Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Oslo and the North Sea

We hit the city (Oslo) again today with P, Big E and Little e.

We drove down to the center city to see the Palace. We stopped first in a 7-11 for a hot dog. OMG, they are so good! Eating a hot dog at 7-11 is one of the cheapest ways to eat in Oslo. They are around 30 kroner, which is about $5. The Girl and I had three between us, stopping again on the way back from the outing. So yummy. Apparently, the hot dog is also a national food in Norway - it's practically requires that one eats hot dogs and ice cream on May 17th, Norway's national holiday.

I also got a cappuccino from the machine at 7-11 and missed my mouth completely in drinking it while at the palace square. We walked past the US Embassy on the way - it is a seriously ugly building.

There was a drive leading up to the palace, marked by a sign that read no motorbikes or cars, but there were no pylons or barricades blocking the drive. P says that most Norwegians follow the honor system and the government is not so worried about the small percentage who don't. The entire population of Norway is only slightly bigger than that of the city of Chicago -- 4.5 million. (Cook County has 5.1 million residents according to the 2010 US Census.) Anyway, we all slipped our way up the hill (red gravel under sheets of ice) to gape at the palace - a huge pale yellow building with white trim - and the funny guards holding sentry in front. There were signs of the New Year’s celebration in evidence on the gravel - champagne corks!

Then we turned to walk down Karl Johan's Gate (gate = street). Karl Johan was the king of Norway and Sweden for a period in the 1800s. He is depicted in a huge statue on a huge piece of marble in front of the palace and facing one of the main streets in Oslo. The palace is on a hill, so it's quite a pretty view to look down over the city. We slid our way down the hill to walk along Karl Johan. We passed the library, a few government buildings and a skating rink in the part of the street that allowed cars. We also stopped and Dean & the Deli in an attempt for another hot dog. They didn't have any, so we each got a bolle (bun) instead: chocolate for Little e and Big E, cinnamon for The Girl, currant and raisin for me. Mine was warm and flavored with a hint of cardamom.

After this, we went to a department store - Glas Maginset (I think) - that has a whole floor devoted to Norwegian gear - Dale Nordic knit sweaters, Norwegian mitts, felted wool jackets, etc. I was tempted by several gorgeous wool sweaters from smaller Norsk designers, but once I converted the kroner, couldn't justify a $400 cardigan. I did, however, buy a felted wool gnome hat for Teddy, a Sigfrid Kolmen petticoat dress for The Girl, and a blue gnome water bottle for Nate, all from the 75 percent off table (which made it all affordable), and felted wool slippers from Denmark for me. On this floor, they also had woolen skeins - gorgeous! I considered buying some for my mom, but I think she's still working on a sweater for my dad from wool she bought in Denmark last year.

After that, we pretty much had to skedaddle to drop Big E at home and pick up our bags so that we could make our DFDS cruise to Copenhagen. There was traffic on the way back into Oslo and Big E and Little e were egging each other on with nonsense and kicking the backs of their parents' seats. (This was pretty much as unruly as they got -- such a different parenting existence from life with boys, to paraphrase my friend Allison.)

Fortunately, we got on the boat with a half hour to spare. Dropped bags and stroller in our cabin - Little e thought we were on an airplane because there was lifeboat just outside our porthole - and headed upstairs to explore. We sat down at the bar to have a drink - Carlsburg for me and P, Shirley Temples for the girls - and watch the lights go by on the shore as we pulled out of port. We called my dad to wish him a happy birthday as well.

The cruise there was pretty uneventful. We had buffet dinner at 17:30 in the Seven Seas restaurant. The Girl had mussels and shrimp again and topped it off with ice cream with chocolate and sprinkles. I had meatballs, a delicious beets and peppers dish, bread and butter, salad and a gingerbread roll. After dinner, we walked around the ship a bit. The Girl really wanted to do the kids' activities, but for some really stupid reason, the ship put them in the same lounge where smoking was allowed inside. Both P and I said nuts to that. We did go in the shop when it opened and picked up some Lego surprises for the boys. After that, we were all pretty tired and went to bed. Little e did not want to go to sleep and gave her mom a hard time about it. She understands English, but speaks Norwegian. Most of the Norwegian we learned was from her. At bedtime, she crawled into the porthole, screaming "ni!" (no) at the top of her lungs and looking like a fierce little Viking. Anyone who has ever traveled with a toddler can picture this scene.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Snow Day!

We woke up to a winter wonderland this morning! Snow, snow, snow! The Girl was the first one out of the house, raring to play in the white stuff. She even offered to shovel  the drive. Big E and Little e joined her soon after and they slid down the small hill behind the house and then made 3 crazy snowmen. By this point in the visit, 2 opinionated 6.5-y/os minus adequate sleep = lots of squabbles, including over sleds and snow person design. Big E didn't want to share her sled (and neither did 2.5-y/o Little e), prompting The Girl to stomp into the house and say she wanted to go home. T went out with them, fulfilling the Norwegian "need to be outside" and providing a parental influence to keep the girls in line.

