Saturday, December 15, 2012

Off to Europe - 2 more games to end the year

The year-end holidays are upon us, which means a couple of weeks off work and a chance to visit some new places and perhaps see some new sports. With flights back to North America costing so much, I figured I'd relax at a resort in Asia, but having spent the last six months here, I decided that perhaps Europe would make a better destination. Using my favourite flight finder, I tried a number of major cities in western Europe and found a surprisingly cheap flight to Amsterdam leaving December 20th and returning January 2nd on Malaysia Airlines. It is unusual to get promotional prices during the Christmas holiday, but I suppose few tourists want to leave the balmy climes of southeast Asia for the chilly Netherlands. I have no problem with that and quickly made the booking.

The next step was to figure out where else to visit while in Europe. Barcelona and Brussels came up as convenient and affordable destinations that I've yet to see, so I booked a couple of one-way flights and the schedule was set. Now I had to find a sports match or two to include.

With this being the year-end holiday, there isn't a lot of sport to see as most soccer leagues rest over the final weekend of the year. By arriving on the 20th though, I get to see action on the penultimate weekend, when the main Dutch soccer circuit, the Eredivisie, is in action. Ajax Amsterdam is out of town, but there are several nearby towns hosting a match. The most interesting city among these is The Hague, so I'll head there next Saturday to see ADO Den Haag host N.E.C. of Nijmegen at Kyocera Stadion. The town is easily worth a day trip and with the game in the evening, the afternoon can be spent at the various museums and other attractions.

Barcelona proved to be slightly more troublesome to easily find sports as La Liga is taking their break while I am there. Fortunately, the FC Barclelona sports club has a basketball team, although their domestic home schedule saw no games while I am to be there. However, they are involved in the continental competition, known as the EuroLeague, which is the basketball equivalent of soccer's Champions League.

Twenty-four teams contest the regular season, playing in four groups for a home-and-away round robin. The top four from each group move on to the Top 16, which sees two groups of eight engage in another round robin. The top four advance to the best-of-five quarterfinals, with the winners meeting in a Final Four in London in May, 2013. The regular season finished yesterday and Barcelona topped their group. I knew that the first round of Top 16 games would be played while I am in Barcelona, but I wasn't sure if they would be at home during that round. Thankfully the league immediately announced the Top 16 schedule, and the sporting gods smiled upon me again as FC Barcelona hosts a game on December 27th, against Fenerbahce from Istanbul. That will provide a nice ending to a great year of sports travel.

Next year promises to be just as exciting for me, with the Texas Triangle Trip to get things started in early February. As always, check back for regular updates. Happy Holidays everyone!



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