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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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.

Berlin in a Whirlwind

One of the best and worst things about being a teacher is your ability to wake up early. I’ve regularly gotten up at 6 am in order to get to school early; however, I was largely hoping to sleep in for most of the conference. It was not to be. On the third day of the conference, Abby and I agreed to a 7am breakfast in order to try and get 8 am tickets to the dome of the Reichstag. Unfortunately, the 8 am time slot was already filled, but we were able to get tickets for later on in the day.

IMG_0391  IMG_0393  IMG_0395Undeterred, we set our feet in another direction. When we walked to Brandenburg Gate two nights before, one of the Fulbrighters had taken us to the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe Murdered Under the National Socialist Regime (Germans are not fans of short memorial names). The memorial happens to be almost next door to the Reichstag, so Abby and I thought we’d stop by and see the memorial during the day.

The memorial is located in the Tiergarten and is actually quite calming. It was designed by Dani Karavan and is supposed to be deprived of everything except tears, which are represented by the fountain in the middle of the memorial. The stone in the center of the fountains has new flowers placed on it each day and the stone rises and sinks over the course of the day, deliberately concealing and revealing the flowers. According to the information pamphlet, this is supposed to serve as a way to remember the tragedy anew each day. There is also recorded Sinti music playing in the background, which only adds to the ambience of the memorial.

IMG_0396  IMG_0398  IMG_0400IMG_0402  IMG_0405  IMG_0409Once we were done, we headed past Brandenburg Gate, to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The Memorial was officially dedicated in 2005, and is perhaps better known as the Holocaust Memorial. It was built by Peter Eisenman and is made of 2,711 concrete slabs. From a distance, the memorial doesn’t seem very tall, but the street actually dips down and begins to undulate, making you feel slightly off kilter when you walk through it. While it might seem a bit impersonal, it is certainly powerful. It grows more and more disorienting the longer you stay in it.

IMG_0411  IMG_0414  IMG_0416IMG_0422  IMG_0424  IMG_0427From there, we took a short walk through the gorgeous Tiergarten and appreciated the early morning sights and sounds. After a bit of a wander we stopped by our last World War II memorial, the Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted under the Nazi Regime. The memorial is very nondescript. It was designed by Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset and when you look into one end of the cube you’re able to see a looped video of a gay couple kissing.

IMG_0429  IMG_0438  IMG_0431IMG_0439  IMG_0444  IMG_0449Although our memorial tour made for a sobering morning, it was interesting to see how the Germans have grappled with and taken ownership of their history. While the memorials to the gay community and the Gypsies were not nearly as grand as the Holocaust memorial, it was still nice to see these other persecuted groups recognized in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city.

But, because Abby and I were on a bit of a tight schedule, we didn’t dally too long in the park. We rushed past Brandenburg Gate in the hopes that if we were quick enough we would have some time to go do the Berlin Cathedral before the start of the day’s conference events.

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Luckily the two of us are quite accomplished power walkers. We made it to the Cathedral with 30 minutes to spare before the day’s first event. Now before Abby and I rushed in, we had to stop and laugh at the door. The two of us are both around 5’3” (160 cm) and the door handle to the church came up to about our eye level. Now I like to think that we would’ve been considered tall back when the church was completed in 1905, so I find the height of the door handle a bit surprising, but oh well. The door didn’t stop us for long.

After we purchased our tickets, we took a quick walk around the center of the church before rushing up stairs to the dome. Although we were in a hurry, we did manage to slow down and appreciate the view from the top of the cathedral. It was a pretty neat sight, especially since this was our first sunny day in the city.

IMG_0476  IMG_0482  IMG_0480IMG_0486  IMG_0490  IMG_0492IMG_0493  IMG_0496  IMG_0497But time was ticking and we had to tear ourselves away so that we could make it to that morning’s first panel. Still, we were still pretty happy to get so much in in just two hours.

Our first event of the day was at Rotes Rathaus, or Berlin City Hall. It is currently the home of Berlin’s Senate and mayor, though historically it used to be the town hall of East Berlin. The first thing on that morning’s agenda was a “European Dimensions Panel,” where people residing in more out of the way countries got a chance to present. The countries represented were Andorra, Bulgaria, Finland, Turkey, and Spain. The presentations really ranged in their content, but it was generally interesting to hear from each representative. If anything, it convinced me that I should explore Andorra at some point.

I will also say that the arbitrator stumbled a bit since he habitually called Sweden, Denmark, and Finland Scandinavian countries. This left the Norwegian crowd a bit confused as to when we had been dropped from Scandinavia and the Finns a bit confused as to when they had been added. For the record, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway comprise Scandinavia, while Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland make up the Nordic countries. But overall, things went quite well for this set of presentations.

