Not-So Hellish Helsinki

That means “Hi!” in Finnish, by the way.
Anyway I’m writing this on August 10 (HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!!!) which is our first day of classes after Helsinki. All in all, Helsinki was a very relaxing place, and I think most of the people on this voyage appreciated having the opportunity to calm down.
The first day Doshi and I had a Field Program which was not quite what we expected. We drove around on a bus for an hour, stopped at a site for fifteen minutes, and then drove around for another hour. This continued for a while but, when we got to our last stop – the Rock Church – we decided to leave the Field Program and walk back to the previous stop in order to meet Natalia and Claire.
The Rock Church was actually pretty cool. They literally built a church inside a giant rock formation. Even better, you’re allowed to climb up the outside of the church and walk around on top of it. There are trees growing on top of the church. Multiple. Trees. There’s a little mini-woodsy area. On top of a church. It’s pretty cool. On the roof there’s a second part to the roof supported by a rock wall. After I climbed up it I found out I wasn’t supposed to. In my defense, the signs saying “Do Not Climb” were on the other side of the roof. It’s not my fault I decided to walk clockwise instead of counter-clockwise!
Anyway, from there Doshi and I stopped briefly for a caffeine break and then walked back to a famous park with a monument made out of metal tubes in order to meet up with Claire and Natalia. I don’t remember the name of the park or the monument (I think it started with an S?) and I’m too lazy to look it up right now. Feel free to look it up yourself.
From there, we meandered along the coast for a bit before heading inland. We stopped at a few thrift stores and eventually got to the Olympic Stadium which we saw and took pictures of. Then we moved on. We made our way towards the center of the city.
For lunch, we stopped at a small restaurant called DaVinci’s Ristorante (so Finnish!) and had probably one of the best meals we’ve had on the trip. It helped that there was free water, bread and butter (the bread was AMAZING). We then talked to some local girls advertising a music festival about places to go and things to see, and Natalia won a t-shirt from them by correctly guessing Will.I.Am as the artist of a song they played.
We then headed to the tourist information center to look up information about camping and, after a couple of hours, booked a log cabin for six. Mind you this “camp site” was a 17-minute metro ride from the city, and we had a log cabin with a microwave, a refrigerator and air conditioning. We could also see the metro going by from the beach. But more about that later.
After that, we found the Academic Bookstore and well… it’s a book store, come on. I could have spent hours there. I could have lived there. Unfortunately at this time I could do neither. I also couldn’t buy and books because a) they were expensive and b) they didn’t have the specific books I was looking for.
Eventually, we made our way back towards the ship and we stumbled upon a liquor store (appropriately called “Alko”) and a used bookstore that had so many books in it, it was hard to walk between the shelves. I bought a used copy of the Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea trilogy for 6€.
Fun fact: Our ship was about 2km away from the center of town… so we definitely got our exercise. Especially when we got a bit turned around.
The next day Emma, Natalia, Doshi, Claire, Patrick and I left the boat after lunch to go to the log cabin. We stopped briefly at a couple of stores to get food and drinks for dinner and breakfast, then with somewhat heavier backpacks, we went to Rastila, the “campsite”.
The log cabin looked like something I once built with Lincoln Logs, back in the day. It was incredibly adorable and there was a loft with two beds for the boys to use and then two twin beds and a double on the bottom floor for the girls to sleep in. After dumping our stuff, we changed into our swim suits and went to the beach. To be honest, that beach was probably one of the best beach-experiences I’ve had. There was no wind, the weather was absolutely gorgeous, the water wasn’t too cold (though if that’s what it’s like in the summer I am never going there in the winter) and it was fairly peaceful. We also watched parents shotgun their children off of a pier into the bay. It was very nice
After a few hours, it was dinner time. On our way back to the cabin for dinner, we noticed that there was actually a dog show going on for some sort of fluffy white dogs. They looked like Alaskan Eskimo Dogs or miniature Samoyeds. They were absolutely adorable and we were tempted to steal them.
Dinner mostly consisted of popcorn, cup of noodles and the like, although if I remember correctly, Patrick, Claire and Natalia got frozen dinners. After food, we spent a bit of time on the nearby playground.
We’ve been on quite a few playgrounds since coming to Europe.
Anyone who tells you they’re just for kids is just plain wrong. They don’t want you to have fun.
We then went back to the cabin for, well, card games and drinking games. I think I’ll end there for that day. I’m not going into any more detail on my blog.
The next morning we woke up, checked out of the cabin, and then made our way back to the ship. We stayed on the ship and relaxed for the rest of the day.
Our last day in Helsinki Emma, Claire, Natalia and I walked along the waterfront towards Market Square. There’s an absolutely incredible food and crafts market there with pretty decent prices. I got some amazing mint ice cream, Natalia had a Reindeer hotdog, and we all got some pretty great souvenirs. I have a necklace made with reindeer antler! Also I got ankh earrings. Together, the two bits of jewelry came to 4€. Not too, bad, if I do say so myself.
From the Market Square we caught the ferry to Suomenlinna, an island fortress, and spent time wandering about there. We walked on top of the walls, walked under the walls, climbed out from the tunnels through windows, and played on yet another playground.
This playground was especially epic because there was a giant Eiffel Tower-like rope structure to climb, and things that spun when you stood on them. We were very happy adults.
After that, we walked back to the ship and thus ended our time in Helsinki. It was very relaxing and wonderful. And seriously if you need a vacation where you actually do very little but still do something and don’t feel rushed… go to Helsinki in the summer.
Moi moi! (That means Good Bye)
Austin, out.

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Tussen Takk and Moi Moi!

Well, as I’m sure you’ve all noticed, I have been pretty bad about updating on the blog. I don’t have much of an excuse; I’ve been lazy and forgetful. I have neglected to post about Norway, St. Petersburg, Stockholm, and now Finland. Austin hasn’t. She’s been good about updating.

So here’s how I’m going to make it up for you all: I am going to post about all of Scandinavia at once. Later on, I might add a Russia post, but since I’m writing a big long piece about St. Petersburg for my travel writing class, I think I’ll probably skip it. When I’m done with my Russia essay I might make it available on here, but no guarantees. Let’s just focus on Scandinavia for now.

Our time in Norway began earlier than expected. Even though our schedule said that Bergen was July 17th, we arrived the morning of July 16th and were allowed off the ship that night.

Even though I hadn’t actually planned to do much of anything that night, my friend Claire had signed up for a field program modeled after The Amazing Race—The Bergen Race—and so I and my other friends signed up to tag along. We met up with a bunch of other ready-to-race SASers in the Union and formed teams. A Norwegian man running the program handed out packets of questions we’d need to find answers to and we set off.

“What is the local beer of Bergen?”
“There is an animal statue in the Bryygen (the old part of the city). What is it called?”
“If you’re facing the theater, turn right and go down the street named after the first President of Norway. Find a building that looks like [picture]. What is its address?”

To be completely honest, we did kind of cheat. We went into the first bar we saw to ask about question 1—what is the local beer of Bergen?—and ended up getting a patron and the bartender to answer most of the other questions in the three-page packet.

After getting most of those answers, we set off to find one on our own: the name of the local Elementary School. Well, we made it there just fine (walking down the street and turning left), but when we got to the funicular station right below it, a group of pre-teen boys offered to help us (and three other Bergen Race SAS teams). They sat there on a brick ledge, drinking red bull, calling to each other and gesturing with more swag than I’ve seen in a few years, and cursing in both Norwegian and Finnish when they couldn’t think of the right answer.

When we were finally finished, we turned in our packet, were offered free samples of caviar, and gratefully moved on to wander through the fish market. (We had given up on finding the very last building because not a single Norwegian seemed to know what or where it was.)
The rest of the evening was spent wandering around. We found a playground and played on the swing set for a little while. We tried to get a glimpse of the ship from the other side of the wharf but couldn’t quite get a good look, so we continued on. Finally we came across a park. We took some cool pictures, Austin, Claire, Patrick, and Natalia climbed up some rocks, and after walking through a tree-shaded path we finally saw the ship! Turns out, we had walked all the way around the wharf and were now standing in a jutted-out piece of land across the water from where our ship was docked. Staring at the back of the ship, we took more cool pictures before I decided to join Austin in climbing over more rocks.

Now the important thing is that I’m a girly girl. I am not very athletic, and I do NOT like falling or getting hurt. I trust my feet, but if I can’t trust the stuff under my feet I am prone to get scared. Well, silly me, I forgot about this for a bit as I walked onto the moss and seaweed covered rocks that jutted out into the water. Austin was already out at the end, backed up against a wall of rocks.

“Be careful! It’s slippery” Oh shit.

It took me about 20 minutes, and a lot of squealing, to traverse the maybe 12 feet between the edge of the rocks and the safety of the wall. But when I finally got out there I was thrilled. I had done it! I had gotten over my girly-ness! Yeah, nope. I still had to get back.

Austin’s solution to my repeated “Nope. I can’t,” and request to “Just leave me here to die” was to take my hands and walk backwards over the rocks, leading me at a glacial pace to where are friends were watching, bemused. But I made it. That’s the important part. We made it. And I wasn’t left out on the jutty-outy bit to die. And I had learned an important lesson: do not climb over slippery rocks in converse, especially if you’re afraid of falling.

