Day 1 in Budapest

August 18, 2012 § 5 Comments

After Skjalg spent some time showing me around the apartment, we decided to go out and explore a little bit of the neighborhood. Skjalg showed me around our neighborhood, pointing out the different shops and grocery stores. We took out money at an ATM (since most cash is the most common form of payment). It feels so weird to hold notes with such high numbers on them. It was difficult enough for me to get used to Norwegian money and this is a whole new level of change. (1 US dollar is equal to 6 Norwegian kroner, which is equal to about 230 Hungarian Forints.)

We started towards a neighborhood about 10 minutes away from our apartment, near the Jewish Quarter. One thing I can’t help but notice is how clean the streets are. I don’t think I have seen any trash on any of the sidewalks yet and there is very little chewing gum dissolved into the pavement. I could feel the age of the streets and buildings, but it didn’t feel dirty or old. Instead, it felt freshly-swept and well-preserved.

We settled in at a café close to the gym that Skjalg wants to join. Since he found an apartment so early in the week-long apartment hunting trip at the beginning of the month, he had plenty of time to try out the different gyms in the area. Our waitress was very friendly and spoke decent English. She helped us pick out a table that was close to an outlet so that I could charge my computer and offered to bring us two Americanos and some fresh squeezed orange juice. We don’t have internet at our apartment and won’t be able to get it until we get our residency cards. Monday is a national holiday and Tuesday is my birthday, so we won’t be able to start the application process for our cards until Wednesday. We’re expecting that we will be without internet for another month or so. In the meantime, I am writing my blog posts at home and posting them when we visit a café. The majority of cafés offer free wifi to guests.

My half-eaten Mediterranean omelet 😉

Happy to have internet again!

After finishing breakfast at the café, we headed home to relax a bit before meeting the movers. The day before we left, Skjalg had asked me what I thought about hiring movers to help us move our stuff into our apartment. Moving out of our apartment in Oslo was no problem; we lived on the first floor and the truck was parked right in front of the apartment. Moving in, however, wasn’t going to be as easy. Skjalg got a quote from a company that offered 5 hours of moving help for 500,- ($85). I was a little conflicted at first – our move was already costing us a bit of money – but it ended up being the best decision of our whole trip. After all the packing, cleaning, driving, and horrible quality sleep we’ve had over the past couple of weeks, we were in no way fit to carry our stuff up 5 floors in 35°C (100°F). The movers were on time, friendly and effective. There were two of them: one older one who spoke a little english and a younger one who spoke almost no English at all.  Skjalg stayed down with the truck, helping them move things into the courtyard, and I stayed in the apartment and started unpacking our things.

When I headed out to get cold waters for Skjalg and the movers, Skjalg informed me that the pink bottles were still water. I hadn’t even considered that I wouldn’t have been able to tell which was sparkling and which was flat – a good thing too, because the bottle label sure doesn’t help:

What am I?

It felt so good to get everything into the apartment. It signified the end of a stressful and demanding process. The move was a success and it made me happy that all of our planning worked out in the end.

Once the movers had left, we delivered the truck and moseyed back home. Skjalg said that one of the best restaurants serving Hungarian dishes was right down the street from our apartment. We were looking at the menu when the owner popped his head out the door, pointed at his watch and said “30 minutes”. It was already 17:30, but Skjalg said that it seems that Hungarians tend to eat dinner later in the evening.

Since it was our first day in our new home, we decided to get a bottle of bubbles to celebrate the move and the beginning of this new chapter. Oh the joy of being able to buy alcohol on a Saturday – and at a supermarket no less! Norway is very strict about alcohol sales. Beer and cider are sold in grocery stores but cannot be purchased after 20:00 on a weekday and 18:00 on a Saturday. Any other alcohol must be purchased from a store called Vinmonopolet (translated: the wine monopoly). Vinmonopolet’s opening hours are pretty restricted, I think they close at 18:00 on weekdays and are open on Saturday from 09:00-15:00. They are also close on holidays and sometimes even the day before a holiday. The Norwegian government definitely wants you to plan ahead when it comes to alcohol. In all honestly, it wasn’t the biggest hassle…but I found it frustrating when we wanted a bottle of wine with dinner or to celebrate a special occasion.

