Having done all the plausibly necessary prep, Jonathan and I set out for our first backpacking/camping trip with our 15-month-old daughter on a sunny Saturday in July.

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Our destination was a little lake called Skjennungen, approximately 5km from Frognerseteren (depending on the trail you choose), at the end of the 1 Tbane line. We've camped there sans baby twice before. It's close to Skjennungstua, an unmanned hytte on top of a hill, which gave me some comfort in the event of a freak thunderstorm or baby-related emergency. There are also trashcans near the hytte, which meant we could unload some waste weight before the longer hike home on Sunday. Our route took us out by way of Ullevålseter, a manned hytte, where we planned to stop for a coffee break. Total distance over two days was only about 12 km (7.5 miles). Click to enlarge the map below.

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We left after naptime on Saturday. The metro ride took about 40 minutes, and we disembarked at Frognerseteren at 3:45pm. The ability to start summer activities late in the day like this is one of the many things we love about Norway. Sunset in Oslo that Saturday wasn't until after 10pm.

  • In Jonathan's pack (32 pounds): tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, warm clothes for the kid, extra socks for all, books for all, food for one breakfast, one lunch, and one dinner, a backpacking cook stove and pot, plastic cups and sporks, water pump and filter, camera, and extra backpacking-related stuff (small lantern, waterproof matches, knife, etc.).
  • In my pack (40 pounds): a 15-month-old Cheeks McGee, water for all, first aid kit, trail snacks, diapers and wipes and waste bags, the kid's favorite stuffed animal.

Over the next two hours, we tramped along dry, well-marked trails, taking time to point out different types of trees, birds, and flowers to the enraptured baby girl. She got to see butterflies in motion, which garnered major giggles. She ate blueberries. She tried to get a good look at an itty bitty frog that her mama couldn't quite catch from within a patch of grass. She picked up stones and traced her fingers through the dirt in the trail. She tried to sing along to various hiking songs. Happy Trails, Row Your Boat, etc. But mostly she sat quietly with a fresh breeze in her hair as her parents talked about interesting things. McGee was a backpack champ. After a couple of breaks, she even voluntarily returned to the pack and attempted to saddle up herself. We will be buying our own Deuter Kid Comfort 3 soon!

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Arriving at Skjennungen just after 5:30pm, we decided to eat dinner before setting up camp. (One thing about having a baby--even an easy-going one--with you... there's less flexibility when it comes to the timing of meals.) A couple of campsites closest to the trail were already taken up by tents, but one less accessible site, on the opposite side of the lake was open. After boiling water on the stove, I sat at a picnic table and fed the kid, while Jonathan hurried to stake our claim.

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Native Norwegians stood stranded at bus stops, boots deep in drifts of white, scratching their heads and wondering how they could have been so wrong. Within the last few weeks, optimistically, gravel has begun to disappear from the sidewalks. Clusters of crocuses were planted in boxes outside apartment buildings and storefronts. Usually, the Norwegians aren't so far off about the onset of spring, and I depend on them to let me know what's happening. (I'm a Californian. I don't know how to identify seasonal shifts. I got a pedicure yesterday.)

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I had to dig my snow boots back out of my closet, reluctantly stuffing my sweet, little spring-pink toes deep into the shearling. I had to put on my parka again. Thankfully, after telling the Hazelnut to suck in, I was still able to zip it all the way up over my bump. 

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On Tuesday night, the Oslo Writers' League launched its second annual anthology at Oslo's Litteraturhuset. I'm proud to announce that the event--which included a panel discussion, readings, and an art auction--raised almost 10,000 NOK for Utdanningshjelpen; this will provide more than three full years of education to scholarship recipients. All in all, a fun, successful evening!

Tammy Dobson Photography came away with some excellent photos...

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Crammed as many OWLs on stage as possible. We're a colorful bunch! 

You can pick up a copy of All the Ways Home on Amazon in the U.S., or the U.K., as well as The Book Depository. All profits go to Utdanningshjelpen. Don't forget to leave a comment and let me know how much you enjoyed the book!

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You'll be hard pressed to find a building more beautiful than the Oslo Opera House (Operahuset). It rises from the banks of the Oslo fjord--white and angular, sleek and graceful--reminiscent of an iceberg. On a sunny day, the windows sparkle. 

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Operahuset is a modern gem in a city full of Victorian buildings. Completed in 2007, the design was chosen in a blind competition of 350 entries. How perfect that the winner turned out to be legendary Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta.

Our first spring in Oslo, we attended the opera Peter Grimes. Here's a peek inside...

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I'm thirty-one. It's not one of those big ticket ages that everyone looks forward to. Thirteen, sixteen, eighteen, twenty-one, twenty-five... I enjoyed them all. Thirty should have been a big year for celebrations, but as those who are close to me might recall, turning thirty knocked the wind out of me. I wasn't ready to be in my thirties. Not really. I felt like a huge faker. In the same way that it took me a year or two to realize that getting married didn't automatically qualify one for adulthood (that it should be the other way around, if anything), I needed roughly 11 months to adjust to the idea that thirty-year-old me wasn't different from twenty-nine-year-old me, and didn't need to be. Age is just a number. And birthdays are just an excuse to throw a party.

