The Olympic Games: The ultimate travel experience

Even if you never attend an Olympics, there are places around the world that have hosted the games. Travelers can visit the sites and savor some of the memories. Photo: Peabod

 

CHARLOTTEJuly 23, 2012 — The modern Olympic games may represent the essence of what travel is all about.

Every two years the world convenes in a single destination for international competitions that bring athletes and visitors from every corner of the planet.  There is cultural interaction both on the field and in the arena and off that is unparalleled.

For a fortnight thousands of athletes from countries around the globe challenge each other for national and personal pride that concludes on a podium surrounded by cheering crowds in a universal forum that has no borders.

There is pageantry, drama, upsets, disappointment, controversy, surprises and every other element of human drama that permeates daily feats of skill, strength, agility and endurance.

In the end however, it is the sharing; the mingling; the cultural awareness that temporarily suspends political animosities in a pursuit of excellence for  the world to see.

It would be naïve to ignore that politics and tragedy have also played a role, but that is more in the realm of governments than the competitors or their throngs of supporters.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin of Paris is regarded as the visionary behind the modern Olympics which first took place in Athens, Greece in 1896. Oddly enough, Dr. William Penny Brookes held a national Olympics in London, the site of this year’s games, some thirty years earlier.

Brookes and Coubertin collaborated to revitalize the ancient Greek Olympics which took place in Olympia between the 8th century BC until the 4th century AD.

For travelers, a visit to the ruins at Olympia is awe-inspiring. By today’s standards, the field of competition is tiny, and there is but a single venue, but walking through the arch leading into the now dusty arena is a bit like entering a portal to the past.

Witnessing or participating in the electricity of the Olympics is an experience to be savored, but for those with a wanderlust spirit, there are other ways to vicariously relive the moments of victory and defeat, as well as the tragedies and triumphs of history.

Over the past century of the Olympics, there are enough host destinations where travelers can visit numerous sites where the games have taken place. Such excursions may not be a primary reason for a visit, but they often provide a meaningful and delightful diversion.

Lausanne 

Lausanne, Switzerland is home to Olympic Museum. The gleaming white Greek marble building overlooks a terraced, sculpture filled garden that slopes downward to the shores of Lake Geneva.

Baron de Coubertin not only envisioned athletic competition, but the combination of art and the human spirit. The Olympic Museum embraces that philosophy with exhibitions featuring interactive videos, Olympic torches and equipment as well as sculpture and paintings commemorating the games.

 (Author’s note: The Olympic Museum in Lausanne is currently closed for renovations and will re-open in 2013)

Lillehammer

Lillehammer, Norway was an ideal setting for the Winter Olympics in 1994 with its rows of charming shops and streets. The ambience of Lillehammer is a perfect venue for sports by day and festive celebrations and entertainment at night.

Innsbruck

Though larger than Lillehammer, Innsbruck, Austria, which hosted the winter games in 1976, has the same small town appeal. Two locations in Innsbruck will give you a greater appreciation for the skills of the athletes.

The first is the 90-meter ski jump which stands on a hillside above the city center. For a heart-pumping view, go to the top and stare down at the landing area. Then tilt your eyes upward. The first thing you will see is a cemetery. Rising above the grave markers is the spire of a church that creates an optical illusion that a successful jump could leave you impaled on its tower.

Next head to the outskirts of town to a place called Igls. Though Innsbruck hosted winter sports, the best time to view this area is summer. Look upward at the near vertical slope of the ski run where Franz Klammer captured his dramatic downhill gold medal. You cannot help being totally in awe that anyone would dare to race on two thin planks of wood at jaw-dropping speeds down such a steep incline.

Munich

Munich was the scene of the Olympics worst tragedy in 1972. Just a few miles outside the city is a beautiful village filled with a nightmare of the past on its perimeter. It is called Dachau. Don’t be surprised if Germans do not freely offer directions. It is a place of horror they wish to forget.

How ironic that less than 30 years after World War II, it would be Germans rushing to the rescue of Jewish athletes who had been taken hostage by terrorists who raided the Olympic Village.

Not only does the Olympic complex remain, there is a lovely memorial park beside the stadiums and arenas; a park built from the rubble that was removed after the war.

You see, wherever you travel you may be in proximity of an Olympic experience and it can be a meaningful detour.

As Baron Pierre de Coubertin once said, “The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in Charlotte, NC. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club which creates and escorts customized tours to Switzerland, France and Italy for groups of 12 or more. Inquiries for groups can be made at Peabod@aol.com Taylored Media has produced marketing videos for British Rail, Rail Europe, Switzerland Tourism, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council, the Finnish Tourist Board, the Swiss Travel System and Japan Railways Group among others. As author of The Century Club book, Peabod is now attempting to travel to 100 countries or more during his lifetime. To date he has visited 69 countriesSuggest someplace new for Bob to visit; if you want to know where he has been, check his list on Facebook. Bob plans to write a sequel to his book when he reaches his goal of 100 countries.


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Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com) and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

 

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