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.

Norwegian Food

Tis the season of friends! As summer draws near and my Fulbright draws to a close, I’ve had more and more friends decide to come visit. At last count, I’m seeing six groups of friends over seven different weekends, so I’ve been trying to catch up on my blog during the week. So far I’ve seen two groups of friends, and it’s been fun talking about Norway and getting a chance to act as a cultural ambassador. Yay for fulfilling Fulbright goals!

Anyways, one recurring question that I’ve been asked is “What is Norwegian food like?” To be frank, I (as well as most people in Norway) rarely dine out, so my familiarity with traditional Norwegian fare is a bit sparse. That being said, I will do my best to tell you what I know.

Pinnekjøtt

One thing to remember about Norway is that it was poor for much of its history.* Because of this, it was necessary for many Norwegians to carefully preserve what food was available. This means that many traditional dishes are things that have been dried and salted. Pinnekjøtt is a traditional Christmas dish composed of salted and dried lamb’s ribs. The ribs are then steamed and served with potatoes and sausages.

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Norwegian Salmon

Norwegian salmon is world famous for good reason. The fish here is absolutely delicious, and is one of the few things you will find at a reasonable price. Norway is one of the world’s biggest fish exporters, and the cold water apparently helps the fish grow more slowly, helping add flavor and structure to the meat.

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Cod (Liver Oil), Tørrfisk, and Lutefisk

Cod is another very popular Norwegian fish. It’s particularly well known around the Lofoten Islands and thousands of cod are still caught and dried in that area.

Tørrfisk, or stock fish, is any sort of salted and dried fish, but it is generally made from cod.

Lutefisk, pictured below, takes tørrfisk a step further since it is tørrfisk in water and lye. Don’t worry though, lutefisk is generally cooked or grilled before being eaten.**

Last but not least, cod liver oil is part of the Norwegian way of life. This general cure all can be found in pretty much every grocery store and Norwegian home.

Alt-om-lutefisk

Rømmegrøt

A porridge made of sour cream with cinnamon, sugar, and butter added in.

A popular Christmas variation is risengrøt, or rice porridge. Grøt, or porridge, is important around Christmas time because it is left out for the nisse, a type of Christmas elf. Feeding the nisse is supposed to provide farmers with good harvests, and risengrøt is eaten on Christmas Eve. An almond is supposed to be hidden in the mixture, and whoever finds it in their porridge wins a marzipan pig.

Rømmegrøt

Kjøttkaker

Beef meatballs that are a typical Norwegian dinner. They are usually served with potatoes, peas, gravy, and lingonberry sauce.

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Pølse i lompe

The Norwegian version of a hot dog. It is a very long and skinny hot dog wrapped in a tortilla.

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Brunost

No description of Norwegian food would be complete without brunost, or brown cheese. It is a combination of milk, cream, and whey that is boiled until it caramelizes, giving the cheese a brown color and slightly sweet flavor. People tend to either love or hate it, but it is definitely something worth giving a try. Personally, my favorite way of eating it is to have it with waffles and jam.

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Knekkebrød

Knekkebrød is another Norwegian favorite. I’m even told that Norwegians traveling abroad will take knekkebrød and brown cheese with them, since they know they won’t be able find them outside of the country. Knekkebrød, or crispbread, is a type of very light and dry cracker. It often comes loaded with a bunch of grains and seeds.

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Another important thing to know is that Norwegians have their meals on a very different timeline. In America, it’s common to have three meals a day:

  • Breakfast at around 7 or 8 am
  • Lunch at around 12 or 1 pm
  • Dinner around 6 or 7 pm

Norwegians prefer to have four meals a day:

  • Frokost/breakfast at around 7 am
  • Lunsj/lunch at around 11 am
  • Middag/first dinner at around 4 or 5 pm
  • Kveldsmat/second dinner at around 9 pm

To this day, I still find it strange to stop for lunch at 11 am.

That’s pretty much all that I can offer on Norwegian cuisine. My only other piece of advice is that if you happen to stay in a Norwegian hotel, I would definitely take advantage of the breakfast buffet, universally some of the best breakfasts that I’ve ever encountered. Happy eating and bon appétit!