So, this year, we did. Thirty-one-year-old me and thirty-seven-year-old Zoë, my writing buddy and movie soul mate. We had a kostyme fest (costume party) with a Hollywood theme. After all, if there's any activity which disproves the myth of an age/maturity congruence, it's playing dress-up. My costume (and my honey's costume) were inspired by one of my favorite movies of all time.

How to Steal a Million (1966) Nailed it.

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Spring is coming. Allegedly. Right now, it feels like the worst winter I ever experienced in California: cold rain whipping against the windows, clouds so thick and so gray for so long you start to forget the sky was ever blue. In the interest of my own sanity, I thought I'd look for some proof of past springs here in the wild north.

Almost three years ago, Jonathan and I took a weekend trip to the historic old town of Fredrikstad, about an hour south of Oslo by train. As you can see, it was a bright, sunny day. (Proof!) A tourist's Scandinavian delight.

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The Gamlebyen (Old Town) is the center of a fortress and has been impressively preserved. Rather than taking a small ferry across the river from the train station (couldn't find the docks!), we braved traffic and walked across the long, modern bridge. Soon enough, we were passing through the 16th century stone main gate and onto the cobbled streets of old Fredrikstad.

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On the perfect Oslo day, the air is warm. The sun, up since 3:30am, swings slowly overhead. Trees sway gently in manicured rows. The air is sweet with the scent of freshly clipped lawns and flowers blooming in window-boxes. Today was just such a day. After writing at a nearby cafe for a couple of hours, my mind spinning with poetry, I decided to wander the streets of my beautiful neighborhood and catalogue its character... by way of Instagram!

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Left: Reflections on a pink dress.

There are several excellent vintage clothing boutiques in Oslo. Of course, I'm not rating them as "excellent" based on my experience as a buyer. I couldn't possibly afford this stuff! But I do peruse when I can. Just to run my fingers over nude Chanel pumps. I yearn to be petite enough to fit into the sizes lining the racks along the wall, lace slip dresses and wool pea coats. 

Right: Finally! The Norwegian strawberries are here!

Norwegians are crazy about their strawberries. It's one of the first things we learned when we moved her two years ago. All year round they brag about those strawberries. The best in the world. True? Well, aside from being tiny (compared to the monster, steroid-enhanced strawberries Californians are used to), Norwegian strawberries are absolutely wonderful. Bursts of sweet, tangy, red juice. Worth a try if you're ever here in the summertime.

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I could smell smoke. Cigarettes, wood fires, weed. The music and rhythm of parties echoed up and down our street. A group of twenty young people gathered across the street. I leaned over the railing from my apartment balcony to see them. Smart phones twinkled in their hands. Their voices were animated, full of potential energy. Beers popped open. A boy tugged gently on the long, blond hair of a female companion. After a minute, they paired off and started snapping photos of themselves. I could imagine Facebook timelines refreshing all over the city, all over the world. Midsommers party-time!

Today, the sun rose at 3:54 a.m. Sunset won't come until 10:44 p.m. The summer solstice is the longest day of the year. Here in Oslo, that adds up to 18 hours, 50 minutes, and 1 second of daylight. For the sake of comparison, my old hometown of Livermore will see a mere 14 hours, 51 minutes and 47 seconds of daylight today. This is one of the delights of living at the top of the world.

Last summer, Jonathan and I celebrated the solstice by hiking in the Oslomarka. We took the train out to Movatn station, an unmanned on the shores of a small lake. We disembarked at 10:15 p.m.; the train eased-then-flew off into the night. And we walked home.

(PHOTO: A nameless pond in the Oslomarka at 23:15 on 20 June 2012)

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Four and a half days. That was all. And some of that time must be spent sleeping. Sleeping instead of laughing, embracing, catching-up. Three times Audrey counted it. Four and a half days. And tomorrow her guests would arrive.

I'm being dramatic, and I'm cheating a little, too. There's nothing terrible about having one's best friends in Oslo for four and a half days, except that it's less than five and a half or six and a half days. I'm stealing O. Henry's drama to make you understand, dear reader, how much I worried that four and a half days wouldn't be enough. One hundred and eight hours. Selfishly, I wanted a full week, but four and a half days would have to do.

There was clearly nothing left to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl.

Or suck it up.

I did the latter. And then planned, planned, planned all the stuff we would do, the places we would go, and the people we would see during those 108 hours. As it turned out, I needn't have worried. Life may well be made up of "sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating," but smiles certainly held their own while Cindy and Brad were in Oslo with us.

