Oslo, Take Two


| Monday, 7 April 2014
A couple of weeks ago, Joe had meetings in Oslo.  It's normal for him to fly to another Norwegian city for business here and there but often it's just a day trip and usually it's in the middle of the week.  We used to hope for the meetings to partner up with a weekend so that we could go a little early and I would be able to tag along but it rarely happens.  When the meetings came up on a Monday and Tuesday, we decided we'd better take advantage of the opportunity.

The weather in Norway has been so fantastic lately.  I know, for those of you in much of Canada and the Eastern US, you're shaking your head at me but I can't help but be ecstatic over the arrival of Spring.  This winter was really hard on both of us; the daylight hours so minimal and the multitude of wind storms took it's toll but I'm convinced that all of that just makes us appreciate the arrival of the next season even more.  As we looked ahead to the forecast during our time in Oslo, we were both so excited to see the city above zero with clear skies.

It wasn't an exciting or a big trip for us but the change of scenery was really welcome.  Joe's been having a particularly hard time at work lately with tasks piled so high that he hardly takes a break for supper before getting back to the computer until bedtime.  While in Oslo, he was able to work Norwegian hours.  (I mentioned here before that there's a strong worker's union in his industry which limits working hours and no one works overtime.  A day is 7.5 hours and it's uncommon to take work home.  While I wish it applied to Joe, as an expat, there are several shades of grey and he doesn't get to reap those benefits.)  I hadn't been feeling well and had sort of holed up in the house taking it easy on my body which was needed but I certainly was ready to get out and Oslo was the perfect excuse.

Our last trip to Norway's capital city was at the beginning of February and it was cold and icy.  It's quite amazing how one can see a city so differently through a different season and while Oslo failed to impress us our first time around, we did warm (figuratively and literally) a little to it this time.
While in town, we finally made it to the Viking Ship Museum.  While these ships were well-known to be used on the water, they were also used in burials in Norway.  The ship pictured above was brought ashore in 834 for two wealthy women, filled with goods to be used in their next life and became their burial chamber.  Over 1000 years later, the ship was found by a farmer on his land and excavated in 1903.  



| Thursday, 13 March 2014

When thinking of our upcoming trip to Amsterdam I pictured canals, bikes, houseboats, museums and typical European architecture.  It wasn't until my sister made a comment about marijuana a couple of days before our departure that I remembered there was another side to this Dutch city.  I suppose my Amsterdam references for the last few years have been other bloggers (Liz, Rachel & Carly - although they all have now left the city) and there was nary a mention of drugs or prostitution.  In my younger years, Amsterdam was known as the place to go for things that were illegal to us in Canada and should you mention you were visiting the city, there would most definitely be a joke thrown out about smoking weed.  I suppose, for most of us, it was a distant land that we'd never experience for ourselves and thus, we went off the few references we had of it.

I later made a comment to Joe that this must be telling of my age - the party atmosphere of a city is no longer on my radar.

It's also funny that we were both taken by surprise upon arrival at what a party city it is.  As a Canadian (and probably an American,) if you're planning a trip to party, you go to Vegas.  Apparently, the British go to Amsterdam.  As we wandered through some of the more touristy nightlife areas, it was wall to wall groups of women on hen-dos dressed in matching t-shirts or wearing tiaras.  There were large groups of inebriated men, clearly enjoying the more liberal side of the city.  This wasn't really our scene and we quickly found ourselves sticking to the quieter areas.

But, of course, anyone that has visited Amsterdam knows that there is so much more to the city than coffee shops and prostitutes.  Away from the assembly of drunk tourists, there is a very beautiful city.  The canals lined with beautiful buildings, houseboats which I so desperately tried to peer into, bikes lining every section of free space often several deep and bridge after bridge beckoning me to take photos.

As usual, we spent the weekend walking.  We lucked out in that Amsterdam was experiencing unseasonably warm temperatures.  (It got to 18 degrees C on Sunday!!!)  We wanted to take advantage of the Spring weather so most of our time was spent outside.  We visited the Anne Frank House (incredibly moving,) looped through Jordaan and Nine Streets, started each morning with long and yummy breakfasts, took a canal cruise, briefly made our way through the Red Light district in both day light and under the red lights, and we spent a few hours in Vondelpark.  The atmosphere was almost electric as everyone took to the outdoors to soak in some much needed sunlight and we couldn't help but feel energized after a dark winter.

Amsterdam was both exactly as I pictured yet also different than I expected, if that makes any sense.  Both of us felt an attraction to the city and we both mentioned on a couple of occasions that we could see ourselves spending a few years there, should an opportunity arise.  It strikes me as a city that will always have something unexpected to discover.

