Saturday, December 10, 2011

Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Hej hej for the last time from Scandinavia :( 


A short blurb about my experiences since my last entry.  I will keep them to a few sentences because I have a flight to catch early in the morning and 18 hours of travel ahead of me.  Berlin was wonderful!  I wish that I had much more time there.  There is so much modern history there, so many wonderful Christmas markets, and great sights!  I'm looking forward to returning to the German capital and hopefully exploring with the benefit of one of my German friends as a tour guide :) Prague was also a very nice end to our short European tour.  As the only more eastern European country on our tour, we had the benefit of a personal tour guide for our experience.  A friend of a Tenhult friend studies in the city and was kind enough to show Gary and I around for our two days in the city.  We were so tired of planning and mapping out cities by then, it was nice for a sort of local to show us around.  I hope I get the opportunity to return the favor to friends or friends of friends visiting the states!  We got to see the Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge, some (again) lovely Christmas markets, and a few of the other great places in Prague.  For me, Prague felt the most genuinely old Europe to me...it really had that "different feel".  A lot of the other cities that we visited felt different than America, but also had that very modern city vibe.  Prague had this to an extent, but oozed that old world look as well.  


From these experiences, it was also cool to end up back in Scandinavia again.  It's very different from many of the European countries, I think.  I feel very at home here, so its a good jumping point to head back to my real home :) 


So by the time we arrived in Copenhagen so very late last night, we were so done with all the touring and traveling.  To say the least, our Copenhagen touring was almost non-existent.  We are both just so exhausted (not complaining, simply stating) that we just didn't have it in us to do the "touristy" Copenhagen seen to the full extent.  The cold and cough that have been creeping up on me the last few days have finally made their appearance in full, so I guess its good to relax on the last day before a LONG day of traveling ahead.  


May I say though, as a side note [see the Shhhhhhhhhhh title].... I have stayed in a number of different hostels/hotels over the past four months.  My one BIG pet peeve/observation from all these experiences---IF you snore like a broken train or a loud truck, do not stay in a dormitory with 7 other people OR provide those 7 other people with ear plugs upon your arrival.  Rant over. Otherwise, hostel life is very nice and a great way to meet people while traveling! 


Anyway....this time tomorrow, if I have converted my times correctly, I will be on the ground in Chicago and back in the USA for the first time in almost four months [and FINALLY able to turn my American phone back on]. However, I really can't come to terms with this whole idea.  As I've reiterated many MANY times, my feelings are so very VERY mixed on this subject matter.  I have to say, I'm freaking out a bit about my return to the other side of the ocean.  I was talking to some girls I met in the Copenhagen hostel today about abroad experience (they're from the US, studied abroad in France, and are currently teaching English in France) and they warned me of the "reverse culture shock" that I will inevitably experience upon my return to the states.  So, I warn all those of you back home of this fact...if I am constantly having fika, saying hej hej or tack, and using the metric system/celsius/24 hour clock, among other things ...don't say you haven't been warned!  I'm so lucky to have had the opportunity to gain a different perspective on the US and the world through my experience abroad.  Its been wonderful to meet so many people from all over the world and I would never trade it! Think it's possible to "study abroad" in my future career?  We will see! 


Back to reality in t-minus 24 hours... don't know if I'm ready for this! See all you stateside people soon, see ya later Scandinavia.  I WILL be back :) 


Hejdå,
Ally 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Bonjour Paris & Ciao Bella Roma

[These are all the pictures I'm too lazy to put on facebook at the moment..figured this is a good start.  Many more to come!]


Delicious italian dinner! I will start to demand red wine at all my meals now :) 
Concert of some famous Italian popstar we stumbled upon when visiting the Spanish steps
Roman ruins + Colosseum.  
Making my wish at the Trevi fountain, Lizzie McGuire Style! 

"Glistening" after a 16 hour overnight train & a hike up to the top of St. Peter's Basilica! 
Positively lovely English bookstore in the middle of Paris!
Notre Dame! 
Me + Eiffel Tower! 


Eiffel <3


MASSIVE nutella covered donut in Italy! 

European Musings

Hello to all!

I have to say, before tonight, I was feeling a major bought of Sweden-homesickness/home-homesickness.  I was ready to have the ultimatum that if I did not return to one of them ASAP, I would not be a happy lady.  I saw that it was snowing in Sweden and wanted nothing more than to get myself back to Sweden to play in the snow :) However, just about the same time, we stumbled upon the most wonderful of places...a German Christmas market.  It turns out that this said Christmas market, not far from the Brandenburg Gate, so happened to be hosting a Christmas concert by none other than the wonderful Michael Buble!  What a wonderful 5 Euro surprise.  That lifted my spirits pronto.  Not to mention, I got some Christmas shopping done too.  It was quite the successful evening...all to the lovely sound of Michael Buble's voice <3 But, before I brag too much about Berlin (trust me, it will be to the tone of my Oslo borderline obsession...yeah, Berlin is that good), I will provide some European musings via my experiences in Paris and Roma!

Again though, before I begin, I must express my extreme sadness of my departure from Sweden.  It was a horrible, horrible feeling.  I had absolutely no desire to get on that plane.  To put it simply, I was a wreck on the bus from Tenhult to Jönköping--and may I say, I'm fairly certain people generally are not that upset when leaving the tiny town of Tenhult.  And again, when I got on the plane in Gothenburg, I was a sad, sad lady.  It was torture taking off.  I would never ever trade my 4 months abroad--it was probably the best decision I could have made.  I'm so thankful that I met such wonderful people abroad and am sad that this experience had to come to a close.  I'm already trying to figure out how I can get back to Europe--and all you sly Tenhulters who have discovered my blog--beware, I'm coming back to stay with you :) Seriously.