The next day, July 17th, our friends had decided to wake up early and hike up Mt. Floien. I had a field program doing just that, but had sold the program a week or so before thinking I could do it cheaper with friends. Well when said friends began discussing plans for doing it, I realized I wasn’t all that into the idea. Ihe weather forecast was predicting heavy rain until noon, and as someone who has very little hiking experience and wants to be able to trust her footing at all times, I wasn’t into the idea of hiking an unfamiliar mountain in the rain. So Austin and I slept in.

We met up with the group around lunchtime and headed back into the city for wifi, a church that supposedly looked like it came right out of Frozen, and souvenir shopping. I wasn’t planning to buy any souvenirs save for a postcard (Norway is EXPENSIVE), but I would definitely look, and couldn’t possibly say no to Frozen.

The church was nice, the wifi in McDonalds worked well-enough, and the souvenirs were all pretty much the same: Norwegian sweaters, lots of moose stuffed animals, and those really furry winter clothing items (hats, gloves, scarves) that are great to look at but are probably far too warm to be in any way comfortable in the USA.

The one thing (and only thing from this entire trip so far) that I somewhat regret is not buying a pair of the most adorable and comfortable looking bootie-shaped slippers I’ve seen in a long time. Tons of people have them on the ship and even though I didn’t care for them all that much in the stores, they look really cute with leggings ☺ Oh well. I have enough slippers, and my penguins are really the only ones that get any use at this point so I can easily go without the Norwegian ones.

Oslo was just as enjoyable, if not a bit busier. Day One started out early. We (the usual group) got off the ship and headed straight for a tourist information center. We purchased the 24-hour Oslo Pass and, determined to get our money’s worth, set out immediately for Bygdoy, an island with 6 museums, almost all of which we intended to visit.

The Oslo pass gave us free public transportation for the entire day, which included the ferry ride to and from the Island, and when we got off we set out immediately for the Viking Ship Museum. It was a small museum but definitely interesting. Inside were two entire Viking Ships. Next up was the Holocaust Museum, a little ways away but still in the same general part of the island. I think it’s worth mentioning at this point that as we were walking around the island we couldn’t help but notice that there really wasn’t anything city-like or touristy about it. The area had a very Dewey-beach type feel (think upscale Rehoboth), where everyone had their cute little beach-y but not obviously on a beach type houses and they all most likely had boats down in the harbor as well. The museums were all just sort of plopped in there.

Anyways, next up was the Holocaust museum which made me upset and awed at the same time. The descriptions or, at least, the few that were in English, were so basic it was alarming. They explained what prejudice was, what anti-semitism was, and what had happened in the Holocaust along the lines of the Nazis were bad and killed lots of Jewish people. A part of me wanted to scream. Is Norway really so uneducated about the holocaust that they need to explain to visitors what is was? And then I saw a fully intact Torah from Aushwitz and almost cried. Honestly to this day I can’t figure out if they were happy tears, relieved tears, or angry tears, and I think they were probably a combination of the three. Add to all this the fact that I had been able to get some news information finally and had a general idea of what was happening both in Israel and all over the world and the museum turned out to be a bit much for me.

Luckily our next stop was the Kon Tiki Museum, a museum dedicated to showing artifacts and explaining the anthropological voyages made by a ship called the Kon Tiki into places like Easter Island. It was interesting but not really something that fascinated me. Once again we saw some ships, but my favorite part was by far seeing the cave drawings replicated in fake caves downstairs. After the Kon Tiki we crossed the street and went into the Fram, or Polar Ship, Museum. This one was awesome. You walk in and are immediately greeted by a massive wooden ship. We walked around its base to a little café, where fruit was only 5Kroner (pretty cheap) and sat down to eat our packed lunches. First though, we ordered some fruit.

Important background info: on the ship, for some entirely unknown reason, they cut the stems off our bananas before putting them out in the buffet lines for us to eat. The result is that the bananas are really hard to open sometimes.

Ok so back to the café. I got really excited when I realized I could eat a banana that still had its stem on it and, while Claire was ordering one for herself, the cashier got a bit confused. He’d heard Doshi and I discussing this strange thing they do on the ship and thought, when he heard a loud “Why do they do that?” that we were talking about something Norwegians did. Claire cleared things up for him and, in the most dramatic elbow-to-counter, palm-to-face face-palm I have seen in a really, really long time, the cashier expressed his mutual confusion.

“Why would they do that? That makes no sense,” he joined in.
“We know!! It makes no sense!!” Doshi replied emphatically.
“You can barely even open them!” I add, “You’ve got to break it open in the middle, or go at it with a knife.” The cashier got even more dramatic.
“That’s like if you ordered an apple and they gave it to you in a cage!” He exclaims. “Here’s your apple. You’ve got to get the cage open first!”
“Exactly!” We all cry out, laughing at the most perfect metaphor ever.

Then, when Doshi ordered an apple, the cashier sarcastically asked if he’d like it in a cage. Perfection. This cashier was perfection.

So then we explored the museum. We played some interactive learning games and got to wander in and around the actual ship itself, which was really cool. The cabins inside made our cabins on the MV Explorer looks like deluxe suites, so we were pretty amused. Finally, we left the island and trekked out to the Munch Museum to see some art, specifically the famous portrait called “The Scream.” I won’t bore you with the details, but when I get a better Internet connection I can put up some pictures.

And finally, we went into the Nobel Peace Prize Museum. Certain parts of this one were really cool. They had TONS of interactive, technology-utilizing parts to each exhibit, including one area where you could stand on a circle in the middle of a bunch of screens and, just by holding up your hand in the direction of one of the screens, “like” a post someone had entered on a computer elsewhere in the museum. There was also a room with, get this, a digital book. Literally it was a big, blank book with projector-screen like pages, and as you turned the pages, the projector above it would show different images. But even better, you could actually click (with your finger) some of the images on each page and the projector would display, on these pages, more information about the image you just selected. We could have spent an hour there, learning about Alfred Nobel and all his work, but we figured we should let others have a chance to play.

So that was that. 6 museums, 7 hours. The Viking Ship Museum, the Holocaust Museum, the Kon Tiki Museum, the Fram (Polar Ship) Museum, The Munch Museum, and the Nobel Peace Prize Museum. All visited and enjoyed in 7 hours. Suffice to say, we were extremely proud of ourselves.

After dinner, we set out once again, this time to see the Viegland Sculpture Park. This is a beautiful and HUGE park area in Oslo that is known for being the location of TONS of nude sculptures, depicting one or more people (including some baby sculptures) supposedly at different stages of life. I took tons of pictures, some of which I will post here later, when I get a good enough Internet connection. After wandering around to look at all of the statues, we (the usual group again) sat down on a grassy hill (one of many, many grassy areas in the park) to read and relax. It was pretty enjoyable. And, around 10pm we finally left. The crazy thing about Norway (and all of Scandinavia, really) is that the sun doesn’t start setting in the summer until about 11:30pm. So at 10pm, as we were relaxing in the park, it looked like it could be, maybe, 8pm. We knew it wasn’t, obviously, which is why we left, but still. It was really cool, but weird to adjust to.

Day 2 was a lot less hectic and, to be honest, I don’t even really remember it. So, since this post is already really freaking long, I just won’t discuss it. Day 1 was really all that mattered anyways.

After a while, all cities start to seem the same. You get there, see a bunch of touristy things, and call it a day. You let yourself wander, not knowing where you’re going or where you are but aware that you have the ability to find your way back (maps, gps, etc.), and you try to convince yourself, as a result, that you aren’t being too touristy. You’re traveling, right? Wrong.

By the time we got to Stockholm I was homesick, prone to grumpiness, and sick and tired of seeing museums, churches, and monuments. A city is a city. It’s going to have the same touristy city stuff that I can find back home. When I am home for the summer, I asked myself, do I go to the Smithsonian? No. I went to the Smithsonian when I was younger because it was fun to see Dorothy’s slippers and the really big crystal/rock thing. The Air and Space Museum is still pretty enjoyable and the National Zoo will never get too old, but still. I don’t usually trek all the way to the Kennedy Center just to see it on a day off, or spend hours staring at a monument of someone whose name I have never heard.

So in Stockholm I traveled differently.

I did allow myself some touristy moments. I went into the Nobel Peace Museum because I’d heard it was pretty great. It wasn’t. It was tiny and a lot less interesting and interactive than the one in Norway. The store had some good stuff but the prices were the opposite of good, and the ticket (a little plain green sticker) wasn’t nearly as cute as the one I’d gotten in Oslo (an orange sticker with the name and winning-year of a Nobel Laureate, which you could go find information on in the Laureates room, on the second floor). I also went, while in Gamla Stan (the old city) to what is advertised as the narrowest street in Stockholm, but which is actually a really narrow and long stairway from connecting part of the town to another. But mostly, I didn’t do anything touristy.

I went, on Day 1, to IKEA for lunch with Claire and Austin, stopping at a mall on the way there (add cheap faux-leather jacket and first ever coffee-filled Frappuccino to my list of purchases) and visiting another mall on the way back. Get this: there is an IKEA bus! Like actually, there is a bus whose sole purpose is to take people from the city to IKEA, about a half hour away. After IKEA we went into Gamla Stan (the old city) and I decided that if I were to live in Stockholm it would have to be in Gamla Stan. Of all the old cities I’ve seen on this trip (at least one for each country we’ve been to), Gamla Stan is by far the most adorable and most heartwarming. I loved this old city. Austin ended up branching off to meet with her mom’s friend and Claire and I latched onto some other friends who had just finished a field lab in the old city. We souvenir shopped for a bit, selfied with some trolls, and eventually went back (after seeing the staircase) to the ship for dinner.

