LONDON (Reuters) - When the Olympic Games founded to honor Zeus began in ancient Greece around 776 BC, London didn’t exist. More than two millennia later, the city of nearly 8 million people is in the final stages of redeveloping whole boroughs to accommodate the swarms of spectators who have been able secure a ticket for the 2012 Olympic Games.
With less than a month to go before the opening ceremony, here’s one way to spend 48 action-packed hours warming-up those limbs and getting into shape for the biggest sporting event on the globe.
8 p.m. Friday nights in the British capital are often about hitting the pub and downing some pints to drown the stresses of the working week. But as Olympic fever spreads across the city, why not get your pulse racing and secure yourself a natural high by strapping on some skates and joining the London Friday Night Skate? The marshaled street skate event kicks off at 8 p.m. most Friday nights at Hyde Park Corner. The route meanders through Hyde Park - the largest of London’s royal parks, where the Olympic triathlon and marathon swimming events will finish. (www.lfns.co.uk)
After dismantling your wheels and stretching out your aching calves, head over to The Sports Café (www.thesportscafe.com) in the heart of London’s West End to rehydrate and replenish those calories burned off, before turning in for the night and dreaming of gold.
9 a.m. The true extent of Londoners’ obsession with running and fitness is best demonstrated on Saturday mornings at 9 a.m. when athletes of all shapes and sizes meet in various parks across London to compete in parkrun - a free 5 km timed running race which gives you a chance to check your sporting progress and compete with like-minded hobby and professional athletes. (www.parkrun.com)
Parkrun was first held in Teddington, southwest London, eight years ago, but these days events are held simultaneously in dozens of parks across the city and even as far afield as Australia, Denmark, Iceland, New Zealand, Poland, South Africa and the United States. More than a million runners have so far taken part in one of the events so what better way to kick off your Saturday than chase a personal best time? All parkruns are free but you must register on the website in advance.
10:30 a.m. To satisfy your adrenaline fuelled-appetite, head into the city for a late Olympic-themed brunch at Bonds on Threadneedle Street where you can order “The Cyclist”, “The Swimmer” or “The Gymnast” — even if your cartwheels and back flips are yet to be perfected. Head Chef Stephen Smith once worked under Michel Roux Sr. and certainly knows how to feed a hungry sportsman. (www.theetoncollection.co.uk/restaurants/bonds/)
1 p.m. After brunch, stroll over to Bank and catch the DLR to Stratford - the heart of the 2012 Olympic site. Beware though: during the Games, much of the city’s public transport system will operate an amended service. Check out the Transport for London website for details (www.tfl.gov.uk).
Weather-permitting, join one of the many walking tours of the Olympic park. The one that starts from Bromley-on-Bow underground station at 2 p.m. every day takes about two hours and takes you along a tow path through the Lower Lea valley. While enjoying views of the Olympic stadium and other 2012 constructions — such as the Aquatics Centre and The Orbit — you’ll learn more about the athletes and the venues and but also what plans there are for the future of the site after 2012. (www.tourguides2012.co.uk)
Athletes and coaches share the view that relaxation is almost as essential to performance as training. After a busy day in the city, take some time out to visit one of London's urban spas. Choose from Spa London on Old Ford Road (www.spa-london.org), Thai Square Spa on Shelton Street near Covent Garden (www.thaisquarespa.com) or Away Spa on Wardour Street near Leicester Square (www.wlondon.co.uk).
They might set you back a few more pennies than in other cities, but the pure bliss induced by the warm Jacuzzis, fragrant bathrobes and soothing lighting will quickly have you forgetting money woes. Your body is a temple.
8 p.m. Finish the day by heading over to Shoreditch — an area of East London within the borough of Hackney, which has enjoyed a massive cultural revamp in the lead up to the Games. British design star Terence Conran once called Shoreditch “London’s new Soho” and there’s certainly no shortage of places to wine and dine or sample some of the city’s finest pints and cocktails.
Head to The Boundary, a bar and garden restaurant offering a panoramic 360 degree view of Canary Wharf, the Gherkin and the rooftops of East London. (www.theboundary.co.uk)
If you’ve still got some tiger left in your tank, mingle with Shoreditch’s hippest in one of the numerous clubs. Try East Village (www.eastvillageclub.co.uk) for some house sounds, Plastic People for some techno beats (www.plasticpeople.co.uk) or Rich Mix - less a club and more of an arts venue which regularly hosts musicians, dramatists, dancers and poets. (www.richmix.org.uk)
10 a.m. After breakfast, strap on a helmet and jump on one of the bright blue communal bikes - affectionately dubbed “Boris Bikes” after the city’s flamboyant and ecologically-aware mayor who introduced them. The cycle-share scheme was launched in June 2010 and these days, more than 5,000 bikes can be found all around the city, to pick up wherever you wish. Mayor Boris Johnson once said that he “hoped the bikes would become as common as black cabs and red buses in the capital”.
Once you’ve become accustomed to your two new wheels, begin your tour of Olympic venues beyond Stratford. Head east and out to the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, where the shooting events will take place. The barracks are famous for having the longest continuous Georgian building facade in the country as well as for having the largest parade square of any UK barracks.
Continue on to Greenwich Park where the modern pentathlon and equestrian competitions will be held.
If the weather’s lousy, duck into the Royal Observatory, commissioned in 1675 by King Charles II, which is the home of the Prime Meridian of the World and therefore Greenwich Mean Time. It’s also home to London’s only planetarium and the UK’s largest refracting telescope.
1 p.m. As well as being a World Heritage site, Greenwich also boasts a plethora of places to eat and drink. Head to Bar du Musee on Nelson Road, which is thought to be one of the oldest wine bar bistros in London, for some top notch food and quality wine to wash it down. (www.bardumusee.com)
Alternatively, head to Greenwich Market for some spicy paella straight from the pan at Hola-Paella, a wholesome treat at Pie in the Skyz, or a tender bit of meat at Red Cow Covery (shopgreenwich.co.uk).
3 p.m. Belly full and legs recovered, get back on your bike and enjoy a slow cycle back to the city along the Thames.
Drop off your steed at any of the 315 odd docking stations around the capital and head over to the British Museum. Between February and September the museum is hosting an exhibition documenting the production of the medals for the Olympic and Paralympic Games — from the mining of the metal to the creation of the designs by David Watkins and Lin Cheung and finally, the production by the Royal Mint.
Round off your weekend by a visit to the gift shop where you might even be able to pick up a souvenir, possibly adorned with pictures of the Games’ two outlandish-looking mascots Wenlock and Mandeville.
Wenlock is named after Much Wenlock in Shropshire, where the Wenlock Olympian Society held its first Olympian Games in 1850, regarded as an inspiration for the modern Olympic Games. Mandeville’s name, meanwhile, stems from Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, where the The Stoke Mandeville Games - the inspiration for the modern Paralympics - were hosted.
Editing by Paul Casciato