Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Compression; Relaxation

After spending all of Monday and Tuesday studying away, I got up bright and early Wednesday morning to cycle to Blackrock campus south of UCD for my third final. It wasn't too bad a ride, except that it was uphill a lot of the way in the beginning, and my pant leg got stuck in the chain at one point. The exam was similar: unpleasant to do at the time but ultimately successful. I then took the unexpectedly long cycle to the other exam center at RDS, to the north of UCD. I got there about an hour and a half ahead of my test and met up with a few other people from the class. They made me feel a bit better about it by appearing to be at least as unprepared as I felt, though ultimately I'd say they turned out better results. I just couldn't find enough to write about for the essays. Oh well. Cycling back home was pretty miserable, too, because I was so tired. I hadn't slept well the night before; I kept waking up from dreams involving cheese. At one point, I'd woken up at 4:41 thinking I'd overslept, calmed down, went back to sleep, was sleeping pretty soundly, and woke up again (still dreaming of cheese) to find it was 4:45. What the heck?! Whatever, at least I managed to unwind a little when I got home by watching Pulp Fiction for the first time. What a good movie!

I was feeling pretty good about Thursday's exam. I got ready in plenty of time to grab my notes and catch the free UCD shuttle to Blackrock campus. I arrived at around 12:30 for my 1:00 exam, strolled to the exam hall...where there was a test going on. I wondered why no one was around waiting, and pondered the likelihood of there being two exams scheduled back-to-back in the same hall. Eventually, I discovered at the reception desk that my exam was in fact scheduled for 3:00, and I am just a nincompoop who can't convert 24-hour time into 12-hour time properly. So I went Christmas shopping at the nearby shopping complex for an hour and then returned to continue studying. Another test well-taken. And when I got home (after walking a while and picking up something for dinner), I checked the time for my final the next day (which it turns out I'd also gotten wrong).

By Friday I was pretty freaking excited to be nearing the end of my ordeal. Little did I know what the day would bring. I spent the morning reviewing and taking care of last-minute business, since it was my last day in the country until I got back for the spring semester. I tried to drop off my registration sheet with the JYA office, picked up a last nosh at Centra, and was off to grab the 2:40 UCD shuttle to Blackrock (again). I was at the stop ten minutes ahead of time and waited with a few other girls. 2:40 rolled around, then 2:45, then 2:50...finally, just before 3:00, we caught sight of a bus pulling into the parking lot. The group of us breathed a small sigh of relief. The driver unloaded his passengers, but as we approached gave us a look that clearly said, "What the hell do you want?" He told us he wasn't due to head off until 3:20. We inhaled our sigh again. We explained the situation, but the driver remained unmoved. We called four different cab companies, all of which were booked up. We got to the stop for the public bus just as the bus we wanted pulled away. We decided just to wait for the shuttle. I tried not to cry. All I could think about was that the exam I was currently missing made up 100% of the grade for that class (Minoan Bronze Age of Crete - one of my favorites of the semester). After maybe 15 minutes and some conversation between a couple of the shuttle bus drivers, the first one took pity on us and agreed to leave early. We arrived at our exams half an hour late. The good news is that I spent my remaining hour and a half writing steadily, so I think I did pretty well...but I could've done better if I'd had those extra 30 minutes.

And then I was free! Well, except packing. But that was accomplished handily, especially when accompanied by Lynchy arriving earlier than anyone else and chatting with me while I freaked out over things like what shoes to bring home. I ended up having a pretty chill night of drinking in my apartment, rather than going out and ravishing the city, but mostly because the people we were waiting for before leaving showed up just as the last bus was leaving campus, and I wasn't about to take a taxi into town. Luckily, we found a place to order in cheap beer.

