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Russia cont., Moscow day 1 April 28, 2007

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Moscow. Before I even started seriously planning my trip I knew that I had to see both St. Petersburg AND Moscow. Its the whole reason I chose this particular trip. Anything less would just be incomplete. Boy I’m glad I went. Its hard to know where exactly to begin with such a city, the capital of Russia. Its a gem. First you should know that it took a really long time to drive between the cities, and we took some back roads which were bumpy to say the least. Russia, get your act together and repave those roads, double time! My friends actually warned me that I wouldn’t get much sleep on the bus; they lamented the fact that a massive group of Spanish students were singing, drinking cheap vodka and acting up the whole way to Moscow. Thankfully our bus was completely different. Most people were dead tired and the whole duration was very quiet, people were sleeping and I even managed a few hours of shuteye.

Upon arriving in the big capital, we were all struck with awe – for two reasons. First the architecture was just overwhelming in every sense of the word. I was expecting soviet looking buildings, you know, the depressing kind. Far from it, the main center of the city was jaw-dropping. Maybe not as beautiful as St. Petersburg or Stockholm or something, but still high class. Okey, sometimes I exaggerate, to be honest there were a few dull looking areas, but what do you expect? Its Russia.

The second reason we were in awe was because of the hundreds of thousands of Russian police, Russian army, special forces and riot police swarming over the entire city. Unbeknownst to us, the city was having protests in opposition to President Vladimir Putin. While we didn’t see a single protester in the city, we did see the entire red army patrolling it.

We learned once we were back in Uppsala that chess legend Garry Kasparov was the leader of said protest and was arrested. You can read about it here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6554989.stm

Instead of dropping us off at the hotel right away we had to endure 3 more hours in the bus, doing site seeing. There was no way I could get out of this, unfortunately, so I made the best of it. All of us were feeling very grubby after a full night (with little sleep) on the bus and all we could think about was a warm shower and a change of clothes. The kind Russian tour lady did her best (with a thick accent) to point out buildings of interest and finally we stopped at one major site I’ve wanted to see for a long time – the Red Square. So much history has taken place here, I don’t even know where to begin. First of all, I was expecting it to be a little bigger. We at the University of Washington have our own ‘red square’, and I was expecting the real deal to be twice as large, but it was still impressive. On one side is the most iconic building in Russia, St. Basil’s cathedral. On the other, the foreboding and massive complex known as the Kremlin.

And of course what would a visit to Red Square be without a bunch of communist lunatics waving soviet flags outside of Lenin’s mausoleum?

So we walked around Red Square a bit then went back to the buses. We didn’t have time to see much except the square, and because Moscow was on such a tight lock-down due to protests we actually got kicked off by guards who were closing the area early. Thanks guys! Off we went to a couple more sites, including some kind of convent, I forget. On a side note, it seemed like all of Russia was getting married the last couple days. No joke, we saw at least a dozen newly weds in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Apparently in Russia its tradition to go around to tourist sites when you get married and get your picture taken; random! In any case, it was amusing, love was definitely in the air. Here we are with the Kremlin behind us.

The next really cool site was the University of Moscow, built by Stalin himself.

Impressive. Just off to the side of the university is a very famous hill (I forget the name) where people come to make wishes, overlooking the capital below. The view is supposedly impressive but unfortunately we couldn’t see much – the whole area was blocked off by a sizable Russian security force – a demonstration was underway. We actually learned these people were part of the pro-Putin camp and were rallying in response to the anti-Putin protesters. Why so many police were required to keep this small, calm demonstration in line? No clue, although our tour guide said it’s Russian tradition. It was amusing to see the looks the police were giving us – a massive group of completely foreign, young, student tourists.