After that, there was a short coffee break before we heard a welcome speech by Mark Rackles, the State Secretary for Education. Rackles oversees the Berlin education system in particular, and allowed time for questions at the end. Unfortunately for Rackles, he was largely overrun with questions that were a bit beyond the scope of the Berlin education system. For example, he was asked to provide information on Berlin’s Olympic bid and when the new airport might finally be finished.

But all’s well that ends well. Before too long the questions ended, and Abby and I were off to make our appointment for the Reichstag dome. This ended up being my favorite stop of the day. We had to get there slightly ahead of our 1:30 appointment for security purposes, but once we cleared security we were taken into the building and whisked up to the top floor in an elevator. Once we stepped out we were given an audioguide and told that we could walk around the dome.

Now I’m generally not a huge fan of audioguides. I’m often just too impatient to wait and listen to all that is recorded. To my surprise, the audioguide was excellent. There was no need to press any buttons, and the audioguide started once you began your walk up the dome. The guide also managed to monitor your walk, and if you happened to travel past whatever the audioguide was talking about, it smoothly transitioned into the next track, allowing it to consistently give you relevant information.

IMG_0512  IMG_0513  IMG_0514IMG_0523  IMG_0517  IMG_0519IMG_0535  IMG_0529  IMG_0538As for the building, here are some of the more important events that were mentioned in the audioguide:

  • In 1894, the Reichstag was completed under Paul Wallot.
  • In 1918, Philipp Scheidemann declared Germany a republic from the Reichstag.
  • In 1933, the Reichstag was set on fire shortly after Hitler came to power. The search for the arsonists was used as a way to end parliamentary democracy and begin the persecution of political opponents.
  • In 1945, the Soviet flag was flown over the building to demonstrate victory over National Socialist Germany.
  • In 1961, the building was restored, although it was later reconstructed by Sir Norman Foster.
  • In 1995, Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped the building in fabric. The building’s unveiling marked the start of the building’s reconstruction under Sir Norman Foster.
  • In 1999, Sir Norman Foster presented the President of the Bundestag with a symbolic key to the building and the Bundestag moved in.

After walking up and down the dome, Abby and I took some time to enjoy the view before heading out for some chocolate.

IMG_0527  IMG_0532  IMG_0544IMG_0548  IMG_0560  IMG_0545IMG_0565  IMG_0563  IMG_0570IMG_0571  IMG_0572  IMG_0573That’s right, our next stop was a chocolate store, but not just any chocolate store. We went to the Ritter Sport store. Not only did it provide us with excellent chocolate, but had we chosen to stick around, we could have purchased our own customized chocolate. Unfortunately it takes 3o minutes to create and process your own chocolate, so Abby and I decided to give it a pass. We did not leave empty handed though, and we were able to snack away on our walk to the Pergamon Museum.

IMG_0580  IMG_0581  IMG_0583Now you if take a look at the picture above, you can see a few cranes. That’s because the Pergamon is currently undergoing renovations. But the museum was still open! Lucky for us, there are still about two floors of the museum that are accessible to the public.

I didn’t have a clear idea of what to expect of the Pergamon, but boy was I blown away. The Pergamon has a number of famous antiquities, notably the Pergamon Altar, Market Gate of Miletus, the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way from Babylon, and the Mshatta Facade, and these things combine to help make the Pergamon the most visited museum in all of Germany.

I knew none of this going in, so I was pretty stunned when the first thing that I saw was the Ishtar Gate. Unfortunately it was too large for me to capture on my camera, but you get the idea.

IMG_0584  IMG_0587  IMG_0588The gate itself is only a small part of what the original would have looked like. The gate was originally part of Babylon’s northern city wall and was dedicated to the goddess Ishtar. The animals that decorate the gate are bulls and “dragons.”

Right through the gate is the Market Gate of Miletus. It’s a spectacular recreation of a Roman trading town in what is now Turkey.

IMG_0589  IMG_0591  IMG_0590Now I thought that we had actually reached the end of the museum at this point. Due to the reconstruction work, we had entered the museum back to front. Normally you would enter through the Market Gate of Miletus, and then pass through the Ishtar Gate. Abby and I quickly figured things out and did a U-turn. It was only then that we noticed the Processional Way. It was hard not to be blown away at this huge Babylonian walkway. I admit, if I had been an ancient invader, I would have been thoroughly intimidated by the wealth on display.

IMG_0597  IMG_0601  IMG_0598The remaining sections on the ground floor were also impressive. Thanks to Jenny Bionda, Abby and I were told that if we kept our eyes peeled we’d be able to see replicas of some of the artwork that ISIS has been destroying in Iraq (see below). Unfortunately, while much of what was on the ground floor was impressive, there were definitely a number of pieces that were replicas, including the Iraqi pieces below.

