Going South to Go North

I realize that my title doesn’t initially make sense, but it will in a minute. Not too long ago I paid a trip to Svalbard. Unfortunately the only way for me to get there from Trondheim was to go through either Oslo or Tromsø. It ended up being cheaper and more convenient for me to go via Oslo, so I did in fact go South in order to go North.

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Svalbard has been a place that has captured my imagination since I was a child, specifically since I read The Golden Compass. In fact, both Svalbard and The Golden Compass were featured in my Fulbright essay, so I was really excited to finally get the chance to go there. Sidenote: if you haven’t read The Golden Compass you should and if you have no idea where Svalbard is check out the Map section of my blog. It’s the northernmost pin and Longyearbyen is actually the world’s northernmost settlement.

While organizing my flights to Svalbard was a bit of hassle since they only fly on certain days, it was pretty exciting to go, and I wasn’t the only one who was thrilled. I’ve never seen people so excited to travel. Everyone on my plane was upbeat (or intoxicated), constantly taking pictures, and pressed against the windows of the plane. I never really recognized how toxic the atmosphere can be around airports until I boarded my flight to Longyearbyen and experienced such a drastically different environment. I have to say it was quite a nice change to have everyone so happy.

But before I talk a bit more about my flight into Longyearbyen, I need to talk about my flight into Oslo. Why you might ask? Well it’s because I had a medical emergency happen on my flight. Not just on my flight, but to the person sitting next to me. Now for those of you who don’t know me you should know that I could never be a doctor. Not only did I hate most of the subjects that you need for medical school (mainly chemistry and physics) I’m also just a bad person to have in a medical emergency. Bodily fluids gross me out, I struggle to even watch doctor shows, and I tend to lose all common sense in medical situations. The thing I am most famous for is when my best friend fainted and when coming to I asked her what she thought the best course of action would be. So my number is clearly not the one you call when you have a medical emergency. That being said, life loves to have its little ironies so I was hardly surprised that this medical emergency happened right next to me.

Now the second thing you should know is that I can sleep through almost anything. Something I happen to specialize in is sleeping on planes. I have mastered the art of falling asleep before takeoff so it was only when I heard a lot of panicked sounds that I woke up from my nap against the window. Looking around I spotted a few alarmed flight attendants shaking the woman next to me and seeing her look pale and nauseous with the vomit bag clutched to her face. This rapidly escalated as she seems to go in and out of consciousness. An oxygen tank was retrieved, and at this point the man in the aisle seat was relocated and I was asked to move. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible due to the hunched position that this woman had taken. So medically incompetent me stayed squashed between the window and the medical emergency.

The first problem occurred when they either couldn’t managed to open the oxygen tank valve or the tank just failed to work. A second tank was retrieved and this time the oxygen mask was successfully applied to the woman’s face. This seemed to help incrementally, but after a while the woman continued to drift in and out of consciousness. The flight attendants indicated to me that we should get her horizontal. Now thanks to my fainting best friend, I’ve learned not to be wholly incompetent when people faint. So my first course, and really the only course, of action that I could take was to help move this woman so she was lying down and prop her legs up to increase blood flow to the head. Luckily by the time we finished doing this the plane was preparing to land. All in all, our landing scene had a man across the aisle holding an oxygen tank, a flight attendant in the aisle seat holding the woman’s head in her lap and placing the oxygen mask on her face, the woman having the medical emergency, and me attempting to prop this woman’s legs up.

Once the plane landed the flight attendants instructed us to all remain seated and a medical team was quickly ushered on board. Of course knowing no Norwegian and having slept through the beginning of this escapade, I was completely useless when it came to giving the medical team any sort of helpful information. The woman seemed to recover once we landed and she was able to walk off the plane on her own. The unfortunate realizations that I had after this episode included: flight staff don’t seem to have much medical training, there isn’t really too much you can do to help a person on a flight, and that I’m lucky that most domestic flights in Norway aren’t more than three hours. Lucky for this woman, I think the closest airport we could have landed in was Oslo, our actual destination. Oddly enough no one asked if there was a doctor on board the plane, but then again that could have happened while I was blissfully sleeping.

