Wide Awake in Wonderland

We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while

I’m beginning to see the light August 27, 2008

In front of some graffiti in Lisbon, Portugal

In front of some graffiti in Lisbon, Portugal

I’ve been feeling a little bit shagged, having spent last night on the night train from Lisbon to Madrid. After a brief snooze on the early morning flight from Dublin, I realized that saving a few euro was NOT worth the lost sleep and neck pain, so I went ahead and booked a couchette (one small step above a regular seat, but at least you get to lay down). Sadly, I was in the top bunk. (Seriously, how do I put an end to that!?!?)

Even more sadly, I did not get to pick my roommates. It was me and three girls who texted and made phone calls at full ‘middle of the day’ volume (I would have paid good money to learn the Portuguese word for whisper) – and received them in turn – all night long. What a tragedy that Portugal can’t produce a phone with a ‘vibrate’ or ‘silent’ mode. Or that its youth is too rude to use them or know how to SHUT THE F**K UP AT 3AM.

Either way, combine that with the rocking and rolling circa 1960 train (with the fluorescent light that would flicker half on with the worst of the turns and bumps like some kind of deranged northern light), and I had one of those sleeps where you would look at your watch and it would be 1am, and 2:30a.m. and 4:00 a.m., and you’re amazed that it’s that late and perhaps you’ve slept at all.

So it followed that around 2am, something (so many options to choose from) woke me, and I realized I had to pee like a race horse. I lay there and shifted in my tiny horrible bed and tried to find a position where I could forget about it or fall back asleep…but it just wasn’t happening. So I had to give up and leave the room and use the horrific train toilet. Is that just dumping out onto the track or ???

Anyway, the whole thing – and so much of my travel – is completely size discriminatory. Normally, I am something of a small person. However, on this trip – because of the backpack – I am not. And it makes me super aware of how the world is not very friendly in that regard. Today I could barely fit into the lift with my backpack on, let alone through the Madrid subway turnstiles. In the same vein, as I was wandering back to the couchette in a completely bleary-eyed stupor, a very large man was heading down the hallway toward me. I already know that

  1. The odds that he speaks English are next to nothing

  2. There is no freaking way we are both fitting down this hall

  3. I don’t even know that he can fit down this hall

At the sight of his approach, I started backing up. He kept coming toward me and sending me way out of the way, and eventually I had to try to pantomime that my room was just up the hall. He seemed to understand and backed up so that I could get to it (this is a lot like the dance in the aisle on the airplane if you ever get in the way of the beverage cart). So I get there, gone just a minute or two, and with the intent to quietly climb back up into my top bunk like the Spider Monkey I have become and no one the wiser, when…what do you know but…MY ROOMMATES HAVE LOCKED ME OUT.

I keep twisting and turning the knob and looking up at the number two on the door. “Are you f-ing KIDDING me!?” I think to myself, as I size up the situation. Just then, not wanting to miss an opportunity, my rotund hallmate charges down the hall, plasters himself up against me (now banging on the door), and starts trying to grope me. I heard the bolt click just as he was moving into areas that would get him knocked out cold. Douchebag.

Needless to say, I’m feeling a little tired and pissed off today.

On a totally unrelated topic, I‘ve been running into a lot of quotes lately that strike me, and I usually stop where I am – even if that involves an awkward moment to relocate the oversized bag on my back and dig out some paper and a pen – and write them down. The other day I was reading something in an old collection of articles that referenced Episcopal Priest Barbara Brown Taylor. She wrote: “To paraphrase a parable of Brother Kierkegaard’s, if you put a bunch of people in a lobby and give them two doors to choose between – one that says ‘transformation’ and another that says ‘lecture on transformation’, most of them are going to line up for the lecture.”

A year ago, I might have done the same. However, here I am, most definitely through the door of transformation. At least I hope so.

