Five Favorite Things: Sweden

Five Favorites, Travel

I’m coming up on five years since I flew to Sweden.

For those who don’t know, I spent six months in 2016 studying abroad just outside of Stockholm, Sweden. My time there allowed me to travel extensively through Europe and enjoy Stockholm from darkness to never-ending light. When I arrived in January, the sun began to set at 3 p.m. and it would be pitch black outside by 4. While this didn’t stop me from taking trips to IKEA or adventuring around European cities like Brussels and Prague, it did put a hamper on my ability to enjoy Stockholm. It wasn’t until later months, when the sun never really set, that I found myself learning to love Sweden and all Stockholm had to offer. I thought I would reflect on my five favorite things about Sweden five years later.

Number one: the mixture of the new and the old. Stockholm, in particular, is a great example of how Sweden mixes the new and the old. Gamla Stan (the old town) is filled with rich history and is right across a bridge from modern style buildings. You could spend hours wandering the narrow streets and feel like you’ve been transported back in time, before stepping across a bridge and eating a hamburger (at Max Burgers) in the modern day. Not far away is The Vasa Museum – a museum dedicated to a failed war ship pulled mostly intact from the bottom of the harbor – located right next to the Abba Museum.

Number two: the smaller cities. I’m not a huge fan of big cities – there’s too many people and too much going on. But the smaller cities that I was able to visit in Sweden were wonderful. Sigtuna, Sweden’s first city, is a small town that is a day trip away from Stockholm. You can spend a day wandering the town, hanging out by the lake, and eating along the pedestrian street. Stockholm is nice, but I really loved my time wondering roads in Malmö and Gothenburg; though not as small as Sigtuna, they offered a reprieve from the big city.

Number three: the public transportation. The biggest thing I miss about Sweden (but also Europe in general) is the public transportation. You can get just about anywhere on a train or bus. Relatively easily (and for relatively cheap) you can go from the suburbs where I lived in Flemingsberg (near Södertörn University) to the Royal Palace in central Stockholm, to Drottningholm Palace to the coolest cemetery, Skogskyrkogården, to the airport. Even when there’s a disruption to the service, you have multiple options that will get you where you need to go.

Number four: the adaptability. Though I might complain about how cold it was in Sweden when I first arrived or about how dark it got at 3 p.m. for the first month I spent there, I loved that the country adapted as needed. Sure you didn’t stay out as late in the winter months, but you still bundled up and powered through – a blanket and a space heater to eat outside and some proper shoes will keep you going. And then just six months later, when the sun never fully sets, you spend as much time outside as possible. I try to keep this adaptability in mind when I’m freezing on D.C.’s one cold day a year.

Number five: the Swedes. So much of my enjoyment of my time in Sweden was based on the very basics of life in Sweden. Things were efficient. People were polite, welcoming, and orderly. Everything was clean. There was an emphasis on living with nature, rather than fighting against it. And everything just felt balanced.

Sweden is definitely on my list of places to return to and explore so more, but I might just do that when it’s summer. I’ve had enough cold, dark days for now.

Not Quite Wanderlust

Travel, Uncategorized

I wouldn’t call it wanderlust – I think I just wanted to see how far I could get away before I had to bounce back. The first step had been the Midwest – would I come running back to the East Coast or would I want to go even further?

There’s a different mentality in the middle of the country. Folks from the Coasts would label it complacency or a lack of curiosity. The desire to explore far flung places wasn’t ingrained in every decision amongst the cornfields.

But I’d come this far. The next step should be easy. I’d done quick trips – vacations with supervision, first to France and Spain and second to Italy and Greece. Neither was particularly challenging – I knew that by the end of the two weeks I would be home; I knew that my lack of foreign language knowledge could be brushed away with a snarky comment about “American tourists”. It was all quite safe.

But then came the big leap. A twenty-something hour flight with layover that would take me from my East Coast home to the other side of the planet. The safety net had been pulled away, it was time to take a proper leap and not know when I was gonna hit the next ledge.

