Archive | July, 2005
July 29, 2005

Lindsay goes to Ireland: The Bullets and Bombs of Belfast

Belfast cemetery IRA plot

While in Ireland, my family and I took a daytrip to Belfast in Northern Ireland. I found Belfast to be one of the most interesting parts of our trip to Ireland, primarily due to two reasons. First, my great-great-grandfather was an Orangeman from Belfast, so I had an opportunity to see the part of Ireland that my O’Neill ancestors came from. Second, Belfast has been an area of conflict between Catholics and Protestants for many years. I still remember watching the violent clashes between Loyalists and Republicans on the evening news, and wanted to see this former “war zone” for myself.

We took the train from Dublin to Belfast, and upon arrival at the station, hired a local taxi for a tour of West Belfast, more commonly referred to as the “bombs and bullets” tour. Our driver was great, and at times, his commentary was rather amusing. He talked a lot about the different paramilitary leaders and the violence that has plagued the city, something which I only had a very superficial understanding of.

We went to the Milltown Cemetery, which has a section reserved for IRA “heroes”:

Belfast cemetery IRA plot

Belfast cemetery IRA Bobby Sands

Bobby Sands was an Irish Member of the UK Parliament who died during a hunger strike in 1981.

Belfast cemetery IRA plot

Mairead Farrell, Daniel McCann, and Sean Savage were IRA members killed by British special forces in Gibraltar. At their funeral, a loyalist gunman, Michael Stone, opened fire on a crowd of mourners and threw several grenades, killing three people.

After visiting the cemetery, we drove through the Shankill (Loyalist/Protestant) and Falls Road (Republican/Catholic) districts. Seeing the towering fences that divided the communities was incredible – it was almost too hard to believe. I have never been a very religious person (and currently my Catholicism is practically non-existent), so it was very odd to see neighborhoods divided along religious lines. Personally, I just couldn’t imagine living in a neighborhood that was only composed of Catholics.

Belfast peace line

Gates (the “peace line”) seperating the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. These are actually some of the shorter gates I saw. There are much taller ones that look like they came from a maximum security prison.

Belfast mural

This is the mural wall in the Catholic area. When we drove by, our taxi driver pointed to this section of the mural and said “Aye, there’s George Bush, suckin’ the oil outta Iraq!” Hahaha.

Belfast mural

Another part of the mural wall that displays messages of solidarity for Palestine. There are also hundreds of Palestinian flags flying in the Catholic area.

Belfast mural

A mural of Bobby Sands on the side of Sinn Féin headquarters.

Divis Tower

Divis Tower, a British Army observation post. “They’re takin’ a picture of ya right now, so ya might as well take a picture of ’em.”

Belfast protestant neighborhood

Protestant neighborhood. I’ve never seen so many British flags in my entire life – even the curbs were painted red, white, and blue. This place has really gone on a jingoistic binge – it seems as if they are desperately trying to prove themselves loyal to an increasingly ambivalent British government.

Belfast mural

“Queen Elizabeth, please please please don’t forget about us over here! We’re your loyal subjects!”

Belfast mural

Mural condeming Republican violence.

Belfast mural

The Ulster Young Militants, the youth wing of the Ulster Defence Association, a protestant paramilitary group. Basically, a group of thugs.

Belfast police station

A police station.

After our taxi tour, we still had several hours until our train departed for Dublin. Hmmm…what to do? Ah, well, I noticed Belfast had a “hop-on/hop-off” bus, so we decided to take that for a general tour of the city. Our first stop was the shipyards, which are mostly abandoned now. Belfast used to have a huge shipbuilding industry, but it was hit hard during the depresssion after World War I, and the industry never recovered. The most famous ship built in Belfast was, of course, the Titanic:

Belfast titanic shipyard

Belfast titanic shipyard

Huge cranes at the Harland and Wolff shipyard.

Belfast titanic shipyard

Three of the steam cranes that worked on the Titanic.

