Coffee

MEME: Interview Tag

Grand Canyon, Arizona. The canyon, created by ...
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It's been a while since I posted last and I've been looking for a reason, an impetus to start blogging again.  Well, my friend Jenn over at www.youllgrowtoloveme.com tagged me in an interview meme.  Of course I wanted to take part, but then I saw the questions.  Oh well - here are the answers to her juiciest questions:

1. How many times have you been naked in public? Elaborate.

I guess the first question is what is public?  I can't really remember any time that I've been out streaking or naked in public on purpose.  The only time that I remember was a hot summer day at Aquabhagan - a water park in Maine.  I was on the racing slide that goes incredibly fast and you race your friend in the lane next to you.  When I hit the bottom pool, my bottoms decided that they had had enough and slipped right off.  My times naked in public = 1. 2. Now that you've been knighted, what else is there to look forward to in life?

As amazing as being knighted has been, there is plenty more to look forward to.  I'm still waiting for "the one" - the woman that I spend the rest of my life with.  I'm still looking forward to my first job and even my last job.  I'm looking forward to having children, a dog, a family.  I can't wait to go skydiving, continue to blog and write.  I look forward to meeting all the rest of the people that will be part of the story known as my life. 3. What is your favorite sound in the world? Why?

I think my favorite sound is the complete lack of sound when I am out in the woods alone except for nature all around.  Living in the city, there aren't many times of quiet... I mean COMPLETE silence.  When my mother's side of the family went whitewater rafting down the Grand Canyon, I experienced a complete silence that was indeed "deafening."  Yes, the river burbled at the shore and the wind blew through the grass but the air was completely devoid of human sounds.  I found the quiet comforting, rejuvenating, and personal. 4. What is the best thing about women?

I think the best thing about women is that they make men want to be better men - at least when things are going well.  Have you ever noticed that a coed apartment is generally cleaner than the frat house you used to party at?  Have you ever seen the way that men dress when they're trying to impress women?  What about the man that learns about something from a woman and because they said something, they stick to the change.  Recently, my friend Rachel made a cup of tea for me while I was sick.  I've had tea before but her lack of coffee drinking and this amazing cup of tea seemed to spark something within me.  Since that day, I've forgone coffee and slashed my caffeinated beverage intake to nearly none.  Women are great - and they're pretty too. 5. How would you propose to me?

Jenn, the one who tagged me on this, loves to travel.  She went abroad while in college and was in a different city each weekend for a time.  At the same time, I have always wanted to travel with someone I love because I think there is nothing better for two people than to experience something together and make some amazing memories.  This particular trip would be throughout Europe, backpacking style.  In Paris, my favorite city in Europe, we would spend the day seeing museums, the Tower, and lounging by the river eating a baguette.  As night falls we would walk towards the Tower once more and the timing would be perfect where it flashes just as I get on my knee and ask her to marry me.

Okay so here’s the deal. It’s now YOUR turn to be interviewed! Here’s how:

1. Leave me a comment saying, “Interview me!” 2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. I get to pick the questions. 3. Update your blog with the answers to the questions. 4. Include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post. 5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you get to ask them five questions.

Even if you’ve already been interviewed by somebody, you can still play. I’ll be sure to e-mail you new and exciting questions

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...

15 Days To Go

I promise that I will write more... I promise, promise, promise.

As the headline says, our program has 15 days remaining before we leave the Emerald Isle for the harsh realities of the United States. I don't mean that to be a negative statement but rather a sobering fact. We've been in a world where a dollar means nothing, where cars run on the wrong side of the road, where it rains every day (almost). Returning to Boston is going to be a shock to our system much the same way arriving in Dublin was - but we're "normal here" (not many of us are actually normal to begin with so... I'm not sure how to put that into thought, sorry).

Our impending departure illicits a whole plethora of emotions, mostly panic. There are a mulitude of things to wrap up here before I can even think about heading home. Our internships have projects that need to be delivered (more on mine in a few), we have a portfolio and research project for BU that no one has even looked at. On top of that, I just don't want to leave. I like the abstract world that we live in. My decisions here don't necessarily have real-world impact. Allow me to unpack that.

