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England

Football of a different kind in London

A day at Wembley for the NFL International Series (London game 6) between the St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots

storm 7 °C

In the business of Sports, getting more people to watch (and buy extension, spend) is one of the keys. The National Football League, the highest level professional league of American Football, is one of the highest attended professional sports in America, with some of the highest television and radio rankings in American broadcasting.

So what is an American league to do when they have conquered America? Look abroad, of course, and grab international fans.

The NFL has been trying various permutations and combinations of this for years, including pre-season games around the globe, teams playing games in Canada and a league based in Europe in the early 2000s.

Recently, they have been playing the "International Series," which while initial envisioned to be a roving set of regular seasons game around the globe, have for the last 6 years seen games played solely in London, England at Wembley Stadium.

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On October 28, 2012, the latest games was played in London, with the St. Louis Rams "hosting" the New England Patriots.

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Before the game, the NFL held a "tailgate" party in the parking lot of Wembley. Tailgating in the USA is a fan driven, organic party - each group of people BBQing and drinking and watching TV merging into one monster party. Here in England, the NFL puts on the party, so while it has many of the elements of a usual tailgate - BBQ and beer - it is a more structured and lifeless affair.

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They do have cheerleaders and NFL stars of the past, so it does have a few advantages.

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The game itself was impressive within Wembley. After a pre-game which included our (choose one: loved / hated) London Mayor Boris Johnson and the band Train, Welsh mezzo-soprano opera singer (and beauty) Katherine Jenkins came out to sing the national anthems of America and the UK. The fans, given placards of red, white or blue, held them up to form two visions of country flags - one half showing the Union flag of the United Kingdom and the other half white stars and red and blue stripes of the American flag.

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St. Louis was the "home" team, as one team is designated each year. St. Louis was initially announced as the home team from 2012 to 2014 in the summer, however pulled out of the future dates due to financial difficulties, making them a one season home team in London. The Jacksonville Jaguars will fill the role in the future games (at least until 2016).

St. Louis took the field, and many fans waved St. Louis flags. Though the flags were given out for free, so if the appeal of St. Louis could probably be overstated.

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The game started, and the fans did take their role of home town fans for St. Louis seriously, cheering St. Louis and booing New England. It helped for the first little bit, with St. Louis going up by a touch-down. However, then the potent offence of New England took over, and the rest of the game was a bit of a romp.

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The game ended 45-7 for New England, the "home team" of St. Louis returning to the Mid-west after their one home-game-away-from-home not being a success. New England, however, spent extra time in England, thanks to Hurricane Sandy cancelling their flights and stranding them in the city. A little more time to celebrate.

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It was a dull game, but a good experience, and I had a grand time during the game. Next year, London hosts two games, including a smash-mouth Vikings and Steelers match up in September, and our new home team, Jacksonville playing the 49ers of San Francisco. I had a good time, so will look to attending one of the games.

After all, could I pass up a chance to see a different type of football here in the home of that other, older type of football.

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Posted by GregW 11:55 Archived in England Tagged sports Comments (0)

You have Breakfast at Tiffany's, I'll do lunch at Harrods

The Oyster Bar at Harrods' Fish Hall

sunny 15 °C

Last Christmas, I was given a very generous gift of a gift card to Harrods. Harrods is a high end department store in West London. The store has one million square feet of retail space, making it the largest retail space in Europe. The size of the store and scope of products on offer brings thousands of tourists through the door each day. Harrods has a Latin motto - Omnia Omnibus Ubique, meaning "All Things for All People, Everywhere." Many products are priced well above the price brand for "all people," but there is the food hall to find a decent priced item.

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I spent the day walking the halls of the store trying to find items on which to spend my gift card. I must admit, mostly I just did double takes at the prices. £145 for a bottle opener? Luckily there were a few items I picked up - a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses and a calendar. Though I still do have lots on my gift card to go through.

I did find one way to burn through the card value, though. At the Caviar House Oyster Bar in the Fish Hall in the Food Halls.

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I started out with a glass of Harrods Lager and a plate of Scottish smoked salmon. The lager is a German beer brewed by Hofmark Brauerei. The beer wasn't great, a bit thick and sweet, but actually worked out okay as an offset for the oil in the salmon and salty taste of the oysters.

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Oysters were up next, a selection of rock oysters. Decent tasting, salty and sliding down easily. It made me recall my experience in the oyster bar in the basement of Grand Central Terminal in New York City.

