“The Queue” 101: How to Get Centre Court Tickets for Wimbledon

Wimbledon 2013 is now in full swing (pun absolutely intended), and with all of the tennis on TV I am getting a huge dose of British nostalgia.  This time last year, I was sitting in a tent on those hallowed grounds in SW19 queuing for the chance to score some incredible tickets to Wimbledon.  It was one of the best sporting experiences I have ever had, and one that I would recommend to anyone with even a remote interest in tennis or British culture.  Wimbledon is one of the only remaining sporting events in the world where the average person can show up on the day-of and gain entrance to a world-class arena (without having to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to do so).  All you have to do is queue!

Here is my experience of the queue for Wimbledon tickets during the 2012 tournament:

Willem and I left our flat near Tower Bridge around 7:30am on the day before we wanted tickets (we wanted tickets for the second day of Wimbledon, a Tuesday, so we left for the queue on Monday morning).  We brought with us a cheap two-person pop-up tent we had bought for around £25, some water and snacks, a sleeping bag and blankets, and a change of clothes.  We couldn’t bring much more than was absolutely necessary because we had to carry everything by hand.  We took the District Line all the way across London to Southfields tube station.  From there, we walked about a 1/2 mile to the Wimbledon Park grounds, where stewards directed us to a place in line.

Wimbledon Queue Sign

We were in line by around 9:30am, and we unpacked our stuff.  We were happy to see that there were less than 100 people in front of us, which meant that we were guaranteed to get Centre Court tickets for the next day! The queue steadily grew behind us, and by late afternoon, there were over 1,000 people in the queue. If you want to guarantee yourself tickets to one of the show courts, definitely arrive prior to 5pm.

Wimbledon Queue, Tents, Wimbledon Park Wimbledon Queue, Tents, Wimbledon Park

The entire process is very organized and orderly, as is everything truly British.  There are nice stewards posted everywhere to answer any questions and to direct those in the queue to the right areas.  You have to stay where you are in the queue until at least 5pm, which is when the stewards come around and hand out “queue cards”.  These cards are your official “place in line”, and are there to prevent queue jumpers.  Guard them with your life! As long as you have your card, no one can steal your spot.

Wimbledon Queue, Tents, Wimbledon Park, Vamos Rafa

After we were handed out queue cards (we were #74 and #75!), Willem and I left our tent to be watched over by our tent neighbor and went on the hunt for food.  Luckily there are a few supermarkets nearby, so we bought picnic materials and made our way back to our tent for the evening.

Wimbledon Queue, Tents, Wimbledon ParkWimbledon Queue, Tents, Wimbledon Park

At around 10:30pm, the stewards went around once more to ask everyone to begin to quiet down for the evening.  Most people respected this, but it is worth taking along some ear plugs so that any rowdy crowds you are unlucky enough to have near your tent do not disturb your sleep.  Willem and I had a different problem.  We misjudged how cold it gets in England, even on a summer night.  Neither of us slept a wink the entire night because we were too busy shivering in a curled up ball, trying stay warm.  Oh well, who comes to Wimbledon to sleep anyway?!

Don’t plan on sleeping in, either! By 5am, the stewards begin asking everyone to wake up and pack up their tents in order to consolidate the line for those arriving to queue for general tickets in the morning.  We took turns washing up in the bathroom trailers and packing up our stuff.  The facilities in general were very good, considering the fact that the Wimbledon queue is just a bunch of tents stuck in a field.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were clean bathroom trailers for both men and women (with mirrors and sinks!) instead of just port-a-pottys.

Wimbledon Queue, Tents, Wimbledon Park

Packing our tent was a breeze, because I apparently have the magic touch when it comes to pop-up tents. I even helped a couple of guys who were at their wits end get their tent back in its bag.  And they weren’t the only ones.  The tent carnage on that field was appalling.  I saw dozens of tents that had just been abandoned when their owners couldn’t get them back in their bags. Does anyone actually learn how to put their tent away before camping?

Wimbledon Queue, Tents, Wimbledon Park

For those tent masters like me, Wimbledon provides a left luggage storage area where you can leave your large bags and tents. Anything bigger than a small (soft-sided) backpack is not allowed into the area (did they really think I would want to carry my tent around all day anyway?).  It cost £5 per item of camping equipment, and £1 per additional item to store for the day.

