Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Texas Reunion in Sweden

Over the weekend of September 8th, I fulfilled a lifetime dream of visiting Sweden, and a two-year dream of visiting some fantastic Swedes! At Baylor, I had the opportunity to work with some amazing foreign exchange students, but it was no secret that the Swedes were always some of my favorites. Beginning in the spring semester of 2005, I had the opportunity to welcome and befriend 6 students who studied at Baylor during my term as the Exchange Program Advisor. Each student became a true friend, and I vowed to myself that I would visit Sweden one day to have an outstanding reunion. And what a reunion it was!

I arrived in Stockholm on Thursday evening and was met by Maria, who I hadn't seen in almost two years. It was so exciting to see her again and she was so gracious to let me stay in her apartment for the weekend. When I saw her, it was as if no time had passed whatsoever, and I remembered how much I had missed over the two years and how special her friendship is to me. After meeting up with her boyfriend Jakob (who studied at TAMU for a semester) for dinner, we then headed to a Jonkoping International Business School (the university all the Swedes attended) alumni gathering that was held that evening.

While there, I met up with the first Swede I welcomed to Baylor, Peter. It was such a blast seeing him again and as he lives in Stockholm, I knew I would have more opportunities to see him that weekend.

Maria and I have many things in common, and a main pastime we share is our love for "running." We had many chats around the bear trail when she was at Baylor, and it was fun to be able to run on her turf in Sweden together on Friday morning. Afterwards, we headed to a restaurant to meet Richard (the other student at Baylor the same semester as Maria) for lunch. It was so fun to have the three of us together again and immediately we started reminiscing and telling stories of the "good 'ole days."
Afterward, we met up with Jakob and I received my own personal tour of Stockholm with three natives. We explored the Royal Palace, the Old Town and a fantastic ancient-looking underground bar where we had pre-dinner drinks.

The first pic at the beginning of this entry is a picture of the whole gang at dinner. We had to go somewhere that would be fitting for our Texas reunion, and no place is as more fitting than a restaurant called "Texas Longhorn." This is actually Maria and Jakob's favorite restaurant (they are true Texans) and it is truly quite good. They even serve Lone Star beer. At dinner, we were joined by Staffan, yet another former Baylor exchange student from spring '06, so it was a full "Texan" table. Afterward, we went to a very posh and hip bar and I had a great time looking at all the fancy Swedes. Believe it or not, though, they're actually NOT all blond-haired and blue-eyed (who woulda thought?). But, there are QUITE a few!.

While in Sweden, I knew one thing was for sure, I had to have authentic Swedish meat balls. I had assisted in making this twice before at Baylor's International Food Fest, and wanted to have the real deal. We went to a great typical Swedish restaurant and I had the most outstanding meatballs ever!

Saturday was a very overcast and rainy day, but I didn't mind as this trip was not about going and seeing every historical sight, but it was about being with friends. However, Maria, Richard, and Jakob insisted that we see something while I was there, so we went to the beautiful town hall. It is situated right on the water and has a gorgeous courtyard and garden area.

Afterward, we headed back to Maria's apartment to get ready for the party she and Jakob were throwing that night - and I was the guest of honor. The theme was USA/Texas, so they had USA napkins, chips, guacamole, queso, sangria, jello shots, etc. The song "I'm Proud to be an American" even played periodically through the night.
Maria and Jakob did a fantastic job preparing all the food and it was so cool to meet a lot of their friends and of course see the other Baylor kids there as well (Staffan, Peter and Richard).
Afterward, we headed to a fun outside bar in the middle of all the action and ended up closing it down at 3:00 a.m. We then proceeded to go to a club that some of the others had meandered too, but the lines were out the wazoo. It was so crazy to see soooo many clubs with lines around the block at 3:30 a.m. in the morning! Stockholm definitely has some major nightlife going on. After trying a few different places, Maria, Jakob, Richard, Peter and I decided to go to McDonalds for a late-night snack. It doesn't get any more American than that!
On Sunday morning, it was time for me to leave my wonderful Stockholm friends and head to Jonkoping in south-central Sweden to visit the most recent former exchange students, Malin and Kristoffer. After a tearful good-bye with Maria, I jetted off to the bus station. It's amazing how you can make such a connection with someone after only a few months together, and two years later, you realize how much you still care about that person. She is a true friend! I can't wait to have her, Richard, Peter, and Staffan all come visit me. They are the best!

