Category Archives: Norway

Language and Communication

So, I did promise you a post on this topic. And, I am currently trying to avoid learning lines for my performance that is on, in, oh, I don’t know, two weeks (I’m at that annoying point with line-learning, where I’m no longer lying awake at night paralysed with fear by the amount of lines I have to learn and then using that fear to propel me into spending every waking moment reciting words to myself, much to the detriment of my social life and the contribution of my image as some sort of crazy stalker-type lady. Instead, I am now sick to death of my script, of the lines, of the characters, of the story, of just looking at Times New Roman typeface on slightly off-white paper in general. I still don’t know the lines well enough, but I know them well enough to think, ‘Oh, yes, I actually really need a break from line-learning tonight and I think that, instead, I will re-watch ‘Three Men and a Baby’, which I considered an excellent film at the age of 8, so therefore must still be a very rewarding and fruitful use of my time’).

Anyway, the point is, I wanted to write a little bit about this topic and I need something to procrastinate with, so I am using this post to do that. Make sense? Yes, indeed.

Now despite the dry-as-bones title, I think this is actually a topic that is quite interesting. And it’s certainly something I had the opportunity to mull over a lot whilst I was in Norway. You see, my Norwegian language skills, which were always slightly lopsided to begin with (lots of knowledge of how to describe past drunken nights, foods, feeling unwell and/or tired, things that I liked or would like to do and places that I had been, but no idea of how to, say, describe something that I had thought about doing in the future and then decided not to, for a variety of complex and highly intellectual reasons), had become even more lopsided in the ten years since I had been in Norway. Thrillingly enough, after two or three days, I was understanding a great deal of the Norwegian that was being spoken to me. This was helped by the fact that my host family mainly spoke to me in Norwegian, so I was put on a pretty steep learning curve. Being thrown in the ‘deep end’ like this makes you realise how much of what you understand of conversation comes not just from the language itself. You understand from gesture, facial expression, context, tone of voice and a whole host of other things. There were many times when I would guess what someone was asking me to do, respond appropriately and then go back over what they had said to me in my head and work out exactly which word meant what. Interestingly, I also noticed that some people I understood really easily (mainly my host family), whereas other people I would have absolutely no idea what they were saying, no matter how many times they repeated themselves. Sometimes this was because they were speaking a different dialect, or spoke very quickly, or not particularly loudly (its a stereotype when talking to people who don’t speak your language to talk louder to them, but, honestly, from my own experience, it does actually help), but I think, also, when people took me by surprise (by, for example, suddenly asking a question, or asking a question when I wasn’t looking at them), it would be more difficult for me to immediately understand. The added panic of not knowing what they were saying would then contribute to my struggle to comprehend. Interestingly, I found that long conversations were often easier for me to follow then, say, a direct question or statement. Because a long conversation is constantly evolving, new words are constantly being thrown in and so I could use the extra time and the new information to build up a picture of what people were talking about. Sometimes I would still get it wrong, realising at the end of a conversation that someone’s opinion was the opposite of what I thought it was, because I had missed a negative somewhere along the line, but, hey I do that in English conversation, when I’m not listening properly to people, and, say, composing blog posts in my head instead. Reading (which, for me, was always the easiest skill out of the four language skills) was also pretty ok. Obviously, in the course of one magazine article, I would never work out absolutely everything that was written, and I am a hell of a lot slower reading Norwegian than I am reading English, but reading the paper, or magazines, or (the best, easiest and most enjoyable) comic strips made me feel pretty darn pleased with myself.

So, my comprehension skills were pretty decent, considering how little effort I’ve put into my Norwegian since leaving. Unfortunately, my speaking skills had not kept pace with my comprehension. They were dreadful. Even if I knew the words I needed to say and the order they needed to be said in (which was a rare occurrence), as soon as my brain commanded my mouth to speak, we got into trouble. I think it would be the equivalent of going back to yoga or dancing after ten years doing absolutely nothing. The muscles kind of remember what they are supposed to do, but often they just can’t quite stretch the way that they used to. Not straight away anyway. So, my mouth was attempting to form Norwegian sounds it hadn’t had to form for many years and, inevitably, vowels were sounding English, emphases were in the wrong place, dipthongs were appearing where no dipthongs existed. My brain was infuriated, but my poor mouth just couldn’t keep up. My tongue kept getting in the way of my teeth. My lips were all over the place, making all kinds of inappropriate shapes. It’s almost like learning lines. You may have lines completely memorised in your head, but its a whole other matter to say them out loud. And, of course, all the while I was struggling with my lips and mouth and teeth and tongue, the person I was attempting to communicate with would be watching me with deep concentration, trying to figure out exactly what it was that I was attempting to say. The more they watched, the more I said the wrong things, the more flustered I got and the chances of me making even more mistakes became much higher. So, eventually, I would give up and start speaking English.

