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Bandy-SM! Packages! Huskies! oh my! March 20, 2007

Posted by thebigswede in Uncategorized.
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Greetings, hello, welcome to another chapter in the never ending (I wish) saga of life in Sweden. We have a big update on our hands, oh yes, and I your faithful Swede am here to bring you the details. Life is crazy busy right now in Sweden. What else is new? Instead of doing this update I *should* be finishing a paper due quite soon, but it can wait. You my ravenous friends, you cannot wait. Every year at about this time is Uppsala city’s largest sporting event of the year, the championships of Swedish bandy. For any of you who don’t know what the heck bandy is, I’m here to help. The readers digest version: its ice hockey, with a round orange ball instead of a puck, on a ice rink the size of a soccer field and a goal size between that of a hockey goal and a soccer goal. From what I understand this sport only really exists in Scandinavia, but take it from me: it is high paced, rough, the body checks are brutal and the games are long and exciting (two 45 min halves, just like soccer). In any case I bought two tickets thinking it would be fun to go with someone (sporting events are lame going alone, eller hur?) but couldn’t find anyone free until…my friend Amelia showed up! You may remember her from a long long long post ago (there is a picture of her and I) when she came up from France (where she is studying abroad, she is a Husky just like me!) to visit myself and Ryan in Stockholm. Well she contacted me a few days ago saying she had friends visiting from UW that wanted to see Sweden so naturally I had to take her to the bandy champs.

The city was packed, the stadium was packed, I had never seen so many people in Uppsala before in my life. It was insane, there were drunk fans everywhere, people peeing on trees and bushes or on the street in public and no one seeming to mind. As if timed perfectly when Amelia and I got there the place exploded, literally, in fireworks. Not pretty little foo-foo French style fireworks, no, these were strong, Viking, thunderous explosions. Imagine having about 4-6 shells exploding every few seconds, only about 25 meters above your head with the force of about 5 M-80s per shell, for several minutes. Usually I never plug my ears but I wouldn’t have been able to hear again had I not after that audible assault. In any case, ears ringing, the place shook with cheering. The two teams had their respective massive groups of fans (just like you see in the world cup) and they had special chants, as well as jeers that they threw back and forth. It made the atmosphere thick with tension, excitement and anticipation for the game to come. The game itself was great, fast paced and full of twists and turns. There were actually no seats for sitting, no reserved places, everyone stood the entire game. Thanks for being a sport for standing so long Amelia, you rock! Below here, you can see an interesting “free kick” so to speak outside the goal box. The team lines up in front of one another and charge, trying to block any shot attempt, its very interesting to watch and actually a lot like soccer now that I think about it.

Really a good memory. Oh, and I have no idea who won – its not really important. Moving on, I wanted to give a shout out to my very good friend Mr. Mark Engle for sending me the best care package ever. This guy must know me because I got wheat thins, chocolate covered coffee beans, beef jerky and a host of other items which I simply cannot find in Sweden but that I love. He even managed to burn me some of his favorite German music. Amazing! He must be buttering me up for his impending visit in 5 days and…well, its working. For sending me a taste of home, and making my day, week and month I want to offer a huge thank you. Check out all the goodness!

So I was privileged and honored to host Amelia at my place for 2 nights, and the second one her UW friends came over for coffee and it was just great to meet them. I can’t explain the feeling to someone who hasn’t studied abroad, but to have 3 people from my home university in one place chatting about how great Seattle is and how much we love UW, yet removed thousands of miles away from that place, it was a very ‘homey’ and nice time. Here are my lovely Husky lady visitors. Everyone say “ost”!

Nothing but good memories is what that is right there. Alright I’m not going to lie, its time for me to get back to this dreaded project/paper. I’m presenting my work tomorrow and Thursday so if you feel so inclined (and read this before that date) please pray things go well. Thats all I’ve got, live life to the fullest my friends, you never know when God will call you home. Many blessings, until next time.

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Riga March 17, 2007

Posted by thebigswede in Uncategorized.
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Riga. The name itself conjures up nothing in my mind. As a matter of fact 99% of the people I’ve ever asked said they’ve never heard of the place. Maybe thats why it holds such a fascination with me. The capital city of Latvia was, for hundreds of years, the largest and arguably most important city in the Swedish empire. Extensive Baltic trade made this port a strategic and economic powerhouse in its day. Because of this fact Riga has changed hands many times: from the Swedes, to the Poles, to the Russians, back to the Swedes, to the Nazis, to the Russians again and finally to their own independence only 16 years ago. Fascinating history! This is the story of my trip to this former Soviet Union stronghold. Ryan, Meg, John and myself took the 17 hour boat ride from Stockholm and were greeted with coal upon landing.

