Sunday, May 31, 2009

31 May

Die Wetterprognose für meinen Besuch in Stryn wird besser geworden!!!


I have arrived safely in Stryn. The weather is still great, I'm hoping it holds for tomorrow. I 'spose I'll just post a few pictures for now. If all goes well, I'll be skiing all day.

Lillehammer, Norway, at 12:30 am

The famous ski jump site at Lillehammer's Olympic Park


Saturday, May 30, 2009

30 May

Today was another big travel day.  I had a six hour bus ride from Flåm to Lillehammer (site of the '94 Winter Olympics.)

I was expecting to do a lot of sleeping on the bus, but no dice.  The scenery was absolutely stunning, to such an extent that the 6 hour ride went by startlingly fast.  (Fast is an adverb now.  Really!)  One of the first things I got to experience on the ride was a trip through the longest tunnel in the world, which connects Aurland to Laerdal.  The tunnel is 24.5 kilometers long, and is quite a feat of engineering!

After we passed through Laerdal (with similar scenery to Flåm and Aurland), the next hour of the trip occurred along some incredible whitewater.  To my right, there were deadly rapids, and to my left, a green meadow overlooked by snow-topped mountains.  In the second half of the trip, we drove around an enormous lake which perfectly reflected the mountains above it.  Unfortunately, that was when my batteries died.  So no pictures from the bus ride.

The last hour or so we drove through a dense evergreen forest, with Norwegian pines stretching all the way to the horizon in both directions.  When we pulled into Lillehammer, I could hardly believe that it had been 6 hours.  I trudged up a steep hill with all my gear and checked into my hotel.  I guess I was rewarded for booking early... because I have my own shower and bathroom!  A first, and certainly the only time I'll have this luxury on the trip.  Apparently this is a huge holiday weekend in Norway, which explains why every room type at the HI hostel here was booked two months in advance...

Tomorrow I have another long day, at the end of which I arrive in Stryn.

Ski ho!

The weather today was incredible; 70 degrees and no clouds.  I did get a few parting pictures of Flåm before I left this morning:

Panorama looking into town

Raging river heading into the Sognefjord

Friday, May 29, 2009

29 May

Today was an administrative day. The weather forecast initially called for sunshine, but Flåm has been covered in clouds all day - pretty drab. I have taken advantage of the craptastic weather by doing laundry. (!!!) It was a great deal... only 10 dollars for a load... It was necessary. Aside from laundry, I've been planning my expenses and travels for the next week or so. The fluctuations between the dollar and the Norwegian kroner have been pretty wild, so it's been difficult to decide how much to withdraw at any given time. I'm getting burned pretty hard by all the crazy ATM fees... Scandinavia doesn't have any banks in the Global ATM Alliance.

It is almost 6:30 pm now, and it looks like the sun might be coming out finally... Maybe I'll go for a stroll.

Tomorrow, I am taking a bus to Lillehammer, the site of the 1994 Winter Olympics. I'll be staying there one night, and then I'll be traveling to Stryn, where I hope to go skiing.

Cute bed & breakfast near the water

Looking out from Flåm into the Sognefjord

28 May

Norway wins at everything, forever.

In the dwindling hours of Wednesday night I hatched plans for a big hike: from Aurland (180 feet) to the Prest peak (4100 feet). I awoke at 9 o’clock and caught the grocery store right after opening to buy some snacks for the trip: sandwiches, bananas, and a liter of SUPER JUICE. Everyone knows that bananas are super fruits, but in Norway they also have super juice: a mix of orange, apple, passion fruit, mango, pineapple, apricot, and banana. It made me uncomfortably energetic. Good thing, too.

Yeah, so, the hike. I took a bus from Flåm to Aurland, where the hike officially began at 10 o’clock. After walking down the road for a while, I came to the 300 foot Turlifossen waterfall, a very conspicuous trail marking. I hopped the fence and strolled past some very confused livestock, following the red T-marks that stretched the length of the hike. For four and a half hours, I made my arduous ascent, stopping occasionally to take pictures. I passed countless waterfalls, babbling brooks, small clearings, and several snowbanks. The weather gradually improved over the course of the day, so by the time I reached Prest, I had an incredible view.

