This morning, I headed to the National Gallery. My main objective was of course to see The Scream by Edvard Munch, but I was very impressed by the rest of the museum. In addition to some of Munch’s most famous works, Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Manet, Matisse, and Degas are all represented in the gallery’s permanent collection. I also enjoyed Faithless Pictures, the temporary exhibit reflecting on the uncertain nature of images in contemporary society. I did not know what kind of critique to expect from the exhibit but ultimately found it to be very thought-provoking. I wish I could have dedicated more time to the National Gallery, but I had to head to the airport. I am writing this post on the plane back to Stockholm as we prepare for takeoff.
From what I observed while I was here, Norway is quite similar to Sweden. Norwegian and Swedish are in fact mutually intelligible; a speaker of one language can understand the other. The cuisine at the Norwegian restaurant did not seem too different from typical Swedish fare. Even the exchange rate with the U.S. dollar is pretty similar between the two countries. I bet if I spent more time in Norway, I would be more able to compare the two countries.
Although I could not do a deep dive into the Norwegian way of life, I’m very satisfied with the time I spent in Oslo. I accomplished everything I wanted to and experienced some pleasant surprises along the way! I am sad to leave, but I know that more fun will be waiting for me when I return to Sweden.
On Monday, I got to enjoy a full day in Oslo. The first thing I did was embark on a boat tour of the inner Oslo Fjord. In addition to the natural scenery, I saw a lot of significant buildings such as Akershus from the boat.
We had the option to disembark at Bygdøy, a peninsula with a number of museums. On Bygdøy, I toured the Viking Museum and saw part of the Norwegian Folk Museum. I did not have time to tour all of the Folk Museum, but I saw exhibits about folk dress, Norway’s road to independence from Denmark and Sweden, and Sami culture.
I left Bygdøy to tour Vigeland Park, a sculpture garden of works by Gustav Vigeland. I was very impressed with the sculpture garden because it seemed to be one cohesive work instead of a random collection of statues. Using only the human form, Vigeland playfully captured every facet of the human experience. Every type of emotion and relationship is represented in this park, from a tender embrace between lovers to this unusual statue of a man fighting off a swarm of babies.
Vigeland relied on body language to convey emotion and kept facial expressions relatively simple. This allows visitors to imagine themselves in the place of the different figures. The centerpiece of the park is the Monolith, a towering granite structure into which hundreds of people are carved. Another famous statue in the park is the angry baby. I would be angry too if my statue baby friends had to fight a grown man!
After visiting Vigeland Park, I did some window shopping downtown and found a place to have dinner. There, I tried reindeer for the first time! My impression of reindeer meat is that it tastes like a chewier sausage patty, but I will want to try it again when it doesn’t come smothered in gravy.
I went back to my hotel room after dinner so I could prepare for another big day!
Yesterday, I took the train to Falun in the province of Dalarna. I was interested in visiting Dalarna because a local in Uppsala described it as quintessential Sweden. Falun is a small town with an outsized influence on Swedish cultural history. Most of this influence is due to Falu Gruva, the Falun Mine, which I toured upon arriving.
Nobody knows for sure when or how mining began at Falu Gruva. Legend has it the mine’s copper was discovered accidentally by a goat. Whatever the mine’s origins, experts agree it had been in operation for at least a millenium when it closed down in 1992. At one point, the mine was responsible for about sixty percent of Europe’s copper supply!
The copper itself isn’t the only notable product of the mine. The slag produced by separating the copper from the ore became useful in production of red paint. This paint was then used to decorate the red-and-white houses people all over the world associate with Sweden. The dye color for this paint is known as Falun red.
Falun also lends its name to a type of sausage that has its origins in- you guessed it!- the copper mine. Ropes used in mining equipment used to be made of ox hides, leaving a lot of ox meat left over. The miners made a sausage called falukorv out of this meat. I actually bought some falukorv at a grocery store in Uppsala a couple weeks ago thinking they were normal hot dogs. They were relatively inexpensive so I did not realize they were such a delicacy!
I spent my night in Uppsala at Falu Fängelse Vandrarhem, a hostel in what used to be a prison. My room was beautifully refurbished, but the building’s history was clear from looking at the door to my room and the bars on the windows! I’m glad my first time staying in a hostel was such a pleasant and novel experience.
I am writing this blog post en route to Norway. Today is just a travel day full of buses and trains but I have all of tomorrow to explore Oslo before flying back on Tuesday afternoon. The best thing about Swedish class schedules is they leave more room for travel as long as I keep up with my reading and assignments. I want to use this opportunity to really explore Europe!
On Saturday, all of the nations had their Recce gasque. This is a gasque held for new members of the nations such as myself. It fell on my birthday, and was an excellent way to celebrate! First, all the new members of every nation gathered in a university auditorium for a welcoming ceremony, which was a lot of fun even though most of it was in Swedish.
Then, students headed back to their respective nations for the gasque. As a member of Kalmar nation, I got my own songbook so I can follow along with their gasques for the rest of my time here! The gasque itself was a lot of fun and it was nice to meet other new members of my nation.
Last week, I visited Gamla Uppsala with a friend from my Swedish class and a friend of hers. Gamla Uppsala means “Old Uppsala.” It used to be called Uppsala when it was the location of the archdiocese during medieval times. When the archdiocese moved to a neighboring town, the name Uppsala came with it. Gamla Uppsala was significant not only during medieval times but during the time of Norse kings. One of the most significant features of the area are the ancient burial mounds from the time.
