Exploring London

August 9th, 2010 by carolyn

So I have officially hit “tick that off the list” mode which essentially means that I am trying to take advantage of as much as I can in London before our upcoming move back to the US.  I am trying not to be too obsessed with it but on the other hand there is still so much to see.  I would be impossible to see everything London has to offer even if you lived here your whole life but I am doing my best with the time I have.  Here is a little round-up of some of the spots I/we have been over the past few weeks.

I think one of the best ways to explore London is by foot.  One of Matt’s friends gave him a great gift when he moved to London – City Walks 50 Adventures on Foot.  Basically it contains 50 cards with different neighborhood walks around London and at this point we figure we have done all but about 3 or 4 of them.  Recently we covered a few more cards when we visited a former colleague of mine in Chiswick, walked around Chelsea, and did a pseudo-pub crawl around Clapham Common.

In Chelsea, we visited the Physic Garden founded in 1673 as a training garden for apothecaries.
chelseagarden.jpg  garden.jpg

Next we walked through the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, a retirement home for British soldiers /pensioners and spotted one of the remaining elephants from the London Parade of Elephants.
rch.JPG  elephant.jpg
In Clapham, we visited the Common (Note what the amazing sunny, rain free summer we have been having has done to the grass!) and some pubs.

common.jpg pub.jpg

My second favorite way of walking around London is taking a guided tour with London Walks.  We have taken quite a few walks in Greenwich, Hampstead, Canterbury and East London.  After work last week I decided to join a tour around Westminster because I haven’t really spent much time in that area.  We got the general history of the Palace of Westminster (Parliament) and Westminster Abbey and also got to wander the streets in the neighborhood.  The most interesting part of the tour was seeing these signs for WWII bomb shelters on a very posh intact street just behind the Abbey.

This past weekend, I visited another London Park – Gunnersbuy Park in Acton Town to join in the London Mela Festival, an annual South Asian festival featuring music, food and fun fair rides.  Sorry no photos.
I have also been trying to fit in a few of the smaller museums around London. We thoroughly enjoyed the Wellcome Trust, a personal collection of medical oddities, and the Wallace Collection, a personal collection of master artwork in an amazing home full of furniture from the time of the French Revolution.  The Dickens Museum was worth a stop to see the place where Oliver Twist was written.  We also returned to one of my favorite London spots, the British Library, to see an amazing exhibition of maps from all over the world and all through history.  Here is a photo of the outside of the British Library where you can find the original manuscript of Alice in Wonderland, the Magna Carta and supposed notes written in Shakespeare’s own hand among other original works.


I’ve got a few more weeks and plan to continue exploring this amazing city.  If anyone has any suggestions or wants to join me let me know!

Latitude Festival 2010

July 24th, 2010 by matt

The summer music festival is something of a modern British tradition. It’s gotten to the point where, every weekend in June, July and August, there are multiple weekend long festivals to go to. People show up in a field somewhere, put up tents, drink, eat and watch music. They all tend to have a specific demographic they are aiming for and are of a variety of sizes. Last year, we tried out the whole thing with a nice small “boutique” festival called The End of the Road Festival. We had such fun, we wanted to do it again before we left. It’s nice to kind of check out on the world and spend three or four days outside with a shitload of people all (hopefully) having fun. This year, we gave the Latitude Festival a try and we were not disappointed. It’s mostly pop music, mostly in the folk/rock category and is in a beautiful park in Suffolk, about 2 hours from London.


This is the sign for the festival. And yes, those are sheep dyed multicoloured.


This is Mumford and Son playing a late afternoon set on Sunday. The weather was absolutely amazing. The band was very good and the crowd was loving it. Overall, there are over 100 music acts on 4 main stages and a couple of smaller stages so there is plenty to do. If you don’t keep yourself in check, you can feel a little overwhelmed and everyone misses something they wish they’d seen.


Here are a couple of happy concert goers.


Some of the nice bits of this festival are that it’s in a wonderful location (35,000 people and there’s a lake in the middle of it with lounge chairs if you can get them) and the variety of things to do. There is public art scattered all over the venue, tons of music, a good choice of food and drink. It’s also not just about music. They have performances throughout the day and night of poetry and literature readings. They also put on dance performances. This is Sadler’s Wells doing a snipit of Swan Lake. On top of that, the festival ran late into the night. One night, we just sat and soaked in some late night story telling on this lake stage. Another night, we danced in the woods to cheesy 80s music.


