Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Buying a house in Norway

I am very happy to announce that last month my lovely lady and I finally bought ourselves a new home. It is a smallish, modern, cosy apartment in a nice suburb just 10 minutes drive/bus from the city centre. I am chuffed to bits with it to be honest and cant wait to move in.

Now I've never bought a house in any other country however from what I know the system here in Norway is certainly very different from England if not many other places as well, so for those who are curious and especially anyone coming over to live, let me explain it for you.

In England from what I understand the most common way to sell a house is to have it valued and then an estate agent advises you on what they think is the highest you can receive for that property and you set that as the asking price. People view the house, most commonly at private viewings where an estate agent would show you around and tell the asking price. Then if someone offers the asking price, the house is theirs, although it is very common to offer under that asking price and hope the seller will negotiate. I'm sure that occasionally more than one person(s) love a property and there is a mini bidding war that might end up with someone paying over the original asking price, but I believe this is rare.

In Norway this whole system is very different. Firstly the house value is assessed based essentially entirely on a mathematical formula. The price set is therefore a guide price and when talking about cheaper smaller houses and apartments that are always in high demand, the final price paid appears to always go well over this! So what happens is a time is set for an open house. Everyone goes and has a look at the same time and then gives there phone number if they are interested. The next day all those that are interested are constantly called and updated with the latest offer and given the chance to make their own offer until midday in an auction style. Then just like that its all over and you start the paper work.

The whole private or open house debate I don't think its too important a distinction apart from of course the fact the English private viewing model must be a hell of a lot more expensive for the real estate company. Its the price guiding and bidding that are the big differences I want to discuss and what I have learnt from my experiences of them.

Firstly the guide price system in Norway is nothing short of a MAJOR ARSE! I think its completely stupid and very tedious. Searching for houses online well under your budget only to see them and have them go for 20% or more over what you were expecting is a major annoyance. For example if you had a budget of 2million NOK (200,000 GBP approximately) You could find lots of apartments listed at around 1,750,000 only to see them go for 2,250,000. It makes it hugely difficult to know what to bother looking at especially as these are all open houses and you therefore you end up seeing one or two every day rather than being able to arrange to see 5 in a row.

You also have to consider the fact that then whoever wins the auction will always feel they may have overpaid. It is only natural that many people will look at the guide price of say 1,700,000 and they think that is what the place is really worth. When they have ended up paying 2 million they are going to think they have got terribly value. When buying a first home especially the stress of the huge outlay is more than scary enough without adding this psychological blow as well. My business student brain tells me to look at the market price as the value of a home, so if someone bought an apartment for 2million then that is what its worth so it doesn't bother me so much personally but I still think its a stupid system

The auction element of the process I actually support. Its very quick compared to the English bidding back and forth which can take weeks. Although that morning was the longest of my life it was nice to know by midday it was all over and we had won!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Norwegian drinking culture, the casual.

Back on my guide to buying drink in Norway post (link below) I said I would soon write a post about Norwegian drinking culture. Given that alcohol pricing is unsurprisingly my most viewed post I thought I should get to this sooner rather than later but quickly realised more than one post was needed. So here is the first on casual drinking.


So as we have established alcohol is expensive in Norway, no two ways about it. Whether many of the points I will make about the drinking culture are a direct link to this I cant be sure and I will leave that to a sociologist however there are other interesting factors as well

I should define what I mean by casual drinking. By this Im referring to meeting a friend for a beer or two after work at a local pub or maybe grabbing a beer at lunch. Or any other situation where you have between one and three drinks and then go your separate ways, or even do this on your own. I could also refer to this as pub culture drinking. Obviously age and situation plays a huge part in how often you do this but for me and my friends, all without kids in our early twenties, a couple of times a week wouldn't be unusual. In England most pubs open for lunch, some even for breakfast and many jobs would not care if occasionally some staff had a beer with lunch, its no big deal. In Norway however many aspects of this are rare and some non-existent. Firstly a beer in the middle of the day unless its a beautiful hot day and maybe you've been tempted to a beer garden seems to be very frowned upon. A beer at lunch while working is a comical no no and I've seen Norwegians look physically shocked by the concept.

Its very easy to say this is just a price thing but as I've pointed out Norwegians are paid well generally and two beers from the average pub is close to one hour at the minimum wage in both countries, so it isn't this. Another law is a factor though I think and that is the drink driving limit. In England its relatively lenient and generally it is accepted that one drink (pint of beer or a glass of wine for example) is completely fine to pass a drink driving test. I couldn't count the dozens of times I've watched friends actually have two, especially if its with a meal. In Norway though the drink driving limit is very low and therefore simply no one touches alcohol if they are going to be driving. There are many sides to this argument which I could probably write a separate post on but I'll keep it brief and say I understand both sides but really I'm all for the sensible low limit and I'm sure England will eventually bring there's in-line with Norway and many other European countries.

A fundamental problem in Norway now is trying to find a place to grab a beer during the day can be near impossible. Restaurants and such open for lunch and do serve alcohol but all the pubs and bars don't open until 3/4 in the afternoon. I recall finishing work in Norway early at around 1 o'clock one day and thinking I fancy grabbing a beer and catching the end of a tennis match I knew was on. I walked around the city for the better part of an hour trying to find anywhere that may have a tv and beer tap, but no luck. I was genuinely shocked to be met by locked door after locked door.

So this has all sounded very negative I know and its hard not to be due to the contrast of what I grew up with and the Norwegian norm but I should balance it out. I do have several Norwegian friends I have met for a casual drink or two after work occasionally, it definitely does happen. When eating as well its perfectly normal to be have one or two drinks when meeting for a meal but this is a different type of thing where the drink is just an accompaniment to the food, rather than meeting just for a drink and a chat.

In many ways what is missing is the whole pub culture. Often in England I would meet a friend for a beer and then say, while we're here, fancy grabbing some food. This is because "pub grub" as we call it is often very reasonably priced. There are not many of these kinds of places in Norway though. The kind of place I'm talking about is where you would go for a couple of beers, or for dinner. Both are completely normal. I can think of a couple in Bergen but this is nothing compared to the dozens in every English town and city.

While it definitely isn't as strong as I'm about to put it I would say things are generally trend towards the belief that casually enjoying a drink or two on a regular basis is a very bad thing to do and I'm trying to avoid saying people view it as alcoholic behaviour but I have sometimes got that impression. It would probably be fairer to say a lot of the time its just seen as pointless both on an expense level and for the drunkenness factor to just have a beer or two. The Norwegian attitude can be why have one or two several times a week, its expensive and you never really get drunk. Its better to save up and get battered at the weekend. Something which Norwegians do love to do and will be the subject of my next drinking culture post.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Kaizers Orchestra

Just a couple of weeks ago what many would consider Norway's pride and joy in terms of modern music played their final concert. The band of which I speak is Kaizers Orchestra from Stavanger and they are without doubt the biggest band in Norway or at least certainly among all the circles I have found myself in. I was first introduced to them by my girlfriend shortly after we met. While many would say they have gone a little more mainstream in recent years as a general description I would say they are indie rock band with big gypsy style influences. They have always sang in Norwegian which has naturally limited any international appeal but I believe they have done very well across many areas of Europe as well as of course Scandinavia. I have never listened to much non-English speaking music but these guys are without doubt very talented and I have always really enjoy there stuff.

