Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Spring Break: Paris and Spain

 Still trying to catch up on all my spring break travels! This should be the last one from break and then I can finish up this last week and Croatia. So picking up where I left off:
The night of May 1: I could literally write an entire blog post about my flight with EasyJet from Prague to Paris, but to keep it short [warning: if you don’t like swearing please skip to the next paragraph]: EasyJet are some sick motherfucker assholes who have a bullshit carryon policy and make you stick your purse (a personal item!!!) in your carryon and even though my backpack fit in the crate thing perfectly, the sick sadistic asshole saw my purse and made me repack my bag but didn’t give me enough time to actually repack it so that it would fit right and then refused to let me push it in and insisted that it has to be a fucking “comfortable fit” and then charged me $67 (SIXTY-SEVEN MOTHERFUCKING DOLLARS) to check my backpack at the gate because they are a horrible airline and their employees need to get off the ego trip and get a real job not working for a fucking budget airline if you want to fucking rip people off and charge them 67 motherfucking dollars. So to sum up, I spent a decent hour of my flight crying due to separation anxiety with my backpack, which I haven’t checked in the entirety of my time in Europe, and being terrified that EasyJet would charge me 67 motherfucking dollars to check my backpack and then lose it.

Okay now that that rant is over, I would just like to tell the world please never fly EasyJet since 1. They only let you have one carryon because they like making their passengers uncomfortable/poor and 2. Their flights are more expensive than Ryanair anyways. If anything, it only made my eternal love for Ryanair greater, since they allow one small bag for their carryon and have never asked me to put my bag in the crate let alone charge me to check my backpack at the gate. To sum up: I did make it to Paris and was able to take the last train from Charles De Gaulle to the city and since it was 1:00am and raining, I took a cab to my hostel.

May 2: So first of all, I want to say a bit about Paris: I went to Paris basically because I’m in Europe and I feel like I should go to Paris because it’s Paris. I ended up basically falling in love. Paris is amazing. I only had 3 days there, and was going pretty hard: pulling 12ish hour days on less than 7 hours of sleep, waking up by 7:30am and walking 7-10 miles every day. I easily could have spent a week there, and by a week I mean a month or longer. I’m also super impressed with my travel efficiency skills, since I only had 2 full days in Paris and I was able to do and see everything I wanted to get done, despite having to wait in queues for ~2 hours and walking everywhere. Okay so! My first full day in Paris: I walked to Notre Dame and only had to wait about 10 minutes to get in. The mothership of all cathedrals, it was so beautiful! An amazing experience for a cathedral pro like myself. Saw Place de la Bastille, and then waited in line for 1hr 20 min for Sainte-Chapelle, which was beautiful with all the stained glass and free as well (for those of us who can produce valid proof that you are under 26 and “long-term residents of the EU”), before walking through the Jardin du Luxembourg and then waiting in line for the Catacombes for 2 hours. After being at the Ossuary in Kutna Hora the day before, it was a lot of bones to see in a 24 hour period, but it was super cool! It was pouring rain waiting outside for about half an hour, so I made friends with a nice Russian woman who offered me her umbrella (and I used my Russian in everyday life!). After that I treated myself to a Metro ride back to my hostel, a nice long shower, and mediocre kebabs.

May 3: Another super busy day! Got to the Louvre before it opened (also free!!! Holla!) and since I hate art museums, I saw the Mona Lisa and Napolean III Apartments before a beautiful walk along the Seine to the Eiffel Tower. Perfect weather to wait in line for an hour and a half, and climbing the stairs was pretty cheap. Saw the Arc de Triomphe, Montmarte (for Moulin Rouge), and Sacre Coeur for more beautiful views of Paris. My hostel was right by some canal, so I walked around there at night and the sunset was gorgeous.

May 4: I went to Versailles, the palace to end all palaces. There were TONS of people (even though I got there around 8:45am) and I’m going to say a secret: I cut the queue for the first time in my life. Living in England, queues are so sacred, but I just didn’t want to wait for 2 hours and since I didn’t have a ticket (all I had to do was show my passport, since it was free!) I said fuck it and cut. #sorrynotsorry. The Grand Apartments were really something I’ve never seen before, so luxurious, fancy, beautiful…but it was basically claustorphobic being crammed into such small rooms with so many other tourists shoving you around. But I saw the Hall of Mirrors, which I’ve wanted to see for years! I spent the rest of the time in the gorgeous gardens, sitting by the water, walking around and seeing the different gardens/fountains/groves, eating nutella crepes, laughing at tourists, getting sunburned, etc. It was a great day, one of the places of my dreams!

