Thursday, 6 September 2012


That word got said a lot yesterday. Also Amazing, Incredible, Fantastic. Inspiring too, although that was mostly later. Yesterday we had tickets for the Paralympic Athletics at the Olympic Stadium. In the interests of making the most of it, I arranged my work so that I could go and spend the afternoon wandering around the park as well.

Walking out of Stratford tube station in the sunshine, the atmosphere hit me right away - there was a sort of a buzz in the air - and the closer we walked to the park itself the stronger that became. The volunteers are all along the walking route from Station to Park, some on the ground, some perched up in sort of "umpires chair" type affairs, but all smiling, happy, cheerful, reassuring us that it was "not much further" and "Worth the walk!". You go through a line of volunteers who are checking tickets - that is, checking that people have GOT tickets, gently turning away anyone who was hoping to buy one at the venue (there are no tickets for sale at the Park itself) then you reach the screening area - rather like airport security you empty your pockets into the plastic tray, put your bag in, and walk through the xray hoop.....if you're lucky, like me, it stays silent, others were getting a thorough rub-down from a male or female member of the armed forces though. Only after you have passed all the screening do you finally reach the person who "blips" your ticket barcode with their scanner thing, and you're in!

Most people seem to be drawn in the direction of the "Orbit" first off - and that's not surprising, there is a certain fascination about it. I kept finding myself drawn back to it, and have countless photos of it from various different angles. It's beautifully lit up at night too, with a sort of pulsing red light that makes it glow. Quite mesmerising.

The wildflower meadows must have been stunning when they were at their best for the opening of the Olympics - even now, when the bulk of the flowers are a little way over, it's an attention grabbing mix of colours from blues through yellow, deep orange and even black. In places there are walkways through the flowers, and in others, low benches so you can sit and just admire.

Having watched the park evolving from derelict ex-industrial wasteland into its current form over the past 7 years, there are certain buildings that you feel a bit of an affinity with - the stadium is obvious as it's such a clear landmark on the skyline from across east London, but to me the Velodrome is the one I was really curious to see close up. The velodrome is one of the buildings that is designed to be permanent - as it was growing it looked quite strange - a sort of wibbly flying saucer atop an angular, oval shaped building. Then as the timber cladding started appearing on the outside, suddenly it began to make sense. The lines started flowing, the angles were gone, and there it sat, alongside the main A12 Blackwall tunnel approach road, looking absolutely beautiful. Apparently the design means it is also an energy efficient building too - something to do with it maximising interior space in order to minimise the amount of air needing heating or cooling. walking through to there took quite a while as there were so many distractions - from a 5 piece band to a troop of morris dancers. (They were rather fab & cheery actually, I could have watched them for quite some time!)

The Park itself is cleverly laid out. Although a large site, there are so many things to look at as you wander about that nowhere actually feels that far from anywhere else. There are also seats absolutely everywhere, and for those who are unable to walk far at all there are comfy looking little 8-seater trucks chuntering about the place. Every now and again you hear a cartoonish "beep! beep!" from behind and you step out of the way to allow one past. For those with some time to kill, "Park Live" with its double-sided big screen, is the place to go, with a mix of flat grassy areas and giant wooden "steps" to sit on, there is plenty of space even on a glorious day like yesterday - it was a great place to sit and watch the "Quad Doubles" tennis taking place.

One thing you can't get away from as you walk around the Park is the close links with water. You are almost always within view of some form of water as the river & waterways wind their way around. The necessity of the bridges required as a result of this has been turned into a virtue by the addition of various waterfalls, from the obvious:

To the extremely clever and rather well hidden:

Great eh?! Thanks to Hayley & Bonita for telling me about that one - well, for announcing "You HAVE to see THIS!" and dragging me there, actually. No complaints though!

One of the challenges the designers faced when working on construction of the stadium was how it would be possible to fit it into the space available - it needed to be able to seat 80k people, but the ground space did not at first appear large enough. This has been got round by means of a "compact" stadium - the amount of seats are achieved on a small floor-plan by means of rising higher into the air - the steepness of this means that everywhere in the stadium has a superb view. (So far as we could see there were NO restricted views at all). Access to the stadium itself comes via four main Bridges as yet again it is almost entirely bounded by waterways.

As usual, Ben & I were determined to extract maximum value from the smallest amount of money. Tickets were £20 each - this was the bottom-priced ticket band but as mentioned above, the views were fantastic, we were actually a lot further from the very top than we expected to be!

We took our own food - sandwiches and snacks - and an empty water bottle which we could refill free inside the park. Had we needed to buy, we noted that food costs were high, but perhaps not as high as they could have been (fish & chips, as an example, was £8.50, ice creams were £2.50). Due to the policy of only selling foreign lager rather than proper British beer, we weren't tempted by a drink. As a result of this there was no problem with using the car as we normally would and parking near my clients office. This meant travel was limited to the cost of a short journey on the tube using Oyster I had downloaded the free App on my iPhone which saved us paying £5 for the "daily guide" whilst still meaning we knew what was going on. The only money we spent inside the park was £10 for the Official Paralympic Programme - which came with a free Olympic Programme as well, and which we felt was a good souvenir of a once in a lifetime and thoroughly memorable day out.


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