Svalbard day 1.

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On Friday morning Helen and I woke up very early (separately: her at her aunt’s house in Södermalm, Stockholm; me at my hotel by the train station) and went to the airport. We checked our bags and the giant styrofoam box of soil coring equipment that I was bringing as a favor to a researcher in Uppsala instead of them having to ship it. And then we were off! First to Oslo, then to Longyearbyen.

There were some adventures immediately. When we checked in, we were told we’d have to collect our bags in Oslo and bring them through customs, since we were continuing on a domestic flight from there. Makes sense: I have to do that every time I go to the U.S. (and Norway is not part of the E.U., so it wouldn’t be surprising that things flown from other parts of Europe would need to be examined). So we got to Oslo, followed the signs for “domestic connections” which took us to the baggage claim, and found…. our bags never showed up.

I eventually went to the SAS help counter.

“Hi, we’re flying to Longyearbyen, and our bags never came off the belt?”

“Oh, they’ve been checked all the way through! You didn’t need to collect them here!”

Okay then. Back out – to the departures hall – and back through security. Then, we checked out gate assignment and found that it was in the international hall. So, moral of the story: Svalbard may be a Norwegian territory, but it still counts as international!

I was surprised when we boarded the plane that it was actually a bigger plane than the one we had on our Stockholm-Oslo leg. And it was almost full. I’d imagined the Longyearbyen airport being a tiny thing – maybe like Visby – but that was not the case at all. So we arrived with a lot of other tourists and locals, our bags never had to go through customs, etc. Standard travel, only we ended up in a faraway and crazy place!

We got our rented car – a big black jeep – and went to the university, where we checked into our room in the Guest House. It’s really nice. More space than most places I’ve seen elsewhere in Scandinavia and they’ll even clean it for us once a week! Very cushy, not like I was expecting for Arctic research.

Since we don’t have our polar bear training or our rifle yet (we get all that on Monday), we couldn’t get up to much trouble this weekend. We mostly walked around the town, which is protected from polar bears. You’re not allowed to leave the town limits without a rifle. It was pretty cool though. First of all, we saw reindeer just hanging out…

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But also, that first evening, a lot of lovely scenery.

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And a lot of snowmobiles. More snowmobiles than people here!

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Today, we slept very late (we were both exhausted) and then went to the Svalbard Museum. It’s a pretty cool museum about the history and nature on Svalbard.

Something I learned from Helen’s research that cleared up longstanding confusion: Svalbard is the name for the whole archipelago of islands here. Spitzbergen is the name of the island we are on, which is the biggest one. So there. I guess I should be more specific with my words in the future.

After that we went for a walk along one of the roads out of town. The first challenge: it is nesting season for Arctic terns, and they nest right along the edges of the road. Thus, when you walk by, they believe you are attacking their nests. They fly at you and apparently will peck your head. We didn’t believe this, but began walking and were quickly attacked by birds (no injuries were sustained, but it was scary). We felt like idiots and went back and grabbed a pair of the long red plastic poles which are provided. You can’t use them to fend the birds off – they are a protected species – but if you carry them vertically in the air, the birds can’t fly as close to you and won’t attack your head. They will, of course, still fly pretty close and make a lot of squawking.

I still think Arctic terns are among the most beautiful birds.

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After walking a bit, we came across a sled dog kennel. OMG, so cute.

dogsRight after this, we saw a packed nesting ground for common Eiders. As we were marveling at how many there were – literally, they blend in so you don’t notice them at first but all of a sudden we saw what must have been at least 100 of the birds, hunkered down in the dirt/vegetation – a huge seagull came along. One of the eiders must have gotten up from her nest, because the next thing I knew, before I could even process what was happening, the seagull was flying to the edge of the group, and it had a fluffy thing in its beak, and then I saw it land and gulp down a duckling.

Yes. I saw a seagull eat a duckling. That just happened.

Carry on.

The rest of the walk wasn’t so eventful, just beautiful. We reached the end of the polar bear protection zone and headed back.

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There’s not much to do in Longyearbyen that doesn’t cost an excessive amount of money, so I’m not sure how we are going to occupy ourselves tomorrow. The mountains look amazing, but without our rifle we can’t go hiking. So, we can’t wait until Monday when everything gets straightened out. footer

 

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calm before the storm.

