Sunday, January 21, 2007

Weekend Exile

In light of a week of madness to get my 'final' portfolio shined up for Friday and in an unprecedented burst of energy, I decided that a weekend out of Dublin would be a good reward to the late nights of folio work. So I planned a 2-night stay in Belfast in Northern Ireland, leaving Dublin at 6am and returning late sunday night. All was planned and in good order but compleeetely slept right in till about 10 Saturday morning, missing the morning train. On the fly, I decided a one-nighter in Kilkenny was a better idea instead.

So, I brought the Silver Bullet/'Betsy' (my bike) on-board the train and motored through the city. Kilkenny is about 75, 000 people, around the size of the Soo, but feels a quarter of the size and a few centuries older too. My plan was to go and photograph and sketch but it was rainy most of the time and too cold to hold a pencil. Instead, I just wandered about, checking out the many Gothic churches and cathedrals and sneaking the odd pint here and there. Fittingly, Kilkenny Cream Ale is brewed here and as I understand it, the St. Francis Abbey is where the ale was originally brewed. In 1650, the abbey was desecrated upon discovering that the monks had been secretly brewing the Kilkenny Ale. Now, the brewery also produces Smithwick's and Guinness. I tried the Smithwick's here and it was a pint from God.

I caught a painfully dry tour of the Kilkenny Castle which I tried to escape from midway, but in the process set off security alarms and was confronted by guards who thought that I was stealing rare cultural artifacts. I was more interested in seeing the grounds of the Castle. It's endless green with all kinds of winding paths through these really old forests. William of Orange, or 'Strongbow' originally built a small castle at the same location but the castle was destroyed and rebuilt in the same location as a more serious keep. The castle was passed on to various hands and has a winding history of ownership, but eventually the castle was handed over to the Castle Restoration Committee for 50 pounds in 1967.

The main thing I wanted to see in Kilkenny was the Kells Priory which is the main reason I brought Betsy along - it's a 45 minute bike ride to the village of Kells and then a another 10 into the middle of a field outside of Kells. As is the case throughout the Irish countryside, castles are found all over the place, and like the Kells Priory or the Rock of Cashel which James and Melissa went to visit, you just march out into the middle of a field where sheep and cows are grazing and there is no admission or tour groups or even people at all. It's basically just you, the sheep, and an empty castle. Amazing.

However, as I mentioned before, the weather was crap so I'll be back in the summer!

St. Canice's Cathedral; Downtown Kilkenny

Kilkenny Castle - this one's for you Tom; Meandering through the city

St. Canice's by night

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


The Christmas holidays were as fun and relaxing as I could have dreamed of this year. Dashed out of the office, with a lingering fatigue from the Christmas party and hopped on a bumpy Ryanair flight to Bristol which was a stroke of luck because at the time, Heathrow was completely bogged down with fog and commuters were held up in the airport in some cases for two days right up till xmas eve (above). Luckily, I only suffered a 20min wait and on arrival, met up with Uncle Mark at the airport to hang out at their place in Gloucestershire. From here on, it was an outrageously relaxing five days. We hit things off with a mutual agreement that the day does not begin until after 11am. Fantastic.

During the day, Uncle Mark and I gallivanted around town with the odd spin through ye Olde English countryside. We conquered much of the area around Gloucestershire, including historic villages such as Stow on the Wold, Guiting Power, Cheltenham, and later Gloucester City. Whenever possible, we hit the town with Aunt Shashi on her days off from work. Our xmas dinner was a mighty lamb feast submerged in a sea of gravy. Aunt Shashi very kindly invited a friend from work to share Christmas dinner with, particularly since her entire family is in India at the moment.

Homes (or cottages as they call them) in the village Guiting Power, and the village church

Night view of Gloucester Cathedral (they used this place as Hogwarts Castle in filming Harry Potter!); View over the countryside in Guiting Power; Post-Christmas Dinner with Aunt Shashi (left), Aunt Shashi's friend from work (who's name has slipped from me...sorry!), and Uncle Mark (right).

