Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Worthy Reads

My wife religiously reads this- sometimes helping me to edit or to catch an odd typo. She also ensures that I don't take too much poetic license in my writing. Since many of these entries are shared experiences, I think she enjoys reading my perspective. That isn't to say that this is the only medium through which we communicate! On several occasions I had encouraged her to write a "guest entry," but she was not interested. She has only once posted a comment- and even then, anonymously. Eventually she mentioned that she wanted to begin her own blog. That finally happened, and it can be found here: Stavanger Girl. It offers another perspective, largely on our move to Norway. Best of all, it is written in English.

Another interesting blog is Up In Alaska. Earlier this year we spent a week in Alaska, and we both fell in love with it, although I don't think moving to Norway is considered much of a compromise. In many ways, both locales share much in common: fjords, mountains, temperate coastal environments, petroleum-based economies, dark winters, and rugged inhabitants. Anyway, Jill is a very interesting writer, and her blog is full of beautiful photos. And she bikes.

Finally, on a note of irony, I finally set up Firefox for spellcheck. Apparently its built-in pop-up blocker blocked the spellcheck window from opening. Anyway, keep in mind that this is part of blogspot and somehow, spellcheck chokes on the word blog itself.

Double finally, did you know that you can change google's language preferences to Klingon or Elmore Fudd? It is under the Intewface Wanguage selection under options. Perhaps it isn't the most clever thing in the world, but at least it shows someone there has a sense of humor.


I guess sometimes it really snows around here. This should all be gone by tomorrow.

Seven Minutes of Coasting

I finally downloaded the Polar data from last weeks Sviland ride. Here is a nice seven minute stretch of coasting, and these are not even real mountains. The trouble seems to be that going up, I end up sweating and almost overheating, then freezing from the windchill riding down.

Survived Last Night (Not suitable for breakfast reading)

We have no sofa yet. Since we were both ill, we moved the mattress into the living room so we could watch TV (there is no cable hookup in the bedroom). It was like having a slumber party of misery. Apparently there was something going around Kvitsøy that probably was more of a flu than food poisoning. All I know is that it hit hard and fast. I was very hungry by evening, and ate a few pieces of bread. I normally have a cast iron stomach. Let's just say I couldn't keep everything down. That probably hasn't happened since I was a child. At least my stomach felt better. We watched a ton of Friends videos, then Law and Order Criminal Intent and CSI Miami on broadcast TV. I was shivering with the chills for several hours. I had a headache from being dehydrated and probably having a fever. I was sweating like crazy. I actually slept well, and woke at 8am, feeling completely normal. It is the strangest thing. I have no idea what this was, but it is finally over.

We woke up to a blanket of snow. I might try to take a few photos later. There will be no biking today, which is just as well. Oddly, the night I became sick, I had biked three hours in almost freezing temperatures. I rode out to a lighthouse with Lise's brother. Sunday I will be biking with an American and British guy. The American is married to the daughter of our landlord. I have no idea who the British man is. It is good to meet new people.

On a final note, I have an interview on Monday. I don't want to go into too many details, other than to say I am somewhat skeptical of this company. Hopefully an interview will clear up any concerns. Then again, I really am not in a place where I can be too choosy about where I work or what I do. At least their email was written in English (telling me where and when I need to show up- regardless of my availability).

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Mister Yuck

This is how I have felt last night and all day. Lise is going through the same thing. I think it is some sort of food poisoning. I was feeling even worse, since I cooked last night (a rarity), but we found out later that all sorts of people in Kvistøy are feeling the same way. We are wondering if it is related to the food served at the party. At any rate, we don't feel like doing anything today. The good news is, we had no interviews today!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Home at Last

The Rennesøy mishap has also made the front page of the national paper, VG. A tourist ferry arrived at 18:55 to take us back to Stavanger. Fortunately, we left the car at the landing. This one was passengers only. It was almost completely full- there were maybe two empty seats. Our trip took just over 20 minutes. We were wondering when ticketing would come around, but they never did. As we left, we overheard that it was free.

