Last Friday was supposed to mark the end of our official 14-day quarantine, after our nightmare exodus out of coronavirus-stricken Norway. While Matthew and I have displayed none of the typical symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough), we have just learned that the exhaustion and intestinal troubles we endured later during our trip and at home may mean that we did indeed contract the disease.
Coronavirus in Norway & Chicago
I can’t leave the topic of Midsummer in Finland without briefly describing our breakneck tour of Helsinki. So here’s a head’s up for my readers; this post is all about architecture and design, baby! As the photo above suggests, Finland’s capital feels like a big city masquerading as a small town. The immense sky dwarfs both the urban landscape and the industrial harbor, making the whole place seem deceptively Lilliputian.
And something about Helskinki’s scale and layout reminds me of a super-sized Monopoly board. Stately buildings line up with military precision along expansive boulevards and plazas like game pieces brokered during the ultimate real estate battle between heavenly beings.
Midsummer in Finland
Happy Midsummer, everyone! Although we’ve waved bye-bye to the official longest day of the year, in northern climes the celebration can last a full week. The sun is still hanging out near its highpoint for hours, and Scandi types use the extra daylight wisely to party like there’s no tomorrow. Which there kinda isn’t, since the lack of darkness at this latitude means it’s hard to tell exactly when one day fades into the next — especially if you’ve been enjoying some homebrew. Continue reading Midsummer in Finland
Halloween in Oslo & Chicago
Hey folks, I planned to release this post on Monday, but major tech issues have plagued me. After spending six hours at the Apple store (argh!), my machine is now back up and running … so here we go, a little late ….
I’m jumping out of my current blog timeline for a moment to talk about Halloween, since the festivities just wrapped up this past weekend. (Plus, it’s a welcome distraction from my USA Election Day anxieties.) Halloween ranks high amongst the many odd American customs that seem to fascinate Norwegians. In fact, Norway has recently imported the trick-or-treat tradition, especially in big cities like Oslo. With that in mind, I thought my readers on both sides of the pond might enjoy hearing more about how each country puts its stamp on the event. Continue reading Halloween in Oslo & Chicago
Like most French cities, Antibes has a charming Vieille Ville (Old Town) made up of cobblestone streets that wend their way around picture-postcard houses dating mostly from the Middle Ages through the 17th century. Meandering lazily down any path will take you past timeworn fountains and churches, through sunny plazas hosting quaint shops and restaurants, and along shady lanes where you can peek into private courtyards for a glimpse of what it would be like to live there. Sounds good, right? But wait, there’s more….click on the gallery photos for captions.
Antibes: Fun for Francophiles & Francophobes
When last I left you, Matthew and I were headed from Oslo to the French Riviera to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. So here’s your official notice: I’ll be departing from my central storyline (Norway) for a few blog posts in order to cover our favorite summer vacation spot — France. If you’re a Francophile like me, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the upcoming photo galleries that highlight the beauty of the region. But if you hate France (which seems to be a big theme lately in the U.S.), you can either skip this post and chill for a few days until we return to my regular programming. Or, you can swallow your bile and bravely read along. Who knows? Maybe I’ll make a convert out of you 😉
Continue reading Antibes: Fun for Francophiles & Francophobes
Hotels, Norwegian Healthcare, and A Harbor Cruise
Two months after returning to Chicago, it was time to repack our bags for Norway. Matthew’s second session of school was scheduled for mid-June, and I’d planned to sightsee and blog while he hit the books hard. (Classes are typically 12 hours a day, six days a week.) But to paraphrase Robert Burns, “the best-laid plans of mice and men do often go awry.” Yes, in keeping with my usual life pattern, a comedy of errors rapidly unfolded the day we left for Oslo. By the way, this is a looooong post covering a motley collection of stories, so sit down and relax for a spell.
Continue reading Hotels, Norwegian Healthcare, and A Harbor Cruise
Sweet Home Chicago?
Orchestrating an overseas move isn’t for the faint of heart. Beyond the house hunting, packing, and other hassles that come with any relocation, there’s a mountain of immigration paperwork and legal logistics for every member of the household, both human and pet. I’d thought moving to Norway had been complicated. (Check out my earliest posts, The Move: Round 1 and Round 2.) But getting back home proved even more challenging. Continue reading Sweet Home Chicago?
New Beginnings & Norwegian Headlines
No, I haven’t given up on the blog, folks, although I know it’s been forever since I’ve written. We’ve been a little busy, and that’s an understatement. Here’s my big news in a nutshell: we’ve currently relocated back to Chicago … though Matthew has begun graduate school in Oslo. How’s that work, you ask? Well, it’s just as exhaustingly complicated as you might imagine. For the next year and a half, we’ll be commuting between the two cities. Yup, we’re nuts.
The New U.S. Embassy in Oslo
March 8, 2018. Well, it’s done. Finally. After five years of incredibly grueling work for our team (four for Matthew, three for me), our raison d’etre in Norway is complete. We finished construction on the new American Embassy in Oslo last March, it officially opened for business last May, and we’ve just now put a period on the one-year warranty phase. I’ve had to remain mostly mum about the project, for obvious reasons. And though I still can’t say a lot, I’ve only recently gotten the green light to show you a few approved photos of the place and fill you in on some details. So anyway, here goes.
