Go London

May 15th, 2010 by carolyn

Last night I attended a very special event at London City Hall.  The NHS London hosted on online Social Innovation Competition to encourage Londoners to submit ideas that would help promote physical activity for all people in London in the run-up to the 2012 Olympic Games.  My super amazing colleague submitted her idea 10,000 Steps UK Challenge.  Hers was one of 92 entries and she was chosen as one of the top five finalists.  The finalists were invited to participate in a day of workshops at city hall with various business, non-profit and community leaders to help expand their ideas.  At the end of the day, each finalist did a 7 minute presentation to a panel of judges and esteemed guests (I was one of the esteemed guests).
A few of my colleagues and I headed down to city hall after work to support Danielle and hear the presentations.  She did an amazing job in what was a very intimidating environment.  The other finalists also gave great presentations and had interesting ideas.  However, Danielle’s idea clearly met the philosophy of the competition and she was declared the winner!  The judges want to see her and one of the other finalists develop a joint project.  I am not sure exactly what the next steps are but look out for posters and activity throughout the city to encourage all Londoners to participate in the 10,000 steps UK challenge!

Here we are celebrating the victory


City Hall is an amazing building and we were given access to the balcony with amazing views of the Thames and the city.  It was a great night out.  I am so impressed with Danielle for submitting her idea in the first place and succeeding, out of a large groups of submissions, to have her idea chosen to be implemented across London.  It is amazing and super inspiring!  We are very proud of her.

Here are some other shots from the night.  An Elephant on Parade (currently all over the city) in front of City Hall.

Here is a view inside one of the elephants.  That’s Max peeking through the other side.


Inside City Hall was an amazing map of London.  Aerial view of North/East London, where I am mostly found


No More “Anarchy” in the UK

May 11th, 2010 by matt

So the UK has a new leader. No details yet on what the Lib Dems got out of the Conservatives to make a government, but it’ll become clear soon enough. I just wanted to make one observation to it all of a pretty unexciting nature. When watching the footage of the former PM driving up to Buckingham Palace to tender his resignation, it looked like any other car on any other day. The roundabout outside the palace had cars like usual and Gordon Brown’s car had to wait for the light before it did that special thing: drive into the courtyard of Buckingham Palace. Aside from a car in front and behind it, it was just any other car.

Then, I saw footage of newly appointed PM David Cameron (yikes) being driven from the palace to 10 Downing St. He had to wait at lights, including some pedestrian to cross. And, craziest of all, at a slow down in traffic, a hoard of cyclists driving right on either side of the car. In the US, if the president goes anywhere, there’s a complete security perimeter and the president lives in a bubble. I guess it might partly be that there’s only been on PM assassinated. It probably doesn’t also help that the UK already has royalty and she is the official head of state and her pomp and bubble make the US president’s look like nothing. 🙂

Any way, it’s entirely possible there’ll be another election pretty soon, all we can do now is sit back, wait and hope the Tories are held back by the Lib Dems and don’t manage to try to revert the country back to the 19th century.

Cinque Terre

May 10th, 2010 by carolyn

Over the May Bank Holiday weekend, we had made plans to meet my parents in Cinque Terre, a series of 5 villages in the Italian Riveria.  The towns are accessible via train, boat and walking path but only a few can be reached by car.  My parents were going to be traveling in Italy and we arranged to meet up in Monterossa where my Dad and I hoped to hike the Cinque Terre trail, something we had talked about doing together “someday.”   Unfortunately, my parents were grounded by the Iceland volcano eruption and were unable to make it.  Because everything was booked and our flights were still scheduled Matt and I ended up going on our own.  We flew into Genoa and took a bus to the train station where we hopped a train to Monterossa.  We arrived on April 30th to beautiful sunny weather by the sea.

We set about exploring the town, had a fabulous seafood dinner and made plans to attempt the Cinque Terre trail the next day.  Saturday was another good weather day and we knew that the trail was shut down at times for bad weather so we jumped on the chance to get walking.  We started out from Monterossa and headed out to the next town Vernazza.  This is a view looking back at Monterossa from the trail.

It was amazing to see just how many people were out on the trail.  Matt had visited this area in 1998 when he was studying abroad in Florence.  That was before the area was designated UNESCO world heritage site.  Since its designation, the trails have been revamped, there is an entrance fee and the crowds have only increased (according to Matt).   When Matt was here in 1998 he walked most of the trail but ran out of daylight and had a bit of an adventure making it to the final destination.  I think he enjoyed revisiting the scenes of his old adventure on the trail, like this one.

After wandering by olive trees, grapevines and lemon trees stacked deep on the steep slopes, we arrived with in view of Vernazza.  It was a beautiful town with an arching harbor, loads of gelato and full of tourists.  All 5 towns are connected not only by the walking trails but by train as well.  You can catch a glimpse of the train in some of the shots as it peeps out from its path cutting through the mountains.  Its mostly in ground along this route.  The road is several miles up and doesn’t come to each of these towns, part of what makes them so unique.

