Thursday, April 30, 2009

"The Variable"

This week's episode of LOST was good but certainly not as great I was was expecting based on comments made by Carlton Cuse about it being his favorite episode ever. It definitely wasn't better than it's "companion piece" from Season 4, "The Constant." I can't help feeling that as we approach the home stretch of Season 5, I'm really starting to be underwhelmed by certain aspects of the story. Perhaps it's because I am expecting too much or that the week lag between each new episode kills the momentum for me. I'm sure that when I view them all back to back after the end of the season I'll appreciate it more as a whole, but at this point, I can honestly say that I do not like this season as much as the last or even the season before (and that season started out with the crappy first six episodes and also included the episode about Jack's tattoos!). Don't get me wrong, there have been some great moments this year and some really big surprises but it feels like there is just something missing for me. It probably goes back to the fact that this season is a bridge between the past (time and seasons) and the future. I will try to reserve judgment of the season as whole until it's all said and done. After all, Season 3 ended with such a great episode it made me forget all about those crappy first six episodes and that one about Jack's tattoos (see above!). But enough ranting from me.


For the antipenultimate episode of Season 5, we finally got to learn Faraday's backstory. There were a whole lot of moments which seemed to be played as if we were supposed to be shocked by them, but really I think most people already expected most of the revelations (i.e. Charles Widmore is Daniel's father, Desmond surviving being shot by Ben). So it appears that Eloise Hawking did indeed have a plan for Daniel all along: to send him to the Island so that a younger version of herself could kill him to maintain the course of the future as it should play out. What a bitch! At least by killing him, it will make it harder for Jack and Kate to try to change the past, stop the Incident and keep Oceanic 815 from crashing in 2004.

I was pretty peeved when Daniel explained his plan of changing the future to prevent the chain of events that would lead them all to the Island. For the entire season, they have been beating us over the head with the rules of time travel and how nothing can be changed. Whatever happened, happened, right? Now all of a sudden they are going to change the future which will create a paradox (which we were promised wouldn't happen under the LOST rules of time travel)!?! Roxi explained a scenario to me in which a paradox does not occur though I'm still not completely on board. Since it is the present time for Jack, Kate, etc. they can prevent the Incident, thus preventing the need for the button in the Swan Station and crash of Oceanic 815 without distrupting the space-time continuum. By doing so, they would create alternate versions of themselves that would land in Los Angeles as planned in 2004. Of course the Island versions would have to live out their days on the Island (if live is the right word considering Daniel's plan called for detonating Jughead) so what good would it do them anyway? They would erase the crash but not their experience of the crash so they would not improve their own lives, only the lives of their doubles. Confused? You should be because to me it's still doesn't solve their problem and sure seems paradoxical to me. I hope that is not the final result of the season but I am along for the long haul until the end.

Things sure aren't looking good for Sawyer, Juliet and the other Losties back in Dharma town. I think it's going to get worse for them before it gets better. I have a feeling we are going to lose some characters before it's all said and done which is fine with me as long as we don't lose Sawyer or Hurley. And what was the deal with Juliet giving Kate and Jack the sonic fence code?

I liked the scene between Pierre Chang, Daniel and Miles. Chang definitely wasn't conviced that Faraday was from the future at first but I think by the time he left, he was planning to pack up the wife and kid to send them off the Island. It was also nice to get closure on Daniel's previous flashback scenes. So Charles Widmore faked the Oceanic 815 wreckage. Why? To keep other people from finding the Island I suppose but it seems like an awful lot of trouble to go through to keep an Island hidden that almost no one can find anyway.

Where the hell is Sayid and what has he been up to since he shot young Ben? Speaking of Ben, what are he, Locke and Sun doing now that he has been judged by the Smoke Monster? Rose and Bernard anyone? I'm getting really tired of our characters being too spread out to see all of them each week. I think that may be my biggest complaint of the season. I never expected them to be separated for this long. I know it's a big Island and time travel is involved, but they better all be together next season or else I'm afraid I'll continue to feel like there is too much going on in too many places.


Today is Konninginnedag (Queen's Day) in the Netherlands. It is a national holiday celebrating the birthday of Queen Beatrix. Her birthday is actually on January 31 but she chose to keep Queen's Day on April 30, her mother Queen Juliana's birthday, because of the more favorable weather for parades and outdoor celebrations.

Here in Enschede, Queen's Day festivities began at 9 AM in the the city center with a speech by the mayor followed by a toast of oranjebitter (a type of orange brandy) and music. The celebration was planned to last until 9 PM this evening.

The queen and the royal family traditionally visit two towns every Queen's Day for a parade. This year however, the parade in Apeldoorn was marred by a car that careened through barricades and a crowd of people, narrowly missing an open bus carrying the royal family, before crashing into a monument. Twelve people were injured and two have died as a result of the crash. In light of the events, the celebration in Apelodoorn has been canceled.

I'm sure that not all celebrations will be canceled around the Netherlands, but they will surely take on a more subdued tone due to today's events.

UPDATE: The car crash was not an accident. The driver apparently plowed through the crowd on purpose in an attempt to do harm to the royal family. He has since died from his injuries as have two other people bringing the death toll to five.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

An Upside to Communicable Diseases

All this talk of pandemics reminds me of a song I wrote during the monkey pox scare in 2003. I imagined a scenario in which a mandatory quarantine might not be such a bad thing...

Swine Flu and (the E) You

It’s hard to recall a time when there wasn’t some impending doom that was going to kill us all. The ubiquitous stories about the dangers of common household items are enough to send some people into nervous breakdowns. Pandemic disease has always been a common fear but in the past few years it seems that we have stepped up our anticipation to claim that any outbreak of the flu might be “the big one.”

The panic du jour is of course swine influenza. The trouble is, we have been down this road before with SARS, monkey pox and avian flu in the last few years and none of them has come close to the killer pandemic that was predicted. It is impossible to deny that a pandemic won’t happen for the simple fact that there have been three in less than 100 years. According to the World Health Organization, the 1918 outbreak of Spanish influenza somewhere between 20 and 40 million people worldwide. The subsequent 1957 Asian and 1968 Hong Kong influenzas are believed to have killed about an order of magnitude less. So is swine flu going to kill us all? The answer is: probably not.

As of two hours ago, the WHO reported that there have been 148 laboratory confirmed cases of A/H1N1 in Mexico, the US, Canada, the UK, Israel, Spain, Austria, Germany and New Zealand. That’s up from 105 confirmed cases yesterday. Of the 26 cases in Mexico, seven have been fatal and of the 91 cases in the US, only one has resulted in death. Despite reports of hundreds of people sick with swine flu in Mexico City, there have been only 26 laboratory confirmed cases. The hundreds of other cases being reported are unconfirmed by tests calling into question the severity of this entire panic. The fact of the matter is that seasonal influenza kills more people in the US annually that swine flu will probably kill worldwide. The CDC estimates that 36,000 Americans die every year from the flu. That translates to almost 100 per day. Again, currently only seven people have died in Mexico from swine flu despite reports to the contrary while the sole US death was of a 23-month old boy from Mexico City that was transported to Houston for treatment.

