Two weeks after I got back, here’s the grim and frostbitten report from the dumbest soccer-related vacation I’ve taken to date. You can follow along in the gallery as you read.
Revs GK Adin Brown finishes up his contract here and moves on to Ålesund, Norway. He’s my all-time favorite Rev and I decide that someday, I’m going to go see him play with his new team.
January, 2005 – June, 2009
Adin does his thing over there, and I do my thing over here. Mike and I come close to going to visit in September 2008, but a work emergency forces us to postpone. Eventually, the drop-dead date is set: Vålerenga (home to DC United alumnus Troy Perkins) at Ålesund, July 5, 2009.
Wednesday, July 1: “You’re gonna get hop-ons.”
The day arrives, and we head off to Norway on a three-legged journey via Frankfurt and Oslo, landing in Ålesund just in time for Adin to be too injured to play and for Troy Perkins to be away with US national team duty. Whoops. Flights are mostly uneventful, save a few screaming kids on the Frankfurt to Oslo leg. In Oslo I walk into the men’s room, and there’s a Boston-themed bar that freaks us out. There’s also a kid in a US jersey, and the Schengen motherfuckers won’t stamp our passports because the German customs guys already did. The Ålesund airport is tiny, with stair trucks!
Adin picks us up at the airport and takes us on a quick driving tour of town. Mike and I check into the hotel and have a quick nap. About two hours later, Adin and his girlfriend Elizabeth pick us up and take us to the grocery store to grab stuff for a cookout, which is also where we meet this dude. Mike and I soon regret not grabbing longsleeves on the way out of the hotel–it might stay sunny out until very late, but around 7pm the temperature drops considerably. We’re soon joined by this dude, whom we’re told to refer to as Danish Guy the rest of the week. We hang out for a while and have a cookout on the side of the mountain overlooking the stadium. Unfortunately, Adin’s not feeling well, so he cuts out early for the night, and Danish Guy drives us home around 10:30 or so.
Thursday, July 2: “Do you know Evan and Douglas?”
We get breakfast at the hotel; it’s apparently standard in Norway for hotel costs to include a breakfast buffet, which is nice. There’s waffles, yogurt, eggs, all kinda cheeses, many different meat pastes in tubes. The guidebooks were not, however, lying when they warned me that in general Norwegians do not want their coffee like I do, which is to say the approximate color of Tim Howard in February. Adin’s still feeling kinda crummy, so Mike and I decide to take the day exploring on our own. After lunch, we stroll around town, hiking up the hill and around to the stadium. On the way back from the stadium, we find the Stormen shop, which is just opening for the afternoon. We browse for a bit, until Tom, the guy manning the store, asks why there are Americans hanging around and if we’re the people he heard about on the internet. This is also where we meet Tore, one of the Stormen guys we were supposed to join up with, and he asks about our buddies back home. We grab some souvenirs and head back to the hotel for a nap. Afterwards, we go out for completely unnatural pizza.
Friday, July 3: “No, I’m pretty sure that’s their van.”
We meet Adin at 9 and head to training. He mostly jogs around for the day. We’re also given the grand tour of the stadium; this is where I got the photos of me running barefoot out to the middle. All the players in Norway operate on the Frankie Hejduk plan of drinking coffee instead of Gatorade. After training, we go out to lunch at a cafe that’s on a barge on the water; Peter, Elizabeth, and Danish Guy meet us there, too. I think the only player who had more jokes at his expense made all weekend than Danish Guy was Twellman. I don’t think I need to explain why. Mike and I head back for a quick nap, then Adin takes us out to the end of some island or something to hike. He’s not feeling well enough to join us, and we can tell it’s bugging him that real life is keeping from hanging out with us more, but we head off to hike the trails while he goes home to rest.
When we come out of the woods, we stumble right on top of the SIF (local third division team) field. There are kids in the parking lot playing a pickup game of cricket. This makes about as much sense as anything else on this trip. Mike calls Jostein, the dude who drives the AaFK supporters’ bus, and asks for a lift (he’d mentioned he was having a cookout that night). We stand outside the stadium and Mike keeps wondering aloud if the various minivans passing us are our escort. Then this orange thing comes over the hill. Inside are Jostein, some shirtless ViF fan who looked like Chris Farley only not as sober, and a guy who we think was an extra in Metalocalypse.
We drive over to Jostein’s house and there’s a couple more AaFK and ViF fans. Confirmed: They’re not too far removed from US fans in terms of 90 minutes of hate sandwiched between several hours of drinking. Further confirmed: The advice in the Rough Guide that Norwegians, when drinking, get Japanese level drunk. Mike and I hang out for a bit and shoot the shit, then take our leave when it’s clear the language barrier is no match for the drunk barrier. We get dinner that night at a local pizza joint that serves it St. Louis style in squares. There are a bunch of ViF fans at the bar outside the hotel who seem to enjoy drinking, yelling, and ViF, in that order. They do not leave until Monday.