*The dramatically simplified version of Norway’s history is: Things went downhill after the Vikings until Norway found oil in the late 1960’s.

**Funnily enough Heather, the Roving Scholar from Minnesota, was visiting one of my classes and asked them if there were any special foods she should try while she was in Norway. One of my students jokingly told her to give lutefisk a try, and, to everyone’s surprise, Heather told the class that she had already tried lutefisk. According to Heather, the large Norwegian-American community in Minnesota is pretty devoted to making traditional Norwegian food. She went on to say that people even have “I Love Lutefisk” t-shirts. Ironically enough, neither Heather nor I has met a single Norwegian who actually likes lutefisk.

“Asian” Markets in Trondheim

Now when I was planning on coming to Norway, I thought that I was basically saying goodbye to most ethnic food (I was willing to make notable exceptions for Chinese takeout and sushi), but I was pleasantly surprised when I was told secondhand that Norway has a number of “asian” or ethnic markets. Once I arrived, it quickly became apparent that this was true. I’ve even seem them up in Tromsø!

When it comes to Trondheim, the city has a number of “asian” markets (I’ve put asian in quotes since not all of them are asian), and after much wandering and exploring I’ve managed to find a number of them around town. There are two main benefits to shopping at these markets in Norway. The first is that you are often able to buy some foods that might be out of the ordinary, and the second is that most of the products are cheaper than what you can find at your normal grocery store, particularly when it comes to produce (the freshness of the produce does tend to be a bit hit or miss). I’ve included the markets that I’ve managed to find in the map below, and I’ve also included my own notes on the map (to see them simple click on the pin and the notes should pop up).

Off on Our “Lillehammer” Retreat

The next day we were off to Lillehammer! We got up early in the morning to climb aboard what is probably the nicest bus I have ever been on. It had plush leather seats, huge windows with skylights, and a bathroom. It was lovely. The view from the bus was also really nice. Having now lived in Norway for about seven months and having travelled up and down the country, I feel somewhat qualified to say that I don’t think an ugly area exists in Norway.

IMG_9530  IMG_9533  IMG_9536IMG_9547  IMG_9552  IMG_9557Now you may know of Lillehammer from Netflix’s “Lilyhammer,” or from the 1994 Olympics, but in case you don’t, Lillehammer is a town a few hours outside of Oslo that is renowned for its ski jump. Considering that Lillehammer hosted the winter Olympics, you are also probably thinking that it has quite a number of downhill slopes. Well, that isn’t actually the case. The mountains that they used for the downhill Olympic events actually lie outside of the city. The downhill slopes have also been reduced over time since they don’t get that much traffic. In case you don’t follow winter sports, Norwegians excel at cross country and tend to prefer it to alpine skiing. So while we did get to pass through Lillehammer and catch a glimpse of the iconic ski jump, we were soon driving past the town and on to our final destination, Svingvoll. Don’t worry if you’re confused. I was also initially confused to as to why our so called Lillehammer retreat wasn’t actually in Lillehammer, but upon reflection I probably would have been a bit less excited if it had been called the Svingvoll retreat.

Lucky for us we arrived just before lunch was about to start. All of our meals at the retreat were covered by the Fulbright Commission, which also meant that everyone was quite happy to take full advantage of the buffet. Most of us never eat out due to how expensive it is in Norway, so it was nice to be treated to a good (and seemingly endless) meal.* In fact, Rena, the organizer, warned us to not get too excited by the buffet because last year’s Fulbrighters managed to eat so much food that they got sick. I didn’t really know that was possible, but I admit that I’m actually a bit impressed with their commitment to food.

After a hearty lunch and a quick stop at the ski rental place, I decided to take a walk with two other Fulbrighters, Abby and Shay. The Fulbright Commission had agreed to cover a two day lift ticket, and the three of us had decided to use our first day to explore the surrounding area and our last two days to tear up the slopes.

IMG_9560  IMG_9564  IMG_9574IMG_9570  IMG_9567  IMG_9597IMG_9612  IMG_9602  IMG_9615IMG_9622  IMG_9643  IMG_9624IMG_9654  IMG_9678  IMG_9682We had an excellent time simply walking around and enjoying the views. After about an hour or two we returned back to the Thon hotel, which I was recently told is actually pronounced “Toon” instead of “Thon.” Mind blown. I clearly wasn’t paying enough attention to pronunciation rules in Norwegian class and have been mispronouncing the name of this hotel chain since I arrived in Norway.

Lucky for us, the hotel had jacuzzis, saunas, and steam rooms so it was very easy to simply relax and enjoy our time together. Other than that, the rest of the day was spent eating an excellent dinner and whiling the time away in interesting conversations.

*It’s actually quite funny to visit other Norwegian Fulbrighters since we all tend to have limited suggestions when it comes to eating out. Most of us cook since it’s so pricy to eat out, but we do tend to have plenty of coffee shop recommendations. The need for caffeine runs strong in academics.

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.

Tromsø Wrap Up

I would say that Kari was quite accurate when she once told me that Tromsø is a vibrant town. It may be small, but it certainly has character and some wonderful views. Here are my tips and tricks:

  1. As with all major Norwegian towns, Tromsø has mobile applications that you can use to buy public transportation tickets and to map out a route on the public transportation.
  2. Unfortunately the buses do not actually list or announce the stops, so if you’re confused or a newcomer to the town definitely ask the driver to help you get off at the correct stop.
  3. You can take the flybussen or the local 42 bus into town from the airport (or from town to the airport)
  4. To be honest I think that Tromsø’s biggest draws are the reindeer races during Sami Week and the scenery. I wasn’t able to take the local cable car, but I’ve been told that it’s well worth the effort.
  5. The burgers at Blå Bar are surprisingly delicious and Smørtorget is well worth the stop for both cheap eats and some cheap shopping.

Going South to Go North

I realize that my title doesn’t initially make sense, but it will in a minute. Not too long ago I paid a trip to Svalbard. Unfortunately the only way for me to get there from Trondheim was to go through either Oslo or Tromsø. It ended up being cheaper and more convenient for me to go via Oslo, so I did in fact go South in order to go North.

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Svalbard has been a place that has captured my imagination since I was a child, specifically since I read The Golden Compass. In fact, both Svalbard and The Golden Compass were featured in my Fulbright essay, so I was really excited to finally get the chance to go there. Sidenote: if you haven’t read The Golden Compass you should and if you have no idea where Svalbard is check out the Map section of my blog. It’s the northernmost pin and Longyearbyen is actually the world’s northernmost settlement.

While organizing my flights to Svalbard was a bit of hassle since they only fly on certain days, it was pretty exciting to go, and I wasn’t the only one who was thrilled. I’ve never seen people so excited to travel. Everyone on my plane was upbeat (or intoxicated), constantly taking pictures, and pressed against the windows of the plane. I never really recognized how toxic the atmosphere can be around airports until I boarded my flight to Longyearbyen and experienced such a drastically different environment. I have to say it was quite a nice change to have everyone so happy.

But before I talk a bit more about my flight into Longyearbyen, I need to talk about my flight into Oslo. Why you might ask? Well it’s because I had a medical emergency happen on my flight. Not just on my flight, but to the person sitting next to me. Now for those of you who don’t know me you should know that I could never be a doctor. Not only did I hate most of the subjects that you need for medical school (mainly chemistry and physics) I’m also just a bad person to have in a medical emergency. Bodily fluids gross me out, I struggle to even watch doctor shows, and I tend to lose all common sense in medical situations. The thing I am most famous for is when my best friend fainted and when coming to I asked her what she thought the best course of action would be. So my number is clearly not the one you call when you have a medical emergency. That being said, life loves to have its little ironies so I was hardly surprised that this medical emergency happened right next to me.

Now the second thing you should know is that I can sleep through almost anything. Something I happen to specialize in is sleeping on planes. I have mastered the art of falling asleep before takeoff so it was only when I heard a lot of panicked sounds that I woke up from my nap against the window. Looking around I spotted a few alarmed flight attendants shaking the woman next to me and seeing her look pale and nauseous with the vomit bag clutched to her face. This rapidly escalated as she seems to go in and out of consciousness. An oxygen tank was retrieved, and at this point the man in the aisle seat was relocated and I was asked to move. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible due to the hunched position that this woman had taken. So medically incompetent me stayed squashed between the window and the medical emergency.

