Yesterday was the first full working day of the Olympics in London with commuters and Olympics fans rubbing shoulders on the public transport network. I decided to ignore the warnings and venture out anyway, as the weather forecast was good and I had a hunch that part of the city I was headed for would be quiet. Well I was right! Leaving home at 10 o’clock meant missing the morning rush hour entirely but you would still expect Stratford station to be even busier than normal, as the location of the Olympic Park. It was positively relaxed, and I was able to photograph the Olympic Orbit Tower, cross the platform from the Greater Anglia train to Liverpool Street onto the Central Line tube and get a seat, no problem. At Holborn there was a slight slowdown at the platform exit as a hundred or so people with shorts and rucksacks made their way out to cross onto the Piccadilly Line, presumably headed towards Horseguards’ Parade but out on the streets in Holborn and on the way to the British Museum there were definitely less Londoners and tourists out and about than you would normally expect on any day of the week, mid morning in summer.
What’s going on?
What IS going on? Have the measures to mitigate against transport congestion worked too well and kept people away? Or is it just the beginning, with a lot of people taking the day off or working from home, only to return to normal tomorrow? We shall see about that as far as the London commuters are concerned but for the millions of tourists who have decided to keep away from London as a destination this summer, and go elsewhere for te duration, then it’s already too late for all the businesses and activities in central London that depend upon them. I bet there are empty rooms in some of the hotels right now. It reminds me somewhat of Cornwall during the solar eclipse of August 1999. Scaremongering officials and media combined to paint pictures of the army being brought in to help feed people stuck by the roadside in traffic jams for days on end, but the reality was that the Cornish tourist industry had its worst season for decades. I was there and had a lovely time being able to get around the small towns and empty car parks just as if it was an off-season break. Now the same thing appears to be happening to London. There are lots of activities planned in the National Houses and other venues across London, expecting a kind of party atmosphere to break out throughout the capital, but most of them are very badly attended for now. Londoners, having been told to prepare themselves for longer journeys, plan alternatives and “don’t get caught out” (Boris on the buses) have either stayed at home or booked themselves a holiday abroad, and are now being urged to come out and join, and help make up the numbers!
Things to do in London during the Olympics
I went to the British Museum. No queues, no bag searches, a gentle stroll around the North American Flora Exhibition by Kew Gardens and inside to see a free exhibition about The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot (More about trying to find the Jade Figure of a Horse later).
Lunch in Soho. Fabulous sushi bento box in my favourite Japanese canteen restaurant, usually full of Japanese students and some adventurous tourists but able to walk in and get a table with no waiting yesterday. Maybe I was lucky, but Chinatown is one of the epicentres of camera toting tourists and felt determinedly less busy.
St Katherines Docks is the location for the ‘Danish House’ IMAGINATION, one of dozens of National Houses set up by participating countries in the Olympics to host parties and exhibitions, to follow their national teams and mingle with athletes and celebrities. One site which lists them all, especially those that are free to the public is LondonPrepares.com
Above: The London Orbit Tower during the Olympic Games