Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

Or, as they say in Oslo, "Godt Nyttår."

From Unky Herb and me.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Tree Hugger

Unky Herb and I have been back from Ås for almost 48 hours and I'm nearly back to pre jetlagging status. It's nice to reflect on the previous twelve days that we spent with our family's tree hugger. We visited her grad school at UMB, a school of 3800 students, where she is pursuing a masters degree in International Environmental Studies. The town of Ås has a population of 16,400 people. It was a small town, but large enough for a train station, two grocery stores and two pizza restaurants.

 We went to spend Christmas with the Prairie Princess treehugger, and to see what Christmas and the winter solstice are like in Norway. We had a good experience living in campus guest accommodations - living space usually used by visiting scholars. We met some of PP's classmates and new friends, all international or Norwegian folk, none American. They were bright and friendly and obviously enjoyed PP's presence and generally up beat character. J.B., the French guy whose English gaffs were guffaw inspiring, and the German, Sophie, who spent quite a bit of her free time with PP.  We also trekked through some Norwegian wild areas and some urban wild spaces in Oslo.

 The erstwhile Prairie Princess doing some tree hugging of a moss encrusted campus tree.

The Daughter of Norway in Nordskogen (north woods) near UMB (University of Life Sciences). DoN used the trail here for her nature runs when the weather was a bit more hospitable.

I played my first tennis today since my return and I was a bit rusty at first but managed to recall most of the necessary skills before the afternoon session was over. It was nice to be back on the courts and smacking a few forehands with the other three geezers who showed up to play today.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Twenty-seven hours in transit

Home again after a long day in airline land. Unky Herb and I caught a taxi at 3 am in Ås to catch a bus at 3:30 for the hour bus ride to Gardermoen airport in Oslo. Three plane rides and two layovers later we landed in Minnesota, but not without a few glitches, one of which caused an extra three hours celebrating(?) the joys of Chicago's O'Hare Airport.  It's good to be home sleeping in my own bed and eating my usual diet again. It was worth the trip, however, to spend Christmas in Norway with the Daughter of Norway, and to see what the winter solstice is like that far north. Eleven years ago I experienced a summer solstice in Norway and, in my opinion, that was a much more pleasant time. With quite a bit more solar exposure.

I picked out four previously unpublished photos from the two weeks in the north. I decided to only include those that are more about scenery and activities rather than those about my fellow travelers. This was taken just after sunset at Frogner Park in Oslo at 3:30 on a cold afternoon. It's dark and pretty much represents the environment most of the time we were there.

These three white swans were waddling up the beach in Moss when we visited there near the end of our stay. I guess that most swans in Europe are white and these are definitely so and are extremely large birds. They were banded and seemed tame. They came up to us seemingly expecting to be fed.

One day we visited several museums and the city hall in Oslo. This is Oslo Harbor from just outside the City Hall just after the 9:15 a.m. sunrise. It's a dark city this time of year.

This is a point of interest much more famous than the Kate Moss statue. Here in the Oslo City Hall is the room where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded. There are huge murals on the walls depicting Norwegian scenes.

Life is good. Even when adjusting to Minnesota time again.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


It was a sunny day and a good day for a day trip south of Ås to a slightly larger city, Moss. It's on a spur of the Oslo Fjord and it seemed like a good idea to walk along the fjord and take some photos on a sunny day in Norway. We took the 9:16 train about the time the sun was rising.

By the way, it's my experience that in Norway this time of year, that the sun rises in the south and sets in the south, a few degrees to the west. It's odd, but useful if the sun is shining. South is easily established.

Unky Herb and the daughter of Norway posed by a moose statue at the city hall in Moss. The light is slanted, but it's about 1:30 in the afternoon.

This is the harbor at Moss. It's a well used port and there are a lot of fisherman's boats in the harbor.

The Norwegian Lady statue on the harbor at Moss. It memorializes a ship wreck long ago off the coast of Virginia.

It seems as though most of Norway shuts down this week. Almost all the shops that we came across had closed signs, indicating reopening in January. Christmas is a serious holiday here in the north.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The second day of Christmas

Every country does Christmas its own way, and every family has it's own version of the celebration. On Christmas day (the first day of Christmas) we had a Norwegian feast at Unni's with her daughter and parents in attendance. Unni made pinnekjhøtt, a Norwegian salted meat from sheep, and potatoes and a squash-like dish (maybe rutabaga), with beer and aquavit. It was all good and we had a fine time, speaking a little Norsk, but mainly English. I have a picture of my kids a bit after the meal.