After we saw the shipyards, the tour took us through the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods, so we had the chance to see those again. It felt very odd driving around there in a double decker bus with “City Sightseeing Tour” painted on the side, though. Can you imagine a busload of tourists driving around your neighborhood snapping photos of you? Very odd, indeed. Incidentally, although it was a “hop-on/hop-off” bus, no one actually got off the bus. I suppose most people took one look at the area and decided to stay on the bus. I would have liked to walk around the various neighborhoods for a while, but perhaps I will do that the next time I happen to be in Belfast (whenever that may be).

If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend a daytrip to Belfast. I definitely came away from the city wanting to learn more about the area’s history, and once I finish my dissertation, I intend to read up on it.
I might have one more post about Ireland…and then I will work on uploading my photos from Prague.

July 26, 2005

Prague

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Leaving for Prague in a few hours.

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Should be cool…studied a lot about the former Czechoslovakia in my history classes…it’s about time I got around to visiting.

Be back Thursday evening.

July 25, 2005

Good tacos in London

Yes, they do exist. One thing I really miss about California is tasty, cheap Mexican food like the kind you would find at Taco Shop or Robertito’s. Well, I have found a place here that will satisfy my taco cravings until I return to California.

I was looking over my “Cheap Eats in London Guide” to see what restaurants were in Borough, my new neighborhood. I came across an entry for El Vergel, a cafe which was described as having an “inventive, broadly South American menu” that also included a few Mexican dishes. I took one look at the takeaway menu and decided that I HAD to have lunch there on Monday. I ordered the chicken tacos, tortilla chips, and guacamole. The tacos were excellent – they didn’t have any scary British ingredients like sweetcorn or kidney beans, and you could taste the freshness – this wasn’t any ridiculous and disgusting fried food like they have at Chicken Cottage (KFC ripoff) or the various other fast food eateries that are located in Southwark. The tortilla chips were homemade (no Doritos, thank God!) and the guacamole was great. Plus, the food was reasonably priced: �6.30 ($11) for my tacos, tortilla chips, and guacamole (not a bad deal in London). AND BEST OF ALL, it’s located just a 10 minute walk from my dorm! I think I will be eating here everyday…of course I have to try the beef tacos and the tostada, but the empanadas and Chilean village bread also sound very good.

The one downside – it’s only open Monday through Friday, 8am-3pm. Guess that means I’ll be eating pub food on the weekends. Nevertheless, THANK YOU EL VERGEL!

July 24, 2005

Lindsay goes to Ireland: County Wicklow, the “garden of Ireland”

Dublin Sandy Cove

We took a daytrip to the surrounding countryside near Dublin.

First, we stopped at Sandycove:

Dublin Sandy Cove

The Irish Sea

Dublin Sandy Cove Joyce's Tower

A Martello tower, originally built by the British Army as a coastal fortification. It is now called Joyce’s Tower, after the writer James Joyce, because he set the first section of his novel, Ulysses here.


I love this sign. It reminds me of one I took a photo of in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Next, we visited Glendalough in County Wicklow. This is the site of an ancient monastic settlement that was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century.

Glendalough Round Tower

The round tower, and part of the cemetery.

Glendalough Church

An ancient church.

Glendalough Lake

We took a 20 minute walk from the monastic settlement and ended up here, the Upper Lake. Our guide pulled out a bottle of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey, poured it into small plastic shot glasses, and told us it was for sipping, not taking shots. I took one sip and have concluded that I can’t drink Jameson’s…it’s just too…ehhh…yuck!

The next stop was Lough Tay. Check out this beautiful lake:

Lough Tay

Does it remind you of something? Perhaps one of Ireland’s most famous exports? A pint of Guinness?
This lake and the surrounding land is actually the Guinness estate. The white sand was imported from the U.S. in order to make the lake look like a pint of Guinness.

Wicklow boglands
Irish boglands. Yes, Ireland really is that green!

More photos here.

July 22, 2005

Lindsay goes to Ireland: The Guinness Brewery (Storehouse)

Dublin Guinness brewery

Instead of writing one big post about Ireland, I’ll break it up into sections, as it’s easier than uploading all 200 pictures at the same time and then trying to write a somewhat coherent description of my travels.

