Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Actually two clocks.
     The first stop on our tour was the celestial clock. In addition to being a very cool piece of machinery, the story behind it is fascinating. The guy who originally designed it was blinded by the city council after he finished so that he couldn't build another clock in any other city. The designer was quite expectedly distraught over this, so he jumped into the mechanism of the clock - committing suicide and damaging the clock at the same time. About as an appropriate revenge as possible; it took decades to repair it and it still doesn’t run quite right. Nevertheless, it remains a really cool piece. The clock tells time in a number of different ways: the Celtic system, the Roman system, astrologically, and by names. The "names" system is really interesting: there are fourth hundred names on a wheel and every day a hand points at a different name. If the hand is pointing at your name that day, then it's your “name day” and you get to celebrate. Totally random, but a great excuse for a party. Every hour a skeleton rings a bell and the 12 apostles rotate through two doors above the clock. Nothing spectacular, until you consider that it’s been doing this every hour for hundreds of years using nothing but gears and gravity. Then it becomes pretty spectacular.

A statue in honor of Mozart.
Also a great place to nap.
     After the clock we started walking towards New Town, which (you guessed right) is newer than Old Town. Our first stop was Wenceslas Square, which is the largest square in the Czech Republic. At one end is the main building of the National Museum, with a huge picture of Vaclav Havel hanging on the front. He’s looking really good too! Next, we weaved our way to the theater where Mozart premiered Don Giovanni - apparently he loved how appreciative the Prague audiences were so much that he premiered a number of his pieces in the city. Next door to the theatre is Charles University, the oldest university in Eastern. It's actually the 18th oddest university in the world, but the Czechs like to be the first, so they found a category that suits.  Our next stop was the Jewish quarter of the city. Built right next to the river, the former ghetto was extremely prone to flooding. Eventually the river was brought under control, but it still occasionally floods (as it did in 2002). Located within the quarter are a number of synagogues, including the oldest synagogue in Europe, the Spanish Synagogue. There is also an Old Synagogue and an Old New Synagogue – just to make things a bit more complicated. Next to one of the old synagogues sits the community cemetery. Since the community was confined to such a small area, they only had one cemetery to bury their dead. As a result, whenever the cemetery filled up they just added a new layer of dirt and started again. There are now 12 layers and over 20,000 bodies buried in an area about the size of a basketball court. We wrapped up the tour at the concert hall right next to the Jewish quarter and grabbed a quick lunch across the bridge.
So much stained glass.
     After lunch a few of us scaled a large hill, intent on visiting the castle sitting upon it . Located on the west side of the river, the location has been continuously occupied since the 9th century. However, major construction only began on the castle complex during the 12th and 13th centuries. The complex stretches over several dozen acres and feels like a city apart, walled off and perched atop the hill. It also currently serves as the residence of the president of the republic, so history and politics continue to mix in exciting, essay-worthy ways. At the center of the complex is the Cathedral of St. Vitus, the patron saint of the Czech region. The cathedral itself is absolutely stunning. With towering stained glass in a number of different styles and a huge central altar, it definitely makes a point about royal power. The walls are dotted with smaller chapels, including one that held a film crew taking some B-roll for a documentary about something.

The window is somewhere up there.
After the cathedral we headed over to the old palace, where the Defenestrations of Prague took places (it seems like the Czechs really like to throw people out of windows). There we got to see the actual window where the Second Defenestration of Prague - the one that started the 30 Years War - took place. I could totally see why it was considered miraculous that the men who were defenestrated survived; it is not a short fall. We finished up our tour of the castle with a fried potato on a stick and a traditional Czech pastry, trdelník. Pronounced like turtle neck, it's a cylinder of sweet dough that is coated in a glaze. It can then be rolled in any number of things – coconut, cinnamon, even Nutella. It's heavenly. That night the whole bunch had dinner together – twelve of us in total. The restaurant we got reservations at was located in the cellar, so there was more exposed brick and arched ceilings to appreciate. Czech cuisine, like Irish, leans heavily to the meat and potatoes, which I appreciated to no end. After dinner we headed out to grab a drink and try to meet up with a friend's high school friends who are studying in Prague. We didn’t end up finding said friend, but we did end up at the same bar at the night before. So, obviously, I played another game of pinball.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Running Late

I’m slowly trying to catch up with all of my travel posts. This one is only about two weeks late. 

     By now, we are getting used to the typical Ryanair flight, cramped but on time. It got us into the Prague airport alive and well, which is really all one can ask for. We had about half an hour before our friends got in from Brussels, so we took advantage of the break to change out our currency. We found that €100 gets you over 2500 Czech crowns. (The mental math required to do the conversion - €1 to 25 crowns – isn’t difficult, but takes just enough time to really slow down decision making.) Having met up with our friends, we headed into the city. The bus was easy enough to navigate, but I messed up the directions after we got off at our first stop. Instead of putting us on the subway like I was supposed to, I put us on a tram… We figured that mistake out soon enough, but had to go back to the place where our bus let us off to pick up the right train. At that point I handed off navigation duties to someone else and everything was going well. But as we got off the train, we were stopped by a pair of ticket inspectors. No big deal, we thought. After all, we had purchased our tickets and everything. Except...we were supposed to validate them when we got on the bus. Which we didn't know and hadn't done...we tried the ‘clueless tourist’ defense, but they weren't having any of it and fined us anyway. Not the most auspicious beginning to the trip. We immediately validated our tickets after that.

