28 November 2014

Norway: Day Five, Thanksgiving!

When I first planned my trip, I didn't really think about the possibility of trying to celebrate Thanksgiving abroad. Then a few weeks ago, I had the idea that maybe we could cook our own Thanksgiving meal over here and after talking about the logistics of it with Sveii, we decide to do it!

In the morning I slept in a bit, and then headed out to the post office and popped into a few shops, just window shopping because everything is so expensive (And I'm starting to sound like a broken record saying that!) The past few days, workers have been hanging garlands across streets and wrapping trees in lights and I saw the big Christmas tree getting hoisted into place:
I'm hoping it will be lit either tonight or tomorrow so I can see the city all done up for the holidays. 

One nice benefit to renting a room in an apartment through Airbnb is that when the owner of the apartment is at work, it's like you have your own place. Sveii met me at the apartment bearing a gift of hot chocolate and we sat and planned our meal. I brought over with me Pepperidge Farm stuffing, gravy packets, and a graham cracker pie crust. The must-haves for me were: turkey, gravy, stuffing, and rice. To round it out, would be potatoes and cranberry sauce. 

On our way to the big grocery store, we made a few shopping stops, including at one of the many malls throughout the city. I don't think I've ever been somewhere with so many malls! It seems every other street corner has a little mall, and then on the bus to one of the big malls we also passed at least three others. Apparently, shopping is a Norwegian pasttime. The big mall we went to contained a grocery store just a little smaller than a US store. It was fun wandering the aisles, with Sveii pointing out traditional foods to me and seeing a few brands I recognize, like Sunmaid Raisins, Skippy peanut butter, and Knorr products. It was interesting seeing the differences too...like all mayo is sold in squeeze tubes like toothpaste, and some meat is sold in a box, like the turkey breast we picked out:
Everything on our list was in the store, except for cranberries/cranberry sauce/cranberry jam. As an alternate, Sveii picked up cranberry-blueberry jam. And there was one super Norwegian addition to the menu: surk√•l or in English, sour cabbage...I decided not to try that dish. We made our dinner at Sveii's apartment, which has all apartment-size appliances - two burner cooktop, mini fridge, and a convection-type oven. The hardest part was the timing and keeping things warm while we took them off the burner to make the next dish. 
While things were busy cooking, we did a Thanksgiving activity sent over from Mom which made decorations, and watched the snippets from the Macy's parade on snapchat:
I could pretend that I worked hard at making our meal...but actually the extremely American traditional meal was cooked almost entirely by Sveii - I was in charge of the gravy. 
About to dig in:
Everything turned out delicious, including our dessert, which didn't quite turn out exactly as planned...a chocolate pie, made with cream and chocolate chips. It didn't set for long enough, so it was more of a soupy pudding than a pie but it was so decadent and good:
I'm so thankful that I was able to spend my first Thanksgiving away from my family with a good friend. And I'm thankful for my loving family who understand this travel bug, and for the ability to take adventures around the world. 

27 November 2014

Norway: Day Four, Trondheim

Yesterday was a busy and full day, and it was so much fun. The view from the apartment I am staying in, looking out across the fjord at Munkholmen Island:

I started the day with a visit to NIdaros Cathedral (Nidarosdomen) and the Archbishop's Palace (Erkebispeg√•rden). The cathedral was started in the 12th century and was dedicated to St. Olav. Unfortunately, a lot of it burned down in a fire in the 18th century, but they did reconstruct it and it was done so well it was hard to decide what was original and what was reconstructed. 
It had a rather stark interior compared to other medieval cathedrals - just a few statues, no painting, no gravestones, a rather plain floor...everything was removed during the Reformation. And it was still stunning, because it gave the architecture a chance to shine. Unfortunately, there were no photos allowed inside, but I think looking at the outside makes up for it, just a little:
The Archbishop's Palace was formerly where the Archbishop lived (a bit obvious due to the name). Trondheim was the seat of the first archbishopric in Norway, and the diocese stretched over to Scotland and included the Orkney Islands - there were quite a few things with Norwegians ties in the church in Kirkwall, because it was once part of the Trondheim diocese. I love how things tie together from the places I have visited! Inside was a museum with one floor dedicated to stonework that had been discovered during the reconstruction, and one floor that showed all the archaelogical finds and everything was signed in English too! 

After the my visit, I met up with my friend Sveii for a little walking tour around Trondheim. The center of the city is very compact, and easily walkable. It is almost like a triangular island, nearly surrounded on all sides by a river, and probably takes less than 15 minutes to walk across. We went through some pedestrian-only shopping streets, and then headed over to the Old Town. 

