Day 17 – London: Our Last Day

We saw Chelsea beat Sunderland, 2-1, after quite an ordeal to get into the stadium. The frustration and stress leading up to that makes me appreciate those 90 short minutes. The long story of “How to get Tickets to a Premier League Match” was circling in my head, unblogged, as we flew home watching Argo. None of this seems so stressful anymore, but I have to share the story anyhow.

How we saw a Premier League Match

  1. Before we bought our flights, we looked at the schedule. Nearly every English team was playing on Saturday, April 6, so we booked flights to leave on April 7.
  2. We picked out Tottenham vs. Everton and waited for tickets to go on sale. The game was moved to April 7 due to ESPN TV rights.
  3. Then, we picked out Chelsea vs. Sunderland and set the alarm for 1 am for the day the tickets went on sale. And I was able to buy 4 tickets together.
  4. I received my confirmation by email and tickets in the mail.
  5. While flying to Germany, the match was postponed to April 7 due to Chelsea playing a Europa tournament match on April 4, and needing an additional day of rest. We were not informed of this.
  6. Four days before the match, I received an email about the pre-game events scheduled for April 7. Turns out we wouldn’t be able to go, and there were no other games that day with tickets available. I emailed the tickets office to ask for a refund.
  7. Two days before the match, I read the ticketing policy which stated that we were not entitled to a refund. Since I had not heard back, we decided to change flights and find a hotel for one more night and go to the game. I emailed Chelsea to tell them to disregard my prior email because we will be going to the match. We booked a cheap Priceline hotel next to the airport.
  8. The day of the 3 pm match, we checked out of our apartment in central London, traveled by subway to the airport, and waited for the hotel shuttle. It was late, and we were running out of time to check-in and get back to London for the match. I begged the shuttle driver to let us run into the hotel and store our bags while he waited for us. He agreed. 
  9. After lots of long rides and waiting around for shuttles, we rode for another hour back to London and we arrived at Stamford Bridge 45 minutes before kickoff. Relieved from all worries about being late, we picked up a coffee and I checked my email using the wi-fi. Chelsea had replied to my email stating that they had processed my refund and re-sold my tickets!
  10. We ran to the stadium and the tickets indeed were invalid. We told to get in line at the box office. We got to the window 20 minutes before kickoff and were told there are only 3 single tickets available in different sections. I was near tears from the stressful day and sacrifice we made for this. I begged the agent and telling him how far we had traveled, and how unfair this is. Maile was crying. He offered to check again, and was talking to a manager while the line of angry old Brits were cussing behind me. He sent us to another window and told us he had 3 in the same section now. I begged again. He tried again and ended up giving us 2 free tickets together and 2 we had to pay for. We ran around the outside and found our seats 5 minutes after kickoff. While entering the gate, the security guard stopped me and said cameras are not allowed but he would let me in. If anyone saw me taking a photo, my camera would be confiscated. Another stroke of luck. What a day!
We ended in the airport restaurant taking in two English traditions on our last night:  we had a (veggie) English breakfast (for dinner) and fish and chips. At the hotel, we set the alarm for 4:30 am and called it a night.

Day 16 – London: Our Last Day (or so we thought!)

Melina turned 12 today! It was a little anti-climatic when she suffered through a stomach ache on the way to her chosen dinner restaurant. But after digging into some great saag paneer, she realized she was hungry and not sick, and then all was well. Someday I hope they figure out the difference. I looked up reviews online and found a top Indian place for her dinner, Punjab, which turned out to be great, the best meal on our trip. And just a 1 mile walk away, in Covent Garden. Her other birthday outing today was seeing Potted Potter, a 75 minute play that tells the full story of Harry Potter. All 7 books. A good show for her, without the suspense that she hates, like War Horse. Looks like this one will hit the east coast of the USA next month, and maybe travel throughout the country.

