myself with a few wins :)
- Laken James
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