After my first few visits to Norway it became quickly clear that the passion for this band was not limited to my girlfriend although she would call herself a very early adopter. The big "thing" with Kaizers Orchestra that everyone says is they are a band that should really be seen live. Several people I have spoken to have said that while they enjoyed their music they would not have called themselves fans. However once they had gone to see them live they were awed by there energy and stage presence. I have seen many good bands sink on stage and disappoint so to hear of a band with such a reputation is always a pleasure and I made it a mission to get to see them. I missed one great opportunity the summer before I moved to Norway as I had to start Uni but Marianne and many friends all went. I recall singing along in an empty house in England when they called me from the concert and this made me ever more keen to go.

I had not been living in Norway long when the opportunity finally looked like it had arrived when a huge new tour was announced. The defining characteristic of this tour that was pointed out later however was it would be their final one! We bought tickets immediately but the show itself was not for over a year and I constantly found myself forgetting about it and then getting excited again when I remembered.

Just a couple of weeks ago the day finally came, and in a massive field in Bergen I finally got to see an epic and long 3 hour set from Norway's best band. I have to say I was not disappointed. The atmosphere was great and the band put on a hell of a show. They also came out with a famous point which has been told to me literally dozens of times by people from Bergen. This is that Kaizers say that although they are all individual from Stavanger, they consider their band to be from Bergen. This is very simply because Bergen is where they first started to become popular and they have always had a particularly large and enthusiastic following here. That being said they did play their last concert in their real home town of Stavanger which was probably the way to go.

You may wonder why I would point out a band now whos most appealing aspect is there live presence and who have now stopped touring. While a good point I still think that their music is fantastic and people should give it a good listen, not to mention that almost everyone I've spoken to doesn't believe for one minute think that they are really done. But I guess we will have to wait and see on that one.

This was a performance they did at the Norwegian music awards. Great song, brilliant performance and it was no surprise they won several awards.

This is at the same concert I was at. It is not bad quality and gives some idea of the atmosphere.

This is from a couple of years ago in Oslo but this song is traditionally their final song which the crowd always continue to sing long after they have left the stage. Its a great tradition that Im pretty sure started in Bergen. I think for fear that people would never leave this was actually played second last and everyone only had around 5/10 minutes to carry on singing before they played their actual final song. A slight shame but probably a good call if truth be told.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

What does the Fox say?

After a very serious politics post lets lighten this up and talk about the latest internet craze. "What does the Fox say" by Ylvis. These two jokers are from Bergen and they have been a very popular double act in Norway for many years. For anyone who hasn't seen it yet, lets show you what I'm talking about. (I advise full screen and decent resolution to really immerse yourself in the insanity.

Ok so now we all know what we're talking about, we can move on. These guys are brothers and hold a talk show on Norwegian TV but have always been heavy into sketches and skits etc, fortunately for me many of which are in English. The video has been very heavily compared to Gangnam style and other such internet crazes but in my opinion this one is a little different. Now I dont know much about what Psy was up to before his international fame but I know Ylvis have been paying the dues with some very clever comedy for several years and I know I thought they were great as soon as I was shown them. These guys deserve all the plaudits they get and I'm hoping the fame of this one song with get people to see lots of there other stuff online and see they are far from one trick ponies.

For the last week or so the video has been in Norwegian news a lot as they record the ever growing number of hits the video recieves as it goes viral all over the world. The hits on the song were making news at 6 million last week and have recently passed 30 million. my favourate song of theres "stonehenge" has gone from 600,000 to nearly 3 million in the same time. Not nearly as a news worthy but still impressive and I'm sure it will continue.

The one question I found asking myself though is why now? They have several others like this. Now many would say this was down to luck, or that this one was just so much better but given how much I studied social media marketing for my degree I was sure there was something else, and there is. Its no big secret infact its well publicised but its something I feel should be pointed out for those who haven't been told. That is that this video was produced by a very famous Norwegian production company who have previously produced stuff for many huge acts such as Rhianna etc.

It is arguable how important a factor this was, several of there other stuff seemed to have a relitvly high budget and are all visually clever so I would argue it was pretty instrumental in getting it off the ground as there other songs never had travelled outside of Scandinavia. Once something is off the ground though all the credit goes back to Ylvis for the simple comedy genius. The quote at the bottom from one of the brothers is a great example of how things can explode accidentally thanks to the wonders of the internet.

Something else I have to touch on is the pronunciation. I've heard Elvis and Ilvis, Ilvis is close but to be honest its almost impossible to describe the Norwegian Y through phonetic English. I'm going to make what is probably a terribly suggestion and say start with Ilvis but for instead of the first I consider the "ol" of "wool". Thats the best I can do I'm afraid.

"The song is made for a TV show and is supposed to entertain a few Norwegians for three minutes — and that's all. It was done just a few days ago and we recently had a screening in our office. About 10 people watched — nobody laughed."
—  Bård Ylvisåker talking about THE FOX

New government in Norway

Ok im pretty sure this is my first properly topical post, not usually my area is a tend to just list ideas and then write them when I get around to it. Last week though a new government was elected in Norway, I'll start by saying I am not very knowledgeable in regards to politics but I do try to keep myself up to date as I understand the importance of these things. Now the chances are there will not be any major or radical changes but the shift was an important one for me as an immigrant. I began by taking the whole thing a little personally and it took me a little while to really cool off a try and look at this more sensibly and objectively. This will not be terribly objective but I will to my best. This could get a little long as I try and touch base on all the key points, please do stay with me as I think its all very interesting, even if it is politics.

So firstly for a bit of background, for the last 8 years Arbeiderpartiet (Workers Party/Labour) have been in power in a coalition with a socialist style party. I believe the Labour party are a typical left wing labour party with policies such as equality, aid and that kind of thing. Generally things have gone very smoothly over this time from what I gather with the majority of people having very few complaints. Given the condition of the international economy I dont think the average Norwegian has any idea how fortunate they are but then again I probably don't either.

The big two concerns from what I could gather politically in Norway are immigration and healthcare. No surprise here as this is the case in many countries but the specifics of it I find quite interesting. Despite what some Norwegians seem to think, coming from England I would say that there relatively few immigrants in Norway.The problem is however there are notably large number of immigrant beggars in the large city centres so it pushes the problem into peoples minds. Norwegian health care is a whole subject in itself but the main cause of complaint is that it is slow and inefficient, much like the English NHS.

So what have Norway voted in now? Well, its another coalition, fronted by a right wing party named quite simply Høyre, meaning "right" but essentially they are a conservative party. They also in many ways follow the traditional conservative mould supporting privatisation, and independence although its wildly believed on an international spectrum, the Norwegian right wing parties arent very right wing, but that is all relative. As a business graduate I can completely relative to many right wing conservative ideals. I believe  the profit motive through privatisation can lead to more efficient operations in many industries. That said however I do not agree with large scale privatisation of schools and health care. I am not a complete socialist in this regard, I do believe private schools and healthcare should exist, anyone who as earnt enough money I think has the right to be able to seek out and pay for what they believe is a better service, but this should not be so wildly available that it is used as a mechanism to actively support the public systems. While public healthcare reforms are also planned, there is a large emphasis on increasing availability of private healthcare and private schools. I wont essay out the details but in my opinion these measures can only reduce the quality of the public system and create more inequality and class separation.

The real worry in many ways is who joins them in this coalition. That party translated as the "step forward party" are essentially characterised as an anti immigration party, and generally accepted to be kind of racist. For an English comparison I would say UKiP rather than going as far as BNP, but still its not good.

My concern is that Norway has become blinded by a few immigrant beggars and forgot what I consider to be Norway's almost defining characteristic, equality. It is a similar change that recently happened in England from labour to conservative, but the difference there was in England we were in crisis and therefore change is to be expected. Norway are not in crisis, not even teetering on the edge of a real struggle. They have been ticking along nicely with a generally sensible, sustainable and most importantly, fair welfare system. To me it feels a little like greed and short-sightedness. The most frustrating thing of all though is many people I've spoken to and many professional analysers are of  the opinion that people are just tired of the current system and essentially, just fancy a change. This is ridiculous in my view, this is not choosing what to have for dinner, its who is going to run the country, and there simply is no where near enough justification for change.