Sveii made sure we stopped in at the library on our way so I could check out a Norwegian library! Inside the front door are ruins from an old church, including a few skeletons under glass - which was definitely a first for any library I've been in. They had some really great displays and everything appeared to be organized with the Dewey Decimal system!
Crossing the Old Town Bridge:

These are the backsides of the houses/shops - boats used to come right up the river and dock under or next to the shop to unload their goods. I would love to have an apartment in one! 

We stopped in at a cafe for a cinnamon twist thing and a hot drink before continuing on to the Kristianstenfestning fortress. The fortress was built in the 17 century but only used until 1816 when it began to be used as a place to watch for fires. And then sadly the Nazis did occupy it when they occupied Norway. It was hard to take a picture of the fortress itself, because we were walking up a huuuge steep hill (and said we'd never want to live there because it would be all ice in the winter and how would you get up and down it!?). The views of the city from the top were great, along with the setting sun. 
We stopped in at an antique store which was so neat - tons of rooms full of things from the 1800s to the 1970s. You could spend days in there, just poking around to discover everything. There was even a (very out of tune) piano, and Sveii played it a little bit. 

Then we picked up a few groceries and some ingredients needed to make chocolate chip cookies and we went back to the apartment. Now I brought with me light brown sugar, Nestle chocolate chips, and a Crisco shortning stick, because those ingredients I didn't think I'd find over here...I should've also thought about the vanilla extract! So we substituted vanilla sugar instead, and made due with no measuring cups, instead I used a mug to eyeball the measurements and Sveii was put in charge of using a whisk to mix everything together. And they turned out nearly the same as at home, just a slighty different taste but that is probably due to using the different flour, sugar, and butter...plus the vanilla sugar. 
And finally we ended the day with delicious burgers. It's really funny how quickly your idea of what is inexpensive changes when you are in an expensive country! $30 for a burger sounds like a lot at home, but here it was on the less expensive side, since a McDonald's burger is $10. 

Today I'm leaving shortly to prepare our Thanksgiving feast! Which means more adventures in cooking in Norway and should be another fun day. 

25 November 2014

Norway: Day Three, Bergen to Trondheim

The most important thing to consider when travelling during the offseason is whether the things you want to see will be open or not! The stave church I had wanted to visit, in the guidebook it said it was open daily...luckily I visited its website, because while it is open daily, that's only in the summer! Which meant it is now closed until May. So that began the search for plan B...which was to visit the fish market (that is supposed to have lots of other things other than just fish) but that is also only open in the summer months. Then onto Plan C - wandering Bergen, visiting a church, and visiting a museum. 

The morning started out rainy...again...though it was only sprinkling and then it stopped, and then right when I was getting on the bus to head to the airport, the sun came out! Pretty sure it was waiting until I left to make an appearance. 

I started the day by exploring a few streets that were mentioned in the guidebook as picturesque and they totally were:

The back of the Bryggen area:
Just a pretty street:
I went over to the University of Bergen to visit the Bergen Museum de Kulturhistoriske Samlinger (Norwegian likes to smush words together and not use spaces). It was a cultural history museum and it was absolutely fantastic. I only visited two floors, because I wanted to actually spend time reading things and not be rushed, and I had to get back to the hostel to formally check out. On the way there, I popped into one of the churches, and lit a candle for Papa. 

The museum did something very different that I haven't seen before, and that is saying something because I have been to many many many museums. This one put objects in the context which they would've been used, meaning that the arrow heads were attached to arrows, ax-heads on axes, etc. I know that this is probably anathema for an archivist to say, since 'original order' is so very important, but I really liked being able to see the objects "in use." It gives a whole context that was missing when you are just looking at some stone object. 

They also had a very well done exhibit on church artwork, and the whole section created a feeling of being inside a stave church. Plus...there were old doors. And I love old doors. 
After the museum, I headed back towards the other side of Bergen, and stumbled onto the most awesome cafe. If I lived in Bergen, I would spend so much time there. It was a cafe/used bookstore all in one, and it was just so cute and atmospheric and you could just sit and read for hours. 

There was a whole English section too, and I was tempted to make a purchase, but since I'm currently in the middle of reading about five different books, I just wrote the name down to get from the library. 

Then it was time to head over to the airport. Going to the airport in Europe is completely different than going to the airport in the US in terms of how early you should arrive. Here in Norway, they ask if you have baggage to be at the airport no later than 30 minutes before you flight, but with a carryon you can be there 15 minutes before because the flight doesn't board til 10 minutes prior to flight time! So while it was ingrained in me to be there two hours before your flight, I had to force myself to arrive later than I would back at home. 