At left, you'll see what we wound up doing for the majority of that time. Besiding. Morning, noon, night (or what passes for night during summer in Norway), we were beside one another. At meals. Playing games. Exploring the city. I could reach out and touch my friend's elbow, feel her wrap her arm around my waist. Nothing went according to anybody's real plan. Brad and Cin were nursing colds. Jonathan ordered fish on his pizza. The tourist info office moved since last summer, so I had my guests break the law by riding public transportation before we actually bought the passes to do it! But all of it was done besiding. Which made it perfect.

Don't overplan your next visit to Oslo with friends. I've got a recipe for one Basically Epic Week in Oslo:

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Photo: Jonathan and I had our best California buds in town with us this week, so they got to attend the launch party on Friday. A huge treat for me! See more photos from the party at the end of this post.

North of the Sun, South of the Moon: New Voices from Norway is the first anthology published by the Oslo International Writers' Group, and now you can own it in paperback! The following is the introduction to the book, which I was honored to co-author with OIWG's founder, Zoë Harris

At sixty-six degrees north, there is an invisible line drawn around the globe. The line passes through only eight countries: Iceland, Greenland, Canada, the United States (Alaska), Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Norway. This is the Arctic Circle, a perforation between the Land of the Midnight Sun and everything below it, places where the sun will always set, at least for a breath. Such is the mysticism of the Far North. Polar bears lumber across the icescapes of Svalbard under endless daylight from April to August. More populated areas above the Arctic Circle also enjoy these "white nights", where a girl with a book can read the fine print from dusk to dawn without ever flipping a light switch. 

It is an exotic concept. But, as always, there's a dark side.

The Land of the Midnight Sun cannot escape the inevitable Noon Moon. Twenty-four hours of daylight in the summertime; twenty-four hours of darkness in the wintertime. To cope, residents of Norway put up black-out curtains just to fall asleep in July. In January, light box therapy helps some fend of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). We know two seasons: summer and winter; celebration and survival. These are things to which only people who have lived in-country year-round can attest, an invisible line which binds us together.

When the Oslo International Writers' Group (OIWG) formed in early 2012, the initial aim was camaraderie: to create a network of writers who could share and critique work, discuss writing as only writers can, and support one another in what can often be a rather lonely pursuit. Soon it became evident that the talent and ambition of this set of writers warranted a project, some kind of collective effort to showcase our work to the outside world.

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On Sunday, City of Oslo, VisitOSLO, and Ruter hosted Turist i Egen By, an annual event which, in English, translates to Tourist in Your Own City. Free Oslo Passes for everyone! I'm a huge fan of the Oslo Pass, and I always recommend it to people visiting for more than two or three days, because it includes access to most of the major museums here in Oslo, as well as access to all public transportation (buses, trams, trains, ferries).

The Turist i Egen By event appeared to be a HUGE success. It was one of the most crowded afternoons I've ever seen in the city. The line to board the ferry to Bygdøy wrapped across Rådhusplassen to the Nobel Peace Center and beyond. And since we've been to so many museums, galleries, and other exhibits here already, Jonathan and I decided to tour Oslo's City Hall instead.

Rådhuset is a very distinct building, with its twin brick towers. It was completed in 1950, 19 years after construction began. Construction was postponed during WWII, when Oslo fell under Nazi occupation. The drama of the city hall comes from more than the monolithic structure--intricate murals and powerful statues, each full of symbolism, cover the walls, inside and out.

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Cabin fever. It sets in after one too many days or weeks or months indoors. Oslo is a beautiful, fun city, full of things to do and see. But this year, the snow is taking its sweet time in retreat, which means a few of the spring things I look forward to must wait a bit longer. For instance, walking around the beaches at Bygdøy, a large peninsula to the west of Oslo. Bygdøy holds many of the city's most popular attractions, including the Folk Museum, the Viking Ship Museum, the Fram Museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum, the Holocaust Center, and the Norwegian Maritime Museum.

You can get to Bygdøy by bus, ferry, or bike. Trails and roads criss-cross the peninsula, making it easy to explore by foot. In the spring, the lilacs begin to bloom and the birches waver greenly in the crisp, cold breeze. Exploring the coast means tramping across beaches of the tiniest seashells and coming upon harbors full of bobbing boats on sky-soft sea.

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It's that time of year again. Snow is thick in the hills outside the city, looking almost exactly like the kind of tree limb-burdened winter scene people think of when they think of Norway. But the sun is up. Days are eleven and a half hours long already, and spring hasn't even begun. That's the magic. Sun on snow. And up on the hill, visible from deep within the city, is the curved launch of Holmenkollen's metal spine, Oslo's famous ski jump. 

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This weekend, the city will be swarming with people intent on Holmenkollen, competitors and spectators, excited about the Holmenkollen FIS World Cup Nordic.

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"You are American? Yesterday, Martin Sheen was here."

The waiter placed our drinks on the table and looked up to gauge our reaction to the name drop. Despite the non sequitur, neither of us flinched.

"Martin Sheen. You know... the American actor. West Wing."

I'm not really one for name dropping. (Hard to believe, right, since I blogged meeting my favorite author, Pam Houston, for the very first time at AWP in Boston!) But it wasn't fair to make the nice man squirm like that.