IMG_2912  IMG_2910  IMG_2913Once we finished with the ground floor, we moved up to the Museum für Islamische Kunst, the Museum of Islamic Art. There was a wonderful array of Islamic art with plenty of paintings, carpets, and ceramics, on display. The most impressive thing however was probably the facade of the caliph’s palace of Mshatta. The facade was made in the 8th century and was originally located in Jordan. Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II gave the facade to Kaiser Wilhelm II as a gift after the king expressed interest in the palace. Family and friends take note, your gift giving could be improved.

Another impressive room in the museum was the Aleppo Room, a reception room of a 17th century Christian merchant. The wood paneling and the design work was absolutely fabulous.

If you haven’t noticed yet, the Pergamon has a large number of magnificent reconstructions.

IMG_2925IMG_2917  IMG_2921  IMG_2924IMG_2916Now you might think that Abby and I would have called it a day at this point, you would be wrong. We actually powered through to another museum. Yes, our feet were dying at this point. But that didn’t deter us! Our next stop was the nearby DDR Museum, a museum that focuses on the GDR and life for East Germans.

The first thing I noticed about the DDR Museum was that it was crowded. Remember, even though I live in Norway’s third largest city, its population is only around 172,000 people. I have now become completely inadequate at handling large numbers of people.

The museum is also clearly designed for families, and is thus highly interactive. Maybe too interactive. The museum had a lot of really interesting information, but unfortunately it was unclear how you were supposed to walk around the museum and you often had to open up special compartments and drawers in order to read any of the information plaques. In short, it felt a bit disorganized. I did learn quite a bit however, and here are a few of the facts that I found most interesting:

  • A nudist movement developed in East Germany despite the displeasure of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). Even though the Germans were repeatedly asked to “spare the eyes of the nation,” the trend continued until about 80% of Germans swam naked. Lucky for them, only about 10% of the population was uncomfortable with such blatant nudity. According the the museum, this trend came out of a desire to do something forbidden, not a desire for sexual liberation.
  • The German Democratic Republic (GDR) was in dire economic straits due to the way that they organized their economy.  The GDR was forced to import raw materials and often didn’t have the necessary cash to pay for them. In order to generate the money to pay for these materials, it was forced to sell basically whatever it could lay its hands on–including the cobblestones! To make matters worse, Western countries wouldn’t buy East German products, and everything that could be sold was sold at the cheapest possible price. Because of this trade imbalance, it was often difficult to buy things in East Germany, creating a huge black market.
  • Because the SED marginalized the church, it became a political rallying point, eventually attracting thousands of people in the 1980s and helping launch peaceful revolution.
  • Interestingly enough, the GDR has a claim to fame since it was technically the greenest state in the world. Provisions for the environment were written into the constitution in 1968, although in reality the government was far from green.
  • Although I didn’t learn this fact at the museum, I thought this would be an appropriate place to put it. The traffic man, or pedestrian crossing signal in Berlin, more fondly known as ampelmännchen, was actually from East Germany. It attained a sort of cult status and is one of the few things that survived from East Germany.

IMG_0749                                                                                                   IMG_0751After that, Abby and I finally made our back to the hotel for dinner. However, we weren’t there for long. Thanks to a recommendation from Alix, our Norwegian Fulbright group had signed up for a classical concert at Piano Salon Christophori. Thankfully Alix warned us that it was in an old S-bahn station and a bit difficult to find. With her warning ringing in our ears, we didn’t get too discouraged when we had a few problems finding the appropriate door to the salon.

We weren’t allowed to take any pictures of the salon, but I would say that it would best be described as in artful disarray. There were old instruments haphazardly stacked around the salon, with a space cleared for seats and for the performers. Because we made a reservation beforehand, we had a row of seats reserved towards the front of the room, and were able to just sit back, relax, and enjoy the concert. It wasn’t the best concert that I’ve ever been to, but it was nice to just sit down and appreciate the music. To make things even better, drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, were provided and we all felt very Berliner. Once the concert was over, we made our donations (the concerts are all donation based) before heading back for an early night at the hotel. 

Rørosmartnan

This past week proved to be incredibly relaxing because school was out. My upper secondary school was off for winter break so I had the entire week to myself. Since I had just gone to Sami Week up in Tromsø, I thought that my next adventure should be a bit closer to home. Luckily Røros is only a 2.5 hour train ride away from me, and it just so happens that their annual winter market, Rørosmartnan, was going on during my winter break.