     When we finally got to the hostel, it was well past dinnertime. We checked in and dropped our stuff in the giant 16-person room we're staying in and immediately went out in search of food. We walked across the Charles Bridge (absolutely gorgeous when it is all lit up) into old town Prague and found a nice restaurant for dinner. The food was delicious and surprisingly well priced – a welcome break after Switzerland. After dinner we stopped into TGI Friday to watch the RM-Liverpool game. The drink special was some type of strawberry mixed drink that was very fruity and very delicious! I can now say my first trip to TGIF was in Prague, although I’m not sure exactly what kind of stigma that carries with it. We returned to the hostel just as the rest of our group was preparing to head out. They were going to a cave bar, which sounded pretty cool, so we decided to tag along. In the end it wasn’t actually a cave, but rather a collection of old cellars that had been turned into a bar. Still very cool: exposed brick, low lighting, vaulted ceilings, nooks and pinball machines tucked in corners. Best moment of the night was definitely when I scored over five million points on pinball.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


We have the exact same one
at home.
     We decided to make the most of our few hours in Munich by mixing aimless strolling through the street with intense museum time. We started out down the main shopping street (unlike Zurich these shops were actually open) on our way to the main market. The shops are already full of Christmas stuff! It was so cool to see so many ornaments and so much Christmas paraphernalia, a lot of which reminded me of stuff from home. Apparently my parents got all of their Christmas supplies in Central Europe. We stopped in to one of the stores, which was full of steins, nutcrackers, glass ornaments, and chalices. You could get a €2,000 horn to drink out of…I was really tempted. Then we traipsed down to the main market. It was pretty early in the morning and I was still overwhelmed by the amount of food. It was everywhere: pretzels, fruit, bratwurst, and beer. We decided to grab food after our museum visit – a reward for a morning of cultural appreciation.
The chapel, with period lighting installed.
     After only a minimal struggle with the map, we made our way to the Residence Museum and Treasury. The museum is housed in the former residence of the ruling family of Bavaria, which was vacated in 1918 when the Bavarian Republic was declared. Severely damaged during WWII, when they rebuilt it was turned into a museum…about the residence. It's basically just a lot of old, pretty rooms with lots of art and fancy chairs. There is a free audio tour provided; an impeccably pronounced guide accompanied by music a bit too grand for the occasion. When we got to the chapel, for example, the clip is introduced by a solid 45 seconds of Gregorian chant. We get it – we’re in a church. The chapel was still my favourite part. It had been completely destroyed by bombing during WWII and it was restored without any of the original gilding or painting. All that is left is an imposing neo-Romanesque building with lots of exposed brick. It has been converted into a performance space, with Source 4s everywhere, so it was all my favourite things (churches, bricks, theatrical lighting) rolled into one.
     Feeling thoroughly cultured, we headed back towards the market for our well-deserved reward. On our way we ran across this gorgeous church and decided to stop in because there is sort of a standing policy that ‘We visit cool churches because Mike likes them’ (a policy I fully endorse). This one was shaped like a huge, stubby cross with balconies on three sides and the altar on the fourth. One balcony was taken up entirely with an immense, ornate organ. The acoustics: stunning. Might have sung a bit to try that out… There was also this very interesting art instillation that you could only see through cut-outs in the floor. It evoked a tree and was definitely trying to make a point about something, but I couldn't understand the German on the sign to actually figure out what that was. 

The flock in flight.
     After a bit of an adventure through some narrow streets, we got back to the market. At the entrance to the market was another church, so obviously I poked my head in. Inside, hundreds of paper birds filled the space above the pews. With the light spilling in from the windows, it almost looked like they were actually flying. It was such a beautiful sight that the whole group of us sat down for a few minutes to take it all in. We were pretty hungry though, so our contemplation was brief. Outside the church, we made a beeline for some pretzels, which were perfect. Crunchy on the outside, but soft inside with just the right amount of salt. They were a spiritual experience on par with the flock in the church. I got a bratwurst for lunch and it was similarly delicious. Nor do the Germans skimp on the buns, which are more like large hunks of bread than any attempt at an actual bun. After lunch we went back to the hostel, grabbed our stuff, and headed out for the airport.

     Airport security outside the US is so relaxed by comparison. We were never asked to produce ID; they just glanced at our tickets and waved us through the metal detector. I didn’t have to take of my shoes and the padlock in my backpack got me none of its usual stares. The wait for the plane was very relaxing because Lufthansa provides free hot beverages in their waiting area! (Free!!!) I availed myself of not one, but two hot chocolates while we waited. I took advantage of the second flight (our first, from Munich to Frankfurt, lasted only 30 minutes) to work on my Latin essay that was unfortunately due the day after we got back. Arriving back to Dublin around 10:00 pm, passports well stamped from the trip, I returned to campus to finish my essay and fall fast asleep. First ‘Eurotrip’ complete.

Monday, November 10, 2014


Public transport is so colorful.
     Zurich, being in Switzerland, is surrounded by mountains. And when one is in Switzerland, generally you’re expected to climb said mountains. Not wanting to disappoint on such a central cultural experience, we woke up early on Sunday and set off to catch a train to Uetliberg, the closest mountain to the city. The train runs right up the side of the mountain and lets off a ten-minute walk from the peak. We took a leisurely stroll through the woods and eventually made our way to the summit. The view from the top was absolutely stunning, if a bit misty. In one direction, Zurich and the lake spread out before us. In the other direction, rolling hills were dotted with little villages. A few of use braved the climb up to the observation platform, which offered an even better view.
Birds everywhere.
     Our two goals when we returned to the city were to acquire food and a Swiss watch for one of our friends. As we started walking down the main road from the train station, the first shop we came to was closed. So we went to the next one – also closed. As was every store on the street. Apparently Zurich takes the day of rest very seriously; not a single store was open on the entire street. It gave us the opportunity for some great window-shopping, but the number of closed chocolate shops was singularly disappointing. The street ends at the shore of the lake, where we consoled ourselves with a beautiful view of the swans gliding across the lake. We walked over to the opera house across the bridge and checked out the richly decorated lobby. (Sneaking into theatre lobbies has quickly become a motif of this trip.) We were more successful in acquiring food than watches. Part of the group split off for fondue, while a friend and I went to get some hotdogs. The place we ended up had been recommended by a friend back home (whose family lived in Zurich for two years) as one of his favorite places to eat. Their hotdogs come in hollowed out baguette with ketchup squirted down the hole – in my opinion, the ideal way to serve it. After lunch, we stopped by the church I had photographed the night before. Unfortunately, it was closed early for a private concert, but we got some beautiful pictures of the exterior.

