The Land of London from the Sky and at Night

January 30th, 2009 by matt


My office is in the picture! (photo credit: Jason Hawkes)

A friend of mine pointed me to a couple of articles on that contain a series of really great photos of arial shots taken at night of London. Generally, the skyline of London, when you move away from Westminster Abbey, isn’t though of as being that spectacular. At least compared to a city like Chicago, with it’s wonderful skyline. It’s always been about exploring the winding streets and soaking in the history. However, these shots show a great persepctive on a city that’s quick complex and beatiful in it’s own way. I ‘borrowed’ the picture from above because that’s one of my stomping grounds. Shoreditch and Old Street is where my office is. You can even see our main office in the lower-right hand corner (at least the northern wall of the building). The actual picture is number 12 in the second set of photos. I’d also like to point you to this photo (picture number 17 in this set of photos). That’s the home ground for Arsenal, who play about a 15 minute walk from my flat. Anyway, the photos are gorgeous and they give a nice view on the town I live in at the moment. Enjoy!

A Night of Culture at the Barbican

January 28th, 2009 by matt


Les Musiciens du Lovres led by Marc Mikowski takes the stage at the Barbican

Two Sundays ago, we had a chance to partake of some culture in London. Our friend, Tobiaaas, is a big fan of classical music and one of his favourite tenors, Richard Croft, was singing as part of a performance at the Barbican. The Barbican was one of the large planned developments of the 1970s to replace aging and destroyed sections of the City of London. It’s a very stark multi-function complex of apartment towers, art gallery, performance spaces and movie theatres. It’s a pretty polarizing piece of architecture. Personally, I kind of like it, but I can see why it might piss some people off. The interior is lofty and welcoming. You can just go in during the day and wander, which is nice.


A happy Carolyn and a Matt making some sort of face (trying to be silly)

While I’d been there to see a film (The Simpsons movie, complete with an academic-like explanation provided when you went into the theatre), I’d never seen a performance in the hall. It’s a lovely space, modern, but comfortable and the acoustics are excellent. The orchestra and choir we saw focuses primarily on early and Baroque music, but they have recently been expanding into more comtemporary music. However, this night was about the earlier stuff. We saw pieces by Purcel, Handel and Haydn, to celebrate a varity of anniversaries in their honor. The theme was St Cecilia, the patron saint of music as all three pieces were about her in some form. The performance was excellent and we definitely got our money’s worth as it lasted almost 4 hours. We went home afterwards tired but content.

A Parental Visit!

January 27th, 2009 by matt



While I was in the midst of my massive change in life (that being living in another country, among other pretty big things), my parents were (and still are) in the middle of a new phase of life. For the first time since the 1970s (or, in my dad’s case, kind of ever), they left the East Coast life and gradually made their way west. First, they made a stop off in Michigan to spend a year living in Michigan, but have made their new roots in a beautiful place in Arizona. Soon, my dad will be retired and it truly begins. But they’ve been a busy couple. And, at the end of the summer, Carolyn and I had the pleasure of their company in London. I always enjoy visitors because, while the tourist stuff is fun, living in a city allows me to find some of the more interesting places to visit. So, they got to see an honest to goodness London neighbourhood, eat at some lesser known, but tasty places and take some day trips of their own choosing. We then decided a weekend trip somewhere new to all of us would be fun and we picked Dublin, having never been to Ireland. Allow me to provide a little writeup below. Selected pictures will come tomorrow.

Now, Ireland is a beautiful country and Dublin is a wonderful city. I feel like it would be a terrific place to live. As a tourist destination, it’s perfect to take in for a day. And that’s how we did it. We used it as a homebase with a lovely hotel right in the center and then took a couple of excellent day trips.  We arrived at night and the natural thing to do was to find a pub. We did well at one right around the corner and, naturally, had ourselves some Guinness. A quick comment on Guinness. In the days before the US had their own little selection of microbrews and beers of some quality, Guinness was what there was to drink if you didn’t want cheap, shitty American lager. So, even if it is just another mass-produced product, it holds a place in my heart, beer lover that I am. So, to be drinking it in it’s “hometown” was a nice little moment. And the pub we first got it in was a lovely one. Busy and full of young professionals in the front, but a nice quiet place for us to chat and enjoy ourselves in the back.