Rørosmartnan has been taking place since 1644, and it began as a way for hunters to trade their products with the local miners in exchange for supplies. Due to a royal decree issued in 1853, Rørosmartnan is now held for five days starting every penultimate Tuesday of February. It attracts around 75,000 people every year (keep in mind that the population of Norway is just over 5 million so this is quite substantial), and consists of street markets, live entertainment, and cultural programs.*

The first time I went to Røros was in October on a day trip with Alix. Unfortunately, Alix wasn’t able to make this trip down to Røros, but I was accompanied by two other friends, Nicole and Juliana.

Now I generally have a soft spot for the Norwegian train system. Coming from California and its near nonexistent train system, pretty much any functional train system is an upgrade. The trains in Norway are generally pretty good in that they are clean, large, and have wifi. My one quibble with the more regional trains is that they don’t announce stops. This means that I’ve generally been dependent on asking my neighboring Norwegians if I have arrived at my destination (which has been an entirely effective strategy). Luckily, since I had already gone to Røros, I pretty much remembered where the stop was. To make things even better, pretty much everyone on the train was getting off at Røros. While the three of us had decided to make a day trip out of Røros, there were a good number of people on the train who had suitcases and looked as if they intended to stay for several days.

The market itself was excellent. Røros is a fairly small town, but its two main streets, and even a few side streets, were overflowing with people and stalls. Considering that Tromsø’s winter market consisted of only three stalls, I was excited to see how much was on offer in Røros.

IMG_9234  IMG_9235  IMG_9236IMG_9238  IMG_9245  IMG_9344IMG_9248  IMG_9253  IMG_9266IMG_9262  IMG_9264  IMG_9247As you can see from the pictures, there was lots variety when it came to the different products for sale. I was also very pleased to see that Elmo and Winnie the Pooh seem to be fairly universal.

There was also quite a bit of diversity in dress, as shown with the huge fur winter coats. Additionally, a number of Sami attend Rørosmartnan, and there were a number of traditional Sami crafts on sale, such as the leather bracelets shown above. I walked away with a number of products, but the thing I was most proud of purchasing was a Norwegian sweater! Being short means that I am occasionally able to buy a children’s size, and I managed to leave with a lovely children’s sweater for just 200 NOK (26 USD). Considering that most nice non-itchy Norwegian sweaters sell for upwards of 1,500 NOK (197 USD), I was really satisfied with my purchase.

After wandering around some of the stalls, Nicole, Juliana, and I walked around the rest of town. Now you may remember from my previous October post that Røros in one of Norway’s coldest towns, and in 2010 temperatures were recorded as going below -44°C (-47.2°F), so I was hardly surprised to see huge mounds of snow, even though most of the snow and ice has disappeared from Trondheim. One thing that we did appreciate about the market was that there were plenty of outdoor and indoor areas where you could sit and have warm food and a hot beverage.

IMG_9276  IMG_9278  IMG_9283IMG_9270  IMG_9285  IMG_9293IMG_9296  IMG_9297  IMG_9298IMG_9301  IMG_9306  IMG_9326Unfortunately, the slag heaps were really icy so we didn’t get to climb up the bigger ones, but we still managed to get quite a nice view of the city. From there, we went to the local church to catch the beginning of the sunset, and we eventually situated ourselves at one of the local eating joints to have some hot tea and listen to live music before catching the train home.

All in all this was probably one of my favorite trips in Norway.

IMG_9356  IMG_9353  IMG_9363*Since moving to Norway I’ve noticed that I’ve become incredibly averse to crowds. The number of people at Røros probably wouldn’t have bothered me when I just moved to Norway, but having lived here for over six months, I found the number of people at the fair suffocating. To make matters worse, Norwegians are unaccustomed to crowds, which means that they are bad when it comes to things like moving out of the way and (accidentally) hitting people with their elbows, backpacks, purses, shopping purchases, skis, etc.

Rome Wrap Up

Even though I was pretty travel weary when I arrived in Rome, I still managed to really enjoy the city. Here are my tips and tricks:

  1. Rome is a city that you can easily visit multiple times, so there is no need to rush through the city.
  2. I went in winter and I have to say that going during the off season was a good choice. You can still expect crowds at all of the major tourist attractions, but they are pretty manageable. I think the longest wait that I had was about an hour.
  3. Rome is a fairly walkable city. All of the buses that I saw were packed, but I’ve heard that the subway is pretty functional. You can use this website to figure out how to navigate the public transportation system, though be aware that things generally don’t run on time. If you want to avoid public transportation, all of the big tourist sights are probably within an easy 20-60 minute walk no matter where you are in the city.
  4. All of the fountains in Rome offer clean water that you can easily fill a water bottle with. Now when I say fountain I don’t meant that you should dip your water bottle into the nearest Bernini fountain, I mean small water fountains that are scattered throughout the city.
  5. When ordering water at a restaurant it will be bottled (and expensive) unless you specifically request tap water.
  6. Many sights are close to each other so be sure to glance at a map beforehand so that you can be efficient with your time.
  7. If you are a Dan Brown fan and want to follow the major sights listed in Angels and Demons check out this blog.
  8. People in Rome eat late so many restaurants won’t open until late.
  9. I was warned by pretty much everyone I know to watch out for pickpockets in Rome. Honestly as long as you keep an eye on your things and take preventative measures such as zipping up your pockets you’ll be fine.
  10. You do not need to tip at restaurants since a service charge is generally included.
  11. Sights run by the city of Rome should be free on Sundays.
  12. On Sundays the Pope occasionally appears at noon to give blessings to people in St. Peter’s Square.
  13. Many churches have their most famous pieces of artwork in shady corners. Many of these shady corners have lights that are activated when you feed a few euros into a machine.
  14. Have gelato
  15. Italians HATE it when you don’t have exact change so try and keep track of those pesky coins.
  16. While reservations and tours would probably enhance your experience in Rome I was honestly just fine without them. That being said, the standards for tour guides are quite rigorous so if you do hire a guide you will probably have someone who is very knowledgeable about the city and its major sights.
  17. For me the permanent must sees were: the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica (go through the catacombs and the climb up to the dome), Villa Borghese (you should probably make reservations for this, although you can try and weasel your way in), Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, Church San Luigi dei FrancesiSanta Maria Maggiore, Roman Forum (you can buy combination tickets for the Coliseum and the Roman Forum so buy them at whichever sight has the shortest line), Coliseum, Piazza Navona, and Trevi Fountain (though it’s currently undergoing renovations).
  18. The temporary must sees were: the M.C. Escher exhibit at Chiostro del Bramante and the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit at the Museo dell’Ara Pacis

Church on Sunday

Sunday was my last full day in Rome, and because I was a bit travel weary I decided to take it pretty slow. My initial plan was to spend the majority of the day across the Tiber River. I had yet to visit the Vatican or Castel Sant’Angelo so I was planning on visiting both sights that day. Plus, it seemed appropriate to be going to the Vatican on Sunday.

Unfortunately, I got a bit of a late start in the morning, so by the time I walked across the river, had lunch, and arrived at Castel Sant’Angelo it was early afternoon. I had read online that the castle closes at 2 pm on Sundays, and when I took a look at the line it was pretty clear that by the time I managed to get inside the castle would be closing. So instead of getting in line, I snapped a few pictures before heading off to the Vatican.

IMG_8305  IMG_8309  IMG_8312IMG_8322  IMG_8333  IMG_8332IMG_8330  IMG_8347  IMG_8318Iman was feeling better today so she met me at the Vatican. Now remember how I said I didn’t book any tours? This still holds true for the Vatican, though it’s the closest that I got to taking a tour in Rome. I’ve had a ton of friends give really good reviews of Rick Steves’s Walking Tours so I decided to test one out while I waited in line for Iman. I didn’t get far in the audioguide, but what I heard was pretty good. Here’s a bit of what I learned: St. Peter’s Basilica was built on the site where St. Peter was crucified and buried, and the current church was created in two stages. The old church was left intact while St. Peter’s was built around it. Once the newer building was complete, the old church was knocked down and moved out. The columns in front of the Basilica are built in a circular shape since they are supposed to represent the welcoming arms of the church. Basically it’s supposed to be a big hug. The statues that adorn the columns are ten feet tall and each represents a different saint. Originally it used to be quite difficult to see the dome since when you approach the church the facade hides the dome (see below). It wasn’t until Mussolini closed off the street leading up to the Vatican that people were able to get a good view of the entire structure.

IMG_8356  IMG_8368  IMG_8371IMG_8374  IMG_8375  IMG_8377IMG_8389  IMG_8410  IMG_8405Although the line to the Vatican was long, I have to give them credit and say that it did move pretty quickly. Without too much ado, Iman and I were let inside the church after about thirty minutes. It was well worth the wait. It was stunning.

IMG_8419  IMG_8416  IMG_8421IMG_8467  IMG_8438  IMG_8451IMG_8473  IMG_8431  IMG_8454After we walked around the church, we took stairs down to the catacombs and saw what we think was the grave of St. Peter. We’re still not entirely sure since talking was not encouraged in the catacombs and all of the signs were in Italian. The grave of Pope John Paul II was towards the exit and we paid our respects before leaving.

After that all that was really left for us to do was to climb to the top of the dome. Now there are two options for the ascent. You can either climb the whole way to the top (around 550 stairs) or take an elevator up about halfway and then take the remaining set of stairs (around 350 stairs). Considering that Stephansdom in Vienna was around 340 stairs and I found that to be plenty, I was happy to pay the extra two euros and pass the first 200 or so stairs on the elevator. After a bit of a wait, we caught the elevator and were whisked up to the base of the dome. From there you could get a really good view of the dome’s artwork before continuing up to the top.

