Saturday, December 31, 2005
These pages morphed into documenting my commuting and then describing our relocation. I have invested many words into this project. I would never "journal"- I can't even put together a photo album (we have a huge tub full of thousands of photos and 6-7000 digital images unsorted on a hard drive). It will be very interesting to look back on these days at some point in the future. This is a very strange time for me. I am out of work, living in a foreign country. At some point, I will be effortlessly navigating this city, speaking the language fluently, and hanging out with friends of my own.
I don't know what google or imageshack will do with the morass of blog pages and images in the future. These are free services, so I inherently mistrust them. My end of the year project was to load each monthly archive and save them to my hard drive for archival purposes. Firefox (my browser of choice) lacks the function to save entire pages, so I tried using IE. IE kept choking trying to save the pages- and wouldn't save any of them. I then downloaded a Firefox plug-in and was in business. Everything is all neat and saved. All the images are saved in a separate folder, like in IE. I was considering emailing the pages to myself for further archiving, but I don't have winzip on this PC. It blows my mind that it is almost 2006, and windows won't allow a folder to be attached to a message, or that any tools to perform such tasks must be downloaded from a third party.
First of all, not just anyone can move to Norway, or any other country in Europe. The US has rather unfriendly immigration policies, which are reciprocal in nature. For the sake of simplicity, while Norway is not a part of the EU, there are enough treaties in place that it practically is an EU nation, with the exception that they use their own currency and they haven't butchered the constitution. Citizens of EU countries can easily move from one EU nation to another. Citizens of the EU cannot relocate to the US, nor can Americans relocate to the EU. There are obvious exceptions, such as being sponsored to work in the US with an H1B visa, or moving on a student visa.
My wife Lise actually moved to the US on a student visa. She is a Norwegian citizen. It drives her crazy when people in the US would ask her where she was from and she would say Norway. They often replied, Oh, I'm Norwegian, too. She is the real deal- has a Norwegian passport. If you met her, you would never know, aside from her blond hair and blue eyes- she has no detectable accent.
I will skip over all the good stuff, but we met, dated, and were married. After we married, she received a Green Card (making her a resident alien). It cost close to $2000 if I recall, and was a rather complicated process, but we were able to do it ourselves without a lawyer. The US government makes every step unnecessarily complicated. For example, a simple travel permit is called "advance parole."
We had great jobs, a nice house in a great neighborhood, and life was perfect. I really love the Twin Cities- especially biking and summer weather. I really wasn't jumping up and down at the prospect of giving everything up for the great unknown. When people ask why we moved, I usually say that Lise just wore me down. That is not true, of course, or I would probably be miserable here.
I really have no connection to Norway other than Lise. I don't really have any Norwegian heritage, which is ironic coming from Minnesota. Before moving, we probably made it back to Norway five times in the first three years. We didn't plan another trip once we determined that we were moving. I "liked" it here- not exactly "loved" it. I hate winters and would prefer to move further south, but winters are milder than in Minnesota.
So why did we actually move? I had worked for the same company for almost fifteen years. I really loved my job. The only real issue we encountered was the erosion of our health care benefits- and the cost would be very expensive for family coverage. It had less to do with the specific company and everything to do with the general health care climate in the US. This would not be an issue in Norway. Maternity and education benefits are also much better in Norway. I am almost embarrassed to describe them. Children are like god here. There is probably no nation that treats children better than Norway. That is probably the extent to which politics entered my decision. Families certainly find a way to get by in the US- but in Norway, it does seem to be less of a struggle for the middle class.
Those are all just practical reasons, but in making the mental analysis of costs/benefits, they cannot be ignored. On an emotional level, all of Lise's family lives around here. She grew up on an island, and her entire extended family lived within maybe a six block radius. It was unlike anything I had ever seen or experienced. Cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents all played a much more active role in everyday life. I understood Lise's home sickness she would experience after each trip to Norway.
From my perspective, I was trying to be "fair." We lived comfortably in the US, now it was her turn to live in Norway, and it wouldn't be any easier if we waited. We had very few financial obligations. Of course in the midst of all this, a part of me was angry at the very idea that I had married into this situation. I really didn't think she would truly be "happy" living in the US for the rest of her life. The prospect of her wanting to move was always in the background serving up low level stress during our early years together- not that she would move without me. My main concern about moving was always finding work. I was very concerned about being able to have a professional job with a limited understanding of Norwegian. Lise can probably attest to what a reluctant wreck I was.
