Spectators attending the 2012 Paralympics take note: you can experience the thrill of speed before you even reach the stadium. The Javelin, London’s new high speed railway, takes less than six minutes to whisk you from St. Pancras International to Westfield Stratford City. That’s the vast new shopping centre outside the Olympic Park. That’s if you’re in a hurry of course — you might want to enjoy a glass of champagne at Searcys in St Pancras International first, famous as the longest champagne bar in Europe. The station itself is an engineering wonder. Originally opened in 1868, its famous Barlow Shed stands 100 feet high and 243 feet wide with 18,000 panes of glass in its now fully restored roof. Inside is another high speed train — the Eurostar — which transports passengers from Paris to London in two hours and 15 minutes.
Arriving in Stratford we joined the excited crowds, which were huge, but well managed. A record breaking 2.4 million tickets were sold for the 2012 Paralympics, and the sense of excitement in the air was palpable. We stopped for a cup of tea and some cake in John Lewis’s restaurant before heading up to the third floor viewing area to snap a few pictures of the Olympic Park. There are numerous accessible bathrooms, large enough for a companion to assist, located throughout the shopping centre and queues were practically non-existent.
Getting to the Aquatics Centre itself took a little longer than expected, but friendly Paralympic staff were stationed along the way to answer visitors’ questions and help with directions. Once we were inside, we were happy to see that our wheelchair-accessible seats on the second floor provided unobstructed views of the finish line. It was a friendly crowd, and we quickly struck up conversation with our fellow spectators. One of our new friends was just seven years old, but he was getting into the Paralympic spirit, and waved the Union Flag every time a Team GB athlete’s name was called. After every few races, a medal ceremony took place and the audience stood for the national anthem of the gold-winner. It was emotional viewing, and brought home the pride and dedication of the competing athletes.
When it was time to go, we returned to Stratford station. Staff members there provided a ramp for wheelchair users to board the train. As you’d expect, it was busy and people were standing in the aisles, but everyone was courteous and we shared the designated wheelchair space with another wheelchair user. Within minutes we were back at St. Pancras International, which is filled with shops, cafes and sits beside the masterfully restored St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel. The ornate wall murals, gold leaf ceilings and spiral staircase are well worth a peek. Soak up the ambiance while sipping a cocktail in the Booking Office bar — ask to be seated on the platform level.
We had no worries about how we would return to our hotel because all of London’s taxis are wheelchair accessible. A taxi ride is not nearly as quick as the Javelin, but London’s moonlit historic sights deserve to be savoured at a slower speed.
Reduced-mobility experts Barbara and Jim Twardowski attended the 2012 Paralympic Games as part of the Visit Britain press trip for disabled writers, and spent some time exploring London. Barbara, who has a neuromuscular condition, uses a manual wheelchair.