Friday, May 29, 2009

Sverige och Tyskland

I apologize for making you wait almost two weeks to read the latest entry of this fair blog. I've been up to quite a bit recently, but I'm feeling lazy so this shouldn't be too long. The title of this entry is in Swedish and in English means "Sweden and Germany."

A bit of business first: Apparently, my blog has been nominated for some best exchange student blog competition. It's good to know someone actually reads this. Anyway, if you feel compelled, you can vote for my blog here. It's towards the bottom of the list, and for a reminder, it's called Utbytesstudent i Sverige. Below is a sweet button in case you missed the first link.

I'll now step away from the self-promotion and dip back into blogging.

I've been doing a lot of studying in the past couple of weeks. I had a final presentation for one class and a two-part final exam for Swedish class. It's amazing that I still can't speak any Swedish or understand much, but I can still pass the exam. Luckily it's pass/fail so I'll never know how badly I really did. I have one more class going on right now – Legacies of the Holocaust in the Development of the E.U. – which consists of a 15-25 page paper actually due after I get back to the States.

I've also begun playing soccer/football with a 7th Division Swedish club team, Torpedo Kamrat BK. If I'm not mistaken, I'm the first foreign player to play for them. They now also own my registration, so should Arséne Wenger come sniffing 'round my doorstep, he'll have to pay big money to Torpedo Kamrat. Which isn't to say I would necessarily leave....

I've played in one match so far, a draw against promotion favorites IFK Uppsala, though admittedly, it was their youth team. It was their first dropped points of the young season. Tomorrow is match number two. Since today is a link-happy post, you can view Torpedo's website here. It is all in Swedish, though.

Meine parents paid a visit to me in Sweden the past week. We spent one day exploring Uppsala, about all the time one needs to tour Uppsala. I love the town, but it will never top a list of possible tourist destinations. We then took the train down to Stockholm, where we spent a couple days. It was the first time I really got to explore Stockholm, and it is a terrific city. I would highly recommend you visit Stockholm, though of course, in the late Spring or Summer, when it is actually light outside. The highlight was probably the combination boat/bus tour around the city or the Vasa Ship museum. For those of you who know nothing about the Swedish capital, it consists of many different islands connected by a series of bridges and canals and is right at the junction of the Baltic Sea and Lake Mälaren, the third biggest lake in a country that has over 97,000 lakes. That's right, 97,000. The Vasa Ship was a 17th Century warship that sank only 2 km into its maiden voyage but was recovered in the 1960's.

My parents and I then travelled to Berlin. Being the age that I am, I am predisposed to talk about German beer. Seeing as how this is a family blog, I will not say that the beer was orgasmic (ha ha). But the beer I had in Berlin was pretty damn good. Unfortunately, I didn't have sauerkraut on this trip, but I ate plenty of wurst.

Adjacent to the Topography of Terror museum describing the horrors of Nazism is a segment of the Berlin Wall that is still standing. Everyone's heard a lot about the Wall, but to actually be in the city divided by it was a little eerie. I never ventured too far into east Berlin, so I didn't really experience the contrasting Western versus Eastern architecture, but the varying building styles in the West were cool enough alone. The really old buildings that survived the epic bombing and battle during the Second World War stood right next to modern buildings in random order.

Forgive me for thinking that we were in the middle of the apocalypse, but there were some bizarre weather patterns occurring in Berlin. We set out on our tourist duties one morning with the sun shining and few clouds in the sky, only to be halted inside a train station within two hours due to a torrential downpour. A couple hours later, it was sunny again. The next day, we were walking towards another train station when out of the blue a couple minutes of hurricane force winds struck. Had there been rain and palm trees about, I would have thought we were in the middle of Andrew in Miami. It was hard to walk. But again, within two minutes, there was no more wind.

It was nice to spend some time with my parents in Europe. Talking history with my dad was great and, I can't believe I'm saying this, but shopping with my mom at the KaDeWe department store in Berlin was also great. KaDeWe, or Kaufhaus des Westens, is very similar to Harrod's in London, though less excessive. That is to say, it has gourmet food, cigars, liquors, clothes, and other accessories, but it doesn't sell dune buggies or £25,000 foosball tables and doesn't take up three city blocks, just one.