The Details:
-We stayed at Hotel Roemer.  It's a boutique hotel located just outside the main loop but an easy 5-10 minute walk into main areas.  Had we found a deal or wanted to spend a bit more money on accommodation, we might have stayed in the Nine Streets area.
-I tried to buy Anne Frank tickets a week in advance but they were sold out.  Only a certain number are released online and they're sold by time.  Our wait in line on site was about an hour long.  The line was crazy but it actually moved pretty quickly.
-We originally were going to get on a canal cruise from nearer to Central Station yet the lines were huge!!!  Instead, we jumped on one near our hotel, Vondelpark & the Rijksmuseum and there was no wait.

Recent Reads VI: Recommendations


| Thursday, 20 February 2014
One of the best parts of having a blog is connecting with others and ever since I started this regular Recent Reads series, my readers have been sharing all sorts of fantastic books with me.  The only thing that rivals a good book is sharing a good book with fellow lovers of the written word.

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
Sara from Le Petit Village sent along this recommendation.  She had read it after it had been recommended to her as she was moving to her very own 'Le Petit Village' in Provence and remarked at how she could see many of the characters in Mayle's book in her own experiences.  The book itself is a memoir of Englishman Peter Mayle and his wife's first year in Provence having bought an old, rural house in the South of France.  His account follows the calendar year and chronicles settling into Provence, the forever on-going renovations of his 200 year old house, his eccentric neighbours, the tourists, the food and the towns.  The characters are endearing and one really feels like they might be a few steps behind, listening and looking in on life in the French countryside.

What I really loved about this book was Mayle's ability to talk about the eccentricities of Proven├žal life he encountered as a Brit abroad, frustrations and celebrations, without a hint of judgement or negativity.  In fact, as an expat myself, I found his writing and attitude inspiring.

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune
by Bill Dedman & Paul Clark Jr Newell
Gesci passed along this recommendation and I'm so glad she did.  It tells the true story of Huguette Clark, an heir to a grand American fortune.  It begins by tracing her father's path to wealth in the settlement days of the United States to building one of the most expensive mansions known to New York City to naming Las Vegas as well as some controversial roles in the US Senate.  Eventually, Huguette inherited this wealth yet despite her easy access to the NYC social scene, she remained reclusive, locked away (by her own will) in her sprawling, Fifth Avenue apartment with her dolls and her art.  While shunning society, Huguette remained a very generous woman, sharing her wealth with the few close to her and when her health began to fail, she checked into a hospital only to stay there for 20 years despite her many multimillion dollar properties and her ability to hire as many staff as required.

While we aren't privy to Huguette's personal thoughts, we do get a very good sense of the woman she was and the motivations behind her life choices.  At times, the novel dragged a bit for me but the story was intriguing and it certainly started discussions of the effect of wealth and what people will do to dip their hands in the bucket. Upon finishing the novel, I was sad to see that Huguette's inheritance is still in the news.  It's disturbing, although not altogether surprising, who comes out of the woodwork when there are millions of dollars at hand.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
Jess from The Stroke featured this novel on her blog and I figured it would make the perfect beach-read while on our trip to Mexico.  In actuality, it was such an easy read, I finished it on the plane over.  Attachments tells the story of Lincoln, a smart, almost overeducated guy in a bit of a slump, who takes on a job  as an internet security officer at a newspaper.  Part of his responsibilities include monitoring staff emails and by doing so, he becomes rather involved (at a distance) in the going-ons between two best friends.  While he knows what he is doing is wrong, he can't help but be drawn into their stories.

While the book itself is a tad predictable, the characters are relatable and it's light and fun - perfect for the beach… or the airplane.  Also, because the book takes place in 1999, there's the whole Y2K thing happening which is quite funny to look back on.

Currently reading...
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
This one was passed along to me on Twitter and was highly recommended by a couple of people so after finishing Attachments prior to landing on the beach, I commenced this epic novel.  I say epic because it's long.  It tells the story of a young boy who somehow manages to survive a terrorist attack that kills his mother sending his childhood into a mix of homes of varying degrees as he grapples with the loss of the only person he felt ever cared about him.  Theo struggles with practically everything in his life: his past, his choices, alcohol, drugs, relationships - but, he's one of those characters that despite his many flaws, you really want him to succeed.

I'm about 75% of the way through and yes, it's long but it's also rewarding.

What are you reading?

{Full Disclosure: On a whim, I decided to try out the Amazon Affiliate program which essentially means if you happen to purchase one of the books I linked to from my page, I will earn a very minimal commission.  Up until this point, I have never made a dime on From There To Here and all past Recent Reads posts were linked without having any connection to me.  As for content, nothing changes and I'm not getting paid in advance to write about anything that I haven't already purchased on my own.  Should you choose to purchase a book from my page, I thank you for your support.}

Tulum Town


| Tuesday, 18 February 2014

One morning, the skies were overcast and the threat of intermittent rain showers loomed beckoning us away from the beach.  We spent a couple of hours catching up with Joe's Grandma and Great Aunt who, by the way, are both avid travellers.  We laughed as they told us about getting soaked while taking in the Panama Canal and listened in awe as his Aunt casually mentioned her trip from Beijing to Europe via the Trans-Siberian railway.  If that doesn't inspire you to leave the resort, I'm not sure what does.

