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O Canada, and A Bit of Olympic Magic

To my absolute delight I was able to make it to the Olympics this Saturday! HOORAY! HOORAY! 🙂 A good sleep, pain pills and someone else doing the driving helped tremendously. 🙂

The weather was an absolute dream with clear blue skies, brilliantly warm sunshine and only the lightest of breezes. Our caravan of eight friends made it across the border with no trouble, drove to New Westminster and joined a happy, jostling crowd on the sky train to Vancouver. We were crammed in like proverbial sardines, a gaggle of languages and nationalities: Norwegians with their flag-trimmed hats, Swiss with cowbells, and Canadians sporting dyed red hair and huge flags as capes.

We emerged from the station into blinding sunlight and a bustle of Olympic visitors getting a head start on the crowds. We headed straight for the Olympic torch. Frustratingly it is surrounded by towering chain-link fences that thwart all but the smallest cameras from getting a good shot. At that moment I was especially grateful for my tiny little camera as I slipped it through the chain links and got an unimpeded shot. 🙂

None of us could afford tickets to actual events, but we were thrilled to pieces just to be there, soaking up the atmosphere and the sights. Vancouver alone is one of my favorite cities in the world, but with all the Olympic festivities it was a smorgasbord of sights, sounds and experiences.

Most of the time we just walked, taking it all in.

People bargaining and trading Olympic pins.

Some VERY patriotic Canadians 🙂

Sidewalks were painted with the flags of different countries.

Random street corners were marked with brightly painted birds like these:

Entertainment was found around every corner as magicians, painted mimes, and musicians strutted their stuff. A zip line was strung over a downtown street and visitors waited 6 hours for the privilege of whizzing over the heads of the rest of us. Young men demonstrated their skills with a soccer ball and caused a massive pedestrian traffic jam as onlookers halted mid-stride to ogle. Other boys started a USA vs Canada street hockey game and a crowd quickly gathered to cheer on their favorites.

We were passed by a whole troupe of Russian sailors, smart as can be in their crisply pressed uniforms. A couple of Turkish men strode by, distinctive in their white felt coats and hats.

We made our way to the Irish House, one of many cultural stations set up around the city. We had no idea what to expect, thinking perhaps it would be a museum-ish cultural display of some sort. Boy, were we off! 🙂 $10 was the entrance fee and in we went, our senses instantly assaulted with the jaunty and deafening tunes of the Irish band on stage, smell of bangers sizzling on the grill, and the shouts of patrons trying to make themselves heard above the din. Although we arrived during “family friendly” hours, the party was in full swing and it was grand fun to be in the midst of it. 🙂 Our tickets gave us a free drink from an oh-so-cheery chap at the bar, so we hollered our choices then found spots to observe the frivolity around us. College guys sipped their beers and watched Olympic events on flat screen TVs, middle-aged couples nursed their gin and tapped their feet to the music, and others happily scarfed down traditional Irish food such as bangers and mash, pasties and sausage rolls. When our ears could take no more, we stepped back outside, basking in the quiet, the sunshine, and the ability to carry on a conversation without hollering. 🙂

Although we stopped for delicious sandwiches at Moonpennies around noon, by mid-afternoon we were positively ravenous and got a table at a Canadian legend: The Keg for more substantial fare. The dark interior, warming fires and excellent food did much to ease our aches, warm our bodies and rejuvenate us for a bit more walking.

We (Trish, Deb and me) loved this bus stop, made to look like a chair lift. 🙂 Yeah, we’re crazy girls. 🙂

After a quick shopping trip for Olympic gear at the Hudson’s Bay Company

 …we headed back to the waterfront to see the Olympic flame at night, and that is where the magic happened.

 Photo by Trish’s hubby, Todd

The crowds around the Olympic flame grew by the moment, deeper, denser, until we were packed so close we could only shuffle as we tried to get to the train station, and sometimes not move at all. We held on to each other for dear life, not wanting to get separated and lost in that teeming mass of humanity. It was dark, save for the light of the Olympic flame and suddenly, a young guy a few feet away from me started singing “O Canada” at the top of his lungs. At first it was just him, but then voices popped up from all over the crowd, and soon we were singing. Oh how we sang, grinning, laughing, cheering, and our fearless leader swung his arms and didn’t even care that he had to switch octaves half way through. We laughed and surged on, singing in multiple keys, a beautiful mishmash of song while the Olympic flame burned brightly behind us. As we finished the crowd erupted in cheers, whistles and clapping. It was a beautiful moment, pure magic, and the best imaginable way to end our day at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

Photo by Trish’s hubby, Todd
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