Saturday, October 25, 2014

London Zoo with Inez

I'm always excited to hear about my friend Inez's exotic tales of volunteering at ZSL (London Zoo and Whipsnade Zoo), so when she offered to take me around London Zoo on a guest pass, I jumped at the chance. I've been many, many times before, but couldn't wait to see the zoo from Inez's perspective: the girl studied biology at Oxford and is now doing a masters in Wild Animal Biology in partnership with ZSL, so this was going to be an expert trip! Ok - brace yourself for an absolute onslaught of animal pictures, it's a long one today...

The first animals we went to see were some marvellously plump goats.

Baby got some serious back!

These sweet little kids had seemingly commandeered one another as besties.

Next up, a Timon moment with these very cute meerkats.

Inez wants to eventually specialise in birds, so next we visited the tropical bird house - a 19th century pavilion originally built as a reptile house.

I was taken with this jacana egg, which reminded me of Arabic script. 

Birds with brilliantly-coloured plumage flew around above our heads and waddled up to us in search of food. Inez pointed out her favourite bird, a very cute, cartoon-like red-crested turaco. She's been working on a bird watercolour project lately (yes, as well as studying towards her MSci, she's a wonderful artist - so proud!) which features a turaco. Check out Inez's paintings here.

I thought this fruit dove was beautiful. Like a dressed-up version of our London pigeons.

Back outside, I got up close and personal with this extremely stoic hornbill...

And fell in love a bit with this inquisitive - and reportedly very naughty - monkey.

Inez and I got into the primate mood possibly a little more than was necessary, after watching the gorillas having their lunch. Cos we're prime mates too. Geddit? Ok, I just made myself feel ill. 

We spent some time in the cool shadows of the reptile house, famous scene of the boa constrictor breakout in Harry Potter. There were definitely a few kids in there convinced of their ability to speak Parseltongue. 

We also wandered through the aquarium, pausing to watch the horrifyingly giant carnivorous fish swim languidly back and forth, and to coo over the clownfish - i.e. Nemo. 

It was a wondrously warm day, which meant ice cream was on the cards! Yay!

So much happiness when you've got an Oreo ice cream sandwich in your hand.

And when you're riding on a bronze hippo.

The real-life hippo was decidedly cuter, and more docile, than the sculpture. Although apparently they're responsible for more human fatalities in Africa than any other large animal...

A giraffe wandered over to us to have a munch on some tasty branches.

We came across the sweetest couple - a baby emperor tamarin monkey clinging to the back of a golden lion tamarin. Although a fellow golden tamarin seemed affronted by the newly adopted charge, and tried to cuff the baby off the foster mother's back...

After watching otters rolling and playing with each other, Inez had to dash off to a lecture, and I struck out on my own to the penguin pool. 

I must have honestly taken about a hundred pictures of the penguins. Which I reckon was warranted, since I've been on work experience at Penguin Books this month...So it's been a serious job to whittle these photos down, I can tell you.

I fell a bit in love with this poor penguin with a bad eye, and may possibly have shed a hormone-induced tear or two over him later on...

And this sweetie giving himself a good old groom.

Although I did get a baleful stare after he was done. I get it. Time to move it along.

I love watching penguins swimming. They're so effortlessly elegant, gliding sleekly through the water at top speed.

Thank you so much for taking me to the zoo, Inez! Zoos are a bit of a controversial subject, I know (and I definitely don't agree with the way animals are treated at some zoos) - but it's wonderful to be able to see some of the creatures that live at ZSL firsthand and learn about them. It definitely instilled a life-long love of animals in me as a child, and I spotted a few kids who I imagine will have gone away raving about the animals they saw for a good long while. I'll leave you with this seriously broodiness-inducing photo of a little French boy attempting to make friends with the penguins...*melts all over the floor*

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Saturday, October 18, 2014


A short apologia to begin. This week has been chaos. I've been running around London like the proverbial headless chicken, trying to keep up with work experience and interviews and plagued by a stubborn cold. It's definitely better than doing nothing, but I've been coming home every evening too knackered to follow through with any of the blog posts I've been planning. It makes me worry about how I'll manage once I actually have a job! Posts from lovely bloggers like Michelle and Sophie come in very handy when I feel that things are slipping out of my control, providing me with tips on how to manage my time more efficiently and helping me to come to terms with the fact that I'm just not super-human. Sometimes, something's gotta give.

Let's step away from the rush hour hustle and bustle for a minute, and cast our minds back to a fortnight ago, when I sat down to dinner at a little local Italian restaurant, Ostuni. It's on Lonsdale Road, just off the street I grew up on, surrounded by narrow roads lined with small Victorian houses typical of Queen's Park. The road itself used to be fairly run-down and industrial, home only by the local surgeries and a car repair shop. The entire area has become much more gentrified over the two decades I've been living here, but with the arrival of Ostuni it seems that it's finally becoming a destination rather than a little pocket of London you happen across on your way to Notting Hill, St. John's Wood or Camden. 

The interior of Ostuni represents a flightless departure from the suburbs of north-west London to southern Italy. Its bar is adorned with rustic tiles, its staff chatter in Italian and the menu features simple, hearty fare from the Puglia region - the name 'Ostuni' comes from a city in Brindisi province. I feel charmed by the decor; the lampshades you see in the picture above are actually potting sieves you'd use in the garden - an original, quirky touch.

We ordered a carafe of rosé - a farewell to the Indian summer - and perused the menu. 

We ordered the selection of antipasti to start. I'm a big fan of sharing small plates or tapas-style eating, especially when mozzarella, sundried tomatoes, olives and cured meats feature! There were also some slightly more exciting dishes like marinated artichokes, truly delicious meatballs, and one plate that was totally unknown to me - a bake of mussels and breadcrumbs. It might sound a bit odd, but rest assured it was the highlight of the antipasti, and an excellent example of la cucina povera - food traditionally thought of as for peasants, with frugal methods to ensure the meal didn't cost too much - like using breadcrumbs as a substitute for parmesan. 

And next, mains. If we were really in Italy we'd order pasta followed by meat, but these bowls were large and very filling! My mother, the birthday girl, opted for her favourite, linguine vongole. The clams were well cooked and seasoned - another simple yet delicious plate, and a hit with my mum, which is saying something. We always quake a little bit when we see her order vongole, because we know she uses it as a way to test the quality of an Italian restaurant!

My pasta of choice was 'foglio d'ulivo' or pasta resembling olive leaves, accompanied by mushrooms, a smattering of burrata and truffle oil, and shavings of truffle. Magnifico. So rich and creamy, I could barely finish it, and so didn't even need to order pudding. There was birthday cake at home, anyway...

This little Italian restaurant may seem humble and homely - and actually, it is. But it's clear that it's a gem, and well worth a visit if you're a fan of southern Italian food. As I got up to leave, I clocked actress Toni Collette sitting at the table behind me. Queen's Park really is going up in the world, and I'm so glad I have a little local to fall back on every time I'm craving pasta!

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