Sunday, March 22, 2009

Another Boring Trip Story: Amsterdam

I'm a little ashamed of what happened this morning. I was on the Royal Dutch Airlines flight back to Stockholm-Arlanda, when I actually thought about this blog entry. Normally, my blog is completely spontaneous. This is just one sign out of many (hours a day on Facebook and YouTube) that technology is taking over the human race.

Anyway, I was thinking of what I could possibly write about Amsterdam. Everyone knows what happens in Amsterdam, so I can't really write without being cliché, though I usually am anyway. I know in titling this entry "Another Boring Trip Story" that I'll disappoint you, because any discussion of Amsterdam has the potential to be an Interesting Trip Story. I'll just list three things that I got out of Amsterdam.

1. It was great to hang out with some BC friends in Europe. I love the friends I have made here in Uppsala, but hanging out in Europe with some good, established friends was a really good change.

2. The Van Gogh museum was great. I have been to many other art museums in Europe so far, but this was by far the most moving. That man was completely swallowed up in his art, and some of his painting was incredible.

3. One needs to spend more than two days in Amsterdam. In fact, I was only in Amsterdam for about 45 hours. There is so much to do and see in the city that I could really spend a week there without thinking twice.

In terms of sports, we actually watched the beginning of the BC basketball game in a pub in Amsterdam – no, we didn't search it out; it sort of just happened to be on – and it was sort of drab. I didn't think the boys would only shoot 23% in the second half. That's a sad way for Rice to go out.

I did actually fill out a bracket this year, on Facebook of all places. To be honest, without being able to watch all of the games on television, I have little enthusiasm for this tournament.

I do, on the other hand, care a lot about football, and Arsenal are on a roll.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Another Boring Trip Story: Oslo

I'd like to point out before I begin my next boring trip story that I intend to cover a massive amount of material in this particular entry but won't get to most of it. This is mainly due to the fact that I have a very short attention span. This is why I don't participate in staring contests or online poker tournaments. Well, I guess it's only one reason why I don't participate in staring contests or online poker tournaments. But I digress.

I left for my next trip at an ungodly hour on Saturday morning – so ungodly, in fact, that I must have blocked out the exact time. My good friends (three Americans and three Aussies) accompanied me on this journey, first to Arlanda Airport outside of Stockholm. We flew via Norwegian Airlines to Oslo, or rather, Oslo Airport, 50 km (too lazy for a mileage conversion) outside of the Norwegian Capital. After taking a bullet train to Oslo Central Station, we walked to our Hostel.

This first stroll through the streets confirmed something we had heard about Oslo. There are many beggars on its streets, probably because of the extremely high price of living in the city. I even resorted to eating McDonald's (for the third time in Europe: once in Uppsala, once in Copenhagen, and once in Oslo – I'm tryi
ng to limit it to once per country), where I somewhat happily spent $10, an ridiculous sum for such processed food. I have to admit, though, it did taste good.

Our hostel was in a rather rough part of town, which isn't saying much for Scandinavia. I never felt unsafe, but I didn't feel I should count my money on the streets. Then again, do I ever?

We met up with our Austrian, German, and fourth Aussie friends and headed to find food. After walking for miles, I decided to part with the group
, caused by an emotion I call "hunger-rage." You heard it here first. Anyway, three of the girls followed me – naturally – so we took our aforementioned trip to the home of the golden arches, then trudged to the National Art Museum, home to the paintings of Edvard Munch, artist of famous "The Scream" painting below.
The following day, an American friend and I headed to some more manly museums: The National Armed Forces Museum and the Norwegian Resistance museum. Basically, they were full of a lot of guns and stories of heroic people. The Armed Forces museum had some great displays of old army uniforms and weapons, while the Resistance museum catalogued the Norwegian resistance against the Nazi occupation in the early 1940s. That evening, Sunday, we had planned to go out but ended up hanging out in our hostel room, or maybe I should say we did not make it out. Read between those lines.

Monday morning, we, the gentlemen, headed to the Viking Ship museum, which I have to say was one of the best museum experiences of my life. They had three Viking ships, over a thousand years old, on display, two of which were perfectly intact. The museum also housed the remains of three ancient persons who had been buried with the ships, along with analysis of their lives and deaths. This museum made my trip.

