Each year we try to take a family summer vacation. As the kids get older it’s more and more difficult to find one time when they can all get off work. Our eldest son Robbie is working in LA. Our middle daughter Jennifer is a sophomore at Lehigh. Our youngest Dana is going to be a sophomore in High School. Having always loved London we could not resist attending the Olympics this summer. London is the perfect spot for a family vacation with a little of everything to interest all. Moreover, the Olympics are much more than a sporting event, but rather a chance for all cultures of the world to interact.
For me, as I watched the games, I was inspired by the tremendous concentration and effort of each athlete. Their stories of how they got to where they are now are even more inspiring. While each athlete has a different background and culture, they all seemed to share their commitment and sacrifice that each had to make in order to achieve success. Whether it was Gabby Douglas who had to move away from home, or the thousands of other athletes that compete, their dedication and sacrifice is amazing.
This trip we traveled on Delta via Brussels. We arrived early morning into Brussels and had to transfer to the Eurostar train which left from the center of Brussels to London St. Pancreas station.
The Eurostar is the train service that goes under the British Channel connecting the United Kingdom to the European continent. It takes just two hours for the 200 mile journey at speeds up to 150 miles an hour.
If you are travelling between Paris, Brussels or Amsterdam and London try the Eurostar. The ride is super quiet, easy and fast!
DAY 1 – Saturday
There are various Olympic rings hanging up throughout the city. We were welcomed by the rings at St. Pancras Station.
The station has great shops and restaurants. We jumped in a London Taxi for South Kensington. If you have ever been to London you know all about the London Taxis. The drivers are the most knowledgeable and personable taxi drivers in the world. Licenses are not easy to come by and you need to have vast knowledge of London streets and points of interest to attain your license. We also love the Taxis themselves, one vehicle type, quite roomy, but in many colors. They remind me of the old NY checker cabs.
Our experience in years past with regards to the Olympics is that there is a big worry about overcrowding, everything being booked, security issues, restaurants full etc. However, it is not that way at all. The security is typically the tightest is can ever be. Most locals and regular tourists are scared of the crowds so they either leave town, or don’t come into town. The restaurants are relatively easy to book or walk into as people are so involved in the games that they have little time for other activities. All in all it makes for a perfect time to visit. The city is as ready as ever to welcome tourists from all over the world. Volunteers were at every transportation spot throughout the city and as friendly as could be. Ultimately, it created an incredible experience for all the visitors.
Our team included Team Gottlieb, five of us and the Newton’s who distribute Two’s Company in the UK (Mulhouse). Caroline and Patrick and their son Thomas stayed with us. And their daughter Lara visited a bit, but in fact was working a few hours north in Leeds and could not enjoy the games live. Their son Harry fell to the same fate, with work at his new job in the North.
With the party of eight we rented a house through www.Londonguestsuites.com, a Los Angeles based company that rents apartments and homes in LA, Paris and London. I located a five bedroom home in South Kensington just two blocks from the east end of Hyde Park, the Central Park of London. The location was ideal.
From Left to right; Patrick, Dana, Tom, Thomas, Lara, Jennifer, Robbie, Jill and Caroline carrying Two’s Company Union Jack Thermal Bags designed in New York for the Queens Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics UK market. They were the talk of the town and sold out!
The London Olympic committee did a superb job all around in preparing for the event. A big thanks goes out to Patrick and his office staff who maneuvered their way through the ticket acquisition system and landed us eight tickets to a variety of events including Table Tennis, Greco Wrestling, Handball, Beach Volleyball and Hockey. As part of our tickets we also received all day public transportation tickets which made everything work so smoothly.
We left Gloucester Road at about 5 PM and it took about one hour to get to the Emirates Airlines sponsored Cable Car which took us to the arena. It was a fun way to arrive and gave us some nice views of the area.
The Table Tennis (Ping Pong) was at the Excel Center. In non-Olympic times this is an exhibition center, but during the events this served as a place which held six different sports from Boxing to Table Tennis. It was amazing how they were able to set up these temporary arenas with seating for 15,000 fans in halls similar to Jacob Javits Convention Center.
The Olympics is a wonderful event. As best as it can, the event tries to remove the political demons at work around the world allowing competitors to meet and compete in a neutral setting. On our first night we watched North Korea compete right next to South Korea, and it appeared absolutely normal. We all loved the actual Ping Pong table that was created for the Olympics built and supported by metal Olympic rings, very cool.
DAY 2 – Sunday
Sunday was an early morning where we had to reach Olympic Park by 9:00 AM for Handball. We all expected the type of handball that we grew up with; a rubber ball and a wall. This, however, was like a soccer match but instead of kicking one threw the ball to the next player. We saw two matches, South Korea against Sweden (ranked #1) and Brazil against Angola. It was action packed and the ball kept moving.
