winter shenanigans in the winter that wasn’t

While many of you in the US had your fill (plus more) of this snow this winter, winter wasn’t very winter-like here in Trondheim this year. We had only 2 snowfall, both with less than a foot of snow. The first was in late November, and then there was nothing (seriously, nothing!) until mid-March. In February the average temperature (gjennomsnittstemperatur, yes all one word) was only below freezing 3 days (note, those temps are in Celsius).

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I wore my warm winter boots, which I just about lived in last winter, less than 5 times. My big puffy and warm wool pants never left my closet. Neither did my wool long underwear. Some people thought the mild winter is great, but in my opinion, if you have to deal with 4 hours of daylight for several months, you might as well do it on skis!

Even without much snow the winter was eventful and there was still some fun to be had.

The highlight of January was a trip to DC where I got to see my favorite Villanova ladies and all my grad school friends (and hit up Target).

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In February there was a cabin trip. No snow, but at least there was sun and good people! And some ice to keep us entertained.

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I also went skiing in Lillehammer and finally made it to Åre (Sweden’s largest ski resort – fun skiing but no pictures to show for it).

In March I got to check an item off the to-do list. It seems that it is still possible to ski jump when there is no snow on the ground (World Cup in Granåsen). A local Tronder won! Note – watching ski jump isn’t all that exciting. I had heard that from several people, and can now confirm it myself. Really, what I want to watch is Biathalon. It isn’t a sport that gets much airtime in the US, but it is seriously exciting!

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And just as I was starting to be be resigned to the fact that spring is indeed coming, there was a enough snow for a trip to Røros. I didn’t go quite as planned, but we still got in 16 miles of skiing in 2 days (the farthest I’ve ever skiied on my fjellski – metal edged xc skis).

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It started out sunny enough… Until the wind and clouds rolled in, making it really difficult to navigate. We made the decision to turn back and ended up spending the night in a small but cozy room in town. You always second guess those decisions – could we have made it to the cabin we were headed towards if we just pressed on? – but after talking with a friend familiar with the area, I think maybe we made the right choice. I’d rather spent the evening drinking beers and playing games in our hotel room as we did, instead of wandering around in the dark and cold in search of the cabin. But there is always next time!

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Good news on the cross-country skiing front: I am not fast, but I now spend more time on my feet than on the ground! Only 3 falls during the Røros trip – all within 2 minutes of one another, while wearing a big backpack and going downhill on some icy snow.

To cap off March, I finally made it out for a proper ski tour this past weekend. It was a fabulous day of going for a drive (and more importantly sing along with the car radio, a novelty these days), sunny skiing, and nice views. All that was missing was a stop for a burger and a beer on the way home. Seriously, that is one of the things I miss the most about living in Washington – stopping for good food and drink on the way home from mountain adventures.

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And there you have it, the winter that wasn’t, in one big post. It was quite a bummer, but could have been worse. I’m just hoping that next winter makes up for it.

Now that the sun is setting at 8pm and the temps are getting warmer, I’m starting to warm about to the idea of spring myself. Bring on barbeque season!

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Look, no socks!

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norwegian trust

Last month I went in search of snow with some friends. With absolutely no snow here in mid-Norway, we headed south towards Lillehammer to find some white stuff. And we were not disappointed.

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Four+ hours southeast of Trondheim, Lillehammer is a small city in Norway – only 20,000 or so people – that had the honor of hosting the Winter Olympics in 1994 (recent article on why Lillehammer was the best Winter Olympics ever). Within 30 minutes of one another are the two ski hills which hosted the alpine events – Kvitfjell and Hafjell (fjell means mountain). We stayed at a cozy cabin smack-dab in the middle.

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And while the skiing was great, this blog post isn’t about that – but instead about how Norwegians are trusting, perhaps to a fault.

We reserved the cabin a few days earlier. We arrived late on Friday evening, but the owners left a key for us and had turned up the heat in the cabin in preparation for our stay. There was a note saying we could take care of the bill later, but we never encountered the owners during our 2-night stay.

A few days after arriving back home we hadn’t heard from them so we decided to call and ask for the bill. According to my friend, this is how the conversation went:

“Aha, you were here last weekend… aha you want to pay? Aha…”

“I will send you the bill to your e mail!”

My friend asks if they have her email.

Aha! no! Then I will call you to send you the bill!”

My friend asks if they have her phone number.

“Aha! No… well can you give me your e-mail address?”

And then when she finally got the email with the bill… they neglect to provide the bank account she was supposed to transfer the money to! Really, we want to pay you, you are just making it so hard!

But that is the Norwegian way. Leave your house unlocked, your keys in the car, trust your neighbor, and assume that people are honest.

I’m just hoping that when I am ready to go back, that camping place is still in business!

