Winter Olympics - Italy

Trip Start Jun 30, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

We headed off to Northwest Italy for a week of Olympic viewing and skiing. Our friends Glen and Laura from Chicago, as well as Glen's sister Sandy from Miami, had rented a place in Bardonecchia in the Italian Alps. Glen and Sandy speak fluent Italian, while Laura can get by, meaning that Meghan and I were able to go along for the ride with the language (a big benefit in Italy !!!!). Here's a breakdown of our week:

Friday: Thanks to the opening ceremonies the Torino airport was closed for 2 hours, meaning our flight landed at 11:30pm. The last train to Bardonecchia was 12:40, so we knew we would be tight on time. Thanks to a 20-minute wait for our luggage even a 70mph cab ride through the streets of Torino couldn't help us from missing the train by 5 minutes. Thanks to that we spend the next 5 hours in the Torino train station.

Saturday: After finally arriving in Bardonecchia at 7am Glen was nice enough to drag himself out of bed to let us in. We crashed for a few hours and then headed out to the Women's Moguls in Sauce d'Oulx, the next town over from Bardonecchia. Thus began our adventures with the Olympic transportation system. We caught a free train to the next town (Oulx) which was the hub for the Alpine bus system (GOOD) We then wandered about trying to find the bus (BAD). The 41,000 volunteers, as fashionable as they looked in their nice new uniforms, which we later found out they had all been individually measured for, were not the most helpful. After finally arriving we watched the preliminary runs in the moguls. The skiing was fantastic, the weather even better. It was sunny and just above freezing. After the preliminaries we headed into town for the 3 hour break. We found a great little village restaurant and hunkered down for a few hours. The finals were held at night under the lights, which was fantastic. The event had a definite energy with fans from everywhere. A Canadian eventually won, although she was a bit depressed when they announced she was from the US in the flower ceremony. After a LOOOOONG wait for the bus back we had a midnight "snack" of pasta at the apartment.

Sunday: Glen, Laura and Sandy had tickets to the downhill in Sestriere while Meghan and I did not. We all headed over to Sestriere, meeting a few ex-US Olympic skiers "working" for NBC on the way, and Meghan and I sat in the sun for a few beers while everyone else watched the race. After a surprise win by a Frenchman, we piled onto a ski lift to ride back up to the top of the mountain. Glen was determined to see the ski jumping, so we hopped a bus to Pragelato and were able to find tickets without much problem. The event was wild - skiers throwing themselves off the hill into the pitch black night. The fans were from just a few countries - Russia, Poland, Czech, Finland, Norway - and were enthusiastic the entire time. The trip home was an adventure. Following the event there were no buses in sight to pick anyone up, and the volunteers had disappeared into the thin night. One bus showed up, and there was a mad rush to get aboard. We managed to scramble aboard, although Glen was punched in the head by a crazy man as he became the last person to get on the bus. It was about as close to a riot as I've ever seen. Once again a midnight dinner followed at home.

Monday: Monday was our Bardonecchia day, which was a relief. We watched the Women's Snowboard Half Pipe on the other side of town. It was another fantastic day - sunny and warm enough to go without heavy coats. The snowboarding crowd was odd - mostly under 25s sporting very bad clothes. There were lots of phrases thrown about by the announcers that made us feel very old. The Americans went 1,2 & 4, which was great. Monday night we found a great restaurant in town on the recommendation of one of the local bar owners (thanks again to Glen's fluent Italian !!!!). A little Grappa finished off a long night.

Tuesday: Meghan and I were ticketless again, while everyone else had tickets to the women's luge. We all headed over to Cesana Pariol and took a gondola up the mountain. I think our 3 friends tripled the crowd at the luge. Meghan and I continued up the mountain and just missed the end of the biathlon, while not missing the crowds. We waited in line to take the gondola down with a few thousand drunk Russians, Germans and Scandanavians. Tuesday night at dinner we ran into the Women's Snowboard Bronze Medalist we had seen the day before. She was from Norway, and Glen translated the local fans Italian into English. Quite an international crowd. At dinner we also ran into several family members of one of the US lugers - Erin Hamlin. She had finished a surprising 12th and had 30 family members over to watch. Since Glen used his Italian to guide her 2 aunts through dinner they demanded that we go out with them. We entered a bar with 20+ of her relatives in various stages of rowdiness. Several Croatian men arrived to make their moves on the ladies of the group, at which time we figured it was time to get out while it was safe. Hopefully the Hamlins survived and aren't kidnapped in Zagreb !!!

Wednesday: Wednesday was our day in Torino. We all had tickets to short-track speed skating Wednesday night in the city. We took the train into town in the morning and set out to see the city. We saw the church were the shroud of Turin is kept, although it is only brought out every 25 years. The highlight of the city was having Glen and Sandy's Cousin Franco meet us in town. Franco took us to a few sights in the city, and then we drove straight up a nearby mountain to the Superga monastery. Situated on the top of a mountain and built to celebrate a victory over the French it is a massive structure that now serves as a hotel. Unfortunately it was overcast so we did not get to take advantage of the great view. After dinner we headed over to the skating area. The sport is wild - very fast with very violent crashes. The men's relay event was utter chaos, with 16 skaters on the ice at all times flying around in circles.

Thursday: Glen, Laura and Sandy headed off to Milan to meet our friends Amir and Kerri who were arriving Thursday afternoon. They were off to Florence and Rome before returning to Bardonecchia on the 22nd for the rest of the Olympics. Meghan and I had decided to ski since most of the Bardonecchia runs were open. The slopes were not very crowded, and we could hear the crowd at the snowboard area a few hundred meters away on the portion of the area that was closed off. The skiing wasn't bad, and the lunch at one of the restaurants on the slopes was some of the best pasta you'll have. My legs reminded me that I need to spend more time in the gym !!!

Friday: Friday we awoke to quite a snowstorm. It had snowed a fair amount overnight and continued until about noon, so we had some fresh powder on the slopes. It was another good day of skiing, with Meghan managing not to laugh as this native Midwesterner flailed down the slopes.

Saturday: Meghan and I headed into Milan from Bardonecchia as we were leaving from there Sunday morning. It was miserable rainy weather when we arrived, so our prospects weren't great. It ended up clearing up and we did a bit of touring. We saw the Duomo, which is the 4th largest church in the world, but did not see the Last Supper as reservations are necessary. We did some window shopping in Milan, which is absolutely out of control. The original Prada store is there, and any other place you could dream up to separate yourself from all of your money and more. Meghan tried on a great suede shirt that ended up being a cool 1000 Eur. So we got 2. We found a fantastic local spot for dinner for our last large Italian meal to complete our 8 days of gorging.

Sunday: Back to Amsterdam and start working off that pasta, cheese and wine !!!!

It was a fantastic trip, made all the better with good friends. Despite the logistical chaos at times the games were great, and it was inspiring to see people from all over the world supporting their countrymen.

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