But back to Svalbard! It was with a certain amount of relief that I left my Trondheim to Oslo flight and prepared to board my flight to Longyearbyen. As I mentioned earlier, there was also a significant change in attitude on the flight. I again slept on this flight, albeit I slept more peacefully. But I didn’t sleep the entire time and I was amazed when I woke up and saw beautiful snowy peaks underneath the plane. Flying into Svalbard was just incredible.

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Unfortunately my iPhone couldn’t quite do justice to the view.

But flying in was simply breathtaking and we landed between these gorgeous mountains. On the other hand walking outside was a bit of a shock. Some weather screenshots below for your benefit. The picture on the right is in Fahrenheit while the first two are in Celsius. I find the middle picture the most fascinating since you can see that there isn’t sunrise or sunset (both listed at 12 am) and that’s because the sun has yet to come back to Svalbard. When I visited they had just reached civil twilight, which means that the sun is below 6 degrees of the horizon. Other things to note are the wind chill and effective temperature (-32°C/ -25.6°F) as well as the nonexistent UV Index.

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Longyearbyen is located in an arctic desert so the weather is very dry and pretty extreme. The town is situated in a valley which means that the mountains help create a huge wind tunnel. To make matters worse, the island is situated in a windy area. That’s not to say that this is all bad. Svalbard gets cold winds but it also gets the warm Gulf Stream, which is why you can see such extreme differences in the temperature (based on the pictures above you can see the jump from -23°C to -6°C in the same week). Sarah, a fellow Fulbrighter and my host, later told me that frostbite is an everyday concern. Apparently when classes go on trips you are assigned a buddy that you check on regularly to monitor any frostbite that they might be developing. You can tell if you are getting frostbite if white patches develop on your skin. There are also degrees of frostbite, similar to how there are different degrees of burn (first, second, and third), and these white patches are a good indicator that you are developing a low level of frostbite. One of the big dangers is that in such cold conditions it can be hard to tell if what you’re experiencing is frostbite or simply the cold. And yes I’ve never warn so many warm winter layers in my life. Ski pants became my new favorite article of clothing.

But back to my trip. Because there are a limited number of flights going in and out of Svalbard, the airport bus waited until we were all on board before setting off. Due to Longyearbyen’s  size (population roughly 2,000), there aren’t that many stops for the bus to make, and it didn’t take me too long to reach Sarah’s place.

Although I had to get up early to catch my flights, my series of plane naps meant that I was happy to go explore town as soon as I dropped my things off. So we set off to explore the settlement.

The funny thing with Svalbard is that it truly does look like a settlement. It’s more or less a one street place, and none of the buildings look that permanent. In fact, the student housing is called barracks, which just seems to reinforce the idea that nobody stays in Svalbard for very long. According to Sarah, the average length of time that people stay is five years, though we’re assuming that students are not counted in this figure. Most people who are in Longyearbyen are there for the university, coal mines, or tourism. Nobody really stays and develops a legacy or family on Svalbard. You actually are not allowed to give birth on Svalbard or die there. Additionally, because most people who come to Longyearbyen are in their 20s and 30s and there on a short term contract, they tend to have young kids but leave before the children are fully grown. This means that there are 3 kindergartens on Svalbard but only two children in upper secondary school/high school.

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There is only one grocery store in town and it’s pretty much a one stop shop for most of your basic needs. While the price of food is quite expensive, even by Norwegian standards, pretty much everything on Svalbard is tax free…which means that the alcohol is very cheap compared to mainland Norway. The store does make an effort to remind you that you cannot stash alcohol in your carryon bag for the trip back home. One thing that does make Svalbard and their alcohol store unique is that the island has alcohol quotas if you are a legal resident. I’ve been told that the quotas are quite generous (2 liters of liquor and 24 cans of beer per month) and it only counts beer and alcohol bought in the store. The reason for this was back when Longyearbyen was almost completely a mining town, the mining companies felt the need to regulate their workers and make sure that they were not getting completely inebriated–hence the alcohol card. You might be wondering why wine isn’t monitored, and that’s because that’s what the mining company bosses would drink. Of course they didn’t feel the need to monitor their own alcohol supply. Sarah told me that not too long ago the residents voted on whether or not they wanted to keep the alcohol card, and they overwhelming decided to keep it. Apparently they like being the only place to have an alcohol card and quota. The other funny thing about it is that Sarah told me her alcohol card is pretty much the only evidence she has showing that she’s a resident on Svalbard.

