Sunday, July 15, 2018

EuroTrip 2018 Part 1: Norway

It's been three years since we've been back to Norway (or Europe for that matter).  Martin's parents come visit us plenty, so it's time we returned the favor and got on a plane for 30 hours to visit them.

Our literal first order of business once we left the airport:

Sales target: 1.8 million boller this year
Boller!  Cardamom buns, which are the quintessential Norwegian treat.  I did a spectacularly awful job of photographing my food in Norway, which is uncharacteristic of me.  I was too excited to dive into everything, I guess. 

No bakery I've ever tried has come even close to the ones they sell at gas stations, so they're the perfect road tripping snack.  My favorite are the chocolate chip ones but they also come with raisins (blah) and plain (don't bother).  Another gas station food favorite:


Hot dogs in Norway are amazing.  If you find yourself in the frozen north do not miss out!

An old saying goes that Norwegians are born with skis on their feet, so it makes sense that we went straight to Norway's largest ski resort, Trysil.  It was late May, and an unseasonably warm one at that, so we were hardly hitting the slopes.  It was 31C/87F everyday.

Yet there was still snow!


We rented a hytte, which is a Norwegian cottage for a few days of relaxation and solitude in nature.  To fight off jet lag on our first full day there we decided to hike up the whole damn Trysil mountain.



And see that summer snow up close and personal!



A wild experience when you're sweating from heat just as much as from exertion.  Zoom in here and see the buildings down below:


It's impressive how far we hiked up!  Thanks to all the crazy life changes I have skipped the gym for months now (oops) so a little exercise was absolutely overdue.

In Australia if you want to go to another country you'll have to fly for at least two hours.  In Norway, you just hop in the car for a bit and you'll eventually hit Sweden.  We were looking for more scenic sights so drove an hour or two to Fulufjallet National Park to do a little hike and see a really pretty waterfall. 


We couldn't get any closer due to falling rocks and an unstable bath, but even getting this close offered some lovely sights along the way.




I don't remember the last time I was someplace so remote.  No phone service, no grocery stores, not even a gas station.  But worst of all, no booze that's half the price of Norway!

Back at the hytte we spent a few more days hanging out, eating, drinking (napping!) and catching up.  Eventually civilization lured us back so packed up and headed to Moss, where Martin's parents live and where we called home for three years (plus 6 months of "where are we going to go in life?" quasi-homelessness).

Along the way we stopped to visit Martin's great Tante (aunt) Elsa, who is one hundred and four years of age.  And she still lives on her own!  


Elsa has lived in her apartment since WWII, when the Nazis occupied Norway.  "Under krigen" they say in Norway, "under the war".  No need to specify; there's only one war.  She didn't grow up there - she lived there as an adult!  I find that endlessly fascinating.

But Elsa can't party like she used to so we were back on the road in a flash, bound for home.


Look at that million dollar view!  Martin's parents have an amazing rooftop balcony, which we've never gotten to enjoy in long stretches before.  I'm certain I spent more time there during this trip than I have in the previous ten or so years they've lived there.


It's right by the beach, which the locals were taking full advantage of almost around the clock (land of the midnight sun, remember).  The air might be warm but the water most certainly is not.  It was way too cold for this Aussie to dip more than an ankle in!

Also nearby is the Moss canal, which is picturesque:


But most importantly houses Norway's greatest gift to the world.  The nectar of the sea.


Peel and eat shrimps! 


Straight from local waters, caught that very morning and sold off the boat.

I will never forget the first time I was served these on a visit to Norway in 2006.  I didn't even know what a shrimp even looked like, much less how to navigate peeling one - antennae, eyes and all - to eat it!


I have refined my technique since then - it is not for the squeamish - and they're my favorite thing to eat in Norway.  It's the simplest meal: bread, mayo, shrimps and lemon wedges.  And all the white wine that the wine monopoly will sell you!  Yes, in Norway you have to buy your hooch from a monopoly.  

