Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Meerkats, meerkats everywhere...

One of the great things about London is that there are meerkats everywhere. For example, one day I was walking along the street and I looked up at a lamppost and saw a group of meerkats looking at me! They were actually part of a neighbourhood watch sign, but it was still awesome.

Also, there is this great marketing campaign for a car insurance website which uses talking meerkats. They have ads on the TV and radio, and billboards with meerkats on them, and very very catchy jingle.

I haven't worked out why Londoners love meerkats so much, but this fascination seems to have been around for a few years at least. There was a popular UK documentary called Meerkat Manor made a few years ago, which has since aired around the world.

Maybe it's just because they're so damned cute.

Photo thanks to le Korrigan on flickr.

British TV

This is an example of the most excellent TV we get over here. Enjoy.

Monday, April 27, 2009

London Photos Going Up

We got organised enough to upload some of our London Photos to Flickr. There will be more coming later, but for now you can enjoy some pictures of London in the springtime.

On Malls

Today I took a trip to the Westfield mall in Shepherd's Bush. I needed to visit Kathmandu, and I thought it would be appropriate to visit a New Zealand store where many New Zealanders live.

I took the bus there, and having never been to the area before I thought I'd just wait until I saw it before I got off. I was expecting to get off at the White City tube station, but instead I got off much earlier than that when the mall stop was announced. I was puzzled, until I saw why.

The Westfield here is enormous. Not just "wow, that's pretty big", but enormous. It is 150,000m² in size, which doesn't sound that big until you read that Sylvia Park, New Zealand's second-largest mall, is a paltry 65,000m². The Riccarton Mall in Christchurch is 47,000m², and Dunedin's Meridian Mall is 16,000m² (which Wikipedia still thinks is the South Island's largest mall).

And what awaits you in Europe's "largest urban area indoor shopping centre"? Just like all malls, fashion stores. There is an Apple Store and a few bookshops, but little else. I did a circumnavigation of some of the floors (I got bored after 20 minutes), briefly looked in hmv, and then left to get my bus.

Oh, and I did find Kathmandu. They were conveniently located right next to my entrance, and even more conveniently were having a sale.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Chinatown and the MOMA

Monday was our last full day in San Francisco, and we decided to do the Chinatown walking tour, as we'd been through the area on a bus and thought it looked interesting. The tour started from Portsmouth Square, and our first major stop was the old phone exchange building. As lots of people didn't have phones when it was first set up, they used to send runners out to tell people that they had a phone call.

We went on down the main shopping street, and saw various live seafood waiting to be bought. One of the people on the tour ventured into a shop and saw chickens waiting in cages. We also saw a truck pull up and unload all its fish for a shop.

We learned about Donaldina Cameron a missionary who, aside from having an awesome name, rescued girls who had been sold into slavery. We also visited a fortune cookie factory and got to sample some unfolded cookies.

After lunch we visited the Museum of Modern Art which contained art by people like Matisse, Mondrian, Warhol, Rothco, Lichtenstein, and Picasso. We saw the famous Fountain sculpture by DuChamp, which is a urinal on a pedestal, as well as a rather creepy sculpture of lots of poodles surrounding a baby.

There were a few special exhibitions. One was a video with people wearing masks of characters from The Cosby Show and Rosanne, dancing around crazily; another was by this conspiracy theory guy and had photos of American military operation badges, and explained they really meant.

After our cultural experience we tried to find the CNET building so Leah could see her idols, but it wasn't meant to be; we just couldn't find the building. So we consoled ourselves by going back to the Musee Mecanique and squashing a penny.

We headed back to our hotel, but decided that we should visit Bloomingdales before we left the city, so we went to the gigantic mall near our hotel. Not only did we visit the multi-storey Nordstrom store inside the mall, but we got to ride on curved escalators! Leah also had an interesting encouter with a salesman who was intent on selling her some Gojuju berry beauty products, and cleaned her wrists and hands (and didn't believe her when she said she showered that morning). After that experience, we felt our San Francisco visit was complete, so went back to the hotel to pack and psych ourselves up for the move to London.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Crazy English Trivia #1

Stuart was doing an online English Road Test yesterday, just to see how well he would do, and it was interesting how many things we just had no idea about, like some of the road signs, or converting miles to km for stopping times etc. One of the things that had us baffled was the mention of a Puffin Crossing, which I just figured was another name for a normal old Pedestrian Crossing. But I was intrigued, so I looked it up and discovered that it's not a normal old Pedestrian Crossing at all: it's a Pedestrian User-Friendly Intelligent Crossing! Apparently it's a fancy crossing with sensors that detect when there's someone waiting to cross, or if someone's crossing the road.

