ONCE IN A LIFETIME TRIPS ... AND BEIJING OLYMPIC TOURS
One of the pleasures of being Travel Editor here at the Star is getting copies of cool travel books. Some are pretty goofy ("How I Crossed the Atlantic on a Zamboni" sort of things) and some are pretty localized "Great Hotels of East York" (okay, maybe not). But some make for interesting blog fodder, and I'm all for that.
Earlier this week, I received something by author Chris Santella called "Once in a Lifetime Trips - the world's 50 most extraordinary and memorable travel experiences."
He's divided his 50 trips into several cities: On the Ocean, On an Island, In the Jungle, In the Mountains and Desert, In the Country, In the City and In the Sky.
There are three Canadian spots out of 50, just to get our parochial interests out of the way. They are diving to the Titanic off Newfoundland, Hiking the Canadian Rockies (pretty obvious) and Polar Bear Safari in Manitoba, which is a nice geographic blend. The Titanic dive looks interesting, as you join a research ship and check out the ocean floor 380 miles southeast of Newfoundland. But he doesn't seemto tell readers how they would go about registering for the submersible diving trip. Or, uh, what it might cost. Interesting reading but isn't that a significant flaw?
On the other hand, he's got wonderful things to say about hiking near Lake Louise (who doesn't?) and the "Tundra Buggy" you can take to go out on the ice to see the polar bears looks kinda funky.
I don't quite understand entry number 44: visiting the world's greatest opera houses by private jet. You just as easily could make it visiting the world's best wineries or world's best brothels. But he makes up for it with item 31, playing the courses of the British Open. I've yet to play any of them, and I'm not at all bitter about it.
BIRDS NEST VISIT ... FOR A SONG
Associated Press reports that folks in charge of the iconic Birds Nest Olympic stadium in Beijing have "slashed the cost of visiting the winners’ podium, underscoring the iconic venue’s difficulties attracting post-Games business."
For about $22 Canadian (120 Chinese yuan), visitors can put on a Chinese Olympic uniform and climb to the top of the podium, according to the official China Daily newspaper. Folks will be given a flower bouquet and have a picture taken of them "clamping a fake gold medal between their teeth," the paper said.
“Our job is to make the Bird’s Nest profitable, therefore we have to give the customers what they want,” Zhang Hengli, manager of CITIC Consortium Stadium Operation Company, was quoted as saying.
The price of the experience has halved since January. CITIC Consortium said no one was available to explain ticket prices or sales figures.
Canadian Press reports that "the 91,000-seat National Stadium has not hosted an event since the Olympics, functioning instead as a cavernous museum visited each day by thousands of Chinese tourists eager to view the site of Zhang Yimou's dazzling opening ceremony and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt's three world records."
Sad, really. But that's often the case with the giant stadiums people build for mega-sporting events. Vancouver is lucky that they haven't gone too crazy. The curling facility should get used for community events after the Winter Olympics finish. Ditto for the Richmond Oval, although the city of Richmond spent an awful lot of money to make it fancier, perhaps, than it needs to be. And since the ice itself is proving a little slow, it's probably never going to be as attractive as the speedskating oval in Calgary.
Up in Whistler, the big item in my mind is the ski jump. They already had one for the Calgary Games, and I don't know what the long-term plans are for Canadian ski jumpers. I can't see how we need two such facilities in a country with very little ski jumping history, Horst Bulau not withstanding.
Just to complicate things, female ski jumpers this week launched a last-ditch attempt to get admitted to the Vancouver Games.
Vancouver organizers are correct in suggesting it's the International Olympic Committee's call and that the stodgy (my words, not theirs - not trying to get you into trouble, Mr. Furlong) IOC has resisted having women added to the program. The IOC has done a lot to get women into the Olympics, in fairness, but they seem to feel women's ski jumping isn't developed enough around the world to justify a place on the 2010 agenda. Hard to say; women's hockey is probably played in more countries, but it's hardly competitive. Neither was softball until the Japanese beat the U.S. last year in Beijing.
The IOC can probably be faulted for not working with women ski jumpers. But it seems from here that Vancouver organizers didn't exactly go to war on their behalf. I certainly don't remember any stirring VANOC speeches insisting that the IOC give it a sober, second thought.