Monthly Archives: August 2010

Sweden in a nutshell

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I thought, if I can successfully write a recap of two weeks of blogging, I can surely successfully list the things I love/hate most about Sweden, two weeks into this little project of mine?

  • I love … free coffee. Free coffee, I’m telling you! Well, at the lab at least, but anyway… Nothing helps to recover from (or prepare for) a failed experiment as does a cup of coffee. At our lab, there is a HUGE, and – more importantly – cosy coffee room with two coffee machines and all the sugar, milk, cups, spoons, … you could ever need. Heaven surely must come close to this…
    However, I hate … the lack of Freddy. Freddy was the guy in my previous lab who filled pipet tip boxes, did the dishes (you cannot believe how much dirty glassware one scientist can produce in a day), did the ordering, made media, autoclaved everything – in short, did all those lousy, dreadful things a scientist has to waste his/her time on. There is no Freddy in Sweden :(.
  • This is maybe not the best example... but at least I could afford it.

    I love … the shops! I am not talking clothes shops (obviously) – if you thought IKEA had neat ideas, think again. I am absolutely loving to stroll around interior decoration shops and discover all the genius little things on display. Buying them would ruin my budget, but one can dream, at least…
    I hate … their opening hours. Granted, the supermarket is open till 10pm every day, but on Saturday you will not find any shop open after 4 or even 3pm. I mean, how can you enjoy a relaxing day of shopping when you only have 5 hours? Honestly?
  • I love … cycling. And everybody cycles here! There are loads of parking places for bikes, separate tracks along the road, … There is only little traffic but it is well organized – you know how as a pedestrian you have these buttons to speed the green light when crossing the street and it seems that it takes longer when pressing the button than if you’d have just waited? Not here! You press and … presto … cross along! b.r.i.l.l.i.a.n.t
    But I hate my bike. Or maybe that’s too strongly put. I don’t actually HATE it. But it squeeks. And it has a back pedal break. And my bell is broken. I can do something about the squeeking and the bell, but that damn break… .
  • I love … the gym. At €165 per year (for university employees, it’s around 200) including full access to the gym and all spinning/aerobic/workout/… classes, you have no excuse not to go (which probably is the point). I’ve been there for the first time today and it was a blast (though I’m stone dead now – after only 2 classes… how disappointing). The teachers are good, the building and equipment are recent and modern, and while the majority of people are students, you see a good deal “older” people (grey hears included!) so I’m not really feeling out of place.

    I hate … that they don’t have dancing classes. Don’t get me wrong, I love a serious session of Aerobics, but I am completely hooked on “true” dance classes, where you take a song and work out a choreography over a couple of weeks, so that you really have time to make the dance your own. Most group session are “gympa”-based (defined as “All around workout in a group with focus on strength, cardio, and flexibility”) so the dance element is often missing, but even the Funk or Afro sessions are drop-in (understandably) so … not gonna happen. I keep on searching, though!

I love the purple trains … I miss UHT milk … I like the rabbits in the university grounds … I hate it that I don’t speak (or at least understand) Swedish … I love the many trees/green spaces in the city …

So all in all, the things I like about Sweden are at a slight advantage. Let’s see if they can keep this up ;).

35 life hacks

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Admittedly, I’m not particularly interested in hotel porn, but getting drinks cool in less then 3 minutes or getting the elevator to go straight to my floor sounds pretty useful to me! A full infographic covering these and other useful (and less useful) life hacks can be found at Geekologie.

Do you have anything to add to this list? Which do you find most useful?

It’s green and it lives on my window sill…

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They GROW!


I apologize for the poor quality picture – despite having 2 (TWO) camera’s with me on this trip, neither is working properly (although I should add that, even if they worked properly, I wouldn’t be able to post the pictures because I don’t have a SD card reader or a USB cable to connect them to the laptop directly) and thus this picture was taken with the webcam. But even so, I think it is clear my stuff is GROWING!

When I came to Sweden I took 3 bags with herb seeds (parsley, and… eh… well, 2 other kinds of herbs) and these three little pots which should grow forget-me-nots (?), sunflowers and 4-leaf clover, respectively : to not forget my home, to bring light during long winter nights and for luck. While the spices aren’t doing much (or at least it doesn’t show on the surface), barely a week after planting the little ones, they are sprouting and growing happily. I kinda expected the clover to do ok, but the other ones were supposed to be planted before mid-July, so I didn’t really expect miracles… but look, some earth, water, and patience, and before you know I’ll have to buy bigger pots to replant them :).

It is strange though, especially with the sunflower seeds since I actually like eating them (though they’re a lot of trouble, I admit) : you can buy them in the store, keep them in your closet for ages and they will stay there forever, ready to be eaten. But give them just a little bit of earth, some drops of water and look : they open up and sprout little white roots and little green leaves… It is marvellous to see. And in addition, they will brighten up my otherwise pale living room :).

