What Londoners Do When It Rains

Standard

The first thing to know about London is that it will rain. Every day. Despite knowing this, I still made a few rookie mistakes during my extended stay. I learned right away that hanging out in London for a week with the convenience of a centrally located hotel is quite different from a three week stay in the suburbs. The first major clue to this epiphany was coming home with wet shoes, socks, and pants after every outing into the city. Without a dryer or sunny, warm weather it took three days for a pair of shoes and socks to dry out and two days for jeans. I was starting to run out of dry clothes!

When I was down to my last pair of dry socks and shoes, I decided to be a little more observant. Tired of cold legs from damp jeans, I asked myself, “What do Londoners do when it rains?” Wherever I went I noticed they had dry pants and shoes, so I knew there had to be a trick. After a few days, I had some answers and learned how to stay dry!

1. Always carry an umbrella.

It doesn’t have to be big, but it does have to be sturdy. The wind along the Thames can kill a weak umbrella in under two minutes. Londoners always seem to have one stashed in their pockets, purses, or tote bags. Even if the newspaper said it would be sunny, I learned to carry an umbrella anyway. It was worth every bit of the room it took up in my purse.

2. Wear shorter pants.

Both Londoners and Europeans in general wear shorter pants than Americans. I never understood why until I realized the bottom hem of my jeans soaked up rainwater faster than a chamois. Even after the shortest walk on The Strand my jeans were wet up to my knees! There wasn’t much I could do other than fold the hem under a couple of inches, but it did the trick. A discreetly placed safety pin attached the hem to my sock. I never came home with wet jeans, again!

3. Hang out inside.

Even when out in the city, there is always a place to duck in and escape the rain. Stores, tube stations, and coffee shops are all excellent places to wait out the kind of rain that demolishes even the best umbrella. At the entrances/ exits of Tube stations there’s usually a group of people reading the newspaper while it pours outside. Museums are also an excellent way to  dodge the rain as most of them are free and very warm inside.

My favorite way, however, to wait out the rain is to hang out in a coffee shop. One rainy day, I was walking along the Embankment when it suddenly started to pour. I decided that moment was the perfect time to sit down for a warm cup of coffee and a brownie. I joined many other Londoners in what I assume is a tradition. Sit by a window with your cup of tea or coffee and simply watch it rain. Be thankful for a moment where everything just stops, except for the rain.

100_0432

Starbucks on Fleet Street
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

4. Stand under a tree.

This sounds stupid, but it works. Throughout London, there are huge and heavily foliated trees. In particular, trees along the Embankment near the Globe Theater are proven rain blockers. One day it started raining and I watched as seasoned Londoners began to gather beneath the trees. I followed them and realized it was perfectly dry under those trees! Barely a drop had touched the sidewalk even though it was pouring. The key to this strategy is to stand at the base of the trunk. It rained for almost an hour, but hardly any moisture hit the ground where I was standing. To pass the time, I did what other Londoners did, I read a book.

100_0122 Alt

Rain hits on the South Embankment. These are not the magic rain blocker trees, but they are still beautiful!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

5. Stand under a bridge.

Again, this sounds silly, but it works. There are tunnels, benches, and spaces beneath almost every bridge in London. In many cases, there are buskers in these areas, so while you’re waiting out the rain you can enjoy some great entertainment. However, I wouldn’t recommend standing in these areas alone, but rather with a group. Especially, if you are one of those super obvious tourists.

100_0116

Hiding out from the rain under Westminster Bridge
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

6. Wear your wellies.

Those big rubber boots aren’t just for gardeners. They are sold all over London and I watched as people carried them in tote bags or by the back loop. If I didn’t have such a small suitcase, I would have invested in a pair. Made out of plastic or rubber, these boots protect your feet and legs from puddles, splashes, and wet grass. I swear London is the only place on earth where people don’t look ridiculous wearing wellies while on a walk through the park or rushing through the financial district.

800px-Gummistiefel_bunt_fcm

Wellies!
Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

The last lesson learned? When the weatherman or newspaper forecast says it’ll be sunny, don’t believe it. The idea of sunshine all day long is more wishful thinking than it is reality. The rain is always there, ready to sneak up from behind and catch you by surprise!

– – –

Other Articles in the New Familiars Series:

Grocery Shopping in London

Lunch In A Chinese Home

The Language of Signs: London

The Language of Signs: Prague

– – –

c.b.w. 2014

Inside An Irish Farm

Standard

While in Ireland, my tour group got the chance to go through an authentic Irish dairy farm, complete with cows, a dog, and a feisty old man.

Any drive through Ireland is a drive through the country! Rolling green hills with sheep or cow seem to fill every view for miles and miles. The dirt road leading to the Molanna Dairy Farm is no different.

