Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tour of our (rented) house

Living room #1 and #2
And now for a tour of our home. 

I want you to make note of a few things before we get started here. 

  1. We are renting this home for one year. We have not bought it. We could not afford to buy it. We can barely afford to rent it!
  2. This is not a typical "rental", nor, in my limited experience, is it a typical Norwegian home. 
  3. Whatever home we buy will in no way be able to match this home in space, view, bedrooms, storage, etc.

aka "playroom" or "TV room"
As we were making our preparations to move to Norway, finding suitable housing was a huge challenge. Erik’s employer doesn’t typically hire ex-pats, so they were not accustomed to finding housing for their new employees. We were on our own.

We didn’t feel like our housing needs were that unreasonable: minimum 2 bedrooms, storage for outdoor gear, and dog-friendly. As it turns out, Lillehammer has a very tight rental market, in part due to the college in town and students filling every available rental. Or what is left is college-student grade rentals. In other words: bleech.
View from playroom into living room

In May we had verbally committed to renting a 2 bedroom home across the river/lake in Vingnes that we had found on the internet. It was very clean, modern, efficient, dog friendly. . . with NO storage. Not even a covered parking spot to store bikes. As the contents of our home were loaded into a 40ft. shipping container, we became more and more nervous about where our belongings would actually go once they arrived in Norway.

Fireplace room, where pioneer action happens
The day after our life’s possessions disappeared in the shipping container we saw THIS house on the internet. We knew we had to rent it. Erik immediately called the owner, and within 10 minutes it was “ours”. 

We feel soooo fortunate for so many reasons.
  1.        FIVE bedrooms. We use two. But have room for guests!
  2.          Owners are lending us their spare car! We didn’t have to buy a car when we arrived!
  3.          Our dog has space to run and sniff and explore and lounge and survey.
  4.          So much storage—closets galore, two barns and a garage, a basement.
  5.         Tremendous views of the valley and Lillehammer.
  6.          Darling home, cozy, warm, inviting. Feels homey. Our stuff blends in perfectly.
  7.      Can walk/run/bike to Greta’s barnehage on maintained dirt roads in under 10 minutes. And we randomly got placed at this barnehage before we knew where we were living—and it’s the closest one. Amazing luck.
  8.         Property backs up against the lighted ski trails, which connect to the Olympic Birkebeiner ski trails.
  9.     The owners had apparently had inquiries from dozens and dozens of people wanting to rent it, and he turned them away (college students, athletes). But we were a family, with a kid going to his kids’ school, and he knew people who worked with Erik, and. . .  here we are!

Dining room (with landlord's hutch  

Hallway of doors and mirrors
(and closets)

View of kitchen from dining room

Kitchen, with enormous fridge in the corner

Greta's cozy room

Lovely bathroom (with
heated floors)

Our bedroom, with door to back deck

Heavenly walk-in closet
and view into hallway

Stairs to upstairs, door to right into
front hall, door to left into kitchen
Front hall (also with heated floors) and too many
hooks for people like us who have too many coats

Front hall, view into laundry room

Første snø!

That's "first snow", if you were struggling to find the "ø" key in Google Translate.

I feel I would be remiss if I did not make note of the first snowfall of our first fall in Norway: October 27th.

We woke in the morning to find the ground lightly covered with snow and thick flakes falling from the sky.  It kept up throughout the morning, including during my run to the barnehage with Greta in the jogger, snuggled in with fleece, down, and plastic encasing her. Tika and I took the long way home from the barnehage, running through the woods while the snow blew around us. It was very pretty. By the afternoon it had turned to sleet, then rain, and a day later there are no signs of snow anywhere.*

That's okay. I must admit: I'm a little nervous about winter! I like winter, and I like snow, but I'm nervous about the length of the winter. In the past I've been excited about the first snowfall of the season, but this year I'm not looking forward to it as much.

*Actually, after heading out for a morning run I discovered that the roads are slick with ice, and the trails are a combination of ice, frozen mud, and remnants of the snowfall. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Warm doggy

"How is Tika?" is a question I hear from friends and family.

