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London: Blue skies and the London Eye

Posted By · May 14, 2012 at 11:46 am

LONDON – Good morning from sunny London, home of the Summer Olympics. Photographer Steve Rhodes and I are headed to two interesting stories today. We are going to ride the London Eye, a gigantic ferris wheel on the Banks of the Thames River. Each of the capsules can fit 30 people and one rotation takes half an hour. I rode it two years ago with my wife and kids. On a clear day (like today) the view should be spectacular.

Also today, we are doing a story on London’s “Singing Cabbie.” Aiden Kent drives a cab during the day and sings in pubs and restaurants at night. A unique day.

Monday was a success by every measure. Steve and I worked a 19-hour day, taking advantage of spectacular weather. When it’s clear, dry and sunny in London you keep rolling because you never know when the weather could change.

We spent a portion of the day on a “Harry Potter” film tour, seeing many of the London landmarks used by filmmakers. Our guide carried a portable DVD player and showed us the scenes at each location (Thames River, Trafalgar Square, Scotland Yard) and then described in vivid detail what was filmed on location and how moviemakers used post-production techniques to create the magic. We saw dozens of “Potterheads” taking pictures at Platform 9 3/4 where Harry catches the “Hogwarts Express”.

The Kings Cross tube station set up a photo location with a luggage trolley that appears to be halfway through a brick wall. Harry Potter fans would instantly recognize it and each person wants a photo to see if they can be like Harry and disappear through the wall. The famous platform has apparently changed locations several times inside Kings Cross. The actual filming area is between two working train platforms.

We caught up with Kevin Beresford, president of the UK Roundabout Appreciation Society. Who knew there was such a group? Kevin is a “bout” fanatic, creating a calendar of Britain’s best roundabouts. He’s a character, exactly the kind of passionate person that we seek for our stories. We had dinner near one of his favorite roundabouts where a huge IMAX theatre is located. We rented a cab and went around the “bout” photographing it from every angle. We are meeting Kevin in another English city later in our trip to see what’s known as the “Magic Roundabout.”

We capped off the night shooting video of Big Ben, the London Eye and other London icons. My highlight was hearing the bell from Big Ben ring 11 times at 11pm. Stunning!

The “behind the scenes” of this Olympic pre-trip is very unglamorous. Steve and I share a tiny “linen closet size” London hotel room near one of the underground train stations. We share a room to save the station money. Two twin beds. Most elevators have more space than we do.

When we are not doing interviews, we are downloading hours of footage on computer hard drives. It is tedious work for Steve. We pack cables, batteries, hard drives and video cards and bring them into the hotel lobby late at night to work. Of course, we need electrical converters for all of the gadgets and finding AC outlets isn’t always easy. Steve was up well past two in the morning downloading and dubbing video files so we can be ready the next day.

People often wonder why we come to the Olympic host city and don’t gather stories about athletes, sports, or venues. That isn’t our role. We have crews who will come to London in July to cover those angles during the Summer Olympics. Our assignment, which I prefer, is to capture the distinctive, compelling stories that most media either ignore or don’t have time to see.

Channel 13 has created a reputation for unique storytelling that goes well beyond the stadiums where gold medals are won. Steve has been doing these pre-trips since Sydney, Australia. I have covered Olympics in one form or fashion since Salt Lake City in 2002. I have been fortunate to travel with WTHR to Athens (2004), Torino (2006), Beijing (2008), Vancouver (2010) and now London (2012). We see so much more than we would covering the Games. In total, we are spending 15 days in England, taking a train to the southwest tip of England, then driving through the Cotswolds, into Liverpool and York. We hope to bring back 20 or more stories that will air during our Olympic coverage this summer.

Thanks for following our daily blog!

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London: The perfect pub, royal castles and Sherlock Holmes

Posted By · May 14, 2012 at 11:37 am

LONDON – Sherlock Holmes, castles, queens, wine and beer. Yes, that seems to sum up our itinerary today.

Since this was our last full day in London, we wanted to squeeze everything in. We worried this morning because the forecast called for rain. Didn’t rain a drop. Cloudy and cool across London.

Our day began with wine. Seriously. During our months of research, we learned Gordon’s wine bar was the oldest in London, established in 1890. We didn’t go there because it’s old. We went to Gordon’s because of the unique ambiance. Descend the flight of stairs into an old wine cellar lit by candles. The walls are covered with old photos and historic newspapers featuring the Royal family and England through the years. Very cool.