So why aren’t people dying in the other countries with confirmed cases? Again despite what has been written in some places, swine flu responds to treatment. Like it or not, Mexico is essentially a third world country where medical care leaves a lot to be desired. It is rather unsurprising that there would be deaths from this flu considering that potable drinking water is hard to find in large parts of the country. As far the lone US casualty, the Mexico City native was reportedly sick for several weeks in which time he had been transported from city-to-city in Mexico and south Texas before ultimately reaching Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. Vigilance and common sense are obviously important in cases of communicable diseases, but the facts of these cases are not yet cause for undue panic.

Here in the Netherlands swine flu mostly appears to be a non-story. We received an email from the US consulate in Amsterdam yesterday assuring us that there have been no confirmed cases in the country and that antivirus medications are available if the need arises. We don’t have much access to English language television so I really can’t say if this story is being covered on a moment-to-moment basis on Dutch news, as I’m sure it is in the States, but it is a big story on the BBC and CNN International. That all being said, on Monday the health commissioner for the European Union recommended that citizens postpone non-essential travel to the US and Mexico which is not necessarily an overreaction to the situation but I’m sure it doesn’t help to mitigate fears in North America.

Elsewhere in the European Union, France has asked the EU to officially suspend travel to Mexico although they apparently have no authority do so. An Air France flight crew has reportedly refused to board flights bound for Mexico since Saturday. Tomorrow the EU will be holding a meeting of health ministers in Luxembourg to coordinate the continent's response to the outbreak.

The simple fact is that pandemics have happened before and will happen again. Most people had never heard of swine flu before last week, but there’s nothing new under the sun as is evidenced by these swine flu public service announcements from 1976:

The 1976 outbreak of swine flu in the US resulted in one fatality. That was not the end of the world and neither is this.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Maastricht with Jack & Mary

After the night of Batavierenrace partying, on Sunday afternoon we took the long train ride from Enschede to Maastricht in the southeastern tip of the Netherlands.

View Larger Map

Although Maastricht is only about 220 km (~136 miles) southwest of Enschede, there is no direct north-south train between the two. As a result, we had to travel about 100 km (~62 miles) out of the way via Utrecht resulting in a trip that ended up taking more than four hours. By the time we arrived in Maastricht it was after five in the afternoon, but thanks to the long days, we still had enough time to walk to the city center and see several old churches before dark.

Our hotel could have only been more convenient if it were located in the train station. Alas, it was a few hundred yards across the street. The Grand Hotel de l'Empereur was extremely nice and well kept for the price (got to love Expedia!).

Maastricht Station

Grand Hotel de l'Empereur

During the short walk from the hotel to the city center we passed a side street leading to St. Martin's Church and crossed the Maas River.

Sint Martinuskerk (St. Martin's Church)

Maas River

From the river it wasn't far to the Vrijthof square where Saint John's Church and the Basilica of St. Servatius are almost literally butressed up against each other. Both were closed to visitors that late in the day, but it was still awe inspiring to admire the size of the tower on St. John's Church. The cathedrals of Europe are truly amazing works of engineering and devotions to faith.

Sint Servaasbasiliek (Basilica of St. Servatius)

Towers of the Basilica of St. Servatius.

Stained glass windows of the Basilica of St. Servatius.

Sint Janskerk (St. John's Church)

The massive tower of St. John's Church.

After admiring the churches, we decided to have dinner at one of the many restaurants facing the square. We sat down to enjoy a delicious beer made at the Grand Cafe D'n Ingel. The beer was cool and refreshing with a taste that was a cross of Dutch lager and Belgian white beers, appropriate for the mixture of cultures in the border city of Maastricht. We followed with another round of beers and a fantastic meal. I chose to be adventurous by selecting the kangaroo and ostrich steaks. They were moist, tender and not that dissimilar to beef.

After dinner, we were all very full and tired from the meal and a long day of traveling. It had begun to rain so we took a taxi back to the hotel and called it an early evening.

Yesterday morning we awoke to a cold, dreary and occasionally rainy day. We all slept in and were slow to start which ended up being good as the skies cleared in the interim. After checking out of our rooms and storing our luggage at the front desk, we had a quick bite to eat at a sandwich shop around the corner. From there, Roxi and I headed for the train station for our return trip to Enschede. My parents decided to spend another few hours in Maastricht taking a tour bus around the city to learn some of the history of the disputed oldest city in the Netherlands. From there they continued their European journey to Bruges, Belgium. They will be continuing on to Paris today and then to Mainz, Germany on Friday. We will rendezvous with them in Cologne on Saturday for a trip to the homeland of my mother's grandparents in Geilenkirchen, Germany on Sunday.

We had a great time with my parents in Amsterdam, Enschede and Maastricht and are looking forward to meeting up with them in Germany this weekend, but for now, we are glad to be back home where we can rest for a few days!

Saturday, April 25, 2009


A tent city started to form on the University of Twente campus yesterday and it has grown into a tent metropolis as thousands of students from around the Netherlands and beyond arrived in Enschede in advance of the 37th Batavierenrace this weekend. The race began in Nijmegen last night at midnight and concluded here in Enscede this afternoon. Tonight the participants and others will take part in the largest student party in Europe. It is quite a site to see, so much so that my parents decided to stay in Enschede one more night before continuing their vacation in Maastricht in the south of the Netherlands.

UPDATE: 1:00 AM: We just got back from the big party (although it is still going on and will be for until at least 8 AM) and we had a great time! We drank a fair amount of beer, saw a band play some Dutch music and did some people watching. A great time was had by all! Who would have thought that when my parents came to visit us, they would get to see the largest gardens in the world and the largest student party in Europe?!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Ain't Technlogy Great?!?

Yesterday afternoon, we took a train with my parents to Enschede to show them our home away from home. After getting them checked into their hotel, we went into town to show them around and get some dinner. Before moving to Enschede in January, I searched the Internet for a web cam of the city so I could get an idea of the weather we could look forward to upon our arrival. I managed to find this camera trained on a sculpture in the city center. While walking through the city with my parents yesterday, my dad called my brother Garrett in Irvine, California and asked him to check the web cam and look for us. He took a screen shot of it, emailed it to us right away and we got this unique group photo (we're the four people waving at the camera).

Isn't the Internet amazing?!?

