My final World Cup weekend with the Aussies - during Euro trip #1 - has begun with our arrival in Liberec in the Czech Republic. The last time I was here was for the 2009 World Championships, my first ever job with the Aussies, and the site of Kikkan's big silver medal race. Unfortunately, the weather is much like it was when we left last time. After a December that left much of Europe with more snow than usual, unseasonably warm dreary weather has resulted in localized flooding across central Europe, and the Czech Republic is no exception.
It's been over a week now since I have seen the sun, and the third in a row with "liquid" snow falling from the sky. It's a sprint weekend here in Liberec. A perfect stop on the World Cup as most of the big WC contenders and distance skiers need a break from the recently completed Tour de Ski. Kikkan leaves after tomorrow's sprint to begin the long journey back to Anchorage....which we have discovered is the same amount of time zones as if I were to travel to Australia. I split from the team Monday and will join my friend Thomas Freimuth for a week of ski training (I hope I survive) and then the Dolomitten Lauf 60km classic 8 days from now.
After four days now in the Czech Republic I am still amazed at the transformations at work within the country. One of the growing economies within the European Union and by far one of the stronger of former Soviet nations. However, the darkness, deterioration, and poverty that goes along with the images that "Eastern Block" brings to mind are present here, but at the same time modernity is there if you chose to look for it. We stayed in the small village of Bozi Dar for a couple of days and when the clouds lifted enough to see the top of the mountain, sitting a top it were four wind turbines powering the small population and local ski hills. How many towns do we see do that in North America. Here in Liberec the lights in the hallway of the hotel only come on with motion, as do the elevators in the large mall right next door. Necessities, when not in abundance bring great change and progress!
This trip has been an eye opener in a multitude of ways, not just watching the World's best skiers perform in the Tour, but to take in and experience how some of the oldest and proudest European cultures adapt and move forward in modern times.