ICLEF's Where's Wilson 2014 Sochi Olympics Speed Skating

Where’s Wilson: Live from the Sochi Winter Olympic Games

Our travel expert, retired attorney, John Wilson is now a 9-time Olympian! Not as an athlete, per se, but definitely as an adventurer! He has been traveling to the Olympics since the 1976 Montreal Games. John has been fondly reminiscing about his Olympic past in this exclusive ICLEF 4-Part Series. Having now attended the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, John will regale us with what he learned from his Russian adventures. Click to read Part 1,  Part 2, & Part 3.


Live From The Sochi Winter Olympic Games
By John Wilson

If You Knew Sochi Like I Know Sochi…

Привет  (Hello – Russian)

Even though I had attended eight prior Olympics, I did not intend to go to the Sochi. I learned, as you have, that Sochi does not have a Siberian climate. As we left Indy, the temperature was -6 F. in Indy and 60 F. in Sochi. Next, with very few Americans interested in going to Sochi, Olympic tickets which usually have been very hard to get, became available. Mo and I have an unbelievable set of event tickets, including the men’s USA v. Russia hockey game in pool play.

It wasn’t easy. The visa process gives interesting insight into the local political culture via some of the questions on the application. In the case of Russia, in addition to questions about what clubs and organizations I belonged to, they wanted to know my last three employers, when and why I left. Because I worked at my last employer for thirty-two years, I had to do a little memory dredging to come up with a response.

Flights were interesting. Using standard search engines like Orbitz, Yapta and Skyscanner, tickets from Indy to Sochi were running around $2500 which was above my budget. By breaking the flight search to Indy–Moscow, $925, and Moscow–Sochi $250, I made the booking.

In prior Olympic blogs, I mentioned that many times I have waited to get housing until close to the Olympics. That is when reasonable rates and terms seem to reappear as property owners realize that not as many tourist are coming as they thought and it becomes a buyers market. I have seen online where Russian tourist regularly show up in Sochi without a room and find one when they arrive. There are limits to my adventurous spirit, especially in Russia. I also thought that the housing would be dismal soviet era apartments. Then, also online, I found that a credible organization had arranged to have a credible cruise liner docked in Sochi for the Olympics. My favorite and only daughter, Mo, and I are staying on the Norwegian Cruise Liner, Jade, with two thousand of our best new international friends. It is docked in Sochi Seaport for the Olympics. I also could envision bad Soviet food in a few restaurants with sullen/surly wait staffs. In addition to the ship’s restaurants which are excellent and surprisingly inexpensive, Sochi has been a resort for generations and is noted for a wide variety of family restaurants serving excellent regional and international fare. Who knew?

We do not know what the media is saying about security, but from our on the ground spectators view, it has been outstanding. Before arriving, I was required to get an Olympic photo I.D. to be able to use my Olympic Tickets. I had to have that pass validated in Sochi. I need a boarding pass to be able to get on the Norwegian Jade. I also need another pass to get into the seaport. The boarding passes had not been sent until about ten days before the Olympics began. (But all of us on the good ship Jade were in the same boat.) And got them upon arrival.

All train and bus transportation is free during the Olympics. To get on a train, you go through a typical airport scanner, always get a pat down, and they have a kind of heat sensitive  scanner on you while this happens. They have sufficient staff that we have never had to wait more than one or two minutes to get through. The train ride from Sochi to Olympic Park takes forty minutes on new trains. In addition to fencing and security cameras, a soldier stands guard every few hundred yards along the train line, even for the train from Sochi to the alpine events. The Cossacks have made a come back for the first time since Czar Nicholas and are helping with security. They are very serious fellows, but we got a little smile out of this one.

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympic Series 2014 Sochi Olympics Cossack Guard

We stopped for one night in Moscow on our way to Sochi. We stayed at the Katerina City hotel which is owned by Swedes. We met another guest on his way to the Olympics who is from Trinidad, but lives in London. Upon recommendation from the hotel staff, we all went to a German restaurant where we drank Czech beer with the Russians. The international vacation was officially started.

The weather has been great.  The train from Sochi to the venues follow the Black Sea shore line.  We saw people swimming yesterday.

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympic Series 2014 Sochi Olympics Black Sea

The vast majority of the Olympic visitors are Russians, but there are guests from all over the world, particularly the countries with winter sport backgrounds. The family of the Canadian pairs skaters, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are on the boat. I didn’t know who they were when I sat down to talk to them and asked how their day had been. They said, “pretty good, our son won a bronze medal today”. We have met parents of an Irish Grand Slalom skier and Canadian ski jumper. I had a late night with Kim and Jacob from the Danish IOC who were entertaining sponsors from Sweden. We met Jeff and Tom on the way to aerials. They were from the U.S. but were working in Abu Dhabi.  Jeff is the nephew of Mary Marsh who is retired PNC Trust Counsel in Indy. They really wanted to buy our two extra tickets to USA v Russia hockey, but I had promised them to Conner, from Dublin and his friend, Liann, who is a solicitor in London.

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympic Series The 2014 Sochi Olympics Rings

Olympic Park is huge. The walk from the entrance to the circle of event venues and the Olympic Torch is over a mile. The are some country exhibits, including USA house which would not let us in because we were not on the Olympic Committee. How rude! There are also sponsor exhibits, a couple of which were pretty interesting. One three dimensional photo exhibit exceeds my ability to explain it, so if you see me, ask to see the video. The ice climbing wall was very cool and open to all comers.