Day 2 was an Austin and Emma day. Austin and I realized with a shock the night before that in the two months that we’d been traveling on the MV Explorer, we had yet to hang out in a city just us. So what do we do? We bookstore-hop. At breakfast (actually lunch, but it was our first meal of the day) we googled and mapped out the location of four bookstores that were known to carry English books, and then proceeded to spend the next four or five hours going from store to store.

We actually didn’t have too much success until our last two stores, once again in Gamla Stan (I’m telling you, I freaking LOVE Stockholm’s Old City). In an entirely-English store called “The English Bookstore” I found two used books for 20 kroner which amounts to a little under $3. Compare this to the other stores we’d been in so far, where one single book was about $18, and you’ll understand my excitement. Our final bookstore was a SciFi/Fantasy only bookstore where, surprisingly, most of the store was in English. Austin was beyond excited. I had to practically drag her out of the store around 4:30 so that we could have time for souvenirs and still make it back to the ship in time for dinner. FYI, it took about 45 minutes to walk from the city center to the ship and since a single bus ticket cost $6, we had and were planning to always walk it.

We got our souvenirs and got back to the ship, and on Day 3, we rested. Sore from all the walking (day two alone had been, we think, about 7 or 8 miles of walking), we decided to stay on the ship for most of the day. Then, at night, we went to Pride.

I’ve got to say, Pride in Sweden is amazing. They have what is basically a week-long festival in “Pride Park” (a school’s football field and surrounding greenery, we think) and a huge parade on the last day as well. More importantly, the ENTIRE city takes part. Stores like 7-Eleven entirely changed their colors for the week, touting rainbow signs instead of the normal 7-Eleven sign colors. Restaurants, hotels, and bars all hung up (and stuck in their centerpieces) rainbow flags. And the festival is basically a family affair for the daytime hours. At night it turned into a dance party, with fully stocked bars (literally major bars from the city moved their set ups to Pride Park for the week) operating out of their own tents. But during the day, little kids dressed head-to-toe in rainbow were running around with their parents, playing games, going on the ferris wheel (yes, they had a ferris wheel there) and eating the popcorn and cotton candy. It was amazing, and I couldn’t help but be a bit ashamed and angry that the United States is so unaccepting compared to Sweden.

Finally, on our last day in Sweden, Austin and I had a field program called “Rune Kingdom” in which a guy dressed as a Viking took the group around to different sites near the city that had Runes and other wonderful Viking left-overs. We saw a holy space in which the Vikings settled their disputes (basically their court), burial grounds now covered in trees or used as a farm by owners nearby, and, of course, tons and tons of Runes. I was so exhausted I could barely function, but Austin was definitely on her A-game; she noticed and pointed out something in one of the runes that even our guide, a professional Rune-ologist hadn’t noticed.
When we got back to the ship, I took a much needed nap, and that was that. I didn’t feel the insanely immense love for Sweden that a lot of people seemed to have felt, but I definitely loved the city, and would absolutely return if I get the chance.

In Finland I took the next step in my refusal to continue traveling like a tourist. On Day one I did nothing. I literally stayed on the ship the entire day, getting exercise at the gym, sending and receiving emails, and relaxing in my room. While some people may find that ungrateful or wasteful (“you’re in a different country! You need to go see it!”) I didn’t feel that way.

Honestly, a city is a city, and while many of them are very unique and enjoyable, their uniqueness and charm can be felt whether or not you see the sites Trip Advisor recommends to you. I was perfectly happy sitting on the ship, getting work done, and watching the city move about outside the windows.

But on Day 2, that’s when things got interesting. The usual group (plus Patrick, a newly adopted friend we somewhat stole and adopted from another group we’re friendly with) rented a log cabin. The cabin was about an hour away from the ship—a 45 minute walk into the city, an 18 minute metro ride, and we were there—but it was beautiful and still felt pretty secluded. The campsite (there were cabins like ours in addition to tons of RVs and actual tents) was right next to a little stretch of bay-beach, and we were excited to make the best of it. We spent a few hours on the beach before it started to rain, went out exploring the area after it stopped (there was a dog show!!) and then settled down to dinner and a night of card games and bonding in the cabin. It was actually really nice to get away from the city and the go-go-go attitude that permeates the ship while we’re in port. And the next morning we got up and went back to the city.

On our last day in Finland, Austin, Claire, Natalia and I had a girls day (no Doshi was a bit weird). We walked into the city and ended up spending almost two hours walking along the water and souvenir-shopping in the HUGE food and crafts market in Market Square. Some of the crafts were amazingly beautiful and I did make a few purchases (for souvenirs and cheap but gorgeous jewelry) but there were tons more I wish I could have bought but couldn’t justify the price tag for. Then we went to Suomenlinna, an island fortress that used to be, I’m assuming, a town in and of itself. It was fun! We explored tunnels and climbed walls. We didn’t explore the whole thing, since it was pretty enormous, but we did play on a playground! And then that was that! I love playgrounds. ☺

A bunch of people went bungee jumping while we were in port and it was nice to walk along the waterside, but honestly my favorite part of Helsinki was the fact that I didn’t do much of anything. Most of my summers in the past have been spent doing a very enjoyable nothing and it was a relief and a really good time to be able to do that again.

BTW, “Tusen Takk” is “Thank you” in Norwegian (a simple “Takk” is “thank you” in Swedish), and “Moi Moi” means goodbye in Finnish.

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Tussen Takk and Moi Moi!

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Stockholm Syndrome


Fun fact: In Stockholm, if you say ‘Hi’ to someone they start speaking to you in Swedish. If you say ‘Hello,’ however, they speak to you in English. And their English is pretty awesome so… that makes life easier.

Stockholm is wonderful. Like… I’m pretty sure I’ll like it as much as I liked Dublin and I LOVED Dublin.

On the first day, Emma, Claire and I took a bus from the ship into the city which cost around $6… because of course SAS couldn’t bring themselves to get us a shuttle when it’s a 45 minute walk into the city. Of course.

Anyway, once in the city we set out to find a bank (because money) and then Wi-Fi (because information). Apparently banks in Sweden only exchange your money if you’re a client, which led us to a mall with a currency exchange kiosk. In the mall, we also found Wi-Fi… and Emma found a drink with coffee in it that she actually liked (granted it was a Caramel Frappuccino with a little bit of coffee) and a good quality leather jacket for $26. We were also able to, of course, update this lovely blog and post on Facebook. Malls are a wonderful place.

Also Sweden is cheaper than Norway.

And I think there are more H&Ms in Stockholm than there are Starbucks in DC.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Anyway, from the Mall we weren’t really sure what to do, but we learned that a free bus to IKEA was a nine-minute walk away.

Well, actually, we thought the IKEA itself was a nine-minute walk away.

Apparently I need to learn how to read. And “bussen” means “bus” in Sweden. Oops?

So we went to IKEA (it was Claire’s first time!) and got lunch, and then we walked around IKEA… but it turns out the IKEAs in the United States are a bit cooler. The IKEA we went to was organized kind of weirdly… like there were half-floors between floors, and there weren’t as many display rooms set up so it wasn’t as much fun.

We also missed the bus by 2 minutes because it took so long to walk through IKEA… but we really should have known better. With an hour to kill before the next bus, we walked across the street… to another mall. And we pretty much just walked around it for an hour before getting on the bus.

After a thirty minute bus ride back to the city, we walked into Gamla Stan, the Old City of Stockholm. It is absolutely beautiful. I kind of expected to be sick of old medieval-parts of towns, but Gamla Stan is just really gorgeous.

Also, their Parliament building is beautiful.

And there were water lilies growing in the water (did I mention Stockholm is spread out over a bunch of islands?) which you never see in the middle of a city.

In Gamla Stan we went to the Nobel Museum for about an hour (it was pretty cool) and then we split up. Emma and Claire met up with Natalia, Courtney and a few other girls, and I went to meet my mom’s high school friend Joanie.

I’d never met Joanie before, but I’d heard wonderful stories about her from my mother and grandmother, so it was wonderful to meet her. We sat in a restaurant and ate delicious chocolate cake (seriously, go to Stockholm for this cake alone) and drank coffee and tea. Fun fact number two: A lot of places in Europe don’t quite understand the concept of an iced coffee or iced tea… but you can ask for coffee or tea and a glass of ice and just do it yourself.

The two of us talked for a long time (I got to hear some great stories about my mom and uncle) and she got to hear what my mom and her siblings were up to and it was really a nice afternoon. Afterwards she walked with me to the metro and helped me get a metro card (public transportation in Sweden is a wee bit complicated), and then we said our good byes.

From the metro it was a 15-minute walked back to the ship where I was reunited with my lovely friends and ate dinner with them. And afterwards, Emma and I opted for a quite night in while the rest went out to enjoy the town (and the walk to it). And thus ended our first day in Stockholm =]

The second day, August 1 (Rabbit rabbit!), was a Twin-Only day, as our friends would call it. They often refer to Emma and me as twins, and we see no reason to disagree.