On fun thing at a gathering with so many people is to seek out some of the quieter joys that the festival organizers put around the venue. Last year, at End of the Road, we found late night games, like Jenga, something you wouldn’t think of but then you find it and have a nice little moment. One of my favourites at Latitude was finding some of the public art late on Friday night in some of the woods. There was a makeshift shack erected which would enter and then sit in the dark listening to odd noise. In that same area, we found some sort of kids area that, at 2am, was shut. But we wandered over there the next day as things were starting back up and found a small stage, some good coffee and kid friendly activities. It was a nice little intimate moment to enjoy.


So who did we spend our weekend with? Our core crew was Cath, a former coworker of Carolyn’s and our dear friends Dina and Adrian. Among our crew was also Maxine (a colleague of Carolyn’s) and her group of really nice friends. They helped make the festival a really great time. We all slept in this field in our tents with 30,000 other friends 🙂


I feel like we have very few photos of Dina, Adrian, Carolyn and I together. This one is a nice one.

Anyway, the festival was a wonderful time. It’s definitely one of the many things we’re going to miss about the UK. I know the US has things like these, hopefully we can check them out and see how they compare.

Tour de France

July 14th, 2010 by carolyn

For cycling fans July means only one thing each year, the Tour de France.  This year the Tour runs from 3rd July to 25th July and takes the riders from the prologue in Rotterdam through 20 stages to the finish in Paris.


My friend from Boston was due to be in France this summer for a family holiday and she contacted me to find out if there was any chance I would want to meet up with her to do some traveling.  Knowing that she is a huge cycling fan, I wondered whether she was thinking of trying to catch a stage of the Tour.  She jumped at the idea and we planned a long weekend in the Alps to see stage 8 Station des Rousses > Morzine-Avoriaz.

I left London Friday after work and flew from Heathrow to Geneva (1 hour flight) to make it to Switzerland by 10 pm (amazing).  We planned to head up into the mountains on Saturday morning via a shuttle ride to the Morzine-Avoriaz ski areas in France and hoped to camp along the route.  The ride from Geneva to the Alps was beautiful and we saw amazing chalets, cyclists and Tour paraphenalia all along the route.  I particularly enjoyed these cyclists with their baguettes on their backs.


We got dropped off at the very top of the mountain in Avoriaz and site of the finish line for stage 8.  As we drove up the mountain where the cyclists would be riding on Sunday, some big black clouds rolled in.  We passed caravans and tents all along the road and rain started pouring down.  Fortunately, we took shelter in the visitor centre (decorated like the maillot à pois rouges the polka dot jersey for the King of the Mountains) and figured out our plan.


When there was a break in the clouds we popped across the street for some wine and olives to watch the end of stage 7, Tournus -> Station des Rousses.  Once the rain stopped we walked back down the cycle route, past the finish line and staked out a spot to pitch our tent for the weekend.  We had a lovely picnic dinner (the first of many) of cheese, bread and wine.  We were about 2 km from the finish line.

Needless to say, camping on the side of one of largest cycling events in the world is quite an experience.  All night long there were vehicles traveling up to the finish honking horns and people up to all hours celebrating.  We woke up on Sunday eagerly awaiting the arrival of the cyclists.  We walked back up to town to get some more food for the day and had a breakfast of crepes!  Miraculously, overnight the barriers, advertisements, finish line and road markers had been set-up.  That explained all the noise on the road keeping us awake.  It was amazing to see how much goes into the logistics of the Tour and how many vehicles are necessary – lots and lots of petrol being used for a cycle race.


Sunday was very very hot and sunny so we found a shady spot for another picnic and waited for the riders.  They were expected at the finish about 5:30 pm.  We met other cycling fans from all over the world while we waited – England, France, America, New Zealand, Holland, Germany and many more.  We also were visited by French cows with very melodious bells around their necks.
picnic1.jpg  cows.jpg
About an hour ahead of the cyclists, the caravan comes through.  The caravan is essentially a parade of many of the advertisers involved with the tour coming through and tossing out a bunch of free stuff to the fans on the side of the rode.  It was a very bizarre experience but I ended up with a polka dot hat so was happy.

caravan.JPG caravan2.jpg

Finally, the riders started to make there way past us on the mountain.  Although they were tackling a significant climb and were only kilometers away from the finish, I was still amazed by how quickly they went past.  Just as I was figuring out who was going by they were gone.  The first group came through including eventual stage winner Andy Schleck.  As we watched more and more cyclists go by the big news was where was Lance Armstrong?  And we still hadn’t seen the yellow jersey wearer or the polka dot jersey wearer.  It turned out Lance had had a very rough day including 2 falls.
cyclists.jpg cyclists2.jpg