Pretty huh?  After a quick stop in town we headed out to the next stop Corniglia.  This town is perched at the edge of a pretty big cliff and also is full of the colorful buildings seen in each of the towns.

Next up?  Manarola.  The trip between Corniglia and Manarola was a bit easier than the other two walks.

And finally we walked along the Via Dell’Amore a nice flat paved path to Riomaggiore.  The main feature here are lots of locks decorating the walls to signify peoples love.

The trail is about 10 km and takes 4-5 hours to complete.  We were pretty tired after reaching the end and planned to take a boat back to our origin point, Monterossa.  It was amazing to view the towns we had just passed through from the water.  We were super lucky with the weather also.  Just as we boarded the boat the clouds came in and some drizzle started to come down.  Here is a view of the towns from the water.

Riomaggore                                                       Manarola

Corniglia                                                               Vernazza

Monterossa                                                      Boat Trip

For dinner on Saturday we took the train back to Manarola and tried out another pasta/seafood place on the water.  It was a dreary grey night but still super enjoyable.  And we got to check out the Christmas decorations set up on the terraces, not lit up, but waiting for the holidays.

The next day, the day started grey.  We decided to try a shorter hike near the hotel.  Of course, once we started the walk the rain really came down.  We had a great time anyway and saw a very difference view of a cloud covered Cinque Terre.  Turns out they closed the path due to the weather so there was no hiking to the 5 towns that day =).

Before the Hike

The view from the top of the straight up hike we attempted……………

Enjoying wine after the workout

UK Elections 2010

May 6th, 2010 by matt

So I’m a political junky of sorts. I tend to be focused on the US stuff, but it has definitely been quite infuriating the last untold years or so. Well, the UK has been having an election season and it’s been quite interesting. First of all, the ‘season’ lasts one month. Yes, one month. The whole system is, just like a lot of the UK, a bit chaotic and anachronistic, although not as much as you might suspect (it’s basically if the House of Representatives ran everything and the Speaker of the House became president). A bit odd, but not insane as the Brits might have you think.

So, in the UK, you have two big parties – Labour (the current traditional centre-left party), Tories (the centre-right folks). But there’s a splinter of sorts on the left and that consists on the tradition liberals and the former Social Democratic Party which became the Liberal Democrats. Now, Labour has been in power for the last 13 years, largely by pulling a Bill Clinton and taking the ‘third way’ which was basically a pro-business, semi-progressive stance on things, under Tony Blair. Now, Tony Blair got out before people ran him out of office and left the Chancellor of the Exchequer (the UK’s secretary of the Treasury), Gordon Brown, to run things and see the end of Labour’s reign. The Conservatives, traditionally stodgy and backwards looking, have tried to make themselves look a little less far-right and have David Cameron as their ‘fresh’, new face. Now I’m biased and think the Conservatives are the same old thing and just put an empty suit as their leader. I think Labour have run things poorly and need a massive shakeup or a little time in the wilderness to rethink things. Now the Lib Dems, courtesy of voter distrust of the major two parties and a photo-genic debate by their leader, Nick Clegg, have made a run of things. But they just don’t have enough power to do much.

In my perfect world, as the returns come in, Labour loses a bunch of seats but it’s close with the Tories. Enough that Labour cleans house and get some fresh leadership and Clegg and the Lib Dems make a coalition and run things. But that ain’t happening and never would cause Labour is too proud and stuck in their ways and people are too sick and tired of their 13 years of sucking up to the bankers, so the Tories will have a go of it and probably make things worse. In the meantime, I wish people gave the Monster Raving Loony Party more of a look. 🙂

Caveat, we’re watching the election returns right now, only three seats (out of like 100000 of them) have been declared. It is a ton of fun to watch. Our favourites so far:

1)  In the BBCs list of voting dos and dont’s included this question “I’ve been in the pub and feel drunk. Can I vote?” (apparently you can!)

2) This picture of Big Ben with the exit polls projected on it:


3) The votes are all in paper boxes and the first polling stations to bring in the results were raced in by teenagers eagerly trying to beat their time from the last election (Houghton and Sunderland).

4) All the MPs who were involved in the expenses scandal being shown as dominoes and being knocked down if they didn’t run for election this time.

5) When the BBC, with honest outrage, called the British National Party (who isn’t much to the right of the Republican Party in my mind) a right leaning party with racist tendencies. In the US, the BNPs surrogates would be on the air immediately trying to muddy the waters and hide the reality of their views.

6) The biggest issues in the election seems to be the economy and immigration. Being immigrants, it’s a little odd to sit and watch us be slagged on as stealing people’s jobs. It’ll be interesting, if the Tories win control, to see what happens to visas that we have. It’s also weird to not be able to have a voice in this since we live here and are impacted by it.
That’s our political silliness for now. Tomorrow, we’ll likely have a new government. How it’ll shape out, we’ll see. And by we, I don’t mean we, since we can’t vote.