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March 2007

Man skis Angel Tube escalator!

A Norwegian nutter has made news for videotaping himself SKIING down the escalator of the Angel Underground Tube station, which is located just two blocks from our flat!  The Angel station contains the longest escalator in EUROPE (though it doesn't seem all that long to me because it's about the same length as the Dupont Circle metro escalator back home in Washington, D.C.!)  Anyway, a video of his stunt was posted on YouTube, and has been airing all morning today on BBC:   

Meanwhile, the authorities are NOT amused. Here's the article from today's Sun tabloid:

Ski daredevil in escalator stunt

A DAREDEVIL has skiied down a 300ft London Underground escalator, sparking a police investigation.

The Norwegian hurtled down a 300ft escalator - the longest in Europe - at Angel station in north London in a filmed display which was posted on internet video site YouTube.

LU said today: "This is a dangerous, stupid and irresponsible act that could have resulted in serious injury or death to not only the individual concerned but also other passengers.

"LU will press for the police to take the strongest possible action against anyone attempting a similar act on the Tube network."

The film of the stunt was shot from a camera in the man's helmet. The producer of the film said other people were not in danger as friends of the stuntman had warned passengers away.

British Transport Police is understood to be looking into the incident.



Think Snow!!

The Two Crabs are suffering from a serious case of "Skieritis."  In less than 72 hours, we will be heading for our ski trip to Meribel. Woo hoo!

Mrs. Crab has been skiing since she was a young crablet. She even skied the Alps over 10 years ago long before Mr. and Mrs. Crab first laid claws on each other. Over the years, Mr. and Mrs. Crab kept trying to find a sporting activity they mutually enjoyed. Mrs. Crab loves tennis and horseback riding. Mr. Crab likes biking and scuba diving.  Neither liked the other's idea of fun.  Finally, after many years of trial and error, and trepidation, Mrs. Crab introduced Mr. Crab to skiing.  It was love at first sight. You might even say that Mr. Crab is now OBSESSED with skiing.

Mr. Crab learned to ski just four years ago, proving you can teach an old dog new trips. My first ski trip was to Ski Roundtop in southeast Pennsylvania, about two hours from Washington, D.C.   Over the next two years, Mr. immersed myself into skiing, spending long weekends at Ski Liberty and other little resorts near our old home.  Our first extended ski trip was to Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia, probably the best resort in the Mid-Atlantic region. During that time, I gradually improved, reaching a strong intermediate level and even skied a few black diamonds in Pennsylvania.

Then we moved to London. Our first ski trip in Europe was in February 2006, to Val Gardena, Italy, located in the Dolomite Mountains on the far eastern side of the Alps. Talk about humbling experience. An intermediate slope at an Alpine resort is the equivalent of a bunny slope on the East Coast ski resorts. Mr. Crab fell. A LOT. For three days though, he held his own, improving steadily until becoming confident that he had conquered the Alps.  On Day four, Valentine's Day, Mr. Crab crashed to Earth. Literally.  In the middle of a blizzard on an advanced intermediate mogul run, Mr. Crab fell hard and broke his right collar bone.  Mr. Crab spent the remainder of the trip doped up on pain killers, watching the fun from the chalet balcony.

Mr. Crab is now all healed up and ready to get back on that horse, err, slope.  On Friday, the Crabs are taking the Eurostar high-speed, overnight "Snow Train" from London to Meribel, part of Trois Vallees, the largest ski resort in the world.  (See train route map below).  Joining the Two Crabs on this ski trip are Ms. A (who is also an American expat living in London), and Mr. C (Mr. Crab's pal and barracks roomie from his days in the US Army).   

We're ready. The train tickets are here. The chalet and ski rentals are booked. The packing is almost done.  The weather forecast looks good for the first few days, but turning unseasonably warm by the end of our trip.  We're ready!  We'll try to blog from there if possible, but photos won't be posted until we return.   Until then, THINK SNOW!

Skitrainpath


Princely behaviour

You gotta love those British Royal bad boys, Prince William and Prince Harry. Over the past 3 days, the British tabloids have been full of stories and photographs of William and Harry misbehaving around England. Check out these photos from the Sun tabloid of William groping a woman; and photos from the News of the World of a drunken Harry stumbling out of a bar.  Hehe.

