Happy St. Andrew’s Day!

Even Google is kitted out in tartan and the Scottish flag today.

Dear Scotland

Dear Scotland,

How can I put this delicately? I know that over the past weekend you received record snowfall and endured record low temperatures, but you need to pull yourself together. Three inches of snow does not exactly justify shutting down the campus cafes four hours earlier than usual. Negative 4 degrees Celsius (approx 24 degrees Fahrenheit) is really not that cold.

Let me make a recommendation. There’s this wonderful thing called a snow shovel. You use it to scrape the snow off the sidewalks before it melts and refreezes into one massive ice skating rink. After you shovel, you toss a layer of salt on the sidewalks. This makes it much easier to walk without slipping and falling on your butt. Sure, it may take a little effort, but it makes getting around a lot easier and safer for everyone.

I forgive you this time around, Scotland. I know this is new to you. But the next time it snows this much, I’d rather be able to walk on the sidewalk without wishing I had a pair of ice skates. Invest in some snow shovels and some salt. It’s for your own good.

Much love,

Megan

Jail Pictures

Sorry! It takes me so long to write the posts that sometimes I forget which pictures I mentioned and then I forget to post them. Anyway, here are the pictures from Kilmainham Jail.

Spelunking, Trespassing, and Jail: The Dublin Post

This weekend, I went to Dublin, Ireland. My journey began at 3:00 am on Thursday morning, when I had to get up so that I could catch a taxi to the bus station where I caught a bus to the Prestwick airport where I caught a plane to Dublin. After a minor hiccup involving RyanAir’s strict baggage policy and my friends’ (very) slightly oversized luggage, we arrived in Dublin’s city center around 10 am, checked into our hostel, and set off to explore the city.

First, we went to check out Trinity College, which happened to be very close to our hostel. It is a pretty neat campus. It is also home to the Book of Kells, which I learned about in my Typography class last spring. Unfortunately, it cost 9 Euro to get into the exhibition and, being the budget-conscious students we are, we decided to pass.

Next, we wandered around the Temple Bar district which is basically a huge version of Omaha’s Old Market or Glasgow’s Ashton Lane. It’s a really pleasant area to walk around–full of quaint shops and pubs. We found our way to a converted church/tourist office/gift shop where I found a rack of family crest postcards. Sadly, they were out of the Carrolls. I was really disappointed because I wanted something with the Carroll name on it, and I just redesigned the Carroll crest last spring in an effort to bolster my graphic design portfolio. I asked at the desk, but alas they were out. I didn’t really want a keychain or a pin, so I was out of luck. I guess I’ll just have to settle for this picture.

Yes, that’s right, there was a chain of souvenir shops called “Carroll’s.” They were everywhere! In fact, it was one of the first things I saw when I got off the bus from the airport. It looked like they had pretty much any Irish souvenir you could possibly want. I meant to go in and look around, but I never got around to it. Oh well, the picture will do.

Anyway, after wandering around Temple Bar, we went to check out St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It was beautiful… from the outside. We didn’t go in because it cost something like 4 Euro. Who charges admission to a church? Isn’t that sacrilegious? I’m not particularly religious, but I seem to remember a little story about Jesus and some money-lenders in the Temple…

After wandering around a bit more, checking out a couple other churches, we stopped for lunch at a little cafe on the River Liffey. Then we headed back across the river to Dublin Castle. It was definitely different from the castles I’ve seen in Scotland, as you can see from the pictures. It was a very strange amalgamation of architectural styles and colors. We didn’t go into the castle, partly because we couldn’t find the entrance and partly because (again) we didn’t feel like paying to get in. We found a free little museum right next to the castle. Oddly enough, it was a museum dedicated taxes. Yes, you read that right. They even had an interactive computer game where you had to find all the hidden contraband items before the time ran out.

Next, we went to the Chester Beatty Library where we explored an exhibition about the Shahnameh, an epic Persian poem from 1000 AD. The illustrations were incredible and the story seemed really interesting. I don’t know if there is an English translation, but think I might try to find one when I get back to the States.

After the library, exhausted, we headed back to the hostel and took a three-hour nap. The rest of the night was pretty low-key. We got dinner (pizza) and ended up back at the hostel, watching a football game between England and France. Funnily enough, there was a man named Peter Carroll on the English team. I wasn’t really sure who to root for: I love France but my pretend-long-lost cousin was playing for England. We went to bed before the game ended, but I’m pretty sure France won.