2017 Nobel Peace Prize
December 10, 2017. Much time has passed since I first began this post about the Peace Prize. With Nick’s illness, our family’s Christmas visit, and several big changes in our lives (details to come later), I just never had time to finish it. The topic seems especially relevant now, however, given all the recent headlines of nuclear threats worldwide. And so, I’ll continue my belated holiday story ….
Goodbye to St. Nick
January 22, 2018. In recent posts, I’ve hinted that 2017 was a tough year for us. Serious illnesses and life changes for our parents, the loss of my family farm, an almost unbearable workload, and an uncertain future as our conflict-ridden project in Norway comes to a close. All have chiseled away at our spirits. But the thing that has finally brought us to our knees is what many people might consider trivial by comparison — the death of our beloved cat Nicholas.
A Family Christmas
January 11, 2017. It has long been a dream of mine to enjoy a European Christmas with my family. In fact, I often find it hard to fully revel in the privilege of living overseas when my friends and family can’t share the experience with me. Since this may be our last winter in Norway, and because the past several months have been quite rough personally, Matthew and I decided to splurge and spend all of our frequent flyer miles to bring my mom, sister, and niece to Oslo. Nothing like a family Christmas to hold the blues at bay.
A Christmas Postcard
January 10, 2018. Happy Belated Holidays to All! And yes, I’m quite behind schedule, not only in wishing everyone Season’s Greetings, but in keeping up with my blog. I won’t go into all the details right now, but the last several months have been filled with a great deal of stress and sorrow, as we’ve had quite a lot on our plates. In the midst of it all, little signs of Christmas around Oslo gave us hope, and occasionally a chuckle, so I thought I share them with you. (Click on the photos for bigger views and captions.) Continue reading A Christmas Postcard
The Borre Viking Mounds, Mead Hall, & More
June 5, 2017. For our anniversary this year, we decided to get out of town and into the countryside for a long weekend. A Norwegian friend of ours had recommended that we travel south towards the mouth of the Oslo Fjord, where Viking burial grounds and art galleries proliferate. Yeah, a weird combo, I know. But with all of the area’s postcard-perfect beaches, farmland, and forests, I can totally see its appeal to both conquerors and creative types.
The Reindeer Migration
May 1, 2017. Arriving back from our Malta Easter trip catapulted us immediately into stress central at work. But luckily, I discovered the perfect antidote for anxiety: observing reindeer migrate. For seven days in a row, whenever free time permitted, I parked my butt in front of the TV to catch NRK’s round-the-clock broadcast of the annual reindeer migration across northern Norway. Nothing is nearly so tranquilizing — and yet bizarrely life-affirming — as witnessing a herd of these impossibly cute creatures wander rather lackadaisically across endless fields of white.
Malta: Edibles, Art, and Getting Around Town
April 27, 2017. One last post about Malta. I can’t leave the islands without talking about their unique cuisine and incredible art scene. Plus I thought I’d address some practicalities, too: how to get around the islands and where to stay. Just a little bit left to cover, but I’m gonna let the photos do most of the talking, so get ready to feast your eyes. Continue reading Malta: Edibles, Art, and Getting Around Town
Malta: The Great Outdoors
April 24, 2017. For the nature lovers in the crowd, today I’ll be focusing on Malta’s alfresco options. The place is made for hiking, biking, swimming — and movie making. Whether you know it or not, you’ve probably seen some of the islands’ most stunning settings courtesy of ads, television, and films like Troy, The DaVinci Code, Captain Phillips, Gladiator, and too many to mention here. Continue reading Malta: The Great Outdoors
Malta: Prehistoric Temples & Pagan Catacombs
April 23, 2017. As promised, the theme for today’s memories of Malta is prehistoric peoples and pagans. Now before you begin yawning on me, I guarantee that the photos and stories of Malta’s catacombs and megalithic temples (think Stonehenge on steroids) will rock your world, bad pun intended. Jaw-dropping is the only way to describe them. And I bet that by the end of this post, you’ll be booking your next vacay to see this stuff with your own eyes.
Continue reading Malta: Prehistoric Temples & Pagan Catacombs
Malta: Easter in a Christian Enclave
April 22, 2017. Yep, that’s right, it’s still Easter in my Newbie In Norway timeline. And I’m still behind on my blogging due to that pesky thing called my day job. So prepare to be bombarded with posts in the next couple of weeks as I take some time off my regular paying gig to catch up on life here in Norway. That being said, I can’t pass up the opportunity to tell you about our Easter Week in Malta — the tenth smallest country in the world. Never heard of it? Sure you have. Think Humphrey Bogart in the classic film-noire hit, The Maltese Falcon. But more about that storyline later. Continue reading Malta: Easter in a Christian Enclave
Hiking to Haslumseter & Stumbling upon Snakes
April 9, 2017. Shortly before Easter break, a small snowstorm hit Oslo. Nothing like the knee-deep dumping of white stuff that we sometimes get back home in Chicago. But enough to slow traffic and give Norwegians an excuse to ditch work and go skiing. The fickle weather we’ve had this year hasn’t afforded much opportunity for enjoying the trails, so any small dusting is much appreciated.
