Visiting in the middle of the Games, we find the city buzzing with energy and excitement like a giant fairground
The vibe of the event that’s the pinnacle of sport hits me even before I step out of Heathrow’s Terminal 5. The award-winning terminal has gone the extra mile to ensure that you start the journey to the games smoothly. Dedicated areas for Olympic registration, immigration desks, and an army of volunteers at the ready….
London is abuzz with visitors and fans. The morning I arrive, I check into Berkeley Hotel at Knightsbridge and take the tube towards Wimbledon to watch the tennis semi-finals. Rush hour in the Tube is almost always sombre with corporate types; today it’s a multicultural melee. Fans with painted faces, colourful wigs and flags are hooting for their country. A mix of languages and accents everywhere and I can feel the excitement in the air.
The Olympic Park is in Stratford in East London, but there are other venues like Wimbledon for tennis, the Excel Centre for boxing and similar sports, Earl’s Court for volleyball, Greenwich Park for equestrian events, and Hampton Court Palace for cycling. The venues are spread out across the city but an event ticket also includes a Travel Card that gives you unlimited travel on the Tube and some over-ground rail services.
Picnic in the park
Watching the tennis whets my appetite and the knowledgeable concierge tells me I can get a piece of action absolutely free at Hyde Park, literally a stone’s throw away. I head there and, sure enough, the centre of the park is like a carnival. Huge screens that beam the events live, so many to pick from. The one beaming the cycling has the maximum fans because UK’s Bradley Wiggins is pedalling into the history books to become Britain's most decorated Olympian with seven medals. He won the Tour de France just a few days ago and the crowds are absolutely ecstatic and cries of ‘Go Wiggo’ rent the air. Another screen has the judo matches while another beams the swimming at Aquatics Centre in Olympic Park.
Since tickets are £95 each (approx. Rs.8,300) and completely sold out by now, entire families are making a picnic of it at Hyde Park. A variety of eating joints has cropped up, selling everything from the quintessentially British fish and chips to burgers and beer.
Getting around London has never been easier than this summer. To facilitate the huge number of visitors, the Tube network has put up large pink signs directing fans towards venues and sights. Within the Tube and outside are cheery volunteers in pink vests to answer queries and point you in the right direction. The usually sober Pall Mall wears a festive look with flags strung across the street and London’s many statues sport Olympic-inspired hats at jaunty angles. The grandest one sits on Lord Nelson’s head as he stares out towards the sea from his high perch in the middle of Trafalgar Square.
It goes swimmingly well
The next day I have a ticket for some swimming events and I head out to the Olympic Park. I think the Olympic Committee has a hidden agenda to start off everyone visiting the games on the path of fitness because there are such long walks involved. While the walk from Stratford Tube station to the main park entry isn’t that bad, the distances within the Olympic park are massive. It could easily take you 30 minutes to walk from the main entrance to the Park live area, where there are once again huge screens so that you can take in a little more action than what you came to see. Even though I have tickets to just one event, thanks to the Games being made so accessible, I feel I am going back home with much more than I expected.
The park itself is like a fair ground with food and drink stalls, picnic tables and mobile candy and beer sellers. That evening, I watch history being made, as Michael Phelps swims to victory in the 200m individual medley and wins his 16th Olympic gold and 20th Olympic medal overall. The American fans in the centre go absolutely ballistic as he steps on to the podium to receive his gold.
London’s always fun to visit, but this summer the buzz in the air has a much higher voltage, and the city is simply radiating energy.
London becomes the first city to host the modern Olympics three times
The city launched a new high-speed rail service called Javelin
A £25 million cable car, sponsored by Emirates, was built across the Thames
The Games has about 70,000 unpaid volunteers called Games Makers
McDonald's is the ‘exclusive branded restaurant’
Heineken is the only lager being served
All soft drinks, including water, is sold by Coca-Cola only