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May 14, 2013

NAU Soccer Spain Tour: Blog #1

NAU SOCCER SPAIN TOUR CENTRAL

PHOTOS

Blog Written by Elinor Priest

Hola de España!!

Before anything, I would just like to express our entire team's appreciation for the organization and work that our staff put into this amazing trip. Furthermore, this was only made possible because of all the people who contributed to and sponsored us. So thank all of you so much!

The last three days have been a whirlwind of traveling and new experiences. Despite the amazing destination, traveling east across the Pacific is not painless. A group of us left Flagstaff at 3:45 a.m. on Sunday morning to meet up with the rest of our teammates and staff in Phoenix. Our first flight was from Phoenix to Philadelphia where Lori Luciano, our head coach's wife, joined our entourage. We then had a short layover before boarding another flight to Barcelona. By the time we arrived we had been traveling for roughly 19 hours, but the time change meant that we got in at 8:25 a.m. At this point in the day, everyone was absolutely exhausted and getting a little punchy. For example, we had a running joke this spring that we were going to smuggle Hayley Sebald to Spain in someone's bag because she recently tried out and walked onto our team and we wished we could bring her along. Malia Tano responded to a comment that her bag was giant by saying that she was trying to give Hayley some extra legroom.

Yesterday, our first day in Spain, was a fantastic mix of exhaustion and elation as we tried not to fall asleep in order to adjust to the time change. Immediately out of customs, we joined our tour guide, Han, got on the bus, and went right to Sitges. Sitges is a small seaside town with shops and restaurants on the Mediterranean beach. It was sunny and beautiful out, which meant that most of us were in the water almost immediately. The cold water also helped shrink the Kankles—or the lack of ankles—that had swelled on the plane. After a little while playing in the water and enjoying the beach, we split into small groups and wandered around the shops and restaurants for a few hours. It became quickly apparent that our team's proficiency with Spanish has quite a range and that there are a few of us who are going to have to make-do with gestures and teammates to get by.

From Sitges we traveled back into Barcelona to check into our hotel. Our hotel, the HCC Taber, is amazingly located. It's right off Las Ramblas, which is one of the busiest boulevards in the city. It's crawling with tourists and crowded with eateries and shops that range from souvenir shops to Gucci, all within a two-minute walk from our doorstep. Even more spectacular, last night the city honored the Barcelona men's La Liga Championship with a bus tour of the city streets, and they drove right by our hotel.

Coming from America, where football and basketball are kings, it's inspiring and exciting to see the streets thronged with people to cheer on their world class soccer team. Everywhere I look there's men, women, and children wearing soccer jerseys. Last night there were thousands of people on the Barcelona streets waving flags as they waited to see the team drive by in an open topped bus. So many people in fact that the team was over two hours late because horse mounted police had to clear the streets in front of the parade. The wait was anything but boring, but it was still excruciating after being up for almost two days straight. But seeing Andrés Iniesta, Gerard Piqué, David Villa, Xavier Xavi, Daniel Alves and other Barca players from less than 20 feet away made it all more than worth it. If that was all we did in Spain, I wouldn't be disappointed.

Although day one set an almost impossible precedent, today has been doing it's best to live up to it. After a surprisingly delicious hotel breakfast buffet that had the best pastrami and salami meets I've seen, genuine pastries, quiche, and coffee so good I watched Kelly Whelan drink three cups, we started the day with a bus tour. We drove through the streets and learned about various areas and buildings in the city proper. Then we went to Guell Park, learned about and saw the architecture of the famous Antoni Gaudí. We also went to the Sagrada Familia cathedral—which is currently in the process of being built, and has been for the past century.

After our bus tour we were once more released into the city to wander about the streets, losing ourselves in the warrens and alleyways in small groups. There is FC Barcelona merchandise everywhere, delicious food, as well as small souvenirs just waiting to be bought.

In an hour we are going to a light training session, our final touches on the ball before tomorrow night when we play the acclaimed women's Barcelona team. Wish us luck!