In Betweens & My Apartment (?)

I am officially on my own. My parents have left me to my fate. In other words, while they bravely tried to figure out the airport bus I initiated a stare down with my stove. Needless to say the stove won, but I suppose I did too since I managed to cook for myself (and no I have not been living off of ramen). Here is photographic evidence for the disbelievers:

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Anyways, I am now living at one of NTNU’s international student villages, Moholt, and so far so good. It’s conveniently located next to two major grocery chains and about a 20-30 minute walk from two of NTNU’s campuses. It’s also less than a five minute walk away from the bus stop and I’ve come to realize that I can more or less just use the 5 bus to get to anywhere I need to be. I have three roommates, Andrea, Nicole, and Ridwan. Andrea is from Italy and loves to cook so he’s promised to help improve my cooking. He even let me help him make spring rolls from scratch.

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Nicole is from Brazil and always up for anything, and Ridwan is from Bangalesh.

Although my room is pretty comfortable right now it’s a bit strange for me to think of it as home. Most of this derives from the fact that I have no idea what to call it. My place is similar to a dorm room in that it came with standard dorm room furniture (woo twin xl), but it feels slightly more like an apartment because I have a kitchen/living room and am paying for rent and utilities out of my own pocket. Overall I suppose that this space also reflects the in between position that I’ve been put in with the Fulbright. I’m not quite a “real person” since I only work part time, and I’m not quite a student either. Then again this year is about working in gray zones and pushing myself in new ways so here’s to making this new place home.

Trondheim

We finally made it! At around 8am the Finnmarken docked in Trondheim after a particularly impressive bit of parallel parking.

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My first view of Trondheim

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A tough parking spot

My parents graciously decided to stay with me in Trondheim for a few days so my first impression of Trondheim was a hurried mix of sightseeing, grocery buying, and Ikea constructing. My initial thoughts on Trondheim are that it’s very beautiful and very walkable. You could easily walk all of downtown, otherwise known as Sentrum, in a few hours. The bus system here is also great, if very expensive.

The first place we had a chance to walk around was the Stiftsgården, or the official residence of the Norwegian Royal Family in Trondheim. The building was originally built by a wealthy member of Trondheim society and was later purchased by the government and eventually converted into the royal residence. Norway has not always been a prosperous country so many of the Stiftsgården’s original antiques were sold long ago. The current furnishings were mostly provided from the marriage and coronation of Princess Maud of England, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, to King Haakon VII. Fun fact: the Norwegian Royal Family didn’t actually come from Norway. When Norway achieved independence from Sweden in 1905, the Norwegian government decided that it wanted to remain a monarchy instead of becoming a republic. In order to actually establish a monarchy (since they could no longer use the Swedish one), they invited Prince Carl of Denmark to become the king of Norway. When Carl accepted, he changed his name to become King Haakon VII, and Princess Maud became the Queen Consort.

We also got the chance to see the Nidaros Cathedral and bought a combination ticket to see the cathedral, archbishop’s palace, and the crown jewels. Because we were short on time I wasn’t able to see too much of the archbishop’s palace, but I did learn that the building has been reappropriated throughout the years, and was most notably  a site of resistance against the Nazi invasion. As for the crown jewels, they were of course beautiful but I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures.

Now for the cathedral! The cathedral dominates the Trondheim skyline and is in fact the largest and most northern medieval cathedral in Scandinavia. The cathedral was built in this location because it is where Saint Olav was buried. Saint Olav was the king responsible for brining Christianity to Norway, and with the help of his sword, Olav managed to convert the entire country to Christianity within two years. Olav was believed to be a saint because when he died in battle it was said that those who came in contact with his body were healed of their wounds. When the body was exhumed a year later it was said that his body smelled of flowers and showed no signs of decay. The body was originally laid to rest inside the cathedral so that pilgrims could come pay homage to Saint Olav; however, when the Reformation took hold in Norway priests feared that harm would come to body and hid it away inside the cathedral. To this day they still haven’t discovered where the body is, although they continue to test graves within the cathedral. While the cathedral itself was beautiful, for me the highlight of our tour was climbing to the top of the cathedral tower and getting a great view of the city skyline. Overall it’s an experience that I would wholeheartedly recommend.

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Stiftsgården

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Old Town Bridge in Trondheim

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Part of Sentrum

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Hurtigruten

The Hurtigruten ferry line is the odd combination of ferry, cruise, and mail delivery boat. Because Hurtigruten was started as a mail delivery service it stops by both big cities and remote coastal towns. Depending on the kind of experience you are looking for, you can take longer trips that stop by more towns or take shorter ones. I have always loved boats and was really excited to take the ferry up to Trondheim. I got a lovely cabin all to myself and spent the rest of our 3ish day trip admiring the view. The only real downer to this leg of the trip was the mist and fog. Unfortunately it was tough luck catching a clear day, but I’ve included some of the better pictures that I managed to take. All in all our boat, Finnmarken, took us from Bergen to Florø, Måløy, Torvik, Ålesund, Gerianger, Molde, Kirstiansund, and finally Trondheim.