     A quick stop back at the hostel to grab our bags and then we were off to the bus station for our bus to Munich. This ride was uneventful – nothing could top the band of German guys from the first bus. We got into Munich late and walked through a light drizzle to our hostel. The bar on the first floor was hoping (and playing a great selection of early 2000s music), so we hung out there for a little bit before turning in for the night.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Most Interesting Bus Ride

      We had a few hours on Saturday morning before our bus to Zurich and having failed to eat a crepe on the first day, we went in search of some for breakfast. In the end, we found a place directly opposite the cathedral. Eating a crepe in an outdoor café in a medieval square across from a gothic cathedral – check! Unfortunately, crepes only last so long. With still a bit of time left, we leisurely strolled down a side street. What do we find, but a street market! So I got to cross another thing off the list: buy and eat a homemade French baguette.

     We managed to successfully navigate public transportation and made our way to the bus stop. As the bus was getting underway, the driver began giving the safety instructions in German. As we were riding a German bus, this was not a complete surprise. Suddenly a guy in his late-twenties leapt up from his seat and moved up to the front of the bus. The driver seemingly thought nothing of this and handed him the microphone she had been using for announcements. He proceeded to offer a surprisingly humorous translation of the driver’s instructions. Whenever he was at a loss for a particular word, the group of 10 or so other guys sitting in the middle of the bus (who I assumed he was traveling with) would shout at him until he figured it out. The only instruction he had issue with was the one about using the facilities. Not knowing the proper bathroom idiom, he eventually settled on, “The toilet is for small business only.” (I’ll leave it to you to figure out what that one means.) The rest of the ride proved to be just as amusing as his translation. The group he was traveling with made ample use of the beer on sale in the front of the bus and had a jolly time for the entirety of the trip – occasionally even breaking out into song.
I see something - I must climb it.
     Having changed buses at Freiberg, leaving our German friends behind, the remainder of the journey had been without incident. We came into Zurich in the early evening, the road sloping in from the mountains while the city opened up before us. The divide between the country and the city is pretty stark. In one moment the road is surrounded by farmland; in the next, by towering hotels. The bus dropped us by the train station, which was a bit of a walk from our hostel. We stopped into a neighboring Starbucks to double-check our directions before heading out. It was there we discovered just how expensive Switzerland was going to be. (A motif that would continue for the rest of the weekend.) We traipsed our way to the correct part of town and only managed to get lost once! Our hostel was located above a Spaghetti Factory – the name explains everything – with a four-story walk up to reception. Once we sorted everything out and found our two friends who arrived earlier in the day, we realized just how hungry we all were. After a fairly in-depth exploration of our options, we settled on authentic Swiss Chinese food. Nothing had ever tasted better.

Searching for a bar, finding a great
photo shoot. 
      The night was still quite young and one of our friends had found a bar he wanted to try, so we ventured out in search of it. The stroll through the city at night was beautiful. A light mist diffused the lights along the river and on the churches, giving everything the look of an impressionist painting. We enjoyed many different views of the city that night as we searched for this bar. Every time we arrived where the map told us it should be, we found nothing resembling a bar. Eventually, starting to get wet from the mist-turned-rain, we settled for a second choice. This bar, which we found much more quickly, hosts a different artist’s work every month. The only catch: the art must be erotically themed. October was featuring a set of wonderfully rendered sketches. Unfortunately, that bar was rather full. In the end, we settled for a bar with far less interesting wall dressing.

Saturday, November 8, 2014


Basel in early morning.
    Traveling, at least this semester, means traveling on a budget and that usually means sleeping in hostels. In a Basel, a city somehow devoid of conveniently placed hostels, the three of us shared a triple room in a budget hotel instead. European hotels generally offer a wider selection of room options, so a triple actually cost the same as splitting a double would have cost. But the triple had a bunk bed, so it was the infinitely more fun option! I got the top bunk, while the other two shared the double bunk below. There wasn't nearly enough time to enjoy our room, however, as we had to be on a train less than six hours after checking in. When the morning came we were awoken by one friend's barking dog alarm (she swears it's the only thing that will wake her up) and groggily headed out to catch our train.

     Arriving at the station, we immediately ran into a cluster of kiosks for buying tickets. How lucky, we thought, there is even an option for English. We hit the button, excited, only to find our hopes dashed. There was some English - the banner welcoming us had indeed been translated - but the remainder of the instructions were still in German. Since none of us read German particularly well, we headed off in search of a ticket counter. The woman behind the desk was infinitely more helpful than the machine had been and we soon found ourselves aboard the correct train and on our way to Strasbourg. I fell asleep almost immediately, but I was told later we enjoyed a stunning trip through fog-filled valleys. I came to a few minutes before we pulled into the station at Strasbourg with a two-hour nap under my belt, ready to face the day.

