01 March 2006

Ahhh, Torino... The city that hides

Warning: This is long.

Gumble, Schmumble. He's probably just upset that he wasn't given the okay to report live from there. There goes HBO keeping a brother(?) down. But had he actually gone, he'd have probably had an easier time of it than many of the people who actually went.

Let me preface all this by saying the trip was well worth it. The events were exciting to watch, and the city is beautiful. It would have been better snow-covered, but hey, we were warned that Torino weather was closer to Athens, GA in the winter than to Athens, Ohio. (Naturally, it did snow after we left for Munich, which ironically had just dried out from a massive snow the week prior. We were not amused.) The city is very European. I had stopped calling these cities beautiful because after so many "look at this statue; look at that relief" comments in every major city, you realize these people and their town leaders actually care about historic preservation and city beautification. Beautiful structures there are very relative. The Duomo is truly awe-inspiring beauty. The Milano Centrale looks like Italy. But drop that train station in the middle of Athens, Georgia and it's the best thing for hundreds of miles.

But this is supposed to be about experiences at the Olympics. I'll discuss four items: Getting tickets, hotel arrangements, Torino itself, and the actual events.

Ticketing
What a racket! It's not that the prices are overboard, giving what you are paying for. The problem is if you lived outside Europe, you MUST go through a secondary buyer, in the case of the US -- CoSport. You could not buy direct from Torino Olympics organizers or through their Web site. Naturally, you see an automatic 10-25% spike in the price. And if you bought late and had to go to "will call", that place, naturally, wasn't near the regular ticketing office. I'll get to that later. But obviously, ordering tickets early to avoid the "will call" option didn't help everyone.

Hotels
You can expect in a city with 1 million people over 50-ish square miles of space that there may be problems getting accommodation close to the actual city. I was under the impression that the IOC booked every hotel for staff, organizers, VIPs, and naturally, the athletes. While later finding this not necessarily true, to book in Torino would equal shelling out bookoos of cash. Most people had to find hotels outside the city, largely in Nice (France) or Milano (Italy). We talked with two folks who found a small b-n-b....that was only a 30-minute bus ride from the station. They got there, at night. Buses in that area didn't run at night. Lovely. Both Nice and Milano also were about a 2 hour train ride (or more) from Turin. These people ran into the same problem we had. Note Message 3 in particular: Last train to Milan was 2350 (actually, it was earlier); first train the following morning was at 0450. Our event ended well after 2300... All-nighter... Woohoo!

Understand, this isn't a crabfest of nasty, but it was something else we had to plan for. And 5 hours eaten up by traveling to and fro doesn't get more exciting with the passing days. Just sayin'... Btw, we stay at the Brunelleschi and would recommend it, especially that it was 2 blocks from the Duomo.

Torino, the city
The city of Torino itself was lovely. In the brisk air, walking the NYC-sized blocks was wonderful. The main walkway had shops along, with anything you really needed: food, souvenirs, cafe, souvenirs, deli, more souvenirs, and did I mention eateries? Side streets provided relief from the crowds and had smaller churches with equal grandeur as their horizon-encompassing counterparts.

But where are the events? How do I get there? And where the heck is that ticket office?

Italians believe in architecture and glorious artwork, but signs and direction? Forget about it! After several conversations with various people in various situations, we finally dubbed these the "Hidden Olympics." My guess is the IOC decided they wanted the spectators to be part of the action by making the venues more like a scavenger hunt.

We were going to Short Track, and we're tagging along with a couple of women from California, one of which speaks Italian. She asks at a venue with a monstrous banner of a speed skater, if this is the place for Short Track. She was told no, and that was about all that they could help with. "We don't know where you're supposed to be, but it's surely not here." Hmm...

Yes, we did make it to all events, but not with much help from those red-vested Olympic volunteers. Oh, well. It added to the excitement, I guess. Interesting, with as many people we spoke to who had been to multiple Olympics, most stated these Olympics were by far the worst in terms of communicating with the spectators and the organization in general. Shockingly, none of the media have written on this problem. Maybe because from their in-city hotel with a media pass and express travel, they didn't have the same experiences as us proles.

But getting lost never was so pleasing to the eyes.

The events
Our experiences were limited to only those in Torino. I don't know how these differ from the Alpine locations or where curling was. That curling wasn't in Torino is just stupid. They would have had sold more "day of" tickets had they been. People will buy a $35 curling ticket just for the novelty of it. But no, they hold them about an hour south of Torino in Pinerolo with no other events nearby! Brilliant! And no, we didn't buy curling tickets, though we did want to.

Once you passed the gates, the events themselves were exciting. Crowd atmosphere, even at less important games, was electric. Yes, the venues were small. Yes, sound did not travel well, even if you were just feet away from someone. But if you thought Short Track (especially relay) was crazy on TV, try watching live. Fast. Amazing. "Roller derby on ice" as the wife called it. And watching USA hockey victorious becomes more memorable when it ended up being the only winning skid on the USA slate. However, I have to say a disdain for Canadians started building during this trip. This article sums up their pettiness. Strangely enough, I thought the Bulgarian should have won as her skate crossed before the Korean's, as evidenced on the photo I had taken. Oh well. By the way, the Canadians lost their appeal.

All the travel, all the confusion, the sleepless night and snowless days. It was all worth it.

So to Mr. Gumble, you can have your NBA, which I can only assume you would say resembled a weekend at the now-defunct Atlanta Freaknik. You can have your NCAA college football with its subjective polls and math-geeks-only BCS. And I'll block out all logic when people say they really care about College BB before March. But the Winter Olympics, even with its faults, are a truly unique experience exactly for the reason you bash it, because these are sports we would not watch otherwise. Novelty gets people to buy and see the strangest things, and the Olympics may actually get, oh I don't know, a black kid to play hockey or even luge. Maybe then you'd watch?

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