April Showers Bring May Flowers

Although the saying is “April showers bring May flowers,” in Trondheim the saying would be more accurate if it was “continuous April downpours bring a vague sense of spring and greenery in May.” It is true that spring has technically arrived in Norway. The ice has been gone since about early March, and nowadays I’m even able to see the occasional cluster of wildflowers. But, be that as it may, winter has yet to fully relinquish its icy grip in Trondheim. The weather was dreary for pretty much the whole month of April, and we were getting so much rain that I felt like, unbeknownst to me, I had moved to Bergen, Norway’s rainiest city and the rainiest city in Europe.

Thankfully, things have definitely improved a bit this month. While we still get more rain than I would like, we have also been blessed with some gloriously sunny days. That being said, it has yet to really heat up. Right now a warm day would be a day that hits 14°C (57.2°F). In fact, the weather has been so cold the last few months that it wasn’t atypical to see a few snow flurries or to get actual snow in late April. However, my co-workers have told me that this May has been unusually cold. And while most people seem to think the weather is getting a bit warmer, as proven by the fact that yesterday my co-teachers and I spent some time admiring the newly shirtless construction workers who are working on a new wing for the school, I still gaze at the temperatures for my hometown in Los Angeles and sigh longingly.

While the temperatures have yet to pick up, the daylight certainly has. Today’s sunrise and sunset times are 3:28 am and 11:02 pm. The result? It never gets fully dark in Trondheim. The closest we get to complete darkness is a sort of hazy blue period between sunset and sunrise. While the sunshine is certainly energizing, it does tend to throw off everyone’s sleep schedules and their schedules in general. It’s difficult to convince yourself to go to bed when the sun is still up, and it’s also hard not to panic when you wake up since the daylight seems to indicate that you’ve slept until about noon.

The resurgence of daylight also means that I’ve stopped getting coupons for free vitamin D pills in my inbox. The handy Norwegian version of Groupon, Let’s Deal, was always sending out coupons for free vitamin D tablets in the middle of winter, something that I generally found depressing instead of helpful. Likewise, the number of spray tans seems to be going down. There are a large number of tanning studios in most Norwegian cities (something that I had stopped noticing until visiting friends pointed them out to me), and while a large number of these studios offer tanning services, I’m also told that they offer light box therapy, or time with specially lamps that help people combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

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While I certainly welcome the return of the sun, I am also looking forward to some nicer weather. Here’s to hoping that June brings some warmer days.

Oslo Wrap Up

I adore Oslo. It’s one of my favorite European cities and one that I’ve never gotten tired of.