After a quick one hour flight, I landed in Trondheim! Where I was met at the airport by my friend Sveii! It was perfect having him there, because not only did he corral my luggage, he navigated the bus for me (it turns out the stop I thought was perfect for where I was staying was actually five blocks away so we got off closer) and he is just all around the best. We grabbed a quick dinner before he went to a quiz night with students from his masters class, and I went to the apartment where I rented a room. And there my wicked nice host Nima served me a second dinner and dessert!

Tomorrow the only definite plan I have is Sveii taking me on a tour of a Norwegian grocery store, so we can purchase things for our Thanksgiving dinner. This will be interesting and helpful, because the other day when I went to a grocery store in Bergen I came out with only two items: lefse and chocolate cookies, because they were among the few things I could understand. Lefse is this delicious bread with a creamy cinnamon spread between the pieces. 

24 November 2014

Norway: Day Two, Norway in a Nutshell

Today was one of the things I was most looking forward to on this trip: the Norway in a Nutshell tour. It's supposed to give you a taste of everything for people on really fast trips, hence the name. It's a very ingenious idea: put together a "tour" on regular public transportation, and hand the tourists a guidebook and that's that! You shuffle yourself off to different places and you see amazing scenery. And I took so many pictures, it's going to be hard to decide what to post!

Here is a map of the route...it went Bergen - Voss - Gudvangen - Flam - Myrdal - Bergen
The day started off drizzling again. I read in the guidebook that it rains at least 260 days a year in Bergen...but I was really hoping I'd be lucky and have a non-rainy day! It did stop on and off throughout the day, and turned into snow up on the mountains. Sadly though it means that most of pictures taken on the train and bus have water droplets in them:
The first part of the day was taking the train from Bergen to Voss. I was being a total tourist and changed seats multiple times; of course I would first pick the side that runs against the side of a mountain and you only see rock. So I had to move to a seat on the other side, but that window wasn't clear, and then when someone else got off, I grabbed their seat! I started thinking it would be nice if they mentioned in the guide what side to sit on for best views, but then that would be crazy in the summer with people pushing to get on the train first. This route is extremely popular in the summer, especially with tourists on cruise ships who only have a day to explore. We started with about 20 of us, and some people got off along the way to spend an overnight at one of the stops, and ended with about 10. 

The next part of the journey was to take a bus from Voss to Gudvangen. This was the start of the best part. As the bus drove on, deeper in the mountains, the world gradually turned into a magical fairy winter land. It wasn't snowing at the time, but it looked like you had just stepped onto the set of Frozen, everything was perfect from the fresh snow to the most perfect Christmasy trees:
It was a grey and white landscape, dotted with yellow and red houses. 

The bus (side note because I think its funny: I keep typing buss which is the Norweigan word!) dropped us off at the ferry terminal at Gudvangen. This was the part I was most looking forward to - traveling through a fjord. And it didn't disappoint:
This little village used to not be accessible by road, and then when it was, the road frequently was blocked until a tunnel was built. Speaking of tunnels, I have never been through so many tunnels in buses and trains in my life until today! One train trip went through 20 tunnels!
While Iceland had the most stunning waterfalls, I think Norway might have the most; it seemed every mile or less there was a long, skinny waterfall emerging from the mountaintops. 
While I would love to come in the summer, I don't think it would have the same atmosphere, with the low clouds concealing the mountaintops and the snow coming further down from the top. Plus, then there would've been a completely full ferry to contend with, and it was perfect being able to sit outside for a bit, then go in and warm out, to go back out to an empty deck. 

The ferry stopped at Flam, which is where we got on the Flamsbana, the third most visited attraction in Norway and has been called the prettiest railway journey. It starts down at the base of a mountain, and climbs up the mountain to Myrdal. It's pretty much only used for tourists now, but at one station the train dropped off a delivery of something. I can't imagine living in those remote villages, you would really have to plan out your life, because going anywhere was a journey. In Flam, there was no snow on the ground. Half way up, we stopped at a "waterfall" which wasn't flowing today, and there were 6 inches of snow on the ground. At Myrdal, it was a foot! 
The "waterfall". You can see the Australians in the background having fun with the snow, they were fascinated by it! They kept saying they'd never seen so much snow...I wanted to tell them to go to New England after a storm, there's plenty there!
So many of my pictures have reflections from the lights of train, it was hard to pick out good ones! The last part of the trip was another train, from Myrdal to Bergen. This one was less scenic, going through many, very long tunnels. Just one last picture of the winter fairy land:
I got back into Bergen at 6pm, which was perfect timing to grab dinner - I had to go to the pizza place called "Dolly Dimples" (someone tell Nana I took a picture of the sign for her!) It was good pizza too!

