Top 3 Things to Do in Heidelberg, Germany

May 09

Top 3 Things to Do in Heidelberg

There are many things to do in Heidelberg, a quaint city in western Germany near the Neckar River which dates back to the 12th century. In the 12th century, Konrad of Hohenstaufen became Count Palatine of the Rhine and took possession of the oldest castle and settlement from the Bishop of Worms, establishing the Palatinate line. Heidelberg was devastated during the Thirty Years’ War in the mid-17th century and later by the French in the later part of the century.

Heidelberg Castle - Statue of Goethe

Heidelberg Castle – Statue of Goethe

Martin Luther was received in Heidelberg not long after he posted his 95 Theses; he defended those theses in Heidelberg. The Holy Alliance between the King of Prussia, Emperor of Austria and Tsar of Russia was formed here in 1815. Heidelberg has a fascinating history as does most of Germany. It was lucky to escape bombing during World War Two and is therefore quite well-preserved.

I visited Germany back in 2008: it was my first SOLO trip and I had such a great time. I toured around Germany (Berlin top travel tips) for over three weeks (including Eagle’s Nest, Germany) and simply fell in love with the country (Oktoberfest tips). Heidelberg is a great city to visit and I enjoyed two lovely days in this lovely city.

Heidelberg Castle, Germany

View from Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg Castle is really the top on the list of things to do in Heidelberg. It was constructed in the 13th century and is in the gothic and renaissance style; partially destroyed during the Thirty Years’ War and the Palatine War of Succession in the 17th century plus a lightning strike in the mid-18th century. Eventually all attempts to restore the castle were abandoned. The castle was later used as a quarry and stones were removed to build other houses in Heidelberg. Attempts at preservation occurred in the 19th century.

Things to Do in Heidelberg: visit the Castle

Heidelberg Castle, Germany

The wine cellar in the Heidelberg Castle holds the largest barrel in the world (over 55,000 gallons of wine).

It is a STEEP hike to Heidelberg Castle as it sits atop a hill. You can take bus line 33 to the top or Bergbahn (funicaular rail) instead or go for a hike.

Palace interior may only be seen on a guided tour. The time differs per season so check their website for more info. The castle/gardens are open 8:00 am to 6:00 pm daily. Palace entry is not expensive: 6 euros for adults plus an additional 4 euros for a guided tour.  You can also check out the Deutsches Apotheken Museum (German pharmacy museum) which is located inside the Castle.

Old Bridge

The Alte Brücke is a stone bridge was built in the 18th century after the original was destroyed by fire (it was made of wood which dated back to the Middle Ages). The medieval gate still exists. You can view the Castle from the bridge and enter the Old Town through the gate. The market square is a wonderful place for souvenirs or shopping as well.

Heidelberg Bridge

Heidelberg Bridge, Germany

University of Heidelberg and Old Town (Altstadt)

The university is the oldest in Germany; founded by Rupert I and chartered by Pope Urban VI in 1386. It is known as a university city with over 28,000 students in a city with a population of round 150,000.  Old Town is a great area for shopping, visiting the university or museums (the student prison in particularly interesting), and not far from the Castle.

University of Heidelberg Library

University of Heidelberg Library via Wikipedia

 Tips for Visiting Heidelberg

  • Two nights in Heidelberg is plenty of time to see the city
  • Consider visiting in the fall. I visited in October and enjoyed the cooler weather, fewer tourists, and beautiful fall colours
  • Heidelberg is a very walkable city; wear some good shoes and you can walk for hours or hop on the trams/buses
  • The Heidelberg Card will save you money – it covers the Castle, 12 museums, public transportation, walking tour, and a city guide. Price starts at 10 euros and can be bought at main train station or transport machines around the city
  • Give yourself at least three hours or half a day for the Heidelberg Castle – you will need that much time (maybe more) to tour the inside, the gardens, the pharmacy museum, and the grounds. If you are walking to and from the Castle, add another hour to that
  • Take a stroll down the river banks particularly during the summer months; great place for a picnic
  • Stay in a hotel near the Old Town. I stayed way too far away and it would have been nice to walk around the Old Town in the evening after a day of sightseeing

 

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Berlin Travel Tips

May 05

Berlin Travel Tips

Berlin is well-known for its nightlife but you cannot discount the culture and history of the city. It is a fascinating city that was separated by a WALL for four decades; a city that was a part of two different countries. It is a very unique city: west and east that have come together to be one. However, the city’s history goes beyond the past century. It dates back to 13th century and it was the capital of the Kingdom of Prussia for three centuries before becoming the capital of the unified German Empire in 1871 and would once again become the capital of a unified German state after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990.

