Hytt(e) me baby one more time

hytte, (plural – hytter) : cottage, summer house, cabin

I am sure David Attenborough would agree with me that to truly understand a species, you need to look beyond the facts in black and white and look at the behaviours. You need to observe the species in its natural habitat, and there is no greater time of the year to understand the Norwegian species than now, at Easter, and no better location, than at the hytte.

Most Norwegians I know either own, share or have access to a hytte – maybe a summer one by the coast or a winter one in the mountains. Easter time is all about the mountain hytte.

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An easter time back pack with all the essentials.

Whether mountain or coast, hytter are located away from the big towns. The further, the better and preferably right up in the middle of nature. Easter time sees a mass exodus of people out of the cities to the hytte with cars rammed full of kids, dogs and sports equipment sitting in long queues of traffic. All with the same goal of seeking isolation in wilderness, something deeply embedded in the Norwegian DNA. The ironic thing is that this quest is so popular that very few hytter are actually isolated anymore. People sit in cars for hours to drive out to nature, only to be surrounded by lots of other people doing exactly the same thing.

Regardless of how many people are around, the essential thing is that a trip to the hytte is centred around spending time in nature, because nature brings joy. If for some reason you are Norwegian and nature does not bring you joy, you never, EVER admit it. You suck it up, smile and just wait for the joy to come to you.

Hytter nowadays come in all shapes and sizes. Something that is at odds with the concept of isolation and proximity to nature. The original hytte is an eco-tourist heaven. It is no running water, no electricity and, of course, an outdoor loo, because indoor loos are for wimps. I have experienced all manners of hytte loos: a good old fashioned outdoor long drop, a compost toilet with a polystyrene seat (excellent for cold weather) and even an incinerator toilet called – I kid you not – Cinderella.

Why, do you ask, if you can afford to have a cabin that you spend your holidays at, would you not have electricity or a flushing loo? It has very little to do with the money. A hytte, you see, is all about nature but also about living the simple life.  This notion goes way back. There are Norwegian classics written about it, like Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun– a story about a man that makes a home in the Norwegian wilderness with his bare hands. THIS, is what the simple, beautiful life is all about.

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Norwegian baby boomers subscribe to this. They will happily tell you stories from the good old days about having to drill a hole in the ice to get water from the lake or eating dinner by candlelight. Generation X, however, are pimping up the hytter with crazy modern concepts such as flushing loos, electricity and- wait for it -wifi. Hytte life is not as much about the simple life these days. Just pick up a copy of the magazine HytteLiv (hytte life) to see what I mean.

There are some things, though, that will remain hytte constants – skiing, forest rambles, berry picking, boat trips, jumping off piers, board games, fireplaces, bonfires, fishing for crabs, fishing for fish…just to name a few – because, a trip to the hytte has actually very little to do with the hytte itself.

 

Ain´t no mountain high enough…or is there?

“I am a broken woman! Norway, you have finally done it!” There is video evidence of me saying these words.

I consider myself a tough person, not someone who easily gives up on the task at hand. I am not a quitter and not afraid of a challenge, so the fact that I said these words and that there is documentation of me saying these words, is not ideal.

The words were said in a moment of melodrama but came from a real feeling of total annihilation. What brought me to this figurative precipice you ask? Well that would be a literal precipice, or rather the mountain that was high enough.

My two years in Norway thus far, I would say, have been rather smooth.

OK, so learning a new language and getting a job was not the most enjoyable of experiences but also not something that I felt was truly insurmountable. Even the skiing, which has involved A LOT of crashing and burning has been, upon reflection, manageable. But after two years I must say that I finally found my breaking point a few weeks ago in Rondane National Park.

I went on a hiking trip with some work colleagues.

Norwegian cheer at the start of the hike.


Excellent, I thought. Right up my street, I love a good hike.

There were a couple of options over the course of the weekend. One group of people were going to take the tough ten-hour, four-top trip with a guide, others decided to take some shorter hiking trips around the area. I, of course, opted for the tough trip. Yes, because I suffer from overachiever syndrome.

We arrived on a Friday, a group of about 20 of us. The first challenge of the weekend was that we were going to cycle from where the taxi dropped us off to the cabin we were staying at. It is much faster to cycle than walk I was told and yes we have to do it with our backpacks full of gear for the whole weekend. This was a little concerning. I have been in Norway long enough to know the place is not very flat, there are always hills.

“How tough is the cycle ride? Is there lots of uphill?” I asked.

A word of advice; always be suspicious of Norwegians when they say nonchalantly, “nahhh it´s mostly flat.”

It NEVER is!

And of course it wasn’t. With my 65-litre backpack I huffed, puffed and spluttered the whole 5km bike ride to the cabin, sweating profusely and effing and blinding the whole way.