Okay enough of the sad subject of leaving, now onto the happy subject of traveling! I'm really lucky to get this chance too! As many of you know, my first stop was Paris, then Rome, and now I'm settling into the lovely (but COLD compared to Rome) city of Berlin!   So as for Paris, I liked it, but I wasn't "sold".  There were parts of it that were positively exquisite--take the Eiffel Tower, for example, that was AMAZING, breathtaking really.  The Paris Catacombs were also very cool.  But, I think, I'm just resistant to the whole huge, busy city feel.  I'm used to Jönköping, Westminster, and State College...I don't think ANYBODY would characterize ANY of them as big cities! I would really love to come back to Europe and do some of the smaller town areas to really get a feel for the life here.  Paris and Rome were both filled with big city stuff...beggars on the streets, people constantly hounding you to buy stuff, expensive merchandise, and everybody always rushing.  It was exhilarating, but could also be a bit stressful.  Thus far, Berlin hasn't had that feel, which I am thankful for :) The only vibe I have gotten from Berlin is a Christmas one, and I LOVE it! Its about time there was a Christmas feeling somewhere. I know that I will be bombarded with it once I return to the states, but its nice to start it now too!

So, before I ramble on, per usual, I figured I should make a quick list of my "European musings"...all my new found European friends, feel free to critique my observations :) These are largely from Paris/Rome:
1. European women have some great boots.  And there are some excellent stores for boots in Europe. I'm  jealous.
2. There are LOTS of stairs in the Old World...at least for us cheap folk (elevators can be expensive).  The Catacombs in Paris, the Eiffel Tower, the Vatican, the subway systems...all with a million stairs.  Even the catacombs had a defibrillator at the top of the stairs---go figure.
3. There is a serious lack of blonde haired people in southern Europe.
4. The European places I've visited all have positively delicious food.  I haven't disliked a meal in my travels yet! For Paris, it as the crepes, pastries, baguettes, panini pizzas, nutella.  In Rome, it was red wine, gelati, nutella, pizza, pasta, cannolis...all wonderful!
5. I was constantly suspicious of people on the streets trying to scam me or pickpocket me (only in Paris and Rome).  Maybe Rick Steves (the guidebook) made me paranoid.
6.  Winter is a great time to travel.  Nothing feels as crowded as in the height of tourist season. Except for the constant need for a coat, it's perfect!
7. I know why Europeans are so skinny...there is SO much walking in Europe.  That may have been due to our inadequate navigating, but still...YIKES...I've walked miles and miles and miles over the past week.
8. I'm finally a nutella convert.  That stuff is delicious (and works well as a chocolate substitute in s'mores too, who knew?!).  My PSU roommate, Sharon, would be so proud!
9.  Downside of European Union travel...no stamps in my passport (BOOOO). And, they discriminate against us non-Europeans...all the museums and places would be SO much cheaper if we were EU students. Not fair!
10. I don't know how I would travel if I didn't know English or the native language of the country--I think it would be VERY difficult.
11. I like to play 'guess the American' sometimes.  Not surprisingly, its quite easy.  I like to think that I blend at least a little more--but let's be honest, I'm sure I do not!
12. I am turning into my mother (not that that is a bad thing, mom :).  I have the constant desire to connect with/talk to other Americans---or specifically, a kid wearing a Ravens hat that I spotted on the subway or the kid wearing the PSU shirt at my Berlin hostel.  The difference is, I didn't act on this desire (mom would have), except in the case of the PSU reppin' kid...ya can't pass that up!

I have SO much more to write about, but do not have the time to detail more Roma and Berlin excitement.  I'll cut the rambling off here.  If I can't head back to Sweden, I guess the next best thing is heading stateside ;) It will be nice to get back to PSU, to watch Sam graduate, to legally hit up the US bars (cheaper than Sweden!), watch American football, and White Christmas with my sister etc. etc.  But I will always look back on this European trip with nothing but smiles :) More to come later..and probably pictures!

Peace out from the wonderful city of Berlin,
Ally

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

It's dark!

Hej hej! 


Sorry for my lack of blog activity in the month of November...I started out so strong on the blog front, I knew it was impossible to maintain! More often than not, I will start a blog post and not have the time to finish it or I will completely lose my train of thought for the post.  Believe it or not, I have written paragraphs and then deleted them all because they just didn't quite express my thoughts in the way I wanted to or something was off about them.  This blog writing deal is an art form I think, one I am far from mastering! 


Anyway, as many of you probably are aware, I am in the midst of my very last week in Sweden.  I am currently rounding out my last Tuesday in Sweden for the foreseeable future.  This thought thoroughly depresses me.  The idea of leaving is one that I have been in denial about for some time now.  I think the realization that I would eventually leave Tenhult and Sweden really began to dawn on me about the time I returned from my European adventures.  It's not that I don't want to return home--trust me, I'm very excited for the holiday season and to see everybody! I think it is more the fear that I will never return here and the question of when I will see all the lovely people I've met here again.  Leaving study abroad seems like it has such a finality to it.  I have to say, I'm already itching to get back to Europe, and I haven't even left yet.  I've caught the travel bug, big time! Unfortunately, on a student budget and a future teacher's salary, the travel bug may have to wait a bit :) Maybe I can convince all the people I've met in Sweden to make the trip over to the US instead?!!! We'll see... 




Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that I do some teaching while I'm here too? I know a majority of my blogs are focused on traveling, people I've met, and Swedish life...however, the real reason I am here (I guess) is for the student teaching abroad experience.  Sometimes in all the hustle and bustle, I forget that I am still a student and have to return to normal classes next semester... YIKES! The semester of student teaching is so very different from all the semesters spent stuck in classes; I think I will have quite the difficult time adjusting back to reality.  I will have to readjust to a life of reading, studying, paper writing, and the likes instead of lesson planning, preparing, and fika with my mentor teachers.  It will be quite the reality check! I have been lucky to have a great, albeit VERY different, student teaching experience.  Swedish schools are quite different from American schools (much more informal + very different structure); but, I think this will be beneficial in the long run--it gives me a very different perspective of the education world.  

So, in honor of my impending departure from this lovely Scandinavian country, I will finish with a list of the good and the bad of Sweden...just as things pop into my head... 
1. The winter season has brought some truly gorgeous sunsets (everybody knows how much I love those)...however, the fact that they are occurring by 3:45 now is a definite downside. 
2. Sweden has some delicious treats...Swedish cinnamon buns, french hot dogs, tasty coffee, swedish meatballs, polkagris (peppermint sticks), kebabs, etc. etc. etc....HOWEVER, they do have their downfalls: for example, blodpudding (EW don't ask), lack of JIF peanut butter and chocolate chips, absence of kraft mac n' cheese, and the enormous calories that numerous fikas a day provide.
3. I will not miss System Bologat (aka the state run alcohol store and only place to by alcohol in Sweden) or the expensive price of alcohol in Sweden.  Actually, I will not miss the expensive prices of anything in Sweden.  
4. I will miss Erik Dahlbergsgymnasiet (my school), my mentor teachers, and many of the students I have had the pleasure of meeting.  However, I will not miss endless lesson planning (I know, this is my possible future) and sending alllllll my lessons back to Penn State.  On that note, I will not miss Jönköping University at all.  They were just short of incompetent in helping with my various housing problems, ID problems, and international student status.  Though I have nothing but good things to say about much of Jönköping, ED, and the people I have met here, the university itself gets a big F in my book.   
5. I'm excited to return home where everybody speaks English...eavesdropping on people's conversations will be so much easier again ;)  [Even though just about everybody here speaks English to me anyway...] 

I'm sure as I begin to pack up and say my goodbyes, more and more things will pop into my mind that I will miss terribly when I return home to the US.  Nevertheless, I know there are many fun things that await me at home as well.... I'm most excited to see all my family and friends and celebrate the holidays back in the US!  After all, I'm not sure how well a Swedish Thanksgiving would go.... hope everybody enjoys the Thanksgiving holiday...there is no pumpkin pie to be found here, unfortunately :/ And I'm thinking the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade might not be on Swedish television...just a hunch. 

On another note, my beautiful mother and big brother will be here in Sweden in less than 24 hours---this is definitely cause for excitement... though Jönköping is not the most exciting of places, hopefully the fact that I am here will add to the thrill!! 


Square at sunset (c. 3:45?)

Obviously the sunset was directed at me :) 'A' 

Morning sun in Tenhult...on the way to school :) 

Lovely view from my office window at ED (again at about 4:15...only downside) 


Love and happy turkey day to everybody back home, 
Ally  

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pots of gold, leprechauns, and a bit of Irish whiskey!

Hej hej, 


I am finally back in Tenhult after some travel complications yesterday.  I have to say, it's good to be back :) It's always nice to travel, but it's also nice to return to (temporary) home base, as well.  After a week of living out of a tiny duffel bag (yes, I packed VERY efficiently), it's nice to be able to do laundry and spread out my stuff.  Those of you that know my packing skills (or lack thereof) should be particularly impressed about my ability to fit 8 days worth of clothes etc. into one little bag.  Normally, I could fill this bag for one weekend.  Obviously, my European travel is teaching me a bit about efficiency...I packed only what I needed and nothing more...I used everything perfectly.  It was a good feeling.  Though, I have to say, after the downpour we encountered in Cork, Ireland, it would have been nice to have another dry pair of shoes.  But, hey, that's part of traveling :) 


So, aside from the trouble we encountered en route from Amsterdam to Copenhagen to Jönköping on our final day of travel, the trip went pretty flawlessly.  Serves us right for booking through a cheap Swedish airline website.  We know better for next time.  The whole time we were just waiting for something to go wrong...up til then, we had made every flight, hostel check-in time, train, show time, etc.  It was too good to be true.  Guess returning to Tenhult at 2:30am was payback for the good fortune of the rest of the trip :) 


Last I blogged, I was en route from Dublin to Cork.  I shall try and pick up the trip from there.  I have to say, Ireland was most definitely my favorite stop! Sure, London and Amsterdam were nice, but there was something so very charming about Ireland.  I think it was nice to have a place that was a little more subdued after the hustle and bustle of the lovely (but quite busy and touristy) London.  We arrived in Cork to quite the rainstorm.  Our hostel was quaint, but very homey.  Despite the rain, I liked the style of Cork.  I think with more time, it would have been a nice place to hang out and explore.  However, being the ambitious tourists that we were, we had places to see! So we explored around town a bit on Wednesday night and even met an Australia girl (Sally) at our hostel who came out to the pubs with us, but the main event was Thursday and the Blarney Castle (and of course with it, the Blarney Stone)!! I was so very excited.  As many of you know, I had been to Ireland and Blarney back in 1999 and was glad to have the opportunity to return! Hey, it can't hurt to kiss the Blarney stone twice, right?! We lucked out and had a BEAUTIFUL morning to explore the grounds around the Blarney castle and climb up to the Blarney stone.  That's not always something you get to say when in Ireland...however, the rain wasn't far away and hit us on our hike towards the lake on the Blarney grounds.  So, we got soaked anyway :) 


Despite our enjoyment of Cork, we were headed back to Dublin that afternoon.  If I remember correctly from my 8 year old self, we didn't do much exploring of Dublin on our previous trip, so I was aiming to change that! After exploring a bit of the Temple Bar district on Thursday night (where our hostel was), we mainly focused on Friday...our one full day in Dublin! Friday we had quite the variety in our day.  We started off the day checking out Dublin's lovely cathedrals---the two most well-known ones (I think) are St. Patrick's and Christ Church Cathedral.  They were both absolutely lovely! I'm always a big fan of the European cathedrals and think they are so very elegant!  Not sure whether or not Gary felt the same, but he was a trooper and came along.  


