Look at photos from Opatija: page 1 and page 2.
I qualified for the Finnish team last year (2003, Netherlands) too, but couldn't take part due to other appointments. This had to be corrected as soon as possible, and so I really made my best to get to the team which was going to Croatia. That wasn't too hard, as we didn't have a proper qualifying contest in Finland this year and I was the best of the small handful of Finnish puzzlers who took part in the American online test. Our multiple champion Pekka Ikäheimonen didn't take part this year.
Team Finland was consisted of those people who were willing to represent Finland in Croatia: Juha Hyvönen, who has taken part in WPC nearly always and who is a seasoned puzzle creator, Eeva Teräsvuori, a young and aspiring talent and third time in WPC, Jouni Särkijärvi, a first timer but he has probably solved puzzled the rest of us were even able to read or write and me, a third timer like Eeva. Juha also took care of captain's duties because our normal captain, Erja Gullstén, could come this year.
We gathered at the Helsinki airport after seven o'clock in the morning. We all live in Helsinki area, so the trip there wasn't a problem for any of us. Juha, Eeva and I already knew each others, but Jouni was familiar to us only from emails. We discussed about the starting week and told Jouni about the contest while waiting for our flight.
First we flew to Budapest, where we had to wait for two hours for the flight to Zagreb, the capitol of Croatia. It has a surprisingly small airport for such a large city, and so we didn't have problems to find our hosts there. After Turkish, Indian and some other teams had arrived, we jumped into a bus and started the last leg of out journey towards Opatija. We drove about two hours along a brand new highway by fields and through mountains - there were over a dozen tunnels along the way.
We were welcomed to hotel Ambasador by the sea, and went to check our rooms. Eeva and I shared a room in 6th floor. Our balcony pointed straight to the sea, and we could see the mountains too by just turning our heads. What a view! After welcome speeches, presentations of the teams and a good dinner we went to the rooms to read the puzzle instructions. We had gotten the papers already a week before the contest, which really helped.
Field trip day. After breakfast we had a nice stroll along the sea shore before getting on three buses and leaving for a whole day joy ride along the Istrian peninsula. First we visited a town called Porec, where we saw a Byzantine church with its fantastic mosaics from 7th century. Then we visited a historical town Motovun, which is situated on the top of a high hill. We really admired our drivers because they got the big buses up along those narrow, winding roads. Weather was really nice during this whole day.
We got back to hotel only at dinner time, and after it we had the first puzzle information meeting. After that we didn't have any energy left for hanging around at the bar, so we hit the hay rather early.
Immediately after the breakfast the team photos and the group photo were taken by the hotel swimming pool. Nobody took a dive, although the Hungarians threatened to push our team into the pool.
And then it was time for the Real Thing, this was the first competition day. First part consisted of very classic puzzles. This year team puzzles were scattered among individual parts, and already the second part was a team part. Classic puzzles too, but rather hard ones.
After the lunch we had two individual and one team part. Some of the puzzles were linked so that you had to solve them in a certain order. The team part was a nearly normal jigsaw puzzle, but especially those dang bugs caused us problems. When it was finally time for dinner, I was totally exhausted. Some parts hadn't gone exactly like I had wished for. After the dinner we had another puzzle information meeting.
Another competition day. I was the last of team Finland after previous day, which wasn't too good as the traditional puzzles are normally supposed to be my strongest side. Anyway I managed to find a mistake made by the judges from one puzzle, and gained 25 more points. Now I felt much better, and the competition started going more smoothly from now on. Pentominos arranged themselves like they were supposed to and even the optimizers, which are normally one of my several weak points, went better than I had imagined.
After lunch we worked with a mastermind type puzzle, then draw a sea serpent and researched thermometers. The day ended with a card game, which was a team effort. Jouni did his best, but even with that our team ended with a solution which wasn't exactly the correct one.
Then the game was over for all of team Finland, because on Saturday only the top 13 puzzlers were going to continue and none of us were in that group. I had managed to make my way to 2nd best in our team and just Juha was well ahead of me. I was placed as 70th. This evening we had time and energy for the first time to enter the bar to have some beers.