Continue reading Hiking to Haslumseter & Stumbling upon Snakes
Whalers, Vikings, Stone Circles … and Porcelain?
March 25, 2017. Sorry for the long break between posts — things have been quite busy with our construction project here in Norway, and I’ve had no time to write. Last I left you, Easter break had arrived. But I got a little ahead of myself, and I’m gonna jump back in time now to catch you up on a few fun experiences that we had before, during, and after the holiday.
Continue reading Whalers, Vikings, Stone Circles … and Porcelain?
An Easter Postcard from Oslo
April 15, 2017. I’m fast-forwarding in my blogging timeline for just a minute to wish everyone a Happy Easter — or as they say here in Norway, God Påske! And rather than writing a tome, I’m sending you an Easter postcard collage showing Pascal preparations around Oslo. (If you’re interested in more details, I covered most of the Norwegian Easter basics last year; check out my 2016 post Easter in Oslo), Hope everyone has a peaceful — or chocolatey, sunny, or scary holiday — whichever Scandinavian theme suits your mood! Continue reading An Easter Postcard from Oslo
Louis Armstrong in Norway
January 22, 2017. Just a (fairly) short post today. Matthew and I have been inundated with work for months, so I haven’t had much time to write. Now that Easter’s almost here, I’m desperately trying to catch up before we take our first big travel excursion since Christmas. We’re heading to the island of Malta in less than a week! But I’m getting way ahead of myself, and my story of Louis Armstrong in Norway. Continue reading Louis Armstrong in Norway
New Year’s in the Austrian Alps
January 8, 2017. Some of you might remember that last year, Matthew and I spent New Year’s in Vienna dancing to the Blue Danube Waltz at the Rathaus Silvester Gala (Translation: “City Hall New Year’s Eve Ball”). This year, we decided to go back to the same country to enjoy the same holiday, but from a different vantage point. We joined friends for a ski trip to Bad Hofgastein. No, the place isn’t on the naughty side of town, across the tracks from Good Hofgastein. Bad means “bath” because the hamlet has some impressive hot springs and is located smack in the middle of the Gastein Valley, an Alpine skiing Mecca … but more about that in a minute. (P.S. Fair warning: this is a loooooong post, so pull up a chair and be prepared to sit a spell.) Continue reading New Year’s in the Austrian Alps
The Christmas Crunch
December 25, 2016. I dunno what happened this year. Between our heavy work schedules, and our little trip to Switzerland, we had a hit-and-run holiday. Slam, bam, and it was over, a distant wreckage of wrappings in the rear-view mirror of my memory. I guess lots of folks feel this way, but I’m a bit peeved with myself for letting it happen. I so wanted to squeeze out every … single … last … drop … of the Norwegian Christmas experience while we’re here. Which led me to start the season by wildly careening from one event to the next, with hardly a breath to spare for “living in the moment.”
Ascending the Swiss Alps
December 19, 2016. For our last full day in Switzerland, we decided to hit the slopes. Not skiing, but hiking, since the weather hadn’t cooperated by giving us some snow. Our choice for an Alpine adventure? Mt. Rigi, which sits across the lake from Luzern and hosts the oldest mountain railways in Europe. Although it’s not the highest nearby peak (that’s Mt. Pilatus, which isn’t easily reachable from Luzern this time of year), Mt. Rigi supposedly offers the best views out over the Alps, down across the flatlands of the Swiss Plateau, and into Germany and France. (By the way, that’s me up top, waving my arms from the summit of Mt. Rigi.)
Luzern’s Christmas Pageantry
December 18, 2016. After a whirlwind day in Zürich, we caught an early morning train to Luzern (Lucerne, if you’re more comfy with the French version of the name). Not only were we looking for more Christmas markets and holiday spirit, but we also planned to use the town as our home base for a brief excursion into the Alps. And we had high hopes that the place would prove to be a bit more cooperative in the meteorological department by blessing us with at least a dusting of the white stuff. Continue reading Luzern’s Christmas Pageantry
Swiss Christmas in Zürich
December 17, 2016. When Matthew and I made plans to move overseas, we promised each other that we’d take the opportunity to experience Christmas in as many countries as possible. Why such a weird goal? It’s probably due to one too many viewings of Rick Steves’ European Christmas (we even have the music on CD.) Not to mention that I spent several years working with cultural groups to create the Christmas Around the World exhibition at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. And all that surrogate spectating had us hankering to see the real thing for ourselves.
A Hadeland Holiday
November 15, 2016. Grumpy from our 24/7 work schedules and getting Grinch-ier by the minute, Matthew and I decided we needed to dredge up a little holiday spirit. A flyer for the Hadeland Julemarked (Christmas Market) seemed just the thing to boost our basement-level attitudes. It promised Christmas music, horse-drawn sleigh rides, traditional Norwegian food and mulled wine — plus steep discounts on the company’s incredible blown glass. Call us Scrooges, but we’re all about bargain shopping for Christmas gifts. (Nothing comes cheap here in Oslo, especially at holiday time.)
