Monday, July 30, 2012

We Walked to the Olympics

"Get me tennis tickets," I told my sister.  "I want to be able to walk to the Olympics from my house."

My sister had better luck finding Olympic tickets in the US than we did in the UK, so thanks to her, Josh and I headed up the hill to the All England Lawn Tennis Club with ground passes (and American flags) for today's Olympic tennis.  It was a lovely day -- partly cloudy, breezy, and in the mid-60's.  I checked the schedule of play and it looked like we could camp out at the Number 2 Court (which has unreserved seating during the Olympics!) for most of the day and watch several of the Americans play.

Sure enough, when we found our seats, Andy Roddick was playing.
Andy Roddick vs Martin Klizan of Slovakia
There were lots of American flags in the stands, but they were all outshone by Andy Roddick's shoes.
Nice tennis shoes!
Andy is a very vocal tennis player, occasionally making comments to the umpire, his entourage in the stands, and the crowd in general.  At one point he paused while a man took his crying baby out of the court, and said, "Don't worry, it will get better."  (Children under 5 are not allowed in the courts during Wimbledon, but there were an awful lot of them there for the Olympics!)  He also got into a lengthy discussion with the judge after one of the ball girls caught a ball before it hit the ground.  It was clearly headed out of bounds, but technically she should have let it bounce before touching it.  He's sort of like a good-natured John McEnroe...

Andy won his match in straight sets, and then I wandered off in search of some lunch while Josh held on to our seats.  I bumped into my friend Nancy, a fellow American who lives in Wimbledon, who was lucky enough to get Centre Court tickets for today, but had been watching Andy Roddick's match.  We agreed that the Olympic tennis had a very different feel from the Wimbledon tennis championships, despite being held in the same place.

I also came across this topiary version of the Olympic mascot wielding a tennis racquet.
Topiary Olympic mascot
Next up in Number 2 Court: Venus Williams vs Sara Errani of Italy.  Sadly, many people left to watch Federer's match in Centre Court on the big screen, but there was still a vocal USA contingent supporting her.
Venus serves
Where did everyone go?
After Venus won her match, we went up to Henman Hill (Mount Murray?) to watch some of the action in Centre Court on the big screen.
Olympic rings at the top of Henman Hill
Despite the fact that Federer was playing, the crowd was pretty sparse, especially compared to the hordes gathered on the hill to watch Andy Murray play a few weeks ago.  The big screen had been modified to match the bizarre 80's-style Olympic design and color scheme.
The big screen from Henman Hill
Roger Federer defeats Julian Benneteau of France
Olympic graphics on Centre Court
Mini Team GB supporter

The Dutch like to show their true colors
We headed back to Number 2 Court to watch the Williams sisters play their doubles match against a team from Romania.  There was a much bigger crowd compared to Venus' match earlier in the afternoon.
No empty seats for this match!
Mama Williams and her entourage
The judge measures the height of the new net
Venus and Serena get ready for their match
These Romanian ladies played well, but they didn't stand a chance!
The Williams sisters are a force of nature!
It was a good day for the Americans.  Serena and Venus won their doubles match, as well as each of their singles matches.  In fact, all the Americans who played today won.  Yay!

The final match scheduled for Number 2 Court was a men's doubles match with Roger Federer, but as soon as the Williams sisters had cleared the court, the umpire announced that it had been moved to Number 1 Court, which is reserved seating only.  That announcement was met with jeers and boos, but there was nothing we could do about it, so we drowned our sorrows in some strawberries and cream and wandered around for a bit.

It's strange to see all the Olympic branding all over the grounds -- quite a contrast from how it looks during Wimbledon...
Inspire a generation from the 80's?
We discovered they were showing Federer's doubles match against a Japanese team on the big screen, so we watched a little of that before heading home.  It was a bit challenging to follow, since all four players were wearing red shirts and white shorts.  We didn't stay for the whole match, but I hear the Swiss team won...
Who's who?
Occasionally someone would see us with our American flags and ask where we were from.  It's fun to see their surprise when we respond that we live right here in Wimbledon, although we always add that we are Americans and relocated here from Washington DC last year.  I ended up having a nice chat with a lovely family from Kew after one such exchange while Josh found a quiet spot to dial in to a conference call.  He was "working from home" today.