So I said, "Sure. Martin Sheen. I loved him in Gettysburg." And Jonathan said something slightly snarky like, "Not quite as exciting as Charlie Sheen." Which made me laugh, but the waiter was on a mission.

"Martin Sheen. The nicest man! Handshakes for the whole staff."

Addendum: "Actor/activist Martin Sheen and I flew to Oslo, Norway to speak at the civic forum before the conference, sponsored by The International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons... before an excited crowd of 900 people in downtown Oslo." via Huffington Post

This happened on our second visit to the legendary Engebret Cafe, located just to the east of Akershus Fortress. It is Oslo's oldest restaurant, opened in 1857, and, as proved by Mr. Sheen, it attracts luminaries from around the world. Without reservations, I worried we were being optimistic about showing up on the cafe's doorstep, even late on a Tuesday evening. But while the restaurant was full, the bar was empty.

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When Jonathan took the day off work on Friday, neither of us knew what we were going to do with that extra free time together. Unfortunately, we're not practiced enough with the cross-country skiing gear to pull off a last-minute run anywhere. So, it was up to me to choose something. I poked around Visit Oslo first because I would rather live like a tourist in my own city than be cool, in-the-know, and bored at home. 

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Turned out, the game plan for the day was easily settled once I came across a couple of bowling alleys in town. One we've passed many times because it's at Solli plass, just down the street from us. Solli Bowling.

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And time marches on. This cool photo, taken from the heart of Oslo back in the 1880s (when it was still Christiania), looks from Stortinget (the Parliament buildings) down Karl Johns gate toward Det Kongelige slot (the Royal Palance).

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It was originally shared by Visit Oslo on Facebook, a feed I definitely recommend following before you do visit or move to Oslo. When asked to point out what has changed in the last 130 years, commenters mentioned: 

  • The tram line no longer runs down this main thoroughfare.
  • This was taken long before the existence of Deli de Luca.
  • In the summertime, the trees lining Karl Johan are so tall and full, they would obstruct this particular view of the palace.
  • "Lasagna-drawn carriages and streetcars." (You read that right. Sadly, it's a joke referencing "Burger Gate," a recently terrifying revelation about European food.)

Though founded in 1048, when compared with other European capitals, Oslo seems quite new. This is both because the nation of Norway wasn't sovereign until the 20th century, and because a number of fires in the city destroyed so many medieval structures. Most buildings standing in the city today were built after 1850 (the royal palace was completed in 1849), but there are a few notable exceptions, most located in Oslo's Gamlebyen (Old Town):

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Asker is an affluent suburb of Oslo. It's where Crown Prince Haakon and his family have their home. The city is known for its many beaches and wooded trails, as well as shopping options and beautiful churches. We went to check out the Galleri Trafo.

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The gallery opened in 2006 and, according to the VisitAsker website, "has rapidly become an important location for Norwegian and International contemporary art." Housed in an old brick factory building adjacent to the Asker train station, the gallery includes three separate viewing areas on the first floor and one additional exhibit hall on the third.

As we stomped the snow off our boots at the entrance, I asked the lady at the desk for two tickets. She looked puzzled. Turns out the gallery is open for free to the public! Exhibitions change periodically, but the gallery's website seems to be fairly up-to-date.

In Kunsthallen (The Art Hall), we examined a series of contemporary landscapes by Norwegian artist Espen Røise. I stood in front of the focal piece for a long time, taking in the color and movement, the choice of shape. As the artist notes on the website, "Everything I do in my studio has its beginnings in the time I spend in nature, the landscape that touches me." 

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Unfortunately, I couldn't remain soothed by these large, abstract paintings. From behind the wall at the far end of the room came a blood-curdling scream! Someone gasping for breath, panting, crying. Jonathan and I looked at each other, eyebrows raised, and walked toward the sounds. 

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It was a day of Romance with a capital R:

  • Roses (Not a dozen. Apparently Norwegian blomster shops sell them in bunches of ten or fifteen!)
  • Root beer floats (with real A&W root beer, which made this expat very happy!)
  • Reservations at Pizza da Mimmo
  • Roman Holiday

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This about sums it up. And if you need some help deciphering my gift to Jonathan (paper airplane? really?), don't forget to check out my Paperman Valentine.

Remember... this faux holiday is Ridiculous. Participate in Romance year-Round. It's more fun that way!

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Not even mid-winter here in Norway, but we've already got guests lined up for summer. When Jonathan and I moved over in April of 2011, we weren't sure anyone would come see us in Oslo. After all, that's a long way to go, for Californians especially. It's expensive. And Norway, surprisingly enough, isn't high on the priority lists of most travelers. But last summer, we mananged to lure a couple of couples up into the Nordics. What a blast! We visited museums, ate delicious pastries, took lots of pictures, and generally goofed around. Memories! Best of all, we got to play a lot of Kubb, a tradition I hope to extend through Summer 2013 as more friends venture north to hang with us.

