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DING-A-LING, SMS: “Right now the feature with you is being broadcast on TV” A few seconds later SMS messages streamed in from back home in Sweden.
Some of my best travels have been to Olympic Games, and the trip to Sochi in Russia was no exception. I hadn’t planned going there, but after visiting their exhibition in Hyde Park during the Summer Games in London I changed my mind. There I realized that Russia was going to arrange very good games so there was nothing to do but start planning the trip. The hardest part was getting visa, and one month before the departure I was on the point of giving it up, but finally things sorted themselves out. The Swedish TV company that had the broadcasting rights for the games made a visit in my home and filmed a feature with me as a travelling supporter. What an honour to act as a representative of the fans travelling round to cheer on the athletes :)
The Winter Olympics in Sochi was split up in two areas. Down along the coast was the Olympic Park where the indoor sports had their arenas, and up in the mountains the ski races and and the bob-sleigh runs were held. We supporters went from one area to the other by train. It was a 55-minute ride so there was no problem watching events in both areas the same day.
Olympic Park down by the sea.
The weather was completely unbelievable, dressed in a T-shirt I stood sweating in spite of being high up in the mountains. I had great expectations before leaving home and I predicted 13 medals for Sweden. A friend of mine wondered what kind of mushrooms I had smoked being so positive, but it turned out I had been on the right track, for Sweden won as many as 15 medals, and nine of them I watched live.
The weather was fantastic during the Winter Olympics.
I had booked accommodation on board a cruise liner anchored just off the Olympic Park. A perfect location near the train station and close to the entrance of the park. When I arrived around midnight and intended to check in, my cabin was obviously already occupied by someone else so I had to wait for two hours before they made the conclusion that I would be offered a cabin on board the other cruiser in the harbour. While waiting I was continuously treated to vodka, maybe a way to make me feel more comfortable. It all ended with my having to change ships, and to pour balm into my wounds I was offered 300 Euros in compensation plus free mealtime drinks during the whole stay, certainly a favourable deal!
On the first day of the competitions I encountered lots of palm trees outside the train station. The coastal city offered brilliant weather and I felt a bit strange walking around dressed in a T-shirt among palm trees in the Olympic Winter Games. The train ride brought me to the Mountain Station of Krasnaya Polyana where I entered a gondola lift that took me to the Psekhako Ridge. From there one has a magnificent view of the valley, and I continued to the Cross-country Skiing Station of Laura in a chair lift. This was a trip I made every day during my stay in Sochi, so pretty soon I learned what time was best for travelling to avoid queuing.
The first race I watched was the men’s 15 km Cross-country Skiing, and it was an immediate Swedish success, Silver and Bronze Medals to the blue and yellow skiers.
The Laura Biathlon & Ski Complex.
In the evening I went to the Olympic Park to watch the Medals being awarded and naturally I had goose bumps when I arrived at the Medals Plaza, surrounded by all grand arenas and the Olympic Flame. My feelings were not worsened by watching two Swedish flags being raised in the Medal Ceremony.
The Olympic Flame at the Medals Plaza.
In addition to the arenas in the park there were many expos where the biggest sponsors made their appearance. As a matter of fact there were many palm trees, too ;) In the park there were also many TV Company Studios. One evening I was invited to the Swedish TV company, so I sat for a while in the studio together with the presenters who commentated on ice-hockey and later I sat in their dressing room watching ice-hockey in the company of several other presenters. Events are fun ;)
At the Swedish TV-studio.
In the Ice Cube Curling Center I watched the Women’s Final between Canada and Sweden. My hopes were to see Sweden win its third Olympic Gold Medal in a row, but Canada was much too competent that day. The golden tears rolled down the cheeks of the girls during their beautiful National Anthem. That was not the last time during my visit that I was a witness of Canadian golden tears ….
During the Olympic Games in Vancouver in 2010 I stayed for a week with the Thompson family in Whistler. Their daughter Marielle has in the last couple of years qualified for the World Elite in Ski Cross and some time before the games in Sochi her parents and myself arranged that we would meet during the Olympics and root for Marielle. I had certainly looked forward to meeting the family again and we were all cheerful when Pam and Rod came along. Rod’s brother Paddy was also there and together we could stand near the finish line and watch Marielle displaying brilliant form down the course. The Swedish girls too, performed well. Sandra Näslund won the Small Final and ended in total in a fifth place. Anna Holmlund, together with Marielle, qualified for the Big Final. Before the final Marielle had time to visit us at the end of the course and she didn’t seem at all nervous, I think we rooters were worse off.