I love the supermarkets here. Everything is so new and exciting and the selection is so much more varied than I am used to. I even got excited about the shopping baskets! There was a stack of traditional red shopping baskets at the entrance and next to it there was a line of these odd, grey, wheeled contraptions. They reminded me a lot of a small, shorter version of the trolleys you use at the airport to push your luggage around. I first placed the basket on the bottom “shelf” but then Skjalg saw an older woman who had it locked into the top somehow, so he changed it. It was so easy to move around and so compact… I probably looked like a crazy person testing it out.

Grocery shopping is not going to be easy, but it’s not going to be as challenging as I expected. There were a fair amount of imported products and many had pictures on the packaging. The price conversion is a little intimidating. I found myself standing in front of products for a lot longer than I should have:

“399. That seems like a lot. Is that a lot? That one is 579. Is that a big difference in price? 799. That is definitely too much…ahhhh! Just pick one!”

I had to stop looking at the prices and just grab what we needed. The greatest part was at the checkout station. It’s pretty well known that Norway is the most expensive country in the world for a lot of things – and food is definitely one of them. To help illustrate how expensive it is and why paying was so much fun, I’ll compare our grocery shopping experience with one in Norway. (We estimated the Norwegian prices – so they may vary a bit – and we’ve considered the cheapest bottle of sparking wine. The one we got here wasn’t.)

About 300% more expensive in Norway than in Hungary

In US dollars, that’s $82 in Norway vs. $29 in Hungary. I would have included the Hungarian item prices if I could understand the receipt…that will just have to wait until I’ve been here a little longer. It’s almost the equivalent of buying the bottle of sparkling wine and getting everything else for free. It is going to feel SO good to go grocery shopping and not freak out about how much it cost. We’re not careless spenders when it comes to food, but it hasn’t stopped us from feeling guilty for spending money on the food we actually need.

Once back at home, we napped, nibbled on some hummus, and popped open the sparkling wine. At around 21:30, we headed back to the restaurant we had stopped by before. The restaurant wasn’t very busy; there were people sitting on the tables outside and it was about half full inside. We both decided to go for a full Hungarian experience and ordered roasted chicken paprika and beef stew, both served with homemade gnocchi. The food was amazing. The meat in both dishes was the most tender I have ever had. It is nice to have a nearby place to take people to when they come to visit. We weren’t so lucky with dessert… The first was a sort of fried square fruit pastry served with a cognac chocolate sauce. I’m not a big fan of liquor flavored desserts and this one was quite heavy on the liquor. The center fruit part and the chocolate sauce had very strong alcohol tastes. The second was an apple noodle dish with different spices and some mixed nut crumble. I wasn’t quite prepared for the varying textures and had never tasted anything like it before, so it was hard to appreciate the dish.

So ended our first day in Budapest. No complaints on this end!

Break-down of our Road Trip

August 18, 2012 § 2 Comments

I’ve written about our move from Oslo to Budapest in several different posts and thought it would be good to have a sort of summary post for those that are interested in the logistics.

Why did you drive down instead of taking a plane?

We spent a good few weeks discussing our different options. The apartment we were living in in Oslo came furnished, but we still had too much to just put it all on a plane. We decided that we would sell as much as we could and drive down with the rest. We didn’t have the option of leaving anything behind in Oslo and couldn’t see ourselves selling absolutely everything. I haven’t acquired too much in my three years since moving to Oslo (mostly just clothes, books, etc) but Skjalg had a good deal of valuable things. He ended up selling his snowboard and snowboarding gear, DVDs, printer, Playstation 3 with all his games and add-ons, school books, coffee machines, juicer, microwave and vacuum cleaner, and also gave away his rug, lamps, desk, bookshelves, folding chairs and toaster. The apartment in Budapest is also furnished, so we really only needed to take down personal things.

