Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Disclaimer: This Post Was Written in a Coffee Shop

Unlike other posts that just reference history, this post has history. It all began about a year ago, on December 17th, 2009. It was a cool Dublin morning, and Carole and I had just gotten off of the plane in Dublin as we were visiting Max the week before Christmas. Later that day, we made our way into town with Max. He went off to his classes and we went off adventuring. We wound up at Insomnia. In my opinion, that is probably the best name for a coffee shop. While we were there, Carole got a White Chocolate Lemon Muffin. She claimed that it was the best thing she'd ever tasted. As a skeptic, I tried it... and it was pretty amazing. So now fast forward to present day. I was talking to Carole on skype and she made me promise here that I would go back to Insomnia, eat that same muffin, and then document it in a blog post. But I couldn't just document the fact that I ate said muffin. She wanted a play by play of every taste. So I literally sat in Insomnia taking notes while I was eating my muffin; jotting down words that described what I was tasting. Now I can see how some would deem this a waste of a post, so for those of you who do not want to read about baked goods please skip to paragraph three.

So now for the play by play. First let me begin by saying that the coffee I had with this muffin was actually quite good. But we're not here to talk about beverages. So as I do with all my muffins (making seem like I'm a muffin expert), I first flipped over the... pastry? The bottom of a muffin is never as good as the top and you've gotta save the best for last. As tore off a chunk of the muffin, I realized that the cake was actually cold. Which was interesting. But the first bite gave a burst of, well, lemon. It was zesty, cool, refreshing, and pretty much every other word associated with lemons. Except sour. That'd be gross. Also, there was an intense, but not overpowering, taste of vanilla. Every now and then, the spongy cake would be accompanied by a crunchy white chocolate chip. Surprisingly, the muffin was extremely good cold. But it wasn't just room temperature, it was actually chilled. It went well with the coolness of the lemon. After I got through the bottom of the muffin, I advanced on to the muffin top. Nobody knows why, but everybody knows that, the muffin top is always better. There's just something about the... texture of the muffin. It really can't be beat.

I was going to start this next section off with the word meanwhile, but that gives the impression that me eating this muffin was a part of a larger scheme, like a plot against the Queen or an assassination attempt. Obviously, it wasn't. So, while I was eating my muffin I witnessed many strange occurrences at the Insomnia Cafe. It could be the loss of sleep... First, I noticed a bunch of old women, gathered around the door peering in through the window. They were obviously jealous of my muffin. Second, I noticed the man next to me. He was sitting alone, but for some reason he had two cups of coffee on his table. For some stranger reason he would alternate drinking from each cup. And for the strangest reason, aside from lifting the cups, he remained entirely motionless and dazed off into space. I don't know what any of those reasons were. But I'm sure that they're there. Third, I saw another student eating a muffin. And he too was writing stuff down. Obviously, he was taking notes for his blog about his not-as-amazing blueberry muffin. In all honestly, its probably really good, but nothing (I repeat: NOTHING) beats white-chocolate lemon.

Then Vikings drove by. I heard their war cry, and it was kind of scary. But there is an explanation to this. I promise. There's a "Viking Tour" of Dublin city centre. The whole tour group sits on the back of a truck (kind of like the top level of an open-air, double-decker tour bus). They drive you around all the major sights and the truck even swims. The vehicle floats and doubles as a boat as you go on the river for a bit! But the best part, by far, is what actually goes down while on the "bus". For starters, they give you Viking helmets. And as you drive through the not-so-calm city streets: YOU SCREAM!! As loud as you can. Let the inner Viking out!! So while I was enjoying my coffee and muffin, with my back to the door, the Viking party bus drove by. To further magnify their battle cries, someone just happened to open the door at the exact moment that they passed Insomnia. So just incase the coffee wasn't strong enough, the Vikings would wake you up.

So that was probably a typical day in a Dublin coffee shop. I've spent a fair amount of time in them and they're quite the centre for people watching... and muffins.

FMS

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Surprise Party

Ohhhhhh myyyyyy Godddddddd!!!!

