The Ins and Outs of Healthcare in Norway

Wednesday 27 February 2013

There are 2 appointments I detest making.  I have never liked visiting the dentist nor the doctor.  In fact, as a teenager, I was known to call the office the morning of said appointment and cancel it.  Unfortunately, they are necessary evils to keeping healthy.

After several awful experiences with healthcare in Gabon, I was thrilled to be able to return to detesting appointments instead of fearing them.

Norway has a public health system operated by the government and funded through public tax.  The theory behind the system is that every resident of Norway has access to the same standard of healthcare regardless of their socio-economic status.  As a Canadian, this system sounds very familiar but there are a few differences.

As soon as our visas were secured and we were legal residents of Norway, we filled out paperwork at the Centre for Foreign Workers to receive a personal number.  This number is used for several things but it's the starting process to acquiring healthcare.  Every legal resident, expat or not, is privy to the national Norwegian healthcare scheme.  About a week after filing the paperwork, both Joe and I received our personal number in the mail with directions to secure a family doctor.

Using the public healthcare website, Helfo, I searched the current doctors in our region.  Their name, sex, clinic, number of current patients & number of open spots are visible in order to assist you in your choice.  Perhaps you have a personal recommendation in which you can search for that specific doctor or clinic or you choose depending on your priorities.  Having a clinic that was close to home was important to us so that dictated our choice.  Once our doctor was chosen, I phoned the Helfo number and requested the doctor that I had decided on.  If I hadn't researched ahead of time, they would have assigned me to one.  Within one week we had confirmation that our family doctor was set. Should you be unhappy with your choice, you are able to switch your family doctor twice per year.

Unlike Canada, visiting your doctor is not 'free.'  Depending on your visit, you'll be charged a subsidized fee which can be paid via electronic machine in the clinic.  (If you don't pay at the clinic, a bill is mailed to you and includes an extra administration fee.)  My first regular appointment cost 135 nok ($24 CAD.)  Every year, a cap is set for healthcare costs.  This year, once you have paid 2040 nok ($370 CAD) in fees, you will be given an exemption card that states you are no longer required to pay.

Prescriptions are also subsidized by the healthcare system.  The actual cost of medicine is subsidized but it is also capped at 500 nok ($90 CAD) meaning that the most you can pay for any trip to the pharmacy for prescribed medication is limited.  It is my understanding that prescription fees will also contribute to the 2040 nok cap.

In order to see a specialist one must be referred from their family physician and wait times can be long.  (Again, something Canadians are familiar with.)  Everyone has the option to opt out of the national scheme, take out private insurance and get their healthcare where they choose should they be unhappy with what they have been offered.  Stavanger has a couple of private clinics that anyone can visit but of course, there's no guarantee as to the cost or the reimbursement from your private coverage.  Again, like in Canada, dental and eye care is not covered under the national scheme and thus paid out of pocket or put through separate insurance.

The entire system is strictly regulated and while the process and procedures can certainly be frustrating, residents of Norway do have a very high level of healthcare (ranked 11th in the world by the World Heath Organisation in 2000.  In case you are interested, France ranked 1st, UK 18th, Canada 30th, US 38th, Gabon 139th.)

Joe and I's limited experience with the system has so far been positive.  Our doctors are professional, we're able to get appointments when we need them and the standard of care has been good.

Note:  The procedures for acquiring access to the National Healthcare Scheme maybe different depending on your home country.

Important Links

UDI - Immigration website
Helfo- Homepage for the National Healthcare Program (there is a section in English if you click on the tab in the upper right corner.)
MinFastlege - search for available physicians in your area
Helfo Portal - login to change your physician
Helfo Contact Number - 850 59 500


Monday 25 February 2013

When we first announced that we were moving abroad, friends, family members and even people who didn't particularly fit into either category told us they 'would definitely be coming to visit us.'  In the beginning, this excited us.  The idea of welcoming people you care about into your new foreign home is exhilarating.  We'd picture where we'd take them and what we'd do together and longed to show them our life abroad in person instead of through distant skype calls, emails and blogging.  Then we waited - we waited for the trip planning that never came.

