Sunday, July 21, 2013

Søndags Tur (Sunday Tours)

I've already written extensively about some of my Norway hiking experiences, notably my 24 hours of craziness last month, but it's worth mentioning that Sunday hikes are an institution of Norwegian culture and something that I've been trying to experience as much as possible. It's not always easy convincing myself that I should leave the lazy comfort of my couch and coffee, but once I'm out in the woods without another soul in site, waterfalls, ferns, berries and birds all around, I know I've made the right decision.

This Sunday, thanks to some fantastic weather, I was more ambitious than usual, clocking in about 14 km (the map below underestimates because it can't capture all the twists and turns on the trail).

Sunshine and 75 degrees is about as perfect as it gets, with a cool breeze hitting the viewpoints and ridges. I revisited some of the spots I had seen during my Marka24 hiking race, but it was much more pleasurable seeing them in daylight and not during a rainstorm. Particularly satisfying was going back to Mellomkollen, which is where our team had to turn back, get our bags, and come back up the steep hill again in the middle of the night. It turns out that it is a gorgeous lookout point, which I completely missed during the black, cloudy, bitter chaos.

Amazing view from Mellomkollen

Yellow points to Maridalsvannet (the main drinking reservoir for Oslo) and red points to the Oslo Fjord. I am WAY up here. 
Another highlight of my tour is the discovery of an abundance of berries! Known in Norwegian as blåbær, or blueberries, they are actually closer to huckleberries, rather than the big light-blue mild berries that most people are used to in the states. But my family isn't most people, and summers spent in the mountains picking huckleberries sent my berry radar into overdrive.  Sadly, I had to pull myself away after 20 minutes of picking so that I could make it out of the woods on time, otherwise I could have spent hours there. My mother would have gone crazy with her "leave no berry behind" mindset, since every corner and new sunny ridge brought a new field of plump, purple/black berries. I picked just enough to eat along the way but am hoping to make an afterwork trip that is focused just on the berries this week.

After tearing myself away from the blueberries (which in my head will still be known as huckleberries), I headed up and down some hills, through some amazing forests, and past a few cool, sparkling creeks. I came across just a few people during my 4-hour hike until I made it to Øyungen, another boat-free lake that provides water to Oslo. I was in a hurry to make it back to the bus, so I skipped a swim, but plan to get out again and try out the crystal clear water as long as this amazing weather holds out*.

A small cabin area known as Liggern

The view from Liggern down to Øyungen

A very refreshing creek to wash my feet in after 3 hours of hiking

An old dam just up the creek

Øyungen, a pristine lake just 20 minute bus ride from downtown Oslo. Amazing. 
* My next blog post will likely include dozens of gratuitous beach and sailing photos, and long descriptions of the ridiculously amazing weather we have been having. I am now officially spoiled by this past month of sunny and 75 degrees and will never be able to have a too hot or too cold summer again.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sister Visit

Sister self-pic from the Oslo Opera House
My sister left Oslo on Tuesday morning after a whirlwind 6 days in Norway and Sweden. We had a such an amazing time just reconnecting and enjoying life, neither of us could remember when we had hung out just the two of us, let along travel together. I didn't plan any tourist adventures, so for better or worse she didn't see the Holmenkollen ski jump, visit the Scream at the Munch Museum, or peruse the Viking Ship Museum. Instead we just chilled with friends, enjoyed the fantastic weather, and tried to stay out of trouble ;-).

Out first few days were in Oslo which happened to span the actual 4th of July. I had a few friends over for some old fashioned grilling and a very American game of cards. Friday we did some exploring of Oslo, including a trip up to the top of the Opera House and a stop for coffee at the Mathallen (food hall).

Coffee and Macaroons

 For the weekend we did a quick trip to Stockholm, the bigger slightly fancier sister to the humble low-key Oslo. We lucked out with amazing summer weather for exploring the city and were able to kick-back and enjoy ourselves under the bright nearly-midnight sun. While everything was about seeing something new and experiencing Europe for my sister, I had a singular goal of enjoying authentic Mexico cuisine and drinking good beer (the former entirely absent in Oslo and the latter present but spendy). So I pursued those two things while sis enjoyed the scenery. As an aside, La Neta Tacos hit the nail on the head for yumminess and authenticity. Once tacos were out of the way, we enjoyed the nightlife, did some shopping, saw street performers, and took a cruise around the islands before heading reluctantly back to Oslo.

Stockholm Skyline

Amazing Tacos in Stockholm

Cruise in Stockholm
Swedish Summer Life
With one day left in Oslo before sis had to go back home, I decided to skip all the touristy things and instead take a short ferry ride out to Hovedøya for some beach time. It's only a couple minutes from downtown, but laying on a rock overlooking the Oslo fjord, you feel hours away from any city. On every perch and beach there were bikini clad Norwegians truly worshipping the sun, which after months of darkness must feel absolutely god-given. With some Vitamin D absorbed, we returned to the mainland for a last evening of fun and cards with friends.

An early morning trip to the airport and sis was gone and I was sad. A week of sister time in Scandinavia just wasn't enough, but here's hoping that there will be more international sister weeks to come!

Sunning on Hovedøya

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Celebrating America

From what I've been told, and from what I've now experience, American Independence Day is the biggest party of the year for U.S. Embassies overseas. As our National Day, it's a chance to highlight what it really means to be American, complete with hotdogs, ice cream, and product placement. Here in Oslo we had our big 4th of July party on June 19th due to Norway's tradition of heading out of the city for the entire month of July. It was a huge party of over 2000 guests, and while I was working there all day, I still very much enjoyed myself. Because what's not to like about free Ben & Jerry's, McDonalds french fries, and Redhook beer. It made me a miss the United States just a little.

The Ambassador's Residence ready

All the good stuff

Tesla brought one of their new S models to show off U.S. technology

American flags and some bunads in the background

This past week I was able to get my Americana fix while supporting the Ambassador at the opening of the Norwegian Harley Davidson Rally (the Sturgess of Norway if you will).  He opened up the event while I was there to take some pictures, but it was fun seeing how much this group of Norwegians absolutely loved the United States, and in particular the Harley Davidson brand. Sadly they didn't let me take a ride, but maybe next time :-).

Harley's lined up

A very American motorcycle complete with a Chevy V8

And finally, this week is the actual 4th of July, and I'm super excited to just because I have the day off, but because my sister is coming to visit!! I'll be meeting her at the airport tomorrow and then it's a week of long overdue sister time :-). The only thing that would make it better would be some fireworks, but I'll settle for BBQ and smores over the grill.