Now that the first half of the season is completed, we can all take a little breather. Having organized my apartment, got used to our small town, and figured out how to drive standard in a foreign country, it finally feels like we're into the normal swing of things. Usually after the first few weeks you’ll understand how your new club functions but it’s always such an interesting time. It’s essentially like winning the lottery; will you get along with your teammates (who you will see every single day for the next 8 months), is your coach slightly sane (generally not), and what does your apartment look like? I’ve learned that it’s very important to go into your new season and team with an open mind. Just because something seems good, or bad at the beginning, it can turn around within a matter of weeks once everything has settled down and you have a clearer sense of what the heck is actually going on. In my first year playing overseas in Germany, I wanted to know everything before I signed a contract and jumped on a plane. I harassed my agent with questions about the club, practices, coaches, living arrangements, grocery stores, the town, transportation, this and that, small and large details for everything. I actually received the nickname “Miss Question” (which later switched to Baby Kyla) from my agent shortly after that. In the end, your agent can tell you all the details in the world but it still somehow doesn’t prepare you for what you’re getting in to. Sure, some details and questions are important to ask but I said before, you just have to keep your fingers crossed and hope all goes smoothly.
My situation this pro season has already started out very differently. Finishing World Championships I had a few days off to travel around with my parents before making my way down to Urbino. Once there, we stayed at a B&B as my apartment was getting ready but luckily I was given my car straight away. I had two days to practice with the team and meet the girls before I had to fly back to Canada to get my visa (where I stayed for a couple weeks - feel free to check out the last blog post on my nightmare flight). So that was different; getting on the plane to come back to Italy for good I already knew exactly what I was getting into (well… for the most part). I had a clear sense of where I was living, what the gym was like, and how the coaching staff and players were. That erased some of the tension and nerves I typically have before jumping on a plane for the year. Once I finally arrived in Urbino I had a solid three days of practice to somehow bond with my teammates and make it work before our first match. Not too surprising, our first few matches weren’t the greatest as we were all trying to find our rhythm. The majority of teams had already been training together for a couple of months and had entered in a few friendly tournaments and had some matches under their belts. For us, after the first month of games we started practicing better and playing a bit more consistently. That was our preseason. Our schedule was also a bit more challenging as we played all the top teams in November. We were working super hard in training and having some really strong sets against these top teams but it’s a little difficult to maintain morale after so many losses in a row. But nothing else to do but continue working hard every single day with the thought that it's going to turn around eventually!
Then... shit kind of hit the fan. During one of our days off a couple of weeks ago, we found out that our coach got fired. I can’t go into much detail about this now but let’s just say that our coach and president weren't seeing eye to eye. When you don’t make nice with the boss man and lose a bunch of games, things are bound to go South. At this present moment we still do not have a coach. We went a couple weeks with our assistant coach, Andrea, taking over as the head coach, and our trainer and statician stepping into larger roles at practice. Then this past week it kind of switched to our trainer being head coach. I wasn't totally clear who was the first coach for our last game... which makes things a little difficult. It has been a bit back and forth if the coach the club wanted to hire for the second half is actually coming or if we are just keeping the situation the way it is. It's been a difficult period for sure... You'll have to stay tuned on what happens (because at this moment I still have no idea...).