Prior to leaving we attended the lighting of the Christmas tree on Kvitsøy. It was small-community living at its finest. A brass band played Christmas music, the mayor read a speech, kids held hands and walked around the tree, cake and gløgg were served. Since there is almost no place to park on Kvitsøy, it was nice to see how many people either walked or biked to the event- held at the library/nursing home. It was good to expose myself to a slice of Christmas. With everything else that has been going on, I have had no time to think about it. Unlike Hollidazzle, there were no corporate sponsors, no garish lights, no merchandising or advertising. It was just a plain tree decorated with a few white lights, and a bunch of delicious homemade cakes. I think I would have a seizure if I walked by an American Christmas display these days.

Our Ferry has Grounded

News here at the Stavanger Aftenblad. We were out taking a walk when we noticed something wasn't right with the ferry. Apparently it grounded with people on board. I don't know when we will make it back to Stavanger.

Random Kvitsøy Images

We took the dog, Figo for a walk this afternoon. The weather was beautiful. It was good to be outside. It was a bit chilly, and there were patches of frost in the shade.

This is when we first noticed the ferry was having some issues. We walked over to the landing to see what was the problem.

Off in the distance are snow covered mountains on the mainland. I have no idea where they actually are.
There are a bunch of swans that just hang out in the water. I guess if you are as large as a swan, you can do whatever you want.

Kvitsøy Idrettslag Party

I survived the party. I received good luck SMS messages from what few friends I have. Their fears were unfounded. I had a great time.

We, and everyone else, walked to the party. People take the drinking and driving laws very seriously around here. It was a bring your own alcohol party, and many people carried backpacks. Suits and dresses were the normal attire. I wore my new brown suit. I wanted to keep the black suit fresh for more job interviews. How optimistic is that? I hoped to avoid any manure on the road with my new shoes. Everyone that I knew from Kvitsøy was there tonight, including three of Lise's cousins, an uncle, two aunts, of course her parents, and I guess everyone else was probably some sort of distant relative. It is an island after all.

We were served lobster unlike any lobster I have eaten. Truthfully, I have never eaten lobster before, but this was not like I had imagined. They were served at room temperature. They had been boiled, then somehow cleanly split down the middle, as if bisected by a laser. We were served two halves of an entire lobster. It was easy enough to clean the meat out of the tail and the pre-cracked claws. The rest was a muddle of ambiguity. Should I eat the eggs? What about the mysterious greyish matter where the organs would be? Does it even have a brain? I did not know the answers to these important questions. Making matters worse was the fact that I was seated next to the lobster fisherman and his family, who seemed to delight in eating every scrap of the invertebrates, save for the shells. I opted for my wife's more conservative approach. I will say this- lobsters should be eaten in large quantities daily.

Following the lobster and salad was a bit of a program. I couldn't follow much of the founders' speeches. Keep in mind that this was the club's 60th anniversary, so the founders were a bit long in tooth. I don't think they had been let loose in public for some time. Lise's father was also honored- especially for his work at organizing a youth football tournament for a decade.

Next we had a desert of pannacotta, which apparently was received as a very foreign, exotic dish. It was a bit on the sweet side, but otherwise well executed. We also saw a hilarious silent film about the founding of Kvitsøy 2000 years ago. It was a homemade film, probably done in 8mm back in the 70s. It had been transferred to video. It was very well done. Most of the guests decided that the hall was suddenly a smoking area. So much for my fresh suit.

Next the band played. The story behind the band was that Norway's most famous boxer (your guess is as good as mine as to his name) apparently went bankrupt. He ended up in a band with his brother and father. I knew enough Norwegian to determine the father was a dirty old man as he went on about the beautiful girls on Kvitsøy. The minimum age for attending the party was 15. They had a rough start. The band had no drummer, but rather a sequencer and drum machine. They started playing some Mexican standard, sung in Norwegian- which was very strange. Lise and I danced a few times. I was later dragged out to dance by a friend of Lise's parents to a strange rendition of Marley's Woman, Don't Cry sung with a Norwegian patois, if there is such a thing.

