Last month I took a trip to London and I still haven’t wrote anything about that so I figured it’s time to get that done before I completely forget that trip! This is quite a long post and I haven’t been super motivated to write recently so it took a while to get this all together. Fair warning, this doesn’t have that many pictures as I guess I was having too much to think about it!
I had planned this trip a year ago so I had been looking forward to this for a while. When Xavier was living in Cincinnati last year I took him to a Colts game with my Dad and watched a bunch of NFL games with him on TV, getting him hooked on American football. During this time when the 2016-2017 NFL schedules were released, the Colts had a game scheduled in London against the Jaguars and we immediately bought tickets, hoping that I would be in Europe this year and able to go. Thank goodness it all worked out!
Day 1: Arrival and Exploring London
I wasn’t able to buy my plane ticket until a week or two in advance as I wasn’t sure if I had classes/school/private lessons that weekend. Thankfully I was free, but by the time I got around to buying a plane ticket it was a lot cheaper for me to fly out early Saturday morning instead of Friday night. (90€ compared to 250€, a large difference). So my story starts at 3.30 am Saturday morning when I woke up to head to the airport.
Getting to the airport that early was actually quite a challenge. I had to walk for 30 minutes to a bus stop and take a night bus that runs to the airport because here in Madrid the metro and trains don’t run between 1.30 am and 6.00 am. I actually had a perfect storm of disasters that ended with me coming with a literal minute of missing my plane, but that’s another story for another time!
My plane flew out at at 6.15 am and landed in London around 8 am local time (London is one hour behind Spain). However, I flew with Ryanair, who flies into London Stansted, a small regional airport that’s an hour outside of London, so I had to take a bus into actual London.
As my bus was getting closer and closer to London I got more and more excited. I had always wanted to visit London, and starting to see all the different buildings, streets, and people was so cool. Definitely different than Spain, that’s for sure! My bus took me to the Liverpool Street Station, one of the larger transportation stations in London that wasn’t too far from the hostel I was staying in. I got off the bus and found a Starbucks right around the corner to use their WiFi and tell Xavier I had arrived. Xavier was still sleeping so I got a coffee and sat around a bit waiting for him to wake up.
Once Xavier woke up I headed out towards our hostel to meet up with him. We stayed in Shoreditch, a super hipster, gentrified community in downtown London. I met up with Xavier outside our hostel, dropped my stuff off inside, and we met up with his friends who were having breakfast. He had brought three other friends from Belgium with him for the weekend, so the group ended up being myself and four Belgian dudes.
They finished eating breakfast and we drove downtown with no real purpose in mind for the day yet. We knew there was some festivities going on for the game so we decided to check it out. Thankfully we had a car, as the guys drove to London from Belgium, which made our traveling around much easier. At first we just drove around for a while, seeing various famous sites like the Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the London Eye, and so on. After a while we found a place to park near Piccadilly Circus. Piccadilly Circus is an intersection with large electronic signs, a plethora of stores and theaters, and other similar attractions. It gave me a similar touristy-Times Square vibe. After perusing a large sports store for all the football (soccer) goods, we walked down Regent Street, a very famous shopping street. For the NFL weekend, the entire Regent Street was shut down and turned into an NFL fan fest. It was cool to see a lot of the different activities and promotions the NFL had brought over to show the Brits (even though it was Jags themed…).
A side note, the weather Saturday was extremely odd. When I first arrived it was sunny, but it started raining soon after and it stayed that way…for a few hours, until it turned sunny again. And then, it started pouring for another 30 minutes before turning sunny the rest of the day. I know London is known for having dull, raining days, but the polarizing nature reminded me a lot of Ohio, especially since I had come from Spain, where I had a grand total of one rainy day in the one and a half month I had been there so far. The pictures below go in chronological order, so you can see how many times the weather changed.
Anyways, after we finished exploring the fan fest we started walking around more of downtown London. I was the only one that hadn’t been to London yet, so most of the guys were at least somewhat familiar with the city. While wandering around we found a Five Guys, which Xavier was absolutely obsessed with in Cincinnati, so we stopped there and had (a very American) lunch.
While eating lunch we made a spontaneous decision to try and get last-minute tickets to a Premier League game that afternoon (English football/soccer league, arguably the most famous in the world). The only London team playing that afternoon was West Ham, so we headed towards their stadium. Tickets were available online still, but when we got to the stadium finally and tried to buy them they were sold out. West Ham actually plays in London Stadium (also known as Olympic Stadium) which was built for the 2012 London Olympics. The stadium is housed within the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, so we ended up walking around the park for a while. Probably the most interesting part of the park is the ArcelorMittal Orbit Tower (known just as the Orbit Tower). It’s the country’s largest piece of art, and can only be described as a jumbled tower that appears as though God bent a rollercoaster multiple times over and smashed it there. The tower features an observation tower at the top and the world’s tallest and longest slide. Yes, you read that correctly: you can slide down that entire tower. In the picture below, it’s the thinner silver metal tube in the foreground. Unfortunately, we didn’t take advantage of either, as it was very expensive.
After the rejection from the football match, we headed back downtown towards the river. We ended up grabbing some cups of English tea and walking around the riverfront and through some cool neighborhoods and outdoor markets for a few hours. Eventually it started raining (again) and we started to get tired, so we headed back to the hostel.