Tika is a big fan of the fireplace. Here are a few image taken throughout the day of her warming her toesies by the fire. I would venture to guess that she is warm and content.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

September weekend in Oslo

Enjoying the harbor near
Rådhuset (city hall)
The weekend of September 24-25, Erik, Greta and I traveled down to Oslo to meet up with Erik's parents during their last weekend in Norway.

We found a reasonable hotel near Oslo Sentralstasjon (train) and the Rådhuset (city hall) on the main Oslo harbor. Erik and I managed to navigate downtown Oslo in a car for the first time, at 10pm at night.

Saturday was cool (but not rainy!) and the city was mobbed by people running the Oslo Half Marathon and Marathon the next day. Saturday had many pre-race events, including a 3K that wound its way around many of the sights near our hotel.

We spent Saturday enjoying the views from Akershus Fortress, the harbor near Rådhuset, and enjoyed a delicious lunch at Aker Brygge, the shopping area near the wharf.

That evening, after Greta's afternoon nap in the hotel, we wandered over to the new Opera House, and walked up the slanted roofs to the top overlooking the harbor. We peeked inside the lobby of the opera house, which looks really beautiful. 

At the Opera House, where
you can climb on the roof!
On Sunday morning we hopped on a tour boat of the Oslo harbor that took us from the Opera House to Bygdøy, where 3 of Oslo's main attractions are located: the Vikingship Museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum, and the PolarShip Museum. Erik and I have seen all three, and we had a nap schedule we wanted to adhere to, so we limited ourselves to 30 minutes in the Vikingship Museum. It's a very interesting exhibit, and I highly recommend it. 

At the Viking Ship Museum
Vigeland's sculptures at Frognerpark

Sunday afternoon was a brilliantly sunny day, and while Greta napped and Erik caught up on work, I wandered past the runners loping down the main pedestrian shopping street, Karl Johans Gate, and up to the royal palace, Slottet. Feeling inspired by the fresh air and a few spare hours, I walked to Vigeandsparken, also known as Frogner Park or Vigeland's Sculpture Park. 

Monolith in Frognerpark
The park is filled with over 200 sculptures and statues of the life's work of Gustav Vigeland. It is an enchanting place, and probably the most unique and interesting side of Oslo. 

We were planning on meeting Erik's distant cousins, the three Tveter siblings and their families, for dinner that evening near Holmenkollen, the ski jumps that overlook the city. Erik agreed to pick me up near Frogner Park to allow me to savor the sunshine at the park, however we hadn't determined a time or place when I had left. That's what cell phones are for, right?

To pass some time, I sat down and tried to fix an annoying feature on my cell phone. After a few options, the phone asked me to "clear settings" or "reset settings" or something like that, which I agreed to do. BIG mistake. It basically locked me out of my phone, asking me for PIN and PUK codes, which I had no recollection of. I was stuck. After a few panicky minutes--it was getting very close to 4pm, when Erik was going to leave the hotel--I asked a nice looking Norwegian couple pushing a baby stroller (basically every other couple) if I could borrow their cell phone. Of course, I couldn't remember Erik's phone number the first few times, but eventually contacted him and set up a meeting time and place. Crisis averted. Yes, sounds so calm now. Not so calm then.

We had a lovely dinner at Frognersentern, a historic hotel overlooking the city, reacquainting ourselves with Erik's cousins--our only family in Norway! They were incredibly welcoming to Erik when he was a student here 15 years ago, and have hosted us on both of our visits to Norway.

Visiting Oslo with a 2 year old was a very different experience than our last visit 3 years ago, as you can only imagine. The boat ride was a big hit, as was running around the harbor. I think Frogner Park also would have been very enjoyable, so we'll put it on our list for next time. There are still many things in Oslo that we haven't done (or I haven't done), and many more visitors to come (we hope), so I'm sure we'll have plenty of opportunities to find some more favorites.

