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June 29, 2007

Back!

I have been a very bad blogger lately... I am sorry! But I really want to pick it back up so I will definitely make an effort. I recently moved from Washington, DC, to Oslo, Norway, so there should be plenty of things to write about, many of them related to travel or culture. I also took some trips before leaving the US, so I want to post about them as well.

July 2, 2007

Culture Shock

When I was 17, I spent a year abroad as an exchange student. Before leaving, we had camps where we learned about cultural differences, adjustment issues, and all the fun stuff you experience living with a strange family in a strange country. They also talked about reverse culture shock, which happens when you go back to your country and realize that you have changed, but your country/family/school/friends have stayed the same. When I came back, it wasn´t too bad - yes, I missed my host country and my friends, but I was still very much a Norwegian.

Now, things are different, and I am experiencing reverse culture shock big time!! I try not to complain too much, but I just don´t find people very warm here. I miss small talk! I miss politeness! Europeans tend to critizise Americans for making superficial small talk but I feel that it provides the necessary grease for our societal wheels to go around! Americans in general are really good at making someone feel welcome and to show interest in other people´s lives, and I miss that. To quote Oprah: Everyone has an interesting story to tell, as long as we take the time to ask.

More to come on this... Time to warm up, July 2 is proving very cold!!

July 3, 2007

Why Norway?

Pauline asked why I had chosen Norway and the answer is very easy - it is where I am from! I have spent a total of 9 1/2 years abroad (US, Central America, Europe), the last 8 1/2 continously. So I thought it would be a good idea to try and live in Norway for a little while to see what it was like after this long. I was pretty sure that I wanted to make my life in the US and after one month here in Norway I am even more sure! I guess I have just changed too much... I also think it is easy to underestimate the change that "moving back" can entail - failing to realize that such a move can be just as difficult as moving to a foreign country, when you have roots somewhere else.

July 13, 2007

The "Service" Industry

I am afraid that service leaves a lot to be desired here in Norway, whether it is in shops, restaurants, airplanes... Going out to eat should be a nice experience, not a battle to get what you pay for! (Especially at these prices...) Today I ate lunch with a group of colleages, I believe there were 10 of us. Most of us ordered pizza, including one colleague who asked the waiter if the pizza would be reasonably quick, as he had a meeting later on. The waiter assured him that we were the first table to order pizzas so there wouldn't be a hold up. Of course, my colleague ended up not getting his pizza... After waiting for over an hour, well after we all had our food, he just cancelled it (we had all given him pieces of our pizzas!) And this was his second experience just like that in this same restaurant. He complained to the waiter and he complained inside, but it doesn't seem to help - everyone has the same experience with this particular restaurants.

Unfortunately this was not an isolated case, many restaurants here have really bad service, and it really puts a damper on my mood! The same goes for stores, airplanes... Why is it so hard to give service? Seems like the rest of the world is quite capable of it!

End of rant! :)

July 22, 2007

Weather obsession

People in Norway are obsessed about the weather. After seven weeks in Oslo I remember why. With weather this unpredictable, no wonder people are anxiously awaiting the next sunny day! We had some nice weather in early June but since then it has been rather bleak, with lots and lots of rain. Last week it was so windy I could hardly walk upright!

So the newspapers are full of weathertalk, and trips to southern Europe or other warm destinations are selling like crazy. I would personally like to have a day that was sunny and warm all the way through... We went swimming yesterday but it was very chilly - and that is here in Oslo, where the weather is warmer than anywhere else in the country, really... Tomorrow we head to Tromsø and then to Lofoten so I am not expecting anything about 15 C there. Time to get out all the winter gear!!

July 25, 2007

Vacation time! July 23: Tromsø

Monday morning we got up bright and early and hopped on a plane to Tromsø, the biggest city in northern Norway, 1600 kilometers north of Oslo. We were going to spend a short week in the north to see nature and (hopefully) the midnight sun.

An early start gave us an early arrival; at 9am we landed and went to pick up our rental car. We were supposed to rent from Alamo but their counter was closed and they took so long to get back that we went with Budget instead, who gave us a cute Toyota Yaris turbo diesel in a great blue color. Off we were!

We drove to the city and were able to check in early to our hotel, the very nice Clarion Bryggen Hotel. Then we did one of Tromsø´s main attractions, the cable car that takes you up to the mountain overlooking the city. From there we hiked for a few hours to a peak. When we got back to the cable car station, a group of paragliders were launching themselves off the hill and naturally lots of people had gathered to watch. What a spectactular sight!

After shower and a nap we drove out to a little beach area and did some more walking around before having lapskaus (stew) at a local pub. Since we had gotten up before 4am for our flight I was unable to keep my eyes open past 11pm so I missed the midnight sun then, but it was definitely still very bright when I went to sleep.

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July 30, 2007

July 24: Second day in Tromsø

Our second day in Norway started with a tasty breakfast buffet at the Clarion Hotel Bryggen - there were little meatballs and roasted potatoes! A winner! Then we took off for the Mack Brewery to tour the world's northernmost brewery. It was pretty interesting, even though I don't like beer I enjoyed learning about it. Although much of the brewery is closed to the public for hygiene reasons so we really saw more of the soda bottling part of the brewery. Interestingly, that is how they make their money - the brewery part does not make a profit. Interestingly, it is the only Coca Cola bottling plant where Coke allows them to use the local water unfiltered - quess the artic water is quite pure!

The tour including two pints of beer - I tried an organic beer that was supposed to taste like wine but really didn't like it... Another interesting fact: the brewery runs a beer hall but it closes at 5pm as they don't want to compete with other bars that sell their beer!

After the brewery we took a drive, we drove to an island called Sommarøy which is located about 60 kilometers outside of Tromsø. It was a gorgeous drive, we saw lots of beautiful beaches and it is funny to think that there are these nice sandy beaches but that the weather is freezing!