Now, after the cathedrals, our day took a whole new direction...and that direction was towards the Guinness Factory and the Jameson Whiskey Distillery.  I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed both of them.  Sure, the drinks at each may have had a little bit of something to do with it, but there were also some cool parts to the factories! For instance, the Guinness Factory was about 7 stories tall and in the shape of a giant bottle of Guinness.  On the top floor there was a 360 degree sky view of Dublin.  It was great! And, we even got to play bartender!  We learned how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness (I have the certificate to prove it)!  To continue on our alcohol tour of Dublin, we headed to the Jameson Whiskey Distillery.  The tour was very interesting.  You learn how and why different whiskey has different tastes.  However, the best part was being picked to be an official whiskey taste tester (yes, I got another certificate).  The tour guides pick about 5 people from a group of 30 or so and allows them to taste test three different kinds of whiskey--1. Jameson Irish Whiskey 2. American Jack Daniels 3. Scotch (ehh).  At the end, she asks you what your favorite is...being at the Jameson factory and an official taste tester, you of course have to go with the Jameson :)


Considering how little I slept last night (3 hours, ahhh) and the fact that it is around 11:30 pm over here, I believe I will have to save my brief description of Amsterdam for the next blog post.  I will leave you with this idea...THERE ARE BICYCLES EVERYWHERE THERE!  That part was awesome :) By the way, YAY RAVENS!!!! My football teams are doing pretty well this year without my in country support, maybe I'm bad luck? (knock on wood, of course).  


Love from chilly Sweden,
Ally 
Looking out from Blarney Castle

The old man helping out at the Blarney Stone was joking about Gary missing the picture
and offered to pose with me instead of me with the stone :) 

Christ Church Cathedral 

St. Patrick's Cathedral 

My own-poured Guinness :) See the Swedish cheers behind me...Skal! 

View of Dublin :) 



Wednesday, November 2, 2011

MIND THE GAP

Top o' the morning to you back home! [Though I have to say here in Ireland, it looks more like late evening, even though I think it's only like 2 o'clock]. 

I am currently en route from Dublin to Cork, riding through the Irish countryside on the train.  I apologize for my lack of blogging in the past few weeks.  Though, to be honest, the reason was that not too terribly much was happening in my life.  Nothing really blog-worthy, per se.  Everyday I come to the realization that I will be gone from Sweden in just a few short weeks.  Everyday I try to push this out of my mind.  It's not that I don't want to come home and see everybody's smiling faces (trust me, I do~ of course I miss you all back at home!)  It's just that, I'm not quite ready to leave Jönköping (or more accurately Tenhult) either.  It will be such a change.  Enough about that happy/sad subject. 

I will update you all--but mainly on the past few days!  I'll begin with our Tenhult Halloween celebration :) We had a Halloween party at the Tenhult residence this past Friday night!  Now, with limited resources (Halloween isn't quite as big in Sweden, AT ALL), we all had to get a little creative with our costumes.  I have to say, most people did better than I did...we had a dark angel, a few zombies, a vampire, a ghostbuster, the grim reaper, rosie the riveter (yes, there was another American there), a few nurses, a dark angel, etc. etc. etc. I was an 80's girl.  Not my best Halloween work, but I did what I could.  It was a lot of fun and nice to have something to do in Tenhult for a change :) 

My favorite picture of the night...with my housemate (ghostbusters!)




The day after the Halloween party, Gary and I were headed out for our European adventure--PART I.  PART II will occur after our Sweden experience is over (so, we shall commence part II traveling at the start of December).  On the itinerary: London, Cork, Dublin, Amsterdam.  Thus far, we've done London (in a big way), and as I mentioned earlier, we are en route to Cork for a day or so and then back to Dublin for a day or two, then Amsterdam for the final leg of the trip.  We are becoming pro travelers.  We mastered the London underground, haven't missed any of our flights, or our trains....YET....obviously, there is still plenty of time for that.  This is the first trip I've every really planned by myself (well not totally by myself, but without the help of the family--or let's be honest, without Sam or my dad's planning...I never plan the trips :)