Dining at Dyna Fyr Lighthouse
October 10, 2016. Some of you may remember that, back in the summer, I’d written about Kayaking in the Oslo Fjord and an adorable lighthouse that we’d paddled past. We’d learned then that Dyna Fyr, a little Victorian cupcake of a watchtower, had been converted into a restaurant for private events. So when the time came to host a thank-you dinner for our hardworking team, it seemed like the perfect place to go. Continue reading Dining at Dyna Fyr Lighthouse
Autumn in the Østmarka
October 4, 2016. Autumn has been surprisingly warm and sunny so far this year. (Thank you global warming!) The birches are just beginning to flaunt their golden crowns, so Matthew and I decided to make a Sunday trek to see them in their natural habitat. We’d gotten into a bit of a rut, always heading to the Nordmarka for our little hikes. But this time, we decided to try something new — the Østmarka.
October 1, 2016. Hey folks, to prevent chronological confusion, here’s a head’s up: I’m jumping back in time a bit to catch up with my calendar of events. In my last post before the U.S. presidential election, I’d written about Norway’s Oscar Bid and the film Kongens Nei (“The King’s No”). Matthew and I were so taken with the movie that we decided to make a trip the next day to Oscarsborg Festning. It’s the island fortress where one of the film’s pivotal scenes — the sinking of the Blücher, Hitler’s flagship — takes place.
When I began this blog, I made a promise to myself that I would keep it positive. I don’t mean to be pollyanna; I just want to focus on the good stuff. Believe me, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the negative when you move to a new country and leave behind your family, friends, language, home, most of your worldly possessions, and a 25-year career. Keeping my posts humorous and informative helps me appreciate the opportunities and weather the rough times. But I’m going to take a break from my “regular programming” for a moment, because I feel that as a responsible citizen, I must address the overseas impact of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Continue reading Trump’s Election
Norway’s Oscar Bid
September 30, 2016. Norway has submitted its entry for Best Foreign Language Film in the Oscar race this year. It’s the docudrama Kongens Nei (“The King’s No”), which is based on the true story of three gut-wrenching days in April 1940, when the Nazis invaded Norway and presented their ultimatum to parliament and the king: surrender or die. Needless to say, the film has broken box-office records here, and Matthew and I were hoping to see it. Not as easy a task as you might think. Continue reading Norway’s Oscar Bid
The Oslo Boat Show & Norwegian Food Fest
September 4, 2016. By now, I’m sure you’re all very much aware of how seasick I get. So you’re probably wondering why in the heck I’d go to a boat show. Especially when just standing on a floating dock gets me queasy. The answer is: I had to satisfy my curiosity about the Norwegian national obsession with fancy yachts. From my vantage point near several of Oslo’s marinas, it seems like everyone and his brother owns a sweet ride for the water. And the Båter i Sjøen (“Boats in the Sea”) show promised to reveal the full spectrum of luxury floatables available to the well-heeled Viking. Continue reading The Oslo Boat Show & Norwegian Food Fest
Ullevålseter Summer Hike
August 14, 2016. Since I’ve written about Ullevålseter in winter and spring, I thought I’d take some time to praise its summer splendors — because every season brings surprises. The trek to this old-farmstead-now-hiker’s-haven is one of our favorite jaunts. Not only because of the gorgeous forests, wetlands, and pastures we pass through along the way, but also because we always start our jaunt from the front porch of the picturesque Frognerseteren Restaurant, which offers a heart-stopping view of the Oslo fjord (and some yummy trail food if you haven’t stocked up beforehand). Continue reading Ullevålseter Summer Hike
August 8, 2016. I’m guessing that if most of you were asked to rank your top-ten ideal European destinations, Budapest probably wouldn’t be in the lineup. Maybe it’s the lingering impressions of Iron Curtain countries as dismal. Or maybe it’s Hollywood portrayals of Hungarians as blood-sucking vampires, devious gypsies and petty criminals, or brainless beauties. (I’m thinking here of Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula; Peter Lorre in Casablanca and most every other movie he was in; and Eva and Zsa Zsa Gabor from T.V. classics like Green Acres and Gilligan’s Island.) But whatever the reason, Budapest has had a bit of an undeserved bad rep, at least in the U.S. Continue reading Budapest Bound
American Independence Day 2016
July 4, 2016. As usual, the U.S. Embassy held its annual Independence Day picnic a few weeks early, on June 22 (presumably because the entire population of Norway heads to their summer cabins for the month of July). Unusually, this year proved to be a total crush. The line to get into the party stretched the entire length of the block. You’d have thought everyone was waiting to meet Obama himself. But no, just the new American Ambassador, who’d taken office a few months ago.
