November: Outdoor kindergarten, Thanksgiving & more snow

November started out being a pretty slow month. We were wrapping up with classes and were busy working on our final paper. The past week, things have been picking up, and it’s been a lot of fun. I’m leaving really soon. I only have 22 days left here in Norway, and I want to enjoy the time I have left here.

Last Tuesday, we had the opportunity to visit an outdoor kindergarten. It is a preschool where the kids are outside 4/5 days of the week no matter the weather. Lately, it’s been cold (it’s currently 21 degrees.)  Last week wasn’t much different from now, just less snow. So, we took the bus to a harbor and got a little boat to visit some little kids playing outside. It was so cold. I’ve never complained about this kind of weather before, but that’s because I’ve never had to stay outside in it. The little kids didn’t even seem notice it. When we got there, they were all eating noodles. They were all bundled up and didn’t mind the cold one bit; they were having fun.  All of us weren’t so used to staying out in the cold though and ended up sitting inside a tent with a fire and then just ended up staying inside after we had a little walk around the island.  It was a great experience, though. I could never imagine people back in the States sending their kids outside all day in the cold.

Last week was also Thanksgiving. At first, I was really disappointed I was going to be missing this, but it ended up being really great. My mom sent me a few Thanksgiving essentials from home (cranberry sauce, stuffing, cream of mushroom for green bean casserole,) and I got the rest here. I ended up cooking turkey (a two pound turkey breast,) Stove Top stuffing, green bean casserole, and sweet potatoes. I invited a few friends over (from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland) who obviously don’t have Thanksgiving, so I had a lot of fun sharing it with them. They had never had stuffing, green bean casserole, or sweet potatoes. Also, thanks to the 7 hour time difference, we were able to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade while we ate. Also, now that I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving, I really feel like it’s Christmas season now, which happens to be my favorite time of the year.

Also, it snowed more today! I woke up this morning, and everything was white. Now that all the little wooden buildings are covered in snow, it really looks like a Christmas village here in Kristiansand, and I love it. Yes, it’s cold, and yes, it’s a bit windy, but that’s winter. Unfortunately, I’m not able to ride my bike in the snow, but since I didn’t ride my bike to school today, I was able to take some pretty nice pictures on the way there and back.

I have my big oral exam on Wednesday, and then I’m officially done for the semester.  Next week, I go up north to Tromsø, 217 miles inside the Arctic Circle. On the 14th (I think) I will go home with my roommate, Stine, who lives about 20 minutes outside of Oslo. I’m going to celebrate my birthday with her in Oslo by going to the Christmas markets, which I’m really looking forward to doing. Basically, I’ve had a great time here, and I still have some adventures planned.

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End of October, beginning of November: Halloween & Snow

So, I just finished up the Oslo entry, so I can move on to some more recent things. As I sit here and type this, it’s snowing outside, and I’m listening to Christmas music. It’s pretty great. I walked around and took some nice pictures.

A little over a week ago, it was Halloween. I was pretty bummed out that I was missing Halloween in the US- no one really celebrates it like we do. I ended up having one of the best Halloweens I’ve had. A bunch of us decided to be zombies, so we hit up the secondhand store in the city center and found some old clothes we could dirty up. I tried on my shirt just in case, and it totally made me look pregnant. Then someone said, “You should be a pregnant zombie!” And from there, the greatest Halloween costume was born. We found a Santa doll that could pass as a creepy baby. I decided it should be popping out of my pregnant belly. We all got zomibed up and headed to the Halloween party at the bar on campus. It was a great night.

I’m going to throw in a few random pictures from October (I think) that I’ve gotten from other people off Facebook. They’re not very relevant to anything that’s been going on recently, but I like them.

So, as for my remaining 44 days or so, I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do exactly. Five of us are flying up to Tromsø, a city in northern Norway, located 217 miles in the Arctic Circle, December 7-10. I’m really hoping to the see the Northern lights. Also, it will be 24 hours of darkness when we’re there, so it should be interesting.

October: Oslo

Apparently I’ve been neglecting my blog. Well, here it goes.

October was a good month. The second to last weekend (23rd-25th,) we had the opportunity to go to Oslo, so I definitely went. I’m just going to briefly go through everything; I think going through my pictures and reading the captions is a much better way to tell about my trip.