I had a very nice time overall. I sometimes am concerned that I cannot fully participate in this culture due to the language issue, but I seem to be learning more and more each day. I at least know what people are talking about. I am almost to the point where I am bothered when people refer to me in the third-person in my presence, as if I have no idea they are talking about me. But it will take time. The other reality is that most of us probably do not rely on communicating with other people as much as we think. Anyone going to a store can read the amount owed on the register and hand the employee a credit card or cash. There is relatively little small talk or niceties in city culture anyway. Of course on Kvitsøy, it is a small community where everyone knows everything about everyone, but we don't live here. My wife has lived in the US long enough that she is vaguely considered an outsider at this point, even though her ancestors go back about 1000 years here. Regardless, I will always be an outsider- both to Kvitsøy and to Norway. But this has a very different meaning than in the US. This is Europe. There was a man from the Netherlands seated at our table. There are people from Denmark or Spain or any other country living here. While people are quick to point out where someone originally is from, there are no social consequences to being an outsider. It isn't like the US where the lines between legal and illegal immigration have become blurred. Oddly, despite the lack of diversity here (relative to the US), Norway might actually be even more of a melting pot. The other issue is simply that most Norwegians have at least one relative who emigrated to the US. If I were from Poland, it would be a different story altogether!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Gated Community on a Budget

Yesterday when we caught the ferry to Kvitsøy, there was a bit of chaos as a different ferry was in use. Rather than having an upper extra car deck, it had an extra lower deck. Everything was in a subtly different location. It threw a wrench in the seating dynamics that naturally occur. The passenger area was laid out in a series of U-shaped arrangements, like a bunch of sectionals, rather than the grid of rows and aisles that the usual ferry has. The real question in my mind was what is this ferry normally used for? These are huge ships that can hold hundreds of cars. Do they just have an extra one lying around for those rainy days when the regular one needs work? These ships must cost millions of dollars. The ticket people seemed to be off their game as well. I am not convinced they made it around to everyone before we landed.

The thing about living on an island is how insular the community can be. Life off the island revolves around the ferry schedule. Life on the island is largely dependent on who and what actually enters. Gated communities have nothing on island living. There is so little crime here that the police stop out once or twice a month with regularly scheduled office visits (that is no exaggeration). It appears to me that a social contract keeps people's behavior in line. If one chose, he could drive home from tonight's party thoroughly intoxicated with no consequences from the politi. However, the community would keep talking about the incident for years to come. Everybody seems to know everyone else, and everyone looks after their neighbor. If someone's cows get out, it would be a matter of minutes before their owner was notified. Of course nobody locks their bikes up at the ferry landing. Kids of all ages can walk or bike unsupervised. Unless you have a boat, there is no fast escape from an island.

Property is relatively inexpensive here. One issue is that there are few jobs actually on Kvitsøy, aside from farming (sheep). The other issue is that the kommune is trying to avoid an influx of cabin owners- absentee property holders that are not invested in living here full-time. I believe the only way to have a cabin here is to somehow inherit one (or some property). It would be very difficult for someone from Stavanger to purchase a house to use as a summer home.

There are a few tourist sights here. There is a traditional looking light house, a church from the 1400s, a stone cross from the 1000s, and 365 little islands poking out of the water. It is amusing watching a gigantic tour bus driving around, then trying to find somewhere to turn around- usually the steep, narrow church parking lot. The roads here are about a lane and a half wide. If a car approaches, someone needs to pull off the road to let the other by. This is not an area designed for large buses.

What might change all of this is when they build an undersea tunnel that will come up for air on Kvitsøy. As it stands, the ferry goes beyond Kvitsøy to the north to connect with the rest of Norway. Somehow a tunnel would replace the ferry and keep everyone connected 24-hours daily. It would also certainly change the character of the community. My understanding is that plans are on the drawing board. It would be an amazing feat of engineering. The tolls are usually comparable to taking a ferry- probably at least equal to $30 per round trip for a car. As much as taking the ferry can annoy me, I don't know what I would think about tearing down "the gate" and building a road here. It is an amazing place as it is.

