The Move to Oslo
April 21, 2009 § Leave a comment
Welcome to a new chapter. One where you are really here, alone, in this city. One where you make your own days without relaying the day plan to someone else. One where this is becoming more and more of a reality. I’ve said goodbye to overstayed welcomes and restless isolation. No longer the fresh air of the south islands but the fresh air of the city by the sea, the air of opportunity and progress. On the trip up to Oslo from Tjøme this morning I caught myself recalling the thoughts I had when my cousin Ola first picked me up from the airport two months ago. I had experienced an attack of fear and anxiety and doubted suddenly whether or not this was a good idea. Now here I was, on my way to my new apartment in Oslo. Is this really possible? Have I really stumbled around in the unknown and found myself here? I’m not even in a state of shock because the comfort I feel here is so natural. I feel as though, out of all the places I could be in the world, this is where I am meant to be now, in this exact moment. I have yet to find a job, learn the language and enroll in school, yet I still feel such a sense of achievement. This finally feels real.
I’m sitting at a corner coffee shop on the opposite block of my apartment building. I’m so happy to finally be in the city, not to mention general civilization. The shop is quite large with many tables and counter seats and populated by a extremely diverse group of people. While ordering my drink I blanked out and had to tell the barista I didn’t understand what he had said. He immediately asked me where I was from and probed my response when I told him California. He told me that he was from San Diego and had moved here five years ago with his wife, adding that he didn’t move for “the surf and sandy beaches.” I couldn’t help but get excited at the chance to have a coherent conversation with a stranger. I’m finding that the deep level of the unfamiliar here is causing my heart to race at the slightest reminder of home. I was hardly aware of how much of my personality, my individual existence, was defined and symbolized by my language and culture. I am curious whether or not a firm understanding and acceptance of the language and culture here will allow me to again feel that same sense of identity.
I’ve absolutely fallen in love with my new neighborhood. It was quite lucky that we got this place the way we did. Christian and I spent days looking for apartments online, searching through and translating hundreds of ads and sending almost a hundred emails. All the places that were in our price range were simply studio apartments with only about 54 square feet of space. When responding to the ads we decided to double our chance by sending one request in Norwegian and another in English. While I only got a total of two responses for my detailed English e-mails, Christian got at least twelve for his one-liner Norwegian ones. In the end, most places turned us down because they claimed that the space was simply not large enough for two people. I found myself immensely frustrated with the fact that we were ready to pay and move in yet denied in defense of our own comfort. Now, I’m not quite familiar with the traditional layout of condos/apartments in the U.S. but the ones we’ve seen here are definitely interesting. Almost all the places we saw have heated floors and huge-wall size arrangements of windows. The heated floors are obviously for the snow season and I’m guessing that the large windows are to let in as much light as possible during the dark winter months. Most “kitchens” had a small counter top with a sink and two stove top rings and a cabinet system composed of several drawers and a small refrigerator. One of the biggest adjustments had to do with the bathrooms. Almost every place we looked at showed simply a mounted shower head as the shower; no curtain, no glass, no doors. The bathroom is essentially a large shower with a sink and toilet built in as the walls and floor are made with tile or marble. It will definitely be something to get used to.
After trudging through at least eight denials, I received a message from my cousin’s friend Nadine telling me that she decided to move out the following week and wanted to know if we were interested in renting her place. I screamed and accepted, without even seeing the place or learning any details about it. I was fully satisfied by the prospect of having a place to live and renting from someone we knew and would be able to communicate with.
We arranged for me to arrive in Oslo on Friday to meet with Nadine and look at the place. When arriving in the city center I got a text saying she would be a bit late because she was waiting for a doctor’s appointment. My map-quested directions from the bus terminal to the apartment were of no help. After getting completely disoriented and drained from dragging my suitcase around the center I gave up and hailed a cab. I’ve mentioned before how expensive things are here and cab rides are not excluded: it cost the equivalent of $20.00 for the four minute ride to the apartment building. I later found out that you are not supposed to tip the cab drivers because they charge so much in the first place. I headed out immediately to find a bank, since I needed to open an account and pay for the apartment. Stores here in Norway close extremely early and have even earlier closing hours in the summer. I was lucky to find one just around the corner but found out that it had already closed for the day, at 3:30 p.m. on a Friday. I also found out that banks aren’t open at all on the weekends. I’ve got to train myself to be more efficient with my errands in the mornings if everything is going to be closing so early in the afternoon.
After finding a convenient posting spot against a concrete post, I gave Christian a call in order to relay the vibe of the neighborhood. I can tell he is frustrated with his inability to move down here at this moment and I advised him to enjoy as much of these last couple weeks as possible. My phone cut off mid-sentence and alerted me that my card was empty. Christian called me back and we finished our conversation as I made my way to the nearest 7-11. Here in Norway you are only charged for outgoing calls and messages which is lovely when you don’t make the calls. The 7-11’s here are much smaller than those in the U.S. and have more of a bakery feel to them. After purchasing a hundred kroner worth of Chess brand phone credit. I made my way to the corner coffee shop and ordered a large black coffee.
I had just sat down when Nadine called me to tell me she was home. I ordered another coffee and a chocolate crossant and made my way to the building. After she buzzed me in, I began lugging my bags up the marble staircases. I was so focused on effectively carrying my bags and ascending at a normal pace that I didn’t notice Nadine as she jumped down the steps ahead of me. We hit it off immediately and spent several hours talking over coffee. The apartment was stunningly perfect and Nadine’s hospitality could not have been any better. Since she will be living down the street at a colleagues apartment, she is leaving all the furniture, kitchenware, travel books, movies and TV. She then sweetened the deal by adding that she had not one, but two bikes she didn’t use and told me we could use them whenever we wanted. At one point I was so overwhelmed that I was simply at a loss of words and just kept shaking my head and smiling.
After sitting for a several hours, enjoying some white wine and talking about everything from travel to life in America, we decided that we would go out and grab a bite to eat in the city. Nadine told me that we could stay out longer and she could set up a sleeping arrangement for me in the living room so that I wouldn’t have to make my way to the outskirts of town to stay with my grandparents so late in the night. I felt so excited to experience the Friday night life of Oslo. By the time we were heading out the door it was already ten and with my experience with the early closing of the bank that afternoon, I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to find any place to eat.
We stopped at the corner convenience store, called Deli de Luca, apparently fashioned after a famous deli in the states. Luckily enough the store is open 24/7 and is perfect for late night needs. We purchased bus tickets from the cashier, since they are 12 kroner (about two dollars) cheaper than when you purchase them on the bus. I love the bus stops here because they have an electronic screen that tells you the bus number, destination and how long until it arrives. This feature because it will make it so much easier to figure out how to get around. Our bus wouldn’t be arriving for six minutes so we decided to walk to the next stop.
The brisk air felt refreshing as we walked and Nadine pointed out some key shops along the street. Occasionally we passed young girls in short dresses and heels, and I shivered in response to their obvious discomfort. The main street was bustling with a plethora of small cafes and bars and crowded with tables that flowed onto the sidewalks. After attempting several locations we settled on a packed tapas bar and maneuvered our way to the first empty bar seats. Our meal was amazing, consisting of a variety of small yet exquisite dishes. We spent several hours talking, observing the rising drunkenness of the surrounding bar inhabitants, and washing our meal down with glasses of chardonnay. I felt so much progress in this moment. Here I was in a new country, with a girl I’d just met, enjoying a typical night on the town. Almost as if nothing had really changed, just another night of bar hopping with a friend.