no such thing as a cheap date

Here are current beer prices in Trondheim. Today’s conversion rate is 1 USD = 5.98 kroners.


You can get a pint of Dahls (a crappy, flavorless pils) for 55 kroner at Mormors. That would be $9.20. Ouch!

Head to TGIFriday to get that same beer for $14 – to go with your $20 cheese sticks. Double (or triple) ouch!

I’m thankful that I’ve moved past that stage in my life where I consume large quantities of alcohol. I’m thankful that I’ve moved past that stage in my life where I think beers like Dahls taste good.

And I’m thankful that I will be back in the US next week. I promise not to complain about $5 pints of microbrews!

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it is only an exam (that counts for your entire grade)

Tonight I sat on my balcony, grading exams while enjoying the warm and sunny evening.

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I’m in countdown mode to my summer vacation, but can’t complain about working late tonight as I just got back from a mini-vacation in Budapest. Grading sessions are so much more productive at home anyway.

As always in academia, the end of the semester is rough. I have 80 exams to grade before Friday. Exams that are written in Norwegian. I’m halfway done. And I really hope the second half goes faster than the first!

While I only have 2 American universities to compare it to, the exam procedures in Norway are certainly different from what I am used to. This semester I not only gave an exam (in the course I teach) but took an exam (my Norwegian class is a full-fledged university course).

From the teacher perspective I found the whole experience to be rather stressful, and I wasn’t even taking the exam. First, final exams here (and in most of Europe, I believe) count for a significant part of the students’ grade for the course, and in some cases the entire grade. So it is a rather serious and structured procedure. A week before the exam I had to submit it to the examination office, who would then make copies and distribute to all the students on exam day. The exam had to be written in 2 different languages – Bokmål and Nynorsk (2 official versions of Norwegian, I obviously got help with this) and checked by someone else in my department. As things have been quite busy, I spent right up to the deadline working on writing the exam and felt a bit wary that everything was A-OK with the questions when I turned it in. But at least it was in, and I didn’t have to think about it for a week.

But then came exam day…

Exams are administered completely different here (although maybe not so different as a course with 300 students at an American university – I just never took a course so big). The majority of students take their exams in a building that is a concert/event space. Retirees serve as proctors (it is actually really cute!) and professors only show up twice during the 4 hour exam to answer any questions. Students from multiple courses are in the same room.

As I said, it is all very formal and structured. And there is very little flexibility. A student of mine broke her hand and is unable to write. I suggested she ask if she could use a computer to take the exam but she was told that she needed to register to use a computer back in February… (instead she will take an oral exam in August along with the others who fail and need to retake the exam).

My students were spread out in 4 different locations around campus. There were the “normal” students, and a few students that had combinations of additional amounts of time and use of a computer to address different learning and physical challenges. This meant that it took over an hour to make each round (in the rain – first day it had rained in weeks).

And of course there were 2 little mistakes. Nothing major at all. In previous (US) exam settings, you could just write the correction on the board and say something aloud. But in this setting, I had to go back to my office, type up a correction and bring it back to distribute to the students. By this point it was close to 3 hours into the exam and many people had left. It is not the biggest problem in the world, but just an extra hassle to deal with (answering questions after the fact about it and adjusting my grading to compensate for it).

So, in a nutshell, the whole exam experience was filled with frustration, but I think it is just something that I have to/will adjust to over time. The good news is that I’ve survived my first semester of teaching – after a few more hours of grading, of course! It can only get easier from here (I hope!).

{And about my exam: I take my Norwegian classes at the university, and while they are good and cheap (not that I pay for them), they are a lot of work and have an intensive final exam at the end. I was prepared (enough) but learning a new language means learning SO MANY WORDS! I can still remember all the lyrics from songs I used to listen to in high school, but struggle to keep straight all the conjugations of å ligge, å legge, å sitte, å sette (to lie, to lay, to sit, to set…). Our exam consists of an oral part where we have to have a conversation with our teacher, and then a dictation (where we listen to a text and write down what we hear), grammar section, and essay. I’m glad it is over, but now the challenge is to keep up with my learning over the summer to be prepared for the next level.}

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lyngen, take 2

What is better than 2 days skiing in Lyngen? A whole week!


This year’s Easter ski holiday took me back up North, with a few American friends in tow. Kristina and Nick from Seattle, and Langley, who I know from Seattle but currently lives in the south of France, met Julian and me in Tromsø for a week of backcountry skiing.



