Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mardi Gras in St. Louis

Here's a couple of pictures of Soulard, St. Louis during Mardi Gras.

The week before the big parade is the smaller but still pretty happening Purina Beggin' Pet Parade 2012, which was on Feb 12th this year. A friend of mine has a dog so we dressed it up ridiculously and headed out.

 There was the normal throwing of beads and candy, but also a ton of doggy treats and toys.  This float was throwing Beggin' Strips, the little fake bacon dog snacks.

The dog costumes were the best part. 

 There wasn't a seat to spare at the wiener dog races.

Actual Mardi Gras was awesome, and Soulard really goes all out and transforms. Bars build all sorts of temporary outdoor tents and structures to serve food and drink out on the street.

Outdoor partying and people-watching was really the only reason to be in this mess. This was as close as we got the actual parade.

Someone described the next day's aftermath as a "zombie outbreak". The streets are much quieter than usual, and anyone who is out is probably walking slower as to not upset their hangover. Trash and broken down orange security fence is everywhere. But hey, if nothing is broken you didn't really have a party, now did you?

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Stonehenge Pitstop

Our time in Mike's homeland of Cornwall was drawing to a close, and by this point we were just mopping up the last couple to-do's on our list before the long drive back to London.

One such minor to-do was a visit to Healey's Cornish Cyder Farm(AKA Scrumpy Town). I've done the whole brewery/distillery/other awesome product factory visit thing quite a few times now, so that's why this was a secondary trip. It was pretty cool but as was becoming the rule, the actual tour of the place cost something. We both agreed that seeing a bunch of apple trees and such was not worth the money so we amused ourselves by wandering around a bit unattended. There was free scrumpy and cider tasting galore, which was a nice way to expand my knowledge of the stuff. I even picked up some scrumpy jam for my mom.

I like to pick up t-shirts from my travels, but only if they look cool on their own. I've suffered through vacation buyer's remorse enough times to be pretty picky about what I buy and lug home. I thought getting a t-shirt with "scrumpy" on it would be completely cool, so I looked through the gift-shop's wares searching for a good one.

This was one of the few I could find that had the magic word on it, with two country looking gents laughing and enjoying some scrumpy. Pretty killer right? I was halfway ready to buy the thing when I read the little caption: "Legless but Smiling". "Legless" in English English means drunk, but among my people it just means "he who has no legs". The fact that the men pictured are only seen from the waist up made the whole thing a little too creepy for me. I'd be doing a lot of explaining if I wore this shirt around town.

Sign for the men's bathroom.

We took one last trip to the grocery store for goodies.

I didn't know what a crumpet was before Cornwall, and I left loving the damn things.

Pork pie sounds like it should be awesome. "Cornish pasties are great", I thought, "so this is probably just like that but with pork". False. First of all, you're supposed to eat them cold. The pie consists of a delicious crust and a meaty delicious pork filling. Separating delicious filling from delicious crust is a very unfortunate layer of pork jelly. Pork jelly that's really congealed due to the fact I was eating it cold. I couldn't finish it.

A really random side note is that in one of my favorite movies ever, Snatch, there's a lot of difficult to understand Cockney Rhyming Slang. In this coded dialect porky pie= lie. Here's a clip where Bullet Tooth Tony warns "you better not be telling me porky pies".

The road from Mike's house to Stonehenge was fraught with dangers.

A very cool and everpresent feature of the Cornish countryside were the hedges. Apparently there is a difference between Cornish hedges and others because they have their own wikipedia page. They are basically stone strutctures with dirt in the center that are covered in grass and plants, and were used to dileneate field boundaries.

Driving on country roads often meant navigating through tall walls of grass.

Well, our good friend Keeble was doing some sort of landscaping for the summer, and so he sounded like he knew more about the hedges than the average dude. He said that the hedges had been certified as a protected habitat, and permission was needed from some level of government in order to destroy one. He also said the grass on them couldn't be cut until the wild flowers had all died in order to preserve hedge species.

Mini-hedges were used to separate people's yards in Mike's neighborhood.

British speed bumps are known simply as "humps". As in, "my humps, my humps my humps my humps". That little blue whirlpool sign is another warning: "Here, There Be Roundabouts".

One feature of driving on the highway in the US is you can pretty much put your brain on autopilot.  You get on the road you need to be on, set a mental timer for the next time you need to make a directional decision, and just zone out. At least that's how I do it, especially when I've done the drive lots of times before. I'm pretty much an expert on the triangle of highways between St. Louis, Edwardsville, and Springfield at this point. I feel like I do a good amount of driving. In the UK, at least In Devon and Cornwall, this is not the way the game is played. This is roundabout country.
So, roundabouts are cute.  There weren't just nice clean intersections like there are in the square cornfields of Illinois. Every time two roads decided to touch, they did it in this whirly spriral of confusion and regret. Yes, Mike had a Garmin navi computer that told us where to go in a hilarious female British robot voice. No, we didn't use it. For whatever reason he had deemed it useless and didn't trust its assistance. We didn't have some highly topical state map to guide us, either. We had this big phone book atlas of the entire country. The kind of book where when you get to the edge of the page it tells you to turn to some other random page to find yourself again. Kinda like a sick game of Choose Your Own Adventure.

Spotty signage made every roundabout encounter stressful and unpredictable. There was yelling.

Stonehenge was guarded on all sides.

When we finally reached our goal, it was really just sitting in the middle of a big field. No visitor center around or anything fancy like that in sight. What was there was a chain link fence around the perimeter of the landmark, with a little path that looped around which was full of tourists. Long story short, I didn't want to pay to get 10 feet closer, and the parking lot cost as well.  So Mike dropped me off, I went and took lots of pictures and gazed at the majestic, ancient stones I'd seen and heard so much about, and then hopped back in the car on his way back. A short bit later we bought a small carton of strawberries from a little table on the side of the otherwise deserted road, and proceeded to eat them and whip the green tops out the window as we went. It was a great day.