Oslo City Hall

July 27, 2015.  Can’t say I ever imagined that visiting a City Hall would my idea of a good time.  I tend to associate these bastions of government with painfully boring legal stuff like filing property taxes or renewing my driver’s license.  But one rainy summer day, we ran out of things to do during a deluge and decided to check out Oslo’s Rådhus (pronounced “ROAD-hoose,” meaning Council House), the equivalent of its City Hall. Continue reading Oslo City Hall

Paris and Provence

July 20, 2015.  With the ridiculously cold weather and unending rain we’ve been experiencing in Oslo this summer, Matthew and I decided we needed a week’s vacation somewhere warm and sunny.  (As a southern girl, if I don’t get a warm summer to recharge my batteries, ain’t nobody happy.)  And because we’re both pretty pooped out from job stress and adjusting to all the changes life has thrown at us this past year, we decided the trip needed to be super no-hassle.  So we opted to go back to Paris and Provence. Continue reading Paris and Provence

Business Class Flight

July 3, 2015.  For the first time in our lives, we got to fly business class across the Atlantic, on the way to a conference and a visit with my niece for July 4th.  Never did I think I’d get to experience this kind of luxury, but thanks to an overloaded flight, we got bumped up.  Just so you know, Matthew has advised me not to post this story, because he thinks it might come across as braggadocious.  My personal feeling is that some folks might be as fascinated as I was by the amazing privileges available to the wealthy, so in the interest of public education — and because my blog is also intended to help me remember all the little details of my year in Europe — I’m sharing my once-in-a-lifetime flight experience with you.  Skip it if you’re offended. Continue reading Business Class Flight

Midsummer’s Day

June 20, 2015.  Lots of friends have been asking me about what it’s like to experience Midsummer (Midtsommer) in the Land of the Midnight Sun.  Aside from the fact that it’s hard to sleep because the sky doesn’t get even remotely dark until about midnight — and then rises at about three A.M. — the solstice doesn’t seem to be a big deal here in Oslo.  I’ve heard it’s a hoot in western Norway, though, where they perform fake marriages to ensure fertility for the coming harvest season.  Sounds like a reasonable plan. Continue reading Midsummer’s Day

American Independence Day 2015

June 18, 2015.  Happy Independence Day!  Sort of.  Why are we celebrating the 4th of July two weeks early?  Couldn’t tell you.  For some reason, the American Embassy holds their annual shindig in the middle of June, maybe because Norway gives the month of July off to all its citizens.  Since everyone then leaves town for vacation, it might therefore be hard to host a really big soiree and expect that any guests — or caterers — will show up.  But the June event is well attended, and everyone gussies up for the occasion to rub shoulders with military brass and politicians. Continue reading American Independence Day 2015

Culture Shock

June 15, 2015.  Everybody warned me it would happen.  I’ve read articles in preparation for it:  culture shock — the moment when the move to a new country stops being filled with wonderful discoveries and instead becomes about combatting daily little irritations.  You know what I mean, when people behave in baffling ways quite different from the familiar traditions of your home country, and you run short of patience in trying to rationalize such contradictions. Continue reading Culture Shock

Moth Invasion

June 12, 2015.  First of all, let me warn readers with a weak stomach or a particular fear of creepy crawlies:  this might be a post that you’ll want to skip over.  I’d recommend it only for those who have a strong constitution and enjoy horror films like Arachnophobia, Creepshow, or Them!  The good news is, I don’t have a ton of photos of our infestation.  The bad news is, the photos I do have will completely gross you out.  Your decision.  Read on, if you have the fortitude. Continue reading Moth Invasion

Cruising to Bergen

June 6, 2015.  Today we picked up where we left off with the typical “Norway in a Nutshell” tour by taking a boat, then a bus, then a train to Bergen.  We began by high-tailing it early in the morning over to Kaupanger, where we caught the car ferry to Gudvangen.  Normally on the Nutshell tour, travelers spend an hour sailing from Flåm to Gudvangen — basically from the Aurlandfjord to the Naerøyfjord, which are branches of the spectacular Sognefjord.  But we decided to take a special three-hour ferry that would carry us down a particularly fabulous stretch of the Sogne and into the Naerøy to Gudvangen. Continue reading Cruising to Bergen

Glacier Hiking

The Common European Adder (Vipera berus), known as a huggorm (“striking serpent”) in Norwegian. Supposedly the bite is painful but rarely deadly. So reassuring.