I found a great little cabin on Airbnb that was right in the heart of Lyngen, in Lakselvbukt. Seriously, check out the surroundings (and Kristina’s gymnastic endeavors)! And in addition we had easy access to all the ski possibilities in Balsfjorden, Tamok, and Kåfjord too.


As it often can be in the Spring, the weather was variable. We experienced clouds and sun, and snow and rain, but the good news was that there was snow right down to sea-level. Visibility hampered our summit attempts, but we still managed to ski 6 out of 7 days (5 for me as I made the unfortunate decision to take a rest day, which was then followed by a forced rest day due to rain).

Both Kristina and Langley also have blogs. Kristina will do a far better job than me of recounting our mountain adventures in a humorous and detailed way (thus far she has written about her first impressions of Norway and our trips to the grocery store, but check back for skiing stories). And Langley is much more philosophical in her trip report. I find it interesting to read others’ impressions on the place that is my new normal.

Here is my take on our trip.

Day 1: Daltinden (1533m) – the weather started out promising as we made the long approach in along the river valley. 

Is that a tutu you’re wearing Kristina? Oh yes it is. She wins for most fashionable on the mountain.


But the clouds moved in. We made it to about 1100 meters before we were surrounded by white and getting major snow clump-age on our skins.  Given the lack of visibility we decided it was best to turn back. We got a few good turns in before making it back to the river valley where the snow was just wet enough to make it a slog out.


Tutus – 0, Mother Nature – 1

Day 2: Middagstiden (1072m) – it was snowing and the avy danger was high, so we tried to find some tree skiing. But that is not so easy when you are about the Arctic Circle. We did find some trees, but they were dense and on flat terrain. We made it to the top of the treeline but couldn’t even begin to make out the mountain we were standing on. Not awesome.

The map says it should be right in front of us…


Hmmm, are you sure?


On the bright side, we did get some fresh snow!


Visibility low, spirits high!


Tutus – 0 (they didn’t even come out to play), Mother Nature – 2

Day 3: Sjufjellet (1086m)

Even night we worked out a puzzle – where was the best weather forecast, the least avy danger, a mountain that gave options given the avy danger, minimal flats… After the previous 2 days, we were anxious for a summit. Would Sjufjellet do it for us?!? It was cloudy, but you could still see the mountain (and yes, that is a tutu you see on the German).


There is no photographic evidence because it was damn windy up there, but we made it. Finally a summit! And we had a good ski down – good enough that Kristina, Nick and Julian went for a second lap on the bottom half of the mountain.


Tutus – 1 (making a comeback), Mother Nature – 2

Day 4: Giilivarri (1163m)

On Thursday we made the 2 hour drive to Kåfjord in search of sun and fjord views. The group skinned up the first 400 or so meters together, and then Langley and I headed right towards Giilivarri, while the other 3 were a bit more ambitious and headed left towards Nordmannviktinden. Can you spot Kristina, Nick and Julian below?


Both groups had successful tours, complete with fjord views on the ski down. This is what we came to Lyngen for!





Tutus – 2, Mother Nature – 2

Day 5 – Personal rest day

The weather wasn’t so stellar (again) and I took a rest/study Norwegian day while the others went out for a tour. They came back a few hours later with stories of making it halfway up the mountain before hiding out behind a rock, waiting for the weather to clear for a ski down. The highlight of the tour seemed to be the big air that the car got on the bumpy roads on the drive home. I didn’t seem like I missed much, but in retrospect, given the weather the next day, I wished I joined them.

Seriously bumpy roads. Poor rental car.


Tutus – 2, Mother Nature – 3

Day 6 – Forced rest day.

We woke up to rain and wind. Lots of it.


We made a brief sojourn to the grocery store for more beer, took a {really} short walk on the beach, and spent the rest of the day playing games, reading and napping. There are worse ways to spend the day…



Tutus – 2, Mother Nature – 4

Day 7 – Rissavarri (1251 m)

Kåfjord seemed to be the magic spot, so we made the drive over there again for our final {Easter Sunday} tour.


We started out with sun and it  was warm enough to skin in a tank top, for at least a few minutes.


It was a bit icy/crusty on the way up, requiring crampons for the first time all week. The visibility decreased near the top, but we waited for a clearing, and skied down to great fjord views. We stopped halfway down to savor our last Lyngen lunch in the sun.

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Toasting to Easter skiing. Langley even took a dip in the water – brave girl!

