It's not every day that the best athletes in the world compete just a half-day's drive from your house! When an opportunity like that comes along, you take advantage of it. So, on Tuesday, 16Feb10, we drove up to Vancouver and experienced the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
I bought the tickets for Tuesday's adventure way back in August 2009, and even then Vancouver was already in Phase III of their ticket sales which meant that there was not much left to choose from. In fact, all that was left were tickets for the opening ceremony, closing ceremony, a couple of medal awarding ceremonies, and Finland vs. China in women's hockey! The hockey game was 1/4 the cost of the opening and closing ceremonies, and who really wants to go to the Olympics just to watch medals handed out without seeing the actual events!? So, we took the hockey tickets. However, I had no choice in what seats I wanted or where they would be located in the stadium - you just took what they gave you. In this way we eeked our way into the games without any clue of what we were getting ourselves into. We were in it solely for the experiences.
As much as it would have been nice to spend a couple days up in Vancouver rather than rushing, we didn't want to spend a lot of money nor did we have time to be gone for multiple days. So, we decided on the crazy idea of doing it all in a single day (and night). Finding someone to watch the kids for the entire day and most of the night was a little problematic, but eventually Kathy was able to find someone to watch the boys in the morning (thanks, Karissa!) and then hand them off to the Cousers (thanks, Cousers!) for the afternoon/evening/night. I think the transition happened around 3:00pm...shortly after we crossed the US/Canadian border and our cellphones quadrupled in usage costs! Needless to say, we put our phones away and let them worry about exchanging the children.
We left the house around 8:45am and made it to the border around 2:00pm and then to the King George Skytrain terminal in Surrey, BC about half an hour later. BC was allowing everyone with Olympic tickets to travel their public transportation system for free, which was really nice since pretty much the entire city was closed to private vehicles during the games. Their public transportation was excellent - and that's coming from someone living in Portland! Their trains were fast, clean, quiet, and very frequent (I think they were running twice as many trains and buses during the games than normal). We parked at the King George terminal and took the Skytrain all the way to downtown Vancouver's waterfront area. It is here that the Olympic torch, the Olympic Village, the giant Olympic superstore, the Olympic fan zone ("LiveCity"), the Olympic hockey stadium (BC Place), and the stadium where the opening/closing ceremonies took place are all located. Since we had about 4 hours before our event started, we took to the streets and took in all the sights.
Vancouver BC is a beautiful city in its own right. And the locals are extremely friendly! We can't count the number of people we had conversations with - on the trains, in the bathrooms, on the streets, in the coffee shops, etc. They were so nice we began to get suspicious that their government had paid all the citizens to be nice for those 2 weeks! Also, half the residents of the city had volunteered to be "Smurfs" or people to whom visitors could ask questions or get help with directions. They weren't paid, they didn't receive tickets to Olympic events, and they didn't even get their lodging or travel expenses paid for during those 2 weeks - all they got for volunteering was a baby blue Vancouver 2010 coat to wear while on the streets (thus "Smurfs"). We liked the idea - who better to ask for directions or help than the locals!
We were expecting when we went up there that the city and the Olympic experience would be cool and the the hockey game would be take-it-or-leave-it. What we ended up getting was exactly the opposite. First, as fun as it was being a part of the atmosphere, there were crowds and lines EVERYWHERE. Everything we wanted to do/see just happened to be what 1000s of other people wanted to do/see. We were part of the herd no matter what we did or where we went. It put a damper on things. Second, things were not as big, beautiful, or manicured as one might expect or see on TV. Yes there were signs, murals, flags, posters, etc. all over the city, but in the end...it was still a regular working city! Directly across the street from the Olympic Torch was a construction site, complete with sweaty guys in tank-tops and yellow hard hats, re-bar, and deafening jackhammers. The Skytrain on the way down to the waterfront passed through the ghettos, industrial areas, and shipyards. Oh, and did I mention the infamous chain-link fence surrounding the Olympic Torch!? I'm not saying this as a knock to Vancouver or the Olympics, just to reveal that things are not always as pristine as they appear on TV, which we came to learn. The Olympics were plopped into the middle of a perfectly regular working city and most things continued on around it.
After a couple hours of sight-seeings we got back on the train and road out to the sight of our event, which was not in downtown but in Western Vancouver on the campus of the University of British Columbia. In fact, the game (and many other Olympic events) was at UBC Thunderbird Stadium which is the school's stadium. Since we had not yet bought our Olympic souvenirs for ourselves and everyone else, we stopped by the Olympic store in the stadium before the game started (our cash register-er was a fellow Oregonian who was just working up there for those 2 weeks!). Then we showed our tickets to a Smurf and she led us down to our seats...down...down...down...all the way to the second row! Like I said, this was purely luck of the draw, but we were 2 rows from the ice! I could see the goalie's earrings through her mask, hear the grunts, and see the grimaces on the players' faces during the game! Incredible! There were quite a few Chinese fans and only slightly less Fins (Finish? Finlanders? Finnies?) all decked out in face-paint, hats, flags, etc. However, the overwhelming majority of the stadium was filled with hauli people like us who were probably there for the same reason we were - those were the only tickets they could get! Anyhow, to make a long story short, the game ended up really being a blast. We really got into it!
When the game was over (about 9:15pm), we joined the ever-present herd and boarded the train and rode it for about 45 minutes down to King George terminal where our car was still parked. We crossed the border into the US shortly before 11:00pm and raced along an empty middle-of-the-night I-5 back home. We pulled into our driveway at almost exactly 4:00am - meaning we went from our seats in UBC Stadium to our driveway in under 7 hours (not bad for attending the Olympics)! At home, the boys were sound asleep in their room and the Cousers were sound asleep (we assumed) in the guest room. At some point in the morning the Cousers let themselves out and eventually the boys woke us up later in the morning.
Yes, it was a hectic day, and yes, it cost us a little bit of money, but like I said in the beginning, it really turned out to be an opportunity we just couldn't pass up. It was a wonderful experience and made for a great story and great memories. Pictures of our adventure can be found in the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics photo album.