Love Amongst the Ruins

July 27th, 2008 by matt

So, when I made my last trip to the US, when I just happened to get married myself, there was a lot of love in the air. Consider this a first entry on some of that love. The week before Carolyn and I got hitched, my friend, Jackie and her long-time boyfriend JC decided to celebrate their many years together with a Celebration of Love. Jackie was one of my singing friends from college and the whole ceremony was partly a chance for people to show their feelings about this event through music and whatnot. So, I agreed to sing with some of my old friends. Jackie chose “A Single Drop of Honey” by Abigail Washburn, which is a beautiful two-part harmony acapella song. So, Carolyn and I made a short trip up from NJ to Briarcliff, NY for the event.

The location was amazing. Right next door to where Jackie grew up, there was the ruins of what was apparently an old coach house. They spent 6 months clearing the brush and remains to create a wonderful spot for the event (this was NOT a wedding):


An organically beautiful center for the ceremony. I’ll put some larger photos elsewhere that do the whole scene justice. It really was a wonderful spot.

Jackie and JC both came towards the center from opposite ends of the aisle to meet and unite at the arch. They were played down the aisles by our friend Seth who did an accordion version of All the Things You Are. Before you laugh and start thinking “polka music?!?”, Seth is very talented and did an excellent job and made it wonderful and beautiful. Of course, we knew he would as he played us down the aisle for our wedding on a piano a week later. Here is Seth with his trusted instrument:


The celebration was headed up by a local minister who knew Jackie and her family for a while. However, this being a non-religious celebration of love, he had the task of giving a secular ceremony. He was up to the task and did a very nice job. Sprinkled in were readings by some of Jackie and JC’s friends from all over, one of them even came all the way from Alaska. At various points, there were musical interludes including one in which we did a little singing:


After the ceremony, we all retired for a tasty vegetarian (ok, there was a fish dish) party and good beer. It was a fun time and a beautiful celebration.

Random Biking Fun

July 14th, 2008 by matt

So, my lovely bike, the wonderful Apollo Jalapeno, has been called a disgrace to all other bikes by my coworker with the obscenely expensive carbon fiber road bike. I think that means it’s pretty good then! 🙂 And I’ve getting to be a pro with navigating the streets of London. I have pretty much all the routes around North London down pat. They’re basically the back routes that the cab drivers with “The Knowledge” use. That means that there are few traffic lights or buses. I’ve also noticed the pains the English goverment goes through to keep cars on specific roads. They will randomly make a road shrink down so the largest thing that car fit through it is a smallish SUV. Roads suddenly have barriers across them. And best of all, roads that would be an alley way in the US get cut in half with dedicated bike rights-of-way. That is very cool. A bike road. Oh yeah, there are also one-way roads that have bike lanes for going against the traffic.

Anyway, two fun things I’ve found. First, at least for now, if you search for “Apollo Jalapeno” on google, one of my pages is the top choice! Second, I figured that my bike, not being the finest in all the land, was probably not that popular. However, two weekends ago, we were down in Brighton for the weekend (more on that later), and we stumbled upon its doppelganger:


If you look closely, you’ll notice the back tire (or tyre, if you will) is totally flat and the chain is rusted up, so mine is sooo much cooler. But it was funny to just walk into one sitting on the street. I also saw someone up north selling a smaller, childs version of it on eBay. So clearly, I have a pretty hip bike! Long live bright yellow!

Post Wedding NYC Trip

July 12th, 2008 by matt

Let’s take a little trip back in time. Picture Carolyn and I as newly weds, fresh from getting married. As a lovely gift, Carolyn’s parents got us a snazzy hotel room in the Marriott Hotel in Times Square and tickets to see Spamalot on Broadway. A pretty cool gift. Allow me to share in some of the fun.

We arrived at Port Authority and, being from the NYC area, there’s always some things I have in my head that I need to see and do. Typically, this involves food. We got there too early to check in, so we dropped off our huuuge bag and set out to get some New York pizza. One of the impressive things with NYC pizza is you can pretty much go anywhere in the city and there will be a pretty good pizza place. Here would be me and my pizza (in my hand — only cheese!) and Carolyns (the fancy looking pizza on the plate):


We wandered over to the Hudson River and just soaked in the nice weather with the view of NJ (not a bad view, I assure you!) until it was time to check in. Now, the Marriott in Times Square is known for having funky automated elevators where you go to the bank of elevators, select your floor and it tells you which of the 15 elevators you should go into and then get swept up in a glass elevator with views of all the floors below and the beautiful lobby. We checked in and were sad to see we were only on the 22nd floor (our of about 45). However, as we got to our room, we were more than pleasantly surprised:

Check out that view! With this opportunity, we decided to just spend a couple of hours sitting in our nice room and take in the view. Who needs a bar with a view when you can sit on a couch in a private room instead? Here would be my blushing bride enjoying it:


As is something of a tradition when we see a show, we sought out some Russian food. We needed something near the theatre, and we found one called Russian Samovar. They had nice food and vodka infused with various things like peppers and lemons and so on. Good stuff. Then we made our way to see a fun Broadway musical. Spamalot is a stage version of the hilarious Holy Grail by Monty Python. A number of the original members contributed in various ways with voice overs and writing. Our seats were excellent, in the front row of the first balcony. The show was good fun. The performers were obviously wonderful and the music was good. I tried my best not to compare the musical too much to the movie as, while they are based on the same story, they are obviously not the same thing.

