Published: February 22nd 2009February 22nd 2009
Entrance to the park with the monument for the Soviet soldiers. On the left is Slovak and on the right is Russian.
Hej hej! Jag är nu i Österrike efter ett underbara vecka i Sverige!
In other words, hello! I'm now in Austria after an awesome week in Sweden!
Let's not beat around the bush, but get right to it.
Tuesday morning at 4:30 in the morning, I was up and on the go. For all you on the East Coast of the USA, that means that it was only 10:30pm for you of the night before. Let's think about this: I had an entire day, went to bed, slept 3 hours, and got up and had an entire other day, and you guys weren't even in bed yet. Anyways, Libor and I were up at 4:30 and downstairs by 5 waiting for Martyna. At about 5:15, we decided to head up to her apartment, where we discovered that she had slept through not one...not two...but three alarm clocks. I have to say, kudos to her. That takes some skill. Anyways, due to this minor setback, we missed our train at 5:40 in the morning, and so we ended up having to hang out in the train station until about 6:30, when we caught the next train to Vienna. After
The obelisk in the park with a statue of a Soviet [or just plain Russian] soldier looking out into Bratislava.
sleeping nearly the entire ride there [2 1/2 hours], we switched to a new train, destination: Slovakia.
We pulled into Slovakia at about 10:30 in the morning, right in the middle of a giant snowstorm. Great. It had been snowing a little in Vienna, which was odd since Viennese weather is typically Scheiße [understand this word? :)], but we didn't think much of it, as there was barely anything on the ground. In Bratislava, though, there was already a few inches, with no signs of letting up. We had four hours 'til we needed to be the airport, so, as only Erasmus students can do, we set out to discover an entire city and country in a few hours' time. We first walked to one end of the city where there was a Soviet monument in the middle of a park. It was cool 'cause when you entered the park, you went up a long double staircase, and in the middle at the base there was a little statue and engraving, one side in Slovak, the other side in Russian. It was a little tricky getting up into the park, and we were jumping from footprint to footprint of
Looking towards Bratislava from the park.
some of the people who'd been there before us, as the snow was so deep. We made it up to the top, which had a massive obelisk with a statue of a Soviet [and by Soviet, I mean really just Russian] soldier at the top, looking out into Bratislava. You might recall from my adventures in the Czech Republic that there was an entire square of Brno dedicated to the fallen Soviet soldiers, which has since been renamed the Moravian Square, though the statue in the center of a Soviet soldier has remained. Slovakia is much the same, as was my impression, that they're not going to deny their history, and, I must admit, it was a nice little park. From up at the top by this monument, as well, we had great views over the city, which probably would have been a little bit better had it not at times been white-out conditions. While we were up at the top, though, it was relatively clear, so we could see a bit of the city and the city's castle. It was starting to get to be mid-afternoon, so we headed back out into the storm and caught the bus to
The castle and the city.
After checking in and thoroughly confusing the man working at the counter [think about it: a Czech, a Pole, and an American traveling to Sweden from Slovakia, but they talk in German to each other...was also a bit mind-boggling to the Swedes], we went through security, and waited for our flight. It was a bit entertaining since it was the 4th time Libor had been on a plane [one flight to Greece, one flight to the Czech Republic, one joyride with some family friends], and it wasn't the first few times Martyna'd been on a plane [she's flown a bit all over Europe and she lived in the US one summer for 3 months so has made the great flight], but they were both still a little unsure about what they were supposed to do, how they were supposed to act, what they had to show at security, etc. Being an old pro by now, though, I had my pockets empty, jacket off, belt off, and everything through the machines before they knew what happened. It was a bit entertaining to watch. Anyways, we found our gate [there were only something like 6 in Bratislava's airport], and
waited for the battle to begin. With Ryanair, you don't have assigned seats. You can pay a few Euro extra and get "priority seating," which means you board the plane first. Trying to save some money, we opted not to do that, and so we had to stand and wait with the throngs of people waiting to board the plane. After tripping three little kids, back-handing a lady, and knocking an old man off his cane, we were on the plane and had 3 seats together: Martyna at the window, Libor in the middle, and me on the aisle. Two hours later, we landed in Nyköping, Sweden!
