The Olympics are an exciting time. We watch the games and cheer on our country’s representative athletes as they go for gold and strive to be the best in the world. To be awarded the title of host city for either the summer or winter Olympics is a great honor which requires years and years of preparations. What we see on the television is often bright, sparkly new state-of-the-art facilities which house the various sporting events during the games. What we don’t often see are the very same facilities, years later, which have become run down, abandoned and in serious states of disrepair. This dark side of hosting the Olympic games often goes unmentioned but many cities still sport the scars of games past. Here are some of the abandoned Olympic structures which are still standing around the world today:
1. Sarajevo, Yugoslavia -1984 Winter Olympics
In 1984, the city of Sarajevo in Yugoslavia (now Bosnia and Herzegovina) hosted the Winter Olympic Games. Many relics still stand around the country today, like this Olympic medal podium.
2. Sarajevo, Yugoslavia -1984 Winter Olympics
This concrete track in Sarajevo was used as the bobsled track for the 1984 Olympic games. It still remains today but these days it is covered in graffiti and overgrown with weeds.
3. Sarajevo, Yugoslavia -1984 Winter Olympics
This abandoned ski jump was the setting for many of the ski events during the 1984 Winter Olympics. Though the jumps are still intact today, they haven’t been used in decades.
4. Beijing, China -2008 Summer Olympics
Beijing, China was the site of the 2008 summer Olympic Games. The most notorious structure, the “birds nest” or Beijing National Stadium was to be used for sporting events after the games wrapped up but now sits unused, except for tourist tours.
5. Beijing, China -2008 Summer Olympics
During the 2008 summer games, this stadium was the site for the men’s and women’s volleyball championships. Today the stadium sits boarded up in a sad state of disrepair.
6. Beijing, China -2008 Summer Olympics
This concrete park in Beijing was the site of the Olympic kayak aquatic center. Today the site is abandoned but the words”One World, One Dream” still encircle the track.
7. Athens, Greece -2004 Summer Olympics
Athens, Greece played host to the 2004 summer Olympic games and the government spent a reported $15 billion in preparation for the games. In the end, the government went over budget, and today most of the expensive structures are no longer in use.
8. Athens, Greece -2004 Summer Olympics
The aquatics center in Athens, Greece was the site of many Olympic swimming and diving events during the 2004 summer games. Today the facility sits abandoned and run down.
9. Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy -1956 Winter Olympics
This dilapidated ski jump in Cortina d’Ampezzo is one of a few relics still standing from when the Italian city hosted the 1956 Olympic winter games.
10. Munich, Germany -1972 Summer Olympics
The city of Munich in Germany hosted the 1972 summer Olympic games. These games were overshadowed by the tragic Munich massacre in which 11 athletes and a German police officer were killed by a terrorist group. Today the abandoned Munich Olympic Train Station stands as a somber reminder of the 72′ Olympic games.
11. Berlin, Germany -1936 Summer Olympics
The 1936 summer Olympics were held in Berlin, Germany during Adolf Hitler’s reign of terror. Also called the “Nazi Olympics” this was where Hitler used the games as an opportunity to promote his ideals of racial supremacy. Despite the games occurring 80 years ago, many old abandoned structures from the games can still be found around Berlin.
12. Helsinki, Finland -1952 Olympic Summer Games
The 1952 summer Olympic games took place in the city of Helsinki, Finland. Like many other host cities, Helsinki built several athletic facilities specifically for the games, which can still be seen today, although somewhat understandably, they aren’t looking so pretty these days.
Sarajevo, a place where east meets west and where centuries of Ottoman influence collide with Austro-Hungarian rule. It is one of the most unique cities in the world. The shadow of the Bosnian war and the resulting three year siege of the city itself, still peeks around the edges. But students of history, those who are fascinated watching the interplay of cultures and even anyone who loves great food and coffee, should add the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina to their must-see list. Here’s 10 fantastic reasons to visit Sarajevo!
