Mina första dagar på Gotland

I knew there was a catch. There had to be a catch. This place was too perfect. My room is small but clean and just big enough for all my stuff. The house is cozy and well-equipped. My roommates are fun, engaging, and mature. My landlords are incredibly kind. The town has been just lovely. It takes only a quarter of an hour to cross the cobblestone streets of the inner city, protected from the fully modern world by a stone wall that has stood for over seven centuries. Yet, within these walls, I’ve found all I need. On my first day I was able to secure a reliable bicycle that will be my means of touring the island and order the necessary part to repair my guitar. I had almost fallen in love with this city when I realized the catch: undergrads.

It was only a matter of time before I got sick. The pattern continues as my immune system crumbles after about a month in a new country. It hasn’t been horrible. I’ve even been able to tour a bit outside the city on my bike in the depths of the illness, and I think I’m just about out of it. However, not wanting to be sniffling my way through the first day of class, I’ve been strict about resting over the past few days. My neighbors, however, had other ideas.

I had shaken off the headphones that had helped lull me to sleep. I had turned in before 9pm, intending on getting a solid eight or nine hours of sleep. Yet, with my ears again exposed, my mind awoke to the shrill shredding guitars of death metal. The paper thin windows made it seems as though the party were on my balcony, not two doors down. I awoke feeling surprisingly rested, but a glance at the clock told me I would regret starting my day. It was just past 2 am.

The music had come from a different party last night, and it must have ended earlier because I was able to sleep through the night. This fest, however, was more persistent. With a cup of chamomile tea, I gazed at the stars from my balcony until the music subsided at nearly 3 am.

The strangest part of the episode was, however, that I kept my frustration in check. Perhaps it has been post-adolescent calming of nerves, but a significant factor last night was the fact that I was enjoying the music. As I tried to fall asleep again before resigning myself to tea, I found my feet bouncing in rhythm as they hung off the edge of the bed to the rapid thundering of Pantera. Yet, good music keeps me up just as much as bad at that volume. When someone finally had the sense to turn it down, I could only hope that this was only a final celebration before classes resume. Yes, I understand it’s Saturday night. I guess I’m just getting too old for this shit.


Anyway, I’ve used my weekend to do a bit of exploring and get some active rest. My trusty bike already has several dozen kilometers on its old wheels. I intend to make it worth every crown I paid for it.

Yesterday’s exploration took me south along the coast. I first located an ecovillage called Suderbyn. They are a sustainable community that strives to show how small communities can operate in harmony with their environment by growing their food using sustainable farming practices, generating their own power or tapping into renewable energy sources, and sharing their knowledge through local and international seminars. It was still early when I arrived, so I just read a few of the informational posters, but I will have to return to get a full tour.

On my way back, I detoured out to the coast to Högklint, the tallest cliff in the area from which much of Visby is visible. Already windy inland, the gusts whipped the straps of my bag violently as I tried to snap photos. Trails below me and anchors on top indicate that this area is popular for rock climbing. I plan to join a local climbing club (which has build a climbing was inside an old grain silo), so perhaps I’ll make the next ascent vertically.

This morning, I just went for a stroll through the city. It was very quiet on this Sunday morning; just the way I like it. There are ruins dotting the old city. They are mostly churches from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. There were fourteen in all, but now only the large cathedral remains in tact and still holds services.

I wandered outside the wall on my way back. It still amazes me that the wall is in such good repair after centuries of neglect. It was originally erected at the end of the thirteenth century by the wealthy merchants to defend the city against the peasant farmers who would eventually be competed out of the trans-Baltic trade. The wall succeeded in protecting the merchants in an early fourteenth century civil war, but it did little when the Danes invaded in 1361. It was not siege warfare that brought down the city, but the display of brutality when the Danes slaughtered thousands of farmers (whose numbers had plummeted after the plague struck a decade earlier) just outside the walls. The people of Visby capitulated, and the island fell under Danish control for two centuries.

I’ll try to add these tidbits of history to these posts. This island has an incredibly interesting past. As a hub of trans-Baltic trade, it changed hands several times during the centuries when northern and eastern Europe depended on this trade route.

cykel stor

My new steed

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The Gotland countryside is basically a vast array of farms.

högklite

A windy blue day on cliffs

Visby vägg

The wall remains mostly intact despite Gotland’s collapse after the Danish invasion in 1361.

visby väggstor

Many of the 13th century buildings remain because no one had the means to tear them down after Gotland’s economy collapsed after the Danish invasion of 1361.

 

 

En dimmig dag i skogen

This is the first time all week that the sun was up before me, but it remained hidden behind a thick fog nearly all morning. I’ve been on a strict exercise regimen, but weekends are my time to rest. I decided to take a walk through the forest and bring my far-too-neglected camera. It was a morning well spent. Just to the west of the apartment where I’ve been staying is the Håga skagen (Hoaga forest). The map shows that it stretches only a few kilometers before the next town, but I could have easily gotten myself lost had I left the trail for too long. Even the trail seemed seldom traveled.

