Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Some Apologies to my Readers!

So sorry for being MIA these past few weeks, the holidays and working have taken up pretty much all my time. Plus, I am studying to take the bar exam again in February (and that is beyond time consuming). So I just wanted to apologize for not being very active on the blog. I hope to change all that VERY soon. I hope to make some BIG announcements in the coming months of 2015 and cannot wait to share my plans with all of you! 

Thank you all once again for reading my stories and always being kind and supportive, you all really make my day. 

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!


Monday, December 15, 2014

I Stole The Sign: An American Political Scientist in Ireland

If you visited Ireland in the first half of 2012 you no doubt noticed the giant "Vote Yes" and "Vote No" political signs tacked to anything and everything that stood upright. At the time of my visit, Ireland was embroiled in a heated referendum to "Vote Yes" or "Vote No" on joining the European Stability Treaty--which essentially acts as a "bailout" for EU states in dire financial straits. *

One of the very first things that I saw upon landing in Ireland were those signs. Having graduated from university with a degree in political science the year before and in Ireland to study the laws of the European Union, I was incredibly excited to learn about the referendum. In addition, I'm a huge Downton Abbey fan, and this seemed right up the alley of my favorite character, the outspoken-socialist-chauffeur-turned-husband of manor-born Lady Sybil Tom Branson.  From the very first day in Ireland I had one goal, to get one of those signs for my very own.  I didn't know how I would get one (because climbing up on a light pole seemed dangerous if not slightly illegal--and arrest would get me kicked out of my program) but I was determined to get one.  I would bide my time until the vote, and then see if I could possibly find one to stuff into my suitcase.

On 31 May, 2012, Ireland voted "Yes" on the Treaty, to the chagrin of Sinn Finn. And to my delight, the signs began to be taken down. I had spent the day with a friend shopping on Grafton Street in Dublin and was in the cab back to my university when I noticed that some of the signs had been taken off the light poles and shoved behind them or against rubbish bins, likely to be picked up at a later time. 

Memorizing the route, I doubled back once the cabbie let me out at my university’s gate and headed back in that direction. There was only one problem: it was much farther (like a lot!) on foot than I’d anticipated.

As the sun sank lower and lower in the sky, I was beginning to feel a little foolhardy. But I kept walking, no one else was going to come home with an Irish political sign in her suitcase (partially because no one else was crazy enough to walk a few miles alone on the outskirts of Dublin after dark). Just as the sun had finally sunk, I saw it—a bright green “Vote Yes!” sign stuffed between a pole and a rubbish bin. Running madly across four lanes of traffic, I finally laid my hands on it.

As I walked back, I tried to pretend this, walking with a giant sign under your arm, was totally natural. Doesn’t everyone do this? Then a darker thought came to me: What if I was stopped by the Garda? Do I run? I couldn’t possibly run with the sign, the wind resistance alone would do me in, I would have to drop the sign if I chose to run—and I wasn’t dropping the sign, that wasn't an option. 

Staying in the shadows, I finally made it back onto campus and back to my dormitory building. It was nearly two hours since I’d set off in the first place. However, I now had the sign in my possession. 

Back in my dorm with my sign
Safely back in my dorm, I was triumphant, "I got it! I got it!" I yelled over and over again, even going next door to show it off to some of my other friends. 

“How are you going to get that home?” a suite-mate (ever the practical party-pooper) asked me.

I didn't know, all I knew is that when I had to go home, I’d have a little piece of the Irish political process tucked away in my suitcase. 

"You stole a sign?!" asked another friend (the moral compass of our tiny, rowdy group), incredulous.

"I didn't steal it," I protested, "It was probably just going to get thrown away!" He just shook his head. 

The sign now hangs in my bedroom, a huge reminder of such a good adventure and an amazing time in my life. I had to fold it a few times (which wasn't easy considering it's industrial strength makeup) but I managed to fit it in my suitcase and get it back to America. But fortunately it is still in great condition. 

So what's something crazy that you've done abroad? Tell me in the comments or tweet me @calleysofalley, I want to hear from you!!!

Thanks for reading!!! I hope you enjoyed! Until next time!