  1. DO NOT TAKE A TAXI. Taxis in Oslo charge a minimum 200 NOK (24.80 USD) fare. You should absolutely take advantage of the public transportation system, especially since it works pretty well. The apps to use are RuterBillett (to buy tickets) and RuterReise/Google Maps (to plan out a trip and navigate the system). Note: you don’t actually have to validate your transportation tickets (and you can freely walk through the barriers in the subway system), but they do randomly check to make sure that you have tickets. The fines are very steep if you’re caught without a ticket (~150 USD) so just keep that in mind if you decide not to buy one.
  2. In order to get to the city from the airport you’ll either take the flytoget (airport train) or the flybussen (airport bus). The train is much faster, but depending on where you’re staying the bus might drop you off closer to your accommodations.
  3. The city’s main street is Karl Johans Gate and quite a few major sites are near it as is a ton of shopping.
  4. The Oslo Opera House is quite possibly my favorite site in Oslo. It’s a stunning piece of architecture and you’re free to walk in it, on it, and around it. The view from the roof also isn’t half bad. I would highly recommend either doing a tour of the opera house or going to see a performance there. The opera is required to sell 100 tickets at 100 NOK (~16 USD) for every performance so it’s pretty easy to get affordable tickets and good seats.
  5. Absolutely go to Vigeland Park (which is in Frogner Park). The park is a ways away from the city center so I would recommend taking the tram or subway, but the sculptures are great and it’s nice to just walk around.
  6. Definitely pay a stop to Bygdøy peninsula. Depending on the time of year, you can reach it by either bus or by ferry. If the ferry is running I would recommend taking it, even if it’s just to get a view of the city from the water. Here’s what you can see there:
    • Viking Ship Museum – It has three different viking ship relics + a few other Viking things. It’s kinda cool to go and see but there isn’t actually much to do at the museum
    • Folkemusem – Great if you want an overview of Norwegian history and culture. It also has 24 acres of land with 160 different kinds of historic buildings. If you’re dying to see a stave church and won’t make it out of the city then definitely stop by.
    • Fram Museum – Unfortunately I haven’t spent enough time here. What I did see what great, especially if you’re interested in Arctic exploration and/or ships (plus all of the other major ship museums are literally next door).
  7. The Nobel Peace Center – Does a pretty good job of talking about the Nobel Peace Prize and the latest winners. I would recommend going if you want to learn more about the prize.
  8. Nasjonalmuseet (The National Museum) – A pretty good museum and the location of Munch’s famous The Scream. It’s small though so it’s pretty manageable to do in about an hour or two.
  9. City Hall – If you can manage to go to the room where they give out the Nobel Peace Prize you should since it’s stunning. I’m pretty sure that they organize tours.
  10. Ekeberg Park – Go if you want a good view of the city (but if it’s a cloudy or foggy day maybe give it a pass). It’s an interesting place since it also has a ton of famous artwork scattered throughout the park (Rodin, Salvador Dali, etc.). Walking down from the park to the city will also give you the same backdrop that is painted in The Scream.
  11. Holmenkollen – Go if you want to see the famous ski jump, walk around the forest, and get a good view of the city. I’ve heard that the museum is also pretty good and has a ski jump simulator.
  12. Vigeland Museum/Mausoleum – There are actually two Vigeland sculptors, and this is a “museum” done by the less famous brother. It’s a bit outside of the city center, but if you have the time to check it out it’s pretty neat.
  13. If you want to see some nice graffiti/street art go check out the area around Mathallen (food hall).
  14. If you are there in winter, you absolutely have to check out Korktrekkeren, a large sledding area that will take you about 15 minutes to go down. It’s fantastic. For the best sledding go early on a weekday.

One Last Trip to Oslo

Now that the sun has (sorta) returned to Norway, I’ve been lucky enough to have a few visitors! Thanks to great discounts on Norwegian Air, one of my friends from university, Alyssa, and her friend Kani decided to make a spontaneous weekend trip to Oslo. Because I’ve already blogged about some of these Oslo sights, I thought I’d keep this trip a bit on the simpler side and opted for a list format with this post.

Oslo Opera House

I absolutely adore the Oslo Opera House. It’s definitely one of my favorite places in Norway, and a part of that has to do with how affordable it is (even by non-Norwegian standards). Alyssa and I were lucky enough to get last minute tickets to the opening night of La traviata, one of Verdi’s operas. La traviata is based on a novel and play by Alexandre Dumas, La Dame aux camélias, which is based on Dumas’s life and affair with Marie Duplessis, a famous Parisian courtesan. Sadly for the two lovers, Marie dies from consumption at the young age of 23. If this story sounds familiar that’s unsurprising. The story has been retold in countless art pieces and movies, one famous example is the 2001 movie Moulin Rouge!. Unfortunately, we actually turned up a few minutes late due to a slow restaurant, but, lucky for us, we were still allowed to enter the opera once there was an opportune break in the singing.

Although the set was surprisingly bare, overall the opera and the singing was great. I especially enjoyed the singing done by the lead, the soprano Aurelia Florian.

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Mathallen Area

Following one Susan’s suggestions, I took a stroll by Oslos’ Mathallen, or literally translated, food hall. I only popped my head into the hall for a minute, but it had quite a nice selection of produce, fish, and the like. My main reason for walking around this area was to check out the local graffiti. To my delight, most of it was actually quite good, and there were a number of nice looking bars next to the nearby river, something that I wouldn’t mind checking out in the future.

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The Fram Museum

Because I didn’t really have a chance to walk around the Fram Museum when I visited in winter, I was determined to give it another shot on this trip. Alyssa, Kani, and I still didn’t have time to get through everything before the museum closed, but I learned a bit more than I did last time.

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). One of the big reasons why the Fram was revolutionary was that the ship was deliberately allowed to freeze in the Arctic Ocean. No ship had ever survived the ice pressure before, so Nansen’s desire to knowingly subject the ship to the ice was considered nothing short of insane. Lucky for Nansen and his crew, the ship’s special design allowed it to withstand the ice pressure. There were several design choices that allowed this to happen, but the one that is talked about most often is the rounded hull and smooth sides, which were built to mimic a round nut. The idea was for the ice to push the ship up onto the ice (similar to squeezing a nut between your fingers and having it slide along your fingers instead of being crushed) which would prevent the ice from crushing the ship.

Nansen also happened to be a very careful planner and prepared to spend 3-5 years on board the ship. Because of this, not only did the ship have plenty of food, it also had plenty to keep the crew occupied. There was a library of 600 books, paintings, card games, and even an organ on board. Overall the crew did quite well, remaining both healthy and well entertained.

The crew and its ship was only gone for three years, and upon its return Nansen was greeted as a national hero. Afterwards, Nansen was primarily known for his political career, becoming an ambassador to Great Britain in 1906 and later working in the League of Nations.

Sadly we weren’t able to finish exploring the entire museum, but again it’s something that I would pay another visit to. It was a really well laid out museum, and at times hilariously blunt and/or politically correct (our favorite translated sentence was “The friendliness and generosity of the Inuit was repaid by the white men’s goodwill and respect.”).

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Vigeland Park

Another one of my Oslo favorites is Vigeland Park. No visit would be complete without it, so I was happy to take Alyssa and Kani there. We were blessed with a gorgeously sunny day, so sunny in fact that we actually ran into a zumba dance class that was going on in the park.

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Vigeland Mausoleum

The three of us also went to the Vigeland Mausoleum thanks to a recommendation from Susan. While Gustav Vigeland is the mastermind behind Vigeland Park, Vigeland Mausoleum is actually done by his brother, Emanuel Vigeland. The mausoleum requires taking the subway to Slemdal, but it’s well worth the trip. The mausoleum is tucked away in a nice residential area, which also happens to have a nice view of Oslo.

The Vigeland Mausoleum is also known as the Vigeland Museum, and it was originally supposed to house Vigeland’s future sculptures and paintings. Vigeland later ended up changing his mind, and now the mausoleum is a huge dark room covered in frescoes. Many of the frescoes have a religious undertone, and more information on them can be found on the museum’s website. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside the mausoleum, but Google Images can still give you a good idea of what the interior looks like.

The museum itself resembles a church, not only in its construction, but also in its silence. We were strictly told not to talk before entering, and we soon found out why. One visitor accidentally knocked into one of the museum’s chairs and echo was unbelievable. It’s definitely not your classic museum, especially considering that Vigeland’s cremated remains are stationed above the door, but I would definitely recommend a visit if you have the time.

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Today is my graduversary, or millennial speak for my graduation anniversary. Exactly one year ago today, I woke up  to the traditional sound of bagpipes.* Exactly one year ago today, I proudly marched with my roommates and many of my good friends into Harvard Yard. Exactly one year ago today, I was surrounded by the sound of cheers, words of encouragement, and a glorious cacophony of sound–the product of many sleep deprived graduates, multiple bagpipers, and a jazz band. Exactly one year ago today, I was finally able to walk across a stage and proudly hold my bachelor’s diploma–something that I had worked hard to achieve for four years. It’s all so hard to believe.

Even now it’s still hard for me to process. I’ve commenced. I’ve begun a new journey. I’ve survived as a “real” person for a year. I haven’t even burned down my kitchen! And while I have enjoyed embracing the future, I’d like to take a moment, on this arbitrary yet special day, to reminisce a bit about the past.

