Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Day 4, London

Day 4: London

Quote of the day:

There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold
And she's buying a stairway to heaven.
When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for.
Ooh, ooh, and she's buying a stairway to heaven.

Weather: Sunny and slight breeze, cool, perfect

Pics: Giant Russkies vs GB junior varsity (these pictures are not faked, that is GB’s biggest player lost in a Russian forest), Dinner on the deck site first night, pre-match entertainment (boys playing with soccer balls), Norwegians and Swedes rooting side-by-side (how did they get all those seats right behind the team benches?), Copper Box arena and RUN sculpture,

Grape nuts and fruit, a speed walk with KHB, and a leisurely start to the day. A perfect commute to OP: train awaiting us on the station, underground transfer easy and fast and empty seats on the tube, at OP in less than an hour.

It’s lunch time and the very first shop in the mall is M&S (Marks and Spencer) food hall. THB means the very first place we encounter, it’s as if they are directing us to go buy upscale food. THB and KHB share a half a chicken and perfect potatoes (only slightly cooked in butter, crunchy on the outside), energy drink (we need our strength), and stock up for later with cheese pretzel, flaky onion twist, sourdough pave loaf, English cheddar, pineapple, $22…a bargain!

First of two sessions of Women’s Handball, two matches each session. The host country gets an entry in every event and Great Britain (GB here) clearly has no history of team handball and thus sends out their under 21 players to match up with the Russian pros. They are outweighed by 30-40 pounds and shorter by 6-12 inches per players (it is VERY obvious when they come out for the team handshakes before the match). Take a look at the pics, it is startling. Russians go easy on them, double them up. After match, many of the locals do not stay for second game.

Game 2: France vs Spain: the dullest tie game in history, both teams pathetic and France scores a goal at very end of game to come out with a tie. Pathetic….

Dinner of leftovers, bread, cheese, fruit. Two overly sweet ice creams on a stick, $8.

First match of evening session is Brazil vs Montenegro, and it is the thugs of Tito vs the style and elegance (not to mention the charisma of the Brazilian fans), and in the end Brazil wins. As good as it gets!

Nope, it gets better, as a huge contingent of fans is in force for Norway vs Sweden. THB is happy to report (as ever) that only 75% of the players are pure blonds. Lots of red and yellow in the stands, and it is a great match, with Norway maintaining a small lead throughout and ever a hint that Sweden might catch up. The Norwegian goalie is the star of the games: she is tall, wide, athletic, not blond, and saves the day for Norway with save after save after save (in Handball, the success rate for the shooter is well over 60%), long passes setting up fast break goals. Tremendous match.

Note: THB and parental units saw Norway in Barcelona. Actually, a train ride north to see them play, and it was easily the most colorful train ride we ever took, full of Vikings, drums, cowbells, and alcohol, and their fans are non-stop rooters, starting with the pre-game warm-ups. We moved our seats from in the midst of them to sit across the high school gym to take it all in rather than have them take us in.

Another easy commute back to Wimbledon, we’re back at midnight and attempting to sleep in for another late night coming up.


· We’ve been to three arenas, and only at VB were the scoreboards functional. At Water Polo, only the goalies had a good view. At Handball, the screens showing the replays (impossible to see anyway) hid parts of the scoreboard.

· You’d think that showing highlights from other events would be of interest. Instead you get some inane “guest emcee” trying to get the crowd to do stupid tricks while a bouncing cartoon figure is displayed on the screens. Kind of what you might see at a baseball game during one between-innings entertainment…except here it goes on and on and on.

· THB and KHB agree that the restrooms at the Copper Box (Handball) seem temporary, full of plastic that appears not to be connected to the floors or walls. This is a permanent structure! Hmmmmm…Gonna take out those restrooms later and turn them into meeting rooms?

· There are in-game commentators: the PA systems are so muddy it is almost impossible to hear and the announcers appear to be non-native English speakers. At session 2 of Handball, one was an American. Still couldn’t understand him all the time.

· At Handball and Volleyball, there were obstructed seats and not sold. That may account for some of the empty seats you see on TV. Some…not all.

