Last Stops and the Trip Home

This was my last day in Munich and to be honest there wasn’t too much left to do on my bucket list. At Julie’s suggestion we hopped on the S-bahn and headed out towards Olympic Park and BMW Welt (BMW World). Neither Julie or I happen to be huge car fans so the majority of BMW Welt was totally lost on us. That being said, we did enjoy looking at some of the cars and trying to design our own Mini Cooper.

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Afterwards, we walked towards some of the housing in Olympic Park. Much of the old Olympic Village has been converted into student flats and Julie actually lived in one of these buildings when she was studying abroad in Munich. According to Julie, artists were invited to paint these student apartments so you get some pretty fun designs on the buildings. We even managed to find Julie’s old flat.

IMG_1300  IMG_1303  IMG_1306Afterwards, we continued our walk around Olympic Park and it’s actually quite charming. Julie told me that the reason why the park is so hilly is because after World War II the rubble was built up into piles and those piles now transformed into tree covered hills. Once I realized why Olympic Park was so hilly it was hard not to think about how devastating World War II was. Although I studied World War II in the course of my undergraduate studies, I never thoroughly studied the German experience of the War. It was incredible to be reminded of just how thoroughly bombed some of these cities were and also a bit strange to encounter how the War has been incorporated into living memory.

IMG_1309  IMG_1313  IMG_1315 IMG_1320  IMG_1323  IMG_1324Julie and I took our time walking through the park and we walked by the soccer stadium and the pool before getting tickets to the tower and getting a pretty great view of the city. We then made slow tracks back towards Julie’s apartment and even made a short stop at the Nymphenburg Palace to take a quick walk around the grounds.

Once I picked up my luggage Julie and I went back on the S-bahn. I was heading to the airport while Julie was going to the central station. At some point in this journey I realized that I had received a text from my airline, SAS. Since everything I get from SAS is in Norwegian I more or less skimmed the text before ignoring it. When I showed the text to Julie however she happened to notice that the message contained the word “kansellert” and asked me if my flight was cancelled. I hadn’t the faintest idea but figured that either way I would be able to figure things out at the airport.

Sure enough my flight had been cancelled. Because SAS is a Star Alliance member I was told to go bug people at the Lufthansa desk. I quickly gathered that I was not the only one with a cancelled flight. There were a ton of stranded Americans there whose United flight had also been cancelled. Keeping in mind my stranger danger lesson from before I decided to entertain myself on my phone instead of striking up a conversation with any of my fellow stressed out fliers. By the time I actually got to someone at the ticket counter it was clear that the people working the desks were also exhausted. I swear at one point I saw a ticket agent banging his desk phone against his head. All of these things meant that I had a less than stellar conversation with the Lufthansa agent which more or less went like this:

Agent: Ticket?
Me: No, sorry my flight was cancelled.
Agent: Yes, but I still need your ticket.
Me: But I don’t have a ticket
Agent: Yes, but you need to print one out.
Me: But how can I print one out if the flight is cancelled?
Agent: Well everyone else has a printed ticket.
Me:…Well I’m sorry but I don’t have one
Agent: Don’t you have something from United?
Me: No, I wasn’t flying United.
Agent: Where are you trying to go? Houston?
Me: No, Trondheim.
Agent: So Dallas?
Me: No, Trondheim…you know city in Norway? Kinda up North?
Agent: Not the United States?
Me: …No. Trondheim. T-R-O-N-D-H-E-I-M.
Agent: So you aren’t on United?
Me:………..NO
Agent: So why are you in this line? This is for United passengers
Me: Well that wasn’t stated anywhere. If anything you have Air Swiss listed above your head.
Agent: So no one told you to come to this line.
Me: No
Agent: Well there should have been someone
Me:…Well maybe you can fix that next time

As you can see it took some time to make a bit of headway. Once the guy had confirmed for the fifth time or so that I was NOT flying United and was NOT going to the United States he finally managed to start rebooking my flights. What he eventually organized wasn’t exactly ideal but there really weren’t any other reasonable alternatives. I will say that some of my frustration disappeared when I realized that Lufthansa was giving away free coffees and teas before the flight and when I got a free cup of wine during the flight. If Norway has taught me anything, it’s to take the free/cheap/reasonably priced alcohol when it comes.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

Throughout our trip Michael and I kept seeing pictures of animals paired with indecipherable German. Having seen these signs everywhere we figured it was a signal from the universe to go to the zoo. So, in the morning I tentatively asked Julie if she would like to go with us to the zoo. To my surprise and delight Julie told me that she 1) would love to go with us to the zoo 2) had yet to go to the Munich zoo 3) had been meaning to go there. Not only were Michael and I excited to have Julie join us, we were also in awe of her knowledge of the Munich transit system. Having Julie along also significantly reduced our breakfast ordering struggles.

