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Part IV – Heidelberg, the perfect ending. February 28, 2007

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And so it is. The anticipated conclusion to my little trip in Germany. Whats with all this excitement in the air? You can practically cut it with a knife! Alright enough hype, you’ve waited for the goods and now its time to deliver. Picking up where part III ended, Sarah and I woke up early early Saturday to catch a morning train for Heidelberg. I’m not going to lie – I was pumped. Usually when I visit a new place I end up reading about it from a guidebook, looking at maps and haphazardly wandering my way through a place, hoping to see the best the area has to offer. In reality this strategy works about only about 50% of the time. But today I had with me a secret weapon: a native German! Anything and everything I saw in Heidelberg was pretty much the doing of Sarah and I have to give thanks where thanks is due. The train trip took roughly 2.5 hours, and the scenery was pleasant, with rolling hills and little villages dotting the countryside. Is it just me or do the blue chairs really bring out the blue in my eyes (in a scary way)? Lol.

So we got there, made a brief stop at the tourist info station and headed into the center of town. The main street is packed with every imaginable store, from designer fashions to bakeries to electronics. I was told that the whole concept of the “shopping mall” hasn’t quite caught on yet in Germany so…streets like these are their equivalent. In Germany there are as many stand-alone bakeries every block as there are Starbucks and Tullys stores in Seattle. If you know anything about Seattle, that means a lot. I had to stop at one and try a few of the special breads that my German friends back in Uppsala were always making a big deal about. Well guys, I tried them, and you are right – German bread (for whatever reason) is just better. We were in the heart of old town Heidelberg and along this old street are statues, fountains and other items which make for good pictures. Like here!

And here!

As we were meandering through these cobblestone streets we ran into the city museum. I’m kind of a museum nut so we stopped and explored. I was really impressed at their collection of artifacts from this area of Germany, dating from thousands of years ago. Heidelberg was a location the Roman Empire took some interest in and recent excavation has uncovered evidence of Roman activity in the city. The museum was, of course, in German but Sarah was kind enough to give explanations. We ended up spending more time then we thought in the museum and found a place to take a proper German lunch on the street. In retrospect I’m so angry that I didn’t take any pictures in that restaurant. You could tell it had been around since the 1700s and the wooden carvings as well as the paintings created an old world atmosphere. Try the spicy ‘satanswurst’ and you won’t be disappointed. A short distance from here was the cathedral of the city.

In it was this sizable pipe organ and we noticed a sign saying there would be a organ concert this evening. During one of the handful of conversations we had back in Seattle, Sarah said she had expressed a desire to hear a organ concert (knowing that I play) and apparently (although I have no recollection of this) I promised that we would go to one, so she insisted that I hold up my end of a long standing agreement. So it was settled, although in truth I needed no convincing. It was already early afternoon and we hustled up a long and steep pathway to the main attraction of Heidelberg – the castle. The term ‘castle’ hardly applies however, as it was so big that no one picture can do it justice; it is more of a complex of buildings and ruins. Very impressive, all the way around.

We took a picture just outside this area on the raised wall, you can also see some fantastic views from this vantage point of the city itself.

In the main castle there is housed a pharmacy museum and we decided to take a look. The museum has preserved drugs from hundreds of years ago and also does a nice job of explaining (in English!) the history of medicine and pharmacy, which is right up my alley. It was crazy to read about how many people actually died in the ‘trial and error’ testing of new medications; it certainly makes me grateful to be living in the 21st century. You wouldn’t believe what people used to eat as an aphrodisiac…lets just say its far from appealing. At this point we had actually taken so much time to explore around the city, museums and the outside of the castle that we were too late for the last tour to go inside the castle itself! Bummer! Actually it was just fine as the weather was perfect (sunny) and we had more to see (the ruins and gardens) as well as an evening organ concert to catch. Parts of the castle had fallen into disrepair over the years and through the many wars it had seen. Personally I loved the look.

The first picture in this post was taken in the adjacent gardens to the castle. Close to Mr. Poseidon statue were the gardens themselves. Even in winter they were impressive and I’m sure that in spring time they are out of this world.

