Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Things as of now

This keeps getting more and more behind. And now that I'm home I'm not even sure I need a travel blog anymore! I'll keep trying and see if I can get this whole blogging thing right eventually. For the moment, a list of the things I've done since July, since I keep telling various people different combinations of events.

First, I finished my masters! After all the traveling this summer, I went back and actually finished everything while still managing to see friends and enjoy the last of my time in Sweden. I ended up with a project and result I was very excited about.

Our graduation was to be in Montpellier, so next it was off to France. But the cheapest place to fly to from Sweden was Nice. How horrible! After the crazy couple of months I'd had, two days on a beach with a good friend did wonders! And French food--there are almost no words for what French food tastes like after living in Sweden... We ate only cheese, fruit, bread, meat, and wine while we were there. I also realized how very much I had missed France while gone, sort of surprising myself. It was nice though to arrive and feel at home immediately. After two days of rest in Nice, Montpellier was a fun whirlwind of a week with entirely too little sleep and too much sweat. After a Swedish summer that topped out around 20C/68F, heading into a humid Montpellier late August at 35C/95F almost killed me. I'm not even exaggerating much. But it was fun to see everyone, and I graduated! Sorta. They forgot to print my certificate (ahh, the excellent organization of this program continues to amaze me), but close enough. After graduation, we were to head to Serbia, but again unfortunately, we had to fly from Paris. So we took a couple of days with a friend there and had more fun. I had been to Paris in January alone, and I must say being there in August with friends made a HUGE difference. Paris in January is unbelievably dreary and grey, and as I keep mentioning, I am one solar-powered woman.

In Serbia, I stayed with my friend and her family. Even after recuperating in France for a while, we were still dead, so a lot of the time in Serbia was spent sleeping an unholy amount, waking up to eat before flopping on the couch for crappy reality TV, getting up only to go back to the table or bed. It was sluggish. But we also had a lot of fun wandering around her town of Novi Sad and venturing into the countryside and Belgrade.

Next was Greece! We got an awesome deal on a 10 day trip to Parga on the northwest coast and jumped at it. You can probably guess, but there was more sluggishness during this trip. It was awesome. The town was nice--not resorty at all but a fishing village built on a hillside that had become a tourist place, so it was low-key with normal buildings in a beautiful setting.We had a choice of four beaches in or near town, each of which bordered the lovely warm and restorative Mediterranean.

After Greece and a few more days in Serbia I headed to Budapest. I had wanted to see both Budapest and Prague since before I even went to Europe, and I finally had the time and was in the right location. Budapest was a cheap 7 hour train ride from Novi Sad, so off I went. It was awesome. A nice mix of monumental and normal feeling, a lot of fun to wander around aimlessly, and the goulash is awesome.

As much as I liked Budapest, I loved Prague. It immediately grabbed me. The buildings are fun, all painted and with interesting details, and the setting is amazing. The castle is on a hill across the river, as is a large park, both of which are great to wander around. Prague is also really green, full of parks and gardens and islands in the river, which I liked. I realized that even in cities I am always drawn to the parks. Noted for future travel planning! But seriously, Prague. Go.

After Prague it was off to Munich to meet the parents for Oktoberfest. Pretty cool huh? I have done Oktoberfest before, but it was fun again.

Then I headed with the parents to Austria for a few days. We did Salzburg, St. Polten (a small town where they visit at the University), and Vienna. All very nice. Salzburg was much smaller than I expected, but very nice. It has a fortress on a huge rock above the city which gives an amazing view of the city and surrounding valley and is a nice place to have a beer! Vienna is huge. All the buildings you're supposed to see are monumentally enormous, it's kind of shocking. But again, a nice city. I also loved driving through the countryside, stopping at some of the small lakes scattered in the mountains and driving along a wine valley on the Danube.

Phew. That was an amazing run of travels, I am fully aware. It was so much fun. I saw so much, both things I never expected and things I had wanted to for a long time. It was a perfect way to cap off my  two years of an international master program, during which I made a real effort to travel a lot. 