You see, when this idea occurred to me – to recreate the trip I took when I was 19 years old – it felt urgent, even involuntary. It seemed like something I had to do, that there were lessons I needed to learn and things I needed to give up and struggles I needed to have in order to push myself past my boundaries and grow into who I am meant to be. But in the back of my mind I remembered how hard this was the first time and knew it wouldn’t be easy.

So not to bitch and moan – because I know this is something I elected to do, and although it’s a trip conducted very much on the cheap and at times it feels a little torturous, it’s still a luxury.- but some days this sh!t is just plain old hard, and it about makes you want to cry.

It is incredibly humbling to haul your every possession on your back and be alone and adrift – an alien unable to communicate with anyone around you. Portions of the Madrid metro are closed right now, which rendered my trip to the opposite side of town (where my squalid concrete block room is located) grueling. It was as hard as I’ve been pushed thus far.

I am starting to think some of what I need to learn is about humility and patience. And being real. And being kind to myself in the moment, even when the moment totally sucks. These are hard lessons in their own stupid way. It’s much, much easier to check out or blame other people or attend the lecture instead of the full-immersion course.

However, despite it all, I can see the little blessings. Like how people are kind and they try to help. As I was wandering aimlessly trying to find the Madrid Metro station earlier today, I stopped a man for help. Once we confirmed that he didn’t speak a word of English (no one here seems to, oddly), and I didn’t know much Spanish, he began an intricate pantomime to explain to me how to get to the Metro. It involved Putting his thumb to his lips and waving the remaining fingers in front of his face while dancing around and making a strange sound. I don’t know how, but eventually I realized this was to symbolize the train station. Then, he went into a violent shoving motion to his left, and it became clear that I must go through the train station and to the left. Voila, a half a kilometer later and there it was. I had to laugh.

A friend asked me what the best part has been, and the best parts are – for me, anyway – the simple little moments where the world seems so small and so beautiful: Running along a lonely road in England or watching birds dive into the ocean in Iceland. Yesterday, for example, I was walking to the train station in Portugal, and the last street vendors were packing up for the night. It was dark out and everyone was long gone from the avenues. The street lights provided the only life. A s a man was packing up his paintings he noticed me trudging past. “Come or go?” he asked, as I had my bag on my back. “Go,” I said to him, “Boa noite.”

“Bye bye, Girl!” he called after me with a wave, “Have a nice day!”

Across the plaza another man was playing a radio, and an old American song from the 1940s – “I’m beginning to see the light” – was drifting across the uneven cobblestone, and everything seemed strangely warm and embracing and perfect for a split second. And that’s what’s keeps me going.

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Slipping into the Twilight Zone August 26, 2008

Cascais, Portugal

Cascais, Portugal

It’s been a long couple days, but in a good way. I went to the beach (Cascais), and got back later than anticipated. Then I took a shower and got roped into a lengthy conversation while drying my hair (it is such a weird experience to be doing things like that – blow drying your hair – in public). As it was my last night in Lisbon, I was begged, pleaded with, and cajoled until I gave in and went out with some of the fellow hostelers. Going out seems to entail not even leaving until about 11pm.

The cutest guy on the beach in Cascais

The cutest guy on the beach in Cascais

Regardless, two particularly friendly North African guys (just finishing up architecture master’s degrees in France) were staying in the same room, and after hearing ‘last night in Lisbon’ forty-five times, I finally gave in. In my opinion, every other night is my last night somewhere, but there’s something to be said for going with the flow.

