Quirky Norwegian Things

I’ve had a number of draft posts sitting around that never quite seemed to make it onto my blog, but, as it’s time for me to start wrapping up my scribblings on Norway, I thought I’d give these drafts some body and talk about some of the quirky Norwegian things I’ve noticed here in list form.

  1. Overall, I would say that Americans tend to fall into the action based go-getter category. Norwegians on the other hand tend to be a bit more passive and like to avoid conflict. In my experience, this has led to a few interesting interactions. Sometimes my assertiveness can lead to things happening, while at other times it seems to cause people to shut down.
  2. Norwegians tend to be a bit anti-social. In fact, many of my students have said that when they go to the States they are considered rude. It’s not uncommon for people to avoid eye contact on public transportation, resist striking up conversations with strangers, and sometimes just go out of their way to avoid people. One Norwegian told me that she’s perfectly happy to hop into a nearby store if it means avoiding saying hi to someone.
  3. Norwegians have a large amount of respect for personal space. A bus in Trondheim is apparently considered crowded if you have to sit next to someone. In fact, it’s not uncommon for someone to stand on the bus in order to avoid sitting next to someone.
  4. Norwegians tend to avoid being very expressive unless drunk. This tends to lead to interesting situations, especially around drunken social events like julebord, or Christmas parties. One Fulbrighter mentioned getting a guide on how to deal with the aftermath of a drunken julebord party, including what to do in the event that you hit on your boss.
  5. Norwegians are shockingly law abiding and have a large amount of common sense. In the middle of winter, people would light streets with candles (since street lamps are somewhat uncommon), and as far as I could tell this harmed neither people nor candles–if this were to happen in the States I would predict fiery madness.
  6. If you ever go to dinner with Norwegians, you might hear the phrase “Norwegian elbows.” In Norway, there is no need to ask someone to pass a dish–just grab it!
  7. Taco Friday is a tradition in Norway, where the “Mexican” food in the supermarket is discounted on Fridays.
  8. Alcohol is expensive in Norway, so home brewing is pretty popular, as is raiding duty free whenever flying in from abroad, and buying alcohol in Sweden.
  9. Norwegians tend to have what I like to call the Norwegian sigh. They will do something that’s  somewhere between a sharp intake of breath and a sigh. If you encounter it, don’t worry it’s not an asthma attack, just a sign of agreement.
  10. Smoking! Most Europeans seem to smoke like chimneys, but this is generally not the case in Norway. Snus, powdered and packaged tobacco, is preferred. That’s not to say that smoking doesn’t happen in Norway, it’s just that it’s not very common. This makes sense considering how cold it is for most of the year. In fact, on Svalbard the smokers apparently have a smoking bus, an old bus where people go to smoke since no one wants to smoke in negative degree weather.
  11. Once winter starts to approach, Norwegians become obsessed with candles. Lighting candles is important to create a sort of cozy feeling, referred to as koselig, and I would also argue that it actually helps you get through the winter months.
  12. In Norway there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing
  13. Tanning salons are incredibly popular here
  14. Cod liver oil is considered nothing short of the fountain of youth. It’s a medical cure all.
  15. Norwegian roads seem to be constantly undergoing construction. While I found this a bit silly in August, when perfectly good roads seemed to be constantly being repaved, this now makes much more sense in June, when a number of the roads have pretty significant potholes in them from winter.
  16. Although there are debates as to how fit Norwegians are, on the surface Norwegians seem to be incredibly active. People LOVE cross country skiing in winter and constantly seem to be moving year round. I kid you not, I once saw an elderly man on his bike going faster than the bus that I was riding on (and no the buses here aren’t slow).
  17. Many people dress and style themselves similarly. Most of my students seem to have the same closets (granted there isn’t as much diversity in clothing as there is in the States), and they all seem to have the same two or three hairstyles.
  18. Sunday is the day when everything shuts down. It’s a day set aside so that people can spend time bonding with their families, with the most popular bonding activities being hiking and skiing.

These are just a few of the things that I’ve noticed, but if you’d like to learn a bit more about Norwegian culture, I’d recommend The Social Guidebook to Norway, a book that I recently discovered filled with fun and accurate comics on life in Norway.