Seen enough soldiers yet?! Yeah me too. Tired and badly in need of a change of clothes, we got back in the bus to finally head for the hotel. Upon getting there we had to sit and wait again (no surprise) and had the opportunity to purchase tickets to the world famous Bolshoi ballet that very night. Heard of it? You should have. Being in Moscow once…we were not going to pass up this chance. Unfortunately the poor women who was responsible for organizing our bus, and our tickets, was very disorganized and somehow my group ended up with a bunch of random tickets, only a few sitting together. Great. We finally got off the bus, found our luggage, and because I’m such a stud and remembered what my name looks like in Russian was able to get my room keys first. Booya. Time to shower and change. Ahh, that feels so much better. Our rooms were fairly nice, but I forgot to take a picture. The hotel itself was constructed for the 1980 Olympics and definitely had that whole… *cough*…80’s soviet charm going on.

We met up in the lobby, hungry but refreshed and headed for the Moscow subway. Something you should know about the underground in Moscow, its like an art museum. Every stop has its own theme but pretty much all have statues and some kind of impressive feature. Its illegal to take pictures down there, but that made us take even more. Its not fun without a little dash of danger, right? Fearful of Russian retribution? Not us.

We got off close to the center of town and walked around a bit, just admiring everything on foot for the first time. I had to pinch myself: here I was in the capital of the Russian Federation, wandering around with friends from every part of the world, searching around for culinary inspiration among a host of interesting looking restaurants. And what my friends, what kind of food do people journey from the world over to enjoy in Russia? Why Mexican of course! Yes, somehow, during one of the very rare nights we had in the city to enjoy a meal we chose Mexican. Yes, you can start the laughter, it doesn’t bother me. To be perfect fair, the Mexican fare was tasty and sizable; in short just what we needed.

Feeling much better and full of Hispanic hospitality we ventured forth to the one, the only, the world’s best known ballet – the Bolshoi! Russia and ballet…it just goes together like peanut butter and jelly…or Nutella and jelly if you’re crazy and your name is Mark. In any case, to figure out who would sit alone (because of random Ms-I-can’t-organize-anything-right) we cast lots (just like Biblical times!) and somehow myself and Tom ended up with the short end of the stick(s). Bad times! All in all it worked out perfectly though and the show was spectacular. I’ve never seen such flexibility and artistry before – the way those dancers moved it just seemed like they were floating on clouds. The whole experience was unforgettable and if you ever plan on coming to Russia, plan on seeing a show here, you’ll not soon regret it.

At this point I was tired, having gone about 48 hours or so on 2 hours of sleep total. What to do when sleep deprived? Go find a some nightlife after the ballet of course! I have no idea how the group convinced me not to go back to the hotel but I’m glad I didn’t. We wandered around the streets in the center of town, looking for inspiration and a bar which could serve us some world famous Russian vodka. I have no idea how we stumbled upon the bar that we did, it was some nondescript looking place without any flashy signs, we were all too nervous to even open the door. Finally Jan and I worked up the courage to take a peek and I’m glad we did, the place opened up inside and was very comfortable, with only a few local Russians enjoying a beer. You won’t find this pub in any guidebook, I promise, but it ended up being the perfect place for good conversation, laughs and a few hours of liquid enjoyment.

Seriously. That was one amazing time out. We laughed until our sides hurt, about what exactly I have no idea. I’ve never tasted better straight vodka and the Russian beer was tasteful as well. On the way back to the metro we walked through Red Square at night, which is so much more beautiful then during the day. The lights casts a special glow over the whole place and adds to the dramatic atmosphere already present. To the right of Theresa you see the famous G.U.M. shopping mall, and behind me you see the building which houses the Russian National History Museum.

I don’t remember much about taking the metro home, or walking to the hotel, but I do remember having a big smile on my face when my head finally hit the pillow. And that concludes day 1 in Moscow, a busy day to be sure. Stay tuned in a few days for the next installment, it sure has been fun remembering all that went on just a few short weeks ago. To be continued.

Toxicology. April 24, 2007

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“What is there that is not a poison? All things are poison and nothing is without poison. Solely the dose determines that a thing is not a poison.”

