Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Long Road Just Slightly North Of Dublin That Changes Names A Lot As You Go Along It, Seriously, Like I Probably Counted Like 8 Name Changes - It Was Annoying

July 8, 2010 - Dublin, Ireland.

The gray sky opened up to a small Boeing 737 hurtling through the heavens and probably going way too fast. The "pilot," a man Ryanair found sleeping outside the airport the previous day, gleefully flipped various switches and leaned forward on the yoke. The plane pitched forward as the passengers, between bouts of screaming, experienced moments of weightlessness. As the plane came in for a landing, the megaphone operator atop the control tower furiously made the motion signifying "turn a few degrees left, no, my left, no, not like that, fine, just land the damn thing" before the wheels (plastic skids) slammed into the tarp runway. After the plane violently skidded to a stop, the hands were pried from the armrests, and the masking tape was peeled off the sheet of wood covering the door, the passengers exited the plane, making sure to step over Nibbles O'Patchcorn, the beloved plane-cat whose assignment it was to keep the mice away from the exposed wires. The pilot turned in his Soviet-era brochure detailing how to fly a plane that doesn't exist anymore (how different could it be?) and got the sandwich he was promised in return for "gettin' these here people from Germany or France or something to whatever place is next on the list."

It may not have been a good flight, or a safe airplane held together with glue-sticks and Scotch tape, but I was finally in Dublin. I got my guitar, which by the grace of God had not been turned into a loosely-associated collection of splinters, and went to customs. The officer checked my passport, asked some questions in his accent that made me think of moors, fog and drunken brawls (I can't help it!), and sent me on my way. I said farewell to Stefanie, Maria, Theresa and Jennifer, and found out where to go. The 16a bus would be my home for the next 45 minutes.

So I got on the bus and took it to the city center. The website of my hostel claimed it would a 20-minute walk from the city center to the hostel, which is fine - what it neglected to mention is HOW HARD IT IS TO FIND YOUR WAY WHEN THERE ARE NO STREET NAMES ANYWHERE.

You know how in the USA, street names are generally pretty easy to find? Sure, there are occasional intersections where the streets aren't marked, or possibly the names are hidden atop some stop sign in a dark corner, but normally, those familiar green signs are ever-abundant. Well, never again will I complain about not being able to tell what street I'm on. What I contend happened is this: the city planners taped a map of Dublin to the wall of a large, empty room, then gave a blind person a paintball gun and ten paintballs. He wasn't told where the map actually was, and was just told to fire blindly ( :O ) at whatever he wanted to shoot at. After the ten rounds were used up, they put street names up at the closest intersections to the places on the map that were hit. But instead of, you know, easy-to-see signs that hang above the intersection, they decided to go with the more entertaining "nail really tiny plaques way too far up on the sides of buildings" approach. While I suppose this is cool for spiders who want to know what street the building they're climbing up is on, it doesn't work so well for motorists, cyclists or pedestrians. When I got lost on the last night and called my brother to Google Maps me some directions (more on that later), we actually had to figure out where I was based on the names of the businesses I was passing. Ridick.

So, the first night, I just got my bearings. Then the second day, I went out to Howth Harbor on a bike. Here's a map of the area.

The yellow line, going from the red dot in the bottom-left to the red dot in the top-right is the path I took. It's a 17-kilometer trip that takes about an hour and a half by bike. The scenery along the way is really pretty, especially the part that goes right by the ocean. And then the harbor itself is just spectacular, too. Here are some pictures:

 Samuel Beckett Bridge.




So yes, I did find seals, and they were very friendly and enjoyed fish a lot. Which is weird, because I would think they'd be more partial to veal or something, but when I threw a baby cow into the harbor, they just swam away. And I got arrested. Those Irish can't take a joke...