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympic Series 2014 Sochi Olympics Ice Climbing

Our first event was speed skating, the Men’s 500 meters. Each participant skates twice and the  skater with the best aggregate time win’s. The Netherlanders prevailed, but the Russians got a medal to the great joy of our hosts. After our event we took the half hour train ride back to Sochi and went to the ship. The events run late so the ship has two restaurants they don’t even open until 10:30 and serve until 2:30 A.M.. The next day we had no events. We did some walking in Sochi. They have a promenade along the water with the same type of tourist trap shops that we have along our beaches in the U.S. We didn’t buy anything. Those cool red and white sports jacket only cost 27,500 rubles at 35 rubles to the dollar. Next was short track speed skating. The Olympic equivalent of roller derby.

ICLEF's Where's Wilson 2014 Sochi Olympics Speed Skating

After watching the Russians beat Slovenia in hockey, we went to the Today Show set where they were filming live at 6:00 P.M. Sochi time and 9:00 A.M. New York time. Did you see me? I was right behind Al.

The next day we had tickets to Women’s Aerials at the Rosa Khatour Extreme Park. The village at Krasnay Polyana  looks much like a new American  ski resort like Vail with upscale accommodations, stores and restaurants. The only souvenir Mo wanted from Russia was a “Big Russian Hat”. We bought it here.

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympic Series 2014 Sochi Olympics Mo in "Big Russian Hat"

The only problem was instead of charging 9000 rubles to my Visa card (about $270), they charged 90,000. And Visa would not let them back out a charge of that much. We were blissfully unaware of the problem as more employees came to discuss it and the solution among themselves. I did notice that one lady was counting out a lot of rubles. When it came time to give us the bad news, their English was not sufficient to explain the problem and proposed solution. A Russian whose English was better, stepped in to interpret. It took quite awhile to resolve the problem and our new Russian interpreter stayed with us the whole time. He made us promise to e-mail him that all was okay when we got back to the States. The solution was that now I was the proud holder of 81,000 rubles in cash. As I was going to get hurt on the currency exchange, we then found a Russian Visa employee, Vladimir, who also went out of his way to help us, including having a colleague bring an international cell phone up the mountain so we could call JPMorgan Visa in Columbus, Ohio.

We rode the tram up to the venue with a news team from New Zealand. The Kiwi’s only had fifteen athletes and had not won a medal. We asked how their work was coming along, and they said it was hard coming up with eight ways to say, “It was another tough day for New Zealand”. We were in the standing section for the Aerials. The Russian in front of Mo, wanted to talk to us, but his English was not good and our Russian was still basically non-existent. Eventually, we understood he was from Siberia. He gave Mo a writing pen and we gave his little boy a Kennedy half-dollar. Detente again. The U.S. had the best performer in the event but did not medal as she fell in the finals.

Russia v. USA hockey was the biggest event yet and we had tickets. What a great game! The Russian fans were out in force, but the U.S. a surprising number of fans. If you didn’t see it, the game was tied at the end of regulation, tied at the end of a five minute overtime period with the U.S. finally prevailing in a shoot out that went to eight shots. The Russians were stunned.

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympic Series 2014 Sochi Olympics USA v Russia Hockey. USA Wins!

The Russians have a different culture than we do with respect to lines and personal space. Mo and I were standing in a short line to get a victory beer after the U.S. win over Russia in hockey. A Russian guy in a black leather jacket and two day beard growth (something of a Russian fashion statement) walks right past us and all the others in line, including Russians, slams  money on the counter and growls something in Russian to the server (I’m pretty sure he said, “Give me beer now, or die”).  The server stops taking care of us, gets the guy his beer and the guy walks off. The practice of cutting lines and shoving through crowds was so prevalent that we even met some Canadians who were upset by it.

Overall, we feel the Russians did a great job with the spectators, signage was very clear with English sub-titles. All verbal announcements on the trains and in the Olympic Park were in Russian and English. Every where we went if a volunteer did not speak English, the volunteer would have another nearby who did.

The Games are over for us now. It was a great adventure. We now spend a couple of days in Moscow and then will come back to the U.S.


This is one of an ongoing series of travel discussions by John Wilson, retired lawyer and trust banker. John was motivated to start this series when he realized that his travel bio was more extensive and interesting than his legal credentials for doing ICLEF talks. He has traveled to forty-five states, over sixty countries and all continents except Antarctica.

If you have travel questions or tips of your own that you would like to suggest please contact ICLEF’s travel expert, John Wilson, by Clicking Here.

Photographs © 2014, John Wilson. Photographs may not be used without permission. 

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN


Posted in Where's Wilson: Travel Discussions1 Comment

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympics Series: 2012 London Olympic Volunteers

Where’s Wilson Olympic Series Part 3


Our travel expert, retired attorney, John Wilson will be a 9-time Olympian soon! Not as an athlete, per se, but definitely as an adventurer! He has been traveling to the Olympics since the 1976 Montreal Games. John will be fondly reminiscing about his Olympic past in an exclusive ICLEF 4-Part Series leading up the the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, from which our correspondent will regale us with what he learns from his Russian adventures. Please join us each week for a new installment. Click to read Part 1 & Part 2.

By John Wilson

Vancouver, 2010

Where's Wilson Olympics Series: 2010 Vancouver Olympic Flame

Because Vancouver is on the same continent as the US and its inhabitants speak English, my friends who abandoned me for Beijing resurfaced for the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010. Vancouver is one of the great cities of the world. We decided to stay in the city rather than the mountain venue at Whistler Mountain. We rented a house in Kitslano, a neighborhood in Vancouver roughly equivalent to Meridian-Kessler in Indy. Vancouver has good public transportation. To encourage Olympic tourists to use it, transport was free if you had an event ticket for the day. The weather was unusually warm, which caused some problems for a few of the local outdoor events (most of the skiing was at Whistler Mountain), but was great for the visitors. On occasion we walked the two miles or so from our house to  downtown Vancouver.

