Jag är hemma!

16.02 Tisdag, 18 Juni, 2013

I’m now back home in Texas, 8000 kilometers from my second home in Stockholm, and already past the jetlag.  I’ll surely be back in Sweden sometime, but in the meantime, I have other things to keep me busy.  And since I’ve come to an end to my termin i Sverige, I suppose it’s time to end this blog (though maybe I’ll start a new blog about my future travels!).  So, I hope you have enjoyed reading about my experiences this semester as much as I have enjoyed writing about them!

Tack så mycket för att ni följde med, och HEJ DÅ!

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A 3 AM sunrise over Stockholm 🙂

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Across the Öresund (or should I say, the Øresund)

22.26 Fredag, 14 Juni, 2013

On Tuesday, I arrived in Copenhagen around 19:00, and found my hostel quickly because it was pretty close to the train station (fortunately!).  Then, I just spent the evening relaxing in the hostel, and I went for a short walk around town a little later.

Danish Flag

The Flag of Denmark

Denmark

A map of Denmark (the labels are in Swedish)

On Wednesday morning, I went down to the City Hall Square to meet a tour of the city.  On the tour, we walked through the old part of Copenhagen and then finished near the royal palace.  Afterwards, I went to see the obligatory tourist trap of Copenhagen, the Little Mermaid, which is a statue based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Little Mermaid.  Basically, it’s just a statue of a mermaid sitting on a rock in the harbor.  And it’s called the “Little” Mermaid for a reason: it’s little.  Barely life-size, in fact.  If it weren’t for the crowds of tourists and all of the souvenir stands around, you might just pass it and not even notice it.

The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid – Possibly the least impressive thing in Denmark

I was starting to get tired by that point, so I wandered back through the city, seeing some other parts that I hadn’t seen on the tour, and stopping at a café for dinner.  When I made it back to the hostel, I was very tired and wasn’t feeling well (I think I had a fever), so I went to sleep early – 20:00!  I slept until 9:00 the next morning, and was feeling much better by that time – but, then it was raining in Copenhagen, so I went to a nearby café and had a long brunch before going out for the day.  When I finally managed to get going, I went down to the Nyhavn area and took a boat tour through the canals of the city.  Copenhagen has many canals, as it has always been a major port city (its location is very strategic for controlling traffic into and out of the Baltic Sea).  Nowadays, the canals are mainly for tour and leisure boats.  The Nyhavn canal is now a “wooden ship museum,” and an area in the Outer Harbor area that was once a military base now contains old warships that are open to visitors as museums.

Nyhavn

Nyhavn

Köpenhamn

There are many fancy spires along the canals in central Copenhagen

Kastellet

View from a bastion in the fortress, Kastellet

The King's Gardens

The King’s Gardens

I took a break at the hostel after the boat tour, then I walked down to the Christianshavn area (the area that used to be a military base, which is actually an artificial island), which is a very nice part of town with many expensive apartments overlooking the canals.  But actually, I came to see Christiania, a neighborhood in Christianshavn that since the 1970s has claimed to be an autonomous breakaway state from Denmark and the EU.  In reality, though, Denmark doesn’t actually recognize it that way, but just kind of ‘looks the other way.’  This means that as long as the police don’t see what goes on (aka what is sold) there, they don’t do anything about it – so everyone makes sure the police don’t ‘see’ it (meaning you’re not allowed to take photos with the drug dealers in the ‘Green Light District’).  Obviously, the place is filled with hippie-like people, and it’s a pretty ramshackle town, but it seems to be doing okay – there are about 900 permanent residents right now.  Although, since Christiania operates as a pure democracy, having 900 people means decisions are rarely made.  They do have three laws, though, the first one being “you can do whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt anyone else.”  It was interesting to see, but I’m glad to be “back in the EU.”  After my visit to Christiania, I stopped for dinner, then went back to the hostel for the night.

Entering ChristianiaLeaving Christiania

The entrance/exit sign for Christiania

Friday, my last day in Europe, was a fun day!  I took the train to the city of Roskilde, just west of Copenhagen, to see the Viking Ship Museum.  I know, this is the third one I’ve been to, but they just keep getting better and better!  At this museum, located in the harbor, there are five real Viking ships on display that were excavated from the bottom of Roskilde fjord about 50 years ago.  These ships had been intentionally sunk there around the eleventh century in order to make the approach to Roskilde difficult for attackers – Roskilde used to be the capital of Denmark, so it was an important town to protect!  As part of the museum’s research about the Vikings, they attempt to prove their theories by actually building and testing replicas of the ships they have found.  So, in addition to the five real ships (which are largely incomplete and certainly not seaworthy anymore), the museum has its own shipyard where they build replicas that are actually seaworthy and look as they would have in the Viking times!  Their research even involves sailing one of their replicas to Dublin and back to prove the seaworthiness and speed of the warships!  The museum even makes its own rope and sails for the rigging, and they use the same tree species, tools, and techniques as the Viking shipbuilders did.  The whole harbor is filled with Viking ships, and you can watch the shipbuilders working on new ones (apparently, you can buy a Viking ship from them, so they can practice their skills), and you can even ride on a Viking ship!  Of course, that’s exactly what I did!

Viking Ship Museum

Part of the Viking Ship Museum’s replica collection

Along with 9 other people, I rowed a small, 10-oar Viking ship (with a guide, of course) out of Roskilde harbor, and then we raised the sail and sped out into the fjord, going almost against the wind.  After getting a brief lesson on the parts of a Viking ship and how to row it, we got in the boat and pulled out our oars.  When we first started rowing, it took a while before we somewhat looked like we were all doing the same thing – some people even started off rowing in the wrong direction!  But soon, we were out of the harbor, so we put away the oars and raised the sail.  We sailed pretty quickly for a while while the guide told us about the ship we were on.  Then it got exciting as we had to rotate the sail around to head back to the harbor.  The wind was quite strong and it got a little confusing trying to figure out which ropes the guide was telling us to pull, so it took a few minutes, and we were really being pushed to one side.  To add to that, as the sail finally got set on the other side and the wind started taking us back towards the harbor, one side of the boat was almost underwater, since we were all still sitting on that side.  Once we finally all moved over to the other side, it was smooth sailing again!  When we got back near the harbor, we dropped the sail and let our momentum (and the guide controlling the rudder) glide us all the way up to the dock.  The only thing that was missing from making it a complete Viking experience was a far-off land to plunder – oh well, maybe next time! :p  It was an interesting experience and a lot of fun!