In Ski Cross a group of four skiers start simultaneously and in the final Marielle instantly caught hold of the lead and her Canadian team mate Kelsey Serwa had a safe second place while Anna Holmlund was fourth. We shouted at the top of our voices as the skiers approached the last jump before the end of the course and joy knew no limits when Marielle crossed the finish line as a Gold Medal winner. Kelsey seized the Silver Medal and Anna Holmlund who had fought so long with her injuries achieved a great exploit by taking the Bronze Medal. Me, Pam and Rod embraced each other and me myself couldn’t hold back my tears.
In the evening we arrived at the Medals Plaza in the Olympic Park to honour Marielle, Kelsey and Anna. We were given VIP tickets for the prize ceremony so we stood in a small enclosure well in front of the stage with thousands of other fans behind us. It was such an exciting moment to watch Marielle’s proud parents during the Medal Ceremony and the National Anthem. After the ceremony me and Rod managed to get backstage where naturally only accredited people were allowed. We found the girls celebrating their medals and Marielle gave her victory bouquet to me, a fine souvenir from the Olympic Games :) Moments later we celebrated the medals at Canada House ending in an exciting night. Just imagine spending such a day in the company of good friends! One of my finest Olympic experiences!
I celebrated Marielle Thompson’s gold medal at Canada House.
Another good day had a somewhat unexpected start at breakfast in the company of the Swedish singer-songwriter Björn Skifs. After all he had a #1 hit on Billboard Hot 100 in 1974 with a cover of Hooked on a Feeling, nothing, in fact, that I can outdo, but still he was interested in learning about my Olympic Games travels while at the same time telling me his plans for the near future. My plans for that day was to watch Sweden defend its Olympic Gold Medal in men’s relay cross-country skiing. In Vancouver me and my pal Rickard had been on the stands cheering for a Swedish gold medal, and now I wanted to relive that moment. Inside the Laura skiing station I took my seat near the Norwegian girls Ane, Anette and Helga. Sweden’s national radio broadcaster approached and made a live interview, so many friends back home in Sweden got into contact with me when they heard the spot on the air.
DING-A-LING, SMS: “Right now the feature with you is being broadcast on TV” A few seconds later SMS messages streamed in from back home in Sweden.
The TV feature that had been recorded at my home was now broadcast just before the relay race so a couple of million of viewers could watch me on their TV screens and that had an impact, so to speak. The reporter who had made the feature came up to us in the arena and filmed scenes on site during the whole race. That was a fun event when me and the Norwegian girls teased each other during the race, and I came out the happiest since Sweden won an easy victory!
On TV together with Norwegian fans.
I could indulge in yet another relay gold medal on site in Sochi, for the day before the Swedish women had won their race :) The Norwegian girls were downhearted while I went on to the Biathlon Arena with a light step. Suddenly the Swedish relay team came walking along, so I had the opportunity of slapping high fives with the whole golden team. If you were standing along the ski tracks facing the Biathlon Arena you had the sunset among red mountains as a background, magical!
The Swedish relay team with their gold medals.
Security did not always come out on top, as I said I was allowed backstage at the prize ceremony without any problems, and I also entered the VIP stand in the Ski Stadium to stand beside the Norwegian Royal Couple and shake hands with Marit Björgen congratulating her on the Gold Medal in Cross Country Sprint Relay. Such incidents make fun memories :)
The last day of the competitions was hectic for my part. First I made my usual trip up in the mountains. There I watched Russian skiers win Gold, Silver and Bronze medals in the men’s 50 km Cross-country skiing, guess if the atmosphere in the arena stands reached boiling point! Then I went down to the Olympic Park and took out my piece of paper I had been helped with. It said in Russian that I wanted to buy a ticket for the final match in Ice-hockey. Sweden was to meet Canada and I wanted to experience my second final in a row, I had also watched the one in Vancouver. Pretty soon I got a ticket and made my way to the arena where earlier that week I had watched a fantastic match: Russia vs USA. USA won the game after penalty shootout and that match can be qualified as one of the best five matches I have watched live. Now I took my seat in the stands waiting for the final, row 14 near the centre line. It might have become a classic event watched from the best seat of the arena, but Canada had other intentions and they crushed Sweden 3-0, so my most expensive ice-hockey ticket ever didn’t find its way to my refrigerator at home.