It was actually the first time since London that Emma and I explored a city on our own, without anyone we’d met on the ship. In true AustinandEmma fashion, we went book shopping.

And by that I mean we literally googled “English Bookstores Stockholm” and then found them all on a map and went bookstore hopping… though by the end of the day it was more of a bookstore crawl because our feet hurt and we were exhausted. When I get a chance, I’ll upload a picture of the map… So much walking…

But it was a really great day. We’d originally planned to leave at 10:30, but that didn’t happen and we ended up eating lunch on the ship and finally leaving around noon. From there we went to our first bookstore which was inside a mall. They did have a decent selection of books in English, but the prices were a bit too high for our taste – A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin cost around $20, and it was no different from the paperback version we get in the States.

From there, we went in search of a used bookstore on Drottninggatan. It took us awhile to find it since it wasn’t actually on that street, but we did find it… there was not a very good selection of books in English, though the price (between $1.50 and $3.00) was definitely right.

We also stopped off at a shop called Espresso House where Emma had her second coffee drink ever… Granted it was a Caramel Frapino, but there was still coffee in it! We also used the time to get Wi-Fi and update Facebook.

From Drottninggatan, it’s a straight shot down into Gamla Stan, the old city, where there was a bookstore called The English Bookshop on Lilla Nygatan. They had plenty of books in English. Emma got two used books there for about $2.00, and I got a copy of Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander… which I am insanely excited to read.

After that, we walked over to Västerlångatan to the Science Fiction Bokhandeln – also known as the Science Fiction Bookstore (which also had Fantasy books… and DVDs… and toys… and so much more and I want to live there forever and ever and ever). There I got Robin Hobb’s Ship of Magic, which is the first book in her Liveship Traders series… clearly I had a bit of a nautical theme going on.

To be fair, if there’s ever going to be a fitting time for me to read a lot of stories that take place on ships… it’s now.

Oh we also stopped in a couple of souvenir stores so I could get postcards and a scarf, and Emma could get a shot glass (she gets one pretty much every port).

And from there we walked back to the ship. It’s about a two-mile walk from the ship into town, so I think Emma and I walked between six and seven miles? Anyway, needless to say, our feet hurt. A lot. And so we opted to spend yet another quiet night in and watch The Devil Wears Prada. I’m a fan of our life choices.

The next day, we decided to spend on the ship. After a six-to-seven mile walk, our legs protested at most unnecessary movement, and our feet wished that we were able to walk on our hands. Alas, Emma and I are not acrobats, so walking on our hands is not an option. Sorry feet.

Anyway, we had an incredibly relaxing day aboard the ship, during which time I did a lot of reading (for pleasure).

After dinner, was another story. Emma, Claire, Natalia, Courtney and I got together at 8:30 and walked to Stockholm Pride. That night was the last night of the Festival and it was absolutely amazing.

We had to pay to get into the park, but inside the park there was a Ferris Wheel, multiple live artists, and games. One of the games involved putting on a pair of underwear (which you got to keep), putting on helmet (the prize if you won) and then sliding into a ball pit filled with white balls and a single black ball. Whoever found the black ball within two minutes got to keep the helmet. Courtney and I played, but sadly neither of us found the ball, instead a third woman in the pit with us won. Still, it was fun and we both got free underwear.

I should probably mention that they were out of women’s underwear at this point, so Courtney got a pair of boxer briefs and I got a pair of tighty-whiteys… the pictures are on Facebook.

The other games were a lot of fun to watch and they had some pretty great prizes. I won’t go into specifics, but I will say that, for some of them condoms were involved and the prizes were of a more adult theme.

While there we met up with some other friends from the ship, Daniel, Jason and Megan, and hung out with them for a little bit and played some more games. Eventually, we split off with the girls all calling it a night while the boys opted to stay out a bit longer.

That is not a night I’ll soon forget, nor would I ever want to.

On the last day, Emma and I had a Field Program called Rune Kingdoms, which was a trip to various Rune Stones around Sweden. Apparently, of the 2,500 Rune Stones worldwide, about 2,000 of them are found in Sweden.

The rune stones were absolutely gorgeous, with carvings of snakes (most likely Jormungandr, the world serpent) and crosses (in those made after the late 10th century). Our guide was also especially cool because he was dressed like a Viking and had a sword (don’t worry, it wasn’t sharp) and everything. He’s also really into runes so he could read them the way I read English.

Also apparently he and his wife had a full-on Viking Wedding. He told us all about it and it sounded absolutely amazing. And their kids are growing up speaking German (his first language), Finnish (his wife’s first language) and Swedish (what they learn in school), and so only he and his wife can understand them because they jumble the three languages together.

Yeah, he’s cool.

Anyway afterwards, Emma and I went back to the ship and she slept for four hours while I read for four hours. It was a perfect ending to our time in Stockholm.

I am most definitely coming back here.

Austin, out.