But I didn’t hit the bottom. Instead, I got my extrovert on (kinda) and met new people. I learned about a country so similar yet so different than mine. I saw fish swimming in a coral reef and stood in the middle of the desert staring in awe at the full Milky Way hanging above me in the sky. I shared my new life with my parents and explored two new countries with them while I was at – a “I must come back” trip to New Zealand and a “totally overwhelmed yet amazed” trip to Phuket in Thailand. As I boarded my plane away from Australia, I couldn’t help but think how quickly can I get back here?

The turn around was quick – a month or so to sit at home and realize I was ready to go far, far away yet again. This time the plane ride was much shorter, the stress was much less, but the destination would be much colder. It was a challenge – to fight against the seasonal depression of four hours of sunlight a day.

The cure was to move, jumping from plane to train to ferry over and over. Flights to France and Germany, Norway, the UK, and Denmark; trains and buses to Belgium, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic; the infamous booze cruises to Russia and Estonia, Finland and Latvia.

In the constant rush, I looked up and there was twenty-two hours of sunlight, not four. I had been everywhere except the “here” that I had traveled so far to see. I told myself I’ll be back, but it’ll never be the same. The people will have shifted, the places will have grown, and who will I be?

Once you’ve left a place, it’ll never be same.

So with a brief layover in Iceland, I returned home. My East Coast had shifted beneath my feet and the cornfields had grown while I was away.

People had drifted away and together. Buildings had been torn down and build.

So I kept going – forward momentum pushing me further and further. Until I paused. In my rush to get as far away as possible, I’d made a loop back to the start.

A Broad Abroad

london, Travel

I’ve studied abroad more times than the average human. I travelled to Paris and Nice the summer before high school, encouraging me to better utilize the French skills I thought I had. (Let’s just say the 13-ish years of French classes have made me nowhere near fluent.)

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The summer after my first year of college I went on a short-term study abroad trip with my university’s College of Education. The two weeks were a joke academically, but were a wonderful introduction to being in a foreign country, and I can’t complain about being able to travel from Paris to the South of France to Barcelona, Madrid, and Toledo. The next summer, I did another short-term trip through the CoE, this time to Italy and Greece. I had a blast.

 

 

I learned a few lessons on these trips though: 1. I was too independent to be forced into a group of 20 people who couldn’t figure out the French metro system to save their lives. 2. I wanted to interact with locals, not with Americans. 3. I was so freaking fortunate and privileged to be able to go on these trips.

My junior year was spent abroad: first in Sydney, Australia then in Stockholm, Sweden. My time in Sydney was spent attending Macquarie University, meeting Americans and Australians alike, taking Sociology classes, learning to order drinks at bars, pushing my introvert to its limits, and growing a heck of a lot. (Please send Tim Tams.)13606726_10208327169590741_2939824590994043790_n

Stockholm was a very different experience. I met next to no Swedes, ventured around Stockholm and Europe a heck of a lot, learned to pack a carryon for varying trip lengths, studied very rarely at Södertörns högsköla (in English, let’s be real), discovered the horrors of seasonal depression and the beauty of 22 hours of daylight in the summer. (My love affair with IKEA and Max Burgers continues to this day.)42593388_10217577769095213_5706831081802563584_o

When I was finishing my undergrad, it was only logical that I seize the opportunity to go abroad one last time, so I applied to do a Master’s degree abroad. The financial benefits were there, it was one year compared to two in the US, and it would be a new opportunity to travel and meet new people. In retrospect, it would have been nice to better research my program before I went and I probably could have better selected my courses. But overall, I can’t say I regret going to London.

Would I study abroad again? In a heart beat. Is studying abroad the same as traveling abroad? Absolutely not. Did I meet the best people everywhere I went? 100 percent. Am I so freaking fortunate to have this many once in a lifetime experiences? Heck yes.

 

P.S. If you have ANY questions about studying abroad, please let me know – I’m more than happy to chat about any of my experiences for months.

P.P.S. I did some “research” on the term “broad”, which seems to have originated in the 1930s to refer to women by their “wideness”, which is icky (also it mostly referred to prostitutes which like makes me frustrated by the historical objectification of women in a patriarchal society, but…). I’m going off the Urban Dictionary definitions here to justify my “clever title”: less respectable than a lady, but more respectable than a bitch. I’m not mad at it.

