Friday, February 28, 2014

First Country: Norway

So there was about a dozen of us that were feeling a little stir crazy, so we planned a trip a couple of weeks ago to head to Oslo last weekend! For being there just one night and two days, we sure accomplished a lot. We got up super early and headed to the Karlstad Busstation (which wasn't even open by the time we left, but oh well) and we were off! Our group literally took up half of the bus, which was really fun. Once we were near Oslo, it was becoming very obvious to me that I underestimated the city. It was so gorgeous, situated on the water with all kinds of colors of houses dotting the mountain surrounding it.

We got off the bus and headed to the hotel and, after I had a happy freak out over seeing someone carrying a Starbucks cup, we arrived at the hotel. (I never got the Starbucks, but at least there was a flicker of hope). We stayed at CityBox and it was really simple and perfect for what we needed, not to mention in a perfect location. We got settled, ate some of our pre-packed lunch, and headed out. I was blown away at how intricate and colorful the buildings were. I am talking blue, purple, coral, yellow, orange, teal, pretty much any color you could think of. Karlstad is beautiful, but lacks some old charm due to the multiple fires that have engulfed nearly the entire city, so I was really excited about seeing such amazing architecture. Not to mention those crazy trees that were seemingly everywhere..

Naturally, we headed towards the city center, which was incredible. So much life was there, between the street performers, protesters, and people just walking along. The first major building we saw was the Norwegian Parliament.

Next, a little ways down the same road, was the Royal Palace. You had to walk up a hill to get there, so looking back at the city was stunning. Of course, we took a ridiculous amount of pictures. Those #castleselfies really don't ever get old. Ever.

And of course the classic group picture with all of us :)

And we were even there for the changing of the guard, which was pretty neat.

Next, after getting lost a bit (while it began raining), we found Frognerparken. There was this beautiful stream with lots of ducks and a mini waterfall, but it is most famously known for its "naked people" statues lining the bridge. This was my personal favorite, such a beautiful snapshot of real love.

After a long, well-deserved fika, we headed toward the water, where there was a castle and fortress. It was almost dark by now, so we had a beautiful view of the lights of the city and marina below.

Then, we headed to the beautiful opera house, where we were able to explore the inside and then climb to the roof to take beautiful pictures. My point and shoot camera was being difficult since it was so dark, but I think you can imagine how pretty the view really was.

At night, we headed to a local-type club where there was a live band performing. Rosa brought us all there at the advice of a friend she had met on a trip she took a couple of years ago, so we were literally the only "foreigners" there. It was really awesome to see what the young Norwegians did on a typical Saturday. It was pretty relaxed and low key, which was exactly what we all needed.

The next day, we headed out back to the streets to go to the Munch Museum. It was really nicely organized with english translations under all of the descriptions. The life stories of artists are never boring, and Edvard Munch was no exception.

His most famous painting, The Scream

Next, we hopped on the metro to go to the famous Holmenkollen Ski Jump. The view on the 20 minute ride would have been beautiful....if not for the fog. But, we stayed optimistic and made it there. Unfortunately, all that we saw of the jump was a faint outline at best. It was so frustrating that we were at a perfect angle to have such an amazing view of the entire city, but some things are out of our control. 

We all rode on this ski simulator, so then we got a better view of the ski jump ;)

So, all in all, it was a very successful short trip. I have to admit though, I am excited to come back at the end of May when my parents and sister come to see me, as many things are closed until April and, of course, Scandinavia is at its best when it is Summertime. I am so happy that this is the first European city that they will see, and I hope they enjoy it as much as I do.

In other news...

On Tuesday, I helped make kanelbulle for the first time! Oh man, I can't wait to share the majesty of those things when I get home. They are SO good, I have yet to meet someone who doesn't freak out at the sight of them. Seriously. 

On Wednesday, I presented to some Swedish students about UND and why it's so awesome/they should study abroad there. Making the presentation was my first real pang of homesickness. Like dang, my school rocks. I was really happy to see other people get excited about it and was even told that someone is seriously looking into coming to UND. YAY :)

Last night, I went to my first ever Swedish hockey game. It was really fun to hang out and watch the game, but I kept thinking about how badly I wanted to teleport to The Ralph. It makes me appreciate UND hockey even more, there is really nothing else like it. 

Duettgatan 7 represent!

Tomorrow, I have my first choir event. The different sections "battle" each other and I am really excited to see what everyone comes up with. My section is pretty awesome, and I know that it will be a great time no matter what. 

I am absolutely loving it here and am so excited for what is to come. I can't believe 2 months have come and gone, and with all the trips I have to look forward to, I know it isn't about to slow down anytime soon. Until next time....xoxo

Thursday, February 20, 2014

What happens in Örebro...

Yesterday, I took my first trip out of Karlstad with Chloe to Örebro. Our main reason for going there was to complete the process with our residence permits (it is the nearest office), but we wanted to make the trip worthwhile by allowing plenty of time to explore the city. When we got off the bus, we just started walking in no particular direction. We ended up in town square, where we saw the castle and squealed like little girls about it. We needed to find the migration office, so we went to the convenience store in the square to ask for help getting there. The lady had no idea where the street was that we were looking for (red flag) so we decided to just start walking and let google maps do the rest. 