Tutus – 3, Mother Nature – 4

While the score may make it look like Mother Nature won out, it was a great, relaxing, and safe week of skiing and appreciating the great outdoors! And thanks for coming to visit guys – it was great!

(Some pictures were snagged from J, K and L – thanks guys!)

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I live in the 4th richest country in the world. Every Norwegian is technically a millionaire.

I live in a “big” city in Norway. In a nice part of town.

On a dirt road.

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And a couple of times a year they bring the tractor out to fill in the holes and smooth out the road.


Some things I just don’t even try to understand…

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stockholm {finally}

It took me far too long to properly visit Sweden (European country #18!), my neighbor to the east. Technically, I’ve been to Sweden twice – once back in 2012 and then again in February – but I felt like those quick trips over the border didn’t really count. Skiing a few miles over the border in Sweden isn’t all that different than skiing in Norway…

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from “Brown Cheese, Please” by Jenny K. Blake

After failing to visit 2 other friends when they were living in Sweden, I was determined to make it to Stockholm to visit my old roommate, Jen, who is doing a post-doc there. Spring  weather in Scandinavia is always iffy, but I was lucky to find myself there on a wonderfully sunny weekend in early April.

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I’ve heard great things about Stockholm, and it didn’t disappoint. It was such a contrast from Trondheim – although I think it was more because of the size and less because it was Sweden (I’m anxious to get back to Oslo to compare). There was a proper transit system, so many food options, tons of (diverse) people out on the streets, and so much water.

One weekend was not enough to fully explore the city, but if you find yourself there for a few days, you should…

Walk around Gamle Stan

Gamle Stan is where it all started – it’s the old part of Stockholm with narrow streets and buildings older than anything you’d find in the US. It is easy to wander and get lost (but not too lost because it is an island!). The neighborhood is home to many tourist shops but also has restaurants and bars which are actually patronized by locals.

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Go for fika

Swedes are serious about their afternoon coffee break, known as fika. Jen has fully embraced the tradition, and I’m not one to turn down an afternoon pastry. And no need to feel (quite as) guilty for indulging multiple times in one weekend as European treats are just as tasty but have much less sugar than their American counterparts. The kanelboller (cinnamon buns) and semla (a lenten specialty with marzipan in a bolle, topped with whipped crème) were both delish! Vetekatten was a winner, but seriously – you don’t have to walk far to find a café which tempts you with treats in the window.

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Visit the Vasa

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Holy ship! Everyone I talked to said – visit the Vasa! And now, if you told me you were going to Stockholm, I’d say visit the Vasa! The Vasa is a huge warship, built in the early 1600’s, that was a bit too top heavy and sank in the Stockholm harbor on her maiden voyage . Over 300 years later the ship was located and raised, close to intact, and now is one of the most visited attractions in Stockholm.  I don’t know what is more impressive, the intricate details on the ship, or that close to 98% of the ship is original (thanks to the polluted harbor, which helped preserve the wood).

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Check out Ostermalms Saluhall (the food market)

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Confession: Shopping in a food market in another country is a little intimidating to me. I don’t know the language, I don’t know the protocol, I don’t know metric units, and most of the time I’m not soon headed back to a kitchen. I guess it is the introvert in me coming out. (Maybe I’ll challenge myself to conquer this fear on my upcoming trip to Hungary and shop for a picnic lunch??) Regardless, it was fun to wander through the market and it is a great place for people watching. In addition to Ostermalm Saluhall, there is also Hotorgshallen, which is a little less posh and touristy. And supposedly has a to-die for fish soup.

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Take a tour

You know my love of walking tours. In one day I did 2 with Free Tour Stockholm. The City Tour was great, prompting me to suggest doing the Gamle Stan tour later that day. That one, unfortunately, was not so great (annoying tour guide). But, I still suggest giving it a try. If you are unlucky with tour guides you can always bust out early like we did.

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Great City Tour, stopping in front of the bank which coined (ha) the term Stockholm Syndrome

And as always, wander

Like me, Jen is content to wander around the city. And that we did. From Sodermlam to Ostermalm, and everywhere in between. Stockholm is very walkable, and with a great transit system, you can always hop on the t-bana to quickly get back home.


photo by Jen

Stockholm bills itself as the capital of Scandinavia, and while many Norwegians (and Danes) might disagree, I think it is a great big city weekend destination! Much thanks to Jen and her boyfriend for hosting me!

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