Friday, June 29, 2012

Put a Ring on It

After recovering from the shock of learning that I had been on the NBC Nightly News the night before, Rachel and Paul and I set off on another day of touristy fun in London.  First stop: the Tower of London.  Before we went in, we had to take a peek at the Tower Bridge, which was sporting a new set of rings as of that morning.
Tower Bridge with its new rings
Rachel and I smile for the cameras
Despite the crowds gathered along the Thames to see the Olympic rings, the Tower itself was surprisingly quiet.  We didn't even have to wait in line to see the Crown Jewels!
Paul and Rachel at the Tower of London
Oh, really, Henry VIII? Don't you think that codpiece is
a bit much?

Don't try to steal anything from the armory!
Beefeater residences on the Tower grounds.  Not too shabby!
Nice view of the bridge
Next stop: The London Eye!  It was overcast and a bit drizzly, but we still enjoyed some pretty spectacular views.
Parliament and Westminster Abbey
Paul & Rachel
Rachel and I above the Thames
Old City Hall
Josh was working in the city that day, so we arranged to meet up with him at Covent Garden in the evening.  While we were waiting for him, we watched some people play beach volleyball, which was somehow promoting Duracell batteries.
Beach Volleyball in Covent Garden
We had a nice Indian dinner at the Masala Zone before heading back to Wimbledon.  It was a short visit, but Rachel and Paul managed to make the most of their time here before continuing on to Paris.  It was great to see them!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

5 Seconds of Fame

I started out the day yesterday eagerly anticipating the arrival of my college roommate, Rachel, and her husband, Paul.  I had no idea I was going to end the day on national television!

I met Rachel and Paul at Heathrow in the morning, and after taking the Tube back to my house and freshening up, we ventured out for some lunch and sightseeing.  Although they have both traveled quite a bit, Rachel had not been to London since she was 16, and this was Paul's first time here, so they had a lot of things on their to-do list.  We took the train to Waterloo and embarked on a walking tour to hit some of the highlights.
With Rachel crossing the Thames near Parliament & Big Ben
Rachel & Paul and the London Eye
Olympic Countdown clock in Trafalgar Square
Olympic flags in St. James Square
London-Themed GWiz electric car
Buckingham Palace
While we were in front of Buckingham Palace, we were approached by a woman who asked if we were American -- she must have overheard us talking.  She told us she worked for NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams and was interviewing American tourists about a story that had just broken in the Wall Street Journal about Orbitz skewing their hotel search results so that Mac users saw higher-priced hotels than PC users.  I explained that I wasn't really a tourist, but Rachel and I agreed to be interviewed, so she took down our names and asked us each a few questions.

Since neither of us happened to read the WSJ that morning, we had to rely on the reporter to fill us in on the details.  Rachel and I did our best to give what sounded like informed, thoughtful responses to her questions, but it was a little challenging being asked to comment on the spot on something we had known nothing about 5 minutes earlier.  The reporter thanked us for giving her some good sound bites and told us the story would be on NBC Nightly News.  Since we don't get NBC Nightly News in London, and she didn't say WHEN it would be on the news, we didn't think much of it, especially since we were skeptical that they'd use either of our interviews in the story.  We just continued on our way through St. James park.
Topiary crown in St. James Park
By the time we emerged at the other end of the park, Rachel and Paul started running out of steam, so we hopped on the Tube back to Wimbledon and then walked up to Wimbledon Village for dinner.  As expected, the shops were all decorated for the tennis championships.
Pimm's cup floral arrangement

Tennis whites
Evian Wimbledon flags
We had a nice dinner at the Dog & Fox pub, which was packed to the rafters with tennis fans -- and probably a lot of players, too.  If any of us followed tennis more closely, I'm sure we would have recognized some of our fellow diners, but we just enjoyed our dinner in blissful ignorance.
The Dog & Fox
We took the bus back to my house so Rachel and Paul could experience the thrill of sitting in the front of the upper deck.  Plus, I figured I had sufficiently tired them out so they wouldn't have any trouble fighting jet lag to fall asleep.
Rachel and Paul observe the Wimbledon Station queue from the 93 bus
Sure enough, they were in bed by 10 pm, and slept until 10 am this morning.  While I was waiting for them to wake up, I booted up my laptop to check my email and was shocked to discover a couple emails and at least 20 Facebook messages from people who had seen me on NBC Nightly News the night before!  I could not believe it!  We didn't realize it was going to be on the news that very evening, and I fully expected my interview to end up on the cutting room floor.  I nearly ran upstairs to wake up Rachel and Paul, but decided we'd all be happier if I let them catch up on their sleep.

One of my friends posted a link to the clip, so I was able to see it for myself and watch my extremely brief appearance.  If you are interested, click on the link below:

If the link no longer works, here is a screen shot.  In my hair's defense, it was a humid, windy day, so I had a kind of Medusa thing going on.  Good thing they didn't identify me by name -- although clearly enough people recognized me that I've been hearing about it all day.  I even heard from a couple friends I'd met in London who were back in the US.  And to think all those tennis players in Wimbledon had no idea they were dining with a local celebrity!
Screen shot of my cameo appearance on national television
My 5 seconds of fame. Fleeting, but fun while it lasted!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Tennis, Anyone?