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warm and sunny {lanzarote, canary islands, spain}

Life (mainly work) has been busy busy busy for the last few months. At some point I’ll talk a bit more about work  – I had a recent request to hear about that from a friend, but now as I am starting to plan the next wave of travel and adventures, I thought I’d catch you up on fall travels. Aside: I swore off travel after 2 trips to the US within a month, but it seems I am itching to get traveling again as in the last 2 weeks I bought plane tickets for 3 different trips, in 3 different countries, in addition to the already planned Easter trip up north.

Fall in Norway is a lot like fall in Seattle. Dreary and wet. There is no snow yet so you can’t go skiing, and the weather isn’t good enough to do anything else outside. In addition the inevitable darkness is setting in. What better time for a vacation to someplace warm and sunny?!?

Enter the Canary Islands…

 (map from http://www.thecanaryislands.info)

The Canary Islands are to Norwegians what the Caribbean is to East Coasters (and Hawaii or Mexico is to West Coasters) – the rather obvious locale if you are looking to get away to somewhere with better weather than home.

I did none of the planning for this trip. Julian decided where to go and I just bought a plane ticket. He picked Lanzarote, which he had visited the year before and enjoyed. When Norwegians to go to the Canary Island, they typically go to big resorts where they can eat their brown cheese and mayo in a tube while talking with other Norwegians at the pool. Not exactly what we were going for… Instead we stayed in an apartment along a quiet stretch of beach known mostly for its surfing. 

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A little geography – the Canary Islands are an archipelago of 7 (main) islands about 60 miles off the coast of northern Africa. They are one of Spain’s “autonomous communities” (like a US territory). Lanzarote is the eastern-most island and has a lot of volcanic features. We stayed on its “North Shore” in Famara, but had a car so we could explore the whole island.

 (map from www.thecanaryislands.info)

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(See, I can actually drive a standard now!)

Our vacation consisted of a little bit of everything. We spent some time hiking, both on the North and South sides of the island. As proof that Norwegians spend a lot of time down here, we were able to get a book out of the library, in Norwegian, that was specifically dedicated to hiking on Lanzarote and the neighbor island, Fuertaventura.

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  (Hiking down to Playa del Mirador)

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(Hiking near Femes)

We spent some time lazing on the beach, again both on the North and South sides of the island.

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We wandered through some town squares, Teguise being hands down our favorite, but unfortunately all were rather dead given we were there in the off-season.

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The most unique aspect of Lanzarote was its volcanic history. In the early 1700’s, the island went through a period (6 years long) of volcanic activity. This resulted in a very interesting topography and geologic landscape with almost 80 square miles of land covered with lava.  One day we visited Timanfaya National Park, the center of it all.

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The park area is heavily protected from us humans. Other than small guided hikes 2 days a week (that you have to sign up for month and months in advance), the only way to see the park is via a bus tour from the visitors center. Actually, despite being really crowded at the visitors center, the bus wasn’t all that bad. We travelled through some rather surreal landscapes that reminded me of Mars.

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The visitors center has some pretty cool, albeit touristy, “spectacles” as well, such as the BBQ spit where chicken was cooked by volcano power, hay which starts burning when placed in a hole in the ground, and hot (“boiling”– 212 F) soil.

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The most fun day of the vacation was the one we went wine tasting. The Lanzarotians (is that a word?) have figured out how to grow wine in volcanic soil. Each of the vines is hand-planted and hand-harvested, and protected from the winds by little rock walls.

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So we could both take part in the tastings, I had the brilliant idea of riding bikes there. 20 km (12 miles) each way, no problem! Except that I didn’t factor in that we’d be riding rusty, loaner bikes (or the elevation change and headwinds)… a bit more challenging than anticipated, but still a success!

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Overall opinion of Lanzarote: I wouldn’t say it is a “must visit,” especially if you don’t have an easy flight option (I took a charter direct from Trondheim) but it was certainly an interesting and relaxing vacation. Now where to next November?

Travel details:

Apartment in Famara: Simple but clean and in a great, quiet location

Car Rental: You need a car as there is a lot to see all over the island and the bus service is not good. All rental companies seemed rather similar.

Restaurants: We were not overly impressed with the food in Lanzarote (lots of potatoes, that is what we eat back home in Norway…), but our favorites were La Cantina and Casa Leon, both in Teguise. Both were absolutely delish with lots of unique dishes.

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a weekend in Brussels

Remember when I said before that the whole idea of quick weekend trips throughout Europe doesn’t pan out when living in the outskirts of Europe. Well, this time it did.

Since Brussels is the home of EU headquarters, lots of EU related meetings happen there. I had one of those meeting on a Friday, conveniently the day after Julian had his own Brussels meeting. My boss had even suggested staying the weekend. So before I knew it, I had a ticket booked for the next week and instead of coming home on Friday night after the meeting, I tacked on 2 extra days for exploring Belgium’s capital city.