As the daylight began to fade we hiked back down the hill and into town to catch the aforementioned organ concert. The performer clearly had talent and he played some classics but also improvised and even, spontaneously, did a duet piece with a guy who happened to bring his clarinet to the concert. I’m sitting there thinking….what?! this had to have been planned, but apparently not. In any case we both enjoyed it a lot (including an intermission with champagne! – another first for me at an organ concert). We headed back to the central station to catch our train, but not before stopping at a Starbucks (I do come from Seattle after all) as we were both tired from being on our feet all day. This had been, by far, the most fun day of my trip. I can’t remember much of the evening other then enjoying left over German chocolate cake and packing for the flight the next day. And just like that, after such a fun week of new experiences it was time to say goodbye. Sarah (although you already know this): I can’t begin to thank you enough for your generosity and hospitality. To the people I met while in Deutschland who are reading this blog: you are always welcome to come and visit in Uppsala and Stockholm, I would love to show you around my Nordic home-away-from-home.

One thing that I really learned recently, or at least realized while traveling is that I have done far, far too little of it since coming to Sweden. Sure I’ve been to Iceland, Denmark, Finland and a few different places in Sweden. But, it wasn’t until I went to Germany that I realized how important it is to take advantage of the fact that I am living in Europe. Call me slow, call me whatever you want but its true. When I look back on Sweden in the years to come I will not be remembering the homework, the tests or the classes that I sat through in Uppsala. No, it is the times that I’ve traveled to meet new people and new places that will stay with me. What I’m trying to say is since coming back to Uppsala I already have several trips in the works, including a trip to Kiruna (the far, far north of Sweden) in March and to Russia (St. Petersberg and Moscow) in April. Can you expect long winded and detailed reports with pictures from these places, similar to what I’ve done here with Germany? You’re damn right you can. Thanks for staying patient, checking back often, sending emails and leaving me comments. I love you guys, this is only the beginning.

Busy. February 25, 2007

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Hey everyone. The title says it all. I’ve been working nonstop on a Swedish history paper (due tomorrow morning), and have much to do as well for my Culture and Health class next week. This means that I won’t have part IV of my Germany trip up nearly as soon as I want it to. Posting quality takes time. What I am not going to do is rush through it and sloppily post a bunch of random pictures up. You can expect part IV due by Wednesday at the latest, so keep checking back. I will also, shortly thereafter, have a new update about how things in Uppsala are going. Have a great week all.

Part III : Tübingen, German fondue party! Kopps? February 22, 2007

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Well, I have had so many positive comments from friends and family about my last two posts that its kind of overwhelming. So why put an end to a good thing? This is part III and its looking like a part IV will be necessary. To all you haters out there who are tired of me ranting and raving about how great Germany is, you merely need to bear with me through two more, very long posts then I’ll get back to the boringness that is school and freezing myself silly in Uppsala. Picking up where I left off, late night Thursday I made a quick decision to travel to the town of Tübingen the next morning. Tübingen is a university town, with students making up about 3/5 of the total population! Two of Germany’s biggest names in literature/philosophy Johann Goethe and Friedrich Schiller studied and wrote here, with the former publishing his first works in town. Getting here was easy on the train and the weather was sunny and perfect. Like most places I visit I hit the cathedral first. In practice this is wise as cities/towns often developed around a cathedral, not vice versa. In this way the savvy traveler can experience the best old world charm that any place has to offer. Or…I could just be a nut for pipe organs!

The interior was impressive, with many graves of knights and dukes dating from the middle ages. From here I explored the town square and open air market where Germans come to sell everything, from meat, cheese, jelly, flowers, hand crafts, fruits and vegetables – everything! The buildings around the square were old and most were decorated with painted figures, writing and statues.

Those different olives were good! I found a cozy bar/pub to eat lunch and had suprisingly tasty Schwabish soup with spaetzle, a noodle which is synonomous with this region of Germany. Just outside the pub is a long, narrow and winding stairway up to the Schloss (castle) and I began the hike. At the top you are treated with views of the entire city and the river Neckar.

Tübingen was great, no two ways about it, go there if you every find yourself in South Germany, period.