We also toured Stamford Bridge, the stadium of Chelsea. We saw the press room, locker room, and pitch. Interesting how they assign lockers based on language and culture, keeping together the Spaniard, Brazilians, French-speakers, etc. They put the non-English speakers next to the Brits, in hopes of improving their English. They have an English-only locker room policy for team cohesiveness.

   

That tour wasn’t in the plans originally, but we had to make some last minute changes. We have tickets to the game today, Chelsea vs. Sunderland, something Michele especially has been looking forward to. It took me several hours of research and staying up until 1 am to buy them online. Then we found out yesterday that the game was postponed to Sunday (we were not even notified!), and then bought tickets to the tour, thinking that was going to be our only Premier League experience here. But after more discussion this morning, we decided to take a flight home one day later, missing one more day of school and work, so that we can see this game. The Chelsea ticketing policy says they are not obligated to reimburse us for the tickets, even when the date changes, and no one one at their office was responding to my emails. Rather than give up the tickets and regret it later, we found a cheap hotel on Priceline, right by the airport, and we’ll get home on Monday at 2 pm, instead of arriving later at night on Sunday.

The people watching today was great, with both locals and tourists out in full force. It was Saturday and everyone one was out, the first sunlight and warm weather we’ve had all week. Every 20-40 year old man seemed to spend the day on the Underground, going pub to pub drinking. Any why not, without any driving to do? Two guys across from each other on the packed train today struck up a conversation:

  • Man 1: Hey, I like your smile. What are you up to today?
  • Man 2: I’ve been looking at you since Paddington. I have an extra rugby ticket. Do you want join me?
  • Man 1: I’d love to. This day keeps getting better and better for me!
  • Man 2: Would I be too forward if I held your hand?
Everyone kept staring at their shoes while this played out, until they announced that they’re friends and just playing around, but didn’t want to alarm the teenage girl next to them any more.
We took a walk down the Thames after dinner for our last night in the city.

Day 15 – London: Changing of the Guard

We’re slowing down in our final days, taking out time to read and relax. Today, our main event was wading through the crowds at Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard. We attempted to slow things down a bit more, looking for a playground and possibly bikes to rent, but its just too damn cold. Its the 2nd coldest spring here since 1910! We’ve been lucky that there has been no rain though.

 

Then, a few house at the very cool Tate Modern Museum. Check out the Exquisite Forest exhibit online ,where you can contribute your own drawing. The girls are still not too fond of the nudes in the museums!
 

Melina is loving her new trenchcoat from Zara. We’ve found great deals at a couple budget stores, like Zara and Super Dry, which is some kind of British-Japanese fusion. They have USA stores in LA, Vegas, and MOA. I had heard about how Zara has become the largest fashion retailer, but no stores in Denver. Not that I’d know what fashion is anyhow. TJ Maxx is my version of fashion. Maybe that’s why they named it after me over here:  TK Maxx.
 

Our slow day meant wandering around Covent Garden, which had a lots of street performers. In the London subway, each must apply for a specific spot to perform!
 
We had a bit of a letdown today finding out that Michele’s highlight of the trip, a Chelsea match at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, was re-scheduled for Sunday. That’s the day we fly home. I’m scrambling to find another match, but the best we can do is take a train to the outskirts of the city tomorrow night for a Championship league match, the league just below the Premier League. Hopefully that, plus a Stamford Bridge tour, will make up for it.

Day 13 – London: A Slow Day

We had a nice, slow morning today, leaving the apartment at 11 am. It was good for re-energizing and reflecting more on life here. There is so much to do here, but we can’t keep up the long days and late nights.

We went back to the O2 Arena for the British Music Experience. The number of musicians from this big island is hard to believe. Of course there’s the obvious legends, like the Rolling Stones, Beatles, David Bowie and Pink Floyd, but also the new ones like Adele, Amy Winehouse, and Mumford and Sons. The ’80’s are full of bands like Duran Duran, Def Leppard, Culture Club, and so many more. It made for a nice exhibit linking historical events to each band, with music playing everywhere. Seeing all the Beatles clips made me think of the One Direction concert, though realizing that the screaming girls may be all that fans of the two have in common. There was instruments for the kids to play too, but probably didn’t deserve a special trip for the museum.