Eventually though, I had to get back to real life and so went to Montpellier to fill out paperwork for a job I was supposed to have on Reunion Island. It's a beautiful tropical island beside Madagascar, where I was going to work on a project I was really excited about (so certainly not a bad real life, but work nonetheless). While in Montpellier it became obvious that the job would take a while to start, so I decided to head back to the US to wait. So now I'm here at home, getting a chance to see a lot of you lovely people and work on the many things I wanted to finish before starting the job. Unfortunately the job fell through last week. It was a complicated project with many partners and lots of politics, and I got caught in the crossfire. So now the plan is--no big deal--figure out what I want to do with my life and plan accordingly.  Onward!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Copenhagen, a million years late

This is embarrassing. I went to Copenhagen in July. I give up on full entries, at least until I catch up, but I loved Copenhagen, so I did want to tell you about it! I was there for a weeklong course, so I feel like I got to see a lot of the town, plus get a normal-life feel for it on my walk to the university (hint, bicycles everywhere). It was also when I learned to keep earplugs and a sleep mask with me anytime I'm staying in a hostel...

--The Little Mermaid is underwhelming. You'll go see it anyway of course, this is just a warning. Extra points for a photo with only you in it (no other tourists) or one of a guy mocking a sex act on her...

--Tivoli Gardens is also overhyped. It's expensive to get in, and once in you have to pay for all the rides separately (or do an expensive day pass). Once in, it's basically carnival rides in a nice garden with lots of restaurants. It seemed like many of the people were there for eating or the concert that was happening on the lawn while we were there--we wondered if it was locals with season passes.

--Nyhavn (New Harbor) is cool. The buildings are pretty brightly-colored row houses, and you can get harbor tours from there. The restaurants and cafes are crowded, but fun. Great people-watching.

--I loved the gargoyles around Town Hall!

--Copenhagen has a LOT of castles, almost all of which are surrounded by nice parks and gardens. My favorite was Rosenbourg Palace and its garden (a huge park that when I was there had big outdoor screens set up for the European Cup final), but Christiansborg Palace was cool to wander around--you can go into the ruins below the castle where you can see footprints of the walls of previous castles build on the spot (it keeps burning down).

--We quickly visited Christiania, the hippie drug town in Copenhagen that has its own laws. It was interesting to walk through, but we didn't hang around long. It is certainly not your normal tourist attraction...

--If you're a fan of city vistas, there are a couple things you can climb to see the city. The Round Tower was recommended to me. It's cool because you climb the inside with a ramp, designed that way so that the king could ride his horses up to the top back in the day. There's also an art gallery halfway up.

--Finally, as usual, I recommend wandering around and finding cool cafes and random things to see.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Norway at last!

I went to Norway in June… It’s been a chaotic summer. I think at one point I calculated that over a month and a half I spent more time way than at home. I have a new respect for people who live like that. As much fun as I had, it’s not for me. But I did have some awesome trips, like Norway.

I love trains. The stations are right in the middle of town and you only have to be there when the train leaves, as opposed to airports in the middle of nowhere where you have to be 2 hours early and blah blah blah. Trains also have the added benefit of scenery. This can be kind of boring if you’re traveling across flat fields, but in pretty areas, it’s awesome. Scandinavia is more than pretty, so we took trains most of the way during our trip. The routes were only called “scenic” for certain parts, but really, it was all amazing. I could probably have just ridden around the country in a train and been happy without ever setting foot on land.

We first took the train from Stockholm to Oslo. We had an afternoon in Oslo I believe, but it was enough time to see a lot of the city. It’s not tiny space-wise (particularly large when you consider it’s only got 600,000 inhabitants), but the town is manageable. There is a large palace, a red-brick city hall that has a lot of interesting art if you look closely but is just ugly if you take in the whole thing, and a nice harbor. Where there was a sustainable seafood festival with a bluegrass banc while we were there! Delicious and random. I think my favorite part of Oslo though was the fort, built on a hill above the harbor with a view out onto the fjord, which was covered in sailboats on the beautiful sunny day we were there.


The next morning it was off to Trondheim by train. The journey takes you a long way north and then over some mountains, so the scenery changed a lot—we saw everything from beautiful lakes surrounded by forest and small summer cabins to huge valleys and then finally snowfields. Yes, in June.


Side note: I had a total nerd moment about going to Trondheim, since it is the name of a planet in the Ender’s Game series by Orson Scott Card.

