Saturday, July 21, 2012

Norway Review Pt 3

I'm really missing the seemingly perpetual daylight of Norway.  The colours of the sky in the wee hours of the morning are so gentle, full of pastels and does not resemble a sunrise or sunset.  There was a noticeable difference between Molde (the most north I went) and Oslo.  It didn't throw off my sleep like I expected.  When I first got home, it felt like I returned to the shorter days of fall.

I had high hopes for Bergen because of their famous fish market.  The vendors actually have cooked food and will also prepare their catch for you.  There were large vats of steamed mussels and flat tops with fish and shrimp being seared.  And lots of people offering free tastings of smoked and sashimi grade salmon.  You can buy vacuumed sealed packages to take home.  All in a compact area.

Me?  I was ready to eat.  I tried their prawns and squid.  Preparation of the food didn't include a lot of seasoning so the flavour of the fish could come through.  I have to admit, the food didn't wow me but I was happy to participate and give them my business.  The vendors were super friendly and were happy some people were interested in eating vs just taking up space photographing their stalls.  Norwegians are serious about doing business.  I washed my lunch down with some deliciously sweet cherries. 

The Bryggen area of Bergen is where the shopping is concentrated.  The alleyways between the old wooden buildings (Merchant Houses) are deep and filled with artists studios -- jewellery, hand knit items, paintings, wood work etc.  I loved that.  You could spend hours just looking at all the art.

Bergen is popular place for visitors and the city is large enough to handle it.  One thing I try and do when I find myself in a new place is visit a local supermarket if I can find one.  I want to see what people buy for food.  We've seen some crazy food items over the years.  From what I could gather, Norwegians cook (unlike the Germans).  The supermarket I went into was "large" -- Remember large in Europe does not mean Costco...

And true to Scandinavian design, the food packaging, notably their canned goods were beautiful!  How does one make a can beautiful you ask?  By surrounding it with a label that looks like and is the quality of a well done magazine ad, that's how.  From dog food to canned soup, they were like designer cans!  Who would have thought?  When was the last time you saw an artistic black and white photograph on a can?  It was in this supermarket where I finally bought myself a bottle of the famous Olden water as well as some more of my recently discovered chewy candy -- The sour kinds are the best!

The itinerary I sailed is only done once a year by the company I went with.  They spend a couple of weeks of June in the upper half of Norway and another couple of weeks in the lower half.  I'd be lying if I didn't admit I want to go north of the Arctic Circle with them in the coming years. 

Cruising isn't for everyone.  Some might find the movement of the boat difficult.  Personally I like being on the water so it didn't bother me.  Mainly it was a means to get me to where I wanted to go at a certain comfort level (I like my sleep and privacy).  Honestly, I didn't care for all the shows and various entertainment they had on the ship.  I wasn't there to "get my money's worth" in volume of food consumed either.  I found the evening 5 course meals too heavy for my liking.  So I opted for Sushi or Indian or Asian instead.   There were 6 restaurants on board. 

Satellite Internet and cell phone service is spotty when the ship was in a fjord (which was a lot of the time) and because of satellite regulations, even docked in Oslo, there was next to no signal.  So if staying connected is important to you, you'll end up spending a lot of money battling the ultra slow Internet at $0.75 a minute.  I purchased a small package so I could email D and complete my airline check in.  It took forever and cost $50 for 90 min (which went fast). 

One aspect of this cruise I did enjoy were the lectures.   They had an Astronomer from Australia as well as a Political Science professor on board each give a series of 5 lectures.  One of the astronomy lecture days coincided with the announcement of the discovery of the Boson Higgs particle so we got an extra talk about it.  Plus, we found out that a fellow guest actually worked on the flap mechanism and the thermo insulation of the Hubble Space Telescope!

The poli sci prof spoke about the history of Norway and Sweden and how they had completely different viewpoints on world trade which has been critical in their development as countries and to their status today.  Norway was looked upon as Sweden's "poor brother" for a long time.  Not any more. 

He also covered viking history and their explorations and how viking heritage is still alive today in how tough and independent the people are.  Norway is a harsh country weather wise to live in with a large majority of people in rural areas.  It's not surprising why Norway doesn't want to be part of the EU and is cautious with any NATO efforts.   

My cursory description above does not come close to the the depth of what was covered in the lectures.  I was pleasantly surprised with the level of information taught.  Having never taken a course in poli sci, I found it all very interesting especially now that I have been to a number of places already.  It helped me to tie things together on a bigger scale than just studying one country at a time.

I however have taken a course in Astronomy.  Because I was in Sciences, I chose electives as far away from science as I could.  Or so I thought.  Italian renaissance history, Modern Canadian Literature, Gothic Cathedrals of France...

Turned out Astronomy was all physics!  I was hoping for beautiful photos from the Hubble telescope, learning about galaxies, supernovas, red giants... Instead we were calculating distances back to the Big Bang using Einstein's and Hubble's equations and theories.  It was a bit of a nightmare although it gave me an eye opening realization of how small and insignificant our world is compared to what's out there.  Here's a beautiful excerpt.

The timing of the astronomy lectures and Wimbledon (I ended up watching Federer play 3 matches) brought back a forgotten memory.  The guy I was dating at the time was also taking the same elective and he was uber competitive.  When he creamed me in the first couple of quizzes, I took it upon myself to make sure it wasn't going to happen again.  Even though I had 30 hr/wk in classes and labs, I went in for extra tutorial sessions, 8 in fact.  He didn't clue in I was getting better until I was able to help him out with a calculation late in the term. 

Well, he didn't take it well and we broke up shortly before I kicked his behind in the course.  The men's semi final tickets in Centre Court I managed to win us via Wimbledon's international lottery ended up unbought.  The Me today would have gone by myself.

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