I was rather surprised, however, by the fact that I never saw any other hikers. I didn’t encounter any signs of life until halfway through my descent, when I met a nice English couple from the Isle of Wight. They had hired a car, and offered me a ride back to Flåm when I made it down to Aurland again. I gladly accepted, and thus saved some bus fare.

All in all, the hike lasted 8 hours. I would reason that I walked about 25 miles; one of the longest hikes I’ve ever done. I am already aching as I write this, but it is a very gratified soreness. I’ll sleep well tonight.

I suppose a few pictures are in order.

The 300 foot high Turlifossen waterfall, marking the beginning of the trail


Sognefjorden Panorama (Click for full view)

In the panorama, the town visible in the top right corner is Flåm, where I am staying. A little further to the right and closer to the bottom is Aurland, the beginning and ending point for my hike.

Norway pwns!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

27 May

Today I rose at seven and had my final breakfast at the Montana hostel. I’ll surely miss that place, with their great view, their nice free internet and common spaces, their good breakfast, and their four-bunk room with no roommates…

I caught the bus into town at eight and boarded my regional train, which took me from Bergen to Myrdal, the junction station for the Flåmsbana, the famous rail connection to Flåm. The ride via the Flåmsbana was really incredible. We dropped more than 2000 in elevation in about half an hour. We were able to stop a few times along the way for photographs, and they were truly incredible. What was also incredible was the fact that it was snowing. Even the locals were surprised to see such late snowfall.

After an hour-long ride, we had arrived in Flåm. It is really, really beautiful here. This town is really tiny; the largest structures by far are the two cruise ships that have docked out in the fjord. There is only one grocery store here, which immediately attracted my attention. For lunch I had sausage, onions, bread, and some chocolate. I have accidently booked a single room at the hostel in Flåm, but it is such a good deal that I’m keeping it. I am now living in a big cabin that has a block of six (four empty) rooms, a large sitting area with couches and a dining table, a bathroom, and a full kitchen (stove, fridge, oven, microwave, water boiler, dishes, sink, cabinet.) All inclusive, I am paying about fifty dollars a night. Fine with me!

The only drag is that there is no internet access… I spoke with the reception lady, who informed me that they are installing internet access in all the rooms this weekend. My timing sucks.
As for the weather, the snow has changed to mostly rain after our drop in elevation, and I am definitely not in the mood to go on another long, wet hike just yet. I am still sore from yesterday, so I think I might opt for a quiet afternoon in peace at my cabin here. If it clears up, I’ll slip out to take some more pictures. There are snow-capped mountains in just about every direction, and as soon as the weather clears it’ll make for some spectacular panoramas.

Nap time!

Ahhh…. I slept until 5:30 so the only grocery store in town is now closed.

Poor planning. However, I found a place where there is some wireless, albeit a weak signal. My Macbook has been really bitchy about its WiFi since I got it, and it really kicked it into high gear in Europe. I am now sitting with my computer 3 inches away from the router, and it seems to like that enough to work.

Posing with the Kjosfossen, a 300 foot waterfall along the Flåmsbana

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

26 May

Well, today was even crazier than yesterday, but for different reasons.  I started this morning with doing some final odds and ends at the office, including putting together some more "Festival Performer" name tags...  I was glad to finally get out of the office for the hike.  

I met my new friend David, a close friend of Per's, and we set out for our five hour excursion through town, into the woods, and up into the mountains.  Our hike started in Bergen at sea level and finished at the top of a nearby mountain at over 1500 feet.  Pretty epic.  The majority of the epic-ness was a product of the unrelenting torrential rain that accompanied us for our entire trip.  The water penetrated my vertex jacket, my shirt, my backpack, and my camera case inside of my backpack.  The trail we took to the summit had transformed into a creek for our return.