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I'll have what he's having!

And speaking of, umm, drinking, here's a belated photo of our own hard-partying antics at London's St. Patrick's Day festival in Trafalgar Square last weekend:

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Europe springs forward

At 1 a.m. today, our clocks sprung forward one hour for BST -- British Summer Time.  London, which is on Greenwich Mean Time, is once again 5 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Standard Time. And Continental Europe is 6 hours ahead of New York. Here in London, the time change means the sun will now set about 7pm. Woo hoo!  Check out this amusing article from today's Daily Telegraph:

LONDON (AFP) - As many countries prepare to change the clocks Sunday, one British newspaper cheekily suggested we should ditch the idea -- and make it GMT everywhere around the world.

Greenwich Mean Time, taking its name from Greenwich in southeast London, is the local time in Britain during the winter and is used across the globe as the time of reference.

At 0100 GMT Sunday, Britain switches to summer time and advances the clocks by one hour to 02:00 am local time.

But The Daily Telegraph, a staunchly patriotic broadsheet, said the clock-switching lark was plain irritating -- and came up with its own cunning plan get the world's clocks ticking to a British beat.

"The imposition is intolerable, and should be met with a more radical proposal than the retention of nature's own Greenwich Mean Time. We demand Global Time," the newspaper said in its editorial.

"In other words, if it is nine o'clock here, now, it should be nine o'clock all round the world," it insisted.

"It is no absurdity, for if we are to depart from natural time in any case, why not choose the neat solution of making the time in London the same as in New York?

"New Yorkers will get as used to the alarm going off at 11 o'clock as Australians have to eating Christmas dinner in high summer. The convenience to stock exchanges and travellers is obvious.

"As a British initiative, let it be known as Greenwich Global Time."


Google Earth ROCKS!

Are you as obsessed with Google Earth as I am?  For those who aren't aware of this program, it's a free download that allows you to view satellite images of Earth in spectacular detail. The coolest feature is the fly-in mode that appears as if you are flying to your destination. I just downloaded the new version, which now offers 3D imagery of much of the planet. It's such a cool program that even CNN and other networks use it during their newscasts.  Just check out these images of the Trois Vallees (Three Valleys) ski resort in the French Alps, where we will be skiing one week from today! Click on the images to see the full-size version.

Meribels

And here's the piste map of Meribel resort. Now I could just figure out how to super-impose these two images.
Meribel

Finally, here's a closer, detailed satellite view of Meribel Centre in 3D, and the location of our chalet in case one of you stalkers wants to find us:

Chalet_3d


UPDATE: I figured out how to overlay a map and fold it over the terrain! Check out this shot of the Meribel resort piste (trail) map superimposed over a 3D satellite image of the area. It's not 100% accurate, due to the fact that the Frederique Hovat map is not to scale:
Meribel14503d

Here's a wider view of the entire Three Valley region (the largest ski resort in the world) with the Meribel ski resort overlay:

Overlay4 Meribelski3d


Random thoughts

People, places and things that are really, really OVERRATED:

--Amy Winehouse

--Gawker.com

--Myspace.com

--Morocco

--Blackberrys

--working

--99.9% of videos posted on YouTube.com

--Actress Lily Tomlin and Director David O. Russell. Check out this video secretly shot on the set of "I Love Huckabees".  HILARIOUS!  Watch the whole thing! The reason YouTube was created:


Am I Bovvered by British Humour?

This video is a sketch from The Catherine Tate show, a British variety skit show that airs on "The Beep" (BBC).  Catherine plays a several characters, but she's best known for portrayal of rude schoolgirl Lauren Cooper.  This particular sketch was filmed for the Big Red Nose telethon, and it features a cameo role from one Prime Minister Tony Blair. 

And yes, it's taken a year of watching stuff like this to finally "get" British humor! Enjoy!


Living Over Starbucks

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Posted by Mr. Crab:

We live over Starbucks

Mr. Crab lives FOR Starbucks, but that's a whole other story.  I mean, quite literally, we physically live, work, eat and sleep directly above a Starbucks café. 