Keukenhof Gardens and Amsterdam with Jack & Mary

On Tuesday afternoon, Roxi and I went to Amsterdam in preparation of my parents arriving for a two week visit to Europe. On the way to check into our hotel, we made a stop at our favorite Chinese restaurant in the city, The Golden Chopsticks. Following a filling delicious dinner, we found our way to the hotel, checked in and pretty much went to bed.

On Wednesday morning, we made the short train ride to Schiphol Airport to welcome my parents to Amsterdam. After greeting them and having a a cup of coffee, we stored the luggage in lockers and took a thirty minute bus ride south to Keukenhof Gardens near Lisse. The gardens were simply spectacular. Words and even pictures do not do the gardens justice. The vibrant colors in the park and the surrounding fields seemed too bright to be real.

We made our way around the park stopping for a pleasant lunch midway though the day before seeing an example of a working windmill. Between the tulips and the windmill, my parents got a huge dose of Holland and hadn't even been to Amsterdam yet!

See more pictures here.

As the afternoon progressed, the gardens got more and more crowded. We had seen and photographed enough flowers for one day, we rode the bus back to the airport, collected the luggage and took the train into Amsterdam. After checking my parents into the hotel and giving them some time to settle in and rest, we went to a nearby Argentinian restaurant and had a great meal sitting outside in the warm sun. It's finally warm enough to enjoy outdoor cafe seating in the Netherlands!

Following dinner, we decided to finish off the day with canal cruise around the city. Although we had been on canal cruises before on previous trips to Amsterdam, this one was different because the sun set while we were on the cruise giving Roxi and I a whole new canal perspective of the city. The long day of travel and the jet lag were taking their toll on my parents, but before retiring for the night, we made sure to stop in at a bar to have a Heineken Extra Cold. All-in-all we had a great first day with the folks in Amsterdam!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Softly Call The Muster

For the first time since I graduated from Texas A&M in 1999, I won't be attending an Aggie Muster ceremony this year. The Netherlands A&M club had a very small Muster over the weekend in the Hague but I was unable to attend. I will spend my Muster day this year thinking of my Aggie friends back in the States and preparing for my parents visit to Europe tomorrow. I'm a little bummed that there could not have been a better organized Muster event today, but c'est la vie. I will reflect on the significance of the day in my own way. Gig 'Em Ags.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Turkish Cultural Night

With so many international students on campus, there are very frequent cultural events put on by the various student associations here at the University of Twente. This evening we went attended Turkish Cultural Night hosted by the Turkish Student Association. Before the dinner and entertainment, Roxi and I made our way around the room looking at all the pictures of the multitude of environments in the country. I suppose I should have assumed that there would be skiing in Turkey because there are mountains, but it never really occurred to me before. There are also of course beautiful beaches on the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Besides the natural wonders, there is so much history in the country dating back to Greek and Roman times in addition to the Seljuq, Ottoman and modern Turkish cultures. It really appears to be a very culturally rich nation.

Dinner was fantastic and it was followed up by some traditional Turkish dancing. Unfortunately we couldn't stay for the entire event, but we certainly enjoyed what we saw. We decided that we must visit Turkey as soon as possible because it looks to be a simply beautiful country.

Another of my obligatory pictures of food.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

"Some Like It Hoth"

Well ABC has done it again...they've made the producers of the show into liars. Next week, we will be having the second break in our "uninterrupted" season of LOST. I mean honestly...if you know the season is going to be 17 episodes long and you want the season to end in May just do the math you TV programing monkeys! Why advertise an uninterrupted season starting in January if you don't intend to keep up your end of the deal! They could have just started the season two weeks later and it would have still ended in mid-May! I'm sorry for this rant, but this is about the principle of the matter. They must take us for idiots! Do they really think that we'd forget? At this point, I'll be happy when LOST is over next year just so we don't have to be jerked around by ABC anymore. But enough about that...


Hurley working on the script for "Empire Strikes Back" was funny but I don't think I thought it was as funny as I'm sure the writers did. And that about sums up how I feel about this episode. It was okay but it was a lot of mostly inconsequential stuff in between a few important things. It seems like there's been a few too many episodes like this already considering how short the season is. But there were some tantalizing things that we learned and saw.

Right away we got confirmation of what a lot of us have been speculating: Miles is indeed Pierre Chang's son. Of course they waited until the middle of the episode to actually say it out loud but any fan who has been paying attention will remember the woman at the beginning of this episode as the woman from the beginning of the season with Pierre Chang and the baby. I liked seeing Miles' back story even though I am still not comfortable with his character's "ability." Unlike the time travel story, his communion with the dead just seems cheap and, in the case of this episode, a bit of a plot contrivance used to advance certain story lines. That all being said, Miles as a character has grown on me, mostly because they haven't resorted to over-using his ability. Of that I am very glad because when he was using it in his "audition" with Naomi, I couldn't help but think of how Greg Grundberg looks when he's reading people's thoughts in Heroes and that is just lame.

Roger told Kate to mind her own business and it's about damned time someone said that to her. Since Season 1 she's screwed up a lot of stuff because she wanted to be involved. Don't get me wrong, I like her a lot more after her episode a few weeks ago, but she really needs to butt out sometimes especially since things have been tense ever since she arrived in 1977! And what the hell was with Jack? When he talked to Roger in the classroom he could have said he didn't know Kate, but he just had to go and defend her and make Roger that much more suspicious. And then he had the nerve to tell Sawyer that he had a talk with Roger and that it was okay. BS! I can't help but think that Jack is trying to undermine Sawyer a bit. Incidently, did anyone else notice what Jack was erasing from the chalkboard in the school room? It was lessons about ancient Egyptian language.

It was interesting to learn a little more about the Dharma Initiative on the Island especially seeing the construction of the Swan Station and learning that the magnetic force is what caused the construction worker to die. I think they missed a great opportunity to have something bad happen when they were marking the Numbers on the hatch with Hurley watching. It was also great to see the scientist who arrived from Ann Arbor. I hope that means that we'll be seeing a Faraday episode soon. I really want to know more about him, especially why he was crying when we first say him last year. It was nice to see Naomi again and I hope that we will see her recruiting Daniel in his episode that is sure to come.

Bram, the guy who talked to Miles when they abducted him on the street, was one of the guys with Ilana last week when she asked Frank about "what lies in the shadow of the statue." So who are they working for? It seems like they represent a third party. Then again they could be working for Ben and just not know it. But it does make me wonder how many people on Ajira 316 are part of this new faction. I hope we learn a lot more about them before the end of the season.