 So after that, I went to the Guinness storehouse. This place is COOL. Back in 1756, Arthur Guinness signed the 9000-year lease on the building, and now it's embedded in the floor under a glass pane. And the whole building looks like a giant Guinness pint on the inside. There are seven levels filled with all sorts of exhibitions and information about how Guinness is made, the guys who made the casks that stored Guinness (coopers), the ships used to transport Guinness around the world, and everything else you can imagine. And on top is the Gravity Bar, which offers a panoramic view of the city:

It was just cool. There were quotes from various Irish authors on the windows too. And free Guinness, which is a wonderful thing. Then the next day, I started out by going to a place called Kilmainham Gaol. Lemme start this by telling you a little about Joseph Plunkett.

Back in 1916, the Easter Rising took place in Dublin, namely in and around the General Post Office (GPO). This was an attempt by those who wanted Irish independence to split from the English. So a bunch of guys spent a number of years training soldiers and gathering guns, and in April, the Rising happened. It lasted a few days, but ultimately was stopped by the English. So the leaders of the movement, including Joseph Plunkett, were thrown into Kilmainham Gaol (pronounced "jail") for a number of weeks. They were sentenced to be executed, and in May 1916, they were. But before that happened, Joseph had to get married to Grace Gifford. The story is just crazy sad. Here are the lyrics of a song written about it: 

As we gather in the chapel here in old Kilmainham Jail
I think about these past few weeks, oh will they say we've failed?
From our school days they have told us we must yearn for liberty
Yet all I want in this dark place is to have you here with me.

Oh Grace, just hold me in your arms and let this moment linger.
They'll take me out at dawn and I will die
With all my love I place this wedding ring upon your finger
There won't be time to share our love for we must say goodbye.

Now I know it's hard for you, my love, to ever understand
The love I bare for these brave men, the love for my dear land
But when Pádraic called me to his side down in the GPO
I had to leave my own sick bed, to him I had to go

Now as the dawn is breaking, my heart is breaking too
On this May morn as I walk out, my thoughts will be of you
And I'll write some words upon the wall so everyone will know
I loved so much that I could see his blood upon the rose.

Well, yeah, he got married and then executed a few hours later. Saddest thing in the world. There's a cross where he was shot, too. This is it:

 Well, after going to Kilmainham, it was time to go to the Jameson Whiskey Distillery. And that was a lot of fun, particularly the whiskey tasting I participated in at the end. I gotta say, I like American whiskey more than Irish whiskey or Scotch whiskey. And then after that, it was time to go to Howth again. Except this time... this time it was personal. I think I've reached the maximum number of pictures I can upload per post, so I'll save the adventure that happens next for the next post.


Monday, July 12, 2010

The Long Road to Dublin

For the last week and a half, my connection to the internet has been absolutely awful. For this reason, it's been rather impossible for me to do ANYTHING related to the internet. Because of that inconvenience, I decided to take a trip to Dublin, Ireland.


It's like... In the beginning, there was to be an average distribution of "good" in the world. But in the same way that a day was taken away from February and added to August at some point in ancient history, a considerable amount of "good" was taken from the rest of the world (probably mostly from Chamblee, Georgia) and given to Dublin.

For real. This city is amazing. It was probably enhanced somewhat by the fact that I had a free bicycle to use in the city, but nonetheless. One of the best parts? The smells. It all smells like the kitchen of a bar and grill. Pretty much because the entire city is one huge bar and grill. And there's a port in there too, and a few statues, but basically, the whole city consists of two types of buildings:

1. Hotel
2. Bar, possibly & grill

Now, a city with that much employment in the service industry is bound to be extremely nice. And it totally is. Oh, and the stereotypes about Irish people? A lot of them are COMPLETELY TRUE. They all sit in bars and drink Guinness, and they're all really nice. And they all speak in outrageous Irish accents. Oh, and the number of red-haired girls per capita was much higher than average. It felt like heaven.