Many of the declarations to visit were empty promises but even those that were serious about it would often come to say, "I looked at flights.  Do you know how expensive it is to fly there?" and from that we'd know; it wasn't happening.  Of course, not everyone makes travel a priority in their life like we do and not everyone can afford a trip overseas but we had so hoped to welcome someone... anyone really.

Gabon was a very difficult sell to a lot of people.  The flights were a few thousand dollars, there were high risk vaccines involved and the visa process was long, expensive and arduous.  On top of this, it's just not a destination that is set up to welcome tourists.  I was really disappointed - while the process would be difficult, our life there was so very different from anything most people experience and I thought it would be fascinating for others to see and us to watch it unfold.  But, we understood.  Twenty four months later and we didn't welcome a single person.

When we announced that we were moving to Norway, the 'we're definitely going to visit' started flooding in again but we knew better this time.  When the 'did you know that it costs like a thousand dollars to fly there?' started popping up, we'd smile and nod.  (Although this one still amazes me - what do people think it's going to cost to fly across the world?)  Obviously, Norway was going to be an easier destination to commit to visit but it's still a commitment and an expense.

Then, something started happening.

To our utter disbelief, people started booking flights.  I'm not sure if it's the pictures I posted of my terrace overlooking the fjord, or perhaps it was our scenic Sunday drives or maybe Joe and I raving about how gorgeous this country is at every chance we could but people started booking flights!

First, back in September while we were still living in our temporary apartment, Joe's friend Kellen popped over for a few days while he was touring around Europe.  We hardly knew Stavanger at that point but we welcomed him into our home, made him climb a mountain and bring us duty free beer yet he seemed to enjoyed it.

Next, my good friend Jeanie (whom you've met here, here and here on this blog) booked her Easter break in Norway and I'm so, so excited about the week and a half that we'll get to spend together.  The last we saw each other was in Singapore where she was teaching but she has since relocated back to Canada.  I've been composing a list of potential things to do and sights to see and I can't wait to catch up in person!

Just last week, my parents booked their flights for a 2 week Norwegian getaway this summer and it means so much to us!  It'll be their first time outside of North America (they've visited the US and Mexico several times) and they'll get to see Stavanger at it's best - full of cruise ships and tourists and long days.

And finally, another one of my closest friends is seriously considering a trip over this fall.  (No pressure but I'm sure once she sees the amazing time every one else had, she'll be on her way!)

By the end our our first year in Norway, we'll have welcomed guests 3 separate times - that is 300% more than we welcomed in our 2 years in Gabon.  There's something incredibly validating about showing those you care about your life and your home and we so appreciate the efforts and investments people are making - we promise, it'll be worth it!

Recent Reads

Friday 22 February 2013

I've been reading a lot lately - perhaps it's the cold and darkness of winter encouraging me to curl up with a good book.

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth
-This book was chosen as the Book Club read for January and although I missed the actual meeting, I did read the book.  Based on the true stories of a young midwife in post-WWII London, Call the Midwife tells the tales of women, families & life in the East End of the city, notorious as a very poor community.  While I found myself a little squeamish at the beginning of the novel, I ended up really enjoying it.  Afterwards I felt inspired to download the TV show but as I watched the first episode, I decided I needed to wait.  The show really sways from the plot of the book and it was just too difficult to watch and enjoy after having just finished reading.  I'll give it a try again later.

A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous
-This book was lent to me by a friend after having heard how interested I was in Berlin and the stories of WWII.  The novel itself is actually a journal of a young woman who resided in Berlin throughout the entire period but specifically chronicles the end of the war and the taking of Berlin by the Russians.  This was something I knew very little about and it presented an often un-talked about aspect of the war.  As heart wrenching as it was, I am so glad to have read this book and occasionally think of the anonymous author and wonder how she faired in post-war Germany.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel
-I actually can't believe I hadn't read this book before but as Joe and I talked of seeing the film, I knew I had to read the novel first.  I knew the author was Canadian but had no idea he resides in Saskatoon, a mere 2 hours from my hometown.  There were parts of this book I really liked and parts that I struggled with but I'm happy to have finished it.  Joe is currently reading it, and loving it, so I can't wait until we can chat about it - and then see the movie which I hear is visually stunning!