While it is not a strong shout, there is a general murmer from the Norwegian populous that seems to be, there are too many foreigners and we are all too nicey nicey. Well as one of those foreigners maybe its not surprise I've taken the whole thing a little to heart. I worry about what changes will be made to my rights here. Because I'm white educated European I think people don't categorise my being a foreigner in the same way as they do others. The fact is though I came to Norway with only a degree and struggled to get a job for several months and I was definitely not supporting the economy. My Doctor in Norway is an Iranian immigrant that studied in England, my Norwegian class is full of PhD students, doctors and professors from a range of countries including Napal, China, Iran, India etc. These are the researches that are supporting the oil trade and the Doctors that are treating the Norwegian people. The country is crying out for more engineers and doctors and yet they just heavily voted in favour of anti immigration. Once again I am talking about the educated immigrants where it is no doubt the uneducated ones that have a drain on the economy that this is really all aimed at, but its a hell of a challenge to draw lines in the right place on this kind of thing and many people will find themselves undeservingly on the wrong side.

At first the whole business did not overly concern me, I tried not to get to involved as I knew I could not vote but eventually I have been sucked in, and here we are. Interestingly actually I knew I may never be able to vote as to do so you must be a Norwegian citizen, and Norway do not allow duel citizenship. This means to vote I would have to completely cast off my British label, hand over my British passport and from then after be completely Norwegian. Forgive me Norway but have a day off, that is never happening. I know its only paper, but my heritage is important, I love this country and may live here for 50+ years but I will always be an Englishman. Duel citizenship would be an ideal goal for me but Norway remains one of the few countries that doesn't allow it. This rule was recently addressed as looks like it is being changed in Denmark and there was some belief it may be re-examined in Norway, but with the current government in there is simply no way that will happen.

Ok so I'm going to leave it all there before this becomes a full essay, to summarise I'm sure things will be fine and probably shouldn't worry too much and I definitely shouldn't take the whole thing so personally but I'm sure many would understand why.

Monday, 9 September 2013

The food in Spain, simply divine.

Ok so its beginning to feel a like it was a months ago I was in Spain but I still remember very well the plethora of food and wine we enjoyed there and I would be re-missed if I didn't talk about it. Its not secret to anyone that's read my blog before I love food, especially new and different foods so a chance to dig into some classic tapas and traditional paella was met with great glee.

Firstly though lets talk Breakfast, as it comes first and as we all know is the most important meal of the day. Now our hotel Barcelona charged around €15 each for a continental buffet breakfast, and this seems pretty common with very few hotels in Barcelona including Breakfast. We thought this was crazy overpriced and unnecessary so every morning we went for a walk around the streets and stopped at one of the dozens of little cafes. These places were always spot on, usually many locals would be there eating and the owner wouldn't speak English, which in my opinion are two things to look for on holiday for classic simple food. At these places we would just have a baguette of some kind of ham and/or cheese and a hot drink. In traditional Catalan style there was always a very thin layer of tomato juice/sauce (not ketchup) on the bread which was something I really liked. Typically this kind of breakfast for two would be around €10. Its cheap, its authentic, its convenient, gets you out of the hotel easier and all round is just so much better than the over priced hotel breakfasts.

On our first full day we walked around the Gothic quarter of Barcelona, there was some clearly very touristy places and some much more local restaurants. The one we ended up in was called "Mi Burrito y Yo" (my donkey and I) and was somewhere in between. Here I had my first proper authentic Paella, of course Ive had them in England several times but never in Spain and it was instantly obvious how much better this was than the average. It takes quite a while to prepare as its cooked to order and comes in two people portions served in large pan. It really really was immense and given Marianne doesn't like a lot of seafood I felt obligated to devour most it myself which I did with great joy.

We had tapas at several different places in Spain and I soon realised that I had misunderstood it as a general concept. I was under the impression that restaurants would offer huge collections of new and adventures combinations, each more imaginative than the last. However I quickly discovered this was not the case and actually pretty much everywhere offered the same 6-10 dishes. There were slight twists in places but most of the time it was just really good, fresh simple food and despite my initial disappointment, I loved it. Quality of course varied a lot but for the most part many places were very similar. There was one restaurant however which stood out a mile. Id read about it online and heard it always had massive queues because it was so fantastic so one lunchtime we thought we would give it a try. It was very busy and hectic but after only about 15 minutes we were seated and it was clear as day why this place was so popular. I will have to find the name somewhere so I can plug it but right now I cant remember Im afraid. It had a fantastic varied menu and all the food was very high quality. Interestingly the Spanish people that I saw in there typically stuck to the classics where the tourists were going for the variety.

 Very simple tapas selection. Chorizo in wine and garlic mushrooms. Back right is just bread with the thin layer of Tomato as explained, and of course a nice chunk of Spanish Omelette

 PAELLA, looks a mess with lots going on but it was exceptional

Typically Manchego is the cheese eaten 95% of the time and I love it dearly. But here is a fancy goats cheese with peppers from the best of the restaurants we visited.

Sadly the post got a little long to discuss drinks too, but here is the receipt from two mojitos we had one evening, the extra extra sexy was in fact watermelon, and not that great.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Barcelona, the city that Gaudí built

Ok I'm so getting back on the time line of our holiday, from Brighton we went to the Music festival and then back to my home town for a few days: This is always a pleasure but I'll talk about Basingstoke some other time. From Basingstoke we went to beautiful Barcelona. Another magnificent city I had always wanted to spend time in. I was there over night in 2009 on my way to Bennicasim music festival but sadly didn't actually get to see anything of the city. Like most of this holiday it was a relitevely small stop in Barcelona for just a couple of days but we were lucky enough to still experience a lot of this great city.

Now some of you maybe asking who Gaudí is and others of you may ask why I am giving him sole credit for Barcelona, well let me explain. Whenever I go to a new place, yes I may see and experience many different things but I will always take away one or two very specific things as my main memories . For example the first time in Norway it was Trolls. Well in Barcelona the main thing without doubt was Sagrada Familia, the massive cathedral that has been being built in Barcelona for well over a century. The reason this stands out so much is by no means a surprise when you see the view from our hotel bedroom window and the roof terrace.

Our bedroom window at night when we first arrived

In the morning

From the Roof Terrace

It was quite amazing and more than just a little bit imposing I can tell you. It is an incredible building with strange but marvellous details all around. For those who have not put two and two together yet, it was a Mr Antoni Gaudí who designed this masterpiece but he also did many other things including Park Güell, which we spent a large proportion of a day looking around and I strongly recommend. Its not exactly off the track and is completely packed with tourists but there are nice walks around the area that are less crowded and it really is a lovely place. These two things along with several other buildings in Barcelona stand out a mile as architectural wonders and they were all designed by this one man. Just a short walk from Park Güell we came across a 4D cinema all about Antoni Gaudí and his creations. It was a shortish show but lots of fun, not to mention a great way of getting out of the scorching sun for a little bit so thats another thing I really recommend. Ok with all the pictures this post is getting on the long side so I think I will talk about the food and stuff in Spain in my next post.

Park Guell

A view from Park Guell

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Bonny Brighton

So despite what the order of these posts suggest, Brighton was the first stop in our recent holiday extravaganza. I talked about the Music festival first as it was the catalyst to the rest and therefore seemed to deserve first dibs in my opinion.