We got into Nyköping at about 7 at night, and so we had decided ahead of time that it'd be best to spend the night there. It's about an hour and 20 minutes south of Stockholm, so we figured rather than spend the entire day traveling, we could see a little more of Sweden and not have to rush when we first got there, as well as not have to navigate through Stockholm for the first time in the dark. Our hotel [yes, hotel, not hoStel] was right across the street from
Unfortunately, it's under construction at the moment, but I believe it's a museum for Slovak history.
the airport, so we went to check in, which is when my major job of the trip kicked in: I was the designated translator. The Scandinavian countries all speak relatively flawless English. From what I've heard with people here, the Norwegians tend to have a little worse English, the Swedes you'd never know had another language as a first language, and the Finns speak very well but also with a little bit of an accent and sometimes rolled r's, but nothing too dire. I unfortunately can't speak on Danes, since I've yet to encounter one here. Anyways, we rolled into the hotel, where I was thrown for a loop with the formal greeting in Swedish: Hej! I was a little thrown off, since obviously hey is something informal in English and you don't exactly use it in the situation where you're addressing the client. The people working saw that I was a little thrown off, and so they said, "Or hello, if that's better?" After a casual laugh and a little chat, we had our room keys. The hotel itself was really cool. Basically, we were staying in IKEA. I'm not exaggerating. Everything in the hotel was really from IKEA
The New Bridge, spanning the Danube. At the top there is the "UFO," where we went and had tea.
[we found the name on our things in our room]. However, it was a round hotel, and had at least 20 different wings to it. Each wing was a different city in Europe, arranged by Slavic countries, Latin countries, Germanic countries, Nordic countries, etc. Well, of course, when we found our hall, wouldn't you guess that we were staying in the Vienna wing. Fan-freaking-tastic. We were hoping for a cool city, and instead, we landed ourselves in "our" capital. However, we weren't deterred, and had a pretty nice room with four beds, though it was just the 3 of us. We headed into the city after that, which is about 5km from the airport, and wandered around. By this time, it was about 8:30-9 at night, and in case you were wondering, Scandinavia is freaking cold at night [and also during the day]. We walked for a little, and were all adequately shivering and hungry, so we found a little place and had dinner, then called it a night and headed back to the hotel. As I said, we were basically staying in IKEA, and the place [or Sweden as a whole] is an engineer's dream, as the style there
The Danube and NovÃ½ Most.
is very simple but cool at the same time, and, for the most part, everything is visible, so we could see all the pipes and whatever. Libor had a fieldday and took pictures of literally everything from the sink pipes in the bathroom to the mechanics of our window in our room, and I have to say, the shower in the hotel was pretty sweet [see picture]. It might just put Regina and Jeff's to shame. Not bad for $150 for one night...ah, right, 150 SEK, which is about $15. Did you really think we'd be staying in a hotel for $150/night? C'mon people, stay with me.
Wednesday morning we woke up, had our complementary breakfast, and hopped on the bus to Stockholm, seeing IKEA along the way on the side of the highway. We arrived at 12:03pm, and yes, the minutes here are very important. When we got off the bus, I asked Libor and Martyna if they noticed anything funny. They didn't really know what I meant, but when I pointed up, they figured it out. It was mere minutes after 12, and already the sun was WAY past the Meridian, almost halfway inbetween the Meridian and
The other side of the Danube.
the horizon. After cursing Regina in my head for being right about the lack of light [though it was actually daylight until about 5:30pm, so not too bad], we headed out into the city. We went first to Stadshuset, which is City Hall, where we looked across to Gamla Stan, the Old Town. Stockholm itself is referred to as the Venice of the North, though I prefer it about 52,086 times to Venice. It's scattered across an archipelago comprised of thousands of islands. I'm not sure, but I think it's somewhere upwards of 3,000 islands total.