This, however, did not spoil my mood.

I have learnt that Norwegian flat is not my flat. Having not been dragged up mountains as a child every weekend, I am just a tad more sensitive to elevation than your average Norwegian. But this, is totally normal. This I have learnt to expect.

Saturday comes and it is time to go on the hardcore hike. I heard from others it was going to be quite windy but I didn´t bother checking the weather. We have a guide, I thought, no problem. I have done Machu Picchu and the Great Wall of China – I got this.

I did NOT got this!

The whole hike is a bit of a blur of grey skies, incessant fog, rain and gale force winds. The first couple of hours were not too bad I seem to remember, but then we started the steep incline upwards – literally walking into the bad weather. All in the name of being outdoors.

This brings to mind a Norwegian saying, “Ut på tur, aldri sur” – my best translation would be: Never a pout when you´re out and about. Well that could not be further from the truth. I spent the best part of a ten-hour hike in a horrendously foul mood. Pouting doesn’t quite grasp the intensity of the cloud of negativity hanging over me that day.

My fellow hiking companions were in what I can only describe as dumbfounding good cheer. They were like North Face clad super-humans breezing up the face of the mountain whilst I lagged at the back of the group in a deep ravine of pure misery.

I was sweaty when in motion and cold when standing still. My level of grumpiness was immeasurably high and at one moment I shouted out “Dette er IKKE gøy!” (This is NOT fun!)

I just wanted to be somewhere else – preferably somewhere warm where I could lie down, completely motionless. I could not understand how I could be having one of the worst hiking experiences ever whilst other people were so cheerful. There was no silver lining in my cloud.

When we finally got to the first top of the day, the wind was raging and the fog was thick. Not even the reward of a nice view to calm me down. It turned out at this point that we could not traverse across to the other three mountain tops due to the weather conditions.

“What a shame!”

Despite my severe, irreversible miserableness I recall feeling a slight pang of joy. The day could not be over quick enough for me. All I could think about was taking a hot shower and being indoors.

At the top – around 2000m. Amongst the cheery faces you can see my miserable face (third person from the left, back row)


Here, at this moment in time, whilst wallowing in my misery, I finally felt the cultural divide. I am Cypriot at the core. Yes, there are mountains in Cyprus, but we don’t walk up them. We drive. We are fair weather people. I am a fair weather hiking trip kinda gal. There is no part of me that enjoys being outdoors in rain and fog and wind. Not even the tiniest fraction.

I have found the line. The line my efforts to embrace Norwegian culture simply cannot cross.

No thanks, not for me!

Next time I’ll check the weather.

 

 

Trippin’

To really get the most out of living in Norway you need to spend time outside. Nothing so strange about that when there is an endless supply of wide skies and grab-a-camera landscapes to be discovered. It is basically a selfie-stick user´s paradise.

Norwegians are rightfully proud of these amazing landscapes. In fact I would say the level of the general population’s pride even trumps their pride of the paperclip and cheese slicer. It is almost essential to Norwegian identity to be proud of the country’s natural beauty even if you do not partake in the splendour. It comes as no surprise then that Norwegians are what you would call outdoorsy people. The theory is that basically any happy, healthy and sane person spends time outdoors and both quantity AND quality is required.

What to do when one is outdoors you ask? Well you go on a tur of course (pronounced toor). The best translation I have for this word slash concept slash essential-part-of-living is trip, as in road trip or school trip. When you’re outside, you go on a trip.

There are many different types of trips or tur one can take depending on the preference for location and activity. When location is the primary factor, then you could take a beach tur, a forest tur, a mountain tur or the ever popular cabin tur (aka the hyttetur which deserves a fuller explanation. Watch out for an upcoming blog post about it). When activity is the primary factor then possibilities could be: a boat tur, a running tur for the sporty ones, an all-essential skiing tur in the winter months and not to mention the good old walking tur, a Norwegian classic. These lists are by no means exhaustive. Once you begin combining location AND activity – like a cycling tur in the mountains or a running tur in the forest, the tur options are endless. There is a tur for every occasion.

the all-essential skiing tur in the winter months

Now at this point a lot of you may be thinking ok what is so special about this, I am just listing outdoor activities.  Well yes, and no. Tur is not just about the type of activity and the location, it is a vital part of the lifestyle. It is part of growing up and of getting old. It is like free therapy and not in a niche hobby kind of way but in a mainstream, generally accepted, everyone does it kind of way. And Norwegians are hardcore about it (or maybe it is just the Norwegians I hang out with?). A great example is how they measure distance: in mil. 1 mil is 10km. So, for example, the skiing trip was not 20km it was 2 mil. Obviously, to me, this is psychological taunting and nothing short of a numerical conspiracy that all Norwegians are in on. My foreign brain finds 2 so dissatisfying compared to 20.

