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So the Olympic Games have finally begun! Friday’s opening ceremony was viewed by people all over the world, and countries are already starting to rack up medals in events like swimming, cycling, and judo.
Londoners have of course been anticipating the Olympics for years. Now that they’re upon us, we’re starting to get a picture of what London is actually going to be like during the next two weeks. For months we were warned about increased crowds on public transport and encouraged to get excited about events taking place across the city. But aside from the usual complaining about our commutes being slowed, we didn’t really know quite what to expect.
Now that the Games are underway, the mood has lightened somewhat. So far, the crowds haven’t been as bad as we'd feared, and despite some delays on the Tube, the carriages haven’t been as packed with people as we anticipated. This has lifted the mood of Londoners, whose attitudes towards their city tend to be directly correlated with the ease of their commutes to work.
Things received another boost on Friday night with the advent of the spectacular opening ceremony. People gathered across the city at parties, pubs, and in parks — where large screens were set up to facilitate viewing for the unlucky millions that didn’t get tickets to the event (below, the scene at the Old Royal Naval College). Everyone was excited to watch everything from the Queen — well, her stunt double — parachuting into the stadium, to David Beckham speeding down the Thames in a boat with the Olympic torch at the bow.
Even the most skeptical Londoners were moved at the sight of the monarch walking through Buckingham Palace with Daniel Craig, aka James Bond, following behind, and awed as the torch was lit by seven young people that are likely to be future Olympians in one of the best-kept secrets of the evening.
Overall, the opening ceremony was viewed as a success and a great tribute to Britain's past, present, and future. Though it ran late into the night, nobody complained about its length and everybody seemed satisfied that the ceremony did justice to both London and the UK as a whole.
It's true that since Friday night, the mood has maybe dampened slightly, with road closures for the cycling events frustrating those that wanted to get out of London for the weekend. I was not immune to this myself, what with my trip to Oxford yesterday taking three hours instead of 1½ due to said closures. It didn’t help that no detour signs were up to help my bus driver navigate his way to the main western roads.
Neither has it helped that Britain’s medal hopes were unfulfilled on the opening day of the Games. Cycling medal hopeful Mark Cavendish finished a devastating 29th in the men’s road race final yesterday, and the UK was unsuccessful at winning medals in other sports.
But the British love nothing more than the underdog, not least when it is their own country. Hope remains for team GB in many other sports, including ones like rowing, where men’s lightweight double sculls partners Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase, who won gold in Beijing, have a chance to do their country proud.
So Londoners have braved the pouring rain on Sunday to watch the competitors go head-to-head on big screens in parks across the city. Indeed, they have kept an uncharacteristic sense of optimism alive throughout the weekend.
As for visitors, while their experience has of course been a bit different from that of people that live in the city year-round, it has generally been positive. For example, arrivals at Heathrow haven't been as chaotic as feared, and lines at passport control have been manageable.
Furthermore, crowds in central London haven’t been so bad as to deter visitors from exploring London’s top attractions, and restaurants haven't been so packed that people have been turned away or denied reservations. Similarly, hotel rates have come down from their pre-Olympics highs, and most out-of-towners have been able to procure tickets to at least one sporting event. In fact, there are still tickets available for purchase for events like weightlifting, boxing, and volleyball, so both visitors and locals alike can experience more of the Games now that they're underway.
And even if they don’t go to more of the sporting events, they can enjoy the festive atmosphere and upbeat mood that pervades — and hopefully will continue to pervade — this great city of London.
Julie Falconer is a London-based travel writer and consultant. She is the author of a travel blog called A Lady in London, works as travel consultant to help people plan trips throughout the world, and runs a Europe travel website called VisitingEU, which offers information for independent travelers. You can follow her on Twitter at @aladyinlondon.
photos: Shimelle Laine, Julie Falconer, Andy Wilkes, Andrea Vail