Olympics: Wrap Up

This is my way delayed wrap up post dedicated to planning a trip to the Olympics. While we went to the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics, I’m hoping some of this information will come in handy for others planning trips to a future Olympics. It’s the advice I wish I had read and the advice I would give to anyone looking to attend the Olympics. We hope to go to another Olympics in the future (hopefully Paris 2024?) and plan to use what we learned to make the next trip even more memorable.

This post will be a bit different from my other Wrap Up posts, as it’s less destination specific (I hope), and more event related. Hopefully some of what we learned and advice I can give, will carry over to other Olympic host cities. Rio was a bit unorganized it seemed and a very spread out city so I almost feel that any other city will be a bit more organized and have the arenas closer together. But regardless, I feel it’s sound advice for someone looking to attend the Olympics. As a reminder, here’s my timeline of how we prepped for the Olympics (written before we left). So without further ado, let’s get on with this…

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Badminton (Rio Day 8)

Our final Olympic event was badminton and we couldn’t have been more excited to end with a fun event. We don’t watch a lot of badminton at home, maybe occasionally watching a match during previous Olympics but that was about the extent. I’ve played a backyard game of badminton only a handful of times. But it was a lot of fun to watch live badminton.

Badminton has been an event in the Summer Olympics since 1992, though it did appear in the 1972 Munich Olympics as a demonstration sport. Asian nations typically dominate the sport with China leading the way with a total of 41 total medals, followed by Indonesia and South Korea with 19 medals total each. In the Singles competition 29 competitors (both men and women) are selected to compete, while 19 pairs are selected for the doubles competition. A badminton match in the Olympics is a best of three games played to 21 points using rally scoring. The winner must either win by two points or be the first player to reach 30 points.

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Sugarloaf Mountain (Rio Day 7)

We ended our day long private tour of Rio by our guide dropping us off at the famous Sugarloaf Mountain. We had read horror stories of long lines to both buy tickets and wait in line for the cable car, so we pre-bought tickets online prior to coming to Rio. When we walked up and were able to bypass an incredibly long line, we were glad to already have our tickets in hand. Now do you have to pre-buy tickets? On a normal day, probably not. But the lines can get really long there during peak season, especially around sunset.

Sugarloaf Mountain (or Pao de Acucar) sits at the mouth of Guanabara Bay. Sugarloaf is the taller of two summits and is reached via two cable cars. The first cable car travels from sea level to Urca Hill (or Morro da Urca) while the second cable car than travels to the peak of Sugarloaf itself. You can actually hike up Urca Hill from the Red Beach if you feel up for the challenge. Supposedly it’s not all that difficult, though it is steep in some spots and is a 1.6km trail one way. On Urca Hill, there is a small cafe and other facilities to relax and take in the outstanding view over the surrounding bay and ocean and with a view of Sugarloaf also.

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Escadaria Selarón (Rio Day 5 & 7)

We visited the famous Selaron Steps (or Escadaria Selarón in Portuguese) twice while in Rio. We visited briefly while on our food tour while walking between two different eateries and then again on our full day private tour. The iconic steps were created by the Chilean artist Jorge Selarón as a tribute to the Brazilian people. The artist lived along the street and he began covering the run down steps near his doorway with multicolored tiles. The Selaron Steps run from Joaquim Silva Street to Pinto Martin Street connecting the Lapa neighborhood to the Santa Teresa neighborhood. There are a total of 215 steps covered in tiles and feature tiles from over 60 countries both on the steps and the surrounding walls.

It’s an incredible display of work and love to the Brazilian people. Our food tour guide said she was glad that the Rio government recognizes the artwork and is dedicated to making sure it is protected. She said the project could have easily gone the way of destruction and abandonment, but thanks to Snoop Dog’s music video shot there it helped gain international recognition and has since become an icon of the city.

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Tijuca National Park (Rio Day 7)

Following our visit to Christ the Redeemer, our guide took us around Tijuca National Park. There is plenty to do within the park itself and we saw just a small portion of it during our brief tour. You can go on hikes, see waterfalls, and have a picnic among other activities. Plenty of tour organizers have trips to the forest if you don’t have your own private guide or private vehicle. Some claim that the Tijuca National Park is the largest urban forest in the world, though it’s heavily disputed and the honor likely goes to Johannesburg’s urban forest. But regardless, the park is massive and encompasses approximately 32 square kilometers.

Surprisingly the park isn’t natural, it’s a man made reclamation of land after the majority of the Atlantic Rainforest had been cut down for sugarcane and coffee. In the late 19th century, Major Manual Gomes Archer was worried about water supply and erosion of the land and launched the effort to replant the land. The land has been a national park since 1961. The project has been highly successful and no visit to Rio de Janeiro would be complete without a visit to the park. Although you are technically inside the park when visiting Christ the Redeemer, it’s worth a venture to other landmarks further inside the park.