Our bus left around 10:15 Friday morning, and since it was a five hour journey, I decided to sleep. I passed out right away, and when I woke up, there was a bunch of snow. I love snow. There was also a bit of snow in Oslo when we got there. We got checked into the hostel and then went back into the city. We saw the opera house, which was really, really cool. I’m not the biggest fan of modern buildings, but this one was great. You can walk up the side and up onto the roof, and it has a pretty nice view of the sea and the city. It was dark after that, so we had a quick evening tour of the city. We saw the city hall, national theater, royal palace/castle, and the Nobel Peace Prize center. Dinner was the best part- pizza buffet (but no free refills on drinks, unfortunately. I miss that about America.)

We started Saturday by going to the Fram Arctic Museum and the Kon-Tiki Museum. I wasn’t really looking forward to either, but I loved them both. The Fram museum was great- it houses the Fram, an old ship used for Arctic adventures from the late 1800s and early 1900s. The ship has been to both the North and South Poles. There we learned about Norwegians who traveled to the poles and all the cool adventures they went on. Another cool thing about the museum: you can go on the Fram and inside it. Inside the ship, there are a lot of artifacts from the era, some used by Fridtjof Nansen, a super famous Norwegian guy who went on adventures and did a lot of other things that I can’t remember. Then, at the Kon-Tiki Museum, we learned about another crazy Norwegian who decided to live on a Pacific island for a year or so with his wife but then moved back to Norway. Then he decided to built an raft and sail from South America to Polynesia, and he successfully did it. There’s a lot more to the story, and it’s really more interesting than I’m making it sound. He also built more rafts and sailed around different parts of the world, and his grandson does the same today. The museum has one of the original boats he made and some other cool things, including Easter Island heads. It felt so weird to be in a Polynesian themed museum in Norway. We had a free afternoon, so some of us spent it walking around Oslo and shopping. And of course, we checked out the Oslo night scene later.

On Sunday, we got up to visit Vigeland Sculpture Park, which is apparently the biggest sculpture garden created by one artist. This Norwegian guy decided to dedicate his whole life to sculpting naked people in awkward positions, and he didn’t do a bad job. It’s pretty cool to walk through the garden and see all the different statues. I think the highlight was the dog park- dogs are allowed to run off their leashes. A few of us decided to go watch the doggies because we are all dog lovers. It made my day, I think. We hung around the city a bit in the afternoon and then headed back to Kristiansand.

All in all, I really liked Oslo. For some reason, Norwegians don’t like it. They say it’s an ugly city, and it’s really not. It has some cool museums and is full of modern sculptures and some pretty buildings. We also had great weather: sunshine and cold, about 24 degrees or so at night and definitely not above freezing during the day.

Germany & France

I successfully made it to Bremen, Hamburg, Berlin and Paris and back alive despite travel warnings! So, here’s the run down of the trip, which was great.

Sunday morning, I got up early to walk to the train station. It was raining. Really raining. So I got the the train station (after a 45 minute walk) and dried off in the bathroom with the hand dryer. I hopped on the train, had a quick stop in Drammen, got to Oslo Torp, and got on the plane to Bremen. I got into Bremen around 8:30 PM and took a cab to my hotel, which was pretty sweet. I was starving (I didn’t eat in Norway because I knew it’d be cheaper once I got o Germany,) so I asked the hotel desk guy where I could find food. He said, “You’ll find lots of food at the train station,” which was not even a five minute walk. The first thing I ate in Germany was a bratwurst. It was awesome… and cheap. I was still hungry (or I just felt like I could spend more money because it was so much cheaper than Norway,) so I had döner kebab… in burrito form. I’m pretty sure it was specifically called rollo döner, but whatever. I think I tasted heaven that night. After the guy had all the stuff inside (lamb, cabbage, spices, sauces,) he put it inside to warm up… so the soft shell that it was in was all warm and crispy. I got back to the hotel, laid in bed and watched some BBC (it was the only English channel – and I hadn’t watched TV in about two months.) I also watched the Dark Knight in German… not as bad as you would think.

I got up early Monday and hopped on the train to Hamburg to meet Alex. After looking for each other for about 45 minutes, we had some breakfast (which was really lunch because it was about noon by then.) I had schnitzel, and it was really good. Then we walked around Hamburg for a bit and met up with one of Alex’s friends who was pretty much my tour guide. He did an awesome job. We went to the top of an old church and had a great view of the city. We went to a bar later that night- four Euro cocktails! That’s pretty much a bargain.