Queue cards in hand and tents safely stored, we got back in line to wait.  At 7:30am, the stewards began to lead us down a very long path leading to the security area at the entrance to the park.  We were halted there to wait until the gates opened at 9:15am.  At 8am, were were issued our wristbands.  This is where your queue card is important. There are only 500 wristbands each for the show courts: Centre Court, Court 1, and Court 2.  A band for Centre Court allows you entrance into any show court, but Court 1, for instance, only allows entrance into that court and the ones below it.  A general admission ticket (given out to approximately 6,000-9,000 people in the queue every day who do not receive show court tickets) will allow access to the dozens of lower courts and Henman Hill, but not the show courts.

The bands are given out first come-first served according to your position in the queue.  As we were in the first 500 people, we received bands for Centre Court, which meant we were going to see Rafael Nadal play that day! The band then guarantees your ability to buy your ticket at the turnstiles.

An hour later, and the queue finally started to move. We slowly snaked our way through the airport-style security and to the entrance where we bought our tickets at the turnstiles.  Luckily we brought cash, because we found out that no credit or debit cards are accepted for tickets bought on the day.  This keeps the line moving quickly. We finally entered the gates of the All England Club at 10:15am.

Wimbledon, Centre Court, All England Club

We made it!

Wimbledon, Centre Court, All England Club, Order of Play

The earliest matches did not begin until 11am (and the first show court matches did not start until 1pm), so we wandered around the grounds and found seats at Court 17, where Mardy Fish (USA) was about to start his match.

Wimbledon, Mardy Fish

We watched the first set, and then decided to find something to eat before heading into the show courts.  If you are familiar with Wimbledon, you will know that “Strawberries and Cream” (washed down with champagne, of course) is the quintessential Wimbledon dish.

Wimbledon, Strawberries and Cream

We were tempted, but for £7 for a bowl of strawberries and cream, we decided to pass on that little bite of British culture. Instead, we took our food and made our way to Henman Hill to watch some matches on the big screen while we ate.

Wimbledon, Henman Hill, All England Club

After a rain delay (it is England, after all), we finally took our seats at Centre Court.  We were in the fifth row!

Wimbledon, Centre Court, All England Club

First up was Rafael Nadal against Thomaz Bellucci.  The match was much more exciting than we had anticipated.  Bellucci caught Nadal by surprise when he came out on fire, and won the first 4 games!  We thought we were in for the upset of the century, but Nadal kept his composure and battled back to win the set.  After that, Nadal cruised through the rest of the match, winning comfortably.  It was easy to see why Nadal is considered one of the greats of tennis. Click on the pictures below to enlarge.

 

The final match we saw on Centre Court was between Britain’s sweetheart, Andy Murray, and Nikolay Davydenko.  Andy Murray’s fans were out in force, which created a wonderful atmosphere on the court.  Murray did his fans proud, and won 3 sets to 0.  (Once again, you can click on the individual pictures to enlarge them.)

 

By this point we were exhausted.  It was after 9pm, and we had been going non-stop in the sun and rain the entire day.  We left the All England Club and returned to the left luggage to collect our bags.  It was after 10:30pm when we got back home, but the whole experience was oh-so-worth-it! For a few pounds and some patience in a queue, you can take part in one of the greatest British traditions, plus glimpse a few of the most famous names in tennis.

Wimbledon, Centre Court, All England Club, Order of Play

If you are ever in London for those two weeks at the end of June/beginning of July, do not miss the chance to queue for Wimbledon!

For more information, Britishtennis.com has published a page on tips and rules for the queue, as well as a useful map of the grounds and nearest tube stations.

The King and Queen Came to Haarlem!

The new King and Queen of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander and his wife Máxima, have spent the months of May and June touring all the provinces of the Netherlands.  Today, the royals made a much-anticipated stop in Haarlem, the capital of the province of Noord-Holland.

The preparations in the Grote Markt were in full swing by the time I woke up this morning.  Barriers lined the square, platforms were set up for tv cameras, policemen were out in force, and a bright orange carpet lined the route (no red carpets for the House of Oranje). I wasn’t going to miss the chance to see the King and Queen in person (less than 100ft from my apartment, no less!), so I went outside to stake out a good spot hours before their scheduled arrival.