THE TUR CULTURE

When something is this deeply ingrained into a culture you can guarantee there are behaviours and rituals that are part and parcel of the picture. Speaking of pictures, this photo


although, on first glance looks like just another perfectly arranged and edited photo for the grace of Instagram, it essentially depicts tur. It shows some of the classic tur essentials. First you have the matpakke, the food pack, basically a twist on the sandwich (the package with Eleni written on it). My first experience of matpakke was at a mountain lodge at the breakfast buffet. A young boy sat with a stack of sliced bread and a selection of sandwich fillings. He was spreading and stacking slice after slice of bread. No sandwiching going on. Just the one slice of bread with topping followed by paper (to separate the slices), bread, topping, paper, bread, topping, paper then pass to mum to wrap it up in a nice neat pack and ta da, the matpakke is ready for the rucksack. But it was not just that little boy going crazy with the bread and jam, no, the matpakke ritual was going on all around me. I was mesmerised by the sheer amount of bread in the room.

 Also in the photo is the, can’t get more Norwegian than this, kvikklunsj chocolate bar.  It is very similar to another chocolate, which I will not name for fear of offending many a Norwegian, but let’s just say these two chocolates are so similar there have been legal cases in court to settle the issue. This chocolate bar has built its entire identity around tur, it is the chocolate that you take on a tur. There is even a suggested tur route on the inside of every wrapper.

Yet another staple shown in the photo is the orange, the fruit of the winter months. The orange is especially associated with winter skiing tur. Winter, when all that citrus fruit is shipped over from the Southern lands to ensure Northerners get their dose of vitamin C.

All things considered, the best thing about tur culture is that you don’t have to be super-fit, outdoorsy or live in the countryside to partake. Going on a tur is about getting out of the house and spending time with other people, with friends and family. In true commitment to the tur culture almost all shops are still closed on Sundays here too. A perfect day for a tur.

 

Time of the season

Recycling is good, even those that don´t participate can hardly criticise. In that vein I decided it would only be right to recycle a couple of blog posts from 2015 that first appeared on Life in Norway.

Snow and ice, be gone

It is the time of the year where sun lovers are cranking out the sunglasses and peeling off the layers of wool and winter fanatics are defiantly keeping their skis waxed despite the dwindling snow. It is Spring in Oslo and despite the greyness today, it is definitely lighter and brighter. That means the time is right for two critical change of season activities in this part of the world:

Loppemarkeds and dugnads!

What are they you say? Well, read on.

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snow and ice, be gone


The day of the dugnad

If I were challenged to describe Norwegian culture and society in a few words dugnad would definitely be one of the words thrown in to the mix. Dugnad is one of those concept type words. You know the ones that cannot be defined by a few sentences on paper because they embody so much more than that. They are words with cultural resonance that represent a way of life or an expectation, which is not easy to translate.

What is a dugnad I hear you say? Well it is what I can best describe as a type of community day where people get together and fix, clean, paint or tidy things up. It is usually based outdoors involving some sort of manual labour. If you live in Norway and live in a flat or house with communal areas I am pretty certain you will have already heard this term or even participated.

Dugnads happen around the change of seasons – in autumn to prepare for winter and in spring to prepare for summer. They are arranged in neighbourhoods, blocks of flats, at summer homes, marinas, mountain cabins even at schools and places of work. The dugnad knows no bounds! It can be summed up as a time of coming together and contributing to the community that you are a part of. Most of us belong to several communities or groups so it is possible that your presence is required at multiple dugnads per year.

Embrace the dugnad

I live in a group of apartments with shared gardens and a car park and twice a year there is a dugnad. Everyone shows up and helps out with a few of the tasks that the Board of the complex has decided need to be done this time round like trimming bushes, weeding, gathering leaves. Once I even painted the tool shed. I took such pride in those mustard yellow walls.

I learnt about the dugnad quite early on in my Norwegian indoctrination. It was during my Norwegian language course in the beloved “På Vei” text book. The story was about a family who were new to Norway. They had recently moved to a block of flats and were invited to come along to the dugnad. The moral of the story was that dugnads are important and everyone participates. This, I can tell you, is true to the experience I have had so far. In Aftenposten this weekend I read an article by Hadia Tajik the deputy leader of the Norwegian Labour Party she was writing about the hot topic of immigration to Norway and she sums up the “Norwegian community contract” as: first do your duty then claim your rights (in this order). The dugnad embodies the first part – duty.

For those of you that are reading this and thinking – you have got to be kidding me, I assure you the dugnad is no joke. There really is no escaping so my advice is to embrace the dugnad. If you are not a fan of manual labour there just might be another incentive to join in as typically the activity culminates in a barbecue or some sort of refreshments: hot dogs and waffles and coffee or occasionally the odd beer or two.