Kayaking in the Oslo Fjord
June 20, 2016. Before Matthew’s biking accident prohibited the use of his right hand, we had the chance to try out another popular Norwegian hobby — kayaking. Matthew and I have done tons of canoeing, but our kayaking has been limited to small lakes and rivers using easy-peasy “sit-on-tops.” We’ve only once tried to paddle a serious, two-seater touring model. The attempt ended rather poorly, by the way. The non-adjustable seats situated us so deeply inside the kayak that we were forced to hold our elbows up around our necks to paddle. We whimpered back to the dock within 20 minutes, having completely blown out our shoulder muscles. Continue reading Kayaking in the Oslo Fjord
Biking Along Oslo’s Fjord
June 16, 2016. Much to our dismay, we came back with a surprisingly hefty and undesirable souvenir from our trip to Italy. An extra five pounds each. And this, despite having walked 7 – 12 miles per day, according to our iPhone health trackers. So upon our return to Oslo, we realized we had to go on the austerity plan. No more carbo-loading pasta at every single meal like an Italian. And our exercise routine needed to be stepped up a notch. Time to break out the bicycles. Continue reading Biking Along Oslo’s Fjord
Italy: Trekking the Cinque Terre
June 12, 2016. One of the goals for our Italian vacation was to log several hours basking on a beach. Both to counteract the effects of Norway’s cool and cloudy spring (I am so over taking vitamin D tabs), and because we were in desperate need of down time after long, stressful weeks at work. According to Rick Steves, Cinque Terre fit the bill, promising plentiful sunshine and few “sightseeing musts” that might otherwise tempt us away from our slothful mission. Continue reading Italy: Trekking the Cinque Terre
Italy: Florence in A Flash
June 5, 2016. For our wedding anniversary this year, Matthew and I decided to revisit Italy, the country that had hosted our honeymoon 23 years ago. However, this time, we were determined to check off two places that we hadn’t been able to see back then: Florence and the Cinque Terre. As usual, there’s a bizarre backstory to this post. Continue reading Italy: Florence in A Flash
May 27, 2016. So I’ve never before devoted an entire post to an eatery. I’m no restaurant critic, and I can’t claim to have a Cordon Bleu-educated palate like many true foodies. But Matthew and I enjoyed such a delicious and interactive dinner at Bokbacka that I had to share it with you. Keep the place in mind if you decide to pay a visit to Oslo and are looking for a unique dining experience that’s a little off the beaten path (meaning it’s on a side street in our little Frogner neighborhood.) Continue reading Bokbacka Restaurant
Norway’s National Day 2016
May 17, 2016. I don’t think Matthew and I will ever get tired of the celebrations surrounding Norway’s National Day. It’s like the 4th of July on steroids. The entire country dons traditional costumes and pours outdoors to wave flags, sing songs, join parades, and party the night away. So when a conference in Chicago threatened to make us miss the festivities, we pulled some serious airport acrobatics to arrive back in Oslo on time. Especially because, this year, we had the added incentive of an invitation to a traditional National Day party at a Norwegian friend’s house. Continue reading Norway’s National Day 2016
Amsterdam’s Flower Festival
April 27, 2016. As you probably know by now, Matthew and I are landscaping fanatics. We both enjoying grubbing in the dirt and watching the fruits of our labor pop up each spring. Which is why, for his birthday this year, we decided to check out Amsterdam’s famous flower festival at the Keukenhof Gardens. It might sound deadly dull to you, but for a gardener, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event. Think of it as the equivalent of a Rolling Stones fan getting front-row seats to a London concert. It’s that big. So be prepared for my long-winded post extolling the virtues of the experience.
Continue reading Amsterdam’s Flower Festival
April 26, 2016. Yep, I know I just finished a whole series of posts on Turkey, and now I’m talking about Amsterdam. Makes me sound like a real jet-setter. But the truth is, not much happened in our lives for a good solid month. Just the daily work grind; no time for cultural experiences. So when Matthew’s birthday rolled around at the end of April, we were ready for some R&E (Relaxation & Exploration). And Amsterdam seemed like the perfect combo of both.
Turkey: Essential Istanbul Experiences
March 25, 2016. One last post about Turkey, I promise. I couldn’t leave the topic without touching on some of the quintessentially Turkish experiences everyone always asks about: whirling Dervishes, baklava, hookahs, coffee, and other such stereotypical stuff. Yep, these items may have been branded as “touristy,” but I’m never one to turn up my nose at anything harmless that has become part of a cultural identity. If it’s fun or delicious, I’ll jump in with both feet. Which brings me to Subject #1: dancing Dervishes….
Turkey: Pamukkale, Hieropolis, & Laodicea
March 24, 2016. How’d you like that mouthful of a title for my post? Kind of an alphabet soup. You’ve probably never heard of any of these ancient sites, unless you’re a fan of Roman history or the New Testament. To be honest, they weren’t big on our sightseeing priority list, either — until we watched an NRK program about Hieropolis a couple of months ago. With phantasmagoric hot-spring formations, a necropolis (city of the dead), and a Roman Plutonium (a “Gateway to Hell”), it sounded like the perfect vacation spot.