Trondheim is the farthest north major town in Norway and is pretty small population-wise, but has an amazing cathedral, the seat of the Norwegian church for a while I think. The exterior is amazing. Very imposing. It was, unfortunately, closed by the time we got there, and we only had one afternoon, so we missed it. But it was fun to walk around, as was the summer palace of the royal family, a nice house they had bought from a rich citizen. Trondheim also had a fort (tiny, it looked like a house actually) above the city which gave a beautiful view.

The next day it was off for the only non-train part of our trip—the coastal cruise down to Bergen. We had a small boat without much to do but watch the scenery, which was fine! It was an overnnight trip, and we stopped in a few small towns along the way. It’s the main coastal ferry, so it was fun to see the different places. Even at 1am, where we stopped at a place that had sounded interesting but we didn’t have time to really visit, so we wandered around in the twilight (summer in Scandinavia, no real night, remember?). While the boat mainly stuck to the coast, to get into a few town we took trips down fjords, which are amazing. More on those later.

Bergen is a cool town. It’s the town of seven mountains, and you can take a funicular up to the top of one, which gave a really amazing view which was the definite highlight of the city for me. The fish market (the best smoked fish you will ever taste) and the medieval houses were also cool. 

The trip back to Oslo from Bergen (or vice versa) is a really popular tourist trek (see the Norway in a Nutshell tours if you’re curious), and they have it down to a science. You take a train from Bergen to a town nearby, then a fjord cruise from there to another town, where you take a scenic railroad that climbs a mountain, and then get back on a normal train to finish the trip. The trip is popular for a reason. It was a cool combination, going from a boat on the fjord cruise to a train station in the snow an hour later, and the scenery the whole way is amazing. The fjord cruise is where people get their stunning pictures of plunging green mountains and blue water. Whoa. And the railroad back to Oslo again goes along beautiful, winding lakes. I loved the whole trip. Norway got way more than one country’s share of natural beauty.

As a warning though, it is also incredibly expensive, so don’t plan the trip until you’re sure you have enough, or you’ll be terrified by how much you spend. For example, a convenience store packaged sandwich cost almost 9 dollars. It is unreal. So don’t plan to go there and be frugal! But do plan to take an unholy number of pictures and spend hours sorting them, loving every minute of it as you relive how amazing it was.

Note: I'm apparently out of photo space for my blog. The pictures are on facebook, so until I work out what to do about the photo thing some other time, enjoy them there!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Travel Tip

Since I'm playing world traveler right now, I want to pass on a piece of advice: Don't keep your passport in your wallet! Pickpockets are everywhere, and while getting your wallet stolen with all your money and cards in it is a pain, if your passport is also in there it's a disaster. (This didn't happen to me, don't worry, just a girl I met).

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Four trips behind...

I am now FOUR trips behind on my blogging. There goes my plan of never leaving for a new trip before I've blogged the last one. Way, way, out the window goes that plan. It's been a ridiculous five weeks. I have been to Norway with my parents, Dublin for a conference, Copenhagen for a course, and Barcelona to see my sister in a competition. I have realized that as much as I love traveling, there's no way I'll ever be able to handle a job with that much travel involved. I need my own bed (or even my own room would be nice--I was in hostels/shared rooms for most of these trips). Plus now I'm back and have to turn in my final master's thesis soon. So I'm pretty much in panic mode. The travels were great though, so I'll share a bit now and fill in the rest as soon as I get a chance!

Norway was unbelievable. You'll get a post on that one later with pictures that will make you want to kill me. 

I've already blogged Ireland from when I took a trip there last year, and I didn't get to do any tourism this time anyway. I was there for a conference (Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution) and I had no time to do anything besides learn things and network (read: drink Guinness with other scientists. Awesome). But it was my first conference, and I enjoyed it a lot. Exhausting though, whoa. I got to go because I got a travel grant, and then I won best undergraduate (in many European countries that means anything below a PhD) poster! Pretty proud of myself, not gonna lie.


Copenhagen was also a new place for me, and a city I liked a lot, so it will get a full post later.

Barcelona I've been to before, but I headed back to see my sister compete in the Under-20 World Championships for shot put. Cool, right? She's a total badass. She got 7th with her second-best throw ever, jetlagged and all. I'm so impressed. She's amazing.