Today is the second day of Christmas and I was surprised to find that the stores - including all the grocers are closed for the second day in a row. This would never stand in the good old USA, where December 26 is one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

We were able to successfully navigate lutefisk and kjøttkake at the haus of DoN.  The Christmas Eve celebration was unique and satisfying.

Merry Christmas to all readers and friends from us, visitors to the old country.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Ås and the north woods

Just twenty-four hours can make a big difference in the appearance of a town. Yesterday it snowed an inch or so and when we were in the town center, I took a photo of the train depot. Today it was about 37 degrees and all the new snow disappeared. Yesterday looked Christmasy, today, not so much.

Our adventure of the day today was a walking tour of Nordskogen (the north woods) just next to the UMB campus.  It was cloudy and wet from the melting snow and there was mud and a bit of ice in spots where the sun couldn't shine - in Norway in December, that's quite a bit of territory.  We had fun looking at the  green, green moss on the trees and ground and trying to identify the European trees and other vegetation.   Here the DoN crouches down at a creek in Nordskogen examining some moss or lichens and looking pretty Norwegian in her new hat.

As is usual when trekking with my kids there was a fair amount of joking and horseplay.  Unky Herb wanted video of him bouncing up and down on a fallen log in the forest.  I took this photo just before some video was taken.

The Daughter of Norway (DoN), now sometimes known as the queen of the trolls, wanted her turn on the log, too.  The queen of the trolls on a log in the north woods. I think she's enjoying her Christmas break as much as her brother and her dad.

And a representative view of Nordskogen - the north woods. The trees have a thick layer of moss, I guess because this is a fairly moist area of Europe.  The snow comes and goes.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. We went to the Ås Kiwi supermarket and stocked up on lefse and lutefisk. The DoN is volunteering to do her best on the lutefisk if I help her eat it. I said I would.  I know I won't be sorry.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Norwegian solstice

As luck and science would dictate, the date and time of the solstice was 6:30 a.m. in Oslo (11:30 p.m. yesterday in St Paul.)   Today, then, is the shortest day in Oslo and Ås. The difference from yesterday is just a few seconds, and in any case, it snowed here today and was cloudy all day, so the sun didn't make an appearance at all.   Today's blog has photos from yesterday, mainly because I was too knackered to do a proper job of selecting content.  This is maybe better.

This is Unky Herb in front of the place where Kelsey is living.  There are bikes galore and, up until today, a lot of students.  Most of the students have finished finals and are going home for Christmas, including J.B., a French student that has been a friend and generator of amusement because of his tendency to massacre the English language in humorous ways.  Today she is the only student left in her residence pod.  She's out figure skating on a local pond, while I use her computer.

I meant to include a photo of the big ski jump facility in yesterday's blog, but instead bogged.  The hill and associated museum are at the top of a hill, one that featured icy side walks and cool mountain air.  It was a highlight of yesterday's ramble through Oslo, checking out cultural high points.

The Olympic size ski jump. One of the sports at which the Norwegians excel.

The view from the top of Holmenkollen (the name of the ski jump) - showing a cross country skiing area near the ridiculously high ski jump.

The Daughter of Norway (DoN) told us a couple of days ago that there is a statue of Kate Moss in Oslo.  I thought that she must be joking and expressed some disbelief.  Ever the perfect hostess she led us to the spot where a pop culture sculptor did indeed produce a much bigger than life size statue and someone put it up in a shopping area in Oslo.

The statue of Kate Moss in a shopping area near the Oslo Apple Store.

We also went to the Edvard Munch museum, hoping to see the famous artist's most famous work, "The Scream." I guess it's somewhere else with better security, since it was stolen last year and, although it has been recovered, the authorities seem a little squeamish about security.

There is also a pretty good story about our adventure trying to find a statue of the reclining Buddha at the University of Oslo. Adam's Shinnyo-En groups founder had presented the statue to the University in 1967 and he wanted to see it. It's a long and involved saga, but ends with us stumbling upon the statue displayed on the 4th floor of the East Asian studies building almost by accident while we were looking for an information desk.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Oslo and Ås on the solstice

The weather outside is cold, but more accurately cold and dark. It is the winter solstice and one would expect short days. We used the day by using an Oslo pass and going into the city by train before sunrise (about 9:15) and trekking around the city. There is a statue in Ås on the way to the train, that I photographed yesterday. As you can tell, it is winter here.