When we were back into the city at last I was a walking sponge.  (Fortunately, my camera survived.)  Thankfully, Norway showed me once again its greatness when David's sister let us use her apartment to shower and dry our clothes.  Clean and energized with a cup of green tea, I had to run back to the office to gather all of my things.  Then I met Per, Kaja, David, and his sister at Grieghallen to see a Norwegian folk performance.

It was incredible!

I was expecting to fall asleep at the show, because I was absolutely exhausted from the hike and getting soaked through.  However, the folk performance was amazing, and it turned out to be my favorite event from the whole festival.  The show featured numerous Norwegian favorites, but many of them were performed with a contemporary spin.  It featured a full orchestra accompanied by two incredible vocalists, an accordion, and one of the coordinators of the festival who played on pots and pans with a spatula.  The performance was witty, fun, and exciting.  I have a whole new opinion of folk music now.

After the show I fought off the temptation to just pass out back at the hostel and went for one last drink with Per and Kaja.  They thanked me for all of my help with the festival, but I actually feel even more grateful to have had such great friends here in Bergen.  I will never forget their enthusiasm and great company.

And now I am going to bed.  Big day tomorrow.

Last signaling torch of the chain that stretches all the way back to Oslo!

Very reflective bog along the trail

Fairwell photo with Per and Kaja at the Logen bar

25 May

Yesterday (referring to the 25th) was totally nuts.  It was my busiest day yet in terms of work.  It was a lot of the familiar stuff - running errands, making trips to the post office, sorting files, etc...  I also was charged with making about 400 laminated "Festival Artist" passes, which took a long time.  At the end of the day, I got to go see a performance of Jon Fosse's Todesvariationen, a tragic play, at the Bergen theatre.  Fosse's plays are performed around the world, and this particular one was performed by a group from Zurich, so I got to see it in German.  The play was absolutely fantastic, and I would have to make it my second favorite play I've ever seen.  (First still goes to Shaffer's Equus, which I saw performed in Chapel Hill years ago.)  Anyway, today I am taking it a little easier, since this my last day in Bergen.  In a few hours I am going to go hiking in the mountains with a friend I met here.

Other than that, I have a lot of organizational stuff to take care of.  Exciting news: After making some calls using the phone here, I successfully reached the bus service in Stryn.  The sixth number to which I was referred finally landed me with someone who could answer my questions, and I know now that I will at least be able to make it to the campsite at the base of the mountain (180 ft).  From there, I will need to find someone with which to hitchhike to the Ski center (3600 ft.) where I will rent ski gear and take the ski lift to the top of the mountain (5200 ft.)  Finding a ride shouldn't be too tough because the Folven camp site pretty much exclusively serves skiers at the ski center.

All of this skiing business doesn't happen until June first, but I have to figure this stuff out now because I don't think my hostel in Flåm has internet access. So I might be going off the air for a few days. (I know you guys are all devastated.)

I'll leave you with a few pictures from the past day or two.

Sunset at 11:15

Backstage at Grieghallen before the showing of Bach's Johannespasjonen (St. John's Passion)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

24 May

I was interviewed by the newspaper a few days ago about my role as a volunteer and the issue came out today.

The caption translates:

Tory Smith is from the USA, and is working as a volunteer as a runner for the administration and artist contact for the soloists in the Johannespasjonen.

"I have planned the trip to Norway for two years, and pursued a scholarship to go there, among other things, to work 
for the festival. I have Scandinavian ancestry, and I see this as a golden opportunity to experience the culture 
and be familiar with the friendly folk here in Bergen and the festival. As a volunteer I will be a link between management and artists."


Also, Penguin!

I visited Bergen Akvariet today, which has the largest collection of fish and sea birds in Europe.  Although it was smaller than most of our aquariums, they did have some really cool penguins and several species of seals.  Besides that, work continues as usual, even on Sunday.  Tonight I am going to see my four artists in their big performance at Grieghallen.  I'm thinking of trying to get some laundry done tonight or tomorrow.  I'm really excited for my trip to Fl
åm on Wednesday...coming up!

A larger collection of photos from my trip thus far are online here:

Saturday, May 23, 2009

23 May

Hey!  The sun came out!

The weather got nice today.  (See above!)