Joe's cousins had already caught the Collectivo, a public transport system, into Tulum town and we hoped to meet up with them somewhere along the way.  We had heard there wasn't much to do in town although prior to our trip, I did come across a few articles and blogposts chronicling Tulum's rise to popularity with it's sustainable, low-key and hippy-esque vibe.  Our taxi deposited us in the centre of town, along the main strip which was chalk full of tourist shops filled with knickknacks.  We sauntered up and down the street, occasionally peeking into the shops but mostly just taking in the surroundings: a couple of cars driving slowly through town with a man on a loudspeaker and a girl in a bikini draped across the hood, dreadlocked men walking down the street barefoot, a variety of tourists haggling in shops.

Eventually, we found a little more of what I was expecting - one block off the main road we landed in Batey's.  It was a funky, little place that smelled delicious.  We hadn't known this when we were there, but apparently, they're the place to go for mojitos.  Everything that came from the teeny, tiny kitchen out the back looked fresh and yummy but we settled on some homemade guacamole and a couple of beers although that didn't stop us from salivating every time we saw something else make its way to another patron at another table.

Had we not been at an all inclusive up the road, we might have come into town more often in search of those little restaurant gems.  I suppose that's one of the downside of resorts - food and drinks are included in your rate and it seems wasteful not to use what you've paid for yet, in turn, that means you're missing out on all of the little opportunities for great dining elsewhere.

-Some restaurant/hotel recommendations in Tulum town
-Travel and Leisure's take on Tulum



| Thursday, 13 February 2014
Joe and I went to cheer on Norway in the final of the European curling championship held here in Stavanger at the end of November.  Norway has been known for their curling couture long before People Magazine picked it up.

#WeAreWinter is Team Canada's slogan for Sochi 2014 and it seems fitting.  I love the Winter Olympics.  I love watching our nation come together to cheer on our athletes and I love seeing so many countries come together with a love of sport.  Even though these games in Russia have been controversial from the start, I can't help but be drawn in to the hoopla that is the Winter games.

As a Canadian, clearly I'm all for watching the Curling and Hockey but there really is nothing I won't watch.  In fact, there are plenty of sports I don't follow at all throughout the year yet find myself drawn to the TV to cheer on our Canadian delegates.  I can't help but tear up when I watch our flag raised and our anthem played when we've claimed a gold and even when we don't reach the podium, I'm proud of the sportsmanship my country has shown.

I'm not sure if Norway has an official Olympic slogan for these games but it should be #NorwayCanSki.  In the last year and half, it's become blatantly obvious how large of a roll skiing takes in Norwegian society.  In Oslo last February, Joe and I marvelled at the amount of people carting around skis in the city (perhaps not quite to the extent to bikes in Amsterdam but certainly up there.)  In Stavanger, we don't really get lasting snow so we don't see people cross country skiing however we do see people using road skis all year long.  They're essentially a ski with wheels allowing people to practice the sport on pavement.  All winter long, every weekend, skiing competitions grace our television and now that the Olympics are on, the ski atmosphere has only heightened.

Norway has won more Winter Olympic medals than any other nation in the world.  (This article takes an interesting look at that fact and perhaps some of the reasons behind it.)  Even as someone who pays particular attention to the Winter games, before moving here I really had no idea of their success.  When I looked a little closer at the medal table, it's obvious where their strengths lie and perhaps they continue to float under the radar of many nations who don't pay particular attention to skiing.  While the Canadians are busy watching hockey, Norway is dominating the cross country skiing scene.

In other winter sport, Norway is also well-known for its national curling team who is recognizable for two reasons: obviously, their style choices as their heavily patterned pants stick out amongst a sea of black.  Secondly, the skip, Thomas Ulsrud, is pretty handsome.  This year it seems that international media (outside of big curling nations) have picked up on this.

While my allegiances lie with Canada, I'm quite enjoying having two Olympic teams to cheer for this year.  It's also been interesting to watch another winter-centric country's take on the games.  Like home, athletes are gracing milk cartons and cereal boxes.  A large screen TV has been set up in our local shopping mall and Joe's noticed loud cheering in his office during the day, presumably when the cross country events are on.  Tonight, the two countries meet centre ice for Canada's first men's hockey game.  Norway isn't particularly well known for hockey but I'm enjoying a little friendly rivalry between my two homes.  My landlord had a chuckle when I answered the door today in my Team Canada jersey.
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