That stated, I can accurately report to you that bars in Lisbon Portugal are every bit as boring as the ones in the United States – particularly if you have a headache from all the cigarette smoke and no desire to get drunk in a complicated city full of unfriendly and steep cobblestone streets. Despite being a wildly international group (1 Australian, 1 Algerian, 1 Moroccan, 2 Swedes, 1 Korean, 1 Tunisian, 1 Romanian, and me, the American), conversations seem to center around tales of previous episodes of extreme drinking, including a harrowing story from a Swedish guy about some kind of 99% alcohol intended for medical use. He seemed to find it a funny memory, but it struck me as more of a brush with death warning that should be used in a ‘Scared Straight’ film. Not that I’m any abolitionist, but It is a little alarming to me how much alcohol seems to be a focus of everyone’s life, and this seems to extend across all borders. Almost every person I’ve met in a hostel has mentioned that their travel budget is roughly 50% for alcohol. Good thing I didn’t have to factor that in, or I’d be headed home in the next couple weeks.

Me with all of Lisbon at my feet

Me with all of Lisbon at my feet

Meanwhile, to any of you out there with young children, in addition to keeping an eye out for any growing fascination with booze, please consider raising them bi-lingual, even if it’s a Neanderthal language of grunts and groans that you make up yourself. In fact, all the better. If you and your family are fluent in Cavemanch, then you, too, can go out in public and talk about people who are standing right there because they won’t understand you. That’s right all you fluent Chinese, Arabic, Polish, Russian, etc. etc. speakers. The Aussies and I are onto you. When you look at us and talk at a feverish low tone and then erupt into laughter, we know something is going on and we may be the punchline.

Moreover, it truly is kind of embarrassing to only speak English fluently. Last night someone said something to the effect of English being ‘the international language’ and so ‘everyone has to learn it.’ All I could think was, “THANK GOD,” because it’s hard enough having to start every single solitary conversation with “English?” or “Do you speak English?” Particularly being in a country where the only word you know is ‘thank you’. By the way, it’s obrogado/a, and I say it with flourish every chance I get!

In the same vein, last night I got roped into conjuring up my high school French. Needless to say, I provided quite a few guffaws at my own expense. Especially because all I could remember were weird textbook sentences like “the pencil is on the table” and “they are friends.” Also, because high school was a really long time ago. Really long. But no one believes me on that one.

I suspect it’s due to the hard partying life most of the youth of the world seem to be living and that I somehow never partook in along the way. If all you do from the time you’re 15 or 16 is smoke, drink and stay up all night, I’m thinking the key to my eternal youth lies in my general abstinence (minus the alcohol under different circumstances. Here – partially because of budget, but mostly because I’m on my own – I’m crazy conservative) from all three.

Other people may have their multilingual flag to wave. They may be able to carry on conversations in four or five languages on as many continents…but I look damn young. I can infiltrate your youthful scene and you are none the wiser. In fact, you start looking out for me in my apparent youth. This is my super power. Forget out running locomotives and leaping tall buildings in a single bound? Who needs all that, when you could re-enroll in high school?

Seriously though, it’s absolutely bizarre to me. Last night someone suggested that I was 25 and another man said, “No! I would have thought…”

I readied myself, “Here it comes…busted!”

Until he followed it up with, “I would have thought younger than that. More like 21.” Wha…????

On the other hand, the few times I have stated my true age, no one believes me. I honestly think I’d have an easier time telling people I’m a vampire, I never age, and I’m 412 years old. It would not surprise me if that were accepted as fact more readily than the truth of my advancing years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m flattered for sure – just a little baffled.

The red tile roofs of Lisbon

The red tile roofs of Lisbon

Meanwhile, Lisbon is a really interesting city of contrasts. It’s got a lot of old architecture and charm, and then two blocks away looks like a bomb just went off. The weather has been superb, and it’s a mere 25 minute train ride from the beach…and the world’s coldest ocean. Seriously, it was FREEZING. It wasn’t the coldest ever, I think the ocean off Washington state in the spring is about the same, but considering how warm it is, and it’s August, I was totally shocked. Anyway, minus having very little (no) grasp on the language, I like it here just fine. In fact, in a mere two days I’ve become an expert at getting around on the subways and throughout the Alfama (as long as you’re not in a rush, it’s easy to get out of there, just head downhill). The Alfama is the old “Moorish district” which has these insane and super-steep switchback streets. Apparently they were built that way in case anyone attacked the city: The soldiers would get lost in the street and were easy to fight back from the castle at the top.