IMG_8485  IMG_8482  IMG_8489IMG_8493  IMG_8500  IMG_8497There were two things that surprised me on our way to the top. First the complete lack of handrails. When I mentioned this to Iman she just laughed and said something along the lines of “Welcome to Italy.” The second thing that surprised me was that the stairwell actually curves to match the curve of the dome. This means that you couldn’t stand up straight as your approached the top of the dome, otherwise you would risk hitting your head on the curved ceiling. But soon enough we were at the top. The views were great and were enhanced due to the fading daylight. We had inadvertently timed our ascent with sunset.

IMG_8503  IMG_8505  IMG_8507IMG_8508  IMG_8511  IMG_8510IMG_8518  IMG_8519  IMG_8521Once we were done we began the descent back to street level.

I did have to laugh at the public toilets at the Vatican. Based on their signs it’s clear that the male dominated church has only recently had to include female restrooms.

IMG_8535  IMG_8541  IMG_8538IMG_2294  IMG_8556  IMG_2296Now one of the great things about Sundays in Rome is that apparently sights that are run by the city (usually things like museums) are free. My original plan was to go to the Capitoline Museums, but cold symptoms made me decide to cut my day short. Overall I had a great day though. I don’t happen to be religious, and going to a Lutheran school from a young age means that I am definitely not Catholic, but it was it was really nice to go to such a holy place. Even though I don’t share the beliefs of many of the visitors, it was still very touching to see how much St. Peter’s meant to them.

I Am 16 Going On…Wait

I would argue that one of the few perks of turning 16 was being able to sing “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” Now that I’m a twenty something that doesn’t really work as well anymore. Now I don’t know about you, but my family is one of those families that is obsessed with watching The Sound of Music. We think it’s a movie that never gets old. I have seen the movie more times than I can count, and one of my more distinctive childhood memories is of one cousin who liked to continuously rewind and watch Julie Andrews tripping in the middle of singing “I Have Confidence.” GIF below for your viewing pleasure. Welcome to my childhood.

So because we were going to Salzburg, my Dad and I were more or less required to go on a Sound of Music tour. Or at least that’s what I thought. My Dad might have had a different opinion on that score. I admit I even rewatched the movie before our holiday. I hadn’t seen the movie in years so a lot of the things that I had difficulty understanding as a kid (literally anything to do with the Nazis) now made a bit more sense.

But The Sound of Music tour wasn’t actually the first thing we did that day. We booked a combined tour with Viator that involved going to the region’s salt mines. And when I say “region” I really mean Germany. So, early in the morning we hopped on a bus and crossed over into Germany. Now let me just say that it was very cold in the morning (this fact becomes more relevant later on). If memory serves me correctly, it was around -10°C (14°F) so our tour bus was feeling really nice and cosy. After a short bit of driving, we stopped on one of the local mountains to stretch our legs and admire the view. It also happens to be the same mountain that Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest is built on. The Eagle’s Nest was a 50th birthday present to Hitler from the Nazi party and many of the buildings that were built lower down on the mountain were the homes of other high ranking officials. The Eagle’s Nest is inaccessible during winter but we could JUST make it out on the top of the mountain (right picture on the top row).

IMG_7528  IMG_7531  IMG_7536IMG_7539  IMG_7540  IMG_7543When we had finished walking around we were driven to a nearby town called Berchtesgaden and allowed to wander around before climbing back into the bus to go to the town’s salt mines.

IMG_7551  IMG_7553  IMG_7558IMG_7560  IMG_7563  IMG_7561The salt mine tour was a ton of fun. Unfortunately the mine doesn’t allow photography, but you can get a good idea of how everything looked on Google Images. The first thing we had to do for the tour was to suit up into special overalls. Once everyone was ready we took a train down into the mines where we were led on the actual tour. According to our guide, the area where the mine is used to be under the ocean. Once the mountains formed and rose out of the ocean they created a small salty lake. Over time the lake evaporated, leaving the salt behind. The composite rock that remains contains on average a 50% salt content.

The mine has been operating continuously since 1517 and still produces several tons of salt a day. Right now it’s hard to believe that for such a big operation they only need 100 people to keep everything running smoothly.

The way they currently mine the salt is by drilling a test shaft see if there is enough salt to make further drilling worthwhile. If the salt content is high enough, a tunnel is drilled and then a hollow pocket is created using fresh water. This pocket is then filled with fresh water, which soaks up the salt and creates brine. The brine is then taken out of the pocket and boiled. Then voilà! You have salt.

