To this day London continues to excite me in ways that few other World cities can or do. It’s vibrant, artistic, multi ethnic population are the bedrock for one of the most exciting and diverse arts and culture scenes anywhere on the planet. Add to that the cities rich history, architecture, green parks and commerce and you have a more than compelling reason to visit time after time without ever getting bored.
With the Olympics fast approaching it is becoming apparent to me however that any number of pitfalls await a foreign tourist. From extortionate hotel costs to ticket scams, traffic chaos to the ever unreliable British weather there are any number of reasons to prepare early.
So I’ve put the following guide together as a means of guiding you, my foreign friend, around the city and towards an enjoyable and successful London 2012 Olympic games. Forewarned after all is forearmed.
1. Extortionate Hotels
There has been a lot of coverage about this in the UK media in recent weeks and it is something that all visitors need to pay attention to. UK government bodies and police are keeping a watchful eye on price packages but there continues to be some fear that travel agents will inflate prices over and above inflation and price many families out of the games.
It is an issue that has angered London hoteliers themselves as the British Hospitality Association (BHA) chief executive Ufi Ibrahim recently pointed out “Recent press comment concerning the prices that agents appointed by LOCOG – in particular Thomas Cook – are charging for Olympic ticket and hotel packages has suggested that London hotels are profiteering. This is certainly not the case. London hoteliers have no control over the prices that agents are charging.”
As such you should aim to speak directly with your London hotel to check their standard room rates during the games before booking through a tour operator.
2. Bad weather
Bad weather and Britain go together like Laurel and Hardy. It can be tragically funny to witness the summer months washed away in the blink of an eye, all hope for warm temperatures evaporating faster than you can say ‘was that the summer?’ So pack well and pack prepared.
You’ll need a rain coat, sweaters, trousers, shoes and socks. At the same time you’ll need swimming shorts/bikinis, t-shirts and flip flops. The weather is liable to change at the drop of a hat so come prepared.
And whatever you do don’t moan to a Brit about it. We know full well how annoying and unpredictable our summers are thank-you very much. Telling us about it is only likely to make us point you in the wrong direction should you be fool hardy enough to ask for directions following such an announcement.
In short, as you’ve probably gathered, we’re very sensitive about our rubbish weather.
3. Ticket scams
This is a red hot issue that the Mayor’s office and city police are working on around the clock. In fact a dedicated police unit has been set up to prevent the sales of fake tickets and to date some 40 people have been arrested in connection with such operations. The penalties for dealing in fake tickets are pretty severe, well if you call a prison sentence at her Majesty’s pleasure a deterrent given some reports on UK prison conditions but I digress.
In short the London 2012 official website and your nations host Olympic association are the only confirmed guarantors of official Olympic tickets. Whilst most major tour operators also have some allocations you will need to judge the credibility and reputation of the given company in your homeland before committing to a purchase.
4. General expense
London is an expensive city. There’s no getting away from it. If you have but $20 to your name you might as well forget about it. You’d be better off living another month backpacking elsewhere as it’s not particularly easy to find casual work as a result of the ongoing recession.
If, however, you’ve scrimped and saved and have a decent enough fund London is a party capital that you can still do on a budget. Not only do most museums and art galleries offer free admission but a lot of great street theatre is available if you look in the right places. Head to Covent Garden and the South Bank for the best of open air free entertainment and check the free daily Metro and Evening Standard newspapers to find listings for other free outdoor events. London 2012 promises to put on a myriad of events for the cultural Olympics so there will be plenty of free entertainment on the go.
5. Traffic chaos
If there is one thing that is guaranteed to go wrong next summer it will be the tube (London underground). This creaking hulk of Victorian brilliance is still the best way to get around the city but when it goes wrong it goes wrong big time.
Not only does the latest line (Jubilee) fail to run on a regular basis but it’s also one of the main conduits between a number of Olympic venues. Tube bosses and the mayor have been pulling their hair out trying to get it fixed but at the time of writing, and as a passenger who is bored of getting stuck in a tunnel wedged against someone’s sweaty armpit, I can tell you they are far from a solid solution at this time.
That said they know they can’t get this one wrong so hope springs eternal that a resolution will be found in time for the games.
Should the tube face problems you can rely on the ever reliable London bus network to get you to your venue. Just ensure you leave 3 hours early with a change of clothes as the lack of air conditioning (should the sunshine actually come out) will leave you begging for iced water, a cool breeze and the vague hope that the bus driver will finally work out how to turn the heating off.
Failing that there is always the car… what am I saying? Scrub that one. Grid lock all the way. No I’m afraid the only way to get around is by bicycle. You can rent one of the cities free bikes from any number of docking stations and cycle across the majestic parks en route to your games venue of choice safe in the knowledge you are doing your bit for the environment and having a great time doing it to. Only problem, there might not be enough bikes to go around.
Like most major cities London has it’s good and its bad. Be sensible, plan ahead and ask a local like me if ever you need advice. London promises to be a carnival with everyone pulling in the same direction so for all the warnings above you need remember but one little thing. I’ve lived in the city at various time for well over a decade and still love it to this day. If I can make it anyone can!
Josh writes about surf travel and the World at large. His passion takes him to amazing places as he explores all aspects of the sport through his regular articles. He sells havaianas and animal flip flops from his hut in the sand to help fund his travels. Connect with him at facebook.com/josh.aggars to talk surfing, travel and more.