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We had a nice seafood dinner at a restaurant way out there. We even sat outside for it, as the weather had cleared up from earlier that day. The drive back was very nice, we took a different way that was a little bit longer but just as pretty. And that day we were able to stay up late; we walked around, had a beer at a bar, and stayed out until about 1:30. It was totally bright!! By the time we returned to our comfy room we were really tired - especially since we had to get up by 9:30 to make breakfast...

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July 25: Long drive to Lofoten

We dragged ourselves out of bed so we wouldn't miss the tasty breakfast. We planned to head to Lofoten around 11 or 12. Lofoten is an archipelago off the coast of Nordland county, starting about 400 kilometers south of Tromsø. The previous evening we had met a family from Lofoten in the jacuzzi and they told us that the lines for the ferry were very long and that we would do well in taking the ferry in the evening to avoid several hours in line, so we were in no real hurry.

We took off shortly after 11 and headed south. The first half or so of the drive was inland and a little boring, although we broke it up with a couple of stops, including a big waterfall (with lots of salmon) and the Polar Zoo, which apparently is the world's northernmost zoo. (It became a running joke that everything was the world's northernmost something!) However, we did not enter, it was quite pricey plus there was a sign saying "We are sorry but the moose is dead." Apparently a lot of German tourists were very sad!

Further south the road was more interesting and we started seeing more ocean and mountains. We looked for a place to eat and after looking at one place that seemed to serve nothing but junk food we found a place shortly before Sortland, overlooking a large bridge, where the food really did taste homemade. We had meatballs and stew, tasty and traditional!

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We reached Melbu, where the ferry departs for the first of the Lofoten islands, at 7:15pm, right as one ferry left. We were a little bit shocked to find the waiting parking area packed with cars that had not been able to fit on that ferry! The next ferry was at 8:45 and we were almost nervous we'd miss that one, but we were OK. The ferry ride was short and pretty and we made it to our hotel right before their closing time at 10pm. We stayed at Svinøya Rorbuer in Svolvær, they rent out both the little cabins (rorbu is a small cabin that fishermen used to use) and five hotel rooms. It was all very nice and clean, and the bathroom was great. We walked around Svolvær for a bit before heading to bed.

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July 31, 2007

July 26 and 27: Back to Tromsø with Hurtigruta

Thursday started with lots of rain and gray clouds, but in the afternoon it cleared up. We visited Kabelvåg and Henningsvær and did some more driving. The highlight of the trip, however, was when we boarde the Hurtigruta, or Coastal Steamer, to go back to Tromsø. We left Svolvær at 10pm and arrived in Tromsø the next day at 2:30pm. The trip was beautiful and it was a gorgeous way of seeing more sights. Plus I love sleeping on boats! The passengers were an interesting mix of lots of nationalities, many slightly on the older side, and local Norwegians going short stretches.

Let's see if the photos can do it justice...

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September 1, 2007

Freezing my butt off in September

Well, here in balmy Oslo, Norway, September means that we can oficially stop complaing about the cold summer, since it is fall, both technically and for real. Actually, I would say summer was over in mid-June this year. Yesterday, when it was still August, my sister was over and we huddled on the couch with a big comforter, it was really that cold! It has been 3-4 celcius in the morning this week. Brrrr!

Since I am only in Norway temporarily (hope to be back in the States in two months!) I rented a furnished apartment without having seen it myself (my sister went to see it.) In a way it is a good deal because I got to rent it for only five months, it is furnished, great neighbourhood etc. HOWEVER, I am freezing my behind off! It has three outer walls, tall ceilings, and only double-pane windows (triple-pane is the norm here) and there are very few heat sources. Most Norwegian homes use this flat panel heaters on the walls but this place doesn't have them, only a fireplace (with a huge crack), a very old space heater, and a portable oil heater.

And the only heat source in the bathroom is a towelheater, which doesn't heat much at all... Norwegians usually keep the bathroom very warm, often with heated tile floors, so that you have one really warm room where you can change clothes, etc. in addition to showers and such. Instead I have an icebox for a bathroom it seems. Getting up in the morning has gotten harder since my room gets very cold and then I don't have a toasty bathroom to escape to. It is only September 1 but I used both the space heater and the oil heater today... That makes me a little bit worried about what October will be like! I am already sleeping in pyjama pants so I guess when it gets colder I'll have to put a wool blanket on top of my comforter. At least my bed is not next to an outside wall!

Years of living in warmer climates have spoiled me... Turning the heat on September 1 just doesn't feel right!

October 11, 2007

Fall in Oslo

So far, fall has been cold but pretty for the last few weeks - until today, that is. For the last week or so we have had pretty, sunny days, with icecold mornings, but today the rain came... Too bad! I will post a couple of photos from this weekend to remember the nice trees, because now the leaves are really starting to fall off and that takes away some of the charm of fall.

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February 16, 2008

I am from Norway

A couple of people said they didn't know I was from Norway, so here is a breakdown of where I have lived:

Norway: 19 years (Oslo)
Panama: 2 years (David, Chiriqui; Panama City)
US: going on 8 (Athens, GA; Washington, DC; Baltimore, MD)
Italy: 1 (Bologna)
Nicaragua: On and off (Rivas)

Gotta go eat! My least favorite cuisine, Ethiopian... (Sorry...)

February 25, 2008

Bread. I like it.

I LOVE bread. I could live on only bread, I am pretty sure. Bread by itself, bread with stuff on it, bread as a side – it is all good. In Norway, we eat A LOT of bread. A normal breakfast in Norway would be two slices of bread, with cheese or jam or maybe some salami. Lunch would be, well, pretty much the same. Two or three slices or bread (or “open faced sandwiches” as Americans call them), with ham, cheese (maybe the famous Norwegian brown goat cheese), or some other topping, all wrapped in paper or in a little sandwich box. Nowadays, more offices have cafeterias, but they often serve variations on these sandwiches as well. In general, people who are not Norwegian do not appreciate the Norwegian lunch! Even our closest neighbours, the Swedes, eat a warm lunch.