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I got the bill - £66 for 2 beers, a salmon appetiser and 12 oysters. Decent food, and while I probably wouldn't have paid the prices of my own accord, certainly a decent way to burn through some of the money on my gift card.

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Posted by GregW 06:22 Archived in England Tagged food luxury_travel Comments (0)

Paralympics 2012

A day a the Olympic Park in east London

sunny 19 °C

I went to a few Olympic events, but didn't make it to the Olympic Park. Luckily, a friend of mine had a spare ticket to a few events in the Paralympics within the Park, so I got to head there for the day.

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Got to see a couple of events.

First up, in the Velodrome to see a number of track cycling events.

Velodrome Exterior

Velodrome Exterior

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Highlights on the day included Team GB Sarah Storey winning a Gold Medal in the Women's Individual C4-5 500m Time Trial

Sarah Storey after her race, cycling past the crowds

Sarah Storey after her race, cycling past the crowds


2012 09 01 Sarah Storey Podium Ceremony

2012 09 01 Sarah Storey Podium Ceremony

There was only one Canadian on the day, Marie-Claude Molnar, who took place in the Women's C4-5 500m time trial as well. She came in 10th in the event.

Next up, we were off to the Aquatics Centre to see an evening of swimming. We were quite high up, but still had a decent view of the water.

The Aquatic Centre

The Aquatic Centre


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The crowd was pretty excited about Ellie Simmonds, who won two golds in Beijing at the age of 13, and has won two golds here in London as well. I saw Simmonds smashing the world record in the 400m (classification S6) by more than five seconds.

Simmonds getting her Gold

Simmonds getting her Gold

World records fell like dominoes throughout the day in both the pool and at the velodrome.

There was a medal success for Canada in the pool on the day I was there. Valerie Grand-Maison win silver in the 50m S13 freestyle.

Valerie Grand-Maison, Silver Medallist

Valerie Grand-Maison, Silver Medallist

The swimming let out after 9:00 PM. As we were high up, we got some nice views of the stadium lit up coming down from the upper deck of the Aquatics Centre.

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An impressive day of sport, and I was quite happy to have gotten to see the Olympic park.

Posted by GregW 13:13 Archived in England Tagged olympics sports events Comments (0)

Pimm's and Strawberries at the All England Club

Seats in Court One

sunny 20 °C

I talked recently about how I was starting to feel more British, saying that "now I feel that getting a British passport is not just a gateway to further adventure somewhere else, but instead I see it as cementing my position here in the UK. It is about giving me the paperwork to match with my feelings - that London is now my home."

If there is anything that demonstrates this, it is the fact that a few weeks ago as the weather turned nice, with the sun coming out and the weather increasing, I thought to myself, "I could really go to a Pimm's."

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Pimm's Number 1 Cup is a gin-based drink spiced with various spices and fruits. It is most often mixed with English lemonade (a clear, carbonated lemon-based drink, like Sprite or 7-up for my North American friends), along with various fruits, cucumber and mint.

When I first tried Pimm's four years ago when I first got to the UK, I was not impressed. I have my first taste watching the tennis at The Championship at Wimbledon, and said, "I'm not really sure what Pimm's is, but it was a brownish, cold liquid poured into a cup with ice, mint and a slide of lemon and lime. It tasted a little like cold tea. I don't mean iced tea. I mean hot tea that has gone cold. Like all strange, foreign foods I don't know, it was worth trying, and then it was worth switching over to beer."

I now, however, have turned around on Pimm's, and now often enjoy one when the sun comes out and London heats up. It is a decent summer drink for picnics, patios or any other outdoor lounging activities.

So when I was recently invited to again watch the tennis at the All England Lawn Tennis club (aka Wimbledon), I was looking forward to having a glass or two of Pimm's.

My friend and I packed a lunch instead of depending on the often pricey food and drink at Wimbledon, which included handy pre-mixed cans of Pimm's, along with hard-boiled eggs, cheese, onion and cheese pasties and fresh strawberries.

The weather reports for Saturday were up and down all week, but once we arrived at the day the sun was out, but the air had a touch of a nip and a good breeze which kept it cool.

We had passes to Court One, which despite the primary numbering is the second best court in the championship (behind Centre Court). The order of play for the day was one women's match and two men's matches.

Varvara Lepchenko (USA) v Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic)(4)
Kei Nishikori (Japan)(19) v Juan Martin Del Potro (Argentina)(9)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (France)(5) v Lukas Lacko (Slovakia)

First up was Petra Kvitova, the 2011 Wimbledon champion on the women's side, who easily beat her opponent Lepchenko. We watched the first set and a half, and when it was obvious it was heading towards a rout, we exited and enjoyed our packed lunch.

