Ok, on the first day of Christmas, Bjornar served to me: codfish called bacalao. On the second day of Christmas...you get the idea.
Norwegians love fish, especially cod. In terms of countries that catch cod, Norway is in the same league as Portugal--and at one time before its cod collapse, Newfoundland. Since arriving in Norway, I have had it smoked, which is general the last stage of the game before the fish goes bad, then I've had it salted and then, I've had it soaked in lye. Yes, you read correctly. Cod soaked in lye, which renders the fish into jelly, is served on Christmas Eve. Lutefisk. Some love it; others loath it.
I realize lutefisk sounds like something only a viking would eat during a long journey at sea when nothing else was available, and while this may be true, it's a Christmas tradition so Bjornar made it, or at least he bought it already prepared, and we ate it on Christmas Eve, when Norwegians typically celebrate Christmas and open gifts.
It was bland. Other than the jelly-like texture, it was like tofu: useless unless it's got something added to it.
There are places that you see in photos and say: "I want to see that!" Alesund is such a place. Squeezed onto a little inlet, the town looks like a doll house city from the Sunnmøre Mountains above.
And with its fairytale facades, it's charming personified.
Reachable by two ferries from Trondheim-- and a five hour drive -- Alesund feels like it's on another planet: one inhabited by everything cute. Flowers etched into window boxes, and cafes that smell of cinnamon.
The town burnt to the ground during a major fire in 1904 -- 850 houses went up in flames, and then it was heavily bombed during WWI. Ironically enough, it was the Germans, who traded a lot with the town at the time, that helped rebuild in the Art Nouveau style, which is quite Dutch.
It's not hard to feel isolated in Norway--it's almost 2,500 km long; Canada is almost 10,000 but Norway's coastline is... ready for it? 21,925 kms! It curves up north and touches, yes touches, Russia. And what makes the coastline so unique are the spots of islands and fjords, which Bjornar tells me are 'long and deep bays, sometimes 10s of thousands of kilometres long.'
"We're in a fjord in Trondheim," he tells me. I had no idea.
We decide to take a little trip to the west coast of Norway that involves two ferries and over five hours of driving through fjords and scary snowy mountains lost in the clouds.
A remote fishing village--once the largest village between Trondheim and Bergen in the middle ages--Bud is now a smattering of a few dozen houses and a fish plant on a ragged coastline.
Cause you, love love love. When you know I can’t love. You love, love, love. When you know I can’t love. You love, love, love. When you know I can’t love.
I listened to Iceland’s Of Monsters and Men while skiing today--a raspy foreign whisper and church bells felt like the soundtrack to the fjords, the black blue ocean, tall pines dipped in snow and cold air that stung my cheeks.
There’s an old voice in my head that’s holding me back…well, tell her I miss our little talks.
The parking lot was full at 10:30am on a Tuesday.
We climbed to the intersection where we had lunch the first day and got stuck the following day; this time a woman came up and over the crest with two duck tolling retrievers on leads, one on each side. I let out some ridiculous coos: “Oh babies… look at you!” She laughed and kept going, her companions dutifully trotting beside. Amazing. It made my heart full to see this.
And you, love love love. When I can’t give love
I bought cross country skis in Norway today. Not rented, but bought. I will take them home with me once I've broken them in here--the birthplace of nordic skiing. A place that seems to be outlined with tracks--alongside the roads, the city parks, the sidewalks, the fjords... trails are everywhere.
For $250 including bindings, I walked out of the store with the skis slung over my shoulder feeling like I became a member of an ancient Norwegian club. Yea, I'm one of you now. Maybe I should have cut my thumb and rubbed blood with the teenager that sold me the skis, but that's just not sanitary these days.
Instead, I had the best guide a person could want: Bjornar. For as long as I've known this viking, I mean man, through hiking in Scotland, biking up a 2,000 meter mountain in Croatia and riding across Sardinia, I was always curious, yet frightened, about skiing with him one day. He's been skiing since he was old enough to stand. So, it was with a bit of trepidation, anxiety and excitement, that we set out at 4pm, just as the light was going down and the snow, finally, began to fall in giant blobs. It couldn't have been timed better. I couldn't wait to begin gliding.
I should have known when Bjornar said, 'let's go for a walk,' that it would require a backpack with sandwiches, a thermos of coffee and extra clothes. On my first full day in Tronheim, I woke at 12 -- still a little jet lagged and truthfully still reeling from an all-nighter in Iceland the night before. Dressed in gore tex and light weight running pants, performance jacket and running shoes, Bjornar meant business.
So, at about 1pm we set out. It's not as dark as I expected --the sun sits on the horizon, and the blueish grey colour illuminates the houses and snow. There is nothing sad or dark about it. And, especially during the holidays: bright white stars, and yellow candles in the windows and door trims glow. It's peaceful.
It's about -15 Celsius and I'm swimming laps in an outdoor pool in Iceland. Every time my head bobs to the surface, the freezing air electrocutes my wet hair. Through a cloud of steam drifting across the water, I can barely make out the heads of other swimmers next to me. Resting on the side, it's been ages since I swam laps. I turn to a man beside me: "It's exhausting." He doesn't answer, then pulls his ear plugs out. "I said, it's tiring." "Yes," he replies, "but you won't have sore muscles like running." Agreed. It's like he knew what I was thinking. Running has destroyed my feet, but that's another matter.
From downtown Reykjavik, it's a 10 minute bus ride to the Vesturbaejar Swimming Pool.
I never sleep Sunday night. You see on the Monday morning I commute to London to teach a class; it's two hours away. I used to drive and now I take the train. But this morning, I took a bus. "It's half the price and right now every dime I have is going to my Norway trip." This is what I say in my head.
I wake quite groggy at 6:30, out the door by 7. I'm the only person on Queen Street and it's still dark. Across from the Much Music studios, I smell bread--specifically, I smell freshly baked croissants. I walk by. Am I stupid? Obviously if I don't turn around and get a croissant. It's still warm as I put it in my purse. Arriving at the bus station, I decide to do some work. Laptop, cord...cord? I forgot to pack the cord to my computer. Settle down, Chambers. This just means you can't reread your lecture notes. Fine. I'll read a book. I will get a cord somehow in London. Relax, Chambers, worse has happened. Beside me a bearded man with a black turban shakes his coffee cup. "Want me to put that in the garbage for you?" I'm sitting near the window. "Thanks," he says. "Sure."
Outside the church, a sign: Toronto Salsa Practice. Wow, hip grinding in a house of worship.
The guy outside informs me I'm early. Mid 50s, he looks like he hasn't slept in days and his comb over is flapping in the wind. "You joining?" "Ahh, yes, yes I am," I stammer. "I'll come back closer to 3:30."
I go to a bar for a little liquid courage: $5 caesar down the street from St. Paul's on Bloor and Spadina.
It's a rainy cold Saturday and I figure few will turn out: maybe just me and Combover.
I return and pay my $5. There's no lesson, the woman tells me. It's just dancing for two hours. "Lots of levels," she continues. The place starts to fill up, and it turns out Combover works for the church--so I will not be dancing with him. Not now, or ever. Shame.
At 29-years-old, Lena Dunham (creator of HBO's GIRLS and recent memoir author--a memoir at this age? Seriously?) has got it all figured out: 'we're all screwed up and that's ok.' Wow, I'm almost 42 and I only figured this out in the last few years. I assumed I should have come to some epiphany by now; that I should have some things 'straightened-out.' Well, in some ways I have, but new and strange moments of living in 'awkward-city' crop up all the time.