After a week of full on family time it was time for us to head out into the world, or at least Oslo for gender-separated friend time.


Well lookey here, more shrimps!  I get my fill of the good stuff.

One gal is pregnant and another had a baby 9 weeks prior so instead slamming Jag bombs on Thirsty Thursday like we did in college, we upgraded (downgraded?) to wine in the 'burbs.  My how we've grown!

We made one last trip to visit Tante Elsa before we flew on to our next Euro-destination.  How cute is this?!


Martin was showing her pictures on his phone.  I forget of what, but I assume Matilda.  

Every time we're back in Norway and visit her we (and she - ever the realist) think, "well, this is the last time we meet".  But there's always been a next time!  So maybe there will be another next time, even though I don't think we'll be back for a few years.  

It blows my mind that she was seventy years old when Martin was born...35 years ago!  That woman and her longevity will never cease to fascinate me.  Plus, visiting her is the one time in my life when I literally MUST practice my Norwegian, both listening and speaking.  There are no alternatives (besides pantomime)! 

And that was our grand return to Norway!  I will spare you the gory details of my epic drama, but the gist is I stupidly left my backpack on the airport train, which contained my American passport.

Positive: I still had my Australian passport on me so could fly no matter what

Negative: I left my goddamn passport on a train

No bueno.  It was the worst 15 minutes of the trip (of the year?  Decade?) but thankfully I got it back thanks to the fairly incompetent Flytoget staff.  Relief!

With three flights and two countries left to go, it's comforting to know that the worst thing is behind you!




Friday, June 29, 2018

USA Part 4: Washington, DC

I'm going to skip over the upper Midwest stop on my wedding extravaganza USA itinerary for three reasons:

1) I am half a year behind on blogs because of all the recent life changes
2) I've got a new trip to blog about
and
3) There's only so many ways I can say eat, eat, farm, eat, farm, eat

So here we are, fast forwarding to the final leg of my trip, Washington DC.

My farm girl baby sis with three kids was very keen to visit DC and do the tourist trail, and told me that I'm the only person she knows who would go on a trip like that.

Is that not the most tragic thing you have ever heard?!  It made me profoundly sad to hear that.  Who doesn't line up to visit our nation's capital?!  So of course I said yes.  My honeymoon has already been attended by my in-laws, parents and siblings so why not shoo my new husband back home and continue my honeymoon without him?

But pity wasn't the reason I decided to to embark on this trip.  I (re)realized that I love DC.  Plain and simple.  I believe there are two types of Americans: New York Americans and DC Americans.  I am firmly in the DC camp.  Plus I hadn't been back since 2007, just before I moved overseas, so I was a decade overdue for a return trip.

I lived there for a spell in college, back in the dark ages of 2005, to intern for a semester for my senator.  You want a treat?

It's called fashion, sweetie, look it up
There's your treat.  I recently came across this photo after not seeing it for over a decade, and lacking any and all shame I enjoy sharing it with the world.  I love it!

So off Jenna and I went to the east coast...with her father-in-law:


My honeymoon was so inclusive that even extended family members joined in the fun!  Not that I'm complaining; Lenny is a comforting combination of every farm dad I've ever known and is a good time.  Plus his twin sister lives just outside DC so we got to see glimpses of "real life" that we otherwise wouldn't have gotten to see.

Lenny dove into family time while Jenna and I hit the tourist trail bright and early the first morning.  First stop:


White House tour



I can't tell you the number of people who said to me prior to the trip, "Eeew, you're going to the White House when Trump is in office?!"  I had to remind them that the White House is an American institution, regardless of what unqualified, treasonous embarrassment currently may or may not reside there.

Plus, when I was an intern I did the tour when Bush was in office.  Back in 2005 Bush is what we naively considered a bad president.  Oh, to be innocent again!  I'm 2 for 2 for White House visits during shitty presidencies.  If I make it there a third time the apocalypse will surely be upon us.