But not only that -- they have lots of other funny names for crossing. There's the Pelican (Pelicon?) Crossing (Pedestrian Light Controlled) which is your normal light-controlled crossing, the Toucan Crossing which is so-called because it's for both pedestrians and cyclists (i.e. two can cross the road, haha), and a Pegasus Crossing which is for horses as well, and has a button up high for the rider to press. We actually saw some of these in town around Hyde Park and St James's Park, but had no idea they had such a fancy name. And of course there is the humble old Zebra Crossing too, familiar to us all, but which now has a step-brother: the Tiger Crossing, which has yellow lines instead of white, and is for cyclists too.

Anyway, I found it fascinating and a bit ridiculous that they had all these weird names for crossings. Isn't just 'Pedestrian Crossing' enough?

If you're interested in how all these crossings work, you can read about them at Learner Driving.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Cable Car Day

On Sunday it was pouring with rain again, like when we arrived, so we decided to try and do indoorsy things. We took the cable car up the hill to the Cable Car Museum to learn about how cable cars work and their history. The Cable Car Museum is quite cool because it's where the cable cars are actually run from, so it's really noisy and you can see the big wheels turning the cables that make the cars go up and down the hills. It's also where the cable cars go to sleep at night.

The Cable Cars' heyday was from the 1870s to the 1890s, but after the 1906 earthquake and fire they were decimated. In fact, in the 1940s the council decided to get rid of cable cars to save money. But a very determined lady started a campaign to save them, and in the end three of the lines were saved and are still used today (although mainly by tourists).

The Cable Car Museum has one corner on an intersection where the three lines cross each other, and you can go down and look under the road to see the cables running past each other into the museum. It's quite impressive thinking that those cables and the cable car drivers are what keeps you from ending up on a runaway tram speeding down a hill.

After that we decided it was time to get some dessert, so we headed to Ghirardelli Square to get a sundae. We got the Cable Car sundae (there was a theme to this day), and afterwards Stuart felt sick, although Leah was fine. In the cafe you could see the machines they used to make their chocolate, and even though we were pretty sure it was fake chocolate getting mixed up it still looked good.

We then headed to the Boudin Bakery but unfortunately the tours weren't going. However, the bakery shop was pretty impressive, with a bread basket carousel going around the ceiling. They also seem to have some artistic bakers, as there were lots of different shaped loaves, like turtles, alligators, and crabs.

The Aquarium of the Bay was our next stop, but we were a bit disappointed with it, especially after seeing the one at the Academy of Sciences. It wasn't even as good as Kelly Tarlton's, although it had copied their shark tunnel. We did get to touch some baby leopard sharks, as well as starfish and skates though.

After that we went to the Musee Mecanique which was a shed full of coin-operated games and machines. There were a few musical ones, like mechanical one-man-bands, as well as peep shows, fortune tellers, strength tests, and dioramas. We tried out a mechanical horse skeleton that showed how a horse runs, and Stuart tried a peep show, and said you couldn't see anything. Apparently it was a picture of a woman in a lake. There were also a few ones that seemed a bit weird and morbid, like one of an opium den, and a few of condemned men being hanged... We didn't try those ones.

That night Stuart decided to try out real American Burger King, so he had a Whopper burger with a medium-sized coke, which turned out to be massive and took him a while to finish. I don't think the photo does it justice.

After dinner we decided we needed to do some washing, so we headed down a main street to look for a laundromat. We eventually found one, and when we went in we must have looked like noobs because a very friendly man started to help us. He chose the machine for us, gave us free washing powder, and even went and got some softener so our clothes would smell nice! He was most helpful. He had been to Auckland once before the Sky Tower was built, and said that kiwis were very friendly people.