Tuesday, we got up super early (I think I was up at 6:30) to catch the train to Berlin. The first thing I saw once we got out of the train station was a mini-Statue of Liberty dressed up in a blue and white (Oktoberfest colors) robe thing. It made me happy. We started walking around the city and ended up in a park where were randomly found a statue with three composers on it. The statue was really banged up from WWII- it had bullet holes and scratches on it. Randomly finding something like that was really cool. We found Brandenburg Gate, the old gate to enter Berlin, which was also used a symbol for the Nazis and served as a checkpoint between East and West Berlin. From there, we got a city map and sat down for breakfast and planned out the day. We saw a lot of cool old buildings and pieces of the Berlin Wall (I got my passport stamped for East Berlin, kinda cool… very touristy.) Then along a stretch of the Berlin Wall is the Topography of Terror museum. The museum stands where the headquarters of the Gestapo and SS was. It has a huge time line out front of Nazi history and inside even has more detail. It was so interesting, and everyone was dead quiet as they stood there and read and looked at pictures. From there, we went to Checkpoint Charlie and then to Olympic Stadium where the 1936 Olympics were held. It was weird thinking Hitler was there and the stadium was once filled with Nazis. The best part was, though, that we saw pictures of the Olympic Stadium at the Topography of Terror… and then we went there. After that, we walked around Berlin a bit more and saw a church that was bombed during WWII that they left standing as a reminder of war. It was so weird to see a bombed out church with a collapsed steeple standing in the middle of the city where people were shopping. We found a place to have supper, and I had currywurst- sausage with sauce and curry on top. Sooo delicious. It was dark after that, so we walked around the city some more. The Victory Column was covered up unfortunately, but we walked up the Straße des 17. Juni (17th of June Street,) which runs back up to Brandenburg Gate. It’s totally straight, and it’s where Nazi parades were held. It was a good way to end the day.

We slept in on Wednesday and had a late breakfast at a cafe right down the street. I got to see the “alternative” side of Hamburg, which was great. We went to the Reeperbahn, where the party is at night. It’s also filled with sex shops and has a red light district where only men are allowed. The Beatles also hung out here back in the day. I liked it a lot. We went to another area of Hamburg where college students hung out, then I packed up, said goodbye, and hopped on the night train to Paris.

I actually slept really, really well on the train and only woke up once in the night because the train randomly stopped. I woke up in the morning at 8:30, and my train was supposed to arrive at 9:20, so I had some time to wake up and get my things together. Aside from the lady who kept trying to speak to me in French (even though I asked her in French if she spoke English-then told her I’m sorry in English,) the train ride went really well. I met Michael at the train station, Gare de l’Est (East station) and got a crash course in using the Metro. We headed back to his host family’s apartment so I could drop off my bag. Michael then had class, so he dumped me off in a random park close to where his classes are, which was nice. I walked around the area a bit and got a really good donut, which was filled with caramel. I also watched some people play bocce ball. Michael came back for me, and we went to Notre Dame. It wasn’t as big as I thought it would be- it’s really tall, but definitely not as wide as I thought. It was so neat, though, and going inside was really cool. All I could think about was the Disney Hunchback of Notre Dame movie (in a good way.) Then we walked to the Louvre, sat on the steps out front, and drank a beer. It was a great way to relax and enjoy the city. We then walked through the gardens out in front of the Louvre and then caught the Metro back “home” for dinner with his host family (an old couple- the husband spoke broken English and his wife spoke no English, so it was interesting.) After dinner, we got on the Metro to go to to Sacré-Cœur, an old church on top of pretty much the only hill in Paris. I almost lost Michael- he hopped on the Metro without me, and I was phoneless… but we found each other at the next stop, and it was all good. When we got there, we had a really nice view of the city at night and saw the Eiffel Tower and lit up and pretty. On the way back, we stopped off so I could see the Moulin Rouge. It was all lit up, and even though it really has no connection to the movie Moulin Rouge, it was awesome.

