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.

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.

IMG_1183  IMG_1186

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.

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 12.37.50 PM  Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 12.38.06 PM  Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 12.38.49 PM

Week 1

A lot has gone on in my first week and about half of it is related to filling in the appropriate paperwork. Since arriving on campus I have:

1. Gotten my student ID and semester card, both of which are needed to qualify as a student in the eyes of most Norwegian businesses
2. Gotten my new NTNU email address and thus access to NTNU internet
3. Registered for courses and exams
4. Gotten a somewhat functional SIM card
5. Gotten an unlimited 6 month bus card

Unfortunately here are the things I still need to do, all of which hinge on me getting my residence card:

1. Get said residence card by going to the police station on NTNU’s scheduled date
2. Notify the Tax Office of my move to Norway and get a tax card
3. Open a bank account so that I can get paid by the Fulbright Office
4. Register a change of address with the post office
5. Join the National Population Register

Thankfully my week has included a lot more than red tape since it was orientation week for international students. I didn’t get the chance to participate in all of the events, but I did take part in a group competition called 63 Degrees North. Most of it involved silly games such as a three legged race, relay race, and spelling Norwegian vowels using your body, but it also involved answering trivia questions on Norway. While I was able to answer some of the very basic questions I was blown away by how much knowledge some of my teammates had about Norway (knowing the exact date Norwegian women achieved suffrage was one of them). My other favorite activity was hiking along the fjord. Yes, this is the backdrop of my new home.

IMG_0339  IMG_0342

Some other highlights include meeting new people! Not only am I starting to meet other students, but I also got to meet Nancy, the professor I work with at NTNU. It was great finally getting to put a face to a name and to talk about the courses that I’ll be helping her teach. As of right now, I’m only going to be helping her with classes in the fall (her spring classes tend to be in Norwegian) and we hope that I’ll get to help with a writing center in the spring. For now, the classes that I’m helping with are called Communication for Engineers and Academic Writing, and I’ll write a bit more about them once they actually start.

The other person that I got to meet this week was Alix, currently the only other Fulbrighter in Trondheim. Alix is here doing research at NTNU and it was great getting to meet her and explore the downtown area together. I think the highlight was showing her a stuffed bear that I managed to find in Sentrum.

IMG_0326

Trondheim

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

IMG_0236

My first view of Trondheim

IMG_0238

A tough parking spot

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

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

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

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

IMG_0241

Stiftsgården

IMG_0296

Old Town Bridge in Trondheim

IMG_0299

Part of Sentrum

IMG_0265  IMG_0282  IMG_0274

IMG_0267