Wednesday, August 24, 2011

High Price to Pay

I've made comments about how expensive things in Norway can be.

I've grumbled over paying $10 for 4 rolls of toilet paper (the good toilet paper, mind you. I didn't actually realize I had a preference for good ol' tp until very recently, but in Norway the best is produced by Lambi).

I've groaned about paying $7 for raspberries (and got a stomach ache to boot). 



I've unknowingly spent $100 on a laundry basket. 




And I've been flabbergasted by how much a beer costs. There's a website called "pintprice.com" that tells you how much pints of beer cost all over the world. Based on this site, a pint of beer in Bergen is about $11.50. Yikes. Check out this link (it tells you how much beer costs all over Norway. I'm in Bergen): Beer in Bergen.

Amazing, huh?

But despite the cost of living, it's wonderful to work here. The benefits for working people are fantastic. In the states, I worked 9 am to 6pm everyday, not including my commute. I would leave the house at 8:30 in the morning, only to return by 6:30 at night. As a teacher, a day like that can completely wipe you out. In Norway, I work 8:15 to 3:15 and I better go home right away. You're not encouraged to "stick around" if your work isn't done or there's just a small thing to take care of. No way - you GO HOME when it's time to go. You spend time with your family. You relax. I've only been at my new job a little over a week, and I already see how different it feels to be working in a system that actually cares for their people. 

On the other hand, I've already see how irritating it is to get anything done. In Norway, everyone takes their vacation time and specific work hours very seriously, so you don't often "catch" people at the end of the day or during the summer. Some businesses might only be open from 10 to 3 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and there's no way to get around that. Things simply aren't open Sunday. I've grown used to the convenience of 24-hour everything in the States, and it's a little hard to adjust to not having that here.

Need a toothbrush at 9:45 at night in the states? Go to Target. 
Need a toothbrush at 9:45 at night in Norway? Too bad, use your finger - hopefully you didn't lose your toothpaste, too. 

Want to get some wine for that special weekend dinner in the states? Go anywhere that sells alcohol, up until midnight. 
Want do the same in Norway? Well first of all, plan ahead. You better go to the Vinmonopolet (wine monopoly, the only store that sells wine and/or liquor) before 6pm Monday through Friday, and before 3pm on Saturday. Don't even try on Sunday, it's not open like the rest of the country. 

I think people are generally happier here. They're not so stressed out because of work, and I find that curiously refreshing. Way to go, Norway. Happy people, happy country! 




Sunday, August 21, 2011

Injustice.

This post is for all the women in the world.

I've been desperately thinking about how I want to share my feelings about this because witnessing it moved me to tears. No, wait, heaving sobs in a dimly lit parking lot of a tanning salon just beside the tracks of the bybanen (trolley) not far from home.

Stian and I had been out with friends - we'd been having a wonderful night of laughter and fun at a little pub in the city center. When it was time to go home, we hopped on the bybanen (pronounced like "bee bon") and miraculously found seats. We sat facing two people, which at the beginning of the trip bothered me not in the least. I've learned that in Norway, you really keep to yourself on public transport - no one makes small talk and if you have to speak to the person you're traveling with, you do so quietly. Late night byban rides are very different though, and following the status quo of a Norwegian that has been drinking, everyone is usually light-hearted and incredibly chatty.

When the bybanen started moving, I suddenly became aware of the couple directly across from us. I don't know if the fact that they were speaking English caught my attention, or the simple oddity of their relationship, but in any case it made me forget my anger about having to throw away my delectable half-eaten hotdog before being allowed to get on and head for home. He was a sturdy Norwegian with bloodshot blue eyes that matched the color of his denim outfit one-size-too-small. She was a small woman from Thailand.

He was being incredibly rude to her, treating her like a dog and making a big show about it. And her response to it was groveling - desperately trying to be cute, trying to flirt with him, trying to "make nice," trying to get his attention.

I was staring. They were a foot away and I was staring, no questions asked. I couldn't help it. Suddenly all those stories Stian had told me about how it's not unusual for a Norwegian man to "buy" a woman from Thailand came crashing into my reality, literally in front of my face. He kept catching my eye (which wasn't hard to do as I was staring, quite intensely, directly at him), and every time he did, he gave me this little smirk and continued to be rude, continued to be an incredulous bastard. She became aware that I was watching and there was obvious embarrassment on both our parts.

I finally let down my gaze.

She got up and wanted to leave, begging him to come with her. Again he caught my eye, again he smirked, and again he ignored her. She grabbed his arm and tried to yank him away from his seat and he just sat there with that evil grin on his face. They got off at the next stop and Stian and I made comments to each other about what a jerk he was. But forget him....what about her??? How did she end up with such an awful man?? 

