Saturday, July 5, 2008

Upton Park Experience, and Dinner in Basildon

April 26th - Match Day in West Ham

We again lied in after being up a little late watching TV but allowing time for recovery as well. We had probably pushed things a bit more than expected, so girl was feeling a bit exhausted. But today was a big day, as we were going to see West Ham take on Newcastle. In following the Hammers for years, they tend to be a bit unpredictable in terms of play and injuries. You never know who might be injured at any given time and it's hard to predict which team will show up to play, as they tend to win games they probably shouldn't and lose games they should be killing in. In some respects, it's like following our own local team, the Timbers.

We were told up north that people in London don't dress for match day or chat as much as they do. I wasn't sure if it was just playing down other fans or what, but the crowd on the tube was very large. It was a 3 Pm kickoff, so we left our flat just after noon to head out east. We saw a few Newcastle fans boarding trains as well, and once we got on the tube, I finally felt like it was match day. There were dozens of folks in various kits and polos with the Hammers' colors, and when we reached the Upton Park station, it was a near mass exodus. We wandered up the platform stairs, and were soon on Green Street walking towards the park.

The atmosphere was decidedly festive, with balloons in claret and blue adoring every storefront in the area. There were also food carts and vendors peddling various footy gear around the area, and as we walked along, we saw Upton Park on our left, and it was a very glorious sight. The front facade of the stadium is like a castle, and it towers over two large parking areas. We were amazed at how similar this was to PGE Park, as a stadium essentially surrounded by shops and homes. Our plan of attack for the afternoon was to retrieve our tickets, visit the pro shop, check in to our hotel, watch the match, and then partake in the evening activities. Our tickets hadn't arrived by the time we left the states, so we left our address in London with girl's mom to express mail the tickets if they had arrived. Since they hadn't, we took our acknowledgement email to the ticket window to get it taken care of.

And we were soon treated to one difference about West Ham. The tickets are actually scanned into one of their fan club ID cards, so we were given two fan cards to get into the game. I had already received mine, but girl wasn't so lucky. Since this took no time at all, we wandered into the pro shop to see what we could by. And that turned out to be a bad idea for my wallet, as we found kits, scarves, stickers, coasters, and polo shirts to wear. They were also offering free personalization of the kits that day, so both girl and I left our kits to have names added for pick up after the match. We then wandered off to the main desk to figure out the hotel thing.

Upton Park offers the chance to stay there as a real hotel, including after match night. However, you can't check into your rooms on match day until 8 Pm because of the time it takes to set them up. We checked in with the desk to find out that we had a reservation but that it hadn't been paid for yet. This was a wedding gift from our amazing friends of the Rose City Irons, so I was a little confused as to what was going on, but figured it would take a phone call or text to our friend Wookie to clear up. We were able to leave our bags there for check in later, and were told to be back here at 6:30 for our stadium tour, then check in was at 8 and dinner was later on that night. So we left our bags, and wandered around the park for a bit. I was trying to find a Homer Simpson West Ham scarf like my friend Jamie has, but we didn't find one. We wandered up to our seats, grabbed a quick lunch, and then headed to our seats in the Bobby Moore end at the top row. This arrangement allowed us to stand if we wanted to...

The stadium was full of color and noise almost 20 minutes before kickoff and it got louder as the Newcastle fans filed in. It was amazing to see the back and forth chanting, and when the Hammers fans broke into I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles right before the match, it sent goosebumps down my arms and spine. I have only had a few sports moments that hit me like this, including a couple of Broncos Super Bowl wins and some great Trail Blazer and Timber wins, but I was truly overwhelmed by the moment and the game hadn't even started yet.

The game itself was a back and forth affair, as the Hammers put in two quick goals only to concede a couple to Newcastle before the first half was over. The second half was a lot of pushing men forward, but no real close shots or defensive breakdowns. While the Hammers were safe from relegation, Newcastle was still fighting to stay clear. The noise ebbed and flowed but it was constant singing and chanting for 90 minutes, with scarves flying about and clapping abound. While both teams played very well, neither deserved to lose so it was sort of fitting that they shared a point in a 2 - all draw. I had been texting my friend S3K back in the States, who was watching Sunderland play so we were kept apprised of things elsewhere while here. The game had ended with me taking a few pictures, and then wandering out to the street level. We found our way back to the sport shop to pick up our kits, and then had about an hour to sit about for the tour.

One of the things we'd been asked to do was to film the tour, so we had packed a video camera to document the event. I went back to the hotel desk to retrieve it, and sure enough, it was done in a matter of moments despite there being dozens of bags in storage. Needless to say, having a green backpack with Timbers stuff on it makes it easy to find. We started our tour on time, and wandered through the locker rooms, the luxury boxes, and on the pitch itself. It's a truly nice park, and something to behold up close. And we were soaking it in as much as we could. The tour took about an hour, and soon we were back in the lobby next to a pub. It was only about 7:30 pm so we ordered a drink before check in. Wookie had texted me back about the hotel, and I told him that while we had reservations, they didn't have any record of anything being paid yet. He texted back to say he'd take care of it, and so we checked into our room at 8 and wandered up to our room.

