24 April 2011

"Don't think that I'm pushing you away, when you're the one that I've kept closest"

This came in the post a few days ago. I stared at it for a good two minutes before I was able to continue on with my normal activities. With just two weeks to go, it is finally starting to sink in that this is actually going to happen. I am going to run a marathon. Me, the girl who used to dread the warm-up lap we had to run for crew each morning in freshman and sophomore years. Me, who refused to run during our timed mile tests in high school.

I'm going to die.

Ok, I'm being a bit dramatic, but it is still terrifying. 26.2 miles is a long way to go, especially sine my feet were killing me after running only 15 today. (That said, it was a terrible run overall so I shouldn't use that as a standard. I forgot to eat carbs yesterday, got less than my usual four hours of sleep last night, wore the wrong running shoes, and forgot to bring water. I seriously have no idea where my common sense was this morning when I kitted up.) I guess the only thing left to do at this point is to pray that I make it through in more or less one piece.

Well, readers, I am officially done with my last graduate school essay and am heading off on to the second half of my vacation. I'm glad that I have limited aptitude for mathematics and physics (despite my father's best attempts) because it rules out any potential career in nuclear physics. This last essay was on the application of open source information in assessing the nuclear intentions of states (which I expanded to include a case study on a non-state actor, Al-Qaeda). In order to understand the information that I was discovering, I needed to become familiar with the basics of the nuclear process. Reading countless academic articles on how to enrich uranium and the various quantities needed for weapons of different types gave me a migraine. I suppose it would be more interesting if I knew that I was going to use such information later in life, but I doubt that I will. It seems unlikely anyone is going to call me up for advice on nuclear physics. And so such information will ultimately have to go to the 'pointless knowledge' section of mine.

Now that my educational obligations for this week are over, I am (Easy)jetting off to Seville for 5 days. I've been trying to visit Seville since 2008. Luckily for me, EasyJet began operating a route from London Gatwick to Seville on April 16th and so I've managed to fit this trip into my schedule. I've been brushing up (admittedly unsuccessfully) on my Spanish and am ready to enjoy the warmth! More importantly, I am ready to enjoy the sangria. (After whiskey, sangria is my 'go-to' drink). The best part of this vacation? I am going to miss 'the wedding'.

While some of you back home may be dying to hear about what Kate is going to be wearing, or who is on the guest list, most Londoners just find 'the wedding' to be an inconvenience. Thousands of tourists have already started to descend on the city, and it is making transportation almost impossible. Just yesterday, it took me an hour and a half to make a journey that normally takes half an hour simply because I had to navigate around a gigantic herd of tourists on Waterloo bridge. (Admittedly, I don't do well with crowds. During Fringe in Edinburgh, I arrived home from work every day seriously pissed off simply because it took forever to walk through the crowds.) I think adding to my general apathy towards 'Will and Kate's big day' is the fact that I just don't get hyped up about weddings. I may get excited about my own wedding if such an event ever takes place (looks unlikely at this point). Maybe. Anyway, preparations for 'the day' are already underway. The streets from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey already have railings in place in anticipation for the crowds that are bound to amass. British flags are everywhere. Almost every store front in Oxford Street and Regent Street boast displays with William and Kate's faces on them and fly banners reading 'Congratulations!'. If you head to Cards Galore, you can buy teddy bears, mugs, pez dispensers, calendars, t-shirts, aprons, cards, flags, and masks (weird) with the couples faces on them. ("Hey Mom! Look I've brought you home a commemorative mask with Kate Middleton, sorry, Windsor's, face on it. This here is love.")
British-themed cakes

Royal Wedding window displays

Note the railings edging the pavement

The British public declares their love
This vacation is the 'calm before the storm' since in the following 2 1/2 weeks I will be studying for exams, running a marathon, and then taking said exams. And less than 24 hours after sitting my Concepts exam, I'll be heading back to good ol' Maryland. At which point I am going to have to seriously re-think the purpose of this blog as: a) I will no longer be technically providing the 'view from abroad'; b) I'll be residing with the primary readers of this blog (i.e. my parents); and c) my life in Maryland isn't all that interesting. Still, I am reluctant to shut it down entirely since I like blogging and this is the primary way that people find out what is going on in my life (I'm not all that forthcoming with information in real life. Mostly because I feel that people aren't going to be interested.)

Still, this summer promises to hold some events of note. I'll be turning 23, applying for jobs, joining the Howard County Striders, starting my parents on the Couch-to-5k plan (Surprise Mum and Dad!), running in the Rebel Race with Alex (who is not going to die, despite his assertions to the contrary), writing my master's dissertation (er...), and traveling around the East Coast with my father for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. (The point of all of this is that I am providing plenty of advanced warning for when this blog becomes significantly less interesting - if it ever could be classified as 'interesting').

Ok...off to Seville! Adios!