How we moved

A lot of hours were put into figuring this one out.

  • X Hiring a company to move everything for us
    • One company wanted 30.000,- ($5,000) plus cleaning costs and another wanted 750,- per hour ($125)
  • X Shipping our stuff
    • Public option was only available to companies and a private company wanted 40.000,- ($6,700)
  • X Renting a truck in Norway
    • Base price of 15.000,- ($2,500) and then more for extra kilometers and gas.
  • X Buying a truck in Norway and selling it in Budapest
    • Too much of a hassle on both ends, no guarantee that we would get our money back.
  • X Renting a car with a trailer in Norway
    • Most cars didn’t have hanger attachment, those that did were more expensive and didn’t include the actual hanger. When we found a hanger for a good price, we learned that we would have to pay an extra 25.000,- ($4,150) for driving the car out of Scandinavia.
  • X Borrowing a car from a family member or friend
    • None of our friends in Oslo owned a car and borrowing one from Skjalg’s family up in Bodø would have added 2-3 days of extra driving and about 5.000,- ($1,000) extra in gas.
  •  – Renting a car in Budapest and flying down to pick it up
    • Worked!

Skjalg searched around online for different car rental companies in Budapest. He wasn’t having any luck so he tried varying the search (trying to find the magic phrase): truck rental, van rental, moving rental, etc. He then used the User’s Guide to Hungary to find the word for “car rental” in Hungarian, googled it, and used the google chrome browser to translate the sites he found in the results. He emailed several different companies and waited a few days before calling to follow up. Most of the companies answered after he had been calling for a while, though some didn’t speak any english and just told Skjalg “send mail” (to which they never replied to). He tried booking online but either found that it wasn’t available or that they didn’t have that type of car. He finally got a couple of price offers by mail and responded to the one with the best price. They emailed back and forth several times: discussing GPS navigation possibilities, highway stickers, insurance coverage, cost of extra mileage, etc. They then sent a final offer, which Skjalg accepted. He sent another mail a couple of days later asking if they could deliver the car to our apartment in Budapest (a service that they offered for free on their site). He received no reply to this mail so he sent yet another mail and then called them for three days before he finally got a hold of someone that worked there. This man told him that they had no such car in their company. At this point we only had two days to find a car. Skjalg began yet another search for car companies online. One of the ones he contacted was called “Best hotel car rentals” and told him that they couldn’t confirm anything beforehand and that he should just show up the next day to see if they had the truck available. He googled for a bit longer and found the company that we ended up renting from, “Rent a Car – Auto”. The owner was out driving but said he would check if he had the truck we needed available during that period. He called soon after and told Skjalg that he could move some things around so that we could rent a truck that would be able to handle the long drive. The price included all costs, even unlimited miles and he spoke perfect English – which was a relief. The truck rental was 3.750,- ($625) – a fraction of the other options. This was paid in cash (as is quite normal in Hungary) and credit card was used to pay a deposit of 6.000,- ($1,000).

The car we rented

Citroen Jumper (Most likely one of the late 1990’s models)

Our fabulous ride!

The car was comfortable but loud, and looked like it had been around the block a couple hundred times. It wasn’t brand new, but it got us from A to B and back again.

Our trip

Skjalg and Kaja picked up the rental in Budapest on Monday morning and arrived in Oslo on Tuesday at around 23:00. We had Wednesday to pack the truck and finish cleaning. On Thursday we were to meet the landlord at 10:00 to turn in the apartment. He was running late, so we weren’t able to leave until noon.

I wasn’t the best at keeping track of our progress, but this is what I have scraped together from memory, text messages to friends and family, and from my service provider.