Why Have Kids? by Jessica Valenti
-I can't remember where I heard about this book but I had it sitting on my Kindle for ages before I finally got around to it.  It takes a sociological look at having children, the pressure placed on women (specifically in the US) to be mothers and it challenges many lines of thinking regarding parenthood that have developed over the decades in society.  I found this read fascinating but I often am fascinated looking at society and why we think the way we do.  I know the book has angered some people and I'm certain that some may find it negative or get defensive as it challenges such popular ways of thinking but I found it refreshing and realistic.  Contrary to what the title may suggest, I didn't find it to sway my own personal thoughts on having children to either side but it gave me a lot to ponder.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
-Taking place in Paris at an apartment building of upperclass families, this novel centres around a precocious young girl who has decided to end her life in a spectacular fashion on her thirteenth birthday and the concierge who is an unsuspected brilliant woman often overlooked by the bourgeois families residing in the building.  I won't lie - there were times where I really struggled with this book.  It took me quite awhile to get attached to the characters but when I did, I fell in love with their stories.  It was worth sticking out.

Currently Reading...

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
-This was chosen as the Book Club read for February and I've been meaning to read it anyways.  Thus far, I'm intrigued by this Mr Jay Gatsby and his lavish but secretive lifestyle.  I'm quite looking forward to the film out later this year - directed by Baz Luhrman, the director of Romeo & Juliet and starring Leonardo DiCaprio- I'm hoping it lives up to the expectations.

Next up...

Thanks to my last post about reading, my to-read shelf is massive!  Currently on my amazon wishlist:

The Round House by Louise Eldrich
All Over But the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
From Beirut to Jereusalem by Thomas L. Friedman
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
The Perks of Being a Wallflower  by Stephen Chbosky
Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder

What have you been reading?

R for Recycling

Wednesday 20 February 2013

I grew up in a pretty environmentally conscious house.  For as long as I can remember, I knew that plastic, glass, paper & tin did not go in the garbage.  We even had a nickname for my Dad who was the enforcer of such rules.  I carried these values into my classroom when I began teaching.  One of our first lessons and rules in the room was recycling was not optional.  If I saw paper or a juicebox entering the garbage, the perpetrator would have to pick it out and put it in the appropriate bin.

This is common practice in Canada.  While there are certainly households that take it more seriously than others, it's pretty standard to always have separated bins in public areas particularly for bottles & cans and most will be returned for deposit money.  (Recycling money was always divvied up between us kids in our family so we always looked forward to the extra $5 to spend on treats at the rink.)

[My favourite program in Canada, offered in a couple of different communities I lived in, was the blue bin/bag program.  Anything recyclable was placed in a blue garbage bag or bin and was put out with the garbage.  A separate truck would come and pick it up.  No sorting necessary.]

When we started spending so much time in the US, I was horrified at the lack of recycling facilities.  The inner turmoil I felt having to put that empty bottle in a garbage can was palpable.  I could not understand why a country so developed and advanced could be so wasteful.  Gabon, of course, was much worse.  Everything went in the garbage except for the local glass beer bottles which could be returned to the brewery.  It pained me.

Now, Norway - Norway knows how to recycle and it makes me happy.  Norwegians are very sensitive about preserving their environment - you would be too when you see how beautiful it is - and thus, have put in place a very intricate system to reduce waste.

Every household is equipped with 3 bins - 1 for garbage, 1 for bio-waste, and 1 for paper.  These bins are emptied by the local waste management department.  (I've heard that if they WM Dep't sees that you are not following the guidelines, they will not collect the contents of your bin thus leaving you with heaping mounds of garbage so it's best to just do it. )  In addition to that, there are recycling facilities for plastic, glass & tin as well as a deposit system for certain beverage containers.