By the Numbers:
0 -- Essays that I have left to write
2 -- Exams I still have to take
26.2 -- miles that I am going to run on May 8th
14 -- days left until aforementioned marathon
23 -- days until I return to Maryland

23 April 2011

“Love is stronger than death even though it can't stop death from happening, but no matter how hard death tries it can't separate people from love. It can't take away our memories either. In the end, life is stronger than death.” - Anonymous

When I was young (kindergarten and first grade aged), I always took a special delight in having more than the usual number of grandparents. 'I have 3 grandmothers', I remember telling my astounded classmates in first grade. No one else in Mrs. Dolphin's class had three grandmothers and so, for that day, I was the cool kid in class. (That was when my popularity in life peaked, I'm afraid.) I had my Grandma, my father's mother. My Granny Becky, my Mum's mother and the woman whom I am named for. And then there was my Nana, who was married to my maternal grandfather, Granddad. Of course, when I was younger, I wasn't entirely sure how this situation had come about, nor did I particularly care. I simply accepted it.

It was only when I was a bit older that I learned of the word 'divorce' and that my Nana wasn't actually biologically related to me. This was terribly confusing at first because I simply could not understand how she could love me so much if I wasn't related to her. But then I realized that it didn't matter whether or not Nana was actually related to me by blood because never once did I doubt that she loved me as much as my other grandparents. She treated me as if I were her own grandchild and her love was absolute.

My Granddad and Nana were the grandparents who were the most present in my childhood and adolescence. They have lived in Olney since before I was born and visits to their house were routine when I was younger. Granddad would serve my brother and I Diet Coke or Barq's Red Cream soda at his bar in the basement, a tradition which never ceased to be carried out. Nana would teach me how to play 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' or 'Row Your Boat' on her piano, and taught me how to create texture in my coloring attempts. In the evenings, we would install raw corn on the cob in the squirrel feeders in the backyard and then go driving around rural Montgomery County (what little is left of it) searching for deer. Lady, their poodle, and, later, Snuggles, would join us on these adventures, which were almost always successful. (Indeed, I can remember only a few times when we failed to spot deer.) This was a highlight of my childhood since I had always loved deer and living in suburban Howard County was not entirely conducive to spotting them on a regular basis. On the weekends when John and I would spend the night at Granddad and Nana's, we could always count on a Saturday yard sale-hunting adventure. (Yard sales were also rare in Howard County at that time.)

It is my Granddad and Nana who have been there for most of my life achievements. My Granny Becky lives in Virginia Beach, making it difficult for her to travel far, and my Grandma seems to have a busy schedule that precludes other activities. When I read my first story at the Author's Tea in kindergarten, Nana and Granddad were there. They attended countless orchestra recitals which is probably grounds for sainthood in and of itself since elementary and middle schoolers are hardly virtuousos at the violin. When I earned my first degree black belt in Tang Soo Do after a grueling 8-hour physical endurance test, they were present amongst the crowd. And, most notably, in May 2006, they braved 100+ degree heat to attend my high school graduation at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Believe me, I wouldn't have attended that graduation had I not been obligated to. Yet there they were.

In September 2010, my Nana suffered several strokes that have, unfortunately, taken their toll on her physical health. Despite the best care of her doctors and my Granddad, she is now in hospice in Olney.

Throughout my entire life, my Nana and Granddad have been some of my biggest supporters. They are devout readers of this blog and even now, when Nana can't read it herself, Granddad still prints out each entry and reads it to her. And so, Nana, this post is dedicated to you. I wish that I could express how much you mean to me in a more eloquent manner. These words seem weak and inadequate when I see them on the screen, but I don't know how else to express what I want am feeling. You've always been so kind to me and shown that you've loved me. I've never had to doubt it. You've always been there to attend important events in my life, even when it has not been the most convenient of times or situations. And this has meant so much to me. Thank you so much for everything. I love you, Nana.

21 April 2011

Oslo: Bygdoy and Akershus

 Well, after a streak of almost 2 weeks of excellent health, I woke up terribly ill this morning. It had seemed too good to last and so this 'attack' didn't come as a surprise. Despite no deviation from my normal diet, my digestive and immune systems decided to jointly go on strike overnight. Wonderful. Thanks body, I appreciate it. On the plus side, being unable to leave my bed all day/maintain anything other than a sitting position meant that I got loads of work done. I have one last essay to write for my OSINT class on nuclear proliferation, which means that I've been reading tons of technical articles. I will probably end up dreaming of uranium-235 and fuel cascades tonight.

Just wanted to clear up something first: Yes, I did participate in a traditional Scottish jam session in Edinburgh. It happened. And no, I did not consume half a bottle of whiskey before participating. I felt in a particularly courageous mood and decided that I didn't have anything to lose.

 Day 2: Bygdoy
Wednesday dawned bright and early with the sun providing a welcome sight after the horrific weather of the previous day. One of the perks of the Haraldsheim hostel was that breakfast was included in the price, an offer that I intended to take full advantage of after seeing the ridiculous prices of food the day before. Breakfast is a much different affair in Norway than it is in the UK or US. In the UK, breakfast can consist of hot dishes such as the 'full English' (toast, sausage, black pudding, eggs, bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes), beans on toast, toad in the hole or the more typical cereal, oatmeal, etc. In Norway, cold dishes are the norm. Cereal and granola were on offer, but this seemed to be more for the benefit of the foreign tourists than actual Norwegians. The typical Norwegian breakfast seems to consist of open faced sandwiches and hard boiled eggs. This meant that there was a huge tray of bread and platters of sliced meat and cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, fish chunks (fish is typically consumed at every meal), tuna salad, sliced beets, pickled eggs, etc. I'll be honest - it was something of a strange concept to consider eating a sandwich for breakfast and I stuck with the cereal. Fish for breakfast? No thanks.

