I’m trying to jump right back into the blogging thing before I come up with lots of reasons as to why I shouldn’t do it. I’m on a roll. I wrote a post yesterday, I’m writing one today. God, there was that one month last year when I was blogging every day… madness.
In fact, I’m wondering whether or not the reason I’ve been so reluctant to blog recently is because I signed up to this ‘fun’ challenge called 31 Plays in 31 Days. That’s right, you read correctly, 31 Plays in 31 Days. So, I’ve actually been writing plays every day, or at least, three plays every few days. And, because I’m not particularly imaginative or creative, a hell of a lot of these plays have starred myself in situations which have happened during the day, or things that I’ve been thinking about during the day. So, I think what I’m trying to say is that instead of doing my travel blog writing thing, I’ve been recording everything in play format. Which is kind of funny and cool now that I think about it.
But, no, I’m not going to post those plays up for you to read. Some of them are ok. But others are quite, quite bad. Which is, of course, the point of doing 31 Plays in 31 Days – to just get you writing anything and not worrying so much about the quality of the things you’re churning out. Well, I guarantee that I am not worrying about quality. My main criteria is, ‘Are there characters? Are they saying things? Then, yes, its a play.’ A lot of the ‘plays’ aren’t so much ‘plays’ as words in some sort of assembled order on a page and formatted in a way that would suggest dialogue and stage directions. There’s a whole series involving me sitting on a mountain top and eating brown cheese with a troll and talking about Norway.
Which brings me to my next topic: Norway. After Sweden came Norway.
For those of you who don’t know, I spent a year in Norway after finishing high school. I was on ‘school exchange’, except that no Norwegian student went to Australia to ‘exchange’ with me and I didn’t actually do anything in school except annoy my friends and stare out the window and pick-up the occasional Norwegian word or two (I had, after all, already finished my school back home in Australia and didn’t need to do anything).
I went back to Norway in 2006 to visit a few friends, but I haven’t been back since. It seemed a bit silly, really, that whilst living in Ireland, I had been comparatively so close to Norway and yet I still hadn’t visited. So, it seemed even sillier that I would be booking a trip to Sweden and not take the opportunity to pop across to its lovely neighbour and visit. So, that’s what I did. I took another 6 days and went back to Norway to visit some friends.
This was all well and good until it got to Monday night in Stockholm and I had to leave my lovely Aussie friends and my lovely new international friends and get on the plane. I was swept with a feeling of unease and unhappiness. I was convinced Norway was going to be ‘difficult’. But, I’m used to this feeling these days. It seems to confront me before most ‘new’ things these days. Before conferences, holidays, visits with friends… you name it, if it takes me away from something comfortable and easy (like sitting on the couch and watching ‘Friends’ whilst eating yoghurt), no matter how good I think something is going to be, or how right its supposed to be, or how much I wanted to do this thing two months ago when I booked it, then I get this feeling of unease and reluctance.
I landed at Oslo Gardemoen, which apart from a selection of self check-in machines, looked exactly the same as it did the first time I flew in there in January 2002. It looked the same as it did when I’d spent the night there in January 2006 waiting for a flight to NY. I didn’t think that an airport building could bring up such emotions, but there I was, standing with my bags in the middle of Oslo Gardemoen trying to fight back tears. I went into the stores and stared at all the different Norwegian chocolates and lollies and chips; I stared at the newspapers, piecing together headlines, at the Norwegian advertisements, dragging long-forgotten Norwegian words out from the darkest reaches of my brain. I know its odd to comment on the smell of an airport… but Oslo Gardemoen has a very distinct fresh smell, I think it comes from the wood they’ve used in the building of it. The smell was fainter this time than the last time I remembered being there, but it was still there.
All of this was more than a little confusing and overwhelming. I’m not so great with all those conflicting emotions. Usually I just cry. Sometimes I laugh. Its like the emotions have got to get out somehow and before I know it my face is reacting in conflicting ways I have no control over and people are staring and going, ‘Why is that crazy lady standing in the middle of the airport with tears on her face and laughing hysterically at an airline advertisement?’
I don’t know what its like for other former exchange students, I don’t know if they feel this same level of emotion, nostalgia and confusion that I do when they go back to visit their former homes. I think its a mix of a lot of things, certainly nostalgia, a feeling of getting ‘so old’ and that it was ‘all so long ago’. But, I think also other things are mixed in there, not always good: I was very home sick in Norway for a while and I was also a little lonely because I was shy of making friends, of forcing people to speak English to me. Later on, even though I learnt Norwegian to an extent, I was never able to communicate as effectively in Norwegian as I was in English. Not surprising, but it does really affect your feeling of who you are and of the connections you make to people. I had a Spanish friend in Ireland who said that in Spanish she was ‘crazy’, but she couldn’t be in English, because she didn’t have the right language to express it. In Norway, I was constantly stuck in the present or the future. I could hardly talk about anything that had happened in the days or hours or minutes before because I hadn’t learnt the past tense of verbs. That’s very strange. That’s a strange feeling to only be able to talk about things that are going to happen or what you’re hoping will happen. It definitely limits your conversations. It often made me feel like a child, because I was really only able to express myself in the most basic ways.
Let me be clear, I’m not complaining by any stretch of the imagination. It was an incredible experience being in Norway and I met so many wonderful people. I was offered such incredible hospitality on all sides and the Norwegians have an enviably beautiful country and way of life. I did really feel at home by the end of the year. And that’s a strange feeling as well. To feel at home in a place, to create a life for yourself in a place that you know you will never end up living in again. Because, unless something amazingly crazy happens… like I marry a Norwegian, or… I get a job in the oil industry, its highly unlikely I will ever live there ever again. I’ll visit, sure, but I will never get to go back there again in the same way. And I do have this sense that I missed something whilst I was there. Maybe I would have felt that way no longer how long I stayed. Maybe it was because I never got my Norwegian to a level which I was happy and comfortable. I don’t know.