On Friday, we got up and moved to our next hostel where we stayed for the remaining two nights. Then, we went to the Guinness Storehouse. It was a little pricey (11 Euro), but definitely worth it, even though I’m not a big drinker. The storehouse way bigger and more interesting than I expected. Seven floors of displays about Guinness: the brewing process, the history of the company, advertising through the years, and, at bar at the top, the obligatory pint. Some of the highlights: watching the video about how they used to make the keg barrels, tasting barley, seeing the Carroll name on the registry of Guinness workers, the view from the bar at the top, and sampling Guinness (which I actually kind of like).

After the storehouse, we headed over to Kilmainham Gaol–the jail where the leaders of the Easter Rising were executed. It was a really fascinating place. They had a museum with displays about the fight for independence and the restoration process of the jail (which had fallen into disrepair before it was turned into a museum and historical landmark). I didn’t know anything about Irish history before I went to the jail, but the museum and the hour-long tour were very informative. I got chills when we visited the place where the leaders were executed. The Easter Rising seems like a really interesting piece of history, I’d love to read more about it. The jail was oddly aesthetically pleasing, as you can see from the pictures. Apparently, it’s been used in several movies (including The Italian Job) and U2 music videos. Overall, the jail was a great place to visit. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone visiting Dublin.

After the jail, we walked back to our hostel in the pouring rain. Made some spaghetti in the hostel kitchen for dinner. Met some other Glasgow students at a pub for chips and some live Irish music. Watched Mean Girls in the hostel common room and called it a night.

On Saturday we woke up and walked over to Merrion Park in search of the Oscar Wilde statue. After walking across the whole park, we finally located the statue only to discover that he was covered by a giant blue tarp. My friend Jess, who really wanted to see the statue, decided to pull the tarp off so she could get a picture with Oscar. She managed to get the tarp off and we saw why he was covered in the first place–poor Oscar was missing a hand. Anyway, we snapped the picture, I helped Jess replace the tarp as best we could, and we left before anyone could yell at us.

Next, we hopped on the train up to the little coast village of Howth. It was pretty cold and windy when we got there, but we walked along the harbor anyway. We got to see several sea lions lounging in the water right next to the walkway. After stopping at a little cafe for lunch (and some delicious cheesecake), we walked along the sea wall to the lighthouse. Even though it was windy and cloudy, the scenery was still gorgeous.

Jess wanted to walk down to the beach so we hopped over the wall and climbed down some rough boulders to the shore. We searched for sea glass and collected pretty rocks. The diversity of colors and shapes of the rocks was incredible, and the sound of the waves washing over the rocks was unlike anything I’d ever heard. Feeling adventurous, we decided to hike along the shore to a set of concrete stairs we saw in the distance. Climbing over boulders along the cliff-line and hopping over the numerous tide pools, we made our way to the stairs. We found a few caves in the cliffs and participated in some impromptu spelunking. We also found a small waterfall hidden behind a curve in the cliffs. The hike was sublime. I felt like I could hike along the shore forever and never get bored.

Finally, we got to the stairs and climbed up–only to discover a concrete-block wall with the words “No Exit, Beware of Dog” spray painted on it. Crap. We couldn’t exactly go back the way we had come since the tide was coming in. But we couldn’t go forward. We were about to turn back when I decided to see if there was a way around the wall. I found a little hole in the bush behind the wall. We climbed through, getting very muddy in the process, and found ourselves in someone’s backyard. We were nervous about the possibility of meeting a ferocious guard dog, but we couldn’t exactly turn back. We crept up the sidewalk to the gate (which was thankfully unlocked) and hopped over another concrete wall onto the road. We had made it out alive! The hike was a true adventure and is now one of my favorite memories of Ireland.

At that point we were pretty muddy and tired, so we hopped back on the train to Dublin. We had some leftover spaghetti for dinner and hung out in the hostel common room, watching the Ireland vs. New Zealand All Blacks rugby game. Wow, does Rugby make American football look sissy. Seriously, it’s intense. Unfortunately, Ireland lost but it was fun to watch anyway. We passed the rest of the night in the common room, hanging out with some other Glasgow students, an Irishman, and an Australian girl. The Australian was waiting until 9:30 when she could go back to the Abbey Theater where she’d seen the play John Gabriel Borkman. Alan Rickman (Professor Snape) and Fiona Shaw (Aunt Petunia) were starring in the play, and she desperately wanted to meet Alan. At 9:30 she headed out with a horde of other gawkers to go stalk Snape. Unfortunately, I never heard if they got to meet him, but I found the situation entertaining nonetheless.

