The London 2012 Olympic Ticket application process was long, confusing and included tedious tasks like changing our Visa Card information to our German addresses. Jen and I submitted separate applications on April 13, 2011 hoping for seats at the Opening Ceremony along with Swimming, Tennis and Football events totaling £2,042 (about $4,000!) Requesting those tickets meant committing to paying for them, should we win the lotteries. I was fairly certain we wouldn’t be quite that lucky but was prepared to say, “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity!” if we were. We kept a close eye on our Visa statements and when in June 2011 we were both charged less than $300 we correctly deduced we were both allotted four seats for football. I was secretly a bit disappointed but mostly thrilled that we’d be making the trip and seeing at least one event.
We booked our flights and hotel accommodations in February. When the Football Draws were announced in May we learned we’d see Uruguay vs. Senegal and Great Britian vs. the UAE. This was great news since Jen and I became big Uruguay fans during the 2010 World Cup (see also: Diego Forlán – we’re Team Headband!) and we were thrilled we’d be seeing the home team, Great Britian, too. Sadly, Diego and David Beckham were deemed too old/slow/whatever and weren’t selected to play on their teams.
After almost 16 months of planning and anticipation I can honestly say our time in London last weekend far exceeded my expectations!
As usual, Big D is away (this time in the States for training and a few days vacation with his family) so Tricia was my partner in crime and Gary was a saint to travel with three excited, wacky girls.
We made our way from Frankfurt to London on Thursday and were surprised at the speed and organization of the immigration process at Heathrow. We were through passport control, had our luggage, were greeted by a brass band and were in a black cab headed to the hotel less than 90 minutes after we landed. We were also surprised to discover our hotel was hosting the Badminton World Federation officials.
Tricia and I shared a room that had a fantastic view of Wembley:
We headed to Trafalgar Square to find some lunch and while we were there, Gary read something on his iPhone that tipped us off – Prince William & Kate and Prince Harry would be receiving the Olympic Torch at Buckingham Palace later that afternoon! We finished our fish & chips and Pimms and headed over to the torch route, walking past the Horse Guard Parade, 10 Downing Street, Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey and other famous sights on the way.
The two hour wait gave us time to wander around the fountain snapping photos, to make friends with fellow tourists and to buy Union Jack flags.
The Olympians that stood with the royals blocked our view for almost the whole (very fast) event but we got a few good glimpses.
Though we were in town less than five hours and had three full days still to come, we already declared our trip a success! A walk across the bridge, by the Eye and along the river to dinner at a Greek restaurant (not easy to find a place to dine during such a busy time) rounded out the night.
Friday morning found us up and out the door early, heading to the Olympic Park to get a lay of the land and see what we could find. Even though we basically spent a decent part of the day at a mall, palpable excitement abounded. We shopped, shopped, shopped, tried to peek into the park, and had lunch at a fun Brazilian steakhouse that felt more like a party than a restaurant. The British ladies at the table next to us chatted about their Opening Ceremony tickets. The Australian guys at the table behind us (affiliated with their swimming team) gave us tastes of their appetizers. Everyone was jovial!
We tried our best with a sign at the park, on the tube, and while walking, walking, walking many miles through the city:
We made our way back to Hyde Park that evening and attended the BT London Live Opening Ceremony Celebration featuring one band from each of the British Isles: Paolo Nutini from Scotland, Duran Duran from England, Stereophonics from Wales and Snow Patrol from Northern Ireland. What a party! The Red Arrows flew overhead and giant TV screens showed the first hour or so of the ceremony – the crowd went crazy during the James Bond / Queen Elizabeth grand entrance, we mumbled along to what what we know as My Country ’tis of Thee singing the only line we know, “God Save the Queen!” and Snow Patrol finished just in time for us to watch the athletes light the flame.
Getting home through the crowd and after a few large beers was challenging (have I mentioned that Gary is a saint?) We were exhausted, yet it was so difficult to turn my brain off even though it was 3am!
Saturday had us up early and on our way back to the park, determined to get tickets to anything so we could experience it all… Armed with giant Starbucks coffees, adrenaline, and a new sign (“We want tickets to ANYTHING in the park”) we weren’t optimistic (others had signs) but waited just 10 or 15 minutes when a lovely Canadian gentlemen approached us and offered us swimming tickets for the following morning!
Jen: How much?
Jen: Each? (starts counting money)
Canadian: Uh, no for all four.
Jen and me: (jumping up and down and acting crazy)
To say we were thrilled is a ridiculous understatement. At the end of our trip, when Tricia asked what my favorite part of our whole adventure was, I called it a tie between that moment, walking into the park, and actually attending the event. But that moment has an edge.
Saturday afternoon was relaxed and fun. Our ticket buying woes were over, we did some sightseeing, and we even sold our extra football tickets to some Americans we met at lunch.
We were up early yet again Sunday and took our now familiar route to Olympic Park, but this time, we got to go in!
We saw Lochte set a World Record in his 200 meter freestyle heat.
(here he is in lane 5):
After a rainy walk to the (closed on weekends) Today Show set and a final glimpse of the stadium, it was time for lunch and to make our way across town. (I wish we knew the milage we walked and rode – I’m sure its more impressive than I can even guess.)
And after finding the right entrance and becoming accustomed to FIFA stadium rules (no drinks at your seats!) we were ready for some football.
We finished our adventure in style, and lingered in the stadium to soak it all in.
After waiting out the crowd, we had a final Pimms at (of all places) TGI Fridays, where we met friendly locals who were Civil Engineers involved in Olympic Park construction.
A few final thoughts:
– Thanks to our Badminton friends at the hotel, we worked the word Shuttlecock into conversation each day and giggled like little kids.
– I can not express enough how happy and friendly the crowds were! If only everyday encounters were always like that – smiling, asking where everyone is from, making light conversation, and offering to snap photos of each other.
– I hope the Rio 2016 Olympic Committee is watching! London could NOT have been more prepared. EVERYTHING throughout the city was clean and had a fresh coat of paint. The walking routes were organized and officials kept massive crowds moving together (left stairs up, right stars down, etc.) There were Olympic signs, employees and volunteers every few feet. Some were directing the crowds with giant foam fingers, all were cheerful, helpful, and friendly. Though we spoke the language (and what a treat that was for a few days!) things occasionally got confusing and there was ALWAYS someone to help. Really, London couldn’t have done it any better.
I was so sad to leave, but more than anything I was so very, very thankful for what was such a fantastic experience. Tons of London 2012 photos are on my Flickr page.