Sunshine and Culture

The next day started out with me apartment hopping. I moved from Sara’s apartment to the apartment of two other friends, Lauren and Darshali. Because Lauren happened to have the afternoon off, she decided to join me in my exploration of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, one of Madrid’s main art museums. However, almost as soon as we got there we issued a groan. The line snaked around the block. With plummeting hopes we decided to walk towards the main doors and assess how dire the situation was. To our great surprise, the door was locked. Turns out we had showed up right before opening hours and the line wasn’t hopeless after all. To make things even better, the museum was free that day. So without too much ado we waited for about 10 minutes in line before being ushered inside.

In order to stay relatively crowd free, we decided to work from top to bottom, something that happened to actually make sense chronologically. The museum’s oldest collections are housed at the top of the museum, while its more modern works are shown on the main floor. I will say that one of my favorite moments was running into a few El Greco paintings. I had always found El Greco a bit odd when I studied him in Art History and Spanish class, and while I still find his artwork strange, I left liking quite a few of them. Yay art! Overall, we spent well over two hours at the museum–and we didn’t even get to have a good look in all of the rooms! Unfortunately, our grumbling tummies told us that they would rather eat than spend another hour in the museum, so we set off for lunch.

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After a nice lunch, Lauren had other obligations, thus leaving me to my own devices. I’ve discovered through my various travels that while I am a huge fan of public transportation (probably a product of growing up with the practically non-existent public transport in Los Angeles), I am an even bigger fan of walking.

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Madrid is a fairly walkable city, so I walked through the Parque del Oeste and caught a glimpse of the Temple of Debod. The temple is an original 2nd century BC Egyptian temple that was given to Spain after Spain helped the Egyptian government in 1960. The construction of the Great Dam of Aswan posed a threat to several nearby historic monuments, and Spain responded to an UNESCO call asking for help to preserve Egypt’s monuments. The Temple of Debod was then given to Spain as a thank you by the Egyptian government. After taking in the temple, I turned around and began to walk back into the heart of the city.

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Not too far away from the park is Madrid’s Royal Palace. Unfortunately it was closed when I passed by, but I wasn’t too put out. While I do enjoy visiting palaces, I’ve seen so many this past year that missing this one wasn’t devastating. I did however enjoy taking a quick walk around part of the palace grounds.

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Right next door to the Royal Palace is the Catedral de la Almudena. The cathedral is named after Madrid’s patronness, the Almudena Virgin. According to legend, an image of the Virgin was found by the king on the city wall, thus creating the Almudena (derived from an Arabic word meaning city wall) Virgin.

Similar to palaces, I’ve seen quite a number of cathedrals this past year, and have started to pass them by. What made me want to go into this one was pictures that I’d seen of the ceilings. The multicolored panels were definitely worth a short stop.

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After saying hello to the installation of Pope John Paul II just outside the cathedral, I decided to call it a day and head back to the apartment. From there I reunited with all of my Spanish ETA friends for dinner. After a tasty selection of tapas we went to San Ginés, which is a cafe renowned for its hot chocolate and churros. I must admit that it’s definitely famous for a reason. The melted hot chocolate was fantastic, but it was so rich that my friends told me that it’s rare for anyone to ever finish all of it.

Trondheim Wrap Up

Writing the wrap up for the city that has been my home for the past year has been bittersweet since it marks the end of my Fulbright, but here it is:

  1. Public transportation apps for the city are AtB Reise (maps and navigation for public transportation) and AtB Mobillett (to buy tickets). 
  2. Nidaros Cathedral – Is a must. I would highly recommend an English tour and a trip up to the top of the tower for some good views. Depending on what you are interested in, you can also check and see if the cathedral has any concerts going on when you’re there. You also have the option of buying a combined ticket and getting access to the Norwegian crown jewels and the archbishop’s palace. I think that the crown jewels are a nice, if small, exhibit, but personally would give a pass on the archbishop’s palace unless you’re interested in the church’s medieval history.
  3. The Resistance Museum – a free museum in the same complex as the crown jewels and the archbishop’s palace and worth paying a visit.
  4. Bakklandet – The old part of Trondheim is very adorable and nice to walk around. It also showcases the town’s old bridge, Lykken’s Portal or “The Portal of Happiness,” and the charming old aspects of the city.
  5. Fjord Tour – Depending on when you come you can take a small fjord tour (it’s seasonal). It’ll take you around the city as well as out to one of the nearby islands, Munkholmen.
  6. National Museum of Decorative Arts – Very nice, if small, museum, especially if you’re interested in design.
  7. Stiftsgården – A nice place to take a tour. It’s the royal family’s old residence in Trondheim and really gives you a good (if brief) history of Norway and reminds you of how poor the country used to be.
  8. Sverresborg Folk Museum – great museum that’s a little bit out of the way. Gives a good sense of the old city and provides nice views of the city.
  9. Hiking – If you want to hike you can hike to your heart’s content in Bymarka (which is easily accessible via tram) or take a walk along the fjord.
  10. Food & Drink
    • Ni Muset – great cafe/coffeehouse with some nice food and snacks.
    • Tyholt Tower – It’s the large radio tower in town and will give you good views of the city. The restaurant at the top is just okay.
    • Den Gode Nabo – You can go have drinks out on the river and the food is good.
    • Bakklandet Skydsstation – great for traditional Norwegian waffles or a light traditional Norwegian meal.
    • Antikvarietet – a good cafe/bar.
    • Mat fra Hagen – a trendy vegetarian restaurant in Bakklandet. Not even their bread is bread–it’s really mashed chickpeas.
    • Fairytale Cupcakes – this great little cafe looks as if you’ve tumbled down the rabbit hole into something inspired by Lewis Carroll. Excellent cupcakes, but be prepared for pink.
    • Kos – trendy Japanese restaurant with good sushi. I’d highly recommend splurging and having all you can eat sushi for 299 NOK.
  11. If you’re around for a more extended period, it’s definitely worthwhile to take a two hour train down to Røros for a day trip. It’s this adorable old mining town that’s an UNESCO site. If you happen to be around in February then definitely go to Rørosmartnan.

Vinmonopolet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Charmed Cabin Trip

One of the great advantages to having a roommate who has lived in Norway for a year is that he knows just about everyone. This week it meant that I had the chance to go on a cabin trip that one of his friends had organized in Vekvessætra. Because the cabin was large enough to house 20 people, two cabin groups ended up merging to form what was ultimately a group of 24 people (don’t worry we didn’t wreck the cabin, some people slept outside in tents). The cabin was really quaint and even came with a traditional wood burning stove and an outhouse.

Because we arrived at the cabin in the late afternoon we didn’t actually get to do too much hiking. The hiking that we did do involved trying to find a lake…and instead finding a swamp. Two of the boys ended up trekking through the swamp until they found the mythical lake, but the rest of us turned back after getting thoroughly muddy and getting our feet soaked. The real highlight of the evening was getting to see the Northern Lights! Of course I didn’t bring my camera since I thought that nothing exciting would happen on our trip and the Northern Lights typically appear in winter. That was clearly the wrong packing choice. Sadly my iPhone wasn’t able to capture the Northern Lights because they were pretty faint.

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Anyways, there are a few important things to know about cabins and hiking in Norway: both things are a huge part of Norwegian culture, and it’s traditional for Norwegians to go on hikes on Sundays. There is also a pretty extensive cabin system throughout Norway, and you can rent a cabin from the Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT) for fairly cheap. Things get even better because once you are actually in the wilderness you can drink straight from streams and eat any of the wild berries. My group personally liked gorging on the wild blueberries.

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While our second day at the cabin did include slogging through a few more swampy areas we also got to see reindeer! They popped up out of nowhere and proceeded to calmly run around the mountain (and I admit they were doing a much better job than we were). We almost reached the summit of the mountain but decided to turn back at the last minute due to the weather. We ended up taking a slightly different route back from our original one, the result being that we got lost for two hours. While we had brought a map with us, it ended up being fairly useless since it didn’t have any features on it other than mountain contour lines. Our struggle to navigate back to the main road included wandering on a narrow ledge between a river and an enclosed pasture, talking to an elderly Norwegian man who couldn’t speak English, and asking for directions from a family that was quite literally gold mining in the river. Luckily we managed to find a cabin that had a road leading back to the main road. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to see pavement in my life.

IMG_0702   IMG_0717 All in all it was a truly charmed trip since I got to see both the Northern Lights and wild animals. I’m already looking forward to the next one!