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


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

Springtime in London

April 25th, 2010 by carolyn

Over the past two years, April in London has been a pretty unpleasant month full of rain and/or snow.  This year seemed doomed to be a repeat of the same when April started out with an Easter weekend full of rain.  However, the sun started to peek out on Easter Monday and has been shinning ever since.  Seems the volcanic ash that has been wrecking havoc on travel plans all over Europe, made way for some nice sunny weather in England.  I thought I would do a quick summary to fill anyone still checking in on the blog about what we have been up to as spring starts to shine on London.

As already mentioned, Easter weekend was a wet one but we still managed to have a great trip to Bath with Ben and Gerry and enjoy a fun fair in Victoria park with Anne and Leanne.  Bath was a great weekend trip and we managed to pull off a last minute room to allow us to spend the night there.

We visited the Roman Baths which have been amazingly restored.

We scaled the tower of the Bath Abbey and even got to look behind the clock face and through the ceiling peepholes.


And somehow we managed to find the two hours of sunshine during our visit during which we went on a historic walking tour of the town.  I highly recommend the tours which give a great overview of the architecture and history of Bath.  We can’t complain too much about the rain though because without it you would never get to see rainbows.


Bath has some great pubs which we enjoyed exploring during the rainy times and there was a comedy fest on so we got to check out an entertaining comedy group while we were there.

We were back in London for Easter Sunday and Monday during which we enjoyed some excellent Cadbury chocolate and Victoria Park’s fun fair.  Here is Matt on the tea-cups and Carolyn on the bumper cars.

bumpercars.jpg        teacups1.jpg

The next weekend in April was Matt’s 33rd birthday so he planned a full weekend of celebrations including sushi night with Dina and Adrian, attending Dulwich Hamlet Football Club match in South London with D+A and Leanne and Nick and enjoying a pub lunch with lots of friends in Holloway.  Here are Adrian and Matt celebrating the upcoming year.


In April, we finally found an American style breakfast place in London – the Breakfast Club in Islington. (There are branches in Soho and Hoxton too.)  We were very excited to dig into this breakfast and plan to check out more London Breakfast venues with the help of this blog – The London Review of Breakfasts.


This weekend was the London Marathon and Matt and I watched the leaders and thousands of other runners at mile 23 near the Monument.  There was great weather for the race which was inspiring as always.  A big congratulations to all the finishers.  After watching the racers for a few hours, we wandered over the Battersea Park to enjoy a picnic amongst the flowering trees.

trees1.jpg   powerstation.jpg

In spite of the sun, the volcanic ash has had some negative impact on our month — my parents had a great trip to Italy planned for the last week in April. However, their flight was on Tuesday, just 12 hours before flights to Europe resumed and they’ve had to reschedule. We had plans to meet them in Cinque Terre and we’ll be sad not to see them there.

Burns Night 2010

February 15th, 2010 by carolyn

The 25th of January marks Burns Night, celebrated annually in Scotland as well as in other locations throughout the UK.  Burns Night Suppers celebrate the life of Robert Burns, Scottish poet and lyricist, and take place on or around his birthday the 25th of January.  Burns was considered the Scottish national poet and will be recognized by those less familiar with Scottish poetry by his works such as Auld Lang Syne, A Red, Red Rose and O Once I lov’d a Bonnie Lass.

I first heard about Burns Night Celebrations, such as the Hackney Cyclists Burns Night fundraiser, last year and was really eager to go to it.  Unfortunately, it had sold out before I could get tickets.  So this year, I kept a close eye on the website and saw the Hackney Cyclists celebration was to take place on the 30th of January.  Matt and I managed to get a few of the last tickets.  Since it had sold out before some other friends could get tickets, we ended up finding another celebration at the The Flask in Hampstead on the 25th.  So two Burns Night celebrations in one week.

The basic structure of a Burns Night Supper is as follows:

Welcoming speech

Entrance of the Haggis  (accompanied by bagpipes)  If you don’t know what haggis is – read here

Address to the Haggis (The address is recited and the haggis slashed open with a knife)

Supper (includes haggis, neeps (turnip) and tatties (potato) – these days veggie haggis is a regular option)

Toasts with whiskey, usually including a toast to the lassies with a response toast to the laddies

Other toasts, speeches, recitation of poetry and/or singing of songs

Closing with a rendition of Auld Lang Syne

The Hackney Cyclists event included all the main components as well as some hearty Scottish dancing after the supper.  And yes, Matt did participate in the dancing (maybe that was down to the whiskey).  The whole event took place in a Hackney primary school and was a fundraiser for cycling projects.  It was a fun night full of a great sense of community.  I couldn’t help but be reminded of a good old square dance in an elementary school gym at home.

The address to the haggis


The bagpipes


The supper (veggie version)


Unfortunately, there is no photo evidence of the dancing!

