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April 2007

Tips for tourists: Jay-walking

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In London, you can always spot the American tourists at intersections. They are the puzzled-looking people standing at cross-walks, actually waiting for the green "walk" light to change.  Locals push around them and dart across the road, wondering what these odd Americans are doing.  What are you waiting for? An invitation?  A different color shade of green? 

You see, there are no jay-walking laws in the United Kingdom.  On a recent Facebook discussion board, Brits expressed shock that Americans actually need a law to properly cross the street. In the UK, it's called PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. You can cross the street anywhere you damn were please, as long as it's safe to do so. It's not hard: look right, look left, look right again, then cross.

Check out this hilarious account of a British professor visiting Atlanta who was arrested, wrestled to the ground, handcuffed and jailed for jay-walking! 
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/6251431.stm



Life's a Beach
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The Two Crabs and friend "A" took advantage of the warm spring weather Saturday and spent the afternoon  in Southend-on-Sea, the closest beach to London.  It's located directly east of London, 55 minutes by train.   

Technically, Southend is not a real beach. It's on the Thames River estuary, just east of where the Thames meets the North Sea.  The town has been built up into a resort town that resembles some East Coast USA beach resorts like those you might find on the Jersey Shore or Maryland. Southend has the usual tourist attractions including a small amusement park, dozens of arcades (with slot machines), fast food joints, bars, and a wooden pier that bills itself as the longest pleasure pier in the world. As for the beaches, they are not exactly sandy. It's a mix of 10% fine brown sand and 90% pebbles & shells.  Still, it's soft enough to sit down, as opposed to rocky Brighton Beach south of London.

We were wondering why nobody was swimming...until I walked into the water up to my ankles.  The water temperature was barely above freezing! Unless you're a member of the Polar Bear Club, I would not recommend swimming here until maybe July.

One thing you'll see in Southend are the numerous stalls selling fish & chips and cockles, a type of shellfish that's similar in taste and texture to clams. The seafood in Southend is excellent. Mr. Crab had a lunch of crabs au gratin while A tried the giant plate of mussels. Mrs. Crab, who is not a big seafood fan with the exception of crabs, had a steak. Yum yum! 

We didn't stay long, as we had to get back to London in time for a friend's birthday party in East London. The dinner party was quite the multi-cultural event, attended by Aussies, Brits, Americans, a Nigerian and a South African. Living in a multi-cultural city rocks! 

We've now been to four beaches in the UK: Brighton, Southend, Eastbourne and St. Andrews in Scotland.  Of those, only St. Andrews is a proper sandy beach, but too darn cold. We're still on a quest to find the perfect British beach with soft sand and warm waters. Our next tries will be Torquay in the so-called "English Riviera" in southwest England, and the Isle of Wight, a small island located off the coast of Portsmouth, about 2 hours by train and ferry from London.  Stay tuned.

Here's a few more photos of Southend-on-Sea. As you can see, Southend has a "Funland", just like Rehoboth Beach, Delaware!  Click on Flickr icon to see more snapshots!

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London cubicle hotels

From USA TODAY:

London Mini-hotel rooms on tap

Soon you'll be able to rent a chic, mini-hotel room at Gatwick and Heathrow airports. The new concept, called Yotel, is a mix between the tiny cubicles popular in high-rent Japanese cities and British Airways' stylish first-class cabin. (Customers are called "passengers.")

The ultra-modern, windowless Yotel rooms cost about $50 for a four-hour block, with hourly extensions available. Overnight stays start at about $110. Price includes free Internet access, workstation, on-demand movies and mood lighting. The first Yotel at Gatwick opens in May; the second opens at Heathrow in July.

In the future, you could see Yotels pop up in other airports and central-city locations.


Saving money in London, part II

20_pound_not_2007 For Americans planning a trip to the United Kingdom this summer, the biggest concern has been the horrible 2-for-1 Dollar-to-Pound exchange rate. My mate wrote a great article in today's USA TODAY on how Americans can save a few bucks. It's worth reprinting here:


Thrifty visitors can avoid a soaking in London

LONDON — Traveling here has never been cheap, but now it's even less so.

