Recent Travel Reminders

Travel, even if it’s a short trip away, always opens you up. You have to make decisions along the way, the unexpected may happen, your daily routines might be left for a while, freeing time for something else or a new day rhythm. You remember or refresh things that might be useful, and discard others that are not. I love making lists and my brain starts buzzing with the random, the practical and the sentimental as I make my way to a given destination.

So here’s a selection from my recent trip

Have a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer readily accessible. Or wet wipes. Big fan, yes. And never again shall you be unpleasantly surprised by the absence of soap in the airport bathroom when you eagerly press the dispenser button or hopefully flap your hands in an attempt to activate the motion sensor.

There’s never really a bad time for a cup of hot chocolate, if you want one, but maybe there’s more variety around than Starbucks? And if not, heck, go for that Wifi.

Phones, tablets etc. are indispensable, but sometimes it’s so nice to read an actual book or magazine while waiting for boarding or during train journeys. It’s getting a tinge of rarity around it and rare is chic.

Browsing a good bookshop, if there is one in the train station or airport, is a very absorbing way to fill the time, even a nice ritual I like to follow before departure. It’s kind of like a final tourist activity to do in the place and you might find something interesting to bring home.

Headphones are the ultimate blessing and accessory for anyone wanting to be left alone in their seat, and you don’t have to actually listen to anything – I can’t get over the coolness of that one. Chatting to someone is always easy, but this bubble of time for yourself only before you return to everyday life is just too luxurious an opportunity to pass up.

 

 

 

Frankfurt Winter Weekend, Part 1

The first month of 2019 is coming to an end and even if I already live in a big city, I felt like a city weekend in another city. That’s enough times saying “city” in one sentence! So Frankfurt it is, with the added pleasure of having friends living there.

6 AM rising and successful arrival at the train station in Hamburg with 20 minutes to spare. One of my friends once told me with a smile, incidentally one of the people I’m visiting this time, “The train will not leave earlier.” That’s true! But you never know how other elements of getting to your platform will work out. If you’re going from Hamburg to Frankfurt by train, some of the options available are leaving either from the Central Station (Hauptbahnhof) or Dammtor station. The former is always busy and bigger, the latter is usually quieter and it’s a smaller space.

My early morning train choice was cancelled, something I found out only upon arriving at the platform. Not to worry, my organized (German) thinking switched on. Down to the travel center (Reisezentrum) of the Deutsche Bahn I go. I get a free ticket and a free reserved seat for another direct train. My first adventure of the day, practically a classic for any train traveler, has been mastered. I while away the remaining half hour in the bakery next door and reward myself with a cup of hot chocolate for my common sense. It’s not 8 AM yet, but the station is already bustling with commuters and other travelers rolling their suitcases past me. I think once again that as much as you love playing tourist in the place where you live, it’s good to get out of that zone every now and then by being an actual tourist.

I have a spot at a table by the window, the sun is shining and all around me people are quietly working on their laptops, or reading and watching stuff. There is Wifi, halleluja. I wonder if I’m the only one heading to Frankfurt for a vacation, since it’s the kind of city that typically attracts a steady stream of business people, many of whom take the train due to the good connection as far as long distances go.

Hamburg’s familiarly flat landscape has given way to hilly forests wherever we are now, and so far I see it has snowed here too, like it did in Hamburg last night. I’m not sleepy at all, though very comfortable, and it’s nice to think I didn’t panic one bit when I saw my original train was cancelled. “Oh, so this is what’s happening now, OK.” Looking forward to Part 2.

Learning French and Going to France

When you’re learning French and traveling to France, you naturally feel like you should try speaking French once you arrive on French soil, right? Wait, try? “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” You are not simply a tourist or a visitor anymore. You basically have an obligation.

Oui, Yoda certainly knew what he was talking about. I know the process of this particular trip to Paris and it automatically divides itself in to tasks in my head in reference to opportunities to parler français. With decisively German precision I follow my plan of producing short, but appropriate sentences.

I enter the plane and say “Bonjour, Madame”, “Bonjour, Monsieur” to the crew as I make my way to my seat, on the same volume level that I use in other languages, because, you know, je parle un petit peu français. I am rewarded with a “Bonjour, Madame” or sometimes still with a “Bonjour, Mademoiselle.” I like being called Mademoiselle. I don’t find it derogatory and it reminds me of when I started flying to France as a student, after first moving to Germany. The German Fräulein has said farewell and disappeared in to the mist of times past, but Mademoiselle isn’t quite ready to leave just yet.

Step two of my exciting journey en français is putting to the test our extensive lesson on ordering in a restaurant. Are you ready for it? Here goes. “Je voudrais un chocolat chaud, s’il vous plaît.” The stewardess doesn’t politely ask me to repeat my request (parfait!) and gracefully hands me my little cup of hot chocolate, following the action with a sentence I can’t repeat, but I know she’s saying I should stir the liquid. She also asks, and I’m pretty sure I am typing this correctly (confidence is everything), “Vous desirez de l’eau avec votre chocolat chaud?” And because I’m an experienced traveler en France and prepared to invest my German powers of concentration in this drink before me, I answer elegantly, “Non, merci.”