Let me explain:

1.  Anything that cannot be recycled or composted goes in the garbage (white bag) under our sink.  All food waste and things that can be composted go in the green, biodegradable bag.  (The biodegradable bags are actually delivered to our door once a year by the municipality.)
2.  Usually about twice a week, the bags are bundled up to go out.
3.  Because we live in an apartment, we dispose of these in the appropriate containers in our neighbourhood (as opposed to having our own personal bins outside of a house.)

Now, that's not all.

We also divide up other recyclable materials.  The above picture is our utility closet.  It's pretty self explanatory but when those containers are full, we take them to the neighbourhood bins that are divided just as we have done in our home.  We usually do this every 2 weeks.

There are certain things (water bottles, beer cans, coke bottles) that have a deposit on them.  For example, at the grocery store every glass bottle of coke comes with a 1 kroner deposit that you pay on top of the product cost.  At the front of the store sits an automated machine that sort of looks like a vending machine which you feed your empty bottles into - it scans them all, takes them and prints out a receipt with a total which then can be returned to you in cash or can be donated to a local charity.

Myths Debunked
-Compost stinks.  Not really.  It stinks just like your garbage stinks if you leave it too long before taking it out.  If you actually had to keep the compost piles in your yard then yes, it might smell but on a day to day basis in our house, it is no different.
-It takes a lot of space.  Recycling only takes a lot of space if you never deposit it to the bins.  We live in an apartment and it's not a problem for us.
-It's difficult.  It's really not that difficult once you have a system set up.  Our bins are right there and it's just as easy to rinse out a can and put it in the tin bin as it is to throw it in the garbage.

This is an aspect of Norwegian life that I embrace fully.  Regardless of your thoughts on global warming, it never hurts to limit our waste to keep this stunning world we live in clean and healthy.

A Sunday Drive to the Beach

Monday 18 February 2013

Sunday drives have become a favourite weekend activity when we're hanging around Stavanger.  It gives us an opportunity to escape the city, see a change of scenery, explore the region and get out on the open road.

Last weekend, we visited a beach South of Stavanger.  We took the scenic route along Nordsjøvegen and followed the signs to the beach.  The beaches here on the Southern tip of Norway always surprise me.  I'm never expecting the long, white, sandy beach and the clear, blue/green water reminiscent of much warmer locations.  While it was a little chilly, there were lot's of people out taking walks and kids chasing waves & playing in the sand.  

There's a restaurant on the edge of the parking lot and I imagine the entire area to get quite busy on a warm summer day.  We'll have to make a point to come back when we can shed the parkas.


The drive along the coast to the beach was about 45 minutes from Stavanger, with a couple of stops along the way.  We also continued down Nordsjøvegen road after our stop at the beach and looped back up through the mountains.

{You can check out our other day trips from Stavanger here, here, herehere & here.}

An Evening at the Lervig Brewery

Friday 15 February 2013

As you may remember, Joe is a bit of a beer connoisseur and over the years, we've visited several breweries.  For Christmas, he received a home brewing kit so we've taken this to a whole other level.

INN (The International Network of Norway - the same group that organised the glassblowing field trip I did) held a tour at a local brewery last week and we just couldn't pass it up.  The tour itself cost 250 nok (about $50) and it took place in the evening which made it possible for both Joe and I to attend.

Lervig has been our favourite beer since arriving in Stavanger.  I'm pretty certain that we had tasted all of their variations available in the grocery store before the end of our first week in Norway.  I tend to like the Betty Brown best and Joe, fittingly enough, leans towards the Hoppy Joe although he is quite fond of the Lucky Jack and the Rye IPA as well.