I was surprised to see how spread out the groups were and who was in each group.  After the main groups went by we walked back up to the finish area to get some dinner and see if we could see any of the cyclist up close.  Amazingly, many of them started cycling back down the hill to Morzine before all the others had even finished the climb.  We made it up to the finish area and they were pretty much already starting to take it down in preparation for moving on to the next stage.  As we made our way around the back of all the set-up we literaly ran into Phil Ligget and Bob Roll.  They are television announcers for cycling and the Tour and my friend was literally star struck to have the chance to meet them.  She has some photos of us with them so maybe I will add those later.  As we made our way around all the semis and cables we saw a small group gathering and were told some of the winners were just finishing up interviews.  We saw Cadel Evans ride off in the yellow jersey and Andy Schleck meeting with the media.  Little did we know that Evans had suffered an elbow injury meaning trouble in the next stage.

After such a long day you would think we would be heading straight off to bed but now.  But no, 11 July was the World Cup Final so after a picnic dinner of takeaway pizza we headed back down the mountain as the sun set.  Near our campsite a small chalet had set-up televisions in a tent on the side of the road and we were able to watch Espana finally become campeaones – World Cup Champions!  It was great to be apart of an international crowd watching the match even if it was a rough and tumble final.

sunset.jpg  worldcup.JPG

Monday was a rest day for the Tour so we had a leisurely morning packing up the campsite.  We headed back down the mountain via ski lift and cable car into the town of Morzine.  Apparently Annecy, France including Morzine/Avorinaz area are bidding for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

chairlift.jpg  morzine.jpg

I spent the day wandering around town watching all the cyclists and cycling fans.  It was super hot and my pack full of tent and sleeping bags was weighing me down but I saw some Quick Step cyclists and a former top tier cyclist.  The Tour would be leaving from Morzine on Tuesday but unfortunately, I had to head back to Geneva on Monday night to get back to London and work for Tuesday.  All in all, it was an amazing weekend in a beautiful setting that I will never forget.  I have always enjoyed the Tour de France but I think I may be a convert to a true fan now.  I will be watching over the next few weeks to see how these amazing athletes finish out the route.

Addendum:  Julia shared our photos with Phil Ligget and Bob Roll so here they are.

philandc.jpg bobandj.jpg

First Last

July 12th, 2010 by carolyn

Two weekends ago was the first of what will likely be many lasts in the upcoming months (and to be fair, there have probably been quite a few lasts already but Matt and I really noticed this one).  On Saturday night, Matt performed Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle in his last concert as a part of the Islington Chorale Society.  The group, based in Islington is a group of about 80 or so people who enjoy signing choral music together.  Matt has been a part of the group for the past year and a half and has performed in several concerts in venues around London.

This past concert was at St. Mark’s in Regents Park.  The chorus was accompanied by soloists, two pianos and a harmonium.  Below is a shot of the entire group during the performance.


Hopefully Matt will find a group to continue singing with back in Chicago =).

Time for Some Big Changes

July 10th, 2010 by matt

Well, we’ve not made mention of it on the blog, so I thought it was time. I started writing here in January 2007, a few months before I moved to London. Now, in the next 2-3 months, our time in London will come to an end. I’m going to transfer back to Chicago, same company, back to the same apartment. And yet, in the last 3+ years, nothing is really the same. It’s been a time of so many change for Carolyn and I, that this is just another one of those. Weddings, deaths, new friends, a million new experiences. But now it’s time to move back. We’ll keep updating here. Originally, it was mostly just for a few people (particularly Carolyn while and I were apart). It’s remained that way, but it’s also become a chance for us to make a semi-permanent (we’ll download all the entries and print them) record of what we’ve done here.

Anyway, that’s some big news! More fun to come. 🙂

Pride 2010

July 7th, 2010 by carolyn

London Pride 2010 – including a parade and rally in Trafalgar Square.


I attended for the first time last year when one of my friends informed me that the best way to celebrate was to join in the parade.  I didn’t quite trust her on that but we went to the start and jumped in.  This year we headed down to march all over again.  Last year we marched with the Amnesty Float and this year we joined the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home float (proudly blasting the Glee soundtrack) on the whole route from Baker Street to Trafalgar Square.

It was crazy to walk straight through Oxford Circus and Picadilly Circus with the road free of cars and hundreds of people lining the streets!

