Trip

A Last Weekend to Remember

 

Bray Head

 

 

Image via Wikipedia

And yes, I do remember it! Does that set the tone for the rest of the post or what??

Anyways, allow me to get to the story.  Friday last, I had taken the day to work from home.  I did some writing, worked out a bit of my reports and the like when not tending to the feast I was preparing.  Scott and Lauren were off to their friends in Wexford for the weekend leaving Alison and I to our own devices in the apartment.

We had decided to do Powers Court Gardens in Co Wicklow on Saturday and Ryan would be coming too.  Due to bad weather, the call was made to push it all back to Sunday which was fine with me.  Unfortunately, they changed their mind at 8:30 in the morning and I wasn't so much interested in getting my butt out of bed on Saturday morning.  So they set off on their own adventure but I wanted some fun myself.  So begins the epic day that followed.

I decided that it being my last weekend in Ireland and all, that I would go out and do a marathon of the Porterhouse pubs.  There are four in Ireland so they would be my stops for the day.  The furthest away was in Bray - about an hour's journey on the DART (commuter rail) south of the city.  I arrived in town and wandered around until I was able to find my way to the pub.  It was a bit of a cave - dark with red lights to shed some light without making it bright.

I sampled their Porterhouse Red Ale while reading their little primer on the different types of beer and how they are made (Did you know a Lager is a "bottom fermented" beer?).  I followed that pint up with a glass of their Porterhouse Plain Porter - so clean and smooth.  The whole while Seamus, the bartender, and I had struck up quite the conversation.  We were watching the rugby and chatting up the waitresses while sharing favorite brews and stories of the good 'ole days.  After those were down I took my leave and decided to hike the big hill with a cross on it at Bray Head.

Let's just say that it was an hour or so later of walking that I noticed I hadn't come across a trail head and was making my way around the far side of the hill.  Clearly, I had missed the boat on this one.  Oh well - it was a good 10km jaunt to the next town over by way of a gorgeous seaside trail.  After chatting up an old Irish fellow at the DART station, it was time to head back to Dublin City Center.

Upon arrival in the city I grabbed some food quickly and took note of the abundance of goth kids running around in their black, metal addorned clothing.  One group rolled into the restuarant basically carrying one girl.  She couldn't hold herself up let alone keep her head from flopping onto the table with flexibility that would make Gumby jealous.  Being the concerned citizen I am, I made sure to tell the Guarda so she could get some medical attention (either on the verge of alcohol poisoning or had some serious drugs in her) and it was only about half six at this point.

To Porterhouse Central next where I ordered a Temple Brau - tasty for sure.  More rugby to be seen and at that point I noticed another guy watching the match by himself.  Side note -the match was international rugby for the Barclays cup and was being played in Chicago.  Jeff, the guy's name, was a financial planner working for a Boiler Room sort of company and had dreams of going out on his own.  Anyways, we talked a good bit and when he said he was home to the wife and kids I took my opportunity to part ways and head to the second to last Porterhouse in Temple Bar.  Of course, it was on Jeff's way so he came too.

Now, mind you that I'm a responsible adult and all that but I felt rather uncomfortable with letting this guy buy me a couple pints.  I didn't think that he was going to drug me, nor was he trying to take me home.  To me, it was more like the guy wanted someone to drink with and since I was "on holiday" (as he put it) I wasn't allowed to buy a single drink.  This was new territory for me.  I've never had someone else buy me a drink that wasn't later reciprocated etc... I guess when you're as cool as me you've got to get used to that (HAHA BIG JOKE).  He introduced me to an excellent Polish Strong Beer - Okocim Mocne (7% ABV) that was absolutely tasty.

To Temple Bar we go where he again refuses to let me buy a round for the two of us.  We siddled up to a table and enjoyed some modern Celtic music - very cool.  They had all sorts of traditional instruments alongside guitars and drums.  A very interesting sound.  Speaking of instruments - I've made a promise to myself.  If I can teach myself to play the guitar this summer and stay at it, and really dedicate time to it as I've been neglecting to ever since that day mom and I got my Dean Exotica.  If I can do that and really be true to it all, then I'll buy myself some uilleann pipes because I've been absolutely taken away by their sound and their songs.

From Porterhouse Temple Bar, Jeff steared me to the Brazen Head - Dublin's oldest pub situated on what would have been the outskirts of old Duvlin - the Nordic settlement.  He got the Guinness and I got the seats.  We ended up sharing a table with a Montreal transplant and a migrated Limey.  They were good fun though it was a bit odd when the lady was probing to see if Jeff or I were cops - she wanted to light up a joint right there in the open air bar... which she did.

From the Brazen Head, I took my leave from Jeff - good luck to that merry soul.  Thank you for the pints, my friend.  I met up with my old roommate from UCD, Fergal.  It was his last night in Dublin before heading back to Luxombourg with his family Sunday morning.  After the hellos and a bathroom stop at Burger King on lower O'Connell, we headed our way to the Porterhouse North.  It was the first time I had walked through the North Side - definitely an experience.