The owner encouraged us to arrive at 11am before the lunch crowd showed up. If you want a romantic, unique place for wine or lunch consider Gordon’s. The ceilings in the old cellar are less than six feet tall, forcing taller guests, like myself, to duck. Each table has candles.

There is one private area, a cage with a larger table. We met a group of American women, whose husbands work in the UK, who make weekly wine outings to places in England. They chose Gordon’s today. We were fortunate to meet those lovely and funny ladies. Melissa Alger and Purdue grad Beth Van Volkinburg are part of the “Wednesday Wine Time Women” group that enjoyed wine, laughs and conversation in the cage at Gordon’s.

They also joke about their group’s other acronym, “AWOL” (American Women on the Loose).

After our midday wine experience we jumped in a cab for a short drive to Buckingham Palace where we photographed the exterior and did some promo shots. We knew the Queen wasn’t home because the monarchy flag was replaced by the Union Jack.

After a short stay at Buckingham Palace, we took a cab to the Tower of London, perhaps the most important castle in England. There is so much history. The crown jewels are located inside and it’s the place where our cabby said three queens were beheaded. The Tower of London is located along the Thames River and near the spectacular Tower Bridge.

Our final story of the day was Sherlock Holmes. The fictional detective is realizing a rise in popularity in Britain because of the wildly successful BBC series. Most Americans either read Arthur Doyle’s books or saw Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal on the big screen. But this is London. Sherlock Holmes has a special connection here.

221b Baker Street is often called the most famous address in the world because that was Doyle’s fictional address for Holmes and Watson. We drove to Baker Street to visit the Sherlock Holmes museum. The sign above the museum door is 221b Baker Street. There was a big crowd of Sherlockian fans buying souvenirs and walking up three flights of narrow stairs to see a recreation of the Holmes’ bedroom, study and other rooms.

We took another cab near Trafalgar Square where the Sherlock Holmes restaurant is located. We met several members of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London. These people are passionate Sherlockians, know every detail of the books and movies and have become huge fans of the BBC series. They attend lectures on Sherlock Holmes, plan trips to sites in the novels and can easily recite facts and passages from the books. We talked about Sherlock Holmes in the Sherlock Homes restaurant while enjoying cheese fries, fish and chips and a glass of beer.

Now we’re back at the hotel lobby, sitting at a table with a computer downloading video clips onto hard drives. We will likely be up past midnight again with little time to sleep. Thursday we catch a 7am train to the southwest tip of England. While you are sleeping, we will be taking a six hour train ride to Penzance.

Good night from London!

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St. Michael’s Mount, Land’s End, castles and pub signs

Posted By · May 14, 2012 at 10:27 am

BRISTOL, UK – Greetings from Bristol, England where it’s 12:30am. Steve and I just pulled into the hotel and turned on soccer after another long, memorable day.

Our alarm went off at 6:00am in Marazion so we could capture the sunrise at St. Michael’s Mount, the incredibly beautiful castle in the southwestern corner of England. It’s unique for two reasons. It is located in a tidal bay. When the tide is high, it is surrounded by water and accessible by boat. But in low tide, St. Michael’s Mount is not an island and you can walk along a stone causeway or beach to reach the castle. The second unique thing is that St Michael’s Mount has a family living inside. More on the family during my story this summer.

Since the tide was high this morning, we took an amphibious boat across reaching the castle in five minutes. Along the way, we saw two dolphins swimming in Mount’s Bay.

The castle is rich in history dating back hundreds of years. There are more than 50 rooms, many accessible to guests. The views are incredible. In one direction, the coastline of Cornwall. In the other direction, the Atlantic Ocean.

After our tour, the tide was low enough that Steve and I could walk across the causeway, which had been covered in water hours earlier. Since it was a sunny day, there were thousands of people visiting.

We also spent a portion of the day driving along the coastline to Land’s End, a spectacular town along the southern coast of England with beautiful views of the Atlantic. I had the traditional Cornish meal, a pasty which reminded me of a “Hot Pocket.” It was filled with meat and veggies. While it’s popular in this part of England, I will pass on the pasty next time.

Back in the car for an 90-minute drive through Cornwall to reach Andrew Grundon, a talented pub sign artist who works out of a studio in his garage. Andrew designs and paints approximately 200 pub signs across England. While some artists use computers to create signs, Andrew is “old school” doing it all by hand. His work is beautiful. He captures the story of each pub, painting portraits, animals, crowns, crests and dynamic lettering designed to bring visitors inside for food and a pint of beer.