· Appears that many of the 20 and 30 something women are pregnant, or just gave birth, we see lots of strollers and infants. Hopefully they are locals!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

London, Day 3

Day 3: London

Quote of the day:

This is Ground Control
to Major Tom
You've really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it's time to leave the capsule
if you dare

Weather: Sunny, cool, crisp, rain, lightning and thunder, cool, overcast (at least we missed the hailstorm). This is THB’s fifth straight summer games where it has rained, only in the beginning, Los Angeles, was it dry throughout.

Pics: Steel sculpture and main stadium at OP, WP, color scheme on Duchamp pieces, jacket potatoes

Notes of clarification, remembrance:

1. Katie found a 10 pound note on the sidewalk our first afternoon here, and it wasn’t one THB had dropped! THB, having heard from faithful readers, will now feel empowered to try on a t-shirt or two! Or, at least, socks

2. Empty seats: some of you watching on TV may notice there are a lot of empty seats (and remember the fact that half of the Brits orders came back with NO tickets). It happens at every O for various reasons: the tix are ordered way in advance and plans change; corporate sponsors get tons of tix they can’t use or give away; sections are saved for the athletes and officials and they rarely (never) go to events in quantities to fill those seats; people double book because when they order they aren’t sure they will get anything (see note above re Brits and ordering) and then can’t get rid of tix (we had that happen at our first day, a guy was selling gymnastics tix because it overlapped with basketball).

3. For a bit more on the economics of the Os and this one in particular, try an NYT article:


KHB wakes up THB at 7am from a deep sleep, and finds that the Brazil vs Turkey VB match went the full five sets, probably ending at 12:30am, even later. After THB really wakes up (near 9am), the realization sets in that we would probably have slept on the steps of Earl’s Court if we had stayed til the end.

Another breakfast of grape nuts and fruit, our hosts are meeting our every needs. THB is eternally grateful (oops, he wasn’t really awake during breakfast, though he is pretty sure he also made himself a piece of toast…almost positive).

Today, G is accompanying us to the Olympic Park (OP) and two sessions of Men’s Water Polo for our first visit to the site of the main venues (see NYT article). Rather, as G knows where he is going, we are accompanying him. Down to Raynes Park, on the train (any train) to Waterloo, transfer to the Jubilee Line, standing as there are many O attendees aboard, through lots of stops to the end of the line, Stratford, a short walk through a very upscale shopping mall (see NYT article) and the big test of the day: security is again a breeze! OMG, the Brits must have had the same experience we had in Beijing: long lines in heat and humidity trying to get through to security, barely surviving (mostly, sometimes not) before another long walk or crowded underground shuttle to the Bird’s Nest. This is soooo much better!

Thus, we are early for our 10am session, and walk the grounds, amidst the growing crowds (and this before the big stadium is going with T&F). One big improvement: a hill of grass with a giant TV, a la Wimbledon, for resting up and picnicking.

Water Polo is just across from the main stadium, in a mostly temporary structure (surely the pool cannot be temporary). Seats around 5,000, probably 4-4500 are attending. Spain, Serbia, Italy and Croatia are victorious (both sessions). Spain plays like their national soccer team has been giving them lessons: their goalie is repeatedly throwing longgggg passes starting fast breaks. Very impressive, as is Serbia, current world champs, who thrash Hungary, reigning gold medal champs.

Between sessions, it is raining slightly to medium hard. We scout out lunch, there are quite long queues at some places so we settle on a very British choice (with a short line): pot pies (beef, all that is on hand on day 3 here, they are already out of 7 other choices) and mash for THB and G, baked potato (see pic) and salad for KHB, drinks, $40. Ice cream snacks: $13.

Reverse route back to Wimbledon, around an hour, exceptional given the distances covered and somewhat similar to our commute back from Bird’s Nest in Beijing.

It looks like with a few exceptions (bottlenecks getting to/from connections in underground), the crowds may be manageable…TBD.

Dinner with our hosts and James at a local Japanese restaurant in Raynes Park: $174 including edamame and gyoza appetizers, 5 entries (katsu for the men), beers, a glass of wine and coke.

London, Days 0-1, 2

Day 0-1: E-ville to London

Quote of the day:

Sometimes, I feel I gotta get away
Bells chime, I know I gotta get away
And I know if I don't, I'll go out of my mind
Better leave her behind with the kids, they're alright
The kids are alright

Weather: E-ville – perfect, London – warmish, humid, touch of rain

Pics: None, THB is too jet lagged

Flight on United in Premium Economy, bulkhead seats with even more leg room, night flight where KHB falls asleep before first drink service and THB before first meal service. Before we pick up bags, we find a SIM card vending machine and get our unlocked NZ mobile to work!