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Left: Amy and me in full-on Kubb-box-model mode. We make it look like the best game ever. Who wouldn't want to play with us?  Right: Amy and me in full-on gonna-kick-the-boys'-butts-at-Kubb mode. We make it look like the toughest game ever. Who wouldn't be afraid to play with us?

What is Kubb?

Our first summer in Oslo, we noticed groups of people engaged in some kind of stick-throwing game. On the palace grounds. At Frognerparken. On the banks of the fjord or beside small lakes in the Oslomarka. Throwing sticks at sticks. And while some might roll their eyes at such a juvenile-looking pasttime, Jonathan and I were gripped by curiosity.

The game turned out to be Kubb, a Swedish lawn game where the object is to knock over wooden blocks (kubbs) by throwing wooden sticks (klubbs) at them.

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Braving temperatures of -15 C (5 F) today took some serious motivation. Oslo's Mathallen opened to much fanfare in October last year, boasting more than 33 gourmet food vendors. I've heard only excellent things about it since then. When a Facebook friend posted a picture of several small pies she'd purchased from a stall called Hello Good Pie, I knew I'd be making the trip. Pies and puns? Sorta my thing.

We bundled up against the cold and hopped on the #13 Trikk, stopping at Schous plass in Oslo's Grünerløkka neighborhood, walked three and a half blocks west, and followed the big signs to Mathallen.

Dozens of fresh, fragrant, foodie smells met us at the door. The hall is quite large. Spherical chandeliers hang from the vaulted, black ceiling. Visiting in the middle of the day on a Saturday may not have been the wisest decision. It was packed! So crowded, we found it tough to navigate between the stalls to figure out what our options were. Thankfully, I'd scrolled through the list of vendors on Mathallen's excellent website, so I knew what I was looking for.

Pies! Hello Good Pie offers varieties both sweet and savory, four or five inches in diameter. We ordered an eple crumble med rørosrømme (apple crumble with fresh sour cream) and a sjokolade og peanøtt (chocolate and peanut) to go!

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Just a couple of graffiti favorites from around town. Photos taken in 2011.

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Baby Giraffe

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Skeptical Panther

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Unwittingly, Jonathan and I stumbled across the perfect reprieve from Oslo's cold, dark winter last weekend. We took the T-Bane (Metro) east from the city center to the Toyen station. There we visited The Munch Museum first, a real treat! Lunched there at the café. Then we decided to talk a short winter walk.

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Another cluster of buildings caught our eye, in particular, two greenhouses. The windows were completely fogged up, but we peered through them anyway. Last year I learned how my mind craves the color green after a few months of white snow on bare, black branches, gray streets, and grayer slush piled at the corners. With nose almost flat to the greenhouse glass, I could feel myself yearning for the lush green leaves, vines, and branches I could just make out within.

"It is possible to go inside," said a Norwegian woman who had appeared beside me. "And it IS very nice."

She knew we were Americans. Standing on our tip-toes and drooling must have given us away.

It turned out that we'd wandered into the Oslo Botanical Garden. Under snow, it's tough to tell! The greenhouses, Palmhuset (The Palm House) and Victoriahuset (The Victoria House), part of the garden exhibit, are open six days a week, including Sundays, and are free to the public. 

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Most years, Jonathan and I have put up our Christmas tree on or around December 1st. This Christmas season has been different. I've been in California for four of the last six weeks. The first trip was for pleasure; the second was to celebrate the life of Jonathan's Grandpa Wilson, a wonderful man, who passed away a few days after Thanksgiving. Jonathan and I were fortunate to make it home for the memorial service. While we were in California, we helped decorate two Christmas trees, but it wasn't the same. I couldn't wait to get back to our flat here in Oslo and make it all piney and glowy.

Yesterday we walked a couple of blocks to the nearest tree seller. This one only opened on 14 December; last year, because we wanted our tree earlier, we took Trikk 13 out toward CC Vest (a mall) to get a tree. Riding on a tram with a tree was a new experience! We were happy to skip that ritual this year, though, as the season has been much colder and there's a LOT more ice on the ground.

We spotted this year's tree right away! A little sparse, but beautifully proportioned. A nice, straight trunk. A rich shade of green. How much does a Christmas tree cost in Norway? Ours, just under 2 meters tall, cost 450 NOK ($80), including netting. We think they might be cheaper outside the city.

My manly husband carried it home and hauled it up the four flights of stairs to our place. He set it up in the tree stand while I made cocoa. Then, with When Harry Met Sally on in the background (I don't know why I think of it as a Christmas movie, but I totally do!), we began to decorate.

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From nearly every window in our flat, you can see a tall, copper steeple. Uranienborgkirke (Uranienborg Church) is one of my favorite fixtures in the city, and it's surrounded by a lovely park which goes dazzlingly yellow every autumn.