Working with the festival staff in Bergen has been an absolute joy.  I arrived here in the afternoon on the 20th, rather worn out and famished from my long day of travel.  When I finally found the festival headquarters and got to the fourth floor, I was ready to pass out.  Then I walked in through the double doors into a whole new world (cue Aladdin music.)

This entire place is saturated with an infectious enthusiasm and a sense of communal spirit that makes it easy to be productive.  We work hard and we get a lot done, but we certainly enjoy ourselves in the process.  The atmosphere here occasionally reminds me of something you would see on The Office.  The people here can occasionally be just as goofy as Michael Scott, but they are actually competent at what they do.  I don't feel intimidated by the presence of my superiors here.

For example, here is my boss:

Per Brynning, Head of the Volunteer Department

Today I have some more artist contact work to do, as well as some administrative work later this afternoon.  Tonight, however, I'm going with Per and Kaja to see the electronica group Matmos.  It's going to be really, really weird.  I can't wait.

22 May

Well, today was a lot more working.  I met all of my artists and got them checked into their super swaggy 2000 NOK/night hotel rooms.  I also made lots of deliveries, stuffed some more folders and envelopes, and did some other office-oriented work.  Since my first two artists arrived at noon and my second two arrived at midnight, my evening was totally open to explore the city a bit.  It finally stopped raining at about seven, which was nice.

What was even nicer was Per and Kaja inviting me out for dinner and drinks at Cafe Opera and then Lugen! (Pronounced "Looshen.")  I had some really awesome falafel with baba ghanoush, and I finally got to try some Norwegian beer.  Festival staff get a discount at some of the bars and restaurants in Bergen, so a pint of beer was only 48 NOK!  (About $8.00.)  Needless to say, I won't be doing much drinking over here.  I got to try the Oslo beer and the local Bergen beer, both pilseners.  They were pretty good, I would say about on par with a typical German pilsener - except about three times as expensive.

After I finally had all four of my artists checked in it was past midnight, so I had to find the bus and get back to my hostel, five miles or so from the city center.  I didn't get back until after 1 am, which was the latest I've been up since I got here.  I am far north enough now that it never truly gets dark, rather it gets "darker."  Even in the middle of the night with an overcast sky I have to draw the curtains to block the light. 

Waterworks near the SAS Radisson Hotel

Bergen by day

Same spot, at around 1:15 am

Thursday, May 21, 2009

21 May

Yesterday I met Per Brynning (volunteer coordinator) and Kaja Jorem (artist contact coordinator) and today I finally got to start working with them.  I have been doing all sorts of things to help get the festival running.  Even though it officially began yesterday, it will be coming into full swing over the next week.  I've been stuffing and distributing artist info envelopes, delivering programs to various venues, and running errands here and there for the higher-ups.  Tomorrow the real work begins: I will be working as an artist contact for three soloists from Germany and one from Iceland.  Apparently they are all world renowned for their singing; if you are interested you can google them!  (Christoph Prégardien, Finnur Bjarnesón, Ingeborg Danz, and Christina Landshamer.)  
Bergen is really pretty.  However, a gigantic southern-Norway-shaped low pressure system has parked itself over southern Norway, so it has been overcast for most of my time here.  Bergen is an old Hanseatic trade city, and was actually the capital of Norway for a while.  There is still a lot of German influence visible in the architecture, but some of the names have been changed due to post-WWII sentiments.  The city center opens into the harbor and out to the ocean, adding to a really nice maritime feel.  Stands selling fresh fish and Norwegian fruits de mer are are perched all around.  Many of the stands are preparing the fish on the spot with vegetables and spices and selling it ready-to-eat, so the smells are heavenly.  Prices are high indeed, but this is no surprise.
I'll be needing to head out shortly - I am going to see a musical performance at Grieghallen, the main site for most of the events at this years festival.  Thanks to my handy "Event Staff" card thingy, I'll be able to get in for free.

This is where I work now

Bergen Harbor, near downtown

The opulent performance hall in Grieghallen

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

20 May

Well, today was travel day.  And lots of it.

