We went to London to see the Olympics. Yes, in between traveling to South America and Africa we scheduled time to stop for my favorite athletic event in the world. I absolutely love the Olympics…my dream growing up was to work for the IOC (but I don’t speak French, yet). I’m going to share that fact because maybe putting it out there will help me connect with the right people…wouldn’t it be amazing to have a job when we get back doing my favorite thing in the world…organizing large events…small chance, but that’s not why we went.
We went because my cousin plays soccer for the Men’s US team and had they qualified, he would most likely be participating in the games. My mom and dad decided long ago we should be there to cheer him on, so we all made plans to meet during our trip. Then El Salvador happened and the US did not qualify. Nevertheless, we stuck to the original plan and it was the perfect excuse to visit our family living in London (Lynn, Zenna and Ella). Joshua and I planned to use the time to catch up on blogs, do laundry and watch the Olympics on TV every hour of every day in real time.
On our short flight to London, we sat next to a couple going through a messy divorce and behind a toddler who was drinking his mother’s pre-packaged expresso shots. European travel should not be that stressful. On the other hand, we breezed through Heathrow airport, wondering the whole time where the crowds were. We jumped on the train, and in a synchronistic turn of events, Ella, happened to get on the same train, same car as us an hour down the road. We spent the last few stops trying to chat through the crowds of people leaving work.
One thing you learn while traveling is to go with the flow, eat what is served and leave no trace. With my family, our usual attempt at being easy, backfired. We arrived in London hungry. When asked what we’d like to eat, we said, “whatever is easiest.” Pretty soon, there was a full hot meal in front of us. Too often our attempt at being easy actually made more work for Lynn and Zenna. Once I was posed with the question, “cold or steamed milk” for my coffee. Of course steamed milk is better, but cold is easier…in the end Zenna made both types of milk for the varied requests, steamed for everyone else and a special pot of cold milk for me. Needless to say, we were spoiled for the duration of our stay.
Just as quickly as we could put our bags away and savor a meal, we made our way across the street to Alexandra Palace, the Dutch Headquarters for the Olympics. The “Heineken House” was filled with Dutch fans in varied displays of team spirit.
I’ve never seen so many pairs of orange pants in the world…very few people sell them and fewer look good in them, but the Dutch wore them with overflowing pride. We were all set to watch the opening ceremony at the venue, but quickly realized all the commentary was in Dutch!
We ran home to see what London had prepared for the event. Sitting with several Londoners, we got the inside scoop on some of the meaning behind the characters, songs and references. Even though we have been traveling for a while, we still didn’t recognize all the countries walking in the parade…humbling.
The next day changed our whole stay. We arrived in London with no tickets to the Olympics. My parents had purchased a few through the US lottery system, but couldn’t get tickets to the events they wanted and still had to pay a fortune. We didn’t have the money to spend. But then, we figured out the Holy Grail. Each country is allotted a certain amount of tickets…if those aren’t sold in advance, they were sold at their “country house” during the games. The Netherlands had tickets left. We waited in line for a few hours and almost peed our pants when the chance came to pick our events: basketball, swimming, water polo, all for FACE VALUE. I never thought we would be able to see an Olympic event for $40.
Dressed in red and blue courtesy of my mom, we entered Olympic Park for the first time for our basketball session. I walked towards security with a coffee in my hand, and the nicest woman told me I would have longer to drink my coffee and a shorter line if we continued to a queue further down the road. Really? Thanks! The cheerfulness was infectious. Everyone was eager to help, courteous and so damn friendly. We watched Tunisia play Nigeria which ended up being a nail biter, as was the game that followed, Australia versus Brazil.
That’s part of the Olympics that I am obsessed with—that the competition brings out the very best in athletes (plus, Bob Costas’ human interest stories…I didn’t know her dog died last week…it’s incredible she’s still competing).
The Park itself was addicting.
The energy of the fans racing around in their countries’ flags, cheering or crying at the conclusion of events…the fact you could hear different venues erupt in applause when you had no clue what was happening inside (obviously something good for someone).
The basketball venue was a long walk from the Stratford entrance, so we passed most everything en route, trying to catch a glimpse of the action from the Velodrome (indoor cycling) to the Copper Box (handball). We even offered to fill seats, but that was not something the ushers had authority over, sadly. We met up with the rest of the family for an incredible lunch at Elliot’s Cafe outside of Borough Market followed by a tour of London, a boat ride up the Thames and a trip across the river in the brand new (made for the Olympics) cable car.
The following day, we took my dad to his first ever Olympic swimming event. He was like a child, giddy and bouncy (he even brought his swimsuit on the off chance that his name would magically be called and he would get to compete). It was just the heats for three events, but Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin both put on a decent show. The problem with swimming was it went by extremely fast. By the time you had found your seat, they were escorting you back out of the Aquatics venue. So, we used the extra time to absorb everything we could from inside the Park by sitting on the lawn and watching the big screen.
My parents arranged to take the family to dinner on a recommendation from their local grocer in Sacramento. So we got to experience Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner, a restaurant taking recipes from early English cookbooks and literature and modifying them for the modern table, so we had plates like Rice and Flesh and Nettle Porridge. We were surprised my parents were so hip…the restaurant is #9 on the very same list we said we would stay away from.
That led us down the rabbit hole. We planned a date night in London at Notting Hill’s, The Ledbury (#14). It has recently been in the headlines because during the London riots a chef kept diner’s safe by waving a rolling pin at passing trouble. The restaurant followed suit with impressive service during our meal by bringing us tastes and unexpected treats (both a pre and post dessert!) Overall, the service, food and ambiance were some of the best we’ve been lucky enough to experience to date.
We spent an evening watching Men’s Water Polo with my parents. Great Britain played Serbia and the US played Croatia. It was so fun to see Team GB at the Olympics—the fans were enthusiastically cheering despite losing by a huge margin. The US team was slow to start, but pulled off an incredible game against the later medal winner. Water polo is like wrestling combined with soccer and swimming. The underwater cameras capture a lot of the action, kicking, grabbing, drowning so it’s a great sport to watch at the Olympics (even for those who don’t know all the rules).
Perhaps it was Team GB’s spirit or our effusive description of the Park, but Lynn and Zenna got the fever too. The following day we went with them to a Women’s Water Polo match. Again, we got to see Team GB and the US play. During our final trip to the Park, we celebrated with a bottle of champagne, a walk through the wild flowers and a stop at the words waterfall…all things that helped make London 2012 so spectacular.
The only problem with going to so many events was that we had absolutely no idea what was happening in all the other sports each day. When you watch the Olympics on TV you get to see a little of everything. I tend to get involved in some of the more obscure sports where I can get to know the competitors…can you say curling in the Winter Olympics 2010? This year Joshua and I watched the entire double skeet shooting competition, which was almost like Duck Hunt…almost. We didn’t get half of what we had hoped done in London, but in the end, we were able to truly experience the Olympic Games.
P.S. My pack mule parents brought us not one, but three new cameras to choose from. Since we are officially breaking up with Canon (the s100 has been laid to rest), we are now rocking a Nikon D5100 and an indestructible, everything proof Pentax Optio WG-1. Too bad my dad forgot the instruction manual.