Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Snowzilla 2008

Every year in Anchorage a man over on Columbine Street constructs a giant snowman who has come to be more affectionately called 'Snowzilla.' This year he isn't quite as impressive as he usually is, but there's a story behind that. Here are some of the headlines that circulated regarding the snow monster this year:

"Alaska pulls plug on Snowzilla the giant snowman"
"Alaska officials condemn Snowzilla to melt"
"Snowzilla declared a public nuisance"

and then

"Rise, Snowzilla, Rise!"
"Snowzilla rises from the dead"
"Snowzilla, King of Snowmen, returns"
"Banned Snowzilla mysteriously reappears, wreaks havoc in Alaska"

Basically the city issued an ordinance telling the man to 'cease and desist' the building of Snowzilla. As you can see by Snowzilla's bottom snowball he was supposed to be massively bigger than he ended up. The man obeyed the ordinance and then overnight on the 23rd the snowman was mysteriously resurrected. Of course, much smaller than originally intended, but he was built hastily this year. Who else can boast an outlawed snow giant!? Only Alaska my friends, only Alaska.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Coming to an End

I'm so sorry for not keeping you updated these past few weeks! My trip around Europe was absolutely amazing. By far the best experience of my entire life. I can't believe it's time to go home already!
The reason I haven't been posting is because my laptop is on its deathbed. Unfortunately while I was traveling through Italy I kept uploading all of my photos from my camera onto my laptop. So all of my photos are stuck on a computer with no internet capabilities.
Not to mention it IS finals time in school and so rather than typing blogs I've been typing multiple 6-10 page essays about Irish politics, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, and Irish-America.
So as bittersweet as I'm feeling right now, I'll have plenty of time to update the blog and finish telling you about the end of my semester in Ireland once finals are over next Thursday. Wish me luck!

To keep you going though here are just a couple of pictures previewing what's to come:

Friday, November 21, 2008

My Grand Tour

Alright folks! I am off to Paris, Milan, Florence, Rome, and the Vatican City for the next 11 days! I can't wait to come back and share my experience with you! And you better believe that I will have more pictures than normal - brace yourselves! Until then, Cheers!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Our Trip North: #4

Our final trip destination? Giant's Causeway! Legend tells of Finn Mac Cool, an Irish giant who built the causeway to Scotland to fight his Scottish rival, Benandonner. Unfortunately Finn fell asleep before he reached Scotland. When he didn't show up Benandonner came to look for him. To protect Finn, his wife, Oonagh, covered him with a blanket and pretended like the giant was actually Finn's baby. When Benandonner saw the size of the 'baby' he assumed Finn would be too big to fight and fled home to Scotland, breaking the Causeway up into millions of hexagonal columns and even lost his boot!

Me hanging out on the rocks

A bunch of us looking out over the coast from atop the Causeway

See the hexagons? Cool, huh? They were actually formed by molten lava flowing over the area which then cooled extremely quickly thus causing the rock to contract and break. I think the Giant story is cooler.

The waves crashing on the rocks. A couple of the guys got a little to close and walked back to the bus in soggy clothes.

More of the hexagons. I later found a postcard in the gift shop that looked almost exactly like my photo. Maybe I have a career in postcard photography?

Me again :)

I was just sitting down to watch the waves when John thought I looked picturesque. See Benandonner's boot there in the distance above my head?

The whole gang at Giant's Causeway (minus a sick Josh and a recently injured Charlie)

And of course, I couldn't leave the UK for the last time this semester
without a red phone booth photo!

Our Trip North: #3

Just a quick snapshot to start our second morning of weekend vacation. I honestly can't remember if I was taking a picture of anything important or not... but I'm fairly certain I just thought the view was pretty! Either way - Enjoy!

Now onto the good parts ;) Our third stop in the Northern Ireland Tour was Dunluce Castle. I took this sentence off their website because I don't think I could have said it any better myself:

"The limestone cliffs of the White Rocks ends abruptly against a dark basalt outcrop which is majestically crowned by Dunluce Castle and joined to the mainland by an arched walkway, underneath lies the 'Mermaid's Cave."

We watched a short film before frolicking off to discover the magic of the castle for ourselves. The film informed us that the castle was originally held by the McQuillen family in the 13th century, but was taken over by Sorley Boi McDonnell in the late 16th century. And then to be honest with you I've forgotten a lot of the little historical blurbs our guide gave us. It was just such an info. packed weekend! But you can visit the website above and look around!

Below is the view of the castle after walking through the Manor House and the stable yard. The drawbridge is purposely a single-file space making it easier for shooters in the tower to take down invaders.

Although much of the castle has been restored, a section of the original 13th century cobblestone has been preserved. Obviously after the picture was snapped I went and marched around on it for a few moments. Who knows who else's feet have walked over the very same cobblestone!?

A view from inside the labyrinth of halls. How cool would it be to play manhunt in this place!?