Ok, good, now I'm only two trips behind on my blogging. That sounds better in my head. And now I'm off to write this thesis so I can be doooooooooone with my master's!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Estonia

I've gotten a trip behind on my blogging and it's making me nervous! I just got back from Norway with my parents (awesome) and am soon going to both Dublin and Copenhagen for work, so I need to get my trip to Estonia in May blogged, clearly! It is, however, going to be the short version! Outline form, woohoo! And pictures, as always!

Quick background though. My friend sent me a message back in February asking if I wanted to go to Estonia in May. Silly question, the answer was of course yes. So we bought tickets. He continued to ask people until there were six of us going. By the time of the trip, however, we had lost three people to various conflicts. The night before the trip, the main organizer/guy who previously lived in Estonia and had all the plans get pretty sick. But he pulled it together and off we went. By this point, however, we'd decided the trip was cursed. So it didn't help when the three of us showed up at the airport and our flight was cancelled (they're combined it with an earlier flight and just very poorly chosen how to convey that fact on the departures boards). Nor when we landed and immediately picked up a drunk Russian friend. Or when we missed our tram stop and rode to the end of the line and back. But finally, we arrived at our hostel and crashed. Early the next morning we headed off and grabbed our rental car and left town

Day 1: To Lahemaa National Park
-Hit a grocery store and felt like kids in a candy shop since everything was so cheap after Sweden. A four-pack of beer over 3.5% alcohol (the limit for grocery store beer here, but that's another story) for 1 euro? Ok! Chocolate? Ok! This random Estonia bread thing? Ok! You get the picture.
-On the way to the park we stopped at an abbey by the sea and an awesome waterfall.
-Arrived at our awesome cabin, which was one of three in a lady's backyard at her house in the National Park. So cool! We waked around a bit, found the path to the beach, but then headed up to a nearby manor house for an awesome fancy yet cheap meal of local game meat (mmm, roasted boar neck with mango chutney, not kidding).
-After dinner we took our Estonian beer to the nearby Estonian rocky beach. It was amazing, a cloudy windy night, but beautiful!




Day 2: To Viljandi
-We spent our morning on an amazing hike through the really cool forest we were staying in.
-The afternoon was driving down to the other end of the country, a whopping 2 hour trip to Viljandi where our friend had lived. We arrived to a rainy late afternoon, but still checked out the castle ruins overlooking a big lake and had a nice dinner at his favorite tavern.




Stage in the ruins in Vuljandi

View of the lake from the stage
 
Day 3: Tallinn
-While our friend stayed in Viljandi to visit people he knew, the other girl on the trip and I headed back up to Tallinn to check out the city. The cool old city is very small, so we got a chance to see most of it by just wandering around, which it is a perfect place for!






Day 4: Helsinki
Helsinki is only a 2 hour ferry ride from Tallinn, so on Saturday we hopped on a boat! Helsinki itself didn't really impress me, it was just a city. The market on the harbor was nice, and the rock church was cool (a church carved down into a rocky hilltop in the city). My favorite part was going out to an island in the harbor where there is an old fort and just lying the grass watching sailboats go by.



From the ferry back to Tallinn


Day 5: Back in Tallinn
Since we'd really seen most of the city on day 3, we weren't too focused on day 5. We took a tour of the tunnels under the city walls, which I liked, and then spent a lot of the afternoon wandering aimlessly before settling in a cafe that our friend recommended. It was in a cute courtyard and we both totally fell in love and so we spent several hours and consumed a few cups of coffee and things made of chocolate there! It was a great way to end a great trip.



Cafe courtyard. I want that house!

Tallinn is awesome. I can't exactly explain why, but I really loved it. Maybe it was my first trip in a while, maybe it was traveling with people that I travel well with, but I think it was mainly because Tallinn and Estonia in general are just rather awesome. Highly recommended! And hey, we made friends with an old Finnish grandpa who has rented an apartment in Tallinn for the summer (don't ask), so maybe I'll get a chance to go back!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Eurovision!