 Viking Ship Museum

Viking ships are not very big, but they are lightweight, sturdy, and fast!

Sailing a Viking ship!

Sailing on the fjord!

After leaving the museum, I walked back through the town and had dinner at a Danish steakhouse called Jensen’s Bøfhus that I have seen in many places throughout Scandinavia.  I wanted to have a good meal on my last night in Europe, so I was willing to go to pay the price for an actual restaurant rather than a food stand on the sidewalk – although by Scandinavian standards, Jensen’s Bøfhus has somewhat reasonable prices.  For the record, I had the ‘American’ BBQ Burger for dinner and a waffle with ice cream for dessert (våfflor are a common dessert in Scandinavia) – it was a delicious meal!  But then it was time to head back to Copenhagen and get packed up and ready to go to the airport in the morning.

 

About the title: The Öresund/Øresund is the channel that separates Sweden and Denmark.  In the Swedish alphabet, there are three extra letters, Å, Ä, and Ö.  In Danish and Norwegian, these same sounds are used, but they use the letters Å, Æ, and Ø.  So, Öresund is the Swedish name and Øresund is the Danish name.

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Tunnelbanestationerna i Stockholm

14.19 Tisdag, 18 Juni, 2013

In May, I came up with the crazy idea of visiting every tunnelbanestation (subway/metro station) in Stockholm.  So, I went on several excursions to try to accomplish this, but since there are about 100 stations in the Stockholm tunnelbana system, I didn’t finish.  But, I did visit about a third of the stations!

Tunnelbana Sign

To find the nearest station, look for the ‘T’!

Before I continue, though, I should probably explain why I would even want to do this.  The Stockholm tunnelbana is somewhat unique because many of the stations are elaborately decorated by artists according to different themes, so there is something interesting to look at and discover at every station!  Each station also has a plaque explaining the theme of the artwork.  I have even seen the tunnelbana referred to as the ‘longest art gallery in the world.’  So, I wanted to visit all of the stations to see what they all looked like!

The tunnelbana is made up of three lines: red, blue, and green.  All three lines intersect at the central station (T-Centralen), making it easy to get anywhere in the city, and most of the lines split once they get out of the city center in order to serve more neighborhoods.  In addition to being extensive, it is also exceptionally clean and very efficient.

Since I have pictures of so many of the stations, I thought I would share some of them in this post so you can see what an interesting place Stockholm is, even underground!  The following pictures are only a few of the most interesting stations I visited, and the stations become even more interesting when you read the plaques!

Kungsträdgården

Kungsträdgården

T-Centralen

The Blue-Line Platform at T-Centralen

Rådhuset

Rådhuset

Solna Centrum

Solna Centrum

Hallonbergen

Hallonbergen

Rissne

Rissne – The wall contains a timeline of world history, with corresponding maps on the opposite wall

Rinkeby

Rinkeby

Universitetet

Universitetet – The stop for Lappis, decorated with maps showing the routes of famous explorers from Sweden

Art in the Tekniska Högskolan tunnelbana station

Tekniska Högskolan – The stop for KTH

Stadion

Stadion

Östermalmstorg

Östermalmstorg – The musical notes go all the way down the platform and form La Marseillaise, the national anthem of France, to go with the French-style architecture in the district of Östermalm

T-Centralen Red Line Platform

The Red-Line Platform at T-Centralen

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Heading back south…

22.25 Fredag, 14 Juni, 2013

I arrived in Malmö around 21:00 on Saturday and had to walk a long way with all my luggage (4 bags!).  An hour later, I finally arrived at the hostel, exhausted.  Malmö is in the southernmost region of Sweden, called Skåne (English: Scania).  Skåne is an interesting region because for many centuries it was controlled by Denmark and thus has close connections to Denmark.  The flag of Skåne is actually a combination of the Swedish and Danish flags, and people in Skåne sound like they speak Swedish with a Danish accent.  Skåne is also rather low-lying and flat (like Denmark) compared to the rest of Sweden.  If you’re from the United States, you’ve probably never heard of Malmö, but if you’re from Europe, Malmö recently spent some time on the front pages because it was the host city for Eurovision, the annual song contest between the countries of Europe.

Skåne Flag

The Flag of Skåne

On Sunday, I slept-in a little, then walked into town to get some breakfast and go to church.  After church, I spent the afternoon walking around the town.  There wasn’t really much to do in Malmö except see the city.  I walked around the old town, which has several nice canals running through it.  I also had a look at the fortress, Malmöhus Slott, which turned out to not be very impressive.  I also walked down to a newly-developing area of town called Västra Hamnen, which is home to the iconic “Turning Torso” building, which is a residential skyscraper that looks like it is twisted around.  Also in this area, there is a nice waterfront overlooking the Malmö harbor and the straight that separates Sweden and Denmark, called the Öresund.  It’s about 18 kilometers from Malmö to Copenhagen on the other side, and since 2000, there is a bridge that connects the two cities/countries (although only about half of it is a bridge – the other half goes onto an island and then into a tunnel).  Since Malmö is known as the “falafel capital of Sweden” (indeed, there are many falafel stands), I stopped to have a falafel wrap in the afternoon. I had never had falafel before, but it was quite good!

Malmö

A canal in Malmö

Malmöhus Slott

Malmöhus Slott

The Turning Torso

The ‘Turning Torso’

Öresundsbron

Öresundsbron

On Monday, I slept in some more (all this travelling is starting to wear me out!) and then went to the train station and got on the next train to a town called Ystad, which is about 45 minutes southeast of Malmö, right on the southern coast of Sweden and overlooking the Baltic sea.  When I got there, I picked up a guide pamphlet from the tourist office and walked around town to see all of the recommended places.  It’s a very nice little town, and it is unique in Sweden because it has such a large number of ‘half-timbered’ buildings, which look like the one in the picture below.  Ystad is also famous in Europe because it is the setting of a series of novels (and movies) about a fictional police inspector named Kurt Wallander.  In the afternoon, I wanted to go to a place called Ales Stenar, which is like Stonehenge except with rocks in the shape of a ship.  However, when I went to get on the bus, the driver wouldn’t let me on because apparently they only accept European credit cards.  So, I went to the train station and bought a ticket with the machine, but then I found out that the train doesn’t go there, and the ticket was for the bus – and I had just missed the last bus for the next 5 hours.  So, it was a disappointing afternoon, and I lost money.  Great.  After that, I just wandered down to the beach for a little while, then took the train back to Malmö.