This hill was one of the smaller ones. The hoto does not do it justice.
Because I am an exercise freak in training, I kitted up for a run around the surrounding area, hoping that I didn't end up so lost as to require a search and rescue team to retrieve me. It was so nice to run outside of a major city. Not so pleasant was tackling the massive hills surrounding the hostel. I've been spoiled these past few months in that London is a relatively flat city. Oslo is most definitely not. These hills were so steep that I would have been slightly taxed for breath merely walking up them, let alone running. Although I spent most of my runs wondering if I was going to have a heart attack (I could feel my heart pounding in my chest as I muscled up those beastly inclines), it was exhilarating to get such a workout while on vacation.

Afterward, I took the tram to the city center where I bought a 72-hour Oslo Pass from the tourist center. I highly recommend that anyone visiting Oslo buy the Oslo Pass. Available for 24-, 48-, and 72-hour durations, the pass not only provides you free entry to most of the city's museums and tourist attractions (which would otherwise set you back a pretty penny), but free transportation on the train, tram, bus, and metro networks. It also gives discounts to some restaurants and clubs. All for a very decent price. It really was a bargain and I am glad that I got it.

My first destination was to island of Bygdoy, which required taking the ferry from Aker Brygge. Bygdoy is the summer island of the royal family and home to some of the more interesting museums that Oslo has to offer: the Norse Folk Museum, the Viking Ship Museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum, the Fram Polar Ship Museum, and the Norwegian Maritime Museum. Unfortunately, since most of the museums closed at 4pm (some even earlier), I was only able to make it to three. Guess I will have to get to the rest on my next visit! :)

First stop was the Norse Folk Museum. An open-air museum founded in the 1890s, it is similar to the Greenfield Village created by Henry Ford in Michigan. Essentially, the Norse Folk Museum is a collection of authentic buildings representing Norway's history. These buildings were dismantled at their original locations and rebuilt on Bygdoy. While the majority of the collection consists of farm buildings, which are interesting at first but get quite repetitive to see after a while, it does boast a few gems. The most notable is the Gol Stave Church from the 13th century.
Gol Stave Church

Detailing on the door of the church
After leaving the Folk Museum, I headed up the street past the luxurious mansions that dominate the island and made my way to the Viking Ship Museum. I'll freely admit that this is one of the main reasons why I chose to visit Norway. I love me some viking history. The Viking Ship Museum is home to three viking ships excavated between 1860 and 1905 from burial mounds around Norway. 2 of the ships, the Oseberg and Gokstad, are in excellent states of preservation considering that they are over 1000 years old. The third, the Tune ship, is just as fascinating but has suffered from the ravages of time. Since no description that I could provide would do these marvels adequate justice, I'll let the photos speak for themselves.
The Oseberg Ship
The Oseberg ship - not looking too bad for 1000+ years
Intricate detailing on one of the sleds found with the Oseberg ship - burial vessel of a Viking queen
Detailing from the Oserberg ship

The Gokstad ship
My final stop was to the Kon-Tiki Museum. In the late 40s, Norwegian social scientist and explorer Thor Heyerdahl sailed from South America to Polynesia on a reed raft to prove that such a journey could have been possible by early civilizations. He hoped to show that South Americans may have been the first settlers of the Polynesian islands. The journey took 101 days, but was ultimately successful. The exhibition displayed artifacts from the Kon-Tiki expedition as well as the later Ra II expedition. Fascinating.

Day 3: Akershus Fortress
More modern sections of Akershus Fortress
Thursday started the same as Wednesday: breakfast followed by a run. After showering, I rode the tram to the city center and walked to Akershus Fortress near Aker Brygge. Akershus Fortress was built in the late 13th century as a way to protect Oslo against invaders. It has been successfully in this endeavor - the Fortress has never been captured and only surrendered to the Nazis in 1940 after the Norwegian government fled the capital.

Memorial to the 45 men executed by the Nazis at Akershus Fortress
As a fortress, it wasn't all that impressive. The castle building itself was closed to visitors, which was a bit disappointing. However, the Akershus complex is home to two other museums - the Norwegian Resistance Museum and the Armed Forces Museum - both of which proved interesting. The Norwegian Resistance Museum was the more informative of the two, detailing the history of the formidable resistance movement that developed in Norway following its occupation by the Nazis in 1940. Most poignant to me was the story of the Norwegian teachers' union. When ordered by the Nazis to abandon the existing school curriculum and promote one filled with Nazi ideology, the teachers almost unanimously refused to do so. Parents kept their children from attending school and the teachers refused to teach. In the end, most were sent to a work camp in the arctic territories of Siberia, where they remained until authorized by the exiled legitimate Norwegian government to sign an agreement with the Nazis. US and UK history textbooks typically display the Norwegians as an occupied people who were liberated by the Allies during World War II, but this seriously underestimates the role played the civil resistance movement. The Norwegian people, as a whole, did not passively accept resistance and risked their lives on a daily basis in showing their disapproval of the Nazis.