And that's really all I can think of to say about this episode so far. Not much happened. Of course this is all a setup for the last few episodes that will start in two weeks. What happened to Sayid? What has Faraday been up to? What is Swan Station really for? Why is Radzinsky such an a-hole? These are some of the questions that I hope to have answered soon.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Taxman Cometh

I would like to be hopeful that this will get Washington, D.C.'s attention, but the realist in me knows that most of our elected officials will poo-poo this statement in a "let them eat cake" kind of way.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


After three months in the Netherlands we have finally acquired the most popular mode of transportation in the nation: fietsen (bicycles). I've been the holdout because of how expensive bikes are here. Since there are more of them than cars in the Netherlands, I guess it stands to reason that they are more expensive than in the States but I've found some of the prices outrageous!

When we had trouble finding a bike for under 300 Euros (almost $400!) a few months ago, I was worried that we might never find bikes within our budget. Granted it's been more than ten years since I entered a cycling shop in College Station, TX and purchased a brand new Trek mountain bike for about $250, but have prices really gone up that much? We started asking around about used bikes and were told that they were scarce this time of year but my frugality (read: cheapness) would not let me buy a bike for more than 100 Euros (our neighbors put that idea in my head). Lo and behold, this afternoon we found two used bikes in decent condition and got them both for 250 Euros, still 50 Euros more than I wanted to spend, but I can live with it because Roxi loves her bike so much.

The ride back from town was wonderful in this delightful springtime weather. And the bike lanes are so well planned out in this city, it's no wonder so many people choose cycles as the primary means of getting around town. After getting home and installing our bike locks and my new bell (!), we took a ride around areas on and off campus that we haven't seen yet. It was a great afternoon and we look forward to more exploring on this long holiday weekend and beyond!

One of many Shetland ponies we saw at a farm just off campus.

A free range chicken farm across the road from the Shetland ponies.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

"Dead is Dead"

This episode of LOST was a nice change of pace from the story that we have been seeing for the past few weeks. I am relieved and intrigued after watching this episode. I don't know if I could have handled it if a certain scene had gone differently. There's not much else I can say without revealing too much so....


As I said I am very relieved that a certain scene did not have a terrible outcome. I am, of course, referring to Ben's personal mission to kill Penny. I was really worried about her. Especially after Ben told Sun to tell Desmond he was sorry. Thankfully it was for shooting Desmond and not killing Penny. It was very satisfying to see Ben get his ass kicked by Desmond even though he had already resolved that we was not going to kill Penny because he didn't want to make an orphan out of little Charlie. I suppose it is interesting to learn that Ben does have a sympathetic side as was evidenced in this scene and by his refusal to kill an infant Alex at the command of Charles Widmore.

Speaking of Widmore, it was interesting to see him as the leader of the Others especially in the way he spoke about the Island. It was the same way that Ben has always spoken about the Island. So did Charles go through some similar experience like Ben that made him "one of them?" I suppose we won't get an answer like that until next season. Of course I would also like to learn about his exile and the reasons for it. Ben said that Charles "broke the rules" because he had a daughter with an outsider. So I guess this means that Ellie (Eloise?) is not Penny's mother. But about these "rules." Ben said the same thing when Keamy killed Alex: that they "broke the rules." At the time, it seemed as if Ben and Widmore had a deal where they could not kill each other's children. But after this episode, it seems that Alex was always supposed to die and that Ben was always supposed to kill her. He didn't do it when Charles ordered him to when Alex was an infant and Ben did everything he could to keep her alive until Keamy killed her. When Keamy shot Alex because Ben denied that she was important to him, perhaps this was the universe's chance to course correct for the death that should have happened sixteen years earlier.

Before we get into the judment of Ben, I feel like I need to say some things about Locke. I love this version of Locke! He is cocky and sure of himself and claims to know things now that he never knew before. The only thing that is bad is that for most of the episode, he was still being manipulated by Ben and completely oblivious to that fact. Ben tried to rouse the rabble led by Caesar against Locke but at the last second, he shot and presumably killed Caesar to gain Locke's trust. Even if some humaity was imparted on Ben this episode, he's still a snake in the grass. When Ben first saw Locke, he acted like he knew that Locke would be ressurected upon his return to the Island. I don't want to believe him though! I also don't want to believe him when he told Sun that he had no idea that Locke would be ressurected! I am to the point now that I don't think I will ever believe anything that comes out of his mouth. He may be a good guy as he's said so many times, but I don't think I will ever be able to believe him!

But Locke has apparently been annointed with new knowledge (and maybe even powers) since his return to the Island. Some of that knowledge includes the location of the Temple and that Ben would have to go underneath it to be judged by the Smoke Monster. I will be interested in reading the translations of the heiroglyphics from amature Egyptlogists/LOST fans. There may be some vital clues there, or maybe just a bunch of giberish. One thing is for certain though, there seems to be an undeniable link with ancient Egyptian mythology. The most telling example was the pictogram of Anubis standing face-to-face with what could only be the Smoke Monster. Many have speculated on what the four-toed statue might be and several bloggers and podcasters have considered Anubis, the god of the afterlife. This episode does little to refute that strong possibilty. On top of that, Ilana asked Frank, "What lies in the shadow of the statue?" just before she clocked his with the butt of her gun. The statue seems very important in the story and I think that we all need to be prepared for some Stargate style connection between Egypt and the Island.

Beneath the Temple, Ben was judged by the Smoke Monster and I actually believed he was very scared about his fate. It was very interesting to see Ben enveloped in the smoke and the flashes from his life with Alex. Of course this was all very similar to what we saw when Mr. Eko was apparently judged by the Smoke Monster at their first meeting. A ghostly (?) figure of Alex appeared to Ben and spoke kindly to him before lashing out at him and thretening his life. We also saw a similar occurence with Mr. Eko when his dead brother appeared to him just before he was killed by the Smoke Monster. The difference, I believe, is that Mr. Eko was unrepentant about the actions of his life while Ben seemed genuinly sorry for being responsible for the murder of Alex. I loved that the ghost of Alex commanded Ben to follow Locke and do whatever he said under penalty of death. So unless we are being led astray by a malevolent force on the Island, I'd say that's a pretty good indication that John Locke is special.

I liked this episode, but with so few left in the season, I am starting to wonder if Locke, Ben and Sun will be reunited with the Losties in 1977 before the season finale. I like both stories, but I'd really rather see everyone together in one time period and soon!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Farewell to Ireland

The last two days of our Irish journey were fairly uneventful because we were both pretty exhausted and ready to get back to Enschede. After a night of drinking a little too much, I woke up Friday morning and worked on packing up our things for a hotel change. In the process of making plans for our trip, Roxi had originally reserved a room for us at the conference recommended Trinity Capital Hotel. In the weeks that followed, she learned from some of her colleagues in the department that the Maldron Hotel was a much cheaper alternative. In trying to cancel our reservation at the Trinity Capital Hotel, she was informed that we would lose a 90 Euro deposit if we completely canceled the reservation. So she rightly decided that we would spend our last night in the Trinity Capital Hotel while we would spend the rest of the time in the cheaper but further away Maldron Hotel. So it was my job to cram everything into our travel backpacks for the afternoon transfer to the new hotel.