When I woke from my post-dinner coma the next day, I was on the move again. Heading back to Dubby, I was to meet up with Jessie early the next morning. On one look, J had a distinct greenness to her, and soon found out she was down with a nasty flu. The first day in Dubby was spent sprawled out on the couch drinking soup and tea with appropriate pampering. The next day we met up with Morgan, Nico and Renee (all classmates and superfriends from school) and quickly bolted for a Guinness and some hot pub food. We soon met up with James and Melissa and over the next 5 days hit up the sights including Dublin Castle, Chester Beatty Library, the Guinness Factory, the Brazen Head (oldest pub in Ireland), as well as my faithful Cobblestone Pub. In much of our time, we just strode about the streets and the Greens. It felt a wee bit strange acting tourguide for friends through a city I've only been living in for 2 months - I'm still exploring the place, myself!

Team Canada in their Glory: Morgan, Melissa, James, Renee, Nico, and Jessie; Dublin Castle (note: a blue sky!); Renee at the Guinness Factory.

Halfway through our visit, the five of us planned a day-trip out to Galway City on the west coast which was a painful 5am wake-up but definitely a worthwhile trip to have made. We grabbed the Iarnrod Eireann (Irish Rail) through the countryside, which was dotted with sheep, castles, and random stone walls - traces of the rural medieval lordships. Almost everyone was pretty much zonked the whole ride out, except somehow Jessie amazingly defeated her flu and stayed awake the entire 2.5 hour ride! On arrival, we had a bad impression of the town as the train station was located in a ugly area but as we meandered closer to the heart of the town, a lively and charming feeling sprung up. We walked around all day, popping our heads into various churches, and seeing other landmarks like the Lynch Memorial Window, and the Spanish Arch. We also marched long and steadily across town to witness the seaside. This was Jessie's first time dipping her fingers in an ocean and strolling a coastline which was exciting for us to be there for it! At the same time, the sky was very dramatic over the Arainn Islands which we were combing the beaches.

Along the theme of Gateways and
Posing: Morgan under the Lynch Memorial Window, Nico at his respective Spanish Arch, and Jessie at a perfectly scaled door!

We headed back to Dublin and kicked out 2006 (or as the others named two-thousand and suck, in light of a punishing school semester). We were supposed to meet up with some of James' friends at work, but at the last minute, all plans fell through and found ourselves without tickets to alternatively get in to pub downtown. This hardly left a mark in our spirits as we were quite happy to celebrate together at James and Melissa' house. It was a great night preceded by a competitive Cranium match (the UK version). I was paired up with Jess who kept us from... fully sinking, after some failed spellings including 'poisonous' backwards (note: James released a cosmic belch with derailed all concentration in the room). You can also see Morgan's brilliant Humdinger performance of Madonna's 'Like a Virgin' at Jessie's new blog. As the hour struck near, glasses soared into the air to the sound of clinking and spillage. In our excitement, everyone ran outside to hear fireworks and bell-tolls, only to soon find ourselves locked out of the flat! Standing in the cold we rang every flat in the building, finally saved by the upstairs neighbours. At this point, we merged groups and met a jolly band of folks from Cork.

Soon after, Team Canada was enroute to other exotic lands, as part of their Directed Studies Abroad Program (DSA). They're heading to Bern, Switzerland for 4 months as an immersive studio. Nico, Renee, and Morgan split for Bern on the 2nd and Jess headed off to Helsinki, Finland where she's undertaking an exciting new Wood Construction program for a year.

I met up with Jess in Helsinki for the rest of my generously long break. I'll put up a quick note later on the trip to Finland, but you can get a good idea of the whole thing at J's 'Architecture in Helsinki' article.

(Also, will be moving to a different blogsite, as blogger is becoming increeeeasingly frustrating to cleanly format. Will let everyone know when I move.)