Here at Kiwi.com, we’re interested in all aspects of travel. We realise some people don’t just travel for a holiday, but for a more specific purpose. In this series, we’re going to look at one topic or idea, and suggest destinations for you based on that. This week, we’re looking at…
It’s a cliche to say that sport has the capacity to bring the world together, but it’s a cliche because it’s true. Much as I dislike the mawkish, I’d-like-to-teach-the-world-to-sing marketing around the World Cup, for example (when it’s really just massive corporations trying to sell you stuff), I do get excited about the whole thing.
The pitches are a beautiful green, the stadiums are huge and packed, and you get to wonder what kind of mad Aztec shirt design Mexico will turn up with. Ditto Formula One, which is an utter money pit of course, but gives you the chance to spend a whole weekend in a festival-like atmosphere with some of the friendliest and most knowledgeable fans you’ll ever meet.
So today we’re going to take a peek at various sporting destinations; some you’ll have heard of, some maybe not, and some might just have a tenuous link to the world of sport, but will hopefully be enjoyable anyway!
See a big local derby
An obvious place to start, but there’s very little to compare to the febrile atmosphere of a big derby game between two fervently supported teams. There are the big, well-known city rivalries – Milan, Istanbul, Buenos Aires, Glasgow, to name a few – but what about the lesser-known examples?
Vienna, not necessarily known as a sporting city, can offer up the Wiener Derby between the traditionally working-class Rapid Vienna, and the club of the coffee-shop political intelligentsia, Austria Vienna. Budapest can offer up meetings between any of Ferencváros, Újpest, Honvéd and MTK.
Belgrade plays host to one of the most hotly-contested derbies in Europe when Red Star play Partizan, and even further afield, there’s been a build-up in the rivalries found in the MLS, where the north-west derby between the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers is ratcheted up by huge tifo displays and a passion worthy of any European encounter. Or there’s always Grimsby Town vs. Lincoln City.
Try Andres Iniesta’s wine
By which I don’t mean his personal wine. If you see the Barcelona schemer out having a lovely meal with his family, don’t swoop in and pinch his glass. This is not what we’re advocating. He does, however, do a fine selection of wines.
Bodega Iniesta, just outside the Spanish town of Albacete, was built in the 90s to continue the family tradition of winemaking. 120 hectares of vines produce both red and white wines, and you can also buy local cheeses and olive oils to go with it. Delicioso.
Drive the Mille Miglia
The Mille Miglia (Italian for thousand miles) was one of the last great road races, winding as it did from the start in Brescia down Italy to Rome, then back up again. Shattering the quiet of Padova, Perugia, Siena, Modena, Parma and many other beautiful towns along the way, it was also the event which produced one of the greatest drives of any race anywhere.
In 1955, Stirling Moss and navigator Denis Jenkinson completed the course in an incredible 10 hours, 7 minutes and 48 seconds. This meant that they had been travelling at an average speed of 98 mph (157 km/h) along some of Europe’s twistiest, most mountainous roads.
We suggest you don’t go at that pace; you could take a week or more to travel from town to town on the historic route, stopping to explore the towns along the way. What better way to discover Italy?
Experience the Great American Pastime
From Maine to San Diego, baseball is still considered the national game of the USA. Even if you don’t follow the sport, who couldn’t get a little bit excited when you hear the names Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals and, to a lesser extent, Mets?
There’s something about sitting in the sun, beer in one hand and hotdog in the other, that’s so quintessentially American it almost hurts. As well as being a sporting pastime, it’s a social one as well. Your humble writer was taken to see the Atlanta Braves once, and was pleased as all my (almost certainly moronic) questions were answered by my fellow fans with patience and good grace.
I believe I even wore a baseball cap, which to this day, I have never repeated. It just felt like the right thing to do.
Relax the body while working the mind
For a slightly more intellectual pursuit, why not combine two of Central and Eastern Europe’s most cherished traditions, and combine a trip to the sauna with a game of chess? In Hungary, these two go hand in hand (witness the old folks whiling away the hours in the Szechenyi baths), while in Russia a samovar of tea taken in the banya, while discussing the state of the world over a game is a most civilized way of passing the time.
