- cheeseheadinlondon posted this
Monday, June 20th, saw us come back to reality a bit and back to class – after a weekend of excitement, an easy day at class was alright by me. Between classes we took in a guest lecture on the media’s role in British politics, and I somehow managed to return my top hat and grab lunch. Thankfully the tube was operating normally. Otherwise, I’m not quite sure I would have made it back to class in time.
Things have begun to settle down in the office as I’ve begun to ease into a routine. The morning is set aside for urgent research based on the day’s proposed business. If nothing is pressing then it is back to the longer-term projects. Besides research into cyberstalking, I’ve been creating a database to track our MPs and the various questions they ask of the Government ministers. It’s a very simply MS Access database, but hey, I had to put five years of database management at the Fluno Center to work somehow! There really isn’t much to report on the day-to-day progress of these projects, so I’ll sort of gloss over the workweek at this point.
Thursday evening turned out to be quite unique. I had left work early to prepare for a trip to Dublin the next day. I hurriedly did some laundry before setting out with a flat mate for the LSE campus so that we could print our boarding passes. After struggling in the library for a bit (slow printers!), we decided to take our time getting back to the flat, and instead headed for Oxford to do some window shopping and to grab some food. After a short tube ride we arrived, and promptly got lost in conversation as we wandered the back streets. After a while we were a bit hungry, so we stopped at a Chinese take-away stall (I was craving Chinese, which is possibly my favorite cuisine). The food was worth it, though it would be a stretch to call it good Chinese food. As we continued to lazily wander the streets and eat our food, we happened across a church that felt quite out of place among the fashion shops that typify Oxford. We decided for some pictures, and after a bit tried to go into the Church for more pictures. As it turns out, the Royal School of Music was presenting a harp concert, though tickets cost five pounds. We stood outside for a bit, attempting to listen to the few notes that made it through the solid oak doors. A few other people had gathered, and we struck up a short conversation. After a bit one of our new friends handed us two tickets – we were in! We stayed for close to an hour. I was blown away by the skill of those who played. The technical skill required to pluck the right string at the right time, with the correct amount of force, and have it all come together so wonderfully really made an impression on me. And that was when it was a soloist. When the performance became a duet, I really was quite taken. After our impromptu night, I was ready for to relax and get on with the trip to Dublin.
(credit: Nichole Powell)
4:15 am came around too soon. But, I had to shower, pack a few things, and jump on a train all by 5:15 am. I wasn’t thrilled at the early-morning hustling, but I managed. A quick change to another train for the hour ride north to London Stansted airport, and we finally arrived sometime around 7 am. The inevitable slog through check-in and security was relatively painless, except for a few bottles of shampoo that became casualties. We made our flight, and off to Dublin we were.
A whole 50 minutes later we landed. It’s a good thing the flight was cheap! Immigration was a breeze – US residents need no visa, and once you’ve had your passport stamped you can stay in Ireland for up to 90 days. I wish all international travel was this easy! After clearing customs, we set off for the city center via bus, which was a mistake. I’m not sure if the guy who designed the roads in Dublin was drunk, or the guys who built the roads were drunk, or possibly both…but it seemed like there weren’t many streets that were straight. Our bus driver must have also thought he was an F1 driver. Needless to say, it was not the most pleasant bus ride I’ve ever been on.
We got off the bus in the city center, and I was not immediately impressed by Dublin. It didn’t seem to have much distinctive character, though I blame this sentiment mostly on the weather (overcast and threatening to rain when we arrived). The city grew on me, and by the end of the trip I was impressed. When we arrived, though, we were a bit lost as we tried to find something to eat and our hostel. After wandering for a half hour, we decided to grab the next place that looked good. As the guys stopped in a shop to ask directions (shocking, I know….), the girls were distracted by a bona-fide gypsy attempting to tell Chinese fortunes, or something along those lines. They politely declined.
After a nice breakfast at a relatively upscale joint, we set off for our hostel. We walked around Dublin for what seemed like an hour to find the hostel, though in reality we found it fairly quickly. I’m always suspicious of hostels and would much rather see it in person before booking, but we got lucky. The hostel was clean, quite, and actually had a few families staying there. Perfect! Plus, they had a sauna…which I took full advantage of. Unfortunately the staff was not quite ready for us, so we had to trudge on with our luggage, though most of us only brought a few things in a backpack, so it wasn’t too bad.
