Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Austerity Olympics by Janie Hampton

Cover image © Aurum Press.
Having moved to one of London’s Olympic boroughs during the 2012 Olympics, it has been hard to escape London 2012 fever. Indeed, it has even affected me and I am now the proud owner of a road bike in my vain attempt to be like Bradley Wiggins. 

With the infection still coursing through my veins, I stumbled upon Janie Hampton’s The Austerity Olympics: When the Games Came to London in 1948 whilst wandering through a Waterstones in Cardiff. 

The book tells a tale of striking contrasts and remarkable similarities with the 2012 games. Sebastian Coe, who was seemingly everywhere before, during and after London 2012, sets the tone in his foreword to the book, stating, “That London managed to stage the 1948 Olympic Games so soon after the Second World War is remarkable enough.” 

The most heart-warming thing about this book is in its tales of a much simpler time. A time where amongst the bomb damage of the WWII, young boys would sit looking wistful outside a stadium in the hope that someone would get them in. A time when the athletes had to bring their own towels and British men’s team got a pair of complimentary underpants. Despite this the press then were just as cynical and prone to a spot of doom-mongering before the event started as their modern counterparts!

From the annals of Olympic history, Janie Hampton brings to life a world getting back on its feet and rejecting the fascist fervour and the failed Aryan idealism of the previous games in Berlin, 1936. This was a time where amateurism meant just that (in most cases) and consequently the world trained its eyes on athletic ‘housewives’ such as The Netherlands’ Fanny Blankers-Koen – although only 10% of the athletes competing in 1948 were women

A good deal of the book is given over to the behind the scenes action as well as the action on the track and field, in the pool, ring or velodrome. We hear about the athletes' rations of a cheese sandwich, apple and a boiled egg, amusingly accompanied by a photo of two female athletes, one Argentinean, one Austrian, inspecting their lunch with bemused expressions. It is perhaps not surprising then to read that different nations brought extra food with them.

Also interesting is the politicking that went on behind the scenes. The world after WWII looked a lot different and some nations were notable in their absence. Germany was one of these nations, along with Japan, who were diplomatically not included. There is a poignant reminder that many athletes who competed in 1936 were no not longer around to compete in 1948, some having died in Nazi concentration camps. Add to this that Israel didn’t get an invite, as they didn’t yet have an Olympic committee, and Ireland kept falling out over the insistence of the Organising Committee of referring to them as Éire.

Overall, prhaps the best thing about Austerity Olympics is that it manages to piece together a very complex tapestry of divergent individuals’ narratives, and a mountain of factual information, and make it genuinely engaging at the same time. Switching between microscopic focus and looking at the bigger picture means that the tales are never boring. 

A great read for the post-Olympic hangover.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Iglesia de San Pedro, Gijón, Spain

The church of San Pedro, overlooking Gijón's long bay, in the Asturias region of Spain. 
On the last Saturday of September, I was fortunate enough to be strolling along the long sweeping sands of Gijón's largest beach. My friend was getting married in the Iglesia de San Pedro later in the day and consequently an area of Spain I had perviously no knowledge of was opened up to me.

The wedding was simply fantastic. The ceremony started at around 8pm and the festivities, for me at least, finished around 4.30am. There was great food, great wine and even better company, all from the beautiful art deco setting of the yacht club on Avenue de La Salle that overlooks the bay.

Gijón is a gem of a place, with its sidrería's, fantastic and reasonably-priced seafood, and generally laid-back vibe. On the strength of this short three-day visit I am sure to be returning there - frankly I think I could happily live there!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Airbnb: Where Hospitality Meets Social Media

Earlier this year, I was privileged enough to get an invite from a close friend to attend his wedding in Gijón, in the north of Spain. He’s a private kind of guy, so let’s just say he’s an Englishman and his bride to be is Spanish and leave it at that.

I’m not a rich man, so wisely I booked all of the different components of the trip in stages: first stage, beg my boss for a day off work during term time; second stage, book the flights; third stage, book the transfers from the airport in Santander to Gijón; finally, book the accommodation.

Other than the obvious disappointment that my tight budget meant I had to book a flight with Ryanair – an experience I won’t be repeating any time soon – most of the components were booked easily and at a reasonably cost, but I was struggling to find suitable accommodation.

Drinking in the atmosphere at a local sidrería.
Doing what I often do, I turned to the internet and to Google to see what I could find. Almost purely by accident I came across the website of Airbnb. 

According to their website, Airbnb was founded in 2008 and is based in San Fransisco, USA. Its concept is to match up people who need a room somewhere for a couple of nights, or however long, with people who have a room to spare. They currently claim to have over 200,000 listings worldwide, spread over 26,000 cities in 192 different countries.

So, frustrated with the lack of interesting, affordable, middle-of-the-road hotels on offer when using Trivago, I put what I wanted and when I wanted it into Airbnb and up came a few suitable options. All of them were in ideal locations close to both the main beach and the church of San Pedro, where my friend was to be married.

The process of booking on Airbnb is perhaps a little longer than using something like Trivago or Booking.com. Initially, you are advised to send a request to a number of different hosts, because, as most hosts are just normal people not hoteliers, availability can vary greatly.

After sending a request to few suitable hosts, we settled upon a flat owned by a lady called Leticia. Her flat being located the closest to the church and the beach – it also looked the nicest in the pictures.

Once booked, and prior to our arrival, we exchanged contact details (email and WhatsApp) and discussed arrival times and directions. As the timings were tight between our flight’s arrival time in Santander and the time it takes for the airport bus to get into town, the Alsa coach we book from Santander isn’t due into Gijón until 22.15. Luckily this isn’t a problem for our host. 

I am not sure if all hosts are as accommodating and organised as Leticia, but even when our bus arrived thirty minutes late, she delayed her going out for dinner just to make sure we were properly welcomed. 

Our room was easily double the size of your average hotel room, and was around half the price. It was furnished in a simple, minimalist fashion, but with lots of nice touches like a table in the bay window looking out over the street, a small sofa, and loads of helpful guides to the local area. In essence it was almost like a self-contained studio flat. 

It was perfect for our needs. I dumped the bags and within a few minutes we were already drinking in a nearby sidrería.

The whole process of finding, booking and checking-in was surprisingly simple. Our host was unobtrusive, and our stay in Gijón was comfortable, without breaking the bank.

When the opportunity arises in future, Airbnb may well be a first port of call rather than a last resort.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...