Last weekend something amazing happened. I saw Europe at its least cultured moment. Anyone who has ever heard comments about Americans having no taste should know this simple phrase that can stop Europeans in their tracks: "I have seen Eurovision." This is a song contest where each country sends a song and they compete against each other.  I would expect something like that to be taken seriously, with each country wanting to showcase something special, whether that means very good, traditional and cool, or something else. But no. Instead, nearly every country sends some weird or awful act! I asked a bunch of people and everyone says it is some kind of blend of serious and joke, but I only saw the serious in a very few acts. Examples of things that I at least hope are jokes are:

Jedward, the Irish entry for the second year in a row:


Buranovskiye Babushki from Russia--grannies complete with cookies in the oven!


Albania. I don't even know. Dreadlock snake, Dracula dress, and a weird gold earring I'm told Lady Gaga made popular. It's too much!


As an example of a serious entry, we have Serbia, keeping it classy and boring.


And then we have this year's winner, my current host county of Sweden! This song has actually already been playing in clubs here for a while (it was made for the competition, but there is a selection process, so it must have been released when she became the official Swedish contestant):

Such an odd event. It gets even weirder when you consider the voting--each country in Europe tallies votes from text messages from within its borders and then allocates points to the top 10 or so. But instead of voting for acts that were good, most of the votes are for neighboring countries! Scandinavian countries vote for each other, as do the Balkans and the ex-Soviet states. Oh, and all the Irish people in Great Britain gave the Irish contestant the second most points! So funny.

Really, I am not sure how I'd never heard of this before I came to Europe. It's like all the worst American Idol entries (the ones that go into that special episode before the season, the only one I ever watch), only there are flags and some kind of pride involved.

The winning country hosts next year, so it'll be in Sweden next May.  Keep an eye out! This year it was in Azerbaijan, that most European of countries... I won't get into the border definitions of Europe held by the Eurovision planners!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Swedish "Night" May 27th

I was up late last night. I was in fact up past dawn. The thing is though, dawn here was at 3:47am today, so it's not that hard. Here is what last night looked like:

1:30am--darkest point

2:30am--pretty much light outside...

3:45am--full daylight...
Crazy! And kinda cool. It's bad for sleeping when the birds start chirping at 2:30 in the morning though...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A new food challenge!

I just realized I never wrapped up the chocolate-almond croissant challenge from France! I kept up with my challenge until the end, dutifully trying every chocolate-almond croissant I came across. Yes, ti was tough, but I persevered. I think that there are many more croissants still to be discovered in my future, and I must admit I did not find one that made me decide the quest was over. My favorite was from the Vieux Four de St. Anne. It was subtle, with a good balance of flavors and the right textures for each component. But I just read on another blog from Montpellier that the bakery closed! NOOOOoooooooo. I guess I have to start over :)

The problem is that croissants are just not found in Sweden. They are, however, big on cinnamon rolls, which I also love (no, I don't love all pastries, but each country seems to have managed something I can fully support). I had been told repeatedly before I came how awesome the cinnamon rolls are, yet once I got here, I must admit I was a bit disappointed! Places where I liked other things had cinnamon rolls that felt a bit dry to me. My image of cinnamon rolls may be skewed due to exposure at critical developmental periods to things like Cinnabon-type gooey monster cinnamon rolls and the Pillsbury ones that made Christmas morning even better. But I decided that there was no better way to know Swedish cinnamon rolls than to try a range of them. And thus was born the Cinnamon Roll Challenge. I vow to commit myself fully again to an exploration of my host country through pastry!

Our first entry (not my actual first cinnamon roll experience, just the first one I got pictures of, oops):






Kanelbullar is cinnamon roll in Swedish: kanel=cinnamon and bullar is for buns according to google translate. But these beauties came from an old lady selling them on a stand in the street on a beautiful day last weekend. I was stoked, thinking that they might end the challenge before it began, but sadly, that was not the case. I think they suffered from being put in a plastic bag, and were sorta gooey in a bad way, more like soggy. I took one out and left it on a plate to dry off a bit (get rid of bag condensation basically), but then it was just dry. I also tried heating one a bit, but no real luck there either. I'm not sure what they would have been like without bag effects, or even if the bag affected them actually. But either way, I was sad that a little old lady couldn't provide me cinnamon roll bliss. This may be better though--I haven't seen here again, so what if I had found the perfect one and never got to have it again?? I'm hoping to find my winner in a bakery where I can go regularly.... I am back to biking everywhere (here, like Groningen, is very bike centered and bike friendly) so I'm getting lots of exercise and can eat cinnamon rolls at will.  Haha yeah, we'll see how long that idea lasts!

