The Complimentary Spouse and I trekked to Orlando last weekend to see Chelsea take on Arsenal in the Florida Cup.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: Chelsea sucked. Bad. I think they were experimenting with some new formations, but they clearly didn’t work. About halfway through the match, Britt turned to me and said, “They know they have to kick the ball to the other person, right? Not just to the general area the other person is in?”
Chelsea should have won the game handily. Instead, they lost 4-0. It was embarrassing.
OK, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about how awesome it was to see the Blues play. We didn’t go to any football matches when I was a kid in London because they weren’t safe. Check out the Wikipedia article about Football Hooliganism in the United Kingdom and you’ll see why my dad never took me to Stamford Bridge, or any other football stadium for that matter.
Britt and I have toured Stamford Bridge, but have never seen Chelsea play live. We bought tickets for the match at Camping World Stadium in Orlando as soon as they went on sale.
We arrived to find the stadium (which no one would describe as a world-class sports facility) decked out for the game, with large banners for both teams:
In front of the stadium, there were separate areas for Chelsea and Arsenal fans. Chelsea had a large stage, great music, and some of the silverware1 on display:
Here’s Britt and me hanging out with the Premier League cup:
Of course, they were selling T-shirts, kit, and plenty of other souvenirs. As you can see, the Chelsea stuff was on the right. I turned to Britt and very loudly said, “If you even think about buying anything on the left, I’ll divorce you.”
Stamford the Lion walked past us as we entered the stadium:
He was followed by Bridget the Lioness:
Considering that Chelsea play at Stamford Bridge, I think Stamford and Bridget are pretty clever names for the mascots.
I believe there is a law now that requires “Sweet Caroline” to be played at all sporting events in the United States. We dutifully sang along. About halfway through the video below, you’ll see Britt and me doing our part to keep the blue flag flying high:
Since it was a night game, the weather wasn’t as bad as you’d imagine — in the mid-80s with tolerable humidity.
If you’ve never been to a football game, you’re missing out. Games can be a bit monotonous on teevee, which, I suspect, is why many Americans consider the sport to be boring. But when you’ve experienced football live, you see things from a completely different perspective and gain a new appreciation. You’re transfixed because the ball is constantly in motion and the game doesn’t stop. (A sport without commercial breaks? Yes, it exists!) You’re transfixed on the action.
In our section — which was packed with Chelsea fans — no one sat down for all 90 minutes of play. No one looked at their phones. We were just hundreds of people, connected by a shared experience. It’s kind of transcendental if you think about it.2
So, despite the humiliating loss, Britt and I had an incredible time. I hope our next Chelsea match will be at Stamford Bridge, but the Blues are welcome back in America anytime.
___ 1 Needless to say, the silverware display at Stamford Bridge is much more impressive. Here’s just one photo from a room packed with display cases:
2 Name any other transcendental experience that involves nachos and beer. I’ll wait.
My cousins and I recently descended upon Chicago for our annual reunion. Between all the drinking, eating, drinking, and more drinking, we went on a boat tour of Chicago’s architectural landmarks and marvels. I got some great photos of the buildings, but I don’t recall all the facts, so I have just decided to type up a whole bunch of lies.1
First, the famous Wrigley Building:
The first Wrigley building was constructed entirely out of Wrigley Doublemint chewing gum, which proved disastrous. Six people died when the building collapsed. They weren’t crushed; they got stuck in the gum and died of mandibular trauma trying to chew their way out.
Construction on a new Wrigley building began in 1920. Realizing their mistake, builders chose the hardest, densest, toughest material available — something even more rigid than steel or concrete. That’s right: they used Bazooka Joe.
Now, let’s talk about the 98-story building that replaced the Chicago Sun-Times headquarters — the one to the left of the Wrigley Building in this photo:
When this riverfront office and hotel tower opened in 2009, it was considered the most beautiful building not just in Chicago, but in the entire Western Hemisphere. Upon seeing it, motorists would slam on their brakes to stare in awe, causing a 450% increase in traffic crashes. Pedestrians would stop and look up, causing a 680% increase in neck injuries. Sometimes, parents were so distracted by the building that they didn’t notice when vultures swooped in and carried away their young children.
Realizing the public hazard they had created, the owners looked for ways to modify the building so people wouldn’t want to look at it. That’s why they slapped the word Trump on the side. When Chicagoans see the building now, they’re disgusted and look away.
The towers of Marina City are two of the most distinctive landmarks on the Chicago River:
Marina City was opened in 1963 as a mixed-use complex with apartments, offices, stores, and a theater, but its odd design was so off-putting that the entire center was abandoned by the end of the decade. Hippies moved into the buildings in the early 1970s, renaming the complex Freetown Chicagiania and declaring it independent of the city, state, and federal government. The government of Chicago has never recognized Chicagiania, describing it as a “social experiment.” The residents of Chicagiania banned all hard drugs in the late 1980s, but cannabis is still sold and used openly, especially along Pusher Street. Even though crime rates are low, police will sometimes sweep the area. Today, about 600 people live in Chicagiania. The area is one of Chicago’s top tourist attractions, known for vibrant street art, live music, and creative frozen yogurt toppings.
150 North Riverside is remarkable not just for its design, but also for its handling of Chicago’s famous wind gusts.
Many buildings have wind dampening features, like slosh tanks, but 150 North Riverside has perhaps the most innovative method for handling wind. As you will note, the building tapers at the bottom. This base contains a hinge so that the building folds 90 degrees and lies flat when wind conditions are dangerous.
Because of this hinge system, all the furniture is bolted to the floor, and loose items, such as staplers and coffee mugs, are secured with magnets. Office workers get around by using a building-wide system of pulleys. These workers say they don’t mind when the building folds down, but it makes going to the bathroom somewhat difficult.
Now, let’s turn to Chicago’s tallest building:
Most people know this building as the Sears Tower, but it has changed names twice since then. In 2009, after Sears moved out, the building became Willis Tower. In 2017, Willis moved out, and the naming rights were bought by one of its newer tenants, which relocated from Cypress Creek. It is now the Globex Tower.
On the south side of the river, you’ll find the third-tallest building in Chicago, Vista Tower:
The most interesting thing about Vista Tower is that it’s really three interconnected towers. The shortest tower is a hotel, the middle tower is condominiums, and the tallest tower — at 101 floors — is overflow storage space for RuPaul’s wigs.2
And now, a bonus building that wasn’t on the boat tour! The John Hancock Tower, located on the famous Magnificent Mile, is Chicago’s fifth-tallest building:
This building is 1,128 feet tall, which makes it 1,121½ feet taller than the Complimentary Spouse. The observation deck closed in 2014 and was replaced by the nation’s least conveniently located Pep Boys.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this informative and completely accurate blog post. Please check out my other travel-related posts, many of which are more truthful than this one.
As mentioned in an earlier post, I tripped in London and ended up in the emergency room. I’ve been telling people that I fell when I was attacked by a pack of feral corgis outside Buckingham Palace, but the truth is I tripped on the South Bank near Jubilee Gardens.
You know those protectors they lay down so you don’t trip over loose cables? I tripped over one of those. As Alanis Morrisette might say:
At first, my knee hurt, but a few hours later, I couldn’t ignore the stabbing pain in my right hand and the dull pain in my chest. That required an immediate cab ride from the hotel to St. Thomas’ Hospital, which was actually less than a five-minute walk from where I tripped.
My first experience with Britain’s National Health Service since the 1980s was slow but otherwise superb. The line to be admitted to A&E (i.e., the emergency room) was long but moved quickly, and I was triaged within 10 minutes. Then the Complimentary Spouse and I waited for about an hour, but the delay was entirely our fault — we sat in the wrong waiting area and didn’t hear my name being called. When we found where we were supposed to be, the intake process happened right away, and then we waited about another hour and a half for my hand and chest to be X-rayed. They did four images of my hand and one of my chest.
After the X-rays, I returned to the waiting area. Britt and I were there for about another two hours, and then we were called back to speak with a physician associate. Her name was Becky Harris. She was very caring and provided an excellent explanation of what was going on. First, she reassured me that my ribs weren’t broken and I hadn’t punctured a lung. Then, she looked over the X-rays with me and said it wasn’t clear if I had fractured an area just below my thumb. The bone didn’t look exactly right, but she couldn’t determine if it had always been that way. The only way to tell, she said, was to wait about a week and see what happened after the bone had a chance to knit.
During the consultation with the PA Harris, I never felt rushed. She gave me a wrist brace and prescribed ibuprofen. I asked her if getting Pizza Express for dinner would also help. She chuckled and said it couldn’t hurt.
She also taught me a new term: anatomical snuff box. I’ve tried to work this into everyday conversation, but it hasn’t happened yet.
On the way out, PA Harris printed out detailed documentation for my doctor in the United States and recommended getting X-rays as soon as I got home.
Of course, the NHS is free for British citizens. I asked PA Harris if I needed to pay anything as I wasn’t British. She looked at me, a bit quizzically, and said no.1 I left the hospital without ever opening my wallet. We then headed to the nearest Pizza Express, where Britt had to cut my pizza for me.
I was very impressed with my NHS experience. While Britt and I were there for a few hours, it’s important to point out that St. Thomas’ is the main hospital at the very center of a city of 9 million people! Of course it’s busy as hell! And my situation was hardly life-threatening — the person in front of me in line clearly needed care immediately. Considering all these factors, I’m not upset that the hospital visit took a few hours. I’m sure the wait would have been equally long at a comparable hospital in the United States.
To the NHS, I say:
___ 1 The cost to treat a broken or sprained wrist in the United States is $500.
“I’m going to eat well on this trip,” I promised myself as the Complimentary Spouse and I were packing for our vacation in London and Copenhagen. “Just three sensible meals a day. A dessert once or twice. No snacks.”
I broke that promise just a few hours after landing when I scarfed down a 99 Flake outside Lilliwhites in Piccadilly Circus.
Don’t judge me, Daily Dave fans. I had the best of intentions. But I also had the biggest of appetites.
Here’s what I ate in London and Copenhagen.
Traditional British Food
British food gets a bad rap. It doesn’t deserve it. High tea turns food into an event. The Brits have the world’s best chocolate and candy. Even pub food, done well, hit the spot.
While Britt and I have enjoyed tea in many places around London, we keep returning to the tea at the Great Court Restaurant in the British Museum. The quality is great, the prices are reasonable, and you’re not too far from 3,000-year-old mummified bodies! I mean, yum, right!?
Pub food has come a long way. At the Bear & Staff, I had a chicken and portobello mushroom pie:
Three nights later, at the Cambridge (a sister pub of the Bear & Staff), I had the steak and Nicholson’s pale ale pie.
My dad and Britt had both had the fish and chips.
On our way to Copenhagen, Britt and I had a fair bit of free time in Heathrow Terminal 3, so we found a pub called the Big Smoke Taphouse and Tavern. I helped myself to another steak and ale pie.
Traditional Danish Food
In the United States, people associate Danish food with pastry. There’s a good reason for that, I discovered — the Danes are wizards with pastry! Here’s a look at what Britt and I got for one morning at Lagkaghuset, right next to our hotel:
Of course, people in Denmark need more than pastry. That’s where smørrebrød comes in. These open-faced sandwiches on dark rye bread are something of a national dish. We tried the smørrebrød in the cafe of Magasin, a high-end department store.
I got the chicken salad sandwich:
Britt got the shrimp:
The smørrebrøds weren’t the only sandwiches we ate on our trip. In London, we made our usual visit to the Brass Rail in the Selfridges Food Court. As always, we split a salt beef sandwich slathered with English mustard, plus a gherkin.
In Copenhagen, I had one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had in my life. It was at a nondescript sandwich place called Smagsløset on Vesterbrogade, not far from our hotel. I ordered the turkey and Emmentaler sandwich.
That’s a picture of me scarfing down this sandwich at the top of this blog post. The bread was firm and had the ideal texture and consistency for a sandwich. Between the bread was the perfect ratio of cheese, turkey, barbecue sauce, onions, and lettuce. There was a hint of chili sauce and one other ingredient I couldn’t quite place — it was creamy, but I don’t think it was mayonnaise.
I only had one hamburger on my trip. It was the Nakskov burger at Halifax — Danish beef topped with fried onions, cheddar, bacon, mustard, pickles, and remoulade on a brioche bun. (Britt got the same thing, but with beets.)
While we didn’t stop in Paris, my brother did, so we had a French meal in London in his honor. At Brasserie Zédel on Sherwood Street (one of the many arteries flowing into Piccadilly Circus), I had the chicken sauteed in mushrooms and cream:
Britt, my dad, and I split two desserts. The first, a lemon meringue tart, was tasty but not remarkable.
The pièce de résistance was the île flottante, which is very hard to find outside France. It’s meringue floating in vanilla custard, and it’s delicious. The version at Zédel did not disappoint!
Of course there was pizza! Here’s the delightfully spicy Diavolo pie Britt and I split at the Pizza Express near Covent Garden:
In Copenhagen, Britt and I discovered an excellent Italian restaurant named C’ho Fame. It was next to the Halifax burger place. I played pizza roulette and got a basic sourdough pizza topped with large slices of thinly-sliced meat. It was delicious. I also played beer roulette and was delighted with the Birra Moretti.
What’s a vacation without a little alcohol! We weren’t in London for more than 24 hours before stopping in one of our favorite bars, an LGBTQ-friendly place called Common Counter at Glass House on Brick Lane.
The cocktail menu at Common Counter is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The combinations are inventive and imaginative. Here’s me drinking my Lady Ezulle, which contains rum, orange liqueur, rose peppercorn, lime, and bitters:
Here’s a better look at the drinks. Britt’s Wine of Ergl — apricot mead, gin, lemon, sparkling wine, and bitters — is on the right.
Of course, Britt and I had to stumble through some famous gay pubs in Soho — Admiral Duncan, Duke of Wellington, Comptons, and more. We downed a lot of pints of Camden Hells.
All of the gay pubs were decked out for the Platinum Jubilee. This sign at Compton’s was especially appropriate:
In Copenhagen, I discovered a great new soft drink: Faxe Kondi. It’s hard to pin down the taste, but it reminds me a bit of Inca Cola. A bottle is currently in my fridge, being saved for a special occasion.
Pastry and Cakes
Our favorite Portuguese treat in donut form? Yes, please! Britt and I discovered these pastas de nata donuts at a place called Santa Nata near Covent Garden:
There’s a cake place in Copenhagen appropriately named Cakenhagen. Britt and I split these two beauties at the location inside Tivoli. On the left is a Fatamorgana, a crème fraîche mousse with apricot filling on a biscuit base. On the right is a Det Gyldne Tärn, caramel mousse with passionfruit filling and a dark chocolate base.
These little cakes were just as pretty on the inside as they were on the outside:
Ice cream gets its own section because, one, it’s delicious, and, two, it’s my blog and how dare you question me.
If you recall, I said it was a 99 Flake soon after arrival that derailed all of my good intentions. A 99 Flake was one of my favorite childhood treats, even though the soft-serve ice cream actually tastes like cold whipped cream and has a little bit of a chalky mouthfeel. When I was a kid, a 99 Flake cost 99p. This one cost £6! Inflation, right?
Another childhood memory is getting ice cream at intermission during plays. Here’s the ice cream I got at the revival of The Glass Menagerie, starring Amy Adams.
On our last night in London, Britt and I found a gelato place called Amorino, known for its distinctive flower-shaped scoops. This cone — with hazelnut, chocolate hazelnut, and pistachio — didn’t last long. London was experiencing a heat wave, and you can see that the gelato had already started to melt a few seconds after it was served up.
After we ate our gelato, we discovered that Amorino was a chain with locations all over the U.K. Then we found out that they’re actually all over Europe. And, just a few days ago, we found a new location at the mall five miles from our house. So, I guess the place wasn’t as special as we thought.
I’ve saved the best for last. I discovered an ice cream treat in Chinatown that I’m still talking about. I speak of none other than fish ice cream!
No, it’s not what you’re thinking. What I’m calling fish ice cream is really called taiyaki, soft serve in a freshly made fish-shaped waffle. A quick Google search says that taiyaki originated in Japan. No matter where it came from, I can tell you where it ended up — in our bellies! I had fish ice cream twice, both times with vanilla soft serve. Britt had the vanilla-and-green-tea swirl, which he loved.
I have never liked fish until now. Just make sure it’s a fish in waffle form and filled with ice cream.
One of the first things I did after coming home is search Google for the nearest taiyaki place. It’s in New York. Britt, let’s start planning a trip!