[This is the fifth in a series of stories of my Erasmus exchange semester in Sweden. This series will take you through my amazing time in that country and through the several shenanigans I went through. Read more here, here, here. and here.]
If you’ve read my previous posts about my time on exchange at Uppsala University, Sweden (which you really should’ve, if not, links above!) you’d have gleaned that studying formed a very small part of the entire course. I should, at a this point, clarify that I did complete all coursework as needed (30 credits) and got the top grade in 2 of 3 courses — the risk of not completing coursework meant a forfeiture of my scholarship so hells yes I made sure to do what I had to. That said, a lot of the studying was outside of class and that meant a lot of my days were actually free. Which was excellent because it gave me the means and the time to explore the city and what it had to offer.
Most folks on exchange try to maximise their time, especially when in Europe, by travelling, because it sounds cool to check off X number of countries and I’m sure it is also. While I don’t disagree with that, my specific agenda on exchange was to become a local and do as much as I could in the manner people my age there would do. I’d say I was fairly successful in this task! Read on to know the things I did because I had the good fortune of spending idle time in Sweden.
I did, as all kids do, have a cycle growing up, but wasn’t the most active kid on it. In fact, I actually forgot how to cycle at some point when growing up — yeah one half of “you never forget swimming or cycling” — and yet I did. Anyway, by the summer of 2014, I had probably last got onto a cycle in 2005 or so, at least willingly.
But Europe, being the environmentally and human friendly place it is, believes in the power of cycling as a means of proper transport. That naturally meant that I had to obtain a cycle in Uppsala and did also for some 300 kroner from some guy who’s saved as Jaime Cycle on my phone. I even had to replace the front tyre but it had a basket up front and I was delighted with the fact that I could ferry things around.
So, cycling happened everywhere and unlike India where we don’t have cycling lanes, Uppsala is full of them and I made the best use of this. I think I can count the number of bus and car rides on my fingers. I cycled that much! And it was fun! I cycled all over town, sometimes even in lanes where we weren’t allowed (daring, I know) and even into the suburbs where I spent many hours finding slopes I likes.
But as my luck would have it, this bike with its basket up front, was stolen. I was heartbroken. I didn’t want to spend more money on a bike, yet it was something I definitely couldn’t survive without. Thankfully, RB, a fellow Indian friend who lived there had a few old bikes, lent me one. Not exactly a downgrade, but let’s just say there was only one working brake and no lights (both of which are compulsory — I never fixed em. Lived outside of the law!).
Keeping it PG-13 there in the title but you know what I mean. As described in a prior post, student run pubs (read discount food and drink) were aplenty in this lovely city. It was our duty to help sustain local businesses isn’t it? I mean come on, gotta run the economy.
I should clarify here that we didn’t end up at pubs with the sole purpose to drink. We ended up participating in the different events they had there. Pub quizzes, pub crawls, dress-up nights and what not. Each time we’d find someone new and have a great time with them, spreading our terror one pub to another till we wearily cycled — yes cycled!- our way back home. But the night didn’t stop there, we’d invariably end up at some sort of afterparty and on the rare occasion an after-afterparty until we just had to sleep.
A night like this usually ended with a sloppily cooked meal of eggs, toast and butter because apparently high fat foods help reduce the chances of a hangover. Or not. I just really like eggs.
Home Box Office
As good things do come to an end, so did the student pubs. They closed by early December for the winter as most folks would return home and were to open only long after exchange folks like me were gone. Woe be us, how were we to entertain ourselves? It was now too cold to go about cycling so we had to find some alternate source of entertainment that kept us warm indoors.
I don’t remember who it was, but it was either TS or SB who suggested we get together and watch a movie. And more specifically, a movie that they knew would be rib tickling and would appeal to all our weird senses of humour. We got together at TS’ place since he had a desktop and monitor and made use of the high seas to get our movies and wow was this a great idea! I think the first movie we watched Pineapple Express, which isn’t a work of art, but watched together with the right crowd is just a barrel of laughs! As we planned each subsequent night, we spiced it up by bringing in different languages and our own ethanol as well. Some nights we’d even have a potluck dinner prior to the movie and it felt superbly homely, almost as if I were spending time with family.
