Norway is on Easter Vacation

Thursday 28 March 2013

Easter in Norway is sort of a big deal although not particularly due to the religious aspects of the holiday.  This Scandinavian country has the world's longest Easter holiday with Thursday, Friday & Monday all being nationwide holidays and schools generally have the entire week off giving Norwegians plenty of time to travel and celebrate the return of Spring after a long, dark winter.

This past weekend, Joe and I noticed just how quiet the city had become with many locals heading elsewhere for the holiday.  Restaurants that were normally busy were vacant and despite the sunny skies, we didn't see the normal influx of outdoor activity around our neighbourhood.  Joe's office is abnormally quiet and the commuting traffic is practically non-existent.  It's pretty evident, Norway is on vacation.
Via Visit Norway

With my friend Jeanie arriving this afternoon all the way from Canada and Joe having several days off work, we're heading out to explore Norway.  We'll be venturing North, where Joe and I have yet to visit, and we'll get to experience the famous Flåm Railway, ranked one of the top 10 rail journeys in the world.  I imagine it's going to be breathtaking  and I'm so excited to introduce Jeanie to the beauty of this country!

Hope you all have a great Easter weekend whether you're staying close to home, visiting family or traveling somewhere new!

{If you're interested, I found this great article detailing Easter traditions in Norway.}

The Unnerving Experience of Haircuts Abroad

Tuesday 26 March 2013

There are some things you expect to be hard when you move abroad - getting your residence visa, making friends, navigating the grocery store, figuring out public transit - and then there are things that don't cross your mind - like getting your haircut.  In fact, finding a new stylist in my inter-Canadian moves was difficult enough without the language and cultural differences.

A long time ago, I blogged about the quest to get Joe's haircut not long after we arrived in Gabon.  I never blogged about getting my haircut in Gabon because it never happened.  For the entire 2 years we lived there, I didn't get my haircut once in-country.  I debated it at one point - several friends were frequenting a French woman's salon and I thought I'd try it out until I saw a very jagged cut along the back of a friend's hair - I decided to wait.

I've always been particular about my hair stylists.  This isn't because my hair is difficult to cut or because I've had any terrible experiences but just because that's the way I am.  I don't seek out bargain cuts and I'm not afraid to pay (quite a bit) for a good experience that involves organic tea and a head massage.  Usually, as we prepared for a trip out of Gabon, I'd research a place to make an appointment.  Generally, I'd look for an Aveda salon usually due to two reasons: first, I've used Aveda products for the last 10 or so years and often need to stock up and two, Aveda salons require their staff to complete Aveda training on top of any other training they've had so there's often a high standard in their salons.  I'd phone or email asking for a senior stylist and hope for the best.  Usually, it was fine.  This process meant I'd get my haircut every 6 months at a minimum.  I think I once went 10 months - it was horrendous and I was so embarrassed when I finally did sit down in the chair.

Even though we have resided in Norway for 9 months, I had yet to have my haircut here.  (I had it done in Aberdeen before arriving and then in Canada over Christmas holidays.)  Joe has had his hair done twice but he's decidedly less picky than I am.  Salons are a dime a dozen in Norway.  It's not uncommon to see several in the span of a couple of blocks but it can be quite difficult to gage the quality.  When it came time for me to find a stylist, I relied heavily on the local expat forum for recommendations.  A particular name kept popping up who seemed to be popular with many expat women - apparently she often trains in London, speaks excellent English, cuts & colours and it can take months to get in.  I took that as a good sign and waited the 6 weeks before I could get an appointment.

The experience was really quite great and very similar to home.  She understood exactly what I wanted, talked me through everything she was doing and had great chair-side manner.  I left a happy woman - albeit much, much poorer.

A few things to note:
+Appointments can often be made online which I LOVE!  You pick your stylist, your cut, your colour and scroll through calendar which shows all available dates.
+You will often get a text message 24 hours in advance to remind you of your appointment.  (I also love this.)
+Not all stylists cut & colour and I've heard many women talk of botched colour treatments.  If you don't have recommendations and are unsure, it's probably best to go in and ask.
+Tipping is not always expected in Norway.  Everyone is paid very well here and do not require tips to supplement their salary.  I didn't tip at the end of my haircut - there was no tip function on the machine, I didn't have correct change & the cut & colour was so expensive that I figured it wasn't necessary.  I felt guilty the entire night afterwards.  I'm not sure if that was warranted but knowing me, I'll probably tip extra the next time around.
+Don't expect a style after your cut.  Mine ended with a blow out and the application of some product but it was fairly basic.
+It's going to be expensive - you're in Norway, nothing is cheap.  The cheapest I've seen is 250 kroner ($45) for a men's cut and 600 kroner ($100) for a ladies trim.  If you can't fathom paying that and above, wait until you are elsewhere.  Also, if you have a particular budget, ask ahead what the price is so you aren't surprised at the end!