Haarlem, Willem-Alexander, King, Koning

An orange carpet for the House of Oranje

Haarlem, Willem-Alexander, King, Koning, Maxima

The police of Haarlem, working hard (taking pictures for the spectators)

While waiting for the royals to make an appearance, I met a wonderful elderly Dutch couple who were also there to see Willem-Alexander and Máxima.  They had lived during the reign of four monarchs (Queen Wilhelmina, Queen Juliana, Queen Beatrix, and now King Willem-Alexander) in their lifetime, but this was the first time they had the opportunity to see their monarch in person.  When they found out I was American, the woman told me stories about how she lived in Amsterdam during WWII, and how she still fondly remembers the Americans and Canadians who liberated the Netherlands from German occupation. I was spellbound listening to her speak about her life during the war.  It was history coming alive–no textbooks required.

Half an hour before the scheduled appearance, bloemenmeisjes (“flower girls”) handed out orange flowers for everyone, along with the lyrics to a special song written to welcome the royals to Haarlem.  As the King and Queen got closer to the square, the crowd sang the song to welcome them.

Haarlem, Willem-Alexander, King, Koning

“Bloemenmeisjes” hand out orange flowers to the crowd

Haarlem, Willem-Alexander, King, Koning, Maxima

Singing a song for the new King Willem-Alexander

When King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima arrived in the square, there was a roar from the crowd.  There were dozens of police and suited men surrounding them, but they walked down the orange carpet through the center of the square so everyone could see them.  They took turns shaking hands on either side of the barriers as they went along.

Haarlem, Willem-Alexander, Koning, King

The monarchs arrive with their entourage

…And I was one of the lucky ones that got to shake the hand of the King!!!! It was lovely to see how down-to-earth the royal family really is (either that, or they put on a really good show).  Both Willem-Alexander and Máxima had genuine smiles, and although they were ushered past the crowds pretty quickly, they still took the time to shake as many hands as possible:

Haarlem, Willem-Alexander, King, Koning, Maxima

King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima in Haarlem

Haarlem, Willem-Alexander, King, Koning, Maxima

King Willem-Alexander right after he shook my hand!

Haarlem, Willem-Alexander, King, Koning, Maxima

King Willem-Alexander makes his way down the Grote Markt in Haarlem

Haarlem, Willem-Alexander, King, Koning, Maxima

Queen Maxima is ushered down the orange carpet

At the end of the square, the royals stopped and were serenaded by a chorus of schoolchildren before climbing the steps of the Stadhuis.

Haarlem, Willem-Alexander, King, Koning, Maxima

A chorus sings to the King and Queen

There, the mayor of Haarlem made a little speech welcoming them to the “most beautiful city in [their] kingdom”.  After a few more waves to the crowd, they stepped into a waiting car and off they went!  The whole visit only lasted about twenty minutes, but it was worth waiting for.  How many people can say they’ve met the King?!

Haarlem, Willem-Alexander, King, Koning, Maxima

The King and Queen on the steps of the Stadhuis in Haarlem

The Dutch Love Affair With Herring

The Dutch are not particularly known for their culinary delights.  There is one delicacy, however, that every visitor to the Netherlands must try: Dutch herring. This raw, silvery little fish is something that is enjoyed by almost every Dutchman.  Actually, enjoy is not a strong enough word to describe the Dutch love of herring.  Dutch people would probably trade their first-born child for a couple of these slimy buggers. Where we have taco trucks and hot dog stands in the U.S., the Dutch fill every street corner with designated herring stands.

The Dutch passion for haring is a long-standing one.  Herring, fished from the North Sea, has been a valuable commodity in the Netherlands for hundreds of years.  There is a Dutch saying that “Amsterdam was built on herring bones,” meaning that profits from the lucrative herring trade financed many of the beautiful buildings that line Amsterdam’s canals.  Today, the Dutch empire may be lacking but the demand for herring continues unabated.