Tickets continued to get more expensive and hard to obtain. We went having tickets only for hockey and the ever popular curling. We figured we could buy more tickets, but also knew that Vancouver had plenty to offer on its own to do and see. We also correctly figured that there would be more social activities than usual during the Olympics. We did get some figure skating tickets and long track speed skating. On our day up in Whistler, we also got bobsledding tickets. Speed skating is a fun Olympic event that has a number of heats building to the best time winning the gold medal. The curling venue was on fire with passionate fans watching three simultaneous matches (and drinking beer).

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympics Series: 2010 Vancouver Olympic Speed SkatingICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympics Series: 2010 Vancouver Olympic Curling

Whistler Mountain is 125 km from Vancouver. Busses ran frequently from Vancouver to Whistler. Whistler is a ski resort much like Vail or Telluride.  We went up on a day that turned out to be fabulous. We had to wait a couple of hours for our bobsledding event. We were able to sit outside comfortably watching the skiers, social not Olympic. You can only see a small portion of the bobsled run at a time. You can see the whole of the event better on TV, but cannot get a true sense of the speed. They are so quick that I had trouble getting the sled in a picture as they moved out of the frame between the time I snapped the photo and the time the camera actually took it.

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympics Series: 2010 Vancouver Olympic Bobsled

Hockey was a focus, especially USA vs. Canada. In pool play, the US beat Canada. They later played for the gold medal. Our normally well mannered hosts to the North were working themselves into a hockey frenzy as more and more Canadians descended on Vancouver. We didn’t have tickets and needed a neutral location to watch the game, especially since my friend Tim insisted on wearing his USA Hockey T-shirt. The “House” phenomenon was building momentum in Vancouver. Not only was there Heineken House sponsored by the Netherlanders, but also USA House, Molson Hockey House, Ireland House, and our personal favorite, Slovakia House.

The Slovak Republic was previously part of Czechoslovakia. It has five million citizens. For $40 we got to hang out at Slovakia House all evening. Slovak food, drink and an Oom Pah Pah band was included.

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympics Series: 2010 Vancouver Olympic Oom Pah Pah band

Tim and I were the only ones there that were not either visiting from Slovakia or  Slovakian expatriates living in Canada. By the end of the evening (“you don’t have to go home but you need to leave here”), we had met and had conversation with most of the attendees including the lead commercial sponsor and the Slovakian ambassador to Canada. The good news about the USA/Canada hockey game was that the USA lost. Once it was safe to go back on the street, we joined some new Slovakian friends at Ireland House, and then returned to our Kitslano House to play piano and sing. It belatedly occurred to us that we may have stayed up a little late, when our friend Bruce who had not joined us the night before due to an early flight out that morning, clumped down the stairs with his luggage and left in his taxi. He didn’t even say good-bye.

London 2012

The five most memorable things about the London Olympics were the Opening Ceremony, the Olympic venues in the redeveloped East End of London, the volunteers, the British philosophy on ticket re-selling and our canal boat.

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympics Series: 2012 London Olympic Medals

If you didn’t see it, the Opening Ceremony was a reiteration of British history from Stonehenge to the present day. It included segments with chimneys spewing black smoke, the Industrial Revolution, and children in hospital beds depicting Britain’s national health care program. We watched here in Indy on TV. We did not attend because of expense and we go into the Olympics a few days after the start so the organizers can fix the ever-present logistics glitches. The general consensus of the Brits was that the Opening Ceremony program was a wonderful show. Non-Brit’s thoughts were generally, “What the heck just happened here?” Bringing it up in conversation during the Olympics was always fodder for a fun conversation.

As has been the trend, tickets continued to be expensive and harder to obtain, especially for a popular, safe and easily reached local like London. Once again the venues and Olympic Park were spectacular. A lot of the venues were on London’s formerly dilapidated East End. Plans were in place for secondary uses for the venues after the Olympics. Olympic Park was so large it took over a half hour to walk from one end to the other. The Brits had built what appeared to be a natural amphitheater in the middle of the Olympic Park which accommodated thousands of people for entertainment and to watch events on a giant screen.

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympics Series: 2012 London Olympic Flame

Speaking of trends, we had tickets for athletics and beach volleyball again. We also had weight lifting which I had seen in Beijing. It is very quick moving. Each lifter has ninety seconds to complete his lift. The lifters are eliminated after two non-lifts and the action builds to the gold medal. In our event, not only were three consecutive world records set, but when Ilya Iliyn from Kazakastan won, he instantly became a national hero. He was one happy guy. Being a tennis player, going to Wimbledon for the matches was most likely a once in a lifetime experience. We toured the grounds, sat on Henman Hill and saw Andy Murray and Laura Robson win their semi-final match in front of a fairly delirious local crowd (with the exception of the British lady two seats down from me who was working on her crossword puzzle).

As best I could understand, the Brits position on ticket reselling was that because the people with the most money could unfairly buy tickets that people of lesser means could not afford, anti-scalping laws were diligently enforced. While being morally admirable, the result was that people who had extra tickets could not sell them and those that wanted them could not purchase them. There were a lot of empty seats. Not to be a scofflaw, but we did buy one set of tickets for Athletics from a Russian scalper. The exchange was like something out of a Ludlum novel.