This being the end of November, Christmas was in full swing!





I could've swore when I did the tour back in 2005 cameras weren't allowed.  I distinctly remember carrying only my metro card and my house keys in my pocket, as I couldn't bring my phone with me.  My flip phone!

We then did the National Mall loop to see all the monuments, starting with the central focal point.

Washington Monument


Phallic objects are always best viewed from a distance.

WWII Memorial


NoDaks represent!


The genius who took this photo for us suggested we go to a different state to get better light.  Why, pray tell, did he think we were posing in front of North Dakota in the first place?!

Vietnam War Memorial


This one always does me in.  I don't know why, but it hurts the worst.

Lincoln Memorial


And my second walk down Forest Gump memory lane of this trip:


Korean War Memorial


WWI Memorial


All of this in just one morning!  One of the many things I love about DC, you can spend as much or as little time as you want seeing these things, and you can't go wrong either way.  And the expenditures thus far?  $0.00 USD.  The perfect place for an intern budget!

By this time we were ready to sit, relax and eat.  Before this trip I was unaware that the North Dakota Farmers Union, of which Jenna is an esteemed member, owned farm-to-table restaurants in DC.  So of course that was our choice for lunch!


I went with the most farmhouse dish I could locate - meatloaf - and was not disappointed.  It came with a side of Brussels sprouts, which Jenna had never eaten before!  You can take the girl out of North Dakota...

Smithsonian Museum

Because of our tight timeline we had to be highly selective in which Smithsonian museum in which to spend our time.  For me, the ultimate will always and forever be American History, so that's where we spent our afternoon.  My personal favorites:



Julia Child's kitchen!  Mr. Roger's sweater!  But sadly I couldn't locate Dorothy's red slippers so my museum choice wasn't a complete success.

In addition to celebrity relics, we also saw actual celebrities here:


I don't really know much about Chrissy Teigen and John Legend, but I know they're popular with the youths.  This is another thing I love about DC.  You never go long before seeing someone famous.  Either DC nerd famous or legit famous like these two.

After a lovely happy hour reunion with several old friends which was too much of a whirlwind for me to photograph, Jenna and I then reunited with the extended in-law family for dinner, at our second North Dakota Farmers Union-owned restaurant of the day!


Where Jenna embarked on yet another first time culinary experience, mussels:


To be fair I was never an adventurous eater when I lived in NoDak, either.  I've got a decade head start on her so I can't be surprised by all the things she hasn't eaten.  There's a world outside of Applebee's out there, child, go out and eat it!

Also of note about this restaurant: do you remember last year the news story about a robot security guard that accidentally killed itself?  That happened right here!


I'm happy to report the robot has been nursed back to health and is in tip top crime fighting shape.

The next day, before getting back on the tourist trail, we first made a stop at my university's DC office to greet my colleagues who I only get to see once or twice per year when they come Down Under.



The view from the roof is exceptional:


I wouldn't mind a transfer to the US office!  But no time for career moves now.  Gotta keep touristing!

US Capitol tour


I actually hadn't seen the view of the Capitol from this angle before, because during my time 12 years prior there was major construction going on.  From this vantage point it made it feel like it was my first time being there!  But the exterior shot was the end of the tour.  It started back at home:

Office of Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
There are two ways to get a tour of the US Capitol.  Through the official visitor center (the aforementioned construction project) or through your senator or congress(wo)man's office.  I chose the latter because I was the tour guide on tons of these tours.  Some days it felt like that's all I did as an intern!  Plus I wanted to meet a corn fed local like ourselves and get the tour through the eyes of a NoDak native.

Womp womp, our intern tour guide was actually from California, which was a slight disappointment.  But I did get to retell the tale of the time Barbara Boxer (former Cali senator) was a bitch to me in an elevator, so there was a silver lining.  You probably don't know this but senators and congresspeople have their own dedicated elevators in the Capitol and there are public elevators for the rest of us plebs.  Babs saw someone she knew in the commoner elevator that I was in so she decided to gate crash at the last second as the doors were closing.  How was I to know she'd stoop to flying in coach with us, so I should hold the door for her?