When To Go?

If you do not mind a bit of cooler weather, I would recommend spring or fall. There are fewer tourists which makes a big difference. I went in the fall: the colours are beautiful. The weather is a bit cooler (15 degrees Celsius maybe) but you’re walking around the city so you warm up quickly. But you really can’t go at a wrong time; the city is buzzing all year round!

Berlin Travel Tips - Visit in the fall

Berlin Wall, Berlin, Germany

Where to Stay?

Berlin is a fairly large city so be careful about where you stay. I was using airmiles so I wasn’t particularly picky about where I was staying but I realized later that it was not the best area. Decide on your price and pick a neighborhood or location where you will spend a lot of time: maybe Mitte or Prenzlauer Berg? Just try to stay a metro stop: that is always my number one consideration. Berlin has MANY hotels so you should be able to find one for a very good price or really cheap if you stay at a hostel.

What to See?

There are too many places to list but I will mention my favourites!

1. Museum Island – there is a small “island” in Berlin that is the home to Berlin’s state museums. These are just a small list of museums in all of Berlin but they are my favourite. You can also visit Berliner Dom while on the island; it is not far from the museums and is free to visit. My top choices are:

Neues Museum is where the Bust of Nefertiti is located along with the rest of the Egyptian museum and papyrus collection. The museum collection also contains a Neanderthal skull and Heinrich Schliemann’s Trojan finds. This is a spectacular museum and one of my all-time favourites.

Nefertiti, Neues Museum, Berlin

Nefertiti, Neues Museum, Berlin

Altes Museum which houses the antique collections (divided with the Pergamon Museum) such as a large Greek collection including the treasury.

Pergamon Museum which contains more antiquities such as the Pergamon Altar and the Market Gate of Miletus from what is now Turkey. It also contains sculptures and art from the ancient world such as Hellenistic, Greek and Roman.

2. Checkpoint Charlie (and the museum) – the checkpoint may not be operational anymore but some of the signs still exist plus there is a museum with lots of photos and stories about escapes.

3. Schloss Charlottenburg – I was lucky enough to attend a classical concert at this palace where the musicians were even dressed in 17-18th century garb. The music was of course W.A. Mozart (there can be no other) and J.S. Bach. This used to be the summer residence of the Prussian kings and it is lovely.

4. Reichstag – one cannot visit Berlin and not stop by the German Parliament. You can book free tours or visit the dome at the top. You may need to book in advance as they allow only a small number of people into the building each day.

Reichstag, German Parliament, Berlin, Germany

Reichstag, Berlin

5. Brandenberger Tor – a short walk from the Reichstag is the Brandenburg Gate. You walk down a lovely park area with trees on both sides to get to the Gate. Once again, the colours are very vibrant in the fall. The Gate was commissioned by King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia in the late 18th century as a sign of peace. It was right beside the old Berlin Wall and is now part of a cobblestone pedestrian area.

Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany

How to Save Money?

First, get the Berlin Welcome Card. This is a favourite of my Berlin travel tips! You can save a lot of money on museums, transportation, maps, etc depending on the card you select. If you plan to visit museum island, there is a card that covers it (one example: three day pass for 38.50 euros which covers museum island, reductions of 25-50% to more than 200 tourist and cultural sites, free transportation depending on the zone you select which may include the airport, city map and guide plus shipping to your home before you travel to Berlin).

Second, if you don’t get the welcome card, get the Berlin Museum Pass instead which covers many museums in the city for 24 euros for three days. It covers 50 museums in the city including Museum Island, the Jewish Museum and the New National Gallery. You can get the pass at the Berlin Tourist Info or all participating museums.

Third, sign up for a bike tour or straight out rent your own. It is a cheap way to tour around the city. There are several to choose from so just google it and go from there.

Oktoberfest ein Mass Munich

Marsha enjoying Augustiner

Fourth, street food is good and delicious plus also very economical. There is a good variety and you will save some moolah! Look for “Imbiss” food stands: good Turkish food. And try the currywurst – Berliners are known for it. And it is delish! There is even a currywurst museum near Checkpoint Charlie (no, I did not visit)! And of course, BEER!!!!!

