A few pics...
When in London, I took a few pics (I whittled them down to five pages on photobucket) to illustrate my upcomming trip report,
"Everythiing about London except skating...."
I do not claim these are good pics...indeed, they are not...and some are meaningful only to me...
But here are the raw pics before I have made the guide to them, and the trip report is about done.
London Ontario Canada trip report, Worlds 3-13 (draft. Pics not labeled yet)
(I write these trip reports for my own reference and future amusement. Some of the stories, like the one I wrote about the nude girl than ran into my motel room and locked me out, I can cut and paste into emails for other’s amusement, at my expense. Also, if in years to come, if an event is in the same place, I can refer to my notes. Pictures posted on Photobucket are referenced in parenthesis where applicable. For instance, the pic of the the brown water coming out of the hotel tap has a reference of (A1)) I do not claim these are great photos…they are merely memories for me but they do serve to point out interesting features of an event.)
120 odd pics at
Flying to London is relatively easy. United and Air Canada are partners. I didn’t sleep Friday night and rose at 3 am to catch a 5:45 am flight. The first thing one notes when arriving in London is how friendly and helpful everyone is. Upon arrival at the airport, I walked down a short corridor and was greeted by a nice lady behind a podium who took the custom form I filled out on the airplane and asked a few simple questions. That was it. (getting out of the country is an entirely different matter)
I picked up my suitcase and there was a greeting party of well-dressed men and women from a local skating club who were very helpful at answering questions for Worlds attendees and handing out useful pamphlets. Some hotels had shuttle buses to/from the airport and some don’t. Mine didn’t. The cab drivers I met, save one, were all friendly and accommodating. The cab fares are done by zone or meter, which ever was lower, IIRC. The ride to my hotel was $37.50 plus tip. The four mile ride from my hotel to the arena costs $18.50. The bus ride from my hotel to the arena was about $2 when six tickets were bought at once (from a gas station)
The bus drivers went out of their way to make sure that skating fans knew where to get off and where to walk when they did leave the bus. It was possible, with one transfer, to reach most hotels from the airport by bus and save some money.
My hotel, the Quality Inn and Suites, had to shut down operations 2 days before due to a break in a water pipe flooding parts of floors 1 and 2 and taking out the fire alarm system. By the time I arrived, the alarm was operational and they had a room for me on the third floor . The room was very nice and had a recycling bucket, which I thought a great idea. Indeed, many areas of London had recycling areas. I turned on the water tap for the bathtub/shower and brown water came out (A1). It soon cleared up, however, and I assumed this had something to do with the water pipe fix. I went downstairs, reported the brown water, which they knew about, and asked for more bottled water from the front desk person, who told me it would be charged to my room. The manager was sitting in her office a few feet away and told the front desk person to NOT charge any bottled water to my room. That was nice of her. The next morning, I had my usual large hot breakfast in the hotel buffet area and walked over to the White Oaks Mall across the street. The Wal-Mart was open so I bought some food items and except for the currency, and the queue lines instead of US style checkout lines to the registers, I could have been in the states. When one has left one’s country for the first time, it is natural to look for differences from home. After the speed limit signs, one notices the thermostat is in Celsius. My room heat didn’t work but the staff soon put that right. We were instructed to stay out of the way of the workers on the second and first floors but by Sunday, they were about done and the displaced persons were returning from other hotels where they had been farmed out to. This Sunday being a fine day, I went down to the arena area and checked things out.
The arena is in an old part of town but London really cleaned things up, according to the papers. While there are a number of fine restaurants around the arena, my favorites were LaCasa and Waldo’s Bistro in the Covent Market building (CM) next to the arena. Waldos is managed by a retired senior Canadian Lady figure skater from 18 years ago. I did have a burger at “The Works” (A6) and it was very good but not $14 good. The CM is a huge asset for the area. The place is wonderful. Think of a mall with 52 vendors selling all manner of flowers, pots and fresh, raw and cooked food with a mezzanine level with small tables and a large are of the mezzanine with a large glass wall with tables and a big screen TV to watch the skating on. (A2series) I never had to eat arena food as there was plenty of tasty healthy food available next door at the CM. The odd thing was that this wonderful place shut down normally at 6pm, but the building owners had agreed to keep it open to 7:30 pm for the event, which if you know anything about skating is way too early and I am sure the vendors would have liked to stay open as the place was packed for 5 days with fans and the locals who came down to see the light show, etc.