May 5: Woke up at 5am to get a insanely painfully expensive taxi to this random parking lot where the buses leave for Beauvais Airport to catch a 5:55am bus to the airport to get my flight to Barcelona. I didn’t have a whole lot of “touristy” things to do in Barcelona, I just wanted to be there, see the city, be in the sun, and go to the beach. First I walked and saw two of Gaudi’s famous houses (one of them was under construction) before seeing the Columbus monument, and then sitting by the water and chatting with some guy who looked exactly like Daniel Radcliffe. I saw the beach and walked in the ocean for the first time in 10 years!!! The water was so blue and so beautiful. Then I got back to the hostel and realized the extent of my sunburn. It was one of the worst sunburns I’ve ever had (and I’ve had some BAD sunburns). It looked like I was wearing red footless tights. You know you’re sunburned when some girl walks into the hostel bathroom, looks at you, and just goes “oh my god.”

May 6: Due to the fact that I could barely walk from my sunburn, I did NOT go to the beach as I had planned. I saw the Catedral, which was free and beautiful, and La Sagrada Familia. That one was really more of a work of art, as opposed to a cathedral/church, but it was fascinating to be there. Weird towers/pillars, stained glass, strange curves and shapes… not easy to describe! I walked to Parc Güell (another of Gaudi’s places) but the guy said the park was full and they weren’t letting people in until 4:30pm—it was 1:30 and ain’t nobody got time fo dat. So I wandered around the free places of the park, had a rest period at the hostel, and then found Barcelona’s Kebab Road for a very good, but very interesting and different kebab! This one had corn, couscous, and cheese wrapped in a tortilla. Nothing on my boy in Wrocław of course, but surprisingly good.

May 7: Again, I was unable to go to the beach due to The Sunburn. But I spent more time exploring the city, saw the Synagogue Major (one of the oldest in Spain/Europe, from the 3rd/4th century), Barca’s Arc de Triumph, and walked around this very lovely park that had a really pretty fountain (by Gaudi, of course). I made one of the greatest decisions of my life by getting dulce de leche crepes (SERIOUSLY. DO. IT.), spent a few hours people watching across the city, and then going to a different kebab place on Kebab Road and getting some bus candy on my way back to the hostel. I hung out for a few hours with some really nice Aussie girls I met before leaving to catch my 10:15pm bus to Madrid! It was a long time of traveling, a lot of time on the bus (16/24 hours!), but I got from Barcelona to Sevilla with a stopover in Alcalá de Henares all in one day.

May 8: I rolled up to the bus station in Madrid around 6:00am, and eventually figured out where the regional buses to Alcalá de Henares were—the bus ride from Madrid was a little less than an hour and I am positive that I was the only tourist showing up at 7:15 in the morning. The main reason I was going there was because my girl Katherine of Aragon was born there, and I wasn’t about to go to Spain and not try to see her birthplace! I wandered around the town (again, basically the only one outside) and I can’t even believe it, but they had a statue of her outside of (what I think was) the Archbishop’s Palace where she was born!!! A statue!!!!! Made my entire shitty trip worth it! The plaque on the statue read: Catalina de Aragón, Infanta de España, Reina de Inglaterra. Perfect. Since nothing else was open (it was now 7:45 in the morning) I got the bus back to Madrid, switched to a different bus station via the Metro, waited for 3 hours, then sat on a bus for 6.5 hours to go to Sevilla. The good news: I was rewarded for my day on the bus by getting to see one of my best friends, Tia, who was waiting for me at the bus station in Sevilla! She’s studying there for the semester and it was SO awesome to be able to meet up with her. I was exhausted from my 16 hours on the bus, so we had an early night made complete with kebabs and I fell asleep as soon as I was in my bed.