I actually took the train back to Stuttgart fairly early in the afternoon to help Sarah get ready for a fondue (any cheese lovers out there? me too.) party she was throwing at her place. This was the time of the year when students take their finals, then take a two month break or so. Sarah’s sister and friends had finished their tests that day so a party was only fitting. We had a great time together, most of the speaking was done in German and it was great for me to listen to the language, one that I want to learn once my Swedish is complete.

Sarah baked this amazing German Chocolate (no, not Black Forest) with Cherry cake! Recognize it from my other party with German friends? Precis!

The younger ones (wait a minute, come to think of it they were probably 22 also!) decided to go out to the various dance clubs which dot Stuttgart and Sarah and I decided to watch a Swedish movie I had brought with me..Kopps! Well, I should say we tried to watch it because about 25 minutes in we were both practically falling asleep. It had been a long and very memorable day.

I hope through these posts that I’ve peaked your interest a little in visiting Germany. If I have then you should come prepared. With German. I present to you the phrases I learned which helped me get by in the big city of Stuttgart.

Wie gehts? = “How are you?”

Ich hasse die Tasse. = “I hate the cup.”

Lügen haben kurze Beine. = “Lies have short leg.” (it is a colloquial phrase, meaning lying doesn’t get you very far)

Halt’s Maul! = “Shut up!”

I hope this is as helpful to you as it was to me. Thanks for reading part III, stay tuned for more in a couple days. I love to write and share a glimpse into my travels and honestly its a wonderful way for me to remember things which would otherwise be forgotten. If you don’t personally have a blog I would recommend starting one. Its free, easy and one powerful way to express yourself and let your friends and family know whats going on in your world. Live life with passion and never forget that everyday is a good day for optimism.

Part II : Germany – Thursday February 20, 2007

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I’m feeling a bit sentimental this morning. Does this ever happen to anyone else? I’ll pick up straight up were I left off. I knew that Thursday was reserved for traveling around Stuttgart, seeing sites and museums and Wednesday night Sarah was kind enough to not only recommend her favorite places but also write down all the connections, etc. Being me (a headstrong Swede), I thought I could remember everything no problem and told Sarah the notes weren’t necessary, at which point completely ignored me and made a list, time-line, even drew a few pictures. She was right, I was wrong; without that list I would still be wandering Stuttgart. I first took the S-Bahn train to the Mercedes-Benz museum, a short 10 min trip from the city center. The building that you see was completed a few years back and is the epitome of classy design and refinement – not unlike the cars they make. Starting at the top of the complex you work your way down and the museum carefully unfolds every chapter in Mercedes-Benz history. I was truly blown away by how much the company impacted the world of transportation: the first car, the first motorcycle, the first fuel injected engine and the first airbag among a host of other firsts. Karl Benz, Gottlieb Daimler and his partner William Maybach all grew up in Swabia and founded the companies which would eventually make up Mercedes-Benz. I had to restrain myself from attempting to take a few experimental cars for a try on the autobahn..but who can blame me? This museum should not be missed.

The day was just gorgeous: sun shining, mild temperature and no snow or ice (unlike Uppsala!). Stuttgart isn’t host to only one massive brand of cars, oh no, it is also the home of Porsche. Not doing too bad for yourself Stuttgart! I’m not such a big fan of Porsche and decided to skip their museum and because it was a beautiful day I made a beeline to the haupenhaf (central station) after lunch. Here at the very top they have an open air observatory where you can see the entire city, for miles around. Its spectacular.

After taking some time to just stare off into the vast reaches of the area I remembered that Sarah recommended seeing the city graveyard. Personally I love graveyards, and no I’m not some creepy goth punk. They remind me first of all that I’m very mortal and that life could be taken at any second. Graves speak to me, tell me that life is short, that life has meaning and that ultimately all that is left is what we’ve stored in heaven. In the old days Germans cruised Stuttgart in these old, completely wood street/rail cars and the way up to graveyard hill was via one such perserved car.

The ride up provided more amazing views of the city. At the top the graveyard opens up and sprawls out in virtually all directions. Off to one side is a large area dedicated to those living in Stuttgart who died in WWI and WWII. I personally had relatives who fought against Germany and it was just extremely moving to see the graves of “the other side”. Needless to say the loss of life was tremendous and the sea of crosses reminded me of just how terrible war is, for everyone involved.

