Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Norway still the world's best place to live

Picture of me sitting on the docks having a drink or two. Harald is taking the picture.
Just came across this article in Aftenposten:
Norway still the world's best place to live

After having a long conversation with some close friends last night about the quality of life there, and in light of my recent experience while on vacation in Oslo, I thought it was worth mentioning and linking to.

According to the article, the United Nations ranked Norway as having the highest standard of living in the world. The U.S. fell on the scale at 8th place, France 16th, and the worst 23 countries are all in Africa with "war-torn" Sierra Leone in last place.

Monday, June 27, 2005

There and back again...

Note that a lot of this blog post is incomplete. In some sections I only quickly put down a couple of thoughts so I wouldn't forget where I was or what I was thinking, but I will get around to fleshing them out later. Check back from time to time for the updates or set your feed reader to grab this blog (the Atom feed link is in the sidebar, or if you're using Firefox you can just click the Live Bookmark icon in the bottom right corner of your browser).

Last minute rush
Thursday, June 16, 2005 - evening

I never suprise myself. Just like I always do, I waited until the last minute to do laundry and pack. Part of the problem is that I only have a handful of clothes that I like enough to wear regularly, work or play. So, basically, my excuse was that I was wearing the clothes I planned to take with me. I called Harald and told him I wouldn't be ready to come over until 9:30 or 10:00. Even though I was rushing it took longer to get everything done and finish packing. I got to Harald's place after 11:00 p.m. He already had the couch made up for me and we went to the backyard for a glass of water and a final relaxing smoke break before headeding to my couch for a three hour nap.

Travel Day, Literally
June 17

We got up just after 3:00 a.m. -- ETA at the airport needed to be about four o'clock so we'd be able to check in and get through security in time for the 5:45 a.m. flight to Los Angeles. As we were getting ready to head out I realized I had forgot my coat, probably the most important thing you can take to a place that is usually cold. Harald's friend Reg was taking us to the airport but had to divert back to George's house to grab my coat. Once we got to FAT I was able to have one last smoke outside before going through security. I wasn't really craving it, but looking ahead at 15 total hours of flying on three planes and several hours of waiting in three airports I felt like I needed to have one.

I dont' remember having to take my shoes off last year when I went to Las Vegas with Joan but everyone had to this time. Seems like a silly policy but I assume it's for some good. Once we were in the terminal I was able to get a coffee at the mini snack stand and finally relax -- burned my tongue on the first sip. Duh! Why do I always do that? Amazingly I was not nervous waiting for our flight. Usually I suffer from anxiety or fright while I'm waiting but I think converstation with Harald kept my mind on other things.

The flight to Los Angeles was pretty smooth as far as props go. An hour isn't too bad either, except I was already craving another cigarette as soon as we landed. I shouldn't have had that one in Fresno. Everytime I'm trying to cut back or quit I make that mistake and then one leads to wanting another one. It's like taking a bite of a Snickers and then putting it down for later. It doesn't take long before you feel the taste leaving your mouth and then suddenly the whole candy bar is gone. I sat down with Harald for the two hour wait for our connection but not long into it I decided I was going outside to smoke again. Not a wise choice, I would later find out. I could see outside from where we were, and security seemed pretty slow at that time, so it wouldn't be too much trouble to go outside. I walked down to security and went down an escalator that would get me out. Once outside I lit up, and it was good. Now how do I get back in? I walked up and down the outside of the terminal and all the doors said "Exit Only." Getting a little frustrated I finally asked a Black female cab driver who was standing next to her cab. She wanted to know if I was going to the "partay" -- the party? Okay, so I'm not up on current airport cab driver slang. I told her "yeah, I'm going to the party." She directed me to an obscure little entrance with a stairway that went back up to security. What came next was shocking. About fifty people were lined up in front of an escalator with one airport security person checking IDs before letting people go up to the actual security checkpoint -- and the line wasn't moving when I got to it. The people were being made to wait for some unknown reason. Wonderful. I was sure Harald was wondering what was taking me so long because I had trouble finding my way back in -- and now I have to stand in a line that I didn't know existed. From my view at the top when I was on my way to smoke I didn't see all these people on the middle level. It looked like security was dead earlier but it was just that the line was hidden. Eventually it was my turn, I showed my passport, went up the escalator, and got in a small line at the checkpoint. No more problems. By the time I got back to Harald there wasn't that much time left to wait. At least I wasn't bored!