Eventually I sorted it all out in my head. A move like this certainly appealed to my sense of adventure that had somehow been exchanged for leading a rather safe and secure existence. I really wasn't thrilled about the bike racing scene here, but I wasn't about to make that issue the determining factor. Eventually it boiled down to the idea that I wasn't planning on retiring from the job I had- that I would have to make a career change at some point. And it would have to be a career change. I could not work in health care administration in Norway- at least not until I was professionally proficient in the language. I also realized that I would forever regret not jumping on this opportunity. I figured I would have a complete mid-life meltdown full of regret if I didn't give it a try.
To sum it up, we moved because my wife is a Norwegian citizen and she wanted to move. She is also probably the only person in the world who could talk me into doing anything this crazy.
But there is also another side to all this. Deep down, I knew all along this would happen. We knew each other for more than a year before we started dating. From when I first met her, I knew she was the one. But I also knew this wasn't going to be some short-term relationship. Even back then I knew this was an all or nothing situation- if we even dated, we would end up getting married and move to Norway. I just needed to spend a few years resisting and mentally preparing.
Friday, December 30, 2005
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Lise took the day off. I went out for an early ride- managed to get in an intense hour riding around Stokkavatnet and back. We then went to the driver's license office, where my license was summarily taken from me. Apparently I need to take a driving test. I am losing my motorcycle license in the process, since I don't have a motorcycle to take the test on. It was a huge hassle getting it, but I haven't ridden in ten years, so I guess it isn't a huge loss. I have a temporary license, but I have no other photo ID, except my passport, since the bank wouldn't give me a proper Visa card. I almost regretted trying to be a legitimate resident. Actually, I have no idea what I need to do to be able to drive. The police will send a letter explaining everything.
We then went TV shopping to spend our Christmas money that we were literally mandated to spend. We debated between going with a 32" CRT for 4500- 6000 kr or a 28" LCD for 10,000 kr. We seriously entertained going with a LCD model, but we really couldn't justify the cost. I also stumbled across a 42" plasma model for 10,000 kr, but it seemed seriously funky in a not good way. I never heard of the brand, the remote was devoid of any meaningful symbols. We ended up with the top of the line Philips CRT model for 6000. It was a little more reasonable, considering it is fully compatible with our DVD player. We really had to wrestle with the box to squeeze it into the tiny car we are borrowing. It was no easy feat getting in out of the car and into the apartment. The worst issue was getting it out of the box and onto the TV stand. Inexplicably, the TV looks much larger here than in the store. Suddenly the TV stand isn't so huge. We are both very satisfied. The picture is amazing- European TV has always been more high definition than in the
We went to five electronics stores- all of them similar to a Best Buy or
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Suddenly my backup light with the boat anchor SLA battery is a bargain- as would hae paying twice as much for a smart battery. These dumb battery systems are a complete waste of money. If I buy a new battery (about $100+ shipping), I would be worse off than if I would have purchased a smart system in the first place.
Lise worked at the hospital this evening. She picked up a last minute shift. This meant that I would have to drop off the keys to our friend's house. To make a long story short, our friends own a house in Stavanger, but live in the Netherlands. They are home for the holidays and need their keys, which we mysteriously have. Anyway, she called to say she needed the keys now, that she wasn't traveling to her parent's house since her car broke down. Apparently she rented a car at the airport, but the gas tank was almost empty. Shortly after filling the tank, she realized she put gasoline in, but the car required diesel. Lest you think this is entirely ridiculous, in Norway, regular gas uses the green nozzle. I was thoroughly confused the first time I purchased gas. It just didn't seem right using a green pump for regular. So I dropped off the keys and left them in their mailbox.
I started listening to the radio when I do errands. My chief errand is shuttling Lise back and forth to work. There is no employee parking. I randomly discovered English-speaking radio one night when I heard the familiar voice of Neal Conan. NPRs Talk of the Nation was being broadcast. I was ecstatic, as public radio was one of the things I missed about the US. I had no idea there was such thing as Public Radio International. I kept tuning into the same station, but quickly found that it was a little more complicated. It was an Armed Forces station that advertised for Stars and Stripes and broadcast Dr. Laura and Rush Limbaugh at other times (neither of whom are link-worthy). It was a major clash or programming formats. Still, it is nice to catch NPR. Rush sounds even more absurd from overseas. I also caught the European weather. Apparently German has a winter storm advisory tonight.
Two more days of vacation for me. I don't count the weekend. Then I am off to a new job. To be honest, I have some anxiety- not knowing what to expect. I am less concerned about the work, and more concerned about the work culture. After 15 years at my last job, I knew exactly what to expect. Then again, that becomes a little old after awhile. It is nice to be kept on my toes.