Nom Nom Noms

Five Favorites, london

Food is something that brings people together, tests your comfort zone, and can instantly remind you of times when you were safe and happy and loved.

In honor of the copious amounts of food I’m sure all of my American friends are about to consume this Thursday, I thought I would reminisce on the foods that remind me of home. And when I say home, I mean Stockholm, Indianapolis, London, Sydney, and DC. (Yes, this accidentally turned into a five favorites list, as well as a “travel the world through my favorite meals” kinda post.)

Stockholm

When I studied abroad in Stockholm, I remember being so flipping nervous about having to eat herring or some strange Swedish food for my six months there. But fortunately, Swedish grocery stores provided all the foods I could dream of. It was actually the first place where I had to cook for myself (and yes, I did have to google some very basic skills.)

46492677_177417226545719_7472823128842829824_nMy list of Swedish foods is six-months-worth-of-freezing-cold-and-dark-weather long. To start, I could rave about fika, the Swedish tradition of a daily (or thrice daily) coffee and pastry break. Or alternatively, I could chat your ear off about their kanelbullar, the yummiest treats equivalent to a cinnamon roll. Or hell, IKEA meatballs.

But instead I’ll talk about what I genuinely miss on a weekly basis: Max. Max is a Swedish fast food burger chain, like McDonald’s, etc. but better (and it’s more popular in Sweden than McDonalds and Burger King). Their food is fresh, their restaurants are clean, their staff is efficient. I’ve considered making a trip to Sweden just for their burgers and constantly think back fondly on my visits to the Max off of Kungsträdgården.

Fun fact: the first food my parents ate in Sweden was Max, which I fed them in the Arlanda Airport arrivals area.

Indianapolis

No one has ever said that the Midwest has the most delectable diet, what with the corn and the casseroles. But Indianapolis has plenty of really good spots for food, many of which I made trips to over my three years in the city.

Breadsticks fans should head to Hotbox Pizza (yes, that’s really its name…) or to Kilroy’s for their stuffed breadsticks. They’re the best drunk food, tried and tested. Fans of mediterranean food should head to Canal Bistro in Broad Ripple, while fans of Mexican food should head to La Piedad or grab a marg at Luciana’s.

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One place has a special spot in my heart: Patachou. It’s a little bit of a hipster’s dream and it’s a huge brunch spot for Butler students, but it’s so dang good. I have many a fond memory of breakfasts are Patachou with friends after a late night out or as a reunion after a service trip. With fresh, local ingredients and a mission to give back to the Indy community, it’s worth a trip.

P.S. everyone hypes up their coffee, but I’d also recommend you get the hot chocolate.

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London

I think I tried every (cheap) place on the must eat London list. I scarfed down waffles on the 40th floor of a skyscraper at Duck and Waffle. I pretended I was posh before splashing berry syrup all over myself, at Balthazar. I devoured a Crosstown Donut in Camden Markets. I explored a chain I saw all over London at Bill’s. I discovered disco fries at the Breakfast Club.

And a lot of it is delicious, but nothing gets close to my one true love: Dishoom. It’s Indian food with a twist. The bottomless chai helped me survive a dissertation and the naan rolls are making my mouth water at the thought. The restaurants have the best vibe and are filled with tiny touches that make it a memorable experience. It’s a really nice environment for working meals or catching up with friends.46508793_312174566047896_6370496265968418816_n

Pro tip: go for breakfast. It’s much cheaper and much less crowded than the lunch rush (plus, I’ve heard it’s much yummier).

Sydney

I’ll admit I didn’t go out to eat much in Sydney. My dorm had catering and when we did go out to eat, it was usually McDonald’s or Domino’s. The one food that still holds a special spot in my memory were the milkshakes.

Around the time I went to Sydney, decadent milkshakes were on the rise. One of my first Instagrams from my time abroad in Australia was of one of these sugar overloads at the Vogue Cafe. The Vogue Cafe and its counterpart, the Missing Piece, were both located in a shopping mall just next door to Macquarie University and my residence hall. So while I pushed past my introvert ways to befriend new people, we were able to bond over the sugar highs.

