Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

(Uppsala's Easter Tree in Vaksalatorget (Vaksala square))

Glad påsk! (Happy Easter!)

It feels like Sweden has increasingly becoming like a paradise over the past couple of weeks!  The weather has just been absolutely beautiful.  In fact, there have been several days where I have been able to walk outside wearing short-sleeved shirts with no jacket!  It's incredible to see how the Swedes embrace the spring.  The streets are absolutely covered with outdoor tables and people sitting.  The amount of people walking everywhere is incredible!  It seems like the population of the city has tripled because the sidewalks are now so crowded with people and dogs.
Many people where I live have gone home for Easter or they have gone traveling.  Luckily all but two of my closest friends have remained here, and we decided to do some fun things.  Initially, we had planned to take a cruise to Helsinki.  However, a few of my friends had stopped there last week on her way back from Russia, and they said it was hard to occupy even an hour of time there!  So in the end, we decided that it might be wasteful to spend a whole weekend there.

Instead, yesterday we went to Stockholm.  First we walked around Gamla Stan (the old part of the city) and had a traditional Swedish meal of kotbullar (Swedish meatballs).  Then, we walked over to one of the Djurgården, one of the biggest islands of Stockholm.  On this island, we went to the famous "museum" called Skansen.  The best comparison I can think of is that it is the Swedish version of Colonial Williamsburg.  It is a huge park where they try to recreate the lifestyle of Sweden in the 19th century.  Like Williamsburg, you can see how a tanner, a baker, a glass blower,etc lived and worked their trade at that time.  The park also has a collection of Scandinavian animals such as moose, lynx, fox, bear, etc.
After several hours in Skansen, we met up with our friend Jean Charles who studies in Stockholm.  We spent some time with him sitting in the sun along the bay, and then we made our way back home to Uppsala.
Today, for Easter we all went out to our favorite cafe (Cafe Linne, of course!) for a long lunch and fika.  Later, we will go on a walk along the river, and then we will just spend some time together in the evening.

Beyond thinking about Easter, we have all been preparing for Valborg.  Valborg ( Walpurgis Eve in English) is a celebration of spring in Scandinavia.  The good news is that Uppsala (my city!!!) is the most famous place in the whole world to celebrate Valborg!  On sista April (the last day of April, April 30) thousands upon thousands of students gather on the hill by Uppsala Slott (our castle).  It is a huge day of celebration here, and there are so many traditions that I have heard of.  So many students who lived in our building last semester and have left are coming back just for Valborg, so we have all been trying to figure out who will sleep in which person's room.  I think it will be a very fun day, and I will be sure to write all about it!

Hej då och glad påsk! (Goodbye and Happy Easter!)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Busy busy!


It's been forever since I last wrote about what I have been doing!  I've been busy here with school.  I had my exam for my second class just last week, and I did quite a bit work in March to prepare for that.  The actual exam was exhausting because I wrote over 20 pages and stayed for the full 5 hours!  I have recently started a new class which is all about genocide.  It is, of course, a pretty somber class, but I've really appreciated the different perspectives I have gotten.  My professor is from Croatia and was an aid worker in the Bosnian conflict, and there are a few of my classmates who have actually been volunteers in Darfur.  This class will actually end in the last part of April, and then I will be done with my studies here.  I will stay in Sweden until the middle of May, though.

In terms of adventures, I've had some good ones this past month!  A week after my trip to Paris, I went on a ski trip to the town of Romme in Sweden, which is just a couple hours north of Uppsala.  I was so nervous to go on the trip because I hadn't been skiing in ages, and even then I was very much a beginner!  I decided to just do it anyway!  Sure enough, I felt like quite the beginner.  The bunny hill was higher than the advanced hills I had seen in my Ohio ski trips!  It was also intimidating to watch the Swedish children.  There were 2 and 3 year olds flying down the very advanced hills!!  Even though I was clearly out of my league, I had a great time!  I worked my way up to the intermediate hills by the end of the day.  Once, by accident, I even went down an advanced hill because I took the wrong lift!  Yikes, that was scary!!
The next weekend, Jeff came to visit me.  He stayed for a week, and I was able to show him around Uppsala and introduce him to some of my friends here.  We also went to Copenhagen for two days!  While we were in Copenhagen we walked around to see all of the important tourist sites such as the Little Mermaid statue (in the picture), the Round Tower, the Tivoli Gardens, etc.  We also went to see a part of town called Christiana.  I had remembered it from watching the Scandinavia Globe Trekker with Mom and Dad.  It's this area in Copenhagen that is considered to be an independent community of "hippies".  Now it's really more of a tourist destination than anything, but it's really interesting.  They have their own currency and everything!