Thursday:

  • Driving time: 12.5 hours
  • Distance covered: 1050 km (652 miles)

12:00 – Left Oslo

13:30 – Entered Sweden

18:30 – Malmø, Sweden

20:30 – Entered Denmark

21:27 – Odensa, Denmark

24:00 – Hamburg, Germany

Friday:

  • Driving time: 13 hours
  • Distance covered: 1098 km (682 miles)

11:00 – Left motel outside of Hamburg

17:21 – Entered Czech Republic

22:06 – Entered Slovakia

23:30 – Entered Hungary

Saturday

  • Driving time: 1 hours
  • Distance covered: 89 km (55 miles)

8:30 – left hotel

10:00 – arrived in Budapest

All in all, we’re happy to have had the experience, but not looking to do a trip like this again any time soon 🙂

Welcome home, to Budapest!

August 18, 2012 § 1 Comment

We took it slow heading into the city. The road quality shifted a little towards the bad end of the spectrum and there was so much visual stimulation. I found myself overwhelmed by the size and quantity of the advertisements lining the highway. The billboards extended passed the traditional billboard-sized frame into some sort of do-whatever-you-want territory. I remember seeing one advertisement that was composed of one normal sized billboard framed by one 3D structure making it look like you were looking through the window of a house.

As we closed in on the city center, I simply fell in love. Budapest is absolutely, positively beautiful. The Danube river is alive with beautiful, foggy blue-green waters and numerous ferries. There are stunning, ornate buildings lining the river, as well as buildings carved into the rocky hillside and buildings with exposed brick. To me it is the quintessential European city – old, saturated with a rich, rich history, yet pumping with a modern pulse. As soon as we crossed the bridge from the Buda side to the Pest side, all of my fears, worries and stresses simply melted away. At that moment, there was no turning back. There was no point in fearing what was to come because there was no stopping it; it was coming whether I wanted it to or not. I was only a few minutes away from my new home with my best friend by my side and an endless sea of possibilities ahead of me.

Skjalg built up the excitement by announcing personal points of interest:

“This is our street! That’s our grocery store! That is our apartment building!”

I’d grown completely silent after we’d crossed the bridge into Pest. I was in a combined state of shock and excitement and overwhelmed by the constant supply of new information. This isn’t just the street that our vacation hotel is on or the grocery store that we will shop at for the next week or two. This isn’t momentary – this is it. My entire definition of home has been wiped clean and everything I am experiencing now is in the challenge to fill the empty space where “home” used to be.

Our street is right off of one of the main roads, but still relatively quiet. The doors to our apartment building are enormous slabs of carved wood that have been painted black. They open to a wide hallway that is separated into two parts: the first for trash bins and then four steps leading up to the second where the mailboxes are. A few steps further brings you into a tall, stone courtyard with large green plants. Each floor has its own walkway made of red tile and framed by a black iron fence. All of the apartments are accessed by this walkway and many of the tenants have created little gardens that weave through the iron fence in front of their apartment. It’s a beautiful little paradise in the middle of the city.

The elevator is an experience, to say the least. There is only enough room for two people and it feels very…raw. There is wood paneling on the inside, large metal doors at each floor and then smaller wooden ones inside the elevator that must be closed in order for it to move. The buttons resemble on/off buttons you find on heavy machinery and are quite fun to push. We live on the fourth floor, which is really the fifth – the first is really the second and the ground floor is labeled as “fsz” (which Skjalg pronouces “fissshhhhh”). I guess floor numbers really depend on what country you are in and sometimes even what building you are in.

Our apartment is PERFECT. I loved it from the first moment I came in the door. The ceilings are extremely tall, possibly four meters high (12 ft) and there is plenty of natural light. I could go in to more detail but will wait until I have taken some pictures. I could not imagine a more perfect fitting place for us at this point in our lives 🙂

On the road again: Czech Republic/Slovakia/Hungary

August 18, 2012 § 1 Comment

The transition from Germany to Czech Republic was beautiful. It felt like we were driving through the Tuscan countryside. I haven’t been to Italy before, so I am no scenery expert, but my Grandpa gave me many books about Italy when I was growing up – and most covered the wonder that is Tuscany. (My Grandpa Antonio is half Eritrean and half Italian – and very good about connecting us with our roots).

This is, unfortunately, the best shot I took while leaving Germany. I’ll blame the high speeds and millions of bugs that chose to end their lives on our windshield.

