Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Emerald Isle

Steadily furthuring on. . . Furtherly steadying on. . . what I am trying to say is I kept doing things, boys and girls.

The week after I got back from Paris I had some mega-homework action so my lovely ladies ABANDONED ME for Edinburgh, but 2/3s of them made up for it the following following weekend when Ariana, Clara, partially Sergio, and I went to Ireland.

I never particularly planned to go to Ireland while I was here, but I am quite chuffed that I did. Not only does it count as another country to scratch off my list but I also experienced one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my entire life. More on that later. (Check out you with your cliffhangers eh? PS that’s a clue).

Our flight from Bristol to Dublin was at the very untoward time of six-or-so (accurate) in the morning, and thus to catch the Bristol Flyer (sounds more exciting than it shuttely-bus is) we had to leave Unite at about three. The team’s general bedtime didn’t allow for much snoozing so our fist day in Dublin was seen through heavy eyes. I was generally alright cause I tend to be able to power through that sort of thing when history is abound, but my ladies were a little more challenged. It made for excellent photos of them falling asleep all over the place, and, correct me if I am mistaken, but started the trend of all of us taking pictures of Ariana when she falls asleep in public. Poor Victim.

We couldn’t check into our hostel straight away, so we went off in search of food, settling upon an Irish Breakfast at a pub nearby. Now, I know all about the political problems between England and Ireland, but honestly I could not tell you the difference between a good English and the good Irish breakky. Maybe soda bread. But is that really something to get all riled about. . . ooh, very hot water. Be quiet, Crompton.

I continued my trend of strong-arming my compatriots into doing what I would like, and so after our fortifications we meandered on over to the Kilmainham Gaol. This gaol was the quintessential Victorian gaol in construction, and, as it were, in history as well. Kilmainham was the home for many of the political prisoners of all the brou-haha of the nineteenth-century independence strife. Victorian ideas on crime, punishment and reform? Not everyone’s cup of tea, but just the Oolong that I favour myself. They were very good to put up with the cold, hard building and long, informative tour that I savoured to the last drop. We had a very knowledgeable and passionate tour-guide who, aside from telling us about the history of the gaol itself, also furnished us with fun facts. For example, did you know that on the Irish flag the green section represents the republicans, the orange represents the monarchists, and the white represents striving for peace between the two? Normally I don’t think much about striped flags because they are so ubiquitous, but that one really struck a chord.

After the gaol we hightailed it back to the hostel (I didn’t mention before but the map we had of Dublin made the city look MUCH smaller than it is, so this was not so much a saunter but a marathon), and the ladies had a bit of lie-down. I was unable to join them in the deep and dreamless however, because my friend Alan happened to be in Dublin as well.

My relationship with Alan is quite serendipitous. He was a year below me at Lisgar, and that only for a few years because he moved far away to the deepest, darkest depths of Ontario half-way through. I then would run into him a lot at McGill when we were both in attendance at that “bastion of pretentiousness along the St. Lawrence” (as Mr. Turner called it), but never have we put terrible effort into seeing each other outside of those chance meetings. It was then, again, superbly coincidental that we found each other across the ocean. Out of the blue we started chatting on fb messenger (mainly about why we weren’t running into each other on campus at all this year) when we discovered that we would both be in Dublin for ONE DAY ONLY. Alan was already quite familiar with the city so we met up outside my hostel, and spent a few hours meandering and talking of this and that. One of those extraordinary chance encounters that one doesn’t expect much in one’s day to day, but considering how our friendship has worked over the years I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

The following day we took in another one of our walking tours. My knowledge of Irish history is very slight and mostly modern, so it was nice to have it stretched all the way back to the ice-age. Again, what I gleaned from the three-hour jaunt across the town was mostly fun facts, but that’s me all over. One of my favourites was the figure of justice over the doorway into Dublin Castle. Normally justice is supposed to be blind, but as a nod to the hardships of the Irish for thousands of years she isn’t wearing a blindfold, for, as our guide put it, “the Irish know that justice wasn’t blind for them.”

