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Let the Games Begin London (Part 3)

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Festival events

Getting tickets for the arts and culture extravaganza is a breeze compared to getting tickets for the sports, and much is free anyway. London and the rest of the UK will be living its busiest cultural summer ever with artists from all over the world descending on the capital. An incredible 12,000 events are promised. The official London 2012 Festival programme is a mighty document of 140 pages.

Description: at the Royal Academy

at the Royal Academy

The events range from major exhibitions like David Hockney’s Yorkshire landscapes at the Royal Academy to the world’s biggest ever international Shakespeare festival. London’s Globe Theatre is mounting all Shakespeare’s 37 plays in 37 different languages, including several from India. Dance aficionados will be keenly awaiting the comprehensive retrospective of works by German choreographer Pina Bausch at the Barbican and Sadler’s Wells. Britain’s film heritage will be projected nationwide in a series of screenings and events, not least the showing of Hitchcock’s silent films with live orchestral accompaniment.

Description: strange carnivalesque beasts roaming the streets

strange carnivalesque beasts roaming the streets

Free events include everything from street theatre to pop-up performances in unexpected places, from opera on canal boats to strange carnivalesque beasts roaming the streets. For music lovers there’s 160,000 free tickets to the BT River of Music, a massive international music feast on six stages along the river, featuring leading artists from all the 205 Olympic nations, such as Portugal’s fado singer Mariza. On my list of must-sees is the towering spectacle of a 33-foot-high mechanical puppet of Lady Godiva being pulled by 100 cyclists and flanked by 2,000 jugglers, musicians and dancers as it arrives in London from Coventry after a six-day journey.

Is London ready?

The question on every Londoner’s lips is how well London will cope with the extra pressures during the Games. A typical reaction came from my dentist. When I asked him for his opinion on what awaits London’s Olympic tourists, he exclaimed, “Transport chaos!" He is a regular five-day-a-week train commuter, so he should know. But contrary to popular sentiment, the Olympic organisers exude quiet confidence that the city will run smoothly, having spent $9.9 billion on transport infrastructure improvements.

Description: the Thames

the Thames river

There is no climate of panic, no sensational newspaper stories of unfinished construction sites and last-minute struggles to get things hooked up. The Olympic Park venues were completed well over a year ago and have undergone extensive testing ever since. Numerous new hotels have sprouted up and by all accounts London can easily accommodate everyone wishing to come. An elegant cable car spanning the Thames has been erected, buildings on the Olympic road routes have been spring-cleaned and 70,000 volunteer Games Makers have been recruited to welcome visitors. "London is ready," declared IOC member Denis Oswald on his final inspection before the Games begin. Will the Games be a Summer Like No Other and the greatest show on earth? Only time will tell, but for my money it will, London will be abuzz with its particular flavour of Olympic-mad energy, excitement and atmosphere fuelled by its global roots. The convention of naming the Games after the host city rather than the host country is especially apt: these really are London Olympics rather than British Olympics. Or should that be the East London Olympics, as the East has stolen the show? When all is said and done about London 2012, the volunteer I overheard enthusing that ‘London is the star of the Olympics’ will prob-ably be right. I hope so.

The information

Getting there

There are direct flights to London from several Indian cities. Your choices from Delhi, for instance, are Air India, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and Jet Airways, with round-trip tickets starting at 61,000. Hopping connections on Emirates, Turkish Airlines, Finnair, etc offer more competitive fares (from 56,000 on the Delhi-London sector).

Where to stay

Several London hotels are located conveniently close to the Olympic stadium and village. These include the Holiday Inn Express Stratford (from $189; hiexpressstratford.co.uk), the Travelodge London Stratford (from $152; travelodge.co.uk) and the charming and extremely affordable Cart and Horses Stratford, whose pub is the hallowed spot where Iron Maiden was born (from $74.67; cartandhorses.co.uk). Of course, expect tariffs to be much higher during the Games.

You could also consider booking an apartment near the Olympic Park on airbnb.co.uk. For instance, a cosy room in a spacious loft in Shoreditch (which is just a few stops from Stratford on the Overground Line) could be yours for as little as $106.7 (see airbnb.co.uk/rooms/199378).

Description: The Stratford underground station in East London

The Stratford underground station in East London

Packages

Or you could leave all the trouble to the travel agent and book a package with Thomas Cook, the ‘official provider of short breaks to the London 2012 games’. They have Games Break packages starting from 10,999 (for one night’s stay, breakfast and one event) and Games Break Plus packages starting at 1,31,999. The latter include luxury accommodation in Central London with breakfast, tickets, coach transfers, lunch or dinner, dedicated games time host and an opportunity to witness Olympics finals and ceremonies. Prices are per person on twin-sharing basis.

Olympic Games

July 27- Auguts 12

Paralympics

August 29-September 9

London 2012 Festival

June 21-September 9

FREE-TO-SEE OLYMPIC EVENTS

Road Cycling Race

July 28: Men’s Road Race, 10 am-3 pm

July 29: Women’s Road Race, 12-3 pm

Starts and finishes in The Mall. Most of the route is outside London.

Road Cycling Time Trial Race

Description: Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace

August 1: Men’s and Women’s Individual Time Trial, 2.15 pm-3.15 pm (men’s), 12.30 pm-1.45 pm (women’s) Starts and finishes at Hampton Court Palace. Entire route in Surrey countryside

Triathlon

All three elements happen in and around Hyde Park.

August 4: Women’s Triathlon, 9 am-11.30 am

August 7: Men’s Triathlon, 11.30 am-1.45 pm

Marathon

August 5: Women’s Marathon, 11 am-1.45 pm

August 12: Men’s Marathon, 11 am-1.30 pm

Starts and finishes in The Mall. Route takes in central London’s tourist spots.

Race Walking

August 4: Men’s 20 km Race Walk, 5 pm-6.30 pm

August 11: Men’s 50 km Race Walk, 9 am-1.20 pm

August 11: Women’s 20 km Race Walk, 5 pm-6.45 pm 2 km circuit starting and finishing in The Mall.

Outdoor Screens Basically free, but some screens may have a booking fee to guarantee space. Check conditions before going.

Free arts and cultural events London 2012 Festival official website (festival. london2012.com) has a dedicated list of free events. The festival programme with free events listing is also available as a downloadable PDF on the website.

Godiva Awakes

July 28-29: Starts in Coventry with performance and parade

July 30-August 4: Travels to London via Rugby, Northampton, Milton Keynes, Luton, Hatfield

August 5: Arrives in the London Olympic borough of Waltham Forest

National Hospitality Houses

List available on VisitLondon website (visitlondon.com)

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