People often commented when I was in Ireland that I had picked up a slight Irish lilt. Whilst I didn’t do it deliberately, I was aware of going a little ‘Irish’ when speaking to Irish people. It seems to have mostly worn off now that I’m in London. Though, perhaps now I’m going a little English. The thing is that I find it quite difficult to speak in a wildly different rhythm to the person with whom I am conversing (that’s very difficult to explain properly without sounding like a wanker, so I apologise for the overly posh grammar). In Ireland, it would feel like everyone was in this specific groove, this particular lilting rhythm, kind of like a bunch of singing birds in a Disney film, and then along would come this big, hulking goose and make some horrible honking noise in the middle of the song and all the other birds would stop singing and stare at the goose and then fly away grumpily. Which is pretty much how I always imagined myself if I accidentally said something particularly nasal or broad or ‘Aussie’ in the middle of a conversation in Ireland. And the reason I’m bringing all this up now is that it was even harder in Norway to suddenly start speaking English when everyone around you was speaking Norwegian. It wasn’t that I was worried whether or not people would understand me – most of them would. It was just that everyone would be going along with these lovely, soft, rolling Norwegian sounds and then *HONK* out comes the flat, broad, boring ol’ English. There was also something magical about the Norwegian sounds, because I only just barely understood them. Oddly enough, English became dull simply because I could understand everything immediately and completely. It was much more fun trying to work out the Norwegian. I was always disappointed on the one or two occasions that strangers would guess I wasn’t Norwegian and just start speaking English to me.

However, because I was working so hard to understand and because I hated to open my mouth and let out the honking English, I spent most of my days in Norway very quiet (at least, I did in group scenarios – one on one conversations were different). Which, for any of you who know me well, is quite unusual. Most friends would realise that they way I connect to people is through words, words, words. Probably too many words, looking at the word count of this post. Conversation with some of my friends can often feel like a competitive sport, where you’re lying in wait for a moment to jump in with your next story, tackling to the ground any others who attempt to jump in with THEIR story before you. You’ve got to be quick on your feet, we’re running from Downton Abbey to the zombie apocalypse, to people’s love lives to Patagonia to feminist theory to the Little Mermaid to the changing face of journalism and we’re doing it all in under fifteen minutes! And, even if you can’t jump in with your own story, your own choice of topic, you’re always thinking of lines or quips to just throw in at likely moments, when people are taking a breath, to remind everyone else that you’re still there, you’re still in the game, you’re still part of the conversation. It can be exhausting, and there have been many times after an hour of two of particularly loud, animated conversation, I’ve taken myself off to the loo just to sit somewhere quiet for a little while and catch my breath. I’m not meaning to be critical here. I naturally fall into this style of interaction. No matter how hard I try to be the silent, mysterious girl in the corner, quietly observing everyone’s antics with a knowing look, or the girl who communicates with ‘body language’, with looks and smiles, I always end up being the girl in the middle, screeching with laughter and, without censorship, telling everyone within earshot every thought that has happened to cross her mind in the past 5 minutes (in hindsight, its amazing it took me so long to start blogging, really). I’m the girl whose ‘friends’ occasionally tell her she’s being too loud in the coffee shop (and on a side note, I reckon that’s a pretty shitty thing to do to a friend. It’s not like we’re in a library. It’s not like I was saying anything particularly rude. If I’m embarrassing you, maybe we just shouldn’t be friends).

But the point is, that style of interaction requires a speed of language I just don’t have in Norwegian. So, I almost seemed to become a completely different person. Quiet. Thoughtful. By the time I’ve worked out what everyone’s talking about and then considered how I could contribute to the conversation and then how to translate that into some form of Norwegian I could confidently speak (I had many tricks of how to avoid grammar or words I wasn’t completely certain of), the conversation would have moved on. There were about three times during the course of the week when I was able to make people laugh with the type of breezy, ridiculous throwaway comments that are my staple in English conversation. It was a very strange experience to suddenly be that quiet person. We so often think of personality as an unalterable, constant thing and yet a change of language and I feel like a completely different human being. I didn’t dislike that human being. It was intriguing to be that person for a little while.

Anyway, this post is probably long enough and I could babble on for another few paragraphs without coming to a satisfying conclusion. Suffice it to say that I got a list of private Norwegian tutors from the Norwegian embassy in London and I’m hoping to find some time to brush up on my language skills. So, maybe the next time I’m back in  Norway, I won’t be quite so quiet…

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Filed under Introspection, Norway

Vadsø

Well. I’m trying desperately to update all of my Norway experiences. I wanted to do it all before the end of December (get my post count up again), but it just didn’t happen. I’m a little overwhelmed with large projects at the moment, which is all terribly exciting, but is rather stressful and doesn’t leave me much time for my other usual small occupations, like the updating of this blog (or, watching re-runs of Friends, for example).

So, I’m going to try to write some more down before I forget them. Dad has given me a highly intellectual and difficult to read book on the differences between literate and oral cultures, which I am attempting to bash my way through with very little luck. Anyway, one point they make is that literate cultures have this obsession with the past, writing things down and a fear of forgetting things that have happened. In literate cultures, the past trumps the present, unless there is a change of thinking (that is, what has happened before and has been written down is always followed). However, in oral cultures, because you can only go on what you remember, the present trumps the past (so, even if a literate culture writes down the past for an oral culture and then brings it back for them at a later date, the oral culture goes on what it considers right in the present, as opposed to what people say happened in the past. Does that make sense? I don’t think it does. They are complicated ideas and I’m no good at describing them. I’m only slightly better at reading about them). ANYWAY, the point is, I suddenly have realised that I do have a complete obsession with writing down everything and a dreadful fear of forgetting anything. Which is a bit funny really. I mean… if I forget something, I won’t even remember that I’ve forgotten it, so is it really that bad? I’m sorry, I’m not being very interesting at the moment. Stephen Fry would be giving my minus points on QI. I’m just finding the blogging tough, so instead of just doing it, I’m over-analysing it. Boring, and much harder work, of course.

