Winter wonderland – snow blocking everything

Basically, when you talk about the southern parts of Sweden and winter you always say something like this:

“Yes, everybody expects us in Sweden to have a lot of snow. But the truth is, that is pnly valid for the northern parts of Sweden. Down here in Skåne we usually only have some snowflakes once in a while and we consider ourselves really lucky if any lakes freeze over. Snow here is mostly slush, dirty slush.”

Well, once again, I am proven wrong. The winter already came before Christmas and has stayed on. Yesterday I made an attempt to attend a kick-off in Tomelilla (small town in the eastern rural areas of Skåne) and did not make it. For the second time within 1,5 month I could not go there because the Swedish Road Service said that they could not clear the streets and that they due to the expected snowfall in the evening warned everyone from going out in these parts.

While we still had a good kick-off at my place instead I started to think about snow. And could not help myself in making comparisons with Vancouver last year – even though we had much much more snow in Vancouver they did not manage to clear the streets either. Still, Vancouver somehow made the snow feel ok and more or less gave it a romantic touch – who would not want to have a beautiful white cover in the morning on a day that you are off? Giving you lots of material to build figures with and an exceptional view of the mountains surrounding Vancouver. Even if you would need to go to work, you would not complain about the bus being late.

In Lund, snow just becomes an obstacle. You cannot bike, everything takes for ever, people are reluctant to go out and some unlucky ones even had problems with the power supply and the telephone lines. I just somehow get more comfortable here and refuse to change just for the snow.

Still, I am admiring the wonderful that I have from my window, all small the small houses with white roofs and the quietness that comes with people not moving around as much. I think I might as well enjoy it while I can!

Cheers,
Ulrike

Visitors from Uganda

Often I write about the culture clash that takes place when I go to another country. This time I will turn it the other way around. I was fortunate to have visitors from Uganda last week and they certainly questioned some very usual things here in Sweden.

For example: Why do people ride their bike around here so much? In Uganda, riding a bike is a sign that you are not rich enough to by a motorcycle. Well, sure, the students in Lund are poor, but not that poor. The argument that biking is good for your health and an easier means of transport did not really convince my visitors. And once we saw a bike with a cart for kids behind it, which really triggered some discussions.

The other astonishing fact was that we have tarmac roads to basically every little house on the countryside. In Uganda, building a road to the house is the owner’s responsibility and he will then be thanked by some hefty road taxes. And tarmac is mostly non-existent in Uganda, only the main traffic roads in the country have tarmac.

While giving lectures at different school, my visitors also experience some shocks. Not only was the lunch heated in the microwave but also was a class made up of about 15-20 students and a variety of teachers. In Uganda the equivalent is 70-90 and very few teachers in general.

In all, it is very useful to get some provoking thoughts about your own situation and lifestyle. And it has not made my urge to visit the African continent go away.

Cheers,
Ulrike

No Fear Left in 16 Years

Yesterday, I did one of the most courageous things I ever have done. I donated blood. Not for the first time in my life, in fact it was visit number 11, but it is always the same fear that strikes me. I get nervous about a day before and the 15 Minutes (tops!) in the chair are the most horrifying in my life. Even though nurses guard me the whole time and I always bring a friend/family member to keep me company. I just can’t do it without being afraid.

But yesterday, I had the big revelation. While going through the procedures, I wound myself saying that “but I am at least not afraid of raiding trains anymore”. And realised, that yes, that was true! After almost 27 years of riding a train, well lets say that I have been feeling that fear for maybe 24 years (I can’t really count the earliest years in my life), I am no longer afraid of entering a trains. Yes, I am still nervous, but no longer afraid of being left alone on the train or anything else.

And with that hindsight I can make some calculations: I have been donating blood for 8 years. Overcoming a huge fear for something takes approx. 24 years. That leaves me with a meagre 16 years before I will happily walk to the blood donations centre! Not bad, I must say. And I will hopefully catch malaria before that and be relieved in less than 16 years! ;)

Cheers,
Ulrike

Die Stadt die nicht existiert

Lange war der Familienausflug geplant, lange sollte er zum Meereskundemuseum in Stralsund gehen. Aber als der Tag endlich da war und sämtliche Mitglieder der Familie endlich im Auto saßen, gab es neue Pläne. Güstrow und Fischland. Gut, die Sonne schien, die Jüngeren schliefen sich erstmal im Auto aus.

Bei der Fähre in Gedser gab es dann Debakel. Die Pläne wurden noch mal geändert. Wismar stand nun auf dem Programm, au, fein, Kultur und Geschichte auf hohem Niveau. Aber der Hunger machte sich in Puttgarden breit und es wurde kurzerhand beschlossen, in Lübeck Mittag zu essen. Wismar war dann die nächste Anhaltestelle.

In Lübeck wurde das Kartoffelfest gefeiert, alles nach dem Motto: Schick in Schale. Kultur gab es auch, Kirchen und Thomas Mann, Erich Mühsam und die große Einkaufsstrasse. Dann war es auch schon Zeit für Eis und Kaffe und es war schon später als wir im wieder im Auto saßen.

Irgendwie gelang es uns, die hinten saßen, wieder alles vollständig zu verschlafen. So auch die Abfahrt nach Wismar, mit der Begründung, dass es schon dunkel wurde und wir Wismar noch bequem morgen schaffen würden. Wäre man doch bloß wach geblieben.

Der Abend verlief spielend, erst haben wir Bä bä vita lamm gespielt, der Lachfaktor war hoch und Spaß hat es auch gemacht. Dann war Trivial Pursuit an der Reihe, mit seinen Wissensspeichern und Wissensecken. Geteilter Platz für Bruder und Mutter, Tochter wurde letzte hatte aber dafür wahrscheinlich die meiste Schokolade gegessen.

Nach einem sehr ruhigen Morgen mit frischen Brötchen ging es los in Richtung Güstrow. Ernst Barlach, Holzschnitzer, hatte dort sein Atelier und viele seiner Stücke sind hier ausgestellt. Wir besuchten auch den Dom, mit ”dem Schwebendem”, und das Schloss.

Ein spontaner Abbruch war das kurze Baden im See; kalt und nass aber doch sehr erfrischend, vor allem weil wir vor dem Regen wieder raus waren.

Dann weiter Richtung Wismar. Endlich! Was uns da wohl erwarten wird? Aber wie verzaubert, es passierte schon wieder und wir gestehen: die hinteren Sitze im Auto formen eine Schlafbank. Plötzlich war Wismar schon wieder außer Reichweite. Und der Zweifel wurde groß, gab es diese Stadt wirklich? Ja, sie ist auf der Landkarte vermerkt. Ja, der Reporter im Radio brachte gerade eine Liveübertragung von einem Sonntagskonzert in Wismar. Und die Straße hat vorbeigeführt.

Aber gesehen habe ich nichts!!

Meier-loch

Ich habe neulich mich über das Internet schlau gemacht, und doch so einiges gelernt. Am lustigsten fand ich da das sogenannte Meier-loch; das ist einer rundförmige Region in Deutschland wo es keine Leute wohnen, die Meier/Mayer/Maier etc als Nachnamen haben.

Lest doch selber nach bei der Süddeutschen, auf Seite 9.

Alaska – the short trip

As promised, here is a short travelog from my trip to beautiful Southeast Alaska. For all of you who have not been there – go! I am not sure how long the nature will be “untouched” but it is absolutely amazing. Many have told me it looks a lot like Norway or even northern Sweden, and yes, if you are short of money and live in these regions, discover your own country. Otherwise: get out there.

I will not bore you by telling you all the fantastic things I saw and did and experienced but instead give you a short recap of the best:

When travelling through Alaska take the ferry! Just cruising through the archipelago and fjords was amazing, snowy mountains to the right and the left, eagles cruising above and the highlight always was when the captain made whale-announcements! I have now seen both humpbacks and orcas and lots of porpoises, just amazing. And of course, sleeping outside on the solarium deck of the ferry, cold but what a feeling to awake to a blue sky!

Climb every mountain you see, explore all forests and go kayaking. Alaska is for nature people and the ways for adventures are unlimited. Every trip offers something new; just remember to bring your bear spray and bear bells. I did not see any bears, but they where close.

Look out for porcupines (mostly called North American porcupines to distinguish them from the other, more common known ones)! Most amazing animals. They look like fluffy beavers and climb small trees and sleep up there. And once they are asleep they are not bothered by people walking just below them. Mountain goats are fun too, but not that much.

Meeting different people in the hostels, trade books and ideas and places. I did not realise how much I had missed backpacking until I did it again. Avoid the cruise ships, they do not make life fun.

