Backstreet’s Back, Alright!

Just kidding. The Backstreet Boys are in fact not back, but I am!

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I am back in Bergen, and this time it is indefinitely. I received the offer for that “big-girl-job,” took it, and moved myself back to Norway. I have to say I still quite don’t know how I feel about it. Some days I think heck yeah! I live in Europe, this is awesome! Other times, pictures of the Chicago skyline fill me with homesickness. But I think that’s just how it goes.

When I was leaving for Bergen, nearly two months ago, I had just graduated from college, where I got all that knowledge. In the US, this is a huge celebration filled with ceremonies and receptions, speakers and formalities, caps and gowns. Family flies in and friends gather to remember the good ol’ times of the early college years. I was feeling all the warm fuzzies for my university, my friends, my family and my city. A week later I had to get on a plane and I was so not ready. Why leave all that comfort? Well, the ticket was bought, the bags were packed and I was on my way.

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It has been a bit of a whirlwind since I got here. When I arrived at my final destination, my bags had not….they needed more time in Iceland apparently. Rarely do things get completely lost, but when nearly all of your belongings are in two suitcases in airport limbo, it’s a bit unsettling. But alas, they arrived and I got all my bureaucratic things sorted out. Now all that’s left is to learn the language. Jeg lærer norsk!

I moved into a house with 8 other Norwegians and 1 from Sweden, so the incentive to learn the language is definitely there. For those of you who know me at ALL are probably thinking to yourselves….Meredith chose to live with 9 other people?! I know, I’m as shocked as all of you, but it’s a really nice place and it’s a great way to work on my Norwegian and make friends! They’re all students, so they’re keeping me young.

In the meantime, I’ve just been catching up with friends I made last year and going outside, getting to know my neighborhood.

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I’m excited to see what my new life here has in store.

The Rain in Spain…

…falls mainly in Bergen. And I got to escape it for a week during this past Christmas season.

My Christmas traveling started in Norway. More specifically, the smallest town I have ever been in: A mountain town two hours northeast of Bergen where the population is around 150 and you can recognize all of your neighbors. Needless to say, this was a very new experience for me, and to be honest, I loved it. I was adopted by a lovely Norwegian family for the weekend preceding Christmas. The time was filled with Christmas songs, baking, and eating! Three of my favorite things! Not so different from Christmastime in the U.S.

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There are some traditions that are quite different though. Most all families eat a dish called pinnekjot or ribbe on Christmas Eve. Norwegians also open their presents on Christmas Eve after Santa delivers them to the house. Here’s a funny thing…in Norway (or at least in the households of the friends I made) Santa knocks on the door on Christmas Eve and delivers the Christmas gifts directly to the children. He often times bears an uncanny resemblance to a relative that mysteriously left the festivities half an hour before. How odd! I only saw Santa at the mall when I was growing up. I guess the Norwegians have more of an “in” with Santa since they’re closer to the North Pole.

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My time in Eksingedalen came to a close as I headed to my next destination for my Christmas Vacation, Barcelona! DSCN1909

I loved Barcelona. I loved that the sun came up at 8:30 instead of 10. I loved the fresh fruit. I loved the olives. I loved the architecture. The Sagrada Familia….it was LITERALLY awe-inspiring.

 DSCN1829 DSCN1889   DSCN1981  What I loved the most was being able to see Steph again. While I do have to say Christmas did not feel like Christmas this year, being able to spend it with a close friend made it much more special. We managed to get ourselves to a midnight mass that neither of us understood (it was in Catalan), and on Christmas day we made our way to Madrid and! made one of our favorite dinners, spaghetti. We even did some Christmas cookie baking to get ourselves in the spirit. DSCN1948    Madrid reminded me a lot of Chicago for some reason. I think it was just because it’s a big city and there were  a ton of people there…something I got NOT used to living in Norway. It was almost overwhelming, the amount of people. Also, the public transportation system in Madrid is pretty robust…also quite intimidating when first gathering your bearings in a new place. Wow, listen to me! Now I’m just a small town girl….(sing it with me!)…living in a lonely world! Took a midnight Renfe going anywhere. (Renfe is one of the big train companies in Spain).

