Reporter Megan Managan experiences the Vancouver Olympics firsthand

The first thing that pops into my head when I tell people about going to the Olympics is the people. It’s an obvious answer, but the sheer number of people who were in downtown Vancouver, and what it takes to make this type of event function, is mind-boggling.

Last Saturday was the busiest day in Translink history, according to the Canadian radio station that my friends and I were listening to on our pilgrimage out of town to the U.S. border. That was the day before the U.S.A. vs. Canada men’s hockey game in downtown — which no doubt broke the previous day’s record. The secondary factor of the gorgeous, warm February weather helped, I’m sure, enticing people — like the rest of my family, who said they’d rather skip the Olympics and avoid the crowds — to head north, even if just to wander around.

I, on the other hand, was for sure, no-matter-what going to make my way to Vancouver once I’d heard the Games were going to be just miles away. They will likely never be this close again, and through what seems like sheer luck, I managed to get men’s hockey tickets in the first round of the ticket lottery.

When I first got the tickets, the schedule hadn’t been released for who was playing when, and the teams slotted to play in the afternoon of Feb. 20 were Latvia and Slovakia. Not really two countries I’ve ever rooted for, or knew much about, but it was the Olympics and I was going.

The day of, I was fully prepared, or so I thought, to face the masses in Vancouver. I’d read up on transit options, had mapped out a parking/transit route and was heading north with the attitude that we were going to go with the flow.

The rest of my family, who when asked in 2007 as I was putting in a ticket request said they’d rather stay home during the Games, decided last week to head north on Saturday “just to check it out.” They didn’t have any event tickets, but decided to wander through downtown and observe. They quickly discovered the same thing that my group did upon crossing the border and getting close to a Skytrain station. The city was packed.

My group headed to Surrey in hopes of finding something near the station that we usually use when heading into downtown Vancouver. It was so full; cars were sitting right on top of each other. My first option was a bust. We tried some side streets and searched in vain for a mythical underground lot advertised on street signs, but could never find it, so we headed south and then north again to Richmond.

We had heard that the parking garage at the River Rock Casino and Resort was a safe bet, and as a bonus, it was actually a shorter Skytrain ride to downtown.

After navigating ourselves to the parking garage, our hopes sunk rapidly as we found that the seven-story garage was completely full, with a constant rotation of cars searching for a spot. After a quick turn around the area, and with our search starting to get a bit desperate, we headed down a side street, home to industrial trucking and shipping companies that would, well, not be a street I’d walk down alone at night. Cars were pulling off on the side, barely over the white line. We decided to take the chance that the car wouldn’t be towed and hightailed it to the station, where because we had tickets, we were whisked onto the platform and squeezed into a train.

In downtown, it was impossible to forget which country you were in. Every other person I dodged while getting to the stadium (and there were a lot of people dodging) was wearing something red with “Canada” plastered across their chest. Fans were cheering or excitedly yelling about the game they had just seen or the event they were on their way to see.

The game itself was a bit of a bummer if you were a Latvian fan. Their team lost 6-0, and played like it, but the fans never gave up, cheering LAT-V-IA even in the final minute. Slovakia might have won the game, but there was no denying that the Latvian fans were enjoying themselves.

The rest of my family braved the Olympic Cauldron site, something we just didn’t end up having time for. My mom said the fence made things difficult because you couldn’t really get very close at all, but it still showed up nicely in pictures. The free ice skating rink on Robson Street had a wait, but nothing compared to the four-hour wait for a chance to ride the zip line. The lady manning the line enthusiastically tried to get them to get in line, exclaiming four hours was a steal, since it had been nine hours earlier. They all decided they could live without a zip line ride.

Despite the people, the security and the headache that was finding a parking spot, there is no doubt in my mind that these tickets and the experience were worth it.

The only other disappointing part of the trip — those red mittens were sold out everywhere we went.

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