On Friday, Michael had no class, and one of his friends who is also studying abroad this semester was coming in to visit for the weekend. So, we got up kind of early to meet him at the same train station I came into. We were early, so we walked around the area a bit and found an old church, the Church of Saint-Laurent. It’s super old and built on an old Roman road, which I think is awesome. We headed back to the train station, met his friend, then headed back to the apartment so he could drop some stuff off. From there, we headed to a car show. I don’t know how I ended up going to a car show (new, fancy, nice cars) in Paris, but it wasn’t so bad. The highlight was definitely a giant ice cube in the Audi section because it was so dang hot in all the buildings. After that, we went to the Eiffel Tower (where my camera battery died) and walked up to the second balcony/walking area of it, which was about 43 flights of stairs. We had a great view of the city (and the sun was setting-so it was pretty much perfect.) We headed back to the apartment quick to get some stuff together (and I got to charge my camera quick) and then went out to dinner. I tried foie gras (fatty liver), and it was really good. I would describe the flavor as… caramely. Then we hung out with some of Michael’s friends and walked back to the apartment.

Michael was busy Saturday morning, so I had to venture to Charles de Gaulle alone. I said goodbye to his host family who said I was welcome back anytime, and they gave me a jar of homemade mirabelle (kind of like a yellow plum) jelly. Even though he left me really, really good directions, the way I was supposed to go was closed for some reason. So, I had to figure out the Metro myself and find the quickest route to the airport. It all turned out good- I only had to ask for help once, and I never got lost. I got to the airport at the perfect time and had a long journey back to Kristiansand (Paris – Stockholm – Copenhagen – Kristiansand.) There is something worth mentioning about the journey back, though. I got an open face sandwich in Stockholm, and being an American, I ate it with my hands because it’s a sandwich. One of the guys working in the airport saw me doing that, and in English he said “We have forks and knives” and laughed at me. I got up to grab them, but he had already gotten them for me. It kind of made my day.

My week long adventure was definitely great. I saw so much, and I was really surprised by Paris. Back home, I’d heard a lot of negative things about Paris- it smells bad, the people are rude, it’s dirty, etc. I didn’t think it was smelly at all, everyone was really nice whenever I made an effort to speak French, and it was beautiful. I can’t wait to go back. I’d also love to go to Berlin again and be there longer than a day.

A bit of Kristiansand + Traveling

This past week was pretty average. I had class about every day and did some group work, so nothing special there. One of the best parts of the week was going to the country store just outside of the city. One of the Norwegian girls who visited Omaha this summer took me, and yeah, it was country. It’s advertised a country music store (and they have plenty of it-so many old country music CDs,) but they also have western gear, including cowboy hats, boots, and belt buckles. They even had Confederate flags, which I thought was pretty funny. Another highlight of the week was having my roommate cook some Norwegian food for me. She made homemade meatballs with boiled potatoes and gravy. Very Norwegian and very good. I also got two packages in the mail this week, which was great. I got a bunch of candy from my mom and my grandma and some Halloween/fall stuff because it’s that time of the year.

Tomorrow morning, I leave for my week long trip. I have to catch a train to Oslo Torp Airport at 9:10 in the morning, and then I head to Bremen, Germany, later that night. Monday morning, I take a train to Hamburg. On Tuesday, my friend and I are taking a day trip to Berlin. Wednesday night, I’m taking a night train to Paris, where I’ll arrive Thursday morning and be until Saturday, when I get back to Kristiansand. It should definitely be a great week.

September part 2/2: Trip to Setesdal

Last week, we went on our fourth and final NORSEC excursion. On Wednesday the 22nd, we left for the mountains. We followed the Otra River on the way up and first stopped to look at a paper mill and how it has affected the area. After that, we headed to Øvrebø church. It’s a typical Norwegian church built in the 1800s, but some of the things inside were from the Catholic church that stood there before Protestant Reformation in the 1600s. We got to walk around the graveyard for a bit and look at the graves, and some of them were pretty old. After that, we stopped for lunch on the side of the road. The best part of lunch was we picked up two Germans who were walking from Kristiansand to Stavanger (a three hour bus ride) and gave them a ride part of the way. I didn’t really know what was going on with them though because I don’t exactly speak German. From there, we went to a museum, which was a combination of rocks and farm stuff. It’s funny to see all the old farm tools because it’s a lot like Iowa was 150 years ago or so. After that, we stopped at a waterfall where Nils, one of our professors, stood up on a tree stump and told us an old Norwegian folk tale from the area that supposedly took place at the waterfall where we were. He has a really deep voice and is great at telling stories. We got back on the bus and went to the Setesdal Museum, where we learned more about the area we were in. We got to see old, typical folk costumes of the area, which was pretty neat because people were still wearing these clothes everyday in the 1960s. We then arrived at Bjørnevannshytta, our accommodation for the night, which was pretty much a big cabin with no running water or electricity (except for a stove.) The place is a destination for hikers- they can stay there for one night for free and then move on. Some of the students helped with dinner and some of us cleaned up, and then we just hung out in the cabin for the night because it was  bit rainy. Our professors played guitar and sang, so we all joined in. Also, we were responsible for making fires to heat up our rooms. In about half an hour, four of us managed to get the fire going in our bedroom.