The funny thing about my commencement was that nothing turned out the way I expected it to. It rained profusely in the days leading up to commencement. In fact, it was so cold that I had to open a few of my bulging suitcases to dig out some of my winter clothing. I even got a sinus infection, and, to top it all off, later found out that I was allergic to the antibiotics that I had been given.

And yet there were many ways in which my graduation was perfect. I had a wonderful time with my family–the people who supported me and made it possible for me to even dream of going to Harvard. I was able to show them part of my world, the world that they had helped given me access to, to show them the places and people that I had discovered, the people and things that I loved. At the same time, I was able to draw my friends close. To celebrate with them. To remember the last four years, and to feel like I was and am a part of an incredible community. And while I felt a bit sad at the time, to be leaving behind so many great people and things, I found it helpful to remember that it was a beginning. That commencement at its core means to start something new.

And start something new I have! I embarked on a new chapter of life in a totally new country. I’ve learned a lot about myself and gained a morsel or two of insight as to what I want in my future, but, most importantly, I’ve been able to keep in touch with most of my closest friends. So although I still feel a pang of envy for this year’s graduating class, I’m proud to say that I’m very happy with the new chapter that I’ve written since commencement. Congratulations to the class of 2015, and may you all be as happy with your new beginnings as I am with mine.

*Why this is a Harvard commencement tradition is still a mystery to me.

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Stavanger Area Wrap Up

Although I didn’t spend a large amount of time in Stavanger itself, I really loved what I saw and also really enjoyed the nearby area. Here are my tips:

  1. If you want to look around the nearby area (which you should) I would highly recommend getting a car and driving around. I would particularly recommend driving the two nearby national tourist routes, Ryfylke and Jæren.
  2. Ryfylke
    1. Definitely make a trip to Pulpit Rock, though be aware that it’ll be a hike to get there and that it’s mountainous. Go early in the morning to avoid crowds and check with the local tourist office to make sure that it’s open. The other famous rock formation in this area is Kjerag, which Abby and I didn’t make it to since it was still buried in snow even at the end of May.
    2. Pay a quick stop to Sandsfossen and Høsebrua to admire the waterfall and walk over the bridge.
    3. Definitely stop by Svandalsfossen waterfall. It’s incredible. Be sure to bring a waterproof jacket though.
  3. Jæren
    1. If you have the time, continue past Ogna towards Egersund, since the surrounding scenery is gorgeous.
    2. Check out the quaint church at Varhaug old cemetery.
  4. Stavanger is pretty small and easy to walk around so I would recommend doing that. It’s vibrant colors and street art also set it apart from most Norwegian towns.
  5. Check out the Norwegian Petroleum Museum to learn more about Norway’s relationship with oil. Also stop by the next door playground and see how they’re repurposed old shipping parts.


Our last day in Stavanger was a bit of an odd one. In Norway, May is the month of public holidays, which meant that Abby and I had Monday off for Pentecost, but then again so did everyone else. Most things were closed due to the holiday, which meant that we were able to start the day off at a leisurely pace. The first item on our agenda: breakfast.

Now, one of the things Heather asked us to do with her hotel points was to enjoy a hearty breakfast. Abby and I were pretty confident that we were up to the challenge. Norwegian hotel breakfast is by far some of the best I’ve ever had in terms of options. So, taking some inspiration from Heather’s husband Jason, an avid fan of Norwegian breakfast, we did battle with the buffet table and managed to go away stuffed after a few courses. For another perspective on Norwegian breakfast, check out a blog post that Jason did on breakfast amongst other things.

IMG_3928  IMG_3929  IMG_3930After loading our things into the car, Abby and I wandered back into town and checked out the local market before moseying over to the Norwegian Petroleum Museum. Now whenever I mentioned that I was going to Stavanger to Norwegians, the general reaction was something along the lines of “Ugh, oil.” Stavanger is the home of Statoil, Norway’s largest energy company, and is also the headquarters of many other energy companies. So while my Norwegian compatriots weren’t thrilled that I was going to Stavanger, I was excited to go Stavanger, and I was particularly excited to go to this museum to learn a bit more about Norway’s relationship with oil.

