Archive | July, 2012

Rooting for two home teams …. and nappies

31 Jul

I’ve had a lot of people ask me recently who I’m rooting for in the Olympics. As an American, of course I root for Team USA, but when Team USA doesn’t perform, as the men’s gymnastics team faltered yesterday, I can’t help but root for the “home” team, Team GB. The BBC announcers make this so easy. I don’t know if it’s the accents, the witty banter or just that it’s refreshing to not have to listen to NBC’s commentators, but I’ve really been enjoying the British coverage of the games. They have 541 athletes since they’re the host nation, but they always seem to be the underdogs. While many countries — USA and China come to mind — have a “Go for the gold! 110%!” mentality, a lot of Team GB seems just happy to compete, and set a goal of just making it to the finals. And when they do medal — like when Rebecca Adlington won bronze in the 400m freestyle — the entire country collectively pees its pants. I’m only half joking there, but I have never seen announcers and fans go so crazy over a bronze medal. Adlington won gold in Beijing and that made her hometown so happy they named their swimming pool after her. I’m not kidding.

The post-event interviews are always funny, no matter who’s doing the interviewing. Most of the athletes are exhausted and in a state of shock, in no condition to talk to anyone, but a reporter shoves a microphone in their face. I feel like the typical response is usually, “I just gave it my all, it was a really great race.” But I’ve noticed on several occasions now that British athletes apologize. They actually say “I’m sorry,” like they care more that they’ve let their countrymen down instead of accomplishing their personal goal. While I’m sure Team GB fans are disappointed when their country doesn’t win, I also think they’re just excited for the experience too. I guess that’s why it’s so easy to get caught up in the “home” team excitement — I was literally on the edge of my seat yesterday when the British men’s gymnastics team had a shot at a medal. And I was crushed when Tom Daley and Peter Waterfield came in fourth in synchronized diving, even though the US came in third. The announcer kept referring to Daley and Waterfield as “our boys” and “our lads” — how could you not root for them?

I don’t know if you could tell, but I’m going for a world record in Olympics watching. I can’t stop. I have to force myself to take breaks in order to get some work done… I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to work the other way around. I’m still battling this virus and often the only thing I want to do is veg out in front of the TV. I’ve come to the point where my nose is so red and irritated it hurts to blow, but it also hurts if I don’t blow. I tried putting moisturizer on it but I think that did more harm than good. Then I realized the perfect solution — nappy rash cream! If it’s safe for a baby’s bottom, it’s gotta be safe for my nose, right? And now my nose feels better, and I got to use the word “nappy” in a blog post, which is my dad’s favourite British word. (Fun fact: Pamper’s nappies are the official nappy of the 2012 London Games. If you’re wondering why there is an official nappy of the Olympics, I am too.)

Don’t get your nappies in a bunch, Americans. You can have patriotic bums too:

Nobody cares about archery

29 Jul

As promised, yesterday I went for a walk around the neighborhood to check out the archery competition. As expected, there is absolutely no exciting Olympic vibe from my flat, except for the occasional hoots and hollers from the pub patrons across the street. If it weren’t for all the “London 2012” signs on televised competitions, I’d believe the Olympics were taking place in China again. Besides Lord’s in my neighborhood and the infamous Horse Guards Parade, most of the events take place in Olympic Park, way out in East London. I believe Dave Barry said it best in his recent Miami Herald humor column: ‘The East End is part of London in much the same way that Pittsburgh is part of New York City; it is a lonnngggg way from the city center.”

So while I couldn’t even see or hear the opening ceremonies fireworks from my flat, I can walk to where the archery competition is taking place. So I did. And it was slightly disappointing. I don’t know what I expected — a stray arrow to fly past me in the street? To hear some announcers or crowds cheering? I heard nothing. Lord’s is very isolated, surrounded by a high brick wall. I snapped this photo of people waiting around outside. I’m not sure what they were waiting for as this wasn’t even the entrance. Extra tickets? Security? A chance to meet the famous South Korean archers? (Remember when I saw them on the street and didn’t know if they were any good? Well apparently they are, one of them is half blind and still set a world record!) Considering all the warnings we received about avoiding venue areas because they’d be insanely crowded, it wasn’t bad at all. Apparently nobody cares about archery qualifiers.

