A pre trip, trip to London

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I’m writing this a week after returning from London. I had originally wrote quite a long journal entry on my iPhone at my hotel. Unfortunately the application then crashed when I tried to post it and lost the entire thing. Talk about annoyed. Writing on the iPhone is occasionally an exercise in frustration. It is fine for small updates or a quick email, but for longer pieces it is far better to have a laptop to hand.

London was an interesting trip, and good practice the main event. I realised a couple of things that I needed to sort out before heading off to the States. The main decision is that I’ll have quite a bit of hair chopped off before going away. Walking around London on a very hot day with a fairly heavy backpack was made just a little uncomfortable by the big mess of hair I have trapping all the heat like a wooly hat. Constantly pulling the hair out of my eyes, and then getting blown around by the tube meant I must have looked a right state by the end of the day. So the hair will be going short.

Secondly, I need a decent hat. I knew this already but London just reenforced the decision. Visiting Turkey last year and experiencing the sun there showed just how important a good hat is. A Guernsey winter helps you forget that lesson. The first thing I did when I got home was to find a hat. I’m now wearing an Aussie bush hat to break it in before I leave. I was quite amused by the tag that stated “a good hat isn’t just a hat, its a mate”. Well hopefully my new mate can give me a few good years service.

Third. I need a neck strap for the camera. I think I spend half my time in London struggling to get my camera in and out of my pocket. Obviously with my SLR I use a next strap, but I didn’t think I’d need it for the G10. I was wrong.

Last of all – I need to add an extra hole to my belt – in the right direction. 🙂

The Trip

The trip got off to a pretty bad start. We boarded the plane and proceeded to spend the next couple of hours sat on the tarmac at Guernsey airport. I eventually found out that there has been an emergency landing at Gatwick which had closed the runway. This meant that all flights were delayed and that it had the knock on effect of me missing the Celtic match. Coming into land what quite an experience. We flew through a thunder cell as we descended, and the turbulence was quite alarming. It came on suddenly enough to catch the stewardess unawares who gave a little scream as the place fell out from under her. This lasted seconds, but the crying of the upset & frightened children lasted a lot longer

After that getting to Wembley was plain sailing. A simple jump onto the Gatwick Express, and then onto the tube all the way to Wembley Plaza. I have to say, whoever designed that station knew what they were doing with the entrance. You walk out to the top of some steps and there laid out before you is Wembley Stadium.

I’ve been to a few stadiums before, but first glimpse of Wembley of different. White Hart Line, Highbury etc are all inner city stadiums. You don’t really see them coming up as they are all surrounded by houses and tower blocks. Wembley is different as you can see. You have this huge promenade leading to the stadium. It really is very impressive.

I have to mention the arch. When the plans for the stadium were first revealed, I thought the the arch looked a bit hokey, nothing special. In the flesh it looks fantastic and really does dominate the surrounding area. I realise now that it is what makes Wembley unique. Modern stadiums tend to look much the same from the outside, but the arch announces that this is Wembley.

Because of the delays I didn’t get a chance to explore. It was straight to the hotel, and then straight to the match.

The Wembley Cup had four participants – Tottenham Hotspur, Barcelona, Glasgow Celtic and Al Ahly. The format is that there are two sets of two matches. One set on Friday (that I attended) and the second set on Sunday. Because of this it was a pretty unusual situation as the stadium was divided into four sections for the supporters of each club.

Being a Spurs fan, I naturally was in the Spurs end. I sat right at the front of the top tier next to the giant video screen. Although you can’t tell from the above photo, our end of the stadium was packed. Wembley was actually two thirds full – 57,000 was the attendance. Only slightly less then the population of Guernsey. To put it in perspective, half of Guernsey could sit in the empty end of the ground.

Now this is going to sound a little strange. Wembley is exceptionally impressive. It’s modern and it is fantastically designed. It’s also nowhere near as good as White Hart Lane. WHL is just so much more intimate. Last time I visited, I sat in the equivalent position – front row, top tier. It felt as though you could reach out and touch the players. Here you felt removed from the action, at the Lane you feel part of it. I know that the club have said that the new Spurs stadium will be designed with this in mind, that they want to retain that feeling of intimacy. I really hope they get that right otherwise it will be a huge loss to the club.