Overall I had a really great time on the tour. The content was interesting and things were spiced up when we were allowed to take slides down to different levels of the mine and by a lake that we crossed by boat. The tour took about two hours and once we were done we hopped back on the train and rode it up to the surface. And when we got there it was snowing. Remember how I said it was cold? This was the result. Some enterprising kids had even built a snowman. Carrot nose and all.

IMG_7568  IMG_7566  IMG_7571After that we went back to Salzburg and had about an hour to kill before The Sound of Music Tour. When we finally did get on the bus it was packed. I think at one point our tour guide said that it was a 72 person bus and I’m pretty sure that every seat was full. To my delight, there were actually a number of kids on the bus. I was wondering if the current generation also watches The Sound of Music on repeat and based on the singing seven year old sitting across from me the answer is yes. She knew every word to the lyrics. Thankfully not everyone else was really up for singing the whole time and most of us were content to just listen to The Sound of Music soundtrack.

Now there are a few things you should know about The Sound of Music. The first is that most of the indoor scenes took place in Hollywood. This means that pretty much all of the things we were going to see on the tour were outdoor locations. And to top things off it was still snowing.

So, first things first. We went to the lake that Julie Andrews and all of the children famously fall into.

It was here that we learned that there were actually two houses used when filming the exterior of the von Trapp house. The exterior shots of the grounds were all done at this location while the house itself (the one you can see behind Captain von Trapp throughout this scene) is actually a completely different house. Unfortunately the snow didn’t really make for good pictures, but the house to the left is the one with the outdoor scenes and the lake (the lake is in the very front of the picture covered in snow), while the two pictures on the right show the house that was actually depicted in the movie. The yellow wall you can see is the wall Maria runs along when she’s singing “I Have Confidence.”

IMG_7580  IMG_7586  IMG_7587So now you’re probably thinking that the gazebo where Liesl famously sings “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” would be close to this first lake property. Well it used to be. The land that the gazebo rested on was bought by an American company and walled off. If I remember the numbers correctly, Salzburg receives 11 million tourists every year and 20% of them come JUST for The Sound of Music. Now with that many people coming through every year not everyone is really going to be daunted by a wall. So the company experienced problems with people hopping into private property and generally making themselves known by poorly singing “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” especially when they’ve been helped along with some glühwein, or mulled wine. So eventually the company decided to have the gazebo moved in order to make everyone happy. Hellbrunn Palace was eventually chosen as the final destination, so it was there that we could finally see the gazebo.

IMG_7597  IMG_7590  IMG_7593Now you probably can’t tell from the pictures, but the gazebo isn’t actually that large. It’s definitely not large enough to contain the dance number that happens in “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” So this gazebo was only used in outside shots. For the dancing, they danced in another gazebo. Apparently Liesl, or Charmian Carr, actually ended up putting her foot through one of the glass window panes and was given a BandAid before being told to continue dancing. After all, “the show must go on.” All of this just makes the dancing that much more impressive.

And it was still snowing. Our tour guide was talking to a family sitting towards the front of the bus and told us that apparently one little girl was pretty satisfied. Why you might ask? Well she had asked Santa for snow. When she was asked if she had really been that good this year she responded “Yes” without hesitation. We then asked her to just wish for a little less snow next time.

Because of the weather, we encountered a few hang ups in getting to our next destination. Salzburg is apparently a one way city so when accidents happen they stop the whole city. After encountering two accidents, and even being stuck behind a bicyclist, most of our attempts to get out of the city were being thwarted. They even had to shut down the highway so that they could finally get someone out there to clear the snow.

So, while we waited for things to get sorted out driving wise we were told the real von Trapp story. Captain von Trapp was in fact a widower with seven children and had been a captain in the navy. Now something that I had never actually thought about was the navy part of that sentence. Austria as it currently exists does not have a coastline. BUT it did before World War I, which is how Captain von Trapp ended up working in a submarine.

Maria on the other hand was not a novice at an abbey. She was a step below that. Apparently in order to be a novice you must take a two year vow of silence in order to see whether you are capable of taking a lifelong vow of silence. Maria wasn’t quite at that point. She was however working to finish up her teacher’s license when Captain von Trapp asked the Mother Superior if she could recommend a teacher. The Captain’s wife had died of scarlet fever and his daughter had also suffered from it. While it had killed his wife, it had spared his daughter, also named Maria, although it had made her feeble due to a weakened heart.