Continue reading "Bread. I like it." »

February 26, 2008

Brunost - Cheese That Is Brown

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Annie and Sandra asked in the comment section about the Norwegian brown goat cheese so I decided to write about it. For many years, this was the ultimate topping for those open faced lunch sandwiches I talked about in yesterday's post about bread.

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I don't know if it as popular still but my parents, as well as many of my friends, always have some in their fridge. The taste is caramelly and soft. In the US and Canada it can be bought in some supermarkets as "Ski Queen".

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I am a little rushed so please forgive me for just using a Wikipedia quote (actually I have edited it because there were some mistakes):

Brunost is a brown Norwegian whey cheese. The Norwegian name brunost means 'brown cheese'. The two most popular varieties in Norway are Gudbrandsdalsost, which means 'cheese from the Gudbrandsdal' (made from goat's milk cow's milk), and the more traditional version geitost, which simply means 'goat cheese', and which is wholly made from goat's milk. There are also regional varieties, which vary both in colour and taste, depending on how much caramel they contain. Geitost has a strong, sweet, yet somewhat sharp flavor with notes of caramel and goat's milk, while Gudbrandsdalsost is similar but more mellow in taste.

A mixture of milk, cream and whey is boiled carefully for several hours so that the water evaporates. The heat turns the milk sugar into caramel which gives the cheese its characteristic taste. It is ready for consumption as soon as it is packed in suitable sized blocks.

The cheese is always cut with a cheese slicer, if you cut thicker slicer it is a little too overpowering. (BTW, the cheese slicer was a Norwegian invention! We often make fun of the fact that we had to be either very poor or very stingy to invent something that made sure you never got a nice big chunk of cheese!) Many people also put the cheese on waffles, but I don't like that! It does taste great on "Knekkebrød", though, like the Wasa crispbread that you can buy in the Americas as well.

February 27, 2008

Proper Dish Washing Rules: For Girasoli

In my post about bread, I mentioned the Home Economics classes we had in Norway growing up ("school kitchen", we call it.) In the comments section, Sandra wrote that her Home Ec classes were not that great, at which point I raved about mine. Girasoli was intrigued by my mention of "proper dish washing rules", so this post is for her. (And no, I am not a housewife from 1950, although in this post I sound like one!)

Continue reading "Proper Dish Washing Rules: For Girasoli" »

Norway: Fresh Air Is Always Good

Growing up in Norway, kids spend A LOT of time outside. Before I came to the US I thought everybody had their babies nap outside, or that daycare meant spending at least half the day outside. When my friends acted shocked, I realized this was not the case!

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Yes, Norwegians put their babies outside to sleep during the day. In all kinds of weather. The idea is that the fresh air is good for the child. So you put the baby in a pram, with some light wool clothes and a hat, and tuck him or her into a warm sheepskin or down sleeping bag. ALL YEAR ROUND. My sister and I have both worked at daycares and it is kind of funny that naptime means putting all the little ones outside!

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In Norway we have a saying that goes "There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes," meaning that we should never worry about the weather, just make sure we are prepared for it...

Oh, and this reminds me of the Danish lady who was charged with child neclect in New York City for leaving her child in a baby pram outside a restaurant. We find that totally normal!

February 28, 2008

Fresh Air Is Always Good: Part Two

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A corollary of the Fresh Air Is Always Good doctrine is that weather doesn't matter. Being outside is ALWAYS good for you. When I was in daycare/preschool, we spent half the day outside. Every day. Usually a few hours in the morning and a few in the afternoon. I disliked bad weather at an early age and really preferred being inside playing, but there was no mercy. Norwegian daycare is still like that. I see kids outside all day, all year. Most daycares will have a large outdoor area with lots of stuff to do.

This is a typical daycare facility:
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And here are some kids I found online. The part that makes my friends laugh is that it is considered very convenient to line the kids up, all dressed in their heavy duty rain gear, and hose them off with the garden hose! They will be messy from playing in the mud (we have a lot of mud in Norway) so what better way to clean a lot of kids really fast??
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February 1, 2009

Norway - it's a weird place!

My first official post for this intense month will be about Norway.Some of the posts I get the most hits on are my posts about my beautiful but strange home. You can read all of the posts if you follow this link but I wanted to point out the popular ones - the ones that show the real weird stuff!

Here is a post I wrote for Girasoli but that gets the most hits on my blog: Proper Dish Washing Rules. I have even had a teacher email me and ask if I had a Power Point presentation on the topic! Another funny thing is that right now I am watching a show on TV called Whatever, Martha! Martha Stewart's daughter and her friend sit on a couch and watch her mom's shows, while commenting. It's pretty awesome - and the best thing is that as I was writing this, the show they were watching had a guest who showed Martha Stewart the proper way to wash dishes!

(The woman's name was Cheryl Mendelson and she was there to promote her book "Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House." Too funny! The daughter kept saying that this woman made Martha Stewart seem like a slob.)

Continue reading "Norway - it's a weird place!" »

February 2, 2009

Do You Speak Norwegian?

Continuing yesterday’s Fun Facts about Norway and Norwegians, I figured I’d write about our language today. (Language is an important part of culture, and culture is a part of travel, so I think I am within the parameters I set for myself!)

When discussing the Norwegian language, it is natural to talk about the other Scandinavian languages as well, which makes it necessary to define Scandinavia. Scandinavia is a geographical region consisting of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Finland and Iceland are NOT in Scandinavia. If you group together Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Greenland, and Færøyene, they are called the Nordic countries.

With that taken care of, we can move on to more Fun Facts! Or maybe some basic facts first:

Continue reading "Do You Speak Norwegian?" »

February 3, 2009

Bunad: Norwegian National Dress

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Please scroll to bottom of post for answers to your comment questions!