Herring, Haring, Hollandse nieuwe

Small fish, big influence

Every year in June, the seaside town of Scheveningen (try saying that five times fast) celebrates Vlaggetjesdag (“Flag Day”).  On Vlaggetjesdag, the fishing boats (grandly decorated with flags and pennants–hence the name “flag day”) sail back into the harbors of the Netherlands with the first catch of Hollandse nieuwe herring of the year.

DSCN7926

The captain of the first ship that reaches port was traditionally given the honor of bringing a crate of herring to the Queen.  Today, the first barrel of herring off the boat is auctioned off for charity. In 2012, the first herring barrel sold for a record price of 95,000 Euros!

The 95,000 euro barrel

So why is the Hollandse nieuwe herring harvest such a big deal? For starters, this particular Dutch delicacy could traditionally only be caught between May and July each year.  Any earlier, and the fat content of the fish was too low; any later, and it was too high. Now, of course, raw herring can be frozen and preserved year-round, but the Dutch still prefer to eat it fresh off the boats.  The Dutch also pioneered their own way of preparing herring for consumption:

“The fish are gutted on board the fishing boats, leaving the pancreas in place. The pancreatic enzymes do most of the conservation, so that the brine they are kept in needs much less salt. This could explain why Dutch herring is so much more flavorful than other salted or pickled herring varieties in the rest of Europe.”

Yum. I know I love to eat my fish with pancreas intact.

This year’s Vlaggetjesdag provided a great excuse for me and Willem to get out of the house, and for me to learn a little more about this Dutchiest of Dutch delicacies. I was pleasantly surprised at how much there was to see and do.  We were able to tour fishing boats and ships of the Dutch Royal Navy, see how traditional nautical handicrafts were made, and of course eat herring.

Dutch herring in all its glory

Willem, the good Dutchman that he is, downed three of them in the span of about five minutes.  I chose not to partake this time, as I have already had the honor of tasting herring.  Let’s just say, it was not my favorite food.  Supposedly herring is an acquired taste. After my experience with herring though, I don’t really want to acquire it.

Should you choose to try a herring when you visit the Netherlands (to anyone who visits us in Haarlem- there is a herring stand 50 meters from our front door, so prepare yourselves!), you cannot just eat it any-which-way.  The correct way to eat a herring is to 1) pick it up by the tail; 2) dip the herring in raw, diced onions; and 3) tip your head back and throw that slimy thing down the hatch!

Haring, Herring, Vlaggetjesdag, Hollandse nieuwe

Look at that technique!

Now doesn’t that sound delicious?

The Strange History of Texel Island

texel-island-mapRecently Willem and I spent a lovely Sunday afternoon in Texel, an area of the Netherlands neither of us had previously visited. Texel (pronounced Tessel in Dutch) is an island in the province of North Holland.  It is the most populated of the Frisian Islands, and is situated between the North Sea to the west and the Wadden Sea to the east.

To get there, we drove from Haarlem to Den Helder, where we took the ferry across the channel to the island.  The ferry is the only way to get to the island from the mainland, and while it is not cheap (18 euros for the car), it is fast and comfortable.  The ferry, operated by TESO, leaves every hour from Den Helder and the journey only takes 20 minutes. We were lucky enough to arrive right as the ferry was about to depart, so we drove right up and onto the ship.

DSCN7837

During the summer months, however, we read that the island is extremely popular with campers and beach-goers; a long wait for the ferry on a hot, summer day is not unheard-of.  On board the ferry there were plenty of snacks and drinks for sale, a souvenir stall (I bought some nice postcards there), and plenty of clean, free (yay!) toilets.  When we got to the island, we followed the signs straight to De Cocksdorp at the northern tip of the island, where the Texel Lighthouse is located.

DSCN7817 DSCN7801

For three euros, you can climb the 45 meters to the top of the lighthouse (fun fact: lighthouses are called vuurtoren in Dutch, meaning “fire towers”, because lighthouses were kept lit by fires in the days before electricity), where you are rewarded with amazing vistas of the beach and sea on three sides.  You don’t have to climb very high to get impressive views in the Netherlands!