June 5, 2015.  Is there a better way for Matthew and me to celebrate our wedding anniversary than hiking the mountain of snow that is the Nigård Glacier?  Certainly not.  With this thought in mind, we raced from the Borgund Stave Church to the town of Solvorn, our launching point for our glacial adventure.  The sniggly road took us through several tunnels, around the shorelines of lakes and fjords, past a dozen or so waterfalls, through sleepy villages, and even up close to a venomous European adder snoozing by the roadside cafe where we stopped to buy lunch.  (No casualties to report.) Continue reading Glacier Hiking

Stegastein & Stave Churches

A view of the beautiful Stegastein Viewpoint platform as it hangs out over the Aurland Valley.

June 4, 2015.  We devoted the third day of our Norwegian road trip to the Stegastein viewpoint and the Borgund Stave Church.  Quite a mouthful, huh?  And no, the first is not related to Jurassic Park and the second is not dedicated to Ernest Borgnine (although both those connections have been assumed when I mention these two sites to people.)  Simply put, Stegastein is a modern architectural marvel and the Borgund Stave Church is an ancient one. Continue reading Stegastein & Stave Churches

Vetlahelvete Cave

One of the sweet little cottages that are part of the Vangsgaarden Guesthouse complex.

June 3, 2015.  The second day of our Norwegian road trip, we awoke in Flåm bright and early, picked up the rental car, bought some hiking provisions, and headed ten minutes away to the town of Aurland.  First stop, the cute and comfy Vangsgaarden Guesthouse, where we were greeted by the house mascot (an adorable King Charles spaniel) and checked into our cozy room with a view of the fjord.  We then stuffed our packs with the trail food we’d purchased and headed out for our planned hike. Continue reading Vetlahelvete Cave

Norway in a Nutshell

June 2, 2015.  Yay, my li’l sis Ruthie is here!  She arrived at the end of May, and we immediately hit the pavement, making the rounds to my favorite tourist sites and trying out a few new spots.  A first for me, we checked out Oslo’s Medieval Festival at Akershus fortress, where we experienced the most hardcore “faire” I’ve ever been to — these folks are serious about their authenticity.  No slippage into other time periods, nary a bad costume in sight, and handicrafts any Middle Ages denizen would die for. Continue reading Norway in a Nutshell

Clouds, Flowers, & Birds

Yep, me too!

May 27, 2015.  I’m feeling a bit homesick today.  Memorial Day was two days ago, and usually the whole family converges in Kentucky for a barbecue, so I’m a bit sad to be missing everyone.  The good news is, my littlest sister is coming to visit at the end of the week, and I’m super grateful about that.  I’m hoping the weather clears up, because Norway is having its coldest, wettest May in 40 years.  Definitely a downer. Continue reading Clouds, Flowers, & Birds

Norway’s National Day 2015

May 19, 2015.  Like the U.S., Norway has its own sort of Independence Day.  Known as Syttende Mai (17th May) or Nasjonaldagen (National Day), it commemorates the signing of Norway’s constitution in 1814 at the end of the Napoleonic War.  But in actuality, Norway didn’t become independent until 1905.  Yeah, it’s kinda complicated.  So here’s the short version of the story…. Continue reading Norway’s National Day 2015

Birthday Hike to Ullevålseter

April 27, 2015.  For Matthew’s birthday, I shanghaied him for the usual celebratory fine-dining experience, this time at the hilltop Ekeberg Restaurant overlooking Oslo’s harbor from Ekeberg Park.  The place has a cool, retro vibe that mixes modern Scandinavian interior design with historic architecture known as “Functionalism” in Norway but called “Art Moderne” in the States. The restaurant’s wraparound windows provide a spectacular view of the fjord — we witnessed an incoming storm that was probably the best dinner show we’ve seen yet.  The food was also quite wonderful, but as typical in a nice place, each dish elicited a long litany from the waiter about all the varied and unusual ingredients and flavors awaiting our palate.  Sometimes I do wish fancy food came without the sales job. Continue reading Birthday Hike to Ullevålseter

Portugal: The Algarve’s Beaches

The roads leading to megaliths have a certain “Arizona highway” charm.