For those of you that caught that reference, kudos. For those of you that didn't, watch more SNL. Now to the actual post. So Thursday night we got back from Lisbon, but I didn't get back home to Howth until about 11 or so. I got home, and went straight to bed. The next day was a lazy day of recovery. Definitely needed. This is where the surprise comes in. That night at dinner I found out from Max that we were going to Leanne's 21st. She was one of the three girls that came over to instruct sailing with Max last year. So I asked him when, to which he quickly replied...tonight! Obviously it wasn't a surprise party for Leanne. She knew all about it, I just found out last minute. Apparently, the 21st birthday is a really big thing in Ireland. Even though you've been legal to drink for three years, its something along the lines of coming of age. Parents usually throw a big party for their kids and its quite a big deal!

So we got ready to head out, and conveniently walked up the road to Leanne's place. We were supposed to be there at 7:30. But at 7:30 Max and I were sitting in his kitchen thinking, yeah we can't leave yet. That's too on time. So the next ten minutes dragged on. And on. And on. Then, finally, at 7:40 we concluded we could make our way up the road...slowly. We got about ten feet away from his front gate and then one of Max's friends just happened be driving up to her party. Crap. Now were only going to be a little bit late. When we got there we joined the massive guest group of...two. I hadn't seen Leanne in a while and it was good to meet Zara and Nico. So the four of us hung around while Leanne continued to greet more guests. As more people trickled in, more drinks were passed around and people got happier. Thankfully, I had the group that had been there from the beginning...because I knew nobody else. But then even more people started to trickle in, and I saw some familiar faces, Gillian and Niamh. They were the other two that were in New York for the summer with Leanne and Max. So it was definitely good to catch up with them all.

At around 11pm or so, we all got on a bus to go in to town. Leanne had about thirty-five friends on the bus, so it was pretty crazy. We got off in the city centre at the Palace night club. I had never been before, but I'd heard that the place is...quote...hoppin'...end quote. Although it may be hoppin', its also frickin' expensive. It was ten euro to get in. Furthermore, a vodka redbull was seven euro. Damn. WHY MUST THERE ALWAYS BE A PROBLEM?!?!? (Seinfeld reference? Kyle and Nicole?) Wow I am just all over these references today. But yeah it was a really great night. Niamh was running around the whole night, snapping pictures without warning. So that made things interesting. There was drinking and dancing and just good craic all around.

At around 4am, the club started to close. So, naturally, we got Chinese. Max, Gillian, Katie, Claire and I made our way across the street to Charlies. Obviously still open for all the drunks. Chicken fried rice made the best finish to a long night of partying. But considering that they all lived in the same general area, we got a taxi back to Howth. Upon getting home, I chugged some water (best pre-hangover remedy) and passed out on my bed.

Woke up on Saturday, no hangover. Awesome. Well have gotta get going, but I hope everyone's doing well!! Talk to you all soon!!

FMS

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Welcome to... the Best Place... in the World

Upon landing in Dublin after the trip to Edinburgh, Katie, Serena and I quickly got a cab back to Serena's apartment. That is where the last entry was written from. After meeting up with Laura we got back in a cab, went back to the airport, and flew to Lisbon. Safe to say, that was a whirlwind of a day. But I am now back in Howth and actually ready to tackle this "reading week". Once we got through security at the Dublin airport, we made our way to the Guinness gift shop (how Irish) to bring to Dan, our host for the week. Keeping with my usual trend, I conked out as soon as I sat down on the plane. Keep in mind that I had stayed up the whole night before too to make the 6am flight from Edinburgh to Dublin. But apparently, according to Laura, I was gone. The stewardess needed to push the cart down the aisle and she didn't see my elbow sticking out over my armrest. So, she hit it. I still slept. Laura shook my arm to wake me up. I still slept. Eventually the stewardess lifted my arm just enough so she could get the cart by. And, I still slept. When the plane touched ground in Lisbon, however, I woke up instantly. Sometimes I just don't understand myself.

Soon after we landed in Portugal, all four of us reached the depressing conclusion that we were in a country where they don't speak English. Thankfully, being tourists, we found the tourism office just outside of the passport check. Dan had told us to take the metro to the Arroios Station and that he would meet us here. That would have been easy, if there was a metro station in the airport. So we got a bus into the city centre and, thankfully, found a woman on the bus who not only spoke English, but was going to the metro as well. Epic win. We got off at Arroios at around 7pm and since we still had two hours until we met Dan, we went to go get dinner. Craving any sort of food at this point, we popped into a Portuguese restaurant just up the street from the station. Again, we were confronted with a language barrier. Using the combined French and Spanish from the four of us, we attempted to decipher the menu.  Katie and Serena both went with Salmon, and Laura and I still aren't too sure what we had. It was under the "Carne" section, and we think it was some kind of pork. Either way, it was really good. From here we made our way back towards the station stopping at a pastry shop along the way. Food was so extremely cheap, and so extremely good. It really is the best of both worlds.

A little bit before 9pm we trekked back to the station to meet Dan. We had found him through Couch Surfing, which is an online travel forum...I guess that's its technical classification. But basically, you host travelers (or surfers) for free but this also gives you the chance to surf on other peoples couches. Explaining this to some people can be really difficult because they cannot get past the image of a couch on a surfboard. Regardless, it is not as sketchy as it seems. Surfers write references and you need to have your location verified by responding with a postcard and they go through a lot to make sure this is as safe as possible. So we met Dan in the station and then walked back up to his flat, which wasn't far away at all. I don't know how this guy does it, but he started hosting surfers at the end of the summer, and he's already had more than fifty stay with him. But his apartment is amazing. It's really hard to believe that he's a student and he owns  this amazing flat. Usually Dan goes around showing his guests around Lisbon, but this was the middle of the school week. Because of this, that night, he planned out the whole three days with us. Quickly establishing Portugal as the best place in the world, Dan told us what to do, where to go, how to get there, and even a few key Portuguese phrases. After this quick lesson, the four of us turned in. We were extremely tired and needed to sleep if we wanted to see Sintra the next day.

Tuesday was Sintra day. I woke up at around 9am while the girls were still asleep. I walked out on to Dan's balcony and was welcomed with the warm weather that I had been missing for months. The balcony looks over a courtyard formed by the surrounding apartments and I was still in disbelief that I was actually in Portugal. Everyone gradually woke up and we were out the door by 11. From there we walked up the street away from the metro to a fruit stand where we essentially bought breakfast and lunch. I got two pears, two apple, a mango and some grapes for less than one euro. And it was good fruit too. We then backtracked to the station and stopped at a pastry shop along the way to further add to our meal. Laura and I both got this fried bread, french toasty thing. But it was delicious. After this we wandered down towards the station with our bags of fruit and hopped on the train to Sintra.

Right after getting off the train, we approached the tourism office, picked up a map of the village, and made our way up the street towards the town centre. Looking up the face of the hill, we were able to see both the Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle, the main sights of the town. After walking for a half hour, we quickly realized that we weren't going to make it to the top of the hill to see both the palace and the castle before they closed. So we reluctantly forked over four euro and hopped on a bus up to the top. Right as we rounded the final corner we were able to see our first stop, the Pena Palace. Although it was founded as monastery during the Middle Ages, the Pal├ício Nacional da Pena was built in the nineteenth century. The actual facade of the palace is extremely beautiful. No two sections of the palace's exterior are the same color and it takes to its historical roots lending to a very cool Arabesque style. Although it was an amazing palace, it was on top of a hill and it was extremely windy. As we were walking around the side on the balconies that surrounded the building, there were multiple times where any one of us would cling to a column or back into a corner to avoid the wind. All things considered, the wind being all things, the palace was amazing. The outside architecture was easily matched, but not surpassed, by the inside. Every room we walked through it was "The Queen's This" or "The King's That". They were obviously some rich folks living in Sintra. Hands down.

After leaving the Pena Palace we made our way a little bit further up hill to the Moorish Castle. Originally built in the ninth century, the Castelo dos Mouros was restored by King Ferdinand II in the nineteenth century. The structure is more of a fortress considering that it is comprised of walls surrounding something that could function as a village.  But the actual construction is unbelievable. The wall wraps itself around the hillside making the perfect fortification site. On a smaller scale, it actually kind of looks like the Great Wall of China. Kind of, but not really. Probably more impressive, however, is the view that it provides. When we got to the top of the tower the wind was extremely strong. At the highest point in the tallest tower (starting to sound like a fairy tale) I seriously felt like I was about to be blown away. As we were starting to make our way down to the exit of the castle, it started to rain. It is very hard to run on wet stones. They were extremely slippery, and we were running down the stairs, and it was really windy. With every step I took, I worried about tumbling down the stairs. Thankfully that didn't happen. We got down to the exit, made our way down the hill to Sintra and, of all things, got Chinese food for dinner. We were all extremely hungry and it was the first restaurant we came to.

When we got back into Lisbon, we were in for a couple of hours and then we went out for the night. The Portuguese are huge fans of the fruity drinks so this was definitely a night of those. All five of us got the same drinks because only one of the five of us knew Portuguese. Seems like a pretty reasonable plan. The three main drinks from the night, which are apparently hallmarks of Portuguese night life, were the Black Vodka Cocktail, a Champagne Cocktail, and a Chocolate Shot. The Black Vodka, I think thats what it was called, was primarily fresh berries. And a lot of sugar, then topped off with, well, blackberry vodka. I think thats what it was at least. To be perfectly honest, I have know idea what went into the Champagne Cocktail other than Champagne. Go figure. The Chocolate Shot wasn't an actual chocolate shot, but a berry vodka out of a chocolate shot glass. It was pretty amazing. So in addition to a one euro beer, the night out in Portugal didn't surmount to much at all!

Wednesday was the day that Serena almost got stuck in the metro doors. But more on that in a bit. As per usual, we had our breakfast of cheap fruit and fried french toasty cinnamon sugar bread. Soon after we made our way back down the main road towards the metro station. That is where things got complicated. As we were walking down the stairs to the train, we see the train pulling in. Obviously, we legged it to the doors. This one person was forcing the doors open for us so we could make it in time. I got in. Laura got in. Katie got in. Just as the doors were closing, Serena got stuck. I didn't realize what had happened until we heard a loud scream and then we were prying the doors open to fit her and her bag through. But we finally got her through. Having survived this experience, the train pulled away from the station and we were on our way to Belem. We changed trains in Cias do Sodre and there we had an epic picnic lunch on the platform consisting of a one euro loaf of bread, and a fair amount of cheese for only two euro. Again, epic.

We finally got to Belem and started to make our way down the main boulevard. Across the street we saw the monastery that we knew we were gonna see on our way back, so we didn't fuss over pictures or anything of the sort. The first actual monument we came across was the Discoverer's Monument. This is an amazing sculpture that has carvings of all these Portuguese explorers and advocates of Portuguese imperialism. This is also where we started to get artistic with our pictures. With the sun in the background, we took countless pictures of each other trying to obtain a black silhouette in all these random poses. This was another dangerous moment, for Serena again, because she almost fell off the side of the pier into the water. She and Katie were doing one of those jumping pictures as those black silhouettes. She lost her footing when she landed and almost fell into the water. Thankfully, some quick feet saved her from going for a swim in the Portuguese waters. We proceeded down the side of the water towards the Tower of Belem, a sixteenth-century fortress designed to protect the banks of the river. We took more of the silhouette pictures by the tower, but because we were too late we couldn't actually enter the tower itself. Disappointed, we made our way back down the boulevard and to the train station to get back to Lisbon.

Our final day in Lisbon started like all others did. Fruit and bread. From the Arroios Station, we went to the end of the line and got off at the Lisbon Oceanarium. As the second largest in Europe, this venue is pretty amazing. In the centre of the building there's one giant tank that has all of the common fish, but then there are four surrounding areas for each of the four oceans. The penguins were an obvious highlight for me. But then the cool part about each of the four subzones was that when we went downstairs we would see under the surface of the water. So not only would we see the penguins chilling on the rocks, but we'd see them rocketing through the water. After the epic visit to the aquarium, we stopped at the market for another two euro lunch of not only bread and cheese, but salami. We're moving on up. This was our last stop on our way to the Lisbon airport. Although I'm missing the warm weather and cheap food, it is definitely good to be back home in Howth!!

Whew that was a lengthy one. Hope every thing is going well with everyone else back in the states! I'll talk to you all soon!!

FMS

Monday, November 8, 2010

Go Jump in the...Loch?

Actually don't. Nessie might get you. So picking up back from where I last left off: Max's party. People were staying the night, don't drink and drive, so the shindig went pretty late. Now to the interesting plot twist. I was flying to Edinburgh on saturday morning. At 6am. So, quite obviously, I didn't sleep. The taxi arrived while everyone was partying away at 4am. This began an epic weekend in Scotland. Surprisingly, considering the state of my condition, I made it to the gate perfectly...in my opinion of course. Thankfully I ran into someone I actually knew at the gate, Ian from Cork, and that made the journey far easier. Not saying I was the best travel buddy though. The moment I sat down on the plane, I was out like a light, half expecting to wake up hungover in Edinburgh. Despite my predictions, I woke up just fine and Ian and I took the airlink bus to the city centre. From there, we climbed the main hill towards Edinburgh Castle and our hostel. When we walked in at 7:30 am, we signed in at the front desk and were told to drop our luggage in the storage room and chill out in the common room until a civilized hour. Then we would be given our room assignments and we could meet up with everyone else. Of course we went exploring in the hostel. We just happened to walk by an open door and saw Ben, another Cork friend, inside. Further pushing the door open, we saw everyone else waiting for our arrival.

After reuniting, we all made our way down to the Elephant's Head Cafe for breakfast. It was a nice little establishment just off the Royal Mile. Their coffee was good, their scones were amazing. Oh and also, this was where J.K. Rowling generated her ideas for the Harry Potter plots that we all know and love. So that was extremely exciting. But after breakfast at that literary landmark, we made our way up High Street towards the Edinburgh Castle, home of the Scottish House of Stuart. While we were standing in line to enter the castle, I overheard some of my friends talking about Bloody Mary and her life in Edinburgh. Now I don't like correcting people, but I just had to. Bloody Mary was Mary Tudor. Mary Queen of Scots was Mary Stuart and she lived in Edinburgh Castle. With that history mixup fixed-up, we entered through the main gates to the castle to see an amazing view of the city of Edinburgh. After taking the token pictures with the cannons lining the castle walls, we made our way into the inner castle only to see...more cannons and a giant cannon. Jessie almost climbed in, and she would have fit, but the guard stopped her. From there we went inside the actual building to see the crown jewels of the Scottish royal family which were amazing. I've never really seen a scepter up close...but man are they cool. Being pressed for time to make it to "thanksgiving" we ran out of the castle, down the Royal Mile, and found the Caves.

This weekend was a Californian invasion of Scotland. All of the UC students studying in the UK and Ireland met at the Caves for an American thanksgiving dinner. We had all the traditional stuff. Well, five of the traditional things. When you're serving over one hundred students, you gotta scale it down a bit. The dinner was fun, the food was great, but the real fun part about this day was the Scottish Ceilidh. Now in its crudest form, this is Scottish square dancing. We felt like complete idiots and we were partly convinced that the caller was making it up as he went just to laugh at us. But it was so much fun.

Yesterday, was the day of the Highlands. And a day in the Highlands is a day in the low temperatures. We were up at the crack of dawn and were out the door soon after. We boarded the bus and we were off. Headed northwest, our tour guide drove us through the Highlands on the way to Loch Ness. Before the stop at the legend lake, we made a pitstop to see this awesome cow. He was called Hamish. Sounds kinda demoralizing. But he was awesome. The mountains and secenery on the way up were absolutely amazing and I really now wish I could have hiked it. But we got Loch Ness at around three in the afternoon and boarded the cruise down to the castle. We didn't see Nessie, but he's out there. Well I hate to speed things up but we quickly drove back down to Edinburgh and were home by dinner. This morning, after another night of no sleep, I hitched a ride down to the bus station from a baker. He was delivering bread to our hostel and offered a ride...so I guess I didn't hitch it. But I caught the bus down the airport and flew back to Dublin this morning.

Well I'm racing to finish this as we are about to head off to Lisbon for reading week (or as the customs agent said: "Drink Lots of Pints Week"). I think he's right. But I'll talk to you all soon!!

FMS

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Smirnoff = Poisoned

So just to clear up the title, if you type in Smirnoff (as in the vodka) into predictive texting...the first word to come up is poisoned. Irony? I think yes. But more on that later. The past few days have been absolutely crazy and I'm really sorry I've been failing at this. But, I'm going to attempt to chronicle it all in two entries. This one will be about everything that went down in Dublin up until Friday night. So we last spoke after I found out that the witch hunt was canceled. And that was a huge let down. Regardless, life goes on. Thursday and Friday were some pretty low key to be completely honest. I ventured around Gregorian Dublin on Thursday which is a very cool neighborhood by Serena's place. Made famous by its doors. They're quite colourful. But nothing really crazy happened. I finished up my Pitti and Dati essay on Friday night because the next night was Halloween...and I didn't want to be in for Halloween. No brainer.

Saturday (aka "Halloween") began with a murder. How fitting. I went with Max and his family to the Gaiety Theater in Dublin to see Agatha Christie's play Witness for the Prosecution. Obviously, Christie's a genius. Her stories are absolutely brilliant and this really proved to be one in the same! I thought I knew the outcome and was still convinced of it by intermission...but another one of her plot twists really shocked the whole audience. I'm not gonna tell you what happened, you'll just have to see for yourself. That night, after dinner back at in Howth, Max and I headed into town for Halloween. I went as the simple lumberjack and Max, well, he unzipped his face. He bought a spare zipper and glued it to his nose and then down either side of his nose with carpet glue. Apparently its industrial, but really safe. Then, he covered his whole face with red food die. It really looked great and kinda put my burnt cork five o'clock shadow and north country outfit to shame. Even if I was wearing Tasmanian Devil suspenders.  But we pregamed with Amy at the hostel she was staying then made our way to Copper Face Jacks. With a 45 minute line to get in, we had hight hopes. And they sure were answered. The only problem there was with the whole night...the DJ didn't have 'Are You Gonna Be My Girl'. You gotta Jet. It's a classic.

Despite it being the actual Halloween, Sunday was extremely low key. Didn't really wanna risk sleeping through my class on Monday to turn in my paper. Yeah go nerd. But when its worth 40% of your grade, not even I take chances. The rest of the week, up until Friday of course, was also pretty relaxed but work dominated. I had a pretty big presentation to give on Thursday on violence in Renaissance Florence. It was surprisingly not that bad. Thursday night, Max's birthday, was a night out with family in town. We went to Wagamama's, once again, and it was amazing. And then we went to the theater (they like the theater) to see "Between Foxrock and a Hard Place". Huge and hysterical commentary on upper-class Irish society during the recession. It's about this high scale family forced to live the life of the common man and they enforce every stereotype of the snooty rich folk.

Now to the toxic vodka. As Max's parents were in Boston for the weekend, Friday was his actual party. On my way back from college on Friday, I texted Max while on the DART asking what he'd be drinking that night cause I'd swing by the store on the way back up the hill. Suggesting smirnoff, I quickly realized that poisoned is the first word that comes up when you give that sequence. Coincidence? NO. It's quite obviously an Irish anti-alcohol campaign. Haha yeah, never in a million years. Anyway, held at his place in Howth, it brought together his three different groups: those from school, those from badminton, and those from sailing. While at the beginning, and while everyone was still sober, there was clear mingling within your own group, the end of the night saw everyone mixing together. This proves one of two things: birthdays bring people together...or alcohol makes you friendly.

I'm in Edinburgh now, and I will get to that, but we're about to head off to the ghost tour. So I will touch base with you all tomorrow or soon after on the events of this weekend!!! Talk to you soon!!

FMS