Dublin Guinness brewery

First up: the Guinness brewery (more accurately known as the Guinness Storehouse). It’s no wonder that the Guinness Storehouse is the #1 tourist attraction in Ireland – who wouldn’t want to visit the location where the famous “black stuff” is made? The Guinness Storehouse, in fact, was our first stop on the Dublin “hop-on/hop-off” sightseeing bus. It was weird visiting a brewery at 10am, but it’s less crowded then, so at least that was working in our favor. The admission was an annoying 9.50 euros for students, but that did include a “complimentary” pint of Guinness at the end of the tour, and you also got to take home a paperweight kinda thingie that has a drop of Guinness encased within. Cute.

The Storehouse is pretty interesting…you learn how Guinness is made, how it is stored, transported, and finally, marketed. I’ve always thought Guinness has had some of the most clever ads, so it was cool to see a display with all of those.

Dublin Guinness brewery

That’s a lot of Guinness!

Dublin Guinness brewery

When you come to the end of the tour regarding the brewing of Guinness, they have this big glass tube filled with Guinness, all lit up…it’s amusing.

We also learned a lot about Arthur Guinness (“the man behind the brew”) and I came away from the tour rather impressed with Mr. Guinness. Not only did he brew a great porter, he was also quite progressive in providing his employees with medical/retirement benefits, paid holidays, high wages, etc.

At the end of your tour, you arrive at the Gravity Bar, which provides you with an excellent panoramic view of Dublin…and a pint of Guinness.

Dublin Guinness brewery

The bartenders, of course, know how to pour a “proper” pint of Guinness (it takes time, and is a process that should not be rushed) unlike many bars/restaurants in the U.S.

And yes, there was a Guinness store so you could buy all the Guinness goodies your heart could ever desire. I bought two pint glasses and a shirt. Guinness & Co. made a lot of money off of me that day.

A part of the tour that was disappointing was that we didn’t get to see the actual working brewery. I’ve only been on one other brewery tour (Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis) and what I really liked about that tour was that they took us through the actual brewery and packaging plants…also, it was free…and we were allowed two free beers and pretzels at the end…and we got to see the Clydesdales and the cute Dalmations. Still, the Guinness Storehouse was awesome, and definitely something that can’t be missed if you go to Dublin.

July 21, 2005

Croatia: the “next Riviera”

So says the New York Times.

Recently rediscovered as an off-the-radar haven by the international celebrity set and their media-camp followers, Dubrovnik and Dalmatia’s many romantic islands and hidden coves provided backdrops for lavish photo layouts in magazines like GQ, which this year proclaimed the Croatia “the Next Riviera, ” and Sports Illustrated. In May, Croatia, a scythe-shaped country that sits astride the star-crossed, blood-drenched Balkans, was named the world’s hottest travel destination in the new edition of the Lonely Planet guide to Croatia, which cited its “rich diversity of attractions,” accessibility and “relative affordability” (its currency, the kuna, is far friendlier to the dollar than the euro is) as well as its “stunning beaches and islands” and “magnificent food.”

First an article on Montenegro, and now Croatia. The NYTimes should just hire me to write for their travel section. A travel writer? Best…job…ever.

July 19, 2005

Lindsay goes to Rome and Venice

Colosseum in Rome

I wish I could think of a more interesting title for this post, but I’m saving up all my brain power for dissertation research…yeah…dissertation research.

Anyways….Italy…it’s about time I got around to a description of the trip. I wanted to bring some closure to this trip before I embark on the process of uploading all the pictures of Ireland.

Day 1: The sights of ancient Roma
We flew to Rome on RyanAir, the low-cost Irish airline that crams as many passengers as possible into its planes and then flies them to various European destinations. It was the first time I’ve ever flown RyanAir…interesting airline. No drinks, no snacks (well, you can purchase them from the cart at ridiculous prices if you so desire). The backs of the seats are entirely plastic, and they don’t even have a seat pocket. The reasoning behind this is so that they don’t have to spend much time cleaning the plane.

Instead, they can land, disgorge the passengers, do a quick run through of the cabin, take on a new set of passengers, turn the plane around, and then head back to where they came from. Brilliant business idea, I must say.