The 'My Buddy' car - the latest fuel-efficiency craze sweeping Europe
In the afternoon, I traveled to the National Gallery with the intention of seeing Edvard Munch's The Scream. Alas, the galleries were closed for a change in exhibition. :(
Video of the Day: "Downstream" by Shira Kammen (In actuality, only the 1st tune is 'Downstream'. The 2nd tune is 'Oso Do Ar' and the 3rd is 'Borrela d'Aragon')

20 April 2011

My (Expensive) Norwegian Adventure

 The past few days have been...interesting. The weather has been wonderful here in London and spring (perhaps even summer) is truly in the air. As a result, I have been hit with a huge wave of homesickness. I am burnt out from school. I am tired of reading articles, writing papers, and studying. All of this hard work is paying off and I am well on course for merit, but I need a break. I really do. I spent most of this morning before my run taking photos off the wall and packing. Yes, I am aware that I have 27 days to go but I don't mind living out of a suitcase. It helps deal with the homesickness. It also alleviates the inevitable problem that I would have otherwise faced: how to find time to pack when studying for exams and chair-bound after the marathon.

Anyway, enough of that nonsense. Time for the Oslo recap!

Because I am a poor grad student, I flew one of Europe's leading budget airlines, RyanAir, to Oslo. This meant leaving my flat at 4AM on the 12th in order to catch a bus to take me to Liverpool Street where I caught another bus to Stansted Airport, roughly 1 hour outside of London. I had hoped to get a bit of sleep on this second bus ride, but was lucky enough to have a woman with a screaming baby sit next to me. It is never a good sign when the baby is screaming when it gets on to the bus. As if this were not enough, the baby apparently suffered a gastrointestinal meltdown ten minutes into the trip. Needless to say, sleep (and comfort) were not to be found and it was a relief when we arrived at Stansted.

Flying on RyanAir is always something of an experience, and this trip did not disappoint. Since it is a budget airline, most of its flights depart at odd times of the day. My flight was the exception, departing at the reasonable time of 8AM. Still, I waited in line at the baggage drop to get my passport checked (non-EU citizens have to go through an identity check) for an hour and a half after arrival since there were no less than 15 RyanAir flights departing within 45 minutes of mine. The highlight of the wait had to be watching a woman with seven (!) children in tow attempting to argue with the check-in desk over her need to have priority seating. I don't believe such decibels have been achieved by the human vocal cords before. (Seating on RyanAir is something of a free-for-all. If you pay extra, you get 'priority' seating, which essentially means that you board the plane first. But for everyone else, you simply have to hope that you join the queue early enough so as to get your pick of seats once on the plane.)

Yes, that is snow that you see in the background. In April.
The flight itself was uneventful and we landed at Oslo Rygge airport around 11:30. After easily passing through customs, I boarded the Rygge Ekspressen for the hours ride to Oslo proper. During the coach ride, I was shocked to see snow on the ground in some areas. Snow. In April. Granted, it was not everywhere and concentrated mostly in large mounds, but its overall disbursement was not so important as its mere existence. I couldn't help but think: 'if there is this much snow remaining in April, how much snow did they originally receive?' (Edit: Yes, I am aware that some of the areas of the US currently have snow, but you must understand that I live in London. I haven't seen snowfall in any significant amount since the blizzards of January/February 2010.)

The view from the coach windows showed that it was raining quite steadily outside, but it wasn't until that I actually emerged from the Oslo bus terminal into the city center. The wind and rain were ferocious and there were very few people to be seen braving the outdoors. My umbrella, which had survived the winds off the Thames for the better part of a year, proved a weak force against the Norwegian winds and surrendered after 5 minutes. It literally snapped in half, leaving me holding the end and watching helplessly as the actual covering blew off down the street. What strange and brutal land had I come to?

Norwegian pastries
My first stop was to a nearby cafe to grab lunch, thus providing me the first opportunity to interact with an actual Norwegian person and use Norwegian krones. Unfortunately, between traveling and studying during the weeks preceding my trip, I had been unable to find time to learn more than a few scant phrases in Norwegian. As I pitifully attempted to order a shrimp sandwich (the only non-meat item on the menu) and a Diet Coke, the server interrupted me in English to ask for my order. Well, I tried. Lesson 1 from Oslo: Most Norwegians speak English better than I can. Lesson 2? Oslo is EXPENSIVE! $1 is equal to 5 Krones. My basic meal of a shrimp sandwich (8 inch baguette with shrimp, some mayo, a cucumber, and a tomato) plus a Diet Coke cost 109 Krones. And this was a standard cafe, nothing fancy. Later meals (very similar in nature to this one) at food places equivalent to 7-11 (which are everywhere in Norway) or Sheetz were about the same in price. If I had actually gone to a cheap restaurant, the meal would have probably cost around 200 krones. I never thought that I would see the day when I would travel to a place more expensive than Dublin, but here it was. (Needless to say, my next trips to Oslo and Dublin will be contingent upon my winning the lottery/marrying a billionaire.)