The not-so-fun part? Actually getting there. My big mistake: choosing Ryanair to get to Dublin. Here, I used my extensive photoshop skills to design a hot new logo for them:

Pretty sweet logo design, huh? It took me four months and I went $800 over-budget but I think it'll sell. Anyway, the reason Ryanair blows so much, or possibly why they're so smart and successful: They advertise tickets at insanely cheap prices, then charge your intestines out with spurious nonsense fees. For example: My ticket to Dublin was to cost 18 euros. But then there was the 5 euro online-booking fee, the 10-euro "administrative" (read: donut fund) fee, and of course the 40 euros they charge to check a bag. So even after paying all that stuff, and then having the bright idea of mailing my suitcase to Munich instead of lugging it all around Dublin (I took a carry-on instead), I still had to pay 40 more euros to take my guitar. So on an 18-euro ticket, I ended up paying 113 euros total. At that price (the price of an average one-way ticket), you'd at least expect the plane to be comfortable, right?

Wrong. I took this picture of the inside of the plane:

Was there enough room to move around? No. Was there enough room to turn your head? Absolutely not. Was there enough room to breathe? Only if you took alternating breaths with the person next to you. Here was my itinerary:

July 7, 20:15 - Depart Weimar Hbf on ICE 1940 toward Frankfurt-Main Hbf
July 7, 22:53 - Arrive in Frankfurt-Main Hbf
July 8, 03:00 - Depart Frankfurt-Main on Bus 600 toward Frankfurt-Hahn Airport
July 8, 04:45 - Arrive in Frankfurt-Hahn Airport
July 8, 09:40 - Depart Frankfurt-Hahn Airport on Ryanair 1949 toward Dublin International Airport
July 8, 10:45 - Arrive in Dublin International Airport
July 8, 13:00 - Arrive at Harrington House Hostel, 21 Harrington Street, Dublin

However, here's what actually wound up happening:

July 7, 12:00 - Start cleaning room
July 7, 12:30 - Notice there's still a full bottle of whiskey and vodka in the room
July 7, 12:31 - Try to give the bottles away
July 7, 12:32 - Sampled the bottles a little bit...
--note: Everything from this point until the end note is a bit blurry.--
July 7, xx:xx - Finish cleaning room
July 7, xx:xx - Remember I have to send my suitcase to Munich using the courier service recommended by my professor
July 7, xx:xx - Stumble downtown with suitcase
July 7, xx:xx - Wander around an intersection looking for the courier service
July 7, xx:xx - Get three different sets of directions from three different stores
July 7, xx:xx - Find that the courier service door is locked
July 7, xx:xx - Ask a cop where the post office is instead
July 7, xx:xx - Arrive at post office after getting turned around three times (of course the damn thing is right at the main bus terminal, and I see it every day)
July 7, xx:xx - Get told my suitcase needs a lock on it to be shipped
July 7, xx:xx -  Wander around looking for somewhere that sells locks
July 7, xx:xx - Get like eight different sets of directions toward somewhere that sells locks
July 7, xx:xx - Find the locksmith after 45 minutes of wandering around the same square (who would have thought it would be the place with the huge wooden key outside?)
July 7, xx:xx - Buy a lock
July 7, xx:xx - Deal with the locks and keys and suitcase until there's a lock on the suitcase zippers
July 7, xx:xx - Back to the post office, get asked where to ship it, have no idea
July 7, xx:xx - Awkward call to my professor to get the address
July 7, xx:xx - Suitcase ships to Munich
July 7, xx:xx - Go home
July 7, xx:xx - Something extremely confusing that ended up with me being in the apartment of a guy named Jörg, who is repairing my harmonica
July 7, xx:xx - Leave Jörg's apartment
July 7, 20:15 - Depart Weimar Hbf on ICE 1940 toward Frankfurt-Main Hbf
July 7, 20:15 - 10-hour headache begins now!

Well, everything after that went relatively according to plan, except for the Ryanair stuff. I have to go to sleep now... but adventures in Dublin come in the next post.

Pictured: Me, freezing cold and wet, 8 miles from Dublin on a bike.
Proof that interesting stuff happens in the next post.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

In honor of July 4th, here are the top 5 things I miss about the United States.

#1: The emergency vehicle sirens.

