Prague

Salut à tous et à toutes!

I’m sitting in my apartment wrapped in a million layers, alternating between mango juice and my favorite Smith tea as I have tragically caught a cold. Less tragically, I am using said cold as an excuse to write this blog instead of cleaning my bathroom!

Two Friday’s ago, I awoke to a text from one of my teachers saying that my classes with her on Monday were canceled and an email from another teacher saying my classes with her on Tuesday were also canceled. I then went to my Friday classes when another teacher informed me that my classes with him were also canceled on Monday. This left me with a five day weekend. When God blesses you with a five day weekend, you do not just sit around your apartment the whole time! After a quick internet search, I found that Prague was the cheapest destination for a next-day plane ticket. I’ve heard a ton of good things about Prague and so was excited to spend 5 days there!

I made quick arrangements, told my roommates I was off (they were so jealous), and made my way to Charles de Gaulle for the impromptu adventure.

Day 1:

I stayed in the Czech Inn (see what they did there?), which while a bit of a walk from the city center, was a great hostel! Felt more like a hotel than a hostel. After arriving and dumping my bags I began exploring the city. It took no time at all to discover that Easter in Prague is celebrated much the same as Christmas. According to a tour guide, the Czech Republic is ~75% atheist, but Easter is traditionally a very important holiday and the commercialized version remains. I loved this because there were several Easter markets throughout the city! It was like Christmas markets all over again, but less cold.

The Czech traditionally paint beautiful Easter eggs that are for sale. Each region has a different style, and there are more modern styles too. The markets also had quite a variety of street food. From sausages, to grilled cheese (not sandwich, just literally cheese on a George Foreman), beer was everywhere, there was this very strange fried piece of dough with garlic, ketchup, and cheese (Langoš), and the MOST delicious pastry called trdelnik. I continued eating through Wikipedia’s “List of Pancakes” but was severely disappointed by the potato pancakes here.

All I did Day 1 was wander and eat. (I did not eat all of these in day 1 though!!!!)

Day 2:

This was a Sunday. I went to an English-speaking church in the morning, which while nice, was dull. Afterwards, I went to a gym with a really cheap drop in rate (~3 euros) called Fitness Centrum. I then attempted to go the Gastronomy Museum but I think it is closed. Happily, it was right next to a Patagonia shop and I spent wayyyyy too much money on a great jacket that was a great price!!!

Famished from shopping, I had a hot chocolate/drinking chocolate from Choco Cafe which while delicious, reminded me in little time that I do have a small chocolate intolerance. Before heading home, I watched the little show on the 600 year old astronomical clock in the Historic Square. I had the BEST fresh pasta of my life that night at a restaurant called U Bulinu.

Day 3:

Day 3 consisted of the Castle District. I started at the monastery that is at the top of the hill. The monastery itself was not worth seeing but the view was great! I proceeded to Petrin Hill Tower, which is a mini Eiffel Tower with a view over Prague. There was a bit of line to get in, but it was a good view!

After a quick coffee break, I went to the castle grounds to see what was there. I timed it right for the changing of the guard, which was kind of cool. The castle area itself was fine. I wouldn’t go there again, but I was glad to have seen it. I got lucky with the sun and stained glass in the cathedral, which was nice. Afterwards, I was hungry and decided to have a late lunch. I had goulash! Does that not sound so Eastern European?! Goulash is meat cooked for a long time in a paprika broth served with a roll. It was pretty good. Everything in Prague is so cheap, that I would have been happy even if it was bad (6 euros for the plate and a beer at a sit down restaurant). Restaurant called U Knihovny. I ended the day by wandering around Letna Park, where there are some great views of the city.

Day 4:

My last full day in Prague started with a trip to the Mucha Museum. It was the perfect size, in and out in about 45 minutes. I then climbed the historic center tower, which had great views of the old town.

I then took a city tour. I don’t really care for the tours very often, but I was running out of other things to do. I was the only one there, so it was a private tour which was kind of cool. I was pretty tired after the tour, and ended up back in my hostel where I took a long nap. I’d been logging 12+ miles a day of walking plus my workouts… time to nap! There is a really well known vegetarian restaurant I went to for a late dinner, called Lehka Hlava. It was really good! I ended up sharing a table with two Americans my age since it is a pretty popular restaurant and I didn’t have a reservation. They were very cool people, I ended up going out with them after dinner, which was really fun! Nice way to break up a couple days alone. I stayed up way later than I had expected to and celebrated my last night in the way of the Czech – with Pilsner!