Karl Johan's Gate - The main thoroughfare
Lesson 3 of Oslo? It is very hard to ascertain what is in food if you can't understand Norwegian. I would spend about ten minutes staring at the food displays trying to determine whether or not I saw meat in the sandwich that I was planning on ordering. Since almost all sandwiches in Norwegian cuisine contain meat, it was a hard time to be a vegetarian. That said, they did have some very tasty looking pastries. Waffles were huge there. No, I did not have one. Why? Because a) I am on a strict pre-marathon nutrition plan and b) (the more important factor here) I did not want to financially bankrupt myself by buying one.
Oslo Domkirke - taken on a better day

 After eating, I braved the weather to travel up the main thoroughfare, Karl Johan's Gate, to the Oslo Cathedral (Domkirke) to seek shelter and pray for some divine intervention in alleviating the financial poverty that I was about to plunge into by staying in Oslo for five days. (I did not want to eat nothing but apples for two days as I did in Dublin, so I was destined to spend some money.) According to the Cathedral's official website, the church was completed in 1697. It was rebuilt in the late 1850s and renovated in 2010. In 2001, it was the site of the royal wedding between Crown Prince Haakon and Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby. As far as cathedrals go (of which I have seen many), it's exterior was not all that impressive, but still boasted an ornate interior. And it provided an opportunity to get out of the rain for a brief spell. Unfortunately, there was little to no information about the cathedral's history provided in the church itself, so my stay was brief.

Genuine Viking helmet!
Next on my list of places to visit was the University of Oslo's Museum of History and Culture. In addition to an interesting exhibit about Norway's prehistoric and Viking past, it displayed information about the cultures of the Arctic. In Norway, the Sami people are the most well-known. They reside in the northernmost territories of the Nordic states and survive off fishing, sheep and reindeer-herding, and fur trapping. The museum also had an extensive exhibit on the history of the Native Americans, which was interesting simply because it provided a non-American viewpoint that I had never been exposed to before.

Day 1 in sum: wet and windy
After leaving the museum, I found my way to the tourist center in Aker Brygge near the harbor and then to the nearest 7-11 to buy a tram ticket so that I could check-in to my hostel. A single tram ticket was 27 krones (roughly equivalent to $5.50). *Sigh* I walked to the Oslo Central Station (railway station) in the center of the city and caught Tram 17 toward Grefsen Station. For a major city, Oslo has surprisingly few hostels and since there was no way that I could have possibly afforded to stay at even the cheapest of hotels, I made the decision to stay outside of the city center at the Youth Hostel Haraldsheim. Located about 4km outside of the city, it took about 20 minutes to reach by tram. The hostel itself was situated upon a huge hill, and so, after trekking through the rain and wind, I arrived at the reception looking similar to a drowned rat. I must have appeared a pretty miserable sight as the employee on duty immediately handed me a towel and asked if I was ok. After checking in and assuring him that I was, I all but collapsed in my room. I ended up staying in a four-person room. It was one of the larger hostel rooms that I have stayed in and very, very clean. Entry to individual rooms was by key-card, with a shower room (with individual stalls!) and a bathroom down the hall. Overall, I was quite pleased.

After recovering, I ventured out again to make my first visit to a Norwegian supermarket, REMA 1000, to buy the ingredients for dinner. After spending half an hour trying to navigate around the market and decipher ingredient lists, I finally settled on buying a bowl of frozen fiskesuppe (a traditional Norwegian fish and vegetable soup in a milk-based broth) that was not half bad and a bag of spelt rolls. I finished off the night by sitting in the television room with a group of 40-year old men (who lived in the hostel on an almost permanent basis) reading one of my IR textbooks (because I'm a good student), and getting distracted by watching the Norwegian version of X-Factor. Overall, a good (albeit wet and windy) first day.

Coming Soon (but no idea as to exactly when): Day 2: My trip to Bygdoy, the summer island of the Royals -- and Day 3: Lessons in Resistance at Akershus Fortress.

As a side note, for those readers caught up in the Royal Wedding fever: this is exactly how events are going to transpire:

18 April 2011

Taking Back Dun-Èideann...Part Dos

Sorry about the delay in posting part two. Less than 24 hours after running a 1:35:10 half marathon (!!!!!) and returning home to London, I was on the move again, but this time farther afield to Oslo, Norway. I arrived home at 2am yesterday and was up at 9am to spectate at the London Marathon (I am terrified about my own marathon in just 3 weeks!). After uploading some 240 pictures from Oslo to Facebook this morning, I went out and ran my final 20-miler. I am proud to say that I ran straight through to mile 15 before needing to stop - and then only because I needed to try out one of my 'natural' energy bars for fuel. While an excellent multi-tasker in other non-essential things, I lack the ability to chew and run. Or drink and run for that matter. (This is a bit of a problem since I have a tendency to forgo water stops simply because I don't want to slow down to drink. Clearly self-preservation is not high on my list.) This meant that the last 5 miles were very painful. At 19.25, I had to walk and give myself a pep talk to get through the last mile. (Said pep talk being less peppy and more along the lines, 'You can do this. Friggin' move your butt' although considerably less PG.) Total time spent running: 2 hours, 43 minutes. I have no idea how I am going to bust out an 6.2 additional miles on May 8th, but I plan on learning some Shakespearean curses in the next 20 days (!) to add to my 'pep talks'. (I'm running in the Shakespeare Marathon in Stratford-upon-Avon and need to keep with the trend.)

