Spring is Coming. I swear!

February 22nd, 2009 by matt

Well, we’re seeing the beginnings of Spring here in the capitol of the former British Empire. This week, I’ve felt something in the air, the plants on our window sill look less dead and some flowers are starting to sprout up and ponder the concept of blooming through the gray. With the temperature being a little more mild (it’s never exactly arctic here), we decided to load our bikes up onto the Overground and meet up with our friends Nic and Clint, who live in Richmond, a cute area in the Southeast of London and have a little bike ride around Richmond Park. It’s apparently one of the former playgrounds of the Royal Family although it’s been open to the public since it was walled off and made into a park. It has a wonderful wild feel to it, even being home to a shitload of deer. It’s apparently three times the size of Central Park. Impressive. Let’s take a look:


Those would be the deer. Check out the antelers on some of them. As we were getting near this group, a number of them went off and formed their own splinter herd, which is where the rest of them are looking. They are remarkably peaceful considering that, even on a gloomy kind of February day, people were playing in the field around them and assholes like me were walking up to click pictures.


This is a lake in the middle of the park. Hard to believe this is middle of a city of oodles of people. I think it’s less than 10 miles to Charing Cross as the crow flies. It’s a nice piece of green space in a very large city.


This would be the Thames River from the Richmond Bridge. We began and ended our little bike afternoon there, with a nice detour for tea at Nic and Clints place down there. We’re looking forward to more outings as winter receeds and springs rears its ugly head.

As always, I’m happy to provide an image dump of this entry. It’s not a lot, but I aims to please! 🙂

Trapsing through Northern Italy

February 16th, 2009 by matt

Last week, I made a work trip to Milan. Once I was done with the work part, I stuck around and Carolyn flew down and we had a Valentines weekend together in Italy. Allow me share with you our weekend. If you’d like to see all the photos we’ve taken, here’s a document dump. And if you’d like to see a larger version of any photos below, just click on the photo.

We decided to see about some pretty areas around Milan and settled on Lake Como. It’s a pretty Y-shaped glacial lake nestled up against the Alps. In the summer, it’s a very popular tourist destination and place for the rich and famous to buy villas and show off their wealth. In the winter, it isn’t dead, but it’s not quite the hot spot it is when the weather is warm. To get there requires a train trip, so I’d be remiss not to show you the train shed in the massive, monumental train station. It’s an obvious product of fascist bravado, but it kind of works:


Como is the main town, but you can take a boat up the lake and check out the cute villages that dot the coast line. Check out how nice the lake and surrounding area is:


Note the beautiful alps in the background. Not too shabby.

We took a tour of Torno, one of the cuter villages along the lake. It’s got wonderful winding streets and curves in various directions, affording wonderful spots to sit and soak in the scenario. This is the local church:


We headed back to Como on another boat and wandered the town, eventually having some tasty pizza with a view overlooking the lake and mountains. Then we took a funicular (which is a train that is pulled up a mountain by a bigass cable) to Brunate, a town overlooking Como, where we froze our asses off but got to see this:


(definitely click on this one to see a bigger picture. Nice panorama!)

We had a hotel room in Milan, so we needed to say good bye to Como at some point. Now, this being Valentines Day, you’d think a nice meal was in the cards. While we’d had a lovely meal the night before, I’d also come down with a nasty cold and, by Saturday night, I was a wreck. So we improvised:


A Valentine’s meal fit for a sick man and his wonderful wife.

Our second day, we decided to do some sightseeing in Milan before we had to jet back to London for work. Now, the biggest monument is the Duomo. Take a look and you’ll understand why:


It’s a gigantic, wonderful Gothic church with amazing ornamental work all over the facade. You’re able to climb up to the roof and check out the views as well as the art work up close.


It really is an amazing church. In all my travels to Italy, I’d not yet been to Milan, but I’d been waiting for a long time to see this church in person. It was worth it.

Nearby, through an ornate 19th century version of a mall (man, they were far more attractive places back then) we came upon La Scala, which is one the pre-emminent hotspots for opera, particularly the late Romantic opera of folks like Verdi and Puccini. Now, we came up signs showing we’d missed a concert in the hall by about 30 minutes and pondered trying to just poke our heads in when a nice surprise happened. Two men were replacing the posters outside the opera house for the next show. These are some pretty high quality poster style ads and they were just throwing them out when they replaced them. The got to the one near us and handed it to us instead of throwing it out. A nice memento of our time there!

We finished our time in Milan before an excrutiatingly inefficient trip back to the airport by walking along a district southwest of the Duomo that is centered along a nice canal. It’s not Venice, but it’s pretty.


We found a lovely place for a nice lunch there. I managed to get paparedelle with wild boar sauce. Always a favourite of mine! Alas, it meant it was time to head out. A short time, but fun for the whole family (except for Chewy who was stuck in London! 🙂 ).

