Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Iceland, Denmark, Sweden......Uppsala at last

Finally I have been able to sit down and put my blog together. It's been a month and a half or so (already) away from home and my journey has taken me on lots of interesting adventures. I started out in Iceland for about two weeks where I participated in an environmental and visual arts work camp. The camaraderie was the absolute best part. I will never forget hitch-hiking, late night chats over tea and Icelandic cookies, spanish meal time, and most of all STONE cookies! The scenery in Iceland is absolutely breathtaking. The fjords were majestic with their steep slopes pouring into a narrow crevasse of the sea. During summertime their green boggy grasses glow in the sunlight as rivers gush down the slopes to make what looks like marbled emerald. The buttercups, forget-me-nots, poppies, and lupines were all nearing the end of their blooming season, but still bore their beautiful blossoms. I spent most of my time in the fjords in a town called Eskifjördor in Eastern Iceland. It's a small town of one main road about 5km (3 miles) long. I had the chance to venture out a bit into the North Eastern corner of the country to see a pair of volcanic waterfalls called Dettifoss and Selfoss. The landscape was amazing. When driving from Egilsstadir out to the falls, you feel like you are entering an entirely different planet. The green, boggy, snowcapped hills turn into open land that seems you could run for miles and not see a soul. The area is dotted with mountains and volcanoes, but no rivers or green scenery in sight. A different planet indeed. The waterfalls were almost milky looking and grey in colour and the sand lining the river bed was jet black. Lining the river was a shallow canyon of volcanic rock, probably old lava flow that was cut into perfectly straight rectangles (much like Devil's Postpile in Mammoth). I had to stand there and gather my bearings for a while because I was still in shock that the place was actually real. I would love to go back someday and venture through Iceland's hidden beauty. All in all, I can say it was definitely one of the most rewarding leaps of faith I have taken. Traveling to a foreign country alone with baggage for an entire semester is no easy task.
After Iceland, I ventured to Aalborg, Denmark where I visited Ida for an enjoyable, but brief stay. We got a chance to catch up, take walks around town and down by the harbor, and relax. The weather was nice and made for an excellent chance to see the beauty of a quintessential European city. I wish our cities had the architecture, beauty, and history of those here. It's funny how something so majestic and romantic in my mind is ordinary and mundane to those who live there. Ida was gracious enough to let me stay in her similarly beautiful apartment and it was definitely a trip well spent :)
Long plane rides were no more for me as I journeyed on to Sweden, they were instead replaced by long train rides. I think I have almost covered every mode of universal trasnportation, once I get my bike in Uppsala, I think I will be all set. Planes, trains, automobiles, boats (ferry), busses, bikes, feet..... Anyway, an 8 hour train ride got me from Aalborg in the morning to Karlskrona, Sweden in the evening where I was greeted happily by lovely cousin Emma and my Auntie Christina. Karlskrona was a two week vacation I think I have dreamed of my entire life. That is, spending two whole solid weeks with my cousins and my auntie. I don't think I could have asked for a better time. It doesn't matter where in the world we were, I was just so lucky to spend so much time with my only blood related cousins. Although we didn't get to see each other much while growing up, I think we are doing a good job of making up time now, and I am so blessed to have such amazing family despite the fact that we weren't able to create memories while we were small. I am continually amazed at how easily we fit together and how much I love I have for those girls. I got to spend quality one-on-one time with Martina, Emma, and Auntie Christina as well many wonderful times with all three. My aunt and I were able to get out for a lovely hike one morning and key out a plant (who ever knew my own aunt was a BOTANIST?!) where we were able to bond over our knowledge of flowers and flowering families, a thrill many people don't understand. :) I also got to go to my first Kräftskiva at my aunt's parents house where I was graced with typical Swedish odd, but endearing traditions and best of all....really yummy Swedish food. The dinner was accompanied by warm spirits and lots of laughter. The sun showed its face a few days where the girls and I took advantage of both its light and its warmth by tanning on the seashore, taking a dip in somewhat cold Baltic waters, riding bikes around a quaint little island called Aspö, and picnicking on the property of an old fortress. Aspö is just about as Swedish as Swedish can be when it comes to that typical "Swedish summertime" all the books and pamplets rave about. It is spotted with the sweetest yellow and red summer cottages with typical white lining, blooming with summer flora, and basking in the glow of that sweet summer sun. You want a Swedish summer holiday? Aspö is the place to go, and the best part is.....the ferry ride from Karlskrona to Aspö is about 20 minutes and it is FREE! 
