Beautiful, Interesting and Ooo Shiny! Images From Various Places

UK

The 12 Odd Facts of Christmas

Cardinal Eating

Location: USA
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 • f 2.8 • 1/800 sec

Ok, folks, I give up! I was trying to work on our 2nd annual Christmas video for your viewing pleasure, but it’s taking longer than expected this year. Instead of keeping you waiting, here’s some fun Christmas trivia! Maybe if you act smart at your family Christmas party this year, your aunt Betty won’t be so tempted to pinch your cheeks and tell you she can’t believe how much you’ve grown… or something like that. 😉

  • According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), there are 2,106 million children under age 18 in the world. If there are on average 2.5 children per household, Santa would have to make 842 million stops on Christmas Eve, traveling 221 million miles. To get there in 24 hours, Santa would need to travel between houses in 2/10,000 second (for the “not-so-nerdy”, that’s about 4 million mph, or 3000 times the speed of sound). At that speed, Santa and his reindeer would burst into flames instantaneously. (Reindeer steaks, anyone?)
  • Of the presents received by kids worldwide, one in 10 will be broken by the New Year, only 40% will make it to March and just a quarter will be intact by next Christmas.
  • From the UK: Three people die each year testing if a 9v battery works on their tongue. (WHY???)
  • Mistletoe (Viscum album) is from the Anglo-Saxon word misteltan, which means “little dung twig” because the plant spreads though bird droppings. (And that’s EXACTLY what I’d like to be kissing under! ‘~’ )
  • UK: Since 1997, 101 people have had to have broken parts of plastic toys pulled out of the soles of their feet. (I wonder how many were Legos? Ow!)
  • In Poland, spiders or spider webs are common Christmas tree decorations because according to legend, a spider wove a blanket for Baby Jesus. (I don’t care if they made him a yert! Spiders are still evil, in my opinion.)
  • According to Facebook data, most breakups occur two weeks before Christmas. Yet Christmas Day is the least popular day for breakups.
  • UK: 19 people have died in the last 3 years believing that Christmas decorations were chocolate. (Wait… what?)
  • The traditional three colors of Christmas are green, red, and gold. Green has long been a symbol of life and rebirth; red symbolizes the blood of Christ, and gold represents light as well as wealth and royalty.
  • “Jingle Bells” was originally written in 1857 for a Thanksgiving celebration. (Seems legit.)
  • Norwegian scientists have hypothesized that Rudolph’s red nose is probably the result of a parasitic infection of his respiratory system. (I don’t even want to imagine how that one works!)
  • In Canada, Santa Claus has his own personal zip code, H0H 0H0. Each letter that includes a return address receives a reply from Santa in the language the letter was written in, including Braille (with help from some 11,000 “Postal Elves”)!

Rather than link every fact on the list, I’ll just give you my sources here: Random History, Venere, Chicago Now, We Interrupt, Nice Fun, Guy Sports (Christmas Safety Warnings).

Bring on the knowledge junkies! What other fun Christmas trivia do you know? Let’s hear it!

Big Ben: London’s Big Deal

Location: England
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 • f 2.8 • 1/2500 sec

If you look at the skyline of London, probably one of the most recognizable pieces of architecture is Big Ben. The name actually refers to the bell only (the rest is officially called the Clock Tower), but more people know it by its nickname than anything else. There are two main theories on how it got it’s name: The bell has the name “Ben” inscribed on it after Sir Benjamin Hall, who oversaw the installation. Also, the English Boxing Heavyweight Champion at the time was Benjamin Caunt, and anything that was the largest or strongest in its class was referred to as “Big Ben.”

The tower is quite a sight in person, rising 316 feet (96.3 m; ~ 16 stories) on top of a concrete raft. The four clock faces themselves are 23 feet (7 m) in diameter and hold 312 pieces of glass each (though some are removed for servicing the dials). Yet it gets its name from the bell, a 16-ton monstrosity that was cast in 1856. This is actually the second version of the bell. The first one cracked in transport, and was melted down and re-cast. The current bell also cracked after being in use for two months, but it was repaired, rotated a bit, and given a smaller hammer. Even today it has a funny-sounding ring caused by the crack.

Tours are available to go inside the Tower, but only if you are a UK citizen. Even then, you have to book it with your Member of Parliament way ahead of time. The rest of us just get to watch from the outside. That’s still cool, though. The light on the top of the tower indicates when Parliament is is session, the chimes play “The Cambridge Chimes”, the tower leans enough to be seen by the naked eye, and sometimes we can see some dudes risking their lives trying to clean the clock face (there’s even a game for that!). There are lots of other fun details about the clock I could talk about, but why don’t you see for yourself?