But, anyway, I think that one of the reasons Norway was such an incredible experience was because it was complicated. And, standing there at Oslo Gardemoen at 9pm, waiting for my train to Bergen all of those complex, intertwining feelings sneaked up on me and gave me a swift kick to the guts. But, I tried not to think about it and concentrated instead on writing my two plays, getting my train tickets (whilst refusing to use the English option on the train machine) and trying to figure out the free wi-fi in the airport.
I was on a late-night train to Bergen. The train journey from Oslo to Bergen is gorgeous, but I knew that I had to at least try to get some sleep on the trip. The thoughtful Norwegian train company had given us a free eye-mask, blanket and ear plugs. Despite this, my attempts to sleep were misguided at least. The one time I managed to get to sleep I had a horrible dream about hiking through the Norwegian hills and discovering a murdered old man on a rocky outcrop above me. I woke myself up quick smart from that dream and then regretted it, because of course I couldn’t get back to sleep.
I got into Bergen very early that Tuesday morning, not entirely certain what to do with myself. I was meeting up with friends later that evening, but they were all responsible adults with responsible jobs, so I wasn’t able to meet them during the day. I walked into town attempting to find a cafe where I could sit down and shelter from the unexpected rain (it was so sunny in Stockholm I had forgotten that rain was something that happened). Nothing was open. I ended up huddling in a shelter for the Bergen tourist train, which told me very sternly that it was only for customers of the tourist train, but considering the first tour wasn’t until 10am, I figured I was good for at least a few hours. I smeared peanut butter onto some bread with my finger and munched on it as I watched Bergen wake up through a haze of mist, rain and a lack of sleep. In hindsight, I realised there was not much point in rushing off from Stockholm and I probably could have taken a flight direct to Bergen, giving me the opportunity to have a proper night’s sleep in a bed and have attended the final party. I felt more than a little silly and very grumpy with myself, which was only heightened by the fact that I didn’t quite know what to do with myself and so had plenty of time to sit, stare at the rain and mentally kick myself for my poor travel choices. You’d think with the amount of travel I’ve done recently I would be able to organise myself better, but, no.
Anyway, I eventually put my luggage into some lockers at the train station (there are still some places that have luggage storage!!) and went for a wander around the city. It was quite lovely, but I was quite tired, so eventually I gave up, bought some food and headed to my hostel for the night. It was a fair way out of the city, but up high and with a lovely view, so I was pleased. Most of Bergen was booked out, so I had to take a single room instead of my usual dorm, but it was actually quite delightful. I had bought all my favourite Norwegian foods: brunost (brown cheese), blueberry jam and risgroet (a sort of warm rice pudding eaten with butter, sugar and cinnamon) and set about devouring them all in my hostel room. I ended up tired and bloated, but feeling mightily pleased with myself. See pictures:
After a quick hike up the mountain behind my hostel (unfortunately cut short by rain), I retired to bed early, so as to be ready for a full day in the morning.
I spent the next day hiking around the mountains behind Bergen. I had done this the last time I visited in January 2006, but I was looking forward to seeing it in Summer. The funny thing was that, apart from the temperature, it was almost exactly the same. Bergen is pretty mild, considering how northern it is and gets very little snow. It specialises in rain; a speciality it was showing off on this particular day. I eventually retired to a nearby cafe (Krok og Krankel – essentially ‘Nooks and Crannies’ – absolutely gorgeous!!) to look over my lovely pictures of Bergen, including the strange number of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ style signs about the place:
That night, I met up with three dear Norwegian friends who I hadn’t seen since I got on the plane back to Australia in December 2002. Through an unfortunate situation where I hadn’t moved my computer clock to Norwegian time, I ended up being late and therefore stressed and out-of breath, but it was all ok in the end. It was wonderful to see the girls again and catch up on 10 years worth of our lives. Strange, yes, a little surreal, but wonderful nonetheless.
The next evening we met up again for a beautiful feast at one of the girls’ apartments. We sat around afterwards in the living drinking and chatting, strangely reminiscent of what we had done back in Vadsoe 10 years ago, except that then it was all chocolate, lollies, crisps and cider and now it was salad and bread and shrimp and wine. Same same but different.
The next day I headed off to Oslo, this time able to actually enjoy the scenery. Well, as much as I could because the trip is fairly windy and I got massively motion sick and had to sleep it up for a bit. But still, I managed to see some gorgeous things:
In Oslo, I was staying with my older host sister in her apartment, but once again, she is a responsible adult with a responsible job, so I sat down and had an afternoon cider in the sun whilst waiting for her to finish with work. That evening, we went out for dinner with my other host sister, which was absolutely delightful. The both of them spoke to me in Norwegian most of the time and I understood *most* of it, but seeing how I was concentrating so hard on understanding them, it was then too much brain power to try and think of Norwegian replies, so I answered in English. It was a very strange way to have a conversation, but kind of thrilling too and by the end of the next day, my brain seemed to be re-wiring itself to Norwegian and I was answering more and more without using English. Its kind of amazing and gratifying how quickly it comes back.
Saturday we walked around Oslo a bit and then went to a party that night. In the end, I had about two hours sleep before having to get up for the plane back to London the next morning. It was another amazing, but high-emotion trip. I’m hoping to go back again soon and in the meantime, I bought a pile of Norwegian books and I intend to read them…
Or, at least… read bits of them… The bits I can work out. And then use google translate for the rest.