A Wimbledon Adventure

July 5th, 2010 by matt

Shortly after Carolyn made her move over to London, she and Dina had a lovely day out at Wimbledon. I missed out on that (since I had to work for a living *sarcasm*), but it sounded like a fun thing to try out. Finally, this year, we decided to take a World Cup break and get a couple hours of tennis in after work. We showed up at different times and got to experience the joy that is the Queue (yes, a capital Q). When you get on it, they give you a little booklet with all sorts of information about this famous line. Here would be the most orderly line in the world:


We timed this nicely and managed to get through the 1/2 mile long queueueue in about an hour and then we were through the gates and in! Now we only had about two hours for me to soak in everything, so it was a bit rushed, but here we go. First of all, we got on another line to pick up extra tickets to one of the show courts. Courts 5-14 are general seating. Anyone with a ticket to the grounds can try to find a seat to a match and enjoy. Centre Court and courts 1 and 2 (3 and 4 are not in use at the moment) are the show courts and you need to buy a ticket. If you have one of these tickets and leave early, Wimbledon will resell your ticket and give that money to charity. We decided to have a Centre Court experience. We watched Jamie Murray and his 16 year old partner in mixed doubles lose to some people we’d never heard of:


Oddly enough, we should have paid more attention to their female opponent, Vera Zvonareva. As it were, she made it to the finals in both the Women’s single and doubles (!!). She didn’t win, but it was an impressive run and we saw a little piece of it.

In case you don’t believe I was there, he I be in one of the most famous stadiums in the world:


Wimbledon is built in a hilly, leafy section of London (it doesn’t feel like you’re in London at all). The hills allow you to soak in a lot of nice views of area:


As we walked along further, we saw some drunk people waving up towards that white tent on the right hand side of the picture above. We looked closely and who did we see waving back:


That would be John McEnroe, preparing to do his BBC commentary! hehe.

Any way, we soaked in the crowds, the Pimms, the odd upper level (for the haves) and the lower levels (for the have less) that permeated throughout the grounds and saw some tennis. That included this odd match:


These two players had played 3 very long sets (all in tie breaks). Victor Hănescu was up 2-1 against Daniel Brands. Brands, looked the better player and won the fourth set. At this point, Hanescu asked to have the match called due to darkness. The chair umpire said no and Hanescu started playing badly. Then, all of a sudden, he started spitting and cursing at one of the fans! He got a warning and the crowd got a little feisty. According to wikipedia, the fan called him a gypsy and he, being Romanian, didn’t take that too well. Regardless, Hanescu proceeded to double fault that game away on purpose and then quit. Very surreal indeed.

It was good fun and I was really happy I finally got to partake of a little of it. And, it was yet another bit of London I got to see! Yeah!


June 18th, 2010 by carolyn

Flashback to March: Grey cloudy drizzle and wearing warm coats (oh wait, not that different from this week).  But actually, one of the great things about March was Mehreen came to visit.  She spent a week in Scotland and England visiting her friend in Edinburgh and us.  I love having visitors from home because it’s so nice to share our life here and our neighborhood with old friends.

Mehreen started her trip in Edinburgh and then we all meet up in York (halfway between Edinburgh and London) for an overnight visit.  Matt and I took the train (2 hour express trip) up to York Friday night and we met up with the crew.  We had a great day in York.  First, we visted the York Mininster which is one of the biggest churches in Europe.

We climbed all the steps to the roof.  Here are Kate, Mehreen and I checking out the view from the top.
York is a beautiful town with super old rambling streets like the Shambles and Whip-ma-whop-ma gate, historical buildings, a medieval wall surrounding the city, a meandering river and of course Matt’s favorite part – the train museum.

The Shambles                                                 The River and wall
shambles.JPG     wall.JPG

Little streets                                                            Old streets
whip.JPG     gate.jpg
The wall and the town                                  The National Railway Museum

wallpeople.JPG     trains.JPG

We ended a full day of touring with some excellent Chinese food.  Here is a shot of the whole group:


The next morning we got up to take the express train back to London and have a few days to show Mehreen around our neck of the woods.


We did lots of neighborhood walking around Islington and Hackney and introduced Mehreen to two of our favorite markets. First stop, Columbia Road Flower Market followed by an obligatory sunday roast

columbiard1.jpg      columbiard2.jpg
And then Spitalfields Market where we made some purchases – a coat and travel backpack – with Mehreen’s support
spitalfields1.jpg    spitalfieds2.jpg

Thanks for coming to visit Mehreen!

