Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's The Final Countdown

It's official: my days in Sweden are officially over.

Last night (my last night in Sweden), Roma, her friend, and I headed over to our Swedish friend Oscar's for a little Christmas celebration. I was locked out of my apartment due to room inspection, so I stayed at Rach and Roma's my last night. The Christmas party was awesome--very traditional. We made homemade lingon berry sauce with homemade Swedish meatballs (delicious!), homemade scalloped potatoes, homemade french onion dip, sausages, and some vegetable plate, which we all know I didn't touch.

We also played White Elephant. Roma decided to give very "special" presents--unused candles, a jar of honey, tissues, and a package of soup. I received two Swedish CD singles--Dr. DJ and some cover band. Very awesome. We also had Julmust and glögg, which is very traditional for Swedes around this time. It was a great way to end my adventures.

And then, after a rough night of sleeping, one of the most stressful days of my life took place. After getting to the train station fine via taxi, and a long, but stress-free, train ride, I arrived at the Copenhagen airport. And it was snowing. The plane was late getting in to the terminal, so we were delayed 20 minutes. No big deal. As we were sitting in the plane, however, we were informed that the company who de-ices planes before take-off ran out of de-icing fluid (who does that?! In December?), so we were delayed another 40 minutes so the company could get more. And when they finally did, we were delayed another 50 minutes because the runway was too icy for take-off. Now, for all you math nerds out there, that's a delay of 110 minutes, or almost two hours. And I had about an hour and a half lay-over time to catch a connecting flight in Chicago. The odds were not in my favor. So I spent that entire 8 1/2 hr. plane ride freaking out about catching my connecting flight. Not fun, at all.

Upon arrival in Chicago, and waiting another 30 minutes for luggage, passport control, and customs, I discovered I had, in fact, missed my connecting flight. Go figure. So SAS was going to put me up in the Hilton and booked me for a flight on American Airlines at 6:45 a.m. I was not a fan of this plan. They told me to check in and get my luggage checked in at night so I didn't have to wake up tremendously early to get it checked in. The tremendously helpful workers at the AA booth got me the last seat on a flight at 10:30 p.m. that night, which made everything all okay. After frantically racing to the terminal, I got on the plane. And upon arrival in the Minneapolis airport, I walked down to luggage claim, and saw all of my friends waiting for me. They screamed and shouted, and even made a sign for me. Very, very awesome. They also brought me a Diet Coke and a bag of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. I knew there was a reason why I considered them friends. So thanks, Brandon, Garrett, Lyndie, Melanie, Travis, Lillian, for showing up!

After arriving at the airport, we headed back to the house to just spend time hanging out. Lyndie made Better Than Sex cake, which was amazing. I realized how much I missed everyone while being away.

To sum it up, I had an amazing time in Sweden--studying abroad was the best decision I have ever made. But it's also great to be at home for the holidays.

Somehow, however, I know that I'm going to miss Sweden terribly. Next goal in life: make it back someday. It's going to happen.

Monday, December 14, 2009

It's Just Different

Since it’s my last week here in Sweden (don’t get me started on that), I thought I would dedicate an entire post to the differences between the US and Sweden, at least from what I’ve experienced. So, without further adieu, here we go:

  • In Sweden, it’s completely normal for a grown adult to purchase assorted candy; in the States, this would be considered childish.

  • In Sweden, the legal drinking age is 18 for inside a bar, and 20 for purchasing alcohol in a liquor store; in the States, it’s 21.

  • In Sweden, the yellow light on a stoplight indicates that the green light will soon turn on; in the States, it indicates the red light will soon be flashing.

  • In Sweden, grocery stores charge you for bags for groceries; in the States, they’re provided for free.

  • In Sweden, everyone recycles; in the States….well, not so much.

  • In Sweden, people get a decent amount of money for recycling bottles and cans; in the States, they get diddly.

  • In Sweden, people actually are nice to each other and visitors; in the States…no. Not really.

  • In Sweden, people will gladly switch languages to make it easier to talk to visitors from out of the country; in the States, people become offended if you can’t speak English.

  • In Sweden, the public transportation is clean and incredibly efficient; in the States, public transportation is the exact opposite.

  • In Sweden, there exists an incredibly economical nationwide train system; in the States, there exists cars. (Does this even make sense? A country so small has a nationwide train system, but a country that is 21.8 times larger doesn’t?)

  • In Sweden, there exist very little amount of homicides (around 91-99 murders in 2003); in the States…well, take a look at Detroit or Chicago. There you go.

  • In Sweden, there exists the best fast-food chain known to man: Max Hamburgers; in the States, we have KFC.

  • In Sweden, the price tag on the shelf is what you end up paying at the cash register; in the States, more is tacked on at the cash register due to tax. (I’m going to miss this when I go back home.)

  • In Sweden, new CD’s cost more than DVD’s; in the States, it’s the opposite.

  • In Sweden, students have a student union that enforces specific rules that protect students from unfairness in universities; in the States, it’s every man, or in this instance, student, for him/herself.

  • In Sweden, everyone loves black coffee; in the States, everyone loves Starbucks.