The sad part of the study abroad experience is about to set in, with friends beginning to depart Uppsala and my eventual departure. But, of course, I still have two and a half weeks left here, and I intend to make the most of that time.

Like I told my parents, if I learned Swedish, I would definitely live in Uppsala or some other city in Sweden.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Baltic Queen

I'll decipher the lack of my friend's blog updates to mean that I am the nerdiest of all of my friends. But I'm just doing my Study Abroad duty and telling everyone what's going on over here, while getting in a word about Arsenal along the way.

Before I begin to blabber about my last week, I just want to, with every effort to avoid being insincere or cliché, to express my sympathies for Mark Herzlich of the BC football team, who has just been diagnosed with cancer. It is always sad to see someone my age being diagnosed with the awful affliction, but the fact that he is a world-class athlete and a probable Top-10 NFL draft pick in 2010 is all the more disconcerting. Incredibly, he still manages to sound like the smart and strong fellow he is in this interview with ESPN.

As I mentioned in the last blog, that you probably didn't read, I spent the first half of this past week venturing to Estonia, a former member of the Soviet Union. I'd have to say, though, that only about 50% of the trip was about exploring Tallinn, its capital. The other half was about the cruise to and from the city. Many Swedes, mostly in their early-50's and older, take the journey to Tallinn or Riga, in Latvia, to get cheap alcohol. As I've mentioned before, Sweden's state-owned liquor store, Systembolaget, is not very cheap.

This particular cruise was meant for students in Sweden, and accordingly, the moment The Baltic Queen began to move away from Stockholm at around 6:00pm, the line (queue) outside of its Duty Free store exploded. To everyone's chagrin, the liquor section had been closed for the day due to some Finnish students that had become too racuous on the previous journey. Nevertheless, beer was made available, so I picked up a 24-pack of Norrlands Guld beer for the journey.

There were multiple clubs on board the boat, in addition to a cigar lounge, several shops, a handful of restaurants and gambling tables. Our two-person cabin was outfitted with a shower, toilet, closet, and a flat-screen television. The journey took us first to Mariehamn on the island of Åland, a property of Finland, at which we arrived at around 4:30am, just as the multitudes were beginning to pass out.

The passengers, nursing their collective hangover, arrived in Tallinn at 10am. My fellow travelers, a Frenchman and a Masshole (resident of Massachusetts), and I threw on some deodorant and dragged ourselves ashore. Adding further credence to the theory that people are sheep, we blindly followed some people off the boat, eventually stumbling upon the Old Town district.

This district had everything we needed to see in Tallinn, from several churches, including a Russian Orthodox cathedral, the parliament building and eclectic collections of residential buildings, to the many guildhouses and, eventually, the old KGB headquarters. The KGB building was one of the eeriest places I've ever come into proximity with, up there with Dachau concentration camp outside of Munich. The building is closed down and there are no markings on it apart from a small plaque commemorating the untold amount of suffering that occurred there. The windows were boarded up from the inside, adding to the mystery and even dread of what transpired inside.

I really enjoyed the five or six hours I spent wandering throughout the city. It was a remarkable fusion of old French, German, Swedish, Finnish, and Soviet culture, food, and architecture. I especially enjoyed purchasing some coinage from the old USSR, boasting Lenin's picture. I don't even care if it was a scam.

We were exhausted from the previous night and the day's exploration, so we retired to the cabin back onboard for some rest. Upon awakening, we returned to the Duty Free, liquor shop open this time, to purchase some much needed provisions for the rest of our time in Sweden. I opted for Kahlúa and generic Russian vodka, key ingredients for my new favorite drink, the White Russian. In addition, we purchased some French red wine, which according to our French friend, was high class. I should mention that we did not pay much for it and also, that I purchased three bags of beef jerkey for dinner, undoubtedly diminishing any classiness I could have achieved from the wine.

After a repeat of the previous evening, we arrived in Stockholm again at 10am, making it back to Uppsala by noon. The rest of the week has been spent on schoolwork, which is beginning to pile up, and playing soccer, in attempt to diminish the fat, which is also beginning to pile up. Kidding.