At the zoo, all of us were happy to look at all of the animals, although I insisted on seeing the elephants and Julie and I insisted on seeing the penguins. Our college dorm’s mascot was a penguin so we wanted to go pay a visit. Unfortunately, Michael was out of luck since his dorm’s mascot was a cod, so no mascot visits for him. While I liked looking at all of the animals I have to say my favorite was a black monkey who really seemed to enjoy posing for the camera. Not wanting to let him down, I’ve included some of his better shots.

IMG_5905  IMG_5910  IMG_5914 IMG_5916  IMG_5919  IMG_5921The three of us spent a bit more time walking around Munich before we saw Michael off to the airport. Afterwards, Julie and I headed back to Marienplatz and a Tripadvisor recommendation, Asam’s Church. Asam’s Church is one of the most elaborate churches that I’ve been to. Julie told me that the Asam brothers were responsible for selling things to churches, such as artwork, pews, confessionals, etc., and many of these are on display at the church. The church itself is pretty small so it doesn’t take too long to look around. The thing that impressed me the most was according to Julie the ceiling is actually flat. The painter managed to create an optical illusion so that it looks as though the ceiling is round.

IMG_5931  IMG_5936  IMG_5940Once we were done with the church, Julie took me on an adventure to go see the Oktoberfest grounds. Here are a few of the things I learned about the festival:

  • Oktoberfest is crowded more or less 24/7
  • The grounds are built every year although the space isn’t used during the rest of the year
  • Oktoberfest causes massive amounts of congestion in the city–causing a lot of locals to dislike it
  • Many locals will take their holiday time during Oktoberfest so that they can work during this time period. Apparently working in the grounds is very lucrative since they need so many people to actually run the festival

While there wasn’t too much to see, it was still nice to walk around the grounds and get a sense of the sheer size of Oktoberfest.

IMG_1290  IMG_1294When we finished, we headed to the English Garden to grab some lunch at one of the beer gardens. Julie was in charge of ordering and got us currywurst and spezi. Curryworst is sausage in a ketchup type sauce with curry (which I was initially skeptical of) and spezi is beer mixed with fanta (which I was excited to try). As per all of Julie’s food and drink recommendations, everything was delicious. Once we had finished, Julie and I headed back to her place for a few power naps and some Skype calls with old college roommates and friends.

Füssen and Neuschwanstein

Having been born and raised in Los Angeles, I have always had a slight obsession with Disney and Disneyland in particular. Going to Disneyland as a child was the highlight of any day, and I admit that going to Disneyland as an adult is still pretty fun. So when Julie suggested that Michael and I take a trip to Neuschwanstein, the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle, I was more than happy to agree.

The game plan was to take the three hour train ride from Munich’s central station (Hauptbahnhof) to Füssen, where Neuschwanstein is located. We struggled a bit when it came to actually leaving the house in time to catch the morning train, but luckily the trains runs regularly enough that it was fairly easy to buy a ticket for a train leaving around noon. The confusing thing about the train tickets was that they didn’t have any information printed on them beyond the fact that we had purchased them for the day. This made Michael and I a bit worried since the tickets didn’t list the train times or platform numbers. At a bit of a loss, we wandered over to the information desk and asked for help. To our surprise (and later on Julie’s), the woman at the information desk printed out all the information we needed for our trip to Füssen, including information on where we needed to switch trains and the platforms we need to be at. More than just a little bit grateful we then went in search of brunch.