10. Hit the Hookah
Sarajevo is often billed as a place where East meets West, and there’s little that feels more deliciously exotic to the Western visitor than a night at a hookah café. Due to Sarajevo’s history as part of the Ottoman Empire and close relations with current eastern countries, there are plenty of places where shisha is smoked. Along with coffee shops, shisha cafes are the most popular spots to gather and socialize. The air in many of the city’s small squares fills with chatter and the sweet smell of flavored smoke, and even those who prefer not to partake in the hookah enjoy the atmosphere. There’s not many better ways to capture the spirit of the city – just be sure not to relax too much, or lazy limbs might drift into the exposed coals of the hookah and that’s never going to be pleasant.
9. Experience the History
Other countries have managed to turn their Olympic venues into functioning stadiums or money-making tourist attractions, but other countries didn’t see a war break out less than ten years after hosting the games. Sarajevo showed her beauty to the world during the 1984 Winter Olympics, but by 1992 the city was under siege. Hotels that housed attendees were being used as bases for artillery strikes and quickly there were much bigger problems to worry about. The majority of the venues stand abandoned today, a reminder of both the highs and lows of Sarajevo’s recent past. Skenderija, where the opening ceremonies were held, is now a shopping center, but more resembles a monument to socialist architecture. More haunting is the bobsled track on nearby Mount Trebević, where the graffitied walls run down to a bombed-out spectator area or the ski jumps on Mount Igman where a derelict medal podium stands below the blocked-off ramps.
8. Spectacular Views
Sarajevo is situated in a bowl ringed by steep mountains, so venturing out of the central core can be a trying experience. Save those calf muscles for other expeditions and take a taxi up to Bijela Tabija, the White Fortress. Rundown even before the war, the citadel’s graffiti-tagged walls are undergoing a slow restoration process, but that doesn’t change the view below. From beside those crumbling walls visitors gaze down not only on the red roofs of Sarajevo but the deep green hills beyond, as well as the more sobering sight of a relatively new and expansive cemetery. Head down the hill on a search for Jajce Baracks, which offers up another impressive view, this time of the National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a grand edifice that served as the City Hall during the city’s days under the Austro-Hungarian empire.
7. Go Underground
Lying on the outskirts of Sarajevo, alongside the airport, this museum can be difficult to reach but is certainly worth the effort. During the Siege of Sarajevo from 1992-1996, the Bosnian Army built this short tunnel to allow supplies to be moved from the city to Bosnian-controlled areas on the other side of the airport. While the 20-meter length of tunnel visitors can walk is not a star attraction, the museum provides a good introduction into the city’s experience during the Bosnian War. A short film outlines the construction of the tunnel, while photographs and military equipment in the adjacent house provide a larger picture of the war years.
6. Indulge in the Cuisine
Visit other parts of the Balkans and soon a theme becomes apparent – restaurants, cafes, and sidewalk stalls offering “Sarajevo-style” cuisine. Two of the city’s dishes are often emulated by those inside the region and recreated by those outside: Burek and ćevapi. The latter dish, most often referred to by its diminutive ćevapčići, consists of skinless sausages, usually made with beef or lamb in Sarajevo and with pork in other areas. While a knife and fork will accompany the dish, make like the locals and tear off a piece of the accompanying flatbread and wrap it around the sausage. If not specified, request kajmak, a soured cream cheese. Then try Burek, a thin pastry wrapped around meat, cheese or vegetables which can also be found throughout the region, but the rolled Bosnian variety is often considered superior. Again, make like the locals and order runny yogurt, which is sipped rather than spooned.
5. Visit Religious Sites
Sarajevo formerly had a reputation for being Europe’s “Jerusalem,” a place where many major religions co-existed. After the end of the Bosnian war, the population of the city proper is largely Muslim, but the landscape continues to reflect that religious diversity. In the middle of the old city lies Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque, an Ottoman structure built in the 16th century. The courtyard has a bubbling fountain, but is a peaceful place to escape the crowds and admire the architecture. Just down the road, where the buildings begin to reflect Austro-Hungarian rulers, is the Sarajevo Cathedral, inspired by Notre Dame. Walk through the park across the way and there’s the Cathedral Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos, the largest Serbian Orthodox church in Bosnia. It’s a five minute walk from there to the only remaining synagogue in the city, Sarajevo Synagogue, on the opposite side of the Miljacka River.
