Thursday, August 04, 2016

SHOTS FROM LONDON (Part 6): Strawberries & Cream at Wimbledon


Today was a big day. Newman and i were watching Wimbledon again, but unlike yesterday [refer to previous post] wherein we queued for hours in the morning, today was going to be easy-peasy. Why? We had tickets, that's why. Reserved seats! At Court No. 3! [fist pump ala Lleyton]

So, how to score tickets for Wimbledon? Well, if you live outside the United Kingdom, basically your only chance is to join the Wimbledon Overseas Public Ticket Ballot, through its official website. It usually opens sometime November, and closes on December 31st. 

All you need to do is type in (or more accurately, all the AELTC requests for are) your name, address, contact no. and email address. Lucky winners are chosen by a random computer process, so it is not possible to choose when you want to watch, which court, how many persons, and/or how many days.  Given the massive demand vs. the severely limited supply of tickets. the AELTC can afford to be snooty. Hehe!

When i received this email from the AELTC sometime in February, i nearly fell off my chair in surprise:

     We are pleased to offer you the following tickets for The Championships, 2016:


The amount due is 96.00 GBP

Payment must be made by THURSDAY 25 FEBRUARY


After i made my payment by credit card, i got this email reminder from them:

You will be required to collect the tickets in person from the AELTC via Gate 4 on the day of play. You will need to show photographic identification which shows your name (e.g. passport or driving licence) as well as a current proof of address (issued within the last 3 months of tickets collection) which matches the name and address with which you applied (e.g. utility bill, bank statement etc) in order to collect your tickets. Tickets will not be released to a third party.

Yesterday, our efforts to queue were rewarded by good weather most of the day. At the outside courts with no reserved seats, one could really see the action up close:

Daria Gavrilova in action.

Check out the nattily-attired linesmen:

One of my favorites, the rising Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia:

Today was unfortunately a bit different. The infamous London weather was rearing its ugly head, and forecast for the day was rain, rain and more rain. True enough, the order of play kept on getting delayed, and finally started around 1 PM. 

Check out the old-fashioned board showing the order of play:

Here's our vantage point from our reserved seats on Court No. 3. Unfortunately, play kept on getting suspended as rain showers came and went and came back. 

Here's how the ballboys and grounds crew unfurl the tarp, to cheers and whistles from the crowd: 


With play suspended for the most part of the day, there wasn't really much to do except wait. And do some retail therapy, courtesy of the Wimbledon shops: 

The queues were horrendous at the cashier (or "till", as the Brits call it), and there was much jostling around. There was a dizzying array of official Wimbledon branded merchandise, from the usual tennis apparel to the high-end Polo Ralph Lauren line; oversized tennis balls, stuffed toys, keychains, mugs and tumblers and the like; even a nifty-looking Powerbank that Newman bought. 

And you have never been to Wimbledon if you haven't tried the famed strawberries and cream:

Not a bad deal for GBP2.50. 

The programmes are overpriced at GBP10.00. Resist the urge! 

After yet another rain delay, there was hope of play resuming around 5PM. But just when all the covers were unfurled off the courts, and the official having put his palm on the grass and affirmed it was suitable for play, and the ballboys having folded the players' towels, raindrops started falling hard again (argghhhh).

I was at the nearly empty Court No. 17, with only another tennis fan and some officials nearby. Ten feet away from us was the veteran pro Feliciano Lopez. Upon seeing the raindrops, he glanced at our direction and shrugged, "Guess we are done for today." His words proved prophetic, and play was suspended for the rest of the day. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

SHOTS FROM LONDON (Part 5): The Queue at Wimbledon

When Newman suggested before the trip that we queue to watch Wimbledon, i very nearly blanched and didn't really find his suggestion appetizing.  What i had heard was that one had to queue overnight on open grounds (i.e. pitch a tent, cook one's food, etc.) just to be able to score a ticket for the next day's tennis matches. Tough luck if it's raining cats and dogs.

Newman forwarded to me an article from The Telegraph, which explained the All-England Lawn Tennis & Croquet (AELTC) Club's set-up: Every day, they make available a limited number of tickets for the "show courts" (i.e. Centre Court, Court No. 1 and Court No. 2) - rumoured, but not confirmed,  to be five hundred in total; and several thousand "grounds passes", which entitles one to watch the action (unreserved seats) on the smaller, outside courts No. 3 - 19. 

So, if you are a tennis fanatic and/or want to see the top stars play, then you will have to camp overnight for the 'show court' tickets. But if you are content to see lesser lights in action on the outside courts, then just drop by 7AM on the day and join the queue; and more likely than not, you will be able to obtain a grounds pass. 

So, on a balmy Tuesday morning, Newman and i alighted from the Southfields underground station (Important tip: Get off at Southfields, not at Wimbledon station) and hurried off to find the queue.

Check out the subway station seats decked out in the traditional Wimbledon colours, dark green and purple, with "In Pursuit of Greatness" printed. Puts one right in the mood to watch some tennis! 