The museum itself is pretty well designed and very family friendly. Much of the museum is dedicated to the history of oil and gas in Norway, how it is monitored and regulated, and of course what life is like on board oil rigs. I’m not entirely sure when all of the information was published in the museum (so some of the stats might be a bit outdated) but here’s some of what I learned.

Although Norway is well known for its oil wealth, as of 2009, the Norwegian continental shelf only contains .6% of the world’s found oil reserves and 1.6% of its gas reserves. While plenty of other countries have more oil and gas (Norway is 18th for oil and 12th for gas), in 2011 it was still the world’s seventh largest exporter of oil (exporting over 1.5 million barrels of oil per day) and in 2010 was the second largest exporter of gas (100 billion sm³ of gas per year).

There are 10 “oil commandments” that govern Norwegian oil policy. These commandments, or the Norwegian model, essentially focus on establishing the oil and gas industry in such a way as to benefit the whole country. Since Norway began recovering oil and gas in 1971:

  • They have recovered more than 7,000 billion NOK worth of oil and gas
  • More than 200,000 people are employed due to the industry (though that number has definitely taken a hit since the recent drop in oil prices)
  • The current oil fund is worth more than 2,000 billion NOK or approximately 500,000 NOK (64,444 USD) per Norwegian

While prosperity has certainly come to Norway, studies on the country’s happiness levels show that the huge increase in wealth in recent decades has had a small impact on overall happiness. In other words, money isn’t everything.

One oil related government objective that Abby and I found interesting was the idea that “every house should be occupied in every corner of the country.” Basically, people shouldn’t feel obligated to move to the city in search of jobs. Oil revenues have been used to help ensure that wealth is extended to every corner of the country, and although this is an expensive policy, Norwegians are quite happy to help ensure that smaller communities thrive. To give you a better idea of how spread out and sparsely populated Norway is:

  • In January 2010 Norway had a population density of 16 people per square kilometer (the second lowest in Europe)
  • Norway has 430 local authorities, 43 of which don’t encompass an urban area, 130 with a population of less than 2,500, and 25 with a population of less than 1,000
  • Less than 100 settlements in Norway have a population of more than 5,000  people

Abby and I also had fun looking at some of the model oil rigs and climbing into some of the diving equipment. Personally I found the diving rigs to be a bit too claustrophobic, which wasn’t helped when I learned that in order to work at depths of more than 50 m (164 ft) divers have to go through a 12 hour saturation process for their bodies to adjust to the pressure. In Norway, divers are only allowed to work for 14 days at those depths, and afterwards it takes about 3-6 days before the body recovers and returns to normal pressure. This sounded wholly unappealing to me. Clearly oil extraction is not my calling.

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Once we finished up at the museum, we took a drive out to Stavanger’s Swords in Rock monument, or Sverd i fjell, before heading over to the airport. It was there that we realized that we were on the same flight. My supposedly direct flight back to Trondheim was really a flight to Trondheim with a pitstop in Bergen. Turns out the flight to Bergen is so short (25 minutes) that it hardly makes a difference to stop in Bergen and drop off and pick up new passengers, than it does to just fly to Trondheim directly.

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Winding Roads, Flat Lands, and Dreary Skies

The next day we decided to tackle the second national tourist route, Jæren. While Ryfylke had directed us North, with Jæren we were headed South into Norway’s agricultural area. Now I’m used to seeing soaring mountains and towering peaks in Norway, so it was pretty strange to drive through the Norwegian heartland and not see a single mountain (granted it was raining so poor visibility might have had something to do with that). The sheep that we had seen on our Northern drive were replaced with fields, and, in one case, small trees that marked the beginning of a Christmas tree farm. Both Abby and I suspect that planting and harvesting happen later in Norway than in other countries, since it didn’t look like there was anything even beginning to sprout.

