During semester break, the Penn men's squash team traveled through Denmark, Sweden and Norway playing squash and experiencing the culture. The followig was written by a member of the team, Rahil Shah, W'07.
On December 29, 2006, as the 20 members of the University of Pennsylvania’s Men’s Squash team and coach Craig Thorpe-Clark embarked on their European tour, little did they know of the uniquely fascinating times ahead of them. Over the next eight days, the team toured the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Sweden and Norway with a memorable mix of squash, sightseeing and relaxation. The enduring memories of the trip include beautiful landscapes, fantastic athletic facilities and, most of all, the warm hospitality of the local people wherever the team traveled. Beginning from Copenhagen, all the way to Oslo, the team was greeted with a friendly curiosity combined with a desire to make every member feel at home, creating an excellent impression of the local people. Although many members of the team had been to various parts of Europe before, this was their first visit to Scandinavia, and by the end of the trip everyone agreed that these were among the most beautiful, exciting and enjoyable countries they had visited. The best part of the trip, however, was how the team gelled in getting to know each other better, as members formed enduring bonds of friendship and trust that will assist them greatly as they look to scale new heights during the remainder of the squash season. Although this was just a week-long trip, it provided a lifetime of memories.
After a long and rather adventurous flight across the Atlantic (which included a U-turn from the runway to offload a sick passenger) the team landed early morning in Copenhagen. The plan was to spend the entire day in Copenhagen and then head to the hotel in Malmo, Sweden in the evening, where the team was scheduled to stay for the next four days. A short train ride from the airport took the team to the city center.
Upon exiting the train station in City Square, one was immediately awestruck with the striking contrast of Copenhagen compared to cities in the U.S. Instead of being dominated by tall buildings, the city was full of small streets with a variety of quaint cafes and shops. Most buildings around the city were made of bricks and stone, which added an old-world charm to the city. Among the more impressive buildings were the national theatre, Parliament house and a church located in the heart of the city. A visit to the national museum revealed how Copenhagen had evolved from a monarchy to a liberal socialist regime, and that it had been relatively unscathed during World War II, thus allowing it to retain most of its buildings and houses from that period.
A group of members from the team visited Tivoli Gardens toward the end of the day. This is one of Copenhagen’s most famous tourist attractions perhaps the equivalent of Copenhagen’s Central Park, with amusement rides, restaurants and cultural shows. The gardens were beautifully decorated to reflect a winter theme with a number of impressive ice sculptures. All the attractions were organized around a huge lake that ran across the entire park. However, to really enjoy them, one needs to visit the gardens in the summer.
Sea-link to Malmo
Copenhagen is connected to Malmo (Sweden) via the Öresund Bridge, the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe. After spending the day in Copenhagen, the team returned to the airport to collect their stored baggage and took a train across the bridge to Malmo. By the time they reached the hotel, it was late evening, and after a team dinner at a local Thai restaurant, most people were exhausted and happy to hit the sack early that night.
Malmo Squash and Racquets Club
From the next day, the team began practice at the Malmo Squash and Racquets Club. The club had excellent facilities, with seven squash courts and arenas for various other sports including a local sport called floor hockey. Two local officials of the club, Mike and Thomas were, particularly helpful in organizing the team’s practices and getting the team to the club from the hotel. After a good practice session, the team returned to the hotel to rest for the planned events to celebrate the New Year later that evening.
New Year’s Eve
That evening, the team was invited to the New Year Eve’s celebrations at the club, which included a sit-down dinner in one of the club rooms. It was an enjoyable time as the team got to meet some other locals including more members of the club. As the evening wore on and the revelry continued, some team members decided to visit some local attractions in the Malmo area to understand how Swedish people brought in the New Year. One thing that was noticeable was the number of fireworks that were going off all across Malmo, including near the hotel where someone seemed to have been celebrating the New Year for the past two days!
After the previous night, the next day was understandably more relaxed, as the team had a practice session and then the opportunity to play some local sports, including floor hockey, which is essentially hockey played on an Astroturf. Some of team members showed a natural flair for the game, and fit right in with the skilled local players!
Sights and Sounds of Malmo
The team was scheduled to play an official match with members of the club the next day. Before the match, however, they had the opportunity to visit Malmo’s central tourist attractions. The Malmo Castle was an enjoyable visit, with the opportunity to tour the castle as well as view some of the exhibitions housed inside. Other interesting sights included the Turning Torso, a seemingly twisted angular building, and the Visual Arts and Design museum.