As I've said, we've visited a few breweries in our time and know our way around the ingredients and the brewing process but the Lervig tour was really quite interesting.  Our host, Leif, has been around since the brewery's beginning and he had quite a bit of insight into the history of Lervig as well as it's current initiatives.  There's something about a small company working it's way up to create a product they're passionate about as opposed to giant companies churning out mass quantities of something to make a large profit.

Many times when visiting a brewery, you're guided around at quite a distance from where the actual work happens.  Sometimes you're up above looking down into the brewery and sometimes you're behind a glass partition looking in.  The great thing about the Lervig tour was we had no holds access to everything.  We walked right up along side the equipment, touched the products and tasted the raw ingredients.

At the end of the tour is when the fun stuff starts.  We're introduced (or re-introduced) to their different brews and we taste and discuss the beers.  While Joe and I were fairly certain we'd tasted every Lervig beer out there, we were surprised with a few new brews that have yet to hit the shelves.  In the end, we sampled 8 or 9 different beers, enjoyed conversation with fellow beer drinkers and Joe got some inspiration for his own home-brewing initiatives.  All in all, it was a pretty successful evening out and totally worth the 250 nok.

[Note: Today is my brother's birthday - I'm fairly certain he doesn't read this blog but in case he has surprised me, Happy Birthday Corbin!]

A Wintry Weekend in Oslo

Wednesday 13 February 2013

You can find the details of our trip here.

Oslo was the perfect city for a short weekend getaway.  It's small enough that we were able to see practically everything we wanted to see in the time we were there and we didn't have to rush to do so.  Despite the chilly below 0 temperatures, we bundled up and walked our way around the sites

{A very special thank you to Megan who so kindly sent us some very helpful tips and who treated us to a coffee & pastry when dropped by to say 'hello.'  It was so nice to finally meet in person!}

Oslo has more of an urban feel than we are used to in Stavanger but it is still small enough to feel comfortable.  We loved that we could basically walk everywhere - in fact, aside from the train to and from the airport, we walked to every site.  I'd like to check it out in the spring or summer when the trees have leaves, the sidewalks aren't icy and the climate a little warmer.  We know as well as anyone living in Norway that things really come alive on a beautiful day.

The Palace & Slottsparken

I've never seen a palace so easily accessible by the general public as the Royal Palace in Oslo. Tourists and locals alike can quite literally walk right up to the front door.  Unfortunately for us, palace tours are only done in the summer so we could only admire it from the outside.


Frognerparken is the largest park in Oslo and the number one tourist site.  It is home to 212 statues constructed by Gustav Vigeland.  The statues are undressed people doing typically day to day activities with the exception of a few open to interpretation.  It was quite impressive and one couldn't help but smile at the giggling and blushing tourists.

Aker Brygge

Aker Brygge is a newer area sitting on the waterfront of the Oslo fjord.  It's home to shops, restaurants, hotels, apartments and some modern architecture.  I imagine this to be quite a bustling area during the summer as the boardwalk was lined with ice cream shops currently closed for the winter.  

Akerhus Fortress

The Akerhus Fortress sits across the water from Aker Brygge.  At one time, it was a medieval castle built to protect Oslo but it also served as a prison and was at one point surrendered to the Germans during WWII.  Currently, it's open to the public although there is still a military presence.

The Oslo Opera House

One of my favourite sites in Oslo was the Opera house.  Located just beside the Central train station and our hotel, this stunning building appears to rise from the sea.  We happened to arrive just in time for sunset and my goodness, it was beautiful.  Joe walked up the path along the side of the building and stood on top to take in the views - I found it a bit too slippery so I stayed below.  Both the exterior and interior of the building are quite impressive.  I hope to see a show the next time we visit Oslo so I can take in the auditorium.