After our interview with Andrew we drove to the fishing village of Padstow to videotape many of the pub signs Andrew created and enjoy my third plate of fish and chips.

Our day ended with an often white knuckle ride along narrow streets to reach Bristol. Imagine driving from Indianapolis to South Bend mostly on a narrow two lane road, in the wrong lane, while sitting in the passenger seat, using your other hand to power a stick shift. That’s what it’s like for an American to drive in England. Again, we didn’t crash. So, it was a good day.

Tomorrow, we go to Thornbury castle where an English couple is getting married. Imagine that. Your wedding in a real castle! Now imagine spending the night in the same room where kings once slept. That’s our assignment Saturday.

You will see our stories during the Olympics on channel 13.

Good night from England!

© Copyright 2012 Channel 13. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Harry Potter culture leaves mark on London

Posted By · April 25, 2012 at 11:58 am

The popularity of the Harry Potter films is alive in London. We booked a “Harry Potter” film tour today through Hackney Heritage Tours.

Graham Woodhouse is a 19-year veteran cabbie and guide who whisked us all over London to see many of the sites where film makers chose to capture the Potter magic. We saw Lambeth Bridge where “Prisoner of Azkaban” was filmed, walked along the Thames River and through Trafalgar Square.

Graham carried a mini DVD player and showed us the movie scenes before describing in vivid detail how moviemakers used London scenes to create memorable films.

One of my favorite locations was Kings Cross where Platform 9 3/4 is located. That’s the spot where Harry Potter disappears through the brick wall to catch the Hogwarts Express. Dozens of fans took pictures with the luggage trolley that appears to be halfway through the wall.

A family from Norway, self described as “Potterheads”, took pictures of their daughters at that location.

A terrific day! You will see the story this summer during our Olympic coverage.

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Day trip to Cornwall

Posted By · April 25, 2012 at 10:16 am

 CORNWALL, UK – One of the great joys of going on the Olympic pre-trip is having the ability to set the itinerary. We are not limited to stay in the host city. We have the freedom to explore other parts of the country.

Since Dave Calabro and Anne Marie Tiernon will be based this summer in London to cover the athletes and the sports, Steve Rhodes and I wanted to spend a good portion of this trip taking you to places beyond London. Our stories will air this summer during the Olympics.

We couldn’t wait to visit Cornwall. We were hooked for several reasons. The coastline of the southwestern part of England is fabulous. We found a pub sign artist in this area and there is a spectacular St. Michael’s Mount castle surrounded by water.

Getting to Cornwall from London involves a six-hour train trip. We woke up at 5:30am Thursday and took a cab to Paddington Station where we caught the 7:30am train. Steve and I took a brief nap on the train, ate breakfast and watched the rolling English countryside out our window. By 1:30 pm, we had arrived at Penzance.

We squeezed seven bags of broadcast equipment into our small rental car and drove ten minutes to the Godolphin Arms hotel, situated on the beach looking out at St. Michael’s Mount. Driving in England is a challenge. The wheel is on the wrong side of the car, you drive on the opposite lane and the stick shift is on the wrong side too. Everything you’ve ever learned in driving is opposite. It is quite a challenge.

We spent most of the afternoon conducting interviews on the beach and videotaping the castle from nearly every dry vantage point. Friday morning, we will take a small boat across Mount’s Bay to reach this spectacular treasure.

The rest of the evening was spent visiting pubs in Penzance. Pubs remain important to the British culture but high tax on alcohol is making it difficult for many pubs to survive.

Gary Turner, the manager of the “Turk’s Head,” says he and other pubs are selling more food than they have in the past in order to stay in business and compete with chain establishments.

We chatted with Paddy and Trish McGregor who own “Admiral Benbow,” a Penzance pub decorated with hundreds of items from shipwrecks.

We had dinner at “The Dolphin Tavern” and talked with manager Matthew Jorey who said his restaurant is a popular place for food and drinks.

Friday is going to be a long day. We catch an 8:00 am boat ride to St. Michael’s Mount, then leave around 12:00 pm to interview a talented pub sign artist, Andrew Grundon, who owns “Signature Signs.” We are scheduled to have dinner at “London Inn” in Padstow before embarking on a three-hour car ride to Bristol, England. We are hustling to be in place to document a wedding Saturday at Thornbury castle.

It’s well after midnight. We have been up 18 hours and Steve is still importing video clips into our hard drives and recharging batteries for Friday.

Good night from the southwestern tip of England.

© Copyright 2012 Channel 13. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

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