I took a nap for a couple hours before being rudely awoken by one of my guests so I could be sure to catch the AirCoach in time to get my flight. I made it with all of my belongings to the airport and experienced hell on Earth waiting to check in my bag while so dehydrated I thought I might pass out. Luckily, I arrived at my gate in plenty of time (plus an additional half-hour delay) and was able to nap a bit more and thus regain my ability to function. The flight was uneventful, as I slept through much of it, as well. The middle-aged Irish woman seated beside me had clearly never been on a plane before, as she didn't know how to adjust her seat when the flight attendant asked her to put it up before takeoff. (That particular flight attendant, appropriately enough another Tommy, was quite a ham, but went about his antics in a way that to me suggested a need to relieve his own stress as much as entertain his passengers.) The food was edible, the movie (No Reservations) watchable, the length barely doable, but I made it to the ground okay and recovered my suitcase with minimal hassle. I met my dad at the gate, which was GREAT...

...and the rest is a story for another day.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Memory Lapse, Part Three: Back to the Present

I cannot bring myself to study anymore right now, and it's probably too late to be baking anything (which is what I've been doing as a study break), so I'll try and bring this thing up to date at last.

Let's see, the day after getting back from Amsterdam I went to a party with the elusive Luke, the fifth and rarely-heard-from member of interstudy's UCD contingent. It was an apartment party in town, and the guests were mainly Spanish, with some other European elements. At one point, three Irish guys came in, one of whom is in a few of my archaeology classes and who I have a passing acquaintance with (though we didn't actually learn each other's names until the party). The night was fun; nothing particularly noteworthy happened until Luke and I left sometime after 3 a.m. We went to a nearby chipper where I had some absolutely delicious fries and Luke bought a burger with the last of his money...which meant we walked home. It was a grand adventure, after which I was extremely glad to get to bed.

That was my last hurrah for a while; my first final was Monday morning at 9 a.m., at the Blackrock campus, which meant I had to get up so early that I was waiting for the bus while watching the sun rise. (For the sake of perspective, that was only around 8 a.m., because the Irish winter is truly a dark and dismal one.) I'm definitely biking there next time, because the bus takes a fairly circuitous route that still necessitates a ten-minute walk. The final was for Art and Ritual in Prehistory, and I think I did reasonably well. On Tuesday I saw The Darjeeling Limited with Dan (from JazzSoc & climbing). It's a Wes Anderson film, so of course I loved it, and we saw it in Dun Laoghaire, a town just south of here that I'd not been to, so that was nice. And I had a nice conversation with a girl named Yuna on the bus ride home.

I spent the rest of the week studying for my final on Friday evening at 6, in the Archaeology of Religion, which I also think I did pretty well on. Afterwards, I hit the town with Tommy, Lynchy, Ross, and Mark (with a brief cameo by Aisling), and we went on a pub crawl in which we took turns choosing four random directions (e.g. left, right, second left, left again) and going to the nearest pub to where we ended up. Lynchy & Mark split early, but it was a nice evening anyway, and I got to see Ross's new Don Johnson haircut.

More studying, and that brings me up to today, right now, typing away at my computer while surrounded by the explosion of studying materials and assorted junk that is my desk. Hmm, maybe I can still fit in a bit of baking; I could use a snack...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Memory Lapse, Part Two: Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a really neat city, and a place I'd like to have had more time to explore. I'd love to go back, but with different people more inclined towards action, and perhaps a smaller group as well, as five people proved a bit difficult to coordinate.

So last Tuesday, I woke up at something like 6 in the morning so I could catch the AirCoach and be at the airport by 8 for a 9:40 plane. How unpleasant. I made it, though, and assembled with Lynchy, Aisling, and Mel for our flight. It's only an hour and a half to Amsterdam, with a one-hour time difference. From the Schipol Airport, we caught a train into town and went off in search of our accommodations. We'd rented what turned out to be a small one-room apartment, through Dam City. The guy was very nice and gave us a map, on which he circled various places of interest, such as the sex shows and coffee shops he recommended. Oh, and where the museums and stuff like that are. He was an American, complete with quintessential Stoner Accent. Good stuff.

By that time, we were all famished, so we went around the corner to the Tibetan place he'd told us about. I'd had Tibetan before in Boston, but this was a bit different. My dish was SO spicy that I started sweating about halfway through. That said, it was all delicious, even allowing for how starving we all were. We were introduced also to an interesting nuance of Dutch dining: no free tap water. If you want water with your meal, you have to pay for bottled water. You'd think a people whose city is built on water would be a little more generous with the stuff.