During Roxi's lunch break, we made the switch into the new hotel and were immediately glad that we chose to stay at the Maldron for the majority of our stay in Dublin. The Trinity Capital Hotel may be old and historic, but it wasn't nearly as nice as the Maldron and it certainly didn't have the amenities offered by our other hotel. Plus it had a much higher daily rate! I was pretty much through walking the streets of Dublin by myself, so in the afternoon I went with Roxi to the conference to sit in on the last couple of talks. They were mostly interesting and very related to some of the signal processing courses I had during my Masters program at Georgia Tech.

The conference concluded a little early mainly because I think everyone, including the organizers, was completely exhausted. During the closing speeches, they announced that there would be a happy hour at O'Niell's about an hour later. Roxi and I were both torn; on the one hand it would be good for Roxi to do more networking with the other attendees but on the other we were both beat and were tired of spending so much money. We decided to go back to the hotel and decide how we felt after dinner. It had started to rain and we didn't want to get wet looking for a place to eat, so we decided to have our evening meal at the hotel restaurant. After dinner we went back to the room to lay down knowing that probably meant that our minds were made up about the happy hour. Sure enough, by 8 PM we were both in bed falling asleep. Kind of a quiet last night in Dublin, but neither of us cared a bit; we were too tired!

On Saturday morning, I awoke early and took a short walk to scout out where we could catch our bus back to the airport for our afternoon flight. When we had made the flight reservation, Roxi had found a late afternoon flight back so that we would have more time in Dublin. When she made the reservation we had big plans to take advantage of the time, but on Saturday morning, both of us were ready to be home. We didn't want to have to carry our bags around for too long nor did we want to get to the airport too early, so we requested late checkout. This gave us time to take it easy in the hotel and have breakfast before we left. We made sure to take advantage of the complimentary full Irish breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Of course this being European travel, there was a hitch!

When we had checked in on Friday afternoon, the receptionist informed us that we had breakfast included in our room rate. Remembering the cost and trouble that we had with breakfast in Brussels, I made sure to have her double check so that we wouldn't be hit with some crazy extra charge. Flash forward to Saturday morning and while I was making up my breakfast plate at the buffet line, the waitress told Roxi that the computer showed that our breakfast was not included. When I got back to the table Roxi told me but I wasn't concerned because I had our room check-in card that indicated our breakfast was included. While I was getting some juice, the hostess tried to get Roxi to sign a bill for 30 Euros. The nerve of her trying to do that before we even had a chance to show her our proof that breakfast was included! Of course Roxi refused to sign the bill and I brought out our room card and she took it from me to check with reception. For the rest of breakfast, we had no idea if we were going to be comped for the meal. It made for a very unpleasant experience. Finally I asked our waitress what the deal was and she said we were supposed to pay. So we explained the situation again and she went to talk to the hostess. Eventually she came back and said that it was reception's fault and that we wouldn't have to pay. We were both pretty turned off that the hostess didn't have the nerve to tell us herself and we were both sure that they were going to try to sneak it onto our bill at check out. From that experience alone, I would never recommend the Trinity Capital Hotel to anyone traveling to Dublin. That all being said, I still had a pretty good full Irish breakfast.

Breakfast of Champions

Following the unpleasant breakfast experience, we went back to the room, did our final packing and managed to fit everything perfectly into our backpacks. We checked out of the hotel (making sure to scrutinize the bill for hidden breakfast charges! -- there were none) and tried to decide what to do with ourselves for the next hour and a half. In the end we decided to head to the bus station and get a cup of coffee somewhere along the way. We ended up at a little pub and had a coffee and a Coke. After killing as much time was we could, we headed for the bus station and took the forty minute ride to the airport. We checked in for our flight, went through security (no passport control at the terminal entrance in Dublin airport) and then wandered the shopping areas. We were thinking of buying some duty free whiskey until we learned that as long as you are traveling within the EU, you cannot take advantage of the duty free prices. And boy was the duty crazy! Most the liquors showed the duty free and non-duty free prices side by side and in some cases the difference was more than fifty percent! Taxes are high in the EU, that much is for sure!

We ended up getting some reasonable priced souvenirs and then had a drink at the bar by our gate. Finally we boarded our plane for the short flight back to the Netherlands. Of course once we were back in the Amsterdam, we still had a two and a half hour train ride back to Enschede. But that went off without a hitch and at 11 PM we were back home in our apartment. All in all, I had a good trip and enjoyed my time in Ireland. If it weren't so damned expensive I might go back, but at this point, there are other places I've never been that I would like to see first. I think Roxi had a pretty good trip, but they really over scheduled the conference attendees. I hope next time she has one of these opportunities, there will be more flexibility for her to see some of the sites of the host city.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

West Coast of the Emereld Isle

Before we left Enschede for Dublin, some of our neighbors told us that we had to visit the west coast of Ireland for some amazing scenery. Likewise another friend from back home and my cousin also recommended the same when they found out that we were in Dublin from my Facebook status. Although Roxi was busy with the conference for the week, she insisted that at least one of us get to visit the west. So I woke up at 5 AM on Thursday March 26 to catch my tour bus to the Cliffs of Moher. Roxi and I even had a chance to have a quick breakfast together before I left for my thirty minute walk to the rendezvous point.

The Paddywagon arrived just about 7 AM and our Irish tour guide began telling us about Dublin as we passed through it on our way into the countryside. The wagon was a miniature tour bus with comfortable seats and full to near capacity. There were thirteen other travelers on the bus but that number would dwindle as we made our way across the country. We had a long day ahead of us so I got comfortable listening to the guide's audio tour through Irish history. After about an hour, we made our first stop for a restroom and breakfast snack. After the short break, we were back on the road getting more stories as we made our way to the city of Limerick.

We arrived in Limerick about two hours later where we rendezvoused with another Paddywagon that would be taking some of my fellow travelers to Blarney Castle for the day. Although I was interested in seeing the castle and kissing the famous stone, I was more interested in the Cliffs of Moher, the destination everyone told me I should see. We had a few minutes in Limerick to stretch our legs and take some pictures before loading back onto the bus for more driving.