Brighton is a city I've heard so much about over the years and always wanted to spend time in. Its most famous tag these days is as "The Gay capital of England", now from our experience I certainly wouldn't disagree with this but there is so so much more to Brighton than its gay friendly reputation. Brighton is a large metropolitan city of culture full of awesome bars, restaurants, quirky shops and really all those cool things you look fir in a modern cultural city. Despite having wanted to visit for so long the trip there was in many ways a fortunate accident. The music festival started on the Friday and Marianne's Birthday was the Thursday, we didn't want to travel on her birthday so thought we should fly a couple of days earlier and have a little birthday romantic trip. As we were flying into London and the festival was in a neighbouring town to Brighton it was just the oblivious choice and I'm so glad we did it. The only shame was we couldn't be there longer as just a couple days really didn't do it full justice.

We stayed at a nice quirky independent hotel (which was good but not great enough to bother plugging) just a couple of minutes walk from Brighton pier. The first night we arrived quite late and searched for somewhere to eat. I was a little disappointed at first when getting turned away from several places who had already closed their kitchens as I had been told Brighton was a real lively never sleeps type city. It was only a Thursday though so we pushed on and eventually came across a little French place up a side road called "La Maison Du Van"(the house of wine, and yes this place was well worth a plug). We had a cracking meal and bottle of wine and called it a fairly early night as we wanted to make the most of the following day.

After a nice English Breakfast at the hotel we spent the whole next day walking around Brighton, it was impossible to fit it all in but we had been told about many of the best streets to see cool shops and stuff and did our best to get around those. I recall particularly well a huge shop/market full of so many interesting items that one could spend a day in there and hardly scratch the surface. There were several other unique places and just generally the city was packed full of character and beautiful architecture. The pier too while full of arcades and over priced ice creams' is a traditional must and well worth a wonder around. We had a fantastic day exploring and occasionally dipping into the most interesting looking pubs for a refuel.

The city was full of all different nationalities and types of people of all race and creed and yer, of course there were many gay people too. I'm a big supporter of gay rights and its a shame that gay people don't always feel comfortable being open about there lifestyle all over the world. If any gays are reading this and feeling repressed, get yourselves down to Brighton. That goes for the rest of you to actually, its a fascinating city!

The Norwegian wing of you plane overlooking the beautiful English countryside

Welcome to Brighton

Brighton Pier

Random I know, but there were lots of differnt things like this and they were all great

Mural by a pub if I remember correctly

Monday, 19 August 2013

Gentlemen of the Road

Ok so I am recently back from my summer holiday, an immense three weeks where I got up to all sorts of fun and just generally loved life. This whole holiday all began with a music festival called "Gentlemen of the Road" in a beautiful English country town near Brighton called Lewes. Now I this was a very small festival of around 50,000 people attending and only around half of those actually camping. To provide some perspective I believe Reading and Leeds festivals around around double this and Glastonbury is about three times the size with about 150,000 people camping.

This festival first caught my eye a little before tickets were announced as I heard it was being put together and headlined by Mumford and sons, one of my favourite, if not my favourite band at the moment. I first saw them in 2009 at another small country festival in Kent where they completely stole the show for me with there stage presence, passion and of course immense music, I've been a big fan ever since. After first hearing about it I proceeded to forget all about it until the morning tickets were going on sale. I got to work at 8am and then saw something about it online and decided on the spot that I MUST go. I had 4 hours before tickets went on sale and I instantly started calling a load of friends in England to get involved. All being the legends they are everyone instantly jumped on board and somehow found the money right then and there. In what turned out to be a great bit of luck through miss communication we ended up with almost twice as many tickets as we needed and this allowed more friends later to jump on board and we ended up with party of 11 to hit this festival. Part of this party was my Mum and her Husband Dave, now some may say that they would never take a parent to a festival but I stand by the fact it was an awesome idea. Like most festivals this one was full of people from 15 to 60 and as far as I could tell they had a fantastic time. Sure they didn't take part in the drinking games and didn't scramble to the front for the music, but music festivals are about more than that and I was really glad they came.

Now I would call myself a relatively experienced music festival goer having been to 5 previously and this one is undoubtedly as good as any other. The relatively small attendance and the setting of this idyllic old English town made for a fantastic atmosphere with everyone pretty chilled but having a fantastic time. I could write a whole post on the town of Lewes, only 15 minutes from Brighton this oldy worldy town is a little gem with views of rolling green hills in every direction and the high street full of cosy independent stores and pubs. I could definitely retire to a town like this. Each morning feeling very hot, tired and a little hungover we would slowly wonder into town for a bite to eat and from what I heard the locals seemed to love the atmosphere the festival had brought to the town, a lovely change from the usual destruction you see of some towns during festivals and the scorn shown by the locals.

To the main order of the day though, the music. The headline acts were Vampire Weekend and Mumford and sons with other acts including Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Witt, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic zeroes and many others (although not all with names so long). Apart from Johnny Flynn (who I am a huge fan of but gave a very short set neglecting many of his classics for fairly unexciting new material) everyone was fantastic. Mumford were as always, out of this world unsurprisingly and anyone who as ever enjoyed a single song of theirs I urge to go experience them live. Their passion and skill on stage is almost unparallelled by the many acts I've seen and there talent is matched only by there humbleness. The wild card of the weekend for me was Edward Sharpe, an act I had heard a little before the festival but I wasn't very knowledgeable of bu for me easily take second place for the weekend giving an awesome lively and engaging set full of fun and energy.

All in all it was a fantastic experienced made even more special by all the friends I was able to experience it with. Not only that, the organisation of this festival little weekend laid the foundations for what became our three week vacation . . . . .

Meet our party. My brother had the idea of the whole group wearing bandannas and sunglasses which turned out to be a great plan as it was the perfect situation. Originally each person was to chose a colour and wear a matching set however after the creator of the idea (my brother) forgot his own bandanna and making that impossible, we all decided to mix it up, which in the end I think was much better anyway.

A snippet from the local paper, a photographer wondered around the campsite for ages taking pictures and looked like he hit the jackpot when he found our very cool group.

A rig in the arena area, this was towards the end of the festival, don't believe that sky, for most of the weekend the weather was crazy hot!

The Stage

Tuesday, 16 July 2013



So tomorrow my dear lady and I begin our three week Summer holiday, for the Americans out there I'm using the word holiday in the British sense, where you would say vacation, I'm not talking about some crazy Summer religious festival. Now I will talk all about the different places were going when we are back and instead here want to talk about general Norwegian Summer holiday period, known as Sommerferie. Now as I have mentioned more than once, Norwegians love there free time, these are a people that work to live and this is never more obvious than around the summer time.

Warning, some of the following information will cause major jealousy!!

Firstly, summer working hours. The usual working hours in Norway are 8-16 (4pm) which in my opinion already kicks the ass of the 9-5/6 in England. Being home by 16 is awesome and still leaves so much of the day. However in summer they go one further and nearly everyone as far as I can tell finishes one hour earlier. Thats right, while my friends and family are back in England slaving away until all hours, by 15:30 everyone in Norway is already half naked sunbathing in their gardens and heating up the barbecue. One thing I found really strange about Norway when arriving last summer was how tanned people were, especially those aged about 40 and up. This is because by that age they have gardens and as soon as its over 15 degrees, will be outside sunning themselves. Also it only needs to be about again that 15 degree mark before the idea of eating indoors becomes insane. This may just be my Norwegian family, but I'm under the impression its quite wide spread. Now the English love a barbecue as much as the next nation but Jesus I had no idea the Norwegians were so into it, although being massive carnivores and loving simple pure food (meat, potato veg) it should have hardly surprised me.

