Sochi is a name few had perhaps heard of until a few years ago when, after London 2012, Olympic fever simmered down to reach freezing point in preparation for the winter version of the games. A Russian seaside resort on the Black Sea not far from the Georgian border, Sochi actually has a subtropical climate with warm summers (look out for the palm trees in TV footage of the city) but winters are often cold enough for snowfall, though the alpine and ski events will take place in nearby Krasnaya Polyana, Russia’s leading ski resort.
But before we look forwards to Sochi, I’d like to take you backwards, to revisit a few previous Winter Olympics that have earned their place in the fascinating history of The Games.
Up in the French Alps is where it all started, though some of the winter sports like figure skating and ice hockey had previously been included in summer games. The event was held in the same year as the 1924 summer competition, actually preceding the Paris 1924 Summer Olympics. This tradition continued until 1992.
Interesting things to happen at Chamonix included the host nation France not winning any gold or silver medals (they picked up three bronzes) and there was a judging error in the ski jumping event, which went uncorrected until fifty years later when 86 year old American Anders Haugen was finally awarded his bronze medal in 1974. The medal was removed from Norwegian Thorlief Haug, whose daughter actually presented Haugen with the medal.
Another Winter Olympics which was held in the same country and same year as the summer event, this time being the turn of Nazi Germany. Much is made about the 1936 summer games in Munich, and the same tension was certainly felt at the winter competition in the Bavarian twin-villages Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Although “permitted” to compete, Jewish athletes feared for their safety amid a heavy military presence and race courses lined with swastika flags. There was also controversy with the introduction of Alpine skiing to the games as professional ski teachers were prohibited from competing, resulting in Austria and Switzerland boycotting the games. Another interesting fact about Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1936, the medals awarded in these Olympics were the heaviest on record at 324 grams.
St Moritz 1948
The first Winter Olympics after the Second World War was the second time the Swiss resort of St. Moritz played host. Introducing the “military patrol” events that would become the biathlon and winter pentathlon, the main attention-grabbing event at these competitions was figure-skating. The performance delivered by US figure-skating gold medal winner, Dick Button, earned him a place in the history books after he delivered a flawless double axel jump only two days after successfully performing it for the first time. It had never been seen before. He later went on to be the first to master a triple loop jump and he invented the “flying camel spin” which also took his name, the “Button camel”.
Fast forward to 1984 and to Sarajevo, which was then part of Yugoslavia. Hindsight makes these games extra poignant as a decade later would see the Bosnian War devastate much of the infrastructure built to support the games. At the time, however, it was regarded as a successful event which did much to highlight the beauty of the region. Notable events included the Olympic flag being raised upside down at the opening ceremony and it was also the first time a black African athlete skied at the Winter Olympics with Lamine Guèye representing Senegal in the Alpine skiing. These Olympics are inscribed in all British minds to the tune of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero thanks to Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean’s perfect ice dancing performance which won them gold medals and made them national darlings.
The first time Canada hosted the Winter Olympics was in Calgary, where temperatures can drop to -30 Celsius in winter. The cold was particularly brutal for arguably the most famous bobsled team of all time – the four Jamaicans who arrived in Calgary, one of them never having seen snow until just months before. Made famous by the film Cool Runnings, the Jamaican’s bobsled story is the stuff of legend and has inspired many more unlikely Winter Olympic athletes from warmer climes to participate. Their legacy continues in Sochi as Jamaica returns to the bobsled competition for the sixth time, their campaign largely assisted by online contributions and virtual currencies such as Dogecoin.
Japan’s second time hosting the Winter Olympics was memorable for being the first time snowboarding was introduced to the games, a fact that may shock young snowboarders now. It was also a memorable games for Austria as they watched their medal hopes crash and burn when Hermann Maier went flying through the air and crashed through two barriers during his downhill race. Or so they thought. Miraculously, the “Herminator” walked away from the crash and went on to win gold in the slalom and Super-G. It was also the event that saw Norwegian Bjorn Dæhlie cement his legendary status in cross-country skiing as he added an additional three gold medals to make a record-breaking total of eight Winter Olympic golds, making him the most successful winter Olympian of all time.
The last winter Olympics began on a sad note when a tragic practice run for Georgian luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili resulted in his death. A frightening reminder that the Winter Olympics has in fact taken more lives than the summer games.
But this Olympic Games wasn’t without uplifting stories, as home side Canada and neighbouring rivals, USA, battled it out to earn their place at the top of the medals table. Vancouver was the Olympics where American Bode Miller won his elusive gold medal (plus a silver and a bronze) and it was the competition where Slovenian cross-country skier Petra Majdič, who after a bad crash during a warm-up, continued to compete and won her country’s first Olympic medal in the sport… all the while nursing four broken ribs. It was also in the world-famous Whistler ski resort that Shaun White confirmed his position as the world’s best snowboarder. As he approached his final halfpipe performance he had the gold medal secured, but that didn’t stop him taking some huge risks by performing a new trick the “Double McTwist 1260″, which he did flawlessly. The snowboarding world waits to see what he comes up with in Sochi…
Are you planning on watching the Winter Olympics? Please share with us which events you’re looking forward to most.
If you’re thinking it’s a bit early to be looking at ways to celebrate the Irish Saint of Green Face Paint and Guinness, let me explain. St. Patrick’s Day might be a few weeks away (17th March, just so you know) but the world’s a vast place and Irish Bars are many. So I thought I’d get a jump on the big day itself, do some background research and point you in the direction of a few places where St. Paddy himself would not feel out of place having a Craic and a pint of the black stuff – if he wasn’t a saint, obviously. But, before you go off dismissing my efforts as a thinly disguised excuse to trawl the drinking dens of Dublin, not one of my suggestions for this year’s celebrations is on home soil. They’re spread far and wide, but have one thing in common: a deep and enduring reverence for ‘the auld country’.
Someone once told me that all you needed for a traditional Irish Band was three chords and a Begorra. Working on that logic, it seems the only requirement for an Irish Pub is a leprechaun bobble-head, a liberal sprinkling of shamrocks and a road sign. There was even a tale doing the rounds about Dublin having to spend a fortune replacing street plaques removed by unscrupulous visiting publicans and hived off to add a touch of authenticity to Irish Pubs in less than Irish locations (Mongolia anyone?). That may be so, but my search goes far beyond the superficial window dressing of the Irish Pub to the heart of the true spirit of St. Patrick’s Day – drinking, dancing and telling complete strangers that you’ve always loved them.
And where else would I start my arduous quest, but Boston? The city’s keeper of the flame when it comes to Irish heritage and has the pubs to prove it. Steer clear of the ‘theme’ bars (a green drink does not an Irish pub make). And if it’s part of a chain, I don’t think I need to tell you how that’s going to go. No, my money’s on the Brendan Behan Pub or ‘The Behan’ as it’s known locally. Four times winner of ‘The Best Irish Pub in Boston’ and loved for its wide range of stouts and ales, ‘craic-centric’ philosophy, live music and traditional (for Boston) atmosphere, The Behan’s named after the poet, Republican, political prisoner and hard drinker Brendan Behan. The Brendan Behan, 378 Center Street, Jamaica Plain (a trolley ride from Downtown Boston).
London’s tiny Tipperary is the city’s oldest Irish pub and has held its ground on Fleet Street since 1700 (the original pub is older but not Irish, so doesn’t count). Supposedly this was the first place in England to sell Guinness and it’s been upholding that fine tradition ever since. It’s small and very friendly and has the kind of cosy atmosphere you might expect if you really were celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Tipperary and not in fact in the heart of one of the world’s busiest cities. The Tipperary, 66 Fleet Street, London EC4Y.
If you’re a diehard traditionalist and you find yourself in Athens on March 17th, despair not, the James Joyce Irish Pub is celebrating like it’s Dublin on a Friday after 5. Everything’s where it should be from the draught Stout and whisky selection to a dark wood long-bar and Steak & Guinness Pie. But the music’s more DJ than Ceilidh and the folks you get to declare undying love for are of the younger variety. James Joyce Irish Pub, Astiggos 12, Thiseio 105 55, Athens.