So, my wonderful plan to go back to Vadsø for a quick trip down memory lane last week all ended rather tragically. That sounds wrong. It wasn’t that the trip to Vadsø wasn’t wonderful. It was! It was all a bit crazily nostalgic. Like, overwhelmingly nostalgic. And at some points it was all so overwhelmingly lovely and nostalgic  that I didn’t quite know what to do or what to say or how to act. So many confused feelings all at the same time I wasn’t even certain what all the individual feelings were.

I didn’t see much of the town. My host sister drove me on a bit of a tour (which we would have called ‘paa runde’ when we were teenagers. It was quite the thing to do on an empty evening or afternoon. Get a car, get a bunch of friends, crank up the music in the car and just drive around. It’s not like there was much to see, but you’d talk and get out of the house and it was warm in the car and sometimes exciting things would happen, like the guy driving the car would spend half an hour deliberately skidding on the ice on the pier and you’d all think he was going to lose control of the car and were going to fall into the water and drown and/or turn into blocks of ice. Oh, the joys of being a young ‘un in a small town), so I got to see the high school, and the shops area and a few other important places, which was great and crazy and… I don’t know I don’t know I don’t have the words. It was cold and dark and there wasn’t much to do, so we didn’t really get out of the car. It was crazy going back. It was crazy seeing everything again. So crazy I want to do it again as soon as possible. Maybe in summer so I can go climb the mountain again.

Anyway, we headed up to the house of a woman I had been very good friends with in Norway. Of course, me being me, I’d been a terrible correspondent over the years, but I was still very much looking forward to catching up. She also had a beautiful baby that I was dying to meet. The afternoon was spent eating lovely Christmas food, catching up with my friend and a variety of other friends who came to drop in (and I will be forever grateful that they took time out of their days to do so, even though I gave them very little notice and have been a terrible correspondent).

The tragic thing happened the next morning. I missed the taxi I had pre-ordered to take me to the HurtiGruta. Apparently it had been sitting outside for ten minutes whilst I sat inside, confident they would call or beep the horn when they arrived. They did neither. By the time the next taxi came by, it was too late. As we drove into town, we saw the HurtiGruta leaving the harbour. So, I didn’t get to ride on my beautiful HurtiGruta again. But, I am seriously considering (depending on money), heading back up North again this September (when the weather may be a little more hospitable), so we’ll see if I can get on it then. I don’t know what my obsession with the HurtiGruta is. I just love everything about it. The name, the romance of a boat that goes all the way up the Norwegian coastline, the actual boats themselves, the fact that they all look different… all sorts of things. One of my friends tells me that they made a documentary that filmed the whole journey up the coast (it takes 6 days) and screened it on TV. I need to see that documentary, because I’m obsessed with doing the same thing (my friend also tells me its quite a boring trip, even if very beautiful and I should save it until I’m 60 – which is how old most people on the boat are – and then she’ll come with me and we can sit on deck in silly knitted hats and I can blog and take photos the whole time. Its a most inviting prospect, I have to admit).

I didn’t do much in my second day in Vadsø. I really should have gone out, but I ended up falling asleep on the couch of my friend, because I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before. Perhaps I was also a little intimidated by the idea of going around Vadsø and experiencing all those strange, complicated feelings on my own and in the cold and dark. It did seem more than a little intimidating, if a little pathetic now that I’m trying to explain it. My friend came back around lunchtime though, so I did get to chat more with her. She gave me a lovely Norwegian jumper and hand-knitted socks to take with me (I’ve decided hand-knitted socks are possibly my favourite gift ever, I don’t know why people get so down about receiving socks for Christmas), so that was also incredibly lovely. I took the bus back to Kirkenes later that evening and managed to lose my gloves along the way, so the socks also proved very useful – I transformed them into kind of wonky looking mittens, by putting my thumbs into the pocket where the heel should go. It worked tolerably well.

Alright, not much more to say on this subject and I do need to get to bed before an early shift in the morning.

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Ice Hotel

I’m back in London and not amazingly overjoyed about it (though, a lovely family dinner at Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant has made me feel slightly less grumpy about leaving the land of snow and cold and sparkling magic lights). However, I was terribly delighted to find out this evening that I’m not working again until 7pm tomorrow night, so that is at least a bonus (after so many holidays at such a busy time for my job, I kind of expected to be working a 16 hour day tomorrow. I’m lucky that my work doesn’t dislike me as much as I assume they dislike me. In fact, they rather like me, so that’s nice).

Anyway, I thought I’d take the opportunity of not having to start back at work at 7am tomorrow (and therefore not needing to go to sleep early tonight) to catch you all up on the rest of my Norway trip. I’ve had some requests for reporting on the ice hotel (and, fair enough too, I mean, who doesn’t want to hear about a hotel made out of ice? I mean, apart from people who regularly live in buildings made of ice. And, I’m willing to say that amongst my friends and blog readers, there is a relatively small number of you who regularly abide in buildings made out of ice). I did though, feel that the ice hotel would benefit from a photo spread, so I’ve waited until now, when I can get the photos off my camera and onto my computer, to write something down.

