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August 10, 2012 / Stephanie Vermillion

London 2012: Definitely an Ooh La La summer

I can’t believe the time has finally come to (painfully) pack up these over-stuffed suitcases and head on my way back states-side. As cliche as it sounds, it does seem like just yesterday that we got here and acquainted ourselves with the area, had our first fish ‘n chips and cheered for the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee weekend.

USA Women's National Team wins the Olympic football gold medal!

USA Women’s National Team wins the Olympic football gold medal!

Somehow the time in between 1,000 ships on the Thames June 3 and packing away our Kensington memories August 10 has been a fast but beautiful blur. That blur of memory after memory, day in and day out, became a surreal dream last night that will be forever in my mind. I was lucky enough to be at Wembley as the USA Women’s National Football Team beat Japan in the Olympic football finals for the gold medal.

For that 93+ minutes, time stood still (with my nervous heart beating rapidly), and when the final whistle blew signaling Team USA had won, unprecedented echoes of USA USA filled the stadium (and it sounded like most of London). From start to gold medal ceremony finish, I was on Club Wembley cloud nine (my favorite club nine of all time). Not only did this night make my trip complete, but watching our country (and my favorite USWNT) win gold under the Wembley lights to the tune of American chants may have just made my life complete.

I thought about putting together a post with highlights of my trip, but I stopped after 25. I had too many. Every single day was a new highlight. Some were as monumental as climbing a mountain, others as simple as a stroll through Chelsea for delicious gelato. No matter the degree of the experience, all were equally important and will be remembered forever. And once I start losing my mind and/or memory (insert joke about that happening years ago here), I’ll always have Ooh La La London to reread, remember and reflect.

I couldn’t condense that list of highlights, but I was able to pinpoint one major trip take away I plan to carry with me for the rest of my life. While studying, working and living in London, I made a conscious effort to do one thing every single day that fascinated me, challenged me or inspired me. I’m going to keep this tradition alive across the pond, and live like Stephanie the Londoner, inspired by one of my favorite travel quotes of all time:

To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson

Thanks for following along these past three months, it’s been way too much fun! My only words of wisdom are those plastered in every tacky tourist shop throughout London (where I get all my deepest knowledge), and that is: “Keep calm and carry on“. Oh, and seeing how last night went, go Team USA!

 

 

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August 8, 2012 / Stephanie Vermillion

London 2012 Olympics: doesn’t get better than this

As the days wrap up and my time in London comes to a close, I have to give a special, warm thank you to the London 2012 Olympics for letting me go out with a bang.

Usually I’m devastated at the end of my overseas traveling, with the looming flight ahead signaling vacation is over and it’s back to reality. But having the London 2012 Olympics (with tickets to the Mexico football game again last night) finish up my Ooh La La adventuring makes it slightly easier, because honestly, nothing tops the Olympics. Not even a shopping spree at Harrod’s (although I wouldn’t be opposed to having both … ?).

Mexico wins over Japan and advances to London 2012 gold medal game

Mexico wins over Japan and advances to London 2012 gold medal game

Mix the greatest games on Earth with celebrating the royal family (in person!), an unbeatable internship (where I met Bill Clinton at an event my first week!), climbing to the top of one of my favorite countries, and everything else, and I think I can dub this a success.

Oh, and (somehow) the best is still yet to come. In the 72 hours I have before boarding that Virgin Atlantic beauty, I’ll be cheering on the U.S. Women’s National Team in the Women’s Football Finals tomorrow at Wembley, and celebrating the end to a great summer at the Great British Beer Festival on Friday.

At some point I hope to sit down (maybe pack?) and grasp how unbelievable this all has been, but that can wait. My focus now is cheering on my favorite USA team to a well-deserved Olympic gold medal. #USA.

August 6, 2012 / Stephanie Vermillion

A sports lover’s dream weekend: The Olympics

I thought I had it good in the sports world living around the corner from Fenway Park in Boston (and sitting on the Green Monster, walking on the pitchers mound and all those unbelievable things), but this past weekend has given the Bean Town a run for its money. If you need to ask why, please take two seconds to connect the front page of every sports section worldwide with the name of my blog.

Yeah, you guessed it — we went to the Olympics. And not just the freebie Olympics like I had for cycling, I’m talking real deal, golden tickets here.

London 2012 Olympics Beach Volleyball

London 2012 Olympics Beach Volleyball

It was the perfect way to spend our last full weekend in London, starting Thursday night with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe theater tickets (so cute, until my stomach was bursting from one too many “Turkish delights”).

Friday morning was an early one, with Olympics Beach Volleyball tickets for 9 a.m. Not exactly the recipe for catching up on sleep, but we begrudgingly decided to suck it up and chug coffee at the Horse Guards Parade venue.

London 2012 Olympics Beach Volleyball

London 2012 Olympics Beach Volleyball

Note: I’m joking about hesitating over the decision of sleep or Olympics. I was up and at ’em, wide eyed like a kid on Christmas morning awaiting my first real Olympic event. And it surpassed every single expectation I had … which is likely to happen when the venue is set in Westminster, the most historic part of town. We watched women’s volleyball between Germany and Germany (three guesses on the outcome of that game), and men’s volleyball between Poland and Switzerland, with Poland coming out on top.

