Author: followlowe

Frozen Feet, Happy Heart: An Arctic Thanksgiving

I yanked off my boots to feel my totally numb feet, breathing out enough heat to fog up a

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A nice reference: Gold=Copenhagen, Green=Stockholm, then Kiruna

bathroom mirror. After jumping in a near-frozen puddle to drag out an overturned dogsled, I went over 3 hours with barely any range of motion in my toes. The dog-sledding was exhilarating, and the feeling of taking on the elements is truly awesome. The scenery, wilderness, and experiencing the sheer power of nature made this my favorite trip of the semester. Such is life north of the Arctic Circle, where I spent Thanksgiving break exploring the wilderness of Kiruna, Sweden on DIS’s Arctic Excursion.

 

 

From Wednesday evening through Sunday, some friends of mine from Stockholm met up with other students from DIS Copenhagen to spend the holiday break in the Arctic. I had been looking forward to this trip since the fall, and I was so excited to see Kiruna! From the moment we got off the plane and drove to the cabins, I was mesmerized:

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Kiruna is a born-and-bread mining town (more in a moment), but its natural beauty remains impeccable. Our week coincided with winter storm Elva, turning our secluded cabins and surrounding wilderness into a real winter wonderland. With two feet of snow on everything we could see, we were treated to a perfect Arctic experience. We took advantage of the daylight (1:30pm sunsets sneak up on you fast) with outdoor activities ranging from snowmobiling and snowshoeing to visiting an indigenous village to learn about the Sami. All our lunches were regional ingredients cooked directly on a campfire and accompanied by warm drinks like coffee and hot lingonberry juice. As fellow outdoor enthusiasts can attest, there’s nothing quite like a blazing fire and hot food after a day of exerting yourself against the elements. And the hearty meals of savory soups, reindeer meat, and melted cheese sandwiches always satisfied.

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After our pit-stops to refuel and defrost, the second half of our days bled into the twilight hours and incredible sunsets. I couldn’t take my eyes off the horizon, trying to take in as much of the beauty as I could. By the time we reached the van back to our cabins, the sky was pitch black. But between lunch and the darkness, we were treated to a full array of colors playing across the open sky. Though winter storm Elva doused our hopes for the northern lights, our nightly sunsets were some of the most incredible I had ever seen. And watching them from a dogsled, as we did on our final day, was a surreal and magical experience. I can’t stress enough how invigorating and fulfilling it is to face nature with just the supplies you can carry. Your primal instincts kick in, and it ignites emotions deep within you while shifting your perspective and making you appreciate simple pleasures. I may be a food-loving New Yorker, but nothing made me happier than a hot-pocket-like sandwich and dry socks over a crackling fire.

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The impenetrable snow blanket blotted out all sound, making the stillness of our barren landscape even more atmospheric. The city only exists because of a massive iron mine which is encroaching on Kiruna proper, forcing the city to physically move. We got to tour the mine, venturing over 400 meters beneath the mountain, but though impressive in its own right I enjoyed our visit to a Sami village much more. Here we learned about Sami culture, fed reindeer, and ate lunch in a tent while listening to the stories and legends of a young Sami woman. It was such a rich experience to learn firsthand from people with such a different lifestyle, and I was taken in by the simplicity and sincerity of the people we met. And of course, getting to pet and feed reindeer from inside their enclosure was really cool!

 

If I had to pick, my favorite activity was the dog-sledding (narrowly beating out others like outdoor hot tubs, saunas, and Sami village). We loaded our sleds at a massive base camp with over 100 dogs, all barking to announce our arrival. They were so excited to hitch up to our sleds and lead us across the tundra, (only the guide has reins, our dogs just followed the sled in-front of them. To stand behind the sled and fly through the snowy trees, bursting out of the woods to incredible white plains was indescribable. I bonded with my team, (they went so fast I had to ride the brake most of the way!) and gave them well deserved hugs and attention during our lunch stop. I did get some excitement when the sled in-front of me tipped over, as I ran into the thigh-deep puddle to drag it out and stop the dogs from taking off before my friend got back on. Though cold, it just added to the experience of having to survive in the harsh climate, and made the campfire at lunch all the more enjoyable.