Saturday, July 4: “That’s the footballer mentality right there.”
More training. This time, we’re interviewed for Tango TV, and watch their media guy be in the wrong place when the sprinklers go off. My work is done when they ask me about Adin and I say he’s been talking smack about his former teammates, followed by a very loud “WHAT” from off-camera. Media guy takes us to the club shop to get kitted out. Media guy is is a Guatemalan immigrant to Norway who came over when he was four; he looked at me funny when I addressed him in Spanish, so I told him to ask Adin sometime about Carlos Ruiz. Media guy’s also in a wheelchair, and was very interested to know about disability sports and their relative popularity in the US. We gave him a Sam’s Army scarf. Really, really nice guy, and he hooked us up with a raft of team gear from the souvenir shop.
Afterwards, this dude just shows up in the car, because he needs a lift to his car, which is parked a hundred yards from the stadium. Players are lazy. We grab some lunch with some other player, I have no friggin’ clue who at this point. Danish Guy shows up for a bit, too. Adin then takes us on a brief tour of the suburbs as an excuse to get to the mall out in Moa.
We have a standing invite for another cookout with Jostein, so after lunch/shopping, we nap, regroup, and eat dinner at the hotel bar so I’ll have a meal, then head over there. It’s a much lower-key vibe than the previous night, so we stick around for a few hours and chat. I had been warned that Norwegians were cold and stand-offish, but apparently if you show up as a fan of their obscure soccer team, that all goes out the window. Everyone wanted to ask us our story. Afterwards, Mike and I roll back into town and go out for milkshakes at midnight.
Sunday, July 5: “You went down like a…wait, where do you people get your whores?”
Sunday’s game day, but since the stadium’s right there in town, it’s not the all-day affair we have here. Jostein is dying to give us a driving tour of town (he’s a cabbie), so he picks us up in the bright orange party van, though not before some old guy asks me what’s wrong with me because my hair is purple. Jostein is amazed to learn we, too, have to drive through a tunnel under the ocean to get to the airport. He takes us out around the islands, including to a 12th century church. It’s Sunday, so of course the church is closed. We go out to a lighthouse and climb to the top; this is where we learn that they, too, point to some island and say it’s the opposite continent. The lighthouse has a small cafe where we’re handed pancakes. We go back to town and drive around to the scenic overlook (where we’d been on Wednesday) for some photos. The bar at the scenic overlook is full of ViF fans.
We go out for an absolutely top-notch Indian meal, as well it should be, since it was like a hundred bucks. Fans of both teams hung out at the outdoor bar across from our hotel all day, so we walk over after dinner to see who’s around. People are excited to see us. Jostein is there and orders us on to the bus to drive over to the stadium.
We get to the stadium, and are put in the front row of the Stormen section, then handed flags. The team keeps all the flags and banners; the flags are in a big box for people to pick up on their way in. Pregame, there’s a dude in an orange suit who sings songs to get the crowd pumped, and the mascot throws candy. There’s a special one-shot banner the fans hold up showing support for their coach, who is suspended for this game ’cause after the last one he went on live TV and said the other team’s coach is a mean ol’ drunk. (Everyone was surprised we actually knew all about this). The Stormen are amused and almost start to pick up yelling “YOU SUCK” after each opposing player intro. Usually they just boo. We also teach Tore “HEY! KEEPER! IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!” “SIEVE! SIEVE! SIEVE” because ViF’s third string goalie lets in goals that my mom could have stopped. Seriously, this dude wouldn’t get a callback in NCAA.
There’s enough singing, though, that there’s not much space to heckle. When I do get to heckle, the kid next to me thinks everything I say is hilarious. I dunno, I guess “I SLEPT WITH YOUR WIFE” and “YOUR MOM’S A WHORE” are funnier in Norway. People seem absolutely confounded by Mike’s wrestling mask.
We’re not the only Americans there, either. At HT, some chick from Tucson stops and asks us where we’re from (Mike is wearing a US flag cape, as you do). She’s on study abroad or something.
The game itself is exciting, with three goals right in front of us, and then two at the back, plus a missed PK. Nobody seems to realize when you’re defending a 3-1 lead and it is minute 80, it is time to play to the corner and sit on it. This is why the game ended 3-2. (Adin complained about this later; evidently everyone seems to keep attacking even when it is time to sit back and park the bus). Did I mention Danish Guy is friggin’ adorable? This was his last home game, as after the following week’s game, he will be called back to his loaning team because they fired their wife-beating Polish keeper. The team takes a group bow in front of the fans, which is very classy. (There’s a HUGE ViF traveling section, too, and apparently it’s smaller than it should be because it’s a Sunday night).