Categories: General | 1 Comment

A Day in the Life

Hi all. It has come to my attention that the rest of the world really has no idea what day-to-day life is like aboard the MV Explorer (everyone, thank Josh for what you’re about to read). It probably should have been fairly obvious to me that the random tidbits of life I did explain wasn’t quite enough to paint an accurate picture, but for some reason it wasn’t. So while I work on a Dublin post and a Scotland post (my apologizes, by the way, for not posting something for those countries sooner) please enjoy a somewhat brief-ish (not actually) run-through of what my days are like.
By the way, we use military time (aka a 24-hour clock) here in SAS-land, so that’s what this post will use as well.
Austin’s alarm goes off at 0905. Bright and early, except without the bright because our inside cabin does not have a window and gets (thankfully) really, really dark when we turn the lights off.
She gets up, sending a sleepy “it’s 9:05” in my direction so that I’ll drag my ass out of bed as well, and around 0910, when she’s done in the bathroom, I finally do drag my ass out of bed. That gives me about five minutes to get ready and leave for class, assuming I want to be a few minutes early for my 0920 class. Usually, I spent about 8 minutes getting ready, leave at exactly 0918, and get to my class (2 decks above my cabin) at exactly 0920.
Note: Austin and I have decided today that we should probably start getting up earlier than 15 minutes before class starts.
From 0920 to 1035 I have Travel Writing with John Casteen in Classroom 4. Travel writing is a fun class, especially when I actually manage to do the reading for it. It’s a lot of work, but my professor is wonderful: a very funny guy, with great one-liners when he wants to be and a very serious guy, also with great one-liners, the other half of the time. Most of what we read is travel-writing essays like David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again—pieces of writing in the first person, in which the author shares an experience had while traveling—but sometimes we also read travel-related fiction, like Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants. In class we discuss the literature, specifically in terms of how it can relate to our own writing. Sometimes we have workshops, in which a few students bring in the piece they’re working on and we help them figure out what’s working and what isn’t. By the time I post this, I will have workshopped something once.
A quick navigation lesson:
My cabin is on Deck 4 forward, starboard side (aka the front of the ship, on the right side). It’s ok if you don’t remember all that. I never do, and have to ask someone each time I try to remember.
Anyways, to get to classroom 4, I exit my cabin and turn left. A short ways down the hall, I turn right and head up the flight of stairs until I get to Deck 6. Yes. Go up. For some reason the first time I ever got on a ship it really confused me that to go to a higher number deck, I had to go upstairs. I guess I kept thinking about the floor of the ocean instead of the bottom of the ship, but whatever the reason, if you’re like me there’s a friendly reminder that up really does mean up.
When I get to Deck 6, assuming I did in fact take the staircase closest to my room, I would now be standing outside the student union. That is not where my first class is, so I walk straight, leaving the Union, and the front of the ship, behind me. I pass the library and the computer lab, the campus store (it’s only open on days when we’re at sea and then it’s always really hard not to go shop), and arrive at the piano bar (aka snack bar area that happens to have chairs and a piano in it). Right across from the snack bar is my classroom. Yay!
After class, I usually head straight to the Deck 6 dining room, or the “Garden Lounge” to meet Austin and whoever else is there for a relaxing hour before lunch. If I’ve forgotten something or want to grab something to work on, I’ll head back down to my cabin first, but usually I just continue on, through the piano bar, past a few other classrooms, and into the dining room.
When we were in warmer (and drier) areas, Austin and I would usually sit outside, on the patio part of the Garden Lounge. Recently though, it’s been rainy and cold (or, while in Dublin, really badly smelly), so we’ve been sitting inside.
I’ll sit and do homework, usually for travel writing, or read a book. While in Dublin I bought the first book of the Game of Thrones series and I have been working through that recently. It’s amazing and if you haven’t read it you should, but that’s beside my point.
Anyways, what is nice about sitting and relaxing in the dining room is that at exactly 1130, when the buffet line is opened up for lunch, I can jump right in line and grab food. Food, unfortunately, always consists of salad (assuming they have a dressing I like), pasta, and maybe, just maybe, fish. We had a lot of fish down near Portugal and Spain; now it’s mostly pork or beef, which is not exactly helpful for those of us who don’t eat those items and would like to maybe not have starch every single day. There are also always pb&j sandwiches available, and some sort of fruit and soup, but generally speaking, it’s pasta. So every day, usually twice a day, I eat pasta.
If I feel like paying for my food, I can go up to Deck 7—the pool bar—for a $2 chicken burger (or a $2.50 chicken burger with cheese). I can also buy snacks (read: junk food) at both the snack bar and the pool bar for just as much if not more. They don’t really understand the whole healthy diet thing here on the ship, in case you haven’t noticed.
But complaining aside, sitting around with friends is quite nice, and at 1225 or so I leave for my second class of the day: International Relations.
My second class of the day takes place on the other end of the ship from the dining room (a whole 1-2 minute walk!) in the Union. The Union is basically a lecture hall, complete with a projector screen and a podium on a wooden-floored area in the front. The difference, of course, is that there are small but comfy chairs, a few room-length couch-type things, and very few tables.
Most of us rest our notebooks on our laps to take notes. No computers allowed because, despite the fact that we have no real Internet access, computers are too distracting. Oh well.
This particular class—no offense Professor Sanchez—is boring. If I haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep, or I took a Dramamine to stave off the slight seasickness that comes from rocking back and forth all day, it becomes a serious struggle to stay awake in International Relations. I really don’t mean any offense to Professor Sanchez or to anyone who studies International Relations. I’m sure that in an actual International Relations class, with more than 23 class days in total, you could actually get to some meaty, discussion-worthy topics. Instead, I find myself writing things like, “WWI & WWII: Germany was the main aggressor, therefore Germany is not a permanent member of the UN Security Council” and wanting to hit my head against a wall out of complete and total boredom. Oh well.
Another long break. This time I usually do go back to my room and drop some stuff off. Sometimes I’ll stay and do homework in the room, other times I’ll head back upstairs (to Deck 6). If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I spend most of my day on Deck 6. I also spend most of my day with Austin, and our other friends join us when their schedules permit. (As per usual, because life is weird that way, Austin and I ended up with the exact same class times.)
I read, or do homework, or whatever it may be that needs to get done, and then I go to my third and final class.
My last class of the day is Fiction into Film with Julian Connolly. Unfortunately, I sometimes find this class boring as well, because, quite frankly, there’s really not a great way to teach anything in only 23 days. For this class, we read fiction (short stories, plays, etc.) written by authors from the different places we’re visiting, and then watch related films, usually adaptations of these works. We read Chekov’s The Seagull and watched an adaptation called La Petite Lili; we read Joyce’s Dubliners, and watched Michael Collins and The Dead; now we are focusing on Babette’s Feast. I’m definitely enjoying all the readings, and the movies are generally enjoyable, though class becomes boring when all we do is re-watch certain important scenes from what we were supposed to watch for homework.
The professor is a cutie though. He’s very much the adorable, excited grandpa type; he does different voices for different characters when reading a passage aloud for the class, and gets really excited about his field of expertise: Russian literature. Our field lab was in Dublin, but Austin has a field lab with him in Russia and we’ve predicted that he will be like a kid in a candy store while they’re there.
Back to just hanging out. Once again, Austin and I will usually go wait in, or just outside, the Deck 6 dining hall (occasionally we switch it up and eat in the main dining room on Deck 5, but not often). At 1730 (5:30 if you guys haven’t caught onto the military time thing yet), the buffet lines are opened up for dinner.
Dinner is, once again, salad (if they have dressing I like), pasta, and maybe just maybe fish (but not usually). Vegetables, they have (usually), so I’ll grab some of those. I can maybe throw in some fruit if I get lucky, and a pb&j if I’m still hungry. After a while this gets boring and unhealthy, as you can imagine, so dinner is usually when I’ll, on those few days I’m willing to do so, venture up to Deck 7 for a burger. When the voyage first started, I often complained about how absurd it is that we have to pay for our protein (those of us that don’t eat pork and get sick of having peanut butter every day), but at this point I’ve basically given up and accepted my unappetizing fate.
Even though we grab our food at 1730, dinner does in fact last until almost 1900, since we get to sit around and talk with friends until then.
Every night, at 1900, there is something called a World Café. This is a lecture, usually given by someone who works on the staff or faculty, and can be about pretty much anything. Usually, as you can guess, they are related to where we are going next, but not always. For example, we have had lectures about each of our port countries so far as well as about sharks—specifically which ones may be swimming underneath our hull—and Brazil’s World Cup history. Tonight, we had our first inter-port student tell us about life in Norway. (An inter-port student is a student from the country we are traveling to who gets to come on the ship at the previous port and sail with us as a temporary student until he/she gets home).
They’re not always interesting, and they aren’t mandatory, so I don’t always go. But when the topic looks interesting, I try my best to attend, since it’s such a unique opportunity.
On the nights before we arrive in each port, this time slot is filled with the pre-port. The “pre-ports” are mandatory lectures about the ports we’re about to enter. The first half of the hour is cultural pre-port. Cultural pre-port is fun! We learn some important phrases in the languages of whatever country we’ll arriving in, get some advice about what to do/see/etc., and hear some fun facts as well. The second half of the hour is logistical pre-port. Logistical pre-port is less fun, though lately they’ve been spicing it up with trivia games, performances (the life-long learners did a flash mob), etc. In the logistical pre-port, we learn things like exchange rates, port addresses, transportation locations, etc., as well as how to stay safe and healthy while travelling. All in all, it’s not a bad hour, and they usually don’t drag on too long.
On all other nights . . . we eat leavened bread. Sorry. Passover reference. Yay Judaism. (Austin just had a test in her comparative religions class so I’ve got a bunch of Judaism stuff stuck in my head from her studying.)
Anyways, on all other nights, when we do not have pre-port, this time slot is usually filled with an Insight Lecture. Insight lectures are a lot like World Cafes. In fact, I really have no idea what the difference is between them, except that they’re called something else. But they’re sometimes interesting, so when they do seem like they’ll be a good time, I try to be present.
More free time. Sometimes Austin and I go to the gym. Usually we just pretend like we’re going to go to the gym and instead sit in our exercise clothes and get snacks instead. Usually we’ll also attempt to do some homework. Then, eventually, we go to sleep, and the cycle starts all over again the next day.
And that, my friends and family, is what life is like aboard the MV Explorer. Kind of dull, but generally pretty enjoyable.

Categories: Emma's Posts | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Have You Heard? There’s an Austin in St. Petersburg!


So today is our last day in St. Petersburg and on one hand, I wish we had another day, on the other hand, I’m so ready for Sweden.

Russia is an interesting place. For most of our pre-port information sessions, the Deans have told us places to go and see and whatnot. For this port, it was more a list of “Things You Should Not Do in Russia Because You Will Get Sick and Die.” This wasn’t very helpful, because if you tell a bunch of college students not to do something, a lot of them will probably still do it because they think they know better and that the adults are just being overly cautious.

Anyway, the first day I had a Field Lab for my Northern European Literature and Film class. My professor, who specializes in Russian Literature, was like a kid in a candy store. It was adorable.

We started off by going to the Nabokov Museum, which used to be his family’s home. It was an incredibly beautiful home, and it was really cool to see a lot of the original copies of his books. My professor had his day made when it turned out that they had a book he’d written in the museum as part of the “Scholarship on Nabokov” section.

We also learned that air conditioning is very rarely a thing in Russia.

Also St. Petersburg used to be a swamp and is therefore very similar to DC in terms of summer weather. Joy.

After that we went to a cemetery that had the graves of Dostoevsky, Tchaikovsky and many other famous authors and composers. We also went into a Russian Orthodox Church which was absolutely gorgeous.

A bit later, the bus dropped us off at the Pawnbroker’s house in Crime and Punishment and we traced the route Raskolnikov walked from his house to the Pawnbroker’s. There was even a statue dedicated to him on the street corner.

From there we went to the Dostoevsky Museum, which used to be his family’s home, and finally we ended the night at a Dostoevsky-themed restaurant.

We were all very glad that our professor spoke Russian when it came to getting food because asking for vegetarian or gluten-free meals in English wasn’t working out very well.

On Day Two we decided to tackle the perilous St. Petersburg… which really wasn’t that bad. Like other cities, if you were smart, you were fine.

We started off by taking Trolley 10 to the Metro and then metroing to Sadovaya station. From Sadovaya, after a brief bit of confusion (different alphabets are hard), we finally found our way to the Grand Choral Synagogue, which was absolutely gorgeous. We went inside, and for the equivalent of $5.65, got a tour of the synagogue and the wedding chamber in English. We also got a small loaf of challah for $1.70…

Have I mentioned how much I love the conversion rate in Russia? It’s 35 rubles to a dollar.

After that, we went to Nevsky Prospekt to look around and do some souvenir shopping. We went into the Nose Cathedral (really the Kazan Cathedral, but we call it the Nose Cathedral after the story by Gogol), and St. Catherine’s Cathedral (a Catholic Church) and meandered all along Nevsky Prospekt.

Eventually, we took the metro and the bus back and got back to the ship in time for dinner. Then, while Emma, Doshi and Claire went off to the Russian Ballet, Natasha, Patrick and I, and some others, watched the Extended Edition of the Fellowship of the Ring and hung out. Thus ended the second day.

On day three, Emma and I went to the Petroff Palace and Gardens, where Peter the Great and Catherine the Great once lived. Again, it was absolutely beautiful. Sadly, it also felt like we were walking through a sauna.

After that field program, we went back to the ship and got Gatorade because we were all seriously dehydrated. After dinner, I went on the White Nights Canal Cruise with some others and enjoyed riding through the many canals of St. Petersburg at sunset.

Again, it was beautiful.