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While in Madrid, we also went to Segovia. Segovia is one of those really old, cool cities that is protected by a wall. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a city that was surrounded by a wall and it was pretty cool to see! So many of the structures in these old cities are just amazing because they didn’t have the equipment back then that we do now and you just sit there thinking, “how did they do this?” I’m sure there’s lots of books in my local library where I can look up early architecture of Spain methods…but until I read up, I’ll just marvel. Especially cool things were the Roman Aqueduct, Segovia Cathedral and Alcazar (castle). Fun fact, Alcazar de Segovia is one of the inspirations for Disney’s Cinderella Castle.

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My last day in Spain was spent in Madrid visiting the palace, eating tapas, drinking sangria and savoring churros and chocolate.DSCN2106DSCN2207

A special thanks to the Mr. and  Mrs. Kornatz for all of the fun things they took us to while we were in Spain together.  Also a very special thanks to Steph for being such a great hostess and having me. I am amazed at how well she has mastered the city of Madrid. DSCN1874

Homesick for the Holidays

“You know you’ve been in Norway too long when…A stranger on the street smiles at you and you assume that he is: a) drunk b) insane c) American d) all of the above…”

Just a little something I’ve read many places on the internet about different Scandinavian countries.

These are not happy-go-lucky times in Norway. It’s dark, it’s wet, it’s dark and it’s dark. Yesterday outside the window at work, I watched the streetlamp turn off at 10am and turn back on around 3pm. No wonder people don’t smile up here! Unless your teeth glow in the dark, it just ain’t gonna matter. No one will see your fine attempts at being personable anyway.

Thanksgiving was a particularly dark day. I tried to make it special, I really did. I brought in sweet potato pie cookies for work, made plans for the weekend, many colleagues said Happy Thanksgiving to me….but there’s something to be said about sharing a special day with those who understand its importance. During my time here, I have shamefully made ZERO American friends. My reasoning? I already know plenty of Americans.

Yes, I realized this was a silly way to think as I desperately made my last attempts at finding pumpkin ANYTHING at the new (and only) Starbucks in Bergen.

Me: “Do you have a Pumpkin Spice Latte?”

Barista: “No, only Christmas drinks.”

Me: “But it’s Thanksgiving (and this is an American company for Pete’s sake)!”

Barista: Just a polite smile. And a heart on my cup. Norwegians are so nice.

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I had visited 5 or 6 stores the weekend before. No canned pumpkin. No actual pumpkin. I didn’t even think to save a full pumpkin from Halloween as canned pumpkin is such a staple in America. Growing up, we always had at least one can in our pantry at all times.

While Thanksgiving was quite the dud of a day, Friendsgiving was amazing. Many of my new European friends came to support me in making and eating my traditional feast the Sunday following Thanksgiving. We gobbled up some Norwegian meatballs, homemade stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, rolls, tyttebær (lingonberry) jam, peas, a homemade Oreo cake and a sweet potato pie. Had to have an orange pie in there somewhere!1471833_10201830595800131_1579466332_n

I suddenly felt silly for being so glum on Thanksgiving when I had so many new friends to be thankful for! They have taught me so much and are always so patient when I am just NOT understanding why some things are the way they are here. I’m living in a beautiful country with such kindhearted people. This is bar-none the best experience I’ve had in my life and I am so thankful to all of you who helped make this happen.

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Since Europe doesn’t have Thanksgiving to separate Halloween from Christmas, as soon as those spooky ghosts come down the Christmas trees go up! I was celebrating Lysfesten (The Festival of the Lights) before a single bite of stuffing hit my mouth! The festival was complete with friends, carols, fireworks, and torches. Not candles. Torches. Along with umbrellas of course. Velkommen til Bergen. The city where you need to take your umbrella to go see the fireworks. Despite the pouring down rain, a truly festive feeling of Christmas filled Bergen.