Three of us went to London. That is one more than the perfect number for the fifty-six foot long and seven foot wide canal boat that was our home in London. Booked via Airbnb, it was moored in Little Venice which is a short walk from Paddington Station. If one of the three of us wanted to move around the boat, the other two normally needed to also. It was a colorful enough situation that I awoke one morning to the sound of a Mexican TV crew being escorted though the boat by my friends as the Mexican TV folks filmed a segment on the Olympics.

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympics Series: 2012 London Olympic's BoatICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympics Series: 2012 London Olympic's Boat Inside

Every Olympics depends on thousands of volunteers. It can be a tough job. Long hours, early and late, bad weather and tedious work. How much fun would it be to spend four hours in cold/hot weather telling Olympic visitors getting off a train to turn left (to go to a venue)?  At all the Olympics I have attended the volunteers have been good. In London, they were great.

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympics Series: 2012 London Olympic Volunteers

We didn’t meet many “characters” in London. We blamed it on the neighborhood pubs closing at 11:00 p.m. or earlier. When we had a few extra days after our events were complete, we did the logical thing and flew to Prague. In a blues club in the catacombs of the city (after 11:00) when the musicians were on break, we had a conversation with two women who lived in Paris. One was French, the other from Brazil. They were interested in hearing about the London Olympics. Among other topics, the Opening Ceremony came up. We suggested that the Opening Ceremonies for Rio in 2016 should be great. The Brazilian lady rolled her eyes and said, ” It will be a cliche. All feathers and nudity.”

See you there!

Look in an ICLEF upcoming e-mail Newsletter for the final post from our Olympics correspondent in Part 4 of Where’s Wilson: The Olympic Series- Sochi.


This is one of an ongoing series of travel discussions by John Wilson, retired lawyer and trust banker. John was motivated to start this series when he realized that his travel bio was more extensive and interesting than his legal credentials for doing ICLEF talks. He has traveled to forty-five states, over sixty countries and all continents except Antarctica.

If you have travel questions or tips of your own that you would like to suggest please contact ICLEF’s travel expert, John Wilson, by Clicking Here.

Photographs © 2014, John Wilson. Photographs may not be used without permission. 

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

Posted in Where's Wilson: Travel Discussions0 Comments

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Blog Athens 2004 Olympics Pole Vault

Where’s Wilson: The Olympic Series, Part 2



Our travel expert, retired attorney, John Wilson will be a 9-time Olympian soon! Not as an athlete, per se, but definitely as an adventurer! He has been traveling to the Olympics since the 1976 Montreal Games. John will be fondly reminiscing about his Olympic past in an exclusive ICLEF 4-Part Series leading up the the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, from which our correspondent will regale us with what he learns from his Russian adventures. Please join us each week for a new installment. Click to read Part 1 or Part 3.

By John Wilson

Salt Lake, 2002

The summer and winter Olympics used to be held on the same years. In 1992 the winter Olympics were in Albertville, France, but two years later, in 1994, Lillehammer, Norway held the winter Olympics. After the Sydney summer games, Salt Lake City had the winter games in 2002. Going was a given!

The next decision was whether to stay in Salt Lake City, where all the indoor events, skating, hockey and curling would be held, or up at Park City where the skiing events where going on. Even with all the development in Park City, it still has a great Old West cowboy town feel. The six guys I went with all skied. We stayed in Park City.

The Salt Lake organizers learned well from the Sydney model and had many locations and events for music, entertainment etc. outside of the Olympic events themselves. When we were not at Olympic events, we skied. Usually the “only game in town” for Park City is skiing, but for the Olympics, most people were not skiers. The slopes were wide open; no lift lines. Staying in the mountain venue was not always our choice. We stayed in Vancouver rather than Whistler and will stay in Sochi, rather than Krasnaya Polyana in the mountains. Fresh off almost not finding a place to stay in Sydney, we booked fairly early at the Canyons which is west of Park City proper. The Canyons resort is a ski-in ski-out resort.

An unexpected bonus of staying at the Canyons was that the Today Show was being televised from the resort. If you stayed at the Canyons, in the morning you would wander down to the Today set in the resort lobby in your PJ’s and hang out with Katie, Al and Matt. If you weren’t staying in the resort, you could wait outside in the cold and the dark and hope they came outside. Katie was great. Between takes, while she was moving from set to set, she would chat with people like us. We traded pins. She got yelled at by her technical staff because she hung out with the tourists so long she would be late on the set. After each show she would sign autographs until everyone who wanted one got it. Matt was nice when he was on air. Salt Lake was before Al lost weight. He was quite the butterball, huffing and puffing with his family in the snow and altitude. Losing the weight saved his life.

In Park City, we saw ski jumping and freestyle aerials (where they do all the flips and twists).  We chose not to go to the skiing events.  Think of standing by the fence at the Indy 500. The skier is there for a second and then gone. And it is much colder at the Olympics than at the  Indy 500. We did go down to Salt Lake to see hockey and Ogden, Utah for curling. Really, curling is fun! My Ogden Curling Cowboy Olympic pin is one of my favorite souvenirs. Figure skating tickets were not in the budget for Salt Lake.

The interesting people at the Olympics and the unique experiences continued to be a big part of the fun. We not only met the Jamaican Bobsled team; we sat in their bobsled. We drank beer with FBI agents, off duty, but working at the games. I can’t tell you what their assignments were. They would have had to kill me. The Today Show was fun. We had a taxi driver who had eighteen children. As he said, “Yeah, I’m one of them.” I had an Italian ski instructor who was around sixty years old. I was not a good skier and had not skied for twenty years. I was in a very low level group. I thought he must love skiing a lot to still be teaching beginners. When he and I were paired on a lift ride, I found out he was a brain surgeon on the Italian medical team for the Olympics. A friend had let him instruct for the day for fun.