4. Visit a World War I Site
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the events of June 28, 1914 forever altered the course of history. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, Austria declared war on Serbia, Serbia’s allies declared war on Austria, Germany jumped in and World War I kicked off. The infamous event happened on a corner in Sarajevo, when the car carrying the Archduke and his wife stalled near the Latin Bridge. Gavrilo Princip, a member of a local revolutionary movement, fatally shot both passengers. Back in the days of Yugoslavia, Princip was celebrated as a hero who helped bring down the Austro-Hungarian empire, and there used to be a concrete slab with a pair of footprints marking the site. Instead, visitors can gaze at a photo erected in front of the nearby Sarajevo Museum, which houses a permanent exhibition outlining what life was like in the city from 1878 to 1918.
3. Take a Hike
Sarajevo is plenty enchanting on its own, but the beauty of Bosnia most often lies outside its cities. The majority of this mountainous country is densely forested and bisected by rivers so blue it’s almost unbelievable. Fortunately for visitors to Sarajevo, the Skakavac Waterfall is only 12 kilometers outside the city and offers the perfect chance to enjoy all this glorious nature without venturing too far away. This “Grasshopper Waterfall” is a pleasant two hour hike from the village of Nahorevo, just north of the city center. The “grasshopper” name becomes evident on sight, as the water skips and jumps from one of the cliff’s crevice to another as it falls 320 feet down. There’s not a lot of water gushing from the seven springs at the top and flowing over the edge, but these falls have a captivating beauty nonetheless.
2. Relax and Enjoy Bosnian Coffee
Starbucks hasn’t made its way to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and one afternoon spent at one of its coffeehouses makes it easy to see why not. There’s no venti sized vanilla soy lattes being carted around Sarajevo. Instead, coffee is meant a break from the day, a chance to catch up with friends and relax. Here it’s served Turkish style, in a small copper pot accompanied by a tiny cup inside another copper holder. To drink, scoop a bit of the cream that gathers on the top into the cup, then pour in the liquid. Those with a love for sugar should try the traditional method of sweetening the brew: place one of the cubes under the tongue or between the teeth, then sip the coffee. Locals can spin these small pots out for hours, so find a shady café in the old town, relax and enjoy the people-watching.
1. Visit Baščaršija, Sarajevo’s Old Bazaar
Baščaršija roughly means “main market,” and is the term used to refer to Sarajevo’s old town. Constructed by the Ottomans in the 15th century, the bazaar made Sarajevo into one of the main centers of trade in the Balkans and it’s still the place to buy Bosnian treasures – whether that’s a coffee serving set hand-crafted out of copper or the kit of the national soccer team. Speaking of copper, there’s an entire lane, called Kazandžilu or Coppersmith Street, dedicated to the craft, where workers hammer and engrave their goods in dozens of tiny shops. The street is located near Sebilj, a public fountain that’s another important landmark and local meeting spot. Memorize its location – the streets of the old bazaar wander and weave, so it’s easy to get disoriented. Then again, there are so many inviting cafes and intriguing shops that getting lost matters not at all.
Western Europe is more common with European tourists; the travel is easier, the landmarks more popular, the language barrier less frightening. But Eastern Europe is a multicultural haven for seasoned travelers and tourists alike. For years it was the undiscovered part of Europe; it is less traveled, and thus less crowded- but that is what makes it so exciting! And it is relatively easy to get around too, with people as friendly as the locals in Eastern Europe, getting lost should be no problem! So next time skip London, and head instead to one of these awesome destinations!
5. Tallin, Estonia
Tallin is a vibrant, cultural hub located on the Baltic Sea in Estonia. Tallin feels very much like a European capital city-; it is clean, historic and interesting- but there is something pulsating and unique about it too. It is frequently named one of the top 10 digital cities in the world, and as such is ultra-modern and brimming with all the new technology, yet it’s still rich in years of history and culture! The people in Tallin are very friendly and eager to show you around, and it is super easy to get around the capital city. The old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and best explored on foot. Tallin is a vibrant city with a unique and inviting culture.