The British pound crossed the $2 threshold last week for the first time since 1992 and has hovered there ever since.

That means a hamburger costs the equivalent of $8; a pint of beer is another $5. A room in a modest three-star hotel in central London goes for $180 a night; a five-star will set you back $350 a night or more.

A one-way ticket on London's subway is $8; just setting foot in a taxicab is $4.40; and a ride from Heathrow Airport to central London is at least $110.

"I've been here a few times," says Charles Stewart, 23, a U.S. Army lieutenant on leave from his post in Arizona. "I definitely feel a lot poorer this time."

Elliott Frisby, spokesman for VisitBritain, the country's tourism agency, says early evidence indicates the exchange rate could be affecting the number of tourists from the USA and how much they spend. But the agency will have to wait for summer numbers before it can be sure, he says.

Although the 3.7 million U.S. visitors to the United Kingdom last year spent 2.7 billion pounds, or more than $5 billion, those numbers fall short of the peak in 2000, according to VisitBritain. Then, 4.1 million spent 2.75 billion pounds at a time the dollar had more buying power.

To cope in the sinking-dollar environment, frequent American visitors have learned to circumvent retail hotel costs and navigate the city like residents by using travel discount cards and finding inexpensive ways to eat.

Stewart, for instance, searched the Internet to find a $70 room at a convention hotel that wasn't hosting one during the week he stayed there.

Charles and Betty Wright of Williamsburg, Va., have been coming to London every year for the past 35. They trade timeshare points for London lodging.

"We couldn't come here every year otherwise," says Charles Wright, 66, a retired lawyer.

The Wrights find pubs a bargain. Pubs offer typical English fare, such as bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes) or steak and ale pie for $13 to $15.

Another veteran of London, Californian John Wilson, 69, a retired dean at Pepperdine University in Malibu, suggests eating like the natives: Standing up or doing takeaway (carry out) rather than dining at a far more expensive sit-down restaurant.

If you do splurge, Wilson advises, don't calculate what you just spent in dollars.

"My wife and I sat down for coffee and a sweet roll for breakfast and realized we paid $15 apiece," he says. "I keep thinking we paid $30 for breakfast. But you can't do it. You have to put it out of your mind."


How to get more punch for your pound in Britain

London-based USA TODAY correspondent Jeffrey Stinson shares some ways of avoiding a financial pounding while visiting Britain, despite the 2:1 exchange rate between the dollar and the pound.

Travel the way Brits do: with discount cards on London's subway and buses and national rails. Buy them before you leave in dollars, instead of in pounds once you arrive, through visitbritaindirect.com.

Oyster touch-pad cards provide up to half-price travel on London's subways and buses. Otherwise, a single subway ticket can cost $8. London's double-decker buses are also an inexpensive way to see the city's sights (with an Oyster card, ride all day for $6).

Britrail passes provide discount rail travel, four days to a month, anywhere in England. Family passes allow children under 15 to travel free.

Special deals at good restaurants can be found on websites such as toptable.co.uk.

At restaurants, order tap water. It's OK, the Thames has been cleaned up.

For afternoon tea, still considered a ceremonial ritual by many Brits, one of the best deals is at the Orangery at Kensington Palace, where the late Princess Diana lived. There, $16 will buy you a pot of tea, cucumber sandwich and carrot cake. Otherwise, expect to pay the equivalent of about $90 at London's historic and grand West End hotels or about $30 at tearooms in name department stores on Piccadilly and at Knightsbridge.

Many of Britain's world-famous museums, galleries and art collections are free. Most, however, request a donation of $4 to $8 a person.

Similarly, admission to most churches and cathedrals is free, though St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey charge visitors the equivalent of about $20. Attending worship services is a way of getting around those fees.