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It was already beginning to look like Christmas, but then a snow storm rolled in last weekend and with it, a little piece of Lombard. Stephanie, my friend teaching English in Spain, arrived despite the many cancelled flights. Unfortunately, her bag did not. I do have to think it’s a conspiracy, because in that bag there was canned pumpkin with my name on it. It’s not like hundreds of people were missing their luggage last Friday night…..

In spite of the lost luggage woes, we had a fantastic time. We walked in a winter wonderland, trudged up a mountain, hung out with some trolls, saw some plundering, chilled in a cave and snacked on some typical Norwegian food…kebabs. We made friends with a cat and a dog, on different occasions of course, and saw a boat house…not a house where you would keep boat stuff… but a house, shaped like a boat.DSCN0524ImageImageDSCN1764

It was a short weekend trip with Steph and I was sad to see her go. But lucky for me! I get to see her again soon as I take my next adventure to Spain. It will be a Feliz Navidad for sure.

God Jul to you all.

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Everyday, Norway.

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So, I realized that I never said what the heck I’m even doing here, in Norway.

Without further ado, I’ll clarify. I have an internship at a company in Bergen called Wema System.  It’s a manufacturing company that produces fuel and AdBlue sensors for trucks and such. So when you see that your fuel tank needs filling, you can now think, “Oh, Meredith works with these kinds of contraptions.” Or not.

I don’t work with the sensors specifically…not my type of engineering. I have a faint idea as to how they work, but could not relay this information because 1. I signed a confidentiality agreement, and 2. My explanation would leave both parties more confused than the beginning of the conversation about fuel sensors.  I work with the process of making the sensors and some sub-assemblies to see how they can be more efficient so that we can make more sensors! It may sound boring to you, but I totally love this stuff. It’s like a puzzle where changing some maneuvers creates greater output.  Word of advice…don’t ever go to the airport with me….I’ll just be complaining to high heaven about how many design flaws there are and how stupid it is that we’re standing in a miserably long motionless line.

Wema’s Bergen office is extremely international. In my department alone, there are 6 nations represented: Spain, Poland, Romania, Greece, America, and Norway, naturally. Every day I learn something new, not only about working in an international company (units get me every time), but also about different cultures: how they celebrate different holidays, what childhood life is like, different traditions, the chocolate etc…

I really enjoy going to work. Over the past 4.5 months that I have been working at Wema, my department, Industrialization, has felt more and more like my family. While there are some frustrations at work that we deal with, cause, well, work is work…a lot of the time it feels more like fun than a job.  My colleagues have been so welcoming and have gotten to know me with such sincerity that I feel comforted even though thousands of miles separate me from my actual family.

So, that’s my weekday life. On weekends, I try and go see new things, explore different parts of Bergen. Last weekend I made it to this glass-blowing shop and even got to try the artisanal art myself! It is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be, but definitely something I’ve always wanted to do.

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Today I finally made it to Gamlehaugen, the mansion of the Royal Family when they are visiting Bergen. It’s a whopping 15 minute walk from my dorm and I just managed to make it there today. I’ve tried before, but windy streets + directionally challenged me = very lost American girl that can SEE the mansion, but can never see how to get to it. Today it was windy streets: 0 Meredith: 1, and what a day! So much blue sky that I wondered for a second if I was still in Bergen.

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København. Adventures to, from, and in.

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In Norway, the hiking is free, but you should bring every bottom dollar for the rest of your time here.

I found an article that stated Norway as the second most expensive country in Europe, Switzerland being first. This came as no surprise to me as I have had to reorganize my budget a countless amount of times. How do the Norwegians live this life? Well they have higher salaries, of course. Makes sense. Makes it more reasonable when you’re making big bucks that the cheapest bottle of wine to be found Anywhere is $20. There is no such thing as “Two Buck Chuck” in Norway.

