Graham and I went for a gentle, pottering sort of ride around the Olympic Park last weekend; now formally known as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and fully open to the public once again. It's a very big place, and we wanted to have a good explore and get to know our way around this new part of our local neighbourhood. The aquatics centre opened a couple of months ago, and now hundreds of acres of parkland and the velopark are open too. There are only a few more bits still to open (the Hockey and Tennis Centre next month, the Canal Park towards the end of this year and finally the stadium in 2016).
The velopark is the section closest to our house; it takes me just four and a half minutes to cycle there. The indoor race track, the outdoor 'road' track and the BMX trails are all open at the velopark, and anybody can book a session and ride. You can even hire a bike and take lessons if you want to. There will be a massive network of mountain biking trails opening too later this year. For now, I just wanted to stop off (there are plenty of bike racks outside, of course!) and have a look round. We wandered into the velodrome and sat down for ten minutes to watch a local cycling club do some time trials. I really want to have a go at track cycling, and I am totally going to book one of their taster sessions once I have settled into my new placement.
There is a very friendly branch of Cycle Surgery in the ground floor of the velodrome, and they didn't look even slightly fazed when I wheeled in my enormous sit-up-and-beg bike (with basket, obviously) to get a new tyre put on. Admittedly my bike did look a little ordinary next to the shiny, sleek racers they had on display.
There's a cafe upstairs, where you can drink coffee and watch what's going on on the track below while the mechanics fit your new tyre. Or you could walk round the corner to the Unity Kitchen Cafe and then sit outside under a tree for twenty minutes with a cup of coffee and a croissant, listening to the sound of birds in the trees and children enjoying one of the enormous new playgrounds, and just try and remember the polluted, industrial wasteland that was in the same place just ten years ago. It's getting increasingly difficult to do. Our part of East London was utterly transformed by the 2012 Olympics, and have to pinch myself sometimes when I think that all this splendour is now just four minutes away by bike.