We decided to spend the rest of the day exploring Olympic Park. We visited a Coca Cola exhibit featuring funky music created by the taping of sounds from a variety of athletic events such as a ping pong ball being hit, the heartbeat of a runner and a ball going through a basketball hoop. By touching panels the visitor was able to create a song. At the end of the exhibit there were some local artists break dancing. http://www.coca-cola.co.uk/olympic-games/coca-cola-beatbox-olympic-pavilion.html
The Olympic events were spread-out throughout the London area at 34 different venues. With the exception of some of the Football (soccer) venues all seemed to be within an hour of London. At the Olympic park there were lots of places to hang out. In the center of the park there is a Giant Jumbotron screen. At one point we sat out to enjoy the warm weather, take a break and watch the end of the men’s tennis finals. The energy from the crowd routing for the British player Andy Murray was incredible.
DAY 3 – Monday
It was another gorgeous day in London. Hyde Park has so much to offer, so Dana and I decided to take a run in the park to start the day off and get a lay of the land to see what was happening in the park. It is a NOT TO MISS attraction. There are ponds, boating, biking and running paths, Kensington Palace (www.hrp.org.uk/kensingtonpalace) with incredible gardens, horseback riding, the Serpentine Museum, a lake, fields, swans, ducks, etc. During the Olympics, they were doing a 10km swim, triathlon, marathon, walking race and much more.
We all spent the morning walking in the Park to the other side for our days activity. I never knew that there was a museum in the park called the Serpentine Gallery. At the entrance they had a great interactive project called wish trees. You wrote a personal wish and hung it on the tree creating something artful and certainly meaningful. We wished for a world where we all can live in harmony and peace. www.serpentinegallery.org
A fun part of the museum was a special exhibit by Yoko Ono who was collecting smiles from around the world. We all got our pictures taken there. More info at www.smilesfilm.com
We walked across the park with a stop for a short game of football (soccer).
We ended up for a fish and chips just off of Trafalgar square.We then headed to the National Portrait Gallery where they had an exhibition of photographs of athletes who have participated in the Olympics. They always have wonderful exhibits so if you plan to visit London don’t miss this museum. http://www.npg.org.uk/
From here we headed to the Beach Volleyball venue called Horse Guards Parade. During non-Olympic times, this is where visitors to London come to see the changing of the guards. The queen lent this area to the Olympic Committee and converted it to a Beach Volleyball arena. Here we were, looking at Buckingham Palace, with the London eye Ferris Wheel, Big Ben and other historic buildings surrounding us.
We ended Day 3 at a great restaurant find, a Thai restaurant called Patara. If you are in London, it is considered one of the best Thai restaurants. www.pataralondon.com
DAY 4 – Tuesday
London, like many European cities, has installed a rent-a-bike system. Biking in the park is a dream. My morning exercise partner, Dana, and I ventured out to the park again on bikes this time.On this trip in Hyde Park we discovered the Venetian Fountains, the Olympic Superstore, the African exhibit, the Royal Albert Hall and Kensington Palace. The highlight for me was the Kensington Palace Gardens. We did not have a chance to view it close-up, but it is definitely on my list of things to do in London next time I’m there in September.
Today’s event was Greco Wrestling. None of us quite knew what this was, but we were caught up in Olympic fever and excited to see any competition. At the beginning of each session, the announcers explain some of the rules for the event. We quickly were up to speed and watched three wrestling rings at once. The competitors included about 20 countries including Iran, Korea, USA, France, Russia, Hungary and many more. Each match got more and more interesting and by the end the competition to get to the semifinals was fierce. We saw some wonderful moments like when the Hungarian wrestler won he ran to the side to what we thought would be a hug but he flipped his coach onto the mat to a floor hug-it was a display of thorough joy. We also saw disappointment and non-sportsman like conduct when one of the losing wrestlers could not accept a call and kept yelling and crying how unfair the decision was throughout his exit from the arena.
After the match we worked our way back into London by tube. What is so great about the Olympic spirit is the realization of how real these athletes are. While they hold wonderful talents they are in some ways ordinary people. On our way back from wrestling Robbie bumped into the American wrestler with his family, who we saw compete earlier, and spent some time talking with them.