The one other hitch I encountered during this time was an email from the Fulbright Office. Quick aside: the Norwegian Fulbright office is generally amazing. They are always well organized and incredibly responsive with email. For instance they let me know that I moved to the second round of the Fulbright application before the US government did. Anyways, I received an email from them today telling me that the upper secondary school that I’m working at might be affected by a teacher’s strike. While the school itself was still open, the central administrative office in Trondheim was on strike. The email included one of the few English articles available that explained the situation. I must admit that when I first opened the article, I was expecting to see the strike touch upon some of the education issues that frequently appear in the US (testing, curriculum, etc.) but it was actually on how teacher’s should organize their work schedules. Many teachers have a flexible schedule that allows them to do part of their work at home, whereas the government wants to restrict this and mandate a number of hours that teachers must work on campus. For now, it’s just a waiting game to see if things are resolved before the school year starts.

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Bergen Continued

Our first stop today was Bryggen, or the historic part of Bergen. Bryggen used to be the site of warehouses, businesses, and homes. Today it is a tourist attraction with stores selling things ranging from stuffed bears to embroidery.

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Because Bergen is surrounded by seven mountains it comes as no surprise that one of the most popular things to do here is hike. Thus we duly headed to the nearest mountain, Mount Fløyen, and took the lazy way up, the funicular railway. Luckily we were blessed with a sunny day and the view at the top was spectacular.

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 From what I’ve learned so far hiking is a huge Norwegian pastime so once we reached the top we saw plenty of hikers coming up and down the mountain. Instead of taking the funicular back down the mountain we decided to be slightly more active and walk down. One perk of walking was being able to picking and eating the wild raspberries on the way down.

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 After walking down we spent the rest of our time walking around Bergen. Funnily enough I got a strange reminder of home when we stumbled upon an American car show. Most of the cars were quite old, but all of them were in excellent condition and it was nice to walk around and admire old Ford Mustangs.

Off To Bergen

If I haven’t mentioned this before, I am a HUGE Lonely Planet fan. I am the kind of traveller who reads all of Lonely Planet, takes notes, and then packs it with her on the eventual trip. Lonely Planet is basically my travel Bible. If you have ever had the pleasure of opening a Lonely Planet guidebook, you know that pretty much the first thing you will read is a list of top experiences in your travel country. One of the many reasons why I was really excited for my roundabout journey to Trondheim was that I would be experiencing at least four of this top experiences on my trip. Today that experience was the Oslo-Bergen Railway, or a seven hour train journey from Oslo to Bergen. Now I know that a seven hour trip sounds insane, especially when a flight between the two cities would take less than an hour, but it is often called one of the most beautiful train rides in the world (and as of right now I’m inclined to agree).

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Yup, those seven hours didn’t look too bad at all. In other exciting news, I am now in Bergen! Bergen is Norway’s second biggest city and is surrounded by mountains and fjords, in other words it is beautiful. Because we got in late I can’t really report much else, but here are a few more pics.

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Oslo Continued

One of the things that I really wanted to see in Oslo was their famed Opera House. I must admit that I’m not the biggest fan of opera. Don’t get me wrong, I have tried opera several times but unfortunately each time I just get frustrated with the fact that I can’t understand what people are singing, even when they are singing in English. So why did I want to visit the Opera House? I wanted to see it because it’s beautiful. The Opera House was opened to the public in 2008 and its architects intended for it to look like a glacier floating on water.

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I decided early on that I wanted to take a tour of the building and overall it was fascinating to walk through all of the elements of the Opera house and learn more about what goes on inside. The Opera House has 5 different stages which it can use, and it can even conduct outdoor concerts (you can climb up and down the roof so for an outdoor concert they simply line the roof with chairs). The Opera House is the home to both the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, and on average if you include all of the work that goes into making the costumes, props, as well as rehearsals for the dancers and singers, a production takes two years to complete. Unfortunately there weren’t any shows on at the Opera House when we visited, but we still got to sit in the main concert hall. One thing that Norwegians are particularly well known for is their commitment to equality, and this really manifests itself in the design of the concert hall. We were told that no matter where you sit in the concert hall the sound should be exactly the same. In addition, the Opera House is intended to be accessible for all people (which makes sense considering the number of tax dollars that went into building it) thus it’s a requirement that for every show there must be 100 tickets available priced at 100 kroner (~16 USD).