We returned to the hostel Monday afternoon and thought of a funny prank to play on the girls. One of us had a half-full bottle of 50% (100-proof) Smirnoff vodka. We decided to replace the vodka with water – don't worry, the vodka was saved. The plan was to, when the girls returned, give him stick for not having finished his bottle (two of us already had). He would volunteer to drink it on the spot. We would pretend to give him all of our Norwegian currency in order to do so, and with much delay, he would 'chug' the entire bottle.

The plan was put into action, and the girls, and one guy, were all fooled immaculately, due to our wonderful acting. The protagonist in our plan pretended brilliantly to be hammered drunk, and the three of us stepped out for a cigarette break to determine the next course of action. We decided that we would return to the room, and he would lock himself in the bathroom and later exit acting completely normally. Incredibly, the girls did not pick up on this prank until we attempted to sleep that night at about 11:00, continually expressing amazement at how okay he was. A nine-hour prank.

We left on a train home the next morning, about a 7-hour journey. I was hit with a barrage of e-mails as soon as I turned on my computer – of course, most of them were fan mail for this blog.

For those of you who don't care about sports, you can stop reading. Thanks for your time.

Arsenal have been picking up the results lately, and it's nice to see. I watched the FA Cup Quarterfinal yesterday versus Hull City. It seemed like it was going to be the same-old new Arsenal, the one that cannot pick up results against the weakest teams. With Barmby's lucky goal, I got flashbacks of that infamous match in September, back when Phil Brown still had a beard. The second half was a massive improvement, and though Gallas's winner appeared to be offside, the Arsenal deserved their win and a date with Chelski in April's Semifinal.

Eboue and Song, two players who have appeared less-than-quality, have been playing well – Song especially. Arshavin is absolute quality, despite appearing to come from Santa's workshop. Fabregas will be back soon, but for now, I guess he'll just be spitting at assistant managers. If he's willing to spit for Arsenal, you know where his heart lies. Phil Brown and his ass-istant are tossers, anyhow. They whine more than infants.

As for Boston College basketball, it's nice to see they made the Big Dance once again after a year's absence. Credit Al Skinner for the brilliant work he is doing. I'd really compare him to Arséne Wenger, for finding the diamonds in the rough. For him to make the tournament so often at a non-perennial basketball powerhouse in a less-than-desirable location is fantastic.

It's funny to see them going against USC, a school for which I have such little athletic respect. Hopefully they'll be able to get it together to defeat the red-hot Pac-10 winners. I realize, by the way, that I am not a college basketball expert and that I should not be talking about something I know nothing about. But I'm going to do it anyway.

This may be the first year I can remember when I won't fill out a bracket. Given my placement in the world right now, there is hardly any enthusiasm for the sport, and I won't be able to watch because of the time difference.

Sorry for this massive case of "diarrhea of the mouth." I'll try to keep them shorter from now on. Amsterdam Friday...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hell in a Handbasket

So I leave for 3 days and everything goes nuts? Liverpool beat Man Utd 4-1? Arsenal scored 4 goals, Eboue with 2? All the snow has melted in Uppsala, and it is sunny today?

I'll write about Oslo as soon as the laziness subsides. Amsterdam this weekend...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Swedish Love

Don't get any ideas about this entry from its title. I merely mean that I'm going to be giving the Swedish, as my generous hosts, a little time on my blog. It is a good time to do this, since I've been here for awhile now. I also promised you I'd write before I leave for Oslo on Saturday.

What are my feelings right now, you ask? Well I haven't felt homesick since the first week here, but I would obviously love to see some BC or L.A. friends. This can wait until summer or fall, though. Right now, I am in Sweden.

Before I get to my Swedish brothers and sisters, I have to go on a small rant about something in the US. Forgive me.