We landed in Rome about 2 hours after leaving London (London to Rome in just 2 hours, God, I love this continent!). After experiencing my very first RyanAir landing, I’m beginning to think that the company also saves money through its hiring practices. Let’s just say that this was the roughest landing I’ve ever experienced. Instead of gliding in for a nice, smooth, landing, it felt like we just kinda dropped onto the runway and bounced a little. Then the pilot steps on the brakes while executing a turn at an extremely fast speed and I probably would have been thrown into the back of the seat in front of me if it weren’t for my tightly fastened seat belt. Looks like someone needs to take a few classes at Embry-Riddle!

After going through immigration (The officer barely looks at our passports – awesome security), we are finally in Rome. The apartment we were staying at was really close to the Vatican, so that was convenient. We dropped our stuff off and caught Bus 64 to the Colosseum. The lady who had rented the apartment to us warned us that Bus 64 was known for its pickpockets, and we had also read the same thing in Moira’s copy of “Rick Steves’ Italy” (which would turn out to be a much ridiculed guidebook, but more on that later). And wouldn’t you know it, we’re on the bus for just a few minutes, and a British tourist starts screaming every swear word known to man after he discovers that his wallet has gone missing. I had my back against the wall and on one side was standing next to a priest (a little TOO close for comfort…smashed like sardines into that damn bus) but nevertheless tightened my grip on my backpack.

Our first stop was the Colosseum, which shouldn’t require too much of an explanation. Cost of admission: 10 euros ($12). Wow, that’s pretty steep, but whatever, it’s the Colosseum…you can’t go to Rome and not see the Colosseum.

Colosseum in Rome

Inside of the Colosseum. The original wood flooring was destroyed long ago…now you can see the underground passages and vaults where the slaves and animals lived.

In this picture, actors portraying Julius Caesar and a gladiator send text messages on their mobile phones, much like the Romans did thousands of years ago.

Our next stop was the Roman Forum, the central area around which ancient Rome developed.

Roman Forum

Ruins, with the Colosseum in the background.

Roman Forum

The altar of Divus Julius, where Julius Caesar’s body was cremated. I was expecting something a bit grander, I suppose.

After wandering around the Roman Forum, we went to the Pantheon.

Pantheon

We were quite hungry after we went to the Pantheon, so we decided to grab dinner at a restaurant on the cute little piazza in front of the Pantheon. Looking back, we probably shouldn’t have done it…of course it was in a major tourist area and thus the prices were jacked up, but we hadn’t eaten all day and didn’t want to wander around the city any longer. We got a table on the piazza, and instantly realized that we were surrounded by hundreds of American tourists. Awesome. The people watching was interesting – we rolled our eyes when a group of American college students, the guys all wearing polo shirts and drinking wine from the bottle, strolled up to our waiter, pointed at a large table and said “Is that, like, reserved for someone?” Ah, just like home. The meal was quite good, but while we were eating dessert, Moira’s sister, Al, said that something was biting her. We started going crazy, somehow the chalice holding my precious gelatto ended up on the ground – it was general mayhem. The rest of the diners were looking at us like we were insane. So then, this scruffy looking fellow runs over and starts saying something in Italian to a guy who worked at the restaurant. The restaurant guy then reaches down under our table and hands an even scruffier looking pigeon to the guy, who then proceeded to run off. What…the…hell? We’re convinced that the pigeon was trained to bite a person’s ankle so as to cause a distraction and allow some thieves to swoop in and steal bags/purses/etc. It seems a bit far-fetched, I know, but it’s really the only thing that makes sense. We paid our bill and walked around a bit…Al needed to get some money out of the ATM, but when she put her card in, the machine started giving her all these error messages in Italian and it wouldn’t give her the card back. A guy behind us who supposedly didn’t speak English pushed a few buttons on the machine and tried to explain that the card had been eaten. Great. We tried to get the card back for a few minutes, but the machine was unresponsive, so we left, thinking that the card had been eaten. A few minutes later, our Italian “friend” runs up behind us with Al’s card in his hand, hands her the card, and says “Italy – no good.” Al later found out that her entire bank account had been emptied – she had fallen victim to a “Lebanese loop” scam. (She was able to reclaim the money through her bank, though, so happy ending after all).

Day 2: The Vatican – losing my religion
Our second day in Rome was spent at the Vatican City, the home of Catholicism.

Vatican St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica.

