A Right Honorable Beer Festival

August 18th, 2008 by matt

In case you haven’t noticed, I enjoy my beer. Not just to pound beer after beer, but to be able to enjoy it and sample many types. I believe I’ve also mentioned the organization CAMRA, which is the largest single issue lobbying organization in the UK whose sole purpose is to petition to keep British Ales alive. Once a year, they hold the Great British Beer Festival, a very very large festival of “Real Ales” in London’s Earl’s Court convention center. To put it gentlely, it’s freaking huge. They had 450 different types of beer, most of them in kegs. To make it a little less chaotic, they organize the beers in two ways. Most beers are grouped by region. So there’s a section for beers from Northeastern England, beers from Wales, the Peaks District and so on. They have an international section as well. The larger brewers are also able to have their own sections which comprise the section grouping of beers. This year, the festival occurred during Adrian’s birthday and, since he’s a lover of beers as well, he chose to come up to London with Dina to celebrate at the largest pub in the world.

Now, this being a place with a shitload of beers, we needed to have an approach to how to choose our beers. We decided to hit as many regions as possible. So then, it was a matter of hitting a region and choosing amongst the 25-30 beers from that region. The festival had some descriptions for each beer, but they were not always the most useful. If we could not find a beer based on the description or some pre-existing knowledge of it, well, to be honest, we picked based on the name and whether it seemed interesting or not. At the end of it all, this approach worked quite nicely. We only ended up with one beer that was truly not very good. Here’s a little peek at it all:


A view a bit from above. One drawback of having such a huge collection of beer and people is that the choices of location can be a bit limiting. Earl’s Court isn’t the most soulful place in the world, but it did the trick. CAMRA managed to lay things out nicely enough though. This was the Wednesday night crowd. I don’t know when the busiest day of the festival was, but it got more crowded than when I took this photo.


This would be one of the regional bars (Mid-West England, to be exact). Note the multitude of kegs behind the fine gentleman serving up the beer. Can you imagine a single pub having this many beers? Well, this was just one of about 15 bars, each having their own selection of beers. It was interesting to see how people approached all of this. Many people just seemed to pick a region and start drinking. So, around the bars, there were crowds of people just hanging about.

Anyway, I didn’t go last year and I was quite pleased to be able to go this year. And, we got to celebrate Adrian’s birthday as well! Happy birthday Adrian! 🙂

Somewhere Over the Rainbow Over the Thames

August 12th, 2008 by matt

It was a dreary, lazy Sunday in London. We’d been sitting around generally relaxing but we needed to get out of the house. Carolyn had recently been to an outdoor show in a scooped out section near City Hall called, appropriately, The Scoop. Over the course of the summer, they show movies, music and plays. Well, on this night, there was a Spanish play which we were interested to see. However, we were also quite hungry and headed towards City Hall in hopes of finding a place to eat beforehand.

Alas, one of the big drawbacks of England is Sunday evenings. Basically, many things shut down on Sundays and it gets even worse after about 3pm. In particular, along the south bank of the Thames, it almost seems like nothing is open that isn’t a crap chain. Add to the fact that it was raining and the Scoop is outdoors and our plans were kind of shot, since we didn’t want to watch fine theatre in a downpour. This left us a little crabby and feeling out of sorts. We decided to turn up onto Tower Bridge and make our way back north to just get some sort of food. Well, what did we see as we stepped up to make our way across the Thames:


(click on the image to see a much larger image. Or this much much larger one)

The rainbow was literally from one side of the river to the other. There we are standing in London on one of the icons of the city and there’s a rainbow. Needless to say, we just sat in awe, and all our irritability just melted away. Take another look:


By the way, that’s two complete rainbows, not one (it’s not a reflection). 🙂

We almost didn’t get it on film. Carolyn had her camera, but when she hit the power button, nothing happened, no batteries. Luckily for us, every mobile phone nowadays has a camera too. These were taken with my crackberry. Not too shabby!