The next day, some of the students helped make breakfast before we headed out. Our first stop of the morning was at the Rygnestad outdoor museum, which dates back to the 1500s. The old wooden buildings have been there since the Middle Ages, so it was pretty cool. It was used as a farmstead for hundreds of years, and people lived there until the early 1900s. Now there are a bunch of sheep (with bells around their necks) everywhere. There was also an old watchtower which we got to go up into. Inside, it had weapons and paintings dating back to the Middle Ages. After that, we had a short (but steep) twenty minute hike on an old mountain path. After our hike, we went to Bykle Church, which was built in 1619. The inside is completely painted, and the paintings are completely original and have never been painted over. The ceiling is even painted. The church is only used once a year for mass, but people still get married in it. We then had our typical roadside lunch break and then stopped at the biggest rockfill dam in Europe. The dam was all right- it was no Hoover Dam- but the view was great. After the dam, we arrived at our cabin/hostel in Hovden where we hung out for the night. I had my best meal since I’ve been in Norway there. We had lamb and fennel soup, ham, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, gravy, and Norwegian pancakes with jam for dessert.

We got up early for breakfast, made our sandwiches for lunch, and then headed to the forest to hike up a mountain (a small one) called Galten (1202 meters). I’m really not used to hiking, so going up was a bit rough, but it was worth it. The view was so great, and we were above the clouds. After the hike, we stopped at a museum where they told us about how people have been making iron in the area for over 1000 years- ever since the Vikings had been there. We then stopped at a hydroelectric power plant. The best part of that was we got to wear cool helmets.

Overall, the Setesdal trip was great. I love being up in the mountains, and I’m really going to miss that once I get back home. Also, now that the NORSEC trips are over, it’s up to me to see more of Norway, which I definitely plan to do.

September part 1/2: Kristiansand

I really, really lost track of time. So, September’s been good so far. I’ve been hanging around Kristiansand and going to class. Monday the 13th – Friday the 17th I had my first “school experience” where I was in a sixth grade class (fifth grade in the US) which was pretty cool. It’s really interesting to see how schools in other countries are. The teacher, Jan Erik, was really cool. He was very, very laid back and did the whole teacher-friend thing perfectly. He has been with the same class from fourth grade and will be with them one more year after this. Also, the kids in the class were too cute. They are all just learning English, so our conversations were pretty limited. They were all just amazed that we were from so far away- two other NORSEC people were with me, one from Germany and one from South Africa.

The school experience was probably the most productive thing I’ve done. I’ve been going to class and blah blah blah, but I’ve really gotten the hang of getting around the city. I have no problems going downtown alone, and it’s pretty easy to get around. I’ve found out there are a lot of nice places to walk around. There’s a place called Baneheia up above the city center. It’s so beautiful, and since everything is closed on Sundays, it’s a pretty great place for a Sunday walk. Also, last weekend, we had a bonfire up there and made roasted marshmallows and smores. The best part was the only people who had ever had smores or even heard of them were us Americans. Everyone else had no idea what they were and kind of thought the idea of brown marshmallows was gross. They ended up loving roasted marshmallows. Also, the week of the school experience, we had a ferry trip to Denmark, which was pretty much a booze cruise. On the way to Denmark, we got to eat at the buffet on the ship, which had all you can drink beer and wine. The best part was there was lots and lots of food. Also, just about everyone bought alcohol from the duty free store on the ship because it’s much cheaper than buying it here in Norway.

One week from tomorrow (Sunday the 26th), I will be going to Germany and France for fall break. I’m flying into Bremen on Sunday the 3rd, staying the night, then taking the train to Hamburg to stay with Alex (he was an exchange student at my high school) for a few days and visit Berlin. Wednesday night, I’m going to take a night train to Paris to stay with Michael (we were both pages at the state capitol) for a few days. I’m really, really looking forward to seeing more of Europe.