In a matter of weeks London will be the most viewed location as millions of people from all over the world will watch the Olympic Opening Ceremony on their televisions. Many thousands more will visit the city in person as competitors, their support crew and organisers, and spectators. Certainly there will be few, if any, spare rooms in hotels in London.
Getting around the city is not going to be easy, so here are a few tips on surviving the London Olympics that are aimed primarily at visitors to the city but may also be useful to some of the city’s residents who have been lucky enough to get a ticket or two.
A special welcome
A word of reassurance to foreign visitors: when you arrive you will not be alone, that is if government plans work out as hoped. At every airport, port and train terminal where Olympic visitors are expected, it is planned to have groups of “greeters” to welcome you into the country and city. These are volunteers whose role will be to make you feel welcome and provide you with help and advice, for instance how to reach your hotel. London greeters can be avoided if spotted in advance.
The most popular and best way to get around London is on the London Underground (which the locals refer to as the “tube”). It can be crowded, uncomfortably hot with no air conditioning, and where eye contact is deemed to be dangerous – but everyone is dependent on its practicality and reliability. You can’t help but notice that people cocoon themselves in their own little world, usually plugged in to an iPod and engrossed in a Kindle. The plus side is that you can get to just about anywhere you want to with ease, and, you can save yourself a significant amount of money if you get an Oyster card. They cost £18 with £15 credit on the card and it can be used on all London public transport.
Black cabs are also a traditional form of transport. They are also called Hackney cabs and they are not necessarily black anymore. London cab drivers have what is called “The Knowledge” which means that they have a good geographic memory of the city and know all the rat runs and shortcuts and do not need to rely on satellite navigation systems. Generally they can be relied on to take you to where you want to go without going on an expensive detour. Tipping is generally expected but you should bear in mind that your driver probably lives in a better house than you do. An addition benefit is their cheerful chatter!
Unavoidable – buses
London busses are another excellent way to get around the city, especially if you have plenty of time on your hands. The average speed of cars in London is around 9 mph but cars do not have to stop at bus stops and take on and disembark passengers. Quite often it is as fast, if not faster, to walk than to take the bus, certainly at busy times.
Faster by far are bikes. London has a bike sharing scheme known colloquially as Boris Bikes. You just pay at a bike docking station and eventually return your bike to another docking station. The first thirty minutes is free, but there are heavy fines if you fail to return the bike within 24 hours.