Having been told multiple times, usually by Alix, that the Turkish food in Munich is amazing, the two of us found a well rated Turkish place on Yelp and decided to check it out. We gleefully followed Google Maps to the restaurant only to pull up short once we were outside. It was a vegetarian/vegan restaurant. Now I have nothing against vegetarian/vegan meals, but Michael and I had definitely been thinking about having something with a lot of meat in it. We tentatively walked in and inquired if the signs outside the restaurant were accurate. Turns out they served chicken! Not all was lost.

It was with big smiles and happy stomachs that we eventually left the restaurant, and we caught our train in plenty of time. The plan was to take one train to Augsburg and then transfer to Füssen. Thanks to the lady from the information desk things went smoothly. The train ride itself was also beautiful. We even saw deer!

IMG_5794  IMG_5806  IMG_5810 IMG_5816  IMG_5819  IMG_5822 Once we arrived in Füssen we decided to take a cab up towards the castle. Luckily the cab drive was only around 5 minutes and cost about 10 euros. The cab dropped us off at the foot of the mountain and we decided to walk the rest of the way up to the castle, following Julie’s recommendation to do the Marienbrücke hike, a 30 minute endeavor.

IMG_5826  IMG_5827  IMG_5829 We eventually made it to the castle and it was worth the trek. We didn’t actually go inside the castle for two reasons 1) apparently you have to buy tickets at the foot of the mountain–something that we had neglected to do 2) Julie had informed us beforehand that the interior of the castle was originally unfinished, making modern day attempts to finish it a bit disappointing.

IMG_5838  IMG_5845  IMG_5851 IMG_5862  IMG_5875  IMG_5878It was around this point in time that Michael and I encountered a slight dilemna. Before we had set off on our adventure, Julie had told us that if we wanted to get the classic shot of the castle from a distance we should follow the path labeled Marienbrücke. Following Marienbrücke had led us to the castle, but it was clear that we were not in a position where we could get the panoramic view. We texted Julie to make sure we had the right path, and were again told to follow Marienbrücke. Still confused, we left the castle courtyard and sure enough saw a sign indicating that Marienbrücke continued beyond the castle. Now feeling less confused, we continued along the path until we got to a bridge. Once on the bridge, Michael and I were finally able to take the classic picture of the castle. I would say that the trip was worth it for that view alone.

IMG_5884  IMG_5885  IMG_5903Julie had also told us that we could visit another castle in the region called Hohenschwangau. Unlike Neuschwanstein, this castle has a finished interior, but at this point Michael and I were ready to call it quits. It also didn’t seem like anything could compete with the view we just saw.

On our way down the mountain, we were accosted by a man dressed up like a king and wheeling around a baby carriage. The strange thing was that the baby carriage contained beer and had beer cans trailing behind in. On our train ride down to Füssen one of our ticket collectors had tried to talk to us about “the king of the mountain.” It was in this moment that Michael and I realized that this must be who he was referring to. Our conversation with the king went as follows:

King of the Mountain: You English?
Us: Yes, we’re Americans.
King of the Mountain: Perfect! You must help me with my question!
Member of the king’s entourage: No dude, it’s quest. Not question.
King of the Mountain: Yes, my quest. You must help me with my quest!
Us: Uh, what does that involve?
King of the Mountain: You give me three euros for a picture and I also give you free beer!

This seemed like a decent deal to us, so having given the man a few euros we finished our walk down the mountain with a beer in hand and later on with a pretzel.

After waiting for the bus to take us into town and later waiting for the train, Michael and I finally began our journey back to Munich. This time we ended up having to take three trains instead of two. When we arrived in Augsburg we happily boarded the next train leaving for Munich and didn’t really bother to look at our surroundings. Once we sat down, it was very clear that we were on a much nicer train than any of the other trains we had taken that day. The seats were comfier, there was wifi, and people were dressed in suits drinking beer out of real glasses. We glanced around, glanced at each other, and more or less shrugged it off. We figured that if we were on the wrong train the ticket collector would let us know. To our great surprise, the ticket collector did not bother to check our tickets and after about two stops we were in Munich. When we told Julie what had happened she told us that we had definitely been aboard an ICE train, which was something our ticket did not cover. I suppose ignorance is bliss.