It is about twenty to 9pm as I'm finishing this up, and it's still light enough for a person with poor-vision to play sports. I only have twenty-three days left on this fair continent, a few which will be spent in Berlin.

One final thought which contains a play on words that will make any reader question my social aptitude: once I get home, should I turn this into a Study A Broad blog?


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Fun, Sun, and Almost Done in Uppsala

Hey folks. I recognize that this blog is dangerously skirting the boundaries between "Study Abroad Blog" and "Stuff I Care About That No One Else Does Blog," so I'm going to make a concerted effort to revert more to the former.

The Swedes in the summer absolutely love their barbecues. There are two pits out back of my residence and they are usually occupied. I've already been to three, when I've had one throughout my entire time at BC this far.

I have exactly one month left here in this fair city, Uppsala. I was tempted to write a retrospective of my time thus far, but then what would I have to write about back in the States? Also, not too sound too studly, but my presence has been requested at one of Uppsala's many famous/infamous "corridor parties" so I don't have a whole lot of time. These are essentially the equivalent of a college dorm party, except more fun, more people, and you don't have to worry about R.A.'s. You just have to make sure if you are hosting that someone doesn't steal your toaster. Luckily or unfortunately – I haven't decided yet – I live in Eklundshof, where there are no corridors and, thus, few parties. The giant student housing development at Sernanders Väg in Flogsta, about 5 km from Eklundshof, is the usual host of these parties. There are many buildings there and they're all about 8 stories high, so needless to say, my three story building in the forests of Eklundshof is a little less lively.

I don't have too many plans for the month, as the majority of schoolwork has been positioned at the rear end of my stay here. Nevertheless, I found time to join up on a student booze cruise, called the "Sea Battle" to Tallinn, Estonia, USSR. I leave Monday and return Wednesday, so expect the next chapter in this, what will undoubtedly become a bestselling book, whenever I've recovered from that epic time.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Utter, Abject Capitulation

My dear friends, I'm sorry to bombard you with posts about Arsenal, posts that you most likely care nothing about. But it's my blog and studying abroad has given me a perfect excuse to start it. Admittedly, I am probably approaching the dreaded status of "blog-whore."

Nevertheless, here is another Arsenal post. Take comfort in the fact that their season is now over so I will not be writing about them anymore.

I really have nothing to say about the match tonight. It speaks for itself. But here is what I wrote down, before it, in a message I was planning to send. I wanted to keep the vibrations positive so I decided not to send it. Here you go:

I just watched footage of Arsenal 2-1 Man Utd in 2006, and Arsenal 2-1 Man Utd in 2008 to pump myself up for this game. I won't be watching live due to a prior soccer-playing commitment, but I will be up into the wee hours of the morning watching the replay on

Starting XI's from 11.08.08
Arsenal 2: Almunia, Clichy, Silvestre, Gallas, Sagna, Nasri, Fabregas, Diaby, Denilson, Walcott, Bendtner
Man Utd 1: Van der Sar, Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Anderson, Ronaldo, Ji-Sung, Anderson, Rooney, Berbatov

From watching the highlights of that match, plus watching the first leg from this time around, I've gathered the following:
1. Adebayor is a donkey and shouldn't start. His work rate has dipped significantly since that contract extension in the summer and since captain Henry left. If I were Wenger, I would sell him to Milan for £20. Bendtner at least works hard. If you watch the highlights from November, he at least holds up the ball well.
2. Fabregas needs to play deep in the midfield, not at the second striker role. He was able to dictate the game against Man Utd in November, whereas he was lost in the first leg. For whatever reason, Diaby started in "the hole" behind Bendtner in November, but it was Fabregas in the first leg.
3. Van Persie should not start if he isn't fully fit. He'll just be wandering aimlessly and his set pieces haven't been all that great recently either.
4. Song over Denilson.

What would I do then?

If Eboue is having a good day, leave him on. He can take Evra, as he did in 2006. If not, take him out in the 30th minute, put van Persie on and switch to a 4-4-2.