Paracelsus (1493-1541)

Poisons, hmm. Hundreds of millions of people world wide poison themselves every day. While nicotine and ethanol are the most culturally excepted forms of recreational poisoning, I’ll bet you can name many famous examples in fiction and history. Romeo and Juliet. Socrates. Jim Jones and Jonestown. I could name many more. Studying poisons for me this term has been nothing short of fascinating. We get down to the nitty-gritty, to the core of why foreign molecules harm our bodies in the spectacularly diverse ways that they do.

In lab today I got chosen to be the one person to examine human adrenal cortex cells, while the rest got stuck with liver cancer cells from rats. Sorry guys, there can only be one star of the class, better luck next time. Over competitive? No way, I’m just pre-med. The experiment is examining the role of B-naphthoflavone as an inducer of Cytochrome P-450 activity (CYP1A1) in cells, as well as eventual inhibition by ellipticin. Guess what? They have no idea if it will work in human adrenal cortex cells! Haha! Novel and exciting research; I’ll let you know how the results turn out. On the bright side as well we don’t have to kill any animals at the end of this study, like all our previous labs. Ahh biology, its good to be back.

Yeltsin R. I. P. April 23, 2007

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You did good Mr. Yeltsin. You did real good. You brought your country out of the hell of communism and ushered it into the modern era. You brought a new light and a better life to your people even though they largely despised you. For helping to architect a new Russia, a better Russia, a Russia I recently enjoyed, I salute you.

Russia, Amazing St. Petersburg, part #3 of… ? April 22, 2007

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I’ve just got a big ‘ol smile on my face today. Don’t ask why. It probably has something to do with spending the last 3 hours with my group of Russia travel buddies, swapping photos and memories. What a super group of people, from all over the globe. Right now in this moment, I feel like one of the luckiest people alive. While I’m so perky lets get through another update before I turn melancholy and write something careless and embarrassing. Here goes.

Theresa and I had a busy and ambitious agenda for day 1 in Russia. Something you should know about me is that I don’t enjoy traveling in big groups, not one bit. Tour groups are for senior citizens and people with hip and knee replacements, not for young and adventurous college students. With Russia I made an exception, and I’m glad I did too. But whenever the opportunity presented itself to break away and get off and exploring on my own – I took it. This morning in St. Petersburg was just that opportunity since the group was planning on “site-seeing” the city by bus for 3 hours. Hmm, lets think here, do I really feel like getting back on the bus after 18+ hours of it yesterday? Obviously not. Since “the group” was only in certain cities for a short amount of time, anything less then good planning would result in missing something important – that was not an option. The breakfast buffet at the hotel was nice and off I went as fast as possible to the Hermitage with Tom and Theresa, two people who apparently share my attitude about travel. On the way, we stopped at the massive and breathtaking Kahzan Cathedral, in the middle of the city on the main street, and we just had to step inside. A simple melody of voices could be heard from somewhere in the back and sent chills down my spine, in a good way. A mass was about to begin.

The ceremony was beautiful and completely foreign to me, I had never witnessed a Russian Orthodox service in my life. People praying to and kissing icons, making the sign of the cross quite often, speaking cryptic Russian lines when directed to by the priest, it was all very eye-opening. The sun was just brilliant as we exited and walked toward Russia’s most famous museum, the Hermitage itself. Because there are no crosswalks in St. Petersburg (true story!) we had to navigate across some major roads, Russian style: move fast and assume that drivers don’t see you (a.k.a. common sense). This place (the Hermitage) is crazy. The only thing I can compare it to is from my experience in the Louvre in Paris or the British Museum in London, but even those (I believe) are smaller. Its been said that in order to see the Hermitage properly you need many days to explore its halls of exquisite art – we had like 2 hours. Hahaha. Are you ready for a photo extravaganza? Of course you are.