We walked back down the hill and met my sister for dinner in central Wimbledon before heading back home.   It was another great Olympic experience.  I hope the Americans continue to do well.  Too bad we won't be able to see more tennis, but other events await...

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Promming with Wallace & Gromit

No, it's not a high-school formal.  The BBC Proms is a popular classical music concert series at the Royal Albert Hall that runs from July through September every year.   "Proms" is short for "promenade," because these were originally outdoor concerts where the audience could stroll around while listening to the music.  Today you can still "prom" by queueing up on the day of the concert to buy £5 standing-room tickets.

When the tickets went on sale months ago, I tried to get reserved seats for today's afternoon concert, but it was so popular that they sold out in 10 minutes.  Why?  It was a new Wallace & Gromit animated short, accompanied by a live orchestra.  We were planning on "promming" so we could still go to the concert, but at the last minute I discovered they had a few "obstructed view" seats available, so we bought those online so we wouldn't waste precious Olympics-viewing time standing in line in the rain.
The Royal Albert Hall
It turned out to be a good call.  Our view was not really obstructed at all.  In fact, we had a great view of the Royal Orchestra, and we were sitting directly in front of a small video screen.
"Obstructed" view from our seats
The concert was fantastic!  The first half was consisted of musical interludes interspersed with special animation created just for the Proms concert.  A few pieces accompanied montages of scenes from Wallace & Gromit's adventures.  The second half was the new animated short A Matter of Loaf and Death with a live soundtrack provided by the Royal Orchestra.  The conductor stood on a special stand invented by Wallace that was equipped with a cup of tea, a telephone, a plate of crackers, and a pneumatic tube -- through which Wallace and Gromit delivered sheet music from backstage. 
Wallace & Gromit's Musical Marvels
As he was taking his bows at the end, the conductor thanked the composers of the Wallace & Gromit theme music and the soundtrack, who were seated in the audience.  Then he thanked Nick Park, the animator and creator of Wallace & Gromit, and it turned out that he was in the audience, too!
Nick Park, in the dark grey jacket, front and center
What a great event!  We all thoroughly enjoyed it.  Definitely worth taking a break from the Olympics to spend a little quality time with Wallace & Gromit.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Olympic Kick-Off

U-S-A!  U-S-A!  As an American living in London, I usually try to keep a low profile, but with the Olympics in town, it's time to start showing my true colors.

My sister arrived from California yesterday morning, just a few hours after Josh's aunt, cousin, and family departed, and a few hours before the Olympics began.  She had much better luck getting tickets in the US than we did in the UK, so after lunch we headed up to the City of Westminster College to pick them up at the Cosport Will Call Center.  Unlike everything else Olympic-related, this operation seemed rather poorly organized.  There was no signage or any helpful staff people to direct us there from the Tube station, and once we found it, we ended up waiting in line for TWO AND A HALF HOURS!  We barely made it home in time to throw some dinner together and watch the opening ceremonies.
The long and winding line for will call
 We were all pretty tired, so we had a tough time staying awake until 1 am to watch the entire event.  There were some lovely moments -- especially when they lit the Olympic cauldron -- but overall it was kind of a weird conglomeration of random British stuff.  I honestly did not expect either Voldemort or the NHS to be involved in the opening ceremonies.  But I did enjoy watching the athletes march into the stadium...