The high and the low

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I’ve only started this blog recently, and I am fully aware that I cannot expect people to suddenly rush in and become faithful readers, with new subscribers every day. In addition to that, I am a huge supporter of “write for yourself”: as a blogger, you should write about stuff that YOU like, that YOU care about, that YOU find interesting. If other people happen to have the same likes and interests, and like the way you write about them, well, more power to you! (if there’s one phrase I learned in this blogging world… )

Now this blog was originally called into life to keep my friends and family posted on my life abroad. But just to get a hang of it, the feel, I started a few weeks early, and I experienced a freedom of writing, of reading, a whole world full of people who had the same ideas, had different ideas. And it is refreshing. I am the type of person who takes herself as the standard, and automatically presumes everyone else has the same ideas she has, draws the same conclusions from the same premises. And while I know (somewhere) this is not true (or there would be world peace and no more hunger), it is in a way confronting to “meet” people who are … different.

And it dawned on me. If I were to open this blog to my friends and family, it wouldn’t be the same blog anymore. Even though it was only 2 weeks old, even though I didn’t write anything strictly personal or that they weren’t allowed to know, I had it hard to share … this World.

Therefore I split my blog – this is my World, my free World, which I use to ventilate my ideas, to meet other people, to learn. The Other Blog is part of that world, the part where I move abroad to start a job, where I miss my friends. It is therefore also in my native language, to lower the boundary for those not fluent in English – it would not be fair to exclude them from my adventures here.

And it is funny that, while I feel my heart is here, in my World of Lies, the number of hits on The Other Blog is much, much higher. Maybe I have not been able to interest the visitors who came here out of curiosity after Jane’s blog’s first birthday present, maybe they follow through the blog surfer and don’t show up in the stats, maybe they just never bothered in the first place and only came to look out of boredom… But while I miss them, while I miss the spike on my blog stats (it was like being Freshly Pressed in lilliputterland!), I tell myself it doesn’t matter. This World is mine. And while anyone is welcome to join, no one shall be held against their will. My ego will have to find satisfaction elsewhere.

A new beginning

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So today was my first day at the new lab. The first day of a new beginning. My first post doc.

As I was walking to the Information Desk this morning my heart was pounding. Why was I there, anyway? What the hell was I thinking, where the hell was my head when I decided to do a post doc, let alone a post doc abroad? Why didn’t anyone stop me?
They should’ve stopped me.
But time was ticking, and at 10:29am I had no choice – Swedes apparently invented punctuality so the last thing I wanted to do was make a bad impression by being late. I introduced myself. Henrik came to fetch me. No way back.

(as if there was any way I could’ve backed out before)

I still don’t know whether I’m up to this, this post doc-thing. It felt so weird, Henrik introducing me to everyone as if I were someone with experience, an added value to the lab. I am not so sure I am. I’m so… green. Inexperienced. So insecure.

So many things need to be done – register at Skåtteverket, file for a personnummer, get a bank account, read articles (by tomorrow!), finish my articles from back home (2 of those, plus 11 structures, …). Meanwhile keep the fridge filled, learn Swedish. Be a good post doc.

Oh hell.

This is never gonna work.

The joys of bike riding

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So, I got my bike. And I hate it.

Let me rewind. I’m a cyclist. I have never in my (admittedly short) life owned a car, nor am I planning on purchasing one in the near future. The reasons are simple – apart from my part-time obsession with saving the earth (part-time as in, I consciously don’t buy a car, but I do love my long and hot showers), it is just incredibly expensive: purchase, gas, taxes, maintenance, … . Well I got some traveling to do before I go bankrupt, thank you very much. So, especially since in Lund (as in many student cities) a bike is almost indispensable anyway, it was only natural that I wanted to have a bike here. And this morning, as if God was sending me a signal that He, in fact, exists, there was some sort of… let’s call it a park sale. 1200 crowns (€127) for a second-hand, well-repaired bike. And while I was trying on one black-and-green-and-orange bike (I thought it might be easier to spot, as I tend to forget where exactly I parked it), there he was, smiling at me. A grey, Swedish version of the well known Dutch bike, which immediately felt as if it were made for me. Sold!

And so the trouble began. The handle bar is fairly close to the saddle (if my legs were 5cm longer, I wouldn’t be able to cycle), but it is also bent. This appears to be normal to most people, but on my old bike (which has been in my possession for 15 years, some intervals when it was stolen notwithstanding) the handlebar is straight. And this has some serious implications when, after grocery shopping, you want to hang your full bags on either end of the bar, since in the case of a bent bar, the distance to your feet – more precisely your little toe – is shorter. A lot shorter, even. Them bags were swinging and turning as if they wanted to generate electricity, banging my poor little toes with each failed attempt. The wobbling made steering rather difficult, and in addition to this, my beautiful bike was equipped with a back pedal brake. I am not exactly familiar to those, and as a result found myself almost falling on several occasions – I don’t think correcting with my left foot was the best solution, but it was either that or kissing Swedish soil. And if that weren’t enough, the handle of one of the bags broke, spilling my peaches and potatoes all over the park (admittedly, the bike may not be entirely to blame for this. still.). I made it home though, and immediately added to my to-bring-from-home-list: cycle bags.
We’ll have a long way to go, my new bike and I.