Canada-Sweden in the ice-hockey finals 3-0.
After the hockey final I headed for the next arena and watched the Closing Ceremony. After those wonderful days in the sun I had butterflies in my stomach as I watched the unparalleled show. The three Russian skiers who had won their medals earlier that day were awarded their medals during the closing ceremony and the National Anthem gave me goose bumps, of course! The Olympic Flame was put out and with heavy steps I left the park for the last time.
The Closing ceremony.
The day after the closing ceremony I sat down at the beach writing my diary. It was 20 degrees Celsius and people were swimming in the sea, lovely Winter Games!
Last day was spent on the beach.
Hotels to book in Sochi:
Azimut Sochi Hotel
Hotel located 1.5 km from a beach, 2.5 km from the Olympic Park, 7 km from Adler center, 9 km from Adler History Museum and 32.5 km from Sochi center.
Grand Hotel Polyana
Located in Esto-Sadok, about 45 km from Sochi
Located in Krasnaya Polyana, about 40 km from Sochi.
Azimut Hotel Resort and Spa
Facilities and services include restaurant, bar, swimming pool, parking, elevator, wireless Internet access, indoor swimming pool, gym, sauna, spa, meeting room and 24-hour reception. Rooms feature minibar, air conditioning, wireless Internet access, safe, TV, telephone, hairdryer and bathroom. Suites and superior suites feature sofa, coffee table and large bathroom with bathtub.
Russia – it makes me instantly think of the grand National Anthem which I associate with the Soviet National ice-hockey team that was unbeatable when I was a kid. Naturally I also have Red Square in mind, the symbol of Moscow. For many years I had been waiting for a fun event in the city to give me an occasion to visit Moscow, and when it was decided that the World Championships in Athletics would be held there in 2013 there was nothing to do but start planning.
My workmate Kenta wanted to join me, and the main problem before departure was finding a gap in between my travels during the spring so that I could hand in my passport for a visa application.
In August 2013 we landed in Russia and since someone had hinted that we should avoid the traffic jam on the roads to Moscow we went by train from the airport into the city centre. This city of twelve million residents welcomed us with fine weather and we felt enthusiastic with the upcoming visit to the capital. We checked in at the fine Courtyard Moscow City Center Hotel situated at number 7 Voznesenskiy Pereulok. The hotel had a 10 minute walking distance to Red Square so the location was a perfect base for sightseeing.
We were in a hurry to get to the arena in time to watch our Swedish gold medal aspirant Abeba Aregawi who was to compete the same evening as we we had arrived. In the taxi ride to the arena we crossed one of Moscow’s ring roads and we tried to count the number of lanes that we passed by, and there were some seven or eight lanes in both directions!
We got in time to the Luzhniki Stadium. An arena with a capacity of 85,000 spectators when FC Spartak Moscow plays their football matches.
When Aregawi put on a final definite burst of speed in the last curve we sat cheering in the front row. Sweden had won a gold medal in athletics and we were there on site! Aregawi ran a lap of honour round the arena and happily waved to us as we stood flying our blue and yellow flags. Goose-flesh is obviously part of such an experience.
On spot during the World Championships.
We went to the Swedish athletes’ hotel where we celebrated with Mojitos and then we finished the evening with a grand Gold Medal Dinner back home at our Courtyard hotel. A happy start of the trip!
It was definitely a five star buffet breakfast with all you could wish, including a chef frying eggs and omelettes. The Danish pastries with kiwifruit and strawberries were just the thing needed in the morning :)
After breakfast it was time for the most important mission of the trip. For a year I had been searching for accommodation during the Winter Olympics in Sochi. A short time before my departure to Moscow I had found a travel agency in Russia offering accommodation on board a cruise liner during the Olympics. I made a reservation but it was totally impossible to carry out the payment in Sweden, so I asked if I could settle the payment on site with the travel agency in Moscow. That would fit perfectly and now was the time to find their office. We took a taxi to the address I had and arrived at a big brick apartment building. The entrances were locked but finally we found a passage into the courtyard and there on a door was a sign reading ‘Svoy TT’ – we had found the right place. I met Olga whom I had contacted by mail, and payment by Visa Card worked excellently. Winter Olympics accommodation arranged for in Moscow – that gave me the absolutely right feeling!!!