     Our friend met us in the station and took us to a very cute French cafe for breakfast. The French and Irish have a very different understanding of breakfast. An Irish breakfast contains almost nothing that hasn't been fried and usually includes at least two different meats. Our breakfast that morning was a crescent, a chocolate-filled pastry, orange juice, hot chocolate, and yogurt. Equally good and equally filling. Very happy after all the pastries, we headed to our friend's apartment to drop off our things. She is doing a home-stay this semester, so we got to meet her 'sister' when we stopped in. Unburdened, we set off to explore the city. 
Flying buttresses flying?
     Strasbourg sits in the border between France and Germany in a region that was disputed for centuries. As such, it has a rich mix of German and French influences. The National Theatre, for example, is housed in a former German palace. Follow our obligatory "theatre kids standing in front of a theatre" picture, we walked into the medieval part of the city. The medieval quarter is dominated by the imposing gothic cathedral on the main square. Towering more than 225 feet above the square and fashioned out of rich burgundy stone, it is truly an amazing sight. We spent a good amount of time exploring the interior. The stained glass along the naive is full of red glass, a sign of the immense expense involved in building the cathedral. (Red glass is the most expensive color of glass to produce, according to our glassblowing friend.) In the front of the cathedral, just off the altar, sits a huge celestial clock. Not only does it tell the time, but it also gives the position of every planet (even Pluto) in their orbit around the sun. After we finished exploring the inside, we really wanted to explore the top! The cathedral has a large viewing platform beneath the bell tower and there was no way we were going to miss the chance to go up. The 330 step climb takes you up right next to the flying buttresses - so close you can even see the stone puppy carved into one of them. The view from the top was simply stunning. You can see the EU Parliament buildings on the far side of the city, as well as Germany across the river.
The river: pre-wine.
     Having enjoyed some traditional French milkshakes, none of us felt the need for much lunch, so we simply wandered through the city. We strolled past the park that the city had built for Josephine, Napoleon's consort. Apparently she only visited once and never set foot in it again, despite a return visit to the city a few years later. A brief stroll through the EU district finished out our tour. We transferred our stuff from apartment to hostel and then headed out for dinner. We went to a place that specializes in Alsatian pizza. Effectively white pizza on flat bread, there were a bewildering array of options that somehow all seemed to involve bacon. They're the perfect food after a long day of walking, especially when matched with sparkling lemonade (or lemonade-beer for the more adventurous among us). By the time we finished up our meal, it wasn't even 7:30 pm. Not content to end our night so early, but certainly not prepared or qualified to go clubbing in France, we hatched a plan. First stop was as supermarket to pick up a bottle of wine. (The difference between Ireland and France is astounding: a good, moderately priced bottle in Dublin runs about €14, while in Strasbourg the same quality bottle goes sells for €4). Very pleased with that difference, we bought a bottle to split and found a spot by the river to sit and drink. We could not think of a more French way to end the day. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

First Flight

Last weekend was my first trip outside of Ireland. A few friends and I were going to visit our friend who is studying abroad in Strasbourg, France. After that we would hit Zurich and Munich before returning to Dublin in time for our Tuesday classes. In preparation for our departure, I drew up an itinerary for the trip which included all of our travel and sleeping arrangements, as well as a number of suggested activities for each cityIn addition, I printed out all of my tickets, boarding passes, and hostel reservations. I even printed a second copy of my plane ticket, just in case. Those of us traveling together had mapped out our route to the airport the night before. I felt prepared. But in all this preparation, I forgot two very crucial things: socks and underwear. Since we were only traveling for the weekend and our budget airline of choice charges a preposterous amount of money to check bags, I was obviously going to pack light. One pairs of pants and a shirt or two can easily last a few days, but changing out socks and underwear daily is a must for me. Besides generally not wanting to feel gross, it is common courtesy to one’s fellow travellers. But when I went to pack my bag the morning of our departure, I came across an empty drawer – not a sock to be seen. Only a hurried trip to the campus laundry saved me from sure disaster. 

Boarding on the tarmac.
Just another perk!
     Our flight off the island was on RyanAir - everyone's favorite low-cost, no-frills airline. RyanAir is wonderful because it will fly you all over Europe for less money than a bus ticket. You just need to read the fine print very carefully. Checked baggage costs extra, obviously. But so does checking in at the airport (a €100 fee). Forgot to print your boarding pass, that will be another €70. All this makes for a rather adventurous time at the airport. That our whole group managed to make it through the airport together, intact, and on-time to the gate on our first trip is both a testament to our preparation and a lot of dumb luck. The flight itself was more pleasant than expected. No broken lights, ragged carpet, cracked windows. (The horror stories about budget airlines unfounded at least in this instance). Everything was clean and fairly comfortable. The seats lacked a pouch on the back (no barf bags unfortunately), but it did give the benefit of extra knee room. With no complimentary inflight beverages, I could nap without worrying about losing out on my free Diet Coke.