Now a lot of you will be asking the exact same question I did when I first discovered about summer working hours, do they get paid for that hour? Well I've only asked a few people and after knowing the culture so well after a year I was fairly unsurprised to discover they had no idea and didn't seem to even slightly care. A state of affairs that says so much about Norwegians really. Those who work hourly rates will almost certainly not get paid, and as so often they will probably need it the most and of course my heart goes out to all those who are probably losing 20 odd hours a month wages. But for the average Norwegian all they care about is more time to do the things that really matter in life, which is anything but working.

To go back a little, you may think that my taking a three week holiday is a little extreme, and I would agree with you. I have only been on two holidays longer than a week in my life that I recall. But once again this is common in Norway. Norwegians get 5 days more holiday a year than most other countries so they still have loads left after three weeks anyway and when the weather is at its best, its time to travel. This undoubtedly stretches back to when many people would travel to there cottages. If your going to make the trek and take everything with you, you might as well drag it out. The big change here now though is not everyone goes to cottages, a lot still do, but the most important thing is to head south. The Norwegians refer to the Spain and Portugal area as "Syden" which is where 90% of Norwegians (as far as I can tell) spend there holidays, mostly Spain though.

Ok so with everyone working an hour less and huge amounts of people taking weeks off at a time, there must be some knock on affects right? Now I'm half tempted to lie and just say "No Norway is so awesome that things just go on exactly as they normally do despite all this". That would be a stone cold lie, in fact everything is effected, massively! Ok lots of it may not seem that big, and in many ways it isnt, but I still find it shocking. Basically every company in the country weither its state or private is running on a skeleton crew so just don't expect anything to get done. The effected areas are so massive its difficult to truly explain so I will stick to the simple things I have encountered personally. Public transport is far less frequent so my 40 minute journey home from work is now at least an hour. Every job I have applied for in the last month has emailed me saying that now its "sommerferie" no further progress will be made until August. Finally almost no houses are up for sale.

As I say many of these are small things, but it can all get rather tedious, I'm starting to believe the whole country is in a catch 22 and everyone goes on long holidays because everyone else is and therefore nothing can get done. I should probably stop there though as I have spent most of this post being positive and I wouldn't like to ruin it, after all I so often use this blog as a place to vent frustration that its about time I stacked the deck in Norway's favour.

The Gentry Troll

Ok so the insanely observant among you may notice I have a new profile picture which is the little fella above. Now Im not at all happy with how this turned out in terms of quality as its very clearly a few pictures plopped together not very cleverly using adobe illustrator (a program I had never used before creating this), but its something I've wanted to depict since coming up with the name of this blog and I couldn't resist showing it.

So here it is, the pretty feeble first attempt to give you an idea of what I had pictured in my head when I came up with the idea of a "Gent Turning Troll". Im aware its in fact a troll with some gentry clothing and therefore sounds like the wrong way around, but in my head it works, and let me explain. I may one day transform into a full blown Norwegian (the troll) but I have no doubt I will always hold my own culture, beliefs and all the many facets of myself that culminated from growing up on the shores of Britain. So where as I may appear Norwegian to many and blend in well with great Norwegian and live in a wooden painted house and own a cabin in the county, I will still very clearly be something else. I will not be an English gent carrying skis and wearing a Norwegian wool jumper like a tourist, I will be a Norwegian Troll dressed in British Black Tie attire very clearly reminding the Norwegians that I am still me, and reminding those back home that I always will be. Its a strange metaphor and I really hope it makes some sense to others as I have made it do so in my head

I should say that I will be working on a much better version of this at some point but essentially the basic idea is very much there, a troll in a bowtie, tophat and a monacle. One day, if my assimilation goes as planned and I can either create or have someone create one for me, I may even get this as a tattoo. Anyone who thinks that is strange please follow the link below to a pots about my first tattoo for some context.

Et år I Norge (One year in Norway)

So once again I disappeared into the wilderness and for this I can only apologise. It all started after I took a short week back in England which messed with my rhythm. I then came back planning to write loads about the trip and even wrote two posts, only to then decide I was waffling on far too much about unimportant or irrelevant stuff and so just deleted them. To then make it worse shortly after my laptop officially gave in, I did almost immediately go out and buy myself a lovely new machine but sadly, never got back on the horse. This is particularly annoying as I missed my one year anniversary in these fine lands which was on June 10th.

Here I am though, back in the saddle and I am going to try and slip in two or three posts in the next couple of days before I begin my summer holiday. Firstly there is the usual house keeping subjects to address which are; employment, language and living. None have actually had the dramatic catalyst just yet but all have moved on notably in the last couple of months and while I may be still far behind where Id hoped I would be after a year when I arrived, things have never looked more positive.

So employment, its a quick one so lets get it out the way. I'm still in my temporary job, I have grown to enjoy it more as time as passed, particularly as of late where I have had a wider variety of things to do. That being said of course I am still desperate to find a more permanent and relevant position but alas that is still yet to happen, one lives in hope.

The living situation is also still the same with Marianne and I still lurking in the basement of her parents. This area however has developed very interestingly now though as we have had multiple meetings with the bank and now have our figure to start bidding when we find the right place. Its a massive massive step and it feels great to be ready to go. We have looked at a few places and I will probably right a whole post on this when I return but suffice to say its a tough choice so may be a little more time before we finally get out own home. Everything is ready to go though and I'm really excited/nervous about finding the place we will eventually call out home.

Language as always is the big one to discuss and as is often the case I can say Im pleased with my progress. I went away recently for a cabin trip with a load of my guy mates, now this is the same trip I made just a week or so after arriving in Norway regular readers may remember and it was a nice milestone for assessing just how far Id come in a year. True, when people spoke to me directly we spoke English and this is still always the case generally. That being said however it was amazing to realise just how much I understood and it really made a difference. Its the simple things like someone making a joke at the dinner table, overhearing an interesting conversation between the two guys sitting next to you and being able to join in that was really amazing.

As much as I want to practice more and get over my shyness of talking Norwegian, understanding really is the key. I find myself keeping up with basically everything these days and even though I switch the conversation to English when I speak which still makes me feel rather like a burden, being able to get involved, understand the passing jokes being made in Norwegian make for such an amazingly increased feeling of inclusion. I still have a long way to go of course, but the cabin trip especially was a really nice way for me to see just how far I'd come, something that is so often hard to quantify.

Finally I will say both on the language topic and it being the only other thing of note really happening recently is that I have finally gotten on a Norsk Kors, a Norwegian language course. To get this sorted has been a nightmare, one I will probably re-live in its own post when I start the course, but starting one I am. It begins in late August and I'm really looking forward to it.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Heia Viking! My first Norwegian Football match

Recently I was attended my first ever Norwegian football game, now I have resisted ever writting about football on this blog as its probably not the right forum for it but it in this case I will make an exception. To give a little background, I am a big football fan and support the Royals of Reading who wear blue and white hoops. Sadly they have just been relegated from the Premier league but hopefully shall return soon.

When I first moved to Norway I wanted to try and follow Norwegian football, partly just because I love watching any type of football but also because the Norwegian football calender runs through the summer with the large break in the winter meaning it could provide some ideal entertainment when English football is having its big break in the summer. The most obvious team for me to follow would have been Bergens team, called Brann, meaning fire. Alternatively though I have pledged my alegence to Viking of Stavanger. The reasoning is pretty simple, most football fans I know from Bergen arnt actually big into Norwegian football and follow English football instead. The only real big followers I know of Norwegian football is my group of friends from Stavanger who are naturally all big Viking supporters. Given that I was certainly the only Reading fan in Bergen I did not also want to be a lonley Brann fan as my Bergen friends did not watch them much, but if I chose Viking I could watch games with friends and soak up there passion. I could also mention that Viking play in blue and white and Brann in red so im keeping with my colours but this is more just a handy coincidence.

