Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Australia out of the World Cup

Earlier this afternoon I joined a few workmates in the Slug & Lettuce bar at Bank (not my favourite UK pub chain but this one's actually pretty good!) to watch Australia take on Italy in its 'final 16' knockout match. A win would have put us though to the quarter finals against Ukraine, and then a chance at a semi-final 'top-four' berth.

I only made it to the game for the 2nd half after finishing things off at work, but from what I saw in replays we had played well enough in the first 45 minutes to hold them to 0-0 despite some excellent play and close shots from Toni and others in the Italian attack.. So we had everything to play for as we seemingly took control in the 2nd half and tried desperately to break their always on-form defence, and the great Italian keeper Gianluigi Buffon.

Italian defender Materazzi received a harsh red card for a blocking tackle on Marco Bresciano, and with the blue shirts down to 10 men, we could smell a chance. We dominated the play even more with our marking-up advantage, but couldn't seem to get positioned to take a decent strike on goal, or connect to several excellent crosses into the goal square. A desperately close but miss-timed aerial bicycle-kick by Aloisi at a perfect cross from the right had us agonising over the level scoreline and our inability to get through them; but we were still optimistic that we had a good chance against the tiring oposition in the fast-approaching extra time period.

But it wasn't to be. With less than 20 seconds to go, Italy made one last desperate run up the left side, and a chance was created when Fabio Grosso passed Bresciano before entering the box and approached a sliding tackle by Lucas Neill. Neil went to ground in a legitimate attempt to block the ball, and without even playing at the Italian defender, Grosso 'fell' over Neil's upper body and went to ground with a dive that would have received scores of 8.9 in the 10m platform event at Athens last year.

Grosso & Lucas Neil

The referee blew his whistle and pointed to the spot. This was Italy. We knew it was over.

Totti drilled a perfect penalty kick into the top left corner of the goal, passing a great dive by Schwarzer, and Australia was out of the World Cup.

Schwarzer dives as Totti celebrates - as captured by one of the many remote-controlled SLR's shooting from behind the net at that end. His face says it all.

No-one over here is really whinging about. I think there is more of a sense of pride at the fact that we made the final 16, rather than anger at how we went out.

Even the English guys at work, who it seems had all watched the game wishing us on against the Italians, have been sympathetic this morning to the Aussies in the office with glum faces. Add to that the British media who have taken our side in the papers I spotted this morning. There are of course the usual humorous e-mail attachments doing the rounds this morning, the best of which is below:

I guess we wait until we get do it all over again in 2010.

(Edit: Meanwhile the World Cup continues for some teams who are yet to play their final 16 match - a Ghanain friend of mine from work, Andrew, is currently driving the 376 miles from London to Dortmund, Germany to watch the Ghana v Brazil game this afternoon - now that's committment!)


Sunday, June 25, 2006

Royal Ascot

Yesterday we did one of my 'must-do' events while living in London - a day at the Royal Ascot races. It was definitely a long way from the days of running around the Ayr racecourse as a 6 year old!

While I get myself organised enough to write up a proper entry, here's a great photo of us with friends Chris & Renée, all dressed up with the newly completed grandstand in the background.

More to come soon.


Sunday, June 18, 2006

Foo Fighters in Hyde Park

On Saturday night after a huge day out being tourists in the City and West End, we joined 85,000 people to watch the Foo Fighters play a sell-out concert in the huge summer stage area they erect in Hyde Park each year.

The show was their biggest UK concert ever, and being our first big-scale outdoor rock concert we were just in awe of the scale of the whole thing. As much as their good fun, the smaller festival or stadium crowds just don't compare to this kind of event. Over the 90 minute set they got through all of their hits, and several others from older albums that Carly and I didn't know too well but the rest of the crowd knew every word to! Towards the end of the main set, we were treated to a Freddy Mercury tribute, with the band bringing out Queen guitarist Roger Taylor to play the intro to We will rock you, followed by Queen drummer Brian May and the Foo's playing Queen's Tie your mother down. The poms absolutely loved it, and as they played Dan and I just kept yelling at each other "I can't beleive we are watching Queen in Hyde Park!!".. It was a fantastic bonus on top of what was a great show anyway.

My Hero was my favourite of the night, although the encore finalé of Dave Grohl playing Everlong by himself at the end of this huge catwalk extending way into the crowds not far from where we were was also brilliant.

Below is a 30 second video of the band belting out Monkey Wrench, in which you can see Dan and Sophie and friends jumping around in front of us, and the huge stage and screens not far off in the distance. Behind us you can see the never ending sea of people that stretched back towards the Marble Arch end of the park. Just click on it to play it (but if you're on dial-up, its probably best that you wait and watch it from work).

Here's the NME write-up of the concert, which will save me some time raving about the details.

Fingers crossed they'll release a Live album recording of the concert, similar to what the 'Chili Peppers did for their last Hyde Park gig.


the Queens 80th Birthday

We've just had a very busy Saturday watching 30 head of sheep hearded over the Thames as part of this years London Architecture Biennale festival, and then we joined thousands of others lining The Mall to watch the Royals at the Queen's 80th Birthday 'Trooping of the Colour'.

We then finished off the day with a small rock concert put on by the Foo Fighters in Hyde Park.

Just another weekend in London - more to come soon.


Monday, June 12, 2006

The World Cup begins, and England goes football mad

I've been waiting months for this, and over the weekend the first matches of the 2006 World Cup Finals got underway in various locations within the host nation Germany. This tournament is especially interesting, not only because we're living in football mad England while it is on, but also because for the first time since the 70's, Australia has made the finals and will be doing battle in a Pool Group conprising Brazil, Japan, and Croatia.