Fifth, visit the parks especially Tiergarten. It is near the Brandenburg Gate and is a lovely place to rest, have a picnic or to enjoy the scenery!

Sixth, the Topography of Terror is a free outdoor museum. Over a million people visit each year and is located on former grounds of the SS and Gestapo. This outdoor museum is open daily 10 am to 8 pm.

Lastly (thanks Tamason), try the free walking tours. I usually join one and they provide a good overview of the city and provide some history as well.

Getting Around

Berlin is a very easy city to navigate. The transportation system is excellent plus there are many areas you can walk. Bus 100 passes most of the top touristy sites. Or rent a bike to travel around the city as I mentioned above. You can use the trains (U-Bahn or S-Bahn) as not everything in Berlin is nearby nor on the bus route. The trains are easy to use.

Berliner Dom - Berlin Cathedral

Berliner Dom

The Language

Berlin, along with most of Germany, are fairly well versed in English. They may even speak better than English than you. You probably don’t need to learn German BUT I am a fan of learning the language of the country you are visiting. If you do not wish nor have the time to learn German, at least learn a few key phrases. The locals will appreciate it and will respond in English to you. I spend six months learning German and rarely needed to use it. A good rule: Germans under 40 will likely speak English but those over 40 may not. I encountered many older Germans who did not know one word of English.

Where to Spend Your Saved Money?

Kurfürstendamm (Ku’damm for short) is the shopping district where you can spend, spend, spend until you are broke. You can also find the KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens) – it’s a massive shopping mall.  Or visit Mauerpark on the weekend for the flea markets! These are all great places to shop and top of my Berlin travel tips!

What About the Nightlife?

Berlin is a jumping city. Go and explore at night. When I was there, I met some people and we hopped into a cab and asked him to take us to a nightclub. We hit up a few that night and for some reason I cannot remember the names of the clubs. Was it the beer? 🙂 But go and have fun. It is a nightclub paradise. Ask the locals where to go or your hotel/hostel. They should know the places to be.

Have fun in Berlin! Have you gone yet?

You might also be interested in:

Top 3 Things to do in Heidelberg

Oktoberfest Tips

Eagle’s Nest, Germany

My Favourite Travel Food – Sauerbraten

 

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Sochi 2014 Figure Skating: The Men

Apr 25

Sochi 2014 Figure Skating: The Men

When I decided and started to plan my Olympic adventure, it was a trip of a lifetime (Russia and Czech Republic) which included the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, one of the events I made sure to get a ticket for was the Sochi 2014 Figure Skating in the men’s category. Canada had the defending three-time world champion and number one contender; a coronation was waiting for Patrick Chan. Unfortunately, Chan did not skate to his fullest abilities but was able to hold on for a silver medal. After enjoying the Opening Sochi 2014 Ceremony and two alpine Olympic events (men’s downhill and super G), I was ready for some ballet on ice. 

As a child, I loved figure skating. I took lessons. I was an okay skater but wasn’t a fan of falling on the ice. I eventually stopped after my figure skating coach left to marry an NHL hockey player (very Canadian of her) but I never stopped watching. I was cheering on the right Brian in the Battle of the Brians at the Calgary Olympics (the right Brian is of course Brian Orser….hehe). I cheered for Viktor Petrenko in 1992: I was a very bad Canadian that year. 🙂 I cheered on Elvis Stojko in 1994 as he was robbed by the judges (yes he was). I loved the Russian Alexei Yagudin in 2002. I was in the arena for Canadian and Olympic bronze medalist Joannie Rochette’s emotional short program in Vancouver 2010, just days after her mother unexpectedly passed away. I had to be in the arena for men’s figure skating in Sochi.

Sochi 2014 Figure Skating: Patrick Chan on his quad in Sochi 2014

Patrick Chan in the air on his quad in Sochi 2014

It was a night of disappointment and set the stage for an interesting figure skating competition at these Olympics. Interesting in terms of major upsets and some very dicey figure skating judging in the women and ice dancing categories, which is nothing new to the figure skating. Sochi 2014 Figure Skating was no different from past Olympics.