So there we have it I am offially a Viking gutt (Viking boy) and I have watched several games on tv with friends and really enjoyed it. The standard is of course pretty poor generally but seeing as Im used to watching Reading in the Championship (second teir of English football) its not much of a stretch and I can still really enjoy it.

Recently was a big date in the Norwegian football calender as Brann of Bergen hosted Viking of Stavanger, as the two large cities on the west coast this is a pretty strong rivelry and I jumped at the chance to attend. The atmosphere and everything was basically identical to going to a game in England and given it was the first year in five I had not attended a Reading game all season I was set to make the most of this. Brann's ground has a capacity of around 17,000 and attendance for the day was nearly 12,000. About 500 of those being Viking supporters crammed into the corner of the oldest stand at the ground. The atmosphere in the away section pre-game was actually brilliant with a couple of crazy guys standing in front leading the chants and waving gigantic flags.

The game itself was sadly a disapointing result with Viking going a goal down just 3 minutes in and conceding another 15 minutes later which would be the final of the day ending the game 2-0 to the home side. Despite this though it was still a great day out, I'm really glad I went and I'm looking forward to my next game.

We got there very early, I can assure you it did fill up nicely. I like this picture as it shows what I feel to be three quite interesting things about the stadium:

1. The stands are simple but nice. About 10 years ago when my girlfriend went to her first and last ever football match she said there were no seats and just concrete steps, fortunatly there have been upgrades

2. The condition of the pitch was pretty shocking. One must bare in mind the weather has only just turned warm but it is also very early in the season so I was surprised.

3. As always in Bergen, you cant go anywhere without sseeing mountains. Pretty sure from no stadium in England can you see  mountains in the distance.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Rooftops, sushi, cocktails and comedy. A great Friday night!

I had a very random but brilliant Friday night, the kind I feel you can only really have in a City. Some say Bergen is not that big a city, especially as you'd expect, those who have lived here there whole lives or those who insist on going to the same rubbish places and would probably complain there are only a few bars in London. I grew up in a relitevely small town and Chester City, where I was at Uni was about as small as a city can be, so I for one really appreciate the large amount of options in a city like Bergen. Here is a little rundown of the evening and a couple of shamless plugs.

Friday nights festivities began with a drink on the roof of Zachariasbryggen with Marianne and another couple we are close friends with.  Zachariasbryggen is a big building consisting of a piano bar, a few restaurants and a couple of bars and is right in the heart of the city over looking the harbour. This is typically not my cup of tea for an evening but its roof terrice had just re-opened after being closed for the Winter. I first experienced this place with Marianne and my Mother-in-law last year where we enjoyed some pricey but tasty mojitos in the sun. It was not so warm this time round and we stuck to beer but thanks to some very effective heaters this was still a really nice a cosey place to have a few drinks in the fresh air. Also given it was only 16:00 (4pm) there was noone else about.

After Zachariasbryggen roof terrice we all went just one floor down to Sushi Sagrada in the same building. I have been here several times and I can safely say that it is my favourate sushi restaurant in Bergen. There are definatly much better value places, Nama is arguably right up there as its sushi is always great and very fresh with warm rice etc, but its not nearly as cosey and for me is more of a lunch place. Sagrada is a little protenteous some might say, but I have no problem with that. The Decor is lovely, staff are friendly, the veiws over the harbour are beautiful and what I love about there sushi is they are very experimental with lots of really great choices you wouldnt expect to see in the average restaurant. All of this does of course come at a price. On this trip for example with one beer and enough Sushi we spent about 350NOK (just shy of £40) a head. If your talking wine and a second course this can easily double, so naturally we arnt here as often as I would like. As always the sushi was excellent and we decided to go for a few drinks elsewhere  before out two friends would have to leave for an early night. It was around 18:00(6pm) maybe at this point.

For our drinks we decided to hit another place I have much more recently discovered but also absolutely love! It is called No Stress and is a absoloutely quality bar set up by local barman to provide everything they wanted in a bar. This shows a mile off, the place is very relaxed with cool retro decor and a reggie vibe. There collection of spirits are by far the best Ive seen since leaving England, they have a full fresh fruit bar and very skilled barman. I was never a cocktail barman myself but very close friends and my former housemate were so I consider myself relitvely well educated on the subject. There is nothing I love more than being able to walk up to a bar and debate ingredients and method for a drink by those who truly know what they are talking about and this is the best place to do that. 3 rounds later (consisting of Hendriks Mojito's, old fashioned, whisky sour and a sidecar) our friends sadly had to go home so Marianne and I decided to have a little wonder around as it was still early and see what we felt like doing.

It was a little before 21:00 (9pm) at this point and we saw a poster about a stand up show at Ricks Theatre, This is a small venue that regularly holds music and comedy events. The main act, was Craig Campbell, a histerical Canadian guy who we had both seen online and on TV a few times. One of our favourate things about him was he is particularly brilliant and making location relevent jokes. We had seen a show he did a year or so previously in Norway on youtube and his observations about the country were histerical. The gig started 15 mintues before we saw the poster so we immedietly ran to the venue and bought tickets for 150NOK, a very good deal if you ask me. We got in the room and it was very full so we were standing at the back, but smug with how brilliantly random it all was we ordered some beers and settled down to listen to the first of three Norwegian support acts. Suddenly a guy walked from the front and happened to come strait to us saying there were a couple of seats left. We walked passed all the standers and stood in the isle looking stupid looking for a seat and thinking maybe he was joking. Then suddenly right near the front and centre, as second row back and on the edge of the row., were two amazing seats, made even better by the fact there was not even anyone sitting directly infront of us on the front row.

When everything comes together like this it can really make your week and it certainly did. I didnt understand a lot of the Norwegian support acts but I got the jist of a few jokes and certainly found myself cracking up a few times. Craig Campbell himself was out of this world seriously hysterical, Ive only been to a few live comedy shows including Russel Brand at the O2 Arena, Jimmy Carr, and a couple of not really well known people at small venues in Chester. Craig Campbell really did blow those out of the water though, the randomness of finding outselves there completely unplanned with the best seats in the house may have helped, but to focus on that would not be doing justice to his outstanding comedy. He is about to start a massive tour in England and I strongly strongly suggest anyone who can, makes the effort to see him. I even had a little chat with him from the audience after he asked if their were any English people about as part of build up to a joke.

So there we have it, one of my top 10 nights in Bergen, if not top 5 or even 3. Bergen I take my hat off to you for providing such brilliant memories.

Sol i solen. (Sol in the sun)

Sexy Sushi

Marianne likes to make wasabi monsters.

I was very excitable coming out of Theatre

Friday, 12 April 2013

Shaking hands

Im stunned Ive not brought this up before and its something I feel is really important and helpful for anyone coming to Norway.

Now Im not sure what everyone elses experiences are but with my friends and family in England the polite things to do when introduced to someone varies greatly. This can be anything from a simple nod and "alright/hi" in someones direction to a hug and kiss on the cheek. Where on the spectrum you should be is not always clear but some more obvious ones would be:
When meeting a medium size group of people (5-10) then typically its a "hi everyone" and maybe a wave, and everyone does the nodding of acceptance thing and then gets on with their individual conversations. At the other end of the scale if I were introducing someone to a member of my family or close friend then; two men would shake hands and opposite sexes or two women would almost always hug and likely kiss cheeks.

It sounds complicated but to be honest its usually pretty clear what the play is. Although I wont deny awkward situations have been encountered now and then.