Monday was the first day of practice. The arena is about 10 years old. It normally holds about 9,000 people but 2200 seats, depending who you talked to, were sacrificed for the camera areas and judge areas, announcers, press, and for open seating for credentialed folk, and for security of all the above. A large number of sections therefore were cordoned off to the public along with their bathrooms. (need pic ref. of empty sections) Men’s bathrooms were turned into ladies rooms. As at most figure skating events, there were still long lines at the ladies rooms and folks soon learned to time their breaks during a skate that they really didn’t need to see. It appeared to me that the normally high ratio of women to men at a skating event was even higher here in London. Luckily, you could leave and enter the arena at will with just a “scan in” at each re-entry, so I used the CM bathrooms and porta potties next to the CM set up for the locals who came down to watch the laser light show or the big screen TV outside the arena. ( It was also quick to leave the arena and get some healthy food at the CM during an ice resurface, for instance.) Others found “secret” bathrooms on arena levels 2 and 3 in out of the way places. According to the papers, the local restaurants, many of which were more than a block away, were not told about the very short breaks for eating in the schedule and thought they would have so many customers that they put on way too many extra help.
Besides lines for the bathrooms and lines for the arena food, there was a tremendous line all week to get into the “cage” that held the official merchandise. (A21, A26). This booth, the size of a small living room, was open at 10 am from Wednesday on and mostly held clothes, media guides and programs. There were only 1000 media guides printed and luckily there was another table that sold them and programs only (they ran out of programs for a few days but I heard they got some more in). The wait to get into the official merchandise cage could easily be 1 ½ hours. All these lines made walking around the available concourse for exercise difficult and claustrophobic. Walking to the CM was much better, in my opinion. Besides, I could sit on the second level of the mezzanine and shoot pics of my favorite skaters shopping, like Mao (A2B)
The arena seats were unpadded plastic, with some having a minimal amount of padding. My aisle seat measured 18.5 inches from the inside arm rest edge to the other inside arm rest edge. My blowup seat cushion, a Christmas gift from my wife, really came in handy. There was little leg room and no cup holders, (need pic ref) which I thought odd for a facility that held 40 hockey games a year. The arena was kept on the cool side all week. Practices were very well attended and we were politely asked early in the week to take our bought seats but if there was no one around, we could move up or sit with friends as long as we gave up the borrowed seat to its owner should he/she come along. Regrettably, obstructed view seats were sold at full price ($1400) and without warning. Since most events were near sellouts, the seat holders were told they would have to watch the video screens when the skaters disappeared behind the cameras, judges, etc. The ushers worked very hard at finding people who seemed to not understand the concept of not flashing their cameras. Very few ushers were ignorant of the fact that fans were not allowed to wander to their seats from the concourse during a performance. I would rate the usher’s conduct as very good, all and all, the best usher being the lady who got some bodily fluid on her from a sick fan who managed to get to the concrete steps to the concourse before loosing her lunch.
My seat was in row 13 in the lower bowl. The arena pitch was fine, as you would expect from a hockey pitch arena. The pitch of the upper bowl was so steep I experience vertigo sitting up there, as I did for a short time for a trial. Different people have different preferences for seats, of course. I like rows 1-5 as I can see the skater’s faces. Some folk like to sit higher up to see patterns in ice dance, for instance. Luckily, if one came early enough in the morning, there was little trouble sitting near the ice to see run-throughs and shoot pics. I did not make it over to the second (practice) venue.
I really enjoyed talking with the Canadian attendees. At first, it was hard for me to figure out exactly who they were and what their main interests were in being there. There can be no doubt that skating is alive and well in Canada and enjoyed by many enthusiastic followers. But the ambiance was more than that. I think many there may have not been die hard skating fans but enjoyed supporting things Canadian and were proud to be Canadian. Everyone I talked to was friendly and willing to share their thoughts about their country and did not lash out at everything American. Frankly, I was amazed at the stories they told me about how things were in Quebec as far as the teaching and usage of the English language there, by law. I am going to do a bit more research about their statements out of curiosity.
After the Canadians, the next most numerous fans were from the US. I would guess the third most numerous fans were Japanese ladies, mostly young and well dressed. Oriental ladies seem to bring the most delightful banners with them to events, some of which I would not mind having in my living room.
I really enjoyed reading the London Free Press/ National post. I brought some back with me to read later. The quality of the media seems to be much higher in Canada than, for instance, in Spokane. They seem more concerned with important issues, local, national and international and less with Kim Kardashian. Reading about the proposed Keystone Pipeline, from a Canadian perspective, was interesting and informative and fairly presented, for instance.