And here's another shot I love from that day in town, just for fun and because it makes me happy!




Sunday, May 6, 2012

Things that come in tubes 5

Today's item: vitamins. I forgot to take a picture in the store, but imagine rows and rows of these, like "Everything Cheese" from last time. This one is maybe cheating a bit, since I've seen vitamins in tubes like this before (in France I think), but here the tube madness was again taken to extremes, with tons of them!




Sunday, April 29, 2012

Things that come in tubes 4

This one is "Everything Cheese." Ost, the last part of the name of each of these, means cheese. A sample of the flavors of cheese in a tube are bell pepper, crayfish, ham, and chorizo. Two of the ones I'm having trouble translating (or maybe more believing) are mayonnaise cheese and game meat cheese. So that's delicious. Haven't worked up the guts to even buy one of these to try. That enormous tube of caviar I got just isn't going anywhere fast, and I think one tube of Swedish mystery in my fridge at once should be some sort of limit.




Sunday, April 22, 2012

Best Swedish Orthodox Eater Cabin Weekend Ever!

So here in Europe I've had a lot of Best [insert country] [insert event]s. Remember the Best German Birthday ever? Time for another one of those, only this is a double: Best Swedish Orthodox Easter Cabin Weekend ever! Orthodox and non-orthodox Easter were a week apart this year (something about how they count the days since Christmas), and it turns out that the only people in my program here right now that do much for Easter were the four Orthodox people (from Greece, Cyprus, Serbia, and Ukraine). They decided to have a big Easter meal where they would each cook stuff they always eat for Easter, and the rest of us happily volunteered to help in exchange for eating! To make it better, some people who had already been here for a semester knew about a cabin we could rent from the Student Union, so we decided to have Orthodox Easter in the cabin. We thought it would be a nice way to welcome spring by getting out of town. We were a bit optimistic on that front, but I'll come to that.

To prepare, we first had to make Easter eggs, since we needed so many (15 of us went). This meant I got to learn their awesome way to make beautiful eggs. First, you need a bunch of leaves. No, I'm serious. You get brown eggs, put leaves on them, put them in pantyhose to keep the leaves in place,  dye them a beautiful deep red, and peel the leaves off to reveal the leaf pattern on the egg! We did it with a packaged dye, but my friend says you can also make the dye from onion skins, so I want to learn how to do that so I can do it at home. I think these eggs are amazing--I'm adding them to my international cool tradition collection.


(the color difference here is just black versus nude hose)


The result! This is one of my favorites.

So with those ready, we bought an unbelievable amount of food, rented a car, and got all ready for our spring weekend at the cabin.

We woke up Saturday morning to leave and it was snowing sideways, with several inches already on the ground. Jumped the gun on the spring part! Oh well! We headed out to the cabin, and it was beautiful. There were several cabins in the woods near a lake about 45 minutes from town. And a sauna (coming back to that).



Since cooking for 15 people takes a while in the best of circumstances and we were in a cabin with four burners and a campfire to cook everything, we got started right away and spent a lot of Saturday getting everything ready. It was fun chopping, running around, tripping over people chaos, but well worth it. We had 10 kilograms of lamb and who knows how much veggie material. There were tons of salads, meat cooked several ways, all kinds of stuff. Amazing. It felt like Thanksgiving, with all of us squeezed around a small table struggling to even try everything before being too full to move. So good... Most of us successfully avoided the food-induced nap in order to wander around the woods, check out the lake, and just hang out.

