Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Balmy trip to Norway...including gluten free eating

At the beach on the Oslo fjord in Norway

Oslo, Norway

The Scream by Edvard Munch.
I am an American of Norwegian and Swiss descent (as in my family came here around 1900, so we are only 4 or 5 generations of Americans).  I grew up hearing my grandparents speak Norwegian and eating Scandinavian foods (in the Midwest- Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas, especially have TONS of Scandis)and you could buy this stuff in any grocery store.  Every wedding had polka music/dancing, my grandfather played the accordion, and rosemaling was ubiquitous.  When I moved to Southern California after college (where Mariachi bands and Southwestern food is common), for the first time, nobody could pronounce my last name and I couldn't find lefse in the supermarket.  It was the first time I realized that my Scandinavian customs were not common throughout the U.S.  There was a dearth of Scandinavian people where I lived, and it was a culture shock.

Having already traveled to Switzerland, I've always had a desire to look up my roots and go to Norway.  I'm glad I waited to try Ancestry website, because now there is so much on my family tree (painstakingly researched from my relatives, no doubt)!  I did a bit more digging and found that my great-grandma's farm where she grew up was near Lillehammer and she also lived in Bodø, a fjord area.  So, my Marine and I took a week (while we are still on the E Coast, closer & less jet lag) to visit Norway.  (In preparation, we watched the acclaimed Lillehammer series on Netflix- about a New York mobster who ratted and chose to relocate to Norway since he remembered how beautiful the women and country were from the Lillehammer Olympic Games on TV).

I've always heard about and believed Norway's fjords should be on every traveler's BUCKET LIST.  This trip reaffirmed that!  Plus, had I known it would be between 65-76 degrees F, I would have gone much sooner!  The long hours of sunlight were fantastic, since (unlike the U.S.) museums were open past 5PM, and parks with sculptures until 11!  It was a tourist's dream.  Well, except for the price.  Norway is one of the world's richest countries (it didn't go in for the whole Euro thing, and avoided the whole financial crisis), and it is quite pricey.  To stay at airbnb in one room of someone's home it was $125/night (incl taxes,fees), and a tea was $6, and chicken fingers at TGIFridays were $33 (we didn't get them).  But, Norway is the most efficient place I've ever traveled (everything on time and easy to navigate- perhaps because it's lead by a woman, lol)!

ITINERARY:  Flew to Oslo (museums,Syttende Mai parade, fjord, ferry to peninsula for more museums, parks) for a couple days, then Norway in a Nutshell*highlight- recommend the comfort car upgrade*train/flomsbana/ferry tour to Gudvagen (Naerefjord and Sonjefjord), 1 hour bus to Voss (1 night motel stay on fjord), then kayak one day on Hardangerfjord/Eidfjord *highlight*, then 1 hour bus to Bergen (gem city, known for Rainbow-row like beauty and rain, great shopping,dining,*funicular tram, *Lungegardsvana Park) for a couple days, then take $20 flight back to Oslo for last night before home. 

FJORDS:  The fjords were majestic, dynamic (constantly changing views as you moved along past one folded ridge to reveal a waterfall, etc.), and they just called to be photographed.  The 2-3 hour fjord cruises and Norway in a Nutshell (a must-do tour that combines a train and ferry- buy minipris for discount) were the first time I've been somewhere where EVERYONE is taking pictures constantly, without sitting down.  As soon as you see a waterfall, then it's gone (another fold in the landscape or a tunnel on the train closes the view like a curtain) so you have to be quick, but then there are up to 200 waterfalls on a fjord, so you just catch the next one.  There are green layers of trees below snow-topped layers, and hamlets/villages (with grass-roofed houses) in-between.  Kayaking on the fjord was something I will NEVER FORGET.  It was a "pinch-me" moment.  The waterfalls were so numerous, and the landscape was so gorgeous.  Fjords are narrow, so you are surrounded by the beauty, 360 degrees.  It was so warm out, but on one of the scenic train stops as the train ascended, it was snowy and people were skiing.  We threw snowballs and saw a dogsled team running.