Since I now have no inclination to leave the sitting position for the rest of today, you can expect a post about Oslo this evening.

In the meantime...my Edinburgh Half Marathon race report.

 Sunday, April 10th - race day - dawned bright and early for me. My alarm went off at 5:30, startling me so much that I practically fell out of the top bunk at the hostel. (Fact: I used to have a bunk bed when I was younger but fell off the top bunk so often that I was banned from using it. Maybe this is how my insomnia started? Fear of death by impact incurred mid-REM cycle?) All runners have their race day traditions and mine is to become hyper-organized. My race clothing was already laid out, my bags packed, the pins in my race number. And so I was dressed and in the hostels 'chill-out room' (TV room) by 5:45.

I had my standard pre-race fare of pita bread with banana and peanut butter before heading out into the brisk Scottish morning at 6:30. This would have been perfect had the race started at, say, 7:45. But it wasn't slated to start until 9 and so I ended up arriving at Meadowbank Stadium (host of the 1970 and 1986 Commonwealth Games) 2 hours early. The first hour of waiting was a bit cold (since I had to put my bags on the baggage truck for transport to Musselburgh), but at least I avoided a repeat of the Patrick Henry Half Marathon. (At my first half marathon, the PAtrick Henry in Ashland, VA in August 2010, I literally had to make a running start to the race. Despite leaving very early from our hotel (5 miles from the start), my mother and I got caught up in the traffic to enter the park and, by the time we had parked, I had ten minutes to travel the half mile to the race start and hit the porta-loos. It was stressful.) 

Being early provided the additional benefit of giving me ample time to warm up. I jogged a few laps around the track, did some striders, and generally made a fool of myself by grooving along with the music that was playing. As members of my family can attest, 'America's Next Dance Star' I am most definitely not. Yeah, I was ridiculous. People stared. 

At 8:50, the call came for all runners to assemble in their holding pens on the inner field of the track. I joined the 1:30-1:45 pen since my goal was to achieve 1:35. (Ok, to be honest, I was really shooting for 1:33. Miracles can happen, right?). This was my first time in a race with pens organized by time and I found that the arrangement worked nicely. BEginning with the elite athletes and the sub-1:30 pen, each group of runners was individually walked to the start line so that by 9:05, 3/4ths of the track was filled with runners. Presumably the starting gun went off at some point, but I never heard it. Instead, the people in front of me started jogging towards the starting mats, slowed to a walk ('Oh look, we're running. Right, just kidding!'), and then started running. The race was on. 

Overall, I had a great race. The course took us out of Meadowbank through the neighborhoods of Restalrig in Leith, along the Victorian seaside esplanade in Portobello, and into Musselburgh. At mile 7 we passed the Musselburgh Racecourse where the race would finish. It was more than a little frustrating to pass the finish knowing that you were only at the halfway mark. Equally frustrating was the fact that the rest of the course was and out and back. As I hit mile 8.5, I began to see the leaders passing me on the left side of the road. I knew that the turnaround point was somewhere up ahead, but it seemed like it was never going to arrive. At long last, it did come and I prepared for the remaining 3.1 miles. Up until this point, I had felt great. Aside from a minor incident with the ankle timing chip that made me stop at mile 1, I had never felt stronger. But 10 miles of pounding the uneven and stony asphalt in Musselburgh and Prestonpans had taken their toll. I spent the last 3 miles just waiting for the race to be over and hoping that I would hit 1:35. The race finish was wonderful. The course veered onto the homestretch of the Musselburgh Race Track and past the grandstand filled with spectators. Afterward, I accepted my medal and all but collapsed in the grass beside the track. I had sprinted the last 1/2 mile and was exhausted.

After the race was over there was a bit of controversy over the race length. My Garmin had registered the course length as 13.44, but I had thought perhaps that I had started it too early.However, it seems that others had noticed that the course was longer than it should have been and registered an inquiry to the race organizers. They re-measured the course and, lo and behold, it was too long. It turns out that the person in charge of positioning the cone for the turnaround had placed it further than it should have been. This meant that our times were re-adjusted and so I hit the 1:35:10 mark. I was 16th in my age division (females ages 17-39), 284th according to my gun time, and 22nd in my gender. Not bad for a race with 3019 finishers! This was a new PR by 14 minutes. I would like to say that I am proud of my time, but in reality, I could not have done it without the support that I received from my friends, family, and fellow runners. Thank you. 

