Our first week in Rio went by faster than a 100 Meter race but we are having a great time so far and still have almost another week to go.
I can’t compare to other games as this is our first Olympics but so far our experience at the games has been overwhelmingly positive. The worst thing that happened to us was being gypped out of a $3 popcorn when the food ticket misprinted.
If $3 sounds cheap for popcorn, sit down when I tell you that a beer at the venues is only 13 BRL ($4 USD) and comes with a commemorative plastic cup. Each cup features a different Olympic Sport so they are sure to be collector’s items.
The US Embassy in Brazil has been great about sending us daily updates with helpful tips and warnings so we are informed and prepared. We are on guard when we walk out of the door and cautiously optimistic that our run of good luck in Rio will continue for the rest of our stay.
Here’s a run-down of what the first week has been like.
The games kicked off a few days before our arrival and having a plane ticket to what seemed like the center of the universe was really exciting, nervous excitement that is. We are at our most vulnerable on transport day when all of our belongings are strapped to us or in the trunk of a taxi. My Clever Travel Companion two pocket tank top has become my favorite travel day shirt because I can pack it full of cash, credit cards and even my passport, undetected under another layer.
I had to laugh at the OFF! advertisements on the baggage carousels when we landed. Zika, by the way, has been the least of our concerns. We’ve seen more medalists than mosquitoes.
Bags up, we were ready to face Rio. The main arrivals hall looked like it was mostly empty. Perhaps it was restricted to heavily armed guards and athlete transport providers? We hit the ATM, purchased a three day Rio Transport Card and arranged a fixed price taxi to our Airbnb.
I had made our Airbnb reservation a year in advance and we scored a sweet one bedroom apartment just two blocks from the Copacabana beach volleyball stadium. Our host, Vincente, gave us a full tour of the apartment with surprisingly good English (he had only communicated in Portuguese in previous correspondence) and he even left us some drinks and snacks. The apartment is also right next to a small supermarket which is quite handy.
Our Chief Transportation Officer, Chris, was responsible for getting us to and from the games. When it came to getting to the Olympic Park, Barra da Tijuca, we were shaking our heads. Transport apps showed multiple connections and over an hour and a half to get there from Copacabana.
Sure enough, we’d have to walk 10 minutes to the metro station, take one train, transfer to the newly opened line 4, then transfer to a bus, then walk almost 2 miles from the bus to the stadium. Yikes!
Luckily the most of our journey to the park is restricted to spectators only, we had to show our tickets at a checkpoint. The special Rio transport card is also necessary to board line 4 and also allows unlimited use of other transportation in Rio for the day. It was easy to find our way by following the herd and there were also several volunteers posted throughout the stations.
The transport has been very crowded, especially on the weekend, but it’s been handling the masses well. It’s been nice to ride the brand new metro train and our favorite part is when the train emerges from the dark tunnel and the passengers start to whistle and clap. The BRT is an extended bus and as one as one leaves the next one is waiting.
We can’t understand why the station would be so far from the park entrance, but that is our only complaint.
Our first two events were beach volleyball. We were able to purchase tickets for these events just a few weeks before the games and knew that Team USA would be playing. The crowd was quite diverse since there were four matches being played each night but USA fans were definitely in the house.
The weather for the first match wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for beach volleyball. I had on jeans, sneakers, long sleeves and a down jacket, covered at times from the intermittent rain by a poncho. From our seats in the nosebleed section, we had an eye level view of the Olympic rings and the aerial camera zipping past. Just outside the walls of the stadium waves crashed onto Copacabana Beach and a Navy gunship patrolled back and forth.
The first of four matches featured Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross versus Switzerland. I may be biased because we share the same name, same spelling, but Kerri is the first player that comes to mind when I think of beach volleyball. I can’t imagine a better start to our Olympic experience than seeing her play.
Chris was living every man’s dream watching women’s beach volleyball live. The chilly weather had the girls covered up the first night, they’d be donning bikinis the next day.
Day two we watched the other’s USA women’s team Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat lose to Russia and the USA men’s team Phillip Dalhausser and Nicholas Lucena win against Italy.
