Thursday, April 19, 2012

Tongue Tied and Tired

I started my first Norwegian class in January and, truthfully, liked it a lot. It was exactly the level I needed to be in (I skipped the first one since I knew the basics and was ready for a little more of a challenge), and for the most part I didn't mind going for 3 hours 2 nights a week.

When class was over I got my certificate saying that I had completed 56 hours and could move up to the next level. There were no breaks in between the old class and the new, and we jumped right in to only speaking Norwegian. The class had dropped from 13 to 6, 2 of which were a couple who had an unbelievable mastery of the language.

I can sort of  understand native Norwegian's when they speak (sometimes.) - but I couldn't understand the Polish accent these 2 put on the Norwegian they spoke at incredible speed. Within the first 30 minutes I felt incredibly overwhelmed and incompetent. I went home determined to review everything we did in class and take the homework really seriously.

Well, I tried that. After 3 hours I gave up and resigned myself to be unprepared for the following class. I felt myself plummeting into a black hole of self doubt and sudden reluctance to try.

When was the last time you tried to speak Norwegian?, you might ask. My answer? I can't even remember besides the "kan jeg også ha en pose?" (Can I also have a bag?) when buying cat litter the other day. That's been the only phrase besides telling the cat: flink gutt du er! (clever boy, you are!). At the moment, if someone speaks Norwegian to me, I can feel the puzzled look come over my face....and then a slow understanding...and when I try to respond all that comes out is an exasperated sigh. Where have all my words gone?! Where has my go-getter, throw your worries to the wind attitude about trying gone?! Panic sets in and I unfortunately go to my fall back phrase: Snakker du engelsk? (Do you speak English? please oh please oh please speak English!)

My pile of ever-so-expensive Norwegian books are staring at me as I write this, and I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt that I haven't opened them in weeks.

I quit the class. I told the manager of the school that I will come back and try again in the summer or the fall, but right now I just can't do it. I'm not motivated and more than a little stressed out with the thought of needing to take driving lessons and a driving test, and fill in lots of applications for work-related things.

So I'm on a temporary Norwegian hiatus with the promise to myself that I will do a little bit in my book every now and then.

Before I moved, I made contact with a girl from Canada. I asked her about learning Norwegian and how the experience was for her. Her words are still in my head: it's not something to stress yourself out about. You'll learn it eventually and in your own way.

I think she's right. For now, I'll stick to having my Norwegian experience of the week be a free Sunday morning yoga class. She speaks very slowly, quietly, and the most popular phrase that I can appreciate the most right now: slappe av.


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Paris Vacation - Part 3

Want to know the best way to annoy your husband when on vacation? Make next to no plans for how to get to a place that you really want to go see and then watch him sit grumpily in Starbucks for an hour while you wait for a train (your persuasions of coffee lattes and croissants don't help much, either). Keep in mind, we had gone out with some local Frenchies the night before - so we wasted slept right through the good early morning hours. Oh well. We got there...eventually.

I desperately wanted to see Monet's home and gardens in Giverny. Here's what I knew before we left: we needed to get the main train station, we should buy a ticket to the Vernon stop and take the shuttle from there.

Also, there's not loads of trains that go to this place. I never once looked at a train schedule and had not a clue as to what any of it would cost.

I'm a fun travel companion, I swear. Instead of a "procrastinator" in the most extreme sense of the word, we'll call me "spontaneous" because I like that more.

I'm just going to post a bunch of pictures from this place. I loved it (we weren't allowed to take pictures in Claude Monet's house so sorry, no pictures from that weird/kitschy place) and could have stayed for hours (except for the hoards of school children that were there that day!).

The weather was perfect. This was my favorite day of our vacation, although I loved them all very much.

Here is just one of the groups of children that were with their school. This particular group was drawing the famous footbridge, but other classes were walking around talking about the flowers and writing things down in their notebooks.

And this is the view from the bedroom of his home:

I might start to paint, too, if I woke up to this every morning! 

After wandering around the gardens and gift shop for awhile, we went to a little cafe to sit in the sun and eat something before catching the hour long train ride back to Paris. 

We decided to go the Notre Dame that late afternoon/early evening.

It's massive!

Gorgeous stained glass windows!!!

We caught the Good Friday mass (it was an accident, but a happy one!)

These trees took my breath away...

There are two bridges in Paris that are famous for 'locking your love' to it - one is apparently for your true love, and the other for your lover. We couldn't remember which was which, so we put our lock on the one next to the Notre Dame (and does it really matter which one it's locked to?).

So many locks!!!

We found a spot for ours. Can you see it?

We decided that after dinner we would check out the Eiffel Tower so we could see it at night, and even though it felt more crowded than Disneyland in peak season (you know, bumping shoulders with people walking past, incredibly long lines that probably aren't worth it, etc.), it was the perfect way to end the day:

First view of the tower...and I took this with my phone!!
From Stian's phone....(our phone's took better pictures than the camera - we need a travel tripod!)
We didn't go up because the line was over 2 hours long, but it was enough to just look at it from ground level (for this trip, at least).

More to come...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Paris Vacation - Part 2

Day two arrived and we were up early. We went to the market around the corner and bought some baguettes, ham, cheese, and what we thought was butter (but turned out to be cream cheese) so we could take food with us and save a little money.

When I saw "Smoret", I automatically jumped to the conclusion it was the Norwegian word for butter "Smør" (but while checking out, we realized that, well, we're not in Norway anymore, and if I had truly read the fine print, I would have seen the French word "fromage" (cheese) and maybe changed my selection). But we made due. 