Ystad

A half-timbered building in Ystad

Ystad

A street in Ystad

The beach in Ystad

View of the Baltic Sea in Ystad

Skåne

Skåne countryside, seen from the train

On Tuesday, I took the train to the nearby city of Lund, which is famous for its university, Lunds Universitet, and for its student-friendly atmosphere.  When I got there, I didn’t know where the tourist office was, so I just started wandering around, assuming I would find it pretty quickly.  I didn’t.  I ended up wandering way out of the center of town and found myself in the outskirts of the university campus.  Since I didn’t want to get further off track, I took advantage of the fact that my student account in Sweden was still valid, and I could use the university’s wi-fi to find out where the tourist office was!  (All universities in Sweden share the same wi-fi network that all the Swedish students can use, and you can even find this network in other places, such as train stations.)  So, eventually I found my way to the tourist office and got a map and some tips, then I headed off again to get some lunch.  I had a Swedish food-stand classic for my last meal in Sweden: a hot dog on mashed potatoes!  After that, I walked around the nice old town in the center of Lund.  I noticed that it must have been graduation day for the high school because all of the students were taking part in the Swedish graduation tradition: parading through the streets wearing their graduation caps (in Sweden the graduation caps look like sailor hats) and making lots of noise, especially with whistles and horns!  I also went to see the Lund cathedral, which has an impressive astronomical clock that puts on a show twice a day!  The clock keeps track of the date, month, year, astrological sign, and much more (I couldn’t figure out what all it was measuring), including the time of course.  I watched the show at 15:00, which involved a swordfight, trumpeters, and a parade of the wise men going to Bethlehem, all accompanied by music that was also played by the clock!

Lund

Lund is a good city for biking!

Lund University

The main building of Lund University

Lund Cathedral

The Lund Cathedral

The Astronomical Clock

The astronomical clock in the cathedral

Shortly after that, I made my way back to Malmö, where I went back to the hostel to pick up my bags.  Then I made the long trek back to the train station, where I took the short train ride across the Öresund and into Denmark, which concludes my time in Sweden.

Hej då, Sverige – jag ska komma tillbaka så snart som möjligt!

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Nationaldagen, och mitt sista besök i Stockholm

11.43 Fredag, 7 Juni, 2013

2013-06-05 01.17.53

After I left Oslo, I took the train back to Stockholm for one final visit.  Since I had already turned in the key to my room, I just stayed with someone else in my corridor.  I had a really nice visit and a great last few days in ‘Stockhome.’

On Wednesday, we signed each other’s Swedish flags and went to a beach party at the Lappis beach near our apartment.  I will definitely miss the Lappis beach, because now that it’s summer, there are amazing sunrises and sunsets over the lake.  In fact, right now, there is light almost all night long!

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Sunset at Lappis beach

Thursday, June 6, was Sweden’s National Day.  This day celebrates the date in 1523 when Gustav Vasa was elected as King of Sweden, thus establishing Sweden as a nation.  June 6 has actually only been celebrated, however, for about a hundred years.  In 1916, the day was established as Flag Day, and only in 1983 was it decided that this day would also be the National Day.  Consequently, there are not many traditions surrounding this holiday, and many people just celebrate by enjoying their day off from work.  In reality, the traditional ‘national holiday’ of Sweden is Midsummer, which is at the end of June and marks the longest day of the year, when it is light outside for 24 hours a day.  Midsummer has many traditions and is the most popular holiday in Sweden.  Unfortunately, though, I’ll miss Midsummer by about a week.

There are some official celebrations of the National Day, however, and I went to one of them with a friend from my corridor.  In the morning, we went to the Royal Palace, where the crown princess waved to the crowd and opened the palace to the public to enter for free for the day.  Then, we went into the palace, where there was a choir concert and some exhibitions of things such as the royal vehicles.  We could have also walked through the museums and other rooms in the palace, but we had both done that before, so we only attended the events in the courtyard.

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Kronprinsessan Victoria, Prins Daniel, och Princessan Estelle

After the National Day festivities, we stopped to have lunch at the festival that was happening in Stockholm this week, called ‘A Taste of Stockholm,’ which is an annual food festival in Kungsträdgården where many different restaurants from Stockholm cater all different types of food.  Of course, I stuck with the Swedish food, since I only had a few more days to enjoy Sweden!

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Köttbullar med potatismos och lingonsylt

On Friday, we went to Gröna Lund, Stockholm’s amusement park, to watch a concert by 3 Doors Down.  We didn’t go on any rides since you have to pay per ride, and it can cost up to 80:- (>$10) per ride!  Anyway, the concert was very good, and we got there early enough that we had a great spot in the crowd, right in front of center-stage!  After that, we had dinner at Max, Sweden’s own fast food chain, which is quite good, although ridiculously expensive.  (I realize that the name makes it sound like some spoof of McDonald’s, but it’s actually better than McDonald’s in my opinion!)

IMG_1060

3 Doors Down concert

Saturday was my final day in Stockholm.  I went with some friends for a final walk through Gamla Stan and we had fika in Stureplan.  Then, we went back to Lappis to pick up my luggage, and my corridor friends accompanied me to the train station and waved my train off to Malmö.  They even had balloons and Swedish flags to wave, since they were going to watch the parade that afternoon for the royal wedding of Princess Madeleine (who actually lives in New York and was marrying an American…).  So I suppose that means I got a royal sendoff?!

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The last picture at Lappis 25 – Hook’em!

So, that concludes my time in Stockholm, and with all my new friends.  En pleurs  Although I prefer to think of my experiences in Stockholm (as well as my unspent kronor!) as an excuse to go back!  We will try our best to have a reunion sometime, and I’ll be sure to call them up the next time I’m in their countries!  Nonetheless, it was a sad week, and there were plenty of tears in our corridor as people started leaving.  But I’ll end this post here, because this is not the end!  I still have a week in Europe, and I don’t have to say hej då to Sweden until Tuesday, so stay tuned!

