Notes from a Generous Packer

So, what kind of packer are you? My mother has the gift of both packing light and packing neatly. The amount of bags and suitcases she has sensibly filled for family members and friends since her youth would probably fill a book. My father and I, on the other hand, are generous packers, because we try to prepare for various situations. It’s impossible to prepare for them all, but when I’m going away for three whole days…

To paraphrase everyone’s favourite elf only slightly, socks are Dobby’s favourite clothes, Harry Potter. I can’t emphasize this enough. Even if it makes me sound like a granny. After one trip a few years ago (actually, it was a decade, but who’s counting) when I not only packed a bunch of summer dresses for what turned out to be mostly energetic walks through a beautiful village and some woods, but managed to get my two pairs of socks wet in the same day, I always take extra pairs. They don’t need a lot of space and if I won’t end up needing them, then fine. But I won’t wistfully wonder what it would have been like to have enough with me.

Three days, a rainy and chilly European February, one top and cardigan for the day of travel, same combo in different colors for changing, two more combos for the next two days, maybe another top and scarf in case my first travel set doesn’t dry in time after laundry. Yes, I do need a (small) suitcase by now.

Might get a bit warm, maybe pack a few T-shirts in addition to the long-sleeved tops? Maybe some leggings, besides the jeans?

The notebooks, don’t forget the notebooks. So the one for my to-do-lists, my calendar just in case (still like to write things down), the one for my writing ideas, the one for my current writing project, the one for blog scribbles…better take the bigger backpack.

Et voilà, I have myself my two pieces of independence-affirming hand luggage.

Maybe add a cross-body bag just in case…

Frankfurt Winter Weekend, Part 2

If you’re thinking where to go out after arriving, especially if it’s closer to the evening, the Bornheim Mitte district is a good suggestion. Just a few minutes on the U4 subway line from the Central Station (Hauptbahnhof) and get out at the stop called…you guessed it, Bornheim Mitte. It’s a cosy, lively area full of cafés, bars, restaurants and shops, also great for meeting up with friends.

The next day is open to me and I can do whatever I want, so I set off towards a classic destination, the old town, planning to walk around and refresh my memories. Frankfurt’s city center around its cathedral, Dom Römer, had been severely destroyed during air bombings in the 1940s and painstakingly restored since then. Arriving at the square that is still relatively quiet for a Friday morning, I pause to take it all in. It’s a pretty sight.

I’m about to go all around the square first, but then when I start I walk past a sign next to the cathedral pointing towards the entrance to the tower. It seems encouraging and I make the detour. Hamburg doesn’t have a cathedral and I’ve had a hankering for visiting them ever since seeing Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame in my youth (yes, I know the book is vastly different) and going on my first trip to Paris shortly after. There’s a bit of construction going on around the ticket office of the Dom, I contribute 3 euros to preserving this historical structure and pull open a heavy metal door. It shuts behind me with a resounding bang after I enter.

The next 10 minutes that feel like half an hour are spent climbing a tightly spiraling narrow stone staircase, holding on to a rail on one side and gripping a rope on the other. A few other visitors make their way down as I’m going up and we carefully maneuver around each other, me pausing to let them by. One size stairs fits all! A sign next to a caged door that’s locked despite providing the first view of what seems like a balcony points upwards to the observation deck and I cover a few more flights. So that’s my morning workout and suspense kick sorted, but the views from the top of the cathedral tower are more than worth it. Like this classic one of the Frankfurt city skyline (contributing to the fact that many people think it’s a metropolis – there’s just something about skyscrapers):

Or this one of the Main river:

I love finding a place to get a good view of a city from above when I travel, it just adds something special to your day and provides some reflection time to scope out the area before joining the action on the ground. Going up the cathedral tower was more taxing physically then going down, but going down is also more likely to make you slightly dizzy.  Feeling proud of myself for being a good tourist, I walk around the square, going into every side street and passing a chattering class of French exchange students clearly just beginning their journey through snooty puberty.

I make my way towards the Kleinmarkthalle on foot, everything is close – it’s a covered marketplace that I’ve briefly been to years ago and decide to explore more after a tip from my friend. But first there’s a bookstore right by the entrance that pulls me in. While the massive volumes about Vogue shoes or Hitchcock’s blondes are way out of both my budget and suitcase range, it’s fun to leaf through them, and then I spot a small discounted daily desk calendar for 2019 with screenshots from Disney animated films. And what do you know, I actually don’t have a desk calendar for this year yet. Thank you, Frankfurt.

The market is filled with people, but it’s easy to move along, and colours, food, smells, sounds all take up my attention for a while.