This trip was our first time being 'tourists' in Norway.  We've never really looked at any of our time here as 'travel' because it's currently our home.  In any case, I looked at Oslo in a bit of a different light.  While we certainly enjoyed our time there, I could see why it's not a top tourist destination.  It's expensive, like the rest of Norway, and if you're just popping over for a weekend, it's difficult to get over the cost.  We noticed ourselves 'traveling' a little differently than normal too - we didn't stop off for  beer throughout the day because it's so darn expensive.  I also didn't do any shopping because I typically wait until we're out of Norway to buy things at a more reasonable price.  Oslo also doesn't have the same natural beauty that Norway is so famous for.  It's not an ugly city by any means but it doesn't have the same breathtaking quality of Western Norway.

With all of that being said, we did quite like Oslo and it certainly made us excited to see a few more sides of this country that we're lucky enough to call home for the time being.


Monday 11 February 2013

Sola Beach - just outside of Stavanger
(Can you tell I'm craving a little sunshine?)

-We've both been making a bit of an effort to eat a little healthier and do a little more exercise.  Both of us were feeling our clothes fitting a little snugger particularly after the holidays and I was horrified at how tight my muscles have become after so much inactivity.  We've been going for walks together at night and cutting down on beer & coke.  (I have only consumed 1x 6 pack of coke since returning from Christmas holidays - anyone who knows me and my nightly coke treat knows this is a big deal.)

-We've never been ones to 'go to a movie.'  We were always more likely to rent one and watch at home.  In fact, before moving abroad, we counted 2 films we saw in the theatre together in the 2 years we lived together.  Lately, we've been loving the luxury of seeing films.  Perhaps it was our time in Gabon being totally cut off from pop culture or perhaps it's just happening as we mature (i.e. get old) but since moving to Stavanger, we've seen: Skyfall, Argo, Take This Waltz, The Impossible, Silver Linings Playbook and I saw Les Mis & Hope Springs with the ladies group.  Next on the list, Zero Dark Thirty.

-I've been catching up on my share of teenage angst.  Starting at noon Gossip Girl, Gilmore Girls and One Tree Hill have been playing in succession every day starting from episode 1.  It's so bad, it's good.

-I'm still working on making friends and filling up my time here.  It's a slow process.  I've sent some emails about volunteering but have yet to get a response.  I do have one friend that I consistently meet and several not so consistently.  It's coming.

-A few months ago, I explained our Thirsty Thursday tradition in Gabon to a friend here who happens to be on the board of the women's group.  She liked it so much that it's become a regular thing in Stavanger.  I've only been able to make one but it resulted in a lot of red wine drank, no dinner and a difficult Friday morning - shockingly similar to those in Port Gentil.

-I've started the beginnings of some travel planning for the Spring.  Stay tuned - it's looking to be good.

-I've been working on gathering blog post ideas - I'm at the stage here in Stavanger where things don't feel new anymore and occasionally, I have a hard time figuring out what to write about and what you (the readers) will be interested in.  I added the small survey on the right sidebar and have received a couple of requests via comments or email which I greatly appreciate.  If you have anything you're wondering about, drop me a line.

{EXPATRIATED} Edna from Expat Edna

Friday 8 February 2013

Sometimes I get the impression that people think we are crazy for leaving all that we are familiar with for a life abroad but we aren't the only ones who have chosen this lifestyle.  In fact, there are a lot of us and many of us blog about it.  Expatriated is a series to introduce you to other expat bloggers.

I'm so excited to introduce you to Edna today.  Edna's blog, Expat Edna, is fascinating.  She blogs about her many travels and I love her series' "The 5 Best Thing I Ate" and "I Love My Neighbourhood" where she features neighbourhoods all around the world.  I find it so interesting to see where people call home.  (Perhaps you remember, I was featured not long ago - check it out here.)

Where are you from and where do you live now?
I'm from Pennsylvania, USA, and I live in Paris at the moment.

How did you end up in Paris and what inspired you to make the move?
I’m a serial expat addicted to living abroad, so Paris is actually my fourth city as an expat. I first moved when I was 18, and relocate to a new city every year or so. I lived in two different cities in China, then went to Singapore for a year and a half, after which I moved to Paris (via a five-week stint in Australia).

