Given that we are on the European continent. Given that we are obsessed with the Olympics. It was a given that we would have to hop on over and experience some London Olympics action. It rocked. Even the weather was miraculously nice.
We were lucky enough to stay with friends, Mitch and Sonia, at their place in High Wycombe. Although this meant we had a longer train ride into the city, it was actually nice to stay a bit out of the madness.
Upon arriving on Wednesday, Mitch drove us to nearby Windsor castle.
Although I’ve now been to a few castles and palaces, it’s a far different experience to tour one that is still a current, functional royal residence. As you walk past glittering ballrooms, and ornate salons you are confronted with centuries of history, and photographs of last year’s royal banquet.
Part of the castle grounds is the gorgeous St. George’s Chapel. It’s home to the Knights of the Garter, and the last resting place of royals like Henry VIII.
Apparently, Her Majesty prefers Windsor to Buckingham Palace. Fancy. Speaking of the Queen, this being her diamond jubilee, there were numerous reminders of this celebration everywhere we went. This led to a running joke of shrieking “jubilee!” any time we happened upon an exhibit, saw commemorative biscuits, or even just rode the jubilee tube line.
Much to the delight of a group of tourists, PC found a guard, and took a picture with him.
After the fun of Windsor, Mitch and Sonia maintained the historical feel by taking us to the Royal Standard for dinner. The oldest pub in England. Over 900 years old.
Back in the day, King Charles II would entertain his ahem mistresses at the Royal Standard. And, like many old pubs, the place is supposedly haunted. Alas, we had no hauntings, but we did have traditional British ales (flat and lukewarm), and some delicious pub food.
Thursday brought our first Olympic event: volleyball. We took in two matches. Germany vs. Serbia and Australia vs. Bulgaria. In a five set thriller, Germany bested Serbia, and we cheered alongside one of PC’s Berlin trainers, Eric.
PC got spotted, and subsequently gave an interview between sets in the Australia match. While PC acted cool as a cucumber, I sat petrified until the camera left. Being on the jumbo tron is not my fave.
Although the good guys lost that match, the Aussies finished off their tournament yesterday with an incredible victory over gold medal contenders, Poland. Congrats guys!
After volleyball, we ended up in Hyde Park at BT London Live to continue our Olympic viewing. BT London Live features four massive screens, numerous food and drink stalls, live entertainment and it’s FREE!
When Great Britain nabbed a gold medal, confetti canons fired, and the place erupted in cheers from the thousands of Great Britain supporters.
The next day, we made a quick detour to Abbey Road.
I first visited London with my Grandma and Pop Pop for my thirteenth birthday. I still think about that trip with wonderment and love, especially since my Pop Pop passed away a few years ago. My grandparents were MASSIVE Beatles fans, and as this was my first return visit to London, I had to see Abbey Road.
The place was crawling with tourists trying blocking traffic, trying to get a perfect shot. I chose to just saunter across. I found a bit of graffiti in front of the studio that felt appropriate for my remembering my grandfather.
Friday, we had tickets to the final of men’s trampoline. Luckily, an Australian, and American AND my fave from last Olympics, Dong Dong were all competing. As the gymnasts flip ten metres in the air, you hear the crowd collectively hold their breath, gasp in shock and sometimes fear, and scream in delight. While the American and Australian ultimately wiped out, one man rose above the rest….
The man from China won so convincingly, the crowd responded with a standing ovation and spontaneously chanted ‘Dong Dong’. It was awesome.
With all that excitement, we decided to go gawk at some more athletes. You cannot enter the Olympic park without an official pass, but you can walk around the new Westfield shopping mall that is teeming with Olympians. So we hopped on a train, and did our fair share of gawking.
Miraculously, we ran into the Aussie team’s physio, Flo, with whom we’ve spent many an enjoyable wine filled evening. While we chatted over coffees, I spotted a girl on her own walk up to order a coffee. From behind all I saw was a Speedo backpack with a small USA embroidery, but I knew as soon as she turned that it was NATALIE COUGHLIN. I proceeded to stare at her (she totally caught me) for the next five minutes, being totally rude to the others at my table. I’m sorry, I was star struck. BTW, she is naturally gorgeous and RIPPED.
That evening, we remained on the East Side of London for dinner and drinks on Brick Lane. The place boasts dozens of delicious curry houses, each aggressively vying for your business. To that end, you sorta haggle for your dinner. One restaurant offering 20% off the bill, and one free drink. The next going for 25% off. We settled by virtue of rumbling tummies on a 25% 2 free drink establishment. Apart from the curry, the area boasts a young artsy feel, and is definitely worth a stroll.
On Saturday, with no Olympic tickets, Mitch brought us into the city for a trip to the Camden Markets. We chose from dozens of stalls serving delicious foods from every corner of the world.
For dessert, we tucked into a chocolate drizzled, marshmallow and toffee covered skewer of strawberries that still makes me drool thinking about it.
After stuffing ourselves, and touring the labyrinth of clothing and knick knack stalls, we ended up back at BT London Live. PC and Mitch had picked up Australian flags, and were carrying on cheering for the “Silver Specialists”, as they had taken to calling their under-performing countrymen.
Before leaving on Sunday, we snuck in one last sightseeing adventure: Oxford. First, we stopped at the Eagle and Child pub. My childhood was filled with bedtime readings of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I am still a massive LOTR nerd. Therefore, I had to stop at the pub where C.S. Lewis, Tolkien and others met up, swapped ideas and concocted their masterpieces.
Next, we strolled over to Oxford Castle for another history lesson. First, we popped into Hotel Malmaison to take a look at the former prison cum luxury hotel.
Oxford Castle was used for various purposes, but most famously as an operating prison until 1996! While the prison became a hotel, the site of public hangings has now been cheekily transformed into a restaurant called, The Living Room. Part of the fun was reading through the documents listing the crimes and punishments of various prisoners. As you check the records post 1776, chances are that a criminal sentenced to transport was most likely a future Australian! I made sure to point this out to the tall one.
Back in the gift shop…JUBILEE!!!
Personally, I like this take on the jubilee celebrations.
Hopefully you made it through this monster of a post. It really was an incredible trip. This is in large part due to the hospitality, conscientiousness and generosity of Mitch and Sonia. Without their suggestions, ideas and help navigating the tube, it could have been a much different trip!
Oh and…USA USA USA!