 And then it was sauna time. Sauna is a sacred tradition here. Many apartment buildings have their own, and even the building where I work has one! I was never overwhelmed by the thought of sitting in a hot, humid room. Kind of sounds like a Georgia summer... but I had decided I had to at least try it. So off we went to the cute little sauna by the lake. Sitting in the sauna was kind of like I thought--hot and sweaty. But then one of the guys said "Ok, time to jump in the lake!" I knew that you usually do something really cold after sitting in the sauna, but jump in a freezing lake?? I wanted to have the true sauna experience though, and when in Sweden... so off we went, running barefoot through the snow, in bathing suits, in the dark, to jump off the dock in the picture above! Insane, I know. The lake was cold, but not actually as bad as expected. I didn't hang around in the water, just jumped in, did something approximating levitation to get back out, and ran barefoot back through the snow to the sauna. I liked the sauna better after the lake, I must admit. We hung out in the sauna for a while longer, jumped in the lake again, then went inside and played poker with pasta (as chips) and talked for the rest of the night. Then my friend and I stayed in the top of the cute small cabin below.

The sauna by the lake

Minicabin!

The next day, we ate leftovers for breakfast and then had egg fights! That's right, the beautiful eggs are used for a game. Everyone gets an egg, says something about Christ rising and  then you whack the eggs together, round end to round end, pointy to pointy. If your egg cracks, you're out. Everyone in the room does it until only one person in the room has an egg with at least one uncracked end, and they win. It's fun! Apparently in Orthodox households with one child, the kid usually gets a wooden egg to ensure they win! I like that. After eggs fights, we went to another, larger dock nearby and laid in the beautiful sun for a while and just relaxed (the snow had melted by then) then headed home. It was a great weekend. My best Swedish Orthodox Easter Weekend ever, in fact!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Meanwhile, in Sweden, it's still snowing...

video

This is from April 1st. It has also snowed four of the six days since then and hailed a few times for good measure. I find this hard to believe. It was a lot warmer a few weeks ago, but now we're back to temperatures just a few degrees above freezing during the day and several below at night. It's not actually too bad though--because temperatures are above freezing during the day, the snow melts quickly and a few things are even starting to try to bloom/get leaves, so spring is in sight, but I am so amused that we are back to getting regular snow. I am glad I was in Sweden for only a spring semester and that it was an easy winter. This is rather late for there to be snow and for it to be this cold, but the main part of winter was incredibly mild. If I had been here during a real winter... We won't think about that.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Keyboards again

There is now a third keyboard in my life and my typing is even more of a disaster! The Swedish keyboard is not as different as the French AZERTY one--there are no letter rearrangements, just the addition of the special letters Å/å, Ä/ä, and Ö/ö. The problem this time is that a lot of the special characters are moved. I'm back to occasionally staring at the keyboard for a few seconds to locate things I need! People probably think I'm nuts. I also am constantly typing ä or ö instead of apostrophes, so just ignore that in any emails or chats we might have...


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keyboard_layout#Swedish

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Things that come in tubes 3

Caviar. So many flavors! But they all come in tubes! I got one (see, I'm trying to be a good  temporary Swede) and have tried it on crackers with and without cheese and butter, a few of the ways I was told to try. It's not bad, very salty and with a flavor I can't quite figure out (I got the "original" flavor). But I must say I currently prefer fish eggs as a sushi component. I have a huge tube though, so maybe I'll become a fan by the end of it. Or never be able to look at a fish again, one or the other...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Swedish Stereotypes of Finns

My new lab here in Sweden had a celebration tonight for someone who had a first-author paper accepted. Side note: scientists are a good drinking bunch. Anytime a paper gets accepted--drinks!! Only the Swedes do it even better. We had one of those twice-normal sized bottles of champagne, beer (Sierra Nevada, random!), and cake (its own food group here, more on that some other time). Fancy.  It was a fun evening and I actually got to know some of my coworkers a bit, which was nice, as I really haven't so far. My group's corridor is under construction, so we're spread out all over the building in spare rooms here and there, so I only ever see the people I share an office with, who aren't in my lab. I could tell I liked the people though, so tonight was good.

During the party, the TV was on to some kind of documentary channel. It was crazy--they were switching between Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish the whole time. Always Swedish subtitles, but all three languages were being used, to the point where the people in the room who understand the languages realized that in one interview segment, the interviewer was speaking Norwegian and the interviewee Swedish. The point of this story is that at some point it switched to a Finnish movie (I of course didn't know it was Finnish), and it was the most slow, nothing happening and yet still depressing thing I've seen in a while. This led someone to ask about Swedish stereotypes of Finns. They are:

1. Finns don't talk much (this almost made me laugh out loud, given the rather reticent nature of many Swedes, but at least my supervisor almost immediately made the joke that "yeah, this is of course coming from the most talkative group ever...")
2. They eat sausage.
3. They play games with knives.

