Thursday, 31 July 2008

Fun Facts About Norway

NB: Am highly likely to get off is my way...

1. Norwegians really like cream. I got in trouble when I got a bowl of fruit salad with just a tiny dollop of cream. Apparently it is not the Norwegian Way. Apparently the Norwegian Way is 1 third fruit to 2 thirds cream. Seriously. They were quite affronted.

2. Norwegians have a billion languages (slight exaggeration). They actually have heaps of dialects though. And two written languages that were invented. One is a bit like Danish and one is a mix of the dialects. And some people get very very passionate about the written language that they like using. If you would like a THOROUGH analysis of the differences in the languages, the political implications of each, and which dialects sound sexy let me know and I will put you in touch with Kamilla. I would try to tell you here but if I get it wrong I fear there will be dire consequences.

3. Norwegians have a plethora of political parties and each party tends not to get more than like 30% of the vote so they form coalitions. I will get the following wrong, but I know there is a red party and a socialist party and a left party and a farmers party and a populist party and a right party and a christian party and a centre party. I think.

4. They have extra vowels!
oh dear. i was going to explain the different vowels to you but I am on a Swedish computer and they have different extra vowels. Sorry.

5. They also have a whole new kind of cheese in Norway, made with whey instead of curds if memory serves. It is brown. It tastes bad. But you haven't been to Norway without trying it. Try a piece. Don't buy a block.

6. Vikings did not have horns on their helmets. Very. Upsetting.

7. Norway only has 4 million people. No wonder they liike exercise, you'd need to hike several kilometres just to see another human.

8. Norway won Eurovision in 1985 and 1995. If you cannot sing both of these songs, you are not Norwegian.

I have more fun facts but I have run out of internet time. Sad.

Reasons that Norwegian Trains are Better than Swedish Trains:

1. On Norwegian trains, the conductors answer your questions. They do not:
a) laugh at you
b) tell you the train is full and then
c) tell you to get on anyway whilst
d) suggesting with another Swedish laugh that you sit in the luggage rack.

2. On Norwegian trains one is able to buy a ticket. The conductor does not tell you his machine is broken and suggest that you get one at station where you change trains (a station in the middle of nowhere where you are informed that the train is full. see point 1.)

3. On Norwegian trains, you get a seat. You also get a blanket and an eye mask and ear plugs. Simple process. As opposed to a variety of seating options none of which are clear. And when the conductor sells you a ticket on a Norwegian train you get a seat, rather than having angry Swedes and tourists kicking you out of seats. The conductor does not then inform you that your ticket was just to 'go with the train' rather than sit in it.

4. On Norwegian trains the doors don't try to close on you, breaking off two of your badges which you then have to search for on the dirty floor.

5. On Norwegian trains, people aren't sitting in a tiny aisle and your bag doesn't get caught on them leading to it opening and your jar of peanut butter falling out and the lid breaking and Swedish women laughing at you as if it is your fault and NOT THEIR DAMN TRAIN'S FAULT WHICH EVIDENTLY IT IS!

It wasn't so bad in the end. I upgraded to a cochette, or sleeping room, where there were bunks and I got a seat and then a bunk. I also met a charming Dutch single mother and her loud but cute son. When I turn my travels into a hilarious coming of age saga I think I will have the main character* have a wild affair with said Dutch woman, move to Holland, don clogs, pick her tulips and make happy. She was hot.

* Shall we call the main character May? or Eve. Not Eve. A little too biblical for a coming of age saga methinks.

A note to those judging my complaining and think I am a whinger when I have such luxury and if I were somewhere else I would get a corner of a people stuffed carriage and not and bunk near a charming Dutch woman and her loud but cute son. Please understand that if I were in a third world country or even a second world country, or even a first world country that isn't in Scandinavia I would be a lot more patient. But this place is like super rich and I am paying through the nose just to breathe Scandinavian air so excuse me if I have slightly high standards.

I am tired.

I love you all.


Tuesday, 29 July 2008

show us ya fjord

I found this quote in Orlando by Virginia Woolf and it seemed like a good place to start...