But of course, we already know what Wenger is going to do.
----------Adebayor-----van Persie--------

Or the same lineup that started the first leg, in which case, see you in August 2009. One goal, and it's over tonight.

But of course, that's just me being pessimistic.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


It really is hard to try to describe Valborg with words. Even my pictures don't really do it justice. As I like to say when my telling of a joke turns sour: "You had to be there." Nevertheless, I'm going to attempt to describe the wildest party I've ever been to.

The Swedes like to slap a 'K' in front of something and have it mean 'night before.' Accordingly, they call April 29 of every year Kvalborg. The day started innocently enough for me. For the first time since I've been in Sweden, I had two classes on one day. My first class ended at about 1:45, and as I had previously decided I didn't want to keep this mop anymore, I got my first haircut since leaving LA. The lady screwed up big time, so I did some editing with scissors when I got home after my second class. And by screwed up big time, I mean she tried to give me a typical Swedish haircut, but since I am not Swedish, nor can I pull of the Swedish look, it was bad. And it cost 200 kronor, or about $25.

I showered and donned my Arsenal jersey to head to Värmlands nation to watch the match. I was the only Arsenal fan, and as a result of their shocking performance, I received much ridicule. After drowning my sorrows – maybe this isn't adequate because the Man Utd fans drank as much as me – in Åbro and Tuborg cerveza, we searched for a club to celebrate Kvalborg at.

People had been lining up outside some of the nations at 1:00 that afternoon, so we didn't fancy our chances. But after running into a drunk friend wandering around the streets, we were finally able to gain entry into V-Dala nation. It was about 11:30. Given the early festivites of the next day, most Swedes had smartly retired for the evening, but being American, I had to prove my manliness to myself and stay out as late as possible.

At this point, I realized that wearing an Arsenal jersey in a club is a perfect dude magnet. No less than four dudes came up to me within the course of the evening to talk to me about Arsenal. My gay friend looked on jealously. But I digress.

The four, five, or six of us who were there (don't recall exactly) shared rounds, then at quarter to 3, decided we wanted MAX, the Swedish version of McDonald's. A ladyfriend was able to coax the bouncer to let us in for a burger and at 4:00, I passed out in bed.

I awoke at 7:30 am to phone calls asking where I was. Apparently, we were supposed to meet at 7:00 to watch the boat race on the river that started at 10:00. I reluctantly clawed myself out of bed, made some sandwiches for what guaranteed to be a long day, and had a cup of tea to wake up. I got down to the river by 8:30, accompanied by three turkey/salami sandwiches, two bottles of chardonnay (fake champagne), one bottle of champagne, four cans of beer, and some water. Still intoxicated from the previous evening, I narrowly avoided a hangover and was able to begin drinking straightaway. By the beginning of the boat race, I had ripped through one bottle of chardonnay and was beginning to drink the champagne.

The boat race is a recent Uppsala tradition. Students spend the few days before building boats out of mostly styrofoam, four or five to a vessel. On Valborg, the boats begin a procession down the river at 10:00, watched by many onlookers, and attempt to navigate the series of rapids on the river. Of course, everyone only cheered if one capsized, rather than if a boat proved its structural integrity. There were about 60 boats in all.

The day begins to blur at about this point. We headed to the Ekonomikum park to hang out with a few thousand Swedes, exchange students, old people, kids looking to score some beer, and just as many hot dog stands. There was a band playing and everything was merry. We stayed there a few hours, then headed to a Champagnegalopp at one of the nations. Unfortunately, I have little memory of this, and I don't think many others do either, but it basically consists of people spraying each other with champagne.

After the Champagnegalopps, everyone heads back home to pass out for a few hours or to have a barbecue if still alive. We headed to Flogsta, the largest student residence, for a barbecue on the roof of a building. As the sun went down and it got colder, we headed into the common room of someone's apartment with the intention of prepartying for the clubs that night. Unfortunately, as too often happens, the preparty ended up being the party, and no one could muster the balance, strength, or initiative (apart from manly me, of course) to go out. I was disappointed at the weakness of my friends, but the club lines were too long anyway. I had also had a great deal of fun for that 36 hours.