Six months ago, we moved into our new flat directly above Starbucks, a legalized drug den offering daily fixes for caffeine-addicted souls like Mr. and Mrs. Crab.  From the first time the real estate agent showed us the flat, I knew this would be our home.  My biggest fear was that I would end up spending our entire paychecks by living INSIDE the Starbucks, sucking down my drink of choice: Grande Skinny Extra-Hot No-Whip Mochas. It’s taken a lot of willpower to keep that from happening.

Img_3439   Living over Starbucks has actually been quite delightful.  Every morning at 7a.m., the shop below us comes alive. Our bedroom is directly above the bar portion of the Starbucks. The first sound every morning is the rattling of metal wheels from the trolleys being rolled into Starbucks to deliver the fresh milk. Several milkmen (and yes, we still have milkmen in England) pull up to the front of their store in little, open-sided milk trucks to unload their trolleys, filled with regular low-fat and skim milk, soy milk, juices, muffins, sandwiches. It always takes at least two trucks to fill the shop's inventory. 

Img_3433 But we can always tell when Starbucks has officially opened for business by a deep muffled, hammer-like sound:  “THUMP! THUMP! THUMP!”.  It's always three, quick successive thumps, heard throughout the day from morning to close. It took a while until we figured out that the sound was coming from the Baristas, emptying the used espresso grounds from their cappuccino machines by banging the metal filters against the countertop.   I usually can sleep through the rolling trolleys, but the thumping always gets me out of bed.

On occasion, you can also hear the sweet angelic voices of Ella Fitzgerald or Norah Jones, crooning through the ceiling like a morning wake-up call from heaven, only it's coming from below. 

And then there’s the smell. Oh, how I love the smell of coffee.  We can't smell coffee in the winter. But when the weather is nice and the windows are open, the smell of coffee wafts up into our flat, filling the apartment with the sweet aroma of fresh-ground coffee beans and espresso, with just a hint of chocolate. It beats living above a pub. Img_3428Or worse, McDonalds. 

Our little Starbucks is located in north London. It's one of 7,100+ Starbucks locations around the world, and one of about 500 Starbucks in London. (There are now more Starbucks locations in London than Manhattan!)  Our Starbucks is one of FIVE locations within a 10 MINUTE WALK of our apartment.  And yes, I’ve been to all five stores.

You might think all Starbucks are the same, but I digress.  Each has its own unique characteristic and clientèle. For example, the cafe located inside the Borders bookstore attracts the bookworm crowd.  Another Starbucks, which is just a 2-minute walk from ours, attracts an upscale crowd but has the worst service and crappy furniture to boot. The furthest location from us attracts too many unruly teenagers, a few vagrants and beggers.  Maybe I'm biased, but the Starbucks below us is perfect. It's like a big extension to our living room. Like Central Perk on "Friends".

Img_3430The clientèle of our Starbucks varies by the time of day. In the early morning hours, most people are taking their coffee to go. Business men in women in suits and dresses, grabbing their coffee on the way to the Angel tube station.  After morning rush hour, the atmosphere changes to the “eat-ins,” the people who are sitting and drinking their coffee inside Starbucks, reading the morning papers.  The eat-ins are comprised of two main groups: mummies and others.  Mummies are the largest group.

In the late morning hours, the mummies take over the back half of Starbucks. There is an invisible line, marked by the bar, that separates the mummies and everyone else. The mummies park their push carriages (strollers) against the back wall by the toilet door and the shelf where the coffee mugs, tumblers and packaged coffee is displayed. On some days, there can be up to a dozen mummies here, sitting in a circle, drinking coffee and discussing celebrity gossip, child-rearing, or some insignificant accomplishment their child made the previous day.  Img_3423The babies normally sit in their baby chairs or their mummy’s laps, sucking on their bottles, thankfully usually quiet.  The older kids might drink a Starbucks hot chocolate or juice. Most of the mummies are good about taking their child outside if it starts crying loudly. 