´Green in nature is one thing, green in literature another. Nature and letters seem to have a natural antipathy; bring them together and they tear each other to pieces. The shade of green Orlando now saw spoilt his rhyme and split his metre. Moreover, nature has tricks of her own. Once look out a window at bees among flowers, at a yawning dog, at the sun setting, once think ´how many more suns shall I see set´etc., etc. (the thought is too well known to be worth writing about) and one drops the pen, takes one´s cloak, strides out of the room, and catches one´s foot on a painted chest as one does so. For Orlando was a trifle clumsy.´

I sympathise with author and character. Except my painted chest is an oversized suitcase on wheels and I do not have a cloak (if only). I am not going to describe how beautiful Norway is. Look at the photos. Or come here yourself. Though if you do come to Norway, heed the following:

1. Norway is super expensive. Coffee & cake $15. A room in a youth hostel at least $40. Average museum ticket $20. Finding out we´ve all been pronouncing fjord incorrectly...priceless.

2. Norway expects you to be fit and healthy. They like steep and high things. And they have a thing for massive outdoor museums. To go from one exhibit to another at your average Norwegian museum, expect to walk at least 2 km. Seriously.

2.a If not outdoor, museums (such as the Nobel Peace Centre) are likely to have extensive computer based exhibits that take forever to navigate and are so shiny and over produced that they are difficult to get much information out of. I say back to basics people, back to basics! That said, the basics of the stuffed polar bears and seals in the Ålesund museum kind of distressed me...but I digress -

3. Norway breeds pretty people. Prepare to feel short and round. I also recommend commencing daily massage of your cheek bones to make them higher. And find some way to grow skin like honey.

and now for a little narrative rambling...

I arrived in Oslo very early in the morning on July 7th. It was cold and raining and I was alone. I walked to my youth hostel on top of a hill (the first of many tall Norwegian items to scale) and felt a little lost and confused. You see, I have discovered that when I am alone my emotions work to far greater extremes (yes, yes, I am MORE moody). One moment - such as when I was sailing on a fjord in beautiful sunshine - I feel free and wonderful, an independant traveller taking on the world. The next moment, something goes wrong and I am useless, hopeless, disorganised. Lost... Devastated... And then, ooh! Something pretty! Isn´t life grand!

A high point was my arrival in Bergen, after a beautiful journey from Oslo. Alone, I was not ashamed when tears came to my eyes over the beauty of the town. I found out later that it rains 70% of the time in Bergen, but I missed this rain. I had picturesque sunsets, moseys across the pier and the frisson of walking through forest at midnight feeling alive and even like someone who may enjoy exercise just a little bit.

This luck and good fortune continued when I failed to catch a bus and instead climbed aboard the Hurtigruten (a word I am yet to master the pronounciation of). You can get a cheap ticket ship if you don´t book a sleeping cabin so this is what I did. I sat in a jacuzzi as we sailed out of Bergen, swam laps the next morning at 7 before disembarking at Ålesund. I should mention that this was one moment when it was truly wonderful to be a solo traveller. I felt like a stowaway, surrounded by middle aged German tourists, wandering through the deserted ship at 1am searching for a corner to sleep in. It was eerie and amusing and I imagined I was in a certain X Files episode set on an abandoned cruise ship...I imagine about 2 people who read this will actually know what I am talking about here...

But, my travels seem intent on forcing me to use the cliche of a rollercoaster because no sooner had I trumphantly disembarked in the art deco town of Ålesund* than my luck began to drain...

*Ålesund is built entirely in the art deco style because it burnt down in 1904. I know a lot about the places I have visited, about the leprosy hospital in Bergen, the sculpture park in Oslo, the 11th century church in Trondheim etc etc...but I figure if you want to know facts and history you can look at wikipedia. or come to norway. so i am writing about me.

where was i...oh yes...a turn for the worse. So I lost my watch in Oslo and funnily enough one is not able to charge one´s phone when one is sleeping in the cafeteria of a cruise ship. So I set off from Ålesund to go to my couch surfing host´s farm in Slyngstad, without phone, watch, or her address. Kamilla was to meet me at 10pm. My bus dropped me off at a small bus stop beside a road, about an hour from the nearest town (or so it seemed) at 9pm. I sat. I read. I thought gleefully that this was all a big adventure.

Then it began to rain.

I became convinced that more than an hour had passed, that Kamilla wasn´t coming, that I was in the wrong place, that I would have to sleep in the Norwegian countryside. I truly started looking for the cosiest patch of scrub...