After leaving the hostel, we set off for our VIP Guinness Warehouse tour, specially arranged by one of our flat mate’s father, who happens to distribute beer back in the states. It was a great tour. Our guide walked us through the brewing process, though as a home brewer I noticed some slip ups that perhaps the rest of the group did not. For example, yeast consumes the sugars from barley, and not the hops, to produce alcohol. No worries though, a couple free Guinness made me a happy guy.
The Guinness experience is pretty unique in the world of brewery tours. In fact, it isn’t a brewery tour at all – at no point do you actually see any brewing. Instead, the staff focuses on explaining the brewing process and the specific history of Guinness. The tour begins on the ground floor of an old warehouse, in the middle of a glass structure the spans seven floors and resembles a pint glass. The tour winds its way to a bar at the top, where patrons enjoy a few free pints while looking out over the city of Dublin.
(credit: Nichole Powell)
After the tour, we again set out for the hostel. We thought we might stop by Trinity College on the way and see the Book of Kells (a Celtic Bible circa 800 a.d.). It was raining pretty heavily, and the walk was fairly long, so by the end of it I was pretty soaked through. After stalling at Trinity, we headed back to the hostel without seeing the Book of Kells.
One thing I was not prepared for regarding Dublin is that it has some pretty crazy nightlife. While I did go out for a while with the flat-mates, we didn’t experience anything of epic proportions, heading back to the hostel early instead of staying out all night. By the stories our cabbie told us, and the multitude of late-night clubs just opening up as we packed it in for the night, it was pretty evident that Dubliners like to rage. I was content to find a bed and finally sleep.
We awoke mid-morning on Saturday and slowly packed up our things, checked out of the hostel, and caught the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) train south a few miles to the town of Dun Laoghaire (pronounced Dun Leary), arriving in the early afternoon. Dun Laoghaire is a sea-side suburb of Dublin about seven miles to the south but a world apart in terms of culture. Whereas Dublin had the feel of an old city in the midst of regeneration, Dun Laoghaire felt to me very modern. I was glad to finally be sea-side, and the sailor in me geeked out a little bit at the site of so many sailboats. Captain Keith would be proud. We attempted to set up a sailing tour of Dublin harbor, but the timing was not right and we had to settle for walking out on the break-waters.
We spent the afternoon and early evening hours touring the seaside. At one point we wandered to the James Joyce museum, but it had a six euro entrance fee, so we decided to continue the adventure instead. We traveled further south along the coast, spending some time climbing sea-side boulders, lazing about, and generally relaxing and taking in the view. We then walked to the town charming town of Dalkey before walking back to Dun Laoghaire, stopping to get pizza on the way. The weather was quite pleasant, so we decided to rest up for a bit before grabbing some wine and heading back down to the coast to enjoy the night.
(credit: Nichole Powell)
Sunday was an early wake-up and train ride back to Dublin to tour the city a bit more before heading back to London. We hadn’t spent much time on Friday exploring due to the rain. Upon arriving in Dublin, we first found where we would need to board our bus to the airport, and then headed back to Trinity College and the Book of Kells. While I did not want to pay the admission fee to see the books, a couple of the flat mates did. A couple of us toured the campus and surrounding area, before heading to the center of town. Our time was very limited, so we didn’t get to see much more of the city before needing to head back to the airport, meaning I will have to go back to Dublin someday.
The airport and flight back to London were run-of-the-mill experiences, so I won’t relate them in detail. Upon arriving at Stansted Airport, we were held up in customs for a bit as one of the guys in the program couldn’t find his ticket, which would have allowed him to skip immigration. Instead, the rest of us skipped immigration and had to wait for him to get his passport stamped again. From there, we learned that the direct train to downtown London wasn’t operating, so we instead had to travel to Cambridge before catching the train to London. This would have been fine on any other day, but on this particular day the sun was shining and the temperatures were soaring. The train carriages weren’t air conditioned, and they were packed full of travelers trying to get to London – which meant those of us who barely made the train had to stand. It was a miserable ride that took twice as long as it should have. We eventually made it back to London and our flats, though it was a grueling time spent on the trains. Once we arrived at the flats, all of that frustration melted away as it was just good to be home. After a shower I was back to normal, and was heartened by the week ahead – Monday promised to be a good day.