Alaskans are further quite obsessed with Sarah Palin. Sure, they have elected her, but they do seem to talk about her a lot. Maybe not for other reasons than the fact that this has put Alaska back on the tourist map. It also seems like Alaska has not been hit that hard by the recession either, but still has the same structural problems as I discovered in Vancouver, regarding homelessness and other social and ethnic problems.

Anyhow, I am not sure I have been able to convince you all to go to Alaska, but you should. There is so much more to discover, and I will go back, at one point.

This is my last letter to you all, my trip has ended. But you will be right there again, on my next, right?!

Cheers,
Ulrike

Vancouver Style in Sweden

This will not be an entry concerning how my wonderful adventure in Alaska was; it will not tell you that I have seen the most amazing animals, mountains so huge they almost touched the sky and that I was very lucky with the weather and even got sunburned. No, this will be a short piece on how it feels to come back to something and experience the reversed culture shock. Alaska will have to wait a bit.

I have only been back in Sweden for three days. Three full days. And already my muscle memory jams into its well-known pattern: I can find the cups in the right cupboards on the first try, my parents computer responds as it should (but cannot change the language in this document, so every word has an irritating red underlining and is automatically corrected to the closest German word) and I still know how to bike. But then again, strange things are happening around me. My living space has grown. I am currently residing with my parents, who are out of town for the weekend. Suddenly I have access to an apartment nearly as big as the entire student housing I had on the UBC Campus, including the spaces which belonged to my three roomates. And being all alone I assumed I was free to choose beds and am now sprawled out at night in a huge kingsize bed. Now that is really a welcomed change.

Even stranger are things that I used to know but where I have adopted the Canadian Style instead. While shopping groceries today I unsuccessfully tried to grab the second handle of the shopping basket. Nope, there is only one. And that surprised me. What then in turn surprised me even more. I did not see any hand sanitizer (or people with surgical masks). And no, which I was very grateful for, no sprinkler that kept the vegetables wet. Noone packed my groceries. Also, people seem in general more unfriendly, or maybe rather more desinterested in me. Even though I know that no Canadian probably honest would like to know how I am when I approach a store and a mailperson, the Swedish seemed just a bit too concentrated on themselves and their doing.

Also, I am clearly damaged by my last job, where I was working in the deli serving customers. I looked to my left and saw the premade sandwiches and upon a closer inspection could state that they did not serve anything I have not made (but did not have the choice of turkey or any meat-and-cranberry mix). Then I looked right and automatically registered that the cheese display was not full and not in order and had to resist the immidiate urge to actually organize it. I guess I have to apply for a job in this store, I seem to be able to pull it off with honours.

The total freedom is equally weird. I suddenly have unlimited access to a phone (and I do not have to pay for it), I can access the internet when and how I want (at least once I had decided to wake my brother to receive confirmation that yes, the wireless network was on, and in addition had woken my parents via phone to learn the password) and there is noone who can demand me to go to bed early (except the time difference which does encourage me to go to bed early unless I would like to wake up with dinner or a keyboard pattern on my face).

I will enjoy this phase while it lasts. My summer is almost planned now and even if it includes family and friends, there is work to do and to find. The quite relaxed days in Vancouver, and the even more careless days in Alaska, are definitely over. And even if I enjoy the sunny days in Sweden, I already know that I will miss Vancouver for a long long time.

675-Jahr-Feier von Sieversdorf

This will be a post in German. In case anyone is interested in the 675 anniversary of the hometown of my grandparents, just leave a comment and I will get back to you.

Vom 8. bis 14. Juni 2009 feiert Sieversdorf ihre 675-Jahr-Feier, aus Anlass der urkundlichen Ersterwähnung im Jahre 1334. Dies ist ganz schön beeindruckend, besonders wenn man gerade aus Kanada wiederkommt, wo es keine modernen Siedlungen gibt die älter als 150 Jahre sind. Das Festkommmitee in Sieversdorf hat sich ein gutes Program ausgedacht und es gibt viele verschieden Programpunkte für alle vorstellbaren Altersgruppen und Interessenten. Hoffentlich, schaffe ich es den Vortrag am Mittwoch über die Kämpfe in Deutsch-Südwest-Afrika 1906 zu hören.

Es scheint ob alle wrklich in der Feier irgendwie mit einbegriffen sind, was mich auch sehr beeindruckt. Entweder durch Vorbereitungen oder über verschiedene Vereine. Ich werde mich freuen, die Feier zu besuchen, denn ich denke es wird einfach toll werden!

