I only have one ticket to the Olympics. It isn’t a bad thing, given that a friend is competing in the event I’m going to see. But the rowing, which is what my ticket is for, is out in Eton Dorney, and far away from London. Without a ticket for an event in the city, I risk missing out on an important part of the Games: the London Olympic Park.
Thankfully, a friend of mine had a spare ticket for the park and invited me to join her on a visit. We hopped on the tube, got off at Stratford, and walked over to the entrance of the venue. I was surprised—as I have been all week in London—at how few crowds there were as we made our way to the park and through the security check.
Once inside, we strolled down the path and under the giant Olympic Park signs to find ourselves face-to-face with the most iconic structure of the Games: the Olympic Stadium. All white-and-black zigzags, it was bigger and grander in real life than it had seemed all of the times I had seen it on TV.
So was the rest of the park. Before I visited, I had only a vague idea of how large the area was. I knew there were a velodrome, an aquatics center, and a stadium, but I forgot about the water polo and basketball arenas, BMX track, and Riverbank Arena.
That’s to say nothing of the parks, lawns, gardens, wetlands, food pavilions (including the world’s largest McDonald’s), housing complexes, shopping areas, media centers, and even the River Lea. The place was massive.
Our work cut out for us, we started at the Olympic Stadium and the adjacent Aquatics Centre. Between them was the eyesore known as the Orbit, a giant work of contemporary art that everyone hopes will be torn down immediately after the Games (or better yet, before then).
From there we walked down the wide path, which was covered with colorful circles. On them, bizarrely cheerful Olympics volunteers were interacting with people dressed in flags and costumes from all over the world. Never before have I witnessed British Londoners being so friendly to anyone—let alone foreigners.
In fact, I found it a bit uncanny to see a people known for being so decidedly unfriendly acting so…well…American. It was as if they had imported a bunch of Texans and told them to speak with British accents while smiling, welcoming, and making small talk with a bunch of crazily attired people from all over the globe. It was hilarious. I loved it.
Passing by the volunteers, we made our way to a Coca-Cola sponsored coffee kiosk (yes) that was out of everything except for black coffee. Cups of joe in hand, we continued along London Way past HD theaters and public-art-turned-playgrounds, and found ourselves in a park in front of a giant screen rising up out of the River Lea.
There we watched the rowing for a bit before walking across a bridge to where the Velodrome, BMX Track, and Basketball Arena were. In the midst of the food stalls at the “street market”, we could hear thousands of cheers erupting from the stadiums around us. It was an exciting time to be there.
Also exciting was the fact that an American TV program called the Today Show had its own broadcasting center there. As we walked by, we saw them filming a segment with the anchorwoman. It was comforting to see a little slice of home all the way across the pond.
But in truth, there are little slices of home everywhere during the Olympics. No matter what country people are from, they can cheer for athletes from their home territories and visit the pop-up houses their countries are sponsoring throughout London during the Games.
Better yet, they can walk around draped in their country’s flag without raising an eyebrow—try doing that as an American in London at any other time of year!
And so while I still only have my one Olympics ticket, being in London during the Games is a ticket in itself.
Seeing the London Olympic Park, watching British Londoners smile and make eye contact with complete strangers, cheering on my friends and my country, and having the freedom to paint my face with stars and stripes and robe myself in American flags for two solid weeks (let’s be honest—I won’t) is the best ticket to the Games I could ever ask for.