Last night, however, was a great final evening in Oslo.  When I got back to the Hostel to make dinner the kitchen was totally full of German Architecture students from the University of Nürnberg.  They were making a week-long trip to Oslo to explore some of the neoclassical buildings and the new Opera House.  They were also making scalloped potatoes.  Nice.  I introduced myself and they were perplexed and impressed that I was studying German back in the United States.  As a result, I got to have dinner and drinks afterwards with a nice group of my peers - and practice my language skills.  I retired at around 11 o'clock in preparation for today's journey.

I got up this morning at 6:15, showered, and ate a quick breakfast before tramming to downtown Oslo one last time to catch my train.  Oslo to Bergen might not look like very far on a map, but the terrain covered is riddled with steep mountains, majestic fjords, and deep snow.  (Even in the summer!)  So the trip took about seven hours - not that I was staring at my watch the whole time.  The views were unbelievable.  We departed Oslo Central Station (in the east) at 8 o'clock and arrived in Bergen (on the west coast) at about 3 o'clock.  Our trip took us from sea level, to an elevation of 5000 feet, and back to sea level again.  About two hours into the trip, snow started to appear in clumps on the mountains along the horizon.  Then, after about three hours, we emerged from a long tunnel into a valley completely blanketed in several feet of snow that stretched for as far as the eye could see.  Minutes later, we had a brief stop near Geilo, Norway where I had a chance to jump off the train and take a few pictures.  I was obliged again a little later in Myrdal, after we had begun our descent from the mountains.  I have now arrived safely in Bergen.  The whole day has been surreal.

I am now sitting in the main offices for Festspilline Bergen, the international arts festival.  I met with my new boss, Per Brynning, and the artist contact coordinator for the festival, Kaja Jorem, and got my shiny "Festival Staff" lanyard, which will allow me free entry to all the exciting events happening over the next week.  There are over 1400 artists coming to Bergen from all over the world, and I am serving as a liaison to four of them.  There is also a large jazz festival I am hoping to visit.

Gosh this is almost overwhelming.  I still need to get a bus pass and check into my Hostel on the outskirts of the city before it gets too late.  I wanted to make sure I could get some good internet beforehand though... I'm trying to keep you guys up to date and coordinate some things back at home.

I can fill in more details later, but right now I need to scavenge some dinner.  Photos:

The shiny new Oslo Opera House

Myrdal, Norway: Junction for the Flåm Railway

Jumping off the train for a quick photo op near Geilo (sweet snowmobile!)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

19 May

This post comes from the Bocota Cafe in central Oslo, where I have purchased a cup of coffee in order to get some wireless access with my Macbook.  I can finally upload pictures again!  I have updated my post from 17 May with a few photos.  Seriously check out the statue of the guy punting the baby if you haven't already.  If you click on one of my pictures, you can see it at full resolution as well!

Anyway, today was museum day.  Pretty much all the noteworthy attractions in Oslo are closed on Mondays, so today was the day to prowl about the city checking out the sights.  Thanks to my trusty "Oslo Pass," I was able to get in to everywhere for free.  My first stop was the Vikingskiphuset, a building in the outskirts of Oslo that houses the three best preserved Viking ships in the world, all of which were found in the Oslo area.  Unfortunately, a lot of Viking kings preferred to be cremated along with their fleets and valuables, so there are a precious few remaining today.  I was blown away by the level of craftsmanship in the vessels on display.

After paying homage to my seafaring ancestors, I made my way over to the Kon Tiki museum and had lunch.  I packed a humble meal of Norwegian Laks (yum!) on a roll and a bit of chocolate.  After my quick bite I checked out Thor (actually pronounced "Tor") Heyerdahl's Kon Tiki, a raft made of balsa wood.  Heyerdahl was a scientist and outdoorsman that theorized that Polynesia could have been originally settled by Peruvians.  No one believed him, so he traveled to South America and built himself a raft using ancient methods known to have been employed by the indigenous peoples of Peru and sailed it from Callao to Polynesia.  What impresses me most is that he did this with a crew of only six men - in 1947 (no GPS!)