So there you go. The conversation shifted and we never got any explanation of 2 and 3, but those are the basics.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Things that come in tubes 2

 Today's edition is "American Dressing." The stuff looks like Thousand Island. I haven't tried it, but there is tons in the fridge, and I've seen some corridor-mates putting it on things in copious quantities.

And then, of course, there's the bacon-flavored version. Mmmm, bacon-flavored everything.

Kinda reminds me of Baconnaise... yeah, that exists. Because "everything should taste like bacon."

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sweden: Land of things that come in tubes

Things are well in Sweden! I am settling in nicely, happy with the dorm despite the death metal fan above or below me, good with work, and reunited with some friends I haven't spent a semester with in a while. The weather is generally nice, not too cold, although this morning there was beautiful crazy ice everywhere (below). Also, it's not getting dark until 5:30, and if I was so inclined, I could get in a couple of extra hours of sunlight by getting up at 6:30 when it rises! Not gonna happen...



So as with my WTF series in France, I'm going to try to have a short post series here in Sweden. It will, at least for a while, be about things in tubes. Before coming here I was sent an article about things to expect in Sweden, and one of them was that everything comes in tubes. The author was not wrong...

Edition one--jam (sylt in Swedish). These tubes are enormous. I'm sorry I forgot something for scale, but they're about 10 inches long. How awkward is that? Even if you have an enormous vat that you use for jam, can you imagine the sticky tidal wave that is the inevitable result of trying to transfer that much jam into anything?  I stuck with a glass jar. I'm just not Swedish enough for jam sausages.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

...And then I moved to Sweden

My blogging and journaling efforts have been severely lacking lately. Every time a project ends, there is always the mad rush to finish everything that didn't get done on time, so that's where I've been lately. Oh, and I moved to Sweden, but we'll come to that.

Going back to Montpellier after Christmas was not as hard as I expected. It was the first time I've come back to Europe and not been pretty sad about it. I had a great time being home and miss everyone of course, but being back in France was actually nice. I have told many of you in other forms of communication, so excuse repeats, but I really loved my work and colleagues last semester (Sept-Jan), so being back felt in its own way like home. I realized too, as soon as I got back, that I was sad about my upcoming departure. But I had a great last month, busy on the project and paper but with raclette (an awesome French meal where you melt cheese and pour it over bread and meat), a beautiful hike (below), an evening where I watched and understood a documentary in French, and a going away party.


But then it was time to turn in the paper, defend it, and ... move to Sweden! And now, tah dah, I live in Sweden! I am still having trouble believing that. At this latitude in the western hemisphere you find things like Greenland and Alaska. I'm up there. Montpellier is already at the same latitude as Maine, but this is WAY up there.


It's not too cold though! It has only gotten down to around -10C/15F since I've been here. That's cold, yes, but since it's been above freezing most days, everything is now melting. And refreezing at night, so my ice-skating to work skills are improving rapidly since there's no biking on this stuff (oh yeah, in Sweden, like the Netherlands, everyone bikes everywhere). But I like it so far. The town feels small after Montpellier, but it's not actually, and it has cool things like a castle and a cathedral (and Wikipedia tells me it's the seat of the Church of Sweden).

The cathedral takes great pictures from every angle I've seen so far!

The castle, not so much. Better picture to follow.
I have only been here a week, and I started my new project almost immediately, so I haven't really had a lot of time to explore yet, but I will, and I'll tell you about it here. Hopefully I'll write again in less than a month this time!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Europe appears to be winning....

I used to hold up three fingers like this:
Now I do it like this:








Military time no longer looks funny to me.  I can even know what time it is without subtracting usually...

I can't think in Fahrenheit anymore (I've always been bad at estimating temperature, so I probably had a pretty weak grasp on that one to begin with, but still).

I type on an AZERTY keyboard (below) at work and am now more used to that than the QWERTY one on my laptop and have trouble switching back. Hello words full of random "q"s instead of "a"s and ";" instead of "m."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AZERTY