Friday, May 31, 2013

Amsterdam

After a month of Norwegian holidays, the Americans got their turn with Memorial Day so I decided to take the opportunity to travel on a 3-day weekend when everyone else had to work. With a ridiculously cheap airline ticket ($160 RT Oslo to Amsterdam) I headed to the land of "coffee shops" and red lights.

Of course I wasn't going to be experiencing either of these things, I was there mainly to visit the newly reopened Rijksmuseum, float along canals, and see the Anne Frank house. And sleep in a super comfy hotel bed (one of my truly favorite things to do). In addition to doing all of these things, I also discovered that just outside of the touristy central area there is an awesome residential Amsterdam, filled with independent shops, street markets, and cute little pubs. And this is also where I realized that traveling alone is great when you want to spend hours wandering through a museum or go to bed early, but it's not so great for sitting down to a great dinner and a few beers in a neighborhood bar. Note for next time, bring a traveling companion.

I stayed at Citizen M and loved the compact little room with massive bed (and friend)

I was lucky that the weather was mostly wonderful. A little cooler than Oslo, but sunny. 

It's true, Amsterdam has a mind-blowing number of bikes, and people on bikes. 

Saturday morning I wandered through a local street market (no tourists there) and had the most amazing made in front my eyes stroopwaffel. The precision it takes to cut this thin waffel in half while still warm and spread gooey carmel in the middle before reassembling was impressive. 

Above I mentioned the downside of traveling along. Drinking alone. But given Norway's sad selection and high prices, I swallowed my pride and enjoyed a few pints of American micros and The Beer Temple. It was so worth it. 

Van Gogh Museum. I learned so much about the Artists' short life, and really appreciate his range of styles. 

Van Gogh

More Van Gogh

Yup. 

In addition to bicycles, there was a ton of Vespas! And they are allowed to use the bike lanes (which I think is a little crazy).




Above: Newly opened atrium of the Rijksmusuem and The Merry Drinker by Frans Hals


The Milkmaid by Vermeer. Absolutely Breathtaking in person. 

One last exception to the no drinking alone rule. A sunny day and an outside patio. A wonderful way to end the trip. 

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

National Day

A typical Syttende Mai scene: Traditional dress and passed out highschooler

So it's probably a little late for a 17th of May post, but it was a good day and better late than never. The Norwegians go all out on their National Day, which celebrates not their independence, but the adoption of their Constitution in 1814. At the time they had just been given from Denmark to Sweden as collateral payment after the Napoleonic War and wouldn't be independent from Sweden until 1905. Anyways, 17th of May is a spectacle, with the vast majority of the adult population dressed in the traditional bunad, a very folksy and beautiful outfit that can represent different regions of the country. I spent the day very typically, watching thousands of children march through Oslo in the barnatog, or children's parade, and eating ice cream with friends along the waterfront.

Watching the parade and admiring the bunads

So many well-dressed folks excited about a parade

The most interesting part of the day is definitely people watching. Most of Oslo was out in the streets starting at 10am, and the festivities quickly progress from family friendly fun to drinking on balconies and grilling in the parks. All while still wearing a bunad (it's like 1800s farmers gone wild). And this festive environment leads to something strange, the extroverted Norwegian. Everyone is smiling and talking to strangers and skoling (raising their glasses in a toast), which is quite the departure from the normally calm and introverted setting you might find on an average Oslo evening.

The holiday also marks the end of a strange tradition known as "Russ," which is a several week party time for graduating high school seniors. They don red or blue overalls, rent pimped out buses, and drink themselves silly while competing for small tokens by doing various ridiculous tasks. Oh, and they can't wash the overalls, which by the 17th are covered in beer, pizza, dirt, and who knows what else. See picture at top of page for example of typical russ student sleeping it off while the national TV station interviews sweet lady about the 200 year anniversary of women's suffrage in Norway. Have I mentioned that I love this country?

Swedish Ship Gothenburg

With events starting early, things wrapped up pretty early as well, though watching couples and groups of friends walking to more parties down my street, I could see that some people were still going long after my more responsible friends had gone home. Next year is the 200th anniversary of the Constitution, so I'm hoping for big things for 2014!


Blog posts in the work: Trips above the Arctic Circle; A Weekend in Amsterdam. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Visitors and Nutshells

It's 75 degrees with a breeze on my 4th floor story balcony, which is where I now sit in disbelief at how quickly the last month has flown past. The landscape has utterly transformed before my eyes, one day a chilly urban streetscape covered in gravel and lacking any color, to todays technicolor portrait of green trees, fresh flowers, and Disneyland spotlessness. And it isn't just the physical that has transformed. Each day I find myself relaxing into this not so new life. As if I haven't always lived in a spacious European apartment with the sounds of the seagulls and ocean liners greeting me from the harbor every time I open my door.

So besides watching the trees bloom and getting my feet under me, the last few weeks were especially busy and celebratory, with holidays and visitors a plenty. My mom, step-dad, aunt, uncle, cousin, and her two kids all arrived in Oslo for whirlwind family reunion. It was my first major hosting experience, but it was great fun to be able to share my new home and city with my family. It was also a great chance for me to be a tourist in my own city, with my first visits to the Folk Museum, Viking Ship Museum, Polar Ship Fram, and a few others.

After my uncle, aunt, and cousins went back home, my mom and step-dad stayed around for another week to get the full Norway experience. We started off with the Norway in a Nutshell tour. I had been told by many folks that doing the Nutshell tour, while a typical tourist activity, is definitely worth doing early in my time here in Norway. I completely agree and am so glad I got see the mountains, fjords, and Bergen all in just a couple of days. Coming back to Oslo, I had a few days of work while the folks did some more relaxed touring, with a random Thursday holiday (Ascension Day) allowing for a quick trip down to Hadeland Glassverk.

After a sad goodbye, I had less than a week to prepare for Norway's biggest day of celebration, Syttende Mai (17th of May, or Constitution Day). I'll post on that separately, but enjoy some touring pictures below.

Stavkirke at Oslo Folk Museum

Viking Ship Museum

Mountain lake, somewhere in between Oslo and Norway

More beautiful lake scenery

Flåmsbana - the only way from the top of the mountain to the fjord

Flåmsbana makes it's way down the mountain

Small valley village near Flåm

Looking back up the fjord

Small village on the shores of the Nærøyfjord

Brygge area in Bergen

Bergen from the Fløybanen


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