I was met at the bus stop in Jonkoping by Kristoffer, and it really felt like it had been no time since I saw him, partly because it hadn't. Kristoffer and Malin were at Baylor beginning the fall of '06, so they were there to experience in person the most recent details and changes in my life. We walked to Malin's apartment, and then went to coffee so we could all three catch-up. Malin was anxious to know everything about the wedding, as she had to endure several wedding planning sessions with my family during the times she came home or to the ranch with me throughout her semester. She probably new more details about the wedding than most people IN my wedding did, but she was always so sweet about it and always acted very interested.

After coffee, we walked around the quaint, beautiful town of Jonkoping, and luckily it was also a beautiful day with perfectly clear skies. We went to the JIBS campus to see the school that all the exchange students attended at one point, and then headed down to the pier.

I absolutely loved this town and was glad to be able to experience small-town Sweden in addition to Stockholm.

Malin, her boyfriend, Kristoffer and I all went to a great dinner together for my last night in Sweden and made plans for them to come visit me later this fall. Everyone was such an incredible host to me and I feel so lucky to have been able to meet such wonderful international friends while in Waco, Texas, of all places. I will always remember this Sweden trip as one of the most special trips I've ever taken, as it allowed me to re-connect with some dear friends who have shown me the true meaning of kindness, graciousness, generosity and most importantly, a very special word - sjörövare.
I think that sums it up. COME VISIT ME SWEDES!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Final Days of Summer and our Salsa 'Bot

So, summer is officially over in Deutschland, as the past several days have turned quite cold (cold for September that is). But, before I describe the beautiful fall season that now resides in Wiesbaden, I want to reflect on the last days of summer at the end of August. Jon had a half day of work last Friday, and we enjoyed the beautiful afternoon by walking around our lovely town. Our first stop was at the Kranzplatz park where we found bizarre red and white lions covering every inch of grass. The lion is the Hessen state mascot, where Wiesbaden is the capital, and we later learned that this was an art exhibit. At the end of the exhibit the lions would be sold on a first come first serve basis. Well, of course we had to have one, and due to its strategic arm placement and the German's love for Salsa music, we decided to name our lil' lion a fusion of the two greatest dances; Salsa 'Bot (short for Robot).

We enjoyed the remainder of our afternoon and final day of warmth, by going to the Kurhaus park with a blanket and a bottle of wine.

The following are pics that we took on our walk around town.

View of Kurhaus Park.

View of casino at the front of the Kurhaus Park.

The largest cuckoo clock in Wiesbaden that actually chimes every year. This is a great tourist shop that sells numerous clocks, steins, and other German souvenirs.

The tree-lined sidewalk of Wilhelmstrasse (the main street downtown).

On Sunday, we went to the Taunustrasse Festival (yes, yet another weekend festival), with some church friends. Right as we were arriving, we saw a horde of folk-dancing Germans parading through the street in their flowered-out costumes. They performed several dances down the red carpet of Taunnustrasse.

After the Fest, we headed to Maldona's, a decadent coffee shop, for coffee and cake. Michelle is my fellow lady of leisure and we enjoy trying out all the cafes to see which is best, but so far, Maldona's takes the cake.
Our relaxing weekend in Wiesbaden ended with another trip to the Festival with the Grade's. Next on our agenda - traveling! I leave for Sweden tomorrow for a reunion with all the former Baylor exchange students. I can't wait to see them all! Then on Monday, I will meet Jon and the Grade's in Dublin for a 3-day trip of Ireland. After being in Wiesbaden for the month of August, it will be nice to get back on the road again and start exploring new places. I look forward to updating you all on our adventures after we return on September 14th!