We ended the day at a restaurant that Julie suggested, Weinhaus Schneider. She mentioned that it was a fondue restaurant and both Michael and I happen to love cheese. After a bit of a wait, we were led to a table and given an English menu with a German alcohol menu. I zeroed in on a red wine, while Michael attempted to figure out German beer brands. We ordered and soon realized that we were wrong on two counts. While Michael and I thought we had figured out which section of the menu was selling beer, it turned out he had inadvertently ordered wine. German: 1 Michael and I: 0. The second surprise was realizing that instead of cheese fondue we were simply cooking our food in some sort of oil. After we realized our mistake, we snuck a few glances at our neighbors to make sure that we eating things correctly. While it was not the cheese extravaganza we had hoped for, it was still quite good. Afterwards we hopped on the S-bahn for the last time that day and made our way back to Julie’s apartment.

The Sights of Munich

One of the great things I realized before my trip is that I actually know a fair number of people who have already traveled to Munich. So with the help of their suggestions, Julie, and Tripadvisor, Michael and I prepared to explore Munich. Unfortunately, Julie couldn’t join us because she had to work, but she was more than happy to help us form a rough plan of what we should do. So, with the help of Google Maps Michael and I set off at around 10 am in search of Julie’s recommended breakfast food, schnittlauch breze, a pretzel with cream cheese and chives. Our destination: Rischart Café in Marienplatz.

First things first, we went down to the S-Bahn and bought a partner ticket. In Munich, a partner ticket is valid for 2-5 people, covers all public transportation, and all you need to do is validate it (simply get a date stamp). The trip to Marienplatz didn’t take too long, but because Michael and I effectively know no German (we decided to pronounce the German ß as a b since we struggled to remember that it is actually a double s sound) we contented ourselves with trying to pronounce schnittlauch breze and just gesturing hopefully at the bakery display. Thankfully our message was somehow conveyed, and we were happy to sit down and consume our first pieces of German food.

After breakfast, we took a quick walk around New Town Hall (Neus Rathaus) before walking to St. Peter’s Church and preparing to climb up the church tower. When we asked Julie about whether or not the tower was worth a climb, she said that it was but that we should avoid going up when the bells were ringing. We duly asked how often that happened and were told that it was every 15 minutes. Because we didn’t want to leave the tower with our ears ringing and because there were a number of stairs, we were quite happy to take a break on our way up once we began to approach the quarter mark. We eventually made it to the top, though because there was no clear traffic system things got quite clogged on some parts of our way up–as Julie accurately put it: this causes the tower to be a bit of a fire hazard. But we made it! The weather was misty and gloomy all day so we didn’t linger in the tower, but we did manage to get a few great views.

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Afterwards, we went to the Munich Residence. To be honest, I wasn’t too impressed when I first saw the building. Michael and I agreed that the facade could have definitely been spruced up. Funnily enough, we later realized that we had entered the Residence from the back, which meant that we missed some of the more imposing grandeur that you get with the front of the building. But we were ultimately undeterred by what we thought was the building’s plain exterior and bought a combination ticket to see the Residence, Treasury, and Cuvilliés Theatre. I believe that our walk through the Residence alone took us a good two or so hours. Many of the rooms were stunning although not all of them were well decorated. Michael and I had a fun time noticing the many different ways the signs said that a particular room had been “destroyed in World War Two and reconstructed afterwards.” The Germans are clearly masters of synonyms. We also had fun noticing the room names. Who knew that people needed not just one antechamber, but an antechamber to the antechamber. We particularly liked one of the rooms which was called the Room of Justice.

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I think the room that actually shocked us the most was one that at first glance seemed to store fancy cabinets.  We were in for a bit of a surprise. It wasn’t until I noticed one cabinet whose doors had fairly clear glass that I paid attention to what was actually inside. My guess was that it was a human bone. At this point, I grabbed Michael and asked him what he thought it was. I figured Michael’s pre-med knowledge would let me know if I was delusional. Michael also guessed that it was a bone, and it wasn’t until I looked to my right and saw what was unmistakably a human hand that we realized we had walked into a reliquaries room. Sure enough, once we left the room we saw a sign that we had blissfully ignored on our way in telling us that our guesses were correct.

