Friday, January 2, 2015

Spending the Holidays in Norway

My First Christmas Tree

Welcome 2015! It is amazing and scary how fast my time has gone by here in Norway, with just about three months left until I depart. I can't say I'm looking forward to leaving this place that has become my home, but a part of me is ready for the next adventure. And besides, a part of Norway will always be with me.

The past few weeks have been a blur of holiday cheer and activity. I had decided last year that this Christmas was to be spent in Norway. I was sad to miss out on family and friend time back home, but not traveling and enjoying the holidays here ended up being a wonderful decision in the end. I was able to get my very first Christmas tree and bake way too many Christmas cookies for my friends and colleagues. Plus, not spending 5 hours in Heathrow in the middle of holiday travel season was a huge bonus.

The towers of City Hall as seen from a festive Tjuvholmen

Christmas Trees at Aker Brygge looking towards Akershus Festning

Oslo was decked out for the season, with lights and trees everywhere. Unfortunately snow has been little and seldom, but a light covering the week before Christmas helped to brighten up the city. I spent the weeks before the 25th going to various parties and receptions, including the required work party (called Julebord here). I ate my year's quota of pork products and had a few too many shots of aquavit, but I was definitely in good company. 

Norwegians do their major Christmas events on December 24th, so I adapted this year. A good friend invited me to her family's place in Stokke for Juleaften (Christmas Eve), which included a full itinerary of activities. We started with rice porridge, then church service, then a big dinner. After dinner we moved on to the most cultural-shocking part of the night, the dancing and singing around the Christmas tree. I have to admit, it did help settle the food and make room for dessert to hop around the tree for 15-20 mins. Then we ate more, drank more, before opening the presents. All of them. On Christmas eve. I resisted the urge to tell them how wrong this was and opted to enjoy the night. 

Two pairs of boots and a stunning view over Mylevann
On the 25th I left Stokke and headed to Larvik to join my favorite hiking partner for a low-key dinner with his family. We enjoyed leftover wild boar and venison, along with some more aquavit and an evening watching strange Norwegian animated series. The next morning we headed away from civilization for a weekend at an old farmstead/cabin. There wasn't enough snow for skiing, but blue skies, chilly temps and about 6 inches of power made for decent hiking and perfect sledding. After a busy holiday season with lots of socializing, it was amazing to get away from email and people for a couple days up in the mountains. 

Celebrating a day of sledding well done
Sunset over the snowy fields and farms near the cabin
Two nights of the cabin life went quickly, and then it was time to come back to Oslo for a couple days of work and New Years Eve. So thank you 2014 for all the good times and all the new possibilities.