Stavanger Area Wrap Up

Although I didn’t spend a large amount of time in Stavanger itself, I really loved what I saw and also really enjoyed the nearby area. Here are my tips:

  1. If you want to look around the nearby area (which you should) I would highly recommend getting a car and driving around. I would particularly recommend driving the two nearby national tourist routes, Ryfylke and Jæren.
  2. Ryfylke
    1. Definitely make a trip to Pulpit Rock, though be aware that it’ll be a hike to get there and that it’s mountainous. Go early in the morning to avoid crowds and check with the local tourist office to make sure that it’s open. The other famous rock formation in this area is Kjerag, which Abby and I didn’t make it to since it was still buried in snow even at the end of May.
    2. Pay a quick stop to Sandsfossen and Høsebrua to admire the waterfall and walk over the bridge.
    3. Definitely stop by Svandalsfossen waterfall. It’s incredible. Be sure to bring a waterproof jacket though.
  3. Jæren
    1. If you have the time, continue past Ogna towards Egersund, since the surrounding scenery is gorgeous.
    2. Check out the quaint church at Varhaug old cemetery.
  4. Stavanger is pretty small and easy to walk around so I would recommend doing that. It’s vibrant colors and street art also set it apart from most Norwegian towns.
  5. Check out the Norwegian Petroleum Museum to learn more about Norway’s relationship with oil. Also stop by the next door playground and see how they’re repurposed old shipping parts.

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.

Ryfylke, Pulpit Rock, and More

Norway is a beautiful country. No matter where I go, I’m always amazed by the scenery. But, there are of course some things that are more beautiful than others. That is why the Norwegian government, in its infinite wisdom, created national tourist routes in Norway. Now you may remember me mentioning them when I was documenting my trip through the Lofoten Islands, but in case you forgot, they are supposed to be the most beautiful roads in Norway. They are also specially designed for tourists. They have many strategic turn outs to allow you to stop your car and take pictures, and many of the roads have notable landmarks and works of art scattered along the route. Now Stavanger happens to have two such roads, which is a large part of the reason why Abby and I decided to rent a car.

Today we decided to dedicate ourselves to driving Ryfylke, the more well known of the two roads. Now we weren’t able to find a good map of the road online, or at least not one that didn’t look vaguely like a cartoon, but after combing through the Internet and the Apple App Store, I was finally able to find a more useful app. So, if you happen to be driving Ryfylke and want to know where all of its landmarks are, I would recommend downloading Ryfylke MultiGuide.

Our first destination of the day was Preikestolen, or Pulpit Rock. Pulpit Rock is probably Norway’s most famous natural landmark, and thus has a lot of facilities catering to the large number of tourists who go there. Because Preikestolen can get crowded, Abby and I decided to go early in the morning (it turns out teaching 8 am classes is useful in helping you get up early). Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t really on our side for most of the drive over, BUT just as we were debating coming back later in the day, the skies slowly started to clear and we decided to go ahead and hike the trail.

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Now unlike the United States, where you can usually just park your car next to your chosen major landmark, Norway makes you work for your pictures. So after Abby and I parked the car, we loaded up our hiking backpacks and started out on the 3 km (1.8 mi) trail. The terrain was hilly, but overall it was very well marked (maybe even too well marked–just about every rock along the way had a red T painted on it) and very well maintained. Although we were slowed down by crowds and my constant picture taking, we eventually made it to Preikestolen without too much of a hassle. It was well worth the trip. It was also terrifying.

IMG_2632  IMG_2635  IMG_2640IMG_2673  IMG_2694  IMG_2676IMG_2707  IMG_2727  IMG_2749Now I happen to have a fear of heights. It’s not debilitating by any means, but I would say that my fear is greater than that of your average person. So while I was thrilled to finally make it to Preikestolen, I was also absolutely terrified of its sheer rock faces. If you fell off of Preikestolen, I have no doubt that you would die. But, I figured that this was also a great time to try and conquer my fear. Trial by fire. That didn’t really happen. I was definitely less scared of the edge by the end of our trip, but I think it’s safe to say that my fear isn’t going away any time soon. That being said, I still did venture to sit on the edge. I owe Abby a debt of gratitude for putting up with my nervousness and shouted expletives.

IMG_2733  IMG_2732  IMG_2751IMG_2753  IMG_2755  IMG_2759IMG_3809  IMG_3805  IMG_3810After a quick hike back down to the car, we hit the road again. Before too long we were in Solbakk and searching for our second landmark, a set of prehistoric carvings. Unfortunately they were a bit difficult to find. We also ran into trouble when we misread a parking sign, thinking that it was telling us that parking was straight ahead, as opposed to right underneath the sign. But we managed to figure things out eventually.

