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.

The House in the Woods

It’s been a while since I’ve gone on a cabin trip so I was excited to be invited on one this past weekend. Because TEDx Trondheim isn’t hosting any more events for 2014, the group decided that it’s be a good idea to get some bonding in and talk a bit about plans for 2015. The founder of TEDx Trondheim, Martin, happens to have a cabin in Gjevilvassdalen and graciously offered to let us spend the weekend there.

There were thirteen of us who were able to go on the cabin trip and Friday afternoon we all piled into two cars and headed to Gjevilvassdalen. Considering that my last cabin trip had an old fashioned wood burning stove, no electricity, no running water, and an outhouse, I was originally prepared to rough it. So I was a bit shocked when I was told to bring toiletries like shampoo with me on the trip. Yes, there was a shower at the cabin, there was running water, electricity, a refrigerator, and even a dishwasher. Even Martin admitted that it wasn’t a cabin in the woods–it was a house.

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We spent that first evening more or less relaxing and playing games. After dinner we played a get to know you game where we all wrote down a fact about ourselves, shuffled the facts around, and then voted on who we thought each fact belonged to. Shockingly enough, most people believed I had dreamed of being a professional athlete. I dislike most forms of physical activity but I guess I come across as athletic. The other fact people thought belonged to me involved playing bongo drums for a band that makes stoner rock music. I guess I shouldn’t have talked about Venice Beach earlier in the evening. In case you’re curious, the fact that I did submit was that I have ridden an elephant. Only one person out of the thirteen guessed that it was me so I felt pretty successful.

The next day was a day mostly dedicated to hiking. Martin has a five year old son and he told us that the path we were taking was one that even his son was capable of. So, with this extra bit of motivation we all set off. Within ten minutes of leaving the house we encountered reindeer! A whole herd of them calmly crossed the road in front of us. For our part, the only people who remained calm in our group were the Norwegians and the Swede. The rest of us were shutterbug happy.

IMG_5955  IMG_5961  IMG_5966Once we had finished taking pictures of the reindeer, we continued on our hike. The hike wasn’t too strenuous, but it was incredibly windy. Because of the weather we didn’t spend too much time at the top of the mountain, but the views we got at the peak made everything worthwhile.

IMG_5970  IMG_5979  IMG_6019After the hike, we warmed ourselves up in the house and started to discuss the organization of TEDx Trondheim. The objective of this was for the group to determine how TEDx Trondheim should be structured in the future. It was a long three hours, but by the end of it I think most people were satisfied. Or at least just happy to finally eat dinner.

We spent the rest of the night lounging around the cabin until Martin convinced most of us to play Cranium and Cards Against Humanity. I decided to sit out both games in favor of reading a book, but as the only native English speaker I was occasionally called upon to help with both games.

Our last day at the house was very relaxed. There happens to be a beach in Gjevilvassdalen so we took the cars and drove down to it. Considering that the weather wasn’t exactly what I would call warm, we spent most of our time just walking around the beach and exploring.

IMG_6052  IMG_6118  IMG_6145After that it was just a matter of heading back to the house, cleaning up, and then hitting the road. I would say that the trip was definitely a success and I came out with it with some nice memories and closer friendships.