The following morning, we set out to see what Dublin was all about. It’s obviously full of rich history, but much of it had been destoryed over the centuries. So we found a wonderful way to relive it on a walking tour. Carolyn introduced me to these. They tend to be quirky walks through historic parts of cities with people who really know their stuff. Ours was an engaging grad student of history and she knew the history of the city and Ireland in general very well. In the course of our walk, we went right up through modern Ireland and saw things like the location where Bloody Sunday took place as well as the ornate former City Hall. Twas a good step back in time.

Lunch was, of course, in a pub. We found a classy old pub with good hearty food. Now, I know it’s a stereotype, but the Irish seem to like their potatoes. Maybe at home, the do nothing but eat, ummm, tofu, but no matter where we ate, every dish came with potatoes. In fact, I had one or two dishes where it specified potatoes and came with not only those potatoes but some mashed potatoes just to make sure you didn’t miss any potatoes. Potatoes.

But I digress. After an excellent lunch, we made the obligatory pilgrimage to the Guinness brewery. My thoughts on it would best be left to another post, but I went in expecting a pretty corporate tourist attraction and I wasn’t disppointed. But the glimpses of an old brewery and the birthplace of Guinness (and a pint with a 360 degree view of Dublin was nice).

After a good Italian (really) dinner, we had booked a car to drive out to the nearby areas of Dublin. We had a bit of trouble with manual transmission and the car rental place. About 20 miles after picking up the car, it kind of died. The transmission just stopped working. On a hill. At a blind turn. Well, we called the rental place, they came and picked up the shit car and provided us with a second car. My mom did fine for the next leg of our trip, which took us to the Wicklow Mountains. This is a splendid range of mountains south of Dublin and it is dotted with wonderful mountain views and some cute villages Glendalough. It’s a former place for hard core monks to live out their whole vision of austerity for god. But the location is stunning and is full of wonderul walks along a lake as well as some impressive medieval architecture that housed the monks churches. This includes an amazing bell tower that just seems perfectly constructed. Well worth the visit.

Now, amid all this beauty, I would like to come back to driving. Being the child of someone, parents tend to be a little freaked out by their kids driving. Now imagine yourself a parent and your child has just taken the steering wheel of a car on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. And, this is the first time your child has ever driven on that side of the road. Well, that was my driving experience in Dublin. My mom was, umm, ok about it. After a few initial freak outs. Actually, what made it all better was that I was proving more adept at using the manual transmission cars in Ireland as our second car started having issues and we kind of needed to get back to Dublin and I was the only one who could find the sweet spot on the clutch that didn’t cause a horrible burning smell. 🙂

Anyway, we had one more day in Dublin and were debating whether or not to dump the shitty rental car or just drive it into the ground. We smartly chose the latter one (no more talk of the car, it got us to the airport and around the area of north of Dublin without a problem. Obviously due to my excellent driving!). This allowed us to go north and see some evidence of life in the neolithic era in Ireland. That would be Knowth and Newgrange.

Apparently, 3000 years ago, the folks living in the British Isles (among other places), practiced a particular rite of burials. The created earthen mounds where the dead would be placed for a period of time. These burial mounds (well, the entrance to the chambers) tended to face towards the east and were perfectly situated to have the sun enter the chamber directly on the winter solstice (now celebrated as Christmas — cooincidence? Hmmm). Well, there are two particularly big ones about 30 miles north of Dublin. So we piled in the car and made the trip up to take in these two impressive sites.

Now, these are not just big piles of dirt. They were elaborated constructed of massive stones, some of which came from hundreds of miles away and have managed to survive 3000 years. Not only that, but they have found other purposes over the years. The medieval folks around Knowth liked the artificial hill it created because then they could live atop them and, if people came from around the countryside to committ unspeakable acts and destory their lives, they built escape tunnels into the mounds. In Newgrange, the entrance to the burial chamber was discovered and left open for years, which allowed Victorian tourists to go in and leave their mark in the form of graffiti. So in the middle of this 3000 year old place of death, you look to your left and there’s “John Smith, 1865” carved into the rock.