The currency is interesting in that while Americans have handily refused to use dollar coins and cling to their pennies, the Canadians have wisely chosen to chuck the penny but only have a dollar coin, no dollar bill. There is nothing wrong with this other than making the pocket a bit heavier. The Canadians have again wisely made the loonies and toonies large enough and of a different color so that there is no way to confuse them with quarters. The arena food vendors, I was told, did not take American cash or cards of any type. I did not buy any arena food save smoothies and I did bring cash from the states. The money changer booth at the Toronto airport charged $10 to change money, plus exchange rate, for any funds under $600. My bank told an untruth to me twice. They told me there would be no charge to obtain Canadian currency if I ordered it two weeks in advance (there was a $10 fee) and then when I picked up the cash they told me there would be no charge to turn in the Canadian money when I returned( there was a $10 fee). I wish I had a record of the people who told me the untruths so I could have fought the matter on principle.
While the Laser light show did nothing for me personally (we in the arena mostly ignored it) the huge outdoor screen showing the arena video feed was pretty cool and useful in that one could wander around outside during ice resurfaces, etc. , escape the crowds inside and know what was going on in the arena. (A24 series) Many locals came downtown and sat in the Skate Canada tent and enjoyed music, etc. there.
One comical event I may never forget occurred when I was in the CM on the second level eating area, catching some rays from the large glass window wall, watching the first flights of men on the big screen TV, and waiting for the major players to hit the ice. Suddenly, the audio feed for the TV speaker system was switched from the arena feed to the audio from the Skate Canada tent, where they were playing what I will call for lack of a better term “Arab Bazaar” music. Nice world music to be sure, but oddly, some of the skaters seemed to be skating to this music. This lasted for maybe five skaters.
Having sold my gala ticket for $100 due to deciding to leave on Sunday, I was in the lobby of my hotel checking out and met up with two nice older Canadian ladies I had met earlier in the week. They were upset about the arena facilities and operations and wanted me to write Skate Canada and complain as they were going to do. It was unclear to me why they were so upset, other than the long lines for everything and no time to eat and no bathrooms, etc. Maybe they had obstructed view seats. All in all I thought the event was well put on despite a few glitches, mostly due to the small arena. Certainly, London did well. There were plenty of police officers, the large majority of locals were very friendly, and the downtown area was clean. There was little sign of gang influence, unlike Spokane.
The needle drop boxes were discrete and there was a sign warning gang members to not wear their colors/clothing by law (A25, 35). I saw no evidence of tagging.
After all the friendly locals, bus drivers and cabbies, I did meet one “interesting” person on my way to the airport. This cabbie talked all the way to the terminal about himself. He was an Arab Algerian. He said he was taking his kids back to Algeria as Canada was no place to raise kids. The divorce rate was 90% in Canada (this is not true. He also said the fare would be a bit over $30, which I knew was wrong). The Taliban in the Middle East was misunderstood and did not deal in opium. I listened politely while wishing the airport was a shorter distance away than it was.
I had no idea how to officially “ leave” Canada, but I figured I would just follow the crowds. At London Airport, Canadian Air security was much different that TSA security. They were very friendly and cared not about my shoes, belt, or 3-1-1 plastic bag. I boarded the high wing turboprop plane to Toronto and during the takeoff roll, there was what we pilots refer to as an “uncommanded” yaw prior to rotation. It felt like one of the wheels got caught in a rut. Soon after takeoff, the pilot came on the intercom and told us not to worry, but the yaw might mean that we blew a tire on takeoff and that he was going to lower the gear and have the first officer take a look at the tires (small aircraft may not have remote tire pressure senders). This was done and nothing out of sorts was observed. We landed at Toronto without incident.
At Toronto, I stopped the first airport worker I saw and asked them where I went to catch my flight to Denver. She described the procedure for me so I followed the signs for “departures” and soon found a lady directing people traffic. I went to a kiosk, put in my boarding pass, answered a few questions, and went to a monitor till my name appeared. I then went to another lady at a podium who checked my boarding pass and sent me to a queue for customs. I was called to booth #34 and answered more questions as well as presented my customs form. I then was directed to another line, this time of 125 people to go through TSA security, just like at a US airport. I was released into the departure terminal for United flights to the US. Had I know of the procedure, I would allow perhaps 2 hours between flights. As things turned out, I had three hours. Other than a medical emergency on one flight home, there were no more issues.
In fact, I have to say over the six flights on this trip, other than the blizzard in Denver, the shut down runway at O’Hara due to a dead plane on one of the active runways (“We are number 25 for takeoff”), the uncommanded yaw, and the medical emergency, the flights went well as I had good seatmates.
Note to self: Never ever book a flight that leaves at 5:45 am again.