No one’s going to accuse the world’s Irish pubs of imagination when it comes to names, so you’ll have to forgive Istanbul’s one and only for also heading down the route of James Joyce Irish Pub. But if you’re dying for a long, black drink and some Irish Dancing Classes you’ve arrived. The James Joyce, Istanbul is a bit of a favourite on a city pub crawl and does boisterous as standard so I’m thinking all stops will be pulled for St. Patrick’s Day. James Joyce Irish Pub, İstiklal Caddesi, Balo Sokak 26, Beyoğlu, Istanbul.
If an ‘Open Mike Night’ with Siggi Porbergs isn’t likely to have you weeping into your Jamieson’s, you’ll be right up for the Irish pub experience Reykjavik style. The Celtic Cross is one of two Irish pubs in the city both owned by the same Icelander (he makes no claims to Celtic roots) and while it might not focus on authentic music, the booze is plenty traditional enough to distract you. The Celtic Cross, Hverfisgata 26, 101 Reykjavik.
Paris has always been a pull for Irish ex-pats and has more than a few literary and artistic connections to its Celtic counterpart, so finding an Irish pub is never a problem. For very traditional music, warm atmosphere and a great bar I recommend The Quiet Man, in Le Marais. A lot more authentic than the John Wayne movie it’s named for, The Quiet Man is open from 5pm to late, almost always has live music and will definitely be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. The Quiet Man, 5 Rue des Haudriettes, Paris (close to The Pompidou Centre).
I couldn’t write about Irish pubs without including at least one ‘tavern’ – I love a tavern. It’s New York, of course, and if you like your Guinness surrounded by flat-screen sport The Kinsale Tavern is the place for you. Not that New York City’s lacking in Irish pubs (there’s even one at JFK, if you’re desperate). But The Kinsale Tavern does a mean Shepherd’s Pie and a Full Irish Breakfast. And everyone knows how important it is to max the carbs if you’re going to do St. Patrick’s Day justice. The Kinsale Tavern, 1672 3rd Avenue, New York, NY10128.
And come the 17th March, when the Guinness is flowing and the Craic is crackling, feel free to have at my all-time-favourite bad Irish Joke:
Q. What did St. Patrick say to the snakes when he was driving them out of Ireland?
A. ‘Are you all right in the back there lads?
Yes, that’s quite enough St. Patrick’s Day nonsense from me. I know.
I like lists. Big, long lists. So I’ll keep the preamble short for once and get right to it, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover and many pound notes to pocket. Here are some unusual, low-cost things you can do in London. It’s one of the world’s more expensive cities, so happy saving!
Afternoon Tea At The Ritz …. Skinny, crustless sandwiches and your choice of tea. They do offers but I figure £45 per person is worth it so you can say you had tea at The Ritz! www.theritzlondon.com
Afternoon Tea At Claridges …. Go on and go all Nancy Mitford on me for just £50 per person – apparently they have over 40 types of tea, worth a visit for that alone www.claridges.co.uk
Lunch at The Savoy Grill for just £26 per person you can have lunch at The Savoy Grill – please tell me you’re not taken away with the romance of that? www.gordonramsay.com/thesavoygrill
Tate to Tate Go see Blake then Hepworth on a boat, all day long for less than £12 return www.tate.org.uk
Sherlock Holmes Museum people adore the imaginary, pompous detective and will pay up to visit his fictional home. You can “find” him, at home, for under £25 for a family of four www.sherlock-holmes.co.uk
The Garden Museum even if you have not one green finger this museum is worth a visit to see the Griffin and skull laden tomb of John Tradescant and the ‘Breadfruit’ on the tomb of Captain William Bligh and it costs less than £20 for a family of four www.gardenmuseum.org.uk
Battersea Park Children’s Zoo is in the iconic park and it’s got monkeys and who doesn’t love monkeys? A family ticket is £28 www.batterseaparkzoo.co.uk
Hackney City Farm is free and it’s the place I want to live when I have lots of money and capable farm hands. While you’re waiting for that to happen you can visit and see the charming oddness of a London farm www.hackneycityfarm.co.uk
The Windmill, Brixton is where you want to go if you need live music and beer. But it’s really about the music. Voted 3rd in Time Out’s Live London Music Venues and under £10 a ticket, what can I say? www.windmillbrixton.co.uk
Hammersmith Lyric is eclectic and bold and you can go see London theatre without ‘doing the shows’, so no risk of you feeling completely tragic. Tickets from £8 www.lyric.co.uk
Emirates Stadium is home to Arsenal Football Club and a £17.50 Stadium Tour lets you ‘marvel’ (their words, not mine) at the modern architecture, see trophies and have a look at football stuff – it’s also in Islington where you can always get a decent cup of coffee and excellent traditional Sunday Roast Lunch www.arsenal.com
The Michael Faraday Monument stands in the middle of the Elephant and Castle roundabout. It’s free. You just have to get over the road to see it. But in 2013 ‘selfie’ was the Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of the Year, so I can think of no good reason not to snap yourself next to the father of modern electricity’s monument.