While Brussels isn’t known for being a must see in Belgium (Bruges and Ghent are more popular destinations), we had a lovely weekend exploring a new *to me* city (it was my first time in Belgium too, European country number 15  I think 17, I counted!).

So what is there to do in Brussels?

Sample the beer.

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It was an impromptu stop as we wandered through the narrow streets of the city. The outside heaters looked as inviting as the beer sampler. We were in shouting distance of the Grand Place, where Belgium was playing Croatia on the big screen for a World Cup spot (they won!). The beer was just as I like it, flavorful and STRONG, and we had good company too, chatting with other tourists from all over the world.

Indulge in some good food.

Once nice thing about living in a country as expensive as Norway is that even if a meal is expensive by previous (aka American) standards, it is cheaper, and most likely better tasting than a meal in Norway. TripAdvisor is one of my favorite travel sites and it lead me to Spinnekopke, a fabulous spot for dinner. Julian had the rabbit in cherry beer and I had the chicken in some buttery sauce… both fabulous. But I have to admit that I was less than impressed with the pomme frites (famous Belgium fries). And not just because I don’t do mayonnaise.

Take a chocolate making workshop.

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This was hands-down my favorite part of the whole weekend. We got to make our own truffles, medallions and chocolate bars, and take it all home with us. Yum! I love chocolate! If you are in Brussels, go to Zaabär.

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Sample more beer at the world famous Delirium Bar.

Think Brouwer’s times 100. (maybe I’m just slow but I just realized – on this trip – that Brouwer’s means brewery in French…no wait, actually in Flemish) With over 2000 beers, it can be a bit overwhelming, but I just went with what I knew I liked, the namesake Delirium.

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Take in the Grand Place.

I know that Brussels is supposed to be rather unimpressive when it comes to European cities, but if you really take in the city’s main square (thanks in part to next thing to do in Brussels, see below), I think you’ll agree that it is amazing. Even on a rainy day.

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Take a tour.

I love guided tours. It is something I always search out when in a new place. I like learning about the streets I am wandering through, it gives me more appreciation for what I am seeing, especially in a place as rich with history as Europe (random aside from pub quiz, did you know that Belgium is the site of the most battles in history? – that is what happens when you are situated between France and Germany I guess). I’ve done my share of bike tours, food tours, and as in this case, free tours. I’ve taken several tours with this company in numerous cities, and I highly recommend them. It was cold and rainy, and we had already checked out of our hotel. So being on a walking tour at least gave us something to focus our energies on when we were walking around in the unpleasant weather.

And my most favorite thing to do in a new city: wander the streets.

Next time I think I’ll turn my GPS on to see where our wanderings take us. Often, unintentionally, we’d find ourselves on a small street we had wandered once before.

I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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Brussels might not be as iconic Paris, or old as Rome, but I won’t mind if work sends me back there in the future. Chocolate and beer, who’s to complain!?!

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thanksgiving abroad

It wasn’t my first Thanksgiving in Norway, but it was the first time I hosted Thanksgiving, regardless of the continent. I had 11 people over (some American, some Norwegian, and the rest from elsewhere in Europe). For some it was their first Thanksgiving, so thankfully they wouldn’t know if I messed it up… One of my friends said she had never had turkey before! 

Because we obviously don’t get the day off (I actually had an all-day seminar at work, followed by a Christmas party), Thanksgiving in Norway is held on a Saturday…

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Gathering all the ingredients was pretty easy. European ovens are pretty small, but thankfully so are Norwegian turkeys.

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I subbed out some of the coking to others, and then served as the master chef of my kitchen, with my own sous chefs for the dishes I was in charge of. The stuffing was a favorite (I used this recipe, it was easy and yummy). So much so that there were no leftovers.

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My first turkey!

Sweet potatoes is another one of the foods that is uncommon, or should I say unknown, in Europe. When I first came to Norway (2 years ago) it was really hard to find them in stores, but now you can find them most everywhere – which suits me well as I really like to eat them! I’ve made this recipe several times. It is so full of sugar and butter, how could you not love it!?

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Everyone left sufficiently stuffed and ready for Thanksgiving next year.

And after Thanksgiving successfully celebrated, we have moved fully into the Christmas season – the Nutcracker, Christmas tree lightings, the Norwegian version of gingerbread cookies, and most importantly SNOW!

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And 2 weeks from now I’ll be headed back to the US for the first time in a year! Excited would be an understatement.

{For your reading pleasure, NPR did a series about Thanksgivings Abroad:

Project Xpat: Thanksgiving In Faraway Lands (Hell, Norway – which is mentioned here is only about 30 minutes North of here. You can actually take a train to Hell…)

Project Xpat: Recalling Thanksgivings Abroad}

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