So, LONDON.  A few things I learned about London:
1. MIND THE GAP (It was my favorite saying in London when I was 8, it still is 13 years later...never gets old.  And yes, the 21 year old me made up for the regret of the 8 year old me at not buying this---a MIND THE GAP T-SHIRT...SUCCESS!)
2. There are a lot of stairs in London and a lot of underground mazes (for the tube).  Nevertheless, it is surprisingly easy to find your way through them.
3. London has some great plays (we saw a show each night)...while in London, we saw Stomp, something called 39 steps, and We Will Rock You (musical by Queen).  Stomp and We Will Rock You were especially exceptional, in my opinion.  I still have Queen stuck in my head from the play last night!
4. I spent WAY too much money.  In my mind, when I see the pound sign and the price, I think dollars...even though I am fully aware this is not the case = too much money spent in London (hopefully Ireland and the Netherlands will be kinder to me). 
5. Hamley's Toy Store is paradise. Even the 21 year old me could spend hours there (we gave it about 45 minutes). 
6. As touristy as it sounds, I think we did a good job of seeing a majority of London's tourist attractions in the 3 days we were there.  Though we didn't necessarily go in them all, we at least went to every location.  Ready for the list?  Trafalgar Square, Picadilly Circus, National Gallery, British Museum, Chinatown, Leicester Square, Southwark Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Tower of London, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Kensington Palace, the London Eye, Shakespeare's Globe, the Tate Modern, Diana's Memorial Fountain, Tower bridge, London Bridge, Millenium Bridge, St. Paul's Cathedral, Occupy London...and that's just off the top of my head.
6.5. Watching Parliament in action is surprisingly entertaining! We even went back a second time!
7. Yes, I had fish and chips.  Yes, it was delicious.
8. We spent most of our days out from 8:30 in the morning til like 11:00 at night. Long days. Very full. 

More details to come later. That was just the brief jist of our trip. Basic idea--we did most of London and walked ALLLLLL over the city. It was great, but exhausting.  We are hoping for a bit of a more relaxing time in Ireland...I guess though, we have nobody to blame but ourselves.  After all, as mentioned, we've planned our own trip :)  Well, my computer is dying..hope this gives you a brief idea of my week-long holiday...more blogging to come! Love you all! Sending you some Irish love and luck :)


[Sorry all, the rest of the pictures wouldn't load...next time! Bye from rainy (surprise, surprise) Ireland.]

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Maryland is NOT the South

Hej hej! 


Since my last blog post, I have not gone on any extravagant trips or had any very Swedish experiences, to be honest, I've been a bit bored and very lazy.  Now, I know, I have no room to complain, at all.  After all, I'm in another country, studying abroad, soaking in everything this new culture has to offer...everything is new to me here....or at least it was.  Now, after almost two months, life in Jönköping (or more accurately, Tenhult) has become very routine. I think that is often the case when you live somewhere for a period of time, you just begin to settle into regular life and adapt to how things are in this new place.  Sure, I still have those moments when I think, WOW, I'm living in another country...how cool is this! But, more often than not, living here has started to exude a very normal, everyday quality to it.  I guess that means I've settled in nicely :)


Normally, my weekdays consist of grabbing the bus to school, teaching a few lessons, lesson planning, sending things back to my PSU supervisor, jumping on the 30 (or 130, or 119) bus back to Tenhult, cooking dinner, getting things sorted out for the next school day or the next trip we're planning, hanging in the kitchen (that's where everybody sort of congregates in the house...it's the same everywhere, people always gather where the food is!), checking things online (when the internet is working), and heading to bed. Repeat. However, this week, I switched classes at the school I am teaching in.  I'm sort of starting from the beginning again, with new students (more Swedish names to learn, ah!)...because of that, I haven't had to plan any lessons, I have mostly been introducing myself to the students and meeting with them.  This happened to coincide with the week that everybody in my house had exams.  So, while everybody was hunkering down to study, I finally had some free time! [Bad timing].  There are only so many places to explore around Jönköping and Tenhult...so short version of the story: I've been a bit bored these past few days and itching to get out of this house.  Hopefully this coming week things will pick up a bit! That's enough complaining for me, onto the next topic..... 


So if you had talked to me at the very beginning of my study abroad experience about where I was living, you would know that I was not a happy lady.  I complained about how far outside of town I was, that I hadn't really gotten to know any of the people that I was living with, that the bus/train schedules were too sporadic, that there was nothing to do in Tenhult (it's a bit of a blink and you miss it kind of place), etc. etc. etc.  Now, a few of those things haven't changed.  Almost two months later, there is still pretty much nothing to do in Tenhult, it's still the same 14km outside of Jönköping that it was then, and it still takes about 15 minutes on the train and a half hour on the bus to get to the city center.  And, as I'm sure I've not so subtly hinted at, the internet here is kind of a bust too.  But, I think my placement here was actually a blessing in disguise.  I'm still not a fan of the location or the lack of internet, but it's really the people here that have made the difference.  It took me a little while to get to know everybody, but now that I have, there's no way I'd trade 'em :)  


There is around 22 of us that live in the house.  There is a boys floor and a girls floor (with a bathroom on each floor), we all share a kitchen, laundry room, and common room.  A lot of people in the house of their own rooms, while a few of us share rooms.  Each room came equipped with IKEA furniture (of course) and a sink.  We have quite an eclectic group living in the house, but everybody gets along, for the most part.  Sure, there is the usual annoyance about who left the dirty dishes in the sink or who didn't take out the trash, but that's no different from apartment life back in State College :) A majority of the people living in the house are from Europe, with a few from Asia.  I think the biggest "populations" represented in the house are the Lithuanians (5 of them) and the Germans (4 of them). I am the only person in the house from the Americas--North or South-- (though there is a student here who is from Thailand, but he goes to school at Utah State...he and I get to talk football and other things America, which is nice sometimes)  And, I believe I'm the only one who speaks English as a first language. Everyday, I am impressed by how well my housemates speak English.  I could only hope to learn a second language so well!  