*For more information on the Referendum, click here

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Leaving My Mark: Names In the Sand

Is there something that you do no matter where you travel? Do you strike the same pose at every famous landmark you visit? Or do you collect something from each location--a shell, a leaf, a matchbook cover?

Well, for me, when my destination happens to be a beach, there is one thing I must do: write my name in the sand (and of course take a photo of it!) and then watch as the ocean washes it away, carrying my name into the sea. 

I'm not sure why I do it, call it an urge that for a moment to claim a small part of the beach before the ocean exercises its ultimate dominance and washes it away.  The first time I did this was on the western coast of Ireland on a study abroad trip. "This is the closest you'll be gettin' to America for awhile!" our good-natured tour guide teased us. This was the first beach I had ever visited and I was desperately wishing for some way to capture this moment. And so, I found a rock and wrote my name in the amber-colored sand. I had just managed to snap a picture of it before the sea washed it away, soaking my shoes. 

The next time I was on a beach was in Galveston, Texas, visiting my then-boyfriend. There was something so invigorating about being back by the sea again, and being with someone I loved only made it better. To mark the occasion, I grabbed a stick and wrote our names and the year (2013) in the thickly packed muddy-brown sand. It was my (far more nature-friendly way) of carving our initials into a tree. It wasn't long before the waters of the Gulf came in and carried our, but we were still there, watching the sun sink over the horizon.

Later that year I was in Monterey, California and found myself on the same beaches that John Steinbeck made famous in his book "Cannery Row." So of course, one more time I carefully etched my initials and the year into that powdery yellow sand.  

It wouldn't take long for the crystal blue waters of the Pacific Ocean to make their way across my name and gently erase it, carrying my name and all those hopes I had into the water, where I hoped they'd live forever. 

Later, I would write about that time on the beach, describing it this way: "I felt so free at that moment, as if the real adult world was not around the corner. It was as if all the world’s happiness was mine to spend, and I could spend it right here." And that is truly how I felt--happy. 

I can't wait to visit more beaches, write my name in them all, and share them all with you. So, is there anything you do every time you travel? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @calleysofalley !

Thanks for reading everyone! Cheers!!!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Remembering Princess Diana in London

The late Diana, Princess of Wales has been on my mind a lot lately. I just recently finished Tina Brown's 2007 bestseller "The Diana Chronicles" after having read Anne Edwards' "Ever After: Diana and the Life She Led" earlier this year (it was an amazing book, you should check it out!). 

Diana's life never ceases to amaze me. Her continual grace in light of so many of her public and private struggles and her strength to overcome those is an inspiration. "Diana: Her True Story--In Her Own Words", Andrew Morton's 1997 book supplemented with transcripts of Diana's secret taped sessions, continues to be one of my go-to reads. 

So it's no surprise that when I was in London, there were a few Diana-specific places and landmarks I had to see. During my day in the city, I was able to trace Diana's life from her care-free bachelor girl days as a "Sloane Ranger" to her funeral at Westminster Abbey. I wanted to stand in the same spaces that she had stood in, I wanted to see what she had seen. By doing so, maybe I could get closer to the woman so many people felt they knew, but few really did. And also by standing in those spots and seeing what she saw, I hoped that I could draw on her strength and perseverance and take that forward into my own life. 

So here's the places on my London tour of Diana, Princess of Wales' life, you should definitely check them out:
#1 Sloane Street

When Diana was still Lady Diana Spencer and simply known as the girlfriend of Prince Charles, she was (and continues to be) described as a "Sloane Ranger." Sloane Rangers were a well-to-do bunch of young people, preppy in style and jolly in their manner. The name was derived from their home base of Sloane Square in Chelsea, located not far off of Sloane Street. 

Diana described the days she spent as a bachelor girl in London as some of the best days of her life, and she longed for those times during her darkest first years as Princess of Wales. I would have liked to have explored the neighborhood more, and find Colehorne Court (where Diana's flat was located) but sadly, there wasn't enough time. However, what I saw of the neighborhood is still beautiful, well-tended, and has the kind of happy and content atmosphere that I expect rubbed off on the Sloane Rangers.