Day 5:

I spent the morning at the Museum of Communism in Prague before heading to the airport. It was an interesting and well done museum… just about the length I like (~1 hour). Worth going to and learning about how communism affected the day-to-day life of the Czech people.

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Flat Jane liked Prague too!

All in all, Prague was awesome! Cannot recommend it enough. It was definitely worth the sizable dent in my bank account 🙂

A bientôt,

Amy

Amsterdam

I finally made it up to the Netherlands this past Saturday. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Amsterdam, and was excited to check it out! I was able to save quite a bit of money by taking a bus to and from Amsterdam in one day, leaving really early and returning quite late. This was a full day!

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Amsterdam Central Station – pretty grand for a train station!

When we arrived, I had the intention of heading straight for the Anne Frank House, as lines there get really long and I knew I wanted to see it. Upon arrival, however, coffee and food took priority and I could not be bothered to do anything else right away. I really did not mind this, because Amsterdam was great to just wander through. I ended up searching in the Haarlemmerbuurt neighborhood, which was a very pretty and nice area. Plenty of good shops, bakeries, and cafes. I settled on the local breakfast/lunch chain, Bagels & Beans. They were very reasonably priced, had free wifi, and the coffee was great.

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Everything bagel with walnut and honey cream cheese and a latte (6€)

Bagels and Beans was nice, but it definitely was not the quickest option. After I finished eating, I continued my wandering. Unfortunately, rather than in the hour or so I spent inside eating, the rain waited for me to be outside 😦 A huge downpour! Fortunately I had my rain boots on, and eventually I found a grocery store to duck inside of for a few minutes. I love going to grocery stores in other countries — they always have slightly different and unique stuff! I stocked up on some chocolate, and cheese while I was in the store and by the time I left it was only drizzling.

Amsterdam is a great city for wandering. The canals and canal houses are beautiful, there are markets scattered throughout the city, and lots of pedestrian/bike-only streets to walk through. I wanted to see the status of the line at the Anne Frank House, so I headed in that direction. I found myself in front of something advertised as “The Cheese Museum” while I was enroute so I  had to stop in. It was actually more of a store than a museum, but that worked out for me because they had about 41641315 cheeses out for you to sample. Can we please just take a moment to appreciate a well-aged Gouda??!!? The shop was great, the owner was obnoxious, but I overlooked him for the sake of Gouda. This cheese shop was Step 1 on the bombing my budget took in Amsterdam.

After eating a meal’s worth of cheese samples, I finally ended up at the Anne Frank House. By now, it is around noon and the line is RIDICULOUS. So I veto that and continue onward. I walked by the palace in Amsterdam, really not anything special, and went down to take a canal boat tour. I took a tour with the Rederij Kooij company, and felt like it was informative and nice. It was also the cheapest one I found, for €10.50. I had about half an hour between buying my ticket and the boat leaving, so I went to find some fries at the nearby Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx, which were really good! The Dutch eat their fries with mayo, which I don’t really care for usually but decided to try anyways. I’m glad I did, their mayo is different… sweeter, less oily. Good.

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My tour started shortly, and I learned a lot! Most interesting thing: in the 17th century, canal houses were taxed based on their width. This is why houses in Amsterdam are so narrow and really deep. Also, if you look towards the gables on the houses, they all have hooks, because staircases are too narrow to carry furniture. Everything is done through the windows.

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If you look closely, you can see a small ledge at the top of all the houses, that is where the hook is.

After the tour, I went to Museum Van Loon. This is a smaller museum, but I really really liked it! It belongs to the Van Loon family, one of whom helped found the Dutch East India Trading Company in the 17th Century. The house has been restored and shows what a formal canal house would of been like in that time period. I felt like I was in Pride & Prejudice. The kitchen, garden, and coach house were especially cool. Many canal houses have gardens in the back, which were quite, pretty places to relax. In June, you can go visit many of different gardens throughout Amsterdam. I wish I could come back then!

I went to go to the Museumplein afterwards, where 3 of the biggest museums in the Netherlands are, as well as the IAmsterdam sign. I would have liked to go to the Van Gogh Museum, but that will have to wait for when I am a better financed traveler as admission is €17!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I still went to the museum store and bough some Van Gogh art postcards, my favorite souvenirs when I travel. I somehow also convinced myself I needed a Van Gogh cookie jar. Not sure why, I mean I like it, but another case of bombing my budget. 🙂 The park/place here got a lot of hype but I regretted walking over there as it was just way too busy to be enjoyable.