Turkey: The Grand Bazaar
March 23, 2016. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know what’s coming. Given my obsession with all things “oriental” (to use an old-school design term), I could barely wait to see what Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar had to offer. It’s billed as the world’s oldest shopping mall (it goes back to Byzantine times), and supposedly contains more than 4,000 vendors. We’d devoted only a half-day to perusing the place. What the heck were we thinking? In the end, I think we came back here three times. Continue reading Turkey: The Grand Bazaar
Turkey: Taking a Turkish Bath
March 22, 2016. “Looking for a true Turkish experience? Try a public hammam,” advised Rick Steves’ guidebook. Many of our colleagues had also raved about their own bathhouse visits, so we’d booked a reservation to try one out. Rick listed two options: traditional segregated establishments, where men and women bathe in separate quarters and are pampered by members of their own sex. Or more modern coed facilities, where husbands and wives bathe together but are served only by male attendants. Continue reading Turkey: Taking a Turkish Bath
Turkey: Mosques & Museums
March 21, 2016. Turkey is simply chockablock with “bucket list” sites, especially for folks like Matthew and me, who’ve studied architecture and archaeology. But rather than bombard you with basic guidebook information, I thought I’d share with you my favorite fun factoids and most memorable moments of Istanbul’s historical sites. I’ve covered a lot of territory below, so prepare yourself. Plus, I’ve created some gargantuan photo galleries that I hope will whet your appetite for a visit. (Click on the images for bigger views and captions.) Enjoy! Continue reading Turkey: Mosques & Museums
Turkey: Terrorism in Taxim Square
March 20, 2016. I awoke on our second day in Istanbul to a pinging cell phone message from my cat sitters. I stared at it for a minute, not really comprehending what they were saying. “We saw the news this morning and are so worried. Are you okay? Such a tragedy. Please let us know you’re alright.” Having no idea what they were talking about, I flipped on the TV, while Matthew Googled “Istanbul” to see the breaking news. Continue reading Turkey: Terrorism in Taxim Square
Turkey: Intro to Istanbul
March 19, 2016. One of my favorite things about international travel is comparing the passenger experience in different airports and aboard various airlines. For example, in Chicago’s O’Hare airport, employees motor through the terminals on golf carts, while in Oslo’s Gardermoen, they zip along on kick scooters, and in Amsterdam’s Schipol, they race around on bicycles. Continue reading Turkey: Intro to Istanbul
Easter in Oslo
March 18, 2016. Easter (known as Påske in Norway) has crept up on us early this year, and frankly, no one is ready. Last year, stores flaunted decorations and treats at least a month in advance of the big event. Now, just one week before the holiday, eggs, chicks, and chocolates are finally beginning to peek out from shop windows. Confectioners have done their level best to make up for lost time, though. Their offerings include fragile feats of sugary engineering that command their own air space and challenge the laws of physics. Continue reading Easter in Oslo
Skiing to Ullevålseter
February 21, 2016. The recent delay in snowy days gave Matthew and me a chance to “upgrade” our ski equipment … yet again. Despite numerous tries last year, we’d never gotten the hang of correctly waxing our brand new skis. (I think the ability must be genetically preprogrammed in most Norwegians.) That’s why we decided to go back to waxless skis, which the locals say are “best for beginners and old people, who shouldn’t be speeding.” Ouch. There went my pride. Continue reading Skiing to Ullevålseter
The Winter that Almost Wasn’t
January 24, 2016. Winter has been a bit of a bust by Norwegian standards — surprisingly warm with little snow, at least around Oslo. All the prognosticators have been shamed. Every weather report, and every Norwegian on-the-street, had predicted that 2016 would be the worst winter in decades. “Snowfall measured in meters, and temperatures cold enough to freeze the fish in midstream,” most said with a shudder and a grin. Continue reading The Winter that Almost Wasn’t
Belgium: Biking to Damme
February 15, 2016. On the fourth and last day of our Valentine’s trip, we decided to go biking like Belgians. Let me preface this with the fact that I’m a horrible cyclist. I stopped riding a bike at age ten and never really learned how to use handbrakes or gears. That’s why, when we’re at home, we ride a 1971 Schwinn Twinn tandem that Matthew purchased in a garage sale. He gets to man the helm while I provide the rear horsepower. Our first date was on that bike 26 years ago, so the arrangement seems to be working. Continue reading Belgium: Biking to Damme
Belgium: “In Bruges”
February 14, 2016. As the title of this post implies, Matthew and I planned a visit to Bruges after watching the gruesomely dark comedy by the same name. I guess it’s a little weird that a film about a couple of hired assassins inspired our romantic Valentine’s Day trip. But as the backdrop for intense brutality, the city’s magical Medieval atmosphere becomes one of the standout stars of the show. (If you haven’t seen it, rent it. You’ll love it. And you’ll want to visit Bruges, too.) Continue reading Belgium: “In Bruges”
February 12, 2016. Certain holidays carry considerable baggage. These include Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s — and of course, Valentine’s Day. Each comes loaded with expectations. As the date draws nigh, the pressure mounts to outperform the previous year’s experience. Which is why we decided to spend February 14, 2016, in the most romantic place we could think of: Belgium. After all, it’s the capital of beer, frites, mussels, and chocolate. Stuff we love (xxxooo!!!) Continue reading Belgium: Brussels-n-Beer