And now the countdown is on until the marathon. 20 days. I'm scared sh*tless. Seriously. I saw what happened to people hitting the wall at miles 22 and 23 in the London Marathon. What if this happens to me in Stratford? After all, it's not like I have my family there to come looking for me if I fail to turn up at the finish. I'm plagued with doubts about this race...but I will ultimately end up running it. I have a feeling that I am more suited for the half-marathon distance than the full 26.2, so this will most likely end up being the only marathon that I end up running. (My family is no doubt breathing a sigh of relief at this.) 

That said, I plan to keep on racing. On the 29th of May I am going to take another shot at the Patapsco Trail Run in Catonsville, MD. I ran it last year with my ex-boyfriend and it seriously kicked my ass. A '6 to 7-ish' mile run with few flat bits, it cuts across railroad tracks ('There was a train derailment earlier this year so watch out for debris') and a waist-deep river ('British troops got swept away here in the 1770s'). And on June 19th, Alex and I are 'running' the Rebel Run, a 5k race with military-style obstacles and mud...lots and lots of mud. Since Alex is off to the Air Force soon and I hope to join the Navy, we are going to use it as boot camp prep. I fully expect to ruin a set of clothes and possibly by dignity, but at least I get a free beer at the end. (Note: This would be so much better if it were whisky, but we can't get everything we want in life.) 

Coming soon: Oslo!

Added note: Today, Kenyan Geoffrey Muttai won the Boston Marathon in 2:03:01. This is the fastest marathon ever run. All I can say is: Oh. My. God.

11 April 2011

Taking Back Dun-Èideann...Part I

It is strange how

When I moved to Edinburgh (for the second time) in May 2010, I had just graduated from college and was incredibly reluctant to leave my boyfriend, friends, and family back in the US. A 40+ hour work week and the realization that the situation was only temporary prevented me from going out and actively meeting people. (The fact that I am not exactly the world's most outgoing person added to this as well.) Even a visit from a friend (Chris!) and my boyfriend halfway through the summer failed to ease the homesickness that I felt. On top of this was the fact that shortly before I left Edinburgh in June 2009, I was the victim of an event that not only changed my life, but cast a shadow upon my entire time in Scotland. It was this event that made it so incredibly difficult to return to Scotland in 2010...but I did it because I hoped to put the past behind me. Although I did make significant advances in coming to terms with what happened and learned to appreciate Scotland again, mostly thanks to the kindness and wonderful times shown to me by my (now ex-)boyfriend and his family, I was not entirely successful in my endeavor. Whereas I had loved Edinburgh prior to 2009 (it was my favorite city, hands down), even after the good times of 2010, I still remained hesitant about returning.

It is amazing the difference that a mere 8 months can make in one's life. In that time, I've spent 7 months abroad, lost a friend in a car accident (and almost lost several others in other incidents), been hit by a car, had my heart broken, written countless essays, and, as a result, matured in ways that I am only just becoming aware of. Living abroad changes you...for better or worse. It toughens you. And so when I returned to Edinburgh this past weekend, things were immediately different. Somehow, in the past 8 months, I developed the necessary toughness needed to finally conquer Edinburgh...and put the horrific events of the past behind me. I am pleased to note that almost 2 years after the attack...I am finally at peace.

Wonderful Henderson's!
I arrived in Edinburgh around noon on Thursday. After checking-in to my hostel (St. Christopher's on Market Street - I highly recommend it!), I headed to Hanover Street in the New Town to hit up my favorite restaurant, Henderson's. It's a vegetarian restaurant that also operates a bistro and deli on Hanover Street, plus a cafe underneath St. John's at the end of Princes Street/beginning of Princess Street. I have never had a less-than-wonderful meal there. Afterward, I wandered around Princes Street, noting which shops had gone out since the last time I was there. Most notable was the absence of the tram mock-up that had dominated the western parts of Princes Street for most of 2010. It was a full-size model of the tram system that they planned to install in the New Town - a plan for which the city had run out of money. And so the tram had sat on Princes Street, obstructing the flow of traffic (never good at the best of times), and generally proving an eye-sore. I was pleased to note that it is gone! Amazing!

Greyfriars' Kirkyard
View up the Royal Mile
After a quick change at the hostel, it was off for a run. I did an easy 5 miles up along Market and Jeffrey Streets, up the hill of the Pleasance, down Newington, past where I lived last summer, and into the Meadows. It was beautiful and so wonderful to be back on my 'home' ground. The weather was absolutely perfect - a rarity for Scotland! Later, I headed back out onto the Royal Mile to visit Edinburgh Castle and then down to Greyfriars' Kirkyard (the oldest cemetery in Edinburgh). Greyfriars Bobby and many other famous Edinburghians are buried there. Somehow, I managed to find my way from the graveyard into a nearby pub that I visited last June with Chris and which is known for playing live traditional music each night. Sure thing, there was a group there that night. One thing led to another and I found myself holding a fiddle and being an active participant in the jam session. Now, I've played the violin/fiddle since I was 8, but have not actively practiced since December when I was last home. I'll freely admit that things started off a bit shaky and I was quite convinced that I was going to die of embarrassment whenever I hit a wrong note. Luckily, the other guys (playing the bodhran, guitar, fiddle, and bagpipe) were encouraging and compensated for my shakiness, giving me confidence and allowing my fingers to re-familiarize themselves with the fingerboard. After five minutes, I was back to my old strength. The night culminated in my playing a duet rendition (with the other fiddler) of 'Grant's Rant', 'Nighean Donn' and 'The Butterfly' before accompanying the group in playing 'Amazing Grace', which resulted in the majority of the pub singing and my struggling not to cry. It was truly a surreal experience, although not one that I care to repeat anytime soon since most of the time I was terrified that I was going to screw up. (No, this does not mean that I will be giving concerts at home anytime soon.)

