April 4, 2008

I've been thinking in point form


  1. My German class started again, with an unbeatable time table and an appropriate level of difficulty.
  2. I got my marks back for my first semester: all 1's, which means all F's. Ha! Not really, that means all A's! Only downside being that these marks don't count towards my McGill GPA.
  3. Today when I went to pick up my essay from my James Joyce teacher, he praised my essay and then asked me if I would be interested in editing (!) a collection of essays (!) that is being published by the Anglistik faculty(!). *The exclamation marks are me being really excited.
  4. I got my Visa today, which means that I am officially allowed to be in the country, which is good because today was officially the last day of my three free months in Austria.
  5. The classes that I am taking this month are all interesting, but at the same time complement my able-to-enjoy-Europe time table, and also accommodate mini-breaks.
  6. Christian bought me a romance novel set in Ireland.
  7. The other day when I was biking to school past these bushes full of yellow blossoms, and looking at the sky because it smelled like rain, I realized that the sunglasses that I got at Topshop make Spring in Graz even more beautiful than it already is, and they match my bike, which I also enjoy.
  8. Spring has come to Graz, and it tastes (like Gelato), smells (like flowers and rain), looks (sharp and sunglass tinted), sounds (like people drinking coffee and wine spritzers on the streets), and feels (like lying in the park) delicious.
Having listed what is currently lovely in my life, here are the highlights of our trip to Ireland: (First, as some background information, we left for Ireland on March 13th, "we" including Christian's friend Stefan [Rody]. We rented a car at the airport, picked up the keys to Kevin's apartment, and headed off, without knowing exactly where we were going. We spent the next week driving around, back in Dublin for St. Patrick's Day, some more driving, Rody left Ireland on the 21st, and Christian and I continued to drive around/have adventures until the 27th when we headed back to Dublin for our last three days. We flew back to Salzburg on the 29th, and were back in Graz on the 30th.)

