Olympic houses turn London into global party

Associated Press Modified: August 2, 2012 at 9:02 am •  Published: August 2, 2012
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LONDON (AP) — Russia wants to knock your socks off. Denmark is stylish and sophisticated. Ireland is up for a party — on a budget.

There are more than 200 countries at the Olympics, and they have two ways to stand out. One is on the medal podium — the other is by partying.

Dotted across London, national hospitality houses offer a base for a country's athletes, officials and occasional celebrities. Some are open to the public, showing a festive side to tourists from around the world. Others are strictly invitation only, like the American pavilion at the Royal College of Art.

Here's an eclectic, unscientific guided tour:

RUSSIA: 2014 IS OURS

Russia, home to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, has pulled out all the stops with two open-air attractions, Russia Park and Sochi Park, set in London's Kensington Gardens.

Russia Park is a vast sea of Astroturf dotted with bean bags, ping pong, chess and mini-golf. Medal winners and artists share the stage, with entertainment ranging from Central Asian throat singers to jazz bands to mini-rock festivals.

Inside scoop: Admission is free. Blinis and beef stroganoff are available but alcohol is not, and you must be able to stomach an endless loop of Queen's "We Are the Champions."

WINTER PALACE

A 10-minute walk away, Sochi Park is the showcase for the Russian city and region that will host the next Winter Games, with attractions including virtual skiing and a nightly ice dancing show featuring big-name Russian skaters.

Scoop: Ouch on the admissions price: 18 pounds ($28) in advance, 20 ($31) at the door. Adding to the pinch, the ice show is extra.

SAMBA, BABY

Brazil, home to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, has transformed Somerset House, a sprawling edifice beside the River Thames, into Casa Brasil.

The courtyard has been taken over by Brazilian bands, including Sargento Pimenta (Portuguese for Sgt. Pepper) a popular Carnival ensemble that takes a samba approach to Beatles classics. The bar serves up a mean caipirinha, a popular Brazilian cocktail. There's also a "3-D paragliding experience" and extensive exhibitions of Brazilian art and design — much of it bold, confident and playful.

Scoop: Brazil is a vast, varied and vibrant country, so bring on the 2016 games! But who forgot to sell any Brazilian food?

CHEAP YET CHEERFUL

Recession-hit Ireland has installed its national house — inevitably, perhaps — in a pub. In the King's Cross area, close to the Javelin trains that run to the Olympic Park, it sprawls over three floors, from a basement bar styled on a British comedy to a main floor with live music to a roof terrace and bar. The Guinness flows, the atmosphere is convivial and unpretentious.

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