The hotel was actually turning stadium boxes into hotel rooms, so our stadium box was owned by a construction firm during the day. The sliding glass doors were locked, so you could only look out on the pitch, you couldn't go outside into the stadium. We got ourselves dressed up (I was a bit casual the first time but got myself dressed nicely), and headed to one of the main restaurants for a sit down dinner. And it was very elegant, and in courses. We had a salad, choice of chicken, fish or vegetable pasta, and some dessert to die for, sticky toffee. West Ham also had labeled wines available for purchase, so we split a bottle of wine. It was an extremely filling meal, and it was nice to truly have a nice sit down experience during our trip. It did amaze me that some folks weren't dressed up for dinner, as we were one of the few couples or parties that dressed nice for dinner.

After this, we could have headed to the pub for more drinks, but we decided to retire to our rooms and sleep in a bit. It was cool to look out the window and see a football pitch. I can imagine this is what heaven looks like.

April 27th - Upton Park, Basildon

We woke up about 8:30 AM, and I felt refreshed, although girl was feeling a bit under the weather. Today was the day we were heading to one of her former student's house for dinner, so I showered and headed to get some breakfast while she slept in a bit. We had to check out by 11 AM, so I hurried about to get down and eat. It took a few minutes to find the breakfast eatery, but after some wandering, I found it and sat down to a great English buffet breakfast. There was plenty to eat, and I was able to get a bit of toast for girl before I left. I saw a few familiar faces from our tour last night, but I hurried through breakfast and then wandered down to see how girl was doing. She was feeling a bit better, and having some toast helped a bit. But we also needed to get checked out, head back to our flat, then train out to Basildon for dinner.

As we checked out, we were told the bill was sorted already, so we were good to go. I like that Wookie guy, and soon we were on the tube back to our flat. After dropping our stuff off and relaxing a bit, we were soon on the train out to Basildon. There was a bit of a train detour so we were taking a route to the south, and then bussing into Basildon, but we made it there by 2 Pm and were met by Phillippa and Mandy, her mum. Phillippa was a student of girl's a few years ago when she taught their class at the local school. She was the sixth teacher they had that year, and bonded with them over footy and the town. It was hard for her to leave this group, but then again, if that hadn't have happened, we may never have met. Phillippa and Mandy picked us up at the train station, and soon we were at their house in time for some relaxation and a Sunday roast.

Pete, Mandy's husband was there, and so was Phillippa's brother and Bessie, their dog. Bessie is quite a nice dog, but really is one of the most excitable animals I've ever met. She was excited to see new people, and because of this she didn't mind terribly much at all. This included following girl and I around every time we wandered about the flat. We talked a bit with Mandy and Pete about our trip, the town in general, things going on in the area, and generally just sat down and relaxed. Plus, I had never participated in the Sunday roast thing, so it was nice to be a part of sitting about and eating massive quantities. And we ate, and ate, and had dessert. It was fun to see the interaction amongst the family, as Mandy and Pete were very good parents and Phillipa was a very bright, engaging young girl. I could tell that she missed girl a lot, as probably did many of her former students. We found out that one in particular had been skipping classes and generally had been in trouble, which was sad to hear because he was one of girl's project kids and she had really worked hard on him to take studies seriously. We watched a bit of television, and then Pete pulled out a remote controlled dalek and chased Bessie around the house with it. Ahh, being in the land of Doctor Who, I loved the fact of having a remote controlled toy like that.

The night got away from us, as we were watching an episode of deadliest catch, and then Pete and Phillippa were to drop us off at the train station. They ended up taking us into Upminster, which was about a half an hour down the way, but it saved us a bit of time and jumping about stations. Phillippa was given one of the Cider Girl's official scarves upon leaving, and while it was great to see her, I know girl was sad the visit was so short. She mentioned to me on the train that Phillippa might come for a visit sometime soon, which I didn't have a problem with. It would be nice to show her a part of the world that most people there don't get to see. I could also tell that the former student's issues were bothering girl a bit as well, as it was sad to think that he felt education wasn't important.

But the area we were in is a bit poor and most of the people here don't have a steady trade, and many of the women sell themselves to make money. Many of girl's former students didn't know their dads, or saw very little of their moms either, so she became a surrogate mother to them helping them with day to day things. It was great to see this part of her past, as Basildon seems like a nice little town, but very different from places I'd been to. We ended up getting home, and decided to watch a little telly and drink a bit. So far, Arthur has kept his TV very soft, so apparently we are being very good guests and not bugging him too terribly. And at this point, we still have over two full days in London until we return to the states. The trip has been amazing, and we are now in the home stretch.

Next Time - Shopping English Style, and The Most Obnoxious Store I've Ever Been In

1 comment:

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