I never expected that this would top the list, but a few weeks ago, when I was in Leipzig, there was a big firetruck parade. Firetrucks from all over the land congregated in the streets and had their sirens on. Almost all of them had the European two-tone siren 4 whole steps apart. And, you know, hearing all of those all the time is cool and all, and watching people cheer whenever the drivers in the parade was pretty sweet, but then...

Yes, a firetruck from the United States, all decked out with the US flag and everything. And when it sounded the wail-siren so familiar to us all, all the Germans cheered, and a tear came to my eye. Never in my life had I heard something so beautiful. And forevermore in the future, when I'm being chased by the police, I'll always pay my respect to that American siren coming closer and closer to haul me off to jail.

However, I really don't think this siren is the most perfect sound for emergency vehicles. Personally, when I'm texting and changing clothes while doing 190 on the interstate without a seatbelt, and I see those blue lights in the rear-view mirror, I'd prefer to hear He's Frank by The BPA feat. Iggy Pop coming from the police car behind me, but I guess that's just a personal preference.

#2. Water that doesn't blow.

Now, I know it's a European thing, and normally, my pretentious, holier-than-thou personality would automatically (although grudgingly on the inside) accept all cool European things, but this is something I just can't accept, no matter how much I try. For those of you who have not tried the water in Europe, please do the following:

1. Get a bathtub
2. Fill the bathtub with regular tap water
3. Have this man bathe in it
4. Read a very depressing book
5. Drop as many Alka-Seltzer tablets in the bathtub as will fit
6. Rub course-grain sand paper all over your body, vigorously
7. Drink the bathwater through a chocolate straw (but don't eat the chocolate)
8. Lose a friend

This is about what it feels like to drink the mineral water in Europe. I've been trying to figure out exactly why they love the stuff for weeks now. It's like, not just carbonated water. It's carbonated water with nightmares added to it.

The nightmare-water should look like this.

Furthermore, the water in this country is extremely expensive. When you go to a restaurant, and the water is more expensive than the alcohol, there is a problem.

Or perhaps not.

#3. Air conditioning.

So I know it's not specifically listed in the Constitution, but I think the phrase "Jeder hat das Recht auf Leben und körperliche Unversehrtheit. Die Freiheit der Person ist unverletzlich. In diese Rechte darf nur auf Grund eines Gesetzes eingegriffen werden" implies it. When the temperature in the summertime in my room gets to be hot enough that I have to put out small fires with regularity, I think air conditioning is necessary. On the radiator on the wall in my room, there's a knob whose purpose, I think, is to control the temperature. There are the numbers 1-5 on the knob, and I'm pretty sure those control how hot the radiator should get. But to the left of the 1, there is a little snowflake graphic. The natural thing to do would be to turn the knob to the snowflake graphic, right?

This is the point where I would say something really funny that happened when I did that, but the reality is so disappointing that I can't even think of anything funny to say. Nothing happened. It stayed hot, and I continued to have to actively keep my body from melting while working in my room.

#4. People named Hana Kim.

I've noticed that a disproportionately large number of people walking around in Germany are not Hana Kim. There are some wonderful people here, but instead of investing 7+ years of emotions and friendship with them, it sometimes seems easier just to use someone I already have on that level.

 What Germany desperately lacks.
While I love this country, the simple fact that I haven't really been able to go anywhere and just be fat for hours and hours at a time makes me miss that luxury. It seems that there's a certain level of class expected in public in Germany, which is cool and everything, for a while. But there comes a point when all I want to do is drive on up to Dunwoody, hit up Brandywine Court and make pizzas out of solidified hamburger grease. Or watch Futurama until my eyes bleed while drinking various drinks out of the two-liter bottle. Excuse me, out of the 0.53-gallon bottle.  Which brings me to my next point,

#5. The imperial system of measurement.

Yeah, I know it doesn't make a lot of sense that the Americans still use it, and I know it's unnecessarily hard to learn, but I love it. I love being able to say I'm 6'1" tall and not 1.85 meters. Or that I live 5000 miles from Weimar instead of 8200 kilometers. When I'm ordering something to drink and I see listed on the menu that it's 500 mL, I'm reminded of Chem 1310 at Georgia Tech. And while I usually love extrapolating the molality of an acid from a titration curve, a restaurant is simply not the place for that. 

