KIEV, UKRAINE - While enjoying some late night gruel and grog at a Donetsk hotel after England's 1-0 victory over Ukraine on June 19 with QMI correspondent James Lawton, whose eloquent words are second to none in our business, the waitress brought to the next table a piece of machinery that would make the legendary Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong proud.
It is a four-foot high hookah pipe, complete with a immaculately-detailed metal base and a lengthy hose for patrons to smoke out of.
Where are we? Jamaica? Amsterdam? Vancouver? Haight Ashbury? An NBA player's basement?
I'm quickly told that, no, this isn't used for marijuana or hash. Instead, many restaurants in Ukraine supply these popular, eloquent-looking pipes for patrons to smoke tobacco out of.
I'm having a hard time buying that bill of goods.
After taking a huge haul, the guy exhales enough smoke through his mouth and nostrils to form a cumulonimbus cloud around his head.
I'm still skeptical.
Listen, if this Jeff Spiccoli wannabe starts uttering "Oh wow, man" and orders a case of Twinkies from the waitress, count on there being something stronger than Marlboros in that hookah.
This piece was going to be about the highs and lows of Euro 2012. Not sure that's the same "high" this Hoover had in mind.
Whatever the case, here are some of the ups and downs of the tournament, both on the pitch and off, heading into Sunday's magnificent matchup between Italy and Spain at Kiev's Olympic Stadium.
Best Teams: Italy and Spain
The Spanish have been criticized for not playing the Beautiful Game with enough flair. The Italians were slagged for that, too, until they beat the sauerkraut out of the favoured Germans 2-1 Thursday.
The bottom line: these are the tournament's only two undefeated teams. Yes, both needed victories via penalties to get to this point. But get here they did.
In the end, you couldn't ask for a final between two more deserving teams.
1. Holland: Went 0-3, fought with each other and ended up making manager Bert Van Marwijk quit his post. Here's an idea. How about firing some of those dogs who masqueraded as players?
2. France: Even though they got to the quarterfinal, they still finished the tournament with a losing record -- one win, two defeats and one draw. In the process, players were yelling at each other, the type of in-house rot that had supposedly been erased after the mutiny at the World Cup in South Africa two years earlier. So much for that theory.
3. Germany: Lost in the semis on home soil at the 2006 World Cup. Lost in the final of Euro 2008. Lost in the semis of the 2010 World Cup. Lost in the semis of Euro 2012. Notice a pattern? Look, we love the Germans' open style and the cache of young players. But the bottom line is winning tournaments. And if this talented bunch doesn't do it soon, they will be soccer's version of the Buffalo Bills of the early 1990s.
4. Wayne Rooney: He was suspended for the first two games after having an idiotic brain cramp during qualifying. Yes, he did score the winner against Ukraine on a two-foot putt, but then he disappeared in a penalty-kick loss to Italy. The subsequent comment from manager Roy Hodgson about Rooney's lack of fitness certainly was a revealing statement.
First the Danish fans mocked Cristiano Ronaldo with cries of "Messi, Messi" in honour of his nemesis. Then he heard it again in the Portugal-Spain semifinal when his 90th minute effort to break a 0-0 deadlock came closer to hitting the stadium roof than the net. Like it or not, he's got to deal with it.
Mario Balotelli's second vs. Germany in the semifinal.
After watching that laser almost blast right through the net, Germany should have tested Balotelli's boot for steroids. Down 1-0, the Germans still had a chance. At 2-0, well, can you say "Auf Wiedersehn!?"
1. The Replay Debate: Enough already about the tradition of the game, all you dinosaurs out there. The lack of goal-line technology cost England's Frank Lampard a score against Germany at the 2010 World Cup, then stripped Ukraine of a goal against England at Euro 2012, offside or not. That's missed goals in two consecutive tournaments. In no sport is one goal more precious than in soccer, so why not ensure teams get credit for one when it crosses the line? We're not a fan of FIFA kingpin Sepp Blatter but good on him for hinting that replay is coming. As for those who don't want it, please, what is the logical argument against it? Isn't this about getting it right?