Tomorrow I'm going to explore a little more around Bergen, and if it isn't raining too much I might try to visit a stave church. Then in the afternoon, I fly to Trondheim, which is more north of Bergen, kind of in the middle of the country. And the weather forecast is looking sunny! I won't even mind the cold as long as its sun. 

23 November 2014

Norway: Bergen, Day One

Another trip another blog post! Right now I'm lounging in the sitting room at a hostel in Bergen, Norway. It has been a long day and I am so ready for bed, but I have to post about the day, otherwise I'll be playing catch up the whole trip! 

So why Norway. That is what everyone has been asking since I said I was going; I admit, it is a bit different from my normal Ireland/UK jaunts. The main reason is wanting to explore somewhere different, and somewhere with stunning natural beauty. Iceland totally spoiled me in terms of how gorgeous the country was; and that was sort of a throw-in, visit a new country on a short layover, when my actual destination was London. And then I absolutely loved it and it was my favorite part of the whole trip! So I wanted somewhere that would have the same 'wow' factor in terms of the landscape. And Norway really fits the bill, or it is supposed to! I haven't seen terribly much yet, but tomorrow that should change. 

It was a bit of a journey getting here: first had to fly to JFK in NYC, then onto Amsterdam, and then finally to Bergen. And I got my first stamp in my new passport! I have to really stop talking to passport control people; when the guy took my passport I commented that it would be my first stamp in this new one. He starts scrutinizing it, asks how often I travel, why I travel, and what I'm doing in Amsterdam. I have no idea what comes up on a screen when they swipe your passport - is it a list of all the places you have traveled with it? I promise I'm not trying to sneak into your country to work, plus I was heading to Norway! Next time I will keep my mouth shut and not try to make small talk. 

First view of Norway as the plane was coming in to land:
Norway has thousands upon thousands of lakes, not to mention the fjords that jut inland from the sea. And yes, it was grey because it was raining. All day long its been raining in a steady drizzle that gets slightly heavier at times. Except for the 10 minutes it took for me to walk from the bus station to the hostel, it didn't rain then, and I was thanking whatever Norwegian god is in charge of the rain for that! 

Speaking of the hostel, it is interesting in that it is a full floor of an apartment building, so to get to it you have to go up to the 4th floor. I'm in a 10 person all female room, and as of right now there are just three of us in there, so its very spacious and pretty nice. Upon arrival I was happy to find out that my room was ready, so instead of just going and dropping my things off, I decided to take a little rest. Which is so unlike me, normally I'm ready to head out, but it had been a really long two days of travel and with the rain I just felt like relaxing a bit. After a short nap I felt so much better and was ready to start exploring. 

One of the main reasons I chose to visit Bergen was because of the historic section of the city, called Bryggen, which means wharf. This is where all the fish merchants would unload their goods, and a huge trading post sprung up beginning in the Middle Ages. The buildings were mostly destroyed in a fire in 1707, so these aren't the original ones, but they are still about three hundred years old!
I popped into a bakery in the while building in the picture, and had a delicious cinnamon and sugar roll called a skillingsboller. And yes, I was a total tourist and took a picture of it:
The hot chocolate was actual chocolate pieces at the bottom and hot frothy milk, which I had to stir together. It was a perfect pick me up for the wet rainy day. 

I love how Scandinavian countries (am I allowed to make that generalization after only visiting two? maybe?) decorate for Christmas. Maybe it is because it gets dark so early and they like the lights twinkling in the night, or maybe they just like celebrating. Whatever it is, I love it - there were trees scattered around the downtown area, lights strung across streets, large while snowflakes dangling from buildings, and lit garlands running along alleys. 
I wandered around the harbor area for a bit, til I got tired of being in the rain, so I went into the Bryggen Museum, which shows exclusively items found in the Bryggen area, many of which date back to the 13th and 14th centuries. It was a nice museum but did not have very much posted in English; the temporary exhibit had no English translations, which was disappointing because it meant I couldn't get the most out of the visit. 

Oh I have to post this picture of the most American restaurant in a traditional looking building:

After drying off back at the hostel, I headed out again for dinner. It was still raining, but the streets were all lit up and pretty:
Not terribly much, but it was just the first day. Plus if it hadn't been raining I think I would've gone more places. There is a funicular that takes you up above the city, and the view is supposed to be lovely. I was trying to decide first if I should do it at night, and see everything lit up, or during the day...and then I thought when I got up there, it might be hard to see things due to the rain, so I'm skipping that for now. 

Tomorrow I am planning on doing a self-guided tour called 'Norway in a Nutshell.' You take a train through the mountains, a ferry through a fjord, and then a bus back to Bergen. It is still supposed to be raining; I'm hoping it won't be foggy because I want to be able to see everything! 

Papay, Day Nine

Placeholder for when I get around to uploading and writing about the day!