Some facts before we begin. The ice hotel has become a phenomenon in Kirkenes in the last 5 years. I think it may be rated 5 stars (which someone quipped may make it the only 5 star hotel in Norway, however, I am unwilling to say that for certain in case I get sued by Tourism Norway). Obviously, to keep it from melting, the inside of the hotel must be kept below 0 and it usually hovers around the minus 4 to 5 mark. Everything inside is made out of ice. The bar, the glasses you drink from, the chairs, the decorations. The beds are not ice, though it is made to look as if they are. In fact, you sleep on mattresses that lie on boards, which lies on ice. There are no doors on the rooms of the ice hotel, as trapping in heat into a small-ish space (like your room) would cause the rooms and/or ice sculptures to melt.  Instead, there are curtains in the doorways. Claustrophobics may find the ice hotel difficult, as there are no windows, and only small holes in the roofs of your rooms for air circulation. The ceilings are high, but it still may not be possible to stop yourself thinking of tonnes of ice collapsing and burying you. There is a separate restaurant (built in a yurt) that is toasty warm and has a fireplace. That’s where you get your dinner and brekkie, because, of course you guessed it, cooking things in the ice hotel (or in an ice oven, for that matter) would cause it to melt!

The most glorious and interesting thing about the ice hotel, though, I think, is that it, of course, never sees out the summer. So, each year it needs to be re-built. Each year, therefore, it can be designed by someone new and made into a completely different ice hotel. I am assured that this year’s hotel was much better than last year’s hotel, so I am happy about that. I quite like this concept of deliberate impermanence in a building, something that is quite novel for most of Western culture (except, say in the case of festivals or… camping). Buildings, in our minds are built to last (one of the few things these days that are) and it is always a tragedy when they are destroyed. But, not so with the ice hotel. I like that the impermanence is a good thing, something that adds to the charm, something that has been embraced by the ice hotel ‘owners’ (another strange concept for something that is intended to disappear and reappear each year). I have this idea in my head (perhaps wrong, I’m not good with this sort of stuff), that the ice hotel is more environmentally friendly than a normal hotel because of its inherently impermanent state of being and because it is made from the products that occur in its surroundings. See, all the ice used in the hotel comes from the lake it sits next to. It’s not artificially made in anyway, but just using the stuff nature has already made. And, at the risk of sounding like an insufferable hippy, I like this.

Anyway, enough intellectualising. Apart from anything else, the ice hotel was cool. Actually, it was quite cold (bada-BOOM). The day we decided to visit the hotel was the coldest day I was in Kirkenes. Minus 22. Minus 22!!! Now, as you all know, I quite like the cold. I have stated this on many occasions. I am quite comfortable in London’s usual wintery state of 4 – 8 degrees. I am also even quite pleased at the minus 2 or 3 mark, because then there is the possibility of snow. But, minus 22 is like a whole other world. I guess its not surprising really, when you think about similar jumps in temperature (the difference between plus 30 degrees and 0 degrees, for example). Its actually too cold to snow. Too cold to snow! I mean, it keeps the snow and ice that you have, obviously, but you generally don’t see it snowing at this temperature.

But, even though it was too cold even for the snow, we decided to walk to the ice hotel, which was about half an hour away. Because the discussion was had in Norwegian, though, I got my wires kind of crossed and didn’t fully appreciate that we were walking there (‘Oh, you mean walking! Walking with our feet! In the outside air! Without the car! Oh, that kind of walking!’) Of course, this meant I appeared at the doorway to the house woefully under-prepared for the weather and then attempted to get ready at speed. The biggest mistake was taking my thin gloves (no brainer there) and my thick woollen socks (surprisingly enough. I thought I was doing the right thing wearing thick socks, however they were so thick they then made my shoes too tight and therefore cut off some of the circulation to my toes, therefore making it harder for them to stay warm. So, there’s another lesson in keeping warm. Thin, warm socks or thick socks with shoes that are too big for you. Either way). I was able to bury my face in my scarf and put my hands in my jacket pockets, but my poor feet quickly became two painful blocks of immovable ice. Also, my lovely Doc Martens, so amazingly tough-looking on the streets of London, were terribly unsuited to the icy streets of Kirkenes. It was like learning to walk again, slipping every few metres. Eventually I made headway taking very fast little steps on the balls of my feet (which also seemed to warm up my toes), my arms occasionally stuck out at a 45 degree angle from my body, kind of swaying side to side as I adjusted my weight from foot to foot. Meanwhile, my friends played ice soccer with the balls of snow along the road, running and kicking and passing and throwing. I couldn’t quite understand how they were able to move so agilely under those conditions, but then again, they say that Norwegians are born with skis on their feet (a rather painful proposition for Norwegian mothers). Perhaps Norwegians are also born with a spare pair of ice skates or snow shoes for occasions such as this one.

Despite my fears that my feet would drop off from frostbite (I was a little uncertain of the time frame I was looking at for frostbite and naturally assumed that 15 minutes of discomfort was enough to do the job), we made it to the ice hotel with all limbs intact. The relative ‘warmth’ inside was unfortunately not enough to bring relief and comfort to my feet, however, and after rushing around, peeking in all the rooms and admiring the ice art on the walls, we headed back to the cafe/restaurant to defrost and drink some hot chocolate. Here’s a selection of photos:

Outside the Ice Hotel

Outside the Ice Hotel

Ice Sculpture in the bar

Ice Sculpture in the bar

Penguin art in one of the rooms

Penguin art on the wall of one of the rooms

Ice beds!

Ice beds!