A Look at the "World's Largest" Phenomenom in Canada

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Yesterday, I went to lunch with a couple of friends after an interesting morning learning about World War II history in the Stavanger region.  Our conversation started by debriefing the morning and our thoughts on all that we had heard which eventually led to talking about the Holocaust Museum in Houston and then to civil rights in the US and then into me chronicling my family's summer road trips through the US which bear many resemblances to National Lampoon's family vacations.  After laughing over our experiences at Mount Rushmore & Old Faithful, we got talking about random, large monuments.

You see, every time we drive from Edmonton to my hometown in Saskatchewan, we inevitably pass by the World's Largest Bunnock.  (What's a bunnock you ask?  It's a game of bones similar to bowling invented by Russian soldiers while passing time in Northern Siberia.)  Joe finds it hilarious and personally, I think he looks forward to this little highlight on our trips to Canada.  The American friend knew all about this "World's Largest..." phenomenon and talked about a giant cactus in a town she visited as a child but our Scottish friend was perplexed.  I told her about the giant gopher in Eston, Saskatchewan and the giant teepee in Medicine Hat, Alberta and there's a giant baseball bat in downtown Edmonton and a giant dinosaur in Drumheller when it dawned on me - damn, we have a lot of large & obscure objects.

Later that evening while attempting to find a photo of said bunnock to send to my friends, I came across a website detailing similar attractions in every province in Canada.  Saskatchewan alone is home to the world's largest tomahawk, the world's largest turtle, and the world's largest oil can.  Joe's hometown in Northern British Columbia is home to the world's largest gold pan and I couldn't help but be intrigued by the world's largest burl in Port MacNeil.

I'm curious - how did these things come about?  Did someone in Macklin, Saskatchewan show up at a town hall meeting with a dream of constructing the world's largest bunnock and due to the immense popularity of the game, the town emphatically agreed?  Is there a certain world's largest attraction that sparked the wildfire that would become communities constructing their claim to fame in a mass furry to outdo neighbouring towns?  Is this what started the construction of the Burj Khalifa as the world's tallest building?

My hometown isn't home to the largest anything however it makes the list for the Canada goose monument along the highway where as Edmonton claims the world's largest Western boot as well as a supersized baseball bat, Stanley Cup, a wire dove, milk bottle & an oil derrick (among others.)  Grande Prairie, our last Canadian home, has a giant sundial yet I don't think I've seen anything similar in Stavanger.

Tell me - do any of your homes have a similar claim to fame?

(In case you are wondering, the Scottish friend is still perplexed.  I told her that castles & whisky can only get you so far.)

Around the Web

Friday 15 March 2013

While the written word isn't coming so easily to me these days, I thought I'd share some things around the web that I'm enjoying.

+I really loved this post debunking myths about Egypt from my friend, JoAnna.  (Thinking of you this weekend as you say goodbye to Egypt and head into this next chapter!)

+Jenna posted some pretty amazing photos of Deadvlei in Namibia.

+I loved this beautiful post on Manhattan Nest about family, inheritance & legacy.

+If you are wondering about traveling Europe & budget, this post from Jess is a must-see.  She's also included some great tips for finding the best deals.

+Unbrave Girl's post about teaching overseas is really interesting, particularly if you've ever wondered if you might be qualified to teach ESL abroad.

+This video about the use of the word 'gay' is humorous yet informative and should have us all questioning the impacts our words have on others.

+For all of the bloggers (and others) that are in shock and dismay over Google's decision to lay Google Reader to rest, I've been trying out Feedly and am quite liking it.  It seems to be more customizable than BlogLovin and I appreciate that the entire background isn't a large H&M ad.  It's occasionally a bit slow but I assume that will get better as it adjusts to more & more users.

+Fellow blogger and expat in Norway, Andrea,  posted 15 things about living in Norway that provide some insight into this country and it's inner workings.  (The other 15 can be found on Megan's blog.)

+Loved this critical look at the French school system and it's Vacances Scolaires - something I was always intrigued by watching French families in Gabon.