May 9: Tia gave me a wonderful tour of Sevilla—it was so beautiful and I could definitely understand why she loves it so much. We walked along the river, saw the beautiful Plaza de España (where they filmed part of Star Wars Episode II!), saw the Catedral (potentially the resting place of Christopher Columbus and one of the tallest cathedrals in Spain/Europe since it used to be a mosque), began my love affair with tinto de verano (like sangria but usually cheaper), enjoyed the view of all of Sevilla from this architecture thing that you can takethe elevator up, and then got out of the sun since it was too damn hot. That night we went to La Feria, which was SO much fun!!! It’s basically like this huge fair for a week, everyone looks nice (women wear their feria dresses, which are all beautiful), and you just hang out eating and drinking and dancing all night long. I feel so lucky that I was in Sevilla during the best weekend of the year! It is such a huge part of Spanish culture and I never would have gotten that as an average tourist in Sevilla during any other time of the year. Tia and I got tapas and drinks and watched everyone dancing. It was so much fun.

May 10: We made one of the greatest decisions of our lives in eating lunch that day, in a nice café where I got paella and sangria, and we each got these amazing pastry things called palmera? It was literally one of the greatest things I’ve ever eaten. We saw Real Alcazar (the castle), which was super cool since it was really a bunch of different palaces in different styles built on top of each other. Parts of it reminded a lot of the Alhambra in Granada. We trekked across the city to see the Roman columns, and were drenched in sweat by the time we got there. It was so hot in Sevilla, between 95-100˚F in the afternoon about the whole time I was there. Later that night we went to La Feria and I got to meet a bunch of Tia’s friends there! We pre-gamed (hacer un botellon!) in the street, ran away from the popo (#fuckdapolice), and went to La Feria for food and dancing until we went home  “early” at 4:00 in the morning since we had an early train.

May 11: I got back to my hostel around 4:30 and woke up at 8:10 to get to the train station for our train to Cádiz. Rough times… we got to Cádiz around 11:30 and walked around the city center—it’s a pretty small place, but super crowded with tourists from cruise ships. We saw the cathedral, which was magnificent, got beach snacks, and then vamos a la playa! I managed not to get horrifically sunburned (always a rare feat for me) and swam in the ocean for the first time in 10 years!!! It was so much fun to ride the waves and saltwater and to be in the ocean, and it felt super refreshing since it was hot as hell. I went topless at the beach for the first time because when in Spain! Eventually we decided we needed to get out of the sun so we got some ice cream (another solid decision, since it was some of the most refreshing ice cream I’ve ever had), and then hung out and got our train back to Sevilla, where we rewarded our trip with kebabs again.

May 12: My last day! I started it off by throwing out my favorite pair of jeans—they’ve been with me to almost every single place I’ve gone in England, and over 10 countries this year. But sometimes when you rip giant holes in the crotch of your jeans and you’re flying Ryanair with only a carryon…you gotta do what you gotta do. RIP to my jeans. Tia and I got breakfast a little before noon (in Spain they usually serve breakfast until 1:00pm) complete with tinto de verano, and then she went to class and I chilled at my hostel on the rooftop terrace with pool (this involved more tinto). Tia met me and we got more food at this good café place (and more tinto) and sat around chatting since it was too fucking hot to walk anywhere. I got some bus/plane/bus candy, Tia got me to the bus station and we said bye and I got to the airport and on my plane no problem! I was really glad to be going home, sleep in my own bed, do laundry, etc. I made it back to London Stansted and then got a bus to Nottingham, and got home around 4:30am.

 Then I went to bed and then by the time I woke up I had 24 hours to study for my Polish oral exam…

Overall, this trip was amazing. It was the longest I’ve ever traveled (33 days) with the least amount of stuff I’ve taken with me for a trip (since I had only a carryon. Fuck you EasyJet.). I am so fortunate that I was able to have all these opportunities to travel and see the world! It was so much fun traveling and meeting up with friends in various places, and of course making new friends from all over the world. More than anything, it really showed me just how diverse the world is and how much of it I have to explore. And this is all only in Europe! And the world is so much bigger than just Europe! This year really has been the year of all my dreams :)

Notre Dame
Eiffel Tower
Hall of Mirrors in Versailles!
The ocean in Barcelona, this picture was taken during The Sunburn
La Sagrada Familia
Statue of my girl Katherine of Aragon in Alcalá de Henares!!!
Paella y sangria!
Plaza de España
RIP to my favorite jeans :(

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Spring Break: Poland and Prague

I made it to Croatia and back and now I’m finally going to be home for more than 4 days! The last week and a half have been so insanely hectic, running around doing everything. So I’m going to try to catch up with the blog and spring break and that trip before going into the rest of my life since I’ve been home! So to pick up from where I left off… Poland and Prague is what this next post is about!

