London 2012 Olympics schedule and ticket prices released

Olympics, olympicsIf you’re thinking of going to the London 2012 Olympics, now is the time to start planning.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games has just released the competition schedule and ticket prices. The race is on for tickets, hotel reservations, and flights. Personally I’m avoiding the whole thing. London’s transport system is chaotic at the best of times, and an influx of hordes of sports fans isn’t going to do it any good. My family and I spend every summer in Oxford but we’re headed elsewhere in 2012. Being only an hour from London, rental prices in Oxford are sure to hit the stratosphere.

While the Olympics will be a royal pain in the ass for the English, it promises to be a memorable event for everyone else. The organizers boast there will be “19 days of sporting competition. . .over 640 sessions, across more than 300 events, 39 disciplines, and 26 sports.” If you love seeing the best athletes in the world competing live, this is the place to be.

For those of you planning to brave London in 2012, tickets go on sale March 15 and are sure to be snapped up quickly. You can register on the site to make purchasing quicker once tickets do go on sale. This is especially important if you’re outside the UK and Europe because you’ll have to apply for tickets via your local National Olympic Committee (NOC) starting March 15. For the Paralympics you need to get tickets from your National Paralympic Committee (NPC) starting September 9. Some NOCs and NPCs may appoint an Authorised Ticket Reseller (ATR) to sell tickets. If you register with the site via the above link, they’ll send you information about how to get tickets from an acronym near you.

And don’t forget to reserve a hotel or flat early, early, early. You might want to consider staying outside of London to avoid the crowds. Oxford, St. Albans, and Hertford are three pleasant towns all about an hour away by rail or bus and all have local attractions worth seeing.

Lon-done? Try St. Albans

London is one of the most popular destinations for American travelers. It’s big, exciting, and there’s always something going on. Sadly, many visitors never get beyond the city limits. There are plenty of smaller towns just a short journey away that are worth visiting on a day trip or longer stay. St. Albans in Hertfordshire north of London is my favorite.

Located just a twenty-minute train ride from King’s Cross, St. Albans feels a world away from the big city. There are woods, quiet lanes, and friendly pubs. The air is even breathable!

St. Albans has been a pilgrimage center since Celtic times. When the Romans conquered Britain, they built the city of Verulamium here. Part of the city wall still pokes out of the grass in the town park, and nearby you can see the excavated remains of the old Roman theatre and other buildings. An excellent museum explains the history of the Roman settlement and occasionally hosts reenactments by “Roman” soldiers. Check out the museum website for the next event.

Since medieval times the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St. Alban has been a major pilgrimage center. St. Alban was a Christian resident of Roman Verulamium in the 3rd century AD. One day he saw a fellow Christian fleeing from the soldiers and he helped him escape by exchanging clothes with him. St. Alban was caught and marched up the hill overlooking town and beheaded. It’s said that when the sword cleaved through his neck, the executioner’s eyes popped out! There’s a wonderfully graphic painting of this inside the cathedral. A monastery was founded on the site of St. Alban’s martyrdom in the year 793, and the oldest bits of the current cathedral date to the 11th. You’ll notice that many of the bricks in the church are actually reused from crumbling Roman buildings, poetic justice indeed!

%Gallery-83298%The town itself makes for a relaxed and very English experience. There are numerous timber-frame, thatched-roof houses dating to the 16th and 17th centuries, especially along Fishpool St., and a 600 year-old clock tower that you can climb up to get a good view of the town and surrounding countryside.

If you’re feeling thirsty try Ye Olde Fighting Cocks next to the duck pond in the park. It’s one of the many pubs that claims to be “the oldest in Britain”. While it’s impossible to tell which pub is truly the oldest, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks certainly is a strong contender. The central octagonal section dates to about 1400, and there may have been monks brewing here as early as 793. The pub gets its name from the cockfights that used to take place here. One of the stuffed champions is on display.

There’s enough to do and see in St. Albans that you might consider staying overnight. I’d suggest The Lower Red Lion. This 17th century coaching inn is still much as it was. I love these old buildings with their narrow stairs, small-paned windows, undulating floors, and resident ghosts. The pub downstairs is one of the best places I’ve seen to get real ales. The last time I was there they had seven guest ales on tap. The kitchen will cook you up a hearty meal to go with your pint. There are only seven rooms and it’s best to book well in advance.

So if London is beginning to grate on your nerves, get out of town! St. Albans is a good place to start.