Thames Path Walk runs from Hampton Court to The Thames Barrier. It’s about 50 miles of easy strolling and one of the best and most inclusive ways of seeing this magnificent city. For £12.95 you can pick up the official guide www.aurumpress.co.uk
One Hour’s Personal Style Consultation might be just what you’d like if you like what you see round and about London. £100 gets you an hour’s personal style consultation and £70 gets you an hour’s personal shopping www.orionarobb.com
London School of Painting and Drawing holds Saturday classes for £74 including oil paints, so if London inspires you www.thelondonschoolofpainting.org
Design Museum has a lot to irritate and a lot to impress but it’s certainly worth a visit and an adult ticket costs just £11.85 and children’s tickets are free – this is a good ‘un because there are regular short exhibitions and talks www.designmuseum.org
credit: Christina Waterson
City Academy is where you can taste a talent (or discover one) in singing, dancing, musical comedy, acting, public speaking. You don’t need to have any experience and I think taking home a skill from London is better than a tatty replica of Big Ben. Classes from £12 www.city-academy.com
The Chelsea Physic Garden is London’s oldest botanical garden, founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries (no matter how many times you say that it doesn’t sound any less marvellous). The garden’s open to the public during late Spring and Summer, but for just £38 you can become a Friend of the Chelsea Physic Garden and any time you’re in London you can visit – this is a really good deal during The Chelsea Flower Show www.chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk
Hyde Park is home to graceful Tai Chi classes, would-be marathon runners, cyclists, dog walkers and a lot of people who just like to sit about. For a whole day you can hire a deckchair (green and white striped, of course) to lounge in the sun, and it only costs £7 www.royalparks.org.uk
Visit a Thrift Store and acquire vintage fashion, good for getting a lot of unconventional presents on the cheap. Or bedeck yourself in penultimate London fashions at excellent value. Go indie for best quality used garb. My favourite is The East End Thrift Store
And there you have it, a big long list of stuff to do in London for less money that might not have seemed immediately obvious.
Finland in the Bronze Age must have been a grim, cold, pitiless and mostly an incredibly boring place.
Hunt, farm, fish then hunt again. Skin some animals, eat what’s left, wait for a few hundred years so the Swedes and Danes can invade and bring something to do with them. That’s pretty much it. Not even any runes to read before turning off the night campfire. So it’s easy to imagine a fur-draped, fluffy Finnish individual in this time, finally done curing a reindeer or something. Looking up, he sees just how far he has to trek back to his hut over a frozen lake, with his fragrant new carpet dripping down his back, and hurrumphs in a manly fashion. As he starts trudging across the ice – which hopefully won’t break like it did underneath poor Aantero two moons ago – he slips on a bone, travels a metre and lands flat on his behind. And lo, ice skating was born. Strapping bones to each precursor Ugg Boot, our hero invented ice skating and noblemen, farmers, royalty and first daters have been slipping and slaloming over patches of frozen water (also animal fat in some warmer places before refrigeration) to greater and lesser success ever since.
In honour of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia next month; here are ten of our favourite outdoor rinks and lakes to strap on some stainless steel (or bone, if the story made you feel a little medieval), laugh and lazily trace circles in the ice with your family. Or if you like to live a bit faster, carve a furrow like you’re being chased by Danes. On horses. Take your pick.
Red Square Ice Rink, Moscow
Brilliant for tourists, skating in the Red Square allows you to combine visiting one of Moscow’s most famous and picturesque landmarks with acting like a complete child, gaily slipping and sliding all over Russia’s biggest skate rink. And if you’re in town while the Winter Olympics are on, even though Sochi is over a thousand kilometres away, winter sports will be especially popular and exciting.