Posted in Holidays, Sweden | 2 Comments

Ja, vi elsker dette landet

10.10 Onsdag, 5 Juni, 2013

On Wednesday (May 29), I headed to the airport (not before grabbing another pasty, though!) and flew to Bergen, the second-largest city in Norway, located on a fjord on the west coast of the Scandinavian peninsula.  By this time, I was alone, as the friend who had come to London with me had returned to Stockholm early on Wednesday morning.  I arrived around 17:00 and then took the bus to the city center.

Norway

Map of Norway

When I got into town, I had a quick look around, but as I was getting hungry, I found a grocery store and bought some food.  I decided to just make my own food while I’m in Bergen and later Oslo because I didn’t want to pay Norwegian restaurant prices for a week.  Although, even the grocery store was expensive.  However, I could still get real Norwegian food at the store, so I got a loaf of bread and a block of Norwegian brunost (brown cheese) that I snacked on for the whole week.  I was slightly skeptical of the brunost (because it’s brown!), but it was actually very good!

Once I had my food, I went to check into the hostel and make dinner (it was just spaghetti, by the way :p).  I knew that my hostel was going to be several kilometers from the city center and that I had to take the bus to get there, but I didn’t realize that it came with a view of the entire city (and free breakfast!)!  As I was getting ready to go to bed, I looked out the window and saw an amazing sunset.

Sunset over Bergen

This photo was taken around 23:00

On Saturday, I woke up early and made my way into town to take a fjord tour.  The boat was named the “White Lady,” and it took us on a four hour cruise past Bergen and all the way up Osterfjord.  The fjord was amazing!

Fjord

A Norwegian fjord

After the boat tour, I visited the castle in Bergen, called Rosenkrantztårnet, which was where the kings of Norway lived for many years, when Bergen was the capital of Norway.  The castle was very interesting, as it has been changed so much over the years and you can see the remnants of features that were changed by subsequent remodellings (such as holes halfway up the wall where supports for the previous floor had been).  Also, the castle was severely damaged during World War II when a German ship carrying dynamite accidentally exploded in the Bergen harbor.  So, they had to remodel the castle again in order to fix it!

Rosenkrantztårnet

The Rosencrantz Tower

The castle is located at the end of a row of old, wooden buildings called Bryggen (Norwegian for ‘The Wharf’), which was the original town of Bergen and where all of the port activities took place.  Since Bryggen is a World Heritage Site, I figured it was worth taking a look!  And it was indeed quite interesting; it was a long row of buildings that were very deep and had long, boardwalk alleys between them.  In the alleys (as well as at the front and back of the buildings) were many shops and restaurants, and since Bergen used to be a member of the Hanseatic League (a trading organization run by the Germans), this is where the Hanseatic merchants from Germany used to conduct their business.  There is actually a museum called the Hanseatic Museum that is located in the building where the merchant offices were located – I visited this museum on Friday afternoon.

  Bryggen

Bryggen

On Thursday evening, I rode the Fløibanen Funicular to the top of Fløyen, one of the seven mountains that surrounds Bergen.  From here, I had a great view of the city and the surrounding fjords and mountains.  I stayed up there for a while and walked around on the trails to enjoy the view!

Bergen

Riding the Fløibanen Funicular to the top of Fløyen

Bergen

Panoramic view of Bergen from Fløyen

Friday was another busy day, as I went to as many museums as I could! First, I went to the Bryggen Museum, which explained the history of the Bryggen area.  The museum was built over an archeological site where part of Bryggen had once been.  Since the buildings are made of wood and are very closely packed, Bryggen has burned down and been rebuilt multiple times; in fact, about a third of it burnt down in 1955, and that’s where the museum was built (along with a Radisson hotel).  It was also interesting to see how the area developed; many of the buildings were originally built on piers sticking out into the harbor, and eventually the water beneath them was filled in with garbage and dirt until the buildings were actually on land!

  Vågen

The Bergen Harbor, Vågen, in front of Bryggen

After the Bryggen Museum, I went to the Maritime Museum, which showcased the development of Norwegian seafaring from the prehistoric times of carved-out log boats through the Vikings, and all the way to the modern era of cargo ships and, of course, oil platforms.  Unfortunately there were no actual Viking ships in the museum (keep reading to see a real one!), but there was a huge number of large and detailed models of practically every type of ship in Norwegian history, so it was still quite interesting!

As I mentioned above, I also went to the Hanseatic Museum on Friday, which included the Hanseatic offices in Bryggen, as well as a building called Schøtstuene, which was a place where the merchants would gather to eat and also for festivities; the main rooms were three large halls that could be used for dining, parties, meetings, etc.  Since Bryggen was prone to burning down, it was common to have communal kitchens towards the back in order to minimize the use of fire in the buildings.  So, the Schøtstuene also had a large kitchen, where the merchants cooked communally.

Finally, I took a little trip outside the city center to see an old wooden church.  The church was called a stave church, which was the traditional form in Norway for many years.  This particular church was originally located elsewhere in Norway, but was moved to Bergen and is now located on a hill in the woods, a short hike from the city tram line.  As you can see from the picture below, it was a very beautiful church!

  Stave Church

The Stave Church

On Saturday, I woke up early to take one last walk around the city (literally, I walked around almost the entire town) before heading to the train station to wait for my train to Oslo.  The train didn’t leave until noon, so I had to wait a little while, but it was worth it!  The railroad connecting Bergen and Oslo is ranked as one of the most scenic train journeys in the world!  On the way, we rode along fjords, around (and under) mountains, past lakes, rivers, forests, hills, and a lot of other beautiful scenery.  And, now I see why Norway only has five million people – there’s so many mountains that people only come to the interior of the country if they have a summer house there!  Most of the population lives near the coast (and mainly in the south)!