Troll art in one or the rooms

Troll art on the wall of one of the rooms

After warming up substantially in the restaurant (though, distressingly, my toes were still cold despite 30 minutes of warmth. I was, at this point, certain that if I wasn’t already suffering from frostbite, I would be by the end of the day), we headed out the back to see the wonderful husky dogs. The huskies were kept for husky sled rides and they were, on the whole extremely friendly and intelligent dogs. The first one I came across, Aarti, jumped right up on his hind legs and fell into my arms in some kind of doggy hug/greeting/embrace. Or perhaps he was also a little cold and was hoping to steal some body warmth. Most of the dogs had lovely Scandanavian sounding names, or at least, mythical sounding names (Achilles, for example) and each were tied up to their kennel, with their names written on the side. One lovely dog sitting in his kennel, however, was called Bruce. Yes, Bruce. Of all the names. I thought that was too funny (in light of the Monty Python ‘Bruce’ sketch… see here, if you’ve never had the pleasure) and attempted to take his photo. However, my poor camera was just not able to function in such cold temperatures. I figured the batteries were probably just too cold (I first discovered this pesky problem with batteries in cold temperatures when driving across Michigan with my family as a 12 year old and attempting to play my Alanis Morisette ‘Jagged Little Pill’ cassette tape on my walkman – oh, how old does that make me sound – so that I could look mournfully out the window at the snowy landscape and think of my unrequited love for my high school crush. However, the walkman refused to work unless I took out the batteries and rollled them around in my hand for a bit and then put them back in. Each roll gave me a few minutes of satisfying, angry teenage girl angst before Alanis would suddenly stop whining again. It was awfully frustrating for my carefully constructed ‘misunderstood adolescent’ routine). Despite some mouth-to-mouth resuscitation (blowing hot air onto the batteries) and some wonderful husky poses by Bruce, we couldn’t manage a photo. I was quite, quite sad. We also saw a reindeer, but by that point I’d given up and was concentrating on not slipping down the footpath.

So, there you have it. The ice hotel. I wish I’d been able to withstand the cold a little bit more to spend a bit more time in there (or at least, more time with the lovely huskies out the back) and also that I might have been able to spend a night inside, because that would truly have been amazing. But, I am most definitely grateful for what I did manage to get.

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Christmas on the Russian Border

As with every time I travel somewhere, I have many, many things to report and I’m not entirely sure where to start. It doesn’t quite help that I’m still in the midst of my travels and often a little distance from these things gives you some useful perspective (‘No, Jenny, the slightly odd sayings on the salt and pepper packets that were given to you on the Norwegian airplane were not actually the ‘funniest things ever’ and you can probably safely leave them out of your blog post’). I’ve got a whole post in me all about language and conversation and other highly intellectual matters (which I will manage to stranglehold into something much more pedestrian and Bridget Jones-like), but I think I might leave that until later.

Instead, I’ve been inspired by all the ‘sun and seafood’ Christmas photos popping up in my Facebook feed to tell you a little bit about how I spent my Christmas Day in far North Norway.

First of all, the big day in Norway is actually Christmas Eve. You have your big dinner around 5-6pm, then dessert, which is followed by a whole hour in which Norwegian parents ritualistically torture their young children by forcing the whole family to ‘sleep’ or ‘rest’ BEFORE you are allowed to open your gifts. Or, at least, that’s what my Norwegian friends tell me it was like to be a Norwegian child. Of course, we’re all adults now and an hour’s ‘rest’ before presents is well and truly achievable. Just.

So, that was all very wonderful and ‘koselig’ (the best and most important of Norwegian words. It kind of means ‘cosy’, except that it’s so much more than that. I imagine it is like being blanketed in love and comfort and warmth and happiness and loveliness and pretty things and it is a way of life in Norway – you must never stop searching and striving for everything ‘koselig’). I experienced a lot of these traditions when I was in Norway the first time around (2002), but it was very ‘koselig’ and very special to do it all again. I’ve thought long and hard about it, and though I do see the loveliness of an Australian Christmas (family and friends being one of the many benefits), I just think a dark, wintery Christmas is that bit more magical. I mainly blame Christmas lights. They sparkle so much more prettily in the dark and the snow than in the sun. I’m sorry, but it’s just true.

Leaving this controversial topic behind, what was terribly exciting this year was actually what was happening on Christmas Day. When I first arrived in Kirkenes on Friday, my host sister had rung up from Oslo to ask whether or not I would be interested in going to a Christmas day mass in the church that stands on Norway’s border with Russia. Her boyfriend wanted to go and she thought I might also be interested. I was. It got better, however. Not only could I attend the service, but the road to the church was closed during winter, so we would be driven to the church in Norwegian military vehicles. See picture for details:

Bandvagn 206. Found at www.wikipedia.org

Bandvagn 206. Found at http://www.wikipedia.org

Ah ha ha! Amazing! But, wait, there was more! After the church service, we would go to the beach (yes, there’s a beach up here!) and at the beach, the officers would take the traditional Christmas Day swim in the Barents Sea. And if that weren’t enough, we would then be served cake and hot drinks at the Military Station on the way home. And the cost for this incredibly amazing, totally unbelievable and also oddly ‘koselig’ experience? Completely and utterly free. We were the guests of the Norwegian military, which is apparently the friendliest, most cocoa-generous and gingerbread-rich military in the world. I was most definitely in.