Simply majestic, simply too much. I’m not sure what I liked better, the art or the rooms the art was displayed in, probably the latter. I particularly like that last picture, Tom and Theresa looking very overwhelmed (I was too!) in one of many stunning entryways. It goes without saying I could have spent a much longer time here, but I think the rooms we breezed through gave us a good taste. Next on the list of things to do was the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (kunstkamera) just to the north of the museum, and learning of our plans Tom decided to take off on his own and meet up later. I was really excited about this museum because Peter I “The Great” created it back in the 17th century and opened it as the first ever public museum in Russia. Peter also had a special affinity for medical science and he, with the help of many physicians throughout Russia managed to collect and preserve hundreds of what he called “monsters” – children and animals born with bizarre abnormalities and defects. They wouldn’t let me take any pictures in that room, but believe me some of those examples were far out: conjoined twins (connected by head, stomach, hip, and many variations), two heads, three arms, cyclops, 3 eyes, malformations of hands and feet, and much much more. Sounds gross, but to someone interested in medicine like me these developmental abnormalities were just fascinating and I’m pretty sure Theresa had to pull me away from this room because I could have spent hours there. Next we crossed back over a big bridge…

and decided to break for St. Isaac’s cathedral, which in all honesty shouldn’t be called a church at all because it is now only a museum. Its true, they don’t have services in there anymore, and you have to pay a pricey ticket fee to get in – sort of a shame in the (former) “house of God” but I digress. It was impressive.

We even climbed the 300+ steps to the top of the cathedral and got a great view of the city on a beautiful sunny day. One of the pictures I used in Part I is from the top of St. Isaac’s, see if you can find it. From here we decided to go to the Yusupov Palace because this was the place that the infamous Rasputin was assassinated, and the guidebook said it was worth taking the tour so we headed out there. On the way we ran into a great little cafe and being the spontaneous person I am stopped for, what else? Fika! I’ve really become a Swede it seems.

Ahh, traditional Russian baked goods. See my apple cake like thing on the left? It had like yellow sauce on it that looked like Indian curry, but I swear it was not and was delicious. The people inside were really nice and the price was right, in fact we had such a good time just relaxing and taking a break from all the walking that we noticed we only had a short time left before the palace closed. Uh oh. So my Lonely Planet guide book said a tour started at 5:15 pm, but when we got to the palace not only did they not have the tour but they were about to close in like 5 minutes, giving us no time to see the palace at all. Ghetto!! Lonely Planet I hate you right now, but in all honesty I “could” have called ahead of time to confirm tour times…it seems my planning wasn’t as perfect as I thought. Theresa had a great attitude about my screw up (thx!) and we moved on to the Church of Spilled Blood. It was on this site that Tsar Alexander II was assassinated (more correctly blown up) in 1881 and the church was built to honor him. Wow, thats not 1, not 2, but 3 impressive churches in one day. Busy. Like the rest of the churches we saw this place was rich with icons, murals and gold gold gold.

From here we went back into the center of town and found a great little cafe overlooking the street below. Tom rejoined us and he described all the wonderful things he had seen throughout the day. We ordered French press coffee and some pancakes with poppy seeds (Mohn auf Deutsch).

We really needed to take a rest off of our feet and everyone enjoyed the caffeine pick-me-up. Thats about it for our day in St. Petersburg, from the cafe we walked back to the Hermitage where our bus was waiting and we began our long overnight journey to the capital, Moscow, together. It wasn’t long before we were dreaming sweet dreams of Lenin and revolution…stay tuned.

Russia…day II, travel –> St. Petersburg April 20, 2007

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Congratulations. You survived my diatribe on love and decided to come back to thebigswede for more. You know what this means? We must be good friends. Thanks.

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”

— Robert Louis Stevenson

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

— Mark Twain

Great authors, great quotes. To me travel is many things, and far too many to go into in one post. However, as a seeker myself, I can appreciate the idea of searching, exploring and discovering for its simple sake alone. Sometimes I just sit back and reflect on the pictures in my head – of places I’ve seen and the people that carry out their entire lives there. We humans are an interesting lot, running around like little ants on a hill pursuing this and that until we die. Our methods are different, our customs contrasting, our foods peculiar and our faiths opposed. But I believe if you strip everything away, we are pretty much all the same. We all desire success, we all long for love. On a biological level we all compete to survive and reproduce. But there is more too it…somehow.