Day four didn’t get started until around noon or so, because we were all incredibly exhausted. We did homework and hung out during the day, and then after dinner Claire, Doshi, Patrick, Regi and I went into the city.

Along Nevsky Prospekt there’s a store with little robots and golden cherubs moving in the windows. You definitely want to go into this store, because inside there is gourmet chocolate and ice cream and candy and normal food like pasta and oysters. I spent a lot of money on chocolate and candy.

July 27th was also Russia’s Navy Day. Throughout the week, naval ships (and a submarine!) had been docked along the Neva River. Navy Day is pretty much a giant reunion for the Russian Navy and the city was incredibly crowded. The five of us made our way to the main square and then towards the Palace Bridge, where we watched some fireworks (Americans do it better, just saying).

From there, we walked along the river for a while and enjoyed just how beautiful St. Petersburg was at night (also the fact that it actually was dark out for once). We walked back to the ship, got a bit lost along the way, briefly caught the attention of a pack of feral dogs, but made it back just fine.

Afterwards, Claire, Doshi, Patrick, Emma and I played a round of Egyptian Rat’s Crew and the some mildly violent rounds of Spoons (played with coffee stirrers, so it became sticks). At that point we were all pretty tired and some of us (mostly Doshi) were sugar high and so it was a pretty crazy game of Spoons and we stayed up until 2:30 playing. It was… a lot of fun =]

Day Five, our last day in Russia, was also pretty relaxing. Once again we woke up late, and then Claire, Natalia, Doshi, Emma and I went off the ship briefly to find a pharmacy so we could find Contact Solution (for me) and shampoo and deodorant for others. We had a hard time finding a pharmacy, but luckily, even though the woman there didn’t speak English, she understood my attempts at miming “contact solution.”

We also got 5 Twix and 5 Snickers for about $5.25… Like I said, I’m a fan of the ruble (though it kind of sucks for Russia).

Afterwards we returned to the terminal to try and get Wi-Fi and spend the last of our rubles, but ultimately the heats and the lines became too much for us, so we returned to the ship.

And now I’m sitting in the Garden Lounge, the sixth floor dining hall, listening to Green Day, and writing this post while I wait for dinner to be served.

Coming up next (aka when this post will probably be posted) is Stockholm.

Our first day in Stockholm also happens to be when their Pride is.

We’re going.

It’s going to be awesome =]

Oh, yeah and I guess I have classes too?

Austin, out.

Categories: Austin's Posts | Tags: | 1 Comment

Hey Macklemore, Can We Go to Dublin?

A few weeks ago, I knew practically nothing about Ireland. I didn’t know its history or its culture. I hadn’t read any Irish authors. When I called my bank to give them the list of countries I would be using my card in, I couldn’t even remember if Ireland was part of the UK or not. Do they like Americans in Ireland? Are leprechauns really a thing? What’s the weather like there? I’m telling you, I knew pretty much nothing. The one thing I did know was this: there was a chance I’d have to be flexible.

At the very beginning of the voyage, Dean Marti said the f-word: flexible. We had to be flexible, she said, in order to have the best time possible, but we also had to be flexible because it was pretty much guaranteed that at one point or another, something wasn’t going to go as planned and we’d have to either adapt or get upset.

When I was younger, I was not flexible. When my birthday parties didn’t go as planned—someone didn’t play the game right, a bitchy girl told me my theme was stupid, or the cake wasn’t ready on time—I’d get upset. When a schedule got messed up and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to complete everything on time, I got stressed. But luckily, over the years I have learned how to be flexible (to a certain degree). If something doesn’t go as planned, as long as it’s not a matter of life and death, I usually don’t get too upset; if the people I’m with don’t act as nicely or as well-behaved as they should, I don’t usually get too caught up or annoyed; if a schedule has to change, I don’t panic. So far, I hadn’t had to adapt and be flexible too much on this trip though. Dublin changed that.

My first day in Dublin was easy and simple.

I had a field lab, which meant following guides, going to museums and attractions for free, eating a pre-paid lunch, and taking lots of notes and pictures (travel writing has taught me well; I was the only one in our Fiction into Film class who thought to bring a notebook, and therefore the only one who was later able to reference notes when we had to write an essay about the field lab). If the plans changed or something went wrong on our field lab, I didn’t know about it. Sure, there were things that I didn’t really like, or thought could use some tweaking, but as far as I knew, it was went exactly as planned.

Later that night, after the field lab, I went out with friends to find some pubs and wander the city at night. We had done the same in every port we’ve been in so far (with the exception of Lisbon, because we hadn’t quite all become good friends yet), and therefore had a pretty good idea of how to successfully wander.

We started out by heading to the main bar area: Temple Bar. We knew it would be way to touristy and expensive but we wanted to have a look and see what it was like, before finding somewhere more wallet-friendly. When we got there, though, it was absolutely packed with Semester at Sea students either trying to do exactly what we were trying to do, or trying to go to bars in the Temple Bar area because, for some reason, some of the people on this ship are willing to spend almost $14 on beer. So we don’t stick around long. Instead, after going to The Duke, the bar that hosts the Literary Pub Tour we were planning to do the next night, to buy tickets, and having another unsuccessful attempt (O’Neils was waaaay to crowded and loud), we made it to a pub across the river. We hadn’t actually been aiming for this place, but one a few doors down. Instead, as we passed we heard Macklemore. It wasn’t actually Macklemore, of course, but there was live music and two Irishmen (probably in their 20’s) were playing guitar and strumming/singing what sounded almost like a slow country version of “Thrift Shop.” A bunch of SASers had gone to the actual Macklemore concert that night in the city, but we had opted out. So when we heard this version, our reaction was “Holy shit. We need to go in.” So we did, and it was awesome. When we told the guitarists that we were from America, they’re reaction was “F*** yeah!” and a rendition of Wagon Wheel.

The second day, though, required me to be flexible.

We started out the day with a plan: we were going to head into town, get a train or a bus to Wicklow, about an hour south of Dublin, and go for a hike. Well, we met up in Tymitz Square at 8:15 to catch the 8:30 shuttle into the city, only to be told that they had lied on the green sheet and the shuttles actually ran on the hour instead of the half hour. So what do we do? Well, we have to be flexible. We regroup in Tymitz and discuss our options, eventually deciding that we can try again the next day and instead spend toady in the city. A bunch of us had had our field labs the first day, so we hadn’t spent time in Dublin yet, and even though Austin had a field lab the next day, she didn’t mind missing the hike.

So we set out at 9 for the city. Our new plan was to start by going to Malahide, a castle and gardens in a town a bit outside the city itself. We took the DART—the Dublin Area Rapid Transit—up to Malahide and got off in an adorably cute town. We walked up through the pretty park in which the castle is located, but then we found out that the castle entrance fee is 8 euros (5 if you just go to the gardens and skip the castle). Hell no. Austin, Claire, Neisha and I went back into the town then, unwilling to pay the money (look at us being all flexible and not getting upset that we came all this way for what seemed like nothing) and Natalia and Doshi stayed to look at the gardens and take artsy pictures. It took a little while walking around to realize that this adorably cute town is actually a pretty wealthy-looking marina-based town. But eventually, Doshi and Natalia finished up and we all went back to the city.

Back in the city, our next destination was Trinity College. Trinity College was the location of the famed Book of Kells, a bible decorated in Celtic designs and supposedly worth seeing for, also, 8 euros. The college is also adjacent to two tourist information booths, which we would attempt to hit up for information on Wicklow (we were still under the impression that we’d be going to Wicklow the next day).

Instead of seeing the Book of Kells, though, we were once again flexible and decided to take the advice of a cute Zoology major from Trinity who took it upon himself to convince us to visit his department’s zoological museum instead (jk it was legitimately his job to get people interested). That was only a mere 2 euros (yay for saving money! See, flexibility is a good thing) and was definitely more interesting than seeing a book probably would have been. We also got tons of information and tips (not all of which we used) from the other zoology majors working at the museum on where to go and drink in Dubiln and all sorts of things like that.
At the end of the Day, we’d gone on our literary pub tour, which was really enjoyable, by the way, and had made some great friends. At the pub tour we’d run into other SASers and by the end of an amazing night of more pub-crawling with them, had gone home very, very full of memories. Flexibility, f*** yeah!

On my third day in Dublin, I once again was flexible.

The general plan this time was to stop by a major park in the city and watch what was advertised as a street performer competition before catching a few sights and heading to the mall for some shopping. It was cold and I wanted to buy a light jacket (heavier than my obviously-American sweatshirt but not too heavy) before Norway. We started off just fine; we found the park without too many issues and were able to cross one sight—Oscar Wilde’s house, which is now part of an American University—off our list. At the park, though, we found more than just a competition. It was a huge family-oriented festival, with games, music, tons of free samples, and some not-so-free delicacies (candy and nuts). We watched a few minutes of one performance—a man pretending to create a life-size, dressed sculpture of sorts which was, actually, another man who was somehow able to keep entirely still. It was pretty cool. We then continued walking around the park and eventually stumbled upon another performance that was just about to start. This one was much, much cooler. A juggler/contortionist/sword-swallower/flame-swallower (yes, one man was all of these things) from Australia was there performing for a big crowd that became even bigger when he actually began his routine. It was spectacular and cringe-worthy all at once. He did everything from juggle a few balls to squeezing his entire body through a tennis racket. The finale of it all was him doing backflips with a sword down his throat. Doshi got a lot of it on film, I think, but I’m perfectly happy relishing in the memories as opposed to re-watching what originally us cringing, looking away for a second, and then quickly going back to watching, unable to tear ourselves away but cringing in awe the entire time.

