While I was on a road trip this weekend, my mom was visiting an alpaca farm in Richmond. A travel blog is a travel blog, and local adventures must be documented on behalf of the technologically challenged (re: CHaack):
I'm actually kind of jealous. How adorable are these alpacas? So fuzzy. CHaack says that "it was a really fun and interesting day." Fun and interesting enough to justify missing our Skype date? ZING!
I've rekindled an affair with an old flame, tea, since coming to Sweden. There are few things in this world more comforting and cozy then a piping hot mug of earl grey when the weather starts to get cool. That said, I love this:
I told myself that I wasn't going to go out on school nights anymore, so where do you think I found myself on Wednesday night?
Amongst table dancing Europeans at the student bar, duh.
I haven't really experienced true culture shock yet, but what I've found to be most different from the United States is the Swedish people's sense of gender equality. There is a genuine respect for women that just isn't found in America, and there are certain situations in which I would uncomfortable at home, to the point of avoiding them altogether, in which I feel perfectly safe here. Examples: the other day, I walked past a group of construction workers, and I braced for the typical barrage of catcalling and general harassment. To my delight, they were silent. They didn't even give me a passing glance. It was glorious. Also, unlike in the States, I don't have to worry about being harassed, grabbed, etc. when going out simply because of my outfit or demeanor. Even dancing at clubs is just for fun, and done at a harmless distance; as you can see from the above picture, dancing on a table is lighthearted and gender-neutral, not an objectifying display by women for men. The real culture shock is going to be when I go back to the States and have to start flipping off construction workers and general sleazeballs again. I can never leave Sweden, because I'm pretty sure I'm going to punch the first American dude who thinks he doesn't have to ask before dancing with grinding on me, and I'm not looking to get arrested for assault any time soon. On a less serious note, I am now the proud owner of a glorious Leffe chalice, as modeled by Dusjan. Quality Belgian beer was a welcome break from the typical Carlsberg. I'm still convinced that stuff is just brown water in a can.
In other news, I taught myself how to make curry spinach.
I also learned how to make sushi from Natsuko and Yuri the other night, but I have yet to have a traditional Swedish meal. Three cheers for globalization!
I've officially caught the travel bug. All of my friends here are off having international excurions this week, and as they report back with stories from Paris, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Nottingham, Oslo, Bergen, and Dublin, I can't help but want a little adventure all my own. It seems my subconscious, however, is warning me against all of my fanciful, impractical plans. I have a month for winter break, and I'm very excited about the idea of living on trains, hopping around from city to city and wherever my little heart desires. I was actually tossing around the idea of hitchhiking for a while (sorry, Mom), but on Friday night, I had a dream that night that I was sold into sex trafficking. Great. If that's not a sign to stick to legitimate modes of transportation, then I don't know what is.
I also have a break in classes during the first week of December, and I really wanted to take advantage of the academic hiatus to explore outside of Gothenburg. Much to my delight, Belle & Sebastian are playing in Dublin on December 3, which would be a most heady trip. After making a mismatched yet veritably delicious international feast of sushi and gnocchi with some people last night, I came back to the apartment and spent a few hours looking up transportation costs, hostel options, et cetera et cetera (I know it's a little early to start thinking about, but tickets and reservations are way cheaper the further ahead you book them). With visions of Ryanair and Rail Europe in my head, I went to sleep and dreamt that I had a nightmare trip to Dublin: my travel partner (some random girl?) ditched me at security, I forgot all my chargers, my credit card didn't work and kept showing up under my aunt's name, I hadn't booked a hostel or even bothered to Wiki the city, our plane crashed in Oslo, and when we finally got to Dublin, everyone spoke Gaelic exclusively. I'm still seriously considering the trip, but perhaps with a bit more caution.
Anyways, I vowed this morning (after my alarm went off to Belle & Sebastian, OH THE IRONY) to stay off any travel sites today. I have a pretty heavy amount of readings to do, not to mention my refrigerator hasn't seen produce in a while, so serious studying and grocery shopping are in order. Maybe then I can have innocuous dreams of knowing what open access equilibrium is, eating bananas, and having a glass of red wine.
I'm much too tired* for exposition, commentary, or puns, but I think this speaks for itself. Last Saturday, the Frome Agricultural and Cheese Show took place in southern England, just short of Bristol; the festival featured, among other farm-grown edibles, the world's most expensive cheese sandwich:
$178 worth of white truffle-infused cheddar cheese, 100-year-old balsamic vinegar dressing, quail egg, heirloom black tomato, apple, figs, dainty mustard red frills, pea shoots, and red amaranth, all between two slices of gold-dusted sourdough bread.