Not only does Jæren pass through one of the flatest parts of the country, it also passes by some of Norway’s most dangerous coast. The area is highly treacherous for ships, so while there are a number of beaches along the coast, there are also quite a few lighthouses. Although Abby and I did try and visit one of the lighthouses, it, as well as most of the sights along Jæren, was closed. Additionally, the weather was simply too miserable and rainy to really warrant getting out of the car and going for a quick adventure.

But we still managed to have a good time. We even managed to see one of the sights, Hitler’s teeth, largely from the warmth of our car. The “teeth” are cement blocks that were made during World War II to prevent the Allied forces from making landfall (see the second row of pictures).

IMG_3232  IMG_3231  IMG_3221IMG_3208  IMG_3210  IMG_3212Another stop at MingarWalker Glassblowing studio was actually a huge success. Abby was able to buy a wedding gift, and the local glassblower was incredibly helpful. We had originally planned to stop our drive at Ogna, the end of the tourist road; however, the glassblower advised us to continue past Ogna and on towards Tengs and Egersund. This ended up being great advice. The terrain slowly started to change and became more rocky and hilly, and of course was beautiful. To top things off, we even passed one old place that was modeled after an old American saloon.

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Our last notable stop was at Varhaug old cemetery. Our glassblower had told us that it was worth a stop since it has an incredibly quaint church on the premises. To give you a better idea of how small it is, it’s about 15 m² (161 ft²) and fits only 14 chairs. Lucky for us, we were the only visitors, so it wasn’t too cramped when we went. We even got to have some fun ringing the church bells.

IMG_3242  IMG_3236  IMG_3246IMG_3248  IMG_3241  IMG_3243After that we slowly made our way back to Stavanger. Thanks to the generosity of Heather, one of the Roving Scholars, we were able to use some of her accumulated hotel points to stay the night in Stavanger.

Once we arrived, our first task was to find the parking garage. We got directions from the hotel and then parked the car in what is by far one of the strangest car parks I’ve ever been to. The parking lot was solidly underground, and it also came with handy things like sinks. We speculated that it used to be a bunker, and sure enough after inquiring at the front desk we had our suspicions confirmed. Compared to most European countries, Norway doesn’t have many visible reminders of World War II, so it’s always a bit shocking to stumble upon something that shows the impact that it had on the country.
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The weather continued to be a bit dreary, and because it was a Sunday most things were closed when we walked around town. That being said, we still really enjoyed looking around. Compared to most Norwegian towns, Stavanger is filled with vibrant colors and quirky parks. Abby and I had a lot of fun playing in a playground next to the Norwegian Petroleum Museum. The park is made out of repurposed shipping tools, so we had fun bouncing along on buoys and crawling along old shipping pipes. One of the things we also enjoyed seeing was a memorial “DEDICATED TO THE MEN AND WOMEN OF NORWEGIAN BLOOD WHO HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO THE BUILDING OF AMERICA.” Stavanger even has a Norwegian Emigration Center that has an exhibit on Norwegian emigration to the United States.

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After that, we gratefully returned to our hotel and put our feet up. We felt like we were living the life of luxury by being in a hotel and having access to a TV. Neither Abby nor I has a TV in our student housing, so we had a lot of fun channel surfing and trying to decipher some of the Norwegian ads between our combined (and limited) Norwegian vocabularies. If you’d like to try it out, I’ve included the link to the one commercial that we did manage to figure out.

What we deduced is that this is an advertisement for Jarlsberg, one of the two big cheese brands in Norway (the other being Gulost). Things come to a head when the guy asks for Jarlsberg and is told that Gulost is fine since cheese is cheese. For the rest of the advertisement, the woman essentially says that “x is x” (even though it’s clearly not the case) and that her significant other should be satisfied. So for example, she says “hjem er hjem” or “home is home” when he’s being admitted to a mental institution. Basically the point of the advertisement is that cheese is not in fact cheese and that only Jarlsberg is Jarlsberg. Screw Gulost! Basically Abby and I spent a significant amount of mental energy deducing a Norwegian commercial for a cheese that neither of us particularly likes, but hey we felt somewhat accomplished by the end of it.