Archive | March, 2012

The arduous journey to Tate Modern

28 Mar

Today I decided to visit Tate Modern. It’s one of the few free museums I have yet to visit and it was a lovely day outside. As usual, I chose to ride the bus instead of the Tube because it’s 65p cheaper, and I could buy 3.25 bananas for that. I sat on the top of the double decker like a cool kid and played my new learn-Chinese-by-playing-fun-games! app on my iPod. The driver announced that the bus was only going as far as Piccadilly Circus. I’ve heard of trains not going to the end of the line, but not buses. I got out my weathered map and decided the museum would not be a far walk from Piccadilly Circus, and it was a lovely day outside. You’ll find out later that I was right about one of those two things.

When we got close to Piccadilly Circus the driver announced that Piccadilly was the last stop. The bus stopped but nobody got out, so I assumed the stop was further down. After announcing a second time that Piccadilly was the last stop, the driver stormed up the stairs to the second level. “Do any of you understand English? Piccadilly is the final stop!” Then he made a rude comment about how I should take my stupid headphones off. He was still yelling at me for wearing headphones as I stepped off the bus. I should have told him I could hear him fine and I thought we were stopping further down on Regent Street. “This is the final stop, everyone must get off” would have been a lot more helpful than just “Piccadilly is the final stop” — I didn’t think we were there yet! It had nothing to do with my headphones. I took offense because I’m not usually one of those “headphone people” — I agree with him in that so many young people today go through life “plugged in,” not enjoying the sounds around them. I purposely won’t wear noise-cancelling headphones outside because I want to hear what’s around me. I only walk with headphones in so sidewalk solicitors will leave me alone — I don’t even have music playing half the time. But I didn’t feel like arguing with the bus driver.

I checked my map again and started walking. And walking. I quickly realized my map was not to scale and the museum was a lot further away than I thought. I passed cafe after cafe filled with business people getting their lunches to go to eat outside. That’s when I realized I was hungry. Really hungry. Like, can’t make it the rest of the way to the museum without eating, hungry. I found a Tesco Express and bought a banana and some chocolate. I ate the banana while I walked, only to discover sidewalk garbage cans (“bins?”) are not popular in London. I think I walked a good 10 minutes dangling a banana peel in my hand before I was able to duck into a cafe and drop it in their bin. I finally made it to St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was looking lovely in this weather:

The museum was in sight, but I was exhausted from walking. I looked it up now, I walked 2.4 miles from the bus stop to the museum. Here’s the Google Maps screen shot to prove it:

After walking that far with the hot sun beating down on me, I just wanted to sit down. The last thing I wanted to do was walk around an art museum. I did not plan this well. I did a speed lap around the museum, bumping into way too many school groups. It was obvious the kids were supposed to be doing an assignment and taking in all the “culture,” but most of them were on their phones. The bus driver would hate them.
I found this piece intriguing, mostly because it reminds me of when I cleaned out my closets last week:

I decided I learned my lesson and would take the Tube home, although that also proved to be a challenge. The London Bridge stop was not as close as my map suggested, and I ended up on some back streets of London, where I passed a prison museum and then came upon a pirate ship.

I also discovered Southwark Cathedral before I finally found the Tube station.

After standing still on the train, I realized just how badly my feet hurt from walking. At least I got some sun, exercise and culture. I should probably return to the Tate Modern someday when I’m not being a bus-cheapo and can give it the time it deserves.

Doors, doors, everywhere, but not a place to store

21 Mar

Lately we’ve been thinking about moving so we’ve been doing a lot of flat hunting. Most of the time it’s fun (“I could have an oven that actually cooks properly! And a bathroom that is not ceiling to floor marble!”), but there are a couple things about UK housing that really bother me.