After our walking tour we found our way towards the Guinness brewery. It wasn’t totally what I expected, more of a multi-media demonstration over seven floors than a brewery, but boy howdy was that free pint of Guinness delicious. I had never had Guinness before, and I fear I will never be able to again because my first was the best in the world. It really is chocolate-y and bread-y as they say, yet also somehow totally refreshing. Ariana, of course, fell asleep. However, we all followed suit pretty quickly because we had to wake up before dawn the following day to cross the country.

Clara was in charge of the expedition, and I am ever glad that she suggested we do this. We took a bus to Galway (Dublin is on the East coast of Ireland and Galway is directly across on the West), in preparation to go on our tour of the surrounding region and the Cliffs of Moher. We had about an hour to kill in Galway before the tour began, and as it was about eight in the morning and Galway is about the size of MacKellar park, we found a pub to have breakfast. In this pub we witnessed perhaps the most stereotypically (sorry) Irish blokes. They were possibly the highlight of the trip. Throughout breakfast -- remember the time of day mind you -- they kept trying to get booze from the bartender/waitress/employee. In the THICKEST Irish accents you ever heard (I was the only one who could marginally understand them, they would have benefited from the subtitles given to Brad Pitt’s Pikey), they began by asking her for beer. She then explained that they weren’t able to sell alcohol before 10:00 AM.

“We can drink it outside if you like.”
“No, I can’t sell you any alcohol.”
“Fine then, we’ll buy it somewhere else and then bring it back here.”
“Nowhere is going sell you a drink, it’s against the law to do so before 10:00 AM.”
“How about if you make us some rum and coke’s and put it in a tea-cup so if anyone asks it looks like we’re drinking tea.”
“No, I’m not going to sell you any alcohol.”
“You girls drinking this morning?” This was directed towards us. We explained that no, we weren’t.
"Were you drinking last night, then?” We explained (I say we, the girls couldn’t understand what he was saying so I was fielding these answers) that we had been, in Dublin. They were impressed. They get the breakfasts that they ordered.
“Do you have any brown sauce?” they again inquire after the bartender. She gives it to them.
“Do you have any rum sauce, then?”

They made our day.

I say that. Every Irish person in our lives that day made our day. Our tour, which we had to leave these yobbos to go on, was lead by the most unendingly charming little old grandfather rapscallion named Desmond. He had a wonderful habit of repeating every interesting fact directly after he said it (like Jacob Two-Two) with this amazing cadence. Ask me to do it if you are interested, it really was THE most charming thing. The tour was quite formidable, taking about eight hours. We stopped at plenty of castles along the way, the Poulnabrone Dolmen (a sort of Irish Stonehenge), a few exceedingly tiny but exceedingly charming towns (where I had some AMAZING seafood chowder and fudge), the crosses of Kilfenora, and a Fairy Ring all before making it to the Cliffs of Moher.

I again am going to cop out of narrating and just give you a bunch of pictures of these most astounding cliffs. They truly were one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, and if these pictures don’t cut it for you, I still urge you to go. Nowhere else on this earth has the greens and blues of Ireland:Our final day on the Isle continued with the theme of doing things most quintessentially Irish. In the morning (although not as early as our Galway friends) we went on the Jameson Distillery tour. I actually much preferred this to the Guinness because we had a guide, it was kitchily re-done but at least looked like the process they used to make the whiskey, it was much more manageable in size, and we got to do a tasting at the end. They did it right in giving us a Scotch, Jack Daniels, and then a Jameson and though I am partial to Scotch, I now know that I will never ever drink Jack again (despite what Ke$ha may say). That stuff is vile. Jameson though, quite nice. Did you know, for instance, that whiskey and cranberry is a lovely drink? Try it some time.