 Vatican St. Peter's Square

St. Peter’s Square. The obelisk, among other things, was stolen from Egypt.

We went to the Vatican Museum to check out the Sistine Chapel (you know, Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement” and all that). Of course, there was an admission charge: 8 euros. I put in eight years at Catholic school and still have to pay 8 euros to see the freakin’ Vatican museum and Sistine chapel? As far as I’m concerned, I OWN part of that! And I own part of this while we’re at it:

Vatican

You have to walk through about 80 miles of corridors before you reach the Sistine chapel. When we finally got there, there were a TON of people crammed into the chapel, and the Vatican guards were going crazy trying to stop people from taking pictures. It really spoiled the mood. I came out of there not being very impressed. I should have been – it’s the freakin’ Sistine chapel! – but I just couldn’t get excited about it.

The next sight we visited was St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in Christianity.

Inside the basilica, there are some glass coffins with the bodies of various Popes on display. That was really, really, weird. What was even weirder was seeing hordes of tourists clutching their cameras, hoping to get a great picture of the dead Popes. In Moscow, when you visit Lenin’s Mausoleum, the guards search your bags for cameras so you can’t sneak any pictures of Lenin’s corpse. In St. Peter’s though, it’s like “Hey hey! Open season on the Popes!”

Later that day we caught our flight to Venice. Flight to Venice was about an hour…we arrived pretty late in the evening. Moira’s “Rick Steves’ Italy” guidebook told us that we could take a waterbus from the airport directly to Venice. The only problem is, we couldn’t find anything to indicate that this waterbus existed, like, well, being near water. As it turns out, Venice has two airports – who woulda guessed that a city with a population of 271,000 would have two airports? Thanks a lot, Rick, you bastard! Maybe your updated guidebook for Italy can include both airports? Anyways, we ended up hopping a bus to the Venice bus terminal, which took about 45 minutes. From there, we took a waterbus, hopped off near the hospital, and wandered around until we found our hotel. The place was really dead. It was probably around 11pm when we finally got out room. We were pretty hungry, as we hadn’t eaten since lunch, so we asked the hotel guy where we could get some food. The guy told us we wouldn’t be able to find any open food places (“Venice is like…eh…how you say, small town in Colorado.”) but we didn’t let that stop us from wandering around in search of food. We came across a pizza shop that was closing up, and bought the leftover pizza, which was enough to hold us over until breakfast.

Day 3: Discovering Venice
I must admit that I didn’t know much about Venice before I arrived there. I had seen “The Italian Job”, so I knew that the main mode of transportation was via water. I had thought, though, that there would be a few roads…a few cars…golf carts, at the very least. Wrong. There are no cars whatsoever within Venice, except where the buses from the mainland drop you off. From there, you have to take waterbuses everywhere. I was really fascinated by this – a car-less city where everything must be transported by boat and handtrucks.

Venice Grand Canal

Grand Canal

Venice ambulance boat

Ambulance boat

Venice delivery boat

Delivering restaurant supplies

Venice post office

The Venice post office

Venice mail delivery boat

Delivering the mail


Even UPS has its own boat

Venice handtruck

Once you get everything off the boat, you have to deliver it via handtruck…up and over Venice’s many bridges.

Another form of transportation that Venice is famous for, of course, is the gondola:

Venice gondola

Unfortunately, gondolas are very expensive (costing upwards of 60 euros an hour – and that doesn’t include the cost of the singer and accordion player) so we were forced to ride around on the waterbus:

Venice waterbus

Rick Steves had included a description of the sights along the grand canal in his guidebook, so Moira read that aloud and we had our own personal “studentesque” tour of the Grand Canal. It worked out quite well, actually. I figure I can always come back to Venice and ride around in a gondola when I have a real job…either that, or I can just go to Vegas.
We also visited St. Mark’s Square:

Venice St. Mark's Square

This square is famous for its large amount of pigeons. You can buy pigeon feed and feed them so that they will sit on your shoulder, etc. Gross…(I hate pigeons)

Venice St. Mark's Square pigeons

We wandered around Venice for the day…had an excellent dinner, and luckily we had decided to eat inside, and not on the patio, because 30 minutes into our meal it began to hail and then rain heavily. We then took the night cruise, and by night cruise I mean we hopped on one of the waterbuses and headed down the Grand Canal to St. Mark’s Square. It had stopped raining, but we had a view of the most amazing lightning storm I have ever seen. (No need to worry, though, as it was very far out to sea).