We woke up the next morning and decided to spend a beautiful day in NYC. We went to a small exhibit of wonderful Greek artifacts found in Georgia (the country). There were some stunning gold pieces and whatnot pulled out of the ground there. Then we got me a chicken cutlet sandwich from a good deli (yum!) and then spent the afternoon wandering around Central Park. Eventually we made out way to the Upper West side to meet up with Carolyn’s friends Haley (and meet her new boyfriend — we approved) and Renu at a bar literally called Dive Bar. But. before drinks, we ate at an Argentinian steak house. Man, I missed good steak. The UK definitely lacks in it. Dive Bar had excellent beers and we had a blast with all the fine people there. Alas, eventually, it was time to go. Many thanks to Jim and Linda for such a nice time in the city.

Nadal, Nestor, and the Williams’, Oh My!

July 7th, 2008 by carolyn

Yesterday was the final day of Wimbledon 2008 at the All-England Club and as many of you know, Nadal came away victorious in the men’s final and Venus in the women’s final.  On thursday the 26th of June, during the first week of the tournament, Dina and I decided to go down and queue up to try to see Wimbledon for ourselves.  I was extremly excited after years of watching Bud Collins and Breakfast at Wimbledon to finally have a chance to see the place in person.


In order to have a good chance of getting in, Dina and I got up at 6:00 am the morning after our second attempt at the Radiohead concert, and hopped on the tube to SW19.  We arrived around 7:30 am and were handed a queue card (we were number 3139 on the line).  The cards kept things nice and orderly as we made our way forward through the line, through security including metal detectors and finally arrived at the gates at around 10:45 am.  Here is a shot of the famous Wimbledon queue.


We entered the grounds around 11:00 am and I barely knew where to look first.  There was the scoreboard with the order of play, St. Mary’s Walk (which I always remember from Bud Collins announcing), Murray Mount (named this year for Andrew Murray – Britain’s current No. 1) and all 20 courts on which play began at noon.  We wandered the grounds for a bit taking it all in.  Here I am on St. Mary’s Walk.

When you queue up for day of tickets at Wimbledon, you are pretty much guaranteed grounds tickets which give you access to Courts 3-19 and standing room for Court 2.  There are a limited number of Centre Court and No. 1 Court tickets available day off but people queue up overnight for those.  Although we were not able to see Center Court or No. 1 Court action, we had plenty to see on all the other courts.  While we were waiting for the matches to start, we had a chance to watch Nadal warming up on one of the smaller courts.  We then wandered over to watch some men’s doubles on Court 6.  Turns out we were watching Nestor and Zimoniic the eventual men’s champions.  Here is Nestor’s serve in action.


We continued up to Murray’s Mount to watch Venus win in straight sets on the big screen showing the match on center court.  Next, we wandered over to watch Jamie Murray (brother to Andrew and strangely reminiscent of John McEnroe in the 80’s) play his doubles match.


We stayed at Wimbledon (at one of the sunniest days I have experienced in England yet) until about 8pm.  Needless to say we watched many matches – singles, doubles, men, women, top seeds and unranked players.  We ended the day peeking over the guardrails to get a glimpse of Venus and Serena playing their doubles match on Court 11.


One of the great things about Wimbledon is their policy on resale tickets.  Anyone who leaves during the day is asked to return their ticket.  After 3pm those tickets are resold on an ongoing basis for 5 pounds with the profits going to charity.  So, it is possible to get on center court or No. 1 court later in the day when other folks have started to go home.  Dina and I didn’t try for resale tickets as we were too busy watching all the matches on Courts 2-19 to bother standing on another line.  Here is a shot of the Order of Play and the updated scores so you can see what a busy day it was.


So, on our day out at Wimbledon we got to see the eventual champions in men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles and women’s doubles at least for a bit of play.  We had a great time!

Crazy Miniature Railway

July 5th, 2008 by matt

So I take a lot of enjoyment in trains. I love just looking at transit maps and thinking about how to use public transport to get from one point to another. I love taking train trips. Back in 2002, I took a few days and took the trans-continental train from Oakland to Chicago. Two days in a train and I had a blast. I just have a fun time travelling on these machines that slice through the landscape and provide a unique perspective on the world.
So, in May, as we were driving back to NJ from the last of four weddings in April and May we were attending (including our own, of course!), we passed something called Northlandz. This was in the middle of nowhere (or at least it felt like it) on the NJ side of the Delaware River. Carolyn looks at it and says “Matt we should turn around and go there. I think you might like this”. And boy did I ever.

A number of years ago, a man named Bruce Williams Zaccagnino started building a model railroad in his house. Well, he is apparently pretty enthusiastic because, over time he needed to build additions to his house to keep it all in. Every year, he would invite friends to come and check out the amazing world he’d created. It reached a point where he decided to give it its own home and Northlandz was born. It’s a mile long walk of various landscapes with model railroads over it. He’s built it in 3-D so you walk up ramps and find yourself looking down two stories into a ravine with a railroad bridge across it and a train running along a river on the bottom. There are one way mirrors that are set up to make the scenes look bigger and yet, you cannot see yourself. There’s a huge concert hall with a gigantic organ in it. He’d collected model trains of all different sizes and they criss-crossed all of the amazing worlds he’d created. All very impressive.

Let’s take a look, shall we?


Yes, that’s two gigantic bridges spanning large crevices’.


Here’s another bridge with Carolyn to provide some perspective. Notice that she’s on a ramp climbing higher and below her is even more model landscapes created by this guy.


It’s not all imaginary Grand Canyons. This man (and he’s made this all by himself and has people helping to do maintenance) has created a large variety of worlds. Everything from the great outdoors to large cities. This picture shows a bit of a juxtaposition of that.

Anyway, it took about 2 hours to get through it all and soak it in. I was completely blown away that such a thing could exist and that it’s basically a labour of love of one man. It’s been around for a few years now and I hope it stays for many more years. Really a nice way to bring out the child in anyone (or just reaffirm the childishness of some of us 🙂 )