     We arrived into the airport at Basel around 11:00 pm, exactly on time - a welcome change from flying in the US. Since the Basel airport straddles the borders of Switzerland, Germany, and France we had to pass through customs. After the most perfunctory passport examination in history, we gathered assembled by baggage claim and celebrated our first successful flight with cookies. We then had a choice to make: go to the left and exit to France/Germany or exit to the right to Switzerland. I had never been offered an option of exit country before - it was quite exciting. We mulled our choice for a moment, but ultimately picked Switzerland because, well, that was where our hotel was. The bus from the airport to the city centre went directly to our hotel - or so we thought. We hopped off and hurried to the hotel, wanting to get as much sleep as possible before our 6:00 am train to Strasbourg. Arriving at reception, puzzled looks greeted us when we tried to check in. Could we have made reservations for the ring night, under a different name, on a different credit card? No. Turns out there are two hotels with the exact same name on opposite sides of the train station. We had booked our room at the other one... A brisk walk back the way we came brought us to the right hotel and we settled in for a brief nap before our early morning departure. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Too Much Nutella

Other people out for a walk.
My parents have come to town to visit (well, visit and play golf), so I’ve spent the last two days showing them around Dublin. It has been a great opportunity to test my knowledge of the city and guide them around the place I’ve been calling home the past few months. But it has also been a wonderful opportunity to do some touristing. Since I’m actually living in the city for a few months, and occasionally even going to classes here, I have tried to avoid tourist spots as much as possible. Instead, I have done my best (with varying degrees of success) to find lesser-known areas to explore. And while this has yielded some very cool discoveries – I can tell you seven different places to do your laundry – it means I haven’t made it to some of the places closest to campus. So, taking advantage of “showing the parents the town,” I have managed to check a few places off the list.

Let me just say: being a tourist is exhausting. First, you have to walk from the hotel to breakfast. Then you need to figure out what you’re going to do that day, which can be very stressful. After that there is more walking to reach the first site of the day. Then there is walking with your tour guide, followed by whatever extra exploring you want to do. And after that there is still more walking to the next location where the whole process is repeated. Due to the amount of Nutella in my diet at the moment, I’m really not prepared for that kind of exercise.

A rare moment of sun in Dublin.
They landed early Friday morning, so between the jet lag on their part and an early-morning fire alarm on mine, some caffeine was definitely in order. Tea and scones at Avoca roused all present and we headed off to the first of our touristy destinations of the day: The Book of Kells. The Book of Kells is perhaps the easiest thing to find of Trinity’s campus – there is always a substantial line outside the Old Library building to let you know exactly where to go and Friday was no exception. However, this let me use the single greatest perk of being at Trinity: every student gets in to see the book for free and gets to bring up to three guests and gets to skip the huge line. It really makes wading through endless hours of medieval bureaucracy worth it. The exhibit and book itself are stunning, an experience made all the sweeter by getting in ahead of the huge German tour group waiting outside.

The rest of the day was spent leisurely strolling around the City Centre. We had a lovely dinner that evening with a few of my friends before ending the night with a drink at a pub by campus. It was my first real ‘drink’ with my parents. Not as weird as expected, but definitely something I’m going to have to get used to.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Establishing Rhythms

An Average Day Abroad

01.07 – Finally fall asleep while watching fifth episode of Gilmore Girls.
08.35 – Wake up to first alarm. Fall asleep. 
08.40 – Wake up to second alarm. Fall asleep again.
08.43 – Wake up to passing DART train. Fall asleep again.
08.55 – Sleep through third alarm.
09.03 – Finally wake up. Shower. Get dressed.
09.15 – Check weather. Be very confused over Celsius. Change to Fahrenheit.
09.17 – Make toast with Nutella for breakfast.
09.18 – Feel guilty about having Nutella for breakfast everyday.
09.19 – Add more Nutella.
09.21 – Attempt to do the readings for the morning’s lecture. Finish last night’s episode of Gilmore Girls instead.
10.51 – Grab an apple (to ease the guilt of the Nutella) and run to class.
10.59 – Find seat in back of lecture hall. Listen to lecture.
11.00 – Return to room, intending to do translation for next class. Watch more Gilmore Girls.
12.30 – Make pasta for the hundredth time this week.
13.22 – Finally look at translations for class.
14.50 – Go to class. Spend 55 minutes hoping professor doesn’t ask about the letter I didn’t translate. 
15.03 – Return to room. Nap.
17.30 – Wake up, hungry, and make pasta for the hundred and first time this week.
18.15 – Actually do homework.
20.30 – Consider going out.
20.31 – Start watching Gilmore Girls.

Friday, September 26, 2014

NSO vs. Fresher's Week

Wholesome (and alcohol free) fun
at NSO.
     There is a fabled tradition at American Universities that goes by many names: “Freshman Orientation,” “New Student Orientation,” “Welcome Week.” Billed as a great way to meet new people and find your way around school, they’re also a thinly veiled attempt to keep you from getting homesick during your first week at school. One can easily identify them by the large number of student groups roaming campus, each led by a peppy upperclassman in some brightly coloured garb. It is generally considered the most exhausting part of freshman year – even classes are a welcomed relief. At Trinity, a similar tradition takes place – Fresher’s Week. In many ways, it is quite similar to its American counterparts. There are gaggles of freshmen excitedly rushing around, always looking a bit bewildered. An overwhelming assembly of clubs and societies trying to solicit said freshmen. Endless presentations on using the library, registering for modules, navigating Dublin.

Fresher's Week opening
     The biggest difference between Fresher’s Week and anything in the US is what happens after dark. In the US, school-sponsored and alcohol-free events dominate the social calendar. At Trinity, it’s quite the opposite. The college still officially sanctions the events, but they generally occur in bars and clubs. Alcohol is involved. In a way, it helps make the whole thing less awkward – people are free to socialize in a ‘more natural’ social setting. But nothing can remove the awkwardness of being asked (for the thirtieth time or so), “What’s your name? What’s your course? Where are you from? Oh, the US, cool!” Trust me, it’s just as uncomfortable at the bar as in the dinning hall. Of few of us, foolishly, decided we would buy these wristbands which gave you access to all of the week’s events. (We discovered later that these bands cost €2 more than simply paying at the door.) This meant that we got to spend the week branded as freshers, something that greatly wounded our newly minted upperclassmen pride.