That's when Stian told me more about buying women from Thailand and that's when I got incredibly, undeniably sad. My heart broke for her. I suddenly got sucked into comparing our lives, thinking how I got to pick the person I wanted to be with, she probably didn't. I chose to move to Norway because I wanted my life here, her opinions made no difference. Maybe her life is better than it was, who's to say? Maybe she wanted to be here, but I cannot let myself believe that that's who she wanted to be with and that's how she wants to live her life. No way. Maybe it's one of those cases where she marries him, gets into the country by putting up with it for a short time, and then divorces him to start her own life. Maybe, but what hell. What a grave inconvenience.

Thinking how different our lives are, and how unfair her life may seem, broke me down. I stopped in my tracks and just cried for her. Sobbed for her. Couldn't breathe for her. I couldn't stop, and my thoughts were racing about how this happens more than I can fathom. I started thinking about a book I read called A Thousand Splendid Suns, which is a story of a woman in Kabul, Afghanistan who was forced to marry a disgusting man. It's a fantastic book, but the story is heartbreaking - similar to what I had just witnessed on the bybanen.

My heart goes out to women that have to go through something like that - to escape one hell only find another.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Blue Skies, Berries, and Books: Life is Good.

There's about 25 things I could say are great about moving to Norway. It could be more, it could be less. I sort of made up that number without really thinking, (I'm sure I could come up with that many if I really had to), but luckily, this is my blog and I don't have to prove that number to anyone - I could exaggerate or grossly underestimate and it wouldn't make a difference. Right, so 25 things that are great. I'm not going to go through that entire list for you because I don't want to bore you to tears, but I'll just mention some highlights.


One, for example, is that Bergen is a beautiful city that I am thoroughly enjoying, either with others or entirely on my own. I feel I'm wise to know that when the sun is shining in this city, you drop what you are doing and go outside to enjoy it. Just about every person that I've met here has been keen to point out that it rains about 220 days per year in Bergen, on average. That's a big, BIG change from my previous life in sunny Southern California, so I made a point to take pictures during some August sunshine in the city center.





The Bryggen, Bergen's iconic spot.  Admire the blue, cloudless sky!


All the boats and water at the Bryggen.

The main square in Bergen Sentrum.
This is where I usually spend time and money on the weekends. 


Another great thing about living in Norway is the berries. Honestly, I've eaten the most delicious strawberries that have ever tickled my tastebuds in this country. They have more flavor than I could have ever dreamed of in the States. The only drawback is that they don't keep for more than a day (two if you're lucky), so you have to pretty much eat them up the moment you get them. While I was wandering around in Bergen and snapped the pictures above, I also stopped near the famous fish market because there were tons of fresh, locally grown produce being sold at the stands. I stopped, had an entirely Norwegian exchange of words (really, it wasn't much, but I'm still proud), nearly knocked over an ENTIRE palate of cherries, bought my raspberries (bringebær, in Norwegian), and wandered the city devouring my new purchase.


These raspberries were grown in Sogn, not far from where Stian is from, and they were DELICIOUS. I paid 39 Kroner, which (I can't believe I'm going admit this) is 7 US Dollars. For this!:

Mmm Mmm Mmm.



 There was a few more in there to begin with, I only remembered to take the picture after I had eaten some. While I LOVE raspberries (bringebær), Stian prefers strawberries (jordbær), so when I met up with him to share my Norwegian exchange and my purchase, he only ate about 5 raspberries in total. I was hoping he would eat more since there were quite a few in the basket and I had more than my share already! We were in the city and I couldn't just shove them in my purse and shop with them (that would be a messy disaster). I offered some to the woman that cut Stian's hair, and she politely declined. Gosh, so many berries! And because I paid SEVEN USD for them, I refused to let them go to waste.

So I ate them. All of them. I dropped one on the floor and Stian ate five, meaning I ate all but six raspberries. I also ate them fast because there was this fantastic dress staring me down in a window nearby that I desperately needed to try on. On my way into the fitting room I looked at the price tag - which is generally something I DON'T do....ever (which is how I accidentally bought a laundry basket for 100 US dollars, and this time, I'm NOT exaggerating), and anyway, I looked at the price tag only to find out it was 1100 Kroner - about 200 USD. I put it back on the rack and walked out of the store with a major stomach ache - I'm not sure if it was the disappointment in leaving such a gorgeous, totally unnecessary dress behind, or the fact that I ate an incredible amount of raspberries at warp speed, but either way, it was time to go home and leave the expensive city center for others to explore.

