July 30, 2012

Postcards From London - 7-29-12

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Over the next several days, GoIslanders.com will bring you "Postcards from London," as assistant soccer coach Lauren "Money" Molinaro blogs about her trip to the XXX Olympiad. Here is her second entry, discussing her first full day overseas, July 29. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Waking up this morning is not as easy as I think it's going to be. Last night, I did everything humanly possible, short of sticking toothpicks in my eyelids, to stay awake until 11 p.m. It was sort of a preemptive strike against jetlag, but it appears to have failed since I'm just opening my eyeballs now and the glow of my cell phone displays 12:06 p.m. You think getting 13 hours of sleep would make my morning run easier, but that saying, "more equals better" does not necessarily apply to sleep. Regardless, I run for a few miles through Greenwich, during which I learn the importance of looking BOTH ways in a country that drives on the left hand side of the street. I also, oddly enough, run through a carnival blasting the song "Close to You" by Maxi Priest. As a child of the '80s and '90s I couldn't be happier.

I arrive back at Gabe's flat to find an awesome Facebook message waiting for me. My good friends, Nata and Gaven are in London near Hyde Park until Tuesday morning, and they want to hang out. "Lovely," I think. And then I think "Lovely? Really, Lauren?" I've been here for a day and the British are already rubbing off on me.

A quick shower and a morning coffee from the corner shop, and I'm on my way to find the Tube. I say find because yesterday I had Gabe with me. Today is a different story. Conveniently, there are 12 workers wearing the London 2012 purple and orange who direct me to the Greenwich station. I head the opposite way today, west, into London Bridge and then Green Park. This process is made easier by Matt, a London native, who walks me to my change from the DLR to the Jubilee line. During our time together, I learn he spent a year at Duke and that he almost took a job in Groton, Conn., 30 minutes from my old house. The world really is small.

I reach Green Park station and head straight for Buckingham Palace. This is exciting for two reasons. One, the finish line for women's cycling is there, and two, it's Buckingham Palace, and I've never seen it in person. Add to that the thrill of seeing my old friends and the possibility of seeing the Changing of the Guard, and I'm one happy camper.

The plan is to meet outside Buckingham Palace at the Canadian gate. The tricky thing is none of us have cell phones, and I'm 30 minutes later than our scheduled meeting time, so I'm kind of just hoping that they are near the gate. At this point there are literally hu ndreds of people leaving Hyde Park as I am trying to get in. I can only conclude that women's cycling has ended, but I continue on, hilariously navigating the crowd like a fish swimming upstream.  

I reach the gate, scan the crowd, and then I hear familiar voices shouting my name. We're reunited, and yes, it feels so good. Gaven's mom is here too, and the four of us head for the Palace gates. This is where I introduce them to Izzy. They love him! And we all take pictures by Buckingham Palace. Sadly, there is no Changing of the Guard ceremony today, but the grandeur of the Palace is enough for me. And the fountains across from it are simply beautiful.

After a quick peek at the map, we decide to hike to Tower Hill where the Olympic Rings are hanging from the Tower Hill Bridge. This is the bridge from the Opening Ceremony, and it's supposed to be impressive. We reach the bottom of a hill by London's Middle Tower, and the sight of the hanging rings is really cool. Loads of tourists are there snapping pictures, and we are no different. We also jump in line to grab a picture with the Beefeater Mandeville. (Izzy desperately wanted one, and we couldn't say no.)    

Now it's 6 p.m. and time to begin our travels to the Olympic Park back in Stratford. At Stratford, we part ways. My friends do not have tickets and apparently, overall, non-Europeans are having a hard time finding tickets. No one can buy them at the venues, and word on the street is you must order them online with a European ID and corresponding European address.

I meet Gabe at Riverbank Arena. It's Sunday, so it's time for some field hockey. The first game is Great Britain vs. Japan. It is simply incredible being in the stands with the home crowd. Chants of "GB" fill up the stadium, and a brass band plays "When the Saints Go Marching In" as the host nation floors past Japan 4-0.

Next is Germany versus USA. Germany is apparently ranked number 1, and they are a very technical team. They remind me of the Japanese women's soccer team, and they are also strong, fast and creative. The neat thing is that the United States are strong as well. This game is incredible. The Germans go up 2-0 in the first half, with their second goal being one of the best I've ever seen. Not that I've seen a ton of field hockey in my time, but to use soccer terms, a midfielder sends a through ball to a forward who literally slaps the ball with her backhand into the near post, "Upper 90." It's awesome!

In the second half, the Americans play great, score an excellent goal, and battle to the end, but ultimately just fall short of a draw. Exiting the stadium, I see the Statue of Liberty walking with Uncle Sam and an American Flag. It is really neat to see people with such national pride. I mean, perhaps they just like dressing up. Whatever the case, I like it.   

I round out the night with some cactus tacos, ceviche layered chips, and fried squid. Who knew I would enjoy fried squid so much? I mean I can't say I feel the same about cactus in a taco, but if I were starving in the desert, I'm sure it would suffice. Gabe and I grab a quick cappuccino for our Tube ride home and he introduces me to the Paralympic sport of blind soccer. This is the most incredible sport I have ever heard of, and I can't wait to watch it during the paralympics in September. Here's a link and an introduction to the sport. It's truly incredible. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyffyZLoIkc

Apparently, I don't know how to make a short postcard entry… So I guess you can expect the same tomorrow.

From London 2012 –

It's $$

GO ISLANDERS!