  • In Sweden, bank tellers work 9:30-3 and get Saturdays and Sundays off; in the States, it’s 8-4:30 everyday, with the occasional Saturday morning. (This one was for you, Alaina).

  • In Sweden, most Swedes do not show much, if any, national pride; in the States, you’re not American if you don’t.

  • In Sweden (or at least in Växjö), it’s pitch black by 4 p.m.; in the States, they get a few more hours of daylight.

  • In Sweden, college students drink and club on Tuesday nights; in the States, this would be considered alcoholism.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Now, I know what you all are thinking: sounds like Jordan’s becoming a socialist or wow, he really hates the States. Not true. Both countries are awesome; I just wanted to point out some differences between the two.

So don’t take offense, okay?

Monday, November 30, 2009

I See London...

I’ve taken a long hiatus from the blogging world. I wish I could say it was due to the intense workload of school, but alas, that is not the case. At all. The truth is, I’ve been lazy. And those of you who know me know that I highly enjoy being lazy.

This past weekend was truly adventurous. While many of you spent American Thanksgiving dining on turkey, hanging out with family, and enjoying your time off, a friend of mine from back home and I headed to London for the weekend. And not only was it simply amazing, it was truly adventurous as well.

The adventure started at the Copenhagen airport. The only train ticket I could buy last minute left Växjö at 11:05 a.m. and arrived in Copenhagen at 1:05. My flight didn’t leave until 9:45.Needless to say, I had a lot of time to kill at the airport. A lot. I ended up starting, and finishing, an entire 400 page book. For those who have not read it, I highly suggest In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote. It is the most disturbing unsettling book I have ever read, period. For being 40 years old, the book is immensely engaging. I highly recommend it (and the film Capote).

Anyway, after my almost 9 hours of waiting at the airport, my flight finally arrived. One of the best things about Europe is cheap flights, via Ryanair and EasyJet. They charge you an arm and a leg for checking bags, but if you pack right (like me), you don’t have to check a bag. They also don’t have pre-assigned seating, so it’s a free-for-all at the gate for the best seats. Not my cup of tea. Anyway, the flight cost me about $100, so I was satisfied.

When I arrived at the airport, I waited for Carolyn to arrive. She stood in line for over 40 minutes at customs, so I had a long wait ahead of me. I started on my second book of the day, WellsThe War of The Worlds. (Coincidentally, on our bus ride into the city of London, we saw a building that stated that H.G. Wells worked at this particular building 1930-1936…talk about coincidence!). I am still fascinated by that book regardless of how many times I read the book. I highly recommend this one as well.

Anyway, once Carolyn finally arrived, we settled down at the airport. See, we flew in after midnight, and the airport we arrived in is 40 km or so away from the actual city of London.That’s where the cheap flights get you. They charge you much less to fly, and then they make you pay a crapload to get in to the city. And, hotels and hostels nearby stop checking guests in at 11:30 p.m., so Carolyn and I were out of luck. Have you ever slept overnight in an airport? I have. And it’s unpleasant. You’d think the airport designers would be more considerate and place comfortable chairs, or even carpet, for poor travelers who must sleep on the ground. It’s like they don’t want people to stay overnight in the airport… Anyway, we didn’t sleep much (and it was freezing!) so we just stayed up and caught up on our traveling abroad experiences. We hadn’t seen each other for over a year, so it was good to catch up. The airport had Krispy Kreme donuts, which made me immensely happy, but I chose not to have one. Just the fact that they still exist brought warmth to my heart.

Around 10 a.m. we hitched a ride on a bus, which we had purchased a ticket for before the trip, into town. It was long and bumpy. But, we finally arrived into town, and purchased our three day pass for the Underground. We rode the tube to Brixton, where our hostel was. When we finally arrived, we were shocked by our hostel. The hostel’s name is Hootananny Hostel. I know, I know. The name is what drew me in too. Who wouldn’t want to stay at a hostel named the Hootananny? Apparently, our hostel was in the ghetto of the Londonwe were uncomfortable. And the hostel was the dirtiest place I have ever stayed in. It was cheap, yes, but not worth it. At all. It’s hard to describe, but the place was dirty and creepy. If anything, the experience taught me that hotels are worth their price. Our first night there, however, proved that maybe it wasn’t as bad as we first though. Indeed, it turned out not as bad as we first thought, though it was still creepy. And in the bad part of town. We took a nap when we arrived, due to our lack of sleep in the airport, and when we awoke, we hit up the town. We grabbed lunch at a Subway and coffee at a Starbucks, where we planned our trip on Starbucksnapkins. I know. We have class.We also saw Parliament and Big Ben, as well as Piccadilly Circus. By that point, it was getting late, so we hit the tube back to Brixton and got some sleep at our hostel. We also stopped at Burger King for a late dinner. So, when most of you were enjoying vast amounts of turkey and potatoes, Carolyn and I feasted on Subway and Burger King. One of my better Thanksgiving meals, that’s for sure.

(Our hostel, the Hootananny. Don't let the quality exterior fool you.)