International Food Festival

February 9th, 2010 by carolyn

Over the past few months we had a chance to learn about making traditional holiday foods with some London friends.  In December, Gerry taught us to make Costa Rican style tamales that her family made to celebrate Christmas.  It was an all day affair that started with shopping for ingredients at Borough Market and the local supermarket.  Followed by reviewing several recipes to come up with the best way to make corn and bean and pipian tamales.  Next step was to prepare the masa, banana leaves and filling and finally the whole event was topped off with the best part, eating them.  Here is some photo evidence of the effort:

Prepping the banana leaves


Preparing the masa and fillings:


Enjoying the finished product


Then few weekends ago, Susan and her cousin Cecelia taught me to make Swedish semlor, a decadent pastry dessert used to celebrate Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras) before the start of Lent.  Susan made a stop at a Swedish shop to pick up the ingredients which included special flour, almond paste, double cream and cardamom.  Here is some more photo evidence of the efforts.

First the dough was mixed and buns rolled out, brushed with egg and baked to be soft with a crispy outside


Then the cream and almond paste was mixed, the tops of the buns removed and filled with cream


Then the tops were placed back on the semlor


Filling up on cream and dough

Its been an enjoyable few weeks of eating.  Thanks for the lessons ladies!

A day at the races

November 5th, 2009 by carolyn

We had a day out at the races to celebrate the 30th birthday of one of my work colleagues.  We all (about 15 of us) trekked down to Sandown Park in Surrey on Guy Fawkes day.  I was told the racecourse was known for the suffragette who threw herself in front of the Kings horse in 1913 as a protest to get women the vote but it seems that actually happened at the Epsom Downs Racecourse.

It was a beautiful day and we placed some bets and enjoyed the sun, mulled wine and watching the horses parade around the circle before the race.  A few of us made successful bets.  It was so sunny we even had to squint.


Being Guy Fawkes night I met up with Matt, Ben and Gerry after the races at Alexandra Palace to watch the fireworks show.


Lovely London day……………………………..


Bank Holiday in Belgium

September 16th, 2009 by carolyn

The last weekend in August is August Bank Holiday in England (and much of Europe, I think).  It marks the end of the 6 week school summer vacation and is the last public holiday until Christmas.  We decided to take advantage of the three day weekend to hop the Eurostar under the Channel and head to Belgium.  The Eurostar terminal is at St. Pancreas station – just a 15 minute bus ride from our flat.


We took the 7 am train from London and arrived in Brussels at 10 am (even with a one hour time change).  Our plan for the weekend was to head to Brugge, the capital of West Flanders and a canal based UNESCO World Heritage site, and enjoy some Belgium chocolate, frites and beer.  We stayed at the Bauhaus Hostel just outside the main city centre and after dropping off our bags headed out to explore.

Here is the belfry in the city centre, we climbed all 366 steps to the top:


Here is a view from the top:

We explored through lots of cobblestone streets, toured a brewery and an old beguinage and enjoyed some good fish stew, steak, frites and belgium waffles.  We even rented bikes and journeyed a few kilometers out of town to Damme.


On Monday we got up early to catch the bus to DeHaan, a town on the coast of the North Sea.  We got to town about 9 am so the beach was pretty quiet.  We had it to ourselves for a little bit and then the crowds started to come out.  So we headed back to Brussels where we would spend our last night before catching the 7 am train back to London – just in time to get to work for 9 on Tuesday.

Here is a picture from the beach:


We only had one evening to explore Brussels but it seems like an exciting city with tons of amazing architecture – old and new.  Like this Art Nouveau building:


I’ll leave it to Matt to fill you in a bit more on the food and beer we enjoyed in Belgium.

Flashback: Carolyn’s US Trip in June

September 7th, 2009 by carolyn

Back in June, I made a trip to the east coast for my cousin’s graduation from high school.  It was a great week where I got a chance to catch up with family in Connecticut and New Hampshire and spend the weekend in Boston with friends.  I was even able to make it to my friend Naomi’s wedding (she was nice enough to schedule it for the weekend after the graduation).  All in all it was a great trip home.  Matt was even able to join us for the weekend in Connecticut to see all the family and celebrate the graduation.

Here is Tony getting ready for the big event.  Note the coordination of family clothing.


I had the chance to see my little cousin Carmen starting to crawl as well.  No photos to share but here she is celebrating with me and Tony.


Naomi’s wedding was at the Elm Bank Horticultural Center in Wellesley, MA.  It was a beautiful setting and ceremony and a great party.  Here is Haley and I with the bride:


And the balloon bride and groom:


Arizona Casita

September 5th, 2009 by carolyn

While visiting Matt’s family in Tuscon, we had a chance to venture over to Bowie, Arizona to visit the straw bale house my friend is building in the desert.  Unfortunately, she was out of town (in Michigan) for a few weeks so we didn’t get a chance to see her.  Ground breaking on the house was back in April and at this stage the foundation has been poured, the walls are up and the roof is on.  We had a chance to poke around the site and check out the views.  I was really happy to get to see the house in progress and can’t wait to come back to see it all finished.  I am so impressed with what Nicole has accomplished – she created the drawings, has learned tons about construction and with the help of family and friends, has been building her home herself.