As for why Paris -- I'd started building a bit of a career in sports media while I was in Singapore, so when I left I began looking for a Francophone country to move to next (knowing French is helpful in the field, so I wanted to learn the language). The timing worked out perfectly, I was contacted almost immediately by a Parisian employer who wanted to bring me in and I moved just over a month later. So I didn't actually choose Paris; Paris chose me.

What is the best part of living overseas?
Immersion in another culture and language. Meeting like-minded people (it takes a certain type of person to choose the expat life, after all). Having a fantastically convenient international travel base. Making friends from all over the world -- I wouldn't have met my fiance if I hadn't moved abroad. And of course, I love being able to try a ridiculous amount and variety of local cuisines.

What do you miss most about home (besides friends & family?)
I miss my parents' cooking (homemade Chinese food is a thousand times better than anything you'll find in a restaurant), and not much else. Thanks to globalization, the few things I do miss I can actually still find abroad -- it may cost three times as much, but at least it's available.

That said, I do miss the cheddar biscuits at Red Lobster sometimes.

What has been the most difficult thing to adjust to in Paris?

The lack of chaos, bright colors, and skyscrapers. I need that big city freneticism, that hustle and bustle, those towering buildings of glass and steel -- so Paris doesn't do it for me. I'm probably one of the few people who actually likes going out to La Defense -- but it's the only place in Paris I can see skyscrapers.

Any funny 'whoopsies' while adjusting to your new life?
I've been pretty lucky so far; I haven't had any trouble adjusting to any of the cities I've moved to. The one 'whoopsie' I can think of was when I first moved to Paris, I didn't know a word of French -- so I once said "dix-six" instead of "seize" while giving directions to a taxi driver (in English that'd be like saying 16 as "ten-six" instead of "sixteen").

Saving graces?
I'm not going to say technology, because that's a given.

Thinking back to my first expat stint -- China in 2008, before social media was huge -- I'm so glad I joined the local Gaelic fooball team. It kept me fit, introduced me to an awesome new social circle (who I still keep in touch with), and playing in the national tournaments left me with some of my favorite adventures and stories to date.

What is the biggest lesson you've learned from your time abroad?
This (the whole expat experience, not just Paris) is where I’m meant to be. Some people just aren’t meant to settle down in their home country, or settle down at all -- and the longer I stay abroad, the more countries I move to; the more I realize that this is exactly what I’m meant to be doing. This is my happiness. I don't need stuff to make me happy -- I just need to be abroad.

If you had the chance to move elsewhere in the world, where would you go and why?
Ireland. Hands down. I’m a total hibernophile -- you caught that bit about me learning Gaelic football in China, right? I also studied Irish history and Gaelic literature in college. I've visited a few times but would love to step it up to expat. One day I'll get there.

I've yet to make it to South America though, so that's definitely on my radar as well.

Any advice for the newly expatriated?
It makes me sad to hear new expats immediately start comparing and complaining about how things are better in [home country] or how they miss [trivial item from home country]. Nobody wants your superiority complex, not the other expats and certainly not the locals. Just appreciate that you have an opportunity to experience a life-changing adventure and make the most of your time abroad!

Oh--- and if you can, join a Gaelic football team.


Thank you Edna!

I think her advice is some of the best I've heard!

You can check out her blog here - and while you are at it, take a look at her experiences covering the London 2012 Olympics.  How cool is that?

If you haven't already, I'd love for you to take a second and respond to the poll on the right sidebar.  

Stavanger : [stɑˈʋɑŋər]

Wednesday 6 February 2013

I think most of our friends and family, and even us in the beginning, pronounced Stavanger [stav - an - ger] with a soft g on the last syllable.  It is not actually pronounced in such a way.

Sta - vang - er

Sometimes, I hear Norwegians say it and it sounds a little like Sta - vong - ehr.

In any case, there's no soft g sound anywhere in there.

Now you know.

(Also, in case you were wondering, Port Gentil is not pronounced Port Gentile - it's [port - zhon - tee].)