Hope you all have a nice weekend.  Joe has plenty of work to catch up on and I'm hoping to tackle a little spring cleaning.  It'll be quiet, but needed.

Ebb & Flow

Monday 11 March 2013

I always used to find myself so productive when I was busy.  I'd be amazed at how much I could accomplish in a day and although it was stressful, I was focused and motivated.

It's certainly no secret around here that I'm not busy.  There's this and that, coffee on Tuesday, lunch on Thursday types of things.  There's laundry and cooking and cleaning and all of those less glamourous aspects of life and walks along the seafront and skype chats home.  The days are passing and I'm content albeit lackluster.

I suppose what it comes down to is a lack of passion which inevitably leads to a lack of inspiration and motivation.  Before becoming a trailing spouse, I felt so passionately about my career - perhaps a little too much, leaving myself completely worn out after 5 years and desperately wanting a break.  While I'm not necessarily feeling a pull back to the classroom, I am wondering where my passions lie outside of it.

Where do I want to focus my energy, my mind space and my time?

In the last few weeks my 'Drafts' folder has substantially grown.  Posts are started, a sentence or 2 written, labels clicked, a photo edited, a title picked, another sentence typed and then erased until finally, the post is closed and filed away in that ever expanding folder with a promise to pick it up when I'm feeling more focused and inspired.  I'm certain it's all tied together- this undefined passion, lulls in motivation, inability to express thoughts concisely (as evidenced here in this post,) and unfinished drafts.

Bear with me as I navigate this ebb.  The flow is always around the corner.

Hiking Dalsnuten

Wednesday 6 March 2013

With more pleasant temperatures and less rain, Joe and I have been exploring the Stavanger region.  Living in a smaller city often means less opportunities for activities and while I'll admit, Stavanger isn't bubbling over with events every day, there are plenty of things to see and do in the surrounding area, particularly if you are an outdoorsy person.  Having a car has really given us access to so many different excursions and even though we don't often go far, it's nice to have the opportunity to get out.

From practically every window in our apartment, we look out over a fjord and a range of mountains and while we've driven over there once before, we had never really explored the area on foot.  I had heard of a fairly easy hike up one of the mountains with fantastic views of the greater Stavanger area so we gave it a try last weekend.

From our house, we drive the length of the fjord to Sandnes (an adjoining community) and round the edge which takes about 25 minutes.  There are a couple of different starting points but we chose to commence the Dalsnuten trail at Gramstad.

Joe and I were surprised to find the parking lot FULL of cars on a Sunday afternoon.  This is apparently quite a popular destination on the weekend for families as young children find the hike manageable as well.  While there were a few crowded moments, the trails branch off in different directions thinning out the people.

The hike took us about 45 minutes to reach the top and while we didn't find it particularly challenging, we did find ourselves breathless at a few points.  Many hikes in Norway aren't the manicured paths like we might be used to in Canada.  It's not unusual to climb from boulder to boulder, scouting the best path and railings are few and far between.

After the final steep climb to the peak, we were greeted with fantastic views of the entire Stavanger region.  It's quite cool to see the layout of the city from a completely different perspective and it really showed just how much water surrounds our city.  It's no wonder we have so many coastlines to explore!

Once we made it to the top, we found ourselves a spot with respite from the wind and other hikers where we enjoyed the views and a snack before descending down a second path.

This was the perfect hike to do on an afternoon when you don't want to commit to a full day but are looking to get out, enjoy some fresh air and stretch your legs.  There are quite a few other paths in the same area with varying lengths that we're hoping to check out in the near future.

{EXPATRIATED} Britta from The Boots Parade

Monday 4 March 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.

Today, I have for you a lovely blogger named Britta who also happens to be an expat and a teacher!  Her blog, The Boots Parade, follows her life in Central America.  

Where are you from and where do you live now?
I grew up in New Jersey, went to school outside of Boston and am now living in Costa Rica.

How did you end up in Costa Rica and what inspired you to make the move?
My senior year of college I did a short term study abroad program in Costa Rica. I met my now boyfriend through my host family (he was their grandson) and we became friends and kept in touch while I went back to school. After graduation I went back to Costa Rica to visit and we decided to start a long distance relationship (yikes!). I went to Spain for 9 months to teach English and then decided I had had enough of long distance and that I needed to go to Costa Rica. And that is exactly what I did! I found a job and have been here for over a year and a half now.