Later, we ended up making a pilgrimage to Erskineville for TellaBall Shakes at Foodcraft. We learned quickly that there is no clean way to drink a milkshake and then eat a Nutella donut.

The extravagant milkshake phase seems to have moved on, but those milkshakes left an impact.

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Washington, D.C.

Last, but not least, we’re heading home to DC.

If I was a good daughter, I’d say my favorite food in DC was my mother’s cooking. Nothing against her cooking, but I think it’d be rude of me to applaud her ability to perfectly cook Bagel Bites, keeping me from publicly praising her culinary skills.

The DC area has plenty of restaurants. In Old Town, there’s the classic chili of Hard Times Cafe, where my parents have been visiting for 20 something years, or for the hockey fans, there’s the Chicago-style pizza of Bugsy’s. If you’re in Woodley Park, you can hit up my Wisconsin Avenue high school haunts of 2Amys for pizza or Cactus Cantina for Mexican.

If you’re feeling fancy, you can stop by the White House on your way to Old Ebbitt Grill. For those pretending to adult, they can head to Ted’s Bulletin for homemade PopTarts. You can join the fight between Baked & Wired and Georgetown Cupcake (although everyone in DC knows that Baked & Wired wins every time.) I’m currently working near Dupont Circle, where I’m munching on Happy Hours at Front Page, and enjoying lunches at Zorba’s Cafe, and experiencing all that is the Big Hunt.

If we’re honest, I don’t know if I have a favorite in DC. Maybe, I’ll just have to continue my searchAll recommendations are much appreciated. Though they are subject to ignorance in favor of Chipotle or Moby Dick’s.

Bags over Boxes

Travel

They say travel changes you. And in many ways it can, opening your mind to new cultures and new perspectives, pulling you out of your comfort zone, feeding you new ideas and cuisines. Oftentimes, I don’t see how much its changed me until I get home and settle in for a bit.

One of the stranger parts of traveling is that it has made me a more of a minimalist. (Yes, my mother would laugh at this based on the amount of stuff I have sitting in my childhood bedroom and the amount of stuff she is helping me haul home from London.) But honestly, when you’re planning to move away in six months time or a year, your mindset changes.

You start to ask yourself a lot of new questions like, If it can’t fit in my carry-on, is it really worth it? or Will I ever really use this? or Can this be squished and smushed and still look alright on the other side?

As the last few weeks have been filled with people moving in for college or around the world, I found myself thinking about how five years ago when I packed for college, everything was in boxes and hard containers. The only limitations to my storage was what could be fit in the car on the drive to orientation. My mother, the queen of car Tetris, could make anything fit. The same was true for my second year of college: boxes rained supreme.

It wasn’t until I hopped a plane to Australia that I realized that boxes do not travel well on twenty-something hour-long flight routes. So I began to favor bags and softer containment units. All of those beauty bags that had been collected over the years suddenly had a use. One was for electronics, the other for medicine, another for makeup, one more for haircare, yet another for jewelry, another for miscellaneous things that you always need but that don’t really fit any sort of categorization system. All these tiny bags could be smushed down to fit into the corner of my suitcase or the front pocket of my carry-on in ways that a box just couldn’t. And with that restriction, less things were brought along.

I kept the preference for bags on my semester in Sweden, as I had similar limitations. My travels around Europe continued this, as the question was always Will this fit Ryannair carry-on restrictions? Instead of a specialized outfit for each day, I had to think about which pieces matched multiple items and wouldn’t look wrinkled upon arrival. Some things just didn’t make the cut.

My senior year of undergrad, I was so used to constantly being on the move that it just stuck. It seemed strange to use a box when a bag would work just perfectly. By the time I moved to London, it was second nature to favor bags over boxes.

As I pack up my bags once more for the move home, it would be hard to ignore the other ways that travel has changed me: I’m more independent, I reflect more, I don’t waste time on things that make me unhappy, I make lists and cross things off only to write a new list, I enjoy sitting back and watching people interact, and at the end of the day, my life could fit into a couple of bags within the weight limit of Icelandair’s checked baggage restrictions (I hope).