FlevOnIce , Netherlands
The longest ice skating rink in the Netherlands at 5km, if you like marathons then FlevOnIce is where to go. It’s a one hour drive from Amsterdam (you can also get a train) in the town of Biddinghuizen, so you should make a day of it.
Central Park, New York
New Yorkers and visitors alike agree, there’s nothing quite like serenely meandering over the ice of Wollman Rink in Central Park, with the famous Manhattan skyline right behind you. Frozen for your skating pleasure on the south side of the park. Trees and panoramic cityscapes included.
Beaver Lake, Montreal
Lac des Castors if you’re French speaking, which Montrealers of course are. This is the locals’ favourite place to skate, and it isn’t hard to see why. Beaver Lake is on top of the mountain from which the town gets its name, Mount Royal, and the fact that the city stretches out below you is brilliant. Best enjoyed with the family, skating at Beaver Lake is an amazing day out with the kids.
Plaza del Ayuntamiento, Valencia
This year the shopkeepers around Valencia’s most famous square clubbed together to build an ice rink in the heart of town. While the rink closed a few days ago for the year, make sure to keep your ears to the ground (don’t get frostbite though) to see if it will make a return in 2015, because it’s a unique and beautiful place to skate.
Hotel de Ville, Paris
The most popular rink in town, and for good reason. The ice skating outside the Hotel de Ville in Paris is free, has a smaller children’s area and opulent 19th century architecture as a backdrop. We advise coming in the evening, when the buildings light up in all their glory. As a night-time skate here is possibly the most romantic thing to do in Paris, and Paris is the most romantic city on earth, this is a top contender for the single most romantic thing you can possibly do. Valentine’s Day idea-seekers take note.
Honourable mention must also go to the Eiffel Tower Ice Rink. It isn’t in action every year however, the last one was 2012, but who knows? You may be able to ice skate atop Paris’s most famous landmark next year.
Munich Ice Magic, Munich
credit: Mark Simons
Grab your earmuffs, pull on your big clumsy gloves and head to Bavaria’s favourite frozen puddle for figure-eights. Muenchner Eizsauberi in Munich’s frankly beautiful to behold shopping district is a huge hit with locals and visitors. Delicious and warming cups of glühwein from the stalls that encircle the rink probably help too.
Tower of London, London
There are a few contenders for best ice rink in London (our other favourites are at Hampton Court Palace, the Natural History Museum and Somerset House), but the Tower of London comes out trumps because of being a singular and unique location. With the ancient and forbidding walls of the ancient Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress looming over you, you can almost feel the thousands of years of history seeping into your feet through your skates.
For as long as humans have been rearing children, we’ve known that getting kids to do something fun and physical will send them to bed quickly and happily. If you find yourself in Copenhagen then make sure to take them to Genforeningspladsen for a day of twirling, chasing with snowballs and collapsing into an exhausted pile of childhood memories. It’s a really big area so they’ll have plenty of space to flail wildly, or whiz passed you.
So we’ve come full circle and ended where we begun, with a Fin and some skates. Helsinki’s Ice Park is the hottest meeting point in town, and a great way to experience Finnish culture and meet its people. And as the people of Finland drink more coffee per capita than anyone else in the world, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a coffee shop afterwards to warm up.
So there it is, ten of our favourite places outdoors to skate. Make sure to check opening times, especially for non-Scandinavian places as they are open for shorter periods every year.
Italy has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than anywhere else in the world. ‘Ciao, we’re Italy and we have so many world heritage sites we can’t even remember some of them’.
There’s an active volcano included on the list, several entire cities (not even mentioning the Holy See), towers, villas, villages, coastlines. And all that would be just fine if the Italians weren’t responsible for several other country’s Heritage Sites as well – you Romans, you know who you are!
Two options: you either get all resentful and knock the entire gorgeous country off your ‘must see’ list: or you take it on the chin, be thankful for their comprehensible Latin based languages and sanitation systems and go visit.
I’m taking the latter option I think. So here are some UNESCO World Heritage Sites you will know and some you might be a bit surprised by.