April 11, 2015.  Easter morning, on our way out of Évora and heading towards the Algarve, we decided that we still hadn’t had enough of heathens, so thus began our hunt for megaliths — huge stone slabs erected by Neolithic peoples to mark graves or track celestial happenings (think Stonehenge).  Southern Portugal has its fair share of these structures, all of which are scattered along country roads that challenged our navigational skills and left our little rental car coated in dust and begging for a front-end alignment. Continue reading Portugal: The Algarve’s Beaches

Portugal: Évora & The Pagans

April 10, 2015.  After witnessing Good Friday festivities in Lisbon, we decided that a well-rounded approach demanded we visit some pagan spots within walled city of Évora.  For those of you who haven’t heard of the town, Évora is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is chocablock with Neolithic, Roman, Moorish, and Medieval ruins — enough to keep a body busy for at least a week.  But as usual, we decided to cram it all into two days. Continue reading Portugal: Évora & The Pagans

Portugal: Easter in Lisbon

April 9, 2015.  Easter week is a big deal in Norway.  Oddly, folks don’t seem to acknowledge Ash Wednesday, but they do commemorate Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday (which I’ve never even heard of but have been told it’s the day that the resurrected Jesus first appeared to the disciples.)  Regardless, with all these back-to-back religious observances, Norway gives the whole week off as a holiday.  Everyone heads to their hytte (mountain cabins) to read crime novels (no joke — I have no idea why this is a tradition), and civilization as we know it here in Oslo pretty much shuts down. Continue reading Portugal: Easter in Lisbon

Spring Strolls & Flea Markets

Snowdrops nodding in the shade, with crocuses in the distance.

March 24, 2015.  Spring is cautiously poking its head up in sunlit spots around Oslo; crocuses and snowdrops have pushed through their white blankets to wave and flirt coquettishly with hopeful Norwegians passing by.  The daylight hours are oh-so-gradually growing longer, and each additional second is cherished like drops of rain in the desert.  While it’s still quite chilly, and light snowfalls occasionally surprise us, we’re feeling as if the finish line for this long winter is within sight. Continue reading Spring Strolls & Flea Markets

Paris Avec Ma Petite Niece

March 15, 2015.  Okay, so my niece isn’t so little now — she’s 20 and about five inches taller than I am — but she’ll always be my baby.  Since she was 12 years old, she has come to visit us for almost every fall and spring break, as well as Christmas and in the summertime.  It has been pretty rough since we’ve moved to Norway, because the time difference makes it really hard for us to talk much.  So this year I was particularly excited to have her come hang out with us in Norway for her college spring break. Continue reading Paris Avec Ma Petite Niece

Norwegians: Fitness Fanatics

March 1, 2015.  When we first began considering the move to Norway, I asked a Ukrainian colleague about how she’d characterize the country.  “I think most places have a national obsession,” she said.  “For the French, it’s food.  For Americans, it celebrities and money.  For Norwegians, it’s fitness.  They’re mad for fitness.  Exercise, exercise, exercise all the time, no matter the season.” Continue reading Norwegians: Fitness Fanatics

Oslo Street Fashion

March 6, 2015.  My niece, McKenna, is coming to visit us soon for her college spring break and asked me about fashion here in Norway.  For her first trip to Europe, she of course doesn’t want to stand out like an American tourist.  I totally understand this, as I have obsessed over my wardrobe the last couple of years when Matthew and I have traveled to Paris and Provence for summer vacations.  The idea of appearing in some French commentator’s column with a black box over my face and a label proclaiming the equivalent of “Fashion Don’t” or “Typical American Slob” is frankly kind of intimidating.  So although I’m no fashion blogger, here are my observations about Oslo style …. Continue reading Oslo Street Fashion

Last Day in Tromsø

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 12.27.52 PM
The lobby at the Smart Hotel, our new fave hostelry.