Preparations had begun in the days before. The clothing I had brought from the UK was inspected and found wanting. As were my shoes and gloves. I was instead newly kitted out with jacket, lined shoes, doubled-up mittens, extra pants and also hand and toe warmers (little heat packs that you can hold in your hands or put in your shoes – not widely used in Norway, but popular in Canada and Japan, and we all felt that as an inexperienced Australian, this was probably something else that would be useful for me to have). When I woke up on Christmas Day, the thermostat was at minus 20 celsius. I took a picture, just to prove it. In the end, I got into the car dressed in both my pairs of thermal leggings, tights with windproof sports pants over the top; a thermal skivvy, long-sleeved top, old woolen English navy jumper plus a ski jacket; two pairs of woolen socks and lined shoes; wool mittens with waterproof and windproof mittens over the top; a scarf and my completely useless synthetic hat that doesn’t so much as protect you from the cold, as remind you where a proper hat would be protecting you from the cold if you were actually wearing it, by sort of occasionally softly brushing your ears with light synthetic fluff (considering the attention I paid to all other parts of my body, I am surprised I expected the hat to be in anyway useful. Stupid hat).

Anyway, we found our way to the pick-up point, which was a (relatively) warm minus 17 celsius. Of course, our vehicles weren’t ready yet and, much as it would have been an authentic Norwegian military ‘experience’ to wait for Norwegian military vehicles in minus 17 celsius, myself and my traveling companion decided to wait in the car. With the heat. And no wind. Eventually the trucks arrived with our Bandvagn 206’s on the back and we loaded ourselves in. We had hoped to get a seat up front, but because we didn’t have the correct ear wear (the machines are very loud), we had to jump in the back, just like real soldiers. It was all terribly exciting and for about five minutes I though, ‘ooh, how amazing! This is just like being in a film! Maybe I should join the army!’ But then I remembered that for real soldiers, their trips in  military vehicles don’t end in lovely Christmas masses in lovely Norwegian churches, but at horrible battlefields with guns and killing and bombs. And that, unlike my call-centre job, I wouldn’t be able to just say, ‘Ah, I think I’ve made a terrible mistake’ and back out of it all after 8 hours.

But, still, it was quite exciting and wonderful just as it was. There were only a few little windows which kept getting iced-up, so we didn’t get to see a lot of the scenery, but we saw enough. It is currently ‘Mørketid‘ in North-Norway, which is literally ‘the Dark time’ (see how magical that sounds????) and Mørketid himmelen (Dark Time Heavens/Sky) are the most beautiful. Think of the loveliest sunset you can imagine and then stretch it out for 3 hours. That is Mørketid himmelen. And that was all over the sky as we traveled to this obscure and lonely church on the Russian border.

I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t all amazing. I was getting pretty travel sick by the time we got out at the church. The wind that greeted us when the military boys opened the doors of the vehicle was hardly ‘koselig’. In fact, I tried to take a picture of the church and the wind that blew around the side of the building was so strong it actually turned me around. Instead of a picture of the church, I got a blurry diagonal one of the ground. But, then we walked up into the church and the military boys were there with hot water and asking us if we wanted hot chocolate or coffee and offering gingerbread and everything seemed alright again. I had a fairly difficult time following the service (but, then I have a difficult time following most church services, even if they are in English), but that really didn’t bother me. The thing I was most glad about was the carols. We were handed a ‘Norsk Salme Bok’ (Norwegian Psalm Book) on the way in and I thought, ‘Oh no, I’m not going to be able to sing, because I won’t know the tunes.’ But, it turned out they sang mainly the same carols as back home, just with Norwegian words. And, as I know how to read Norwegian words, and I had been provided with a book of lyrics, I was perfectly able to sing along. It was a beautiful experience. It’s strange, and something that I’ve noticed before, but for whatever reason, sometimes when you only understand a little of what’s going on, many different experiences, and especially music, can be much more powerful. I think it’s because when you’re just learning a language, you only understand the very basic meanings of words and don’t have an understanding of them that is deep or multi-faceted, or that’s complicated by years of use, bias and personal/social/cultural history (it’s also one of the reasons humour is so hard to translate, because it relies so heavily on specific metres, sounds, word plays or double meanings that are unique to one language AND culture). Anyway, I was going to save all this for another post. The point is, I understood enough of the language to understand the broad brushstrokes of feelings and sentiments in the songs, but because we were singing about ‘Gud’ instead of ‘God’ and ‘Ye-sus’ instead of ‘Jesus’, the songs didn’t have the same slightly uncomfortable connotations for me. I was just able to enjoy the loveliness of the carols, of singing together with a group in a ‘koselig’ setting.

Then, of course, was the really, truly exciting part. We were divided into groups who wanted to go straight back to the station and those who wanted to go to the sea. I had no intention of bathing, but I certainly wanted to see other people strip off and get wet in such inhospitable weather (it must be the German in me), so off I went to the harbour. By this time, it was pitch black (even though it was only 3pm) and I stumbled towards the beach using the the sounds of the waves crashing as my main guide (until my companion found his head light and turned it on). A huge bonfire had been pre-built (and doused in petrol) and this was lit before the first of the brave boys stripped off and ran towards the water. Let me just state again, that it was minus 20 degrees outside. There was snow and ice on the beach. A gale was blowing, that made it feel like it must have been at least 10 degrees less than what the thermostat was showing. And off went the boys (and two girls) into the water with nothing on them except their body hair to keep them warm. There was a large group of us standing around, wrapped in our clothes and carrying cameras, just… watching these people strip naked and run into the water (the girls left their underwear on, which I can understand, but I feel that having wet underwear in minus 20 degrees weather was probably not worth the modesty it afforded). It felt more than a little odd. Many people were taking photos, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it, despite one or two of the officers looking like off-duty Norse Gods. My traveling companion also managed a quick dip, but did it when no-one else was watching, which I can also understand, but I was disappointed to have missed all the excitement and the opportunity to yell words of encouragement from the sidelines (he had threatened to throw me in fully clothed though, so maybe it was best I avoided him the whole time we were on the beach).