On our tour of the lighthouse we learned that the Texel Lighthouse was also the site of a very strange and interesting historical event during WWII: the Georgian Uprising of Texel (Opstand der Georgiers).  During the war, Texel formed part of the German Atlantic Wall system of defense.  By late in the war, however, the German forces were occupied with fighting in France and they had to find creative ways of holding their territory along the Atlantic Wall.  Texel Island was occupied by a battalion of captured soldiers from the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic (modern day Georgia) on the Eastern front who had been given the choice of being sent to POW camps or fighting in the Germany army when they were captured.

Georgian soldiers in the Germany army

In April 1945, the Georgian soldiers, aided by the Dutch resistance on the island, revolted against their German commanders.  The Georgians quickly gained control of the tiny island, but were unable to hold it when German reinforcements arrived.  Over the next five weeks, the Germans systematically combed the island for any of the Georgian rebels.  A group of the Georgians took refuge in the last available stronghold on the island, which was the Texel lighthouse.  Even though the Germans officially surrendered on May 5, 1945, the fighting on Texel Island continued until May 20, leading the uprising to be called “Europe’s last battlefield”. In total, 565 Georgians, 120 citizens of Texel, and around 800 Germans lost their lives during the uprising.

The lighthouse itself was heavily damaged during the fighting.  After tests, it was found that the structural integrity of the lighthouse had been compromised by the sustained gunfire it had come under, so an entirely new exterior was built around the old lighthouse.  Visitors to the lighthouse today can walk in between the two walls on a section about halfway up the lighthouse to see the original damage done by mortar shells and gunfire.

DSCN7806

This was the most fascinating part of the lighthouse, in my opinion.  It is scary to imagine how desperate the Georgian soldiers must have felt watching the Germans advance towards them while they were trapped in the lighthouse at the very tip of the island. There is also a Georgian cemetery and memorial on Texel that are open to the public for those interested in military history.

After visiting the lighthouse, we took the rest of the day to drive around the various towns on the island. Below are some of the wacky things we learned about Texel Island on our drive. For such a small place, it sure is an island full of things to discover!

Two Islands- The modern-day Texel Island actually used to be two different islands, Texel and Eierland.  The two were separated by a single small channel. In the 17th century, the two islands were poldered together, creating a single landmass that is now the largest natural land barrier between the North Sea and the Wadden Sea.

Beachcomber madness- Texel has a centuries-old history of beachcombing. The particular mix of currents, tides, and winds that constantly batter the island result in a whole lot of debris being washed up on the island every day.  In the old days, when ships wrecked off the coast of the island during storms, the islanders would come out by the hundreds to collect the materials that washed up on shore.  Beachcombing is such a tradition here that there are multiple Jutter museums (Jutter meaning “wreckage” or “debris” in the West Frisian dialect) dedicated solely to displaying the countless items found on Texel’s shores.

schipbreuk--en-juttersmuseum-texel

Naval infamy- Texel Island is used today as a training area for the Dutch Navy, but it is also the site of one of the most embarrassing moments in Dutch naval history.  In 1795, Texel became the only place in history where an entire navy was defeated on horseback.  How is this possible, you ask? Well, the French army was fighting the Netherlands at the time, and received word that the Dutch navy was stuck in ice frozen around the island.  Upon hearing this, the French Commandant, Louis Joseph Lahure, simply rode up to the Dutch ships with 128 of his men and demanded their surrender.  Having no other choice, the Dutch were forced to surrender without a single shot being fired.  (I found this hilarious.  Willem…not so much.)

Texel-navy-defeat-1795

Tuunwallen (“Garden walls”) and sheep sheds Driving around Texel, it is clear that there are many times more sheep than people on this little chunk of land in the Wadden Sea.  The pastures where Texel sheep graze are unique to the island.  Instead of fences, the edges of the fields are traditionally delineated by earthen walls made up of piled turf and vegetation, called tuunwallen.  The sheep shelters on Texel are also uniquely designed for the conditions on the island.  From afar, the sheds look like strange houses that have been chopped in half.  They are designed in this manner, with the entry on the flat side and always facing the northeast, because the harsh winds that blow constantly across the island come from the southeast. 

DSCN7824 DSCN7822

We had a great time exploring the island.  It reminded me a lot of my trips to the Outer Banks of North Carolina as a kid.  Now, if only the finicky Dutch weather would warm up so we could actually swim in the water on one of these little visits to the sea!