In the Alfama district

In the Alfama district

At the moment, I’m sitting here in the hostel kitchen, and someone just handed me a shrimp with the head and arms and legs and wings and horns and beak still attached. Ick. I love shrimp, but if I had to look at them like this all the time, I’m pretty sure I’d eat them a lot less frequently! I ended up munching down a pretty good portion of shell, but I’m pretty sure it added to the flavor (it really was damn flavorful) and I probably got some extra calcium out of it or something.

Lastly, I’m going to make a real effort to get a bunch of pictures up on Flickr in the next few days. Space is allotted by month, so i intend to use everything I’ve got before August ends. Meanwhile, I can’t seem to figure out how to get the link to work from WordPress. They say to paste in the RSS feed from Flickr…but (obviously, if you look to the lower left) it isn’t working. My Flickr account shares the same name as this blog, and if anyone can figure out the exact url I should plug in to get the link going please send me an e-mail or post a comment. Otherwise, boa noite, and tomorrow it will be be buenos dias from Madrid!

 

Forget Coke. I’d like to buy the world some Right Guard. August 24, 2008

Dear World,

Pee-U. You look like a monkey, and you smell like one too. Actually, you smell like a whole cage full of them. In a cage that hasn’t been cleaned in a week. Or a month. Or ever. And has doubled as your bathroom.

Meanwhile fair readers, I have made it to Lisbon! Yay Lisbon! It’s warm, it’s sunny, it’s old world-ish, and if such things are of interest to you, the wine flows cheaply. So cheaply, in fact, you wonder if maybe it’s got some antifreeze in it or something. On par, a bottle of the local vintage averages .75 to 1.99 euro ($1.25 to $.3.00 USD since our dollar is doing so badly. Which, by the way, all the jerk Canadians keep feeling the need to point out. All the time. As if I don’t know. But seriously, if this isn’t enough to turn your blood cold, the two dollars are trading almost equally. They must be pissed about the fact that all their books and magazines are marked up a good 35% over ours.)

Adding to the universal stink with a giant thing of Irish onion rings

Adding to the universal stink with a giant thing of Irish onion rings

Also, it’s not that I’m saying all Canadians are jerks. Just those that feel the need to remind me that our economy is in the dumpster and taking my hard earned dollars down with it. Speaking of Canadians, I have a young French Canadian somewhat stalking me. I think he means well. Or he’s just lonely. Or both. But he’s wearing me out. There is nowhere I can hide where the young fellow doesn’t appear.

So I’m off to duck into my upper bunk (QUICK SEGUE: Doesn’t the law of averages indicate that, on average, I would be in the upper bunk half the time and the lower bunk the other half? How the hell is it that I have had the upper bunk EVERY SINGLE GODDAMNED time??? Like seven or eight or even more times now. I’ve lost count. Seriously, what are the odds on this? Could I somehow lock in the same mojo for some kind of gambling venture? At least make this unbroken streak work in my favor financially? Anyone out there care to take odds?)

All that aside, it’s good to be back in some summer weather. And get away from that Irish temper (I’m kidding a little – although there were some fists flying on the Luas [Dublin’s light rail] yesterday. I was wearing my full backpack ensemble and pointed it toward the fracas like a tortoise might his shell).

In closing, tomorrow I am off to the beaches about a half-hour from Lisbon by train. I’m going by myself, even if it means I have to go out a window. If I can stay off the practically free wine long enough to write up a semi-sober update, I will do so. And maybe even post some pictures. (Just kidding on the solo binge drinking. Users are losers, kids. And drinking by yourself is not only a troubling sign of a problem, it’s not that fun.)