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Once we had finished with the Residence we walked to the Treasury and admired some royal jewelry before going to Cuvilliés Theatre and heading out. On our way out, we noticed that many people were casually rubbing the lion statues that guarded several of the Residence’s entrances. Not wanting to feel left out, we did as well. The Internet now tells me that rubbing the lions is supposed to bring you good luck, so I suppose we did the right thing even if the two of us were clueless as to what we were doing.

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One of my good friends from home had told me that we should go to the English Garden and drink beer at the Chinese tower. Having worked up an appetite at this point, we headed directly to the tower to consume pretzels, beer, and sausages. Thanks to a tip from my friend, we noticed that you pay a 1 euro deposit for the beer steins, so Michael and I happily decided to keep the steins as souvenirs. The German family sitting next to us definitely gave us a few judgmental looks as they saw us stash the steins away and walk off with them.

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Now feeling both successful and comfortably full, the two of us decided to try our luck at the Pinakothek Museum. To be frank, I’m a huge Impressionist fan and was not overly excited by some of the older works that are stored in the museum. We also realized that about half of the museum was closed for repairs, severely limiting the amount of art we could see. It was only as we were about to head out that we realized that there are actually multiple Pinakothek Museums. We had gone to the Alte Pinakothek.

Because we still had a bit of time left in our day, we decided to also see the Pinakothek der Moderne. I personally enjoyed the modern art museum much more. While I wasn’t a fan of all of the art on display, I enjoyed looking at most of the paintings and at the furniture and the design work that was featured. To top it all off, having been yelled at by a security guard in the Alte for getting too close to one of the paintings, I felt a bit smug when it wasn’t me, but another couple, who managed to set off one of the alarms in the Moderne. After about an hour, Michael and I were finally ready to call it quits on the sightseeing. We only had one last stop in mind: a traditional German beer house.

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So with dinner and beer on our minds we made our way to Hofbrauhaus. One of my friends had told us that “it was AMAZING. MINDBLOWING. Get the pork knuckle or whatever that was. It was ridiculous” so our expectations were quite high. Hofbrauhaus was hilarious. It was a quintessential tourist trap with Germans dressed in traditional garb, traditional German music playing, and a clientele that had to be at least fifty percent Asian tourists. It was hard not to laugh and to love the place at the same time. At my friend’s suggestion, Michael and I did order pork knuckle and it was in fact delicious. We also had a liter of beer each, or in my case a radler (lemonade and beer combined). Considering that I had enough trouble drinking out of my liter stein using just one hand, I was impressed by the waiters and waitresses who ran around the place carrying six or more of them in each hand. While the entire experience was fun, both Michael and I concluded that our favorite part was a man who came on stage and managed to create some sort of music using a whip. It was pretty much the only performance that managed to make most people quiet down, and one that we got to experience not once, but twice. I unfortunately did not take a video, but I guess that’s what YouTube and other tourists are for. Enjoy!

Off to Munich: Stranger Danger on Planes

I was told a few months ago that I one of my Friday classes was cancelled so I was really excited to plan my first trip out of Norway. It just so happens that one of my college roommates, Julie, happens to be working full time in Munich and was happy to host me. So I eagerly booked my flights and even managed to get another friend, Michael, to come along. Because Michael was flying in from a different city, we agreed to meet at Julie’s suggested airport location, Airbräu, which also happens to be a beer garden.

When I actually boarded my flight to Munich I think I was in a state of disbelief since it hadn’t really sunk in that I was 1) leaving the country 2) seeing some friendly faces in the very immediate future. I reached a second stage of disbelief when the only other person in my row happened to be American. Now, I’m generally not the sort of person who talks to people on planes. It’s not something that I’m opposed to, but it generally isn’t something that I seek out. In this case, having seen so few Americans in Norway, I was more than happy to chat with my aisle mate. Little did I know that the conversation would eventually take a turn. While the conversation started out with the standard get to know you questions (Where are you from? What do you do? Why are you going to Munich?) it morphed into getting career advice and the suggestion that I should take a Myers Briggs test to identify my strengths. While the conversation became a bit preachy I decided to simply nod along and thank the man when he said that he would pray for me. If only it had stopped there.  As the plane was about to make its descent into Munich, my aisle mate turned to me and asked me if he could give me one last piece of advice. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but it was not for this person to give me a lecture on chastity and the virtues of saving oneself for marriage. Luckily the plane was just about to land, so I didn’t have to do much other than courteously nod my head and smile, but as soon as I disembarked I rushed to meet Michael so that I could tell someone about my plane ride. Needless to say, both Julie and Michael told me that I should stop talking to people on planes. Lesson learned: no airplane buddies.