Bergenbanen

View from the Bergenbane

Bergenbanen 

View from the Bergenbane

  Bergenbanen

View from the Bergenbane

After seven hours on the Bergenbane, I arrived in Oslo, the capital of Norway, located in the southeast corner of the country at the innermost point of the Oslofjord. When I had checked into my hostel and was getting settled, I met some other travellers in the room, and that evening, we walked down to the water together to see the famous Oslo Opera House and get something to eat.  The opera house is a pretty cool building, because it looks sort of like a glacier slipping into the ocean; it has an angled, white roof that literally slopes right down into the harbor, and you can walk on the roof and go all the way to the top to get a good view of the city.

  The Opera House

The Oslo Opera House

On Sunday, I slept in a little, then went to church and explored all of the free things in Oslo – when you’re in Scandinavia, a day of free things is a very good thing!  So, I walked to a park called Vigelandsparken, where I first visited the Oslo City Museum (it showed the historical development of the city), then a famous garden filled with hundreds of bizarre statues of people (all naked) in crazy positions.  Instead of trying to explain it further, I think it’s best to just show you the pictures…

Vigeland Sculpture Park 

Vigeland Sculpture Park

  Vigeland Sculpture Park

Vigeland Sculpture Park

Vigeland Sculpture Park

Vigeland Sculpture Park

After that, I walked back down to the Royal Palace, and then down the main street, Karl Johans Gate, passing the National Theater and the Parliament building.  Nearby, in the center of town, I stopped to take a look at the government offices that were bombed by a (Norwegian) terrorist on July 22, 2011.  It was somewhat haunting because it still looks like it happened very recently – the entire block is barricaded off, and several buildings are completely covered in plastic, which makes it look as if no work has even been done yet.

  The buildings that were bombed in 2011

The Government Quarter of Oslo

On Monday, I got an Oslo Pass and went to all the non-free things (because you have to have at least one super-expensive day in Norway!)!  I first visited the Akershus Fortress, which was built in the thirteenth century on a peninsula in the harbor to protect the city, and is still in use today as the offices for the military and as a venue for hosting visiting dignitaries.  Unfortunately, there was an event in the castle itself, so I couldn’t go in, but I went to the nearby Resistance Museum instead.  The Resistance Museum was devoted to the underground resistance effort during the Nazi occupation of Norway during World War II – quite an interesting story that you don’t normally hear much about!

  Akershus Castle

Akershus Slott

Next, I took a ferry to an area of town called Bygdøy, which has several museums.  There, I visited the Viking Ship Museum, which is where the three best-preserved Viking ships in the world are housed!  They were quite impressive, because they are much smaller than you would imagine.  It’s hard to believe that they could hold over thirty people and that they could travel quickly over the ocean.  In fact, Viking ships could reach top speeds of greater than 15 knots, and they were the first European ships to reach North America – over a thousand years ago!  The ships in the museum had been preserved because they had been pulled ashore and used as burial ships for important people.  Basically, they set the ship on the ground, put the dead person inside along with their most valuable possessions, and then covered the whole thing with dirt to make a big hill.  The ship was meant as a vessel to carry the dead person into the afterlife.

  Viking Ship

A Viking Ship!

The next museum I visited at Bygdøy was the Norske Folkemuseum, which is an open-air museum very similar to Skansen in Stockholm.  It has almost 200 buildings from all over Norway and from different time periods in order to show what Norwegian life was like in the past.

  Norsk Folkemuseum

A farmhouse in the Norske Folkemuseum

Finally, I went to the Kon-Tiki Museum, which is about a Norwegian scientist/explorer who, in the middle of the 1900s, made voyages across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans – all in simple rafts like the kinds used by ancient people in those parts of the world.  His intention was to prove that it was possible for ancient people to have had contact with other societies using the technology available to them.  It was very interesting, but I’m still not sure I would like to spend 101 days drifting in the Pacific Ocean on a small wooden raft…

  The Kon-Tiki Raft in the Kon-Tiki Museum

The Kon-Tiki Raft

After taking the ferry back to the city center, I went on a walking tour of the city – it covered many of the places I had already seen, but in a little more detail!

For dinner that night, I went to a restaurant that is supposed to have some good Norwegian food.  So I got what my tourist pamphlet recommended – kjøttkaker (meatcakes).  Well, it turned out that Norwegian meatcakes are practically the same as Swedish meatballs, except slightly flatter.  They even came with potatoes, brown gravy, and lingonberry jam!  It’s ok though, because it was delicious, and probably a much better experience than trying the Norwegian national dish!

Tuesday brought an end to part one of my end-of-semester vacation.  After checking out of the hostel, I took a guided tour of the Oslo city hall, and guess what it looks like…the Stockholm city hall!  It is shaped differently, with two towers instead of one, and a large clock with a carillon that plays a song every hour.  However, like Stockholm’s, Oslo’s city hall is a massive brick building, and the interiors are strikingly similar. There is a large central hall (where the Nobel Peace Prize is handed out) surrounded by other ornately decorated rooms, a dining room, a city council meeting room, and offices for the city government workers.  It was a very impressive building, and many of the murals on the walls depicted World War II scenes in Norway, since the city hall was built between the 1930s and 1950s.

  Rådhuset

Oslo City Hall

  Rådhuset

The interior of Oslo City Hall

And finally, in the afternoon, I headed to the train station to head back to Stockholm for the last time this year.  😥  I’ll spend a few last days with my friends in Stockholm before heading south to the Swedish region of Skåne and finally to my last stop, Denmark.

The title of this post is the title of the Norwegian national anthem, which means ‘yes, we love this country.’  As you can see from the photos above, it’s easy to see why they love it!

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Mist in the Streets of Westminster

10.07 Onsdag, 5 Juni, 2013

After I finished my final exams on May 23, I packed up all my bags and headed off on my three week end-of-the-semester vacation – but not before turning in the key to my room in Lappis, a sad moment.  😥  My first stop on this trip was London!  I flew there on Saturday (May 25) and left on Wednesday (May 29).  I went with my friend Nikoletta and another one of her friends, and we had a great time in London!

British Flag

The British Flag

United Kingdom

A map of the United Kingdom

After arriving, we took the long bus ride into town from Stansted airport (and got stuck in a lot of traffic), then we had to eat – fortunately we found some pasties!  I thought that pasties were only in northern Michigan, but apparently they are also popular in Cornwall, so I took advantage of this and ate pasties whenever I found them, which was a lot! 😛

Pasty!