 

There was so much more to this trip than I can share in one post, but I could go on and on about the people we met, activities we did, and sights we saw. It was a wonderful way to experience life above the Arctic circle, and not seeing the northern lights just gives me a reason to come back. As much as I love outdoor adventures, simple lifestyles, and the beauty of the wilderness I often get too caught up in life to experience it firsthand. This trip shifted my perspectives, and having it overlap with Thanksgiving was a sweet coincidence. My time in Kiruna reminded me to appreciate the little things, having what I have, and being able to travel and meet new people. And so I hope everyone had as terrific of a Thanksgiving as I had, and can remember to be grateful for what they have, what they’ve done, and who they get to be with. And lastly, try to challenge yourself to reignite those deep, primal motivators, whatever yours may be. I crave the exhilaration of pitting myself against the elements, physically and mentally. Chase after what motivates you to your core and keeps you coming back, because that’s what its all about.

-Michael

Next Week:

Stockholm’s museums and a weekend trip to Oslo with family!

Food Pic:

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Vegans avert your eyes: That’s reindeer heart. Needless to say I couldn’t say no

I takes someone brave of “heart” to try this Arctic delicacy: Reindeer heart (the little chunks in the tupperware). Officially the most adventurous thing I’ve eaten, (topping whale in Oslo, Norway) I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. It tasted like a mix of beets and under-cooked red meat, and though I liked it I can’t say I’d go back for seconds. My bite-size piece was just enough, but I have to say I truly admire how people in Kiruna use the whole reindeer. From antler jewelry and fur rugs to organ meat and glue, its refreshing to see such respect for an animal and such a devotion to ensuring none of it goes to waste. I’ll toast to that with some hot lingonberry juice!

 

 

Here are more photos I couldn’t squeeze in! Check out my gallery to read the captions, they’re informative and rather clever if I say so myself.

First Parisian Quest and Last Finance Test

We’re winding down the semester, and its time to squeeze in as many activities as I can into my last three weeks. Last week marked my final non-Scandinavia trip (Paris) and my last Core Class (Public Finance). Don’t get me wrong- I’m glad the final exam is behind me- but we really bonded as a group and I’ll miss our classes together. And the trip to Paris was wonderful, and I loved spending it with good friends in an amazing city.

Weekend in Paris

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I stayed with one of my friends from Tulane, Daniel, and his roommates (they have a view of the Eiffel Tower!). We explored some local bars, boulangeries, and the Eiffel Tower in our first day before heading to the Louvre. Its the largest, most architecturally impressive museum I’ve ever seen, and we joined the hundreds of other visitors on a bee-line for the Mona Lisa. The Louvre caters to people like us, with signs pointing directly to Da Vinci’s masterpiece (one of his paintings just sold for $450Mn! It’s a jaw-dropping museum, impossible to do in a day, but we did our best to find the must-sees. Sometimes the best part was admiring the building itself, its stunning construction is amplified by incredible murals on the ceilings. And the best part- Its free for students!

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After the museum we walked through Paris to the Place du Terte. This picturesque square in the Montmarte Quarter is a haven for artists, surrounded by quaint shops and restaurants facing the square. It also has some fascinating history, and may be the origin of the word “bistro”. We stopped for a meal (sitting outside on the same side of the table, facing the sidewalk in the traditional French style). The food is exactly as good as I had hoped, and we topped it off with a sweet crepe before meandering through the heart of the city. We got the the Arc de Triomph in time to see the Eiffel Tower’s hourly light show, and I scaled the spiral stairs to the top of the Arc (also free!) for a mesmerizing view.

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Daniel and I met up with another Tulane friend, Madigan, on Sunday for a falafel lunch and walk through one of Paris’ oldest outdoor markets. We enjoyed a coffee in a nice cafe before I made my way to the airport. Though it was just a weekend, it was packed with sights and activities, and I enjoyed every minute. It really is a spectacular city, there’s just so much to do, see, and eat here. And catching up with friends made it even better.

 

Public Finance Core Course

After the weekend of exploring Paris, I came back to Stockholm for my last Public Finance class and final exam.  We still have two weeks of elective classes at DIS, but all core courses have finished. Our Public Finance class really bonded this semester, and I made some great friendships. I’ll still see them at school and in my other classes, but it is a little bittersweet to have our last class all together. However, we did set up a nice group dinner and outing in our last week to say final goodbyes and have a great send-off.

With my time in Stockholm winding down and Thanksgiving approaching (though only for the United States) its a fitting time to reflect on my semester. I’ve been lucky to have incredible travel and cultural experiences and unique learning opportunities in and outside the classroom.  I’ve met some wonderful people I hope to remain friends with, and discovered so much about life in Stockholm and myself. I’ve gotten the semester I was hoping for and more with DIS in Stockholm, and I truly feel I’ve gotten a full and honest experience. Though I’m leaving for Madrid in three weeks, I can honestly say I made a great choice coming here. So as my friends and family in the U.S. celebrate Thanksgiving and I venture up to the Arctic Circle (more on that later!) I want to take time to think about what I’m grateful for most: The opportunities I’ve been given to learn about myself and the world, and the people and memories along the way.