 

“Cool whip” peaks as we drove into Czech Republic

Czech Republic is definitely undergoing some renovation in the highway department – something that we learned the hard way. After about fifteen minutes into the country, the GPS guided us off the highway and onto a narrow country road that trailed off into the hills. Skjalg estimated that the maps he’d downloaded for the trip were about two or three years old and therefore did not account for the newly built roadway. We continued down the narrow country road for almost half an hour, following the re-routed GPS directions. Though stressful in the beginning, it quickly turned into an enjoyable experience. It was around 17:00/18:00 and the sunlight was soft, warm and glowing – my favorite time of day. The small towns we passed through were beautiful, with golden grass, tall oak trees and stucco buildings. We passed children racing on bikes, a girl riding her horse in a bikini, and various café goers enjoying the calm summer evening.

“This isn’t the main highway….”

Had it not been for a fair amount of other cars traveling the same road, we may have worried that we were on the wrong route. The traffic and speed eventually picked up and we were soon on our way back to the hustle and bustle of the main highway, where we were met with our second GPS challenge – an unfinished highway. As the two-lane highway we were driving on picked up, we found ourselves at an odd fork. Our lane split into two: one heading parallel to oncoming traffic and another veering off to the right. The GPS indicated that we continue straight, so we did.

“Uh, Skjalg, is this a one-way highway?!”

It wasn’t long before we realized that we were the only car in our lane and that all the cars behind us were continuing on the lane that veered off to the right. We were already too far for a quick, last-minute, and possibly illegal lane change, so Skjalg reduced his speed to just-above-crawling and we crossed our fingers that we wouldn’t meet another car head-on. The highway curved almost 270 degrees around a small hill so it was impossible to tell what was coming or where we were headed. Luckily, our lane broke off on its own, away from oncoming traffic. We then found ourselves on an unpainted, unmarked, and unfinished highway. There were no signs, no cones, nothing to mark that it was closed. There were about twenty or thirty parked work trucks but no people in sight. We found a narrow gravel path leading across the divide (couldn’t very well head back the way we came) and almost immediately spotted an entrance ramp for the highway that we had originally been on. There were no other cars around, but I’m sure the cars passing on the highway above us were entertained. Thinking back on it, the highway we were on when we first entered Czech Republic and the one we were led back onto, could very well be the same highway – just not connected yet. Maybe they started one end of the highway at the border and the other in Prague and are building them towards each other?

A small town we passed on our way

Prague was absolutely beautiful and I was happy that the route brought us right through the middle of it. It is very spread out and the streets are pretty intimidating, but it is definitely a city that I would like to visit in the future. If not for any other reason than to get some decent shots of it…

Prague at sunset

 

Leaving Prague

About 20 minutes after we left Prague, the roads…changed. The quality of the roads that is. Up through Prague, the roads were in great condition: smooth, easy turns, smooth driving surface, and cleanly painted lane lines. Our speed was the same, but the truck was jerking and rattling every second. It was almost as though there were raised strips of pavement, perpendicular to the road, that occurred every three meters (about 10ft). It was getting darker and Skjalg and I had to almost yell to hear each other over the shaking of the car. Skjalg tried to slow down slightly, but the flow of traffic was too fast to slow down enough and it was honestly just as bad no matter what speed he drove. At around 20:30, we were exhausted, completely drained from the long drive and horrible road conditions. I’m sure the roads were fine for a normal sized car, and more so in the left lane than the right, but for a large truck filled with furniture and boxes, it was a nightmare.

With about four to five hours ahead of us to Budapest, we began discussing whether we wanted to keep driving or call it a night. It wasn’t just an issue of getting to our destination, but also how and where we could safely park the truck. I turned on cellular data on my phone so that I could research parking options. The general consensus online was: don’t drive in Budapest. Many sites warned that finding parking in the center was close to impossible and that one could only park for two hours at a time. There are many, many parking structures but not all of them are guarded and Budapest does not have a good reputation when it comes to car safety. I eventually stumbled across a site that told of three different P+R (park and ride) parking lots that were guarded. These offered parking for a minimal fee and were located only several minutes away from major public transportation.