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A Wintery Weekend in Oslo - The Details

Monday 4 February 2013

While we've realised just how difficult it may be to make all of our travel destinations a reality, we've been doing a bit of planning.  After our third weekend in a row in Stavanger, I started to feel a bit restless and began looking at trips we could do in the beginning of February without taking any of Joe's holidays.  I kept an eye on flights that would get us to our destination Friday night and allow us to stay until Sunday night all within a 'reasonable' budget.  Some destinations were insanely expensive for such a short trip (Stockholm was an $800 return ticket) while others feasible.

Oslo turned out to be our best option.  Wednesday afternoon I came across some flights that would work, the weather looked tolerable and by that evening, we had a weekend trip booked for Friday.

Where we stayed:

We stayed at the Comfort Grand Central right in the Central train station in Oslo.  The location was perfect - we arrived via the express train from the airport, walked right to the hotel without having to drag our bag through snowy & icy streets and were right on the doorstep of some of Oslo's main attractions.
The hotel was decidedly the hippest chain hotel I've ever stayed in.  The rooms were fairly basic (they pride themselves on eliminating unnecessary things to bring the cost of the rooms down) but comfortable and they included WiFi and breakfast at no extra cost.  The hotel was high-tech - you could check in to your room via your smartphone which would then be used as your key to your room by scanning it overtop of the doorknob.  We checked in the other way - via an iMac which logged us in, allowed us to choose our checkout time and spit out our room cards & receipt for us.
While the rooms were basic, I got a kick out of their clever signage - the do not disturb sign for the door had a can of Whoop-Ass on it and the welcome page on the TV told us that Sundays are for recovering from Saturdays thus the checkout time was 6:00 pm.

Where we ate:
Dining out in Norway is ridiculously expensive and Oslo was no different however we did find some great places.

Xian Lo - Knowing that we wouldn't be downtown until around 8:30 pm Friday night, I had written down a few restaurants found around the web to make our choice a little easier.  Xian Lo was a 5 minute walk up Karl Johans Gate from our hotel and it was a fantastic choice.  Serving Vietnamese food in a fancier setting, this meal wasn't cheap but it sure was delicious.  We ordered right off the menu but they do have a 4 or 5 course set meal that you can choose as well.
Restaurant Håndverkerstuene - Norway isn't really known for it's food and I'll admit, we don't indulge in it very often but this place stood out because of it's beer menu.  They literally had hundreds of beers in house and a very good selection of Norwegian beers.  The waiter did a great job recommending beer for Joe (who knows his stuff) and the food was ok.  The menu was quite small, which is generally a good sign for us, and very Norwegian with fish, sausage & pork being the main courses.  While it wasn't the best meal I've ever had, it was good.  (I should mention, Joe was very impressed with his sausage meal and Two Captains beer by Nøgne.)
The Nighthawk Diner - I had seen this diner reviewed on a couple of other blogs and when Sunday rolled around, Joe and I made the trek to the Grünerløkka district to check it out.  There were people literally lined up outside of the door from the moment we arrived to the moment we left.  Specializing in American classics, we feasted on burgers, french fries, onion rings and I indulged in a $7 can of Dr Pepper.  This was not a cheap burger fix but a ginormous burger in a retro diner that almost made us forget the cost & the unhealthy aspects of the meal.

The Particulars:
Traveling within Norway, one of the most expensive countries in the world, is expensive.  As mentioned before, we don't have budget airways like EasyJet or RyanAir in Stavanger and while taking the train from Stavanger to Oslo is an option, it is an 8 hour journey and would take far too much time for a short weekend trip.  While this might look quite expensive, it's pretty reasonable by Norwegian standards.  As a rule of thumb, we double the cost of anything in North America to get the Norwegian cost.

1 round trip air ticket Stavanger-Oslo via Norwegian (Friday night - Sunday night) $300 CAD
2 nights at the Comfort Grand Central (standard double room) - 1960.00 kr ($355 CAD)
1 return Airport Express Train to Sentrum - 340 kr ($60)

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