4. Riga, Latvia
Riga, the capital of Latvia and the heart of the Baltics, is a cultural and historical blend of the old Europe and the modern, new Europe. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a long time location of international trade, Riga has developed into a multicultural mecca and a tourist destination for European travelers and tourists from abroad. This city has impressively managed to maintain its heritage and historical status- the colorful buildings and intricate architecture take you back in time- and yet, represent forward thinking at the same time managing to create a harmonious, cultural destination, inviting for all walks of tourists.
3. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hercegovina
Not too long ago, Sarajevo was on the brink of near extinction; a war ravaged city with a dim looking future. Today, it is a bright, inviting city, brimming with history and an intoxicating atmosphere. Both Austro-Hungarian and Turkish influences are felt here, in the architecture, the people and the food, and that is what makes this place such a world class destination. The mix is almost eclectic; old bullet holes adorn the walls of many of the cafés and shops, yet those very same walls are covered with a variety of colorful and vibrant pictures, fabrics and all sorts of neat trinkets. There are many walking tours available, which are great for people looking for the story of each building and monument in town, but you would be perfectly content strolling along the cobblestone streets absorbing this friendly and cultural town ideal for an Eastern European visit.
2. Belgrade, Serbia
Belgrade isn’t traditionally beautiful; it isn’t colorful, or overly clean, but it is tough, gritty and a bit wild- which is what makes it one of the best places to explore in Europe. The people in Belgrade are loud and over-the-top; a personality trait that has seeped into every cultural aspect of the city. Belgrade is proud of its history and it’s residents are eager to move forward; while sometimes intimidating, the locals can’t wait to show off their beautiful city. The architecture is dark and astounding, and the streets are filled with large coffee shops and history and heritage loom at every corner. Belgrade is one of the most happening places in Europe, and the atmosphere is palpable from the minute you arrive.
1. Minsk, Belarus
For many, the only reason Minsk is even on their radar is due to the frequent Friends references, and there it is referred to as a dark, drab, isolated place. And yet as hilarious as those references were, they carried little truth to the Minsk of today. Minsk will surprise you, that is for sure; at every corner a new layer is pulled away and something new, vibrant and wonderful is uncovered. There are many posh cafés and restaurants adorning the pedestrian filled streets, and the loud and rhythmic music from the various nightclubs can be heard into the early morning hours. Minsk is actually very modern and cosmopolitan; because most of the city was destroyed in WWII, very few traditional buildings are left, yet you can still catch some historical and cultural nods to the Soviet Era scattered around the city.
It’s that time of year again, when world renowned guidebook publisher and travel advocate Lonely Planet publishes their predictions and recommendations for the coming year of travel in what’s know as the “Best in Travel 2016” The entire guidebook is filled with top 10 lists with varying themes from Best Animal Adventures to Most Accessible Destinations. In this article however, we will take a look at Best Value. Lonely Planet knows that no matter how deep your pockets are, every traveler loves a deal, and for some, traveling on a strict budget isn’t just a lifestyle; it’s an art form. So without further delay, let’s take a look at the 10 best value destinations for 2016:
10. Western Australia
Typically Australia has been a place that for many, seemed out of reach if not for its geographic location than for its high costs due to a strong Australia dollar. But recently, the AUD has taken a dive, especially in comparison to the US dollar, while that means many Australians might be forced to limit their overseas travel plans, it also means that for many North Americans, a trip to Australia is cheaper than its ever been. Western Australia in particular offers better value than other parts of the country but with all the Australian culture and scenery one could want.
Not straying too far from the number #10 destination, the Southeast Asian nation of Timor-Leste occupies half of the island of Timor north of Australia in the Timor sea. This beautiful, lesser-known country is surrounded by coral reefs teaming with marine life of all shapes and sizes. Lonely Planet suggests venturing outside of the country’s capital of Dili and all its pricey international hotels and checking out the bargain beach shacks that can be found on the islands pristine beaches. If you’re not afraid to blaze your own trail and mix with the locals, Timor-Leste might be just the deal you were looking for.
8. Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast
While the west side of Costa Rica has been sufficiently explored by tourists, expats and Americans looking for their next vacation home, the east side of the country is still left mostly to the locals. Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast has plenty to offer in comparison to the well known towns of the east but with a much less touristy vibe, which also translates to better deals as well. The town of Tortuguero is famous for nesting sea turtles and the reefs of Manzanillo make for an excellent dive spot, but one of the biggest draws is the famous Costa Rica Sloth Sanctuary located south of Limón.
7. Québec City, Canada
If a trip to Europe has been on your wish list but you lack the time and funds to make this a reality, Lonely Planet suggests North Americans head to Québec City. No, it’s definitely not Europe but they suggest it has enough of a foreign francophone vibe and old world charm to make you feel like you’re a long way from home. The city’s Old Town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and with the cobblestone streets, historic buildings and little French bistros, you might just get that taste of Europe for less than you thought.
6. Galicia, Spain
Being a well visited country by many tourists, you wouldn’t think Spain would have a lot of deals left to be had, but head to the country’s northwest region of Galicia and you’ll find rocky coastline and villages relatively unexplored by tourists. Lonely Planet says that the value of this region comes not only from being a place relatively unexplored by tourists but also from the quality of meat, cheese and seafood that can be found in the many tapas bars throughout the Galicia region. They also suggest booking self-catering accommodations to save money even further.
5. Bosnia and Hercegovina
It is no secret that Europe has a bit of a reputation with travelers as being a pricey place to explore. While that is definitely true of the more major cities like Rome, Venice, London and Paris, it’s the lesser known cities and countries that offer the best value. Hence, the #5 entry on this list: Bosnia and Hercegovina. The Balkan country encompasses all the major values you look for in budget travel including inexpensive accommodations and cheap eats and its historic cities of Sarajevo and Mostar offer the kind of history and charm you’d expect to pay a price for.
4. New Mexico
Even with travel to America looking rather expensive to everyone except those who live there, Lonely Planet stresses the value that can still be found in the state of New Mexico. Cheap eats, affordable accommodations and free activities and attractions abound in this outdoor lovers paradise. With dry sunny conditions almost guaranteed, there are few better states where you can cram in as much time in the great outdoors (an activity that’s essentially free of charge.) Take a Breaking Bad tour in Albuquerque, hike the Apline forest or explore a free wild hot spring. The possibilities for value are endless in this state.
3. East Africa
Thanks to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, many tourists are sufficiently scared of the continent as a whole, and thus bookings for 2016 are on the low side. You can probably guess that means good deals are readily available for travel to the continents safer half; East Africa. Lonely Planet advises that the cities of London, Paris and Madrid are hundreds of miles closer to the outbreak region geographically than East Africa’s prime tourist spots are, and reminds travelers just how large a continent this is. So if you’ve ever felt compelled to have an African animal encounter, or explore Africa’s spectacular scenery, the time to head to places like Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania is now.
2. Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, Vietnam
Backpackers have known for years that Vietnam is a budget travelers best friend and a recent study by priceoftravel.com confirms the fact placing Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi third and second in a list of the cheapest destinations in Asia. Lonely Planet says that in both cities, $20 USD or less per day will get you food, lodging and sights but the guidebook publishers say at that rate you’ll be living like a local (which we say isn’t a bad thing!) But if you want an experience that’s a sight step up, your authentic Vietnamese experience still won’t cost an arm and a leg.
Lonely Planet says this year’s #1 best value destination will almost seem like the promised land compared to other popular European destinations. That’s because your Euros go a little farther in Estonia, a Northern European country where Nordic meets old-world Eastern European. If you’ve been getting around Europe by sleeping in hostel dorm rooms, you’ll be happy to know that upgrading to a hotel room of your own will seem quite affordable here, as will the food, drinks and nightlife. It’s not like there’s nothing to see either; the preserved Old Town in the capital of Tallinn has history and museums galore while the enchanting forests of Lahemaa National Park will amaze any traveler.