There are so many ways to see London. They have Pedi cabs, tube, Double Decker bus tours, by boat, bicycle and much more. I believe nothing beats a tour by foot. We took a walk from Charring Cross walked over the London Bridge, not the London Bridge that was bought from London and is now located in Arizona, but a bridge with great views of another set of Olympic rings on the Tower Bridge. It is an awesome site. And the walk along the Thames on Thames Path to the Millennium bridge is a fantastic walk as well. It takes about 30 minutes and the views are tremendous. Tower of London
DAY 5- Wednesday
Today we the group split up. Patrick, Thomas, Robbie and Jennifer headed north of London for the Warner Brothers Studio Harry Potter Experience. www.wbstudiotour.co.uk This was a two hour journey by bus so the trip took most of the day. Here they toured you around the original stage set for the movie. If you have read the book it’s wonderful to experience a 3D version. If you are heading to Orlando, you probably can enjoy a similar experience there.
While they were up north, Caroline, Jill, Dana and I decided to hit some shopping. We have never been to Camden Town, a humongous flea market and so we hopped on a train and headed there. The stalls and shops had absolutely everything and anything from vintage to new for young and old. After about an hour we needed a break for lunch and found a wonderful place for raclete, a Swiss melted cheese Panini experience. We were in heaven. Jill was commenting how this area and London for that matter is a place where you can truly experience almost every culture and food from all over the world.
We decided to hop on a canal boat back to Paddington. This was actually a canal tour in London. The long boat was a renovated Canal Boat with views of some of the fanciest houses in London. You got a quick education of how things moved back in the days. We ended up in Paddington Station not far from Hyde Park.
Next stop, the Tate Britain Museum. Here the exhibit was a celebration of London shot by foreigners who moved to London between late 19th century and the 1970’s. The photography was amazing with great drama and poignant moments. We got a real feel for what it was like in the first half of the 20th century. www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain Great museum and if you visit often worth joining the museum. If you are a family, ask about the family rate at any of the museums. Usually if you have four or more in your party the family ticket is worthwhile.
We then went to the Tate Modern which is about a 10 minute Taxi ride. It was a nice break from the underground. The Tate modern varies on the exhibit. We went to see the Damien Hirst exhibit. We loved his butterfly art but most of his other work was too disturbing for us. www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern
We then met Robbie and Caroline at the Globe Theatre. They were going to see Richard the 3rd and we were heading off to watch hockey at the Olympic park. We ate at the restaurant attached to the theatre called the Swan at the Globe. www.loveswan.co.uk They served “British Tapas” at the bar and a slightly more upscale menu at the restaurant upstairs. It was a perfect prelude to the theatre. The Shakespeare Theatre is actually open in the center. It is quite simple inside and was recreated just like the original giving one the most authentic way to experience Shakespeare. Visit www.shakespearesglobe.com
Later, we watched a game of Field Hockey. In fact, none of us were familiar with Field Hockey, but we quickly knew what was going on. The crowd was alive with spirit on an absolutely perfect evening with temperatures in the 60’s. We watched Team GB vs Argentina (#1 ranked team). The British had never made it to the semifinals so they were pumped. Lots of waves around the arena, tons of cheering and lots of fun. Kate was even there to share in the excitement. By the end we were exhausted and unfortunately for the home crowd the British lost.
We walked out of the park to enjoy some wonderful nighttime views.
Day 6 – Thursday
Our last day in London. So much to do, we had to choose carefully.
Team Newton chose Hyde Park and watching the 10 km swim in the park with her brother and family.
Team Gottlieb chose to split up do the Victoria and Albert Museum Fashion exhibit and the Science Museum and then meet up. Both museums are next to each other on exhibition row. One could spend a full day in each. They are well worth the visit. www.vam.ac.uk , www.sciencemuseum.org.uk We met in front and rented bikes again to ride through Hyde Park to our next stop.
In the park we got to see the full set up for the swim and continued on our way to Selfridges Department Store, Top Shop, Liberty’s and other brands on Oxford Street.
Next stop, was one of my favorite things to do in London. Once a year at the end of July the Royal Academy of Arts has a special exhibition displaying the works of many of its member artists. These include up and coming as well as more established artists. The works which number over 1000 cover almost every wall in the museum for visitors to see and also buy. The art ranges in style and medium. Surely one falls in love with more than one piece. www.royalacademy.org.uk It is the perfect size museum that offers a variety of exhibitions throughout the year.
It was then off to a pre-theatre dinner in the west end at Bucco di lupo. www.boccadilupo.com They have Great pasta and fresh mozzarella. Our final event was seeing the London version of Matilda. We had 4th row seating which was a blast. If you are in London it is a wonderful family show with lots of laughs. I read that it is opening in NY in March 2014 so reserve your tickets now. http://uk.matildathemusical.com
Our trip continued on beyond London in Bruges for a few days and we are now on our way home.
All in all, it was a life time memory and experience for our family. There are many wonderful elements to the Olympics, but one thing is for sure, it always brings out the best in humanity.
So if you have an opportunity to experience one, don’t miss out!