Tag Archive | "travel"

Planning for Summer Vacation Part 2

Planning for Summer Vacation Part 2

Where's Wilson, The Newest ICLEF Blog

In the newest Where’s Wilson 2-Part Series, our ICLEF travel expert, John Wilson explains how to plan for vacations.

Planning Your Summer Vacation, Part 2
By John Wilson

To read Part 1, Click Here.

When to Go?:
Some companies will only tour in the prime season, but others go year round. While I check their sites for when they say is the prime time to travel, (higher cost can be, but is not always an indicator), I also Google the weather for the locations and look to travel guides that I usually get from the public library. I also like to look for the “shoulder season,” when trips may be cheaper but weather and other factors are still good. It is a lot less expensive to fly to Europe in late September or October than in summer. But there will be smaller crowds and the weather may be better than summer. Frommer’s is my favorite travel guide based both on quality of information and how it is organized. I also use Fodor’s and Lonely Planet. For now South East Asia is on hold. I wanted to go around May. For Thailand and countries close to there, it turned out to be uncomfortably close to the monsoon season. New Delhi has an average high of one hundred degrees that time of year and Nepal has haze in the mountains. January and February work for all. More to come on South East Asia next year.

Accommodations and Things to Do:
If you decide to travel independently, use the websites and guide books mentioned in Part 1 to help with lodging choices, locations, and sights that you want to see. For lodging, also look at TripAdvisor. Take some of the reviews, particularly the best and worst with a grain of salt, but generally it is possible to find a number of suitable alternatives. Don’t forget to look at the B&B and specialty lodging sections. Unless I find a small hotel I like, I usually get accommodations from the B&B and specialty lodging areas. While on TripAdvisor for your room, check out the “Things to Do” section including the “Attractions.” I like to do things that are a little out of the main stream. This is a great place to find them. TripAdvisor can be more current than guide books. For lodging, you can also look at Airbnb and VRBO. I have used both successfully. I have never stayed at a place that did not have a number of positive reviews by users on these sites. For the more adventurous/economical, look at Hostels.com and Couchsurfing.org. I have used Hostels.com and been satisfied. I feel the user reviews are critical to my being comfortable staying in a “hostel environment.” Once again, give very close scrutiny to the user reviews. In hostels, I have always stayed in private rooms, which most hostels have in addition to multishare rooms. I have not used, but have met people who have and who have enjoyed Couchsurfing.org. Generally you stay for free, sometimes on a couch but other times in better quarters.

All Frommer’s guidebooks have a “The best of ….” section and suggested itineraries. I pick and chose from them. Not all will be right for you. All the guide books and websites ranked the Russian banyans (baths) as a don’t miss. My daughter rated it a definite do miss and we did not make that site.

Tours or Independent Travel?:
I usually look at both ways and may “mix and match” on the same vacation. Factors in favor of independent travel include: a vacation in one location, i.e. beach, London, or Rio de Janeiro; locations where English is spoken, Sydney, the US, South Africa and most of Europe where English may not be the first language, but it is widely spoken; “safer” countries, i.e., US vs. Canada. Just kidding. The least safe thing that could happen to you in Canada would be to be eaten by a polar bear or get caught up in a hockey riot. But some of the Central American countries might be a little iffy in some areas. I am more likely to travel independently if I am traveling with friends and family rather than traveling solo.

No generalization works in all cases. I went to China and Rio solo. Beijing was for the Olympics. My research helped me find a hostel where English was spoken and a friend correctly advised me that taxis were inexpensive and a simple way to get around. I met some Aussies who I hung out with for the entire trip. I went to Rio alone, which in retrospect I would not do again, because English was not widely spoken. While Portuguese is similar to Spanish when written, it is not at all like Spanish when spoken. My Spanish which is sufficient in Spanish speaking countries failed me in Rio and I was not able to enjoy meeting and conversing with local folks.

As we have gotten comfortable with solo travel outside the U.S., we have added an element. If we are planning on traveling about a country or region, we usually get reservations for lodging for the first day or so. After that, we only get accommodations as we go, either a day or so ahead or as we get to the new town. In 2012, we spent over three weeks in South Africa, starting in Cape Town. We had reservations for Cape Town. While we were there, we talked to as many local folks as we could about where they would recommend we go on the Garden Route along the south west coast and where to stay. The result was a much better vacation than I could have planned from home. We did have occasions where we arrived in town with our prospective lodging full. Our standard approach then was to find the local tourist office or, and this is usually more fun, a bar with internet. It was not unusual that before we got online, a bartender or patron had a recommendation. In the town of Prince Albert, SA, we needed a room and were on a sidewalk on Main Street looking for a bar. The owner of a shop where we were standing asked us if we needed help. We never made it to the bar. He called Esme a block down the street to see if she had a room at her B&B, the Bougain-Villa. She did. We rented it. An hour later we were invited to join her and her husband, John, and some friends for dinner on the Braai (grill).