#2 St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's is, by far, my favorite place in London. For my entire life I've watched that fairy-tale moment from Diana's 1981 wedding to Prince Charles: Diana emerging from the glass coach, her voluminous taffeta wedding dress pouring out around her on the steps of St. Paul's. And then suddenly, there I was, standing on those same steps, looking up into the massive masterpiece of architecture that is St. Paul's.  I tried to imagine the scene from these steps on 29 July, 1981. 

I also turned around and saw what the view looks like--what Diana and Prince Charles must have seen (minus the swelling crowds of screaming people)--emerging from St. Paul's. I tried to imagine walking in those doors as Lady Diana Spencer and coming back out as Princess of Wales. Knowing, thanks to her taped sessions for Andrew Morton's book, Diana's very conflicted feelings on that day, I felt a little closer to Diana once again. There's just something about standing in the same place, the same spot and seeing the same view, that makes her seem all the more real and tangible and loveable. 

#3 Kensington Palace

From the beginning of her life as a princess, Kensington Palace was Diana's home while in London. And who can forget the literal flood of flowers and bouquets from mourners around the gates of the Palace in the days after Diana's shocking death? Just standing at those iconic gates and knowing just how far that flood of grief flowed left me awestruck. 

Kensington Palace is simply magnificent.  Not only are the exterior and grounds exquisite, the interior of the Palace does not disappoint. KP (as the Royals call it) is always teeming with various exhibits, showcasing the grandeur and style of the monarchy. It's here where you can see Queen Victoria's chambers, or hear whispers of court gossip in the hall. There's even a place where you can dress up in period fashions from Queen Victoria's day.  

I was fortunate enough to be visiting KP during a special exhibit dedicated to the life of Diana, called "Diana, Glimpses of a Modern Princess," complete with five of her iconic gowns, as well as other memorabilia from her life.  I had spent so many years reading the books about Diana and looking at pictures of her and her life so getting to actually see these gowns and sketches was like the completion of a journey.

One of the dresses on display was the first dress Diana ever wore as an "almost" member of the Royal Family--the daring black taffeta evening gown designed by David and Elizabeth Emmanuel (who would later make her spectacular wedding gown)--as well as a sketch and fabric swatch of that very dress. I was most taken aback by how tiny that dress was. Diana's bulimia hadn't reached it's disastrous height at this point in her royal career yet and to imagine how anyone could be smaller than THAT took my breath away. It made me realize how small she must have gotten in those subsequent years and how sick she really was. It brought tears to my eyes to think of this teenage girl who was tiny enough to fit into that amazing dress being told by anyone that she was "chubby." It broke my heart looking at that dress. 

Even the walls of this exhibit were not devoid of Diana tributes. On the wallpaper were illustrations of Diana's life by the fashion illustrator Julie Verhoeven. Verhoeven took the most lasting images of Diana's life--her marriage, the birth of William, her dark blue eyes, the Spencer family tiara--and turned them into the most heartfelt watercolor images. You could see all aspects of Diana's life and personality displayed on this wall paper--from "Shy Di" to loving mother, to the glamorous beauty to the global humanitarian. * These illustrations were such a fitting tribute to such an extraordinary woman. 

#4 Westminster Abbey

And lastly, there's Westminster Abbey, where Diana's funeral took place on 6 September, 1997.  Much like her life, Diana's funeral was filled with iconic and unforgettable images: the coffin draped in the royal standard, the faces of Princes William and Harry, the tragic note bearing the single word, "Mummy" from Harry, Earl Spencer's scathing eulogy, Elton John's tribute...

Unlike St. Paul's, which rises gradually from the ground like a giant slowly emerging from the water, Westminster Abbey rises sharply, towering over you suddenly and all at once. It's hard not to be struck by the medieval majesty of such a place, and it only seemed fitting that this was where the world got to tell Diana good bye. 


Additionally, there is a Princess of Diana Memorial Walk in London. I'm not entirely sure how long it is or what is showcased on the walk, but I think it is worth checking out if you're in London. If you've been on this walk, please let me know all about it!

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy! As always you can leave comments below or tweet me at @calleysofalley. And don't forget to like my Facebook page at facebook.com/withoutanchor !

*For more information on the watercolor wall paper displayed at Kensington Palace, here is a great article by the Daily Mail: Princess Diana's Life in Watercolors