However ordinary these high costs may seem to the Norwegians, they are able to recognize that the same things come with smaller price tags. All they have to do is hop on over to Denmark.

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Yes, I had the urge to sing “I’m on a boat” every time we went on deck.

Last weekend I found myself with an offer I couldn’t refuse..a trip to Copenhagen to explore more of Scandinavia. We were going via DFDS Seaways on a mini cruise from Oslo to Copenhagen. Two nights on the boat, six hours in Copenhagen, and chance to see the Norwegians outside of their natural habitat. I was so in.

To me, it felt like most of the mini cruise passengers were in my parents’ age group…and did they know how to party! Leaving the Duty Free with bags filled as if they would never see a Duty Free shop again. From the time we left Oslo to when we docked back in Norway, the festivities were ongoing. I don’t know about them..but I was tired. This American girl could not keep up with the Norwegians…not even the older ones. I guess I’m ok with that…I guess I have to be.

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Oslo from the Boat

When we got to Copenhagen, it was a quick stop for breakfast, coffee, and a chance to plan our route to maximize our sight seeing in the 6 hours we had. I think we walked a minimum of 10 miles and saw so much. The city hall, where we got to celebrate many couples getting married, the Tivoli Gardens, Vor Freslers Kirke, this magical place called Hotel Chocolat, Stroget, Nyhavn, Christiania, The Little Mermaid statue and Amalienborg….just to name a few.

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It was far too short of a trip to really get a feel for Copenhagen. I definitely want to go back..but what I noticed: It is far more flat that the cities I’ve been to in Norway. There are a lot of bikes….everywhere. Bikes to Copenhagen is broken umbrellas to Bergen. Buildings in Copenhagen are far more grand than those in cities of Norway. A lot more gold, a lot more detail, a lot more impressive.

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City Hall on the right.

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The Little Mermaid

After we docked back in Oslo, I took the bus to Bergen. The day was perfect for this. The sun was out and my eyes got to experience 11 hours of greatness. The first 8 hours were filled with the gorgeous Norwegian autumn. So much untouched nature clothed in the perfect colors of fall. Sigh. So good. The last three hours my eyes got to focus on the perfection that is the inside of my eyelids.

This bus trip, while long, was good for me. I sat next to this nice young mom who told me about some of the places that we passed through including a town called Seljord. Within this town is a lake, Seljordsvatnet, and within this lake lives a sea monster much like Nessie. It’s name? Selma. I love how they pick such intimidating names for these “monsters.”

The bus trip was also interesting in that it wasn’t so direct…I had to switch buses. I am so thankful for the woman I was sitting next to, because without her, I would have found myself somewhere else at midnight last Sunday. It was a little crazy for me to think about. I was alone, in the middle of nowhere Norway (try saying that 10x fast), with a bus driver that didn’t speak English, little to no cell service, and was wondering who I would call in the case I did get lost. As my mom would tell me, I would just have to figure it out. Luckily, nothing happened, and I found myself back at my dorm, walking up the 6 flights of stairs due to the broken elevator. Finally home.

A Taste of Home

On Friday, the 20th of September, Bergen was invaded by Americans. And not by just any ol’ Yanks…My parents and family friends, the Sankos.

I rushed into town from work to meet them at their hotel and with perfect timing made it there RIGHT as their Flybussen was dropping them off. Of the entire week that they were here, I think this moment was my favorite. Just that pure joy of seeing my parents after so long and knowing that I would get to show them all of the things I love about Norway. It’s a good thing they brought their walking shoes, cause I had an itinerary that was not intended for the weak. I let them take a mini break, since they did just travel for 12+ hours…but then it was chop chop! Outside! The sun was out and so were we! First stop: Nordnesparken for a lovely walk and a beautiful sunset.

