Before I get into a recap on my trip to Europe in June, let me stress that my life is usually far from this exciting!! I normally swim, sleep and eat (probably in that order) with a bit of casual time for friends and family.
Every now and then I get to travel the world on Swimming Australia’s tab, be a bit of a tourist, and race as hard as I can! That was how my month of June went….
Every year there are a series of meets in Europe called the Mare Nostrum series. They are 4 professional swim meets competed in Monaco, Canet (France), Barcelona and Rome. The order of the meets changes every year, but that was the order for 2004.
We arrived in Monaco on the 31st of May, ready to compete on the 2nd and 3rd. The meet there is a knock out series, where it starts out with everyone racing for 16 spots, they race then for top 8, onto top 4 and finally the top 2 in the sprint events duel it out. It so happened that my Australian team-mate Libby Lenton and I were top two, so we raced one on one for the win. Before the race we were sitting in the marshalling area (where you check in for your race) joking around that we should really try hard to get 1st and 2nd place; that it might be difficult, but we should try hard. (The joke being that we were definitely going to get 1st and 2nd… we were the only two in the race!!) Of course getting behind the blocks we both wanted to win, who doesn’t? When we touched the wall at the end, we both heard a massive (and I mean massive) roar from the crowd. She and I both looked at the scoreboard and saw we had tied for 1st place!! After all that joking in the marshalling area that we were guaranteed 1st and 2nd… we couldn’t even get that! We got equal 1st! I must say, it was pretty awesome to share something like that with a friend and team-mate. I can imagine how the American sprint boys must have felt at the Sydney Olympics when they tied for 1st!
We received our medals from Prince Albert, and he must have been quite impressed because that night at the annual formal dinner he had Libby and I join him at his table! We chatted through dinner, and towards the end of the meal I asked him if could snap a photo. He made me promise him the first dance; I told him I was sure we could arrange something! It was a fantastic night, and I’m looking forward to next year!
Canet was the next stop. The pool was built in a manner that it was an absolute wind tunnel. Even though it was summer and probably at around 30 degrees, we spent the mornings rugged up in layers upon layers of clothing. I raced on the 6th of June, placed 2nd in the 50 to my team-mate Libby. We swam well, so no complaints. On our rest day the team traveled to Carcassonne, a medieval city in France that they say is basically unchanged since the 1300s. Unchanged except for the fact that every second stall is a tourist shop selling modern gadgets and the like… It was fantastic though to walk through imagining what life would have been like in the 1300s. I later learnt that Carcassonne was actually a battle site in the Crusades as it was at one stage controlled by the Cathars, the Christian Crusades claimed it, and there was a power struggle back and forth for a while. The Cathedral in the city was originally a Cathar Cathedral, and completely redone to become Christian. The remodeling included removing the tombs of Cathar bishops, and any other Cathar symbols (which couldn’t have been many as the Cathars are against material belongings!)
On to Barcelona! Wow, what an amazing city. The architecture blew my mind. I’ve read that Chicago is supposed be the architecture capitol of the world, but Chicago ain’t got nothin’ on Barcelona! I should mention the swimming first as that is the priority… I raced my 50 freestyle on the 9th of June (we didn’t get much time off between race days) and had a great result. I won, staying consistent with my times from the previous meets. So at the stage Libby and I were one all, and a tie. The pool is Barcelona is pretty awesome because it has a retractable roof! When they opened and closed it the theme song from Chariots of Fire (fantastic movie) played, motivating us all!! I ate a great deal of Tapas in my free time (I did mention that I enjoy eating didn’t I?) and on the second day of racing, a non-race day for me, I walked around Barcelona and was a full on tourist. I must have take photos of everything I saw, including a woman with the coolest hair I’ve ever seen!! The highlight of my tourist adventures in Spain there was definitely Sagrada Familia. It’s a temple designed by Gaudi, and building commenced in 1890 I believe. It isn’t meant to be completed until about 2040, so you can imagine the attention to detail! It’s absolutely amazing. I’m already planning my trip to return when it’s finished to see how phenomenal it is then.
The final port of call was Rome. I fell in love with it instantly. Everywhere I looked there was another piece of history. Racing of course came first, and my 50 was on the 12th of June. Libby had returned to Australia, so our friendly competition had ended. I raced well there, again consistent, and got my hand to the wall first. I was happy to have had four major international competitions where I had been able to step up and race well. So after my main focus of racing was finished, I turned back into the tourist. One of the coaches, Ian Pope, organized a bus tour during the day for us. We went to the Colosseum, the Vatican, St. Peters Basilica, and drove around a little. For starters, I can’t believe the Colosseum is made from individual bricks! It’s massive, what an incredible project. And how excellent to still be able to walk through it 2000 years later and imagine the events occurring. The Vatican buildings were interesting to see, and standing in St. Peters square made me think of all the movies that have been filmed around there. The basilica is amazing. I sadly only had about 10 mins in there because we were running late for the bus. Walking in my jaw just about hit the floor. It’s stunning, awe inspiring, and HUGE! When coming out of St Peters basilica I ran across the square in thongs, and had visions of running across an empty square, hearing the echo of my feet, and having pigeons scatter as I ran. Ok, so my imagination transported me from a very different world than I was in considering I was surrounded by people and there were no pigeons, but it was a fun thought. I love looking at Cathedrals in Europe because of the history associated with each, and out of all that I’ve seen this basilica ranks far above and beyond any others.
That night we returned to the heart of the city after the afternoon’s racing was finished (a non-racing session for me) and went to Trevi Fountains, again to the Colosseum at night, and had a coffee in front of the Pantheon. The fountains were a romantic spot, definitely somewhere to visit with a loved one, the Colosseum was even more beautiful at night, and the Pantheon was amazing. How they built those massive pillars 2000 years ago without cranes and the like just blows my mind. The Pantheon was closed, so I suppose I’ll have to find my way back to Rome soon so I can experience the inner architecture.
I can’t wait until I get to go back and spend a great deal more time visiting each of these cities. One day I’ll get around to it! The wonderful thing about traveling for swim meets (aside from my love of racing!) is that we get to see enough of each city to get a taste of it, and know whether we want to go back for an extended holiday at some stage. I loved every minute of the trip; the racing was excellent and prepared me well for the up coming Olympics where I’ll be racing 50 freestyle (cheer me on!!!) and was fantastic from a tourist perspective also! Next stop… a staging camp in Germany, then onto Greece for the Olympics!!!