Thursday, January 31, 2008

Where do I begin?

JoeDid I say we were spending two nights at the hostel? I'm not sure that Jennifer has quite done the place justice. Allow me to attach the directions to our room which I sent Jennifer via the e-mails:

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Burgers and beer

Jennifer Tonight we spent our designated burger money (Thanks Mom and Da!) on burgers and a beer at the restaurant attached to the youth hostel we are spending the night at. It was actually very good-- I think it was made with kebab meat-- including pickle slices, sort of tomato-y things, and fries complete with a sprinkling of seasoned salt. It was nice to eat out for a change, and after everything that happened today (too tired to write it all now, details to follow, don't worry, happy ending), a very welcome and satisfying meal.

Snowy Morning

JoeWell, today we have to change hotels, so of course it's snowing again. It's been in the forties and drizzling off and on ever since the blizzard we had for our arrival, but naturally today it would snow. Moving out of our current hotel has taken all morning, and isn't quite finished yet. We actually started last night, grabbing some spare luggage and taking the bus over to Jennifer's office, where we'll stash it for the next few days.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The National ID Number

JenniferThe National ID Number is very important. Do not believe anyone who tells you that you can do anything without The National ID Number. University administrators will tell you you can open a bank account without it-- you can't. University administrators will tell you that you can rent an apartment without it-- you can't, because you need insurance. Did I mention that the University administrators will tell you that you can get insurance without the National ID Number? Well you can't. Need a permanent phone number for your potential landlords to call? Too bad. You can't have a mobile phone without The National ID Number. New University email address? Nope, not without The National ID Number.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Adventures in Bus Riding

JoeSunday night was a minor adventure. I had found a promising looking sublet listed on a database maintained by the Student Union (I must digress momentarily to wonder why this little gem was never mentioned in our months of apartment searching…Hmph.), and a phone call to the owner resulted in an apointment to meet at the apartment Sunday night at 7. The apartment is in Gottsunda, an outlying neighborhood to the southwest, well out of walking distance but only a 15 minute bus ride, so it was obviously time to brave the buses.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


JoeToday's new challenge: a trip to the drug store. In Sweden, that means Apoteket, a government controlled monopoly which is the only place to buy prescription or over the counter drugs in the country. It's a strange experience, as most of the bewildering panoply of cold treatments and so forth that fill the aisles upon aisles of US drug stores are available, if at all, only by prescription in Sweden, so the self-service portion of the store is remarkably stark. What's more, there seem to be only one or two options available for any given complaint, mostly packaged in these sort of hospital surplus looking packages.
I was there looking for something for Jennifer's cough, but nothing seemed to have any of the ingredients I had been sent for. According to my reading, to get help you're supposed to take a number from the machine by the door, which will issue one number for help with prescription medicines (recept) and another for non-prescription medicines (receptfri). Unfortunately, the machine at the door of this particular Apoteket had a recept button and an empty place where I presume the receptfri button used to be. Hmmm. Unclear how to proceed, and unable to find anyone to help (shops in downtown Uppsala seem to be quite busy on the weekends), I took a recept ticket. This was greeted with only minor annoyance by the pharmacist, who, when I described the problem, pointed out that there should be someone on the other side of the shop to help me with that sort of thing. I agreed (to myself) that there should be someone to help, but the pharmacist had to admit that there wasn't, so she frowned a bit and took me to the shelf (which I'm pretty sure was labeled allergy medicine, not colds) and pointed out all the cough medicine which was there, including something which didn't sound at all like what I had been sent for but which she assured me would do the trick. It was only 30 SEK (about $5), which seems a downright bargain, so I decided to risk it. Indeed, a little online research which Jennifer did upon my return revealed that the active ingredient was in fact just what we were looking for, except that in the US it isn't generally given to humans, but rather administered to particularly snuffly pigs.
All in all, I think we're going to call that one a win. Now if I could just find a cell phone for less than $300, we'd be in business.

Friday, January 25, 2008

My Nemesis

JoeNow, you know I'm all for the high-tech gadgets. But seriously, it should not be this hard to do a load of laundry. Admittedly there's lot's of knobs and buttons, all labelled with obscure international symbols for, I don't know, doing laundry during an eclipse or while stuck in a maelstrom or something. But there's an instruction manual, and it isn't all in Swedish. There's a copy of the English instructions in the binder to the right of it, all 28 pages of instructions for the dryer, and a half dozen not-entirely-illuminating charts for the washing machine. Plus a wall chart. And extra labels someone printed out and stuck on the machine. All of which I read. Twice. Some of it three times.
The result? Three hours into my first putative wash cycle, I had a pile of soapy laundry resting in a pool of lukewarm water, while the machine did occasional half-hearted impersonations of a spin cycle. After I spent half an hour convincing the machine to relinquish my clothes, they sat in the dryer for another hour, which changed my cold wet clothes into hot wet clothes. 
I give up. I'm going to go have a sauna.

Yes, cannons!