I walked around the perimeter hoping to see more, but everything was so guarded. I took this photo of the official archery banners and a random green van:

I wonder how they decided the official colours of the Olympics this year would be hot pink? That’s probably the last color I think of when I think “London” (I think red or blue), but I guess it does stand out on the signs.

So no big exciting “the Olympics are in my neighborhood!” stories. I’ll be catching today’s action from the comfort of my couch, since I’m still feeling under the weather. Looking forward to watching the women’s gymnastics qualifiers soon. Hopefully since the US is in the same group as Britain they’ll air it on BBC 1 or 3.

Corgis!! And other thoughts on the opening ceremonies

28 Jul

I think we can all agree that this was the best part of the opening ceremonies last night:

No, not James Bond! This:

CORGIS!!!

After the amazing spectacle Beijing put on four years ago, I thought there was no way London could follow that. But they held their own, mostly because of corgis. And OK, James Bond. And Mr. Bean. And David Beckham.

Perhaps the most surprising thing was how not confusing the opening ceremonies were. Normally there’s at least one aspect of it that makes you wonder how high the artistic director was, but I thought this year’s were pretty easy to understand. Well done, Danny Boyle.

I also have to say I really enjoyed the British commentary. They knew when to shut up and had interesting things to say about each country processing in. And when they didn’t really know what to say, they just talked about the weather in typical British fashion. (“It rained a little earlier but I’m glad it’s held off.” “Yes, but it is getting quite chilly, isn’t it?”) And of course the accents make them more pleasant to listen to.

I have somehow managed to catch a cold in July. I guess the timing isn’t exactly bad, because it makes me feel less guilty just vegging out in front of the TV. I’ve spent all morning watching swimming and men’s gymnastic qualifying rounds. You know what else is weird about watching BBC’s Olympic coverage? There are no commercials! I watched the opening ceremonies for four hours straight last night, no breaks. It was like watching the Super Bowl — I had to wait until the parade of nations to run to the bathroom.

I’m debating whether I want to go for a walk this afternoon to check out the excitement at Lord’s. I’ll have to wait for my Sudafed to kick in first.

The Olympics are one day away! So I bought dumplings

26 Jul

Tomorrow the Olympics begin, so naturally I decided today would be the day to buy Chinese dumplings. I know that sounds crazy, but I’ve been meaning to go to the Chinatown supermarket for a while now, and I figured I’d combine it with some last minute tourism. I was feeling a little guilty because I missed the Olympic torch this morning. I know it’s a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” but it was at 6:45. In the morning. There are three things in life I really don’t like — waking up early, standing in crowds, and heat. Seeing the torch would at least involve the first two with a hint of the third, so I decided not to go. But I felt like I needed to get into the Olympic spirit somehow. I love our neighborhood, but it’s so quiet and secluded, sometimes I just have to go see Big Ben to remind myself that I live in London.


And the tourists always remind me why I love our secluded neighborhood.


The crowds were out in full-force and I was asked multiple times to take photos of people in front of Big Ben.

These signs were everywhere:

I was trying to be artistic here but the sun was a little too bright. I never thought I’d say that about London weather.

I started walking towards Trafalgar’s Square. There were a butt-ton of people hanging out outside of 10 Downing Street, where the prime minister lives.

The massive amounts of swarming tourists everywhere wasn’t that surprising, as that’s rather common in London. What was surprising was this:

No cars! Only buses and taxis are allowed to drive around central London now. It felt a little eery.

This was a checkpoint. If you weren’t a bus or taxi you had to turn left, you couldn’t go straight. I think cyclists were allowed, but I’m not sure.

Remember when I saw all the signs for Horse Guards Parade a couple weeks ago? Like a typical American, I thought it involved guards on horses parading around and throwing candy to crowds of kids (the candy bit was wishful thinking.) Well, there are no clowns or elephants in Piccadilly Circus, and Horse Guards Parade is not a processional, but rather a large parade ground. I’ve had my photo taken with the horses that stand outside several times and had no idea what the building was for. Well now it will be the site of beach volleyball. Hooray, I saw an Olympic venue!

I finally made it to Trafalgar’s Square to see the official Olympics countdown. I love this pensive dude in purple.

There were little signs in the fountain telling you not to swim or drink from it. I definitely saw a toddler wading in it.

This German clock was going off and tourists were loving it.

Signs!

I was surprised Chinatown was so well decorated.

Love the alternating British and Chinese flags.