We also have a bit of an age range here in Tenhult.  My youngest housemate (the only one younger than me, I believe) just turned 20, while the oldest housemate is actually 37 (I just found this out yesterday, I had no idea!...I do wonder a bit now what she's doing here...but, to each her own :) A majority though, are under 25 years old.  Most, but not all, are working on their master's.  As I'm writing this, I feel as if I am giving you all a statistics run down or a house profile, but I figured that's the only way to give you some insight into my living situation :)   


Since there is nothing to do here in Tenhult, we spend a lot of time just sitting around talking, watching tv or movies, and eating.  I swear, everybody here is a fabulous cook or at least it seems that way.  Everybody is always making such extravagant meals, I can't keep up.  They often tease me about my "American" ways of eating microwaved meals and pre-packaged food (don't worry mom, I do cook "real food" too)...some even take pity on my apparent lack of cooking skills and give me some of their food!  I let them continue to assume this, of course, because I get to taste all kinds of delicious food without having to cook it myself :) 


As the only American in the house, I get teased quite often...in a good-natured way, but my housemates keep it comin' nonetheless.  Everything from the food Americans eat, the way I talk, politics, wars, TV shows...you name it, they're making fun of me for it.  If I do something remotely "American" they call me out on it.  It's sort of a running joke (at my expense, of course), but that's okay :)  If there is one thing I've always been able to do, it's taking a joke and dishing it back out! Ya just have to roll with it! One particular "argument" I have with a few of my housemates is what constitutes "southern" in America...I try to explain that everything south of the mason-dixon line does not mean we are wearing cowboy hats, have a thick southern draw, and drive pick up trucks aka MARYLAND IS NOT THE SOUTH.  


I will cut my rambling off here...moral of the story..I like my housemates and Tenhult isn't so bad after all.  I miss my roomies back home in State College, but I guess these guys will do for now :) 


Some of my housemates...
minus the guy in the bottom left...don't know where he came from. 


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Stockholm: Apparently it's the "Capital of Scandinavia"

Stockholm: Apparently it's known as the "Capital of Scandinavia"...try telling that to Oslo, Copenhagen, and Helsinki.  Here are some pictures from this glorious city...
Military parade 

Imitating the 1-2-3 turn picture takers near us.  Obviously the results were great. 

View of Stockholm from the water. 

Vasa Ship! 

ICE BAR-STOCKHOLM :) 

Lovely view of Parliament (I think) 

Famous square where epic bloodly battle took place. 

Above the city! 

Looking down from the royal palace 

French hot dog. 

A close second!

Hej everybody! 


I finally have the opportunity to catch up on a little blogging! Today my school, Erik Dahlbergsgymnasiet, has a professional day aka a teacher meeting day.  Now, normally, if I was back in the states as a student teacher, I would have to attend this tedious day of meetings.  However, all the meetings at ED will be taking place in Swedish.  So, obviously, this would be quite the boring day for me to attend.  This is the one perk I have found, thus far, of not speaking the native language :) Instead, I get to catch up on a few things online, do some laundry, and maybe even do some shopping...something I have yet to do in Sweden, outside of the necessary grocery store trips.  I'm thinking as the weather starts to get a bit chilly, it would be nice to have a sweater or two to bundle up in! 


But first, to catch you up on my Stockholm adventures.  Everybody here raved about the city of Stockholm, and for good reason!  It really was a beautiful city and except for the cobblestone streets that wreaked havoc on the soles of my shoes, it was also a very walkable place.  Now, I have to say, Oslo still comes in first on my list of Scandinavian cities to see, but Stockholm pleaded her case as a close second! I think if the weather had been as beautiful as it was in Oslo, it would've been quite the competition.  Nonetheless, I had a wonderful time.  I was really impressed by the beauty of the buildings and Stockholm's wonderful location along the water.  Not to mention, the hotel we stayed in had the perfect location and the room was both modern and spacious.  


I spent most of Friday afternoon and evening on the bus.  Normally, the bus trip from Jönköping to Stockholm is around 3 1/2 hours...that's how long it took on the way back.  However, I must have taken the anti-express route on the way there.  We stopped somewhere close to ten times between Jönköping and the capital city.  And, after the second stop I had somebody sitting next to me snoozing away, using her elbows to take up entirely too much room, and there was no way for me to get out.  I was stuck.  But, that's okay.  Once I arrived, I made my way to the hotel that Mary-Katherine, Joe, and I were staying at.  It wasn't too far from the central station, so I was able to relax a bit when I arrived.  Once Joe and MK made their way from the bus station, we tried to figure out what to do for the evening.  Even though it was the capital, there still weren't a lot of things open for dinner at that hour (a little after 10:00).  At the recommendation of the concierge, we ended up at this little Swedish restaurant near the Opera house.  It was the perfect location.  It had a very genuine atmosphere and it felt like the typical Swedish locale.  As we were eating, we kept seeing people disappear into this basement area that had some bumping music.  Now, we just thought that maybe there was a little club underneath the restaurant, nothing special...boy were we wrong.  After dinner, we headed down to check it out.  As it turns out, this was a very well-known night club--Cafe Opera.  We were completely unaware and ended up accidentally sneaking into this posh place!  Only when we left (through ropes and bouncers) did we figure out its popularity :) 


Onto Saturday... after we headed out from the hotel, we decided to check out the military parade/changing of the guard that occurs everyday.  It is quite the touristy "must see".  So, with the other hundreds of tourists, we followed this military parade (people marching, band playing) all the way to the royal palace where even more tourists awaited the changing of the guard.  I must say, as touristy as it was, it was very cool and definitely worth it! Hey, I am a tourist after all, right?! After that, we searched for this famous square in Stockholm's Old Town where a vicious battle had taken place hundreds of years earlier.  Though, it turns out, the concierge led us astray, and directed us to the completely wrong square.  We only discovered that after we found the correct square the following morning...oh boy!..she was a trainee, but still! The other main event of the day was touring the Vasa Ship Museum.  This is probably one of Stockholm's most famous attractions and they are very proud of it.  This is ironic because the very reason why this ship has its own museum is quite the disaster.  The Vasa ship set sail in the early 1600's on its maiden voyage.  It was quite the ship at the time and was painted in all sorts of vibrant colors.  Turns out, the weighting was all off, and it sunk before even leaving Stockholm's harbor.   Hundreds of years later, in the 1960's, the ships was excavated, restored, and this giant museum was built around it.  Props to the Swedes for making so much krona off of such a disaster! 