We learned that staircases up to the towers were almost always built wrapping around to the right. This is so that if invaders actually made it within the castle walls, most of them probably being right-handed and wielding weapons in their right hand, they would have one heck of a time getting their weapons up the stairs that closely to the wall. Thus, giving the advantage to the guys in the tower. Bet you never thought of that!

John and I pretended to be watch guards - except I have a really tooly expression on my face, haha! I don't think we would have made very intimidating guardsmen.

A breathtaking view from inside the castle:

Me inside the ancient oven:

Dunluce Castle was an amazing place to visit! I love learning the history of places so old and standing in the same places where people in the 13th century stood. The views were incredible and to imagine the story of the battles and life within the castle walls... it was just astounding. Thank goodness for the good-will of the government sometimes when it comes to preservation of something like this place!

Our Trip North: #2

The next stop on our trip up to Northern Ireland was actually IN Northern Ireland. We stopped in Belfast to take a tour given by the Black Taxi Tour Group. We split into two taxis but stopped periodically to get out, take photos, and receive lessons in history as a large group. Fortunately most of us students are taking history courses and have learned a bit about the recent political history in Northern Ireland. I'll do my best to fill you in. In 1800 Ireland signed the Act of Union with Britain thus entering the United Kingdom, giving up the Irish Parliament, and taking seats in Westminster (Britain's Parliament). In the late 19th century, Ireland began to seek Home Rule. They wanted to govern themselves once more and rule from Ireland. However over the century the people of Ireland had split into Nationalists and Unionists. The distinction obviously being people that supported a self-governing Ireland, and people that still supported the Union. Ireland finally gained Home Rule in 1914, but it was immediately put on the back burner since good ole Franz Ferdinand was assassinated and began the outbreak of the Great War. While Ireland remained neutral, all of their government was still taking place at Westminster in Britain - obviously contenders in the war. In Easter 1916 some boys down here in Dublin got tired of waiting for Home Rule to happen and took matters into their own hands. What widely became known as the 1916 Rebellion which I mentioned when I visited Kilmainham Gaol. In the meantime religious leadership had come into play. See, when Ireland became part of the UK many Anglicans moved to Ireland and became known as the Anglo-Irish. They were mainly Protestant while the majority of the Irish were Catholic. Since the Irish were being displaced the Anglo-Irish Protestant Unionists came into wealth and power, especially in Northern Ireland.

(I know this is getting lengthy so I'll try to sum the rest of fairly quickly so I can share my trip with you!)

When Ireland finally signed the deal with Britain for Home Rule there was a lot of resistance in Northern Ireland and the deal basically gave Ireland back the 26 lower counties which became known as The Republic of Ireland, and Britain maintained control of the northern 6 counties which became Northern Ireland. This separation of Ireland is known as the Partition.

Jumping ahead a few decades we get to the 1960's. There's sort of a worldwide civil rights thing going on, you might have heard of it. The Irish Republican Army started getting active in Northern Ireland because the people up there were sick of the inequality between Catholics and Protestants. The inequality was especially apparent when it came to things like employment, voting, and real estate. This caused emigration mainly among the Catholic sect since they were being treated most unfairly and is probably how in America we received such a large Irish Catholic population.

Anyway, in the 1960's there was an outbreak of violence because the British government basically turned a blind eye to the oppression and the people of Northern Ireland decided to finally take matters into their own hands. This started what became known as the "Troubles" during which there were bombings throughout Belfast, crimes of arson and acts of ill-intent towards people of a different religious background. The Troubles lasted until 1998 when the Good Friday Agreement was signed by eight parties - it was a document agreed upon by northern Protestants and Catholics alike, and even was supported by the Republic.

I am leaving a LOT out, but you can look up the Troubles on Google if you'd like to know more about it!

Below are some of my pictures from the trip. During the Troubles a lot of murals started showing up on buildings around Belfast depicting scenes as viewed by either Catholics (in their part of town) or Protestants (in their part of town). This first one is an image of Bobby Sands (yes, he IS a man) who was a leader in the Irish Hunger Strike in 1981. On May 5th, 1981 after 65 days on hunger strike, Bobby Sands was the first of the participating prisoners to die.

This is the international wall of murals. We learned that the face of the wall changed greatly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Being a Democrat I found this one particularly amusing:

This is a mural depicting the 11 hunger strikers:

This is probably the most famous Belfast Mural. The gunner in the middle follows you wherever you walk. I tried to show it through my photos, but it was a very surreal experience walking every which way around him and to always have his gun targeted on me.

This is the Peace Wall that was erected in the 1970's as a barrier between Catholic and Protestant homes. Even though the Troubles have been over for 10 years now the walls will not be taken down for another 20 years. The idea is that people my age only have childhood memories of the wall and most people in my generation are peace advocates. Many people in my generation are beginning to have children and by the time those children are becoming active members of society in their 20's - they will have absolutely no recollection of the Troubles except through what has been told to them and the idea is that it will be safe to bring the wall down.