London 2012 Olympics Men's Football: Senegal v. Mexico

London 2012 Olympics Men’s Football: Senegal v. Mexico

Our successful post-game trip to Portobello Market was a sign that the weekend would continue on in flawless fashion, and Saturday at Wembley Stadium for the men’s quarterfinal game between Mexico and Senegal was more than perfect. The stadium was decked out in Olympic decor, which was much different than my last time being there. And the game was a nail biter, especially because I was one of the few people around me cheering for Senegal (since my parents went there on honeymoon, and it’s in my favorite continent, Africa, it was no question who my loyalty went to). It went into intense OT, and unfortunately my boys from Africa didn’t come out on top.

London 2012 Olympics Women's Marathon

London 2012 Olympics Women’s Marathon

And to top off a sports-addict weekend, Sunday morning a number of us faced the rain and went out to cheer on the Olympics Women’s  Marathon runners. The setting, like Horseguards Parade venue, was incredible. We cheered on the women with Big Ben towering over us, and although it was pouring rain, I got those same goosebumps I had during the Boston Marathon, which made me even more excited to get back home and get into full marathon training gear for the Columbus Marathon in October (despite the fact I’ll be finishing over an hour slower, and looking ten times more pained, than every single woman in that Olympics race).

August 2, 2012 / Stephanie Vermillion

Oh, the world of Olympics advertising

In 2008 when the last Olympics were held in Beijing, I was young, naiive, and positive I had a future in journalism.

Wow, I’m glad that changed. Not only would I be absent from London for the 2012 Olympics (unimaginable), but I’d also miss out on analyzing all the marketing initiatives that coincide with the Olympics season. With the combination of exciting sport and interesting ads, it’s like Superbowl Sunday spread over two weeks (but two weeks of the 2012 Pats/Giants Superbowl sound like an absolute nightmare).

Like all sporting-event-focused ads, more companies miss than hit. I stood at the intersection of Queen’s Gate and Cromwell just trying to understand how a language learning institute’s slogan: “Ready, set, LEARN FRENCH” was effective whatsoever. I fail to see the link between a runner at the starting blocks and … learning French. It’s smart that the institute attempted connecting with such a timely, important event. But maybe something a little more relevant, along the lines of connecting with the world at possibly the largest global event ever, the Olympics.

But it’s not all bad news over here on the Olympics marketing front. I’ve found two, in my opinion, fantastic marcomm initiatives that relate effectively to the Olympics.

1) Joseph’s storefront display in Chelsea perfectly draws in pedestrians walking by using the scene of an Olympic pool with athletes ready to compete. Not only does it build on the excitement surrounding the Olympics, especially with Great Britain’s colors on main display, but it also advertises the designer’s trendy swimsuits on all the athletes. Step one: draw them in via Olympics. Step two: once they’re looking, strategically have merchandise in place to entice purchasing. Joseph definitely deserves a gold for this one.

Olympics storefront display at Joseph in Chelsea, London

Olympics storefront display at Joseph in Chelsea, London

2) My second favorite ad campaign I’ve seen so far is from BT, a broadband, TV and home phone service. BT smartly sponsored, among other things, the Hyde Park venue which displays the Olympics games to the public for free on four large, movie-size screen TVs in the middle of the park. I realized immediately how perfect the picture on these screens could be, and it made me feel almost like I was at the games. Then I looked to the left and right of the screen, and saw the big BT plastered there. The connection? If I want to watch sports at this high quality (who doesn’t), then I better call up BT. Yet again, another winner — and after watching Murray win on the Hyde Park BT screen yesterday, I’d say it definitely deserves a gold, too.

Andy Murray on BT Live screen in Hyde Park

Andy Murray on BT Live screen in Hyde Park

July 30, 2012 / Stephanie Vermillion

With two weeks left, it’s time for fine London Indian dining

So, are you ready for a break from the Olympics yet? Yeah, me neither, but seeing as I just had my first London Indian restaurant experience, I think it’s best to halt my Olympic talk and switch to food while the wonderful smell of curry is seeping through my pores.

Amy and I had been saying for almost three months now that we needed to get good Indian food while in London, but the immediacy didn’t hit us until mapping out our last days, when we realized that 1.) we have so many bucket list restaurants to hit up, and 2.) we only have 12 days left. Time to eat, drink, be merry and make Indian reservations, for next Saturday we depart.

So we did, making post-dinner reservations at Tamarind Indian Restaurant — the same one we sampled at Taste of London, talk

Tamarind: Papdi chana chaat: spiced chickpeas, with tamarind chutney, sweetened yoghurt, gram flour crisps and a sprinkling of blueberries, London

Look familiar? This was the Papdi chana chaat we tried at Taste of London!

about effective, behavior-changing marketing!. That one little sample of papdi chana chaat had us sold on Tamarind, and when we were reunited with that beautiful spiced chickpeas, tamarind chutney, sweetened yoghurt, gram flour crisps and blueberry dish, we knew we had made the right choice.

