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the Land of the Midnight Sun

Oslo, Norway

So our halfway point in our semester is right about when everyone at SU was graduating and/or moving back home. But we just had Pfingstferien (vacation for Pentacost) which is a week long. Tommy went off to Wales to visit Steph, Jill went to Hamburg, Ben went to Paris to meet up with his girlfriend, Rob dropped off the face of the planet (when we finally got ahold of him he was in Dortmund?) etc. So I was pretty much on my own. This really wasn't too bad, though, because everything has been so hectic that a few days of peace and quiet was quite nice. I spent really lazy days reading in bed. I wandered the city, went to a really lame demonstration, and actually went to see the new Star Trek movie by myself, in German (for the record, I think going to the movies by yourself is a really underestimated experience - it's not sad or lonely. It's kind of liberating.)

Then I was off to Norway to meet Tommy and Stephanie again. I arrived a day after them. It was actually rather hectic getting there - I didn't get to pack as much as I wanted the day before, so I had to do that the morning of, go all the way to the bank to withdraw money (which is the opposite direction of Nell's Park from where I live, and Nell's Park is where the bus to Frankfurt Hahn airport picks us up. I don't know why that doesn't happen at the main station...) so had to go all the way to the bus stop, wait, take a bus to the airport, check in, go through security which was more hassle than it should have been (the plastic bag I had put my fluid-y things in was just a smidge too big, apparently) then get on a flight and land in Norway, then (this was the tricky part) find my way from the airport to Oslo which is about 1 hour 45 minutes away. Which meant I had to try to find a bus, in Norwegian, all by myself. I did befriend a German man who teaches in high schools, who helped me out a bit. Good conversation.

Anyway, when I finally got to the main bus station in Oslo, my plan was to withdraw Krona and go straight to the hostel, check in, and meet Stephanie and Tommy there. The ATM wouldn't let me withdraw, though, so I tried to call Stephanie to tell her that I couldn't pay for my hostel and couldn't thus meet them there. I was downstairs and had no service and took the escalator upstairs. As I was disembarking the escalator and still didn't have service, I looked up. Stephanie and Tommy were standing right in front of me looking up at the departure/arrival screens, their heads tilted at a perfectly similar angle.

So we went to the hostel, then went out into the town.

There was one guy at the hostel who we dubbed "our best friend," mostly because he never talked (except to exclaim "shit!" once when he dropped an aerosol can of something) and snored incredibly loudly. He also walked around rather scantily clad. The girl who was there the first night was really nice and had already befriended Tommy and Stephanie a bit. She apparently was in Oslo to interview an ex-Guantanamo detainee.

Overall Oslo was very nice. Very expensive, and very light (it didn't get fully dark until about 12 at night, and was light at 3 or 4). We went to the Viking Ship Museum (which was, I think, the entire reason Stephanie wanted to go at all) which was awesome. These ships have all been dug up from old burial grounds. For rather high-ranking people their bodies were prepared, then put in ships along with anything they might need for the journey to the afterlife, so by finding these, archaeologists actually found a goldmine of information on ancient Viking lifestyles. So it wasn't just ships (which were amazing) but also cooking utensils, boxes, carts, fabrics, agricultural tools, etc.

We also went to the Edvard Munch Museum ("Scream," anyone?) and watched some really bizarre movies about his artwork and a documentary about his life, then went into the exhibit. It was really cool, especially considering what a controversial artist he had been. His art style wasn't widely accepted (and his first exhibit was actually shut down due to criticism) but he refused to change it. He also had social problems relating to a woman he had been having an affair with, and was probably not quite right mentally anyway but was never diagnosed with anything. He had studied at an art institute (in Berlin, maybe?) and was technically very advanced, but he hated the precision that was assumed to go along with great painting. He just saw the world differently and painted it the way he wanted, and was eventually (obviously) considered an acclaimed artist. It was so bizarre to see the Scream in person because I've spent so much time studying it, but I also really really liked his sketchings and etchings. I found them much more moving than most of his other paintings.

Leaving the Munch museum, we actually ran into some of the Japanese students we study with in Trier (which was crazy!) so hung out a while.

We also went to an anti-authoritarian bookstore which was AMAZING. We had an address for it and a name we couldn't pronounce, but when we got to No. 3 Hjelmsgate, we found a bike shop a little bit off the road. Stephanie went into the bike shop and asked if there was still a bookstore, and the guy said it was around back and upstairs. So we walked out behind this rickety-looking building covered in stickers and graffiti, and up some stairs, and found ourselves completely alone in a café of sorts (it was mostly an empty room with a few tables and benches, a table in the corner serving as a bar, and stacks of books everywhere). A girl about our age completely covered in piercings, and heavy eye make-up, dyed black hair, and black leather clothing came out and we asked again for the bookstore, and she got this older man to take us even further upstairs and unlock the bookstore for us. There were stacks of books in all sorts of languages about everything from anarchism in sci-fi works to communist and anarchist ideology, to history books of revolutions, to manuals on revolution (peaceful and violent), noam chomsky books, propagandist pamphlets, etc. There was one book I was tempted to get entirely devoted to a street corner in Hyde Park, London, which has historically been a soapbox corner, I guess. I ended up buying a book entitled "Evasion," which is about a fictional group of people in the United States who choose to live completely outside of any system - squatting in old buildings, stealing out of dumpsters for food and clothing, and essentially living on less than a dollar a day. I haven't finished it yet, but it's thoroughly enjoyable.

There was also a jazz café we went to where we spent ages talking to the guy working there. You could actually listen to the CDs before buying them because they were all kept behind the counter, but the CD players weren't all working so he just played various CDs for us over the PA system, giving us all sorts of recommendations on jazz harpists, folk jazz, widespread jazz, etc. We asked if there was a Norwegian jazz scene, at which his eyes just lit up. He played a CD for us that was a pianist from his hometown in the north who was playing with a Portuguese female singer that was just amazing. There was a group that dug up old Norwegian folk songs and revamped them in a jazz style, and then a Norwegian violinist who does an old film noir kind of sound. We each bought one of these CDs (Tommy took the first, Stephanie the folk songs, and I bought the film noir sound). When we left, the guy bowed.

One thing I thought was really cool about actually being in Norway, though, was seeing the diversity. Wherever we walked people seemed to assume we were Norwegian (I had to refrain from using Norwegian phrases on occasion so people would know we did not actually speak it), but there are so many different ethnic groups. The Scandivanian countries (at least Norway, Sweden, and Finland) have really good social systems (I think Denmark does too, but I'm not entirely sure). Sweden has historically been a prime immigration state because they have such good integration programs, social welfare programs, etc. that make starting a life there much easier. I really enjoyed being amidst such a diverse group of people who were all speaking and cooperating in one language - it was like the normal tension that the US, Germany, France, and many other countries I've now been to tend to have in regards to ethnic minorities getting pushed to the borders of things was simply not an issue here.

PIctures to come soon, for all of my remotely recent posts. Promise.

permalink written by  lost_red_balloon on June 7, 2009 from Oslo, Norway
from the travel blog: The European Union
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you are so lucky to visit these nice places...
thank you for posting this, I'm going to go there myself in the nearest future

permalink written by  wow-traveler on October 7, 2009

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