 

Teenage rebellion is not what it used to be August 23, 2008

Ok, so what the hell is this all about? I’m on the 8:05 a.m. bus from Schull to Cork. We’ve been on it about five minutes, and across the aisle from me is an Irish couple in their late teens who are BLARING the music player on their cell phone as loud as they can while making out. It’s obnoxious and I can hear people around me complaining. When they came up for air, I asked if they could turn it down a little, and he acted like he might pull a knife on me. He want on some incomprehensible rant that I’m pretty sure contained some bad words.

But here’s the kicker: The music is complete and total CRAP. How can you call yourself an Irish bad ass when you’re willing to kill someone to defend your right to annoy the whole bus with Elton John’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” I might not mind if they were playing some Snoop Dogg or Wu Tang Clan or something more conducive to disturbing the peace., but the Farm Aid song!? (I haven’t heard it in so long, I’m not sure that’s the song. The thing about ‘make the world a better place, for you and for me and the entire human race”and you can clearly hear Michael Jackson in the mix???) WTF!?

Later on this bus ride (it took a little over two hours total), several other people tried to silence those two. I thought one guy might come to blows over it. The male of the couple was an absolute punk and would literally threaten people with their lives when they asked him to turn it down. What was so bizarre, and yet strangely funny, was how AWFUL the music was. I put on my headphones and tried to drown it out (I think every one of us so equipped did), but I still managed to hear (and I am not making this up):

  1. Whitney Houston – I will always love you (but of course)
  2. Air Supply – Making Love out of nothing at all (or whatever it’s called. Pretty much the shittiest song EVER)
  3. That song about “Turn around bright eyes”

It was like somebody’s prom, circa 1987, only these two were probably late teens, 20 years old at most!?!?

On the other hand, considering the news a few weeks back about someone beheading another person on a Greyhound bus in Canada, I guess we should be glad that only our eardrums were terrorized. No one was killed, only tortured.

Meanwhile, I’m back in Dublin in a cell block of a room at Dublin City University. Actually, cell block isn’t fair. Prison cells are nicer. The DSL internet connection doesn’t work (and it’s clear there were once instructions that the girls at the front desk either lost or gave away), and I think prisoners get a TV. But it has the same cinder block walls and horrible bed, so that’s comforting.

On the upside, it’s back to pouring down rain and 55 degrees…and I am outta here and Lisbon-bound at 5:15 a.m. (7:15 a.m. flight). So one short night in the jail house is no big deal.

Adeus!

 

Bill Murray as Irish colloquialism August 21, 2008

That’s right. I’ve busted out an SAT word on your there. I strive to educate as well as to entertain. If you’re wondering, it basically means ‘slang.’ Anyway, the Irish show jumping horse was disqualified from the Olympics today as he tested positive for capsaicin (sp? derivative of cayenne pepper). The “teaser” line on the Irish CNN channel was, “Groundhogs day for Ireland at the Olympics!” as apparently the same thing happened in Athens four years ago.

Hilarious. I’ve never heard anyone reference that movie (Groundhogs Day) with respect to the same thing happening twice, but it’s genius.

Meanwhile they were really beating up on the hapless coach (I assume coach, they kept calling him ‘Chef de Keep’ and then ‘boss.’). The poor guy needs a PR rep tout de suite. He got positively hostile with the news reporter. He just needed a little guidance about how to gracefully answer the awkward, but predictable, questions about, “Are you surprised?” or “How do you think the people of Ireland will feel?”

In response to these, he said, “I’m not going to answer your questions! I came here to make a statement, and I made it: The horse will not be running tonight. That should be enough. I’m in Hong Kong. Beijing is four hours away.” His phone started ringing (a little Irish ditty) and he barked at the reporter, “My phone is ringing for the thousandth time today. I’ve gots to answer me phone!”