By the time I was done looking up our parking options, we were close to Brno: a city located near the border of Czech Republic and Slovakia. We passed through the city, reflecting on the time where we had actually considered studying there (Brno includes one of the medical schools one can apply to through Bjørknes – the school that hosted our applications). Once we left the city lights and continued into the darkness of the night, we decided that we should start looking for a place to sleep. Our timing was horrible because there wasn’t anything, for almost the entire way through Slovakia. We were nearing Bratislava when we saw the first “bed” sign and at this point we were only three hours away from Budapest. It felt too silly to spend the night in a hotel when we could just save the money and tough it out for a little bit longer. This was easier said than done. About an hour into Hungary, Skjalg got extremely tired (which is understandable after 12 hours of driving through Europe). The only light we saw going through Slovakia and Hungary came from the cars on the road and some sort of red lights in the distance – light reflectors, wind power generators, other cars… I honestly don’t know…. maybe aliens. The lack of street lamps and perfectly straight road made it impossible to concentrate and stay awake; it felt like being on a treadmill in complete darkness. We stopped off at the few rest stops we saw but the fresh air just made us more foggy headed. It was around midnight and it was getting to the point that we were just doing ourselves a disservice. So, at the first bed sign we saw, we pulled in for the night.

The place we stayed at could be most closely related to beer goggles when drinking. We were beyond tired, desperate almost, for a place to sleep and this place was still open, had a cheap, available room (200,- or $33), was right next to the highway, and there were several other cars packed with luggage in the parking lot, so we felt safe parking there. At this point in the trip – it was heaven. We took in our overnight bags and the extra suitcase that I had packed with important documents (in case the car or anything in it got stolen – over-prepared, I know). We felt like we had won the lottery as we ran up the marble stairs, using the little energy we had left to throw our bodies and chosen luggage in the direction of our room. That’s where the illusion ended. The room was cramped, sticky and beyond-warm. We opened the window but then realized that we weren’t really prepared to battle the array of bugs that would visit our faces during the night. The shower curtain was yellowish brown and there was some kind of long ant crawling around the drain. The bathroom floor displayed several hairs from a not-so-hygienic part of the body. The bed sheets were clean, but the comforters were clearly not washed with every visit. The bed itself wasn’t even made of a normal mattress; in fact, it looked more like a giant woven sofa cushion. We kept our shoes on until we were ready to fall asleep, quickly brushed our teeth, and settled into bed with just the cleaned sheets. When we woke about six hours later, we took a look around the room and decided to get out of there as fast as possible. There was no rush to get to Budapest, but there was no way we were staying there.

Staying the night at the hotel was totally worth it, despite the lack of cleaning and its close proximity to Budapest (it was only an hour away). Rather than finishing the drive the night before in our tortured, over-tired state, we were doing so almost completely refreshed and genuinely excited. I didn’t have to worry about Skjalg driving off the road and we could actually enjoy the scenic drive in the daylight. Hungary and, as I’ve mentioned, Germany and the Czech Republic, look a lot like what I imagine Tuscany to look like – and Hungary more than the others. We’ve been passing small farms and acres of corn fields for the entire trip, but the first vineyards we’ve seen are in Hungary.

We have yet to get to Budapest, and I am already falling in love with this country. I would have never, in my life, thought of visiting Hungary if you had talked to me three years ago. It could be because I never learned much about the country when I was growing up or that it has a smaller role in the cast of European countries covered in pop culture – I’m not sure.  I considered Italy, France, and England as must-see travel destinations, as those three seem to dominate the list when it comes to the general “countries to visit in Europe”. Since moving to Norway, my “travel horizons” have broadened; access to smaller, less advertised countries is cheaper, easier and more common. I will embarrassingly admit that I had never heard of Montenegro before I moved to Oslo. Hungary was such a foreign place to me. I honestly knew nothing about it, other than that its name was kind of funny and that it was somewhere in Central/Eastern Europe. Now? It’s the location of the next huge chapter of my life. It’s my home… and I love it.