Time for the finals! Ulrich Voight from Germany hold the 1st position after two days of puzzling, and he made straight to the second round. Twelve next best puzzlers took part in semifinals, and five best of that group got to the finals with Ulrich. Then the group was down to just three competitors: Ulrich, Niels Roest from the Netherlands and Roger Barkan from the United States.
Audience was excited. Most of the puzzles were really hard and solving them wasn't easy for any of the three competitors. Even before the time ended, it seemed that Niels had managed to solve most problems, then Ulrich and the Roger, but how many mistakes they had made? Judges checked the puzzles in just few minutes, and after that was clear that the audience had got right impressions: Niels was the champion this year. He had been on just 9th position after individual puzzles, so he really did a great job in the final rounds. Ulrich got silver and Roger, whose furious ship puzzle had entertained the audience, got bronze.
Team USA won the team competition, Germany was second and Hungary third. The young quartet from Japan was sixth, what an excellent placement for a team in which all the members were first timers! Team Finland managed to pass Indian team, Bosnia-Herzegovinan team and two combined teams.
Saturday afternoon was free time. Jouni went to the traditional football (soccer) game and the rest of us each walked around Opatija alone. I trekked along the Lungo Mare, coastal hiking path, to west until Opatija ended and then returned along the streets doing some shopping. We got some rain, and very nasty black clouds were all the time coming over the mountains.
I had my binoculars with me like normally, but there weren't that many birds in the Opatija area. Most visible and also most audible were the Eurasian jays, which were busily gathering acorns for their winter storages. White-headed herring gulls could be seen along the coast, and there were blackbirds, chaffinches, robins and feral pigeons in the parks.
In the evening we had a farewell party at the old, fine hotel Kvarner in the center of Opatija. After dinner, speeches and prize ceremonies we had free partying time. We Finns shared our table with the Polish, and our conversations ranged from long Finnish palindromes like saippuakauppias (soap salesman) to all the different languages we could speak. Eeva, Jouni and the captain of the Polish team, Jacek, had a long discussion in Russian. Some people wandered from table to table and either gathered signatures to the group photo or just took more photos. Hungarians had a WPC poll, and they are going to use the results for planning the next years competition.
Lots of people left soon after official part of program, but as we had plenty of wine, we Finns weren't in a hurry to leave. The Polish were nice company, Jacek hugged us all but I started visiting other tables anyway. First I chatted with the Japanese and then ended up talking to Roger and Charles, the interpreter for the team Japan. When the rest of the Finns joined us, Roger told that as we Finns dance every year in WPC party (do we?), it is time for us to do our part this year too. Okay, you are the bronze medalist, we'll dance if you say so! After this a big crowd of several nationalities entered the dance floor to have a fast and funny dance session with familiar Euro disco hits from 1970's.
When the band took a break, we were totally exhausted and decided to go back to hotel. We thanked our hosts, said our farewells to other teams and Jacek hugged us all. We were going to see some teams on the bus next morning, but this was the last time we saw most of these folks this year.
Although last night had been quite energy taking and had continued well over midnight, we were more or less awake in the morning and didn't have problems getting in time to the but to Zagreb airport. Indian, Japanese, British and German teams were on the same bus among others. Poland was there too, and Jacek hugged again us all. Then it was time to say farewell to the palm trees and seashore of Opatija and head towards inland Croatia. Just after half an hour ride we were in the middle of a heavy sleetfall!
The weather wasn't best possible, but we still arrived safely to the airport. Teams started to wait their flights all over the world and say their farewells when it was time to go, and Jacek hugged us all. We had our flight via Budapest in the afternoon, and just the Turkish team stayed in the airport after us.
The way back home went quickly by solving puzzles from all the puzzle magazines we had gotten in Opatija, and we ended in chilly and rainy Finland after ten o'clock that night. Now it was time for us to part. Eeva waited for somebody to pick her up, Juha started to search for a taxi and Jouni and I took a bus towards Espoo.
WPC 2005 is going to be in Hungary. We were already show a picture of the magnificent castle, where the competitors are going to stay and heard, that the trip day will take us to exciting limestone cave. There is no way I could miss those, and so it is time to start practising for next year!Photos from Opatija: page 1 and page 2.
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