February 23, 2015.  After our long night chasing the Northern Lights, we slept until around 10 a.m., then dragged ourselves downstairs for a quick breakfast in our Smart Hotel lobby.  I totally love Smart Hotels, by the way.  Not only are they affordable, but they’ve streamlined their rooms down to sleek yet spare models of efficiency and comfort.  Spaces are tight, for sure — everything you need at a fingertip’s distance from the bed or toilet — but cleanly designed with a Danish modern feel that doesn’t feel cheap, despite the low price.  Definitely a recommendation for my fellow travelers. Continue reading Last Day in Tromsø

Tromsø’s Northern Lights

February 22, 2015.  After a quick, two-hour nap, we met up with Marcus Åhlund, the owner of Arctic Fishing Adventures, for an all-night expedition chasing the Northern Lights.  And I do mean chase.  Unfortunately, the heavy snowfall that had hung around all day continued to plague us in the evening.  Snow is pretty — until it keeps you from seeing something you’ve traveled almost 4,000 miles to witness.   Continue reading Tromsø’s Northern Lights

Tromsø: Dogsledding Day!

Looks a little like Wisconsin, hmm?

February 22, 2015.  Our 7:00 a.m. wakeup call for dogsledding day came like a kick to the head, considering our extended flight of beers from the night before.  After consuming enough coffee to feel human again, we caught the van to the dogsledding facility.  On the way, we passed through more Arctic watercolor landscapes awash in haloed sunlight.  Wisconsin-style barns and little red cabins perched on the edges of steaming fjords.  Looking a bit like beached whale skeletons, fish-drying racks sat empty, waiting for cod-fishing season to start.  I think I took about 50 photos just on the way to the dog yard (see the gallery at the bottom). Continue reading Tromsø: Dogsledding Day!

Tromsø by Night

February 21, 2015.  Wondering what could possibly top our reindeer sleigh ride, Matthew and I headed off to explore Tromsø a bit more before grabbing supper.  We’d spied a funicular across the water when we’d first arrived, and so we got instructions at the Tourist Information office on how to catch the public bus to the Fjellheisen (“the mountain lift”). Continue reading Tromsø by Night

Tromsø & Santa’s Reindeer

Tromsø, the Capital of the Arctic.

February 21, 2015.  When we asked our colleagues about Norway’s most “can’t miss” moment, they all advised:  “Take a trip to Tromsø for reindeer sleighing, dogsledding, and Northern Lights.” (Oh my!)  So we packed our bags for a long weekend and headed off to the Arctic Circle.  Called the capital of the Arctic, Tromsø is a Norwegian island that sits only about 1,400 miles from the North Pole.  Surprisingly cosmopolitan, the city claims to have the world’s northernmost zoo, botanical garden, hospital, cathedral, commercial brewery, and Burger King, just to name a few. Continue reading Tromsø & Santa’s Reindeer

Valentine’s Day & Holmenkollen’s Biathlon

My Valentine’s Day gift to Matthew — one of the intricate creations from chocolatier Sebastien Bruno.

February 15, 2015.  They do celebrate Valentine’s Day in Norway, although it’s not as splashy or as commercial as it is in the States.  You can purchase Valentine’s Day cards in bookstores.  (I haven’t yet run across a pure paper-and-card store — business opportunity, anyone?)  But the cheap boxed chocolates and bland bouquets of red carnations are nowhere to be found.  Instead, flower shops feature heart-shaped tabletop topiaries made of ivy, while confectioners display fantastical Valentine-inspired works of art sculpted in chocolate and marzipan. Continue reading Valentine’s Day & Holmenkollen’s Biathlon

Ekeberg Parken

February 1, 2015.  Since my recent face-smashing fall had made me a bit gun shy about the ice, we decided that walking (using crampons) as a form of exercise might be a bit safer than skiing.  So on Sunday, we rode the Trikk up to Ekeberg Parken, which hovers on a distant hill outside the city proper.  The more winding route we elected to ride took us through some grittier neighborhoods new to us, but marked by the passage of time with layers of graffiti and city grime. Continue reading Ekeberg Parken

Snow, Ice, and Darkness

January 30, 2015.  It’s here.  The Mørketid.  The Dark Time.  I’ve been dreading it; when the day is a little less than six hours long, and two of those hours are devoted to murky dawn and dusk.  Christmas staved off much of the dreariness with its cheery festivities and candlelight.  But now that the holiday is long gone and the snows are heavy, the darkness is beginning to get to me. Continue reading Snow, Ice, and Darkness

Jante’s Law

Jantelovenn (Jante’s Law) is a term coined by the Danish-Norwegian writer Aksel Sandemose in his 1933 book A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks.  It captures the Scandinavian ideal of conformity, emphasizing that individual success is unworthy and inappropriate.  To stand out or call attention to yourself in any way is to jeopardize the collective “we.”

