In 1996, I had the good fortune to be in Europe during the Olympics.  Not that I attended any of the events (they were in Atlanta), but I did get to see the Dutch and Belgian versions of Olympic broadcasting.  It was far superior to the US version, and it was broadcast on four channels so that not a single event would be missed.  The coverage was fair, balanced and without regard to country.  It was nonpartisan.  It was beautiful.

In 1994, I had a different encounter.  That year, I was in Europe during World Cup Soccer.  Because I had landed in the Netherlands, and because I had no real affiliations to the sport, I began to root for the Dutch (Go Orange!).  This worked out great so long as I was in the Netherlands.  It worked out less well when I was in Italy.  That evening, I was in Rome watching the game from a rooftop restaurant and I was rooting for the Dutch as they played Italy.  I almost got thrown off the roof – literally!  I did not know until a little later that Soccer in Europe is very close to a religion, and one simply does not root for the opposition.  (In 1996, I met a guy who was a “tank driver for soccer events.”  This tank had a high pressure water nozzle on it, and it was specifically used to quell the rowdy crowds.  This might be an indicator of how passionate the fans are about the sport).

In 1999, I was in France during Tour de France (an annual professional bike race), so I began to watch that.  France has such spectacular scenery!  Watching the bicycles race was like watching a really slow chess match, but at least there was always the scenery!  Some American guy won the race that year… and kept winning for the next six years.  These days, I’m a huge fan of the sport, and I never miss an opportunity to watch the race live when it comes to my town during the Amgen Tour of California.

For me, Europe and sports go hand-in-hand.  The Europeans are very passionate about their sports, and those sports are different from our sports.  Experiencing European sports needs to be a part of any European visit!  Sadly, on our most recent trip, we missed most of the major sporting events this time around.  At least we had the opportunity to watch some of the European sports on TV prior to the trip.  World Cup Soccer was in May/June (Go Orange!), Wimbledon Tennis was in June/July.  Also in July — the Tour of France.  This event goes on for the entire month of July every year! And even if you don’t want to watch Tour de France for the racing, it still offers one of the best opportunities to see what Europe looks like.  I know it sure got me excited about my upcoming trip when I watched it!