 Not very appetizing.

One other thing I miss a whole lot right now is being at home for the 4th of July. But I suppose that will go away in two days. Hopefully, at least. I don't know. Writing this post made me a little sad. I think I'm gonna go talk to @Joey Slater for a bit. He's a good person to talk to.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

My last two posts have both been very thought-out and well-worded, so I think it's about time to just open my thoughts and let whatever's sick of being in there vomit on out. And first out of the bullpen is this: You know what's really, really great about liking grapefruits? THEY'RE ALWAYS REALLY CHEAP. So I adventured out to Nah Kauf tonight, which sounds like just this really happenin' club or what have you, but actually it's a supermarket, and not even a very good one at that. Because that's what Rob Agocs does on his Tuesday nights. Alright. So I got in there, looking for items to purchase whereby I might embark on a culinary adventure later on in the evening. And suddenly, I see oranges and grapefruits right next to each other. "Hmm," I said to myself. "Methinks yon orange or yon grapefruit might ensatisfy what frivolous needs I have to-night for a culinærrieye ad-venture!" I glanced 'pon the prices, and was shocked to see such a difference!

Seriously. The oranges were 2.99 euros. And the grapefruits were a) about twice as big and b) 0.59 euros. At that price, I'll take a grapefruit any day. Grapefruits are completely awesome.

I'm kind of stuck in a battle tonight between crappy pre-packaged food and fruit. See, while on my adventure at Nah Kauf, I purchased four items. But I feel only one of the items can reign supreme. I bought a container of peaches, a thing of pre-packaged breaded chicken-style foodstuffs, a grapefruit, and those glass noodles, dried and in a bag. I've split them into those two groups, naturally. So far I've tried the grapefruit and the chicken things. Grapefruit had much more flavor, so it won that round. Then I had a peach, and I considered opening the glass noodles and just munching away, but then I decided I wasn't a total slob yet.

So lemme talk about Dresden for a bit. From the outside, it looks AWESOME. Like, you're sitting on a train going eastward for about two hours, passing by billions of empty fields and wind turbines on the horizon (why are they always on the horizon? It seems like they specifically move for me so I never see one up close, which is kind of weird, but I guess kind of flattering too) until you find a sign that says the city of Dresden is coming up in a little bit. And then after a little bit, everything starts getting urban. And kind of gritty, like you might get looked at angrily by a passer-by if you're too loud or something. And there's a bit of graffiti around, but not enough to make you think you're gonna die.

So finally, you get off at the train station, which has like 400 floors, and you navigate the maze of hallways and catwalks without getting hit by trains, and finally, you reach the outside world. But before you step out into the street, you have to be careful that the savage city doesn't kill you with it's vicious streetcars running loose all over the roads. Efforts have been made to capture these beautiful but fierce creatures, but they were simply not meant to be domesticated. The Dresdners have learned to try to live as peacefully as possible with them, but danger still lurks around every corner. There have been reports of packs of these streetcars hiding in tall grass around the city, waiting for an unsuspecting pedestrian to go by, at which point they pounce and feast on the unfortunate person. Usually, though, the predators can be found grazing peacefully on asphalt or other food sources readily available around the city.

So the hostel in Dresden was really kind of cool. It was built right above a Communist restaurant, and I'm not kidding about that. Everything on the menu cost 8 euros. The service was extremely slow, as there was only one cooking station available. And each of the 22 cooks had to switch off every five minutes. No, I'm lying about all of that, but it was still a Communist-themed restaurant. There were three floors to the hostel, and I lived on the top. For each of the three places I've stayed in in Germany, the following set of instructions can be used to get to my room:

1) Enter the building.
2) Go up the stairs as far as you can go.
3) Turn right at the top of the stairs.
4) My room is the last door on the left.