Early October: Week in Lillesand (i.e. southern Norway)

View from Lillesand, Norway
Erik's job as a forest researcher sent him down to southern Norway to hunt down old oak trees in the area surrounding Lillesand, about 4 hours south of Oslo. Since his work would have to pay for his lodging anyway, his boss suggested "take the whole family and rent a hytte". Well, OK then!

Happy 8th Anniversary to Us!
We have limited pictures from that week, as we actually thought Erik's lovely Nikon SLR camera had been stolen (we later found it in a side pocket of our luggage). How we overlooked a large SLR camera is beyond us. . . . Anyway, we were limited to our small pocket sized digital camera for the week, which Erik had to take in the field with him to document the oak trees.

When I told one of Greta’s teachers that we were traveling to Lillesand, she said “Oh it’s beautiful there in the summer.” Hmmm. We were going to be there the first week of October, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Norwegian dream house. . . 
It was still incredibly lovely and charming, despite the off-season. Lillesand is a small, coastal village, with nearly every building and home whitewashed. Our “little hytte” (that could sleep nine and had cable TV) was about a 10 minute drive from Lillesand. The weather was beautiful and sunny the first few days, although still easily in the 50s. Greta and I spent one day at the Kristiansand Dyreparken (zoo), which had a rather impressive collection of animals. We also spent a good deal of time simply playing outside, collecting acorns to toss into the sea, and meandering around the village.

Erik and I also celebrated our 8th anniversary while we were there, and marked the occasion by buying a bløtkake (a cream and white layered cake with a marzipan fondant), which I have been coveting since the day I walked into a Norwegian grocery store.

The week was exhausting for Erik, as he was putting in long hours bush-whacking through the woods in search of oaks. It was evident he wouldn’t be finished with his work by the time Greta and I had planned on leaving on Saturday via train, and he returned home late Monday night.

I had planned on returning separately from Erik anyway, as we didn’t want to make the 6 hour drive from Lillesand to Lillehammer with Greta in the car. Instead, we took a 4 hour train ride from Kristiansand to Oslo, and then transferred to a second train from Oslo to Lillehammer--another 2 hour trip. The train ride was the perfect way to travel with a 2 year old. Now, I have solo-parented my two-year-old on an 11 hour Vermont/New Jersey Amtrak ride, and an 8 hour trans-Atlantic overnight flight on which she did not sleep, so I was prepared for a measley 6 hour train trip. But get this: Norwegian trains have “family cars” that have PLAY ROOMS in them, complete with little kid-sized benches, cushions, chairs, books, DVD player and a little loft accessible by two ladders.

Piece of cake. Yummy bløtkake.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Early September: Weekend in Rondane

View of our hytte (the one with 
the thatched roof)
In early September, we drove 2 hours northwest of Lillehammer to Rondane National Park to spend the weekend in a rented hytte (cabin) with some Trondheim based American friends that we first met about 5 years ago. The Strimbeck/Bazilchuk family is originally from Vermont, but moved to Trondheim nearly 8 years ago when Rick took a job teaching biology at the University where Erik was once a student 15 years ago! We stayed with them in Trondheim for a few days during our first visit to Norway in 2006, having only corresponded with them via phone and email. We enjoyed their company, and that of their two adorable little girls, and they inspired us to “keep the dream alive” of moving to Norway. In the months leading up to our move, we contacted them frequently for advice on our upcoming move.

See Grandma? She is warm and happy.
Our weekend in Rondane National Park was a way to meet up again with their family (minus their eldest daughter, now off to college!), and reunite them with their beloved bentwood rocker, that we moved with us from Vermont. Nancy and Rick also accurately guessed that we might appreciate a little English conversation, as well.

Our Saturday hike in the mist
The hytte was a delight. And a few words about Norwegian hyttes, if I may pluralize them that way. Many Norwegian families own a small cabin somewhere in the country. It may be a mountain cabin, or a coastal cabin, and are varying degrees of “rustic-ness”. Some have outhouses, other have flushing toilets, warm water, showers, even saunas. Some are very isolated, and others are in little cabin communities. Many of these privately owned cabins are available to rent, but there are also DNT huts (the national hiking organization) scattered all across Norway available for members and non-members to use. Some of these huts are small and require that you pack in your own food. Others are full staffed and equipped—essentially a wilderness hotel, where all you need is your own sleep sack—the down comforters are provided.