You could tell the city was large and, from the abandoned warehouses in the harbor, that it was trying to recover from harder days gone by. We only had about 6 hours to explore (not a lot!) and so off we ran to see what we could. We found a cool little cafe that a friend had recommended when he had been in Riga and we ate some Latvian bakery items for breakfast. I was amazed at how strong the Latvian currency is; it cost me 30 Euro to get 20 Lat! Thankfully things weren’t too expensive. After the cafe we took a brief walk to one of the two nearby churches that dominate the skyline. One had an elevator which took us to a high observatory from which we could see the entire city for miles around.

We had quite a view although it would have been nicer without so much wind. Don’t ask me where I’m trying to climb to, I just like to climb stuff.


From the church we made our way briskly (we are in a time crunch after all) to the center of old town, and here we found the House of the Black Heads. Apparently, once upon a time, there was a prominent traders guild in town called the Black Heads. These guys prospered by ruling the streets and just like the city they became wealthy from trade. So wealthy they were able to build one nice guild house.

O.k. so the picture doesn’t quite do it justice. Inside there was a great deal of art, statues, richly furnished rooms and other such impressive things. Here is their guild crest, and here also is a picture of us in the main meeting hall which is still used today by various groups and the government of Latvia.

Hi Meg! After exploring the museum we were ready for some real food but had no idea where to eat. We explored more of the old town and completely randomly we ran into a sign that said:

I’m pretty sure the conversation went something like this:

Mike: “Guys, wow check this out, a medieval restaurant. We gotta try this.”

Others: “Whatever, we’re hungry.”

Once we opened the door, there was no further convincing needed.

I truly believe the best things in life come spontaneously and randomly, unplanned and unannounced. This restaurant was one of them. The entire place was candle lit. I love candles. Everything was carved wood, the walls were adorned with medieval tapestries, there was music from the 14th century coming from somewhere and the smell of roast venison and poached rabbit was wafting through the room. Our senses overwhelmed, we were instantly transported back in time.

I ordered the pumpkin soup with lentils and the venison stew dish which came out looking and tasting simply perfect.

We would all agree later that this place was the highlight by far. I can honestly say this was one of the most fun eating experiences ever, if not for the impeccable ingredients then for the atmosphere and ambiance in general. Well worth the trip for. Even the waiters were dressed in period clothing!

Good times. We took our leave of the restaurant and visited another church before heading back to the boat. Somehow John and I actually got kicked out of the church (this is a first for me!) because we didn’t pay extra for a “photo ticket” upon entering the church. First of all, paying to go into a church is really really really stupid to begin with. I mean comon, its the house of God not a museum. In any case. One thing that I forgot to mention is on the boat ride to Riga Ryan and I almost got completely beat to bloody pulps by a group of drunk Russians. Friends, do not, I repeat do not mess with Russians, especially those under the influence. This is an especially important lesson for me, before I go to mother Russia in less then a month. I won’t get into the details of how we almost got decimated but I am simply thanking God (because I told him I would publicly) that I am alive. Those boats have no security on them whatsoever, no police presence. You could throw a couple Americans overboard in the ice cold Baltic sea at night and no one would be the wiser…

Anyway, Mark is coming in like a week and I’m excited to no end about that. Another friend, Amelia from France is coming to visit me on Sunday so that will be very cool, hopefully can give you some pictures of that later in the week. Things are busy and thats just the way I like them. I can tell this last period of time in Sweden is just going to fly by and one day I’ll wake up in Seattle again thinking “what just happened?!”. Thats all I got, time to sleep. Have a good weekend everybody.

Jonas and Ulla March 11, 2007

Posted by thebigswede in Uncategorized.
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“We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend” — Robert Lewis Stevenson

What is a friend?

It is often said that in times of prosperity friends are many but in times of trouble your eyes are opened to whom your friends really are. It is also said that if you die having had a handful of real friends, that you have lived a very good life. Personally, I believe these both. In Sweden, I won’t lie, it is very difficult to find new friends. It is ingrained in the culture to shun, ignore, and be suspicious of a stranger. Watching it on a daily basis is like reliving a tragedy. The air is thick with a smog of social pressure, to destroy and deny any sort of individuality in the pursuit of uniformity. Don’t rock the boat my friend, or else prepare to wear a letter of scarlet. I honestly believe that Swedes get up every morning and force themselves to put on a frown and go about their day in a cloud of pessimism. O.k. so its not that bad.