King John's Castle in Limerick

River Shannon in Limerick

Treaty Stone in Limerick

After our break and rendezvous in Limerick, we were down to eight travelers on the bus for the hour bus ride to The Burren in the wilderness of County Clare. The drive up and down the rolling hills along the way was absolutely beautiful especially once we could see the Atlantic Ocean. The landscape became more and more rocky until there was nothing but rock at The Burren right on the edge of the ocean. Upon disembarking from the bus, I was overcome with the smell of salt air. The ocean was an inviting beautiful blue green color. If the cold breeze was any indicator the water was surely freezing! The landscape was amazing and the view of the semi-isolated Aran Islands on the horizon were gorgeous. We braved the cold at The Burren long enough to take a few pictures before heading to nearby Doolin for lunch.

The Burren

The Burren

Aran Islands

We stopped for lunch at the village of Doolin where the bowl of beef stew is just what I needed to warm myself up after being exposed to the chilling sea breeze at The Burren. During lunch the tour guide was asking me questions about the US and world economy and we got onto the subject of the Euro. I was surprised to hear that he thought that the Euro had ruined Europe because of how expensive everything suddenly was. With the Euro doing so well against other currencies like the US dollar and even the British pound, I guess I just assumed that everyone loved in the EU loved the value of their money. He said he had seen no personal benefit of the currency and when I asked if anyone had, he said it was mainly farmers and large companies because the common currency has allowed them to trade more freely across the continent. Since then I've spoken to other people about the switch over to the Euro and my take is that it comes down to the value and strength of each country's economy before the switch. If the currency was strong before the switch, the Euro's relative strength within that country was also strong. Ireland as a nation had an economic boom in the 1990's with rapid growth in Dublin and other major cities, while the poorer parts of the country remained so. It would seem that some of Ireland was left behind twice, once with the switch to the Euro and again during the boom times. In any event, it was an interesting conversation especially getting the perspective of an average Irishman.

After lunch, we made the short drive to our main destination, the Cliffs of Moher. I spent the first half hour of our hour and forty-five minutes there admiring the amazing view and trying to take pictures on my way up the hill to O'Brien's Tower.

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

O'Brien's Tower

There was a moderate wind as I was taking pictures but it began to strengthen as I made my way up the hill to O'Brien's Tower. The wind was pretty constant, but there were also very strong gusts every now and then that made me feel like my glasses might just blow away so I put them in my pocket as I continued my climb. As I arrived at the top and began walking towards the tower, there was an unbelievably strong gust that actually pushed me along the path. It was pretty funny at first...but when the gust didn't stop, I actually started getting a little scared! I wouldn't say I am deathly afraid of heights, but I definitely don't like them. Although there were walls along the edge of the cliff at the top and I was nowhere near them, I started to get very frightened about being blown off the top of the cliff. Most people up there seemed to be having fun with it and maybe it was because I was by myself, but I was suddenly not enjoying it! At one point I was knocked to the ground by the wind and thought it best to just sit until the gust stopped...but it never did! I realized that the wind was being amplified in some sort of Bernoulli effect around the tower itself and that the gust wasn't going to die down as long as I was near the structure. So I picked myself up and kept a wide bearth between me and the tower. Just as quickly as the strong gust started, it was over. I carefully made my way back down the hill and into the warmth of the visitors center where I decided to kill my remaining time at the cliffs in the museum.

Back at the bus, we were now only six travellers as two of our companions had rendezvoused with another Paddywagon to travel to another part of the country. So began our long trip back to Dublin via Limerick. For the next hour I listend to my iPod while everyone else slept and the tour guide listened to Irish talk radio. Back in Limerick, we picked up the six travlers that had gone to Blarney Castle earlier in the day. From there it was another relatively quiet two and a half hour ride. Without an iPod I might have gone crazy though! Right around 7 PM we arrived back in Dublin and I began my walk back to the hotel to meet Roxi.

I only beat Roxi back to the hotel by about thirty minutes. We split her leftovers from lunch and then walked to the Vat House Bar in Temple Bar to meet some of the other conference attendees for drinks and to watch an Irish band play. We had a good time but I offically had my fill of Guinness (I never thought that could happen!). The band was great. They played traditional Irish folk songs and threw in some contemporary American songs too. I had never really made the connection before but American bluegrass music really has it's root in Irish folk. From the instruments to the style there are so many similarities. It makes sense because of all the Irish immigration to the United States during the Great Irish Famine in the mid 1800s. I suppose that also explains why the Blue Ridge Mountain area is so famous for their whiskey. After the fun but late night, we went back to the hotel for a little sleep before Roxi's last day at the conference.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Cajun Gumbo in Far Away Holland

Roxi has been wanting to make chicken and sausage gumbo for a couple of weeks now, but I have been reluctant since I don't have to ingredients I'm used to here in the Netherlands. I'll let you in on a little secret....neither of us have ever made a roux before and usually rely on a pre-made jar or powder. But there is a first time for everything! With some tips and pointers from Roxi's dad, we set to it at about noon on Saturday. We don't exactly have the perfect stove and pots for making roux, but we improvised as best we could. It was a slow process because I have always heard that the trick to making a good roux is to cook is slowly enough that is doesn't burn otherwise your gumbo will taste burned. So with the gas heat as low as it could go, I slowly poured the flour into the heating oil as Roxi kept it moving to avoid sticking to the pan. For about three hours we alternated the stirring as the color slowly began to change. Finally after barely increasing the heat, the roux rather quickly changed from a light tan to a very dark brown.

The perfect chocolate color of the finished dark roux.

So as long as it took, it wasn't as difficult as I thought it might be to make a roux from scratch. From there on it was relatively easy as Roxi and I are used to making gumbo from this step forward. The only other trouble we had was with the size of our cooking pot. It wasn't exactly big enough for all of our chicken and sausage, but we made it work with a little finesse! The end result was perfect and Roxi and I agreed it'll be homemade roux from here on out for us! It's just funny that it took us being five thousand miles away from Cajun country to try our first roux from scratch. But you do what you have to do if you want that taste of home away from home!

Picture perfect gumbo with a side of Dutch style potato salad to make for a perfect international dinner!

Laundry Day and an Afternoon in Dublin

In an effort to pack light, we only brought about half a week's worth of clothes each with my plan to find a laundromat midway through our stay in Dublin. So I got up on Wednesday March 25 with high hopes of getting it done relatively quickly. Roxi had even given me helpful literature from the conference that listed approximate locations of do-it-yourself laundries in the area. Unfortunately there were no addresses listed and Google Maps was unable to pinpoint any for me either. So, with my backpack full of dirty laundry, I inquired at the front desk and was given directions a few blocks up the now familiar Pearse Street. In all of our walks along Pearse Street I had never noticed a do-it-yourself washateria, but I went a ahead and followed the directions anyway.