Plenty of stalls offer lunch, and I settle on one that promises homey food. “Here you go, my dear, enjoy and come again,” – well, thank you. The breaded salmon with fried potatoes and a minty green sauce is delicious and it’s fun to listen to what the other diners around me are talking about. After that I treat myself to some homemade chocolates and conclude the day’s walk by doing that thing all the tourists here do.

Oslo Reloaded, Day 2, Opera

The Oslo Opera House was definitely a major higlight during last year’s trip for me. What would it be like, we wondered, to see a performance there? One year later we find ourselves with tickets to see a ballet based on Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen, one of Norway’s most famous playrights, but more on that later.

There is never a bad time to visit the Oslo Opera House, really. The building seems to transform along with the time of day and the changing light. Each view of and from it is exciting and unique. With the traditional notion of walls, gravity and height on the mind, it is somewhat surreal to find yourself not only going in, but walking on the Opera House before you even realize it. The change of levels is so gradual, even gentle, that the view of the Oslo Fjord from the rooftop catches you by surprise.

Space and peace are the main impressions emanating from the Operahuset, as well as a sense of welcoming. It snowed in the morning. I look down at my pointed black ankle boots and my friend’s smart black pumps, and suggest we take the steps stretching out in front of us. There’s an expanse of of the building leading upwards, basically just a walkway, but that’s for another day and in other shoes.

People are walking everywhere, some are sitting down and reading or just gazing out over the city. Blues, whites, marble and glass ripple, blend together and reflect each other in the rays of the slowly setting sun. I am enchanted.

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To me, Henrik Ibsen was previously known for his plays A Doll’s House and Peer Gynt. My friend had read Ghosts before the trip and summarized it for me. Subsequently, we were both asking the same question: how can this complicated material with many-layered family drama and tragedy stretching over two generations be translated to modern ballet dancing? While admiring the spacious interior of the Operahuset’s foyer, which is just as intriguing as the outside, we got a program. In the introduction director Marit Moum Aune immediately answers that taking Ibsen’s text as a basis for a dance performance is indeed a complicated feat (“terrible idea”), but as those involved were, we too are now intrigued.

We take our seats in the auditorium we viewed a year ago from above during our tour of the Operahuset and in a few minutes lights go out as the ballet begins. The set is at first glance minimalistic, but reflective of the dark shadows in the character’s pasts, both literally and metaphorically. As the mother soon to be surprised by the return or her grown-up son dances across the stage, we are pulled deeper and deeper in to this eerily calm and increasingly tense atmosphere. A screen shows a family of three slowly making their way forward, as if in a dream, the Fjord behind them and the unurried noise of waves coming in time with their steps. Is it a dream? Someone’s memory? Or indeed, ghosts? We don’t quite know, and the possibility of interpretation, the freedom of it is exhilirating. Fast-paced dance sequences involving the whole dance ensemble on stage seamlessly interchange with the slower ones, as agonies, past and present all collide, so that it becomes occasionally difficult to undersand who is who, but at the end you are left breathless, just like the rest of the audience. The immersion is so complete, it takes a while to come back to the real world.

 

 

Oslo Reloaded, Day 2, Ekebergparken Sculpture Park

I add the various smoked salmon to the eggs and bacon (mais oui) on my plate, and then my eyes fall on the waffle iron standing on the counter opposite. You can make your own waffles here? And put Nutella on them? Or raspberry jam? Oh, wait, you’re supposed to spray the inside of the waffle iron with this can, which as it turns out, is not whipped cream? Act casual, just act casual.

The breakfast buffet at the Scandic Grensen hotel has won me over. Or maybe that already happened when I saw the salmon. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day! Good food is not to be taken for granted, and neither is good breakfast! I’m feeling ridiculously happy that we will get to come here one more time before leaving, and I know without a doubt that I will stuff my face.

“There are two types of people: those who want to know when is breakfast in the hotel, and those who want to know until when is breakfast in the hotel.”

We board a tram at Oslo S and venture out a little outside of the city, but not too much, and get out to a view of the slightly hilly Ekebergparken sculpture park. The air is fresh and invigorating and I’m itching for a panoramic view of Oslo, which I get soon enough. It’s exciting to recognize familiar areas from above.

A few minutes later I get a shot of the Oslo Fjord, then I just stare for a while. It’s very peaceful up here and I like the understated beauty of bare trees waiting for spring. Nature will take its course and everything will soon wake up.

Ekebergparken is also a national heritage site, and scattered throughout the park are indeed sculptures, each arresting and thought-provoking in its own way. Ever so often a work of art will catch your eye and pull you out of your reverie brought on by trees, moss-covered stones and thoughts of Norwegian trolls. It’s an interesting state of perpetual contrast. Another sculpture by Sean Henry, Woman (Being Looked At), stands in the passageway of the Folketeatret, where we saw Ylvis last year. The exhibit in Ekebergparken, Walking Woman, inspires our purposeful stride. Concave Face by Hilde Maehlum captivates me with its unusual beauty.