With commentators building up the chances of the superstar-filled English squad, the whole country has gone mad! - there are England St George flags everywhere (tying between one and six of them onto the roof of your car or delivery van seems to be the way to go!), and constant banter between all of the different nationalities in the office - it is an amazing buzz.. on Friday before the first match, almost the whole floor in the office was vacated by 4pm as everyone dashed off to the pub to see the opening match, which was the first of several matches on that night - having everyone out and about makes for a fantastic atmosphere all around the capital.. Football fan or not, it is great to be a part of.

The first England match was played on Saturday afternoon, and it coincided with a long-planned pub crawl and Housewarming party around Karen & Andy's town of St Albans north of London, followed by a BBQ in the backyard of their new house. While the English didn't exactly impress on the pitch, the fans made up for it with every pub being rammed full, and everyone seemingly owning either a white Home strip, or a red Away shirt to show their colours. The pub crawl that followed around their beautiful town and the BBQ out the back of Karen & Andy's ended up being a very late affair with a similar messy result to Andy's other backyard events (some photos from the pub crawl are here).

Sunday came and still we had beautiful summer weather - Dan organised an impromptue BBQ on our roof, and a group of our friends came over for a kebab cook-up using our new skewers we'd purchased from the Istanbul Grand Bazaar last week (see the photos here). The day ended with a late night and me and Carly sitting on the couch on the roof until the early hours of Monday, watching the blinking lights of the planes criss-crossing London, trying to plan out how we're going to make the most of the rest of our time in London.

You just can't beat the summer weekends here.


Monday, June 05, 2006

back from Turkey - a summary

Well a bit over an hour ago we returned to our flat in London after a gruelling 11 hour trip from the time we left the hostel in Istanbul, to our doorstep in West Kensington - mainly because of a delay in our second leg flight from Munich to LHR, and then the ever unreliable London Underground maintenance contractor Metronet decided that this weekend was a good one to close down the section of the Piccadilly and District line between Heathrow and our home, meaning we were forever stuck on a 'rail replacement bus service' with our packs and stuff.. Somehow they hadn't heard that it was the last weekend of the half-term school holidays meaning the airport would be heaving with travellers - time to check the calender lads....

But, we're home. And what a brilliant week or so it was. I'll get into sorting the photos and writing up the blog entries I have in pen & paper draft-form soon, but in short this is what we did over the 9 days:

- Flew to Istanbul via Frankfurt. On our stopover at the big German airport we got to have order a beer with our McDonalds (a personal highlight for Dan). Arrived into Istanbul at 2am, and had a few beers on the rooftop of the hostel overlooking the Bosphorous until the sunrise call to prayer rang out from the Blue Mosque and then every mosque in the city. This was an unbeleivable experience, which nothing can prepare you for when you hear it for the first time. Carly and I just stood there together gazing across the pre-dawn city in amazement.

- Spent 2.5 days in Istanbul seeing everything we could see including the major mosques, museums, and monuments; and also did some looking through the Bazaar area and the surrounding chaotic side-streets. Ate some fantastic food and met some great restuarant staff and shop owners, and began a brilliant trend of having a cis kebab several times a day.

- Travelled south to Chanakkale where we stayed for two nights, giving us a full day to dedicate to touring the Gallipoli battlefields, cemetaries, and memorials. Amazing stuff that every Australian should experience first hand. Even better without the crowds of Anzac Day, and it gave us more time to do the place justice.

- Travelled south to Izmir, and onto Selcuk.

- Stayed 2 nights in Selcuk, where we had a relaxing time taking in the ruins of the nearby Roman city of Ephesus. Staying here meant we got to experience a small town vibe in regional Turkey with a lot less of the tourist scene. This was a highlight of the trip as we got to meet some fantastic locals, did some carpet buying away from the overblown prices of the big cities, and spend some time actually feeling like we were on holiday rather than stressing ourselves about when was the next bus coming to take us to the next town. A great place. Oh and we had a Turkish bath here at one of the locals Hamam's (Baths) which meant we paid a hell of a lot less than the tourist haunts in Istanbul. It was fantastic to have it done amongst locals who are there for the same thing.

- Travelled to Pumakkale and Denizili where we battled with the whordes of tourist tour groups to see what is left of the limestone cliffs now scarred by the masses of bikini-clad eastern europeans who come here to frolic in the natural spring-fed pools in their disgraceful g-string swimmers and pulled-up-high budgie-smugglers. We have photos. We also took a walk around part of the Hieropolous ruins nearby but it was an extremely hot day in this inland area s time walking in the sun was limited.

- Travelled back to Istanbul on an overnight bus from Denizili.

- Spent more time looking around the backstreets of Turkey, sampling some more great food, and making some purchases in the Spice Bazaar and the huge Grand Bazaar. We also took a ferry over to the Asian side of the Bosphorous so I could get some close-up shots of the Maidens Tower island/lighthouse which was scene to the finalé of the James Bond film 'The World is not Enough' - you know the bit where the bad guy parks a submarine under a lighthouse in Istanbul - well this is it.

- Had a great final dinner together before a few more Efes beers on the rooftop terrace of the hostel.

- After another quick walkaround in Istanbul this morning we headed home via Munich and into the chaos that was the Piccadilly line this weekend.

I'll get the huge stack of photos sorted (hopefully this week) and write up all the bits in between. We're home this coming weekend so it'll be good to just be at home and not have to worry about which hostel we'll be sleeping in next. Fingers crossed for some BBQ weather so Dan and I can test out our new Turkish cis kebab skewers!

As always, more to come soon.