Wait, what is that at the top of the gate?

It’s the queen! Who cares if the Jubilee was almost two months ago, it was probably hard to get that up there and would be disrespectful to take it down. Right?

More Chinatown festiveness.

And now some final photos of all the flags of the participating countries displayed around Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street:

On the bus ride home I saw the South Korean archery team walking down the street near Lord’s cricket grounds, where they’re holding the archery events. Everyone on the bus pointed them out and got excited. I don’t know anything about archery, yet alone South Korean archery, but it was still exciting to see some real live athletes.

I may have missed the Olympic torch, but I saw Korean archers, an Olympic venue, and a London without cars. I also got my Chinese dumplings, hoisin sauce and edamame. Not a bad day.

Complaining about the weather and proper British etiquette

24 Jul

I have fully embraced the British custom of complaining about the weather. Remember when it rained every day for two months straight? That was rubbish. But hey, the sun has finally come out! … And it’s too hot.

I suffer from CWRD (Crabby When Raining Disorder), which made the past few weeks miserable. I was so happy to see sun and blue skies in the forecast. But then I remembered something. My CWHD (Crabby When Hot Disorder) is even worse than my CWRD. The cure for CWHD is air conditioning, but that’s a luxury that doesn’t exist in my flat. I’ve closed all the curtains and have my face pressed against the fan, but it’s only mildly helping. Why can’t it just be 68/20 degrees but not raining?

While I was having a bad spell of CWHD this afternoon, I stumbled upon this video.

 

I was curious what CNN considered “British etiquette.” So I watched this 2:03 video, and I want those 2 minutes and 3 seconds back. Granted, this could be the CWHD talking, but what the crap, CNN? Your only tips for visitors to London are “Be polite” and “Wait in line?” Is there any country or city where that doesn’t apply? (OK, maybe China isn’t the best with lines, but I’m sure they queued with the best of them during the Olympics.) I know London isn’t that different from major American cities, but off the top of my head I can come up with some better etiquette tips, like always stand to the right of the escalator in the Tube station so the polite British person behind you doesn’t have to stare daggers at your back to pass on the left. And don’t be an obnoxious American on the Tube. Londoners like to ride in quiet. (Although you are allowed to quietly giggle at “This is a Piccadilly line service to Cockfosters.”)  Ask where the “toilet” is at a restaurant, not the “restroom,” and ask for tap water if you don’t want to pay for a £10 bottle of Voss water. Ask for “the bill,” not “the check” when you’re ready to pay. And you will have to ask — perhaps that’s the “polite” British way, but they never try to rush you out by bringing the bill to you unrequested. Although that might change when the city is infested with tourists and athletes.

So some of my tips aren’t exactly etiquette, but it’s still better than what CNN came up with. I can see how their brainstorming meeting went:

“So what videos did we make for the last Olympics?”

“Etiquette tips for Beijing went over well.”

“OK, do British etiquette.”

“But, um, there really isn’t…”

“DOOOO ITTTTT.”

We’re going to see Kobe! (Well, maybe…)

18 Jul

I’m not going to pretend to understand how Olympics tickets work. Over a year ago we had to submit an application for the tickets we wanted. We were then put into a lottery to see if we won the right to buy the tickets we wanted. I think we put in for 10 different events and got one — gold medal men’s football (soccer). Not bad. But just now I got an email from London 2012 saying there were more tickets available and I better hurry up and buy them now! So after fighting with their stupid you-only-get-3-minutes-to-buy-and-have-to-use-Visa-because-Visa-sponsors-the-Olympics system, we were able to get tickets to the gold medal men’s basketball event. But how? Where were these tickets when we applied for them a year ago? Did somebody find them under a couch cushion? Did they purposely only release a small amount of tickets at a time? Were they left over from a small country that didn’t sell all their allocated tickets? I have no idea, but I’m happy we landed them. Hopefully Kobe is right and team USA is the best basketball team ever and we get to see them play in the finals, as USA will definitely not be in the football finals because they didn’t even qualify!

I was tempted to try for more tickets, but I think some of my favorite events like gymnastics and swimming are best watched on TV. Plus, we’re probably already pushing it trying to leave the flat twice during the course of the Games. Can’t believe the opening ceremonies are only a week from Friday!

Road trip to Oxford, or WHY ARE THERE SO MANY ROUNDABOUTS?!