Yesterday we took care of a pile of loose ends around here. For example, I am schedule to take a Norwegian test as a requirement for living here, but I have a work conflict. The gifts I ordered for family back in the US never arrived. I thought I received an extra month of cell phone bills for my US phone. We also tried to establish a bank account for me, now that I have my national ID number.
The US could probably take a page out of Norway's banking playbook. I doubt a terrorist would have any trouble setting up banking in the US. While I still have a stack of American Visa cards, I am unable to have a check card with a Visa logo in Norway, because my work permit expires before the bank card would expire. Of course here they don't even use checks, so it is more like a debit card. The issue is that Visa cards contain a photo ID on the back, and are often used as a form of legal identification, so banks are very cautious about handing them out. Anyway, we will start off with a joint account, and I will be unable to make online purchases, since my card will lack the Visa logo. It seems absurd. Point of sale transactions use PIN codes, rather than signatures, so it really doesn't matter, much. Still, it is the principle that I don't care for.
I suppose I should look into obtaining a Norwegian driver's license next. My job will provide me with a cell phone, and maybe even a laptop.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
We sold the TV because Europe is all PAL fomat, rather than the NTSC of North America. Region coding of DVDs aside, my Pioneer player should work with anything that takes component video- in other words, most high end TVs. Norway's low end TVs just have SCART connections, which are a cartridge type cable that includes both audio and video on one cable. They are bulky, but less ugly than having a bunch of different cables flying around.
Anyway, we need a new TV. We are borrowing one from a family who are returning to Stavanger this week. We need to return it. My question is, do we buy a high end regular TV, or a low end LCD TV? We cannot afford a plasma TV, so they are out of the question. A 32" wide 6:9 conventional TV starts as low as about 4000kr. The cheapest 26" LCDs begin around 6000kr. Since these are measured diagonally, and since they are wide aspect TVs, they are "smaller" than the older apect ration sets (shorter). Also, this is the first time I have actually seen "inches" used as a measurement unit since we moved. I am guessing a 6000kr LCD set would require some compromises, so perhaps there would be some price creep up to the 7000-8000kr range before happiness arrives.
I just returned from Elkjøp, which roughly translated means "electric shop." It is the Best Buy of Norway. There were probably four times as many LCD/plasma options as conventional CRT choices. People here take their televisions very seriously. I still don't know where to begin.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
The nice thing about living here is that I will be able to bicycle next week, rather than lying around as I would if we were vacationing here. I think I gained about ten pounds two years ago over Christmas.
Friday, December 23, 2005
Someone up there must really like us.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
I decided to bike around Stokkavatnet via the Madlaruta. I actually consulted a map before leaving, which turned out to be an excellent idea. This route took me by where I will be working. It is maybe fifteen minutes away by bike- too close for any serious exercise. Then again, with this weather, it may be just far enough.
Stokkavatnet is a lake- not part of the ocean or a fjord.
There were all sorts of ducks, including those odd black ones with white bills.
I don't think there is any need for sunglasses in this part of the country- ever. I still haven't swapped out my lenses since we moved.
No matter where I go, the TV tower is always a landmark off in the dis
Here are a few photos from moving day- taken well before everything was moved in. They don't quite capture the reality we are living in at the moment.
At any rate, I am amazed I have made it this far in less than two months. I expected it to take up to six or nine months to find a decent job- maybe even longer, since I was required to make a career change. Spouses of coworkers who held professional jobs and who were laid off in the US often took many months to find comparable work- and they were seeking employment in their native country, in the same field. I was prepared for the worst. I have limited Norwegian skills, no work history in this country, and am making a career change away from health care. I also hadn't sought work since 1990.
Today I am bouncing off the walls. Yesterday I was going crazy, feeling claustrophobic from living in this submarine-like environment. We are so packed in here that we can hardly move. It is impossible to go from a house to an apartment. The extra bedroom is packed wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling with boxes. We were hoping for a guest room for all the American friends and family that will visit. I guess we will be that much more motivated to purchase a house- ASAP.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
On a different note, I really, really hate waiting to hear back from the job I interviewed for last week. I should know by the end of the week. It is pure torture, waiting, as my fate is temporarily suspended, out of my control.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Monday, December 19, 2005
I then made an appointment to fix the car we are borrowing. I think it just needs a new alternator belt, and I don't have the tools to fix it myself. Anyway, it is only a belt, so it shouldn't cost too much. I found a repair shop nearby. Hopefully we can jump start it tomorrow or Wednesday. I then started renter's insurance. I was able to do everything over the phone. I discovered another glitch with IP phones. Our caller ID comes up as Oslo, so when I dialed the "800 number" I was automatically sent to their office. After a bit of confusion speaking to someone who spoke no English, I finally spoke with someone in Stavanger who hooked us up.