One of my favorite things about Amsterdam and something you notice fairly immediately upon arrival is the extraordinary amount of bicycles it has. They are everywhere; if there's anything on the street that allows for a bike lock, there are at least two bikes chained to it. There's even a two-story structure outside the train station entirely devoted to bicycle parking. How freaking awesome is that? The only downside is the significantly increased risk of getting mowed down by a cyclist while moving about the streets. If someone dings their bell at you, you had damned well better get out of their way.

Once out of the Tibetan place, we safely navigated the streets to pick up the fifth member of our party, Alan. He's studying in France this year with Erasmus, but normally goes to UCD and is friends with the other three from the trip. He'd also gotten to Amsterdam a day before us, and by the time we met up with him he was already, um, steeped in the coffeehouse culture, shall we say? He was also with a friend of his whose sister lives in Amsterdam. We relaxed with them for a while and ambled around the city a bit until Alan's friend had to go. It was evening by this time, so we stopped at the grocery store to get milk for the tea Mel had brought and some bread and butter for toast, and the adjourned to the apartment, where the rest of them engaged in some lifestyle experimentation while I watched, laughed, and took pictures (which aren't actually very entertaining, and I wouldn't post them here anyway).

The next morning I was up fairly early (at least compared to everyone else) so that I could meet up with Ruth, a fellow Onas counselor who's been studying in Amsterdam all semester. (If you're interested, her blog is here.) We got falafel at one of these really cool stands called Maoz, where you get free unlimited salad bar — and it is the best salad bar I've ever had. After that delightful experience she took me to meet my friends, who'd wandered to the Waterloo markets. They apparently have some hippie roots, and it certainly shows by the wares they sell. I definitely would've like to spend some more time there, but the gang was clamoring to move on, so move on we Rembrandt's house! It was a pretty cool thing to see; there was a free audio tour which explained a bit about what 17th-century Dutch living was like, how Rembrandt's studio was set up, and what techniques he used to do things like mix paint or print etchings. There was also a fairly large gallery of his etchings, some of which were absolutely amazing. Afterwards, we headed to a nice Italian restaurant for lunch, where I was served a pint of Heineken (a local brew!) in something awfully reminiscent of a glass stein...

We got a bit lost going back to the apartment afterwards. Generally, I expect bodies of water to serve as pretty functional navigation tools: not so, when every other street has an identical canal running down the middle. Eventually we found our way back and took a few minutes to regroup in the apartment before the evening out. Since our apartment was right in the Red Light District, we decided to have a look around (after all, if you're in Amsterdam, you might as well see some of what it's best known for). We, uh, got talked into seeing a show by a spectacularly good was mercifully brief and extremely awkward. And that is all I'll say about that. The night got much better when we tracked down the hookah bar we'd been told about by the guy renting our place to us. It's called the Green Light District, and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Amsterdam. There are some smaller tables, but we chose a large elevated area with a short table and loads of cushions to relax on. I'd already experienced the magic that is hookah a couple of times at BU, but it had been a while. Man, I really, really enjoy them. There doesn't have to be anything "special" in them, even, though on this occasion it was certainly a pleasant addition. I also had a really nice Gouda sandwich, and our waitress was this really, really awesome dreadlocked girl from...we think maybe Australia? She even put on the Roots at one point. And Alan's friend came to hang with us some more, and taught me how to blow smoke rings! I'm still not that good (I need practice), but at least I can do it now! It was a really nice way to spend the evening.

The next morning we got up, collected our things, and embarked on a journey to this place I'd read about called the Pancake Bakery for food before our flight. It was a bit farther out than we'd been previously, in more of an area where actual Dutch people might live. After some complications involving a later opening time than expected and some forgotten clothes, we were treated to some of the most intense pancakes I've ever experienced. You could get pretty much anything put in a pancake; I opted for apples and raisins, but others chose things with cheese and meat and whatnot. There was a small wooden bucket with a spoon on the table full of stroop (traditional Dutch syrup), and between that and the powdered sugar on my pancake (which was the size of my plate) I felt like I'd had breakfast, lunch, and dessert in one sitting. It was excellent; another place I'd definitely recommend to any future visitors.

