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.

Final Presentations

I’ve been told that my last few posts make it seem like everything is all play and no work, but don’t worry! I’ve still been teaching–I’ve just assumed that you’d rather hear more about the fun parts of my week. So, for this post I decided that I should reassure you that I do in fact have a job here in Norway.

Things at NTNU have slowly been coming to a close. November 21 is the last day of classes at the university and many of my students’ weekly writing samples tend to detail their various panic levels as they approach the end of the semester. In my smaller NTNU class, Academic Writing, Nancy has established a tradition of inviting all of our students over to her house for dinner and presentations. Many of the students in the class are international, in fact we only have one Norwegian student, so the presentations are meant to help us understand their experiences in Norway and learn more about about how Norway compares to their home countries. But, first things first, we dined.

Nancy happens to be a fabulous cook and made a mixture of Norwegian and American dishes for the class. My meager contribution to this part of the evening was setting the table, chopping lettuce, and generally trying to be a good sous chef. Basically my role at family gatherings since the dawn of time (though for any family members reading this rest be assured I am not complaining).

After we feasted and managed to roll ourselves away from the table we started up the projector and after a few technical difficulties began the presentations. I learned a good deal from these presentations, but the thing that actually surprised me the most was how funny my students are. This particular class is notable for how quiet they are so I was surprised to see so many of them crack jokes. So, here are some of the highlights from these presentations:

  • Our first German student decided to present on Turkish street food in Germany, particularly doner kebab. The student gave us some of the history of the industry as well as some stats (just about everyone was prepared to move to Berlin when he said that doner costs about 1 euro). My favorite part of his presentation though was his concluding slide, which had the picture below and the caption:Angie knows…doner makes beautiful
  • We then had three French students do a fairly comprehensive comparison between France and Norway. I think that their biggest complaint centered around the food. Their biggest concern was Norwegian cheese. In Norway, cheese is made by boiling whey and the most highly prized Norwegian cheese is brown cheese. Needless to say, my French students do not think that this qualifies as cheese. All three students practically waxed poetic when talking about the sheer amount of hard cheese available in France (one girl said that the number was over 350 cheeses).
  • I think the thing that made everyone laugh the most was a presentation by our Spanish student. She said that she was shocked by thermometers in Norway since it was the first time she’d seen a thermometer that measured temperatures below 0 Celsius.
  • One of the stranger things I learned about that night was about sports in Finland. Finland apparently hosts world championships in wife carrying, boot throwing, air guitar playing, swamp soccer, and sitting on ant’s nests. I kid you not these are real things. There are even stamps depicting these sports in Finland.

After the presentations, we all dug into dessert and continued to talk. Some interesting moments from this conversation include:

  • Talking about Christmas foods and having our Chinese student explain that Christmas is not celebrated in China. Many of my students struggled to wrap their heads around the idea of no Christmas.
  • Having our German students explain that they pay state taxes to the church, though apparently you can go to court and get yourself banished from the church, thus avoiding those taxes.
  • Germans still pay taxes that support East Germany, a hangover from World War II.
  • Apparently Germans used to build a lot of churches because they could use them as an excuse to celebrate and drink. They would celebrate the day each church was started, the day it was opened, etc. In essence, Germans tried to created a year round party centered around church building; at least until the kaiser put his foot down and declared that there would only be one celebratory day.
  • I also had fun realizing how small some of my student’s hometowns are. One student in particular described his birthplace as containing “approximately two hundred souls. About a hundred human and a hundred cow.”

All in all, it was a fun and educational night and I like to think that everyone walked home with a little bit more knowledge and a full tummy.