That evening, we spent some time walking around town and picking up a few of the perks the street vendors had to offer.  Most notably, we loved the french hot dog.  I don't know why this concept is not popular in America.  It is so practical.  I will not even attempt to describe it, because I will not do it justice.  It basically avoids the mess of a hot dog and bun...I will see if I can find a picture. Quite awesome.  We headed back to our hotel to relax for a bit before heading out into town again. For Saturday night, we did the ultimate Scandinavian (or big city) experience...we went to Stockholm's ICE BAR!!!! Stating the obvious...it is a bar completely made of ice.  The bar, the walls, the tables, the chairs, the glasses...everything is ice.  Naturally, you get to wear these awesome capes (coats) and gloves while you're enjoying their tasty drinks.  It was totally worth it.  Though, I have to say, it got a bit cold after the allotted 45 minutes you get to stay in there.  I was fine with leaving once the time was up! 


The next day, we did some more touring around Old Town and picking up views from above the city on a lovely bridge above town.  We also toured the Nobel Prize Museum (I have now seen both Stockholm's and Oslo's) and Stockholm's City Museum (because it was free)!  Unfortunately, Joe and MK had to catch their bus to the airport around 3 o'clock, so our weekend together had to end :/ But, after they headed out, I became the ultimate tourist and finally bought some tacky Swedish souvenirs!  I figured, I've been here almost 2 months now, it's about time I got my tourist self on and bought some cheap memories :) So, I spent my remaining two hours walking in and out of tacky tourist shops.  I bought myself a bright blue and yellow Sweden t-shirt, a Sweden shot glass, and some postcards to send home!  In addition, I purchased a few awesome gifts for people back home...though I cannot spill the gift details here!


All in all, it was a wonderful trip and I was sad to leave MK and Joe and head back to Jönköping.  I would've been happy with another day or two to hang out and explore the city with them :) But, regardless, it was really great to see both of them and explore Stockholm with some family! We had such a nice time!  It was just so funny to me--seeing them in Stockholm of all places!  Such a random place to meet, you would think! 


So, I don't believe I am headed on any weekend trips for a while now.  My next big adventure is a trip to London, Ireland, and the Netherlands over my fall break (first week in November).  We are in the midst of planning/booking now...the prep part is no fun, but I'm sure the trip will be.  Hopefully in the next few days, I can update you all on my school situation/more details on my life here.  It's not always glamourous and traveling, trust me, I do have lots of work to do in between :) 


Love to all,
Ally 


Pictures to come if Tenhult's internet holds up.... 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Beauty of Oslo

Where to begin...a few pictures from my wonderful Oslo trip. Enjoy! 
Looking down from the royal palace...view of the city!  
Lovely harbor! 

Sunset from the castle :) 

Opera House in the morning

Picture at Norwegian Parliament.
This is what the Parliament stands in front of when the press takes pictures 

Viking Ship Museum 

Sunset from the island where we had dinner 

Me, Tine, Anders, Sebastian after dinner
(I think Anders has his eyes closed...) 

Flower! 

Awesome sculpture at sculpture park! 

Touchdown? 

Goodbye Oslo! [Outside the bus/train station]
It was quite a difficult decision to pick which of the four or five hundred pictures I wanted to post.  This was just a very small sampling! 


Bye! 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Simply the best!

Hej all! 


As promised, I plan to gush and gush and gush and gush about my love of the city of Oslo :) I only spent 2 1/2 days there, but that was enough to cement the place in my heart forever.  I figured it was only fair to express my excitement about this great Norwegian city before I hit up it's Swedish counterpart (Stockholm) this weekend.  When I told all the Swedish people I know (my mentor teachers, contact family, students, etc.) how obsessed I was with Oslo, they all said I have to reserve judgement on favorites until after I visit Stockholm.  I look forward to seeing what the Swedish capital has to offer; but I have to say, it has some stiff competition in Oslo!  But, one thing that may push Stockholm a little ahead in the rankings is who I get to see there...my cousins Mary-Katherine and Joe :) They will be meeting me in the lovely city and we will be spending the weekend sightseeing in Stockholm.  Not that I don't love all the people I've met here, but it will be nice to see some familiar faces (aka people I have known longer than 6 weeks).  Needless to say, I'm VERY excited! 


Alright, back to the important stuff...OSLO <3 Now you may be wondering, what made this city so great? I would answer...what didn't? Sure, I may have been swayed by the perfect weather, the breathtaking sunsets, the lovely flowers everywhere, the picturesque harbor, the great public transportation, or the meeting of old friends...but that wasn't all; there was just something about Oslo that I was drawn to.  I know that it is weird to say that about a random city that I spent less than 72 hours in, but there was just something compelling about it.  [I told that to Tine (an old friend of my mom's), who I met up with while in Oslo, and she said to come back in a few months when the darkness and cold kick in...I may feel differently]! 