 

Second hand season

I am not sure I can be defined as a bargain hunter, but I do love a bargain. My downfall is that I am a quality over quantity type of person. So I am one of those types that often ends up liking the most expensive item in the shop. Unfortunately good quality and bargain do not often go hand in hand. But twice a year across the whole of Norway there are bargains (of good quality) to be found.

Twice a year, every year, flea market season begins. Typically, in the spring and autumn. Throughout March/April and September/October every neighbourhood participates. Loppemarked (or loppis for short) is the word to look out for.

 

signs go up everywhere

Often based in schools, these flea markets are essentially huge fundraising events for the school marching bands and they are a community affair. Everyone gets involved. Flyers go up around neighbourhoods asking people to donate all their unwanted items. From furniture to books, toys and clothes, everything is welcome. Some schools even organise pick up drives so you can make a pile on the pavement and not even have to make the effort of delivering it. You can of course deliver it to the local school too.

In fact drop off day logistics at schools are impressive. Perfectly coordinated drop off zones are well signposted. Parents and pupils await donning their high-vis vests to direct you in and out. In the matter of minutes you are rid of all that unwanted junk and you have also done a good deed for the day.

Shoppers and bargain hunters need just turn up at school gates armed with cash, ready to find that much-desired coffee table or vintage bicycle. Price haggling is acceptable too for those of you that are up for it. Even if you make a regretful impulse purchase, never fear, because you can just get rid of it when next loppis season comes around. My 50 NOK yoga ball was re-donated last week – it just took up too much space!

If you are into all things vintage and retro – loppis season is your dream come true, especially if you get to the markets early. Although, I must warn you there are people who take this very seriously and wait outside the school gates for opening time. For those of you that have been to the UK during the Christmas shopping period think Selfridges on Boxing Day. People literally storm the school gates and charge!

What I love most about loppis season is that it is for everyone. It is more than a niche group of people that like old things and love a rummage. In Norway everyone gets involved with loppis season in one way or another. One year I visited Kjelsås school (in Oslo) and the parents staffing the event were awfully proud that Jens Stoltenberg himself (former Norwegian Prime Minister and now Secretary General of NATO) had popped by and dropped off his old suits that he wore when he was Prime Minister. The suits were going to be auctioned off later in the day like all the most valuable items. Even Jens gets involved.

Loppemarked season is more than an event that takes place twice a year. It is tradition – it goes right on the list with dugnad (a kind of community service day where everyone is expected to show up. Usually involves gardening and or repairing/cleaning of communal areas) and brown cheese. People buy used stuff and most importantly people give away stuff when they upgrade. One man’s junk is truly another’s treasure here. You would be surprised what people are willing to part with. I always am.

I totally advise a weekend visit to your local loppemarked whether you are a bargain hunter or not. There are waffles, cake and pølser (hot dogs) on sale and the vibe is always upbeat. If nothing else any purchase you make will be contributing to the budding marching band musicians of Norway.

 

 

Me,Myself and I

Lately I have been thinking about my identity. Actually that’s a lie I have been thinking about my identity for- well ever since I can remember, just like I assume most people do. Lately, however, it is a big deal for me again and not just because of my life-changing journey to this foreign, snowy land but also because I am more proud of my multi-country-language-culture-identity than I have ever been.

The to-ing and fro-ing from home to home is not just my unique story. It never has been. It is the story of so many people, like for example all the refugees risking life and limb to get to a better future. Trying to do what my parents and grandparents did back before immigration law and regulation was even a thing. It is a story that is becoming more and more familiar. I mean who really comes from one place any more? OK so maybe there are lots of people all over the world that do – but I would be willing to bet money that it is a considerably smaller number than say 50 or even 20 years ago. The world is mobile. And identity, national identity and culture are all mobile too – fluid. You can be from more than one country at the same time. So many people are.

Growing up in England I was a dark curly-haired foreign looking thing, not blonde or petite like my counter parts. I was very clearly different and no matter how much I dreamed of being straight haired and blonde, I was never going to be. Living in Cyprus as a teenager I was not really Cypriot. I spoke Greek with an English accent. I was English-Cypriot, a “Charlie” – nick-named after Prince Charles. (I mean they could have at least gone for Diana right?) As a student in the USA I used to dread the question “Where are you from?” The answer was never short and simple. Most people I met did not know where Cyprus was, and I spoke with a British accent so that was confusing and I looked like I could be Latina or mixed race so basically most people regretted asking me the question in the first place. Now, here I am in Norway. Speaking Norwegian, learning to ski, climbing mountain peaks for fun and eating way too many hot dogs too often.