The rest of the night we spent hanging around the hostel for dinner and then heading out that night. We started partying at a bar that was attached to the hostel (where we conveniently got a discount), and made our way back to our hostel after a while. We met a bunch of other travelers in the courtyard and played some games with them (including twister) before finally heading out. While there we met a really cool French girl that was studying at the London School of Economics (LSE), which is one of my top choices for grad school, and she came out with us that night. We went to a really cool club and spent a good majority of the night dancing like crazy people before finally going home to get (a small amount) of rest!
Day 2: The Game
Sunday was pretty much entirely taken up by the game. I ended up waking up around 8 am and I took a walk to help clear my head, and I also stopped and grabbed a coffee while I was walking around. After returning and meeting back up with the boys, we headed out for the game. The game didn’t start until 2.30 but we wanted to leave a couple hours early to help beat the traffic and also to walk around the stadium a bit. Wembley is also a ways outside of London, so we left around 11.00 to get there in good time. Xavier and I were both decked out in Colts gear, and I even had my American flag socks on for good measure. We decided to drive to the game instead of trying to take the tube, which ended up working out well as we were getting pumped for the game by blasting music and singing out of the windows to all the people we drove past!
Once we finally made it to the stadium and found a place to park we started walking around. Wembley is an absolutely beautiful and iconic stadium, holding around 90,000 people, which makes it the second largest stadium in Europe between Camp Nou in Barcelona. The pregame activities outside the stadium weren’t anything overly special, as it was definitely aimed at Europeans and tried to imitate the “American NFL experience”; there were food vendors selling American BBQ, burgers, donuts, and any other “American” products you could imagine. There were a lot of NFL team shops with gear as well.
In general, a common theme throughout the day was that it was a large novelty event and an exhibition where the NFL was trying to expand their brand. Throughout the day you saw people supporting all 32 of the NFL teams. By my not-scientifically-accurate guessing, I would have said 25% were Jags fans, 15% Colts fans, and the remaining 60% were wearing gear of another NFL team. It wasn’t as much of fans of Team A vs. Team B as it was just a collective “American Football fans”. I made a comparison to the International Champions Cup games in America where you have games like last summer’s PSG vs. Real Madrid game in Columbus (two of the world’s biggest soccer teams) and it’s just a large group of soccer fans that go.
In addition, the atmosphere inside the game was very different. Overall, it was a much quieter, subdued crowd than you would expect. I’m sure part of it was people not knowing how we cheer back home at a football game, as well as people not knowing the rules of the game. It was very common to see families or groups of fans there where one person was a big NFL fan and they dragged the rest of the people along who had never seen American football before. In my section Xavier and I were the only two people going nuts, screaming on every play and being as loud as possible. The people around us thought we were hilarious; this older British dad in front of me that got brought by his son kept laughing at my antics and ended up turning around a lot to ask me questions about the game.
At the end of the day, the Colts unfortunately lost (to the Jags, nonetheless!), but the game was still decent. After trailing and playing three boring quarters, the Colts mounted a furious fourth-quarter comeback, which woke us up and got us screaming, only to fall short at the very end. Even though the game ended in an L, it was still an awesome day and amazing experience. All the British fans were super welcoming and kind, and it was such a surreal experience to see American football being supported overseas.
After the game, we all ended up parting ways. Xavier had to catch an express train back to Brussels that night, and the rest of the guys were driving back straight from the game. The other guys left, and Xavier and I headed to the tube station together. Let me just say real fast that the crowd after the game was unreal. Imagine nearly 90,000 people all trying to get on the tube at once. It rivaled the insane crowd of Oktoberfest I saw two years ago; the trip back to downtown London took multiple hours and Xavier was only 15 minutes from missing his train! After finally getting downtown, Xavier said his goodbyes and left, and I headed back to the hostel. I picked up a small dinner from a grocery store before relaxing and going to sleep early.
Day 3: Exploring Covent Garden
Seeing as how all the guys had left the previous night, I was on my own Monday. My flight didn’t leave until late Monday night, so I had all day to do as I wished. Originally I considered seeing some of the landmarks and sites I had missed, but I realized spending a day running all over town just to see a few things wasn’t the best use of my time, especially considering I already knew I would be back again.
I first met up with my French friend from last night and got a coffee with her. We talked for a while and hung out, and then she took me to LSE to show me around. After walking around the campus a bit, she had to head off to class, so I went out on my own again. We had gotten coffee in Covent Garden, a super popular and nice neighborhood in London. While in London I had planned to look into buying some tea; my friend Andrew brought me some tea back from his London trip this previous Spring, and I was about to run out, so I wanted to buy some more. The previous night I had researched the best tea shops in London, and a fair amount of them were right here in Covent Garden.
I thus spent the rest of my Monday wandering the cute alleyways of London ducking in and out of small tea shops, smelling countless tea blends. I ended up buying my very own ceramic teapot and two bags of loose-leaf tea that I’ve been making quite a lot – I’m actually drinking a pot of my English breakfast tea as I write this!
After I finished my day of wandering, exploring, and shopping, I made the long trip back to the airport and then back to Madrid. Thankfully, this time I was able to take the metro back to my apartment instead of worrying about the bus! I think it’s safe to say after such a packed weekend, I slept quite well that night!