After Michael and I met up, we snacked and drank for a bit at the beer garden and the local McDonald’s before following Julie’s incredibly precise instructions to her apartment. The trip took us about an hour, but overall things were fairly navigable. We managed to ride both the S-bahn (subway) and the bus without a hitch. Luckily the ticket for the S-bahn happens to also work on Munich’s tram (U-bahn) and bus system, though to be honest our bus driver took so much pity on us somewhat lost Americans that he waved us onto the bus without bothering to check our ticket.

While the trip to Munich was not the smoothest trip that I’ve ever had, it was nice to end the day lounging in Julie’s enormous couch, talking with friends, and exchanging strange airplane stories.

The Scream and More

My last day in Oslo was done in a bit of a rush since I needed to catch an afternoon flight, but I still managed to cram in a few things before I raced to the airport. My first stop of the day was to the headquarters of WiMP, a high fidelity music streaming competitor to Spotify. One of our TEDx speakers from the week before happened to be the CEO of WiMP’s parent company, Aspiro Group, and he invited me to grab coffee with him while I was in Oslo. After about an hour of good chitchat, I left and made my way towards the Nasjonalmuseet (The National Museum).

IMG_1218  IMG_1220I’m generally a pretty big fan of art museums, and was excited to finally go to the National Museum. The thing that I really wanted to see was Munch’s The Scream, but because I still had plenty of time before my flight, I was able to go through the entire museum. I definitely felt a hint of sadness walking through. I took AP Art History my senior year of high school and unfortunately most of what I learned has managed to leak out of my brain. That being said, one thing I really enjoyed about the museum was seeing and learning a bit more about Norwegian painters. My AP studies more or less skipped over Scandinavian artists with the huge caveat of Edvard Munch.

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I will say that one of the great things about the National Museum is that it’s actually quite small. It only took up about 1.5 floors so it wasn’t too time consuming to walk around.

Afterwards, I decided to go to Bygdøy and try my luck at the Fram Museum. The water ferry that my family took last time was closed but I managed to find a bus that more or less took me straight there. I had seen the Fram Museum from a distance the last time I was in Oslo, and my assumption was that since it was a small building, it would take me about an hour tops. Once I walked into the museum I rapidly realized that the 30 minutes I had allocated myself would be wholly insufficient. The Fram Museum is notable for housing the Polarship Fram, a boat was used by Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen on their North Pole expedition and Amundsen’s South Pole expedition (it is the boat that helped Amundsen be the first person to reach the South Pole). The Fram Museum also houses the Gjøa, the first ship to navigate the entire Northwest Passage. Because my time was limited, I contented myself with simply watching the 15 minute film on these two large ships and then taking a quick walk around the Fram. While I didn’t spend as much time as I would have liked at the Fram Museum, I definitely intend to revisit it the next time I’m in Oslo.

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Back to Oslo

Last week I was excited to go to Oslo for a quick trip. I woke up early on the day that my train was scheduled to depart and rode the bus down to Trondheim’s Central Station. In calculating what bus I should take I relied on the bus system’s website to help me pick a bus that would get me to the station about 10 minutes ahead of time. What I hadn’t counted on was the early morning rush and its effect on traffic. By the time my bus actually pulled into the station my train was due to depart and I ran (and may have also aggressively pushed and shoved) until I got to my platform. There was no train.

But it turns out all was not lost! Apparently the train was delayed by an hour so there was really no need for me to run or have a panic attack over missing the train. When the train finally did pull into the station, I gratefully sank into my seat and settled in for the 6.5 hour journey. It was another lovely train trip. I’m pretty much convinced at this point that ugly train rides don’t exist in Norway.

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Since I did have a long train ride I was able to check out the transportation system in Oslo before I arrived. It’s incredibly similar to the way the system works in Trondheim. In both cities, there are two main apps that you can use on your smartphone to help you navigate. In Trondheim they are: AtB Reise and AtB Mobillett (in case you were wondering AtB is short for “from A to B”). In Oslo, the apps are RuterReise and RuterBillett. AtB Reise and RuterReise will give you a map of the available bus/tram stops and will help you plan a route to your intended destination. AtB Mobillett and RuterBillett help you actually purchase public transportation tickets.