We got off the boat in Turku, Finland, all a little groggy from a night of partying but excited to begin our adventure. With our luggage safely on board we carefully surveyed the bus on which we would spend a long, long time to come. The chairs were comfortable, adjustable, and leg room a little bit lacking (hey, I have long ones, I’m like 6’3” after all). Before we knew it we were speeding for the Russian border. It took like 7 hours or so, but didn’t feel that long due to good conversations, excitement and mp3 players. The Finish border was easy, and amazingly so was the Russian one. It was hilarious really. First you have to understand that I grew up in a country with an uneasy attitude toward everything Soviet/Russian. Naturally in the media, in movies, in books and in popular belief the Russians are not painted with the rosiest of colors. So this cute little Russian women soldier comes on our bus with the biggest smile, motions for us to hold up our passports, gives us a thumbs up and walks off a few seconds later. Everyone on the bus spontaneously broke into laughter. Seriously.

Shortly after the border crossing we hit a gas-stop and Viktor stepped on our bus. He could have been Russian mafia, he could have been anyone, but his pockets were stuffed and stuffed and stuffed with rubles…millions and millions of shiny rubles. Right then and there we exchanged our Euro dollars for rubles, no receipts, no negotiation, just a good exchange rate and off we went. I guess thats how they do things in Russia. It wasn’t illegal or anything, I just wish I could have taken a picture to show this guy, it was great. Shortly after Viktor we found ourself stopping again and again because of our crazy chain smoking Finish bus drivers who spoke no English. Loved those guys. At one particular stop there was this guy with a car packed with Vodka, chocolate, cigarettes – you know, the necessities. He had great prices and it was just funny to see 150 foreign exchange students trying to get a peek into his trunk to buy cheap indulgences. I took a picture but I won’t be able to post it until later, so check back – its funny.

Things were fairly uneventful until we got into St. Petersburg in time for the amazing sunset you saw at the top of this post. Really during the whole trip we were lucky with weather; thank you God. Just driving around the city we were in shock at what a beautiful place we had arrived in. I couldn’t believe my own eyes. Apart from maybe certain parts of Stockholm, I have never seen a more architecturally rich city. What would have been ordinary office buildings back home were old, elegant and decorated with every kind of statue, gilding and pillar imaginable. This was a pleasant surprise indeed and I wished several times that the bus would stop and let me out immediately so I could start exploring this place.

What happened next was skeezy (yes, I made that word up) and unfortunate. We arrived at the hotel we were “supposed” to stay at and everyone got out except the Uppsala students, who were instructed to stay on the bus because the hotel had run out of room for us and we were going to another place. Now normally I wouldn’t care. Normally its like, whatever. But we had been traveling all day. We were in desperate need of a shower and some pillow time. Oh, and we weren’t informed of the change until we arrived either. Bad planning! Long story short we waited on the bus for over an hour before finally leaving hotel #1 and it took some time to get to hotel #2. Ah the joys of traveling with tour groups! Thankfully our hotel was brand new, a lot nicer then hotel #1 and also much closer to the heart of the city (short walking distance!) so our bad moods quickly turned around. We unloaded, got our keys, unpacked and got adjusted in our rooms.

Nice place! We found our friends and it was off to walk around the city and take some pictures, with all the beautiful evening lights.

Those guys you see there, they were my AMAZING group for the trip, you guys rock so much. Seriously, Jan, Christian, Anna, Theresa, and Tom, you guys made the trip what it was for me – one of the best of my life. Lets travel together again soon, ok? We walked the main streets of St. Petersburg for several hours before finding a nice Italian place around midnight, as well as waiters who could speak a little English (a rarity in Russia). Here we are together around the table.