Or alternatively you could have a go at something more pugilistic with your chess. Chessboxing is a more brutal form of the game, in which players take part in six rounds of chess interspersed with five rounds of boxing for three minutes each. A win is achieved by either checkmate or knockout. Remarkable.
Run a marathon in the home of long-distance running
Running is basically the national sport of Kenya, and a truckload of Olympic medals is what they’ve got to show for it. There have been many theories as to why Kenyans – as well as Ethiopians – are so well-suited to running.
One is the fact that a lot of their runners have lived their entire lives at altitude and therefore have more red blood cells, leading to an increase in oxygen-producing haemoglobin. Another is that, under the relentless yoke of British colonialism, they were subjected to years of what John Bale and Joe Sang call in their book Kenyan Running or muscular Christianity; the idea that righteous hard work was the best way to get people into shape, and the Kenyans simply took to it.
Whatever the reasons, every October the Nairobi marathon brings together some of Africa’s finest runners (as well as the thousands of enthusiastic amateurs that every marathon attracts) in the Kenyan capital for both full and half-marathons.
Follow F1 around Europe
Other countries such as China, Singapore, Russia and Azerbaijan have bought a place on the Formula One calendar with varying degrees of success over the last few years, but the sport’s heartland will always be Europe. During the summer, the circus hits Austria, Britain and Hungary in July before back-to-back events in Belgium and Italy as the days begin to shorten.
Besides giving you the chance visit some of Europe’s finest cities – Milan, Budapest, Graz and, erm, Brackley – every campsite is packed with fans, some of whom will be following the sport throughout the summer and some who are complete newbies, but all of whom are after some noisy, beer-fuelled fun.
The tracks are beautiful (well, Silverstone maybe not so much) and general admission tickets are relatively cheap (well, Silverstone maybe not so much), plus with Kiwi.com’s MultiCity search, we can help you get around easily!
Launch a raid
Kabaddi. Kabaddi Kabaddi Kabaddi Kabaddi. This is the sound you’ll hear during a game of … Sorry, I’ve forgotten the name. Oh yes, Kabaddi. Beginning in India, it gained popularity all across the subcontinent, becoming the national sport of Bangladesh, while in Nepal children are taught to play in primary school.
The basic premise is pretty simple. Two teams of seven take it in turns to send a raider into the opposing half whose job is to touch as many members of the opposing team as possible, gaining a point for each touch. If any member of the opposing team tackles him, the tackling team gains the point. All the while, the raider must repeat the word kabaddi over and over, not even stopping for a second.
This is because if the raider takes a breath in the opposition’s half, his turn is automatically over, and the defending team gains a point. Unusual? Maybe, but it’s taken very seriously. India has a professional kabaddi league, so if you’re there, why not check it out? You never know, when you get home you might be inspired to set up a team yourself!
Beer and balls
Any trip down under is incomplete without a visit to see a sport that Aussies adore, despite – or perhaps because – it’s never really taken off outside their own country. Sure, cricket is the most popular sport on TV, and rugby will always have a big part to play, but for a live Australian sporting experience, Australian rules football (otherwise known as Aussie rules, or simply: footy) is the way to go.
Played mainly in cricket grounds, the pitch is huge and basically circular, and play proceeds with a mixture of skill, physicality and casual violence that makes it seem like rugby for those who can’t handle being told to stand in line.
The pace of the game and the passion of the crowd make the entire thing a breathless experience, and let’s be honest, what could be a more Australian experience than having a beer, watching sport and shouting with sweary abandon?
Prove your devotion
We finish up in Finland and the annual wife-carrying world championships. It’s really rather easy, in theory. A man carries a woman round an obstacle course, and the fastest wins. Actually, I don’t know why I made that a caveat. It is easy.
Not physically, I mean, but to understand. Wife-carrying has now extended to have events in Australia, Estonia, the US, the UK and parts of Asia, but the world championships are still held in Sonkajärvi, where the sport originated.
And anyway, what’s not to love about a sport where the prize depends on the wife’s weight in beer, there are special prizes for the most entertaining competitors and best costume, and one of the rules states: “All competitors must enjoy themselves”?