Known as The Lady on the Lagan, the sculpture on Belfast’s arterial waterway was officially christenedÂ The Ring of ThanksgivingÂ by Scottish artist Andy Scott. As boring as that sounds there is a logic to the overly earnest title: the 50-foot symbol isÂ the anchor of Thanksgiving Square – the brainchild of Belfast woman Myrtle Smyth, who was inspired following a visit to the non-denominational Thanks-Giving Square in Dallas, Texas – a project with the expressÂ aim ofÂ creating a public space for the local community to come together and give thanks no matter their religion, color, or faith. For a city rent by years of civil strife this was no idle wish when the square wasÂ inaugurated in 2005. A static piece of steel, the artwork nevertheless radiates a powerful energy and sense of urgency; thrusting upwards, as if striving for somethingÂ larger than itself. CoincidentallyÂ The Ring is a visual reminder of how the Olympics take flight tonight in London; moreover, the Games’Â motto could just as easily be a watch cry for Belfast these days: Faster, Higher, Stronger.
Head due East out of Mobay and after a while you find yourself in Ocho Rios -Â Jamaica’sÂ adventure capital. There’s no shortage of tours and attractions catering to the massive cruise ships that dock off the coast but Mystic Mountain is the only place where you can make like you’re a part of Jamaica’s most famous team of Olympic hopefuls. On the Rainforest Bobsled ride, custom-designedÂ individual sledsÂ coast along stainless steelÂ rails in a 3,000 foot gravity-driven whoosh throughÂ the forest. It’s sort of like a roller coaster – except for the scary fact that you’re on a sled hurtling betweenÂ trees and limestone cliffs. You can control the speed with a handy hand break, however; or let go, if you dare, and allow the full force of gravity to propel you downhill. Fast or slow, you’re in for a thrill – with a soft landing at the bottom and a scenic ride back to the top.
With just two years to go until the 2012 Olympic Games, London already has her game face on.Â And while last Tuesday may have marked the official start of the countdown clock, many of the locations and facilities for the Games are already in place. Why not check them out now? Not only will you be able to boast that youâ€™ve been-there and done-that when the time comes, but youâ€™ll skip the crowds and the price gouging.
Hereâ€™s my top ten spots to visit right now â€“ before The Big Smoke gets all smoked out.
UPDATE: A guided walking tour of the Olympic sites is now available via the Visit Britain website.Â Check it out HERE.
Watch the Olympic Park rise from the ground in front of your eyes. The View Tube is a community venue located on The Greenway, right next to the Olympic Park.Â It includes a cafÃ©, education, arts and information spaces with a panoramic view over the Olympic Park and Stratford City.
Located directly across from Buckingham Palace is the Horse Guards Parade, a parade ground that is used daily as the starting point for the famous Changing of the Guard. In 2012, this historic area will be transformed into Londonâ€™s own beach, as the site of the Beach Volleyball events.
3.Â Dorney Lake
Dorney Lake, located just 30 minutes by train from London, is a world-class rowing and canoeing center that will host the Rowing, Flatwater Canoe/Kayak, and Paralympic Rowing events in the 2012 games. Dorney Lake is owned by world-famous Eton College â€“ where Princes William and Harry both studied. Windsor Castle, an official residence of Her Majesty The Queen, is also nearby.
Hyde Park, one of Londonâ€™s Royal Parks, will host the Triathlon in 2012.Â This 350-acre park is one of the most well known parks in London, and is home to the horrible Diana Fountain Memorial, a dubious tribute to the late Princess of Wales, as well as Kensington Palace and the Orangery.Â Itâ€™s also a wonderful spot for a picnic on a sunny afternoon.
The North Greenwich Arena is a major music and entertainment venue and will host the ever popular, Basketball and Gymnastics events.Â Also known as The O2, in recent years, it has hosted some of the biggest concerts in Europe. In fact, Michael Jackson was slated to play his final â€˜This is itâ€™ concert series here, before his untimely death last year. Before the Games kick off, you wonâ€™t want to miss the British Music Experience â€“ the UKâ€™s most amazing interactive museum of popular music.
6.Â Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour (Englandâ€™s South Coast)
Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour will be the venues for the Olympic and Paralympic Sailing competitions and offer some of the best natural sailing waters in Britain. Situated within Englandâ€™s Jurassic Coast â€“ a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site and the only one on the UK mainland â€“ the unrivaled coastal views are inspiring.
At the east of London is Greenwich Park, which will host the Equestrian, Modern Pentathlon and Paralympic Equestrian events.Â This park is the oldest Royal Park in London, and has close historical ties to the monarchy of King Henry VIII.Â The park is situated on a hill and offers spectacular views of the River Thames and the entire Olympic Park.
In the centre of London is Trafalgar Square â€“ one of the most famous squares in the the world. During the Games, this historic gathering spot will be home to one of the cities â€˜live sitesâ€™ â€“an outdoor venue where fans without tickets can watch Olympic events on huge screens and share in the excitement. See it in its original state first and then watch it be transformed in 2012.
The home of the All England Lawn Tennis Club and the setting for the Wimbledon Championships since 1877, this venue will host the Tennis in 2012.Â Located in southwest London, visitors to Wimbledon can enjoy a guided tour of the historic grounds and even have a chance of seeing John McEnroeâ€™s ghost in The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museumâ€™s interactive exhibition.
10.Â Regentâ€™s Park
Visitors to London can take a stroll or bike through Regentâ€™s Park, which will host the Road Cycling events in 2012.Â Another Royal Park, it is also home to the London Zoo â€“ the worldâ€™s oldest.
It’s only now that the Vancouver Olympics have ended that I happened to notice this interesting bit of video from the NY Times:Â designer Steven Heller looks at how the pictograms used to identify individual sports have changed over the years.
(And since I haven’t even bothered to mention any of the drama coming down from Canada over the past two weeks, I guess this will also have to suffice as my version of an Olympics post-mortem, too: Meh. It seemed a little too white-bread for my tastes. A little too placid. Bring on Sochi 2014, where I bet that even the very air will taste of constant controversy.)