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The fear and the sadness June 24, 2007

Posted by thebigswede in Uncategorized.

I woke up this morning with the familiar pitter-patter of raindrops. Familiar because I come from Seattle. Horrible because it is supposed to be summer. Uppsala is crying. Bitter tears of a year gone by, of a million memories and of the end that awaits. Saying goodbye to good friends is akin to plunging a flaming dagger into your heart. It ranks among my least favorite things in life. Uppsala has become a veritable ghost town; it is not itself and neither am I. The laughter is gone, the bikes have disappeared, the annoying music playing a few doors down has vanished with its occupant. The life has died. I’ll never forget the excitement and promise that awaited when I arrived shortly one year ago. I will never forget the equally harrowing sadness that now comes with departing. With every item I pack in my bags there is a memory; call me a sentimentalist if you like. You think about what was, what is and what could have been. I’m not one to dwell on the past or meditate on regrets but at the same time I am inextricably filled with a sense of fear and sadness. Will anyone this past year remember me? What will life be like upon returning home? What is the meaning of it all anyway?

Right now I don’t feel like writing rosy remembrances of Gotland or Tallinn. Today is not that day. Today is a day to reflect, to pack, to make plans and drink good coffee. Tomorrow may find me in different spirits, and if thats the case you can expect part II of Gotland and Tallinn shortly thereafter.


Gotland pt. 1 June 23, 2007

Posted by thebigswede in Uncategorized.

“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

One of the greatest things about studying abroad is the fellow foreign students you encounter. By their very nature, a study abroad student is a different breed of homo sapien. These students leave every shred of cultural familiarity, abandon friend and family alike, plunge head first into a new (often hostile) environment, delay career ambition, pay gross sums of money, endure all kind of new discomfort, unpalatable foods, soul-crushing isolation and bizarre alien ‘norms’…and for what? Perhaps its best to leave this as a rhetorical question. The response is ultimately personal. The change, however, is for all eternity.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” –- Henry Miller

Hi. My name is Mike Larson. I am a travel-aholic. I actually realized this while on Gotland, during one particular evening chatting with my fellow pilgrims around a newly made campfire. You know you are an addict when you begin to plan your next trip, and dream up many more when you are currently in the middle of a trip. Somehow we got on the topic of traveling to South America, Africa and how great it would be to see the Middle East as well. Scary. Exciting. If I can somehow swing it, and the good Lord chooses not to take me home early, I would always like to either be on a trip or in the process of planning a trip, for the rest of my life. Wish me luck. Now on to what you are actually waiting for, a nice summary of our 10-day adventure on the Swedish island of Gotland.

Unlike who you ultimately fall in love with, where you chose to journey in life is completely up to you – its a choice. Gotland had long been one place I’d been eager to choose, as much for its natural splendor as for its long and important viking history and heritage. Imagine my fantastical (did I just make that word up?) excitement when along one day comes my favorite band of German friends, desperately trying to ‘twist my arm’ into accompanying them on a grand biking tour-de-Gotland. I’ll leave it to your imagination just how much convincing I actually needed. It was for this very reason I chose to extend my time in Sweden by 3 weeks, much to the chagrin of comrades and relatives alike in the Emerald City. Sorry guys.

We had no definite plans, no reservations, no definite place to be, just bikes, supplies, a map and an insatiable thirst for exploration and adventure. Preciously my kind of trip.

I will now introduce our cast of intrepid characters. Being a biker gang, we had to come up with a catchy title. We called ourselves ‘Valhalla’s Valkyries’, a Nordic influenced name which is sort of reminiscent of Hell’s Angles. We were:

Stephie ‘xXx’ Hruby

David ‘Glamour Boy’ Sevcik

Simon ‘The Big Red’ Mennecke

Melony ‘The Squirrel’ Masino

and finally, yours truly, Mike ‘The Big Swede’ Larson

Together, we were a hardened, rough and tough band of Scandinavian Studies students that you did NOT want to mess with.

Day 1: Uppsala-Stockholm-Nyarshamn-Visby

Highlights: Woke up deadly early (like 5ish) , took the bus to Stockholm. While having breakfast with the crew I run into an old friend I met while in Russia, Tom from Chicago and got to meet his family. Pleasure meeting all you Malino’s! The ferry was huge and despite drinking lots of coffee we ended up napping most of the way to Visby. Upon arrival we picked up our rental bikes (great quality!), packed our things in the trailers, and set off to explore Visby. The city itself is just a gem, truly, a gem. Built largely by the Hanseatic League, this walled city has so much history and natural beauty – its almost like stepping into a dream. Everywhere in the city are ruins of old forgotten churches, complete with arches, pillars and such. Simply a place unlike any other. Oh, did I mention we had sunny weather? It doesn’t get any better. At some point during the day we decided to begin our formal journey around the island, and after consulting the map carefully made way to the north. I’m pretty sure we made it about 30 to 35 km on day one. Not sure precisely where we eventually made camp, but it was on some beach in the untouched wilderness of Gotland, complete with perfect sunset to cap a perfect day.