Jennifer The morning firing of the cannons turned out to be small potatoes compared to the afternoon firing of the cannons (two Krupp models 90 03/33, to be precise, wielded by a volunteer regiment representing the Ă–stersund 9th). This tradition has been carried out for the last 408 years. 87 shots were fired in total, one shot for each graduate, and for those returning to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their doctoral degree, a double-shot. Each celebrant was then entitled to keep the brass shell fired in their honor.

For my doctorate, I was handed a blank piece of paper in a cardboard tube.

I am jealous.


Jennifer They take commencement seriously here. And yes, there was indeed cannon fire at 7am. I lost count of how many shots, but more than a dozen. The cannon (a Howitzer-looking thing on an older carriage) was driven right past the hotel while we were eating breakfast.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Work so far

Jennifer So far work has consisted of:
  1. Having lunch with the Boss and two other students joining the lab this term, a Swedish post-doc and a Mexican undergraduate student. The Evolutionary Biology Centre cafeteria lunch is a decent deal: 63 SEK for a large plate of hot food, a salad buffet, and tea or coffee. It was a very pleasant lunch and I like everyone so far.  The "Swedish sausage special" consists of a brick-sized chunk of bologna floating in a cream sauce. 
  2. Getting my office space and meeting my officemate, who is a doctoral student working with computer modeling of biological systems, and who is a killer Othello player. 
  3. Attending a journal club meeting, in which a recent paper in Science was trashed for extolling exciting results that turn out to be based on poor phylogenetic methods (among other things). This sort of thing was de rigueur back at UM, so I consider it a good sign.
Today we applied for our national ID numbers. The funny thing is that you need to have a permanent non-work address to get an ID number, which we haven't been able to get because we don't have an ID number. Similarly, tomorrow I hope to get my key to the building... and to get to the person who does the keys, one must go through at least three interior keyed doors, even after one has somehow managed to get into the building from the outside. My plan right now is to throw pebbles at the windows to get someone to notice me hopping up and down outside, and hope they let me in.

These sorts of experiences are exactly what my international student friends have been telling me to expect. Fortunately, so far the bureaucrats have been kind to us and it hasn't been too bad.

Second Day

Joe It's the morning of day three (Sv+3 maybe?), and after a good and fairly productive day two, this morning we are bedeviled by jet lag. I woke up at midnight last night and didn't get back to sleep until after three, about when Jennifer woke up—I don't think she got back to sleep until about 20 minutes ago. So for now I've retired to the lounge to admire the view of the cathedral and catch up on this.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

We've arrived!

JoeWell, we made it. Our flight turned out to be only mildly annoying (who would be insane enough to take a trans-Atlantic flight with four children under 10?), and we landed in Sweden at 7:14 CET, about 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Unfortunately we couldn't get to our gate because of the snow! Eventually they got us a couple of buses and a staircase, and we deplaned onto the tarmac in the middle of a small blizzard. This would have gone pretty smoothly if the driver of the second bus had not decided that he had to force as many people as he could onto the first bus by keeping his doors firmly shut not only in our faces, but also in the (somewhat desperate by now, I like to think) faces of the aforementioned family of many small children.

Everything else went smoothly, though. We made it through passport control, got all our luggage(!), and by 9:30 we were on a train to Uppsala, barreling through the Swedish countryside as the snow relented and the sun came out. By 10 we were at the train station, and it had turned into a bright, clear day. It took a lot of running back and forth to deal with our somewhat unruly mound of luggage, but we managed to hail a cab and get ourselves to the Akademihotellet by 10:30.
Of course, check in is supposed to be at 1, so our room wasn't ready, but after seeing the mountain of luggage (Did I mention the luggage already? I think it might become a bit of a recurring theme over the next couple of weeks...) they quickly arranged a room, and let us hang out in the rec room in the basement until it was ready. I was just trying to figure out whether the easiest way to make use of the sauna shower next door was to go find a towel somewhere or just dry off with paper towels, when the lady from the front desk came down to tell us our room was ready in record time.

The room is every bit as adorable as you would expect of a Scandinavian hotel, compact without being crowded. The wainscoting makes it feel traditional, and the natural wood and brushed steel fixtures bring it up to date. The hotel itself is remarkably well located, just a block from the University Library, and an easy walk to the Cathedral in one direction and Jennifer's new lab in the other (well, a little less easy a walk, that last one, but not too bad). Jennifer's still fighting off her cold, so she went straight to bed, while I took advantage of the shower to rejoin the ranks of humanity, and then nipped out for a walk and some groceries. 100 SEK got us lunch, and probably tonight's dinner, if the little blue box I purchased is actually instant chicken soup mix as I suspect it to be, and I can find the camping pan we packed somewhere.

So, now it's 3 PM, and the light is beginning to fade a bit. Still, it's a lot more sunlight than we feared, so I think it will be just fine (I'm sure that will come back to haunt me by the middle of next winter). Obviously the wireless internet works, so we should be in touch for the next few days at least. Tomorrow we'll have to contact the local authorities and become registered aliens, and Jennifer will meet with her new boss. OK, I'm going to go and try not to fall asleep now.