...and that´s when I started talking to myself. After 15 minutes or so of this I decided to hitch back to Ålesund. But before I could succeed a voice said "Excuse me but you are walking in the wrong direction." Kamilla came and saved me from certain death by reindeer attack and so off I went to quite possibly the most luxurious couch surfing experience anyone has ever had.

I think I shall start a business pimping Kamilla as a tour guide. I am sure her parents won´t mind a few more house guests...
"Small cottage on farm next to fjord with own bedroom (with ensuite.) Personal host well versed in every aspect of her country´s language, culture and history. Willing to give lessons. In the schoolhouse built in 1895 that is on her parents´property. Complete with antique globe."


Seriously though, I had such a good time. We picked blueberries from the side of the path (Kamilla says this is very common and unexciting but I don´t care). And we went hiking 3/4 of the way up a small mountain. (see note above, Norway hearts steep things). We watched Norwegian films and ate Norwegian food (though this was limited to a sort of porridge and chocolate because of my vegetarianism).

and then we went to a week long queer youth festival.
and it was awesome.

I am now in Lofoten, islands above the arctic circle famous for fishing, hiking and bicycling. So not really my ideal travel destination. But it is truly beautiful here and I´ve stayed in a lovely youth hostel that is in an old fisherman´s hut, dockside in Stamsund.

...and when I am alone walking along a beachside path near the foot of a mountain or rowing a small row boat or driving my rental toyota camry across yet another fjord...I just quietly practice counting to 15 in Norwegian.

I do prefer company, and look forward very much to seeing Liz in Edinburgh (after next week in Stockholm.) No doubt I´ll feel miserable again soon for I am catching an overnight train and I tend to end up in noisy carriages filled with couples chattering and babies crying and what sounds like broken hinges on the wheels. But I´ve heard Stockholm is very pretty so I´ll soon be gaily bounding through the streets taking too many photos and feeling on top of the world.

Love Maeve xxx

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Americans say the darndest things

I wrote the following quotes down. These people were crazy. and possibly oil tycoons. a man in his 70s and his two kids (in their 30s). I wasn't fast enough to note the conversation in which the father denounced global warming as a joke. i had been surreptitiously listening to them and when this started i laughed out loud and the daughter said 'look dad she's laughing at you.' anyway, i'll write creatively about norway asap but wish to be able to upload photos to match which i can't yet so for the moment read the following in a southern american accent:

'so i said to her sweetie if you're gonna be an illegal immigrant you really shouldn't be a republican'

on barack obama: 'you don't think he's a muslim? my inlaws think he's the spawn of satan! they think he's the devil! what do you think dad? are the alabama baptists just freakin out right now?'

daughter: 'my husband's best friend is getting married in prague. he met his fiancee there.'
father: 'so he's marrying a opposed to cash...'
daughter: '...oh she likes cash!'

'you know the woman who lives down the street she has triplets. and now she's about to pop out another set of triplets!....i guess she'll have to get another nanny'

'my friend she imports her help from the phillipines and she pays them like 1000 pounds a month. says she doesn't believe in the class system you know upper class and lower class. so she pays 'em heaps. doesn't believe in class, isn't that cute!'

'i don't mind rising oil prices, i get more from my oil stocks than i pay at the gas station.'

over and out.

Monday, 7 July 2008

London: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times

The Best of Times

1. Dolly Parton. I thought about leading up to this...putting things chronologically...then promptly changed my mind. I got to see Dolly live from a corporate box thanks to the brilliance of Nat. Well...thanks to her housemate who had the tickets. She offered them to Nat and when I started hyperventialting and listing obscure Dollysongs she asked if I could come too. Anyway I heart Dolly. I want to BE Dolly... sigh...a stadium filled with 14000 people in pink cowboy hats singing and dancing in time to 9 to 5...I can die happy.

2. Pride. The parade, kieron et al had a blast and...most importantly ended up marching with Ian McKellen* (see photo evidence). The parade is so crazy. Not like super organised mardi gras who have super awesome SMs that volunteer and where headsets. Oh no. We were able to just join in a group. And there were no baracades on the half the route. It was all DIY madness. I like Mardi Gras better. Sure ending in Trafalga Square is pretty spectacular, but I'll take participants I know and cheap fireworks any day.

* Ian McKellen wears natty linen jackets and cream converse that are perfectly clean. I think dirt just bounces off him and runs towards lesser male actors like Tom Cruise. I'd say Tom would have dirty converse. Ian is clean clean clean.