The large paving stones along the bottoms of the mounds had a variety of patterns carved into them that are believe to signify various parts of nature. And the fact that the burial chamber was situated facing east to see the sun rise fit into the naturalist beliefs of the time. In Newgrange, they have a raffle for 20 people to witness the winter solstice in the burial chamber. For those unlucky people who can’t do that, they simulate it while you stand in the chamber. It’s quite powerful.

Among the interesting things about Knowth and Newgrange is the fact that, while people tend visit both, they were excavated and studied by different people. The archeologist at Knowth has done less interpretation and left things unknown when he had no concrete evidence for it. At Newgrange, they attempted to recreate what it might have looked like 3000 years ago. So, while they both found these gleaming white stones that came from very far away, at Knowth, they are left as possibly paving stones, while in Newgrange, they create something of a protective/decorative wall around the mound. There’s a lot unknown about these things and it’s nice to see a variety of opinions about them.

Anyway, after some more exploring of the countryside, we had to make our way back to the airport to return to London. My parents had a few more fun days in town and then they returned to their life in Arizona. It was a pleasure to have them visit and share Ireland with them.

Shortly, I’ll post what I’ve described above in picture form.

Happy Chinese New Year!

January 26th, 2009 by carolyn

Since Matt has been quite delinquent with regular postings I have decided to jump in once again =) in order to wish everyone a Happy Chinese New Year.

Last Thursday, Matt and I joined a group of about 30 of his coworkers and their assorted friends and families, for a lovely meal in celebration of the Year of the Ox.  Unfortunately, we ourselves don’t have any photographic evidence of the night (although several minutes of entertainment was had by all as one friend took video footage of all party goers via his digital camera and the lazy susan in the middle of the tables.)  If I get access to the video I will post it here soon.

Our dinner location was China Delight in the City.  We had two large banquet tables and enjoyed a variety of delicious meals shared amongst ourselves.  My favorites were the sweet and sour prawns and sea bass.  Matt enjoyed the fish stew and cantonese roast duck.  The best dressed attendee was Echo’s daughter who wore a lovely pink silk outfit and impressed us all with her excellent table manners, considering she is just one year old.  Here’s wishing everyone happiness in the Year of the Ox.

Photos From Ireland

January 26th, 2009 by matt


A smaller mound near the neolithic mound tombs of Knowth in Ireland.

I’m still catching up and I’ll put up something tomorrow that’s a little more timely, but I’ve many photos from Ireland which Carolyn and I visited with my parents during their visit in September. So, without further ado, here is a photo dump of Ireland.

Pictures from Ludlow

January 8th, 2009 by matt

Since I began my practice of photo dumps, there’s a bit of a gap. This is just me filling the gap between Frankfurt and the latest entries about the Lake District. Well, you might recall our mini-honeymoon to Ludlow. Now, if you’ve got some time, you can browse the almost 200 pictures we took of this lovely town on the Welsh border. Here is the photo dump for Ludlow. It’s a lovely town and hopefully these photos capture a little slice of it.

On an unrelated note, I’ve noticed that the blog has hit 200+ posts this week and over 500 comments. That means I’ve technically posted something every 3.5 days. I’m a machine! 😛

A Fresh Post about Christmas

January 6th, 2009 by matt

In an attempt to write about something that didn’t occur 6 months ago, I thought I’d just give a quick rehash of what we did a week ago. We went to Paris. There, now you know how we celebrated our first Christmas as a married couple. 🙂

But seriously folks. We had a blast in Paris. In a nutshell, we rented an apartment, shopped like Parisians, went to midnight mass at Notre Dame, ate Chinese food on Christmas eve (nothing was open), made a homecooked meal with a Christmas duck and saw a whole lot of Paris.

Soon enough, I’ll give a full account. But for now, here’s a photo dump of all our Paris photos. Enjoy!

Pictures From the Lake District

January 6th, 2009 by matt

As promised, here is a sampling of the many pictures we took while in the Lake District. If you want more, we’ve got them right here.


This is Grassmoor House, the B and B we stayed at in Keswick. Note the slate exterior. Using it on the buildings was quite common and provided a cool look.


A mountain cloaked in heather. This was prime season for heather in bloom. Beautiful!


Two bad asses near the top of Skiddaw. Look at the view behind us.


We took the hard path down. It was a blast, but you sometimes needed to slow yourself down lest you go barrelling headfirst on a path of sharp slate.