Right next door was the Frammuseet, a large A-frame structure enclosing the polar exploration vessel Fram, which was used on two successful North Pole expeditions and one trip to the South Pole.  Fram was captained by the famous Norwegian explorers Nansen, Sverdrup, and Amundsen.  Roald Amundsen was the first man to reach the south pole.  The vessel was constructed to withstand being totally encased in solid ice for months at a time, so the walls are nearly three feet thick.  Visitors to the museum can actually board the vessel and explore the decks and cabins.  Really cool.

My last exploit of the afternoon was a visit to the Nasjonalgalleriet, one of Oslo's finest museums.  I got to see Edvard Munch's "The Scream," which has been stolen from Oslo twice in the past fifteen years.  Fortunately, it was available today.  Just before I left the museum I walked through a room with a lot of stuff that looked familiar.  Closer examination revealed an eclectic collection, including paintings by Monet, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Cézanne, Manet, Gauguin, and Degas.  I had previously thought that the gallery only featured works of Norwegian origin, so I was taken aback to see such a varied collection.

The day is winding down here in Oslo; I need to take the tram back to my hostel soon to grab some dinner.  I probably ought to go to bed early tonight - tomorrow I have a seven hour train ride to Bergen that leaves at 8 AM.  I'll leave with a few pictures:

Viking Longboat, Circa 850 A.D.

The Kon Tiki raft, which drifted from Peru to Tahiti in 101 days

Walkway at the University of Oslo, near the Nasjonalgalleriet

Monday, May 18, 2009

18 May

The weather today was the sucks. 45 degrees with steady wind and rain. I slept in until 1 pm in protest and then ventured into the city with my two German roommates: Marcus and Michael. They are visiting for just a few days - they flew here via RyanAir and rented a car.

Unfortunately Oslo is much less beautiful when it is wet and gray-tinted, so I did not take nearly as many pictures today. Also - all the museums and attractions except for the parks were there was little to do. The highlight of my day was definitely going out for a Norwegian dinner! I ate super cheap on my first few days here, so I wanted to splurge and have something authentic. Tonight I had wasabi and cucumber glazed salmon with beans and potatoes with a soy reduction. Glass of wine too. It all came to 300 NOK (a little under 50 dollars including tip and tax). Pricey, but I wanted to eat some real Norwegian food.

Another thing I want to do is post more pictures, but my wireless will only work for 2 minutes at a time now, requiring restarts in between. This only gives me enough time to load 90% of a picture before the connection dies. No one else is having any problems. I spent a while cruising forums for a solution and I found out that there are hundreds of people having the same problems with their macbooks. No solution from Apple or elsewhere has worked. If any of you reading at home have some advice, let me know. I have tried just about everything. On an unrelated note, if anyone wants wants to punch an Apple Genius in the face, you have my blessing.

More to come later - I have to yield this free internet console to a couple of Russian teenagers.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

17 May

After going to bed last night at 6:00, I awoke this morning to chirping birds and a brilliantly shining sun.  At 5:30.  The weather when I went turned in for the night was eerily reminiscent of Blacksburg: windy, rainy, and cold.  Today, however, it is gorgeous.  I could see all the way out to the Oslo fjord from my breakfast table.  The hostel breakfast was great.  Norwegian breakfast resembles German breakfast: there are cheeses (Jarlsberg!), cold meats, jams and jellies, fresh vegetables, muesli, and grainy breads.  A few Norwegian additions include pickled herring, beets, and a few substances I have yet to identify.  The coffee and juices are excellent.

Today is Syttende Mai: Norwegian Independence Day.  Oslo on a typical day is pretty busy, but today the city was a zoo.  Not thinking clearly, I wore my orange effect t-shirt today.  (Norway’s national colors are red, white, and blue, just like ours.)  Most people wear the Norwegian colors on Syttende Mai.  Others wore traditional Norwegian garb or their finest Sunday clothes with red and white ribbons.

I probably saw three quarters of a million people today.  The only other person wearing an orange shirt was a hobo.