Kvitsøy Lobsters

We ventured out to check on the lobster and fish traps with Lise`s father and grandfather. I had never heard of a fish trap, but they are a mess of netting that are used like lobster traps to catch cod. It was a beautiful day. Sure it was somewhat cold, but to be out in an ancient open-bowed, wooden boat in the North Sea, almost in December means it is a good day. I have spent my entire life living about as far away from an ocean as possible- anywhere on the planet. I need to make up for lost time.

I do not know how Lise`s grandfather remembers where he places the traps. They are marked by floating "footballs," but everyone has traps out, and they all look the same, as far as I can tell. Each rock formation along the shore looks the same. He keeps moving the traps after we check each one. I really don't understand how he does it.

We found a bunch of small crabs in the traps, but this time of year they are not very good to eat. Apparently they are very watery. None of the lobster traps had lobster, but one of the fish traps did- which is somewhat strange since the fish traps use no bait. Anyway, it was longer than the minimum 25cm, so he kept it. It will live in a live well with four other lobsters until it is eaten.

Tonight we will be eating lobster- not the ones in the live well. It will be served at the party at the KIL. It is the 60th Anniversary of the Kvitsøy Idrettslag. It should be fun. I have met many of the people before on other visits. Many of them actually start speaking English after they warm up with something to drink.

It's a Long Way to Tipperary

We celebrated Lise`s uncle`s 45th birthday yesterday. There were the usual open-faced sandwiches, some excellent Norwegian pizza (am I actually acquiring a taste for it), wine, brus, four amazing cakes, and cognac (which at that point I declined). I need to learn to always keep some food on my plate. I have been marked. Lise`s aunt is trying to fatten me up for the kill! They are a farming family after all. They tell me they are taking me out fishing in a little while. If I don't return, you`ll know why.

The parents of Lise's uncle's wife were there. I think they are in their mid to late 80s. Anyway, the guy is simply stuck in World War II. Every conversation, it seemed, related to something that happened during the war. To this day he still has it in for the Germans. Granted, there may be a thing or two lost in my translation regarding what was going on, but I assure you, he has lost a thing or two in translation. He doesn`t speak a word of English, which is why the following words jumped out at me in neon letters:

It's a long way to Tipperary,

It's a long way to go.

It's a long way to Tipperary

To the Swedish girl I know.

I don't know why I found it so amusing, but misheard song lyrics usually are. I tried to correct him. Everyone tried to correct him- that it was the sweetest girl I know. In thinking about it, it is probably a WWI song. After all these years, it is probably just as well. For all I know, she could have been Swedish. I wasn't there, and it was a long time ago.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Sviland Ride

The sun was almost shining when I left. It was bright enough that I wore my sunglasses for the first time since arriving. The temperature was in the low 40s. I headed south through Sandnes, then followed a series of roads through a forest into a tiny town. I took an arterial route out and back along some "hills." I knew I didn't have time to follow the road all the way, as we have to leave a 4pm to catch the ferry to Kvitsøy. Going out was slow. It seemed the wind was in my face the entire way, although there wasn't much wind. It wasn't until I headed back to Sviland that I realized much of it was a false flat. It seemed that I coasted for several kilometers. I followed the rest of the original loop up to Rte. 13, which became busier and busier as it approached Sandes. I was getting worried, since it had no shoulder, but plenty of huge trucks that looked like they were straight out of a Rammstein video. At that point, a bike lane magically appeared, and I had an easy ride back to Sandnes, then home.

A bus stop- literally in the middle of nowhere.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

I almost forgot. There is no Thanksgiving here, so the day was uneventful. The extent to which it affected me was when I phoned home, and when I noticed in the news that two people were injured by a balloon at the Macys Parade.

This being a church state, however, gives us the full spectrum of relatively obscure religious holidays, like Ascention Day. The entire country shuts down for such occasions.

I had a nice bike ride earlier today. I discovered a park with an actual lake that was in Stavanger. The weather was very strange. Initially, while I was preparing to ride, it started sleeting. I could see blue sky in the distance, so I waited and enjoyed a sunny ride for a change. I am also beginning to understand the signs on all the bike routes. I think I might end up adjusting to the bike environment quite well. Unfortunately, my bike isn't so lucky. I am beginning to see rust here and there. It is a steel bike- and it has never seen rust. But here it never dries. Everything stays wet. I already have a green light for a new bike when we find work. I am thinking something in aluminum would suit me quite well.

