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.

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.

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.

As London Burns

March 12th, 2010 by matt

There was a small bit of excitment in my neck of the woods yesterday. I was about to head out the door for work when my boss calling me to say that the roads around the office had been closed because of a major fire. Eventually, we determined that we could still get to the office, but at lunchtime, I had to be a gawker and go and see the scene that had unfolded as the street in front of my office was completely deserted as it was shut for over 12 hours. I had to walk to work since all the buses into the City were totally messed up due to the detours, so I was curious to see what had happened. Here’s what I saw:




It was interesting, we were basically able to walk right to the spot of the fire without smelling smoke. Until we walked south of the fire as the wind had blow all the smoke that way and it suddenly smelled like a campfire. Tons of smoke, it was quite unpleasant.

Anyway, the fire was still going 8 hours after it started and the London Fire Department was out in full force. Added a little excitment to an ordinary weekday. 🙂

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 Wintry London Day

January 10th, 2010 by matt

So the theme for this winter seems to be, shockingly enough, snow. As I mentioned before Christmas, we had one small dumping of snow that created havoc in London (but didn’t stop our lovely trips to Madrid for Xmas and Somerset for New Years — more on that later).  Well, just when we thought that would be our winter storm for the season, Wednesday arrived with most of the rest of England snowed in and snow coming to London. Unlike some other parts of the country, we only got a couple of inches, but it’s stuck and is still here. So we’ve had our own little wintry wonderland.

Today, Carolyn and I braved the sub 0 (celsius) temperatures to check out Hampstead Heath, a lovely piece of semi-rural feeling parkland in North London. Here’s what we came across:


A view of all of London – but with snow!


Carolyn atop Kite Hill


Parliament Hill is a picturesque spot where you can take in a lot of London. It’s obviously a lovely spot where people fly kites and folks enjoy the wild beauty of Hampstead Heath. Behold what happens to it when some snow falls. People go “sledging” (aka. sledding) until the hill is completely bare 🙂

Happy Winter

December 21st, 2009 by matt

So on this, the shortest day of the year, Mother Nature has decided to mess with us fine Londoners by snowing a bit. I know you folks in the US have seen a bit of snow, so I’m not complaining, just observing. Just like earlier this year, the city doesn’t quite handle things when it snows. This morning, there was some remnants of ice and at lunch, we had some rain. Just another nasty winter day in London, with the darkness coming before 3pm since it was overcast. Then, in the course of an hour, the big flakes started coming down and we got a whopping 2 inches of snow. A sense of panic came over the office, with the head of the UK office saying we should all leave early to beat the misery. I hung around and the snow ended. But then the fun began. The buses, which normally show up every minute or two, were taking 10 minutes to appear and were packed. The bus stop was full and people had been waiting for 30 minutes for a bus.

After waiting 15 minutes for the first bus to show up full and pass us all by, I decided it might be a good idea to walk. So I start trekking through the icy pavement. And, lo and behold, it was a good idea. I suspect I beat the bus by 30 minutes because every main road was moving at glacier pace. The Brits do *not* know what to do with a little snow. I passed a virtual graveyard of buses that seemed to just have given up and gone out of service. I made a smart choice walking home, the city is in chaos of sorts. Here’s hoping the wet stuff melts and doesn’t freeze. 🙂
Anyway, I’ve been writing on this thing for almost 3 years now, so consider this an attempt to break the silence that’s been on here for a few months. Let’s start by filling in the gaps of the autumn that are here and not just post links to pictures.

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……………………………..


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.

Chewy The Adventure Cat

August 6th, 2009 by matt

So, I think it’s been made abundantly clear that Chewy has gotten a bit fat. Anna not eating meant he had plenty of food to munch on. For the past year, he’s been on a diet which means we keep cutting back on the amount of fancy diet food he can eat since he’s not losing weight. Add to this that he misses his friend Anna, and you have a whiny cat.

We try to compensate by being his exercise companions. As luck would have it, we found out that the garden in back of our building is communal. We figured that Chewy would love to have a little outdoor play time. However, we’ve now learned that Chewy is, for lack of a better word, agoraphobic. Yes, we have a cat that is afraid of the outdoors. When we bring him outside, he gets so scared he pissed on me as I carried him down. Regardless, here are some photos of a cute cat that shows that he has in fact gone outside:


Here’s a scared little kitty hanging out on a bench in the garden.


If we bring him down in his crate, he is far more willing to just hang out. Inevitably, he will look for anything that gives him a roof of sorts, though.

Never fear, there’re some indoor stairs he does like to chill out on in the common part of the building, so we just run him around on those and give him lots of loving. Hopefully, his diet can end soon so he can stop being hungry. 🙂

A quick synopsis of life

April 14th, 2009 by matt

Yikes! I think that’s a record for longest gap between posts. It’s been a busy busy month and change. Allow me to give you a recap with details later. I’m not guaranteeing too much for the next 10 days as we’re going to Greece in 3 days, but here’s a little to whet your appetite. Since I last posted, we’ve gone skiing in the Alps, enjoyed a nice visit with Carolyn’s parents, taken a cycling trip in Richmond Park, played games, hung out with friends, sung in choirs (for the first time in 4 years), travelled southeast England, celebrated my birthday. For now, let’s start with some evidence of a trip to the Alps:

Behold the Matterhorn as viewed from our hotel in Zermatt. Tres cool. And, since we were in the area:


Proof that not only did I ski, but I did some of it in a blizzard. And we ate lunch in an old farm house on the side of the mountain. Alas, the camera fogged up, so the only picture in there looks like a silly 1970s yuppie picture, but that’ll all come soon enough. So sorry for being so neglectful. I promise tons of fun to follow!