This is my second clock feature in two months. So tell me, which would you prefer to see? Is there another clock somewhere you think is even cooler?


Fly Sky High in the Eye

Location: England
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 • f 2.8 • 1/4000 (all images)
(Note: This panoramic was created by digitally stitching three photos together)

The London Eye, now the third largest Ferris wheel in the world, offers a great view of the city from 443 feet (135 m). On a clear day, you can see Windsor Castle, up to 25 miles (40 km) away. It’s especially popular at night when all the city lights are twinkling. On my visit to London, I was limited on time and cash, but if you have 30 minutes to ride the loop, it will only cost you around $25-$30. Reporter Steve Rose wrote, “It essentially has to fulfil only one function, and what a brilliantly inessential function it is: to lift people up from the ground, take them round a giant loop in the sky, then put them back down where they started. That is all it needs to do, and thankfully, that is all it does.”

The Eye has a fascinating history. It was originally supposed to be a temporary structure, designed for a millennium landmark competition. It took seven years and help from five countries to build. The parts were floated down the Thames River, and then the wheel was built on its side. It was lifted by degrees and took over a week to reach its final standing position. Today, it is used by 3.5 million customers a year. It has 32 “pods” (one for each of London’s boroughs) which hold up to 25 people each (or, you can book an entire private pod for $600-$1500). The pods are mounted on the outside of the wheel, allowing for 360° views without support structures getting in the way. It also moves about 0.6 mph (0.9 kph), allowing passengers to get on and off without stopping the wheel.

I noticed when I took this picture that the wheel was missing a pod (top right). In preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games, the pods are being refurbished, one at a time. They are being swapped out at night, one by one, in order to keep the wheel going the rest of the day. I’d be excited to go see it once these are completed! In the meantime, there’s always the live webcam (when it works, anyway).

If you could ride a giant Ferris wheel anywhere in the world, what would you want to see?


Dilly-Dally in Piccadilly

Location: England
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 • f 2.8 • 1/2000 sec

As our double-decker tour bus looped the London streets, the tour guide announced, “This is the statue of Eros (Cupid), on one of the most visited streets in Europe. It is said that if someone waits here for at least 30 minutes, they will run into someone they know.” I didn’t have time to test his theory, but that would certainly be interesting!

This fountain in the middle of Piccadilly Circus (a large and busy intersection) was originally erected in 1893 as the Shaftesbury Monument Memorial Fountain. It was meant to commemorate the 7th Earl of Schaftesbury for his work for the poor, and is also named The Angel of Christian Charity. The figure on top, made of aluminum, was meant to be the Greek god Anteros (the god of selfless love), but most Londoners call it by the name of his twin brother Eros/Cupid (the god of sensual love). Don’t try to correct them, though. It’s like telling an American that the “Statue of Liberty” is actually named “Liberty Enlightening the World.”

The statue is the site of several rumors like the one the tour guide told me. Another is that a proposal under the statue at the stroke of midnight will bring good luck and happiness to a marriage. There are several stories about where the archer’s arrow might be pointing. Then there’s the “what were they thinking?” stories, like how some locals planned to climb the statue on New Year’s Eve. One drunken man succeeded in 1994, damaging the statue. It has since been repaired.

What’s your favorite piece of art? Are there any fun stories you remember about it?


London’s Biggest Tourist Destination

Location: England
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350 D • lens EF 7-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 • f 2.8 • 1/800 sec

No, it’s not Big Ben. The Tower of London is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the country,  for several reasons. Built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, it was first a symbol of oppression and a new regime. But over the years, a number of additions, notable events, and special prisoners have made the Tower the interest it is today. For example, did you know the story behind why at least six ravens are kept as permanent residents in the tower? What about the ghost stories that arose after the murders of Queen Anne Boleyn and the Princes in the Tower?

I arrived at the Tower via the Traitor’s Gate, the entrance that faces London’s River Thames. This was one of several entrances to the compound, which was actually many towers and buildings put together. On the grassy area where the moat used to be, medieval actors practiced their fencing skills and showed off ancient catapults. Merchants hawked their wares and the Yeoman Warders (appointed Tower guards) led others on tours that included the Crown Jewels, the museum, royal menagerie, and the royal armor. Many wanted to see the dungeons and old torture chambers as well, but those areas of the compound were cleaned out many years ago. A replica of a torture rack is one of the only things available to the public. The last person executed at the Tower, Josef Jakobs, was sentenced to death in 1941, and the firing range was demolished in 1969. There were tons of other areas of the Tower up for exploration, however! The White Tower is the main structure, but the Tower Green (where most executions occurred) and West Wall Walk are also popular. Maybe next time I’m in London, I’ll have to make the time to check all these out, too!

If you were to take a tour of the Tower, what would you most want to see?