A Cornish Pasty

The next day, I went to church at the massive Westminster Cathedral (not Westminster Abbey), which was very close to our hostel.  After that, we went on a walking tour of London that started near Hyde Park and went past Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey.  The tour was interesting, and it gave us a good introduction to the city and showed us some of the most popular sights.  However, there was still much more to explore!  After the tour, we spent the rest of the day just wandering around, making our way through the St. James Park and the Soho district, where we stopped for fika.

Big Ben

Big Ben

  Phone Booths

The obligatory red phone booth photo

Monday was the museum day.  First, we walked through Harrods, a large and upscale shopping mall (not my idea, but my friend wanted to have a quick look – fortunately, we only stayed for 20 minutes!), then we visited the Victoria and Albert Museum (historical artifacts from all over the world), the Natural History Museum, and the Science Museum.  They weren’t the most exciting museums I have ever been to, but at least they were all free.  Anyhow, we were hungry and tired after all this, so we stopped for lunch to have fish’n’chips!  Delicious!

London

A street near our hostel

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

After we ate, we wanted to take a tour called the “Grim Reapers of London” tour.  The problem was that it was literally on the other side of the city.  I always knew that London is a big city, but I still learned something that day: London is a BIG city.  My friends didn’t want to pay to take the public transportation, which I would gladly have done, so we set out on foot from near Hyde Park towards the Tower of London.  About halfway there, my friends started falling behind and I realized that we were going to miss the tour if we didn’t hurry up.  So, I decided to go on by myself and they went back to the hostel.  I ended up running as fast as I could along the River Thames, probably looking ridiculous because I was in jeans and a sweatshirt and holding a map, for about twenty minutes.  I finally arrived at the meeting point for the tour, out of breath, five minutes late, and over an hour and a half after leaving the restaurant.  Fortunately, the tour hadn’t left the starting point yet, so I was able to join!  And it turned out to be very interesting (and worth the long walk to get there!).  We learned about ghosts and haunted buildings in the East End district, and we followed the path of Jack the Ripper and learned about all of his killings.  Unlike in Stockholm, the sun set at a somewhat reasonable time, so it was dark during much of the tour…ooo…scary!  😛  When the tour was over, I decided that I didn’t want to make the hour-and-a-half trek back across town, so I went to the Liverpool Street Station – supposedly the most haunted station in London due to the insane asylum that once stood there – and took the subway back to the hostel (which was still quite a long trip!).

London Skyline

London Skyline

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge – Not London Bridge!

On Tuesday, I split up with my friends once again, as they wanted to see Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, but I wasn’t interested enough to be willing to pay the £30 entrance fee.  So, they went to do that, and I took a walk through Hyde Park.  Then, in the afternoon, I went on yet another walking tour, which covered the old town, or the ‘City of London,’ which is actually a politically distinct entity from the rest of London – even the Queen has to ask permission to enter the City of London.  The tour was quite interesting, and the guide taught us a lot about the history of the city (plus, there were only four people on the tour, so it was almost like a private tour!).  We even saw places such as the oldest shop in London, the building used as Gringotts bank in the Harry Potter movies (it’s actually the Australian embassy), and the location where a baker once forgot to turn off his oven, subsequently burning down the entire city.  At the end of the day, I was very glad that I didn’t go to the wax museum, because my friends ended up waiting for five hours just to get in!

St. Paul's Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge

St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge

Hyde Park

Hyde Park

That night, my friends stayed up all night in order to catch their 5 AM flight back to Stockholm, and I slept in!  The next morning, I just walked around to get one last look at the city before heading to the airport myself.  On to stop number two: Norway!

As for the title of this post, it’s just a song reference – we actually had excellent weather.  It only rained one out of the four days we were in London!

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Ten things I will miss most about Sweden

10.04 Fredag, 24 Maj, 2013

Well, tomorrow, my stay in Sweden will be officially over.  I’ll be back to visit for a few days in June, but at that time, I will just be a visitor, sleeping on friends’ floors!  I suppose, then, that now is a good time to list some things that I like about living and studying in Sweden – or rather, what I’m going to miss when I go home.  So, here is that list, in no particular order, but numbered backwards anyway, for dramatic effect!

10.  Pressbyrån & 7-Eleven

Why would I miss a convenience store, you ask?  Because of fika, that’s why!  The convenience stores here have some of the best kanelbullar, and the coffee is delicious!  I will probably have withdrawals without it.  Maybe I should even sign up for kanelbulle-therapy.  In case you were wondering, American 7-Elevens aren’t the same – if they were, Starbucks probably would have gone out of business!  Also, Swedish candy is amazing.  Maybe it’s good that I won’t have access to such good lösgodis in Texas, but I will still be sad.

9.  Hej!  Tack!

It’s so much fun to speak Swedish!  I didn’t really find much time to use it since I was mostly surrounded by other exchange students, but I did go to the language café most weeks, and I’m pretty good at this conversation with ‘Lasse from 7-Eleven’*:

Lasse from 7-Eleven: ‘Hej!’

Me: ‘Hej! En kaffe och en kanelbulle, tack.’

Lasse from 7-Eleven: ‘Tjugofem. Varsågod!’

Me: ‘Tack!’

Even if I didn’t speak so much, though, it was really fun being able to read things!  A foreign language makes even boring things, such as advertisements in the metro, seem exciting.  This means that whenever I got bored, I could entertain myself by reading something that most people wouldn’t even look twice at!  Also, being able to understand what people around me are saying makes things more interesting.  Understanding the language makes things simpler in general and lets you avoid awkward moments such as when you hear an announcement and then wait for a translation that never comes…

8.  Årstiderna

Seasons actually do exist!  We don’t have them in Texas, but it’s good to know that somewhere in the world, you can actually look out your window and watch winter turn to spring.  In Sweden, you don’t actually get to see much of winter because the sun forgets about Sweden most days, but now, it’s bright until well after 22:00!  The long winter also means that Swedes get really excited when the sun finally comes back – the number of outdoor events increases exponentially, starting in April with Valborg and culminating in June with Midsummer, the biggest holiday in Sweden.  I enjoyed both seasons, even though spring didn’t come until May and all of the Swedish people were complaining about how it’s been winter since October.  At least they have seasons to keep things interesting!