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not worth it

At this point, I wanted to get some of the market food before it closed, so I went over to the Albert Cuyp Market, which was pretty close by. One of the best things I’ve discovered in traveling is the “List of Pancakes” Wikipedia page (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pancakes). Every time I go somewhere now, I have to know what their pancake is and how I can eat it. In the Netherlands, it is the poffertjes and they are like mini pancakes served with butter and powdered sugar. mmmmmm good. I also got a stroopwafel while at the market, which is two thin waffles with a caramel/syrup concoction in the middle. The stroopwafel, while fresh and nice, was not that good, especially compared to the poffertjes.

 

Now, I decided to test my luck and return to the Anne Frank House. On Saturdays, they are open quite late, so I was able to get in within about 90 minutes. Advice on waiting in line: bring a coffee or tea as the line is outside and it is cold & you can access the museum’s free wifi from the line.
Anyways, I was really glad I made it into the house before I left. It was really incredible to see what the area was like where the diary was written, and to have a visual image of how small and confining (physically + emotionally) it would have been to live in that space silently for two years. The museum was well done and told a story of the experience. I ended up eating dinner in the museum cafe before taking the bus back to Lille.

All in all, Amsterdam was great! I would love to go back!

A bientôt,

Amy

Fitness in France

Okay… Lets talk about health and activity in France.

We’ve all heard it – Americans are disgustingly obese, French people eat smaller portions and walk everywhere and are all the vision of health, all striking the seemingly-impossible balance between being able to eat dessert and baguettes every day without eating the entire dessert and baguette everyday. Exampe: the book French Women Don’t Get Fat. After living here for a few months I can’t say I fully agree.

First of all, there is a stereotype that everyone here is slender. Nope. I can definitely attest to the fact that that is not true. Yes there are plenty of slender people, but there are overweight people all over the place. There are plus size clothing stores. Statistically, France is around 40-50% overweight (including ~15% obese). What I have observed is that people in general are smaller than in the US. Whether or not they are overweight, their frames are just smaller than those for Americans.

I find the French approach to activity hilarious. I shouldn’t… it is probably much more balanced and sustainable than the way Americans do things. I have concluded that whatever Americans do, we do to an extreme. Fit people in America tend to be really fit. People who don’t exercise in America really don’t exercise. In France, I routinely see people running home from the boulangerie carrying a couple baguettes. Women wear their scarves at the gym, and Nike wedge heels have somehow been accepted as workout shoes?!?

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WHY ARE THESE EXERCISE SHOES?

The French (Europeans in general, really), walk and bike places so much more than we do in the US. Cars are not very practical or really necessary, so there is more activity weaved into their daily and weekly rhythm than a lot of people in the US. A number of the French, however, don’t go to the gym or do routine workouts. Since I joined my gym here, I’ve seen their idea of a workout. Yes, there are some people here who are really quite fit. The majority, however, are not. Their workouts are much more mild than what you tend to see in the US. You just aren’t going to see very many really athletic people here. I’ve never felt as strong as I do here…. I lift just as much or more than so many of the men in my gym (can’t complain about that!).

As a competitive, all-or-nothing type of person, I can’t say I don’t catch myself looking down on the French style of activity and movement. But, the truth is, they have a much more balanced + accessible movement lifestyle than what people think of fitness in the US. This is probably also related to the prevalence of sports in the US vs. France. Sports are not a big deal here, only some people participate, and they are not nearly as time consuming… there isn’t really a competitive side to exercise.

In terms of diet, it is another case of extremes. I’m not sure they ever got the memo about a lot of the popular diet ideas in the US (like no white starches, for example). A balanced French meal has a starch (rice, couscous, pasta, potatoes, bread), a meat, some veggies, bread, and a dessert (often a fruit + dessert yogurt). Let me tell you…. these meals can be BIG & rich. Frenchies won’t snack in between meals though, which is a huge difference. But this way of eating is standard, even for the body-builder types I’ve observed.