I spent the rest of the day shopping and moving boxes around. It is rather overwhelming living in the midst of this mess. Hopefully I can ride tomorrow.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Movers are a strange lot. Back in Minneapolis three movers from Mayflower packed our belongings. These guys looked a bit rough, if you know what I mean. They were very polite to us and thorough in their work. I respect anyone that makes a living doing a job that I personally hate doing myself. There are fewer things in life that I dislike more than the physical process of moving. Prior to the move, I had used local movers twice. There is nothing extravagant about paying $400 to two pros with a truck. If you really want to see who your friends really are, forego the pros and ask them to help. Frankly, movers are generally a bargain. Even renting a truck is expensive. I don't know anyone who has actually only paid $19.99 to rent a U-Haul for a day. It just doesn't happen.
Our paperwork turned out fine. Final cost was based on weight, and the estimate was almost exact. We paid an extra $300-something for a crating charge, but that was the only real hidden cost. Still, I had paranoid thoughts that we might be extorted on the other end, once our container arrived in
Our Norwegian movers were better scrubbed than their American counterparts, although one was heavily tattooed (including knuckles and neck) and wearing a Rancid t-shirt. They looked like underfed kids. These guys were amazing. They arrived expecting to unpack everything for us. I told them we just needed the furniture reassembled. The three of them unloaded everything with no complaints, and expertly reassembled the furniture. Nothing was damaged or scratched. It is amazing that our possessions made a journey by truck, train, ship, and truck again over thousands of miles. We are still organizing everything.
Today Lise's parents arrived with a truck and car to help us take borrowed furniture back to Kvitsoy and to help us store extra items at Lise's grandmother's house. Lise's uncle joined in helping. It was an eight hour job to load everything, catch the ferry, unload, and then wait for the return ferry. It is really wonderful how family all helps out in these situations. We have had so much help from so many people on both ends of this move-- it is truly amazing.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
One interesting aspect about learning a foreign language is how it reminds me how arbitrary language is. I drove Lise to the sykehus, which literally translated means "sick house." Of course it is the hospital- but what does hospital actually mean? I guess hospital probably means "sick house." But there are no other references in English, until you consider "hospitality" and related words- which have nothing to do with being ill- or worst of all, "hospice"- for when people are hopelessly ill. Fortunately, the other part of the word where Lise works is psykiatrisk, which requires no further explanation. Norwegian nicely dispenses with the letter C for any hard K sounds- which greatly simplifies life. Now if only they would eradicate noun genders and dialekter, all would be well. By the way, the -er ending means plural, so they can use an s without an apostrophy to connote possessive. It is all rather handy, except that nobody ever fully finishes pronouncing their words anyway, so I can never really tell if a noun is plural or not.
My favorite word in Norwegian is små dyrlege- which means "small animal doctor." This is much more practical that our use of the word veternarian- which is not very descriptive. Our cats see a små dyrlege down the street. Lise's father uses a regular dyrlege for the farm animals, which are not small. Norway doesn't have an indigenous large animals, like elephants, that require regular medical care, so they don't really have a word for "large animal doctor." Speaking of large animals, when we were walking downtown last week, I noticed a sign at the fish market that they sell hval- which is a word designed to fool foreigners. Hval is actually whale. They sell the stuff in broad daylight- on the street. While legal, I have never actually seen anyone serve it.
Some words cause confusion because I think I know what they mean. I was out biking in the middle of nowhere when I stumbled upon a hundepensjonat. Now pensjon actually does mean "pension" in some cases, and hund definitely means "dog." However, the two words combined refers to a "dog kennel." While life is very good here, there are no retirement programs for dogs in Norway.
Friday, December 16, 2005
When I arrived home, I was told the shipping container was on its way. I had just enough time to change out of my clothes when the doorbell rang. The moving crew was already here. At that point I learned that the container should have been delivered at 9am- that apparently is WAS delivered- somewhere else. Nobody knew where exactly. Eventually they located it and dropped it off- literally. Unlike in the US where it stayed on the truck, they placed the container on the ground in the parking lot across the street. This meant that there was no need for a ramp.
We had a great crew of three guys who reassembled all of our furniture. Everything arrived without a scratch. It is truly amazing. I have all my stuff- and there is a ton of it. Actually all 3800lbs of it. Our apartment is as spacious as a submarine, since we still have all the borrowed furniture jammed in here. We have a lot of work to do.
By the way, I am typing this on my own computer. Since it is a US keyboard, I need to readjust to the punctuation key differences. Anyway, I need to get back to work. Life is good, and I should have a job before Christmas. Best of all, we have a sofa to watch TV from!