Promoting the collective “we” above “I” ensures the survival of the group, the stability of society, and fairness and equality for everyone.  The concept may have developed to reinforce the necessity for interdependency among members of small farming communities, combatting the “me first” attitude that can develop in times of extreme poverty. Continue reading Jante’s Law

Being Illiterate

January 20, 2015.  Yep, that’s right.  Let’s call a spade a spade.  I’m illiterate.  I’m living in a place where I can’t read a newspaper, the street signs, ads in store windows, cryptic notes that my neighbors post in the hall, or the operating instructions for my washing machine.  I can’t fill out forms or applications at the bank, post office, or dentist’s office without someone translating each line to me in English. Continue reading Being Illiterate

Cross-country Skiing for Dummies

January 15, 2015.  The stereotypes are true; Norwegians are avid (some might say obsessive) cross-country skiers.  I’ve yet to pass a bus or tram stop without spotting at least one or two ski-toting folks waiting for a ride to the end of the transportation lines, where snowy forests beckon.  And in the middle of the day, the train platforms are clogged with throngs of schoolchildren headed to skiskole (ski school) as part of their regular class curriculum.

Continue reading Cross-country Skiing for Dummies

New City, New Year

According to tradition, newly graduated midwives still dance around Stork Fountain (1894).

January 2, 2014.  Traveling to a new city seemed like a good way to usher in the new year.  And we’d been told that it’s pretty quiet in Oslo, except for the crowds that gather in the parks to light sparklers.  So we quickly booked a trip to Copenhagen, about an hour away by air.  The trip from the airport into the city center revealed a landscape that looked — and felt — a lot like Chicago:  few trees, pancake-flat terrain, lots of industry, and a cold wind that robbed us of our breath and threatened to knock us off our feet.  Just like home. Continue reading New City, New Year

A Walk at Sognsvann

December 27, 2014.  A couple of days after Christmas, much was still closed, so we decided to go for a walk.  This time we picked Sognsvann, which we’d been told had a lovely lake that we could stroll around, as well as paths for cross-country skiing.  We thought we’d join the Norwegians, who love to picnic despite frigid temperatures, so I packed a lunch of leftover pickled herring and grilled veggies, along with a thermos of hot coffee. Continue reading A Walk at Sognsvann

Sledding on Christmas Day

Dozens of sledders caught the train to the top.

On Christmas Day, the sun shone brightly for the first time in what seemed like weeks, and all was right with the world.  We donned our winterwear and headed out on the T-bane (the Metro train line) to Frognerseteren to admire the winter scenery from the mountain overlooking Olso.  A surprising number of Norwegians had the same idea, and when we pulled up to the Midstuen stop, an enormous throng of people toting sleds (called “sledges” here) climbed aboard.   Continue reading Sledding on Christmas Day

Christmas Eve

We prepared to spend a quiet Christmas all alone in Oslo.  By this, I mean that we’d been warned of two things: 1) absolutely everything is closed — even the grocery stores — from about noon on Christmas Eve through Boxing Day (December 26th).   And 2) Norwegians are quite private; Christmas Eve and Day are reserved for immediate family, so don’t expect an invitation to join anyone for the holiday.  No problem, we did our grocery shopping Christmas Eve morning and scheduled Facetime with friends and family for the next two days. Continue reading Christmas Eve

Nürnberg, Medieval & More

A view over Nürnberg from the castle grounds.

December 22, 2014.  We’re not done with Nürnberg yet, folks!  In three days, we tried to squeeze in as much of the old city in as possible, but we definitely need to go back.  We had only a few hours for a too-brief visit to the Kaiserburg (Imperial Castle) and its stunning grounds.  Just taking in the magnificent views over the city from different vantage points requires at least an hour, then there’s the vast castle itself, the burgrave buildings, towers, stables, and so on … and on.  You really need a full day to appreciate the enormity of the site. Continue reading Nürnberg, Medieval & More

Nürnberg’s Gospel Gothic

In front of the Frauenkirche. The glockenspiel is right below the blue clockface.