We packed a backpack and hopped on a train to Versailles. Of course, that was after a croissant for breakfast.

When we got to our stop, we heard there were guided tours available across the street, so made an effort to walk faster than everyone else, cut a few corners, and end up first in line. Well, that paid off and we got a tour just 20 minutes after we got there...which was definitely a plus because that meant we didn't have to wait in the horrendous 2 hour line. 

Gorgeous entrance (but let's admit it's gaudy), and inside was amazing, too. 

Our tour guide was sweet, but some phrases she repeatedly said made me giggle a little to myself. For example, she was referring to all the marble on the floors and walls and said "Louis XIV loved marbles. There are marbles all over." Okay, that means something completely different. But I got the point and that's all the matters - the guy really liked marble in his palace. Noted. 

Here's a few things we saw in Versailles: 



More paintings on the ceilings and pretty chandeliers. 

And of course, the Hall of Mirrors. (That was very impressive, mostly because it's unlike anything I've ever seen). 

I'm glad we went, and if this were the first-ever castle/palace/home of royalty I had ever seen, I think I would have loved it more - however, I kind of feel like once you've seen a place like this, you've seen 'em all. (Nevermind the rich history and interesting little things we learned about the French Revolution along the way on our tour). 

The place was really crowded, too crowded, so it was nice to go into the gardens: 

It could've been great. It could've been lovely. It could've been the greatest gardens I've ever seen. But it wasn't. It wasn't because we were there for a grand total of ten minutes. Brilliant me was deceived by the morning sunshine at our hotel and I chose, deliberately, not to bring a jacket (really, I'm tired of jackets; I want the sun to be my jacket for once!). I'll be the first to admit that was a dumb decision.

And so I was cold. And my feet hurt. And the crowds were getting on my nerves. And I was starting to get hungry. So we left and ate our sandwiches on the train and all was well again.

After a nap at the hotel, we made our way to a lovely restaurant called the Le Procope for the best food we ate in Paris.

I tried the escargot:

I'm glad I tried it, but don't think I'll get it again. 

So nervous!

I also tried the duck: 

And the duck came with the best fries! They tasted so fresh: 

And for dessert I had an ice cream sampler - 5 different flavors that could be mixed and matched to perfection. :)

After dinner we changed clothes, and wandered around trying to find a place to go out on the town.

While Stian was trying to figure out where to go with an app on my phone, I wandered over to look at some jewelry in a boutique window. While there, I suddenly felt myself surrounded and somebody was speaking to me but I didn't understand. When I turned around there were 3 French guys in front of me. I started to talk to them, admitting immediately that I had no idea what they were saying because I don't speak French, and Stian came over and started to chat, too. We had a good time standing on the street corner, but they said they were on their way to a pub and wanted to know if we wanted to go with them.

So of course, we went....and had a great night!

It was underground and a great local spot!

We had a great day and splendid night. We got back to our hotel really late and as a result, got up really late, changing the course of events for the following day...

...stay tuned!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Paris Vacation - Part 1

I was desperate to get out of Norway. The winter blues had gotten to me, and I needed a change of scenery.

We bought tickets to Paris before Christmas...sort of as our gift to each other, and sort of as a delayed honeymoon (since our 'honeymoon' was camping in Yosemite with both of our families and then moving to Norway - in my mind, that's not a honeymoon - but it was fun!)

We left early on Wednesday morning (the first flight to Amsterdam -where we had to change planes - left at 6:30 in the morning).

Upon arrival in Paris, we surprisingly bought the right tickets for a train that would get us into the heart of the city without any help. 

On the train:

(What a change from Bergen's immaculate and quiet Bybanen! This was old, loud, and kinda smelled like pee - as did many of the metro rides we took during our stay).

After dropping off our luggage at the hotel, we took a stroll around the neighborhood we stayed in (Saint Germain). It was lovely: beautiful boutiques, great restaurants, and loads of cafés for people watching. 

(The only pictures of the neighborhood and the hotel.)

After our first meal and glass of wine, we went to the Galeries Lafayette - probably the most grand department store I've ever seen. There was an entire floor dedicated to women's shoes, which extended for what seemed like an entire city block. Sorry, no pictures of that (although it was amazing)...but here are some other pictures from that incredible place: 

Grandma told me the cosmetics department was amazing...she wasn't lying!  
Isn't it gorgeous? I love the dome!

One more from the first floor: 

After checking out almost every floor, we headed up to the roof. I read that the view was something you shouldn't miss, so we went up, happy to have some fresh air and open space away from the crowds. 

The view was incredible. 

By this time, we were exhausted. We had been on two flights, a train, in a cab, wandering around a neighborhood, on the metro, and exploring the expansive Galeries LaFayette. We sat down for some ice cream (or is it gelato? Not sure)...which was amazing (but we had to guess what the flavors were since we obviously can't speak or read French and no one really seems to want to clue us in with English...which was to be expected, I suppose).

My selection: strawberry and vanilla, complete with a chocolate cookie!

Stian's choice: chocolate, caramel, and vanilla. Beautiful! 

We bought a phrase book so we could practice a few phrases during our stay (which were not received so well because we're both pretty terrible with French and probably should have worked on it before we left). 

Stian practicing some random phrases. :) 

It was a great first day. Dinner that night was mediocre, but we had some great wine and wonderful desserts. The best part? It only got better from there.

Still to come: a trip to Versailles, dinner with new foods, and a night on the town with the locals. Stay tuned!