I'd Like to Buy a Vowel Please

I went to my first pro football game- Viking vs Slavia Praha. No, not that kind of football. Over here, there is only one type- what most Americans would call soccer. Lise's brother and his buddies have season tickets, and one of the guys couldn't attend. He was stuck at work-- in Australia.

Viking Stadion is just down the street. It is less than two years old. The first thing that struck me was the mass of bikes leaning against a stand of small trees. Most bikes were left unlocked. The stadium was open with a roof of sorts over the spectators. In case you missed it, I may have mentioned that it rains quite a bit around here. Tonight was relatively dry. The ground never dries out, but nothing was coming from the sky. On the roof, there were all sorts of heaters. I think they were there mostly for moral support, since they were too far away to provide any perceivable warmth.

As the announcer introduced the Czech team, I realized that the Czechs that actually played on the time were born during a vowel shortage. Of course they are an international team, and the non-Czechs appeared to have been born in better times. As he announced the Viking players, spectators were laughing inexplicably. Per Helge leaned over and mentioned that the announcer was "a comedian" and that he was saying there names in English. Of course I did not get it at all- but others found it riotous.

The spectators were very different than in any American pro sporting event that I've attended. There was practically a choir section that sang football songs throughout the game. I found the rythmic clapping to be a bit odd- as was the jeering whistling. I probably learned most of the Norwegian swear words as well. Like English, the most common cuss word can be handily used as a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb.

I have long been aware that "soccer" can end in a tie- as did this game. I found it most unsatisfying. A loss would provide more closure. Nonetheless, it was very cool. It was certainly more interesting than watching a game on TV. I am picking up on the rules well enough to begin to appreciate the game. One bizarre element to the game is how large the goal appears to be- yet how almost impossible it is to score. I told Per Helge that we need to bring drums to the next game.

Photos were swiped from The Stadium Guide.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Pastoral Ride

Today I rode out to Ålgård. I accidentally discovered the North Sea bike route. It largely follows the E39. When I moved here, I was a little disturbed by the lack of shoulders on the roads. Major routes, like the E39 simply forbid bikes. However, there is a bike lane separate from the actual road. To an American roadie, this is akin to riding with training wheels. It goes against everything I stand for to "ride on the trail." However, this is not the US- this trail is 8 to 10 feet wide in many places. There are many underpasses under other roads. I saw maybe three other bikes today. There are no rollerbladers and hardly any pedestrians. In short, it makes for a great ride.

I began near Hinna.

Behold a very dirty bike! This was taken before the ride. Horses had been on some of the trails- you can do the math.

Stone fences are everywhere. This one is modern.

Behold, a river. I have seen very few of these around here.

A toll station- they are "manned" by video cameras. Most people use the "Auto Pass" system that electronically deducts the tolls. Manual lanes are off to the right.

An old ceramics factory in Figgjo. I swear it looked haunted.

Ducks! Made me feel like I was back in Minnesota.

I cannot imagine living on a hill like that. On second thought, we already live on a hill like that.

Ålgård- my turnaround point, as I had literally ridden off my map. Actually, I was a bit more than an hour from home and it was starting to rain.

Interviews and Sunrise

My wife has two interviews today, and I think I am more nervous than she is. I am sure she will do fine. One interview is just down the hill by the grocery store.

The temperature should reach 50 today. That is almost like summer- except that the sun rises at 8:47 and sets at 4:00 pm today. Back in the Twin Cities is rises at 7:21 and sets at 4:37- and the forecast is for a high of 43. Sometimes I just have to gloat- with what little I have to gloat about, concerning the weather.

I have been here twice before during the winter solstice, so I know what to expect. Of course, those occasions were when we traveled here just before Christmas, and I was thoroughly jet-lagged. That meant we awoke around noon and caught two or three hours of sunlight. Those were dark days.

It seems Christmas items have recently popped up in stores. Granted, it is almost December, but it seems much less commercialized around here. Many stores place some sort of candle-like lights outside by their doors. I don't know why I like them so much, other than that they add a cozy touch to the ambience.