After a quick warm-up by the fire we were packed back into the military vehicles (we were given a seat up front this time, despite our lack of ear-wear, I can’t rightly say if it was because of my friend’s bravery in the water) and taken to the military station. There was cake and coffee and warm air and it was all very ‘koselig’. Of course, I sat opposite four people from England and despite a little bit of conversation on the lack of tea, we didn’t let it go on too long. I think we all felt like talking to another English-speaking person whilst out on the Russian border would ruin the whole experience for us. I know I was disappointed to hear them talk, so I can only imagine they felt the same about me.

That’s about all for the moment. I’m on a deadline, because we have to get dressed and ready to go visit the Ice Hotel. It’s exactly what you think. It’s a hotel made out of ice.

Yay!

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Travel Disasters

I’m currently sitting in the Oslo Gardemoen Park Inn, watching the snow fall gently from the sky and being ever so grateful for my UniQlo Heattech (Japan Technology) clothing. The thermal clothes were bought last minute at Oxford Circus yesterday, after a message from my host sister to inform me that I should ‘bring something warm’ to Norway, because it was currently minus 17 degrees in Kirkenes, which is where I will be spending the next 9 days. I probably bought too many thermal clothes, but I figured, where thermal clothes were concerned, it was better to be safe than sorry (unless you are going to the Caribbean. In that case, it’s probably better to not be safe. And only possibly sorry. As well as very, very surprised that it’s minus 10 degrees in the Caribbean).

Anyway, I was going to write a post about how I’ve gotten so unbelievably good at this traveling thing, because, when I was in the queue for the security screening yesterday, I had myself all organised, boots off, liquids in their baggy, laptop out, before anyone needed to ask me to do anything. In my head, I was comparing myself to the opening sequence of ‘Up in the Air’ with George Clooney, I was that efficient. But, then I had an actual think about what happened yesterday and I realised it just wasn’t true.

I left my apartment and headed to the airport with that familiar feeling of ‘There is something I haven’t done and/or forgotten’. It’s a feeling I get whenever I go on a journey, usually unfounded, but occasionally worth listening to (for example, when heading to South America and realising I’d left my phone behind. Which doesn’t sound like a huge disaster, but my travel companion and I were going to be spending a week or so apart, meaning that our phones were kind of integral to us successfully meeting up again. We had to turn the car around and go back and get it. Luckily, we had left plenty of time and were only fifteen minutes up the road from said mobile). When I did my first big ‘alone’ trip (to Norway incidentally), I spent so  much time going, ‘Oh my god, did I remember to pack those warm blue socks?’ or ‘What about that book I wanted to read?’ ‘My travel clock?’  and then rifling through my bag on the floor of some aiport (Hong Kong? Heathrow?) to find said object, that eventually I had to restrict myself to panicking only about three select things: my ticket (back in the days before electronic boarding cards), my passport and my credit card. I figured everything else was replaceable (mostly via the credit card). Luckily all these things were kept on my person, so apart from developing a strange tick, where a look of panic would pass across my face every 15 minutes or so and then I would desperately pat my person down until I had located the three objects I was allowed to panic about, things went pretty well.

Anyway, the point is that yesterday, I should have listened to the little niggling feeling. Because, as I was heading towards Heathrow on the tube, I suddenly realised that I hadn’t actually checked the airport my flight was leaving from. And, as anyone who has traveled on any of the budget European airlines will know, there are three airports I could possibly have been flying out from: Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted. In fact, there are actually five London airports I could potentially have been going from: Gatwick, Stansted, Heathrow, City or Luton. The latter two of which I didn’t even know how to get to, if in fact it did turn out that I needed to get there for my flight. Just when I’m starting to think that I’m fitting into London, I pull this kind of shit and forget that the place is very large and has many airports (as well as duplicates of many things that you don’t normally expect there to be two of: large theatres (Old Vic and New Vic), art galleries (Tate and Tate Modern) etc.) In a panic, I got off the tube at Victoria, which at least had trains to Gatwick as well as buses to Stansted that I could catch, so as long as I needed to get to one of those airports, I thought I would be fine.

Next problem, of course, was that I needed to check my boarding card, which was on my email, which I needed internet to check. And, of course, because in London everyone has a smartphone or a bloody ipad, internet cafes are actually very hard to come across. I needed a Cafe Nero and free wifi, but the only ones around Victoria were Cafe Nero Express, which means they just make bloody coffee and have nowhere to sit down and abuse their free internet from. Eventually, I sat down at a McDonald’s and tried to link to their free wi-fi without buying anything. Whilst waiting for the internet to connect, I did a quick search of my computer and realised I had also downloaded the bloody ticket, so there had been no need to find wi-fi in the first place. Turns out I was also meant to be taking the plane from Gatwick, so I quickly bought myself a ticket and jumped on the next Gatwick Express, turning up at the airport around the time I had planned to be at Heathrow. So, despite a lot of panic and stress and unnecessary running around busy train stations muttering abuse at anyone who accidentally got in my way, all worked out well in the end.