Italy rules, and the rest of us just need to suck it up obviously!
Is an active volcano. I don’t know about you but the combination of being in Sicily and being the tallest mountain in Italy and an active volcano is oddly compelling. When I say active I don’t mean this is the adventure holiday of a lifetime and you might very well find yourself running from rivers of molten lava – it rumbles a bit, mostly. But all that activity gives the soil round and about tremendous fertility so foodies are bound to want a piece of this action because the local produce is splendid and the cooking style is amazing – plus you get to look at an ‘active’ volcano and come away a few kilos heavier but relatively unscathed.
THE MEDICI VILLAS, TUSCANY
To be honest, between the 15th and 17th century, the Medici were as gadabout as the Romans when it came to proprietorial: ‘oh, is that art and grandeur and splendour and beauty, we’ll have it’. What is slightly silencing is their attention to land and cultivation. So for every magnificent artwork and dishonest dealing they ploughed a furrow (or had someone do it for them). As a result The Medici Villas in Tuscany are grand and extravagant but they’re also a fascinating insight into a less ephemeral legacy that this strangely appealing dynasty sought to create.
THE HOLY SEE, ROME
credit: Benson Kua
If you aren’t impressed by St. Peter’s and the mighty art collection and libraries you could only dream about, you’ve got to love the Swiss Guards. They have to be Swiss, Catholic, unmarried and trained in tactics – who actually came up with those rules? This is where the Pope lives and (not to be confused with The Vatican City) has been the centre of Christianity for centuries. Whatever your faith or otherwise it’s unbelievable to see so much pomp and wealth in such a small space. Also it has Rome just outside if you like pizza.
‘See Naples and die’, bit extreme? But its historic centre is one of the largest in the world and its links to the Borgias (by marriage and intrigue) seafaring importance and fiercely independent nature make this cusp of Italy and Sicily city fascinating.
Close to Naples, and one of the most popular visitor attractions in the world, Pompeii is indescribably moving. When Vesuvius erupted in 79AD it literally petrified an entire city, I don’t know anyone who has been to Pompeii who hasn’t come away changed. You can look at the streets and houses and see it as an archaeological site, or you can witness the tiny elements of humanity that were so swiftly devastated. However, you view Pompeii it will live with you forever.
THE AMALFI COAST
credit: Dr. Jaus
The beautiful Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy is one of those places people imagine they can keep to themselves. Just to say, ‘Duc d’Amalfi’. Historically it’s wildly interesting (in a way that Italy seems to have corralled, how come the rest of the world is so dull, maybe it’s to do with poisoning – answers please). But back to the Amalfi Coast, it also has an amazing climate and if you visit in Spring or Autumn you miss the crowds and you can have the beaches and crags and cliffs (almost) to yourself.
BOTANICAL GARDENS, PADUA
Historically and scientifically the Botanical Gardens in Padua are the most significant in the world. There’s even a wall to stop plants being stolen – back in the 16th century, plant theft isn’t such a thing nowadays. These gardens are the origin of almost all our contemporary medicine and a rare insight into what it must have been like to pioneer in this field in Medieval Europe.
HADRIAN’S VILLA, TIVOLI
One of the most perfect and imperfect UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy, Hadrian’s Villa is even now a ‘work in progress’. A retreat for the Emperor Hadrian, a place of conspiracy and politicising and – as you’ll discover – much more. On-going excavations are still uncovering underground tunnels and passages. The fact that there was a postal service from Rome (about 20km away) to Tivoli and a court, obviously mattered a little when it came to doing Roman Empire business back in the day.
PIAZZA DEI MIRACOLI, TUSCANY
So you thought you should visit Tuscany because you knew a bit about the ‘Leaning Tower of Pisa’, well see you and raise you. It’s just one of the edifices that make up the ‘Field of Miracles’ and astonish millions of visitors every year. Oddly it’s the Medieval Cathedral that dominates this hugely sacred site and the famous ‘leaning’ tower is a mere adjunct. But if you want to send silly snapchats, this is the place to do it.
Okay, I had a few words and millennium of history to deal with. I did my best and really what can I say? Italy has 49 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, you honestly just have to go and see some for yourself.