For our final few hours we took a bus out to the fishing village of Howth (rhymes with “both”). If Galway is the size of MacKellar park, then Howth is the size of my backyard. We walked the length of it (three piers and one street) twice, stopped for lunch (another AMAZING seafood chowder in a bread bowl), took glamour shots on one of the piers again, and still had time to kill before our bus back to Dublin. The weather was again amazing, and I have to say it did feel quite neat to be looking out over the Atlantic ocean one day, and then over the Irish sea the next. Added to the charm and beauty of this island already resplendent with the stuff.

May you be in heaven a full half hour before the Devil knows you’re dead,

Your friend Lina

Shape Up or Ship Up?

Kay, so I'm experimenting with a new layout. I've spent a bit more time with this bad boy in the last few days (yeah, prolific Crompton, how about the FOUR MONTHS where you did nothing? Yes, I know, slap on the wrist), and I want it to look pretty. I'm a pretty prolific blog-reader, and as I hope to get better at being a b-writer, I want my space to reflect the effort I want to put in.

That being said, what do y'all think about this new layout? I very much like the background, and will certainly change it about based on the season, my mood, what the major trends in my life are, but I have to say I'm not so jazzed about how it reads. I'm glad I was able to find my favourite font again, but what do y'all (yes, all 12 of you? Dare I dream that I even have 12 readers?) think about it. I think it might be kinda hard to read the text on top of the translucent background over the globe.

Do you have any suggestions about how to make either the background darker or the text more readable? Or should I just change it back to the plain-jane? Does anyone else use blogspot and know better how to customise than I do?

Any pointers or opinions would be appreciated. Just leave a comment. Maybe then I'll know who, if anyone (other than my father), reads this thing.

Attached to my laptop yet still so tech un-savy,

Your friend Lina

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Il y a tout ce que vous voulez . . .

Alrighty-roo, back into the sequential tide of things. (Can a tide be sequential? Make sense, Crompton.) In between my visit from Greer and Lilly I partook in some international gallivanting. The first of those dashes away from Brizzle whisked me off to la belle Paris avec le toujours belle mademoiselle Brabazon.

I met up with Greer late the night before our (“vamos a el”) Eurostar trip on Monday morning. We stayed at her friend’s place in Camden, and I will not lie, I was hoping to run into Noel Fielding for the entirety of my approximately four hours of my waking time in that borough. No dice. But here’s a picture of him to ease what I am sure is the equal disappointment you are currently feeling.

We made it to St. Pancras WAY before we had to catch our 6:00 AM train, so got to sample all the exhilarating sights and sounds of the train station Starbucks. If I can borrow from Mike Birbiglia (and mangle slightly as well), “No, I love the train station, there’s like chairs.” All kidding aside it really wasn’t too bad cause it made me sleep like a baby on the Eurostar: quite fortuitous cause apparently it took a few hours longer than planned cause of snow and other such paltry precipitants that Europe seems to have lots of trouble with. I didn’t notice. Our parents trained us to be good car-babies in our infancy and that has payed off big time.

As soon as we arrived in Paris, the tour that we were on quickly shipped us off to the Eiffel Tower for sight-seeing and lunch. I said it before about Stonehenge, and I will say it again now: these attractions that everyone says aren’t very impressive? They lied to you, they are totally impressive. Of course because up until then I had only seen the tower in pictures and such I had no idea of the absolute massive scale of the structure, but when you are standing underneath it, hoo boy. The same can be said for the elevator ride up through the legs: love it or lump it, the Eiffel Tower is surely a formidable feat of engineering.

The views from up top are amazing, and give you a nice areal and mental snapshot of the city. Our guide pointed out all the historic buildings and landmarks, my favourite being Napoleon’s war hospital, and then filed us inside for a fancy lunch with further fantastic views. After feeling rather spoiled up top, we then descended and took a cruise on the Seine.