If you're a tennis fan, you probably know that today is the first day of the 2012 Wimbledon Tennis Championships.  When you live in Wimbledon, it's hard not to be aware of it.  As I was running errands around the town center this morning, there were signs of tennis mania everywhere...

In front of Wimbledon Station, a strawberry-coated Disney-style line has appeared so people can queue up for the shuttle bus to take them up to the AELTC -- where they can join The Queue for tickets.
The Pre-Queue for Wimbledon
Some of the shuttles are old-school Routemaster buses.  They charge £3 one way, or £5 round trip.  Or you can walk another block and catch the 493 bus, which will take you there for £1.35...
Tennis shuttle
The players and officials don't have to take a bus.  They have a whole fleet of cars (and drivers) to transport them from their lodgings to the AELTC.  There aren't really any hotels in Wimbledon, so many of them rent private homes during the fortnight.  I suspect the better the player is, the closer they stay to the AELTC, so anyone who is renting in my neighborhood is probably not a top seed.  These cars will be all over Wimbledon for the next two weeks.
Sure would be nice to have a car AND driver!
The building across the street from the station is now sporting a HUGE tennis-themed billboard. There's never been one there before -- not even during last years' championships. Seems a bit tacky...
The local Starbucks is advertising a special strawberries & cream frappuccino, and even Burger King is getting into the act...
What they're SERVING at Burger King
The Prince of Wales pub has added some new decorations to their patriotic display of flags and flower baskets.
They've got big balls!
 And the local charity shops have updated their window displays.
Must be last season's tennis fashions
Even the little cafe near my house has gotten into the spirit with a special cake in Wimbledon purple and green and tennis ball cake pops.  Cute!
Almost looks too good to eat.
I haven't been up to Wimbledon Village yet, but last year nearly every storefront was decorated with a tennis theme -- even the Thai restaurant.  I hope to make it up there sometime soon to check it out -- and hopefully I'll have a chance to see some tennis as well.

A Taste of Home in Italy: Day 4

On our last day in Bologna, we had some 'free' time in the morning, so what did we do?  We went shopping! 

First we wandered through the market area, with vendors selling fresh produce, meats, cheese, and other goodies.
 Sadly, no one in our group was tempted to bring home an entire pig's leg.
Meat & Cheese shop
I could not resist buying some more cherries and apricots -- they were as good as, if not better than, the ones I used to eat straight from the trees at my parents' house in central California.
Giant apricots!
 I was a little puzzled by the merchandise in this shop near our hotel...
Did you spot the American flag boxes in the background?
We found some cute shoe stores, but we were reluctant to buy shoes based on how they fit after three days of eating lots of salty food in hot, humid weather.  Nearly every woman in our group complained of swollen feet and a bad case of 'cankles' -- but it was a small price to pay...

We had to check out of the hotel by noon, and then piled back into the bus with our luggage to set out on one last Italian adventure.  Our first stop, the cute little town of Castelvetro di Modena.
We had lunch at a little cafe that seemed a bit overwhelmed to have a dozen people show up all at the same time, but they rose to the challenge. 

The main plaza had a clock tower, what looked like a mini-castle, and a lovely view.
Clock tower
The local church
Rose window
Must be fun hanging the laundry out to dry...
Our next stop was the Ca'Berti winery, which produces several varieties of the sparkling wine that this region is known for.   On the drive out there -- as I had at several other points during the trip -- I felt like I was back in California.  The landscape, the climate, and the vineyards and orchards reminded me of my home state -- and all the fresh produce and local wines.  We could have been in Napa, except everything was in Italian...

Tree and petunia-lined entrance
Wine shop and restaurant
Nice tile!
I heard through the grapevine that the wine is quite good
The owner and his son (age 12) gave us a tour of the winery.  They both spoke a little English, but preferred explaining the process to Mara in Italian and having her translate.
The owner explains to Mara how to make sparkling wine
Case of Ca'Berti wine
After the tour, we got to taste several wines, which the owner's son helped open and pour.  "I like wine!" he told us -- in English. 
Care for a taste?
Of course, no tasting is complete without Parmesan Cheese
The sparkling white and rosé wines were nice, but I think some of us were put off by the sparkling red wine.  It's just not something we are used to, so it's a little bit of a shock to sip a red wine with bubbles in it.  Like wine itself, it's probably an acquired taste.
Mara does her best Vanna White impression
Assortment of Ca'Berti labels
Are we in California?
We would have happily stayed there all afternoon sipping wine, nibbling on cheese, and enjoying the beautiful view and warm weather, but we had a plane to catch...

Arrivederci, Italy!  I had a wonderful time, and I look forward to seeing you again -- soon, I hope!