This weekend we are heading back out to Kvitsøy for two parties. Lise's uncle, whose family visited us this summer, is turning 45. Also, the Kvitsøy Idrettslag (KIL) is having some sort of party that involves a lobster feast. I will probably need my suit dry cleaned by the time it is all said and done. It will be held at the KIL, where we had our wedding reception. As expensive as it is, I was hoping it had an open bar.

Law and Order/Monday Night Football

Yesterday we borrowed a different TV from some friends. He is a pro football player who is now playing in the Netherlands. They still have a house in Stavanger, and they keep their basement apartment furnished for when they return home to visit. This is a larger TV than the one we had. It is an English TV, so we need a little adaptor for the outlet. It is still 220 volts, but it uses a different plugin. Also, we need to tune it through a Norwegian VCR. It gets a bit complicated sometimes.

Last night I watched a rerun of the Vikings/Packers game. Again, no commercials, except during half-time- and there were only a few. It really cut the game short. It is like Tivo, except I don't need to pay any attention to fast forwarding. Later, on NRK, Law and Order was on- again, with no commercials. Back in Minneapolis, we had a DVR, and we would usually time shift watching Law and Order (and most TV, for that matter). We would record it and start watching it about twenty minutes late. That way we could speed through all the commercials.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Redefining "Nice Day"

It was balmy today- in the mid-40s. The kicker was that there was no rain. Everything was still wet and muddy, since I don't think anything will dry out for months. The air had a warm quality to it- almost like springtime. I went out for a ride and was surprised how close we live to open farmland. I took a bike path to avoid a nasty intersection, and again another biker insisted on passing me to my right (the wrong side of the path). I really don't get it. She went way out of her way to make certain she passed me on the "wrong" side. Anyway, the fact that it was not raining made my day.

I applied for a few more jobs today. I phoned one of the companies, a Canadian aviation company. I was encouraged to apply, since English is the universal language of aviation. We will see where that one goes.

Regarding my wet feet during my rainy bike rides, someone from the US suggested that I wear bread bags over my feet. What is interesting is that here, most bread is sold in bulk. It is unwrapped, usually laying out like produce. Bread bags are usually paper. If I grab a plastic bread bag, it usually has a million tiny holes to allow the bag to breathe. We purchased a box of regular bread bags. By the way, loaves here are more long and narrow, compared to bread in the US. The bread here is amazing. I have always felt that during my visits to Norway. I don't understand how or why, but there is nothing comparable, even at a store like Breadsmith. It also seems free from preservatives, yet it keeps a reasonable amount of time. In all fairness, I should mention that it uses a German recipe.

It is strange how international the food is around here. My favorite tortilla chips are made in Belgium. The Spanish oranges were on sale, but not the African oranges. Oddly, African items generally are just that- they list the entire continent rather than the country of origin. We quickly found out why those Spanish oranges were so cheap- I have tasted sweeter lemons!

We purchased some bulk candy yesterday. For some mysterious reason, gummy candies are sold everywhere. We found a great deal- I think. They were priced by the hg- which is a hectogram- which is a tenth of a kilo. I thought we were receiving a great deal- thinking they were priced by the kilo. Oh well. It must have been a decent deal judging from the mob that was surrounding the candy bins.

Monday, November 21, 2005

NFL Footbal (reruns)

I am watching Atlanta vs. Tampa Bay on Eurosport. It is a rerun- shown only with commercial breaks at halftime. The entire game is flying by. Even when they call a timeout, they immediately cut to the next play. I estimate a game takes half as long as a realtime NFL game. It is like Eurosport Tivo'ed it for me. Too bad it is a re-run. If only I could stay up all night to watch the Vikings and Packers flopping around.

Fender Woes

Could this be my solution to my fender woes? If only I can convince them to sell mail order. If they won't sell them, I might be able to make my own from some leftover rack mounting hardware.

Overcast Ride Report

It was warm today- I was overdressed. I headed out to an island east of downtown Stavanger. It is a strange neighborhood full of old 3 1/2 story buildings made of wood that stand next to the road intermixed with warehouses and new condos. The bridge offers a decent view of downtown.