3. Visiting my Nan. (secretly I think of her as Nanny Bingo still but I think Nan sounds more adult.) I went over for lunch (quiche, jacket potatoes, apples & custard...essex soul food) and it was lovely. She has so many stories, all delivered with immaculate comic timing as required. 'When I met Fred I was so impressed because he brought me roses...then the next week carnations...then I found out he was working in a morgue!' It was fascinating to hear my mother's childhood stories told by her mother. And I really did hoot with laughter more times than I can count. By the way, if you ever need protection, my Nan fended off two armed intruders a few weeks ago. She was in the paper. 'Plucky 80 yr old pensioner fights off home invaders.' AND, she gave me £30 from her bingo winnings!

4. Sitting Reading reading sitting. In parks, in cafes, in bed, on the tube, on the bus, on the nightbus, in the bath. Have finished The Vintner's Luck and I Capture the Castle.

5. Kieron, the gay Irishman I met on the bus on the way home from a mediochre London Pride. We made fun of an American tourist and he has a cousin called Maeve and a cousin called Grainne and he looked very very much like Ian and that made me very very happy.

6. Going to meet Nicole and having her suggest we drink beers she smuggled from a work do in a park can take the girl out of Bathurst...

The Worst of Times
NB: by worst I mean not quite as good. I am on holidays. The standards are lifted.

1. Dying my hosts bathtub and towels pink with hairdye. When they really have been lovely hosts. Sorry Carol. Sorry Kathy.

2. Opera in the Park (please understand that the actual opera in the park with the actual picnic and the actual friends was absolutely wonderful. I speak only of the lead up...) So I turned up good and on time for Don Carlos on Thursday, picnic in hand. Then it rained on me. And I mean bucketed on me. Where were Liz, Carol & Sadie? Not there. Not even a little bit there. Fortunately the BP poncho man was. So I stood under a tree in a thunderstorm (stupid) wearing my fetching poncho. For half an hour. Would've been fine if the stupid smarmy wench on the screen hadn't said in her plummy accent 'well here I am in covent garden, but we are streaming live to canary wharf...where I think it might be raining...' And if she had pronounced singer with a hard g one more time while telling us that our view really was better than the view from inside the warm theatre...I tells ya... But salvation arrived in the form of a take-charge Liz Hayllar who found us blow up cushions and extra ponchos for sitting on. Sadie came with a feast and...just like all the other insane poms...we sat in the rain and watched 4 hours of opera. good times.

3. I promised MollyPenny i would not mention going out with them after pride. So I won't tell you that they never arrived like they said they would at 3pm at the women's stage in soho (napping they said they were...) or that drinks in Soho became drinks at Elephant & Castle while I was at Dolly. Or that when I arrived at Elephant & Castle they had decided to get out of the queue for Gay Shame and catch a bus to Vauxhall. We won't mention the £14 'official' women's afterparty in Vauxhall populated by what looked like:
a) straight women
b) teenagers
c) pensioners
d) us
No need to let you know that some of the rooms were half empty or that during the 'show' the women kept their clothes on. What's that about? I definitely mustn't tell you that we got ourselves just a little bit lost in Vauxhall and that if it weren't for Penny we all may still be wandering around London...or floating in the Thames. Oh and I promised not to mention that Penny sometimes doesn't recognise Molly. I will say that it was great to see them and that their friends were lovely and that Penny is an excellent dancer (I respect the posing in time with me more than words can say) and that I enjoy Molly's ruffles and hope they have a super time at the gay ball in gay Paris because I adore them both immensely.

4. Thinking all week that I had booked a 10.30am flight to Oslo. Realising that, no no, I had booked a 7.20am flight. I will be leaving at 3am to get there. I will be tired. I am not happy. Though on the other hand...

...Norway here I come!


The Blurb

For maevegobash: yeah, I just like thinking/writing/talking about myself. That's what blogs are for, right? For vegepalooza: I have been vegetarian for 25 years now - so that's always for me. My mothers cooked a storm up in the kitchen and I am carrying the torch filling my friends bellies at every opportunity. I love food and want to share my recipes, tips and tricks here to encourage creative vegetarian eating. There will also be a lot of vegan recipes for my friends with more willpower than me (sorry kids, I just love the cheese). Anyway enjoy, feel free to criticise and most of all Happy Eating!