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.

Strikes & More Hikes

The teachers’ strike has finally ended! This was the happy news that greeted me on Monday, and I was excited to finally go to work at Byåsen towards the end of the week. Between my NTNU teaching schedule and my NTNU student schedule, I can only go to Byåsen on Thursdays and about every other Friday. The current plan is to help with a class called International English on Fridays and to stop in on most Thursdays to help with whatever classes teachers would like to borrow me for. This week I went to both International English and an English class that is part of the health vocational track. Overall the students seem to be fairly well spoken, if a bit shy.

This week has also been fun since I finally got to see my co-teacher at work. She does a really great job of engaging with the students and coming up with fun activities for them to do. I particularly enjoyed watching the students try to rap Disraeli’s 21st Century Flux, though I was surprised that the first dictionary they turned to when going through the lyrics was Urban Dictionary. I suppose that I’ll have to be the one diehard Oxford English Dictionary fan in the room.

On another note, I’ve gone on a few more adventures with the other Trondheim Fulbrighter, Alix. Two weeks ago we decided to try and pay Munkholmen, an island out in the Trondheim fjord, a visit since it can’t be accessed past early September. The only way you can reach the island is by boat, and because we decided to go with a sightseeing company, we got a tour of the fjord on top of our trip to the island. One thing that we learned on the tour was that during World War II the Germans had hoped to make Trondheim their northernmost naval base. In order to achieve this, they built two different submarine bunkers in the city, both of which are still standing today. In fact, one of those bunkers is now the home of the city and state archives. We also found out that the fjord contains a lot of salmon, which explains both the salmon vendor who comes to the nearby grocery store and the many fishermen who line the fjord on sunny days. As for Munkholmen, it used to by the home to a monastery which became fairly well known for its beer. Funnily enough Munkholmen is now its own brand of beer although these days it is non-alcoholic.

More recently, Alix and I had a nice sit down meal with one of last year’s Fulbrighters, Kam. It was great being able to ask her a bit more about her experiences as a Fulbrighter and to ask her for all of her Trondheim specific tips. Thanks to Kam’s advice I have now successfully found three of the Asian  grocery stores downtown (and thus the location of good ramen).

Lastly, I ended this week with a hike! This weekly hiking is starting to make me feel both more Norwegian and less guilty of the fact that I have yet to use my new gym membership. This week Alix and I, as well as another friend Tom, decided to brave the tram system and head out to Bymarka. Bymarka is Trondheim’s main forest and its location high up on a mountain offers some great views of the fjord. We decided to take it pretty easy so we mostly just walked around one of the lakes next to the Lian tram stop; however, we’re hoping to come back another time to explore a bit more of the forest. Until then, you’ll have to settle for some pictures of our fjord tour.

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