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Other things to note are polar bears! Polar bears are a very real danger in Svalbard and there are number living on the islands. It is legally required that you have adequate polar bear protection when you leave certain areas of town. In practical terms this means that you should be carrying a rifle. I’ve even heard that when the schools let out for recess the teachers form a protective circle around the playing children and that all of the teachers are equipped with rifles.

If you encounter a polar bear the proper procedure goes something like this: fire any and all flash and bang flares (the idea is to hopefully scare off the polar bear), at 200 meters you fully prepare your rifle to shoot, and at around 50 meters you are well within your rights to shoot. If you get to the point that you are using your rifle, you are shooting to kill (and it’s estimated that it will take you 2-3 shots to accomplish this). If you do shoot a polar bear you have to explain why to the local government because polar bears are an endangered species. Unfortunately for both us and them polar bears are 1) incredibly smart and 2) see humans as food. Polar bears will actively stalk humans that they encounter because they see them as food. Additionally, the bears are also getting much smarter when it comes to our defense mechanisms. Polar bears are slowly starting to realize that the flash and bang flares won’t actually harm them, and although the local government has two helicopters that it can use to scare off polar bears (the loud noise really disturbs them) the bears are coming to realize that the helicopters won’t hurt them either.

Because of all of this it’s quite common to see people with rifles. Proper rifle etiquette dictates that you leave rifles outside of public buildings (there is usually a coat room or outer room where you can do this). Most people also leave part of the bolt open to show that there is no ammunition in the gun. In the student barracks each room is provided with a safe so that you can safely store your rifle bolt away from your rifle.

IMG_2491  IMG_8608  IMG_8612I was clearly getting quite the education in my walk around town. The next place that we went to was a seal store. I was somewhat tempted to buy a pair of seal boots (see below) but then Sarah informed me that seal products are banned in the US and that they would be confiscated. There went that dream for warm footwear.

I was also excited to see the musk ox below! My colleagues have been telling me about musk ox and how it’s quite a dangerous animal (supposedly it’s bad tempered, pointy, and can run quite fast) but I haven’t seen one yet. They’re pretty rare animals, so although this musk ox was a rug I was excited to see one and get a better idea of what one looked like.

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After that we stopped by a place called Huset to catch the end of the student elections and to grab some cheap beer (only 25 NOK/ 3.28 USD–guys this has got to be a record for beer prices at a Norwegian bar) before finally wandering back home. Before we turned in we took some pictures of the moon and the landscape. Enjoy and sorry for the somewhat haphazard blog post!

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The Bacon Bus: Or Grocery Shopping in Sweden

Like I mentioned, grocery shopping in Norway can be a bit pricey, especially when it comes to meat and alcohol. The solution to this? Go to Sweden!*

Trondheim is conveniently located close to the Swedish border and there is a free bus that runs from Trondheim to Storlien. Just to give you an idea of how much traffic this place must receive from Norway, the bus is free and the shopping center seems like it’s the heart of the town (though calling it a town might be a bit of a stretch).

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As you can see, Storlien is literally as close as you can get to the Norwegian-Swedish border.

The bus is quaintly nicknamed the fleskbussen or “bacon bus” because many of the people take the bus to buy cheap bacon. When I took the bus I used the Thorleifs Bussreiser system and called ahead (+47 72 55 33 94) to make a reservation on the bus.

Getting there takes about an hour and a half, and the bus leaves you about an hour to shop before returning to Trondheim.

As for prices, two kilos of boneless chicken costs around 120 NOK and beer is cheaper at about 70 NOK/six pack (and thankfully the stores accept Norwegian kroner). Other forms of alcohol are also cheaper, but for alcohol over 3.5% you have to order in advance, usually at least two days before your trip. In order to do this you have to go to the systembolaget website, select the appropriate shop (in this case Åre), select your desired alcohol, and checkout. An email with a confirmation code will be sent to you and you have to present this code at the store in order to pick up your purchases.