Russian and 2006 Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko withdrew before the short program which saw Russians trying to ditch their tickets. I already had a ticket but was offered tickets numerous times from my cruise ship to outside the venue.

Olympic Flame in Sochi

Olympic Flame in Sochi

Patrick is one of the greatest male skaters in history. Three straight world championships set him up for the Olympics: he could be the first Canadian man to win an Olympic figure skating gold. Canada has churned out some of the greatest male figure skaters in history: from two-time Olympic Silver Medalist Brian Orser to four-time World Champion Kurt Browning to two-time Olympic Silver Medalist Elvis Stojko. Canadian men have been the first to land the triple axel, the quad, the quad in combination…..it is a great history! However, none have won Olympic gold.

There has been many silver medals but it appeared Chan was one step away from making history. After his biggest competitor, Japan’s Hanyu, fell twice in his program, the stage was set for Patrick Chan to grab the gold medal. He started strongly with the quad but over-rotated the triple axel, his nemesis jump. He continued to make little mistakes throughout his program which was not enough for gold. He lost by half a point which is very close considering he was down by five after the short program.

Patrick Chan flower ceremony in Sochi 2014

Patrick Chan flower ceremony in Sochi 2014

Chan left Sochi with two silver medals; the other silver from the new team competition. He joined Orser, who was Hanyu’s coach in Sochi and who lost the gold medal in 1984 because of compulsory figures, that aren’t used anymore, when he won the short and long program (robbery in other words), and Stojko (another robbery in 1994 when the judges didn’t like his non-classical style) in the double silver category. It is still an accomplishment but you wish he would have seized the moment: it was set up for him. Will he return in 2018? No one knows yet.

Are you a fan of figure skating? What was your favourite Olympic moment?

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Tips for Visiting the Roman Colosseum

Apr 20

Tips for Visiting the Roman Colosseum

The Roman Colosseum, or also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, is the largest amphitheatre in the Roman world. It stands nearly 50 metres and is as impressive in person as it is in photographs. It could hold 50,000 people. It made my top 10 attractions in Rome and it should be on everyone’s travel bucket list if you haven’t seen it yet.

The Flavian Amphitheatre started construction under Emperor Vespasian (of the Flavius family) in 72 AD and completed by Titus a decade later. It was built on the site of Nero’s Palace and the aim was to dissociate himself from the tyrant and to gain popularity by staging events such as gladiator battles and the massacre of animals.

Roman Colosseum

Roman Colosseum

The Roman Colosseum remained in use for 450 years but sustained damage in a lightning fire in 217 AD and an earthquake in 443 AD. Not long after, it ceased to be used for gladiator battles or animal hunts, possibly due to the rise of Christianity. The amphitheater soon was used for a multitude of things: a small church, a cemetery, housing, workshops and a castle during the next few centuries. In 1349, another earthquake caused great damage to the Roman Colosseum causing the outer south side to collapse. Stone and marble were pillaged from the Roman Colosseum for centuries and after the earthquake, much of it was used to build churches and other buildings in Rome. Even the bronze clamps were hacked out of the walls, leaving holes that you can still see today.

Avoid the Lines

There are several ways to avoid waiting in a LONG line. First, buy a guided tour so you can skip the lines and you’ll get extra information from your tour guide; I’ve always used Viator whenever I buy a skip the line tour.

Second, buy your ticket in advance from Palatine Hill located in Via San Gregorio No. 30 and Piazza Santa Maria Nova No. 53 (200 metres from the Colosseum). You will gain entrance to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum as well. This joint ticket is absolutely the way to go if you do not select a tour. You may also buy a ticket near the Colosseum entrance but that line will always be long. Skip it and get it in advance or via Palatine Hill.

Third, you can use your Roma Pass to visit the Roman Colosseum along with many other sites.

Fourth, buy your ticket online if the other three options are not appealing.

Colosseum, Rome, Italy

Colosseum, Rome, Italy – right around the corner from my hotel

Arrive before 8:30 am

The Colosseum opens its doors at 8:30 am so be in line a good ten minutes early and you will zoom through the queue. If you wish to visit Palatine Hill first, sure that works as well but I would recommend visiting the Colosseum first as it will get crazy busy as the day goes by. You will get some great pictures with little or no other tourists wrecking your photos. 🙂

Return at Night

As you can see from my above photo, the beauty of the Roman Colosseum must be seen at night. If nothing else, you must at least visit the Colosseum at night.