IMG_4084

Photo by: c.b.w. 2009

The main house is a rather new addition to the farm. Colorful flowers and the family dog greet us warmly as we walk up the drive. Like most Irish homes, the façade is covered in stucco and thick-paned windows.

IMG_4082

Photo by: c.b.w. 2009

Inside the main house is like traveling back in time. The place is filled with antique furniture, richly decorated carpet, and a couch that has seen its fair share of sitting. Irish lace doilies can be seen on just about every stick of furniture. A traditional handicraft for which the Irish are known, I could not imagine any home in Ireland without it!

IMG_4086

Photo by: c.b.w. 2009

IMG_4085

Photo by: c.b.w. 2009

The owner took us outside for a tour of his working farm. Taking care of cows, means taking care of the land. Storage sheds and a rusted out tractor connect to a barn full of cows.

IMG_4104

Photo by: c.b.w. 2009

True to rural roots, a clothesline is preferred over a dryer.

IMG_4102

Photo by: c.b.w. 2009

While touring the grounds, it’s easy to hear the pride in our guide’s voice. The farm has a multi-generational history.  Through one of the gates, the original farmhouse still stands. Both the farmer and his father before him were born in this house.

IMG_4097

Photo by: c.b.w. 2009

The old house was built before the luxury of electricity, which was haphazardly added on when it became available (and affordable). I find it rather charming. Old buildings aren’t just torn down in Europe. They are treasured and kept in place for as long as possible.

IMG_4093

Photo by: c.b.w. 2009

He took us inside and regaled us with stories of his childhood and even dropped a few lines of poetry. Every word was laced with trademark Irish humor.  Even though we all sat as strangers in his childhood home, he treated us as if we had gathered for a family reunion. That kind of warmth and welcoming sits at the heart of Irish culture.

IMG_4098

Photo by: c.b.w. 2009

Where the green of the hills meets the blue sky, a friend waits to give the next warm welcome.

IMG_4100

Photo by: c.b.w. 2009

– – –

Previous New Familiars posts:

Grocery Shopping in London

Lunch In A Chinese Home

The Language of Signs: London

The Language of Signs: Prague

– – –

c.b.w. 2013

The Language of Signs: Prague

Standard

In the previous installment of The Language of Signs, we took an interesting trip through the streets of London. For English speakers it was a snap to read each sign and follow directions, but what happens when signs are in a language we don’t understand?

I found myself in the middle of a language barrier when I visited Prague in the Czech Republic. If it weren’t for the excellent guidebook¹ I had in my purse, I might still be wandering through a maze of medieval streets.

That being said, Prague takes special care in making sure the throngs of tourists who visit can find their way to various sites around town. This is particularly true in the Old Town District of Prague where poles with brown signs can be found on almost every corner. They are written in Czech, but there are images on each sign to ease the language barrier.

IMG_3280

Follow the sign to get to Charles Bridge, Kampa Island, or a tourist information office.
Photo by: c.b.w. 2008

Like London (and most of Europe), street name signs are located on the sides of buildings. However, in Prague they are usually bright red. Aside from the street name, they also include the name of the Prague district where it is located. Additionally, there are often two additional tiles near doorways or windows that indicate the street number and city registration number (often associated with the address).

IMG_3216

Kozna Street, Located in Old Town, District 1
Photo by: c.b.w. 2008

Traffic signs are also a bit challenging in that Eastern European traffic symbols and colors are a little different from the West. While some symbols are universal, others can be tricky!

One of the easier signs to understand is a typical warning sign for children as pedestrians in a roadway. A little higher on the same post is a very European sign indicating the location of a public Water Closet (WC) or toilet.  A little word of advice: public toilets are not free. Be sure to keep a few coins handy at all times just in case nature calls!

IMG_3118

Watch out for children!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2008

Another easy sign to translate is a Parking sign. I love how they always seem to be blue no matter where I go! In this instance, this section of the street is reserved those with a parking card. Further down the street, there’s a yellow diamond indicating a main road along with a blue right turn ahead sign.

IMG_3519

Parking is no easy feat in Prague!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2008

It’s tough to see but beneath the right turn sign, is another sign that warns of a pedestrian crossing. Here’s a better look:

120px-IP06cr

Crosswalk!
From Wikipedia Commons

There are a number of street signs hanging out on this corner! The red X on a blue background took me the longest to understand – it means no stopping. Above it, the blue arrow sign means one way. Up the street is another yellow diamond, along with a no right turn sign. Off the to right are signs indicating bus stops. On a side note, I wonder who left their hoodie hanging on the sidewalk barrier?