Sometimes traveling solo is a viable option, but taking a tour can be more fun, equally or more economical and more efficient. In Peru, I had a package that included, hiking the Inca Trail, traversing Lake Titicaca (including an Amantani Island home stay) and a stay in the Amazon Basin. The tour included so many minor added sights and events that the company’s marketers couldn’t get them all in the marketing materials. The tour director was great and my fifteen new travel buddies from all over the world were so much fun that we hung together even during our free time. My new friends and travel companions graciously overlooked the fact that I was thirty years older than the next oldest person on our tour.

For the now postponed South East Asia trip, where I may or may not travel alone for all or part of the trip, I was looking at a tour from New Delhi to Kathmandu, Nepal, trekking in Nepal and a tour from Bankok to Hanoi. Organizing independent travel with all the transportation, lodging, and sightseeing would be more complex than I wanted to handle. On the other hand, I couldn’t find a set tour in Nepal that met my needs. I will set up my own lodging and hiking there. I am anticipating that I will get a lot of info from fellow travelers on the way there, and maybe hook up with some of the India tour travelers when in Nepal.

If that does not happen, I have found through research that there are lots of good hiking companies out of Kathmandu that I can hire when I get there. If none of the above works for you, wait for some of my future blogs. I plan to cover Favorite Cities of the World and Favorite Hikes and Adventures next.

P.S. When your friends and family tell you they are going on a great trip, don’t forget to ask them if you can go along.
Thanks; Greg Shelley, -Witches’ Rock Surf Camp; Bruce, – Canada Golf and The Anchor Bar, home of the original Buffalo Wing; John and Karen, -London, Phoenix & the Grand Canyon, Santiago, Chile, Roatan, Honduras (Jeff & Michelle, too), Seabrook Island, and next up, Seattle; Llyod & Wendy -Italy, (try to find Montisi in Tuscany); Martin and Bjorn, – Norway; Mike and Kris,- Mt. LeConte; David and Mary Ann, – Sandbridge, Va.; Mo, – Belfast; David & Walt, – The Masters; Bob and Jan, -Pebble Beach; Bridget, -Barbados; Mike (Captain Mike) and Trish, Nick (of the infamous Columbus Day Regatta) and Libby – the British Virgin Islands; Tara & Sasha, – the British Virgin Islands when your friends forget to show up; Margaret, Dover & the Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon; and the man who started it all, Jack O’Bryan – Freeport, Kamloops, and all of Europe.

P.P.S. Don’t say, “I’ll go next time.”


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.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN


Posted in Where's Wilson: Travel Discussions0 Comments

Planning Your Summer Vacation

Planning Your Summer Vacation

Where's Wilson, The Newest ICLEF Blog

In the newest Where’s Wilson 2-Part Series, our ICLEF travel expert, John Wilson explains how to plan for vacations.

Planning Your Summer Vacation, Part 1
By John Wilson

For me, there are three distinct parts to every vacation: planning, the event itself and for lack of a more discreet term, the afterglow. The afterglow is when you consolidate your memories, enjoy your pictures and souvenirs, and take the stories that were interesting and embellish them to amazing. Not many people enjoy planning a trip as much as I do. There are no travel agents who have the time or inclination to work with me in the detail that I enjoy. In this article, I will give you a number of techniques I use working on my own to make a trip more fun, more convenient and less costly. If you incorporate one or two in your planning process, I will consider this writing a success. If you like all of the ideas, we need to have lunch with an atlas….You buy.

How to Decide Where to Go:
Sometimes you decide on the vacation or location and other times it decides for you. I have a piece of paper with about twenty or thirty destinations that I have not been to, but would like to visit. I created it five years ago while sitting in front of a peat fire on a chilly, foggy night in Northern Ireland. My wife and I were visiting our daughter who was in Belfast for a year. I had been traveling a lot to interesting locations and thought I might be running out of places to visit. The exercise proved me wrong. I kept coming up with new places to get excited about in both the U.S. and elsewhere. Since then, I have visited a number of the places on the list, but not as many as I would have expected. Other places keep calling me in addition to those on the list.

On occasion, a family member or I have just wanted some R&R. To us, that usually means a beach vacation. If you need some R&R and beach vacations are the answer for you, take a look at my Where’s Wilson blog article, My Favorite & Least Favorite Beach Vacations.

