Olympic houses turn London into global party
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."
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.
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.