Sweden never stops amazing me with the beauty of its nature; I’ve already said it once and again and again. Add that to the very convenient Allemansrätten (a law that allows you to camp almost anywhere), sprinkle a long weekend in the middle of it, and there you go: the idea to go hiking for the first time was born!
Me being an absolute beginner made things interesting on a few counts: First of all, we had to decide on a path that was attractive but not too long. Pilgrimsleden came to be the chosen one, a 56 km trail that circles around a sizable portion of small lakes. The trail also happened to be close to Vänern, the largest lake in Sweden and third largest in Europe. Then came the matter of equipment: I already had some reliable shoes, but none of the things that would allow me to sleep in the wilderness. Since I knew that your loyal student ambassador Raghu had also camped for the first time in Sweden, I took his kindness and borrowed a sleeping bag and mat from him.
The adventure was awfully fun, I was taught the details of how to make a fire, participated in the momentary panic that comes with losing sight of the track, gained a few scratches here and there, but only one fall – which makes me quite proud. What I found surprising is that even if everything looks similar on the map (lake, rock, forest, rock, forest, lake), once you were actually walking you could see how much the landscapes varied along the trail. We came across high points watching over hundreds of pines, forests that were very thick and therefore very dark, long lakes with pristine water, small muddy ones, villages, streams, and sadly, many areas where forestry had gotten rid of a big amount of trees.
My final observation is that, presumably due to hunger and fatigue, during this trip I had the most delicious apple of my life. I figured that it was all a perfect balance between hard work and small pleasures.
The trip was abruptly ended by the realization that the nights were too cold for the kind of equipment we had. Nonetheless I would repeat the experience, of course with a little bit more preparation. If you get the chance, definitely try to make your own hiking trip in Sweden!
All pictures by P. Cegielski
Over the last few days I have been unjustly woken up by that bright character that managed to scape Gothenburg for most of winter: you see, it happens that around here there is not such a thing as constant sunlight hours. Over winter it can be that the sun hasn’t risen by the time you go to school, and is already down by the time you come back home. Now that both of our feet are into spring, sunlight hours keep extending and extending; and these days sunrise is happening around 5 in the morning while the sun is still somewhere in the sky by 9 pm.
When you have such a dark winter as here, it is almost mandatory that by the end of it you’ll be desperately craving some of that heavenly warmth. And as much as I did, it is still disorienting for me to go from total darkness to total brightness in such a short time. When it’s spring or summer I always end up going to bed very late because, in my country, the latest you would have sunset is around 7 pm. So independently of when it gets dark here in Sweden (be it 4 pm or 11 pm), my body will assume that it’s 8 pm. And then in the morning, being woken up by the sun in my face at such early hours is, well… let’s say unpleasant.
So in my second spring/almost-summer here, I continue to develop my little seasonal coping techniques. My windows have integrated blinds but it has become time to put up the curtains as well, since the closed blinds are no longer enough to mask that early sun. And in the evening, if I’m home I delude myself by closing the blinds by 8 pm. That way my body thinks it’s dark out there, and can achieve a semblance of orderly sleep. All of this daylight musings have led me to conclude that maybe one of the reasons that Sweden strives to be lagom is to have some moderation in something… because let me tell you, there is nothing moderate about the seasons here!
Last week I got the opportunity to visit Holland, luckily my trip was during the same time as Holland would celebrate the Kings day and also the tulip gardens would be in full blossom. So understandably there was a lot to see and explore and thus began my quest.
Amsterdam despite being famous for many other reasons, is also famous for being the city of canals. Owing to this fact the city has a unique layout and feel to it; a rather pleasant mixture of modern infrastructure and lifestyle merged with old appearance and facades.
In Amsterdam we got to discovered a rather unheard but fascinating place; museum of florescent art. A couple had collected natural samples, while travelling to different parts of the world, of rocks that glow under UV light. They had also set up some artificial florescent structures and narrated the rather intriguing history about the use of florescent materials over the years.
The next aim was to bike to Keukenhof to see the mesmerizing tulip fields and the flower garden there. It is open only 8 weeks a year and has around 800,000 visitors during that time. We biked around and hour to reach Keukenhof and instantly realised it was worth the effort. This years theme was Van Gough, so there were exhibitions depicting his work and also a small area where his portrait was made out of flowers.