Lest you think we came only to eat, drink, and shop in Nürnberg (well okay, so that was our primary objective), we did do some sightseeing.  Loads of amazing Gothic sites surround the market, including the fabulously ornate Goldener Brunnen fountain built in 1396 (spin the ring in the gate for good luck), and the brooding Frauenkirche (Our Lady’s Church), which has an enormous, gilded glockenspiel.   Continue reading Nürnberg’s Gospel Gothic

The Nürnberg Christkindlesmarkt

December 19, 2014.  As usual when on vacation, we somehow ended up staying in the red light district.  I guess it’s our penchant for wanting to spend as little as possible on a hotel.  So when we found a great rate for the Holiday Inn not too far from the city center, we jumped on it without thought.  (Actually, it was quite a comfy, clean place, and the flashing neon of the nearby strip joints blended right in with all the Christmas lights.) Continue reading The Nürnberg Christkindlesmarkt

Holiday Festivities & Hobbits

“Elg” is Norwegian for “moose.”

December 15, 2014.  Gotta say, moose are pretty tasty.  One night after work, Matthew and I headed over to the Christmas Market on Karl Johan’s Gate for a bite to eat and a little shopping.  Three moose burgers later, we decided we liked the stuff.  Especially when you wash it down with a little gløgg — a mulled wine made with cloves and cinnamon, served warm with a helping of almonds and raisins.  On a tight budget, the drink can easily serve as a meal that’ll sustain you all day. Continue reading Holiday Festivities & Hobbits

2014 Nobel Peace Prize

Despite the rather intimidating torches, goodwill pervades the crowd.

December 10, 2014.  Not much hurrah is made over the Nobel Peace Prize in the States.  But in Norway, it’s a big deal.  Each year on December 10th, huge crowds brandish flambeaux as they march down the main boulevard to the Grand Hotel, where the winners wave from the balcony.  I attended my first torchlit parade last year, and I have to say, it was a pretty goosebumpy experience Continue reading 2014 Nobel Peace Prize

The Julenek (Christmas Sheaf)

The Julenek (Christmas Sheaf)

Far over in Norway’s distant realm,photo (40)
That land of ice and snow,
Where the winter nights are long and drear,
And the north winds fiercely blow,
From many a low-thatched cottage roof,
On Christmas eve, ’tis said,
A sheaf of grain (julenek) is hung on high,
To feed the birds o’erhead. Continue reading The Julenek (Christmas Sheaf)

Signs of the Season

December 7, 2014.  We returned from the States to find that Christmas had sprung up overnight in Oslo.  But not in the screamingly obnoxious American way, where every conceivable surface is plastered in a Crayola kaleidoscope of shiny ornaments, Santa Claus effigies, and tinsel.  Here in Norway, they take a more subtle, elegant approach.  No one clutters their yard with inflatable reindeer or animatronic tableaus depicting the North Pole.  In most stores, you’d be hard pressed to find much more than a wreath or a few wrapped presents in the window.  And I’ve not spotted even one colored strand of lights.

Christmas lights at Majorstuen.

In a country with less than six hours of daylight at this time of year, white light — and lots of it — is the predominate holiday accent.  Bright strands festoon most of the main shopping streets and a few window boxes, while most homes feature a white paper star in each window, or a lit candelabra.  Every restaurant and store advertises their open hours by placing lanterns lit with real candles outside their front door.  Candles cover every available surface inside, too, and I’m constantly surprised that the sounds of the season aren’t frequently punctuated by the sirens of fire engines.

A paper “Moravian” star and candelabra commonly adorn most Norwegian windows.

Natural decor is big, with birch logs and bark being used for candle holders, carved ornaments, and wreaths.  Shoppers tread over doormats made of fresh evergreen branches that release the spicy scent of pine throughout the store.  The florist stalls in the city square stock enormous clumps of real mistletoe and centerpieces made of arctic lichen and heather.  And my absolute favorite custom is the Julenek (Christmas sheafs) — bundles of red-ribboned wheat (food for the birds) that you’ll see staked in many front yards.  According to legend, if you sweep away a circle in the snow beneath the Julenek, the birds will dance around it at midnight on Christmas Eve.

A museum docent rolls out lefse.