I felt calm facing the Olympics trip and celebrated with a good Mojito before it was time to visit Red Square. Kenta and myself went down into the Metro system and were met by incredibly beautiful stations decorated with mosaics and chandeliers. We had time to see a number of stations as we went a bit wrong …
At last we reached our destination and in the summer heat I could finally make one of my travelling dreams come true. Within the square we immediately observed the famous St. Basil’s Cathedral with its colourful onion domes. It was consecrated in 1561 and has become a symbol of entire Russia. I had expected it to be bigger, but it was absolutely more beautiful than I had imagined. What a feeling to be standing on a spot that has always been associated with Moscow in my mind. It was a bit like standing high up in the Empire State Building in New York.
The Red Square.
Saint Basil’s Cathedral.
We took a turn in GUM, one of Russia’s biggest department stores – what a place! Several floors and galleries with fine boutiques, hardly the cheapest Friday entertainment in Moscow.
On our way back to our hotel we passed the Ritz Hotel. Just in front of me the former 100 metre world champion Yohan Blake stepped out of a car. I halted for while wondering whether I should ask him for permission to have a picture taken of me together with him but I was so completely taken aback that it didn’t happen.
In the evening it was time for the Athletics Championships again. The atmosphere in the arena stands was marvellous as Russia won gold medals in Long Jump and Hammer Throw. One of my favourites, Mo Farah, won the gold medal of 10,000 metres. We could also watch a performance of the World’s Fastest Man, Usain Bolt. Beside me in the stand sat a triple jumper from Cuba, Mabel Gay. I had visited Cuba earlier so I showed her my pictures from Havana in my camera. Those are the exciting encounters you remember after a trip :)
Day three began with a sightseeing tour like I do in all major cities, that is taking a hop-on / hop-off bus. It runs around the city an you can hop off at one landmark and then hop on to continue the tour. This is a simple and fine way of familiarizing yourself with a city and finding the best places of interest. In Moscow a boat tour on the river was also included in the price and at the starting point of this trip there is a bridge where newly married couples make at stop after the wedding ceremony to affix little padlocks to big iron trees and then throw the key into the river. While we were standing watching on the bridge well 15 limousines with bridal couples made a stop at the bridgehead.
The tour by bus and boat was fine and warmly recommended.
The sightseeing bus Hop-on-hopp-off takes you around the city.
In the centre of Moscow there are many beautiful buildings.
A boat trip is warmly recommended.
Padlocks newlyweds attached to the bridge.
Once more we went to the Athletics Championships in the evening where we among other things watched Usain Bolt playfully win the Gold Medal in 200 metres. His lap of honour was one big Jamaican party since there were may fans in the stands.
After Athletics we went back to Red Square to watch all beautifully floodlit buildings. Imposing fireworks and the full moon provided a grand scenery for the fine St. Basil’s Cathedral, and the GUM department store almost seemed to be decorated for Christmas.
GUM by night.
I felt good on the Red Square!
We spent day four in the city centre before it was time to go back to Sweden again. Moscow was a positive surprise and I would gladly make another visit to the city. Surely there will be new great events coming up in the city soon.
Popular hotels to book in Moscow:
Hotel located in Moscow center, 600 m from Red square and Lenin Mausoleum, 700 m from Spasskaya Tower and St. Basil’s Cathedral and 1 km from the Kremlin.
Izmailovo Gamma Delta
Located 10 km from the city center, and 100 m from Partizanskaya metro station.
Courtyard Moscow City Center
This hotel is located 4.5km from The Kremlin, the Red Square, Saint Basil’s Cathedral and Lenin’s Mausoleum.
Located in Moscow’s suburbs, 20 minutes by car to the center and 200 m from the nearest metro.
5 star hotel located in the city centre, 35 km from the airport.
In my previous blog post I told you about my trip to the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, and that adventure had its starting point in a visit to the Cristo Rei Statue in Lisbon in November 2013.
The aircraft made a turn above the Atlantic Ocean and then we had a marvellous approach over the city of Lisbon.
As I left the airport I encountered pleasant late summer weather and swaying palm trees.
The four star Lisboa Plaza Hotel was located in the city centre at 5 Travesso do Salitre, a perfect spot for exploring Lisbon.
Dressed up in the match jersey of the Swedish national football team I headed for the “Praça do Comércio” Square where some thousands of Swedish fans had gathered. We had come to the capital of Portugal to watch the World Cup Qualifier match Portugal v Sweden.