Norwegians, like in many ways play it simple. No matter who you are meeting weither it be a loose friend of a friend of a friend, family, close friend or whatever. No matter what gender, occasion or number of people in the room. . . Norwegians will always shake hands! This may not sound that strange but when you walk into a room of 10+ people and are expected to go and shake everyones hands individually and introduce yourself it can feel mental. I recall one time when I went completely on autopilot when meeting a good friends girlfriend for the first time. Naturally I went in for a hug and may have even given her a peck on the cheek. Now no one said anything and she very politely went with it however I did feel a massive air of awkwardness and was very aware I'd gone rogue.

By the same token, many times Marianne has met friends of mine and they have gone for hugs where she would normally have just shaken hands. In fact while at university she told me of times she shook girls hands when meeting them and then the girls almost took offense as this was a very masculine thing to do and not as friendly. Now I wont get into the gender debate about this but I do find the whole thing rather interesting. I do agree that just shaking hands can be a little cold at times and I find myself feeling a little awkward. You see now I know that shaking hands is always the done thing and hugs are not that common in Norway sometimes I am unsure if a hug is ok even with close friends and Norwegian family I now know well.

On the other hand though I have decided that generally I like this system. In my time here naturally Ive met many of Mariannes close friends and family as well as friends of friends etc. Its very handy for me therefore to know that no matter who I meet, what room of people I walk into,  the same thing is expected of me. I just walk around the room shaking everyones hand individually saying "Hi, Bobby, hyggelig" (hyggerlig means pleasure, which is short for "pleasure to meet you" or "hyggerlig å treffe deg") .When saying this I then usually fail to catch the more unusual names first time round and have to bring it up again later if I get the chance. In fact I'll let you into a little secret, I often didn't even bother listening first time, some Norwegian names are crazy!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

God Påske, Easter in Norway

As I'm sure it didnt escape your notice, recently it was Easter. Easter (called "Påske" in Norwegian) is a big deal in Norway I discovered, and this has nothing to do with the relegous aspects. In my experience very few Norwegians are religeous, I dont think I recall a single mention of Jesus around Christmas time and apparently he doesnt really get a look in at Easter either.

The reason Easter is so big in Norway is simple, several days off work. Norwegians are very big on free time, holidays and making the most of not working. You work to live, not the other way around and its one of the most attractive aspects of life here in comparison to England. In England I beleive like much of the world the Friday and Monday around Easter Sunday are public holidays where banks and most offices etc are closed. In Norway its a half day Wednesday and then nothing is open again until Tueday. In England these days loads of things stay open on public holidays but Norwegians are not having any of that. Many of the shopping centres and I beleive most supermarkets were open for a bit on the Saturday but that was literally it. This meant that when I got a note to pick up a package from the post office Wednesday afternoon I had to wait nearly a week for it to be open again. This was also true for the Vinmonopolet, meaning nothing  stronger than beer could be bought after 1pm/13:00 on Wednesday until the following Tuesday. I found all this rather frustrating and incredibly strange, how almost the whole country can close for nearly a week is beyond me but I guess as I wasnt at work either I should get over it.

What I really wanted to talk about was what everyone is doing when not at work and everything is closed. Well the answer is almost always a trip to hytten (the cabin). As Ive mentioned before many people have cabins in Norway, some in the mountains, others by lakes or the sea and others  in nice country settings. My girlfriends family have the final of those choices. A lovely idilic house about an hour from Bergen built by her fathers grandfarther or great grand father, Im afraid I dont recall. Naturally made entirly of wood it was incredibly quaint with many nice walks to take in the area. Cabins differ in their modern conveniences, this one upgraded a few years ago from an "outhouse" to a standard indoor toilet, but has no shower. There were four rooms each comfortably sleeping two and a large lounge/dining room for us all to relax in. The kitchen was very small and there was only a small oven just big enough for a large joint of meat and only two hobs. Mariannes parents however were experts at creating fantastic meals with these limited resources for all 10 of us, two of which were young children.

The two children I mention are Marianne's nieces, both girls aged 4 and 8 whom I beleive have come up before. They are very sweet girls and it was great to spend so much time with them to bond and to see the Easter traditions for the children. In England typically everything is done on Easter Sunday, my brother and I would come downstairs to find a table full of large chocolate eggs which we would spend the next several months getting through. We would also always do a easter egg hunt too, which would usuallly involve hiding small chocolate balls in the garden for us to find. The norwegian traditions are only slightly different but certainly interesting never the less. Firstly the whole weekend was treated like a little festival much like it is around christmas with themed decorations and such, not nearly as excessive as Christmas of course but certainly comparible. On the Saturday the girls did an easter egg hunt just like I did as a child and it was all very cosey. On the sunday though there was still more searching to be done. Rather than just giving large chocolate eggs as presents each child/person(we all had one) has a large plastic egg that is the container. These were left outside in a basket empty and then later we went outside where they where hidden around the garden and now full of sweets. This is a very nice cosey idea and I particularly like the variety in sweets you can recieve in the egg rather than just lots of massive chocolate balls. I beleive the hiding and filling is something that is supposedly done by "the easter bunny". Now im of course aware of this creature but I'm pretty sure it was never anything I was told about as a child and was just something I heard about on American TV. I was surprised to hear this animal exists in Norway.

Finally I want to mention what we spent the rest of our time doing when not searching for chocolate. Each day we had large family breakfasts and dinner which were all immense, lamb for dinner on the Sunday being a particular highlight. We would also go out for an hour or so walk each day in the area, maybe having hot dogs with us for lunch. A huge amount of time we spent playing Yahtzee, the dice game. I actually really enjoy a good game of Yahtzee and was stunned that I didnt get more bored of it as we really did play stupidly large amounts. The rest of the time was spent just relaxing, chatting, having a few drinks, snacks and just generally enjoying family time. It was all very nice and it was a lovely way to get all the family together.

For me personally I enjoyed the food and drink lots of course as well as the nice scenic walks. It was also great to bond with the kids and start to build some uncle status. Naturally I had to speak a lot of Norwegian over the weekend. I still cant chit chat and have proper conversations but I surprised myself with how much I could use what I have and how I managed to talk to the girls who of course dont speak English yet.
I certainly consider myself a family man and my family in England are very important to me and we are all incredibly close. It was nice to have the opportunity to spend more time as a family with my new Norwegian family and the sense of belonging continues to increase. Until my Norwegian is much better I will always feel like an outsider but I am a forigner and dont feel that can or even should be ignored. I am what I am and thats fine by me. My Norwegian family have done so much to make me feel welcome that the stresses of life and worrying about language were definatly lost in the warm fuzzy feelings of family for the weekend.

A typical Norwegian easter egg filled with a variety of sweets

An example of some easter decorations at hytten. 

Monday, 25 March 2013

Cross country skiing at a cabin in the Mountains

Yes that is how I spent last weekend, it was awesome! Firstly I should say I am no skier, I did one day of slalum when I was about 12 in America and about an hour last year cross country but in all honesty it was nothing compared to this, which was incredible.

Cross country skiing is HUGE in Norway, most people I have spoken to do very little slalum skiing and all seem to prefer cross country. Personally I knew nothing about cross country a short time ago but this weekend I learnt a lot. In true Norwegian style Marianne¨and I joined two close friends of ours at one of their parents cabin in the Mountains about 3 hours from Bergen. Its quite amazing how much snow can be found when you go to the right places, we have nothing really in the city for a little while but where we were at 900metres above sea level was a solid metre of the stuff surrounded by majestic mountains in  every direction. Truly a site to behold!

