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From ghost town to party town

Coming to Uppsala, Sweden at the start of August was a shock. I’d just been backpacking around Eastern Europe for three weeks and seeing two countries every week. All of a sudden, I came to a stop in a deserted Uppsala with nothing but a Kathmandu backpack full of dirty clothes and a tent.

Less than 40 minutes north-west of the capital Stockholm, Uppsala boasts itself as the home of northern Europe’s oldest university – established way back in 1477. Although it’s the fourth largest city in Sweden, most of Uppsala empties out over the summer as students return home until the new academic year starts in September.

Sacrificing an extra month of summer travel, I’d committed myself to an optional Swedish language course at Uppsala Universitet, starting one month before semester began. And it was worth it.

Although most speak perfect English, Swedes get a real kick out of talking to you when you show that you’ve got an interest in their language and culture. While I was warned that Swedes are shy, it’s actually been easy to meet Swedes here, as well as in other parts of Europe as I was backpacking.

Uppsala’s student life is unrivalled. Corresponding to different regions in Sweden, there are 13 student ‘nations’ at Uppsala Universitet, which are the perfect place to loosen up and forget about your exams. Unique to Uppsala, a student ‘nation’ is a student society which run club nights, restaurants, sports teams, choirs, orchestras, theatre groups and almost everything else under the sun. And you can work for them too – it’s another great way to meet locals.

Throughout the semester, nations host dress-up student parties known as ‘gasques’. As it’s the start of a new academic year in Sweden, my nation – Södermanlands-Nerikes – held a ‘recentior’ (freshman) gasque, which involved a parade down Uppsala’s streets with our nation’s marching band – blocking traffic – and a formal dinner in our nation’s dining hall. Don’t expect to finish your food at a gasque – your dinner will constantly be interrupted by drunken speeches and traditional nation songs (my nation dates back to 1595), which we had a week to learn from our nation’s songbook. To top it all off, our nation building turned into a club for the afterparty – the night gets wilder as more alcohol is served!

Parties aside, there’s always something to do in Uppsala. Everything’s within walking distance or, at most, a short bike ride away so there’s no excuse to stay in your room. Uppsala is an international city with an international university, so there’s no shortage of people here from all over the world.

If people isn’t your thing, there’s also plenty of nature in Uppsala. Picking blueberries, lingonberries and (edible) mushrooms is a tradition here, as is hiking and staying the night in a forest hut. If you’re itching for a swim (in summer) or a place to iceskate (in winter), Sweden’s third largest lake is a half hour cycle south of Uppsala – and there’s even sand!

The cost of living in Uppsala is about the same as in Sydney, besides the rent – which is about three times cheaper than Sydney’s ridiculous prices! Groceries cost roughly the same, and local transport costs nothing – you can’t live without a bike in Uppsala.

Sweden’s known for being green, and it’s easy to see why as almost everything is accepted by household recycling – including lightbulbs and batteries. Trains and buses aren’t the cheapest, but they’re comfortable and they run on-time.

They say that Swedes are a fit bunch, and that’s true in Uppsala at least. It’s not surprising, given that everyone rides a bike to get from A to B. It’s not uncommon for drivers to give way to you, even when it’s their right of way and we’re blessed with separated bicycle lanes everywhere (listen up, Sydney).

Uppsala’s perfect location also makes it convenient to explore other parts of Scandinavia and Europe. Although Uppsala is my home away from home, that hasn’t stopped me from leaving Uppsala for a spontaneous hiking roadtrip to Norway – which happened after less than two days of planning with friends from my summer Swedish course. In just over a week, I’ll be taking an overnight sleeper train to Copenhagen in a fortnight, followed by Amsterdam. Adventure awaits!

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