Wow that was long, and that was just the highlights of day 1. This could take an eternity to finish. Hmm. I think the best way is to break it down into parts, but I promise to actually finish this trip, unlike what I did with Russia. Shame on me. Its pretty late and I need some sleep now, so expect part II up tomorrow. I promise! Stay tuned.

Back from Gotland…and off again. June 19, 2007

Posted by thebigswede in Uncategorized.

Greetings my faithful friends. I am pleased to report I am back from Gotland and even more pleased to report it was a first-class adventure from start to finish. I literally got back from my 10 days of travel just hours ago, enough time apparently to do laundry and pack for my next trip, now to Tallinn the capital of Estonia. Rest assured, there will be a update worthy of my fantastic time in Gotland when I return from this next trip, and then of course an entry on Tallinn as well. Time is just flying by but I am enjoying every single day in this rich and splendid area of the world. To all you back home, I look forward to seeing your smiling faces in just a few short weeks. I leave you now with a few nice shots of the over 370 I took while in Gotland.

Flag Day ! A Nation Celebrates June 6, 2007

Posted by thebigswede in Uncategorized.
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Happy June 6th, the National Day of Sweden! Go outside right now, dust off the yellow and blue cross and wave it in the wind. There, don’t you feel blonder and more blue-eyed then ever?! I’ll bet you had no idea today was a significant historical day for Swedes. Well guess what? Neither did I! Perplexed by this strange holiday with seemingly no meaning, I do what I always do: ask a native.

Sweden is a land of peace; it is practically as synonymous with peace as Switzerland is with neutrality. Now it hasn’t always been this way. Remember those raping and pillaging vikings? Oh, and how about that Gustavus Adolphus guy practically dominating Germany in the 30-Years War. Yes, Sweden has had its fair share of martial success, but the fact remains that Sweden as a nation has never been conquered by another power. It has no “independence” day, no day it can stand up and proclaim “we kicked the enemy out! We are free!”. Most nations do have this special day of triumph, and Sweden became mighty jealous. So jealous in fact that 2 years ago Sweden created a national day, practically out of thin air. Sneaky Sweden…didn’t think anyone would catch you, did ya? Well I did, and now the 2 people who read this blog have too! Mwahah! Sure there was some kind of special significance for choosing June 6th, like the fact that Gustav Vasa did some important thing or another, and the fact that lazy Swedes wanted another day off, especially when the weather was nice. I just can’t help but stop and snicker. In any case, go out and enjoy the weather if its nice where you currently find yourself. I have a few hours left to go on Toxicology, followed by a full 8 hours dreaming of cytochrome P-450, followed by writing a perfect exam and celebrating with a beer. Wish me luck!

Last Exam June 5, 2007

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Toxicology pimp. Its cram time. Final on Thursday. I’ll be missing-in-action until the weekend. Get out and enjoy the sunshine. Stay tuned.

Plans June 2, 2007

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Life is beautiful. Its that feeling that you have when you first wake up in the morning, when the sun is radiant and there is  the hope of a new day. Its June again, what a great time of year. The stress of months and months of studying is almost at an end, and the feeling of accomplishment is refreshing. I had to pinch myself this morning; yesterday was the last class of my 4th year at university. Senior year having come to a close, this is the point I should be done, that I should be moving on with whatever awaits in the “real” world. Scary thought, come to think of it. Some of my friends from high school have married, some have jobs, most have graduated college. Due to my study abroad, it is incumbent that I return for (at least part of) a 5th year. Personally I am so looking forward to that. Those more experienced in years have time and time again expressed that the college years are the best years in life and I for one have no intention of rushing through them. Apropo”rush”, I have no intention of ending my time in Sweden any earlier then I absolutely have to. I have been lucky enough to meet many new people in Sweden and those people have travel plans they apparently want me to join in on; who am I to disappoint?

Originally I was planning on coming home the 16th of June, however, I (as of a few days ago) will not return to beautiful Seattle until the 4th/5th of July. During the extra time I have I will travel all over the place, as far as my budget will allow me to go. Norway, Gotland, Tallinn, Amsterdam and maybe Belgium to name a few. Its going to be a busy June! Trust me when I say, however, this was a hard decision to make. The 4th of July has always been my favorite holiday in the states. To all you people back home looking forward to the annual Larson Independence Day Party on Lake Sammamish, I must ask sincerely for your forgiveness. I am actually in the process of planning a post-4th/coming home party on the lake, and all you usual suspects are warmly welcome to bbq, jetski, swim and catch up on a year gone by. Its going to be great to see everyone again.

My parents and I had a great time on Wednesday in Stockholm. We checked out Skansen, the Vasa Museum, the royal coin museum, Gamla Stad, Södermalm, the Chocolad Fabriken and much much more. It was a busy day, our feet were very sore at the end, a good indication we had spent the day well. To top things off we ate at a very historic restaurant that I’d had my eye on for some time – Fem Små Hus in Gamla Stad. It was the perfect way to celebrate Mom’s birthday. They even brought out a small roman candle, with shooting sparks and everything, when they brought out dessert. Fantastic! Here are the pictures from the day.

All aboard the Lars(s)on Buss !

Got to run. More to come soon. Have a great day.