Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Welcome To London

The flight from Milwaukee via Atlanta to London went very well. Delta Air Lines flight 38 to the U.K. must have circled the city five times before touchdown, giving passengers great views of the city and Olympic venues.

The arrivals area at London Heathrow did not resemble Olympic flight arrivals of past Games. In Beijing, for instance, each and every gate and the airport control tower featured Look of the Games signage, and I suspect London's modest Olympic decoration (nothing visible until leaving the plane indoors) is tied back to austerity measures for the Games.

But inside the airport, Olympic arrivals are greeted with cheery pink London 2012 logos and signs for accreditation in the airport. I traded my first pin of the Games with a man from India dressed in the purple volunteer shirt and khakis. And only 10 minutes later I was already on the Underground to Paddington Station.

My hotel is near Paddington -- the Royal Eagle Hotel of London. Found a decent rate on Hotels.com just a couple of weeks ago, and my flat is not much bigger than my Volvo back home. Though cozy (the shower is smaller than a British phone booth and the bed-to-wall gap is about 12 inches), I enjoyed more than 100 channels and BBC updates via the Olympic Torch Relay channel and BBC 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.

But on Monday there was no time to hang at the room until evening! I spent the afternoon back on the Underground to Westminster Station, destination: London Media Centre (unaccredited media center) for my Olympic blog accreditation.

It amazed me to emerge from Westminster Station to find a cloudless blue sky and an enormous Union Jack flag waving atop one of the Central London buildings. As it turned out, the flag topped the Houses of Parliament, and my eyes met the Tower of London for the first time, just in time to hear the deep bells chiming 4 p.m. GST. A few minutes later I arrived at the London Media Centre and got set up for just about anything needed for the Games, including free rail pass, wi-fi, several event invitations and a new place to work for the next 22 days of Olympic adventure.

Around 6 p.m. it was my intention to grab some groceries and turn in early at the hotel, but a special media tour of the Houses of Parliament started and I joined the party walking a few blocks to the iconic building of more than 1,000 years. It was so cool to tour the building with a small entourage of international reporters, and I bit my tongue at the urge to mention Tod Margaret and his ill-fated visit to the same building on "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret" during season one (no sign language was used on our tour).

Seated in a committee room facing the Thames during sunset, our media tour group learned several details of U.K.-Asia trade. For instance, there are now 110 direct flights from London to China per week, and of the 7,000+ journalists visiting the London Media Centre for the Games, more than 10 percent (700) are from China. Also, London will host more than 200 CEOs from around the world during the Games, reinforcing or establishing new trade ties for London for decades to come.

A guest panelist representing Harrod's explained that since 2008 the iconic department store increased its business from China by 900 percent, adding more than 150 Mandarin speakers to their employee base at the world's most famous department store.

I also learned there are more than 12,000 Chinese university students now in London, and some London officials estimate that East London recently completed 50 years of development in fewer than five years (it will be a sight to see the Olympic development on this side of town). Our hosts at the House of Commons also fĂȘted us with fabulous salmon, lamb, prawn and grilled tomato treats.

Day one in London concluded with a tube ride back to Paddington and a few more pin exchanges in transit. I'm still on the hunt for an Opening Ceremony ticket and look forward to scoring one if good luck continues as it did with the easy arrival at the Olympic city.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver


Carol M said...

Glad you made it across the pond safely! Looking forward to following along. Try adding Share on FB and Tweet this buttons to the blog, it can help tremendously with your reach during the Games. Pip pip and all that -- Carol

Nicholas Wolaver said...

Thank you so much, Carol. Please email me with your shopping wish list (I'll let you know what I find when I find some merchandise, which is surprisingly scarce).

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