* Fergie just came on after Feist and I couldn't be bothered to change it
Today wasn't exactly Sarah and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, but the universe definitely pulled a few pranks on me. I can see it now, waving its mischievous little finger around and laughing at my misfortune. Bastard! I left for class on time, but realized halfway to the tram stop that I had forgotten my tea (crucial) and tram pass (semi-crucial, since conductors only check for tickets once in a blue moon). It was much too early to move with any sort of celerity and/or determination, so I missed the 8:47 tram. No biggie, the 8:57 would work just fine, and I would only be two minutes late or so. In a striking contrast to WMATA, trams in Gothenburg come regularly and when they say they will, and I have yet to experience a delay or a frustrated wait at a station while ARR blinks on a display board, with no train actually ARR. Until today, that is. The tram stopped close to Central Station for a good 10 minutes for some reason that was explained to passengers in Swedish. Okay, fine, being 10 minutes late to a three hour class is still nothing to fret over.
Class was supposedly held in a different building today, but when I showed up, no one was there. I checked every floor, room, nook, and cranny. I eventually asked someone if classrooms even existed in the building. They do not. I decided to try to turn the day around by taking a nice walk home, and when I went to zip up my hoodie, of course the zipper broke. Thanks, American Apparel. I am currently adding "buy super glue" to my to-do list for this weekend.
I still had a pickup soccer game to look forward to, though, so I headed home, had some lunch (Swedish cheese and crackers, mmmm), and met Jasmien at the fields for some good old fashioned fotboll. It was a gorgeous afternoon, sunny, not a cloud in the sky. Honest to god, as soon as the clock struck 1 PM, our meeting time, the clouds rolled in and the skies just completely opened up. I've honestly started carrying around an umbrella with me after getting caught in a torrential downpour one too many times. Soccer obviously did not happen, and I trammed back home, wet and disappointed.
Except for dinner with Jasmien and Katrijn, I stayed in the apartment today in order to avoid any more minor to moderate frustrations and disruptions. The strategy seemed to work, and while I have a few grocery-related bones to pick with the universe (I have Nutella but no bread and a bottle of rosé but no wine glasses), the day is turning around, and I'm crossing my fingers for tomorrow. Also, it made my glorious Scrabble win against THaack that much sweeter:
Nothing cheers me up like playing word games, drinking tea, and talking trash.
As much as I've complained about the bureaucratic nonsense and inanity surrounding European administrative systems in general, specifically that of the University of Gothenburg, the way that classes are arranged is pretty smart. Classes are generally taken one at a time; I'm taking Environmental Economics until the end of October, and will then start Global Studies in the beginning of November. Linguistics is a semester-long class, but it's only two times a month. This means that, barring my Swedish course two nights a week, I have class only three times a week, and I'm done by noon each day. Glorious, right? It's great because you're not bombarded with assignments and readings for five classes, and you can really concentrate on what you're being taught; even better, exams are staggered, so you only have one to prepare for at a time. It also means that I'm completely free on Mondays and Wednesdays; this Monday, I decided to take advantage of this classlessness by heading to Gothenburg's southern archipelago.
Gothenburg is located on the western coast of Sweden, and is dotted with rocky islands both to the north and the south. While the northern islands are great destinations for summer vacationers, the southern islands are perfect for day trippers. Västtrafik, the public transportation provider in western Sweden, even offers a free ferry to the archipelago with your tram pass. I was originally aiming to go to Brännö, which has a local history museum that looked super heady, but after an hour tram ride to Salthomen, a 50 minute wait for the ferry, and another 20+ minutes on the ferry, I abandoned ship (AHAHAHHA I crack myself up) and disembarked at Styrsö, a mainly residential island.
The island was so idyllic, and a perfect getaway after a weekend of afterworking, partying, etc. There wasn't too much to do, per se (there was a group of old people playing boule but that was about it), but it was still nice to walk around and explore the outer edges of Gothenburg. I took a mini hike to the top of the island:
I'm king of the world!
Also, the signs of autumn were all around:
the leaves are changing here already!
it took a lot of will power not to snag an apple from the apple grove
Everything here, though, was super quaint and cute. I loved it.
Also had a delicious lunch at a little cafe on the northern edge of the island. Adorable, right? As you can see, there's a blanket draped over the chair, which is typical at Swedish bars, restaurants, and cafes. Last night we went out for cider, and everyone was dressed up in their gray skinny jeans, button down shirts, white chucks, blazers...and oversized fleece blankets.