The front half of Starbucks is occupied by the group I call, “The Others.”  I don’t exactly know who the others are, but like me, none of us seem to hold down a regular job or tied down by other time constraints of the real world. Some of the Others are obvious, like the university students who sprawl their textbooks and notebooks, hogging up a table meant for four.  Or the gray-haired pensioners (retirees) who gather around chatting about the news and weather. There are a few self-employed folks like me, huddled over a laptop computer and steaming cup of Joe.  There are the few folks in suits who meet here for working meetings over coffee.  There are the regulars who I see day-in and day-out, like the man in his 30s who comes in everyday around 1pm like clockwork, carrying a gray, medium-sized dog tucked under his arm; the handicapped guy on crutches who everyone pretends not to notice; the old lady who comes in to order tea; the attractive jogger in tight shorts who turns heads when she walks in after her lunchtime run.

Img_3429 Around 3pm when the schools let out, the scene again changes with the arrival of the high school-aged kids arriving for their caffine fix.  And again at 5pm when workers come home, the well-heeled suited customers return home and stop in for a jolt.  On weekends, the Starbucks scene is completely random. Sometimes the customers are lost American tourists. Or guests attending a show at the convention center around the corner.  On Sunday morning, groups of pale-faced, black-clad, “Goths” with spiked hair, leather outfits and giant platform boots lounge at the Starbucks sidewalk patio, nursing their hangovers after a long night of clubbing.

Unlike the previously aforementioned bad service Starbucks, our location is staffed by great Baristas. Unfortunately, Starbucks seems to have a revolving door policy of staffing. For a while, the morning shift was run entirely by American expats.   Now the regular staff includes a Spanish woman who knows me so well that she has my order ready when I get to the front of the line.

Img_3427I have my own Starbucks ritual. My regular days are Mondays and Fridays. On Monday I come in about 11am to read the Guardian Media weekly. On Fridays, I bring in my laptop to work on writing assignments or blog entries .  I always order the same thing: Skinny mocha and a Blueberry or Apple Cinnamon muffin. My favorite is actually the Banana Nut muffin but, for some reason, they've stopped stocking it lately.

Our Starbucks is actually two stories. The basement looks more like a living room, with comfy couches, a few chairs, and rotating works of art on the walls. Unfortunately, it's just too dark and dreary down there, so I've never sat there.  The two times I've gone down to take a look, it's been completely empty.  I always sit upstairs, in the "Others" section in the front-half of the store. I have my favorite table, that has a small wall on one side, and just one table to the right of it, so it's relatively isolated and I don't disturb anyone when I open up my newspapers, especially The Telegraph, which may be physically be the largest newspaper in the known universe.  There are also two purple lounge chairs by the window, but I rarely sit there because the door is always propped open, even during chilly rainy weather, which is about 9 months out of the year here in London.   

When it's nice outside, I head to the outdoor patio. Unfortunately there are only three little tables here, occasionally being hogged up by a few bloody selfish idiots who sprawl their coats and bags on the empty chairs so nobody can sit with them.  I don't see why some people are so funny about sitting next to a stranger!  Can't we coffee addicts all just get along?

Both Crabs readily admit that we are coffee-holics. At home, we brew Starbucks ground coffee on our Starbucks-purchased French press, poured into Starbucks mugs and tumblers that we've collected from around the world, listening to Starbucks-produced and marketed music CDs. 

Both Crabs love Starbucks, but Mr. Crab readily admits to being borderline obsessive.  But contrary to appearances, we don't actually go to Starbucks that often, mainly because it's downright expensive.  When I go downstairs, my usual tab for coffee and muffin comes to £4.24, approximately $8.22. It's about $1 less if you take away instead of eating-in. As pricey as it sounds, the most expensive Starbucks location I've visited was in Kuwait City, where a grande mocha cost about $7; the cheapest was in Des Moines Iowa, where I paid less than $3 for the same drink.   

Img_3434I don’t care what the critics say about Starbucks taking over the world. I love Starbucks. I've tried many cafes, both chains and independents. And still have not found a place that makes a mocha or ground coffee as good as Starbucks.  I make no apologies for it: I love Starbucks!

PS: NO, I do not work for Starbucks, nor do I have any stock investment or other link to the company. I'm just a big fan!