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It’s been four months now.

I’ve seen so much of this place. Made a lot of friends, a lot of memories, seen and done things I would never ever have imagined.

This is much like the story of every exchange student, I would imagine, but to me, it feels special.

As I find myself nearing the end of my stay here in Umeå, Sweden, I feel like a little reflection is in order:

Actually, I’ve spent more time on my various trips around Europe than here in Umeå. Just got back from a trip further north at 1am today. I’m writing this blog now rather than later since I’m leaving again for another trip around Europe in a couple of days. Tiredness is no longer a problem, just a fact of life.

So far I have visited a whole lot of Sweden, plus bits of other countries like Poland, Finland (twice), Norway (thrice), Russia, Italy, Switzerland, France and Monaco, with plans to see Spain and Germany as well as Italy and France again before I leave – in a month.

I’ve been roaming around with friends I made here, friends from just about every country in the world (in fact I’m convinced Sweden has more Germans than Swedes). I have a bunch of Swedish friends as well, of course, but they are not so interested in such touristy activities…

One thing that you notice when travelling with non-native English speakers is that many will call just about anywhere “home”. Instead of “let’s go back to the hotel where we are staying for one night”, it’s “let’s go home”. Of course I don’t feel at home in that hotel, it’s just the place we sleep. In this case I usually try to correct people (which some really appreciate, more than others).

There is one case, though, when I don’t feel that this is a mistake; When people say we are going “home” as we return to Umeå, then I am inclined to agree with them. I do feel like I’m coming home. This feels like home.

The snow; the cold; the sun that we never see, and the beautiful skies by which we know it is still there; this tiny little room; my curtains that I found in a dumpster – held open by a coathanger; riding my bike across the frozen lake; cooking my own food in my own shared kitchen; my housemates, about whom I know nothing, not even their names (as is the Swedish way); the times when I find myself thinking “$5 Australian, what’s that in crowns?”; the big dirty factory next door, whose smoky beacon guides me safely home from any place in town at any hour of night…

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All of it. It’s home.


SNOW!!!

 

The first snow

The view from my bedroom window this morning!

 

MY FIRST SNOW!

It is October 14, not even the middle of Autumn yet, and it’s snowing! Only in Sweden, folks. Only in the north too, they probably won’t see snow for weeks in Stockholm (which is 1000km south of my cheery little village here).

This is early snowfall even for north Sweden, no one expected it!

Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day, and I was wearing shorts the day before. In fact, some friends and I had planned a trip to Nordkapp in Norway tomorrow, which is the northern most point in Europe – as far north as one can possibly get by car (and foot for the last little bit). We expected nice weather and clear skies, even hoping to see Aurora Borealis while we were up there….

Then all of a sudden, things changed.

I woke up this morning to find my window ajar and thought rain was coming in. I ran to the window and closed it, but noticed that it was not rain at all, but snow! Everything outside was covered, and my mood switched from annoyance to giddy excitement in an instant. That was when I took this photo.

The windows to the common kitchen and covered balcony of my dorm were also open this morning, so there was a lot of cleaning to do….. But I was cleaning up snow! SNOW! It was awesome. I’m having snowball fights, catching the falling snow, sliding around in it (it’s so much slipperier than I expected). Oh, and the shoes I bought SPECIFICALLY for the winter? Drenched.

I have been to perisher in mid-winter, and there is more snow here ON THE VERY FIRST DAY! (okay, so this is not really my first snow, but snow in Australia doesn’t count, it cannot hope to compare to this)

So, we’re still going on the trip to Nordkapp, but it will be an entirely different experience now. My friends here are all complaining that the roads will be so slippery, while I sit giggling in anticipation.

SNOW!


The old and the new

Tower and neon sign

The old and the new

For me, the most interesting thing in coming to Europe was the sheer age of the places. On the way to Sweden I travelled through Krakow, Poland, a city with cobblestone streets, marketplaces, a castle and lots of ancient-looking statues. The paths and streets were probably older than any in Australia, possibly built before our country was even colonised. They also looked like they had not been maintained for this same length of time.

I have some interesting photos showing the age of that city.  This is not a photo of Krakow, though, since I have seen the same thing here in Umeå, but with an even more interesting twist:

For centuries, Umeå was a fairly small town in the sparsely populated north of Sweden. It was only in the past 50 years that it was strategically built up into a bigger city around this University where I am exchanging. The centre of town is thus filled with many delightful juxtapositions of old and new architecture as well as culture. This photo is showing a restaurant with a big spinning neon sign, which is built amongst several medieval-looking buildings like the one seen in the background.

There was an even bigger shock, though, regarding the intermixing of old and new; This came when I was admiring the large cathedral-like stone building in the centre of town. It had huge wooden doors and arched windows, pointed towers at the corners and a big clock tower in the middle. I asked a local what this building was: the church? Town hall? Nope, it’s a nightclub.