April 21: Sometimes in life you have flights that leave at 6:30am, and sometimes in life those flights are $9.22. This is literally my only factor not contributing to my massive self-loathing that took place this day for doing this to myself: I woke up at 2:50am (aka basically didn’t sleep) to get a taxi at 3:10 to get to the bus station to get the 3:30 bus to the airport to get to the airport at 4:45 to have enough time for my 6:30 flight. It was horrible. However, as I said: sometimes in life you get flights for $9.22. So I got into Warsaw a little before 8:30am, and had a nice bus ride into the city (Poland is really pretty and really green and has lots of trees, but a different green than a country like Ireland) and showed up to my hostel, where they told me basically everything was closed since it was Easter Monday. So I occupied myself by accidentally walking in/interrupting a service in the Church of the Holy Cross (where Chopin’s heart is buried), going to the Royal Palace, walking across the river to see a street that the Pianist was filmed on, saw the Warsaw Uprising Monument, began to understand the Poles’ love for Pope John Paul II since there was stuff about him everywhere, got kebabs that were cheap as shit, and then crashed. As Chandler Bing would say, “I’ve had a very long hard day.”

April 22: So I was super excited that it wasn’t Easter Monday and things would be open! But it was actually a Tuesday so actually all the museums were closed. By all the museums, I mean literally everything I wanted to see in Warsaw was closed. Warsaw Uprising Museum, Jewish History Museum, Pawiak Prison Museum, and the Jewish Cemetery… so I basically picked up my stuff and got my bus to Wrocław, after a minor panic where I almost missed the bus but had already dropped my backpack off and had a vision of the bus driving to Wrocław with my backpack but without me… But I had a pleasant 6 hour bus ride, got free food (Polski Bus, I love you), and watched this weirdass movie that the girl in front of me was watching in the window reflection. Showed up in Wrocław and found the hostel and went to sleep.

April 23: I had the day to myself before my friend Adam’s flight got in that evening, so I set off exploring. They have all these cute gnome statues in Wrocław, so finding those in random places was always fun! The market/square/old town in Wrocław is really quaint and pretty, saw the City Hall and the Panorama Racławicka, which is this huge circular painting that unfortunately a group of 40 schoolchildren also wanted to see. I walked around, got sunburned, and Adam and I started our soon-to-be routine of kebabs for dinner washed down with 4 złoty beer. For everyone who doesn’t know the conversion rate: beer was about $1.33. So cheap, so good. Poland is a grand country.

April 24: Hit up St. Elizabeth’s Church and climbed the tower for amazing views of Wrocław in the morning, including seeing the tallest building in Poland! We got our bus tickets for the next day to Krakow all figured out, and then we walked a long ass way to see this cool house/metal sculpture thing that was super lame. However, we rewarded ourselves with 3 złoty ice cream ($1!!!) and then got kebabs from the same AMAZING place as the night before. Seriously, that guy is my boy!!! I miss my boy in Wrocław just writing this. And then, of course, beer.

April 25: Adam and I caught our 8:00am bus and we did not speak since neither of us do mornings. But we got free food again! Seriously! I love Polski Bus! We made it to Krakow mildly more awake and dropped our shit in our hostel, which was super convenient since it was right on the market. Saw St. Mary’s Basilica with Europe’s most impressive Gothic altarpiece (life-size figures!), both of which were absolutely beautiful. There’s a bugler that plays every hour on the hour from the tower of St. Mary’s, which was fun for the first few hours and not fun once I was trying to go to sleep. Saw Wawel Castle and Wawel Cathedral, both of which really made me wish that I knew more about Polish history! And since it would be rude to break tradition: kebabs (obviously they had nothing on my boy in Wrocław) and cheap beer in a sketchy alley. The best.