Upon our arrival at Porterhouse North, I walked in no problem despite my cargo pants and hiking boots... and Fergs was stopped immediately even though he was well kept (for him at least).  I love not getting carded - it'll be a real change when we get back to the States.  This time around I ordered myself the Oyster Stout, a beer that I had sipped before and could actually taste the seafood - GROSS!  This time around, it was great but I'm not sure whether that was something to do with my current state or if my taste buds had really just changed that much.  Oh dear it's going be interesting to come back to the States and the crappy beer etc etc.

Anyways, the cap of the night came next.  We headed out the back of the clubby pub to their patio since it was a nice night out.  Almost as soon as we sat down at a table, a bit of a fight broke out right behind me.  Anyone who knows me well knows I'm very protective and can act like the security guard.  Well before I knew it I was on my feet holding this drunk back so he wouldn't pummell this much smaller guy.  When said drunk started to try to hit me I decided it was time to put an end to it.  I told the guy we were going down and I *gently* brought the guy to the ground and *lightly* put my knee on his back to keep him from going anywhere.  The bouncers came in as I was getting a good round of applause and they took care of boucning then entire group.

I had gone back to my beer when a LARGE black bouncer was coming towards me.  All I could think of was theat he was going to bounce me for taking the drunk down and that I'd not get to finish my drink :-( sad thoughts, I know.  Quite the opposite, the bouncer told me to talk with the waitress and that she'd take care of me for the rest of the night.  Needless to say, I buy another drink that night - completely not expected but whole heartedly appreciated!  Thanks, Porterhouse bouncer!

So for an entire day of travel, food, drink, and fun I had spent less than 20 Euro when I ought to have spent at least triple that for all the craic that had been had.  It was an amazing ni Fergal and I capped it off by taking one last photo before parting ways and then I headed north and walked my ass home.  I would say it was a learning experience and a confidence boosting night - I couldn't have asked for a better Saturday.

So back to work - I have the reseach report for work, a presentatifo them as well.  Then there is that journal entry thing that I need to do for BU as well as their research report... this last week has inevitably come down to crunch time as it usually does with me.  I need to learn how to plan this stuff out better!

 

 

What Is the Taste of Dublin?

Coffee Press 

Image by QuintanaRoo via Flickr

Yesterday was an interesting experience.  Not only was it thrifty Thursday, it was the night of the Tastes of Dublin festival.  It was absolutely amazing.  Basically, round up every *decent* restuarant in the city, grab a bunch of international beer distributers, and then pile on some wine and you'll have an idea of what we had going last night.

All day, we were preoccupied by the prospects of a night filled with music, food, drink, and friends.  I definitely was not up to my usual efficiency master ways.  This particular festival happens to be rather popular and has sister programs all over the place - Tastes of Cork happens to be in the next few weeks.  In any event, the office hired a few taxis to bring those adventurous souls over to the Ivy Gardens (GORGEOUS) where the festivities kicked off at 1700.

Upon arrival, we were ushered through a hedgerow of ivy, weird how that happens, which then opened up to an entire hidden world of food and beer... oh yeah, wine too.  Starbucks employees with french press coffee greeted us (they ground the beans so fine that there was silt in my coffee - big time bummer) and a band of pretty girls were handing out the Evening Herald.

Our first instincts were to go around and get the lay of the land while waiting for the rest of our mates. We wandered about seeing everything from cocktail jugglers to horrible bands in gazebos to Vietnamese food all over the ground.  Finally, the rest of the lads showed up and met us in by the ivy entrance.  It was game time.

First stop were the liquor vendors tasting their wares, then a few of the younger guys and I decided it was time to taste the Sake - a first for me.  Three glasses later, I felt like I had transported into a world of cultural food.  We went touring the globe stopping by India for some of their tandoori chicken and then to Lithuania for cider, lager, and weissbeir.  That was a tasty stop - we came back numerous times since the owner seemed to like us a lot.

After a bit we moved into the other areas of the festival - we had only scratched the surface so far.  I ventured through restaurant row  and passed up a chance to eat Gordon Ramsey's food - he's the chef that yells at everyone in Hells Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares (both are favorite tv shows these days).  It was the fillet of beef that won from a vendor that escapes my mind at this moment.  From there we ventured to the Jameson tent where I had my first measure (really was half a measure I suppose) of Middleton Extra Rare - that's 150 Euros a bottle, friends.  All I can say is YUM.

A stop at the chef demonstration tent nearly threw me into a slumber but a wafting scent of barbecue led to me to the Viking exhibit where they were showing off the newest in outdoor kitchens - basically a kitchen on wheels.  A stop for some Magnums follows before we decide to find the rest of the lads.  They hadn't moved from the Lithuanian beerhaus... figures.  I grabbed them and we moved out in search of something.

In the mean time, I was introduced to premium import beer.  An deluxe importer called me over and recommended a Belgian strong lager after interviewing me regarding my beer tastes.  I believe he described the beer as something that would "kick me in the face with flavor" but still allowed for easy drinking.  Needless to say, 10% later, I was happy.  More food followed a better band at the gazebo (are you getting the nomadic nature with which we conducted ourselves?) before finding a mojito tent.