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I thought I'd have a LOT more time to run out and take photos of the gorgeous fall colors in Oslo. Last year, the weather was deceptively warm and dry. Snow didn't show up until after Christmas. Jonathan and I wandered around our new hometown wearing sweaters and gloves into November. Norway was suckering me in. This year, I've got a hunch, will be very different. Much more "the norm." But then yesterday, a snow flurry came blowing in out of a literally clear blue sky. As I don't want to feel that I missed fall entirely, I thought I'd put up some of the most beautiful pictures we took last year at this time (30 Oct 2011).

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Oslo's National Gallery may not be the Louvre, but I enjoy visiting it for many reasons. That's just one of them. The gallery is on Universitetsgata, just a couple of blocks from the palace grounds, and holds the country's largest public collection of paintings and sculptures.

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While the museum does diplay works by masters like Picasso, Cezanne, and Manet, there is a special emphasis on Norwegian artists like Edvard Munch. One version of Munch's most famous work, 'The Scream' is on display. Translated as 'Skrik' (pronounced shriek) in Norwegian, the painting was stolen from the museum in 1994 and recovered after several months. (The version of 'Scream' at the Munch Museum in Oslo was stolen in 2004, along with the artist's 'Madonna,' and both were recovered two years later.)

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Det Kongelige Slott -- Oslo's Royal Palace

Oslo, Norway. My home these days, and a great place to visit! Jonathan and I vacationed here about a year before we moved over, and were dazzled by everything the country had to offer in the summertime. Since then, I've lived through (and enjoyed!) a Norwegian winter, too. I'm even looking forward to my second. 

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Bærums Verk, Norrway around Chistmastime

When Cheapflights.ca approached me about writing a travel guide to Oslo, I jumped at the chance. My city has so much fun stuff to offer all year round. Visit the Cheapflights website to read my travel guide. It includes:

  • 5 Great Restaurants in Oslo
  • 5 Bars and Taverns in Oslo
  • 5 Fun Winter Activities in Oslo
  • 5 Must-See Monuments, Museums or Galleries in Oslo
  • 5 Day-Trips Outside of Oslo

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The Freia sign on Karl Johans gate in Downtown Oslo

Cheap Flights to Oslo from Canada

Cheapflights - United Airlines Destinations and Fares from Canada

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Holmenkollen Ski Jump -- Oslo, Norway

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Looking for something spooky this Halloween season? Windowshopping after dark in Oslo might just suffice.

Near the corner of Uranienborgveien and Parkveien, across the street from Nomaden, the travel bookstore, is a storefront marked Kunst Handel, Norwegian for art dealer. In the daytime, it would be easy to walk past without taking so much as a sidelong glance at the windows there. You might see the bright corners of gilded-gold picture frames or sculptures high on pedestals. In a blink you're past it. But if you stop to look again, if after night falls the lights inside catch your eye and hold it, you'll find yourself swept into a strange world. Try, if you dare, to imagine the feverish brain which conceived of this bizarre collection.

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King Gander was shot dead cleanly through the eye by a hunter at the lake who had no idea the geese were organized enough to have a king. The jewels in his crown dazzled the hunter through her scope. What a prize, thought she. What a trophy! The gunshot startled the flock and sent them scooting, panic-stricken across the top of the lake and then up into the sky. Behind them floated the body of their leader. The hunter's retreiver, Princess, splashed into the water, paddled out a few meters, and hauled the plump goose by the neck to the shore. The hunter knelt on the rocks and realized King Gander's crown was gone; it had probably tumbled from his head when the bullet tore through his eye and sunk into the dark lake water. No matter, thought the hunter, giving Princess's ears a scratch. When I stuff him, I will have his eye replaced, and I will replace his crown, as well. 

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In Oslo, no two buildings are alike. Walking through the neighborhoods, you'll see many a tourist craning his neck up to stare at the Neo-Classical, Victorian, and Edwardian architecture. (Many locals are used to the beauty and history on every corner, but not I!) Most recognizable are the ornate moldings wrapping around each floor, the light, happy colors, and the distinct style of each individual building. I have my favorites, of course, but then again, I'm always happening upon a new corner of the city, something else to love.

While housesitting for a friend today, I noticed how lovely the city looked through her windows. 

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If you have the opportunity to visit Oslo, make sure you leave time for a long walk. The city is safe, clean, and charming at every turn. Don't forget to look up! And if you live here already, don't forget to look out!

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California girls don't understand seasons. Even if we've long said inane things like, Oh, Autumn is my favorite time of year! Even if we've once or twice strapped a snowboard to our feet and slid down a mountain on the backside of our rented coveralls. Even if we know all the words to the current summer pop hit. California is a special place, a magical place, a place where temperatures just don't vary much. Especially in the south, but even in my own beloved East Bay. I spent the first 28 years of my life spoiled rotten by mild winters, early springs, hot, clear summers, and autumns that didn't require me to put a jacket on over my Halloween costumes.

So you can imagine what an adjustment it's been to move to Norway. Land of four seasons. Winter. Rainy spring. Raaaaaainy summer. And a dark, chilly autumn. I'm kidding. It's not that bad. And actually, I've enjoyed the seasons so far. Seasons are pretty. Who knew?