It's getting a little weird. I booked a hostel for my long weekend next week, and I'm eagerly waiting to find out what my room assignment is. I'll be extremely happy if that set of instructions also applies to that hostel.

Oh, you know what else is weird? And seriously, all of this is starting to make me feel like I'm in a Truman Show-esque situation. But the name if every city I've been to so far on this trip, and every city I'm scheduled to be in on this trip in the future, has two syllables. Really. Here, let me list them:

1. Frankfurt
2. Weimar
3. Leipzig
4. Erfurt
5. Jena
6. Naumburg
7. Nürnberg
8. München
9. Berlin
10. Potsdam
11. Frankfurt
12. Dresden

You may have noticed that I listed Frankfurt twice. That's because I'll be in two different Frankfurts on the trip, about 70 miles away from each other. Moreover, what further contributed to my paranoia was the fact that I mysteriously got sick on the very day we were scheduled to go to Eisenach, which has three syllables, and I had to stay home. Strange...

In any case, back to Dresden: Sure, the city is most likely very fun, and the people are very nice, but I was unable to see any of that due to the CONSTANT TORRENT OF TOURS AND MUSEUMS scheduled through the program. The same was the case with Berlin, but because I had a friend in Berlin who knew what to do in the evenings, it wasn't nearly as bad. But Dresden... Dresden was awful. Wake up in the morning, around 7, and spend the next 8-10 hours walking around on guided tours through museums or trying to navigate the confusing, hot streets to get to the next meeting point for a walking tour. While culture is important, it's not SO IMPORTANT that one has to constantly endlessly be force-fed the same art or history in different museums for hours at a time. I would have loved to simply go and figure out how the city works by myself, but by the time all the tours and museums were over for the day, I was always exhausted. And that's not how to get an emotional understanding of a city, the same kind I was able to get with Weimar, or even Berlin to some extent.

Oh, and the churches.

Have you heard of something called Graham's Number? This number completely re-defines "large" numbers. Let me try to explain it. And I totally "didn't" go to Wikipedia for this. So using Knuth's up-arrow notation, we can express numbers like 4 cubed as 4^3. And if we wanted to express an even larger number, we can use something more along the lines of 4^^3, meaning 4^(4^4). Or 4^^5, meaning 4^(4^(4^(4^4))). Furthermore, we can use more up arrows, making such crazy expressions as 4^^^3, which is 4^^(4^^4), which is... (4^(4^(4^4)))^^4^(... 4... er, something. Anyway, Graham's number can be represented by the number 3, followed by 7 trillion up arrows, followed by another 3. 7 TRILLION. Let me put that in other words. For those of us who don't know what a Planck Length is, it's the smallest possible length that exists in the universe before physics starts to not apply. It's so small, that one time I saw this animation online that was a logarithmic scale of the universe with a little scroll bar thing on the bottom, and I was like "oh man, that's really really small, like smaller than you can believe small." Lemme dig through the Internet... ah, here it is. Scroll all the way to the left to see it. It's cool. Anyway, if the known universe was divided up into cubes of edge 1 Planck Length, and each of those cubes contained just one digit of Graham's Number, (note: one digit) then we would still need something like 10^170 universes to represent the number of digits. That's like, indescribably big. Like, makes me want to vomit big.

But that's how many churches there are in Germany.

Seriously. They could do away with the euro and just pass around churches. I have to wade through them on my way to the bus stop in the morning. And on days when those in charge are feeling particularly lacking when it comes to the number of churches in the area, business stops, schools close, and traffic shuts down because of how many churches there are everywhere. EVERYWHERE. What's that? Your church burned down? Just go in the back and take one of those. Oh wait, they already replaced it with four more. I'm looking at the window now and I see no fewer than 7 churches. It wouldn't surprise me if there were 8 or 9 by the time I finish writing this post.

Which reminds me, I've been writing this post on and off for three days now. I should probably go ahead and click the "publish post" button before I accidentally delete all of this. Or before they build a church between me and my computer and I can't reach the touchpad. Uh oh, I think they're starting.