I felt rather out of place, but the festive atmosphere and the great weather were a good distraction.  There were a smattering of different parades, but the biggest one was the traditional children’s parade, which went on for a good three hours.  I visited Slottet (the Royal Palace), Stortinget (Parliament), and the brand new Opera house, which was just finished in 2006.  The building is really quite remarkable – the whole outside is tiled with marble and it rises on a majestic slant right out of the harbor.  On the inside there is a Guggenheim-esque rising spiral with a cool wooden pattern.  Definitely the coolest building I have seen in Oslo. The urinals in the men’s restroom were pretty flipping sweet too.

I grabbed some Subway for lunch (95 NOK = 12 dollars) and then made my way over to Vigeland park and statue garden, where I encountered a statue featuring a man that I fondly refer to as “the baby basher.”  This Vigeland guy would have been an interesting dinner guest to say the least.  Most of his work was weird and some of it was downright grotesque, but it was pretty cool to look at.

I’m having my other frozen pizza from yesterday now.  The past two days I have spent less than half of my $40/day food budget – but I am hoping to save money in the first few weeks because I did not account for my possible day of skiing in Stryn on my original budget.

It’s 6:30 and I am tired again – I can tell I’m still not adjusted to European time.  I’m going to stay up a bit later tonight to hopefully allow myself to wake up at a more normal time tomorrow.   6:30 instead of 5:30, perhaps?  A few pictures from my busy day:

The illustrious baby basher with victims in tow

Oslo Harbor

Syttende Mai parade along Karl Johans Gate

Saturday, May 16, 2009

16 May

Hello everyone.  I have landed safely and successfully made my way to the Haraldsheim Hostel in Oslo, 4 km from the city center.  It’s my first day in Scandinavia (and Norway) and I have already learned several new things:

1.            I do not speak Norwegian.

I just returned from the grocery store, where I bought two pizzas and a bar of chocolate, which rang up for 75.90 NOK – roughly 12 dollars.  Fortunately everything was well labeled and I was able to see my total on the cashier’s display, thus avoiding a total communication failure.  I had a delightful conversation with the young woman working the register.

TORY - smiling, dumbfounded:  Uhhhhh…

CASHIER – smiling:  Birkelsojidorf sikfj suudkj rweoiru.  Sodudk skojd ox?

TORY – still smiling, handing over the money:  Um.

CASHIER – accepting money, puzzled at lack of response: Sodudk skojd ox?

TORY – clearly distressed:  Yes.

CASHIER – frowning:  Tslkjdoiook durpfk.  Dfjek uyoot.

TORY – apologetic, dismayed at unintentional breach of etiquette:  Danke.  (Oops!)

Aside from my most recent experience buying groceries, everyone I have met in Oslo has spoken impeccable English, in many cases with no discernable accent.  I have my handy dandy Norwegian phrase book, but I haven’t needed it yet.  I guess at the store I was too embarrassed to break into English.  I’m eating one of those pizzas right now – Jarlsberg cheese, ham, and mushrooms.  Delicious.

2.            Norwegians are realllly friendly.

I landed in Norway with no train reservations, no bus tickets, no map, and no friends.  I was quite pleased with how easy it was to get all of those things taken care of in almost no time at all.  Not only does everyone here speak English – they are also really friendly!  I have been to a lot of places where I felt like I was part of some sort of invasion.  Certainly not the case here… I have now paid for all of my accommodations, transit needs, and admission fees for the next four days.  I pulled out 3000 NOK this morning after I landed, and half of it is gone as a result. I have experience working with the Euro, the Pound, and the Swiss Franc, all of which are comparable to the dollar in spending power.  So, finding out that a bottle of water is 18 NOK is taking some time to get used to.

3.            I love me some Jarlsberg.

Well, I am going to take a few more bites of this pizza and then it’s time to tram back down to the city center for some exploring.  It’s almost 2 pm Norway time, which means I’ve been awake for 21 hours now.  I haven’t crashed yet, but I know it’s coming.  My goal is to make it to 5 pm.

A few pictures from day one:

The Haraldsheim Hostel, 4 km from the city center

View from the rear of Haraldsheim