-Thank you for following my journey, and happy Thanksgiving for those back home

Michael

 

Next Week: 

I have a short week of classes and will be spending my final travel break in Kiruna, Sweden (north of the Arctic Circle). Fun fact: The city is moving! It’ll be a week full of dog-sledding, snowmobiles, traditional food, saunas, and the Aurora Borealis. I’m super excited about this week and can’t wait to share it when I get back!

Food Pic: 

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A French classic: Beef Bourguignon with warm baguette slices on a sidewalk cafe

Paris left me tons of options, but my first meal was a wonderful experience from start to finish. Daniel and I sat outside at a bistro for the early dinner, facing the Place du Terte. I had Beef Bourguignon, a hearty stew hailing from the Burgundy region of France. It was flavorful, tender, and delicious. With warm bread for the rich sauce and a lovely atmosphere observing the artists square with a great friend, this was a meal I won’t forget. What they say about the food in Paris is 100% true- I was never disappointed and mostly blown away- so come hungry!

Cousins in Scandinavia! Travel Break 2

Nothing brightens up 3:30pm sunsets quite like a week of travelling Europe and seeing family again. My travel break last week matched up with my cousin and her husband’s trip from Seattle to Scandinavia, a wonderful coincidence. DIS has two weeks (!) reserved for travelling, one for Core Course trips and the other for personal trips. I kicked off my week by showing my family around Stockholm, then ventured to Prague and Budapest before reuniting with my family in Copenhagen.

Stockholm: 

After classes on Friday, my roommate and I met up with my cousin’s husband at Aifur, a true-to-form Viking bar, heavily researched to be as historically accurate as possible. It’s  a wonderful and lively experience, and afterwards we ventured to Sjätte tunnan, another medieval-age bar in Gamla Stan. It was wonderful to reconnect with family, and after another day of exploring the city with a few pub stops, I flew out to Prague.

 

Prague:

I had an incredible time here, its up there with Amsterdam as my favorite European city so far. The architecture is wonderful, from the gorgeous castles and museums to the regular houses and shops on the street.

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 My friends and I went to a cool music club and had local fare at a low-key, yet delicious, pub with the cousin of another DIS student who lives in the city. The city is brimming with energy, and the cheap prices (beers are $1.25!) meant we could soak it all in. The old town square is beautiful, with tasty food stands, and the whole city is an eclectic mix of new and old businesses and styles, with amazing sights in every direction. I could say so much more about Prague, but since I’m spending Christmas here with my family I’ll save more details for a holiday post. In the meantime, I’ve got plenty of pictures to share:

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Budapest:

I got my first (of many more) overnight train experience, starting the nearly nine hour journey from Prague at midnight. Even without a sleeping car, I was tired out from exploring Prague on foot and got a great night of sleep while saving on a hostel.  I can’t recommend trains enough- No security line, central locations, cheap tickets, and no need to arrive more than 15 minutes early. The whole overnight trip worked out great, and I will definitely be making use of more night trains next semester in Madrid.

As for Budapest itself, I had a lovely weekend and feel I got a very complete experience. From Buda Castle and the parliament building to Margaret Island and the famous thermal baths, there was plenty to do in my two days here.

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Budapest is also known for its “ruin pubs” nondescript bars in run-down buildings enclosing a vibrant nightlife scene. I went to the original, Szimpla Kert, and was absolutely amazed. An amalgamation of bar counters, secluded rooms, grunge art, and festive lights, this really was a jaw-dropping place. And right next door, KARAVÁN, a grouping of street food vendors on a pedestrian walkway. The perfect end to a night at the ruin pub! Food truck groupings like KARAVÁN rank with street markets as some of my favorite things to try when travelling, and this pairing made for a great night.

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 Copenhagen: 

I ended my week of travel back in Copenhagen with my visiting cousins from Seattle and my cousin from Argentina who lives here. We explored the city on foot and bike, and all got dinner together at Copenhagen Street Food on Paper Island. With ample stops for pastries and beers (getting into the holiday spirit with several local Christmas-themed beers!), we ventured through Christiana, the royal palace, and the Glypotek art museum. Seeing family on both sides was a wonderful way to end my travel week, and I had a blast reconnecting with them and catching up.