Unfortunately, the meal took a little longer than expected, and we had to book it to the train station, where we anxiously awaited the train, praying we wouldn't miss our 2:40 flight. The train seemed agonizingly slow, and the occasional comment of "we're definitely going to miss the flight" from the peanut gallery did not help. Once at the airport, we had to get special late check-in boarding passes, and we ran to the gate, getting there just in time to board the plane...and wait for at least another ten minutes before they sealed the door or anything. With the time difference, we arrived in Dublin a mere half hour after taking off.

And that's all the time I've got for now; the next entry should hopefully bring this blog up to date again.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Memory Lapse, Part One

WOW. I, uh, kind of forgot about updating my blog for a while. This is going to take two entries. (This may be in part because I'm too lazy to write about everything in one, but hey, it's finals, and I've got to study.)

When we last joined our heroine, it was coming up on the last week of classes. She made it out alive and even finished her last essay on time, allowing her to participate in the residence hall Christmas mulled wine reception. For those of you who've never had mulled wine, let me tell you: YUCK. Not tasty. Red wine should not be served warm. Ever. But at least there were mince pies, so it's all okay. And afterwards a small group of us headed into town to celebrate Aisling's birthday, which was fun. On Thursday I finally made it out to the pub with Mountaineering after the rock wall closed, which was great fun and left me kicking myself for waiting until the last climbing day this semester to do it. Good thing I'm coming back!

The big event was Friday night, after classes were officially over for good. See, there's this famous Irish talk show called the Late Late Show, which is the world's longest-running talk show. Every year, they have this Toy Show special where lots of small children are brought on to demonstrate all the hot new toys coming out for Christmas in an orgiastic celebration of consumerism and greed. And it just so happens that every year, the Late Late Show's Toy Show coincides with the end of term, making way for the tradition of having a big party where people drink a lot and periodically pay attention to the television for just long enough to go "wow, look at that amazing toy!" or "wow, Pat Kenny really can't handle children!" Since I'm the only one Tommy and Lynchy have any sway over who lives on campus, I was informed (more than asked) that it would be held at my place this year. It was, by and large, a great success. I spent the evening sipping on the White Russians I was treating myself to in celebration and wondering who the hell all these people in my apartment were. The RAs' Christmas party is also held on this same day every year, thank goodness, because that's the only we didn't get busted. Though at one point some RAs did come in, but that was just to join the party! What a ridiculous night. I left my camera on the table and was rewarded with 78 pictures I didn't take, many of which are of people I don't know. It would've been perfect except for the constant disruptions I faced when I finally did want to turn in after nearly everyone had left; a few stray drunks, in the form of Tommy and Lynchy, decided that they also wanted to sleep in a bed, and since mine was closest and most readily accessible they would go for that one. After a few hours, I woke up to discover my blanket and duvet had been stolen, and I yelled at them to get out of my apartment and let me alone to sleep. (Man I was mad at them.) But eventually they came back to bring the TV back to its rightful owner and, at my request, clean the sticky bits off the carpet. (Maggie, Connor, and I cleaned the rest of the apartment.)

Sunday, I got up bright and early to catch a bus to Belfast with Mandy! We spent the night there, which wasn't really enough time, but we still managed to fit in a lot. We saw the gorgeous Christmas markets in front of the also-gorgeous City Hall; we rode the giant ferris wheel, also right next to City Hall, and got a lovely view of the nighttime lights of the city; we took a (shortened) black taxi tour (with an IRA-leaning tour guide) and took in a bit of the really terrible history of violence in Belfast, including a very intimidating loyalist mural; and we went to the Giant's Causeway in North Antrim, which was absolutely astonishingly gorgeous. I'm not generally one for mere sight-seeing, as I find that generally pictures can give just as good or even a better impression, but nothing compares to looking up a cliff face made of hexagonal prisms.

I had just enough time when we got back that evening to do some laundry so I'd have enough clean clothes for my trip to Amsterdam early the next morning...which I will write about in my next entry.