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Christ the Redeemer (Rio Day 7)

We left one entire day completely free to see the city of Rio de Janeiro while in town for the Olympics. We debated several different options for how best to see some of the popular sights around the city. Normally we’d lean towards a do-it-ourselves tour, but with the crowds from the Olympics and the language barrier, we opted to hire a private guide for the majority of the day to take us around. We found Bernard through TripAdvisor and he was fantastic. He planned the day out and made recommendations to us on different things to visit than we originally asked about. He was incredibly knowledgeable about the city having grown up there and provided great commentary and insight into the city’s culture.

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Eat Rio Food Tour (Rio Day 5)

One of our favorite things to do while traveling recently is to take a food tour of some sort while in a city. We’ve found it’s an amazing way to really get to know both the food and the culture of a city. It’s usually more intimate than a city wide sight seeing tour and you get a great insight into the local food scene from a local guide. In Rio, we easily narrowed in on the Eat Rio Food Tours. Every review we read was outstanding and it was an easy choice for the four of us to include the food tour on one of our free days in the city. We booked super early (like a couple months ahead) due to the Olympics and were glad when they had availability on two of our possible days we listed. The tour started around 10am and the meeting location in Lapa was within walking distance from our AirBnb.

We were extremely excited by the time the tour came around after having been in Rio for four days and not finding a lot of exciting places to eat or food to try. Unfortunately, as we learned on the tour local Rio de Janeiro food isn’t all that exciting. It really does feature a lot of meat and per kilo restaurants that we saw everywhere, but luckily we did learn that the cuisine in the rest of the country was a bit more exciting. The tour took us to a variety of restaurants and places that let us sample different regional specialties, which we all thought was fantastic since a tour of only local Rio food would consist of meat and more meat. Our guide, Angela, is originally from Australia, but has been living in Brazil for many years after marrying a local Brazilian. She offered fascinating insight into transitioning from a country with a lot of diverse food options, to a city with a more narrow interest in culinary tastes.

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Olympic Boulevard (Rio Days 4, 6, & 9)

One of the improvements Rio put in place for the Olympics was a revamping of port area. One of the most defining aspects of the unveiling included a Guinness record setting mural by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra. The mural, Ethnicities, stretches for 3000 square meters and features a member of an indigenous tribe from five continents represented by the Olympics rings. It was an incredible mural, though hard to take in all at once, especially with the crowds.

Street Art Mural on Olympic Boulevard

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Women’s Indoor Volleyball (Rio Days 4, 6, & 8)

We might have gotten a bit too hyped up when our ticket lottery results came back. We mostly won tickets to women’s indoor volleyball matches and while we didn’t pick all the time slots we were awarded, we still probably chose too many. We didn’t want to go all the way to Rio and end up with just a few event tickets, so we chose a lot of what we received in the lottery. We didn’t realize that had we been a bit more patient, we could have ended up with a wider variety of events including ones we most wanted to see. We enjoyed our volleyball tickets, but by the end of the week, we were a bit indoor volleyball’ed out. It didn’t help that we didn’t even mix it up with men’s and women’s indoor volleyball, it was exclusively women’s volleyball that we chose. Oh well. Live and learn.

Both women and men’s indoor volleyball has been a staple at the Olympics since 1964. Though at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, indoor volleyball was a demonstrated by the United States. In the men’s indoor volleyball competition, Brazil and the United States have typically had the greatest success at winning medals (three apiece), though the former Soviet Union also has three gold medals. In the women’s side of the volleyball competition, only five countries have won a gold medal including Brazil, Cuba, China, Japan, and the former Soviet Union. Interestingly, the initial indoor volleyball competition at the Olympics consisted of only round robin where each team played all other teams and the medals were determined by total wins. This led to the medal determination sometimes before the end of the competition. This changed at the 1972 Olympics into the current format of the preliminary round of round robin followed by the final round single elimination. Currently the Olympics feature 12 teams each of men and women.

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Beach Volleyball (Rio Days 3 & 5)

Beach Volleyball on Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil at the Olympics was an epic event. We had three different beach volleyball tickets during our time in Rio, but we all would have been willing to go to more. It was such a fun, party like atmosphere with all the locals who love the sport. It was probably the funnest atmosphere at an Olympics event for us. Volleyball is such an integral part of Rio and Brazilian culture itself and it was just an amazing experience all around. Beach volleyball always would have been on my Olympic wish list no matter the location, but it was an absolutely essential event in Rio.

Beach Volleyball was an exhibition sport at the Barcelona 1992 Games and was officially added to the Summer Olympics at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Since the addition, Brazilian teams have dominated and the country has secured at least one gold or silver medal at each Olympics. The USA has also been fairly dominant, also securing at least one medal at each Olympics. The Beach Volleyball competition at the Olympics features 24 teams each in the men and women divisions, with a max of two teams per country. One spot is always reserved for the host country. The preliminary portion of the tournament has undergone multiple changes since the addition of the sport in 1996, but currently all 24 teams play a round robin schedule with the top two teams in each pool of six (along with 4 out of the 6 third place teams) moves on to the medal competition which is single elimination.

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