The carvings were found in 1923 and date back to around 500 B.C. The petroglyphs depict two different types of ships and sun figures–telling us that Bronze Age people had sailing technology and that they possibly worshipped a sun god. After stopping for a few quick pictures, Abby and I hopped back in the car and continued driving. Our next stop was Svandalsfossen waterfall, but because it was located towards the end of the road, we simply spent the next few hours chatting and admiring the passing scenery.

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But before we could get to Svandalsfossen, we actually stopped by another sight first. Intrigued by a large plastic salmon figure next to a road sign, we decided to aggravate our GPS system and change course. We ended up stopping by Sandsfossen and Høsebrua bridge. Sandsfossen is a waterfall along one of Norway’s most well known salmon rivers, Suldalslågen. There is a salmon studio at the falls, but unfortunately it wasn’t open yet for the season. Apparently the salmon are particularly large here and a 10 kg (22 lb) salmon is not unusual, with some fishermen catching some that weigh around 20 kg (44 lb). The local record is a 21.5 kg (47 lb) salmon.

After stopping to admire the waterfall, we stopped by Høsebrua bridge, a short bridge built in 2013 that spans the river.

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From there we kept driving until we entered the small town of Sand. One of my co-teachers later informed me that this town is near the mountain that she famously fell off of (the story does have a happy ending since she ended up marrying the medical intern who was looking after her). It was also here where we were utterly confused by the ferry. Because we didn’t see a clear way to board the ferry, we simply parked our car in front of the ferry barrier and waited for the ferry to arrive. After much failed hand waving on the part of the captain, we were finally told that we couldn’t park in front of the barrier since we were cutting the line. Only after the captain came down to talk to us, did we realize that about a block away the road divides into a separate ferry lane. So Abby and I, as well as another tourist car, backtracked and got in line behind about five other cars. Luckily, our other ferry goers seemed more bemused by our confusion than annoyed at our inadvertent attempt to cut the line.

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Once we crossed the fjord to Ropeid, we continued to our last stop, Svandalsfossen fall. Svandalsfossen has to be one of the biggest and most powerful waterfalls that I’ve ever seen. The waterfall is next to the road, and due to the heavy rains we’d been having, the spray was so strong that driving past it was similar to driving through a car wash–and we weren’t even passing the largest part of the waterfall! Luckily the surrounding area is designed for tourists, so it was easy to park the car, walk around, and climb up a series of stairs in order to explore the waterfall. The waterfall has a 180 meter (590 foot) fall, and the waterfall used to power a sawmill. Nowadays, the waterfall is unregulated, but it’s still quite a force of nature. The first few pictures of the waterfall were taken at shutter speeds of 1/8,000 and 1/5,000 of a second, yet you can still see that the water moves too quickly for the camera to fully stop the action.

IMG_2987  IMG_2995  IMG_2997IMG_3009  IMG_3004  IMG_3030IMG_3040  IMG_3031  IMG_3060IMG_3053  IMG_3068  IMG_3066 Abby and I got as close as we dared, and while that wasn’t particularly close, we still ended our visit looking like we had just gone for a swim. Thankfully some genius invented both car heaters and heated seats, so we weren’t cold for too long. From there we took a longer route to head back to Sandnes via Stavanger. All in all we ended up driving in a loop, and although we were exhausted by the time we got back some time around midnight, it was definitely one of the best days that I’ve had here in Norway.

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Vitamin D, Where Did You Go?

My family likes to give me suggestions for things to write about, and I was reminded repeatedly that I have not talked about the weather since I wrote Winter is Coming back in October. So here’s a bit more information on what winter in Trondheim is like.

We’ve actually had a fairly mild winter. Temperatures haven’t been that bad and tend to range between -4 and 4°C (24.8 – 39.2°F). So far the lowest temperature that we’ve gotten was -16.7°C (1.94°F) on Christmas. Lucky for me, I spent Christmas in the relatively tropical Vienna.

I would also say that winter has come in stages. We started out with a lot of frost and then transitioned into ice. We only got our first snowfall in late November just before Thanksgiving. The little snow that we have gotten hasn’t stayed around for very long, which means that the Norwegians are particularly sad since it limits their ability to cross country ski. Personally, I’ve never been the biggest fan of snow unless I’m alpine skiing, but I’ve come to embrace it more in Norway. This is for one reason: ice.