Anyway, here are the Capitol highlights.

Statue of Freedom


This is a replica of the statue at the top of the building.

Old Supreme Court Chamber


Where the Supreme Court met from 1810 to 1860.

Crypt


Was originally meant to be George Washington's tomb.  Spoiler alert: he's not buried here.

Rotunda


The tallest point you see from the exterior, connecting the House and Senate chambers.

The exquisite fresco on the ceiling is called The Apotheosis of Washington:


Does that mean George?  Or the city itself?  I do not know.

Statuary Hall


Fun fact: each state has 2 statues of notable citizens located somewhere throughout the Capitol.  Not all fit into this room, but many are there.  One of North Dakota's is here, John Burke, an old timey governor I'd never heard of, even after a semester of intense North Dakota history in junior high.  Our second statue?  Look to the failed US dollar coin for a hint.


I think having Sacagawea as on of North Dakota's statues makes perfect sense, as we're the only people who can pronounce her name correctly.

Another thing you probably don't know is how the House/Senate office buildings are connected to the actual Capitol building.  There's a fair bit of distance between the buildings, and with security getting in and DC weather being what it is it's not practical for people to go outside and back in again.  Enter, the Capitol subway system:


I'd classify this more as a trolley than a subway, but there is also a parallel airport-esque subway in operation.  I didn't get a picture of that one (our Californian guide didn't appreciate the ways of us farm folk who like to take our time) but I do remember it fondly because that was the first (of two) times I saw Obama in the flesh.  This was 2005, remember, his first term in the Senate.  But even then I knew.  I knew who I was seeing and exactly where he was headed.

We visited the Senate gallery, but you'll have to watch C-SPAN to see that because you can't take cameras or anything in there.  I don't know exactly who the senator was that we saw talk, but he was very much opposed to "THE GOP TAX SCAM"!

Another thing you probably don't know is that when these speeches are given nobody else is there besides their own staff, some high school kids and a stenographer.  It's assumed that every other senator is sitting at their desk listening intently.  Not so.  The only time everybody shows up is for a vote, and even then they are milling about, not sitting.  This is why every office (every front office, every Chief of Staff - every office) has a TV permanently tuned into C-SPAN (or if the floor is quiet, a cable news channel suited to that office's particular political leaning).  Why show up when you can just see what you need to see on TV?

Library of Congress



This entire trip wouldn't have happened without Jenna's peculiar and super ridiculous obsession with the Library of Congress.


This girl is obsessed!  She read a book - which one I have no idea - that got her interested in the place.  But who am I to judge?  I did the exact same thing to Leipzig, Germany a few years ago and went so far as to visit there alone (and I hate traveling alone)!

 It really is quite lovely.


With historical merit.


However given the choice I'd much rather visit the National Archives Museum and our old friends the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.  But this trip wasn't about me, it was about baby sis getting her fill.  Of the Library of Congress.

To cap off the day we called our parents to check on her kids as we swung through Chinatown on our way to pub trivia.


I only had two full days there, though Jenna stayed a few more days with her extended in-laws.  They graciously offered to drive me to the airport via the one attraction I had never been to before.

Washington National Cathedral



The cathedral, the second largest church in America, is in a swanky neighborhood not easily accessible by Metro and is not free.  My intern days were before Uber and a half decent paycheck, so it got passed by back in 2005.


It sustained significant damage from an earthquake in 2011 so I'm glad I ticked it off the bucket list while I still can.  That same earthquake closed the Washington Monument to visitors so who knows what will happen when the next big one hits!

I had such a good time with my baby sis and hanging out with her extended in-law family who, like me, promptly exited stage left on small town living the first chance they got.  Don't ever let anybody tell you that NoDak girls aren't out there conquering the world.

One more time for the cheap seats at the back: I love DC!