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Blog Jamaican Bob Sled

The best skiing at the Canyons is high on the mountain. You take a gondola to the main lifts and take it back to the base on the way down at the end of the day. Coming down one day, Billy Kidd, 1964 Olympic Slalom silver medalist, cowboy hat and all, got on the six person gondola with us. He was doing promotional work. His gig was “Ski with Billy Kidd.” We had seen the promotional materials. “Meet and Ski with Billy Kidd at 2:00 at the Top of the Saddle Back Express lift.” He told us he would do one slow run with all the folks. He would go up again and ski at an advanced level leaving most behind. On the next run, he would go all out, lose all the skiers and go home. He was a great guy and told us some fun stories. At the end of the gondola ride, the apres-ski bar was about fifty feet away. My friend, Nick, asked Billy if he would like to have a beer with us. He agreed. The bar was full. We button-holed a waiter we who had served us several times during the week. He said it would be awhile before he got to us. He then turned to Billy and asked him what he wanted. Billy said, “My friends and I need three beers.”  Thank you, Billy!

Athens 2004

The Greeks were so proud to have the Olympics come home.  There was a lot of “noise” about security concerns and whether the venues would be ready. Not much new about that. As it turned out there were no security problems and the Greeks were ready, but just barely.

Our first event was badminton. Really fun. On our way to the event, we noted to the taxi driver how interesting an abstract design pedestrian bridge to the badminton venue was. He said it hadn’t been there the week before. The lady we rented an apartment from in the suburb of Glyfada got lost leaving Athens because the roads were all new.

Because of security concerns, not many Americans went to Athens. As a result, we got some great tickets including some for events we had not seen before. We had closed track cycling, badminton, beach volleyball, mountain biking, indoor volleyball, team handball and athletics. Beach Volleyball is always a party, the more so in Athens when it was 96 degrees. They would periodically turn the water hoses on the fans to cool us down. Track and field was better than ever. With so few Americans attending, we got seats in the fourteenth row, right in front of the women’s pole vault which was contested for the first time in Athens. We like events that have multiple matches, races, etc. We had learned that these type of events tend to be more interesting than say a single basketball game. Badminton is huge in South East Asia. It has multiple close matches and fanatic fans.

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Blog Athens 2004 Olympics Pole Vault ICLEF's Where's Wilson Blog Athens 2004 Olympics Badminton fans

Many of the major venues were at the OAKA, Olympic Center of Athens. You would clear security and then be in a large mall area surrounded by the Athletics Stadium, the velodrome, the swimming  and other venues. Food, drink, entertainment and people watching were all part of the OAKA experience. The beer sponsor for Athens was Heineken. It had been Fosters in Australia. No self respecting Aussie would drink Fosters. When we ran into a group of Aussies in the OAKA who were obviously enjoying the Heineken, I asked them if they enjoyed Heineken so much why had the had they had Fosters at Sydney. Their reply, “Well mate, we saved it up for you tourists for years.”

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Blog Athens 2004 Olympic Park

Glyfada, where we stayed, is an upscale suburb of Athens on the Saronic Gulf. It’s about twenty minutes from downtown Athens by public transportation. The lady we rented a three bedroom condo from was an expatriate American, estranged from her Saudi husband and suggested that she might do a little work for the CIA on the side. We had rented from her through a friend, because she had convinced herself that there was no way she wanted to be in Athens for the Olympics. She was going to the island of Mykonos. By the time we arrived, she had gotten Olympic fever and asked if we would mind if she stayed in her own apartment for a few days. All worked out well as she got us oriented and made a few connections for us, including telling us about the Molly Malone Irish Pub in Glyfada.

A few days into the Olympics, after attending an event, we got back to Glyfada about midnight. We had not eaten dinner, which is not that unusual there, and decided to go to the Molly Malone Pub. Glyfada was the site of the Olympic Sailing venue. The Molly Malone was the unofficial hang out for all the English speaking (and a number of other) Olympic sailing teams. Apparently, sailors do not hold to some of the typical training regimens some other Olympic athletes do. In fairness to the sailors, some had already completed their events. Those celebrating included three British women who had not only won gold medals that day, but were wearing them, including when they danced on the bar. There were no strangers at Molly Malone’s that night.

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Blog Athens 2004 Olympic Medalist ICLEF's Where's Wilson Blog Athens 2004 Olympic Medal Winners Dancing

None of my friends wanted to go to Turin in 2006 for the next winter games so I did not go.

None of my friends wanted to go to Bejing in 2008 for the next summer games, so I went alone.

Beijing 2008

Why would I go to China alone? How do you go to China alone? Traveling alone is not my first choice. There are places I have wanted to visit and times I have wanted to go when friends and family couldn’t or wouldn’t join me. I will write a separate blog on independent travel. There are pro’s and con’s. There are some things you can do to enhance the chances of there being more pro’s than con’s. Even things that seem not so good at the time when you are traveling alone, can later turn out to have been pretty awesome or at worst a funny story.

China, Beijing, and the Olympics there intrigued me. Even though 2008 is not that long ago, I did not know many people who had traveled there. I knew little about the city, people and culture. It was going to be some work to put together, but that was part of the fun.  You have seen a thread running through my Olympic trips that focuses on meeting interesting people and having different experiences.  I thought Beijing had great potential for the same. It did not disappoint!