This may shock you but I’m not posting this to complain. Rather I wish to give thankfulness for two great friends I’ve made thus far in the fatherland. Jonas and Ulla. Jonas lived in my (or rather I lived in his) corridor before moving into an apartment with Ulla, his girlfriend. We hit it off immediately and have had many memorable experiences together since. There is no way my Swedish would be half as good had I not had many conversations with him and Ulla over the months. In short, they are good friends. I had “fika” at their apartment not too long ago, enjoying semlor and other traditional Swedish things.

Thanks for the good times guys. In an era of hostile feelings and ill-will towards Americans the world over, thank you for seeing past stereotypes and accepting a stranger.

Hopefully they will be taking a massive road trip across the USA this summer, including coming to Seattle to see the greatest-place-on-earth – my home – the North West. I want to take the time to thank all the friends who have kept up with me, especially those back home despite the thousands of miles. We are going to have some great times this summer, I promise you that.

Riga, Russia and all that jazz March 5, 2007

Posted by thebigswede in Uncategorized.
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A friend of mine, a Russian foreign student in Uppsala translated the above as: “Welcome, to all international students!”. Or something like that. First the bad news, I’m not going to Kiruna. I was pretty excited to go but the times others could go just didn’t work out with my classes, such is life. Second, the good news is that next week Tuesday I will be going with Ryan, Meg and Ryan’s little brother (whose name escapes my memory) to Riga. “Where is that?”, you ask, why in Latvia of course! This capital city is one of the largest cities in the Baltic states (Tallinn and Vilnius the others) and I’m really excited to take a look. We will only be there for roughly 8 hours but that should give us time to explore the highlights and get back on the boat. I also found out today that I got off the waiting list for Russia and am going for sure, which is of massive excitement to me. I never really thought I would make it to a place like Russia in my lifetime and going with an established student travel group puts my mind at ease much more then if I tried to go alone. We will be going to St. Petersburg and Moscow and should have time to explore both thoroughly. The picture below is of a famous Lenin statue in Seattle (Fremont) quite close to where I go to church. Sigh…what to do with those crazy granola-crunching communists in the NW 🙂 …it should be a real treat to see Lenin, the man in person.

School is good and my group in class is making good progress on a research project focusing on how immigrants in Sweden feel about the quality of their health care. Naturally as a foreigner in a foreign place discrimination is (sadly) unavoidable and we want to take a look at how that could effect the quality of care, at least in the minds of those who receive said care. I get to visit a big SFI (svenska för invändrare) class where new immigrants first learn Swedish and hand out my short questionnaire. I’ll let you know what we find out when the data is analyzed.

The weather in Sweden is sloppy – sometimes a little snow and sometimes rain. Thankfully a good deal of snow has already melted and I can already start to see (or maybe its blind optimism…) signs of Spring time in the air. I hope you are with me when I say “I can’t wait for summer to come”. Have a great week people.

Jan och jag, vi är stark. March 1, 2007

Posted by thebigswede in Uncategorized.
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Happy March 1st. I had a couple of free minutes so I figure why not make a little post, after such a massive one yesterday. Its cold in Uppsala right now. To be honest, there isn’t much to do, especially outside during the winter months in Sweden. So in an effort to break the tedium of day-to-day studying, we invent things to do. For example, lifting heavy objects in strange and difficult ways in an effort to damage our bodies and hope they heal and regrow in a slightly stronger way. My friend Jan and I would like show you a few things that we do in the tiny, tiny gym where we live. You guys all remember Jan, right?

Of course you do. This ex-military beast of a German is my personal trainer, so to speak. He moves these weights from their position here out to the sides of his body, to strengthen the chest. Here, yours truly is doing something self explanatory.

Yeah, that was like my 100th rep I think…*flex*. Haha, I’m terrible at lying. Every time we work out Jan does his best to maintain those 6-pack abs for the Swedish ladies. Way to go you big smoothie.

I was messing around with some low weight on the squat machine and Jan tells me to make a funny face resulting in this picture.

Good times. Ryan and Meg (my friends from Seattle living in Stockholm) are coming to visit today so I’ve got to run down to the tåget (station) and meet them now. Have a good weekend and keep checking back, you never know when something new is happening with thebigswede. Peace.