I felt pretty at home in Denmark because it was so similar to Sweden.  The language was very similar (I could recognize a lot of the key phrases), and I had to remind myself not to say "hello" or "thank you" in Swedish!  The buildings in Denmark also remind me of the buildings in Stockholm ( many different colors and a lot of older buildings, too).  Even the setting of the city was familiar!  Just like Stockholm, Copenhagen is situated right next to the water.  I think Scandinavian cities are really underrated as tourist destinations.  From what I've seen, they are all very clean, safe, well-organized, vibrant and interesting cities!  
Later in the week, I took Jeff to Stockholm.  Unfortunately we didn't have very much time because I had class that day.  However, we were able to walk around what I consider "the important parts" of Stockholm such as the main shopping and walking area and Gamla Stan, which is the old and very charming part of the city.  We also went to the most famous museum in Scandinavia, which is the Vasa museum.  Inside this museum there is the "the" Swedish warship from the 17th century that sunk on its maiden voyage.  Later in the 1950's the ship was found and they pulled it out of the sea.  It was incredible to see how intact this huge ship is after all those years under the water!
Besides the adventures, I've just been having a good time in Uppsala.  We have had a couple of birthday parties for people recently.  This week we said goodbye to our friend Nappe, who played bandy (it's like hockey) here.  It was a really sad goodbye for all of us!  The good news is that a few of us will be traveling to Helsinki (where he lives) over Easter weekend, and we will get to see him!

This weekend has been particularly nice!  On Friday, I got to meet my friend Wojtek's brother and friend who were in for the weekend.  We met up with our Swedish friend Emelie who had friends visiting from France.  On Saturday, we all had a picnic by the river because the weather was so lovely (it was over 60 degrees)!  Later that day, I went on another excursion to Gamla Uppsala (old Uppsala) with Wojtek and his guests.  Gamla Uppsala was the main center of the Vikings in Sweden.  Because I have just taken the Viking history class, I was the resident expert on Gamla Uppsala.  I felt like Laura!!
Today is another sunny and beautiful day in Uppsala, and I think I will go on a walk with some friends :-)

Hej då!  Puss puss (Goodbye! Kiss kiss)

Friday, March 13, 2009


This past weekend I went on a trip to Paris, and it was wonderful!  I had wondered if I would actually like the city because I felt like I had expectations of the city that were so high.  Luckily, the city lived up to my expectations!  It was so beautiful and full of things to see!

On Friday, I had to leave my flat before 7 in the morning.  Thank goodness I have inherited the ability to be able to sleep in every situation- I was able to catch up on my sleep on the bus and then the plane!  As soon as I stepped off of the plane, I knew that I would love France!  It was so sunny and over 50 degrees.  It felt so good!  Even though I think Sweden is a pleasant winter wonderland, it was so nice to feel some warmth!

Once Trent and I had traveled to the city center, we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the city and making our way back to the hotel.  Then we were able to meet up with our friends from ISU who have been studying in Canterbury, England, for the semester.  It was so nice to see some familiar faces!  I love meeting international students in Uppsala, but it felt great to not have to worry about a language barrier for a little bit!  At that point it was after 10 PM, so we had a very late dinner and then walked back to the hotel.

The next morning we woke up early so that we could get a full day of sights!  We started off going to the Sacre Couer church in Montmarte, which is not only a great church but also provides the best view of the city of Paris besides the Eiffel tower!  We then went to the Montmarte cemetery where a lot of famous people are buried.  We stopped to see Hector Berlioz and Alexander Dumas' graves.