You couldn’t help but feel for the poor dude. Where are the Irish PR firms when you need one!? This flustered guy just needed a little speech writing about “disappointment” and “confusion” and “misunderstanding” and “getting to the bottom of this.” Something to smooth rumpled feathers and ill feelings. Apparently they are flowing. The news anchors were inconsolably angry that ‘the integrity of the Irish has been besmirched.” I’m going to start saying besmirched a whole lot more. Or at all.

Tonight I am in top notch digs: a B&B in Schull (but don’t say ‘Shool’ like I’ve been doing for three days. Everyone will stare at you like you’re not speaking the same language as them, which happens way more than you would think. Anyway, it’s pronounced “Skull.” Oh, and by the way, we’re saying Celtic all wrong too. It’s not Seltic. It’s Keltic. Boston Celtics, we need to think about some rebranding…). Anyway, the place is like heaven and Christmas rolled into one. And it’s so CLEAN. I want to roll around on the floors it’s so clean. And I haven’t even partaken in either of the ‘B’s yet. I have so much to look forward to…

Meanwhile, there is a TV show on wherein a (British it sounds like?) guy is tracking his genealogy. They hook him up with experts in the varying German towns his ancestors called home, and at the moment he’s stuck as his great-great-great-grandmother was (apparently) a bastard who lied about her name. He’s in the town where she came from following some flimsy clues.

I like it! if someone decides to make this show in the US, I’ll volunteer. On my dad’s side, we’re Romanovs for all we know. A Greek cab driver on the Vegas strip did once declare that I had a look of aristocracy. Obviously it’s true. Or maybe he was just hoping for a big tip?

Anyway, My great-grandmother (Stephanie – no clue if that was her given name. Kind of doubt it.) was apparently ‘from money” over in Russia. Her husband, my Lithuanian great-grandfather, can be tracked to Ellis Island, but prior to that, the trail turns cold. I’ll be in Lithuania in about three weeks, but I won’t be conducting much of a genealogy study as I don’t really know where to start and the BBC probably won’t be around to hook me up with an expert.

As for the guy on the show, it turns out his great-great-great grandmother was the illegitimate daughter of a prince, and ultimately he’s eight generations down from Henry II. Maybe that’s why they’re even airing this? If it turned out her dad was an impoverished wheat farmer with three other wives and twenty-seven other children, it may not have been that interesting to the masses. We all like a happy ending.

Speaking of which, I had a moment of peaceful hostel camaraderie last night which reminded me why in some respects I like to stay in them. Seven of us gathered around the TV in the common room to watch the movie The Descent: an Italian guy, an Irish woman, two American brothers, a Spanish father and his teen daughter, and me. The movie was total crap, but it was strangely fun to sit in the dark with people you just met and make wisecracks as we watched it. The other day I watched Old School with a bunch of young French guys and was totally amazed that they got every joke. One point in favor of hostel living: meeting and hanging out with cool people.

On the other hand, come this morning, I woke and noticed that our room (there were only three of us) had a distinct funk. I will decline to identify his nationality on the grounds of prejudice or stereotype, but sufficed to say upon physical inspection it was clear that our male roommate needed a shower and a shampoo REAL BAD. DESPERATELY. So much so that, if I’d had to stay there another night and share the same room, I might have done it for him myself. And I am NOT into shampooing strangers. Only in an emergency super stench situation would the idea even come up…

Which brings me to my final thought for the day: You get enough unclean people (or even one unwashed dude) in a small room, and it’s like a freaky people barn. It ain’t right.

If you haven’t smelled this and for some sick and twisted reason you would like to, buy a ticket to Cork, Ireland, go to the Aaron House hostel, and ask to be put in the three-bed room with the (nationality omitted) guy who’s living there. That, or stick your head in a gym bag with clothes and shoes that have been left to ferment for a few weeks. That’s what I’m talking about. One big strike AGAINST hostel living…

 

Another day, another downpour August 18, 2008

All these floods are starting to piss me off.