Ok... - I said NOOO! - How did you know it was me? I had disguised myself so well!

But on a totally unrelated but at least more cheerful note: I got a library membership card and brought Astérix comic books home to learn Swedish – jeij!

The new kid in town

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So, here I am. All by myself. And I don’t know anybody. Which was painfully pointed to me by the lady in The Phone House when I wanted to buy a Swedish SIM-card. Just something, the cheapest. “What network do the people you know have?” Welleuhm…

At the corner of the first floor, there's me!

Still, I think I might get used to this town. I categorically refuse to let it be my home – my home is back in Ghent. But this could be my second home. Lund is a splendid city (well, as far as I’ve seen it, that is), very green and cosy. The walk from here to the city centre (some 10-15 mins?) is almost literally a stroll in the park, passing from one old and stately university building to another. Simply beautiful. Obviously, with the sun out today was a beautiful day, which always helps to see the best of the city, but still I’d say the average age is around 25-30, and on my short walk I heard English, German, Swedish (well, I’m supposing it was Swedish) and Italian. I need to get a bike, though, I’m not gonna walk that distance (notice how the “short walk” has suddenly become an insurmountable distance?) anytime I wanna go grocery shopping.

By the way, on that grocery shopping… I need an iPhone (there I go again). No, seriously! Either that or a decent Swedish dictionary. No, on second thought, a Swedish dictionary won’t do. Fillmjolk, statfill, … I just want semi-skimmed milk! It was Croatia all over again. I do admit, most packaging is bilingual. Swedish/Norwegian. Not helping! And thus I need an iPhone. To be able to choose between semi-skimmed and whole milk, to understand the error message given by the self-scanning machine (the guy supervising had to come to my rescue TWICE), to be able to read the instructions on my frozen meal (thank Larry Page and Sergey Brin for Google Translate), … Indispensable, that little thingie.

Or maybe I should just learn Swedish.

The last post (on Belgian soil)

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You never really leave a place or person you love, part of them you take with you ,leaving a part of yourself behind.

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John Denver – Leaving on a jetplane

I go on holidays and I take with me …

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I am horrible at packing. No matter how many lists I make, I always forget something. Last month when we went to Croatia on holidays I forgot my credit card, anti-blister tape (we were planning on some serious hiking), our flash light, and my bikini (!). So there is no doubt I will forget something (which is part of the reason I’ll be coming back end September) – and now I am especially worried since my backpack is currently less full and less heavy than it was when we left for Croatia. So, here’s what I put in so far:

  • hairbrush
  • toothbrush
  • 2 large towels, 2 small towels & 4 washcloths
  • nail clipper
  • toothpaste, shower gel, shampoo, deodorant, hand creme
  • 2 kitchen sponges
  • Swiffer (yeah, I Swiffer. sue me)
  • something that is called a “chamois leather” according to Google Translate – Google Images retrieves what it should be but of course, this could all be one Google conspiracy to contaminate my English vocabulary with nonsense words
  • My Vegetarian Cooking Book
  • 1 mattress cover, 2 bottom sheets, and 1 duvet cover
  • 6 long-sleeve t-shirts, 6 short-sleeve t-shirts, 6 tops, 4 sweaters and 1 pair of trousers (it seems I have lost misplaced my other jeans… working on that)
  • a bunch of socks and underwear
  • bathing suit + diving goggles
  • running shoes (I will be SO sportive!)
  • headset, camera
  • first aid kit
  • some pens, pencils, …
  • credit card, homebanking Digipass
  • lighter
  • my mobile garden: parsley, chive, and basil seeds, and these small pots to grow mini-sunflowers, lavender and 4-leaf clover
  • birthday calender

And the million dollar question is… what have I forgotten?

To share or not to share, that’s the question

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For those who haven’t read my About section (shame on you all!), one of the reasons I have started this blog is the fact that I’ll be starting a job abroad for a year and I’d like some way to keep in touch with my friends and family without having to mail them all separately once a week. It’s not like have a huge family or tons of friends, but enough to not wanting to mail them all with the same stories on a regular basis. Hence: a blog.

But.

(There always is a but, isn’t there.)

A blog accessible to friends and family is naturally restricted in its topics. I cannot – not TRULY – write about an argument with my mother (or the lack thereof – I am pretty sure this will be material for a TON of posts), or the not-so-impressive painting of a friend who feels he has just completed his masterpiece (okay, this one I made up).

So the question is: should I or should I not share the address with them? If I don’t, the whole purpose of the blog is kinda lost. Completely lost, even. If I do, I will not be as free to write as I would like to be. Currently I haven’t disclosed the address to anyone, but I have done a similar thing while I was an exchange student, and people have asked me if I’ll do it again. I’ve responded evasively … “maybe”.