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.
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
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
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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)
Far over in Norway’s distant realm,
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)
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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
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
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!
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
November 3, 2014. Fourteen hours, eight suitcases, and several drinks later, we’ve finally made it to Norway. So much for Round 1 of our international move. Because Matthew’s transfer is for only a year, shipping everything on a slow boat didn’t seem to make sense; hence the large number of suitcases. However, I must confess that this entire load of luggage consists of nothing but my wardrobe, since Matthew’s closet made the trip with him during his initial move in mid October. Continue reading The Move: Round I