  • reindeer pelts for sale
  • ski-skaters 
  • Røss- high school graduation right of passage 3 week spectacular participants all over
  • natives rarely dine out in resaurants, so they are mostly empty, even in downtown of cities and our host said that's what he envies the most about Americans, eating out cheaply and frequently w/friends
  • police- they don't carry guns
  • shower/washing machine bathroom setup: small, weird to have it all together w/shared floor
  • grass (turf) roofed houses
  • although there was some graffiti in cities, it was very clean (compared to Europe in general)
  • efficient lockers, even see-thru ones at museums everywhere to store your stuff while you tour
  • we never had to wait! when we got off a ferry, the bus was waiting there, for example.  Everything is VERY efficient and you don't have that "hurry up and wait" feeling common to travel.  There are tunnels to make travel through the watery fjords efficient, and even the rural roads are wide enough for tour buses.  Plus, there are no "siestas" or poorly-timed business closings tourists find annoying and they have dinner early, like Americans do 

LANGUAGE:  I had taken 10 Norwegian lessons, but the Norwegians all speak perfect English and were perplexed as to why I would attempt to speak Norwegian when they spoke English so easily (efficiency culture).  The language, although Germanic, sounded sing-songy and very lovely.  People were shocked to hear me say even the smallest phrases in Norwegian, but I could tell my pronunciation was not up to par.  They did assume my Marine (a red-head) and myself were Norwegians and would be surprised when we spoke English, especially in non-touristy areas.

Of course, I loved BAKEFRI, the 100% gluten free bakery/deli in Oslo.  I ate gluten free waffles every day (they eat them cool with brown cheese ((very popular, I loved it! Tastes like butter with a kick)) or jam) and danishes, cakes, sandwiches (freshly baked gf baguettes), quiche, brownies, and soups.  You can pre-order gluten free lefse.
Peppe's Pizza was a tourist trap, but alas, they had gf pizza.  It was ok.  $40 for a personal size pizza.
Burger King- had gluten free burger buns and preparation, a whopper alone was $15, but yummy.
Cafe Celsius- Lovely, upscale outdoor dining in the perfect 70 degree weather- a few gf menu notations-gluten free mussels with sauce, gf chocolate mousse, and strawberry sorbet.
*many museums and cafes had gluten free cakes, muffins, and desserts and most Norwegian people had a good understanding of what gluten free is and which foods were gluten free.

GUDVAGEN- after the fjord ferry cruise from the Nutshell tour, there is a store and cafe, where you eat right on the fjord and they had gluten free chicken, rice, and salad plate.  What a pleasant surprise.

Baker Brun- the chef whipped up a made-to-order sandwich (I chose shrimp and cucumber) on gluten free bread with poppyseed crust- yummy!
Pengvinen- hipster/quirky affordable Norwegian food restaurant with 3 or 4 gf menu options: horse, whale, etc.  I got the whale (to try Norwegian fare) and it was tasty, but chewy.  A little went a long way.  My bf had the fish stew and enjoyed it, but he said he still prefer's Shepherd's pie (he is of Scottish ancestry).
Bryggenstuen- upscale, traditional interior- you can request to sit upstairs for a great view of fjord- I had a burger on gf bun, and my bf (not a celiac) had a gluten burger and we both got sick.
Rimi supermarket- had LOTS of gluten free foods that I stocked up on to take with me during the museum days and the airport/flight home, such as ham, Schar buns, brown cheese, a fake gf Kit-Kat.  We often had picnic lunches at our favorite park, Lungegardsvana, where there was often music playing and a lovely fountain and scenery.



SYTTENDE MAI 200th Constitution Day Parade and Celebration:  We saw the royal family and the parade of children dressed in the traditional bunads (similar to Scottish kilts, the designs vary by region).  Norwegians eat lots of hot dogs (often wrapped in lefse instead of buns) and ice cream on this day, and eat out in restaurants (which is not common in everyday life).  Little girls in the parade had dolls dressed in matching bunads, which was so cute.

Akerhus Fortress- active military installation- dungeon, church, canons, ancient swords, military museum, WWII Resistance Museum

National Gallery:  "The Scream" by Edvard Munch and lots of big-time artwork (Norway $$$)
Opera House- it's shaped like an ice berg and you can walk on top of the exterior of the building- it has a restaurant in there, too.
Bygdoy Peninsula (by 20 min ferry):  Folk Museum *STAVE church, wow!!, an outdoor museum of real buildings from different regions& centuries relocated to this site for all to tour
Viking Ship Museum- 3 well-preserved actual Viking ships that had been buried in funeral mounds with Viking people for use in the afterlife.  Their burial in mud preserved them perfectly since 700-900AD to be dug up in 1960's in a farmer's field!
Akerbrygg- bar/restaurant strip on water with grassy areas, benches, and small beach
Cathedral on Karl Johan Plass
Vigeland Park- lots of giant, nude sculptures, open till 11PM.  We saw Night Ravens- citizen patrol that were made fun of on Netflix show (Norwegian police do not even carry guns!)
Røss- Teenagers (high school seniors) ride around in custom, theme-painted party buses and walk around drinking (age 18 can drink wine and beer) and handing out silly photo "business cards" in a 3 week pre-graduation celebration (this was also on Netflix show Lillehammer)
Finse- stop on train where there was snow, dog-sledders, skiers