Probably one of the best places to experience Christmas traditions is the outdoor Norsk Folkemuseum (Norwegian Folk Museum).  At any time of year, it’s a great place to see an incredible array of Norwegian folk architecture, but at Christmas, it’s more than magical.  You can ride in a real sleigh, watch costumed folk musicians and dancers perform, eat buttered lefse (Norwegian potato flatbread), tour traditionally decorated, ancient log-cabin homes, attend a Christmas service in an unbelievably gorgeous medieval stave church, and shop for hand-knitted sweaters and other awesome gifts at the annual Christmas market.

My Julebukk sits on the right. On the left is a Trollhassel (Witch Hazel) branch. Norwegians often hang small ornaments on these at Christmas.

My favorite purchase this year was an enormous Julebukk (Christmas Goat).  A legendary beast, the Julebukk possesses a checkered past, apparently having begun life as one of the two goats who ferried the Norse god Thor across the sky.  Later, after a stint as a mischief-maker who accompanied young pranksters during wassailing, the Julebukk reformed himself and began delivering Christmas gifts to children.  Eventually, he was replaced by the Julenisse (Christmas elf), but you’ll still see him grace the tables of holiday gatherings.

A little more about the Julenisse.  The closest thing that I can liken him (or them) to is a garden gnome.  One gentleman explained to me that the nisse live in houses and barns.  If you treat them well, they’ll protect your home and do your chores, but if you don’t feed them and are a lazy farmer, they’ll become hostile, pull tricks on you, and may kill your animals.  Apparently, the Julenisse is a special elf (or group of elves) who wear red hats and expect to get fed on Christmas Eve in exchange for gifts.

Woolen goods for sale at the annual Norwegian Folk Museum Christmas Market.

My personal brush with the Julenisse occurred last year during my first trip to the folk museum.  While waiting in line for the cash station, I was approached by what looked like a giant, red-robed Father Christmas holding a big wooden spoon.  (The Julenisse is apparently a shapeshifter and can morph to look like Santa when a more universally commercial figurehead is needed.)  He spoke to me in Norwegian, and the lady behind me translated, “He wants to know if you’ve been a good girl.  If you have, he’ll give you porridge to eat, but if you haven’t, he’ll hit you with the wooden spoon.”  I opted for the porridge, of course, but later the lady told me that as a child, she thought the sticky, rather tasteless stuff was almost a worse punishment than the beating … and on that note … Merry Christmas, kids!

The Move: Round II

December 3, 2014.  Thank God, our last trip toting giant piles of crap on a plane has come to a close.  In mid November, I had to head back to the U.S. to wrap up lots of final details for our move, including finishing our cats’ inoculations, finalizing our wills (cheery subject, that one), and making arrangements for our condo care while we’re gone.  (Big shout out and much thanks to Scott, who is our lifesaver and property manager!) Continue reading The Move: Round II

My Frogner Neighborhood

November 10, 2014.  Nightly walks to detox after long days at work have given us a decent introduction to our neighborhood.  We’ve scouted out the local watering holes — lots of quaint bars and pricey restaurants in the area —  and determined that anything related to American-style burgers is the latest hot trend.  Even McDonald’s boasts a “New York Burger,” whatever that is (never really thought of NY as the beef capital of the U.S., but okay ….)   Continue reading My Frogner Neighborhood

Hop on the Ikea Bussen!

Despite their dreary, dim winters, Norwegians favor surprisingly dark, tonal interiors.

November 8, 2014.  Voyeurism saved my life during my first week in Oslo.  Adapting to a new job (construction), which was  quite different from my previous career (museums), made each day pretty doggone draining.  A real pick-me-up on the way home was staring out the windows of the Trikk (the electric tram above) and into neighboring homes to get a good look at Norwegian interior decor.   Continue reading Hop on the Ikea Bussen!

Grocery Shopping 101

November 4, 2014.  Let me just say, I’m in hog heaven.  My new kitchen is absolutely splendiferous.  Aside from the gorgeous view out its windows, it sports lots of well-organized cabinet space and a galley layout.  Plus, the fridge is full-sized and the range has four burners and a small oven —  rare commodities in European rentals where a dorm fridge and hot plate often suffice.  But the showpiece of the kitchen is the fireplace, which I’m convinced can somehow be turned into a pizza oven, saving me hundreds of dollars.  (No kidding:  a large carryout pizza in Oslo costs around $100!!!) Continue reading Grocery Shopping 101

Learning to Live in the Land of the Midnight Sun

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