Hey, you know how the team maintains all the flags and banners? There’s a flipside to that. The fans clean up the supporters’ section. We have a hard time imagining that going over well at Gillette.
We head back to the hotel, and are stopped by a middle-aged lady who overheard us speaking English. She asks if we’re the Americans, and has a nice chat on the walk back about US/Norway soccer. Everyone we talk to is desperate to have Adin back. We go to the bar where we’re told the fans are meeting up. Tom from the store tells us to stop by the next day, as he’ll open the place for some additional shopping. We have a drink and chat with people for a bit; it’s a mix of fans from both teams, all of them about four beers past the point of actually being able to hold a real conversation. But we did all sing along to “Livin on a Prayer.” I get hit on by a ViF fan, who’s about one bad touch from the “HI HERE IS MY VERY LARGE HUSBAND” intro. Not so much threatening as just “uh okay that’s enough buddy.” Mike and I decide to call it a night. On the way to the hotel, some guy yells “AMERICA” at us. “FUCK YEAH,” I reply.
Like I said, Japanese drunk.
Monday, July 6: “Man, that is some serious bacheloritis right there.”
I kinda want to go to training one more time, but Mike doesn’t, so we call up Tom and have him meet us at the Stormen shop. This is not souvenir shopping, but rather, souvenir giving, which is way more generous than we expect. We’re pretty much told to take one of everything. Including the underpants.
Adin grabs us after training, and we hit the road to Geirangerfjord. The plan today is to cram in both the big tourist attraction and the serious hangout time we hadn’t had all trip. In practice, this meant yelling Arrested Development quotes at each other all day long. If you’ve guessed that when you’re a soccer player recovering from an injury, there’s not much to do besides hang out and watch too much TV, you guessed right. On top of that, we kinda figured he was dying to talk about something that wasn’t soccer. We keep running into Danish Guy all day, too, including on the boat on the way to Geiranger. At lunch, we ask who’s going to be their third GK now that Danish Guy is leaving. Adin says they’re looking at a few options.
“Jon Conway’s not busy.”
“You shut your mouth.”
Geiranger’s every bit as insanely pretty as the guidebooks describe. So, of course, this is when Mike’s camera batteries die. Whoops. Rest of the trip is taken via Adin’s phone. Also, Adin’s afraid of heights. I am, too, but not that much. There’s apparently something about being around mountains where suddenly I’m four years old again and just want to take off bombing up the side of the cliff. This is why we have a lot of cliffside photos of me, and yet I’m not freaking the hell out. That was Adin’s job.
Back in town, we go over to Adin’s house, where he cooks us dinner and we hang out watching TV. Peter comes over, too, with his guitar, which Mike is better at playing than he is. We head back to the hotel around 12:30am, at which point Adin realizes he’s made a huge mistake in offering to wake up at fuck you o’clock and take us to the airport (logistically, not just personally–the tunnel to the airport is closed at that hour and we will have to take a ferry), so we say our goodbyes at the hotel lobby.
Tuesday, July 7: “No, really, you’re allowed to drug your kids.”
We get like three hours of sleep and head out to the bus station to catch the ride to the airport. There’s a ferry involved, and some hipster looking guy gets off the bus on the boat and then the bus leaves without him. I should mention at this point that we have not actually seen the sun set since last Monday. The bus connection is seamless, such that we get on the bus, get on the boat, get to the airport, and have just enough time for a quick snack before getting on the plane. The Oslo airport is all blond wood, steel, and glass, as though you’re just walking through a large sign reading YOU ARE IN SCANDINAVIA. In Frankfurt, I buy a pretzel, and almost succeed in conducting the transaction entirely in German until the lady asks me for ID to verify my credit card. Whoops. There are signs all over the gates in Frankfurt selling people on the central hub airport nature of the state. In Spanish, they say “All Roads Lead to Hesse.” In English, they’re a slightly more threatening “Hesse: There’s no getting around us.” We get on the 747 and head on out; it’s a nice flight except there’s a baby who yells the entire way over, and I’ve left my iPod in Adin’s car. Back in Boston at 2:45, home at 4:30 after it took nearly an hour to get our luggage out.
So there’s your trip report. Essentially, there wasn’t really a minute of this trip that I didn’t think “how’d I get from watching Univision at 2am to this?” Which, really, is what it’s all about.