The food was good and by the time we got back to the hotel we were ready to crash, after doing some much needed planning for the next day of course. All in all, day two was a lot of travel but got us excited to really tackle Russia in proper form on day III. And…day III should be coming shortly, but thats it for day/part II. I’ll take a writing break and come back fresh later tonight or tomorrow, depending on how I feel. Can’t rush the writing, after all. Stay tuned.

Back from Russia Part I , with love! April 18, 2007

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What a trip. Your faithful Swede is back home in Uppsala and it is grand. I never thought Sweden would feel like home to me, but I just had a huge smile on my face after landing in Stockholm and hearing people speak Swedish, which I can understand. The sun is shining, spring is definitely here and now I get to recap one of the best trips I have ever taken. Life doesn’t get too much better then that my friends, so without much further ado its time to write while the memories are fresh. This could take a while.

Wednesday (Day 1) Stockholm-Finland

Once upon a time…a student set off to journey to the east, to a land of mystery and intrigue, to Russia. What picture comes to mind when you think of this place? Outsiders the world over have strong (often hostile) and diverse opinions of this land. I had no idea what to expect. The single largest (geographically) country in the world introduced us to space travel, communism, and vodka among many other things. Its role on the world stage the last two or three centuries is unmistakable and unprecedented. Mother Russia has brought some of the most powerful nations and men to their knees, from Napoleon to Hitler and so on. Its hand and influence in the post-WWII era is obvious and impressive at the same time. When it comes to fine art, music, literature, etc. Russia certainly enjoys a favorable reputation. In any case, I was really excited to experience this place which is truly different from any other.

I took off with my friend Theresa in the mid-afternoon on Wednesday and we took a train to Stockholm, en-route to the Viking Line ship docks. The trip involved no flying, but rather travel by boat, bus and train. Although this made for longer travel times I was really grateful to see the country on the ground, and it certainly made for some interesting (if not cramped) nights. This trip had been a long time coming for me and (as per the usual) I tried to plan ahead as much as possible. Lugging my few bags to the dock was not problematic and we waited to board the ship for Turku, Finland. Two German friends of Theresa (who I had never met before), Jan and Christian and I decided to share a cabin together and quickly we were off on the sea, watching an incredible sunset over the jewel of Scandinavia, Stockholm itself.

The studious German men we were with introduced me to a great little card game called “Scott” on the boat and we played late into the night with some cheap beer from the duty-free shop. Our cabin was small but cozy and we all slept rather well after reading and talking about Russia late into the night. Because I want to break down the trip bit by bit for you, the reader, I don’t have many pictures of things before we got to Russia, the ones I stuck in above and below are a few good examples without explanations, because a blog post sans good pics is lame. More to come soon on the rest of the trip, but now I need to take a break, do some laundry and read. Overall the trip was simply amazing, and I hope I can convey that to you in the coming posts.

– – – – – – –

Disclaimer: this is absolutely not directed at any specific person or persons.

This may seem completely random, but this is my blog, I get to write what I want. While I endeavor to keep it as apart as possible with my private “diary” of sorts, often time there are inevitable overlaps. Maybe I’m just feeling sentimental, it wouldn’t be the first time. Maybe I just need to vent. I’m not trying to make any announcement(s) here. Go ahead and close your browser now if you want, its your choice. I want to talk a bit about love. To those of you who believe in true love, this is for you. Love is possible. Love can last forever. To those of you who believe in long walks, of campfires, candles, a bottle of wine on the beach, of sunsets, dinners, long conversations, of laughter and hugs – never give up. Romance is a choice. Love is worth fighting for. Please don’t settle for second best, don’t give up on what you hold to. People will tell you soul-mates don’t exist, that true love is an illusion, they will laugh at you for your faith and tell you to forget “foolishness” in favor of practicality. These people have given up on love. They know nothing. You do not seek someone you can live with but rather someone you cannot live without. No matter how badly you are hurt, and it will come, no matter how many times disappointment and regret choke your heart – stand firm. In the end it is love that matters, and our good Lord tells us that true love never fails, that true love never ends. Thats the love which you desire, that you deserve and its worth waiting for. Now a message specifically for the gentlemen: To you men who are romantics, to you who know what a good cry is, and who express emotions, you are the real men of the world. You believe that chivalry is not dead. You like children. You put family first. You believe that ladies, whether they are your mother, sister, friend or girlfriend should be treated as ladies, with the utmost respect. Your friends will laugh, call you weak, old-fashioned, gay and un-masculine – but they know nothing. You are the true men of this generation. You are what every women wants down deep, even if they don’t tell you so. You are a knight in shining armor, an image bearer of Christ himself, and you are unashamed. Don’t become jaded, the things that are the most important in life do not come easily or without sacrifice. Your Juliet is just around the corner, God has a plan to prosper you and give you a future, you just have to believe. Stand up for what you know is right. Don’t give up.

