Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Not As Good As Ken's Post

I really meant to post this last week, but got distracted planning my trip to the good ol' U.S.  And here I am, hanging out in P-town right now!  Love seeing friends, running in the rain (slightly more enjoyable than a snowy/icy run...), and feasting at my favorite restaurants and bars.  Ahh.

Anyhow, you'll get to see all of those goodies later on.  For now, here are the last pics from our trip to Copenhagen (Ken did such a fabulous job narrating that trip, so my words will be few).

First, I'd like to give a special shout-out to my fun friend Lars, who I met at the University of Oregon.  He moved back to Copenhagen after grad school, and we got to hang with him during our trip.  He threw an amazing New Year's Eve dinner party, with delicious food, lots of celebrating, and a crowning moment of Lars breaking open a champagne bottle with a sword.  Skillz.  We also got to meet some very cool friends of his at the party.  So, thanks to Lars for an excellent night!

Now, here's Copenhagen...
Pretty Nyhavn.  Love all the colorful buildings.

Ringing in the New Year at Lars' fiesta.

Love the Scandinavian use of candles to make the winter seem cozy.

Action shot. Lars invited us to chase after the Danish military band as they marched to the palace on New Year's Day.  Here we are running through the streets.  So fun! 

 Nice duds.

Catching our breath at the palace.

As Ken mentioned in his brilliant post, we ended the journey with an overnight cruise back to Oslo.  

Leaving Copenhagen on the frozen sea.

Pretty farewell sunset.  Thanks, Copenhagen!

Pretty hello sunrise.  Thanks, Oslo!

Alright, I'm off to one of my favorite places in the world:  the Oregon coast.  Dungeness crab cakes are on my mind...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Viking Quest: A Guest Blogging By Ken

When we first began our Norwegian journey, I had the great idea that Cari and I should do a joint blog.  I envisioned calling it “Viking Quest”, and the wallpaper would be pictures of people acting like Vikings (examples of Viking behavior would include wearing Viking hats, wielding swords, long-boating, and eating turkey legs at state fairs).  

At first, Cari thought this was a decent idea.  A few hours later, though, she astutely observed that I am too lazy to follow through on anything that is administrative and not required.  She decided that she would keep her blog for the time being, and if I ever did become a somewhat regular contributor, then we’d go with the Viking quest idea. 

We’re three months in now, and I’d have to assess my level of blogging as being somewhere less than regular.  In fact, this is my first ever post (or even comment, I think) on this blog.  My laziness isn’t the only reason that I haven’t blogged.  The main reason is that Cari does such a good job chronicling our activities that there’s usually not a whole lot left to say once she’s done.  Cari, thanks for all of your hard work here – I love reading the posts now, and I’m sure we’ll be enjoying them for a long long time!

It took a monumental event to kick-start me into making my first blog post.  This event was my return to one of my favorite cities, Copenhagen.  I’d say my other European favorite is Edinburgh, and I’ll give Amsterdam an honorable mention (I’ve been there twice, and the first time it kind of sucked due to jet lag and a transit strike, but last weeks’ trip was awesome and now I can’t wait to go back).  

Back to Copenhagen, though…

When asked to define the peak of my life, it’s really a pretty easy question for me to answer.  It’s when I met my wife and we got married.  HAHA! Just kidding!  My life actually peaked right before meeting Cari, during the summer of 2005 that I spent in Copenhagen, and I have sadly been on the way down ever since.  No offense to Cari – she agrees that she peaked prior to meeting me in grad school as well.

From this point forward, this will pretty much be a tribute post to that great summer of 2005.

The reasons that my life peaked during that summer of 2005 are:

1)      I finished my masters’ degree at TU by taking an incredibly easy summer class in Copenhagen. Andy and I were very clever and saved one MBA elective class to be taken during the summer in Europe after we were done with all of our other classes.  We took our one class on a “Pass/Fail” basis, and did the absolute minimum amount of work required to pass.  Including class attendance and homework, I estimate that in total we spent 30 hours obtaining our pass grades that summer.  We were there for 6 weeks, which is 1,008 hours.  This left us with approximately 978 hours each of free time in Copenhagen.

2)      I got lucky and made some really cool friends almost immediately upon the start of the program.  These people were from all over the place (the US, Canada, Iceland – strangely not a single Dane though), and we all became very close very quickly.  They had almost as much free time as Andy and I did, so pretty much every day was a new adventure.  Some of our excursions included sightseeing, going to the beach, beer pong, the Carlsberg brewery, the Dubliner, the Aussie bar, and eating lots of pizza and calzones. 

3)      All of us were staying in the same dorm, which was awesome.  This dorm is known as Finsensvej.  

4)      Finsensvej had a basketball court.  We definitely logged more time on the basketball court than we did the 30 hours of education.  It didn’t take long for people to appreciate my skill level on the court, specifically my ability to score from basically only one spot.  Despite everybody in the game knowing that this is the only place I can make a shot, I somehow manage to find myself in that spot quite often, so I was easily the MVP in all of the basketball games (except if you count defense, because there was an Icelandic giant named Heddin who could shut down an entire team’s offense all by himself; not legally of course, but nobody could call a foul on him because he always looked so innocent when he would proclaim “I didn’t do aaanything!”).   Here’s a picture of me reliving my glory days on the Finsensvej basketball court:

5)      This summer was my last hurrah before I would start my job.  Since I’d be starting soon as an accountant, I knew that I should take advantage of what little time I had left; it was almost like I was l spent that summer with a timer running down, and I had to make the most of it, which I did. 

6)      I discovered an amazing new food: Shawarma.  This is the spinning cylinder of meat/meat-like substances you’ll see in many European cities, where they slice off pieces with a giant sword and put into a pita with lettuce and hot sauce.  This is hands-down THE most desirable food to eat after a hard night of drinking, and basically every night in Copenhagen could be considered a hard night of drinking.  I rang in the New Year by eating a Shawarma on the Stroget in Copenhagen – here’s another picture:

7)      Dansk Pilsner.  Copenhagen is a very expensive city, especially when you move there from Tulsa (it’s cheap compared to Oslo, but that’s beside the point).  We wanted to drink a lot, but we didn’t want to pay a lot, so at first we found ourselves in a bit of a pickle.  It was kind of like a double-edged sword.  Then somebody discovered Dansk Pilsner at the grocery store.  At first, it seemed expensive.  You’d have to pay something like $60 USD for a case of about 30 beers, which felt like a lot at the time.  When you brought the empty bottles back though, you’d get a refund of approximately $50, so really you only paid about $10 for the beer.  This was pretty funny, because if everyone was drinking beer in the common area, you’d secretly be eyeing the others to make sure they didn’t try to steal your empties, because then they could claim your deposit.  Anyway, Dansk Pilsner was our saving grace for cheap drinking – I’m not sure what we would have done without it.  Sadly, I was unable to get a picture of a Dansk (specific apologies go out to Lea, Talon, and Jenny, as I know this was your favorite).  The only grocery store I was in last weekend didn’t have it.  I did however see a homeless guy drinking one on the street, and I was tempted to try and take a picture of it, but I thought I’d eventually find it in a grocery store so I didn’t take his picture.  Next time I won’t hesitate. 

For all of those reasons, this summer was definitely one of the highlights of my life. 

An additional awesome adventure during that summer was our overnight cruise we took to Oslo.  It’s a 15 hour trip by boat from Copenhagen to Oslo, and a big cruise ship makes the trip each night.  In Copenhagen, it’s called the Oslo boat, and in Oslo, it’s called the Copenhagen boat.  Most of us in the program took the Oslo boat at the same time, and it was an amazing two nights.  Cari and I concluded our Christmas Eurotrip by taking this boat.  I took a couple of photos to remember funny things about that trip for the people who were on it. 

The first photo is dedicated to Andy Blanc.  Andy used to play a game where, if a stranger left a table at a bar without finishing their drink, Andy would drink whatever was left.  Some call it disgusting (including I’m sure his new wife Ali).  I call it economical, environmentally friendly, and hilarious.  

We were at a piano bar on the Oslo boat, and a few people left some pretty full drinks on the table.  Andy thought he was being sneaky and that only our group was watching, so he went and chugged the leftover drinks.  Little did he know that he was being watched the whole time by a couple of 40ish ladies, and they thought the whole episode was completely foul.  This was definitely one of my favorite moments of the summer.  

Andy, I took a picture in that same bar of some drinks left on the table.  Here you go!

The second photo is dedicated to Bran Rapp.  The cruise ship had a play area for small children.  While on our trip, Bran noticed that the small children had gone to bed (at least I hope he noticed this), given that it was approximately 3 in the morning.  We were walking by the play area, which had a ball pit.  Bran immediately dove in, and he was throwing the balls at the rest of us all over the room.  

It was a good time had by all, until a 6’5” Swedish security guard came from nowhere and got hit by one of the balls.  He pretty much picked Bran up out of the ball pit and yelled at him for about 10 minutes.  I remember being pretty sure at the time that Bran would end up in boat jail.  Somehow, he got away with just a stern yelling though, and we went on our merry way.  Bran, here’s a picture of the ball pit!

To all of you Finsensvejers out there, I firmly believe we should have a Copenhagen reunion.  Preferably while I’m living in Oslo, because then it won’t cost me very much.  

Who’s in???  

Don’t forget, Finsensvej til I die!

Thus concludes my first guest blog.  Cari will be writing her own Copenhagen post in a few days, including our awesome New Years fiesta at Lars’ party.  Let me know what you thought about it!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Dam It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta

Okay, it's taken me a couple of days more than I thought it would to muster up an entry for this magical city.  But I loved it so much, I just had to sort through my racing mind to figure out what to say...

This is one of the most aesthetically-pleasing cities I've visited.  Between the rows upon rows of cool bikes, the canals lined with charming little boats, the brick streets, and the beautiful historic buildings, it's all just so nice to look at and soak in.  And that's not just one street - it's the entire freaking city.

Bikes!  Canal!  Brick streets!  Historic Buildings!

Colorful bikes!  Bikes with buckets!

Canal lined with charming boats!

It's almost too much goodness in one place, isn't it?

I'm thoroughly annoyed by the amount of exclamation points used in the photos above, and I apologize.  But I think they got the point across.

In all this biking loveliness, Ken and I decided to rent some for the day.  After living in bike-friendly Portland for awhile, we consider ourselves to be good bikers.  So we thought we'd fit in just fine on these sweet rides.  

Well, my friends, biking in Amsterdam is a whole new level of biking.  After dodging a gazillion pedestrians, mopeds passing every three minutes (they're allowed to use the bike lanes), small crazy Euro cars whizzing by on the side streets without bike lanes, and the final hurrah of a garbage truck backing out in front of us, we were a bit frazzled.

Post-garbage truck, Ken proclaimed, "I feel like the paperboy in the Paperboy Nintendo game."

And he was spot-on.

As a side note, I'll say this: Europeans drive their tiny little fun-sized Euro cars like bats out of hell.  Narrow streets, pedestrians, snow...they don't seem to be phased by any of it.

As a pedestrian, I always wanted to flip the bird to the occasional car flying through the ped-friendly narrow streets of our neighborhood in Portland (and they often got a "what the f is wrong with you?" arm raise and glare from me on the street corner, which I'm sure they didn't even see, or perhaps laughed at as they sped away).

Living here with these maniacs makes me want to tape my hand/arm into a permanent bird-flipping position for my daily walks around the city.  They're nuts!

Anyway, back to the biking.  For our final ride, we took the bikes to Vondelpark.  A ride through the park was much more low-key and enjoyable...

Unraveling our nerves at Vondelpark.

Special bike lane.  Fear the mopeds.

Let's think about this for a moment, shall we?

Our final day in this fair city was spent exploring the amazing Albert Cuyp street market.  So cheap, and so many booths.  You haven't seen two people more excited for cheap in Oslo will do it to you.

Albert Cuyp market...ahh.

I doubt anyone except Portlanders will understand what this beautiful little gem is (unless you've traveled to P-town and enjoyed it for yourself).  I heard they put up a temp storefront in Amsterdam, since the owner loves the city so much.  I also heard it was only open for the summer of 2010.  We found it (it was right behind the market), and sure enough, it was closed.  We aren't coffee drinkers, but I love their chai.  Too bad it was a no-go.  Nice to see a little piece of home, though!