Here’s Matt outside the house.

While in the area we had the chance to explore some other beautiful places as well.  First we visited Katchner Caverns, an amazing limestone cave, which was only “discovered” in 1974 and open to the public only after efforts were made to ensure its preservation in the 1990s.  No photos allowed inside.

Afterwards, we went for a lovely walk in Chiricahua National Monument, a maze of rock spires.  Although we left Matt’s parents at 5:30 am, by the time we went to the airport, had breakfast, went to the caves and drove the couple hours over to the Bowie area, we didn’t arrive at the monument until about noon.  So we set off for our 2 hour walk in the heat of the day, not great timing for us wimps used to England temperatures.  It was well worth it though to see such amazing scenery.  It must be wonderful to see this place in all seasons.  An example of the views:


After this action packed day, we headed back to Tucson and finally got to experience a southwestern rainstorm complete with thunder and lightning.

A Rainy Carolyn Birthday

August 6th, 2009 by matt

For those of you unaware, the birth of Carolyn is on 15 July. And it happens every year! Happy Birthday to her! 🙂

This year, we went for a bit of culture. In Regent’s Park, one of those wonderfully manicured English green spaces, there’s a summer outdoor theatre. Now, this could be seen as not the best idea in the world since England usually has a bit of rain now and then . Regardless, we wanted to see some acting in a nice green setting, so we planned to have a picnic in the park followed by some Oscar Wilde. We packed a nice meal and wine and trekked to the West London. The day had been grey and raining on and off all day, but the weather forecast (which is NEVER accurate here), claimed it would let up by the evening. We stepped off the tube and, the moment we stepped into the park, the skies opened up. Oops! We took shelter under some trees until it let up and wandered in search of a good spot to set up. Since it was raining, a little covering would be nice and we found it under a gazebo:


We planted ourselves in the spot that seemed to be most likely to hold back the rains which it did marvellously for about 30 minutes. Then the winds came. The rain kept creeping closer and more sideways so we put up our umbrella to act as a wall against the rain and just enjoyed the lovely setting, food and company. We managed to stay about 70% dry as the rains let up:


A wet, but contented, birthday girl (note how wet the floor got even with a roof over our heads). Even with the rain, we were both in quite good spirits. With the meal over, we realized that, with about 20 minutes until the play, the skies were blue and the rain was gone. A rainy picnic was fine since we had a gazebo to protect us. A rainy outdoor performance might have been less fun, so we thanked our good luck and made our way to the theatre:


Those are all cut roses to make a garden for the second act. It was a performance of the Importance of Being Ernest, by Oscar Wilde. Neither of us knew it very well but we found it quite funny and well acted. I can’t put a finger on it, but I felt like a lot of the humo(u)r, after 2.5 years as a resident of the country it takes place in wasn’t quite as lost on me as it might have been had I not been living in England. Maybe it’s just me being an ass (“oh, look at me! I know England now that I’ve spent some time here”), but I felt a little closer to the whole thing than I have when I’ve seen other British theatre.

Anyway, the rain did nothing to diminish the celebrations and we got to see some wonderful acting and culture to boot. The celebrations continued through the weekend with a nice pub crawl. All in all, a successful birthday with many more to come.

Ceremony of the Keys

March 20th, 2009 by carolyn

In October 2008, my parents were due to visit London and my mom had a special request.  She asked us to get tickets to the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London.  I had not heard of the Key Ceremony so I looked into it.  The Ceremony is the nightly routine to lock up the Tower of London and has taken place every night without fail for over 700 years.  It even happened nightly during WWII as bombs were falling on London.  So, we wrote off for the free tickets and were sent 4 for one of the nights during my parents trip.  Unfortunately, they weren’t able to come in October 2008 so my friends Nicola and Rachel joined Matt and I on the scheduled night.
Fortunately my parents were able to reschedule their trip so in March 2009, we were able to go again with my parents.  Here is a spooky shot of the Tower at night during their visit.

Each evening had a different character but the ceremony is the same every night.  The Tower, the Jewels and all the residents are locked in at 10:00 pm sharp.

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.

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!


Charles Hyson 1906-2008

November 16th, 2008 by matt

So we received some very sad news today. Charles Hyson, known as Pop to many,  passed away. He was 102 last Monday. He was a wonderful human being, father, husband and grandfather. I feel very honored to have had a chance to meet him, even if he sometimes had trouble understanding me. 🙂 I was always struck by his intelligence. Even at 102, he still had perfect recollection of the town he had spent 70 years in and the world around him. I hope to be as sharp mentally in 20 years.
I’ve never been very good at eulogies, but I wanted to pay just a little tribute to this kind man. Here’s a picture of him at our wedding. We were so happy he was able to share it with us.