When we got to St. Mark’s Square, we were accosted by two annoying American college students who were backpacking through Europe. One of them wasn’t wearing any shoes – they had been stolen when he took them off to dip his feet in the canal. It seems even Venice isn’t free from annoying thievery (although why he would want to dip his feet in those polluted waters is beyond me). From what I remember, he said he was the president of fraternity from some university in Michigan. Wow, we were impressed! He asked where we went to school, and when we told him LSE, his immediate reply was “London sucks!” Uhhh, what? And then…this is hilarious…he said “Detroit is so much better than London.” Yes, you read that correctly…Detroit is apparently better than London. Clearly, he was insane, as London is one of the greatest cities in the world. Detroit? Whatever.

So, my general impression of Rome and Venice…

Rome – I feel guilty saying this, but I wasn’t very impressed. Some of you might say, but Lindsay, what about the Colosseum, Sistine Chapel, etc? I know, I know…wonderful things that should be appreciated. But I just wasn’t as excited to see them as I felt I should have been. It doesn’t help that they try and cram as many people as possible into these sights – it’s rather distracting, and really detracts from the environment (You’d think that people would show some respect and remain quiet in the Sistine Chapel, but sadly, it is quite loud). Rome is expensive, expensive, expensive, overrun by hordes of tourists, and for the love of God, watch your bags and pockets. Definitely not one of my favorite cities.

Venice – Impressed. Very impressed. A lovely city – it reminded me of Dubrovnik, although much larger and with many more tourists. Still, though, the amount of tourists didn’t seem to detract from the experience. If you wander off through the small, narrow alleyways, it could be quite awhile before you encounter another tourist. I would highly recommend Venice…it is truly a city like no other. Hopefully someday I’ll be able to return to Italy and hit up the more rural areas.

One of the great things about both Rome and Venice, though, is the food. It’s amazing…the pizza, ravioli, tortellini, gelatto…I never had a bad meal in Italy. It’s one of the things you can rely on, unlike London, where it seems the food is rather hit or miss.

That concludes my trip to Italy…I should have my Ireland photos up soon.

July 19, 2005

Eire Go Brach

I’m back from Ireland…what a great country! In Dublin, we visited the Guinness Brewery, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Trinity College (and the Book of Kells), and an old jail (forgot the name, it will come to me later). We also spent a day in the Wicklow countryside, which was absolutely beautiful, and the day after that we took the train to Belfast in Northern Ireland. Both Tracy and Moira had told me that it was a city worth visiting due to its contemporary history and the sights associated with it (neighborhoods divided by religion, Loyalist and Republican murals, etc). I took over 200 pictures, so I’ll post them soon and write some more about the trip. I still have to write about Italy, though…

July 14, 2005

Guinness and Shepherd’s Pie

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ireland_map.gif

In a few hours I will be heading off to Stansted Airport to catch a flight to Dublin. My family is flying out to Dublin from LAX, so I’m meeting them there. I’m really excited because I haven’t seen them since December. Also, I’ll finally get a chance to see the country that my Irish ancestors (the O’Neills…can’t get any more Irish than that) fled over 150 years ago. I still haven’t quite figured out why the Finchers decided to flee England for the colonies, though…maybe London wasn’t as exciting in the 1700s as it is now?

I’ll be back late Monday evening, but here’s a random question to ponder while I’m gone: Do you think bureaucrats get pissed when they go to google.com, enter their country’s name as a search term, and the first result is an entry from the CIA factbook? If I was President of, say, Russia, I’d issue an executive order to knock the CIA out of the first result and make sure my government’s homepage was the site that you are directed to when you hit the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button. But then again, that’s just me. Maybe Putin has bigger things to worry about.

July 13, 2005

Everyone soon or late comes round by Rome

(attributed to the poet Robert Browning).


The now infamous “American pose.”


Aren’t I such a great Catholic? (In front of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican)

All photos from my June trip to Italy are now here.



Travelogue of some sort will be up in the future.