Funnily enough, it’s not just broke college students who try and take advantage of the cheap alcohol and meat in Sweden. About half of my bus was filled with non-college students, and the elderly man sitting in front of me actually asked if I would pretend to own half of his alcohol in the event that we were stopped by customs. To my surprise, there were no customs or passport control at the Swedish border, and as far as I could tell it seems like you can cross the Norwegian-Swedish border without having to do anything special.

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*I’ve even heard of people flying to Poland to go grocery shopping since the total cost is still less than it would be in Norway, but I have not reached those levels of desperation.

Munich and Füssen Wrap Up

I thought I’d repeat what I did with the Lofoten Islands and do a little summary of tips and advice for anyone planning on going to Munich or Füssen.

  1. Fly into the regular Munich Flughafen airport (MUC) NOT Memmingen airport
  2. Google Maps is your best friend. Google Maps syncs really well with the transportation system in Munich and makes the city very easy to navigate. Thanks again to Michael for being the designated navigator for most of our adventures.
  3. Definitely utilize the public transportation system and know that a ticket will cover you on the subway, tram, and bus and that a partner ticket works for 2-5 people.
  4. I would highly recommend everything that we did in my Sights of Munich post (St. Peter’s Church, Munich Residence, English Garden, Pinakothek Museums, and Hofbrauhaus).
  5. Definitely drink beer and eat the pretzels if not schnittlauch breze, a pretzel with cream cheese and chives.
  6. To look into trains to Füssen or book one you can go here
  7. If you’re going to Füssen and looking for a more jam packed day I would say that you should visit Hohenschwangau before Neuschwanstein.
  8. To get a great view of Neuschwanstein follow the Marienbrücke path.

Overall I had a thoroughly enjoyable time in Munich and Füssen. Thanks again to Julie for being an amazing hostess!

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!

Vinmonopolet

This past week I made my first stop to the wine monopoly, or vinmonopolet. Alcohol in Norway is prohibitively expensive and also more tightly controlled than it is in the United States. All drinks that have an alcohol content higher than 4.7% (strong beer, wine, and liquor) are exclusively sold in the vinmonopolet.

Again, alcohol in Norway is expensive. For those of you who have Skyped with me, I like to think you have learned that references to Trader Joe’s three buck chuck are prohibited since I’ve more or less gone teetotal in Norway. So, for those of you who are curious about how much things really cost (and keep in mind that these prices are just what I’ve experienced in Trondheim) here’s a short summary:

  • A “girly” drink (Smirnoff Ice, cider, Bacardi Breezer, etc.) will typically cost you around 70 NOK (10 USD) at a bar
  • A beer out depending on the quality of the bar and the beer will probably cost you anywhere from 90 NOK to 110 NOK (13 to 16 USD)
  • Wine out will probably cost you around upwards of 100 NOK a glass (14 USD)
  • Normal beer at the supermarket for a cheap brand will cost you around 30 NOK (4.40 USD) a can–and yes it’s okay to pull beers out of a six pack and just buy however many you want

And now I can finally answer the question of how much a bottle of wine at the store actually costs here in Norway. To be frank, when I went to the vinmonopolet I was really just looking for a decent bottle of red wine to give as a thank you gift. Because I was in a bit of a hurry I didn’t spend too much time in the vinmonopolet, but from what I could see the cheapest wines were around 90 NOK (13 USD), with most wines being in the mid-100 NOK range. It’s been a bit of a shock to find wine that I was formerly able to buy for 5 USD at nearly double or triple the price.

I didn’t peruse the liquor too carefully, but it seemed like most prices were approximately what you would find in the US if not a bit higher.

I will say that overall the vinmonopolet was actually quite nice. The people working there were very friendly and helpful and thankfully were willing to accept my Norwegian residence card as proof of identification. I will even say that the store had a hint of sass–I appreciated how boxed wine was candidly labeled “Bag in box.”

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