We followed the direction where everyone else was walking to, and pretty soon saw this sign:

We came upon an open grassy parking lot. Lo and behold! Thousands and thousands of people already lined up! [gasp]

The important thing is to get one's Queue Card, being handed out to everyone by the stewards. DO NOT LOSE THIS.  It is numbered and date-stamped (see below). No, you cannot get queue cards for "five of my friends, who are coming in a bit"; strictly one per person.  Newman and i were the 3,498th and 3,499th people on the queue for this day, so i silently hoped they'd let at least 3,500 in!

As it was just 7:30AM, and the AELTC gates open at 10:30AM, there was nothing to do but wait. (and wait and keep on waiting, whether patiently or not) So here are some guidelines to make the wait more bearable: 

Bring a book or a tablet for entertainment. Make sure your attire (especially your shoes) is suitable for inclement weather (the British lady behind us stated that, even if it was stormy and pouring hard, people simply unfurl their umbrellas and raincoats, and continued to be in line). Bring some snacks and drinks, although fortunately, there were some food stalls and portable toilets.

It had rained the night before, so the grass was slightly damp with some muddy patches. One enterprising newspaper, The Telegraph, offered an appetizing promotion: Just buy a copy of the newspaper, and one gets a 'special' gift.

 It composed of a textile cloth (in checkered colours very similar to dark green and purple, to boot!) with wet-proof backing, perfectly suitable for laying on the ground; as well as a transparent rain poncho. So one could lie on the ground in comfort:

The Japanese guy in front of us had bought the paper, and very kindly offered us to sit with him, much to my eternal gratitude. He was taking a week-long holiday, and visiting London and Prague. 

Another reminder: Please do not try to jump the queue. The stewards do their rounds and check from time to time. It is simply unsporting behaviour to do so.

Slowly, but surely, the queue lurched forward in increments; and we could feel a bit of nervous excitement as the prospect of finally entering the gates (and having our queue cards converted to actual grounds passes) neared. 

As for those people camped out in tents (they were on the queue for tomorrow's show court tickets), here was one way they passed the time:

As we keep on walking towards the gates, we passed by this sign. No selfie sticks, please. 

Once inside the gate, we passed the very strict security checks, akin to airport standards. There are restrictions on what items one can bring, as well as the size of one's bag/backpack, so it is imperative to check the official Wimbledon site beforehand. 

When you see this sign below, you feel like "yes, we've made it!!" :D

Finally, Newman and i reached the ticket turnstiles. Which brings me to another tip: Bring cash. The grounds pass costs GBP25.00, strictly on cash basis only. Don't tell me you lined up for hours, and your wallet lacked cold cash? Not very smart. 


And once you entered the hallowed grounds, all the hassle and inconvenience experienced from the queue just evaporates the very moment you see the famed grass courts:

(Stay tuned for the next Wimbledon post!)

Saturday, July 23, 2016

SHOTS FROM LONDON (Part 4): Gelato Festival at Old Spitalfields Market

The ending point of our East End London food walking tour (see previous post) was near the Old Spitalfields Market, so i decided to check it out further. It proved to be quite worthwhile, as this market has a good mix of stalls selling antiques, leather goods, books, vintage eyeglass frames (!), etc.; as well as funky shops (Montezuma's innovative British chocolate, in particular) and restaurants.

Lots of interesting food stalls here. And there was a huge lunch time crowd, composed mainly of white-collar office worker types. 

But the happiest 'stumble upon' of all was the ongoing Gelato Festival right in the middle of the market.  I really dug the old-style poster very much (below).

This event was apparently quite a big deal. Now on its 7th year, the Gelato Festival has nine stages (Florence, Parma, Rome, Naples, Turin, Milan, London, Berlin, Valencia), involving twenty two of Europe's master gelato makers. 

Check out the Gelato Laboratory! 

To start eating the gelato, all one needed to do was buy a Gelato Card. A bit pricey, and with the catch that the Gelato Card was valid only on the day of purchase. In short, if you buy a card for GBP18.00, you get to pig out on eat-all-you-can gelato for one day!

Fortunately, for folks like me who were conscious of their waistlines and calorie counts [*fit of coughing*], there was the option to buy a Gelato Card for one scoop at GBP5.00, or two scoops at GBP8.00.

I duly chose the two-scoop option. First flavor i tried was the Ricotta Cheese, which proved to be quite light and refreshing and full of goodness and light! I could have gone back for a 2nd and a 3rd and a 4th scoop for this flavour!

The guy behind the counter was a friendly sort of bloke as well, so i mentally reminded myself to get his name and introduce him to my friend cheeky Femme. ;-D

Next up was an array of flavours from maker Pernigotti.

After some deliberation, i chose the Peru 'Molto Intenso' flavour. It proved to be too intense (bordering on deep, bitter taste), and i could only finish half of the scoop. It wasn't bad, to be clear; just best eaten in small doses.

I already bookmarked the Gelato Festival website, and hope to 'accidentally' stumble upon it again next year, in another city maybe!