Take bus ($3.20 pp) from right in front of airport terminal to within 2 miles of G&M’s place. G&M are long time friends we met when on our sabbatical in Europe in summer of 89. They live in Wimbledon and their kids are now grown and out of the house, and they have not yet moved to a one-room loft to keep the kids from coming home occasionally. Good for us, means KHB and THB get their own rooms! For those of you with long memories, James, their son, met up with us in Beijing, and he’ll be going to some events with us again, a four year reunion we hope happens again in Rio.

A very nice meal cooked by M, chicken lasagna, is nice enough we eat outside in the garden. A few drops chase us inside for dessert, berry/apple crumble with ice cream for dessert. THB makes it up for about ½ hour of the opening ceremony on the telly and then crashes.

Day 2: London

Quote of the day:

I couldn't quote you no Dickens, Shelley or Keats
'cause it's all been said before
Make the best out of the bad just laugh it off
You didn't have to come here anyway
So remember, every picture tells a story don't it

Weather: Clear, and cooling.

Pics: Volleyball: cheerleaders, GB vs Russia, lots of shots of USA, Nandos...and KHB and THB at the Games

Note: with every O ticket came a one-day pass on the various London transports!

Up early, and head out from Wimbledon via the underground to Earl’s Court and three sessions of Women’s VB. The first session we are accompanied by friends of our hosts as we have two extra tickets. We leave plenty of time, take our time, and lo and behold already there is a vast improvement over Beijing: many, many lines through security, and we are inside quickly with an hour to spare.

Session 1: Japan walks all of Algeria, China beats Serbia after losing set 1. Our friends depart and KHB and THB walk the hood looking for lunch, end up at a chain called Nando’s that KHB had heard of, where THB has half a (pretty small) chicken with chips and slaw, KHB has a Portobello and halumi wrap, one cider, $36.

Session 2: Back through security even faster than morning to see Russia skunk Great Britain (the host country gets a slot in all the events regardless of talent) and Italy top Dominican Republic (who played like they had jet lag) 3-1. Out again for a light dinner of frozen yogurt, $13, and a scout of the hood for lunch and dinner spots: you’ll be reading about them in upcoming posts, we’ll be eating quite a bit of ethnic food, some pretty exotic.

Session 3: Security is very slow, takes us around 7 minutes to get into the arena (see how fast THB can adjust to O reality), we arrive in our seats just as USA takes on Korea. Very exciting, USA wins first two sets, pulling away in last half of each, then blows a lead to lose third set, then gets back on track and pulls away with superior blocking in fourth game. It is now after 10:30 and we wait to see Brazil warm up for their match with Turkey and decide to head back to Wimbledon, though we are still awake.

Easy ride on underground, then a decision: wait for a train to Raynes Park, one stop away, wait for a bus back, or start walking. Can’t find anyone to help us with train (we can see the posted stops of the upcoming trains, none of them have Raynes Park listed). So, we head around the corner and see there is a bus listed as arriving in 8 minutes (all the bus stops have electronic boards giving the upcoming buses and when they’ll be arriving, a great feature!). Is it a real listing, or just something that is related to the schedule?

We decide to start walking, and check again at the next bus stop: 7 minutes away. More walking: 5 minutes (at least the bus appears to gaining on us); walking some more, 3 minutes away…walking, 2 minutes away. Finally we stop, and in a minute and half we can see a doubledecker heading our way: scoops us up and two short stops later we’re near back to home. It is around 11:40, THB falls into a deep sleep immediately (well, after checking the A’s score).

Observation 1: at sessions 1 and 2, there were families with kids around age 2, who had no interest in watching VB and thus their parents spent the entire time attending the kids.

Observation 2: THB checked out the t-shirts and found the following (you get to guess how much the t-shirts cost):

- If they were $20, that would about right

- If they were $25, that would be a bit exorbitant

- If they were $30, THB would think it a bit of a rip-off

- If they were $35, THB would think about going into business selling t-shirts

- If they were $40, THB would expect them to be hand-tailored

- At a whopping $45, THB is thinking he is not going to have any t-shirt memories of the 2012 O games