We visited the City Hall, site of the Nobel Prize presentations, then went off on the subway to find Hollenkollen, a huge facility for ski jumping in Oslo. Thee is a museum there, too, showing the more than 5000 year history of skiing in Norway.

The big ski jump is Hollenkollen, in a suburb of Oslo.   One view from the top.

The Daughter of Norway and Unky Herb on the top of the big ski jump. The view from the top is spectacular.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Oslo is Oooshloo here

We took the train from Ås, passed through Ski and arrived in Oslo in the early afternoon. Given the short days here we hurried along to get some photos before the sun set at 3:11 p.m. The train station is near the harbor and the new opera house in downtown Oslo.  The tiger statue is a gift to the city on its 1000 anniversary in the year 2000.  There is an amazing amount of construction going on in Norway, which is quite prosperous due to its North Sea oil reserves.  Unky Herb has always been sort of a tiger fancier.

This is the fancy new Opera House on the Oslo harbor.   The roof is slanted enough to allow walking up to the top, and sliding down on icy days.  Today the footing was reasonably sure and we climbed to the top for some viewing and some photos.

This is a view of Oslo harbor from the Opera House.  You may notice ducks on the part of the fjord which is iced over.  It was about 30 degrees as we viewed the sculpture in the harbor that's supposed to represent an ice berg.

After a little bag lunch at the train station, we took the subway to Frogner Park a ways away.  We passed a statue of Sonja Henie on the way.   It was cold and getting close to sunset as we arrived and began viewing the multitude of statues - mostly depicting naked human beings.  Here is the DoN at Frogner Park trying to join one of the sculptures.

A few minutes later I took this photo as the sun set on the sculptures at Frogner Park.

After sunset we stopped for tea and coffee at a warm Norwegian coffee shop. It was a welcome and welcoming spot on a cold afternoon. We ate at a Vietnamese restaurant and caught a later train back to UMB and Ås.

I am thankful for the miracle of long underwear.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A trip to the Christmas town

Drøbak, a small town on Oslo fjord a few miles from Ås, is known as the Chistmas town in Norway. Unni, Kelsey's friend and third cousin, took us there on Sunday to do some sightseeing and shopping. The fjord is long and deep and is the source for fish and recreation. We walked along the harbor where the ships are tied up in the sub-freezing, but sunlit weather.

The harbor is picturesque - filled with anchored small fishing boats and recreational boats - none of which were working on this day.  There were ducks - mallards, I think - swimming in the fjord waters.

There is a statue of mermaids gracing the shore and DoN joined the three mermaids. She was much more warmly dressed, however.

Still a couple of days from the solstice, but the daylight hours are short - nearly three hours less than the tropical St Paul. Soon the days will begin to lengthen, but it's going to be dark here for a while yet.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A tour of UMB campus in Ås, Norge

After a 16 hour journey from the Saintly City to Oslo and the University of Life Sciences (aka UMB from its Norwegian initials) and a night's rest to recover a bit from jet lag, the Daughter of Norway (DON) took Unky Herb (UH) and me for a walking tour of the UMB campus. It was after noon before we began and we needed to finish before nightfall, about 3:15, but the light was good and I took quite a few photos. It was a couple of degrees below freezing, and we were dressed for the weather, but there were some icy spots on the fairly uneven walking surfaces. The guest house where we are staying is on the campus and also houses a few grad students and other visitors to UMB. It's comfortable and contains the necessary conveniences of home.

The other members of the walking tour - an entertaining group even when jet lagged - in front of our residence.

A better view of the house for guests in which Unky Herb and I are residing. There is very little snow on the ground as you can see.

The DON by a clump of trees which are festooned with years of moss. This is about half way between her abode and our guest house.

A big old Norwegian oak tree that is icon for the UMB campus. It may be 1000 years old. I suspect it is prettier when it has leaves, but in December it's a stark outline against the horizon.

Unky Herb in the field by the iconic tree. He had just snapped off his own photo from an entirely different angle.

After a walk across campus to the buildings where many of DON's classes are held we went into a big class room building. We found the library where DON does some of her research. Here she is standing next to Unky Herb.

The DON took us towards the forest were there is an old growth of a variety of trees from around the world. On the way we saw this sight. The moss grows green on a Norsky stone.

We walked through the forest where DON runs and communes with nature. As we walked a pair of riders galloped by us on Norwegian horses.