Later that evening all 20 members of the team played matches against local club members, some of whom included men in their 30s and 40s! It was a good experience, as the team got to play opponents with a different style of play. Some of the higher ranked players on the team actually played opponents who were on the verge of becoming professionals, and hence had an excellent workout. The end result was a 11-9 victory for Penn, with the bottom half playing a dominant role in the win. After the match, Mike and Thomas took the team to one of the nicer local restaurants to end the trip to Malmo on a high note.
The next morning, the team took an early-morning flight from Copenhagen to Oslo. Not surprisingly, it was considerably colder in Oslo, and the sun set even earlier (it was usually dark by about 3:30 pm) but the team probably enjoyed the best times of its trip in this seaside city. Here in Oslo, the team got to stay at The Grand, which is one of the premier hotels in the city. The team is particularly grateful to Dag Lyster, Penn Squash alum and an Oslo local, who organized the squash practices and matches in Oslo and took a day off from work to show the team around some sights during the team’s last day in Oslo.
Norway Squash Club
On the first evening in Oslo, the team went to the Norway Squash Club for squash practice and some matches. This club too had excellent facilities, with a special emphasis on simulation golf, more than 10 such rooms were spread across the club. The highlight of the squash courts was the all-glass court, with even the floor made out of glass. All the team members got the unique opportunity to play on this court, which was quite an experience.
Over the next two days, the team played a number of friendly matches against members from the club. Like in Malmo, these opponents had a different style of play, probably resulting from the fact that most of them were older than the team members. On the last day of the trip, however, the team took a break from squash and did some sightseeing in Oslo.
Oslo was a truly beautiful city, its landscape dotted with fishing boats and ships in the surrounding water. Like Copenhagen, it had some excellent cafes, restaurants, and shops, and superb architecture for most of its public buildings. However, it had even more tourist attractions than either Copenhagen or Malmo. The Nobel Peace Prize Museum was a particularly fascinating institution, with an exhibition on the need for world peace and a digital display room of the achievements of all past peace prize winners.
Oslo has three main ship museums the Kon-Tiki museum, the Fram Museum and the Viking Museum. The Kon-Tiki and Fram museums presented the incredible feats of Norwegian explorers Thor Heyerdahl, Fridtjof Nansens, Otto Sverdrups and Roald Amundsens, who traveled across the Pacific Ocean and to the Polar regions at a time when shipbuilding was still an evolving art. At the Fram Museum (which was at a temperature that seemed to have been deliberately set to simulate the arctic experience!) one had the opportunity to explore the ship from the inside, and it was interesting to consider how the explorers must have made their voyage in that very ship. The Viking Museum was a different experience, in that it displayed the ships that were used as graves for higher-ranked people in the Viking society. On view were the number of accompanying objects that were placed with the dead (even including a sled and a horse) in keeping with the Vikings’ belief in the after-life.
Dag accompanied the team to one of Oslo’s most unique tourist attractions: an open air sculpture park with 192 sculptures and more than 600 figures all built on-site by Gustav Vigeland. The monolith at the center stood out a 46 foot high monument carved out of a single piece of stone. Other interesting sculptures included the fountain and the wheel of life. In the words of one of the team members, Joey Raho, it was one of the top three things he had ever witnessed.
From the sculpture park, the team proceeded to the Oslo Ski Jump, which had recently hosted a winter games event. Unfortunately, the ski jump was devoid of any snow according to Dag, this was the first Christmas in recent memory without snow in Oslo. The ski jump facility included a museum and a ski simulator which most of the team members tried. The simulator actually created the experience of taking off from the ski jump and skiing along the surrounding slopes.
Finally, the team went to a late lunch/early dinner to the Hard Rock Café in Oslo to round off its visit to Norway. Like the rest of the places they had visited, the Hard Rock Café was a fun experience, and as the team members headed back to the hotel they reflected on what had been a memorable three day trip to Oslo.
As can be seen, the trip was a wonderful combination of many different sights and cultures. Above all else, it was a tremendous opportunity for all the team members to get to spend time with each other and get to know each other more closely. A special thank you is in order for coach Craig Thorpe-Clark, who single-handedly organized all the details necessary to make the trip a success. The team is also grateful to the parents and alumni who supported the trip and allowed the team to gain such an experience. Now, having returned refreshed and rested, the Penn men’s squash team will spare no effort in ensuring they end the season just as strongly as they have begun it.