For the first time in a while, I feel I was able to capture the beauty of the seemingly untouched woodland. However, the one thing I was not able to capture was the stillness. Sufficiently deep among the trees and the fog, the sound of distant roadways dissipated and all that remained was was the occasional birdsong and my own heartbeat. I love that these places still exist even walking distance from a crowded block of apartment buildings.

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The thick woods stay a vibrant green with steady rains.

river

From a wooden bridge, passers by rarely stop to watch the gentle stream as it meanders through the valley

 

pullup bar

Why or when the bars were drilled into the rocks, I don’t know, but this has been my gym for the last few weeks.

carpedeim moose

The first moose sighting of the year – I’m not sure what it’s seizing though…

bathtub

Nothing like a bath of fresh rainwater

skimarker

In winter the field becomes a track for cross country skiers. For now, it’s the remains of a harvested field of peas.

fungus snow

Snow in August! Just kidding. It’s a light green grass.

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I’ve been told the mushrooms are safe to eat, but I’ve been too timid.

kungbjornshog

This is the barrow (or grave) of King Björn at Haugi. He and his brother divided Sweden to rule their own kingdoms in the mid-ninth century. His son would go on to be one of the first settlers of Iceland.

bw bike

A pair of wheels would have been nice for the walk back.

Connected

Gently, the ripples of the surface of the fjord water splash against the jagged rocks of the seawall. On my perch atop the round dyke of dark rock, I gaze out to a mountain reaching out of the sea, its flat peak blanketed in downy white cloud like the tumbling snow of an avalanche frozen in time. But I struggle to remain with it in this moment. My mind yearns for a touch, a signal, a confirmation that I am not alone. It needs a Facebook notification. I reach into my pocket almost reflexively to give my reptilian brain its fix, but my evolved prefrontal cortex intervenes. I don’t need it. I now theres nothing there anyway.

My attention returns to the water. Beneath its surface, strands of kelp sway in the gentle current. My mind eases back into the slow rhythm of swishing water amidst the rocks, the murmur of passers by at my back, and the pulsing whirr of traffic. Yet underneath my forced calm is a thick, tangled anxiety, stretching deep into my psyche. The weight of its primitive nature holds it down, but when the tide goes out, it will smear the exposed surface with its unsightly, torpid weight.


I’ve been abroad for over two weeks now, and I’ve yet to be disconnected. My international phone service from Google has brought a new luxury to international travel, but it’s also taken out some of the adventure. The last time I was in Iceland, I needed to jump from wifi to wifi to connect to the outside world. Not wanting to pay the high prices of cafes for a secure connection, I either found public buildings or stayed at the hostel. If I left without a plan, it was up to pure chance to happen upon something out of the ordinary. Being such a touristy city, Reykjavík offers little for the stingy backpacker. Very rarely did I find anyone with whom I could connect. Podcasts and music blocked out the world through my earbuds as I wandered alone and snapped the occasional photograph of an unsuspecting stranger or non human landscape. I was alone with my thoughts and feelings even in the buzz of the city.

This time, however, I returned to a comfortable place by the water and, with my mobile data active, arranged a meeting on the fly. Although I’m very glad I made these acquaintances, this expedited form of rendezvous has set the tone for my current travels. As some of my family has noticed, I’ve been rather silent about my new life abroad. When I first cast off last year and during my winter travels, I seemed to have much more to say. This time, however, I just don’t have much to share.

This is not because my time has ben uneventful. Like in Iceland, I have been able to arrange multiple meetings with minimal effort. The difference is that I have already recapped the adventures. My host always asks about the plans I have made and my explorations of the city. My classmates engage in the obligatory smalltalk when I can share the travails of adaptation. I’ve even had my fill of intellectual discussion from the cultural and genetic aspects of libido to the precarious geopolitical landscape. This is not a place where signs read in a strange string of characters or where servers struggle helplessly to decipher my memorized and butchered phrases. No, this is a place of only slight discomfort in learning new customs and where my self-deprecating joke to follow my mistakes get a sincere chuckle. Though I’ve had to listen carefully to understand new accents and limit my use of idioms, I have mostly found ways to express my thoughts and feelings.

I’m sorry, readers, but you’re not my only audience anymore. I have listening ears all around me. What little my reflections produce find an outlet long before I can get to my keyboard, and I don’t have much to wrestle with that would demand the kind of reflective organizing I used to turn to. I’m comfortable here. This is now the second time I’ve lived abroad, and my new home is far more similar to my origin than my stint overseas. As well as externally, internally my life is in order. My priorities are in place and are congruent with my actions.

I just don’t have much to say, but I have a lot to do. I’ll do my best to recap the most eventful adventures, but for now, just know this:

I am exactly where I want to be. Just about a year ago, I mentioned to a close friend in all sincerity that I was the happiest I had ever been. I’ve returned to that state of mind. The daily challenges I face are only the welcomed exercise I must endure to continue on the path I have chosen. The life I have dreamed of for the past year is now a reality. This is literally a dream come true.