IMG_3317

Don’t even think about stopping!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2008

This street has a lot going on, too! The blue sign with a red line running through it means no parking, (or waiting).  Behind it is a sign listing Czech cities to which the road travels. Then, those yellow main road diamonds pop up again, along with signs indicating lane direction and changes. Towards the middle, there’s a blue circle with a diagonal arrow that means keep left.

IMG_3312

Yikes! So many signs!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2008

Last, but not least, the Czech people have a brilliant sense of humor. In an attempt to keep sidewalks and streets clean, signs are posted with a dog on a toilet to remind people to pick up any “presents” their dogs might leave while on a walk. Beneath the sign is usually a box filled with paper bags that have the same symbol. I didn’t get a shot of the sign, but I did snag one of the bags for a souvenir. I’ve said it before – the best souvenirs are free!

100_4054

Line 1: Not meant for storing food
Line 2: Dispose of waste into any trash. Not a hazardous waste.

Anyone up for a drive in Prague?

Happy Traveling!

– – –

1. DK Eyewitness Travel: Prague – There’s nothing like colorful visuals to help you navigate through a foreign place. Aside from Rough Guide Maps, I never leave home without a DK travel guide.

– – –

Just curious . . .

I don’t recall spotting any speed limit signs in Prague. Do they exist? If so, what is considered fast or slow?

– – –

Previous New Familiars posts:

Grocery Shopping in London

Lunch In A Chinese Home

The Language of Signs: London

– – –

c.b.w. 2013

The Language of Signs: London

Standard

In my many years of travel, I’ve always made it a point to snap pictures of street signs or other signs that I find interesting or funny. It’s rather fascinating to observe how a culture communicates rules of the road or expected social behavior.  For example, in London, many of the signs are very polite.

IMG_1628

Near Southwark Cathedral on the South Embankment, London
Photo by: c.b.w. 2006

At home I’m accustomed to the red Exit sign that shows me how to get out of any building. In the London Tube, however, there is what I consider a more gentle way of pointing out the exit.

IMG_1795

Follow the sign to leave the London Tube!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2006

At Tate Modern, this sign is posted on the elevator. I found it very thought provoking in that it asked people to be mindful instead of simply putting a wheelchair symbol and hoping for the best.

100_0320

If this sign doesn’t inspire you to make the extra effort to climb the stairs, I don’t know what will!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

However, the use of symbols is employed around heavy tourist areas to accommodate those who don’t speak English. Around Buckingham Palace I spotted these signs:

IMG_1568

What do they mean??
Photo by: c.b.w. 2006

Now, I’m not sure what these signs are indicating, but I have a couple of guesses. Traffic comes from all different directions on the roundabout in front of the palace (and they drive like idiots), so maybe it’s telling people to watch for traffic. Or, perhaps it’s a sign telling people there’s a tourist site (the eye points to the palace) and there is also a place to pick up a taxi. Either way, they are helpful!

Tourists also get reminders on how to cross the street safely. Foreigners are often thrown off by the reversal of traffic direction on the roads. Americans in particular are in the habit of looking for traffic on the right side of the road instead of left. To keep tourists from getting squashed, crosswalks in the central part of London are painted with a handy bit of advice!

IMG_1732

Look both ways! (In reverse)
Photo by: c.b.w. 2006

Crosswalks also receive a little extra attention in that they are marked with special road lines to warn drivers ahead of time to slow down. Hence, the infamous zig-zag pattern before the thick horizontal bands of most crosswalks.

100_0349

Watch out for pedestrians! Zig-zags in Muswell Hill
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

Traffic signs in London are very similar to those in the U.S. in that they convey the same concepts, but different words and shapes are used.

Yield = Give Way:

IMG_1669

Give Way in Notting Hill
Photo by: c.b.w. 2006

Speed limit signs are round with a red rim:

100_0608

Slow down in Muswell Hill!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

Bike lane signs are also round with a red rim:

100_0230

Ironically, this sign was by a pub. A way to curb drunk driving??
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

In Europe in general, the names of streets are placed on the sides of buildings or walls. Very rarely have I spotted a street name on a separate pole or traffic light. I prefer this system mainly because it’s easier to see the sign and there’s less likelihood of a car accident wiping out the sign. Tourists, however, have a hard time making the adjustment. Sometimes I chuckle when I see someone with a map looking everywhere but halfway up a building. In neighborhoods, street names are usually placed on brick walls that flank a residential entrance or a retaining wall.

100_0566

Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

On most of the main roads, street name signs also include the name of the London borough where the street is located as well as part of the zip code. For example, Drury Lane is in Camden and Portobello Road runs through Kensington and Chelsea.

100_0529

Do you know the muffin man? Camden, London
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

IMG_1670

Photo by: c.b.w. 2006

Of all the interesting signs in London my absolute favorite is a small laminated sign zip-tied to the fence at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. For me it has always embodied the broader purpose of traveling and experiencing new places.