Did I mention that this was all in February? Well, it was COLD boys and girls, not necessarily the best time to be on a river. I was as bundled as I could be and was still quite nippy, so I’m certain that Greer must have been dying because her normal body temperature normally hovers around -30, even at the best of times. For all intents and purposes I’m not the biggest fan of the tourist cruises and rides, usually I would rather walk for ages to see a city, but because I only had 36 hours in one of the world’s biggest and brightest, it was a good way to get a glimpse at all the highlights. It was in fact how I was introduced to the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Pont Alexandre (my favourite bridge, pictured above), and the Assemblé National (my favourite building). After a few glamour shots back in front of the Tower, it was then to hop back on our bus and be shuffled around the city.

Our next stop was at the Louvre. Greer and I opted for exploring the courtyard and the grounds rather than rushing to see the Mona Lisa or some such, which made me quite pleased. I am STILL so smitten by all fancy old European buildings, and as the Louvre used to be a palace, I was of course in love. Even though it was winter, the grounds were still lovely; you just needed a sprinkling of imagination to make them verdant. The rest of the tour took us along to the all the other major destinations including the Champs Élysées, the Arc de Triomph, and a tiny little café that I found more moving than I thought I would. Though I enjoyed the Opera House itself, our guide mentioned in passing that just around the corner from it was the café in which Oscar Wilde, ahem, wiled away his final years in Paris after leaving England. Because this was just an off-hand remark I wasn’t able to snap a photog, but I was certainly able to burst into tears. I had no idea that I would be witnessing that gem, and I guess really it just goes lengths to say that no matter where I travel, England and its influences are always close to my heart, tugging at its strings.

The next day was bright, blue, and crisp. In the morning we trundled downtown to walk along the Seine for a spell and take in the Musée D’Orsay. I, of course, strong-armed Greer into letting me fawn over my favourite bridge, and then, again, bullied her into taking glamour shots of my in front of my favourite edifice as well. The line for the D’Orsay was of course ridiculous, but once inside it really boggles the mind. The building itself is GORGEOUS (I see a theme Paris, well played), and seeing as I am consistently star-struck by anything remotely famous, I was of course floored by their phenomenal collection of works by Van Gogh (augmented by the recent Doctor Who, nerd-alert), Degas, Pissarro, and my personal favourite, Toulouse-Lautrec. They were renovating at the time and so had erected a “Best Of” in the main foyer which ended up being quite the thing for our visit had to be quite short in order for us to catch our tour out to Versailles.

If I missed anything important in Paris (and I am fully aware that I did and need to go back for about a week or so when I am rich and famous one day), it was all worth it to see Versailles. I have literally never been to a place, nor a palace, so stunning. The gilded gates, the fine masonry, the incredible decadence of the indoors. . . . I know I don’t have the faculties to do it justice, so here’s a bucket-load of photos:

Upon our return to our hotel, we then had to boogie back to land of Angles. It was certainly too short of a visit, and I promise, Paris, I will one day return.

À la prochaine fois mes belles,

Votre amie Lina

Monday, June 14, 2010

All the Pretty Visitors Came and Waved Their Arms

So I’m going to do things out of chronological order here. This offends the Historian in me, but will greatly greatly appease the inner Blogger instead.

I was quite lucky, and felt quite loved, that I had so many visitors this year. I already told y’all about Cambridge with Connie-wonnie, but I was also fortunate enough to be visited by Greer, Lilly, and my Mother-doots and Father-doots. In between all these lovely guests I had lots of homework, went to Paris with Greer, went to Ireland with Clara, Ariana, and Sergio, and went on my last UBES trip, but I will come to those later. And I promise that “later” means within the next week or two, not the usual enormous span (Greer: Wing? Wingspan? Span!) that I normally leave for these missives.

I must say, I am not popular enough that my first two lovely ladies came to see me alone; instead, I was a feature (dare I say highlight?) of their tours to see other friends and family members who are living in England. Greer came to see her sister, family friends, and friends in London, but her first stop was to see little ol’ me. I realised on the day she was to arrive that I had never given her instructions on how to get to my flat from the train station, but using her unending gumption and remembrance of my street’s fantastic name (Frogmore, can I tell you), she found me. I quickly ran away to class, but then spent the rest of her time here showing her the sights and sounds Brizzle and ting. PS I stole this picture from the beauty in it.