After that, we went to the King Cross stop on the Underground, for a Platform 9 3/4 photo op. Then some wandering around the touristy shops around Picadilly Circus. We found a Waterstone’s bookstore, which has the biggest store in all of Europe here. I loved seeing discount sports stores where we can get jerseys and hats from the Premier League teams at big discounts. Nike Town had a lot too, with a foosball table setup for soccer, 11 v 11.
 
Michele and I have both decided that this is our favorite livable city on the trip. Getting around on the Underground is fast and easy. The city is clean and safe. And eating options, even for vegetarians who love the fast casual restaurant, are all over the place. So far, we’ve had great luck at Wamada, Wasabi, BGK burgers (veggie burgers and rosemary crisps!), and Yo Sushi, to name a few. Only two problems, finding a job and paying for housing. Its the 10th most expensive city in the world. The arts, football and transit are top notch. We’d miss our 300 days of sunshine each year though.

A few strange things here: cidar seems to be as popular as beer, and the local beers aren’t so good. Guinness isn’t far, just like good ones from Germany. But there’s so many strange ciders made with pear, berries, and even ginger. Another funny thing is an apparent problem with public pissing here. It doesn’t help that many stores don’t have a public toilet, and on the street you have to pay, even in the train stations (where 30p equals 50 cents)! In dense areas in the US, this may be soon be the norm. Walking back to our apartment tonight, I noticed a free urinal on the street, and very public, without a door at all. That would work for me, but I’m not sure about the ladies. Freud would have a field day with the photos I’ve collected below.

 

For a country that drives on the left, I wondered if we should walk on the left, too. Indeed, that seems to be the case. However, riding an escalator requires that you stand on the right, and pass on the left. One thing that’s big here is the “Mind the Gap” announcements and warnings on the Underground, letting passengers know about the small gap between the walkway and the train. “Mind the Gap” T-shirts are all over the place.

  
News here in London right now isn’t too far off from what we’d expect in the US. Nothing like France, where they recently passed laws to allow high schools free access to birth control in school, and bans on burquas. But still, the gun violence is lacking here. There are conflicts between schools and unions, and seemingly frivolous lawsuits, like the police officer suing after tripping over a curb (or, kerb). For the amateur sociologist, the most interesting item of the day was the report about there now being seven different classes in England. The BBC has a class calculator on their website to determine which of the classes you might be in, if you can translate English job titles like solicitor and lorry driver. I love my NPR at home, but would definitely take the BBC, too.

Tomorrow will be an early one, with our pre-purchased tickets to the Harry Potter Studios. Good thing we bought them in advance, because it seems that schools are out this week for spring break. Kids are everywhere. Our trip tomorrow requires an Underground trip to Euston, a 20 minute ride on the national rail, and a 15 minute shuttle bus. This may be one of the highlights of London for the kids. They deserve it after today, a nearly perfect day for them. We’ve had moments of fighting, complaints and whining, and today we tried an experiment by taking away their iPod Touches for the whole day. Instead of spending every moment of down-time on the subways and waiting in lines by playing video games on the iPods, they read, talked, looked at the world around them, and played around with each other. Made a huge difference.

Day 12 – London: The Middle Ages and the Stage

I lost it today. In the station, on the Underground, and running through the streets to a 7 pm show. Good thing I was drawn into an amazing and intense performance of War Horse to forget my fun with TEP Wireless. It was the greatest thing for parts of the trip, a little mobile wi-fi hotspot that any of us could connect to with devices, in any country. I carried around in my pocket. For me, I needed the maps and directions, plus finding restaurants. They even mailed it to our house before we left. But it didn’t work for 3 days in Germany and I spent a couple hours late each night on email, Skype and online chat with their support. In France and the Netherlands, it worked again, but now in London it does not. They told me to pickup a new one at the train station, which had us running through Paddington Station to pick it up at the correct time, on our way to the show. But the staff there did not have a new SIM card there for me. I await their response to my request for a full refund. In the meantime, Virgin Mobile offers one week of wi-fi at any Underground station for £ 10. That should be fine for us. I’m over it.