The last leg of the trip was experiencing the Kings day celebrations. The entire city comes to a still and the roads get deluged with people, music and festive activities. A wave of orange color swept the city as there were celebrations, laughs and joy all around.
The first glimpse of Gothenburg I ever caught was in a promotional video, which I happened to see during my application process way back in early 2013. And the city simply floored me then, I fell in love as I was landing, and I’m still happily (whispers) away from my home – Bangalore. This could be because I have been a horrible geography student, who did not quite know any natural features to look forward to in the city, and the only thing that stuck to my head during my European history lessons was Renaissance! Further, the movies of Luis Buñuel and the Swedish genius film maker Ingmar Bergman I had watched, only strengthened my stereotyping of Europe, to be some sort of a grand canvas for creative art and human expression.
When I arrived in Gothenburg – No, I was not a bit disappointed. Gothenburg still matches my mental image of a culturally rich, European city image. Now, after 1.5 years here and having experienced the culture in terms of people, architecture, music performances, theatre and art galleries, one lacuna that had remained and had not completed my experience as a Gothenburger was of not having savoured an opera performance, with a live orchestra playing along. I have seen the Gothenburg symphony orchestra play, but it was in an open park and on a rainy day. I won’t even start complaining about the acoustics.
This being the state, a colleague in my thesis room and I just randomly were talking of operas, and decided to check what the Gothenburg Opera House had in store for us. We have now seen an opera, and a two part musical, already, and are preparing for the third show later this week. Meaning we found a jolly good deal. The Opera house, considerately offers student packages with heavy discount. It varies from season to season, and we are easily paying less than half the actual prices of the tickets as part of this package. Even if not the package, there is normally youth and student discount of 25% on most shows. If you are looking for many, but semi-bourgeoisie experience at the Opera house, opt for the student package. For popular shows, the seating is not the best, but the ambience and the performance usually compensate. On the other hand, if you are looking for the wholesome experience, that I attribute as the full bourgeoisie experience, then you can opt to purchase the normal tickets (with student discount), for a show you would REALLY want to watch, and it will be worth every krona you pay!
I will not talk about the shows themselves here in detail. Maybe will write a deeper post about it on my personal blog. But to give you an overview here’s a quote from the art director of the Gothenburg Opera Dance company, where she, Adolphe Binder, encapsulates the experience they want to immerse their audiences in: ”We must examine our areas of discomfort (in the performances). Through this our audiences become ‘partners in crime’, rather than simply consumers”.
Experiencing live music is still one of those joys that makes the analog world real, amidst the digital chaos we live in. Don’t miss a chance to live it.
Hillary Mutungi is currently pursuing his Masters studies at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. Before coming to Sweden, Hillary worked for fbwgroup, one of the European Engineering Consulting firm with bases in UK, Netherlands, and Africa. This week I had an interview with him at Campus to find out why he decided to come to Sweden and particularly Chalmers for his Master’s studies. I also had a chance to ask him his experiences since arriving at Chalmers and his memorable moments so far at the University. Below is what he told me.
Introduce yourself and what are you studying at Chalmers?
My name is Hillary Mutungi from Uganda. I am 27 years old and currently studying a master’s programme in Structural Engineering and Building Technology at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Football is one of my hobbies.
Of all places, what was your key formula for choosing Sweden and particularly Chalmers?
Sweden has a lot of reputation for its contribution to the world’s technology and research, and this caught my attention first. I also admired the confidence with which my colleagues spoke about Sweden’s education system. Of all Universities in Europe, Chalmers’ well-assembled programme schedule and content attracted me most. I couldn’t help but chose it over the others. I admit that it was never about the eventual city of Gothenburg that most of my colleagues keep praising. It was all about my education and life at Chalmers University; it’s programme content and how well I believe the University suited my future ambitions.
Now that you are here, do you feel you made the right choice coming to Chalmers?
I feel more excited and satisfied at Chalmers. The program is offering me more than what I expected, and I feel each day at Chalmers is a fresh spark in my future. A student-friendly school, with every aspect designed to enhance learning and making friends, all in one.
What has been your best moment since arriving here?
My best moment so far at Chalmers is when the undergraduate students from the Architecture, Civil and Environmental Departments presented their bridge competition. The young ambitious students challenged my guts with their creativity and precision. That day, I remember saying to myself, I am proud to be at Chalmers.
What is your next plan after studies at Chalmers?