The last great reason for being in Norway: I have time to read again!!!! I love to read, but over the last 2 or more years, Stian and I have spent all our free time talking on Skype, leaving very little time pick up a book, let alone finish it. I've been here only a few weeks and have finally finished the book I've been reading for.....hmm, I don't even remember when I started it. When I finished it, I went the local library, got a library card and got a new book from the English section. Yippee! And at work, we have a small staff library to share books, and upon a good recommendation from a coworker, I took home yet ANOTHER book. I'm currently reading 2.5 books (one is a dictionary), and LOVING it!! I've missed reading. I've missed getting lost in a story, and I've missed snuggling up in bed with a good book and a warm blanket.


The 2.5 books I'm reading... HAPPILY! :)

Life is good.

Oh, and yeah yeah, being out of the long-distance relationship and into a normal routine and life is probably the greatest part of being here. :)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Celebrating the "First's" in Bergen

Moving to a new country involves celebrating the little things. I've been here in Bergen nearly 2 weeks, and have had plenty of "First's" already.

I bought my first (of many, I'm sure) umbrella.




And then I got my first haircut in Bergen.



I lined dried our sheets and towels up in the common attic for the first time.



I put our laundry out on the patio in the unusual SUNSHINE to dry for the first time (and oh my, things dry so much faster with sunshine!).



And I gave myself my first pedicure in the new apartment.



I also made my first American friend, whom I adore, Megan. A fellow blogger and fellow American in Bergen, we became fast friends wandering around our new city together. Unfortunately, I think we were having too much fun to remember to take a picture together, so we'll just have to remember to take one next time to share with you.

I've found happiness in this little city, and it surprised me. Of course, I wasn't expecting to be overly sad or anything, but I was expecting to have a bit of harder time than I am. I know that I was ready for a change, and I was ready for Stian and I to finally be together (which is lovely. He went up the fjords without me the other day and while I'm used to not seeing him for months, I couldn't wait for him to come home again the next day).

I've met wonderful, wonderful people, and found a little sanctuary in the expat community here. Funny how things work out and seem so undeniably "meant to be."

Monday, August 8, 2011

Gratis, ikke Gravid....Free, Not Pregnant.

I chuckle to myself every time I think about this.

Stian's mom and I went shopping for curtains. We went to a few stores and compared thoughts about the different curtains we were looking at. Stian eventually met up with us with impeccable timing - we had just decided on the perfect curtains for the new apartment. I consulted Stian because after all, it was his apartment too, and when he agreed on liking them, we started to look for the correct packages to buy.

We found 4 packages in the right length (exactly what we needed), and then, after turning the packages over and over looking for a price tag, we couldn't find one.

Stian asked me, "How much are these, anyway?"

Trying to be funny with a little Norwegian I learned on TV and in some advertisements, I said, "Hmm. Must be gravid."

He laughed and gave me a funny look. "Gravid????"

Realizing my mistake, I laughed so hard people started looking at us, but managed to correct myself. "Gratis! I meant gratis! Gratis is free. Gravid is....pregnant. The curtains are most definitely not pregnant."

I surely did not intend to say that the curtains were pregnant, but it obviously was much funnier than I planned that little joke to be, and I don't think that experience is something I'll soon forget.

What a great reminder to be light-hearted and open-minded about learning a new language and living in a new country.

Skål! (Cheers!)

The curtains! And only part of the living room.
...please excuse the massive amount of laundry drying in the middle of the room.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Arriving in Norway: A Few Detours, A Grueling Hike, And Making Our Way to the Apartment

Upon arriving in Bergen, a good friend came to pick us up at the airport. Unfortunately, he couldn't fit us AND all of our luggage in his little car, so he took our stuff to his apartment and we took the bus.

Forty-five minutes later, we were reunited with our things. It was time to drive 3 hours North of Bergen to Stian's family home (mind you, this is AFTER at least 18 hours of traveling already...). In order to do that, we needed to do two things: 1) unpack an entire suitcase, shuffle many things around to get to things we would need for the weekend, repack (leaving quite a mess in our dear friend's apartment), and, 2) get Stian's Volkswagen Golf started again.  

The first thing wasn't so bad - only slightly annoying. The second thing wasn't so bad either - mostly hilarious. I only wish I knew where my camera was at the time because it was quite funny to watch the boys push the car out of a parking spot and down a hill with the hope of it miraculously starting. There are just some things I do not understand in this world, and how pushing a car down a hill would get it started again I'll never know. I stood faithfully by showing my support in the matter, but was of no assistance. While the boys worked their magic, I packed (err, unpacked?) and got our things ready to go. Somehow, quite awhile later, they got the car started and we headed for the fjord. 