What is the best part of living overseas?
Living in another country has taught me an incredible amount about myself. I have had to step out of my comfort zone so many times and it has made me a stronger person. I also love the fact that I am living in a completely different country than where I grew up. Sometimes I just stop and think and realize I was able to make a life for myself somewhere separate from my family and friends and have gained a sense of independence I don't know if I would have gotten otherwise. I also can't really complain of how beautiful this country is. You know, the tropical beaches, cloud forests, volcanoes, and sloths and monkeys make living in Costa Rica pretty great too.

What do you miss most about home (besides friends and family)?
Besides friends and family (of course!) I miss a lot of the food at home. Don't get me wrong you can find some great food choices here in Costa Rica but not all of the food here is very healthy and there is not much variety. Much of the meals are made with lots of rice, butter, salt, cheese, mayo, and well I think you get the point. I guess what I miss the most is the variety of so many different types of ethnic foods and choices upon choices of products in the grocery stores at home.

What has been the most difficult thing to adjust to in Costa Rica?
I miss the ease and safety of living at home. Costa Rica is one of the safer Central American countries but it can still be dangerous. Almost all of the houses have gates where the cars must be parked inside. When I tell my boyfriend that at home we just leave our cars in the driveway or in parking lots without security guards he doesn't believe it! I also miss being able to walk alone in the streets or going for a run without having people constantly honking or whistling at me. It is kind of unfortunate but just how things are here!

Any funny whoopsies while adjusting to your new life?
This one actually happened pretty recently but I was showering one day when all of a sudden the shower started spitting fireballs at me. Not really hot water but actual fire balls! I screamed and ran out of the shower just in time to see the shower head light on fire. Seriously. Turns out the tape in the wires that heat the shower head (yes an electrical shower head .. dangerous much??) had burned through, hence the fire spitting! As soon as I turned the water off the fire stopped thank goodness and needless to say we got a new shower head pretty quick.

Saving graces?
The internet! Things like skype, gchat, whatsapp, and of course this blog! have made things so much easier for me. I have been able to keep in great contact with my friends and family through my computer and my smartphone. Creating and updating my blog has also been a huge hobby of mine since coming abroad and I'm so happy I started it. I have made some great friends and have come across some awesome opportunities as well! Oh and not to mention having my boyfriend and his family for support. They have been such a help to me starting and going through this journey that I don't know where I would be without them. And last but not least my little pup Rocco! I don't know what I would do without him here in my teeny tiny apartment :)

What is the biggest lesson you've learned from your time in Costa Rica?
One of the biggest lessons I have learned from my time here is how to live on a budget. The cost of living in Costa Rica is abnormally high. Everything here is so expensive in comparison to the salaries here. I have gone home to the states for a visit with a nearly empty suitcase and gone back to Costa Rica with almost two full suitcases just because of how cheap things are in the United States compared to here. People are always asking me to bring them things from the states. Needless to say I have had to learn how to save my money for the things I need (food, transportation, work supplies, etc) weekend activities, and student loans (bleh!).

If you had the chance to move elsewhere in the world where would you go and why?
I think Spain will always be near and dear to my heart. The country and the lifestyle were things that I could easily adapt to once again. Other countries I wouldn't mind spending an extended amount of time in include Sweden, where my parents chose my name from, and Croatia, somewhere I have always wanted to go!

Any advice for the newly expatriated?
Have an open mind and don't worry! I think everyone who has moved to a new country has experienced times of extreme stress and nervousness that maybe they have made the wrong choice. Try not to worry! Everything always works out the way it is supposed to. It may take longer than you had expected (ahem, my Costa Rican visa) but it will happen.


Thank you Britta!

I have heard of so many people travelling to Costa Rica and loving it yet I was interested to see what it's like to call this beautiful, Central American country home!

You can check read more about Britta's life abroad here.


Friday 1 March 2013

You know when you've been in the depths of winter for so long, the darkness weighs on you and you wonder if you'll ever see the other side when, almost as if it's a miracle, the sun returns and you have the feeling that you can accomplish just about anything?

Well the sun has been around in Stavanger as of late and my goodness, it feels good.  Last Sunday, we bundled up, picked a coastline and went for a walk.  The sun was so bright that regardless of the chilly temperatures, it felt warm.  I pulled off my parka, draped it over a boulder and let the warmth of the sun penetrate my skin and for those few minutes, I felt like Spring just had to be around the corner.

I hope you find some sunshine this first March weekend!

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