So, basically, I spent my teens wanting to be someone I wasn’t, my twenties trying to explain who I was and now, finally, in my thirties, I am at the point where I am using my multi-cultural-ness to my advantage. I ignore all the rules about personal space and physical contact because, hey, I am Cypriot and I have a license to hug. I don’t straighten my hair because it is curly and it will always be, so what’s the point? I keep saying please and thank you after every other word even though it is not expected, because I am a polite Brit; and I curse in Greek when I am angry (loudly), because nothing else expresses my anger in the same kind of gratifying way.

…now planting roots in Norway

I am a mix. A mix of all the places I have lived and the cultures I have embraced and there is nothing but glory in that. I am a proud, second generation British citizen, ethnically, culturally and soulfully Cypriot, with a dash of U.S. ballsiness and a “give-a-shit” London attitude, who is now planting roots in Norway.

So to anyone out there that is having the same dream as I did when I was a child – the dream of coming from one country, of having lived in one place your whole life and being able to say I am English or I am Greek or I am one word, come from one country, belong to one group, have one identity. Or if you are rejecting new identities in your life, society or country. All I can say is, get with the multi-ness. It is all the rage and it’s here to stay.

 

Moves like Jagger – on skis

I am not sure it is possible to write about living in Norway without mentioning skiing. It is deeply sown into the cultural fabric of society here. Skiing to Norwegians is what a cuppa tea is to Brits or what souvlaki (barbecue but better) is to Cypriots. It is a social and cultural imperative, significant whether you partake or not.

There is, however, no skiing in my cultural fabric. Lots of tea and souvlaki, yes, but skiing not even in my peripheral existence. Not until four years ago when my roommate who had always wanted to learn how to ski asked me to go skiing with her. I thought, why not? 32 years old and learning how to ski, never too late to try right?

learning to ski

So it began in January 2012, one week, the French Alps.

This was the first time I had experienced minus temperatures and knee-high snow, not to mention the big planks attached to my feet whilst I slid uncontrollably down a mountain. Not an ideal activity for a beach-loving control freak like me. I was not a pretty sight- but there was light at the end of the bruise filled tunnel of pain and humiliation. Apres-ski! Which was what essentially helped me get through that first week of ski school.

When, a few years and many bruise filled adventures later, I began feeling confident on skis, the topic of skiing became part of my repertoire when chatting with new people at social gatherings.

“Oh yes, and do you like skiing? Yes I love it. When I was in the Alps…”, irritating I know, my only defence is I was so keen to share my excitement for this newfound world I had begun to master.  So when I met a Norwegian at a friend’s wedding I thought ou it snows there so I asked him if he knew how to ski.

Bahahaha!

Yes, I asked a Norwegian if they knew how to ski. The response was a facial expression that said, who is this joker? “Everybody skis Eleni”, was the answer to my question. That was me put in my place!

another type of skiing

So not only did I ask the world’s most idiotic question but then I hear about another type of skiing.

“What!? There is another type of skiing?(mind blown wide open). Oh right cross-country skiing you say? What’s that then?”

“Like jogging, but on skis,” I was told. “Up and down hills, through forests, across frozen lakes. It’s amazing.” All I could think was, he said going up hills? On skis? I didn’t get it, but agreed to try anyway. I mean I can downhill ski, how different can it be? Let’s just say the first time I tried was traumatic for everyone involved. I barely managed to stand up let alone move and unsurprisingly it ended with a severe temper tantrum. I also learnt my very first valuable lesson in cross-country skiing – never trust a Norwegian when they say the terrain is mostly flat.

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off-piste cross-country skiing

from the womb to the slopes

Norwegians like to say they were born with skis on their feet and this is not far from the truth. I see some incredibly tiny human beings on skis moving faster and more gracefully than me, even on a good day. However, whilst downhill skiing is popular here, it is cross-country skiing that is quintessentially Norwegian. I mean all you have to do is watch the Winter Olympics to understand. Norway tends to snap up just about every medal going and is miles ahead of any other country in the gold medal count, and the professional skiers are demi-gods and goddesses with celebrity status and super-human fitness levels. Now that I have tried the activity I understand why. It is a kind of sublime torture going uphill on tiny planks, sweat dripping from every pore. Not for the faint-hearted or weak-willed.

Skiing is tough, whether down or up, alpine or cross-country. Hard work to master but thrilling when you do. The greatest thing I have discovered about skiing though is how friendly it all is. Whether in the Alps or in the woods here in Oslo it is a bonding activity and everyone is in on it, just one big love fest. Just last week I was walking home from a ski session with my skis on my shoulder and a man walked past me smiled and started asking me how my ski session went and what it was like up in the forest. And they say Norwegians are cold and unapproachable. To me it seems there is an automatic unspoken bond between fellow skiers that breaks down social barriers and makes people like each other.