A Dina Birthday in Brighton

August 9th, 2008 by matt

So, mingled with our cultural and tourist outings in Brighton when we visited with Gerry and Ben, there was cause for celebration. For, yea, on this week in 1977, a Dina was born. Naturally, we needed to do some celebrating. We began the celebrations with a tasty meal at what has been called the finest vegetarian restaurant in England, Terre a Terre. We arrived to a modern, slick restaurant with some interesting organic beer and wine choices. While some of the choices were of the “make meat dishes but out of vegetarian fare”, they mostly had true vegetarian dishes done well. Take this nice one for example:


It was a Thai-inspired dish. We particularly enjoyed the sampler starter which allowed us to have a taste of all the wonderful food they had to offer. We had a seat by the windows and, an amusing sight kept walking by. In the UK, a bachelorette party is known as a Hen Party. This typically involves decorating the bride-to-be in embarassing clothes and going off to get very very drunk. We saw at least four of these groups wandering (or shall I say stumbling) past. A very amusing side note. 🙂
After dinner, we retired to Dina and Adrian’s flat for a little rest before the next phase of the outing. We also met up with their friend Heather met us. Here would be the whole happy crew at this point:


Alas, at this point, I developed a horrible, horrible headache. Since our next part of the birthday night was to be dancing at a club, I took a little time to rest. Our plan was to go to a special club night called Stick it On, in which people can submit their own playlists for a 15 minute set and be a DJ for a few moments. The idea was intriguing, so we made our way there. I shall spare you any photos of the revelers (alas, there are some thanks for Gerry 🙂 ), but it was a fun time out.  Obviously, when the DJ changes every three or four songs, you’ll get a few songs you don’t like, but there were some excellent choices of music. My headache subsided, which allowed me to enjoy ourselves and I think, when we took our leave at whatever hour it was, we were tired and content.

The following day, besides going to the Brighton Pavilion, we also enjoyed a Brighton favourite of ours, cream tea at the Mock Turtle. While we devoured scones and tea, Dina bought a Meringue. It was ginormous. See for yourself:


With a little help, it did get eaten :). We also wandered Brighton some more so Gerry and Ben could see some of the other sights of this fun little city. For those aware, on the side of a coffee shop near the train station, the graffiti artist Banksey put up one of his more famous pieces of art, two male police officers kissing:


Now, you might notice that this one actually has protective plastic over it. While most Banksey’s have a bit of a temporary aspect to them and could be removed if and when the owner of the property of the government decides to remove it (although I think now that they are quite valuable, this is increasingly less likely), this one has become quite famous and infamous. Apparently, the original was defaced by someone finding it “immoral”. It’s been fixed up and made “permenant”.

Anyhoo, we had some tasty beers, good food, and saw tons of fun things. But it was time to go backto London. Good times were had by all.

Summer in Brighton

August 5th, 2008 by matt

Now, I’ve spent a decent amount of time in Brighton, mooching off Dina and Adrian, trashing their place and generally making myself as unwelcome as possible. But, each time I go, there’s generally always some fun experience or time to be had. Amazingly enough, I didn’t go down there last year during the “summer” at all. It probably didn’t help that last summer was literally three months of cold and rain. But I was also working many many hours or in the US for a couple of reasons. Well, this summer has been quite pleasant and our friends Gerry and Ben had never seen Brighton while living in England for three years. To top it off, it was Dina’s birthday which seemed like the perfect time to go down, see Brighton and celebrate Dina being a year older.

The weather could not have been more perfect. The sun was shining and it was actually kind of hot. I even managed to get a sunburn (although that now only seems to take about 5 minutes of sunshine). And, this being the coast, we decided to take a little tour along the water. Weather permitting, there was to be a paddle around Brighton Pier on Sunday, and Saturday they had a little festival in advance. We wandered around the festival, seeing some beach cars and playing with some toys. This brought us to the West Pier. Brighton, for many years had two piers. The West pier eventually closed and fell into disuse. The council was debating for a while what to do with it, rather than letting it remain in ruins, until 2003. At that point, someone apparently set fire to it and the thing was burned beyond any reasonable repair. Here’s what it looks like today:


I hope they do something with it. Even in it’s current form, it’s still pretty cool looking but could use some tender loving care. Let’s compare it to the other pier, which is still in use. It’s full of arcade games and even has amusement park rides. It’s a great big festival:


Quite a bit different, no? Well, the weather on the land was lovely, but the English Channel was anything but calm:


Check out them waves and the lovely city behind it. We eventually got a little tired after about a 2.5 walk along the water and exploring the crazy beach scenes and the crowds of people enjoying a summer day along the coast. We needed a little bit of a pick-us-up. So we hit a local coffee shop with some pretty cool art painted on coffee sacks:


Once we were properly caffeinated, it was time to stop being tourists and celebrate Dina’s years of life. However, I’ll skip ahead to the following day for now and focus on the celebrating later. On Sunday, since it wasn’t nearly as nice out, we decided to soak in some cultute. The Brighton Pavilion is the iconic center of the city. When George IV was still a decadent prince, he set himself up down in Brighton to flee his creditors. In a truly modest style, he had the following built on top of the original “farmhouse” he was initially living in:


The main part of the palace has been restored to its original decadence. On both ends of it, are the magnificent music room and banquet room. They really do blow your mind. They achieve it by having a very low, almost claustrophobic entry hallway which opens into each of these enormous rooms. The banquet room has a 2-ton chandelier hanging from the center. Photos aren’t allowed in there so we (or rather Ben, who took all these lovely photos) couldn’t capture it on film. It was very impressive.

Next up: fancy vegetarian dinner and dancing!

A Philly Wedding

August 2nd, 2008 by matt

So, let’s have a little more wedding fun with the first wedding Carolyn and I went to as a married couple. To cap off my grand American tour, we took a little road trip from NJ allll the way to Philadelphia. My dear friend Matt was about to get married to a lovely woman named Amy! We were trading groomsman spots, so it was my turn to help him enjoy his last days of single-ness (or whatever it is groomsmen do), since he’d been so kind to do me the favour the week before.

We started the grand weekend with a nice lunch at Amy’s parents place followed by a tux fitting. Matt, being a very good planner, had everything well organized, which was a nice thing to have a week after your own wedding. Things flowed nicely and I just had to be there and be a good friend. The weekend activities were all focused in the area around where Amy grew up, so nothing was more than 15 minutes away. Very nice. I hadn’t seen Matt’s parents in years, so it was a pleasure to catch up with them as well as a number of Matt’s friends and just take in the happiness that Matt and Amy exude. The rehearsal dinner was in a lovely Italian restaurant with even more people to see and enjoy. But, of course, it was just a warm-up to the next day.

Now, the groom always has what seems to be an easy task on the day of the wedding: show up showered and shaved. So, while the bride seems to spend the day of getting her hair done and all the other pieces of the puzzle together, the groom needs to do something to kill the time. In other words, the bride has the day set up for them (doing what is probably not the most fun shit in the world), while the groom needs figure out something to ease the nervousness. Matt came up with go-karting, preceded by some lunch in a local brew pub. The brew pub was good, they claimed to have an English Ale,  but they were lying (so I had an Irish red ale). The go-karting was a blast. It might seem like an odd choice of what to do before your wedding, but it’s a great way to let off some stream and release the tension that builds up if you just sit around waiting or doing nothing.

Which leads us to the wedding. It was in a beautiful country club. The ceremony was to be on an outdoor terrace but there was the perpetual threat of rain. Luckily, the rain held out, so everything could go as planned. Allow me to show you what you could look out on during the ceremony:


Tres beautiful.

The reception was in a split Southern-themed kind of rooms. It had a lovely airy feel to it. Here would be the happy couple showing off their moves in their first dance:


How cute! Meanwhile, here would be myself all Tux-ed out with my lovely wife:


All in all, it was a beautiful day. Matt and Amy have always been such a loving couple and it was so nice to be a part of their wedding and see them off so happy. Alas, the time ended quickly and my travels to London began two days later. Coming up, why don’t I do a little London blogging next.