The first problem occurred when they either couldn’t managed to open the oxygen tank valve or the tank just failed to work. A second tank was retrieved and this time the oxygen mask was successfully applied to the woman’s face. This seemed to help incrementally, but after a while the woman continued to drift in and out of consciousness. The flight attendants indicated to me that we should get her horizontal. Now thanks to my fainting best friend, I’ve learned not to be wholly incompetent when people faint. So my first course, and really the only course, of action that I could take was to help move this woman so she was lying down and prop her legs up to increase blood flow to the head. Luckily by the time we finished doing this the plane was preparing to land. All in all, our landing scene had a man across the aisle holding an oxygen tank, a flight attendant in the aisle seat holding the woman’s head in her lap and placing the oxygen mask on her face, the woman having the medical emergency, and me attempting to prop this woman’s legs up.

Once the plane landed the flight attendants instructed us to all remain seated and a medical team was quickly ushered on board. Of course knowing no Norwegian and having slept through the beginning of this escapade, I was completely useless when it came to giving the medical team any sort of helpful information. The woman seemed to recover once we landed and she was able to walk off the plane on her own. The unfortunate realizations that I had after this episode included: flight staff don’t seem to have much medical training, there isn’t really too much you can do to help a person on a flight, and that I’m lucky that most domestic flights in Norway aren’t more than three hours. Lucky for this woman, I think the closest airport we could have landed in was Oslo, our actual destination. Oddly enough no one asked if there was a doctor on board the plane, but then again that could have happened while I was blissfully sleeping.

But back to Svalbard! It was with a certain amount of relief that I left my Trondheim to Oslo flight and prepared to board my flight to Longyearbyen. As I mentioned earlier, there was also a significant change in attitude on the flight. I again slept on this flight, albeit I slept more peacefully. But I didn’t sleep the entire time and I was amazed when I woke up and saw beautiful snowy peaks underneath the plane. Flying into Svalbard was just incredible.

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Unfortunately my iPhone couldn’t quite do justice to the view.

But flying in was simply breathtaking and we landed between these gorgeous mountains. On the other hand walking outside was a bit of a shock. Some weather screenshots below for your benefit. The picture on the right is in Fahrenheit while the first two are in Celsius. I find the middle picture the most fascinating since you can see that there isn’t sunrise or sunset (both listed at 12 am) and that’s because the sun has yet to come back to Svalbard. When I visited they had just reached civil twilight, which means that the sun is below 6 degrees of the horizon. Other things to note are the wind chill and effective temperature (-32°C/ -25.6°F) as well as the nonexistent UV Index.

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Longyearbyen is located in an arctic desert so the weather is very dry and pretty extreme. The town is situated in a valley which means that the mountains help create a huge wind tunnel. To make matters worse, the island is situated in a windy area. That’s not to say that this is all bad. Svalbard gets cold winds but it also gets the warm Gulf Stream, which is why you can see such extreme differences in the temperature (based on the pictures above you can see the jump from -23°C to -6°C in the same week). Sarah, a fellow Fulbrighter and my host, later told me that frostbite is an everyday concern. Apparently when classes go on trips you are assigned a buddy that you check on regularly to monitor any frostbite that they might be developing. You can tell if you are getting frostbite if white patches develop on your skin. There are also degrees of frostbite, similar to how there are different degrees of burn (first, second, and third), and these white patches are a good indicator that you are developing a low level of frostbite. One of the big dangers is that in such cold conditions it can be hard to tell if what you’re experiencing is frostbite or simply the cold. And yes I’ve never warn so many warm winter layers in my life. Ski pants became my new favorite article of clothing.

But back to my trip. Because there are a limited number of flights going in and out of Svalbard, the airport bus waited until we were all on board before setting off. Due to Longyearbyen’s  size (population roughly 2,000), there aren’t that many stops for the bus to make, and it didn’t take me too long to reach Sarah’s place.

Although I had to get up early to catch my flights, my series of plane naps meant that I was happy to go explore town as soon as I dropped my things off. So we set off to explore the settlement.