First, our grades don't matter. They do, but they don't. Whatever mark that we earn from University College Dublin is then passed through a matrix to yield a conversion to the "American" system. That matrix tells me that a 70% is an A... you tell me if you wouldn't laugh a little bit. Euros are funny money. Long past are the days that we were converting the currency in our minds. Pints are well over $7 USD and just hopping on the bus feels like an investment (over $2.70 each way). On top of all that, I speak differently. It's sloppy, inprecise, and sort of bugs me. I'll say something such as, "Oh, he was acting like a fool, like" and my questions no longer have the proper syllabic emphasis, e.g. questions don't end with your voice being "high" we sort of put it in the middle.

Did I mention that my rambling has gotten worse? That sentence was how many lines long... geez.

The moral of the story is that we're changed but it's as if we're in a playground. Our choices here don't impact our career (in theory). Mostly, I'm thinking of my internship with that thought. I'm using this experience as an opportunity to practice being at a real internship, practice for Accenture and EMC this summer. It's actually really helpful to see what I'll be able to get away with and what won't fly even whenconsidering what the different expectations will hold. I guess it's like I get to expell all the bad habits now... to include blogging while at work (oops).

So now that the kvetching is over, let's talk shop a little bit. I've been living in another culture for so long, I sometimes forget that all of you are sort of watching this game from the bleechers. I love Ireland. Despite the ups and downs in my personal life and the various other concerns that have come up, this semester will go down in my Wikipedia page as one of the best experiences ever. I am eternally grateful to my parents, Paul, Laura, and Brian, for their unending support, latenight phonecalls (my time, not theirs) - I could not have been here in Dublin without their support.

By the way, remember that melodramatic post a while ago about needing to find that "BIG" answer... some sort of wholistic change?  Well I found it.  Let me tell you a secret - it was with me the whole time.  Basically, I got a dose of reality - some would call it a good smattering of perspective.  Not only have I finally grown to see my parents as good friends instead of those people that try to embarrass me all the time, but I've found myself.  I've found the internal value in myself that doesn't require external validation for me to know that I'm me and that's really ok.

While my world no longer plays like a Las Vegas slot machine, I can tell there are going to be many, many new adventures to be had and all I have to do is be patient for them.  Hopefully you all will be a part of that with me.  I intend to quintuple efforts for this blog between now and my return.  There will be a few post-return entries that will hopefully have some interesting stories.  Then I'll be archiving these posts into my other blog, http://www.jamesmconnors.com under their own tags so they don't disappear when the jamesindublin domain expires.  Thank you for stopping by - I hope to see you next time!

 

 

Starting A "Real" Job

I've started a new chapter in my time here in Ireland. With exams now over, it's time that I turned my eyes away from the pages of notes and stick my head into the wild world of business. Yes, that's right, I'm at my new job... internship, work placement - whatever you want to call it. I just posted up a bit on how the whole exam thing went down... very interesting indeed. I'm currently mooching my lunch as much as possible and have the entire room of the office to myself. So, what am I doing? I'm working as a management intern at Campus IT ltd. Their main offices are in Dublin, Ireland with another office in the UK. It's an interesting company - they build software applications on top of Oracle database programs and sell them to colleges and universities. The real wonder is how they can exist when the market is so small. Since there are probably as many college in all of Ireland as there is in the Boston metro zone, I would say that their market is rather small.

What am I doing here? Well, it's not computers and it's not finance either. I'm actually going to be running a research project on what makes up a student's experience. Since their market is primarily the administration of these large colleges and universities, the student experience they talk about is the one that is tied to the differing models of administrative back-ends. I think it could be an interesting project and will definitely be a good conversation piece for future interviews. My role will be lead project manager, interviewer, head researcher, presenter, and coffee guy.

In reality, though, I'll have the opportunity to stretch this oddly creative brain of mine to try new things and experiment with the way I think. Having no background in sales, marketing, or market research, I wouldn't think that I'd be a good fit for the role BUT we had that amazing thing called the Cross Functional Core Curriculum! Hurray for Boston University School of Management and your ability to make me stretch my mind further and further every year.

I'll keep you all posted on the outcomes of the research and periodic updates for sure!

Exams Are Over

I last wrote about a week ago about how studying early wasn't so much fun. Well, it's not and apparently my mind doesn't like to work that way either - early, that is. Instead of following the detailed study plans that I generated, I was much more inclined to work on the "fun" stuff. The fun stuff being my blog, podcast, personal branding strategy, networking, etc etc etc. Basically, I found every opportunity to not study that any college student would be able to manage. It was brutal... but that wasn't even the worst of it. Saturday's exam was, in my mind, going to be the hardest - the mathematical modelling for decision making. I had extensive study guides, past exam papers, notes, problems, and all the rest printed out... all for nothing. The final exam was basically the exam that the instructor had set in 2005... not impressed. I hardly had to think about it since we had already worked through it, just adjusting my work for the new numbers (he did change a couple of those).

OH! Before I forget, let me say a little bit about UCD exams. Basically, imagine a large conference hall at least two football fields in area. Now, fill that hall with 4,000 desks and chairs in rows. Now, place 4,000 students into those chairs, an "invigilator" talking over a PA system, more invigilators pacing up and down the aisles in random intervals and a dead silence. That might be about what we experienced - it was truly something out of Harry Potter.

Monday's exam was a breeze - the Management of Information Systems comes to me as if it were hard-coded into my brain, gosh I love technology! Unfortunately, this particular exam didn't get over until after 7pm leaving me scant hours before the finance exam the next day. At the same time, two of my close friends from softball were headed back to Virginia the next morning ?. It was a sad night indeed. I did, however, pop over for a while to hang out and say goodbye. I dominated at charades but was constantly killed off when playing mafia. In any event, I made it back to my dorm by mid-night and faced a tough decision. Continue to study until I was tired and then sleep for a bit or sleep now and get up really early. Knowing my night-owl tendencies, I opted for the former option working until just about 5am, sleeping for 3 hours, getting up at 8, walking to the convenience store for some coffee and breakfast, getting home, popping the first redbull of the day and then carrying on the studying.

I was furiously trying to fill my little head with knowledge all the while under the gun that I hadn't realized it was going to be so hard. After the first exam, I figured that this class would be no different... I was wrong. Needless to say I didn't feel as confident as I usually like to when it comes to exams but I was able to answer enough questions that I think I did reasonably well (plus I only needed to get 45% of the points on the exam to pass the class with a B).

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!

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!

For the Love of the Game

 Hit a homer with the Irish.  As some have heard, I'm now playing with the UCD softball club.  We're a rag tag group of Irish and international students that all love to throw oversized balls around a rugby pitch and play in the rain.  So far it's been absolutely amazing playing with these kids - they've been welcoming and sociable and absolutely a wonder to play with.  It's great that we can just play and have fun.  Yes, it's a safe and comfortable sport but there's other benefits to it.  What other game can you work out, play hard, get crazy competitive and then finally walk home friends with everyone you're with. What other sport will you play through the sodding rain and cold just to play around with your friends?  Baseball... that's the only other sport that has that sort of draw.  Some of you know how much I loved baseball in high school and the now I get to play it out with bigger balls, less stress, and more fun. 

It's also wonderfully social.  Some have described it as an excuse to drink but I've found it quite the opposite.  We've gotten together on the off days to watch rugby matches, grabbed coffee at the café, and even had a pint or two at the pub.  Unfortunately, all of my class projects are with other international students or Americans.  I don't get to meet any Irish people there so softball is amazing to get together and get out and meet people.  It's grand for sure.  We've got intervarsity games coming up in March and April where we'll travel to other cities to play their teams.   So here's to you, Mr. I love Ball and your rocking ability to get me to continue the sport I love.