It’s hassle enough as it is. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that all the arrangements and traveling and lugging o’ the stuff and planning and plain old logistics weren’t utterly exhausting. They say getting there is half the fun. If that’s true, then I’m having -33% fun. Add into that the complications of the Irish weather (and the extreme complications of all the flooding – I’m currently writing from a train bound for Dublin. The journey typically takes 2 hours. Today – due to high flood water on the tracks – it’s taking six), and I’m having -75% fun. The other half had better be pretty darn good to compensate for all this!

Regardless, I’ve settled into the backpacking experience a little better, and am starting to develop a groove. There’s a ‘set’ way I pack my bag now, which makes it easier to get everything in quickly, and to find things in near silence and darkness. The hostel experience is made or ruined by your roommates, so I’m hoping to win a nomination – or at least honorable mention – as hostel roommate of the year. Thus, I always try to create zero disruption those times i share a room with early sleepers– which requires getting to critical items without actually being able to see them.

Meanwhile, I bought a ‘pay as you go’ phone, but no one seems to be able to call it. They don’t actually make phones that place calls and but won’t receive them…do they??? If they do, I’ve bought one. Moreover, whenever I turn the thing on (or it turns itself on, which it’s prone to doing), all sorts of bubbles dance around and spell out the words “Fun Club.” I could be wrong, but it makes me think maybe this is a phone geared toward the pre-school set? In that case, you’d think the opposite would be true: It could receive calls, but it wouldn’t be able to place them. Talking to preschoolers can be entertaining, but you wouldn’t want them calling you all day long, telling knock, knock jokes that they can’t remember the punch line to.

Otherwise, I’m in Dublin. It’s wet. I hear Portugal is having a heat wave, and I CANNOT WAIT…

 

Pity the shattered nerves of the University of Glasgow student August 15, 2008

The Elephant House in Edinburgh - where J.K. Rowling scrawled the original ideas for 'Harry Potter' on napkins. I took a handful of napkins - and scrawled a few ideas of my own - for good measure!

The Elephant House in Edinburgh - where J.K. Rowling scrawled the original ideas for

It's like a Westhighland Terrier convention in Scotland and Ireland! Here's a little one (Honey) on her way to go camping in Glasgow.

It

I’ve been staying in their (extremely) modest dorms for about 24 hours now. First off, it’s convenient to nothing. Well, it’s close to the University of Glasgow (duh), but otherwise nothing. And then they’re kind of Nazis. Its a baby blue room with full-on Ikea furniture – twin bed, desk, wardrobe – and a single felt covered board with the following posted on it, “All notices, posters, etc. should be placed on this notice board. The occupant will be re-charged for bedroom redecoration if notices/posters are elsewhere in the room.” Naturally, I went out and got my hands on every Hannah Montana poster in the country and covered every bloody square inch with the things. I paid cash for the room. Let them figure that one out…

Actually, the strict “do not decorate your prison cell” directives aren’t the half of it. The place has some INSANELY sensitive smoke alarms. As in, think about smoke or smoking or the smell of smoke or how you’d like a smoke and the whole joint erupts in ‘end of the world’ blaring and general pandemonium.

There’s a little sign by the sink (on the sacred blue wall, no less!) alerting you that the following inocuous activities could lead to  yet another 3am fire drill:

  • aerosol sprays
  • hairdryers
  • ironing
  • heavy breathing (okay, I made this one up. But why not???)

As I mentioned, I have been here a mere 24 hours. We have had FIVE or SIX (I lost count shortly after my ear drums melted) fire drills. And I haven’t exactly been here a consecutive 24 hours. I did actually leave for a while and wander around (yawn), and I went for a run this morning. And I went and got some dinner.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that no one will ever die of smoke inhalation or severe burns while studying at the University of Glasgow. They may go deaf and their nerves may be so shattered that they can never relax for the rest of their life without fear of blaring alarms going off for no reason. But no one will die of a fire or anything closely resembling a fire. Ever. You can bet your life on it. Or trade in a good night’s sleep. Either way…