In Olympic Footsteps: An International Tour - Page 2

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Nagano, Japan
In 1998, most of the world became acquainted with Nagano through their Olympic television station, and its dramatic temple backdrop. But long before the Kwan-Lipinski square-off, Nagano had been on the global map— not only for its famous handmade soba (buckwheat) noodles but for its religious significance for millions of international Buddhists. You can still ski or hike to Nagano's Olympic alpine events venue, Shiga Kogen Ski-jo, peak among the "Japan Alps" of Chubu. The bobsled and luge facility, simply named Spiral, is one of the southernmost sites for such activity in the world. The first artificially cooled track in Asia, the course is now open for public rides and competitions. Down the mountain, rent some figure skates and take a spin inside the M-Wave, a futuristically designed speed-skating venue. Nagano's Olympic Stadium is also worth a visit, built to look like a flower with petal-like infield stands and outside walls. The public can use a gymnasium and swimming pool inside. But then be sure to slip into Zenko-ji Temple, known for its liberal acceptance of women and people of all Buddhist sects. The Ikko Sanzon lurks inside, believed to be the first Buddhist image to arrive in Japan, a gift from a Korean king to the Japanese emperor in 552. Every seven years the sacred image is taken out, and millions come. The Gokaicho Festival celebrates the temple and image, a Japanese National Treasure. Plan now: the next unveiling is in 2006.

Seoul, Korea
Twelve years since Seoul hosted the 1998 Summer Olympics, "Keep the Olympic Torch Burning" is still popping up in its tourism brochures. This international outlook spills out into this cosmopolitan Asian city, where the Olympic flame actually still burns on its former site. The Seoul Olympic Museum houses more than 1,000 pieces related to the 1998 Games, and 200 sculptures by Korean and international artists fill an outdoor garden nearby. There's a lake, trails, and, most surprising of all, a 3rd Century fortress thought to be an early capital of the Paekje Dynasty. The fortress's packed-earth perimeter measures more than a mile (two kms) square and stretches half a football field high, dwarfing the nearby Mongch'on Museum, filled with jar coffins and utensils from the Paekje period.

Barcelona, Spain
More than half a century before Barcelona knew it would adopt "Higher, Faster, Stronger" as the mantra for the 1992 Summer Olympics, building for the Games had already begun. Extreme Catalan confidence? No. Barcelona was slated to host the "People's Olympics," an alternative to the "Nazi Olympics" of 1936. But a day before the official opening, Franco's army revolt threw Spain into civil war. Worth seeing today is the Estadio Olympic, refurbished for the 1992 Games' opening and closing ceremonies, with its original 1929 Neoclassical façade, built for that year's World Exhibition and saved for the People's Olympics. But the most remarkable part of post-Olympics Barcelona is an all-new district of the city, reclaimed industrial land on the Mediterranean. It was initially named Nova Icària, to recall a utopian socialist community that briefly existed there, but the moniker never caught on. Nevertheless, Port Olímpic is the standout in this neighborhood; hiring sailing boats here at its extensive leisure marina (bars and restaurants await your return). If the city is too much, trace the 1992 Olympians' route to Banyoles. Here you can rent a rowboat and follow in the wake of the world's Olympic rowers, with the Pyrenees as backdrop. The village's monastery and Wednesday market, held since the 11th century, make it a destination even with the workout.

Lausanne, Switzerland
No Olympic tour would be complete without a stop at the International Olympic Committee's showplace museum, opened in 1993. (Luckily, Lake Geneva is no slouch as a draw either.) As IOC headquarters, all decisions governing the Olympics are made in offices on the museum grounds. For serious Olympics buffs, the Olympic Studies Centre, tucked deep within the museum, takes you through the entire history with sound, visuals, and an amazing archive. Inside and out, the building oozes with pure Olympic class. Eight columns frame a marble-façade entrance made with marble from Thasos, Greece—the color represents the peace and fair play of the Games. While parts of the museum will temporarily close for renovation, a host of exhibits are still worth the trip, including the world's complete collection of Olympic torches, stamps from the first Olympic Games in Greece in 1896 and all since, Olympic coins minted since 1951, Olympic medals, and various sport memorabilia. Aboriginal Art, honoring the oldest culture of Australia, is the most recent example of the timely temporary exhibits, underscoring the strong internationalism of the Games.

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