From this square, we decided to head down into the city, passing the American Embassey on the way which was entertaining [see pictures, I won't describe it]. We went up to the city's castle, which is a museum I believe of Slovakian history, saw Parliament which was heavily guarded for the president, and then wound our way into the old section of the city. It's a relatively small city, as its never really been a major player on the European scheme. No, I shouldn't say that, that's actually false information, because when the Habsburg Family ruled the Holy Roman Empire [aka Austria-Hungary], Bratislava
On January 1st, Slovakia introduced the Euro as its official currency.
was actually the capital of the Hungarian portion of the Empire, not Budapest. However, back in the time of the USSR, Bratislava wasn't very important, and then in Czechoslovakia, Prague was the capital. Thus, when the Czech Republic and Slovakia split, it left Slovakia at kind of a loss, since most of the industry and money was in the Czech Republic, as well as the big cities. However, Slovakia is recovering a bit, and they actually just introduced the Euro on January 1st, instead of the Slovak Crown. Another cool fact about Bratislava is that it's the closest capital city to another capital city in the world [Vienna], and the closest capital city to two countries [Austria and Hungary].
Ok, so back to what I was saying. We wandered a bit around the Old Town, saw some of the curiosities of the city [see pictures], saw another section of the American Embassy in the middle of the city complete with guns and full arms, which didn't look out of place at all, and then headed to Nový Most, which means "the New Bridge." It spans the Danube, and for all those keeping track, Bratislava marks the 3rd European City
in which I've seen and crossed the Danube by foot [the first two being Vienna and Budapest]. We walked over Nový Most, and took an elevator ride to the "UFO" at the top, where we could see the entire city and have a cup o' tea to warm up. The major ones, however, are the ones that Stockholm itself [the immediate city] lies on. Thus, there's water everywhere, though it's not technically rivers or anything, it's actually the Baltic Sea. After sticking our hands in the Baltic Sea and discovering that yup, it was cold, we continued on our way to Gamla Stan. We walked along the water, and found our way to Riksdagshuset, also known in English as Parliament. Here, we crossed a bridge and walked through the Parliamentary buildings, coming out on the other side to admire Kungliga Slottet, the palace of the royal family of Sweden [yes, Sweden is still a monarchy]. Riksdagshuset and Kungliga Slottet are both located in Gamla Stan, the Old Town, so we wandered a bit around there, which was really, really pretty, but really painful on the feet. Most of the walkways in Stockholm were made from rocks, but not smooth rocks,
It took a few tries, but after hiking through some seriously deep snow, we found this way down from the castle into the city.
no no. Instead, they were the big, honkin' rocks that normally you find on the bay side of Napatree point, that people take home and use for doorstoppers and whatnot. However, instead of lying them flat to make walking a little bit easier, they instead have them sticking straight up, so they jam into every single part of your foot, even parts you never knew existed [and really, how big is a foot?]. There were typically two little runways in the sidewalks designed for wheels [ie, baby carriage?], and so we tried to walk there as often as possible, but overall, someone in Stockholm's past must have hated the people of the city to have designed the walkways so. We made our way to the other end of the island, and crossed onto another island of the city, the island we'd be staying on. After exploring a bit of that, we found a little restaurant and had lunch. As we sat there eating, we heard 6 words come on the radio: "I wasn't jealous before we met..." We all looked at each other, laughed, and said, "aaaaaand now it's official: we're in Sweden." So we sat there, eating and listening
We stumbled upon this church at the base of the castle.
to "Lay All Your Love on Me" by ABBA. We then walked back to the edge of the island and walked along the water, where they both [Libor moreso, being from an entirely land-locked country] marvelled over the boats. There were lots of ferries always running in and out of the harbor, as well as cruise ships, and just personal ships. It was quite funny to see Libor's reaction, as we kept seeing bigger and bigger boats. He kept looking at me and asking why I wasn't more excited. I replied with, "This sort of thing is normal for me, I see boats practically every day of the year." However, when we saw a sign for Finland, I was very excited [FINLAND?? THAT'S NEXT TO RUSSIA], while Martyna and Libor thought I was crazy ["What? It's just another country. That's normal."]. Anyways, we just walked around for the rest of the day between the various islands and watched the sun set over Stockholm, before we walked to Stockholm City, which is the main shopping district, etc., of the city. We walked back to the water, walked across some ice that was at least 2 feet thick, and then walked back
We'd walked down there, which is a lot harder than it looks, given that that was a mixture of snow, slush, and ice.
to the island we were staying on, where we found our hostel. After dropping our stuff, we grabbed a quick dinner, then headed back and collapsed into bed, exhausted from walking all over the entire city.