On the road again – Denmark/Germany

August 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

We are hustlin’ our way through Germany! Skjalg had enough energy last night to get us all the way to Hamburg. On the drive up to Oslo, he and Kaja stayed at a decent motel about 60 km outside of Hamburg. Since Skjalg was feeling good and we were making good time, we decided to make that same motel our goal for the night. It wasn’t the nicest place I’ve ever stayed in, but it was clean and had a fresh, comfy bed. Breakfast was included in the fee and we were pleasantly surprised at the options available.

On our way out of Sweden yesterday afternoon, we stopped at a really nice rest stop. It felt like we were camping in a meadow in the Swedish countryside, even though the road was only several hundred meters away (about half a mile). We split a chicken salad and lay on the picnic benches or a few minutes to soak up a little bit of sun. After living in Norway for three years, I’ve picked up the characteristic sun-worshipping tendency of Scandinavians. When I first moved to Norway, I was so intrigued by Norwegians love for the sun. I remember one occasion specifically: when I was on my way down to the island of Tjøme (where I lived with my Aunt Vibeke for the first six weeks that I lived in Norway). The trip from Oslo to Tjøme is about two hours long and I spent most of the time surveying the Norwegian countryside. As it was March, and snow blanketed the ground, I expected most Norwegians to spend their time inside. It was a sunny day, and warmer than most, but definitely not “summer” weather. And yet, as we continued down the main road, I saw Norwegians sitting in lawn chairs in the middle of their snow covered patios and balconies. One man had even cleared a little circle in the snow and was sitting with his shirt off. Coming from Los Angeles – where I can really only remember it raining three or four times – I didn’t understand this “sun-worshipping”. Let’s just say that three winters in Norway has changed my mind; now I close my eyes and bask in the fleeting warmth of the sun along with the rest of them.

We’ve been good about stopping and taking breaks. It’s amazing how much of a difference five minutes of fresh air and stretching makes when driving for a long time. Driving in Germany is beyond stressful: drivers are either aggressive and impatient or leisurely and stubborn. Out of all the countries we are going through, the majority of the trip will be spent traveling through Germany. It’s a beautiful country, with plenty of fields, small farms and small towns. There are hundreds of rest stops and gas stations along the way. When Skjalg first told me that you had to pay every time you go to the bathroom, I was a little irritated. I figured it was just a way to squeeze money out of people – that is, until I saw what that small amount of money paid for. The majority of bathrooms (run by a company called Sanifair) were pristine clean, with colorful neon lights and no-touch sensors for everything. It was a treat after some of the bathrooms we experienced in Sweden and Denmark (the worst being in Malmø, where I even had to tuck my pants in my socks before going in).

Our packed cooler is working well. Aside from water, Red Bull, pretzels, and the chicken salad we ate in Sweden, all of our meals have been covered by food we packed for the trip. We had both hoped to avoid drinking energy drinks on the road, but that was vetoed pretty early in the trip. I haven’t fallen asleep once so far. I think it’s a combination of excitement, stress about moving to a new country, and not wanting to leave Skjalg “alone” on the road. I’m enjoying the views and experiencing travel in a whole new way. This trip is really giving me an appreciation for the size of the different countries. We flew through Denmark in only about four or five hours! My favorite part was definitely driving across the bridge that connects Sweden and Denmark.

Crossing the bridge from Sweden to Denmark at sunset – perfect timing

On the road again: Sweden

August 16, 2012 § 1 Comment

We’re in Sweden! Our stop at the customs office was quick and stress-free. Skjalg called the customs office last week and was told that we should write a list of what we were bringing with us and stop at customs on the way out of Norway. Our list was mildly detailed and about two pages long – and couldn’t have been less interesting for the customs agent. By the time Skjalg had confirmed that it was private cargo, the man had resolved our case in his head. He quickly glanced over the list, stamped and signed both pages, and told us we could continue on our way into Sweden.