It was interesting to visit the Gamla Uppsala historical center and learn more about what life was like during that time period as well as different interpretations of the site’s significance over time.
Last night, I attended my first gasque. Gasques are semi-formal dinners that make up an important part of Swedish student life. These dinners can be hosted for a wide variety of occasions. A myriad of rules and traditions set gasques apart from other dinner parties. For example, everybody periodically joins together in song. Each song is followed by a toast and snaps, a small drink of spirits. Gasques also involve speeches and even performances.
This particular gasque was hosted by the International Committee and geared towards new international students like myself. As such, they took care to explain many of the rules and traditions to us as we went along. Because we had randomly assigned seating, I was able to meet international students from a variety of different countries as I took in the gasque. After the dinner was an afterparty, which was also a lot of fun. I finally made it back to my place at around 2:30 in the morning!
In a previous post, I detailed the history and purpose of student nations. I attended the reccemottagning for Kalmar, my student nation, this past Thursday. This was an event geared towards getting new members like me oriented. We learned about the Kalmar’s offerings and history. Turns out, Astrid Lindgren was an honorary member of Kalmar and can be seen at their gasques in photos! We also had a dinner where we learned a few of the songs and toasts that we do at gasques in preparation for the nation’s reccegasque (gasque for new members).
Friday, I volunteered at the restaurant Kalmar nation hosts on a weekly basis. Working at a nation is a fun way for students to meet classmates, enjoy a free meal, and earn some pocket change. I have worked a couple food service jobs but Friday was my first time being involved in food preparation. It was a lot more fun than busing tables or serving!
On Monday, I made it out to Stockholm. Since I was only there for the afternoon, I decided to stay in and around Djurgården, one of the many islands that make up the city. Djurgården used to be the king’s hunting grounds but now is home to a lot of museums and tourist attractions. Below is a photo taken on the bridge to Djurgården.
The first museum I visited was the Vasa Museum. The Vasa was a 17th-century warship that sunk on its maiden voyage, only making it out about a kilometer from shore. I was told this museum was one of the highlights of Stockholm, and I was not disappointed! The ship itself was incredible to see. Due to the lack of mollusks in that part of the Baltic, it held up very well underwater until it was salvaged in the 1960s. Ninety-eight percent of the boat as displayed in the museum is original! The Vasa was supposed to be a symbol of Sweden’s naval power during the Thirty Year’s War and as such was decked out with a lot of ornamental carvings. Everything in the museum, from the tour to the short film to the exhibits, told the story of the Vasa in an engaging way. An incredible amount of research went into putting the museum together. For example, the paint on the scale model ship is consistent with twelve years of pigment analysis on the ship’s remains. Below is a detail of the Vasa itself.
Next, I visited the ABBA Museum. I am a big fan of ABBA, so I had a lot of fun learning about their career and impact in Sweden. I even got to see some original costumes!
I finished my time in Stockholm with a traditional Swedish meal of Toast Skagen, a dish made with toast, shrimp, and other toppings. It was delicious!
I will add rounds two and beyond on subsequent trips to Stockholm because I plan on returning at least a couple more times this semester!
Yesterday, I attended a series of guest lectures in the Gustavianum. The Gustavianum is a building that used to be the main university building but now hosts an auditorium and a museum. I had a chance to look through the museum before the lectures began. It was quite impressive! It has a Egyptian mummy and an exhibit about Valsgärde, a Vendel Age burial site north of Uppsala where men where buried in boats that contained everything they would need for the afterlife. The museum also had an exhibit about the history of the university. Even though I am not taking any science courses this semester, it is very humbling to attend the same institution as Carl Linnaeus, Anders Celsius, and Anders Jonas Ångström. One placard in this exhibit made me laugh because it demonstrated how university life has been the same all over the world ever since medieval times!
“Many parents and siblings […]sent concerned admonitions and the students often replied with requests to send more money. They were torn between gruelling studies and all sorts of temptations, but the amount of freedom they could obtain was one of the requirements for the method of scientific thought that has become the university’s most important mission to convey.” -Gunnar Eriksson
My personal favorite part of the Gustavianum is a relic from the days it was the university’s main building: the anatomical theatre. Human dissections would be performed for medical students and a paying crowd in the early days of anatomical study. This is my favorite part of the Gustavianum because not only do I love learning about the history of the life sciences, but the room itself is gorgeous. To me, there’s something very theatrical about such a macabre procedure being performed in such an ornate setting.
Yesterday, I had my second day of lectures since coming to Uppsala. That is not a typo! Students in Sweden spend a lot less time in class and a lot more time reading. Currently, I am only in one course and it meets about once a week. In Sweden, courses are not taken concurrently for the whole semester but rather one or two at a time depending on how long the course is and how much of one’s workload a given class is supposed to occupy. It’s a kind of confusing system, but if you’re curious an explanation can be found here.
My academic day yesterday consisted of a lecture from my professor followed by guest lectures from the honorary doctors of the Department of Theology later in the day. In between class and the guest lectures, I discovered a lot of the town’s hidden charms. I found a tiny display in honor of Peter No-Tail, one of Uppsala’s most famous fictional residents, hidden in a tiny window on a street corner.
I then noticed a handful of 11th-century rune stones displayed in a park in between university buildings. As you can see from this picture, most of the snow melted by Thursday and it was actually quite warm until the wind chill kicked in!
After all this, I still had time to take in the Gustavianum museum, which I will detail in a later post.