So Maria was sent to the von Trapps. There was in fact a Baroness in the picture…but she was the housekeeper. Apparently the children also had governesses but because of their aristocratic upbringing were kept separated by age group. Maria found this strange and started to take the children out as one large group. They sang Christmas songs, built Christmas wreaths, hiked through the forrest, etc. It was the first time the children had been together since their mother had died. Which means that…

The captain received a letter from one of his children telling him to come back and marry Maria so that she could stay with them forever. The captain on the other hand had been on holiday with a certain Princess Yvonne (the equivalent of the movie’s baroness). So the captain left the holiday early (effectively cutting off any engagement plans) and returned home. Here he confronted Maria. He asked what had been going on and proposed oh so romantically by saying “The children think we should get married. What are your thoughts on that?” Maria, who was in fact very religious, went back to the abbey to ask the Mother Superior for her thoughts. The Mother Superior thought that it was God’s will that she marry the Captain and help them become a family again. So Maria returned to the von Trapp residence. Here she encountered the Captain in the library. He asked her what her thoughts were and apparently she burst into tears before saying something along the lines of “I guess I have to marry you.” Talk about faith in God.

Thankfully they had a very happy marriage. But they encountered one major problem. The bank where Captain von Trapp had stored his wealth (as well as the significant wealth of his late wife) went bust. Because he was a very kind man he withdrew his remaining wealth and invested it in another branch of the bank, hoping that it would help sustain the bank. No such luck. So the von Trapps fell from spectacular wealth into poverty. They let go of their servants and moved into the servants quarters before renting out the rooms of their home.

One guest happened to be an opera singer who heard the family singing. The singer was there for the Salzburg Music Festival and managed to enroll the family into a locals competition where the von Trapps won. Due to their success at the festival, they started to travel around Europe and make money through concerts. They were even invited to go and tour in the United States, which they turned down until…

Hitler invaded Austria. Now the Captain was not actually wanted for active duty. When he had been a submarine captain exhaust systems hadn’t been perfected. This meant that all of the exhaust that was theoretically supposed to leave the submarine was instead recirculated inside the submarine, causing many men, including the Captain, to develop lung cancer. Anyways, the family knew that they did not want to stay in Salzburg under Hitler’s rule and managed to use their US connection to get a gig in the United States. They unglamorously escaped Austria via train and boat.

Once in the United States, they settled in Stowe, Vermont. Maria then had their tenth child in the United States which allowed the whole family to stay.

Maria eventually wrote a book about her experiences. Being a religious woman, she wanted to book to show the importance of perseverance and faith. Broadway apparently offered to buy the rights to the book and she refused, thinking it wasn’t in line with her reasons for writing the book. She did however sell to a German producer for a few thousand dollars, who later sold to Broadway for over a million dollars. Maria to her credit didn’t seek any of this money. Maria herself apparently liked the movie but her one quibble was with the portrayal of the Captain. Apparently he really was a very nice man so she didn’t approve of his aloof movie persona.

Now a few more Sound of Music facts before I get back to the tour. A large number of people in Salzburg actually haven’t seen The Sound of Music. Now considering the sheer number of Sound of Music tour buses and tourists that come into the city you might be wondering why that is. It’s because a German version of The Sound of Music wasn’t made until much later. Apparently listening to the songs in German is not a recommended activity.

Lastly, The Sound of Music actually hurt the careers of everyone in the movie other than Christopher Plummer, Captain von Trapp. Although Julie Andrews was nominated for Oscars for both Mary Poppins (which was released a year prior to The Sound of Music) and The Sound of Music, she was never quite able to shake the image of the singing woman who looks after children. None of the children in the movie ever managed to make it big either.

But back to the tour. So having almost literally climbed every mountain and forded every stream we eventually arrived at the town of Mondsee. You’re probably wondering what we’re doing there. Well it has the church where Maria and the Captain get married.

Salzburg used to be a very important religious center so there are plenty of churches in Salzburg. The problem is that none of the 50+ churches in Salzburg were willing to have Hollywood producers film inside them. In fact, none of the church scenes in the movie are filmed in Salzburg EXCEPT when Maria leaves the abbey to go to the von Trapp house. Mondsee on the other hand was thrilled to have Hollywood visit their small town. So the famous wedding scene was filmed inside their church.

IMG_7603  IMG_7610  IMG_7623After we were done with Mondsee we hopped back on the bus where we were treated to a video documenting some of the filming behind The Sound of Music. I have to admit, it was nice to see clips from the movie paired with sights that we had just been to.

Once we finally arrived back in Salzburg (in total we had experienced about a two hour delay due to the snow) my Dad and I stopped by the Mirabell Gardens for one last photo op. The Mirabell Gardens is where they filmed most of “Do-Re-Mi,” though you honestly can’t tell from my pictures because yup, you guessed it, everything was covered in snow.

IMG_7646  IMG_7653  IMG_7650But even with all of the snow, it was still a very good day. I have to say that I left Salzburg the next morning a very happy camper.