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The fear and the sadness June 24, 2007

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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.

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Gotland pt. 1 June 23, 2007

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“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

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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

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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.

Mina Förädrar Kommer Hit May 28, 2007

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Greetings and happy (almost) summer. And..*drum roll please*..we have a winner for most stressful month ever…congratulations May, you suck! In all seriousness, May is terribly busy, am I right? Its a liminal period, one of transition, upheaval and (sometimes) welcome change. Time just flies by. June on the other hand is a breath of fresh air, a time to take a deep breath, hopefully. Right about now, I’m so ready for that deep breath. Just…*breathe*.

My parents came just yesterday, and we are having an amazing time so far. I’ve done my very best to show them the highlights of the city I have called home for the last 10 months, a city so dear to my heart. Balancing classes, labs, friends, my parents, studying for finals and sleep is no small task. I’m not the best person to play “tour guide” but I do love showing people new places and informing them of fascinating things therein. Here are a couple places, a view from the castle and a picture from the viking burial mounds of Gamla Uppsala. I love it here.

Stupid weather. Oh well, it didn’t detour us from exploring. They will be in Stockholm tomorrow, then I will join them on the 30th to celebrate my wonderful Mom’s birthday. Happy early birthday Mom, love you! More to come as I take more pictures with my parents, so stay tuned or something. Peace.

Dr. Watson, haha May 26, 2007

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Yesterday, in conjunction with the Linnaeus’ tricentennial, many world famous scientists gave short talks at Uppsala. I had time to go to a few, including one by Dr. James Watson, one of the co-discoverers of the structure of DNA. You’ve heard of Watson and Crick before right? This is one of the most famous pictures in biology, ever.

It was just hilarious to hear this guy talk. Among his more memorable quotes:

“Study something important. Most of you in this room will fail. It is better to fail at something important then to fail at something unimportant.”

“As a researcher, don’t be afraid to talk with your competition. If you kill your competitors then you will have no one to talk to at all.”

One could not be a successful scientist without realizing that, in contrast to the popular conception supported by newspapers and mothers of scientists, a goodly number of scientists are not only narrow-minded and dull, but also just stupid.”

Many in the audience burst out laughing after many of his self described “pearls of wisdom”. He is also like 79 years old (looks around 100) so I was afraid at many points during the talk that he would simply fall apart. What I didn’t like is he kept making fun of one of my personal heroes, two time Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling. I love Pauling. This guy practically revolutionized science single-handedly by discovering the nature of the chemical bond. As history would have it, had Linus had one more month or so he would have been the one responsible for finding DNA’s structure. He even showed Watson and Crick all the work he had done independently a few weeks after their famous publication. Sigh.

Last night my friend Jan and I had the privilege of cooking dinner for two Germans that are very special to me. Well, actually, Jan did all the cooking and I took half the credit. Stephi and Mela, I will take home so many special memories with you two. Nothing could possibly keep me from coming to visit in Germany next year, consider that a promise.

Yum! Das ist allis.

Grattis Linné May 23, 2007

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“Gud skapade, Linné ordnade”

“God created, Linnaeus arranged”

Today, the 23rd of may, is Carl Linnaeus’s 300th birthday. While there are many Swedes who have shaped science, medicine, math, art, politics and our world in general, there is only one Carl Linnaeus. In Uppsala, 2007 has been a perpetual celebration of this man and his work at this university. As a biologist myself, I feel privileged to be a part of honoring this great man in the city and country that he loved. Today there are leaders from around the world that have gathered in Uppsala, including the emperor and empress of Japan. The sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, and somewhere I’m sure Carl is looking down and is pleased. Enjoy the spring time, go and smell the roses and take time to admire the wonders of nature around you. I can think of no better way to honor tricentennial birthday of this “founding father” of modern biology.

Dr. Larson? May 21, 2007

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Thats my dad’s name. Always has been. If everything goes well it will be mine too, several years from now. I’m here to announce that I began the long, hard road through hell….er, I mean medical school applications, a few days ago. Med schools make life nothing short of hell to get in, its just universal. Essays, MCATs, recommendations, transcripts, interviews, fees and mountains of paper work. I can’t wait!!! This is what its all about right here; these are the tasks I’ve been preparing now for over 4 years. I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life. Its not even a question. I actually laughed out loud when someone first asked me why I wanted to be a doctor. It just seemed so silly. No this isn’t for the money (I would have studied business instead), no this isn’t because of parental pressure (they DISCOURAGED me from studying medicine) and no this isn’t for the women (doctors aren’t jocks, they’re nerds). I’m not saying I don’t have doubts / regrets / frustrations / nightmares et cetera, but when the rubber meets the road I was born to save lives. What I am not born to do is toxic animal experiments with rats. Hmm. Oh well, just one of countless stepping stones along the way. Don’t freak out, the rat was far into dream land before any of our work began.

And like any good researcher, I have my lab monkeys…er, I mean friends, Lars and Diana from the great land of Germany. Say “ost” guys!

Lars, seriously man, what have I told you about wearing shorts and flip-flops to lab. This isn’t the O.C., its Toxicology! Oh well.

Things are going to be really, really busy until I leave Uppsala. I have class everyday, a project to present in two days, my parents coming in 6 days and lots of stress in between. I’ll try to get an update before then, but I’m starting to wind-down a bit. Certainly there will be lots of pictures and stories with my parents, especially when we go to Norway the first week of June, so stay tuned for a big report on that. As you may have guessed by now I’m not going to finish my days in Russia, there is just too much to write and too little time. If you (for some reason) really want to hear about it and see more pictures I’ll do a personal “show & tell” the next time we meet. Needless to say it was amazing. Thats all for now, until next time.