The traditional costume of Norway is called “bunad.” There are about 200 different types, each one representing a different part of the country. The word “bunad” really covers two different types of dress: The first is the traditional garb of a particular location (some of which can be traced back a long, long time – the ones used today usually represent the “fanciest”, holiday version of the dress) and a sort of “party dress” developed in the early 1900s during Norwegian national romanticism. The last category was often put together using fabrics, weaves, and embroideries from the particular location.

Today, bunads are used for festive occasions: Weddings, baptism, May 17th (constitution/independence day), Christmas, anniversaries, or when performing traditional music. It is customary that a girl gets a bunad for her church confirmation, usually when she is 15. I didn’t, though, and my mom got her first at 50! They are very expensive so it is a rather big deal, but the good thing is that they last forever. I know many people who have the bunad of their grandmothers, for instance.

Continue reading "Bunad: Norwegian National Dress" »

February 4, 2009

Norwegian History in Five Minutes

I figured I'd make a quick intro to Norwegian history, which will make it easier to understand the posts on dress and language. I present to you: Norwegian History in Five Minutes!

(Actually, I'll even give you a five second version! It would go something like this: First, there was nothing, just snow. Became kingdom in 870. Then Vikings. Ruled by Denmark from 1400 to 1800, then Sweden. Total independence in 1905. Oil in 1969. Rich!)

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Early in the 6th millennium BC: Norway is populated
First centuries AD: Many small small kingdoms
872 AD: Harald Hårfagre unifies the country and becomes the first king of the Kingdom of Norway
800 - 1066 AD: Viking era, expansion and emigration, especially to Iceland but also Greenland, Ireland, Britain, etc.
1030: Christianity is brought to Norway by Olav (Óláfr) Haraldsson (now known as St. Olav, Patron Saint of Norway)
1349: Things have been going downhill for a while and the arrival of the Black Death kills around 60% of the population, including most of the monks, who are pretty much the only ones who are literate. The elites died in great numbers as well. Whole valleys and regions were left without people.
1379-1814: We are pretty much under Danish rule this whole time. (At times it is called a "union" but we are never the leader of the union!)
1814: Denmark is one of the losers in the Napoleonic Wars and lose Norway to Sweden. They are off fighting so the Norwegians see their chance and draft a constitution! It is signed on May 17th, which we celebrate as our independence day. However, we are officially in a "union" with Sweden and there is not real independence, although we have our own government and parliament.
1905: We've had enough! A referendum shows that the majority of the people want complete independence from Sweden, and it is granted. Since most European countries are still monarchies at the time, Norway decides to import the Danish prince Carl and make him King Haakon VII of Norway.
1940-45: Norway is occupied by Germany; the strong German military needed only three weeks to take over the country. However, the national resistance is strong and people are loyal to the government (which flees to England rather than working with the Germans) and king in exile. Important patriotic symbols emerge, such as the wearing of a paper clip (a Norwegian invention) on your lapel - "we stick together."
1945 onward: the country is poor after the war, but equality is an important principle, leading to the birth of the welfare state; long rule by the Labour Party
1969: Oil is discovered! Norway's economy changes forever.
1970s: Your friend Chiocciola is born!

February 5, 2009

Photos from Norway

It is 11:51pm so I better hurry! I am posting some photos today - hopefully they complement the last days' posts. This is a little photo sampler, just different photos from different parts of the country. I have gotten some ideas to more posts, though: Norse Mythology, midnight sun, Norwegian food...

Thanks for your kind comments - interesting to see that several of you have a Norwegian connection! Anne is one, and Sandra; Palma another (turns out Brad is half Norwegian!)

Kayaking in southern Norway:
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Continue reading "Photos from Norway" »

February 6, 2009

Scandinavian Countries: Compare and Contrast

First, I have to thank Nancy - I don't have time to write a long post on mythology as I wanted to do today, and I couldn't come up with something good yet short. So Nancy's comment inspired me: "I hope to visit Sweden someday - where my ancestors came from. So, maybe it will be similar?"

This question can be answered in multiple ways, mainly because of the "interesting" relationship between Norway and Sweden, which is filled with jokes about one country being smart and the other stupid (the smart one being whoever is speaking, of course!) Since Norway was under Sweden for almost 100 years until 1905, there was for a long time a sense of being the little brother. Sweden was also richer for a long time, until Norway found oil and got all "I am better than you now, big brother!"

Continue reading "Scandinavian Countries: Compare and Contrast" »

February 7, 2009

The Vigeland Park, Oslo

Edited to change the photos of Sinnataggen and the Monolith - all photos are now mine.

Still not quite up to tackling the whole Norse Mythology thing! So I will write about one of the most popular tourist attractions in Oslo, the Vigeland Park. The park has 214 statues (mainly of naked human bodies) by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland. (Actually, Norwegians refer to the park as Frogner Park but in English it is often called the Vigeland Park after the sculptor.) It is actually the most visited tourist attraction in the whole country. It is also a favorite hangout for locals who come to barbecue, play sports, sunbathe, or simply relax.

Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943) started creating the sculptures and the accompanying cast iron gates in 1905 and worked on it for 20 years, but the park wasn't completed until 1950.

There are five distinct areas with sculptures: the main gate, the bridge, the wheel of life, the fountain, and the Monolith. The main gate is an imposing structure made out of cast iron. There are several other cast iron gates throughout the park. The bridge has a series of cast iron human figures. The fountain is made out of cast iron, while the Monolith and its surrounding figures are granite.

View from the bridge towards the Monolith:

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The sculptures are wonderful and depict all stages of life, from birth to death. One of the most popular statues can be found among the cast iron statues on the bridge, Sinnataggen (which loosely translates to "little angry boy"):
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Vigeland sculpted the figures out of clay and then had professional craftsmen make them into granite or cast iron sculptures. The figures are all larger than "real people", but not by a lot.