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What we eat for lunch at the lycée, a pretty standard example of a cooked French meal. (zucchini soup, beets, potatoes, cauliflower with sauce, cassoulet, a pudding type dessert)

I can say the French style of eating does NOT work for me. I can’t eat really large lunches and dinner everyday. It feels like too much, and I find it very difficult to not snack in between meals (regardless of how much I ate with my meal). Moreover, I find that eating a dessert at most lunches and dinners (even if it is just fruit or yogurt) makes me want to keep eating desserts after I finish eating. Also, once I start eating a baguette, I can’t really stop 😉

Anyways, these are my generalized observations and opinions. Not true for everyone, but definitely what I’ve noticed up here in Nord-Pas-de-Calais

Les Soldes!

Les Soldes translates into The Sales in English. In France, sales are regulated by the state. France allows businesses two periods each year to mark down their merchandise, one in the summer and one in the winter, each lasting six weeks.

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The fact that France has national sales means that every store has a sale starting and ending on the same days throughout the entire country. Since these are the only two times each year where stores can use sales to clear out the last year’s merchandise, almost everywhere has sales. Anything from the local boutique, to the big department stores (Printemps, Galaries Lafayette, etc.), to designer brands, to the hardware store… even the supermarkets mark down some of their goods! And these sales are a good deal, merchandise is marked down anywhere from 30-50%. As you approach the end of the six weeks, things just keep getting cheaper… it is the only time where stores have the right to sell merchandise at a loss.

Additionally, the stores are not allowed to bring in special merchandise for les soldes. That means whatever you’ve been eyeing for the past month will probably be on sale. Of course, there are the things with the biggest markdowns that nobody wants to buy, but then most of the normal merchandise is also on sale. Shoes, handbags, backpacks, clothes, coats, decor, books, hardware supplies… you can get great deals on normal things you need! My cell phone company even did a promo for les soldes, giving everyone free and unlimited data access on the weekends for 6 months!

For example, I was able to get a great wool coat for 50% off! Which is great because I spend way more time outside here waiting for a bus, or walking to the store, and am always freezing.

On one hand, it is nice to be able to expect the sale coming, know how long it is going to be, and know that it is going to be everywhere… it almost ensure finding a good deal if you can wait until January or June. On the other hand, I find it a big strange that the government controls the sales… and it is inconvenient not being able to look for sales or clearance prices all the time.

A Bientôt,

Amy

Amiens

This past Saturday, I took the regional train down to Amiens. Amiens is about halfway between Lille and Paris; the train ride was about an hour and very practical.

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Amiens is the capital of the Somme department within the Picardy region. In spite of this, it is a fairly small city. It has  been the site of several battles, and was occupied by both sides during both World Wars. Much of the city was destroyed during the German occupation of WWII, so many of the buildings are quite new, and the streets are wider than a lot of European cities.

I had a nice time! Amiens is a pretty place, with buildings that reminded me of France, Alsace, and Scandinavia. This was especially true for the St. Leu neighborhood, which was a great little area to just wander around in.

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Along the Somme

Amiens also had some great parks! I got so lucky with the weather! It is officially winter here and cold and wet. All the Frenchies complain about it, and make jokes about how horrible I must think France is (because of the weather in Nord-Pas-de-Calais) and no matter what I tell them, I cannot seem to convince them that it is the same weather as in Portland. Oh well. At least it doesn’t bother me. Anyway, it was cold but sunny on Saturday, so it was a great day to be walking through parks! Parc Saint Pierre was nice. I also walked through the Hortillonages, which is a large park with canals separating parcels of land used for various gardens. In the winter, you can’t do much other than wander on some paths, but when the weather is nicer you can talk boat tours through the canals and look at all the gardens.

There were also so many houses along the canals and along the Somme that had little bridges to get from the house, over the water, to the street! Each one had its own little dock and most people had canoes, etc. stored there. Who needs a driveway when you can have a bridge? 😉

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You can see one of the little bridges each house had in the top part of this picture.
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View from the path near the Hortillonnages

In the afternoon, I went to the Musée de Picardie, the regional museum in Amiens. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go there, but I found out it is free entrance for students under 26. Free is free, so I went and had a look. I then went to the cathedral in Amiens, Notre Dame d’Amiens. It has the largest interior of any cathedral in the world and is twice the size of Notre Dame de Paris! It was huuuuuge!

It was actually too bad that I didn’t go there a week later, as there is a colored light display at 7 pm every night on the cathedral in December.

The rest of the day was spent shopping. Amiens has a fairly large Christmas market, so I wandered through the market, ate a beignet, had some vin chaud, and browsed. They have tons of lights, and played Christmas music throughout the market so it felt very festive.