On the way back we came across a pasture containing some of the native breed of horses. This shows a curious, very Norwegian looking horse protected from the weather by a horse blanket.

And at the end of the trek, the reward for the long walk around UMB - a Norwegian frozen pizza..

Tomorrow we're planning to do some Christmas shopping at the Christmas village nearby.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rainy Day in December

It's an odd December. It's raining and overcast. The temperature is 37 degrees. This is not a usual December day in Minnesota, but somewhat nicer than last year at this time for anyone planning to do any traveling.  The ground looks almost like spring is about to spring.  I walked up to Grand Avenue and had to wear a rain coat to keep dry.  But who's complaining?

I played tennis for nearly the last time of the year and, although I didn't play too well, I didn't get hurt. One of the other geezers somehow injured his shoulder on an enthusiastic service return and had to retire from the match.  GOINFS.  The survivors played one on two for a while and then called it a day. There will be more tennis in the weeks ahead.

The weather in Oslo, the current residence of the Prairie Princess, is actually somewhat more wintry than Minnesota.  They are blessed with 5 hours and 52 minutes of daytime this time of year, while we get a generous 8 hours and 48 minutes.  Oslo lies at 59 degrees 57 minutes north latitude (about the same as the middle of Hudson Bay and north of Juneau, Alaska) - St Paul is 45 degrees north.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Another bench

I walked around Como Lake this afternoon, just to affirm the fact that winter and December are both very much with us. I found an empty bench along the way, and I'm adding it to the list of benches that are sometimes pictured in this space.

And, as anticipated, the lake at Como park is iced over. A clear sign of winter. And the time of not very exciting photography.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Still December

I walked around enough this morning to get a feel for winter locomotion and some of its difficulties when the temperature dips into single digits. The cold will exceed this level of chill soon, but I'm trying to acclimate as conditions change. My walk included a swing by the governor's mansion and the sculpture across Summit from it. The sculpture was carved from an elm tree that succumbed to Dutch Elm disease some years ago.  Whoever lives there and owns the figure felt sorry for its exposure to the cold and wrapped it in a warming shawl. It's a St Paul thing, I think.

There was tennis with the gang of geezers this afternoon as usual, so I was able to engage in sufficient exercise on a cold December day, waiting for Christmas.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Just walking around

It feels like winter. The temperature is expected to flirt with zero overnight for the first time this heating season.

I went for an afternoon walk to begin to acclimate to the new reality. I took my camera along to record anything that looked bloggable. I was just walking around (is there an acronym for that?). I walked by Linwood Park, up the Grotto stairs and back to Grand Avenue. Then home. I was dressed for the temp at the time - about 20 - and it was actually pretty pleasant.

The photo of the day is just trees against a blue December sky. That's how it looks in the northland in December.

I played the usual Thursday night tennis at Wooddale. It was not superb tennis, but it was competitive. One of the hard core girls couldn't make it tonight so our usual number one sub played in her stead. We finished two close sets (6-4, 7-5) and quit for the night. I skipped Yang's tonight because I had home made soup waiting for me back home - made by my own hand this afternoon with the veggies in my fridge and some of the turkey left over from the Thanksgiving feast. Yang's can wait for another night deeper into the cavern of winter.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The falls at nineteen degrees

I took an afternoon walk by Minnehaha Falls. As I left my car I noted the temperature was 19 degrees, a sign that winter is setting in earnestly. The water over the fall is just a dribble, a sign that we are experiencing a kind of cold weather drought. The icicles are forming and the water in the creek is firming up, but the dramatic ice dams of previous years have yet to form. The stairs down to the creek level are closed, but still passable, so I went down for the photo and for a walk along the creek.

There were very few people out today, just the guys from Prairie Restoration who are burning brush and cleaning up the areas that they are turning into areas with more native plants. I stopped and talked to a couple of the guys who were tending a fire down towards the big river. I asked if they knew the Prairie Princess, who had worked there about a year and a half ago, and they said they did. The guys, Nathan and John, wondered what PP was up to, and I explained her decision to go to grad school and her current location. I walked to the Mississippi and back without encountering any other "tourists." I guess it's too cold for December meandering. The sun is low in the sky and there wasn't a lot of sun in the creek valley to photograph. We are only two weeks from the winter solstice.

The leaves are gone and the form of the hill can be seen from the bottom. This is the way I chose to go back up to the top of the hill.

The sign at the top of the steps indicates premature closing of the stairs.

Winter is here.