One of this year’s Roving Scholars, Lud, happens to have a guest room in his apartment and graciously allowed me to stay with him while I was in Oslo. So, my first action item after getting off the train was to actually get to Lud’s home. Thankfully Lud provided me with excellent directions and I was able to take the tram over. The thing that surprised me with the transportation system in Oslo is that no one seems to actually check your tickets. I was quite surprised that most people simply got on and sat down. It was a bit strange to be in such a trusting environment.

After a delicious dinner with Lud and quite a bit of catching up, the two of us grabbed the tram back down to the city center. Our destination: the Oslo Opera House. I loved my last trip to the Opera House and was excited to go again, this time to watch Don Giovanni. In the tradition of most Asian kids I played piano growing up and have listened to the Don Giovanni Overture many many times. I was excited to put this piece of music in context as well as to experience such a famous piece of opera.

There is a good summary of Don Giovanni done by the Met Opera but it can more or less be summarized by saying that Don Giovanni is a womanizer who pisses off everyone in the opera before being dragged into hell after refusing to repent for his sins. I would say that the opera revolves around appetites–hunger for food, women, respect, and depending on the character, redemption.

The first thing that Lud and I really noticed about the opera was how even though the set appeared to be depicting an older time period, all of the costumes that the characters wore were quite modern. In fact, at one point in the opera Zerlina pretends to talk to Masetto on her cell phone. While it was interesting to see Don Giovanni set in a more modern day context, it did sacrifice one significant point of the plot–you really struggled to understand or see the huge class difference between Don Giovanni and the other characters. While class does not come up too much in the actual libretto, understanding Don Giovanni’s social position is an important part of understanding his appeal and his dominance over the other characters.

I was also surprised at the way sex was portrayed in the opera. I was expecting the men to more or less dominate over their female counterparts, and the plot synopses that I read beforehand made me think that the women were meant to be gullible, docile, and dependent. This was not the power dynamic that I witnessed. Anna clearly is the master of Ottavio, who more or less follows her around like a lost puppy, but I think Zerlina proves to be the most interesting female character. Her physical attraction to Don Giovanni is made very explicit in the opera, and in this particular relationship she tends to play the victim. The innocent woman who is unable to resist Don Giovanni’s charms. Things are very different in her relationship with Masetto. Although Zerlina lets Masetto, her fiancé, be physically abusive, it is also clear that it is Zerlina who holds the power in the relationship. Instead of playing the victim, Zerlina uses sex as a way to formalize her dominance in the relationship. After her daliance with Don Giovanni, Zerlina manages to reconcile with Masetto after she essentially gives him a lap dance. Additionally, Zerlina secures Masetto’s trust after she tells him that she’s pregnant with his child. Zerlina proves an excellent example of how the women in the opera are able to use sex to their advantage as opposed to their disadvantage.

On a separate note, I was surprised by how much Don Giovanni is a comedy. I was expecting the opera to be a drama with a clear moral running throughout, which don’t get me wrong this is true, but there are also many small instances of humor, particularly surrounding the figure of Leporello. One his funnier moments emerges when he and Don Giovanni are exchanging outfits. Don Giovanni manages to hide behind the door to a confessional while Leporello hides behind two paintings. When Leporello has to pick up some clothing from Don Giovanni he takes one of the paintings to hide his nudity, only realizing a few seconds into his walk that it is a painting of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. Realizing that these holy figures are inspecting his nether regions a bit too closely, he giggles before turning the painting around to face the audience.

While I found Don Giovanni enjoyable, I definitely preferred Madame Butterfly. Don Giovanni has a much more complex plot, which is not helped when many of these characters are on stage at the same time. As an audience member, it can be difficult to figure out which characters you should be focusing on at any one point in time. Additionally, the singing in Madame Butterfly was much better. While Lud and I really enjoyed listening to Don Giovanni, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, it was pretty clear that he was by far and away the best singer on stage.

Pictures below from the Oslo Opera House’s website.

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