The walk was about an hour and a half zig zag pattern passing by cemeteries, an industrial park, and even through a private drive residential area. We eventually got there after a lot of complaining about how hard this must be for people to find/how inconvenient the location was and how we should have taken a bus, but we were just happy to have a break from walking. I think we make a pretty awesome travel team, between Chloe's orienteering skills and my ability to trust and stay calm in such helpless situations.

Stepping into the office, it was like a DMV on crack. Packed with annoyed people and their unattended children. We looked at the time and saw that we were literally less than 10 minutes late for our appointment. We were devastated, thinking that we were going to get stuck there for the next few hours. By some odd chance, I thought I heard my name being faintly called and went and saw if it was true. It was. The lady told me she was running late as well and I hadn't missed my appointment after all! It was like a Christmas miracle. After my 5 minute appointment, Chloe had hers and we were once again on our way. 

We stood by the nearest bus stop and crossed our fingers that it went in the direction of the center. We asked the bus driver if we could buy tickets and he said that it was okay, meaning we didn't have to pay. To make things even more awesome/lucky we went directly to the center. We got off the bus and ran towards the castle to admire it and revel in the fact that our nightmare of a day was actually working out. It was gorgeous and so medieval looking, complete with cannons and a moat. 

As you can tell, we were pretty excited! We took lots of pictures and began walking. It turns out that they only offered castle tours on Saturdays and Sundays. Boo. We went and took pictures of the courtyard in the middle of it and called it good. 

Next on our to do list was a place called Wadköping, an open air museum with a preserved area of town available to see and go inside. 

We refueled at the adorable cafe with a nice long fika before heading out into the cold again.  

Next, we went to the Örebro museum, where we saw some cool art and historical models and artifacts. 

Next, we head to St. Nikolai Kyrka, which is when our day took a turn for the worst. After taking lots of pictures and walking around this gorgeous church, a beggar came inside and began urgently talking to us (we were alone). I told her in Swedish that we speak English, but she proceeded to ramble on nonsense and then asked us for bread. We said no and she left, but it gave us a very creepy feeling and kind of started to give Örebro a less favorable rating in our minds. 

We then decided to see what kind of shopping there was and were called to by another beggar waiting outside of H & M. Since this was only a few minutes after the first one and it was beginning to get dark, we were really starting to feel not so happy to be there anymore. We went to another small art gallery in a really beautiful building before heading to the movie theater to see what was playing. We had been walking for 8 hours straight at this point and were really feeling a break. Turns out, matinees are not as common in Sweden and everything started at 21:00 or later, which was around when our bus was about to leave. 

We decided to give up on sightseeing and go eat something, since we really hadn't had a meal all day. We found a nice looking restaurant with a menu posted outside of it with all English descriptions for the food and decided it was a winner. I got a beer and Chloe got a cider and we said cheers to getting through the day despite all the bumps in the road. We took our time eating our food (especially since it was our first time at a sit down restaurant in Sweden). The snow began to come down really hard outside, and we reluctantly headed out.

We decided to go to the grocery store (since for us it is always such a time killer) until going to the bus. Turns out, the creepy people had not all been behind us as we saw this man standing at the end of the checkout harassing people and, in my opinion, getting way too close. We bought our few items and went to sit at the closed down cafe in the grocery store until it was time to walk to the bus. I decided to head to the bathroom before we did. Chloe came with since we were both so paranoid from all of the weird happenings of the day. I go to open the door to the single bathroom, just as the creepy guy from the checkout was opening it and insistently talking to me. Without a second thought, we turned around and ignored him and booked it back to our hiding spot in the dark cafe. 

We got all bundled up and began our walk to the bus early, thankful to be on a main, well lit street on our way home. I have never been so happy to see a bus! Örebro was beautiful and most of the day was great, but we were both excited and relieved to head back to our safe little town of Karlstad. I felt immediately at ease walking to our city center, exhausted and excited to share all of the awesome pictures we took. Overall, it was a successful day trip and makes me even more excited to spend this weekend in Oslo (with a bigger group)! Let the adventure continue..

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Exciting stuff to come!

So, now that I am all settled, don't wander around Karlstad like a lost puppy since I somewhat know my way around, have a rough idea of my class schedule for the rest of the semester, and have (kinda sorta not really) narrowed down what I would like to see during my time in Europe, I have begun to make plans for travel! Sorry for the run-on sentence. While you already know about London (eeee!), the newest additions include Oslo (next weekend!), Berlin and Prague for Easter Break (with maybe a few days in Copenhagen), and (most likely) a cruise to St. Petersburg, Helsinki, and Riga. Not to say that is where the list ends, but those are the travels I am pretty confident in.

My family is officially coming in the very end of May, and I am already to excited to show them around and see their reactions to all of the little culture differences that I will have (hopefully) grown used to! I am so lucky to have family that is so supportive of what I am doing and that wants to join me on my crazy adventure here, if only for a couple of weeks. I would be lying if I said that I am not jealous of how easy it is for most of the other exchange students' friends and family to visit. Not to mention casually getting sent care packages. I guess this is the reality of living on a different continent! I am quickly realizing that besides the snow,  Sweden doesn't have much at all in common with home. I am enjoying that, but there are definitely days where I wish I could hop in my car with my sister and go have Starbucks while shopping at Target. It really is the little things.