A Heritage Pass is the least-expensive way to visit any of the more than 550 castles in England, Scotland and Wales as well as Stonehenge and Shakespeare's birthplace. Again, buy before leaving the USA through visitbritaindirect.com.

Brits love the stage more than cinema. Though discount and last-minute ticket kiosks and websites abound, the only official discount theater ticket shop is on the south side of Leicester Square (open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 3:30 p.m. on Sunday). Tickets there are half price, roughly $35 to $45 plus a $5 service charge.

Another option: Go by noon to the theater where the production you want to see is playing. You can get tickets for half price, avoid a service charge and sometimes get your seating upgraded.

Another great deal: Admission is free to many of London's renowned gardens and parks. Take a stroll along the Thames or head over to Hyde Park, home to the Peter Pan statue as well as memorials to Prince Albert and Princess Diana.

For visitors who don't want to invest time boning up on history and geography, one of the best and least expensive ways to learn about London — from Jack the Ripper's alleyways to where The Beatles hung out — is through London Walks.

The firm, owned by an American expat, offers a daily array of tours for $12 (or less with discounts). Visit www.walks.com for information.


Dubya's Happy Feet

Posted without comment, because I'm speechless after watching this video shot today at the White House. I loved that the news anchor could not keep a straight face as she reported this story!



Four Weddings and a can of beans

0425_hugh_grant_inf I've covered some crazy celebrities stories in my career. But just when I thought I've seen it all, along comes Hugh Grant.  The star of such cheezy British romantic comedies as "Notting Hill" and "Bridget Jones Diary" was arrested Wednesday night for assaulting a photographer WITH A TUB OF BAKED BEANS. Yes, you heard it right. Grant's weapon of choice was a Tupperware container of beans. 

The bizarre incident took place Tuesday morning outside Grant's home in the posh London neighborhood of Chelsea.  Photographer Ian Whittaker says he was in Chelsea to snap a photo of Grant's ex girlfriend, Elizabeth Hurley, who lives two doors down from Grant.  The actor was returning for a morning jog when the photographer spotted him and asked to pose for a photo. Instead, Grant went berserk, kicking the photographer, kneed him in the groin, and said he hoped the photographer's children would die of cancer!  That's when things got ugly and Grant hurled the weapon of mass destruction at the papparrazo.

I don't question why he did it. Like many celebs, he probably just got fed up with the paparazzi for the last time. The big unanswered question is: Why was Grant carrying a tub of baked beans while jogging?  Does he normally carry fruit and veg while jogging past double-decker buses and black cabs?  Did he have the tub stuffed down his pants?  Is it always beans, or does he carry other produce whilst jogging as well?!

Personally, I would have flung a custard pie. Or red wine. Or maybe some rotten eggs. Or toilet paper rolls.

I should note that baked beans are a staple of the British diet. They are a mandatory part of a proper full English breakfast. And beans on toast are to British university students as Ramen noodles are to American college students.

But still...baked beans? Come on Hugh!  As if you needed another reason to look like a wuss!


GOOD NEWS:  Mrs. Crab passed her preliminary UK teaching observation yesterday with flying colors!  Her last observation will be in mid-May.  If things go well, Mrs. Crab will soon be the proud recipient of a UK qualified teaching certificate.

SHOUT OUT:  Mr. Crab went out with a group of London freelance reporters last night and got quite pissed.  A quick shout-out to John, who I hear is stalking us through this blog!  I'm still not sure how I made it home. But I somehow managed to crawl to the proper bus stop, board the proper bus, alight at the proper spot and get into the proper flat.   And believe you me, I felt it this morning. But nothing that could not be cured by a greasy English breakfast...with baked beans, of course.


A guy walks into a pizza parlor...

Bobbitt This is one of the grossest UK stories I've read in a while. I urge you not to read any further if you are currently having breakfast, eating a hot dog, or if you're a guy!

A man walked into a crowded London pizza parlor on Sunday night and chopped off his penis in front of horrified diners, The Sun reports.   The 35-year-old Polish man burst into the Zizzi restaurant, grabbed a knife from the kitchen, leapt on a table, dropped his trousers and pulled a John Wayne Bobbitt on himself. 