April 26: I imparted my greatest traveling wisdom to Adam, and showed him how to steal free breakfast from the hostel via sandwich bags for free lunch as well. We spent the day doing a lot of the Jewish-related stuff around Krakow, starting with the Schindler’s Factory Museum. It was one of the things I was most looking forward to in Krakow, so finally getting to go was awesome! It was really more a museum on Jewish life in Krakow during Nazi occupation than about Oskar Schindler, but it was still really emotional and moving. They take you through the beginning, before German occupation, and then through WWII. One of the last rooms is about the Red Army and a huge picture of Stalin. Depressing. One of the only rooms of the factory left was Schindler’s office, with pots and pans that his workers made and all the names of the people he saved. It was a lot to handle. Then Adam and I set off to Pałszow, the Jewish concentration camp in Krakow. It’s not a tourist site or anything, but we walked past where it would have been and at least saw a tower. Then we walked to the (closed) Jewish New Cemetery and stopped for ice cream (amazing) before going to the Galicia Jewish museum, which was an exhibition of contemporary pictures of places of Jewish heritage today. We finished off the day by walking to see the last remaining part of Krakow’s ghetto wall, which was located right in a kid’s playground park—I think that was one of the hardest things for me to see. To sum up the day with my infamous quote: “genocide is depressing.

April 27: First of all, this was the day Pope John Paul II was canonized! One of the most fascinating parts of my trip to Poland was their love and pride of their boy JP2. Every city had a street named after him, every place had a statue, and everyone was going crazy about the canonization. Wrocław was building a huge stage, and Krakow had “Pope Fest” in the Mały Rynek. But anyway, to continue with the “genocide is depressing” theme, we did our tour to Auschwitz this day. I don’t really know what all to say about it, besides that I’m glad I went, I’m glad I experienced it, and I’ll be prepared if I decide I want to do it again. I feel like since Auschwitz is so famous, there’s not a whole lot to say. I really did think seeing the hair would be the worst part, but actually I think seeing the shoes was worse. There was just so many of them. Our tour guide explained the rooms and buildings we went into, I have a hard time remembering all of them. Then we went to Auschwitz Birkenau, which is where they had the railcar stop and the crematoriums/gas chambers. It was just depressing. The next day was March of the Living, which I had never heard of but it’s when Jewish people experience Auschwitz/Israel in a single trip and they march in the camp. One of the original barracks was open, so we saw where people slept. It was just really hard to be there, and understand what all happened. But we finished up our tour and went back to Krakow, where we bought Pope merch, I did real laundry for the first time all break, and, of course: kebabs and more 4 złoty beer.

April 28: My last day in Poland! We checked out and headed to the Wieliczka Salt Mines, which were absolutely AMAZING! So so so cool! First you walk down like 350 stairs and I felt exactly like I was in Gringotts. The only thing that could have made it better was if they had had carts to ride in, then I would actually have been in Gringotts. On our tourist route you only get to see 1% of the mines, which is just crazy. Huge caverns with wide open spaces, huge lakes, statues made out of salt, and a stunning cathedral carved out of the salt. Incredible. And of course, it wouldn’t be Poland without a couple statues of JP2. Once we were back in Krakow, we decided to make it a double ice cream day before, of course, kebabs and beer. Literally the best combination on the face of the planet. I got my stuff all sorted out, and I got my night train to Prague a little after 10:00pm! I’d never taken a night train before and I was a little nervous, but I shared a compartment with a nice Japanese guy so it turned out just fine even though I didn’t sleep much.

April 29:  So I rolled up to Prague sleep deprived and struggling, and proceeded to wander around for over an hour trying to find my hostel in my exhausted and by that point very sweaty state. #unamused Prague was beautiful though, I could have spent so much more time there! I wish I had had more than 3 days. Once I did finally get to my hostel, I dropped my bag, brushed my teeth and set off! I was meeting up with three of my flatmates in Prague, Sarah, John, and Kaia, so I was super excited to see them! I saw the Old Town Square and the Astronomical Clock Tower, and Charles Bridge with the beautiful gothic sculptures. Saw the John Lennon Wall, and then met Sarah and John! It was SO good to see them again!! We hit up the Museum of Communism, which was fun and quirky, but kind of sad though (that whole repression of individualism thing). I took a nap in my hostel bed, which I have to say was the most comfortable hostel bed I’ve ever slept in, and then we had a nice Czech dinner (with beer) and hung out chatting and seeing Kaia before I crashed.