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Anatomy of an Angel by Damien Hirst leads to a monologue from me on the representation of angels in Supernatural (“Cas!”). Then I quickly forget my thread as a troop of children on ponies locked by adults in the front, middle and back passes us, with the kid in the middle astride a particularly fat pony. Its belly is almost level with its hooves and I’m delighted. A sign nearby points in the direction of a riding school on the territory, and sure enough, in a few minutes we discover it. The place is filled with happy family activity, sheep are bleating and there’s a small cabin labeled Kaniners, which attracts my attention because bunnies are Kaninchen auf Deutsch.

Art comes in all shapes and forms. After identifying that the disembodied voice half-hissing in a British accent, “Shed the body…shed the body…redemption” (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets vibes, anyone?) was actually coming from the base of a lamppost, we decided it was time to head down to the Barcode district. Getting there on foot from Ekebergparken is entirely possible, just follow the tram tracks and then keep walking towards those fascinating buildings (mind the construction site on the way). We make sure not to look towards the opera house so as to keep the element of surprise alive for the evening’s activities.

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Oslo Reloaded, Day 1

I must admit, gazing out at the Oslo Fjord, with bright sunshine illuminating the fabulous waterfront views from the Aker Brygge neighborhood, is not a bad way to start a Friday morning.

It’s just gone 9 AM and we’ve been up for 6 hours. As a result, the pleasant anticipation of a full day ahead is even stronger than usual, while I nibble on my cinnamon roll from Narvesen to tide me over until our afternoon check-in at the hotel where we’ve just left our bags. They had a locker room downstairs involving some card scanning and (at first) complicated twists, plus memorizing of locker numbers. This proved to be a theme during the whole trip. Oh, the cinnamon roll was accompanied by my beverage of choice – hot chocolate, all for the sweet price of 25 NOK (roughly 3 euros). Especially during a weekend getaway, Narvesen or Seven-Eleven is an easy solution for snacks – both shop chains are to be found almost everywhere in the city and are friendly to your budget.

Just as last year, the brilliant sunshine makes for some active instagramming and we don’t want to go inside anywhere.

Walking around Oslo is easy – checking out all the previous trip’s discoveries in and around Aker Brygge with the breeze from the Oslo Fjord blowing in your face sweeps away any remaining drowsiness and we enthusiastically fan out through the streets around us. There’s the National Theater and the Royal Palace – no frost on the ground this year. Our feet seem to know where to go before we think about it. One lady asks us if it’s allowed to take a picture of the guards by the palace, and we feel like locals. We get our 24-hour Oslo Passes from the Oslo Visitor Centre at the Oslo S central station. After last year’s searching for it, everything goes quickly and the button that opens the door is still the same.

Next we find ourselves in the National Gallery, for what is a visit to Oslo without art, and what is art in Oslo without a bit of, you guessed it, Edvard Munch. Plans of the museum layout are available and each room is conveniently numbered at its beginning – I love me a system. So no FOMO and you see everything. The scope of the collection surprises me, from antique busts and heads to Russian icons, to impressionism, and of course plenty of Norwegian art. I dutifully stop in front of the version of Munch’s Scream on display here. In fact, there is a whole room filled only with Munch’s works. After a while I drift to the next artists and forget myself as I stop in front of View of Dresden by Moonlight by Johan Christian Dahl, one of Norway’s most famous landscape painters. The enchanting panorama, emanating both serenity and mystery, fills my vision. For a few minutes the memory of where I am recedes as I stare at this earlier view of a city in the country I now call home. Harald Sohlberg is another new discovery, and at the end of our visit I succesfully locate a postcard with Street in Røros and its eye-catching play of lines and colors in the museum shop. Always check out a museum shop in Oslo – you will most likely be pleasantly surprised.

It’s Friday night and we’re going out with the rest of them – DDR is performing in the Oslo Spectrum arena and it’s huge. I can’t stop looking behind me at the rows and rows ascending. They fill quickly, as does the standing area. We make our way right to the barrier in front of the stage and security hands out earplugs. DDR is a Norwegian comedy band performing local songs in exaggerrated German, as well as some actual German hits. I laugh myself hoarse to Nena’s 99 Luftballons and am taken back to an 80s dance night during a dedicated rendition of Falco’s Amadeus.

The blend of German in our Oslo trip is working out very well, but it hits its peak as what we’ve been waiting for all evening finally happens. We lose our minds and I my limb coordination as no other than Ylvis takes the stage. “Alles gut?!” Bård Ylvisåker bellows. Alles is more than gut as Ylvis, both dressed in military attire, launch in to a highly energetic, brand new performance of a German version of The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?).

Post ear-plug cheering is still ringing in my ears as I hit the hay.