Thats what I think about love.

Of Underdogs, Good Friends, Animals and Rock…this much I know. April 10, 2007

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Jesus is risen. Its true, and has been for nearly 2000 years but once every year we sit back and really meditate on its meaning, during Easter. No holiday is dearer to me and no event more important to the foundation of Christianity then the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. Happy belated Easter to you (glad påsk på Svenska) and I hope everyone had an enjoyable weekend with family and friends. Since Mark left last week things have been nothing but busy, which I suppose is par for the course. I’ve done my best to catch up on Toxicology reading and attend labs as well as lectures, all of which I find very fascinating and applicable to my physiology major. Honestly, who doesn’t think poisons are cool? So I got a phone call on Good Friday morning from my good friend Jonas. Apparently he had tickets to the opening game of the 2007-2008 “All Svenskan” premier soccer league and had a friend cancel – giving me the opportunity to step in. And I did so gladly. The game was David vs Goliath, better known as Brommopojkarna vs Djurgården. The “Brommo Boys” as they are affectionately called are completely new to the upper division, having won the championship at the lower league and thus having the privilege to play in the big leagues. Djurgården on the other hand have won the premier championship 3 of the last 5 years, in dominating fashion. Here is Jonas and I getting ready for the blowout on a parkbench…doing what else? Why having a couple beers of course, looking like a couple bums.

You wouldn’t believe this but it actually started to hail on us shortly after this picture. Stupid spring weather in Sweden, you never know if it will be sunny or snowy, and thus have no clue what to wear. We got to our seats on the Brommo fan side and the game began just like that. This was a dream come true for me as it was my first time watching a soccer game in Sweden, one of many goals from my yearlong checklist.

Thanks for the tickets Jonas, I owe you one. Oh and believe it or not the Brommo boys actually won! 1-0! It was the most embarrassing result in years, according to Jonas, a very distraught Djurgården supporter. I guess sometimes even David wins.

So I get back later that evening and Mela calls me up to have dinner at her corridor in Flogsta with friends. Who am I to say no to cute German girls cooking food?! Thank you Mela and the rest of the crew for a great evening, that casserole was like jätte yummy… if I can even say that. Here is the group all together, well except me cause I’m obviously taking the picture.

Mela and Stefi, I owe you both dinner at my place once I get back from Russia. On Saturday, out of nowhere, Jan busts into my room and threatens to MURDER ME WITH A CLOTHING HANGER!!!

Naturally I had to dispatch the foe with my advanced knowledge of Swedish/Viking martial arts, and that was that. Moving right along, now its Easter Sunday and Ryan tells me he and Meg are planning on going to Skansen to check out the Påsk Marknad and want to know if I will följa med, which I do. The sun was shining and the day was just perfect to walk around and see this gem of Stockholm.

They always look great together. Oh, and they also asked if I would be an official usher at their wedding (in Seattle) this next winter, which of course I agreed to. Looking very forward to that. In and around Skansen there are thousands of animals, some caged and some not. We saw moose, reindeer, grizzly bears, lynx, minks, seals, bison, horses, pigs, you name it. Here are a few that I thought were especially cool.