When we traveled to the other side of the wall our taxi tour guide pulled out some black markers, handed them around, and encouraged us to leave our mark in history:

Unbeknownst to me one of my fellow students captured a picture of me reading the wall. First to have background knowledge before traveling to Belfast of what happened and then to travel around and stand in the midst of where everything happened, reading the cries for peace on the wall was truly one of the most touching experiences of my life.

We only stayed in Belfast long enough to finish the tour which I think was okay with everyone. Even though the violence is over and it probably would have been safe to stay there, I think we all felt a little unsettled and were glad to move on.

Our Trip North: #1

First stop? Newgrange! This is the site of a 5,000 year old tomb built in the Neolithic Period (New Stone Age). Before we went inside we got a bit of a history lesson and learned that Newgrange is in fact older than both Stonehenge in England and the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. It sits near the Boyne River which was the site of the famous Battle of the Boyne. Newgrange is one of three large tombs in this area. The other two are called Knowth and Dowth. But Newgrange has been restored a bit for the tourist thing.

During our little history lesson at the entrance to Newgrange we learned that surrounding the three major tomb sites are many satellite tombs that have yet to be excavated. The satellite tombs are much smaller but probably contain many more remains than the large sites. I tried to take a picture of the satellite tombs, but the sun sort of interrupted (not that I'm complaining! Sun in Ireland!?) If you look really closely you can see one of the smaller tomb sites almost right in the middle of this picture to the right of that little tree line. There's another one right behind the tree line but you can't really make it out in this photo.

Finally we split into two groups and were taken inside the tomb. The pathway kept getting more and more narrow. At some points I thought I wasn't going to fit but then remembered there are big guys in my group and they'd gone ahead before me! When we finally got to the end we were hit with the reality that for as big as the mound is on the outside, 20 people could barely fit on the inside. There were three tomb places - with the long entryway behind us there was one on either side, and one straight ahead. Each place contained a single basin which was used to collect the ashes of the deceased. These people burned their dead.

Perhaps the single most reason Newgrange is so famous is for its precise construction and ancient technology. In order to build this site there would have been a major collaboration of architects, astrologists, and artists. At the front of Newgrange, above the entryway for people, there is a small window. At Winter Solstice, December 21st, and for about six days surrounding the solstice, the chamber is illuminated with sunlight. As you walk up the entryway, you actually walk on an upward slope and by the time you get into the chamber, the window out front is perfectly aligned with the ground inside. I couldn't take pictures inside the tomb as it would have been disrespectful, but here is a photo of the entry hall from outside Newgrange looking in.

**Update** I found some photos online of actual pictures from inside the tomb and not from the replica inside the visitor's centre: Newgrange Interior. There's also a link at the bottom of that page for more pictures of the interior (which I think are neater than the first page!)

Me outside Newgrange. Those darker stones outside the entrance are not original. They were installed as part of the restoration. Originally the only way to get inside the tomb was to crawl over the large stones there in the front. The restoration builders decided to put staircases in on either side and to put in a different type of stone so that there would be no mistaking the old original architecture for that of the restoration.

A picture of the whole group out front

Justin, John and I grabbing a quick lunch before heading off to our next destination: Belfast!

Dress code: Formasual

Last week while we were getting ready to go to the Ambassador's house, John came down to ask mine and Megan's opinion about which tie he should wear (since we bought three of them and he borrowed one from Justin). We decided on one right about the time we should have been walking out the door, so he put it on and off we went. Several days later, John still hadn't come down to pick up his ties. So before we went to Northern Ireland for the weekend, some of us decided to go out to O'Briens for a couple of beers before coming home and getting some sleep for the big day. Of course, with just enough ties hanging around we all put one on just for the hell of it and went off to the pub looking 'formasual.'

Below is just a shot of the O'Briens pub sign. I'm going to attempt in my last few weeks here to take pictures of all the pubs we frequent. I only thought it was appropriate that since O'Briens is the first pub I went out to (aside from our guided orientation) that it should be the first picture in my collection!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Another trip!

Countdown to Northern Ireland:

1 critical thinking exam
1 fairly easy-going Friday night
2 big papers that I should at least put a big dent in
Multiple cups of coffee to get me through packing, and
21 hours until we load up the bus

As always, expect lots of pictures on my return!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mission Schmooze: Accomplished!

Here are a few pictures from last night at the US Embassy in Ireland:

Megan and I all dressed up in the apartment excited to go out!

Our Champlain group before the taxis picked us up

Me in the ladies coat room at the Embassy

Kyle, Megan, Me, Senator Leahy, Ambassador Foley, and John
This is probably my favorite picture of the entire night! A once in a lifetime opportunity!

Future First Lady? Haha

"Giving a speech"

This guy didn't think we were putting enough PASSION into our fake speeches, so he taught us! I think we did a pretty good job.

Leaving the Embassy party with my new friend Mike.

The night was incredibly exciting. Many of the same business people were there that I met on Sunday at the school, but it was really great to see them again and strengthen our connections. I even walked away with some more business cards! I guess maybe I could get used to these kinds of functions ;)