In Norway families go cross-country skiing together. Kids, toddlers, even infants go along in specially designed carriages with skis on the bottom that are strapped around mum or dad’s waist. Grandparents go out with grandkids and dogs run alongside their owners. It is a family affair.

Waxing cross-country skis demonstration. It is a science

I do have to say, in all fairness, not all Norwegians are skiers. I often meet people who tell me they grew up or are from the West coast or South of Norway and are not great at skiing because there is not much snow there. Or that they have traumatic childhood experiences of traipsing through the woods and can’t bear the thought. I choose to believe that I am in the same league as these people skill wise, which makes me feel slightly better about my lack of grace on skis.

ski class on a tuesday evening with work colleagues – I at least look the part

I am taking this ski challenge head on. Last week I participated in the annual ski and waxing class that one of my work colleagues leads. He does it every year and loves to teach others how to be even better at skiing and I need all the help I can get. I was the worst in the class, but just a tad better than last year. Yes – progress! There is real hope one day that my greatest skill on cross-country skis will be something other than controlled collision.

 

Living in the minuses

I am a warm weather person.

My favourite season? Definitely summer. Beach or mountain holiday? Definitely beach. Optimum temperature, around 28-32 degrees celsius. What can I say, I’m a fair weather gal at heart. I like to be warm. My toes prefer to be free and exposed rather than shoved into boots and sunshine is ultimately the epicentre of my universe. Then 2014 comes along and I move to Oslo and begin my tutorial on winter survival.

I have learnt lots since moving here. For all you cold weather experts out there this may feel like common sense- but not to us from the South. In warmer climates we just do not think about these things. Ever! They are not common sense.

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there are steps under there somewhere

 
DRESS FOR SUCCESS

There is a Norwegian expression, which says there is no such thing as bad weather only bad choice of clothing (it rhymes in Norwegian) and like all good expressions it is generally true. Only amateurs and fashion worshipping teenagers forsake this advice.

For me dressing properly is all about the accessories. Scarves, hats, mittens (not gloves) and my latest addition, leg warmers, to cover my knees – which mysteriously enough are particularly vulnerable to the cold. My aim with these accessories is to cover up any points of exposure and potential heat loss. No gaps in clothing. Cover everything.

Footwear is equally crucial. Thick soles. None of those thin delicate looking shoes as the cold from the ground comes straight through thin soles no matter how thick your socks are. Think chunky, thick rubber soles.

Also something I heard a lot my first winter  here was, you need wool. It is true, tried and tested. Real wool is about the only thing that keeps you warm. Thankfully I have discovered non-itchy wool products. Real wool is pricey but without exaggeration makes all the difference in the cold. Also wool insoles for your shoes – absolute genius. Keeps those tootsies nice and toasty.

SPEND TIME OUTDOORS

Winters here are long and dark and this for me is a recipe for hibernation but seeing as I plan on living in this part of the world for a while, finding something to do outside has been an important part of the “enjoy winter” process. Norway is a skiing mecca so cross-country and downhill skiing are two big checks for me. There are other things too like sledding, ice-skating, even going for walks can be enjoyable as long as the snow is not too deep and I am properly bundled up. I have learnt that cold and snow is no excuse for not getting outdoors no matter what. I remember the first time I saw a baby bundled up in a pram sleeping outside in the cold (not extreme cold). I couldn’t understand why– but it is a thing that is done here and the babies sleep peacefully. All that fresh, cold air works wonders I guess.

SNOW AND ICE

Snow is amazing. I think even the biggest winter hater out there would succumb to the snowy charms of proper white powdery snowflakes. I, for one, love it. Especially here where snow does not mean that the whole country comes to a stand still. Norway is prepared for snowfall and everything is  set up to deal with it. After a night of heavy snowfall armies of snow ploughs hit the streets and clear the roads and pavements. It is beautiful efficiency. A small warning though snow ploughs are ruthless. They do their job and show no mercy. If your car happens to be parked on the side of the road and gets buried in a snow mound, well too bad! You better have a spade to dig it out.

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lots of lovely powdery snow


When moving here I was mentally prepared for cold and snow but no one explained about the ice. Ice is not as fun as snow and last winter was an icy one. Oscillating temperatures from minus to plus and back to minus again meant going outdoors was like heading to the ice skating rink. So I now own special spikes you can slip on and off your shoes to give proper grip. I did not manage to avoid falling of course but I have learnt a thing or two about walking on ice. Yes, there is a technique to it, I saw the diagram.
Also the first time I scraped ice off the inside of a car window screen was memorable. I really felt like I learnt something about living in the minuses that day.

So yes, the winters are long and cold on this side of the globe, and most of my family and friends in Cyprus cannot comprehend how one can exist in -17 degrees celsius let alone go to work and school and function as normal.