Another typical Swedish summer tradition I was able to take a part of was the infamous mushroom picking. All my life I have heard about the magic of mushroom picking whether it came from Babi telling me stories of where she got the mushrooms she once delivered to us pickled or dried (nobody's mushrooms are better than Babi's), or dad telling me about mushroom picking as a child and svampsoppa! We found a motherload of chanterelles and as Martina was instructing me on the varieties of mushrooms both good and bad and teaching me the mushroom hunting stance, Auntie Christina was off in the distance only to be heard by her "Titta här!!" when she stumbled upon MORE suspects for our soup. Emma seemed to be the queen of kanterelles as she greeted us with kanterelles flowing out of her ears. All in all, mushroom picking definitely lived up to it's potential. I think I see myself hunting for mushrooms quite often this autumn to fill my plate with food that is cultural, enjoyable, local, and sustainable. All in all, my time in Karlskrona was full of family, food, lots of Swedish, and memories to last a lifetime.
Finally, I have arrived to the city I have dreamt about since I was a child and am in the middle of fulfilling a long time dream of mine to study in Uppsala at Uppsala University, where both my namesake Carl Linnaeus (does it get any better than the fact that he is probably one of the most famous botanists also?) taught, and my Mamma went to school. This town is full of Linnea. Going to Linnaeus' garden was perhaps one of my favorite endeavors thus far (and the best part was....it's FREE for university students! I wonder if they have some kind of discount for Linneas as well). It's a place I have always dreamed of, but wasn't able to quite realize it actually existed. It was really cool to see the actual place I had painted from a picture I found online. It felt something like my painting coming to life, I felt like I had just stepped into this wonderful picture I drew in my mind, much like when Edmund and Lucy step into the Dawn Treader painting and find that it comes to life. I even got to see the Linnea flower up close in real life, although it was in a plastic case, it's the idea that counts. I haven't been able to adventure much around Uppsala yet, and don't have many pictures to show of the city (surprising, I know) quite yet, but there will be more to come as I am here to stay for the next couple of months. Yesterday was my first official day of class as a biology student at Uppsala Universitet and although I started with Limnology, I have switched to Toxicology and hope to find it exciting and stimulating as much of biology seems to be for me. I am so excited to be learning biology in an international setting where I am able to observe the many similarities it forms between us, but also the differences that come with international study. I love the biology facilities and am excited to spend some good quality time there (what would a bio building be without a few late/all nighters and countless hours in the labs?), and although I miss the charm of Willamette, especially during my favorite season, I am finding this massive and chaotic University to hold it's own charm and quaintness. Uppsala is largely a University town, and I am enjoying the feel of a college town and being surrounded by academia. The main university library is definitely on the top of my list of places to go and spend lots of time. Lately however, I have found that the city botanical gardens are my new favorite spot for lunch and reading. Like Amy, our on-site coordinator said, they make you feel like you are miniature in a massive garden, like you are some kind of lille tomte. In any case, who doesn't love reading in a spectacular garden with the view of a castle right in front of them? Uppsala has definitely got some of the best reading spots I have seen in a while. More to come on the city. More adventures to fill my pockets.
In the mean time, I have made some wonderful friends and have found myself to be graced by the company of Avery most of my time. We seem to fit well together and have already established the tradition of fika at my place, and making dinner at hers. It's a good trade. I am happy to have found a traveling buddy to go abroad with over the course of the semester. My group here in Uppsala consists of the two of us, and six others. We are a small group, but it makes for a better time to get to know each other and I am happy to have such a cohesive group.
With all that, I leave to enjoy another lovely day in Uppsala tomorrow morning and will enjoy sleeping once again in my own room :) More about my Swedish accommodations later.