On Friday we awoke early, got some breakfast at a café, and saw more of London. Saw the Westminster Abbey and saw much of Camden Town. We also saw the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. You'd expect some grand and exquisite event for this, right? False. It turned out to be a "Battle of the Bands" between two marching bands. And no, they weren't national songs. We heard them play Downtown, the theme from Superman (which some idiot thought was from Star Wars... stupid, stupid man.), among others. Okay, so Downtown I can kind of get, seeing as how Petula Clark was British.. but what's the deal with Superman? Is Christopher Reeves British or something? It didn't make any sense. The Abbey, however, was amazing. So much history was there, and we were literally standing upon the graves of Chaucer and Queen Elizabeth! It was breathtaking. After that, we met a friend of Carolyn’s, who is doing his grad work in London, for a late lunch. We hit up a restaurant called Hummus Bros. This was the first time I ate hummus; it wasn’t all that bad! Afterwards, he took us to the British Museum (we had originally planned on skipping this…I’m glad we didn’t). We saw the only remaining piece of the Rosetta Stone, and the mummy of Cleopatra. I’m still in awe and shock that we actually saw these things in person! It’s one thing to learn about them in a history book; it’s another to see them in person. I’m still speechless about that. Afterwards, Phil took us on a tour of the UCL (University College London) and took us to a couple of student pubs. The student life there is very cool and relaxed. After that, he took us back to his dorm complex and made us tacos. His flatmates made us typical foods from their respective countriesspicy stew fromNigeria and mushroom rice from Italy. It was incredibly tasty. Afterwards, Phil took us toCamden Town, where much of London’s student life takes place. We hit up a couple more pubs and just relaxed with other college students. It was great to experience not only London itself, but also the student life of Londoners. Afterwards we caught the last tube running that night back to Brixton and passed out at the Hootananny.

(Westminster Abbey)

(The mummy of Cleopatra)

(The Rosetta Stone)

The next day, Saturday, proved our most intense. In one day, we saw the Tower of London, theTower Bridge, Shakespeare’s Globe, Covent Garden, St. Paul's Cathedral, and the memorial fountain for Diana, Princess of Wales. It was a tiring day, but we learned and experienced so much. America just doesn’t have the history that Europe, the UK in particular, does. Oh yeah, we also ate at KFC for lunch. KFC! It was delicious. After the long day, we went to a pub near Victoria Station and just chilled for an hour until our bus came to bring us back to the airport.Once there, we got on a shuttle bus that brought us to our hotel for the night, and we crashed at 12:30 a.m. Of course, because we purchased cheap flights, our flights flew out at 7:00 a.m. the next morning, so Carolyn and I had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. that morning to catch a shuttle back to the airport to get through security. It was difficult to stumble out of bed that early in the morning. But, we made it to the airport and made it to our respective flights on time. And by the end of the trip, I was the Tube Pro. I knew where to go, what lines to get on, and how to get there. Not bad for a guy who needs to use a GPS to get to the cities.
(KFC! And the Tower of London)
(Shakespeare's Globe)

But the adventure did not stop once I got on the plane. Oh no, it can never be that easy for me. Once in Copenhagen, I purchased a train ticket back home. The only problem was that the trains weren’t running all the way back to Växjö. So, they dropped me off at Mälmö. For those of who who know your Scandinavia geography, that’s not far from Copenhagen at all. For those of who don’t know, it’s just across the bridge from Copenhagen. Anyway, I waited for an hour for the next train that was running to Alvesta, and hopped on. Only that train wasn’t heading all the way to Växjö either. It dropped me off at Lund, which is only a ten minute train ride from Mälmö. Once there, we were informed that the trains won´t be running to Växjö that day. So, they made everyone on the train disembark and head to the bus terminal to catch busses to Hässleholm. Only the directions were in Swedish, and I was too tired to try and translate them. I asked five different people before I got on the right one. And everyone was pushing each other to get on the busses. It was a nightmare. Anyway, after the long bus ride (an hour or so), we arrived in Hässleholm and caught a bus from there to Växjö. Talk about a stressful trip. Needless to say, I arrived completely exhausted to do anything worthwhile, so I passed out on my bed, only to awake at 4 a.m. to let Rachel in to my apartment—she just got back from her confusing and exhausting trip from Copenhagen. She, too, had to endure numerous train changes and bus rides. What a nightmare.

(Big Ben)

But in spite of all that, London was a success. I had an amazing time there and experience some awesome adventures with Carolyn. It may have been stressful, but that only added more excitement to the trip. And the best part was, I (with some help from Carolyn, of course) planned the trip myself. No parents or guardians to help plan things, find directions, or book hotels. It makes you appreciate people who plan trips. So thanks, Mom, and Garnet, for booking and planning all of those trips we went on as kids (and teenagers). No doubt they were stressful for you, but they were well worth it.

So, I thought I’d leave you with some tips for planning a trip, especially to London:

1) Bring books. You’ll never know where you’ll be stuck, and for how long.

2) Don’t wear contacts for four days in a row without taking them out. It’s painful.

3) Always, always triple check where your accommodations are located before booking. Remember: location, location, location.

4) Sometimes, the Scandinavian travel system sucks.

5) KFC offers great meals at great prices.

6) Napkins are a fine substitute for paper when planning trips and excursions.