View from Holyrood Park towards Calton Hill & Leith
The top of Arthur's Seat
Friday was supposed to be my 'rest' day before the half marathon...although it turned out to be anything but. I began the day by heading off to Holyrood Park to climb to Arthur's Seat. The weather was perfect and I got so carried away in my trek that I decided to run up to the top of the peak for old time's sake. (I used to make this climb once or twice a week in 2009 and 2010). It went well - although I attracted more than one comment from passersby since I was in trekking shoes, black tights, and a dress. Oh well. Karen and I trekked through the hills of Buckinghamshire in rain and mud while wearing dresses in our attempts to get to the Hellfire Caves. (We were unsuccessful and passing hill-walkers repeatedly kept commenting, 'Dressed like that?' whenever we inquired as to its location.) Then it was off to Leith to time the walk to the Meadowbank Athletics Stadium where the half marathon would start on Sunday. I've never actually been to Leith (the port town) and so this was a new experience. Indeed, the entire half marathon course (from Leith through Musselburgh, turning round at Prestonpans and finishing at the Musselburgh Race Course) was along areas that I had never been before. Finally, it was back to the Old Town to hit up the City of Edinburgh museum (last visited in 2005), the People's Story museum at the Canongate Tollbooth (prison), and sit in the Princes Street Gardens.

Saturday (*If you are not interested in reading worthless soul-searching statements, skip ahead*)
Saturday was all about overcoming the past, and so I started off the morning with a visit to the club where that terrible night began. In summer 2010, I generally avoided the entire area (a bit of a bother since it is located on a convenient road in the city center) and even when forced down to the Cowgate never ventured up the side street where it is located. Even thinking about it used to bring back the few memories that I possess of what happened that night, thus provoking all of the associated memories and fears. By visiting the club, I confronted these fears directly. The strange thing was that none of them re-surfaced when I saw it. I had braced myself for the worst - and I felt nothing save for a bit of anger and sadness at how things had ultimately turned out. Heartened by this, I continued across the city following the events of that night (so much as I have pieced together). It took the better part of the day, but was well worth it in the end. Each place visited was a fear conquered, a part of my life regained. And when I emerged back into the Old Town on Saturday afternoon, I was finally able to move on and allow myself to fall in love with Edinburgh again.

*Resume reading*
 I was exhausted by all of that soul-searching, inner-battle fighting, and running up and down Arthur's Seat, so I figured that the wise thing to do to prepare for the half marathon would be rest. Instead of heading to the pub for a dram (or two) of whisky like I so desired, I headed to the Omni Centre to take in a movie. Not having had access to a TV for the past 4 months means that I have absolutely no idea what is playing at the cinema. ("What do you mean that Black Swan is not still in theaters?") So I blindly chose to see Tomorrow, When the War Began. It's an Australian film about a group of teenagers who, while on a camping trip in the Outback, miss the start of World War 3. When they return to the homes, it is to find that a foreign army has invaded Australia and have rounded up the locals into concentration camps. The teens thus become refugees, alternating between trying to save their asses and launch guerilla-style warfare against the enemy. It was an interesting premise but never fully developed. The movie ends promptly when things begin to get interesting and has no resolution, leaving the viewer (or me at least) distinctly unsatisfied. Still, it killed a few hours on Saturday evening and prevented me from walking around unnecessarily or going back to the hostel at 4pm.

Sunday...The Edinburgh Half Marathon...coming soon!

07 April 2011

I'll Be Waiting on the Other Side

Photos from Portsmouth but no post as: a) it is 5:07AM and I have been up since 4:30AM; b) I have to leave at 5:30AM (and am not dressed); and c) I am headed to EDINBURGH today!!!! 

HMS Warrior - iron-clad from 1860

Henry VIII in the Mary Rose Exhibition

Cannon recovered from the wreck of the Mary Rose

Costume of Jane Seymour from the series, The Tudors. There is a 17-inch waist on that dress?!!

Vice-Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson: accurate representation down to height (5'5) and facial reconstruction.

Figurehead from the HMS Bellerophon, which kicked French ass for over 40 years

HMS Victory

HMS Victory

HMS Victory

Nelson's Sleeping Quarters

On board the HMS Victory

It was an impressive ship, ok?

Portsmouth Anglican Cathedral

The Seaside - view towards the Isle of Wight

Proof: I was in Portsmouth

View from the Square Tower to the Round Tower