The most fascinating thing about getting to China was the visa process. I felt and still feel that if the Chinese could have put on the Olympics successfully without having had any spectators, that would have been their preference. They wanted to be on the world stage in a positive way. How about the Opening Ceremony! But they are used to having total control and that was not possible with all the foreign spectators. Unlike so many predecessor Olympics, there were no public festival locations for the Olympic fans. Instead of encouraging visitors to attend the Olympics, China made the requirements to get an entry visa more stringent. My favorite restriction, which I thought gave insight into how our cultures differ, was that I had to get a letter from my employer stating that I had permission to be off work to go to China. My multiple bosses at JPMorgan were fighting to write about all the reasons they would like to have me gone.

There were several reasons my friends did not join me in Beijing. Tickets were becoming harder to obtain. We had only gotten four tickets for each of three events. Two track and field and one beach volleyball. It was a long flight to a very different culture. It was a tough decision to go by myself. The flights worked out, because as with lodging, not many business or ordinary tourists were coming to Beijing during the Olympics. Two added pieces of info helped me decide to do it. First, a friend who had been to Beijing told me that the taxi’s were incredibly inexpensive. Getting around the city, even as a single, would be affordable. The drivers usually spoke no English. That problem was solved by having a card in Mandarin with the address where I was staying and getting one for wherever I was going.

Second, lodging information on the internet was becoming even more detailed. I had become aware of Tripadvisor.com. Getting a place to stay for a single at the Olympics at a reasonable cost was an issue. I came across a hostel that was one block north of Jingsham Park which is one block north of the Forbidden City. A great location. I had long ago figured out that the best Olympic lodging strategy for me was to stay close to good restaurants and night life locations and then travel to the events, rather than vice versa. The hostel, The Sitting on the City Walls House, had numerous very positive reviews including several that noted that the on site managers were helpful and fluent in English. Even though it was a hostel, I was able to book a private room with a bath. Better yet, I later  discovered that a cold quart of local beer was only fifty cents at the hostel. But, it was located in the hutongs.

Hutongs are narrow streets or alleys, many of which have been in existence since the fifteenth century. They are residential areas with homes that have plain exterior walls on the alley  and courtyards on the interior. Many hutongs, like mine, are so narrow that cars cannot traverse them.  I arrived in Beijing on a rainy night about 11:00 P.M. The taxi driver let me off at the main street at the entrance to the hutong. I had directions, but the drawing was sketchy (ha) and the wording was in Mandarin. I had obtained one other invaluable piece of advice from one of the internet reviews for Sitting on the City Walls House.  It was; “if you can’t find your way in the hutong, just ask any of the residents on the street where the hostel is. They don’t speak English, but they know the only reason a westerner with luggage would be there would be if they were looking for the hostel.”  I asked, they pointed and I found the hostel.

ICLEF's Wheres Wilson Blog Beijing Olympics Hutung

ICLEF Wheres Wilson Blog Beijing Olympics Hostel

Olympic Park and the design of the venues were as spectacular as they appeared on TV. Beijing itself is mammoth; over eleven million people. They have neighborhoods with modern building that make downtown Indy look small.

Kindles were pretty new at the time. I purchased one for the trip. I figured if I didn’t meet any people of interest, I could go to the events, do some sightseeing, buy some presents and read some books. I didn’t read any books. Because of its positive reputation for being English friendly, the hostel had mostly english speaking guests. Early on I met three young Aussies who conveniently had a friend who had not been able to come and use his tickets. I had three extra tickets to all my events.  Two of the Aussies were serious runners (the other was a serious drinker) and I had two track and field events. We became best friends, going not only to events, but dinner and nightlife.

ICLEF Wheres Wilson Blog Beijing Aussie Friends

We became very familiar with Heineken House. Now something of an institution at all the Olympics, it is affiliated with the Dutch Olympic Team. In addition to showing events on large screen TV’s that the Dutch participate in, it hosts celebrations for their winning athletes and a generally great party, especially late night. Plenty of Heineken. Back then all were invited. At more recent Olympics, all are invited but it is so popular that it has been hard to get in.

There are some Western oriented night spots in Beijing. Waiting in line to get in with the Aussie boys one night, two interesting things happened. First, we noticed the sign saying flip-flops were not allowed. Simultaneously, there was an ingenious local guy walking down the line selling shoes. You know how it can be fun to be carded going into a bar when you are forty or so?  The Olympic equivalent for me was when a couple of young folks behind us in line who were German Olympians asked me what Olympic event I had participated in. I guess that’s where sailing and shooting fit in.

Before the Aussies left, we all took a tour up north to do a ten kilometer walk on the Great Wall in one of its more scenic areas. I forgot the young guys were runners and tried to keep up with them. I would have died if some local Mongolian women on the wall who looked to be twice my age and half my height, had not only helped me up some of the inclines, but also fanned me with some traditional hand fans. I ended up walking the rest of the way with a Dutch rowing coach whose athletes had left her in their wake also.

After the Aussies left for home, I met some other people. I was sitting in the courtyard of the hostel watching the women’s marathon with a guy I hadn’t met. It was a hot day and I commented on how difficult the marathon looked. He agreed and said he had recently done something hard also. He and another guy had ridden bicycles from Croatia to Beijing for the Olympics. Really! I saw his pictures including one of him staying with a family in a yurt in the Gobi Desert.

My favorite new friend was a young self described geek who was an M.I.T. student. He had done an internship study in rural China and was on his way home. He did not like sports and was not enthusiastic about being in Beijing during the Olympics. He was lonesome for some American company and so we hung out together. He showed me some places in Beijing, I never would have found. I took him to a beach volleyball game. He loved it. He copied me on his e-mails to his friends telling about how much he enjoyed the event. He probably claimed  delerium when he got home and saw them in person.