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The next day we made the trip up to Fløyen. As soon as we got on the Funicular, it started raining, of course. Thanks Obama. But after waiting just a few minutes at the top, the wind took away the clouds and rain leaving only the breathtaking view of Bergen. It was so much fun. I got to use the view as a 3D map to point out all of the places I have talked about and we even got to play with some trolls.

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The rest of the weekend was spent with some more typical Bergen sight-seeing: Bryggen, Bergenhus Festning, and of course! The sweater shops!

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My beautiful mother at the top of Rosenkrantz Tower

On Monday, we got out of Bergen to see what Norway has to offer outside of the city with an adventure to Flåm on the Flåmsbana. It was such a cool train ride with twists and turns and views of waterfalls, beautiful mountains, and those random houses that make you wonder, “Who actually lives there?” The way back was by boat down the largest fjord in Norway, Sognefjord. Again, pictures cannot do justice the beauty that we saw on this ferry back to Bergen. If ever you want a moment where you awe at nature with such ferocity that you leave a puddle of drool…plan a trip to Norway.

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Mom and Mrs. Sanko in Flåm nature

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On Tuesday, I let the kids go play on their own as I went to work. It was an interesting experience, going to work on my birthday…I think I’ll avoid it from now on. It was so wonderful though, to get to spend my special day with my parents and friends. I made us some rommegrot and Mrs. Sanko, my fellow chocolate lover, made sure I had brownies for my birthday cake as I was serenaded “Happy Birthday” outside my dorm building. The rest of the evening was spent doing my new favorite activity, walking in the Norwegian nature. Now my parents can picture my surroundings when I tell them I am going for a quick run around the lake, or park, or to see the Fantoft Stavekirke, and I think that is just so cool.

While everyday of the week was an adventure with my parents, Wednesday was a bit different. It was an adventure with food. We Americans got all dolled up and went to the harbor to wait for some guy in a boat. (If you’re Alexis Smith, you’ll understand this as being comparable to meeting the tour group by The Stairs outside of the Vatican…but Bergen is much smaller than Rome, so this was a lot easier.) This guy with the boat happened to be the owner of the restaurant we were going to and drove us, along with 15 employees of Norway’s ‘small’ oil company Statoil, to an island close by. This island is occupied by only this restaurant, Cornelius, and one residence.

As we ate some raw salmon, scallops (that were still moving), and oysters, we listened to the crazy story of how this man acquired such a swank place. It was a crazy story, and I’m not sure how much of it was true…also some of it was in Norwegian. I would try and relay it, but it’s one of those stories where only a certain person can tell it to give the full effect. I can tell you it includes a fish farm, death, betrayal, Seattle, and a rascal of a man. We ate a scrumptious three-course meal as the sun set behind the hills of Hordaland. Sigh.

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It really didn’t hit me that my parents were here until they left. I thought that their visit would be a nice ‘refresher’ and that it would dispel the hint of homesickness I had been feeling. Quite the opposite happened. Now that I have had that taste of home, I feel more homesick. I still love it here in Bergen and am looking forward to my next three months here and the adventures I will undoubtedly have, but I realized how much I really do miss the United States and those people I love that are there. Skype is great, but it can’t give you that hug that one only gets from their mama or that big bear hug a dad gives.

Something to remember: The world is so small. Check out what I found in a local antique shop. Maybe Illinois isn’t so far away after all.

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A Norwegian Walk in the Park

IMG_1211“Norwegians don’t climb up mountains, they push them down.” -a phrase exclaimed this past weekend during the first incline up Romsdalseggen,a mountain ridge in Åndalsnes. I’m not sure that I pushed any mountains down, but I sure did last the 8 hour hike, peaked over cliffs, and used chains to keep my balance as I scaled the mountains during some pretty steep trails. Yes, you may now call me Mountain Woman Meredith. This epic hike was my 4th in the past month, and it made the other three seem like a simple walk in the park.

