The National Olympic Houses were part of the activities programmed to get Londoners and visitors involved during the Games. Some of the countries that took part in the event organised and hosted a series of activities, such as exhibitions, music concerts and wine tasting. I visited some of them. It was quite an interesting thing to do, and their location made it well worth the visit.
They were also part of the marketing programme of these countries. So it was a bit of an exchange. It was good for them and good for the Locog.
The public had the added benefit of getting to know London a bit better. This is because they were hosted in historical and other buildings throughout London, which many people would not normally visit. For example, Belgium House was located in Inner Temple and Somerset House would host Casa Brazil.
Altough the activities organised were different, one of the main ideas was to let guests to stay there for as long as possible to have a better feel of the country’s involvement in sport, economy, etc. Most of them were for free.
For example, Belgium House would focus on cycling. They had an interactive exhibition of bicycles and related stuff right at the entrance, before the pay point and next to the Coca-Cola Bar (to further persuade you to go and have a nice, cold Belgium beer?)
Can you remember the blue figure in the picture below? I found it inside.
In Casa Brazil, we enjoyed some free gigs, probably to compensate the £10 needed for a caipirinha. We also saw some colourful characters there.
Casa Italia was located at a popular conference centre. They offered programmed wine tasting experiences and an overview of the country’s industry and traditions, with a touch of humour.
Switzerland House was located in Glazier Hall and next to the Southwark Cathedral. They had some climbing activities (with chocolate as a prize!) and live music. Their restaurant inside Glazier Hall seemed to be rather glamorous.
We reckon the best one was Qatar House. Do you know the Shard building and Harrod’s? Well, they are owned by Qataris. Their location was in one of the old and very expensive buildings near Temple Tube station, overviewing the Thames and the London Eye. We were positively surprised by the welcoming, the luxurious setting and the amount of free food and drink served by the well-trained staff at Harrod’s.
We went through an exhaustive, airport style control right at the entrance managed by a tall Swede. At the hall, a team of receptionists came to register us onto their system for ‘health and safety purposes’ and to wish us a nice stay. The house was divided up into different areas: the main area, similar to a typical tea house, three exhibition areas, a high-tech theatre, a bar, and a further Middle-Eastern decorated area. Upstairs was reserved to the Qatar delegation, athletes and guests.
So, I went in the tea house area. A waiter brought a menu straight away for us to choose between teas and coffees and ‘smoothies’, that is strange combinations of fruit juices. The juices were delicious. On the tables, there were huge amounts of Middle-Eastern sweets, apricots and little cakes.
There were plenty of people in there, but not many Eastern-looking women. The waiting staff kept coming to us to offer us more drink and sweets. As it was Ramadan, we would see proper food coming out after the sunset. The food were really expensive canapes, mostly which kept coming to us at an insane speed. In the mean time, if we fancied any salty treats, we could have some seeds and nuts at the second Middle-Eastern area.
The exhibitions were designed to show off their influence and involvement in loads of housing and infrastructure projects in London. They had very little to offer in terms of sports, but they were keen for us to see the fact that they had Universities where smily women seemed to be at ease.
The best part of the exhibition for me was the interactivity. Digital technology was present everywhere, which allowed us to play with big monitors, etc. Huge screens had been placed both at the theatre and at the bar for visitors to watch the games. It was so relaxing being there with our drink and some nut or cakes – and so unusual.
At the bar, there was a piece of ‘ancient’ technology, a batak!
The purpose of the game was to hit the buttons that lit at any given time within a set time. Believe me, it was so addictive! I didn´t do too bad. The National Olympic National Houses – Qatar HouseThey also had mini table football and a Wii.