2. Ronaldo At Five: Hordes of emails came in saying Portuguese manager Paulo Bento was right to schedule Cristiano Ronaldo fifth during the penalty kick portion of the semi versus Spain. That way, if it was 4-4, he had a chance to win it. But it wasn't. And they didn't. This isn't looking back in hindsight people, it's straight logic. Ronaldo is Portugal's best player. As such, he needed to be in a position to ensure he would get a kick. At No. 5, he didn't. How can that possibly be justified?
The Dutch fans who dressed up as carrots get the vote here, simply because they had real carrots and real leaves sprouting from their headgear. We gave consideration to the Swedish fan who dressed up as a yellow and blue version of Vancouver's Green Men, but, as one female passer-by with a Swedish accent quickly noted: "He should have worn a cup -- that's gross." Enough said.
Where Are The Fashion Police?
Denmark's Nicklas Bendtner partially drops his trousers to reveal an ad for an Irish betting firm on his under-rudes.
Italy's Balotelli strips his jersey off his chest like he's Hulk Hogan entering a wrestling ring during his heyday.
Is it too much to ask for players to keep their clothes on until they get to the shower? Please?
Lasting Impressions of Ukraine
Friendly people ... Great food ... Price gouging ... Beautiful women ... Kiev is one of the world's great cities, a wonderful mixture of historical architecture, modern buildings and lots of gardens and forests ... Kharkiv, on the other hand, is like being in a scene from 1960s Russia. It should be dubbed as "The City of Graffiti." ... Crazy drivers. Everyone wants to be known as "Alexei Andretti." On a two-lane highway near Donetsk, you come across dump trucks carrying coal doing 20 kph being passed by cars wanting to do 140 kph. So they pass. No matter if there is oncoming traffic. A word of advice: If you see one of these idiots coming at you in YOUR lane, hit the gravel shoulder. Because in this game of chicken, he isn't backing off.
The Joy Of Flying
Thankfully no more bees on a flight like the big buzzer that was loitering on our plane en route from Kiev to Donetsk the other week.
But there was plenty of other, ah, unique Ukrainian experiences to augment the joys of flying.
Like the 2 a.m. hop from Donetsk to Kiev after the Spain-France quarterfinal on June 24.
Yes, 2 a.m.. In North America, the airports would be closed. Here, they are alive with activity.
This brings new meaning to the term "redeye."
Speaking of redeyes, perhaps the flight attendants were suffering from that syndrome. After all, they must have been half sleeping when they packed away the glasses and cups in the galley.
Moments after take off, we hear the sound of a glass breaking. Then another. Suddenly, it sounds like the entire cache of glasses have fallen off the shelf and shattered at once.
Those of us seated nearby now know what it must sound like when a twister blows out the windows of an office building.
Coffee, tea or paper cups, anyone?
Beware of Holes
As noted in an earlier column, a Kharkiv rental car firm offered the warning to "beware of holes" when driving on rural roads.
That thought comes to mind as we taxi to a runway at the Kiev airport and pass two jetliners that are flat on their bellies on the ground. The wheels are nowhere to be found.
Perhaps the pilots drove into one of those famous Ukraine "holes."
Just a thought.
And Finally ...
A Letter to Ukrainian Luggage Handlers
Thank you for finally locating my suitcase after a week of scouring every nook and cranny of Ukraine.
I realize how easily it could have been mistaken for the thousands that were identical to it during Euro 2012. After all, isn't every piece of luggage made up of an oversized black suitcase with a month's worth of clothing stuffed in it, a metal label that says "Hercules" on the front and a tag listing the name "Mike Zeisberger" with an accompanying Toronto address dangling from the handle?
Who needs a computer to hunt it down? Not you. Not when you have that woman in the "lost luggage" office at Donetsk airport, complete with her one phone. Who knew this Ukrainian version of a female Sherlock Holmes would use every CSI trick in the books to track down that sucker after just seven days?
Now can you please tell me the location of the nearest laundromat in Kiev?
On second thought, don't worry about it.
I leave Monday. I'm sure it'll take longer than that for you to dig up that info.