Uppsala University has been disorganized, to say the least. There is no central location to pick classes; it's all by department or professor. However, Boston College should be absolutely ashamed of its treatment of exchange students (or at least me). With its infinite e-mailing lists and technology, surely it could sift through the garbage that it dumps in my inbox. Every day I check my e-mail, and I'm flooded with information on internship interviews that take place tomorrow or information about studying abroad next fall. All the information I want to get – either about housing or class selection for the fall – either doesn't get to me or gets lost in the dump. Seriously, BC? And to add insult to grievance, they have the gall to tell me that my inbox is 90% full. Now the third sentence in this worthless paragraph made quite a full-bodied statement, and therefore, I must back it up with something more important (money) than a petty e-mail rant. Swedish students attend Uppsala University for FREE. Yes, no money is required to get a degree, and I can't imagine that BC has to pay much to send me here. So why on earth am I – and by I, I mean not I – paying full BC tuition. Disgraceful.

Okay, now back to a more insightful and pleasant topic.

Swedish Personality
The personality of most the Swedish I've encountered has been slightly off-putting. They are shy and tend to keep to themselves, which in the US is seen as arrogant or selfish. I constantly have to remind myself that this guy or girl isn't mean or not fond of me (catch the double negative?), or maybe they are. When I do speak to a Swedish cashier or attendant, they are always very nice and helpful, and when I get to know a Swede, they are friendly, if not more so, than most Americans.

Swedish Language
In my life so far, I've been able to pick up a decent amount of Spanish and had a relatively easy time speaking the bit of German that I learned freshman year. Swedish is extremely difficult to learn, to pronounce, and to understand. I cannot just read a word how it looks and have a Swede understand me. I cannot understand anything in Swedish. There are 9 vowels: a, e, i, o, u, y, å, ä, ö; each has a distinct sound. The rhythm of spoken Swedish is difficult to get down. It doesn't make it any easier to learn that I can get by EASILY speaking just English. Everyone knows English.

Swedish Stores
The Swedish supermarket is very much like American supermarkets. The Willy's supermarket near my residence even just introduced a fresh-baked bread section. I guess the only major differences are that you have to buy plastic grocery bags if you need them and that you have to bag your own items – hardly illogical. The Swedish also love their lines/queues. Most of the time, you must take a number to be served, such as at the Apoteket (state-run drugstore) and Claus Ohlson (hardware store).

Swedish Government
Well, I'm going to be honest. I don't know much about the Swedish government that has its reputation for being socialist and a welfare state. I do know, from my Swedish History class, that the welfare system is crumbling due to complaints about high taxes and stagnation of the Swedish economy (not just in these times). How many Swedish businesses do you know outside of IKEA or H&M?

Swedish Fish/Meatballs
Okay, to clear this up once and for all, I have NOT been able to find Swedish Fish, and if they do exist in Sweden, they are most certainly NOT called Swedish Fish. As for meatballs, EVERYONE eats meatballs. Most students purchase frozen meatballs and defrost them with gravy and potatoes. I bought some and put them in with pasta. Delicious.

Swedish Weather
Everyone asks me how cold it is here. Yes, by definition Sweden is cold. However, I actually enjoy the climate here in Uppsala more than that in Boston. It is a lot less windy – therefore, no windchill – and the temperature is more temperate (capische?). It never really dips below 25˚F and stays nice and below 40˚. Not terrible. There are a lot less sunny days though. I think right now, there has been 5 cloudy days in a row. Before that I was in Copenhagen, so I don't know.

Small Problems (come on, did you really think I wouldn't complain at all?)
Problem 1: The important webpages (Google, YouTube, and, of course) load in Swedish by default. This gets rather annoying, but I know the Swedish word for preferences now, inställningar.

Problem 2: I can't find any of the typical American drugs in Sweden. Nyquil? Nope. Tylenol? Nope. Cocaine? Nope. Okay, but seriously, I'm not addicted to any of the three, nor have I ever used the latter, but it would be nice to know they are there. I've heard you can get most by prescription, but I don't want to see a doctor. Thanks, Mom, for sending that Nyquil.

Problem 3: The infamous Systembolaget, or state-run liquor store. Thankfully, one can qualify at the ripe old age of 20 to purchase alcohol from here, but the prices are outrageous. In Copenhagen, I paid about half as much for a bottle of rum as I'd have to pay here. In addition, there are no convenient six-, or thirty-packs of beer. I go to a pub most of the time anyway, so this doesn't bother me too much.