After walking for a good twenty minutes and only having passed a fluff and fold laundry and dry cleaner, I decided to turn around and try the other way. I continued on for a good ten minutes past the hotel in the other direction and the location of a laundry seemed less and less likely with each step. So I made the decision to go back to the hotel and hand wash our clothes in the bath tub and hope for the best. So after an hour wasted, I was back where I started, crouching over the bath tub with my sleeves rolled up, agitating a mixture of hot water, soap and dirty clothes. I tried my best to do a thorough job cleaning, making sure go through several cleaning iterations of soap and hot water followed by several rinse iterations of cold water. After about forty-five minutes, I was as done as I was going to be. Then it was just a matter of wringing out the clothes and trying to arrange them for optimal drying on the convenient rack in the shower.

Roxi only had to endure a half day of conference proceedings on Wednesday with the second half of the day free for the attendees to see some of the sights of Dublin. As one would imagine, Roxi was pretty exhausted from the proceedings and didn't want to try to do too much, so rather than take an organized tour, we opted for a few simple things that were fairly low impact but still resulted in a lot more walking than we anticipated.

After a late lunch of deli sandwiches, we made the short walk from Trinity College to Merrion Square specifically to see the statue of Oscar Wilde. Being a big Wilde fan, Roxi was very excited to see the statue after learning of it's existence on a post card earlier in the week. I happened to see it when I was on my hop-on hop-off bus tour on Monday so I knew the quickest and easiest way to get us there from school.

Oscar Wilde statue in Merrion Square

The most life-like statue I've ever seen.

We headed back to the hotel, cutting through the campus of Trinity College and stopping in to visit the Science Gallery on the way. It was a brief exhibit mostly covering three-dimensional renderings of Trinity College and Dublin. The best hands-on exhibit was an interactive game between two people where the object was to move a ball from the middle of the table to the opponent's side. The difficulty was that you could not use your hands or any other part of your body for that matter except for your brain! Each side of the table had a headband with sensors in them that would make contact with your forehead. After pressing the start button on the game, the objective of control was to relax yourself so that your stress activity was at a minimum. This brain activity was displayed on a screen for each participant. The ball would move in the direction of the less relaxed participant. After winning a couple of rounds, I was sure that the machine wasn't working correctly and suggested that Roxi and I switch sides just to check. But Roxi wanted to do one more match as we were, so I reattached the sensors and was promptly defeated. We realized that for the previous matches, my sensors were not attached as tightly giving me an unfair advantage since less data was being transmitted to the machine!

When we finished with the exhibit, instead of going back to the hotel as planned, I decided to bring Roxi to Temple Bar to show her a store that I had seen the day before that I knew she would appreciate. Roxi loves vintage and second hand clothes shopping, so when I saw this store on my previous trip through Temple Bar, I thought it would be a great place to show her. Once inside, she wasn't disappointed. If not for the limits of our luggage, we would have left with a lot more items of clothes than we ended up with!

While approaching the store, we ran into a movie production filming on the streets of the district. As exciting as that sounds, it was more frustrating than anything. In trying to cross the public street to the clothing store, a production assistant asked us and others not to walk on the other side of the street as they were about to shoot a scene. Anyone who wants to get into the movies should see the hell that is a PA's life for just a few minutes. This one guy was getting orders on a walkie talkie to keep the street clear of non-extras and having a hell of a time doing it in the very touristy area. Meanwhile, I'm sure his superiors were very angry that he wasn't doing his job. No thanks! I don't need the stress of a movie producer mad at me because I can't keep pedestrians off of a public street and all for crappy pay! I don't even know what they were filming but we weren't about to hang around for very long in hopes of seeing someone famous. Odds are it was a British production and we wouldn't even recognize the actors anyway.

After the trip to Temple Bar, we made the walk back to the hotel for a snack, some rest and relaxation. We spent a good couple of hours just watching TV and lounging around. Of course, on vacation, there is little time for rest, so not long after, we were back on our feet headed for an evening service at Christ Church Cathedral. There were the usual readings and prayers, but we wanted to attend because we had learned from a priest on Sunday that Wednesday and Thursday services are Choral Evensongs. We weren't disappointed as the choir from Christ Church is world-renowned. When Handel's Messiah made it's world premiere in Dublin, the choir was composed of singers from Christ Church and St. Patrick's Cathedrals.

When the service was over, it was very early in the evening, but we were tired and as usual, we both had a big ahead of us, so we decided to go back to the hotel for another relaxing visit to the spa. We were pretty lazy after our swim and didn't even think about dinner until very late in the evening when I bought a couple of sandwiches at the bar. It was all that either of us really needed at that point though. And so with that, we went to sleep with our very early alarm set for the next morning.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

"Whatever Happened, Happened"

In typical LOST fashion, this week answered the question that we were all asking...sort of. The beauty of the show has always been to keep you hooked by dropping some major cliffhanger at the end of just about every episode. What better way to keep you wanting more. Unfortunately, as Season 5 is waning, I can't help but feel a little of what producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse expressed concern about following Season 4: Large chunks of recent episodes are starting to feel like filler as we bide our time for the final season. Don't get me wrong, there have been some great episodes of LOST this season, but large parts of a lot of them have seemed more like the bridge to get us where we're going and that the journey is not as impotant as the destination. I still love LOST, but it just seems like the whole of each episode isn't really as interested in the all important character development, but rather filling in missing details of the story for us that sometimes matter not a bit. Perhaps the waiting for each new episode makes me build up the story too much in my mind or maybe I want it to go a certain way and it doesn't but I have been a little underwhelmed with the past few episodes. That being said, we got a few nice nuggets of information this week, so without further ado...


As I eluded to before, the question that LOST fans who haven't been paying attention had after last week was whether Sayid killed Ben as a child. Of course the answer is no. The episode title says it all. Hurley's conversation with Miles concurred, albeit in the voice of confused fans. The rules were firmly established by Pierre Chang and Daniel Faraday at the beginning of the season: The future cannot be changed. Events of the past have always happened. The universe will correct the course of the future however necessary in order to prevent a future paradox from occuring as a result of time travel to the past. Ben grew up to take part in The Purge of the Dharma Initiative, to lead the Others, to torment the Losties, etc. If he was killed as a boy in 1977, none of that could have happened. So, per the rules outlined by Chang and Farady and summarized by Miles, Ben was always shot in 1977. For those who want to do further reading on the subject, I suggest Kurt Vonnegut's magnum opus Slaughterhouse-Five. Much of the LOST rules of time travel are borrowed from the story of Billy Pilgrim and explained by the Tralfamadorians.

I am not a big fan of Kate centric flashback episodes and that is mostly true with this one as well. There were a few moments of greatness though. The best being Kate's emotional parting with the sleeping Aaron. It wasn't so much Evangeline Lilly's acting as it was her acting combined with the beautiful and heartbreaking score of Michael Giaccino. He empolyed my favorite piece of music from Season 4 to an empotional crescendo and then the scene ended with the song being played sadly on a solitary piano. In that moment, I felt utterly heartbroken for Kate leaving the child that she loved as her own for three years. I think I have something in my eye!