All in all, it was a good day! I am hoping to take more day/weekend trips now that I am feeling really settled and comfortable in Lille.

A bientôt,

Amy

Autumn à l’Etranger

There are few interesting things about experiencing the Fall in a different place. America’s autumn is marked by pumpkin, Halloween, Thanksgiving, football, harvest festivals and all they include (corn mazes, apples, hay bales, etc.). In France, automne has chestnuts, amazing winter scarves, mushrooms (especially in the rainy north), and delicious creamy soups. Both have apples and squash, thank goodness!

In France, Halloween is celebrated a bit…. although I don’t think they really understand the idea. In supermarkets, you can find a small costume section, some candy, and carving pumpkins. They have themed nights at clubs and bars, but that is about the extent of the celebration here. The French do not understand trick-or-treating. Which, when you really think about it, trick-or-treating is really strange. Also, in order for trick-or-treating to be common, a lot of people need to participate. Obviously, that works in America because it is an established tradition, but here, I’m not even sure where people would go if they wanted to take their kids trick-or-treating.

I took it upon myself to introduce my Chinese roommates to American Halloween traditions. They dress up for Halloween parties, etc. in China, but didn’t really know about pumpkin carving and trick-or-treating. So I made them carve a pumpkin and then force-fed them roasted pumpkin seeds and pumpkin bread. I think they think I’m crazy. But I did catch them taking about a million pictures of their pumpkin later, so I mean how crazy can I really be?

Working on their pumpkin!
Working on their pumpkin!

You can’t buy canned pumpkin puree here, so I’ve had to make my own in order to really be in the Fall spirit. They serve a pumpkin soup in my school’s cafeteria sometimes, but in general, pumpkin isn’t a common flavor here. So I get my fill each morning with a bit of pumpkin oatmeal. So good. And I’m having a vegetable for breakfast! Love it. I’ve decided that the French version of pumpkin is chestnuts (marrons). They love them. Chestnut paste, chestnut tarts, chestnut cremes, chestnut soups, chestnuts everywhere!

I've heard its good, but I have yet to try it.
I’ve heard its good, but I have yet to try it.

Thanksgiving is, obviously, not celebrated in France. There are two main impacts this has on the Fall. Firstly, the food in a grocery store is different. Good luck finding a turkey, because turkey is really only eaten at Christmas here. Similarly, it is difficult or impossible to find yams, pumpkin puree, and cranberries/cranberry sauce. Secondly, there is nothing to mark the start of the Christmas season. In the States, Christmas is nicely contained by Thanksgiving and New Years. Obviously, in the interest of capitalism these limits are not always observed. Nonetheless, it is known when the Christmas season officially starts – the day after Thanksgiving. Without Thanksgiving, Christmas starts so early! It’s November 6th, and there have been Christmas decorations at the local mall for a week. The stores have had Christmas decorations for weeks. The Christmas market is getting set up (!!!).

One last observation on Fall is the lack of evergreens here. Lille has a similar climate to Portland, but doesn’t have big evergreen forests. There actually just aren’t a lot of evergeens. I miss the Douglas Firs! But for the moment, this means all the trees are changing color and altogether, they look beautiful. I’m not looking forward to a dreary, barren winter, once all the leaves are gone. For now, though, it is nice 🙂

From a couple of weeks ago.
From a couple of weeks ago.

A bientot,

Amy

Sweden

After visiting Oslo, I was off to Stockholm (& Uppsala), with my main goal to visit one of my best friends from college, Svea. Svea is an au pair in Stockholm now and it was so so good to see her! My time in Stockholm was really nice because I stayed with her and got to do more normal life things than a hostel/tourist type experience.

Everyone in Sweden is highly proficient in English. The kids she nannys (granted the parents lived in the US for several years) are really good at English, and all the adults can speak it very well. To me, this is really interesting because I have always felt hesitant to just jump into speaking English with people who have a different native language. In the States, there is fear of being an egotistical American (at least for me) by assuming everyone speaks English, but what I have observed in Europe is that it is the most common language spoken. Yes, French/Spanish/German/Swedish etc. are spoken in their respective countries, but English has the most crossover for various countries. I was talking to some Swedes about how well everyone spoke and they basically said it is necessary to learn English, because Swedish is limited to such a small area, and most places people speak at least some English. I feel very lucky to have English as my native language, but I still feel a bit uneasy about just jumping into English if I don’t speak the regional language – I feel a bit rude/entitled.