From Montmarte, we then walked out to the Louvre.  I had always heard about how huge it is, but I didn't truly understand how enormous it is until I saw it with my own eyes!  We stayed at the Louvre for most of the morning and the early afternoon, and I felt like we barely scratched the surface of what there is to see.  Luckily, we saw all of the very famous things there, such as the Mona Lisa, Aphrodite, etc.
After the Louvre, we all walked to Notre Dame Cathedral.  We had planned it so that we arrived for the tour in English.  I think it was really great that we did go on the tour because it made me appreciate the cathedral so much more.  Our tour guide was very enthusiastic about the cathedral, and she was incredibly detailed in explaining everything- I had no idea how much detail could be contained in a single mural on the wall!  However, my overall impression of the cathedral was that it is kind of "creepy".  It is very dark inside, and the music playing on the organ (at least while we were there) is very dark and dreary sounding.  I know I am biased, but I think I prefer Uppsala's cathedral!

After our tour, we went for a walk along Champs Elysees to see all of the shops and the Arc de Triomphe.  Once we were done shopping, we all went out for a nice French dinner that our hotel recommended to us.  We were so shocked about how nice the waiters were to us in that restaurant!  For the most part, it is very true that the French are not so excited to see Americans in their country, so it was a very welcome surprise that we received such good service at dinner!

After dinner we took the Metro out to the Eiffel Tower.  We took the elevator up to the top of the tower.  Luckily, it was a clear night, so we were able to see great views from the tower.  We stayed around the Eiffel tower for awhile, walking around the park and riding the carousel.  Finally, after an exhausting day, we took the Metro back to our hotel.

Now we come to a funny story!  Since all of us in Paris were Americans, we all moved our clock forward an hour for Daylight Savings Time.  Apparently, the Europeans don't change their clocks until late May.  We did not find this out until we were at the airport!  So all morning we are wondering why shops are opening so late and why it appears that no one has changed their clocks yet!  Unfortunately, it also meant that Trent and I spent an extra hour at the airport.  Oh well, at least the time change made us early instead of making us miss our flight!  Plus, it made for a funny story.  Our European friends back in Uppsala thought it was hysterical hearing about our time adventure!
As much as I loved the weather, the culture, and the atmosphere of Paris, it felt so good to get back home in Uppsala.  Even though I stepped out into cold, snowy air as soon as I got to Sweden, I was so happy to be back! That's when you know that you love a place!

Since I've gotten back, I have been very busy with work for my class.  I've had to hole myself up in different libraries because it so hard to get work done in my apartment!  There are always people knocking on the door wanting to talk or do something.  I love that most of the time, but when it's important to get a lot of things done, it is almost impossible!  This week I also went to a Swedish Pub Night to try traditional Swedish food.  Ironically enough, it is one of the only times that I have had real Swedish food besides sweets because Swedes love foreign food!  Out at the nations, they serve mostly hamburgers and things of that sort, and there are so many Asian restaurants here.  At the pub night, I was boring and ordered Swedish meatballs, but I also tried reindeer, a moose burger, and famous Chanterelle mushrooms from my friends' orders.

On Sunday, I will going to the town of Romme in the Dalarna province to go skiing.  I am a little bit nervous because the friends who I am going with are quite good skiers (they are French and they like to go to the Alps) !  I have not gone skiing for years and years, and even then I was definitely a beginner!  I hope that I will be ok!  Either way, I know that I will have lots of fun!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Hotel Uppsala events!