Week One was Mt. Ulriken (again) followed by Preikestolen during Week Two at IAESTE’s Stavanger Weekend. Preikestolen is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Norway, and I can definitely see why. Pictures can’t do the cliff justice (although, I’ll still show one here), and the overall thrill of sitting at the edge is like no other. There is no railing, no air mattresses at the bottom…no safety anything. Just a 600 meter vertical drop to the ever-so-beautiful Lysefjord. If this was in the United States, there would definitely be a whole fence and safety guards there patrolling. Norway is much simpler. Be smart, or die.

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Preikestolen

Week Three included a lovely evening hike after work. When you’re surrounded by nature, it’s quite easy to squeeze in a trek on a weekday. And if I’ve learned anything from the people of Bergen, it’s that good weather is NEVER to be wasted. You must use your time wisely and get outside! So that is what my Swiss colleague and I did. We got outside and walked up Fløyen to enjoy Bergen from greater heights.

I’m surprising myself with how much enjoyment I get from these outdoor activities. “City girl” exploring the mystical thing that is Nature. I’m still pretty naive to all this “outdoors stuff” and I tend to ask silly questions like, “Do you go on hikes like this often (the 8 hour one)?” To which I got some reply like, “Everyday after work,” or “This is how I commute to and from work.” Now, you can imagine, gullible me, eyes wide, like WHAT? REALLY? An 8-hour hike is not an everyday, weekday activity. Duly noted and I will not be fooled again!DSCN1128

On top of the 8 hour hike, I also did some canyoning this past weekend (IAESTE’s Mountain Weekend). You know, propelling down the sides of rocks, tight rope walking between ledges and zip-lining into 8°C water. Confession: I was extremely nervous the entire time, but thankfully my brain was like, ‘Meredith, there’s no other way down. You just gotta do it!’ And I’m really glad I did. The one thing I regret was not jumping from 11 meters. I did the 2 and the 5, but decided that I had hit my limit on outdoor activities there. I’m feelin’ only 22. I’ve got time to test my fear of jumping from high places into really cold water.

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About to look in the face of danger (and scream).
Photo courtesy of Dimitri Tschense

To end the weekend right, the Mountain Weekend IAESTE committee made us all dinner fit for vikings. We feasted on homemade rømmegrøt and various meats and homemade bread. I gotta tell ya, these Norwegians know their stuff when it comes to bread. We feasted in a setting that is exactly what I imagined Norway to look like. Mountains, waterfalls, grass on the roofs, antlers attached to the front of the old, wooden house (more like hut).

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These weekends that the IAESTE committees plan are so great because you get to meet people from all over the world and bond pretty quickly since you’re doing such crazy things (and probably need some moral support). What’s sad about these weekends is that once Sunday comes, the reality is that you will probably never see these new friends ever again and Facebook can only do so much. Now, with any large group, you won’t ‘click’ with everyone, making this okay…but for others, you find yourself thinking, ‘Dang! We would be such good friends if we lived near each other, or went to the same school, or this or that!’ and you’re left with just a friend-crush. For those of you who don’t know the term, a friend-crush is when you meet someone that you want to be good friends with, but aren’t. It’s similar to a regular crush in that it’s usually something that you can’t have, cause then you’d be friends already, but it’s in no way romantic.

So, to all of my family, friends, and friend-crushees (especially if you’re in Norway): Be safe, be smart, and don’t die. And always beware of the trolls.

Oslo in the Summertime.

Last weekend I traveled to Norway’s capital, Oslo. It is Norway’s largest city, and I have to say, it was nice to be in a “city city” again. What do I mean by this? Right now I live in Bergen, Norway’s second largest city, and it is just…so…pretty. It’s extremely clean and the buildings all look so old and European and decorative. It’s quaint, and dare I say, cute. It’s not what comes to mind when I think City. Oslo was a bit dirtier, had grey buildings, and more of a subway system.  *Sigh* It almost felt like home. Still, Oslo is by no means a Big City, at least compared to Chicago. According to Wikipedia, Chicagoland contains an estimated 9.5 million people, with about 2.7 million actually living in the city. The entirety of Norway has a population of about 5 million, roughly 600,000 of it being in Oslo….just to give some perspective.