Family hike on Sunday
So, anyway, our rented hytte was a delight. The Strimbeck/Bazilchuk family had stayed there before on several occasions, including a Christmas week. To get there, we drove north out of Lillehammer on E-6 to Otta, and then headed up some very steep roads and eventually above tree line, to a rather expansive hytte community. It was misty and overcast, which was unfortunate, as we could tell the fall colors were at their peak (which, remember we’re above tree line, so the colors are limited to mostly heather and lichen).

We arrived Friday evening, prepared a warm dinner, let the two dogs get acquainted, settled Greta down into her crib, and enjoyed the warm fireplace, a bottle of wine, and “settling into Norway” conversation. In English!

Sunday's destination: fully serviced
DNT hut with hot chocolate
Saturday we braved the misty weather, and headed out for a hike into a nearby valley. The rain held until the last few minutes of our hike, and Greta was happy as a clam in her backpack through the entire 3-hour hike.  Sunday’s weather looked more promising, and we opted for a hike along a gravel road that would take us to a large DNT hut where we could eat our lunch and get a cup of coffee. Again, the rain held off, and the dogs were allowed to run off-leash (a big treat in Norway). Greta enjoyed the hike (and the destination) so much that she didn’t want to go inside once we arrived!

All in all, it was a very fun and relaxing weekend. It was great to see Nancy and Rick again, and be able to share our Norwegian moving stories with people who definitely knew what we were going through.

Happy hiker who
doesn't want to go inside yet!

Wrapping up the day with
a little sunshine and smiles

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Finally Fall, Lillehammer style

View from our kitchen of 
Birkebeinervegen (our road)

The "must have" flower
of Norway's fall
 It's been rainy and overcast for the past few weeks, it seems. But finally, the rain and clouds have cleared, and we have beautiful weather forecasted for the next week. We are looking forward to it.
Our humble home!

A bird's humble home!

View of Lillehammer
from our driveway

Greta, age 2.5 years, and
Tika the Noble One, newly 6 years

Such beautiful weather, we just
had to eat outsid

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Pioneer Woman, in Fahrenheit

Anyone who knew me between the ages of, oh, 7 and 15, knows I was completely obsessed with Little House on the Prairie. I would have given anything to be Laura Ingalls, and I even wrote a letter to Michael Landon proposing that he remake the Little House TV series starring. . . me. (Although I'm not sure I ever sent the letter).

Stick with me. . .

I returned home on Sunday evening from our week away in southern Norway, on solo parenting duty, with a crabby, hungry 2 year old child, and a hyper, hungry 5.9 year old dog (she is nearly 6, you see). It was 6 pm, we had been traveling since 9 am, and I entered the house to find that it was 53 degrees!!!

This usually would not be a big problem, however, we have not yet turned on our heat. A few weeks ago, I asked Erik if turning on the heat was a quick flick of a switch, and he said "no, not really. It's a little more involved than that." But there was no urgent need for heat at that time, so we didn't do it.

At 6 pm on Sunday evening, there was urgent need for heat. So, I did what any self-respecting Laura Ingalls Wilder wannabe would do: I hauled a load of wood up from the basement, and built us a fire in our fireplace. And at 7 am this morning, with the house back down into the mid 50s, I did the same thing. By 9 am, the house was toasty warm. At 10 pm, I am proud to report that the house is. . . 72 degrees! As Erik put it (as he is still down in southern Norway), I essentially "chain-smoked" the fireplace all day. That I did, and I'm rather proud of it.

This morning, as I struggled to get the initial flames to take (despite the use of the technological wonder that is a highly flammable fire-starter packet), I had a brief vision of Laura bent over her fire with a cold, hungry Baby Rose behind her. As self-sufficient as I may have felt at that moment, I also realized how very glad I was to be living in the 21st century.

And then I drank my cappuccino. Dressed in fleece.