With the year coming to a close,it's almost time to set the reset button. Last year I thankfully had the opportunity to head home for 6 or 7 days to spend Christmas with my family (an especially important Christmas for us to all be together as we tried our best to deal with the fact that Connor was not with us). This year was different. Very, very different. I knew our game schedule before we started the season; our last game fell on Boxing Day and our first game of the second half is on January 4th. That didn't allow the largest window of opportunity to book a ticket home. I started wrapping my brain around the fact that I would fly somewhere in Europe & find the group of Canadians that was willing to get together and make homemade eggnog and some sort of feast. UNFORTUNTATELY due to our schedule, we were only given 2 days off… after Christmas, so any plans I had at travelling were quickly diminished. We practiced Christmas Eve morning and then the italians jetted off to their various homes for Christmas. I went out for a little Christmas-Market wandering and then headed out to a restaurant in the boonies (or seemed like it because we definitely got lost for about 45 minutes... thank you Urbino fog and malfunctioning GPS'). Delicious Italian feast with Anja, 2 foreigner teammates (Jess & Lucia), 2 italian teammates (Giulia & Marianna), and our statician, Domi. The restaurant was caaahhhhllaaasssyyyyy and we actually ordered our meals from iPads... what? The next day was Christmas although I felt like my brain was playing tricks on me. We actually practiced that afternoon which was oh so very strange. The next day: on a bus and played our last game of the season. Being such a Christmas-fanatic, it was super hard to be away from friends, family, and home during this time. Mom has promised me that we'll do Christmas in April or May... or whenever I'm back!
I also decided to get a kitten... As many, many people already know. I could hear my parent’s voices in my head when I started thinking about it; “Kyla Richey you don’t have time for a kitten – Kyla Richey what are you going to do with it after the season – Kyla Richey, that’s a terrible idea!!” So naturally I said yes and did it. It happened during one of our passing individuals. Andre and my teammate Monica were talking about kittens so of course I intervened and invited myself into the conversation. Andre said that there was a mama cat and three kittens outside where he lives and that he and Monica will be adopting one each, otherwise who knows if they would make it thru the winter (and if they did, they would be “dumpster cats”). Pfffff who can say no now! ("But mooooommmmmmm they'll dieeeeee if we don't adopt themmmm!!!"). They were looking for a third adoptive parent and before they had even finished the sentence I told them that I would think about it. Less than a week later I had bought all the necessary items and scooped up Zeusy to introduce him to his new home. Zeus-Alexander Hemmingway. Welcome to the family. It was actually a pretty easy transition and I hope that all pets coming into my life will be that easy. A prime example is the first time he came home I had his litter box all set up and eventually after he ate he started wandering around crying, so I plunked him in his litter box and that was that. He’s used it every time since. Peanuts. What a clever kitty. Andre said that he had to keep Cain (which means Dog in Italian) ie. Bart in the bathroom when he would leave his apartment because he would go to bathroom EVERYWHERE except the litter box. Hilarious – I love that story. But so far it’s been awesome having a little furry friend to greet me at home. He really is the most spoiled cat; I have toys all over my apartment (fake mice included which still scare me), my teammates/neighbors love him, Anja who when she came to visit, I thought was going to try to smuggle him back to Germany, and our Italian-teacher’s two sons who like to come over and play with him. The most affectionate... craziest cat ever. I’m pretty convinced Zeus thinks he’s a dog… and I just go with it. Side-note: I am mildly nervous for myself and my well-being that this is just the beginning of my cat collection, and in a couple years I am going to be that crazy cat lady. The crazy-cat-lady-volleyball-player who travels the globe with her cats... One contract + 12 pet-plane-tickets please. Only time will tell. For those of you who have me on social media (especially SnapChat) I apologize for all the videos. Well…. Sorry, not sorry!
Facts, Tidbits, and Differences
- There are no stoplights. In fact, the whole time I have been in Italy I have only seen one and it happened to be in the most random place (along a one-way I might add). Roundabouts for days…
- Italian coffee. It is ridiculous good. And strong. I am used to the size of grande’s from Starbucks or any other coffee shop in Vancouver. As a result I am still learning that just because 5 café macchiatos from Italy will fill a tall Starbucks take-away cup, doesn’t mean that I should be consuming such. Helloooooo caffeine.
- The first word I learned in Italian was “domani”. That means tomorrow. Internet? Domani. My car? Domani. Is it possible to get *name anything*? Domani. Ahhh, okay. Grrreat. I’m going to go meditate now.
- There is a “lunch break” from 1 until about 4pm. No shops are open at this time with the exception of maybe a restaurant or café. It’s utterly confusing and I still don’t really understand why.