April 30: Kaia and I went to Prague Castle, which is actually a huge complex of different buildings—I saw Old Palace, St. George’s Basilica, Golden Lane, and St. Vitus Cathedral. I lost Kaia around Golden Lane and was unable to find her again, so I saw the gardens and the cathedral before meeting Sarah and John in the Jewish Quarter. We saw several synagogues (one with the names of the 80,000 Jews murdered during the Holocaust written on the walls) and the cemetery. Most importantly, it was Sarah’s 21st birthday!!! We weren’t up for a crazy night, but we had a delicious dinner at this Thai place and celebrated with ice cream.

May 1: I had a quick trip to the post office to mail a package to my best friend Sigrid, and then we headed to the train station for our day trip to Kutna Hora. It was a really cute and pretty town, they had this gorgeous cathedral (St. Barbara’s Cathedral) which I didn’t know about, which was a lovely surprise! Stunning wall paintings. Then we walked through the town to the Ossuary, which was this tiny chapel building decorated with bones. It was SO awesome. Over 40,000 bones were used, there were huge bone pyramids and a bone chandelier! We got our train back to Prague where we stopped at McDonalds. For everyone going to Prague, PLEASE TAKE NOTE! Go to McDonalds and order a fried cheese sandwich! It’s a really common Czech food and they have it at McDonalds! It’s not on the menu, but it is AMAZING. I said bye to Sarah, John and Kaia, and then headed for the airport!

Okay, I legit have to be done with this post since I’m tired and I actually need to be reading for my essay. But obviously I’ve been procrastinating that and writing this instead! Hopefully I’ll finish the rest of my spring break blogs soon and finally catch up, I just have no idea when. I can’t believe how much there is to do in such little time! 

Wrocław with the best kebabs in the world on the left hand side
St. Mary's Basilica, Krakow
Oskar Schindler's office
Remains of the ghetto wall in Krakow
Wieliczka Salt Mines
Happy 21st Birthday Sarah!
Chandelier in the Ossuary in Kutna Hora

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Spring Break: Sweden

I liiiiiiiiiiiiive!!! (Now tell me what mortal needs my protection great ancestor—you just saw the word and I’m there—Mushu—I swear, anyone who’s foolish enough to threaten our family, vengeance will be mine! Grrr—Mushu! These are the family guardians. They…--Protect the family—And you, oh demoted one—I, ring the gong—That’s right, now wake up the ancestors—Alright one family reunion coming right up—)

I could continue quoting Mulan until the end, but I won’t.

I am FINALLY back from spring break! I got back to the flat on Tuesday morning around 4:30am, and had my Polish oral exam on Wednesday at noon. This is a crazy busy week, getting back and trying to get everything sorted and organized, and tomorrow morning I head to Croatia for five days! Croatia is my last non-UK trip before Russia, and I’m really excited. At the same time, I almost wish I would have given myself just one or two more days in-between big trips to relax a bit. But oh well! I’m trying to catch up on my blog a bit just since I’ll have so much more still to do once I get back! So I’m splitting the blog posts up into separate parts of my break, since that makes the most sense to me and I do not have enough time to do one long post!

First of all, I just want to say that I’ve wanted to go to Sweden for so long I can’t remember. My family went in the summer of 1998 when I was 5, but I really don’t remember much. So I’ve been wanting to get back ever since. As in, when I told my best friend I was doing the Nottingham program she said, “so, when are you going to Sweden?” I was really excited since I was going to stay with some family friends in Göteborg and a distant relative in Linköping before heading to Stockholm.