It was a full week of adventures, with friends and family, and I’m so glad to have gotten the opportunity to roam around Europe. I’ve met some great people here and an having unmatched experiences in some wonderful places, but it was so nice to reconnect with family. There’s really nothing like spending time with people you’re really close with, and I’m very much looking forward to my family coming to visit for the holidays. With all the travelling I’ve been doing its hard to believe there’s only 5 weeks left in the semester, but I’ll sure make the most of them.

Next Week:

I let my friends from Tulane show me around Paris, and recap my then-completed Public Finance Core Course.

Food Pic: 

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Lángos! Traditional Hungarian deep-fried dough with cheese and sour cream

So many choices! (Trdelnik in Prague, Smørrebrød in Copenhagen, and Swedish meatballs in Stockholm) But the winner comes from Budapest- Lángos. Traditional street fare, its quickly fried dough smothered in sour cream, freshly grated cheese, and a hearty dose of garlic. Crispy, chewy, savory- all topped with melting cheese! Truthfully, I’ve had this once before at a longstanding pizzeria near my grandmother’s house in California with Hungarian roots, but that was nearly 10 years ago. This version was phenomenal. Its not technically a part of a balanced breakfast, but its a must-have in Budapest. Best of all, thanks to a favorable exchange rate in Hungary, this filling meal set me back just $1.75 USD.

Picnics and Dynamite: Outdoor LLC Trips

After my Study Tour adventures with the Global Economics program, I’m back in Stockholm to share the last two Outdoor LLC trips: Monteliusvägen and Alfred Nobel’s dynamite factory (!).

Monteliusvägen: 

A beautiful hilltop and picnic area overlooking the Riddarfjärden (technically a bay) and the Gamla Stan and Kungsholmen neighborhoods. We walked 30 minutes through Gamla Stan, stopping along the water to catch the 5:30pm sunset.

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Crazy to think these pictures are only 15 minutes apart! The nice part of early sunsets is getting to see them as classes let out (for now). Up on the picnic hill we had stunning views as the sky darkened before our eyes.

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We wrapped up our evening with a group dinner at a local vegetarian buffet near our trip leader’s old house. Though I’m transitioning to eating lower on the food chain, this was a new experience as I’ve never been to a wholly vegetarian restaurant. Our 11 person group filled the cozy restaurant, and the delicious food filled us to contentment. We were never more than 5 minutes from a road, a testament to how easy it is to find natural beauty in this city.

 

Alfred Nobel’s Dynamite Factory:

I bet you didn’t know Nobel invented the detonator and was a dynamite tycoon (neither did I). The Swedish inventor’s factory ruins lie in Vinterviken, a park just a few subway stops and a quick hike from the central rail-station. We crossed a beautiful lake to enter the park, and were met with another gorgeous water-view outside the factory.

Though it looks pristine, the runoff from Nobel’s dynamite factory makes the lake un-swimmable (good thing our leader told us!). But for views, the lake is another sterling example of how beautiful Stockholm is, no matter the weather. Winter may be coming (no, I don’t watch Game of Thrones), but then so is a whole new set of beauty, and hopefully snow!

The Outdoor LLC is a huge reason why I’m enjoying this semester, as it connects me to a great group of people who also enjoy exploring our city’s natural spaces. These were shorter trips, just subways away from DIS, but they reveal just how much there is to see within the city limits. We don’t need to go far for adventures and green spaces, and while Stockholm is an exemplary city, I don’t think anyone needs to go very far to see natural beauty in some form.

-Keep exploring,

Michael

Next Week: I’ll be away for my travel week, after spending the weekend with my cousin when she visits Stockholm. My itinerary is Prague and Budapest, so stay tuned for another travel post!

 

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Beaver snacks

Food Pic: Since I didn’t get a picture of our vegetarian buffet after our picnic, I’ll substitute some beaver food- trees! In the Vinterviken woods outside Nobel’s dynamite factory, a beaver really chowed down on this tree. I’ve seen beaver handiwork before, and it amazes me every time.

 

(Human) Food Pic:

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Endless Gruyere!

If you know me you know I love cheese, so imagine how I felt in Gruyere, Switzerland last weekend! The home of one of my favorite cheeses, (plus a chocolate factory, serene lake, and the Alps) Gruyere’s cheese factory was a real wonderland. Gruyere’s cows produce 48 wheels per day, fueled by their shocking diet of 100kg of grass and local flowers. The entire countryside beyond the town was full of small farms and beautiful cows. Our train ride from Geneva to Gruyere along Lake Geneva was mesmerizing, as we saw the sunrise over the Alps (hit me up for pictures!). We saw the cheese-making process in action during our visit, and saw firsthand just how much goes into each wheel. Needless to say the free samples were incredible!