In case it scratches your itch, these are some of the films we watched, in no particular order:
- The Room (do not google this, just please for the love of god watch it with your friends — go in blind)
- The Men Who Stare at Goats
- 4 Lions
- Iron Sky
- Manito’s Shoe
- The Interview
- The Dark Knight (as SB had never watched it)
These are absolutely amazing to watch in a group and as we all probably head into more lockdowns (thanks, Omicron!) again, do watch ‘em!
The Glögg Life
As Christmas approached, Sweden started showing colours apart from blacks, whites and greys bringing in with it some amount of cheer in the long, dark days that winter brought with it. Christmas also meant the arrival of our lord and saviour (okay, along with the big guy), Glögg. Now, being a mulled wine, glögg is an extremely easy to consume drink as it is sweet, has dried fruit in it (when heated) and is a perfect remedy for long winter nights.
One evening in November, the city officials had a fireworks show, which I think might have been to herald in winter or something similar. Post that, as we were heading back to our place, SB mentioned that he was going to pick up glögg at Ica. I didn’t know what it was and so asked him about it and in that instant SB’s eyes grew wide partly in shock and partly with the realisation that he could baptise a heathen. He took me along, bought a few bottles and told me to be at his kitchen post dinner that night. SJ and I went down after dinner and we were greeted by the sweet smell of warm cinnamon heavy in the air. As we settled down at the table, SB presented her and I two mugs with a slightly thick, red wine and said, “Skål!” As I took that first sip, it was like enlightenment overtook me. My mind opened up to the limitless possibilities inside it and I felt like I had ascended by bowing at the alter of the best drink ever. Alright, fine some hyperbole, but you get me. I loved it! And how. SJ, SB, TS and I made a full fledged ritual of making sure we had glögg on us at any given point so that if anyone even hinted that they were free in the evening, a glögg night was planned.
Soon, it became an understanding among us with each one sponsoring a bottle. Sometimes we went out to get fancier glöggs and other times we stuck with Ica fare. But all in all, it wasn’t so much the wine that I loved, it was the fact that four individuals from different backgrounds could come together in a totally different country, sit at a table for hours on end, talking about everything under the sun without an ounce of restraint. When I look back, I cherish those moments near the (metaphorical) hearth, recalling the warmth of the wine and the people I was with.
A sedentary life of glögg and movie watching does one little good and we were, thankfully, smart enough to sort of realise that. We did decide to do some walking about in order to stretch those legs and get some exercise in. This is in addition to walking allll the way to the grocery store and back! Such initiative.
Flogsta, our student ghetto, happened to be in a suburban part of the city which nestled us in some amazing woods that were not too far from us. One night, we all made a plan to explore some of them and see what the famed Scandinavian forests had in store — maybe some trolls and ogres eh! Thankfully, they weren’t too wild that they needed special knowledge to walk into and so we literally just got our jackets on and set off.
Forests get dark. And with darkness comes eeriness, especially with the silence. Me being me, I wanted ambient music along our walk and so I started playing an aptly titles song, Mourning Train, (music very typical of the region, in case you clicked on the link). It was nice! But my companions thought otherwise. Apparently it was “freaking them out” and “totally not appropriate” and “a recipe for sleeplessness” and so I was unfairly forced to shut it. All lies I tell you! Would’ve made for a fantastic experience.
We trampled along the forest and walked along paths made by other folks before us (not in the pioneering sense, but in the walked-the-dog-in-the-morning sense) and quite enjoyed the silence and stars above us. We had a little spot, that was probably someone’s farm, where there was a nice picnic bench where we took a rest and indulged in a little trespassing (tons of skirting with the law in this post, isn’t it?). But all in good fun, we were very careful not to upset anything there and moved out as soon as we got rested up.
One walk, however, resulted in us getting seriously lost because we had absolutely no clue on where we were or how we could get out. I do remember walking through a legitimate, planted field desperately trying to make sense of where we were until we finally found some tarmac and TS recognised it as a street leading to a place he’d played badminton. That walk, with our poor navigation skills, resulted in us having walked about 7–8km in the dark night and with a mild feeling of the creeps, what with the possibility of camping out in troll-land! We made it out, back to my kitchen and of course, rewarded ourselves with a big mug of — you guessed it — glögg!
In the semester I was there, I indulged in tons of other shenanigans, but these are the ones I remember most fondly and the ones that happened most frequently. Having set myself up in this manner, I did truly feel like a local, like someone who had lived a long time in Uppsala.