January 28, 2016. Lots of folks back home have been asking Matthew and me if we’ve watched Occupied, a Norwegian television drama conceived by the famous Norwegian crime novelist, Jo Nesbø. Our answer is: Nope. Sadly, given that we only get Norwegian Netflix here, we can’t access the English subtitled version of the program. For those of you who haven’t heard of the drama, in short, it’s about what would happen if Russia invaded Norway to take over its oil production facilities. Norwegians have to decide whether they’ll collaborate, or resist. Continue reading Norwegian Resistance
King Harald’s 25th Anniversary
January 17, 2016. Matthew and I returned exhausted to Oslo from a trip back home to Chicago. Nothing like 16 hours in flight (including layovers) to make you long for your bed. In an effort to overcome our jet-lag-induced torpor, we heeded the experts’ advice to go for a walk in the sunlight. However, we didn’t expect much in the way of entertainment, as everything — and I mean everything — is usually closed on Sundays. So we were shocked to find ourselves eventually merging into a mob of Norwegians headed towards the palace. Continue reading King Harald’s 25th Anniversary
Vienna’s New Year Ball
December 31, 2015. “What should we do New Year’s Eve?,” is a question we wrestle with every year. The idea of being a couch potato watching celebrations on TV feels like something best reserved for when we’re in wheelchairs. And the pressure to make it a blowout evening ratchets up as the date approaches. So when we discovered that Vienna offered formal balls — with classical music, the traditional Viennese Waltz, a four-course meal, and fireworks — we were sold. Continue reading Vienna’s New Year Ball
Vienna’s Culinary Delights
For some stupid reason, I’ve always thought I disliked Germanic cuisine. Part of this might be because my German mother-in-law, bless her heart, isn’t big on making meals from scratch, as she readily admits. During my first visit to her house, she served a box of spaetzle (an egg-based dumpling) that looked and smelled just like the formaldehyde-soaked fat bodies of the frogs we dissected in high-school biology. Needless to say, I spent most of the meal trying to hide the rubbery chunks beneath my napkin. Great way to make a fabulous first impression on my future in-laws. Continue reading Vienna’s Culinary Delights
Vienna’s Museums & More
December 29, 2015. Trying to see all the incredible museums that Vienna has to offer in just five days would be like enduring finals week in college. You’d have to chug countless gallons of coffee and NoDoz in order to banish sleep and cram everything in … and then you’d forget it all in less than a month. That’s why Matthew and I decided to opt for a more sensible learning lifestyle by selecting just a few choice museums — some of the less-frequented ones — to visit during our short stay. Continue reading Vienna’s Museums & More
Vienna’s Architectural Gems
December 28, 2015. Our initial goal had been to pay an early-December visit to Vienna for its famed Christkindl Market, but various illnesses intruded on our plans. So we rescheduled it as post-Christmas trip, and boy was that the best decision we’ve made in a long time. Nobody celebrates New Year’s Eve like Vienna. From waltzing in the street in your winter coat, to whirling around a ballroom in your formalwear, you’ll definitely “get your dance on” in this capital of Good Times and Great Food. And of course, you can round out your revelry with incredible architecture, world-class museums, and divine classical music. Continue reading Vienna’s Architectural Gems
A Quiet Christmas
December 27, 2015. The holiday promised to be a rather quiet affair this year, with both of us being sickies on the mend. Not to mention that all the Norwegians have been wearing long faces because the lack of snow this winter has meant no skiing, no sledding, and very little Julestemning (Christmas atmosphere). “Global warming is ruining Norway,” is the constant refrain. And I have to say, Matthew and I felt inclined to join the locals in their depression, as we moped towards a Christmas Eve that measured a balmy 50º F. Felt more like Florida than Scandinavia. Continue reading A Quiet Christmas
December 23, 2015. From Thanksgiving until Christmas, various nasty “epizootics” (my southern grandfather’s catch-all term for colds, flus, pneumonia, bronchitis, and other winter illnesses), had gripped our household, making it impossible to tackle normal holiday chores. Six days before Christmas, we hadn’t even put up a tree, much less sent out a card or wrapped a present. Panic set in, as I saw my last chance at a Scandinavian celebration slipping away. Continue reading Christmas Traditions
Christmas at the Castle
December 20, 2015. Looking for a little holiday pick-me-up — and an opportunity to get out of the house after our battles with pneumonia and sinus infections — Matthew and I decided to attend the Jul celebrations at Akershus Festning og Slott (Akershus Fortress and Castle). The program promised a noon tour in English filled with the history of the site, as well as a demonstration of Norwegian Christmas traditions, so we braved the freezing cold for the chance to learn more about the huge Medieval structure that dominates Oslo’s harbor. Continue reading Christmas at the Castle
Santa Lucia Day