After the performance we headed out of the park, stopped for some more free samples (Dublin has really good Greek Yogurt, by the way), and then attempted to find the mall. Along the way we found a Catholic Church and stopped so that Natalia and Claire could go in to check Mass times just in case they wanted to go back on Sunday. Finally, we realized that there was in fact, no mall in the direction we were headed and had to change our plan. The college kids we’d met at the zoology museum told us that an entire street, luckily not too far from where we were when we realized there was no mall, was lined with thrift stores. So what do we do? Well, we had already heard locals playing Macklemore two nights before, why not stick with the theme? It was time to pop some tags.

We walked along the street they’d mentioned, going into every thrift store we passed (probably like 10) and making great purchases along the way. I found a leather jacket for 7 euros! It even has a hood J After a few more thrift shops, we realized it was time to head back to the shuttle bus. I was going to meet Austin for dinner on the ship while the rest of them went out to dinner, and we’d meet up with them when they got back to the ship.

When they got back we went out into the city for one last night of fun. This time we had a bigger group and a more even ratio of guys to girls (Doshi was thankful). We hit a few pubs, talked to some locals, ran into more SASers (it’s absolutely impossible, we’ve realized, to go anywhere without running into SASers, no matter which city we’re in), and eventually made it to a club Aaron had promised would be fun. It was in an old house, apparently, and had a rooftop terrace. Well, he was right about the location; if I had to guess I would say this place had been converted from some rich Irish family’s home way back when to a bar, and the rooftop terrace was pretty cool. He was not right, though, about it being a club (it was a bar with spaces for dancing) and it was not fun. It was loud and boring, since no one was dancing and it was too crowded to dance even if the music had been good. Now, I thought to myself, this isn’t a time for passive acceptance. We’re not having fun, and even though this was the plan, it’s about time to be flexible. So I rectified the situation. We rallied the troops and set off toward the temple bar area to find a real club where there was real music and real dancing. On the way, though, we found something even better. Fitzsimmons’s was a bar much, much bigger on the inside than what it looked like on the outside and on top of an underground club called Five. I’d heard some SASers talking about Five the night before and while they’d said it was a lot of fun, there was a cover charge and the bar seemed just as much, if not more, fun, so I led us in. Thank you flexibility, because this place was awesome. There was live music (note: when in Dublin, the best bars are the ones with live music, hands down) and a crowd of people in front of the stage dancing and singing along. We joined in the fun and, as soon as the band saw eight 20-somethings rocking out like typical Americans at a concert, they began to play non-stop American music. That night we sang and danced our hearts out to The Beatles, Garth Brooks, Wonderwall, and Get Lucky, among others. And, when we finally got a taxi and went back to the ship, we knew we’d turned a kind of crappy night into something amazing and memorable. If you’re ever in Dublin on a Friday night, go to Fitzsimmons’s You won’t regret it.

Finally, as per usual, Austin and I made our last day in the city a rest day. We slept in until lunchtime, grabbed a quick lunch in the dining room, and headed into the city for a few hours of souvenir shopping before heading back to the ship.

Believe me when I say I will definitely be coming back to Ireland.

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Chilling With Vikings (aka I’m too tired to think of a creative title)

Hello friends!

So at the moment I’m in St. Petersburg. That’s pretty cool, if I do say so myself. But I’ll tell you about Russia later. This post is dedicated to the lovely country of Norway.
Norway is expensive. Very. Very. Expensive. It’s a bit less expensive if you split things with people, but then you don’t get as much. For example, a pizza is the equivalent of $40. That is a lot of money for one person. Split four ways it’s only $10 each, but then you only get two slices which, well, isn’t a lot when you’ve been walking all day.

We got into Bergen fairly early on the 17th, and after 1800 we were allowed off the ship. In order to see some of the highlights, my friends and I opted to do the SAS sponsored scavenger hunt around the city. This led to us meeting a Russian bartender and his Dutch customer who both knew more about the city than any of the Norwegians in Bergen. We also received help from a bunch of younger boys who decided as we were leaving that they should start charging people. They were absolutely adorable.

At the end, we got pink caviar on goat cheese and, needless to say, I was very, very, happy with that.

Afterwards, we went on to explore the part of Bergen directly across the bay from our ship and we found a couple of really cool parks. From the water there was a truly amazing view of the ship and of the sunset.

The sunset, by the way, happened at around 11:30 and by 2:30 the sun was rising.

The next day in Bergen, Emma and I slept in and then went into town for Wi-Fi and souvenir shopping.

The day after, we opted to travel from Bergen to Oslo on the ship and I spent pretty much the entire day reading. Between Dublin and Oslo I read both Bernard Cornwell’s Azincourt, which follows an English longbowman in the lead up to the battle of Agincourt on Saint Crispin’s Day, and The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (and now apparently I have to wait two years for Book Three to come out… ugh).

The first day in Oslo we got the Oslo Pass which meant public transportation and around 30 museums were free. We decided to get our money’s worth and hit 6 museums in 7 hours. We did… The Viking Ship Museum (SO AMAZING), the Kon-Tiki Museum (about the reed raft that was used to prove there could have been contact between the prehistoric cultures of the New and Old World), the Fram Museum (Giant ship that went to the North Pole and the South Pole), The Holocaust Center (almost entirely in Norwegian… it’s very hard to find information on the Holocaust in Norway), the Munch Museum (We saw the Scream and many other paintings) and the Nobel Peace Center (so incredibly moving). So it was a pretty exhausting day. After dinner, we went back into the city and relaxed in a park filled with very bizarre statues. Seriously, I’m pretty sure one guy was juggling/playing hacky sack with a couple of babies).

The second day, Emma, Claire, Patrick and I went to go visit the Oslo Synagogue. After an hour of walking, we found that it was closed. This is either due to what’s happening in Gaza or because the Jewish Population in Norway is so small they only opened it on the Sabbath.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing. There was a lot of relaxing in Norway. Probably because it’s so expensive. Although housing is apparently cheap – a mini mansion in Oslo is 2 million kroner, but it’s 5 kroner to a dollar so that’s really not a lot of money. Instead, a pizza is about $40, as I mentioned earlier. So yeah, Norway is great for buying houses and going to school and getting health care, but not so great for like… eating.

And that’s all for Norway, folks.

More stuff happened, I’m sure, but I’m enjoying St. Petersburg right now so I can’t remember the specifics.

Austin, out.

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On the Steep, Steep Sides of Ben Lomond

As nice as Edinburgh was (a bit too touristy in some areas but overall charming and enjoyable), the really great part of my time here was spent in Greenock, the town in which our ship is docked. My last two days in Scotland were spent mostly in Greenock, with the morning of the third day—July 7—reserved for a field program up toward the highlands of Scotland, a short drive away.
As freshmen in high school, Austin and I learned about a place in Scotland called Loch Lomond. The B-CC HS Chamber Choir sang a beautiful rendition of a famous Scottish folk song, called Loch Lomond and about Loch Lomond, and Austin and I became obsessed. To be fair, I think we may have been a bit more obsessed with Matt Hagerty’s solo, but we did come to love the song too. Then, as seniors, we had a chance to sing Loch Lomond as well. This time we learned the meaning behind the song (it was written by a man about to be executed for political reasons outside of Scotland, as a message to his friend), but more importantly we took that knowledge and stretched it to be meaningful to us as soon-to-be-graduates. To the displeasure of the rest of the graduating class, we even sang Loch Lomond at graduation, and I’m pretty sure we were all close to crying. Austin and I loved the song and, by extension, were a bit obsessed with the place as well.
So, on July 7th, we woke up bright and early, tired but excited for more reasons than one. Not only was it Austin’s birthday, it was the day that we were finally going to see the place we’d been singing about for years.
After a sleepy hour or so long bus rise out to the Loch which, by the way, is situated right at the start of the Scottish highlands, on the highland fault line. We got out there, realizing finally why we were told to wear layers (it was COLD at the bottom) and understanding suddenly that we were not, as the program description had suggested, walking around the lake but instead hiking up the mountain next to the lake. Ben Lomond. The mountain. Not Loch Lomond, the lake. Well, as you can imagine, we were a bit shocked, but not unpleasantly so. I was excited to get the exercise and be going on a real hike instead of just a nice walk.
The hike was, to say it extremely simply, rigorous and tiring at times but so very beyond worth it for the breathtakingly beautiful view from the top.

Later that night, when I wrote in my travel journal notebook about the day, I wrote the following:

By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie brays,
Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond
Where me and me true love will ever want to gaze
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Lock Lomond.

Oh ye’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road,
And I’ll be in Scotland before ye
But me and me true love will never meet again,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

Twas there that we parted in yon shady glen,
On the steep, steep sides of Ben Lomond.
Where deep in purple hue the highland hills we view,
And the moon coming out of the gloamin’.