P and I stayed inside and watched the New Year’s concert in Vienna, followed by a lot of crazy Norwegians, Germans and Serbs skiing down an enormously steep luge and flying in the air. And some cross country skiing. We talked about going to the sled hill, but the girls stayed outside for most of the afternoon, and we were invited to T's parents' house in Oslo for dinner, so we had to bathe and get moving.

T's parents live in an enormous house, just next to a huge hill. His mom is an amazing cook! She fed us mussels as an appetizer and then reindeer (seriously yum), gravy, potatoes, Brussels sprouts with bacon and carrots. I was stuffed! Then I had to go sledding down the huge hill in the dark with The Girl. (T said that the previous week, on Christmas, his nephew had a similar complaint - "you are wasting my time!") Big E was still feeling chilled from the previous evening (wearing only tights when you are used to wearing tights /wool unders and a snowsuit contributed to this), so she stayed in with farfar and farmor. P took Little e as well, but they went on the lower hill. The hill had actually three parts. It had started to rain over the snow, so it was quite icy and slick. The plows went by and I walked in its tracks up the street that ran alongside the hill as well. There were trees to watch out for, and we I hit the kid-created moguls a few times, getting quite a bit of air. It was fun and I am glad that I didn't have a big bruise on my bum. We went back inside and had a scrumptious dessert that farmor made: whipped chocolate mousse and ice cream. I passed on the ice cream, but the chocolate mousse was sooooo good. And then after that, farmor served more snacks! Homemade peppermint fudge, little cookies and coffee or tea.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

New Years Eve in Norway

The honeymoon between Big E and The Girl ended this morning over Xbox. The Girl had never done it before, Big E wanted to teach her (ie, play while The Girl watched) and it exploded from there. In full disclosure, The Girl had her tantrum at the end of the day.
Vigorous walking (hiking) temporarily cured the spat. After breakfast, we suited up in our outdoor gear and took a hike up Kolsastoppen, a huge mountain where you can see all of Oslo from its peak. It was icy and covered in pine needles, but the view was totally worth it. At the top, we signed our names in the book stuck in a postal box, drank water, ate chocolate "that tastes like Norway," and admired the view. Then we slid/hiked back down. I fell several times on the ice, and toward the end, sat on my bum to slide down the straightaways whole hog. The Girl's snowpants were black in the seat. Mine were an ashy white, having started out gray in color in the first place.
We stopped at the grocery again on the way home to get mussels and cheese for our NYE dinner. I was starving after that vigorous climb, so I could not wait and practically inhaled a Tartare aux Provenceurs cheese appetizer in the car. A wee bit of France, which is how I met P. Big E and The Girl had ice creams instead. When we got home, we had light snacks of salami, ham, cheese and crackers around 4-5. P and T also got out all the "native Norwegian foods" that I hadn't tried before. I had T's mom's pickled herring (pretty good), brown butter (made with whey) and something else that I can no longer remember.
The girls watched a movie while the grownups talked. I suggested to The Girl that we call daddy at midnight to say that 2012 was great, but she couldn’t wait that long and called him at 7 instead, and the joke fell flat. We had dinner just after that - mussels as appetizer and Swiss fondue with aquavit and a nice salad. Yum! The girls and Little e half watched another film, Coraline, after dinner. In Norway, Saturday after dinner is sweets and candy time so each girl loaded up a huge bowl of m&ms, chocolates and candy... And ate about 1/4 of it. After that, there was still dessert for all - brownies with melty middles and ice cream.
Then we suited up to do some fireworks so Little e could see them before she went to bed. Insert tantrum from The Girl. The Girl wanted to wait until midnight, when everyone was going to do them, not 10 as it now was, and at Big E's school. But there were fehrvehreki going off everywhere in the sky and there was a sulfuric haze descending along with the snow. She liked them a lot, and liked helping T with them (by choosing or advising which to do light next). Big E was scared and stayed way, way back. The little fireworks were lame, but P had gotten a big brick that shot off fireworks like you'd see on 4th of July just above our heads with lots of oohs and aahs. Then we walked back to P&T’s house. Lots of neighbors were out or calling to us. Big E went across the way for "new years hugs" before coming back inside. Little e had fallen asleep in the stroller so they transferred her to bed. We turned on yet another movie, the parent trap, and snuggled up with blankets on the couch. The Girl made it until 11:50 but was out cold. Big E was scared by fireworks and stayed inside. P and T joined their neighbors for the ball drop.