IMG_1813

Simple, yet powerful. Speaker’s Corner, London
Photo by: c.b.w. 2006

Keep an open mind, my friends!

– – –

There are too many signs for just one post! Next week, we’ll head to Ireland and Prague, Czech Republic to check out their “sign” language.

– – –

Just curious . . .

What are some interesting signs you’ve seen in your travels?

Londoners, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t the zig-zag road lines slowly being phased out? I though I read that somewhere.

– – –

Previous New Familiars posts:

Grocery Shopping in London

Lunch In A Chinese Home

– – –

c.b.w. 2013

Lunch In A Chinese Home

Standard

While in China I had the unique opportunity of experiencing several home visits with everyday Chinese people. On one such visit, I got the chance to go to an apartment in what is considered an upscale neighborhood of Changchun to have lunch with a Chinese family.  Even though I was in such a foreign place, I found unexpected familiarity and warmth, reminding me once again that we are more alike than different.

Upon arriving, I couldn’t get past the fact that the apartment building was bright pink. It looked like something right out of Miami Vice, but I decided it was better than the usual grayscale color schemes of communist architecture.

IMG_0780

A very pink apartment building in Changchun, China
Photo by: c.b.w. 2005

No elevator meant climbing several flights of stairs in a series of concrete hallways. The drab and industrial surroundings made me wonder about the Chinese definition of “upscale.” However, when the hosts opened the door to their home, I saw a beautiful little apartment with wood floors, modern furniture and “stone” decorated walls. Before stepping through the door,  I was asked to remove my shoes and wear slippers. Apparently, the floors were new and the family didn’t want them scratched!

IMG_0776

A living room in a Chinese apartment.

After spending time in hutong homes and rural farmhouses, I now understood why this neighborhood was considered wealthy. This family had more money and domestic conveniences than many Chinese will ever see, including a big screen TV, a portable A/C unit, and a state of the art Western bathroom.  Most Chinese bathrooms consist of a hole in the floor that requires some skilled squatting, so this is a really a huge luxury. However, I was a little put off by the glass doors. The Chinese have a very different sense of privacy than the West in that there is little or no privacy!

IMG_0769

I’m a little jealous of this bathroom!

Despite many conveniences, the family had to hang their laundry out to dry on the patio. The concept of in-home washer and dryers is almost nonexistent for the everyday person in China. Hand-washing and line-drying is the most common way to clean clothes. In almost every window in every town, I saw clotheslines!

In comparison to the rest of the house, the kitchen was very simple. On one side there were small cabinets and counters, while the other side had a small dining table.  There were no full-size appliances. The stove was inset in the counter and consisted of two burners, while a small refrigerator and pantry were outside on an adjoining patio.

IMG_0772

Super small cabinets and counters didn’t hinder these master chefs!

IMG_0771

Getting ready for a buffet in the dining area of the kitchen.

Despite the small space, the entire family set about making the traditional and delicious meal of meat-filled dumplings.

IMG_0775

A few more stirs ought to do it!

Once the filling was cooked, the family taught me how to make the perfect Chinese dumpling. A spoonful of meat filling goes in the center of a thin dough circle. Then, the circle is folded in half and the ends are pinched together. It sounds easy, but it takes some practice! Too much filling can make the fold split and too few pinches can cause the whole thing to fall apart. After stuffing and pinching, the dumplings are steamed to cook the dough.

IMG_0778

Yes, they are as good as they look!

Dinner was served buffet style and the family insisted on incredibly full plates. It is considered rude not to sample everything on a host’s table, so I loaded up my plate and ate everything! Every bite was incredibly tasty.

As with many Chinese families, multiple generations live under one roof. In this instance, the grandparents on the mother’s side lived with the family. The Grandfather was a particularly colorful character who loved to talk to anyone who would listen. Even with a language barrier, he was a chatty one. Towards the end of the meal, he started a drinking game in the kitchen. He could down a beer faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. After chugging more than a few, he was the life of the party.

Even though I was wearing slippers instead of shoes and I was surrounded by a language I didn’t understand, I strangely felt right at home. Good food, good people, and a funny Grandpa can make the distance of an entire ocean disappear.

– – –

Just curious . . .

Any ideas on why stuffed animals in plastic bags are on display in the living room?

I noticed the cabinets were different colors in both the bathroom and the kitchen. Is there a reason for this or does it simply not matter that they don’t match each other or the house decor?

Is lack of privacy the result of cultural evolution or is it related to high population density? Or both?

Got a question, observation, or reaction? Leave your thoughts in the comment section – Let’s get a great conversation going!

– – –

Previous “New Familiars” posts:

Grocery Shopping in London

– – –

c.b.w. 2013