Sunday, August 28, 2016

SHOTS FROM LONDON (Part 7): The House with the Blue Door

(This is the last part of our series on the London trip, and i hope everyone had as much fun reading these posts as i had visiting it. Cheers!)

If you are like me, a huge fan of the Julia Roberts / Hugh Grant romantic comedy "Notting Hill", then a stroll around the Notting Hill area is definitely in order. 

First of all, Notting Hill is definitely quite a posh part of town. Lots of huge mansions and handsome flats here.

It's quite easy to search online for 'self-guided walking tours' of Notting Hill, should one wish to see where various spots where the film was shot. And that's exactly what i did on my last day in London, before taking the evening flight back to my home country.

Among the highlights were: 

This was Max and Bella's house in the movie, located at 91 Lansdowne Road. Diehards will recall that Will Thacker (Hugh Grant's character) surprised his friends by bringing Anna Scott (the famous American actress played by Julia Roberts) as his dinner date for the house party. 

The main commercial strip is Portobello Road, well known for its weekend antique market. It is worth exploring, with interesting stores; and an inordinate number of coffee shops and gourmet burger bars. 

Here's the travel bookshop where Will and  his funny assistant Martin worked, located right on this main street:

Well, of course it wasn't a travel bookshop in real life. It's actually a gift shop selling trinkets that hapless tourists fall for.

The highlight of the walk was to check out the famous house with the blue door, where Will lived. If one recalls, he accidentally bumped into Anna on the street, spilling orange juice all over her shirt. He pointed at the blue door, and offered to take her there, where she could change clothes and be back on the street in a "non-prostitute sense." Then they had their "surreal but nice" conversation, and kissed, and ...okay okay, i'm not gonna narrate the whole movie ;-D 

 Write this down. It’s located at 280 Westbourne Park Road. And if you look at the area map closely (see above photo), it is actually featured there.

To digress a bit: The house with the blue door was actually owned by the movie's screenwriter, Richard Curtis. He eventually sold it (after its value went up after the movie, so you could say the movie was the world's most expensive and elaborate real property advertisement ;-D). The new owners got tired of tourists (like me) who search for it, and painted the door black (boo!) and removed the number (boo!). Eventually, they changed heart (cheers!) and now it is back to its familiar blue colour. 

Ah, back to our stroll. Westbourne Park Road intersects Portobello Road, so it is quite easy to find. Here's a tip: It's the junction where there are three coffee shops: 

The house is something like ten steps away from the Starbucks. And here it is. Wallah!

Don't knock, though. Will and Anna are in the US, and Spike is having a hot tub bath. 

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!)