The Sovereign's Sceptre The long history of Europe is is hard to fathom, all the monarchies and stories from the Middle Ages. At the Tower of England, our Beefeater tour guide made it all fun and interesting, going back to 1066, especially since we don’t know anything about the Charles’ and Henry’s of the past century. Maile is reading an historical fiction book about Ann Boleyn, and this was the site of her be-heading and burial in 1536, along with many other executions. I hope seeing this in person motivates the kids to learn more, starting with the history books they bought in the museum. The Crown Jewels here includes the largest diamond in the world, 530 carats. There were lots of jokes about the British Empire over the years from our Yeoman Warder guide, including America, one that got away. The job of the Beefeaters is to guard the jewels and prisoners here, and the nickname apparently came from their right to eat beef at the king’s table.


Southwark reconstructed globe.jpgAfter walking over the Tower Bridge over River Thames, our history lessons turned to the performing arts. 1599 is when Shakespeare’s Globe was built, and there’s a replica here using the same building materials, including a thatched roof and stage matching the drawing from 400 years ago. I always had such a hard time reading Shakespeare, but Melina has really enjoyed it, starting with after-school programs in elementary school and now performing this spring in a Mid-Summer Night’s Dream. So the history and museum here was really cool for her, and the gift shop of course had so many books, T-shirts with quotes from each one, totes, etc. They do productions here too, and keep it affordable at £ 10 each.  But it is an outdoor theatre, so the first show of the season isn’t until later in April. Another great guide made the history fun, and talked about how these theatres back then were kept on the south bank of the Thames, away from the city of London, because the Puritans objected to the fun of theatre and the entertainment in the area:  bear baiting and brothels. Those Puritans were soon whisked away to America, he told us, and became the modern day Republican party. All the anecdotes about life during the early 17th century ties together the theatre and life of the people at that time, including the stark differences between the standing room only audience drinking beer and peeing where they stand, to the wealthy who sit on display behind the stage, away from the masses and stench.

We ended the night at War Horse, a perfect theatre choice for us (thanks Rich!). There are more productions here than in New York City, so it was hard to choose just one. War Horse can be taken as a  simple, yet suspenseful, story about a boy and his horse, or layered with the different perspectives of World War I. Sitting among the English, French and Germans in the audience reminds me of all the different interpretations of our history. The kids all rated it a 10 out of 10, despite the gun shots and emotional scenes. It is incredible what they are able to do on stage with the horses, and of course, the goose that steals the show.

We’ve seen some everyday life and some tourist spots so far. And I can’t help noticing how friendly and nice the people are. In Germany and Amsterdam, people were talking to us for no reason. In France, we had a stranger pry open subway doors, injuring his hand in the process. We were allowed up the Eiffel Tower without a proper ticket even. And here is no different. At the One Direction store yesterday, we were the last to get in line before the closing time, and a security guard stood behind us to tell others it closes after we enter. Imagine the mom’s taking their daughters to this show, and the anger you’d expect some to have when they rushed to the end of the line only to be told it is closing after us. Everyone one said “OK” and walked away. No animated advocacy for their pouting daughter who was hoping to get a T-shirt. Same thing when we finally made our way to the entrance, only to be old they were wrong, the store is closing before we can enter. No complaints then, either. In our apartment, there is loud construction going on in the hallways, which woke us up at 8 am each day. While leaving today, I saw our neighbor come out, clearly just wakened, and offered the workers a hot toddy. I was expecting her to offer them some choice words for waking her up. The only issue so far was the older man downstairs from us in Paris, who scolded the kids for being too loud running up the stairs. I was warned about how the French appreciate their privacy and quiet.