Look in next week’s ICLEF e-mail Newsletter for continued coverage from our Olympics correspondent in Part 3 of Where’s Wilson: The Olympic Series.


This is one of an ongoing series of travel discussions by John Wilson, retired lawyer and trust banker. John was motivated to start this series when he realized that his travel bio was more extensive and interesting than his legal credentials for doing ICLEF talks. He has traveled to forty-five states, over sixty countries and all continents except Antarctica.

If you have travel questions or tips of your own that you would like to suggest please contact ICLEF’s travel expert, John Wilson, by Clicking Here.

Photographs © 2014, John Wilson. Photographs may not be used without permission. 

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN


Posted in Where's Wilson: Travel Discussions0 Comments


Where’s Wilson: The Olympic Series, Part 1


Our travel expert, retired attorney, John Wilson will be a 9-time Olympian soon!  Not as an athlete, per se, but definitely as an adventurer! He has been traveling to the Olympics since the 1976 Montreal Games.  John will be fondly reminiscing about his Olympic past in an exclusive ICLEF 4-Part Series leading up the the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, from which our correspondent will regale us with what he learns from his Russian adventures.  Please join us each week for a new installment. Click to read Part 2 & Part 3.

By John Wilson 

Sochi 2014 will be my ninth Olympic trip. But let’s start at the beginning…

Montreal, 1976

We were three years out of law school in 1976.  There were ten of us: Jack O’Bryan, Lafayette; David Carter, Indianapolis; our respective wives and girl friends, another guy and another girl lawyer along with Mary Ann Carter’s teenage sister and niece from Virginia.

Those friendly Canadians had set up a billeting exchange.  We stayed in the upper floor of a five bedroom house while the home owner and his family occupied the bottom two floors. The accommodations worked out fine, but there was a little unneeded tension to start.  Because we only had five bedrooms, the guy and girl lawyers who were friends, but not in a relationship, shared the fifth bedroom.  It would have worked better had the teenage niece from Virginia known the difference between a “prosecutor”, which the lady lawyer was and a “prostitute”, which she was not.

Having been to a number of Olympics, I am asked which do you like better, Summer or Winter? Summer.  What is my favorite event? Track and Field, which is called Athletics in the Olympics.

ICLEF Wheres Wilson Olympics Series Part-1, Montreal Olympics Seal Poster 1976

In Montreal, the Athletics stadium is still an icon, although its costs almost bankrupted Montreal and the roof was only afforded many years later.  Over 60,000 spectators watched a five ring circus of the best track and field athletes world-wide competing simultaneously.  It was a golden age for men’s track and field with Lasse Viren, Finland, winning both the five and ten thousand meters.  From Cuba, Alberto Juantoreno, won the 400 and 800 meters.   A relatively unknown from Trinidad and Tobago, Hasley Crawford won the 100 meters and his country went wild.  The East Germans were at the height of doping on the women’s side so it was less interesting. The longest race for women in 1976 was 1500 meters.

Moscow, 1980  Los Angeles, 1984  Seoul, 1988 and Barcelona, 1992

After 1976, work, family and politics got in the way of Olympic adventures.  In 1980, the Americans boycotted Moscow, then, big surprise, the Russians boycotted Los Angeles in 1984. Seoul was 1988 and Barcelona 1992. The logistics for those two didn’t happen.  It never occurred to me to go to the Winter Olympics. The Winter Olympics in Sarajevo would have been great in its pre-Bosnian War heyday.  Ten years later the Olympic venues were part of their war.

Atlanta, 1996

In 1996, the O’Bryans, Carters and Wilsons, who had gone to Montreal, packed up the family cars and headed down the road to Atlanta for the 1996 Olympics.  In the intervening twenty years, we had amassed children of various ages, who joined us.  While we went to a variety of events including volleyball, tennis, platform diving, wrestling and rowing. Athletics was once again the highlight.  Michael Johnson won the 200 meters in a world record, and the 400 in an Olympic record. Carl Lewis won his fourth Olympic gold medal in the long jump. He and Al Oerter are the only two Americans to win the same event in four Olympics.  For women, Gail Devers won the 100 meter. Women now ran up to 10,000 meters (but not the marathon).

ICLEF Wheres Wilson Olympics Series Blog Part-1, Track & Field events at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games        ICLEF Wheres Wilson Olympic Series Blog, Part 1, Diving event at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games

The Atlanta Olympics is where Hillary Clinton lost my vote.  She attended a day session of athletics that our children also attended.  The day sessions are when the heats are run with the finals of the event occurring that evening.  Day sessions are usually pretty quiet as was this one.  Our kids approached Hillary’s entourage to ask for autographs and were turned away.  I know its not good to be a one issue voter, but it was my daughter.  Sorry, Hillary.

Sydney, 2000

Sydney is one of the great cities of the world.  Having the Olympics there in 2000 made it irresistible. It also was the Olympics where I started to understand two added Olympic phenomenon.  One related to housing and the second to the international party that surrounds the Olympics.

ICLEF Wheres Wilson Olympic Series Blog, Part 1, Sydney 2000 Olympic Games

ICLEF Wheres Wilson Olympic Series Blog, Part 1, Flags from varying nations at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games

I packed up Messrs. O’Bryan and Carter and my friend, Bruce Glor.  The wives passed.  My friends made the mistake of letting me plan the trip unsupervised.  The two and a half weeks was the longest vacation I had taken since I started working in 1973.  We spent the first couple of days in Melbourne and watched the Opening Ceremony there on TV.  We don’t go to the Olympic City on the first few days for two reasons.  First, the opening ceremony is just too expensive, and second, arriving after the events have been going a few days allows the organizers to work out logistical kinks.