The most famous sculpture is the Monolith. "The Monolith towers 14.12 meters (46.32 ft) high and is comprised of 121 human figures rising toward heaven. This is meant to represent man’s desire to become closer with the spiritual and divine. It portrays a feeling of togetherness as the human figures embrace one another as they are carried toward salvation." (Wikipedia.) Visitors always seem to point out its somewhat phallic qualities but having grown up seeing the monument that never occurred to me!

Part of the bridge:
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The fountain:
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One of the gates with the Monolith in the background:
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Detail from the gate, seen from the back:
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The river and the Children's Park:
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The Monolith:
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February 8, 2009

Norway's Sovereign Wealth Fund

Over on Slow Travel, the February Bloggers have been sharing ideas on possible blog posts for the month. I made a "request" of fellow blogger Sandra, and she indulged me with this post on how to get organized and get a regular exercise routine going. Her advice is great, so thanks Sandra!

In a comment to an earlier post of mine, Sandra mentioned she'd be interested in hearing about the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund. It is an interesting topic so I figured I'd give it a go!

Sovereign wealth funds are investment funds held by countries, usually countries that have little or no international debt, and who have "excess" income, often from petroleum or other natural resources. Injecting these kinds of income into the economy would lead to inflation, increased exchange rates, and Dutch Disease. As I mentioned in my post on the history of Norway, Norway found oil in the late 1960s and within a few decades had a large income from this, which, while a blessing, also needed to be managed in a sound way.

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Norwegian bills

Continue reading "Norway's Sovereign Wealth Fund" »

February 9, 2009

Norway - It's Weird: Part Two

Here is a Fun Fact I have not mentioned before, but which shocks most people outside of Norway: Each year, on October 1, the "tax lists" are published. This means that the tax records of the whole country are made official to the press. All the newspapers and the TV channels then make their own pages with interfaces that link to the tax records, so that you can search by name and country and find out their after tax income, how much tax they paid, and their net worth according to bank records. You can go to a page like this one, type in name (in many cases that is enough; if not, you can add the county or the postal code, and voila, you know how much your boss/neighbour/grandpa/best friend made last year. And while the tax authorities only make the lists available to the press for three weeks, the press all make their own copies of the lists so that they are searchable throughout the year.

Yes, it is crazy! While I enjoyed looking up the income of my superiors in my previous job, I can understand why this is seen as a violation of privacy. But it has been like this for several years so I am not sure when or if it will be changed. People even use it to negotiate their salaries: "Well, X makes so much, so I should too!"

Here is an example of a search for "Ole Olsen":
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February 10, 2009

Norway: Fjords!

Norway is not known for a lot of stuff, but a few things have made it into the international consciousness. One of them is the fjords (fjord, los fiordos, i fiordi), most famously the ones on the west coast of Norway. I usually describe fjords as deep inlets going from the sea into the land. Wikipedia describes the fjord as "a long, narrow inlet with steep sides, created in a valley carved by glacial activity." Norway's coast, and especially the western coast, has a lot of fjords and in general the coast line has a lot of ins and outs and islands; very unlike the "smoother" coast lines of for instance northern Denmark.

Allow me to use another quote from our friends at Wikipedia, who explain this so much better than I do:

The seeds of a fjord are laid when a glacier cuts a U-shaped valley through abrasion of the surrounding bedrock by the sediment it carries. Many such valleys were formed during the recent ice age. Glacial melting is also accompanied by rebound of Earth's crust as the ice load and eroded sediment is removed (also called isostasy or glacial rebound). In some cases this rebound is faster than sea level rise. Most fjords are, however, deeper than the adjacent sea; Sognefjord, Norway, reaches as much as 1,300 m (4,265 ft) below sea level.

Sognefjorden:
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The usage of the word fjord is slightly wider in Scandinavian languages than in English – we for instance use the word for narrow freshwater lakes as well.

Some of the most famous fjords are the Sognefjord, Hardangerfjord, and Geirangerfjord, all on the western coast of Norway. They are all characterized by being long, deep, and with beautiful steep mountains on the sides. Sognefjorden and Geirangerfjorden are the most visited by tourists – and the most famous ones that I have seen.

One of the best ways to see the fjords is to take a cruise on the Norwegian Coastal Voyage (Hurtigruta), which I will write about tomorrow. The ship goes from Bergen on the west coast to Kirkenes in the very north, close to the Russian border.

Geirangerfjorden:
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February 11, 2009

Hurtigruta - The World's Most Beautiful Sea Voyage

Yesterday I talked about the fjords, and I mentioned Hurtigruta, or the Coastal Steamer. The Coastal Steamer is part passenger and freight ship, part cruise ship. The route was established in 1893 as a way to provide freight, passenger and postal services along the jagged coast line of western and northern Norway. It runs from Bergen in the west to Kirkenes in the north, the full return trip taking 11 days. While it still serves an important function transporting people and goods, it has also involved into a popular way for tourists to see the coastline in a cruise like setting, and the ships now have comfortable cabins ranging from basic to luxury, swimming pools and a nice restaurant. It is by far one of the most beautiful trips you can take in Norway. It is such a maritime nation with such a sea-centered way of life that it is only right to see it from the water.

You can join Hurtigruta on any of its 35 stops, but foreign tourists often do the entire length from Bergen to Kirkenes (or Kirkenes to Bergen) or the complete 11 day round trip. The sailings are timed so that important sights that might have been during the nighttime on the way north, are during the day on the way south. And with the midnight sun up north, and the very long days further south, it will be pretty much light all night anyway!

There are about 12 ships that travel the route, the oldest from the late 1950s and the newest from 2007. (However, the two ships from the 50s and 60s are only in use in winter.) When traveling the entire round trip, it is important to pay attention to what ship one wants to travel on - do you want the tradition and intimacy of the older ones, or the facilities and luxuries of the newer ones?