The teams were to meet in two matches and the winner would progress for the World Cup in Brazil. This was the first leg.
Supporters gathered at the Praca do Comércio.
We were quite a number of people from my Swedish home town of Enköping sitting by the riverfront building up for the game. Chants were sung and toasts of sangria were made and we enjoyed the sun that we had not seen for a long while back in Sweden.
Patrik, me, Petri and Kimmo at the Estadio da Luz.
The metro vibrated with the fans’ chanting on our way to the “Estádio da Luz” Arena. Expectations were great and we believed in a favourable outcome with the return match in Sweden at hand, but the incredibly talented footballer Ronaldo of Portugal had other plans. He scored 1-0 for Portugal and that was the final score in front of a jubilant home crowd. We were not altogether floored though, for naturally there was a chance of reversing the result at home, so we headed for the Hard Rock Café where we had a good time together with happy Portuguese people.
Portugal-Sweden 1-0 at the Estadio de Luz.
The next day most of my friends went home, but since this was my first visit to the city I stayed on to explore Lisbon. The weather was glorious and in the company of Ola and Lars-Göran I took a look around the city. The city trams are famous and popular, and crowded as well! Patience is needed if you want to have a ride … One of the well-known landmarks of the city is the Santa Justa Lift. It was constructed in the early 1900s and takes you from the lower parts of the city up to the Carmo Square. From the top of the lift you have fine views of the city, and it is well worth a visit.
The Santa Justa lift.
After a wine stop at the “Praça do Comércio” Square we joined a guided tour by Tuk Tuk. Lisbon being situated on seven hills and the area being very undulating, riding a Tuk Tuk in the steep lanes is a perfect way of exploring the city. On top of one of the hills stands an old fortress and from there we had a magnificent view.
Praca do Comércio.
The guide told us about the city and showed us more fine points of vantage – so a good hint: Tuk Tuk.
View from the fortress.
Of course it is possible to find some palm trees in Lisbon.
In the Rua de Sao Miguel alley we happened to join a Port Wine Tasting in the small cosy bar of “O Cantinho da Rute”. Five different brands of wine were set on the table while simultaneously the smell of BBQ from out in the street sneaked into the bar. A couple of bottles were allowed to come with us in carrier bags from there.
As sunset approached we took a taxi to the Christ the King Statue (Cristo Rei) in Almada.
There we experienced a sheer magical moment when the sunset coloured the sky red, and we had an unbeatable view of Lisbon and the “Ponte de 25 de Abril” Bridge crossing the river Tejo.
View from the bridge “Ponte 25 de Abril”.
The 260 ft tall statue of Christ was certainly impressive in the evening light and I felt as if my journey to Rio de Janeiro began there, I felt that the statue in Rio also had to be visited on site!
At the feet of the Christ the King statue I decided to travel to Rio.
The taxi cab had been waiting for us during the visit and now it took us to the Bairro Alto Hotel where we entered the roof terrace and treated ourselves to a couple of Mojitos. We had been spoilt all day by beautiful views of the city, and the one here was not bad either.
The evening was concluded with dinner at the cosy “Adega de S. Roque” restaurant at 120 Rua da Misericórdia. This restaurant has a Sports Theme and walls and ceiling are filled with scarves and pictures of different clubs and players. Fantastic for us sports geeks :)
The restaurant “Adega de S.Roque”.
Lisbon made me want more and I would be happy to visit the city again!
A few days later Sweden’s dream of World Cup in Brazil was shattered since Portugal won the return match by 3-2, but then I had already booked my journey to Rio, so my dream of World Cup in Brazil came true after all ;)
Popular hotels to book in Lisbon:
A reasonably priced hotel in a great location in the heart of Lisbon, next to the Rossio market and the parade street Avenida da Liberdade.
Hotel Borges is located 100m from national theater of Sao Carlos, 400m from the San Roque church, 700m from the Lisbon Cathedral and 3km from the Gulbenkian museum.
Next to the Eduardo VII Park, close to Marques de Pombal and Avenida da Liberdade.
Centrally located in the heart of Lisbon one block from the mainstreet Avenida da Liberdade.
Turim Europa Hotel
Modern hotel located near Marquês de Pombal in the heart of central Lisbon.
Family run hotel just around the corner from Avenida Liberdade.