Next we went to Tasmania.  As many Tasmanians themselves asked us, “Why would you go to Tasmania?”  Answer:  I had never met anyone from there, I had never been there, and didn’t expect to meet anyone who had. It was great. At least I thought so.  One  evening in the town of Hobart, we watched Olympic swimming on TV in a pub with the local rugby guys.  Thankfully the Aussies beat the Yanks.  It was free beer and Waltzing Matilda all around.  Had the US won, it might have been Bruce and John all around.

Next, we drove to Freycinet Bay National Park on Tasmania.  Its website says this, “Freycinet National Park consists of knuckles of granite mountains all but surrounded by azure bays and white sand beaches.”  Its an area where you can get local micro climate white wines, pick oysters directly from the ocean and have a kookaburra bird on your deck wake you in the morning.  My friends hated it and wanted to know when we were going to the Olympics.

ICLEF Wheres Wilson Olympic Series Blog, Part 1, Barilla Bay Oysters, 2000 Sydney Olympic Games

I made a pledge to myself while in Australia that I was going to be a much kinder and nicer person, like the Australians are.  After being harassed by my friends, I made a call to Qantas Airlines to get a flight to Sydney.  Here is the conversation:

Qantas lady (QL):  Hello. This is Vivian.  Who am I talking to?
Me:  John Wilson.
QL:  How are you today, Mr. Wilson
Me:  I’m fine.  How about you?
QL:  Very well.  It’s so kind of you to ask.  Where are you calling from Mr. Wilson?
Me:  Freycinet Bay.
QL:  That is spectacular.  I love Freycinet Bay.  How is the weather?  Are you enjoying it?
Me:  I am, but my from the States.
QL:  Oh, I love Americans. You have such great accents…

You get the idea.  We did get flights, but…

Let’s talk about Olympic accommodations.  Getting in the groove for my third Olympics, I realized that housing for the Olympics is counterintuitive.  The folks in the host city believe that there will be hoards of tourists clamoring for not enough rooms.  They raise prices and put restrictions like needing to rent for a month or not even being able to know which hotel you are staying in (you just get a class, like one, two or three stars).  The reality is that there is an oversupply of rooms.  First, no business person in their right mind is going to the host city during the Olympics.  The same for ordinary tourists.  That puts a pretty big hole in the normal amount of daily reservations.  Next, after all the building construction and road congestion building up to the games, a lot of the locals are ready to vacate the city making their homes and apartments available. Unfortunately, it takes until a month or so before the event for this reality to become clear to the property owners.  By the year 2000, I was conversant enough with the internet to be able to follow the owner/renter dance.  Even by the time the Olympics had started, there was lots of availability in Sydney.  We decided to arrive in Sydney for the Olympics with no room reservations.

In addition to being friendly and kind, the Australians can be a little nonchalant.  “The Olympics coming to Sydney.  No big deal.  I have no interest in going.”  After the first week, all of Australia got Olympic fever.  At the same time we were flying from Tasmania to Sydney, all those Aussies were flying, driving and probably riding kangaroos to Sydney from all over the country.  Housing dried up in a flash and we had no where to stay.  Being successful lawyers and businessmen, we had a back up plan.  Go to a college bar, meet some students, and offer them money to rent us their flats if they would stay with friends.  Luckily we didn’t get that low on the rental depth chart.  A bunch of telephone calls first got us a housekeeping apartment in Woolamloo (great name) neighborhood overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We spent the last days in Sydney on Coogee Beach in a sea captain’s apartment.

Once again, Athletics, with the exception of only serving Fosters beer in the venue (more on this in Athens 2004 in Part 2 of our series), was a great event.  Swimming was a strength for the Aussies. Their enthusiasm was contagious and the Americans did well too.  This was the Olympics when beach volleyball, on the famous Bondi Beach, morphed into the party it remains.  We even saw the curmudgeonly president of the  international olympic committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, do The Wave at a beach volleyball session.  Beach volleyball has multiple matches at each session.  We had made friends with some Aussies sitting close to us during the early match. The final match of the day was USA vs. Romania, they cheered (you don’t “root” in Australia in polite company, look it up) for Romania. Offended, we asked what was up.  They said, “We love Americans, but you always win. We’re cheering for the underdogs.”  It didn’t keep us from having beers with them later.

ICLEF Wheres Wilson Olympic Series Blog, Part 1, Face Painted at the Beach Volleyball events, 2000 Sydney Olympics

Sydney is where I wore my first Olympic medal.  The Aussies had done everything they could to make the Olympics a celebration and party, not just for the event attendees, but for everyone.  This was the first Olympics I had seen big screen TVs in as many public places as possible and collateral entertainment for all.  We were at one of those locations with some new Australian friends when one of their friends who was an olympic rower joined us.  He was wearing his bronze medal.  Everyone got a chance to wear it. Some of the time he didn’t know where it was.  I didn’t keep it.  I was as nice as an Australian by then.

Look in next week’s ICLEF e-mail Newsletter for continued coverage from our Olympics correspondent in Part 2 of Where’s Wilson: The Olympic Series.


This is one of an ongoing series of travel discussions by John Wilson, retired lawyer and trust banker. John was motivated to start this series when he realized that his travel bio was more extensive and interesting than his legal credentials for doing ICLEF talks. He has traveled to forty-five states, over sixty countries and all continents except Antarctica.

If you have travel questions or tips of your own that you would like to suggest please contact ICLEF’s travel expert, John Wilson, by Clicking Here.

Photographs © 2013, John Wilson. Photographs may not be used without permission. 

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN



Posted in Where's Wilson: Travel Discussions0 Comments