Thursday morning we woke up and headed out bright and early. We wanted to go to a museum that was recommended to us both by a friend from Sweden and a friend from Finland, and decided to stop in a grocery store to get something to drink to start the day. As we all 3 purchased our juices-and used self-checkout, which was a new experience for both of them, as that doesn't yet exist in the Republic or Poland-we toasted ourselves, and Martyna and I drank orange juice while Libor drank apple juice. After the first sip, we realized our grave error, as we hadn't bought juice, just syrup that you have to mix with water to make the juice. Fantastic. Mildly disgusting to drink straight syrup. We dropped that at the hostel, and then headed back in the direction of Vasamuseet [the Vasa Museum]. In the 1600s, while Sweden was in constant competition/war with Poland, the king of Sweden [I can't remember
Looks a little like Austria?
his name] was building up his navy to send down to battle with Poland. One of his ships, the Vasa, set out on its maiden voyage, and sank in Stockholm's harbor, with full sails and flags and everything. The winds were apparently much stronger than anticipated, so when the ship began to keel, it took everyone by surprise. The ship righted itself, but then started to keel again, and this time went too far. Water entered into the gun ports, and thus the ship started to take on more and more water, and it eventually capsized and sank, with about 50 of the crew drowning. The wreck was discovered in the 1960s, and hauled up from 32m (104") deep. The wreck now stands in a museum [thus, Vasamuseet], with lots of stuff about shipbulding and life in the 1600s in Sweden. It was overall very cool, and really neat to see how much engraving was actually on the ship and how it all had a significance, from the Roman emperors in chronological order to images of Polish nobility in positions of submission [for instance, there was one of a nobleman bent double because he was "holding up" one of the
This is the oldest tower of the city, and is the gate into the inner part of the city with the Old Town.
beams of the ship. It was a very cool museum overall, and we spent a few hours in there just wandering around seeing it all. Unfortunately, we couldn't go aboard, but so it goes.
From the Vasamuseet we headed back towards Stockholm City, where we found a Taco Bar. Libor had never had Mexican food before, and Martyna was also not accustomed to it, so I said of course we had to get some. I ordered chicken fajitas [frajitas, if you're Lisa Livingston] for the three of us, and thus began one of the most frustrating undertakings of the trip. Europeans, in my experience, are very exclusive people. It's odd because they grow up surrounded by so many countries, languages, and cultures, but, as far as I can tell, it's sort of difficult for them to accept something not their own. I think it's a bit easier for us as Americans to understand that something can be done in a different way but still accomplish the same goal and be just as valid, as opposed to Europeans who seem to have a harder time accepting that. I've been asked by all of my friends on various occassions why I
The Slovakian and European Union flags.
do something as I do, and that I SHOULD be doing it like this. I entertain them most of the time, and try it that way, and they get all happy, and sure, I've picked up some new habits from my friends here or new ways of doing stuff in an attempt not to stick out too much from the rest. However, when our food arrived to build our own fajitas and Libor and Martyna picked up their knives and forks to eat each thing individual, that was one thing I could not stand. Europeans are also very picky about how they eat, and about proper table manners. Napkin on your lap? What's that mean. Elbow on the table? Yea, that's no problem. I told them, though, that they couldn't eat that way, because that form of eating might be ok in Europe, but for Mexican food, and a Mexican food designed to be eaten as a wrap, they had to eat it as a wrap. After some severe arguing and very unpleasant words exchanged in German as well as in each of our mother tongues, Libor finally decided he would try it [though was very unhappy about it]. Martyna
The main square of Bratislava, in which there was the French Embassy , Japanese Embassy, and Greek Embassy.
continued to eat with her knife and fork, which was a bit of a letdown, but so it goes. The rationale both gave me was that we were in Europe and had to eat like Europeans. I gave up at that point, as I've come to learn that with Europeans, there are just some things they will not change, no matter how dumb or illogical they are.
