Another beautiful, sun-drenched morning! And yet another day of headwinds! So much for leaving on a Friday...Etienne, this is your fault ;) All kidding aside, we've had a pretty good trip thus far, it's just been painfully upwind!
Don't let anybody tell you ocean sailing is easy. Of all the endurance sports I've dabbled in over the years - marathon running, triathlon, cross-country skiing, cycling - offshore sailing is easily the most grueling. In those other sports, no matter how knackered you are in the moment, you know you'll be in your bed that night.
I wanted to write this a while ago, when the situation I'm about to describe actually was happening, but I thought it might somehow jinx it. So I saved it for now. Spoiler alert: the end of this story happened yesterday, and the boat is safe and sound in Portland, ME, but it got there without me on it. Here it is.
Like I said, I’d have a lot to write about. Partly because I have some interesting things to say, but mostly because I have a virtually unlimited amount of free time with nothing better to do.
This has got to be my favorite thing to do when i travel. I’m sitting in a cafe in town, drinking a coffee and writing, and I love it. Something about the atmosphere just makes me want to write, and I really enjoy the time I get to spend in foreign places just doing stuff like this. Strangely, ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ is playing in this particular cafe.
My Swedish is improving by the day. I actually ordered a latte, extra hot even, in Swedish just about 5 minutes ago. ‘Jag vill ha en latte, jatte varm, tack.’ I was proud of myself. Mia pretty much forces me to practice, simply by speaking in Swedish to me around the apartment, whether I like it or not. It’s pretty intimidating though going into shops and meeting people in the street, and it really humbles me not to be able to speak the language real well. I feel rude for speaking English in public situations, even though most people speak it here anyway, and are happy to. My strategy has been to speak what little Swedish I feel comfortable with (like ordering coffee), and then asking if someone speaks English before simply running my mouth. And I ask in Swedish, saying ‘Prata du Engelska?’ So at least ‘m starting to use it a bit.
The reason I titled this blog the way I did is because today is the first day I’ve seen the sun since arriving. Daytime here is basically perpetually dawn, because at high noon, about 20 minutes ago, the sun was barely above the two-story building that our apartment is in. It makes for some very long shadows. But it is nice nonetheless to see the sun at all, and I tried to take some photos in town in the light. It’s pretty boring taking pictures by yourself, because inevitably all you end up photographing is scenery and buildings, though nice, are often dull to look at. I attempted to take some artsy photos, but it’s impossible to do the town justice in a photograph. That said, check out the awesome photos of buildings and scenery in Uppsala here! I had the thought this morning that it’d be cool to have a clone when you’re traveling alone, solely to take photos for you, so you can actually appear in some of them. Someone should invent a photographic robot. Actually I’m surprised nobody hasn’t yet.
I’m making a valiant effort to be productive even though I’m jobless, and I’m forcing myself to get out of the apartment in the daytime. Even if that productivity is limited to creating and updating this new website, than so be it, that’s worth something. And I have actually found a few ads for English teachers online and in the paper, and I’m anxiously awaiting for some replies to the few emails I sent regarding them.
So far I’ve spent most of my time in Uppsala just getting organized. This has meant about 5 trips into town to apply for my Swedish ID card, social security number, student ID, buying Eruopean plug adapters, computer speakers, fleece gloves and my bike. It’s been annoying spending money and running around a lot, but it’s been fun too. I already feel like I know my way around town pretty well, and every time I venture into town it becomes smaller and smaller to me because it’s becoming more familiar.
Today I took another long run, this time through the forest behind our apartment. This is so far my favorite thing about Uppsala. - we have a huge forest with hundreds of trails right behind our apartment, yet it’s still only a 7 minute bike ride into the center of town. Aside from the water, Annapolis was lacking the natural element that is here, and I love it.
I ran through the woods, following one trail just to see where it went. After about 30 minutes I came out on the opposite side of the forest, sort of on the far side of town. The other cool thing about Uppsala is that you can see the Cathedral spires from everywhere, so it’s easy to find you’re bearings. I continued through a small neighborhood, then around the castle that sits on the highest point in town, a pretty steep grassy hill (yes, there is a castle here too!). When i got to the river, I spotted some sailboat masts a bit downstream and ran down to investigate. It turns out there is a large wooden ketch here, about the size of ‘Woodwind’ that appears to be a touristy kind of boat. The canal from Uppsala eventually reaches the Baltic Sea, but there is certainly no sailing to be had anywhere near here. There were also a few cruisey looking boats that looked like people were living on them. It’s actually a pretty nice spot to hole up for the winter, and they all had winter covers on. Next to them were also a few houseboats...literally floating houses, not intended to move anywhere.