London Opera

February 8th, 2009 by matt

Well, among the positives of living in the capital city (and a big ass metropolis), is the opportunity to take a in a lot of culture. The oodles of free museums aside, we’ve also soaked in some high-class music as well. A few weeks ago, we went to the Barbican to see some choral/orchestral music. Earlier in 2008, we went saw Partenope, an opera by Handel performed by the English National Opera at the London Coliseum. The music was excellent and the performers were great as well. However, while the opera takes place in Roman Naples, this production changed the setting to 1920s Paris and Partenope is supposedly living in some sort of Surrealistic flat and hanging out with artists. It didn’t quite work.

Regardless, a good time was had by all and we decided to go again but see a performance with a more classic performance. The ENO was performing The Magic Flute by Mozart and we managed to snag some seats. Behold a British opera house:


Now, the ENO does all of their performances in English. They still have the words shown above the stage since, regardless of what you might think, classical singers are not known for pronouncing anything well. I was a little worried about a German opera in English, but this one has speaking parts instead of recitative to move the plot forward. And, having British singers speaking German would haven’t worked either, so overall it was good. Unlike Partenope, The Magic Flute was a more classic staging. The singers were excellent, the plot harebrained, the setting was lovely. We had a blast.

During intermission, we tend to have a drink and the nose-bleed section in the Coliseum has a nice bar area which leads to a glass atrium that has a nice view of the area. Observe:


And here are some happy opera fans:


Twas a wonderful day out. The day began with pre-opera drinks at a great pub near the opera house. Then there was opera and we finished the day out having a good curry near the Tower of London. Fun for all. Now we’ve seen a baroque opera, then a classical opera so I guess we should prolly go for a Romantic opera. Pucini? Verdi? Wagner? We shall see. We’d also like to check out the Royal Opera, but that will be more difficult since the tickets are in the range of £200-800 and the cheap seats (they seem to have handful for quite a bit less than £200) are hard to come by. We’ll just have to keep an eye out.

Carolyn’s London Snow Day

February 3rd, 2009 by carolyn

So the city is still recovering from the snow storm yesterday.  Most train and bus routes were running today but side streets and sidewalks have become solid ice rinks as nobody here shovels.  All the walkers yesterday have packed the snow down nicely into ice packs.  I thought I would share a few photos from my snow day.

Looking out our window on Sunday night as the snow began.

Matt outside our front door on Monday morning beginning the journey to work.


Coworkers waiting for the building to open Monday morning.


More coworkers on the way to lunch.


A lovely snowman =).

When It Snows, Plucky Brits Walk

February 2nd, 2009 by matt

Well, my two mile commuting walk wasn’t the fastest trip even and I got a good workout, but I made it. There were quite a few people on foot since only about half the tube was running (unless you live off the Northern or Victoria Lines, good luck), no buses, most of the commuter rail is shut. My boss took 2.5 hours to get into the City when it usually takes less than an hour. The streets are very quiet, even though a few insane souls are using their cars. The less major roads are sheets of packed snow/ice and the major roads are heavy, dirty slush. It was cool to witness. In the meantime, here are some images of my walk today. Those of you in the US might just yawn, but this is the most snow London has seen in 18 years. 🙂


This is right outside my house. People were out playing in the snow, making snowmen, clearing cars off with their arms. Very festive and happy.


A London pub covered in white. The Scolt Head is a nice place. Good beer, friendly folks and a fireplace.


Regents Canal — This is a canal that traverses North London. No narrow boats on this stretch, I wish I had seen some narrow boats to snap.


Bunhill Fields – The old City cemetary that was the place for dissenters (people who were not Church of England goers), until the dead were buried further out for health reasons. It’s right near my office and was shut due to the weather. It looked pretty and untouched through the fence.


Snow brings out the fun in everyone! Nothing to brighten your day like a happy Mini under a foot of snow.
Anyway, those of you in England – enjoy your lovely wintry day!

Snow Day!!

February 2nd, 2009 by matt


We went to bed last night with snow falling and about 1/2 inch of snow on the ground. That was cool. What we woke up to was even cooler. It seemed unusually quiet outside and when I opened my windows, what did I find? There is maybe 4 inches of snow!!! Even more amazing is that the city is basically shut. Hell, a huge chunk of the entire country of England is shut! Trains coming into the city are not running. All buses are suspended and the tube (yes, the London “Underground”) has severe delays or complete closures. This is absolutely amazing.


The Victoria line is the only line which is almost entirely underground, hence the “Good Service”. They have zero idea what to do with snow. No plows, no shovels. Nothing. It just doesn’t snow enough here to be worth it. The bad news? I can walk to work. So I guess, I’ll at least try to go in. Bummer. But it’ll be a pretty walk! 🙂