Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Winter is over, so I guess it's time to share what I did

It's April and I can't believe 2 months have passed since I last posted. As those who know me know, I've been busy and am somewhat terrible about being in touch and posting on blogs and emailing and calling, and on, and on. But before it gets too warm out and a busy spring schedule of visitors and traveling begins, I thought I would share a short recap of this winter. And I'll emphasize short, because despite the nearly three months of constant grey/dark (seriously 17 hours of sunlight between Christmas and mid-March), there wasn't much of a winter to speak of, and the flowers are now blooming and snow is a forgotten memory. 

But despite, the slightly disappointing snowfall, I did the Norwegian thing as much as I could. So I skied and went to cabins and basically had a blast out in the snow. It was a long-time coming, this return to cross-country skiing. A lifetime ago, as a lonely, bored, poor AmeriCorps volunteer in St. Paul, MN I made a decision to learn how to ski. It was impractical at the time, since as mentioned, I was poor. But the boredom and loneliness overpowered my finances and I bought some mediocre skies, signed up for lessons, and become a horizontal skier. 

Fast forward about 8-9 years, a nearly cross-country free decade, and I find myself in the mecca of skiing. So when the snow started falling just after Christmas (FINALLY), I put some new wax on those old skies, swallowed pride, and started marching around on skies like the legions of Norwegians around me. My modest skills came back, but with some good balance and general ability to keep moving, I managed after a few times out to look not so foreign on the trails. And to top off the winter experience, I made it out for a couple of cabin trips (hytta turer) with friends. Below, some pictures of the highlights. 

Hytta tur #1 - Sjusjøen

Waking up on the 1st morning of my 1st hytta tur. Me and the girls forged that path through 4-5 feet of snow the night before. 

Out on the trails at Sjusjøen, one of Norway's best areas for cross-country skiing. 

Climbing a hill in a dreamy landscape. 
Doing our best impression of what happened to us when we came back down the hill (steering on cross-country skiis is WAY different than on downhill skiis)

Hytta tur #2 - Haukeli, Telemark 

What our group awoke to, a close road and not a snowplow in site. No skiing for us that day. 

The small hydro dam next to the cabin. 

Since there was no skiing, we chose to lay in the middle of the road instead. 

A view on the way back to civilization. 


Monday, February 10, 2014

The many varieties of light in Northern Norway

Once again I was sent up north, and once again it stole my heart. This time I was in Tromsø for a full week of fun for the Arctic Frontiers Conference. I had been to Tromsø back in August on my way up to Svalbard, but one day in the summer is no way to experience what Norway rightly considers to be the "Paris of the North." And even if that is a stretch, for a town of over 70,000 sitting at about the same latitude as the North Slope of Alaska, it is pretty civilized.

The conference kept me busy from a working breakfast to an evening reception nearly every day, but I still managed to get out a little bit to experience the uniquely northern light. It's deceiving to say that northern Norway is dark in the winter, because despite the lack of direct sun, you experience a near constant sunrise/sunset for a good part of the day.

And as luck would have it, the week I was there also happened to coincide with the day that the sun broke back over the hills and reached the city for the first time since November. Being trapped in a windowless conference hall, the organizers were kind enough to rig up a live video feed of the sun returning and treated us with jam filled "solboller" or sun rolls. I managed to catch the 5-minute "day"
later in the week though.

Finally, no trip to northern Norway would be complete without a quest to see the northern lights. With a little luck, and some advice from Norway's leading aurora scientist (also a good colleague and fellow conference participant), I managed to organize a small U.S. delegation up a mountain tram on the outside of town where we led by an 80-year old Norwegian professor into the cold abyss. There, alas, was a small but impressive display of green plasma in the sky. Enough to say, yes, I had stood under a clear, cold sky and seen the crazy lights dance up above me.

Noon walk around the University of Tromso. Look one way and you have sunrise, the other sunset. Amazing.

Live video feed of the sun's arrival back in Tromso (for us unlucky souls trapped in a conference)

Slightly enhanced Northern Lights shot (taken using a 60-second exposure on my real camera, then colors highlighted). But I swear it looked like this in real life. 

Five minutes of sun for the dark northern soul. 


Thursday, January 9, 2014

New Year: 2014

Godt Nytt År! Happy New Year!

I've been back in Oslo for a week now, and it's taken me about that long to mentally get back into gear after nearly 3 weeks of traveling, hanging out with family, catching up with friends, and enjoying all the amazing food and shopping that United States has to offer. It was a great break and so good to see all my loved ones, but come back to Norway really did feel like coming home. I'll even forgive Oslo for losing it's blanket of snow while I was gone, I'm sure it will come back soon enough to so I can break out those cross-country skis that have been in retirement since my cold, strange year in Minnesota.

Speaking of skis, I used the day after Christmas to take my 10-year old niece up to the local ski hill and get some skiing in myself. 49 Degrees North hasn't changed one bit since I first learned how to ski there 22+ years ago (yikes!). Well, they added a couple more lifts and some great new runs, but the lodge was still an old wooden picnic-table filled space crowded with families eating home-packed lunches and maybe a basket of french fries. Here you won't find any fancy outfits, no top of mountain chalets to enjoy a glass of wine, and certainly no high-speed gondolas. Only cold, slow chairs that drag you up to some wonderfully empty powder-filled runs. I love that place. My niece spent the day in the ski school picking up some serious snow-plowing skills while I tolerated an icy drizzle that had little to no effect on how good it felt to get back on the mountain. Definitely wet my appetite for getting some runs in here in Norway, though I don't think I'll find anywhere near the value of good old 49.

On to Seattle I went nearly straight from the airport up to a cabin with my friends. Carrying a solid supply of aquavit, we spent the next couple of days enjoying the mountain air, playing games, completing a puzzle, and of course enjoying a drink or two. It was a perfect way to spend the weekend. A busy few days of trying to see as many people as possible for a hectic New Years Eve, then back to Oslo. It's never enough time, really.

As for resolutions, I'm sure I have some.

49 Degrees North, an amazing view, and a few lucky souls


Flying into Seattle at Sunset

Home Sweet Home

Life at the Cabin

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

God Jul, Merry Christmas, and Happy Flag Day #2

Waiting for Christmas morning.

I've been back home in Spokane for about a week now, catching up on sleep, hanging with the family, and doing some crazy shopping.  I don't remember things being so cheap, but it's amazing what 10 months in Norway will do to your price sensitivity.  We got a little bit of snow this past weekend, so even after a good melt yesterday, there is enough on the ground to call it a semi-white Christmas.

A could have been white Christmas

After the Christmas cheer here at home with the family I'll head over to the west side of the mountains for some proper celebrating with my friends. A few days at a cabin in the mountains and then New Years Eve in Seattle should make up for a year away from some of my favorite people in the world.

And in the midst of the holiday cheer, I received my next assignment. While I am mostly in denial that I am ever leaving Norway, it is probably good to have in mind what comes next. I'll preface the announcement by saying that it may sound crazy, but it was actually number four on my list of 30 places. The location close to the West Coast of the U.S., a big enough city to keep me entertained, and a culinary scene to drool over. So without further ado, I bring you:

Tijuana, Mexico. 

Yes, there is a fair amount of drug violence and general dirtiness that comes with being a border town, but over the past few years Tijuana and Baja California have started to gain a reputation for hipness and good food. Proof? Anthony Bourdain paid a visit (see youtube episode below) and the New York Post highlighted "The New Tijuana Cool." So I'm going to live my next year plus in Norway like I'm never leaving, but when I do have to depart, I think I'll be prepared to take on Baja.