Shockingly, I did not have a hangover on May 1, nor have I gotten sick.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Wenger May Need To Go

Venting my anger at the outcome of Man Utd - Arsenal on Wednesday has been somewhat delayed by festivities here in Uppsala. I'll talk about those in an upcoming Blog.

Obviously, the sensationalist title needs meriting. As a supporter, I'll admit that I am very fickle when it comes to discussing my Gunners, criticizing them when they lose, praising them when they win. But now that season has come to an end – yes, Arsenal can theoretically snag third place for a guaranteed trip to next year's group stage or win this year's Champions League still – we can begin to discuss the overarching themes of this season. Unfortunately, these themes are very similar to those in past years.

Last year could have been Wenger's vindication. He had a team that worked beautifully together. Flamini, Fabregas, and Hleb were all great friends, a fact that was reflected by excellent teamwork on the pitch. Flamini provided the bite to Fabregas and Hleb's bark and Arsenal were within a whisker of winning the league.

Now that two out of those three cogs are gone, in search of pastures anew at two Europe's biggest and most successful clubs, Arsenal are not likely to win anything soon. They were lucky to be drawn with Roma and Villareal, two beatable teams in similar positions in their respective leagues as Arsenal. Had they drawn Barça, Inter, or Bayern, they would have been ousted earlier. This team are not England-beating, let alone Europe-beating.

This comes down to Wenger. He didn't buy players Arsenal needed this past summer, replacements for Flamini and Hleb. He bought Aaron Ramsey, a 17-year old, Silvestre, an aging, injury-prone donkey, and Amaury Bischoff who had played but a handful of games due to injury problems.

He finally replaced Hleb's creativity with Arshavin in the winter, but it was too late and Arshavin is cup-tied. This season, we have seen Denílson, Diaby, and Song played at Flamini's position, only to see Song improve in any way. Song has matured really well this year, and he could be as good as Flamini next year. But if Arsenal have to keep waiting a year for new talents to emerge, they'll get lost in the pack. In this respect, the youth movement has failed.

Arsenal should have more buying power. They have a 60,000 seater stadium and are a world-renowned club. If someone starts following football in a weak footballing foreign country, they are most likely to pick a club in the most-exposed league in the world, the English Premier League. And we all know there are only four teams to choose from, and Arsenal is one. I'm glad Arsenal have managed to stay out of debt, but surely they could stretch the finances a bit more at this time to bring in some talent that would pay for itself. Such is the case of the world's most indebted, yet the world's most successful club, Man Utd.

Not only did Arséne fail to replace two players integral to his team, but he failed to get the most out of what remained. Wenger has lost some of the most unforgivable matches this year, Hull at the Emirates and Stoke at the Britannia spring immediately to mind, and failed to win the biggest matches as well. Man Utd at the Emirates earlier this year was a cracking game that Arsenal deserved to win, but they did not deserve to beat Chelsea (van Persie standing 10 yads offside) or Liverpool either time. More recently, Arsenal lost to Chelsea in the FA Cup after one of the most mystifying tactical decisions I have ever witnessed in Wenger's decision to drop Arshavin to the bench. And Arsenal were well and truly outclassed at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

With the exception of Kieran Gibbs, Manuel Almunia, and the hard-working Alex Song, Arsenal were awful and out of their element. How do you think Guus Hiddink would have started the match if he were Arsenal's manager? Do you think he would have started Diaby, who is a playmaker who is not nearly physical enough for his size, at left-center midfield, let alone kept him on the pitch the entire match? Do you think he would have started Fabregas, Arsenal's most influential player available, at a shallow striker position, essentially in no-man's-land? Do you think Adebayor would have been able to get away with his absolutely shambolic performance yesterday? Not a chance.

A truly world-class manager can get his players to overachieve. Chelsea should never have dominated to the extent that they did on Tuesday. Granted, it wasn't pretty, but neither was Arsenal's performance at Old Trafford. First and foremost, a team such as Arsenal that try to play football need a solid, hard-working, tenacious foundation. The pretty play can come later.

At what point does losing, but trying to play beautiful football become tiring? Right now. Arséne, if you can't win on Tuesday, you may have to go.