The travel around the cities is tough to beat. The kids can even navigate the different lines by plotting our route each day. We have two stops near our apartment in London, Charring Cross and Embankment. Both are less than two blocks from our doorstep. And the poetry and art  in the trains is a nice way to breakup all the advertising.

`Fear no more the heat o` the sun`

Detail from Liam Gillick's Artist's Tour of London by Tube, 2012

Fear no more the heat o` the sun,
Nor the furious winter`s rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta`en thy wages.
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

Fear no more the frown o` the great;
Thou art past the tyrants stroke;
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as theoak.
The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.

Fear no more the lightning flash,
Nor th` all-dreaded thunder stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finished joy and moan.
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.

No exorciser harm thee!
Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have;
And renowned be thy grave!

William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

Day 11 – Chunnel, London, and 1D

I should have known that the ease of train travel is not the same on the Eurostar trip under the English Channel, between Paris and London. For any other trips, simply standing on the platform by the time the train arrives is sufficient, which we found to be true from Düsseldorf to Amsterdam, and Amsterdam to Paris. Our tickets said to arrive at least 30 minutes, and my tendency to cut things close had us there 29 minutes before the departure. After going through security and customs with 5 minutes to spare, they told us we had to take the next train. In 30 minutes. Its hard not to love train travel.

This trip from Paris to London is faster by train than plane. Its an incredible route, traveling 34 of the miles under water, 250 feet below sea level at its deepest point. The full story of its creation between 1988 and 1994 is told on the Discovery Channel show Super Structures. My GPS clocked us at 190 mph for most of the above ground route.

The excitement of London isn’t that its another historic, city of the arts, but that we can speak the language straight away. Paris is a great city, but we missed so much of the culture, arts, and people due to our lack of French language. We saw the sights and had fun, but I always felt a disconnection (and guilt) because I didn’t take the time to learn anything more than the most basic words. That won’t be the case in London for our last week. On the way to our apartment, the tables were turned when the non-English speaking subway riders were pouring into a stationary train while the announcement in English stated that the line was going to be shut down for maintenance for the rest of the night. We were one of those riders in Paris.

Our apartments keep getting slightly better in each city. Here, we have just 3 flights of stairs to climb, instead of 5. And the kids love the old-fashioned lift that we didn’t have before. Its right next to a park, has a bathtub that Melina has missed, and a 2nd bedroom for the kids. We took out cash to pay for our stay and were given the key. Both here and in Paris, its run by a company that offers to rent out apartment for short-term stays. The company advertises on VRBO.com and hires a cleaner between stays. Compared to a hotel, its much cheaper and gives us a lot more space, along with a full kitchen and washing machine. I’m glad I left the easiest part of the trip last, and the city the kids are most excited about.

The major event for tonight is One Direction. I was planning to walk around the city with Melina, but her bad attitude made a boy band concert more appealing. Michele went out for Indian food with her, and found an Easter egg exhibit on the street. Melina is seeking donors to bid on the Adventure Time egg, currently at just £ 1,500.

One Direction is playing 5 nights here during the school spring break, and it was loud with teenage girl screaming. Its a cool place, the O2 arena, with seating for 20,000, and restaurants and movie theaters there too. It was full tonight, and will be for all the shows. The songs are catchy, and the five singers took requests from Twitter during the show. Interesting that none seem to play any instruments, and never even introduced or acknowledged their guitarist, drummer, or keyboardist! The opening band 5SOS, from Sydney, sang and played instruments. Maile had a lot of fun on our late night, getting home at 11 pm after the 20 minute subway right.

Here’s the opening video and Up All Night. Warning: their is no cute accent to the screaming! My concert experiences of seeing Judas Priest and Def Leppard at age 12 wasn’t quite like this. The Mary E Sawyer Auditorium in LaCrosse isn’t quite the O2 Arena in London.