16 Jul

Did I ever blog about our trip to Venice last year? I don’t think I did. Let me give you the condensed version: Shopping in Milan was a disappointment, but in Venice we stumbled upon a designer outlet mall. (OK, we stumbled upon an advertisement for said mall, took a boat bus to the bus stop then took a bus to the mall.) Forget all the palaces, cathedrals and canals we saw on that trip — this mall was our favorite part. To this day we still talk about that mall and all the great things we bought there, often saying, “We have to go back!” in a Jack Shephard-esque manner.

And then I discovered Bicester Village, a designer outlet mall outside of Oxford. We could stop researching plane tickets to Venice, we only had to drive an hour and a half for amazing deals! So we decided to make a trip out of it — our first road trip in the UK. We would visit Bicester Village then head down to explore Oxford. Yesterday was the first day it didn’t rain so we jumped on the opportunity. We joked about not being able to fit all our purchases in the car — after all, this mall had everything, even a Tory Burch outlet!

And then… we bought absolutely nothing. What a colossal disappointment.

For starters, the place was packed. Driving in felt like arriving at an amusement park on the free Bring a Friend day. It was bumper to bumper traffic and we had to park in the auxiliary lot there were so many cars. And then in true amusement park fashion there were actual queues to enter some of the shops! We actually had to wait in line to enter Prada. They had a bouncer with a clicker like we were waiting for some exclusive nightclub at 2:30 pm on a Sunday. And none of the deals were that good! Tory Burch had flats on sale for £127, which is nearly $200, close to regular price in the US. I can get them cheaper there. Stephen was on a hunt for dress shirts like the ones he found at the Armani outlet in Venice. This Armani store didn’t have any, and every other store was out of his size or the fit wasn’t right. As we drove on to Oxford we both said it — “We have to go back to Venice!”

Speaking of Venice, Oxford reminded me of it, but now how you’d think. Both are beautiful cities which are hard to fully appreciate because there are so. many. freaking. tourists. I know I can’t really complain because I was a tourist, but it really took away from the charm of the place. How do the actual Oxford students handle it? Do they get used to it? Hide in the library all day? Are there even any students there in the summer? I swear I only saw tourists.

So in true tourist fashion, here are some photos I took that make the place look scenic and serene because I cropped out the people:

 

Before we left we decided to swing by Oxford Castle.

“Dude, that’s kind of a crappy castle,” we both said when we saw this:

Turns out this is the Oxfordshire County Council building. Not Oxford Castle. Whoops.

I think this is the only photo I took of Oxford Castle. It wasn’t very impressive either.

We climbed the castle mound and this was the view:

I was probably supposed to be more impressed with Oxford, but honestly my favorite part of the trip was the drive. On the way home there was traffic on the M40 so our GPS took us off the motorway through this middle-of-nowhere little town. Were we in the U.S. I’d call it real Americana, so I guess it was real Britannia? We had fun flying through the backroads at 60mph which seemed like a high speed limit for way out in bufu. I think Stephen was finally having fun with his new car and I was finally comfortable he wasn’t going to veer to the right. In Oxford I was thinking to myself how riding in the passenger seat on the left side doesn’t seem weird anymore, but then when we went to the car in the car park I instinctively walked to the right side of the car to get in. Classic American in England move!

For the most part, driving on the motorway looked and felt like driving in the Midwest, Switzerland or China, except you occasionally see this:

(Yes, those are sheep on a hill).

Also, there are roundabouts. Everywhere! And I still cannot figure them out. Stephen assures me that they’re easy, but I still think I’d pull a Clark Griswold if I ever attempted one (that, or I’d do the opposite and never actually enter the traffic circle because there were too many cars going around.)

This was supposed to be a photo of us in one of the many roundabouts:


I also have to say that the signs along the motorway are absolute rubbish and even with a GPS we had a hard time figuring out which lane we had to be in and where the exit was. American interstates are much more clearly marked. (USA! USA!)

On a final note, there were special “Olympics lanes” on the London roads and I don’t know what they are for. Can you only drive in them if you’re an athlete? Or if you’re going to the Games? Why would you be crazy enough to drive through London if you weren’t going to the Games? (Or even if you are going to the Games, why would you drive?!) And how long did it take them to repaint all the lines to include the marked Olympic lanes, and how long will it take them to paint over when the Games are through? These are the kinds of things I think about.