Anyways, after the lunch fiasco, we walked up to one of Stockholm's universities, next to which there was a large lake frozen solid [again, at least 2 feet thick, though most likely more]. We decided to go for a little stroll, and headed out onto the lake with some of Stockholm's locals. There were various people skating, skiing, riding bikes, even a truck drove straight across the lake. After adequately freezing, though, we headed back and found a little cafe, where we had hot chocolate and a semla, a Swedish bakery thing that was alright, though nothing I need to try again. By this time it was getting dark, and so we started to walk back to our island and hostel, and ended up just hanging in for the evening to stay
Bratislava is filled with odd little statues, such as this one outside the French Embassy in the main square.
warm and just played cards.
On Friday, we woke up and headed to the Old City, where we wandered through some roads we hadn't been on before. We went back to Stockholm City where we found a little restaurant and I had some very nasty Swedish food for lunch, and then walked back to the bus station to catch the bus back to Nyköping. We made it back down there mid-afternoon, checked into the same hotel, and headed into Nyköping. We wanted to see the city in the light, but by the time we got there, it was already past dusk, so not so much light at all. We found a little Greek restaurant and ate dinner there, laughing that we were sitting in Sweden, in the north of Europe, eating food from about as far away from Sweden as you could get, Greece. We caught the bus back to the hotel, and partook in the event we'd been waiting the entire week for after our first night in the hotel in Nyköping. While there, I pointed out to Libor a sign that had 5 of the most important letters in the culture of Scandinavia: s-a-u-n-a. We'd decided that
I'm not sure if the name shows up, but if not, it's Cumil with a little v over the c, which means you pronounce it like "Chumil." One of the other little curiosities of the city.
our last night in Sweden, we'd spend in the sauna, and so we went back to the hotel and hopped into the sauna, where the three of us hung out for the night. There were at first some French people with us, and they asked if we were from Germany [which I took as a compliment if we could pass for having German as our first language...though they were French, so who knows...], and then the three of us just hung out in the sauna, with intervals of going into the showers and screaming bloody murder due to the very, very cold water. At one point, Libor and I actually went outside [there was a door outside right next to the door of the sauna], which was funny 'cause we both became steam balls--you could see the steam leaving our bodies when the cold air hit us which was pretty cool.
Yesterday, Saturday, we woke up, checked out, and walked across the street to the airport. We got our boarding passes, went through security, and had an hour and a half wait until our flight. We went through the same routine of taking out some people in order to
He's lost his head twice due to careless drivers.
get good seats, and this time Libor was next to the window, I was in the middle, and Martyna was on the island. We left Sweden at 12:30, and got to Klagenfurt, Austria, at about 2:15, an hour ahead of schedule. We had to wait for the bus into the city, and then ended up having to wait 2 hours instead of 1 at the train/bus station, as they'd changed the schedules without telling anyone. We made it back to Graz last night at about 7:30pm, and promptly went to our favorite kebap shop in Jakominiplatz to visit our Turk [the man who owns the place knows us by now, he doesn't have to ask us what we want, we just go and he gives it to us...that might be a bad thing...], and then relaxed for the night, exhausted from the adventures.
Overall, Sweden was awesome! It was actually a little weird for me, though, because it reminded me a lot of home, what with a culture more focused around water. The houses also looked like ours at home, and Libor couldn't understand why I wasn't taking pictures of them ["Look! They have black roofs!" "Yea, so do
In the Old City.
ours at home." "WHAT?"]. It was kind of an odd experience to be there, and a little sad at times [coming up on 6 months next week that I've been here], but overall very cool. It was very odd for me, as well, 'cause I could actually understand Swedish. At least, I could understand written Swedish, spoken was something totally different. It's a Germanic language, thus a sister of German and English. It was more similar to German than English, so it was sort of a game with figuring out what each word in German meant. However, when I came across a word I didn't know, I could typically throw it back to an older form of a word in English, and thus I knew what absolutely everything said, which was quite a bit of fun. Libor and Martyna were both a little surprised by how much I could understand, and I said, "Hey, you guys can get the jist of all the Slavic languages, let me have my moment with one of my Germanic languages." As I said before, though, the formal greeting is "hej," which for me was always so starting to hear, but so it goes.
In case you missed it.
Sweden is definitely a place to visit, and I can't wait to go back to Scandinavia soon!
There are more photos below