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Oslo’s Skyline

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Chicago’s Skyline

I took the train to Oslo from Bergen early on Friday morning with a fellow intern at my work. The trip is about the same distance between Chicago and St. Louis and it was 7.5 hours of beautiful scenery: lakes, fjords, mountains, valleys. Basically, all of the nature to behold was seen on this journey. In comparison to the “gorgeous” nothing and cornfields that is southern Illinois, this long trip to Oslo was much more enjoyable.

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It was interesting to find out that there exists a sort of rivalry between Bergen and Oslo. Whenever I tell people in Bergen that I went to Oslo, they immediately get a scowl and say, “We don’t like Oslo.” When we were in Oslo and said we were living in Bergen, it was sort of the same…almost. I’ve heard it said that when you’re from Bergen, you’re not from Norway, you’re from Bergen, just Bergen. So much attitude. It reminds me of south side vs. north side, Sox vs. Cubs rivalry, or West Coast Best Coast kind of stuff. Not sure why, but I guess I thought people in Norway were just peaceful and all friends. Hometown pride is a thing everywhere. Duly noted.

First stop off the train was the hostel where we were staying for the weekend. The people I hung out with during this trip were surprised to find out that I had never stayed in a hostel before. I didn’t think that we even had hostels in the United States, but the girl from Minnesota staying in the same room informed me that we did (P.S. it took me 5 weeks, but I finally met a fellow American! She’s from St. Cloud and I, of course, immediately made a How I Met Your Mother reference…I think she gets that a lot). I came to the conclusion that we have a lot more options for cheap hotels, so that’s that.

The weekend activities were arranged by an IAESTE member in Oslo and the first night’s itinerary was a barbecue in Sofienparken. We grilled an amazing salmon dinner and played a game of Kubb. Kubb is a little hard to explain…it’s a game from the Viking times where you throw pieces of wood at other pieces of wood and try to knock them down. You can’t hit the “King” in the middle until you’ve knocked over all of the other pieces of wood on the side opposite to where you’re standing. Maybe instead of a vicious throwdown that is described in the poem Beowulf, Grendel and the great hero just played a quality game of Kubb for the mead hall, Heorot…maybe not.1085056_10200967989555514_1142393682_o

Saturday’s activities:

Holmenkollen – ski jump.

Frognerparken – the largest park in Oslo that has a record amount of naked people statues.

Oslo Ice Bar – self explanatory.

To end the day, an evening on an island in Oslofjorden, Hovedoya. Sometimes things seem like they’re not really happening. Like, how are people from China, Romania, the United States, Austria, Poland, Norway, Italy and Switzerland all hanging out on an island in a fjord in Oslo, having a barbecue and bonding over music and delicious food? So cool. I’ve learned so much…especially about what others think of the United States…for example, why we gotta be in everyone’s business? (I’m really bad at fielding political/foreign policy questions). Why do we need guns? (There’s a lot to say about this one, but not here). Also, a Norwegian was surprised when I didn’t say “like” every other word…’cause like, I’m, like an American girl, like, so I, like, must, like, talk like this, like like like.

Conclusion: I really liked Oslo and wish I had extra time to get more of a feel for the city.

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Nutella and Bread and Cheese. Oh my!

They say you learn a lot about yourself when you travel to a different country, leaving your general support system of family and close friends behind. Three weeks in and no epiphanies yet, but I have come to the realization that if I have the option to eat bread, cheese and Nutella all day, I will! No regrets.