Problem 4: Daylight. This one is killer. My biological clock is in ruins at the moment. When I first arrived, it was still rather dark at 8 am. Today, I woke up at 5 am for some odd reason and there was more daylight than at 8 am before. The sun rises earlier each day, so I think I'm going to have to purchase some blackout curtains for my room. Otherwise, I'll be waking up at 4 pretty soon.

That's it for my Swedish culture lesson. I need to go to battle with the laundry machines again (see here), and I leave for Oslo, which I hear is the most expensive city this side of Jupiter, tomorrow. Other than spending my future children's college funds, it should be fun.

Song: "All My Loving" – Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe soundtrack)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Another Boring Trip Story

My apologies for the immense amount of time it's been since I last wrote. A combination of extreme apathy and traveling has prevented me from writing recently. I can't possibly recall to you the events of the last week and a half, but I will recall my journey to Copenhagen for your reading pleasure.

Although I probably didn't need to, I skipped class on Thursday in order to give myself plenty of time to catch the train from Uppsala to Stockholm-Arlanda airport (a disappointing 130 SEK, or right now, about $14, each way). After getting three-quarters of the way to the train station, I realized I had left my camera behind, so I ended up cutting it close anyway. Good work, Brian. I made it to the airport okay, though, and was soon (after an inevitable 55 minute delay) being flown on Norwegian Air to Copenhagen.

I exited the airport to find Mr. Reardon awaiting me. He quickly guided me to a metro-ticket station and then whisked me directly off to a club. After spending about $8 to check my coat and suitcase, we proceeded to stay for two cokes (I should add, with a splash – nay, a drop – of rum) and promptly left. It turned out to be the end of our night. Due to his recent residence elsewhere (ask him about this), Reardon allowed me to stay in his room.

Friday was taken up by a visit to the Carlsberg beer factory. We walked around the museum there, and obviously, sampled some beers at the end. After a kebab, it was time to return to Matt's dorm for some dinner. Yes, that's right. After eating, it was time to eat.

Fellow BC student Jeff cooked an incredible meal for about 15 roommates. I was in awe that a college student could prepare such a feast. Sure, I can cook pasta and chicken breast, but I'm no Rachel Ray, although this is probably due more to the fact that I'm not addicted to amphetamines (nor am I a woman).

After forcing down some Tuborg Classics (beer) and an oddly delicious Red Bull-red wine combination, we headed off to a Danish dorm party, oddly similar to a BC party. Reardon and I then parted ways (again, ask him), and I headed back to my (his) room.

Our plan to awake early and tour the city was corrupted by our own respective hangovers (if I had a dime for every time...). Nevertheless, at around one, we forced ourselves out of isolation and into Copenhagen. We basically just walked around, took a mandatory picture with a statue, stepped inside the obligatory church, and pissed off the required palace guard by playing paparazzi (look at that vocabulary!). After this typical touristy stuff, we did a typical Copenhagen touristy thing. Christiania is a free town; that is, it is not subject to Danish or European Union laws. It's basically an old hippie district of Copenhagen, filled with drug dealers and shoddy buildings. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable walk through the Sixties.

We bought some dinner food and more alcohol, ate, drank, played some beer pong, then went out to a club. After an enjoyable night, we – that's right, I AND Matt – returned to Matt's for some sleep (no, not that; he found a dormmate's room to sleep in). Two hours later, I headed to the airport.

The only other thing worth mentioning from that point until now is an announcement by the captain of the plane on which I flew back to Stockholm-Arlanda. He says, first in Norwegian, then in English, that he apologizes for the smokey smell on board and he is checking into its cause – just what you want to hear inside of a rickety metal tube at 40,000 feet. It turned out to be some anti-freeze liquid that had gotten inside the engine and then the ventilation system. Whether that is believable or not is up to you, but I am sitting safely in my room in Uppsala.

I'm heading to Oslo, Norway, on Saturday, but I'll try to throw one more entry on here before then, probably about Arsenal's imminent Champions League match. Or maybe about falling off my bike. We'll see.

Song: "Lateralus" – Tool