Birdwatching & the Northern Lights

Now some of you have asked me why Alix has largely disappeared from my blog, and the reason is that she has just had her first child! Traveling together after December was considered a bit dicey with her pregnancy, so most of our friendship has been continued over food and walks around Trondheim (awesome for us, but not really riveting reading material for you). Anyways, she and her husband, Chris, officially welcomed their son to the world in mid-February. Yes, he’s absolutely adorable. Yes, I spend a lot of time doting on him.

And with new life comes visitors! Chris’s parents were in town a few weeks ago, and Chris graciously asked if I’d like to join them for some birdwatching and a drive around the fjord. I obviously said yes even though my knowledge of birds is near nonexistent. So, I bundled up with the three of them and we set off. The scenery around Norway is always gorgeous, but this was one of the few times I’ve really looked beyond the scenery and made a very conscious effort to check out the animals. Again, my bird knowledge is pitiful so there was a lot of me screaming “bird” and then a very patient and kind “Nice find, but it’s an (insert very common bird like a crow or seagull here).” But they didn’t give up on me, and I did manage to spot a neat bird or two. Chris and his dad are avid birdwatchers so they obviously appreciated the birds a bit more than I did, but I’m proud to say that I spotted one of the three eagles that we saw that day. After consulting the “oracle,” otherwise known as the Princeton Field Guide to the Birds of Europe, we believe that we saw both golden eagles and a white tailed eagle. One of them is pictured below and the other two birds are a cormorant and a heron. As for four footed creatures, we kept our eyes peeled for reindeer, but unfortunately didn’t manage to see any. We did however spot a few deer.

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Lofoten Islands Wrap Up

I’ve had a few friends tell me that they were planning on traveling to the Lofoten Islands so I figured I should wrap up and summarize the advice that I have for a trip:

  1. Depending on where you are coming from, you should budget for at least a day to get to the Islands and a day to get back.
  2. Your schedule will probably be dictated by ferry times (many of which you can look up here). The ferry runs fairly infrequently and is the quickest way to get to and from the Islands.
  3. Rent a car. Having a car makes it extremely easy to see the many beautiful sights that Lofoten has to offer. Many of the attractions on the Islands are also fairly spaced out, so it’s handy to have a car so that you can see everything on your bucket list. Alix and I did notice bus stops on our road trip, but I can’t testify as to how frequently the buses run.
  4. If you are planning on seeing some of the sights, double check their opening hours. Many places have limited hours in the off season or only open upon request.
  5. Rent a rorbu. Not only are rorbu fairly cheap and quaint, they also tend to offer you great views. Most of them come with kitchens so that’s one easy way for you to cut back on costs.
  6. This one is fairly obvious, but bring a camera. You’ll kick yourself if you aren’t able to document your trip.

From what I’ve heard and read, I would say that the best time to actually visit the Islands are during the on season (summertime) up through October. Many of the locals said that we had picked a great time to visit since we avoided other tourists, still had nice sunny weather, and were there for the beginning of the Northern Lights season. I would also say dress appropriately and keep an eye on the weather forecast. Alix and I apparently missed a spectacular display of the Northern Lights when we were traveling, so it’s worth keeping your eye on sights like Aurora Forecast and the Geophysical Institute. As for daylight weather, I’d recommend looking at yr.no.

That’s pretty much it for advice! Safe travels!

Yo ho, Yo ho! A Pirate’s Life for Me

As you’ve probably noticed, titles are not my specialty. It’s something that many of my former teachers and professors have bemoaned, but hey I figure it’s more interesting than writing the week number. I swear the title will make sense later on.

Work at Byåsen is starting to pick up, and my co-teacher, Kirsti, has sent an email to other teachers letting them know that they should contact me if they’d like to have me stop by any of their classes. I’ve gotten a few emails asking for me to drop by later on in the semester, but this week I got to go to a social studies class. The teacher of this class just so happens to be an American, and we had a great time talking before class about American history and what the kids are learning about. This semester her students are covering the British Empire, while next semester they learn about the U.S. This week we talked a bit about the Scottish referendum, what people within the U.K. are saying about it, and what a separate Scotland could mean. It’s been really interesting talking to other Europeans about the Scottish referendum, especially since it’s so different from the experience I got in the U.S. In the U.S. I heard pretty much no one talking about the referendum and all of my daily news digests only casually mentioned it. The reason why I even heard about the referendum was because I took a class on England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales my senior spring. In contrast to this indifferent American response, the referendum is water cooler gossip in Norway, and many of the people that I’ve talked to have been saying that Scotland should stay in the union. Everyone here is waiting to see what Scotland will decide and what the implications of the referendum will be.

Things at NTNU are much the same, and I’ve really been enjoying the classes that I help with. So much of what we talk about when it comes to writing reminds me of what I was told when writing my senior thesis. Overall it’s been nice to convey all of the great advice that I received to a new generation of students.

I have also started to empathize with my students. They are more or less required to send me a weekly sample of free writing and that’s what this blog has become for me. The one key difference is that while my students are encouraged to write simply for the sake of writing and not worry about “mistakes,” I make a point editing my posts, even ones that are weeks old. The curse of writing is that it can constantly be changed and improved. Writing is never finished.

Other notable news includes seeing the Northern Lights for a second time! There are apparently websites where you can look up the likelihood of seeing the Northern Lights and one of my friends follows one regularly. I on the other hand attempt to cheat the system by using an IFTTT recipe, but so far the recipe has been unsuccessful (if you have no idea what IFTTT is definitely spare a moment to go check it out). I did have my nice camera with me so I’m able to include pictures this time!

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There are two good things to know about the Northern Lights. The first is that they often last for quite a long time. When we saw them this weekend they lasted from about 10pm to 4am, although I headed for bed by around 12:30. The second thing to know is that the pictures definitely exaggerate what I actually saw. Long exposure times meant that my camera could capture colors that either weren’t visible to the naked eye or were much more muted in real life. Nevertheless is was a great experience and I look forward to seeing more of the Northern Lights in the winter.

Now for my title! I decided to join the NTNU sailing team! In reality this pretty much just meant taking a beginners class since the team itself is wrapping up for the season. I’ve always really enjoyed sailing and have gone out with my dad quite a few times. Since my dad is quite the experienced sailor, that has often meant that what I’ve learned about sailing has been fairly informal and pick it up as you go along.

The class was itself pretty simple. All I had to do was take a theory course and go out on the water twice. Unfortunately there wasn’t too much wind, but the flip side of this was that it allowed me to relax quite a bit and get to know the people I was sailing with. This also meant that my very tiny circle of Norwegian friends is expanding! While I enjoy living in international housing and getting to know people from all over the world, the trade-off is that it’s been much harder to meet and get to know Norwegians. I’m looking forward to getting out on water more and hopefully getting to learn more from my new Norwegian friends. We also got to see some very small whales on our first sail, so crossed fingers that I’ll get to see a few more!

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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!