I should point out that while it was called a cabin, the palce we stayed was infact a lovely little house. It had all mod cons including dishwasher, cable tv and even a sauna (I'm aware it isnt a standard mod con but it had to be mentioend). I will do a seperate post on cabins in Norway at some point (called Hytte in Norwegian)  but for now I'll just say this was a particularly luxurious one. You could start skiing from the second you leave the front door but we opted to drive 2 minutes up the road and get on the proper trails.

In all honesty I was kinda nervous given my very limited experience but in the end we skied for a good few  hours covering around 6km and I loved it. The terrain we were on was largely flat with a few slight hills up and down but nothing too challenging. The best way I can describe cross country skiing is to say it is like hiking or a Sunday bike ride in the country, only a lot more effort than both. It was quite exhausting and at the end I was struggling a little due to my incredibly poor fitness. I really did feel though it was a lovely way to spend a day and to my surprise I completely get it. Its not the most glamourous or exciting of sports and doesnt have all the speed and swerves of slalum skiing but I for one really enjoyed it and would definitely recomend it.

Cross country skiing can of course be a lot more exciting if you wish by taking more extreme trails with bigger, longer and steaper slopes both up and down but it will be a while before I will be calling for any of that. I was watching a 50km cross country skiing race the next day on TV and it is no wonder Ive heard people say its the hardest sport around in terms of fitness and stamina. Having got a little bit of an idea of just how much effort it is to get to and maintain a high speed and tackle inclines I was stunned watching the super human pros' the next day. I was exhausted just thinking about it and it makes just maintaining a light jog for a marathon look like a piece of cake.

Very difficult to tell where the snowy mountains end and the clouds begin in this photo. I really regret not taking more pictures as it was stunning, I will try and steal some more off the others that where there.

You may think to yourself, "he's looking pretty cool and relaxed for a newbie". However I must admit I fell over several times getting in position for this picture and then seconds later my skii sticks (far right of the picture) fell over leaving me with a very snowy, wet and cold hat. But lets keep that to ourselves.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Officially two years with my Norwegian beauty

Last Thursday marked exactly two years since Marianne and I became official after I asked her in a London hotel just before meeting her sister and sisters boyfriend (now fiance) for the first time. This was slightly awkward given she assumed we already basically were but we have still agreed that the 14th of March gets the official nod.

I though I would take the opportunity to tell a little more of our story but would first as I often do call upon those who havent already to check out the following link as it is the post I wrote one year after we met and tells that story: http://gent-turning-troll.blogspot.no/2012/02/jeg-elsker-deg.html

Moving on from where that post left off I find it mental how easy everything was for us in many ways. Growing up I had often wondered who would be the one I end up with, so many factors to consider and age creeps up on us all very quickly. I had always planned on eventual marrige and kids and Im aware Im still very young but I couldnt help thinking where is this magical women going to come from? Well it turns out meeting her was a piece of cake! The equally surprising thing is how easy the getting serious, moving in together and all the stuff was. You always see on TV how its made such a big thing of and my mother had always told me you have to live with a person to truly know them. I had seen several relationships with friends and family fall apart shortly after making that leap.

The decision to move in together happened pretty much entirly by accedent and just became the obvious thing to do. We both had to leave our previous homes on short notice and were in need of somewhere to stay. We had spent so much time together in the previous couple of months it seemed like no big deal at all so after just about 4/5 months of actually knowing eachother we were sharing a roof/bedroom. I would like to say at this point to all those wondering who havnt already done so, for me living with your partner is pretty much exactly as you would expect. Yes we occasionally bug eachother with our gender cliches, I am messy and love to watch football and play on my Xbox, she wants everything to be clean and like my mum constantly hides things, but even with that stuff I love it!

I could spend a long long time explaining the many things that are great about living with Marianne but Im sure I would bore you all so I will digress. I never in a million years could have imagined the last two years panning out like they have, it has been completely insane the twists and turns my life has taken and this is in short all down to my relationship with Marianne and the decisions we have made. As a secret Star Trek and general science geek (dont tell anyone) I like the idea of the 5th Dimension (google it) in short the idea that all things that could happen do happen but in an alternative reality. Every desicion that is made takes us on a new path and maybe in one of those worlds I have one the lottory. In others maybe I even managed to get a perminant job in Norway. But whatever these infinate amount of realities may show I have no doubt there is not one out their where Marianne isnt in my life and I am truly happy. I refuse to believe in "fate" on principal but when you find something as crazy special as what we have even the most skeptical of us have to wonder.

A picture from around the time we moved in together

Friday, 8 March 2013

Æ, Ø & Å. The Extra Norwegian Letters

Looking through some old posts I realised I never really addressed the Norwegian alphabet much in the past and given that is quite interesting I though I should rectify that. This may be a little indepth for the casual reader but its interesting and very helpful for anyone even visiting Norway. For a little background the following three posts I wrote a while ago all discuss Norwegian alphabet and pronounciation which you may wish to check out first if you havent already

There are three additional letters in the Norwegian alphabet and they appear right at the end after Z and are all vowels. They are also the exact same in Danish and pronouced the same in Swedish too although written differently, anyone can feel free to fill me in on why this is. All the pronounciation suggestions I give will of course be in my own southern English dialect, but it should be pretty universally applicable.

Now there are many exceptions of course but I would say generally Norwegian is a much more phonetic language than English. There are lots of stupid rules and things to learn but compared to English  I  think if you were to learn the correct pronounciation of each letter and a few basic rules then you could read and pronounce things in Norwegian (even if you dont understand them) much more than someone could in English so learning these things is really really helpful. Often when I cant quite understand a word I ask for someone to spell it and that makes it much much easier to work out the correct pronounciation. This is especially helpful with names of people and places. I think pronouncing someones name as correctly as you can manage is the least you can do when you are a visitor to someones country.

The first is Æ/æ, which yes is just an "a" and "e" attached together. No idea why they couldnt be a little more imaginative but who am I to judge. The letter is pronounced like the short "a" in words like "cat, bat and hat". If its just an "a" sound why bother? I hear you cry, well the reason is an "a" in Norwegian is pronounced like the "ar" in "start and dart". An example of this letter in a Norwegian word is "Lære" pronounced kind of like the girls name Lara only with the first "a" pronounced like the short "a"  in cat. Lære means to learn. Just like we are all doing now, isnt this fun :)

Moving on, Ø/ø is the next letter and yes is just an "o" with a line through it. It is pronounced like the er in the boys names Ernie and Ernest. An exaple of the letter in a word is "prøver"(pronounced prerver), which means to try. Appropreate as this post is becoming a little trying, but stick with me. I may record and upload myself pronouncing the alphabet sometime soon but I will have to see just how ridiculus I sound.

Finally Å/å, yes just an "a" with a circle over the top, arnt these Norweigans original. Its important to note this is a little circle and not a dot like with an "i or j". The "å" sound is not really quite like anything in English and really requires to be heard to understand but the best examples I've heard so far are the "o" in lord or the "au" in taunt. A double "a" in Norwegian also makes the same sound by the way.

Putting it all together a great phrase to practice all three letters is "Jeg prøver å lære meg norsk" which  translates as "I'm trying to learn Norwegian" (direct translation is I try to learn me Norwegian, for those who are interested in those kind of things). To write it in English phonetically for pronounciation in Bergen dialect is difficult because the å on its own is impossible to represent so again read the previous paragraph for that  but the rest would be "egg prerver å lara meg norsk". Easy as that!

Now for those who have stuck with me this long here is a treat, a stupid music video about Æ, Ø and Å. Well worth a listen for a giggle and hopefully you can pick up the pronounciations from it too. Enjoy!!