Metro

I would recommend staying near the Colosseum or the historic centre of Rome. It is a fantastic place; I was lucky enough to get a room in a small B&B around the corner from the Colosseum. There is nothing better than walking two minutes to see the Colosseum multiple times a day.

Rome’s metro system is quite good; you can walk from Termini station which takes 15 minutes (go straight down Cavour) or hop on the Line B and get off at Colosseo station which is right outside the colossal Roman Colosseum.

Inside the Roman Colosseum

Inside the Roman Colosseum

Other Information

Price for entry is 12 euros for entry to the Roman Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum. I would recommend getting the Roma Pass if you plan to be in Rome for a few days; it covers many museums and other sites.  You get free admission to your first two archeological sites (so pick the most expensive) or one if you select the 48 hour pass; free admission to many museums; free use of the metro system; and discounts on numerous other exhibitions.

Restoration has finally started on the Colosseum so be prepared to see scaffolding. The Colosseum will still be open (they say 85% will be open and viewable). Work is expected to take over two years (it started in October 2013 so early 2015 maybe).

Keep an eye on your wallet in this area: lots of tourists plus many street vendors trying to sell crap. They have a hard time taking NO for an answer. Be prepared to be annoyed; be firm and say no. They may still not leave you alone so keep walking and DO NOT STOP!

Wear good footwear; the entire area is very ancient and many of the paths inside and out are uneven.

Water – drinks lots of water. Bring a bottle with you if you are touring the area during the hot summer months. It gets super hot in Rome! I visited in October and it was still blistering! Bring your own bottle to save money: lots of places to fill it up.

So have you been to the Roman Colosseum or are you planning to go soon?

You might also be interested in:

Ancient Pompeii

Surviving Overseas Flights

Top 10 Rome Attractions

Greece Travel Tips

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Tips for Visiting Versailles

Apr 15

Tips for Visiting Versailles (Chateau du Versailles)

If you happen to visit Paris, do not forget about visiting Versailles. The Palace and its gardens are spectacular and cannot be ignored. The Chateau was the home of the Kings and Queens of France from Louis XIV in 1662 to the French Revolution and Louis XVI in 1789. Louis XIII loved the area so much that he had a hunting cabin built and his successor turned the cabin into a Palace and every King thereafter would add to it.

Palace of Versailles

Palace of Versailles via Wikipedia

1. The easiest way to visit Versailles – book your ticket online, print it off and beat the long queue to purchase at the Palace. Of course you will still have to wait in line to enter and that line can get quite long especially during the summer months. You may book a skip the line tour – yes you skip the line and go straight to the front. Or you may wish to visit in the spring or fall. Unfortunately I was in London (Top 10 London Sights) for the Olympics and popped over to Paris (Things to do in Paris) to visit so I could only visit during the summer.

2. If you take a tour, they will provide transportation. Otherwise, you will take the train (C train) from Paris to Versailles-Rive Gauche station which takes under an hour. It is a short walk from the train station to the Palace of Versailles.

Hall of Mirrors, Palace of Versailles

Hall of Mirrors, Palace of Versailles via Wikipedia

3. Arrive at Versailles as soon as it opens at 9 am (or get in the queue before 9 am). The crowds are long almost any time of day but best if you can arrive first thing; otherwise wait until mid-afternoon, or visit the gardens first. Once again, the other option is a skip the line tour. You can a full or half day tour; include the gardens or a view of the fountain at night. There are many options through Viator. Or use a Paris museum pass to help cut the cost.

See the picture above of the Hall of Mirrors? Add five hundred people to it and you’ll understand my experience of visiting Versailles. I LOVED it but I also HATED it. You will encounter so many other tourists who won’t move their ass out-of-the-way. They linger and take up space. You will be tempted to freak out. Take a deep breath and relax. Enjoy the beauty and ignore the idiots surrounding you. They are probably thinking the same about you. Of course they are wrong. 🙂

Visiting Versailles in 2011

Visiting Versailles in 2011 – hot and busy day in July

4. Allow enough time for the gardens; they are extensive. I was only there for half a day so I would love to go back and spend more time wandering through the gardens. Also remember to visit the Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s estate if you have time. You can take a mini-train but it does not run often.