Day 1:

The first day was spent helping the kids do artwork and catching up with Svea. I was a novelty, so they were well behaved! Later that evening we went to a viking bar (Aifur’s)! Definitely touristy but very fun nonetheless. We drank mead and beer and enjoyed the decor. I want a viking drinking horn!

Not the best picture, but you can see the viking boat candle holder, and the fur covered bench seats.
Not the best picture, but you can see the viking boat candle holder, and the fur covered bench seats.

Day 2:

This was the main day to explore Stockholm. We started the day by going to the Vasa museum. To get there, we took a ferry. I really lucked out with the weather when I was in Sweden, the ferry ride was beautiful and a great way to have a view of the city.

From the ferry ride
From the ferry ride

The Vasa is an ornate, extravagent warship from the 1600s that was built in Sweden and sailed for about 15 minutes before sinking. In the mid 1900s, she was pulled up from the sea and work on preservation/archaeological analysis began. The museum was huge, with tons of different things to see and fairly well organized. Unlike most museums I visit, I actually watched the film and did the guided tour and I thought it was worthwhile.

The Vasa!
The Vasa! She is 98% original.

We did a few more things in Stockholm that afternoon, and headed to Uppsala for the rest of the weekend. Uppsala is a student town just north of Stockholm. There is this thing called the Nations. They are kind of like student unions, and historically were gathering places for people from each region in Sweden (hence the name Nations). They are cheap bars/restaurants and put on various events. We got guest passes thanks to Svea’s boyfriend and went to a Halloween party. It was really fun, and I was happy to have a little Halloween celebration this year. The French don’t really understand Halloween.

Day 3:

This was probably the best day of all! We got up earlyish (felt early after the night before 😉 ) and went with Svea’s boyfriend’s parents to their summer house on an island on the east coast of Sweden. This was great! The area the house is in felt kind of like Bend in Oregon, but with an ocean. The parents are really nice, welcoming people. The dad is a professor at the university in Uppsala and has his PhD in medicine. I really enjoyed talking to him about his research, and what academia is like in Europe (i.e. funding sources, international research collaborations, etc.).

Sweden has this great thing called fika. It is basically a coffee break, but more social and can last for quite a while. You drink coffee, and eat a little (baked) something. I had fika most days I was in Sweden, but the best was at the summer house. We bought fresh bread and pastries on the way to the house, so they were top notch.

Isn't fika just the best?
Isn’t fika just the best?

We helped the parents out with a few work projects, and explored the area by bike and foot. Very beautiful, and kind of woodsy. Its the most nature-y place I’ve been since I left the States and it was refreshing. I need to be outdoors.

View of the dock from the summer house. Very pretty! The family bought this property before all beaches were public in Sweden, so they own it all.
View of the dock from the summer house. Very pretty! The family bought this property before all beaches were public in Sweden, so they own it all.
The house itself. They are working on building a sort of compound for their family out here.
The house itself. They are working on building a sort of compound for their family out here.

Day 4:

Day 4 consisted of visiting Uppsala’s sights. With a Nations pass, you can go to most/all of the museums for free, so we went to a couple and the old church. I also bought the best red rubber boots! Fleece lined!! There is a large botanical garden in Uppsala, so of course, we went there. We biked around, had fika, and spent time chatting.

It was so good to spend time with Svea. To speak English, to reminisce over college stories, and to just be with someone who I know and knows me. It felt very home-y and comfortable. The thing about moving abroad is its really hard to build good friendships. Not only are you moving somewhere where you know anybody, but there is a huge cultural and language divide between you and 95% of the people who live there. I am lucky in that I get along well with my roommates and have a few assistant friends in Lille. Nevertheless, it is hard to have friends. In terms of cultural exchange, many people are interested in American culture, and I am interested in French culture, but that is more of a novelty sort of interest than a community-building interest. It takes time to build that network in the States, and it is even harder here. In light of that, it was nice to be with a close friend for a few days.

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On a lighter note, the Swedish word for speed is ‘fart’. This word is on many signs, and since Svea and I are 10 year old boys, we found it hilarious. A speed bump is farthinder. Because we all need to hinder our farts 😀

You can't tell me this doesn't make you giggle at least a little.
You can’t tell me this doesn’t make you giggle at least a little.

To Copenhagen!