The crowd cheered with hand movements after each play making it a fun and entertaining game to watch. The USA women’s indoor volleyball team was seated just in front of us. We wouldn’t have known had a fellow fan not taken a picture of them and yelled “USA Women’s Volleyball”.
The best part was after one of the matches when a Japanese fan asked Chris what they were saying when “Here comes the Boom” was played over the loudspeaker. He asked him to write it down, lucky he didn’t want Chris to explain further.
Our first event in Olympic Park was for handball. Standing in the middle of all the stadiums you see on TV and among the thousands of people, it finally felt like we were at the Olympics!
Handball is not a sport I am familiar with but I read it was a fun spectator sport so I scored tickets to women’s and men’s handball in the first round of ticket lotteries. The matches did not disappoint.
The Future Arena was full and the house was rocking, especially day two when the Brazilian men’s team played against Egypt. We could not understand the Portuguese cheers but we could join in the excitement and the multiple waves around the stadium. At intermission of the Brazil game, a Samba band even came out to entertain the crowd as it circled around the court with samba dancers leading the way.
It turns out that handball is a fantastic sport to watch. With only two thirty minute periods and fast pace, it’s easy to follow along. Both men’s games had us on the edge of our seats until the final seconds. Brazil tied with Egypt and Denmark beat Qatar by only one goal.
On average, I see badminton every four years at the Olympics. This year has been an exception because Southeast Asia has ping pong and badminton on TV 24/7.
The badminton games were played in Riocentro which is part of the Barra complex but it’s about a mile walk in the opposite direction from the Olympic Park. The long walk took us past an open sewage canal that was as unpleasant as it sounds.
The stadium has three courts occupied at a time so it’s a bit confusing to follow the cheering and announcing. The match was on Sunday and stadium was filled with Brazilian fans, who after this match, have confirmed my opinion that they are the most passionate fans in the world. They brought badminton to the next level.
As the Brazilian guy was playing the whole stadium was chanting and cheering on his victories and letting out a collective sigh when the opponent scored. After he was defeated, the crowd rose to their feet to applaud him as he whipped off his jersey and came over to bat shuttlecocks into the stands.
After badminton, we had tickets to Australia versus Venezuela basketball game. The Brazilian crowd was supporting their Northern neighbor but Aussie’s had a decent showing. Empty seats were filled in with inflatable yellow kangaroos making for a great shot for the cameramen.
Basketball is one of my favorite sports to watch but this particular game was a little boring. Aussie’s dominated the game and ended up winning 81-56.
One of the contributing factors to having a stellar first week has been four straight nights of free dinner and unlimited drinks overlooking Copacabana Beach!
Visa generously invited all United Mileage Plus cardholders and guests to a VIP reception at the Copacabana Palace. This iconic hotel dates back to the 20’s and has been elected the best hotel in South America several times, so no expense was spared. Each night guests even got free Olympic-themed pins, key rings, and hats.
Summer Sanders and Nadia Comaneci were lined up to make appearances, take pictures and sign autographs. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get there in time with our long ‘commute’ home. Chris’ ‘never meet your heroes policy held true as he didn’t get to meet up with his boyhood crush, Summer Sanders. The last night we did catch a surprise special guest, mixed doubles Tennis gold medalist Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
The predominantly American crowd gathered around the many TV’s to watch the Olympic highlights like Michael Phelps last race and Usain Bolt’s 100 Meter event. We were all so happy to have some English speaking TV coverage of the events.
We left the final night feeling it was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for us. Thank you, Visa!
What’s Coming Up This Week
We have three more events to attend before the games are over athletics, women’s golf and football (soccer).
Our men’s semifinal football tickets turned out to be one of the hottest tickets in town. Seeing home team Brazil face-off against Honduras in one of the most iconic football stadiums in the world will be unforgettable.
We have a few more pictures to capture. While we are at Maracanã Stadium we hope to see the Olympic flame. We also need to take a picture with the Olympic rings. At the Olympic Park, we waited in a deceptively long line to take a picture with Vinicius the mascot and it was taken by cell phone, what a bummer.
I’ll update you on the sights around Rio and our week two events in a future post.
If you have any questions for us about our experience at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio leave a comment below.