ACE Awards

June 17th, 2010 by carolyn

Last Thursday night I (Carolyn) went to the refurbished Stoke Newington Town Hall for the Ace Awards.  The Ace Awards was a 20’s themed work event (our version of the Oscars as my colleague called it).  The night was organized to recognize staff through a variety of awards including my colleagues who were nominated for Best Sustainable Project.  Congrats to H and A on their nomination:


I was really impressed with the lengths people went to get into the 20’s theme.  Tons of flapper dresses and zoot suits.  Some people could really rock the charleston!

dressup2.JPG     dancing.JPG
It was a nice evening to highlight the contributions of staff and enjoy a night out with the team.  Here is a view of the Town Hall from the outside:


World Cup 2010 From Abroad

June 13th, 2010 by matt

Now, I don’t know how many of you are aware in the US, but there’s this soccer tournament called the World Cup that’s a big deal :-D. Being in England for one of them is a very exciting prospect for me, as I always enjoyed soccer (and played it until I was 18). This year, everyone has been feeling pretty optimistic for England’s chances this year, which had even more potential for fun and excitement here. So what’s happened so far?

Well, first of all, not only did the US end up in the same draw as England, but their first match would be against each other. Now, being American, I have to support the US team as long as they hang around in the tournament. But, being in England, I want to see a country that cares about their team (not just the ones who made the trip to South
Africa) do well, especially if I had the chance to see it ‘first hand’.

The big night arrived and we made plans to have a nice mix of Brits and Americans and decided our local was a good choice for it as it’s big, has plenty of TVs (when they choose to have them on) and usually had a pretty non-belligerent crowd in case we had a need to cheer against the English squad.

The match was, from my standpoint exciting. England came out quick which made it look like it was going to be a painful experience. But the US showed themselves to be up to the challenge and was making a go of it. Then we got a gift from Robert Green and the pub went silent. While we were quite pleased to see things evened up, when the ball sneaked past Green, we all felt the pain England fans felt. But, in the end, a tie is a tie.

Our favourite reaction from the press we’ve seen so far has come from the BBC when an announcer mentioned that the English squad was behind Green 100%. Which, in retrospect (and I’m paraphrasing), is probably a very good place to be. 🙂

Here would be a couple of (not so) exciting photos of our night out:


Just a view of a TV, the match, some flags and the nice art on the walls of our local pub.


Ben, myself and Dave (Dave came all the way to England just to watch the match! Really! 🙂 )

A couple of other observations:

  • Serbia and Algeria looked awful today. Here’s hoping the US and England have no problem with them in the next couple of rounds as they really need wins to make sure they can advance
  • The vuvuzelas are a tad irritating. I always love the background noise of the chanting fans and they just drown them out. I think, a little softer or not so constant, they might have their charm, but after 6 matches listening/watching the World Cup, the novelty has worn off.
  • Tim Howard was excellent. There was nothing he was going to do to stop Gerrard’s goal and the rest of the match, he was rock solid. I hope the reports of him having tests after Hesky slid into him are either false or show he’s ok to keep playing on.
  • Poor Australia. 🙂

A “New” Train Line in London

June 6th, 2010 by matt

London has a pretty good public transport system. What it lacks in modernity, it makes up for in thoroughness. Observe this system map (for a larger image, check this out):


It’s a bit of a spider-web of lines (some of them on this map are commuter rail links, but they run frequently enough to fit as rapid transit) and, being very very old, a bit creaky. However, in anticipation of their hosting the Olympics in 2012, they’ve needed to make some improvements. Since the big events will all being taking place in East London, a section of the city that has been horribly neglected in terms of fast rail links, they’ve embarked on an effort to modernize the Silverlink (former North London Line) and the East London Line into something called the London Overground. It’s mostly rail lines that are cut but not covered or elevated lines, so it’s not really the Underground and the operation of it seems a bit of a mess, so it doesn’t fall into the London Underground piece of it.

Well, a major piece of it, the merging of the East London Line into the London Overground made some big moves in the last couple of weeks when it reopened for service, going all the way down to West Croydon  and up to Dalston (where it will eventually link to the rest of the Overground network via Canonbury — our home station!). I had my first chance to take it today. Seems like they’ve done a nice job. The new trains are lovely and it seems to run about every 7 minutes, not great for London transport standards, but a damn sight better than the current London Overground service of twice an hour on Sundays. Here would be a northbound train coming into Hoxton Station with the City in the background. It was good fun! And yes, I’m a rail geek. 🙂


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