Don’t have a specific vacation in mind, but want to start the dreaming process? Take a look at these websites which primarily have guided tours. I will discuss the pros and cons of guided tours later. For now look at the trips to see what interests you. These companies are able to offer these tours continuously because they go to some of the most popular destinations world wide. The tours they offer span the gamut from easy, both physically and culturally, to way out there, literally and figuratively. I tend to travel economically both for the obvious reason and because I find the people that travel this way interesting. Sites I look at (and sign up for e-mails on trips and specials) include: G AdventuresGate 1 Travel & Intrepid

Grand Circle Cruise Line and Viking Cruises have some great itineraries for river and other cruises. A little more upscale with mostly Americans over sixty with great itineraries is Overseas Adventure Travel (OATS). These sites consistently discount tour prices if you can travel on short notice. My twenty something daughter and I went on a short notice OATs trip to Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece. The price and itinerary were great. Forty-nine of the fifty people on the tour were over sixty years old. This was not ideal for my daughter who was the fiftieth person. The fact that our tour guide sounded exactly like Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle (and the young international staff of the ship) made up for it. In the category I consider expensive is National Geographic Expeditions. For the purpose of the dreaming exercise, look at all. They all have trips that can stimulate thought.

I was on fire to go to Mongolia. By looking at popular tour company itineraries, I realized that Mongolia would have amazing sights and experiences, but would require much more time riding buses than I wanted. I also wanted to go to Morocco. Looking at organized tours on G Adventure’s website, I was able to determine feasible routes, places to visit, and that it was economically within my range.

South East Asia is on my mind now. Reviewing the sites above, I was able to determine there are more areas of interest and itineraries than I could experience on one or more vacations. India, Nepal for trekking, Thailand, Laos, Viet Nam and Cambodia for culture, and some beach time. Then down to Malaysia and Indonesia, Bali and Java. Borneo? Who knows? Reviewing the cost of the trips on the sites, allowed me to extrapolate that the costs in the area were within my budget, whether I traveled independently, on a tour, or did a mix of both.

Air Travel:
Next I studied airfare to South East Asia and time of travel. It’s a long way. Distance will not put a quietus on a trip for me, but cost will. Even though many tours include airfare (and my have the best price), I check air fare separately and on multiple sites. For international travel, I like Yapta, Skyscanner, and Kayak. I also use Orbitz, Travelocity, and Expedia, more for the US, Caribbean and Central America. Yapta is good because it can track the change of prices for specific flights going forward and alert you to those changes. Southwest Airlines does not show on most sites and should be checked separately.

If you are planning late for a trip and having trouble finding a reasonably priced room and/or flight, look at packaged vacations on Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia. They may have inventory that you cannot get to separately.

Be creative in checking flights. For example, even if you want to start your trip in Hanoi, also check the flight to Bangkok, because it’s a hub. It may be cheaper to fly to Bangkok and get a regional flight to Hanoi. On my recent trip to Sochi, flights on the above sites were all showing around $2500. By breaking up my search to be Indy to Moscow, $950, and Moscow to Sochi, $300, the flight came within my means. (I did also check reviews for the Russian airline I was using, S7, which turned out to be on time, with new planes and flight attendants right out of the 50’s of U.S. air history.) For trips from Indy, I also check flights out of Chicago. Recently, a flight to Quito, Ecuador from Indy was around $1200. From Chicago, it was $750.

I have airports that I like and others that I avoid. I do not fly to Chicago from Indy. In my unproven, but strongly experienced opinion, because Indy is so close to Chicago, when backups occur in Chicago, Indy is one of the first airports from which flights are delayed. The weather can be fine here, you can be on the plane and still not get to Chicago for hours. I do not want to risk missing the only connecting flight to Kathmandu because I can’t get to Chicago. If Chicago flights are too good to pass up, I drive there. I will consider returning through Chicago because the long distance flights into Chicago will not be cancelled. However, flights to Indy, even though there are a bunch of them, can be frustratingly delayed also. If you fly through Newark, I will not respect you in the morning. – And that will be the morning you are still in Newark because your flight-in was delayed and you missed your connection.

My favorite airport is Charlotte which is relatively small, convenient to navigate, and from which you can catch a surprising number of connections to Europe and the Caribbean. For connections, I also like Detroit (you don’t have to go into the city), Minneapolis (in the winter, they know how to handle snow), and Cleveland. Atlanta and Houston are larger airports, hence I plan a little more time between connections, but I have had good luck there. I have had a lot of burgers in the Friday’s at Hartsfield International in Atlanta after coming off a week of great seafood in the islands. Others may disagree, but I will also travel out of Boston and Philly. The New York and Miami airports are not my favorites, but I will fly out of them when other options are not working.

Join us next week for Part 2: Where to Go and Accommodations and Things to Do


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.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

Posted in Where's Wilson: Travel Discussions0 Comments

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

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