There has been a lot happening since I last wrote about what I have been doing!  A couple weeks ago I saw my first bandy game, which was a lot of fun!  Bandy is a lot like ice hockey, except you play with a ball instead of a puck.  Our friend, Nappe, who lives right across the hall from me is quite the bandy star, so we are all hearing about bandy quite a bit.  However, the week that we saw the bandy match, he had a foot injury, so he was able to watch the game with us in the stands and explain some of the rules.  The stands were outdoors, so we were all freezing by the time the game was over!  It was interesting to me to see that everyone stands for the whole game, as well.
Last Friday, I hosted the "American party" in my room.  Trent and I made some American food for people to try.  I made buckeyes and a fruit dip.  There is actually quite a funny story with the buckeyes!  I was not able to find powdered sugar here, and people at both of the grocery stores that I went to insisted that vanilasocker (vanilla sugar), which is like powdered sugar but with a very strong vanilla flavor, would be fine.  I decided to take their advice and use the vanilasocker.  I made my buckeyes, and because I dislike peanut butter so much, I didn't actually try one.  Later, a friend came over before the party and tried one of my buckeyes.  Much to my surprise (and his too!), the buckeyes created a burning sensation after eating.  I served them anyway at the party, and it ended up becoming a big joke of the night about how it burned to eat the buckeyes.  The REALLY funny part about the whole situation is that when I asked a Swedish friend later about powdered sugar, he knew exactly what I was talking about and even told me where to buy it!  Oh well... the party was a really good time!

That same week as the American party, my friend Frederike had a sunglasses party as a joke about how we all are wishing for the warm weather to come!  Here are a couple pictures:  The first is me and Nappe, and the second is "Team Fred" (Frederic and Frederike!)
This past week, I started my second class, which is all about the History of Vikings. It's actually quite intimidating because everyone in this class seems to be Scandinavian History experts.  Also, we have over 100 pages of textbook to read per lecture!  Luckily, I only have two lectures per week.  However, the reading takes quite a long time.  I have never been so happy to have English as my first language because I cannot imagine how long it takes the other exchange students to read the literature!

This past week I have discovered that there are free weekly organ concerts at our fabulous cathedral!  I have a friend who also enjoys classical music, so we plan to make it a weekly tradition to see these concerts!  This past week, I have also made a great musical discovery.  One of my friends from ISU had sent me a song that she thought I might like.  I really liked it a lot, and I started listening to more music from the same artist.  After I had already fallen completely in love with this artist's music, I looked up the information on him.  It turns out that Teitur (the name of the artist) is actually Scandinavian!  I was so excited to find that because all the music that I have heard here is American!

Next weekend should be very exciting because I will be traveling to Paris!  Trent and I leave on Friday, and we will be meeting up with two of our friends from ISU who are studying abroad in England.  One of my best friends here, Lily, is French, and she is always popping in with new suggestions for places to visit!  Lily will actually be going back to France for a couple weeks because she has a break in her courses here.  She invited me to visit her at her university in France during a big celebration weekend, but I have plans already!  It's too bad because I think it would have been a lot of fun to see France with someone who is French!  I will just have to settle for my upcoming touristy weekend for now!

Time for dinner!  I will definitely write about my trip to Paris soon!

Monday, February 23, 2009

I'm in fika heaven...

I've gotten a lot of questions about fika since I've been here, so here is my take on Swedish fika.  Fika (FEE-kuh) is the tradition here where you get together in the afternoon for coffee and a pastry for a couple of hours (at least).  If it's not a couple of hours, it's not a proper fika!  You can have a fika with anyone; however, fika is used by a lot of couples in Sweden as a "pre-date", similar to the American "coffee date" before having a dinner date.  Hence, I've heard many Swedish girls complain about not knowing whether their one-on-one fika with a male friend was a "fika date" or just a fika!

Fika is a huge part of the culture here.  In fact, the word fika is not only a noun but a verb, as well.  Example: I get text messages all the time saying "Would you like to fika with me at so and 
so?" The streets here are lined with cafes, and they all seem to be full between the hours of 2 and 5.  Also, a student here should not even try to get something done at a university office between 2 and 5 because it is likely that most of the office is out to fika!  

Now for the pastries.  Sweden is my pastry heaven, and I will be in dessert mourning when I get home to The States!  Almost everything here has almond paste (mmmmm) in it, and everything is freshly baked.  I will highlight some of my favorite Swedish pastries :-)

This is a kanelbulle, which is very similar to an American cinnamon roll, but I think it is better!  The bread part of the roll is lightly flavored with cardamom.  There is, of course, the normal cinnamon filling.  On the top, instead of icing, the Swedes put pearlized sugar, which gives a wonderful crunch!!

