This is the nickname we gave to the destination for the celebration of our first wedding anniversary. Poland and Ukraine – the two countries that hosted the 2012 European Soccer Cup this summer. Yes, we celebrated our first wedding anniversary in a soccer stadium fevering along with other crazed European soccer fans. This might not sound like every girl’s dream, but we couldn’t forego the opportunity to combine adventure with family and soccer. Besides, it makes for a good story.
We landed in Kattowice, Poland on a Friday afternoon and were picked up by Toby’s brother B in his Mini Cooper for the drive to Krakow where we met B’s girlfriend C. Just the fact that we were traveling with B and C was special – we also drove through South Africa with them right after we got engaged (I see a pattern emerging…). We didn’t spend much time there, but it was enough to see that Krakow is a beautiful city with very friendly residents. Its narrow streets and large central plaza offer the typical European city sights that I never tire of. A short ramble up to Wawel Castle and the old city center provides great views over the city. The blue skies, warm air, and joggers along the Vistula River made for the summer feel we’d been craving.
But our true destination was Lviv, Ukraine, so on Saturday the four of us plus luggage jammed into the Mini. The German flag in the back window revealed our loyalties to the other soccer fans making the same trek. Thanks to an unfinished freeway, we were forced enjoyed the opportunity to really soak in the Polish countryside and all its villages, pedestrian crossings, and horse-drawn carts. The border crossing into Ukraine was slow but uneventful. After six hours in the car, we were more than ready to hit the streets of Lviv and join the masses of Danish and German soccer fans.
We spent Sunday exploring Lviv’s city center, building in frequent stops for a cold beverage in the shade (it was a hot, humid day). We of course wore German soccer jerseys, but it was the crazy fans completely decked out in jerseys, face paint, wigs, and accessories that really drew the attention of the locals, who were always asking for pictures with them. It was sweet because you could tell that the locals were excited to share their city with us.
Although the organization of the whole thing would have benefited from a little more attention to detail, we managed to find and squeeze (literally) onto a bus to the stadium. While I’ve watched a lot of soccer on tv over the past year, I’m glad I got the chance to experience it live in the stadium. The air is absolutely electric. I found myself torn between watching the action on the field and the fans in the stands, who had been transformed into two giant amoebas (a Danish one and a German one) that alternately held their breath, cheered, or sighed depending on the action on the field.
A late-night, death-defying taxi ride back to the hotel made sure we maintained a post-game adrenaline high before collapsing into bed. On Monday morning we headed back through the Polish countryside for our flights to Germany.
I hope this first anniversary celebration, complete with adventure, excitement, and new experiences, sets the tone for future ones!
PS – Germany beat Denmark then Greece, but lost to Italy in the semi-final, who then lost to Spain in the final.