This was our view from a pub we stopped at and had a few pints and played some games.


Matt amongst the boulders. This was in a mountain pass south of Keswick with a one lane road in and out of it. And cars were going in both directions. Crazy. From there we drove amongst a number of cute old villages that now cater to the tourists with pubs and ice cream.

There’re a few more photos I might post with commentary. I feel like I’m missing pieces of the trip in this selection. 🙂

A Bank Holiday Among the Lakes

January 5th, 2009 by matt


A view of Derwent Water from the top of Skiddaw (for a whole complement of pictures, view the Lake District album).

So, in my attempts to catch up with a whole back log of writing, I’m going to take you back to the summer. This will be a text heavy write up. Tomorrow, I’ll post a selection of pictures.

After our lovely trip to Ludlow, we weren’t done travelling for the summer by a long shot. Carolyn’s friend, Angela, was in town to visit the homeland of her boyfriend, Nick. We decided it would be a blast to travel north to the Lake District to enjoy the natural beauty it had to offer. We chose Keswick, a town in the northern part of the area, as our base of operations. Since everyone travels on bank holidays, we had a fun time getting up there. I arrived at Euston first and there were major lines to pick up tickets. On top of that, we weren’t allowed to book a seat, so we were at the mercy of the mob. When Carolyn showed up, we got some food and, just as we walked out of the food court, the track for our train was announced. The surging mob shifted towards it and then some people started sprinting to the train. Clearly, we weren’t the only people without a seat. Somehow, we not only got a seat, but in a first class cabin converted to coach for this trip. Sweet!
Now, there are mostly small towns in the thick of the beautiful hills and lakes that make up the Lake District and they tend to thrive off tourism. So, basically, every house is a B and B (the predominent mode of lodging). I’ve always been skeptical of them, but my travels from this point on have made me soften to them. We stayed in Grassmoor House. If you’re going to be visiting Keswick, I can whole-heartedly recommend them. Lovely rooms, great, filling breakfasts and a friendly couple running the place.

Now, one of the more fun things to do in the Lake District is to just take a walk. But this is a walk in the British sense. That means a nice hike up and down hills. We chose, for our first days hike, Skiddaw, which is about 3000 feet high and an 8 mile walk round trip from town. We teamed up with Melanie, a friend of Carolyn’s from childhood who was living up here (her family is British and spent a few years in NJ during Melanie and Carolyn’s youth). It has a nice path up to the top, but it’s still quite a bit of effort to ascend it. It also afforded some breathtaking scenes of the area, including the one above. We scrambled down the more treacherous path to come back and for those of us not in the best of shape, we beat ourselves up nicely. After a few pints and a some curry, it was time for bed.

We decided to be a little more relaxed on our second day. Angela and Nick had rented a car, so we had a change to check out the surrounding area. We started with the only Pencil Museum in the world (Keswick being the home of a pencil factory). Then we went back in time to Caselrigg, a well intact stone circle (like Stonehenge). It was a lovely spot, but people perching about on 3000 year old stone formations was a little annoying.

We then took a driving tour of the area. We had a roast at a nice country pub and drove along Derwent Water and over an amazing mountain pass. This area is such an amazing array of varying natural beauty. There are many lakes (although only one is officially a lake) surrounded by mountains with town nestled in the valleys. It was such a joy to spend a few days out of the city and amongst nature.

We concluded our trip with a road trip and a short stint in Birmingham. Twas a lovely trip.

Happy New Year 2009

January 3rd, 2009 by carolyn

New Year’s is not usually one of my favourite holidays.  It really bothers me that everywhere jack up their prices for the same thing they provide every other day of the year and any bar/pub/restaurant is packed full.  We started looking around for a place to go to ring in the new year that had 1)no cover charge and 2)a generally relaxed atmosphere.  Dina and Adrian decided to come up from Brighton to celebrate with us and we considered a few options.  We finally settled on heading over to the Salisbury Hotel on Green Lanes which has become one of my favourite London pubs.  It is an old Victorian pub that has been restored nicely.  It is always welcoming and relaxed and for New Years it met the requirements.  It was pretty full but we managed to snatch a table for the four of us and enjoyed some pints, good music and general merry making.  Great way to ring in the New Year with great friends!