These yummy goodies are called punschbullar (punschbulle for singular).  On the inside is a chocolate cake type of filling.  The outside (the green part) is dyed marzipan.  The ends are dipped in chocolate!  Mmmm...

These buns are called semla, and they are my absolute favorite Swedish pastry!!  They are made to be eaten on the second Tuesday of February, but I have seen them (and eaten them :-) ) the whole time that I have been here.  These are cardamom flavored buns that have the tops cut off. 
 The inside is then filled with a little almond paste and then covered with whipped cream.  Then the top of the bun gets put back on.   I have already been on the hunt for good recipes for these 
because I will need a semla fix when I get back home!!

These are my favorite cookies here, and they are called chokladflarn (sometimes dubbla chokladflarn).  They are sold in absolutely every grocery store here in very large (and thus  dangerous) packs!  We use these a lot for "corridor fikas" when a few of us get together in our rooms for fika.  These are basically very thin, crispy, vanilla-flavored cookies that have the bottom covered in chocolate.  They are insanely addictive...

This is called princess cake- it's unfortunately a very bad picture of it!  The outside is marzipan, and the inside is layers of sponge cake, whipped cream, and blueberry (blabair) preserves.  This cake is supposedly at almost every Swedish birthday party.  If that's true, I will have to start making friends with more Swedish people instead of my other international friends :-)

This is kladkakka, which is in every cafe in Sweden.  It's basically a super rich, ooey gooey, chocolate cake.  Perfection!

Froggie cakes!!   (Groda, the label underneath, means frog in Swedish)  These are meant for children, but I have eaten one, of course!!  The green outside is marzipan, the tongue is made out of raspberry jam.  The eyes and the inside of the frog are some sort of creamy delight!

There are many other Swedish pastries, but these are my favorites!  Now that I have made you very hungry, I am off for a chokladflarn corridor fika :-)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

February fun

Hey everyone,

I've been having a really fun time since I last wrote.  I've gotten to the point where I really feel like Uppsala is my home.  I have a routine here.  It is very different from my routine at home, that's for sure!  Here, I wake up at around 11 (unless I have class) and I get ready.  In the afternoon, I get together with friends to do something (walking, fika, sledding, etc).  Then I read books until dinner.  After dinner, I get together with friends and we either go out together or stay in and watch a movie or play Uno (the rules with all the international students are absolutely crazy!!), and we all stay up late together.

Even though most days have been the same silly parade, there have been some standouts.  Last week, a few of us got together for a pizza party.  We actually made the pizza's at our friend Wojtek's apartment.  It actually turned out to be a bad idea because we let Florian and Wojtek do the shopping for the pizza ingredients, and they came back with all very weird things.  We had ham, hot dog, feta cheese, salami, tuna and other things on the pizza!  Yikes!  Luckily, we ate very late, so the crazy pizza tasted good anyways!  The next day we had a welcoming party for the sister of one of the girls on our floor.

On Sunday, I went to Stockholm with Trent, another American.  We didn't really have any set plans of what we wanted to do, so we just ended up walking around for the whole day.  We went to Gamla Stan, the old section of Stockholm, and then we headed to the big shopping center.  It was absolutely crazy in the main Gallerian (where a lot of the famous shops are) because it is currently one of the big sale times in Sweden.  After that, we took a walk along the waterfront, and before you knew it, it was time to take the last bus home!

The Europeans have taken me in as their "sweets pet" because I am unfamiliar with so many European sweets.  So far they have shown me lots of different chocolates (including kindersurprise, which is a chocolate egg with a children's toy inside) and also many types of cookies.  I have been trying to think of things that are American that I can show them.  While I was having this idea of things to show people, the idea turned into an "American party".  Next Friday I will have people from the corridor over to have a couple of different American foods.  It was quite difficult to figure out what to make since I had such strange requests.  Frederike really wanted me to make something with marshmallow fluff and peanut butter!  I have been out to the grocery stores to look for ingredients, but it has been difficult to buy certain things.  For example, I cannot find powdered sugar (for Buckeyes!!) anywhere!