     The bands did serve as a nice symbol of our odd, indeterminate position. We’re new to Trinity and haven’t made many friends yet, just like the thousands of freshmen swarming around. But we’ve been in higher education for two years now and generally know how ‘college’ works, like the third years we’re sharing classes with. We went to a few events throughout the week, some of us more than others. But by the end, most of us accepted that you only have the energy to do college orientation once.

Monday, September 8, 2014

More Irish than the Irish themselves?

     Following the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1169, it has often been said that the original English settlers became more Irish than the Irish themselves. After almost three weeks here, some of us are starting to feel the same way. Since arriving, we’ve spent countless hours in a crash-course on Irish history and culture. I’m not sure if it’s possible to absorb an entire culture in three weeks, but our instructors are definitely doing their best to make that happen.

     In addition to time in the lecture hall and the library, we’ve been making a number of cultural excursions. During our first week we were exposed to some modern Irish cinema. Well supplied with popcorn and gummies, we watched Adam and Paul, the story of two homeless addicts wandering the streets of Dublin. Loosely adapted from Waiting for Godot, it has the feel of either a very depressing comedy or a moderately funny tragedy. Its dark, dry humour wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The perspective it presents certainly isn’t the one you would get from the guided tours – and that was exactly the idea. According to Ciaran, one of my favourite professors in the course, the movie was an experiment on their part. We seem to be the guinea pigs this year.

     Our next visit was to Croke Park, the headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA).
The museum at Croke Park.
Home to the All-Ireland finals in both Gaelic football and hurling, it can hold over 82,000 people. Each one of Ireland’s 32 counties puts forth four teams: men’s football, men’s hurling, women’s football, and camogie (women’s hurling). The teams are all amateur – none of the players get paid for playing. All the money the teams make goes back into training, development, and travel. Since the stadium was being prepared for the Penn State-UCF game the next day, this fact started an interesting analysis of the merits of amateur athletics. Our tour took us through the entire stadium, but I was most interested in the mechanics of field. Turns out, they need to use large rolling grow lights because they grass doesn’t get enough natural light to stay in playable condition. And even though it rains almost everyday, they still have a comprehensive watering system. Apparently the field drains so well, in order to remain playable in such wet conditions, that the grass needs to be watered every second day or so. And in order to maintain the field’s usefulness in the colder months, it is fitted with an underground heating system.

     This past week, we had our first introduction to Irish theatre. The show was George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House. Part comedy of manners, part satire, part reflection on the nature of violence, the show was both hilarious and quite dark (often at the same time). Are you beginning to sense a pattern here? It played in the Abbey Theatre, the national theatre of Ireland. It is a beautiful proscenium theatre with a single tier of seats. The explosions, lighting design, and set concept were all incredible.

Imposing? Check. 
      On Friday, we took a trip into the past. Loaded onto buses at an ungodly hour of the morning (9am) we headed about an hour out of Dublin. It had all the trappings of a middle school field trip, down to the bagged lunches and chatty girls in the back of the bus. Our first stop was in the small town of Trim, Trim Castle. (They filmed sections of Braveheart on the castle grounds.) The largest Norman castle in Ireland, its grounds cover over three acres and are completely enclosed by a large curtain wall. The central keep stands over three stories tall – dominating the surrounding countryside. It was built in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries by the lords of Meath as the seat of their power along the river Boyne. We had free reign of the castle grounds for an hour before our tour. We explored the foundations of the Great Hall, the cellar, the dock. Taking advantage of the large tower between us and the visitor’s centre, we even managed to scale a section of the curtain wall.

The enemy takes the walls!
     Our tour took us inside the cavernous keep. With walls over 4 metres thick and 50 feet tall, it is an imposing structure. Originally guarded by a garrison over 20 soldiers, along with the lord and his family, it is now only home to a number of sparrows. After receiving a quick history of the castle from our guide, we ascended the spiral staircase. (We were warned to beware of the trip steps, a set of steps slightly smaller than the rest which were designed to – you guessed it – trip an attacking soldier as he ran up the stairs.) The view from the top was absolutely stunning; you can see the remains of four medieval monasteries in the immediate vicinity. Following lunch in the shadow of the walls, we journeyed to the hills of Tara. Home to the ancient High Kings of Ireland, Tara has been used as a ceremonial and burial site for well over two thousand years. Dodging copious amounts of sheep poop, we spent the afternoon exploring the ditches which mark the site. I even hugged the stone that declared the King worthy of joining with the goddess Maeve and ruling all of Ireland. I am not worthy.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Where's the Pasta?

     They say you should use your study abroad time as an opportunity to expand your horizons. In that way, Ireland could be called ‘study abroad lite’ – they all speak English, there’s fairly regular Internet access, and one is never more than a few hundred yards from a pub. But I think such a categorization really does it a disservice. It is definitely a different experience from, say, Germany or Angola in that I’m not constantly trying to think in another language. I can be fairly confident that I just ordered a burger and did not accidentally insult the server’s mother. It is almost possible to feel like I’m still home…almost. Granted, the cars driving down the left side of the road would be a good hint, but it’s the act of constantly being shocked out of my little assumptions that makes the familiarity so jarring. In it’s own way, it opens you up to things you wouldn’t have even thought could be different.
     The grocery store is prime example of this. One of the first things I learned about shopping is that you can always ignore the things stacked on the ends of the aisle. They’re just put there to distract you and anything of importance can be found in its proper place among the aisles if you need it. So when I went looking for pasta the other day, I walked past the section four times because I’ve trained myself to ignore the ends. I finally stopped to get my bearings, only to find the pasta starring me right in the face. When I went to check out the first time, I headed for the self-check out machine – I felt confident about my ability to handle this one. I put down my basket on the right side of the machine, like I’ve been doing at Safeway for years now, only to have the polite, Irish voice from the machine complain about my placement. Only then did I take note of the little signs indicating that one’s basket goes on the left and you bag on the right. Successive trips have been more successful, but I’m trying to stick to the off times until I master the checkout.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