I was lucky enough to travel part of the stretch back in 2007. Here are my notes from then:

The highlight of the trip, however, was when we boarded the Hurtigruta, or Coastal Steamer, to go back to Tromsø. We left Svolvær at 10pm and arrived in Tromsø the next day at 2:30pm. The trip was beautiful and it was a gorgeous way of seeing more sights. Plus I love sleeping on boats! The passengers were an interesting mix of lots of nationalities, many slightly on the older side, and local Norwegians going short stretches.

I remember feeling kind of sad that I had to get off - it seemed like a wonderfully slow way of seeing the coast. But it is pricey if you want a nice cabin so it was probably a good choice! The trip is a lot cheaper in the winter, though, but that seems slightly less appealing!

I traveled on one of the newer ships, Finnmarken:
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Leaving Svolvær:
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Entering a narrow fjord (around midnight):
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Those crossing the artic circle for the first time get baptized by King Neptune - in ice water!
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Beautiful views from the ship:
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We saw a lot in 16 hours - imagine what you can see in 11 days!
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February 12, 2009

Midnight Sun (and the opposite)

Yesterday I wrote about the Coastal Steamer and how summer is the best time to experience it, not just because of the weather but because of the light. The nights will be very short, and even non-existing as you get north of the Arctic Circle. It is a very special feeling and one of the coolest things about visiting Norway.

As I said, it is technically only midnight sun if you are north of the Arctic Circle. The Arctic Circle is a parallel of latitude that runs 66 degrees north of Equator. Anywhere north of this circle will have at least one day a year when the sun is above the horizon for an entire 24 hours. So if you are a ways north of the circle, you will have many of these nights. And even if you are south of it, the nights will still be really short. I grew up in Oslo, which is at 60 degrees north and comparable to Anchorage Alaska, at 61 degrees north. While we don't have real midnight sun, around midsummer it is only dark from about 11:30pm to 3am. It is funny to walk around at 4am and it looks like day but nobody is around!

Tromsø is the biggest city in northern Norway, and a good example of a place with midnight sun. Officially, it has midnight sun (the sun not setting at all) from 18 May to 26 July. But as Wikipedia says: "Due to Tromsø's position near the top of the globe, twilight is longer, meaning there is no real darkness between late April and mid August." I was there around July 23-24 two years ago and this is what midnight looked like:
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I also visited Tromsø when I was a kid, and I was pretty fascinated by the whole thing! When it was sunny, it didn't seem that weird - although there is no real darkness, the sun does move on the sky and 2am does look different than 2pm. But then it rained for four days non-stop and that was totally confusing - the amount of light looked the same day and night since there was no sunshine! Strange. People who live up north really take advantage of the long days and spend lots of time outside.

Another interesting fact is that since the amount of light is so different from summer to winter (I will write about polar nights tomorrow), in fall and spring the change every day is rather dramatic. Since the polar nights (we call it "the dark time" in Norwegian) in Tromsø run from 25 November to 17 January, it means that in the four months from late July to late November, it goes from no night at all, to all night! I think the change is something like 10 -15 minutes every day, which means that in just four to six days, the day gets one hour darker or one hour lighter, depending on whether it is fall or spring. It sure makes for an interesting life!

The short summer nights are definitely one of the best things about northern Norway, Tomorrow I will write about the looong winter nights and how it affects life in Norway.

February 13, 2009

Polar Nights

Polar Nights is the romantic name for what people in northern Norway call "the dark time." As I wrote yesterday, in Tromso, there is no sunlight between 25 November and 17 January. And because of the mountains, it is actually even longer - it would end on January 17 if the sun was unobstructed, but it is not.

In general, it seems like the northerners take the darkness in stride. They light a lot of candles, cook nice meals, and spend time skiing or hanging out with their families. In Oslo, at the darkest, we still have six hours of daylight, from 9:30 to 3:40 or 4, so it is very different. But for some it can still be tough! In general, people find fall harder than winter - in fall it is so obvious that it is getting darker and before it starts snowing it feels soooo dark and grey.

It is also important to point out some mitigating factors: in the north, during the middle of the day, it does get somewhat lighter - it looks like dusk is about to arrive. And the snow makes it a LOT easier to bear because the pretty white makes it look lighter.

February 14, 2009

More from the Vigeland Park

A few days ago I wrote about the Vigeland Park in Oslo. I talked about how popular it is and how many people visit it, but I guess I didn't actually talk about how much I like it. It is definitely one of my favorite places in Oslo and I love hanging out there, running, playing frisbee, relaxing in the grass, or showing people around. I found some of my photos from three years ago so I wanted to post those as well.

Two of the sculptures from the bridge (iron):
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The fountain, in sunshine this time:
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With some of the sculptures surrounding the Monolith (granite):
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February 15, 2009

More on midnight sun and polar nights

I thought I'd take this post to explain a little bit more about how people deal with the darkness in the summer and the light in the summer. As I mentioned before, I grew up in Oslo, which does not have the extreme differences of above the Arctic Circle, but it is still noticeable.

In the summer, up north, I think that more than anything people enjoy the light and the long summer nights. The winters are so long and dark so they don't care that they don't get a lot of sleep in the summer! But of course, they will also use dark curtains or blinds to get some sleep. In Oslo, I never felt that it was a problem - I had relatively dark curtains and then sometimes I'd put on one of those airplane sleep masks.

In the winter, some people use artificial sunlight lamps to get some strong light in their lives. This is of course mainly used where the polar night period lasts for a long time. I knew someone who lived in the very north and they had one at work - every day each employee would get to use the lamp for 30 minutes.

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Girasoli asked if people ski in the dark and the answer is yes. You can ski with a headlight, or go to a trail or slope with lights. Across the country there are lots of slopes and trails with lights. Around Oslo there are many trails for cross country skiing and people like to go after work so the lights are important, or they wear a headlight.

February 16, 2009

Map of Norway

Here is a map of Norway, I should have posted this a long time ago. You can see how the fjords and inlets jot into the country.