Over the next month, we have a lot of visitors coming to the corridor.  As I mentioned before, our friend Marie-Anne has had her sister here this week.  A lot of people have their boyfriends/girlfriends coming in the next couple of weeks, and there are also quite a few friends and siblings coming.  I am excited to meet these people because I think you can learn a lot about people by seeing the people who they love.

Another thing that has really surprised me here is how easy it has been to fall into friendships here.  I know I have mentioned several times that people here are very welcoming, but I've just been so surprised at how fast acquaintanceships have turned into close friendships!

1. A view of beautiful Stockholm
2. Lily, me, and Frederike
3. Frederike and me
4. Florian, me, Wojtek, and Lily

Monday, February 2, 2009

Weekend Road Trip


This Saturday and Sunday I went on a Swedish road trip with a few German friends and a friend from ISU!  We had a great time!  Since it was a Swedish road trip, we rented a Volvo, of course! Thankfully, the car also came with a GPS system, otherwise we would have been lost for most of the weekend!

On Saturday, we went to the cities of Falun and Mora in the Dalarna province, which is north of Uppsala.  The first thing I noticed when we got out of the car was how cold it was!  It's incredible how much colder it gets just 3-4 hours north of Uppsala!  In Falun, we went to the famous copper mine for a guided tour.  Unfortunately, the tour was only in Swedish.  However, the information 
center gave us guide sheets in English, so we were able to read up on the history before we went into the mine.  Once we were inside, it was too dark to see anything on the paper.  Luckily Frederike has taken two Swedish courses, so she was able to tell us some of the things that the guide was saying.  

Trent, Florian, Frederike (hiding) and Wojtek in our mine gear

After our mine tour and a walk around the rest of Falun, we drove another hour out to a place that is famous for making Dalarna horses ( that's what I am on in the picture).  We were so disappointed to find that the shop was closed, but we ended up getting lucky because the owner saw us outside and opened up the shop again!  Finally, we drove a little bit farther north to the town of Mora to grab something to eat.  Apparently everything in that city closes before 6, so we ended up walking around the whole town trying to find a restaurant!! After dinner, we had a long drive back to 
Uppsala, but we were amused listening to the Swedish radio stations which seem to play the same 5 songs over and over!

Me on a Dalarna horse!!

On Sunday, we went southwest of Uppsala to the towns of Västeras and Örebro (which I cannot pronounce correctly to save my life!).  Västeras was a little bit disappointing because it was a lot 
like Uppsala with the river running through the middle and a nice church at the center of the town.  That would be fine, except for the fact that the town is not nearly as nice as our Uppsala!  After a stop at a Swedish cafe in Västeras we continued onto Örebro, which I liked a lot.  Again, the city was very similar to Uppsala because of the river, castle, and cathedral.  However, they also have an old section of the town where there is good shopping.  We had a lot of fun in this city because we found a part of the river right outside of the castle that was completely frozen over.  We ended up spending quite a bit of time playing out on the ice!  Even though we had a lot of fun, we were a little bit disappointed with how the town compared to the description in the tour book.  The tour book had mentioned a giant mushroom (svampen in Swedish) where you can take an elevator 
up to the top and see the whole city.  However, this tower was exactly like every single water tower in America!!  Also, the tour book had mentioned that Örebro was famous for its "stylish candlesticks".  We thought that that was a funny thing for a city to be famous for, but we were intersted in how these candlesticks would look.  It turns out that no one in the city seemed to know what we were talking about- another strike out!  Oh well.  The city was lovely, and we had a wonderful time out on the ice and walking around the river and the town square.

Wojtek sliding on the river in Orebro

Wojtek and Florian on the cannon outside the castle

A view of Orebro from the castle

Overall, the trips gave me an even greater appreciation for Uppsala.  Uppsala is by far the nicest city I have been to in Sweden, and I think I will only find Stockholm to be nicer.  The trips have gotten me itching to do more traveling :-)