I plan to pursue a Ph.D. relevant to structural engineering. I also hope to play a pivotal role in my country’s developmental goals especially in the engineering sector, as God continues to fan the flames of my ambitions. The Swedish Institute has made it all possible for me to study comfortably at Chalmers, and forever I will be grateful.
If you were to meet someone planning to come and study at Chalmers, what would be your winning message to the candidate?
My message to anyone looking for a technological university to belong to should come to Chalmers. There is everything that suits your academic needs, and everything to compliment your learning no matter what program you choose to pursue
If you have ever crossed paths with me you might know that I’m into food: whether it comes to eating it, talking about it or (attempting) cooking it, you will have my full attention. So my fascination with trying dishes from different places is only a logical extension of such. Studying abroad has opened countless doors for this interest of mine, with discovering Swedish culture through food, eating new things in the countries I have visited while on vacation, and by the bond-strengthening method of making international friends cook for me.
So this time the turn was for Taiwanese food, which came in a format other than usual. I found out that NCTU Europe, a group of students with the mission of promoting exchange between Chalmers and the National Chiao Tung University, was organizing a snacks night. This meant that for only 30 crowns I would be taking my first delve into Taiwanese cuisine. So of course I couldn’t resist 🙂
During the evening we had presentations with recipes from all the 10 dishes that would be served, each one by the master chef who prepared it. Afterwards we proceeded to taste their creations. While I thought that the ingredients to most recipes where similar, I was surprised to taste the differences in them. Many of the dishes were meat based, but two that stuck out were rice balls filled with meat floating in a multi-ingredient soup, and what can be described as a yummy noodle omelet.
However, the absolute highlight was being reunited with my long lost love, the only item from Taiwan that I had actually tasted before: Boba tea. To make it short (and spare you of all my obsessive praise towards it), boba tea is tea with milk and chewy tapioca balls. It originated in Taiwan and has spread in popularity over the world. I used to have it often back in my island, but had never had one prepared by a citizen of its island of origin. And while delighting myself in its flavor, I discovered as a sample of Taiwanese humor that boba is actually slang for big breasts.
The most fun part of the night was sharing with students that were somehow related to Taiwan. There were people who were either born there, had been there to study or just took the jump to move there for no reason and being back to Sweden wanted to remember the good days. Listening to their stories was a great way to know more about the place. The whole thing ignited somewhat of a Taiwan craze in me: I have since been to an Asian supermarket to pick up some ingredients and have dedicated this week to perfecting homemade boba tea. And I heard that NCTU Europe organizes monthly events, so you can also join them to learn a little bit more about Taiwan! We will probably see each other there!
(All pictures credited to NCTU Europe)
It was another venture as we chose to take our networking programme to another angle. This time I and a few colleagues decided to add to our list one of the largest and oldest organisation in the world. Our destination this time was to the United Nations Office at Geneva. Our journey started on Monday March 23rd, 2015 with a bus trip to Copenhagen followed by a two-hour flight to Switzerland. We were sixteen in number blended with students from other parts of Sweden. We had to rest on the arrival day Monday. Tuesday, our first meeting kicked off with the Senior Legal Adviser, and United Nation Representative of the International Commission of Jurists.The discussions and questions featured United Nations programme on economic, social, cultural, and business rights. Our discussion also highlighted human rights issues in parts of Africa, Europe, and Asia. In the afternoon, we join the human rights session at Palais Wilson where we attended the 113th session of human rights council. The session was on Human right in Monaco. At 17:00 we decided to embark on the pre-planned networking events with law students from the Geneva Academy.
The next day, Wednesday morning we proceeded with a meeting at the UN offices with the President of Geneva for Human Rights Adrien-Claude Zoller, who is also in charge of Global Training. The meeting started at 9:00 -12:00 focusing on global politics and human rights. We then progressed in the afternoon to the Human Rights House Foundation where we discussed current global security, human rights, and the current political situation in Europe. It was a unique day as we tested our brains on global politics, world leadership, and current affairs.
On Thursday, we decided to have a general tour at United Nations offices. The tour started at 10:00am and lasted for one hour. Later we went to the association for the prevention of torture who were waiting for us. Our discussion with them featured torture prevention in society and various mitigation strategies.One discussant was a Swedish who was excited to see students from her country.
Friday morning was our returned date and by 9:00 we were already at Geneva airport ready for our flight back to Sweden via Copenhagen. It was an interesting experience blending human rights, global politics, law, engineering and above all creating a global network.
More photos from the trip