There really wasn’t so much between myself and the giant bison, so it was a good idea not to make him angry. I could see the headline in the paper now… So after we finished at Skansen we had dinner together near the main station. It just so happened that this night, on Easter of all nights, I had tickets to a concert. Not just any concert, a Nine Inch Nails (NIN) concert. I know what you are thinking. I know exactly what is running through your mind. Are you kidding, NIN on Easter? What kind of godless pagan are you?! First, I actually bought tickets to go see the opening act primarily, Ladytron, and NIN was just sort of an add on after-thought to me. Second, I had no idea when I bought the tickets months ago that it would be on Easter, as they were only to play in Stockholm for one night before moving elsewhere in Europe. What was strange was our dinner bill actually added up to 666.00 kroner between the 3 of us…which was an unsettling, if not humorous omen of what might come later that night.

The crowd was intense, and the music deafening. I fought my way to 3 or 4 person rows back from the front of the stage, close enough to hit Trent Reznor with a meter stick had I had one. It was crazy to stand so close to a musical legend who has influenced so many bands and so many people’s lives in my generation. Ladytron was just as good as I expected them to be in opening, and both front-women sang very well live, better then I thought they would. I knew the words to every song they played, but looking around the crowd it seemed I was one of only a handful.

Naturally people screamed, sang and jumped around excitedly when NIN finally took the stage. It was a fight to stay on ones feet. You had no control. The crowd seemed to have a will of its own, and you were along for the ride. I think the last time I sweat so hard was in the summer of 2001, in India. It was crazy. Those of you who have been GA at a major rock concert know what I’m talking about.

Trent sang his heart out and put in as much energy as the crowd put back out. Thats always a good thing to see. The songs were a mixture of very hard, and very soft favorites from across the many years of NIN, and I don’t remember the exact set list, but the whole concert was great and I’m glad I went. I was even more glad when I was back at Ryan and Meg’s and had taken a shower. And now I’m in the process of packing for Russia, where I will travel to tomorrow. I’ve read the books, I have a strategy, I’ve prayed for safety and I’m ready to go. Theresa (my Austrian roommate) and I met a few times to go over what we want to see together and are both happy to have a friend to watch out for the other. It goes without saying that a big update will follow when I am back in Uppsala, which won’t be until next Wednesday. Until then I ask for your prayers. Have a great week and barring a run-in with the KGB I’ll have a lot to talk about soon!

Mark In Sweden April 3, 2007

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Picture this. Two gents from the pacific NW in the capital of Scandinavia. Perfect weather. Swedish coffee. Meatballs with ligonberry. Thousands of blonde bombshells. Man shopping. Does this dream get any better? Oh wait, this isn’t a dream? Apparently good things do come to those who wait, and come to Sweden.

Yes, I had the privilege, no the honor to host my very good friend Mark Engle for a week over his spring break. What a couple of good looking bachelors. Eller hur?

I never thought I would do this but I’m not going to explain everything we did. I just can’t. Its too much info and to take a cue from another friend, I will let Mark do the story telling over on his very well kept blog. You can find a link to his site on the left. The bottom line is we had one amazing time. I thought I had seen it all in Uppsala and Stockholm. Apparently not. Mark you are simply great and I want to thank you for your limitless energy and “can-do” attitude no matter what we found ourselves doing. Because pictures say thousands of words I’m going to let them do the talking, mostly because Mark and I woke up before 5 am, to get him on his way to Arlanda…that was, after a night of staying up late in Stockholm. Enjoy the silence, and shots.

What a time. Mark, thanks for taking the time to come and visit me in the far north, you are an incredible friend. These are the days; ones I certainly will never forget. Stop by his blog to see other great pictures and embarrassing videos. Can you believe I’m going to Russia in 1 week?! It just never ends.

Culture and Health was great! April 3, 2007

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What a great class, the headline says it all. I want to thank my group for doing a bang up job on our presentation and research in general. It was hard work, and getting such a good results was sweet. Here we all are together.