First Days

In case you were wondering, it does rain a
lot in Ireland.
      This semester I am studying abroad at Trinity College Dublin, part of the University of Dublin, in Dublin, Ireland. Again, just to be clear, I’m in Dublin. Our semester begins with a three-week international orientation, so right now the only people on campus are tourists and the 80 or so international students. We’ve spent the first few days getting used to the area, trying to figure out where to get food, and how to access the Internet. That last one has proved to be the most challenge aspect so far – one so quickly forgets what it is like to live with only a wired connection (no Wi-Fi in the dorms). Given that the College is approaching it’s 450th anniversary, I just pleased that there’s Internet to be found anywhere.

      Our orientation is an academic, as well as a cultural, program. Even so, there are only three hours of class scheduled everyday. The rest of our time is our own. We’re encouraged to explore, but most of us have spent most of the past few days in the IT center or setting up bank accounts. Aside from learning that most of the decorative, carved stone pieces on post-invasion Anglo-Norman churches in Ireland were actually imported from quarries around Bristol, the most important thing we’ve discovered so far is that the small changes are the ones you notice the most. Even if they speak the same language and prefer the same color for sweaters, things will still be unexpectedly different. Some things are obvious and can be prepared for: 58° weather in August – everyday, at least two hours of rain – everyday, different colored money. It’s the small things that have tripped me up the most. What side of the stairs do you walk up? (It’s still the right side.) Do you tip in a pub? (Bartender – no, Wait staff – yes.) Which way do you look before crossing the street? (Right, then left, then right again. I don’t know if I’ll figure that one out. I’m simply doomed to the awkward head-swivel for the next few months.)

Grey and green, Ireland's national colors.
      If you are able to suppress the constant fear of getting run over, Dublin is an absolutely wonderful city. The dorms we’re staying in are about 4 km from main campus, in Dartry, which is technically outside of Dublin proper. The walk to campus is almost a straight shot down Rathmines and Harcourt Streets, providing a tour of Dublin’s residential and commercial districts. I think we pass at least 10 pubs in the first twenty minutes alone. Trinity College itself is located right in the city centre, next to the National Gallery and National Museum. A spike-topped wall rings campus, while most of the buildings match the grey of sky. It’s my ideal college aesthetic.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What Makes an Internship?

       Perhaps one of the most important parts of the experiences during college isn’t at college at all; it’s at an internship off-campus. It is generally assumed that you will do at least one internship while at school – although the more ambitious among us seem to manage at least six or seven. What exactly these can entail varies widely. You could find yourself answering phone calls and sorting mail in a Congressional basement or planning a full season of concerts for a local venue. If you’re lucky you can scrape some credits out of it, but mostly it’s shameless résumé padding. And of course, just about everyone has very strong opinions about the value and ethicalness of what often amounts to unpaid labor (only the lucky few manage to find a paying gig).
       I am winding down my internship – my second this summer – with the Naval History and Heritage
Command (NHHC) next week. After a minor panic a few weeks before the semester ended, when it looked like I was facing the societally-unacceptable prospect of my second summer without an
The NHHC Seal is pretty imposing.
internship, I managed to piece together an intellectually interesting summer. The first half was spent as a research assistant to a professor. I helped him write a major article by reading and annotating old volumes of a major historical journal. (The head-shaking motion you’re making right now is the usual response to that comment, especially when I mention that I read 100 years of said journal.) After several weeks of this, I discovered I was still having fun. Over the course of explaining my choice of employment at least ten times a week, I realized that was a good sign. If I could enjoy doing the drudgework of history as well as the really exciting stuff, maybe I really did like history. The word vocation might have been thrown around, but I can’t confirm that. My work at the NHHC has been of a similar stock, if in an entirely realm. June was spent investigating twentieth-century church historiography. July and August, naval provisioning during the American Revolution and the abolition of prize money for American naval officers. For a military outfit, I’ve been given a wonderful amount of freedom to explore these topics – albeit so that I could do the grunt work which my boss doesn’t want to do.
       I’ve learned a number of things from my historical summer. First, I am not destined for a regular office job. I cannot wake up everyday at 6 a.m. and be functional. And I just can’t get caught sleeping by my boss one more time. Second, I actually enjoy history. Who’d have ever guessed that? And third, when given the option, I infinitely prefer getting paid to working for free.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Antarticum