This is best demonstrated by looking at the changing seasons in Oslo's Frognerparken.
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On the Monday following the Olso bombing and Utøya massacre, more than 100,000 people converged in front of Rådhusplassen (city hall) to memorialize the victims and support their families. The crowd held long-stemmed roses which they raised to the sky in peaceful defiance again and again. It was, possibly, the most elegant, loving tribute I've ever seen. I took the video, below, with my iPhone, and there IS audio, but you won't hear a thing. It was as if everyone in the city was holding his breath.

 

When the speeches were finished, everyone walked away. We streamed back through the veins of the city, and along the way, we placed our roses. At the feet of statues. At the cornerstones of the parliament buildings (Stortinget), Oslo Cathedral, the Royal Palace. I added mine to a growing heap of flowers at the Eternal Peace Flame at Aker Brygge. Hundreds of thousands of roses blanketed the city.

It's not up to me, an Outsider, to say whether this defiantly peaceful response is a byproduct of the natural stoicism of Norwegian society. But these people are bred of generations who have thrived in the cold and the dark by drawing closer together. Their ancestors saw the rule of other nations, Sweden and Denmark, and outlasted Nazi occupation. This country has seen its share of adversity and woe. 

It is up to me, as a writer, to observe the response and share it. Especially because the echoes of this Rally of Roses were so gentle and lovely. The next day, I walked through town and captured the aftermath with my camera.
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Yesterday was Norway's birthday, May 17th. 

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Throughout the country schoolchildren participate in colorful parades, celebrating 17 May 1814, when the Norwegian constitution was signed and Norway was finally declared to be a separate nation. In Oslo, the barnetoget (children's parade) begins down by the water and winds uphill to the Royal Palace. It is the largest parade in the country; about 100 schools participate, and the number of spectators can reach 100,000! At the palace, the royal family stand on the balcony to inspect each school and band as it goes by.

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King Karl Johan, King of Sweden and Norway at the time the constitution was signed, also inspects the schools as they pass. Norwegians are very patriotic, though not necessarily in the way I was brought up to think of patriotism in the U.S. Love of country simply laces every celebration. It's not strange to have a Norwegian flag displayed at a birthday or anniversary party, and Christmas decorations often include flag ornaments and ribbons. But on Constitution Day, flags run a red, white, and blue river all the way up Karl Johans gate.

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This means we get our own flags, too!
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"I want to repeat one word for you: Leave. Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word... Don't worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed." -- Don Miller

So we left.

Maybe it was that all of our familiar furniture was already placed in these foreign rooms, or maybe it was that sunlight streamed in through all our garret windows and made the place glow. Whatever the case, our cats had no trouble adjusting to their new surroundings. We unzipped the carriers slowly so that Disney and Crypto could ease their way out into the new space. They still wore their harnesses. Green camo for Disney and pink floral for Crypto. They'd spent the last 24 hours enclosed in the carriers, most of that time on planes between San Francisco and New York, then New York and Oslo. We'd pulled them out a few terrorizing times: going through security at SFO and then again at EWR, for a brief rest period at an airport hotel in Newark, New Jersey, and then finally at OSL where a veterinarian was on hand to examine them and grant our precious cargo official entry into Norway.
 
That was the longest day of our lives. 

Two planes, a train, a taxi. Five giant suitcases, two cat carriers, and two whining cats. Four flights of stairs. 

But as we entered the new flat, at once aware of our solitude and our togetherness, all the stress of the melted away. 

Disney found the circle window in the living room quickly. He hopped up to the sill multiple times that first day to check out the new street so far below him. Birds played in the sky at his eye-level. He purred contentedly. Crypto sprawled on the floor in one of the rectangular patches of yellow sunlight on the wooden floor. She lay there like a swimmer floating in a pool of light.

Jonathan and I stepped out on our patio and walked to the corner of it. I pushed up on the banister and leaned forward, face full into the fresh April air, pointing myself southwest where I could see, half a kilometer away, the water of the Oslofjord. Jonathan stood behind me and placed one hand on each of mine, his chest pressed warmly to my shoulder blades. 

That was exactly one year ago. And since then...

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Last night, Jonathan and I took our favorite short walk in Oslo: straight southeast from our flat in Frogner, through the grounds of det kongelig slott (the Royal Palace), down Karl Johans gate, to Jernbanetorget (Oslo Central Station). Temperatures reached the high 50s yesterday, but dropped off quickly once the sun lowered behind the buildings. We stuffed our icy, white hands deep in our pockets and moved at a quick clip to keep the blood moving in our toes.

The ponds behind the palace are still empty. We watched children, bundled up in chubby, one-piece suits, toddling across the pebbled surface to kick at the last, dirty piles of snow. After the first major snowfall, trucks had buzzed along our streets spilling gravel over the flat surfaces to provide traction for pedestrians. Last night we watched another large truck equipped with something like a mega-shop-vac as it howled along one of the paved paths near the palace and inhaled the gravel once again, leaving the dry path clean behind it.