Once again in the air, on a six hour flight, I found myself nearly squished in the munchin sized seat between Harald and some other guy who was listening to an ipod and barely acknowledged that there was anyone else on the plane. I can't remember what movie was playing but halfway through the flight I decided it was time for a drink! I ordered a rum and coke and got a small cup of ice, a coke in a can, and a tiny plastic bottle of Bacardi. Lunch (or dinner?) was served -- a cheese hot pocket. That's great. What are dairy-sensitive people to eat? I ate the side dishes and gave the cheese thing to Harald. It was enough to hold me over as it turned out. I offered Harald a shot of my Bacardi but he just smiled and wouldn't have any. Wow, Harald turned down a drink! He eventually had some of my second Bacardi order so we eventually had a drink together and yelled "Skul" to eat other (cheers!).

Once in Newark, New Jersey, I made the wise choice to not have another cigarette. It was around 8 or 9 p.m. Eastern time and Mom would have just gotten off work so I decided to call her cell phone. My cousin Lisa answered -- Mom had left her cell phone at work -- so I talked to her for a few minutes and then tried the home phone. Dad answered so I got to talk to him for a little bit. Mom was visiting Grandma so I would have to talk to her from my next stop. I told Dad to let her know I called. I also called and talked to Joan and then George. Before long it was already time for the next flight to Oslo.

Still going on only three hours of sleep, and a few five-minute naps on the last flight, I was starting to feel really tired. Maybe the Bacardi was working on me too... I was in the middle again and Harald had the isle seat. The guy at the window traded with someone else just before take off, apparently to be with someone he knew. The new guy was much friendlier than the Ipod guy on the previous flight. I don't remember his name. I thought it was strange that he had a British accent but worked in the U.S. Navy. He had lived with his wife and children and worked for a long time in the U.S. but was now moving back to his home in Wales. The three of us talked for quite a while. The movie was Maid in Manhattan (with Ralph Fiennes and Jennifer Lopez) and after our conversations died down I tried to watch the movie but started drifting in and out of sleep. The movie is a good one, but I'd seen it before so it wasn't that hard to let go and drift away for a while.

Day 1 - Saturday
June 18

Once we arrived in Oslo I was so tired that I'm not even sure what time we arrived. There seemed to be a delay getting off the plane and I think it was sometime around 11:00 a.m., Norwegian time (2:00 a.m. back home in Fresno), and I felt like I just got off from working a night shift. I now know the true meaning of jetlag.

Coming into Oslo from an international flight we had to go through their immigration checkpoint. The lady there at first didn't look friendly and asked me "Where are you from?" and "Why did you come to Oslo?" When I told her I was from California she seemed to perk up and mentioned she had been there when I asked. She seemed to like that I had asked her a question. When I told her I was visiting my friend she wanted to know his full name and she seemed pleased when it turned out that he was there with me. For a second I think my brain thought what if she's says I can't come in? That would be really inconvenient. She stamped my passport and I told her to have a good day. Harald said some quick things to her in Norwegian, laughed and smiled, and was then right behind me.

It seemed to take forever for the luggage to come out, I had to pee, and even though I had cut back on smoking a few weeks ago I was starving for a cigarette after 16 hours of sitting, napping, and drinking.

We met Harald's friend, Bjornar (BYOR-NAR), coming out of the airport. Harald told him that I was a smoker and I had been saying how much I wanted one. Bjornar insisted that I light it as soon as we got out. The air outside smelled clean, the sun felt good, and then I tainted the experience by lighting my cigarette. Duh -- suddenly I was light headed and started feeling the effects of nearly 20 hours of travelling. The jouney ahead made it all worth while though.

The country-side made me think of Oregon. I think the drive to Harald's house took about thirty to forty-five minutes. The house is a beautiful two-story with a basement as large as the other floors. The house Harald grew up in is right in front with his current residence situated just behind it at the end of a narrow driveway. Across the street is a church and small cemetary where he said he played as a child.

As we walked up the steps to the front door Bjornar explained to me that it was sort of a custom to join Harald's mother for coffee and sandwiches after arriving home from America. Harald's mother is just like I imagined, a sweet little woman of 86 years. Her English was good and she was very interested in hearing about my family.

Not long after, Harald showed me around the house. Each level was like it's own apartment, the main level was for his mother and the second floor was his. The basement is where Harald has his office as well as a complete bathroom and a guest room for visitors like myself. Harald and I decided to take a nap to shake off some of the jetlag before joining Bjornar in the afternoon for some sightseeing. Harald went to his apartment on the top level. I curled up with the comforters in my new room in the basement. The bed was soft, had a big fluffy comforter, half a dozen pillows, and was so comfortable it was hard to crawl out of it three hours later. If my bed in Fresno was that cushy I would never go anywhere.