Unlike our normal Mondays which consist of class, on this particular Monday we were headed to Oxford for a few informal lectures and time on campus. Unfortunately we first had to endure another arduous, sweltering hot train ride, though it wasn’t nearly as bad as the previous day once I found a seat. At this point I had coffee and a good book to read (Frank: The Voice by James Kaplan), so I was fairly content other than the heat.
Oxford is a beautiful city, and I highly recommend that anyone who visits the UK spends some time here. The campus is full of amazing architecture, the shopping centers have the feel of State Street in Madison, and the grounds of Christ Church are exquisite. We spent most of the day wandering the city, though we did fit in two lectures with renowned academics, one of whom had once spent an afternoon getting drunk with Churchill (he had other interesting things to talk about, but he readily admitted this was the pinnacle of his life). After our second lecture in the afternoon, we had to sprint back to the station and board the train for London in order to have enough time to get ready for our evening event: a Speaker’s Reception for the Hansard Society, which is the group that is organizing our time here in the UK.
Upon arriving in London, it was fairly evident that we were likely to be late. Half an hour to clean up a bit, change into formal wear, and catch the tube for a half an hour ride? Things did not look good. A few of the quicker members of the group made it on time (though I’m not sure how…), but the rest of us were only a few minutes late. Unfortunately when we made it to Westminster, we received incorrect directions four times, which made us even more late. Finally we did find the Speaker’s House, and the room we were supposed to be in. I am still in awe at the night – rubbing elbows with the Speak of the House John Bercow MP and the various MPs and officials, as well as members of the Hansard Society. For those of you who do not follow British Politics, which I assume is the majority, the Speaker of the House is very similar to the Speak of the House of Representatives back in the States, but in a more regal fashion, the difference being that the Speaker here is non-partisan. Mr. Bercow is a unique figure in that he has reformed the procedures on the House of Commons in an attempt to bring more transparency and accountability to the House – he will often call Minister of State to answer oral questions before the chamber on little to no notice, among other Parliamentary procedures he has implemented. Being the politics junkie that I am, I was absolutely thrilled to have a short conversation with the Speaker and have my picture taken with him.
Speak of the House center, with Hansard Scholars (credit: Sierra Parker via Lisa George)
Unfortunately I had to speak with others at the reception as well. At one point I found myself speaking with the head of BBC Politics, among others. I was a bit overwhelmed by the night towards the end, as the gravity of the situation hit me a bit. I was speaking with our program director who mentioned that not many Hansard Scholars (our official title in the program) have the pleasure of attending the Hansard Society’s official reception – it’s a once-a-year affair that they usually do not invite the Scholars to. What an honor, then!
After leaving the reception, a few of us set out on a quest for food. We found sustenance at a pub on Whitehall, then decided to continue the night in SoHo, a fashionable area of downtown London. Though it was a tame evening, I did get the chance to have a great conversation with a few of the people in the program that I haven’t had a chance to talk with very much. All in all it was a great day and night.
Tuesday and Wednesday were typical days in the office, certainly nothing to write home about. I’ve spent time researching the extent of devolution in Scotland and Northern Ireland in a few different policy areas, and also looking in detail at the Pension Bill (I’ve promised myself to never, ever become a pension lawyer – absolutely bland and mind-numbing). Thursday, however, was a bit of an oddity, as we had large public-sector strikes take place downtown protesting the Government’s decision to raise the pension age and the amount of money public servants will pay into their pensions. At times I felt like I was in Madison in February, protesting all over again. Because Plaid leans to the left, and we weren’t willing to cross the picket lines, I had the day off. I used my time to work a bit on my dissertation and plan for the next couple of weeks. In the afternoon me and a couple flat mates headed to Hyde Park to watch Mumford and Sons and Arcade Fire live. Two of my favorite bands + 60,000 people…no big deal…though the police out front were not happy with us for trying to sell one of our extra tickets. Mumford played a few new songs, so I am extremely happy I went. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever been to.
And that brings me to today – Friday. I have an essay due on Monday, and a dissertation to work on, so I will be spending the majority of my day and this weekend in the library. Time to act like a student for a spell.