Later in the afternoon I met Mia downtown so we could go inquire about getting me a student ID. I’m not going to school here, but since I still have my PSU ID I can get an Uppsala ID, which lets me into the unions where beer is cheap and lots of events are held.
The history in the town is pretty cool. We stopped by the Cathedral and had a look around inside. It’s absolutely amazing, by far the biggest church I’ve ever seen and just incredibly detailed inside. Uppsala Cathedral is the largest in Scandinavia and was built in the 1200’s. It’s hard to believe that America was only founded in 1776, and there is a church in Sweden that’s been here since 1200! Kind of puts things into perspective, especially considering the current politics of America...When we entered the church, a school choir group was practicing for a concert, and the sound that emanated from the church was otherworldly. The ceiling must have been 100 feet high, and the inside was essentially one gigantic room, with a few alcoves on either side where important Swedes are buried in above-ground tombs. The walkway around the pew area has several large stones with engravings on them, marking the spot where other, conceivably less-important Swedes are buried. At the far end is the largest alcove, where a former King is actually buried. In fact, the Uppsala Cathedral was used to crown the Kings and Queens of Sweden until the 1700’s. It’s quite a place.
The castle was also very intriguing to me, considering you don’t see too many castles in America. It was built in the 1500’s and is where the governor of Uppsala currently resides. It sits on the only real hill in Uppsala, which actually has rather steep sides, and overlooks the city in every direction. If it weren’t for the Cathedral that stands so high, this would be the highest building in Uppsala. Each year they actually have a prom inside the castle for students...must be pretty neat to have a prom in a freaking castle!
So far it’s been everything I’ve expected and then some living in Sweden. I think it goes without saying that it’s amazing to finally be back in Mia’s life. But beyond that, it feels good to be living the philosophy that I talk and write about so much. Eventually I’ll settle into a routine here, but for the time being everyday is an adventure, and I’m really enjoying it. I’m privileged to be able to see so many amazing things and places, and I’m really trying to savor every moment. Interestingly, the early darkness is less depressing (so far) than I thought it’d be. It actually makes you want to get outside and enjoy the daylight while you have it. Also, the town is lit up so beautifully at night it actually looks nicer than during the daytime. Most of the trees have white Christmas lights on them, and all of the main streets have white lights strung across them every block or so. The streetlights are a nice soft yellow, and all of the buildings are lightly colored in yellow, white, tan or orange, so the atmosphere in town is really nice, and very historic.
On Saturday at Mia’s parents house, I wanted to go running, so I did. There are endless country roads around her village, all of which are mostly flat, like I mentioned, and I was really in the mood to do some exploring. I really hadn’t seen much of the scenery yet because of the rainy car ride and the early darkness. But Saturday it was dry, overcast and not too cold, so I set out.
I ran down the gravel road out of Mia’s village, past the neighbors (still with smoke coming out of the chimneys) around someone’s farm, and onto a paved road. When I don’t know the area, I usually just run a simple out-and-back track with maybe one or two easy turns instead of trying to make a loop and getting lost. The first road I turned onto was flat and long, with farmland on either side. But it wasn’t like farmland you’d picture at home, and it’s hard to explain. There are lots of boulders in the fields, like huge boulders. And there will be a field, and then some forest, some bigger boulders in the forest, and then another field. So it’s not endless stretches of flat farmland, but rather more diverse, with more forest and more stuff to see.
The road then started to incline ever so slightly and entered a forest. The forest felt really “alive,” and different from home. There was green everywhere. Moss grew on absolutely everything, and again there were huge boulders in the middle of the woods that stood like 5 meters high or more. I was really enjoying just watching the scenery go by, and I love running in new places for this very reason.
I’m going to fast forward a bit to yesterday and what it’s like in Uppsala. We actually arrived in Uppsala on Sunday, after going to watch Mia’s brother Erich play in a handball game in a small town about halfway between here and her parents’ house. The teams for kids are by town, kind of like our Little League, and even the high schools don’t have sports teams, just the towns, which I thought was interesting. Erich is the goalie and it was fun to watch him play.
Our apartment in Uppsala is nice, with hardwood floors, a small balcony, a massive walk-in closet and a nice kitchen with a pass-through counter to the living room / dining table. It’s about a 30 minute walk into the center of town. You can see the cathedral from almost everywhere, and it is ridiculously huge. The three spires rise to 118 meters (almost 400 feet!), and the whole thing is just huge, and very impressive. It basically marks the center of town, and if you can find the cathedral, it’s pretty easy to get around town.
There is a river that runs through the center of town, and most of the businesses are on the opposite side of the river from where we live. The main square is pedestrian only, and all of the buildings are very old, which gives the town a really neat historic feel. The streets are narrow and cobbled too. More to come...