1) made it to class on time;
2) learned how to check my phone's balance;
3) had fika;
4) forgot my umbrella;
5) signed up to be an English tutor;
6) found out that the USSR and satellite bloc states were not the same thing, and was called "cute" for making such a silly mistake;
7) lost at Kings;
8) made my first legal liquor store purchase;
9) ate delicious Spanish food;
10) though I lost my credit card for a few panicky minutes;
11) went to a McDonald's and had to explain to a Norwegian just what was so funny about a McFlurry Magnum.
It's been a little while since the last post, but before we go any further, it's worth a mention that AU Abroad just sent out an online survey about our experience thus far; I've had a great time, in terms of amazing people, places, and pastries, but AU Abroad, and the University of Gothenburg registrar, study counselors, exchange coordinators, etc., have been worthless. I had been excited to use the survey as an outlet for much sassiness and frustration over receiving zero help with administrative matters no many how many emails I sent, phone calls I made, or trips to various offices I took; so far I have been stranded on a dinghy in a sea of red tape, helpless against the sharks of incompetency and finger-pointing. Unfortunately, AU Abroad offered no such complaint section, and only asked what could be more useful at onsite orientation (not applicable, since it was directly run by the University of Gothenburg) and what, upon arrival, was most surprising about our host country or host institution. Trying to pick my brain for insights, not just sights, eh?
Nice try, sneaky bastards. This is what they got:
"When I left Dulles, it was 100 degrees outside. When I arrived in Gothenburg, it was 55 degrees. It's really cold here. Also, how does one go from tablespoons to grams?"
And how did I deal with the surprise?
"Bought a jacket/haven't tried to cook anything that requires exact measurements yet."
Good luck trying to use that in your promotional brochures. Suckers.
And now, for your totally applicable listening pleasure, a song about complaining by Swedish singer Lykke Li:
Last night was the official welcome from the city of Gothenburg for international students (Gothenburg has about 1,600 international students from its three universities), and it was magnificent. The reception, along with a cute little speech from the mayor, was held at City Hall, which was glorious. It was constructed in 1848 as a stock exchange building, as well as other governmental purposes, but you'd swear that it hosted royal matters at some point. Anyways, the welcome "wine and dine," as they called it, was lovely, and it was great to dress up and hang out with new friends in this beautiful place, being greeted with very open arms to our new home. My camera, like most of my electronics, dates back to high school, and doesn't do City Hall any justice, but just add quite a few degrees of splendor and grandiosity to these pictures:
After the reception, the Gothenburg International Students Association led a pub crawl through the city; all 487657865746 of us were divided into teams, and it became a drinking competition of sorts, with teams collecting receipts for different drinks at different bars (all the international students call them "pubs," which, okay, whatever, but we're not in the UK). It was a ton of fun, and also hilarious to watch hundreds of students descend upon these bars like locusts. The poor bartenders. Natsuko, Yuri, Jacqlyn and I were probably the least helpful team members ever, in terms of body type and experience, but hopefully we will improve by the end of the year:
Also, I have completely given up on beer here. Swedish beers are the cheapest at bars, around 32-37 kronor ($4-5), but they're just...disgusting. I am a firm believer in second chances, but they continue to disappoint, and I'm over it. It's watery and completely nonpotable. My new favorite drink is apple cider, which is sold in 50 cl bottles and is ridiculously delicious. Sure, it's girly, but whatever. So sue me.
It tasted especially good after Jacqlyn asked for a dark beer and got this monstrosity:
Irish stout, or something? Whatever it was, it was no good. Next on our list are glassdrycker (I think that's what they're called?) at Kellys, which is a cocktail with a scoop of ice cream in it. 2010: the year of the girly drinks. I'm also simultaneously intrigued and repulsed by the idea of wine from a tap, which one of the bars had.
I also kept bumping into Americans and Americana last night. I met some guy named Nick from San Francisco, but in grey skinny jeans, white v-neck, fitted blazer, wing tip shoes, and gelled hair, I'm fairly certain he's lying. There's no way this dude isn't French. At Stars N' Bars (not kidding, this was the name of one of the bars), I bumped into Tori from AU (and APO). We didn't recognize each other at first, but she asked me to take a picture of her in front of a statue of Michael Jordan (with jersey #32...what?), and then eventually figured out we were both from the United States, American University, etc. AU: where degrees of separation implode upon themselves. More Americana:
Filed under: issues that are not germane to Swedish politics
I'm on an adventure! Follow me to Brooklyn, New York this summer and then to Gothenburg, Sweden for the school year. It'll be like we're on the F train together, eating lutefisk and jamming to Biggie and Ace of Base. BIGGIE BIGGIE BIGGIE, CAN'T YOU SEE? I SAW THE SIGN AND IT HYPNOTIZED ME.