Palace of Versailles' Gardens

Palace of Versailles’ Gardens

Other tips for visiting Versailles:

  1. Versailles is closed on Monday
  2. Buy the passport which covers everything at Versailles including the gardens, Marie Antoinette’s hamlet and Trianon Palaces: 18 euros
  3. Free admission for the following: visitors under 18; European Union residents under 26; teachers in French schools (proof required); disabled people and person accompanying them; French job seekers (upon proof). Here is the complete list!
  4. Click here for information on entry to the gardens; it is occasionally free depending on time of year and if there are no musical events
  5. Entry is free on the first Sunday of every month from November to March
  6. Arrive at 9 am or wait until later in the day (10-3 is highest volume especially on weekends)
  7. Hours: 9:00 am to 5:30 pm (6:30 pm in high season) for the Palace of Versailles. Trianon and Hamlet are noon to 5:30 (6:30 high); French Gardens are 8:00 am to 6:00 pm (8:30 pm high); park is open 8:00 am to 6:00 pm (7:00 am to 8:30 high season)
  8. Lastly, give yourself LOTS of time to wander through the Palace of Versailles. Visiting Versailles requires patience as you wander through the crowds. The apartments within the Palace are worth the wait.

Have you visited Versailles yet?

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Speed Demons: Alpine Skiing Sochi 2014

Apr 08

Speed Demons: Alpine Skiing Sochi 2014

I could not snag a ticket to any of the alpine events in Vancouver 2010 so I made sure to make getting a ticket (details on my Planning your Olympic adventure article) a priority (after hockey of course) for Alpine Skiing Sochi 2014. I was lucky enough to get tickets for both the Men’s Downhill and Super G races. Canada had not medaled in alpine skiing in twenty years; we also had a couple contenders for the podium so the races would be more exciting.

Men's Downhill (and later the men's Super G) on the left, Alpine Skiing Sochi 2014

Men’s Downhill (and later the men’s Super G) on the left, Alpine Skiing Sochi 2014

First I started the LONG trek from my cruise ship hotel (more on that another day). I had to take a shuttle from the port to the train station, train up to Krasnaya Polyana, bus further up the mountain, a looong ride on a scary gondola, and finally a few stairs (just 200-300) to get to my seat. The process took about two and a half hours; yes I was exhausted by the time I sat in my seat. Badly done Sochi!!

Gondola ride, Krasnaya Polyana, Alpine Skiing Sochi 2014

Gondola ride, Krasnaya Polyana, Alpine Skiing Sochi 2014

I made it up the mountain and had a great time. For the Men’s Downhill, I wore all my winter gear. Coat, boots, mitts, scarf – it was way too warm for any winter gear as you can see below. I was boiling! I rectified that for the Super G. The weather was heating up and for the Men’s Super G, so were our Canadian men! Alpine Skiing Sochi 2014 – bring it on!!

Men's Downhill, Krasnaya Polyana, Sochi 2014

Men’s Downhill, Krasnaya Polyana, Sochi 201

The Men’s Downhill was a good race; although many of the contenders did not medal including our Canadian Erik Guay. He won races leading up to and the week after Sochi 2014. However, I had fun sitting near a whole bunch of Canadians and we cheered loudly for everyone! Austrian Matthias Mayer won, surprisingly, with Christof Innerhofer of Italy and Kjetil Jansrud of Norway in silver and bronze respectively.

Men's downhill flower ceremony, Sochi 2014

Men’s downhill flower ceremony, Sochi 2014

The Men’s Super G turned out to be the most exciting race. I thought it would be the Men’s Downhill and I almost did not buy a ticket for the Super G.

Once again I make the LONG trek up the mountain. This time, I had something to cheer for…..Jan Hudec! Our first alpine medalist in TWENTY YEARS! Jan tied for bronze with Bode Miller of the US. It was an exciting race; Hudec and Miller were in silver for a short spell but hung on for bronze!