While I do have a leg up as far as classes go since English is my first (and only fluent) language, it is sometimes tricky. There has been times when I am in a room with two people speaking spanish to each other and two people speaking german. I honestly don't even know what to do in those situations, it is really a peculiar place to be. Honestly, it feels lonely sometimes because it is as if everyone else has a secret language with each other but me. While I have never needed to use another language and it isn't really necessary within a 3000 mile radius from my home, it makes me feel kind of stupid. I almost feel guilty, like I expect everyone to know my language while I don't care enough to learn theirs.

Which is completely untrue, and I am so impressed with how well everyone speaks english as their second language. I can't imagine how exhausting and brain strenuous it must be, and I totally understand why they take the opportunity to speak their mother tongue whenever they get the chance. I remember when I studied abroad in France, after living with a family for a week without using english, how amazing and effortless it felt to speak my mother tongue when I was reunited with my classmates. I know it will only get better as the semester goes on, and I love helping my fellow international students out, if it were me I know I would really appreciate it.

Now that all the depressing stuff is out, I would like to share some highlights of my week! On thursday, I had my first day as a nanny. It was very nice, the kids are so cute and polite and eager to improve their english, I was amazed. We spent most of the time doing puzzles and singing along to Pitch Perfect. I can't wait for the weather to be nicer so we can play outside instead. On Friday, a huge group of us went to the mega club Noyesfabriken, and it was really fun! It was beautiful, with lots of chandeliers, and the music wasn't all electronic for once, which is a good thing in my opinion-ha! I like to sing along, ok? On Saturday, a group of us got together and planned the Oslo trip over a nice fika. and attended the closing ceremony of the Swedish Rally (a car race) in town square afterward.

On Sunday, I met with my host family and we explored the Varmlands Museum and art gallery (Varmland is the region of Sweden where Karlstad is). Afterwards, we went walking along the river, and, even though it was a cloudy day, I got some beautiful pictures of the city. I can't even imagine how stunning it will be once the snow melts (which is beginning to  happen already!). I have never had spring fever this bad, even though this winter has been mild, the potential of all the water activities excites me! Where I live, going across town to ride on a ferry or go kayaking is not possible, and I think it will be so fun. I want the "sunniest city in Sweden" to prove live up to its nickname!

Here are some of the pictures I took on Sunday:

Until next time.. <3

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Week in Pictures

Another week has come and gone. It is so crazy, because life is so relaxed here compared to at home, yet the days fly by. It is nice to have the time to sit in the kitchen and have a 2 hour conversation with someone because you have nothing more important to do. I have met some really awesome people here and am very content. 

While many trips are being saved for later in the semester due to weather, I do have some very exciting plans in the works! The first trip, a day trip with Chloe, has been planned for a couple of weeks away to the beautiful medieval castle city of Örebro. We need to go to another city anyways to complete our residence permit requirements, so we figured it was a good opportunity to go someplace we otherwise maybe wouldn't. 

But, as excited as I may be for that, nothing compares to the excitement I feel for the next big trip LONDON! I originally wanted to study abroad there, but the tuition I would have had to pay would have been more than double of what it is here. Not gonna lie, I am pretty stoked to re-enter an English speaking country and not be crossing my fingers when I ask for help that they are able to understand me. Words can't even express...going there has literally #1 on my bucket list since birth. Trafalgar Square, St. Paul's
 Cathedral, Abbey Road, Palace of Westminister, phone booths, the accents, double decker buses, Big Ben, the London Eye, Tower Bridge....I could go on forever. The city is absolutely iconic.

On another note, here are some pictures from my recent days! 

Ohhh grocery shopping. You will never stop being an adventure. Like, what is that? Or that? Do you need to refrigerate this? What do you put it on? How many g in an oz? The struggle.

Since we are all in the "cooking for one" boat, my floor likes to hold a dinner every week, usually on Tuesdays. One person cooks, and we rotate, trying to shuffle up our different cuisines as much as possible. The first week was spanish, the second german, and the third american (my turn). It is not only interesting to see and taste how others around the world eat, but it is also a really fun time to be together and establish a sense of community. We all get along extremely well and it is something everyone looks forward to.

Fika is life. These kanelbulles are off the chain and I fully intend to learn how to make them and share them with all of America when I get home. MMM.

Thursday is student night as several bars and clubs around town, and there is one that is particularly popular, called Koriander. It was my first time there last week and it was fun to sing along to all of the American songs that played and hang out with my new friends.

On Friday, I just so happened to call my girl Rachel Bibes during a Theta sisterhood event! They were all ice skating and I was so overwhelmed/happy to see so many of them at the same time. I miss them all even more than I realized. S/O to my amazing sistas!

On Saturday, there was a "Bad Taste" (aka trashy/mismatch) party on campus. My floor got together before we headed over to make sure we all looked the same level of crazy-haha!

Until next week, vi ses! :)