The funny thing with Svalbard is that it truly does look like a settlement. It’s more or less a one street place, and none of the buildings look that permanent. In fact, the student housing is called barracks, which just seems to reinforce the idea that nobody stays in Svalbard for very long. According to Sarah, the average length of time that people stay is five years, though we’re assuming that students are not counted in this figure. Most people who are in Longyearbyen are there for the university, coal mines, or tourism. Nobody really stays and develops a legacy or family on Svalbard. You actually are not allowed to give birth on Svalbard or die there. Additionally, because most people who come to Longyearbyen are in their 20s and 30s and there on a short term contract, they tend to have young kids but leave before the children are fully grown. This means that there are 3 kindergartens on Svalbard but only two children in upper secondary school/high school.

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There is only one grocery store in town and it’s pretty much a one stop shop for most of your basic needs. While the price of food is quite expensive, even by Norwegian standards, pretty much everything on Svalbard is tax free…which means that the alcohol is very cheap compared to mainland Norway. The store does make an effort to remind you that you cannot stash alcohol in your carryon bag for the trip back home. One thing that does make Svalbard and their alcohol store unique is that the island has alcohol quotas if you are a legal resident. I’ve been told that the quotas are quite generous (2 liters of liquor and 24 cans of beer per month) and it only counts beer and alcohol bought in the store. The reason for this was back when Longyearbyen was almost completely a mining town, the mining companies felt the need to regulate their workers and make sure that they were not getting completely inebriated–hence the alcohol card. You might be wondering why wine isn’t monitored, and that’s because that’s what the mining company bosses would drink. Of course they didn’t feel the need to monitor their own alcohol supply. Sarah told me that not too long ago the residents voted on whether or not they wanted to keep the alcohol card, and they overwhelming decided to keep it. Apparently they like being the only place to have an alcohol card and quota. The other funny thing about it is that Sarah told me her alcohol card is pretty much the only evidence she has showing that she’s a resident on Svalbard.

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Other things to note are polar bears! Polar bears are a very real danger in Svalbard and there are number living on the islands. It is legally required that you have adequate polar bear protection when you leave certain areas of town. In practical terms this means that you should be carrying a rifle. I’ve even heard that when the schools let out for recess the teachers form a protective circle around the playing children and that all of the teachers are equipped with rifles.

If you encounter a polar bear the proper procedure goes something like this: fire any and all flash and bang flares (the idea is to hopefully scare off the polar bear), at 200 meters you fully prepare your rifle to shoot, and at around 50 meters you are well within your rights to shoot. If you get to the point that you are using your rifle, you are shooting to kill (and it’s estimated that it will take you 2-3 shots to accomplish this). If you do shoot a polar bear you have to explain why to the local government because polar bears are an endangered species. Unfortunately for both us and them polar bears are 1) incredibly smart and 2) see humans as food. Polar bears will actively stalk humans that they encounter because they see them as food. Additionally, the bears are also getting much smarter when it comes to our defense mechanisms. Polar bears are slowly starting to realize that the flash and bang flares won’t actually harm them, and although the local government has two helicopters that it can use to scare off polar bears (the loud noise really disturbs them) the bears are coming to realize that the helicopters won’t hurt them either.

Because of all of this it’s quite common to see people with rifles. Proper rifle etiquette dictates that you leave rifles outside of public buildings (there is usually a coat room or outer room where you can do this). Most people also leave part of the bolt open to show that there is no ammunition in the gun. In the student barracks each room is provided with a safe so that you can safely store your rifle bolt away from your rifle.

IMG_2491  IMG_8608  IMG_8612I was clearly getting quite the education in my walk around town. The next place that we went to was a seal store. I was somewhat tempted to buy a pair of seal boots (see below) but then Sarah informed me that seal products are banned in the US and that they would be confiscated. There went that dream for warm footwear.

I was also excited to see the musk ox below! My colleagues have been telling me about musk ox and how it’s quite a dangerous animal (supposedly it’s bad tempered, pointy, and can run quite fast) but I haven’t seen one yet. They’re pretty rare animals, so although this musk ox was a rug I was excited to see one and get a better idea of what one looked like.

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After that we stopped by a place called Huset to catch the end of the student elections and to grab some cheap beer (only 25 NOK/ 3.28 USD–guys this has got to be a record for beer prices at a Norwegian bar) before finally wandering back home. Before we turned in we took some pictures of the moon and the landscape. Enjoy and sorry for the somewhat haphazard blog post!