What Wembley does have is noise. Oh does it have noise. I get it now, I really do. I’d of course heard of the ‘Wembley Roar’. Now I understand it. Sound becomes distorted there. Chants that I know became a soaring cacophony of pure noise. You can almost visualise the wave as it reverberates around the stadium. I really want to go back for an international match, or a club match. If the stadium can produce that noise when two thirds full and the stand directly opposite empty, I can only imagine what noise it produces when full.

The game itself was something of a let down. Barca played a very weakened team from that which was expected. I was hoping to see some of the biggest stars in the world game, but that wasn’t to be. Very disappointing considering the ticket price. Barca play Man City next week in a friendly. I’ll be pretty disgruntled if they play a strong team then. The final score was 1-1 with Spurs getting a late equaliser. On the whole it was a fair result, but Barca will have been the most disappointed.

After the match I just headed back to the hotel and had an early night. Yep, Friday night in one of the biggest cities in the world and I get my head down. I must be getting old.

In the morning went exploring. A stadium on a non-matchday is such a different animal. Rather then being a viberant place, full of energy excitement, emotion and colour it turns into just another building. Quiet and empty. One thing that never fails to amaze me is a stadiums tardis like quality. They just seem to be so much larger on the inside.

London

I don’t know if this is just me or it is the city, but every time I visit London the transport seems a little worse, a little more cramped and a little more annoying. This time the powers that be decided to close Wembley tube station. I walk to the station and discover that it is shuttered. There are no signs advising of what alternative methods of transport there are. I poke around until I find a TFL worker that can advise how I can get to an open tube station. This incidentally would be the only helpful person on the London transport system that I would encounter all day.

Maybe it is just me. But if I was going to close a tube station, I probably wouldn’t do it on a match weekend. I certainly wouldn’t do it on a weekend when there are going to be fans visiting from Scotland, Spain and Egypt. I saw so many Spanish fans looking confused outside the tube station. I’ll bet the majority of them ended up jumping in cabs, and that the taxi drivers made a killing that day.

Eventually I managed to make my way to Regents Street where I visited the Apple Store. I could have spent all day in there (free internet and air conditioned), but I escaped with minimal damage to my wallet and a new set of earphones.

From there I went exploring, walking around London without a single care in the world. I didn’t have anywhere I needed to be, and I didn’t have anything to do. One thing that can be said for London is that it is a fantastic city to get lost in. If you find yourself totally lost just a little common sense will see you to the next tube station and then you can get lost all over again.

Quite by accident I found myself crossing over Horseguards Parade. I went through a small tunnel, and saw one of the guards being relieved by a fresh guard. This area was crawling with tourists, but this one small tunnel just had myself and couple of other people in it. Without the crowds it was quite easy to place yourself in the sixteenth century, watching this exact same display.

As I left the tunnel the crowds reappeared and the tunnel was swamped. Outside the entrance was another two guards, only this time mounted on horseback and completely surrounded by people clambering over each other trying to get a photo. I walked away only to hear a loud ‘oi’ from behind me and the guard from the tunnel sprinting past, sword still drawn. The guard had seen someone try to steal a handbag and had chased him down. No small feat in those boots. I don’t know what I found more amusing – the sight of that guard running or the thought process of the guy that decided to steal a handbag in plain sight of an armed soldier.

I carried on walking and eventually ended up alongside the Thames. I followed the river and saw the world famous London landmarks that I haven’t seen since I was about 11 years old.

It was around this time that I found my tongue getting rather big in my mouth. I then occurred to me that I hadn’t eaten or drank anything since leaving Guernsey the previous morning! I carried on walking until I came across a cafe – a Starbucks – surprise. Actually this one was a surprise. It was tiny and out of the way with just one other person there. As I sat with my overpriced and undertasty sandwich and cranberry juice the most important tip lodged itself firmly in my mind – stay hydrated. It is important to remember that you don’t need to be exerting yourself to suffer from dehydration. You can simply do what I had – be dumb and not drink anything on a very hot day. I’ll certainly make sure to have a bottle of water in my bag at all time from now on.

After leaving the cafe, I realised that I was knackered, still dehydrated and that it would probably be for the best to sit down somewhere for a while. This is what I love about London. Even though Leicester Square was miles away, it was just a simple exercise to find the nearest tube station and make my where there. I seems to have become a tradition of mine to visit the Empire Cinema every time I visit London. It is a real pleasure to be reminded what a real cinema is like. This time I got there just in time for a showing of Public Enemies (Johnny Depp and Christian Bale). After the film it was time to head back to Victoria to catch the Express to the airport.

All in all a good little trip and a useful warm up for the USA which is now just in a couple of weeks.

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