Hudec is a story of perseverance: leaving his native (then) Czechoslovakia thirty years ago secretly in a boat his father put together himself; seven knee surgeries; and back issues that sidelined him a month before the Olympics. The lucky loonie wins again! Jan Hudec hid a loonie at the finish line

While nothing can ever really top Olympic hockey gold, this sure comes a VERY close second. Too bad they did not hand out the medals right there; I could not go to the Olympic park when they did as I had another event. I only have a few pictures of the men’s super G; I was WAY too busy cheering and screaming. I screamed myself hoarse. 🙂

Men's Super G flowers, Sochi 2014

Men’s Super G medalists, Sochi 2014 – Weibrecht, Jansrud, HUDEC and Miller (left to right)

Great moment for Canada at the Olympics by a great Canadian! I’m glad I was there to cheer for Hudec and the entire Canadian Cowboys! Nicely done!

Have you been to an Olympic games? What was your favourite moment?

You might also be interested in:

Sochi Olympic 2014 Opening Ceremony

Men’s Sochi Olympic Figure Skating Long Program

Men’s Hockey Gold Vancouver 2010 Olympics

 

 

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Planning Your Olympic Adventure

Apr 06

Olympic Adventure: a trip of a lifetime to Russian Olympics in Sochi! If you ever get a chance to attend an Olympic games, I thoroughly recommend that you make it happen. It will be the best time of your life. You might ask yourself: how do I attend the Olympics as a spectator? It is a lot of work and yes it will take months and maybe even years to plan. However, the end result is one of the most rewarding experiences of your life: pure joy along with heartache and a chance to cheer for your country while you meet great people from around the world.

Planning Your Olympic Adventure

Olympic Rings, Olympic Park, Sochi, Russia

Olympic Adventure – Olympics Rings, Sochi 2014

1. Tickets

I recommend purchasing tickets before you make any other plans such as flights and hotels when planning your Olympic adventure. Your nationality or country of residence will determine the next step. For the most recent games in Sochi, Russia, Russians and anyone residing in Russia could purchase tickets through their main website, sochi2014.com. The remainder of the world had to go through an official ticket agency or reseller: each country was assigned to one. Canada, United States and several other countries were under http://cosport.com/.

UPDATE: CoSport remains the ticket re-seller for many nations including the United States. Canada, however, has opted to make a change and now tickets for the Olympics are available through ATPI Sports Events. They are all live sales, no ticket request submissions and then an allocation later. It is live and chaotic. However, I appear to have some luck and have secured tickets to both hockey gold medal games again along with some figure skating for men/pairs/dance, snowboard, curling, speedskating, skiing, and so on. I am still trying to get the men’s big air or men’s curling gold tix. Those are the two remaining tickets I am trying to secure.

I purchased my Olympic tickets for Vancouver through their main website (vancouver2010.com) while purchasing tickets for London and Sochi via CoSport. My guess is Rio and Pyeongchang will follow suit with CoSport but nothing has been announced yet. Keep an eye on the Olympic websites for each host nation.

In both cases, you will submit your ticket request. The process has differed slightly for each Olympic games so I will focus on Sochi, my most recent Olympic experience. I submitted a ticket request to CoSport. I was not charged immediately. The first step was an ‘expression of interest’ where I listed which events I wanted, how many tickets and which price category. A month or two later, I received word on which tickets were available and I was able to purchase at that time; I could change my mind during the checkout process such as delete tickets I did not want anymore. I could not add to my request or change the price category level.

You don’t get just one shot at it either. Tickets are released numerous times during the year. I learned this the hard way with the Vancouver Olympics: I thought there was ONE opportunity so I booked my flights and hotels around my original ticket allocation. Remember, there are MANY opportunities to buy tickets: either others declined to purchase, sponsors have returned tickets, etc.

I have bought tickets for some very big events: men and women’s hockey gold medal games in both Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 (the marquee event of the Winter games); men and women’s curling gold medal games in Vancouver and Sochi; men’s downhill in Sochi; Sochi Opening Ceremony; men’s 200 m in London; Vancouver Closing Ceremony. How did I get that lucky?

It is not luck. You must check the websites constantly for either new tickets or information on when more tickets will be released. Be vigilant.

One of the tricks that worked for me was creating multiple accounts for the original ticket allocation: I added an account for my mom and one for my dad. I added big-ticket events to their request as well as to my own. Maybe they’d want to come to the games with me? Or maybe they can give me their tickets? I hit the men’s hockey gold both times using this method (my mom is very lucky).

If you did not get tickets in the original allocation or even in the subsequent releases, do not worry. There are other opportunities. Both Vancouver and Sochi had a ticket reselling website (London did not) so you could sell and buy tickets officially; I liked this since I knew the tickets were legitimate. I would be very apprehensive of buying through a non-official source.