7.  Crazy course-scheduling (seriously)

Remember the post I wrote about how strange the course scheduling at KTH is because I have class at random times and at different times every week?  Well, it turns out that this was a pretty nice way to do it, because it meant that I wasn’t trapped by my schedule into never being able to do something.  For example, if I wanted to do go somewhere on a Friday, even though I may have a course on one Friday, I may have the next Friday completely free!  With the fixed schedule that I normally have at UT, if there is something that I want to do that meets at a certain time every week, and I have a class at that time, then I can’t do that activity at all for the entire semester.  So, because my schedule changed every week this semester, I could do different things every week, which meant more opportunities to have fun!  Also, I liked the fact that the courses had fewer, but longer, lectures – I usually only had one or two lectures per day, which meant that I didn’t have to go back and forth to KTH several times per day.

6.  AB Storstockholms Lokaltrafik

Of course, I will really miss SL, the public transportation system in Stockholm.  It’s so convenient and easy to use, and you can get practically anywhere in the entire county with the public transportation.  To make it even better, the public transportation is almost always running right on schedule, meaning that if you want to go somewhere in Stockholm, you can actually plan your trip beforehand (there’s an app for that!), and you will most likely arrive at your destination within a minute of the scheduled time!  Plus, riding on a train is automatically more exciting than riding in a car!

5.  Travelling

Part of the reason I came here was because I love to travel (obviously).  It’s pretty easy to tell from my previous posts that I’ve been travelling at least twice a month this semester – when I go home, I will have to get used to not having a vacation every other weekend! :/  However, it has been an amazing experience being able to travel throughout Europe and visit places that I have always wanted to visit (and places I knew nothing about until I got here!).  But, there’s still so much more to see, so I have plenty of reason to come back here!

4.  Living in a real city

Because other cities are fake.  Well not really, but I love the fact that in Europe, you can actually live in the city!  Sure, I live in downtown Austin when I’m at UT, but Austin isn’t as nice of a city as Stockholm, and it’s really only the university students who live there – all the normal people live outside the city, in the suburbs.  In Stockholm, the city center really is the city center – people actually go there, because people actually live there!  Of course, there are plenty of suburbs where people also live, but they still pass through the central station on their way to work or school, and downtown Stockholm has plenty of things to do – I’ve even seen people wade-fishing near Gamla Stan!

3.  Living in a national park

Isn’t it amazing that I live in a capital city of two million people, just ten minutes from the city center, and I am surrounded by a national park?!  The Kungliga Nationalstadspark was actually the first ‘national city park’ in the world, and it consists of forests, fields, and lakes, covering a surprisingly huge area right through the center of the city.  Stockholm is about one third buildings, one third water, and one third nature, which makes it a very unique place!  In fact, because Sweden is one of the least densely populated countries in Europe, there is plenty of nature for everyone, and it’s really nice to have such easy access to nature – all I have to do is step outside, and there’s a beach just a five minute walk away!

2.  The exchange student life

While I may not have met as many Swedish people as I would have liked, I also had a great time meeting other exchange students.  It’s really quite a bit different than what I expected, because I was expecting to be surrounded more by locals.  Instead, I was living in a corridor with other exchange students, and there were so many activities arranged by/for exchange students, so there were plenty of opportunities to meet and talk to other people, which was very fun and interesting.  We had events such as parties, fikas, and picnics, and the we even cooperated to make travelling cheaper!  I’ve travelled with people I hadn’t even met before and it was a great experience and a fun way to meet new people!

1.  Alla mina nya vänner!

Of course, I will miss all of my new friends!  I’ve probably made more friends during one semester in Sweden than I have in five semesters at UT.  Unfortunately, I may not get to see a lot of them again, but I had a great time this semester meeting people from all over the world!  So, the next time I’m in their countries, I’ll let them know, and I’m sure they’ll do the same when the visit the US!  At least we have Facebook to keep in touch in the meantime!

 

* My Swedish teacher always told us to practice by talking to ‘Lasse from 7-Eleven.’  Lasse doesn’t actually work at 7-Eleven, it’s just a very typical Swedish name, and 7-Eleven is a very common store in Sweden!

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Ska vi fika?

12.43 Söndag, 19 Maj, 2013

An important part of Swedish culture is a tradition known as fika.  The word fika is a uniquely Swedish word that can be used as either a noun, a verb, or an adjective, and which has no equivalent in English.  The best description would probably be ‘to have coffee with someone.’  Basically, when you ‘ta en fika’ (take a fika), you sit down in a café, a konditori (a café that specializes in fika), at home, or some other non-work-related place and have a conversation while drinking coffee and eating fikabröd.  What is fikabröd, you ask?  Well, bröd means ‘bread,’ so fikabröd is ‘fika bread,’ which could be anything from a piece of cake to a pastry to the famous Swedish kanelbulle (cinnamon roll) or even a sandwich.

I’m not an expert on coffee, but Swedish coffee seems a little different from American coffee, and I like it better.  For example, it is common not put large amounts (if any) of cream in your coffee; rather, it seems that sugar (or maybe milk) is the most common thing for Swedes to add to their coffee.  Also, coffee rarely comes in jumbo sizes – and almost never in ‘venti’ sizes, because there are only three Starbucks in Sweden.  Generally, coffee comes in cups the size of the ones in the picture below or slightly larger.  The cup size doesn’t seem to hinder Swedes’ coffee-drinking ability, though, because Sweden is still one of the highest consumers of coffee in the world (second only to Finland)!

DSC07026

A kanelbulle

2013-03-27 16.40.24

Coffee and a coconut cake

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Göteborg, Norrköping, and a midnight taxi ride through the Swedish countryside

00.08 Lördag, 11 Maj, 2013

I’ve had another busy few days this week – this time, I went on a three-day trip to Göteborg (pronounced ‘Yuh-teh-bor-ee,’ and known as Gothenburg in English) in southwestern Sweden, and Norrköping (pronounced ‘Nor-shup-ing’), which is between Göteborg and Stockholm.  You can see them on the map here.  I went on this trip with some of the same people I went on the last cruise with, and we had a great couple of days exploring Sweden outside of Stockholm!