However, I am proud to say I can function. I have stretched my horizon and expanded my seasonal appreciation beyond blue cloudless skies and strappy sandals. Loving winter is not easy. It takes compromise and I have managed to get there, or at least I am well on the way to getting there.

Express yourself

Expressions. We have them in every language, ones that are centuries old, new trends, cultural references, the lists are endless. But expressions in my mind are the ultimate goal towards mastery of a language. Expressions are the garnish to a meal, in fact they are more than that, they are the salt and pepper. They add flavour and depth. Without them language is bland.

When it comes to Norwegian expressions I am still a beginner – there is no mastery here. I am still identifying which ones are the same in both English and Norwegian, for example, “new blood” and “I take my hat off to you”. I also find those that are not the same but have the same meaning, for example, in English you “can’t have your cake and eat it” whilst in Norwegian you “can’t have (it) in a bag and in a rucksack”. There are also those that just do not translate at all and I am not sure have an equivalent, like “frisk som en fisk” – healthy like a fish -it just doesn’t have the same impact. 

I spend a great deal of time talking about expressions. I am forever having conversations about what they mean, where they come from, trying to find the English equivalent. To be honest, I spend a lot of time these days talking about language in general. It has become my icebreaker with new people, my version of weather chat. It fills the awkward silences and makes for great office lunch time chat. People love to tell me all about Norwegian expressions and I entertain it, I even enjoy it. I confess. I am a word nerd.

It is not just moving to Norway that has sparked my word nerdiness. I have always loved words. It is just that this trilingual gig of mine is giving my love fuel. I have language discovery moments that blow my mind. Like when I first heard the Norwegian word for space, as in outer space. It is verdensrommet. Literally translated to mean “the world’s room”. Pause and re-read. Let the greatness of that translation sink in…ahhhh! Magic. Brilliant language discovery moments like this make learning a new language fun and make me smile from the inside out.

Of all my language discovery moments in the journey to mastery, the ones I enjoy most are when English words are integrated into the Norwegian language, as is. Just add a Norwegian accent and bob’s your uncle. Jeans are jeans, if something is crazy in English it is crazy in Norwegian too. I opened the newspaper one day and saw the title ikke bare bullshit – not just bullshit. Why try find the appropriate word in Norwegian when the English one says exactly what you mean? Scandis have exceptional English skills so there is very little risk of misunderstanding. I make a mental note every time this happens. One less word/expression for me to learn, one step closer to mastery.

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“Of all my language discovery moments, the best are when English words are integrated into the Norwegian language, as is.”

Expression mastery in Norwegian is still a distant goal for me. I am currently still riding the “yes I have been here a year” wave. This means, despite my mistakes, I can still impress people because I haven’t been here that long. I know this wave is soon to wane though. The months are racking up. I am now in the process of trying to wean myself off expecting people to be impressed with my language skills. I have to admit it’s not easy. I have become addicted.

November rain

November in Norway is not just a catchy alliteration it is a notable slump in the year. It is the month of grey skies and in-between-seasonal weather that is hard to pretend does not affect you. It is probably what they researched when they defined seasonal affective disorder (SAD aka the winter blues) as a condition. I am sure of it.

The Brit in me has fought the urge to curl up in the foetal position and hibernate, saying, these grey skies are nothing, get over it woman. But then the Cypriot rebels screaming for warmth, sunshine and just a patch of blue sky, please. This is my second November here and I was forewarned. This is the month people go on holiday, if they can. To the “South” – almost everywhere is south from here.

November in Oslo is for the most part grim. Today is no exception. For me, days like this make the temptation to stay indoors until the sun comes back hard to fight. But I am not about doom and gloom. That is just not my style, so in just over a year here I have learnt some coping mechanisms that help to perk me up in the 30-day slump.

VITAMIN POPPING

I have never been convinced of the need to take supplements if you are in full health. I have always been a doubter. A week or so ago, however, in the midst of grimsville, I decided to take a vitamin D and whether it was the psychological affect of taking it or some real physiological affect – it helped. I perked up and managed to convince myself all was not pointless. So I am stocking up on the vitamin D and adding it to my morning regime.

Tran (cod liver oil) is apparently the way to go, or so I have been told by my Norwegian friends. You can’t get more Norwegian than that. A spoonful a day is the cure to the winter blues. I have not tried it yet but I think I may just have to give it a go. You know when in Rome and all that.

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still some colour around despite november skies

 GET PRACTICAL

The rain and cold is the greatest temptation for me to go from bed to sofa to bed again. November rain in Norway is like in the UK except colder. Growing up on Cyprus where rain is a seldom event and when it does come it feels like the whole island is going to flood – I have never really been a fan of rain. Even the endless drizzle of the UK has not shifted my opinion on that one. I don’t like getting wet unless I am in my swimming costume and it is hot.