Now, for having been told that Americans can't drink, I think I did pretty well.  Considering that my Irish coworkers had partaken of the same beverages as I had, they were borderline "Will Farrell" as they put it while I was well within my limits.  More food and a stretch amongst the gorgeous fountains laughing and having fun with the entire gang preceded our made dash to the wine tent as we only had mere minutes before that all closed.  That was a mess - angry vendors turned up their nose at me when I came to their tables genuinely interested but toting a plastic glass (their dishwasher had apparently broken).  In any event, we ended the evening well enough and I took a stroll back to the office by way of the quays at night.

Absolutely fabulous evening with the work mates.  The second best part was that my ticket was reimbursed!  A whole night of Irish entertainment on the cheap - my kind of night.  For those of you reading and worrying that all we did was drink... well we did a lot of that... BUT I've removed a lot of the hanging out times since it was rather passive.  And no... I was not "wasted" or otherwise - just jolly and warm.  Mom isn't going to like this post...

A Weekend in Paris

Well well well - another update for another trip.  This time it was a long weekend in PARIS!  What a gorgeous city.  I have to say that it was probably one of the prettiest city that I have traveled to thus far this semester if not ever.  It was after class was over on Thursday afternoon and a team meeting at the same that I boarded the Air Coach en route to Dublin Airport.  No worries and an easy transit through security - surprisingly so.  However, once I was given the gate assignment, I noted that it was in a different terminal.  I headed out to the place where I was supposed to be a noted that it seemed like a commuter terminal, no jetways but rather doors that opened out onto the tarmac.   Anyways, I found food and drink and found a seat to just cool my heals before we took off.  On the plane, I was seated next to an Irish couple heading to Paris for a vacation.  We spoke about what to do, practiced our little French and compared notes.  They were so cute. Upon arrival at Charles de Gaul airport, I thought I had stepped into a pipe dream.  There were not the normal sorts of straight walkways that we are used to in the states.  Rather there were moving sidewalks that dipped up and down as if it were an ocean swell that we were transiting.  All the while, the path was in these huge tubes with concrete walls - it felt like I was in a cave spelunking or something.  Once into the central terminal, it was through passport control (so many stamps now!) and into what they called "tube central."  The atrium was literally something out of the game chutes and ladders with tubes crisscrossing through the center.  It was so weird but I was able to find signs that pointed to the rail line that headed into the city center.

Onto the shuttle train it was and towards the RER (their version of a commuter rail I guess) station and trying to figure out their system of ticketing.  I opted for the unlimited pass that would let me get onto pretty much anything anywhere any time just because I didn't want to have to deal with that sort of stuff while also trying to navigate and translate my way through the city.  That first night, I made my way alone into the Montmartre (sp) area on the North side of the city and into my hostel for the night.  The only other BU person was in the city on the opposite side staying with a friend so I would be alone at the hostel for two nights before setting myself in with the other BU people that would arrive on Saturday.

Friday started bright and early as the Australian pair, whom were staying their last night in Paris at my hostel (they had been on the road for 2 months then) got up at 0-dark-thirty.  To my glee, there was breakfast waiting in the downstairs for me - croissant and crusty roll with coffee and OJ - I headed out into the city knowing only that I needed to meet Nicole at the Eiffel Tower at 10am.  My plan was to hit the metro over to the Arch du Triumph, which I did, and then walk into the city from there.  It was really need to see all these places that I had seen photos and videos of but now in the flesh.  Onwards into the city, I went and moseyed in towards the center seeing Parisians going about their normal morning.

Nicole made it out to the tower just a bit later after getting lost on the C-Line of the RER (I do not blame her that line is CRAZY with odd end points and routes).  We opted to save some coin and walked up to the first level of the tower, grabbed a quick snack, and then pushed on to the second level.  Photos all around then found out how to get to the tippy top.  The weather could not have been better - clear and relatively warm, minus the wind.  We finally got into the HUGE line for the top stage elevator then it was on our way up!  Hopefully you do not have a fear of heights and in the back of my mind, I was trying to remember that I am planning to jump out of a plane this summer...

Anyways, we hit the top and walked around taking photos as we went.  Somewhere up there Brian and my mother become engaged and on thinking that, I saw a couple seal that deal right there as well - very odd but I took the opportunity to get on a knee for Nicole and ask her to take a photo of me.  You should have seen the looks on people's faces when I said that - haha!  After getting down, we walked around the park adjacent to the tower, took the obligatory photos, and then headed out for more adventure.  The next spot would be Notre Dame Cathedral and oh, goodness it was beautiful.  From the outside to the inside, it was absolutely amazing.  History, stories, meaning, beauty all coming together.  I lit a candle within for my family and friends so I hope good fortune reaches you wherever you are.