Sales rep Stuart McMahon, who was eating at the restaurant with his girlfriend, told The Sun: "This guy came running in then charged into the kitchen, got a massive knife and started waving it about. Everyone was screaming and running out as he jumped on a table, dropped his trousers and popped his penis out.
Then he cut it off. I couldn't believe it." 

Doctors are working to save his "willy," as Brits like to say.


In other Brit news, Queen Elizabeth II will pay tribute to the Virginia Tech massacre victims when she visits the state next week. The Queen is heading to Virginia to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the New World.


The British media is having a field day with American bashing.  First up is the BBC News, which is running a three-week examination of the subject in a report titled "Death to the US: Anti-Americanism examined". In a sidebar to the report, an American expat in London claims she got a black eye when an old man picked a fight with her group! Thankfully the Two Crabs have never experienced anything remotely as bad as that! Touch wood, as Brits say.

In today's Guardian -- Britain's most distinguished newspaper -- ran an editorial from American feminist author Naomi Wolf in which she compares the Bush administration to the dictatorships of Adolph Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and Pinochet. So it's not just the Religious Right that use scare tactics to advance their cause. 




The EastEnders

468595558_367d7fd689_b_2 Yet another gorgeous sunny day in London; 75 frackin' degrees and not a cloud in the sky.

I trekked down to Brick Lane market today in hopes of buying a used bicycle. I should mention that 90% of all bikes sold in Brick Lane are stolen. I felt guilty about contemplating such a purchase, as it would inevitably create a demand for stolen bikes. But my Catholic guilt quickly passed after a few minutes when I saw that dozens of other Londoners had the same idea. The bike market was PACKED today. Unfortunately I could not find a bike that suited my needs or size. Maybe next weekend.

A few scenes from East London today:

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468581549_c77df862e9_b 468575611_de7e290b86_b_2 468568096_1ab35e7907_bFrom top to bottom: Articulated puppet of Queen Elizabeth II; a street performer on Brick Lane; articulated puppet; The Ten Bells Pub, where Jack the Ripper picked up the prostitutes he later butchered; Brick Lane graffiti of Mr. Spock; alternative street signs posted on on a construction site.


A lazy day in Londontown

467400282_0b121ae5e2_2 Mrs. Crab is just days away from completing her last step to becoming a UK qualified teacher. This means she is in crunch time mode, preparing her portfolio that she will present to the British education ministry that proves she is a good ed-u-ma-cator. And because she's so busy working on said portofiol, it also means that Mr. and Mrs. Crab don't get to spend a lot of time together lately.  Today was one of those days. So Mr. Crab grabbed his camera and headed down the streets of London.

Click on the Flickr Icon on the top right to see scenes from springtime in London.

Today was a glorious spring day in London, beautiful, sunny, 68 degrees Fahrenheit.  I decided to walk to Borough Market on the south bank of the River Thames. Normally I would take the tube to London Bridge station, but for several weekends now, our Angel tube station has been closed for engineering works. I was also curious how long it would take me to get down there. At a normal brisk pace, it took 30 minutes to get from our flat to St. Paul's Cathedral; 45 minutes to cross the Millennium Bridge and reach the Globe Theatre; and 1 hour to Borough Market -- a foodie's paradise.  I spent about £5 to buy some artichokes, asparagus, garlic and a loaf of bread. Not bad. For lunch, I had an ostrich meat burger and pint of Youngs Bitter to wash it down.  Tooled around for a few hours at the Victoria & Albert museum before returning home. Fired up the charcoal grill and cooked up a BBQ dinner of grilled chicken & veg. Yum! 

Mrs. Crab's mum just returned home to the States after spending a 10-day visit with us in Islington. Last weekend we all went to the Columbia Road flower market in London, where Mum helped us pick out the perfect flowers for our back patio garden.  Our garden is quickly blooming!  Here's a few more scenes from our garden and around town in London today:

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