We spent two great nights at his parents' home, packed up a van with some stuff for the apartment, and then headed to another part of the fjord to his family's farmland for a few days. We went on what was definitely the most grueling hike I've ever been on. We hiked up 1300 meters (approximately 4200 feet), pretty much just UP the entire way, crossed a few rivers, climbed over plenty of rocks, found some large patches of snow to walk over, and made it (about 4 and half hours later) to this, the top of the mountain overlooking the Nærøyfjord:
 : 

              At the most narrow part of the fjord, you can see two patches of trees on the right.
                 The closest one to you is where we started our hike and also where the
 family farm is located.  We were high up!
It was beautiful from the top. In fact the entire hike was beautiful - but tough. More pictures! 

Half way. Ish. 

The group we hiked with. Stian's older brother Tom and a few of his friends.  

Over that hill, there's a few more to conquer!




The grey/white mountain top in the upper left was our destination.


The hubby...happy to be back his homeland. :)

Me bringing up the rear...I don't know how to walk in snow!

On the top of the mountain, getting closer to our destination.

A heart-shaped rock the hubby found!

At the top!


And then we had to go down which, I'll say truthfully, was awful and punishment for the knees. A few hundred meters from the bottom my knees hurt so bad I almost (almost!!!) started crying. They were quivering like I've never felt them quiver and I was nervous that they would completely give out causing me to fall, rolling down the side of the mountain to my death (this thought contributed to the almost crying). The trail was just wide enough for one set of feet, no more, and the edges showed you that if you fell, you'd make a steady descent through shrubs and rocks all the way to the icy fjord water's edge. A week later, my legs have only just loosened up.

We spent a day relaxing in the lovely summer weather before hopping in the van, so loaded down with stuff that I had to crawl via the driver's side to sit next to two suitcases and the gear shift for the two hour drive. 


Our sweet ride...

In that van we squeezed two sofas, one double bed, wedding presents that were awaiting us in Norway, bedding, a box of dishes on loan from Stian's mom (so we have something to eat off of while we wait for our other things to arrive), suitcases, an xbox, and a flat screen tv. That thing was tightly packed! 

And here's a not-so-good-quality (okay, terrible quality) video that I took on the road....(I'm not fooling myself or anyone else by lying that it's a great video, because it's really not). 

video


We headed back to Bergen to get the keys to our apartment - our new home. Stay tuned!!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Goodbye, USA...Hello, Norway

Oh, how I have missed this blog! It's been too long. I haven't forgotten about it - in fact, just the opposite. I have SO much I want to write about, SO many experiences to share, and I've been constantly thinking about what I want to say, but never quite know where to start.

Maybe you should know about leaving the states and arriving in Norway. What an emotional time! Having to say goodbye to all my friends and family wasn't easy. It was drawn out, exhausting, and once in awhile I wished that Stian and I could sneak off in the middle of the night to escape the goodbye-ing. I realized that plotting our escape would do no good...goodbyes are necessary, goodbyes are healthy, and goodbyes put things into perspective. It's important to say goodbye even if it one of the most difficult things you've ever done.

I got some of the best hugs I have EVER received in the last week leading up to our departure. Oh, there was so much love in those hugs!!! I remember thinking during so many of them that I would never forget how it felt to be hugged liked that in all my life.

We had so much packing to do, and I appreciate all the helping hands during that process. Most of the time, I felt lost. I had to make decisions about what to bring, and barely could because I wanted to be sure my things would arrive to make me feel at home even if I was thousands of miles away in my new life. During the goodbye process, I wasn't a productive packer. I don't know if it was because it all suddenly became real, or because I didn't know what to expect. Whatever the case, I wouldn't have made it to Norway without the help of Stian and my wonderful family. Grandma, I sincerely apologize for the mess I left!!!

I deserted the packing one day to have tea with my mom and sister. While it made my new husband less than pleased (it was obvious with the furrowed eyebrows and general grumpy disposition) by returning 6 hours later (we did some other necessary errands during that time...not just tea!!), I was so grateful for some alone time with them. I think we all needed it.

Despite all the tears (in the two days before we left, Grandma cried if she just looked in our general direction; I cried a good cry before going to sleep the night before we left; the airport was difficult if you looked in the tear-filled eyes of my family; I could barely hold back the STING of sad tears while we waited for our gate to open; etc....), we left and headed for our new life.

After a brief stop in Minnesota and a nice visit with family there, we arrived in Bergen, Norway with all our suitcases, ready to start our lives together.


In Manhattan Beach, headed for the airport.