- Dinner starts after 10pm. Being the old soul that I am, I just cannottttttttttt. There is no such thing as an early bedtime in Italy.
- Dinner isn’t the only thing that starts late. We went out in Milan last month and the sentence “no we can’t go to the club yet, it’s barely 2am. Nobody will be there for at least another hour” was produced from somebody’s mouth. Where am I and please let me sleep! Grandmother-status achieved.
- Wine is cheaper than water. You can also get it at the grocery store. Enough said.
- My team is slowly beginning to understanding the severity of my small bladder. I always have to pee… my bladder was just made smaller than the average person. That, and the fact that I drink a ton of water alllll the time really doesn’t help my case. A couple weeks ago on our bus trip to Florence, I had to stop the bus two separate times on the way there…. On a less than 4 hour road trip. I was about to burst. And that was me really making an effort to hold it. I think that will be the last time that they ever rent a bus without a bathroom.
- Over here in Italy, driving is crazy. Okay.. so we knew Italians were crazy before I got here but holy smokes - nobody really prepared me for their driving “skills”. You come around an extremely sharp corner (that’s all Urbino is… hills and sharp turns) and all of a sudden there are two sets of lights coming straight at you. Am I on a one-way street right now? Oh no… they’re just passing the slow-ish car in front of them and playing chicken with me. That’s nice.
- The three Americans on my team and I decided to go out in Milan one day (as referred to above...). We had only been dancing for about 15 minutes when Hayley says “ohmygoddddd you guys - my iPhone is gone!!!” Straight from her purse. I immediately check mine and whatttjaaaknowwwww. My purse is unlatched also. Because I’m the smartest chick ever I had my passport in my purse that evening because our manager had our I.D.’s and I forgot to get it back after our match. THANK GOODNESS it was still there. So was my iPhone due to the millions of other things I tried to fit in my small purse… whoever was fishing around snatched up a make-up pallet instead. That learning experience put a little damper on the evening.
- The smallest jar of peanut butter is about 7 or 8 euros. Most foreigners who play abroad are bringing over the Costco-size jar. I think I will be putting that on my list for next year.
Holister & Abercrombie are still considered stylish over here. Think of the hoodies with the large, large, logos.
There is such thing as Cafe Ginseng and Cafe Orzo. Orzo like the rice. It's delicious but doesn't have caffeine sooooo it's defeating it's purpose.
An Italian breakfast is a cappuccino and a pastry. Or if you're me... 5 cappuccinos (=1 tall Starbucks drink).
Fun Fact: I am actually gluten-intolerant which makes it super pleasing to live in Italy. Strangely, it doesn't have the same effect on me as it does back at home (which scares me on a whole other level; what are they putting in our food in North America...!!!) so I can indulge in a plate of pasta or pizza every now and then. During that time... I'm a pretty happy camper. THE FOOD IS JUST SO DANG GOOD. Gnocchi, ravioli, /other pastas that don't even exist back home are all made from scratch. Melting-in-your-mouth magnificent. If I was actually able to eat pasta it would definitely be a problem.
Italians speak with their hands... okay, we knew that. But hand gestures are a whole other language here - I'm definitely bringing some of these back home with me.
When I first adopted Zeus, mom's reaction was "Oh yay!!!! My first grandchild!!" Clearly she has lost all hope in me and quite frankly... I've lost hope in myself. #crazycatlady ~ so it has begun.
I went out dancing three days before Christmas. I'm not quite sure what life I'm living right now.
My first care packages arrived from home just in time for Christmas! Little trinkets, tons of Starbucks instant coffee, granola and weird hippie-eats, Christmas socks and decorations were all part of the magic bundle of joy. The best (or most outrageous part) was that there was two stockings in the package... one for me. One for Zeus. Of course his is already packed with presents. This is getting out of hand very quickly.
"Oh mama" / "Madonna" / "Mama Miaaaaaaa" have made it into the vocabulary of us foreigners.