Stuff still needs to get done though, so I have converted to buying practical clothing and footwear. Yes, I am talking raincoats and wellies and warm boots with thick soles and fur lining. The list of practical outdoor gear you end up owning whilst living here is endless but it is either that or remain house bound for the season.

The one plus is that Scandinavians have fashionable versions of all these practical items so no need to give up entirely on looking stylish. Although I must admit to leaving the house looking like I have no mirrors at home on more than one occasion.

 CHASE THE SUNSHINE

I am not new to chasing the sunshine. This is a common phenomenon in the UK too, so being a pro at this I know a sunny day is not to be wasted in doors. The sun does come out in November every now and again so I get ready for it and make sure I am outside. Lunch-time walks and waking up early on weekends helps.

Despite all this, it is not all doom and gloom in November. Christmas is in the air and few places do Christmas so well as in these parts of the world. I also perk up when I remember it is a short wait until snow and ski season. I am excited to to see what I look like on cross-country skis this season. In my head it is going to be like a Norwegian cross-country sports star. A girl can have hope.

Are you gonna go my way

I love a good story. I always have. So when in company I keep a couple of good stories up my sleeve just in case the conversation goes dry. My best stories are my travel stories, I have many a tragic travel story – my closest friends can verify. The kind of stories that are only funny in retrospect.

the big ol’ u. s. of a

As an eighteen year old I packed two suitcases and flew to Louisville, Kentucky in the big ol’ U. S. of A to study. Little Spalding University became my new home for the next four years. During these years I travelled. A lot. Flying from Cyprus to Louisville was never simple. There were always connecting flights and lost baggage claim forms, delays and overlays. In four years I am not sure I experienced one uneventful trip.

But it gave me some great stories. I was the worst traveller (thankfully some things do change). You name it I have done it all: gone to the wrong airport on the right day, gone to the right airport on the wrong day, missed flights by minutes, forgotten my passport and slept in airports for hours during never ending delays.

By far the best story happened when I was around 19 years old, back in 1999. I used to travel without money on me. No logic I know, but I was a broke student – that is the best excuse I have got. I had booked quite a complicated flight because I had free air miles so I ended up flying through London. I had an overlay of a day and a half and I thought I would take the chance to visit my family in North London seeing as I was flying out of Heathrow the next day. Or so I thought.

airport saviours

My uncle dropped me off at Heathrow the next morning with all my bags. He paid for my tube ticket and I figured I didn’t need anything else so I said goodbye. I am at Heathrow I look around for the American Airlines check-in counter and I couldn’t find it. I asked information and I heard the response in slow motion, “Sorry American Airlines doesn’t fly from here. Only from Gatwick.” I checked my ticket. It said Gatwick! Panic set in. I had no money. I had no mobile phone (yes I didn’t own one until I was 21). What else could I do? I stood in the middle of Heathrow departures and started blubbing. I must have made a pitiful sight because after just a minute or two a group of people came up to me, two men and a lady, asking me if I was ok. I wasn’t ok and I began to tell my pathetic story to the group and cry on the lady’s shoulder, who kindly hugged me without hesitation.

She assured me that it would be ok. One of the guys patted me on the back and said he would check out the coaches. As I was being consoled this same guy went and bought me a coach ticket to Gatwick airport and handed it to me. No questions asked, not wanting anything in return. He even took me to the coach stop and made sure I got on the right one. In my distress I didn’t even ask these people their names, nothing. I just repeatedly thanked and hugged them and carried on crying as the coach drove to Gatwick. I have no idea to this day who these people were. I made it to Gatwick in the end and made my flight. I was saved.

14 years later

Fast forward to 2013. I was outside Brighton train station waiting for my cousin to pick me up. I overhear a girl talking on her mobile phone. I try not to be too nosey but I can’t help but hear her almost in tears explaining to her parents that she has no money and her card won’t work.

She was standing with suitcases and in tears. I had a flashback moment. She was me in Heathrow departure lounge over a decade ago. I politely went over to the girl and asked if she was ok. She was trying to get to London but could not buy a ticket. I helped her just as I was helped by my group of travel saviours years ago. It was a true moment where things came full circle. I had been helped by a stranger once and it was my turn to help someone else. The girl (unlike me) asked for my name and address to pay me back. But I had my chance. I could not ruin this perfect movie moment I just said to her, “Don’t worry about it, someone once helped me like this a long time ago.”

Corny as it sounds the story is 100% true and as depressing as the world can be sometimes it keeps me optimistic to think of the magic in my little story. Take care of your fellow travellers people, you never know when you will need the favour returned.