diamond geezer

 Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Making the most of the Olympic Park

The Olympic Park is essentially two parks - a green swathe to the north and an extended plaza to the south. They're linked centrally along a broad tarmacked spine, which means it's perfectly possible to walk straight to your venue, leave immediately afterwards and see very little of the surroundings. But that would be a mistake. There's a heck of a lot to enjoy, all up and down the mile and a quarter length of the Park, so long as you step off the hardstanding and take a look. Grab a purple map from one of the information points to help you to find some of the more interesting corners, or read below...


What most people do
Arrive and depart... the Stratford Gate and Greenway Gate are both at this end of the Park. Some will never get any further into the Park than this.
Eat and drink... one of the best selections of eateries is here, plus by far the largest area of seating.
Stare up at the Orbit... and look dejected when told that you needed to have pre-booked a £15 ticket online, and there aren't any available.
Gawp at the venues... the Stadium, Aquatic Centre and Water Polo Arena are all close by.
Stand around... and take photos of each other in front of the above.

What most people don't do
Walk down to the edge of the City Mill River... a small footpath opposite the stadium leads down to a riverside promenade beneath meadow-planted slopes.
Walk down to the edge of the Waterworks River... a broader promenade passes the Aquatic Centre and Water Polo Arena. At the southern end is the well-hidden BMW Pavilion where you can ogle new cars. In the river are some photogenic mooring posts disguised as coloured crayons. Beneath the Stratford Gate bridge is a brilliant water feature where seemingly random words appear projected in falling droplets. Along the landward edge are the 2012 Gardens, a thin strip of vibrant flowers from around the world. And at the northern end, missed by the great majority of visitors, it's only the Royal Barge Gloriana! She's been tied up here since Sunday and, if there's sun, she glints beautifully.
Go pin trading... at the trading station beneath the Orbit. Enter within and you'll find some really serious collectors with badges from past Games all over their clothing and laid out on the table in front of them. Feel free to watch as trading takes place, or maybe buy some obscurely tangential badges and start your own collection. Unfortunately they're all Coca Cola badges in here - for the official LOCOG pins, try the London 2012 shop nextdoor.


What most people do
Go into the world's largest McDonalds... which has high street prices, and is by far the cheapest place to eat.
Wander round the huge London 2012 Megastore... which has designer prices, for example £28 for the exclusive series of sport-by-sport t-shirts.
Stare up at the BBC studios... which are perched on a big stack of blue containers by the coffee stand. You might spot someone famous... and they might spot you.
Walk straight through, several times... because everyone has to pass this pinchpoint to pass between the northern and southern halves of the Park. You'll probably never notice, but the London Overground passes directly underneath.

What most people don't do
Walk down underneath the Spotty Bridge... which is where you'll find the remains of Carpenter's Lock. This is one of the few surviving remnants of the pre-Olympic Park, a structure so derelict it was out of bounds long before the bid was won, now buried in an illuminated pink tunnel. And I'm delighted to see that the old metal footbridge alongside has survived, even if it is currently blocked at both ends for security reasons.
Visit the Great British Garden... because it's hidden off the main drag, between Stadium bridges D and E. There are several small gardens, designed by schools across all regions of the country, hosting various activities for especially children to take part in. Charming, but overlooked.
Visit the EDF Pavilion... almost all the other sponsors got a prime location. Not so EDF, whose "The Story of Electricity" is ever so easy to miss (beyond the Megastore).
Spot where the prestige visitors eat... no £5 pasties and chicken nuggets for them. They get proper food, served at table, in a row of unbranded hospitality prefabs.
Enter/exit via the Victoria Gate... it's a long switchback route out of the Park round the back of the Stadium to Wick Lane, but wonderfully quiet. Watch out for some larger-than-life Opening Ceremony puppets... unless they've been moved on by now.

BRITANNIA ROW (northwest)

What most people do
Hang around waiting to go into the handball or hockey... there are plenty of eating (and drinking) opportunities here.
Queue for the Panasonic HD 3D Theatre... it's a 25 minute show, combining Olympics footage with sales pitch, but they only allow 100 people in at a time.
Queue for the Coca Cola Beatbox... it looks stunning, but Coke's reliance on a specially commissioned piece of music which failed to dent the Top 40 may have misfired.
Take photos of three big letters (R, U & N) by the Copper Box... mirrored by day, illuminated by night.
Sit and watch TV... British Airways have sponsored a giant screen perched in the middle of the River Lea. Hundreds, maybe thousands, are sitting on landscaped lawns to watch events taking place elsewhere in the Park, or across London. "Park Live" is the only place to catch up on sport if you're not inside a venue, and thus a very good place to be. The commercial intrusions are annoying, but relatively rare.

What most people don't do
Follow the riverside path... it's going to be a lovely walk in legacy, but most don't spot they can turn off the main plaza and enjoy this parallel route instead. Keep going all the way past the hockey arena to discover the park's 'secret' northernmost bridge.
Stop at the Cadbury Treat Kiosk... maybe it's the wrong weather for ice cream.
Wander through the wetlands... opposite the Copper Box, cross the "dead-end" bridge with the picnic tables on it, then walk down the slope past the big tree. This is where the Bully Point Nature Reserve used to be, and it's very good to see that comparable watery marshland has been restored.
Read The Spark Catchers... a specially commissioned poem by Lemn Sissay about the Bryant & May matchgirls, carved into the wooden surround of an electricity substation. A little bit of Bow's history is part of Art in the Park.


What most people do
Sit and eat... the map describes this area as being full of "tasty street food from around the world", but it tastes more like generic corporate catering.
Trek to attend the venues... the Velodrome, BMX track and Basketball Arena are all close by.
Queue for sponsor pavilions... but watch out, because BP, Samsung and Acer appear to be overkeen to get your email address and contact details.
Walk up the slope opposite the Basketball Arena... to get their photo taken in front of five large Olympic Rings. For some unfathomable reason they're not painted on the back, even though this is highly visible too.
Sit and watch TV... There are further grassy lawns here for watching the other side of the "Park Live" screen.

What most people don't do
Follow the riverside path... this one's prettier still than the western bank. Watch out for several ornamental slopes and the frog ponds. But when you remember that this used to be the Manor Garden allotments, then the re-landscaping somehow isn't quite so much of a triumph.
Visit the bandstand... it's at the very top of the Park, amongst gorgeous flowery parkland. You might see a local band playing, or you might meet Wenlock.
Wander through the wetlands... the northern entrance is down the steps near the Acer pavilion. Don't forget to read the unusual plaques on the benches, here and throughout the site.
Enjoy the Art in the Park... there are some delightful artistic interventions throughout the Park, like mirrored ceilings, mosaic bridges and especially the chopped-up phone boxes. Either follow the green spots on the handout map, or download a "Walk in the Park" off the website before you arrive, else you'll only discover the art if you stumble upon it. [pdf guide]

Make sure you explore carefully - the Olympic Park contains much of interest and merit if you do.

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