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I have to admit that now that I have a PhD position secured, I’m a little bit less motivated about my continuing work on my masters. Am I excited to head north to Svalbard and Lapland? Heck yeah! But the logistics, the thesis-writing, the rule-following, all seem like extra annoyances now. Plus there’s the fact that I’m apparently in for a horrible round of paperwork, since it’s nearly impossible to enroll in a PhD program in Switzerland without a copy of your masters diploma in your hands. That makes it really tough to go directly from a masters to a PhD, immediately – the inevitable paperwork lag really ties you up. Sadly, schools don’t usually print out a diploma and hand it to you at the actual masters defense. Thus, I’m in for a world of pain. I’m looking forward to stability, but realizing that it might not come until a few months after my actual PhD start date!

And in between then and now, I have a lot of fun and a lot of stress to look forward to.

So, I’ve been relaxing in Davos and savoring the last bits of my freedom. Yes, I’ve been working on a manuscript with Julia and Christian – it’s almost ready! – but there’s been lots of fun things, too, from the morning run up Seehorn pictured above to lots of nice breakfasts with Julia. This morning it was strawberries and croissants on the balcony in the sun; a few days ago my parents sent me maple syrup, so we took the opportunity to make pancakes and bacon. YUM. Thanks so much, mom and dad!

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Working on manuscripts probably isn’t most people’s idea of relaxing, but I’m trying to treat myself to a few nice things because we won’t have them for the rest of the summer. We also had a great night out on the town watching World Cup action: first with an Italian colleague (her team lost) and then with all of Davos (Switzerland also lost, tant pis). I got a latte at Kaffe Klatsch, the Davos favorite. I bought Movenpick ice cream. Julia and I drank wine and watched goofy television. I baked banana bread; I made grilled cheese sandwiches. We cut fresh basil into our pasta sauce. I gorged on local Swiss cheese.

My mind is preoccupied trying to tie up a lot of loose ends before I disappear over the precipice for the rest of the summer, but these things are making me happy.

on top of the world!

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I’m in Davos, and I’m on top of the world! Okay, not quite literally, I’m not on top of the biggest mountain here and the mountains here certainly aren’t the biggest in Switzerland. But I’m on top of something, and I can see quite far, and thankgodI’mbackinthemountains.

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But also… I feel emotionally like I’m on top of the world. I have an exciting announcement: I’ve been accepted to do a PhD at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology. I will be working in the lab of Dr. Florian Altermatt, which I’m really looking forward to. My project on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning using a meta-ecosystem framework will be fun and challenging. I’ll have to learn a lot! Already, I know that I will need to learn to identify and work with amphipods, small crustaceans which will serve as our main study taxa, and how to set up mesocosm experiments. There’s also talk of using stable isotopes to track carbon and other fluxes through ecosystems, which I’m excited to tackle. I was at Eawag on Thursday for a visit and interview, and I think that it will be great group to work with. A lot of smart people but all really friendly and, most importantly, everyone seemed very happy. That’s something important when you are deciding whether to make a 3-year commitment!

I’m really relieved to have my future worked out a little bit and to think that I won’t be unemployed once I finish my masters. I’m looking forward to settling down in one place for 3 years – I want to continue traveling and having adventures, but I haven’t felt like I have had a home base to come back to in my time in Europe so far, so that will be a very welcome change. I can have a few more belongings than fit into one suitcase, and hopefully my road bike too. I never realized how much I would look forward to a little bit of stability.

And, I’m excited to be at Eawag for a few more reasons. It is a very amazing research institute, highly respected and covering all aspects of freshwater research, not only ecology but also more applied things. For instance, on the news page you can find, in close proximity, an announcement of Dr. Altermatt getting the big grant which will fund my project; “Combining the best of both toilet worlds“; “Cocktail of pesticides in Swiss rivers“; and a notice about extending the wastewater treatment plant. I think that working in a place which has multiple fields of focus will be a great opportunity and hopefully make my research more dynamic. It’s great to think of being able to check ideas with people looking at other aspects of river ecosystems. And, because of their focus on sustainability, the main building is the amazing Forum Chriesbach which is built from a lot of prototype materials, harvests rainwater for the bathrooms, and is so energy-efficient that it doesn’t have a heating or cooling system!!

Finally, my degree will be through University of Zurich, which is also pretty cool. While I was in town for the interview I stayed with my friend Timothée and visited the campus and his lab. There is a lot of very cool research going on there, and in general, Zurich is an amazing academic environment. There’s also ETH Zurich, the Swiss university, and the two institutions collaborate on seminars and courses. It is going to be a very stimulating few years.

