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OLYMPIC ODYSSEY


by Caroline M. Jackson

With the advent of our 2010 Winter Olympics, it seemed fitting to weave an Olympic thread into my tapestry of European travel.

My adventure began in Lausanne, Switzerland, home to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the state-of-the-art Olympic Museum. Located in Ouchy, Lausanne's lakefront quay, the museum is set in a tiered landscaped park overlooking Lake Geneva. A long outdoor escalator whisked my husband and me from the promenade level up to the entrance. Once inside, we were introduced to the fascinating history of the Games which ranged from ancient Greek artifacts to a plethora of torches. A walk up the spiraling core of the complex opened up to exhibits of medals and memorabilia from each Olympiad. Sports enthusiasts can also immerse themselves in past glories and disappointments by watching some of the exciting video clips. Afterwards, we enjoyed a walk through the leafy landscaped gardens which are scattered with contemporary sculptures focusing on the theme of sport.

For a change of pace, we explored the nearby Lavaux wine region which stretches between Lausanne and Montreux. Recently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this region is a patchwork quilt of vineyards bordered by stone terraces. Hiking up from the lakeside village of Lutry, I paused to watch tiny lizards dozing on the toasty-hot walls. The view across Lake Geneva towards the Savoy Alps was breathtaking.

That evening, a one-hour train ride took us southeast to the town of Martigny which was to be our base for a couple of nights. In the morning, we took the Mont-Blanc Express train to Chamonix, France which hosted the 1st Winter Olympics in 1924. It was here that the Canadian Ice Hockey team won the gold medal, scoring 110 goals while conceding only three. The train journey took us through spectacular steep-sided valleys and deep gorges. Above us towered 'the Roofs of Europe', three massive jagged peaks including Mont Blanc. By chance, we arrived on market day. Stalls were crammed with cherries, honey, goat cheese, dried fruits, local wine and pickled hams. Ever so often a vendor's umbrella tipped over as rogue winds whipped along the valley floor. Cafes spilled onto the sunny river embankment, a popular haven for bronzed mountain climbers toting unwieldy back packs laden with ropes and ice axes.

Again from Martigny, home of the St. Bernard Dog Museum, we headed for the alpine town of Leukerbad in the German-speaking part of the Upper Valais. An hour later as our bus began to negotiate the hairpin bends zigzagging up from the Rhone valley, we were enveloped by a summer snowstorm. At an altitude of 1,400 meters, Leukerbad is one of the highest and largest mountain spa resorts in Europe. The Romans were among the first to appreciate the therapeutic properties of its 65 thermal springs and today it is home to the Swiss Olympic Medical Centre and one of five training bases for Swiss athletes.

With the snow now falling gently as feathers, we ventured out to experience the family-oriented Burgerbad and sophisticated Lindner Alpentherme spa. Surrounded by Palladian windows, we spent the rest of the day luxuriating in the hot pools, fountains, jets and whirlpools. By mid afternoon, the warm Foehn, often dubbed the hairdryer wind, had melted most of the snow. The sun shone from brilliant blue skies and the steep massif of the Daubenhorn looked almost naked now that its cloudy petticoats had dispersed.

Our final Olympic destination was glitzy St. Moritz, home of the 1928 and 1948 Winter Olympics. Just a snowball throw from the Italian border, in eastern Switzerland, we discovered that St. Moritz is really a twin resort: St. Moritz-Bad (Spa) by the lake and St. Moritz-Dorf (Village) where the Jet Set sleep and party after schussing down the ski slopes. As we crossed the main plaza, we watched Japanese visitors quickly donning their warm ski jackets. Even though the area averages 322 days of sunshine annually, an altitude of 1,856 meters means the air can remain quite cool even in June. Using the local transport, we visited nearby villages, then took a funicular took us up to the Muottas Muragl from which mountain paths zigzag down to the River Inn. It was on such a steep, narrow track that I met a spry elderly cow herder who was leading her animals up to their summer pasture. In my book, this friendly lady without pomp and ceremony, was a true gold medalist.

IF YOU GO:

Contacts:
Switzerland Tourism: http://www.MySwitzerland.com
Train travel: http://www.raileurope.ca

Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.travelwriterstales.com

PHOTOS by Hamish M. Jackson

1. Canadian exhibit in Olympic Museum, Lausanne, Switzerland
2. Olympic Museum, Lausanne, Switzerland
3. Lavaux Vineyards, Lake Geneva
4. Lively market in Chamonix, France
5. Bicycle sculpture, Olympic Museum, Lausanne

 


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