Her second day with me directed us towards Bath, a place that I had yet to visit until then. It was pretty cold and grey, but hey that’s what England is all about right? We took in all the highlights of the city that Ariana describes as “all the pretty parts of Bristol smooshed into a small town”: The Roman Baths, the Pump House, the Circus, and a cream tea on the bridge. Upon our return to Bristol we chilled out for a bit and caught up in the way that only Greer and I can do when we’ve been apart for what is inevitably too long of a stretch, and then went out for drinks with everybody to the Woods. The next morning she ran off to London to see friends, and I followed her a few days later to head to Paris together.

Not only did I have one gorgeous, bubbly, effervescent Canadian come visit, but yes boys and girls, I had TWO. In early March Lilly also hopped, skipped, and jumped across the pond to my loving arms and single bed. She too meandered from London to Bristol to Ireland to Gravesend, so I only got her for a few days. I was a pretty poor host for the dear girl cause I had a paper due the following week when my parents would also be Isle-side, but luckily she is the pluckiest gal I know, so I didn’t feel too bad about sending her off to explore Bristol and Bath all on her lonesome. I again foisted the Crompto-Bristol package upon her (the Bridge, Ashton Court, the Apple, Thekla), and hopefully it amused. As I told her when we went to Glastonbury for the afternoon, “England is really nice if you like boring things.” Nighttime, I will grant, England is a blast. But come day-time tourism you gotta really love old stones and carpets. Luckily I do, and I think Lilly was sufficiently charmed, so the balance sheet remained in the black. (And thank you to Carmel for unwittingly submitting that photograph to my blog.)

On the Wednesday that she was here, Lilly, Kevin, and I took the bus down to Glastonbury, namely to see the Abbey (namely so I could steal Lilly's excellent photos). I, of course, was utterly smitten. The day could not have been nicer. The grounds were quite wonderful, and it was a boon to see the “graves” of “Arthur” and “Guinevere”. The sacked Abbey also had the transom where Thomas a Becket (yeees, I know the “a” is incorrect) last preached. We then went to the Abbey tea rooms to have yet another cream tea (really, they are delicious, I will include them with the other items I shall import and introduce to Cabanada). To work off the cream and scones, we then hiked up the Glastonbury Tor. On our way up a flock of starlings careened over us, making quite a racket. It really was one of the neatest ornithological experiences I have ever had: the roar of their combined tiny wings was almost deafening, and the sight of them swooping and swooshing around in unison above our heads is hard to capture with mere words. Once at the top of the Tor we watched the brilliant purple and red sunset fall over Glastonbury, and were visited by some sheep who were less challenged by the steep ascent than us. It was then to find our way back through farmers’ fields in the dark and drive through country roads back to the good ol’ metrop.

My final batch of guests came in the form of M and D. My uncle Mutsy is currently living in Slough, outside of London, so he rented a car to pick them up from Heathrow and bring them to Bristol. This was quite fortuitous, cause it meant that the next day we were able to drive to see Cheddar, Glastonbury, and Wells all in an afternoon. Cheddar was great. We took a tour through one of the caves (where the cheddar from Cheddar is matured to give it its cheddary flavour), went to the only cheddar factory that makes cheddar the traditional way in Cheddar, and bought some cider. . .from Cheddar. We then had a quick lunch on the Glastonbury Tor (I love being fed by my Smother), and then made it to Wells in time for Evensong. Aside from that, I again played the bad host in order to work on my paper and so sent them out to see Brizzle on their own. I, of course, was a the good daughter and was home every night for supper, and even took them to get a pint of my favourite cider at my favourite pub (but at parent-appropriate times, not student-appropriate times).

It was then to pack swiftly and head off to Europe for a month! But that will have to be another story for another time, boys and girls.

Thanks for tuning in,

Your friend Lina