Picture of me and Bjornar at the restaurantAround four o'clock we got up and joined Bjornar for a drive around town and up into the hills around Oslo. Harald told me about the famous ski jump and an old television tower, both now containing museums, as we drove around to see them. Time was short so we weren't able to go inside either place. We had a late-afternoon meal at a restaurant nearby, in a building that was probably a couple hundred years old. It seemed like everything in Norway is about that old or more and is somehow still in perfect condition. The food was good, a bit different from American cuisine, but not what I was expecting. I discovered better food on Sunday though. :)

After lunch we took a ride downtown, parked the car in an undergound parking garage, and took a walk around part of downtown and around the harbor. We sat on wooden steps and had a beer at a place called Aker Brygge. Bjornar had other plans and could not stay but Harald and I returned to the area several times during my stay.

more to come...

Day 2 - Sunday (Father's Day in the U.S.)
June 19

Day with Harald and his mother in North Mangen.

Our first stop was to meet his brother Petter, his wife Bergit, and their oldest son Mads (they also have another younger son, Jonas, that was not home at the time).

Our second stop was at his oldest brother's country house, where we met brother Aksel Odd, his wife Malene, his son Ole Petter, his daughter Jannike and her boyfriend Tommy (7/1/05 Update: I had the spellings completely wrong before, except for Malene and Tommy, but fortunately Harald came to the rescue today with corrections :) ).

It was a beautiful day, shorts and t-shirt weather. Fearing the cold temperatures of Norway I had dressed in my long sleeve Abercromie shirt, long jeans, and cowboy boots. Earlier at Petter's house I hadn't felt the heat so much, but realizing we were staying here at Aksel's house for a while I decided to pull off the boots and long socks and rolled up the leg cuffs of my 501's. For some reason I'm always suprised how good it feels to get my bare feet out and it seemed like it had been a long time since I walked around barefoot on cool grass.

When we arrived Ole Petter and Tommy were playing Football (or soccer if you're American). Petter already had the barbeque going with Elk and potatoes and the smell was making my mouth water.

More to come...

Once back at Harald's house in Oslo I used the IP phone to call home and wish Dad a happy Father's Day.

more to come...

Day 3 - Monday

Drove up to Bjornar and Tora's home. Had dinner with them and visited 'til nearly midnight.

Day 4 - Tuesday

Bjornar was at the house when I came out of the shower. It seems that we kept them up so late the night before that Tora overslept and missed his train into Oslo where he works. Bjornar had to drive him to town and decided to stop by for a while. Unfortunately he had an afternoon appointment and was able to stay for very long.

Later we toured the Akershus Fortress and war museum.

more to come...

Day 5 - Wednesday

Got up really early to catch the train for a tour of the Sognefjorden.

definately more to come...

Day 6 - Thursday

Lunch at Frognor Park.

Viking museum.

Thor Heyerdahl´s museum (Kon Tiki Museum)

obviously more to come...

Day 7 - Friday

We drove to Sweden but they were closed. Midsummer was on Thursday and according to Harald they needed an extra day off to "sober up after all the celebration drinking."

obviously more to come...

Day 8 - Saturday

Day 9 - Sunday

Left Oslo and got stuck in Neward, NJ because of lost luggage and a missed connection.

Leaving New Jersey
Monday, June 27

Got up at 5:15 a.m. with about four hours of sleep. With no shaver, no hair gel, and no deodorant, I showered, brushed my teeth, and tried to push my hair into something that didn't look like a ball of straw. I got downstairs a few minutes after 6:00 but the next bus to the airport was only every thirty minutes and I had just missed the last one.

I met an elderly couple while I was waiting. They had been vacationing in Pennsylvania and had given up their seats to get a free voucher which they intended to use on their next vacation. They seemed really nice and were interested in my Norway trip. I had my mom's book in my carry-on bag so I pulled it out to show them the pictures in it and some of the places I'd seen. They were so excited they were talking about planning a trip there for next year.

The van eventually came and took us to the airport. I wished the couple a good flight and headed for the American Airline check-in line.

Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock...
Later that day

I arrived in Fresno at around 3:30 p.m. Joan greeted me with a big smile just outside the security area. I was wearing my "Trekkie" t-shirt so she saw me before I saw her. After a good hug we headed off to find my luggage...