WONDERFUL THINGS THAT HAVE HAPPENED IN THE PAST TWO WEEKS:
- My German class started again, with an unbeatable time table and an appropriate level of difficulty.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Christian bought me a romance novel set in Ireland.
- 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.
- 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.
IRELAND/EIRE/DARK ROSALEEN Ten Notable Memories, in Chronological Order:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 .
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.