     Before the Seventy-Fifth Holy Penguin Empire there was the Seventy-Fourth Holy Penguin Empire. Before that came the Seventy-Third Holy Penguin Empire and before that the Seventy-Second. Some time before that came the Forty-Third Most Holy & Frigid Empire, so named because it included several other bird species in addition to penguins. Between the Twenty-Second Holy Penguin Empire and the period widely known as the Third Penguin Apostasy reigned the Twenty-First Very Holy Penguin Empire, which everyone agreed wasn’t very holy at all. The Third Penguin Empire has long been famed for its historic building program – the palaces it created were still being used through the middle period of the Sixty-Fifth Holy Penguin Empire. The First Holy Penguin Empire is known to us only through the writings of Sylvester, the great bard of the Ninth Holy Penguin Empire, who recorded the oral tradition of his time in a seven-book work entitled The Antarticum.
     By the time of the Seventy-Fifth Holy Penguin Empire, most penguins had come to accept the Empire as something that had always and would forever be. And while the Empire might control ever aspect of their lives, the penguins didn’t mind so long as they were allowed free access to the fishing grounds. Even the highest figures in the Empire had long since forgotten the struggles of the First, Second, and Third Apostasies and sat blissfully ignorant of the uncertain nature of their power. Of course the tradition held that the Empire was divinely ordained before the beginning of time and that all power flowed from the Great Orb to the Rather Impressive Tower at the Pole to the less impressive, but still moderately intriguing Shadow Staffs of the high priests in the temple. They inaugurated the beginning of each new Empire and chose the Holy Penguin Emperor every seven years. The tradition also held that the Emperor was the supreme power in the land, but everyone knew the high priests ran the show.
     So when Aloysius XI mysteriously vanished after a dispute with the High Council, most of the penguins figure the priests were behind it. There was some mumbling when they appointed the Emperor’s old minister for Fish & Sub-Aquatic Affairs to be the next ruler, but generally life went on as normal. Then one day some of the younger penguins at the fishing ground disappeared. At first none of the other penguins thought anything of it. If you were going to play too far from shore, it was your own fault. But then the next day more young penguins went missing. A few days after that no young penguin could be found who was willing to step into the water. Every penguin was whispering to her neighbor – some blaming the young penguins for their impetuousness, others the whales off the northern shore, and still others some unknown sinister force. But then the older penguins started disappearing too. Now a great concern arose. It was obvious that neither whales nor over-exuberance was taking the older penguins. One does not become an old penguin without learning caution. Eventually no penguins would go in the water at all. Soon the fish stockpile ran out. Desperation set in. And all the while the Emperor did nothing. The High Council did nothing. And the high priests did nothing. So the penguins rebelled. Overthrew the Holy Penguin Empire and tossed the government officials into the ocean.
     A few days later a spaceship appeared and took all of the penguins to safety. The end.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Cruel Mistress Time

With a stressful semester blending into busy summer, writing has been a challenge recently. So my lovely girlfriend and I decided to turn it into an actual challenge. A prompt is handed out and work must be returned. No exceptions. The goal is simply to write, without overthinking the exercise, and release what you come up with, regardless of quality.

Structure: Elizabethan Sonnet (For the record, iambic pentameter is difficult...)
Inspiration: Salvador Dali's The Persistence of Memory

Cruel Mistress Time

Before the clock struck six the ants awoke
Sun’s light, that rude alarm, unceasing chimes
Cruel mistress day, with overbearing yoke
Reminding them their time is only time’s.

Once-shadowed lands with desert pallor glow
As pools of murky ether onward loom
Sight, touch, and memory lost long ago
Our knowing friends their bury’ng ground assume.

Wicked heat, long death, runs into pale black
Incarnate symbol brings welcome relief
At six again the melted clocks go slack
Ants trudge along, evinced without belief.

For who created time, time does control
All chained to timeless master, absent soul.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

First Try

(Scene opens on a man, sitting alone, typing of his iPhone. You hear the tapping of the ‘keys.’) 

MAN: Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there. Shit. No - Sorry, I’ve just met you and already I’m lying. I did see you there. I saw you almost a whole minute ago. How could I not? I’d recognize that backpack anywhere. It’s the one that rests three rows back, four chairs over – always propped up before I come in. Not that I’ve noticed…or anything. So no, I did see you there, but I’m pretending to do something important on my phone so we don’t have to do that thing where we see each other in the distance and then spend the next thirty seconds trying to figure out if we’re going to: A) Stop and chat B) Nod or say hello or smile at each other but keep walking C) Call the wave enough and astutely avoid eye contact. The problem is that I’ve never met you. True, I can recognize you by your backpack and true I’ve spent every Tuesday and Thursday between 2:00 and 3:15 sitting five feet away from you. But we’ve never actually met – I think they used to call it being formally introduced. The other problem is that I think you’re really smart. And talented. And beautiful. And you have an absolutely stunning voice and total command of any room you’re in and an ability to articulate your thoughts that rivals anyone I’ve ever met and…which intimidates me. All of which is why I’m opt for D) Staring intently at my phone. That way, when you walk by, I can pretend to glance up and smile at you. Surprised to see you. But without that awkwardness. And you can just keep walking and I can just keep sitting here and we can both feel like we’ve fulfilled out societal obligations for the day.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Not So Triumphant Return

You see her everyday in the hallway. You pass him on the front lawn after lunch every Tuesday. They wave. We nod. Always smile – never stop to talk.

On the first day next semester, she walks into your first class. He sits down next to you in your second. How do you say hello to someone you’ve seen everyday for a year and never asked their name?

 I don’t know how to come back to a project that I’ve left fallow for so long. Do I apologize or allude to the absence or do I simply ignore it and begin where I left off those many months ago? I’m not sure what the best option is, so I’ll try to hit all them as I work my way through. First off, let me apologize for the dearth of posts this past year. It has been an absolutely draining two semesters. Between an overwhelming lack of time and surprising lack of motivation, I have forgotten the promise I made myself to write. And so I stand humbled before you – as I once again resume this.

Here I am ignoring it. It’s good to be back.

A Final 'Update By Position'

We’ve been tech-ing all year 
With our lights and our schandles 
We’ve built many sets 
Without too many scandals 

You’ve accomplished great things 
You should all be quite proud 
Roofs tied up with strings 
We were certainly wowed

There was an embassy room 
Full of Communist trimming 
And a shop with perfume 
And new dimmers for dimming 

Tech tables galore 
That are soon to appear 
We even painted the door 
Though that took the whole year

We have spent all our dough 
And the season is through 
So there, now you know 
We’ve been Board 162