IRELAND/EIRE/DARK ROSALEEN Ten Notable Memories, in Chronological Order:
  1. Sketchiest Building in Belfast: We arrived in Belfast after having already been in Dublin, Trim, Slane, Navan, and seen ruins at Newgrange, Tara, Trim, and some round tower whose name I don't know. It had been a nice day, but by the time we got into Belfast, it was dark and raining and we didn't know where we were going. The only map we had at this point was in the front of the Lonely Planet. As we were driving along Falls Rd. (which we would later read about as the division line between Protestant and Catholic Belfast), there was a bit of confusion in a traffic circle, and our little Toyota Yaris was hit by a taxi driver. When they saw our Irish license plates, the people circling round us in the round about started heckling us, and yelling (incomprehensible Northern Irish dialect) things at our car. The taxi driver directed us just around the corner, to the "office" of his taxi company. About four or five men were standing in the dark front room, which was completely empty. In the back corner, there was a door with a sign that said "It is illegal to smoke on these premises". Behind the door was a tiny room with a plywood bench, and three men smoking and sitting in front of a tiny TV, perched beside a phone on a small desk.
  2. Giant's Causeway: After randomly spending a night in a little town called Bushmills, home to the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world, we got up early and headed to the coast, to the Irish half of the Giant's Causeway. Apart from the unique geological wonder that is the hexagonal stones of the Giant's Causeway, what makes this one of the best segments of our trip was the fact that when we got there, we were all alone. We climbed through the Irish grass, that is so long and thick it seems like its the fur of a living thing, and walked along the tops of the cliffs, bracing ourselves against the ocean winds that can (and have) swept people over the edge and dropped them (not gently) on to the rocks below. The highlight was lying on our bellies looking over the edge at the Atantic below us, safe in the thick grass carpet, with the wind slipping over us.
  3. St Patrick's Day in Dublin: As someone who has experienced not a few St. Patrick's Days, both in Calgary and Montreal, I was actually a bit surprised at how un-Irish-themed the parade was, but I guess in Ireland everything is Irish, so they don't have to go out of their way to thematize their parade. There were significantly less leprechauns and significantly more giant inflatable animals. After the parade, we noticed that compared to Montreal, the streets were pretty much dry. Despite the fact that the Irishness and public beer consumption are some of the best parts of St. Patrick's Day in Montreal, the best part of St. Patrick's Day in Dublin was definitely the sheer ridiculous magnitude of the crowds, and the sheer number of pubs in the Temple Bar .
  4. Seamus O'Conomy: After leaving Galway, we started making our way along the North West coast, towards Connemara. As we stopped at a crossroads to get our bearings, a harmless looking man crossed the road, and leaned against the window of the driver's side, asking Christian if we needed directions anywhere, or help finding our way. Closer up, he had a friendly looking face, but dirty, and smelled like whiskey, sweat, and cigarettes. He was gripping Christian's hands, and when we assured him that we knew where we were going, he asked if we would mind giving him a ride about halfway to the next town. We hedged a little bit, as we weren't actually sure which way we wanted to go, and he crossed the street and stood on the side of the road, in the direction that he wanted to go. Then we realized that was the direction that we had to go. Unable to bear driving past him, we cleared out the backseat, and picked him up. Over the next fifteen minutes, he gave us some tips about which towns in the vicinity were worth seeing, based solely on the number of pubs in each town. Once we dropped him off at his large, if dilapidated, home, we realized that we had never asked his name. So we named him Seamus O'Conomy.
  5. Abandoned Village/Inaccessible Castle: On the way from Galway to Clifden, we saw a castle on top of a hill, and decided to try and find out how to get to it. While fruitlessly circling the hill in the car, we noticed that, though there were lots of relatively modern looking houses, they were almost all uninhabited. We finally met a woman jogging along the side of the road, who told us that the castle was privately owned, and only accessible from the beach. We decided not to leave without at least giving it a try, so we parked our car at the beach and started to climb the hill. Our perseverance was preempted, however, by a tall stone fence, topped with barbed wire and TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED signs. We circumnavigated the fence almost 180 degrees, and then, flouted by bog, we made our way back to the road. As we were walking back to the car, disappointed, we noticed even more than before how strange the village was. The yard we cut through to get back to the road belonged to a fairly large Bed and Breakfast, fully furnished, but with no cars and no one in sight. Most houses had for sale signs, and newly built houses stood empty beside stone houses that looked more like ruins. As we passed one of the older abandoned houses, a dog came out and started following us. He was friendly, but from the scars across his face and the look of his coat, I figured that he had been abandoned. He walked with us a bit farther towards the beach, and chased every car that went by, so I named him "Dummkopf". Anyway, we never found out what the deal with the castle was, but I found it on google maps, at least, so you can see it if you go to the google maps link.
  6. Achill Island: In terms of singularly most impressive moments, stopping by the side of the road to take pictures on a sort of miserable day, and discovering that we were on the edge of the island, seemingly with the whole force of the Atlantic ocean crashing up against the rocks just below us is probably the number one. We couldn't tell if it was raining or if the wind was just throwing the water at us, and getting the cars doors open against the force of the wind.
  7. Aran Islands: As part of a series of excellent plans, Christian and I flew to the Western-most point of Europe. We were the only two people on our shuttle to the airport, and the only two people on our ten-seater plane to the island. Once we got there, there were no security procedures, no baggage pick up, we just walked off the runway straight to the road, and started making our way towards the town. As we were going around the cove, we realized that the tide was out, so we cut across the beach. Halfway through we met an ankle deep stream that we traversed in our bare feet, and walked the rest of the way barefoot in the sand. Once we had dumped our stuff at the hostel, we rented bikes for the afternoon and biked around the island. We started out along the eastern coast of the island, and then cut across to one of the coolest ring forts that we saw in Ireland, right on top of a huge cliff, facing what would have been the end of the world when it was built. Post-fort exploration, we spent the later part of the night in the pub that was next store to our hostel, which had a stove in the middle, and a small table right in front of it. We spent all of our time in the pub at that table, drinking either Guinness or Bailey's Coffee, like good Irish people.
  8. The Unmarked Ring Fort: On the way back towards the town, we were on the lower side of the island, which is basically a big tilted slab of rock. Christian spotted a lighthouse at the top of the other side of the island, and, after some negotiating, we headed up the hill towards it. When we got there, the lighthouse was closed, but we self-navigated around it, over fences, around sheep, and through cow paddies (which is basically metonymic for travelling in Ireland), and made our way to a second ring fort. This one was less impressive than the cliff top one we had visited earlier, but in contrast, this one not only had no admission price, but there was not even a sign pointing towards it. There were sheep grazing just outside the entrance, and it was obvious that some cows had recently been inside the 3000 year old structure. The fact that these things just stand there, unprotected from the elements, without changing was the coolest part for me. We were climbing stairs that have been climbed for that long, and we were seeing the same views as the people who built it built it to see.
  9. James Joyce Centre: Walking tours weren't available until April, and Christian had less than a lot of enthusiasm for Joyce, so our visit to the James Joyce Centre was mostly me going "oh oh" and "ohhh", but asking the guy who worked at the gift store to mark my map with places worth seeing was really cool, if only for the familiarity with which we were both able to refer to scenes from the books, which I had just finished writing an 18 page essay about. Walking past pubs and knowing that character's from Dubliner's skipped work to drink there, or knowing that one of Bloom's inner monologue's took place on the corner where I was standing was really cool for a somewhat dorky literature student. As we crossed the James Joyce bridge and ended up right in front of the house in which "The Dead" is set, I pretty much fell in love with Dublin's literary history.

  10. Guinness Storehouse: Having already visited the Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland for an authentic and educational tour, seeing the Guinness Storehouse was sort of like going to Disneyland after Heritage Park. Pretty much the only things I know about Guinness, which I knew even before the tour, are the four ingredients: barley, yeast, hops, water, which are repeated over and over in various multimedia representations throughout the seven floor Storehouse. The reason this makes the highlight list, then, was the seventh floor 360 degree view of Dublin from the Gravity Bar, enjoyed simultaneously with a free pint of Guinness, complete with Joyce quotes on the windows, each corresponding to its own Dublin setting.
This is an extremely comprehensive collection (826) of Christian's photos from Ireland. You can probably set the speed to 1 second per photo and still get a pretty good idea of our trip. Please note, using this technique will not allow for full enjoyment of the superb quality of aforementioned pictures.

February 9, 2008

January in Review

Saturday, January 5: Left Calgary with the satisfaction of having a free lunch at Earl's and the knowledge that I would soon be seeing three of my favourite people in Europe anyway. Arrived in Salzburg after the longest and more torturous flight ever, to a lovely boyfriend with flowers. When we got back to Eugendorf, we ate meat fondue with Christian's family, and then settled back in front of German TV.
Sunday, January 6: Monika, Anja, Christian, and I went to the ski jumping competition in Bischofshofen, which was really cool. It is crazy how much the Austrians are into skiing. We were pretty much the only ones there for a Sunday activity. Pretty much everyone else had been drinking since noon, and the people in the houses on the little alley that leads to the ski hill were all selling beer from their backyards.
Monday, January 7: German class started again, but I slept through it.
Tuesday, January 8: First pub quiz after Christmas break.
Wednesday, January 9: First day back at University. Sometimes it is really strange when I go to school first thing in the morning without having spoken to anybody first, because I forget that everybody else is speaking German, and spend a few minutes not understanding anything that’s going on.
Thursday, January 10: Christian and I had been planning to celebrate our Christmas when I got back from Canada, but then it happened that his gift was not entirely ready, so postponed it a little bit. We ate Christian's Montreal-Style-Pasta, and opened our presents. Christian got me a really pretty blanket to be wrapped in when I nap and The Sound of Music on DVD -- including a karaoke version, which we watched as an end to the Christmas party. The best part was being able to go "I've been there", "I've been there" for almost every scene. When my parents come visit, we are going to do the Sound of Music tour, and then I'll be able to say it for every scene.
Friday, January 11: After annoying Christian by taking a ridiculously long time to get ready, we went to Thomas's house and met up with some of his friends before going out to PPC (a bar near Thomas's house). Luckily Martina came over to Thomas's as well, or I would have spent the whole night ignorant to the fact that the boys around me were talking about whether it would be possible to regenerate the human race with only one woman and two men. Actually, though, sometimes not understanding their German is fine.
Saturday, January 12: As per our monthly tradition, Christian and I went out for dinner at one of the two Indian restaurants in Graz: the fancier one. It was delicious, but not too different from the other restaurant, where we got to have a whole room to ourselves while we ate. Afterwards, I went home to read, i.e. sleep in satisfied bliss, while Christian went to Remmi Demmi.
Sunday, January 13: Sunday was spent desperately reading Ulysses in an attempt to prepare for Wednesday's presentation in my James Joyce class.
Monday, January 14: Woke up and knew that somewhere in Montreal, Danny Wilson was turning 21 years old. Met with Manfred to perfect CBP presentation, and then went to the Ladies to read Ulysses in a heated tile chair.
Tuesday, January 15: Pub quiz, but I didn't go because, as Christian, beside me, is dictating: " I was being a Streber and stayed at home"
Wednesday, January 16: One of my most stressful days in University history. At 11:00 I had an oral presentation in my Contemporary British Plays class, on Epic Communcation Structures. The highlight was when I used the word "constructediality", paused, and then said "wait, that’s not a word is it?" to a room full of non-Native English speakers. After my CBP class, I had German from 1 to 3, and then went back to the Uni at 4 for my James Joyce class, where I had another oral presentation to do. That one didn't go as well, mostly because I was so conscious that I was blushing throughout the entire thing, that I kept blushing because I was blushing, which distracted me into stammering, so that the Austrian guy who went after me probably spoke more coherent English than I did.
Thursday, January 17: Resolved not to use my brain at all in order to compensate for its overuse in the preceding days. Instead spent a few hours browsing Ebay and reading Perez Hilton.
Friday, January 18: We were planning to have people meet up at our house and then go to a bar, but it turned in to an accidental party at our house. Our apartment is really awesome for parties because the kitchen has a bar, and the living room is nice and big with lots of chairs. The other convenient thing is that when you have parties often, people leave bottles of alcohol, and then that comes in handy for the next party that you have. So really, party throwing is just this nice, social, self-perpetuating thing, and I am glad that our apartment has become the place where everybody casually meets and ends up staying.
Saturday, January 19: Random stuff at home.
Sunday, January 20: In the morning I studied for my CBP final, and then Christian took me on a Graz field trip to the Grottenbahn and Stadtmuseum. The Grottenbahn is this little train for children that goes through tunnels inside the Schlossberg. It basically looks like a mineshaft, except that along the sides of the tunnels are dioramas of traditional fairy tales. The tunnels are completely dark, except that when you stop in front of a diorama, the lights in front of it come on. Christian told me that as a kid he used to ask to go there every time they visited Graz. I found it unbelievably creepy to think that the 40 year old doll Snow White stands in the dark with her glass eyes all the time, as did the little girl behind me who cried for the entire trip. At the Stadtmuseum we went to an exhibit on the past 100 years of postcards from Graz. It was really well done, as it was set up in a timeline so that you could see how photos of the same places changed over the years, and the postcards were hanging so that you could read both sides, which I loved. If you visit me, I will probably take you there.
Monday, January 21: Stayed home and cooked something delicious.
Tuesday, January 22: Met with Manfred and another girl to prepare for test on Wednesday, and then went to the Pub Quiz.
Wednesday, January 23: Final exam in Contemporary British Plays.
Thursday, January 24: If we did anything this day, it wasn't exciting enough for either of us to remember it.
Friday, January 25: First of many exams in my German class. Christian went to PPC and I stayed home and studied…
Saturday, January 26: Saturday was completely beautiful. I had wanted to go to Ladies and read Pale Fire while sitting in my favourite heated chairs, but I stupidly did not check the opening hours before I left, so I detoured to the Witterniggs house, and arrived just in time for the cake that they were eating for desert. After eating delicious Grandma-baked-cake and drinking coffee with Norbert and Monika, I walked to the park near their house with Anja, and we read in the sun for awhile. I read Nabokov, she read Goethe. Christian arrived a bit later, and we had dinner with the Witternigg's and then went to Martina's house where I kicked Christian's ass at Uno (not that it was hard).
Sunday, January 27: As usual, when they remember, I had a lovely webcam with my parents. There was a cool but sort of scarily bad wind storm in Graz, so, logically, Christian went up the Schlossberg despite the police warnings, and then to the Stadtpark where half the trees fell down, while I stayed home to read Pale Fire and listen to the windows shake.
Monday, January 28: See January 24th
Tuesday, January 29: Martina and I had operation "Find a Ball Dress 2008" and, after having a sushi lunch together, we did some extreme shopping at Seiersberg. Very much to Martina's credit, she did not loose patience with me as we systematically went through every single store that sold dresses and I said no to dress after dress. Finally, in the very last store, pained by blisters from trekking through the mall, we found a pretty dress for 70% off and went home happy.
Wednesday, January 30: Unlike anything that has ever happened to me at McGill, after my last Joyce class on Wednesday evening, the Prof. took the 8 other students who were there out for beers at the Anglistik faculty bar.
Thursday, January 31: I got up early and called my mom to wish her happy birthday at exactly midnight because I am such a good daughter. Went to my German class and napped (not at the same time), and then Martina and I went to get our hair cut. On Thursday night we had a bunch of people over to eat delicious Thai Curry and I divided my time between finishing my oral presentation for school the next day and socializing with our guests.

I hope that this pretty exhaustive blog post makes up for the fact that I have completely failed in my 2008 resolution to update this once a week. I will try to make February a bit more regular, and therefore a bit more current and interesting. For example, right now I am in a hotel room in Vienna while my parents sleep off their jet lag, and in three days I will be visiting Lara Branson in Prague. We have February off for the semester break, and we are travelling to Ireland for two weeks in March, so life promises to get a bit more exciting soon. I am having so much fun.