Two Weeks in Greenwich

A little more than 24 hours has passed since the last horse at the 2012 London Olympics has left the ring. After a whirlwind 14 days, I finally let exhaustion take over today by falling asleep in the middle of the afternoon, drinking a slow cup of tea, and staying far away from Olympic stadiums of any sort.

As an American, these Games were crushing. Not only was it the first time since the ‘50s that we’ve come away without a medal, it was the first time since 1928 that there has been a complete North American medal shut out – neither Canada, the USA or Mexico medaled at all in equestrian sports.

So I took a day to distance myself from the frustrating end results. I can't imagine how long it will take for the riders of Team USA to do so. However, there’ll be lots of opportunities to analyze the USA’s performance in London. This is not one of those times. Winning and losing aside, the daily coming and going from Greenwich to the Olympic Stadium was an experience I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

Aside from the nationalistic disappointment of not hearing my nation’s anthem sung in a victory ceremony, these Olympic Games were amazing. And while I can’t give you the seasoned perspective of a journalist who has suffered through past Games with isolated equestrian venues and the inconvenience that goes along with that, I know with certainty that all Olympic Games should treat equestrian with the deference that London showed it during the last two weeks. 

I’m a first timer to an Olympics, and a first timer to London. So, maybe my perspective is a little rose-colored, but I found so many corners of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, and London, otherworldly. 

Through an interesting turn of events, I gladly ended up staying not in the college dorms turned press housing in the Greenwich village, but lucked into a last minute (affordable!) find in a small flat that was an extra ten minutes down the road. Airbnb.com gets my full recommendation for any and all who travel around the world to unknown places, and don't want to/can't afford to pay inflated prices for housing. And who passed on said press housing early on. . . but that's a story for another time. Thank goodness for the small blessings of fast internet, a bright kitchen, and a talkative college age housemate who was replete with information about London, the Games, the weather, and especially local beer choices.

The way off the main road to my "flat" was quite scenic.

Naturally, the name of the street was odd and unusual to an American eye.

Everyone should have an English housemate named Lawrence.

Not that I needed much more than the GPS on my iPhone and the free “Oyster Card” (i.e. transit pass) that journalists were given to get anywhere at any time in London. The London transit system is amazingly well organized, and whether I was taking the red double decker bus two stops to Greenwich Park, or the train to the other side of the city, it was all on time and fast. So when I wasn't locked to my computer in the press center, I was taking a train or a bus or the "tube" to points around London. And all the fears of overcrowded subways due to the Games officially never materialized. So I spent the single day off between equestrian events touristing it up all over London, as one should:

Greenwich itself made every effort to accommodate the thousands of people who were attending the Games, with lanes of the street blocked off for pedestrians, and friendly volunteers spaced every 100 feet to keep you on the right track. It was exactly the kind of quaint English village that an American would picture in their minds eye, all twisty streets with bright shops, and dark-paneled pubs on the corners spilling over with people. 

Thank goodness for walking lanes.

The best part of Greenwich was that it became the athlete’s village for the equestrians. The riders stayed in hotels just outside the entrances, meaning that when I walked up the street in the morning to the venue, I was suddenly walking next to Ian Millar and was able to wish him good luck. When I went out for dinner with a friend after an “early” end to the day, Steffen and Shannon Peters sat down at the very next table. And the morning that I stopped at a pub outside the gates for breakfast, the coach of the Saudi show jumping team sat down next to me and struck up a conversation.

Just outside the gates to the stables in Greenwich Park, the Rose and Crown not only served up a mean bowl of porridge in the morning, it was the nighttime base camp for the entire Canadian show jumping team. As you can imageine, pre-Fostergate, there was merriment, post Fostergate.... not so much.

Those brushes with the athletes and their teams made the Games for me. I’m really just a starstruck equestrian fan masquerading as a journalist (shhhh, don’t tell anyone.) And when I didn’t have company for dinner, I was that person alone at a table in the English pub, happily editing photos with fish and chips and an odddly warm ale by my side.

English fish and chips, a requirement for any London visit. Happily checked that box off the list.

I did skip the pie and mash place, mostly since I'm not sure what pie and mash is, but I couldn't resist taking pictures of this and many other signs advertising odd sounding food. 

If there's any other Olympic venue with a backdrop like the one in Greenwich Park, I haven't heard of it. You've seen the ariel shots, they were simply stunning. And The Queen's Residence was an astounding thing to walk past on the way to work every day.

Then there were these guys, very serious boy-soldiers who had the all important task of guarding the gates to the venue. They were there by the hundreds, and I'm sure it's because of them that all the horses slept soundly in their stables at night (kidding.) It was no joke that security was incredibly tight, and although the guards were wonderfully pleasant, I'm ok with not walking through a metal detector again tomorrow.

The end result? Being a journalist at these Games was really quite extraordinary. Being AT these Games was really quite extraordinary. To the travelers, Greenwich was a perfect complement to the action that was happening on a daily basis inside the gates of the park. Win or lose for our team, it was a whirlwind fourteen days that will be hard to top, anywhere, at any Games in the future. Greenwich, thanks a million for putting up with all of the riders, the coaches, the masses of humanity that they attracted and especially us journalists and photographers, et. all. You were most hospitable: