Thursday, 31 July 2014

The Olympiad Trip - Day 4

Today was travelling day ... starting in London & finishing in Malangen.
The day started with an early morning tube ride to Heathrow Airport, where I caught my first flight of the day to Oslo. Here I changed my remaining British Pounds to Norwegian Krone before heading to a shop to get something to drink ... 25NOK for a 500mL bottle of water! That's AUD$4.28 by the regular exchange rate, but much closer to $5 once you factor in the cut taken at the airport for money exchanges ... I can imagine that if meals were not provided for the officials such as myself, that a trip to the Olympiad could quickly become very expensive!
Next on the agenda was the flight to Tromso & this was where I really got my first proper taste of the Olympiad - at the airport gate. There I saw New Zealander Helen Milligan, said hi to Henrik Mortensen, who has been a regular visitor to Australia over the last decade & saw Gary Kasparov walk through the terminal, stopping just near the departure gate (I'm not sure if he actually got on the flight I was on), which saw almost everyone waiting at the gate (being almost entirely chess players) turn their heads to acknowledge his presence!
Once I arrived at Tromso airport, I jumped on the bus provided by the organisers to the city centre. The journey itself featured an interesting piece of roadway, as a decent portion of the trip once leaving the airport was under a mountain ... and the road featured at least two roundabouts that were underground! Unfortunately my phone battery was almost flat, so I didn't get any photos of this, but will try to get some in the next few days to give you an idea of what it looks like - quite unique at the very least!
Once in Tromso, I headed to the Radisson hotel to collect my accreditation documents. Just outside the hotel were Australian team members Junta Ikeda, Moulthun Ly & Max Illingworth, who were about to head to dinner. Unfortunately due to other time constraints I wasn't able to join them, but I'm sure I'll see them a lot over the next few weeks. I also grabbed dinner of my own (provided by the organisers) at the Radisson & met up with fellow arbiter NY Wong. He introduced me to some of the other arbiters at the event that he knew, from Singapore & Vietnam & then I had some beef stroganoff, pasta & rice for dinner.
After dinner, the final journey for the day commenced - a bus trip to the Malangen Brygger hotel, where the majority of the arbiters are staying. The trip took over an hour, but it also allowed time for a quick nap on the bus. I'm sharing an apartment with fellow arbiter Haroon or Rashid from Bangladesh.
Tomorrow I hope to be able to take some more photos of Tromso & spend some more time looking around the town, which is quite picturesque. There is also the arbiter's technical meeting in the evening. To finish off the post, a few photos from today's travels

 Some of the Olympiad signs at Tromso airport
My room at the Malangen Brygger ... cosy is one way to describe it!
The view from the apartment balcony - looking to the right
 The view from the apartment balcony - looking directly ahead
 The view from the apartment balcony - looking to the left
My 'welcome pack' with my accreditation for the tournament

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Olympiad Trip - Day 3

Today I ventured into central London by myself (my brother Michael had been with me on other days), with the plan of doing some touristy things. I initially headed to the London Eye, however as with last time I was here, the queues were prohibitively long (2 hours or more), and when there by myself (as opposed to in a group when you might almost be inclined to wait) I decided to simply take a few photos & go elsewhere.

The London Eye
The Houses of Parliament
A somewhat dodgy selfie across the Thames from Parliament

I decided to continue walking down Southbank, finally finishing up at the Tate Museum of Modern Art, which had a number of interesting artworks
One of the displays for the Festival of Love in Southbank
The front of the Tate Museum of Modern Art
One of the more interesting artworks, depicting the Vietnam War
Detail of the Vietnam artwork
Detail of the Vietnam artwork
More artwork from the Tate - this time an old engine covered in Copper Sulphate crystals
Another interesting piece from the Tate
An interesting Bronze sculpture at the Tate
Another view of the Bronze sculpture at the Tate

After leaving the Tate Museum, I crossed the Thames into central London, taking a few more photos on the way

A view down the Thames from the Millenium Bridge, with Tower Bridge in the centre & the Shard on the right
Millenium Bridge looking towards St Paul's Cathedral
Law Courts

I finished the day with some poker at the Victoria casino in Edgeware Road, which was by far the biggest poker room I visited in London, before heading back to my room for an early night (have a morning flight out of London to Tromso via Oslo).

To finish off my time in London, I thought I would share some of the things I found to be somewhat quirky on my trip ...
A number of buildings simply number all their floors, both above & below ground, so the ground floor is level 0 & the first below ground floor is -1 etc. Somewhat different to the Ground, Lower Ground nomenclature used in Australia.
The currency is unusually large, particularly the larger denomination notes - the £20 & £50 notes did not fit properly in my wallet & stuck out at the top. I didn't investigate local wallets, but I would have imagined there wouldn't be such a significant difference between note (and hence wallet) sizes across countries.
The Underground system (the 'Tube') is just that, but there seems to be a maze of tunnels, pathways & stairs involved in getting around it. The system itself seems very efficient, with generally no more than 5 or so minutes to wait between trains, however the number of lines make changing lines (and walking lots) a major part of most journeys.
The city itself (as I guess would be expected of such an old city) seems very ad hoc, with little thought to planning & creating a clear grid, as with a city like Melbourne, however I suppose what it lacks in order it more than makes up for in history, charm & character.

Sign at Russell Square underground station - passengers catch a lift down to the platforms (unless they feel very energetic & want to take the stairs!
Tomorrow is an early start for me, with my flights to Tromso ahead of me. Hopefully I'll be able to take some more photos & give you a pre-Olympiad impression of the town.

The Olympiad Trip - Day 2

So for my first full day in London I managed to get some broken sleep & not get out of  bed until shortly after noon. To make matters slightly more annoying, I seem to have picked up a sore throat & cough in my travels, which I'm managing with, but it does take something away from being able to enjoy the city. Will see how I go with getting something for it today ... and hopefully better health for the remainder of the trip.
As for what I did, the first stop was the London Chess Centre where I picked up a few things, which you can see in the picture below.
 Outside the London Chess Centre
 The Master Game Series 6 & 7 DVDs - these were shown on UK TV in the late 1970s & early 1980s & were not only great tournaments, but you got to see & hear some of the thought processes of the players involved - something that I am interested in, but something that has still not progressed much farther. Also one of the few TV Shows made about chess, so a good collectors item from that perspective, with the educational (and entertainment) value adding to it!
The books I got from the chess shop - mostly related to coaching.

Next on the agenda was something to do for the afternoon, so after grabbing some lunch, I thought that the Sherlock Holmes Museum could be a good tourist stop ... but then I saw the length of the queue to get into it & decided to give it a miss ...

 The Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street
And the reason I didn't go inside ... a queue of roughly 100 metres was enough of a deterrent!

With that option off the table, Plan B was to head to the Science Museum. The big drawback was the amount of walking required, which didn't help my cause when already feeling less than 100%. Once there, I looked around at some of the exhibits - some interesting sections on the mind, space travel, James Watt & transportation were the standouts, which you can see in part in the pictures below. I picked up a guide book for £6, but nothing else took my fancy from a souvenir perspective.

The front of the Science Museum
 Mind Maps exhibit looking at psychology & the mind
 A sleep study monitor at the exhibit
 One of the many large Steam-powered historical exhibits near the entrance
 A bit about James Watt & his workshop
 A piece about Yuri Gagarin in the Space exhibit
 A piece of rock from the Moon, also in the Space exhibit
 An exhibit showing various satellites
 One of the larger halls with a variety of historical exhibits, many of which had to do with science & transportation
 A model of a DNA strand
 The old 'Greenwich Mean Time' phone service & how it was set up
 Some panels from the Who Am I exhibit
 More from the Who Am I exhibit

After leaving the Science Museum, I then ventured to Harrods, which was somewhat underwhelming - yes I can now say I've been there (and of course my phone battery had died by this stage, so no photos unfortunately), but it simply seems like a very overpriced department store! One example was a car racing simulation game, which had a full-sized car shell, wheel, controls, etc, along with three large TV screens to display the action ... price: £75,000! You could buy a very nice ACTUAL car for that, & have plenty of change left over for something like an X-Box or PlayStation ... but it seems like another world in Harrods!

To finish off the evening, the casino of choice was the Casino at the Empire, where the early World Series of Poker Europe events were held. Although not as successful as the previous evening (I finished with a small loss), I did have a charged phone to take some photos.

 The front of the Casino at the Empire
 The Hippodrome, from the previous night
The obligatory souvenir £1 chip from the Casino at the Empire

Today I think I will try to go for a ride on the London Eye (assuming queues are reasonable), though with an early start tomorrow (10am flight out of Heathrow to Oslo then Tromso), I think the late night casino trip might be off, or at the very least have to happen much earlier in the evening.
Hopefully I can also make some progress in shaking this sore throat - I'd rather not be the guy who coughs & splutters at an inappropriate time at the Olympiad ... apart from just wanting to feel a bit better!

Monday, 28 July 2014

The Olympiad trip - Day 1

Yes, this blog is still being updated ... although definitely not as often as I would like ... I've simply been overwhelmed with a number of tasks - my regular coaching & arbiting, moving house, assorted chess-related admin & simply life in general - have all conspired to temporarily turn this blog into another piece of cyberspace history, but I hope to revive it, at least while on my latest chess-related adventure!
I'm off to the Olympiad in Norway as a match arbiter!
On the way, I'm spending a few days being a tourist in London before heading to Norway, where it seems the arbiters will not be staying in Tromso at all, but rather in the 'nearby' (and by nearby, they mean some 74km by road away) Malangen Brygger hotel.
Anyway, the journey began with a rather long plane trip from Melbourne to London, with a brief stopover in Dubai. The stopover in Dubai confirmed my suspicions that no-one in their right mind would live in a place like Dubai if it did not have the oil resources, and its subsequent wealth ... seriously, 34 degrees at 7am! Of course I almost managed to not make it out of Dubai - new security measures at airports mean that when travelling to the UK (and some other countries) various electrical devices (such as laptops) must be able to be turned on at security checkpoints. I packed my ASUS Transformer Prime (which I had not used for a few weeks), which was not charged, but thankfully I had my charger packed (and there was a suitable power plug converter at the departure gate) so I was able to show that I could eventually turn the computer on, so on with the boarding I went!
On the trip over, I managed to watch some decent in-flight entertainment - the based on a true story film Argo, starring Ben Affleck, Keating, a series of interviews with Kerry O'Brien about Paul Keating's life & political career, JFK: The Smoking Gun, an interesting re-assessment of the JFK assassination by former Australian Police Detective Colin McLaren, who was notably the inspiration for Underbelly: Infiltration, a few episodes of Grand Designs, as well as part of Heavy by Arj Barker.
My younger brother Michael was nice enough to pick me up from Heathrow Airport before we headed into London itself to catch up with Chris, one of his friends from school who is currently working in London. We had dinner at Bodean's BBQ, before having a few drinks at the nearby Clachan Hotel before we parted ways as I headed for Pokerstars Live at the Hippodrome Casino where I spent a few hours (leaving with a small profit), before heading back to the University of London, where I am staying while in London.
With my phone battery running low for most of the day, I didn't take many photos today (although I hope that will change in the coming days), but did take the following photos of interest:
 The obligatory souvenir £1 chip from Pokerstars Live
Banana Yazoo, my Big M substitute while here in London. It reminds me a lot of the short-lived Banana Wave from around 10-15 years ago in Australia.
On the agenda for tomorrow is the London Chess Centre, as well as some poker in the evening ... with possibly a museum visit (or some other tourist-related adventure) if I have enough time (I suspect I will be sleeping in rather late in the morning, or possibly afternoon) ... hopefully with some more photos!