Oh ye’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road,
And I’ll be in Scotland before ye
But me and me true love will never meet again,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

The wee birdies sing and the wild flowers spring,
And in sunshine the waters lie sleeping,
But the broken heart will can nae second spring again,
And the world knows not how we are grieving

Oh ye’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road,
And I’ll be in Scotland before ye
But me and me true love will never meet again,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

Austin and I must have sung this song at least 10 times today. Well, maybe we didn’t sing it that many times, but I can say for sure that on the bus ride going to and going away from Loch Lomond, I listen to this amazing song on loop for a long, long time.
I can’t even put into words how absolutely amazing it felt to be seeing Loch Lomond. It didn’t truly hit me, I think, until after we left and were back on the bus heading toward the ship, that what we’d been singing about and dreaming about since freshman year of high school, we had finally seen with our own eyes.
“All the feels, Austin, all the feels!” I squealed, nearly on the verge of tears in my rather uncomfortable bus seat. And that was that. It was all the feels. So many fucking feels I could barely handle it. Loch Lomond was beautiful, and I wish that I had taken it in a little bit more meaningfully while I was actually there, but unfortunately it was a tad too windy at the top of Ben Lomond for Austin and I to break out into song just then and there. That and we had somewhat lost our voices in the sheer magnificence of the views. “Holy crap we could die if we slip” was a bit more on our minds than, I want to sing right now. I can’t help but wish we had, though. If we had been with our choir (for some reason, assuming our high school choir, senior year, had traveled to Scotland), we would have sung and we all would have (most likely) cried. It was a fun favorite choral song from the moment we heard it in 9th grade, when the Chamber Choir sang a sweet, slow version of it. It was even more of a favorite . . . more than a favorite really, when, our senior year, Chamber Choir sang it again. This time we were in the choir and were singing it ourselves for real. I honestly, really can’t even describe it. That song means so much to us, as college kids looking back on high school, as friends who used to sing nonstop together, and as people who have grown up enough to understand and face the true meaning of the song—death. It is crazy emotional for me that I have been to Loch Lomond, and a little upsetting that I didn’t make the absolutely total most of it. I made a lot of it though, and for that, and for Ms. Vanek, who introduced us to this song six years ago, I will forever be grateful.

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Living the Hostel Life in Edinburgh

There were eight of us in total, though Natalia’s original research had been for six, and it really would have been better with six anyways. We—the usual group—had talked briefly about getting a hostel when we’d heard reports of how cheap they were, but only decided to truly go for it the morning of our last day in Bilbao. If we were ever going to get a hostel, we figured, Scotland would be the place to do it. Our dock was a 30-minute train ride from the nearest city (Glasgow) and we knew Edinburgh, the supposedly picturesque capital city, would take more than a day trip to see. So after a lot of hassle attempting to get the Internet to work long enough to pick a hostel, we gave up and I called in a favor from home (from Texas, to be specific). “We need a hostel in Edinburgh for one night,” I told him, “preferably cheap, preferably close to the bus station and/or the castle. Eight people (we knew we’d be eight by then). Coed (We wanted two guys, our good friend Doshi and our new friend Nick, to be with us mostly because we enjoyed their company but also because we wanted a protective barrier of sorts from the scary and unknown).
The hostel he found was called the Calledonian Backpackers Hostel, and for a first hostel ever (for me, at least), it was a great choice. Less than a mile away from the castle and the bus station, we got to walk down Princess St. (think shopping, shopping, and more shopping for at least 5 city blocks) on our way from the bus and up the Royal Mile (think picturesque Diagon Alley type place but with souvenir shops every five steps) on our way back from the castle. The hostel was also huge, though, which we didn’t realize until we were well inside. It looked small and quaint form the outside; turns out the few stories above ground level in the building were part of the hostel, not office buildings. There were 38 people in our room alone (Room H, if you’re curious) and we were only one of many, many more rooms (different sizes, I think). The décor was really cool, though, and the walls were covered in what looked almost like themed graffiti but was more likely a motif of symbols and emotional artistic expression. There was a huge Adam and Eve scene at the bottom of the stairs, an alien face of some sort nearby (it looked like it could be a band’s logo), and beautiful tropical flowers near the ladies loo. The bar/lounge/breakfast area was also a fun feel: mix billiards bar with hipster coffee shop and that’s what it felt like. Awesome, no? And I haven’t even gotten to the bathroom walls. Someone had written references from Harry Potter, Dr. Who, Sherlock, Supernatural, and more on the walls. If that doesn’t explain the fairly awesome cool feeling of this hostel I don’t know what would.
So anyways, we got to the hostel the morning of the 5th; after being some of the first people off the ship once we cleared immigration, paying 6 pounds one way for a rain ticket into Glasgow, and getting on an earlier bus than we’d planned to Edinburgh, we were happy to have found the hostel rather easily.When we checked in, the nice girl at the counter told us that four years ago she had come to Edinburgh for vacation and stayed at this hostel. She never left.
We went to our room, picked beds, and put our things into the lockers assigned to us. Then we set out. We’d see the castle on day 2, so for now we would go to the cathedral, the library, the writers’ museum, and part of the royal mile.
First stop: St. Giles’ Cathedral, a fairly impressive structure about a third of the way down the royal mile from the top (we would learn this distance the next day, when we walked the entire thing, from the castle to the park at the other end). The cathedral was beautiful inside, as it should have been, but as Austin later discussed with me, far too ornate to fit with the ____ style and way too touristy for anyone’s liking. You had to pay 2 pounds to take pictures so, sadly, I have no pictures.
Our next stop was the library, which didn’t allow us access to the reading room but did have a few cool exhibits. We saw an interesting exhibit on Scottish involvement in the two world wars, something which I honestly never thought much about before, and a very impressive collection of things from sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s life, along with things like items from Charles Darwin’s and other notable peoples’ collections. Of course, we only realized later when it started raining and we ducked into the building across the street that the actual library part (the kind that you don’t need special access to the way people need special access to use the Library of Congress’s reading room) was in the building across the street. After this we considered going to see parliament, since Natalia really wanted to se as many parliaments as she could, but we instead went to find the writers’ museum, which I had to see for class and which many of us wanted to see for fun as well.
The writers’ museum was a cute, old wealthy person’s house (a duchess or something), tucked away in a courtyard behind the royal mile, accessed by going through one of many of what looked like alleyways leading off the main drag. We went in, meandered through the different rooms, which contained relics from the lives of famous Scottish authors, took a look in the overpriced gift shop in what probably used to be the living room or the dining room, and met up outside by the lamppost. A bit unimpressive, but worth the visit, especially since it was free entry. (Most of the museums in Scotland were free entry.)
Finally, we went souvenir shopping. I found some nice, potentially handmade treble clef earrings, and managed to restrain myself and not buy the Nutella jar earrings as well. Additionally, I knew I wanted to wait and buy a Claddagh ring (look ‘em up) in Ireland, but it was hard to stay away from other shiny jewelry and beautiful scarves.
Our final excursion before heading back to the hostel happened when we happened to join up with Claire’s roommate and her friend, and wandered toward the park. Natalia suggested that we hike there, and though we figured there was a chance we’d have time to do so the next day, we didn’t want to risk not seeing it. Unfortunately, we went the wrong way and didn’t end p finding the park that day (we should have simply continued down the royal mile but instead turned off it). We did, however, find the Elephant House—the café where JK Rowling started to write Harry Potter—and made a firm mental note to go there for lunch or dinner the next day.
As you can imagine, after all this we were ready for a nap. We headed back to the hostel and rested for a while before setting out, at the ungodly late hour of 9pm, for dinner. Of course, everywhere was either way to expensive or no longer serving food. Finally, we settled on the very overpriced but open American food restaurant near our hostel. Yes, American food. But to be fair, it was interesting to see what another culture thought was typical American cuisine. One man was eating his French fries with a fork.
At that point, unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling well at all. A headache and what I think was a temporary iron deficiency led to my not being able to eat, let alone join in on the mealtime conversation. So after dinner I went back to go to sleep and the others went out to get a taste of Edinburgh nightlife.
Day two was a bit more relaxed. We got breakfast at the hostel and packed sandwiches for lunch before going to the castle.
The castle was definitely worth the price we had to pay to go in. Seated on top of a high hill, we got to walk through gardens and a playground to get there and, once there, got to see everything from the Crown Jewels (no longer in use, obviously, because there are no longer Scottish monarchs) to a medieval instrument demonstration.
After exploring the castle we walked all the way down the royal mile—the main road from the castle at the top to the park at the bottom (now a tourist trap, basically). It’s not an actual real mile, but it’s an old Scottish mile, which means nothing to be and probably won’t mean much to you either, which is fine.
The best part of the day, undeniably, though, was Elephant House. The Harry Potter obsession that has been fostering in me since middle school was thrilled to be sitting where JK Rowling sat. I didn’t mind paying more than I would have at home for a personal pizza, because it was Elephant house. We sat and ate our food, geeking out over Harry Potter and remarking that we could totally understand how JKR got the idea for Hogwarts by staring out the window at the castle. Finally, we went to the bathroom. The bathroom, literally the entire bathroom, was covered in writing—messages to JKR, notes about HP, quotes from the series etc. Austin and I freaked. We had to leave a message. We had to leave our story. So we did.
“Harry Potter is the reason we’re friends. From age 12 to age 19 and for many, many more years, JKR’s world will hold a special place in our hearts. Thank you JKR for a best friendship to rival James’ and Sirius’. Much love, Hermione and Ginny.”

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