I was feeling pretty darn pleased with myself, and continued to feel pretty darn pleased with myself, as I landed in Oslo, had no problems speaking to the customs official in Norwegian (who was very curious as to why I spoke Norwegian), went and got myself a hotel room. I had originally thought that I would go into Oslo and stay with a friend, but because I was getting in so late, it seemed a lot of unnecessary and expensive extra travel when all I wanted to do was sleep. My next plan was to sleep at the airport (actually AT the airport, like outside the ticket booths), but because I’ve got a cold, I decided that was probably not great for my health. So, I got myself a hotel room as a bit of indulgence, and considering it wasn’t much more than the train ticket, it seemed like a fair way to go.

Things were quite delightful relaxing in the hotel last night, I got a good night’s rest and a delicious all-inclusive breakfast this morning (inclusive of BROWN CHEESE, I might add. Hooray!!) Again, managing to converse easily in Norwegian with people around me, which just makes me so happy. However, at some point in the morning, I realised I had done a stupid thing. I had thought it would be a nice gift to bring over a couple of bottles of wine for my host father in Norway. I bought them at Gatwick, got (what I think) were some decent French reds. No worries, I’ve cleared security, so I can take them into my carry-on luggage. And it’s not until this morning that I realise I have to take another two flights to get up North where I’m spending Christmas. And there is no way the security people are going to let me take two bottles of red onto my carry-on no matter how much I plead that I bought them both at Gatwick Airport, and I really, truly haven’t done anything bad to them, like add chemicals or explosives. So, my possible solutions are to find some kind of plastic/metal container at Oslo Airport and pack the wine into that, and put it all into my checked luggage and pray to God that they don’t get smushed and stain my new UniQlo Heattech (Japan Technology) clothing. Or… well, I don’t really know that there is another solution. Putting them into a locker for a week and then taking them to my host sister in Oslo on the way back to London and leaving them with her? Drinking them before I get on the plane and getting something else as a gift when I land in Kirkenes?

Bah. As I said, I thought I was getting good at this travel thing. Turns out I’m still quite the novice.

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Norge

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:

I’m not entirely sure what a ‘pulverheksa’ is. ‘Heksa’ is witch, and pulver is ‘powder’. So, as far as I can make out this sign is telling me to ‘Look up for Powder Witches’. I am not sure if Powder Witches are in anyway related to the Powder Puff Girls, but I like the sign anyway. 

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.

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Socks

I’m cheating a little today, as this needs to be written up for the Cork Midsummer Festival and I don’t have time to write it up, another ‘creative’ post and a post about Scotland as well as, you know, feed myself and do my job.
So, here is something that is going to be included in our pop-up cafe, ‘Home is Where the Art Is’. I’m not entirely sure how or where yet, but it will be included. I think.

‘After I finished high school, I went to live in Norway for a year on school exchange. The family I was hosted by lived in the far North-East of the country, right on the border of Russia and Finland, in a town called Vadsø.
Because the Australian school year finishes in December, I moved to Norway in January. I went from clear blue skies and 35 degree heat, a Christmas Day spent in the swimming pool and the devastating 2002 Canberra bushfires, to 4 feet of snow, no sunlight and minus degree temperatures.
One thing that became very important to me, that had never really mattered to me before, were socks. In Australia I had gotten about in bare feet, or socks that were riddled with holes. In Norway, I started wearing 2 or 3 pairs at a time, and suddenly my shoes didn’t fit anyore.
Socks were particularly important in the home. You didn’t wear your shoes inside the house, which I thought was only a Japanese tradition. Now that I think about it, I’m certain the reason is to prevent snow being tracked inside the house! Anyway, everyone had lovely, woolen knitted socks with a beautiful, distinctive snowflake patter and I had my thin, hole-y ones.
In February, I went with my host mother to visit her mother-in-law. Her mother-in-law lived right near the Russian border, amongst pine-tree forests and lakes and boulders. Her house was yellow and white and wooden. It was like being in a fairytale.
When we got to the house, we took our shoes off, like good Norwegians. We were made cups of warm, sugary tea and offered cinnamon buns and flat cinnamon and butter sweet bread. My host grandmother didn’t speak and English, so she and my host mother spoke Norwegian, whilst I sat there, in my threadbare socks, staring about the room and awkwardly smiling and nodding when my host mother translated comments into English for me.
At one point, my host grandmother looked down at my feet and became quite distressed. My host mother translated. ‘She’s worried about your socks.’ I smiled and nodded. ‘She says they have holes in them.’ I smiled and nodded again. ‘She says they’re not warm enough.’ I started to protest. ‘She wants to know if you have any others with you?’ I shake my head and smile and protest and say I’m fine, but she’s already getting up, with a determined look, shaking her head, gesturing at my socks and speaking Norwegian to my host mother. She leaves the room, and when she comes back she has a pair of cream & black knitted socks, just like the ones my host family wears, with the snowflakes all over them. She presents them to me and waves away my attempts to thank her in halting Norwegian. ‘Takk, takk, tusen takk’ (Thanks, thanks, a thousand thanks). She sits down and says something to my host mother. Very satisfied with herself, she watches me pull on the socks and offers more cake
The socks become my most treasured possession. I only ever wear them in the house, curled up on the sofa or in the bed. Even now, pulling them on, I feel warm, loved and looked after.’

True Story.

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