1. The obsession with doors

Bathrooms and bedrooms should have doors. Living rooms, dining rooms and kitchens should not. When we opened the front door to one flat we were viewing, all we could see were three doors leading off a 10-foot hallway — a door to each bedroom and a door to the living room/open kitchen. With every door shut there was absolutely no light and the apartment looked smaller than my prison cell-esque single dorm room. Who would want to come home to that? Even the flat we’re currently in has an abundance of unnecessary doors, like to the kitchen and the hallway leading to the bedrooms, but we always keep them propped open. This door obsession isn’t just in flats either — we went to the movie theatre (“cinema”) the other day and I had to press through three unnecessary doors just to get to the door of the bathroom. I actually tried googling this phenomena, thinking maybe there was some Great Fire of England that made Build as Many Fire Doors As Possible a law, but all I found were American expats asking why houses in the UK have doors to the kitchen. Alas.

2. There is a seriously lack of closets (“wardrobes”)

Considering the Brits’ love for doors, you’d think they’d want more doored closets in their houses. Nope. I can’t tell you how many newly built buildings we viewed that didn’t have any storage space. No linen or utility closet, no bedroom wardrobes. It’s like the contractors are in bed with IKEA saying, “Let’s make them buy their own ugly free-standing wardrobes that don’t fit anything!” Is storage space really that difficult to fit into a floor plan? Have you ever viewed a house and thought, “You know, this is really nice, but there’s just too much storage space. I would hate to have a place for everything and have the house not look cluttered.” Part of the reason I liked the flat we’re currently in is because it actually has a multitude of closets — and we still have to have the “crap corner” decoratively hidden behind a screen.

Those the are the two main things that bother me. I’ve gotten so used to putting clothes in the washing machine in the kitchen and then in the dryer in the bathroom that it doesn’t seem weird to me anymore.

Rosetta Stone Androgyny

14 Mar

Lately I’ve been cranking away at my Chinese Rosetta Stone hoping something will stick. While they are teaching me more useful words and phrases now, like “How much does this cost?” and “Which shirt should I buy?” my brain decided it only wants to memorize “My ladder is broken.” Maybe one day that will come in useful in China.


I have a pressing question. This photo popped up in the “The man/woman/boy/girl is awake” section. So… Is this a boy or a girl?

(Rosetta Stone’s answer after the jump!)

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Fairy cake FAIL

6 Mar

And now for another edition of Expectations vs. Reality, or, Another One of Renee’s Colossal Baking Catastrophes in Which She Blames Everything But Herself.

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Tornado education courtesy of an ignorant American

5 Mar

The other day I made a stereotypically ignorant American comment.

“Is the US the only country that gets tornadoes?” I asked Stephen as we watched the BBC’s coverage of the recent devastation in Indiana. (Side note: Why is it we say “the BBC” (the British Broadcasting Corporation) but we would never say “I watched Dancing with the Stars on the ABC” (American Broadcasting Company)? /end side note)

“What? No!” Stephen replied. I asked him to name another country that experienced a tornado recently. He thought for awhile then settled on South Africa.

I was so intrigued by this thought that I’m actually researching it days later. You always hear about earthquakes and tsunamis across the world, but have you ever seen reports of a devastating tornado that wasn’t in the US? This could be because most of my news sources are US-centric, but I’ve become a regular BBC watcher (hmm no “the” necessary there) and can’t remember seeing any tornadoes in the UK or South Africa.

So I checked Wikipedia. Here’s what they say:

“Tornadoes have been observed on every continent except Antarctica. However, the vast majority of tornadoes in the world occur in the Tornado Alley region of the United States, although they can occur nearly anywhere in North America. They also occasionally occur in south-central and eastern Asia, the Philippines, south east Asia, like Malaysia, northern and east-central South America, Southern Africa, northwestern and southeast Europe, western and southeastern Australia, and New Zealand.”

There’s even a handy map!

So maybe my question wasn’t so stupid after all — it’s called Tornado Alley for a reason. But Wikipedia also says the UK experiences more tornadoes than any other European country. Hmm. There has been some serious wind going on all day today — my trolley full of food and a slow cooker that I felt compelled to buy because it was less than half price and I want to make ribs and soup almost went airborne on my walk back from the store today. The wind has also managed to work its way through the double pane windows, making my bedroom ridiculously cold and drafty now. (Fun fact: they spell it “draught” here. How do you get an “F” sound out of that? Phonics, you bugger.)

I can’t think of a proper way to end this random post, so here’s a photo of a panda riding a rocking horse: