Monday, January 26, 2015

A January Walk

Winter this year in Oslo has been quite mild, at least compared to what we've experienced in Michigan in the past. Temperatures have hovered around 0 degrees C (32 degrees F) most days.  There has been some snow, but not more than six inches at a time.  With the mild temperatures, the snow melts, but not completely, and then at night re-freezes, creating dangerous ice on paths and sidewalks.

For environmental reasons, I think, Oslo doesn't use much salt to melt the ice, but rather spreads gravel on top of it. That helps, but walking can still be treacherous without the right footwear.  We've become great fans of our YakTrax. I think we should be compensated for the free advertising since we recommend them to anyone wanting to be safe and feel confident walking on ice.

One recent Sunday afternoon not long before the sun set, we donned our boots and grips and headed out for a walk through the woods and down to Oslofjord and the Huk beach area. Lots of people had the same idea. Some were on cross-country skis,  some walked with poles for support, one was fishing, and a couple went in for a dip.

The lighting was beautiful with cloud cover except for the strip along the horizon.  

There's a memorial sculpture near the beach commemorating the Tsunami catastrophe of December 26, 2004. 

It's hard to imagine the incredible deadly power of the sea, looking at its calmness on this day.

The beauty of the day was made complete, especially for Sten, when the boat to Denmark came by.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

December in Oslo

Though we didn't spend Christmas eve or Christmas day in Oslo, there was much to see and do in December that provided a  festive atmosphere we enjoyed very much. The Stortinget -- Parliament -- was lit up for the season, and between the National Theater and the Parliament, an ice-skating rink appeared. The Oslo Christmas market spread around two sides of the rink. Stands sold hot drinks,  roasted almonds, and gift items, and at night fires were  lit and people sat around on hay bales enjoying the atmosphere.

The Christmas market was filled with dried meats and other specialty foods (including elgburgers -- moose burgers),  hand-knit garments, and a large tepee-like tent selling Sami products -- carved wooden implements, antler-handled knives, fur slippers, etc.

The Christmas market area is especially festive during the long dark evenings, as you can imagine. On December's shortest days, daylight comes about 9:20 and ends around 15:20.  Our bank even helped warm the daylight hours by having a  fire outside its doors and serving free hot glogg (spiced fruit juice) to passersby.  

On Santa Lucia's day, the school children had a special concert  at the local church.  It was attended mostly by parents and extended family members taking videos and photos. We enjoyed watching the excitement, listening to the concert, and seeing the children carrying candles and wearing white. They did a great job singing, beautifully accompanied by piano, bass, drums, and saxophone. It made us  a little homesick for two special boys in our family far away.

The Norwegian Folk Museum is very close to where we live. During early December, they host  a Christmas market and other special events celebrating Christmas.  This large, mostly outdoor museum has buildings brought from various parts of Norway and reconstructed there to show life as it was lived in past times.  In each house couples in costume explain about the home, who had lived there, and what they would have eaten for Christmas. 

A sheaf of wheat hung outside is often seen even now during the winter, put up as a feeder for birds.

The houses had only fire or candlelight, so picture-taking wasn't easy indoors.

After visiting many of the houses and the stave church (pictured above), we saw a group of children in traditional folk costumes heading towards an outdoor amphitheater.  We followed them, and seeing  some space in the front row, asked if the seats were taken.  The woman next to the open spaces told us they were free, and then she got up, went over to a large box, and pulled out waterproof seat cushions which she brought for us to sit on to be more comfortable on the cold concrete. Very soon the children began folk dancing to the accompaniment of a singer and a fiddler playing on an unusual, old type of fiddle. 

The dancers were so cute.  Some were paired up with a child of similar size, but occasionally one partner was much taller than the other. The stage was a little frosty since it was pretty cold outside, and a few times a child slipped and fell, but he or she took the fall in stride, and got right up and continued dancing.  Jule Nissen (the Norwegian equivalent of Santa Claus) showed up to join the dancers part way through. Between dances, we learned that our friendly seat mate was the mother of some of the children who,  after the performance, were happy to pose with us.

In early December at the Oslo City Hall, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Malala Yousafzai and  Kailash Satyarthi -- both activists opposing child labor and promoting  free access to education for all children. We heard that there would be a torchlight gathering outside the Grand Hotel where the banquet for the laureates and honored guests would take place after the presentation ceremony. The honorees were scheduled to come out on the balcony of the hotel to greet the crowd.  We decided to brave the weather and see if we could catch a glimpse of them.  As it turned out, the night was not bitterly cold, and we found a very good spot to view the balcony. Waiting in the crowd was quite exciting. News crews were interviewing people about what this event meant to them, and we even saw the Norwegian prime minister being interviewed just a short distance from us. (Unfortunately, I caught her moving past us in very low lighting,  so she's in a blur.) We felt glad to have been there and to see the prize winners.

We managed to get in a performance at the Oslo Opera of Rossini's Barber of Seville -- marvelous singers and venue, even in the cheap seats; however,  there were a few things we didn't partake of -- the traditional lutefisk or sitting outside in a restaurant for a meal.  

Happy New Year!