Getting to the Olympics

Whenever I tell people that I’m going to the London Olympics later this month, the reaction is, “Wow! How did you get tickets?”

My answer is rather disappointing (not unlike the simplistic “eat less and exercise more” when one asks how best to shed a few pounds): “I went online and I bought them.”

But like losing weight, getting to London 2012 isn’t quite so simple. And yet, at its core—after dealing with the perennial issues of airfare and accommodations in London—that’s really all there was to it.

Buying the Tickets

While there’s no end to stories of friends and family in the U.K. who tried and failed to get tickets, buying Olympic tickets from abroad is much easier. That’s because only a portion of the tickets can be sold to residents of the host country. Each participating country gets a portion of tickets to each event, but the buying process isn’t exactly easy. CoSport is the only official vendor in Canada, and you must create an account on their website. Tickets were released in blocks on a given date and time and account holders had to navigate through the system to find events with availability (and a price they were willing to pay). I bought tickets to two events in the second release back in December 2011—but a recent check of the site shows that there are still some tickets available to Canadian buyers.

Getting the Tickets

To avoid the cost of shipping the already pricey tickets to Canada, I selected the will-call option. As CoSport has informed me, I must be the person who picks up my tickets—no proxies allowed. I must have my passport and my printed confirmation. There’s not much room to change your mind either—there doesn’t seem to be an option to sell back the tickets. I did have the option of transferring them into another person’s name, if for some reason I couldn’t make it to London, but buying those tickets seems to have been a bigger commitment than buying a house! And I’ve only just learned the location of the will-call office—a college campus at Paddington Green. I’m sure I’ll be making a day of picking up my tickets.

Getting to the Events

When I pick up my tickets at the will-call office, Travel Cards will be included for each ticket, allowing me unlimited travel on the days of the events on London’s tubes, buses, trains, and trams, including the new Olympic Javelin high-speed train service. This isn’t an effort to encourage public transit use: other than walking or biking, transit is really the only option for getting to venues. But, including the travel cards with each ticket will certainly avoid massive queues at the fare machines and create a sense of goodwill on a jam-packed system, some of which is NOT air conditioned!

With 11 underground lines, the DLR, 3 tramlines, overground rail services, hundreds of bus routes, and river services, getting from point A to point B in London is rarely simple. But, Transport for London has a very robust Journey Planner on its website. And London 2012 has created an even more detailed Spectator Journey Planner. Enter your starting point and your venue and when you want to arrive, and you’ll get instructions on how to get to each venue using a variety of modes (on foot, by bike, and on transit).

Like a gymnastics floor routine, crowd management at the venues has been well choreographed, with different tube stops for arrival and departure and downloadable maps of each venue identifying the one-way foot traffic patterns. I’m still wondering if these patterns are suggested, or if they will be “enforced.” Either way, getting to my seat will be an Olympic event in itself—good walking shoes are definitely in order!

The Venues

London has built a wonderful Olympic Park in East London—a previously industrial area (part of the inspiration for the somewhat controversial London 2012 mascots). With a few exceptions, such as sailing and football, these summer games will be held almost entirely within Greater London. Of course, just my luck, my events aren’t in lovely purpose-built venues a quick high-speed train ride from my friend’s flat—they are in existing venues in the heart of London: ExCel and Earl’s Court. So I’ll be packing into the tube and the DLR, along with thousands of others.

The Gear

No self-respecting Olympic spectator should be without gear. While I have no idea what teams I’ll be watching—my tickets were purchased long before any athletes qualified—I won’t be setting foot near an Olympic venue without making my affection for Team Canada obvious. I usually try to look as smart as I can when in London (usually an Olympic effort for me), but in this case I’ll stick to my preferred dress code of T-shirts, jeans, and sensible shoes.

Add a goofy hat and a bottle of water, and I’m all set!

Go Canada Go!

This post originally appeared on Travel + Escape.