Please study this map and I will test you when I come back! You have so far learned about Tromso and Oslo, plus about the Coastal Steamer that goes from Bergen to Kirkenes. Please familiarize yourself with those places! (Oops, Kirkenes is not on - look for Vardo instead, it is very close.)

I'll be back Tuesday!

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February 18, 2009

Map of Norway in relation to the United States

When I posted the map of Norway a few days ago, Annie made a comment saying that she didn't really know the scale of the country and that it was interesting to compare it with its neighbors. When reading that, my very technologically advanced boyfriend said he could make a graphic superimposing Norway atop a map of the US, to see the size in comparison. And here it is! As you can see, it is a long and narrow country, almost as long as the US East Coast. On the West Coast, it would cover the distance from San Diego to Seattle. Enjoy:

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Graphic: JY

A few facts:

  • Norway has 4.7 million inhabitants
  • The country is slightly larger than the US state New Mexico
  • It borders Sweden, Finland, and Russia
  • The four biggest cities are Oslo (the capital), Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim. They are the only cities with more than 100,000 people.
  • Oslo has 573,388 inhabitants

February 20, 2009

Norway in the New York Times

It is late and I am tired so I am just posting a link to an article today. This article from the New York Times, At Road's End, a Taste of Rural Norway is from 2001 but I still remember the stir it caused. It is written by an American journalist living in Norway and describes his visit to a farm (sort of an agriturismo) in the countryside. The owner turns out to be less than friendly and the author, while loving the area itself, seems to focus on this. The interesting thing, though, is not so much the article, but what happened afterward. Instead of apologizing for poor customer service (for instance, not serving dinner when that had indeed been promised, and the guests were 10km from the closest town and without a car), the owner got very mad and said he could care less about these urban tourists and their whims. Hopefully this is the exception rather than the rule, but it is indeed true that customer service is not particularly great in Norway. You can have wonderful experiences but the culture of service that you see for example in the US does not really exist there.

February 21, 2009

My Elementary School

This is not good enough, I know, but it is almost midnight... Here is a photo of my elementary school. Tomorrow I'll write something about education! :)

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February 22, 2009

Education in Norway

Yesterday I was lazy and all I posted was a photo of my elementary school, so today I will try to do better! It was interesting that several commenters said that they were used to one-story schools. My school was built in 1920 or so, so it is rather old, but still I think most schools in Norway are more than one story. I loved my school and I especially enjoyed my sixth grade classroom, which was on the third floor and had a great view of the Oslo fjord.

Here is a much less picturesque photo - my middle school:
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In our February blogging group there are several educators - Amy, Girasoli, Eden, Barb, and Jerry come to mind, as well as Marcia who is a school librarian. I always enjoy reading what they have to say so hopefully they will find this interesting! (And jgk is also a teacher! I didn't know that but now she is on the list too!)

(Disclaimer: I am, well, very opinionated. Education is one of those things I have a lot of opinions about. It is also one of those things that are very, very complex and there are no easy answers. Further down, I bombastically declare that everyone should go to public school, but I realize that in many places that is not the best solution.)

Continue reading "Education in Norway" »

February 23, 2009

The story of my high school

My high school was built in 1958 as a temporary school while they were building a large high school nearby. However, as the baby boomers reached high school age, the demand kept the temporary school alive - for 45 years! I absolutely loved my high school years and our little school. It was a temporary, one-story building with classroom around a courtyard-style open space. It was freezing cold in the winters but a great place to learn, make friends, and do theatre. We had a strong theatre tradition and the 100% student run theatre put on a play every year. I participated in a play by Berthold Brecht, one by Ludvig Holberg, and "The Crucible" by Arthur Miller. Such great years!

A new school was built by 2004 and my sister attended her last year of high school in the new one. She is happy she got to experience the old school, too. Our school was always known for being a friendly, slightly hippie school with great teamwork between teachers and students.

This is the old school - now it is completely flattened and is being used as a parking lot:
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This is the new school - very pretty and fancy but does it have a soul?
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February 24, 2009

Norwegian Food (an Appetizer)

Now that I have used the Norway theme the whole month, I want to finish with it too, but it is getting harder! I still need to do the Nordic Mythology thing...

As an appetizer for tomorrow, I will only post some food pictures today. Gotta go to bed early today...

Some cooked salmon:
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Some smoked salmon:
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Cod, by far my favorite fish:
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Kransekake, a delicious almond cookie/cake that is made in circular molds and then stacked:
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February 25, 2009

Cod

I mentioned cod in my entry yesterday and I figured I should dedicate a whole entry to it!


Cod is the common name for the genus of fish Gadus, belonging to the family Gadidae, and is also used in the common name of a variety of other fishes. Cod is a popular food fish with a mild flavor, low fat content and a dense white flesh that flakes easily. Cod livers are processed to make cod liver oil, an important source of Vitamin A, Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA). Larger cod caught during spawning are sometimes called skrei. Young Atlantic cod or haddock prepared in strips for cooking is called scrod.

Cod in Norway:

We eat a lot of cod in Norway. In some parts of Norway (for instance parts of the southern coast), cod is the traditional Christmas dinner.

In the Lofoten islands of northern Norway, the fishing of cod was the main industry for centuries, and is still very important. Special techniques for cod fishing was developed there. The season for fishing cod is from early February to mid-March.

Some of the cod (after being cleaned of course) is hung up on timber racks (hjeller) to dry, remaining on the racks until June. This is called stockfish in English, bacalao in Spanish and bacalhau in Portuguese. In Brazil, bacalhau noruego is a cherished Christmas dish. (In Spanish and Portuguese they use the same word for the fresh and the dry version of the fish.) Norway has exported cod for centuries. In South America, I often find that our cod is the thing we are the most famous for!

People in Norway have been taking cod liver oil for a long time. The ultimate Omega 3 supplement! (Although it can make you burp fishy...)

I thought this image was neat - it is Norwegian cod liver oil (tran) packaged for sale in Poland.
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I prefer my cod fresh, lightly salted, with potatoes, carrots and butter. It is almost always the first dinner I have when I go to Norway!