So does anyone really believe that Kate's only reason for returning to the Island is to find Claire? I'm not sure if I can totally believe her, but I'm sure she feels some responsibilty to find the missing mother of Aaron. I still think she went back to the Island for Sawyer. Speaking of Sawyer, I was not surprised in the least to have seen so much Cassidy in the "Previously on LOST" portion of the intro. Of course Sawyer told Kate to find his daughter Clementine and make sure that she was okay. It also came as no surprise that Kate met was Cassidy on several occasions and confided the truth about the Oceanic 6 to her.

Doesn't Horace or anyone else in the Dharma Initiative have any suspicions about Juliet at this point? For three years she worked in the motor pool and then she helped deliver Ethan and was attending to Ben's gun shot wound. It seems like that would make Horace a little more suspect of Juliet's past as opposed to his, at this point, unwarranted suspicion of Jake, Kate and Hurley. In any event, Juliet did her best to help young Ben and Jack was a real dick when Sawyer asked for his assistance. Jack did give a good summary of his reasons, but up until now he's been Mr. Hippocratic Oath. Has Jack really been changed so much by this whole experience that he doesn't want to help a dying boy? Or is it that he hates that Sawyer is calling the shots? I think it is the latter.

The scenes with Hurley asking Miles to explain the rules of time travel were great! It is an obvious nod and/or jab at the fans for our collective confusion and frustration with the concepts of this season. I especially loved when Huley was looking at his hand to see if it would disappear "Back to the Future" style. Brilliant!

So Juliet is still holding out on us about what she knows about the Others. I hate that she keeps those tid bits secret. Of course, for all we know, she could have told all her secrets to Sawyer in the interim three years, but somehow I doubt it. She has to earn my trust and she continues to do things that make me doubt her. In any event, I liked that Kate and Sawyer took Ben to Richard to do whatever it is he could do to save the boy. I guess the creepiest thing about that scene was Richard's explanation of what would happen if he helped young Ben: "If I take him, he's not ever gonna to be the same again...He'll forget this ever happened, and his innocence will be gone...He will always be one of us." To compund what was already an interesting scene, one of the Others told Richard the he needed to ask Ellie [Hawking?] before helping Ben because something bad might happen if Charles [Widmore] found out. And then Richard dropped his most telling line to date: "I don't answer to either of them." So what does this tell us about Richard's relationship to the leadership of the Others? It would seem that at times he is taking orders from them, at times he is giving them and still other times he is actively working against them.

As Richard brought young Ben into what I can only presume to be The Temple, thirty years later, almost as if on cue, Ben awoke to find the resurrected John Locke staring at him. A great cliff hanger and set up for what will undoubtably be a Ben centric episode next week. So looking back it at now at the end of this post, I feel better about it as an episode but still feel that there seemed to be some bridge stories. As I told some of my LOST mailing list friends the other day, we shouldn't rush to judgement on this or any season as we don't usally know the full implications of things until the finale for the year. I believe I will take my own advice as I go off to read other takes and theories about this episode.

Gorging Myself on Tourist Attractions

We weren't up early enough on Tuesday March 24 to do any swimming before Roxi had to be at school. After another quick breakfast in our hotel room, we made the usual walk down Pearse Street to Trinity College where we parted ways at Roxi's building. I continued on to the city center to start my Dublin Pass day.

I chose to start with Christ Church Cathedral since it had the earliest opening hours. It is not the most impressive cathedral I've ever been to, but it has a lot of very interesting history that goes back nearly one thousand years. I spent almost an hour looking at the various artifacts in the cathedral and the crypt. Among the most interesting to me was not a religious artifact but rather a naturally mummified cat and rat that were found in a pipe in the organ. They most likely died their after getting stuck in the midst of the chase.

Christ Church Cathedral

The Cat and The Rat

Next I toured the nearby St. Patrick's Cathedral. I didn't spend as much time in St. Patrick's as I had in Christ Church, but I made specific note of the Jonathan Swift memorabilia on display including his appointment as Dean, his epitaph, his death mask and tomb.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

Jonathan Swift's Death Mask

Jonathan Swift's Tomb

After St. Patrick's I still had some time before I needed to meet Roxi back at campus for lunch so I decided to learn a little more Dublin history with a visit to the museum in the City Hall. It was a well organized museum starting with the viking origins up to current history. All the walking and touring started to get me tired so I hit the highlights of the story of Dublin before heading back to Trinity College.

Roxi had given her presentation before lunch so we talked about how it went and other things she had learned in the morning session of the conference on our way to a sandwich shop. We opted for a cheap lunch as we had begun to realize just how expensive Dublin was after our first couple of days there. For a couple of cheap sandwiches, I thought it was great lunch! After lunch, we parted ways again at Roxi's building and I headed for Temple Bar on my way to the Old Jameson Distillery.

After crossing the River Liffey, I found my way to the Old Bow Street Jameson Distillery. Being a home brewer, I know a lot about the beer making process but very little about the process of making and distilling whiskey. The tour of the now retired distillery was very informative plus we finished with a nice sample of the smooth Irish whiskey now only distilled in Cork, Ireland.

The River Liffey

Jameson & Son Old Bow Street Distillery

A sample of the smooth Jameson Irish whiskey.

After the aperitif of whiskey, I headed for the tour of Dublin's other most famous alcohol production facility, the Guinness St. James' Gate Brewery. As I approached the building, the wonderful smell of roasted barley and hops permeated the streets. Once inside, I began my tour with a look at the famous 9000 year lease of the property that Arthur Guinness signed in 1759. I continued up several levels of the building showing the history of the beer and the brewery with a small sample of Guinness Foreign Extra stout along the way. The tour culminated with a pint of Guinness while admiring the panoramic view of the city from the Gravity Bar.

The 9000 year lease of St. James' Gate Brewery to Arthur Guinness.

Arthur Guinness

A sample of Guinness Foreign Extra.

The beauty of a settling Guinness pint straight from the source.

The Wicklow Mountains as seen from the Gravity Bar.

As the Guinness Storehouse was closing, I began my long walk back to Trinity College. I got there about an hour before Roxi's afternoon session ended but it was very nice to just sit and listen to my iPod while I was waiting after so much walking during the day. When the conference finally let out for the evening, Roxi and I walked back to the hotel where we continued to vegetate after the long day. The first two days of the conference were really taking their toll on Roxi as she had spent a combined twenty hours listening to lectures. We really weren't in the mood to leave the hotel so we chose to have dinner at the hotel bar. I had another pretty good burger while Roxi had a less than stellar pizza. Exhausted, we retired to bed to get some much needed rest.