I gratefully sip my hot chocolate, because I need to fortify myself for what comes next after these linguistic achievements. Step three of my interactions en français will be to put money on my Navigo pass so I can take the train from Charles de Gaulle Airport to Paris. I spend the remainder of the flight painstakingly composing various versions of what I want to say. “Bonjour, j’ai mon Navigo…non, bonjour, j’ai un Navigo…is it un or une Navigo? Wait, they don’t need to know it’s my Navigo, too much information, and I have it in my hand anyway, it’s not like I just picked it up off the floor, my picture is on it. OK, how about, bonjour, je suis ici pour cinq jours? Or is it de cinq jours? Or just cinq jours? Bonjour (smoothly slide Navigo towards SNCF employee behind the glass), je suis ici pour (maybe I can ask them, with that little laugh as if we’re sharing an inside joke, if pour is correct, haha, hmmm, oui, le français) cinq jours et je voudrais…what do I use for “to” or “until” when I’m talking about a stop? We recently had a few lessons where we repeated how to use en, au and aux, depending on whether you were talking about a country, city or region, and what gender they were. But we didn’t cover stops of the Parisian metro!

But my feverish race of thoughts is stopped quickly after I enter the SNCF ticket office in the airport. I only manage to get out “Bonjour, je suis ici pour cinq jours”, but something about it must have been convincing, because the lady at the counter released what sounded to my ears like a torrent of rapid French and the only word I understood was “dimanche”. I apologized in English and she reeled off the information I needed in the same language, but she clearly didn’t wish to pursue any longer interactions, so all my carefully constructed sentence parts will have to be saved for next time.

I redeemed myself the next morning by loudly and decisively telling a man blocking my path in the metro “Excusez-moi!”, only to see that he was a ticket controller.

 

How to Do Düsseldorf in One Weekend

Düsseldorf routinely pops up in various lists and rankings of European cities to visit, and with good reason. It’s convenient to reach both from Europe and elsewhere, not so large that you feel overwhelmed at choosing what to see and do during a weekend getaway, but by no means lacking in cultural delights and delicious food experiences. Read on!

Key Facts

One of the top ten most populous cities in Germany and the capital of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The famous Rhine river runs through the city also famous for its carnival celebrations in early spring, which pairs suitably with the fact that several established Altbier brands (such as Füchschen, Uerige and Schlüssel) typical to Düsseldorf and the region around it proudly distinguish the city further. Düsseldorf is also home to a large Japanese community. Last but not least, football fans the world over will definitely have something to say about Fortuna Düsseldorf.

Get There

By train – Deutsche Bahn offers many options and it’s a pleasant ride, especially for us northerners any time we venture further down from the peak of the country (pun points for me, as lovely Hamburg is as flat (plattes Land) a city as can be). There’s some nice green scenery to admire on the way and even several hours pass quickly. Düsseldorf Cental Station is busy, but well-planned, and the Presse + Buch shop is definitely worth a visit if you’re also departing by train. One thing to keep in mind during the summer in particular is that you will most likely encounter numerous groups of tipsy or near-intoxicated young men arriving for stag dos/ bachelor party weekends. Most of them are friendly and happy, but still best viewed from a distance.

By plane – Düsseldorf international Airport is a popular transportation hub and very nice to walk around. Airlines flying to and from include Lufthansa, Air Berlin and Eurowings. It’s well-connected to the city center, as well as the Düsseldorf Central Station, and the journey by S-Bahn train doesn’t take long.

Stay

Düsseldorf is an internationally popular city with a busy event program year round, as well as a thriving business center. There is no shortage of hotels to choose from based on budget and preferences. Another option is, of course, Airbnb, which was my experience this time and which I thoroughly enjoyed. One example of a good area to stay in, especially if you want to walk a lot to points of interest, is the Friedrichstadt district. Tip: check the trade fair calendar before planning your trip. Messe Düsseldorf is one of the largest exhibition venues in Germany, and accommodation may predictably get snapped up fast around and during events.

Walk

To Düsseldorf’s Rheinturm TV tower and explore the surrounding park, watching fellow weekenders doing yoga on the lawn.

To the arresting and Instagram-worthy Neuer Zollhof in the Düsseldorf harbor, with buildings designed by Frank O. Gehry.

To the green, sprawling and lovely Volksgarten park, and run between these clocks in an installation by Klaus Rinke. Alice in Wonderland/ White Rabbit vibes? Yeah, me too. On a weekend morning it’s an oasis of tranquility with many beautiful trees, bridges, shaded corners…and birds of all kinds! Generally a regular sight all over Düsseldorf. Step carefully.

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Visit

Of the many museums Düsseldorf has to offer, I visited the NRW Forum, well-known for its exhibitions of modern art. A particular point of excitement which is still relevant as I type this was a virtual reality exhibition with several stations titled Unreal, which had me finding my footing again after an immersive half hour in my massive headset. On the way out I walked through the Myth Tour de France exhibition, which was unexpectedly graphic and made me aware of my naive ignorance around the event. The exhibition was, of course, timed around this year’s start of the Tour de France in Düsseldorf at the end of June- beginning of July.

Eat

Time to sit down for a bite! Walking back from the harbor in the general direction of the city center around noon, in good weather you can take your pic of lovely places with tables set outside overlooking the river, and thankfully reasonably priced menus. Again, in the summertime the aforementioned groups of dudes celebrating their groom buddy are omnipresent, so take care to sit at a distance in order to be able to chat and relax amid the beer-fueled table pounding in the background.

I happened on a street lined with Japanese shops and restaurants by accident and it immediately made me nostalgic for Tokyo. In the evening my weary, but happy feet carried me to Hyuga in Klosterstraße, where I indulged in some delicious sushi.

You might hear from some that Düsseldorf is considered stuck-up. Don’t believe it and see for yourself.

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.