Next up was Japanese Nishikori versus Argentinian Del Porto. The crowd was behind mostly Nishikori, who put on a spirited fight and took Del Potro to a tie break at one point. In the end though, Del Potro was too strong and big for Nishikori and Del Potro moved through.

Del Porto Serving on Number 1 Court, The Championship, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon

Del Porto Serving on Number 1 Court, The Championship, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon


Nishikori Stretches for it on Number 1 Court, The Championship, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon

Nishikori Stretches for it on Number 1 Court, The Championship, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon

Another break, and so we headed out for Ice Cream. Pricey to purchase on the site, but a good on a warm day.

Back to the action where Tsonga, currently the 6th ranked player in the World. He faced up against Slovakia's Lukas Lacko. Tsonga was strong, and easily defeated Lacko. At the end of the match, Tsonga leaped and twirled around the court at the win, moving on to next face Mardy Fish.

Lacko waiting for serve from Tsonga on Number 1 Court, The Championship, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon

Lacko waiting for serve from Tsonga on Number 1 Court, The Championship, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon


Tsonga on Number 1 Court, The Championship, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon

Tsonga on Number 1 Court, The Championship, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon

The shadows were then getting long, and dinner was calling, so we moved on, leaving behind the tennis.

On Centre Court, two long matches earlier in the day meant that British hope Andy Murray was just getting started, a match that lasted until just after 11:00 PM, meaning that after having dinner and a stroll, made it home to see the final end of the match.

Balls Up on Number 1 Court, The Championship, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon

Balls Up on Number 1 Court, The Championship, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon

Four years after my first trip to Wimbledon, and a different experience than last time. Seated tickets instead of general admission, full matches instead of wandering around and watching sets here and there, and an enjoyment of a few glasses of Pimm's.

Posted by GregW 01:10 Archived in England Tagged sports events Comments (0)

In Bloom

At the Chelsea Flower Show

26 °C

I've almost been in the UK for four years now. For the first couple of years, when we hit March, I would start to get itchy eyes and start sneezing. There would be a period of about 3 weeks where I would have a mild but annoying hay fever.

This spring, though, has been so miserably cold and wet, I didn't experience any symptoms through March or April. Most of the way through May, I was still symptom free.

Yesterday, on the 25th of May, I woke up and as soon as I left the house I could feel my eyes itching. Within 10 minutes, I felt the tickle in my nose telling me a sneeze was coming.

"Of all the days," I said to myself. I ran off to the local pharmacy to get some Claritin, because May 25th was a very bad day for me to start my annual suffering from hay fever. I was off to a place that would aggravate my symptoms.

I was off to the Chelsea Flower Show.

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The Chelsea Flower Show is an annual event held on the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. The show, put on by the Royal Horticultural Society, is more than just a chance to see flowers and buy some seeds and trowels, though there is a lot of that.

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In addition, Gardeners from around the UK and the world come and set up show gardens, often with crazy themes.

Garden celebrating the Queen's 60th Jubilee

Garden celebrating the Queen's 60th Jubilee


Flowery Mini

Flowery Mini


Williams F1 Hedge.  Fitting after they just won the Spanish GP a few weekends ago.

Williams F1 Hedge. Fitting after they just won the Spanish GP a few weekends ago.

The wild garden was very popular this year. There were very few of the structured, sculptured gardens that you might think of when you think of gardening. Instead, there are a lot of wild and unstructured beds with a menagerie of plants.

Water Features were big this year

Water Features were big this year


The Traveller's Garden, with maps and explorer's gear

The Traveller's Garden, with maps and explorer's gear


Minotaur.  There were some crazy garden statues available to buy.

Minotaur. There were some crazy garden statues available to buy.


DMZ Garden.  Garden showing what might be growing in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, along with reminders of the on-going war between the two.

DMZ Garden. Garden showing what might be growing in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, along with reminders of the on-going war between the two.

Luckily the Claritin did its job, and my sneezing and itchy eyes were kept to a minimum. The sun was warm, but there was often a nice breeze to keep things cool. After wandering around for a few hours, we found a nice place to sit in the shade on the cool grass, and enjoyed a cider. Music wafted through the trees from the nearby stage, and we watched the wide swath of people walking by - young couples, hipster artists, Chelsea Pensioners, upper-middle class retirees, accents from around the world - French, American, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese.

The world loves a garden.

Posted by GregW 01:33 Archived in England Tagged landscapes events tourist_sites Comments (0)

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