Today, Sonia and I set off for our first Olympic event -- the Men's Gymnastics qualifiers at the "North Greenwich Arena."  Londoners know this venue as the O2 Arena, but since the mobile phone service provider is not an official Olympic sponsor, they had to make up a new name for it.
The North Greenwich Arena (aka, the O2 Arena)
Everything went very smoothly.  We had no trouble getting there on the train/Tube, and it took 2 minutes to go through security.  In fact, the only long line we had to wait in was at one of the many restaurants in the arena so we could get some lunch.  But we still made it to our seats in time to see the 'pre-game show.'
Gymnastics hype
 Our seats were up in the nosebleed section...
The gymnasts warm up
 But at least we were sitting in front of the correct flag!
We were glad we brought our own American flags, because Team USA was competing in this session.  Yay!
Team USA warms up on the pommel horse
The challenging part of watching gymnastics in person is there are five different things going on at once, so it's hard to know where to look.
Danell Leyva wears his lucky towel
Bangladeshi gymnast on the high bar
John Orozco on parallel bars
Jonathon Horton on high bar
The USA did very well against teams from Japan and Italy, as well as individual competitors from a variety of other countries, including Israel, Brazil, Chile, Greece, and Australia.  In fact, they were in the lead in the team competition, and two of the US team members ended up first and fourth in the individual rankings.  Go Team USA!
Sonia stands on the Prime Meridian
My very first Olympic experience was pretty darn good!  I can't wait for the second one, and the third...

Monday, July 23, 2012

Torch Day

The Olympic torch came through Wimbledon today, and passed within a couple blocks of my house.  Josh's Aunt Kris is visiting us, so the two of us walked down the street on this gorgeous afternoon to watch the torch relay make its way up to the All England Lawn Tennis Club, where Andy Murray was scheduled to pass the torch to Venus Williams.  We decided to skip the crowds and celebrity sightings in favor of local flavor -- although I did find myself wishing we had gone to Croydon earlier in the day to see Patrick Stewart carry the torch....
Crowds start to gather on Haydons Road
The couple is clearly carrying a torch for one another
These kids were getting a little tired of waiting
Ooh, this looks promising!
Samsung bus with cheerleaders and video screen
The ubiquitous Union Jack
The Coke bus handed out free Cokes
But the Lloyds bus did not hand out cash
The torch police!
Another bus...
And last, but not least -- THE TORCH!  The torchbearer was Kelly Gura, one of the many people nominated to carry the torch by their peers.
The Olympic Flame
As we walked home with our neighbors, Kris said, "Well, that was neat!  How often do you get to see the Olympic torch go right by your house?" 

Actually, this is the second time.  When I was living in Washington, DC in 1996, the Olympic torch went right past the apartment building I lived in.  That was also the same day that Josh and I started dating, so "Torch Day" has always had a special meaning for us.  I was sorry that Josh wasn't able to watch the torch go by with me again today, but we still wished one another a Happy Torch Day when he left for work this morning.  And with another day of warm, sunny weather, it was a very happy day, indeed!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Faster, Higher, Stronger

Yes, that's the Olympic motto, but it seemed just as appropriate for the Farnborough Air Show, where Josh and I spent the afternoon yesterday.

Those of you who know my husband personally need no explanation of how excited he was about this.  He has always loved airplanes, and can identify nearly every flying machine in the National Air & Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center without reading the labels.  He has a private pilot's license with an instrument rating, so he even knows how to fly some of them.  The icing on the cake is that his office is in the Farnborough Aerospace Center, which is right next to the airfield where this event takes place every two years, so he has been watching the pilots practicing for the past week.

I really should have had Josh write this post, since I don't share his gift.  Unlike the big air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin -- which Josh and I attended several years ago -- the focus here was mostly on military aircraft, so I was even further out of my element.
Josh poses in front of the BAE Systems pavilion
Some kind of stealth thingy with a Typhoon in the background
Josh was really excited about this plane...
I was more excited about the cute pilot that chatted with Josh while he sat
in the cockpit
It started raining just as the air show began, but I did get a few decent photos between the raindrops...

Massive A380
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo
Cute little aerobatic biplane
Some kind of military fighter jet
Airbus A400M
Rain + 53-degree temps = sparse air show spectators
American Osprey
Another Osprey shows off its moves
Nice props!
Funky-looking amphibious plane
Columbian Air Force!
The inclement weather put quite a damper on the air show, and most of the exhibits inside the pavilions were geared towards people in the aerospace and defense industry -- high-powered engines, computer technology, weapons targeting systems, and other fun stuff to make the airplanes faster, higher, or stronger.  Not really my cup of tea, but since the air show is only held in Farnborough every two years, I'm glad I had an opportunity to go while I am here.