"What sound does a rooster make? How about a frog?" You wouldn't believe the differences!!!!! During one of our team dinners I think we went through, and sounded out the entire Animal Planet.
A little bit on pro-life: You arrive. Your apartment may or may not be set up. Internet? Forget it. If you have a locked phone like I do then you might as well say goodbye to all communication with the outside world. At least for the first month or so. Or three. Were you promised a car? Keep your fingers crossed that they give it to you within the first week, otherwise you might be waiting for a long time. That salary that’s written in your signed contract? You are the luckiest athlete ever if you receive it all… and without any problems, that’s basically unheard of. Coaches or club presidents can pay you whenever they want. Not playing well, the team is losing, their coffee wasn’t strong enough that morning, whatever it is - they can hold your payment and pay you whenever they feel like it. Maybe it's just me and my superb luck, but I don’t know of any other job in the world where you are on a signed contract and you may or may not get paid that month, or the next… or ever. My fingers hurt from being crossed all the time. We already have so many “fun” stories from this first half but I’ll save those for later.
In comparison to my team last year, everyone speaks English. I’m not sure if that’s just a more central-European mentality or whether the fact that Turkey seemed/was just really far away, but the communication factor hasn’t been a problem so far. I have four foreigners on my team, not including myself, three of which are American and one from Argentina (Lucia) who I played with in Germany two years ago. Having these four girls around me at all times makes such a big difference, I can’t even believe it. Just an added support group and mini crew who is up for adventures, traveling, or just drinking wine with you when you need it most. I also love my italian teammates - I for sure won the lottery there. Andrea, our assistant coach, was also our assistant coach in Potsdam, Germany so we had a little reunion coming back here! Our setter from Potsdam is currently playing for Modena and when she came to Urbino last month, we had another teammate come watch, as well as our physio and friend, Anja who was visiting (from Germany)… I felt like we had half of Potsdam here, and it was awesome. That’s definitely one major perk about playing overseas. You meet SO many people through sport. Your teammates instantly become your lifeline and dear friends who will keep you sane during the long stretches. It’s pretty crazy and interesting how you see this group of people every single day. Multiple times. Weight-sessions, individuals, practices, video-sessions, lunches, dinners, going out, exploring, coffee dates, etc. It’s constant. And to think that you didn’t know them a few months ago is just bonkers (then after the season you might never see them again). It’s a very strange life we’re living overseas and most definitely unlike any other job in the entire world.
Urbino itself is a very small, tiny tot town. It is essentially on/in a hill (our own little mountain town). My teammate Hayley has described living in Urbino “like living in a painting”. After living just outside of Berlin and Istanbul the last two years, it’s definitely a little bit of a difference. Pesaro is about a 40minute drive from Urbino and has a larger center, the water, and some nice places to walk and explore. Luckily we have a few major cities that are only a couple hours away by train but it’s still a bit of a trek. Florence is on the agenda next half of the season, I saw Bologna with my parents after World Championships (but will definitely go back because it’s only an hour or so train ride away from Pesaro) BUT Rome is actually only 3 hour away from us – which doesn’t seem that bad at all, especially because this city has been near the top of my bucket list for so long now! The culture and history of Rome is going to make me go crazy and just nerd-out to the max. I can’t WAIT! I figured that second half of the season when we have a day off here and there, I’ll head down to Rome a handful of times so I can really spend time at each site and learn as much as I can. That way I wont be rushing around only seeing the briefest of moments. Yay for the adventures of the nerdy tourist!
Anyhow, that was a pretty large rant!! I'll be posting a halfway-point-update of the other Team Canada girls soon (or whenever they all fire me a little message.... girls:.... hurry!). I hope everyone has the loveliest Christmas whenever you are in the world. Those at home, drink a couple chai-eggnog lattes for me... it tastes like Christmas in a cup (it's also your full caloric intake for the day, sooo you're welcome)! & here's to the New Year and a fresh start!
Check out my Italy gallery here.