After our tour of the opera we went to the Nobel Peace Center. The Nobel Peace Center is not where the actual peace prize is awarded, but is a museum about the Nobel Peace Prize and its winners. When we went the first floor was dedicated to social media and it’s impact on democracy. The main focus was on whether social media encourages productive debates through freedom of speech or whether it hinders debate because there are simply too many voices involved. Some fun facts that I got out of the exhibit are that 41% of the world’s population has access to internet but a staggering 1 in 5 people has a social media account. There was also a section on surveillance and whether or not it is a threat to democracy. Yes, there was even a piece on the NSA and Edward Snowden.

While the first floor was fun, I think that by far the most impactful part of the Nobel Peace Center was its segment on the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The OPCW has helped destroy 80 percent of the world’s chemical weapons and has recently come into the spotlight for the work it is doing to destroy Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons. One really happy fact from this exhibit is that when organizations such at the OPCW go to destroy a country’s supply of chemical weapons the host country usually turns over all of their chemical weapons. If chemical weapons are missed it is often because a a small reserve has been forgotten, not because the country was being deliberately negligent.

While it’s very easy to associate chemical weapons with Syria, the OPCW works in many countries and still has a lot of work to do even in Europe. World War I has left its mark on Europe in many ways, one of which is the ‘iron harvest’ or undetonated mines and shells in Flanders. Belgium unearths as much as 100 tons of munitions a year, which is a fact that I personally find both incredible and frightening. Overall I left the exhibit with a very healthy respect for the work that the OPCW does around the world.

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Arrival & Oslo

Fast forward to the present. I am in Norway, and it turns out that I’m not alone–my parents are here! My dad has been dying to get back to Norway ever since he took a trip there 45 years ago, and my mom has never been to Scandinavia. Thus, they both saw my trip as a great reason to travel to Norway (though I think they technically told me that the purpose of the trip was to make sure that I was properly settled in). I can’t complain though since the company is appreciated and going with my parents means that I get to knock a few things off of my Norwegian bucket list early on. The current plan is to fly into Oslo and explore for two days before catching the train to Bergen. After staying in Bergen for a few days we are catching the Hurtigruten ferry up the coast of Norway until we land in Trondheim. After we land I assume that a lot of unpacking and Ikea raiding will commence.

Everything went pretty smoothly once we arrived at in Oslo. Immigration was easy to go through since all they needed was my passport and confirmation from immigration (UDI) that I had been granted a temporary residence permit. The thing that really struck me about the airport was that in between immigration and baggage claim was a large duty free shop. The first thing that they were selling (and that many people were rushing to buy) was alcohol. I was warned before my trip that alcohol in Norway is prohibitively expensive so I had to smile watching people claim their reasonably priced alcohol while they could.

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Note: only 3 of the 5 bags are technically mine

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My first glimpse of Norway

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I kid you not, at least 40% of the duty free store consisted of alcohol

 

You can see a bigger version of all of these photos by clicking on them.

After we checked into our hotel we set off on our first adventure. First stop: Bygdøy (note the partial mastery of the Norwegian keyboard–that and copy and paste). In order to get to there we decided to take a ferry which gave us a great cityscape view of Oslo.

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Bygdøy has most of Oslo’s maritime museums, and I was determined to see the Viking Ship Museum before stopping by the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, also known as the Folkemusem. The Viking Ship Museum was both impressive and small. The main attraction is, yes you guessed it, a huge viking ship. The museum actually has three ships but the other two are smaller, simpler, and more run-down than the main ship. Considering that the Vikings lived from the 8th to the 11th century, the size of these ships and their attention to detail is stunning. While the ships themselves don’t have very complicated designs carved into them, the items that archaeologists managed to preserve from these ships showcase the Vikings’ skill and creativity.

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The Folkemusem was a completely different experience from the Viking Ship Museum. First of all, it was huge. The museum covers Norwegian history from 1500 onwards and has approximately 34 acres and 160 buildings. Not all of these buildings contain exhibits and many of them are simply traditional Norwegian buildings that you can visit and explore. Most of the buildings we looked at were old Norwegian farmhouses, guest houses, and storage buildings. The thing that initially surprised me was how much more ornate the guest houses were when compared to the farmhouses. The guest house was the first building that I walked into and had drawings painted on the walls and nice furniture. When I then decided to poke my head into the neighboring farmhouse I was expecting something fairly similar. To my surprise the farmhouse was sparse and contained no decorations. When I asked a guide she explained that this was because you want to provide your guest with the best of everything. Unfortunately I couldn’t take any pictures for comparison, but here are a few pictures museum and the exteriors of some of the buildings.

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After the Folkemuseum we decided to walk around the docks before calling it a day. One thing that struck me was how many modern buildings there are in Oslo. I’ve never been a huge fan of modern architecture but some of the buildings here are just stunning. My favorite building was an apartment building that was right next to the water. Apparently the water is pretty clean because they had a swimming station complete with diving board right into the harbor. Some more pictures below and more to come tomorrow.

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