Finally, if you want to take the risk, you can try scalpers. Each Olympics will have different rules according to their games and country. Russia had scalpers hanging out right in front of the venues or just other people wanting to sell tickets. I never bought tickets that way but I almost did a couple of times; I declined due to time constraints on my schedule.

So keep an eye on the main website for the Olympics you wish to attend and sign up for any newsletters.  Rio 2016 and Pyeongchang 2018 are the next Summer and Winter Olympics.

For the last three Olympics, tickets went on sale or the process started about 14-18 months before the event but keep a close eye on their websites. Russia was very slow to post information while London and Vancouver had a great deal of information on their websites years before their games started.

Sochi 2014 Olympic Ticket for Olympic Adventure

Sochi 2014 Tickets – First Step in your Olympic Adventure

2. Hotel and 3. Flight

I normally book my hotel and flight around the same time or I’m researching them at the same time when planning my Olympic adventure. For Vancouver and London, this went smoothly and there were plenty of hotels to book in both locations. I had no issues with both cities; I booked my hotel about a year out and my flight about six to eight months from the Olympics. Russia was very different: they had hotel issues and it was difficult to book anything. I booked about six months to go and that made me nervous.

My policy for booking a hotel is always location, especially during an Olympics. You want to be near the metro or public transportation so you aren’t spending extra time walking especially if it is late at night. You will need to save your energy: usually the venues are spread-out and you will walk your ass off (yes London and Sochi).

Flights are usually the easiest to book: it’ll depend on your hotel booking or the dates you wish to attend. It will depend on price, how many stops, and whether you are going anywhere else as I did when I went to London (D-Day Beaches in Normandy, France) and Sochi. Here is a link to my article on finding cheap flights: that applies to any flight booking.

Be prepared to pay more for flights and hotels during an Olympics. You can stay in hostels, bed and breakfast or couch-surfing to save money. Prices increase during the Olympics; my guess is 25-40%. I prefer staying in hotels and staying in a good location so I book early. Booking flights later is probably fine; I had issues with my Russian trip as flights were limited in/out of Russia on the prepared days/times so always keep that in mind.

Update: It has been a bit tougher trying to find accommodation for PyeongChang. I am in a couple facebook groups where people are posting tips. However, there is plenty of time so I am not worried. Check with TripAdvisor for tips in the travel forum section. That is how I discovered the cruise ships moored in the port for the Sochi Olympics. 

4. Visas

Do you need a visa? Of course this will depend on your country of residence but make sure to check into this and how long it will take. For Sochi 2014, I submitted my Russian visa application in November just to give myself extra time before flying to Russia on January 31st.  Canadians and Americans need a visa for Brazil but do not need one for South Korea.

5. Immunizations

Check with your local health provider to see if you need to update any of your shots or need new ones. I updated some of mine before Russia and got the Hep A/B combo shot just in case. Your travel health clinic can tell you which ones you need. Maybe you also want to bring along something for traveller’s diarrhea so your Olympic adventure doesn’t turn into a disaster.

6. The Language

I always recommend learning the language of the country you are visiting. While you may not be able to learn all of it, you should at the very least learn a handful of phrases such as asking for directions, ordering food, please and thank you. The locals will treat you better if you know just a few phrases. But go further than that; learn more than just thank you. It is rewarding to learn a new language.

7. Insurance

Don’t forget to purchase medical insurance if you do not have it already. I am lucky that I have it through my work and it covers any trips I take around the world. Also you will need trip insurance: make sure it includes cancellation or interruption, baggage lost, flight accident, or whatever you wish to include. I usually get one that covers everything since the price is usually reasonable. Check whether it includes catastrophic events and all fine print. These are big and expensive trips: do not live on the edge.

These are the top things you have to keep in mind when planning a trip to an Olympic games; your Olympic adventure will be filled with excitement if you take care of everything before you go. Other things may pop up so that’s why I have recommended that you pay close attention to the Olympic host city website and sign up for those newsletters. Each Olympic procedure may differ from the previous one so keep an eye on it.

Vancouver 2010 Olympics - Gold for Men's Hockey

Vancouver 2010 Olympics – Gold for Men’s Hockey

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