It was getting to be later in the afternoon and I started to take the rail back home but, in a moment of total spontaneity got off the train at a spot that looked cool. I just sort of wandered, checking out the kids at play, the locals going about their afternoon chores and somehow found my way to a sizable church.

Very near to this church, down an alley was a store selling every kind of drink you can think of. It was like a mini-sized Costco, with cases and cases of beer, wine, water, soft-drinks, really anything that is drinkable. Sarah later explained that this is how Germans most often buy their beverages, in bulk. Germany is world famous for beer (Sweden is not) and so I felt compelled to pick up a half dozen bottles of local beer on the go. I finally got back to the apartment and decided that we should have a beer taste test, so without further adieu I give you the Larson/Sembdner review:

Postwirts Dunkel Sarah: “Smells great, like a brewery, nice light flavor and bubbles give the tounge a minerally feeling.” Mike: “Nutty, no bitterness, super smooth with carmel notes in the aftertaste.”

Das Schwarze Schwabenbraeu Sarah: “Spicy taste but the flavor stays in the background, unobtrusive smell.” Mike: “Coffee flavor hints with some bitterness, firm alcohol kick”

Schussenrieser Sarah: “Aromatic taste fills your whole mouth, strong smell.” Mike: “Exactly what you think German beer should taste like, poininet flavor with no bitterness and a great finish.”

Sanwald Sarah: “Tastes like a whole selection of bacteria, but in a good way, bad and bitter aftertaste.” Mike: “Very different then the rest, tastes like Belgian beer and thats a compliment.”

Bolzer Sarah: “The only description I can think of here is asparagus, mild and good.” Mike: “I’ve had better, pass me more of beer #3.”

After this little testing we went over to Sarah’s parents home a short walk away from the apartment and I got a chance to meet her entire family which was truly a pleasure. All in all it was one amazing day. And now, continuing the tradition, I give you a random picture of a super cool, very small euro car that I found while exploring the city.

I really wish these things were street legal in the states, I would totally hook myself up with one. Of course if I got smashed by a soccer mom in a Ford Explorer there wouldn’t be much left of me to bury…so perhaps its for the best. Wow that was a loooooong update, and yet I only covered one day! Stay tuned for part III (and maybe part IV?!) in the near future along with all the good photos that you have come to expect from thebigswede. Thanks for reading, God bless and stay in touch.

Part I : 48 hours in Schwaben, Deutchland February 18, 2007

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Hello everybody. Welcome to part one of a two part tale on my trip to Germany. I am in fact back in Uppsala and decided that instead of trying to describe my whole trip in one massive post it would be wise to break it down into a couple pieces. Yes, I actually did do that much in 6 days. Everyone ready? Here we go. I arrived late night Monday at the airport and was met by my very good friend Sarah M. who I got to know in Seattle but has since moved back to Stuttgart.

We took the train back to her place in Rohr and ended up talking for several hours before finally getting some shut-eye. I had to wake up early (tues) to catch my ride-share ride from the Stuttgart Haupbanhaf (central station) but arrived on location a bit late. My white Volkswagen Golf driving German had left already, but she kindly turned around on the autobahn to pick me up after I called her cellphone. Thanks Agneta, wherever you are! For a 60-something year old woman she knew how to drive very fast and we passed some expensive, fast cars on the autobahn en-route to Freiburg. My other German friend Sarah K. who I got to know in Uppsala picked me up and we explored this fascinating university town together.

This area has history, and we visited a museum to learn more about life and important people from here. The entire city used to be walled off in the middle ages, with a moat around the entire circumference – quite an achievement back in the day.

During WWII the city was heavily bombed and many old buildings were unfortunately completely obliterated. Of the eight or so big medieval gates that used to enclose the city only two remain. We had a chance to stop by the university and explore the old library where I got one of my fav photos of the trip.