December 13, 2015. I bet most of you have heard of St. Lucia’s Day, or at least know the song Santa Lucia. And I’m sure everyone is familiar with some of the holiday’s customs, which include having the oldest daughter — who’s crowned by a wreath of candles and dressed in a white gown — serve breakfast to the family. If you’ve lived in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, or the Dakotas, chances are you’ve even seen a Santa Lucia procession or two, since these states are heavily populated by Scandinavians. I’ve never witnessed the real thing, however, so attending a Santa Lucia celebration firsthand was one of my goals when we moved to Norway. Continue reading Santa Lucia Day
Norwegian Folk Museum Christmas Market
December 12, 2015. My very favorite Christmas activity in Olso is the Julemarked at the Norsk Folkemuseum (the Norwegian Folk Museum). Not only do you get to walk through ancient and incredibly adorable log-cabin homes from all over Norway, but you can watch folk dances, eat traditional holiday foods, attend a Christmas service in a 12th-century Medieval Stave Church, learn about local Jul customs, ride in a horse-drawn sleigh, and shop more than 100 stalls filled with hand-made woolens, antiques, toys, and decorations. Continue reading Norwegian Folk Museum Christmas Market
2015 Nobel Peace Prize
December 10, 2015. For the last two years, I’ve been lucky enough to be present for the balcony appearance of the Nobel Peace Prize recipients. Meaning that I’ve stood street-side with the crowd as the winners have waved from the second story of the Grand Hotel. But because of timing and work schedules, I’ve never gotten to join the torch-bearers in the parade that winds from Central Station, down Karl Johan’s Gate, to the plaza. Until this year…. Continue reading 2015 Nobel Peace Prize
Spirits of the Season
December 6, 2015. Yep, it’s that time of year again. Juletid. (“Yuletide” to you and me.) When white lights decorate the pine trees, real lanterns announce each entryway, and papers stars can be seen in most every window in Oslo. The Spikersuppa Skating Rink and Julemarkeds open up along the main tourist drags, where American and Norwegian carols provide the soundtrack for skaters, shoppers, and diners. Even the Trikk (streetcar) dons holiday finery. Continue reading Spirits of the Season
The Marine Corps Ball
November 10, 2015. I’ll confess that I don’t know much about American Military parades, tattoos, or traditions. I’m guessing that such rituals are more familiar to those with family members who’ve served in the armed forces. For example, did you know that the U.S. Marine Corps celebrates the anniversary of its founding each year with a Birthday Ball — tuxedos and gowns required? News to me, too. But this year, Matthew and I were lucky enough to attend the birthday bash held by the Marine Security Guard Detachment in Oslo, and boy was it a party. Continue reading The Marine Corps Ball
November 26, 2015. It feels kind of weird celebrating Thanksgiving in a foreign country. It’s a peculiarly American tradition that doesn’t really translate well elsewhere. Try explaining Thanksgiving to Europeans, most of whom are fully aware of the irony involved. They think it’s odd to commemorate the survival of early settlers through the generosity of Native Americans who were later robbed of their land and relegated to reservations. Kind of an uncomfortable conversation. Continue reading Thanksgiving Abroad
September 7, 2015. The days are getting a bit nippy, and some of the nights are downright frigid. Clearly, autumn is just around the corner, much to my dismay. To enjoy the last dregs of summer, Matthew and I decided to hike through Tryvann — known as “Oslo’s Winter Park, where skiers can enjoy dozens of downhill runs and cross-country trails.” But even when there’s no snow, it’s still nice to amble along Tryvann’s pathways for postcard views of shimmering lakes and vast swathes of forest. Continue reading Tryvann Trek
Our Hytte (Cabin)
August 30, 2015. So Matthew and I had our first chance to experience an official hytte vacation like real Norwegians. Granted, our hytte — which usually connotes a remote mountain cabin — was only an hour outside Oslo by bus, and located not far away from a rural subdivision, but I’m still claiming that it counts. After all, we had to “do our business” in an outhouse, draw our water from a nearby stream, burn candles for light at night, heat the place via a wood-burning stove, and cook our meals over a fire and a two-burner propane hot plate. Continue reading Our Hytte (Cabin)
August 20, 2015. As sad as it sounds, I’ve been taking driving lessons — even though I’ve had my license for decades. It’s like being 16 again, and not in a good way. For the last two months, I’ve spent a few hours a week in a Driver’s Ed car while my instructor politely recites the Norwegian rules of the road, points out my flaws, and routinely stamps on the passenger-side brake to prevent our imminent deaths. Why am I subjecting myself to such humiliations? It’s kind of a long story…. Continue reading Driving Lessons
August 8, 2015. On yet another miraculously sunny day, Matthew and I had the opportunity to go for a boat ride with a colleague of ours who’s an avid fisherman. A native Floridian, Barry has always lived along the Intercoastal Waterway, and the thought of enduring Norwegian winters and not being on the ocean was beyond bearable. So he rented an island house with a dock and bought a small pontoon boat shortly after immigrating. Continue reading The Codfather
August 5, 2015. Apparently someone finally made the right sacrifices to Odin, Thor, and Freya — at long last, we’ve had several sunny days in a row, and reasonably warm ones, to boot! I’m not talking bathing-suit weather or anything; let’s not get carried away. But I am saying that I felt a certain satisfaction at being able to don sunglasses and take off my jacket … briefly. To celebrate the heat wave, Matthew and I decided to embark on a series of ferry trips to explore some of the small islands in Oslo’s harbor. Continue reading Oslo’s Islands