BERGEN:  (we were lucky it only rained lightly a few hours one day!  It's notorious for rain, but it's the most beautiful city!  It's on the water and the houses are so lovely, like a more prolific, earth-toned version of Rainbow Row in Charleston)

shopped at Bergen District- Norway famous for wool sweaters/snowflake designs, we bought a reindeer pelt-- apparently if you tour in winter you can hike & camp and they are super warm
saw a church still standing from 702 AD
saw WWII communication hideout
Hanseatic Museum- cool to see origianal ROSEMALING on walls (see link above)
Funicular tram- AMAZING view overlooking the city and fjord.  
Saw everyone swimming and using tinfoil "grills" to have barbeques in the park
saw opening of Music Fest with "Sissel" the singer from Lillehammer Olympics&hip hop dancers
Kode Museums (Four different buildings) with tons of Edvard Munch art, furniture, silver, etc.


We stayed at an airbnb with a 24 y.o. native Norwegian kid in Oslo.  The stylish flat was in a great location near the Sentral Station.  We walked everywhere.  The bathrooms in homes in Norway were small and contained a small washing machine.   The shower doesn't have an enclosure, just a curtain, and the floor is just the bathroom floor. Since they have no clothes dryers, they always have clothing drying in the living room.  Our host, Fredrick, was very nice and answered all of our questions about Norway and Norwegians.  He did, however, have lots of guests to his flat, so we wished we had known we would have to share a bathroom with that many people (we wouldn't have chosen to do so).

In Voss, we stayed at a hostel, but it was $175 a night and what Americans would call a "motel".  It was ON the fjord with a STUNNING view.  We were glad to have our own private bathroom.  The complimentary breakfast smorgasbord was all organic and delicious in the awesome panoramic-windowed breakfast room.  Close walk to and from the bus.  We also saw people ski-skating!

We LOVED the trip!  We want to go back and see the Lofoten Islands and Northern region, with more Russian influence, reindeer, and the Northern Lights.  The kayaking on Eidfjord, Nutshell tour, Bergen funicular view, fjord waterfalls, and bunad parade surpassed any expectations we could have had.  The people were straightforward and efficient, as expected, and the food was better than we feared.  We LOVE waffles and brown cheese!

I was disappointed that I didn't get to eat gluten free lefse, see my grandma's farm, or buy the bunad that we were able to identify in a bunad boutique that has to be custom made for me ($4,000 minimum for the embroidered wool outfit).  I think I might try to get my mom to make me a knockoff, since I have a catalogue of my great-grandmother's regional design now.  The scenery was breath-taking and the weather was so perfect!  The only ways it could have been better was if the people were more talkative with tourists and the prices were cheaper.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

PCS Military Move update

This is our 4th PCS in 6 years and I still like it.  This is the smoothest one yet.  Our wonderful, hard-working , well-tipped movers ($200 from our pockets) finished yesterday.  Currently we are living in our house for a couple weeks without our stuff as it travels across the country.  It's fun! 
We are camping in our house.  We cook on a few old trays and a pan (microwave gone, must use oven, stove) and will pack them in trunk of car when we ship it and fly over there.  We play hockey with brooms and a tin foil ball in our empty living room and watch Netflix on the iPad huddled together on our makeshift bed.  
There is a lot going on.  For 6 weeks the landlords have been showing our house to prospective renters (they are asking $400 more per month so nobody has bitten yet, lol).  During our house-hunting trip, the first two houses we liked were already processing approved tenants, and a vast majority of the listings (arduous rental  process in Orange Co, CA where rental homes have lock boxes and you need a real estate agent to show you and then submit a 19 page application, then wait for 2 weeks to see if they accept it) don't accept any pets, so the one we got unexpectedly comes furnished. 
This means we suddenly had to tell the movers not to pack most of our furniture and are now selling it via our neighborhood Facebook page and craigslist, along with my 2002 car, and his old Bronco and motorcycle (the military doesn't pay to move any vehicles, except overseas, and it's $800-1000 to move the one we are moving).  It's kind of fun- our Crate and Barrel Bar sold in 1 min on fb to our neighbor and our landlord bought our distressed buffet (for more than half what we paid).
We don't expect everything to go as planned, often the mid-move adjustments turn out even better than we could have planned.  As long as we are healthy and together, we can't and choose not to complain or use hyperbole to escalate common blips to nightmare status.

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