So, I have a lot of joy in my life right now. For the weekend, I’m focusing on tying up some loose ends and spending a bit of time in the mountains which I have missed so dearly.

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how to make a fucking great sandwich.

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There are people out there who reject the idea of sandwiches. They think sandwiches are lame and boring and not very good, and dry, and for lunch you should eat something cooked, dammit. Now, I’m a big proponent of eating leftovers for lunch, but if all of your lunches are fancy, then how does dinner stay exciting?

Furthermore, a sandwich can be an exquisite piece of art, a perfect piece of food. Behold, the magnificence of the sandwich. Here is the secret: there are many bad and disappointing sandwiches out there. You just have to make sure that this is not the kind of sandwich that you make. A really good sandwich…. hmmm. I rhapsodize a little bit. It is a noble lunch. If you are one of these sandwich doubters, listen up: you, too, can learn to love a sandwich.

The first step is to stop eating cold sandwiches. I mean, there are situations where these are necessary and sometimes even good, but really, you need to fry that sucker. Crispy bread coated in melted butter, melty cheese inside – there are very few ways to go wrong with a grilled sandwich. Even just a simple grilled cheese with no other ingredients is out-of-this-world comforting. So go, get out your frying pan.

Secondly, this certainly doesn’t have to be in every sandwich, but consider as your first step, this:

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Yup, before you fry your sandwich itself, fry an egg.

When I was in Portugal earlier this spring for summer school, I fairly blew my friend Arash’s mind when I pointed out that instead of having a fried egg on the side, you could just stick it in the middle of your sandwich. So fry up that egg. Leave it just a little runny in the middle, so that the yolk is pleasantly soft but doesn’t make too much of a mess when, later, you cut your sandwich in half. Really. Do this. It is life-changing.

I’d like to claim credit for the egg idea, but it’s a technique as old as time for spicing up meals when you’re cooking on the cheap. People far more brilliant than myself have written about this, from Mark Bittman in the New York Times, where I first learned spaghetti with a fried egg, to more recently one of my favorite sites, Food52, who for their last tip on “best of the Broke Kitchen” sagely noted, “when in doubt, put a fried egg on it.” Another favorite food blog, Smitten Kitchen, recently posted not one but FIVE egg sandwiches (all of which look mouth-wateringly good). Deb knows what she’s doing. So. If you aren’t convinced already, fry up that egg!

The next step is the bread. Find some good bread at a local bakery.

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Before putting your actual pile of sandwich innards on top, you’ll want some sort of condiment. There are many options. I hate mayonnaise so I’m going to recommend a good mustard. I’ve been enjoying this honey mustard made right here on Gotland. Carl Linnaeus himself came to Gotland and observed that on the clay soils here, mustard grows particularly well. So mustard is a unique and proud product of this little island. The stuff is delicious.

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So. condiment up your bread. Slap your egg on there.

The next step is to have amazing friends.

Timothée came to visit me from Zurich last week and before arriving he asked, “is there something, edible or drinkable, typical of Switzerland you specifically miss?” I said no… but that chocolate is never turned down. Timothée showed up with not only chocolate (and oh god, I had forgotten exactly how good Swiss chocolate is….) but two bottles of wine, three kinds of cheese, and some Spiess cured meat.

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This definitely improve the quality of my recent sandwiches. I actually don’t even usually put meat on my sandwiches, but this stuff? It’s great! yumyumyum. Thank you Timothée. If you don’t have amazing friends who are willing to import your sandwich ingredients for you direct from Switzerland, normal cheese and meat should do quite nicely. I like to add something green, for instance spinach.

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Re-butter your frying pan and put it on medium heat. Believe it or not, there is an art to grilling a sandwich. You can’t have the heat too high, or else the bread burns before the cheese inside melts. It can’t be too low, or else it will take forever. I use a pot lid to compress the sandwich a bit and contain some of the heat coming off the frying pan. Fry ’em up until the bread is nice and golden crispy, and the cheese is beginning to drip out and sizzle on the grill.

And! ta-dah! you have a sandwich you can be proud of and I promise, very happy to dig into. Enjoy. And never insult sandwiches again. That’s a command. To complain about sandwiches means that you’re too lazy to make a good one – and no other food is particularly good if you’re lazy, either, so it’s really not the sandwich’s fault.

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