So, when we [we= myself, travel buddy- Gary, and housemate, Swaroop] arrived in the wonderful city, we spent the first few hours just walking around, taking in the streets, the people, the views.  Our hostel was a good bit away from the bus station, so we did A LOT of walking.  Luckily, there was a lot to see on our way.  We saw the outside of the Norwegian Parliament, took a picture with the guards at the Royal Palace , and walked through some beautiful gardens before finally making the trek down Embassy Row towards our hostel.  After thankfully dropping off our backpacks, we headed back into town.  I had spoke to Tine (who lives in Oslo) before we arrived, and as an Oslo resident, she had some great suggestions for what we should do each day.  So, at her advice we headed to a place known as Aker Brygge and its surrounding areas.  Tine described it as a place similar to Baltimore's Inner Harbor.  She was exactly right!  Except, this place smelled a little better and had an old castle on the edge of it.  We decided to make our way up to the hill where the castle sat, overlooking the harbor--what a wonderful spot!   I could watch the sunset over the water and the city center of Oslo.  It was breathtaking.  And, if you know me, you know that I have an extreme soft spot for sunsets.  It was my paradise!  So naturally, I took entirely too many pictures (I don't regret a single one of them though)!  Afterwards, we treated ourselves to a nice dinner.  And I really mean treated!  Oslo is amazing in every sense of the word, except in the money sense.  When I heard it was one of the most expensive cities in the world, boy, it wasn't a joke! Thank goodness the dinner was delicious, or else I would've been quite upset.  Needless to say, we chose McDonald's for lunch the following day to make up for the price of dinner! After dinner, we headed to the Opera House.  It was right on the water and all lit up!  It is very new (built in the last few years) and you can actually walk all around on the roof of the building.  It was a very cool, liberating feeling.  


For sake of space, I will skip through to the next day.  All Friday night involved was one very expensive drink 78NOK (~$15 USD) at Paddy's Irish Pub (nod to Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and another long walk home.  But, boy did we have big plans for Saturday!  We were scheduled for a tour of Parliament at 10am, but took a quick trip back to the Opera House beforehand to check it out in the light (just as awesome)! We took a guided tour of the Norwegian Parliament (learned a good bit, always nice!) before heading to say hello to Barack, Al, and Nelson at the Nobel Peace Prize Museum.  They had some very modern displays and some interactive elements.  You could actually leave a posted note on a display wishing luck to a refugee hoping to get papers into Sweden.  It was quite interesting! 


Again, at the suggestion of Tine, we headed to what is known as Museum Island.  It is a short ferry ride from Aker Brygge over to another portion of the capital city that boasts some really great museums and some beautiful houses.  We spent the afternoon exploring a Viking Ship museum, a Norwegian Holocaust memorial museum, and a maritime ship museum before heading back to the city center to meet Tine and her family for dinner!  SIDE NOTE: For those of you who have no idea who I am talking about when I refer to Tine, I will try to explain (though I may get the story a bit wrong?).  Tine's family moved to my mom's neighborhood from Norway when she was in high school (I think) and she spent a few years in the US before heading back to Norway.  Some of her family still lives in the US and some still lives in Norway.  Luckily, we keep in touch with parts of her family!  So, when I found out I had the opportunity to go to Oslo, I figured it would be nice to have some inside information.  Through my mom, and Tine's sister, Ingrid, I figured out how to get in touch with her, and she was happy to offer some ideas for sightseeing and we even decided to meet up!  Granted I hadn't seen her in maybe 8 years? So we were both curious as to how we would find each other :) 


We met up with Tine, her son, Anders, and his friend, Sebastian, and headed to dinner at a waterside restaurant on a cute little island.  Again, there were lovely sunsets and great company :) Even though I had only met Tine once or twice, it felt so comfortable to be hanging out with her!  Her and I got the chance to catch up on family stuff, too.  We really had a great time with her, Anders, and Sebastian.  I was very glad I got to see them.  They were so talkative and loved answering our questions about Scandinavia and Oslo.  Even if we did all order giant American-like burgers, it felt like the perfect Norwegian dinner :) 


Onto a quick Sunday recap: in the morning, we got up early, checked out of our hostel and headed to Vigeland Park.  To put it simply, the park is filled with open spaces, waking paths, beautiful flowers, and  LOTS of naked statues.  Some were beautiful, some were humorous, but nonetheless, the park was buzzing with activity on the Sunday morning.  Lots of joggers, walkers, tourists, groups just moving through it.  It was a great day to be outside! We spent the morning taking lots of fun pictures (and lots of flower pictures, for me) before heading off to see the paintings at the Munch museum across town.  Now apparently, not too long ago, the famous painting by Munch--The Scream--was stolen from the museum.  But, this was not a high-tech, fancy operation.  Oh no.  According to Anders, the people who stole it quite literally lifted it off the wall and walked on out.  Obviously, the painting has been recovered and the security has been beefed up substantially since then! 


We wrapped up our Oslo trip with some kebabs and a curbside view of the Oslo Marathon which was being run that morning.  Maybe next time I return to Oslo (in the distant future), I will run the Oslo Marathon.  I can't think of a better place to check that off my bucket list than this wonderful city that was so good to me :) Again I emphasize though...DISTANT FUTURE!  


Hope you can gather by my constant use of emphatic adjectives that I truly did love the city of Oslo!  Forget the I <3 NYC t-shirts, I'm making an I <3 OSLO one :) Can't wait to see what they city of Stockholm has to offer! I'm ready to check the next Scandinavian capital off my list.  Off to review my lessons for tomorrow...it's my first supervisor evaluation, ah! I'll post pictures in the following post! I took nearly 500 (?), so it may take a bit of time to choose....


Love to all back home <3 Happy fall!