So I haven't yet addressed the two things synonymous with Amsterdam in most minds: the "working girls" and the "coffee shops".  The ladies are only in a few distinct areas of town, so it doesn't give the whole city a strange aura.  The coffee shops are all over town though, and the smell of the green stuff seeps from them.  Peppering the streets with clouds of herbal essences.  Like you're at some sort of never-ending indie music festival.  Pretty comical.
We didn't patronize.  But I wonder if they have good chai?

So, in case you can't tell, we had a lovely trip, and can't wait to go back!

I realized I forgot a Moment of Zen in the last post.  It should have been the massive steaks that Bryan and April made us on Christmas Eve (no photo available, because we dug in as soon as they landed on the plate, and finished them off in record time).  So there you have it.

The Moment of Zen for this post:

A heavenly cream puff from a cart on the street, and pretty oilcloth from the market (which I'll be using to make one of the awesome bike seat covers they had everywhere).

And one last very important message:  Ken has decided to blog.  It took visiting Copenhagen, which is one of his favorite cities, to get him to finally blog.  So I'll post his ode to Copenhagen tomorrow.  You don't want to miss it!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Warm As Ice

Our nine days of holiday travel will be documented as a three-part series, each with an appropriately witty title.

London was the first stop of the trip, where we spent a few days with our friends Bryan and April from Portland, who are on a rotation there.  We both went through the rotation logistics at the same time, and knew with the big moves that we wouldn't be going home to the U.S. for Christmas.  So, back in Portland we decided to celebrate Christmas in London together, as a bunch of family-less expats.   And, although we all missed being home, we had a lot of fun!

Also, I'll add a side note in my intro of Bryan and April: we never would have ended up with the rotation in Oslo without them.  Bryan originally had the Oslo offer, and knew Ken was trolling around Europe for a rotation as well.  A London/Zurich rotation that was better for Bryan popped up at the last minute, and he gave Ken the info on Oslo.  It really worked out so well, since Oslo ended up getting Ken when they still needed someone, and Bryan got to take what was best for him.  So, many thanks to them!

The whole crew in front of Kensington Palace.
A classier version of an American state fair:  Hyde Park Winter Wonderland.
B taking his icing like a champ.  We're hoping it's a new Christmas tradition.
In case you aren't familiar with the term "icing," here's a definition provided by Urban Dictionary:

"Icing" -- or "getting iced" -- is a frat star drinking game. The rules are simple: If a person sees a Smirnoff Ice, he or she must get down on one knee and chug it, unless they happen to be carrying their own Smirnoff, in which case they can "ice block," or refract the punishment back onto the attacker. In order to dupe people into stumbling across the beverage, participants have devised creative ways of presenting them with Ices, like strapping the bottles to the backs of dogs or burying them in vats of protein powder.  Typical Icing situation @ work: Bro has to get some quick copies to hand to the executives. “Why isn’t this copier working!?!?!” Dave asks. To his disbelief the paper drawer acts as a makeshift cooler for a nice warm ICE.

In this instance, B received an icing by opening the Yankee Swap gift containing the lovely, warm Ice.  He also received a second icing the next morning when he opened his stocking to find an Ice we placed in there before bedtime.

Ken and I find icing to be absolutely hilarious.  Kudos to B for not backing down on the Ice.
We definitely ate at the Texas Embassy,  and Ken definitely had to pose in this position five different times while I adjusted my camera settings.  

London's version of the Chicago Bean (actually it was shaped like a bracelet, not a bean, but same trippy idea) in Kensington Gardens.

Basically, we spent the weekend eating tons of delicious food (not only are they dashingly good looking, they're also great cooks), playing Yankee Swap with a couple of other fun expats on Christmas Eve, watching Christmas movies, taking long walks around London, and chasing after buses due to the transit strike.   

Definitely a memorable Christmas.  Thanks for a great time, B and A!

Amsterdam will be the next stop in the trip.  Probably tomorrow...