April 11: I left the flat and headed to the bus station for my 11:30am bus to Stansted Airport, which took approximately 673020948 hours since I had to wait at Milton Keynes Coachway for a bit. But I made it to the airport and got on my flight to Göteborg okay, and made friends with the person sitting next to me. We made it a competition to see who could eat more Swedish pancakes on our trip. I got off the plane and Helena, one of my dad’s good friends for years, was waiting for me! I hadn’t seen her since she and her mom and daughters visited us in the US about 9 years ago, so it was so great to see her. They live on an island called Asperö on the archipelago, so we drove to the ferry terminal and caught a ferry to the island. I only have very vague memories of their house/Sweden, so even though I was exhausted it was great to be there!

April 12: I woke up and I was in Sweden!!! I got a nice tour of the island, which is beautiful, and then proceeded to eat 5 Swedish pancakes in a row without stopping. Helena and Stefan took me to Bohus Festing, which is a really cool old castle/fortress out of the city. It was really interesting to learn about it, since it had switched hands between the Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes quite a bit. We had tea (and ice cream!) with Helena’s mom, Ingrid, who had visited my family in the US and it was great to see her! I got dropped off in the city center and spent the night with Sanna, Helena’s daughter who is my age. We got kebab pizza, which is one of the greatest inventions of the world, and then met up with her sister Malin and her friend at a pub before going to this really cool underground club. It was a such a cool place and I had a really fun time!

April 13: I slept in late and then Helena, Stefan, Malin, and Daniel and I went to Gunnebo Slott, a manor house from the early 1800s. We did a tour in Swedish, and I understood two things! We went to a contemporary art museum, which was having a big show weekend and had a great meal in the restaurant. We headed back to the island (me taking my backpack around like a vagabond gypsy) and I took a great nap before a delicious dinner. All of them speak English really well, so it was really easy to talk to all of them! They are all such great people and I’m so lucky that I got to see them!

April 14: Daniel took me around the city and showed me Göteborg! He was on his Easter break, so my trip was perfectly timed. We got these delicious bagels for lunch, and I read the sign by myself and knew what I wanted! (Skinka=ham) We walked through Haga, which is a really cute neighborhood, I dropped bank on souvenirs, we hit up some churches, and then went to the Emigrant Museum, which I was expecting to be pretty lame. It was NOT lame!!! They had an information board that mentioned my ancestor, Peter Cassel!!! They had a lot of information on Swedish communities, including stuff on Minnesota and Minneapolis. It was really nice that Daniel was with me and could translate everything for me, since most of it was in Swedish. After that we went up to the top (22nd floor) of this building, which had amazing views of all of Göteborg. Then I met up with Sanna and we walked around this huge park (which had seals!) and got burritos and a drink before heading home for the night.

April 15: My last day in Göteborg! I spent most of the day exploring the city on my own, which was really nice. I went to the Gothenburg City Museum, which took you through the history of the city from the Bronze Age to the 1800s, and then sat outside in the sun enjoying these delicious cinnamon roll dessert things for a while. I walked past Fiskekörka, a fish market which looks like a church, and wandered around some really pretty churches. I met up with the whole family and we all went and had an amazing dinner! I got some delicious mushroom appetizer thing, and then Swedish meatballs which I couldn’t finish since it was so much food. It was so wonderful to see all of them and be together with all the family! I said goodbye to Sanna and Malin, and the rest of us headed back to the island.

April 16: Helena and I left on the 6:30am ferry so I could catch my bus to Linköping at 7:50am. It was a very early morning! I am so grateful that I got to see Helena & fam, they are all wonderful people and were so kind and gracious to let me stay with them and show me around. I did finally make it to Linköping, where I met up with another family friend/distant relative, Margot. It happened to be her 85th birthday on that day, so I got her flowers and she loved them! Her friend, Arne, drove us to Kisa where apparently the Peter Cassel Society had organized a lunch and museum tour for me, since obviously I’m famous in Sweden! #celebritystatus I got to see the memorial plaque outside the Emigrant Museum, then had lunch at this nice café and talked about Peter Cassel and my heritage! I got a tour of the Emigrant Museum, which had a ton of stuff that was supplemented by all of Margot’s stories. She literally knows everything about her entire family history! I wish I knew that much! Arne finished up his work in Kisa and then drove us back to Linköping, where Margot went through all her birthday cards and shared birthday cake with me. I also think it should be noted that on Margot’s 85th birthday, I went to bed before she did, at 8:45pm. Party animal!