As we were walking back to the car, Skjalg joked about how laissez-faire he was about our list. “We could have put anything on that list. He didn’t read any of it.” We spent about 5 to 10 minutes discussing all the possible hilarious things we could have written. Oh, the joy of road trips!

I’ve never been on a road trip that lasted more than 8 or so hours (I doubt that even qualifies as a true road trip). I dread sitting on a plane for more than 10 hours, so I don’t quite know what to expect with the 22 hours of driving staring me in the face. I’m trying to pace myself with the various entertainment I brought along. I have a couple of shows I can watch on my computer, three books (The Fountainhead, A Lonesome Traveler, and Blasphemy), games on the iPad, the camera (to take corny, this-is-what-I-can-see-from-my-window pictures with), and a bag of clothes that need to be sewn in some way.

In addition to my bag of entertainment goodies, I’m doing my best to be a good co-pilot: supplying Skjalg with decent conversation and music, initiating short dance sessions, handing him water or energy drinks, and adjusting the temperature. Our music options aren’t that great. The tuner doesn’t work and we have only one CD: Bob Marley’s Lively up yourself (I would have preferred his compilation album, Legend). The speaker on the passenger side is blown out, and after about 20 minutes of Bob Marley crooning on only one side of the car, we decided it would be better to use one of our own devices. The car is extremely noisy; you almost have to shout to be heard. In addition to that, music played from the computer is sharp and metallic. I’m expecting that we will be nursing some seasoned headaches for the first couple of days after the drive.

One thing I love about Norway and Sweden is the enormous, clear blue sky. It makes for a beautiful sight when paired with the fresh green summer grass.

Oh captain, my captain…

 

Artsy bridge we crossed in the beginning of our trip through Sweden

 

Beautiful blue sky and green meadow

 

Our route followed along the Swedish coast. We couldn’t always see the ocean, but every now and then it would pop into view.

 

Another ocean shot. The weather was starting to turn and at points it was hard to see where the ocean ended and the sky began.

 

One of the many, many, many farms that we passed. The theme smell of the trip was cow dung, no contest.

 

 

T-minus: 0

August 15, 2012 § 1 Comment

I slept horribly last night. I kept thinking about our move and all the possible things that could go wrong – definitely the right way to coax yourself into a cozy slumber. When I woke up at 8:30, I felt like this:

Skjalg arrived late last night, around 23:00. He picked me up on the corner so that I could join him in finding parking. He was exhausted, it was dark, and I have never driven in Oslo, so we were quite the team. We found a parking lot down the street from our apartment but when we went to pay, we saw that it would cost 900,- ($150) to park it for the 30 hours that it would need to be there. We’re trying to be as smart as we can with this move, so we decided that it would be better to look for free parking somewhere. It wasn’t easy, first finding a street that allowed free parking and then one of those streets that actually had a space big enough for us. When we finally found a spot about 10 minutes from our place, we were skeptical. We scoured for hidden parking signs and checked the dashboards of the other cars parked on the street. Once satisfied, we headed home.

I started this morning by heading to the grocery store to get food for our road trip. It’s so easy to eat unhealthy foods when traveling by car and can also be very, very expensive – especially when traveling through Scandinavia. We have several food coolers that we purchased in the states that will be perfect for the drive. I figure we could bring whole grain bread, meat, cheese, cucumber and tomato for sandwiches, as well as fruit, cottage cheese, yogurt and mager kesam (which we don’t have in the states, as far as I know…it is like a lower fat/higher protein yogurt). I have a cooler made by 6 pack bags that will keep our food cold for up to two days. If I have time today, I may even grill some of the chicken we have left. We’re only going to be driving for 2-3 days, so I don’t need to go too crazy, but it will be nice to have options on the road.

Now it’s just loading the truck and cleaning ahead of us. Several of our friends are stopping by throughout the day to say goodbye. I’ve said it many time before, but I have to say it again: I can’t believe this is happening!

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