Ice is everywhere on the streets. Having lived in Boston for four years I’m accustomed to seeing people salting the roads as soon as snow is forecasted. In Norway, they more or less refuse to salt the roads. I’ve mainly been told that this is for environmental reasons. The Norwegian solution (if you live outside of Oslo and don’t have heated streets)? Gravel. Gravel is almost completely ineffective. The one use case where I’ve noticed gravel working is when there is so much gravel on the ice that there is essentially a new road on top of the ice. But that rarely happens since they do not gravel the streets regularly. To make matters worse, when it gets colder the gravel freezes and becomes trapped in a new layer of ice, thus becoming more useless (you can kind of see this in the picture between the two shoe pictures). To give you an idea of how icy it is, some areas have become ice skating rinks, not because they were actually planned, but simply because there is enough space and enough ice to make it work.

The only real relief happens when it snows. The snow at least gives you some traction on the ice and makes it much less slippery to get around. But you’re probably wondering what the solution is when there isn’t any snow. Well if you’re Norwegian the solution is to do nothing. I kid you not I see people running on the street (and when I say street I should really say poorly done ice skating rink that resembles a street) with regular footwear. Me, the other international students, and the elderly rely on walking incredibly slowly and on traction cleats. These cleats tend to have spikes on them to help your shoes grip the ice more firmly. They aren’t the best solution, but they are definitely better than nothing.

I realize that some of the pictures below may seem pretty, but the white stuff on the roads is almost entirely ice. In some places it’s as thick as about 20 cm (8 in).

IMG_1945  IMG_1949  IMG_1950IMG_2304  IMG_1954  IMG_2305IMG_2615  IMG_2322  IMG_2617Although adjusting to the ice has been difficult, I would actually say that the most difficult aspect of Norwegian winters is the lack of sunshine. Our shortest day of the year was December 22. Sunrise was at 10:02 am and sunset was at 2:32 pm. That means on some days I would go to school to teach an 8 am class and leave school before sunrise. It’s a little disorienting to finish work before the sun is even up. But as with most things, the lack of daylight has a silver lining. I have seen some gorgeous sunrises and have really come to appreciate the sun. Not to mention, I could be farther North. At least I have the sun.

These days the daylight is coming back at a rate of about 6 minutes per day, so it won’t be long before things fully transition from polar night to midnight sun. But until then, I shall continue to pop vitamin D pills and to wear my traction cleats.

Driving in a Winter Wonderland

The next morning started with us experiencing some of Bergen’s infamous rain. Because we had been repeatedly warned about Bergen’s weather, the three of us had packed umbrellas that managed to protect us from the worst of it.

Before the trip started, the three of us had agreed to rent a car for two days. Thankfully Chris knows how to drive in snow. Alix and I are both from California, so the extent of our knowledge when it comes to driving in winter conditions is minimal. In fact, it pretty much consists of what we researched on a maine.gov website when we were trying to figure out how to drive on black ice in the Lofotens.

So, once we sorted things out with the rental car company we left Bergen behind. Alix and I both wanted to see stave churches so I thought we should drive up to the Borgund Stave Church and visit some of the stave churches in Vik if we had time. However, we soon ran into our first logistical difficulty: snow. It hadn’t occurred to any of us just how much snow would be beyond Bergen. Bergen has a pretty mild climate, but as soon as you cross the mountains you enter a completely different world. Snow was absolutely everywhere. For safety reasons, we didn’t drive particularly fast, and to Chris’s credit he did a great job driving. To give you an idea of how treacherous the roads were, we saw one car that had slid off the road and a big rig that overturned. In fact, there was so much snow that the big rig couldn’t even lay on the ground properly. It had slid partially off the road and was at about a 30 degree angle propped up by a snow drift.

IMG_6228  IMG_6246  IMG_6241IMG_6250  IMG_6278  IMG_6286IMG_6292  IMG_6295  IMG_6312Because the Borgund church was just over a three hour drive from Bergen I initially intended for us to make a pitstop at the Stalheim Hotel. The Stalheim has a fantastic view, as you can see from the Google Images picture below.

Naerodalen-Hardanger

Unfortunately, the snow was making it look like the hotel might be the only destination that we would be able to make it to before dark. When we were on about hour three, Alix asked if I could look up the opening hours for the churches and for the hotel. This was where I encountered my second logistical error. All of these things closed around August/September. Turns out most attractions in the wider Bergen area close after the summer holiday season. Whoops.

Thankfully Alix and Chris weren’t too upset about this. Even though we never made it to the churches or the hotel (the driveway was completely blocked with snow) we all enjoyed the beautiful scenery that we saw along the way.