After the cathedral, it was to the Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxemburg Gardens) where we actually spotted David Letterman with his son, publicist, and personal assistant.  It was SOO surreal to see him there, totally unexpected.  I did not know where to place his face but I knew it was from US TV back home so I started to go through shows that I knew and I finally realized it was David Letterman with a salt and pepper beard.  Too funny.  Once we had had enough sun, we moved towards the Louvre where it was going to be a student's night with free admission with a student ID.  It was a lot of fun to see the old and impressive stuff.  We saw the naked lady without arms - very famous, old cuneiform tablets, the Mona Lisa and so much more.  I was definitely disappointed that the real thing was so small and unimpressive - not to mention the room was completely different from the movie, The DaVinci Code.

That night we headed back to Nicole's friend's place at Cite Univeriste and had a cool little family dinner with parents and friends.  Then I made my journey back north to my hostel for a night of annoyed sleep.  Some drunken bitches rolled into the hostel room at 2am and not only turned on all the lights but were like yelling to each other.  Of course, they were American.  I bit my tongue while they were getting ready for bed but when they continued to yell at one another from the opposite sides of the room, I had to say something.  Needless to say, they shut up really fast - I also adjusted my wake up time to be up showered and out before their alarm even went off.

Saturday started much the same way as Friday but I then ventured through the city on my way to Gare Du Nord (The North Train Station) where I met up with Nicole, Parker (her friend), and Parker's mom and aunt.  We tried to find a train to Giverny, Monet's home, but there was not anything from that station - we found that it was on the other side of the city where we could make it out to the gardens there.  We trucked and barely hopped on the train as it made its way out of the city center.   I caught up with Lost on my iPod while on the train - much fun.  Upon arrival in Vernon, we boarded a bus to get us to Giverny and we set ourselves loose on the small town.  We devoured some delectable crepes at a small hotel/b&b before heading into the house and gardens of Monet.  I took MANY MANY photos of flowers and really got my artsy on.  With someone's suggestion, I have been trying to find marketable photos that I might be able to print and sell at some point in the future.  Check out the Flickr feed for more of those.

That night, I wandered the streets of Paris after moving my stuff from Le Village to Le Montclaire hostels.  Starbucks and all the rest of the American fat machines were around.  After a brief dinner, I thought it would be a good idea to walk down along the Seine... well that was sketchy but I managed to navigate the stone boardwalks without getting mugged.  I had a really good talk with a close pal, a long think while making my way from Notre Dame over to the Eiffel Tower.  I snapped a couple fun night pictures of the tower just before and during the "sparkling" that happens late at night.  That was really special for me.  Along the way, I got a call from my softball pals that were in and we met up along the Seine and headed back towards the hostel by foot.

The next morning we (softball pals and I) trekked our way out to Versailles.  WOW - that was an amazing experience.  I do not think I can remember any buildings that are that old and that HUGE!  Unfortunately there was a ridiculously long line to get tickets and then to get into security and to get into the halls.   In the face of that, we headed around the back to the gardens.  Let us just say it was just like the paintings and all the books - expansive gardens, trees, shrubbery, grass, lakes, ponds, fountains etc... it was perfect.  We wandered snapping photos all along the way.  Tucked away in one of the maze gardens was a café where we pickets up from paninis and that amazing ice cream that you just can't get in the states.  More wandering and more photos ensued before we retreated to the train just as the bad weather rolled in.

It was a chill night that followed and then the next morning I had an uneventful trek back to Dublin.  Sorry for the super long post... I sort of got away from myself.  Hopefully this means my writing spirit is back and I will be able to keep this guy topped off a little bit better.  Thanks for reading!

I went to other places over spring break

Sooo I've not been good about keeping this up to date over the last while so allow me to tidy this one up. After leaving Amsterdam, Grace and I flew into Barcelona and made the most of that city.  It was so cool to be able to use a bit of my limited Spanish.  We toured the city looking at the normal touristy sites but also did a tour of Gaudi architecture.  This tour culminated in a walk within the walls of La Sagrada Familia.  Absolutely BEAUTIFUL!!  Go to the spring break collection on my flickr site - http://www.flickr.com/photos/nalgene1080 for more looks at this place.

After leaving Barcelona, we met up with Grace and my friend, Sarah, and rented a car (with GPS) to drive south.  Our first day on the road we made it into Alicante amid explosive festivities - literally.  People were dropping firecrackers all over the place in celebration of the Las Fallas festival.  Basically, the neighborhoods of Alicante build these large statues and scenes out of very flammable materials.  They party and celebrate all through Holy Week and then they burn them on the last day of the festival - we were there for that night.  We met up with friends of friends in the city and they showed us around a bit until we retired to our car and slept in a parking lot, in the car, for the night.  That was enough for us because the next day we found a place to sleep in beds.

< ![endif]-->The next day we walked around the parks and museums of Alicante before pushing on to the beach and then off to Valencia.  We saw the sites as best we could whilst there and enjoyed a relaxing night.  The next day we took in the beach and scenic vistas and even toured an old Moorish fort atop the highest point of the city.  It was absolutely gorgeous to look out over the entire city as well as the beach.  It was definitely the nicest weather we had had all week.  With heavy hearts we headed further south to Granada.