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Updated: 7:20 AM CET on December 15, 2005
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
No photos today, either. Visibility was poor. I rode to the post office to mail some Christmas cards to the US. I will never get to speak Norwegian. The Asian clerk saw the address and spoke to me in perfect American English. I then headed off to my usual nearby route. It was sprinkling when I left- more like mist than rain. I left my rain jacket at home, since it was 50F again and I didn't want to overheat. I made it out to the bridge where Harfsfjord meets the ocean. It was very windy- a cold northern wind blowing off the sea. As I headed home it started to rain. I was completely drenched. I don't really mind the rain anymore. What I don't like is all the effort that goes into cleaning up. We have no basement, and there is a fine grit that coats everything when it rains. Not only am I a mess, but I make the house a mess. At least I made it out for a few hours- and I am staying in great shape, considering it is winter and I am unemployed. I had a happy thought- we are almost to the solstice- at which time the days become longer. Today the sun rose at 9:22 and it set at 3:40- and it is still getting worse. At least we don't live "up north."
I phoned the shippers, and our container still hasn't arrived- nor do they know when it will arrive. They made it sound like it was lost. You would think they could track these things a little better. They are still planning on moving our things in on Thursday. We'll see what happens.
Monday, December 12, 2005
I needed to be back by 2pm, so I didn't ride very far. I went back to Vaulen to check things out under a sunny sky. Vaulen is a tiny penninsula that sticks out into the fjord that our apartment overlooks.Looking back toward our neighborhood, Gausel. That big hill is a NATO headquarters that is next to our apartment. Actually, if you were to keep driving up the hill we live on, you will come to their gated entrance with their prominently displayed sign forbidding any photographs. We live next door to a target.
Photographic evidence that the sun was shining today.
A wonderful place for a flat tire. By the way, this photo was taken just after noon. Observe how long the shadows are, already (or rather, still).
That is what I consider a serious cut. Rather than booting it, I put on a spare tire, in addition to changing the tube.
With the sun so low, some areas are almost always in the shade.
Like my fancy mtn bike/touring shoes? Hey, they are easy to walk in. You wouldn't even know they had cleats. My horrible twist tooth cog is even showing rust.
One chronically filthy bike.
Afterwards, I bought groceries. In Norway, red peppers are cheaper than green peppers- opposite of the US- and they are each individually wrapped. Bread is served in bulk, so everyone in Stavanger has handled your loaf before you bag it and buy it. We never have ours sliced at the store, but you can run it through a slicer if you want. In the lower right corner are skoleboller- a mysterious pastry with coconut and frosting- highly addictive stuff. Eggs are sold in the half dozen- and they don't sell mega extra extra super large eggs like in the US. These are real eggs laid by real chickens. Your choice is white or brown. I don't get it either. I also picked up a tube of my favorited cookies or biscuits or whatever they are called- the only item not on the shopping list. All that is left are the raspberry preserves and plastic wrap. I was told to buy the wrap, but had no idea what it was called in Norwegian. I also went crazy looking for it.
When you arrive at the store, you need to grab a cart from the outdoor corral. They don't have strange cart wranglers like in the US. Rather, you need to insert a 10kr piece to release the cart, otherwise they are all locked together. When you finish shopping, you take it back to the corral and insert a little key that locks it back up and that releases the 10kr piece. It is a brilliant idea. Another oddity is that we must pay for shopping bags. It encourages recycling, although we tend to recycle them by using them as garbage bags at home. They are very high quality bags, relative to the pastic bags in the US? Paper or plastic? All you have is plastic.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
Saturday, December 10, 2005
I need to fix my bike. At present I have a singlespeed- with a 42X16 as my lowest gear. It is definitely too tall for these hills. I have an old twist tooth cassette, and I can't isolate the cause of all the autoshifting and chain dropping. Next week I'll have all my tools and a work stand, so it should be much easier. Also, before moving I outfitted this bike with all new brake pads. I had to stop twice today to readjust the calipers. This place eats brakes. I already need all new ones. I hate to think what my rims must be going through. Anyway, I was completely soaked when I returned home, but it was good to be outside, despite the rain.
Friday, December 09, 2005
Thursday, December 08, 2005
The final leg of the hill is straight up with no switchbacks, which really pushed my heart rate into the red zone.
Universitetet i Stavanger below.
My poor bike parked next to a miniature stonehenge.
Back to sea level.
The three swords momument- something about some king that united all the smaller kingdoms to created what became Norway- like a thousand years ago, but don't quote me.
I didn't see any red flag flying today, nor hear gun shots.
The tower, from a distance. It doesn't look very imposing from this angle.