The next morning, Sunday, we caught our early flight back to Glasgow and arrived back at our flats before 11 am. Overall, it was a great trip. I’m really grateful to Jess and Lauren for inviting me. If they hadn’t, I’m not sure I would have seen Ireland, and that would have been a shame. It’s a great country and I can’t wait to go back someday. Until next time…

Megan

Loch Lomond n’ More

What I should be doing right now: reading for my three classes tomorrow.

What I am doing right now: listening to a compilation of 50’s rock n’ roll that I recently found on my iTunes and writing this post.

I spent most of the past two days trying to write an essay for my Scottish Literature class, so I figure it’s alright if I take a break from studying for a bit. Okay, fine, you got me. I might have started this break about three hours ago. But whatever, I’ll get the reading done eventually. I don’t know what it is about Glasgow, but I’ve been having trouble writing essays here. I can’t tell if it’s the way the classes are structured, the fact that I have too much free time, or if I’m just getting dumber. I’m usually pretty good at writing essays, but man the last two I’ve had to write did not come easy. I had to struggle for every sentence. I really hope I can get my brain to kick back into gear soon, though, since there are only three weeks of class left and I’ve got two 4000 word essays to write. Yikes. If only writing essays was as simple as writing blog posts…

I tried to write this essay earlier this week, but it really just wasn’t working out. So when I found out my one Friday class was canceled, I decided to forget about the essay for a bit and take a short trip up to Loch Lomond. Colleen and I caught a morning train up to Balloch, a small town on the banks of the loch. It was intermittently rainy and sunny on the ride up to the loch, and we were hoping that the sun would win out by the time we arrived in Balloch. Boy were we ever wrong.

When we got to Balloch the sun disappeared, and it started pouring. Generally, the Scottish skies are content to annoy the earth with a relentless drizzle, but they also have an irrational tendency to team up with the wind to drench unsuspecting tourists. Such was my experience on Friday. We tried to wander around Balloch a bit, but the horizontal rain forced us inside. We had lunch at a little inn and tried to wait out the rain. Just as we were finishing, the rain miraculously stopped. Eager to make the most of the pause in the storm, we headed out to walk to the loch.

The first path we found was blocked by a huge puddle. I thought I would be clever and walk around it but soon discovered that, sometimes, what looks like a shallow puddle is actually three inches of squelchy mud. I’d long ago given up on trying to keep my Sperry’s clean, but that didn’t make the fact that a third of my shoe was covered in freezing mud any more pleasant. There was no getting around the puddle. Our path was blocked. We decided to cross the bridge and look for another path the loch.

We soon found a suitably-un-puddle-blocked path and proceeded towards the loch. It started to drizzle again at this point, but we pressed on. We came to see Loch Lomond and damned if we weren’t going to see it. We got almost all the way to the loch before our path was blocked by an even bigger puddle. Actually, I’m not sure you could even call it a puddle since it appeared to be connected to the river. I’m not sure if they’ve had an unusual amount of rain or what but it did look like the river/loch was overflowing.

At any rate, we had reached the end of our path. And just to top things off, it started to rain again. We quickly snapped some pictures and headed back into town. After trying in vain to find something else to do in Balloch (the main tourist shopping strip was located down the first path with the puddle), we hopped back on the train to Glasgow, soaked to the bone and happy to be out of the rain.

The trip wasn’t totally unsuccessful. It got me out of Glasgow and my mind off my essay. And Loch Lomond was beautiful, in a very wet sort of way. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in Scotland, it’s that you can’t let rain prevent you from doing things. Because you’ll never go anywhere if you do.

Anyway, I should probably go get that reading done. I’m going to Dublin with some new friends this weekend, so I should probably try to get as much work done as I can before I leave. I’m skipping three classes on Thursday and one class on Friday in order to go. I hate skipping class, it makes me feel behind, but I figure that seeing Ireland is more important than going to class. Right? I mean, that’s why I’m here, to explore parts of the world I’ve never seen. And it’s Ireland! Land of my people! Can’t let a silly little thing like class get in my way…

Until next time…

Megan

Overheard on the Eurostar from Paris to London…

“Facebook is like heroin.” –British teenager talking loudly to his father

Percussion Float Near Monmartre