Prince Rupert

Dear all,

while waiting for the clock to turn 1am – budget travellers do not spend their hardearned money on a second partially useless hotellroom – when the cab will pick us up in order to go to the ferry, I will give you the latest news on my trip.

It all started out really well: panicky packing & crazy cooking. With lots of food and a huge packback we caught the bus going north from Vancouver to Prince George (12 hours) and from there to Prince Rupert (another 12 hours). Beautiful scenery, which of course is not unexpected since it all lokks like Sweden, just much much bigger (and for those living in the southern parts of Sweden: way more mountains with snow on top), small canadian towns on the way and a variety of other bus passengers. In all, it was a successful trip.

Until we reached Prince Rupert. When the cab pulled over at the ferry terminal we were met by closed gates. Really closed, including a chain and a lock. Eh… So our nice cab driver (Karl-Heinz originally from Wiesbaden, the bonding started straigt of from there) called his old school friend Murray, who was now manager of the terminal. And got the message that the ferry was postponed due to rock slides and icebergs. But it was on its way, it would leave at noon two days later. Ok, the extra days in Prince Rupert were spent hiking and strolling around town. Lots of eagles, I have learned to recognize skunk cabbage and false azalea, two plants that grow in the whole region.

The town itself consists of 11 000 people, mostly native fom the Tlingit or Haida clan, some Hindi and the rest Canadians (whatever that might mean in terms of origin). This has some tremendous effect on the town: there are in all 18 different churches. Walking from our inn downtown we passed the Latter Day Christ, the Pentecoastal, Mason Hall, S:t Paul Lutheran, Sikh temple, and the Kingdom Hall (and City Hall, which to some might be a religion). The question arising from all these different churches is not how they all came here, but what is the religion teching in their schools like? Given the fact that the Berlin commune in Germany recently voted not to introduce religion as a subject for students but to stick to ethics, I would find it really interesting to see how teachers here would deal with the various active religions.

Anyhow, after another delay, the ferry finally arrived (only about 56 hours late) and I am now in the beautiful state of Alaska. More on my adventures here will be written about later.

I hope that you are all fine!
Cheers,
Ulrike

Leaving Vancouver

Just as I settled down here, found a good job and spring arrived, it is time to leave. My last day at work is Tuesday next week, the last day in the apartment Wednesday next week. So it all kind of fitted all together. Except for the fact that I am not willing to go back to Sweden. Not quite yet. The compromise is a small vacation. It will definitely eat up all the money I made here, but it will be worth it. Few of you would think that I would choose a sunny location and just relax on the beach for three weeks, that is just not me. Instead I will grasp the once in a lifetime chance and go north to southeast Alaska (yeah, that is a weird sentence, but if you look at a map, it is correct in terms of directions). Technically, I will not go further north than Oslo (Norway) is located, but I still look forward to this experience!

Anyhow, leaving Vancouver also had me realize that I have not seen that much touristically speaking and not seen my friends nearly as much as I should have. Pressing everything into a week and timing it with their schedule has made me as busy as usual, but it all seems to work out. Yesterday I even took a chance and visited the Quayside Village, a co house in North Vancouver. It is really a nice place, different from my house in Lund, but the spirit of integration was the same.

Every time I move on to a different place, I mentally go through pros and cons with the place I am leaving. With Vancouver, this is not easily done. But there are some highlights:

Transit – it is great that these buses are so accessible for everyone; but I am still surprised every time a bus driver stops the vehicle and says “Just going to grab a coffee” in the middle of a tour.

My apartment – nice and cosy and very open for interaction with my housemates and the international setting; but otherwise nothing is functional. All the taps are dripping, no one but the Japanese guy and me takes out the trash, and people take showers at 2am even though they have just been home the whole day and had plenty of time.

Canadians – friendly and nice; until you cant answer their question in the deli and have to look for help. I have never been yelled at so much just because I did not know the answer and admitted this. Also, Canadians seem to have little understanding for us who do not love ice hockey.

Canada could be any country in Africa due to homelessness, the lack of hot water in the showers, the extreme weather conditions and the fact that bus never ever arrives on time. On the other hand, it is also obvious why Canada is a part of the industrialized world: there are buses, there is the possibility of a hot shower and it can snow in the most unexpected times.

With this said I am sure that I will one day come back here. But for now I will enjoy my last days and my well deserved vacation as well.

Cheers,
Ulrike