These statues were so cool I just had to imitate. We ate some dinner at a brewery, I had schnitzel with potatoes – mmm I love German food. Sarah K. was nice enough to have me stay the night at her place and she taught me some German phrases over several cups of tea. Thanks for your hospitality Sarah! I woke up at a reasonable hour on Wed. and caught another ride-share ride back to Stuttgart with a very nice gal named Jennifer and her dog named Money. I must say that I saved a ton of money riding with locals in Germany instead of taking the very expensive trains, and I also saved time. Anyway, as soon as I got back to Stuttgart I hit some of the downtown city sites. First I took a look at the city art museum but sadly most of their permanent collection was removed for some remodeling/painting so all I got to see was the modern exhibit – yippee! I then went next-door to a museum which chronicles in exquisite detail the history of Baden-Wittenburg (the blue part of the map at the top of this post), which is an official region in Germany, inside the larger unofficial region of Swabia. This museum was impressive and I learned a ton, from Napoleonic times up till the present. I walked further downtown and in the middle is a massive palace/castle.

The above photo doesn’t really begin to capture how huge this palace is. There are statues all above and around it, reminding me faintly of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (and the surrounding courtyard). Looking the opposite way from this picture is a huge pylon of sorts, with a big statue of a woman holding out a laurel crown – it is very awe inspiring.

I continued to explore the city, a large church, the shops and eventually found a nice place to eat with traditional Swabish food which I absolutely love. More on the region’s food to come in the next blog update. I eventually found my way home after calling Sarah M. a few times because I’m just that bad with directions (embarrassing but true). Sarah is part of a scooter (those little “vespa” two-wheel vehicles that arn’t quite motorcycles) club and we went to the club meeting together with Dr. Ulrich (her dentist boss) and his girlfriend. Everyone at the event was extremely nice and willing to speak English with me which I was grateful for. I even met a couple people who had been to Seattle before; it is an extremely rare thing for a European to travel so far into the US. We enjoyed the best beer the world has to offer, German beer. Needless to say, I had no trouble getting to sleep this night. And now, for a random picture of me with a super cool euro car!

At this point I’m going to stop because I’m really tired and have class tomorrow. I’m starting a class called “Culture and Health” which should be interesting, more details to come. In the next update I will finish the German trip (thurs-sun) and have many more photos as well. Please stayed tuned, and thanks for reading!! To be continued….

A nice lull, an unexpected suprise – and I’m off to Germany! February 10, 2007

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Greetings greetings one and all, you who are my blog readership. How are you today? I hope the answer is: good. Lately things in Uppsala have been going quite normally and classes are in full swing. It has been fun to get to know many of the “new batch” international students who have recently arrived for just one term here. They are bright-eyed and in wonderment at Sweden, it reminds me of myself when I first arrived. The days are getting longer, which is a definite a plus but the weather is colder and if you make the mistake of venturing around town sans cap and gloves you are in for a chilly experience.

As you know I celebrated a birthday a few weeks ago and somehow a couple international student friends of mine heard about it – on this very blog. Stefanie and Melany (I hope I’m spelling that right), two good friends from Germany studying in Uppsala took it upon themselves to throw me a surprise post-birthday party. They baked an amazing, very traditional German chocolate cake and invited me over under the pretense of having “fika” only to shock me this surprise. Ladies, I can’t really express with a simple “thanks” how much this truly meant to me. Tack så jätte jätte mycket. The cake tasted wonderful and I fully plan on stealing their recipe to make it back home. We chatted about Swedish, health-care, life and of course Germany and I got some great tips on what to visit during my trip next week. Without further adieu here are a couple pictures of us.

Again, thanks for making my week ladies! Another surprise of sorts was when I learned that a very good buddy of mine growing up in elementary, jr. high and high school got married recently. Paul Neighswonger, I want to congratulate you on taking the next step and I wish you happiness, health and all the best with your new spouse. I give you, Mr. and Mrs. Neighswonger.

Don’t they look great together? Paul is a US Marine and has served in Iraq, he is currently based in Hawaii. I will be leaving for Germany on Monday and you can expect, of course, a giant update when I get back next Sunday, along with a host of pictures from Stuttgart, Heidelberg and Freiberg. I am so excited to see this part of Germany and also visit some friends that I have made in this area of Europe. Much more later, and until then keep warm, keep safe, keep praying and keep positive. I love you all, thanks for reading.