< ![endif]-->

Granada was where Grace had been studying for the semester so she owned the town.  We stayed with a friend of hers in a very nice hotel.  Absolutely a gas.  We went out that night and sampled the local haunts, namely the tapas bars.  Granada is the only place around that will give you food with every beer you order - it was tasty too.  The night wore on meeting up with friends and new people until eventually we made our way back to the hotel.  The next day, we played it cool touring the city a bit and getting a beautiful glimpse of the Sierra that looms high above the city center much in the way that you'd imagine the Alps would in Switzerland.

With heavy heart, I departed Granada the next morning en route back to Dublin.  I thought that I might MIGHT be able to get onto an earlier flight into Heathrow so that I could get a flight back to Dublin before the night was out... unfortunately that definitely didn't happen.  On the other hand, I rolled into Malaga not knowing where the heck I was going from an hour and a half bus ride from Granada.  Being the inventive guy that I am, I went to the rail station nearby to the bus terminal and was able to navigate my way on the light rail system out to the airport.  This too was in vain as I found the British Airways office closed for a 4 hours making my attempt for moving up my flight a 6.5 hour wait in Malaga Airport.  I read my books, did some work, listened to podcasts, watched some shows I had on my iPod while waiting, trying to be productive.

Finally, the time came when the desks opened and we could get through security.  I ended up meeting a graduate student from George Washington University in line who had been out traveling and learning more about the culture.  He was an international marketing strategy guy - very interesting to talk to.  We chatted and met up after security and have kept in touch since.  That night was a horrific overnight in quite possibly the worst terminal ever.  It started with a sleepless night in an ice cold terminal wing - the Brits didn't want us near the shops so they herded us into one wing that was sooo very cold.  It was awful but I ended up meeting a nice old man that told me his life story around 3am.  I has some calls from friends and family around the 4am time that were interesting (oh how I love time changes).  At about half four, the Biometric office opened and we all had to register with them - they took 4 finger palm prints and a head photo.  This was apparently a recent security measure to control international travelers when in common concourses.

Anyways, the story ends with me getting a hassle at every checkpoint for one reason or another, not getting any breakfast, and then finally got on the flight.  Upon arrival in Dublin, they told me they had lost my bag but didn't know where it was... I wasn't really batting 500 that day.  I headed home, and took care of some of the work that had piled up and then got myself into bed for a long deserved nap.  I woke up in the afternoon to word that I had gotten the Accenture internship which was amazing and then woken up again a few hours later to news that they had found my bag.  All in all, it was a great end to a horrible 48 hours.  It was a great trip and a nice way to spend my spring break.

Amsterdam: Red Lights, Smokey Streets, and... Museums?

Well, there's a headline for you if I've ever seen one! This place known as Amsterdam is such an odd place for an American. From the get-go you're assaulted by foreign languages and strange sights but for some reason, it's not overwhelming. I flew into the city on Thursday afternoon not knowing how to get to town, how to get to the hotel, or really how to do much of anything in this new city. I made it... safe and sound. That's sort of been the theme of this trip so far - start with a goal and figure out how to get there. I'm sure there's some sort of deep moral statement floating in there somewhere but I've not found it yet. Probably something to do with having an end in sight and just working until you make it there.

So, allow me now, for a few moments, to pontificate about what it means to be in Amsterdam and how this city would never be possible in the States. First, the entire city is built for the people that live in it. Parking is about 35 euro a day so there aren't many cars around. To make up for that, there are THOUSANDS, and I mean THOUSANDS of bikes around everywhere. Every single spare space is filled with bikes locked to fences, railings, light posts, other bikes, and more. There are special lanes on every street for bikes to go through. These lanes have their own street-light system and are completely separate from the passengers. Trams are everywhere and go to every point in the city. We've yet to find ourselves lost in the city without some tram-rails sitting around nearby. It's great. All of the taxis are BMWs or Mercedes Benzs - clean, new, and expensive?

On the approach into the airport, I saw a number of firsts for me. At first it was the wind turbine farm that was off the coast. Next it was the turbines lining the major canals outside of the city. Then it was the canals themselves - they were both a great way to tour the city but also a means of travel. The Dutch have a very intricate energy plan here - something I wish we could make work for the states. On the canals, individual company lands had their own turbines - it was great! Who would have seen that coming?? States, take note.

Unavoidable when talking about Amsterdam is a discussion of the Red Light District. This was something I would have called Las Vegas if I didn't know better. Apart from the rest of the city, this area of town runs along two minor canals just south east of the central train station. Here, the setting changes from the quaint cultured structures of the rest of the city in exchange for neon neon neon. Girls here, sex toys there, a whole manner of debaucheries for those so inclined. Instead of Las Vegas' street vendors shoving cards of naked women into your hand along the street, the RLD was tame with the main drags being rather tame while letting the side alleys hold the practitioners of the world's oldest trade.

I still don't know how I feel about this whole situation. My mother would probably try to understand what they do by way of "cultural relativism" but I'm not sure that I can really agree there. The streets were crowded with on-lookers. Couples, homosexual and heterosexual, old people, young people, foreign and domestic. You name it and people came to gawk in hopes of seeing something but there weren't there to partake. Much like me, these people were just walking through the RLD - something that would leave a trip to Amsterdam otherwise unfinished. Sure you saw some Johns going in and coming out, heard the taps on the windows from girls in underwear etc. It was rather uncomfortable really. But just as soon as it started, it was over. The RLD is tiny - much smaller than I had imagined. In fact, it didn't really stand up to any of the preconceived notions that I had. It wasn't dirty, sketchy (too much), and was seemingly safe. Police on bikes, motorcycles, and cars patrolled the area much more often than other parts of the city. Security cameras were everywhere - who knows who was working them.

In general, it shows a rather mature approach to what we Americans look down upon as dirty and depraved. When reading some of the brochures of tours etc that were given to us in our room, we understood more the Dutch attitude towards the RLD. True, they are trying to get rid of it and they will eventually. But I'm not sure if that's the best way to control it. As it stands, the whores are unionized, have structured health tests, and apparently command a good salary. One history article mentioned that it was the oldest profession in the world, exploiting the woman's power in the work-place, and how it's a job that's portable. I personally see that as a bit of a romanticised version of dealing with it but whatever. I didn't partake but I don't look on others with disgust - it's a personal thing I suppose and everyone has their reasons, who am I to tell them theirs are wrong?

Another controversial topic bubbling through the canals that ring the city center is the bit about weed... It's legal here, you'll smell it EVERYWHERE from the shopping malls, to the Irish pubs, and definitely down the alleys where the "coffee shops" make their business.  It was strange... very strange.  Being on the outside of this one, I didn't really get it.  I know in the states that weed is illegal and all but for the most part, that law keeps it off the streets.  It's not something that is EVERYWHERE.  Perhaps it's because this is one of the few places where the drug is legalized and therefore everyone comes here to partake, but it sure seems like the legalization increases the amount of people in the general populace lighting up or even having to smell it.  The widespread use of marijuana calls up some concerns about safety - aren't there a bunch of commercials in the states about how driving high is just as bad as driving drunk?  Hmm... I guess that's why they have lots of trams and bikes...?  Then there's the thought - if it's legal, can you just go out for a smoke like people lighting up cigarettes while you're at work... that's gotta be different - maybe it'd make afternoon meetings more entertaining?

In general, I'm not convinced that the States ought to bring this drug to the legal market the way it is here.  Whether it's a matter of culture or if it's a matter of details, I'm don't think the States are the place to rock the boat on this one.  Yes, we can go back to cultural relativism and the like but at the end of the day I ask myself, is this what I want it to be like in Boston?  Resoundingly the answer is no.  Unlike the RLD, which doesn't publicly affect anyone else, those partaking of weed tend to affect those around them without their consent.  It's been so long since I've walked into a restaurant and been asked "smoking or non" that I'm not sure whether I could deal with being assaulted by weed-smoke every time I went to dinner.  Maybe the food spots would like it (reference munchies) but I doubt that their profitability would outweigh social welfare and responsibility.

The last bit that makes these last two topics so incongruous is the sheer density of museums here.  Every block there's a museum, especially around our hotel.  Granted, we're living in the Museum District, but even in other parts of the city there are MANY MANY places for one to visit the past.  So far, my favorite has been the Van Gogh museum - I actually felt as though I learned something that I didn't already know and found it interesting as well.  It was great.  His works were organized in chronological order and were accompanied by stories of his life.  I can definitely say that I knew more coming out of there than I did going in.  Not just about the painter, but about what it meant to be a painter.  Van Gogh, for those out of the know (haha), was a self-taught artist.  He rejected all formal training and refused to go the traditional route.  So, he set out on his own going into nature to discover the true forms of art and how to capture them.  He kept himself in strict discipline to study only sketches and then once mastered, moved into the paint.  His career was very short - he painted for a short 9 years before killing himself (another shocker).  We could see the progression in his artwork as he was influenced by new people with whom he came in contact.  We could see his skill building, peaking, and then fall away as his life dwindled in the twilight of his life.  Disturbing but in some ways poetically tragic.

So, I sit here in the hotel lobby alone hoping that my travel companion makes it back ok tonight as we sort of did our own separate things this evening.  We leave early tomorrow morning with a 10:20 departure from Amsterdam on our way to Barcelona.  It's going to be an interesting few days to be sure.  I'll do my best to keep you guys in the loop and whatnot but no promises.  Check out the contact page for more ways to get ahold of me!

Mind the Step...

Ireland3 054 Ireland3 056 Welcome back from the break. Sorry about that, I was just crashing last night. As some may have noted on my fitness blog at http://surelybonds.blogspot.com, I have decided to start training for a marathon. Yesterday was the first day and even at just 3 miles, I was tired (we had just had 2 hours of softball practice - I am not that bad haha).

Last night, I made a couple revisions to the PHP coding of the website so now you have a date in the message feed around all of the items. I hope that this will help those of you out that were not quite clear on the dates. Sorry about that, it was part of the template I used and did not really do much modification before I left. I also posted up the article that I wrote for the Observer. Since then, they have asked me to come on board as a bit of a regular columnist in the science and technology field. Therefore, that has been kind of interesting. I submitted an article about nano-technology this afternoon - it will be posted up once published next week. In any event, I will continue here with the trip to Galway picking up with our tour of the Cliffs of Moher.

Flash back to Saturday night, there were two different camps when it came to deciding which tour company to take. One company got us back at "approximately 5:30" and came highly recommended by the hostel staff; it also was supposed to pick us up right there at the hostel. However, we needed to make it on a 6pm bus back to Dublin... The other company got us back at about 5pm but was not as recommended citing some customer service issues, was 2 hours shorter and departed on the other side of the city centre. Well, the camps were divided between the two and those that wanted to take the "better" tour knew that there were other options to get back on later buses or trains - we would just have to pay for the ticket again.

Needless to say, we ended up going to the "other" tour that got us back by 5pm because it was the safer bet and those that wanted it were not willing to compromise. I understand that but I really did not want to split the group up and I also wanted to enjoy the 20 euro that I would be paying to see the sights... Fortunately, for us, our tour was amazing. Billy, the coach driver and tour narrator, flung our agile bus around mountain switchbacks like a La Mans driver. He didn't seem to have any regard for the winding roads and charged forwards with the sort of determination a middle aged woman might have to get home when they need to pee (I remember that lmc...).

In any event, when I called to confirm the location for departure on Sunday morning, the owner/operator told us to stay put at our hostel and that he would come pick us up. Five minutes later, we were whisked away in a nice mini coach and delivered to the loading area for the main tour. I had a slight feeling that this tour was going to be better than we had heard. At this point, I bumped into a bunch of friends from the softball club that were also in the city for the weekend. We chatted a bit and then parted ways to get onto our respective tour company's buses. Our coach was not nearly full; each of us had our own row and got to spread out comfortably. This was a godsend because those of us with long legs rarely get comfortable on the cramped seats of the coaches here in Ireland.

Before we knew it, we were rushing past beautiful scenery as we headed south out of the city. It was still early and the morning fog still held the harbor but we could tell there would be better conditions to come. Our first stop would be an area known as the Burren. Billy explained to us that it was named such for the abundance of limestone rock that scoured the hills. Indeed, the landscape looked much like the alpine zones of high mountains with little more than scrub brush and grasses filling in the space between rocks. We let off some passengers at a welcome center for a preordered "walk" around the hills. I couldn't help but think of it as the Australian "walk about" where we just sort of wandered through the brush and such forth until we found what we were looking for. For the rest of us, we held on for dear life as Billy launched our nimble craft up some treacherous switchbacks and hills as we climbed the side of hill to reach a welcome center for some natural caves. Unfortunately, the tour was not included in our tour costs so I decided that once you see one set of caves, they are really all about the same. Mammoth Cave National Park pretty much got me set with all of that and the caves in Colorado Springs that we visited during basic training gave can't really be topped.

After dining on a latte - can I just say that this country is in love with its espresso drinks!? I mean I cannot get a regular filter coffee for the life of me. Instead, they hand me a café Americano and I am sorry, but that is not the same. Anyways, we left that facility passing an aviary that some researchers were trying to preserve and train hunting birds for public display. We then had to bypass the next stop because of road works - another thing this country has an awful lot going on. If there is so many road works, why do the roads still stink? I mean it really ought not to take 4 hours for us to cross this country... it's not that wide! Our backup was a spot called the corkscrew hill, which as you might guess had more switchbacks but also offered a beautiful view back down the valley. I am not sure that the pictures do it any justice because of the haze.

Next, we were dropped off at the cliffs - dropped because the city had decided to raise coach-parking costs from 5 euro to 60 euro per bus. In protest, the tour companies are boycotting the parking area. Anyways, the first thing we noticed was that the visitor center was built into the hill - that was pretty cool. The next was the odd look of built up steps and ramps around the edge of the field. It looked something more akin to the Great Wall of China rather than the dramatic landfall that everyone calls it. Ironically, the Cliffs of Moher are not the tallest cliffs in the country - they are about a third the size of those found in the northwest coastline near Ulster province.

We trekked up to the walls that contained us in the publicly owned areas. They kept us back from the edge by about 10 feet but even so, the view was absolutely amazing. Looking in each direction the site was just as majestic as the professional postcard photographers make them out to be. Craggy cliffs shaded in grey as far as the horizon to the south and a hill with a small castle to the north. Many photos and scenery shots were taken to be sure. A couple of us BU students ventured farther down the coastline and finally past the public area on a well-trodden path with a series of signs that were ironic. First was a Samaritans sign that read, "Feeling depressed? We care" and gave their helpline number. Good to know that I can call someone while I am enjoying freefall before hitting the rocks and water below. Next was a large national park style sign that proclaiming that we were entering private property. Finally, an even larger sign asked us not to go beyond that point. Well, we went past that point and with about a thousand of our best friends that day and the millions that have already gone before us, we pressed on further down the cliffs.

Now, we no longer had the fences holding us back and one false step would easily send us sliding down the mud and into the abyss below. I trod carefully. We took many more photos and had some great shots of the coast and cliffs since there were no fences to get in the way. I have posted all of the shots back up onto flickr and facebook so take your choice - links are to the right hand side in my blogroll. It was about time to get going so we headed back to the visitor center to avail ourselves of the restrooms and then headed for the gift shop (The visitor center "experience" was something like 12 euro... not happening. There were the standard knickknacks and Chinese made Irish gifts etc - we left without purchasing anything. Back to the bus for us.

We made another stop two stops on the way back to Galway. One, a nice rocky shoreline with 30ft cliffs on the edges, the other had an old castle. I think I slept through the second one, oops. We made it back to Galway in record time thanks to Billy's lead foot. We were so early that we caught the citylink bus at 5pm instead of waiting an hour for the 6. Good thing too because the bus hit traffic and made us about an hour behind schedule. It was to home and to bed that we went since all of us were about to get into bed on the bus already.

Well thanks for reading the annals of my journey over the weekend. This week I have got another article for the Observer - turned in today - a hiking trip to the Wicklow Mountains and Glendaloch on Saturday. We are also launching our private beta of my newest adventure with MinuteFix at http://www.minutefix.com where we offer community based IT support at per minute rates. If your problem isn't solved you don't pay anything. So we are off to Irish History class here in a little bit but I wanted to get this written and posted up now that I am back from grocery shopping in the city center. I hope you are all well and in good health. Thinking of you all!

Galway and Aran Islands Venture

Ireland3 034  Ireland3 003 This past weekend a rag tag group from Boston University ventured west to the far off city of Galway.  While there we would sample the local flavor, shops, the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, and ride the Aran Islands.  I stayed in my first hostel (not like the movie Hostel fortunately) and enjoyed a nice weekend away from the stressed of the town we call home (UCD Belfield/Dublin).

Galway is in many ways just like a little town in Maine known to the world as Freeport - the home of outlets galore and the headquarters for L.L. Bean.  Unlike Freeport, there wasn't any sort of huge anchor store, but much like Freeport, there were tons of little shops, pubs, eateries, classy hotels, and B&B's.  Whole streets, "shop street" for example, were closed off for pedestrian traffic only and sort of resembled the Diagon Alley of Harry Potter fame.  We explored many of these shops the first night we were there, Friday. I've come to the conclusion that I enjoy a certain measure of touristy stuff but only to a point.  I really don't like playing the tourist with camera in hand and city map in pocket.  I don't like feeling like an outsider in this country.  Slowly but surely, it's starting to dawn on me that we're here, that we're actually living here in the country and little by little I'm gravitating towards the local spots.  For the first time, we've been able to find an organic Irish session where musicians sort of show up and play great music together.  It was a wonderful time eating a late dinner while listening to some musicians jam away with a fiddle, pipe, drums, and banjo.

Saturday started early with our group getting some food before departing on a bus for the Aran Islands.  Weirdly enough, Galway itself doesn't have a ton to do, but it's a hub for all the other cool places around - the Burren, Aran Islands, and The Cliffs.  After the 45 minute bus ride to the docks, we climbed aboard a large ferry amidst the ever present haze and set off.  Upon arrival on the island, a salty 30 minutes later, there was some dispute about how we should see the island.  It was very much like the Bahamas with some vans cat calling and trying to get us to come on their tours.  We opted for the road bikes.  It would so much more intimate to see the island under our own power than to go flying by it in a van.  That said, our entire group wasn't ready for that.  Needless to say, we made it out to the ruins and the cliffs at the far edge of the islands.  Let me tell you, it's a rather heavy hit to look out from a 300 vertical drop, see the horizon and know that the next landfall would be your country.

We climbed back down to find my bike's tire had gone flat, though there is suspicion that someone had switched their bike out with mine.  Though, this would be the first of two flats in our group of 7 - I don't think they took good care of the tires...  We took the coastal route back to town and saw seals in the bay though they weren't out on the rocks as promised.  This was very disappointing but inevitable I guess. Finally, it was back to town, the sweater shop, the boat (sleeping), the bus (sleeping), and back to Galway for a nap.

The whole hostel situation was interesting too.  I had been dubbed the accommodation booker/trip leader (I wonder why?) and therefore organized all of the rooms and such.  I made sure the girls (4) were in a 4 person room with their own bathroom - this ended up being a great move for them.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get us 3 guys into our own room so we were sharing our accommodations with 3 other people who all woke up before us.  So the rule of thumb was go to bed early because the last 2 hours of sleep sucked as others would hit the shower, slam the door, rustle through backpacks and leave.  In any event, it was cheap, the place was clean and welcoming, had great service and generally didn't live up to the negative stereotypes that we sometimes hear.  I definitely think that hostels are going to be the way to travel, except for that 5 star hotel Brian agreed to pay for in Amsterdam.

I'm pooped, I'll write more tomorrow and finish this off.