Walking down the hill into the city center, I happened to glance at one of the large, winter-barren planters to my left. I stopped short. Flowers! The earliest, tightly coiled purple and yellow buds are nosing their way up through the dark soil beneath the still-bare trees.

So, Veldig Oslo - Volume 02 is spring color! Within the next few weeks, these brave buds will open toward the sky in bursts of yellow and purple glory.


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Veldig Oslo - Volume 02: Yellow daffodils and purple pansies on the Oslo Royal Palace grounds in April 2011

Crossing my fingers against any impending frost. Survival of the brightest. Bring on the spring!
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Spring is striving beyond winter's boundaries right now. After what turned out to be a fairly mild winter here in Oslo, we've had two weeks of "warm" weather in a row. Lots of sunshine. Lots of little birds filling dormant, leafless bushes with song. The snow has melted; only the rare patch of murky, aged ice remains in high, untrafficked places. Cafe tables and folding chairs have begun to reemerge outside Olso's sidewalk eateries. These are all signs of spring.

But we haven't seen the true indicator, the no-looking-back-now symbol of spring's arrival and dominion.The Oslo Bysykkel system is not yet active. And because the days are getting longer and the weather only warmer, this brings me to a new series of blog-thoughts... things I love (and currently miss) about spring, summer, and autumn in Oslo... Veldig Oslo (Very Oslo) - Volume 01:

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Veldig Oslo - Volume 01: Cruising along the fjord near Akershus in July 2011.

Oslo Bysykkel racks are located all over the city. By purchasing a rental card, you have access to all of the racks. You can then pick up a bike anywhere and drop it off anywhere. It's that simple. The three-speed bikes come equipped with a bell and a small basket. They're not fancy, but they get you from here to there, and in a pedestrian-friendly city like Oslo, it's a safe way to travel, too. 

This is one of the things I've missed most of all since the bikes' removal in late autumn. Jonathan and I used the system constantly for more than six straight months. We didn't leave the house without grabbing our bike cards! 

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Oslo Bysykkel rental bikes near Nowegian Maritime Museum on Bygdøy

The bike rental system is available to tourists in Oslo, as well:

Tourists wishing to use bicycles during their stay in Oslo should contact the Tourist Information Centre by the Central Station, the central station or Fridtjof Nansen Square 5, entrance gate Roald Amundsen, who will assist with the provision of tourist card. (This is a translated excerpt; for more information, visit the Oslo Bysykkel website.)

Per the website, bikes should reappear at rental racks in early April. Then, bring on the spring!
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Karl Johans Gate runs straight downhill from the gates of Oslo's royal palace to the parliamentary buildings (Stortinget), and continues down to the city's main train station (Oslo Sentralstasjon). From the palace hill one can see the tops of buildings and trees, red flags, neon signs, streetlamps. But beyond all of that is the verdant rise of Ekeberg Park and the rest of Oslofjord's eastern bank. As Jonathan and I walked through the palace grounds and surveyed the city, it was that grassy, forested hill which caught my husband's eye.

"This is why Oslo is the perfect city for us," he said. "We can be right in the heart of town and still see the natural world."

He's right. This is what works for us. I like the buzz and color of city living, the knowledge that great restaurants and world class opera and authentic kababs and high fashion all exist within a few blocks of me. Jonathan must, at all times, be able to hear and heed the call of the wild. Oslo, in her generosity, provides us with both.

For example, last weekend we wanted to get out for a hike. The weather forecast included rain, but the frantic gleam in Jonathan's eye kept me from pleading my case to remain dry. Rather, we grabbed the Gore-Tex and hurried to the tram stop. We took our corner tram (19) to Majorstuen where we hopped on the Metro (T-Bane 1) to Frognerseteren. The half-hour train ride took us up into the hills at the northern end of the city.

Frognerseteren is the last stop on the line, and a number of hiking trails branch out from the train platform. These trails double as cross-country ski trails in the wintertime. We disembarked and headed downhill a short way to the Frognerseteren Restaurant. Housed in a hulking dark wood building constructed in 1892, it includes a cafeteria style section for people dropping in along with a fine dining area open for dinner. It's hard to miss the restaurant in all its ferocious grandeur. Traditional Viking carvings of leering dragon heads sprout from the eaves. We had occasion to enjoy a pint of beer (øl) soon after our arrival in Norway this April; it's well worth the short trip, both for the delicious baked goods and the vibrant panoramic view of Oslo far below.

But our motivations last weekend were much different. After some cursory research, Jonathan had selected a hiking trail from Frognerseteren down to the lake at Sognsvann. The 7 km (4.3 mi) hike would be mostly downhill. And, best of all, we'd be able to take the Metro from the station at Sognsvann back down into Oslo at the end of it.

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This page is a archive of recent entries in the Shutterbug (Photos) category.

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