In Lofoten, we met a Spaniard running a tourist shop. He did good business selling stockfish to the Spanish tourists.

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Te conozco bacalao, aunque vengas disfrazado!

February 26, 2009

Bake and Cake

In my short post on Norwegian food, I showed a photo of a tall cake consisting of circular almond cake/cookies, or kransekake. It is popular for family gatherings, weddings, baptisms, and holidays, and tastes delicious! It is a good example of the importance of baking and cakes in Norwegian cuisine.

In Norway, we use the word bake both about baking (with yeast) and making cakes (with baking powder.) Baked goods are an important part of life and bread is definitely a main staple - the typical breakfast is two pieces of bread (with cheese or jam or some sliced meat) and the typical lunch is (but this is changing) three pieces of bread, once again with cheese, ham, or something else that packs well. I have known a lot of exchange students and their main complaint about food in Norway is the never ending bread! Growing up, I usually had three bread meals a day - breakfast, lunch, and an evening meal. (We ate dinner around 4pm so by 8pm I needed some food!) I will say, though, that we have good bread. Fresh bread in lots of varieties, many of them with tasty whole grains. Interestingly enough we have little of the rye bread or pumpernickel that the Danes and German seem to favor.

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As you probably know, most Europeans will complain about US bread. I almost refuse to eat sliced bread out of a plastic bag - only in emergencies! It doesn't matter if it has 12 grains, I can't stand the texture and there has to be weird additives in a bread that can stay "fresh" for that long.

Most Norwegians know how to make bread, and it is common to bake your own. We also like to bake cinnamon rolls and other yeast bread delicacies. The smell of bread baking, whether sweet or savory, is one of my favorites! I think I talked about my Home Ec class last year, and one of the best things I learned was to make bread. My mom also taught me and I feel very comfortable working with yeast. I really feel that kneading bread connects me to the generations of women before me!

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Norwegians also like to make cakes. We also often invite people over for just coffee and cake, or "coffee party." There is usually more than one cake present. For larger parties, it is common that family members or others bring a cake to the big "cake table." In a wedding, there can easily be 20 cakes. There are some standard ones, like cream cake and chocolate cake, and other that vary with the times, like frozen custard style cakes or cakes topped with chocolate mousse. Mmmm...

Cream cake with marzipan top all decorated for independence day:
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I was never a big cake eater growing up, but there seems to be a lot of feelings attached to cakes - "If you don't eat my cake you don't love me." I think this sentiment about food exists in many cultures but in Norway it seems to be extra strong when it comes to cakes.

The typical birthday cake: Chocolate cake with jelly men and jelly women!
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February 27, 2009

Seigmenn and Seigdamer - jelly men and jelly women

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Both Annie and Marcia commented on the little jelly people on the cake in yesterday's post, so I figured I'd dedicate a whole post to them! They are called seigmenn and seigdamer in Norwegian.

Testing imagesThe sugar covered jelly men were launched by a Norwegian candy company in 1965, and it 2001 they added jelly women as well. They taste different than American jelly beans but that is the closest explanation I can think of. Each year, Norwegians eat more than 225 million jelly men and jelly women! They are great for decorating cakes and gingerbread houses, and they taste really really good.

Testing imagesNorwegians also like chocolate a lot, especially Norwegian milk chocolate. Although I prefer dark chocolate, I really really like our milk chocolate! It is a common gift for friends abroad. (For instance, my sister's Mexican host das LOVES it! She can't bring enough when she goes there.) Another popular candy is called Bamsemums, a bear-shaped candy. We also have bear shaped licorice... We must really like our candy in human or animal form! (I guess I could do another post on salty licorice - a favorite of northern Europeans but hated by pretty much everybody else!)

February 28, 2009

Norway in the US

Our last day of blogging! It has been fun but a little difficult to find time every day. At the beginning of February I never thought I would write about Norway every single day, but it actually wasn't very difficult. There are a few topics I wanted to write about but never covered, simply because it was too time consuming. I'll write those when I have more time! (For instance, I wanted to write about Nordic Mythology, Norwegian literature, etc.) Thank you for all your wonderful comments, I am glad you enjoyed learning about Norway!

For my last post I wanted to write about being Norwegian in the US (and maybe a little about being Norwegian abroad in general.) As most days, I am writing this late but I am happy that I posted something every single day!

In most cases, it is very easy to be a Norwegian abroad. We can go many places without visas; more places than Americans for instance. (Brazil is one of the countries that has instituted visa reciprocity - since Brazilians need visas to enter the US, Brazil decided that people from the US need visas to enter Brazil.) In general there are no places where there are bad feelings against Norwegians, making traveling easy.

In the US it also easy to be a Norwegian - but sometimes that makes me feel a little guilty. I am always welcomed warmly, I get lots of compliments on my accent (wow, you don't sound like a foreigner!), nobody thinks I am "taking jobs away from Americans." Sometime I see, for instance, Latinos being treated unfairly for speaking little English, and I think that I will never feel any anti-foreigner sentiments - and I wish that was the case for other foreigners as well. It is also interesting that people are less likely to think I am a foreigner just because I am white. In general, Americans are very friendly and open to outsiders, but the more Sarah Palin-inclined among us are quick to blame problems on immigrants, usually the ones from Latin America. Not cool!

Living abroad also makes you examine your own country and culture much more - it is always interesting to look at your country from afar. Some things I appreciate more - health care for all! - and some things I realize I don't miss at all! The lack of politeness and the difficulty with small talk are two of those.

Since I have already gotten serious in this last post, I will use this post to give Obama one piece of advice: Get the health care sorted out before it is too late! It is such a contentious issue and he has to act while he has good approval ratings and wide support. Health care is a right, not a privilege! (And now I will step down from my soap box.)

Thanks to all Slow Travel blog friends - congratulations on making through the whole month!

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