On Tuesday, we woke up very early to go to the Central Station to catch our 05:59 (!!) train, which took us the nearly 500 kilometers to Göteborg in just over three hours.  Since we had slept on the train, we naturally needed some caffeine when we arrived, and in the Göteborg station, we found the first Starbucks I have ever seen in Sweden (apparently there are only three in the whole country).  However, I was very disappointed – all the coffee I have ever had in Sweden was better than the coffee I had at Starbucks.  No wonder there’s not many here; Swedish coffee is just so much better!

Göteborg

A canal in the center of Göteborg

After finding our hostel, we walked through a large city park that even had a free zoo complete with penguins!  After this, we had lunch and then visited Stadsmuseet, the City Museum, where we saw the remains of the oldest Viking ship ever found (mainly just a few wooden planks).  Then, we went to an amusement park, called Liseberg, which is the largest amusement park in Scandinavia.  Although it was rather expensive, we had a good time, and we spent the rest of the evening there.

Liseberg

Entrance to Lisebergs Nöjespark

The next day, we walked around the city to see the main sights, and we went on a boat tour through the canal and the river.  Göteborg has many cherry blossoms, and we happened to be there during the short period of time that they are in full bloom, so everywhere we turned, we saw sights such as the one in the picture below!

Cherry Blossoms in Göteborg

Cherry Blossoms in Göteborg

Because Göteborg has always been a very important city for Sweden, it was fairly heavily fortified in the past with a moat and large bastions surrounding the city center, as well as two large defensive towers called redoubts located on hills on the north and south sides of the city.  The northern one is called Skansen Lejonet, because it has a gilded lion on the top, and the southern one is called Skansen Kronan, because it has a gilded crown on the top.  We climbed up the hill of the southern one to have a closer look.

Skansen Kronan

Skansen Kronan

On the boat tour that we went on, we were taken through the protective moat that goes around the city center and into Göta älv, the river that flows past Göteborg.  Many of the bridges that we passed under in the canal were very low, and some of them were so low that we even had to get out of our seats and crouch down on the floor of the boat in order to pass under!  In the main river, we passed by the old shipyards (only one is still in use) that were part of what made Göteborg so important for Sweden.  We also passed a building on the edge of the water with the word Amerikaskjulet written on it, which is where, throughout the nineteenth century, millions of Swedes boarded the ships and set sail on a one-way journey to the United States.

Göteborg

A street in Göteborg

After the boat tour, we walked around in another park in the center of town, then headed to the train station to catch our evening train to the city of Norrköping, which is about two thirds of the way back to Stockholm.  The reason we added Norrköping to our itinerary was mainly because the total price, including accomodation, was actually cheaper than just taking the direct train back to Stockholm.  However, it turned out to be a very interesting stop, and it gave us an interesting story to tell…

When we got to our platform at the train station, we discovered that our train had been delayed by about 25 minutes, and that the train that was waiting at our platform was not actually ours.  So, we waited 25 minutes, and shortly after that, our train arrived.  However, we couldn’t board it for several more minutes, and when we finally did, we left Göteborg about an hour late.  In order to get to Norrköping, we had to change trains in a little town called Katrineholm, but since the first train was so late, we were clearly going to miss the second train.  We did not know how we were going to get to Norrköping until we were pulling in to Katrineholm, and the conductor said that there would be some form of transport for us at the station.  So, we got off and waited in front of the station, along with a few other people who had also missed their connections.  After about half an hour, a taxi-van showed up to take us to Norrköping, which was about 60 kilometers away.  So, we got in the taxi and about 45 minutes of foggy countryside later, we arrived at the central station of Norrköping, around 23:30.  Fortunately, our hostel was very conveniently located – it was on the second floor of the train station!  However, when we got to our room, we discovered that there was another woman already in the room.  This would not have been a problem, as there were eight beds in the room, except that the woman had been told on her reservation that she had a female-only room.  She seemed rather annoyed at us, but after a midnight call to the owner of the hostel, she was assured that everything was okay, and she finally let us come in to the room.  So, in the end, everything was fine and we made it to Norrköping – just three hours late.

When we were waiting for the first train, from Göteborg, we were rather surprised that the train was so late, because usually in Sweden, everything is on time right down to the minute.  However, we were happy that we were able to get to our destination so smoothly; I have a feeling that if we had been in a similar situation with planes instead of trains, it would have been a lot more stressful!  It turns out that the reason for the delay was that the previous evening, a fire near one of the tracks southwest of Stockholm had caused train traffic going south out of Stockholm to be delayed, and the delays were still being resolved when we left Göteborg.

On Friday, we woke up and set out to explore Norrköping.  It turns out there was plenty to explore for a town I had previously known nothing about!  Norrköping used to be one of the largest industrial centers for Sweden, and along the shores of the cascading Motala ström (the river that used to supply hydropower to the town) were many old factories, several of which are now museums.  We visited a few of the museums, including Stadsmuseet (Norrköping’s City Museum) and the Arbetets Museum (the Work Museum), which both focused on the industrial history of Norrköping.

Norrköping

A waterfall in the old industrial area of Norrköping

Norrköping

The old industrial area of Norrköping

After spending some time in the museums in the city center, we walked along the river to a large park on the edge of town, where we ate lunch and then went to see a very important part of Swedish history.  Norrköping is home to the densest collection of Viking rock carvings in Sweden, with several thousand individual carvings throughout the city.  In the Himmelstalund park, you can see several hundred of them, so we walked through the park to have a look.  In the picture below, you can see some of the carvings – most of them represent either Viking ships, people, or animals.  There are also some carvings that relate to the rituals for the Vikings’ sun-god.

Rock Carvings in Himmelstalund

Viking rock carvings in Norrköping

After seeing most of the carvings that are visible in Himmelstalund, we stopped to play a round of mini-golf, then walked back through the park and along the river to get back to the town.  We then took a quick walk through the town center before heading back to the train station to head back to Stockholm.  I think the trains were still recovering from the delays of the previous day because our train was about 15 minutes late.  However, we made our connection and arrived back in Stockholm around 23:00, concluding my final mini-trip of the semester!

Himmelstalund

Himmelstalund park in Norrköping

Now, I’m back in Stockholm for two more weeks while I finish up my studies and take my final exams.  Then, at the end of May, I will travel for a few weeks before returning home to Texas in mid-June.  But more on that later…I should probably study now, and enjoy my last days in Stockholm!

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