April 17: I thought my train to Stockholm left at about 9:30am, but instead I had bought a train for 7:24am. Never have I hated myself more than that morning. Woke up at 6 again, and Margot waited on the platform with me until my train left. I powered through and got a second wind as we were pulling into Stockholm. WOW, Stockholm is so beautiful!!! I walked forfuckingever to my hostel and dropped my backpack, and then headed out and started walking. (For future reference: kyrka=church in Swedish) I saw Riddarsholmskyrkan, which was closed, and the Royal Palace and the Parliament Building. The city is seriously so beautiful, all the buildings are gorgeous and the water is so pretty and I could just spend forever there. My first stop was the Vasa Museet, and I finally got to see the Vasa ship again! The Vasa ship is one of my few lasting memories of Sweden circa 1998, so seeing it again was awesome. It is huge and larger than life, and so much of the ship is intact, in comparison to the Mary Rose (in Portsmouth). Then I successfully lied and said I was 18 and got into the Nordiska Museet for free!! Saved 100kr fuck yeah!!! They had some really cool folk art exhibits and one of the Sami people, which was all really interesting. I walked through Djurgården and saw Rosendalls Slott (closed) and amazing views of the city. Made it to my hostel before I collapsed and took a shower for the first time in 3 days, which was amazing. As Viola from She’s the Man would say, “I get to take a shower, I get to take a shower.”

April 18: Another amazing day in Stockholm! I got a tour of City Hall, where they hold the Nobel Prize Banquet (every guest gets 60cm of table space—except royalty, etc.). The Royal Palace was closed since it was Good Friday, assholes. Hit up 7 (SEVEN!) churches all around Stockholm, along with the Changing of the Guard at the Palace and the Nobel Museet (which I got into for free since I am 18, hollllla) before finishing up the day with kebabs. It really sucks, everything is so expensive in Sweden. My kebabs were almost $10, and everything just costs so much for those poor unfortunate souls who have their money in dollars.

April 19: Finally, finally, finally made it to Drottningholm Palace! It was really easy to get there by tram/bus, and I seriously had forgotten how beautiful it was. One of my other vivid memories of Sweden from 1998 is drawing my name in the sand in the gardens of Drottningholm. The lake was so beautiful, and I was one of the first people in the palace. I saw all the rooms on my own before joining a (free) tour in English. It was really interesting to learn about all the different monarchs (particularly queens) who spent time in the palace. And Gustav III was a favorite cousin of Catherine the Great over in Russia, so it was cool to see her presents to him! I walked around the beautiful gardens, the weather was amazing and it was so warm! I could have been there for ages, but eventually I decided to head back. When I got back in Stockholm, I went to a free Bach organ recital at one of the beautiful churches I went to yesterday (Jacobs kyrka), went back to the hostel and took a shower before going out for a beer (since it’s $8 for a beer I obviously only got one…) with one of the girls from my hostel room.

April 20: I went to Storkyrkan (the Royal Chapel) for an Easter Sunday service at 11:00! It was a beautiful church to be in, and the service was very nice. It was all in Swedish, but I actually understood a fair amount, since I know how those Lutheran church services work! It was really astounding to be in such a beautiful place for Easter, the church is just stunning. I went to the Historiska Museet, which was free for us 18 year olds, and it was really cool! They had a really interesting Viking exhibit, and then upstairs it took you through Sweden from 1000-1970s. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money (aka I didn’t have like any money left), so I just hung out outside enjoying the beautiful weather. On my way back I ate my bread along with a ½ liter of ice cream for dinner, all in one sitting. Priorities. I had a really early night, since I had to wake up before 3am to leave Sweden!

Okay, I’m going to be done with this blog post now. Basically, Sweden was amazing and one of the highlights of my year this year. Being able to meet friends/family again and spend time with all of them was amazing, and getting to connect with my heritage and explore Stockholm was great. Eventually I will catch up on the rest of my trip and these last couple weeks before I head home! More to come :)

Asperö, Sverige!
My wonderful hosts in Göteborg!
Margot and I with the Peter Cassel plaque in Kisa
Drottningholm Palace!
Storkyrkan, where I went to church on Easter Sunday