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When In Rome, Do As the Roman (Fulbrighters) Do

One thing that I noticed in Rome is how some of the simplest things make me happy. It was sunny and warm almost the entire time I was in Rome, and that just made every day seem amazing. Even just waking up to the sunshine made me ridiculously happy.

Anyways, I picked up Gargi in the morning and we walked to Santa Maria Maggiore, which is one of the churches in Rome that is actually owned by the Vatican. Apparently this gives the property something akin to diplomatic status. Because I was with Gargi hiring a guide or going on a tour wasn’t particularly necessary. Between Gargi’s knowledge and Wikipedia we managed to do alright. We even managed to find Bernini’s nondescript grave.

IMG_7826  IMG_7859  IMG_7861IMG_7840  IMG_7845  IMG_7852IMG_7849  IMG_7833  IMG_7835From there we walked South towards the Colosseum. Unsurprisingly the line was out of control. But again traveling with Gargi is great. She steered us towards the Roman Forum since you can buy a combination ticket there for both the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. So instead of waiting for hours in the Colosseum line we waited in the much shorter line for the Roman Forum.

It was pretty incredible once we were inside the Roman Forum. While everything is more or less ruins, you still get a pretty good sense of the scale and craftsmanship that must have gone into everything.

IMG_7875  IMG_7877  IMG_7878IMG_7903  IMG_7901  IMG_7906IMG_7913  IMG_7919  IMG_7939IMG_2203My favorite thing that Gargi told me about the Roman Forum was that if you look at some of the inscriptions you can tell that things have been replaced or chiseled over. She told me that this was because new battles, generals, and victories would be recorded on these monuments and the old ones would be erased. I guess you really had to be quite the military stud to have your name stay on these memorials.

Once we were done walking around the Forum we retraced our steps to the Colosseum. One thing that really surprised me was the size of the Colosseum’s steps. Now I’ll willingly admit that I’m a short person at 5’3” (160 cm), but I like to think that I would have been tall in ancient Rome. So I was really surprised at how steep the steps were. Gargi also told me that these steps are called a vomitorium. The idea behind them is that the stairwell slope downwards and causes you to rush down the stairs. So the Colosseum was designed to “vomit” its crowds out quickly and efficiently.

And now for a few more Colosseum facts. Fact one: you might notice a number of holes in Colosseum when you take a look at my pictures. This is because the Colosseum used to have a marble facade. The marble was taken and used in other constructions, one of the most notable being St. Peter’s Basilica. Fact two: historians suspect that the Colosseum used to have some sort of shade system, which considering that I was feeling pretty warm in the middle of winter seems like quite a good idea. Fact three: apparently ladies had to sit towards the top of the Colosseum since it was thought that the violence would be too upsetting for them to view up close.

IMG_7944  IMG_7957  IMG_7962IMG_2215Now by the time Gargi and I had finished with the Colosseum we were starving. So we sat down for lunch and waited for Iman to join us. Once our hunger had been satiated we walked towards the Pantheon since I wanted to actually go inside.

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We took a small detour just before the Pantheon since a few blocks away lies the church Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. Right outside the church is an obelisk by Bernini and inside there is a statue of Jesus Christ done by Michelangelo. I wouldn’t have said that the statue was particularly striking, but the church was quite beautiful.

IMG_8029  IMG_8033  IMG_8039When we were done looking around we quietly left the church and continued on to the Pantheon. Gargi had told me early on that it was her favorite building in Rome and I would have to agree. There isn’t too much to do inside but that doesn’t stop it from being incredible.

IMG_8054  IMG_8047  IMG_8059After that it was gelato time! Now that I’m an adult I can do things like have dessert before dinner and that’s basically what happened. After we grabbed gelato we walked back towards Piazza Navona and paid Borromini’s Sant’Agnese a short visit. After we were done we stopped by a drug store for Iman (take note that Italian pharmacies do not tend to sell American drugs) and then found an Argentinian restaurant for dinner. Now both Iman and Gargi have been living in Italy since October so I couldn’t blame them for wanting to eat literally anything other than Italian food. The restaurant, Baires, actually ended up being really good and I would highly recommend their sangria if you get a chance to go.

Once we had finished we slowly walked back towards our hostels. It was here that Gargi and I parted ways since she was going back to Messina the next day. Overall I had a great day and can’t thank Gargi enough for showing me around.

Vienna At Last

We finally make it to Vienna at around 2 pm. Because most things were closed by around 5 or 6, we really didn’t have too much time to explore the city on our first day. But, we managed to make it to two major sights that day. Our first stop was Karlskirche, or St. Charles Church. Karlskirche is one of Vienna’s best baroque churches and also happened to be close to our hotel. So, we duly walked the three or so blocks to the church and were almost immediately accosted by a man trying to sell us concert tickets.Vienna is known as the City of Music so this wasn’t much of a surprise. Alix had also warned me that there would be plenty of people trying to sell us tickets.

My Dad and I had contemplated buying concert tickets before our trip, but in the end we decided to just wait and organize something once we were in the city. So, while we were surprised to see someone selling tickets outside of Karlskirche we decided to listen to his sales pitch. He ended up doing quite well and managed to sell us two discounted tickets to a Christmas concert at Schloss Schönbrunn.

After that we entered Karlskirche. Karlskirche was built from 1716 – 1739 in order to give thanks for the city making it through the 1713 plague. Both the exterior and the interior are remarkable, but the best part about the church is being able to take an elevator up to the top of the church where you can view the basilica’s frescos up close.

IMG_6547  IMG_6549  IMG_6554 IMG_6559  IMG_6592  IMG_6588As someone who is somewhat scared of heights, I found the wooden viewing platform above the church a bit too rickety for my taste, but it was still fabulous to have the opportunity to go up and see everything up close. My favorite part was one particularly well known fresco that features an angel burning Martin Luther’s German Bible. It was funny seeing the Catholic Church’s small ways of thumbing their noses at the Protestants.

IMG_6577  IMG_6578  IMG_6585After that we made our way to the Secession Museum. The Secession Museum was built and designed by the Vienna Secession art movement, which included star artists such as Klimt, Josef Hoffman, Kolo Moser, and Joseph M Olbrich. Unfortunately, it seems like the museum is only really well known for displaying Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze, a work inspired by Beethoven’s ninth symphony. Although the museum staff couldn’t have hurried us to the exhibit any faster, once we were there we weren’t allowed to take any pictures (the one below is a replica of a section of the mural), but then again that’s where Google comes in handy. The mural spans three sides of the room and according to the brochure depicts mankind’s search for happiness. The mural can be summarized by saying that it starts with mankind enlisting a knight in shining armor for help. This knight then fights off “Hostile Forces” such as Sickness, Madness, and Death, but eventually succeeds and finds fulfillment in poetry and the arts. The painting concludes with a kissing couple which, again according to the brochure, is based on the lyrics to “Ode to Joy” which contain the line “This kiss to the whole world.” I personally really enjoyed the Beethoven Frieze, although it isn’t placed at eye level which makes it slightly more difficult to view.

Afterwards, we took pity on the rest of the museum (which seems a bit neglected considering how quickly the museum staff ushered us into the room containing the Beethoven Frieze). We saw works from about three or four current artists, but the one that I enjoyed the most was a piece by Renata Lucas which involved a record player. The record player was attached to a revolving door so in order to get the record to play you had to keep spinning the door.

IMG_6602  IMG_6601  IMG_6605Once we had finished at the Secession Museum we felt like it was time for dinner. I happen to have a friend living in Vienna and she highly recommended trying out a restaurant called Plachutta. So it was with food on our minds that my Dad and I duly set off in search of this restaurant. Lucky for us we were able to get a table and I ordered their most famous dish, tafelspitz. Little did I know what I was getting into. My dish included a type of vegetable soup, boiled beef, beef marrow (which was supposed to be spread on bread), creamed pumpkin, potatoes, horseradish applesauce, and a chive sauce. It was a meal big enough for two and it was superb. I have to say that Plachutta absolutely ruined any other tafelspitz that I had for the rest of the trip. It really was just that good.

IMG_2034So, it was with very full stomachs that my Dad and I concluded our first day in Vienna. We did pay a quick stop to Naschmarkt food market just to look around, but after that we called it a night.