Five things to know about visiting the Olympic Park
1) It's very big. No, really, it's very big. You might be expecting a compact site with all the major points of interest clustered together, but that's not how it is. The Olympic Park is approximately linear, following the line of the River Lea, and from one end to the other it's about two kilometres. For those of you who can't do metric, that's about a mile and a quarter. This graphic is from the giant pink observation tower to the south of the Park, in Orbit Circus, and it's going to be the first hint some spectators get that they need to walk a lot further than they were expecting. The Olympic Stadium looks close across the river, and if your ticket says "Bridge A" then it is. But there are five lettered bridges, with Bridge E right round on the opposite side, and hiking there really is going to take about ten minutes. Likewise the Aquatic Centre looks stupidly ridiculously close, and it is, but the entrance is a ten minute walk away round the back. The only venue in the centre of the Park is the Copper Box, where the handball takes place. If you're fit and able I'm sure that's doable in fifteen, but even fifteen minutes is a fair walk when you've already had a fair trek to get into the Park in the first place. As for basketball, hockey and cycling, they really are a mile away, and it's not a straight line to get there either. Eton Manor's a Paralympics-only venue, and that is as far away as you can get. If you have trouble getting about, never fear, because there are stacks of GamesMobilityVehicles parked up, with Games Makers ready to spring into action. These were being well used on Monday, and that was only for the relatively short distances in the stadium corner of the Park. What I think we can guarantee over the next fortnight is thousands of people arriving at their event late because they've completely underestimated how long it will take to walk up the Park to their venue. Be warned, it takes time to walk from the station, possibly time to get through security, and then time to get to where you need to be. Don't overdo it, there's no need to be here at stupid o'clock before your event starts. But better early with time to look around at the delights of the Park, than late to your seat having missed what you paid for.
2) It's very pretty. All hail to the designers, and especially to the gardeners, who've transformed much of the Park into a riot of colour. The rivers in the southern half of the park are lined by grassy banks covered with meadowy grass and flowers, and a lot of effort has gone into selecting and nurturing plants that'll look their best in late July or August. The density of blooms is most impressive, especially for those entering the Park via the Greenway Gate. The northern half, which I've not seen up close yet, includes much more extensive areas of parkland, wetland and landscaped slopes, which should be most impressive. Let's not forget the delightful and practical Manor Garden allotments that existed here before - it's not like the Lower Lea Valley was ever 100% ugly wasteland. And I'll not claim that all of the new Park is gorgeous. Some of buildings are necessarily utilitarian, and the piazzas and walkways have had to be tediously expansive to allow for mass people movement. But the overall end result has charm, colour and character, especially where art and horticulture combine.
3) Don't enter your venue too early. Once you're through security, you have the whole 2½ square kilometres of the Park at your disposal. But once you wave your event ticket to pass through into your venue, you're restricted within a much smaller area. There'll be food and drink and toilets, obviously, because bored people waiting for something to start like to buy food and drink to pass the time. But no pass outs will be allowed, so once you're in, you're in. Best think ahead, because your options are likely to be wider, and queues shorter, if you buy what you need in the main body of the Park. For example, the Olympic Stadium is located on an island with access only via five footbridges. Cross one of those and your only options are to walk around the edge, queue around the edge or to sit in your seat. The "Official spectator guide" sent with your tickets gives an indication of how far in advance the organisers would like you inside your venue and ready. This is almost certainly a conservative over-estimate. If you're going to the basketball, for example, "You should aim to arrive at the Basketball Arena 75 minutes before your session." Whilst it would be enormously sensible to be within the Park's perimeter at that time, I can't imagine any reason why you'd need to be sat in a grandstand watching nothing an hour and a quarter in advance. Maximise your time in the Park, don't herd like sheep into the dull zone.
4a) Don't be afraid to bring... Your own food, an empty water bottle, a camera, binoculars, a rucksack, 200ml of sunscreen, something waterproof, a t-shirt with a non-Olympic sponsor on it, cash, your Official spectator guide, your ticket. 4b) Don't bring... A picnic hamper, a full water bottle, a penknife, hard-sided luggage, any bag greater than 25 litres in capacity, more than 100ml of liquid, a mega-sized umbrella, balls, whistles, kittens, high explosives.