We are at the Center of the world as a vast majority of the planet’s attention is turned to the Olympics…duh. Events. We attended four events – semi-final tennis at Wimbledon, the Women’s Marathon, under 58 kg Tae Kwon Do quarter and semis, and Men’s Volleyball semis (tonight) Brazil vs Italy. Packing four Olympic events along with the normal sightseeing of such a large and interesting city has left us quite exhausted each night.
Tennis. Wimbledon was center court and Jordan got sit on his own five rows behind the “Royals Box.” Our four seats were split into 3 and 1, at first we were not happy, but it actually was a good thing. Our teenage son got to be independent and sit away from us. Justin actually fell asleep for most of the first match – Federer vs. del Potro (which went on for four and half hours). He finally woke up in the 3rd set that went to something like 19-21 games played. He needed the sleep, I guess. Justin is also not much for being a “spectator”, it does tend to put him to sleep, whether it is a concert or a sporting event. (We gave him a coke to drink prior to the TKD event as insurance that he would not repeat.) It was a chilly day, but dry, and the mere fact that we were at Wimbledon center court was a thrill. How many years I have watched Wimbledon; I remember Bjorn Borg playing in the seventies.
Pink Fingers. This was also our first encounter with the “pink fingers.” London has an army of volunteers with pink vests and sponge fingers to answer questions and help herd the masses of spectators. The whole organization seems to be quite effective. We have had no waiting for trains or subways as they open the turnstiles and just let everyone in. Car lanes are blocked off for the streams of pedestrian traffic. Olympic venues have large areas around them fenced off, so once inside the perimeter you have no car traffic at all. We did not attend events at the Olympic park, so we were not able to get into that area- unfortunately. No ticket, no access. The only new Olympic building we went to was the ExCel center for Tai Kwon Do. ExCel is a massive square box of a building that houses several mini-stadium areas of seating built on scaffolding. This is where ring/mat/small area events like boxing; wrestling, TKD and badminton were held. It was very impressive to see the development in this area East of London. We took a ski resort type gondola over the Thames from Greenwich – the Emirates Air Line (everything is branded) – to the ExCel and got a great bird’s eye view of the area. That gondola set up is interesting – part touristy entertainment, part practical transportation device. It connects the concert venue south of the Thames to the Excel sports venue on the north shore. Tonight, Volleyball will be at Earl’s Court, an old indoor stadium where Gigi went to see concerts back in ‘91/92 when she worked here.
Tae Kwon Do. TKD was just OK sports-wise. I had never watched this sport before, so I guess I did not know how to truly appreciate the Olympic level quality of the action. The actual competition was sometimes boring – too much strategy and not enough attacking – often the judge shouted ‘fight!’ to the competitors to get them to engage. I think 3 matches had that Olympic imbalance of one competitor just being so much better, and the match was called on point spread – something like a knockout in boxing to end the match. There were a few truly exciting matches. Only one match out of the 12 we saw had a last minute comeback and win by a competitor. However, this was our first event where we really felt and saw the international audience rooting for their competitors. Flags waving, people shouting in different languages. There was one particularly colorful group of Thai spectators all dressed in traditional garb that went bonkers when a Thai woman won a close match. This part of the event was truly a treat. Unfortunately, we did not get the chance to root for an American.
Women’s Marathon. Last Sunday, we woke up to heavy rain on the day of the Women’s Marathon. Undeterred, but a little tardy, we made our way down to Embankment tube station to see the event. We ended up across from Cleopatra’s needle on Embankment road. The area was quite crowded, 3 to 4 people deep along the fences, and the runners had already gone past once. The runners ran 3 laps of the route, and would pass our spot 5 more times going one way and then the next. The boys got the best view. London has these bikes for rent by credit card, and they have individual lock stands for them. These thigh-high stands were just big enough for Jordan and Justin to stand on, little pedestals that elevated them 3 feet above everyone else and gave them a clear view of the route in both directions. Gigi and I had to be content with quick glimpses of the runners between the bodies of other spectators. It was still thrilling. The rain even let off to just periodic showers and bursts of warm sunshine for the rest of the day.
Being tourists. Here are all the things we squeezed in between our Olympic events: Bob and Justin go to Natural History Museum to see the Dinosaur exhibit and the Minerals room; quick drop in to the Victoria and Albert Museum; ride the London Eye; day trip to Arundel Castle on Arun River near Portsmouth; 3 lunches with Gigi’s old friends at Southbank, Greenwich, Marylebone; bus rides to see the city; Tate Modern museum; walked across the Thames on 3 different bridges.
Visiting with Friends. We have also been able to connect with people here in London. My Swedish friend Per drove down with his family, and we spent one day with them. Gigi reconnected with 3 of her close friends from her working days here in London 20 years ago. We spent a day with the Lopacinski’s, friends from San Carlos, on a day trip to Arundel castle. Their son and Jordan have been going to school together since kindergarten. Our local elementary school is named Arundel, so we just HAD to go for a visit (will be a separate blog on this one). We even spent an afternoon with our family dentist, Dr. Plant. He is a 69-year-old Triathlete who had spent the week prior to the Olympics bicycling up and down the Pyrenees with 3 friends along Tour de France routes.
Today. Day of Rest. Justin was not feeling well so we had a chill day just sitting in the flat with the windows open watching the Olympics on TV. Then off to volleyball tonight.
Tomorrow. We are going to leave London and head for the Kent coast to a town called Broadstairs for the Folk Festival. Our good friend Laura has insisted that we come spend time with her and her girls at their beach cottage. We are going to experience a traditional English summer beach vacation.