Norway - Oslo & Larvik

APRIL 1 - MAY 1

The first week in Oslo was a whirlwind of overcoming jet lag from a 9 hour time difference, recovering from lingering sickness, and adapting to somewhat of a city life. Doing a hefty amount of city walking probably makes up for all the rich dairy products I've been indulging in, like the delicious and very Norwegian brown cheese. My favorite is "gudbrandsdalsost", a mixture of cow and goat milk whey, boiled down and caramelized to a solid yet creamy consistency. The result is sweet, savory, and amazing! If I could say one thing I love about Norway, it's their overall high standard of food and healthier eating. In a world of over-processed and over-sweetened in the states, it's the opposite here. If there's one thing I hate about Norway… it's how little my dollar is worth here. As an American with only a true understanding of the US dollar, I quickly came to realize that the price of anything is double what it would be in the States. Maybe sometimes even triple. Ouch. 

The second week I shot some Lensbaby stuff. It is spring here, which means dormant, bare-bone trees are just barely starting to bud again, and the ground is soggy from melted snow. People eagerly wait for the summer, where the landscape is lush and weather is warm. Right now, spring weather is proving to be turbulent. Sunny, then cloudy, then gusty, then rainy, then sunny. My weather predicting app is useless, which Kristina warned me about. I can't imagine how the brutal winters must be, but as the saying goes here: "There is no bad weather, only bad clothes!" In general, the second week was colder and overcast more frequently, and I think my pictures reflect that.

Oslo is a small city, with very efficient public transportation. The old buildings, and new buildings for that matter, showcase classic Scandinavian style: simple, subtle, and functional. That truly goes for everything here, even the typography on food labels and road signs (for example). The people are known for being quiet and reserved, but kind once you get to know them; at least that's what my experience was. Being white, everyone takes me for a Norwegian and I'll have to respond with "I'm sorry?" The younger the person is, the quicker they are to respond in English. I've had a few older people stare at me blankly, then awkwardly smile and dismiss me with a polite wave. 

  A black headed gull in front of the Royal Palace

A black headed gull in front of the Royal Palace

On one particularly gorgeous Saturday, a group of individuals gathered outside the Stortinget, Norway's beautiful parliament building. They erected a banner with "Stop the Islamization of Norway" scrawled across it as well as an impressive sound system. The Norwegian government must have been wary of a strong opposition because of the considerable amount of police force surrounding the group, including mounted officers. But it was relatively quiet and the group was permitted to get their message out with pamphlets and speeches. The only public show of disapproval was by a small group who curiously stood far away, maybe suspecting that if they were any closer they would be asked to stop, chanting and pointing angrily.

I met Teame here, an Ethiopian immigrant in Oslo on asylum conditions. He worked previously for Save the Children USA in Ethiopia with humanitarian aid. As soon as he began trying to get the government to interfere as little as possible with the program, they saw it as grounds for an arrest warrant which forced him to leave. "I would still be there if I could… Although I am very grateful to Norway for my citizenship here. But it's lonely. The people don't like immigrants. I feel there is a divide." He is currently working in a restaurant.

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Much of the Norsk Folkemuseum I visited in Oslo was an outside park of re-planted wooden structures (homes, storage rooms, etc.) from all over Norway, dating back as far as 1500. I find it amazing that the wood has withstood literally hundreds of harsh winter seasons and is still in good condition. The real stunner is the Gol Stave church, with original parts dating as far back as 1200. When I arrived it had been freshly repainted, gleaming like a beacon in the sunlight. The other buildings are reconstructions throughout the centuries, such as an oil station from the 20's and a farmhouse from the 1800's.

For my last weekend we planned to take a weekend trip to Copenhagen, but realized that plane tickets would be close to $600 after taxes. Instead we opted for a stay at the Farris Bad spa hotel, located in the coastal town of Larvik south of Oslo. It was my first time on a train, which was a clean and pleasant experience. The Farris Bad is situated right on the ocean and parts of it are built over the water. Its claim to fame lies in the natural spring water found in the area centuries ago. Guests have access to different types of saunas and baths special to the Scandinavian culture. Kristina and I decided to participate in a "ritual", or session held every few hours in one of the dry saunas. Around seven people came in and listened to a man talk about the history of saunas and their health benefits. Every few minutes he would splash the hot rocks with water and essential oils, creating an even hotter climate within the room. "If you feel like leaving, don't." he said. You'll ruin it for everyone else because the heat will escape. Just come sit on the floor because it's cooler".  It was a long, torturous 15 minutes, but everyone stuck it out. Immediately following the session, the group went down a staircase leading directly to the ocean. The water was beyond cold… I feel like I don't even need to state that! It was instantly numbing and took the breath right out of me upon complete submergence. Going back up the stairs felt like a dream, as ridiculous as it sounds. Maybe the Scandinavian people like to do this because it gives you a natural body high unlike one I've ever experienced.