The bread here (or at least the bread I’ve been having) is no Wonder Bread, it’s WONDERFUL Bread. Seriously, it’s so soft and just so good. It’s a sin not to enjoy it. And then you add a dollop of Nutella and…Voila! Breakfast! And some days Lunch! And Dinner! We never kept Nutella in our apartment in the States. It was too dangerous, and kind of expensive for a jar of something that would not be around for a long time. Here, you can get a jar of generic Nutella for under $2. But don’t get the impression that everything is less expensive here.  A gallon of milk would cost nearly $8 and a can of Coke is over $2.50! Now, when you return the can, you get 1 krone back ($0.16) but still, $2.34 for a can of Coke…a bit steep, no?  That’s why I get the Nutella and bread 🙂 . Also, I opted for a big hot lunch at work (and salad bar, mom), so I get most of my nutrients from that and basically call it a day in terms of “real meals.” Lots of fish, or at least more than I’m used to.

As far as the cheese goes…there’s this brown Norwegian cheese, brunost, (literally translates to brown cheese) that is TO DIE for. People ask me if I like the brunost, and I say, “No. I LOVE the brunost.” Seriously guys, I think about it almost every day. I’m just the step below being loony over this cheese. It’s that good. I try not to buy it at the store because I know I’ll eat it til I’m sick. It’s sweet and rich and has a slightly tart after taste. *sigh*yum*sigh*

It’s a good thing that it’s a hike to get basically anywhere around this country, or I’d be extremely large and in charge. But, that’s another thing I’ve noticed about myself. I really like being outside. In nature. “Exploring.” I’m a bit of a homebody and am ok with that fact…but here, I need to walk in a park, be out, or run around somewhere at least once a day for a few hours. I think this may have to do with the fact that my dorm room may not be as “homey” as I’m used to, or that I’m only here for a bit of time and want to get the most of my experience. Whatever it is, it’s not typical me, and I like it (almost as much as I like the brunost).

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**I may or may not have maimed myself in the making of this high calorie snack. I immediately realized that I had no band-aids and ran to the grocery store with my hand wrapped in toilet paper 15 minutes before it closed. I kept my cool when the guy at the cash register told me I had to go to the other line upon my turn to pay for my First-Aid Kit and was only mildly dramatic throughout the whole ordeal. That’s growing up, right?

Celebrating America and Other Adventures

Last week was the 4th of July. Independence Day! Our nation’s birthday. And what did I do? I went to work like all of the other Norwegians. However, this was no ordinary day at work. As I am the only American in the office (to my knowledge), it totally felt like my birthday. Everyone wished me a Happy 4th of July and asked me how I was going to celebrate, how I usually celebrate and so on. Later that evening someone even wished me a happy birthday! I was like, Holy Cow! How did he know how I was feeling at work?  I later found out that it is typical for Norwegians to wish each other “Gratulerer med dagen,” which is what they say on birthdays and on their Independence Day, May 17th.

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That night I celebrated our nation’s birthday with some new Norwegian friends at a party filled with typical 4th of July food: hot dogs, chips, wings, and salad (that one’s for you, mom). We also listened to some Bruce Springsteen and the newer classic, “Party in the USA.” During this evening I got to find out the Norwegian perspective of Americans. Two words: American Pie. They also were immediately like, “Cheerleaders!” Think of how many people are cheerleaders compared to the amount of people who are not cheerleaders. It’s interesting that this part of American culture sticks out so strikingly to others. It is probably because of the way that we portray them, like in American Pie, Bring it On, or xyz cheerleader movie. We may find these films funny, but do not realize how it negatively affects other countries’ opinions of us.

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The dog is proud of me too!

I continued the fun on Saturday with my first hike up a mountain. It was Mt. Ulriken, at 643 meters, the tallest mountain in Bergen. I could not have done it without my new favorite Delta Zeta tee and a Norway native. At first, I thought, “Oh, I so got this.” But this confidence quickly departed as I realize just how flat Chicago really is. Lesson learned: eat a good meal beforehand and be ready to get dirty. As my level of gracefulness is well-known, it should come to no shock that the way down was a bit rocky (pun intended) and also a tad muddy. I took the Bybanen home looking like I had quite the time outside. And I did. Beauty and Grace, Miss United States.  That’s me!