The entire meal was the perfect London Indian we had been craving, with the biggest, best samosas I’ve ever tasted and some delicious vegetarian options. Fortunately the post-meal weather was nice as well, because it was more than necessary for us to walk off the naan and rice filling our button-bursting stomachs.

I must say, though, somehow this fancy Indian meal still didn’t match up to my favorite Indian restaurant of all time, Amar India. No matter how many places I try,  nothing ever does. But I’m crossing my fingers that changes this August when Mount Adams’ new Indian restaurant, Mantra on the Hill, is .1 mile from my apartment. For those of you wondering, yes my dad Google Map’d it the second I signed my lease … you know where to find us move in weekend!

 

July 29, 2012 / Stephanie Vermillion

London 2012 Day One: Men’s Cycling, my first-ever Olympic event

After having stayed up what felt like all night Friday to watch the Opening Ceremonies (by all night I mean 1 a.m., crazy, I know), it took pure London 2012 adrenaline to get me up and moving Saturday morning for my first-ever Olympics event, men’s cycling.

London 2012 Olympics Men's Cycling (from Yahoo Sports)

London 2012 Olympics Men’s Cycling (from Yahoo Sports)

Seeing as the Olympics ticketing has been nothing short of a nightmare over here (we lucked out just getting three games), I’m making sure to take advantage of all free Olympic events I can, such as men’s cycling.

The route for London 2012’s Olympic cycling began in central London and extended out of the city and back for a total of 156 miles. With that extra Olympic energy and a Starbucks stop on the way, Carolyn and I got an early enough start to get a perfect viewing point in Knightsbridge.

As expected with speedy Olympics cyclists, the group of bikes came and went in the blink of an eye on their way out of the city. We carried on our day watching swimming and gymnastics in Hyde Park, feeling confident we had seen all we could of live cycling (we had no idea where it ended, which is probably the result of my inability to read maps).

Later that day, about 5 hours and 40 minutes later, I was on a late afternoon walk through London and stumbled into a huge crowd of people. At first I was annoyed, beginning to understand why Londoners are so dreading the next few weeks. But then, about 4 minutes later (one minute before Kazakhstan’s Alexandr Vinokourov won the race), I realized that the cycling race started and ended in central London, right along the pall mall — my usual walking route.

Therefore, I was right in the thick of it, and not the least bit annoyed because the race was intense up until the very end, I was able to get start-to-finish footage of it unexpectedly, and I got a second round of my Olympics adrenaline rush for an afternoon pick-me-up starting with a high intensity power walk back home.

July 28, 2012 / Stephanie Vermillion

Mr. Bean brings in the London Olympics at the 2012 Opening Ceremonies

Last night was the night I had been waiting for since I got accepted into my Boston U graduate program over a year ago — the 2012 Olympics’ Opening Ceremonies in London, my summer place of residence. When I put two and two together last spring (acceptance letter + BU London 2012 study abroad), I couldn’t believe my luck. And last night with the Opening Ceremony stir throughout the city, those feelings of giddiness and awe took over again.

Unfortunately my status as a student, not multi-millionaire, left me without an actual Opening Ceremonies ticket (the most “reasonable” price we could find was well above $1,500), so Amy and I had to adjust accordingly, celebrating over Fullers and English food instead of glitter, gold and unexpected guest, Lord Voldemort.

We found a nice American couple to sit with at the pub since seating had filled up so quickly, which was perfect for sharing freedom fries and planning USA cheers for when the stars and stripes entered the arena.  But, as we found out, it took hours upon hours of history lessons, hospital beds and crazy fireworks before we could do our “hip hip hooraying”.

The further the ceremonies went, though, it was nice to have some third party reassurance that we weren’t alone in thinking much of the Opening Ceremony celebrations were slightly strange and a bit confusing.

But then again, it just simply wouldn’t be the Olympics without an … enormous … lifeless, um … baby … right?

While I was a bit unsure at some parts of the ceremony, I have to say that Mr. Bean’s surprise appearance was brilliant, and by far my favorite part of the night (besides the Queen speaking of course, she’ll always place first in my book!). It’s been far too long since I’ve been connected with Mr. Bean, and no matter how childish his humor is, he’ll always crack me up.

With my first place/gold and second place/silver of personal favorites from the ceremonies going to the Queen and Mr. Bean, I still have my third place/bronze to give out, which without a doubt goes to the American study abroad students at the pub pulling out a huge stars and stripes flag followed by the “USA, USA” chant when our nation’s athletes entered the arena. It was the perfect way to support our soon-to-be gold-medal country, which could have only been improved with one slight wardrobe change: less cute sundress and more “patriotic” Boston Halloween costume (sorry no link here … if you really want to see the ultimate America costume, you’ll have to closely watch my “Boston, it’s been real” video).

Before signing off, I have a final, incredibly important observation from the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremonies:

1. Kevin Garnett would look 1,000 times better representing team USA than Kobe. Disagree all you’d like, but I have proof: